Posts Tagged ‘Kate Lindsey’

Among Richard Strauss’s operas, it is probably Ariadne auf Naxos the one that gave the composer more trouble to complete. First of all, there was the unpractical idea of having it as the divertissement in Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, what made for one of the longest nights in the theatre in one’s lifetime. Then there was Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s tug of war with the libretto, which the composer felt as obscure and nonsensical, while the librettist insisted that even his servants could follow its neoclassical, proto-psychologic imagery. And finally there was the problem of rewriting it to extricate it from the Molière by devidong a prologue that theoretically would propose the musical motives already developed in the opera inside the opera.

Director Katie Mitchell is right when she affirms that the work in its final form has a flaw: the first part does not go seamlessly in the second. The Composer and Zerbinetta’s duet hints at something that never happens, her quick appearance in the last scene seems like an afterthought, not to mention that the mise-en-abyme feels like a torso if we don’t have something like a final scene, even if it were a relatively short ensemble as in the finale ultimo of Don Giovanni: the tenor is happy he got the last scene, the soprano promises never working with the composer again, but he does not care for he has discovered new possibilities in Zerbinetta’s “talents”. She has probably already set her thoughts on someone else, the richest man in Vienna perhaps. Who knows?

That is exactly what Ms. Mitchell tries to do here – not only we have a glimpse of what happens after the end of the opera, but also we are able to witness what goes on in the audience while it is being performed. The Composer is trying to conduct a score edited in haste and is desperate with the intrusions of the buffo actors. My admiration for the director’s many interesting ideas – most of all, Zerbinetta disguised as a doctor (and later as an intellectual), as one would see in any -etta role, but I couldn’t help rolling my eyes in the highly distracting and very ineffective decision of including the cross dressing lord and lady of the house in the story, interfering with the action in ways that could be described as all the variations of silliness. I will not call it the staging’s worst idea, for there was the fact that members of the “audience” would speak as loudly as they could over Richard Strauss’s music in a way nobody would have in real life, ruining some beautiful and expressive pages of this score. That is the moment when Ms. Mitchell should have followed the advice of a man who understood everything about structure: Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more”.

Until this evening, Jérémie Rhorer was a Mozart conductor with noteworthy sense of rhythm and drama. The fact that his Straussian credentials were unknown to me have an explanation: this is the first time he conducts an opera by Richard Strauss. It is, therefore, more puzzling that in this most Mozartian among the Bavarian composer’s operas Mr. Rhorer’s instincts have proved to be so wrong. As heard  this evening, the score sounded at its most square, unvaried, unclear and devoid of theatricality. Karl Böhm would marvel that Strauss could make a relatively small group of musicians could alternately sound as a the continuo of baroque opera and as a full Romantic orchestra. Not this evening – even when the music demanded impetuosity and richness, the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris insisted in dwelling within a very restricted sound palette.

Camilla Nylund started the opera with the wrong foot. The lower tessitura did not flatter her rather colorless middle register (the extreme low notes themselves were actually very good) and her lack of slancio made Es gibt ein Reich sound quite dull. She would fare really better in the final duet, where her long breath and pellucid pianissimo gave an elegant if still cold impression. For a change, she did not need to fear the competition from Olga Pudova’s unsubtle, metallic Zerbinetta. The Russian soprano is not familiar with the style, the German language and what she sang in some moments is not really what Strauss wrote. It has been a while since Roberto Saccà included the part of Bacchus in his repertoire and he still sounds healthy and secure in it, but the voice has become even grainier and more glaring than it used to be. In any case, it was refreshing to hear a voice that could pierce through the orchestra without much ado.

Kate Lindsey’s extra-light mezzo soprano had reserves of colors I did not know. Although the part requires everything she has to offer, she makes little of her own limits. Her singing this evening was secure, expressive and beautiful. Her ease with high mezza voce made her get away with very difficult passages and gather her strengths to the exposed high notes in the end of the prologue (when one was forced to recognize that a little bit more volume would make all the difference in the world). Even sailing through a rocky shore, she still found the opportunity to show off exemplary breath control and let go breath pauses that normally stand between almost every other singer and asphyxia. Brava.

Among minor roles, Huw Montague Randall displayed a firm and warm baritone as the harlequin and Lucie Roche super dark low notes in the part of the dryad sounded really promising.


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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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