Archive for the ‘Donizetti’ Category

Lucia di Lammermoor – a sad and confusing overkill

April 22, 2013

Lucia di Lammermoor is too tragic in itself to endure further layers of tragedy, without serious risk of sinking into irreparable overkill. There was an overkill with Lucia at the COC this season.

Oren Gradus as Raimondo and Anna Christy as Lucia in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor, 2013. Conductor Stephen Lord, director David Alden, associate director Ian Rutherford, set designer Charles Edwards, costume designer Brigitte Reiffenstuel, original lighting designer Adam Silverman and lighting design re-creator Andrew Cutbush. Photo: Chris Hutcheson

Oren Gradus as Raimondo and Anna Christy as Lucia in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor, 2013. Conductor Stephen Lord, director David Alden, associate director Ian Rutherford, set designer Charles Edwards, costume designer Brigitte Reiffenstuel, original lighting designer Adam Silverman and lighting design re-creator Andrew Cutbush. Photo: Chris Hutcheson

On top of everything tragic and unfortunate already provided in the libretto, Lucia is a child-bride and sexually abused. She has a toybox. She is like a character in a Charles Dickens’s story of dirty game of money and power, with youth and love as counterbalance. As if that were not enough, the story had to be spiced up with sexual abuse and incest.  American soprano Anna Christy responded dutifully to the additional demands of the title character. During Acts One and Two she spends a great deal of her stage time on her knees. The creative team got enthusiastic with the expressiveness about Lucia as a sexually abused child. Reviews in the daily papers speak about this sexually explicit content depicting the groping, tying of the hands to the bed frame, etc.  This is, I believe, the first time I can fully agree with the critic of the National Post.  (My strong disagreement about Einstein on the Beach and Semele remains.) On the other hand, historically looking, marriages were arranged, and the brides often were very young. Marriages among family members were customary. From that perspective it is probably a legitimate reading of Lucia’s plot.  All things considered, the real Lucia is more likely in reality to be something like the character depicted in this production, than a romanticized version of Lucia where she appears as a fully developed, fulfilled adult who truly goes mad after the dense climax, which is charged with the utmost cathartic extreme. Having said that, good taste is very important in the matters of depicting reality of cruelty, violence, and sex on stage.    

Visually, the stage is drained of any colour and the underlying spirit is drab and tired. Rain would make a fine contribution to the overall impression.  The final scene was supposed to be the suicide of Lucia’s sweetheart Edgardo, who cannot endure the tragic realization that Lucia in a single day  married another,  killed him on the wedding day, went mad, and died— while loving him faithfully throughout.  Lucia’s marriage to a wealthy suitor was a set up, arranged by her brother, who double-crossed both Lucia and Edgardo.

All would have been fine had it not been for the last moment, when Edgardo killed himself.  According to the various sources of this particular libretto, Edgardo “plunges a dagger to his own heart”[1] or “stabs himself”[2] or “stabs himself in the heart with a dagger”[3] and “stabs himself and expires”[4]. Carried away with the personal touch, this creative team have Edgardo kill himself with a gun. After shooting himself Edgardo sings further until Enrico finishes him off in a Jack Bauer style of finishing of an enemy. That was a real overkill, which then brings into question all the interpretative innovations mentioned before. By this last act Enrico acquires another char6acter trait, which makes him not only a selfish, immoral abuser and ruthless plotter but also a cruel murderer who cannot resist but apply a mercenary killing technique on his sister’s lover, who had already killed himself.

This particular Lucia di Lammermoor has some spooky elements of madness. The whole idea of deceiving the lovers and small-conning them individually is sufficiently wicked even for a 19th -century psychopath as seen from a 2013 North American viewpoint.  Adding sexual abuse and throwing in an additional murder is just too much.   

The stage interpretation of this libretto restricted bel canto potentials and  reduced the known qualities of this opera, limiting thereby the space for the singers. Steven Costello’s Edgardo was shaped with attentive and convincing phrasing. Brian Mulligan’s Enrico was on the side of strength. Without Costello’s lament and Mulligan’s strength, the whole project of this Lucia would hardly be able to stand on the wobbly knees of kneeling Lucia. This unfinished concept to some extent affected the orchestra, which could not attune to any particular dramatic quality of the sound except for a couple of effective caesure.

[1] 100 Great Operas and Their Stories, Henry V. Simon, Doubleday 1989, p. 269

[2] Eyewitness Companions Opera, Alan Riding & Leslie Dunton-Downer, DK 2006, p.155

[3] Ticket to the Opera, Phill Goulding, Fawcet Books,  1996 p.187

[4] A Night at the Opera, Sir Denis Forman, Random House, 1994, p.374


Meet my favorite coloratura: Jadranka Jovanović

September 22, 2010

It has been about seven months since this blog came into existence and your OT wishes o celebrate the upcoming 5K hits.  

For this solemn occasion I wish to bring the attention of opera lovers to the talent, character and beauty of a Serbian coloratura Ms. Jadranka Jovanović, a Belgrade-based mezzo-soprano with a rich dark beautiful voice of remarkable clarity and depth carrying a wealth of emotion. Her interpretation often has an individual mark, but it is always executed with unwavering focus and self-demand for perfection.  

For many years Ms. Jovanović was struggling against obstructions from power-seekers in the classical music and opera establishment in her hometown. At the time her career started blossoming, the civil war and the NATO bombardment of Serbia in 1999, overshadowed and marginalized the lives and careers of many exceptional artists and professionals.   

I wish to remedy the loss of all opera lovers who did not have a chance to hear and see this exceptional artist. 

For my dear Donizettians here is another treat…

Maria Stuarda

May 1, 2010

This Donizetti opera was meant to be premiered in Naples, but it was banned by the King of this principality. It is fascinating that the execution of Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots, which took place a good 250 years before Donizetti composed the opera, was controversial enough to result in censorship.  Mezzo soprano, Maria Malibran, who was already a celebrity, had chutzpah to accept the role, despite controversy, and the première took place  in Teatro La Scala in Milan. Although the première in London was anticipated shortly thereafter it actually did not happen because of the premature death of Maria Malibran at the age of 28. It postponed the performance in London for more than a hundred years. It was performed for the first time in North America in San Francisco in 1970.

Ever since monarchy came into existence it became “business as usual” that the contenders to the throne would resort from time to time to physical annihilation of a rival if other options failed. Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots, was decapitated at the age of 45 for treason under the reign of her elder cousin Elizabeth I, who was 54 at the time. The historical underpinnings of this rivalry are far more complex than the rivalry between the two cousins for the throne, which explains the highly charged controversy surrounding this opera.  

This opera depicts the execution of Maria Stuarda as an outcome of a love triangle between Mary Stewart, Elizabeth I and Roberto Earl of Leicester. Roberto loves Maria, but Elizabeth is the monarch in power who is contemplating marriage with the King of France, although she is in love with Roberto. The execution of Maria is a result of Elizabeth’s jealousy. After all it is  Donizetti’s opera and not a thesis in history.

This opera held its dress rehearsal in Toronto on 27 of April. It is yet another piece of evidence that Toronto opera always has good singers. Ms. Serena Farnocchia in the title role is head and shoulders above everyone else in this production. Her singing portrays a passionate, dignified woman who accepts her fate with spiritual wisdom and an ability to forgive. Ms. Alexandrina Pendatchanska as Elizabeth, although adequate in singing, was not so successful in acting. Her portrayal of  jealousy in this royal character was not studied enough and came across as ordinary and on occasions hysterical.

The weakest elements in this production are costumes and scenography. The costumes are meant to be of the period but they lack in splendour and lavishness what one would expect to see. Elizabeth’s dress is made of a simple thin fabric making the wiring underneath  painfully visible. Such portrayal of the character whose namesake on the throne is the head of our state is dangerously close to intolerable. Roberto has some sort of ridiculous bermuda shorts under his mediaeval apparel. The only relatively decent costume, though lacking in detail, is the one  for the title role.

This lyrical drama takes place in a Shakespearean theatre with the royal subjects and courtiers as spectators. A lot of wood was used for this production but without the necessary refinement. The scenes that according to the libretto take place in royal chambers are hinted at by curtains adequate only in colour but not in texture and volume.  They are hung on a wire across the middle of the scene, which give the impression of the makeshift theatre one might expect to see in a public school concert rather than in an opera house of the second largest country in the world. The overall effect is that the entire effort of the singers is undermined by the unfinished stage job. The moat bridges which go up and down far too often are on the verge of dysfunctional. The stage movement is not well-studied either and the executioners in armour appear too casual in their movements.  

There is a great potential for staging this opera but the production efforts were spread thin instead of focusing on the core actors in this drama. The attempt at Shakespearean theatre did not convey an intelligible message, if any.  The lack of coordination in volume between the stage and the pit from time to time suffocated the voices of the singers.

Nevertheless, the piece is worth listening to for the singing. I personally expereienced few genuine thrills listening to Serena Farnocchia’s rendition of Maria Stuarda.

The Daughter of the Regiment

March 14, 2010

 The fact that the opera may entertain a lighter subject matter than universal human tragedy or esoteric quest does not mean that it is likelier to succeed. On the contrary, failed comedy is a failure if people are not entertained. This one, however, is a very big success.

This is a French-language opera by an Italian composer. It is a story of  a young girl, Marie, found as an orphan baby, adopted and raised by a French regiment stationed in the Tyrol Alps. Young Marie falls in love with Tonio, a boy of an enemy nation, who for the sake of love is going to join the French army. The conflict between love and military duties is about to be resolved when at the gate of the regiment’s barracks appears Marie’s mother, introducing herself as her aunt, comes to take her illegitimate daughter with her, now that she is a wealthy woman, to her home in Paris.

The stage consists of extra-large-print military maps over a bumpy stage floor and the corners of the maps protruding upwards resembling the peaks of the Tyrol Alps. The NATO star is shining at the other end of the sky. The wash of long johns for the entire regiment is on the clothesline across the stage with a bucket of potatoes ready for peeling.

Natalie Dessay is a perfect Marie with her wiry body and a hairdo and voice of spiky shape and character. Ms. Dessay genuinely feels the colours of this tomboy character and delivers one after another gems in her acting and singing alike. Her finely tuned expressiveness resembles the innocent humour of Walt Disney’s early cartoon characters. At the other end of the spectrum her farewell to the regiment is sung in rich emotional nuances and a precise rendition.

Juan Diego Florez admitted in an interview that the emotional, slow sequences are far more demanding for him than the famous 9 high Cs in a row. Mr. Florez too is a triumphant success in this role.  

The musty and blasé old aristocracy and its hierarchy of servants are depicted in the grotesque well-choreographed motions in the second act topped up by the smashing appearance of Dawn French as La Duchesse, producing superb visual and orchestral synergy.

The most charming scene visually, near the end, is the arrival of the devoted Tonio, who enters at the top of the military tank followed by the entire regiment, His arm pointing victoriously  toward his beloved Marie. Utterly cute.

The recitatives are well acted, dramatized and staged. Felicity Palmer is remarkable for the steady voice of her lower register whether in recitative or while singing.

Every detail in this production was well developed and craftily assembled into one firmly coherent  and smashing whole, with an enthusiastic sound from the orchestra and the superb cast of singers. The most difficult of comedy, the farce, was produced to the delight and amusement of any audience. Big bravo to all.

No wonder that the production has been revived, but the perfect blend of this cast would be difficult to surpass for any contemporary contenders.