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Sony Classical Plans New Recording of La Traviata with Peretyatko, Alagna, Hvorostovsky, and Domingo

New York- Sony Classical to release new complete recording of Verdi’s original, first edition of La Traviata with Olga Peretyatko, Roberto Alagna, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Placido Domingo.

Sony Classical plans the release of the first commercial recording of La Traviata before Verdi’s edits after the 1853 premiere. Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko will sing Violetta for the first time. Alfredo Germont will be sung by Roberto Alagna and Dmitri Hvorostovsky will sing Germont Père. Star tenor Placido Domingo will continue to add to his ever-expanding repertory as Flora Bervoix, Barone Duphol, and Flora’s dinner-announcing servant.

After a disastrous premiere in Venice in 1953, Verdi substantially reworked the opera after its premiere, and it opened two years later to great acclaim in Vienna. The 1953 version is rarely shown in opera houses, even though there is an abundance of music Verdi, himself, called “Splendid… Possibly the best music I have ever written.”

Peretyatko will be singing Violetta for the first time in theaters in 2015, but she feels ready to take on the part now. “I am very excited to sing Violetta. For me, it is one of the great parts ever written in any opera, ever.”

Alagna and Hvorostovsky are also excited to participate in this unearthing of La Traviata, with each adding, respectively, “I am very excited.” and “I cannot wait to start recording.”

After over forty years of singing some of opera’s most challenging roles on the main stages of the world, Placido Domingo is excited to take on new roles in this recording. “It is a great joy to sing these roles. I have always found Flora and her cast of characters very interesting to the story. To have the chance to bring them to life is a blessing. I have been working very intensely with my voice coach to access the upper falsetto register required for this part, and I think the public will be very pleased with the result. They will not recognize my voice!”

The recording will feature the Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House under the baton of Placido Domingo. The planned release date is April 1st, 2015.

For more details, contact Gretzl and Shears Public Relations

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uat7UA1d5ys

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Parts of Their World: Rusalka at the Metropolitan Opera in Review

The Met is frequently criticized as a repertory house, unadventurous and conservative in its programming and casting. There are definitely aspects of that which are true(And were particularly prevalent during Joseph Volpe’s management.), but during Volpe’s management, the Met championed a rus_2434avery select number of non-standard repertory operas. Among these are Zandonai’s “Francesca da Rimini”, Giordano’s “Fedora”, Dvořák’s “Rusalka”,and “Ernani”(Arguably standard rep, but have you seen any other opera house that does Ernani more than the Met?). The first three are all diva vehicles, while the fourth was a Pavarotti vehicle. While the original stars of those productions (Scotto, Freni, and Beňačková) are no longer singing the way they used to and some of these productions are yet to find singers to match the iconic performances of the original singers, the Met has filled the Rusalka void with Renée Fleming since 1997, and it’s become one of her signature parts. The role is definitely one of the iconic Fleming roles, along with the Figaro Contessa, Marschallin, and Desdemona, and it’s safe to assume that Saturday night was her final outing with the Little Mermaid-esque water nymph(Her Covent Garden farewell is in 2016, and she sang her final Desdemona in 2012, so it’s logical that this would be her final Rusalka.).

The 1993 Otto Schenck Rusalka is the only production of the opera the Met has ever seen, and it’s gorgeous. The Günther Schneider-Siemssen sets are hyper-realistic and detailed down to the tiniest flower on the forest floor. The era of regietheater is undeniably beneficial for the perpetuation of opera, but that shouldn’t mean that that we should write off every production that isn’t edgy or thought provoking. Sometimes, very rarely, pretty is good enough. It may not fly for any standard-rep piece, but it works to an extent here, and it works well. Fortunately, Laurie Feldman’s revival direction brings the mystery of the forest to the forefront of the drama, which makes the intensity of the spirit world’s rus_4303aconfrontations with the mortal world all the more jarring, making this production even more than a pretty stage picture. Sylvia Strahamer’s costumes are, in accordance with the production, very pretty.

Renée Fleming carries a distinct gravitas as a performer, which is undoubtedly one of the reasons why she’s found so much success. She may not be the most exhilarating singer, and her characterization in this run may have been lacking, but vocally, Fleming is still a perfect fit for the part. Her creamy voice lends well to the part’s lyrical demands, and her high notes, which take on different, more metallic characteristics from her middle register, cut through the orchestra. Her “Song to the Moon” plodded on at a glacial pace, causing tempo idiosyncrasies at times, but if a singer should be able to indulge anywhere, it’s at their last performance of a signature role.

While the evening was a milestone for Fleming, it was Piotr Beczala as the Prince who was definitely the most consistently stellar singer. Like Fleming, the role is a great fit for him. His diction was perfect and his high notes soared, even when he was contorted on the stage. His palpable character shifts matched the excitement in his gleaming tone and he consistently made himself heard over the orchestra(more on that later), sometimes making him the only person you could hear onstage.

John Relyea delivered a well-sung Water Goblin, but did little to make the part at all interesting. His numerous monologues provided minimal insight into an obviously complex character, cheapening his portrayal.

Emily Magee sang a cold, intense, and perfectly audible Foreign Princess, but, as a matter of personal preference, I found her distant-sounding timbre distracting.rus_1419a

Before the performance, the Met announced that Dolora Zajick, original to this production when it premiered, was recovering from an illness, but wished to sing. Every singer should wish to “recover from illness” the way Dolora Zajick does. As Jezhibaba, she shook the rafters with her low notes and she brought comedy to a mostly depressing storyline. Her incantations of “Čury mury fuk” were as well sung as they were entertaining.

In the smaller roles, Dísella Làrusdóttir, Renée Tatum, and Maya Lahyani, were vocally rus_2632afantastic as the three water sprites. Especially in the lower voices (Lahyani and Tatum), the voices created a beautiful texture, making their scene-to-scene banter high points of the entire night. Julie Boulianne was a vocally colorful and boyish “Kitchen Boy” and Vladimir Chmelo matched her with good singing and characterization as the Gamekeeper. Tyler Duncan, who made his Met debut on Saturday filling in for Alexey Lavrov, was in good voice in the small part of the hunter.

The rest of the run was conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, but Saturday’s performance was conducted by Paul Nadler. I heard an earlier performance in this run, and I can attest to the superior quality of the former’s conducting. Unfortunately, Nadler’s conducting didn’t measure up. He extracted good sounds from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, but during the first act, more often than not, it was hard to hear the singers over the orchestra, creating a bad balance. This problem improved throughout the night, but the first act is where a lot of the opera’s best music comes from.

It’s a good thing this Rusalka got an HD transmission a week before, as it’s probably the final run of this production. A clip can be seen below:

Photos/Ken Howard

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A June 2013 Interview with Susanne Mentzer

Hello, Opera Fans! This is my first post of the New Year, so a belated Happy New Year to everyone out there! In June of last year, world famous mezzo-soprano, Susanne Mentzer was nice enough to answer some of my questions about her career. Below are my questions and her detailed responses”

Q: How did you first get into opera and classical music?

A: I was a teenager with a loud voice. It started to show maturity when I was a senior in HS and I started taking voice lessons. My mom suggested I be an usher at Santa Fe Opera that summer and I knew the cute
guys from school parked cars so I thought it might be fun. I did not expect to like opera but I was amazed by how much I liked it and how interesting the singers were, and they were attractive. I went to college to be a music therapist at The University of the Pacific. The summer of my sophomore year I went to Aspen Music Festival and School and was encouraged to go to Juilliard and be a total voice major.

I also sang a lot in church choir and did a lot of folk music with a couple friends in HS so singing was a part of my life but not classical music. I did take piano lessons for about 5 years.

Q: Do you have a dream role or any exciting projects coming up?

A:I wanted but never got to sing the role of Charlotte in “Werther “ but now I am too old.

I am looking forward to singing more new works- creating a role.  But I have nothing scheduled. Would love to do more recording but it takes money!

Q: You spend a lot of your time teaching. What do you believe are the characteristics of a good vocal teacher and why is it important?

A: I have taught at university level for 12 years although I am not now affiliated with a school, much as I would like to be. Any teacher needs to be a good listener and find the right semantics that make sense to the student. It is a bit like being a doctor and it takes a while to try to figure out what a student is doing to produce a sound. I work primarily on vocal technique but I can also coach. I think the teacher has to help the student look for personal best and keep growing, and also had to earn the trust of the student. It is important to have high expectations but also know that singers are only human and always a work in progress. Life sometimes gets in the way.  Teaching in a university a professor has a responsibility to reach certain milestone with the student for them to be able to graduate.

I also teach privately which is more tailored to what a student needs and hopes to accomplish as it is their time that they are paying for and I want them to get their money’s worth.

Communication is also VERY important and the student needs to tell me how something feels and if it is problematic, etc. They also need to put in their own words what they have learned.

Q: You are an avid blogger and writer. Do you believe that it is important for a singer to maintain these connections with their audience and if so, why?

A: I think it is important for any self-employed artist to use all avenues of communication to reach the public. I do not really write for that reason, though, as my career is so established as a singer.  Personally, I like being able to share some of my experiences. Young artists absolutely need a website and to post audio and video clips. It might just get a foot in the door.

Q: You sing such a wide spectrum of roles. What kinds of separate vocal elements do you try to bring to each one, and are some harder for you than others?

A: It is such an organic experience that the vocalism comes from the character. It is an interesting question.  Generally I do not plan what I am going to do. I need to see who the other singing actors and react to what they do and bring to their characters.

I do like to examine the context of the composition of a piece, and know about the life of the librettists and composer. Then I look at a score as a road map and try to get into the composer/librettist’s heads to determine why they wrote what they did and find the dramatic messages that are there. This is the difference between straight theater and opera. Sometimes the meaning is in the music and sometimes not. The timing is definitely dictated in opera.

I do need roles that have an arc to the character in terms of what they experience emotionally, otherwise I have a tough time portraying them.

Q: What is the most important thing for a very young singer to learn? (Melinda McLain: @revgirrl)

A: It is hard to single out one thing.

  1. Never settle for status quo- always look to improve
  2. A good career takes time. Be patient and learn all you can.
  3. You have a to learn a good technique to sing safely and for many years. You can only get away with your young talent for so long and need to have the technique to fall back on.
  4. Always be prepared and know the notes and the meaning- not just the gist – of what you are singing.
  5. You will get many opinions. Try to find three people who you will always trust- like a spouse, teacher and manager- and listen to them only. You will never please everyone, as the sound of the human voice is very subjective to the listener.
  6. Be yourself. Do not try to be another singer, ever.
  7. Be flexible.
  8. Keep your sense of humor.
  9. Stay humble.

Q: How is the Carlisle Floyd project coming? (Corinne Rydman: @corinnerydman)

A: Thanks for asking! It is going quite well. We recorded and are waiting of the final edit. I wrote the content for the booklet and it is being formatted. I also got the photography done.

I am so excited to be able to share Carlisle’s songs with the world. It should be out toward the end of the summer.

(Side note: “Letter to the World: Susanne Mentzer sings songs by Carlisle Floyd” is available here.

Q: Do you feel that American classical music is overlooked, and what is its overall merit to you as an artist? (Tyler Barton: @tylerbarton27)

A: I am not sure if you mean all American classical music or vocally related music. I happen to adore chamber music and am very interested in new works.

Whether it is opera or chamber music or song, it has to be singable and have a strong story/libretto. I think also the composer needs to workshop the piece and consider editing.

I really have been following what is going on- “Gospel of Mary M” in San Francisco, “Champion” at Opera Theatre St. Louis, and  “Oscar” at Santa Fe Opera. I think this is amazing to have three controversial subjects approached and that it will draw a more youthful audience. I wish I could see them all.

It is expensive to produce opera and there are many talented composers who I hope will be given opportunities to write for the voice. I commissioned a song cycle from a DMA student at Rice University in 2010, which I was happy to do.

Q: Do you have any words of advice to young singers who may be reading this?

A: Try not to be to too defensive or judgmental but also be open to feedback from people who know what they are doing.  My first year at Juilliard, my teacher told me I should just go home. Of course I was shocked but I realized it was not the teacher for me and changed studios. So you need to keep your own integrity. Top talent always rises to the top so hang in there. By the same token, never be arrogant and all knowing because you always have something to learn. Some people’s careers launch quickly but others take time. You have no idea what lies ahead. Just absorb all you can.

Photos courtesy of Marty Umans and Ms. Mentzer’s web site.

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Straussathon 2013: Die Frau Ohne Schatten and Der Rosenkavalier at the Metropolitan Opera

First, I’d like to apologize for the extended absence. I don’t think I’ve ever taken this long to update, and I’m sorry about that. School is intense this year, and I’ll try to keep a more regular pace.

With 2013 being the bicentennials of both Verdi and Wagner, you’d expect Wagner to get top billing as a German composer at the Met. Wagner was celebrated last season with a new production of Parsifal, along with a revival of Robert Lepage’s Ring Cycle, but the 2013-2014 season is mysteriously devoid of any and all Wagner at the Met. However, it’s another German composer who rose to the top this season at the Met. Richard Strauss, who turns 150 next year, has three operas of his revived this season at the Met. In the fall, the Met brought back its acclaimed production of Die Frau Ohne Schatten and the seasoned production of Der Rosenkavalier. Arabella, Strauss’ final collaboration with Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who wrote the librettis for the other two operas mentioned, will be presented in the spring.

               Fortunately, I was able to attend performances of both Frau and Rosenkavalier in the past few weeks. We’ll start with Frau, which I went to on its final performance on November 26th.  dfrau_2761a

Of all the crazy operas out there, Frau has to be near the top of this list. The libretto is densely symbolic and the story is moving, but hard to follow. In short, an Empress of the Spirit Realm has no shadow-in which shadow is a metaphor for the ability to bear children-and is convinced by her Nurse to descend to the mortal world and take the shadow of a mortal woman. If she can’t get a shadow in three days, her husband will turn to stone at the threat of her father, Keikobad.

The Empress and Nurse arrive on Earth in the hut of a lowly Dyer and his nagging Wife. They convince the Wife to sacrifice her shadow in exchange for earthly delights. However, seeing how upset the Dyer is when he learns his wife will never have children, the Empress refuses to take the shadow. Keikobad admires the humility of his daughter and rewards her with a shadow of her own. The couples are reunited and thus ends the first scene of Peter Pan Die Frau Ohne Schatten.

If you stuck with me through that, then please come forward to collect your cookie. If not, it’s OK.

While the Empress is the title character and the prima donna of the show, the evening belonged to Christine Goerke, who played the Dyer’s Wife. The singer has just recently stepped into dramatic repertoire and is a voice to be reckoned with. Her distinctive voice easily fills the house and her vibrato is intense and thrilling. Her high notes soared and singing was impassioned and fascinating. Quite often, the Dyer’s Wife can come off as a nag, but when Goerke sang the part, she brought out an insecurity in the character that validated a lot of her actions. It was another layer of portrayal which really made you care about a character who gets second billing in the opera.

As the Empress, however, Anne Schwanewilms gave a riveting performance in her Met debut performances. Her cool, agile voice glided over dfrau_2861athe coloratura in her entrance aria. Her high notes were, for the most part, quite stable and her delivery of the final monologue was chilling. Her acting was appropriately regal and reserved, but she made frequent use of what Eric Simpson referred to in his Classical Review take on the performance as “resorting to cape-twirling diva gestures.”

Ildiko Komlosi, the first opera singer I really loved, was a fascinating Nurse. The role spans from the top to the bottom of the mezzo range, and, in the Met’s uncut performance, it’s the longest role of the opera. Komlosi’s polished mezzo was pushed to the limits, but the result was a passionately sung and well-acted performance.

As the Emperor, Torsten Kerl’s smallish but shimmering voice was put on display in his well-sung aria, one of the few examples of Strauss’ writing for the tenor voice. As Barak, the pleasant Dyer, Johan Reuter’s voice was also not the biggest, but pleasant still in his passages with his Wife. His acting, especially the way he sits down with a beer, accepting his wife’s temperament at the end of act 1, was nuanced.

Also worth mentioning are Richard Paul Fink as a powerful Messenger of Keikobad, Jennifer Check as the voice of the Flacon, and countertenor, Andrey Nemzer, whose ethereal sound was wonderful as the Guardian of the Threshold. Scott Weber’s acrobatics got a little tedious, as the falcon mime, but they were nonetheless impressive.

Valdimir Jurowski lead a pristine Met Orchestra in an intense performance. Rare at the Met these days, the orchestra almost never drowned out the singers. The cello solo was beautifully played by David Chan.dfrau_5647a

Herbert Wernicke’s production is one of the best I’ve seen. This is such a hard opera to direct, with all of its moving between realms and the fact the plot is almost impossible to understand, and he pulled it off with aplomb. The only point of confusion would be the worm-things that wriggled around the Empress in one scene. The opera is split between a mirrored cube and the hyper-realistic Dyer’s hut, both designed by Wernicke. The Met’s stage elevators get a workout in this performance and they glided from scene to scene without making a creak. Costumes, also designed by Wernicke, were also great at suggesting general rank between characters.

               The Frau performance was the best opera I’ve seen to date. After that, it was a scant four days to come out of the music coma before heading to Der Rosenkavalier on Saturday, November 30th.

               The opera is about a young count, Octavian Rofrano. He is the boy-toy of the Marschallin, an adulterous Viennese princess. One day, one of the Marschallin’s liaisons with her younger lover is interrupted by her boorish cousin Ochs, causing Octavian to have to dress as a maid to hide. While inquiring about a young man who can present a silver rose, a marriage custom, to his much-younger bride-to-be, Ochs takes a liking to “Mariandel,” the name the Marschallin has given to the disguised Octavian. Photo: Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan Opera

               Octavian presents the rose and falls immediately in love with Ochs’ fiancée, Sophie. When Sophie rejects Ochs’ sexual harassment advances, Octavian challenges him to a duel. The Ochs is wounded, but is consoled by a note from “Mariandel,” consenting to meet him for dinner later that night at an inn.

               At the inn, faces pop out to surprise Ochs during the meal. As a result of some other hijinks, Ochs is sent running, leaving Octavian and Sophie. Enter the Marschallin, who releases Octavian to a younger woman in one of the most sublime pieces of music ever written.

               I’m not going to lie. I bought the Rosenkavalier tickets to see Elina Garanca. She’s long been one of my favorite singers and the idea of seeing her do Octavian was too interesting to miss. In fact, the day after I bought the tickets for this performance, she withdrew due to pregnancy. I was devastated. When they announced her replacement would be Alice Coote, I wasn’t much happier.

               In the title role, Alice Coote, much to my surprise, was a very capable Octavian. She was very at home playing a boy (No wonder. She’s one of the most sought after pants-role mezzos of our day.) and knew how to get laughs out of the audience. Her singing may not be the most exciting, but it doesn’t need to be for an opera like Rosenkavalier. My only quibble was her volume. At times, she resonated beautifully throughout the house, where at others I had to strain to hear her.

               This Marschallin, sung by Martina Serafin, is a departure from most of the creamy voiced sopranos who have played the role at the Met in the past. She took some time to warm up in the Photo: Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan Operabeginning, but she delivered a gorgeous rendition of the monologue. The Marschallin sits in the middle of Serafin’s voice, but some of the higher notes exposed a thin upper range. The only problem with Serafin’s Marschallin was that she didn’t seem to have a good grasp of the character. Ask any soprano who’s sung the piece and she’ll tell you what a complex woman this character is. She is heavily layered and dense. Serafin’s portrayal was pretty one-dimensional. The Marschallin’s not just a regal character who appreciates a good time. She’s more than that, and I was left rolling my eyes when she released Octavian to Sophie. I just couldn’t care enough about Serafin’s Marschallin.

               As Sophie, Erin Morlca_11231308433470ey jumped into the role only a short time before the production opened. She was a pleasure as Sister Constance in Dialogues des Carmelites last season, and was a pleasure here. Her quick and even voice made her a lovely and sympathetic Sophie and she contrasted well with both the other women in the trio. She was definitely the most consistent performer of the afternoon.

               Peter Rose has obviously done Ochs before, and practically stole the show. His basso voice was jolly and resonant and he negotiated the stage nimbly.

               In the supporting roles, Eric Cutler was a pleasant Italian singer and Hans-Joachin Ketelsen was a funnyPhoto: Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan Opera and serviceable Faninal. Jennifer Check’s Marianne was well-sung.

               After hearing Edward Gardner do it recently and Edo de Waart do it in the HD transmission a few years ago, I’ve concluded that Der Rosenkavalier must be an extremely difficult piece to conduct. Gardner’s conducting was overly syrupy at times, and the attempts to gather up the majesty in Strauss’ score fell flat. A special shout-out goes to the brass section, which was a standout during the performance.

               Nathaniel Merrill and Robert O’Hearn’s production is the oldest production still in use at the Met. It’s been around since 1969 and in a day where productions that push boundaries and provoke thoughts are in vogue, it’s an odd one out. However, the sets and costumes are so beautiful (My grandfather’s reaction when the curtain opened on act 2 was “Oh my God!”) that it would seem a shame to get rid of it entirely. It’s a set so many famous singers have performed on, from Kiri te Kanawa to Luciano Pavarotti to Renée Fleming. It’s definitely a classic Met production. In his New York Observer piece, James Jorden provides an interesting argument.

The final performance of Der Rosenkavalier is this Friday. Tickets are available here.

               I’m thrilled to be back blogging again and I’m sorry again for being away for so long. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

Photos courtesy of Ken Howard, Jonathan Tichler, and Cory Weaver

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NYCO Says, “Ta-Ta”: New York City Opera’s Final Performance of Anna Nicole in Review

There were tears from the cast during the curtain calls after Saturday, September 28th, New York City Opera presentation of Anna Nicole. Not only because it was the final performance of the run, but mostly because this co-presentation with Brooklyn Academy is the final production that New York City Opera, a 70 year old institution, will ever present. The company announced this week that their campaign to raise $7 million by the end of September fell completely flat and that it would be closing its doors after filing for bankruptcy earlier this week. While a lot of people predicted the fall of New York City Opera after they left Lincoln Center and raided the endowment in 2008, it’s a real shame to see the company close. A timeline of NYCO’s money woes can be found here.

While I’ve only known the post-2009 NYCO (A homeless, money-hemorrhaging shell of the company it used to be.), they’ve given me innumerable opportunities to grow as a critic and as a writer. The people at New York City Opera were the first people to take me seriously when they offered me an email interview with Melody Moore. Since then, they’ve let me review their Prima Donna and Perichole and I really enjoyed both. Their consistent generosity was so appreciated by me, so it’s a significant loss for me, and the New York cultural scene.

I was able to be a part of history by being in the audience at BAM for the closing night of Anna Nicole. It was a bittersweet moment that, unfortunately, passed without much ceremony. There was no announcement from general manager, George Steel at the end. There was only an insert in the playbills advocating for donations. When they announced their fantastic-looking season in March, there was no sign of the financial struggle they would endure six months later. Anna Nicole had been subsidized to the end of the run and the rest of the season was cancelled.

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera about the fallen reality starlet premiered to great buzz and mostly positive reviews at the Royal Opera House in 2011. The opera opened at BAM on September 17th for its second presentation since the London premiere. (The opera was performed at the Oper Dortmund in Germany earlier this year.) You can read more about Anna Nicole and its significance as an opera in an article that I wrote here, that my friend Isabela published on her blog.

I should probably start out this review with saying that I really like Anna Nicole as an opera. I’ve watched the DVD countless times (Saturday was the first time I had seen it live) and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it every time. Turnage’s music is a fantastic and original blend of musical styles that propel the drama and indicate the setting with ease. Richard Thomas’ libretto is clever, but it’s laden with every “four letter word” you could call to mind. Sometimes, it feels like it relies on superfluous use of profanity, which feels like missed opportunities for more thoughtful dialogue. Also, it carries a mild “Look! Opera has swear words! Come and hear curse words in opera, youths!” connotation, which is not the way opera should be motivating new audiences. Overall, though, it’s a funny text set to fascinating music. Below is a clip from the ROH DVD:

The opera received a very warm reception at BAM on Saturday. While it may have had success in London, it goes without saying that an opera about Americans has a special resonance with American audiences, especially the people who remember hearing about Anna Nicole. (I was in third grade when she died, and I remember everyone being fascinated by the coverage. However, appropriately so, nobody told me who she was or what she did. The day after she died, only nine kids came to class because there had been a stomach bug circulating. While working on some projects in class, I brought up that she had died, still having no idea who she was, and my teacher told me to “Stop talking,”.) Whether it was genuine or out of awkward tension, Thomas’ witty libretto garnered laughs throughout the entire evening.

The production is the same one that opened in London (The Dortmund presentation didn’t use the same production.) and was directed by Richard Jones. I really enjoyed it. It emphasized on the gaudy and frivolous aspects of Anna Nicole’s life, yet it was never mocking of her. Certain nuances, like having dancers dressed as cameras slowly appear and multiply throughout the opera, was a thought provoking and clever touch. The brightly colored sets were designed by Miriam Beuther and the adequately gaudy costumes were by Nicky Gillibrand. Aletta Jackson’s highly inspired choreography was fascinating.  

Leading the cast as Anna was the young, American soprano, Sarah Joy Miller. It’s not easy to fach Anna Nicole (Don’t even say anything.). The role remains mainly in the middle of the voice but has lower notes and exposed high notes sprinkled throughout. It’s probably a dramatic soprano role, if anything. The role suited Eva-Maria Westbroek so well at the ROH. For Joy-Miller, the role didn’t seem to fit quite as nicely, but she still pulled it off well, especially the parts set higher in her voice. The entire cast sported a fantastic Texan accent (Better than the ones at the ROH.) and diction was crystal clear throughout. Joy-Miller was a very likable and pert Anna Nicole. It’s hard to speak to the audibility of the singers, as they were all mic’ed. In the opera, Anna Nicole is on stage almost the entire show, so it suffices to say that it’s a demanding role. Having had a show the day before, Joy-Miller gets brownie points for putting on a great performance on Saturday. She was very moving in the final aria of the piece and an affecting actress who conveyed the huge gamut of emotions that run throughout the opera. The best moments were the moments of full-throated, passionate singing that came at times like the party scene and the scene preceding her Larry King interview. That said, the moments of more quite, pensive singing also stood out.

The soprano definitely takes center stage in this opera, as she should. However, the other dominating character is definitely the lawyer, Howard Stern. In this production, NYCO veteran Rod Gilfry (Who sang in an episode about opera for the children’s TV show, Arthur.) sang the part of the manipulative “friend”. His voice was deep, authoritative, and technically sound as he negotiated some of the more obscure vocal demands of the role (Like trilling. Why should Howard Stern trill, you ask? I don’t know.).

However, the vocal star of the night was definitely Susan Bickley, the only original member of the London cast. In the part of Virgie, Anna Nicole’s mother and the voice of reason, her clear-cut, piercing voice was thrilling and she had a compelling stage presence to boot. She’s a singer who’s had great success in England, but never found that type of success in the Unites States, which is a huge shame. Her performance was even more nuanced than her ROH portrayal (I’ve surmised from the DVD.).

Another standout was Robert Brubaker as Anna Nicole’s second husband, oil tycoon, J. Howard Marshall II. The role is full of high notes and he pulled them off with aplomb. Also, he gets double respect for singing in a variety of positions. His voice is high set, but interestingly enough, it isn’t nasal at all, which provides a real depth of vocal color that is perfectly suited to an eighty year old man.

As Dr. Yes, the doctor who gives Anna Nicole her breast implants, Richard Troxell seemed miscast. Having heard him in Perichole, you can hear that his voice lies lower than where the part was written. It’s more of a character tenor part, and that is not so much Troxell’s gig, I’ve noticed. He struggled with the high notes, causing him to create some unflattering phrasings of his lines.

In the smaller roles, the standout was definitely Christina Sajous, a singer taken from Broadway, as the lap dancer that teaches Anna Nicole the tricks of the trade. Her sassy, vibrato-less voice was perfectly suited to the role. Also strong were John Easterlin as Larry King and Nicholas Barasch as Daniel, Anna Nicole’s teenage son. Below is another clip of the ROH production:

Stephen Sloane led 59 members of the New York City Opera Orchestra with great skill. Given the consistent changes in style and mood in the score, the orchestra moved on agilely, if not maybe just a little too loud for the Howard Gilman Opera House.

The New York City Opera Chorus was in very good form and highly convincing as a brigade of sleazy newscasters.

One of the staging differences from the ROH presentation was that instead of going to black after Anna Nicole’s final line at the end of the opera, the cameras stayed onstage and picked through the tipped over bins of garbage that littered the stage in silence for about a minute before blacking out. Digging through garbage as something dies in the middle of it all. An ending for Anna Nicole not unlike the ending for New York City Opera.

Photos credit of Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times and Stephanie Berger

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Opening Night at the Met: Post-Performance Wrap Up

Opening night at the Met for the 2014-2014 season has finally come to a close. If this is a bellwether for the rest of the season, then we’re going to have a fantastic eight months.

Alexei Tanovitski was only ALRIGHT as Prince Gremin. While all the notes were there and he has some great low notes set into his gravelly voice, it lacked any type of passion, as heard via radio. Valery Gergiev’s conducting lost some spitfire towards the end, with a Polonaise that just didn’t communicate joy.

In the final scene, Netrebko sounded beautiful, showing off the full emotional breadth of her voice. She didn’t blend as well with Kweicien, vocally, as one could have hoped for, but she maintained a beautiful tone during the duet. Kweicien sounds sort of uncomfortable in the role. It’s hard to describe, but it didn’t feel like the right fit.

For me, Oksana Volkova was the biggest surprise, in a positive way. Piotr Beczala also made a great impression as Lenski.

All in all, this was a fantastic opening night. Thank you for following along with my blogs, and I’m looking forward to reviewing the performance on the 12th.

G’nite, folks!

Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera

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Opening Night at the Met: Intermission #2

Act 2 of Onegin just finished and it’s easy to hear the marked improvement in Kweicien’s voice. There’s more action in this act, and he’s delivering the drama. Monsieur Triquet’s aria was appealing, but the comedic wobble got to be a little much at times. Piotr Beczala gave a beautifully sung and emotionally charged performance of Lenski’s Aria. The act was short, but action packed.

Not much to say besides that this act was really great to listen to. Below is a picture of the last scene’s set.

Eu Stage

Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera

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