Opera, My Love by Milano52
Opera reviews
Dec 03, 2014 | 7786 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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OTELLO saved by the performers at the METROPOLITAN OPERA
by Milano52
May 27, 2016 | 4993 views | 0 0 comments | 66 66 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

 

 

This ostensibly new production (it started in September of last year) of Verdi’s Otello at the Metropolitan Opera could have been the greatest pleasant surprise if only… Well, that is not how I would want to start my review, since the singers have all proved themselves to be professional in all senses, but truthfully there are some ifs, regardless of the famous critics’ pat in the back to the Met for an auspicious Met debut (the New York Times), and because of these ifs, the opera loses its great impact with the audience, especially for the neophytes who wanted to chew on a more ear-challenging Verdi, without the aria and recitative structure to which they may be used to, as in the classics Rigoletto or La Traviata. Otello has an audacious and complex orchestration and its characters are well developed, so having great singers and a great opera, what could go wrong? The comments of the audience on the way out of the theater (yes, it’s true, I did not take a poll, all I did was eavesdrop, but even that can give you an idea of at least how the audience reacted)  were mostly  matching my impressions, so I could not have been wrong in feeling that something had gone amiss.

What was it? I am already not a promoter of updating or modernizing the story, but there are times when it works; most of the times it does not, sadly. The efforts of the scenic designer (Es Devlin), a respected professional who created a marvelous series of sliding and rotating transparent arches, illuminated in a way to give a feeling of fable, could have worked for another type of show, maybe some fantasy similar to Alice in Wonderland, but it had no pertinence to this story. I cannot blame Mr. Devlin or Donald Holder (the lighting designer) for the failure to deliver, though. Mr. Bartlett Sher, who produced this opera version, is fully responsible for the choices taken and for their effect on the story development. The amazing projected images by Luke Halls did bring some sanity at times, but their use got old fast enough, having to deal with those inadequate structures that someone wrongly imagined to create a proper environment for an Otello. And what is with the choir always dressed in black, with reminiscence to a witch tribunal among the Puritans? This opera already has enough drama within itself without attempting to create an unrelated atmosphere of doom. The fact that the choir stands on stage dressed as for a funeral, singing about the possibility of a shipwreck could be acceptable, maybe even building on the roots of the tragedy that will soon loom behind the scenes, and that the same choir (in black) just goes on a happy frenzy as soon as Otello’s ship comes to port is annoying to people of good taste and clashing with the expectations of an opera lover. How believable is seeing Venetians in Crete dressed as English Puritans (or whatever those outfits were meant to represent)? And choosing those garments to create an even deeper sense of doom does not feel incorrect to the director, when the celebration occurs? Just an opinion….

Phot Copyrigth Epoch Times

Photo Copyright Epoch Times

The sliding arches, with their majestic beauty and there lack of usefulness to the story and its setting, have another characteristics that attempted even more to destroy the proper flow of the drama: their inadequacy for the movements of the actors. To see the poor Otello (an otherwise flawless and magnificent Aleksandrs Antonenko, who proved his voice skills and his power over and over throughout the performance) attempting to go around the arches, passing through them clumsily as if that would have been a naturally expected action was disheartening to say the least. Didn’t the director notice the lack of flow in the actions? Did the glitter and special effects convince him that it was an ideal choice? It would have been nice to hear an explanation by Mr. Sher regarding the meaning of these flowing arches (Symbolism? Cubism? Belated expressionism? Minimalism?).OTELLONYTimes

Thankfully, besides the magnificent voice of Mr. Antonenko, a marvelous, silky-textured voiced commanding soprano (Hibla Gerzmava) performed in an impeccable manner, although there were two instances when I could not hear her, and I am not certain whether it was the volume of the orchestra, which otherwise seemed to have a clear grasp of the music interpretation and played in a remarkable fashion (also thanks to the excellent conduction by Adam Fischer) or a slight loss of volume by the soprano. Nevertheless, it was forgivable, especially keeping mind of the difficulty of the part and the strange selections of movements across the stage set by Mr. Sher, which would have confounded and stressed out any normal performer ( maybe not a rocker on acid, but I am not sure about that).iagoagainstglass

A ‘bravo’ also to Alexey Dolgov, an effective and substantial Cassio., and  to Iago (Željco Lučić, a baritone with a luxurious voice and a great stage presence,) who proved to be a prodigious ‘evil character’ and at times he made me forget the inadequacy of the staging. Actually, there was a time in this magnificently sung Otello when I did forget that there were no sliding psychedelic arches in Cyprus, also because they finally were in the background and the main part of the stage was occupied by a real bed (a touch of sanity that surprised me; I expected a sleeping bag or maybe a transparent platform that would have stood in for the bed). The brilliance of the late Verdi’s musical choices was here in primo piano, and proved their validity in bringing the depth of the tragedy and the real essence of the drama to the audience. You could feel the drama in your chest; people’s eyes were moist and their necks were tense. Yes, it was a tragedy and the marvelous work by the composer was grabbed successfully by the singers as well by the orchestra, bringing a divine product on stage. One has to recognize that the singers were all so convincing and skilled that they were able to annihilate the negative effects of the stage production, or at least most of the time.

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Immersed in ancient times; the performance of Aida at the Metropolitan Opera. A review.
by Milano52
Jan 03, 2015 | 35416 views | 0 0 comments | 1282 1282 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Written By:  Tiziano Thomas Dossena

Immersed in ancient times; the performance of Aida at the Metropolitan Opera. A review.
 

Imagine being immersed in an ancient world, with colossal stone columns, palaces and images of deities, a marvelous music surrounding you and, thank God, no cellular phones ringing: what else can one wish for? Well, how about some great arias and choruses? Done. Yes, that is exactly what experiencing “Aida” at the Metropolitan Opera is.

Based on a 1988 production by Sonja Frisell, with a set designed by the inventive Gianni Quaranta reflecting the original libretto’s descriptions to a T, but with his own flair, this opera offers a plethora of costumes that would impress anyone (Dada Saligeri proved that it could be done again and again). The famous return from the battle of Radames, with abundance of troops marching in various colorful and authentic looking costumes, and with horses, a carriage and a group of slaves, perfectly matched the grandiosity of Verdi’s “Triumphant March,” which made even more of an impact on the spectators than usual because of this visual effect. There was even a comic relief (do not expect a repeat, though) with one of the wonderful looking white horses that pulled the carriage showing an unexpected jumpiness, thumping its right hoof gracefully to show his unwillingness to be on stage and at times attempting to bite the hand of the phlegmatic attendant, arousing the laughter of the public.aida7

Apart from these wonderful setting, this opera has so much value of its own and the singers offered such a valiant performance that I would rate this production a 4 and a half stars. The missing half star is due to the fact that somehow the First Act showed a slight tedium maybe due to an inadequate study of the performers’ movements on stage or maybe to the unfortunate temperature control in the theater, which was duly adjusted for the following acts. Maybe it was both, but when a valiant Se quel guerrier io fossi! … Celeste Aida did not improve the mood of the willing public it was certainly not because of any inadequacy by the wonderful Italian tenor Marcello Giordani, who performed flawlessly the whole evening, so I have to presume that something in that act was missing out. If we exclude the music and the singers, we can only assume that a combination of excessive warmth in the theater and the staticity of the stage actions contributed to this unfortunate sensation of sleepiness that may have assaulted a few spectators. Exception to that was the scene in which they performed the quintet aria Alta cagion v’aduna that was so well balanced vocally and visually to have the effect of waking up any heavy-eyed spectator once and for all.aida3

Thankfully, the Second Act was so thrilling it made up for that shortcoming and more, bringing back the opera to the expected and deserved all-around excellence that the Metropolitan got us used to.

The soprano Tamara Wilson, on her debut at the Met, was a tremendous Aida, finding tonalities that created a spectacular premise for the duets with the truly gifted mezzosoprano Violeta Urmana, who offered a convincing and full-bodied performance as Amneris. Her Fu la sorte dell’armi a’ tuoi funesta was so perfectly calibrated, both vocally and expressively, that Aida’s voice entered seamlessly and in an ideal singing duet, bringing joy to the adept listener as well as to the general audience.

The two basses were to say the least impressive. Dmitry Belosselskiy brought to life the high priest Ramfis forcefully and persuasively, and his voice was powerful while retaining a warmth in his vocal expression that was remarkably pleasant. Solomon Howard, as the Pharaoh of Egypt, was splendid, not so much for any particular acting, which was limited by the circumstances of his appearances, but because his superb voice had a booming but solid output while retaining a wonderful diction, which most often fades in the low notes of other basses’ performances.

To complete the wonderful performance of these singers was George Gagnidze as Amonasro, a baritone who has both the experience and the vocal capacity to carry this role. A delightful Rivedrai le foreste imbalsamate brought to life the ambiguity of the character who is more concerned with his revenge than with his daughter’s happiness.

marcellogiordani_artistpage

The tenor Marcello Giordani

Memorables the arias Qui Radamès verra .. O patria mia, sung in Act Three with heart and purity of voice by Tamara Wilson, and Morir! Si pura e bella, sung by Marcello Giordani with a touching but firm quality of voice at the end of Act Four.

It is without saying that the singers’ extraordinary performances were possible because of the outstanding work by the orchestra, conducted by a bold Marco Armiliato, and the chorus, directed by Donald Palumbo; their sensitive musical construction weaved a masterful background for the singers. Additionally, I found not without merit the dances, choreographed mightily by Alexei Ratmansky, which somehow lightened up a bit the gloomy tone of this unforgettable story.

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Zeffirelli's La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera: a review
by Milano52
Dec 04, 2014 | 26952 views | 0 0 comments | 1358 1358 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

 

Written By:  Tiziano Thomas Dossena

3 December 2014|

 

La Boheme: a review
 

Zeffirelli’s production of La Boheme at the metropolitan Opera shines.

A sample of the stage set up as performed in a preceding season.

La Boheme is an opera that does not need introduction and most of our readers probably had the occasion to see its performance at least once, but seeing this version at the Metropolitan Opera may offer a unique opportunity that should not be missed. The intricate set designed by the famed movie director and artiste par excellence Franco Zeffirelli serves many purposes: it creates the proper settings for the story as originally described in the libretto; it offers a thrilling visual experience; it is designed for an optimal movement of the singers; and in the second act, it allows an unbelievable amount of people on stage without any encumbrance. If you think that is always the standard of opera sets, think again. Zeffirelli puts the spectators in awe and in a state of relaxation at the same time, allowing them to be absorbed completely by the story developing in front of them and to forget being in a theater.

Certainly that occurred also because of the perfect amalgam among the performers, who excelled in their acting ability, if not all in their singing one. Mimi was interpreted convincingly by a superb Sonya Yoncheva, who shone without overpowering the male singers, although in the first scenes, a slightly weak Rodolfo, interpreted by a usually valiant Charles Castronovo, seemed to struggle to be heard above the music. The orchestra was performing in an impeccable manner, thanks to the Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza, who was able to extract from it a truly emotional and luxurious sound, something Puccini would certainly recognize and approve of, and it was not drowning any of the singers’ voices; I was therefore surprised by this occurrence. Thank God, Castronovo found his volume and made up for this early shortcoming by singing the rest of the opera with heart, offering a congenial Rodolfo by using his richly-textured voice to enhance the emotional undertones of his relationship with Mimi and with his friends; in particular, his duets with Mimi were tender and showed a perfect chemistry between the two singers.

Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo and Anita Hartig in her Met debut as Mimì in Puccini's "La Bohème" on March 19, 2014. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo and Anita Hartig in her Met debut as Mimì in Puccini’s “La Bohème” on March 19, 2014. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Schaunard was executed by the funny and agile baritone Alessio Arduini, who showed how important that part could be in the balance of the story if interpreted as it was intended to be. That his voice was rich and resounding certainly helped even more in bringing the character alive. Arduini is definitely a promising baritone and his future will certainly be more than successful if he keeps the good work coming.

David Bizic’s Marcello was poignant and his voice supported and complemented Rodolfo’s singing so well that Castronovo’s unconfident beginnings almost slipped by unnoticed. Marcello was also convincing in his amusing exchanges with Musetta, and their interaction was optimal, focusing on their impulsiveness, his jealousy and her emotional volatility.

To complete the impeccable group of Bohemian friends, ready to give up all their belongings, even to take literally the coat off their back, was the magnificent bass Matthew Rose as Colline, who gave an unforgettable and touching version of the famous aria “Vecchia zimarra.”  His physical presence making him quite noticeable, Rose has the gift of a marvelous voice and obviously of a great technical training, since his performance was flawless.

The enactment of the male singers as a whole was so well controlled and their characters so believable that for once I appreciated fully the meaning of friendship as the composer and the librettists had most probably meant to transpose through their work.

Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo and Kristine Opolais as Mimì in Puccini's "La Bohème" at the Metropolitan Opera on April 5, 2014. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo and Kristine Opolais as Mimì in Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the Metropolitan Opera on April 5, 2014. Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

That is not to say that the love affairs of Mimi/Rodolfo and Marcello/Musetta appeared as secondary, but the friendship displayed heightened even more the tragedy of the tortuous love affairs, in particular that one of Mimi, who dies in her lover’s arms after leaving him so as not to make him feel guilty, just one of the many gestures of unselfishness demonstrated by the protagonists. It was an exciting and inspiring experience to actually see this aspect of the story so well developed.

Susanna Phillips as Musetta in Act II of Puccini's "La Bohème." Photo: Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

Susanna Phillips as Musetta in Act II of Puccini’s “La Bohème.” Photo: Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

Greek soprano Myrto Papatanasiu’s Musetta presented a fair vocal performance, but her stage presence was exceptional and her acting was impeccable. John Del Carlo’s (Benoit and Alcindoro) carried his two parts very well, both as a singer and an actor, offering, just as Schaunard and Marcello, a fresh comic relief that allows the strong emotional stress caused by the underlying tragedy not to overcome the spectator.

As I mentioned, La Boheme is an extraordinary opera, but this particular performance at the Met is unforgettable and deserves to be seen above all others. Some of the performers will change in the future performances, but we were told that all of them are as capable and enthusiastic about the opera as the ones I saw. Enjoy it.

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