Weekly Video #42

On Wednesday, this concert with Anna Netrebko and Dmitri Hvorostovsky happened in Moscow and because most of us tragically couldn’t make it to Moscow that evening, some kind person has put it on YouTube and I would recommend you watch it.

Royal Opera Live – Eugene Onegin

Warning: The following blog post contains a) spoilers, b) descriptions of scenes of unnecessary emotional distress and c) things which have basically no connection whatsoever to the intended topic.

I have so far in my life been to see four operas in the cinema – Un Ballo in Maschera, Aïda, Maria Stuarda and, most recently, Eugene Onegin (I would have seen Rigoletto as well, but the only cinema in town that shows the Met broadcasts had other plans). Of those four, Onegin was definitely the most emotionally draining. So much so, in fact, that when the interval arrived and I realised that I was silently crying, I realised that I would have to risk the disapproving looks of the lady sitting across the aisle from me and go and buy comfort food (Fruit Pastilles) to eat during the second half.

I have never been to see or even properly listened to Onegin before, but judging from the fact that pretty much everyone who has ever seen it seemed to enjoy it, I was expecting something very good indeed. The music of this opera is simply, unbearably beautiful. Right from the start, when Tatyana and Olga are singing their random little song (a classic operatic feature) and Mme Larina and Filipyevna are reminiscing, I was totally drawn into the characters and the music. I felt it a lot closer than with so many other operas I have seen. By the time the interval had come, Lensky and Onegin had argued, the duel was about to happen, Tatyana had been refused and I was crying. The second half was pretty much the same. They fought, Lensky died, Onegin tried to forget, so did Tatyana, they met again, everything went wrong and I was still crying.

Krassimira Stoyanova as Tatyana with Vigdis Hentze Olsen as her former self during the Letter Scene

In terms of this as a performance, it was excellent. Simon Keenlyside (Onegin) and Krassimira Stoyanova (Tatyana) both sang and acted their roles perfectly. The production idea was interesting. The whole opera was seen as a flashback, with both an “old” Tatyana and Onegin, who sang and their younger selves, who were dancers. The other main idea was that the memories would slowly collect up on stage as various items from the different scenes were left lying around. The flashbacks idea was good and for the most part it worked. There were some moments when I couldn’t quite keep up because some scenes did have the younger Onegin and Tatyana in and some didn’t. However, it mostly worked very well, especially in the letter scene. The memories idea was much simpler and it really worked, apart from one –  Lensky came onstage for the duel dragging a huge tree branch behind him, which was then left there for the rest of the opera. Whether the tree was symbolic in some way, I don’t know, but it did look a bit silly when he came on stage, pulling it behind him. I also felt a bit sorry for Pavol Breslik (playing Lensky), as after the duel. he had to lie there and play dead for the rest of the entire opera! I have another production question though: is it normal for, when Tatyana and Onegin are having their final duet/argument thing, is it normal for Prince Gremin to come onstage and stare at them? Whether it is or not, I didn’t really like it because it made it feel as though Tatyana was only saying no to Onegin because Gremin was there, not because of her own strength of mind.

Overall, magnificent, a very interesting production which I really enjoyed, even though parts of it didn’t always quite make sense.

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.