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Posts Tagged ‘Susan Graham’

I have seen wonderful performances at the Met and occasionally some bad ones – but tonight’s Don Giovanni is probably the most lacklustre I have ever seen in that prestigious opera house. Frankly, I left the theatre wondering why it was found necessary to stage it at all.  I understand that the selling feature is supposed to be Erwin Schrott’s Don Giovanni – but again is it still something surprising enough to justify a second-rate staging in which Schrott’s manic Don Giovanni seems entirely ill-at-ease?

In any case, Erwin Schrott is still the shining feature in the whole staging. He has the voice, the attitude and the physique du rôle. More than that, his almost frantic approach fits the part (I wouldn’t say the same of his Figaro, though). He knows Da Ponte’s text and is free to explore the many theatrical possibilities it allows. When the Leporello is available for this interaction, the whole show gains a lot from that – and Ildar Abdrazakov established a good partnership with his Don Giovanni. It is only a pity that his voice seems to have shrunk both in volume and range since last time I saw him. On the other hand, I felt sorry for Susan Graham, who seemed a bit disturbed by Schrott’s ad libs. She missed her line twice because of that and I believe it is somehow ungracious to unbalance a colleague like that on stage.

In any case, Graham had other problems to deal with. I have written that before – casting a mezzo as Donna Elvira is a troublesome affair. Truth be said, she was probably the less unsuccessful example of this rule I can report so far. She has exemplary control of divisions, floats lovely high pianissimi and has attitude to spare, not to mention that few singers in my experience showed such understanding of the role’s mezzo carattere nature. That said, the tonal quality was pale, legato was mostly nonexistent and pitch was approximative. Mi tradì did not sound comfortable, even with the adjustments, but emotionally tame and vocally only correct.

Krassimira Stoyanova’s Donna Anna was something of an irritating experience to me – up to a high g, her performance was exemplary – her voice was once firm, forward, clear and flexible – everything a Mozartian voice must be. Above that, if we are not talking of her lovely floated pianissimi, the tone was otherwise constricted, bottled up, not truly in pitch, unfocused. We got the Waldseligkeit-version of Or sai chi l’onore with enough mezza voce to make Montserrat Caballé envious. Non mi dir fared a little bit better (and I must acknowledge that she brought more spirit into it than many a famous prima donna), but the recessed tonal quality of her high register seriously needs rethinking.

Matthew Polenzani used to have an almost Wunderlich-ian voice and I had great hopes in him. I don’t know if the frequentation of heavier works is to blame, but the juice in his tone is mostly gone. He still leaves a positive impression with his elegant phrasing, ease with softer dynamics and good taste. I cannot say the same of Monica Yunus (a replacement for Isabel Leonard). Her hallmark role is Papagena – and one could guess that from the metallic, unfocused sound she produced throughout. Unfortunately, Phillip Ens’s Commendatore was too rusty and curdled.

If Don Giovanni was a divertimento,  Louis Langrée’s conducting would be exemplary. Everything exuded elegance, the accompanying figures in the orchestra had an admirable cantabile quality and the structural clairity was something to marvel. The house band accordingly produced a light, supple sound. However, Don Giovanni is not a divertimento – and I expected more from someone who can offer theatrical accounts of Mozart’s sacred music…

Marthe Keller’s production is discrete to the point of being indifferent. Everything looks beige, the closing scene is an anti-climax, the costumes are idiossincratic… Really, Peter Gelb’s “new Met” could do better.

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If Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito is now part of the repertory of the world’s opera houses, James Levine has had a great share of responsibility in it. He saw in Mozart’s last opera a “neglected masterpiece” and helped to make it widely known in a Unitel production directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle available on VHS, LD and then DVD featuring Tatiana Troyanos in the role of Sesto, a legendary impersonation. In various seasons in the Metropolitan Opera, this opera has seen glamourous casting with the likes of Renata Scotto, Anne Sofie von Otter, Ben Heppner et al.

Then today, for the first time, the opera was performed at the Met with a conductor other than James Levine. As much as Harry Bicket offered us a most reliable account of this score, I still believe Levine’s love for this music would have made some difference. As performed tonight, sometimes expression and grandeur were achieved with the expense of clarity. The old Ponnelle production holds its own better than its twin sister production, the same director’s Idomeneo for the same theatre. Ponnelle’s static and overformal stage direction (here revived by Laurie Feldman – but you just have to see the video to see its fidelity to the original) may look silly for those not used to opera seria, but it is otherwise refreshing not to see the story carelessly adapted into a corporate drama or a former East European dictatorship…

Lucia Popp once said that a singer has only six days per year when his or her voice is in such excellent shape that you know beforehand that everything is going to be perfect. In the title role, Ramón Vargas was clearly not in one of these days. His tenor lacked brightness during the entire first act and he tried to compensate that with upwards decoration that only brought upon an impression of effort. The intermission proved to be healthy for him. The voice sounded more natural and he handled the difficult coloratura in Se all’impero with confidence and accuracy. In the finale ultimo, few other tenors would pierce through the remaining soloists, chorus and orchestra as he did tonight. Considering the positive results, all I can say is that he must be one of the truly great Titos in a good-voice day.

Although Susan Graham sounds these days more like a short soprano than a mezzo, her sensitive account of the role of Sesto is truly touching. She is a natural Mozartian and dealt with the fireworks of the stretta of Parto, ma tu ben mio with panache and could break anyone’s heart with her deeply felt Deh per questo istante solo. In the difficult role of Vitellia, Tamar Iveri had everything in her favour but a more powerful voice. In a smaller hall, she should work to the right effect in this role. At the Met, her rich flexible soprano tended to disappear in ensembles. In the trio Vengo, aspettate, for instance, she was barely hearable. On a positive note, she negotiated the low notes quite commendably and displayed the right temper for the role. Although Non più di fiori is not usually billed as a mad scene, it fulfills the basic requirements for that – and the Georgian soprano explored this concept most successfully.

Both Anke Vondung and Oren Gradus offered reliable performances as Annio and Publio. Only Heidi Grant Murphy twittery and shallow soprano was below the level of acceptability, what is a pity considering the lovely aria reserved for Servilia.

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