Thursday, March 6, 2014


Just listened to the livestream of the season prima, with Levine back in the pit. He's conducted every performance of this work I've ever seen, all of which have been at the Met, and he always risks making the chandelier fall with that long loud trombone Bflat (?) after Wozzeck has killed Marie. From what I could tell, he did that again tonight. Moreover, as he always does, he makes this music accessible for those who aren't Puccini-scorners or demanders of atonality with their morning coffee.

Matthias Goerne replaced Thomas Hampson in the title role. I had doubts about whether Hampson should have taken it on. He's spent much of his recent career doing roles not right for his voice. Well, better health to him. Meanwhile, Goerne loaded us up with a bassy baritone sound that made his Wozzeck demented (of course) but never weak. I hope I'll get to hear his Amfortas, which I hear is in his future.

Debbie Voigt: well, who can deny she's in the second half of her career? That acknowledged, she took on Marie boldly, and never sounded bad, unless you're a true Voigt hayta. No one can do the "...als ich zehn Jahre alt war!" moment like Anja Silja in the Dohnanyi recording, so that's not a fair standard.

Peter Hoare's Captain and Russell Thomas's Andres filled the bill. I confess to a morbid fascination with the Doctor, so I'm very demanding about this role. I liked the aging Michael Devlin's under-voiced but highly stylized take on it when this production premiered. The best "Jetz ganz still" EV-AH was delivered by Norman Bailey in a British broadcast that I barely caught about 20 years ago: he let the three words descend, as though verbally burying Wozzeck. All that said, I was pleased with Brit import and Met debutant Clive Bayley: he got his creepy on, and delivered the high note and the very low notes. Jolly good. (A good role for Baileys, but watch the spelling.)

Simon O'Neill was a fine Drum Major, but I wish I had heard Stuart Skelton in the production's previous outing.

Levine's return-season to the house, and his return to an opera he has, in the now-overworked term, "championed"; Goerne's role debut, and Bayley's house debut, and a great performance: must have been fun to be there.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Listening to the Sirius broadcast of the first Frau Ohne Schatten of the season.

I tuned in a bit late, so I'm just now discovering that this production is apparently compete: they've opened the traditional cut in Act III where the Nurse, abandoned by the Empress, sends the desperate Barak and his wife off in different directions as they seek each other. ("Menschen! Menschen! Wie ich sie hasse!") Well good for the Met on that one.

In fact, good for them across the board. Schwanewilms sounds lovely. I like the gruffness of that guy singing the Messenger.  (Edited to add: that was Richard Paul Finke! His voice has gotten a bit flintier since I last heard him, as Alberich.) The Nurse is new to me, and doesn't erase memories of Mignon Dunn, but she's good. Johan Reuter sounds much better tonight than he did as Prus in The Makropoulos Case last year. This is my first time hearing Torsten Kerl, and he's a very satisfactory baritonale type of Heldentenor. Been a long time since I've heard Christine Goerke, but, have read about her transformation into a Hochdramatische, & I now believe it.

Above all, Vladimir Jurovsky is bring clarity and energy at the podium.

Now if only I could go see this production, which seems, from descriptions and still photos, to be a worthy successor to its amazing Merrill-O'Hearn predecessor.

"Auf, du Kahn,
Trage dies Weib
Mondberge hinab,
den Menschen zu!"

You tell 'er, dude!

Now we're up to Schwanewilms's "Vater, bist du's?" and I think I'll stop now b/c I'll probably faint at "Ich will nicht."

P.S. Virginia Opera bass Nathan Stark is apparently making his debut is a small role in this run of Frau. Congratulations, @theStarkVoice !

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gagnidze; anticipating HANSEL @ GSA

Gagnidze was good. He threw away "...tu sei la schiava" on Sprechgesang, but he's hardly the first Amonasro - the first *good* one, I mean - to do so.

So what am I doing now? I'm in the lobby of the University Theater at Old Dominion U., Norfolk, Va., waiting for HANSEL AND GRETEL in a production by the Governor's School for the Arts.

The Vocal Arts Dept of this high-school program has such depth of young talent, they're putting on three performances of HANSEL with three different casts. I make that 24 capable teenage voices. And that's just the Vocal Arts Dept: the Musical Theater Dept is separate.

I'm at the closing performance. I could have gone to them all, I suppose, but I still have law exams to grade, so I've chosen one Diva dei Tutte Dive at GSA - Malia Diaz - who's singing the Dew Fairy this afternoon. But I've also heard great things from AnyƩe Farrar, and I understand she kicked it as Gretel on opening night.

More later.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gagnidze - about time for me

I break the long and excuseless silence of this blog to note that I am about to hear, for the first time, George Gagnidze.

Of course he came to the Met with the Bondy TOSCA, but that's hardly his fault, and somehow, despite his many Scarpie and Rigoletti since, I somehow haven't heard him until the b'cast of his Amonasro today.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Charles Anthony R.I.P.

I have a lot to get caught up on, especially about the Met's RING, but for the sake of beloved Charles Anthony I had at last to shake the blogger rust off and post the news of his death at about 4:30 this morning. At the time @SusanneMentzer first posted it on Twitter and a Distinguished Personage confirmed it, the news was still not circulating in the media, nor yet on Opera-L, but here we lament his passing -- and also that of fellow character tenor Paul Franke a few weeks ago.

Sometimes they were in the same shows: Franke as Cassio, Anthony as Roderigo; Franke as Spalanzani, Anthony as the Four Servants; Anthony taking over as the Holy Fool ("Simpleton" in those days) when Franke was promoted to Shuisky. And so on. Franke got more cracks at leading parts (David, the Captain, and of course The Witch!), but, don't forget, Anthony recorded Ernesto for the Record Club!

Two giants of their Fach, and two great artists. But today is Charlie's day. Praying for him and for his family.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Some local news to catch you up on, but first, the live moviecast of ANNA BOLENA.

Loved it. I emerged newly convinced of the potential for bel canto to convey serious drama. Beverly Sills convinced me of that back in the day, and she was my first and until today only Anna B. I still remember her (in Capobianco's production) giving the guard a big slap at the end of the Big Arrest Scene.

I also retain a vivid aural memory of her "Coppia iniqua," but not, sorry to say, any memory of how she handled it dramatically, other than to say that Beverly never neglected the dramatic side of her bel canto roles.

Anyway, Anna Netrebko nailed it. In the past there has been a spectrum of views on whether she could sing bel canto, with a discernible drift of majority opinion towards approving her as a verismo soprano (and in Russian opera, of course), but not in anything else. But in yesterday's ANNA, the technique-mavens were at least impressed at her progress since her PURITANI a few years ago, and I was just enchanted. Her voice had the richness of Callas at her best, she had trills (real or imitation, I'm not sure, but effective) for "Coppia iniqua," and she had (here we in the movie theaters are privileged) dramatic intensity throughout.

(Another privilege we had: Netrebko doing her "naughty Anna" bit in her pre-curtain interview with Gelb when she turned from him to the camera to add "The Tudors" quietly to her list of preparatory movie-viewing.)

Strong supporting cast throughout. Ildar Adbrazakov is a strong bass-baritone whose Enrico replicated the moody tyrant portrayed by Robert Shaw in A Man for All Seasons. Note to Gelb and other impresarii, tho': Ildar is a treasure, but he's a bass-baritone, not a bass. In roles that really require a bass, make sure you cast Furlanetto (like Silva in the upcoming ERNANI), or Pape.

Since this opera lacks a no-kidding baritone role, like Enrico Ashton in LUCIA, there is no need to distinguish sharply between the baritone and a bass with whom he shares the stage, such as Raimondo. A bass-baritone Enrico VIII is fine if he's a powerful one like Ildar.

(Ildar would be a perfect Ivan Khovansky in KHOVANSHCHINA -- but hey, crazy Met, you've cast him as Dosifei in the long-awaited KH. revival next spring, with undoubted bass Anatoly Kotscherga as Ivan. Pardon me but I think you're crazy. Should totally be the other way around.)

Stephen Costello's Percy -- ah yes, the voice that made me tweet "omg tenor!" when I was listening casually to the premiere over the 'net. What a gift to the lyric tenor world!

Ekaterina Gubanova was a weak link for me. She has a real mezzo voice -- brava for that -- but the role of "Giovanna" Seymour goes high. Gubanova's voice showed itself dramatic indeed, to the point of harshness at times.

Also: while we all have our potted rants against the "modern trend" of casting by looks, the very fact that I and so many others were watching this live performance in a movie theater shows it's a bit late to lock that particular barn-door, so let me just add that, despite her excellent acting, Gubanova was a few crumpets short of the sort of breakfast for which one could imagine Henry ditching Anne Boleyn.

By chance I picked up an OPERA NEWS from a few months ago and saw that Gubanova was Fricka in La Scala's WALKURE last spring. A good review, and I could easily imagine her being brilliant in that role.

In this run of BOLENA, Gubanova has the disadvantage (for which we must spot her some points) of replacing Latvian lovemuffin Elina Garanca, the Met's new Carmen, who was Jane Seymour to Netrebko's Bolena in a production last spring(?) in Vienna.

Garanca was scheduled for the Met's production too, but, well, l'amour est un oiseau rebel, and La Garanca turned up with a bun in the oven at just a time when the baby-bump would have introduced an unhistorical complication into the already-thick story of Anne, Jane, and Henry. Quite frankly, the opening chorus of "the king's eye turns to another" would, in the age of surtitles/Met-titles, have just slain them in the aisles. Congratulations on the new life coming into the world, Elina, and we'll hope to catch your Seymour in the future when maybe we won't "Sey" so much....

A shout-out, please, to my Twitter friend Keith Miller -- @KeithMillerBass -- whose tweets are full of opera-historical quizzes, and whose performance as Lord Rochford, Anne's brother, showed a fine bass-baritone voice and brought an extra dose of gravitas to the stage.

Tamara Mumford nearly stole every scene she was in as Smeton, and in Eduardo Valdes, who played Hervey, the Met has a new character-tenor of the love-to-hate type.

Marco Armiliato impressed me as a conductor who knows and loves bel canto, and who could and did keep the drama going well.

How well does he know it? Well, you couldn't necessarily tell from the camera coverage of the orchestra, but he conducted the overture without opening his score. This comes from a spy in the house. (My mom likes it when I call her that.) After the overture he started using his score.

(I think there is pith in James Levine's talkback to colleagues who rebuked him for relying on the printed score: "Why not? I can read music.")

The production: dark; the spots of color were rare and presumably deliberate. And why not? Henry's, court historically, was dark, not the place of soon-it'll-be-Shakespeare enlightenment we often see in historical dramas made in the Anglophone world . Costume designer Jenny Tiramani (think Monty Python's Ann Elk, but shorter, and actually knowing her stuff) says the surviving clothes and documentary evidence shows early Tudor courtwear was much darker than you often see depicted: lots of black velvet, black satin, and black silk.

And -- living at the whim a moody tyrant -- it was a scary place to exist. I'm so glad McVicar captured this, and I'm so glad he included (tho' the libretto does not require it) the historical fact that Smeton was tortured. You know that line from A Man for all Seasons? -- Norfolk says it first, to More, in confidence, but Cromwell later repeats it back to Norfolk, in irony, demonstrating the omnipotence of the Tudor spy-state: "This isn't Spain -- this is England!"

My point exactly. Tho' Catholic, I love DON CARLO as much as the next guy -- but I'm glad that Italian opera sometimes puts on stage historical moments that show Reformation-oriented royal courts acting in tyrannical ways too.

Friday, September 16, 2011