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Posts Tagged ‘Aleksandra Kurzak’

Lucy Ashton is the epitome of Romanticism’s favorite character: the innocent victim. Reading books like the Bride of the Lammermoor, one is convinced that being beautiful and good natured is very dangerous: the poor girl is emotionally and physically abused, publicly humiliated, gets involved in a gruesome murder only to die herself of a mental exhaustion. But that is how men portray the ordeals women had (have?)  to endure on the whim of a male relative or a husband. Now let’s call a woman to tell Lucy’s story. Director Katie Mitchell rescues Lucy from her passiveness and places her along her sisters Jane Eyre and Catherine Earnshaw. That means, Lucy may finally succumb, but not without a fight.

Here, she is no ingénue. Her relationship with Ashton is everything but spiritual (there is an akward almost graphic scene during Veranno a te to make that clear), her reluctance to marry Arthur has to do with the fact that she is very much pregnant and the fact that she kills him is no insanity: Alice and her premeditate his murder hoping to get tid of the body probably to give her time to explain Edgard the whole situation and elope. Now the reader will ask: hmm, what about the MAD scene? That is precisely the point: something else happens this evening. The stress of the murder has other casualties that evening: a miscarriage that accounts for 95% of the blood on her dress and her mental breakdown.

Although I do find that Ms. Mitchell is telling a story only slightly related to the libretto, it finally paid off in a truly gripping mad scene, the gore only enhancing the pathos, the musical theme of act I love duet transformed in a lullaby to her unborn child. This alone made me forgive a great deal of the unnecessary excess. First: Lucia is shown either dressing or undressing in almost every scene. Since her gowns are not easily put on, this involved some nervous and diligent effort from these singers to get her ready. Second: Vicky Mortimer’s exquisite Kersting-like sets are permanently split in two different spaces, with independent dramatic action. During the Wolf Crag’s scene, while Henry and Edgard discuss the details for their duel, we see Lucy kill Arthur. Of course, nobody paid any attention to what the libretto actually wanted you to watch by then. Third: there are two ghosts who are so omnipresent that one almost expects them to be served a glass of wine in the wedding scene.

As usual, the director’s concepts veer towards the crafty, but the visual element is powerful and beautiful and the Personenregie is effective and finely knit to musical gestures.

The A cast of this run of performances had Diana Damrau, Ludovic Tézier and Kwangchul Youn, but – tempting as this is – I opted for the B team. Basically because I’ve already seen Damrau in this role in New York and was not really convinced by her bel canto credentials. On the other hand, a broadcast of Rossini’s Tancredi with Aleksandra Kurzak made me wish for more. However, some days ago, a friend warned me about decay in her high register, and I was suddenly apprehensive about what I might hear in the theater. It is true that her voice now looses focus as it reaches its acuti, which  often sound breathy. On the other hand, her soprano sounds bigger than when I last saw her live as Donna Anna in Venice. That did not prevent her from producing crystal-clear coloratura and trills. She was not truly adventurous with ornamentation, eschewed some florid options during the opera, but gave us the Melba cadenza in the mad scene. She also insisted in singing the puntature, all of them in pitch, but rather smoky in tone. She is no Renata Scotto or Maria Callas, but sang with affection and poise. Truth br said, She even produced some aptly raw sounds in specific moments of the mad scene, for chilling effects.

Stephen Costello is an intense Edgardo, whose high register never sounds relaxed and whose phrasing is sometims too cupo. Although David Jonghoon Kim (Arturo) is not really exciting, the sound of healthy, round tenor high notes did highlight this problem in the leading tenor. As usual, Artur Rucinski is a paragon of breath control and firm tone. He could have tried a bit more nuance to make it really memorable.

Daniel Oren is a conductor attentive to the dynamic demands un the score, shifting to singer-friendly accompaniment to full orchestral sound (as in the sextet) for flashing results.

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Damiano Michieletto’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni for the Teatro La Fenice could suggest a certain restraint in its cold colours, entirely indoors setting and elegant boiseries, but the nightly atmosphere proves to be a space of unbridled passion: Don Giovanni’s assault on Donna Anna is extremely violent, the Commendatore is beaten to death with his own walking stick, the peasants in Zerlina and Masetto’s wedding are heavily drunk and the closing scene is no feast, but a quite graphic orgy. Michieletto has a good instinct for character development and, with excellent acting from all involved, sheds interesting light on every figure, particularly Donna Anna, whose Or sai chi l’onore is a nightmarish vortex of guilt and passion in which the first scene is revived in an atmosphere of  unavowable desire, whereas Non mi dir is a statement of love not to Don Ottavio, but to her father’s own coffin. Similarly, Zerlina sings Vedrai, carino to an imaginary Don Giovanni, while Masetto is left alone to take care of his wounds. Still more interesting is the tormented Leporello, (nervous tics and stammer included) whose guilty vices are repressed by social inferiority. In the end, only Don Giovanni himself is rather clichéed in his my-candle-burns-at-both-ends manic, almost suicidal drive.

If the intelligent and often revelatory approach does not finally delivers the goods, it is because the director is ultimately too simplistic in his partiality for Don Giovanni as an image of every one’s repressed desires. Some of the evening’s less efficient scenes invariably involved Don Giovanni’s “symbolic” appearances, such as when he quite sillily pushes everyone on stage to the ground as an invisible force during the sextet Sola, sola in buio loco.

Conductor Antonello Manacorda is an alert Mozartian who understands the theatrical and musical meaning of every phrase in the score without being overwhelmed by his understanding. His tempi are swift and his orchestral sound is transparent and flexible. Most important, the right expressive atmosphere is settled for every scene – the orchestra laughs at Masetto, sighs with Donna Elvira and sobs with Donna Anna. I would be curious to hear him with a more virtuoso ensemble. Although La Fenice’s orchestra has done a decent job, the strings lack refulgence to start with, especially in passagework, and some complex ensemble were not perfectly synched.

Aleksandra Kurzak’s flexible bright soprano is light-toned for Donna Anna. Or sai chi l’onore takes her to her very limits and, although she is never less than stylish, sensitive and pleasant to the ears, her top notes have become a bit breathy and glassy. This lovely artist should be more careful with her choice of roles and void the temptation of parts that will eventually take their toll on her vocal health. In any case, the audience should cherish the occasion to hear such clean coloratura in a difficult aria such as Non mi dir. Carmela Remigio’s high-lying soprano resents the lower tessitura of Donna Elvira. In this production, she is portrayed as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and I wished that this approach did not elicit from the singer the gusty phrasing, the erratic pitch and the parlando effects. In the end, her Elvira was one-dimensionally intense and unstylish. Irini Kyriakidou has a basically fruity, sexy soprano (she herself is really attractive too), but her high register spreads uncomfortably. Marlin Miller is a capable Don Ottavio who took some time to warm (Dalla sua pace lacked finish). His voice, especially in loud dynamics, does not sound round as a lyric tenor’s should, but rather metallic in a Spieltenor-like manner, though. Markus Werba’s Don Giovanni is devoid of nuance, and his baritone is too open-toned to suggest seduction. But he does have stamina. Alex Exposito’s voice seems to have shrunken at both ends since I last saw him in this same role. The general impression is of roughness, what unintentionally suited this production. Finally, Atilla Jun proved to be a powerful Commendatore.

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Mozart’s over-the-top-on-purpose Singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail has been performed only 67 times in the Metropolitan Opera House. Some might say that the German dialogues might have something to do with that; I would rather blame the impossible casting: something like the German version of a soprano drammatico d’agilità, a flexible lyric tenor with an absolutely free top register, a soubrette with in alts and a basso profondo (profondissimo?) with perfect control of divisions and ease for patter… in German. If you check the discography, most symptomatically no recording features a cast like that.

You might imagine how much of a challenge this work is for any opera house. If the Met did not produce a cast in the standards of a Gruberová/Araiza/Moll-team, it is only because singers like that do no exist these days. Before I am accused of ungenerosity, I hasten to explain that I am convinced that today’s is the best possible casting one could think of. In the case of Matthew Polenzani, I still wonder if he does not belong to the shortlist of great Belmontes. It is true that the frequentation of heavier roles has robbed a bit of the golden quality of his tenor, but he still sings it with impressive fluency and richness of tone. Probably only Wunderlich would offer such liquid warmth in this demanding role. What I’ve missed is precisely the way the legendary German tenor caressed his fioriture, while Polenzani sounds a bit as if he were really looking forward to the end of every fastidious melisma. Belmontes less gifted by nature – such as Kurt Streit or the late Deon van der Walt – finally pulled out more convincing results in those tricky moments. Maybe this unease explains the adoption of the simplified version of Wenn der Freuden.

Diana Damrau could be a great Konstanze – she does have a most spontaneous high register, impressively clean fioriture and some heft. More solid low notes would help, but that is a problem even some very great Konstanzes (such as Gruberová) had to deal with. However, what will always remain a liability in Mozartian repertoire (with the possible exception of the Queen of the Night, the role that made Damrau famous) is an impure, metallic, harsh quality in her vocal production that devoids it entirely of loveliness. I am dying to use the word “focus” (because I use it a lot), but that is exactly what her soprano wants. The lack of focus prevents her from producing clean trills, from piercing through ensembles when in her middle and low registers and finally and most seriously from offering truly consistent legato. I notice she is a very energetic person – and sometimes singers with such disposition tend to overkill a bit. In any case, I don’t wish to complain about her performance: Diana Damrau is an extraordinarily intelligent singer, who invests her lines and phrases with such dramatic understanding and meaning that one cannot help enjoying her work. Her ease with mezza voce is also a strong asset. The descending serpentine phrasing in the end of Traurigkeit has rarely been so expressively handled and the way she blended her voice with the strings in des Himmels Segen belohne dich (in Matern aller Arten) was spellbinding.

Kristinn Sigmundsson was an excellent Osmin. The extreme low notes were not his best moments (as with almost every bass in this role), but his dark firm tone, his flexibility, imagination and sheer charisma were more than compensation. I had only seen this Icelandic Bass in serious roles and did not know he had such a bent for comedy!

Aleksandra Kurzak has the right quicksilvery voice for Blondchen and did not seem fazed with the very high notes in Dürch Zärtlichkeit. On the other hand, the voice lacks some substance and Welche Wonne, Welche Lust was a bit brittle. I felt somewhat sorry for Steve Davislim. He does not seem to be a very playful fellow and did seem a bit annoyed with having to play the ebullient Pedrillo. That did not prevent him from offering a firm-toned Frisch zum Kampfe, though.

It must sound surprising, however, that the shining feature of today’s performance was David Roberton’s masterly conducting. Rarely have I seen the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra so adept in Mozart style as today – the strings were entirely at ease with the rapid passagework, the level of clarity was admirable, not to mention the sense of animation so important in this score. Robertson offered vigorous, crystalline and dramatic alert conducting – the overture itself was exemplary in the way it filled the “Turkish” and “European” themes with the sense of storytelling.

If I am not mistaken, John Dexter’s is the Met’s old production from 1979. It still looks well in its Henri Rousseau-like portrayal of a cardboard Turkey. Some costumes look a bit 70’s-bound and the stage direction is only fair, if unobtrusive. I have to confess a more positive Selim than Matthias von Stegmann would be helpful. His portrayal is so devoid of menace and passion that it makes difficult to understand why Konstanze would fear or respect him at all.

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