Damrau shines in the Met’s new La Traviata

Verdi’s La Traviata, one of the great operas in the standard repertory, is a centerpiece for a world class soprano with a large vocal skill set, quiver being a word open to misunderstanding here, but also for one who brings a keen sense of character, plus the ability to pull Violetta off dramatically as well. Diana Damrau is such a star. Brava!

  Diana Damrau shines as Violetta in Verdi’s  La Traviata

Diana Damrau shines as Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata

Her Violetta, as directed by Michael Mayer, wavers on the seesaw of joy, triumph and hope versus despair and death. Do I love this young fellow Alfredo? Do I open myself emotionally to a real love relationship and maybe find true happiness, possibly prolonging my life? Or do I accept the very real probability that the relationship is doomed by a number of factors, not the least of which are a lack of income, social rejection, his family’s rather explicit demands that I disappear, thus forcing me to return to my former hedonistic existence, which will almost certainly hasten my demise? Tough choices, these.

As written, Violetta is a complex character, which, of course, raises the bar of ‘complete realization’ much higher than, say, Verdi’s Gilda. Damrau communicates Violetta’s ever-shifting emotions and thoughts with quick but fluid bursts of expression. Watch her: attend to her face, her hands, the quick changes in her posture and the overall energy level she exudes as each moment passes. Sure, sometimes she exaggerates, but it doesn’t really seem so. More importantly, she is never, as in never a moment offline on stage. Damrau’s singing is equally thrilling, big when called for, but also subtle, inward and smooth as silk as needed. Again, mille bravi!

  Juan Diego Flórez and Diana Damrau in Act I

Juan Diego Flórez and Diana Damrau in Act I

Alfredo is sung by a happily-returning-to-the-Met Juan Diego Flórez. He sings with his accustomed grace and sense of style, but one is aware that Verdi’s orchestra at times is not Donizetti’s orchestra, nor is the style of singing demanded always bel canto. Flórez, too, has a fine sense of character and stage presence; he and Damrau are a good match when their characters are closely, quietly in love, as in the heavenly Un di felice, eterea, their magical moment alone duet in Act I.

Quinn Kelsey is a sturdy sonorous Germont, his Di provenza il mar was roundly applauded. The Baron Douphol is sung by veteran baritone Dwayne Croft; Flora Bervoix is Kirstin Chávez, Annina is veteran Met star Maria Zifchak. Others include Jeongcheol Cha as the Marquis d’Obigny, Kevin Short as Dr. Grenvil, Scott Sulley as Gastone, Marco Antonio Jordäo as Giuseppe, and Ross Benoliel as a Messenger.

  A salon for gambling at Flora’s, Act II, Scene II

A salon for gambling at Flora’s, Act II, Scene II

Michael Mayer’s conception of Traviata may raise eyebrows in some spots, but on the whole it’s more or less a traditional staging, for one big point, actually set in Paris, therefore already more traditional than his Las Vegas Rigoletto from 2013, with the glitz of the casinos, the elevator, and, in the end, Gilda’s body stashed in the trunk of a car. This La Traviata is updated to the 19th century, markedly so in Christine Jones’ sets and Susan Hilferty’s costumes, each possibly misinterpreting Violetta’s opening line as Floral, amici, as in “yo, my dear friends, give me lots of flowers”* instead of Flora, amici, as in “yo, Flora, friends…” and so on. The costumes are in the bright pastel colors, the flowers that bloom in the spring, summer, with vines and trellises, even a huge complex actually quite interesting ball of flowers hanging above the stage in Act I.

  Gambling and dancing: the wild ballet in Act II, Scene II

Gambling and dancing: the wild ballet in Act II, Scene II

Both party scenes, Act I and Act II, scene II, have a colorful chorus choreographed by Lorin Latarro. In Act I the chorus performs in-synch gestures to the music, not excessively so, but just enough to let you know that it’s not random. The Spanish ballet in Act II, scene II has the mimed bull fight and all. This is highly energetic, like really highly energetic, enough to draw a gasp or two or several from the house at the end. Ultimately it’s far more interesting than swirling butts of the Baccanale of Samson et Dalila earlier this season.

In the opening scene, visible during the prelude to Act I, Alfredo, distraught, lays his head beside Violetta’s lifeless body, all others, in mourning, are still. No big surprise: this forshadows the opera’s sad ending. But wait, who is the young woman? I should have looked at the program…We find out her identity in Act II: Germont doesn’t just mention the daughter’s upcoming wedding, he brings the pure innocent young girl along as additional emotional leverage. Okay, cool. But no need to have the daughter somnambulistically stroll across Violetta’s chilly Paris apartment in Act III in wedding attire with a bouquet. Passing right by her soon-to-be death bed? Really? Selin Sahbazoglu is Alfredo’s sister, present in the opening scene.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin continues his path of enlightening revelations of scores we all know and love. Orchestral layers are more prominent, yet not distractingly so.

In sum, Michael Mayer’s new production of La Traviata is certainly a welcome relief from the previous Traviata, though it is not a throwback to the old stand and deliver days we all remember well. Highly recommended, for Verdi of course, for the musicians of course, and it’s pretty, the production is pretty. A smile.

Photos by: Marty Sohl; Act II, Scene II by Jonathan Tichler.

Review performance: Tuesday, December 11, 2018, the 1,014th performance.

*I’m kidding of course. More likely the flowers are because the designers know the story’s background: Violetta (in English, Violet) is based on Alexandre Dumas fils’ Marguerite Gautier, the Lady of the Camellias. Marguerite gives Armand a red camellia saying to return when it changes color; Violetta gives Alfredo a flower, asking him to return when it fades. Plus winter in Act III is characterized by a lack of floral color. Lots of eye catching colorful options in this production.

Verdi’s La Traviata is performed in three acts with two intermissions. The running time of the HD performance is about three hours, ten minutes.

La Traviata appears on the Met stage again on the evenings of December 18, 26, and 29, with matinees on December 15 and 22, but then La Traviata reappears on the schedule for the evenings of April 5, 10, 13, 17, 20, 24 and 27, this second run with a different cast. For ticket information or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or by visiting www.metopera.org/groups.

The Met’s matinee performance of La Traviata on December 15 will be telecast live in HD to theaters worldwide and radio broadcast or streamed via various media. It will also be encored in some locations. Information about HD venues, operas, dates, times, casts, and tickets can be found on the Metropolitan Opera website www.metopera.org. This performance is also broadcast on Sirius XM and, locally, WQXR FM.

Note local telecast dates: the Quick Center at Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT, will show La Traviata in HD as encores on Tuesday, December 18, 2018, at 1 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. Tickets for these at the Quick Center may be ordered online at www.fairfield.edu/lifeatfairfield/artsminds/quickcenterforthearts or one may call the Quick Center Box Office at 203-254-4010 or 1-877-278-7396.

The Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, CT, will also telecast La Traviata only as an encore on Saturday, December 22 at 12:30 p.m. Tickets for this performance @ Ridgefield may be ordered online at www.ridgefieldplayhouse.org or from the box office of the Ridgefield Playhouse at 203-438-5795.

Ample free parking is available at both venues; please check their websites for directions to theaters and suggestions for fine regional dining.

Enjoy! My first Traviata at the Met was in June, 1970, with the beautiful Anna Moffo, the suave Carlo Bergonzi, and Mario Sereni. Memorable. Like yesterday.

Happy Holidays! OM

Puccini’s wonderful Il Trittico at the Met

Il Trittico ranks as three of my favorite operas, each a small masterpiece, in sum, an evening of gems.

Puccini chose the Metropolitan Opera to serve up its world premiere production on December 14 of 1918, barely a month after the Armistice ended the Great War in Europe. This season’s revival celebrates Il Trittico’s 100th anniversary, just as we did for La Fanciulla del West, which had its world premiered at the Met in 1910. Big history, this!

Puccini did not originally intend the three short operas as a trio bound by a common theme. In fact, Il Tabarro was composed by the end of 1916 before the other two were conceived. As he worked on Suor Angelica and later Gianni Schicchi, both libretti authored by Giovacchino Forzano, Puccini came to trust his instinct to perform them in a single evening, allowing the audience to draw meaning from the contrasts of characters and plots.

But, alas, with its large cast, it proved expensive to perform. The Met’s next production of the complete Trittico was unveiled in 1975, though Il Tabarro and especially Gianni Schicchi have been performed at the Met over the years on the same bill as other operas, hence the lopsided performance stats.* For the record, I’m still not even remotely convinced that Gianni Schicchi works as curtain raiser for Strauss’s Salome or Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, or even, for that matter, Hansel and Gretel. The logic behind these artistic/administrative choices escapes me to this day.**

  Luigi (Marcelo Álvarez)   and Giorgetta (Amber Wagner) meet quickly while Michele is occupied.

Luigi (Marcelo Álvarez) and Giorgetta (Amber Wagner) meet quickly while Michele is occupied.

Puccini’s Il Tabarro is, in my mind certainly, among the very best of the so called verismo operas, the most popular and most frequently performed representatives of which are Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Il Tabarro is in every way a ‘modern opera’ for its time: darker, more sinister, more desperate, ultimately more heartbreaking. Passionate outbursts rise organically from the orchestral fabric, then, just as quickly, subside. Brief moments of relief are provided by self-defining business from the peripheral characters. Michele’s barge is anchored on the left bank of the Seine River in Paris; an orange sun sets and night falls as the story darkens. Baritone George Gagnidze is an unhappy and somber Michele, roused to anger and revenge when he discovers the identity of his wife’s lover. Amber Wagner is vocally sure as Giorgetta. Marcelo Álvarez is an assertive Luigi, in brilliant voice and strong stature. There are no winners in this love triangle.

  George Gnadzhe is Michele in  Il Tabarro

George Gnadzhe is Michele in Il Tabarro

The genius of Puccini also lies in his conception of the smaller roles: here it is the other barge workers, happy passers-by and a music vendor, each identified by nicknames or role definitions: their players are Tony Stevenson as Tinca (in English ‘Tench’) a perpetual drunk, Maurizio Muraro as Talpa (‘Mole’), MaryAnn McCormick as his wife Frugola (‘Ferret’), Brian Michael Moore as the Song Seller and Ashley Emerson and Yi Li as the Young Lovers. As well as in the ensuing other two operas, conductor Bertrand de Billy realizes Puccini’s wonderful score by weaving an intricate orchestral quilt. Il Tabarro is a great opera. The very first orchestral ripples tell all.

  Kristine Opolais as Suor Angelica

Kristine Opolais as Suor Angelica

Suor Angelica, sporting an all female cast, is sometimes done alone by smaller local companies, but at the Met it always comes with its two more popular companions. Suor Angelica, like Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi,*** surrounds the principal characters by others defined by snippets of smaller stories, observations and interruptions. Such is the first half or so of Suor Angelica. But then Angelica’s aunt, the stern, overbearing Principessa, makes an unannounced visit.

Through her we learn that Angelica has disgraced her noble family by having a child out of wedlock, the punishment for which she has been removed from society, hidden away in a convent. Though Angelica has found peace and has earned the respect and love of her sisters by tending an herb garden full of flavor, cures, and other ultimately useful remedies, she keeps her secret closed within her, but deeply longs for news of her infant son.

  Stephanie Blythe as La Principessa in  Suor Angelica

Stephanie Blythe as La Principessa in Suor Angelica

La Principessa forcefully asserts that, since she is now in charge of the estate of Angelica’s late parents, she will give it all to Anna Viola, Angelica’s sister, who is getting united in holy wedlock. Oh, and by the way, Angelica, La Principessa says, almost as a casual aside, your son is dead.

The sound and scenic pictures of Suor Angelica are as serene as a convent should be, that is until La Principessa arrives. Kristine Opolais, as Angelica, is quiet and to some extent withdrawn, hiding the inner pain of uncertainty about her son’s health and whereabouts. Angelica’s emotional breakdown at the news of his passing and the heartbreaking solution for her anguish is riveting. Stephanie Blythe repeats from previous seasons her strong performance as the soul poisoning Principessa, MaryAnn McCormick is the gentle Monitor who structures the day, Maureen McKay is a delightful Sister Genovieffa. The final scene is very emotional.

  Lauretta (Kristina Mkhitaryan) sings  O mio babbino caro , which convinces Gianni Schicchi (Plácido Domingo) to help the relatives

Lauretta (Kristina Mkhitaryan) sings O mio babbino caro, which convinces Gianni Schicchi (Plácido Domingo) to help the relatives

Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi is among the five absolutely best comic operas in Italian, and easily among my top ten in the standard repertory.**** It’s also more familiar so I won’t waste space praising its excellence. Stephanie Blythe, talk about artists who know how to delineate their characters, is a somber, greedy Zita, Maurizio Muraro (from Tabarro) is old Simone, Atalla Ayan is Rinuccio, the great Plácido Domingo sings the baritone role of Gianni Schicchi, Kristina Mkhitaryan is his daughter Lauretta, and so on. Schicchi is a joyful weeper, the final scene with the panorama of Firenze, the lovers Rinuccio and Lauretta at last facing a new life together, thanks to her father…it’s magical.

  Rinuccio and Lauretta with Firenze in the background: magic!

Rinuccio and Lauretta with Firenze in the background: magic!

The Met’s production by Jack O’Brian, with sets designed by Douglas W. Schmidt and costumes designed by Jess Goldstein, was new in spring of 2007, General Manager Peter Gelb’s first season, and among the first of the HD telecasts. Hard evidence, I’d say, of just how successful a relatively realistic and emotionally evocative production can be. You don’t need gimmicks.

Don’t miss Il Trittico!! Three treats for the price of one!

Photos by: Ken Howard.

Review performance: Monday, November 29, 2018.

The three operas comprising Puccini’s Il Trittico are separated by intermissions, extended a bit by the changing of the wonderful but rather large sets. The running time of the evening’s performance is about four hours.

Il Trittico appears on the Met stage again on the evenings of December 5, 12, and 15, with a matinee on December 8. For ticket information or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or by visiting www.metopera.org/groups.

* The stats for my evening were: Il Tabarro, 82nd performance; Suor Angelica, 76th performance; Gianni Schicchi, 140th performance.

** Happily I’ve never had to shift musical/emotional gears at the Met from Gianni Schicchi to something completely different. In the winter of 1965, Karl Böhm chose Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan as the curtain raiser for my first Salome (with Birgit Nilsson). In the early ‘70s I remember the Saturday afternoon broadcast of Bluebeard’s Castle from afar, astonished that Gianni Schicchi was also done, but of my two Bluebeards in the house, the first was preceded by Schönberg’s Erwartung (with Jessye Norman) and for the second, the evening began with Tchiakovsky’s one act Iolanta with Anna Netrebko in 2015. The only curtain raiser for Hansel and Gretel in my past was a throwaway light ballet, something about a fan, in December, 1967, when the Merrill/O’Hearn production was brand new (Teresa Stratas was Gretel).

***This is true of all of the Puccini operas in the standard repertory. Part of his genius is to paint in brief musical strokes their personalities, moods, predilictions, etc.

**** My top five Italian comedies? Gianni Schicchi, of course, just said that above. But also Verdi’s Falstaff, Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore and Don Pasquale, and Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Il Comte Ory, which is in French, but Rossini wrote the music. Cenerentola has more soul than Barbiere and Comte Ory overflows with joy.

The other five, to get the ten top comedies: of course Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, incredible, just incredible, as is Cosí fan tutte, but then we have to add Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Every bit worth the effort to embrace these!

What are your favorite comic operas?

Enjoy! OM

Nico Muhly’s new opera Marnie at the Met

Nico Muhly returns to the Metropolitan Opera* with his new opera Marnie, based on the 1961 novel by Winston Graham, published 20 years before the composer was born. Steeped in Graham’s novel, and to some extent Alfred Hitchcock’s film from 1964, I found this Marnie compelling, emotionally charged at times, at other times, like Marnie herself, cool and distant, but consistently an engaging experience, both dramatically and musically.

Isabel Leonard is Marnie

M II.jpg

Central to the plot and to this production is, of course, the title character. Graham’s novel is written in the first person, all Marnie, her voice, her thoughts, her musings, what she hears, etc. From the novel one expects, at least I did, more introspective musings from her character. I mean, after all, opera certainly is the venue for musing aloud, giving airs, venting to the Family Circle. Isabel Leonard’s Marnie remains the center of attention but in the opera, set to a libretto by Nicholas Wright and directed by Michael Mayer, meaningful gestures, postures, poses, and action are added to her vocals. The character is there, just not always singing.

  Marnie in therapy, surrounded by the Shadow Marnies

Marnie in therapy, surrounded by the Shadow Marnies

Happily, Leonard is a fine actress. As in the book she can be inconspicuous at times, part of her plan not to be ‘memorable,’ tense when cornered, sometimes cold and calculating, untouchable, self-destructive, and a downright liar, but the Marnie inside (as one learns from the novel) is always conscious of whom she pretends to be at the moment, of whom she was in the past, but also when she can be her real self (that is, as much of her ‘real’ self as she knows). So she is not a multiple personality, as hinted by the frequent appearance and commentary of the cleverly conceived four Shadow Marnies (Deanna Breiwick, Dísella Lárusdóttir, Rebecca Ringle Kamarei, and Peabody Southwell). Yes, Marnie has assumed several identities for her thefts, but they are carefully concocted disguises, temporary, used and discarded, not coexisting personalities unaware of each other’s presence. Under the mask of each identity Marnie gets a job, steals from the business and then disappears without a trace. She gives much of her take to her ailing Mother, sung dramatically by Denise Graves. It is obvious Mother does not love her much, so why does she keep coming back? The death years ago of her baby brother haunts Marnie.

  Marnie and Mark Rutland, played by Christopher Maltman

Marnie and Mark Rutland, played by Christopher Maltman

Of course crime doesn’t pay. Her new employer Mark Rutland, sung solidly by Christopher Maltman, hires her, but he also falls in love with her. She is shocked when he says he remembers her from an encounter at a previous job. She is also recognized by a Mr. Strutt, sung by Anthony Dean Griffey, from whom, at this previous job under a different identity, she stole the payroll and disappeared.

  Mr. Strutt eyes Marnie suspiciously

Mr. Strutt eyes Marnie suspiciously

Mark learns through Strutt the extent of her crime spree and strives to get Marnie in a position to come clean, make amends, and also possibly move herself toward a real human relationship with him. Mark even offers to pay back all of the money she stole. Marnie, resistant, plots to run from his help by stealing again and leaving the country.

But a terrible riding accident, the death of her Mother, and a trap set by Terry, Mark’s devious brother (sung chillingly by Iestyn Davies) bring Marnie to a chance at psychological release from her horrible prison of guilt.

Julian Crouch and 59 Productions created the sets and projection design here. The changes in scenery are fluidly and effortlessly done, the furniture quietly and gracefully set and removed by balletic men in suits. The colors and scenic projections are effective, including a tsunami of images of Marnie’s face early on and later.

  Marnie and her beloved horse Florio (not portrayed here) leaps the fence, pursued by Mark

Marnie and her beloved horse Florio (not portrayed here) leaps the fence, pursued by Mark

I confess to wondering days before my Monday with Marnie how the fox hunt and horse riding accident scenes would be staged, these, back to back, being rather central parts to Marnie’s psychological journey in the novel. As much through Muhly’s increasingly tense music matched by the fast moving projections do we hear and see the suggestions of the hounds tearing apart the poor fox, Marnie’s reaction to this being deep, searing psychic pain. It’s followed quickly by Marnie’s horse Florio galloping wildly out of control, their fall, her injuries and the mercy killing of Florio, much to Marnie’s horror and real physical pain. Mark too, who has tried to stop Florio before he jumps, is nearly killed as well by his falling horse. Now with Mark in the hospital, Marnie’s last theft and flight to France will be easy…but she can’t.

Marnie’s story is not the only thread running through the opera. There are shifting allegiances in the Rutland family, behind-the-back dealings within the company, to some degree class warfare…

Others in the fairly large cast include Marie Te Hapuku as Miss Fedder in Strutt’s office, Gabriel Gurevich as the Little Boy, whom Marnie’s Mother dotes on (you’ll figure out why), Jane Bunnell as Lucy, Mother’s neighbor, Stacey Tappan as Dawn, Marnie’s work and gambling buddy, Will Liverman as Malcolm Fleet and Ashley Emerson as Laura Fleet, both fellow gamblers at Terry’s house, Janis Kelly as Mrs. Rutland, Mark’s mother, a real schemer, Ian Koziara as Derek and James Courtney as Dr. Roman, the Psychiatrist.

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus assumes various social stations throughout the opera; they serve to break the flow of the frequently used Sprechstimme of the soloists.

Muhly’s score is complex yet simple, consistently satisfying: it’s conspicuous how smoothly it develops and progresses through the drama, how characters are given instruments as part of their aural identities. Robert Spano, who is Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony, conducts in his Metropolitan Opera debut.

The costumes by Arianne Phillips capture England in the early 1950s, especially the differences in class; Lynne Page’s choreography gives us intentional dancing, but also the coordinated fluid movements of the aforementioned prop shifters.

Paul Cremo, the Met’s dramaturg, started the project rolling: Marnie was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and co-produced by the English National Opera, where it premiered in 2017.

In sum, Muhly’s Marnie is a winner. Should be quite engaging also in HD.

Photos by: Ken Howard.

Review performance: Monday, October 22, Its 2nd at the Met.

*Muhly’s first opera at the Met, Two Boys in the fall of 2013, was well received, as should be this one.

The Met’s premiere production of Marnie is performed in two acts with one rather long intermission. The running time of the HD performance is about three hours. Marnie is sung in English.

Marnie appears on the Met stage again on the evenings of October 31 and November 3 with a matinee on Saturday, November 10 at 1:00, ET, with the same cast reviewed here. For ticket information or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or by visiting www.metopera.org/groups.

This matinee performance of Marnie on November 10 will be telecast live in HD to theaters worldwide and radio broadcast or streamed via various media. It will also be encored in some locations. Information about HD venues, operas, dates, times, casts, and tickets can be found on the Metropolitan Opera website www.metopera.org. Always check the dates and times of the HD transmissions for your local venue!

Note local telecast dates: the Quick Center at Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT, will show the November 10 matinee performance of Marnie live in HD at 1 p.m. and again as an encore at 6 p.m. Tickets for these at the Quick Center may be ordered online at www.fairfield.edu/lifeatfairfield/artsminds/quickcenterforthearts or one may call the Quick Center Box Office at 203-254-4010 or 1-877-278-7396.

The Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, CT, will telecast Marnie only as an encore on Sunday, November 11 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets for this performance @ Ridgefield may be ordered online at www.ridgefieldplayhouse.org or from the box office of the Ridgefield Playhouse at 203-438-5795.

Ample free parking is available at both venues; please check their websites for directions to theaters and suggestions for fine regional dining.

Enjoy! Another nice evening, October still a beautiful month. Happy Halloween, kids!

OM

Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West strikes gold at the Met

Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West is a special opera in my long canon of hits, but this is about 2018, not about those performances in my past. You go Girl!

La Fanciulla del West was, one guesses, revived due to the availability of tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who has not appeared at the Met for a few years, and his stage match mate, soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek, who appeared with him here previously in Die Walküre (2011), unforgettable performance, this, and on DVD in a Royal Opera House, Covent Garden production of Andrea Chenier. That there is already chemistry between them adds to the impact of the drama about to unfold in your performance.

A simple explanation for why La Fanciulla del West is, relatively speaking, a neglected child in Puccini’s family of operas could be because Nessun dorma is in Turandot, Un bel di is in Madama Butterfly, and so on, but save Ch’ella mi creda libero e lontano, Dick Johnson’s brief solo in Act III, there are no other arias or duets that have managed to make their ways out of the house for recital discs. And also, mainly our issue this side of the Atlantic, an opera sung in Italian about miners, sheriffs, and bandits in the wild west of the California Gold Rush is a bit of a stretch. Whisky per tutti! indeed.*

  The Polka Saloon’s regulars decompose when Minnie is away

The Polka Saloon’s regulars decompose when Minnie is away

The cast of miners, sheriffs, and postal workers is large, which, in addition to calling for big choral moments, creates a significant challenge for character definition and interpersonal and musical coordination. Puccini creates several vignettes to show, rather than talk about, their various relationships with Minnie and with each other. Each must be realized both vocally and dramatically.

In Act I, which is on the long side, we find Minnie as the men’s caretaker, surrogate mother, religious educator, and sometimes it’s her turn to watch over their gold hidden under the bar, which, as it happens, falls on the night when the bandit Ramerrez and his gang have come to steal it. Life is really tough and lonely there in the wilderness. They need her comfort, counseling, and support. In sum, Minnie is the guardian angel here and the boys are quick to anger when someone, like an arrogant Sheriff Jack Rance or the stranger “Dick Johnson” threatens these relationships.

  Eva-Maria Westbroek is Minnie

Eva-Maria Westbroek is Minnie

Turns out that “Dick Johnson,” Ramerrez in disguise, had met Minnie before on the trail to Monterey, an encounter of mutual attraction, concluding, innocently enough, just with promises not to forget each other. One wonders if he was drawn back into Minnie’s world by a higher power for his own salvation. And for hers. The themes of redemption and salvation weave themselves throughout the story. Minnie is referred to as an angel.**

Eva-Maria Westbroek is a complex Minnie, both tough and tender, buttoned up and self-protecting, but underneath needy of a deeper, more soulful, more permanent relationship. Minnie remembers the love and happiness of her parents, and though ‘mothering’ the miners to some degree fills an emotional void, it is not the same. Frequent references to one Nina Micheltorena,*** a loose woman nearby who makes a living off the miners, provide us with clues of what sort of relationship Minnie most certainly will not find acceptable. Thus one feels the tension in Act II mount as Minnie prepares to lower her guard with Johnson, whom she invites to her abode for a goodbye. Westbroek meets the considerable vocal challenges without difficulty after her brief stretch of warming up. Brava!

  Jonas Kaufmann as Dick Johnson at Minnie’s home in Act II

Jonas Kaufmann as Dick Johnson at Minnie’s home in Act II

The chemistry between her and tenor Jonas Kaufmann is evident throughout. His performance style tends toward interpersonal intensity, thereby creating a context for an equally intense response from his women. Watch their body language. Though we were informed of his suffering from a cold, vocally Kaufmann is in relatively fine shape, though not quite so cavalier and free with his upper range as in the past. But he remains a presence in every scene, even when wounded and bleeding from the rafters or about to be hanged in the cold dawn.

Sheriff Jack Rance, a tough man also in search of a deeper human connection, is sung by Željko Lučić. His stiffness, his cruel and gruff manner, not to mention the fact that he’s already married, put him out of the running for Minnie’s hand, but also spell trouble for anyone who seems to get closer to her.

   Željko Lučić and the boys prepare to capture Dick Johnson in Act III

Željko Lučić and the boys prepare to capture Dick Johnson in Act III

The large cast includes some standout performances: Carlo Bosi is Nick, Michael Todd Simpson is Sonora, Scott Scully is Joe, Richard Bernstein is Bello, and Joseph Barron is Happy. Alok Kumar is Harry, Matthew Rose is Mr. Ashby of Wells-Fargo, Ian Koziara is a Pony Express Rider, Oren Gradus is Jake Wallace, Jeongcheol Cha is Sid, Adrian Timpau is Jim Larkens, Eduardo Valdes is Trin, and Kidon Choi is José Castro. MaryAnn McCormick is Wowkle and Philip Cokorinos is Billy Jackrabbit. Big cast, neatly differentiated.

Marco Armiliato brings out the riches of Puccini’s elaborate score, which, in Act II, looking backward, recalls the intensity of Act II of Tosca and, looking forward, anticipates the big complexity and richness of Turandot, these two lying more or less a decade in Puccini’s past and future. It is a rewarding experience on every level. Donald Palumbo coordinates the soloists and members Metropolitan Opera Chorus. Big, like California!

The production, originally conceived by Giancarlo del Monaco, son of the great Mario del Monaco, premiered in 1991. It is realized this season by director Gregory Keller, with the wonderfully wild western sets by Michael Scott, lighting by Gil Wechsler. The scenery fills the stage in each act and each set contains at least two levels, either balconies or attic space; enhancing the action are horses, wagons, gunshots, and snow to rival Paris in winter in La Bohème.

It is hard to believe that La Fanciulla del West, which had its world premiere at the Met on December 10, 1910, has racked up only 109 performances over the Company’s long history. Saturday, the last, is 111. Don’t miss it. You never know when the Met will perform it again.

Reviewed performance date: October 20, 2018.

Photos: Ken Howard.

*But then let’s be real here: every opera is a big stretch if you’re looking for the exercise. ALL operas, all forms of art are not real. But to a receptive audience, operas can be powerful experiences, as most of us know well. For the record, Aïda is sung in Italian too, not in ancient Egyptian.

**Though like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, Minnie must earn her wings.

***Nina never actually appears on stage.

La Fanciulla del West is performed in three acts with two rather long intermissions, probably due to the complexity of assembling the sets, judging from the hammering backstage. The running time of the HD performance is about three and three quarter hours.

La Fanciulla del West appears on the Met stage for its final performance, the matinee Saturday, October 27, at 1:00, ET, with the same cast reviewed here. For ticket information or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or by visiting www.metopera.org/groups.

This matinee performance of La Fanciulla del West will be telecast live in HD to theaters worldwide and radio broadcast or streamed via various media. It will also be encored in some locations. Information about HD venues, operas, dates, times, casts, and tickets can be found on the Metropolitan Opera website www.metopera.org.

Note local telecast dates: the Quick Center at Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT, will show the October 27 matinee performance of La Fanciulla del West live in HD at 1 p.m. and again as an encore at 6 p.m. Tickets for these at the Quick Center may be ordered online at www.fairfield.edu/lifeatfairfield/artsminds/quickcenterforthearts or one may call the Quick Center Box Office at 203-254-4010 or 1-877-278-7396.

The Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, CT, will telecast La Fanciulla del West only as an encore on Sunday, October 28 at 12:00 p.m. Tickets for this performance @ Ridgefield may be ordered online at www.ridgefieldplayhouse.org or from the box office of the Ridgefield Playhouse at 203-438-5795.

Ample free parking is available at both venues; please check their websites for directions to theaters and suggestions for fine regional dining.

Enjoy! A totally beautiful night in wonderful company. Plus October is a beautiful month. Heaven!

OM

Met's new Samson et Dalila to be telecast in HD

A new production of Camille Saint Saëns’s hot Samson et Dalila* opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2018-2019 season on Monday, September 24. As operas go, Samson et Dalila sits, I would say, quite high on the list of “French operas swimming just below the surface of the standard repertory,” which includes, if you want to stay more or less contemporary with Saint Saëns, operas by Chabrier, Thomas, Chausson, Dukas, Reyer, D’Indy, the lesser Bizets and Massenets, even, later, the singles of Debussy and Charpentier. But of all these, Samson et Dalila is more frequently performed. I mean, when was the last time you saw Louise at the Met?**

Unlike the others, Samson et Dalila has the virtue of two vocally strong characters whose signature solos, Dalila’s mainly, a languid Love Duet, and the provocative Bacchanale have been at home with us since the dawn of recorded opera, unlike snatches from the works of those other composers mentioned above. Okay, Depuis le jour, but ‘greatest hits’ of the rest are either nonexistent or very very hard to find, at least on this side of the pond.

  Roberto Alagna as Samson gives new hope to his people in Act I of  Samson et Dalila

Roberto Alagna as Samson gives new hope to his people in Act I of Samson et Dalila

Though the musical framework surrounding the hits in Samson et Dalila is not at all unpleasant, it sometimes stagnants, leading, dramatically speaking, to a lot of standing around, particularly in the first Act where the downtrodden Hebrews and the oppressive Philistines alternatively give voice to their take on the situation. Early on from the chorus emerges Samson, who urges his people to rise up, affirm their beliefs, and take action. Which they do, though the action is offstage.

Roberto Alagna is Samson in this, his first at the Met. The Biblical character’s feats of strength and moral purpose imply a large shiny voice; as fitting, Alagna’s instrument has developed volume and a broader range than in his earlier years, and, as staged here, Samson is at the center of Act I. Like Rhadames, Alagna takes the heroic stance easily. But on the evening here reviewed he sounded on the dry side already in the first Act, and by Act II it was clear he was experiencing serious difficulties. Hopefully these are temporary; Alagna was replaced by tenor Kristian Benedikt, who, in addition to making his Metropolitan Opera debut, finished the final Act with aplomb.

  Elīna Garanča as Dalila looks on as the exotic dancers whirl around her

Elīna Garanča as Dalila looks on as the exotic dancers whirl around her

Elīna Garanča, on the other hand, as Dalila, is superb in all aspects. In addition to a natural beauty and an eye catching stage presence, perfect for a seductress, she has accessed lower reaches of her voice to meet the musical demands of the role. In this new production under the direction of Darko Tresnjak, Dalila perhaps thinks her prior relationship with Samson can be rekindled, and, when they are together in Act II, maybe she has some hesitations about the snare she and the Philistines have set for Samson. In the last Act she seems to have misgivings about or pity for Samson, who stands before her blinded, sheared, and enslaved. One senses Dalila’s not really 100% on board with the celebration...it’s more in her body language. In sum, brava!

  Elīna Garanča as Dalila and Roberto Alagna as Samson, here rekindling

Elīna Garanča as Dalila and Roberto Alagna as Samson, here rekindling

The High Priest of Dagon is forcefully sung by bass Laurent Naouri, whom we have seen a lot of in recent productions. Abimélech is portrayed by Elchin Azizov; the Old Hebrew is bass Dmitry Belosselskiy; the First and Second Philistine are sung, respectively, by Tony Stevenson and Bradley Garvin; Mark Schowalter is a Philistine Messenger.

Sir Mark Elder conducts a finely etched reading of Saint-Saën’s luscious score, from the still of a summer’s night in the desert to the wild Bacchanale of Act III.

  The Bacchanale in Act III

The Bacchanale in Act III

Samson et Dalila is not by any means a long opera, but, as with Wagner, any staging of Samson et Dalila must cope with the long static moments: the choral work of Act I, a prolonged seduction scene in Act II, and the Bacchanale and celebration of Dagon in Act III, culminated by the collapse of the Temple. Though one gets the sense that Tresnjak created small touches of gesture and expression to delineate fine shifts in the emotional sands, at other times the players seem aimless. At least in the love scene of Act II, the centerpiece of the opera, Alagna and Garnača settle into something approximating sincere, though not vulgar or inappropriate.

Alexander Dodge’s colorful sets seem constructed to represent a world out of time, but then this puts the “timely” costumes and libretto text at odds. The materials from which the structures are built lend themselves to a film set of a more futuristic story, not 1150 BCE as listed in the program. The Temple, which is two halves of a see-through male torso from the waist up, has a passageway through the center: Philistines, maybe even tourists, go in and out throughout Act III; the acrobatic dancers scale it and dangle from it during the Bacchanale, and so on. The torso doesn’t collapse at the end, making it unclear in what way Samson has regained his strength, but there sure is a lot of noise. Austin McCormick’s choreographies in Act I and Act III show a lightness of touch in Act I and, in the Bacchanale, a lot of swirling, athletic swinging and climbing. Big energy stuff, guaranteed to be arousing. Linda Cho’s costumes for the dancers are appropriately scant.

Samson et Dalila is an opera well worth your time invested.  

Review performance: Monday, October 1, 2018

Photos: Ken Howard.

Samson et Dalila is performed as written in three acts. The running time of the HD performance is just about three and a half hours; there are two intermissions.

Samson et Dalila appears again on the Met stage on the evenings of October 9, 16, with matinees on October 13 and 20; then Samson et Dalila returns in March on the evenings of March 13, 16, 19, and 28 with a matinee on March 23 with Antonenko and Rachvelishvili.  Curtain times for these performances vary; please check the Met’s season program book. For ticket information or to place an order, please call (212) 362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org. Special rates for groups of 10 or more are available by calling (212) 341-5410 or by visiting www.metopera.org/groups.

The October 20 matinee performance of Samson et Dalila will be telecast live in HD to theaters worldwide and radio broadcast or streamed via various media. It will also be encored in some locations. Information about HD venues, operas, dates, times, casts, and tickets can be found on the Metropolitan Opera website www.metopera.org.

Note local telecast dates: the Quick Center at Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT, will show the HD performance of Samson et Dalila as two encores on Tuesday, October 23, at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets for these at the Quick Center may be ordered online at www.fairfield.edu/lifeatfairfield/artsminds/quickcenterforthearts or one may call the Quick Center Box Office at 203-254-4010 or 1-877-278-7396.

The Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, CT, will also telecast Samson et Dalila as an encore on Monday, October 22 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets for this performance @ Ridgefield may be ordered online at www.ridgefieldplayhouse.org or from the box office of the Ridgefield Playhouse at 203-438-5795.

Ample free parking is available at both venues; please check their websites for directions to theaters and suggestions for fine regional dining.

*Samson et Dalila holds a special place in my vast wing of Metropolitan Opera memories: it was the final performance of a special ’64-’65 season, a season significant because it was the first of the standing room performances. The cast sported the great Jon Vickers as Samson. Even back then I prepped for performances, here, appropriately, with the Vickers/Gorr/Blanc EMI recording (on LP of course), conducted by George Prêtre. In the following season, I witnessed Prêtre conducting Gounod’s Faust (in the fall) and two performances of Parsifal (in the spring), the second of which was my last stand on Broadway and 39th, then my first Tristan und Isolde with Birgit Nilsson in the new Metropolitan Opera House. These are very vivid memories.

**The Met premiered Louise with the Company in January of 1921 with Geraldine Farrar in the title role, a second production in 1930 with Lucrezia Bori, later the lovely Grace Moore and Dorothy Kirsten in the last, the 49th, on December 10, 1948. It has not be revived since. But happily the New York City Opera staged Louise with Beverly Sills in the spring of 1977. Grabbed it, enjoyed it.

Heavenly in NYC for OM’s opening night of the 2018-2019 season…even the traffic cooperated! Ciao!

J

***

Metropolitan Opera’s ’18–’19 HD Season

A joy indeed it is to begin the next OperaMetro season with the posting of the Met’s 2018-2019 HD telecast schedule! To some degree the writing is a comforting endeavor, a way to fill the void created by the end of last season, like, wait, what? You mean it’s over!? But, truthfully, each of my days is full of musical moments colored by eager anticipation and glowing retrospection, the latter being decades long at this point. I kid you not…but I digress.

Below is listed the Met’s HD schedule for the 2018-2019 season. The dates and times (ET) listed herein are those of the live performances on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, the source of the telecasts. But these times and dates are not necessarily the same as those of the projected performance @ your favorite HD venue. Throughout the season OM, as you know, lists the specific times and dates at the bottom of a review of the to-be-telecast performance for the venues in our immediate neck of the woods. It’s a little help I give my friends to get by; additionally, to me it gives new meaning to my oft repeated phrase ‘support your local opera.’

  The mod  Samson et Dalila  opens the Met season, also in HD

The mod Samson et Dalila opens the Met season, also in HD

The Met’s HD season opens on October 6, 2018 at 12:55 p.m., with a revival of Verdi’s classic Aïda, starring the great Anna Netrebko, who has, of late, tackled some of the grander roles in the Italian repertory* (see Asides and Addenda below). In this by now familiar production by Sonja Frisell, with sets by Gianni Quaranta, Netrebko is joined by Anita Rachvelishvili as Amneris, Alksandrs Antonenko as Radamès, Quinn Kelsey as Amonasro, and Ryan Speedo Green as the King. Nicola Luisotti conducts. A grand opening of a great HD season starring a grand diva.

A new production of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila is the actual Opening Night of this coming 2018-2019 season (Monday night @ 6:00 p.m., September 24), but the opera gets its first ever showing in HD on October 20 at 12:55 p.m. Together again in a steamy French opera are Roberto Alagna as Samson and Elīna Garanča as Dalila. Sets are by Alexander Dodge, costumes by Linda J. Cho; the production is directed by Darko Tresnjak, making his Metropolitan Opera debut.** Others in the cast include Laurent Naouri as the High Priest, Elchin Azizov as the Philistine King Abimelech and Dmitry Belosselskiy as the Old Hebrew. Sir Mark Elder conducts. This should be a good time: Garanča and Alagna raised the temperature in the House with Carmen back in the winter of 2010, the HD performance of which was captured on a 2 DVD set released soon thereafter by Deutsche Grammophon.

Next is a long awaited revival of I think a very underrated opera: Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, telecast on October 27 at 12:55. On the books at least is tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the role of Dick Johnson, paired with Eva-Maria Westbroek as Minnie. Nick Bosi is Nick, Željko Lučić is Jack Rance, Michael Todd Simpson is Sonora, and Oren Gradus is Jake Wallas. The production is by Giancarlo Del Monaco, son of Mario Del Monaco, a highly respectable Dick Johnson back in the day. The sets and costumes are by Michael Scott; Marco Armiliato conducts. The role of Johnson lies well for Mr. Kaufmann these days; here’s hoping we get to hear how well it lies for him live in the House. Were it not so difficult to type with my fingers crossed, they’d be crossed until October.

Nico Muhly’s new opera Marnie gets its Met premiere on October 19, but the HD telecast occurs on November 10 at 12:55. It’s based on Winston Graham’s novel, which is also the source of Alfred Hitchcock’s film of 1964. The alluring Isabel Leonard stars as Marnie, with Christopher Maltman as Mark Rutland, her husband, Iestyn Davies as his brother Terry, Janis Kelly as Mrs. Rutland, and Denyce Graves as Marnie’s mother. Conductor Robert Spano makes his Metropolitan Opera debut. Marnie is co-produced with the English National Opera, at which the opera premiered in 2017; Muhly’s opera Two Boys was well received at the Met in the fall of 2013.

  Diana Damrau in the Met's new  La Traviata

Diana Damrau in the Met's new La Traviata

Arguably one of the most popular operas in the standard repertory, La Traviata returns to HD on December 15 at 12:55, at last given a new production to replace Willy Decker’s “ya seen it once, you’ve seen it all opera in concert (just about) with a lot of running around the stage and then there's this omnipresent large clock” production. Michael Mayer directs; the cast includes Diana Damrau as Violetta, Juan Diego Flórez returning to the Met as Alfredo, and Quinn Kelsey as Germont. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts. Christine Jones’ sets are sumptuous; costumes are designed by Susan Hilferty.

Then, on New Year’s Eve, Sir David McVicar’s new production of Francesco Cilea’s lovely Adriana Lecouvreur premieres with Anna Netrebko in the title role, Piotr Beczała as Maurizio, Anita Rachvelishvili as the Princess of Bouillon, Ambrogio Maestri as Michonnet, and Carlo Bosi as the Abbé. Charles Edwards did the Set Design; Brigitte Reiffenstuel does the Costumes; Adam Silverman is the Lighting Designer. The HD performance for Adriana Lecouvreur is January 12, 2019, at 12:55 p.m. Also an unjustly overlooked opera, for sure, but hold the phone for a minute: it is co-produced by five other opera companies here and in Europe. So maybe not so overlooked, right?***

  Anna Netrebko as Adriana Lecouvreur in the new production

Anna Netrebko as Adriana Lecouvreur in the new production

Following Adriana on the HD circuit is another production by Sir Richard Eyre, Bizet’s Carmen on February 2 at 12:55. Starring along with Roberto Alagna (Don José) is the beautiful Clémentine Margiane in the title role.**** Micaëla is sung by Aleksandra Kurzak and Escamillo by Alexander Vinogradov. Louis Langree conducts. Another French favorite is Gaetano Donizetti’s La fille du régiment, set in Lauent Pelly’s beloved production, his costumes too, and then sets designed by Chantal Thomas. Javier Camarena essays the role of Tonio to the Marie of Pretty Yende. Stephaine Blythe is the Marquise of Berkenfield. Maurizio Muraro is Sulpice. Enrique Mazzola conducts.

The Robert Lepage production of Wagner’s epic Die Walküre returns to the HD screen on March 30 at 12 p.m. The new cast sports American soprano Christine Goerke in her first run at the Met as Brünnhilde; Eva-Maria Westbroek repeats her role of Sieglinde; Stuart Skelton is Siegmund*****; Jamie Barton is Fricka; Greer Grimsley is Wotan, and Gunther Groissböck is Hunding; Philippe Jordan conducts. The complete Ring is performed at the Met this season, though Die Walküre is the only one to be telecast in HD; a complete Ring live @ the Met is a wonder to witness, certainly to hear in the House.

  Isabel Leonard  stars in   Poulenc’s   Dialogues des Carmélites

Isabel Leonard stars in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites

Last, but most certainly not least, is the revival of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, telecast first time in HD on May 11 at 12 p.m. Heading the large cast is Isabel Leonard as Blanche de la Force, along with Adrianne Pieczonka as Mme. Lidoine, Erin Morley as Constance, Karen Cargill as Mère Marie, the great Karita Mattila as the First Prioress, David Portillo as Chevalier de la Force, and Dwayne Croft as the Marquis de la Force. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts. It’s the John Dexter production, which was new in 1977, with sets by David Reppa, costumes by Jane Greenwood, and lighting by Gil Wechsler. This is a dynamite cast, believe me, and a powerful operatic experience. Something not to be missed. Carmélites will be sung in the original French. ******

Photos by Vincent Peters, save the Carmélites above, which is by Ken Howard.

For those new to the Met in HD, the telecasts are a fantastic way to explore the world of opera in a convenient in a theater near you; check the Metropolitan Opera’s website for locations! Most venues provide subscription packages.

The LIVE IN HD Member Priority pass puts the window for advanced sales as July 12 to July 17 in the USA and Canada. You probably have received this already in the mail.

See you in HD!

Oh, and my pick for operas not to be missed at the Metropolitan Opera this season: Boito's Mefistofele, Puccini's Il Trittico, Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, Tchaikovsky's Iolanta/Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle, Verdi's Falstaff, and of course the Ring, as mentioned above. 

And now for Asides and Addenda:

*The odds are that one of the next big roles in line for Ms. Netrebko is either Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera or Leonora in La Forza del Destino. Alas, Forza! One of my all time favorite operas. First cast was Franco Corelli, Ettore Bastianini, Gabriella Tucci, Giorgio Tozzi (February, 1965) at the Old Met. Had to stand for it...

**Make that Tony Award winning director Darko Tresnjak, who is most recently known here for his direction of Broadway’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (my whole family loved that show!), but…but also, a bit of trivia here, though not really trivial for those of us who know and love these things: Tresnjak is known for his direction of the Los Angeles Opera’s 2009 production of Walter Braunfels’ Die Vögel, (The Birds), which is available on an ArtHaus Musik DVD. Lest you’re thinking ah ha! now, what a coincidence!!! Probably Die Vögel is adapted from the Arthur Hitchcock horror film The Birds!!!!!! Just like Marnie…wow!...no, not so fast, it’s Aristophanes' play by the same name. Lovely opera, Die Vögel, by the way. Bravi LA Opera!

***Some local readers will recall the series we did in the fall of 2016 entitled Italian Operas you should know better: unjustly overlooked operas by Rossini, Bellini, Verdi, Giordano, Cilea and Puccini. The series included Semiramide, I Puritani, La Forza del Destino, Andrea Chenier, Adriana Lecouvreur, and La Fanciulla del West. Save Forza and Chenier, four of the others have been performed at the Met within the past two seasons and this one to come. Bravi Metropolitan Opera! And maybe Forza soon.

**** Clémentine Margaine starred as Leonore in Donizetti’s La favorite at Caramoor in 2015 under the baton of Will Crutchfield.

***** Skelton was the stellar Tristan in the new production of Tristan und Isolde in fall of 2016, paired with Nina Stemme. Now musically speaking that was a Tristan und Isolde for the record books! Shame the production caused as many problems as it solved.

******Dialogues des Carmélites had its world premiere at La Scala in January of 1957 (in Italian with Virginia Zeani and Leyla Gencer), followed by its original French version in Paris later in June (with Denise Duval, Regine Crespin, Denise Scharley and Rita Gorr, conducted by Pierre Dervaux), subsequently recorded by EMI in 1958. Really an amazing recording, hands down. The opera premiered at the Met in English with this John Dexter production in the matinee performance on Saturday, February 5, 1977, with Maria Ewing, Shirley Verrett, Betsy Norden, Regine Crespin and Mignon Dunn, conducted by Michel Plasson.

A story for you: my dear friend Dick and I were going to the Met that same evening, 2/5/77, but he asked me to come to his house early to monitor the reel-to-reel recording he was making of the Carmelites broadcast. He had a local function of some kind to perform at that afternoon, probably a wedding, but this is tangential. It was my first exposure to Carmelites, though I knew some of Poulenc's music from the ABT. I remember being floored by the broadcast: you could literally hear the building tension in the audience, let alone on stage. The ending was heartbreaking. That night he and I attended the evening performance, Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète (new production with Renata Scotto, Marilyn Horne, James McCraken, Jerome Hines: Henry Lewis); as we entered the House, there was a pervasive emotional aura, members of the audience lingering, talking with others who had heard the broadcast. There were vibes…you remember vibes, right, man, good vibes, bad vibes. Two weeks later Dick and I later saw Carmelites (2/19). As we settled into our seats upstairs a strange odor, stinging, pervaded the air. “Tear gas, I think,” said Dick, who’d been in Viet Nam. Sure enough we had to evacuate the theater quickly and stood outside on Lincoln Center Plaza for at least an hour while the great ventilation system did its magic. The show must go on! And it did. And we discovered for ourselves what the aura was all about. Trust me, it’s a profound music-drama. Don’t miss this one.

Summer time! There is life! Enjoy! And look forward to the HD season. Plan to take a friend too. J.