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Serdecznie Wszystkich Państwa pozdrawiamy,

Beata i Michał Olszewscy
opera.info.pl - 11/05/2015

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"Don Giovanni" at the Metropolitan Opera

Author: Gabriela Harvey
Gabriela Harvey
Peter Mattei in the title role of Mozart's "Don Giovanni"  photo (c) Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
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A quick look at the calendar confirmed my fear, only three weeks left in the 2014-2015 MET season. My notes from the Tuesday February 28th performance of “Don Giovanni” are still on my desk. Anticipating at least two “Un Ballo’s” and maybe “Cav and Pag,” and not wanting to disappoint my faithful translator… So, I thought I would tackle this on a beautiful New York City spring weekend…

On Tuesday February 28th the conductor Alan Gilbert was on loan from the Philharmonic next door at Lincoln Center. Mr. Gilbert, it was recently announced, will leave his post as music director of the New York Philharmonic in the summer of 2017. He kept a lively tempo throughout, without sacrificing the lyricism and romanticism of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” The orchestra played superbly. Sweden’s baritone Peter Mattei was Don Giovanni, Venezuelan (via Italy) bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni was Leporello, our own bass-baritone James Morris was The Commendatore, tenor Don Ottavio was Russia’s Dmitry Korchak (Met debut), South Africa’s soprano Elza van den Heever was Donna Anna, England’s soprano Emma Bell Donna Elvira, Virginia’s mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsay was Zerlina and Czech Republic’s bass-baritone Adam Plachetka was Masetto.

I know the story, but that evening it hit me hard. I was about to spend hours witnessing the crimes of a serial rapist! Maybe it was Mr. Mattei’s superb portrayal of the…,oops, I almost said rascal… a sociopathic rapist, that added to my “discomfort”! The Met’s production, first directed in 2011 by Michael Grandage, is set in the opera’s own era, but it manages to reflect our time. Perhaps another reason for my epiphany - this opera is all about lust, love, hate, jealousy, murder, revenge, envy, and more…

Luca Pisaroni as Leporello, and Emma Bell as Donna Elvira in Mozart's "Don Giovanni" photo (c) Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
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And so it begins: we encounter Don Giovanni in the bedroom (Leporello is keeping watch outside) of a noblewoman, Donna Anna who is engaged to Don Ottavio. She manages to fight his advances off.

Her cries for help are heard by her father, the Commendatore. He challenges her disguised assailant. A sword fight ensues. Don Giovanni kills him and manages to escape unrecognized. Donna Anna asks Don Ottavio to avenge her father’s death. Next we “meet’’ Donna Elvira, one of Don Giovanni’s former conquests. Leporello sets her straight, showing her the “catalogue” of all of Don Giovanni’s victims. Masetto and Zerlina’s wedding takes place and Don Giovanni sets his eyes on his next victim … Zerlina. Anna seeks Don Giovanni’s’ help in finding her father’s murderer. Elvira warns all about Don Giovanni. He “declares” her mad and invites all to celebrate the wedding in his house. As he leaves, Anna recognizes his voice as that of the man who attacked her. Again she begs Don Ottavio to avenge her father’s death. Having accepted Don Giovanni’s invitation Masetto and Zerlina (now contrite for not being able to resist the temptation of flirting with Don Giovanni) enter Don Giovanni’s home. Anna, Elvira and Ottavio (all masked) also appear. Don Giovanni tries to distract Zerlina and drag her into another room. She cries out. Anna, Elvira and Ottavio reveal their identity but Don Giovanni manages to slip away. Don Giovanni and Leporallo exchange clothing. Elvira continues to be in love with Don Giovanni despite what she knows. Disguised as his master Leporallo encounters Masetto, (who is looking for Don Giovanni) and a fight ensues. Leporello beats up Masetto and leaves. Zerlina comforts Masetto. Later on, Anna, Elvira, Ottavio, Zelina and Masetto surprise Leporello. Fearing for his life, he reveals his true identity and manages to escape yet again. Don Giovanni and Leporello, escaping to a cemetary/garden, find the tomb of the Commendatore. The statue at the grave speaks to them and asks for repentance. Don Giovanni makes Leporello invite “the ghost” of the Commendatore to join them for dinner. He comes and asks them again to repent. Don Giovanni laughs …and the earth opens and sends him to the flames of Hell.  Anna, Elvira, Ottavio, Zelina, Masetto and Leporallo are left…

Czytaj więcej: "Don Giovanni" at the Metropolitan Opera

Two Divas

Author: Jacek Kornak

la straniera gruberova
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Jacek Kornak

Currently in the operatic world the term “diva” is used very rarely. It is a pity because to me this term expresses admiration, almost worship to a singer who, through her voice, is capable of deeply moving listeners emotionally. This term refers not so much to a singer but to her unique relationship with her audience that is created through the magic of singing. I think that it is not singers have changed and are not as good as in old times. At the present time we have several truly remarkable singers. Perhaps it is our passion for opera that faded and is not as intense; therefore, instead of “divas”, we rather see on stages skilled specialists in the field of opera. I would like to retrieve to the term “diva” in case of two exceptional singers of our time: Edita Gruberova and Anna Netrebko. If someone has doubts if they are divas, I recommend listening to their latest albums.

“La Straniera” is a work by Vicenzo Bellini that very rarely appears at opera theatres, and it is equally rarely recorded. This fact alone can convince bel canto lovers to pay attention to the new record of this opera, released recently by Nightingale Classics. The plot of this opera is not particularly fascinating. It is a type of “die hard” opera story. Nevertheless, in this opera Bellini included very beautiful arias for soprano coloratura that definitely make it worth of attention of any opera lover. The main soprano part has so much of bel canto virtuosity that not many singers would be capable of performing it. On this record the role of Alaide is sung by bel canto veteran Edita Gruberova. While listening to this album, I may have to admit that probably the best years of this legendary singer are behind her, nonetheless I wish most sopranos of our time were able to move their audience in their best years at least half as powerfully as Gruberova can do well in her 60s. Therefore, considering all the weight of this word, I can call Gruberova “diva”. Gruberova can perform dramatic roles from bel canto repertoire like no other and the role of Alaide fits her voice very well. Although in this record I noticed that her voice is not as flexible and light as it was in the 1980s and a few high notes were not perfectly clear, this performance is still an operatic tour de force. The way Gruberova operates with sonority of her voice is just breathtaking. Her performance of Bellini’s music is incredibly intense and full of vocal colours. The sense of drama that Gruberova creates with her voice is simply hypnotising. Unfortunately, the record itself is not of the highest quality, the other problem is that the orchestra plays in a quite concise manner, producing at points a heavy sound that does not fit bel canto style at all. The rest of the cast is not able to match Gruberova’s level and they are rather average singers.

iolanta netrebko
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“Iolanta”, an opera by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, is perhaps as rarely performed as “La Straniera”. This last work by Tchaikovsky was recently released by Deutsche Grammophon. The opera is far from the best Tchaikovsky’s works such as “Eugene Onegin”, but still is contains a unique charm and a few arias are really touching. I was never a great fan of Anna Netrebko but, on this record, she really impressed me. Netrebko sings here with a heavenly clear and beautiful voice and she perfectly captures the melancholic atmosphere of Tchaikovsky’s music. Netrebko sings naturally and lightly, creating a certain oneiric feeling. There is a unique sense of longing in her interpretation that makes this record emotionally so intense. In case of this record, the diva has colleagues that can match her level. Vitalij Kowaljow simply nailed the role of King Rene. He sings confidently and has an authority in his voice but at the same time also a lyrical colour which is perfect for the role of a king and a caring father. The rest of the cast is quite good, particularly worth mentioning are Sergiey Skorokhodov and Alexiey Markov. Sadly the orchestra is not able to match the level of the singers. The Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra under the batton of Emmanuel Villaume seems to have very little sense of Tchaokovsky’s music. They perform this music in a rather dull way but let us focus on divas.

Jacek Kornak

"King Roger" - Boston

Author: Gabriela Harvey
Mariusz Kwiecień zdjęcie opublikowane dzięki uprzejmości Mariusza Kwietnia
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Gabriela Harvey

The first time I saw this opera was in Wroclaw in April 2014. Mariusz Trelinski, now (sic) of “Yolanta/Bluebeard’s Castle” fame, was the director, and Ewa Michnik conducted. Mariusz Godlewski was King Roger. The title character is a historical figure from the 12th century, King Roger II of Sicily, but the plot echoes Euripides’s “The Bacchae.” Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz (Szymanowski’s distant cousin) and Karol Szymanowski collaborated on the libretto. The inspiration came after a trip they made together to Sicily and North Africa in 1914.

In Boston, another Mariusz, this time Kwiecień (baritone) was King Roger, Olga Pasichnyk (soprano) was Roxanna, Yvonne Naef (mezzo-soprano) was the Deaconess, Edgras Montvidas (tenor) was the Shepherd, Rafal Majzner (tenor) was Edrisi, Alex Richardson was the solo tenor (I recently encountered Mr. Richardson after the DiDonato concert at Carnegie Hall), Raymond Aceto (bass) was the Archbishop, with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and the children’s chorus Voices of Boston, the full BSO orchestra, the renowned Charles Dutoit conducting.

I confess I found it overwhelming, starting with my arrival. After the winter for all ages, not a parking spot anywhere, street or parking lot alike! What…to do?!  A companion offers to drop me off…it is five minutes to curtain…I agree…the performance is luckily delayed, there are many in similar woes… the lobby is full of those whose companions for the evening were out parking…

I suspect that the extra minutes were welcomed by the orchestra and soloists alike. I confess…I found the BSO stage that evening overwhelming. A confession, had I not already seen the Opera, much would have been lost… (For background and synopsis, I recommend an excellent article at http://culture.pl/en/article/king-roger-op46-and-the-clash-of-the-gods and an enlightening interpretation by Mr. Kwiecień in an interview posted on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIHZbtQ-mG4). What was missing was the sexual ambiguity and tension present with a fully staged opera. But that is just one point of view. To this day, the opera remains controversial and open to many interpretations. Some think the Shepherd Jesus Christ…

Despite the concert version (no costumes, no set, crowded stage and, at times, an overwhelming orchestra) Mr. Kwiecień’s persona, his controlled intensity, warm, dark, colored baritone voice, excellent enunciation, musical virtuosity and temperament were all evident throughout. In his "Słońce! Słońce! Edrisi!" (Act III) we witness King Roger free from the shackles of authority, no longer the man in full control (Act I and II), seemingly happy now… at least I thought so…all this matched by the expressiveness from the orchestra.
It stayed with me for days!

Soprano Olga Pasichnyk was more than able to convey Roxanna’s importance and her intoxication with the Shepherd. Her voice was clear, her orchestral fortissimos riding high above the orchestra, not a small feat. (Only once did I fear she might have been overwhelmed by the power of the orchestra.) She was wonderful in Act II, where her wordless notes were intoxicating

The Lithuanian tenor Edgars Mintvidas had perhaps he biggest challenge of the concert version. Difficult to convey the complicated, at times controlling, then seductive and intoxicating persona of the shepherd, when you are wearing a tuxedo…

His lovely tenor voice stood up to the rigor of the evening, the lengthy vocals with their high notes. Impressive.

Mr. Maizner was overshadowed by the above mentioned soloists, not because he is not a good enough singer, but again because of the constrains of the concert version. The importance of his role as the advisor/confidant remained clear.

The vocal journey for all was impressive!

The “supporting” cast was superb including The Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the children of “Voices Boston” (Andy Icochea Icochea conductor). Tackling the Polish language could not have been easy! Bravo!

Charles Dutoit and his ‘plus size’ orchestra are obvious fans of Szymanowski’s music and this Opera!

As for the night’s English ‘supertitles’ (I read, write and speak Polish), there were too many misspellings and many times an awkward choice of words (I did not take notes…). Surely there is no lack of excellent Polish to English translators available to the BSO…

I hope Mr.G. (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/23/a-fight-at-the-opera) brings it to the Metropolitan Opera…I think it is time Szymanowski gain the respect and audience he deserves. After all, he was a modern, dare I say XXI Century man at a time and place not friendly to such a persona (I’m afraid he is still much misunderstood, dare I say disapproved in Poland, where his lifestyle and criticism of Polish provincialism is still a subject for some …)

So…I think it is time to acknowledge that this is not an unknown opera by an unknown composer! It has now been performed (in no small measure do to Mr. Kwiecien’s efforts) in Paris, Madryt,  Santa Fe, Bilbao, (here  in the new production by Michal Znaniecki), and  in London(http://www.roh.org.uk/productions/krol-roger-by-kasper-holten) Warszawa and Krakow. The opera is being presented in London again this May and in Krakow (I will be there…) this Fall.

New York City next…

"Donna Del Lago" at the Metropolitan Opera

Author: Gabriela Harvey
Joyce DiDonato as Elena in Rossini's "La Donna del Lago"  photo (c) Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
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Gabriela Harvey

The recent production of “Donna Del Lago,” (the run ending last Saturday) was all about the singing. I saw the Saturday February 28th, 2015 performance. In spite of the opera’s convoluted story line, I suspect it was revived because there is a cadre of available singers who could tackle the ‘bel canto’ challenge.

In the Andrea Leone Tottola libretto, based on Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake, Elena is promised to Rodrigo Di Dhu (John Osborn) a Highland Clan warrior. She in turn is in love with Malcolm Groeme (Daniela Barcellona). Elena’s Father Duglas D’Angus (Oren Gradus) is an enemy of King James, who disguised as ‘Uberto” is also taken with Elena. Scotland becomes embroiled in a war between the Highlanders and the Loyalists. Rodrigo is killed in battle, and Elena’s father is captured by the King’s Loyalist forces. Although now an enemy, Elena’s Father was once the King’s tutor. Meanwhile Elena, protected by a ring that King James (disguised as the suitor “Uberto”) has given her as an assurance of his loyalty and providing access to the “King,” hopes to convince the King to spare the life of her Father and Malcolm (who also arrives looking for her).  King James reveals his true identity, accepts Elena’s love for another, and pardons both Duglas and Malcom. All ends well…

Joyce DiDonato as Elena and Juan Diego Flórez as Giacomo V in Rossini's "La Donna del Lago"  photo (c) Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
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Much has been written about the staging by the Scottish director Paul Curran, the lackluster scenery, which worked at the outdoor Santa Fe Opera (where this production of the opera was staged previously) but alas not at the Metropolitan… All I can say is that I thought it benign and for me it did not get in the way. One comment, it was often difficult to distinguish the soloists from the chorus, often crowding the stage with nothing to do.

This production stars opera superstar Joyce DiDonato, a recent darling of the NYC Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall. (DiDonato concludes Her Carnegie Hall Perspectives Series with The Philadelphia Orchestra this Wednesday, March 18th. The concert features a program of ‘bel canto’ arias). An aside: on November 4, 2014 I attended her “A Journey Through Venice” Carnegie Hall concert. She was brilliant!

Daniela Barcellona as Malcolm and Joyce DiDonato as Elena in Rossini's "La Donna del Lago"  photo (c) Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
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Opposite her in Donna Del Lago was her co-star from last year’s Met production of “Cenerentola”: Juan Diego Flórez, in the role of Uberto, as the disguised King James V of Scotland. Juan Diego Flórez whose voice I think occasionally has a strained (pinched?) edge, stood up to the challenge. He certainly looked the part. I loved the form fitting leather suit he sported while meeting Elena for the first time. The coloratura aria “Oh fiamma soave “ was masterfully executed! A wonderful performance throughout! He did not disappoint. Bravo!

Osborn’s Rodrigo, a smooth, deep, pleasing tenor (one I found myself at times preferring to the voice of Flórez), was good enough, he certainly stood up to challenge of Act II’s “No! Piu Non so frenarmi” and his “Ma Dov'e Colei Che Accende.” Solid singer!

Daniela Barcellona sang Malcolm Graeme, a part written for a contralto. Despite her less than attractive costume, wig and facial hair she was convincing in her role as Elena’s love interest and her’s was an especially wrenching rendition of the Act II aria “Ah! si pera,” when Malcolm, convinced that Elena is about to marry Uberto, wants to die.

A scene from Rossini's "La Donna del Lago"  photo (c) Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
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Oren Gradus as Elena’s Father, Olga Makarina as Elena’s confidant  and Gregory Schmidt as Bertram, a servant at the Court Of King James completed the stellar cast.

The young and a rising star conductor, Michele Mariotti kept a lively tempo, being careful not to hurry or drown out the singers.

But at the end, this opera was all about Joyce DiDonato. She was perfect, beginning with the beautiful “O mattutini albori, never faulting throughout and ending with the breath taking, almost impossible for others “Tanti affetti,” the closing aria.

She looked the part, she acted the part, she owned the part. That evening she was a perfect singer, fearless, her voice soaring high, confident, effortless perfection! Those of us who were there will never forget her performance!

Riccardo Primo* in Karlsruhe – the real king is only one.

Polish version Flaga polska

Author and translation: Małgorzata Cichocka

malgorzata cichocka4
Franco Fagioli (Riccardo I.) photo (c) Falk von Traubenberg published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Karlsruhe Opera
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Do you like fairy tales?
Do you remember those wonderful moments when you were children and you were listening to your mum or dad reading you different stories, and you – curious of an  unknown world - were travelling there on wings of imagination?
So, do you like fairy tales?
Because I do. And I think that most people like opening the door to their imaginary and dreamy land – to the world of fairy tales – and peep there.
One of the keys to this door is music. Like a beautiful ship, it crosses the endless oceans of human impressions and emotions. On its board we sail through seas of thrills, happiness, euphoria and occasionally nostalgia.
The musical form that shows us and helps us with which route to take is opera, namely fusion of music, words and action.
And do you know why you go to the opera?
I do, I know why I go there. First of all, to listen to the music and beautiful singing. And to see a fairy tale. When we take a seat, when the lights fade, one can hear first sounds of the music and when the curtain rises, we enter the magic world. A fairy tale is starting. Certainly we all love this moment.
Unfortunately, the majority of present directors or producers submit, in my opinion, to modern fashions. With their contemporary productions they often take away all the pleasure and joy of an encounter with this great art - opera.
They want to be very modern and original, so they don't respect the authors of these masterpieces, only impose on the audience their own, very often, bizarre and redundant  ideological conception.
They burden the piece with personal obsessions and frustrations, which actually are of no interest to us. They change the plot and sometimes even the music, which is completely incomprehensible.
As a result, we watch on the stage everything we can see around us every day – at home, at work,  in the street and on the Internet. Our reality which very often has an ugly face.
So, is this what you want? Because I don't, at least not in the opera. I have got enough.
I want a fairy tale. 

Franco Fagioli (Riccardo I.), Claire Lefilliâtre (Pulcheria) photo (c)  Falk von Traubenberg published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Karlsruhe Opera
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Fortunately, when Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe decided to show Händel's opera 'Riccardo Primo', they commissioned the direction to the French director Benjamin Lazar. Lazar, a specialist on baroque opera is the guarantee that Händel's work will be performed in baroque convention and in this way it will give priority to vocal art of singers.
When we start to work on Händel's opera, like `Riccardo Primo` we must consider what is the most relevant in it. Plot and libretto are not the most significant; it is only a pretext for presenting characters and arranging action. The essence of this masterpiece is beautiful, virtuoso, florid solo singing demanding great technical skill, precision, emotional sensitivity and passion. Because if baroque music with its figurative-melodic repetitiveness is not performed with passion, it is simply boring.
For Händel the most important matter was who would sing his pieces and how he or she would manage it. Sound is a priority, word follows it.
`Riccardo Primo` is a story about twists and turns of two couples in love, fighting with fate, adversities, embodied in a bad Governor Isacio. He desires king's fiancée and he does everything to achieve his goal. Certainly, all ends well, the lovers can be together and evil is banished.
Paolo Antonio Rolli was the author of libretto, but he later admitted that his text was adopted from a libretto by Franesco Briano,  written in 1710 for Antonio Lotti.

Nicholas Tamagna (Oronte), Franco Fagioli (Riccardo I.), Claire Lefilliâtre (Pulcheria), Statisterie photo (c) Falk von Traubenberg published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Karlsruhe Opera
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`Riccardo Primo` is not the best opera by Händel, but it is performers who make it beautiful and valuable.
It has a small cast: two female characters and four male. The operatic pattern follows opera seria in its current formula : recitative as setting; next a solo aria expressing emotions of a character, and finally - exit. Group music fragments are rare. There is only one duet in the whole opera. But in this work Händel introduces beautifully sounding additional form : dramatic arioso and recitative  accompanied.
In the plot there is also one of the elements favoured by the 18th century authors – a storm at sea. And precisely with this element the opera begins; Costanza and Berardo appear at the sea side. It is worth mentioning that the music in this scene is one of the best instrumental fragments in this masterpiece.
Händel, having at his disposal three great stars of the current opera stage, created many possibilities to present their talents and he composed from six to seven arias for each of them.
The main character - Riccardo Primo - was performed by the extraordinary castrato Senesino (Francesco Bernardi) with alto voice. Also, the last aria of the opera belongs to Riccardo.
Costanza was sung by Francesca Cuzzoni known and valued for her expressive and moving singing.
The role of Pulcheria – second soprano – was taken by Faustina Bordoni, famous for her great technical skills and brilliant interpretation.
Other roles fell to remaining members of Händel's group : castrato Antonio Baldi and basses Giuseppe Maria Boschi and Giovanni Battista Balmerini.
Having in mind the vocal abilities of his singers, Händel wrote such difficult music that performing it today is a serious challenge for vocalists. His musical genius demands the best performers.

Claire Lefilliâtre (Pulcheria), Sine Bundgaard (Costanza), Franco Fagioli (Riccardo I.) photo (c)  Falk von Traubenberg published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Karlsruhe Opera
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Beside remarkable singers, Händel also had an outstanding orchestra at his disposal.
The band accompanying the vocalists consisted of the best musicians in London and had about 35 members. They played the strings, wind instruments, theorbo or lute and 2 harpsichords. Händel played and improvised on one of the latter and the fame of his playing and improvisation attracted listeners from all over Europe. Due to that reason, there are many generously orchestrated fragments in the score and accompaniment of many arias is sophisticated and elaborate.
This year’s performances were repetition of last year`s production. I knew what to expect. Travelling one thousand kilometers to Karlsruhe I was glad to see a unique stylish spectacle, to listen to good music and beautiful singing. In a word, an exceptional artistic event. My marvellous fairy tale.
First spectacle took place on 24th February, then 26th and 28th February – held as part of the Internationale Händel Festspiele.
After a great two-part overture the curtain went up and we saw the stage with two solitary figures in dim light. A moment later behind the next veil there appeared a Medieval castle. When performers came out, we could see the gorgeous costumes in warm gold and brown colours like in old icons and paintings. Only the costumes of Riccardo and Costanza stood out with their red colour.

Franco Fagioli (Riccardo I.), Claire Lefilliâtre (Pulcheria), Sine Bundgaard (Costanza) photo (c)  Falk von Traubenberg published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Karlsruhe Opera
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This year Paul Goodwin, English conductor led all performances. He is known for his great conducting skills; besides, he is a baroque music specialist. In 2008 he released opera 'Riccardo Primo', and he knew the score thoroughly. But did he have his own conception of the masterpiece?
Truly, he emphasized the melodiousness of melodic line and took out both dancing nature and  rhythms from music. I liked it very much. Good, lively, sometimes incisive tempos of arias (frankly, a few of them were even too fast for me) were alternated by a little monotonous recitatives, but with the excellent accompaniment of basso continuo: viola, harpsichord and  theorbo, my favorite one.
It seems Paul Goodwin mainly focused on singers, watched over every entrance of soloists. He ensured to orchestra played in proper dynamic and so that it wouldn't deafen the vocalists. And it was done skillfully.
Franco Fagioli was the king for this performance, in every sense of the word. When he appears on the stage, others don't count. He is a singer of such high class, that only a few are equal to him. His voice is mezzo-soprano. Singing parts written to Senesino, who was alto, he had to considerably lower his vocal register, but it didn't detract any beauty from his singing. The sound was full, vivid, resonant, and the ornamentations brilliant, light and precise. When he sings the part 'da capo' and introduces his own variations, we have the feeling he is playing with sounds, juggling them up and down, adding rich ornamentations. It is made in such a natural and easy way, that his singing is elegant and full of charm.
Moreover, his 'messa di voce'. I hadn't heard it before from any singer, who performed it, in such an extraordinary manner as Franco Fagioli.
But do you know what 'messa di voce' is? Probably not many people still remember it, and it was one of the main elements to decorate 17th and 18th century singing.
Franco Fagioli knows how to do it. And he does it. He does it beautifully. Listen to arioso `Quanto tarda il caro bene...`

Sine Bundgaard (Costanza), Lisandro Abadie (Isacio) photo (c)  Falk von Traubenberg published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Karlsruhe Opera
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In the performance one more countertenor sang, Nicolas Tamagna. He has a nice, interesting and warm voice with low timbre. He bravely managed with technical difficulties in his parts. Maybe he could master  the  musical side of his singing a bit more. Lisandro Abadie and Andrew Finden, two additional male vocals, bas and bariton, were also very good. Especially Andrew Finden, who sang a role of Berardo. He only had one aria, but he showed how nice voice he has got.
There were two female roles in the cast. Costanza was sung by Danish sopranist Sine Bundgaard. Her voice is pretty, subtle and high. Perhaps occasionally in her voice I heard too much vibrato and sound fading in ending notes, but it all depends on what we approve of. We should appreciate her beautiful sound and musical interpretation where she put much emotion. She was the real embodiment of the charming king's fiancée, waiting for liberation by her sweetheart.
Second female role – Pulcheria – was taken by French singer Claire Lefilliâtre.
Unfortunately, her voice and singing have so many inadequacies that she should avoid  the parts written for Faustina Bordoni. The audience was very kind to her, praising her several times with applause, but undoubtedly her singing was below the level of other performers.
All in all, it was a beautiful and unique performance, despite a few minor defects.
Benjamin Lazar wanted to show how such operas looked like in the 17th and 18th centuries – perhaps in Händel's London theatre in Haymarket.
Candle light, a bit naive decorations, simple choreography, all created true atmosphere of dated epoch, like in a dream.
When after the third act, the curtain went down and it was time to stand up and leave – a fairy tale was over.
But one king stayed. The real one. Because the real king is only one.
His name is Franco Fagioli.
Do you agree with me?

See you in the next fairy tale…

Author Malgorzata Cichocka

_________________________________

*The original title is 'Riccardo I, Re d'Inghilterra'

The Metropolitan Opera’s production of “La Bohème”

Author: Gabriela Harvey
Kristine Opolais as Mimì in Puccini's "La Bohème" photo (C) Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the MET
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Gabriela Harvey

The January 2015 woes at the Metropolitan included a problem with the changing of the set after Act I in Puccini’s La Bohème on January 15th, a postponed premiere of Tchaikovsky's Iolanta and Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, canceled because of an impending nor'easter on January 26th, and an on stage protest of Putin's policies in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. The latter, while the entire company was taking its well deserved bows after Iolanta’s premiere on the 29th.

To be honest I wasn’t going to see “La Bohème” this time around. Unlike many, I am not a fan of Zeffirelli’s production. I find it visually too dark and irritating when Musetta’s quirky behavior (kissing a stranger) interferes with the Mimi and Rodolfo anguish (Act II). Also too crowded at the café, where the principals are often lost in the crowd. Thank goodness for Musetta and her red dress!

But how could I not go and hear Ms. Opolais live and then there was Mariusz Kwiecien (I was invited backstage on the 19th…Thank you Berta!) ! The loss would have been mine…
I first went on the 15th, again on the 19th, and then there was the HD cinema matinee broadcast on the 24th.

Among the soloists, without a doubt the Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien was the star of all three performances! Jealous, tempestuous, virile, and crazy in love when he quarrels fiercely with Musetta in acts one and two. He swaggers, threatens, and brawls. Given all that, he shows his wistful side in the third act in his duet with Rodolfo “O Mimì tu più non torni,”. Vocally he was “on top of his game.”  As Marcello, he wasn’t just good, he was phenomenal! Glad to hear he is not about to give up the role. (I look forward to hearing him again on March 7th, in a concert version of Karol Szymanowski’s ‘King Roger” with The Boston Symphony Orchestra, where Ms. Opolaise’s husband Andris Nelsons  is the Music Director.)

Kristine Opolais returned as Mimi in “La Bohème.” This after her April 2014 performance, when Opolais made history at the Metropolitan Opera, making two role debuts within 18 hours. She gave a scheduled performance in “Madama Butterfly,” only to step in for a matinee performance of “La Bohème” the next day. The other wrinkle…. the performance was the HD cinema broadcast heard around the world. Opolais impressed listeners the world over, her performance earning critical acclaim.

On the first night, some of her singing was quivering and colorless, coming through as lifeless, spiritless. Then again, as Ms. Opolais explained hers is a Mimi, who knows she is dying. She reminded me of a ghost. I think her tendency to go sharp that evening was no doubt an effort to compete with the orchestra conductor's lack of consideration, forcing the singers to “ride” the orchestra (something I might add Mr. Borras successfully, ignored). She was wonderful in the last act, her interpretation wrenching and the chemistry between the two obvious. All laced with sadness!

Mariusz Kwiecien as Marcello in Puccini's "La Bohème" photo (c): Marty Sohl / Metropolitan Opera published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
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Starring as her lover Rodolfo was the French tenor Jean-François Borras. Borras has a lovely voice but lacked top notes, particularly in the first act of the January 15th, performance. He recovered nicely as the night wore on. His duet with Marcello in Act III, "O Mimi, tu piu non torni,” was one of the evening’s highlights.  He grew stronger with each performance.

Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka soared as Musetta! Ms. Rebeka controlled the (too crowded) setting of the Café Momus , really shining in the familiar  “Musetta’s Waltz” ("Quando men vo" ). Her querulous relationship with Marcello showcased outside the inn in Place d'Enfer (“Strega” he calls her…), where Mimi comes (staggering down a staircase) looking for Rodolfo, amused us throughout! We are happy to see them “make peace” at the end, knowing theirs will always be a tempestuous relationship.

Alessio Arduini (Schaunard) and David Soar (Colline) gave more than credible vocal performances often competing with the conductor's drowning some of their lines; they were charming during their antics both in their studio-attic and at the Cafe Momus.

These comments apply largely to the performance of January 15th. The long unintended intermission and the additional intermission time impacted much of the mood of the evening, and no doubt the singers performance. It was a long evening. Things were much better the second time around. Mariusz Kwiecien continued to “wow”, as did Ms. Rebeka.  Mr. Borras and Ms. Opolais were good together, making us weep every time…of the three performances I think the broadcast was the best. You be the judge….

The Metropolitan Opera’s production of “La Bohème”
January 2015

Cast
Conductor: Riccardo Frizza
Mimi: Kristine Opolais
Musetta: Marina Rebeka
Rodolfo: Jean-François Borras
Marcello: Mariusz Kwiecien
Schaunard: Alessio Arduini
Colline: David Soar
Benoit/Alcindoro: John Del Carlo
Production Team
Production: Franco Zeffirelli
Set Designer: Franco Zeffirelli
Costume Designer: Peter J. Hall
Lighting Designer: Gil Wechsler

Two in one…

Polish version
pl

 

Author: Gabriela Harvey
Anna Netrebko as the title character in Tchaikovsky's Iolanta. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
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Gabriela Harvey

Iolanta/Bluebeard's Castle January 29th, 2015 the Metropolitan Opera NYC

Two stories, two women: one born blind, the other blind in love. Seemingly unrelated … but what connects them is their obsessive relationship with a domineering man. Does Treliński go as far as to suggest that Judith is the mature Jolanta. I think perhaps…

In Treliński’s interpretation, the two operas represent different phases in the life of one woman. Jolanta emerges out of physical darkness—and seeming innocence—into ‘light and love’; Judith leaves behind all she knows, and throws herself back into ‘darkness’ because of blind love. Could it be the older disillusioned Jolanta?

We meet Jolanta surrounded by her attendants, “trapped” in her “gilded” cage, a white room with mounted deer heads. Is she lovingly cared for? Or a prisoner of an obsessed Father who refuses to come to terms with her blindness?

I have many friends who wax poetic about the 2009 Baden Baden Jolanta  by Netrebko. Clearly it was the pre Lady Macbeth Anna. Here she is a mature woman, with a strong voice, soaring above the melody. It is hard to envision her as the vulnerable, confused, blind young woman Tchaikovsky had in mind. But wait… here comes Vaudémont to the rescue (in more ways than one…). This performance is all about Beczala! He seizes the moment  and more! The story comes alive during the knight’s encounter with Jolanta. Mr. Beczala’s silky tones align with the beautiful, lyrical and romantic music of Tchaikovsky. Lovely also was the duet of Jolanta and Vaudémont Tvoyo molèan ye neponyatno (I do not understand your silence).

Here I know I should say something about Mr. Gergiev’s brilliance as a conductor. I recognize it … but I am not a fan…perhaps one day he will see the ‘light’ and be on the right side of history.

There was the baritone Aleksei Markov as the Duke Robert, the man Jolanta is promised to, but who now is in love with another. The bass is Ilya Bannik as King René, Jolanta’s stern Father, and he baritone Elchin Azizov, as the mysterious Moorish Doctor - and others, all very good; but…forgive me…all overshadowed by the brilliance of Piotr Beczala.

Many of the staging elements appear again in “Bluebeards Castle”. This is essential to Mr. Trelinski’s interpretation and in tying the two stories together. The ragged floating trees with their roots exposed, deer heads decorate one of the rooms in both operas.

Nadja Michael as Judith in Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera
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Mr Terlinski turns the Metropolitan Opera into ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ by placing speakers throughout the house. The creaking sounds, the murmurs, all create a sense of doom, and sexual tension abounds. In accepting the blindfold Judith surrenders to her husband and despite his trying to distract her, insists on the keys that open all seven doors. Her obsessive love takes us through all the rooms. Loved the treasury scene (here a luxurious bathroom), where Ms. Michael’s nearly naked admires the jewelry, but recoils in horror when she discovers they are drenched in blood. Her acting and singing skills are obvious here. She has a clear, strong expressive voice. With her voice she was able to express the many emotions the character of Judith goes through, love, hate, curiosity, surrender. She like Piotr Beczała earlier, stole the performance. It doesn’t hurt that she is beautiful. The scene in the bathroom with its weeping walls and Ms. Michael in a fetal position is terrifying.  Mikhail Petrenko, often off stage as Bluebeard and with his gravelly voice (that night?), was all but background for Judith’s turmoil. What I remember is “Judith kiss me…”, “Judith don’t open the door….”

I loved the mix of cinematography, the video, the stage effects and the traditional and the modern, the beautiful singing. Loved the blue dresses. Jolanta’s a dress of the 50’s, sweet. Judith’s is sophisticated, sexy…It all should play very well during the HD broadcast.

Here again I should say something about Mr Gergiev’s conducting, but I can’t. I was overwhelmed by Ms. Michaels’ presence, the impact of the sets …the sounds. Was it because of the excitement, the sense of foreboding? Or was the horror on stage not reflected in his direction of the orchestra….were they upstaged by the director’s brilliance and Nadja MichaeI’s overwhelming performance ? I will concentrate on the music (after all it is Béla Bartók!) on Saturday…

"The Merry Widow" at the Metropolitan Opera

Author: Gabriela Harvey
Nathan Gunn as Danilo, Renée Fleming as Hanna and Alek Shrader as Camille de Rosillon in Lehár's The Merry Widow photo (c) Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
Kelli O'Hara as Valencienne and Alek Shrader as Camille de Rosillon in Lehár's The Merry Widow. photo (c) Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
Kelli O'Hara as Valencienne with the Grisettes in Lehár's The Merry Widow photo (c) Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera published by opera.info.pl by courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera
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Gabriela Harvey

I grew up in places where the regional (provincial) Opera Houses were dominated by the operetta. Lehar, Offenbach, Strauss were kings… My eyes still mist when I listen to Franz Lehar’s - Das Land des Lächelns - Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz – my German mother’s favorite.

It seems to me that there is a revival of this genre, or at least attempts to resurrect the operetta. Witness the two new competing recordings of Piotr Beczala and Jonas Kaufmann. Both say they have a great deal of respect for the genre, which is definitely not easy to perform, even though it is often referred to as “light.” The operetta is infrequently performed these days because its outdated social customs are not well received by modern audiences.

Franz Lehár’s “Die Lustige Witwe/The Merry Widow,” at the Metropolitan Opera House (I saw the 1/9/15 performance) is s a new production directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman (of Broadway fame) with sets by Julian Crouch, costumes by William Ivey Long and lighting by Paul Constable. English version by Jeremy Sams. (oh how I wish they stuck with the original German) Conducted by Andrew Davis with Renée Fleming (Hanna Galwari), Nathan Gunn (Danilo), Broadway’s Kelli O'Hara (Valencienne), Alek Shrader (Camille), Sir Thomas Allen (Baron Zeta), Carson Elrod (Njegus).

The story, is that of an attractive widow from a Balkan land, Montenegro…(oops….Pontevedro) now living in Paris, whose husband left her a fortune. Her country is nearing bankruptcy. The Pontevedrin officials at the embassy in Paris scheme to have Hanna marry one of her fellow citizens, thus save her country. They draft Count Danilo as the most obvious suitor.

As is custom with an operetta the singers are frequently alternating between sung numbers and spoken text, and therefore the challenge is that the singing and speaking voices must be attuned to each other. It seemed to me that in the first act especially, they failed the challenge and the singers never quite sounded fully at ease, whether singing or speaking. Even though they wore microphones (used only during the speaking parts) much of the sound didn’t travel. The Metropolitan Opera House is simply too big.

Ms. Fleming looked the part and was in good voice all evening. Her “Vilja, o Vilja,” the tender, wistful love song that Hanna sings at the garden party reminded me of Rusalka…..She looked fabulous in the costumes reminiscent of the Belle Époque. Her counter to Mr. Gunn’s antics was quite believable…..and given her attraction to the scoundrel in Act II, when Hanna and Danilo dance and hum to the recurring “Merry Widow” waltz, it was truly romantic. The baritone Thomas Allen was notable as Baron Mirko Zeta, the Pontevedrin envoy in Paris, clueless about his wife Valencienne’s infatuation with Camille. Speaking of Valencienne …. The much talked about and anticipated Broadway star Ms. Kelly O’Hara stood up to the challenge of singing without amplification. She and the tenor Alek Shrader, as Camille provided much of the spice of the evening. Carlson Elrod as Njegus, the “go to” Danilo assistant provided much of the comic relief.

I am not a big fan of Broadway but have to admit that the musical dance “numbers,” both the raucous, suggestive cancan at Maxim’s and the folkloric Balkan dances at Hanna’s party, were masterfully choreographed and executed . Ms. Stroman’s direction, the other much anticipated collaboration, shines here.

So given the challenges of the production, let’s give everyone an A for effort and a B- for the first act, B+ for the combined second and third, thus a solid B for the evening.

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