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Archive for March, 2005

In the Met’s old and yet still beautiful production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, the Marschallin’s elegant and unexaggerated boudoir and Faninal’s white palace with hundreds of windows for Vienna to watch inside are spetacular as they should be. Only the 3rd act Wirthaus looks a bit confusing, since the limits between the room and the corridor are not entirely clear. The same cannot be sad of Donald Runnicles’ conducting, which is clarity itself. The second act and especially the third act were performed in an unusually euphonious manner in a sense of organization and continuity which would win the heart even of the most suspicious Straussian. To say the truth, some moments needed a more distinctive orchestral sound to work to perfection, such as the delivery of the silver rose, which ideally requires richer but still transparent sonorities. Maybe divided violins were not the best idea for that big venue… However, after a promising haunting pianissimo ending to act I, the orchestra delivered an exciting structurally clear prelude to act III (despite some blunder in the brass section) and an exquisite final trio, truly powerful in its rising tension. It is also remarkable the naturalness with which Runnicles finds the dance rhythms even in the most structurally complex scenes.

Angela Denoke’s Marschallin is an evidence that the golden age of Straussian singing is not over. Her blond slim graceful figure and playfulness have something of Schwarzkopf, although she eschews all kind of exaggeration. Her reedy floating full-bodied tone has something of Janowitz, although there is nothing cool and distant about her. The warm feminine low register and appealing mezza voce have something of Crespin, although she is entirely comfortable with her top register. However, in spite of all comparison, she was pretty much herself: a Marschallin whose appetite for life thinly disguises a highly sensitive nature that learned never to indulge in gloominess. Glücklich ist der vergißt… could be this Marschallin’s motto. Her crystal-clear diction, the natural delivery of her native language, allied to a wide tonal palette, projected her highly expressive portrayal vividly into the vast auditorium with no vocal constraint. Being a highly accomplished singing actress, her monologue and ensuing duet with Octavian scored so many points in subtle inflection and the sheer beauty of tone was so beguiling that even a non-German speaking person in the audience would take her slightest point. Her floating full pianissimi made for a particularly touching launching of the final trio. If one would like to find any criticism about this exquisite performance, that would be a certain flutter in her vocal production, especially in high notes from mezzo forte on, probably due to the frequentation of dramatic roles. Let us hope that her sucess in the part of the Feldmarschallin will mark the beguinning of a new phase in her career dedicated to Romantic German lyric roles, taylor made for her voice and personality.

Probably not in her best form, Susan Graham displayed a rather bleached out tone above mezzo forte and the top notes took a second or two to blossom, with the exception of her appealing mezza voce singing. In act III, she seemed to be in better shape and ended the opera with a stream of velvety floating sounds. She is a committed staged performer, but her Octavian is too much of a tomboy to be really convincing – a fault shared by most singers in this part (the notable exception being the young aristocrat played by Sena Jurinac in the video from Salzburg).

It seems Lyubov Petrova has recently delivered a baby and that may explain a certain lack of radiance in her voice. She could float her tone all right in the delivery of the rose, but in a rather unexceptional manner. A certain rattling in her vocal production and the China doll looks gave her old-fashioned charm, but the necessary breathtaking vulnerability and loveliness – even more so when the Marschallin displays such a beautiful voice – were still missing . All in all, she was a stylish Sophie and I would like to see her under better conditions.

Peter Rose’s bass is entirely functional for Ochs – the tone is firm and rich and he has the low notes. Nevertheless, the voice is a couple sizes too small for the Met. His Baron was refreshingly young sounding and he could find the right balance for the rustic aristocratic devised by Hofmannsthal.

Håkan Hagegård’s straightforwardness as Faninal was also most welcome – and his solid clear baritone is still a pleasure to listen to. Matthew Polenzani had to force his otherwise dulcet tone for the Italian tenor aria. Unfortunately, Wendy White was rather small-voiced for Annina.

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Although Don Carlo has been an opera often staged by the main opera houses in the world these days, few theatres could boast to cast it with such a starry group of singers as the Met, especially in the rarer Italian five act version. When the curtains open at the Fontaineblau’s scene, the Romantic Kaspar David Friedrich-like images sound promising indeed, despite some not entirely welcome coziness of atmosphere. However, the next scenes are bureaucratically staged and never did the auto-da-fé look so comfortable to look at – maybe Republican sensibilities would rather avoid the burning of the heathen in front of the audience… The sense of routine would not be improved by Fabio Luisi’s highly irregular conducting. He showed slack control over his forces: the orchestral phrasing was often imprecise and most ensembles sounded disjointed. The auto-da-fé was also from the musical point of view a non event – undisciplined choir and brass section would not help him anyway. Acts IV and V showed a noticeable improvement, also because the singers seemed to reach their best form then.

Although Sondra Radvanovsky’s firm creamy soprano has some artifficialites in order to make for a certain  immaturity in this repertoire, she more than measured up to the big moments, especially a vocally immaculate act V, crowned by unforgettably sunlit pianissimo singing. The same cannot unfortunately be said of Violeta Urmana’s Eboli. Of course this favourite singer displayed her customary musicianship and rock-solid technique, proving to have one of the most perfectly homogeneous mezzos ever to appear in this repertoire. However, the kind of vocal upfront impact required by Verdian writing is incompatible to her vocalisation and the results were a bit dull. Her two arias were too calculated to produce the right effect, although on stage her charisma and star attitude often overshadowed Radvanosky’s more generalized acting.

Richard Margison’s tenor is natural and quite pleasant, but he seemed to be short of top notes that evening, having to resort to some forcing and squeezing to get up there. His looks were not one would call physique du rôle, but his unexaggeration is more than welcome. As to Dwayne Croft, his baritone developed to be smoother and darker than it used to be and he sang with consistent legato throughout. It is a pity that his “macho” acting is so unintentionally comic that it made me think of Monthy Python movies. Although Ferruccio Furlanetto’s voice is not as rounded and smooth as it used to be in Karajan’s days, he is still a commanding Filippo, offering crusty delivery of the text and producing consistently firm tone. His sensitive rendition of his great aria is still exemplary in its dramatic accuracy. As for Paata Burchuladze’s Inquisitore, yes, it is a very powerful voice, but quite wobbly and his Italian is incomprehensible. Finally, Vitalij Kowaljow, taking the role of the friar, is a name to keep and Olga Makarina has the right pearly tone for the Voice from Heaven.

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