Sight but no Vision:”Iolanta” and “Bluebeard’s Castle” at the Met

Double bills are a common phenomenon in the opera world. The most famous two are the pairing of Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci and the best pairings of operas offer either a stark contrast between the pieces-highlighting what makes each piece different and worthy of viewing in a new light- or complement each other, showing that two works by different composers have similarities through themes or musical styles. The Met’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta” paired with Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” didn’t do either, and the result was an evening as inert as the snow that blanketed Lincoln Center.


Beczala and Netrebko in “Iolanta”- Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

The first offering of the pairing that saw its final performance last night was “Iolanta”, Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale about a blind princess protected from the world. First performed at the Mariinsky in 1892(Paired with Tchaikovsky’s most famous ballet, The Nutcracker), this was the work’s first presentation at the Metropolitan Opera. The music is classic-but extremely predictable-Tchaikovsky and contains some moments of beautiful music punctuated by longer, less-busy sections.

The mostly successful production, transplanted from Europe by Polish director Mariusz Treliński, moves the action to an austere hunting lodge in the woods instead of the colorful garden the piece implies. It begins with a projection(by Bartek Macias and a high point of both productions) of a deer being symbolically pursued and Treliński’s production does pose questions to the audience throughout the evening, in addition to those posed by the libretto like “What is color?”. By setting the piece in such an uncolorful place juxtaposed with Iolanta’s newly awakened desire for sight, it made me think that is ignorance sometimes acceptable? Is it better not bother seeing what we don’t know or to want to expand our horizons? Also, what makes a disability? Are there points where Iolanta’s emotional faculties are unimpeded by her lack of sight? Certainly. And this adds another layer or dimension to the piece. Unfortunately, this didn’t translate into the uncreative blocking and didn’t suffice to fill points where the dramaturgy sagged. Boris Kudlička’s sets for “Iolanta” were uninteresting-a square room with a bed, a table, and some chairs- but they got the job done. Mark Heinz’s lights were fantastic and created a variety of different tones on the basic unit set and Marek Adamski’s costumes were nothing special.

Vocally, the performance was quite taut. In the title role, Anna Netrebko returned to a part that has served her career well. That said, with the darkening of her vocal color of late, Iolanta may no longer be the best fit for her voice. Netrebko lightened her voice most of the evening with the results sounding good but lacking in her typical massive volume. This was a different singer than the one that let fly as Lady Macbeth a short time ago and the better parts of the performance were those when she sang in her trademark voice- dark, silky, and thrilling. Still, she’s a consummate performer. She threw herself into the role and complemented each of her colleagues in their individual scenes in addition to using Modest Tchaikovsky’s text to create a clearer understanding of the character.

Netrebko in "Iolanta"- Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Netrebko in “Iolanta”- Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

As her Prince Vaudemont, Piotr Beczala brought his signature illuminating voice and high comfort level onstage. His aria was phrased beautifully including a seamless shift into falsetto for the final phrase. It was a joy to watch him interact with Netrebko and spoke to the high merits of both singers to watch them perform together, especially in their rapturous duet.

Alexei Tanovitski was by far the weakest link of the cast. His gravelly bass sounds like it’s coming off the rails. He lacked charisma onstage and his weak acting and idiomatic gestures failed to create a real complex character outside of his normal blocking. He looked and sounded amateurish surrounded by such a talented cast.

Aleksei Markov’s brilliant baritone shined as Robert and Elchin Azizov was a convincing enough Moorish Doctor with a well-spun aria. Mzia Nioradze as Marta provided the typical weathered, matronly sound that’s become so common to women singing mother-figures in Russian operas, and Matt Boehler was her strong-voiced husband, Bertrand. Katherine Whyte and Cassandra Zoe Velasco complemented each other as a well sung and feisty pair of maids. Pavel Smelkov drew beautiful and sensitive sounds from the top-form Met orchestra, but often lacked the momentum to keep the piece moving forward. The Met chorus was in beautiful voice, further proving that this chorus and orchestra can perform just about everything.

Next was Bartok’s 1918 “Bluebeard’s Castle”, performed for the first time at the Met in its original Hungarian. The score is interesting and momentous. It unravels like a string on a spool with dramatic intensity building at each turn. Unfortunately, not much beyond the orchestral merits of the piece showed through. Much of Treliński’s production didn’t read well from my Family Circle seat. The libretto, by Bela Balasz, is extremely explicit. At the opening of the third door, for example, Judith exclaims, “All your precious gems are blood-stained! Your brightest jewel is blood-stained!” Not only were there no doors, there were no jewels and no blood. Treliński communicated the interactions between a twisted man and his naïve wife, but the stage action of the piece clashed completely with the libretto. Boris Kudlička’s sets required long change times during which the action was moved to an elevator that, while an innovative idea at first, was exhausting when done for longer times accompanied by a projection of an elevator descending through a shaft and the sets, frankly, looked cheap and shook when the singers made impact with them. Lights, once again by Mark Heinz, were superb, as were the numerous projections.

"Bluebeard's Castle"- Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

“Bluebeard’s Castle”- Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Mikhail Petrenko was a vocally adequate Bluebeard, declaiming the lines with half-interest the entire time. Not particularly menacing or dominating, there was no allure to his Bluebeard, making the story seem simply unfeasible instead of making Judith seem like a rational person driven by desires and a perverse fascination with her new husband and his home. It was a Bluebeard only a mother could love.

There are a lot of things one can say about the Judith, Najda Michael. Her voice is not beautiful. In fact, it’s nowhere near. She lacks a clear dramatic temperament and doesn’t have much sense of how to use phrasing and text to build a character. She is, however, a fearless stage animal. She subscribed to the intense stage movement and choreography of theproduction, even running over the compound that composed the glass that Bluebeard shattered on the ground several times with bare feet. It looked like it hurt. She cut a glamorous figure in Marek Adamski’s costumes and looked like she gave it her all within her limitations, leading me to think that not all is lost for Nadja Michael.

Michael and Petrenko in "Bluebeard's Castle"- Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Michael and Petrenko in “Bluebeard’s Castle”- Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Smelkov gave a restrained reading of the piece with the orchestra, once again, demonstrating exemplary playing.

In respect to any of my hopes for a revival of these productions, I can only echo Iolanta: How can I long for what I cannot understand?

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Desperate Housewife: Lady Macbeth of Mtensk at the Metropolitan Opera

Last night, the Metropolitan Opera brought back its 1994 production of Lady Macbeth of Mtensk for the first time in nearly 15 years. You can read my review about it here, on Parterre. Enjoy!

Lady Macbeth of Mtensk

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

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Opening Night Closed

What a lovely opening night it was! The second portion was wonderfully executed. All of the principal singers did their arias and ensembles to perfection and the final ensemble at the end of the opera was everything one could want for it to be.

It’s been such a pleasure to live-blog/tweet this season’s opening night. Here’s to a new fantastic season with a very promising start!

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Opening Night: Intermission Post

The Met’s Figaro is going swimmingly. James Levine has maintained his signature adherence to the score. The orchestra playing is clean and clear. Ildar Abdrazakov is a wonderfully virile Figaro and Marlis Petersen’s playful voice perfectly pairs with Abdrazakov’s. Peter Mattei is a consistent pleasure to hear as the Count, and Amanda Majeski’s “Porgi Amor”, though showing some minimal nerves, was beautifully executed and her voice is especially distinctive as Mozart singers go. The act was capped off with a wonderful ensemble.

Can’t wait to hear the rest!

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Met Opening Night: Pre-Performance Post

The performance is about to start! We heard a series of relatively awkward interviews with Richard Eyre, Pretty Yende, Bryan Hymel, and Peter Gelb. We’ll speak to Anna Netrebko in a coming intermission. Celebrities in attendance:

  • Christine Baranski
  • Vera Wang
  • Susannah Phillips
  • Anna Netrebko
  • Andrew Rannels
  • Renee Fleming

Let’s get this show on the road!

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Opening Night at the Met: Everything you need to know

After cast changes, director changes, and a union crisis that almost toppled the season, it feels good to say(er, write), with certainty, that Opening Night at the Met is finally here! For those unaware, tonight’s performance is Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” in a new production by Richard Eyre with sets by Rob Howell. The production stars Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro, Marlis Petersen as Susanna, Isabel Leonard as Cherubino, Peter Mattei as the Count, and Met debutante Amanda Majeski as the Countess. Marcellina and Dr. Bartolo are sung by Susanne Mentzer and John DelCarloJames Levine conducts. To see some more extensive opinions on tonight’s presentation as well as the rest of the season, I refer you to Season Predictions Parts 1 and 2.

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This is the first night of the Met’s 131st season, and there are many for you to be a part of it. The Met relays the opera live in Times Square as well as onto Lincoln Center Plaza, but a drawing for seats to the latter event was held last week. For those who aren’t able to make it into New York City, don’t fear because you can listen to the online live-stream on the Met’s website, of on channel 74 of Sirius XM radio, Metopera Radio. Coverage starts at 5:45 and includes red carpet interviews with the celebrities that only go the the Met once a year as well as specials on singers and the opera. If you’re listening at home, you can find a libretto with an English translation here.

As usual, I’ll be blogging before, during intermissions, and after about the performance. In addition to that, I’ll be live-tweeting the performance on my Twitter page. Enjoy!

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Met 2014-15 Season Predictions- Part 2

Part 2!

The Merry Widow: I’m glad the Met has realized that cheerful operettas are the best choice for New Year’s Eve performances. Tony-winner Susan Stroman’s new production opens with Renee Fleming as Hanna and Broadway debutant and personal favorite Kelli O’Hara as Valencienne in a cast that also stars Nathan Gunn and Alek Shrader. Later in the run, Susan Graham, Danielle DeNiese, Rod Gilfry, and Stephen Costello take over. Sir Andrew Davis and Paul Nadler conduct. December 31- May 7

Les Contes d’Hoffmann: Matthew Polenzani and Vittorio Grigolo sing that vaguely irritating poet. Polenzani should be a real treat to hear as Hoffmann. Grigolo is a singer whom, while very capable, also appeals to the playfulness of the audience, which is easier done in Boheme as opposed to Hoffmann, so it should definitely stretch his limits. Hibla Gerzmava, Susannah Philips, Erin Morley, Audrey Luna, Christine Ride, and Elena Maximova are singing the four heroines(Gerzmava has unfortunately decided not to attempt all three at four at once) and Kate Lindsey brings her smoldering Niklaus back to the Met. Thomas Hampson plays the four villains and Yves Abel and James Levine share score duties. January 12- March 21

Iolanta/ Bluebeard’s Castle: The Met is lucky to get Netrebko in such a wide variety of rep that she has become known for. Here, she sings the blind princess Iolanta opposite Piotr Beczala. On the other half of the double bill, Nadja Michael, one of the most derided singers that I’ve come across in my time in the opera world, sings Judith opposite Mikhail Petrenko as her super creepy husband. Valery Gergiev conducts both of Mariusz Trelinski’s new productions. January 26- February 21

Don Giovanni: Michael Grandage’s blah production returns with a strong cast. Tough-as-nails soprano Elza van den Heever sings Donna Anna, Emma Bell is Donna Elvira, and Kate Lindsey is Zerlina. Peter Mattei and Luca Pisaroni sing Don Giovanni and Leporello. However, the most exciting aspect may be that Alan Gilbert, Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, is making his Met debut conducting the score. February 4- March 6

La Donna del Lago: Joyce DiDonato can continue to check the boxes on her “Bel Canto Mezzo Role Domination” sheet as she brings her Elena to the Met in a supposedly boring production by Paul Curran. She is joined by a battalion of bel-canto superstars  like Juan-Diego Florez, Daniela Barcellona, and John Osborn in what promises to be some of the best music making of the season. February 16- March 14

Manon: While Netrebko and Beczala’s performances of the unfortunate lovers in Manon may be as thrilling as it gets for the Met, Laurent Pelly’s half-baked(but not in the good way of the ice cream flavor way) production returns with two singers who will make equally interesting statements in the roles. Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo sing the parts for the first time at the Met. Russell Braun and Nicholas Teste join the cast with Emmanuel Villaume conducting. March 9- 28

Lucia di Lammermoor: Albina Shagimuratova, last season’s successful Queen of the Night, sings the title role in Mary Zimmerman’s production which isn’t nearly as bad as her Sonnambula. Joseph Calleja is Edgardo and Fabio Capitanucci is Enrico. Bel-canto specialist Maurizio Benini conducts. March 16- April 10

Ernani: Of all the early Verdi operas that the Met could pick to perform on a regular basis, why do they choose this one? Placido Domingo sings more baritone rep in the role of Carlos. Francesco Meli sings the title role and Angela Meade sings Elvira, which has become a signature role of her’s and for good reason. James Levine conducts. March 20- April 11

Don Carlo: Barbara Frittoli is a seriously underrated artist. While Elisabetta might be too demanding a sing for her, she’s nonetheless a hugely affecting performer. Yonghoon Lee sings Carlos, Ekaterina Gubanova sings Eboli, and Feruccio Furlanetto sings his signature King Philip in another routine revival of Nicholas Hytner’s Blokus-like production. A bright spot, however, it the conducting of Yannick Nezet-Seguin. March 30- April 25

Manon- Photographer unknown

Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci: Those of you who are new here might not know how fiercely defensive I am of these two operas. Well, I am. David McVicar, please do a good job. Get intense. Get loud. Get dangerous. It’s verismo and no choice is too audacious. Marcelo Alvarez sings both Turridu and Canio and his supporting women are the lovely Eva- Maria Westbroek and Patricia Racette, whose Tosca last season showed signs of vocal uneasiness.  Zeljko Lucic and George Gagnidze round out the cast with Fabio Luisi conducting. April 21- May 8

Un Ballo in Maschera: James Levine conducts the return of David Alden’s film-noir inspired production which stars Sondra Radvanovsky, Dolora Zajick, Piotr Beczala, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky in what promises to be a night of fine Verdi singing.

The Rake’s Progress: The Met once again remounts Stravinsky’s neoclassical masterpiece. Sparkling soprano Layla Claire is Anne Trulove and Paul Appleby is Tom Rakewell. Gerald Finley is Nick Shadow and the always-on-point Stephanie Blythe is Baba the Turk. James Levine conducts Jonathan Miller’s production.

There you have it! An abbreviated version of the season that will start in the blink of an eye. As is Opera Teen tradition, I’ll be livetweeting and liveblogging opening night before, during the intermissions, and after the performance. The afternoon before, I’ll post a series of helpful links so everyone’s equipted for the broadcast, and then liveblogging will begin! See you then!


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