Monday, January 9, 2017

NABUCCO      
A PRODUCTION FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS

What becomes a legend most?  Remember that 1968 ad campaign that became a legend of its own almost fifty years ago. 

That was the year that  Placido Domingo made his official debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York  when he substituted with little notice for Franco Corelli in Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur with Renata Tebaldi.  

Who remembers that?  

Who will ever forget Domingo in  the Met Opera Simulcast  of January 7, 2017,  of Verdi’s Nabucco?  As Domingo adds a new role to his Met repertory as the Babylonian ruler Nabucco, Liudmyla Monastyrska sings the tour-de-force role of Abigaille, Nabucco’s willful daughter, with Jamie Barton as Fenena, Russell Thomas as Ismaele and Dmitri Belosselskiy as the prophet Zaccaria,

Nacucco which is so seldom seen, was Verdi’s third opera and the one that launched  his stunning career.   Aida by the way would come 30 some years later and would also include warring ancient people, and  two rival princesses, and a fatherly king.  And there would be a love match crossing the lines of the enemy as well as incredible chorus pieces. 

Domingo has sung almost all  Verdi’s operas but this is the first time he has sung this role,  that of the mad king Nacucco.

Yes, Domingo is 75 years old. 

One of the added joys of this broadcast of Nabucco was the addition of the taped conversation of Domingo and Levine about the first time they worked together, 50 years ago, in San Francisco.  It’s not all in the statistics of how  many performances they have done over the years but in this message of how they approach their art.  

Maybe that is what becomes a legend most, that they don’t stop doing amazing things. 


With legendary Met Music Director James Levine at the podium, this opera  moment now belongs to the generations to come. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

MOBY DICK

A Giant White Whale was spotted near the Wharf on November 18.   

No ordinary one was it, but the fabulous fabled Moby Dick arriving at Arena Stage!   

Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company’s had sailed with the classic nineteenth century Melville novel of New England whalers with their harpoons and ships, into this twenty-first century theater at the Southwest waterfront.

Moby Dick  is not just another fish story.  That very long Great American novel which many people find unreadable has now taken its legs to the stage. 

  Lookingglass Theatre Company’s exuberant production  while true to Melville’s words and spirit magically interjects both humor and silence into a script that waves between lyrical and dramatic.     

Rather than overload the scenery with authentic looking antiques from that era of New England whalers, this staging employs a unifying symbol. A whale’s rib cage defines the ship’s hull, an image which  interconnects with whale bones used for women’s hoop skirts.  

The choice of bones is apt for the fates of Captain Ahab and the crew of the Pequod is sealed on their whaling ship just as whale oil and products of remaining bones provided for the fortunes of the society dependent on whaling. 

Moby Dick has its memorable quotes  (“My name is Ishmael” for its opening line)  but this production is further filled with unforgettable images.  

A woman in a blue-and-black silk dress enters the theater toward  the stage, her huge shimmery skirt billows like the vast ocean, covering everything beneath.      

Three women like the three Greek fates chant in procession while holding large black ribbed umbrellas to simulate a pod of spouting whales.  

Actors acrobatically dancing in air, struggle to keep from drowning in aerial space now transformed to be below the sea, transformed in a flash, like that fragile line between life and death for this crew.  

While the necessity for whale oil for light and fuel is as dated as cumbersome hoop skirts, Captain Ahab’s obsessive battle against the forces that be is a theme as old as mankind.   

Ahab's refusal to help any human being who would delay his destiny to find that great white whale who haunts him is heartless while the slow gasping death of yet another whale dying at the hands of the harpoonists—portrayed by  a woman mime whose silk skirt is stripped  like whale meat from the bone,  bit by bit revealing the bare skeleton of white whale ribs —heartbreaking. 

Alas!  Is Captain Ahab a mad man?  Is Moby Dick really the monster?  

At last!  Moby Dick makes his appearance in a surprising way and settles the score with these mere mortals!  


Moby Dick was seen leaving Arena after its closing performance Christmas Eve (the day before the Peguod first sailed off in the novel) and heading west after what was another victory for the epic beast, and for this superb ensemble Chicago company.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

 L’Amour de Loin
The Met’s opera sets sail upon A Sea of Love

Do you remember that oldie “Sea of Love”?…  Come with me …To the sea …The sea of love - I wanna tell you -How much-I love you.”  

How simple that song made love  and the sea - both eternal -seem to be.  But for all its beauty and allure,  the sea —like love— is vast and deep and dangerous.    

In  L’Amour de Loin-the Met’s Live in HD broadcast— the sea is the fourth and very complex character in this tale of medieval love.

The title of the opera comes from the poetry of troubadour Jaufre Rudel who developed  the concept of “love from afar.”  In the time of the Second Crusade in the 12th century, the poet fell in love with a Countess in Tripoli, a beautiful woman whom he had never seen but had dreamed of  in his works.  

It is the sea which  separates the lovers and it is across the sea, that the poet will take his fateful journey to finally meet his idolized love. 

Kaija Saariaho’s opera has been described as dazzling even as critics rave that she the first woman composer to have an opera at the Met in over a hundred years (let alone the second opera composed by a woman to be presented by the company.)  Conductor Susanna Malkkiis  has been hailed as brilliant as well as only the fourth woman to take the podium in the company’s history.  

Soprano Susanna Phillips  who sings the title role is stellar as the beautiful Countess.  Bass-baritone Eric Owens is earthy, as the vulnerable troubadour Jaufré, in what has been described as a “weary sadness.”  Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mum is excellent as the pilgrim who facilitates the events which unites the lovers.

The sea, recreated through  the wonders of theatrical technology, and sung by the fabulous Met chorus  looms large as one powerful presence compared to these mere mortals. 

 We can not ignore it any more than we can the contradictions and complexities of love which librettist Amin Maalouf has put into a sea of  words that stoke our mind simultaneously as the music evokes our sensual and our spiritual natures.

L’Amour de Loin is a gem of an opera, one that has garnered wide critical praise for its music and words in each of its productions to date. 

What is most appealing to me is that rather than try to modernize an opera set in olden times, what this modern opera has going for it is that it has a fresh and universal look while remaining true to the essence of this tangled true story from the middle ages.    

And like the oldies but goodies, it works so well because it is authentic in its emotional content—after all, all Jaufre was trying to do was tell the Countess “how much I love you.”









Sunday, December 4, 2016




MOZART’S THE MAGIC FLUTE  - 
TEN YEARS SINCE THE FIRST
MET Live in HD BROADCAST

Five things you need to know about the Met’s Live in HD of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. on December 3, 2016.

1.  The Magic Flute was the first broadcast that launched the Met’s award winning series Live in HD  to movie theaters in 2006.   A hundred operas since then, Live in HD has proven to be a resounding success.  And it all started with that magic moment when The Magic Flute kicked it off ten years ago.

2.  This production is filled with opera legendaries.  Director Julie Taymour,  Maestro James Levine, and an ensemble cast –  Nathan Gunn, Ying Huang, Matthew Polenzani, Erika Miklosa, and René Pape—all  together create a magical stage event.

3.  Tenor Matthew Polenzani might be the prince hero of the opera but guess who takes the honors as being one of the sexiest men alive;  Papageno, his sidekick unwilling bird catcher.   

People magazine labeled baritone Nathan Gunn that in 2008.  Gunn is a real  barihunk or hunkitone —so his lines about wishing for a girlfriend  as Papageno seem even sillier now.

4.   Soprano Ying Huang is a beautiful Pamino but YouTube, which also started around 10 or so years ago,  assures  that Erika Miklosa continues to really be Queen of the Night.

5.  In the same year  as this Met version, Rene Pape was Sarastro  in Kenneth Kenneth Branagh’s movie which sets the opera in WWI.  Wow! He owns that role (as he does so many others).

Now that the facts have checked, enjoy the magic when a 200 year old opera is experienced thorough 20th century technology in a  place — where the silly meets the sublime—the ever now The Magic Flute by Mozart. 










Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI Is this not a never-ending tale?



The world’s leading baritone, Simon Keenlyside not only made his Met role debut as Don Giovanni, in Mozart’s masterpiece, he had a few things to point out in the intermission about what many viewers might already had in their mind—how relevant the theme is to the modern media headlines.

For a history refresher,  Don Giovanni opened in 1787, a few weeks before Delaware was the first state ratified the American Constitution,  and on the eve of the French revolution.   It was years ahead of Darwin’s Origin of Species. 

However he did not have to remind us that the news is filled with debates about what the US constitution (from Supreme Court to Presidential elections)  as well as filled with high profile stories of sexual allegations. 

 Keenlyside, a Cambridge graduate, could probably have talked about this for as long as the opera, but he had to go back on to Act II which shows Mozart’s solution to such flagrancy.  

There is no controversy that Keenlyside’s voice is a treasure—and that  his acting ability and his athleticism add a dynamism that makes his Don Giovanni all too real.

The superb cast included Hibla Gerzmava as Donna Anna and Malin Byström as Donna Elvira,  with Adam Plachetka as Leporello and Matthew Rose as Masetto,  Interesting to note that these roles are often traded, that is sopranos who sing Donna Anna might in another production sing Donna Elvira, and ditto with Leporello and Masetto. Paul Appleby was both strong and tender as Don Ottavio, Serena Malfi  utterly delightful as the wise peasant girl Zerlina.  Kwangchul Youn as the Commendatore was formidably scary

Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi led the orchestra and cast in this staging by Tony-Award winner Michael Grandage.

Met simulcast views also got a taste of what the next opera, Saariaho's L’Amour de Loin which will be presented live in select cinemas nationwide on Saturday, December 10 


BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF ART MATISSE/DIEBENKORN





Look!  That’s an interesting Diebenkorn.

Oh, gee! it’s a Matisse. French Window at Collioure (1914).

That is not the only surprise at  the Baltimore Museum of Arts’ Matisse/ Diebenkorn (Jan. 29, 2017), where the works of the two artists are interspersed throughout.

The first Matisse that Diebenkorn saw  was at a luncheon at the home of the Steins in California.  Matisse’s portrait Sarah Stein (1916), is the starting point for this exhibition.

It was love at first sight, but the true connection developed later when Diebenkorn was stationed at Quantico and visited the Phillips Gallery, the National Gallery of Art and the Baltimore Museum of Art. 

The exhibit contains  36 paintings and drawings by Matisse and 56 by Diebenkorn, The journey follows the chronology of Diebenkorn’s career from representational paintings to abstract and then back to conceptual art.  It ends with his most celebrated Ocean Park series.

The works are arranged  so one can  draw one’s own conclusions about their relationships. One suggested way is to select a favorite piece in each gallery and work around it to see the interplay of ideas.  

My own favorite work is Matisse’s View of Notre Dame (1914), at the midpoint of the show.  One can analyze it for color and form, but this work is so much more then a dissection of its parts.   



 While they never met in real life, Diebenkorn’s admiration of  Matisse spanned his career.  The exhibit includes works  that Diebenkorn saw at Matisse exhibits in his lifetime and  which continued to inform his work.

It is worth noting that Diebenkorn  did not simply borrow techniques from Matisse, but rather than he let Matisse’s thoughts take root.  On  display throughout the galleries, are cases featuring over 40 volumes that he owned and studied about Matisse.

 Matisse of course influenced many artists and Diebenkorn was influenced by others than Matisse.  An interesting conversational point was that that Matisse at the end of the exhibit might not have been a finished work. When one looks at the influence he had on subsequent modern artists, not only Diebenkorn, it is clear that his true artistic vision which inspired them, is part of his great unfinished legacy.








Friday, October 14, 2016

TRISTAN UND ISOLDE
an opera about medieval lovers 
for modern lovers of opera 


Tristan und Isolde,  probably had more viewers then ever in a single performance on Met Simulcast on Oct 8 than in composer Richard Wagner’s life time. I have no concrete numbers to support that statement—but it is a likely possibility  as this is the way opera is viewed by the most people today.

Wagner took a medieval legend, turned it into a story for 19th century sensibilities.  The Met has gone further with a production with modern technological touches.  

I thought as I listened, how modern is this music, and perhaps it was because I was seeing the scenes now set in a three level ship and then  in a warehouse and finally in  a hospital room. Perhaps it was because Wagner’s music has had such influence on what was written  after him.  But there was no doubt in my mind, that if Wagner had indeed just composed this giant work, he would steamroll any modern composer writing today. 

And then I had a reverse thought— What might Wagner think of this production, he who was so precise about every word — to now see that the translations were flashed on the screen in English.   Would he be pleased with this outstanding Wagnerian opera stars of today, Nina Stemme as Isolde, Stuart Skelton as Tristan, Ekaterina Gubanova as Brangäne, René Pape as King Marke, and Sir Simon Rattle conducting 

Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Met, said this was the 11th year of Simulcast, the 100th opera performed, and the opening production of the 50th anniversary of the Met at Lincoln Center.  The choice of Tristan und Isolde was to have something big, with the greatest stars today, and then broadcast it live from the giant stage to the giant screen. 

This is as big as it gets.  Mega genius that he was,  bets are that Wagner would have loved it!  

COMING NEXT—MOZART’S  DON GIOVANNI

TICKETS ON LINE - http://www.fathomevents.com/event/