Magazine article Opera Canada

New York

Magazine article Opera Canada

New York

Article excerpt

In March, the Metropolitan Opera ended its 11-year Fidelio abstinence with a solid, if unrevelatory, revival of Jurgen Flimm's staging of 2000. I liked the production back then, with reservations; this time round, the reservations remained, but the liking had dimmed, though not altogether faded. There's still an excess of business, an unwillingness to let a singer stand still and just plain sing: poor Leonore, for instance, is saddled with an imposing array of prop-happy fussiness in the course of "Abscheulicher!"--not the easiest sing in the first place, without worrying about emptying and then refilling a backpack and squeezing in a short sunbath in between. Adrianne Pieczonka coped admirably with this obstacle course, though she shed a fair share of her masculine cred when she doffed her jacket to take the sun, and the handsome voice lost a little of its amplitude and luster at the very top of the aria's taxing range. She enjoyed an easy rapport with Hanna-Elisabeth Muller's shining, amusingly smitten Marzelline and with the firmly sung, endearingly venal Rocco of Falk Struckmann, the production's first Pizarro, now making his mark as a convincing-sounding bass. Greer Grimsley's Pizarro leaned toward boom and bluster, but David Portillo was a fine Jaquino. Still, despite its merits Act I left me feeling shortchanged. Act II was another matter. Klaus FlorianVogt--like the opera, returning to the Met after an 11-year absence--may not be the ideal Florestan, but his distinctively boyish-timbred tenor carried surprising clout; and Sebastian Weigle, in the pit, propelled the prison scene to a heated, cathartic conclusion. Giinther Groissbock's suave Don Fernando led the ever-impressive Met chorus into the jubilant finale, with Pieczonka's now-radiant Leonore the rightful object of admiration and acclaim. When the curtain fell, the hitherto reticent audience roared its approval, too, of a Fidelio that, in the long run, proved worthy of Beethoven, his noble problem-child opera and its distinguished pedigree at the Met.

Robert Carsen is a director I much admire, and his new Der Rcsenkavalier (Apr./May) at the Met has enough happy touches that I'm loath to report that for every one of them, there's a pair of bad ideas to tilt the balance. Let's qualify "new": Carsen's staging (in Paul Steinberg's massive, performer-devouring sets) was unveiled at Covent Garden last December, with a different conductor and largely different cast, but it borrows heavily, in concept and in detail, from his Salzburg staging of 2004, and by now he should know that things that didn't work the first time around aren't likely to work much better the third. Most glaringly, there's the opera's final tableau, in which a drunken, teenage Mohammed aims and "fires" his bottle of liquid courage at the audience against a shadowy backdrop of armed-for-action Austrian troops--a presage of World War I that Hofmannsthal and Strauss, I'm reasonably certain, never imagined usurping their upbeat, sweetly sentimental ending. That Carsen has bumped the action ahead by a century and a half isn't a problem--other directors have made that conceit work just fine. But he chronically crowds the stage with too many people and too much extraneous action, from the Marschallin's over-busy levee through the couples waltzing distractingly through the Presentation of the Rose to the lurid denizens of the Act III brothel--the libretto's "private room in an inn," here a scene of such unmitigated vulgarity that it repeatedly made me wince. Not unsurprisingly, Der Rosenkapalier gets lost in the sordid shuffle.

Much was made, in London and New York, of Renee Fleming's farewell to a role she loves; but while this was the best performance I've heard from her in a decade or more, she was the least effective of the principals, the creamy voice of yore (or any voice at all, for that matter) only sporadically audible, and her playing of the role never really tugging at my heart as a good Marschallin should. …

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