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Archive for January, 2013

Although this is my second experience with the  production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro from Prague’s National Theatre, you won’t find here in this blog any description of the first time, when I saw it in the Estates Theatre in 2011, because I found it nothing but a tourist trap for those who want to see the theatre where Mozart premièred Don Giovanni. Why then have I decided to give it a second try? First, on their Japanese tour, they would probably show their A-team; second, I was curious about their guest prima donna; but ultimately because January 14th was a holiday with a discouraging weather forecast.

It must be said that the sets seem to have been dusted prior to the shipping to Japan – I had the impression some pieces of furniture are new (maybe borrowed in Japan?), but I might be wrong. Maybe the fact that the whole scenery wasn’t wobbly as back in Prague is the answer for the positive impression, who knows? This cast too is stronger in the acting department (although there is not really much direction to speak of). In Prague, there was an interesting conductor (Tomas Netopil) that offered a strong performance in what regards the contribution of the orchestra. Here we had a competent Jan Chalupecky, whose kapellmeisterlich reliability did not involve a rich, clear or polished orchestral sound. Maybe he had to make do with the B-team this evening. As it was, the conducting duties involved not making it difficult for the singers while keeping the principles of Mozartian style in view – within these goals, the performance was quite successful, if you don’t expect excellency.

When it comes to the cast, it is hard to believe that a country with such tradition of important singers (Emmy Destinn, Karel Burian, Maria Jeritza, Jarmila Novotná, Beno Blachut, Milada Subrtová and, to give some “new names”, Magdalena Kozená and Martina Janková) cannot produce – from the roster of its own National Theatre – a more impressive Mozartian cast than this (let’s not speak of that from 2011…). I have written that the core of any performance of Le Nozze di Figaro is the soprano in the role of Susanna. Back in Prague, we had a very decent one (really superior to her colleagues), but this evening we had even better: the young Jana Sibera is a very promising singer whose sweetly shimmering, quicksilvery soprano is entirely at home in Mozart. Her soaring Deh vieni, non tardar redeemed this afternoon. She is also a very good actress who never forget that Susanna is just a servant in the house – a pretty one with almost ingenuous playfulness, who cannot hide her excitement for taking part in her masters’ whimsical marital games. Michaela Kapustová’s Cherubino had her moments, but she is unfortunately too often careless for comfort. The very young singer taking the role of the Count still has an undeveloped voice – an interesting one, still green I am afraid – but the Figaro (the one survivor from the 2011 cast) who had yet to master his high register and to follow the conductor has become helplessly nasal-toned and still lags behind or rushes ahead the beat. And there is Isabel Rey’s Countess. Singers often say that one should always have a Mozartian role now and then to see what has gone wrong and to fix it. This Spanish soprano used to be a very commendable Mozart singer – as one can see in Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s DVDs of Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni from Zürich- but she seems to have gone really astray. In her defense, one could say that she rises up to her high register more easily than some famous Countesses (she has sung her own high notes instead of delegating them to Susanna, for strenuous results though), but other than this, there was very little to beguile the ears this afternoon. I do hope that this Mozartian excursion help her to find her way back.

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Thanks to James Levine’s invaluable advocacy, the Metropolitan Opera House has probably the world record in of performances of La Clemenza di Tito, the culmination of the opera seria genre, Mozart’s black pearl where tradition is reviewed and new perspective are hinted at. This is reason enough to find interest in every revival of this work in the Lincoln Center’s opera house, where casts of indisputable glamor have been assembled for 30 years. “Revival” is no random word here – since the 1984 house première, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production has been on duty. I myself saw it in 2008 and wondered then if it would still be around in the near future. It has been a positive surprise to found it interestingly revamped five years later.

Spielleiter Peter McClintock deserves credit for reading the libretto anew and bring to the fore so many interesting aspects in the text that made characters far more three-dimensional than in the past. Even for someone who knows this almost by heart, I could find food for thought here. Two examples:

a) I have always thought that Non più di fiori is some sort of twisted mad scene. Normally, a character would fantasize in such a moment about a happy ending that is not going to happen;  Vitellia is, however, no victim – so she fantasizes about the tragic ending that is not going to happen, the final section of her rondo some kind of acute episode of infantilization, in which she lulls herself into being passive after being dangerously active. Here, Vitellia is a spoiled brat from moment one and her childish narcissism makes the volte-face a logical conclusion – as she said, she made it all for love (for Tito), the revenge plot and also its final confession. A brilliant piece of casting made it easy to see all that.

b) Seductive as Vitellia might be, it had never struck me before today that nobody would be talked into a plot like that if he had not fantasized about it himself before – Vitellia being the liberating externalization of his suppressed desire of dragging Tito’s moral excellence to the mud. Here Tito appears to be carefree and content in the company of Sesto and Annio, who seem to be ill-at-ease near the Emperor, rather indulging him than enjoying being there. When Tito say things like “By marrying your sister, I’ll shorten the infinite gap set by the gods between you and me”, you could almost hear the “what a jerk…” in Sesto’s thoughts. The surprise here is that, when these two friends finally can express their feelings without pretty words, this is the moment when they discover how important they are to each other, an especially sad discover for Tito, whose main longing had always been to find someone to whom he could talk “at eye level”. Here casting was not very helpful to show all this, but the director’s hand could be felt at least.

By brilliant casting for Vitellia I meant Barbara Frittoli. Her voice has seen more exuberant days, especially when things get high or fast, and she has to cheat in some perilous moments, but the tonal quality is inimitably warm and full, she handles the low tessitura famously and everything has some sort of glamor. What makes her so special, though, is her ability to make Vitellia some sort of classical Scarlett O’Hara (or Rossella O'[H]ara, as she is called in Italy). The contrast to Elina Garanca’s Sesto is telling – the Latvian mezzo sings with immaculate poise, technique and sense of style and is often sensitive too (a beautiful Deh per questo), but doesn’t really inhabit the text – the important accompagnato Oh dei, che smania è questa being the less effective moment of her performance. In his first aria, Giuseppe Filianoti seemed to promise a bumpy evening, but he would eventually settle for something less awkward. His is an interesting voice for the role, but having to sing Mozartian lines takes him to the limits of his technique – the results being more accomplished than elegant, musically illuminating or just pleasant to the ears. If you want a forceful, bright sound, Gregory Kunde in the broadcast from Aix (2011) offered something far more polished. But there is a very positive side to Filianoti’s performance – his crystal-clear diction, his intent of making sense of his recitatives and some emotional urgency in his scenes with Sesto.

I have seen Kate Lindsey only once in a small role, but her Annio made me feel like hearing more. Although the voice itself lacks some personality, she makes the most of it in true Mozartian phrasing – and she is a good actress too. Lucy Crowe, a creamy-toned Servilia, lacked nuance in the exquisite act I duettino, but deserves the highest praise for her haunting performance of S’altro che lagrime, probably the most moving I have ever heard since Colin Davis’s recording with Lucia Popp (my six or seven readers will probably understand that this comparison is the top-level compliment in this blog).

Harry Bickett was the conductor I happened to see in 2008. Then I wrote that “expression and grandeur were achieved at the expense of clarity”. Not in this broadcast – the Met orchestra’s fullt-toned flexibility that evening is something to marvel. The conductor showed also deepened understand of this score’s profile, creating the atmosphere to each scene with precise accents and sense of threatre. Although the house chorus cannot compete with the level of accuracy of a Monteverdi Choir, their hushed Ah, grazie si rendano was a beautiful moment at any rate.

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Before this blog existed, there was operadiscographies.com (it had a different name and URL back then). It took me a couple of years to write it and some of my original five or six readers occasionally ask about it after I have deleted the whole content and started to revise it all. The whole process is taking longer than planned, but has not been abandoned. Giulio Cesare needs to be updated and I hope I’ll be able to publish Fidelio, Der Rosenkavalier and Der Freischütz still in 2013…

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