Friday, December 28, 2018

Comparing Nutcrackers Across the Pond

Battle of the Nutcrackers: U.S. vs. England

This December season I had my usual annual ritual of putting aside money for two extremely crucial things -- a Christmas bonus for my building super and money on Nutcracker tickets. NYCB's Nutcracker is my annual Christmas binge -- every year I check out some new dancers, and see my old favorites. This year I saw four different SPF/Cavalier pairings. Truth be told, only one was the kind of transcendent, joyful complete performance that made me leave the theater on a high. The others all had some major flaws. But still, for the joy it brings me year after year, Balanchine's Nutcracker is unrivaled.

Balanchine's classic version
However this year I also decided to sample a Nutcracker cinema relay from across the pond -- Sir Peter Wright's Nutcracker for the Royal Ballet. The Wright Nutcracker this year starred Gary Avis as Drosselmeyer, Anne Rose O'Sullivan and Marcellino Sambé as Clara and Nutcracker Prince, and Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov as the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier. So who won the battle?

Both Balanchine and Wright are obviously working from the same choreographic and narrative text -- the original 1982 Ivanov production. Neither of them have added anything "weird" to the story.  Twas the night before Christmas and at a Christmas party a magician named Drosselmeyer gives his favorite niece Clara/Marie (Balanchine calls her Marie, probably because in Russia she was called "Masha") a toy Nutcracker. Her mischievous brother Fritz breaks it. Clara/Marie has a dream that her Nutcracker comes to life and becomes a Prince helps her battle an army of mice. Marie finally wins the battle after throwing a shoe att the Mouse King. After the mice are vanquished Clare/Marie and the Prince head to the Land of the Sweets where they entertained by the Sugarplum Fairy and watch an array of divertissement dances. The end.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Best (And Worst) of 2018 (with video clips as evidence!)

Oh what the hell. These lists are cheesy but everyone (including the NYTimes) does them, so why not? So here, in no particular rhyme or reason, were some of the highlights and lowlights of 2018:

Monday, December 10, 2018

Anna's Day and Night: When More is Less

Netrebko and her pianist Malcolm Martineau
Anna Netrebko is everything a diva should be. She has a voice that is probably unparalleled today for sheer quality and skill. Where other sopranos falter, she breezes -- I saw her Aida where she made that treacherous ascent to the high C in "O patria mia" seem like child's play. Offstage she is larger-than-life, quirky, and makes no attempt to be normal. Her Instagram page makes her life seem like a continuous stream of wacky outfits, mouth-watering meals, fun sight-seeing, and of course, adoring crowds.

Therefore it wasn't a surprise that her Carnegie Hall debut recital was sold out months in advance, and was accompanied by a breathless NYTimes profile piece. Every time she sings it's an Event. There were people who traveled far and long just to hear her for one afternoon.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Met Traviata: Something Old, Something New, Many Things Borrowed ...

Violetta on her deathbed, photo @ Jonathan Tichler

The Michael Mayer production of La Traviata ushered in a new era at the Metropolitan Opera: it was the first official assignment of new Met musical director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who was fast-tracked to the position after James Levine was fired earlier this year. The opening night of Traviata (on December 4) had YNS pelted with confetti and the orchestra was brought onstage to salute the new boss.

But in many ways Mayer's production is also bringing back the old: the spartan, clincial Willy Decker production (otherwise known as the Clock Production) that premiered in 2010 and was played more than 50 times with many different Violettas donning the little red dress (including Diana Damrau in 2013) was shelved in favor of a production that mostly plays it safe and traditional. Christine Jones' set and Susan Hilferty's costume place the opera in the 1850's-ish era, with the women wearing big hoop skirts. Violetta's boudoir is decorated with the sort of upper-class luxuries that a high-class courtesan in Paris might have fancied: a baby grand piano, an ornate upholstered bed, an antique desk, colorful draped curtains, champagne everywhere.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Il Trittico Shows Which Voices Have Staying Power; Netflix's Dogs

50 years at the Met, photo @ Sara Krulwich
At the November 23 opening night of the Met revival of Il Trittico there was an onstage celebration of Placido Domingo, who with his role in Gianni Schicchi is celebrating 50 years at the Met and his 150th operatic role. I wasn't able to be there for the opening night but did go to the third performance last night.

Domingo was onstage with colleagues decades younger than him. Some had great voices (Stephanie Blythe) and some had very good voices (Amber Wagner's firm, rich soprano as Giorgetta, George Gagnidze as Michele). And Domingo is not a natural baritone. He's not a natural comic either -- I remember seeing Alessandro Corbelli do this role and he had everyone in stitches. But not a single voice had as much sense of maximizing one's potential as Domingo. When you take away the sentimentality, the audience attachment, what you have is a singer who still has much to offer.

Boris: Do Russian Leaders Ever Change?

  René Pape, photo @ Marty Sohl There's a leader of Russia. He's corrupt and has killed people on his path to power. He only trusts ...