Saturday, September 29, 2012

Slow burn

Carmen - Metropolitan Opera, 9/28/2012
Rachvelishvili, Royal, Lee, Ketelsen / Mariotti

Leads Anita Rachvelishvili and Yonghoon Lee are, it turns out, who we thought they were: a pair of astonishing-voiced singers who can carry any production. Rachvelishvili still hits some pitch issues at the top of her range, but the main body of her sound is as fully and gorgeously textured as any mezzo in this Golden Age. Lee, meanwhile, shows here as strongly as he did as Don Carlo that he's something like an ideal romantic spinto tenor: he feels -- and of course shapes -- these parts' great tragic phrases so strongly, so grandly, that the striking squillo of his tone and the full expansiveness of his high notes come almost as obvious corollaries. More, please.

The other headliners were mixed. Best was American bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, who in addition to being an appropriately handsome Escamillo was the most vocally authoritative one since Rene Pape about a decade ago. Less good was the Micaela, Kate Royal. She phrased just fine, but even a vibrato-aficionado as I -- Calleja, Radvanovsky, and Röschmann may be my favorite operatic sounds -- found little to enjoy in Royal's actual singing. Unlike these other vibrati, Royal's does not seem the healthy individual expression of a strong support, but something less felicitous. I hope she's indisposed or not entirely recovered from her last pregnancy or... something, because otherwise I'm concerned for the state of English ears. Her sound did not blend at all well with Lee's, but that at least makes a sort of dramatic sense.

Debuting conductor Michele Mariotti was somewhere in between. The current principal conductor at Bologna showed a number of virtues: precise control of ensembles, firm rhythmic sense, and the wisdom not to get in his singers' way -- and, indeed, helping them make much of slow climaxes of the piece. And so on this night the highlights were the Micaela-Jose duet, the Flower Song, and similar still segments throughout, here done with a rare unity and concentration. But despite all that -- and despite fairly snappy accounts of the first- and last-act preludes -- Mariotti seemed to have little interest in giving the piece an overall shape, quite happy to let the colorful bits slack unhurriedly, as if in fact on a hot Spanish afternoon, and to let the more urgent portions approach but never quite cross over into excitement. This appears to be Mariotti's legitimate view of the piece, and he shows skill in bringing it to life, but it's a letdown after how Nézet-Séguin opened the production three seasons back.

So the show falls into scenes, which is not the worst thing given the way its cast brings them successively to life.

*     *     *

Lee will, it seems, be back in the not-too-distant future for revivals of Ballo (new later this season) and Trovatore. In this interview from last year (around the Nabucco revival) one can see him talk about the time before his big break: fascinating stuff.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Met season preview, part 2: who's on

Collated from the February and August posts, with some further noted changes. As in previous years, operas are listed in order of first appearance. Some one-off cast combinations are omitted.

L'Elisir d'Amore (new Bartlett Sher production)
Netrebko, Polenzani, Kwiecien, Maestri / Benini (opening night through October)
Netrebko, Polenzani, Kwiecien, Schrott / Benini (late January through early February)
Anna Netrebko gets a second consecutive opening night.  Nemorino is an excellent part for Matthew Polenzani, but I don't expect this to be any more satisfying for non-Netrebko fans than her previous shot (when her voice was better suited to such parts) at Donizetti comedy. I'd grade Bartlett Sher as one-for-three at the Met so far (Hoffmann yes, Barber and Comte Ory no), but his misses are at least inoffensive. I suspect Maestri will be the more humane option as Dulcamara.

Guleghina, Gerzmava, Berti, Morris / Ettinger (September through early October)
Theorin, Brugger, Giordani, Morris / Ettinger (October 30 through early November)
Theorin, Gerzmava, Fraccaro, Ramey / Ettinger (January)
Maria Guleghina seems to be herself again after an atrocious Turandot run several seasons ago, but the tenor lineup isn't exactly exciting. The Lius are more interesting: Hibla Gerzmava, an exciting live-voiced Antonia/Stella and Mimi here already, and Janai Brugger, debuting soon after showing off a glorious lyric soprano instrument in this year's Met Council Finals. Brugger replaces another young black soprano, Takesha Meshe Kizart, whose baby dramatic-coloratura sound I'd certainly still like to hear again.

Royal, Rachvelishvili, Lee, Ketelsen / Mariotti (September 28 through October)
Scherbachenko, Rachvelishvili, Schukoff, Rhodes / Mariotti (February)
Scherbachenko, Rachvelishvili, Richards, Rhodes / Mariotti (February-March)
Young old-school mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili gets two runs, the first with excellent young Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee and the second with debutants Nikolai Schukoff and Andrew Richards...  A much more appetizing revival than the Turandot.

Il Trovatore
Giannattasio, Zajick, Jones, Vassallo, Robinson / Callegari (September 29 through early October)
Yu, Zajick, Jones, Vassallo, Robinson / Callegari (October)
Racette, Blythe, Berti, Markov, Stamboglis / Callegari (January)
Wasn't Anja Harteros supposed to be in this?  Sondra Radvanovsky definitely was (in October), but she'll now be rehearsing for Ballo instead. Now October brings Chinese soprano Guanqun Yu, a second-prize winner in this summer's Operalia competition..  Still, the men are more worrying, particularly for fall: Gwyn Hughes Jones hasn't done much, and it's hard to imagine the same Franco Vassallo who previously couldn't make an impact as Belcore now turning in a commanding di Luna.  Angela Meade has a single performance as Leonora on January 16.

Fleming, Botha, Fabiano, Struckmann / Bychkov (October)
Stoyanova, Cura, Dolgov, Hampson / Altinoglu (March)
Fall run:  revival of a classic 2008 cast, not to be missed.
Spring run:  hallelujah, the Met's finally cut bait on Domingo's "conducting" travesties! Still a more odd cast, though now intriguing.

The Tempest (new Robert Lepage production)
Luna, Leonard, Davies, Shrader, Oke, Burden, Spence, Keenlyside / Adès (October-November)
I know nothing about this piece, but I'm pretty sure it can't be as irritating an attempt at unwriting the original Shakespeare as last season's Enchanted Island was.

Le Nozze di Figaro
Kovalevska, Erdmann, Schäfer, Finley, Abdrazakov / Robertson (October-November)
Very promising cast for this revival, though Mojca Erdmann is again in a part that's perhaps not quite high enough for her voice to shine.

Un Ballo in Maschera (new David Alden production)
Radvanovsky, Kim, Zajick, Álvarez, Hvorostovsky / Luisi (November)
Radvanovsky, Kim, Blythe, Álvarez, Hvorostovsky / Luisi (November-December)
Radvanovsky and Hvorostovsky: two great (contrasting) tastes that taste great together. If only the run had Calleja to round out a full dream cast... not that I expect Marcelo Alvarez to be any less than enjoyable & professional, as he was with these singers in the McVicar Trovatore premiere. Whether Alden's production will be helpful, incidental, or ruinous is another matter.

La Clemenza di Tito
Crowe, Frittoli, Garanca, Lindsey, Filianoti, Gradus / Bicket (November-December)
It's Garanca, not Lindsey, as Sesto. Not sure this is for the best.

Monastyrska, Borodina, Berti, Mastromarino, Kocán, Sebestyén / Luisi (November)
He, Borodina, Berti, Mastromarino, Kocán, Sebestyén / Luisi (December)
Monastyrska, Borodina, Alagna, Gagnidze, Kocán, Sebestyén / Luisi (December)
He, Borodina, Alagna, Gagnidze, Kocán, Sebestyén / Luisi (December)
Many different parts around Olga Borodina's Amneris. I suppose Fabio Luisi's appearance in this war-horse means he's serious about the Met commitment.

Don Giovanni
Phillips, Bell, Siurina, Castronovo, Abdrazakov, Schrott, Soar, Aceto / Gardner (late November through December)
After a spate of more baritonal Dons, Ildar Abdrazakov brings his bassy charisma to the part. Erwin Schrott, whom I've elsewhere found lacking in the humane element, is an interesting and perhaps inspired choice for Leporello. Exciting to see Susanna Phillips get a big Mozart part here again.

Les Troyens
Voigt, Graham, Cargill, Giordani, Cutler, Croft, Youn / Luisi (December-January)
It seems that Susan Graham has been waiting forever for this revival -- and in fact it will have been almost a decade since that magic first run with Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson's great Met triumph as Didon. Not sure what vocal form the other principals will show, but I think I'll miss Matthew Polenzani's utterly perfect Iopas this time...

The Barber of Seville (abridged holiday version)
Leonard, Shrader, Pogossov, Del Carlo, Bisch / Abel (December-January)
As usual for these holiday shows, the casting is pretty good.

Maria Stuarda (new David McVicar production)
van den Heever, DiDonato, Meli, Hopkins, Rose / Benini (New Year's Eve through January)
Finally, a big Joyce DiDonato bel canto vehicle -- and with the heralded debut of soprano Elza van den Heever to boot. McVicar's Anna Bolena was tasteful and literal and dull, but his promise of a "freer" physical production for this Donizetti installment is a good sign.

La Rondine
Opolais, Christy, Filianoti, Brenciu, Croft / Marin (January)
Kristine Opolais was supposed to have debut in last season's Boheme (as Musetta), but didn't for whatever reason. There's good music in this opera, but I'm not sure it will be half as interesting without the meta-angle that Angela Gheorghiu brought to its last run. Incidentally, Ion Marin hasn't conducted at the Met since 1993.

Le Comte Ory
Machaidze, Deshayes, Resmark, Flórez, Gunn, Ulivieri / Benini (January-February)
The least appealing Florez vehicle to date gets a revival with the impressive but perhaps miscast Nino Machaidze and no Joyce DiDonato.

Rigoletto (new Michael Mayer production)
Damrau, Volkova, Beczala, Lucic, Kocán / Mariotti (late January through February)
Oropesa, Herrera, Grigolo, Gagnidze, Iori / Armiliato (April through May 1)
I don't think the first cast can work (excellent singing, poor fit-to-part), and Vittorio Grigolo's unbearable and overhyped debut has me quite wary of the otherwise-promising spring lineup. As for the new Las Vegas-set production, who knows?

Parsifal (new François Girard production)
Dalayman, Kaufmann, Mattei, Nikitin, Pape / Gatti (February-March)
Dalayman, Kaufmann, Mattei, Nikitin, Pape / Fisch (March)
When the most doubtful part of a cast is Jonas Kaufmann (who wasn't that great in his last Wagner outing here), you've got one heck of a promising show. This is Girard's first big-house/standard-rep show; he of course directed the film 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould.

Don Carlo
Frittoli, Smirnova, Vargas, Hvorostovsky, Furlanetto, Halfvarson / Maazel (February-March)
A cast that perhaps should have been the premiere lineup... but is seriously diminished by Sondra Radvanovsky's replacement by Frittoli. (Not sure why, since it's two months after the final Ballo.) And too bad it's not the previous production that's being revived...

Francesca da Rimini
Westbroek, Giordani, Brubaker, Delavan / Armiliato (March)
Mark Delavan returns! Not sure how well the rest will go.

La Traviata
Damrau, Pirgu, Domingo / Nézet-Séguin (March-April)
Promising young tenor (Saimir Pirgu) and the season's only scheduled appearances by great conductorial hope Yannick Nézet-Séguin, but it's already past time for Gelb to kill this insultingly stupid & bathetic Willy Decker nonsense under the rubric of having many and rapid new productions. Violetta and papa Germont allow a range of voices, but Diana Damrau and Placido Domingo nevertheless aren't the most obvious choices for these either...

Poplavskaya, Boulianne, Beczala, Markov, Relyea / Altinoglu (March-April)
Another good tenor, but the rest isn't inspiring. I really liked Marina Poplavskaya's Elisabetta, but her utter humorlessness is a terrible fit for Marguerite.

Giulio Cesare
Dessay, Coote, Bardon, Daniels, Dumaux, Loconsolo / Bicket (April-May)
Dessay's Cleopatra worth the rest? Depends.

Dialogues des Carmélites
Leonard, Racette, Morley, Bishop, Palmer, Appleby / Langrée (May)
This show always works, but I'm not sure Louis Langree is the man to conduct it.

The Ring
Voigt, Morris, Delavan / Luisi (Cycle 1)
Dalayman, Morris, Delavan / Luisi (Cycle 2)
Voigt, Cleveman, Grimsley / Luisi (Cycle 3)
Mark Delavan's Met return is in fact rather huge, with two Ring cycles. The casting as a whole is a bit less starry than this year's, but the staging kinks may have been worked out by 2013.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The week in NY opera (September 24-30)

With City Opera reduced to a sadly shrunken half-existence, this will mostly be the Met this season.

Metropolitan Opera
Elisir (M/Th), Turandot (T/SE), Carmen (F), Trovatore (SM)
A new, opening-night production plus some grand warhorses. Carmen is probably the most promising of the bunch, with two young fantastic lead voices: Anita Rachvelishvili, who already seems a veteran in this, and Yonghoon Lee, who's impressed me more than any other middleweight tenor since his debut as Don Carlo two years ago -- Jonas Kaufmann very much included; in fact Kaufmann appearances since then have had me wishing it were Lee instead.

Turandot does have a promising lineup of shouters (and actually Hibla Gerzmava is rather more), if you'd like that. The rest? We'll see.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Met season preview, part 1: getting in

The 2012-2013 season finds significant changes in the process of actually getting Metropolitan Opera tickets.

This post at "Superconductor" previewed the changes in detail when the Met first announced them months ago. In brief, there are three main alterations:

First, every level of the house has been carved up into "Premium", "Prime", and "Balance" designations, with the nicer boxes divided into "Front" and "Rear". This may sound like a mild continuation of the simple "Premium" carve-out that began five years ago, but a glance at the seat picker tells quite another story. The sections are now split approximately into thirds by distance from the stage. (In Dress Circle, though, the wheelchair seats have almost entirely swallowed Balance.)

This is, of course, a price increase -- the official claim is 7.6% average for single tickets -- but it's at least as importantly an attempt to eliminate the bargains in the house. (There's now, I think, only one area left that's worth much more than it costs -- and it's not very available anyway.) This has obvious short-term gain, but at an equally obvious cost to subscribers, subscription incentives, and general long-term goodwill of patrons. (The comments to the WSJ piece are telling.)

The second change is perhaps supposed to offset this a bit. Under the "dynamic pricing" model, ticket prices will actually increase as demand goes up. So prices may well rise if you don't lock in early.

The third change is probably more significant than the second, but appears to be hiding under talk thereof: the Met has actually already set varying initial prices for every show this season. (Information on this is in the subscription book, but doesn't appear in any easy to find place online, presumably because the house doesn't want you to know how much a show/seat initially cost.) Performances are categorized from A (cheap) to E (expensive), with special F (family -- kids' versions) and gala categories as well. This is both an outgrowth of the old "more expensive matinees/weekends" policy and an unprecedented price variation by cast and production.

Instead of going night by night, let's cross-reference the prices by run to the expectations set out last month:
Yes!... if the production doesn't bomb
Parsifal (E)
Ballo (C-E)
Maria Stuarda (C-E)

Sure to please
Otello (fall) (D-E)
Figaro / Don Giovanni (it's the season of Abdrazakov) (both A)
Carmen (don't miss Lee) (C-E)

Could really be something
Don Carlo (C)
Clemenza (A/D)
Aida (C/E)
Trovatore (C-E)
The Tempest (C-E)
Troyens (Graham for sure; who knows about Voigt and Giordani?) (C-E)
Otello (spring) (A-B)
Dialogues (A/B/E)
Rigoletto (spring) (D)

Only if you like that sort of thing
Elisir (Netrebko) (E)
Francesca da Rimini (Italian late-Romantic melodrama) (A/D)
Rigoletto (winter) (excellent singing + off-target acting) (C-D)
Giulio Cesare (David Daniels, or you really like Dessay) (C/E)
Rondine (rolling the dice on the lead soprano) (A/C)
Turandot (rolling the dice on lead tenors) (C-E)
Barber (kids' version) (special)

No, just no
Faust (A-B)
Comte Ory (A/B/E)
Traviata (C-E)
What do we see? Well, Mozart is a bargain, matinees are still expensive (the A/D, A/B/E, and C/E shows are matinee-dependent), and that wretched Decker Traviata is an even worse idea than you might have thought.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Just another beautiful late-summer day

The polite fictions that order our lives seem strong and even true, because we imagine that the social equilibrium they protect and embody is permanent and universal and self-sustaining.

It is not. They are not. The world shifts under us even if we forget. This happened, even if there was (and remains) no polite space for it even to be contemplated.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Ring week

Monday evening begins a four-day run of Met moviecasts on TV (PBS): specifically, the four parts of Wagner's Ring cycle in Robert Lepage's flashily literal production. Friday's digestif is Susan Froemke's documentary on the development and implementation of this staging. Review posts from the operas' initial runs:
Das Rheingold
Die Walküre
The final segment, Götterdämmerung, was caught in my lost half-season of posts from 2011-2012 (which may yet be resurrected from notes). It was, production-wise, the most comically literal installment of all, and I wonder if the intimate HD treatment won't make this seem more silly rather than less.