Monday, November 20, 2017


People often are surprised that the operas that they love the best— those that have survived several centuries on stage—had the most negative critical reviews  of their first performances. 
So what are we to make of the reviews of a modern opera that has received a continuum of comments  —- from “must see” (NYTimes) to “felt like I was being locked in the opera house to stay” (comment).
There is no quick test to know if this is a great gift to the future generations but for the here and now, Thomas  Adès' The Exterminating Angel, is something to experience. 
No one disagrees over the facts:  It is surreal, complex, and stresses the highest range possible coming from a human voice.   High emotional moments were matched with higher vocal ranges as delivered by Audrey Luna, in the role of  Leticia (an opera diva in the opera), who reaches up to an A above high C.
No one gives a simple explanation to what it might all mean however— this story of elite who cannot leave their after-the opera- dinner party.  They are not being held hostage by a terrorist as Bel Canto for instance but in some invisible wall that stuns them like a laser preventing their exit. The servants all knew something was up and had left early before these guests arrived home, with only one, a butler remaining.
Could this be so simple to say this is a political response to the Franco regime by the Spanish elite, that Luis Buñuel is targeting in his 1962 movie on which the opera is based.  Or is it philosophical exploration of the exasperations in human experience.
Or is it just art of its time, of characters trapped in a traditional horror movies (the orchestration features the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument used for the eerie sounds in horror movies ).
The casting involves 15 top notch singers, who are the guests, with a variety of interactions  through the almost 3 hours that cover the fateful evening. There is no one aria as such but a continuous flow through the emotions of the guests throughout.  There are also three sheep—Mary, Lucy and Ruby in their Met debut —and who are integral  the story.  Oh, yes there is a bear. 
One does not leave this opera humming any melody, even though there is something very familiar about patches of music throughout,  but in a strange way, not only do the opera singers  get into feeling  their character (as one said in the intermission interview) but at some point, one might feel one is at this dinner party too.
In short, I found that given all that was said about it and as odd as many moments were, I liked it!
BOTTOM LINE:  For all that can be said about seeing something in person at the Met, yes, do that.  But for The Exterminating Angel, this is one that seeing the Fathom Live in HD first in theaters will greatly enhance the experience before you get to see it on the great stage.  

Monday, November 6, 2017

Washington National Opera

Alcina is a sorceress living on fantasy island who turns her lovers into stones or other objects when she is through with them. There is a long backstory before the complex history of all the characters surrounding her in  Handel’s opera Alcina even starts to unfold.  In short by the end,  Alcina gets what she deserves.  
Handel’s opera Alcina also got what it deserves— Washington National Opera’s  assembly of a cast of grand singers, set on a glorious stage with lighting to evoke their emotional states along with graceful dancers flowing throughout. 
It leaves no surprise that Angela Meade would take ownership of this role of Alcina, adding sorceress to her impressive resume of fantasy characters like the Druid high priestess Norma and the Babylonian queen Semiramide.  Her singing is the stuff that legends are made of, her power in unleashing the hidden glories in Handel’s score.
Elizabeth DeShong is Ruggiero, her current lover, who has deserted his fiancee for this fantasy romantic escapade.  The mezzo soprano has one of the most beautiful arias  "Verdi prati" ("Green meadows”)  when he knows he must depart this beautiful illusion for real life.   DeShong captures our hearts in her rendering, as convincingly as Alcina has captured Ruggiero.
Ying Fang is Morgana, Alcina’s sister who is also a sorceress.  Fang sings with delightful youthfulness, her voice well suited for Baroque opera.
Daniela Mack is Bradamante, the jilted fiancee of Ruggiero, who disguises herself as a man to find him,  only to add to the confusion of the two sorceresses who see Bradamante as a possible boyfriend.   Her role has the most relationship complications with her determination fueling emotions from jealous anger to devoted love. All this she must  experience and which Mack conveys in her singing. 
Neil Patel’s  scenery and Christopher Akerlind’s  lightening meld together as the moon-shaped background change shades of colors as the moods changed.  Choreographer Barney O’Hanlon  created illusions in the imagination with four spirits whose twisting movements like waves arise  and then disappear into shadows.  
This is WNO’s first production of Alcina,  an opera with  the core theme of obsessive attraction that is  wide open for interpretations.  There are the didactic possibilities like a  recent production which emphasized a modern day  theme of Alcina representing  drug addiction (as seen in an illusionary fascination which  also  turns people into stones, or animals or whatever and which in the end has to die out,  so that love and life can return to normal).  The other extreme, interpreting this with a 18th century staged setting and costumes  is impractically for  most budgets.     
What WNO has achieved with their production led by director Anne Bogart with renowned Baroque Music  Conductor June Glover is to appeal to modern sensibilities with an artistic production, giving  the music its due while being pleasing to the eye.
What more could you ask for, but this treat of art for its own sake, and let the  moral lessons fall for another day.  
In  The Eisenhower Theater at The Kennedy Center, Washington DC,  Nov. 4-19 2017.