The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

HGO 2009-2010: Dull opener - Donizetti., but Hawks and Sparrows or Elixir of Love, ... or new more ratings suitable I racconti di Canterbury?

This could easily have been predicted to be best opener to an HGO season in three years, with the HGO debut of Ekaterina Siurina, the return of Alessandro Corbelli, a conductor known for long experience in bel canto and the casting of what press has reported is a promising tenor for the same repertoire. Hugh Canning’s convincingly positive review of this production by Annabel Arden two years ago described it as a naturally acted, realistic, modern day Pagliaaci type Elisir d’amore. Arden’s Gianni Schicchi, which I just saw for the first time yesterday on dvd, also stars Corbelli.

Ekaterina Siurina, in her HGO debut as Adina and first major character active on stage, though looking dull wearing beige dockers, immediately gave the lie t that this production was just as described. Her teasing of Nemorino had the saucy wit one expects from a good Adina, and also betrayed a girlish compassion for her weaker-minded peasant friend. Her confused reaction to Nemorino’s flighty changes of mood was palpable. Adina’s compassion eventually came to the fore, leading all to the expected very happy ending. Her ease in coloratura, secure intonation and evenness across a reasonably wide range Adina covers were all exemplary. Her command of line and of breath control during long aria toward end of Act Two was equally fine, but I found therein just slight shortcoming of not filling out the line as completely as she could have. Given the flat-line accompanying from the pit, it may have been more than we could expect from her.

Siurina’s Gilda at the Met in 2006, conducted by Frierdirch Halder (Gruberova’s husband) provided high expectations – many still met. This marked a very significant HGO debut. One had to regret how so much from Siurina got shortchanged.

John Osborn joined her in what ultimately turned out - replacing Eric Cutler two weeks back - to be a lesser HGO debut, though still with merit. He has a good youthful appearance and sound for Nemorino, and though acting the part a bit stiffly, still well brought out the naivete but only partly the simplicity of the peasant. Though matters improved as the afternoon wore on, the way he approached singing his opening aria proved a liability. Osborn will bear down when in the passaggio (break); when doing so, his vowels, at least in Italian go left and right, up and down, vice versa from where they should remain. It all resembles hunt in the dark for on which vowel good placement may occur - while forcing his instrument, also tastelessly up to long held unwritten high D at one point he came close to losing - one or two other high notes the same way.

Pitch occasionally suffered too. While singing duets with Siurina and Corbelli especially, though, he lightened both his sound and phrasing matching well with his partners on stage to optimum effect. There then is available for him more a mezza voce approach to the break – toward making his acuti more mellifluous especially on repertoire in which he specializes. These two duets early on perhaps belied more than anywhere else that staging of this Elisir might continue unaffected, responsibly so for a good while. Until several technical issues get resolved, Osborn is best advised to steer clear of parts requiring much ring, spinto, as for instance Arturo Talbot and Arnold (William Tell).

Liam Bonner, former HGO studio artist, well known here for doing supporting baritone roles, looked dapper in military uniform as Belcore. He sang with alternatively good diction and tone, and bluster. What might have been the allure about Belcore to Adina in the first place wound up seemed a mystery. Belcore hardly winds up winning the girl anyway. Catherine Martin sang much of Gianetta under pitch.

That leaves mostly Alessandro Corbelli. Though sounding slightly thin at the edges by now, he revealed again his mastery at parlando, spinning out Donizetti’s lines with fine if this time inhibited swagger. There was of course more than hint of his plentifully clear mastery of text, nuance thereof, but the good news ends just about there.

I have yet to run across a staging conceit more asinine than addition of a mime part (Dulcamara’s assistant), as acted by former U of Houston theater major Adam Von Wagoner. If one came downtown expecting Corbelli’s command of the stage, one seldom got it. He stiffly, only halfway engagingly moved across it - as to anything that might wittily enhance his portrayal of the quack in a real way. It became perplexing as to how so much could be lost; now it remains that Dale Travis, a regular here, will have made at least as strong an impression as Dulcamara as Corbelli just has here. A Dulcamara as dour, poker-faced, merely fuddy-duddy as Corbeli proved this time just will not do - on the street, could not hope to make ends meet.

Corbelli has proven many times before the very gifted basso buffo he is, how then he could believe being in on a good thing to combine efforts with Annabel Arden, who produced this, should confound us all. Should he ever want ample comparison we have read of him with Baccaloni, Corena, Capecchi, Dara, to persist at all, it is time, even since Gianni Schicchi, he abandon ship. Unfortunately he has not done so yet.

What denatured things so, that most conspicuously affected was the lone Italian member of the cast? One must blame a combination of two factors, all enhanced by drab set design good to suit Hawks and Sparrows (1966 Pasolini flick). Elisir is now indeed a work one can no longer consider entirely fail-proof, oddly enough. Most obvious was the stage direction of Annabel Arden, as for Glyndebourne. Members of the chorus entered before the orchestral intro was over, to affect a performance beginning so spontaneously as such, but with tree-hedgers coming on stage immediately assuming a freeze on stage, until the brief prelude was over. Siurina’s smile was certainly could have won everyone over, but her removal of top to reveal tank top underneath was simply crude, even more so than her filling a large pail full of water to help herself to a foot bath.

Things mostly coasted along until Dulcamara’s entrance - completely undercut by androgynous monkey-shaped tattooed youth climbing electrical pole by ladder to short out the factory light used to illuminate most of the stage and provide excuse for spotlight. Such crudely applied cliché also got used in the Glyndebourne Schicchi (for trio of women putting ‘Donati’ to bed). For once that Dulcamara made it to the rapid parlando section of his big opening number, as though much ado about nothing. The very opening of the aria should at once feel grandiose, text and music make clear while here the whole cause became lost, fell flat. Nothing was clever enough here to be construed as deconstructionist. Instead, it was just simply crude, as was the damnable failure of this boy to sit still for any longer than twenty seconds for about all the rest of Act One.

Arden’s supposedly dark view of Schicchi is half-conceived to extent that all, including layered on stock humor also therein just falls flat. Arden has some craft for moving chorus members across the stage, even in dance step, but feels it pressing to put such a personal stamp on every turn of phrase or whatever at her disposal, that it then is all just hers and nothing else. It is all so busy that it does not show so much technique other than to look very stiff. Stamping about on stage, that Miss Siurina did once early in Act Two to underline fit of agitation, is so clichéd, it is already only too familiar to HGO audiences from other productions of comedy - no less irritating than before.

’Fascist blackshirt’ police restraining Nemorino looked so fey, it could have instead been Village People (every pun intended); one had to fear a little extra for the poor bloke. We can not be sure Adina’s ass remains virgin, with so much flailing about going on. Dulcamara’s boy(-toy) comes on in goose looking costume drag for what should have sufficed – bumping ass, but nudge, nudge, wink, wink, as though we might fail to get the joke already. You know how unfunny when someone makes a joke he has to explain it, but then come to think of it how unintentionally funny things become if the joke starts getting xplained several times. Other than clichéd – effusive embraces at the end– there was minimal evidence of more than generic investment in any love interest here.

Up until Dulcamara’s entrance, Edoardo Muller seemed to own the light touch, even hint of suavity we expect for accompanying Donizetti, but tas matters became more complex than the simple ideas, tunes to start Act One, a kind of wooden beating time took over. Osborn got left in quite a vacuum for ‘Adina, credimi,’ as did Ramon Vargas under a less experienced Summers nine years ago. There was both times little yielding from the podium for ample rubato, shading of the line, to give it true shape. It was, as though to find the true bel canto style or that of doing Donizetti, one must look to Glyndebourne, Little comes to mind more pandering than how Muller just about exactly held forth so.

Muller apparently could not either put in word to contradict any of the stage direction - constant noise and clutter distracting from the music, not helping characterize it. Not any of such could bring out the true comedy of the piece, even toward introducing any real frisson into the mix. The latter could happen as some real emphasis on a social theme of interest, but the touch for applying such was simply not there.

While Osborn adequately shaped ‘Una furtive lagirma’, Muller would only stop a moderate metronomic pace for the crests of the line – not to level of self-parody, but enough to leave Osborn once again in a vacuum, noting also sour intonation from obbligato bassoon and other winds. I have heard as much Donizettian with Danses suisses from Baiser du Fee conducted well as I did Sunday in detachment to pass for swagger during festivities that opened Act Two. Skill, conducting Donizetti, may be adequate, but sense of charm for conducting Elisir was not.

What makes the British beholden to praise such a pretentious Elsiir and the Schicchi gain confounds one. If there be any chance to rescue Glyndebourne tradition from impression of being somewhat fraudulent, this Elisir d’amore failed to provide any help. Neither did the Schicchi, in which British members of the cast, even including Felicity Palmer, who knows better, do some of the worst mugging and blithering in what can only pass as acting for second tier varsity opera studio. By comparison, the Met Schicchi (O’Brien) looks now very close to definitive, while certainly just competent,

Call it untoward bias on my part if you like; it probably will not matter who gets cast in something like this again, as to paraphrase James Camner here (concerning Met in HD Aida last Saturday). I am likely most happy to put this type of production, perhaps anything from Glyndebourne on DNR status for what to attend from now on. Such at least should happen for repertoire with halfway such openly warm character as this. So much character got denied here in as an obtrusive handling of Elisir as conceptually possible - with little to compensate in return.

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At November 22, 2009 at 5:55 PM , Blogger David S said...

Connie Carr: David, I enjoyed your review of HGO's Elixer. I thought I was the only one who was outraged by Dr. Dulcamara's sidekick and the stage antics generally. (Except for the lady behind me who sighed "oy" when the clown/mime gave birth.)

David H Spence:

That much from Connie Carr, whose own review of the HGO Elixir appears on of all things the Schiller Institute website - front cultural alternative to the Goethe Institute for Lyndon LaRouche. I am sure her review must still make quite delightful reading, ahem, for whatever reason. Likely I have my own word or two not for the Goethe Institute but perhaps through them to a neo-con government in Berlin that seems intent on helping run the musical performing arts there into the ground, but that is another issue entirely.

Should it be easily able to be empirically proven that the Queen of England has some connection with all that - the Proms that I have so extensively covered here which has saluted her ladyship or higher than that from time to time - I might be all ears. It will just have to be a heck of a lot more empirical than LaRouche has provided so far, when there has been so much empirical provided on him in our courts of law.

This blog does not serve the purpose of advocating or promoting any political figure or cause - except perhaps for aside found here and there, that as author of this blog, I guarantee my readers will remain always reasonably mainstream.

While having said all that, as for Petroc Trelawney (in his music critic twenty-year commemorative of the fall of the wall), at the Guardian I think it is and who also emcees BBC programs at times, I have this to say, to quote JFK - equally profound saying or perhaps more so than that of Ronnie to Gorbachev - Ich bin ein Berliner. It is not just their mess what has happened with DSO Berlin, and elsewhere there. It is all ours as well and in large part partly caused by us - those who take a vested interest in the musical performing arts especially. Should I ever become a LaRouchite myself, I plead with you my readers, to lay it at the feet of Petroc more than those of Connie. ;-), ;-)

With all due respect, Petroc. You have turned in some fine work over the years and for most of what you do, you still earn my respect, so please accept all my pardon in advance for how you have been foolishly misguided into saying what you did this time.
Keep in mind too that it is the hard, stiff look of the Brits, which makes the sex in Canterbury Tales look like arduous work indeed, that both I find insightful of Pasolini and of how I was so reminded by Annabel's vulgar, trashy production of Elixir as lighted or visited upon us here.

David H Spence

At November 22, 2009 at 7:40 PM , Blogger David S said...

Error: Petroc Trelawny (correct spelling) is with the Telegraph in London - and the piece in question is Carnival in Berlin - carnival indeed, but with consequences for more than just the short term, already since last spring with eye toward Munich, Thielemann's situation there - and most recently news of Vedernikov's in Moscow with the Bolshoi.

(West) Berlin may be no longer an island under long held gaze of a red star, but the freedom people have there now may be such that it does not lie much beneath the surface - though plight of East Berliners has got to be much better than before .... but as for Los Angeles Philharmonic musicians and patrons - under Stasi and a young, strapping Venezuelan - it is hard to tell.


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