Thursday, June 21, 2007

Have a great summer, everybody!

Julia Kleiter, Morten Frank Larsen, and Renee Fleming following a performance of "Arabella" at the Zurich Opera, June 16, 2007. Please link to this blog if you decide to use this photo anywhere.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

About-face: Closing night of Lohengrin at the Bastille

OK, so, I take back what I said about Mireille Delunsch's Elsa. Heard in excellent form last night, she's an outstanding Elsa. Her voice is creamy yet has a steely strength that's ideal for the part's wickedly high tessitura. At certain moments, I fantasized about hearing that voice sing Salome. Her solid acting also moved me. She was every inch the serene blonde girl dreaming about her savior. In the third act, plagued by doubt, she became frantically unhinged, running upstage into the darkness armed with a dim flame, imagining the arrival of the swan to take away her lover and savior.

There are few things as amazing as Ben Heppner on a good night. His clarion, ringing sound, and his musical, intelligent phrasing melt my heart. Last night he sang with relative ease, showing little of the strain that was in full display at the performance I attended last week.

It occurred to me that Ortrud has so very little to sing in the first act, and yet Waltraud Meier seemed to dominate the crowded stage. Her dramatic presence was so powerful that when she emerged on the balcony, at the end of the second act, to glare at Lohengrin and Elsa, standing hand in hand on the opposite balcony, I nearly jumped out of my seat. The expression on her face was so evil that if she had shot me a glance, I swear I would have turned to stone.

The orchestra played splendidly. The trouble in the strings last week was not present last night. I greatly admire the vitality and spontaneity of Gergiev's reading of the score.

The cast was exuberant during multiple curtain calls, and the sold-out crowd was on its feet. I heard very few people around me speaking French; Wagnerites had traveled from all over to witness this star-studded production.

One thing about the staging: last week, I was puzzled that Elsa's brother planted a sapling at the very end of the opera. But last night it made sense. He had been anointed by a knight of the grail, who had emerged from the lush forest symbolic of his faraway land. The planting of a tree in the barren, war-torn wasteland of Brabant is a symbol of hope. As the tree grows and flourishes, so will he. Meier pointed at him and leaned over the balcony, extending her fingers like talons. But she couldn't reach him; evil had been conquered.

On my way to the Bastille, I saw a poster in the Luxembourg RER station, and boy am I glad I did, because I have just ordered a ticket to this:

What luck! Just two days before I leave Paris, Osvaldo Golijov will conduct, at the Festival de St-Denis, the French premiere of Ayre with Dawn Upshaw, Gustavo Santaolalla, and the Andalucian Dogs! What a send-off...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Lohengrin in Paris; Trittico at the Met; 110 in the Shade on Broadway

OK, so a bit of catching up. The highlight of the Met's Trittico (seen on closing night at the Met, with an audience that included Joseph Volpe in the General Manager's box), for me, was the wrenching final scene of Suor Angelica, exquisitely sung by the lustrous Barbara Frittoli. The idea of doing something that can't be undone, and begging for forgiveness--it's heartbreaking. Everyone was in tears. Some were practically bawling. Tissues were passed around. I first saw this opera in Miami some ten years ago. Diana Soviero, one of the great Angelicas, sang that night. Hearing the opera revived the memories of that great performance.

Earlier that day, I caught the matinee of Roundabout's revival of 110 in the Shade. I enjoyed every minute. I really don't care that it's not a great musical. There are no words for Audra McDonald's talents. I got chills when she first sang, with those little maybes. That preternaturally beautiful voice. It was a privilege to see pour her whole self into the part. She cried in more than one scene. Yes, her father's recent tragedy was on my mind. I reflected on what she said in an interview ("The show keeps me going") and the performance took on even more weight. At the stage door, she was nothing but gracious, signing autographs and posing for photos. Someone commented on her tears during the show, and she replied that it's an emotional role for her. There was a certain sadness in her eyes that I'll never forget. Sadness, but she looked each of us right in the eye and smiled, as if we were all that mattered in that moment. That mutual sense of gratitude is so precious.

Lizzie's story resonates with me on so many levels. It's too personal for the limits of this blog, so I'll leave it at that. What I will say is that I wholeheartedly embrace the "be yourself" message, which may be trite, but it's absolutely true.

I have an update on the Matthias Goerne saga (I missed him at Tanglewood in 2005 and in Paris this past April). Well, I bought a ticket for his Philadelphia recital, hoping to catch that program that I'd missed in Paris, but I missed Philly too. Work called. His wasn't the only performance I missed. I remained in the States and missed Rufus Wainwright's Paris concert. Because I stayed near school, I also missed the Met Orchestra's concert and Spring Awakening (I gave up my front-row-center seat). But such is life. I'll see Awakening next month.

Last night I was front-row-center, this time at the Bastille for Lohengrin with Ben Heppner, Mireille Delunsch, and Waltraud Meier, under Valery Gergiev. Gergiev took the podium sixteen minutes after the scheduled curtain. The audience had become rowdy, booing and hissing. He was greeted with sparse, reluctant applause. He conducted a riveting performance. There was some weakness in the strings, but the brass sounded fantastic.

Heppner had some vocal trouble, cracking twice and Act II and sounding as if he were coming apart at the seams. Before Act III, it was announced that he had taken ill but would continue. He sounded fine in Act III--In fernem Land was stunning, with ringing high notes and a beautiful dramatic arc. It was Delunsch who suffered in Act III, sounding strained and even cracking once or twice. With the exception of occasional fine moments, I found Delunsch to be miscast, her voice lacking the weight for this rather heavy part. She sang the notes (though she transposed the high note at the climactic moment when Elsa asks Lohengrin his name), but compromised the beauty of her tone. It's a strange role, because Elsa must sound pure and angelic, but make no mistake, it's a dramatic soprano role. Anyway, I had to compare her Elsa with Karita Mattila's stunning performance at the Met in May 2006, and, really, few could live up to that. I should also say that Klaus Florian Vogt, also heard at the Met, strikes me as a far more suitable Lohengrin than Heppner. Heppner's voice simply does not seem comfortable in the part. I will see how he does on closing night next week.

Waltraud Meier stole the show as Ortrud. Whenever she was on stage, it was impossible not to look at her. She was in excellent form and held back none of the dazzling power of her voice. Her two entrances on the set's right balcony (ending of Acts II and III) inspired awe. I will never forget the menacing look on her face as she glowered at the couple...

The staging of this revival worked. I have no idea what it's supposed to represent, but it looks like a random war zone in the 20th century. What I loved was Lohengrin's entrance. A large door opens in the rear, and we see a lush forest and a medieval knight in shining armor. The contrast between the abysmal, hopeless setting of the "kingdom" and the magical realm of the swan-knight was moving and effective. It really is a surprise to everyone that Elsa's dream knight actually appears, and Carsen's idea attempts to double that effect. It also helps to explain why Ortrud is able to persuade Elsa to doubt the knight's origins--I mean, he really seemed to come out of a fairy tale.

That's all for now--thanks to Sarah for encouraging me to post!