Friday, October 30, 2015

Angela Tosca

Angela Gheorghiu as Tosca, photo @Ken Howard
Angela Gheorghiu's Tosca shouldn't have worked for a million reasons. Her soft-grained lyric voice is now even more under-powered, and she admitted in an interview that she didn't like Luc Bondy's production. But her return to the Met for just two performances of Tosca last night was a triumph. Yes her voice occasionally didn't have the reserves of power to ride over the orchestra, yes her acting was sometimes a touch mannered, but Gheorghiu is like many great singers in that she draws attention to what she can still do, rather than things beyond her ability.

Luc Bondy's production was a conscious reaction against the "traditional" Tosca productions. It was booed vociferously when it first opened in 2009. But over the years it's "evolved" in that different singers have changed the blocking, subtly or unsubtly, to suit their own tastes. Gheorghiu arrived onstage in Act One and it was obvious that she'd gotten a new set of costumes (the train in Act Two now resembles a royal wedding train) and that her Floria Tosca was a much softer, more coquettish personality than Bondy's original conception of the role. She ignored some of the original blocking, like fanning herself after she murdered Scarpia, or slashing Cavaradossi's painting.

Photo by Ken Howard
Bondy's production does seem to favor voices -- Gheorghiu was audible all night. A few of the C's in the second act were flat, and her bottom register has sort of dissolved into vapors, but she really knows how to sell the big moments. Her duet with Scarpia was intense, desperate, and she also knew how to save up her voice so it wasn't overpowered by the orchestra. "Visse d'arte" was performance art at its finest -- she ended the aria on one knee, head bowed to the audience. The audience ate it up. Her naturally soft, sexy voice gave the duets with Cavaradossi a real intimacy. She also knows some classic stage tricks, like finding the center of the spotlight during ensembles so attention is always drawn to her, and turning to the side during duets so audiences can admire her tailored gowns.

Roberto Aronica (Cavaradossi) has a large if somewhat muscled voice. It's not very beautiful and unlike, say Franco Corelli or Luciano Pavarotti he isn't able to float soft notes in "Recondita armonia"  or "E lucevan le stelle." He's not a star, but the performance was professional and competent, and I'll settle for that. He does have squillo.

Željko Lučić must be one of the most over-exposed singers on the international scene. Heavy hitting baritone role? He's there. His voice really isn't to my taste -- it tends to get stuck in his throat, but he did seem more engaged as Scarpia than is the norm with him. I liked the staging during "Visse d'arte," where Tosca is singing her heart out and Scarpia is sleeping on the couch. Otherwise, Scarpia no longer does much of the original blocking -- no more dry-humping the Madonna statue in Act One, and the business with the hookers in Act Two is now more of a casual hang out rather than active servicing. Eh. He gets the job done.

The minor roles were better than usual. John Del Carlo (Sacristan) is now king of comic comprimario roles I guess. Conductor Paolo Carignani got a huge smooch from Gheorghiu during the curtain calls. He's her kind of conductor - when she wants to be ahead of the beat, he indulges her. When she wants to fall behind to do some classic Gheorghiu note-spinning, he puts his baton down. 
Overall the evening was one of the better Toscas I've attended in all my years of operagoing. ISince Gheorghiu now limits her performances so severely, I'm happy when she showed up last night she gave it her all. Maybe she does live for love and art after all. And clothes. She definitely lives for those tiaras and gowns. But hey, when you've got it, flaunt it.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Elektrifying Elektra

Photo by Chris Lee
Last night's Elektra (courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall) was one of those nights where the audience was screaming and stomping, like a gladiator arena. It was by far the most exciting, visceral opera performance of recent memory.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

NYCB Fall Season

Huxley and von Enck Photo by Paul Kolnik
For many reasons I was only able to attend two performances of NYCB's Fall Season. An earlier mixed bill found Megan Fairchild back in that short but challenging powerhouse Tarantella. Welcome back Megan. Her brother Robbie Fairchild was taking a night off from An American in Paris to dance the Hoofer in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. He was charming, if a little too slick by half. Teresa Reichlen as the Stripper had the Legs and the Hair but not the Sass. Come back soon, Robbie. NYCB misses you.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Otello - when NP stands for "Non Production"

Photo by Ken Howard

The 2015-16 season of the Metropolitan Opera opened with Bartlett Sher's "new production" of Otello that would have been more appropriately labeled as a "Non Production." The set by Es Devlin was a bunch of plexiglass panels that slid back and forth mostly for the purposes of ushering the chorus on and offstage. The stage was bare except for an Ikea-upholstered bed at the end of Act 2 and Act 4. The blocking and person-regie was barely existent. A singer could have read the libretto for five minutes and come up with the same movements. Onstage, offstage, cower in fear, ball fists to look mad, collapse in a heap on the floor to look dead.

Balanchine's Nutcracker pops up ... everywhere

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