Posts Tagged ‘Francesca Zambello’

Les Troyens, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, January 5, 2013

6 January, 2013

Where are the Trojans when we need them? They provided the Greeks with stories portraying a welcome incompetence, letting a wooden horse full of Greeks into their city, and having their great warrior Hector defeat someone he thought was Achilles, only to be killed by the real one.

MetOpera images/ Cory Weaver

MetOpera image/ Cory Weaver

But in this Met production the Trojans are strongly represented, and Deborah Voigt as Cassandra was spectacular, not only singing the part with great power but exhibiting a stage presence worthy of the world’s greatest actresses. The glorious costume helped show her to be the most beautiful woman in the world, desired by Apollo who gave her the gift of prophecy but took it away with the curse that no one would ever believe her.

Coroebus and Cassandra/ KenHoward

Coroebus and Cassandra/ KenHoward

As the Trojan prince Aeneas, Bryan Hymel took over from Marcello Giordani, who was a puzzling choice for this role. Hymel sang it at Covent Garden last summer, and was once again magnificent. His Act V solo Inutiles regrets was terrific, and his chemistry with Susan Graham as Dido was excellent.

She really came into her own in Act V, so beautiful in her mauve dress earlier in that act, so convincing in her grief. In Acts III and IV she also sang gloriously but came over more as a suburban widow than a queen, though I blame director Francesca Zambello here. I’ve seen her render other vivacious heroines in an unattractive way, and what did all that choreography by Doug Varone achieve in Acts III and IV? It was naff. It was tiresome. Some people left the cinema after Act IV, and indeed the sugary atmosphere was so cloying that Aeneas must have wanted out too. But that’s not the way Virgil intended it, nor indeed Berlioz.

Aeneas and son/ KenHoward

Aeneas and son/ KenHoward

The direction and setting in Acts III and IV was extraordinarily suburban and unregal. Dido, Aeneas and others sat around watching entertainment and looking like actors in a television sit-com, while the camera zoomed in as Dido rearranged her dress. Queens do not do this — indeed imagine Angela Merkel rearranging her dress at a semi-public entertainment, and she is a mere prime minister. Dido was the great queen who led her people from Tyre to found a new colony in North Africa, but Acts III and IV failed to exhibit this. And even in Act V when Dido committed suicide she thrust the short sword to the side of her waist and then turned away from the audience. She should turn first, particularly with camera close-ups, so we can’t see the pretence.

Directorial faults aside, Fabio Luisi in the orchestra pit gave a lyrical account of Berlioz’s score, and the singers and huge chorus were magnificent. Karen Cargill sang very strongly as Dido’s sister Anna, as did Kwangchul Youn as Dido’s Minister Narbal, showing the gravitas that befits a man who sang a wonderful Gurnemanz at Bayreuth last summer. The Met have assembled an excellent cast and among other soloists, Dwayne Croft sang with nobility as Cassandra’s fiancé Coroebus, and Paul Appleby gave a stirring performance of Hylas’s song at the start of Act V.

Dido in agony/ CoryWeaver

Dido in agony/ CoryWeaver

With David McVicar’s production at Covent Garden, La Scala, San Francisco and Vienna, and now this production at the Met, Les Troyens seems to be much in vogue, but it is long and with the tiresome choreography on display here some cuts to the dance sequences might be very welcome.

Review — The Tsarina’s Slippers, Royal Opera, November 2009

21 November, 2009

This little-known Tchaikovsky opera is based on a tale by Gogol called Christmas Eve, a time of the year when witches were abroad, and demonic forces had to be tamed. In this story it’s achieved through youthful energy and a sense of fun, as Vakula the smith cunningly uses and circumvents these dangerous magical forces. They enable him to acquire the Tsarina’s slippers, a heroic task that his beloved Oxana challenges him to achieve if he wants to marry her. The basic story — boy gets girl — appears here in a phantasmagorical setting where the young man’s mother is a witch whose admirers include the schoolmaster, the mayor, and the devil himself.

This sparkling production by Francesca Zambello has lovely set designs by Mikhail Mokrov, and very colourful costumes by Tatiana Noginova, with lighting design by Rick Fisher. It includes serious ballet work, some electrifying Cossack dances and acrobatics, plus court dances for the opera chorus, all choreographed by Alastair Marriott. The second half, comprising Acts III and IV, is wonderful fun; the Cossack dancers were absolutely terrific, and Gary Avis and Mara Galeazzi of the Royal Ballet did some lovely pas-de-deux work.

Musically it all worked very well under the baton of Alexander Polianichko, who drew strong contributions from the wind section, and a very Russian sound from the orchestra. As to the singers, Larissa Diadkova was predictably excellent as Solokha the witch, with Maxim Mikhailov vocally and physically lively as the devil. The bass role for the elderly Cossack, Chub was wonderfully sung and acted by Vladimir Matorin, and Vakula was very strongly performed by Vsevolod Grivnov, making a superb debut at Covent Garden. Chub’s daughter Oxana was sung by Olga Guryakova, also making her debut at Covent Garden, but her powerful voice was regrettably screechy at times. This was altogether a fine cast, and Sergei Leiferkus sang glowingly in the relatively small role of ‘his highness’, who provides Vakula with the Tsarina’s slippers.

It’s a new production that should appeal to anyone with an appreciation for Tchaikovsky, Russian opera, or indeed magical realism in the great Slavic tradition. The only problem is that it was sold out before the first night!

Carmen, Royal Opera, October 2009

4 October, 2009

carmen[1]

This was the dress rehearsal for a revival of Francesca Zambello’s January 2007 production. It worked far better this time, mainly because Elina Garanča was such a superb Carmen. I last saw her as Cenerentola in the Metropolitan Opera’s live cinema screening, where she was excellent. Here, in quite a different role, her voice had the right edge for the part, and her acting was both seductively sexy and prettily arrogant. Compared to the performance of Anna Caterina Antonacci last time, which lacked all subtlety … well, there is no comparison at all. The dance sequences at Lilas Pastia’s, with professional dancers, seemed much better this time. Unfortunately the fight sequences directed by Mike Loades were still unconvincing. Designs by Tanya McCallin, with their high walls giving a sense of fateful claustrophobia, work well, as does the lighting by Paule Constable.

The orchestra gave a fine edge to the music, under the direction of Bertrand de Billy, who started things off at a galloping pace. With Elina Garanča as Carmen, and Roberto Alagna as Don José, both entirely convincing in their parts and singing so powerfully, this was a glowing performance. Liping Zhang did well as Micaela, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo was an elegant Toreador, and it was a delight to hear Henry Waddington speaking such commanding French as Lieutenant Zuniga.