Andrew's Opera was previously published at

03 May, 2000

Otello with Bergonzi - a sad event indeed.

Carnegie Hall

Wednesday 3rd May 2000

A sad event indeed. Carlo Bergonzi's late return to the stage as the Moor in Otello was unedifying. This may be the first serious error of judgement for the wonderful Eve Queller whose 'risk taking' is legendary as leader of the Opera Orchestra of New York.

Having sung pitiably in Acts I and II, which were run together, the 75 year old hopeful retired 'indisposed'. Bergonzi's voice had some pleasant middle register notes but highs and lows were not comfortable and in some cases completely inaudible. The 'Esultate ..' was flawed only because he chose to sing the final ornament which simply did not come off. Another high note cracked in the next scene while one long, held high note was almost a whole semi-tone flat. Several notes in 'Ora e per sempre addio..' were then simply sung an octave lower to avoid the high parts. As if using a 'crystal set', he clutched his left ear before each high note or phrase, only then to sing most of them quite flat. It was undignified and painful.

After an over-long intermission, Carlo Bergonzi was replaced by Antonio Barasorda who sang beautifully. He clearly knew the part, casting aside the music stand and just delivering Otello as the part should be sung. He had apparently sung in Tosca, Carmen and Turandot at the City Opera in the early 1990s according to a local I spoke to.

Kallen Esperian as Desdemona was simply impeccable. Her performance was stylish and graceful. Iago was to have been Leo Nucci but Alberto Gazale sang at short notice in his absence, singing well and possibly receiving the biggest ovation. Jianyi Zhang was also a fine Cassio. The supporting singers, chorus, children and orchestra were all 'first class'.

The orchestra played well and there were several innovations with the trumpets marking the return of the messenger from Venice played from the auditorium, left, right and rear. The rustic villagers' and children's chorus in honour of Desdemona was played to the accompaniment of 3 'strummed strings': a guitar and two other banjo or ukulele-type instruments.

But the night was auspicious in several other respects. All three of the 'three tenors' appeared for the event and occupied a box. Domingo had sung Sigmund the night before. They were all rehearsing a Met Gala of one act each from Carmen, Andrea Chenier and Turandot. Pavarotti sat at the back, chatting didactically to Carreras during the long intermission. After the announcement before act 3, they all left but Domingo returned to join his partner in their original seats. I was told that Licia Albanese, Aprile Millo, Anna Moffo and Lucine Amara were also in the audience.

I would commend this attempt, but suggest that the ends of careers often coincide with the beginnings of others. There will probably be more pluses than minuses from the night's debacle.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

15 April, 2000

La Clemenza di Tito at the NYCO - a magnificent evening in every respect

New York City Opera

Sat 15th April 2000

TitoMark A. Thomsen
SestoLorraine Hunt Lieberson
VitelliaMarie Plette
PublioJake Gardner
ServiliaTracy Dahl
AnnioLaura Tucker

La Clemenza di Tito at the NYCO was a magnificent evening in every respect. The voices and orchestra did the piece justice, while the production was at once sympathetic and æsthetic.

The set was a typical fenestrated Roman red-brick wall 'ruin' as back-drop with a full-width raised walkway behind a well trodden lawn and prominent paved podium. The costumes and (very) few props were European 18th century.

How Titus got his reputation for mercy is a mystery. He reigned for only 2 years and was previously notorious for his cruelty in the war with the Jews, killing up to 500 hostages every day in the siege of Jerusalem, according to Christopher Jones in the program notes. His reign also saw the eruption of Vesuvius (hardly of his doing!) and a huge fire on the Capitol destroyed the Temple of Jupiter and other major buildings. There was also a major plague in Rome - from which Titus himself also succumbed.

It is said that Domitian, his younger brother and successor, was so despised during his 15 year reign that memories of ANY previous emperor would have been held fonder. Needless to say, Jewish historians was not as kind to Titus, having destroyed the Second Temple.

'La Clemenza' has a surfeit of soprano voices with both Sesto and Annio being written for castrati. Titus is a challenging, high tenor role. It has more demands and fewer rewards than Don Ottavio, for instance. For other male voices, there is only one aria and short concerted pieces for Publio, the sole baritone.

From its short introductory piece to its amazing and rhythmic ending this opera is full of innovation. I once disliked opera seria, but now I hear things that make me believe that Wagner, Rossini and others took cues from this consummate example. Although Clemenza has fallen from an early favour with the public, it clearly brought some new blood to the composers who followed. It is as though Mozart knew he would soon be dead within months and 'more of the same' would simply not do.

Listen to the woodwinds! Hear the 'syncopation' effect of the last moments of the opera. Marvel at the what might be the orchestral precursors of the Rossinian patters. Listen to the range of voice required for the rôles. Despite a generally low tessitura, Vitellia has notes up to a D. Witness the staggering dramatic effects of frustration, indecision and conflicts of love, friendship and duty which are so reflected in the music.

But I digress. People know 'Parto, parto ..' and the first act duet but this opera is full of other melodies to take home, some being very complex and 'long line', the more so in Act II. This may have allowed Bellini and Rossini to make the melodic innovations they did.

Marie Plette sang a suitably schizophrenic Vitellia and Sesto was played with panache by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Mark Thomsen was a commanding emperor, if imperfect vocally. Tracy Dahl and Laura Tucker also sang well. Jake Gardner as Publio was also good, but he just did not have enough music to sing.

The orchestra was small as befits the period, with the benefit (one assumes) of the newly installed State Theater "enhancement" (is it amplification?) which was not obtrusive to my ear. In place of a harpsichord there appeared to be a grand piano. The volume was more than adequate with sympathetic tempi from mæstro Harry Bicket.

There was then the biggest ovation I have heard in NYC for quite some time with repeated bravos and even standing ovations from some. Remarkable too, was the appearance in the curtain calls of a production representative (was it Stephen Wadsworth the director?). I have never seen this done before at the END of a season!

comments by Andrew Byrne ..

PS - after I posted a shortened version of this 'review' on a popular internet list to my surprise, I received by reply the following note from the director: "Hi there Dr. Byrne, City Opera passed on your internet report of LA CLEMENZA DI TITO to me last night, and I thought I'd let you know that yes, indeed, that WAS Stephen Wadsworth who took a bow with the company. And we are glad you enjoyed it. Best, Stephen Wadsworth"

11 February, 2000

Idomeneo, an opera seria by WA Mozart

Sydney Opera House

Fri 11 Feb 2000

Dear Colleagues,

I have a confession to make. I walked out at half time. Yes, despite a competent orchestra, a world-class conductor (Christopher Hogwood), a world famous opera which does not need my approval (Idomeneo), excellent principal roles and a 'lovely' traditional production, I just had to go.

The audience included Joan Sutherland (a one-time Elettra), Richard Bonynge, their fine friend Chester, Bronwyn Bishop our minister for the Queen's Navy, Donald McDonald, Olympics festival organizer, Adrian Colette, opera general manager as well as a coterie of hangers-on. But I could not bear another minute.

It started at 7pm and was diabolical. Even with a large papered audience it was still 3/4 full on a Friday night which not a good sign for the budget. I sat next to a young English tourist for whom it was his first exposure to opera. He may never return to the opera house so long and 'difficult' was the night. What a pity he could not see the beautiful Pearlfishers for which there were no seats to be had this week.

I used to classify Idomeneo with Clemenza di Tito but they are chalk and chinoiserie. One is Mozart's debt to the past and the other is his gift to the future. And I am the first to admit that my patience ends at archaeology. Those who stayed for the rest of the performance deserved everything they got (and I am sure it was fine).

[Outside the theatre tonight was the opening salvo of the Sydney Mardi Gras, held on the steps of the opera house, quite a contrast to what was going on within. A free drag show, à la belle étoile!]

At least in act one, I can report that Deborah Riedel sang Elettra well, as did Emma Matthews and Kirsti Harms as Ilia and Idamante. John Mark Ainsley was an elegant Idomeneo. Jaewoo Kim sang Arbace with conviction. The chorus, Trojans and Cretans, were excellent, yet the night did not catch on for me so I hastened to our local Italian restaurant for consolation and sustenance.

By 9.30pm I was enjoying a bowl of sweet potato gnocchi with chicken and Gorgonzola washed down with a fine Vernaccia in Victoria Street.

By the way, I heard the Pearlfishers again this week and American tenor David Miller again sang and acted to the highest calibre. He made an intriguing change at the very end of 'Je crois ententre' in which he left out the final highest phrase, replacing it with one single legato note which seemed to go on to eternity. He must not have felt confident with the written notes, although his opening night had been flawless. It must be one of the most difficult arias ever written for the tenor voice. This ending was in no way inferior and it was just one change in a tighter and more held-together performance of this rarely heard opera.

Is my prejudice (or petticoat) showing? See you at the Met Ring in April.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..