Wednesday, August 16, 2017
I always approach an opera by Richard Wagner with a touch of trepidation. First you really need to be paying attention to the text because his characters are talking, talking talking. Loquacious to a fault. This isn’t the poetry pit stop of Italian opera where whomever yodels on about their current emotional state for a few stanza then rinse and repeat. No, there are a lot of facts and narrative piling up over long stretches and if you get distracted, say filling your wine glass, you can easily find yourself saying 10mins. hence,”Wait, what is she talking about?” Then there’s the topic of length. In retrospect it’s a good thing that Wagner and Eugene O’Neil managed to miss each other’s artistic maturity by mere decades because they would have no doubt adored each other and ended up collaborateurs. The ensuing musical opus would surely dwarf the Ring and make Long Day’s Journey Into Night appear as an aperitif. The running time of the opera in question, Lohengrin, clocks in just shy of four hours over three acts. Make sure there are provisions handy. Since its first performance in Weimar in 1850 led by Franz Liszt Wagner’s tale of the Knight of the Holy Grail, and son of Parsifal, led a slow but steady course across the stages of Europe and the Americas. Even reaching Chicago by 1891 starring Emma Eames and the DeReszke brothers. Since Wagner was politically persona non grata at the time in Germany the composer himself didn’t get to see a complete performance of his own work until 1861 in Vienna. The Met annals show a near unending string of performances with barely the break of a year or two even during the second World War. Then great gaps appear in the 1970’s and ‘80’s that continue on today. New York hasn’t seen it in a decade. This may soon change with the role debuts of two singers that voice fanciers have long hoped would dip a toe into the Wagnerian ocean. In May of last year tenor Piotr Beczala and soprano Anna Netrebko sang in Lohengrin for the first time under the baton of Christian Thielemann in his home house at the Staatskapelle Dresden. Naturally our friends at Deutsche Grammophon would have been remiss to overlook such a moment (if they themselves didn’t have a hand in orchestrating it) and all the necessary technical apparatus were laid on to make certain we could all enjoy this production on endless repeat forever and ever. The Saxons, wanting to put their best foot forward for such a starry couple, revived their beloved production from 1983 first directed by Christine Mielitz. The playbook was entrusted to Angela Brandt and she does a fine job making certain no one bumps into each other. Considering the number of people on stage and it’s relatively modest size it’s an accomplishment in itself. I do wonder how much of the directors original ideas and character motives can have survived after over one hundred performances. The only disappointment is the unit set of the production designer Peter Heilein. The story has been moved from medieval Brabant to Germany during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II just before the turn of the century A large interior space with high windows that could be a church or a throne room with a tall gate across the rear separating the nobility from the commoners. It sustains minor adjustments for the opening of Act II with an upper balcony added for Elsa and then, of course, sports a bridal bed for the opening of the last act. Since everything essentially takes place “inside” it’s a production that sadly lacks a single moment of nature. Even the swan is made of glass. Mr. Heilein’s costumes, however, are glory itself and I’m sure have all been run up fresh for the occasion in magnificently rich fabrics with real velvets and silk organza when high definition cameras are quick to betray cheap substitutions. The many uniforms are especially stunning. They all get the affection from Luca Longarini’s excellent cinematography and really make everyone, down to the riff-raff, look very grand. I venture to say I can’t imagine the supporting cast being betterred by much. We start out with the strong voiced Herald of Derek Welton. King Heinrich is played by Georg Zeppenfeld with a robust bass with just a touch of gravel on the bottom and a perpetually arched eyebrow that seems the cornerstone of his characterization. We are indeed fortunate to have the Polish bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny as the unfortunate Friedrich von Telramund. This is an artist new to me and it seems his repertory is more bass than baritone which is doubly surprising since his singing shows an elegant ease in the higher tessitura of this role. To my ears however he sounds all baritone in this outing. He cuts a handsome figure and plays an excellent foil to his evil sorceress wife. He also proves himself an almost total and unrepentant bastard. One of his best moments comes when the director has him linger in the shadows long enough to witness Ortrud’s evil prayer to the gods. His expression of revulsion only adds to that already powerful moment. The role of Ortrud herself has a special place in my heart. I think the Met’s Lohengrin telecast might have been my first live Wagner and Leonie Rysanek left an indelible impression on me that has held to this day. The part itself is written so skillfully by the composer already. A comley cobra coiled to strike in Act I, then unleashing a volcano of bile all over the wedding procession in the next. For me the most exciting moment in all of opera is when Ortrud erupts through the crowd in the last moments of the opera gleefully confessing all her malevolence in front of the astonished crowd. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3usyPyFQMw Of course things never turn out as she plans but never has a villain been painted as dark as this. Evelyn Herlitzius never fails to make a meal of every opportunity handed to her here. Whether it’s the cool calculated silence in her first act or her raw fury she remains unstinting in the level of emotion she directs in her malice. Ms. Herlitzius probably never had a conventionally “beautiful” voice but it’s a telling instrument that she marshalls with a canny intelligence and she knows exactly when to throw on an edge. She’s impossible to ignore for a moment and considering the level of her colleagues I have no higher praise. Which brings us to our heroine Elsa von Brabant and Anna Netrebko. As I powered up my blu-ray player and set my stereo system to “stun,” all I could think of was how was this woman, who I’ve seen rip into Verdi’s Lady Macbeth like it was desert, going to fare as Wagner’s virgin bride? The answer: with the most glorious and perfectly placed legato singing you may every hear in your life. The poise she brings both dramatically and through the voice is astonishing. So genuine and guileless in the first act she brings an earnestness and complete lack of irony to her prayers for a savior in the first scene. Later, of course, she breathes fire when denouncing Ortrud in the wedding procession and I thought,”Ah, there she is”. Act III finds her mind finally poisoned with doubt, genuinely disturbed at the thought of losing her husband and giving herself to a man she knows nothing of. For me her greatest moment was the happiness that radiated from her at the finale of the first Act. Her honor saved and having literally found her savior. Never one to coast, Anna proceeds to do a little dominating of the ensemble and lets her voice ring out in those exciting final pages. You suddenly get a glimpse of our Anna enjoying herself as well and there’s real sense of pride coming from her with her accomplishment. So you’d think none of this could really get much better and you’d be wrong. Piotr Beczala shows up in Act I in a blaze of light riding a rather rickety glass mosaic swan from upstage. They keep him there for his opening,”Mein lieber Schwan” and the audio engineers have the good sense to leave the space on his voice. He sings his opening aria with such a pure, unforced piano I was practically pinching myself. He makes his mark on this role with his fully supported, lyric heroism. You never hear him push and there’s not a hint of strain. Subsequently there’s never that hectoring quality like so many other tenors when they get Wagner’d-out. Playing a heavenly archetype isn’t difficult either with his relentlessly Dudley-do-right good looks. He proves a tender partner in the great duet of Act III and his ‘In fernem Land’ (the traditional version) proves a wonderful souvenir of his great success in this role. Maestro Thielemann in the pit is just what everyone needs here. He rarely puts his foot on the gas, but he knows when to, and you’d be surprised watching him how much he gets from the orchestra with a surprising economy of gesture. Not that he doesn’t work up a sweat but he keeps the performance human sized for his lyric-spinto leads. He gets the Dresdeners playing with a velvet incisiveness most especially in the accompanied recit. portions. The prelude is a marvel of sustained control and his architecture leading up to the Act I finale can’t be faulted. He also shows real skill with pacing the orchestral “silences” so crucial to the suspense in the story. Meanwhile I’m trying to think up synonyms for “diaphanous.” He gets a robust sound from the chorus too and they are able participants in the success of this performance. There’s also a fair amount of blocking and emotional response that’s carried out well. One beautiful touch has the women all turn their backs on Elsa in the last scene by way of dismissing her. As Lohengrin reveals who he is they all turn round again in acceptance. The lighting design by Friedewalt Degen is very cinematic and favors everyone although the follow spots can get intrusive at times from higher angles. I have some quibbles with the staging here and there. At the top of Act II Ortrud and Telramund are enjoying a major case of the sulks naturally. During their quarrel he throws her to the ground and kicks her… in the stomach… twice. Wouldn’t he be a little bit afraid of her? The long procession of Act II needs something rather than having the whole town traipse to and fro (I counted three times). But that may be Wagner’s fault rather than the director. This staging also makes Elsa a tad more complicite in the murder of Telramund than usual and while it comes as a surprise I also don’t think it plays as well as it could here. Sound and picture on my blu-ray were super crisp and subtitles in five languages so you can sing along in Chinese if you want. This was filmed over a number of performance in May of 2016 and I only saw one minor continuity error, so the editing is superior. Even with the updating of 900 years and geographical change of locale we still have what could be deemed a “traditional” staging here and I don’t think anyone would find this disappointing in the slightest. I can’t recall a live performance where everyone was so evenly matched and giving it their all in such fine fettle. For fans of Mr. Beczala and Ms. Netrebko it’s a must.
Set aside Saturday afternoon, cher public, for listening and discussion of the new Salzburg Festival Aïda, featuring Anna Netrebko in her role debut as the titular princess in captivity. Those of you not equipped with La Netrebko’s high-tech antenna headgear will want to listen to the broadcast on BRKlassik: Stream 1 . Stream 2 . The musical program is scheduled to begin at 1:30 PM EDT on Saturday August 12. Photo: © Salzburger Festspiele / Monika Rittershaus
“Gods are hard for mortals to see”—Homer (trans. Gregory Nagy), Hymn to Demeter In his book Literature and the Gods, Roberto Calasso bemoans a dearth of the divine in modernity. “There was a time,” he sighs, “when the gods were not just a literary cliché, but an event, a sudden apparition…” It’s worth unpacking this claim for its presupposed nostalgia for the ancient past, where magic and mortality apparently coexisted within the material world. But are things really quite so different today? What have we lost in these end times? Personally, Calasso’s statement resonates with me; I feel anemic, yet inundated with information—text, sound, image. One rarely has a chance to linger over beauty, to champion it, to surrender to a god, to enter the cult. Calasso cites reading as our touchstone to the divine. Nevertheless, he (somewhat condescendingly) suggests that this activity is, in fact, not an invocation of the gods at all, but a parody of them. That being said, a part of me still identifies with Calasso; I understand his search for the divine. It is heaven (literally!) to brush up against a god, to enter into its cult, to worship. However, it’s also worth looking further (and perhaps beyond) Calasso’s assertion in order to break it down, to refuse his claim for its bleak, modernist notion that the gods have long been consigned to the pages of literature. Are the gods located truly and solely on paper, as flattened imitations of themselves, acting out in parody? Or, are there other channels through which one might encounter the divine. My hope is that Calasso is being a bit shortsighted. My hope is that there are ways to bear witness to gods and goddesses outside acts of reading, beyond parody. Which is to say: let us put our faith in a different liturgy. Words and music still bring the congregation together in ceaseless adoration. Published in 1975, James McCourt’s novel Mawrdew Czgowchwz is engaged with a similar longing for the divine. And it is, perhaps, a welcomed antidote (or complication) to Calasso’s claim that the gods have retreated solely to the modalities of literature. A rambunctious, difficult book, the novel charts the apotheosis of an opera singer known as Mawrdew Czgowchwz, an artist in possession of a voluminous talent. With a threadbare plot, the narrative traces her rise, fall, and resurrection as both an artist and persona, all the while cataloguing the praise, condemnations, and exhortations hurled at the diva by her public. Overflowing with language—argots and slang—the novel offers one a vision into the sub-culture of opera fandom. As Wayne Koestenbaum writes in an introduction for the novel, “The weird drag persona of Mawrdew Czgowchwz, like Myra Breckinridge, gives voice—and, almost a body—to artistic preoccupation, or to the sensibility of men, and women, too, who, in the 1960s and earlier, put their considerable mental resources into connoisseurship, aesthetic partisanship, and standing on the line [at the old Metropolitan Opera]” This is the language of a highly coded and highly ritualized milieu. It is hyperbolic, fraught, magical—hexes even appear within the novel, a plot point that both suggests the power of faith and language, within the verbal ecologies of fandom, and hearkens back to the supernaturalism of Calasso’s antiquity. Verbose, linguistically dilated, and rooted in pre-Stonewall aesthetics, McCourt’s artistic preoccupation, beyond the practice of diva-worship, is primarily language. Sentences unspool as unruly and uncontainable as a virus. Nothing in the novel is particular gay, but the text itself serves as a significant contribution to a strange and alien queer literacy, a lost art in our sanitized queerness (McCourt would take up these concerns again in his later, non-fiction work Queer Street). Certain signifiers, difficult to recount due to the ontology of cruising, reverberate beneath the surface of the text, conjuring a different time, a different age, a different scene; these signs prove legible only to a select few—the elect, as McCourt would undoubtedly put it. This term—elect—is deployed by McCourt to describe those opera fans pulled into the orbit of the main character, diva Mawrdew Czgowchwz. With its connotations of ritual, theology, and soteriology, the elect is a frustrating notion—especially if one has not been summoned into the cult to practice “Mawrdolatry,” as McCourt articulates it. Ah! To be marked out at some prior vetting, one’s soul determined fit enough for the task at hand! It is a stance that looks from the inside out, from a vantage point of aesthetic privilege. Superiority attends those who count themselves as members. They smugly consider the unenlightened: the walking dead, mindless as zombies, blind to the glories brandished by their god. In McCourt’s novel this generates a system of camps, allegiances and alliances. For example, the novel opens with a description of the cult of Morgana Neri (I Neriani), a WWII era diva on the decline: Neri’s opinions on everything and everyone in music were recited in antiphon over tables littered with clippings, reviews, vile coffee, and majestically autographed glossies of the diva, in black and white and in sepia (none of a later vintage than the last year before the war). Neri was considered ageless, her voice deemed eternal. The elders, who could actually speak of the Neri debut, were revered by intimates as prior saints. Wire recordings of Neri broadcast performances passed like transcripts of the Orphic mysteries from fool to fool. But, as the novel details in a filigree of gossip and wit, Neri’s reign will come to an end beneath the shadow of the novel’s eponymous heroine, “whence the Neriad [takes] a turn for the tragic.” Mawrdew will unseat the diva with her art: “She wedded music to mimicry to create ‘musicry.’ She was the definitive diva, she still is.” And so the culture of Neri disintegrates (notwithstanding a few malicious stabs at retribution), and the cult of Czgowchwz ascends. As Koestenbaum suggests, Mawrdew Czgowchwz is based on a composite of Maria Callas and Victoria de los Ángeles: “Partly Callas, partly de los Ángeles,” Koestenbaum writes, “Ms. Czgowchwz is an amalgam of every great singer.” McCourt’s personal devotion to de los Ángeles colors his writing with a delicious, pink cloud of nostalgia and affection. And the influence of Maria Callas, regarding the character’s elegance and glamour, is undeniable. Mawrdew, like Callas, manages to evince both a public persona, as well as indicate toward a more private, mysterious interiority. For as much as Callas suffered and lived for her art (Vissi d’arte!), her public persona was consumed by it, and so she remained surprisingly private in other ways. One thinks of the famous photographs of Callas in recital. Dazzling, draped like a Grecian goddess (a Greek-American, resident of Athens—namesake of Pallas Athena), she bewitches through contradiction. She pours out her art, beckoning the spectator (one feels like a moth drawn to the flame), and yet she eschews our approach. She is formidable, yet alluring. Similarly, much of Mawrdew’s thoughts, within the novel’s promiscuous angles of vision, go unrecorded, serenely opaque. She drifts through Gotham, lovely and withholding—except, perhaps, through the generosity of her voice. Like the gods on Olympus, one wonders: what is going on up there in her head? What does it feel like to possess such earth-shaking talent? Never mind. We don’t need to know; rather, it is better to bask in the delicious, inviolable mystery of her talent, the esoteric practices of the artist’s inner sanctum. Is there a current correlative? Who is central to our cult these days, or have the gods—as Calasso suggests—slipped into the abyss of history? In these dreadful times, we pursue our devotion. We long to love, to adore, to worship. Where is our goddess? It seems like the very concept is the vestige of a long, lost past. As Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker last week, regarding the state of fandom at the Met: The days are over when the crowd [at the Metropolitan Opera] was filled with voice geeks who could identify transpositions, cuts, and optional high notes. Such people still exist, but their numbers have dwindled, not least because rising ticket prices have made habitual attendance harder. You hear less informed buzz around you; you see more people sneaking looks at their phones. And much of McCourt’s novel circles around the standing line at the old Metropolitan Opera, where hymns of praise and curses abound. The novel is valuable in that it feels like dipping into that long forgotten pool, bathing in a language that dried up through the days of HIV/AIDS and, more recently, the mainstreaming (hetero-washing?) of legalized gay marriage. It’s bittersweet. I am happy gays can get married. But what happened to the notion of being elected? Where is the glitz, the glamour, of Mawrdew? It’s not just a question of the voice. There are a number of fine singers strutting across the stage. For example, Elina Garanca is a surefooted vocalist. Nina Stemme is an extremely capable musician and singer, especially in light of her repertoire. There are Angela Meade, Sonya Yoncheva, Latonia Moore, Jamie Barton, Marina Rebeka, Nadine Sierra, Anja Harteros, Tamara Wilson, Isabel Leonard, Tamara Mumford, Anita Hartig and etcetera. But each of them lacks an essential element to catapult them into the stratosphere, to bring about their apotheosis, to provoke worship. Even Renée Fleming, whose instrument is of the highest quality, whose ubiquitous presence is the standard of perfection (though, perhaps, airbrushed within an inch of her life), remains “the people’s diva,” much like her predecessor Bubbles. Nice is fine, but goddesses are not nice. We fear and love the divine. Nobody wants to worship the girl next door. Which brings me to Anna Netrebko. Who else embodies the super-human, scorching star-wattage of this singular Russian soprano? Talk about (to borrow Calasso’s language) the god as event, a sudden apparition! Who else has the gravitas, the vocal chutzpah, the deranged fashion sense, the will and bravado to sing badly and then sing really well—in short: a willingness to put on a show, on and off the stage? Netrebko, whose vocal prowess has recently surmounted her off-stage persona, is a life-affirming performer (“I heard from someone—I can’t remember his name—that she’s studying with a new teacher in Berlin”). Generous, indulgent, voluptuous—a contradiction: both heavenly and earthly. The sexiest thing about her is her voice (and I am well aware of her physical beauty). One can imagine her decked in the armor of Athena, blazing across the battlefield. Her weapon is her singing, like a laser, melting the flesh of her adversaries. So, I think it’s a conversation worth having. What has happened to the elect? Have they dissipated, unbound by the absence of a proper diva? Have our goddesses absconded the stage? Or, am I being a shrill alarmist (a la Calasso), ringing my hands over nothing? As a writer for Parterre, I have thought often of McCourt lately—the work his novel engages with is the work all of us at Parterre engage with. One aches and longs for Mawrdew, or some variant of the diva. As Calasso writes in his book, “The world…has no intention of abandoning enchantment altogether, because even if it could, it would get bored.” There’s nothing I want more, as a critic and operagoer, than to heap lavish praise on a deserving deity. If I could invoke her, whoever she is, I would. But, alas, I’m not a priest of the elect. I wait and search, longing for the goddess to return, the bright flash of her parousia lighting up the stage at Lincoln Center.
Endlessly extricating her from existing contracts then negotiating new ones must make being Sonya Yoncheva’s manager the hardest job in the music business. The biggest recent switcheroo (but not the latest) means she will perform her first-ever Tosca at the opening of the Met’s new production New Year’s Eve. For those curious how she might fare in that iconic role “Trove Thursday” presents the Bulgarian soprano in an opera that premiered just a year before Puccini’s “shabby little shocker”: Mascagni’s Iris. I first heard Yoncheva a decade ago when she was performing at Alice Tully Hall as part of the third edition of “Le Jardin des Voix,” a biennial program for young singers created by William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants. I don’t recall her standing out among the ten singers that evening but by the next year she was debuting at the Glyndebourne Festival in the propitious role of Fortuna in L’Incoronazione di Poppea. For the next few years her repertoire included a lot of 17th and 18th century opera—Vénus is Rameau’s Dardanus and Serpina and Agata in Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona and Il Flaminio, and eventually Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare. Winning the 2010 edition of Placido Domingo’s “Operalia” meant that she would soon have the good fortune to sing the title role in Monteverdi’s final opera . I heard her again the year of the “Operalia” win as Dido in a LAF@BAM staging of Purcell’s opera in which her decidedly un-HIP portrayal—richly sung and throbbing with emotion—contrasted strikingly with her more restrained colleagues. Yet she could be effective in those early operas as a chunk from Sacchini’s best-known work Œdipe à Colone illustrates. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQ7R29K9KJo Her “destiny” to replace other singers began auspiciously in 2012 when she seized all four roles in Les Contes d’Hoffmann from Natalie Dessay at a gala Paris concert conducted by Marc Minkowski. Next Aleksandra Kurzak’s pregnancy occasioned her Met debut as Gilda in 2013 ahead of a previously scheduled first appearance as Musetta. Also at the Met she sang her first staged Mimi and an acclaimed Violetta, both times substituting for a soprano who had withdrawn or—in Marina Poplavskaya’s case—crashed and burned. For those heroic rescues Yoncheva was awarded opening night of the 2015-16 season and her first Desdemona in the new Otello proved a grand success . Inevitably the Met soon found itself on the bad end of all this soprano juggling when it last fall released its Mimi to accommodate her most high-profile substitution yet: stepping in at Covent Garden for Anna Netrebko who had decided she really didn’t like Norma after all. Despite the scoffing of pre-premiere skeptics Yoncheva (who had earlier subbed there for Netrebko as Marguerite in Faust) received mostly laudatory reviews. Now however the shoe seems to have migrated to the other foot: last year she avoided a prestigious series of Alcinas with Philippe Jarrousky, and 2017 has brought even more cancelations. She dropped out of Eugene Onegin in Paris declaring the role no longer suited her and just this month she withdrew from Traviata during Munich’s summer festival. As Baden-Baden saw her save its Nozze di Figaro (and the subsequent DG recording) several years ago when Diana Damrau fell out as the Countess, it must now soldier on without her Vitellia in Clemenza di Tito which premieres tonight surprisingly starring Rolando Villazon in the title role. Marina Rebeka replaces her for the two concerts and presumably the CD. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the conductor of both Nozze and Clemenza, was to have conducted Yoncheva’s first Tosca with his Philadelphia Orchestra next May (the orchestra’s website still claims it will be her role debut) but Andris Nelsons (the previously scheduled Tosca’s husband) has that honor… at least for now. But before that New Year’s Eve premiere she sings her first Elisabeth in Don Carlos in a starry Krzysztof Warlikowski production in Paris conducted by Philippe Jordan alongside Elina Garanca, Jonas Kaufmann, Ludovic Tézier and Ildar Abdrazakov. And after Tosca come two other new operas—Luisa Miller at the Met and La Scala’s first Il Pirata since Maria Callas performed it there 60 years ago. Whew—I’m already exhausted! A very odd opera with some glorious moments, Iris has only occasionally been mounted–for passionate Italian divas like Clara Petrella, Magda Olivero, and Daniela Dessì. But it did have a rare, memorable revival just last summer at Bard Summerscape. After the Norma was announced, I frankly expected Yoncheva to withdraw from this Iris concert in Montpellier to give her time to absorb that difficult Bellini role, but she did indeed appear…conducted by her husband Domingo Hindoyan who makes his Met debut next season leading L’Elisir d’Amore. If all goes according to the schedule of the moment, the Met’s 2017-2018 season will see Yoncheva starring in an unprecedented three out of ten HD transmissions: Tosca, La Bohème and Luisa Miller. Mascagni: Iris Le Corum Opera, Montpellier 26 July 2016 Broadcast Sonya Yoncheva — Iris Andrea Carè — Osaka Gabriele Viviani — Kyoto Nikolay Didenko — Il Cieco Chœur Opéra national Montpellie Chœur de la Radio Lettone Orchestre national Montpellier Domingo Hindoyan — conductor Iris can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory. In addition, more than 80 “Trove Thursday” podcasts are available from iTunes —for free, or via any RSS reader .
Nowadays the Met´s productions are sometimes open to harsh criticism but we generally get important singers in great roles. The HD Live performances seen on certain Saturdays at the Teatro El Nacional and presented by the Fundación Beethoven remain very attractive. The final two offered Tchaikovsky´s "Eugen Onegin" and Richard Strauss´ "Der Rosenkavalier" and both had admirable singers. "Onegin" has been seen with some frequency in BA and has also been staged at La Plata. Based on the beautiful Pushkin verse novel, well adapted by the composer and Konstantin Shilovsky, these "lyric scenes", as Tchaikovsky called them, have a lot of wonderful music, particularly Tatiana´s Letter Scene and Lenski´s aria. If in the first two acts we are given the rural ambience of Larin´s estate and the stark duel in which Lenski dies, the Third Act transports us some years later to Saint Petersburg and to Prince Gremin´s great Ball; he has married Tatiana, and now it is Onegin who desires her but is rebuked. The cast had a superstar, Anna Netrebko, and the sensitive baritone Peter Mattei supplanting Dmitri Hvorostovsky, unfortunately very ill, as Onegin. Lenski was a first-rate Russian tenor, Alexey Dolgov, who sung with style and acted very well. I found Stefan Kocan rather gruff as Gremin. Olga, Tatiana´s coquettish sister, was done very attractively by mezzo Elena Maximova. And two artists who were stars twenty years ago, gave style and knowledge to Madame Larina (Elena Zaremba) and Filippyevna, the wet-nurse (Larisa Diadkova). Netrebko may be nowadays a bit too matronly for the part, but her singing and acting was so admirable that it didn´t matter, and her beloved Onegin was interpreted ideally by Mattei. The conductor, Ricardo Ticciati, was a surprise: young and very intense, he proved congenial to Tchaikovsky´s extremely Romantic inspiration. Deborah Warner´s production felt Russian and was often convincing, but Tom Pye´s stage designs were problematic: the unit set for the First Act and the first tableau of the Second didn´t observe the libretto´s specifications, and the columns in the Third Act complicated Kim Brandstrup´s choreography for the Polonaise. Nice costumes and good lighting. This "Rosenkavalier" was essential viewing for it was the goodbye to the stage of Renée Fleming after 250 performances at the Met and the last Octavian of Elina Garança, the greatest interpreter of this marvelous role in recent years. Fleming was still lovely even with small vocal fissures, and Garança was perfect in every sense. Furthermore, we met a valuable Ochs, bass Günther Groissböck, of healthy singing and funny acting, and there was Matthew Polenzani at his best as the Italian Singer. Erin Morley (Sophie) and Markus Brück (Faninal) were good. And Sebastian Weigle mastered the gorgeous score: a conductor to watch. Alas, in a few weeks we will suffer at the Colón with this Robert Carsen production: a sad travesty of a fantastic libretto. Nevertheless, he couldn´t ruin such magical moments as the final minutes of the First Act or the trio of the third: the music and the artists moved me to tears. For Buenos Aires Herald
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