Archive for May, 2011

Don Giovanni Salzburg 2006

May 25, 2011

Isabel Bayrakdarian (C) performs on stage as character Zerlina during a dress rehearsal of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 'Don Giovanni' at the Salzburg Festival August 8, 2006. Picture taken August 8. REUTERS/Martina Puehringer

An inspired convergence of many exceptionally talented artists took place at the 2006 Salzburg Festival in the making of Don Giovanni. Stage director Martin Kušej opted for a bare stage. It consists of two main planes. The first one is a narrow strip along the orchestra pit with doors at each end. Singers enter and exit as if on the main stage of life, dressed as ordinary people of today. The second plane is a circular, revolving scene with a set of vertical moving panels which placed together form a white cylinder-like wall. The dynamism of this second level along with superb lighting compensates for the complete absence of props and actually draws attention where it belongs — towards the dramatic interaction among the characters.

The string of visual snippets unfolds with arias, while recitatives are energized exchanges among well-developed, stereotyped characters.

The orchestra Wiener Philharmoniker leads and follows with a sound of refined fullness. It is an unthankful task to single out any one singer. Ildebrando D’Archangelo, endowed with a liberated voice that comes from the core of his being, unhesitant and unobstructed, gives his Leporello a lovable quality of youthful and charming wit. Christina Sheffer’s Donna Anna is a woman of dignity and sings with seared grief. I much enjoyed listening to Piotr Beczala as Ottavio. He invokes something old-fashioned by the lovely meandering curves in his phrasing. Although Thomas Hampson is not my favourite baritone he seems comfortable as a cool and dandy Don Giovanni.  My fellow Torontonian, Isabel Bayrakdarian, shines as an earthly, timid and warm Zerlina.

The revolving scene like the merry-go-round of life serves as a podium where psychological contents is displayed as mental images or moving pictures. Recurring theme in this revolving stage as if through time trajectory is a woman as a collective notion.  Uniformed in white or black underwear, a group of women is presented as ,tableaux .At first as young, pretty and sexy, doing their menial jobs, and as the end is getting closer we see them aging gray and worn-out,

Since the scene is plain and white, the costumes and lighting take the additional weight in dramatization. The costumes are unimposing and only slightly theatrical. Actually, each singer could walk out in his or her costume and blend in with the outside world of the western hemisphere today.

There is no particular message to unwrap or story between the lines in this Don Giovanni. It is face value—story of our time of hollow hearts.  Disconnected and fragmented within ourselves and with one another and unable to awaken. We do not actually live, love, and die. It all happens to us on the superficial plane of appearance.  It is a story of our time told in theatrically stylized but intelligible and plain language, leaving the spectator with an aftertaste of being exposed to something clean and clear. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this production is that it leaves no residual, undigested particles. It all flows smooth  and easy like a glass of fresh, cold water.


Orfeo ed Euridice

May 16, 2011

Among the creative upshots of Gluck’s inspiration from ancient Greek myths and the desire to bring the rigid opera seria closer to the human experience was Orfeo ed Euridice.

I watched this opera on May 11, 2011, in Toronto, at the home of the Canadian Opera Company.

Director Robert Carsen, set and costume designer Tobias Hoheisel, and lighting design by Peter van Praet and Robert Carsen, created a clean, uncluttered dramatization in a chiaroscuro palette. The choice towards reduction and simplification brings the esoteric flavour of this piece to the forefront.

The cruelties of the original myth are modified to emphasize the importance of the first and second steps towards inner transformation: faith and hope.

Lawrence Zazzo as Orfeo and Isabel Bayrakdarian as Euridice

Orfeo mourns the death of his beloved wife Euridice. He fearlessly goes to Hades and softens up the underworld rulers, who grant his wish to return Euridice to life on condition that he cannot look back at her until the journey through the night is at an end.

Euridice cannot understand why her beloved Orfeo does not look at her and suspects that he does not love her any more. When Orfeo turns to look at Euridice she dies. Orfeo does not find life worth living without her. Just when he is about to take his life, the god of love comes to his rescue and gives him back his Euridice.

Lawrence Zazzo (foreground) as Orfeo

The conductor Harry Bicket extracted all the juices from the score. Sandra Horst as a chorus master added a layer of spirituality to this masterful production. Isabel Bayrakdarian as Euridice, Ambur Braid as Amore and countertenor Lawrence Zazzo as Orfeo pleased the audience and critics in equal measure.

Ariadne auf Naxos

May 8, 2011

We Torontonians are truly blessed with the luxury of always having good singers. Not only good but world-class artists well-chosen for the roles. The performance of Ariadne auf Naxos given on May 3, 2011 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing  Arts by the Canadian Opera Company was a fireworks of singing. Three names are outstanding in the performance. Adriane Pieczonka as Ariadne fills the hall with a powerful and crisp pitch. A true Wagnerian soprano. Ms. Alice Coote, a renown British mezzo-soprano, developed the character of Composer with sincerity and an attention to detail which was well received by the captivated audience. In the role of Zerbinetta was Ms. Jane Archibald, another Toronto artist, a coloratura-soprano with a venerable technique confidently under her belt. I can only join the acclaim by which these artists are praised in the reviews already released and applaud again all of them.

Lauren Segal as Dryad, Richard Margison as Tenor/Bacchus, Alice Coote as The Composer and Teiya Kasahara as Echo

When Wagner was 50, Richard Strauss was born. It was a year after Tristan and Isolde premiered. The influence of Wagner is palpable. The plot line of this opera is somewhat unusual. It ambitiously combines commedia dell’arte characters of a theatre group and opera seria in the second act by telling the story of abandoned Ariadne drowning her sorrows on the desert island of Naxos after being dumped by Theseus, with whom she is desperately in love.

The coming into existence of this opera and its final shaping up as we know it is a curiosity in itself. It started with the intention to create a satire as a gift to Max Reinhardt, the stage director, who helped Strauss a great deal with the première of the Rosenkavalier. The ambitious idea was to stage a comedy of Molierè’s  Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Because this concept imposed a considerable length and full dramatic troupe involvement, it was substantially revised, and the proposition for Molierè’s piece was chalked out. The characters of commedia dell’arte  had to find the voice and business dominated in the second act by Ariadne wallowing in her despair, with their wit and an innate sense for  letting go and meeting the next day with joy and an open heart.

The intention to create satire had to be meditated upon, to arrive at some creative results.  The imitation of reality is not enough any more in the staging of an opera. It is in the second act that I found the scales of balance and harmony bending towards frivolous expressiveness, not quite directed to establish communication with Ariadne, but rather aimed at amusing the audience and poking at it.

The set for the second act presents Ariadne clothed in a simple garment, and  surroundings of musty, dreary neglect, which was stripped of any contextual clues and left the spectators alone to find a corresponding reference in their own life experiences, or to stick to reading the libretto.

The major objection I have is the unfinished work of the stage and set director, who chose not to dig deeper into this unusual plot and try to sense the corresponding vibrations in life. It felt as if we were watching an opera seria with a prelude of some backstage commotion. I feel that there is a uniting thread to be discovered and that it allows for plenty of directorial liberty.

Although Ariadne’s sorrows are shared by many it is hard to see oneself in her. She is stripped of any features that individualize this character of myth and legend.

I would recommend the director and stage personnel of this production see the Stuttgart Ring to get some inspiration as to a possible reading of a libretto arising from myth and legend. I have not had an opportunity to see any other stage production of Ariadne auf Naxos, but I am sure that this piece will be recognized as gracious material for the exploration of director creativity in a similar way we see effervescent activity worldwide around Wagner’s Ring.

La Cenerentola by Els Comediants, a crew of Spaniards

May 1, 2011

In staging opera buffa such as Rossini’s Cinderella it is acceptable and even advisable to let the imagination go free. A team of Spaniards which go by the name “Els Comediants” proved to be equal to their apt collective name. The group has been in existence for about 30 years and gathers artists from all quarters of creativity: actors, musicians, acrobats, pantomime…

The Toronto première of this exceptional creative force was a few days ago at the home of the Canadian Opera Company, topped with  singers such as Lawrence Brownlee in the role of Prince Ramiro and Elizabeth De Shong in the contralto role of Cinderella. 

It is hard to say what was more fascinating: singing, costumes, set or mime. It all merged well into a coherent piece resulting in pleasure for sense and mind. The hairdos and costumes of Cinderella’s stepsisters were a successful venture into grotesque and farce, the most difficult of comedy forms. The parody on the Trojan horse and playfulness with the magic coach which takes Cinderella to the ball, accompanied with well-synchronized movements and music, draw responsive laughter from the audience.  Joan J. Guillén, a Spanish set and costume designer, who is also a cartoonist and a teacher of at the Institute del Teatre in Barcelona, is the brilliant mind of the set and costume. Director Joan Font, assistant director Joan Anton Rechi and lighting designer Albert Faura and choreographer Xevi Dorca, all Spanish, are an exceptional artistic team.

Six or so acrobats dressed as mice stayed on the stage throughout as silent but a well-recognized collective character from the fairy tale. Their movements seem to spring from the well researched observation of this vermin family in their natural habitat, seamlessly interwoven with music and the unfolding of the story. They brought irresistible charm and the warmth of love into this reading of the fairy tale. This was the backdrop to beautiful singing. Lawrence Brownlee is such a confident and warm tenor who carries the challenge of the bel canto vocal acrobatics with ease and milky smoothness. Elizabeth De Shong is endowed with a beautiful voice that reaches naturally and comfortably into the depths of contralto. Where many other mezzo-sopranos become wobbly and slim, she delivers firmly and with flying colours.  She is an exceptional singer, and her career is worth following.

The sound of the orchestra under the Italian-born maestro Leonardo Vordoni was somewhat short on the side of enthusiasm and fluff. There is a little more hidden in the score than what I heard from the orchestra.   

This is a lovable performance for all ages, which brings to the Toronto opera audience a flavour of different sensibilities.