Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Anna Netrebko recital in VPAC on Feb. 5, 2015

By Yige Li

Bellini: La Sonnambula: "Ah, non credea… Ah! Non giunge" (aria with cabaletta)
Tchaikovsky: Iolanta Arioso
Rachmaninoff: Song: "Zdes horosho" (How fair this spot), op. 21, no. 7
Rimsky-Korsakov: Song "Redeyet oblakov letucaya gryada" (The line of flying clouds grows thin), op. 42, no. 3
Tchaikovsky: Song "Den li tsarit" (Amidst the day), op. 47, no 6
Verdi: Otello, Duet Act I: "Già nella notte densa" duet with Yusif Eyvazov
Strauss: Song: "Cäcilie", op. 27, no. 2
Dvorak: Rusalka: "Song to the moon"
Ponchielli: La Gioconda: "Suicidio!"
Kálmán: Die Csardasfürstin: "Heia, in den Bergen"


Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur: "Io son l'umile ancella"

Lehar: Il paese del sorriso: "Tu che m'hai preso il cuor" with Yusif Eyvazov

Piano: Brian Zeger


Attending this recital at Vilar Performance Arts Center in Beaver Creek, Colorado, was kind of dream-come-true moment for me! I've gone to many performances featuring Anya, but I had some quite *complex* history of trying to attend her concert/recital. Almost two years ago, she did a recital at VPAC, which I had the ticket but missed the recital due to the delayed flight. Then, she canceled her concert in Mexico City summer 2013 due to illness. Early 2014, she sang some Russian art songs in (Le) Poisson Rouge--when it was announced I was not with internet access, and when I learned it 2 days later, all tickets were sold out (unsurprisingly). The next was her scheduled appearance in Tucker Gala last October, which she canceled because the necessary vocal rest after demanding performance of "Macbeth" at MET. So, finally, this time, she made it, and I got a ticket and arrived on time! It was the first time I saw her in concert/recital! I should say, being able to hear her singing such various repertoire including opera, operetta, and art songs in ONE night is a bless. And I had known that in a remote place like this, she would be more relaxed and willing to take more risk than usual.

Here she came, with the gorgeous pink Oscar de la Renta gown and a small white fur on her shoulder. Before she sang one note, she had already made a "wow" affect with her outfit. And I'm sure her choice of dresses reflects her repertoire, as she began with the sleep walking scene from "La Sonnambula" (no, not the sleep walking of Lady Macbeth). I think she hadn't sung this in public for years, and Amina should be the typical "-ina" roles she said she's dropping. Not quite sure why she decided to open the recital with this piece, maybe as a preparing for the upcoming "Norma" next year? After all, it was the same Giuditta Pasta who created Norma and Amina. She was not 100% warmed up, still she managed to light up her voice sounding like a young girl while round and with richness at the same time. And her sense of phrasing in Bellini's long line was unquestionable. Compared to the long scene of "La Sonnambula" with recitative+aria+cabaletta, the remaining pieces in the first half were short (and all in Russian). Iolanta Arioso was beautifully sung. Because the venue is small with only a few more than 500 seats, and its great acoustics, Anya was able to sing it more relaxing and  with more inner feeling than in MET where she has to carefully consider how to project her voice to the huge auditorium without shouting. Then came 3 Russian art songs by Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky. I always like art songs, in which, it seems the communication between singer and audience is direct, while in operas, singers communicate with audience via characters. Of courses Anya didn't fail. All the three performed songs were the typical Russian ones with bit (not sadness, but) "grey" in it. Personally, I would hope audience could hold a little silence after them to let the feeling fly for some more seconds.

If we could say the repertoire choice for the first part was bit low-key, then, the second part was absolutely exciting with full bloom of passion. Anya chose a maturer black and white outfit by Irina Vitjaz, certainly a response to the chosen repertoire. She began with a short speech saying she likes to sing solo but prefers to have partner, man or woman doesn't matter, on stage that she could have more interaction and be more relaxed so that to make her performance better. She then introduced Yusif Eyvazov to the audience, citing this was his US debut, and they sang the duet from "Otello". This was my first time hearing Yusif singing live. His voice appeared to be even larger and richer than it sounds in recording. And of course we could count on the chemistry between Anya and Yusif (at least in a love duet ^_^). The following two pieces were "Cäcilie" and "Song to the Moon", and both fit her voice like gloves. After "Cäcilie", Anya joked that this loud song could be a training for the future Wagner roles. And in the "Song to the Moon", she putted so much feeling of longing into her voice, and hanging around the stage from left to right--apparently it was not only the moon "travel round wide" but also her body and her soul. The next piece, "Suicidio", might be the most exciting thing in the program, as this was the FIRST time Anya sang it in public! Before singing, Anya said the piece in the beginning of the recital was kind of where she started with while this one would be her future direction, and she would get into slowly and very securely. She even joked saying she knew it's suicide to put such programs (with both selections from "La Sonnambula" and "Suicidio") together. Apparently, she didn't manage to suicide her voice on stage, as she gave such a great rendition. It was specially interesting to hear her recently developed (and is still developing) lower register. Worth specially notice, the way she dug into chest in the repeated "fra le tenèbre" and how she sang the ending "dentro l'avel" piano and empty. The listed program ended with "Heia, in den Bergen" from operetta "Die Csardasfürstin". She said Kalman was very popular in Russia and she grew up hearing his music--in Russian. Though she performed it in German. It was delight to have this light piece after the dark "Suicidio". And as one could expect, she sang and danced. Until then, I hadn't realized how high heels she was wearing. Walking with such high heels is certainly a skill, not to mention, dancing.

She gave an encore, as expected. "Io son l'umile ancella",  ("I am the humble servant of the creative spirit")--truly she is. After an encore, she took several rounds of bowing, then didn't come back to the stage. The recital ended--no, it didn't. Just when the stage was empty and the house lights were turned on and everyone thought that was it, she came back! In her hands a bottle of water and several pages of score! "One more encore" she said! People shouted! Without announcing the piece, the pianist just straightly began. It was "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz"--in Italian though. Together with Yusif, they turned this piece to a love duet. So sweet, so romantic, and so passionate. Especially for Anya. When hearing such phrasing and such feeling, if one close eyes, it would be impossible to tell she was sight reading! One can hardly imagine a better ending for the night.

Icing on the cake: I met Mr. Barry Tucker during intermission and after the recital. He said it was him who helped the VPAC to get Anya to their venue, and just kept praising Anya for being both a great artist and a nice person. When I mentioned my excitement of the "Suicidio" in the program because it being her first public performance of this aria, he told me his father had his MET debut performing in "La Gioconda" and showed me a ring on his finger which is a gift from MET Orchestra to his father given after a performance of this very opera. Certainly a piece of history!

Also, the concert hall and the whole area are very beautiful. Pity that I cannot stay for longer.

Concert Hall of VPAC. Photos taken during intermission.

View from plane before landing to Denver International Airport.

View on the shuttle van from Denver to Avon.

Monday, October 27, 2014

ECHO Klassik Awards 2014

Text and photos by Herbert

Yesterday afternoon there was the ECHO Klassik Award 2014 in the Philharmonie in Munich.

Anna Netrebko received the award as "Singer of the Year". T

he show was hosted by Rolando Villazón and actress Nina Eichinger, and it was Villazón who read the speech in honor of Anna and gave her the prize.

Tenor Jonas Kaufmann should be honored by José Carreras, but unfortunately Kaufmann was ill and had to cancel. But Mr. Carreras was there, and he took Kaufmann's award and will hand it over later on.

I don't know if the ZDF Mediathek can be received outside Germany, but here is a link to the video of the gala plus many photos:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Macbeth, Met, NYC, NY 18-10-2014

Met, NYC, NY, 17 October 2014

Text and Photos by Herbert

Last Saturday I was in New York and I attended the final performance of this year's run of Verdi's MACBETH at the MET. My first visit to the famous Metropolitan Opera - quite an experience! The auditorium and the stage are huge, and I can imagine that it may be awesome and almost scary for a singer to have to fill this space with one's voice and presence.

Most opera lovers will have seen this production of Macbeth either in the cinema or even live, so I don't have to tell a lot about it. I loved the production! The scenes often looked like painted pictures, and the singers didn't have to fulfil weird maneuvers on stage, but they could act like "normal" people.

The cast was amazing! Željko Lucic as Macbeth, René Pape as Banquo, Joseph Calleja as Macduff and maestro Fabio Luisi in the pit - what a luxury! And above all Anna Netrebko as THE star of the evening! Has she ever been better than on that night? I doubt it.

Her first appearance on stage was already one of the highlights. She was lying in bed, covered by a satin blanket. Then she woke up, first her arms appeared from under the blanket - and then there she was, standing on the bed, and she began to sing her first aria. She was quite alone on stage, but there wouldn't have been space for anybody else because she filled the stage with her presence completely.

The sleepwalking scene in the final act was another moment when she made the audience hold their breath - so when she actually ran on stage at curtain calls, jumping and waving wildly, she was welcomed and acclaimed by an excited and enthusiastic audience.

After the show she was relaxed and easygoing at the stage door. There was no rush and she spent a long time with her fans, chatting, laughing and having fun with them. Meanwhile she has left for Munich where she will receive the ECHO Klassik Award as Singer of the Year next Sunday and where she is rehearsing a new production of Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper with fantastic Jonas Kaufmann as her stage partner - what a cast again! All 7 performances in November/December are already sold out...


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Macbeth, Final Dress Rehearsal, Met, NYC, 20 Sep 2014

Text and Photos by: Yige Li


Opera in four acts
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and additions by Andrea Maffei, based on William Shakespeare's play of the same name

A Metropolitan Opera production

This review is for the final dress rehearsal on September 20, 2014, at the Metropolitan Opera House, in New York City, NY.

Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Macbeth: Željko Lucic
Banquo: René Pape
Lady Macbeth: Anna Netrebko
Lady-in-Waiting to Lady Macbeth: Claudia Waite
A Servant of Macbeth: Christopher Job
Malcolm: Noah Baetge
Macduff: Joseph Calleja
A Murderer: Richard Bernstein
A Herald: Seth Malkin
A Doctor: James Courtney

Production: Adrian Noble
Set & Costume Designer: Mark Thompson
Lighting Designer: Jean Kalman
Choreographer: Sue Lefton

If you want to find beautiful singing, go for the “Macbeth” in MET! If you want to find imaginative singing, go for the “Macbeth” in MET! If you want to find fearless singing, go for the “Macbeth” in MET!

Though, after three seasons, Anna Netrebko is not scheduled to perform in the opening night this time, the “Macbeth” she involves in attracts no less attention. Having successfully made several role debuts in heavier parts, for her, Lady Macbeth is the heaviest among them. With only two performances (in Munich earlier this year) in her pocket, what will she achieve in this MET revival (with a global live in HD transmission)? Everyone is interested to see.

I thought I could build it up in my mind of how Anya’s performance would be, since I have the following advantages: I am familiar with her previous works; I watched the video highlight posted by Bayerische Staatsoper on YouTube; I got a copy of pirate recording of Munich performance and listened to it many times; I talked to my friend attended the Munich performance and asked about many stage details; and finally, I watched the previous runs of this MET production both on DVD and live. However, I was wrong.

The production of Bayerische Staatsoper is a highly Regietheater one that it has very specific requirements for Lady Macbeth’s character, while the MET production is basically a classical production (with period updating). This means that singers could have more freedom on characterization. And, indeed, Anya took this advantage.

This Lady Macbeth was different from the first sight with a blonde wig. When seeing Anya’s picture of trying out the wig, I did not like the idea. I guess I am not alone as most of us prefer Anya in her own hair color. But seeing it in theater changed my mind. Visually speaking, in a dark stage that copes the atmosphere of the drama, a shiny blonde wig gives a proper focus. Then, character wise, this staging makes full use of the “blonde stereotype”.

And that’s where Anya has the characterization begins. After the familiar opening orchestra, we saw Lady Macbeth in her silky blonde hair (yes, hair--Anya’s wig, but Lady’s hair) and her silky light pajama. Using a voice with even a little bit joking color, she read the letter. Then came the cavatina and cabaletta. Name what you want: Various coloring? Solid high notes? Dramatic coloratura? You just could get everything. And she sang the “Or tutti sorgete, ministri infernali” with the repeat. In the beginning of the repeating part, she laid on the ground and sang with a sense of  holding back than bloomed out to full fire--more than the already-fiery first part--later on. The repeating was played not only as a vehicle displaying Anya’s super vocal ability, but, more importantly, was treated as an organic part of the drama. And with all the exciting air she created, there was a weird sense of silliness existing (maybe because of the straightforward rendition and also partially due to the help of “blonde stereotype”?), as if this lady had no real sense of the thing she thought she was ambitious about.

The “blonde stereotype” became even more after Macbeth came onto the stage. This must be the sexiest Lady. And there was even some sweetness in the singing. Think about the Erlking’s vocal line in Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig”--soft, sweet, and charming--one would be enchanted to do whatever asked even knowing the danger behind. And with Željko Lucic, Anya made plenty of chemistry. She colored her voice phrase by phrase illustrated the psychological development. Just check the several “follie” in her line showing how Lady’s mind swung.

Lady’s next out was after King Duncan was found murdered. I always think it a challenge for directors and singers to make this part reasonable. Here, Lady’s line is very consistent to all the others’ mourning the king’s death. But the question is, should she, who involved in the murdering, in the same mood with all the others? If she is just pretending, how should the singer makes the audience realize that she’s pretending and feel she does a great job on pretending? In this performance, the way they chose to solve the problem is to play it as Lady is really in the same mood as others, which could make sense considering the little light minded image she was characterized earlier on, plus, that this could very possibly be the first time for Lady seeing a person killed (as opposite to Macbeth who has experiences in wars). As a result, we got hearing some very pretty singing together with those high notes cutting through the chorus that everyone expected.

While changes began to take place.

In Act 2 Scene 1, we saw Lady had her hair tied up and was in business casual, as opposite to the loose hair and pajama in Act 1. This is a stronger and more serious Lady than previously in Act 1. After some short and intense exchanging between Macbeth and Lady came another “hit”--“La luce langue”. Tremendous as it ended, I felt even more excited listening to how Anya made the opening even muddy, and then how she skillfully paced it to full expansion. In my mind, I even could see a black rose blooming in a foggy wasteland--a true miracle.

Lady Macbeth was in her strongest mind in Act 2 Scene 3. Having the hair still tied up, this time, Lady was wearing a crown and a glamorous red gown. Here, Anya sang the brindisi with the fullest voice, with the intensity and agility attacking down all the high notes and going through the coloratura, with the ambition and pride for the power. As Macbeth began to crack down, it was this strong woman that hold the situation.

But, maybe it has been too much for the Lady?

Hence, when we got to Act 3, Lady’s hair was back to the style in Act 1. Seeing how she rushed to Macbeth, and sang with urgency, I felt love, though a weird kind, between them. She was still encouraging her husband and the singing was still strong but having less confidence and more stress than the previous act.

And Lady’s final ruin came as the famous sleepwalking scene. Here the hair changed again. It was still the loose blonde hair, but it lost the shiny smooth quality and became dirty and somehow tangled. Many may know from the previous runs of this production that in the opening of this scene, the singer of Lady Macbeth is asked to walk on some chairs. I had always been fascinated by how much Anya’s eyes could express. And this must be the first time I could not find anything in her eyes, is if she was blind. Then, she sang. Fearlessly she sang, to illustrate fear of the lady, with evenly expressive voice from lower register to top and phenomenal crescendo and diminuendo. And the way she had the line floating was masterful. Acting wise, she had it limited, but was crazy within the economical movements, and the result was convincing.

Together with Anya onstage were some best singers for these roles--the cast could very well be in a season opening or a new production gala opening.

Zeljko Lucic was in the title role. He might be the most important Macbeth in opera world today, having a true dramatic voice with the timbre required for the role. Apparently, he was comfortable in his part and was very familiar with it--he not only sang a lot in Macbeth around the world but also did the role of Macbeth when this production was created. Compared to Anya’s strong make-up, Mr. Lucic’s make-up was light. And with the stage light, it looked somehow pale. Together with the grey hair, the contrast and complex relation between Macbeth and Lady were visually illustrated well.

Having Rene Pape as Banquo and Joseph Calleja as Macduff is just luxurious. I could give no more than praising their great singing. Though other than the several beautiful arias, Verdi granted them little to shine through.

The chorus was a lesson of how opera chorus, different to symphony chorus or church chorus, should sing. I remember last season when Maestro Muti did “Macbeth” with Chicago Symphony Orchestra, there was an article about his rehearsal in which quoted his words to the chorus that in an opera, they should sound like being an ensemble of individuals not a simple one voice. And that was exactly the impression I got from the MET chorus in this “Macbeth”.

In the pit, Fabio Luisi leaded a solid playing of orchestra. However, I did experience something more exciting than this. It was a concert performance of “Macbeth” conducted by Maestro Muti in Chicago last year. But, well, just no one today can touch Maestro Muti in this repertoire. And I think another thing is that though MET orchestra has no less virtuosity than CSO, they, when sitting in the pit behaved more like an accompanist, while CSO, in a concert version performance, played on stage as if a narrator of the drama. Here, the stars were the singers onstage being their characters; while in the Chicago performance last year, the definite star is the orchestra (if we excluded conductor, since he did not produce any sound directly), and singers sounds more like part of the orchestration.

The question remains to me if the star individual characters could be combined with the star ensemble orchestra or they are essentially exclusive. Maybe I would get the answer when we have Anya collaborate with Maestro Muti. Please! And it would be even better in a new Regietheater production crafted for Anya. Then may we be able to hope a classics as the Red Dress Traviata? Anya has done a lot of great singing and acting since the 2005 Salzburg Traviata, but just none of them could have everything being just unique and “right”. It is not something one could achieve by just doing her own part great. It needed certain repertoire (some roles just have less potentials than others), certain partners, and certain, let us admit it, luck. And for this role of Lady Macbeth, I see the potential of building up something original and unique around it. Hope we could have the luck to really see it happens.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Il Trovatore, Salzburg 9/12 Aug 2014

Verdi - Il Trovatore

Salzburg 9/12 Aug 2014

Daniele Gatti, Conductor
Alvis Hermanis, Director and Sets
Eva Dessecker, Costumes
Gleb Filshtinsky, Lighting
Ineta Sipunova, Video Design
Gudrun Hartmann, Philipp Krenn, Associate Director
Uta Gruber-Ballehr, Associate Set Designer
Ronny Dietrich, Dramaturgy
Ernst Raffelsberger, Chorus Master
Huw Rhys James, Assistant Chorus Master

Anna Netrebko, Leonora
Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Azucena
Diana Haller*, Ines
Francesco Meli, Manrico
Plácido Domingo, Count di Luna
Riccardo Zanellato, Ferrando
Gerard Schneider*, Ruiz / Un messo
Raimundas Juzuitis*, An Old Gypsy
Members of the Angelika Prokopp Sommerakademie of the Vienna Philharmonic
Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera
Chorus Vienna Philharmonic

*Members of the Young Singers Project

Written by Herbert

Yesterday I saw the second performance of IL TROVATORE in Salzburg.

I love the production, although some critics say it was without any ideas. I don't hink so at all! To put the story in a museum, where the paintings begin to "live", is quite clever, especially in the first part. In the second part everything is destroyed and there doesn't happen too much on stage. But it is the part where Anna Netrebko has to sing several arias and duets, and she does it in such a fantastic way that you don't miss anything on stage. It is enough to see her alone on this huge platform and listen to her voice.

I hope the TV broadcast on Friday shows a lot of the whole stage, not just the open mouths of the singers, because there is a lot going on in this museum. ;-))

After the first night there were no standing ovations - that's what some critics moaned about. Well, I can assure you that yesterday there were many curtain calls and the whole house was on their feet!

After the show Anna and her fiancé Yusif left the Festspielhaus by car. She said though the open window that she was sorry, but they had to go to a special dinner, which was true, as I heard afterwards.

Before Placido Domingo left he came out to his fans, and he "bathed" in the crowd. He is a real treasure. He even waved this arm through the open window of the car when some young people greeted him (that's one of my funniest snapshots).

Everybody who has the chance to see IL TROVATORE on Friday on Arte, CLASSICA or on - do so! It will be one of Anna's best roles!

All photos by Herbert


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