Thursday, February 23, 2017

Never upstage the stars!

Last evening David and I saw the Lyric Opera's production of Bizet's Carmen. It was marked by some stellar singing and some strange stage direction.

The cast was headed by Ekaterina Gubanova in the title role as Carmen. Ms Gubanova has a beautiful voice that just seemed a shade small for the role in comparison with the other voices in the cast. In her solo numbers she came through well but she was often lost in the ensembles.

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Joseph Calleja was splendid as Don Jose, his wonderful voice soaring to the heights. At the end of 'La Fleur' his high B natural began forte and was followed by an amazing messa di voce  to ppp! Beautifully sung.

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Eleonora Buratto was Michaéla, singing with a sumptuous tone and acting beautifully.

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Christian van Horn was excellent as Escamillo. His reverberant voice covered the wide range needed for this role with ease.

The stage direction, costumes, and scenery were another thing.

The stage director, Rob Ashford, who is also a choreographer, decided to add a lot of dance to the work as well as adding a character of a Bull, who was apparently supposed to represent Fate. The Bull would appear at moments of heightened drama to indicate that this was a big moment in the opera, thereby upstaging the principals who were singing their hearts out. This was particularly annoying in the last act as Escamillo and Carmen are singing their final love-hate duet. The bull and a dancing Torerro were fighting a battle at the rear of the stage as Don Jose is declaring his love for Carmen and finally stabs her. A really bad idea.

Julie Weiss is listed as 'Original Costume Designer', whatever that means. In any event Carmen was dressed in black, except for Act 3 when she wore a red skirt. All the women from the cigarette factory wore black, which is really only worn regularly by older women who are widowed in Spain and Portugal.
Also all of the women in the cigarette factory would not be wearing a sort of uniform.

David Rockwell, the set designer, had his work cut out for him with the Lyric's limited stage possibilities. 
His Act 3 mountains looked like large Ice Bergs or the beginnings of the pyramids.

I could go on and on.

Harry Bicket was the admirable conductor who led the orchestra in a very lively and musical performance.

I have seen quite a few Carmens in my lifetime. My first was Risè Stevens at the Old Met in the 1950's. In the last act when she was stabbed by Don Jose, she grabbed the red hangings from the wall of the Bull Ring and pulled them down as she fell, creating a flood on blood on the stage.

No Bull needed!

I saw Regine Crespin in the role at the Met after her very successful transition from soprano to mezzo. She was always a beautiful singer and actress.

I coached  and witnessed Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in her Boston Lyric Opera performance in the role. There again the director tried to change the period in which the opera was set. The smugglers were  a motorcycle gang in leather jackets, including Lorraine. Last night's production was set during the Spanish Civil War which had nothing to do with the plot. I think, for the most part, stage directors should stop monkeying around with the time setting of operas and assume the composer knew what he wanted.

Vocally it was a thrilling evening.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Norma vs. Caballe

Last night David and I attended a very long performance of Bellini's Norma at Chicago Lyric Opera. I don't suppose it was any longer than any other performance of the opera, but is it a very long opera with very little going on except some incredible music.

The story unfolds very slowly with Norma feeling guilty about having broken her vow of chastity and producing two children with the Roman Pollione, his dumping her for her assistant Priestess  Adalgisa, and her threatening to kill first her two children, then herself, then Adalgisa and Pollione.

It just takes a long time to get there.

All the while there is this gorgeous music happening.

I have apparently spent too many years listening to Montserrat Caballe singing this role. Any other soprano just doesn't do it for me. Her amazing musical line, endless breath, clear sound, and faultless vocal ability is unique.

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Sondra Radvanovsky has a very large, somewhat covered voice, with the range needed for the role. Her production produces a pushed, unstable sound much of the time with occasional gorgeous soft high notes, messy runs, and some sensational climactic high C's. I have heard her previously and found that sometimes she sings just a little below the pitch. The covering of her voice makes it sound tremulous, especially at the beginning of the opera. Her inability to sing the chromatic downhill runs accurately is unfortunate. Caballe produced these flawlessly. The role is a killer vocally and I must say, she made it to the end in one piece.

Sound Bites feature in Opera News c. Dario Acosta

I preferred the singing of Elizabeth DeShong as Adalgisa. Her bright, clear voice was also sizeable, her runs accurate, and her sound very appealing. For me she stole the show.

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Russell Thomas as Pollione has a very good tenor voice which he used well though he sang at full voice most of the time.

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Jesse Donner, a third year member of the Ryan Opera Center sang his brief part with a beautiful, lighter tenor sound.

Norma opera tickets at Lyric Opera of Chicago

The set by David Korins was gloomy for the most part with a sort of Barn Door opening at the back that revealed silvery trunks of trees plus one (supposedly an oak) floating side wise in mid air for some reason. A large platform was wheeled on stage from time to time from which Oroveso, Norma's father, and Norma occasionally sang.

Oroveso was sung by Andrea Silvestrelli in a lugubrious basso that was not very attractive.   

At the end an enormous bull effigy was wheeled on stage. It was here that Norma was handed a small lighted torch to light the fire in which she and Pollione were to go to their deaths.

Some very good singing but I think cuts could be made in the opera allowing the actionless tale to flow more quickly.   

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

How we lost Love's Labor Lost

Last night David and I saw Love's Labor Lost  at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. This play was apparently very popular when it was first presented by the Bard of Avon, but fell to disuse in later centuries.

A rather thin plot involves the King of Navarre who persuades three friends to give up women, sleep, and quite a lot of food for three years, only to all fall in love with the Princess of France and her ladies, thereby forsaking their vows.

Probably because of our recent long weekend in Michigan, both of us found it difficult to stay awake through Act One. We decided to skip Act Two. I'm sure this is sacrilege and we will be sorely punished for giving the heave-ho to Shakespeare, but we really had no choice. As a result we were home by 9:00 in time to get the news that Betsy De Voss had been elected Secretary of Education. This probably means that no Shakespeare, or anything else will find its way into the Public Schools of our country!

 A wonderful set almost made up for the silliness of the plot. A large tree was at stage right, floating its branches to the ceiling.Great costumes and fine acting were also on display. But we still dozed from time to time.

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The cast included John Tufts as the King of Navarre, Jennie Greenberry as the Princess of France, and a large group of their courtiers.

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Taming of the Shrew it ain't!