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19 oct. 2009

CHANDELIERS, CHAGALLS, CHAMPAGNE – IT’S THE MET! (LIZ IN NY)

La villazonista Liz nos ha enviado una divertidísima crónica de su reciente estancia en New York. Thank you very much, Liz!

Last week my husband, brother, sister-in-law and myself paid a visit to New York to celebrate my brother’s retirement from work. This was my third visit to New York but the first since falling victim to the opera bug (and the associated RolanDitis virus!). The following is a therefore very personal account written from the perspective of a novice opera fan.

Tosca - Tuesday 6 October

Joseph Colaneri (Conductor)
David Pittsinger (Angelotti)
Paul Plishka (Sacristan)
Marcelo Alvarez (Cavaradossi)
Karita Mattila (Tosca)
George Gagnidze (Scarpia)
Joel Sorensen (Spoletta)
James Courtney (Sciarrone)

We arrived early in order to have a good look round. The Met Plaza with its fountain is very impressive with plenty of room to roam about sit and enjoy the atmosphere. We were amazed at the absolutely huge Chagalls in the entrance foyer – obviously the Met is one opera house which has not yet fallen on hard times? After an “exchange of views” with staff who seemed to be competing for the title “surliest bar staff in the world” we were served champagne in –plastic glasses (classy??!!). We were then ready to take our seats – second row of grand tier so a great view. The auditorium is absolutely enormous and we were enormously impressed by the chandeliers which were raised up moments before the performance got under way.


Much has already been written about this Tosca production by Luc Bondy and many Villazons will already have seen it via the Met Live Screenings so I apologise for going over it all again here. The scenery for the first act – the Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle was amazing – but not in a good way! This church would have gladdened the heart of Oliver Cromwell – not a religious image in sight – a sort of cross between a Presbyterian Church and some sort of loft apartment. I’m sure poor Angelotti found his sister’s instruction to find clothes and a key “at the foot of the Madonna” difficult to follow as there was no Madonna in evidence.

A production is of course about more than just scenery. The singing was for the most part excellent. The Sacristan (Paul Plishka) was as far as I was concerned more or less inaudible, but as I find this character immensely irritating I didn’t really mind. Marcelo Alvarez was in fine voice from the outset and delivered his first aria “Recondita armonia” with style and got great applause. Karita Mattila was also in good voice and her flirtatious exchange with Cavaradossi greatly amused the audience - “not in front of the Madonna”. I was a bit worried about George Gagnidze (Scarpia) as so much in this opera depends on this character. I thought he was being rather drowned by the orchestra. His voice strengthened as the act progressed however and his acting was totally convincing as was that of Karita - Marcelo’s perhaps less so. The act ended with the chorus in full vestments singing the Te Deum and carrying a statue of the Madonna. Having first genuflected Scarpia then stood up and gave the Madonna what I can only describe as a big hug. I giggled.


Act 2 (after what seemed like a particularly long interval) revealed Scarpia’s sleazy apartment complete with scantily clad prostitutes draped over really ugly sofas (obviously as well as his other faults the man just simply has no taste in interior design). This was all just so unnecessary to the action as Scarpia’s nasty tendencies, including lechery, are already evident and had been listed helpfully by Cavaradossi in the first act. This is not to detract from the performances which developed and improved in this act with Tosca’s aria, “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore” delivered with great emotion by Karita - for me the highlight of the performance. The killing of Scarpia was convincing with George Gagnidze seemingly able to continue singing while upside down! Strangely the placing of candles and cruxifix by Tosca around Scarpia’s body was entirely omitted (perhaps she couldn’t find such objects in this minimalist setting?). I’m not sure what Puccini would have thought.

Act 3 thankfully makes fewer demands regarding scenery but much of the action including the shooting of Cavaradossi took place at one side of the stage. (This was very much a feature of this production as cast members kept skulking around the edges of the stage). The audience at that side couldn’t see anything without craning and in some cases standing up. On a stage the size of the Met this seemed incompetent. Tosca’s death was ludicrous with an effigy used for the fall from the parapet. In the performance we saw the neither the lighting nor the curtain fall was sufficiently skilful to make this effect work. In fact it I doubt if it can be made to work. Sheer pantomime nonsense.


All in all we felt we had seen some good performances from singers battling an uninspired and unconvincing production. At curtain call I thought the principals looked a bit isolated on that huge stage, the chorus having long since departed along with most of the orchestra with just the conductor and a few stragglers left to take a bow.


A strange night at the opera.


Backstage Tour – Thursday 8 October

We spent Wednesday sightseeing around New York during which I (total non believer!) lit a candle for Rolando in St Patrick’s Cathedral. I had to plump for a Saint chosen at random as lack the encyclopaedic knowledge of the specialisms of Saints displayed by other Villazons.


On Wednesday we had a Backstage Tour which is part of the Met’s education programme. Our group included a group of teenage schoolgirls from Detroit and one teenage boy from New Zealand (who was of course bemused by the presence of the girls). The tour was conducted by a very charming and knowledgeable gentleman and was very comprehensive. We saw the huge auditorium from the front of the stalls and heard all about the theatre’s history, its excellent acoustics, the chandeliers etc. We then went backstage and saw the costume making, the stage itself (enormous enough I would think to scare a singer witless, especially when staring out into that vast auditorium), scenery, costume and wig making. A highlight for me was seeing into the room where a very businesslike and bespectacled Ramon Vargas was in energetic rehearsal for Faust. He looked really cute. Finally we saw the dressing room used by the leading female performers including Karita Mattila which was in many ways extraordinary for its sheer ordinariness.
This tour well worth undertaking if anyone is visiting New York.

Please note that at no time during this tour did I offend the Good Conduct Code of the Villazons by for example falling down and kissing the ground whereon Rolando may once have trodden – even when faced by the stage of the Met!



Le Nozze di Figaro - Friday 9 October

Dan Ettinger (Conductor)
John Relyea (Figaro)
Danielle de Niese (Susanna)
Maurizio Muraro (Don Bartolo)
Wendy White (Marcellina)
Isobel Leonard (Cherubino)
Bo Skovus (Count Almaviva)
Philip Langridge (Don Basilio)
Emma Bell (Countess Almaviva)
Tony Stevenson (Don Curzio)
Ashley Emerson (Barbarina)

Mozart is my sister-in law’s favourite composer so this was very much her choice of opera. (While I bow to Mozart’s genius I probably am more of a Verdi/Puccini fan – but at least our choices on this trip kept everyone happy). After the rigours of Tosca on Tuesday we were hoping that we were on safer ground with Jonathan Millar’s production of Figaro and breathed a sigh of relief when the curtain went up to reveal a very straightforward set. (I can now totally understand why American audiences sometimes applaud the scenery in operas – it is through sheer relief). The set did not attempt to fill all of the huge stage and so achieved a great feeling of intimacy. The production was a complete contrast to the Tosca as it was completely traditional in approach (which probably won’t have pleased the more adventurous). We found it highly enjoyable.


Daniele de Niese is of course being heavily promoted as a big star and is both physically attractive and a very gifted actress. (Did I read somewhere that she is to perform in a “three sopranos” event next year in South Africa?). My husband was greatly impressed by her and watched her carefully via binoculars – no doubt studying her breathing technique? As far as I was concerned though, while I loved her performance, I did not find her voice that remarkable or distinctive and I thought she was out sung by Emma Bell as the Countess whose “Dove Sono “aria was heartbreaking. John Relyea’s Figaro was solid and well sung and enthusiastically received by the audience without I felt scaling any great heights. Bo Skovus played the Count more or less strictly for laughs though I have seen performances on DVD where he is given more depth and less geniality. ( I do at times find the attitude to women in Mozart -perhaps in all opera? - sexist and irritating to varying degrees. Perhaps that’s why I like the character of Carmen so much?) Mozart’s music is of course sublime (he did know how to write good tunes!). As well as very competent solo performances the ensembles in Figaro are masterly and were performed magnificently in this performance.

A very entertaining night at the opera.


Opera Boot Camp – Saturday 10
October
By this stage two of our number were “all operaed out” and escaped to go shopping leaving my husband and myself to attend the rather ominous sounding Opera Boot Camp. This was actually one of a series of Metropolitan Opera Guild lectures on various aspects of opera held in the Rose Building Open Learning Centre. Our particular lecture was on the evolution of opera from 1600-1800. It was given by Dottie Allen who is Community Programs Coordinator and was fully booked with around 60 or so of various ages in attendance. Dottie proved to be a very enthusiastic and engaging speaker and covered a lot of territory in one and a half hours. She used video and audio material to illustrate her talk which included Monteverdi, Cavalli, Lully, Purcell, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Rameau, Handel, Gay, Gluck, Salieri and of course our old friend Mozart. She very skilfully introduced relevant vocabulary - polyphony, monodony, aria, recitative, ornamentation, opera seria, da capo aria etc etc as she went along. She was also quite willing to answer questions. I was especially intrigued by a 100 year old recording of the last castrato, Alessandro Moreschi, as I have become intrigued by this phenomena having watched the (totally over the top) film Farinelli. Judging by his photograph though I have to say Moreschi looked nothing like the film actor!!! I really enjoyed this lecture and would recommend these lectures to any Villazons visiting New York – I was just sorry not to have been able to attend the whole series.

This more or less brought our trip to New York to an end. Before we set out for the airport I had a last look round the really excellent Met shop and had to be more or less forcibly restrained from buying a book of portraits of opera singers (200 dollars!) in order to get a gorgeous photograph of Rolando in ROH’s Rigoletto......
....... however I consoled myself by listening to him singing Monteverdi and Handel as we flew back to good old Ireland.

.

9 comentarios:

  1. Thank you, Liz, for your detailed and amusing chronicle. You do not sound like an opera novice at all!

    I go to the Met every spring with my 19-year-old daughter who aspires to be an opera singer. We were there this past April 8th when Rolando was to have sung in L'Elisir. We were two very sorry looking opera lovers--to be honest, I was so sad, I don't remember any of it!

    The Chagalls, the champagne, the fountain, the opera shop, and those rising chandeliers all make the Met very special.

    Hopefully soon our dear Rolando will return. We'll be waiting for him!

    Thank you, Liz!

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  2. Liz, thank you very much for your enjoyable chronicle, it has made me laugh many times (the "not kissing the ground trodden by Rolando" bit was great, ja, ja!)

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  3. Liz, thanks for your descriptive and amusing chronicle.
    You and your family were very fortunated attending those performances.

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  4. Liz thank you very much for this very interesting and amusing chronicle. I often laugh, and I think you are a very good "chroniqueuse"

    Je pense aussi que tu es très bien documentée sur l'opéra, je suis très étonnée par tes connaissances pour une soit disant novice !!!
    Quel luxe ce MET, moi je me suis contentée du cinéma live,avec ma petite bouteille d'eau pour étancher ma soif !!!

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  5. Dear Liz, everything is said by our Villazonistas. I can only agree 100% with it. You should apply for a job as first class chronicle writer in a famous Opera Magazine, f.i. Opera Chic. You are so witty and professional(you are kidding if you say you are an Opera novice!!!)that you deserve a special Opera Award. Thank you so much and please keep doing it for us. A Rolandian kiss.

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  6. Dear Liz....
    just loved your sentiments and may I add 'thoroughly knowledgeable'observations. Novice?
    No Sireeee! I also did the 'back-stage' tour and do recommend it.
    Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful experiences with us.

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  7. Anne from London19/10/09 16:28

    “I can now totally understand why American audiences sometimes applaud the scenery in operas – it is through sheer relief.”

    Liz, that has to be one of the funniest lines I’ve ever read in an opera review. You should be writing for Opera Britannia. I’ve never been to the Met but, after reading your account, I feel as though I have. You’re a very good writer.

    It sounds as though you had a fantastic time. I totally agree with your verdict on the two Figaro sopranos. I’ve only seen Danielle de Niese live once, but she left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Emma Bell, on the other hand, is terrific. I’m glad she’s doing so well for herself and hope she continues to go from strength to strength.

    Finally, I love the fact that you lit a candle for Rolando in St Patrick's Cathedral; I did the same thing in Baden-Baden a few months ago, and I'm sure we're not the only ones!

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  8. DEAR LIZ: YOU ARE INDEED A PROFESSIONAL ! YOUR REVIEWS ARE JUST GREAT. YOUR COMMENTS ABOUT THE MET, BROUGHT ME BACK, MEMORIES OF MY TRIPS TO NEW YORK FROM MONTREAL, WHERE I USED TO LIVE. MAGNIFICENT DAYS AT LINCOLN CENTER !!!!
    IT WAS SO VERY THOUGHTFUL OF YOU TO LIGHT A CANDEL FOR OUR DEAREST ROLANDO AT ST. PATRICK'S

    MANY THANKS AND ABRAZOS ROLANDEROS

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  9. Thank you Villazons for your really kind comments. My head is now so swollen with vanity that I am finding it difficult to get through doorways! LOL

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