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Thread: At Home with the Met

  1. #91
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    Quote Originally Posted by Helgi View Post
    I thought Johan Botha was wonderful as Tannhäuser, and Wolfram was another highlight. And the shepherd — she was a breath of fresh air after Venus.

    I'm curious to know what those of you who were watching thought about DeYoung and Westbroek. I didn't like either of them at all. Admittedly I don't really know much about singing, but so much vibrato — they sounded slightly off-pitch so much of the time.

    Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed it regardless. Thinking of getting a subscription to see the Ring operas that were on last week. It's intimidating to get into them with audio only, much easier seeing a staged production with subtitles.
    I agree. Just to hear one of the most impossibly difficult roles (Tannhäuser) in all Opera sung so beautifully was thrilling.

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    Senior Member vivalagentenuova's Avatar
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    Fanciulla is a peculiar opera. Maybe being an American gives me both a special affection for it and a certain cringey feeling while watching it. Those gold miners singing "Hello!" to each other don't convince me for a minute that they aren't Italians playing a wild west comedy. It takes me half an hour to begin to be persuaded that the whole thing isn't ridiculous, but once I'm hooked - it happens toward the end of Act 1, with the waltz tune that becomes a love theme - I'm in for a good time. The atmospheric score, hybridizing verismo with Debussy, is certainly the reason; what other reason could there be? I wouldn't call the opera Puccini's best-shaped work - Act 1 is slow to work up a heat, and the interruption of the action in Act 3 for a stand-and-sing aria by Johnson is certainly a mistake - but the exchanges between Minnie and Johnson are psychologically delicate and moving. Besides, Minnie insists that I forgive any faults the work may have. For her I'll do anything, and so should you.
    My only big disagreement with you is about Ch'ella mi creda. I think it's a sublime moment if well sung. Perhaps it's the Italian opera fan in me, but I often like the way that arias interrupt the action. They give a chance to reflect on what is at stake, and send us into what I call "opera time." It's not real time, and looked at from the perspective of real time, it's ludicrous; but just as Shakespeare expands thoughts and feelings that would have lasted seconds in a character's mind into long speeches that take minutes, I like the way that an aria like that takes the feeling or thought of a character and expands into something big. The text doesn't add anything terribly new to Johnson's character, but it is nice to hear some thought about how this will impact Minnie. It also makes some sense out of why some of the miners are ultimately willing to forgive him: they know that he truly loves Minnie, in a way that they can't help but feel kinship with.

    The success of Act One for me depends on repeated listening. The first few times I heard the opera, I felt that it was a bunch of local color that was intermittently accidentally hilarious. I've come to really appreciate it though, as the depth of musical and dramatic themes laid out in it really does help bring the rest of the work, where the most intense drama is, into focus. The opening "Alla Polka" "Alle palme" scene may sound like wayward Italians, but it's really important, and Puccini sneakily tells us something profound. The melody there in E-major, the most important key of the opera, is a variation of the melody to Minnie's "E anche tu lo vorrei Joe" in Act III. The choice of the miners to forgive was incipient in their choice to seek out Minnie's company at the very beginning of the opera. This helps us see that their willingness to forgive is not just a debt to Minnie, but a transformation. Minnie is kind of a stand in for their wives back home, for whom they are braving the mines to send a little money. Compare that to Rance who has nothing waiting for him back home, and doesn't care about his wife. His love for Minnie is selfish compared to the miners' selflessness. Minnie helps the miners forgive not by telling them how good she is, but by reminding them of the how good they are. She helps them to see that they already want to forgive. The moment of forgiveness is underscored by E-major, on on the word "redenzione!" The opera then ends in E major. (Interestingly, Rance's aria in Act I is in E major.) This is why I love this work so much. So much depth, so much truth, so much goodness. It never fails to leave me feeling purified, like the Psalmist, "come neve."

    I'm happy you like the verismo-Debussy fusion, as that to me is the essence of Puccini's later style and really is a huge part of the appeal of the work. There's a hefty dose of Wagner in there, and a lot of Puccini's own innovation. He really succeeds in giving the work a unique color and atmosphere, in which the drama can unfold, which is an underrated part of his success as an opera composer. He always does this, but achieves perhaps his most unique sound world here (Il tabarro and Turandot being the other contenders, of course). One can see why Webern and Ravel were very impressed with this opera.

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  4. #93
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Falstaff set in the 1950s? Why? What's gained to compensate for the coherence that's lost? Who believes in the Black Huntsman and fatal confrontations with fairies in the mid-20th century?

    This was a drab-looking production, its first act taking place in a dingy brown inn/restaurant where Falstaff's bed appeared to be parked in an empty dining room (or where tables were stored in his bedroom. Whatever.) The third act too was dark and drab. Only the second act, set in Alice Ford's expansive !950s pastel-and-chrome kitchen, had much to offer the eye. The action was lively enough, and few attempts were made to update the characters' attitudes or behavior to match their more modern, but sometimes odd, costumes (Falstaff wore a waistcoat that looked 19th-century, and Ford looked a bit like a sleazy rock star, or something, when visiting Falstaff). The text remained intact regardless of the occasional anachronisms. On an incidental note, it may be ungracious to remark on the absurdity of the very fat Angela Meade and the even fatter Stephanie Blythe repeatedly mocking Falstaff for his obesity.

    The musical presentation was generally competent, although the a cappella ensembles - the satirical "amen" and the plotting ladies - were so vibrato-ridden that few pitches were discernible and the effect was mostly noise. The best singing came from Lisette Oropesa as Nannetta, whose Queen of the Fairies gave me my only real vocal pleasure of the performance. For all its delightful gone-before-you-know-it musical detail, I don't find Falstaff a very endearing opera - the kids, Nannetta and Fenton, provide virtually the only emotional warmth, and that of a rather pale sort - and I really need an enchanting production and superb singing and acting to sustain my enjoyment. I recall seeing such a production, in fully Elizabethan style, live in Boston in the 1970s; this one didn't do it for me, and I regret that the Met's long-running Zeffirelli production was scrapped for this rather dreary, and frankly cheap-looking, one.

    Tomorrow is the Girard production of Parsifal, with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role. I found much to enjoy in the radio broadcast seven years ago, but then I was free to imagine the work as I wanted to. I didn't imagine a stage full of blood...
    Last edited by Woodduck; Apr-09-2020 at 16:02.

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  6. #94
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Falstaff set in the 1950s? Why? What's gained to compensate for the coherence that's lost? Who believes in the Black Huntsman and fatal confrontations with fairies in the mid-20th century?
    I don't agree with you about this production, I really enjoyed it seeing it live when it was in London (it's a co-pro between the Met and the ROH, and possible others).

    I thought the idea that Falstaff believes there are fairies etc. in the woods down the bottom of the garden added to the humor for me and the costuming was all done to suggest a certain class of person in 50s England. That said, I preferred the previous production at the ROH, which was full of colour, kept to the original time period (which is 15th rather than 16th century) and sparkled more than this one.

    Bryn.jpg

    N.

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    I watched the first two acts of that Falstaff last night. The production seemed a little busy, but otherwise seemed to understand the characters. It is of course not a funny opera, but the attempts at broad amusement were there.

    I liked Maestri, and found it fitting that his look reminded me of Stephen Fry. Few of the other characters had much chance to show off in the first two acts; Ford did but was merely fine. The main reason I didn't keep watching was Levine. I heard little unity in the score, so it just sounded like empty background music.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mountmccabe View Post
    I watched the first two acts of that Falstaff last night. The production seemed a little busy, but otherwise seemed to understand the characters. It is of course not a funny opera, but the attempts at broad amusement were there.

    I liked Maestri, and found it fitting that his look reminded me of Stephen Fry. Few of the other characters had much chance to show off in the first two acts; Ford did but was merely fine. The main reason I didn't keep watching was Levine. I heard little unity in the score, so it just sounded like empty background music.
    I saw this on the big screen and have it on DVD. Must say it was one of the most enjoyable nights at the opera ever. Fantastic!

    If it was busy, well it is a busy opera!
    Last edited by DavidA; Apr-09-2020 at 17:53.

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    Senior Member Helgi's Avatar
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    Feel like I'm cheating a bit, but this image from the recent Turandot kept catching my eye so I signed up for a subscription to watch it. A very enjoyable night at the Met on my couch, I must say. An excellent production, mostly unchanged from 1987 if I'm not mistaken. Christine Goerke was great as Turandot but the highlight performance for me was Eleonora Buratto as Liu.

    I'd been listening to the Calafs of Jussi Björling and Franco Corelli earlier in the day. Tough acts to follow for Yusif Eyvazov I suppose, but he did alright.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Anyone who wants to say anything about Parsifal is going to have to make some decisions at the outset about what he isn't going to say, and then proceed without looking back. The Girard production at the Met is successful in raising many of the questions surrounding this deepest and strangest of Wagner's works, and whether its answers to those questions satisfy you may determine whether you find the production a success. For me it gets close enough to the heart of the work to be deeply moving in the end, despite letting Wagner down in a few respects along the way.

    Girard's conception of the Grail's realm of Montsalvat is not Wagner's. There is no forest, no lake, no sacred spring, no temple on the horizon (and in fact there's no temple in the production at all, with all the action transpiring outdoors). There is only a bleak barrenness looking like something between the lunar surface and a gravel pit. The beneficence of nature, which plays a not unimportant part in the symbolism of the story and the imagery of the libretto, is notable for its complete absence. The action begins during the prelude; Girard chooses, in the annoyingly customary modern way, to distract us from the music and vitiate its intrinsic power over our imaginations by showing us the knights of the Grail, dressed like bankers, removing their jackets and ties and then assembling in a circle downstage right, where they will remain through the entire act. There is also a bevy of unidentified women who gather upstage left, where they too will remain. The two groups remain separated by a gash in the ground, which runs first with water and then, after the entrance of Amfortas, with blood. This obviously symbolizes his wound, and by extension the woundedness of spirit which oppresses the Grail's realm. One wonders how a swan ever wandered into a place like this! The third act manages to be even more desolate, opening with another action-filled prelude, this time showing us the Grail knights (if that's the right word for people in modern shirts and pants), along with those unidentified women, engaged in burying an unidentified corpse in a featureless expanse of gray earth under a gray sky. This is, of course, not what Wagner's prelude is about; it depicts the wanderings and struggles of Parsifal's quest to return to the Grail kingdom.

    The most notorious departure from Wagner is the staging of act 2. Here, Klingsor's castle and garden do not exist, the flower maidens have been turned into a bunch of women in white tunics and holding spears, and all the action takes place in a pool of blood. Yes, you heard me. I'm supposing that this represents the wound of Amfortas into which Parsifal enters, or perhaps the blood of the womb into which Kundry tries to seduce him. Whatever it is, I find it silly and distracting, adding nothing to my understanding of the opera. All I can think about, as all the characters slosh around in red food coloring, are the Met's laundry bills.

    As I've implied, somehow the power of the opera, and its basic theme of spiritual growth through suffering, comes across despite what I see as a narrowing of Wagner's vision to focus on desolation and pain, and I give credit for that to the direction, acting and singing, which were of a generally high caliber. There were many moving touches in the interaction of the characters, and the dedication of the cast was palpable. Of the singers, Jonas Kaufmann (Parsifal), Peter Mattei (Amfortas) and Rene Pape (Gurnemanz) were superb both vocally and histrionically, and Katarina Dalayman and Evgeny Nikitin were effective, if not vocally impeccable. Daniele Gatti conducted with great sensitivity, perhaps a little too much at times, relishing the music's lyric beauties and indulging his singers when a bit more momentum would have been preferable.

    I'm glad to have finally seen this much-talked-about production, and have to say that I was more moved by it than I expected to be, despite its absurdly staged second act, in which Jonas Kaufmann sang so splendidly that I could forget momentarily about food coloring and laundry bills.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Apr-10-2020 at 15:39.

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  13. #99
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    Quote Originally Posted by Helgi View Post


    Feel like I'm cheating a bit, but this image from the recent Turandot kept catching my eye so I signed up for a subscription to watch it. A very enjoyable night at the Met on my couch, I must say. An excellent production, mostly unchanged from 1987 if I'm not mistaken. Christine Goerke was great as Turandot but the highlight performance for me was Eleonora Buratto as Liu.

    I'd been listening to the Calafs of Jussi Björling and Franco Corelli earlier in the day. Tough acts to follow for Yusif Eyvazov I suppose, but he did alright.
    I saw this on the big screen and it was a good night. It is of course a ghastly plot full of cruelty but then Puccini had a bent that way. Just a pity that smoking claimed him before he finished it

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    ^ Could do with more cruelty if you ask me – I always regret listening or watching past the magical kiss. Would be a lot more satisfying if she had, with regret in her heart, had him led away to be executed instead. Just that hand gesture and... curtain!

    Going to watch Parsifal tonight if I can get away with it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Falstaff set in the 1950s? Why? What's gained to compensate for the coherence that's lost? Who believes in the Black Huntsman and fatal confrontations with fairies in the mid-20th century?

    This was a drab-looking production, its first act taking place in a dingy brown inn/restaurant where Falstaff's bed appeared to be parked in an empty dining room (or where tables were stored in his bedroom. Whatever.) The third act too was dark and drab. Only the second act, set in Alice Ford's expansive !950s pastel-and-chrome kitchen, had much to offer the eye. The action was lively enough, and few attempts were made to update the characters' attitudes or behavior to match their more modern, but sometimes odd, costumes (Falstaff wore a waistcoat that looked 19th-century, and Ford looked a bit like a sleazy rock star, or something, when visiting Falstaff). The text remained intact regardless of the occasional anachronisms. On an incidental note, it may be ungracious to remark on the absurdity of the very fat Angela Meade and the even fatter Stephanie Blythe repeatedly mocking Falstaff for his obesity.

    The musical presentation was generally competent, although the a cappella ensembles - the satirical "amen" and the plotting ladies - were so vibrato-ridden that few pitches were discernible and the effect was mostly noise. The best singing came from Lisette Oropesa as Nannetta, whose Queen of the Fairies gave me my only real vocal pleasure of the performance. For all its delightful gone-before-you-know-it musical detail, I don't find Falstaff a very endearing opera - the kids, Nannetta and Fenton, provide virtually the only emotional warmth, and that of a rather pale sort - and I really need an enchanting production and superb singing and acting to sustain my enjoyment. I recall seeing such a production, in fully Elizabethan style, live in Boston in the 1970s; this one didn't do it for me, and I regret that the Met's long-running Zeffirelli production was scrapped for this rather dreary, and frankly cheap-looking, one.

    Tomorrow is the Girard production of Parsifal, with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role. I found much to enjoy in the radio broadcast seven years ago, but then I was free to imagine the work as I wanted to. I didn't imagine a stage full of blood...
    Your comments about the two fat ladies made me smile and surely this is one of those occasions where disbelief would be hard to suspend, esepcially, as you say, because they spend much of the opera mocking Falstaff's girth. Maybe Stephanie Blythe should have played Falstaff. I hear her voice keeps getting lower!

    On the other hand I don't see a problem in updating it. Many years ago I remember seeing a fantastic RSC production of the The Merry Wives of Windsor which also set it ine the 50s, with a rogueish slightly RAF-ish Falstaff, Fenton a young teddy boy, Nanetta a young bobby socked girl and the merry wives meeting for in a hair salon and chattering in south London accents. It was hilarious.
    Last edited by Tsaraslondon; Apr-10-2020 at 12:32.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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  17. #102
    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tsaraslondon View Post
    Your comments about the two fat ladies made me smile and surely this is one of those occasions where disbelief would be hard to suspend, esepcially, as you say, because they spend much of the opera mocking Falstaff's girth. Maybe Stephanie Blythe should have played Falstaff. I hear her voice keeps getting lower!

    On the other hand I don't see a problem in updating it. Many years ago I remember seeing a fantastic RSC production of the The Merry Wives of Windsor which also set it ine the 50s, with a rogueishm slightly RAF-ish Falstaff, Fenton a young teddy boy, Nanetta a young bobby socked girl and the merry wives meeting for in a hair salon and chattering in south London accents. It was hilarious.
    No problem in this updating of this opera as it remained faithful to what Verdi set. It’s a farce anyway! I thought it was a hugely enjoyable production and the somewhat large ladies entirely believable in the context - after all they are middle aged! Stephanie Blythe mocking Falstaff was entirely appropriate - unless you live in a cave you must have heard a fat person mocking someone else’s girth oblivious of their own weight problem!
    Rather this unless you like your opera so po-faced that the comedy is lost. Verdi set a rip roaring farce which this this production was. This of all operas was not meant to be taken too seriously.
    “We’ve all been fooled!”
    Last edited by DavidA; Apr-10-2020 at 12:02.

  18. #103
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    What's gained by setting Falstaff in the 1950s that can't be accomplished by placing the story in its proper medieval backdrop? Nothing that I can see. A purely cosmetic and shallow excercise.

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  20. #104
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    Quote Originally Posted by Byron View Post
    What's gained by setting Falstaff in the 1950s that can't be accomplished by placing the story in its proper medieval backdrop? Nothing that I can see. A purely cosmetic and shallow excercise.
    Just a fresh look to me. Set in reign of Elizabeth 2 instead of Elizabeth 1. It was joyous.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    Just a fresh look to me.
    Precisely. That's all its going for.

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