Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Be Back in Two Weeks

Sorry to leave you hanging in recent posts, but work is very intense and I will be away from this blog for two weeks. I'll wrap up reports on Thais and Boccanegra, and I'll also post on a few upcoming events: the new King Kong Makropulos Affair at the Bastille; the Met's new Mark Morris Orfeo; and Renee Fleming's concerts with Esa-Pekka Salonen (Strauss/Korngold in New York) and Michael Tilson Thomas (Vier letzte Lieder in Miami).

Thanks for reading! Peace.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Thaïs at the Châtelet: Wrap-up Post

Gerald Finley (Athanaël) and Renée Fleming (Thaïs) during curtain calls on April 21, 2007, following the last of three performances at the Châtelet in Paris.

I was lucky to attend all three performances last week, and I also attended a performance of Simon Boccanegra, starring Dmitri Hvorostovsky, at the Bastille. More later; see previous posts for some commentary on Thaïs.

Video: Gerald Finley (Athanaël) and Renée Fleming (Thaïs) following Act II of a concert performance of Massenet's April 21, 2007 at the Châtelet in Paris

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Radu Lupu at the Châtelet; more thoughts on Karita Mattila; more thoughts on Thaïs

I attend a number of orchestral concerts and instrumental recitals every season, but I seldom blog about them, as there's so little I can really say. I can speak about voice, as I know a little bit about singing. And vocal music, with its use of text and theater, is probably more accessible to non-musicians than instrumental music.

My mind always wanders at a piano recital. It's amazing sometimes. I start thinking about one thing, and a few minutes later my head is on something totally different, and I play a little game where I backtrack, attempting to uncover the sequence of thoughts, all the way back to the first. It's not that I'm not paying attention to the recital. It's strange. It's as if a piano recital were for me some bizarre invitation au voyage; I find myself in places I could never access otherwise.

As I noticed at Lupu's performance of Schumann at Daniel Barenboim's Mahler Festival at the same venue last fall, he's a quietly compelling musician. It was remarkable how he used four completely different styles in his program of Schubert, Debussy, Brahms and Beethoven. There were two stunningly beautiful and lyrical encores, but I have no idea what they were.

At some point during Lupu's recital--which, by the way, lasted about 2.5 hours--Mattila floated back into my head. I remembered the gentle, sad swaying of her first encore, Als die alte Mutter. She announced it with: "Everybody knows this, but just in case: it's Dvořák." She referred to it as her "favorite" and "sad." With an introduction like that, how could it not be even more memorable? It was a softly etched performance, deeply felt and staggeringly perfect.

In introducing the second encore, she said, "There is one Finnish composer . . . I hope you didn't get enough!" We all laughed out loud. She sang a Sibelius song, set to a Swedish text, as Swedish is the "second native language" in Finland. She said that in this song, "spring speeds up," and added, "which we all hope!" True, spring has yet to arrive in the Northeast. Martin Katz was translating the text for her, and she stopped him and said, "Why don't you!?", asking him to translate it for the audience. He did that and joked, "Swedish maven that I am," with "blond hair."

When Mattila emerged for her third encore, she picked up the large bouquet that she had placed on the piano during her first curtain call. She caressed it during the introduction, first two verses, and halfway through the third verse of Gershwin's "The Man I Love," sung not in a jazz voice, but in her full dramatic soprano. At that point, she slowly turned her back to us and placed the bouquet on the piano. Suddenly, she turned around, and sang fortissimo "Maybe Tuesday will be my good news day!" The house went insane. There was laughter (not from me, my jaw was on the floor), but not because she was silly. Rather, people had no idea how to react to such an outsize personality. I am under the impression that Mattila is one of those artists who becomes herself on stage. It's her authentic mode of existence. So what we saw wasn't over the top; it was simply who she is. She doesn't hold back; she gives you the real thing, with no apologies.

There's so much I could say about the Finnish songs, but I'll only say one thing, and this is for those of you who will attend her upcoming recitals on this tour. Watch out for "Kun païva paistaa" ("When the sun shines") by Oskar Merikanto. In my program I wrote: "I have never heard so much sunshine in a voice."

Still haven't recovered . . .


I noticed that for tonight's recital, the Châtelet didn't clear the set it had created for Thaïs. Even the screens for the supertitles remained intact. The set consists of a faux-stone frame and faux-stone walls at the rear and sides. A black curtain covered the stage tonight, and Lupu's piano stood on the stage's curve. For Thaïs, there is a raised black platform, rather high, and the backdrop is a screen lit to evoke the sky. It is a very beautiful and most welcome design. Indeed, I have to say that, even during the ballets, I did not miss the presence of sets, costumes and choreography. For one, the evocative score, with its lush orientalism, is so colorful and redolent of perfumes . . .

The orchestra, chorus, and cast were all dressed in black, except for the female soloists, such as this one:

Close-up of Renée Fleming (Thaïs), taken on Monday, April 16, 2007, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Please credit me and link to this post if you use this photo anywhere.

More observations to come following the remaining performances . . .

Monday, April 16, 2007

Renée Fleming and Gerald Finley in Thaïs at the Châtelet

Nicolas Courjal (Palémon), Gerald Finley (Athanaël), Renée Fleming (Thaïs), Christoph Eschenbach (conductor), and Philippe Aïche (violin solo) during curtain calls following the first of three performances at the Châtelet in Paris this week. I took this photo. Please credit me and link to this post if you use it anywhere.

Fleming was a scorching hot Thaïs in a sparkling green mermaid gown by Dior. More to come after I attend the remaining two performances this week.

I have to say, though, that I was sorry to learn that Barry Banks, originally scheduled to sing Nicias, was replaced.

I'll also say that Fleming and Finley were in fantastic form. (Yeah, alliteration, how about that?) Fleming elicited the first applause (lasting a really, really long time--she nodded to Eschenbach three times before he himself stopped applauding and raised the baton to resume the opera) of the evening with a luscious "Dis-moi que je suis belle." The desperation was palpable, and her voice was simply dripping with eroticism. Overall, there was so much to savor: rich and velvety yet bright, ringing tone; outstanding French; pianissimi galore; high notes that made me jump out of my seat. And that crescendo on her last note ("Je vois Dieu!"), well that was . . . heavenly. The standing ovation that greeted her first curtain call, well, that about summed it up.

Close-up of Renée Fleming (Thaïs), taken on Monday, April 16, 2007, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Please credit me and link to this post if you use this photo anywhere.

France Musique will broadcast the opera on June 9th at 7:30pm Paris time. This will be streamed on the web.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Karita Mattila sets Jordan Hall on fire


Karita Mattila in her dressing room at Jordan Hall on Friday night. I took this photo. Please credit me and link to this post if you use it anywhere.

The brilliant Martin Katz strummed the opening chords of Samuel Barber's wonderful Hermit Songs . . . her voice entered the beautiful and intimate hall . . . well, that moment was like the first touch with a great lover. That flutter.

I'm back in Paris, and I cannot stop thinking about Karita Mattila's spellbinding recital in Boston on Friday night. I was extremely lucky to have an amazing seat--five rows back and directly across from Mattila. Jeremy Eichler offers an accurate review of the recital, but I need to underline Mattila's staggering artistry and outsize presence. Her huge, refulgent voice. Those delicate crescendos. Those dances!

But really, who am I kidding? I'm not up to the task. As I told my friend that night, Mattila is a great argument for why live performances need to be experienced, well, live. I can only sketch, badly, that which can actually be articulated. A performer like Mattila resonates on so many levels, some so profound that the body rings with the sensations for days, even weeks. It was probably a blessing that I saw Eugene Onegin the evening of the final performance of Jenufa, a matinee, because I may very well have obsessed to death about it. (I ended up obsessing about Onegin, which is a far tamer thing.) The lingering question: how on earth will I handle Mattila's Salome? At least Jenufa has a happy ending . . .

I need to mention that she looked stunning. She showed off her svelte body in two boldly form-fitting gowns, one in off white with black beads and embroidery, accented with white diamond jewelry, the other in black--with a slit on each side--decorated with copper beads and accented with jewels of a similar smokey color. I have never seen a sexier a woman on stage.

What's also amazing is her genuine humility. That just can't be faked. I noticed that she seemed genuinely surprised and touched when the audience applauded after the first group of Finnish songs, two songs by Toivo Kuula. She later said that she didn't think we would applaud so early, and that we have been so generous. Speaking in the pause between the Oskar Merikanto and Leevi Madetoja groups, she said that she thought that this would be the first point at which we would applaud (just after "Kun päivä paistaa", a glorious piece that ends triumphantly). She talked a bit and found herself rambling, and poked fun at herself ("I should just sing!"), eventually saying, "And now I need a glass of water!", but decided, "I will be brave." Backstage she mentioned to a young singer that she was so moved by the audience's warm response. I believe that this was the first performance of her brief US recital tour, which she will take to New York's Carnegie Hall on Wednesday.


Also recently attended: Andrea Chenier (outstanding) and Die Aegyptische Helena (inscrutable, but worth it for the aria) at the Met; Flavio (a must-see) at City Opera.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Giulio Cesare in Egitto opens at the Met; Jessye Norman in Paris; Robert Wilson's staging of Bach's Le passion selon Saint Jean

The big news last night was, of course, Ruth Ann Swenson, who so publicly expressed her discontent with Peter Gelb, and his beef with her, here. Sieglinde, once again, provides insightful commentary. It's all a bunch of drama, and, really, I find myself not caring one way or the other. It's showbusiness. Last night, though, it was clear that the audience was with her all the way. Huge cheers greeted the end of her arias, and the entire house rose to its feet when she emerged for her curtain call. Confetti (well, these people didn't bother to shred the pages, they just dropped them whole) rained down and bravas were shouted. She was moved to tears. She pointed at the whole audience and at the confetti-throwers.

She sang very well last night, though her top often sounded pinched. She was a lively, engaging presence on stage, and she evoked pathos during the laments.

Alice Coote, as was the case in Paris, was a revelation as Sesto. Her ornaments in this production are very different. They are subdued and less organic.

I didn't know that Michael Maniaci had been cast as Nireno for his Met debut! What a gorgeous voice and magnetic stage presence!

Patricia Bardon (Cordelia) and Lawrence Zazzo (Tolomeo) also made their Met debuts.

David Daniels was in top form last night. I heard him in this role in Miami seven years ago. His timbre has darkened, but it remains beautiful. His powerful voice and solid technique make an excellent case for the countertenor voice in general, and for a countertenor in this role specifically. Also, he's quite a flamboyant Caesar, and I enjoy watching him flip his cape. I preferred Andreas Scholl's Bertarido, but Daniels is a far superior Cesare.

On March 30, I attended Jessye Norman's stunning all-French program at Salle Pleyel in Paris. This took place couple night after the Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon concert, and I remember thinking, "Man, Jessye is the real thing." It doesn't matter that she doesn't wear Dior or Westwood, or that her gold flat shoes (with a royal blue dress?) suspiciously resemble some of the merchandise at Payless. Or that she wipes the sweat from her nose. Every note was in place, every word perfect. And I have never witnessed a brighter, more inviting smile. The audience went absolutely crazy for her. I'll never forget her "I Love Paris" (last encore) which she began softly, sitting on a piano stool. Midsong she rose and moved stage left while increasing the weight and volume, and she ended on a loud, gleaming, climactic high note, held for an eternity, that threated to blow off the roof. A hundred or two ecstatic audience members remained in the hall long after she had taken her final curtain call. They cheered, "Jessye! Jessye!", hoping she would return. After about ten minutes, a staff member emerged to say that, um, she ain't coming back.

If you ever have a chance to hear Norman, don't miss it for anything.

I also attended two performances of Robert Wilson's staging of Bach's Saint John's Passion at the Châtelet. It looks pretty much like the Met Lohengrin, to be honest. The lighting is really cool. And it was priceless to see Andreas Scholl in in a purple toga and geisha-like wig, wearing black eyeliner and purple eyeshadow. As I noticed last fall at his Paris performances as Giulio Cesare and his Bach concert in London, his voice sounds considerably underpowered. I'm not sure what happened, because his Bertarido at the Met last spring was nothing short of stunning.