Friday, March 30, 2018

Luisa Miller: Role #149 is a Keeper

Domingo and Yoncheva, photo @ Chris Lee
If there's one thing I wish I could change about myself it's this: I have no off switch when I attend a performance. I can't just sit back, relax, and enjoy. From the moment the lights dim to the last moment before the house lights go up I'm always mentally criticizing, taking notes, comparing, contrasting, weighing the positives against the negatives, until my program notes become one illegible scrawl. I'm probably an insufferable performance companion. I've know that I've missed many a great performance because I was too hung up on this or that detail.

At tonight's premiere of Verdi's Luisa Miller the same thing happened. I listened. I watched. My mind started racing. But at intermission, I found myself not fixating on all the merits and demerits of the performance. Just the opposite. I was actually just sort of chilling. It wasn't that I didn't hear the mistakes or that the performance was so superlative that I was overwhelmed. But I wasn't replaying the mistakes over and over in my head. And then it dawned on me why I wasn't doing this mental marathon: the three leads in the performance really know how to sing Verdi, and that's a skill that nowadays is so rare, and so special, that I better just count my blessings.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Spring Diaries: A Very British Rinaldo; A very grand Grand Hotel; My Fair Lady

Cast of My Fair Lady
"Spring" officially started on March 20. The next day the Northeast coast was hit with a Nor'easter that lasted for a good 24 hours and dumped a foot of snow in NYC. I had a snow day so obviously the thing to do was to trek to Lincoln Center and see Bart Sher's revival of My Fair Lady. The auditorium was about 2/3 empty and it's very early in previews. The fact that the singers had yet to settle fully into the roles was betrayed by Lauren Ambrose (the Eliza of the new production) and Jordan Donica (Freddy) going up in lines for a large chunk of the Ascot scene.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Semiramide Revival Has a Death by Baton

Ancient Babylonia, photo @ Ken Howard
You might have recalled that a month ago I was dithering about whether to see Semiramide or a second performance of Parsifal. Wagner beat out Rossini. The great thing about living in NYC though is that I had a chance to see Semiramide as well. Win-win I guess. So last night I was transported back to the magical world of ancient Babylonia ...

Oh who am I kidding? This revival of Semiramide was lifeless and uninspiring and didn't transport me anywhere except to constant glances at my watch. It wasn't really the singers' fault per se, nor was it the production's -- John Copley's 1991 production presented this opera seria with some picturesque tableaus and fabulous costumes. Instead the energy-killer last night was conductor Maurizio Benini.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Why I Walked Out of Angels in America UPDATED: Saw Perestroika!

The Angel, photo @ Sara Krulwich

At the end of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches I had a choice to make. I could either grab some dinner, and return for the evening performance of Perestroika, or I could go home. I decided to go home.

I shocked myself. I had been looking forward to seeing Angels in America for a long time. The production (a transfer from National Theatre Live) had racked up plaudits and awards all over the place. During Millennium Approaches I found Tony Kushner's writing alternatively funny, biting, insightful, thought-provoking. There were parts that in my opinion could have used some judicious cutting -- (one example: the opening monologue with the rabbi went on for way too long) but overall I was impressed with how little this play has dated. AIDS is no longer a death sentence and the artistic community is no longer losing so many talents to this dreaded disease but a good play is a good play. The many references to 1980's hot button issues also serve as a timely reminder about just how heartless Ronald Reagan was towards AIDS patients as nowadays many Democrats seem to view him through a gaze of nostalgia in comparison to Donald Trump.

Instead I walked out and decided not to return for the second part because I thought Kushner's play deserved a better presentation than it received. I don't think I've ever seen a production hampered by so many poor directorial and acting choices. (edit: I was also sick as a dog which is why I decided to see Perestroika later -- see below).

Monday, March 5, 2018

An Elektra With No Charge

Goerke as Elektra, photo @ Karen Almond
If there was one event at the Met that I was looking forward to all season, it was Elektra. I was certain that in an otherwise safe and dull season Elektra would blow the roof off the place. I wasn't basing this on mere conjecture. I was convinced that this Elektra would be absolutely elektrifying (sic) because in 2015 I heard Christine Goerke sing an Elektra at Carnegie Hall for which demented is too mild a word. It was one of those evenings where the oldest, quietest gentlemen in the upper rings of the balcony were screaming their lungs off. Surely when she sang Elektra at the Met it would be just as great, if not even greater?

The sisters, photo @ Karen Almond
So it was with these sky-high expectations that I went to tonight's performance. And things started promisingly. The cavernous, organ-like quality Goerke's voice made her opening phrases in the "Allein" monologue crackle with excitement. Just the way she bellowed "Agamemnon!" gave one a visceral thrill. But as the monologue went on and the tessitura went higher I began to realize that this was a singer in major vocal trouble. Her upper register is completely disconnected to the rich, contralto-like core of her voice. Her top notes are alternately thin, wobbly, shrill, and at times inaudible. I give Elektra bonus points because the relentless assaults into the upper register can be taxing for even the strongest of voices, but even with that "it's Elektra" mindset, there were times when the sounds Goerke was making wasn't music, but noise.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Winter Season Diaries: All Stravinsky Closes Season

de Luz and Fairchild in Baiser, photo @ Andrea Mohin
The true mark of a NYCB devotee is how much they look forward to the all-Stravinsky programs. The leotard ballets and spiky scores can still bring the jitters in people who adore Jewels, Serenade or Theme and Variations, but if just the thought of that diagonal of soldier-girls in Symphony in Three Movements gives you the tingles, then I'd say you're all in. So it's fitting that NYCB ended its winter season with an excellent all-Stravinsky/Balanchine bill of the rarely performed Divertimento From Baiser de la Fée and long with repertory staples Agon, Duo Concertant, and Symphony in Three Movements. For one, it's a test of the company's resilience. It's also a test of the audiences' loyalty. The dancers more than rose to the occasion. And the audiences' enthusiastic responses indicated that company loyalty among ballet-goers is still strong.

Balanchine's Nutcracker pops up ... everywhere

It's December 2020 and the world is going through a furious, deadly second wave of the covid pandemic. Most performances have been cance...