Anna Bolena at WNO

Last Saturday, I went to WNO (again!) to see Donizetti’s Anna Bolena.

Starting with the positives: The singing was overall very good, especially Serena Farnocchia as Anne Boleyn and Katharine Goeldner as Jane Seymour. Their duet in the second half of the opera was very moving and well acted. Alastair Miles sang his role of Henry VIII perfectly well but there wasn’t really any sense of power or manipulativeness from him. The lighting for the set of the final scene and also the park scene was clever and made the whole scene interesting to look at.

Serena Farnocchia as Anna Bolena

But that’s pretty much all I have to say that was good about this performance. Anna Bolena is not, in my opinion, one of Donizetti’s best works and the first half in particular winds on and on with no obvious meaning or direction. The plot makes next no sense and not much happens for a lot of the opera. But the main let-down was the production. The sets were bleak, completely monochrome and the revolving stage seemed to serve no purpose whatsoever. In the prison scenes, there was more light than the scenes set at court. The costumes were, quite frankly, hideous. The women wore vaguely 50s-style dresses, the men wore strangely shaped coats and then the King was wearing something that appeared to involve chainmail, leather and fur all at the same time. The direction was boring, apart from in the scene where she goes mad and at the end nothing happened. Surely you could at least just have somebody step forward holding a sword or axe, as though about to kill her? But no, she just stood there facing the back of the stage. The conducting wasn’t particularly inspired either – it seemed to all be going very slowly but that may not have had anything to do with the conducting.

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Met HD Broadcast – Maria Stuarda

Ages ago, I went to my third ever Met HD broadcast, of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. This was the first time this opera has ever been performed at the Met. I can’t help but feel that this is a fairly big omission from their repertoire. Donizetti is underrated, in my opinion.

Anyway, back to the performance itself. Joyce DiDonato (in the title role) was spectacular, but I feel that equal credit should go to Elza van den Heever as Queen Elizabeth, Matthew Polenzani as Leicester and the composer himself for making me enjoy it so much. Nobody in the cast was significantly better than the others, but they were all wonderful and together they made the performance outstanding.

Joyce DiDonato as Maria Stuarda

The production was very good – it created the right atmosphere without interfering too much with the singing and acting. In terms of directing, all was well apart from the whole Queen-Elizabeth-walking-around-like-an-old-woman thing which didn’t work for me; it felt very over-emphasised. But maybe I just want to say that just for the sake of saying something negative.

Met Announces New Season

The Met have announced the operas which will be performed in their new 2013/14 season. You can see the online brochure by clicking on the penguin.

As I can’t go to the Met itself due to the small inconvenience that is the Atlantic Ocean, the only productions I am allowed to get excited about are the ones being shown Live in HD. These are:

  • Eugene Onegin on October 5th
  • The Nose on October 26th
  • Tosca on November 9th
  • Falstaff on December 14th
  • Rusalka on February 8th
  • Prince Igor on March 1st
  • Werther on March 15th
  • La Bohème on April 5th
  • Così fan tutte on April 26th
  • La Cenerentola on May 10th

My thoughts on this:

Eugene Onegin:  I will definitely go to see unless the world ends or something. Having been totally amazed by the ROH cinema broadcast last week, I don’t think I can miss this. I mean, it’s Tchaikovsky and it’s got Netrebko and Kwiecien in it, how bad can it be? Also, I like the look of this new production. It seems to be mainly focused on snow, which is fine by me, as Snow is essentially a one-word summary of What I Know About Russia.

The Nose: I don’t really know this opera well enough to know if this is worthwhile. I think personally that I’ll pass, but I’d be interested to know what others think.

Tosca: I hate the Met’s production of this. And it has Alagna in it. Enough said.

Falstaff: I don’t know if I’ll go to this or not. I quite like this opera, without being fanatical about it. I’m not sure what to expect from the new production. Just generally – I don’t know. At all.

Rusalka: Probably almost definitely. I love Dvorák but I don’t really know this opera, so I really want to see this. Also I just want need to see Renee.

Prince Igor: I really want to go and see this. It sounds like an interesting and possibly under-performed opera. The production also looks very good and I would like to hear Abdrazakov sing because he is one of the singers I hear about fairly regularly, but have never listened to.

Werther: Kaufmann+Garanca+Massenet= OMG I TOTALLY HAVE TO GO AND SEE THIS!!!

La Bohème: I could go if I have nothing else to do, but I probably shan’t bother. It’s the same (admittedly excellent) Zeffirelli production that seems to be perfectly capable of being brought out for performances every other year until its first appearance is no longer in living memory. This performance features Vittorio Grigolo and Anita Hartig.

Così fan tutte: I personally think I should go to this because I really don’t know this opera at all (I mean, I have a vague understanding of the plot and I can recognise Soave sia il vento, but that’s about it). Isabel Leonard, Danielle de Niese, Matthew Polenzani and Susanna Phillips are all involved, so I think that makes it worthwhile, at the very least.

La Cenerentola: I have something to admit here, which is that I am not exactly a huge fan of Rossini. That is to say, I like much of the music, but some of it I find very dull and if the opera does not have a good cast and an entertaining production, it can become very tedious very quickly. In this case though, it’s Cenerentola – by all accounts one of his better operas – and starring Joyce Didonato, Juan Diego Flórez and Luca Pisaroni, no less, so this should be Rossini at his best.

Looking through the rest of the season, which I won’t be able to see, but at least hear on the radio, there are a few things worth noting:

This is the overall lineup by composer:

  • Tchaikovsky-1,
  • Mozart-2 (including the cut-down-and-sung-in-English version of The Magic Flute), 
  • Shostakovitch-1,
  • Bellini-3,
  • Britten-1,
  • Muhly-1,
  • Puccini-3,
  • R. Strauss-3,
  • Verdi-2,
  • J. Strauss-1,  
  • Donizetti-1,
  • Dvorak-1,
  • Borodin-1,
  • Massenet-1,
  • Berg-1,
  • Giordano-1,
  • Rossini-1,
  • Various Baroque Composers-1 (The (Return of the) Enchanted Island)
  • and, noticeably, Wagner-0. 

Not being personally a Bellini fan, I think that having three of his operas is a bit much, especially since it appears to be pushing out Verdi and Wagner. I think it would be more justifiable if they had a couple of really good Bellini singers (e.g. if we were back in the days of Sutherland and Callas, it would make a lot more sense). Maybe they think they’ve been overloading a bit on the Donizetti and they’re trying to balance it out a bit without taking away the bel canto operas altogether. In which case, partial success. What I don’t understand, though, is if they want to do so much Bellini, why not schedule at least one of them to be shown in HD, rather than repeating the same old Puccini productions? I suppose they want to ensure they make more profit by showing ‘safe’ operas, but for those of us who are interested in hearing some different repertoire, this is irritating. Anyway, if some people want to go to an opera for the first time, Così, Tosca,  Bohème and Cenerentola are all good choices, they don’t need to show all of them. I’m pretty sure that Tosca and Bohème could both be left off and neither operatic newcomers nor more regular viewers would miss them (and this is coming from the mouth keyboard of a lifelong Puccini fanatic who counts both of those operas among her favourites).

The total absence of Wagner is both puzzling and understandable. Yes, they have scheduled a lot of Wagner recently and no doubt spent huge amounts of money and effort on it but there are a lot of very good Wagner singers around at the moment whom we want to hear. Surely they could have just squeezed one little Dutchman in there somewhere?

In the HD shows, it is noticeable that there is a lot of Russian and Czech opera going on. Not that I’m complaining about this at all.

Overall, good season, could be better and I’m definitely looking forward to several of those HDs and radio broadcasts.

Tanti Auguri Gaetano Donizetti!

Today is the great composer Donizetti’s 215th birthday, which is obviously something that must be celebrated.

See, Mozart’s pretty excited. But what about the birthday boy himself?

Not really. Oh well. Let’s forget about that not-so-successful party (yes Wolfgang, that means put down the cupcake, the party’s over, glad you enjoyed it, don’t worry, we’ll have another one soon, I promise) and look at what many consider to be Donizetti’s finest work: Lucia di Lammermoor. This opera is particularly special to this blog because (drum roll) we are named after the most famous scene from it – Lucia’s great mad scene, Il dolce suono. So please enjoy the brilliant Joan Sutherland singing this and I hope that this post may have lightened up a few dull November evenings!

Elina Garanca: New Album

Elina Garanca’s new album Romantique has been released today. Unfortunately, it won’t be coming out in the UK until October 1st and in the USA until October 23rd, but you can preorder it on Amazon. Also, more information about the recording from Deutsche Grammophon here. This album has songs by Donizetti, Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Gounod, Vaccai, Lalo and Berlioz – full track list on the DG website. There is a music video of one of the songs here. The video is a bit strange but her singing is lovely. Will any of you be buying this CD?

Personally, I love this picture of her on the cover. What do you think?

2012/13 Season at the Met

Plenty of highlights to look forward to in the Met’s new season. My picks are:

  • L’Elisir D’Amore – In a relatively Netrebko-free season, this is her main appearance, alongside a cast including Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecien and her husband Erwin Schrott. Good line up for what will hopefully be an entertaining show.
  • Un Ballo in Maschera – Part of the Verdi/Wagner bicentenary celebrations, this stars Marcelo Alvarez, Sondra Radvanovsky and one of my personal favourites, Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Radvanovsky and Hvorostovsky are known to sing well together and I look forward to discovering a Verdi opera I know very little about.
  • Roberto Alagna returns to Aida as Radames. Let’s see if he can keep his blood sugar levels low this time.
  • Dialogues des Carmelites, famous for its haunting end, does not often come round so this is something to look forward to.
  • Ildar Abdrazakov as Don Giovanni, accompanied by Mr. Netrebko as Leporello.
  •  
  • An interesting Traviata, with Damrau as Violetta and Placido Domingo sings Papa Germont for the first time.
  • What the Met claims is “a rare opportunity to witness Berlioz’s vast epic Les Troyens”, completely ignoring the very recent performance at Covent Garden
  • JDF returns in Le Comte Ory and Elina Garanca in La Clemenza di Tito
  • And of course the return of the vast Ring Cycle which has completely divided opinions. Personally, I love it, which is saying something given that I am not normally very patient at all with Wagner.
  • Also, a Don Carlo with Ramon Vargas although personally I would be more interested in Covent Garden’s upcoming production, starring Jonas Kaufmann.

Most of these performances will be broadcast in cinemas. For the full brochure, go here.