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CLASSICAL  December 2007

CLASSICAL December 2007

Subject:

What Ho in '08?

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 31 Dec 2007 16:12:08 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (142 lines)

http://tinyurl.com/34plog

   Financial Times / December 28, 2007 / Arts
   Season Preview:
   The Hype and the High Notes
   By Martin Bernheimer
   
   Operatic New York in 2008?  It promises to be stimulating,
   boring, fabulous, not-so-fabulous, frazzling, soothing,
   wild, cautious...  Just like 2007.
   
   The Metropolitan is becoming increasingly progressive under
   the leadership of Peter Gelb, and hype is on the rise.
   Hard-sell has come to the opera.
   
   Take the case of "Peter Grimes," Benjamin Britten's epochal
   exploration of fear and isolation in a British fishing
   village, ca.  1830.  A new production on February 28, much
   vaunted, will at last supersede the staging by Tyrone Guthrie
   first seen in 1967, last in 1998.  Original plans called
   for importation of Trevor Nunn's essentially picturesque
   vision of the opera as created for Glyndebourne in 1992 and
   revised for the Salzburg Easter Festival in 2005.  Gelb had
   second thoughts.  Nunn was out.  John Doyle, prize-winning
   director of Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" on Broadway and the
   West End, was in.  "I thought this would be a more exciting
   way of presenting the opera in New York," declared the
   ever-trendy impresario.
   
   The Met blurbs promise "an engrossing and haunting theatrical
   journey." We shall see.  Doyle, it should be remembered,
   garnered much fascination by having his singing-actors in
   "Sweeney Todd" and, later in "Company," accompany themselves
   on musical instruments.  The gimmick at least saved the
   expense of a pit band.  *One hopes Britten's tormented
   protagonist won't toodle a tuba between monologues.*
   
   The Met bills "Grimes" as "a modern masterpiece" and Grimes
   as "what may be 20th-century opera's most impressive tenor
   role." It will be undertaken by Anthony Dean Griffey, a
   gentle American giant most celebrated, perhaps, as Lennie
   in Carlisle Floyd's "Of Mice and Men." He replaces Neil
   Shicoff, a more temperamental artist whose withdrawal remains
   unexplained. Patricia Racette ("riveting") portrays the
   sympathetic schoolmarm, with Anthony Michaels-Moore as the
   crusty sea-captain. Donald Runnicles supervises the "sweeping
   orchestral beauty". [Runnicles owns this one, and the cast
   is superb. JG]
   
   High-note aficionados -- you know who you are -- still gush
   in ecstasy when they recall the night in 1972 when a popular
   but hardly adulated tenor named Luciano Pavarotti first
   appeared here in Donizetti's "La Fille du Regiment." Enjoying
   a respite from bel-canto madness, the great Joan Sutherland
   was on daffy-diva duty, and the company had assembled a
   candybox production for her, directed by Sandro Sequi. Never
   mind. It was the incipient tenorissimo who magnetised
   attention, and instantly changed the course of idol worship,
   as he nonchalantly soared through a volley of high Cs --
   nine, count 'em, nine -- in "Pour mon ame." When the Met
   last cranked out the same "Fille" in 1995, both the production
   and the hero had known better days.
   
   On April 21 Donizetti's gentle charms may be reinvigorated
   at last. The stratospheric tenor this time will be Juan
   Diego Florez, a compelling specialist in sweetness, lightness
   and charm. The object of his affections, no doubt irresistible,
   will be Natalie Dessay, the divette who broke most hearts
   as Lucia di Lammermoor at the opening of the current season.
   The reportedly witty production, staged by Laurent Pelly,
   is shared with Covent Garden and the Vienna Staatsoper.
   This is the lend-lease era. We are told that the London
   version sagged a bit with the frivolous enlistment of Dawn
   French as the Duchess of Krakenthorp, a crucial speaking-role.
   New York may do better with Zoe Caldwell, whose credits
   include a notable impersonation of Maria Callas.  Hope
   springs internal.
   
   The Met goes relatively mod on April 11 with Philip Glass'
   "Satyagraha," importing a production by Phelim McDermott
   from the English National Opera. This terribly mystical,
   relatively minimalist challenge -- stultifying or hypnotic,
   take your pick -- reaches our so-called premier company 27
   years after its world premiere in Rotterdam. In this
   incarnation, the Improbable Theater designer Julian Crouch
   employs a team of aerialists to manipulate "improvisational
   puppetry" in support of the Mahatma Gandhi narrative. The
   text quotes ancient Sanskrit scripture, as in the "Bhagavad
   Gita." It will be instructive to see if the Met subscribers,
   conservative by nature, embrace this brave not-so-new world
   of opera. The general response to Glass' "The Voyage," a
   Met commission in 1992, was hardly rapturous.
   
   The New York City Opera frequently plays David to the Goliath
   of the Met, next door at Lincoln Center. The spring season
   promises little of special interest, however, apart from a
   dancerly second-hand production of Purcell's "King Arthur"
   on March 5, conducted by Jane Glover and staged by that
   ingratiating bad-boy, Mark Morris. Opera gives way to
   inflated musical-comedy on April 8 with another run of
   Leonard Bernstein's "Candide," conducted by John Mauceri
   and staged by Hal Prince. Then come question-marks.
   
   Gerard Mortier, the controversial innovator who officially
   takes over the company in 2009, has bravely, maybe brashly,
   announced his intention to scuttle the standard-repertory
   staples that attract his basic audience. He will concentrate
   on 20th-century challenges alone, at least in his first
   season. The decision seems equally idealistic and unrealistic.
   He also plans to explore nontraditional venues that may
   enhance intimacy (the State Theatre accommodates nearly
   3,000), and to renovate the acoustically challenged State
   Theater. Rumours suggest a temporary closure sometime next
   year.
   
   Meanwhile, anyone in quest of adventure may be drawn to the
   Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue. Mortier hopes to
   play Messiaen's "Saint Francois" d'Assise" at this forbidding
   red-brick structure, built in 1879. He has been scooped,
   however, by Nigel Redden, mastermind of the Lincoln Center
   Festival, who intends to invade the unorthodox facility on
   July 5 with "Die Soldaten," Bernd Alois Zimmermann's
   gargantuan, sociopolitical blow-out of 1965.  A brash and
   bracing multimedia production, transported from the Ruhr
   Triennale and staged by David Pountney, will carry the
   audience on railoard tracks along a 15-scene panorama.
   Created in 1965, Zimmermann's ultracomplex, percussive score
   requires an orchestra of 110 plus 40 singers, actors and
   dancers.  Previous productions in the States -- well-meaning
   simplifications, actually -- emerged at the Opera Company
   of Boston (1982) and the New York City Opera (1991).
   Manhattan, as usual, ponders and wonders.

Janos Gereben
www.sfcv.org
[log in to unmask]

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