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Renée Fleming

Sunday, February 19, 2017

parterre box

February 14

Haunted heart

parterre boxHappy 58th birthday soprano Renée Fleming. // Born on this day in 1602 composer Francesco Cavalli. // Born on this day in 1899 conductor Lovro von Matacic. // Born on this day in 1927 actress Lois Maxwell. // Happy 89th birthday soprano Laurel Hurley. // In honor of this loveliest of lovely days, the cher public are invited to post YouTube clips of their favorite love songs and love duets.

An Unamplified Voice

February 15

The 2017-18 Met season announcement, annotated

Productions are in order; bold indicates a debut; I may have omitted some one-off cast combos. On the whole: as exciting as this season is weak. Norma (new David McVicar production) Radvanovsky, DiDonato, Calleja, Rose / Rizzi (September-October) Rebeka, DiDonato, Calleja, Rose / Rizzi (October) Meade, Barton, Calleja, Rose / Colaneri (December) Having middling '90s throwback Carlo Rizzi in the pit instead of the 2013 revival's Riccardo Frizza is about the only less-than-thrilling element of this opener. Three premiere principals who've proved not only star-quality sound but bel canto mastery, interesting alternate ladies afterwards... And David McVicar is not only an brilliant director but one who has done great things with Sondra Radvanovsky particularly, from 2009's Trovatore to 2016's Donizetti queens. Les Contes d’Hoffmann Grigolo, Morley, Hartig, Volkova, Erraught, Naouri, Mortagne / Debus (September-October) I rather liked Grigolo in this season's Romeo, but this Bart Sher show requires him to sustain a character for longer stretches than the Gounod opera, making his choppy sense of phrase more of a liability. Still, there are enough elements that could go well (including new-to-the-house Irish mezzo Tara Erraught as Niklausse) on top of an excellent production. Die Zauberflöte Schultz, Lewek, Castronovo, Werba, Van Horn, Kehrer / Levine (September-October) Müller, Lewek, Castronovo, Gunn, Walker, Kehrer / de Waart (November-December, family version in English) The conductors should make both the regular and "family" versions work. Besides returning names (including Kathryn Lewek, the best Queen of the Night I've ever heard), South African (by way of Juilliard) soprano Golda Shultz's debut as Pamina should be interesting. Incidentally, Rene Pape is scheduled for one performance of Sarastro on October 14. La Boheme Blue, Kele, Popov/Borras/Thomas, Meachem/Simpson, Rock, Soar/Rose, Plishka / Soddy (October) Hartig, Kele, Thomas, Meachem, Rock, Rose, Pliskha / Soddy (November) Yoncheva, Phillips, Fabiano, Lavrov, Rose, Plishka / Armiliato (February-March) Some new faces debuting in this eternal Zeffirelli production, most notably Oxonian conductor Alexander Soddy and American soprano Angel Blue. But the surest bet is the last cast, with young Americans Susanna Phillips and Michael Fabiano in roles they've made their own. Turandot Dyka, Agresta, Alvarez, Morris / Rizzi (October-November) Serafin, Yu, Alvarez, Tsymbalyuk / Armiliato (March-April) Some unexpected casting choices here. Oksana Dyka, decent but somewhat faceless in this season's Jenufa, at least has done Tosca and Aida here before. The alternate Turandot, Martina Serafin, was last seen here as an enchantingly responsive Marschallin! Since then she's taken on the really big parts, though not at the Met: Abigaille, Brünnhilde, Lady Macbeth, and Turandot. Could go well... or not. Hei-Kyung Hong reprises one of her signature roles once with each cast. The Exterminating Angel (new Tom Cairns production) Luna, Echalaz, Matthews, Bevan, Coote, Rice, Davies, Kaiser, Antoun, Portillo, Moore, Gilfry, Burdette, Van Horn, Tomlinson / Adès (October-November) The two prior operas of Thomas Adès have not lacked good music nor good libretti: it's the combination of these into an interesting, human opera that hasn't quite come off. Perhaps a show based on a Luis Buñuel movie (and directed by the librettist) will do the trick. There is, in any case, an impressive lineup of British and American vocal talent involved. Madama Butterfly He, Zifchak, Aronica, Bizic / Bignamini (November) Jaho, Zifchak, Aronica/Chapa, Frontali / Armiliato (February-March) So after doing one emergency sub performance (for Ruth Ann Swenson in Traviata) at the Met in 2008, Ermonela Jaho never appears here again... until a decade later, when she headlines a revival of Butterfly. The fall run brings new Italian conductor Jader Bignamini. Thaïs Pérez, Borras, Finley / Villaume (November-December) Ailyn Pérez, an outstanding Mimi this season, takes a full-on star vehicle opposite Gerald Finley. They don't quite have the name recognition of Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson, for whom this show was made, but this could be one of the stealth successes of the season. Requiem Stoyanova, Semenchuk, Antonenko, Furlanetto / Levine (November-December) I don't recall recurring concert performances scheduled as part of the season before, but if any plotless piece could work this way, it's Verdi's famously dramatic-operatic Requiem. These shows will be almost a generation after the April 29, 2001 performance at Carnegie that everyone who attended will still wax on about (shouldn't the Met or Carnegie release a recording of this at some point?). Levine then had Renee Fleming, Olga Borodina, Marcelo Giordani, and Rene Pape at or near the height of their powers (though Giordani was a bit of a weak link, and I'd like to have heard how Ramon Vargas did in a similar performance on the Met's Japanese tour). Here it looks like Aleksandrs Antonenko will be an upgrade at tenor, but mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk - another singer not seen at the house for a while - is an odd choice, not having impressed in her appearances so far. Le Nozze di Figaro Plachetka, Karg, Willis-Sørensen, Pisaroni, Malfi / Bicket (December) Abdrazakov, Sierra, Yoncheva, Kwiecien, Leonard / Bicket (December-January) The names in the latter cast may be more recognizable, but I suspect the former (with debuting German soprano Christiane Karg as Susanna) may provide more of Mozart's ensemble glory. The Merry Widow Graham, Groves, Chuchman, Portillo, Allen / Stare (December) Graham, Groves, Chuchman, Stayton, Allen / Stare (December-January) Not a bad cast for the most cast-proof show the Met has debuted in decades. Who knew that comic timing drives comedies? Young American conductor Ward Stare debuts in the pit. Hansel and Gretel (family version in English) Oropesa, Erraught, Zajick, Siegel, Kelsey / Runnicles (December-January) McKay, Gillebo, Zajick, Siegel, Croft / Runnicles (December 28) Good casting for a kids' piece. Tosca (new David McVicar production) Opolais, Kaufmann, Terfel / Nelsons (NYE-January) Netrebko, Alvarez, Volle / de Billy (April-May) Netrebko, Alvarez, Gagnidze / de Billy (May) I believe Sondra Radvanovsky was originally supposed to headline this new production, which attempts to wash away the much-hated Luc Bondy version of 2009. Instead we get Kristine Opolais, the least interesting part of both Richard Eyre's wretchedly bad Manon Lescaut and Mary Zimmerman's otherwise-brilliant Rusalka. (She has succeeded in more direct Puccini, though.) But perhaps it doesn't matter - except as a what-if - when Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel have shown themselves of carrying this piece on their own. And though she has less male star power, I think Tosca might be a very good part for Anna Netrebko. Cav/Pag Semenchuk, Alagna, Lučić; Kurzak, Alagna, Gagnidze, Arduini / Luisotti (January) Westbroek, Alagna, Lučić; Kurzak, Alagna, Gagnidze, Arduini / Luisotti (January-February) I'm not sure whether the Alagna who shows up will be the no-voice one of the Manon Lescaut premiere or the respectable-sounding and insightful one of the end of that run and Butterfly, but his inconsistency has been characteristic since the beginning of his international career. McVicar's rendering of the double-bill is outstanding, and San Francisco's Nicola Luisotti has done magical things in his too-rare Met appearances. L’Elisir d’Amore Yende, Polenzani, Luciano, D'Arcangelo / Hindoyan (January-February) Both Yende and Polenzani have an emotional transparency that should work excellently in this piece. Il Trovatore Lee, Agresta, Rachvelishvili, Kelsey, Kocán / Levine (January-February) Lee, Agresta, Rachvelishvili, Salsi, Youn / Levine (February) Anita Rachvelishvili moves up a vocal weight class with her first Met Azucenas (she did her first performances of the part recently in London), opposite two baritones moving up from Marcello to Di Luna. But with outstanding Korean spinto Yonghoon Lee in the title role and Levine in the pit, this is yet another promising staple. Parsifal Vogt, Herlitzius, Mattei, Nikitin, Pape / Nézet-Séguin (February) The most significant revival of the season. Yannick Nézet-Séguin will go from "Music Director Designate" to the actual thing in 2020, but he's debuting German repertory cornerstones until then. This spring it's Flying Dutchman, but next year he'll lead the first revival of the most significant and successful Met Wagner production in a long, long time: Francois Girard's 2013 Parsifal. (Not least in that success was Daniele Gatti's intensely concentrated conducting, so there's a lot to live up to there.) He has the low-voiced end of the original cast, with Peter Mattei's Amfortas, Evgeny Nikitin's Klingsor, and René Pape's Gurnemanz all returning. The new parts of the cast are significant as well: dramatic soprano Evelyn Herlitzius finally makes her Met debut as Kundry, and Klaus Florian Vogt returns to Wagner a dozen years after making the most stunning - and most stunningly ignored - Met debut of our era as Lohengrin. (Vogt does return to the Met before this, in next month's Fidelio.) Semiramide Meade, DeShong, Camarena, Abdrazakov, Green / Benini (February-March) Good cast for a Rossini rarity. After her scheduled performances of Italiana this season went to debuting Italian mezzo Marianna Pizzolato, I do wonder whether Elizabeth DeShong will in fact sing these performances as Arsace. Elektra Goerke, van den Heever, Schuster, Morris, Petrenko / Nézet-Séguin (March) Christine Goerke's titanic concert performance of this early Strauss opera with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony (October 2016 at Carnegie) dwarfed the dull, homogenized new Met version last season. The change from Salonen's civilizing version to Yannick Nézet-Séguin's characteristic visceral style should do much, and Goerke's ability to sing through the cacophonic title part lyrically can't be missed, but full success may require a revival stage director unafraid to depart from Chereau's drab vision. Così fan tutte (new Phelim McDermott production) Majeski, Malfi, O'Hara, Bliss, Plachetka, Maltman / Robertson (March- Though the cast looks good and the visuals interesting, David Robertson was responsible for the worst-conducted night of Mozart I've ever heard at the Met, so I'll wait and see. The production is new to the Met but already debuted at ENO. Lucia di Lammermoor Peretyatko, Grigolo, Cavalletti, Kowaljow / Abbado (March-April) Pratt, Grigolo, Cavalletti/Salsi, Kowaljow / Abbado (April) Yende, Fabiano, Kelsey, Vinogradov / Abbado (April-May) I was listening to Pretty Yende last night in Puritani, thinking that the Met should hire her for Lucia... and here we go. She gets the better Edgardo in Michael Fabiano as well: the role depends far too much on line and phrase to expect much on the whole from Vittorio Grigolo (though the Italian will surely deliver exciting high notes). Luisa Miller Yoncheva, Beczala, Domingo, Petrova, Vinogradov, Belosselskiy / Levine (March-April) Sonya Yoncheva's manner is a bit on the chilly side to get all the pathos of the title part's great duets, but the men involved should make much of this early Verdi. Cendrillon (new Laurent Pelly production) DiDonato, Kim, Coote, Blythe, Naouri / de Billy (April-May) So, we're officially in the part of Joyce DiDonato's career when she makes big houses put on silly shows. Good cast, seems charming enough, and though Laurent Pelly (Fille, Manon) hasn't done a really good production here, he hasn't made any terrible ones either. Roméo et Juliette Hymel, Pérez, Deshayes, Hopkins, Youn / Domingo (April-May) Interesting cast, very good production, but Domingo in the pit is a deal-breaker. If you have the itch, just see Yende and Costello next month (which has many fewer good alternative options than spring 2018).

Royal Opera House

February 9

8 brilliant opera moments from TV

Plácido Domingo meets Plácido Flamingo on Sesame Street (screenshot from YouTube) There are many great opera scenes in films but we shouldn't forget that the small screen has also produced its share of operatic moments. Whether it's deriving comedy from the at-times-bizarre rituals of opera-going, providing thematic commentary or just creating magic, the world's most intoxicating art form has appeared over the airwaves in all manner of guises: The Simpsons - 'Homer of Seville' (2007) This long-running cartoon is famous for its pop culture references and in the episode ‘Homer of Seville’, opera gets The Simpsons treatment. In a typically bizzare opening, Homer hurts his back falling into an open grave, and his cry of ‘D’oh!’ upon hearing the cost of the X-ray reveals a hidden operatic talent . Before he knows it he’s a famous opera star performing in La bohème at the Springfield Opera House (which is remarkably similar to a certain iconic opera house down under). The only catch is that Homer has to lie on his back when singing to hit the right notes. This scene references the famous ascending shot in the Citizen Kane , however in this instance instead of stage hands it reveals Homer's pals Carl and Lenny complaining about their seats. Plácido Domingo, voiced by the great man himself, also makes a guest appearance encouraging Homer’s singing career in the 'locker room' and asking to be called P-Dingo (in a nod to the moniker of rapper Puff Daddy ). Doctor Who - 'Asylum of the Daleks' (2012) Daleks past and present return with a vengeance in the first episode of Series 7 of the BBC’s rebooted Doctor Who . This episode also introduces Oswin Oswald (Jenna Coleman ), who in a future incarnation would become the Eleventh Doctor’s companion Clara Oswald, Oswin’s calling card being the Habanera from Bizet ’s Carmen . Oswin, a former Junior Entertainment Manager on the Alaska star liner, is stranded on a planet where damaged Daleks are herded to be exterminated. She has barricaded herself in her spaceship against the marauding Daleks keeping herself busy by cooking soufflés and listening to Carmen. While evidently the Daleks are not fans of opera, the Doctor recognises it immediately and it seems fitting that he calls her Carmen with her fiery red dress and sassy attitude. Sesame Street - '20 years and still counting' (1989) Sesame Street introduced a whole generation of children to opera through the character of Placido Flamingo , a debonair tenor muppet – ‘the numero uno bird of opera’ – who regularly performed at the Nestropolitan Opera. Flamingo enjoyed many moments in the spotlight including as soloist with the Animal orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa , a duet with Ernie , and performing a scene from ‘The Dentist of Seville’ . But Flamingo’s greatest moment was meeting his famous namesake Plácido Domingo in a special 20th anniversary episode. The two perform a duet of ‘Look through the window’ with muppets from all races and nationalities, proof of opera's power to unite. See if you can watch this clip and not break into a smile. Domingo hasn't been the only opera star to make a special appearance on Sesame Street. Renée Fleming , José Carreras and Samuel Ramey also performed with Jim Henson's iconic creations. Seinfeld - ‘The Opera’ (1992) What do you do when you have free tickets to the opera, your girlfriend is running late and you feel uncomfortable in your ill-fitting tuxedo? If you’re George Costanza, you sell her ticket to a tout. In a classic Seinfeld episode where the irreverence shown to the high arts is only by topped by the time Jerry placed a PEZ dispenser on Elaine’s lap during a classical music concert , it’s opening night of Pagliacci and Kramer has free tickets. Elaine’s new boyfriend ‘Joey’ has mysteriously started calling her Nedda . Kramer has told everyone to wear black tie but refused to dress up himself. Jerry is being stalked by 'Crazy' Joe Davola who is obsessed with Pagliacci and likes to go around dressed as a clown . In true Seinfeld style, storylines collide as the gang finally settle into their seats and George has been replaced by an overweight opera fan. But who did Kramer sell his spare ticket to? Frasier - ‘Out with Dad’ (2000) Over 11 seasons of this Seattle-based sitcom, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer ) and Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce ) were known for their enjoyment of the finer things in life, so naturally they would have subscription seats to the opera. However on Valentine’s Day things get nasty when both Frasier and Niles want to use their opera tickets to woo women. When Frasier refuses to give up his opera ticket for Niles to have a date with his girlfriend, Niles threatens him with the most horrific fate one could possibly suffer at the opera: ‘May your box be filled with cellophane crinklers and the stage swarming with standbys!’. Unperturbed, Frasier drags his dad along to Rigoletto so he can pursue a fellow subscriber he’s had his eye on. This odd couple’s night out presents many opportunities for digs at opera story lines (‘more goofy stuff that never happens in real life’) and in-jokes for the opera fans. But it is not only Frasier who ends up with a date, the indomitable Martin unwittingly finds himself the object of an opera lover’s affection... Hannibal - ‘Sorbet’ (2013) Hannibal Lecter is well known in film, literature and television for his cannibalistic impulses so it's apt that the opera scene from TV episode ‘Sorbet’ exhibits a fascination with body parts. Beginning with a close-up of a quivering larynx, the camera follows the sound travelling from inside the human body past the uvula and tongue, making its way out through the singers’ mouth. The glorious sound of Cleopatra’s aria ‘Piangerò la sorte mia’ from Handel ’s Guilio Cesare travels across the room into the ear canal of Dr Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen ). It is the first time in the series that Hannibal shows any emotion and proves that even a remorseless serial killer can be moved by opera. Or is he fearful of the notion that the dead can return to haunt their oppressors? Hannibal is full of operatic moments punctuated with classical music . Each episode in Season 1 is named after a dish of French cuisine and this seventh episode of the series also reveals that Hannibal is a keen chef famed within opera-going crowds for his dinner parties. Unbeknownst to his guests, his speciality is meticulously prepared human offal . My Family - ‘Droit de Seigneur Ben’ (2000) Anyone who has ever battled to drag a reluctant spouse to the opera will sympathize with Susan (Zoë Wanamaker ) in this episode of the British sitcom My Family. Susan has tickets to Don Giovanni but being the grumpy misanthrope that he is, Ben (Robert Lindsay ) says he hates the opera, complaining that he never knows what’s going on and ‘it’s as boring as hell’. But Susan won’t be deterred, shrewdly presenting him with a vinyl and translated libretto of the opera so he can familiarize himself with the storyline before the performance. Despite himself Ben slowly becomes absorbed in the world of the opera, discovering that a 17th century Italian opera can in fact pertain to his own life as he realizes he has set up his daughter on a date with a modern day Don Giovanni. Mildred Pierce - ‘Part Four and Five’ (2011) In his five-part television mini-series about a tenacious mother and her bratty, narcissistic daughter set during the Great Depression, director Todd Haynes indulges in his favourite genre – melodrama. Operatic in its pace, themes and length, Mildred Pierce also includes a number of wonderful operatic moments . Always knowing she had a hidden talent that would help her rise above the humdrum, Veda's (Evan Rachel Wood) talent as a coloratura soprano is eventually discovered. The young woman's music teacher compares the coloratura with ‘a snake’ and Veda lives up to this description. Mildred (Kate Winslet ) watches on with mixed emotions – awe at her daughter’s talents, anguish at their estrangement and fear of the monster she knows lies underneath Veda's starry exterior. Veda’s performances are voiced by Korean soprano Sumi Jo and Wood trained with an opera expert to achieve the correct postures and breathing techniques. Veda’s arias provide a thematic commentary on goings-on in the Pierce household from Veda’s first radio performance of ‘the Bell Song’ from Lakmé which foreshadows Veda’s seduction of Mildred’s lover, to the presence of an overbearing opera mother as reflected in her rendition of The Magic Flute's ‘Der Hölle Rache ’.

parterre box

February 7

Jesus Christ! Superstars?

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s General Director Anthony Freud and Music Director Sir Andrew Davis (joined by Creative Consultant Renée Fleming) announced today that the company’s 2017-2018 season will offer a winning combination of uninspired repertoire and soporific casting. Here’s just a taste: New Production Faust by Charles Gounod Faust: Benjamin Bernheim Marguerite: Erin Wall / Ana María Martínez Méphistophélès: Christian Van Horn Valentin: Edward Parks Siébel: Annie Rosen Marthe: Jill Grove Conductor: Emmanuel Villaume Director: Kevin Newbury The whole dismal tale unfolds below. Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2017/18 Season New Coproduction (featuring The Joffrey Ballet) Orphée et Eurydice by Christoph Gluck (1714 – 1787) Seven performances, Sept. 23 – Oct. 15, 2017 In French with projected English translations One of the most influential works in the history of opera, Orfeo edEurydice (1762) – presented at Lyric in its original Italian version most recently in 2005/06 – was revised significantly by Gluck for the Paris Opera in 1774. This version altered the role of Orpheus from alto castrato to tenor, while also adding a significant amount of ballet music to the score (including two celebrated scenes, the “Dance of the Furies” and the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits”). Familiar from Greek myths, the plot centers on the poet-musician Orphée (Orpheus), whose singing was so beautiful that it could charm the fierce guardians of the Underworld. After receiving encouragement from the god of love, Amour, Orphée travels to Hades to bring his dead wife, Eurydice, back to earth. Integral to the production will be the participation of TheJoffrey Ballet in the company’s first collaboration with Lyric. Orphée Dmitry Korchak* Conductor Harry Bicket Eurydice Andriana Chuchman? Director/Choreographer John Neumeier* Amour Lauren Snouffer Set/Costume/Lighting Design John Neumeier* Associate Set Designer Heinrich Tröger* Lighting Realization Chris Maravich Chorus Master Michael Black *Lyric Debut ?Ryan Opera Center Alumna Anthony Freud: “Orphée et Eurydice requires artists of deep sensitivity and intelligence, both to produce it and to perform it. We’re thrilled that world-renowned choreographer John Neumeier – in a very exciting collaboration between Lyric and The Joffrey Ballet – will not only create the vital dance elements of this opera, but also direct and design it. Harry Bicket, who has already proven himself a superb interpreter of Gluck in Lyric’s previous production, will conduct. I know the marvelous Russian lyric tenor Dmitry Korchak will lavish on the role of Orphée all the beauty of sound, dazzling technique, and deep expressiveness it requires. Andriana Chuchman, one of our most successful Ryan Opera Center alumni of recent years, will return as Eurydice, and the delightful Lauren Snouffer will be back with us to sing Amour.” Sir Andrew Davis: “Gluck’s version of the Orpheus myth is one of the most exquisite in the entire repertoire. We’ve produced it at Lyric before with great success, but not in the version that has Orpheus recast as a tenor (rather than male or female alto). There’s virtuosity in the music for the hero, as well as captivating ballet music, added to satisfy the expectations of Paris audiences. At the same time, all the musical and dramatic glory of the original version is retained, making for an unforgettably beautiful and profoundly moving experience.” A coproduction of Lyric Opera of Chicago, Los Angeles Opera, and Staatsoper Hamburg. New Lyric Opera coproduction of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydicegenerously made possible by The Monument Trust (UK), the Abbott Fund, Margot and Josef Lakonishok, the NIB Foundation, an Anonymous Donor, J.P. Morgan, The Anne and Burt Kaplan Fund, Bill and Orli Staley Foundation, and Liz Stiffel. New-to-Chicago Production Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901) Eight performances, Oct. 7 – Nov. 3, 2017 In Italian with projected English translations Rigoletto, Verdi’s masterpiece of 1851, presents a magnificent, deeply moving characterization of a hunchbacked court jester consumed by bitterness and revenge. Rigoletto is the father of Gilda, who is seduced and abandoned by the licentious Duke of Mantua. Sparafucile is the assassin hired by Rigoletto to murder the Duke; Maddalena is Sparafucile’s seductive sister; and Count Monterone’s curse on Rigoletto initiates the drama of the opera. Rigoletto Quinn Kelsey° Conductor Marco Armiliato Gilda Rosa Feola* Director E. Loren Meeker Duke Matthew Polenzani° Set Designer Michael Yeargan Sparafucile Alexander Tsymbalyuk* Costume Designer Constance Hoffman Maddalena Zanda Šv?de* Lighting Designer Chris Maravich Monterone Todd Thomas Chorus Master Michael Black *Lyric Debut °Ryan Opera Center Alumni Anthony Freud: “It is a source of immense pride to all of us at Lyric that Quinn Kelsey, an alumnus of our Ryan Opera Center and one of today’s few true Verdi baritones, will return to lead the cast ofRigoletto. The title role has become his signature at major houses all over North America and Europe. His fellow Ryan Opera Center alumnus, Matthew Polenzani, one of the foremost tenors of our time, will be back with us after his recent triumph here as Tamino. These two Lyric favorites will be joined by Rosa Feola, an entrancing young Italian soprano, and by the charismatic Ukrainian bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk, in their Lyric debuts. I’m delighted that Marco Armiliato – a master of his native Italian repertoire – will return to conduct, and that E. Loren Meeker will create new direction within the beautiful production from San Francisco Opera.” Sir Andrew Davis: “My conducting teacher in Italy, the legendary Franco Ferrara, once told me that Rigoletto was, in fact, the greatest of all Italian operas. Certainly its melodies are endlessly appealing (who doesn’t adore ‘La donna è mobile,’ ‘Caro nome,’ and the glorious quartet?), and the protagonist Rigoletto is one of the most monumentally dramatic and powerful characterizations in the history of opera.” Lyric Opera presentation of Verdi’s Rigoletto generously made possible by Julie and Roger Baskes, Howard L. Gottlieb and Barbara Greis, and Roberta L. and Robert J. Washlow. Production owned by San Francisco Opera. New Production Die Walküre by Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) Seven performances, Nov. 1 – Nov. 30, 2017 In German with projected English translations The second opera of Wagner’s monumental Ring cycle, Die Walkürefocuses on the conflict between Wotan, king of the gods, and his mortal son, Siegmund, who has unwittingly fallen in love with his own twin, Sieglinde, the wife of the brutish Hunding. This arouses the wrath of Wotan’s wife, Fricka (the goddess of marriage), and the compassion of Wotan’s daughter, the warrior-maiden Brünnhilde. The turning point of the opera arrives when Brünnhilde disobeys her father by siding with Siegmund in the latter’s fight against Hunding. This production continues Lyric’s new Ring, which began with the opening production of the 2016/17 season, Das Rheingold. Brünnhilde Christine Goerke Conductor Sir Andrew Davis Sieglinde Elisabet Strid* Director David Pountney Fricka Tanja Ariane Baumgartner Original Set Designer Johan Engels Siegmund Brandon Jovanovich Set Designer Robert Innes Hopkins Wotan Eric Owens Costume Designer Marie-Jeanne Lecca Hunding Ain Anger* Lighting Designer Fabrice Kebour Choreographer Denni Sayers *Lyric Debut Anthony Freud: “After David Pountney’s thrilling production of Das Rheingold, which opened Lyric’s new Ring cycle this season, I’m incredibly eager to witness his vision of Die Walküre, one of Wagner’s most human dramas with its exploration of family relationships. The production will renew David’s collaboration with Sir Andrew Davis, which was so memorable not just in Rheingold but also in The Passenger two seasons ago. Returning to us will be four brilliant, internationally acclaimed Wagnerians: Christine Goerke, Eric Owens, Brandon Jovanovich, and Tanja Ariane Baumgartner. We’ll also welcome to Lyric the remarkable Swedish soprano Elisabet Strid and the formidable Estonian bass Ain Anger.” Sir Andrew Davis: “I find Die Walküre a deeply engrossing work, in which relationships between the major characters are revealed psychologically in the most remarkably insightful way by Wagner. At the same time, this opera’s music is surely the most beautiful in the entire Ring cycle, from the arias of Siegmund and Sieglinde to Wotan’s grandiose farewell and the ravishing Magic Fire Music that ends the opera. I found conducting Walküre during Lyric’s 2004/05 season one of the most rewarding experiences of my operatic career, and I very much look forward to returning to it.” New Lyric Opera production of the Ring cycle generously made possible by Lead Sponsor an Anonymous Donor and cosponsors Mr. & Mrs. Dietrich M. Gross, the Gramma Fisher Foundation of Marshalltown, Iowa, and Ada and Whitney Addington. New Lyric Opera production of Wagner’s Die Walküre generously made possible by the Lloyd E. Rigler-Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation, the Mazza Foundation, Helen and Sam Zell, and the Marianne Deson Trust, in memory of her parents Samuel and Sarah Deson. New-to-Chicago Production The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet (1838 – 1875) Seven performances, Nov. 19 – Dec. 10, 2017 In French with projected English translations Bizet’s captivating 1863 opera, The Pearl Fishers, is beloved by audiences everywhere for its score, which includes the most popular tenor-baritone duet in opera. The libretto and music conjure up a particularly exotic locale: ancient Ceylon, where the priestess Leïla is loved by both the fisherman Nadir and Zurga, king of the pearl fishers. The travails of this love triangle lead to disaster when Zurga believes himself betrayed by Leïla and Nadir. Leïla Marina Rebeka Conductor Sir Andrew Davis Nadir Matthew Polenzani° Director Andrew Sinclair Zurga Mariusz Kwiecie? Set and Costume Designer Zandra Rhodes* Nourabad Andrea Silvestrelli Lighting Designer Ron Vodicka* Chorus Master Michael Black Choreographer John Malashock* *Lyric Debut °Ryan Opera Center Alumnus Anthony Freud: “We’re delighted to welcome back director Andrew Sinclair and to introduce Lyric audiences to the fabulously colorful set and costume designs of Zandra Rhodes, a leading figure in international fashion. Sir Andrew will lead a cast of great Lyric favorites: Marina Rebeka, who was so remarkable as both Violetta and Donna Anna at Lyric; Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecie?, who triumphed together in this opera in a new Met production last season; and Andrea Silvestrelli, currently performing in our Norma, who will be singing a French role at Lyric for the first time.” Sir Andrew Davis: “For years I’ve been eager to take on The Pearl Fishers. What exquisite music this is! We all know the famous tenor-baritone duet, but there’s a great deal more to savor – not just the arias and the soaring love duet, but also sweepingly dramatic ensembles and choral scenes. It’s an exotically beautiful score, with Ceylon brought to life through an elegant, quintessentially French sensibility.” Lyric Opera presentation of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers generously made possible by the Harris Family Foundation and Sylvia Neil and Daniel Fischel. Production owned by San Diego Opera. New-to-Chicago Production Turandot by Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924) Ten performances, Dec. 5, 2017 – Jan. 27, 2018 In Italian with projected English translations Turandot (1926), the final work of Puccini’s career, showcases the composer’s magnificent melodic outpourings (including the tenor’s celebrated “Nessun dorma”) and reveals Puccini at his peak as a creator of exotically beautiful orchestration. Taking place in ancient Peking, the story centers on the icy Princess Turandot, who will marry the prince who answers her three riddles correctly, but any suitor who fails is put to death. Calaf is the unknown prince who falls in love with Turandot at first sight and, victorious in the riddles, challenges her to learn his name. Calaf is loved by the slave Liù, who serves his father Timur, the exiled Tartar king. The lighter side of the opera is contributed by Turandot’s three lively ministers – Ping, Pang, and Pong. Turandot Amber Wagner° Conductor Sir Andrew Davis (12/5 – 1/21) Robert Tweten (1/27) Liù Maria Agresta (December)* Janai Brugger (January)* Director Rob Kearley* Calaf Stefano La Colla* Set and Costume Designer Allen Charles Klein* Timur Andrea Silvestrelli Lighting Designer Chris Maravich Ping Zachary Nelson Chorus Master Michael Black Pang Rodell Rosel° Pong Keith Jameson *Lyric Debut °Ryan Opera Center Alumni Anthony Freud: “In the years since Amber Wagner concluded her tenure at the Ryan Opera Center, her voice has been recognized as one of the most thrilling on the international scene. After her great successes at Lyric in Il trovatore and Tannhäuser, all of us look forward to welcoming her back for the awe-inspiring title role of Turandot. Performing opposite her will be three debuting artists who have distinguished themselves in major international houses: Italian soprano Maria Agresta, American soprano Janai Brugger, and Italian tenor Stefano La Colla. We’ll present Puccini’s opera in a beautiful production that originated at The Dallas Opera.” Sir Andrew Davis: “It’s exhilarating to conduct Turandot, since Puccini was such a stupendous orchestrator. When I conducted this opera previously at Lyric, the orchestra and I simply reveled in the exoticism of the instrumentation and the sheer grandeur of the score. At the same time, I’m also attracted to the intimate arias of the lyric soprano Liù, and of course, I – like the rest of the world – can’t resist ‘Nessun dorma,’ which has become perhaps the most popular of all tenor arias!” Lyric Opera presentation of Puccini’s Turandot generously made possible by Robert S. and Susan E. Morrison. Production owned by Lyric Opera of Chicago, originally created by Bliss Hebert and Allen Charles Klein for Florida Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, and San Francisco Opera. I Puritani by Vincenzo Bellini (1801 – 1835) Seven performances, Feb. 4 – Feb. 28, 2018 In Italian with projected English translations The opera takes place at a fortress near Plymouth during the English Civil War of the 1640s. Elvira is betrothed to Sir Riccardo Forth, a Puritan colonel, although she is not in love with him. Instead, she loves Arturo Talbot, a Cavalier and a Stuart sympathizer, who loves her in return. Once aware of Elvira’s unhappiness, Elvira’s uncle, Sir Giorgio, convinces her father, Lord Walter, to give his permission for her to marry Arturo. At the wedding celebration, Arturo discovers that Queen Enrichetta has been imprisoned in the castle. By covering the queen in a wedding veil, Arturo helps her escape. Elvira believes she has been abandoned by Arturo, but in the end, the two are happily reunited. Elvira Albina Shagimuratova Conductor Enrique Mazzola Arturo Lawrence Brownlee Director Eric Einhorn Riccardo Anthony Clark Evans° Set Designer Ming Cho Lee Giorgio Adrian Sâmpetrean Costume Designer Peter J. Hall Lighting Designer Chris Maravich Chorus Master Michael Black °Ryan Opera Center Alumnus Anthony Freud: “Opera companies can produce I Puritani only when four extraordinary singers are available, and I’m delighted to say that we have them. Albina Shagimuratova, the Russian soprano who was so enthralling as both Gilda and Lucia at Lyric, will return for the virtuosic role of Elvira. Lawrence Brownlee, after his dazzling Lyric debut last season as Ramiro in Cinderella, will sing the even more stratospheric role of Arturo. Baritone Anthony Clark Evans, a gifted Ryan Opera Center alumnus now embarked on what will certainly be a major career, portrays Riccardo, with the marvelous Romanian bass Adrian Sâmpetrean, who made an indelible impression at Lyric in this season’s Lucia di Lammermoor, returning as Giorgio. That production also saw the company debut of Enrique Mazzola, and I’m very pleased to welcome him back to conduct this wonderfully romantic production.” Sir Andrew Davis: “Bel canto works provide opera goers with endless pleasure, and within that repertoire, Bellini stands supreme for the sheer grace and elegance of the melodies. I Puritani is one of his greatest masterpieces, abounding with one unforgettable moment after another, including the baritone’s romantic soliloquy, the soprano’s mad scene, and the tenor’s final aria with its famous F above high C!” Lyric Opera presentation of Bellini’s I Puritani generously made possible by the Donna Van Eekeren Foundation and an Anonymous Donor, with additional support provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. This production was originally directed by Sandro Sequi and premiered at The Metropolitan Opera. All scenery, properties, and costumes constructed by The Metropolitan Opera. Così fan tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) Seven performances, Feb. 17 – Mar. 16, 2018 In Italian with projected English translations The most sophisticated and intimate of the three Mozart/da Ponte operas, Così fan tutte (1790) is a fascinating “school for lovers” story in which two couples learn a great deal about their true feelings for each other. The cynically mischievous Don Alfonso stirs the pot with two earnest young officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, wagering that their fiancées, sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi, cannot remain faithful for 24 hours. The officers depart as if to go to war, then return disguised to woo each other’s beloved. Don Alfonso manipulates the proceedings in cahoots with the sisters’ maid, the ever-resourceful Despina. Fiordiligi Ana María Martínez Conductor James Gaffigan* Dorabella Marianne Crebassa Director John Cox Despina Elena Tsallagova* Set & Costume Designer Robert Perdziola Ferrando Antonio Poli Lighting Designer Chris Maravich Guglielmo Joshua Hopkins Chorus Master Michael Black Don Alfonso Alessandro Corbelli *Lyric Debut Anthony Freud: “With just six characters onstage in Così fan tutteand constant interaction between them, this opera needs perfect musical and dramatic rapport between the artists. Sir Andrew and I both feel we have assembled an ideal cast, including Ana María Martínez, a great Lyric favorite whose Donna Elvira in Don Giovannishowed her to be a masterful interpreter of Mozart’s music and a marvelous comedic actress; Alessandro Corbelli, today’s ultimate master of comic repertoire; three young artists who have captivated our audiences – Marianne Crebassa, Antonio Poli, and Joshua Hopkins; and Elena Tsallagova, who will make what I know will be an enchanting Lyric debut. No director understands this opera better than the legendary John Cox, and he’ll collaborate with the brilliant American conductor James Gaffigan, who has rapidly ascended to the top rank internationally.” Sir Andrew Davis: “The music is so extraordinarily satisfying! I’m endlessly intrigued by it dramatically as well, since there are so many ways it can be interpreted. It needs tremendous sophistication from the performers onstage, and also the ability to relate to each other on a very intimate level as an ensemble. It is, in fact, the ensemble opera par excellence, but the solo opportunities for individual characters are glorious, too!” Lyric Opera presentation of Mozart’s Così fan tutte generously made possible by Lead Sponsor The Negaunee Foundation and cosponsors Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin, Marion A. Cameron, and Nancy and Sanfred Koltun. A joint production of Opéra de Monte Carlo and San Francisco Opera. New Production Faust by Charles Gounod (1818 – 1893) Seven performances, Mar. 3 – Mar. 21, 2018 In French with projected English translations This exceptionally romantic, universally popular work had its premiere in Paris in early 1859. The story is one of the most justly celebrated in opera. The aged philosopher Faust – at the urging of Satan’s agent, Méphistophélès – is made young again in exchange for his soul. The drama encompasses Faust’s encounter with the innocent Marguerite, his wooing and subsequent abandonment of her, the death of her brother Valentin at Faust’s own hand, and Marguerite’s ensuing madness, death, and redemption. Siébel is the boy in love with Marguerite, Marthe, Marguerite’s busybody neighbor, offers comic relief. Faust Benjamin Bernheim* Conductor Emmanuel Villaume Marguerite Erin Wall° (3/3 – 3/18) Ana María Martínez (3/21) Director Kevin Newbury Méphistophélès Christian Van Horn° Production Designer John Frame* Valentin Edward Parks* Set/Costume Designer Victoria Tzykun* Siébel Annie Rosen° Lighting Designer Duane Schuler Marthe Jill Grove Projection Designer David Adam Moore* Chorus Master Michael Black *Lyric Debut °Ryan Opera Center Alumni Anthony Freud: “I’m delighted that this quintessentially French opera will have a French conductor at the helm – Emmanuel Villaume, whose immaculate sense of style has graced many Lyric productions. For all of us who have followed the dazzling international careers of two Ryan Opera Center alumni, Erin Wall and Christian Van Horn, it will be a joy to welcome them back to our stage, as well as Ana María Martínez. Both she and Erin have triumphed as Marguerite at Lyric previously. We’ll also present a remarkably gifted young French tenor, Benjamin Bernheim, and a dashing American baritone, Edward Parks, in their Lyric debuts. Directing our new production will be Kevin Newbury, with us most recently for Norma and the world premiere of Bel Canto.” Sir Andrew Davis: “I’ve adored Faust for many years, thanks to its irresistible, overwhelmingly romantic music. Of course, I also relish the fabulously elegant characterization Gounod gives the devil! There are wonderful arias, as well as the spectacular final trio – music that has enraptured opera audiences for more than 150 years.” New Lyric Opera coproduction of Gounod’s Faust generously made possible by Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson. Faust is a coproduction of Lyric Opera of Chicago and Portland Opera. New Production & Lyric Premiere Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber (1948) and Tim Rice (1944) Twenty-six performances, Apr. 27 – May 20, 2018 One of the greatest stories ever told comes to life in the groundbreaking, iconic rock opera that reinvented musical theater for the modern age. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, this global blockbuster tells the story of the final weeks of Jesus Christ from the perspective of Judas Iscariot. As Christ’s followers grow more fervent, Judas must make his fateful choice between faith and betrayal. Filled with an exciting mix of musical styles that draw upon 1970s rock, gospel, folk, and funk themes, this contemporary imagining of the biblical tale features high-energy dance and powerful storytelling. Director Timothy Sheader* Choreographer Drew McOnie* Set/Costume Designer Tom Scutt* Lighting Designer Lee Curran* *Lyric Debut The conductor and cast will be announced at a later date.

parterre box

February 1

The sprite in you

Yesterday’s first half of the Rusalka video overview took us from literalism toward Regietheater. Today’s conclusion, covering filmed performances of Dvorák’s opera since 2010, charts the progression in reverse. For his 2010 Munich production , Martin Kusej took inspiration from then-recent headlines: the ordeal of Elisabeth Fritzl, an Austrian woman who from 1984 until 2008 had been imprisoned, raped, and seven times impregnated by her father. Kusej’s watery realm is a flooded basement. Rusalka’s many fellow captives vary in age from adults to a grotesquely tarted-up little girl. // The Water Goblin wears a bathrobe over sweatpants and a stained wife-beater, and the singer resembles a younger, fitter Josef Fritzl. The Goblin’s basement visits are exciting occasions for the women and girls; he is their entire world. They have been brainwashed into believing they are fantastic creatures in a magical place, but they instinctively recoil at the worst of the abuse. Familiar lines have bitter irony, as when the Goblin cautions Rusalka that human beings in the world beyond are “full of sin.” Rusalka addresses her moon song to a globe-shaped lighting fixture. The Goblin’s wife, Jezibaba, living above in the “woods” (kitschy living-room wallpaper), is both cowed and complicit, victim and victimizer. She fortifies her courage with alcohol when she must play a part in the fraudulence and come face to face with what is usually out of her sight. There is terrible power in a young woman begging a “witch” for things she already has. Jezibaba’s magic consists of pouring alcohol down Rusalka’s throat and putting her in a floral dress, a barrette, and painful red heels. This echoes an earlier scene in which the Goblin had forced Rusalka into a shiny party dress, and anticipates a later one in which the Prince forces her into a wedding gown. The Prince unwittingly reinforces Jezibaba’s deception: when Rusalka shakes off the uncomfortable shoes and the barrette, her puts them back on her. Out in the world, the damaged, sexually unresponsive Rusalka lacks even the identity assigned her in the Goblin’s role play. She had sung in the first act about human souls filled with love, but she encounters nothing of the kind. “Deliver us from evil!” she hears the Gamekeeper cry as he molests his niece, the Turnspit (future newsmaker Tara Erraught). The Turnspit, a nasty little person in the making, represents another response to victimization. She sneers at Rusalka’s attempt to make friends, and contemptuously wipes her hands on Rusalka’s dress. The Prince and the spiteful Foreign Princess have mechanical, fully clothed sex against a wall. The ballet is a nightmare of gowned brides (female and male) clutching and fondling dead deer. Kusej is frank about the complicated feelings incest survivors may have for their victimizers. By the middle of the second act, the heroine’s thoughts of her former captor are nearly nostalgic, and she climbs into an aquarium. “No one in the world can give you what the watery realm abounds in,” the Goblin sings when he reappears in Rusalka’s cheerless new home, perhaps only as a voice in Rusalka’s mind. At least in the basement, she was special. Even in the modern world, there is hysterical superstition–recall the 2012 apocalyptic blather–but this modern-world production is weakest when people from outside the Goblin’s house discuss curses and supernatural matters. The Act Three visit of the Gamekeeper and Turnspit to the house is necessary, as ensuing events bring the Goblin and Jezibaba to justice and liberate their prisoners, but the scene remains problematic. However, of all six productions covered, this one makes the most of the Act Three scene for the Wood Nymphs, which can seem musically attractive padding. The treatment of the trio as sad mental patients, clinging to delusions of extraordinary abilities and extraordinary beauty, is a poignant inspiration. Kristine Opolais asked to be released from what was to have been her Met debut (Musetta) to step into this Rusalka when Nina Stemme withdrew. The decision proved wise: it was a star-making opportunity. Opolais’s voice, cooler and narrower than Renée Fleming‘s, and under nothing like Fleming’s or Gabriela Benacková‘s technical command, nevertheless had luster and float to it. I have not heard her sound this attractive in her Covent Garden/Met years. Opolais considers herself an actress as much as or more than a singer, and she responds to Kusej’s direction with a courageous, detailed performance. As the murderous, institutionalized Rusalka of the final scene, she is by turns calculating, frighteningly evil, triumphant to the point of gloating, but then horrified, distraught, catatonic. It is a bravura display. The singing of her Prince, Klaus Florian Vogt, is “fine” as that word would be applied to thread and to jewelry. The sound is not that of the traditional heldentenor but is of exquisite quality, shrewdly managed. Günther Groissböck has as difficult a job as Opolais does, and goes along with stage business many singers would have wanted no part of. Both his beautiful singing and his charismatic presence are more than this Goblin deserves, which may be the point. Janina Baechle has the measure of a complex Jezibaba: worn down, tormented, but capable of terrible violence herself. A mezzo rather than soprano Foreign Princess, Nadia Krasteva summons powerful vocal gusts and makes of the role the glamorous star turn it can be but usually is not. Tomas Hanus leads with a good feel for Czech speech rhythms, and there is much to praise (I liked his whip-cracking treatment of the first scene), but his is the driest, least lush and “romantic” reading of any of these performances. The production is riveting on its terms, full of committed work from a uniformly strong cast, but not a Rusalka I often return to or want to see again with other singers. This is not a reaction against the lurid slant on the material. It plays like an auteur-driven European film (think Dogtooth), to be seen once. Kusej found unusual possibilities and correspondences and arranged them into a rigorous diagram. For all the intelligent detail, the two productions discussed on either side of this one leave us more to wonder about. It hints at both the strength and weakness of Kusej’s Rusalka that my notes on it read like material for a clinical case study. Viewers open to Regietheater but put off by the squalor of the above may find a corrective in Stefan Herheim‘s La Monnaie production , new in 2008 and filmed in a 2012 revival. Although its primary setting is an intersection in a rough part of some modern European city, perhaps Brussels, it is dazzling to behold: saturated with color, lively in movement, with a wondrous cinematic set by Heike Scheele. // By the end, we feel we have spent time in this place and could find our way around in it, as in some classic Hollywood films. However, the production’s content and style made me think of very different films: Ingmar Bergman‘s grim From the Life of the Marionettes, a little of David Lynch at his most fractured (Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire). Herheim, still a young director today, has been working long enough that I suppose we can speak of his “early” and “later” work. This Rusalka may surprise fans who came to him via something more recent, such as La bohème, Les vêpres siciliennes, Meistersinger or Pikovaya Dama. The Rusalka is wilder, less focused, like three different conceptual productions running simultaneously. The effect is of inspired, meticulously planned chaos. Inspired chaos is challenging to describe even in an article entirely about it, but the story with which the production begins and ends is clear enough. The central figure is not Rusalka but the Water Goblin, a middle-aged businessman (pimp?) living unhappily with Mrs. Water Goblin in an apartment overlooking a busy street. The Goblin is fascinated by a prostitute, Rusalka. Jezibaba is a grubby street person who sells flowers. The neighborhood’s focal point is a diner operating under the name of Solaris by day, Lunatic by night. When the Goblin’s marriage ends in violent tragedy, other characters stop to gawk for a minute before going on with their lives. Those facts are the through line. What happens in the vast middle of the production takes us in many directions, and little can be taken at face value. Rusalka is smitten with a young sailor, the Prince. The “humanity” to which she aspires is the bourgeois domesticity the Goblin has. The Goblin discourages her from leaving her “sisters” (other prostitutes) in “nature” (the streets) because he regrets the way his own life has turned out. But the closing scene suggests Rusalka never, in fact, aspired to any new life, or if her conversation with the Goblin did happen, she never acted on it. A good deal of what takes place between the opening and closing may be understood as the imaginings of an unreliable narrator, the Goblin. He is so central that at points when Dvorák and Kvapil made him an unseen character, an offstage voice, Herheim makes him the only seen character. Rusalka herself is more symbolic and more elusive than ever. Another director might have squeezed a whole production out of what is set up with the prostitute and the sad middle-aged man. Herheim is hunting bigger and more varied game. He also explores gender roles via repeating costumes, as Robert Carsen had: every female character is Woman; every male character is Man. The Prince is a younger version of the Goblin, and the older one shadows and mimics the younger. There is an imaginative and rather heartbreaking sequence in which Herheim pairs four singer-actors, Rusalka/Goblin and Prince/Foreign Princess (Mrs. Goblin), to show us intimate partnership in two stages, the passionate excitement at the start and the tedium and discord of much later. Are we observing two relationships, one relationship, or does it matter? Herheim also comments on the artificiality and the compelling power of opera. An onstage advertising kiosk displays a poster for the production. The Prince and the Foreign Princess watch some of the second act from a box and consult their programs. Rusalka plays diva despair to the hilt and stabs herself grandly, and then reveals with a laugh that the prop knife has not harmed her. Other characters seemingly die but return uninjured for later scenes. A female principal appears in a bloodied dress, without explanation, and it foreshadows the production’s troubling denouement like a premonitory dream. I have not even mentioned the Water Goblin’s brief turn as Neptune, conducting the revelry of aquatic creatures with his trident but losing control of it (Herheim would return to this idea with the fairy-tale creatures in the Meistersinger melee). As confetti falls on the audience, this festival becomes an orgy that spills into the aisles. That is the sort of production it is: the splashy, auditorium-filling coup de théâtre pictured on the DVD’s cover is almost incidental. Willard White had long experience as the Water Goblin (he sang it 40 years ago to the Rusalka of Teresa Stratas), and this Rusalka needed a singing actor of his majestic presence to pull it together. White rarely leaves the stage, and it is the kind of performance one wants to call career-crowning. Some vocal power is gone, but nothing else is. Right from the staged prelude, one is reminded he was a good enough actor to hold the stage as Othello opposite Ian McKellen‘s Iago. The balance of the cast is not one of the best in this survey for quality of voices, but the singers perform as though they know they are taking part in something special. Myrtò Papatanasiu brings an unusual voice to an unusual Rusalka, a mature tone with a touch of acid and a beat under pressure, but potent high notes. She and young Czech tenor Pavel Cernoch (occasionally strained) are affecting in their final scene, both for the sincerity of their work and because the production’s strands begin to come together. The delicacy of Adám Fischer‘s conducting of La Monnaie’s orchestra, with phrases seemingly conjured and carried on breaths, is an effective counter to the big show being accompanied. The performing edition takes some cuts, conspicuously the Act Three scene for Gamekeeper and Turnspit. Herheim’s Rusalka is best understood as a “fantasy” in both senses of the word: an imaginative exercise in the improbable or impossible, which Rusalka always was, and a free-form variation on an existing work. It is surprising, cryptic, undisciplined, musical, emotionally affecting in peculiar ways, and clearly the work of someone with vision and great gifts. About Rusalka itself, I wrote in my introduction yesterday that its score does not give up all its secrets immediately. In that respect, Herheim’s production is worthy of it. The last note I took was “When the sun comes up, we have to stop being lunatics, and there is never really a prince.” I do not know what I intended to make of that observation, but left verbatim, that about sums it up. Having been through Pountney’s geometry, Carsen’s algebra, Kusej’s trigonometry and Herheim’s calculus, we return to basic arithmetic. The traditional Otto Schenk/Günther Schneider-Siemssen production was filmed in its final Metropolitan Opera revival in 2014. First seen at the Met in 1993, it had premiered in Vienna in 1987 and was substantially the same as the duo’s 1981 Munich Rusalka. // Even a fan of the lavish, illustrative approach taken here may wish the filming had been done at an earlier point in the production’s history. This is not a dislikable performance, but it is an impersonal one. This stands out less when it is seen in isolation than it does following a few Rusalkas that, whatever flaws and challenges they presented, were full of individuality. From the Met, we get a display of operatic professionalism, canny instincts rather than questing intelligence. If you get old sets and costumes out of storage, skilled people such as these will come to town, rehearse a little and put a show on. Nothing much will go wrong; nothing much will be discovered. Schneider-Siemssen’s sets, lit with discretion, were older than the professional careers of most of the singers. Limited rehearsal time keeps anything much from happening on those sets beyond a visual aid with the music. Singers in theme-restaurant costumes step into three-dimensional realizations of sketches from the 1980s, strike poses, flag the big moments for the people sitting up high. Seen in close-up, it has a big-house fatuousness about it. If you look away from the screen for a while, you only miss more of the same. Yannick Nézet-Séguin is not in on the routine, and gets a glamorous and powerful reading from the Met’s orchestra. He has an appealing group of singers, well matched to their assignments in temperament and vocal endowment: Fleming again (bidding farewell to a favorite role), Emily Magee, Dolora Zajick, Piotr Beczala, John Relyea. Fleming’s sound is less plush and rich than in the 2002 Paris production, and Zajick’s middle does not project as strongly as it had in her best years, but these women knew how to sing, sounded good for a long time and still had more than enough in 2014. Their seniority is not what makes the release comparatively underwhelming. If any cast member emerges with great credit, it is Beczala. This Prince does not find him in best voice–a rasp in the tone hints at a mild winter illness and/or a heavy workload–and his acting is just star-tenor standard. But there is a bighearted generosity in his embrace of music and character that can only be called winning (literally–he seems the audience’s favorite in the ovations). More than anyone else, he seems to be living up there. This is the good kind of “old-fashioned,” the kind that is always welcome. Of the six performances covered, only the Pountney seems to me entirely uncompetitive now. The Weigl film has strong appeal within its strictures, and the Schenk has musical merits and may scratch some nostalgic itch. The challenging Kusej should be seen once, the equally challenging Herheim more than once. But I have no difficulty designating the Carsen, a well-balanced production that has stood the test of time, catch of the day. Photo: Ken Howard

parterre box

January 31

White blossoms scorched by the sun

When Kristine Opolais turns her gaze moonward in Mary Zimmerman‘s new Rusalka on Thursday, Dvorák’s 1901 opera will be receiving just its second Met production. Ms. Opolais joins an exclusive club. The Met’s only prior Rusalkas have been Renée Fleming (18 performances), Gabriela Benacková (8) and Gwynne Geyer (one, and immortality as an opera trivia stumper). While some once-popular Met operas have fallen into neglect in the past quarter century, Rusalka has returned regularly since its 1993 premiere. This reflects both the title role’s favor with a reigning house diva of the period and an upturn in the opera’s fortunes worldwide. Dvorák’s centrality in symphonic and chamber repertoire, and the characteristic nature of this score, may make it surprising that the rest of the world was slow to see virtues Czechoslovakia recognized immediately. Perhaps, as sometimes is the case in music and theater, Rusalka had to wait for its time to come. Its worldwide popularity solidified in an era when love and intimacy carried new dangers. I wonder if operagoers of the 1980s and early 1990s, losing friends and treasured artists every year, fearing for their own lives, found special poignancy in the words of Rusalka and the Prince. “I may once have been your beloved, but now I can only bring you death.” “This world is already lost to me. Let me die of your kisses.” Today the opera has a different contemporary resonance. Rusalka desires and pursues a fundamental transformation, knowing it will come at the cost of estrangement from family. She seeks acceptance and love in her new identity but encounters suspicion, mockery and rejection. New acquaintances describe her with the Czech equivalents of “creepy” and “strange creature.” Most of us in the second decade of the 21st century know or know of someone who has had a similar journey, if we have not lived it ourselves. Dvorák wrote in an 1889 letter to Tchaikovsky: “I joyfully confess that your opera made a big and profound impression on me, precisely of the kind that I always expect from a true work of art. I do not hesitate to say that not one of your compositions has pleased me so much as Onegin has. […] When I am at the theatre [during Onegin] I feel myself transported into another world.” Just as Dvorák’s mature symphonies disclose the influence of his friend Brahms, so does Rusalka carry hints of Tchaikovsky. The Prince’s lyrical outpouring at the close of Act One sounds like Gherman in amorous cry, and Act Two’s polonaise evokes the dances of Onegin. An even stronger influence on Rusalka was, of course, Wagner. Few composers have so successfully applied Wagnerian techniques to their own idiom as Dvorák did here. This continuous music, dense with leitmotifs and chromatic harmonies, largely eschews vocal ensemble. Sometimes we may think of Lohengrin, sometimes the Ring operas, with the three Wood Nymphs being unmistakable musical cousins to the Rheinmaidens. And is that a splash of Tristan in the ecstatic transformation of the four-note “fate” motif for Act Three’s fateful kiss? The prelude strings together a few of the motifs that will return over and over, and through them tells the story in microcosm. The Water Goblin’s realm is quietly evoked at the start, followed by the haunting motif of Rusalka’s longing. Each of these themes then is repeated, the latter one in elaborated form. At the prelude’s halfway point, the Prince’s motif enters. This breach seems to agitate the Water Goblin (or nature itself?) and to excite Rusalka, whose longing soars into a new octave–what had been melancholic is now urgent, febrile. The conflict reaches an explosive climax, “Rusalka’s longing” echoes plaintively (truncated), and we close on an important new motif: descending semitones of foreboding and futility–damnation. Rusalka was, like Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff, a collaboration between a revered master late in life and a much younger but strong-minded librettist. Jaroslav Kvapil drew from several sources in his poetic recasting of the undine myth, and shopped his finished libretto around to several musical contacts until he was introduced to the man perfect to set it. Indeed, a more sinister “Vodnik” (Water Goblin) had been the subject of Dvorák’s 1896 symphonic poem of that title. The opera that Dvorák and Kvapil created together is both rich in immediate appeal and worthy of prolonged study. Not all of this score’s secrets are given up at first, and in watching and listening to six filmed performances from the last 40 years, I continued to uncover those secrets. It is an opera as beautiful and strange as its otherworldly heroine. For a time, there was a vogue for opera films in which actors stood in for prerecorded singers, and Moravian director Petr Weigl made several of them. His 1977 Rusalka presents the opera in settings of picturesque realism. Every scene was shot outdoors, but for a few inserts in studio-simulated outdoors. We see real trees, flowers and grass, a real lake and bridge, several horses. The hems of beautiful gowns are dragged on the ground and never show a spot. Rusalka and the Prince look like storybook young lovers…from a ’70s television show’s approximation of some distant period. Some “magical” visual effects have not aged well, but this is competent filmmaking with basic cinematic grammar, heavy on alternating medium close-ups of the “singing” character and the listening one. Neither actors nor singers are ideally served. The singers are denied their physical presence; the actors are denied their voices and encouraged toward understated acting, not the vivid theatricality of silent films. These are accomplished Czech actors, but what they do will not be a revelation to a viewer who has seen good actors on the operatic stage. The Rusalka actress (Magda Vásáryová) clasps her hands, lowers her eyes, and looks forlorn for Papa Goblin. The singer voicing her would have done about as well, if less prettily. About a half hour is excised from the score. The narrative keeps its shape, but it is a shame to lose a note with this idiomatic cast and conductor. The soundtrack has the appeal of an Italian verismo opera from a vintage cast, Bolshoi Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky from the mid-20th century, or French Romantic arias from early recording days. When such music is embraced by the world and becomes everyone’s, on one hand it is to be celebrated, but something gets diluted. There is a persuasive freedom in singing and playing, a “rightness” in the musical argument, not duplicated on any of the later DVDs. Much credit goes to conductor Libor Pesek, who whisks motifs into the blend like a master chef, leading the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. Only Gabriela Benacková, bright-toned and graceful of phrase, and the young, fresh Peter Dvorsky are widely known internationally, but everyone is stylish and authoritative. Ondrej Malachovský had been a Water Goblin of great warmth and forbearance in an earlier film beyond my scope, and he remains such. His esteemed Rusalka of 1963, Milada Subrtová, had aged into Foreign Princess duty. There is nothing domesticated about Libuse Márová‘s spicy Jezibaba. Her actress counterpart has a ratty bouffant, a painted white face, and flowing robes, looking like a backwoods Suzuki, and the voice makes a good match. A German dub also circulates, with a cast including Lilian Sukis, Peter Hofmann, and Theo Adam. Go Czech if you go at all. // David Pountney‘s English National Opera Rusalka premiered in 1983 and was filmed three years later. In an era when the stages of English-speaking territories were filled with bland illustration, and many operagoers liked it that way, ENO was doing daring work. Pountney was a pioneer in delving into Rusalka‘s metaphorical possibilities. He sees the heroine’s yearning as being for adulthood and independence. We begin with Rusalka bedding down in an Edwardian nursery, and perhaps everything that follows is her dream. Her sisters are happy to go on playing with their toys forever. Only Rusalka is curious about the world beyond. The Water Goblin is interestingly conceived as a wheelchair-bound grandfather whose kindly, frail exterior hides a controlling, manipulative nature. The governess Jezibaba transforms Rusalka by unbinding her swaddled legs. Once out in the world, Rusalka finds no liberation. Just as she had been in the nursery, she is perched in a swing high above the floor, like a caged parakeet. The swing only lowers to ground level when her husband-to-be (perhaps a prosperous young industrialist) gestures. Her clothes are nicer; her new captors are not. When Rusalka returns to the nursery, it is symbolically wrecked, or perhaps only now can Rusalka see how dilapidated it always was. You can’t go home again. Pountney has intriguing ideas, such as veiled or obscured faces for characters without solo lines. The production surely influenced others that followed, but sometimes we look back at something and “influential” is the highest compliment to be paid. This has been bettered as theater, and now is like lumpy batter once you have tried the cake. Set materials are flimsy, and every creak or thud of stage machinery is faithfully captured. As a musical performance, this is the biggest trial of the DVDs to get through. ENO’s orchestra, poorly recorded, responds sluggishly to Mark Elder‘s direction. With rhythmic effects of the original language already lost (the English translation is typified by the Gamekeeper’s “Makes me feel uneasy / dubious and queasy”), the music gives up even more in shape and energy. There is no great singing. The late Eilene Hannan tries hard, but her mousy Rusalka is restricted in color and expression, and conventional to the point of lethality. One gets a point, and then it is made over and over. Rodney Macann‘s thin-toned Water Goblin takes up none of the slack. In this company, John Treleaven, the Prince, might have seemed to have a big future ahead. He is a limited actor, and his vocal production is not free and easy, but he phrases artfully. He alone makes a good case for the translation. Ann Howard, bringing some thrust and flair as Jezibaba, alone performs as though she is in a good production. // “I know you’re nothing but magic and will fade away, and be dispersed in the rolling mists,” sings the Prince, who is right in a way he does not realize. The vision that beguiles him in Act One is both more and less than the reality of Rusalka. In Robert Carsen‘s 2002 Paris production , I found new sympathy for this Prince, though not at Rusalka’s expense. The Prince, given an appealing shyness by the singer and director, could be anyone contemplating a new relationship. Often, learning more fully about someone means parting with what was hoped for. Carsen’s modern-dress Rusalka is, among other things, a mature study of adult relationships and expectations. The realm of the Wood Nymphs has the look of a slumber party around a shallow pool. There is a great moment when the Water Goblin, entering in overcoat and fedora, drops his mock-disapproving look and cracks a smile. He is young-minded and lighthearted, and he and Rusalka have a casual, easy relationship. The glamorous Jezibaba carries herself as if coming home from a good time out. We probably do not want the details, as she holds a bloody knife. The blade doubles as a mirror, and she touches up her makeup with the blood. Rusalka alone experiences melancholy. She gestures to a bedroom visible overhead, a symbol of the existence she desires. The lighting by Carsen and Peter van Praet is masterful in delineating two worlds: cool azure and alabaster hues for the watery realm and warm amber for the bedroom, which descends when Rusalka’s wish is granted. When Rusalka again appeals to Jezibaba for aid in Act Three, the overhead bed returns, now angled for the illusion of a bird’s-eye view. Jezibaba occupies it, mockingly. Attempts to speak bring the human Rusalka real pain, and she occasionally forgets herself and suffers for it. Carsen explores muteness as sexual frigidity. He and designer Michael Levine also make much of mirror imagery. The bedroom is divided down the middle in Act Two, and action taking place on either side may match or contrast. The halves of the set separate at the act’s conclusion. Rusalka and the Foreign Princess, in turn, mimic one another to achieve their goals. The Princess dons a copy of Rusalka’s white gown, a mean-spirited parody of innocence. Rusalka attempts to turn the tables by changing into the Princess’s usual chic, provocative attire (also worn by Jezibaba) and throwing herself at the Prince, but a trying-too-hard imitation cannot compete with the real thing. Philippe Giraudeau‘s brilliant choreography for the polonaise puts a dozen Princes and a dozen Rusalkas through rituals of courtship and conflict, eroticism and violence. I have never seen the final scene staged more eloquently and tenderly than it is here. The doomed lovers are back in the bedroom. For the first time, they reach the bed together. Finally they have communicated, and consummation is possible. Rusalka hears the Goblin’s gloomy offstage prediction and it disturbs her, but she closes the door, shutting his voice out, and walks back to the bed in time with the funeral-march version of the “Rusalka’s longing” motif. Maybe the Goblin is right and only sorrow lies ahead, but for however long this reprieve lasts–a night, an hour, a moment–there can be fulfillment, understanding, union. A kiss is still a kiss. The superior playing of the Parisians under James Conlon puts us in a different world from the previous performance, and no one in Conlon’s cast is less than very good. Renée Fleming never really seemed young, even when she was, and that was a drawback in “naïve” characters. She gamely models the desired attitudes without always selling them. Carsen makes effective use of the warmth and niceness she can project, and she has never looked lovelier than she does holding a wedding gown in front of her and smiling at Sergei Larin‘s Prince. In 2002, Fleming’s voice could do anything she wanted it to do. Sometimes this means doing too much (her way with a musical line is full of the Schwarzkopfian “art that displays art”), but only Benacková’s abridged performance is as well sung, among those in this survey. It is worth recalling that the first Rusalka, Ruzena Maturová, was, like Fleming, a Donna Anna and Desdemona. Fleming’s instrument itself evokes warm water, with forceful currents when needed. When Rusalka counters the Goblin, “A plna lásky [And full of love]!” it seems exactly the radiant sound the composer would have wanted. The notated vocal sob within “Rusalku prostovlasou” is perfectly achieved, and the tricky rhythms of Act Two’s well-disguised cabaletta “Ó marno to je [Oh, it’s in vain]” hold no terrors for her. Larin’s Prince is a trifle labored, but forthright and likable. The Goblin’s music sits in the sweet spot for Franz Hawlata, who has excellent breath control and is a witty actor. Larissa Diadkova and Eva Urbanová bring firepower and hauteur to, respectively, Jezibaba and the Foreign Princess. Carsen makes Jezibaba and the Goblin lovers, and Diadkova and Hawlata have such good chemistry in the bit we see that I wish there had been more. Karine Deshayes‘s incisive, full-toned Turnspit is a considerable asset. The 75-year-old Michel Sénéchal‘s Gamekeeper is an exemplar of character singing with emphasis on “character.” His ear is not as acute as it once had been; his twinkle is undimmed. Carsen himself has sometimes seemed caught between two worlds: too modern in sensibilities for arch-traditionalists, not provocative and idiosyncratic enough for those at the other extreme. I doubt he has suffered over his fate as Rusalka does; he has worked steadily and often to acclaim for 30 years. This characteristically elegant and thoughtful staging is one of his great productions. Having begun with a by-the-book film of Dvorák’s opera and progressed toward abstraction, we will pause. Tomorrow, the Rusalka overview concludes with three performances from the present decade. Photo by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.

Renée Fleming

Renée Fleming (February 14, 1959) is an American soprano specializing in opera and lieder. Fleming has a full lyric soprano voice. Fleming has performed coloratura, lyric, and lighter spinto soprano repertoires. She has sung roles in Italian, German, French, Czech, and Russian, aside from her native English. She also speaks fluent German and French, along with limited Italian. Her signature roles include Countess Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro (Mozart), Desdemona in Otello and Violetta in La traviata (Verdi), the title role in Rusalka (Dvo?ák), the title role in Manon and Thaïs (Massenet), the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier (Richard Strauss), and the title role in Arabella. A Richard Tucker Award winner, she regularly performs in opera houses and concert halls worldwide. In 2008 she was awarded the Swedish Polar Music Prize for her services in music.

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