Opera notes from New York – April/May 2017
A visit to the New York Met Opera is always a great pleasure as the season winds down until mid-May when the ballet season begins. Pre-booking seats enabled us to see the wonderful Sonja Frisell Aida, Rigoletto set in a casino, Flying Dutchman, Eugene Onegin, Don Giovanni and Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac.
How to pick a favourite with so many stars, young and old in each of these high quality productions at the Met?
The sentimental favourite must be Renee Fleming who is doing her last Marschallin (and possibly her last opera) in a new Rosenkavalier production by Robert Carsen, sets by Paul Steinberg, updated to 1911 Vienna. This was one of the most profound and enjoyable operas I have attended … and it was the first time the opera really ‘clicked’ for me. It is an amusing epic romance from teenage flirtations to deviant adult mores and then painful but necessary separations to allow new ‘normal’ liaisons. There were elegant conventions broken as well as avuncular buffoonery. Matthew Polenzani sang the Italian tenor to a tee (as Pavarotti did 45 years ago in the previous production’s premiere). Elena Garanca not only sings brilliantly but plays her gender-bender role with boyish charm as well as feigned feminine awkwardness. Sofie is played by Erin Morley with great aplomb. Baron Ochs was played by Günther Groissböck and the opera conducted by Sebastian Weigle.
Anna Netrebko is Tatiana to Peter Mattei’s Eugene Onegin. Dmitry Hvorotovsky is still getting over brain surgery. Alexie Dolgov sang a most satisfactory Lensky.
Don Giovanni had a dream cast headed by Mariusz Kwecien and Erwin Schott, conducted by Placido Domingo. Angela Mead sang Donna Anna who has some amazing vocal fireworks towards the end. Matthew Polenzani was a great Don Ottavio, lily-livered though he is in the story. Both Dalla sua pace and Il mio tesoro were beautifully sung.
A magnificent Flying Dutchman is conducted by the new Met musical director French Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin who seems extremely popular with audience and performers alike. Aptly named Ms Amber Wagner sang Senta and is the dramatic soprano to watch – with a major presence and penetrating voice and crystal (not quite the right word) top notes. Franz-Josef Selig was a fine Daland and Michael Volle sang the title role, much of it standing on mid-air ship's gantry. Ben Bliss was an excellent steersman. AJ Glueckert was Erik, equally good. A fair review would take pages considering all the detail of this giant production, evocative of craggy coastlines and misty outlines in snow. Most effective perhaps was the Ducthman’s crew’s awakening near the end. Eerie and spooky souls like ghosts in vast contrast to the raucous celebration of the Norse townsfolk on the docks.
Joseph Calleja as the Duke of Mantua in the 'casino' Rigoletto was in extremely good vocal and dramatic form. Mr Lucic as jester was great 'in parts' while Miss Peretyatko’s voice might be a bit too light for Gilda. This up-dated, fluorescent Rigoletto uses every trick imaginable in the gamblers' cabaret paradise including Playboy Bunny Girls, wheel-of-fortune, roulette, lap dancers, mobile cocktail bar, cards, poker machines and … just when you thought you had seen everything, some rehearsed dandies solemnly parade in an ornate Egyptian sarcophagus which suddenly reveals a female stripper, very much alive! The intruders to the first act party, Count Monterone and side-kicks, were here turbaned Arabs, very annoyed about gambling and drinking going on next door to their harem (plus having the daughter raced off by the sleazy casino owner). They got their comeuppance in the next act by being shot at point-blank range by in-house security, only a slight deviation from the original.
Alfano was a very serious composer who wrote in several very different styles. His ending of Turandot is well known and now his Cyrano de Bergerac is being performed after Domingo first sang it at the Met 12 years ago. To my mind it is one of the great vocal and dramatic feats for the tenor to compare with Siegfried or Siegmund. And Roberto Alagna does a stentorian job of this declamatory and dramatic work opposite Roxanne of Jennifer Rowley. The Met production is a major undertaking, starting in a staged theatre and moving to a balcony street scene followed by a battle field, then a monastery. Bravo the wizardry of the Met stage hands.
So who was the star of the month? Well, I have to say I derived vast pleasure from the wonderful Slovakian bass Stefan Kocan who excelled in his three roles: Sparafucile, Gremin and Commendatore. I have never heard such a long, low bass note as the Mantuan (Burgundian) hired gun repeating his own name down the stave: ‘Sparafucile!’ as Rigoletto sings ‘Va, va, va, va’. And Gremin’s aria was exceedingly moving and dignified while Onegin looks on in horror. Don Giovanni’s first victim’s father also sings from the dead, using two voices from the one larynx. Fantastic feats and Met would be wise to sign up this man for life (and maybe they have).
Notes by Andrew Byrne ..
More about Hello Dolly with Bette Midler and 50 year Met concert later.