Metropolitan Opera Simulcast: Lucia di Lammermoor

The Metropolitan Opera presented the final performance of a run of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor for its March 19 HD simulcast  

Director Mary Zimmerman incorporated a ghostly apparition during Lucia’s aria, “Regnava nel silenzio” – not outlined in the score – but as a reference to the Walter Scott novel.  It was haunting and effective to see as Lucia tells the story of the ghost of Lammermoor.  Then in the final act, after Lucia’s demise, the specter is a pale Lucia (Natalie Dessay) who helps her grieving lover Edgardo to commit suicide. 

Overall the production was beautiful.  Dessay’s mad scene was riveting, but I found the rest of the stage action static.  Donizetti’s music doesn’t represent the emotion of the characters in a contemporary way.  For example, anger is expressed through refined, elegant music in the bel canto tradition.  (Lucia di Lammermoor premiered in 1835.) In that context, Zimmerman’s stage direction was suitable. 

Even still, the stage movement seemed unsatisfying at times.  I found myself wanting more.

Blog from the Guardian: Why does no one write about the music?

Great blog about the content of opera reviews these days.  Makes me feel slightly better for neglecting to comment on the costumes and lighting in my reviews for Opera News sometimes.

Dr. Adrian’s review of North Carolina Opera’s Tosca

At a time when opera companies are calling it quits out of financial necessity, North Carolina Opera has emerged in Raleigh.  Here’s my review of NCO’s inaugural production starring Cynthia Lawrence, Grant Youngblood, and Steven Harrison.



North Carolina Opera     

North Carolina Opera — newly formed from a merger between two smaller pre-existing companies, Opera Company of North Carolina and Capital Opera Raleigh — opened its first-ever season with an inspiring production of Puccini’s Tosca (seen Oct. 17). General director Eric Mitchko kicked off the evening with a greeting to the patrons, saying, “Opera is essential. Opera is indispensable,” and promised that North Carolina Opera would enhance the rich cultural life of the Triangle. Mitchko is the former director of artistic administration for Atlanta Opera as well as a former vice president at Columbia Arts Management; it was evident that he was able to use his history in the business to recruit some superior singers for Tosca.

This inaugural production had some strikes against it: the redecorated yet antiquated Memorial Hall, built in the 1930s, is unsuitable for opera acoustically and wanting in backstage space. The set, designed by David Gano and provided by the New Orleans Opera Association, looked sparse and seemed incomplete. Regrettably, there was no hint of reference to the real landmarks of Rome that serve as backdrop to Puccini’s opera. NCO plans to make use of several performance locations throughout its first season, perhaps testing out each site in the hopes of finding a proper home. In any case, a cast of fine singers, headed by the Tosca of soprano Cynthia Lawrence, more than compensated for Memorial Hall’s imperfections.

  Conductor Timothy Myers and the orchestra began with a tentative opening statement of the Scarpia motif and sluggish tempos, but they hit their stride in Act II and played well for the rest of the evening. Stage director James Marvel provided a traditional diva-centric interpretation of the opera, but with quite a bit more detail than was expected. Each player was thoroughly choreographed. Sacristan Donald Hartmann was a scrawny fellow with an unholy attitude problem and a flask tucked under his robes. Spoletto and Sciarrone, played by John Cashwell and Lane Johnson respectively, had limited stage time but oozed menace when they were present. Bass Matthew Lau gave a strong performance as Angelotti, stumbling around the stage fatigued by the abuses of prison.

Lawrence captured the essence of Tosca and her sudden alterations of mood — petulant jealousy, girlish charm, fetching allure — singing the role with utter mastery. Together Lawrence and baritone Grant Youngblood, her Scarpia, created a tightly wound Act II that was climactic in its entirety, the highlight of the opera. Youngblood was a classic Scarpia. No one was immune to his intimidation, not even an innocent Act I choirboy who was grabbed by the collar and thrown to the floor prior to the Te Deum. Youngblood brandished a small whip as he inspected the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle and sang elegantly, with supple legato.

While the production featured thrilling singing, it seemed a bit off-kilter too. Tenor Steven Harrison was a dependable Mario Cavaradossi, but he was curiously ill-suited to the romantic aspect of the role. Harrison’s exciting tenor was a serviceable match for Lawrence’s rather sizeable voice, a fact that should not be understated, but his small stature and outsized gestures impeded suspension of disbelief. spacer


Is there a need for arts criticism?

I am currently a correspondent for Opera News and have attached a link to my most recent review of The Atlanta Opera’s production of Puccini’s La Boheme

Is there a need for performing-arts criticism and what is its purpose?  Often reviews are helpful to those in the business who want to read about current productions, in order to keep abreast of who’s directing, conducting, and singing in them.  Listen magazine had a terrific article by Ben Finane in its Fall 2010 issue titled “Music in the afternoon.”  Finane describes how an arts critic should tell a true story of the recording or performance, “That story has the ‘how,’ the color and atmosphere and connoisseur’s detail to evoke the music, to prick a reader’s ears through their eyes, in a way.  The story also has the ‘why’, providing the context of trends and history.” 

As an arts writer and grateful audience member, I try to achieve that in each review that I compose.

La Bohème 

Atlanta Opera 

Atlanta Opera opened its thirty-first season with Giacomo Puccini’s evergreen La Bohème (seen Oct. 2).  As the red carpet rolled out for the flood of patrons who entered the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on opening night, there was no sense of gloom about the opera’s future, despite a reported 20% cut in the company’s annual budget and a 2010–11 season that will include only three productions, down from four.  Although it’s clear that AO’s momentum is stalled for the time being and sustainability the new benchmark for its success, the artistic values of this Bohème did not suffer.

To start, the creative team of AO’s 2008 La Cenerentola — director David Gately and conductor Gregory Vajda — was reunited to lead a promising young cast of bohemians.  Gately’s opening scene at the garret was charged with all the enthusiasm and camaraderie one could hope for thanks to a dynamic group of singing actors.  Likewise, Vajda did a fine job leading the AO orchestra with brisk tempos

Rodolfo was played by confident, open-hearted Bryan Hymel, who held nothing back vocally but unfortunately lacked nuance at times.  Timothy Kuhn’s solid characterization of Marcello anchored each scene.  Andrew Garland’s interpretation of the musician Schaunard was theatrical; he proudly strutted around like a peacock and was clearly the diva of the bunch.  Bass Matthew Curran sang Colline’s Act IV aria “Vecchia zimarra” with gravitas and incredibly lush phrasing. Atlanta local John LaForge gave fine performances of both the philandering Benoit and Musetta’s wealthy suitor Alcindoro.

Both principal ladies were fabulous. Mimì, played by Grazia Doronzio, is a recent graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist development program.  She has sung the role previously in Sassari, Italy, but truly her portrayal was mature beyond her years.  Doronzio’s singing is far from monochromatic: each phrase is imbued with poignancy and sparkling, pure vowels.  Jan Cornelius made her AO debut as Musetta and chose to portray her character as more pushy than flirtatious.  She gave a flawless performance of “Quando me’n vo” that ended with a thrilling decrescendo on the high B flat.

Emphasizing the poverty of the wannabe artists, costume designer Joanna Schmink coordinated the singers’ drab attire with accents of rose and orange.  Accordingly, Ken Yunker’s lighting design was gray and dark — no doubt to convey the drabness of a Paris winter — but it also made the facial expressions of the soloists and Walter Huff’s proficient chorus difficult to distinguish. 

The set, designed by Peter Dean Beck and co-owned by Memphis Opera and Arizona Opera, consisted of a slightly raked stage beneath a hovering platform that spanned the width of the performance space, with an impressive staircase leading upwards at house left.  All four scenes made use of this general setup, with slight variation in the paned windows above. Director Gately utilized the upper balcony sparingly in order to create varied pictures, but most singing up there was lost to the audience. spacer