Sunday, December 10, 2017

Andrea Chénier from La Scala

Conductor Riccardo Chailly
Staging Mario Martone

Andrea Chénier Yusif Eyvazov
Maddalena di Coigny Anna Netrebko
Carlo Gérard Luca Salsi
La mulatta Bersi Annalisa Stroppa
La Contessa di Coigny Mariana Pentcheva
Madelon Judit Kutasi
Roucher Gabriele Sagona

Giordano's Andrea Chénier is an opera about the French revolution.  The only other one I can think of is Dialogues of the Carmelites which sees the terror from a somewhat different perspective.  It is curious that no opera sees the revolution from the side of the revolutionaries.

This is a wonderful traditional staging from La Scala Milano.  In the first scene the staging is very clear with the revolutionaries' faces appearing through the windows. As I work my way through the scenes, they are all well done and easy to follow.  Not too much detail, not too little.  This is lovely, with well handled chorus, and all the elements of an excellent traditional staging.

"Viva la morte insiem."  Long live death together.  Sort of a self cancelling phrase.  I have been listening to German versions of Italian operas for so long I have forgotten what the Italian version sounds like.  Yusif is actually more highly regarded in Italy.  His steely tone cuts right through the orchestra when necessary.  He and Netrebko are gradually merging into each other.  Will we like the result?

I love this opera and have very much enjoyed its recent popularity.  I realize it will soon disappear, but that's no reason not to love it now.  The poet falls in love and stays behind in France to protect his love.  As a result, he is executed.  It is an opera about love. Maddalena tells us that an angel has kissed her.  This is the exterminating angel.  He has marked her for death.

Chailly knows his Italian repertoire and gives us a stylistically excellent reading. Lovely.  This is the one.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Girls of the Golden West

Hye Jung Lee, Julia Bullock, J'Nai Bridges 

Here are our Girls of the Golden West, a new opera by John Adams on a libretto assembled by Peter Sellars.  I say assembled because there is no evidence he wrote any of these words himself.  The characters of the opera represent real people whose words are used.  Some of the words are from a speech by Frederick Douglas and were sung by Davóne Tines.  An opera about California should start in California at the San Francisco Opera.

Conductor Grant Gershon *
Director Peter Sellars

Clarence (bass-baritone) Ryan McKinny *
Dame Shirley (soprano) Julia Bullock *
Ned Peters, fugitive slave (bass-baritone) Davóne Tines *
Joe Cannon (tenor) Paul Appleby
Ah Sing (soprano) Hye Jung Lee
Ramón (baritone) Elliot Madore
Josefa Segovia (mezzo-soprano) J'Nai Bridges
Lola Montez (dancer) Lorena Feijóo
Fayette, Dame Shirley's husband (silent) Kai Brothers

Up by the proscenium were what appeared to be speakers. Toward the end of the opera I experienced pain in my ears which I attribute to these.

There are many many stories and little continuity.  Joe Cannon is abandoned by his girl friend in Missouri and takes up with Ah Sing, a prostitute.  Joe secretly marries Ah Sing who thinks she has it made.  Joe and the crowd then turn on her and drive her off.

Dame Shirley portrays Lady Macbeth along with her narrator role.  Her husband Fayette is seen, but she spends most of her time with Ned.

I have seen Peter Sellars' work as a director of other people's works in his original Da Ponte/Mozart trio of operas, in Vivaldi's Griselda at Santa Fe, in The Death of Klinghoffer in San Francisco, in Theodora from Glyndebourne, in the Bach St. Matthew Passion from Berlin and in last summer's La Clemenza di Tito from Salzburg.  I didn't wildly hate any of these though Griselda seemed beyond anyone.  In contrast I wildly loved the Bach and Clemenza di Tito.  This was a great surprise for me.  Theodora was also excellent.

The list of his text assemblages that I have seen consists of El Nino, Doctor Atomic, and his newest GirlsEl Nino was rather like an oratorio and might have worked if I had seen it live or in a split screen filming.  Other people liked Doctor Atomic better than I did.  But assembling fragments of only roughly unrelated texts into something that only approximates a story doesn't work for me.

Sellars seems to be seeking to transform the genre into something representing truth.  Real words are closer to truth than made up ones, I guess.  He hasn't yet sold me.

I don't want to leave this subject before mentioning how much I loved Julia Bullock whom I have never heard before.  Every note, every word was a diamond.  She raised her character to greatness.  J'Nai Bridges was also beautiful.  Adams' music was generally good but sometimes excruciatingly loud.  There were occasional scenes of greatness.

The guitar and the accordion did not make it into the program.

Monday, December 04, 2017

James Levine

The archives of the Metropolitan Opera show 2686 entries for the conductor James Levine.  I recently posted a guide to the Met On Demand.  Most of the early films found there will show James Levine conducting. 

So now we have a hideous scandal involving him.  Many people are said to have known this was going on, but it never rose to general awareness.  Behind the scenes sex is a known feature of show business.  In the film world there are magazines devoted to telling you who is messing around with whom.  But classical music likes to pretend this doesn't extend to them.

I don't know what to say.  I've thought for a while that he should have retired, but he seemed not to want to even think about it.  Now others will be found to conduct his performances.  Did he do these things?  Probably.  With all my heart I hope it will not kill the Metropolitan Opera.  Perhaps Peter Gelb should retire.  I don't want this great cultural institution to disappear from my life.  I probably won't miss Levine.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

An Observation about Norma

I have seen Norma a number of times in several productions from very conservative to WWII style.  There is one thing I have never seen.  Norma is a priestess who during the opera conducts two different religious ceremonies.  What usually changes when one transitions from normal life to a religious ceremony and back again?  One usually appears first in street clothes, followed by vestments, followed again by street clothes.  Have I ever seen Norma appear in what would appear to be a ceremonial garment of any kind?  No.  This is why the actions always feel wrong.  We need more than you telling us she is a priestess.  We need to see it, too.

Friday, December 01, 2017


Of all the recent pictures and remembrances, this picture from Anna Netrebko's Instagram was my favorite.