SIR SIMON RATTLE
Carnival Overture, op. 92
Pas de deux from Apollon musagète
Joyce DiDonato mezzo-soprano
3 Dance Episodes from On the Town
Leonard Bernstein Take Care of this House
Joyce DiDonato mezzo-soprano
Suite from The Golden Age, op. 22a
I am here for Joyce, of course. The Strauss songs were truly wonderful, both for Joyce's singing and for Sir Simon Rattle's conducting. So Strauss conducting is not dead after all. I found this on ARTE.
Take Care of this House is suitable both for 100 years of Leonard Bernstein and for the blessing on our own White House.
For the sake of my budget I made no opera trips farther away than San Francisco this year. To compensate the international opera festivals brought me an overwhelming selection of live streams. I reviewed 55 performances, including 1 DVD, 9 HDs, 15 live, 3 movies, 2 tv, 17 streams, and 7 YT.
Jane Glover (conductor)
Brad Dalton (stage director)
Vanessa Becerra | Cinderella
Jonas Hacker | Prince
Nathan Stark | King
Claudia Chapa | Emeline (fairy godmother)
Mary Dunleavy | Stepmother
Stacey Tappan | Griselda
Karin Mushegain | Zibaldona
Brian James Myer | Minister
Alma Deutscher, in red in the picture above, is about the same age as this blog. She is English, began to play piano at 2 and composed a piano sonata at 6. She is a prodigy of the sort we seldom see these days.
Alma Deutscher's Cinderella is coming to us from Opera San José via medici.tv. It premiered in Vienna in 2016 in German. Our version is in English. One wishes for this, that the genius of music has not left us. Her understanding of operatic voices and conventions is astounding. Thomas Adès might take notice.
The plot is closer to Disney than to Rossini. Mother goes with her daughters to the ball which includes a song competition. Highly suitable for an opera, don't you think? The Prince is the poet and Cinderella is the composer. It is wonderful how much Alma loves her opera.
The star is Alma herself who plays the piano, violin and at the end the organ. It is a fairy tale of life, just as it should be. A very enjoyable night at the theater. It runs until March on medici.tv.
Jonas Kaufmann returned to opera in 2017, and while he didn't appear anywhere near me, I managed to see him in three operas: Giordano's Andrea Chénier live streamed from the Bayerische Staatsoper, a delayed movie broadcast of Verdi's Otellofrom London's Royal Opera House, and the French version of Verdi's Don Carlos presented at the Opera Bastille in Paris. These will show up below in their respective categories.
That's 14 new operas, one more than last year. Six were live, one was an HD simulcast, one was from PBS, two were from YouTube, Oberon was a live stream, etc. I'm pretty aggressive in finding things that interest me. It's important that one of these operas is by Rameau who continues to arouse my imagination. Girls of the Golden West is the newest. Artaserse by Leonardo Vinci and Theodora by Handel, viewed for their productions, were both performed a few years earlier and are not eligible for awards for this year. I feel I still haven't seen Oberon.
The performance I most wish I had seen is Thaïs from the Met starring Ailyn Pérez and Gerald Finley. The audio was wonderful, but an HD would have been even better. Here is an explanation of my categories.
BEST NEW (to me) OPERA AWARD I was pretty fuddy duddy here since I seem to have liked the older operas better. I can only award to performances that took place this year, so the candidates are: Le Temple de la Gloire by Rameau, The Chastity Tree by Vicente Martín y Soler, Autumn Sonata by Sebastian Fagerlund, The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès, and Girls of the Golden West by Adams. I seem not to be able to forgive Adès for the screeching sopranos. The winner is Le Temple de la Gloire by Rameau for the beauty of its music and its theatrical concept.
BEST ROMANTIC OPERA NOT VERDI OR WAGNER AWARD Neither of the two Wagner operas I saw merited an award. The candidates are Gounod's Roméo et Juliette from the Met, Dvorak's Rusalka from the Met, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin from the Met, Carmen from Aix-en-Provence, Weber's Oberon from Munich, Thomas's Hamlet from West Edge, and Massenet's Manon from San Francisco. This was the better of Netrebko's Eugene Onegin. Roméo et Juliette was extremely sexy. I enjoyed several of these but award to Manon. The drabness of the sets didn't really suit this opera, but the acting and musical elements were great.
BEST VERISMO OPERA AWARD The candidates are La Bohème from San Francisco, Turandot from San Francisco, Giordano's Andrea Chénier from Munich, and Giordano's Andrea Chénier from La Scala Milan. The Munich Giordano with Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros was absolutely wonderful, a complete triumph. Milan was a close second.
BEST RICHARD STRAUSS AWARD The candidates are Der Rosenkavalier from the Met and Elektra from San Francisco with Christine Goerke. Both were wonderful, but Der Rosenkavalier was for the ages.
BEST MODERN OPERA AWARD The candidates are Bel Canto by Jimmy López, Berg's Wozzeck with a production that may come to the Met soon, Autumn Sonata by Sebastian Fagerlund, Flight by Jonathan Dove,La Voix humaine by Poulenc, The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès and Girls of the Golden West by John Adams.. The first three are fairly subdued whileThe Exterminating Angel was quite intense. The pickings were pretty slim, perhaps too slim to justify an award. I've decided to come out of left field and award to Autumn Sonata. Opera used to be like this. Life used to be like this.
BEST TRADITIONAL STAGING AWARD I award to Giordano's Andrea Chénier from La Scala Milan. This was outstanding, though a bit dark at times.
MOST INCOMPREHENSIBLE STAGING OF AN OPERA AWARD Tannhäuser from Munich. Feet.
BEST TRANSFORMATION OF AN OPERA INTO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT The candidates are Carmen from Aix-en-Provence, and Oberon by Carl Maria von Weber from Munich, both of which changed traditional opera plots into condemnations of psychoanalysis, and both of which rewrote the spoken dialog. Or something. Who can be sure? The winner is Carmen. You knew that.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A SOPRANO Christine Goerke in Elektra
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A MEZZO Elīna Garanča in Der Rosenkavalier
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A TENOR Vittorio Grigolo in Roméo et Juliette
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A BARITONE Quinn Kelsey in Rigoletto.
BEST OPERA OF THE YEAR This has to go to Der Rosenkavalier.
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.
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.
Grant Gershon *
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 Girls. El 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.
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.
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.