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Posts Tagged ‘Dwayne Croft’

Maybe inspiration did not last long, but Rheingold is by far Robert Lepage’s best effort in his staging of Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen. Here we find the best use of the “machine” and, maybe because there is so much going in the plot, singers have more to do and look less left alone (as in the remaining installments). Seen live, the effects are even more impressive than in the movie theatre.

The fact that Rheingold’s music is very “busy” may explain why Fabio Luisi is more comfortable here than elsewhere. There are lots of “micro goals” for him to concentrate on while most scenes have a clear rhythmic lead to follow. The orchestra was in very good shape and, except for the fact that some scenes lost steam and energy has to be built from scratch. Erda scene, for instance, was low valley to build up from and the closing scene resulted less climactic than it should. All in all, a good performance, strongly cast.

Replacing an indisposed Stephanie Blythe after having appeared as Mère Marie in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites, Elizabeth Bishop proved to be a first-rate Fricka, actually more varied, especially in what regards acting, than Blythe herself.  Wendy Bryn Harmer is a full-toned Freia and Meredith Arwady is a forceful but not fully idiomatic Erda. As he did in Munich, Stefan Margita was clearly the audience’s favorite as Loge. He actually was in better voice here than at the Bavarian State Opera, his singing smoother and even more fluent. He also made far more of the staging than Richard Croft on the telecast. Robert Brubaker was probably the loudest Rheingold Mime I have ever heard. Considering that he has sung the Emperor in Frau ohn Schatten (in the Deutsche Oper Berlin, for instance), this is a curious piece of casting. Richard Paul Fink’s Alberich finds the role of Alberich a bit low and heavy for his voice, but he is a good actor and has good diction. Greer Grimsley has never been a noble-toned Wotan, but a very powerful one with exciting high notes. Although Franz-Josef Selig is still a commendable Fasolt, it is sad to see how his beautiful voice has been deteriorating. In his brief contributions, Hans-Peter König (Fasolt) proves to be again a great asset in the Met’s Ring. One cannot forget Dwayne Croft’s firm-toned Donner.

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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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Although Don Carlo is a work 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, in spite of a 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 exquisite 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 homogeneous mezzos 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 in terms of stage presence she 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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