Friday, May 29, 2009

Turning the page

The Met season finally closed last Thursday -- at Carnegie Hall -- with a dose of welcome virtuosity: from the orchestra in Stravinsky's Petrushka (revised version) and piano soloist Lang Lang in the first Brahms concerto. Despite carping in the press, Lang Lang's maximally and inimitably transparent account of the Brahms was a treat.

It was not, of course, the highlight of the season (or even the pianistic highlight of the season), but a nice coda to what has been a most memorable eight months of concert- and operagoing. Despite one opera company leaving the field (not, I hope, for good), it was a season that presented Maija Kovalevska's Mimi, Sondra Radvanovsky's Leonora, Peter Mattei's Don Giovanni, and -- in perhaps greater form than ever -- James Morris' Wotan: not just great performances, but wondrously apt intersections of singer and role (and opera) showing each at their most significant -- not just for a moment or a single run, but (even more remarkably these days) over time. Whether 2008-09 may have been nearer the beginning of this time (Kovalevska) or its end (Morris), it was a grand thing with these magic combinations in it.

(And yes, I've left out Karita Mattila's Salome and Tatyana, Susan Graham's Elvira, Anja Harteros' Violetta, Patricia Racette's Butterfly, Renee Fleming's Thaïs, Waltraud Meier's Isolde, Angela Gheorghiu's Magda, Stephanie Blythe's Orfeo, Joseph Calleja's Duke, Juan Diego Florez's Elvino, John Tomlinson's Hunding, Yvonne Naef's Fricka, and much else that would have headlined a lesser season.)

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In any case, May is nearly gone and summer is in sight. I have updated the summer opera schedule to include Lorin Maazel's first Castleton Festival (all Britten this year), though its location 60 miles from DC is pushing the "semi" of the "semi-reasonable driving distance of New York City" limit.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The elixir

L'elisir d'amore -- Metropolitan Opera, 4/22/09
Calleja, Cabell, Vassallo, Alaimo, Huang / Benini

From one perspective -- that of much, I believe, of the audience -- this performance a month ago was a revelation, the discovery or confirmation of a major tenor voice of boundless sonic and musical potential. From another, it was something of a disappointment for being no more than that.

Soprano Nicole Cabell was the 2005 Cardiff winner, but her performance as Adina was not much encouragement for her having the eventual superstar success of Karita Mattila (whose inaugural win way back in 1983 has done much to legitimate the competition), Dmitri Hvorostovsky (1993), or -- soon -- Anja Harteros (1999). Pitch issues took a while to settle down and her basic sound I found, frankly, unnaturally darkened and a bit grating, but most alarming was her general unwillingness to engage with the role.

Adina does not take an intense, technically sophisticated singing actress like Angela Gheorghiu (Cabell's immediate predecessor in the revival) to do justice -- though Gheorgiu has done great things in the role. Like other classic "-ina" parts (e.g. Zerlina, Rosina, Norina -- but not Amina, heroine of the big rustic hit of the year before Elisir's premiere), she's a fairly straightforward coquette, blessed with enough charm to risk abusing its power. But that doesn't make her one-dimensional: the whole interest of the coquette character is in the interplay of the true and the mannered, and Donizetti and Romani have left a soprano plenty to work off for both. (In fact, the whole story is of two suitors, each embodying one side of the duality within Adina. She is forced to choose and discovers, perhaps to her surprise, that she prefers true feeling.) But each singer must still use what they've given her.

Take, for example, the play-within-the-play: the little wedding-drama at the beginning of Act II. Adina and Dulcamara enact a little tale of a virtuous gondolier girl rejecting the advances of an old lech in favor of her poor lover, but it's in the form of a humorously regular barcarolle -- and sung at her own unserious wedding! In the right hands (and Ruth Ann Swenson was terrific here) this is a truly delectable segment, my favorite comic bit of the opera, but it goes for nothing here. Cabell's Adina just seems bored and detached, Cabell herself fails to savor the vocal opportunity, and -- well, Dulcamara can't carry the duet by himself.

Nor can Nemorino carry the entire show, though Joseph Calleja gave it a good shot. I've written much about him before, and I won't try to describe his instrument yet another time. Enough to say that on the night it sounded like the unquestionably significant thing it is. His generally grand and ardent lines were a bit clipped by coordination hiccups (in this regard the show sounded like what it was: Calleja's first and only time in this production, probably with minimal rehearsal) and a certain restlessness that's appeared in his singing this season, breaking the old-style, nearly-decadent composure and firmness of underlying time that he's shown before (most recently in Macbeth). Whether the latter is a phase in his singing or just some difference of conductors, I'm not sure. Still, a remarkable display.

There is very little clowning in Calleja's stage persona, nor much of the raw everyman appeal of a Pavarotti. But he still made Nemorino work, not so much as a good-hearted village idiot but one too earnest and naive for plain success at love, both hapless and dignified at once.

The tenor role is known for the one big concluding aria, but Nemorino is onstage for much of the opera, with quite a lot to sing. This is fortunate, because the rest of the cast (including, as mentioned, Cabell) didn't inspire: Simone Alaimo's Dulcamara was, I thought, its only other commendable part. Franco Vassallo has all the strutting mannerisms of a great Belcore and none of the vocal or personal impact. His Sergeant thus seemed more of a buffoon than Nemorino, spoiling the balance of the story. Ying Huang, the over-elaborating backup Amor in Orfeo, was reasonably charming in her tiny part as the head of the village girl chorus: switching her with Cabell might not have been a bad idea. Conductor Maurizio Benini did decently, allowing the Met orchestra players to phrase with their usual feeling in the two great closing arias.

If you missed it, Hoffmann isn't so far off.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mahler (or not)

There are some prior events I've been writing up for a while, but Saturday's Mahler concert was sufficiently odd to get first notice. It was the penultimate part of the Staatskapelle Berlin's complete Mahler symphony cycle at Carnegie Hall: in this case, the Adagio of the not-quite-completed 10th followed (after an intermission) by the symphony-cum-song-cycle "Das Lied von der Erde". The soloists for the latter were tenor Klaus Florian Vogt and mezzo Michelle de Young; the conductor was Daniel Barenboim, who has been splitting baton duties in the cycle with longtime Mahlerian Pierre Boulez.

Barenboim has been music director of the Berlin State Opera (whose orchestra this is) since 1992, and it is no surprise that he showed the band to better effect than Boulez. Mistakes here and there aside, my ears found their brass and wind tone solid but neither particularly songful nor virtuosic, while the strings are firm and appealing at the bottom and rather mixed on top: interestingly airy when so requested, using some of that deliberate not-quite-togetherness Furtwängler famously cultivated in his Berlin orchestra, but quite unable to manage the massed singing sound of Mahler's rapture.

For Boulez, the Staatskapelle was a game but ultimately limiting instrument, encouraging some regret that he hadn't been leading one of the more world-famous orchestras with which he regularly appears at Carnegie. But Barenboim's conducting of Mahler (as of other music) oddly fit his orchestra. As in the winter's Met Tristans, his characteristic method is a sort of musical pointillism, engaging each detail to its own interesting completeness, not quite concerned with overall proportionality or beauty of sound per se. If the orchestra never sounds immaculate or single-minded, Barenboim isn't interested in that anyway, and under his ever-shifting variety of phrase and attack its players very much do sound interesting.

The most notable feature of the performance, however -- besides the soloists, discussed below -- was that which emerged over time, which is to say Barenboim's overall way with Mahler. It was evident in the fragment of the 10th, but I did not quite believe it would be confirmed by "Das Lied" -- but it was.

Barenboim has, as has been noted, taken quite a while to come around to Mahler -- so much so that his large involvement in this cycle was a surprise. Was he a convert? Well, it seems, not exactly. Barenboim's Mahler is, to my ears, a radical (and surprisingly successful) attempt to assemble all the elements and gestures of the music absent the overweening presence of the thing so many have found questionable in the symphonies: Mahler himself, as subject. It's a rather greater trick than Christoph Pregardien's recent performance of Schumann absent the singing subjective "I" -- in Schumann songs a self always lurks, but he varies with his poets in form and mode, while Mahler is (or so one had thought) always unmistakably Mahler. And it's a different sort of thing altogether from the previously-existing "objective" readings of these symphonies -- conducting (like that of Boulez) perhaps more stern or cerebral in its fire, but all the more transmitting Mahler's essential features. Barenboim keeps Mahler's syntax but tells a Mahler-free story: full of new twists, familiar sonic landscapes, and occasional gorgeous moments, and empty of (well, reduced to an absence that was nevertheless what held the various twists together) the troublesome and ubiquitous figure some love and some loathe.

"Das Lied von der Erde" alternates solo tenor and mezzo songs in fairly straightforward setting until the last movement, which incorporates long and vital orchestral bits amidst the singing of the two connected poems. The soloists sing of various Chinese-based scenes, but never quite cease to be tenor and mezzo soloists with orchestra, suggesting the limit of Barenboim's potential success. Mahler was a legendary opera conductor who never wrote an opera: unlike Barenboim favorite Wagner, his genius was not one to dissolve into particular characters in a particular scene as completely as theater requires. And so Barenboim's Mahler-free Mahler must be something of a shell, if a rather fascinating one.

But perhaps the right pair of singers could have made a better case for it. Klaus Florian Vogt was probably the best part of the performance: astoundingly clear and audible in sound, word, and well-shaped phrase throughout, his singing -- the opposite of the strained and too-often-swamped heldenyelling one associates with these songs -- was (even for one present for his Lohengrin) first shocking, then delightful, then thrilling. Vogt's compelling clarity made some sense of Barenboim's approach, while the unearthly quality sat a bit uneasily with it; at any rate, the combination contrasted heavily with the other soloist -- Michelle deYoung -- making an odd whole. deYoung has a rich full-sized mezzo with power and focus at the top, but the bottom of her range -- tested often in her songs, particularly the finale -- gets muddy (with too-wide vibrato) and has less force. Her generally and appealingly warm but not hugely precise interpretive impulse didn't, unfortunately, fit Barenboim's mercurial turns at all; nor did it provide the personal center that Mahler's absence left unfilled.

I don't suppose Waltraud Meier still could sing this piece?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Calleja tales

Although there's still room for something to go wrong before official announcement, it does appear, as you may have heard, that tenor Joseph Calleja will be the new Met Hoffmann. It's definitely a bit of a gamble: he has a great voice that should do well in the part, but it's a fairly heavy sing in a less Italian mode of expression, and in the regular course of things would not have been on his radar for another five-plus years.

At any rate, let's hope for Calleja's success, and that the success, if it comes, doesn't suck him into the whirlpool of Netrebko-related glitz that seems to have downed his predecessor.

A review of his lone Met Elisir should be posted here in the next day or so.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


Il Trovatore -- Metropolitan Opera, 5/8/09
Berti, Papian, Nioradze, Lucic, Bilgili / Frizza

[posts on previous performances here and here]

Three of the original stars of this production are in London: soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky teaming up once more in the ROH Trovatore, and bass Kwangchul Youn as King Heinrich in their Lohengrin (both Elijah Moshinsky productions). In fact, with tenor Marcelo Alvarez, mezzo Dolora Zajick, and conductor Gianandrea Noseda also off elsewhere, the entire cast had turned over between February's premiere and this end-of-season performance.

This change in cast brought not only new sounds but, it seemed, almost a brand new production. Or, rather, a very old production -- for most of the novel and insightful McVicarisms had already fallen out of the show, leaving the familiar and conventional Trovatore of yore. But the physical set and chorus action (for these, at least, have carried over) sits well and handsomely even absent the novel detail. David McVicar and his team did well to create the solid platform for even a traditional stand&sing.

And stand&sing was pretty much what the male leads here had in mind. It's not the worst idea, for both tenor Marco Berti and baritone Zeljko Lucic have impressive voices, representing two not-so-common categories these days: the real spinto tenor and Verdi baritone.

Berti was the more mixed success. In fact, I'm not sure it was a success at all, because he was totally defeated by "Ah si, ben mio" -- unable even to stay in tune, much less make music of the thing -- before trying to make up for it by shouting a lot at the end. "Di quella pira" (still just one verse) afterwards was good but not spectacular, with a somewhat less free tone than in previous acts and a nice but not extended high note finish. The big natural force of his voice actually did well with Manrico's offstage (in-character) singing -- in his first entrance and the Miserere -- but really did best in the exchanges and ensembles that drive the opera. One exception: Manrico's potentially heartfelt contribution to the Act II convent scene, which was here carelessly and fairly coarsely thrown away. Then again, so was most of the poetic-melancholy side of Manrico's character.

Lucic sang gorgeously, with a juicy, full, and spacious sound that is perfect for this music. But -- as with his Germont -- somebody needs to tell him that Verdi baritones take the heavy's part. Not just as bad guys, of course -- there are sympathetic threads to all the roles -- but there has to be some darker element mixed with the bel canto. His di Luna is a substantial, conventionally raised and civilized nobleman asserting legitimate rights: the obsessive quality so strong in Hvorostovsky's portrayal is quite absent, slashed hand (outside the convent) or not, as is most of the reason Leonora would loathe and fear him. (Part of the latter, of course, is that her Manrico here is neither particularly poetic nor tragic.) Sparks do not fly among the trio.

Then again, Hasmik Papian as Leonora isn't the most inspiring source of rivalry either. I suppose this all is unfair to her, because no one else out there besides Radvanovsky can dominate in this part either. (Perhaps this will change if and when Anja Harteros takes it up.) But after hearing this... In any case, Papian has pretty good flexibility and a nice clear and even voice through the middle and bottom, but the top notes are less good: they narrow instead of expand, and pitches can be iffy. More worrisome is the recessive, almost wallflower character her Leonora displays. Lacking fire in either voice or person and trimming the grandeur out of Verdi's phrases, she was in danger of being sung off the stage by her Inez (Laura Vlasak Nolen) in their first scene. Nolen was sounding more vibrantly impressive than I'd ever heard her, but this shouldn't happen. Finally, I was shocked that Papian -- having done four performances already with Frizza in the pit -- kept getting lost in the Miserere.

Mzia Nioradze inspired some unflattering comments on her earlier substitute's appearance, but she was one of the better parts of the performance here. The voice is less forceful, lacking the elemental power of her predecessors, and her body language seems young. But a prematurely wizened, struggling Azucena who isn't big enough for the deeds she has done (and is doing) makes perfect sense, more I think than the usual super-gypsy string-puller. She did well. So did Burak Bilgili as Ferrando, though he had some coordination issues in Act III. He showed a wetter, plusher voice than Youn, while -- like the rest of the cast -- missing some of his predecessor's focused storytelling drive.

Riccardo Frizza conducted well, as he did in earlier in Rigoletto. I don't think it was his fault that most of this go-round's cast didn't take the same relish in the music's headlong rhythmic momentum and long contrasting phrases as the original's. (Actually Berti did pretty well on this score.)

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All complaints aside, there was much to enjoy in the sound of this Trovatore. But the distinctive space in which the opera plays -- the Spanish-flavored, story- and doom-soaked world in which all the derided twists and relationships make clear sense -- was not at all this time evoked. That's too bad, because with a poetic Manrico and an inspiring and responsive Leonora, McVicar's production did bring that out.

Not that I wouldn't like to hear Berti again, in the right piece. Maybe next time he'll get to have a shouting contest with Radvanovsky...

Friday, May 08, 2009


Götterdämmerung -- Metropolitan Opera, 5/2/09
Dalayman, Franz, Tomlinson, Naef, Paterson, Wray, Fox / Levine

So it wasn't the production after all -- not Otto Schenk's fault that his Ring kept appearing with lumbering singers only haphazardly acting their roles. That it needed the right cast and preparation should have been no surprise: only the simple and the simplified are proof against that, and Schenk fortunately didn't try to squeeze the entire Ring into one homogenizing idea. Now, at the production's close, more are openly acknowledging the gorgeous sets (Siegfried's are the best, but there are other high points) and triumphant old-fashioned stagecraft (most notably, of course, at the end of this opera) that well framed this revival's musical and dramatic success.

But it was the cast that provided the spark, in a way not often seen here or anywhere. Katarina Dalayman most of all: however she may have sounded for the broadcast matinee, she was excellent this Saturday, with pure force at the top and a pleasant vibrato-bearing warmth through a middle and bottom that carried well through the orchestra. (It is, to my ears, a very good Brünnhilde instrument, though not overpowering a la Flagstad.) But more than that, she sang and acted this Brünnhilde like she meant every word -- perhaps from having sung some concert performances of Twilight (now another one this week in Manchester, England), she seems much more assured in the character than in the Walküre installment's.

Dalayman was well-paired with tenor Christian Franz. Vocally, he was decent: never unpleasant in the taxing first acts, and with enough left this time to use his characteristic nice soft singing in the great death scene (though the high parts of repeating the Forest Bird's calls were pretty understandably not going to happen and were just fudged). But he remains a most convincing Siegfried, not just in general youthfulness and vigor (though he shows those), but in his attention to the more delicate side of this man-child's character. The appeal of his soft singing opens the possibility up for Franz, and he takes good advantage. His Siegfried is neither brute nor villain, even when (under a potion's enchantment) he goes along with the plot to win Brünnhilde for Gunther. In fact he has moments of almost-recollection that are quite touching, as his voice and manner soften midway through both plotting and execution with a sense of: "Shouldn't I be remembering something about this?" He means well, and even the implacable-Gunther act that so terrifies Brünnhilde at the end of Act I is clearly to him a basically-harmless put-on.

So Siegfried, this time, is not at all a villain, but John Tomlinson's Hagen so ably is. Unlike Hunding, which he perfectly rumbled last month, Hagen really requires a more consistent and forceful top than Tomlinson now has. But like Hunding, Hagen allows Tomlinson to use the imposing solidity of his presence and vocal persona to memorable effect. The supporting cast was, as has been the case throughout these Ring revivals, very strong. Yvonne Naef was a very good Waltraute, though not quite up to the level of Felicity Palmer in her 2000 house debut. (Naef was a bit handicapped by the fact that the Waltraute scene was one of the few parts where I thought Levine's conducting actually dragged.) Iain Paterson and Margaret Jane Wray did well if not memorably as the Gibich pawns, while Tom Fox was again sharp as Alberich. Lisette Oropesa, Kate Lindsey, and Tamara Mumford once more made a luxury group of Rhinemaidens.

But it was the principals who made this show, and Katarina Dalayman in particular. Opposite a Siegfried who, like her, had a live voice and could actually act, she brought a remarkable electric charge to all of Brünnhilde's scenes -- including, crucially, the Act II confrontation. She led Franz, Tomlinson, and the others (including the Met chorus, finally given a big scene) in bringing this bit off so well that one could forget that the whole scene is utter humbug -- the bizarre result of Wagner's use of the "Götterdämmerung"/cycle-ending frame so that all the Norse/medieval German material of this piece is reduced to an object lesson for Brünnhilde ("What, you won't give up the Ring because it's the sign of your love? Wait, you'll see in a minute..."). And by the end, Dalayman had enough voice to herself attempt (with some success) some deliberately soft singing in the Immolation.

So it was Dalayman, despite a lone thug who booed her strongly at the end (and what on earth was wrong with this person?), who get the biggest cast ovation. I'm very much looking forward to her returning (with a bit more experience under her belt) for the next Met Ring, as well as Franz if the voice holds up. Of course James Levine got the biggest cheers: his orchestra played terrifically, the brass fortunately getting all their flubs out before a shattering rendition of Siegfried's funeral music. Schenk did not come out for a bow (tomorrow, perhaps?), though he would, if audience chatter was any indication, have gotten a huge reception. Kudos.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Die Walküre -- Metropolitan Opera, 5/5/09
Watson, Morris, Pieczonka, Domingo/Lehman, Naef, Pape / Levine

[previous Walküre reviews this season here and here]

No one cared by the final curtain, but this last Schenk Valkyrie began with an announcement on Placido Domingo's indisposition -- which, we were told, he would try to overcome. It was fairly soon clear that the indisposition was winning (he could still power loud high notes but for stamina and sustained line... nothing), and, while the audience was wondering how he could possibly make it through Siegmund's part in the taxing Act I close, Domingo walked off stage immediately after his long solo beginning with the "Wälse" cries. Another tenor -- the indispensable Gary Lehman, of course -- came in just as Sieglinde appeared to ask Siegmund if he was asleep (in this case, obviously not: he was actually shambling in from the side and across onto the rug) and kick off the long Act-closing duet sequence.

Lehman turned out to have a pleasing but somewhat limited (not much extra space at climaxes) voice which well fit the character of Siegmund. (He was also much more visibly youthful and tragic, brandishing Nothung as one comfortable with a fight.) The other singer I haven't already written on in this piece (see previous posts above) was the Brünnhilde, Linda Watson. As I suspected after her Siegfried stint, the often low-lying demands of this opera suited her quite well, with only the climax of Act II's "Todesverkündigung" extendedly testing+exposing her unsteady top. She is larger than Theorin and Dalayman and not particularly athletic but does well with the more conventional Valkyrie body stuff -- which also complements the general warm phrasing she employs.

But of course the evening was about James Morris, and not just because this may be his last Walküre Wotan here or whatnot. Even after being stunned last month by how much he has left and how directly and naturally he's now able to present the part (in this better, as I've said, than he's ever yet done), Morris' Act III farewell still made the show. He deserved all of the huge ruckus (and love) he inspired at curtain calls -- and more -- but I thought his performance and success here to be almost beyond applause, the sort of thing at which one just goes home in quiet disbelief. He visibly trembled this time as he grasped Brünnhilde at the last -- was it as himself, or as Wotan? What difference, at this point, could there be?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Disappearing act

From one perspective Christoph Pregardien is the ideal lieder singer. His lyric tenor is as clear, graceful, and unforcedly attractive as on record, and his German diction is itself almost as great a pleasure. In his voice each song is shaped into an whole, but one pleasing in every part. And yet...

Sunday he performed an all-German recital at the new Alice Tully Hall with accompanist Michael Gees: first Schumann's Eichendorff "Liederkreis" (op. 39), then -- after an intermission -- seven Wolf songs, also of Eichendorff poems, and three Mahler songs.

All were basically of a piece. Each performance was, as just noted, beautiful in every part -- enough so to raise gooseflesh in the beginning stanzas of the first Mahler selection, "Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen". And not just beautiful but clear, intelligent, and using a full dynamic range: one perceived the songs as if enacted in the rippling of great clear waters.

And perhaps that is as they should be, particularly in a mostly-Eichendorff evening. Because the strain that's missing -- the personal yes and no of the subject -- is one Eichendorff labors to efface, in twilight and distance, nature and death. Schumann's "Liederkreis" of his poetry is far from the one set to Heine (op. 24), much less the two great love-story sets of that same year ("Frauenliebe und -leben" and "Dichterliebe", the latter also after Heine): in these Eichendorff songs the "I" does not much insist; the motion of the pieces is in their tracking of the shadowed and subtle world.

And yet... Perhaps it's from having just heard Rene Pape's titanically subjective rendition of "Dichterliebe" (the ultimate outpouring of Romantic subjectivity), but it seems to me that Schumann, even in setting Eichendorff, never quite dropped this thread of personal insistence (the "Florestan" side of him), and therefore that minimizing it to effect an elegant self-disappearance isn't entirely satisfactory.

So too with Wolf's Eichendorff. In Mahler, Pregardien nailed the uncanny beauty that begins "Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen", but the passion that mutedly burns in the song's climax was missed. "Revelge", though an obvious followup thematically, didn't much tell either in his hands. The last song of the set was a near-perfect account of "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" in the day's characteristic already-vanished style. This seems to be how many (most?) singers and listeners see this great piece, but I (also perhaps characteristically) prefer to hear the contest between hot and cold, rapture and detachment. (Ferrier's recording is exemplary in this.)

Gees accompanied terrifically throughout, meticulously energetic and a bit more hard-edged in his objectivity than his partner. The audience responded very well, calling the pair back for three encores: Mahler's "Rheinlegendchen", and two songs from the Heine "Liederkreis" (op. 24): "Mit Myrthen und Rosen" and "Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen". Here I thought Pregardien perfectly caught the springy appeal of Mahler's little love narrative, and though the first Schumann encore (actually the closing song of the op. 24 cycle) inspired the same concerns as the regularly programmed Schumann, "Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen" was as freely and directly felt as one could want -- a perfect few minutes of Romantic love-melancholy.

A memorable afternoon, even if I didn't enjoy it quite as much as others there must have.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Burkhard Fritz he isn't

Fresh off of replacing Fritz in the new Berlin State Opera Lohengrin, Klaus Florian Vogt will join that house's orchestra in town this month to replace Fritz in Das Lied von der Erde at Carnegie. (Thanks to Intermezzo, who just saw Vogt sing this in Paris, for the tip.)

Maybe the local press will finally get around to acknowledging Vogt's existence -- something they failed to do in 2006 despite one of the greatest and most stunning Met debuts ever.

With Dorothea Röschmann already singing in symphonies 2, 4, and some of the Knaben Wunderhorn songs, the Berliners' Mahler cycle is a good occasion for too-little-seen German singers.

(Yes, posts on the weekend's Götterdämmerung and Pregardien recital are forthcoming. Also one on Elisir, eventually.)

Friday, May 01, 2009

The boy who went out to learn fear

Siegfried -- Metropolitan Opera, 4/30/09
Franz, Watson, Dohmen, Brubaker, White, Tomlinson, Fox, Oropesa / Levine

For his lovely soft singing and young eager Siegfried-isms, one might forgive Christian Franz pretty much anything. Not that his performance was otherwise disaster: he did (like most predecessors) approximate many of the big high/loud bits, but aside from sounding scarily out of gas for his big response to "Ewig war ich" (he did mostly get it together again for the very end), Franz provided strong (if fudged and/or imprecise) sound through even these more brutal tests. But his strengths: the lyric conversation with the Forest Bird, his reflections on seeing Brünnhilde, and his bodily reactions to everything -- carefree and young in Act II until roused to a hilarious fever pitch at hearing of the Valkyrie; having a moment of communion with Wotan after breaking the spear in Act III; palpably eager but confused at discovering Brünnhilde, then believably crushed as she has second thoughts before his desire overcomes them both -- made for a sympathetically dreamy Siegfried who didn't, as is sometimes the case, seem the villain of the piece.

Linda Watson (stepping in because Dalayman has never yet sung all three Brünnhildes in a week's space) has a full warm dramatic-soprano bottom to her voice, but gets a bit wobblier above that. Voice aside, she and Franz -- thanks in no small part to his reactions -- carried off the personal back-and-forth of the final scene quite movingly.

Albert Dohmen sang so well as the Wanderer that I feel I may have shortchanged him in the last Valkyrie write-up. (Though perhaps it's that I haven't seen Morris' Wanderer this season as comparison...) Of his first two acts' work I had many of the same objections as Tuesday, but Dohmen was so forceful in Act III and sang so strongly throughout that he deserved what he received: the biggest non-Levine ovations of the night.

Robert Brubaker is something of a revelation as Mime, but so is Lisette Oropesa as a perky and heavenly Forest Bird. In fact, all the supporting players did their bits well, as did James Levine's orchestra. But it's largely to Franz's credit that this summa of boys' adventure tales came off so happily.