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29 May, 2009

Il Trovatore at the Met: May 2009

Il Trovatore, Met Opera, Friday 8th May 2009 8pm.

Conductor - Riccardo Frizza
Manrico - Marco Berti
Count De Luna - Zeljko Lucic
Leonora - Hasmik Papian
Azucena - Mzia Nioradze
Ferrando - Burak Bilgili
Inez - Laura Vlasak Nolen

This David McVicar opera production was a major improvement to the Graham Vick fiasco of 2001 yet it still had its weaknesses and one shocking event which I believe is beyond any good taste (see below).

Utilising the full revolve of the Met stage, the opera opened, like Don Giovanni, to an enormous wall with attached ‘full-height’, vertiginous stairway-to-heaven with a landing and a door mid-way. This became the backbone of the various scenes, front, side and angled. The sets were not fully realistic but stylised using rough rocks, a portcullis, monastic items, crucifix, anvils and enormous outdoor stake for burning witches.

The cast members were all excellent with the artists warming into their roles and vocal confidence improved in each of the 4 acts. There was one intermission between act 2 and 3 which added to the task for the principal singers.

Ms Papian as Leonora paced herself carefully for this long role but was unassailable by the last act where her D’amor sull’ali rosee and Miserere were followed by the fiendish cabaletta ‘Tu vedrai che amore in terra’ to great acclaim. Ms Nioradze was strong and dramatically credible as the gypsy witch.

As Manrico Mr Berti was excellent. His almost impossible task of “Ah si ben mio ..”, followed by “Di quella pira” was well executed (one verse of the latter). And there were cheers all round at his capable and exciting terminal high C.

At one point Mr Lucic as De Luna pulls out his sword, grasps it with his left hand and runs the blade through his clenched fingers to the sight of spurting blood which then haemorrhages visibly for the remainder of the scene. On his exit he wipes a red stain onto the castle wall. I found the unexpected episode to be shocking and the audience seemed to gasp and recoil as it was done. It was most distracting and unnecessary, bearing little relation to the story-line (such as it is). If it derived from the libretto (which I doubt) it also distracted from the words, music and subtitles. Blood brothers may be one thing, but self mutilation on stage is quite another.

Lucic’s ‘Il balen’ was a high point vocally along with the chorus and cabaletta following.

Mr Bilgili and Ms Nolen as Ferrando and Inez both had substantial and important voices which would have eclipsed lesser singers in the major roles.

The anvil chorus deserves special commendation, being the only realistic anvil use on stage I have seen. The chorus members were at one, strong-voiced and sympathetic to the piece. By chance the same week the Met was also performing the only other anvil song I know from opera. The first act of Wagner’s Siegfried makes quite a different, energetic workman‘s song - first performed 20 years after Verdi’s version.

Overall a very enjoyable performance … but a production which shows just how difficult it is to present this opera without major breaks and clunky scene changes. I vote for two or even three intermissions as Verdi intended.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

08 May, 2009

Cenerentola at the Met: May 2009

Cenerentola (Cinderella) Rossini Wed 6th May ‘09. The Metropolitan Opera, New York City.

The first person on stage in this brilliant comedy was Australian soprano Rachelle Durkin as an ‘ugly sister’. The title role was sung by sensational young Latvian mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca (pictured above in Met publicity shot). She played the perfect ‘ash to cash’ heroine including the final magnificent ‘atonement’ tour-de-force Naqui all’affano. She has a smooth, large and exciting voice without a hint of strain over a wide range.

African American tenor Lawrence Brownlee was also excellent, along with Corbelli, Alberghini and Relyea as the fine bass-baritone roles in this hilarious romp. Corbelli as the Baron on this occasion had played Prince Ramiro in 1997 showing both his versatility and longevity.

Mounted for Cecilia Bartoli, the 1997 production by Cesare Lievi is a fantasy with many clever and amusing moments. Conductor Maurizio Bennini.

The evening was filmed by ‘floating’ cameras in the auditorium and I gather is to be broadcast ‘live’ this Saturday (31st May in Australia). These Met broadcasts have brought high quality opera to every corner of the world - and at much lower cost than sitting in the opera house itself. Subsequent DVDs become available at modest cost, putting opera within reach of almost anyone.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..

For my original notes on the premiere of this production in 1997 see

New York in springtime:

The Ring at the Met April/May 2009

The Ring operas Metropolitan Opera, New York. Starting on Monday 26th April 2009 Brief notes.

Das Rheingold was a triumph in almost every respect. The cast was led by German bass baritone Albert Dohmen as Wotan. His voice is accurate and warm with a strong high range as well as a reasonable low extension. He did not tire in the three operas whose drama Wotan the Wanderer fashions by his arrogance and miscalculations.

This may be the last time Domingo as Siegmund could or should do this ‘handsome teenager’ role in Walkure. But people may have said that 4 years ago when he did the same role in the same house, and he is still incredible. No reservations, not even the slightest vocally even though his old age naturally shows up the closer one sits. Unfortunately, he became ill during the Walkure of the following week and had to be replaced by Gary Lehman before the Wintersturm aria.

Rene Pape did the rather unrewarding role of Hunding while Adrianne Pieczonka was his beautiful and effective Sieglinde.

Katarina Dalayman is a glorious Brunnhilde. For absolutely no apparent reason she was loudly booed by a single man in the upper part of the theater and everyone (including the singer) seemed shocked. She had sung superbly. Her voice has a controlled hard steely edge just on occasions when she really wants to use it, such as some sopranos may have in a completely uncontrolled manner. So she has gifts, like a trill (and she’s got that too!), which just put her in her own league above the ordinary. An excellent Linda Watson did the Siegfried Brunnhilde for some reason - perhaps Ms Dalayman was too thin.

Christian Franz as Siegfried was excellent and did not appear to tire up to his untimely but rather necessary death. The ‘woofle’ heard from him on the broadcast the week before was almost completely absent in the theater on Saturday to my ear.

The cast of the whole Ring is balanced and nobody let the side down. Equally, no single singer particularly dominated either vocally or by taking the dramatic lime-light. Orchestra, soloists, chorus were all in top form. Maestro James Levine received multiple rapturous receptions at each act and final curtain.

This production of the Ring by Otto Schenk is now a museum piece. Like the liner QEII, it is 19th century technology and simply cannot be continued indefinitely. It has scrims, pulleys, models, back-lighting, anvils and every trick of the stage … but is now dated and in some cases tatty and nearing obsolescence. The scrim front paired curtains still failed to operate properly but it hardly mattered. There were a few clunks and squeaks between scenes (but for all I know these may have been present 20 years ago). To my best knowledge this production follows most closely to what Wagner ordered in his very detailed staging instructions. This includes underwater simulations, people disappearing on stage, transmutations, dragons being killed, smelting, rope binding, cooking, etc, etc. I was told by a Wagner expert that only Vienna in living memory has done comparable Rhine operas.

I have been fortunate enough to see this in 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2009 but this is the end of the line, sad to tell. A preview of the new proposed Met Ring on Tuesday 5th May was cancelled for some reason, hence little more is known about it.

I think that the Met is probably the only opera company to make money out of Wagner. The huge capacity opera house with excellent acoustics are factors. In their lead up, the company does two or three weekday performances of the two more popular operas, Rheingold and Walkure. The ‘first cycle’ is broadcast series of Saturday matinees over 5 weeks. These are broadcast live internationally (except Australia, of course). The company then does two complete cycles of Mon, Tues, Thurs and Sat of Rheingold, Walkure, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung. Tickets were available for every performance of this particular cycle. Top seats were $400 but there were many seats available for prices down to $65 with standing room half that only available on the week of the operas. This is a sign of the times which are affecting New York as much or more. Restaurants, shops and businesses that have been going for generations are closing down. Hickey Freeman, Balducci, City Opera, OONY, Carnegie Hall have all been affected with ‘bail-out’ specials offered by many who are still trading.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..