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, December 21, 2010

Met (NPR): Tedium pervades slowly Nezet-Seguin led broadcast season opener - Verdi's Don Carlo. Solid leads from Giuseppini, Yonghoon Lee. 18.12.10.

Peter Gelb certainly has an eye for what is trendy on different stages across the pond – but quest to find both unifying and meaningfully diverse approach to staging opera at the Met proves elusive. Such holds true with bringing Nicholas Hytner’s pseudo-naturalistic, half traditional, timid production of Don Carlo from Convent Garden to the Met.

Anthony Tommasini may find refreshing having this instead of “regietheater metaphorical nonsense” one can pick up from distinctive productions such as directed by Luca Ronconi (in sore need of revival), Peter Konwitschny, or Luc Bondy. Here, laid out against flat-dimensional phallic sized - take your pick - church, portrait of weeping Christ, monastery, we have portrayed a group of powerful people living during time caught up in the throes of religious fanaticism “feeling alienated from their inner selves.” Opening woodcutters’ chorus to open Fontainebleau that for only economy’s sake Verdi could have dropped is now no longer heard at the Met; in its place we have the standard 1886 beginning that inadequately replaces how Don Carlo(s) originally opened.

This is only the second opera, first Verdi for Yannick Nezet-Seguin to conduct at the Met – Nezet-Seguin now music director designate for the Philadelphia Orchestra. If impulsive, impetuous precocity is ideal hallmark for genius on the podium, Nezet-Seguin has it - in spades. The Met orchestra, obviously allocated much time to rehearse this, sounded full and substantial just about the entire way. For one half of a surname looking, sounding French, most mystifying here was a thorough lack of the command of French rhythms throughout - for practically all passages therein affecting more of a galante style or pace than the rest – plus more than just those. Negotiation of such was altogether stiff. Nezet-Seguin stated in interview that he finds a Brahmsian feel to much of Don Carlo. There was indeed some reach-from-behind to much of this, as though much of Don Carlo might consist of hemiolas extending over bar lines. The weight however with which Nezet-Seguin infused much of the scene in the King’s private chambers and also exciting close to the Fourth Act made it his most successful of the entire afternoon.

As exciting an impression Nezet-Seguin made at the end of Act Four, there was excessive tendency toward over-emphasis earlier, for purpose of our not missing out on his personal stamp on proceedings. One place early on was the plea by impoverished French women out in the forest by Fontainebleau to Elisabeth in effect to concede her personal desires to the general welfare of bringing war to an end between France and Spain by marrying Philip. Verdi marks an imperceptible slowdown and at which point Nezet-Seguin grounded things to a halt, robbing combined expression of thanks and needed relief of the full repose it should have – a most moving and important passage, though brief – especially given harmonic relationships involved – the E Major for the balm of the prospect of the war ending a clear resolution of the supertonic of the womens’ pleas right before. E Major is also practically Schubertian Neapolitan to opening chorus in E-Flat Minor some episodes earlier that we now miss. Monks entered so loudly at start of next scene to be perceived as entirely upfront and center.

Overworked accenting, underlining during first scene between Rodrigo and Carlo proved both distracting and interfering with both Yong-hoon Lee and Simon Keenlyside’s ability to sustain line well. Once into friendship oath duet Lee began closely watching Nezet-Seguin toward engaging in heavy underlining of his lines on several transitions – mistake in judgment he also repeated later on. Finicky incisiveness for opening the garden scene made almost blaring the sultry atmosphere that Verdi has preface a then here crudely accompanied Veil Song. Unyielding accompaniment to Rodrigo-Eboli dialogue accompanied by sotto voce interjections from the Queen proved most inconsiderate of all three singers on stage. Though fine ear for color became evident during swooning episode (‘O prodigo’) from duet for Queen and Carlo, structure for the rest of this and for much of the duologue between Philip and Rodrigo to follow became incoherent. Confusing to the Eboli was making her skip practically entire measure of rest to enter for second trio ending her audience with Carlo – joined by Rodrigo.

Underlined misplacing of accenting the opening of the auto-da-fe scene – with chorus of onlookers thrusting crosses into the air in this staging to mark the accenting stood on verge of Pythonesque self-parody. A reviewer for BBC already commented upon the over-emphatic extra priest Inquisitor making final brutal interrogation of the heretics on stage (further dehumanized by the staging) reminding him of scene out of Life of Brian. Excessive pressure from podium rendered fatally episodic the Flemish deputies’ led concertato later in the scene – one further instance of insensitivity by Nezet-Seguin to his singers. Loud perked up percussive harp accompanying a radiant Jennifer Check (Celestial Voice) putting Verdi’s finishing touch on the auto-da-fe scene became extremely vulgar. Certainly, enthusiasm for task at hand sounded infectious – the temperament for conducting opera is right – but way too many instances of finesse lacking indicated too much inexperience to take on as long and interwoven complex a score as Verdi’s Don Carlo(s). A better trial for relatively untried youth on the Met podium would be Verdi’s Aida, even with as many traps for the unsuspecting it has. The damage done is less.

Marina Poplavskaya repeated her Elisabeth from opening of this production at Convent Garden under Pappano preserved on dvd and of revival thereof, disastrous for her, under Semyon Bychkov. Here, without restoring much confidence in her continuing to sing Elisabeth, Poplavskaya was more circumspect in hiding better where she was still taking excess number of breaths, still often chopping up her line – with intonation already clearly being tenuous at best.

The vulnerability of Elisabeth amidst the realpolitik of Escuriel re-emerged from being better evident during first run of this production across the pond; foreign though intonation compromising color to her vocalism can still knowingly limn easier passages of this part. Some of the timidity now coming across as purely musical plus failure to (fully) sustain line for instance for ‘Non pianger’ or ‘s’ancor si piange’ during her great scena alone to open this opera’s final scene– even for her on-the-defensive ‘Ben lo sapete’ - reveals there not being enough here to sing Elisabeth. This is so, regardless how lovely Poplavskaya looks, for anywhere major, until some major issues get overcome - if that is still possible. For her welfare, one can only hope.

Simon Keenlyside, always having lacked the heft to take on some of Verdi’s most demanding parts, has always been correctly esteemed to fit well the Marquis of Posa, Rodrigo – but he has apparently hit a bad patch lately vocally, plus having walked the boards for the Hytner production with its incipient mannerisms long enough. He suffered probably the most of anybody from lack of support from an almost incurably self-attentive Nezet-Seguin – until a sensitively accompanied and sensitively well sung ‘Per me giunto during Act Four. He also contributed well to the quartet during previous scene and provided a moving “O Carlo, ascolta” with which to bring to a close his contribution here. Sadly, the lower middle of his range seems to suffer some disrepair, with low notes very dry and strained effort for the very upper end of his range now – all of which had Keenlyside resorting to chopping up musical lines excessively. Even so, the upper middle, near upper portion of his range still carried some sheen – including through passages of his lengthy audience with the King.

Keenlyside is not the artist to entirely fail to win sympathy from his hearers for part such as Rodrigo. Eric Halfvarson, as Rodrigo’s nemesis, made it sufficiently known his knowledge and deep reckoning of his never placating text to sing – but compromised by wobble overtaking the entire upper end of his range.

Korean tenor Yong-Hoon Lee made his Met broadcast debut as Don Carlo – certainly tricky for the occasion, but for which Lee showed genuine mastery a good ways. For such a lyric voice, there was some strain, bench pressing of key moments; other places he managed to coast free of excessive pointing from insensitive accompaniment – conspicuously well for ‘Tristo a me’ preceding friendship duet with Keenlyside. His deft shading of line with lovely achievement of mezza voce at top of the staff (including for opening scena through ‘Io lo vidi’) even here and there brought Carlo Bergonzi to mind – even including (though Bergonzi’s diction can not be faulted) some excessively dry Italian vowels – albeit keeping in mind that this opera was originally composed in French; it still too infrequently gets sung in French.

Though capturing well Nezet-Seguin’s imagination at ‘O prodigo’ in Act Two, Lee got muscled into bench pressing closing line to ‘Ma lassu’ with a thick toned Poplavaskaya at end thereof – with Nezet-Seguin crudely bulging its barcarolle like accompaniment underneath. His resorting to shouting to end confrontation with Philip at the auto-da-fe was impulsive, but within this context so open, so unyielding to anything to have come off precisely right; moment of sobbing right after Rodrigo is shot also was heart-rending. Introspection, poetic sense, even neuroticism for key passages helped Lee pull off good qualified success at singing this enigmatic part, including fine sustenance of line on behalf of his colleagues for trios during Act Three.

Giorgio Giuseppini stepped in on short notice for Ferruccio Furlanetto - heavy pouting and dry vocalism of the latter that undercut his appearances thereof at Convent Garden. It was highly welcome to have somebody less familiar with the Hytner production replacing him. Although perhaps second tier among La Scala ranks and slightly dry vocally, Giuseppini brought a stoic grandeur to Philip, knowingly making better sense of the King’s frustration, and despondency in assessing tight spot Philip finds himself in throughout this. Giuseppini provided noble profile and shape to his opening scena to Act Four; also moving was his subtly acted pleading before the Inquisitor with hope for good outcome all lost, despondently so. His stern obbligato to the Flemish deputies – not helped by fussiness from Nezet-Seguin, for momentarily losing good placement sounded dry, even rough, but after a long break Giuseppini found his stride the entire rest of the way. Even if dry, slightly pouted on several lines, Giuseppini established himself a Philip to be reckoned with during duologue with Keenlyside. As far as having developed fine knowledge with and of idiom in which to sing Philip, Giuseppini led this cast.

Leyla Claire provided the eager, perky Tebaldo, Jennifer Check a radiantly sung Celestial Voice, Alex Tanovitsky a resonant, dignified but tremulous Frair.

I save the best for last – Anna Smirnova as Princess Eboli. Except for marking during quartet in Act Four, passively helping make more of a trio out of it, here was something full-out in context of so much insipidly pointed, fussed over, underlined. No matter that unsteady support for upward extending sextuplets in the veil song verged close to completely derailing things, the ‘let’s hear it’ attitude became compelling, including fearlessly lunged for acuti during ‘O don fatale.’ This was stand-and-deliver for all the great bluster it was worth. Task of freeing Carlo from prison even for once sounded effective – except for fear of being overheard.

For tedium of this production the Met has now foisted upon us - when available from abroad presumably was Luc Bondy’s much better production, Smirnova could ultimately only be found guilty of being very shot in the arm the doctor could have ordered. She even had Nezet-Seguin in palm of her hand for underlining of passionately (almost bawled) fervent pleas to Carlo to reconsider on repeated pitch E-Flat’s during Third Act rendezvous to trap him. With so much fuss to bore most anybody with Don Carlo, a favorite of mine, Smirnova vouchsafed a place in my heart – for what must now suffice as an underwhelming start to the Met broadcast season.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

free counters