Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Brilliant Recital: Rene Pape at the Metropolitan Opera House

The great German Bass Rene Pape and pianist Camillo Radicke presented a splendid recital this afternoon (Sunday, 24 September 2014) at the Metropolitan Opera House. I listened live courtesy of Metropolitan Opera Radio on Sirius Radio, and do hope to hear from those lucky enough to attend in person. For this recital Herr Pape programmed a marvelous program of songs by Beethoven, Dvorak, Quilter and Mussorgsky.

Beethoven's Six Songs after Poetry by Gellert (Op. 48) began the program on a very intimate, spiritual level, with Pape's amazing German enunciation, clean and unaffected, as though recited by an actor of amazing skill (which, of course he is). Prayerful, joyful and filled with contemplation on the nature of man and God, Beethoven captures the essence of each of the selected "Spiritual Odes" beautifully, most notably in the longest (and final) of the songs, with its "theme and variations" style accompaniment (at times sounding like a Bach chorale prelude) with the singer weaving the melody throughout.

Pape was in beautiful voice, and the level of expression in Dvorak's more complex Biblical Songs (Op. 99) was like wandering on a personal, spiritual journey. The songs cover such a wide variety of emotion, but not in the typical Dvorakian manner, rather more sparse, raw and honest. Here, the partnership between Messrs. Pape and Radicke revealed itself even stronger in this, the longest set of the recital.

Following intermission came three Shakespearean songs by Roger Quilter. Pape's English, so perfectly, crisply enunciated was betrayed only occasionally by the hint of his accent which added an extra bit of charm. The songs, all three gorgeous, would have flowed a bit
nicer, if, DURING the postlude of the first, ("Come Away Death") some over-exuberant fan began applauding. Not being there, I'm uncertain what happened next, but guessing from the audience's laughter the singer made some sort of gesture or facial expression to this person, provoking the audience into mass laughter.

The final set was Mussorgsky's powerful Songs and Dances of Death, and here the Rene Pape the recitalist became an Rene Pape the opera singer, imbuing the music with a powerful, masterful interpretation of the text wed completely to music which was masterful, beautiful and, when appropriate, bone chilling. Both singer and pianist emphasized the dance-like elements of Mussorgsky's songs and even only listening over Sirius, the effect provided a completely theatrical and emotionally absorbing experience. At its conclusion, the audience, naturally did the only thing they could and went appropriately nuts, calling both artists back several times.

After this kind of intense, emotional recital (the very opposite of a "light" entertainment) I half expected there would be either no encore, or perhaps a single lied generously offered. Instead, Mr. Pape, gifted us with three, the first the beautiful Zueignung of Richard Strauss, second a rarely performed, lovely Kinderwacht by Robert Schumann, and finally, a most unexpected one; Lerner and Lowe's If Ever I Would Leave You from the musical Camelot. In the final song, Herr Pape's English was superb, as the emotions poured out perfectly with the music, ending with the high note option and the singer clearly had the audience in the palm of his hand and (according to the announcers) leaping to their feet once again.

A truly marvelous way to spend the first Sunday afternoon of autumn.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

History of the Metropolitan Opera's Opening Nights

I've been in several recent discussions regarding opening nights at the Metropolitan Opera. I'd mentioned I found this year's choice, "Le Nozze di Figaro" to be an unusual, but lucky one. Several friends disagreed saying it wasn't unusual at all and that it could work. I agreed that it could (and does) work, but still maintain for the Met it's an unusual choice. (The Met has only opened with it one other season, back in 1941).

The history of Met Opening Nights is fascinating, with the most frequent opera appearing to be Aida, the choice for
eleven seasons. Otello opened seven seasons and Faust and Roméo et Juliette each opened six.

I find it odd, and perhaps it's just a personal issue, but I'm not in favor of, as has happened several times in the Met's history using a Gala Concert to open the season in lieu of an actual opera performance. I'm sure, however, others would prefer this kind of evening but I don't call them opera lovers!

Following is a list of the Met's Opening Nights.

1883: Faust
1884: Tannhauser
1885: Lohengrin
1886: Die Königin von Saba
1887: Tristan und Isolde
1888: Les Huguenots
1889: Der Fliegende Holländer
1890: Asrael
1891: Roméo et Juliette
1892: (No Season)
1893: Faust
1894: Roméo et Juliette
1895: Roméo et Juliette
1896: Faust
1897: (No Season)
1898: Tannhäuser
1899: Roméo et Juliette
1900: Roméo et Juliette
1901: Tristan und Isolde
1902: Otello
1903: Rigoletto
1904: Aida
1905: La GIoconda
1906: Roméo et Juliette
1907: Adriana Lecouvreur
1908: Aida
1909: La Gioconda
1910: Armide
1911: Aida
1912: Manon Lescaut
1913: La Gioconda
1914: Un Ballo in Maschera
1915: Samson et Dalila
1916: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
1917: Aida
1918: Samson et Dalila
1919: Tosca
1920: La Juive
1921: La Traviata
1922: Tosca
1923: Thaïs
1924: Aida
1925: La Gioconda
1926: La Vestale
1927: Turandot
1928: L'Amore dei Tre Re
1929: Manon Lescaut
1930: Aida
1931: La Traviata
1932: Simon Boccanegra
1933: Peter Ibbetson
1934: Aida
1935: La Traviata
1936: Die Walküre
1937: Tristan und Isolde
1938: Otello
1939: Simon Boccanegra
1940: Un Ballo in Maschera
1941: Le Nozze di Figaro
1942: La Fille du Régiment
1943: Boris Godunov
1944: Faust
1945: Lohengrin
1946: Lakmé
1947: Un Ballo in Maschera
1948: Otello
1949: Der Rosenkavalier
1950: Don Carlo
1951: Aida
1952: La Forza del Destino
1953: Faust
1954: Gala Concert (Telecast)
1955: Les Contes d'Hoffmann
1956: Norma
1957: Eugene Onegin
1958: Tosca
1959: Il Trovatore
1960: Nabucco
1961: La Fanciulla del West
1962: Andrea Chénier
1963: Aida
1964: Lucia di Lammermoor
1965: Faust
1966: Antony and Cleopatra
1967: La Traviata
1968: Adriana Lecouvreur
1969: Aida
1970: Ernani
1971: Don Carlo
1972: Carmen
1973: Il Trovatore
1974: I Vespri Siciliani
1975: The Seige of Corinth
1976: Il Trovatore
1977: Boris Godunov
1978: Tannhäuser
1979: Otello
1980: Mahler: Symphony No. 2
1981: Norma
1982: Der Rosenkavalier
1983: Les Troyens
1984: Lohengrin
1985: Tosca
1986: Die Walküre
1987: Otello
1988: Il Trovatore
1989: Aida
1990: La Boheme
1991: Gala Concert (25th Lincoln Center Anniversary - Telecast)
1992: Les Contes d'Hoffmann
1993: Gala Concert: 25th Anniversaries of Domingo & Pavarotti
1994: Il Tabarro & Pagliacci (Unheralded 35th Anniversary for Stratas)
1995: Otello
1996: Andrea Chénier
1997: Carmen
1998: Samson et Dalila
1999: Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci
2000: Don Giovanni
2001: Gala: A Celebration of Verdi
2002: Gala: Fedora Act 2; Samson et Dalila Act 2; Otello Act 4
2003: La Traviata
2004: Otello
2005: Gala: Nozze di Figaro Act 1; Tosca Act 2; Samson et Dalila Act 3
2006: Madama Butterfly
2007: Lucia di Lammermoor
2008: Renee Fleming Gala
2009: Tosca
2010: Das Rheingold
2011: Anna Bolena
2012: L'Elisir d'Amore
2013: Eugene Onegin
2014: Le Nozze di Figaro

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Met's Season Opener: Le Nozze fi Figaro

I found - at least as presented over the Sirius broadcast, last night to be a thoroughly enjoyable "Le Nozze di Figaro" with some special moments, one being getting to know the voice of Amanda Majeski, whose quick vibrato I found to have a lovely Pilar Lorengar-ish flutter which I found enormously attractive.

While I'm no HIP-ster, Levine led a "modern opera house orchestra" performance that was brimming with life and energy.

I've heard some complaints of its dragging, but I found Levine's tempi frequently to be on the brisk side, while certain things were prone toward a Levine-ian exaggeration (which I sometimes mind and sometimes don't).

Overall, he shaped the evening with remarkable elasticity that bore the obvious stamp of his love for this opera. This was noticeable in "Dove sono", but nowhere more so than the in the first part of the Act II finale, where Figaro begins (for me) one of Mozart's most beautiful melodies at "Mente il ceffo, iogià non mento."

Last night Abdrazakov's Figaro began this moment a bit more brusquely than most (a nice effect in this lovely melody), then immediately smoothed out by Susanna and Rosina's "Il talento aguzzi invano," - until all three implore the Count to give in. Here, Levine seemed to breathe Mozart with almost imperceptible shifts of rhythm and creating a magic that brought tears to my eyes at the sheer beauty of the sound.

Not that any of this matters, but under Levine this moment occurred approximately an hour and 27 minutes into the show. Comparing it to three other recordings/performances (Salzburg 2006; the '75 Ponnelle/Bohm film with Prey, Fischer-Dieskau, Freni, Te Kanawa
&Ewing; and the HIP recording of Le Petite Band led by Kuijken) and this moment occurred, 8 minutes earlier than Salzburg, about a minute earlier than Bohm, and almost 7 minutes AFTER Kuijken! (Yes, I'm that obsessive and do this sort of thing all the time.)

Some complained about Isabel Leonard's voice being too big or mature for the character of Cherubino, but I wasn't one of them. I found the robust but still youthful sound appropriately "masculine" for this trouser role.

Marlis Petersen was charming and delighted the ear as Susanna, never once exhibiting exhaustion in this long sing (some refer to Susanna as the Brunnhilde of lyric soprano roles).

As mentioned Ildar Abdrazakov had a rougher hue to his sound than I typically like in the character of Figaro, but the basso's charm worked in his favor in creating the character, though at the upper reaches he sounded strained and faint. Still, he put his stamp on the role and while it won't go down as my favorite Figaro, he was certainly an enjoyable one.

Peter Mattei's Count Almaviva consistently offered some of the evening's finest singing and his actorly way with text served to bring to life a Count that was deeper on most levels than many present in the role, and one who reminded me of his character a few years earlier in The Barber of Seville. Marvelous work.

On an entirely different front, I got a laugh-out-loud charge from Deborah Voigt's "diva bitch fest" intermission feature, with Fleming and Co. There was a lot of talk about Fleming's upcoming "Merry Widow," but the future Hannah veered the conversation to her performances of the Countess in Paris during a political uprising, and then segued into her trip to Israel during a dangerous period. Voigt interrupted to say something along the lines of, "that's all very nice, but I want to talk about The Merry Widow." During her interview with Anna Netrebko, the Russian went on talking about how she's performed Susanna over 150 times, causing Voigt to quip how Anna was too temperamental to play the Countess. Even over the airwaves you could sense the Russian diva's irritation, before responding, "I don't like the Countess, she doesn't interest me." Voigt recovered by asking about Anna's gown, sending Nebs into a description of how the gown had been specially made for her by Yanina, the famous Russian designer who lives in Paris etc. This was followed by Mary Jo Heath's interview of Anita Rachvellischvilli, who immediately informed us she'd sung Carmen over 150 times and how her gown was also made by a famous designer, but she hates people who name drop, and he didn't feel the need her to advertise for him. Snap.

Nozze seemed an unusual choice for a season opener, but for this guy, it worked nicely. I very much look forward to seeing this production.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

CATO and The Metropolitan Opera's Klinghoffer Controversy

I remain amazed (though should not be) by the efforts to shut down the Met's production of "The Death of Klinghoffer."

The sheer audacity, of CATO's statements such as "the opera promoting terrorism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism." Where? Where does the opera do this.are ludicrous and border on the insane. Certainly they are not steeped in a lick of truth.

Then this:

“The Metropolitan Opera, led by its director, Peter Gelb, persists in presenting The Death Of Klinghoffer this fall, despite the fact that incontrovertible evidence exists in the libretto by Alice Goodman, and in remarks made by Gelb and the composer, John Adams, that the opera supports sympathy for terrorists and hatred for Jews and Israel,” CATO said in a statement.

Whenever a statement such as "incontrovertible evidence exists" to describe an agenda against a work of art, someone is misguided or lying, a tactic using its own indefensible reasoning and lacking sound logic. The article accuses Messrs. Gelb and Adams have made remarks the opera supports hatred for Jews and Israel? When did they do this. CATO offers no solid basis in its lies.

CATO's advertisement and call to arms, sinks includes as its sole photograph an image of the burning Twin Towers, accuses the Met of excusing a barbaric act of terrorism and asks, "What's next at the Met? An opera about the beheading of journalists by 'idealistic' Jihadists?" While I still shudder in horror at the treatment and brutal execution of Mr. Klinghoffer, what a rabble rousing manner - using the Twin Towers - CATO has taken.

Art forces us (or can, or should) to look for deeper truths, and while we all will never arrive at the same place, I find it shameful and wrong that one group would deny anyone the privilege of the ability to grow, to learn, to be moved by something. I'm particularly upset when a majority of said group is comprised of folk, who, herded like sheep, have not experienced that work themselves, who have accepted hearsay and are looking only at parts, not the entirety of a work, and judging based on words taken out-of-context of the whole.

During the Klinghoffer controversy when Julliard presented extended excerpts, the School's long-term President, Joseph Polisi, a self-proclaimed friend of Israel who and recipient of the King Solomon Award called the opera "a profoundly perceptive and human commentary on a political/religious problem that continues to find no resolution" and that cultural institutions "have to be responsible for maintaining an environment in which challenging, as well as comforting, works of art are presented to the public."

There have been a number of movies about terrorism, terrorist cells which have attempted (successfully in my opinion) to depict more than one side of the story. While I will never agree with terrorism, I believe the refusal to even look at the misguided reasons for it, is to ignore the bigger picture.

I still believe the most powerful review of the opera I've read, the one that resonated most with me, was of the film of the opera, in Jewish Film

"... the creators were denounced as unabashedly pro-Palestinian for humanizing the terrorists. In actual fact, the libretto gives voice to heartbreaking sufferings by both Israelis and Palestinians. A decade later, in the wake of unrelenting Middle East conflict, many see the opera's passionate exploration of terrorism from all viewpoints as more important than ever in stimulating dialogue about an intractable situation . . . no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, The Death of Klinghoffer will elicit heated discussion - - and quite possibly, tears."

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