Monday, November 14, 2016

Passion and Death--"Manon Lescaut" (final dress rehearsal) in MET, Nov. 10, 2016

Text and Photo by Yige

This is a report of the final dress of Manon Lescaut in MET on Nov. 10, a general impression of Anya's characterization of Puccini's Manon, and a preview of what to expect in the performance.

Once again Anna Netrebko surprised me. It was not the singing which, of course, was the top tier one could find around. What so inspiring was that she, as a complete artist, bring up every resource, with first and most importantly, her singing, to shape a character.

When Anya canceled the performance in Munich, reports from different sources seemed to suggest the major problem between them was that the director's idea was that Manon needed to choose between love and money, she chose money but regretted later, while Anya felt Manon just wanted both and refused to choose. Some asked whether this difference of idea is something that can make a visual difference on stage. I don't know. But at least it would make a huge difference in singing.

That's to say, Anya's singing here was always sincere and passionate. Never was one moment of cold calculation. This is, how I feel at least, exactly what Puccini composed into music. I say "always" meaning this attitude was throughout the whole opera, toward anything beautiful, both love and money (or more precisely, spiritual beauty and material beauty).

Thus, when she sang the beauty of countryside of past in act one, it was gray but sweet. Then, in the beginning of act two, one could hear some unusual childish joy when Manon was singing about the hairstyle, the clothes. Later during the dancing class and singing, the colorful singing clearly suggested this Manon was enjoying it. With all these "preparation" for the audience, when it came the time that Manon naively wanted to collect jewels to take with her in the end of act two, one just cannot blame her. These beautiful things mean something to her.

Such is the key to bridge the first two acts and last two acts. On the surface, (most of) the first two acts are light-hearted while the last two are heavy-hearted. If not played well, it would be hard to gain audience's empathy of the heroine--we can certainly say it was Manon's own decision that led her to the fateful result.

The common wisdom to answer why we should feel empathy for Manon is that she's a victim of a man dominated society. Not denying this element in the plot, I doubt how much of PUCCINI's Manon has this victim property. And Anya didn't play the victim. The real tragedy here is not seeing a victim's death, but the death of a person with so much passion on the beauty of life. With this in mind, we can understand the "problem" of this opera regarded by some--not having a coherent plot--is not a problem at all. It's not telling the story of Manon Lescaut but describing the character of her. The first two acts is to build up the character, and the later two is to destroy the character. (It's interesting to compare between the last lines of Massenet's "Manon"--"Et c’est là l’histoire de Manon Lescaut", and Puccini's "Manon Lescaut"--"Ma l'amor mio--non muor".)

Anya understands this tragedy. Her largest success was, of course, in the last act which can break the heart of a stone, though I think it was because she put so much effort to build up the character earlier. To make a dying scene beautiful is not that hard, but how many times when you hear Manon keeping repeating she doesn't want to die in a dark voice horror, you cannot help but remember the earlier time when it was bright and joyful? With her singing, this opera was a complete whole.

Clip from rehearsal by MET:

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Il Trovatore at the Met

Text and Photos by Yige Li

Il Trovatore, opera in four acts
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano, based on the play "El trovador" by Antonio García Gutiérrez

Co-production of the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and San Francisco Opera Association

This review is of the general impression on the whole run of this opera during fall 2015, at the Metropolitan Opera House, in New York City, NY

Conductor: Marco Armiliato
Leonora: Anna Netrebko
Manrico: Yonghoon Lee / Antonello Palombi
Azucena: Dolora Zajick
Gypsy: Edward Albert
Count Di Luna: Dmitri Hvorostovsky / Vitaliy Bilyy
Ferrando: Stefan Kocán
Ines: Maria Zifchak
Ruiz: Raúl Melo
Messenger: David Lowe

Production: David McVicar
Stage Director: Paula Williams
Set Designer: Charles Edwards
Costume Designer: Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Tipton
Choreographer: Leah Hausman 

After watching Anya in "Il Trovatore" in MET for five times (four performances, plus the final dress rehearsal), maybe it's time to give a brief report summarizing some my impressions. In short, brilliant performances, and Anna Netrebko showed once more how inspiring this great singing actress can make of a performance to be.

Firstly, other singer:

The title role of Manrico was sung by Yonghoon Lee in the first five performances (I attended three of which) and Antonello Palombi in the last one (which I attended as well). In short, we don't have world-class voice for Manrico currently. Between the two, Lee was the one with a better and more consistent instrument, but Palombi had a more suitable instrument and better sense of the style. Lee's characterization was more on the overexerting side, while Palombi's was sometimes too casual.

The role of Count di Luna was shared by Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Vitaliy Bilyy. Having dominated this role for years, Dima showed everything one could expect from a completely mature artist. Maybe it's the recent off stage drama happened on him, I felt that his singing had even more sensitivity than before. It was so clear that not only audience appreciated the opportunity to see him again, he himself also appreciated the opportunity to perform again. He gave his best, and it was touching. Vitaliy Bilyy certainly cannot match Dima on charisma and artistry. But his solid voice, technique, and musicianship showed that he would have a good future.

How great it is to have a almost legend as Dorola Zajick to sing Azucena (at this point she is the mezzo having sung the most amount of Azucena in MET history)! Surely the voice had some age and wear, but is preserved well mostly. And what a powerhouse voice it is! It's safe to say, at 60+, she's still the best Azucena around. Character-wise, she may not be the kind of singer that consciously digging deep into the character, but surely years of experience could have so strong impact, that every thing just came out so naturally. She IS Azucena.

Marco Armiliato was in the pit conducting. He has the reputation of being a singer's conductor. For my experience, he always tried his best to support singers onstage, never having the ego to overshadow them. Basically, how good the orchestra can be pedants on how good the singers are. When singers onstage were a disaster, the orchestra can hardly be better than them. But here, as we had such brilliant cast, the orchestra got inspired as well. These were some best conducting of maestro Armiliato that I had heard.

Štefan Kocán gave a respectable portray of Ferrando (honestly, there isn't too much interpenetrating opportunity in this role), as did other supporting cast and the MET chorus.

Then, the part that I'm most interested in (I guess also the case for most readers of this blog), and the reason that I went to MET for the same production again and again, Anya. It's with great interest to see how she gave out her interpenetration in this production, comparing to her own previous performances in the productions in Berlin and Salzburg (she also did one performance in the production of Mariinsky, but I don't have too much information about the performance), as well as previous revivals of the production in MET.

Many people realized that she had some newly made costume, when comparing with previous revivals of this production. Namely, a dark pink dress with a burgundy cape outside in Act 1; then a gypsy flavored head kerchief in Act 3. Some critic said it's very old-time diva feeling (in a good sense). However, it's more than being a diva (though, one needs to be a diva first to ask these specially made stuffs for her). It's not for Anna, but for Leonora. It's Anna Netrebko, the complete ARTIST, asking, so that the visual, her singing, her physical acting, would cope with the concept of production and the score as a tight combination. (I sensed it a very typical Anya's touch, as the blonde wig for Lady Macbeth last season. So, after dress rehearsal, I asked her if it's her idea to have these new costumes, she answered yes.)

Less to critics' notice is that not only she got new costumes, but also more than one wigs (while in previous revivals it's always one wig from the beginning to the end). During the Times Talk, when Anya said Peter Gelb was very responsible and supportive when she asked for change of costumes and wigs, she's not talking about nothing. In Act 1 and 2, her wig is in up-do style, and in Act 3, her hair is all inside the head kerchief--it's not until Act 4, that her wig gets fully loosed.

Combine the effects of costume and wig, we can have already seen the development of this character--from a noble lady confined in her comfort zone with the fantasy of love and passion to a brave girl fully converting herself to the lifestyle of gypsy following the guidance of love, finally to the point to sacrifice herself for love.

This development I feel being very essential in her performance in THIS production. Both the productions in Berlin and Salzburg treat the plot of this opera more as a fantasy/dream, however this production of Sir David McVicar takes it for real. Setting in Peninsular War with the dark stage and Goya's "La romería de San Isidro", one of his Black Paintings, as the curtain, Sir David underlined the societal schizophrenia, thus the individuals' reactions within this frame. Anya's task was to find a continuous spectrum of vocal colors for Leorona from beginning to end when getting more and more into the "real world".

And the easier part is actually the vocally more demanding last act, which she got great success. Either soaring the high pianissimo with mezza voce in "D'amor sull'ali rosee" or aggressively digging into chest in "Miserere", the mind and voice was essentially on a firm ground, with occasional outrage. Then in the "Tu vedrai che amore in terra", in the repeating verse, she added more contracts between phrases, beginning with the first sentence more into chest than the first time singing these same notes (this could be an idea she developed during the run, as it was not very obvious in final dress and opening, but more and more in later performances), to later with restrained pianissimo, as if Leonora was fascinated by her own idea, then blooming out again. This almost felt like a great mad scene in a bel canto opera--in the sense that the heroine being extremely concentrate to her own mind. Then, in the duet with Count di Luna, she sang with urgency, but less begging than ordering. At that point, Leorona had already got to the statue that she bravely challenged the fate and faced the count spiritually superior. Later in the last 10 minutes of the opera, her reaction on Manrico's refusing to leave had more fury. In Salzburg, when singing "Ah! Fuggi, fuggi! O sei perduto!", she used a more empty voice, while not watching Manrico (and later even sang the line with her back to Manrico), showing so much desperation as if she had already seen the end, here, she used a fuller voice, singing every "fuggi" facing Manrico, never gave up trying. When reaching the point of "Ho la morte in semi!... Ah, fu più rapida la forza del veleno ch'io non pensava!", again, she gave more contracts to the phrase, with more fury, as if asking the God why giving her such a cruel result for her sacrifice. As when Mary Jo Heath said "you play her as a very fiery determined young woman" in the radio interview, she replied that "I think it's part of me coming out from there", one can truly felt that she brought her personal volcano onto stage there.

Compared to the end in which she can simply open up her voice and give out her soul, the more difficult part is actually the beginning. Of course, it's vocally difficult per se to get onto stage then sing the big aria immediately. But what makes it more difficult is the way she chose to paint this aria. When she sang the same music in concert, she used a more straightforward way and the result was brilliant. However, when in a concert, the logic of the aria is just within itself; when in the opera, the logic must be placed in the whole plot. It's not only a woman talking about her passion and love, it also sets the position where the character begins. If we can say this Leonora is "above" the world in the last act, then here in the first act, she's kind of "isolated from" the world. Meanwhile, as Leonora is not a complete idiot (or maybe she is?), she has some sense and feeling of the danger of the world. Thus we heard when portraying the Leorona here, she combined the feeling of insecurity and nervousness into the passion and excitement. And this is the hard part. While the character can be (or, should be) insecure and nervous dramatically, the singer acting the character with her voice cannot be insecure and nervous vocally. From performance to performance, Anya sometimes found the fine balance, sometimes had both voice and drama bit to the too secure side or the other. However, she never chose the easier way of singing it just as some beautiful music to harvest cheap praising.

In the two inner acts, Leonora doesn't have big arias to sing. Still, Anya paid much attention to give the proper color to the singing. There were two moments left me more than usual strong impression. One is in Act 2 Scene 2, that how in a short sentence of "E deggio e posso crederlo? Ti veggo a me d'accanto", she began from stiffness asking if what she saw was true, to the bit sweetness on the word "d'accanto". The other is at the beginning of Act 3 Scene 2, the gloomy and urgency in the voice had already indicated her destiny, while she remained firm to what she chose. Nervous and insecure Leonora was, but different to the one in Act 1. (And should I add that when the tuning stage brought her to the stage front at this scene, the way she sat in the shadow had already brought out so much tension of the drama?)

On top of Anya's vocal acting was her physical acting, which did not add to but multiply to her vocal acting. In one interview, she said there are not too much thing to act. Indeed, in many places, the plot is very still, it's the music that takes care of the psychological drama. She understood this so well, that in many places, she was just being still with tension, and let the music speak, rather than making meaningless "actings". During "D'amor sull'ali rosee" (yep, some long and slow music with "nothing happens onstage), she simply stood on the stage front and opened up her mouth and the magic happened. Her body drew the line of the "fourth wall" separating the real world onstage and the unreal world off stage (I had the words "real" and "unreal" at the correct positions), while in the meantime, her voice broke this "fourth wall" and involved everything into her world. During one performance, I was sitting in a side box, with the stage on my one hand side and the most auditorium on the other side. As much as I loved Anya/Leonora, at one point, my eyes turned away from her to the auditorium, feeling that I could literally SEE the body of her voice occupying the whole space and enfolding everyone, everything. Later in the scene, much buzz has made about her climbing the gate. How she desperately sang "Oh ciel! Sento mancarmi!" hanging on the gate was one of the dramatic high point. But then, the more challenging part for acting was getting OFF from the gate. It was heartbroken watching her getting down slowly with the monotone "Miserere" sung by chorus in the back, as if all hope were lost. And she didn't stop after getting off from the gate but kept until having her whole body down to the ground, only rose up again right before the second verse, which darker words are set in the music then those in the first verse, when her body got back the strength because of outrage.

I can keep going describing these small details that together built up the big picture. Then I may hardly finish it. So just let me stop here. I think I've made my point clear: this is the first rate performing art in every aspect. Brava.

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...



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