Edita Gruberova singing all three of Donizetti’s Tudor Queens? Yes please!
“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.
The first time my friend Gabbie and I saw this, we broke out laughing hysterically. I adore this woman. Opera would be so boring without her. She’s doing something for the art form that no one else has the balls to do.
Salut à la France!
A mes beaux jours!
A mes amours!
Salut à la gloire!
Voilà pour mon cœur,
Avec la victoire,
L’instant du bonheur!
The Metropolitan Opera’s 2011-2012 season is looking pretty tepid from this operagoer’s perspective. One look at the Met’s website and publicity materials suggests that Peter Gelb is banking on a new production of Massanett’s “Manon,” and the house’s first ever staging of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena.”
This is understandable, as both productions star Anna Netrebko - unquestionably THE current reigning soprano of the Metropolitan Opera. But “Manon” is an enervating, lightweight French opera that has a questionable place in the standard repertory. The one bright spot of this new staging is the brilliant Laurent Pelly. Pelly is one of the most inventive, resourceful directors working today and Natalie Dessay groupies (including me) will remember his sparkling ”Fille du Regiment” from three seasons ago which remains an unqualified triumph.
In addition to “Manon,” we have another new production of a silly French opera: Gounod’s “Faust” starring opera’s latest pinup: Jonas Kaufmann. Perhaps the new productions will change my opinion of these operas, but it doesn’t seem likely. I’ve seen, at least, a dozen productions of “Manon,” and I’ve yet to be convinced of the opera’s worthiness.
The prospect of finally bringing “Anna Bolena” to the Met is enticing; I’ve always said that the Met should bring Donizetti’s ”Tudor Queen” operas to the Met, but one good Donizetti opera does not a satisfying season make. Predictably, the critical darling and all around Wunderkind, Angela Meade, will be sharing the run with Anna Netrebko, which is all the more discouraging given the fact that Anna Bolena is a role that requires a great actress as well as a great singer.
Of course the biggest, most expensive production of the season will be the two final installments of Robert Lepage’s lumbering “Ring Cycle.” Judging from “Das Rheingold” and “Die Walkure,” the chances of final chapters being brilliant seem slim to none. I agree with the critics in thinking that Lepage’s vision is an empty, high-tech spectacle with a hollow core. There’s a lot of scenery, but very little humanity or heart.
The biggest fly in the ointment would have to be “The Enchanted Island”: an operatic equivalent of a jukebox musical. The Met has decided to shoehorn a “plot” around several ensembles and arias by baroque composers like Handel, Vivaldi, and Rameau. Could we please put an end to baroque opera at the Met? Leaving aside the fact that I HATE baroque opera, the Met is a HORRIBLE venue for this kind of music. If the Met insists on presenting baroque works, they ought to consider holding it in one of the smaller venues at Lincoln Center, such as the Mitzi Newhouse theater.
I must admit that I really am looking forward to Natalie Dessay in Willy Decker’s spare production of “Traviata.” I know that the role of Violetta is about ten sizes to big for Dessay’s voice, but I also know her Violetta will be something completely different that we have never seen before. Dessay’s commitment to acting and drama will lend a whole new dimension to the role of Violetta. Say what you will about her voice: you just can’t take your eyes of this woman.
I’d really love it if the Met would mount a great, neglected Donizetti work for Dessay, or put her in one of the “Tudor Queen” operas. I’d love to see her in “Roberto Deveraux” or, if that is too heavy, perhaps “Maria Stuarda?” There are also TONS of other wonderfully dramatic Bel Canto operas that have never been performed and would be perfect for Dessay.
Lesser known Strauss is also sorely lacking from the Met. Strauss composed many great operas during his lifetime that are seldom performed, and it’s high time that changed. Last year’s “Capriccio” proved a surprise highlight of the season; with a uniformly superb cast led by Renee Fleming, the Met showed that this opera is a Straussian gem that deserves a regular spot in the repertory.
“Die schweigsame Frau” is another wonderful Strauss rarity that needs to be seen. Dessay scored a triumph in the comic opera earlier in her career, and it would be wonderful to see her in it at the Met one day. It is very funny and has some sublime, prime-period Strauss music.
While we’re on the subject of star vehicles, could we please give Mariusz Kwiecien his own Bel Canto opera? The new forthcoming “Don Giovanni” is nice, but haven’t we seen enough baritones warble their way through this barn burner? And, anyway, it would be hard to top Christopher Alden’s mesmerizing staging last season at “City Opera.” It’s time to mount a new star showcase for the wonderful, charismatic baritones of today! Donizetti’s “Torquato Tasso” is a fantastic, yet neglected lyric drama that would be ideal for a baritone who can really act. (The opera comes complete with it’s very own mad scene.)
If Peter Gelb really wants to shake things up, he should look into staging forgotten works by known composers that the public adores. There comes a point where you just can’t take another stultifying evening of “Manon” or “Don Giovanni.”
The brilliant Natalie Dessay demonstrating what a gifted physical comedian she is in this tour de force aria from Donizetti’s “La fille du régiment.”
I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge two of my favorite sopranos: Beverly Sills and Lauren Flanigan. These women are two artists who deserve more acknowledgment than they’ve been given. For these singers, every not means something. It should be noted, that they both made NYC Opera their artistic home instead of becoming regulars at the Met because, they were able to champion new operas and neglected works. It’s a shame that more singer in their prime don’t do this when they have the clout.
Flanigan is a pro, who has created many roles in new works from Hugo Weisgall’s “Esther” to Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa.” In La Traviata, at the end of the act 1 cabaletta, it is typical for a soprano to interpolate a showy high e-flat, despite the fact that this is not Verdi’s in the score. Here is an example of what a consummate artist Flanigan is:
“It’s not that I have a problem singing the note. I know that note is there; I’ve been singing higher notes, optional Fs, in another place in the same aria during rehearsals. But I’m going to decide in performance whether or not to sing that final high E-flat. It’ll depend on how the role is going emotionally - if I’m feeling more in denial of the potential love affair, or whether I’m responding more in the direction of passion.”
Beverly Sills was famous for bringing back the great “Donizetti Queens.” She saw the brilliant drama in these operas (heck! one is base on a Schiller play), and she saw the beauty of the music. Now they are regularly staged all over the world. Here is an excerpt from an interview she gave in the New York Times:
“An interpolated high D in the final act of ”Deve reux” was never, in my mind, a high note for the sake of a high note. At this point, Elizabeth is a frail, dying woman. ‘Toward the end of her life, she was afraid to lie down, because she thought she would die if she did. So she sat up until she dropped. As long as I could sing the high D piano and not belt it out, it was right to do it. I didn’t want audiences to say, ‘Look, she’s singing a high D.’ That was not the point. It had to be a plaintive wail.”
Opera conservatories are constantly using Sutherland and Pavarotti as paradigms for young singers. They should use Sills and Flanigan as examples of what it means to be a true artist.
”My biggest frustration is that the opera business does not take nonmainstream opera seriously” - Lauren Flanigan
One of the major problems with opera, is the practice of staging the bread-and-butter staples year after year. It makes the creative process impossible for directors, singers, and conductors because, inevitably, opera fans have some personal yard stick by which all subsequent performances are measured. Woe unto ye who dares to tamper with that sacred cow: La Boheme.
Singers, perhaps, suffer the most from this because they are constantly being compared to some legendary Tosca or Mimi of yore. Any tenor, who shows the slightest bit of promise is instantly dubbed “The Next Pavarotti,” only to disappointed everyone as he develops as an artist in his own wright. Here’s an idea: if you want to hear Pavarotti, stay at home and listen to one of his many recordings!
Why is this? What is the point of dragging out “Butterfly” and “Traviata” year after year? My philosophy has always been: these are masterpieces. It’s wonderful to have a new vision for the story and new take on the character with each production.
Donizetti wrote some 80 operas during his lifetime, and only 4 have become part of the standard repertoire. Some of them are pure crap with moments of astonishing music, and others are of the quality of ‘Lucia’ or ‘L’elisir d’amore.’
My music history teacher once ranted, “Why don’t people get it? The reason these operas aren’t performed is because they’re no good!” While there are kernels of truth to this, I have to disagree. Donizetti’s Tudor operas are masterpieces, yet they were virtually extinct until pioneering efforts of Beverly Sills. Today, they are regularly staged with ‘Anna Bolena’ scheduled for the Met’s 2011-2012 season.
Strauss is another case of a composer with a vast oeuvre of overlooked masterpieces. There are those who insist Strauss never composed another great opera after Ariadne auf Naxos but I completely disagree. Take Capriccio: A character driven, thought-provoking piece with gloriously beautiful music. The work is finally being given a high-profile revival thanks to Renee Fleming, but the work speaks for itself. The music is fantastic, and the opera asks the audience to ponder the importance of words and music.
Die Frau Ohne Schatten is a wonderful, fantasmagorical fairytale that mixes large-scale mythology and intimate human drama. Intermezzo is a hilarious domestic comedy with character driven music based on Strauss own experiences. Die Sweigsame Frau is, in my opinion, one of the best operatic comedies ever written with some of the most beautiful music ever composed for the Bass voice.
The point is, it’s time opera houses and audiences tried something new. La Boheme and Traviata bring in the big bucks, but they’ve also become museum pieces and worse meaningless competitions (in one corner we have two-time champion Ruth Ann Swenson’s Mimi…in the other, we have newcomer Anna Netrebko!)
There are TONS of operas out there that have never been given a chance. It’s time we gave them a try!