Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon in Paris

Rarely have I been as excited to blog about a performance as I am about tonight's concert at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. Filmed for television, it starred two of opera's hottest stars, with support from a first-rate orchestra and conductor, all performing a no-nonsense program of French, Russian, and Italian opera, as well as Zarzuela.

Unfortunately, as I left the theater about three-quarters of an hour ago, my most salient memories of the concert were two moments that Anna Netrebko would, I'm sure, rather forget. In her opening number and in the third and final encore, she messed up. In Juliette's waltz, she cracked (at length) on the climactic high C, but recovered beautifully. Her error in the Brindisi from La Traviata was worse: during the duo and chorus parts after Alfredo's solo verse, she forgot the words and covered her face with both hands, letting out an embarrassed yelp. Villazon was most solicitous, taking a large bouquet from her hands and placing it on the podium, along with some book (wrapped in blue plastic) that he'd been holding. The audience started singing the melody on la in solidarity, and Netrebko clearly knew she would be OK. She returned with Tra voi and stayed to the end, finishing on the glorious top note. UPDATE: OK, so, when I blogged on this I forgot to mention that after putting their stuff down, Villazon proceeded most charmingly to dance with Netrebko!!! How could I fail to mention that!!?? It was adorable.

As I look over my program and reflect on my memories, these two incidents are so minor compared to the many moments of sheer magic. Aren't those moments exactly what we're here for? And, I have to say, I find Netrebko utterly charming. Yes, she is also astonishingly, stunningly, staggeringly beautiful. And Escada and Chopard should win some sort of prize for those shimmering gowns and dazzling jewels.

Most of the program hovered somewhere between the mishaps and the magic. I've already covered the mishaps. On to the rest.

Overall, Netrebko has a radiant sound. It's a large, beautiful voice with a fast vibrato and an even tone. I've seen her in three stage roles (Gilda, Adina, Elivra), but this was my first time seeing her in concert. She's a very good actress and commands a stage with ease. But the concert format seems to make her nervous, and it shows. Maybe she has commented on this somewhere. She was at her best when she got in character. Perhaps her most disappointing number was Rachmaninov's sublime Zdes' khorosko. It's a peaceful, softly rapturous song. As Netrebko sang, she seemed to be considerably uneasy. Looking tense, she exerted tremendous effort, and singing this piece seemed to be painful and difficult for her. The soft high note (Da ty/"and you") came after much anxious thought. Compare Renee Fleming performance of this song (a live recording might be on the Tony Palmer DVD). Fleming seems to sing the entire thing in one breath. Netrebko, ever the performer, mesmerized the audience during the orchestral postlude, softly extending her arms. She was a sight to behold, as the sea of strings gently lapped behind her.

The first half contained two duets. As Manon in the Act III, Scene 7 duet (St. Sulpice), Netrebko was seductress extraordinaire, and her embrace with Villazon at the scene's conclusion set the room ablaze. She cherished the vocal line with luxurious portamentos. But, yet again, I have to wheel Fleming back in. Fleming sang the part to perfection at the Met on April 8, 2006, in her final complete performance of the role. Musically and dramatically, Netrebko didn't come anywhere close to the subtlely and depth of Fleming's interpretation. As I have said, one could write a dissertation on Fleming's use of dynamics alone in that performance last season. Yes, they are two different singers. But given that they're singing the same repertoire at the same time, it makes sense to compare them.

The duet from Tchaikovsky's Iolantha, however, was rather impressive. I love hearing music that's new to me, and there was much of it on this program. Featuring a prominent use of two harps, the scene contains lush Romantic writing, culminating in triumphant ending.

What a thrill to hear Violetta's Act I scene! And to hear two high E-flats! And to hear Villazon sing Alfredo's part from offstage! This was neat. But, again. The phrases that start on high D-flat, Netrebko starts an octave lower and does a leap up to them. To my ears, that doesn't work as an ornament. After hearing Angela Gheorghiu sing this to perfection at the Met last weekend, in a complete, total performance, I had a hard time with Netrebko's interpretation. Yes, she sang the notes, and she conveyed Violetta's struggle. But she had to think way too much about it. Ditto the aria from La Wally.

The two duets in the second part went over very well. Again, Netrebko and Villazon sang in character. The final duet from Luisa Fernanda closed with a remarkable moment: as Javier reached his hand out to touch Luisa Fernanda, whose back was to him, she raised her right hand and shook it in pained disapproval. It's the only thing I remember from the duet, and I'll never forget it.

O soava fanciulla, which closed the concert, was probably the best thing on the program. They walked off stage for the final Amors. That was magic. My mouth is watering for Netrebko's Mimi.

You may have noticed that I haven't said much about Villazon. Well, [to be continued...]

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Angela Gheorghiu's Violetta on March 24, 2007

I hope to write more later, but I need to point out Sieglinde's post on Angela Gheorghiu's Violetta last night at the Met. In a word, the post is a spot-on accurate account of the evening. My schedule is crazy at the moment, so I'm really glad I made a point to squeeze this one in. Instant standing ovation and all, it will surely become part of Met mythology.

I have some catching up to do around here. Sometime I'll share thoughts on: opening night of Ariodante at the Champs-Elysees in Paris; New York City Opera's La donna del lago; and two performances of the Boston Symphony's star-studded Fidelio.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Oops . . . I Did(n't Do) It Again

For the second time, I have missed a Matthias Goerne recital for which I had a ticket. The first time was in the summer of 2005, when I couldn't have been bothered to drive three hours through the wilderness to head to Tanglewood. (I also missed Deborah Voigt that summer, for the same reason, and also with a ticket in my possession.) This time, it's for a far less justifiable reason.

See, I use iCal as my diary. It works just fine, but there's a little problem when I fly back and forth across five time zones. Dates move around. I loaded Salle Pleyel's web site to see what was on the Goerne's program for tonight, only to discover that, yes, the recital was last night. As in, last %$#@!&* night!

So, I have never heard Goerne live, and at this rate, I never will.

I also missed the Barenboim/Pape (yes, Rene Pape) Boris Godunow at the Berlin Staatsoper on Thursday. I let my first-row seat go to waste because work tied me down here in Paris.

Other events I missed this season, despite having a ticket: the Opera Bastille's L'amour des trois oranges (missed for Kiri Te Kanawa in Reading the night before; couldn't have made it back in time); Ben Heppner (chose to hear Cecilia Bartoli instead); and Ian Bostridge (decided to remain in States in January).

My first brush with the sort of disappointment I'm experiencing right now occured in June 2005, when I missed Karita Mattila's Paris recital. I was jetlagged and my nap lasted three hours too long. It took my quite a while to recover from that loss. Closing night of Jenufa at the Met last month was extremely cathartic, and I think that's when I finally let it go.

I don't feel such a great loss right now. Yes, it would have been lovely to hear Goerne, but it could have been worse. And I've got the whole evening to work, so I'll make the most of it. As Beckett's Winnie would say, "Great mercies."

Friday, March 16, 2007

James Kotecki

This young political analyst and commentator is doing some amazing things. He observed that the 2008 presidential race will be the first in which online videos--specifically, YouTube--will have a role to play. Very early in the game, he started offering commentary to the candidates via responses to their videos on YouTube. After a couple months of puzzlement and frustration, during which Kotecki remarked that he had received not a single video response from a candidate, on March 16th Dennis Kucinich uploaded a direct reply to Kotecki's analysis of Kucinich's Youtube channel. In Kotecki's words, "Today, Congressman Dennis Kucinich made history as the first American Presidential candidate to engage in a real video dialog using YouTube."

Kotecki's substantive, accurate and concise commentary, combined with his corny but infectious sense of humor, makes him a refreshing and most welcome presence in the messy sea of online videos. It will be fun to watch him as the race continues.

Check him out:

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

La Juive at the Opera Bastille; Le Jardin des Voix; Trinidad; Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Susan Graham at the Garnier

Well, you just can't have everything. I love blogging, but I haven't been at it lately because I'm very much under the gun, a hostage to my work for the next few weeks. I wanted to check in to let you know that, and to quickly run through what's been going on lately.

I had no idea what I would think of Halévy's La Juive, presented at the Opera Bastille as a new production this season. The most popular opera in 19th-century France, it's rarely heard today. Well, thanks to effective stage direction and a striking set consisting of elaborate metal and lights, and, more importantly, to a stunning cast, I was absolutely floored. I will remember Neil Shicoff's wrenching performance of Éléazar's famous Act IV aria as one of the great moments that I have been lucky to witness. Even Anna Caterina Antonacci--a remarkable actress--couldn't quite match Shicoff's formidable presence. But Robert Lloyd, with his biting voice and intimidating appearance, certainly did. Brogni's final plea for his daughter's whereabouts elicited my ambivalent pity. I'll never forget the vengeful tone of Schicoff's ringing, stinging, burning "La voilà!" ("There she is!"), as red light flooded the stage (representing the boiling oil that kills her), framing Antonacci's graceful physique in the background while Lloyd collapsed in horror and grief. I also have to mention two other singers: John Osborn, who handled Léopold's cruel tessitura with ease and cut an attractive figure on stage; and the elegant Annick Massis, who was born to sing the high-flying lines of Eudoxie with princesslike grace.

This past weekend, I was lucky to catch three events. William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, currently on tour with the 2007 incarnation of Le Jardin des Voix, played two nights at Cite de la Musique. These young singers sang beautifully, and I strongly encourage you to see them if they come to your town.

Parc de la Villette featured the music of Trinidad, the country of my birth, as its theme for this past Sunday's program in the series Scenes d'Hiver. The 5.5-hour program was remarkably well organized, with an ingenious combination of performance, demonstration and lecture in the sexy venue Cabaret Sauvage. Unfortunately, I missed Calypso Rose's performance, as I had to leave to make it to a very different venue . . .

. . . the Palais Garnier, in time for Pierre-Laurent Aimard's recital featuring Susan Graham. Last month, I spotted Graham in the lobby of the Met at three performances in a row. At the last, my friend Sarah and I (as she recounts on her blog) spoke to her, and Graham mentioned that much of her material on the Aimard program will be new to her. She sang an extraordinary, little-known Ravel song cycle ("Nobody knows it," she said to me following the concert, when I mentioned that I'd never heard it) called Trois chansons madécasses. At its center is the chilling "Aoua!", a tale of the horror of colonialism, bearing the refrain, "Méfiez-vous des blancs"/"Beware of the white man" (I translate). Graham delivered a thrilling, no-holds-barred performance, altering her voice to sustain an admonitory tone.

Finally, I wanted to mention stage director Irina Brook, who found my blog and took the time to comment on my Giulio Cesare post. As I mention in my post, the opening night audience booed her off the stage. In her comment she reacts to this, and I especially appreciate what she says about putting her "heart and soul" into her work. I always try to keep this in mind in my commentary.