Posts Tagged ‘Karita Mattila’

Prom 66, with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, 4 September 2010

5 September, 2010

“Mahler’s 11th Symphony”, Rattle called the second half of this concert as he introduced it, requesting the audience not to interrupt with applause until all three works were over. The three compositions he was uniting under Mahler’s banner were Schönberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces, Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra, and Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra. The original versions of these works were composed in 1909, 1909–10, and 1913–15 respectively, bringing us from the midst of one of the most artistically creative periods in the life of Vienna, or anywhere else for that matter, to the appalling destruction of the First World War. These three compositions are not works I know well, and hearing them together in this way was a revelation. As far as I know, Rattle recorded the first two items on a CD along with Berg’s Lulu suite, played by the CBSO, but has not recorded the three works in this concert as a unit. I hope he does.

The first half of the concert — the Parsifal Prelude and the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss — was less interesting, at least for me. I bow to no one in my admiration for Rattle’s conducting, particularly of twentieth century music, but Wagner is not so much his métier and I found the prelude to Parsifal surprisingly dreary. This is music I’ve heard many times, and for me the performance lacked dramatic intensity. The Strauss was well sung by Karita Mattila, after a wobbly start, and I understand she’s giving a concert at the Wigmore Hall in a few days’ time. That venue is surely better for Lieder, but in the vast spaces of the Albert Hall her voice did not come through as well as I had hoped, though she sounded much better on the BBC recording.

Watching it on television later, I heard the announcer referring to the Berlina Philharmonica (sic). I wish the BBC would either use English pronunciation (Berlin Philharmonic) or say the German correctly (Berliner Philharmoniker), rather than falling between two stools.

Tosca, Metropolitan Opera live relay, New York, October 2009

11 October, 2009


This was a new production by Luc Bondy, with Karita Mattila as Tosca, Marcelo Alvarez as Cavaradossi, and George Gagnidze as Scarpia. All three sang and acted their parts with complete conviction, which made for a moving experience. Karita Mattila was a very jealous and emotional Tosca, even destroying her lover’s painting in Act I. Marcelo Alvarez was in glorious voice as Cavaradossi, showing passion and restraint. And George Gagnidze, whom I’ve not seen before, was riveting as Scarpia — his eyeballs at times being completely surrounded by the whites of his eyes — looking and acting like a controlling demon. Paul Plishka as the Sacristan in Act I performed like a weak little man fearful of anyone stronger.

A small difference from the usual staging was in Act II when Tosca kills Scarpia — she had secreted a knife by her side while lying on the couch awaiting his attentions, and thrust it into his groin, so the murder was not merely a spur of the moment decision. Another small difference was right at the end when she flees up the steps to the battlements — instead of throwing herself off, away from the audience, she threw herself forward from the tower, and the lights immediately shut off. It is difficult to know how effective this would be in the theatre — it might look a bit contrived since there had to be a harness to hold her back as the lights went out. But overall — and it really is the overall effect that counts — I thought the production was eerily dramatic.

The boldly stark designs by Richard Peduzzi were effective, and I very much liked the costumes by Milena Canonero. In Act I, Scarpia looked like an outsized beetle in the church, but why not, and later in Act II he was accompanied by three pretty whores, showing that this beetle had at least a strong libido. He is not simply a sadistic chief of police, and his desire for Tosca is more than a desire for sex — he wants to conquer her. The lighting by Max Keller was dark in Act I and very dark in Act III, never lightening up towards dawn, as far as I could see. Of course it is difficult to judge from a cinema screen, and it may have been the fault of camera work on a zoom lens, but the procession in the church in Act I appeared unnatural and looked as if it was almost on top of Scarpia. Such quibbles aside, I find it surprising that the production team was booed on the first night.

The music was well paced by Joseph Colaneri, replacing James Levine who is injured but had already conducted the first night.

Salome, in a live cinema screening from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Oct 2008

31 December, 2008

Karita Mattila gave an excellent performance of the title role, and Juha Uusitalo was superb as John the Baptist, drawing deep power from mysterious sources. Kim Begley was a fine Herod, urbane yet discomforted and lustful, and Ildiko Komlosi was a strong Herodias, proud and scornful. Joseph Kaiser sang Narraboth, but the cinematic techniques, particularly at the start of the performance, failed to show the full stage, and made it impossible to see him in context. It also made it difficult to judge Jürgen Flimm’s production. Certainly it was far better than the absurd staging I saw at Covent Garden in February, where the party guests stood around uselessly as Salome went to her excesses near the end; in this production by contrast they evidently turned and left, but we couldn’t see this happen because of the obsession with close-ups of Salome, Herod and Herodias. It was as if one looked at the whole thing through opera glasses, missing the bigger picture, and while the costumes by Santo Loquasto were excellent, we could not fully see the sets that he also designed. Choreography by Doug Varone worked well and Karita Mattila did a good job of the dance and striptease. The conducting by Patrick Summers was powerful, and the accompaniment to John the Baptist, after he is brought up from the cistern, was riveting. One could only wish that one were in the opera house to see and hear this in its full glory.