Archive for the ‘Opera’ Category

The Sunken Garden, English National Opera, Barbican, April 2013

13 April, 2013

This new musical work by Michel van der Aa, combines film narrative and a 3D visual world behind a screen, to a libretto by novelist David Mitchell. Novels are very different from opera librettos, which must develop the characters and story in relatively few words, and part of the problem with this one is that it was difficult to care what happened to these people.

All images ENO/ Mike Hoban

All images ENO/ Mike Hoban

There were three main ones: Toby Kramer a wannabe video artist, Zenna Briggs who pretends to want to fund his work but really wants to draw him into a strange world of disappearances, and Doctor Marinus who works in a psychiatric hospital. Roderick Williams as Toby sang with excellent diction, but the ladies with their high notes had more trouble, and were not helped by the orchestration. Surtitles were needed, and I heard the people behind me commenting afterwards that they didn’t understand what was going on. A story as strange and convoluted as this one has to be delineated very carefully to work on the opera stage, and a quick read of David Mitchell’s own synopsis hardly gives a luminous rendering of the plot.

Amber

Amber

One can of course sit back and enjoy the colourful 3D garden with its vertical pool, which comes in about halfway through, but friends who were on the side upstairs evidently did not see the same effects as I did from the centre stalls. In the Garden are two lost and vanished young people, Simon and Amber, both suffering terribly from guilt, and we see on-screen interviews with his landlady and her mother before they disappeared. It turns out that they are not the only ones to suffer from psychiatric problems, but I was rather past caring by that time.

This reminded me of Judith Weir’s unsuccessful Miss Fortune at Covent Garden last year, but it does not compare with the ENO’s Two Boys, despite a preview comparison that I read. That had a compelling story; this didn’t.

Distortion of the Garden

Distortion of the Garden

Katherine Manley and Claron McFadden both sang well as Zenna Briggs and Doctor Marinus, and the diction problem could and should have been solved by surtitles. Whether that would have made this rather opaque story more engaging I doubt, but it would have helped.

This ‘film opera’, co-produced by the ENO, Opéra de Lyon, Luminato Festival and Holland Festival, will doubtless attract favourable comments for the composer’s combination of music, film footage, and 3D electronic world, but the music is dull, and the libretto a serious weakness. Performances continue until April 20 — for details click here.

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Götterdämmerung, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

11 April, 2013

When the Rheinmaidens playfully tease Siegfried at the start of Act II, their musical movements were far better than the unmusicality of the irritatingly intrusive dancers, who reappeared in this final part of The Ring. Their manipulation of silk sheets was fine, but this is the first time I have seen opera ladies move more gracefully than dancers, which suggests Belgian director Guy Cassiers should abandon them and let Wagner’s music speak for itself.

Act 1, images ©MonikaRittershaus

Act 1, images ©MonikaRittershaus

Under Barenboim’s direction it did so in spades, with a grippingly emotional Siegfried funeral march movingly complemented by a  red glow in the lighting. But after this the production failed to carry conviction. Siegfried’s arm merely flopped to one side rather than rise in warning to Hagen, who stayed where he was before quietly leaving the stage. He suddenly returned from stage-right to shout Zurück vom Ring, before barging his way through the onlookers to get to the Rhein, but why wasn’t he anxiously waiting and following Siegfried’s body with his eyes? It didn’t make sense.

Nor did some of the video imagery of faces with tongues hanging out, but there was fine singing in abundance. Waltraud Meier, an exceptional Sieglinde in Walküre, returned to sing Second Norn with a lovely evenness of tone, and reappeared strongly as Waltraute in a well wrought conflict with Brünnhilde. Iréne Theorin was commanding in that role, singing with effortless intensity. Siegfried was boldly sung by Andreas Schager, slim, youthful and convincing, as was Mikhail Petrenko as Hagen, and Johannes Martin Kränzle reprised his deeply powerful Alberich. Anna Samuil returned from her Freia in Rheingold to sing Gutrune, and Gerd Grochowski was an immensely effective Gunther, his firm voice complementing a melancholy stage presence that reminded me of a younger Jeremy Irons. His performance was an unexpected pleasure.

Brünnhilde, Hagen, Gunther

Brünnhilde, Hagen, Gunther

Overall, this production has its strong points, particularly in the lighting and some of the better video imagery, but its weakest points lie in the use of dancers. Rheingold was particularly bad in this respect, and Walküre was easily the best part, and the only one in which dancers were entirely absent. An interview in the Walküre programme showed Belgian director Guy Cassiers to have some rather naïve political ideas that included blaming Europeans for much of the poverty in the world. Perhaps his attitudes stem from Belgium’s poor colonial record, but noting that Wotan is cleverer than many of today’s politicians is a bit jejeune.

That Monsieur Cassiers is inspired by concepts relating to the interplay between good and evil, and success and failure, is no bad thing, but the unifying force that makes this Ring work so brilliantly is surely the musical direction by Daniel Barenboim. That plus a clever choice of singers who fitted their roles made this a hugely musical pleasure.

Siegfried, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

8 April, 2013

The first two operas of this cycle experienced slight problems: orchestra lights failed a couple of times during Rheingold, and stage backdrop lighting flashed and failed in Walküre. But Siegfried saw a more serious disruption when the eponymous hero failed to show up for Act I. Why, we were not told, but the role was admirably sung from the wings by Andreas Schager, with an assistant stage manager going through the motions on stage. So vocally effective was Schager that Daniel Barenboim brought him on for a special curtain call at the end of the act, and the audience roared their appreciation.

Awakening, all images © Monika Rittershaus

Awakening, all images © Monika Rittershaus

Canadian tenor Lance Ryan thankfully turned up for Act II, which was just as well since Schager was singing in a concert performance of Zauberflöte with the Berlin Philharmonic under Rattle later the same evening. At the end of Act II, Ryan declined a solo curtain call, and at the end of the opera, after a superb performance in Act III, the restrained applause marked audience disapproval for his early absence.  But he was exceptionally good, and I regret not hearing him in all three acts. His final scene with Iréne Theorin as Brünnhilde produced glorious singing, and his Sei mein! followed by her beautifully gentle Oh Siegfried! Dein war ich von je! was a moving moment.

Forging the sword

Forging the sword

Of course Daniel Barenboim in the orchestra pit was the magician bringing Wagner’s great moments to fulfilment, and this third episode of the Ring was a musical triumph. Peter Bronder sang and acted strongly as the ill-favoured Mime, and Norwegian bass-baritone Terje Stensvold gave a commanding performance as The Wanderer.

Mikhail Petrenko sang a strong Fafner from behind the stage, but here we find one of the problems in this Guy Cassiers production. The dragon was portrayed by five dancers wafting a vast printed silk sheet, but since the voice came from elsewhere this lacked conviction, and after the dragon’s death they attached themselves to Siegfried, making interminably dull geometric patterns with five swords. The dismemberment of voice and body had already occurred to the Woodbird, with a double performing insipid and unmusical movements on stage while the singing Woodbird (Rinnat Moriah, a perfectly handsome young woman) was off-stage.

Siegfried and dancers

Siegfried and dancers

Good lighting and sets, except that the forging of the sword was essentially done by atmospheric lighting and seven flat screen videos, plus a few tap-taps in the upstairs part of the set, as if a saucepan were being mended. Otherwise I liked the intriguing design for Mime’s home, which Wotan navigated with admirable aplomb as it turned from horizontal to vertical. Forest lighting was wonderful, and the meeting of Alberich and the Wanderer in Act II was very effective. If the superfluously irritating dancers had been absent, this act would have been perfect — they were not there in Walküre, and I’m sure most of us hope for the same with Götterdämmerung.

This performance was on April 7, and the final instalment of The Ring takes place on April 10.

Die Walküre, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

6 April, 2013

What a spectacular ending to Act III this was, equalled in my recent memory only with Barenboim in the same production at La Scala in December 2010.

All images © Monika Rittershaus

All images © Monika Rittershaus

His sensitive handling of the orchestra framed those hugely gentle scenes between the sympathetic Wotan of René Pape and the intensity of Iréne Theorin as his daughter Brünnhilde, when for example when he tells her she is the daughter of the world’s wisest woman, and later when she coaxes him away from consigning her to a fate worse than death. These were tranquil and beautiful moments, as was the encounter between Brünnhilde and the noble Siegmund of Peter Seiffert when she announces his impending doom.

Yet all the singers came over with great force at times of high drama. Peter Seiffert’s cry to his lost father, Wälse! Wälse! in Act I had huge lyrical force, with the orchestra at full tilt, and Waltraud Meier gave Sieglinde a sublime intensity after Brünnhilde dissuades her from death by telling of a Wälsung in her womb. Rette mich Kühne! (Rescue me brave one) had tremendous lyrical force, and when Brünnhilde gives her the shards of the sword, and names him Siegfried, O hehrstes Wunder floated high above the orchestra, ascending to the gods themselves.

Wotan and Brünnhilde

Wotan and Brünnhilde

These great turning points in The Ring are powered by forces that Wagner extracts from deep mines of cultural history, but he sets it all going in dramatic style with that wonderful Act I. Here Seiffert and Meier beautifully vocalised their mutual passion, and the strongly youthful Hunding of Mikhail Petrenko represented the determined world of honour killing, supported by the fiery Fricka of Ekaterina Gubanova. And when Hunding kills Siegmund in Act II he does not merely fell him with a sword, but thrusts a spear through his body as it lies on the ground.

As he stands victorious on stage-right, Wotan on stage-left quietly commands him to kneel before Fricka. He remains motionless, and as Pape firmly emphasises the second Geh! he falls dead. Earlier in Act II, Pape showed utter exhaustion after telling Fricka she could take his oath, and his beautifully crafted portrayal of Wotan’s self awareness allowed him to project huge power in the final moments of Act III. As the music crescendos, his Leb’ wohl! to Brünnhilde swept with huge power through the orchestral sound.

Wotan's farewell to Brünnhilde

Wotan’s farewell to Brünnhilde

After the final bars the audience gradually recovered from the magic, and the sustained applause took in more than one appearance on stage by the full orchestra, and numerous curtain calls for Barenboim and the soloists, including the Walküren in their voluminous dresses. Immensely cumbersome though Tim Van Steenbergen’s costumes may be, they are effective, as is this whole production by Guy Cassiers with lighting and assistance on set design by Enrico Bagnoli. Thank goodness the dancers from Rheingold were entirely absent, leaving us to savour the heart and soul of the music.

This performance was on April 5, and Siegfried continues on April 7.

Das Rheingold, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

5 April, 2013

The lights went down and all was silence. In the partially covered pit the conductor was invisible but slowly a quiet E flat emerged. Daniel Barenboim’s restrained conducting allowed huge clarity for the singers and plenty of scope for the brass at big moments. It was a coolly intriguing prelude to The Ring.

Alberich and Rheinmaidens, all images ©Monika Rittershaus

Alberich and Rheinmaidens, all images ©Monika Rittershaus

The stage was filled with water, albeit shallow, and Alberich and the Rheinmaidens were like a boy with three teasing girls splashing around in the water. After their mockery he is defeated and soaking wet. Then comes the gold motif and we’re off and away.

After Alberich takes the gold, dancers enter. They form everything from an arch for the entrance of Wotan and Fricka, to a throne for Alberich and an animated tarnhelm. They also writhe and express themselves to the music, but not everyone will like this aspect. Some of us prefer less distraction. It seems that the director, Guy Cassiers is keen to see perpetual motion on stage, whereas many in the Wagner audience are doubtless more keen to listen to the orchestral sound and the singers.

Loge and dancers

Loge and dancers

In this respect there was some very fine singing indeed. Johannes Martin Kränzle was a terrific Alberich, somewhat hampered by the dancers in this opera, and I look forward to his return in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Superb diction and tone from Iain Paterson and Mikhail Petrenko as Fasolt and Fafner, plus a very strong vocal presence by Stephan Rügamer as Loge, and mellow attractiveness from Ekaterina Gubanova as Fricka. Despite a subdued performance as Wotan, René Pape came through strongly when necessary, particularly after taking the Ring from Alberich when he gloats that his new possession will raise him to der Mächtigen mächtigsten Herrn (the mightiest of mighty lords).

Alberich and dancers

Alberich and dancers

The Ring itself in this production is a sparkling glove, and when Alberich loses it the end of his arm appears cut off. The glove idea has the merit of making the Ring obviously visible to the whole audience, and when Wotan heeded Erda’s warning he gave it up by simply tossing it over his head.

Costumes by Tim Van Steenbergen put the giants in dark suits, and the representation of the male gods reminded me of some rather odd dictators (the late Kim Jong Il came to mind in the person of Donner), and British readers will know what I mean if compare the appearance of Loge to violinist Nigel Kennedy.

Good lighting by Enrico Bagnoli, who collaborated with director Guy Cassiers on the sets, and I liked the video projections that at one point seemed to suggest a future world. Their reflection on the water was very effective, but I gather from friends that this was not visible from all parts of the auditorium.

This performance was on April 4. Die Walküre continues tonight on April 5, unencumbered by dancers if my memory of La Scala serves me right.

Nabucco, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2013

31 March, 2013

After Verdi’s dissatisfaction with his second opera he nearly gave up, but thank goodness he didn’t because this third one is magnificent, apart from its rather weak ending. Placing the action in the 1940s rather than the original setting of 586 BC is a good idea, but it never really gelled and I found Daniele Abbado’s new production disappointing.

Va pensiero

Va pensiero

The singing however was quite another matter. Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska was spectacular as Nabucco’s adopted daughter Abigail. Covent Garden audiences who remember her terrific Lady Macbeth from June 2011 will know what to expect, and she certainly provided it, giving huge colour to a bland production. Her recitative, aria and cabaletta at the start of Act II were riveting — her voice so expressive and powerful.

Her fellow Ukrainian, Vitalij Kowljow brought a full rich tone to the bass role of the Hebrew high priest Zaccaria, and Italian tenor Andrea Caré sang beautifully in the tenor role of Ismaele who is loved by both Abigail and her half-sister Fenena. Ismaele loves Fenena and although the heavy presence of Marianna Pizzolato in that role was rather lifeless, she sang with a lovely clarity of tone.

Royal Opera

Conducting by Nicola Luisotti showed great attention to the singers, and the chorus sang superbly, with a lovely Va pensiero in Act III. Leo Nucci as Nabucco showed very well the confusion that Solera’s libretto gives him after he calls himself a god, and then produced a glorious Act IV aria accepting the God of Israel. The cello solo when Abigail shows remorse was beautifully played, and Luisotti produced fine musicianship from the orchestra.

Zaccaria, Nabucco, Abigail

Zaccaria, Nabucco, Abigail

From the Amphitheatre the movements of the chorus looked rather contrived, with one group of people waiting to move forward before another group moved aside, though it may have appeared more natural from lower in the House. And the video projections were not fully visible from the front row of the Amphi rendering them only partially visible to nearly half the audience — no wonder it was not liked from the greater heights of La Scala. The fact that it’s a co-production with Milan, Barcelona and Chicago doesn’t surprise me in these days of austerity, but if resources are scarce perhaps we should leave such minimalist new productions to the English National Opera, with Covent Garden concentrating on bringing in world class singers, which they have done here to great effect.

Performances with this cast continue until April 8, and from April 15 to 26, Domingo takes over from Nucci — for details click here. On April 29 there will be a delayed live cinema screening, and it will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on June 8 at 6pm.

Tosca with Opolais, Lee and Volle, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, 20 March 2013

21 March, 2013

In this new cast, Kristine Opolais and Yonghoon Lee complemented Michael Volle, who has sung Scarpia all this month at Covent Garden. From my previous experience of him in other bass-baritone roles (from Salome to Aida) he more than lived up to expectations, but it was Yonghoon Lee as Cavaradossi who was the new find of the evening.

All images ©ROH/ Tristram Kenton

The Act I set, all images ©ROH/ Tristram Kenton

From his Recondita armonia in Act I to his final moments in Act III this man was a revelation. His passion for Tosca was palpable, and after his glorious E lucevan le stelle in Act III, which he started very quietly and gently, he grasped at her when she appears with the safe conduct. Unlike the usual plump tenors, Yonghoon Lee is admirably slim, and he used his body to great effect. His Vittoria in Act II was the outburst of a committed young artist, his whole body showing passionate commitment, and emphasising the brutal mendacity of a police chief in the dying days of a lost regime. Then in the late moments of Act III standing with his back to the audience while the soldiers fire, he crumpled, his life blown away like the flame of a candle.

Scarpia in Act II

Scarpia in Act II

As Scarpia the police chief, Michael Volle’s characterisation and voice came over with huge power. From the dramatic sweep of his entrance in Act I to his grasp of a prize that eludes him and suddenly kills him in Act II, this was a great performance. Standing on the lower level near the Attavanti chapel in Act I you can see him thinking, and as the act closes his determination against the forces of the orchestra below, and of God on the upper level, came through with a certainty of success. Then in Act II as he moves into Ha più forte, expressing his relish for a violent conquest rather than soft surrender, we witness the dark forces impelling this man to destroy the individual liberty. When Kristine Opolais as Tosca kills him she does so with despatch, and her anxiety for the safe conduct and placing of the candles was beautifully done. She acted the entire role with great conviction, but vocally seemed not yet ideally suited to the heady drama of Tosca.

Among smaller roles, Jeremy White made a fine Sacristan, and among small matters of production, the slow steps of the firing squad in perfect time to the music, and Spoletta’s putting an arm out to stop the captain of the guard delivering a finishing shot, show great care for detail by revival director Andrew Sinclair.

This whole performance was a treat, but what really raised its level, apart from the singers, was Maurizio Benini in the orchestra pit. His conducting of Puccini’s wonderful score generated huge emotion, with gloriously powerful sounds from the orchestra at moments such as the point in Act I just before Tosca’s exit, and in Act II when Tosca finally realises what is going on in the other room, and in the crescendo as Scarpia presses her and she screams for the torture to stop.

This was a knock-out, and the vocal characterisations by Yonghoon Lee and Michael Volle are not to be missed. Unfortunately performances with this cast are sold out, but further ones with Serafin, Antonenko and Hendricks under the baton of Daniel Oren take place in July — for details click here.

I Lombardi, University College Opera, Bloomsbury Theatre, March 2013

19 March, 2013

After UCOpera’s production of a Rameau work last year, which suffered from over-ambitious direction that didn’t gel, I was unsure what this year’s I Lombardi would be like. I need not have worried — it was terrific.

Giselda, image ©UCOpera

Giselda, image ©UCOpera

Suits of armour and chain mail are expensive, so director Jamie Hayes has updated it to warring gangs from the 1960s, with guns and the occasional knife. I Lombardi meets West Side Story, but it really works, and Charles Peebles produced wonderful playing from the orchestra. Early Verdi is so full of energy, and UCL have made a perfect choice for his bicentenary year. This is the opera that followed Nabucco, which starts a new run at the Royal Opera House on Easter Saturday, so here is an excellent chance to see the next collaboration between Verdi and his early librettist Temistocle Solera.

As an enthusiast for Italian unification and the Risorgimento, the story of Lombards fighting Islamic warriors formed an attractive background that would have resonated with Verdi’s audience, but the First Crusade no longer inspires us, so I applaud the change of location in time and space. The chorus members were entirely comfortable with their roles and sang with conviction, and the three pole dancers, particularly the middle one, were great fun. UCOpera uses UCL students, complemented by a sprinkling of professionals and they were lucky to have Katherine Blumenthal in the main role of Giselda.

She suffered the misfortune of serious transport disruptions, but hurtled down the motorway in a car, arriving with five minutes to spare though you wouldn’t have known it. Already in Act I her voice showed a fine characterisation of her feelings, and as the opera revolves around her it was a huge pleasure to see such a wonderful vocal portrayal of the role. Giselda is a source of affection and concern to four men: her father Arvino, his brother Pagano, crime boss Acciano and syndicate member Oronte, who is in love with her.

Pagano as hermit, image ©UCOpera

Pagano as hermit, image ©UCOpera

Among the students, Joseph Dodd sang well as Acciano, and Edward Cottell sang an excellent bass as Arvino’s right hand man Pirro. Among the professionals, Adam Smith sang strongly as Oronte, Jeff Stewart gave a lyrical rendering of Arvino’s role, and John MacKenzie was super as Pagano. His compelling stage presence was perfect for this criminal turned hermit who eventually achieves redemption.

Good set designs by Will Bowen and the clever lighting by Matthew Eagland managed to convey both fire and rain at the right moments, as well as changes of mood and location. If the production was a little tongue in cheek at times that only made it more fun, and director Jamie Hayes showed a fine sense of humour. Charles Peebles’ conducting was exemplary and the orchestra did him proud, particularly the wonderful violin solo for the party scene in Act III.

Don’t miss this glorious but rarely-performed early Verdi. There are three further performances on March 20, 22, 23 — for details click here.

Die Feen, Chelsea Opera Group, Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 2013

18 March, 2013

Wagner was 20 when he wrote this opera, and it was never performed in his lifetime. Seeing it in Fulham forty years ago I was amazed at its sophistication, and delighted with the Chelsea Opera Group’s concert performance last night.

The two main characters, Arindal and Ada have the same names as in Wagner’s first but uncompleted opera Die Hochzeit (The Wedding), yet the situation is quite different. The political union in that opera is replaced here by a love that is politically almost impossible since Arindal is a mortal prince, and Ada an immortal from the fairy world. She decides to give up her immortality, though knowing this is fraught with difficulty since the spirit world will strike at Arindal giving him ample reason to curse her. He does, and all seems lost. Yet true love triumphs, and the resulting redemption prefigures the world of Wagner’s later operas, with precognitive echoes of Tannhäuser in the music.

Conducting by Dominic Wheeler produced fine energetic playing from the orchestra, bringing this early Wagner very much to life. At one point in Act I he stopped the music to bring the soloists back into phase with the orchestra, but after that it all began to gel, with Danish tenor David Danholt singing strongly in the role of Arindal and New Zealand soprano Kirstin Sharpin singing beautifully as Ada. At the start of Act II the chorus laments the attacks of the enemy, but Elisabeth Meister as Arindal’s sister Lora chimed in strongly, and her solo expressing the brave hope of seeing her brother again drew spontaneous applause. This suddenly moved the performance to a higher level, and Ada’s big aria Weh’ mir … (Alas, the fearful hour draws nigh) confirmed it.

Excellent singing from the three male courtiers, Andrew Slater (bass), Andrew Rees (tenor) and particularly Mark Stone (baritone). Ben McAteer showed strong diction in the minor baritone role of Harald, Emma Carrington sang a lovely mezzo as one of Ada’s two fairy attendants, and Piotr Lempa was a wonderful bass in Act III as the voice of the magician Groma, and as the Fairy King who eventually bestows immortality on Arindal after he has released Ada from petrifaction.

Wagner never again had such a simple happy ending in his redemptive dramas, and discounted this early effort. But what a treat it was to hear such an excellent performance, and congratulations to Chelsea Opera Group and conductor Dominic Wheeler for putting it on.

Francesca da Rimini, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 17 March 2013

17 March, 2013

Seeing this opera for the second time in less than three year convinced me that it fills a much-needed gap in the repertoire. Clearly the cuts in London made by Opera Holland Park in 2010 were well judged. But if you’re one of the singers or the conductor or a member of the orchestra it must be hugely enjoyable to perform.

All images MetOpera/ Marty Sohl

All images MetOpera/ Marty Sohl

Zandonai’s rich orchestration provides powerful moments, but also some tiresomely melodramatic music for action of a lighter vein. Act I was full of this, with extended passages for Francesca’s ladies in waiting. But full marks to the Met for reviving and screening Piero Faggioni’s beautifully artistic production from 1984 with its glorious costumes, nineteenth century impressionistic backdrop, and art nouveau concept of what the fourteenth century should look like. Ezio Frigerio’s sets, Franca Squarciapino’s costumes, Gil Wechsler’s lighting, and Donald Mahler’s elegantly subdued choreography all worked well, and cinema direction by Gary Halvorson was excellent.

A Rosenkavalier moment

A Rosenkavalier moment

The star role is Francesca, sung here by Eva-Maria Westbroek who remarked in the intermission that this sort of story is still going on in the world today. She is quite right. A girl is married to a man she doesn’t love, while being in love with someone else. She arranges clandestine meetings with her lover, and the family kills the two of them. Francesca is in love with the fair Paolo, whom she once believed was to be her husband. In fact it’s his malformed brother, Gianciotto, and the insane jealousy of the third brother, Maletestino brings a denouément in which Gianciotto kills both his wife Francesca and his brother Paolo.

Smaragdi and Francesca

Smaragdi and Francesca

As Paolo, Marcello Giordani evidently relished the role from a poetic point of view, according to his intermission interview, but in Act I he sounded strained on the high notes, though he warmed up considerably in Act II. Eva-Maria Westbroek as Francesca sang and acted with dramatic power, but lacked a more nuanced portrayal that might suggest character development. It was perhaps easier for Mark Delavan and Robert Brubaker as the more one-dimensional characters Gianciotto and Maletestino, and both sang with great conviction. Fine solo appearance in Act I by Philip Horst as Francesca’s scheming brother Ostasio, and Ginger Costa-Jackson sang a beautiful mezzo as Francesca’s confidante Smaragdi.

She sings of potions, and appears in Act III as a Brangaene-like character to Francesca’s Isolde, but this opera’s eclectic allusions to Tristan und Isolde, and Lancelot and Guinevere, along with the musical resonances with Strauss and Puccini, weaken it and obscure any creative focus. There were lovely moments however, such as the kiss at the end of Act III, where Francesca’s costume and body language mirrored the 1895 painting Flaming June by Frederic Leighton. Eva-Maria Westbroek sang a fine prayer in Act IV, and the sudden ending with two brothers left standing while Francesca and Paolo lie dead was a coup de theâtre.

Gianciotto, Malatestino, Paolo

Gianciotto, Malatestino, Paolo

Plenty of tension from the orchestra under Marco Armiliato, and thank you to the Met for a production so fine that I shall never feel the need to see this opera again. In the intermission features, Sondra Radvanovsky told Marcello Giordani that he had performed 27 operas at the Met, and gushingly asked if this was his favorite. He answered diplomatically, unlike a singer in a previous opera who responded less charitably to one of her questions.