Opera, My Love by Milano52
Opera reviews
Dec 03, 2014 | 30482 views | 0 0 comments | 839 839 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

view as list
COMING OUT OF THE TUNNEL: TOWARD A CLEAR VIEW OF OPERA IN OUR TIME
by Milano52
Jul 19, 2021 | 18766 views | 0 0 comments | 546 546 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

BY MICHAEL RECCHIUTI

The worldwide pandemic of 2020-2021 succeeded in accomplishing what years of shrinking, progressively less sophisticated audiences, graft laden internal politics, destructive national policies, and sheer administrative incompetence could not; the total shutdown of operatic performance around the world.

There have been a plethora of filmed opera-like events produced for digital distribution of varying artistic and technical qualities, many of which had the whiff of desperation about them to demonstrate the ongoing activity of the producing entities, but they are not opera. I was fascinated to see how small the audiences actually were for these projects. These are videos conceived to be viewed on televisions, and, more often, on smartphones. This is not opera. Perhaps this tragic hiatus from live performance can be used as a moment of reflection, and critical clarity.

“These are videos conceived to be viewed on televisions, and, more often, on smartphones. This is not opera.”

As we apparently seem to begin to emerge from this nightmare of isolation, and we can recommence activity in the opera house, which requires several thousand people in one room, I would propose that we clarify some issues, and attempt to impose some critical criteria on what will be called “opera”.

Let us examine what constitute the fundamental components of an operatic performance. The art form is so wonderfully complex that I think it requires a critical look at each of its ingredients. Let us also agree that there are objective standards of basic technical proficiency that can be applied to many of the components parts that have nothing to do with “taste”, or “preference”.

Let us first address the matter of singing, by definition the primary focus of opera. Singers must be technically proficient. This sounds ridiculously reductionist, but it is not. Merely possessing diplomas, the imprimatur of prestigious young artist training programs, or arriving by whatever path onto the stage does not a priori bestow fundamental technical competence upon a singer put before the public. Singers must sing in tune. We do not promote pianists who miss fistfuls of notes, violinists who play out of tune, or ballet dancers unable to do leaps and turns. But we have increasingly seen the acceptance, rationalization, and apologizing for out-of-tune singing. Singers must be technically capable of singing all the notes in the role in which they present themselves to the public.

“Singers must be technically proficient. This sounds ridiculously reductionist, but it is not.”

Voices, while variable in the strength of their various registers, must at least possess a mastery of their instrument from top to bottom. A chest voice register may not have the power of the top of the range, but it must be audible. The top portion of a singer’s voice must be easily accessible from whatever precedes it, and should be exciting, and beautiful, and not cringe-worthy or alarming. The singer may not skip over the parts of a role that they can’t really sing. The singer must have the breath control to artistically make phrases without breaking down, and even breathing between syllables of words. The singer must have a mastery of the languages in which they sing in order to render the text comprehensible. They must be proficient not just in the basic mechanics of the language, but have progressed up to a sophisticated understanding of inherent rhythm and of idiomatic nuance. This includes the proper production of consonants, and, more importantly vowels. Each language has a particular color palette of vowels that must be respected. Singers must be technically able to sing coloratura, rapid scales, and arpeggios accurately, and in tune. Historically even the largest voices could do this (listen to Chaliapin) as it is a fundamental skill.

In second place, we must move on to the conductor and his/her role. There is no Platonically Ideal performance of an opera, or, indeed, any piece of music. A performer brings his particular skill set and applies it to the textual matrix supplied by the composer. The assiduous and honest application of each individual artist to this process guarantees the wonderful variety of interpretations of a given work.

The role of the conductor is to possess a total mastery of the basic materials of a piece (the notes, both of the singers and the instrumentalists, the words, the dramatic instructions, the performance style of the piece, the acoustic of the performance venue, the attributes and limitations of the performers), process all of them, and lead an assembled company to produce a carefully crafted, nuanced, intelligent and aesthetically pleasing whole.  The preparation for this job, as you can see, is daunting, and never-ending. He/She must be able to control the internal balances in the orchestra and make them produce a precise, organized sound.

“The role of the conductor is to possess total mastery of the basic materials of a piece…”

Regarding the relationship with the singers, he/she must possess a thorough understanding of the technique of singing, fluency in the languages involved, and the possibilities and limitations of the human voice. He/She must have a firm conception of the music which he communicates to the singers during the rehearsal process, and understand how to maximize their capabilities to fulfill his vision. It is a collaborative effort. Optimum tempi must be established and maintained. An acoustical balance between the singer and the orchestra must be established and imposed. At the most basic level, if the singer on stage is not coordinated with the orchestra, you cannot hear the singer, or cannot understand the words, the conductor is not doing their job.

Now we discuss the stage director. We must understand that the existence of this job is a relatively recent development in opera. As late as the beginning of the 20th century there was no such animal. The conductor staged the works, as he was often the composer, and knew exactly what he intended. He was the individual in the theater with total mastery of the score. There was a stage manager, who was responsible for organizing the scenery, props, etc., and indicating entrance and exit points for the singers. I would direct you to Harvey Sach’s excellent book “Toscanini: Musician of Conscience” for a detailed description of his work as director of La Scala.

A combination of factors led to the establishment of the Stage Director as an actual discreet job. Firstly, the twentieth century saw a development in the legitimate theater of more and more naturalistic acting styles, and more stylized entire productions. Then, there was the increase in the volume of opera performances internationally, which inevitably led to a lot of routine, and just bad productions in the traditional style. In the attempt to make something “new” and “attractive”, directors began to create productions based on concepts, and viewing the works through particular social prisms, thereby narrowing their interpretive possibilities instead of broadening them. Many productions became simply visually confusing.

I would propose the following: if you do not understand what you are watching on stage, it is not your fault. The director has failed the work. If singers appear to be doing nonsensical things, they probably are, and the director has not helped the singers to interpret the work. If they are physically placed in parts of the stage where you cannot hear them, that is simply incorrect, and technically inept. I am reminded of a passage from a letter from Arnold Schoenberg to Vasilij Kandinsky wherein he writes, “I would like that on the stage nothing impede the comprehension of the public, of the listener, because if the public does not understand what it is seeing it distracts from the music.”

“I would propose the following: if you do not understand what you are watching onstage, it is not your fault. The director has failed the work.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, opera requires an actively engaged public of informed listeners. Serious members of the opera-going public must cease reading reviews immediately. I do not believe, based upon my reading, that there is currently a single critic, either “professional” or dilettante (and I use the word in the literal and not pejorative sense) who has had the cultural preparation, and is free of some kind of agenda qualified to help form someone else’s opinion. With apologies for the substitution of a single word to the late George Steiner, “It is not criticism that makes music live.” If you go to the opera merely to let soporific waves of sound wash over you (an enjoyable reason, but a severely limited one), that is fine, but you are not prepared to form an educated opinion about the performance. The more you can bring in terms of cultural preparation to experiencing a performance, the richer and deeper your evening will be, and you will have that much more to think about and to which to react. Quite simply, a better public will produce better opera.

 
Adve
comments (0)
view/post comments
no comments yet

From “Murder In The Pit” To “Death By Opera,” To “Staged For Murder,” The Birth Of An Operatic Mystery Trilogy. An Exclusive Interview With Erica Miner.
by Milano52
Nov 04, 2020 | 16353 views | 0 0 comments | 1262 1262 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink
From “Murder in the Pit” to “Death by Opera,” to “Staged for Murder,” the birth of an operatic mystery trilogy. An exclusive interview with Erica Miner.

Interview by Tiziano Thomas Dossena [Courtesy of OperaMyLove Magazine]

A native of Detroit, Erica Miner studied violin with Boston Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Joseph Silverstein at Boston University where she graduated cum laude; the New England Conservatory of Music; and the Tanglewood Music Center, summer home of the Boston Symphony, where she performed with such celebrated conductors as Leonard Bernstein and Erich Leinsdorf. 

The former Metropolitan Opera violinist is now an award-winning author, screenwriter, journalist and lecturer, who actively contributes to major arts websites and magazines. As an opera expert, she is a regular presenter for the Seattle Symphony, Osher Lifelong Living Institute at University of Washington and University of California San Diego, Creative Retirement Institute at Edmonds College (Seattle area) and Wagner Societies on both coasts.

OperaMyLove Magazine: Erica, how did you, a respected professional musician, become a writer and a journalist?

Erica Miner: I’ve always written, since I was in grade school and placed in an afterschool program for Creative Writing. I just loved the whole process—of creating characters and plots and weaving them together to tell stories. I discovered that I loved telling stories. So when I had the car accident that ended my musical career, the logical next step to find a creative outlet was to go back to my writing. I studied screenwriting in Los Angeles with a noted screenwriting coach, who encouraged me in my idea for a novel, which was about an opera musician—more than semi-autobiographical. Some opera websites found my writing online and invited me to write reviews and interviews of operas and singers. That’s how my reinvention as a writer began.

OperaMyLove Magazine: You performed for 21 years with the Metropolitan Opera Company. What is the most pleasant memory you have of that experience?

Erica Miner: There were so many! I think what I remember most fondly is my very first rehearsal in the pit, of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, after I had auditioned for Raymond Gniewek, the Met’s extraordinary concertmaster. I was of course extremely excited but a bit nervous when I was seated in the first violin section. But my excitement turned to apprehension when I saw James Levine on the podium; imagine, my first time out and playing for Levine—a trial by fire! Then I looked up onstage and there were Jon Vickers and Martina Arroyo. And it was no longer a trial by fire but instead like suddenly arriving in Paradise.

OperaMyLove Magazine: In your long career as a musician, who was the most impressive musician or singer you met? What was it in their personality or talents that struck you the most?

Erica Miner: That is a very difficult question, as I’ve met countless luminaries in the music world. I think it would have to be Ray Gniewek, our fearless leader of the first violin section, and of course the entire Met Orchestra, since I worked more closely with him than anyone in my years there. Ray was the most dependable, fantastic leader you can imagine. He knew those operas inside out and backward, never made musical missteps, led the orchestra with his entire being. Not only was he incomparable as a leader, but he played the violin solos impeccably and with such great beauty. I’ve never heard anyone play them better. He also frequently showed his appreciation of what his violin section was doing: whenever we did something he thought was great, he always let us know of his approval. Of course, the opposite was also true! But my respect and admiration for his talent and abilities is boundless. I will always be grateful to him for all that he taught us and for his generosity of spirit.

OperaMyLove Magazine: Your debut novel, “Travels with my Lovers,” won the Fiction Prize in the Direct from the Author Book Awards, is inspired by your own travel adventures. Could you tell us more about the book?

Erica Miner: The idea for “Travels with my Lovers” came to me when I was working on my screenplays. My screenwriting coach thought it was a great idea to branch out into novel writing. I based the novel on the journals that I kept while I was at the Met. I wrote it in first person, but I didn’t want it to read like a memoir, just fiction, so I embroidered it somewhat. I spent a number of my summers when the Met was on hiatus traveling to Italy: both to experience its exquisite beauty and to explore the roots of Opera. My experiences there were so life-changing that I absolutely had to write about them. The protagonist is an opera musician who goes to Europe—Italy and France—and travels the high seas on a cruise. She finds both love and heartbreak in these places, but describes the beauty, history and operatic aspects of each locale. Overall I would define the book as a travelogue and love story combined.

OperaMyLove Magazine: You followed in 2009 with “FourEver Friends,” a novel about four teenage girls growing up in Detroit in the ‘60s. Could you explain what made you choose this topic and tell our readers more about it?

Erica Miner: I wrote “FourEver Friends” as a love letter to the three women who were my closest companions in high school and are still my most beloved friends. We went to a high school for gifted students that offered college-level specialties in pretty much any field you could name. The music department was exceptional, and the orchestra was legendary: many of the kids went straight from graduation to major symphony orchestras. Our conductor was a dynamic Russian man who saw to it that we would be prepared for a life as professional musicians by teaching all of the most important repertoire: from Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and Schumann to Debussy, Hindemith, Bartók, Stravinsky and more. It was an extraordinary background that served me well later in life. We four girls performed together in the orchestra but actually became truly close in an all-female vocal and instrumental ensemble that performed all over the city of Detroit. We were absolutely inseparable, and shared all of our joys, heartbreak, and hormonal angst while we learned intensively about classical music. Within the book, I write about all of the pieces we sang and played. Afterward, I counted them up: there are no less than sixty-nine classical pieces mentioned, as well as Beatle songs. It was definitely a labor of love.

OperaMyLove Magazine: As a musician, though, I guess you could not stay away from the music world and so was born your third book, “Murder in the Pit,” the first in a series of ‘Operatic Mysteries.’ I am sure our readers would like to find out more about this book and the series itself…

Erica Miner: Yes, music is everything for me. “Murder in the Pit” was born of my experiences at the Met. I was very lucky to be at the Met at a time when some of the greatest singers and conductors were performing there. I got to work with them, rehearse with them and watch how “divas” and “divos” handled the pressure of being onstage at the world’s most prestigious opera house. But it’s a very pressured, high-stakes atmosphere and sometimes tempers flare and conflicts are inevitable. In “Murder in the Pit” I played up both the positives and negatives of working in that unique environment; of the good, bad, ugly, and everything in between. “Die Liebe Brennt”, as one of my colleagues used to say ironically. No love lost, as they say.

OperaMyLove Magazine: The main character in “Murder in the Pit” and in the following book of the series,”Death by Opera”, is a violinist at the Metropolitan Opera. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Is this character an alter ego of yours? Is this second book’s story also developing in New York? What else should we know about the book?

Erica Miner: The protagonist, Julia, who embodies the very young violinist I was when I first started out there, because of her innate curiosity and sense of justice, becomes embroiled in a murder investigation when her mentor is assassinated and her closest colleague in the orchestra is the accused. The characters basically took over from there. I didn’t originally intend it as a series, but enough of my readers asked about a sequel, and one of them very insistently suggested I set the second book at Santa Fe Opera, for a number of reasons. The company is legendary. Its setting in the desert, between two mysterious mountain ranges (of which is actually called “Blood of Christ”) is uniquely evocative. People flock to the performances each summer from the world over (this was of course before the pandemic). Some of the world’s most prominent singers perform there. Even the weather, which can turn threatening in an instant, contributes to the eerie atmosphere. And did I mention Santa Fe has more ghosts than any other city in the US? I thought it was a great idea. I had to do a lot of research, including a major trip to steep myself in the company’s summer rehearsals and performances, and to learn my way around the multifaceted campus. But luckily, I had a close friend who provided me an entrée to all the relevant people and places. Julia goes as a concertmaster for the summer and finds just as much murder and mayhem as at the Met. So much fun!

OperaMyLove Magazine: “Staged for Murder,” the third book in this ‘operatic mystery series’ is due to be released on October 15, 2020. Tell us more about it, please.

Erica Miner: While I was writing “Death by Opera”, a friend from San Francisco Opera suggested I might make the series a trilogy by setting the next sequel in the City by the Bay. I have deep connections there, both to the city and the opera company, so that seemed like a no brainer. Again, I was lucky enough to know people who connected me to company members who gave me tours of the theatre, of the galleries, of the archives, and more. And again, a lot of research was required. But honestly, this opera company is the second most prestigious in the country for good reasons. And I think it has the most fascinating history of any in the US. Writing this novel afforded me the opportunity to paint a rich atmosphere with colorful characters, and for the potential for my wicked imagination to go wild. I’m very excited about the release, and I’m happy to say that interest is keen from readers.

OperaMyLove Magazine: You are also a screenwriter. Do you write just the screenplays of your books or other original stories? Were any of these screenplays turned into TV films or movies?

Erica Miner: I have written original screenplays in multiple genres as well as scripts based on my own books—“Travels with my Lovers”, “FourEver Friends” and “Murder in the Pit”—and even on books I have ghostwritten for other people. In fact, “Murder in the Pit” started out as a screenplay. My scripts have won awards and placed in numerous competitions, but I haven’t had anything produced as yet. Hollywood is a tough nut to crack, and it’s even more difficult to connect with directors and producers overseas who would best understand my music-centered stories. There’s a saying: “In Hollywood, there are no rules; and they’re strictly enforced.” Truer words were never said.

OperaMyLove Magazine: You have been contributing a “Power of Journaling” article series for the National Association of Baby Boomer Women. What topics do you cover in the articles?

Erica Miner: That was a wonderful opportunity and experience. I was able to express what a joy it is to journal and what a powerful tool it can be, especially for women. Most of my topics coincided with my lectures on the subject: The Power of Journaling; Journaling Resistance; Famous Women who Kept Journals; There’s a Book in Everyone—how to use your journals to create a book, fiction or non-fiction. Also, how to equip yourself for journaling, creating a journaling ritual, and more.

OperaMyLove Magazine: You have won top ratings as a special lecturer for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. What topics do you cover on those lectures

Erica Miner: I’ve lectured on all of the topics I have presented for my other lectures; mostly on opera and writing. My lectures on Journaling, interestingly, were always the most popular on the cruises. Which makes perfect sense: people have a lot of time on their hands when at sea, and Journaling is the perfect way of spending that time in a useful and gratifying way.

OperaMyLove Magazine: If you had the opportunity to meet and talk to any one person from any historical period, who would he or she be, and what would you ask them?

Erica Miner: Another tough question! I think that would have to be Mozart. I feel a deep psychological and emotional connection to him and his music. I would ask him how the music comes to him and in what form; what his favorite pieces are, his own and other composers’; and what he would want to compose if he could have lived for another ten or twenty years or more.

OperaMyLove Magazine: Do you have any new projects in the works at this time?

Erica Miner: Right now I’m in the midst of a very busy lecture season, so that, plus marketing and promoting my “Staged for Murder”, are my prime occupations at the moment. I have a fourth mystery in mind and have already spoken with my friends at San Diego Opera, which was my “home” company in the years I lived in that lovely city, about setting the next sequel there. They are excited about the prospect and I was told they know where some bodies are buried—that is a great start!

OperaMyLove Magazine: What is your greatest desire?

Erica Miner: Aside from hoping that as many people as possible will enjoy my books, my greatest desire is to see some relief from this unprecedented pandemic that is holding humankind hostage at the moment. So many people’s lives are being affected—everyone’s lives, truly—and our existence has been turned upside down. I would like to see the world function in a way that will allow us to breathe again. And I especially wish to see music being performed live again. I think performers have suffered in a uniquely difficult way: it’s virtually impossible to gather an audience in a theatre and have an entire company of performers interacting onstage as they need to do. I don’t know what the ultimate solution will be; but I fervently hope that music organizations, and especially opera companies, will somehow rise from the ashes.

OperaMyLove Magazine: Any message for our readers?

Erica Miner: Reading is one of the most enjoyable and edifying ways to spend your time as we remain limited in our ability to be out in the world at large, at least for now. I have many wonderful writing colleagues and belong to writers’ organizations that are now meeting on Zoom to stay connected and as active as possible in our world. I would like to encourage your readers to read as much as they can and support the writers’ community as much as possible. And most importantly, to STAY SAFE.

https://www.ericaminer.com

http://www.twilighttimesbooks.com/StagedforMurder_ch1.html

comments (0)
view/post comments
no comments yet

OTELLO saved by the performers at the METROPOLITAN OPERA
by Milano52
May 27, 2016 | 24968 views | 0 0 comments | 992 992 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

 

 

This ostensibly new production (it started in September of last year) of Verdi’s Otello at the Metropolitan Opera could have been the greatest pleasant surprise if only… Well, that is not how I would want to start my review, since the singers have all proved themselves to be professional in all senses, but truthfully there are some ifs, regardless of the famous critics’ pat in the back to the Met for an auspicious Met debut (the New York Times), and because of these ifs, the opera loses its great impact with the audience, especially for the neophytes who wanted to chew on a more ear-challenging Verdi, without the aria and recitative structure to which they may be used to, as in the classics Rigoletto or La Traviata. Otello has an audacious and complex orchestration and its characters are well developed, so having great singers and a great opera, what could go wrong? The comments of the audience on the way out of the theater (yes, it’s true, I did not take a poll, all I did was eavesdrop, but even that can give you an idea of at least how the audience reacted)  were mostly  matching my impressions, so I could not have been wrong in feeling that something had gone amiss.

What was it? I am already not a promoter of updating or modernizing the story, but there are times when it works; most of the times it does not, sadly. The efforts of the scenic designer (Es Devlin), a respected professional who created a marvelous series of sliding and rotating transparent arches, illuminated in a way to give a feeling of fable, could have worked for another type of show, maybe some fantasy similar to Alice in Wonderland, but it had no pertinence to this story. I cannot blame Mr. Devlin or Donald Holder (the lighting designer) for the failure to deliver, though. Mr. Bartlett Sher, who produced this opera version, is fully responsible for the choices taken and for their effect on the story development. The amazing projected images by Luke Halls did bring some sanity at times, but their use got old fast enough, having to deal with those inadequate structures that someone wrongly imagined to create a proper environment for an Otello. And what is with the choir always dressed in black, with reminiscence to a witch tribunal among the Puritans? This opera already has enough drama within itself without attempting to create an unrelated atmosphere of doom. The fact that the choir stands on stage dressed as for a funeral, singing about the possibility of a shipwreck could be acceptable, maybe even building on the roots of the tragedy that will soon loom behind the scenes, and that the same choir (in black) just goes on a happy frenzy as soon as Otello’s ship comes to port is annoying to people of good taste and clashing with the expectations of an opera lover. How believable is seeing Venetians in Crete dressed as English Puritans (or whatever those outfits were meant to represent)? And choosing those garments to create an even deeper sense of doom does not feel incorrect to the director, when the celebration occurs? Just an opinion….

Phot Copyrigth Epoch Times

Photo Copyright Epoch Times

The sliding arches, with their majestic beauty and there lack of usefulness to the story and its setting, have another characteristics that attempted even more to destroy the proper flow of the drama: their inadequacy for the movements of the actors. To see the poor Otello (an otherwise flawless and magnificent Aleksandrs Antonenko, who proved his voice skills and his power over and over throughout the performance) attempting to go around the arches, passing through them clumsily as if that would have been a naturally expected action was disheartening to say the least. Didn’t the director notice the lack of flow in the actions? Did the glitter and special effects convince him that it was an ideal choice? It would have been nice to hear an explanation by Mr. Sher regarding the meaning of these flowing arches (Symbolism? Cubism? Belated expressionism? Minimalism?).OTELLONYTimes

Thankfully, besides the magnificent voice of Mr. Antonenko, a marvelous, silky-textured voiced commanding soprano (Hibla Gerzmava) performed in an impeccable manner, although there were two instances when I could not hear her, and I am not certain whether it was the volume of the orchestra, which otherwise seemed to have a clear grasp of the music interpretation and played in a remarkable fashion (also thanks to the excellent conduction by Adam Fischer) or a slight loss of volume by the soprano. Nevertheless, it was forgivable, especially keeping mind of the difficulty of the part and the strange selections of movements across the stage set by Mr. Sher, which would have confounded and stressed out any normal performer ( maybe not a rocker on acid, but I am not sure about that).iagoagainstglass

A ‘bravo’ also to Alexey Dolgov, an effective and substantial Cassio., and  to Iago (Željco Lučić, a baritone with a luxurious voice and a great stage presence,) who proved to be a prodigious ‘evil character’ and at times he made me forget the inadequacy of the staging. Actually, there was a time in this magnificently sung Otello when I did forget that there were no sliding psychedelic arches in Cyprus, also because they finally were in the background and the main part of the stage was occupied by a real bed (a touch of sanity that surprised me; I expected a sleeping bag or maybe a transparent platform that would have stood in for the bed). The brilliance of the late Verdi’s musical choices was here in primo piano, and proved their validity in bringing the depth of the tragedy and the real essence of the drama to the audience. You could feel the drama in your chest; people’s eyes were moist and their necks were tense. Yes, it was a tragedy and the marvelous work by the composer was grabbed successfully by the singers as well by the orchestra, bringing a divine product on stage. One has to recognize that the singers were all so convincing and skilled that they were able to annihilate the negative effects of the stage production, or at least most of the time.

comments (0)
view/post comments
no comments yet

Immersed in ancient times; the performance of Aida at the Metropolitan Opera. A review.
by Milano52
Jan 03, 2015 | 67782 views | 0 0 comments | 3990 3990 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Written By:  Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Immersed in ancient times; the performance of Aida at the Metropolitan Opera. A review.
 

Imagine being immersed in an ancient world, with colossal stone columns, palaces and images of deities, a marvelous music surrounding you and, thank God, no cellular phones ringing: what else can one wish for? Well, how about some great arias and choruses? Done. Yes, that is exactly what experiencing “Aida” at the Metropolitan Opera is.

Based on a 1988 production by Sonja Frisell, with a set designed by the inventive Gianni Quaranta reflecting the original libretto’s descriptions to a T, but with his own flair, this opera offers a plethora of costumes that would impress anyone (Dada Saligeri proved that it could be done again and again). The famous return from the battle of Radames, with abundance of troops marching in various colorful and authentic looking costumes, and with horses, a carriage and a group of slaves, perfectly matched the grandiosity of Verdi’s “Triumphant March,” which made even more of an impact on the spectators than usual because of this visual effect. There was even a comic relief (do not expect a repeat, though) with one of the wonderful looking white horses that pulled the carriage showing an unexpected jumpiness, thumping its right hoof gracefully to show his unwillingness to be on stage and at times attempting to bite the hand of the phlegmatic attendant, arousing the laughter of the public.aida7

Apart from these wonderful setting, this opera has so much value of its own and the singers offered such a valiant performance that I would rate this production a 4 and a half stars. The missing half star is due to the fact that somehow the First Act showed a slight tedium maybe due to an inadequate study of the performers’ movements on stage or maybe to the unfortunate temperature control in the theater, which was duly adjusted for the following acts. Maybe it was both, but when a valiant Se quel guerrier io fossi! … Celeste Aida did not improve the mood of the willing public it was certainly not because of any inadequacy by the wonderful Italian tenor Marcello Giordani, who performed flawlessly the whole evening, so I have to presume that something in that act was missing out. If we exclude the music and the singers, we can only assume that a combination of excessive warmth in the theater and the staticity of the stage actions contributed to this unfortunate sensation of sleepiness that may have assaulted a few spectators. Exception to that was the scene in which they performed the quintet aria Alta cagion v’aduna that was so well balanced vocally and visually to have the effect of waking up any heavy-eyed spectator once and for all.aida3

Thankfully, the Second Act was so thrilling it made up for that shortcoming and more, bringing back the opera to the expected and deserved all-around excellence that the Metropolitan got us used to.

The soprano Tamara Wilson, on her debut at the Met, was a tremendous Aida, finding tonalities that created a spectacular premise for the duets with the truly gifted mezzosoprano Violeta Urmana, who offered a convincing and full-bodied performance as Amneris. Her Fu la sorte dell’armi a’ tuoi funesta was so perfectly calibrated, both vocally and expressively, that Aida’s voice entered seamlessly and in an ideal singing duet, bringing joy to the adept listener as well as to the general audience.

The two basses were to say the least impressive. Dmitry Belosselskiy brought to life the high priest Ramfis forcefully and persuasively, and his voice was powerful while retaining a warmth in his vocal expression that was remarkably pleasant. Solomon Howard, as the Pharaoh of Egypt, was splendid, not so much for any particular acting, which was limited by the circumstances of his appearances, but because his superb voice had a booming but solid output while retaining a wonderful diction, which most often fades in the low notes of other basses’ performances.

To complete the wonderful performance of these singers was George Gagnidze as Amonasro, a baritone who has both the experience and the vocal capacity to carry this role. A delightful Rivedrai le foreste imbalsamate brought to life the ambiguity of the character who is more concerned with his revenge than with his daughter’s happiness.

marcellogiordani_artistpage

The tenor Marcello Giordani

Memorables the arias Qui Radamès verra .. O patria mia, sung in Act Three with heart and purity of voice by Tamara Wilson, and Morir! Si pura e bella, sung by Marcello Giordani with a touching but firm quality of voice at the end of Act Four.

It is without saying that the singers’ extraordinary performances were possible because of the outstanding work by the orchestra, conducted by a bold Marco Armiliato, and the chorus, directed by Donald Palumbo; their sensitive musical construction weaved a masterful background for the singers. Additionally, I found not without merit the dances, choreographed mightily by Alexei Ratmansky, which somehow lightened up a bit the gloomy tone of this unforgettable story.

comments (0)
view/post comments
no comments yet

Zeffirelli's La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera: a review
by Milano52
Dec 04, 2014 | 56865 views | 0 0 comments | 3525 3525 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

 

Written By:  Tiziano Thomas Dossena

3 December 2014|

 

La Boheme: a review
 

Zeffirelli’s production of La Boheme at the metropolitan Opera shines.

A sample of the stage set up as performed in a preceding season.

La Boheme is an opera that does not need introduction and most of our readers probably had the occasion to see its performance at least once, but seeing this version at the Metropolitan Opera may offer a unique opportunity that should not be missed. The intricate set designed by the famed movie director and artiste par excellence Franco Zeffirelli serves many purposes: it creates the proper settings for the story as originally described in the libretto; it offers a thrilling visual experience; it is designed for an optimal movement of the singers; and in the second act, it allows an unbelievable amount of people on stage without any encumbrance. If you think that is always the standard of opera sets, think again. Zeffirelli puts the spectators in awe and in a state of relaxation at the same time, allowing them to be absorbed completely by the story developing in front of them and to forget being in a theater.

Certainly that occurred also because of the perfect amalgam among the performers, who excelled in their acting ability, if not all in their singing one. Mimi was interpreted convincingly by a superb Sonya Yoncheva, who shone without overpowering the male singers, although in the first scenes, a slightly weak Rodolfo, interpreted by a usually valiant Charles Castronovo, seemed to struggle to be heard above the music. The orchestra was performing in an impeccable manner, thanks to the Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza, who was able to extract from it a truly emotional and luxurious sound, something Puccini would certainly recognize and approve of, and it was not drowning any of the singers’ voices; I was therefore surprised by this occurrence. Thank God, Castronovo found his volume and made up for this early shortcoming by singing the rest of the opera with heart, offering a congenial Rodolfo by using his richly-textured voice to enhance the emotional undertones of his relationship with Mimi and with his friends; in particular, his duets with Mimi were tender and showed a perfect chemistry between the two singers.

Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo and Anita Hartig in her Met debut as Mimì in Puccini's "La Bohème" on March 19, 2014. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo and Anita Hartig in her Met debut as Mimì in Puccini’s “La Bohème” on March 19, 2014. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Schaunard was executed by the funny and agile baritone Alessio Arduini, who showed how important that part could be in the balance of the story if interpreted as it was intended to be. That his voice was rich and resounding certainly helped even more in bringing the character alive. Arduini is definitely a promising baritone and his future will certainly be more than successful if he keeps the good work coming.

David Bizic’s Marcello was poignant and his voice supported and complemented Rodolfo’s singing so well that Castronovo’s unconfident beginnings almost slipped by unnoticed. Marcello was also convincing in his amusing exchanges with Musetta, and their interaction was optimal, focusing on their impulsiveness, his jealousy and her emotional volatility.

To complete the impeccable group of Bohemian friends, ready to give up all their belongings, even to take literally the coat off their back, was the magnificent bass Matthew Rose as Colline, who gave an unforgettable and touching version of the famous aria “Vecchia zimarra.”  His physical presence making him quite noticeable, Rose has the gift of a marvelous voice and obviously of a great technical training, since his performance was flawless.

The enactment of the male singers as a whole was so well controlled and their characters so believable that for once I appreciated fully the meaning of friendship as the composer and the librettists had most probably meant to transpose through their work.

Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo and Kristine Opolais as Mimì in Puccini's "La Bohème" at the Metropolitan Opera on April 5, 2014. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo and Kristine Opolais as Mimì in Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the Metropolitan Opera on April 5, 2014. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

That is not to say that the love affairs of Mimi/Rodolfo and Marcello/Musetta appeared as secondary, but the friendship displayed heightened even more the tragedy of the tortuous love affairs, in particular that one of Mimi, who dies in her lover’s arms after leaving him so as not to make him feel guilty, just one of the many gestures of unselfishness demonstrated by the protagonists. It was an exciting and inspiring experience to actually see this aspect of the story so well developed.

Susanna Phillips as Musetta in Act II of Puccini's "La Bohème." Photo: Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

Susanna Phillips as Musetta in Act II of Puccini’s “La Bohème.” Photo: Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

Greek soprano Myrto Papatanasiu’s Musetta presented a fair vocal performance, but her stage presence was exceptional and her acting was impeccable. John Del Carlo’s (Benoit and Alcindoro) carried his two parts very well, both as a singer and an actor, offering, just as Schaunard and Marcello, a fresh comic relief that allows the strong emotional stress caused by the underlying tragedy not to overcome the spectator.

As I mentioned, La Boheme is an extraordinary opera, but this particular performance at the Met is unforgettable and deserves to be seen above all others. Some of the performers will change in the future performances, but we were told that all of them are as capable and enthusiastic about the opera as the ones I saw. Enjoy it.

comments (0)
view/post comments
no comments yet