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It’s Jest a Hunch: Caramoor’s “Rigoletto” in Review

After a hugely successful initial performance and an even more polished second performance of their first opera of the season, “Lucrezia Borgia”, Caramoor had big shoes to fill with their second and final opera of the 2014 Summer Festival season, “Rigoletto”. While the bar was set high, “Rigoletto” had trouble measuring up in a few places, leaving Verdi’s highly sentimental tragedy of paternal love with a few holes.

The second of what Caramoor’s director of opera, Will Crutchfield, has called the “Victor Hugo operas” because of their textual inspirations, both stories surround parental love and it’s damning or redeeming nature. In “Rigoletto”, the titular jester struggles with revenge after the Duke of Mantua seduces his innocent daughter, believing all the misfortune to have been caused by a curse.

Stephen Powell as Rigoletto at Baltimore Lyric Opera

That jester was played in top form by Stephen Powell. The American baritone inhabited the stage from the second he entered. His vocally secure, linguistically confident interpretation makes it clear why Rigoletto has become such a calling card role for him. His authoritative voice was able to make the quicksilver changes from fuming anger to depression to bloodthirsty revenge and it was embodied in both his expressive voice and physicality. While his dramatic interpretation tended towards depression or nervousness, he still created a full character in a setting where staging was limited.

As the Duke of Mantua, John Osborn was unremarkable. His voice isn’t beautiful or distinctive enough in the center range. One of his characteristic skills is his ability to reach stratospherically high notes, which is impressive. However, the voice gets thinner and more strained the higher you go. Unable to be truly distinctive, the crowd-pleasing high notes and a pretty rousing ‘La Donna è Mobile’ were enough to win over the Venetian Theatre’s audience.

As Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, Georgia Jarman has a lot to offer. She has a well-sized, seductive and expressive voice, coupled with a full range of physical gestures that helped her develop her characterization. However, she was inconsistent at establishing a basic legato line and mushy diction obscured much of Francesco Maria Piave’s so well-constructed text. Her ‘Caro Nome’ was impressive, if not in a “check all the boxes” sort of way, with nicely executed trills, some reedy high(but not too high) notes, topped with a pleasant and creative, if not very risky, cadenza.

Jeffrey Beruan, a singer who was fantastic when he was last at Caramoor in “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” two years ago, sang an authoritative Sparafucile with a very attractive voice. As his sister, Maddalena, Nicole Piccolomini’s distinctive, slightly acidic mezzo begs to be heard in bigger parts that would allow her to develop her vocal line establishment, in addition to showcasing her crystalline diction. She was definitely the standout voice during the third act’s quartet.

As for the smaller roles, Hsin-Mei Tracy Chang was a sweet-voiced Countess Ceprano, Zachary Altman was a stern but good-natured Marullo, and Yunnie Park had trouble making herself heard over the orchestra as Giovanna.

It took Will Crutchfield and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s a while to settle into their groove, with some incoherent orchestral coloring towards the beginning, but the problem was soon fixed and the orchestra played beautifully for the rest of the evening, shining especially bright curing the storm scene in the final act. Special props to bassist John Feeney, who played through all of Verdi’s difficult bass music with vigor and aplomb. The Caramoor Festival Chorus was, once again, in top form.

This season at Caramoor was a true treat for opera fans. Next year’s operas promise to be just at stimulating, with Rossini’s Otello (July 11, 2015) starring Michael Spyres of “Ciro in Babilonia” fame, as well as “The Dialogues of the Carmelites”(July 25, 2015), with Ewa Podles as the Old Prioress. With fond memories of this year’s summer opera season behind us, I can guarantee that it will be worth the wait.

The Caramoor festival continues through August 3rd with performances of jazz, classical, and roots music on Thursday through Sunday nights. The grounds are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 to 3 and the grounds pass is free with a ticket for an upcoming Caramoor performance.

Photo: Rich Higgins

 

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Special Opera Ticket Offer from Caramoor

Caramoor has a special offer just for Opera Teen readers, and it’s pretty hard to resist! The summer music festival in Katonah, New York is offering a discount of 20% off of the ticket price for both of this weekend’s operas. All you need to do is enter the promotional code “POTD” at checkout under “Use Discount Coupons” at checkout.

Lucrezia pic

This weekend’s performances are a repeat performance of Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia” with Angela Meade on Friday, as well as a performance of “Rigoletto” starring John Osborn on Saturday. You definitely don’t want to miss these shows, as my review of “Lucrezia” and Caramoor’s strong reputation for musical excellence can tell you.

I hope you all jump at the opportunity to see these sure-to-be fantastic performances!

Photo: Gabe Palacio

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Like Mother Likes Son: “Lucrezia Borgia” at Caramoor in Review

For a New York opera fan, the summer months can seem long and boring. Between May and October, there aren’t many places to hear great music without having to travel far. Fortunately, Caramoor, a music festival situated in Katonah, only about an hour from New York City, can be counted on to provide a well-appreciated respite from the monotony of New York’s summer opera season.

Through the “Bel Canto at Caramoor” program, conductor Will Crutchfield has brought typically neglected bel-canto works to audiences, performing two operas in a semi-staged format every summer since 1997.

This year, the first opera in the “Bel Canto at Caramoor” series was Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia”. The uncomfortably incestuous opera, written in 1833, is notable for having been a vehicle for Joan Sutherland. More or less based on actual history blended with the Victor Hugo play “Lucrèce Borgia”, the opera is a complicated episode in the life(and death…?) of one of history’s most famous “femme fatales” and a pawn in the political games of the (in)famous Borgia family in Renaissance Italy.

The opera itself is unmistakably Donizetti. From the first bars of the overture, played ominously in the horns and echoed by the percussion, it’s no surprise that this is the same composer who would write “Lucia di Lammermoor” two years later.

In the title role and making her role debut, Angela Meade was warmly received back in Caramoor’s Venetian Theatre. This is her fourth performance at Caramoor, including what some have called a “star making” performance as Norma in 2009. Part of what’s so enjoyable about watching Meade as a performer, especially after having seen her perform before, is the improvement. Each performance builds on a lacking aspect of the previous one. While this type of improvement should be a given for any singer, it’s a particular pleasure to witness her continue to develop her craft.

A picture of a woman traditionally assumed to be Lucrezia Borgia by Veneto

Lucrezia Borgia is a difficult role. The singer has to have command of the difficult coloratura passage-work, while simultaneously supporting Felice Romani’s complex libretto and working to make one of those classically unfeasible Bel Canto opera plots work. For her first outing with the role, Meade did a fantastic job. Her establishment and architecture of the uninterrupted bel canto vocal line is infallible and her coloratura faculties continue to improve. In the notably impossible final aria, ‘Era desso il figlio mio’, Meade negotiated the many trills and tricks, all the while supporting the text and maintaining the vocal elegance that she had brought to the performance. Her high notes were numerous and high-flying(though she didn’t take the optional e-flat at the end of the final aria) and she sang with authority and intelligence. This is definitely the type of role she can go far in, and now opera houses finally have a diva worthy of a production of “Lucrezia”.

As Gennaro, Lucrezia’s illegitimate son, Michele Angelini delivered an interesting interpretation. The role of Gennaro is difficult and written high for the male voice, which explains why it has attracted singers like Alfredo Kraus, Giuseppe Fillianoti, and Vittorio Grigolo. Angelini isn’t a singer with a particularly distinctive voice, but as he sings higher in his range, the top notes sound clearer as opposed to strained and grating. The voice brings an elegance to each well-phrased line, which makes up for some of his histrionic acting. This is definitely a singer I would be interested in hearing in other repertoire.

Alfonso I d’Este- Attributed to Bastianino

As Alfonso I d’Este, the duke of Ferrara and Lucrezia’s fourth husband, bass Christophoros Stamboglis brought a deep, refined bass voice to the part of the villain. His deep low notes matched Meade in their intense duet. Unfortunately, he was pretty wooden onstage and stayed in about one position for the entire show.

Tamara Mumford has a lot going for her. She’s tall, elegant, and has a fascinating voice. The middle of her range, while having a worn-sounding timbre, is still extremely and inexplicably pleasing. In addition to that, she has a huge lower extension that sounds equally satisfying and could probably, and hopefully will, cross over into singing some alto repertoire. In the part of Maffio Orsini, her entire range and arsenal of vocal techniques was tested. Despite some mild discomfort with the coloratura, she had a beautiful, weighty vibrato and was one of the few convincing actresses of the evening. I hope she ends up singing Lola in the Met’s new “Cavalleria” next season, because she has the perfect voice for it.

In the smaller roles, SungWook Kim was a well-sung Liverotto, Will Hearn’s Vitellozzo suffered from nerves, and Zachary Altman was an authoritative Alfonso, though it’s hard to single out only a few of the very talented group of Caramoor’s “Bel Canto Young Artists”. The Caramoor Festival Chorus maintained its usual standard of excellence with importance and crystalline diction.

Will Crutchfield is a real singer’s conductor. He managed to find a balance between the singers and the orchestra and made sure that the orchestra never overpowered the vocalists, even at such close proximity. He elicited wonderful sounds from the always-wonderful Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Special props to the harp player(either Sara Cutler or Deborah Hoffman, I’m not sure which one) who added the perfect touch to Lucrezia’s first aria, ‘Come e’ bello’.

There are many reasons why operas fall into neglect over the years. In many cases, the music as drama just cannot stand on its own. While “Lucrezia” is by no means a bad opera and definitely one of the more remarkable operas of the Bel Canto era, it needs some propulsion from the stage direction to drive the action along. In fact, it probably requires a big production to fully convey the piece, with all of its campiness, so it makes sense. The semi-staged production omitted a lot of action that would have been helpful to see(SPOILER ALERT! Six characters die from drinking poisoned wine, and there was no indication of that onstage) as well as including a lot of “implied deaths” and getting rid of any props.

Caramoor will present a repeat performance of “Lucrezia Borgia” on Friday, July 18th. Tickets can be purchased here or through the box office by calling 9142321252.

On Saturday, July 19th, Caramoor will present Verdi’s “Rigoletto”. Each opera at Caramoor is preceded by a full day of lectures and young-artist performances in the Spanish Courtyard starting at 3:00.

Photo: Gabe Palacio

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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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