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Archive for April, 2008

James Robinson’ s production of Mozart’ s Abduction from the Seraglio for the Boston Lyric Opera has the action transferred to a train trip in the Orient Express, depicted as three wagons that move lengthwise according to each scene. In this concept, the Pasha Selim is a dandy, Blondchen is self-interested and smokes a lot and Osmin… well, Osmin resists updating and stays more or less like he usually is. Listening to the text translated to English has less to do with the feeling of musical theater than the slapstick comedy touches. Actually, there are many imaginative ideas going on there and the singers/actors generally cope well with the stage director’ s demands, which is mostly attentive to the text in order to avoid mismatch between what we see and what the text says. As for the translation, the flowing nature of English language robs a great deal of the cacophonic patter explored by Mozart in this Singspiel – Osmin and Blondchen’ s duet is the main victim of that.

Considering that we were probably hearing a pick-up band, conductor Willie Anthony Waters did a good job on playing safe and choosing considerate tempi in order to achieve clarity and finish. The results were hardly illuminating, but decent and unobtrusive. He is also a most attentive maestro for singers, helping them through difficult passages – something to be cherished considered the limits of his cast.

Mary Dunleavy has sung bel canto roles at the Metropolitan Opera House, but from what I could see today hers is rather a light coloratura struggling through a role helplessly heavy for her. The basic sound is remniscent of Natalie Dessay’s, except that she is strained when required to sing anything above high c (a liability in this role), her runs have their dangerous moments and she cannot float a mezza voce to save her life. Although she is a musicianly and sensitive artist, her singing makes one realize how difficult the role of Konstanze is. I understand that at this stage of her career, she must take risks to continue on the limelight, but heavy usages as this one cannot be healthy. Her Blondchen, Amanda Pabyan, is in the beginning of her career, but her grainy and metallic soprano sound distinctively less pleasant and young-sounding, in spite of a likeable personality and theatrical commitment. Norman Reinhardt’ s Belmonte was far more accomplished – he is a stylish Mozartian with more than enough technique to deal with the tricky writing Mozart reserved him. It is not the dulcet voice one expects to hear in this role, though. Timothy Oliver is a congenial Pedrillo, but the heroic patches of Frisch zum Kampfe test him. My first impression of David M. Cushing’ s bass is that it seriously lack focus. It is a sizeable and dark enough instrument and he is more precise with his divisions than many a famous singer recorded in studios on the other hand. I was going to say he is a bit short in the impossibly lower end of his range – but that is a sin he shares with almost everyone else, isn’t it?

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Although I cannot call myself a Berliozian (but rather the opposite of that), I couldn’ t help checking the Boston Symphony Orchestra’ s concert with the first part of Berlioz’ s gigantic rarely performed opera Les Troyens. I have to say that my first positive experience with that work involved James Levine’ s DVD from the Metropolitan Opera in spite of the exotic (if impressive) cast and seeing that he would conduct the work again tonight was the decisive element to make me buy my ticket. As in his New York performance with Jessye Norman and Tatiana Troyanos, Levine resisted the temptation of presenting too turgid a view of this pseudo-classic work.  On his hand, Les Troyens is a matter of Musikdrama, often shown in almost late-Romantic intensity – and that’ s all for the better.  In that sense, the BSO was the main feature of this concert. This orchestra’ s lush, full yet light sonorities never get in the way of soloists and chorus and also involve the necessary clarity that ensure that Berlioz’ s woodwind effects hit home as they should. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus also deserve compliments for their powerful yet disciplined contribution.

Levine has the habit of seating his orchestra in a rather exotic manner, which might be effective to balance the sound of violas with the remaining strings. However, I will never be convinced that having the soloists standing in the end of the orchestra right in front of the chorus is a reasonable idea. In the three times I could witness this arrangement, it has always been perverse to singers, who seem understandably nervous having to take pride of place in the sound picture when they are not in the front of the orchestra. Especially when you have lightweight soloists.

Taking the crucial role of Cassandra, Yvonne Naef displayed an exquisite middle-weight mezzo-soprano that makes me think of another Yvonne – Minton – although the Australian singer had a brighter edge to her sound. I am used to more incisive and intense portrayals of this role and I took some time to understand that it was not only a sensible but a sensitive idea for Naef to opt for a more feminine and vulnerable approach, since her creamy sensuous voice was a bit stretched by the more exposed top notes and tested by having to sing over a full chorus. That said, no ugly sound came out of her throat during the whole evening, not to mention that her diction is crystalline and her phrasing is musicianly and elegant.

Announced to be indisposed, Dwayne Croft still could produce a most praiseworthy performance. His dark baritone is supple enough for Berliozian phrasing and only the occasional bleached out mezza voce and also some coughing showed that this reliable singer was indeed ill. Curiously, it was Marcello Giordani who seemed not to be in his best shape. He was entirely grey-toned during the first act and regaining the brightness of his sound for the second act did not prevent the sensation of effort.

In the whole, Levine’s theatrical approach aided by the exquisite orchestral playing and the unconventional yet touching Cassandre of Yvonne Naef made me think I would gladly listen to the second part after a 20 min intermission (alas, this will be possibly only for those who – unlike me –  will be in Boston on May 4th), even if I have doubts about Giordani’ s Aeneas right when he has a lot to sing and most of all about Anne Sofie Von Otter’ s Dido, especially placed behind the orchestra. Last time I saw her, Levine was the conductor who chose to seat her like that in the Gasteig Concert Hall for Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and I can tell you she had a bad time trying to be heard from the remote spot on stage reserved for her.

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Just to say that a review of Eugen Jochum’s Così Fan’ Tutte on DG has been added to re: opera (please find the link on the right of the page).

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I have retouched the discography of Mozart’s Don Giovanni on the re:opera page (the link is on the right) and added comments of the DVDs from Zürich (Welser-Möst) and Madrid (Victor Pablo Pérez).

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