The last three Met opera broadcasts I saw this year(I skipped Rigoletto, which apparently wasn’t that good anyway, and Parsifal, which apparently was, but it was really too long) all seemed to be about the prima donna. Riccardo Zanondai’s Francesca da Ramini was actually revived for the first time at the Met since the 80s and only the 2nd time ever specifically because Eva-Maria Westbreok wanted to sing it, Maria Stuarda was done because their doing all three of the Gaetano Donizetti’s Tudor Queen operas but still was pretty much centered around Joyce DiDonato, and Handel’s Giulio Cesare might not have been centered around Natalie Dessay, but when she’s still missing performances due to her health, today became largely about showing she’s not done yet, doing a role that requires not only hard singing but also Bollywood dancing!
Tag Archive: theater
These days when opera productions get talked about, it usually involves them doing something new: setting an opera in an unusual place, having Scarpia smooch the Virgin Mary, bringing in a silly rotating machine of planks that nonetheless looks pretty when things are projected onto it. These days, doing something traditional is considered unusual. Or maybe not, since the Met’s done it twice in the operas they’ve broadcasted this fall, complete with the conductor playing continuo on the harpsichord.
It’s a new season for the met, and for their series of cinematic broadcasts, and apparently it’s the first time they’re broadcasting in Italy(!) as well as Russia, as they were sure to emphasize, with three of the lead singers in Anna Bolena being Russian, and also because Anna Netrebko as the lead requested she be interviewed before the show so she could focus completely on her performance afterwards. She and Ildar Abdrazakov as Henry certainly sang with a Russian intensity. Not that this stopped them from goofing off behind host Renee Fleming during intermission when she was giving the normal “Come to the Met! Give us money!” speech at the entrance to a lounge they were relaxing in.
Netrebko also talked of researching the real Anne Boleyn, and Abdrazakov of portraying the real Henry, since the character in the opera isn’t too different from the real king, and he does. It seems unlikely, of course, that the real Anne Boleyn was secretly married to anyone before Henry or that she went mad opera-style in the Tower of London right before being beheaded, so while she can keep what she reads in mind she has to work with the character Gaetano Donizetti creates(they do like their mad scenes, those 19th century composers), and that she does justice to. Unfortunately the third Russian, Ekaterina Gubanova, didn’t have the ability to really pull off a Jane Seymour who probably worked better in Donizetti’s head than in his actual composition, and didn’t seem in her interview to have any depth to work with(though she also didn’t have as strong English as the other two). Tamara Mumford and Stephen Costello as Anne’s two admirers(Fleming got a laugh when she commented everyone in the opera is in love with Anne except Henry!) were a bit stronger, as was Keith Miller as Anne’s brother, though as Donizetti didn’t care to have him in love with Anne too he’s given less to do.
The opera itself wasn’t anything special; when it takes 35 operas until a guy has a hit, and it finally happens with a sensationalist historical story as subject, it’s hard to think of him as any sort of genius. The Met’s production wasn’t anything special either, though they did do well with the costumes, for which they hired a period expert to make sure they were accurate, to the point that the singers commented about how restrictive they were.
Anna Netrebko is apparently getting showcased at the Met this season; she’ll be starring in Manon coming up. I’m sure we’re all looking forward to that.
Wolf Trap Opera continued its annual summer showcase of young singers Friday night with a semi-staged performance of Sweeney Todd at Wolf Trap’s main stage, on an evening where the heat was bad enough and humidity worse, and rain threatened, but didn’t actually fall. But perhaps they should have held it in the Barns; it turns out the mental intimacy of the musical doesn’t carry well towards the back, and the sound problems at the beginning didn’t help. In fact, hearing and understanding the choruses for must of the show was a problem, though the singers being showcased in the main roles mostly had voices that carried well enough. But not everything could carry. Even from a distance, Anthony Micheal McGee’s Todd invoked the most pathos I’ve seen out of the three Sweeney Todds I’ve seen and remembered so far(which of course includes Johnny Depp), but the intensity of his acting couldn’t help but be diluted by the set-up. Margaret Gawrysiak also stood out as Mrs. Lovett; she had presence enough to reach the rafters.
I’ve since read the heat was so bad in fact they were worried about the sound system and the microphones malfunctioning because of the singers sweating so much, and that everyone was supplied with Gatorade(though the bottles were visible under the red chairs that were set up for the scene changes) and wore cold gel packs. But I have to give them credit; they made it absorbing enough that eventually I stopped noticing the heat(the sun going down helped too though). In fact, the audience gave the show a huge standing ovation.
There are many theater companies in the world that pride themselves in doing productions of little known works. Washington Shakespeare is one of them; this year’s season for them ends with two shows running in tandem, Night and Day, one of Tom Stoppard’s earlier and lesser known plays, with two obscure Tennessee Williams one-acts which my family decided to skip. Wolf Trap’s opera company occasionally likes to do it too, and they managed to fish out from early last century one chamber opera with the title of Le Donne Curiose by Italian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, and in the lecture before the show the opera was raved about, talked up as a real find, and two scenes from it were presented where the powerful voices of the company’s young artists were on full display; the music went over better in the lecture room than it did on the stage; even Wolf Trap Barns’ small theater was just a little too big for it.
The basic problem with doing this is that there are truly a limited amount of diamonds in the rough, and too many plays and operas that get forgotten simply because they weren’t very good.
This year my parents and I revived an old New Year’s tradition; we used to go to Woolly Mammoth each New Year’s Eve for whatever play they were performing at the time, back when they were located in the Kennedy Center and the tickets got us into the ball afterwards. With nothing in the Kennedy Center worth the atrocious prices this year, we went to their new location for A Girl’s Guide to Washington Politics. I’m not sure why it was called that, though; since it was a musical revue led by no guide in particular, though of the five-person troupe performing it, four were female(But wouldn’t even that be the Girls’ Guide? Yes, I know, grammer nazi)
The Washington Shakespeare Company is a two-decade old theater company situated in Arlington, VA that my family has patronized, on and off, for much of their lifespan, my sister worked at occasionally in her younger years, and even I was employed by once when I was 14. They’ve had mediocre productions succeed, fantastic productions flop, I believe have been on the verge of folding more than once, and perhaps are a touch hit or miss, when all is said and done. After living their life these twenty years in a renovated garage, this year they moved into a new building, a former museum Arlington is now trying to turn into an Artisphere, as it is labelled, with two theaters on the second floor and a gallery on the third. Alas, their problems are still showing; my parents and I originally had tickets to see Mary Stuart three weeks ago, and had to have them rescheduled to last night because the lead actress got sick and there was no understudy.