Oh Natalie! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Regardless of what one thinks of her, she is an important presence in opera today. I’m so grateful for her. Opera would be SO BORING without this chick!!!
“I would not kill my enemies, but I will make them get down on their knees. I will, I can, I must.”
- Maria Callas
Say what you will about Bartlett Sher’s patchy track record in opera, the man knows how to put on a lively show. (His nimble, industriously comic “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” is one of the few triumphs of Peter Gelb’s tenure.) Mr. Sher’s longtime designer and collaborator, Michael Yeargen, is a master at conjuring striking new worlds using poetically simple, highly arresting stage pictures.
It’s easy to see why Mr. Sher was commissioned to direct a new version of Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” to replace John Copley’s soggy 1991 staging, which returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Monday evening. With its sickly sweet cardboard sets and dreary lighting, this production brings to mind a child’s coloring book left out in the rain. Even the most fastidious of opera traditionalists will agree that it’s time for something new.
Fortunately, the Met has recruited an all-star cast that more than compensates for the problems plaguing Mr. Copley’s production. Mariusz Kwiecien, Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez are arguably three of the house’s biggest stars, and Monday night’s performance provided an opportunity for audiences to see why.
As Nemorino, Juan Diego Flórez delivered some of the strongest acting of his career. Playing the simple country bumpkin who pines for the shrewish Adina, Mr. Flórez harnessed his natural charisma to paint an endearing portrait of boyish, puppy love. (His drunken bursts of physical comedy got some of the biggest laughs of the evening.) His singing was strong and ardent, with impressively controlled legato and a clean, athletic execution of coloratura. In the past, Mr. Flórez’s sound has been a bit tight for my taste, but the comedic demands of the role seemed to free him here; his middle was uncharacteristically warm, his top clarion with plenty of squillo.
Diana Damrau improves with each performance, and her house role debut as Adina marks a new triumph for this exceptional soprano. As the proud and wily landowner who eventually falls for Nemorino, Ms. Damrau played the character with a canny mix of nuance and impeccable comedic timing. This Adina is a headstrong spitfire, but she’s also wonderfully endearing.
The stridency that occasionally creeps into Ms. Damrau’s singing has all but disappeared. Here, her sound was plush and inviting, with ringing high notes and a creamy middle. Her use of fioritura was always tasteful, and executed with laser-like precision.
Yet the technical accomplishment and effortlessness of Ms. Damrau’s coloratura emphasized the lack of drama behind her ornamentations. The runs, trills and scales that buttress the musical line were merely vocal calisthenics – never treated as an emotional expression or an organic outgrowth of the drama. The overall effect was distancing; Ms. Damrau’s singing only dazzled when it could have captivated.
For devotees of Ms. Damrau, I do not mean to undermine her performance here, which was magnificent. I truly believe she is a major artist, capable of infusing more drama into this particular aspect of her singing. I am eagerly anticipating her turn as Violetta next season that promises to be an unforgettable night of opera.
Coming off a disappointing run as Don Giovanni earlier this season, the baritone Mariusz Kwiecien had an impressive outing as Sergeant Belcore. Oozing swagger and charisma, Mr. Kwiecien made it easy to see why Adina quickly falls for this hunk at the beginning of the opera. His singing has grown in musicianship and elegance over the years. The rich, sensuous bloom of his voice made for a swoony “Come Paride vezzoso” in Act I.
The veteran baritone Alessandro Corbelli, unparalleled in buffo roles, was masterful as Dr. Dulcamara. In his opening aria “Udite, udite, o rustici,” in which Dulcamara tricks the villagers into thinking a bottle of Bordeaux is a magic love potion, Mr. Corbelli dispensed the wordy, rapid-fire phrasing with aplomb. His workmanlike comedic gifts turned the number into the evening’s high point.
Donato Renzetti led an unsteady account of Donizetti’s sparkling score. Initially moving the tempi at a lugubrious pace, he eventually settled into a generally swift, exuberant interpretation, but continued to have noticeable coordination problems with his singers. Still, thanks to a terrific cast, this was a “L’elisir” to drink in.
“Well sung and carefully considered, her final scene was muted, settled at the same low emotional temperature as most of her performance. Ms. Meade’s gifts are formidable, but this “Bolena” was frustrating, largely immaculate and largely uninvolving.” - Zachary Woolfe
The Met’s opening night pretty much snuck up on me without warning. But last night the opera house kicked off its new season with a much anticipated, first ever staging of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena.”
Sadly, I must wait until the 18th to give my two cents about the show. The general consensus seems to be that Anna Netrebko blew it out of the park. (Except for The Washington Post, which deemed the whole affair an utter failure.)
So far, everyone seems to agree that David MicVicker’s production is too safe and muddled. Marco Armiliato’s conducting was deemed listless by several critics.
I’ll post a review after I see it later next month.
Why has there been such a sudden interest in rare Rossini lately? I have to admit, I’m not very interested in Rossini’s operas, which are more about showy vocalism and less about telling a story. I guess that’s why, of the three Bel Canto composers, I love Bellini’s music the most. Bellini was notorious for spending days (sometimes weeks) slowly and methodically composing vocal lines for his singers. With Bellini’s music, the words are inseparable from the text and every florid run or cadenza has a purpose. A REAL purpose. This is not always the case with Rossini.
In his panning of Renee Fleming’s star turn as “Armida” at the Metropolitan Opera last year, critic Zachary Woolfe wrote, “Armida’s charms, irresistible to most of the men in the opera, are vocally driven. Her elaborate coloratura—the runs, trills and other fancy stuff—parallels her dazzling illusions—the soldiers’ love, a magic garden. It’s impossible to create the character, in other words, without singing the notes.” Okay. I’ll buy it. But I feel like this excuse is used far too often with Rossini - and it is merely opera critics and musicologists grasping at straws. Lest anyone forget, Rossini CONSTANTLY recycled bits of music, or would take pieces from his other existing operas, and use them in later works. Case in point: “Non piu mesta” from “La Cenerentola” was originally the tenor’s finale aria in “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” (see the video above.) How could anyone justify the music in “Cenerentola” being character specific if it was composed for a completely different character in a completely different opera?
I think the sudden resurgence of interest in Rossini probably boils down to three basic points: A) Rossini’s music is easy-listening and full of crowd-pleasing set-piece arias that are guaranteed to delight audiences. B) We’re in the age of singing as an Olympic event and audiences love singers who can “show off” their voices with trills, runs, and cadenzas. C) We have more Rossini singers these days. With their attractive looks and medium-size yet flexible voices, singers such as Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau, Lawrence Brownlee, and Joyce DiDonato are bona fide opera stars who can nail every note in a Rossini line like it’s no one else’s business. The audience loves them and they are guaranteed to sell out at the box office every time.
Alas, for those of us who still believe in opera as theater, this latest bout of Rossini-mania is further proof that opera goers would just as soon watch a sing-off than a night of gripping lyric-theater.
Yet another anonymous user admonished me for a recent post of Angela Meade being interviewed about why she loves singing “Casta Diva.” I wanted to use this as an opportunity to discuss the relationship singers have with certain characters and music. Why does a singer choose a song or a character? The most intelligent and passionate singers can speak eloquently about what drives their choices. I posted an interview with Renee Fleming on singing the Marschallin in “Der Rosenkavalier,” and why she adores this part. Ms. Fleming stated that it was the universality of time and the Marschallin’s awareness of how quickly it moves, that spoke to her personally as a woman. That’s the sort of response I would expect from a great artist in a high-profile interview.
Nonetheless, this user admonished me for “hating on” (an expression that needs to be retired today) Ms. Meade for “answering questions in an interview.” This statement was not only woefully glib, but inaccurate as well. Clearly this user missed the whole point of my article. I wanted to know what, specifically, in the text, gave Meade a “special connection” with the aria as she had stated. She simply rattled off a list of her favorite singers and claimed she really didn’t know why she felt a connection with the aria. There didn’t seem to be much to justify her “special connection” to this famous aria and I was disappointed by this.
Furthermore, the user challenged me to list the rep that I sing (despite the fact that I’m not a singer) and “enlighten” my followers with the “profound connection” I have to my choices. This is exactly the kind of nasty, unnecessary vitriol that needs to stop. I have absolutely nothing to do with Ms. Meade, which is what makes this user’s rants so exasperating. I, at NO point, mentioned or implied my superiority to Ms. Meade, because that would be beyond ludicrous. I am simply a critic offering my viewpoint. I am not a rising international opera star singing a bel canto staple as my calling-card.
This user also seemed to miss the fact that I praised Ms. Meade’s singing and said that “fine things were headed her way.” It’s time we all grew up and started engaging in intelligent discussions, not knee-jerk personal attacks just because we disagree with a person’s point of view.
I hate this aria (it’s the “o mio babbino caro” for baritones). But Mariusz Kwiecień…yum. Why can’t I be hot and sing beautifully?
My favorite Bel Canto duet. I sang this with the lovely Courtney Renee Stanley before I went off to conservatory, where my passion for singing was savagely bludgeoned to death with a conductor’s baton…
HAHA!!! I ordered a used copy of “Sonnambula” off of Amazon, and it’s autographed by Edita Gruberová herself and the tenor…it’s a delightful surprise. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Edita Gruberová, but it wouldn’t be like getting something signed by Audra or Nathan Gunn.
The acclaimed mezzo-soprano, Joyce Didonato, will portray the title character in Donizetti’s opera, “Maria Stuarda,” for the Metropolitan Opera’s 2012-2013 season. “Maria Stuarda” is one of the three “Tudor Operas” written by Gaetano Donizetti, based on the Friedrich Schiller play, “Mary Stuart.” The story depicts the last days of Mary, Queen of Scots and her rivalry with Queen Elizabeth. A recent Broadway revival of the Schiller play starred Janet McTeer as Mary, Queen of Scots and Harriet Walter as Elizabeth of England and was directed by Phyllida Lloyd.
“Maria Stuarda” had it’s premiere on December 30 1835 at La Scala, Milan. Donizetti composed the opera specifically for the mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran. In recent years, however, the title role has been played by numerous dramatic coloraturas, including Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas, and Beverly Sills, but several incarnations of the score exist with vocal writing to accommodate the mezzo and lyric fach.
This marks the first-ever production of “Maria Stuarda” at the Metropolitan Opera, and the second “Tudor Opera” to be staged following next seasons production of “Anna Bolena” starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko.
The cast includes soprano Elza van den Heever (in her Met debut) as Elisabetta and tenor Francesco Meli as Roberto, Earl of Leicester. The production will be directed by David McVicar with Maurizio Benini conducting.