Monday, November 19, 2018

Florez Recital a Free-wheeling Lovefest, Chorus Line Compelling But Dated

A tenor and his guitar
I have seen Juan Diego Flórez in a variety of operatic roles for over 16 years and I've always associated this tenor as being supernaturally disciplined. If he needed to hit a high C, he hit it (or, in the case of Tonio, he hit 18 of them in "Ah mes amis + encore). He insisted on looking good -- in Le Comte Ory he famously refused to wear the nun's habit into the "bed trio."  He was remarkably consistent -- you always knew what you were going to get.

So I thought a Flórez recital would be very much the same. Disciplined. Consistent. A bit stiff. Well I was wrong. Yesterday's recital in Carnegie Hall was one of those freewheeling occasions where anything goes and anything went. It was as if he had temporarily switched personalities with Vittorio Grigolo.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Mefistofele is Devilishly Fun

The devil's work, photo @ Karen Almond
It's one of those sacrilegious facts of life: the devil inspires great literature. Milton's Paradise Lost. Dante's Divine Comedy. On the musical front the devil inspires composers to have fun. Every single "devil's" work in music I can think of is a guilty pleasure. Maybe the best example is Gounod's Faust, in which the constipated Victorian soap opera of Faust and Marguerite is offset by the prancing of a delightfully insouciant Méphistophélès.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Alexander Elliot is a Pearl of a Baritone

Baritone Alexander Birch Elliot made a spectacular last minute debut
Tonight at the Met the curtain fell on a rather hum-drum first act of Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles. No one was exactly bad, but it wasn't very exciting either, AND the opera's two big hits ("Au fond du temple saint," the tenor-baritone bromance national anthem, and "Je crois entendre encore," the falsetto national anthem) were already over and done with. So I expected the performance to chug along at the same low-energy pace to its conclusion.

Mariusz Kwiecien (Zurga) was nappy and a bit raw, with a few near cracks. Javier Camarena was strangely muted in affect. Pretty Yende didn't have much to sing in Act One, and what she did sing ("O Dieu Brahma") had a nice trill but uncertain intonation. Conductor Emmanuel Villaume conducted at such fast speeds that there was no stretching of the vocal line in "Au fond" or "Je crois." Legato became staccato.


Saturday, November 3, 2018

International Festival of Balanchine

In 1948 George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein finally managed to get a fledgling company off the ground. This was of course New York City Ballet. They made their debut at New York City Center, an old theater with weird sight lines and a tiny stage. Nevertheless City Center was their home until 1965, when New York City Ballet made the move to Lincoln Center. It was at City Center that many of Balanchine's most iconic ballets debuted, and to honor that City Center made an International Festival. Five days, eight companies. Spotted in the audience: a who's who of the ballet world.

Festivals like these are useful to take a pulse of how well Balanchine ballets are being preserved thirty five years after his death. Not just at his home company, or some offshoot companies (Miami City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet) but around the world. The Royal, Joffrey, Mariinsky, Paris Opera Ballet, and the like do not dance Balanchine consistently and are not trained in the company style. I saw the first three programs.

Program I: Serenade (Miami City Ballet)/Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux (Mariinsky)/Tarantella (Royal Ballet)/Symphony in C (NYCB)

Program II: Apollo (Mariinsky)/Concerto Barocco (NYCB)/Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux (Royal Ballet)/Divertimento #15 (San Francisco Ballet)

Program III: Scotch Symphony (San Francisco Ballet)/Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux (Mariinsky)/Midsummer's Night Dream Pas de Deux (Paris Opera Ballet)/Four Temperaments (Joffrey Ballet)

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...