Kevin Newbury’s production of Bellini’s Norma made it to Toronto via San Francisco, Barcelona and Chicago with Sondra Radvanovsky singing the title role (at least some of the time) in all four cities. It was recorded for DVD and Blu-ray at the Liceu in Barcelona in 2015. Watching the DVD didn’t change my opinion of the production. Here’s what I said about it on opening night in Toronto:
Kevin Newbury’s production is perhaps best described as serviceable. I have seen various rather desperate efforts made to draw deep meaning from it but I really don’t think there is any. That said, it looks pretty decent and is efficient. The single set allows seamless transitions between scenes which is a huge plus. So, what does it look like? It’s basically a sort of cross between a barn and a temple with a back wall that can raised or moved out of the way to expose the druids’ sacred forest. There’s also a sort of two level cart thing which characters ascend when they have something especially important to sing. Costumes were said to have been inspired by Game of Thrones; animal skins, leather, tattoos (which actually don’t really read except up very close), flowing robes. Norma herself appears to be styled, somewhat oddly, on a Klingon drag queen. The lighting is effective and there are some effective pyrotechnics at the end. All in all a pretty good frame for the story and the singing.
There did seem to be far fewer pyrotechnics in the Barcelona staging though (either that or the video direction pretty much ignores them).
There may be cheerful songs in Russian but I’m not sure I have ever heard one. Certainly there were none on offer at the Four Seasons Centre today when Ekaterina Gubanova and Rachel Andrist offered up a recital of Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky works. There’s a reason why one of three Russian words I can recognize is “Schmert”. Depressing as the texts may have been these were truly wonderful performances. Gubanova has a dark, very Slavic colour though she can brighten it when she chooses and she’s utterly fearless singing with great passion and, yes, there was a high C in there.
I was back at the Four Seasons Centre last night for another look at Duke Bluebeard’s Castle or, perhaps more accurately, another listen. I really enjoyed the production again and I don’t have much to add to my earlier review. It was the music that had much more impact this time. I often find that with “modern” scores I get much more out of them on a second listening and that was true here. First time round I felt so battered by the loud bits, especially the section where the fifth door (Bluebeard’s empire) is opened with it’s extra brass and JohnWilliams on acid crescendos, that my brain somewhat discounted the quieter bits. Last night I was struck mainly by the meditative nature of much of the music. The influence of Débussy, especially Pelléas et Mélisande, seems clear. The little repeating figures for the woodwinds; there’s one that’s usually given (I think) to the flutes and or oboes) and another descending figure in the bassoons, are quite haunting. It’s really quite lovely when it’s not being brutal.
I also appreciated the relationship between Bluebeard and Judith more. This isn’t Perreault’s tale of a brute and an innocent. Gubanova’s rather fierce Judith is running the show. Maybe there is an element of hubris in this Judith. Relyea’s Duke by contrast is almost an observer and commentator; acquiescing in what must be. Some of this, of course, is in the libretto. Bluebeard isn’t killed and Judith shares the fate, whatever it is, of the other wives. But here she seems to do so willingly.
Robert Lepage’s 1993 double bill production of Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Schoenberg’s Erwartung was the iconic director’s first foray into opera and it has been argued tht it put the COC “on the map” as a serious international opera company. It was revived last night with François Racine directing.
The Canadian Opera Company has just announced the 14/15 line up for the free lunchtime (mostly) concerts in the very beautiful Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre. Highlights, from my point of view, include recitals by Jane Archibald, Krisztina Szabó, Lauren Segal, Colin Ainsworth, Joshua Hopkins, Robert Gleadow, Barbara Hannigan and Ekaterina Gubanova. There will also be ten concerts by the Ensemble Studio plus the Quilico competition. The Canadian Art Song Project will showcase Allyson McHardy in a new song cycle by Marjan Mozetich. There’s also a themed series of concerts to commemorate anniversaries of the First and Second World Wars, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. This will comprise six concerts drawn from the Vocal, Chamber Music and Piano Virtuoso programs.
Today’s Metropolitan Opera “Live in HD” broadcast was Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. I was not overly impressed although whether this was a result of issues associated with the broadcast or what was happening in the house I’m not entirely sure. One issue was that, again, the cinema was forcing its sound system well past the point at which it could consistently and accurately reproduce music. It may be OK for car chases and explosions but they need to throttle the volume back for the opera broadcasts. I’m guessing that they could drop the sound 6dB and still be louder than it would sound in the house. Driving the speakers and amps at 25% of the pressure level they are currently flogging them at would surely reduce the harmonic distortion. This was particularly an issue because this was very “heavy” Donizetti. I don’t know the work well enough to know whether it has to be done this way but the Met cast large voices in almost all the major roles and Marco Amiliato in the pit seemed to be demanding a very loud and strident sound from the orchestra. It was quite dramatic but emphatically not bel canto; more like forte shouto really. The only singer who sounded idiomatic to me was Tamara Mumford as the page, Smeaton. It did get better after the interval and the big duet between Anna (Anna Netrebko) and Giovanna Seymour (Ekaterina Gubanova) was really quite affecting. Also as far as I could tell Netrebko was singing really well in the “mad scene” (which really isn’t all that mad as these things go) but unfortunately the person in the seat behind me was having extremely audible “gastric distress” and both the lemur and I were having the hardest time not dissolving into giggles during perhaps the most solemn part of the opera. And I thought the coughing at the Four Seasons Centre was bad.