Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Parsifal at The Met: Revival Redemption at Monsalvat


I had some difficulty tuning in last night and, there were several glitches on Sirius including an infuriating “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System . . . “ a few minutes into one of Gurnemanz’s 3rd act monologues and worse – Sirius dropping out during Parsifal’s final line and receiving the “content not available” message before Mahler began playing from another Sirius channel. Even these, however couldn’t (fully) spoil the effect that was being made over the air, and, based on good evidence, emanating from the house itself.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin led what can only be described as an extraordinary reading of an extraordinary score and his love for this score was made palpable in its execution. Moments, like some of those orchestral interludes during Gurnemanz’s monologues that change its tone which many others either gloss or languish over, here crackled with life, a vibrancy in the strings that was electric. The first transformation scene went about as beautifully as Knappertsbusch, with a similar sense of moving forward and at Gurnemanz’s response (my favorite line from any opera) to Parsifal’s observation:

"Du siehst, mein Sohn,
zum Raum wird hier die Zeit!"


We were all along for that journey. Here was shape and form, expansive where it needed to be, then firm . . . taut with a momentum like some great galactic force pulling each of us, inexorably, into its core. I was, as I always want to be by Parsifal, overwhelmed and transported.



That same care and detail, without being over precious was to be heard also in the Good Friday music, every measure part of the journey.

In the title role Klaus Florian Vogt will not likely be to the liking of some (most?) of our listers here. My first encounter with him – about ten years ago – found me perplexed . . . the tone that, I thought, of a countertenor. After a few years I’ve come to love his interpretations of both Parsifal and Lohengrin. Vogt began his musical career as a horn player with the Philharmoniker Hamburg and played in the pit for Parsifal. There is a purity of tone – almost treble like – in his singing that I feel works wonderfully in this role paired against both Frau Herlitzius and Herr Pape
brought an interesting aural tapestry, all the richer for its inclusion of light.

Making her company debut, Evelyn Herlitzius offered a wonderfully drawn Kundry. Bolder than many, more wild than some in her delivery. When she wanted sleep, you just know that no one in the world has ever been more exhausted than this lady. She took interesting liberties with her laugh at Klingsor – beginning it earlier and lasting longer and less “measured” than one is generally accustomed to. She was sensational and different than my other favorite Kundries who offered more plush to their sound (think Ludwig, Troyanos, et. al.) and more in the Modl and Meier vein. Whatever she did, it all boiled down to making me believe she really was Wagner's most fascinating character.

Of Klingsor, all one can say of Evgeny Nikitin is that he sings the role as though born to it. Too often for my taste has Klingsor had a wiry sound, more “Merlin the Magician” not enough menace. Not so Nikitin who roars through the part like a beautiful, sexy howling beast. There was evil, snarling beautifully through and, for some folks who like the darker side, there is a sinister, sensuality in the terror he offers with no apology. Brilliant.

His Blumenmädchen sounded sexier than usual, girly and wild (“Girls Gone Wild,” I remarked to friends last night on FB). They definitely didn’t sound like middle-aged matrons in caftans beckoning a hefty tenor in boy’s clothing. There was definite “snap” going on in their sound which somehow managed to be both luscious and lean. Delightful.

When Peter Mattei first took on Amfortas everyone (including me) thought why? Well, he showed us all why when this production first appeared here, and, as though we could possibly forget, reminded us again last night. The elegiac quality of his suffering is exquisitely portrayed, the sound, focused, unforced, open with a raw beauty so exposed it almost feels “raw.”

Rene Pape has, from the beginning, been one of the most beautifully sung, sonorous Gurnemanz in my experience. He belongs up there with the best interpreters of the role. While at this stage of the game a singer could just offer what he knows would “sell” – Pape goes beyond this. One can hear some age in his voice, softening the old knight’s sternness, and, if at all possible, deepening the intensity, whilst balancing it with gentleness. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Good Friday music, where he evokes nature itself and spins out such tenderness in:

"Nun freut sich alle Kreatur
auf des Erlösers holder Spur,
will sein Gebet ihm weihen
."

Just his mere utterance of “Kreatur” is a model of exquisite word painting.

Everything about this performance lifted my heart up last night, made me glad to be alive right now regardless of what else is happening in this crazy world. For six hours last night we had the opportunity to be lost in the time space continuum on our way to Monsalvat.

I can hardly wait to experience this live in a few weeks – and that, friends, is an understatement.

Photo Credits: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Eva Mei's White Hot Thaïs


I have always loved this opera and have never quite figured out why it isn't given more of a chance to catch on. Leontyne Price, Beverly Sills, and others have taken on this femme fatale, and dusting off its magical score just every once in a while to reveal the treasure it really is.

Pier Luigi Pizzo's production for La Fenice production is absolutely gorgeous with incredible care shown down to the smallest detail, yet always fresh and never fussy. Roses seem to be a central theme in this production and Pizzi gives us have tons of them, a virtual moving wall of roses. Thais (and later, Athanael's) bed is made of huge ropey vines of roses (which transforms during the meditation!).

Mei is a moving Thais and while the voice lacks some "plushness" her piano and sustained high register singing is pure and lovely. She's an affecting actress and her transformation from courtesan to saint is not only believable but poignant, she seems to radiate. The Mirror Aria is well sung, but it is in her duets with Pertusi, especially the opening and closing ones of Act III where she shines. Her death scene is absolutely beautiful.



Those who have nudity issues be forewarned a lot of flesh is on display here, the entire female corps de ballet is topless, save for necklace chains, and Thais has a topless doppleganger who gives a radiant performance of the Meditation (Though Mei's costume leaves little to the imagination).

Everybody has great legs here, not just Thais and the girls, but Athanael and Nicias too! William Joyner's bright tenor rings nicely and in Nicias's brief time onstage, Joyner creates a vain but imminently likeable fellow. His mini-skirt almost has one fearful of seeing something revealed that shouldn't be.


Everyone is barefoot but with stunning, ornate ankle ornaments by a company called (Venetian pedicurists must have been working overtime during this production!).

While the opera is called Thais – and as terrific as Mei is in the role – it is Michele Pertusi who just about walks away with the show. His is a presence that is never less than magnificent and I can't think of a better master of the pose than he; his hands, feet, face and his, every gesture is weighted with meaning and seems as an El Greco painting has come to life. Vocally, Pertusi wraps his himself around the role with a seemingly instinctual madness and burns with an intensity that never lets up (even after the final curtain – you'll see what I mean!)



While costumes are "traditional" in their representation of early A.D. Egypt, the physical production is representational and sparse with stunning use of the stage (though the literally dozens and dozens of crosses – another heavy symbol here initially had me thinking "overkill" – but it works!)


Marcello Viotti leads the Fenice forces - orchestra and chorus in a moving and theatrical reading. This is one of the most exciting DVDs I purchased this year (2004).

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Glorious and Tragic: ENO's Death In Venice

I could not listen to the Met’s “The Merry Widow” last night (or most nights) so to escape the brutal New England chill, I decided to watch the 2012 revival of Deborah Warner’s production of Britten’s “Death in Venice” for the English National Opera. I have loved this work since my high school days, and my appreciation of it has only grown to a point where I’m beginning to think – despite Grimes/Budd/Gloriana/War Requiem all being at the top of the heap - it may be one of Britten’s most ingenious scores.

Several weeks ago there was a discussion here about this opera being "dull" and/or "uninspired." I couldn't disagree more if I wanted to. My dear, long-missed friend and one time frequently marvelous list member, Ann Purtil credited the Met’s production as being responsible for pulling her back into the world of opera. So there’s that.


Even having only seen it on video, Warner’s is one of the most innovative, creative, seamless productions I’ve seen in some time. The integration of dance, movement, lighting and acting are wed to Britten’s most unusual score in a manner that feels completely organic. There is nothing extraneous, nothing that does not serve and move forward this beautiful tragedy to its heartbreaking conclusion.

As much as I loved the Aschenbach’s of Peter Pears and Robert Tear, John Graham-Hall doesn’t portray the tortured “hero” so much as inhabit him entirely. I felt I was witnessing the disintegration of this character so intimately it bordered on voyeurism. Onstage nearly throughout, Graham-Hall sings with the required refined elegance Britten demands here, but it is his integration of myriad facial expressions, reaching gestures of limbs combined with that voice that reflects Aschenbach discomfort with life. When he speaks of his dead wife and recently married daughter, it is shot through with an inherent sadness I’ve never before noticed – or at least paid much attention to. Graham-Hall elevates this brief moment to the point where it feels like the raison d'être for all that transpires from start-to-finish. Here is an artist at the height of his powers delivering a performance that will haunt me to the grave.

Aschenbach being onstage nearly throughout and having the lion’s share of the text, “Death in Venice” is oft-dismissed as a one-man show, which is about as far from the mark as it gets. This performance gives us Andrew Shore – who, within minutes – made mincemeat of my initial reservations. He brings to brilliant life all of the disparate characters, tying each to the other with the genius of a master storyteller. Ultimately, his is the sinister, guiding hand on the complex, confusing, road to hell.

Tim Mead makes a chillingly handsome appearance as Apollo singing in what could easily be called “heldencounter.”

Former Royal Danish Ballet dancer (and current Boston resident) Sam Zaldivar is perfectly cast as Tadzio making not only plausible, but understandable Aschenbach’s obsession. He is appealing in his naturalness and his execution of the difficult, at times wildly acrobatic choreography of Kim Brandstrup. Brandstrup’s dance and movement charge this difficult work with a fluidity that ripples throughout and he and Warner manage to magically
maneuver a large company of chorus, actors, dancers and principals through the opera’s many scenes and locales in an almost dizzying fashion.

Edward Gardner leads the ENO forces through this amazing score with a master’s hand, ever a judicious balancing act of percussive, piano, orchestra and wordless chorus who in concert create a painting for our eyes and ears. This is the first time I’ve experienced this opera where I felt it almost springing directly over centuries from Monteverdi to right now. The-house audience remain rapt and silent for close to a minute as all of us watch Tadzio elegantly pirouetting into the blinding sun as Aschenbach slumps into his final sleep.

For those unfamiliar with this opera, I can’t think of a more appealing way to remedy that situation. For fans, you owe yourselves the opportunity to experience this one. It is magnificent. It is available on DVD, or "for free" for Amazon Prime members.

I recently learned Warner’s production was slated for New York City Opera, but was ultimately nixed. That would have been something.


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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Met's New Tosca!