Tuesday, August 15, 2017

La Clemenza di Tito from Salzburg

Vitellia and Tito

Teodor Currentzis | Conductor 
Peter Sellars | Stage director

Russell Thomas | Tito Vespasiano (b) USA
Golda Schultz | Vitellia (b) South Africa
Christina Gansch | Servilia (w) Austria
Marianne Crebassa | Sesto (w) France
Jeanine De Bique | Annio (b) Trinidad
Willard White | Publio (b) Jamaica

This is Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito from the Salzburg Festival in a staging by the American Peter Sellars.  I put letters next to the cast to show that most of the cast is black.  They are from everywhere.  I know what this would mean to Americans but am not sure how a European audience would react.  It would be difficult to persuade me that the timing of this was a coincidence.  All appear to be fine singers.  This is on medici.tv until November, and I see no titles.

When the opera opens the crowd of mostly white people are herded into a corner by army.  Some of the women wear head scarves.  Tito picks Sesto and Servilia out of the crowd.  This is such wonderful music.  How have I not known this?

There are Roman arches across the stage as the only reminder of the Roman Empire, but the costumes are all modern.  I read elsewhere that Tito is compared to Nelson Mandella.  This is rather more profound than I normally expect from Peter Sellars.  This is clearly a concept production, much more so than the Claus Guth from Glyndebourne.  Mandella, the great reconciler is evoked.  Clearly Sellars has changed it into a story of racial conflict and broadened the impact by placing it in modern South Africa and using black singers.

Sesto and Annio

Sesto shoots Tito who does not die.  This is intensely serious.  A miracle could happen -- I could become a fan.  This is so brilliant I am truly amazed.  The timing couldn't be more right.  It goes to the top of my list of great regietheater.

Annio sings a Kyrie for those who have died in the raid on the Campidoglio.  The use of chorus is spectacular and may truly be his area of expertise.  Russell Thomas raises Tito to new heights and then dies in the hospital.  Tutto perdono.  Are we ourselves so large? This version has a sad ending.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Aida from Salzburg

Conductor: Riccardo Muti
Director:  Shirin Neshat

Aida: Anna Netrebko
Radamès: Francesco Meli
Amneris: Ekaterina Semenchuk
Amonasro: Luca Salsi
Ramfis: Dmitry Belosselskiy
The King: Roberto Tagliavini
A Messenger: Bror Magnus Tødenes
The High Priestess: Benedetta Torre

Verdi's Aida is this year's hit at the Salzburg Festival  I am behind schedule but have managed to find a view of this great occasion:  Aida, Netrebko and Muti collide.

The production by Iranian Sharin Neshat seems to ask the question "What if Ancient Egypt were a modern middle-eastern country?"  I am loving the simple look after too many years of over-detailed productions.  Aida's look for the first half, seen above, doesn't remind me of anything.

I am finding simplicity in the story, too.  Radames is in love with Aida.  Then he goes to the King to offer to lead an army against the Ethopians who are invading.  Aida says wait, that's my father.  This group dress in uniforms with head gear that looks like a fez, more popular in the past.  The king in a gold fez approves, and then Radames goes to the priests for their blessings. King Farouk of Egypt wore something similar:
The priests all look the way priests look in Iran.  They're called Imams, I know.   Amneris tells Radames to return victorious.  Aida sings yes, "return victorious over my father."

Then we go to the chamber of Amneris.  Time has passed, and Radames has gone off to war. At this point guys come out in what look like bull skulls and do the dance normally done by Amneris' attendants.  What is that about?  They are on stage for only a couple of minutes.  Amneris and her women return and they split.  Curious.

There follows a scene between Amneris and Aida when Amneris tricks Aida into revealing she loves Radames.  Amneris reminds Aida that she is only a slave.  Aida prays for the gods to take pity.

So far I like very much the simple clarity of the scenes.  The main characters are clearly delineated and never disappear into the crowd.  I like the way Netrebko is dressed. Radames has returned and is enjoying a triumphal entrance such as he might have expected in Rome.  I am enjoying the division of everyone into the priestly and military/ civilian classes.  One does enjoy clarity. 

Now if one only knew what the guys in bull skulls were for.  They're back.  The stage rotates and we see the African prisoners made up with white lines down their faces.  Radames returns and is given the wreath of triumph, still very much like a Roman triumph, but then why not?  Aida doesn't crack a smile until she sees her father and runs to him.  He is the Ethiopian king but pretends that the king has died.

In the second half Aida has changed her appearance to look more like the other Ethiopians, even including the white line.  On the banks of the Nile she sings of the loss of her country.  Wonderful aria, wonderful rendition.  Father comes in, then Radames.  Aida and Radames plan how they will escape the powerful Amneris.  Radames tells a military secret, Aida's father hears and declares that he is king Amonasro.  Radames realizes he is now a traitor, they start to escape until Amneris enters with her priests.  The plot is all here in these few minutes.  This is a single set production that functions well for the various scenes.  In this opera everyone messes up.

I like very much that the costumes clearly identify the status of each character.  Priests look like priests.  Soldiers look like soldiers.  I have a vague idea of ancient Egyptian clothing, but would not know which people are which.  Ethiopians all have white lines on their foreheads.

Radames says he will not be with Amneris if he can't have Aida.  They are doomed.  I am enjoying this opera a lot more than I usually do.  Ekaterina Semenchuk is excellent.  I sometimes think Amneris is the main character.  She messes up everyone's lives, including her own. Meli does the best I've heard him.

But the fuss is for Netrebko.  The best music is at the end.  O terra addio.    Love to all.

Friday, August 11, 2017

West Edge Summer Festival 2018

West Edge Opera has announced three operas for next summer:
  • Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice (1973).  Aschenbach will be sung by William Burden.  This is to be directed by Paul Curran.
  • Matt Marks' Mata Hari (2017) which premiered at Prototype Festival this year.  Tina Mitchell will play the title role.  This is to be directed by Paul Peers.
  • Luca Francesconi's "sexual psycho-drama" Quartet (2011)  This will be directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer.  "Brutal fury."
When the rarely performed Death in Venice is the closest to standard repertoire, we are predicting an adventuresome festival.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Chastity Tree at West Edge

Diana, Cupid as female

Conductor:  Robert Mollicone
Director:  Mark Streshinsky

Diana, goddess of chastity (soprano):  Nikki Einfeld
Clizia, nymph (mezzo-soprano):  Molly Mahoney
Britomarte, nymph (soprano):  Maya Kherani
Chloe, nymph (contralto):  Kathleen Moss
Doristo, keeper of the tree (bass):   Malte Roesner
Cupid (soprano):  Christine Brandes
Endimione, shepherd (tenor):  Kyle Stegall
Silvio, shepherd (tenor):  Jacob Thompson

The Chastity Tree, originally called L'Arbore di Diana (1787) by Vicente Martín y Soler, is contemporary with Mozart's Don Giovanni and has the same librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte.  It was performed with the original Italian da Ponte libretto.  It is important to notice that L'Arbore premiered in Vienna, while Don Giovanni was first presented in Prague.  Martin was Mozart's competition.  This opera faded from awareness during the 19th century, until it was suddenly revived in the 21st century.  I will never again think of Mozart as a slut.

My seat for this performance was an improvement over Saturday night.  I could see fine. The metal object shown above is intended to represent the tree.  Diana, goddess of the hunt, and her three nymphs make up a community sworn to chastity.  Diana has used her magic to create a tree that sings when the chaste nymphs walk beneath it.  However, if one of them is found not to be chaste, the tree pummels them with apples until they die.  At the start of the opera a group of women dressed in green with a large red circle climb up into the tree where they remained for most of the rest of the opera.  I decided that these were the apples.  They occasionally sing, do simple gymnastics and perform choreography.  In the overture the tree lights up and the pom poms wave when pleasant music plays, representing the tree when it is happy.

In her status as goddess of the hunt, Diana in mythology carries a bow and arrows.  Her arch rival and perhaps enemy Cupid is similarly equipped but uses his arrows to strike love into the hearts of humans.  This places them at complete cross-purposes.  As you might expect from a libretto by da Ponte, love or at least promiscuity wins in the end.  Cupid brings shepherds into the community of nymphs, making this a traditional nymphs and shepherds plot.  Only the unfortunate Silvio seems to miss out on the love making.

Hanky panky is everywhere, but Diana herself falls seriously for the shepherd Endimione, a beautiful young man.  The best music is for Diana.  Cupid is a boy, sung by a woman, but disguised as a woman throughout the opera, except he/she keeps the goatee and mustache.  Various characters suggest that Cupid might be a man, but he/she  remains in her pink dress until the end.  At the end a storm destroys the tree before it can throw down any apples.  Boy Cupid declares victory.

This is an entertaining opera which will henceforth inform my sense of the da Ponte comedies by Mozart.  The music is good but not great.  It's fun.  Enjoy. 

Hamlet at West Edge

Conductor:  Jonathan Khuner
Director:  Aria Umezawa

Hamlet:  Edward Nelson
Gertrude, Hamlet's mother:  Susanne Mentzer
Ghost of Hamlet's father:  Kenneth Kellogg
King Claudius, Hamlet's Uncle:  Phil Skinner
Ophélie, Hamlet's fiance:  Emma McNairy
Polonius, Ophélie's father:  Paul Cheak

Hamlet (1868) by Ambroise Thomas was presented by West Edge to open their festival at the Pacific Pipe warehouse in Oakland.  The abandoned train station which was the venue for last season was recently condemned by the city of Oakland due to a recent fire that resulted in casualties.  This resulted in a scramble to find a new space.  I for one was not particularly happy with this.

In a nearby building were people preparing for Burning Man.  Somehow you knew that this was a Bay Area phenomenon.  They played very loudly amplified low pitched thumpy music throughout this performance.  It was like your stereo was malfunctioning and all you could get were the lowest notes.  I thought it was very annoying.  There were three large doors in our space which were kept open.  One faced the other space where the noise originated.  It seemed to me that closing this door would have gone a long way toward reducing the thump thump roar not composed by Thomas.

I could go into a rant here.  Not the right repertoire, etc.  I liked the singing but couldn't see very well.  What if the stage were in the center of the space?  I don't know if this would work. I very much regret having to give this a pan.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Jonas and Anja together

This is Andrea Chenier from the Bayerische Staatsoper.

And this is Don Carlo.

The love duet from Otello.

Lohengrin. They sing together quite a lot.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

La Clemenza di Tito Glyndebourne

Conductor:  Robin Ticciati
Director:  Claus Guth

Tito:  Richard Croft
Vitellia:  Alice Coote
Sesto:  Anna Stéphany
Servilia:  Joélle Harvey

Claus Guth is one of the masters of Regietheater.  Looking at the above picture from his production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito we are reminded of a production of Lohengrin from La Scala a few years ago where the action takes place on a river bank with similar looking grass.  Yes.  That too was Claus Guth.  More recent experiences are the PTSD Fidelio and Salome in a men's wear store. So an opera about an emperor of Rome takes place in a grassy field.  I may see some water behind.  It seems to be a cabin in the woods.  The original tenor quit over "artistic differences."

I like all these singers.  Alice Coote is outstanding, in spite of the fact that she lights cigarettes all the time.  They're talking about places in Rome, burning down the Campidoglio, but we see only grass.  They explain in the interval that this is to remove all hints of cultural context.  A swamp could be anywhere any time.

This particular swamp is where these same people played together as children.  Films play in the background showing children playing.  This production focuses entirely on the emotional relationships between the characters.

I hadn't until recently realized that this is such a wonderful opera.  Beautiful arias, beautiful sentiments.  And best of all it's Mozart.  In such an opera it is possible to sing with complete sincerity.  The soul is open.  My own experience of this opera is informed by Cecilia Bartoli's performances on her early Mozart recording of the arias:  "Non più di fiori," "Deh per questo istante solo" and "Parto, ma tu ben mio."

No flowers for me.  Non piu di fiori.  She repents and thinks she will not marry.  It is opera seria so they all live happily ever after.  Glorious.  Sesto is the star.  Anna Stéphany was a replacement for a pregnant Kate Lindsey.  She looked and sang beautifully and received the most applause.