Posts Tagged ‘Peter Mattei’

You can always blame it on the Russian

January 25, 2015

The Don Giovanni of the winter season 2015 at the COC is the same Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Don Giovanni seen at the open stage of Aix-en-Provence’s festival. This time it appears that the production of which I have seen a dress rehearsal came across somewhat different.

Keeping the same stage throughout was perhaps accommodation to the limitations of the open stage in Aix rather than an attempt at minimalism. It is a key characteristic of Tcherniakov’s take on Don Giovanni. It is a hall of an urban household with custom-made pillars of bookcases symmetrically on both sides of the main entrance. There are no-name dinnertable chairs and a large rectangular dinnertable. The floor is covered with a large carpet. At the centre above is a humongous chandelier that can be anywhere from the Thirties until the late Sixties. I would say that it is a post-WWII situation. It is the same location of the memorial service upon the Commendatore’s passing and his family home. Donna Elvira is a cousin of Donna Anna. Zerlina, who in the original libretto is a peasant bride in a passerby wedding, is actually a daughter of Donna Anna, from her first marriage.

Although apparently at home, none of them behaves at home in that space. Don Giovanni appears more at home at this place than any of the women whose home it actually is. All the women are as if they were in a public place or asylum, but not at home.

A lot has already been written about costumes and what sort of character and habits that costumes imply. From where I was watching the costumes were for the most part indistinct. Zerlina’s wedding gown is post-Nineties hip hop. Elvira’s allegedly subdued elegance is in fact reduced to a drab, anonymous, grey outfit most suitable for basement cleaning. The Don himself is mostly dressed in a casual summer attire of a downtown homeless man attending a lunch at an upscale charity. And likewise his hairdo. For some unknown reason he appears frequently barefoot. The singers are subjected to protracted periods of lying scattered on the carpet over the stage, and I was not able to decipher what Tcherniakov meant to say by that.

There are numerous occasions when the singers are lacking guidance in stage movements and stood idle on the scene, almost not inhabiting the role. The interactions were occasionally in the direction of explicit and somewhat distasteful groping on the aggressive side which did not enhance any meaning that would be consistent and integrated into a larger context. Furthermore, the lighting was in particular neglected.

Most praiseworthy in this Don Giovanni are the singers. My favourites are Jane Archibald and Michael Schade. Russell Brown as the Don will not be remembered for any of the Don’s memorable arias. Peter Mattei’s Don Giovanni of the 2002 Aix-en-Provence Festival still reigns supreme, if you ask me.

The stage rendition of the famous Leporelo’s Madamina is a sadly missed opportunity to breed in some fun in this Don. While Leporello is uttering into the void air the geographical tallies of his master’s getting laid in the spirit of sport, Donna Anna is standing idle in a non-responsive state.

When I saw the live stream from Aix-en-Provence thanks to a helpful link from Parterra Box, the utmost authority in opera blogosphere, the then Don was more of a pater familias and there were more scenes of sitting at the table, which dignified every character to some extent, as is suitable to a living room or study.

The contextual reading of Don Giovanni by Calixto Bieito is an example of an integrated vision where the mannerism, costume and conduct of the people belonging to the shady edges of the underworld result in a coherent and powerfully told story. Or the Don Giovanni by Martin Kusej, with each character distinct and developed, yet the whole narrative elevated to the sphere of universality.

Plenty of explanatory materials have already been written in anticipation of this Don Giovanni. I would recommend that those who are interested in following the rising star of Jane Archibald and enjoy the privilege of listening the Michael Shade should come and listen with the eyes shut. The orchestra played a rendition, here and there, to my ears accentuated in an enriching and energizing way. Worth listening to, but watching may disappoint you. If criticism outweighs the accolades you can always blame it on the Russian.

Nostalgia

July 5, 2011

Eugene Onegin Staatsoper Vienna, June 2011

Staatsoper Vienna, 13 June 2011.

During 10 days of the first half of June, Eugene Onegin was performed 4 times at the Staatsoper in Vienna. I attended the last performance. Another blogger by the name of Zerbinetta also reviewed this opera, and her review can be found here. It was curious to see another production of Eugene Onegin with Peter Mattei in the title role. The one performed at the Salzburg Festspiele 2007, was reviewed earlier on this blog here. There is similarity between the two productions in choosing the time period and similar mise-en-scene.

While the Salzburg 2007 production abounds with sarcastic references to the crudeness of the soviet bureaucracy, Staatsoper Vienna’s production does not develop towards this edge and brings the focus back into the emotional field where it naturally belongs.

The opening scene introduces a stage divided into two planes. Closer to the audience is the one where the story unfolds. In the background, where an imaginary world of nostalgia is set, it is snowing. Couples in slow motion dancing or standing still, wrapped in each others arms, are the characters of this imaginary world. This parallel duality underlies the emotional context where reality and daydreaming are intertwined. The background plane is replaced by an asymmetrical vertical array of cold neon tubes in the ball scene, where Monsieur Triquet appears as a pop singer past his prime, dressed in a flashy Las Vegas-entertainment-style suit with dark glasses and bright silver shoes. Although this description fits some legendary names of the pop culture, any individual similarity is carefully avoided towards the creation of a generic image.

The mise-en-scène throughout is reduced to the bare minimum. In contrast to the elaborate set in the Salzburg production, the banquet table here is merely an outline with the lobsters encased in it, like insects in amber.

Eugene Onegin Staatsoper Vienna, June 2011

The final scene between Onegin and Tatiana takes place at a huge black marble staircase. In real life such a staircase usually leads to a memorial monument to the unknown fallen hero. The fallen hero here is hope. There are no dancing couples in the dark snowy night behind.

Perhaps a notch more could have been done on the side of choreography. At times characters were lacking purpose and standing idle. The chorus, on the other hand, was thoroughly choreographed and supported by the virtuosity of real acrobats, bringing dynamism and fullness as a counterbalance to the sheer power of the key voices. Nadia Krasteva as Olga appeared as the most colourful character. Shaped up as a hot Levantine  woman bursting with the joy of life in her tight crimson outfit, Olga appeared as if she had sprung up from a Turkish bazaar.

More character should have been invested into Onegin’s rather plain suit. The monthly brochure of the Staatsoper Vienna says that this is a house début for Mr. Peter Mattei and Ms. Maija Kovalevska in her role as Tatiana.

Petter Mattei

Peter Mattei, the most beautiful male voice I have ever heard, comes from a different sphere into this world. This is the first time I had an opportunity to hear Mr. Mattei live. The richness of the emotional spectrum was delivered with unwavering control and delicate sensibility. He sings effortlessly and truthfully as if the Absolute itself speaks through his voice. I should stop here (before I completely lather with foam) and urge readers to check for themselves.

A young Latvian soprano, Maija Kovalevska, appeared in the role of Tatiana, drawing several “brava” from the audience. This is the fifth year of her international career, and this petite fragile-looking young woman projects over the orchestra with surprising force and capacity. Her engagements outside her native Riga started in Verona with the roles of Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, and continued with Mimi in La Boheme at the Met.

I would also like to mention the names of the remarkable singers Ain Anger as Prince Gremin, Marius Benciu as Lenski, and Zoryana Kushpler as Larina.

Unfortunately, the overall impression is that the whole piece comes across as a little too lightweighted. The emotional drama appears only to the extent that the individual artists invested into it and most of the characters are underdeveloped. A more resolute and conceptually clear guidance from the director seems to be lacking.

Under the conductor Michael Güttler the orchestra topped the singers on occasion. Too many rectangular shapes on the stage took away some of the compositional balance which potentially could have been achieved. Quite a number of mise-en-scène solutions from the Salzburg 2006 production of this opera are paraphrased and quoted here with a lesser effect.

I shared a box at the performance with two elderly Viennese ladies who had not seen the Salzburg production. To my surprise, and in spite of some sexually explicit breakdancing on the stage, they told me that they enjoyed the performance very much. I tip my hat to their broad-minded openness, with a wishful sigh that their peers in Toronto may be less eager to deprive themselves of experiencing something new in the opera theatre.           

Peter Mattei sings Eugene Onegin

July 18, 2010

This Eugene Onegin was performed at the 2007 Salzburg Festival. It is an Onegin with a great cast and a staging that from time to time gets in the way of the main theme.

The story is placed in the context of the Soviet Russia of the 80’s. The stage director Andrea Breth mobilized a costume designer and choreographer to dig out as many references as can fit onto the stage, falling short only of Brezhnev portrait. The unfortunate result is that the crudity of the privileged apparatchik caste, their unrefined taste and the banality of their sensual gratification occasionally crosses from clear and intelligible into over-stimulated, cliché and caricature. The stage production’s keen enthusiasm to tell us all they know about kolkhoz and sovkhoz, gulag, politburo, etc. loses its sense of proportion and stuffs in more than can be digested along with the main narrative. The gentle thread that ties it all in place is a superb study of Filipyevna by Emma Sarkissián. Her costume and stage movements are styled and, of course, delivered exceptionally well. She is the last surviving element of the Old Russian tradition, with her ever-present silent attention concerned for the wellbeing of every member of the family.

Several other roles are superbly characterized and developed. Joseph Kaiser, a fellow Canadian if I may say, sings Lensky with genuine magnetism for a fatalistic and prematurely tragic end. His singing is emotionally charged, giving the character of Lensky a colour of honest romantic melancholy. His farewell aria, when he burns the photographs, is one of the highest points in this production.

We had the pleasure of having Ferruccio Furlanetto as Prince Gremin, with his rich, thick, deep and wide chest barrel. Unfortunately his stage appearance takes a step too far.  In a uniform with a square foot of decorations stretching over his chest and abdomen and one fist in a black leather glove, he was only a wheelchair and a pair of sunglasses away from becoming Dr. Strangelove’s spitting image. I do not believe that anyone wanted that effect, but that is what sometimes happens with overkill. Renée Morloc as Larina should have been coached to notch down a bit her body language of brawl and snarl. Her dark men’s socks are speaking volumes already. I did not pay attention but I hope that in preparation for this role she had unshaved legs and whiskers unwaxed  for a few months.

Anna Samuil has an astounding voice. It has the power of a red-hot spear point, and she can do with it effortlessly whatever she wants. The only thing is that the phrasing and emotional presence are not always there. Her voice coach should take her to Majorca or Ibiza for a prolonged bashing and dashing in night clubs and other merry places. Her Tatyana is inconsistent and stiff. Sadly Ms. Samuil couldn’t take the cues from Mr. Mattei and often projected her heartbreaking sighs into empty air while handsome, passionate and responsive Mattei waits for her to interact.

Ms. Samuil looked quite comfortable in her awful, white, petty, fur coat and loud make-up as the wife of Gremin, which is not where Tatyana belongs. She holds back in her emotional expression, and her final scene with Onegin needs to be rehearsed much more and toned down into something lot more subtle. Both of them are capable of that.

Peter Mattei takes his Onegin through at least three different stages in developing this character. Appearing as a self-confident, arrogant, attractive man he draws attention to himself without doing much more than wearing his sunglasses or fiddling with the keys of his “Moskvich“ convertible. He then develops into a heartless, unscrupulous scoundrel to whom nothing is sacred. And at the end he becomes a “relentless apparition” [OT: I couldn’t resist but to quote this gorgeous phrase from the brochure]. Mr. Mattei inhabits each of those stages of his character with full, conscious presence, sticking to his natural talent for acting and delivering his Onegin with a passionate surrender. As the tragic end draws nearer, the edges of the curves in his phrasing expand into a snarl of desperation. Bravo, Mattei, you are the Boss.

There is a magnificent scene at the beginning of Act 3 in which Onegin arrives at the ball in this stage of  mental and physical  “relentless apparition”. He grabs the attention of a janitor to tell a reluctant listener the story of his life. Begging and bribing a man with a mop to listen to him, we see the depth of sorrow of Onegin’s barren, loveless, wasted life. Describing the subtleties of this scene cannot do justice to it. It has to be seen. (It will be here as soon as I learn how to clip this from the DVD into this comment. Sadly no one on Youtube find this fragment worthy of posting.)

The extras in this production are dressed and choreographed with excessive attention to detail which from time to time makes unnecessary, elaborate digressions into the territory of the vices, corruption and crudeness of the people who failed at the attempt to make the world a better place. With the benefit of a short-term historical memory we all may agree that the host country of this Onegin does not have much credit or clout mocking anyone’s attempt at making this world  a better place. I agree that this is a bird’s-eye-view comment and may not have much to do with the review of Eugene Onegin, but still. . .

Let me not forget to mention Sergio Morabito as the dramaturge who may be partially responsible for a few exaggerations. The mayor of Salzburg should inaugurate a Festspiele award for special achievements in theatrical poetry. For 2007 the lucky recipient should be the one who came up with the idea that puddles of water cover the floor of the banquet hall. Simply brilliant! I recommend that the award consist of a fresh sachertorte and a bottle of good champagne for demonstrating an ability for a subtle and subdued voice in speaking the theatrical language.

Maestro Barenboim may be at par with Valery Gergiev but not equal to the subtlety of Gennady Rozhdestvensky  (see earlier post ” Eugene Onegin: New York vs. Baden-Baden ”). Occasionally   the singers are toppled, and in general a little more elegiac tone would suit rather than a pompous, overly dramatized crescendos.