Monday, May 27, 2019

Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen

Conductor:  Pinchas Steinberg
Stage director:  Jorge Lavelli

Torsten Kerl | Rienzi
Marika Schönberg | Irène, Rienzi's sister
Richard Wiegold | Steffano Colonna
Daniela Sindram | Adriano, his son
Stefan Heidemann | Paolo Orsini
Robert Bork | Cardinal Orvieto
Marc Heller | Baroncelli
Leonardo Neiva | Cecco del Vecchio
Jennifer O’Loughlin | The Messenger of Peace

Wagner's Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen, 1842, in a performance from Toulouse in 2013 is offered by  This infrequently performed opera has a dense back story.  Wagner was living in France at the time of composition and was strongly influenced by Grand Opera and Meyerbeer.  In fact it was Meyerbeer who rescued Wagner from debtor's prison and introduced him to someone in Dresden who produced the opera.  Everything in Grand Opera seems to be about politics, in this case medieval Roman politics where the opera is set.  What makes something a Grand Opera?  Heavy pomposity.  Ballet.  Historical subjects.  In Meyerbeer it seems to include coloratura arias but not here.

Another part of the back story for Rienzi is that it is supposed to have been a powerful influence on Hitler.  I think it was perhaps Rienzi the orator that attracted him.  He missed the part where everything ends in disaster.

The plot concerns freeing the Roman people.  Politics in the nineteenth century was chaotic and violent.  The nations Germany and Italy were formed during this time, and France restructured a few times.  It would make an interesting project to study the relationship between opera and contemporary politics.

Wagner seems to have wised up after this.  He remains extremely popular because operas about Minnesingers and Meistersingers (Tannhäuser and Die Meistersinger), Arthurian knights (Lohengrin and Parsifal), and mythical figures (Tristan und Isolde, Der fliegende Holländer and The Ring) don't arouse modern cultural animosity.  We want to blame him for Hitler, but concrete evidence doesn't seem to be there.

I digress.  The opera begins with films of rioting from various times and cultures.  It's intensely violent, but cuts away to the orchestra occasionally to ease the tension.

The Orsinis, who resemble the gangsters in West Side Story, are harassing Rienzi's sister.  A young man, Adriano, and the Colonni step in to rescue her.  There is some rioting followed by the entrance of Rienzi who brings peace.  He makes a speech to the crowd.  There is great singing and fabulous choral sections here.  Nothing gruesome happens.

Rienzi declares peace in a grand oration, but the overthrown nobles are understandably angry.  One of them tries to assassinate Rienzi, but he is wearing armor under his clothing.  They are led off by guards.  Adriano and Irène plead for mercy for his father, and Rienzi grants it.  This is quite thrilling, mainly because the singing is so fabulous.  The role of Rienzi is huge and very well sung.  A half-hour ballet goes here, but they have skipped it.

Act III features the real star of this show:  Adriano, the character who messes everything up, was written for Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient.  Schröder-Devrient is known for singing Fidelio and making it famous.

Rienzi's army kills both Orsini and Colonna, and Adriano swears revenge.  Rienzi offends the Pope, and that appears to be it.  Everything goes down in flames.  This is very well done, but the musical style is repetitive and endlessly bombastic.  I may not be particularly wild about this opera, but the tenor who sings Rienzi is amazing.  "Allmächt'ger Vater, blick herab!“the hit tune of this opera, comes in Act IV.  Recommended.  

Skip to about 3 1/2 minutes in. Unless you want to hear the prelude.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Parterre new productions

In Parterre's end of season awards I found this list under best new non-Met stagings.  The first group is the nominees with the most popular at the top.  I'm assuming that these all took place in New York.  I have added composers' names.  I have included links to articles in Parterre Box.
I have a vague memory of German friends mentioning Goldmark's Die Königin von Saba, but I have never seen it.  There is a vast repertoire of German Opera that never is heard in America.  I should look into this.

The Mile-Long Opera appears to be more of an event than an opera.  People stand about 10 feet apart along a mile and a half stretch of walk way in New York City called the High Line and sing.  This would be to experience first hand.

This next group is the write-ins, a few of which I recognize.  I will assume that the grossly misspelled Les Huguenots is the one from Paris with Lisette Oropesa.  I have no idea if this is true or not.  I also saw the Forza from the Royal Opera.  Many of the others also took place in New York.  Murasaki's Moon was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
  • Murasaki’s Moon
  • Les huguenots saw this
  • Elektra Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • Tosca Philadelphia Orchestra
  • Kata Kabanova at Covent Garden
  • Kopernikus by Claude Vivier
  • La Forza del Destino Royal Opera  saw this
  • David Hertzberg’s The Rose Elf
  • Rape of Lucretia (New Camerata)
  • Sarah Kane's Psychosis 448
I see live or find films of lots of things going on in Europe, but the same is not true of opera in America.  Here in our country performances usually go out into the air and are never seen again.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Ranking the Simulcasts 2018-19

This is the list of HD broadcasts this season from the Metropolitan Opera shown in reverse order.  I skipped Carmen and Magic Flute for reasons of excess familiarity.  Perhaps one of these is your favorite.  I will discuss those I saw and then rank.

👍🏻Dialogues des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc  Revival.  This was my first time in French.  It was a towering performance which Isabel Leonard brought virtually to perfection. 

👍🏻Wagner's Die Walküre  Revival shown for Christine Goerke.  The Met revived the whole Ring but only Die Walküre made it into movie theaters. 

👍🏻Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment  Revival.  I enjoyed this enormously, more than I thought possible.  Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena, Maurizio Muraro and a special guest appearance by Kathleen Turner made this a very lively and up beat performance.

Bizet's Carmen  Revival.  This features Roberto Alagna again in French repertoire, which I cannot rate because I missed it.

👍🏻Francesco Cilèa's Adriana Lecouvreur  Production from the Royal Opera.  This was one of two HD transmissions to feature the duo Anna Netrebko and Anita Rachvelishvili.  Their voices and performance styles are extraordinarily well suited to one another and worked to great effect here.  It's not the greatest opera, but the cast was great across the board.  I especially enjoyed the work of Ambrogio Maestri.

Verdi's La Traviata  New production replaces the red dress.  I found the new very decorative production to be no more than just functional.

Mozart's Magic Flute  Revival which I missed.  I prefer Flute in German.

Marnie by Nico Muhly  New Opera presented a year after its premier in London.  It's based on a movie by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Isabel Leonard in a tour de force..

👍🏻Puccini's La Fanciulla del West  Revival of the old Giancarlo del Monaco production.  Both Eva-Maria Westbroek and Jonas Kaufmann were fabulous in their roles, but for me the story makes a bit more sense if Minnie might possibly marry Jack Rance.

👍🏻Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila  Revival.  I like Roberto Alagna, especially in French repertoire. The Production created the impression that the Israelis were very poor in contrast with the much richer Philistines.  What I liked was the sexual chemistry between Roberto and Elina Garanca. 

Verdi's Aida  Revival.  This was one of two HD transmissions to feature the duo Anna Netrebko and Anita Rachvelishvili.  It failed due to the truly catastrophic singing of Aleksandrs Antonenko as Radames.  I thought the scene between the two ladies was the best I had seen.  That overall it was spoiled by the tenor is sad.

So we have six thumbs up which is probably too many.  I do love opera.  What we are missing again this year is a run away favorite.  Can I have a tie?  Both of these operas were the best versions I've seen.
  • Dialogues des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc
  • Francesco Cilèa's Adriana Lecouvreur   

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Dialogues des Carmélites in HD

Production..............John Dexter

Blanche de la Force.....Isabel Leonard
Madame de Croissy.....Karita Mattila
Madame Lidoine........Adrianne Pieczonka
Mother Marie.............Karen Cargill
Sister Constance........Erin Morley

Dialogues des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc brings the 2018-19 HD season to an end.  When I saw this opera in San Francisco long ago, it was in this same production, only in English.  This is my first time in French.  Poulenc, who lived before supertitles, wanted the opera performed in the language of the audience.  The production follows the historical context of the French Revolution while creating a context through abstractions.  The giant white cross will stay in memory forever.

The opera begins in the home of Blanche de la Force with her father and brother.  Her brother worries that she is always afraid while her father dismisses just about everything she says.  But when she tells him she wishes to join the Carmelite convent, he doesn't refuse.

The convent of Carmelite nuns is changing.  There are two novices, Blanche and Constance, and the mother superior is dying.  Isabel and Erin are charming in their relationship throughout the opera.  Karita Mattila plays her death scene to the ultimate extreme.  It is frightening to watch.  The opera is about death, so I suppose this is one extreme.

After she dies, a new mother superior is sent in from outside:  Madame Lidoine.  Adrianne Pieczonka played her very low key.

Blanche provides the story.  She loves the private life and prayer, but news of the outside world seeps into the seclusion of the convent.  The nuns agree to commit to becoming martyrs.  Even Constance agrees.  All but Blanche agree.

Her brother comes to warn her she is in danger.  The priest is removed from his position and tries to escape.  Finally they are all arrested and forced to give up their nun clothing for "normal" clothes.  At this point Blanche escapes and finds her brother.  She learns that her father has gone to the guillotine.  She rejoins them right at the end.  We hear the sound of the guillotine falling.

Isabel is such a spectacular performer.  She gives us beauty, emotional connection, great singing and her own personal magnetism.  She keeps the stream of emotion going.

This opera is deeper than opera usually is.  Altogether it was a great performance with emotional and musical intensity and exceptional theatrical clarity.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Lisette Oropesa wins Beverly Sills Award

After just winning the Richard Tucker Prize, Lisette Oropesa has now received the Beverly Sills Award from the Metropolitan Opera.  Congratulations.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Hannigan does Weill

Barbara Hannigan sings Youkali of Kurt Weill with the pianist Alexandre Tharaud. Song recorded for Radio France.  I don't think I knew he wrote songs in French.  We don't want to go too long without some Weill.