Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, in a production by Stephen Lawless, opened last night at the COC. Bel canto fans, canary fanciers and, just maybe, the rest of us should rush and see it. The singing is extraordinary. The cast is led by Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role and she gives, pretty much, a masterclass in bel canto technique. The control is extraordinary with gleaming top notes, exquisitely floated pianissimo, genuine trills and real emotion. Only a slight raspiness occasionally evident in the recits even hinted that this was a singer who was too sick to perform only a few days ago. Where to go next among some very fine performances? Bruce Sledge as Percy I think. This was thrilling tenor singing with passion, ringing high notes and wonderful musicality.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1983 production of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov for Covent Garden was restaged in 1990 by the Kirov in St. Petersburg with, Tarkovsky by this time no more, Stephen Lawless directing. It being Tarkovsky I had expectations of something really interesting (perhaps a four hour silent opera?) but it’s not really. In fact Tarkovsky seems to have been intimidated by the form or foiled by its technical limitations into producing a lavish but ultimately not very consequential production. The AMOP crowd would thoroughly approve I think.
Death in Venice is a curious opera. Based on a Thomas Mann novella, it concerns the aging writer Gustav von Aschenbch and his meditations on aging and art, as well as his obsession with a Polish boy encountered at his Venice hotel. Very little actually happens. Aschenbach has a series of encounters with quotidien characters such as the hotel manager and a hairdresser but mostly he observes and what we hear are a series of inner monologues. To work as theatre Aschenbach must capture our interest and our sympathy. If he doesn’t the piece can be incredibly boring and irritating.
I went back for a second look at Roberto Devereux at the COC last night. My original impressions pretty much stand but this time I remembered my opera glasses and was able to focus more on some of the details of this quite intricate production. I do still struggle a bit with the music. There’s this jaunty little tune (doo de doo doo doo doo dooo) that crops up all the time and often at the least emotionally appropriate moments and there’s the interminable overture and thank goodness for Lawless’ allegorical prelude because listening to it in front of a closed curtain would have been intolerable. Still, the drama was pretty intense and Sondra Radvanovsky has, if anything, grown into the role. The last scene, portraying the dying queen’s emotional disintegration is worth the price of admission. I also got more of a sense of Russell Braun and Allyson McHardy being in role and having developed some chemistry that was a bit absent on opening night.
There are four more peerformances between now and May 21st with Giuseppe Filianoti now replacing the excellent Leonardo Capalbo in the title role.
Maybe this should be titled “The bear and lemur freak show”. Anyway, no surprise to anyone who knows us or reads this blog, the classic 19th century Italian rep is not our sweet spot. Give us Handel or Berg or Britten over Rossini or Verdi (let alone Donizetti) most days. (We’ll make an exception for Don Carlos!). So, last night as the Four Seasons Centre erupted in frenzied applause I couldn’t really share the wild enthusiasm, fine as the performance was, but what startled me was when I heard a smug, female voice to my left say “Well that makes up for Hercules”. I restrained an urge to remonstrate violently (I’ve been taking lessons from Peter Sellars) but I did leave the theatre puzzled and a bit upset; a feeling shared by the lemur and subject of much conversation on the subway home.
Stephen Lawless’ production of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux opened last night at the Four Seasons Centre. It’s the last of the so called “Tudor Trilogy” and deals, ostensibly, with the last days of the reign of Elizabeth I. Events are loosely based on history. In this case the queen’s relationship with Robert Devereux, earl of Essex; his failure in Ireland, fall from grace, rebellion and execution for treason(1). Here the drama is turned into a simple story of royal jealousy featuring two fictional characters; The duke of Nottingham, Devereux’ bestie, and his wife Sara, confidante of the queen and in love with Devereux. It’s probably best seen as a logical continuation of the anti Tudor theme of the previous operas. There’s a bombastic, lustful monarch more concerned with his/her love life than affairs of state and there’s a scheming arch-Protestant minister responsible for the death of someone who doesn’t deserve for it for reasons of state (here the younger Cecil). The trouble here is that there is no obvious martyr. However one looks at it Devereux, brings about his own downfall.
The 1993 San Francisco Opera production of Strauss’ Capriccio is about as literal a take on the work as one could imagine. Stephen Lawless’ production sticks to the stage directions as laid down with an almost fetishistic fidelity. This is backed up by highly decorated costumes and sets firmly placed in a slightly over elaborated 1775. The traditionalists dream? I suppose so if one thinks that Strauss and Krauss meant the work to be taken literally. I don’t. This is an opera about an opera about opera. It begs to be deconstructed and the time and circumstances of its composition tend to reinforce the idea that all is not as it seems. To take it at face value is actually a bit absurd but that’s what happens here and the result is rather dull and unsatisfying. Continue reading →
The 2000 Metropolitan Opera recording of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is based on Zeffirelli’s 1990 production somewhat modified by director Stephen Lawless. It’s an entirely traditional “breeches and boobs” affair with baroque painted flats, tricorne hats etc. Blocking is mostly very basic with a lot of “park and bark” just livened up with a bit of prop twiddling. It works because it has a superb cast who sing and act (within the limits of the production) extremely well.
At the core is Bryn Terfel in the title role. You get what you expect; a big voice that can be scaled back to quite beautiful, menace, physical presence and a touch of humour when required. If you have seen his more recent Scarpia or Mephistopheles you know what to expect. He’s backed up Ferruccio Furlanetto in a rather broadly comic take on Leporello which, though I find it unsubtle, isn’t inappropriate in this production. The Terfel/Furlanetto relationship is very much master/servant. No ambiguity about two sides of one character here! Continue reading →