Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by agalisgv, Oct 3, 2009.
Not exactly, dardar1126. NYCO is a victim of board bungling and fiscal and artistic mismanagement. They have been making disastrous decisions for a number of years now, and this is the result. Someone who went to the final performance on Saturday night (Anna Nicole) told me that one singer listed in the program was brought over from England for this production to sing exactly one solo line, the rest of his/her singing was as part of the chorus. Why spend $$$ to bring someone over from England for one solo line? Examples like this abound.
Anything that lessens the public's cultural options makes me sad.
I wonder how Ms. Sills would feel?
Ms. Sills went to her grave ruing the fact that she pushed for Peter Gelb to take over the Met, bypassing the front-runner for the job. She had moved on from NYCO.
For Bay Area people: KQED is broadcasting SFO's production of "Lucrezia Borgia" tonight at 8pm (PDT) and again at 2am Friday on 9. There are two audio broadcasts listed on their schedule on KQED Live on Monday, 7 October at 7pm and Tuesday, 8 October at 1am.
Wonderful essay. Beautifully written.
Whatever other issues might have been, NYCO lost its identity, tried to find it and could not. It is unthinkable that NYC cannot support two opera companies with different visions. London has 2, Paris has 3(?), Berlin has 3, Moscow has 3+ etc. I hope NYCO gets revived with a clear vision at some point.
Two of the Parisian opera houses - the Bastille and Garnier operas - are simply the two venues of the Paris National Opera, a company with 50% state subvention, under the direction of a short-sighted idiot with no vision and no taste for originality. JMHO. The third opera house, the Opéra Comique, stages about 7-8 usually excellent productions with fewer big names and with only about 10% of the state subvention that the main company receives. However, its programming is often too academic to attract new audiences. The variety of the yearly program is not sufficient to call it a real opera company. The Theatre des Champs-Elysées also stages 3-4 operas per year, usually conservative productions with big name singers.
IMHO opera productions in big opera houses have gone crazy. Operas that were created with smaller, more intimate theatres in mind are being staged in huge spaces that kill the warmth of the voice, with bigger orchestras, with more and more technology, more expensive costumes on the stage. 10% of the Ministry of Culture subventions are spent on the Paris National Opera alone. How are these expensive productions justified? How exactly do they contribute to the interpretation of these works or to the enjoyment of opera by the public?
Several years ago, I saw two productions of Rigoletto in the same season: one in the Bastille Opera, the other in the Prague Opera. In the Bastille production, the stage consisted of a humongous construction built on a round platform that turned around to change the scene while the curtains were open. The singers had to climb from one scene to the other while the platform turned - they looked like tiny ants in a huge ant nest. I admired the nobility with which they were able to do this circus act. In the scene where Gilda is abducted, the male chorus of abducters was so big that they looked more like an occupation army. Everything was so exaggerated that the intimate nature of this opera was lost - even Gilda's death was not touching, because it was difficult to concentrate on these two tiny people among all the detail of the stage settings.
The Prague production was the exact opposite. The opera house is of course much smaller to begin with, the voices filled the space in a vibrant and satisfying way. The decor was mainly some painted cardboard separations acting sometimes as the façade of Gilda's house, sometimes as the inn etc. The singers were not as excellent as in the Paris production, but I was totally into the music and the acting. In much of the Italian repertoire, even if there is a social background, the intimate feelings of a few people are what the opera is about. This isn't elite music or avant-garde theatre! You show this to anyone above 12, he'll "get" these popular melodies and understand Rigoletto's anguish as well as he understands a soap opera. The Prague production was a "real" Rigoletto. The Bastille production was a collection of expensive technological tricks that didn't contribute anything to the opera. Back to basics.
I must have been lucky, then, because I saw three wonderful productions at Paris Opera, none of them traditional: the Bill Viola "Tristan und Isolde," the Martin Kusej "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" -- I think the production came from the Netherlands -- and the 2008 "Il Prigioniero."
My point was not that the Paris Opera is rubbish, but that expensive productions relying on tricks and technology are unnecessary, independently of the opera company.
I've seen many wonderful productions in Paris. My favorite is Lev Dodin's reading of Pique Dame, which goes right to the heart of the work. At the end there was some booing combined with some ecstatic cheering. That's something else that opera needs though, isn't it? Some healthy controversy!
The Viola "Tristan" relied upon 4+ hours of constant video. Technology itself is neutral. Some directors know how to use it better than others. I've seen Robert Lepage productions of opera and theater where the use of technology was wonderful, but the actual direction was, too. Then there was his Ring at the Met -- not so much. Unlike most companies in the US with a limited geographic visitor base and/or highly conservative audiences, where each production is expected to be The Iconic Carmen, Paris produces a lot more Regie productions, and there are going to be clunkers. It's so much easier to do the Zefferellian excess.
JDD is currently giving a Master Class at Juiliiard, that is being streamed live as I type:
I don't know if it's geo-blocked.
It runs until 6pm EDT/3pm PDT.
Did anyone else go to Eugene Onegin Live in HD today? Did you lose the sound during the overture?
In Vancouver BC, the sound was very low during the initial intros. Then they put it on full blast just before the music started, until someone figured out how to turn it down. The sound loss must have been location-specific.
The Bell system that was used to broadcast it popped in with instruction screens just after Lenski's big aria, and we missed most of the dialogue before the duel. The system seemed to think no one was watching and was going to shut down automatically until they figured out how to make it realize we were, indeed, watching.
This theater once gave out two premium passes per person when the Bolshoi broadcast went dead during "Le Corsaire," and it wasn't their fault then, but I suspect it was because there were so few of us, whereas here, when it was their issue, they had a large and a small theater packed to the gills
I loved this production so much more than the last one (Fleming, Vargas, and Hvorostovsky sang in it).
Hmm everyone in the audience thought it was on the Met end so the theater got off without having to answer for it. There was a previous Live in HD where there were problems, I thought with the satellite feed not the theater and they gave free tickets for future movie performances to everyone. Oh well, as long as it doesn't happen again...
I've watched the opening of the old production and didn't like it at all. I loved this one, so much better. I really like Mariusz Kwiecen.
kwanfan and BR, it's interesting that you both liked this production, or some aspects of it, more than the old one. I've seen the old one only once and liked it a lot. This new production did not get such hot reviews and got a lot of bad press concerning all the backstage drama revolving around the director, or lack thereof. I may have to check out a re-airing of the HD broadcast just to see for myself. I'm not a Ntrebko fan at all; that's really what's held me back from considering going. How was she?
(Also, I was otherwise committed yesterday to seeing the all-female Julius Caesar, set in a women's prison, with Frances Barber as Caesar and Harriet Walter as Brutus.)
I am a Netrebko fan and I thought she was really good in the part, especially the letter scene. I love her voice.
I liked the staging for the first act, but I didn't think the third act was as effective. I found the large pillars disruptive.
Thanks for the reply.
I thought Netrebko was great. In his interview Kwiecien said that in most productions, he'd be a lot more arrogant, articularly in the sermon, but that here Fiona Shaw wanted something softer. Alex Ross was not kind in his New Yorker review, and from what I've heard from people who saw it in the house, they felt Kwiecien was underpowered dramatically until Act III and vocally. In HD, I thought his acting was great, but I can see how that could appear bland at a distance, and since the mikes are upstage, the broadcasts can sound so much different than in the house by balancing the voices, not all of which project. Everyone seemed to hate the bass singing Gremin, but I didn't think he was bad. Not everyone sounds like Boris Christoff.
The all-female GC sounds fascinating!
I hated the stupid, "abuse the girl" dance which was even more when seeing the lyrics. I also disliked the columns.
Warning: thread drift ahead
This was the Donmar Warehouse production brought over from London and restaged at St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO. I overheard complaints afterwards that Harriet Walter wasn't charismatic enough as Brutus and that the play went downhill after Caesar was killed. NOT SO! Brutus is a tortured, conflicted soul and Walter nailed it. She also nailed her alto ego prisoner who broke down in sobs after the play rehearsal/performance was over, her moment of glory was gone, and it was lights out and time to go back to the real world of her prison cell. Frances Barber's swaggering, bullying thug of a Caesar was broadly played, to be sure, but tore up the stage as far as I was concerned. When Caesar grew tired of Calpurnia's importuning about not going to the senate and Caesar just casually and brutally slapped his wife to her knees, it was a shocking and riveting moment. Clare Dunne, an Irish actress, doubled as both Brutus' wife, Portia, and Octavius. Dunne brought Portia to life, no throwaway character this, and in the process brought Walter's Brutus to a new level. Dunne's Octavius was an IRA thug, and the moment she turned her back on the audience, put on Caesar's torn and bloody trenchcoat, and raised her rifle over her head, you knew you didn't need to read Antony and Cleopatra to find out what happens to Antony. It was all over for him from this moment on; Octavius was the new opportunist who was going to come out ahead. Cassius was done very interestingly also. Much less of a straight out and out villain, and more of an impetuous young hothead who gets in too deep.
The performance ran 2-2 1/4 hours with no intermission. It began when we were all lined up in front of a steel roll-gate and instructed to have our tickets in our hands to show the 'guards'. Gate goes up and we are herded into what would normally be a delivery area for the warehouse. Guards/ushers are patrolling and issuing orders. There was a closed-circuit TV showing other areas of the prison and you could hear all the normal prison noises from beyond the next roll-gate - you know, the electronic sound of prison doors opening and closing, garbled announcements, the whole thing. Next thing I know a guard is pointing at me and only me and indicating I should move over to the side. The two friends with me quickly distanced themselves. Since I was at the front of the line and I walk with a cane, it was clear the usher just wanted to let me up the steps and into the next area first, but it was all done in the guise of a prison guard issuing orders. The seating in the theatre was aluminum stadium benches with hard blue plastic chairs. I thought this was just the usual quirky seating at St. Ann's, but, no, this was all part of the production design, meant to make the audience feel uncomfortable in a prison surrounding.
Were there some gimmicks? Yes. Did they succeed in everything they tried to do? No. Was it an interesting, thrilling evening that still has me thinking about it the next day? You betcha!
Now back to your regularly scheduled opera discussion.
emason, you're not the target for this message , but if any Netrebko fans are within a short hop to Lincoln Center, the Met tweeted that she'll be signing copies of her new Verdi arias CD in the Met Opera Shop in 45 minutes (3pm EDT).
In any case, I'm nowhere near the Met at the moment.
This time next week I'll be going to the Met for the first time.
Excellent -- it's a wonderful venue to experience.
Manuella Hoelterhoff, the executive editor of Bloomberg News's arts section, wrote this scathing article about NYCO's demise:
She was (and still might be) Francesca Zambello's partner at the time this all went down, and Zambello was one of the names discussed as a successor to No-Show-Mortier, so some of the bitterness could be personal. From everything I heard from Dallas, too, George Steel was considered a disaster there, almost as great a mismatch as Mortier would have been for NYCO. (I would much rather have seen the disaster that Mortier and Dallas would have made, because the Texas boards like to do things on an epic scale, and that would have been epic.)
The one thing critiques have in common is Susan Baker, and not just the generic "She was the President of the Board and the big turd drops at her feet" criticism, but lots of specifics. If a finance person comes into an arts institution -- she was from Goldman Sachs -- and they can't master the basic finances of that institution, the is second only to that shown for a musician director who doesn't know the basic operatic repertoire, but if you're a woman to boot, then the is second to nothing.
The demise of NYC Opera is neither surprising nor particularly sad to me. The Met was always where I wanted to be during my 25 years in NYC and even before getting to NYC, and I still subscribe. I probably attended fewer than a dozen NYCO performances, to see unusual repertory or singers who were not yet, or no longer, at the Met, and nothing stands out in my memory as thrilling, although I do recall some lemons. (I went to see Sherrill Milnes in Falstaff with high hopes. He was awful. Then there was the ludicrous revival of the famous Sills-Triegle production of Julius Caesar....) It was always weird to have two opera houses side by side and often running simultaneously. At least by the time I came along, in the post-Beverly era, City Opera was always seeking a clear identity and functioned basically as a cardboard version of the Met in a theater with way worse acoustics and tickets that weren't that much cheaper, esp. if you knew where to sit at the Met.
What I relished far, far more than NYCO were the various small opera companies that were always popping up around town, as well as occasional student productions at Mannes, Manhattan, and Juilliard, where you could hear both rare and standard repertory on a small scale (although I would put Eve Queler's valiant concert productions at Carnegie Hall in this category too). Hearing Nicolai Gedda in Benvenuto Cellini, something neither the Met nor NYCO touched, at least in my time... watching Will Crutchfield develop a generation of baroque singers... seeing unknown young singers tackle and conquer Cosi in a theater seating 300-400 people... it was glorious to seek out and find these gems. There was one company that specialized in French opera, various chamber opera companies, the Amato that sang to piano accompaniment (I never dared to attend that one), Vincent LaSelva's NY Grand Opera with its complete Verdi series (all done outdoors in Damrosch Park, if I am not mistaken), and the adventurous Bronx Opera (whose board I served on for about a month before realizing that I would never get on with the company's director). Not living in NYC any more and with a lot less time for music, I don't know if these smaller companies and projects still proliferate, but they gave me a lot of joy, and if they are victims of the economy or of a culture that is less and less interested in opera, it is them I would weep for. As for the big companies, the Met's future is worrisome enough. City Opera RIP.
A former boss of mine, an architect, was on the board for a bit. He was brought in to give specific advice from an architectural standpoint on issues such as acoustics, building renovation, etc. He identified one point in particular that he felt was the most critical issue for the opera company if they were to remain at Lincoln Center. The board completely ignored his advice, and in the first round of negotiations with City Ballet, gave in to NYCB's contrary wishes without so much as a whimper. My boss left the board shortly thereafter.
ETA: I saw/heard many thrilling productions at NYCO. I am going to miss it tremendously, and in some ways, I truly prefer it to the Met.
So happy for you! When are you getting to NYC? I decided against staying for Tosca, but if you're available on Sunday for coffee, let me know!
Whee! Going to Eugene Onegin this Saturday and to see Met Orchestra under James Levine, with Joyce DiDonato at Carnegie Hall
We arrive Saturday morning at 7 a.m. on the red eye from LA. We're seeing Pippin Saturday night, but keeping the plans for the day fairly flexible since we don't know what kind of shape we will be in when we arrive. (I upgraded to a flight that has seats that turn into beds in the hope we can sleep on the flight, but who knows if we actually will.) If we are feeling up to it, we'll probably hit the Tkts booth in Times Square, which is a block from our hotel, and go to a matinee.
I doubt I'll have time on Sunday unless it's very early. My Sunday is looking like your Saturday. My mom insists on having brunch at Norma's. Then we are seeing a matinee of Glass Menagerie, meeting my cousins for pre-theater dinner, and going with them to see Kinky Boots.
You're going to the Met on Monday night, yes? Radvanovsky is getting very high praise list to raves for her Norma from a major opera list, even from people who've never liked her, have thought she is overrated, and were when she was announced. You should have a wonderful time.
Earlier in the thread, I raved about Radvanovsky's Tosca, which I saw last spring. She was astonishing in that role, so I am very excited to see her as Norma. Plus, this is the culmination of a lifelong dream for my mom, who has always wanted to see Norma. She was in grad school at Yale when Sutherland performed the role at the Met, but could not afford tickets.
My Saturday is indeed unpredictable as we're likely arriving just in time for Onegin at 8pm, but Carnegie concert is at 3pm on Sunday, so if you're having brunch at Norma's, I can potentially meet you there.
There's going to be a live broadcast from Berlin, starting any minute now, of Rimsky-Korsakov's Tsar's Bride with Olga Peretyatko and Anita Rachvelishvili on Mezzo TV (you can watch online here: http://myru.tv/online/mezzo
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