Posted in Opera

Knowing Each Other’s Moves

Yesterday’s Met broadcast of L’elisir d’amore was both a delight for a rainy March afternoon and a great example of just how exciting it can be when singers are on the same wavelength. When Juan Diego Florez’s lovesick Nemorino brought on enough cheering for a second encore of “Una furtiva lagrima” (even one is a rare event), he charmingly reminded the audience that he wasn’t in this alone: “Miss Damrau is waiting.”  As his frequent colleague, Diana Damrau not only knows his moves, both musically and dramatically—her own artistry added to his makes the audience’s reward increase geometrically.

Le Comte Ory's menage a trois

There’s a special kind of energy when you see singers who’ve developed a solid performing rapport. Nowhere was this more evident than in last season’s Le Comte Ory at the Met, which added Joyce DiDonato to the Florez–Damrau combo, making this a tight-knit crew indeed. Joyce frequently sings with Diana in Mozart and Strauss, and when she’s not playing a boy, she and Juan Diego make beautiful music in the Rossini canon, most recently in La donna del lago (that’s “The Lady of the Lake” via Sir Walter Scott, who supplied the raw material for Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.) The plot, as can be expected, is ridiculous—Damrau: a countess, Florez: a lecherous count, DiDonato: a page with (reciprocated) designs on the countess—all set during some Crusade or other. It really doesn’t matter, because the opera features some stunning duets and best of all, a trio during which our intrepid leads end up in bed together, demonstrating their physical as well as their musical flexibility (For those—ahem—keeping score, the mezzo gets the girl). I saw this in a “Live from the Met” HD telecast which thankfully is being released this week on DVD. Don’t miss it.

Sometimes, though, singers’ chemistry can throw things off-kilter. I was fortunate to see Frederica von Stade in Pelleas et Melisande when her Golaud was that master singer, Jose van Dam. Her concern and love for him as a colleague in the scene where Golaud recounts his return to the forest and his resulting injury were so apparent that it somewhat upset the applecart. You wanted to say to her, “No, honey. You fall in love with the tenor, not the baritone.” On the other hand, rapport can rescue a performance. Several years ago I saw Don Carlo at the Met with James Morris as Philip and Thomas Hampson as Rodrigo. While the other roles were taken by singers most charitably described as serviceable, those two gents totally made the performance. When Philip and Rodrigo faced off to discuss the uprising in Flanders and the problems in Philip’s own court, you saw two pros just go at it—two charismatic singers acting the hell out of the scene. Had they not been around, I might have bailed, even though Don Carlo is one of Verdi’s best.

"Beware the Grand Inquisitor!"

And ultimately, there’s nothing better than seeing two romantic leads with chemistry. I’m looking forward to Anna Netrebko and Piotr Bezcala in Manon at the Met in two weeks; all reports indicate that they burn the house down. Which reminds me of a performance of Don Giovanni I saw many years ago at the New York City Opera in the old Frank Corsaro production. Justino Diaz was the Don; a wonderful soprano named Ellen Shade was the Donna Anna, and the two of them generated so much electricity in their scenes together that the air in the auditorium seemed to crackle. I’d like to wish for more of the same more often, but then it wouldn’t be as special—right?

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Posted in Music, Opera

Anna and Salome Arrive in Style

Anna Netrebko
The Diva Herself

Anna Netrebko is a peach. She’s also a star with a capital “S.” I’ve just seen the final dress rehearsal of the Met’s new production of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” scheduled to open the new season next Monday, and Anna N. as Anna B. is amazing. She holds stage like nobody’s business, and that big, dark soprano of hers fills the house. Fortunately she’s matched by the Henry VIII of Ildar Abdrazakov, whom I had never heard live before. He’s got command and his rolling bass is a great complement to Netrebko’s sound. Mezzo Ekatarina Gubanova plays Jane (aka “Giovanna”) Seymour, and when the two ladies square off for their confrontation in the second act, there’s some superlative singing indeed. And I couldn’t care less that neither has a trill.

“Anna Bolena” was Donizetti’s big hit, pre-“Lucia di Lammermoor,” but I think the former is the better opera. The drama never stops. Donizetti threw in two plot twists that have no basis in reality–a prior marriage between Anna and Richard Percy, and a mad scene in the Tower of London before she meets the headsman–but so what. It’s not a documentary, it’s opera. I’m only sorry there’s no glass armonica to accompany Anna’s loony tunes as there is for Lucia, but hey–you can’t have everything.

This was the second dress rehearsal of a new production I’ve attended via a Met subscribers’ lottery, and I enjoy these tremendously. The audience is reminded at the start that this is a working rehearsal, not a performance, so the action may stop and repeat, which is what happened today. Things literally came to a screeching halt during the last scene change of the opera when the elevator stage apparently snagged on something and a 15-minute break was called. It was worth waiting out because Anna Netrebko’s mad scene, which immediately followed, was rightly cheered and “brava’ed” at length. Charmingly, she finally broke character, smiled and applauded, pointing directly at Marco Armiliato, a true singer’s conductor.

“Anna Bolena” is the first of this season’s Met HD telecasts, scheduled for October 15th. This one is definitely worth seeing.

Last night’s New York Philharmonic season opener came courtesy of PBS’ “Live from Lincoln Center.” While this Samuel Barber fiend was put out by the slow tempo of the Overture to “The School for Scandal,” I thought conductor Alan Gilbert and Deborah Voigt did an excellent job with his “Andromache’s Farewell.” But the big draw was the second half of the program, which consisted of three selections from Richard Strauss’s “Salome”–the “Intermezzo,” the “Dance of the Seven Veils” and most memorably, Salome’s final scene where she kisses the mouth of John the Baptist’s severed head. Deborah Voigt relished this, and after her somewhat constricted performance of Wagner’s “Dich teure Halle,” it was a relief to hear her soar in the Strauss. Alan Gilbert brought out all the weirdness and perversity of the “Salome” selections, and the orchestra sounded more involved than I’ve heard in quite a while.

PBS usually repeats these performances, so check your local listings as they say, as well as the New York Philharmonic website.