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Showing posts from 2022

A Lucia Made of Rust Belt Despair

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Bloody bride, photo @ Marty Sohl The first thing you need to know about Simon Stone's new production of Lucia di Lammermoor is that Stone absolutely respects the basic foundations of the opera. Yes, the action is moved from 17th century Scotland to a Rust Belt town in Midwestern America, but the basic story is unchanged.  Set and video projections, Photo @ Jonathan Tichler The second thing you need to know is that even if you're a conservative when it comes to modern/updated productions, this  Lucia di Lammermoor  is absolutely worth seeing because of the strong musical values. Nadine Sierra (Lucia), Javier Camarena (Edgardo), and Artur Ruciński (Enrico) all give excellent vocal performances based in classical, bel-canto values. The production might be modern, but the singing is old-fashioned.  Lizzie Clachan's set is striking -- the revolving set shows a Rust Belt town is conveyed by a pawn shop, drive-in theater, drugstore, cheap motel, some dingy looking cars (Edgardo h

Encores' Into the Woods Fulfills Every Wish

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  Into the Woods cast, photo @ Sara Krulwich Every once in a blue moon, a performance is so wonderful that the entire evening is an exchange of joy and love between the audience and the performers. In my lifetime of theater-going, I can count the times this happened on the fingers of one hand. Last night was one of those times. The sold-out two-week Encores! production of Into the Woods fulfilled every wish anyone could have had for this musical.  Harada, Thompson, and the amazing puppet Milky White Where do I start? The amazing cast was pitch-perfect. Encores! only allows for a very brief rehearsal period, but all the performers displayed such comedic timing that all the jokes landed, and the three-hour evening flew by. Director Lear deBossenet created a simple yet well-planned production that was obviously meant for people who love this musical. The sets were simple -- a few white birch tree drops for the "woods," with the costumes providing most of the ambience. The show c

Fresh Portrayals Breathe New Life Into Two 20th Century Warhorses

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Eleanora Buratto, photo @ Richard Termine  Giacamo Puccini's Madama Butterfly and Alban Berg's Wozzeck are both 20th century masterpieces that caused a shock when they premiered, but over time have become such a part of the repertoire that they have become warhorses. This week I saw two masterful performances that breathed new life into these works. Goerke and Skovhus The Wozzeck was a concert presentation at Carnegie Hall. Andris Nelsons led the Boston Symphony Orchestra in an exciting, cinematic performance. Nelsons preferred a lush, larger-than-life reading of Berg's score that was in many ways reminiscent of James Levine's interpretation. At times. the orchestra actually seemed to shimmer.  The casting was inspired. Bo Skovhus  was a grim, chilling Wozzeck. Despite the concert presentation he conveyed Wozzeck's desperation and mental illness with expert body language. He hunched and twisted his body as if the Doctor's medical experiments were physically w

French Don Carlos: Same Five Hours of Doom and Gloom

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  The unit set -- photo @ Ken Howard Hardcore opera fans know that Verdi's Don Carlo was actually the five-act French opera  Don Carlos.  For a variety of reasons, this opera has usually been presented in an Italian translation. The raison d'etre for David McVicar's new production was that Yannick Nézet-Séguin was presenting the opera in its original French for the first time at the Met. McVicar's set, photo @ Ken Howard I'll be the first to admit that I do not speak either Italian or French, and I have no idea how the French version is better. The thing I noticed was that the French version is more conversational and less declamatory -- even the big duet between Carlos and Rodrigue ("Dieu, tu semas dans nos âmes") or Eboli's aria "O don fatal" were not as barnstorming as I remember it in Italian. The other change I could hear was that after Rodrigue's death there was a duet between Philippe and Carlos that was cut in previous production

Ariadne auf Naxos: Goodbye Anna, Hello Lise?

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  Lise Davidsen and Brenda Rae, photo @ Marty Sohl The Met took a month-long hiatus in the dead of winter, and returned last week. During the hiatus, the world sort of went to hell in a handbasket. Worried about omicron? That was so one month ago. The worry is now about things like a possible nuclear war.  One of the musical casualties of Vladimir Putin's cruel, power-grabbing war is that the Met severed relations with superdiva Anna Netrebko. Peter Gelb asked for artists to denounce Putin, and when Netrebko (who had announced her support for Putin in the past) did not satisfy Gelb's demand, she was fired . So ended a remarkably fruitful collaboration between the Met's GM and the Russian diva. Gelb's statement: "It is a great artistic loss for the Met and for opera. Anna is one of the greatest singers in Met history, but with Putin killing innocent victims in Ukraine there was no way forward.” Lise Davidsen Well, one door closes and new windows open. The Met's

Tess is More - Two Beloved Principals Retire from NYCB

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On February 19, the crowd at NYCB was overwhelming -- every seat was taken up to the Fifth Ring The reason, surprisingly, was not because it was the farewell of one of NYCB's finest ballerinas. A large portion of the crowd seemed only to want to see Swan Lake . Another portion bought tickets for Amar Ramasar -- when he came onstage in Serenade there were large cheers. When the curtain came down on Swan Lake , I was shocked to see how many people got up and left. They had no idea that they saw the farewell of a veteran principal. In a way, it was fitting that Tess Reichlen retired without much fanfare -- she never was a dancer who chased fame or stardom. Her Instagram had no plugs for leotards or zoom ballet master classes. It was pictures of her family, her dog, promoting causes she cared about like performers' union rights, marriage equality, Dance Against Cancer. Even at the final bows, she requested that dancers not present her with bouquets, but rather single roses. This

New Rigoletto Production Makes One Nostalgic For Vegas

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Ah, remember when the Met audiences was mildly scandalized over Michael Mayer's Rat-Pack/Vegas Rigoletto ? I do. Bartlett Sher's Weimar Republic Rigoletto was supposed to right those wrongs. Instead, the new production makes absolute nonsense of the libretto.  Nice double doors? Photo @ Ken Howard Victor Hugo's play is set in Francis I's court. Francesco Maria Piave's libretto had to move the action to Mantua.  The Vegas  Rigoletto  did one thing right -- it made the Duke of Mantua's and Rigoletto's relationship very vivid. The Duke was the Dean Martin-esque playboy, Rigoletto was the Sammy Davis Jr.-esque sidekick. It made sense, in a way.  Sher's Rigoletto transplants the opera to the Weimar Republic. From the moment the curtain rose, one was overwhelmed by Michael Yeargan's huge rotating set that gave us the opera's main locales -- the Duke's court, Rigoletto's house, and Sparafucile's inn. But you had no clue who the Duke of Mant

Tosca in Shades of Pastel

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Elena Stikhina, photo @ Ken Howard Critic Joseph Kerman famously said that Puccini's Tosca was a "shabby little shocker." It's also cast-proof: the blood and guts verismo drama is startlingly effective theater. So many years of opera-going, and never saw a Tosca that wasn't engaging, even if the voices were less than world-class. My luck ran out on January 14, 2022 when I finally saw what I had previously thought impossible -- a boring Tosca . It was so lifeless, so pale, that it felt like the entire evening was in shades of pastel pink and lavender. No primary colors. It wasn't badly sung. On the contrary, the leading lady Elena Stikhina has one of the loveliest voices heard in recent memory. She has a medium-sized lyric voice that remains round and velvety all the way up to high C. There's no shrillness, no pushing -- she just opened her mouth, and lovely sounds came out. She also looks darling -- huge eyes, a petite build. You could imagine her being