Congratulations! You made the first step into the opera world by clicking into this entry! It’s not easy to get accustomed to a completely stranger art form. Although this is valid for the most of the arts or interests, you might be further dismayed when it comes to opera (or even classical music) with the false sense of an ‘elite art form’ of some sort. Similar to appreciating a painting or a sculpture deeply, you have to spend time to understand, get familiar and eventually enjoy classical music.
If you have no background at all and you even don’t know if you like it or not since you don’t really experienced it, you’re in the right place. It’s crucial to start with the right piece, you don’t start physics with quantum mechanics, so..
There are lots of different styles in opera. Here, we won’t be following a chronological order. I will just start with popular pieces, the pieces can be appreciated with less historical or musical knowledge and continue with increased dosage :)
How to follow an opera?
You like theatre? Great. It’s basically a theatre played where every line is notated.
First rule: Read the synopsis before you begin to watch. It makes it much easier to be able to follow the storyline. Once you know the story, you just follow the singers, situations and acts.
Here, we have opera cards explaining the basics of operas.
Is every opera Italian?
No. But most of them are Italian. There are also German, French, English, Russian, Czech and many more. It is born in Italy and it spread to the world in Italian. It takes until Mozart’s time that even the discussion in other languages in opera began. (You may remember the discussion scene in the movie Amadeus)
There is subtitles, so you can follow the storyline. For the majority of the operas, there is action parts where the plot is advanced and music is speech-like (called recitative) and there is sentimental parts where a character or characters express their feelings in such dramatic way with a song-like music (called aria).
Suggestion: Not a must, but if you really want to give a chance to an opera, you should listen its famous arias before. It’s better if you’re familiar with some essential arias beforehand. Why? Two reason. One, is that music is appreciated by repeating. You will enjoy more if it’s your third time hearing rather than the first one. Second, in opera, usually an idea develop from a single small melody hints to an aria of a peak moment in the story. So, if you’re familiar with arias, you can catch those hints in the beginning. Character says something but music indicates other thing. You can even tell if the character is lying.
Which opera should I watch first as a beginner?
There is no right answer to that. I would suggest to start from the Romantic Era as this was the peak era for opera.
Here is a list for the opera beginners’. Similar to listening to music, you should explore more the pieces / composers / styles you like more to understand your own taste. Also, it’s better to experience opera in the opera house. So, I would suggest to follow your own opera house schedule and add it to your list. Now, we’re still in quarantine due to Covid-19, you can see spectacular productions of Met Opera free, streaming from their website.
It was extremely hard to make that list. I try to include one piece from each composer, so if you like it you should follow and explore him more (no female composer at the list unfortunately, but there are definitely great female conductors like Saariaho, but it’s a contemporary composer and I wouldn’t want you to dismiss all opera genre by getting confused by it).
1) Verdi’s La Traviata
A man falls in love with a courtesan. Pretty straightforward love story. But with Verdi’s wonderful wonderful melodies. Every but every line is beautiful, every small aria.
2) Puccini’s La Boheme
No dramaticisation. Yes we fall in love, yes it’s not what we hope for, yes we die. Facing the facts of life in struggling artists’ eyes.
3) Bizet’s Carmen
Strong woman. Dance. Spanish folksongs in operatic style.
4) Mozart’s Don Giovanni
An anti-hero. Beautiful arias.
5) Rossini’s The Barber of Seville
A little bit comedy with moral purposes. Speedy arias with wonderful articulation.
6) Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’amore
19th century romantic comedy.
7) Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci
Reality. Drama. Are they acting or is this really happening? Violence.
8) Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin
Melody. A story from real life.
9) Massenet’s Manon
10) Dvorak’s Rusalka
A dark fairytale. Injustice. Magic.
These are only the suggestion for beginning to opera. It’s not a opera must-see list which would be much more comprehensive and long. But once your ears adjust to these pieces, there’s much more to explore in music dramas of Wagner, atonal pieces of Strauss, 12 tone operas of Berg, minimalist pieces of Glass and much much more. So, it is not just this, it gets much much messy :) If you wonder how much, maybe this entry is for you.
There are so many versions of each opera. Which one should I watch?
Very very hard question. First of all, you should always prefer live performances. If it’s possible, just go to your local opera house. If you have chance, you should visit the famous opera houses in the world because they have the most budget for the best singers, best settings, best conductors, best directors and usually best acoustics and experience. When I am travelling, I always check the opera houses to catch one performance there. The most famous ones are Metropolitan Opera in New York, La Scala in Milan, Wiener Staatsoper in Vienna, Royal Opera House in London, Berlin Opera House, Palais Garner in Paris, San Carlo Theatre in Naples and so on. Also, opera festivals are dos of the new productions are created such as Salzburg Festival, Bayreuth Festival (only Wagner), Glyndebourne Festival etc. If you’re streaming online, try to watch those opera house of festival productions. Of course, it depends on your choice only; so try to choose your style (modern or traditional) with your favourite singers. For free streaming, opera vision has several choices available from all around the world.
Suggestion: We don’t listen music to enjoy it once and move on. Music is a repetitive experience, we enjoy it in every repetition. Sometimes we got bored, then some time later we miss it and we feel another form of identification with it in terms of nostalgia. Opera is just like that. And on the top of that, it’s also like a cinema. Your re-watch of it, makes it deeper because now you know the character’s motives, futures etc. Imagine Hitchcock’s Vertigo and how you evaluate everything Kim Novak said in the second screen. Is it the real her or is it acting? This feeling were not there in the first time. Opera is like that. In your second time, certain melody, certain rhythm may change your whole impression of that scene.
Another reason for the re-watch is the different productions. Major opera houses places the most popular opera pieces in their program in each season. Not just because there are still people who didn’t see it :) It’s because it’s a new production; and you wonder the director’s different approach to the same story with different staging, timeline, storyline etc. If you wonder how much a director can make a difference, you should check our analysis of La Boheme In The Space :)
A Puccini classic.. Tosca. One of the most frequently staged operas of our times. In this popular list, it’s the only opera about religion and politics, allow me to speculate. Consisting the opera’s most adored and popular two arias, Tosca will be always appealing to the audience. Premiered in 1900, even Italians adapted into the through-composed style of opera; meaning that distinction of arias, recitatives and chorus disappears. So, this is a Puccini whose in the influence of Wagner. And for my own taste, this is the true peak point of opera history.
Not advanced as Wagner, Puccini uses leitmotifs that he associated with characters and feelings. He doesn’t develop the motives like Wagner; it’s much like a signal of what’s coming. We have a evil motive representative of Scarpia that we heard at the beginning of the opera than resolved into fugitive motif with the appearance of Angelotti. My favourite is the torture motif. Because even before we begin to suspect things, even when Cavaradossi seemed calm while denying things, we hear the torture motif that will become gradually dominant with Scarp’s move. Begins with the woodwinds, it moves to orchestra, dominated the rhythm and at the end, it evolves into aria; and not just any aria, one of the most famous tenor arias of opera history: ‘E lucevan le stelle’.
We have two powerful signature arias but other than that, in fact the one I adored is the touching melodic orchestral music. We are not used to hear the best melody in orchestra, we used to hear it in the prima donna's aria. Here, orchestra is one of the main characters. In act 2, when Scarpia explain the torture to Tosca the music behind lyrics are definitely Tosca’s music. We hear her heartbeat raising, we hear she loses her temper and start to question Mario’s directions. As if Scarpia is muted and we hear Tosca’s reception of his words. The same motive thickens while they continue to torture. Ascending notes but steady rhythm explains our increased tension and lack of possibilities.
Just after Tosca accept the offer, orchestra has its aria. It’s audience’s aria. We don’t know if Tosca surrenders or will she resist; we just witness something dramatic; and it’s our reaction. After she kills him, we hear the melody again. She’s still a victim of her act. Especially because she was religious, her act is not a victory for her. And more importantly, orchestra tells us, it’s not over. Tragedy will appear again. This melody at the end turns into an aria when Tosca explains the events to Mario. It’s faster, stronger; because she’s not the victim anymore. Also, notice once a plot advancement was speech-like recitatives, here Tosca summarised the events audience already knew, and yet, so touching, so powerful..
‘Vissi d’arte’ appears suddenly between the motive we mentioned above. I always found it so independent as if we’re suddenly inside of Tosca’s suffering. So, it is not surprising that Puccini had also considered to remove this aria suggesting it’s interrupting the plot. Luckily, he didn’t and we have this wonderful aria in our repertory today.
Can we say that we have a strong female character here? Similar to Carmen? Dead at the end by their own choice, at least? For Tosca, she is strong, she found her way out somehow. But Puccini gave her a jealous personality where we rolled our eyes at the beginning. And it was her jealousy that triggered the events of her own death. Even flawed, we can be strong in important situations. She didn’t ask for Mario to abandon his beliefs; but again couldn’t be faithful to him to keep his secret. My final decision, not a celebrity moment for feminists again.
Ballets like Tchaikovsky, comics like Rossini and love duets like Wagner.. Massenet certainly had his fun with this; it’s another Cinderella story; Cendrillon. A fairytale in four act is just here to mesmerise you with Laurent Pelly’s elegant staging for the Met Opera.
Setting with the original text from Charles Perrault’s story is there to remind us we’re in a fairytale in a subtle way. These walls open to a dominance of red as a representation of royalty. My favourite thing in this opera is Massenet’s sense of humour; placed between motives, melodies and text very cleverly. Just like it was intended, this production didn’t cartoonized the story; and managed to make audience laugh several times.
This setting has the effect of turning pages of a fairytale you read for the first time. Walls with book pages kept changing places to adjust the space of the stage and it’s as if you’re reading it. I loved it. It was just as our imagination. It is the story; not exaggerated, just as it is. Stepmother in her fabulous and funny costume never seems mannered with the help of devious voice and acting of Stephanie Blythe. Father played by Laurent Naouri has such a facial expressions that prevents you to get angry with him to be so passive. Kathleen Kim’s fairytale is so realistic and funny, I am convinced she’s just like us with her rights and wrongs; just doing her job as a fairy :)
Joyce DiDonato, a strong mezzo-soprano didn’t convince me for a vulnerable and fragile Cendrillon. Prince charming Alice Coote didn’t get the energy from DiDonato for sure; there was no chemistry between them at all. Yes, they are both female but we need the chemistry on stage. But their love duet can still impress you if you give them a support of your imagination.
Keep in mind that it is very very very hard to make the 2010s audience laugh with opera. Alter all, it is all old jokes. But with careful staging, anything is possible. Especially with the stepmother and sisters, ball with princess-candidate parade and shoe-trial contest, there was quite a laughter in the auditorium.
Can't finish without stating my favorite moments of the opera :) I love the flute and cellos at the beginning of the second act; it's wonderful melody, always deceiving to modulate but takes you home afterwards. Also, I adore the stepmothers aria where she states her royal decendents after they returned from the ball. Pay attention to these for my sake.
Strongly suggested production for another take on famous Cinderella. Just like they say in the end; ‘Don’t we deserve a hand for taking you by slipper to golden fairyland?’
Oh, and before we forget, happy 2021 everyone!
Bluebeard’s Castle offers a psychological thrill as we push the inner door’s of a man’s soul one by one. Based on the French folktale ‘Barbe bleue’, Bartok dedicated the opera that’s about the discovery of a Duke’s murdered ex-wives to his wife Marta Ziegler who may have a hard time sleeping after the premiere.
While the aim was to turn the castle into light; after the seven attempt, we are transformed from darkness to darkness (but a different kind). Along with the traditions of the 20th century, this thriller should be seen as a symbolistic interpretation of the fairytale; it’s not just a plot, we are asked to question ourselves as Judith demands the facts of the past. Prologue of the opera clearly states that by asking ‘where is the stage?’.
Different from the Maeterlinck’s play of the tale, opera spends a significant time for the opening of the doors. All drama is driven by the process of the opening doors rather than what’s beneath them. Opera begins Bluebeard asking Judith if she’s sure about her decision. He’s expression is rather plain and simple while Judith’s harmony is much richer and rhythmically variable as if she’s try to convince herself to enter the castle. Right when she decides to come inside, the actual thriller begins with a strong start with the orchestra. He questions why she came with him (because she already heart the rumours about him). Judith answers: because she wants to warm and dry the castle. She mistakes her love for him with her ambition to change him; she’s so calm, determined and even excited both harmonically and melodically. In order to change him, she has to go through the seven rooms. I wonder if she’s thinking by doing that, she would be able to change him while no other women could; but only doing the same mistake as them and lead to a destined similar ending. She pushed him, tried to change him and couldn’t get satisfied with the answers, demands more of him past, and at each door manipulated the Duke with her love and words. Don’t we do that in our relationships sometimes?
She went through seven doors; torture chamber, armoury, treasure, secret garden, kingdom, sea of tears, corps of the ex-wives. In each one, Judith sees blood with the motif of a minor second. In each room, played with different instruments (obuas and trumpets in torture room; harps in treasury), she became obsessed with blood. Even in the garden or treasure, she can’t be satisfied by the offerings of the Duke and she pushes and pushes for more. At the seventh door, she questions her past loves, who he loved the most, and getting no answer concludes that rumours are correct (as if she want them to be). this is a typical tactic seen in unhealthy relationship where you assume something worse to get the question you asked about the past. You conclude to something exaggerated by interpreting denying answers is worse then the answer itself. This is what Judith does here.
The music is polytonal (opening of the fifth door for the kingdom) but at the door 3 music is mostly tonal (treasure room). In fact the overall key plan for the opera confirms our first theory of circling from darkness to darkness with a small touch of a light in the middle. It starts with F#, modulates to C major and get back to the original key of F#.
This piece is very open to push the limits of staging since it’s a 20th century opera that Hitchcock certainly would approve. Met Opera’s 2015 production of Trelinsky (double bill with Iolanta) tells the modern version of the fairytale. Rather than 7 doors, we are moving with an elevator and with each door there’s only minor differences; we don’t enter a different mode and world as accustomed with the traditional staging (different colour scheme in each door). Even bolder production of Bayerische Opera House double bills the Concerto for Orchestra where Bartok used the same motives of Bluebeard’s Castle with the opera. Katie Mitchell creates a different plot where Judith is the police detective and investigates Bluebeard and rescues the three ex-wives. There are many positive critics and you can still experience it in BSO’s 2021 season.
This is clearly more than just a thriller; Bartok asked audience to pay close attention to the story in the prologue. The piece started with Duke questioning Judith, but at the end it was Judith never satisfied with answers and convince him seven times to open the doors ‘because she loves him’. I believe, yes, she loves him. In an unhealthy, addictive way where she loves the idea of changing him; her capability to achieve her aim. We learn everything about Bluebeard and heart nothing about Judith in libretto. But at the end, it was Judith we understand deeply. As always, love makes us do crazy things.
This week’s Glynedebourne Open House piece was Samuel Barber’s ‘Vanessa’. It is not easy to find a whole production of the piece, so enjoy the free streaming as you can. 20th century opera was dominated with Stockhausen and Boulez pieces, and Barber’s Vanessa didn’t get enough attention at Salzburg Festival for being similar to Richard Strauss. It didn’t see a success since than. Since today’s audience would appreciate any Strauss piece to Stockhausen - yes, I speculate-, you should definitely give it a try. Yesterday, I watched it for the first time and I fall in love with the piece immediately.
Vanessa, waits for her lover for twenty years. In that time, she lived in isolation with her mother who doesn’t speak to her and niece. She avoided the mirrors in a desperate attempt to stay young for her lover; Anatol. In the first scene, she waits her lover enthusiastically. She spokes to her lover for the first time in twenty years in ‘’Do not utter a word, Anatol’’ and it makes your heart break. Its very melodic and not at the same time; tension in the air but it is love somehow. It’s a modern love; sensual but complicated. Only to discover that he’s not her lover but his son, instead.
After her breakdown discovering her lover’s son instead of her lover, Anatol and Erika, Vanessa’s niece, comes closer. As they are about to go to a room, a sudden shift from time takes us to a moment of Erika’s confession of a passion to her grandmother. Erika is a modern girl. She knows her aunt loves his and he’s capable of love; she doesn’t let herself to be in love with him although she loves him from the very beginning. He propose but she refuses. Yet it’s not enough to be not sorrow.
The tension is balanced with subtle but sincere funny moments and beautiful dance music. When Anatol couldn’t get Erika, he tries his chance with Vanessa. He still plays two fields, but Erika is a strong character compared to vulnerable and hopeless Vanessa. When Anatol asks why she didn’t join them, she simply answers ‘because you forgot to ask me’.
Erika is clearly at the centre of the story since Anatol and Vanessa’s story mostly advances off stage. Doctor is a funny but not that much drunk at the announcement; you don’t suspect he will do anything major to advance the plot, but it lightens the mood. His word ‘baroness’ makes a music gets angry but only to resolve to a dance tune. The peak moment of the piece is when Erika comes down to dancing and says ‘his child’. Music suffers but her voice is not emotional; it’s like a recitative. She has emotions but also a determination. Music is also heartbroken but not emotional, it’s like melody can go any note; it goes up, than down, you don’t feel the difference just seconds before it resolves into a dance again. She loses her child in woods, Vanessa gets worried about her but never discovers the truth. Only grandmother shares the secret.
When Vanessa gets married to Anatol and about to leave for Paris, she tries to learn about that night once again, but Erika convince it was nothing. After they leave, it’s Erika’s turn to wait. Now her grandmother doesn’t speak with her also. She makes all mirrors covered and refuses visitors. Now, she’s Vanessa, only few years behind.
Keith Warner’s production is really astonishing with film noir inspiration. Simple but very effective staging with wonderful lighting makes you feel like you’re in a Hitchcock movie. There are lots of frames in the scenes that should be photographs. Every step, every pose is artistic. Most of the time, you can see other characters from giant glass frames. They are not shadowing the main characters but also contributes to story. One of these is the background story of Baroness and Doctor; implication of they were once lovers. Since the opening scene had a child birth at the background, make you wonder is Erika is actually their daughter or not. It really didn’t matter that much because you’re focus on the sufferings of these three woman. That’s why even at the end, after ‘goodbye’ canon, you know it’s the end, but you wait in the silence as the light dims.
Emma Bell and Virginie Verrez was wonderful at the performance. Also their resembles suggests to watch three stages of the same woman; Erika, Vanessa and Boroness. Glynedebourne Festival’s revival of Vanessa should be permanent. I hope other major opera houses makes a space for this 20th century masterpiece. Try it, you will not have to pretend anything, you will find yourself.
Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece streamed free by Met Opera to compansate the lack of a season due to coronavirus. We are lucky enough to witness a cast of superstars in an effortless yet effective staging. Renee Fleming, Dimitri Hvorostovsky and Ramon Vargas performed extraordinary in this specular Met Opera 2007 production.
Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky’s only opera, is very melodic similar to Verdi’s La Traviata. Even the tiniest moments and sentences have a wonderful melody if you become familiar with it. Characters developments are very important in this opera, each character gets developed through the acts. Tatiana from a young, fearless child to a responsible woman, Eugene from reckless, insensible man to more mature, wiser man.
Robert Carsen’s production is very simple but warm. Essentially an empty stage with walls, begins with Eugene Onegin at the chair, reading the letter, surrounded by autumn leaves. He reads the famous letter, stands up with remorse, and leaves started to fall from the sky. What a wonderful image! Orange as can be, scene actually depicts the moments after the final scene. Succeeding a heavy rain of regrets, we turn to the beginning.
Where setting is mostly empty, small details gave away the timing and place without being obvious. Wooden chairs arranged as a rectangular portrays a village home in Russia where two scenes later same arrangement with white, leather chairs shows the high society party. Costumes also follows the timing perfectly. Leaves that depicts Tatiana’s exciting, childish nature and her dream world of romantic books disappear after she rejected by Eugene.
Scene changes were also planed so organically. Actual characters and choruses usually changed the scene. A choir swept the leaves, butchers dressed Eugene after the duel while setting the room for Tatiana’s high class party.
Renee Fleming represent a very soft Tatiana at the beginning who turns to be a strong minded person at the end. Her sadness during her name party was so realistic, you could have seen it. Dimitri Hvorostovsky was wonderful again with his undeniable charisma. At the end, when he begs Tatiana, I bet Renee Flemings arms were bruised after. Ramon Vargas who is forced to look like Pushkin but failed, touched the audience with his marvellous timbre.
Due to coronavirus, Met Opera free streams old productions every night. This week is Wagner week and it started with the best work of Wagner: Tristan und Isolde..
When it comes to more challenging works like Wagner, Berg and modern pieces, Met Opera usually uses its power of staging. As an opera house who relies on new customers and popular pieces, they try to make heavier pieces easier to watch as opposed to Vienna State Opera. I expected nothing less when it comes to Tristan und Isolde. Since the work has philosophical background, it gives a space for the director to make story clearer or underline some feature of it.
Wagner’s signature was the leitmotifs. There are lots of leitmotifs in the opera; a recurring theme that is associated with a certain feeling, character etc. So singers may sing one thing, but if you follow the orchestral score, it may say another story since it reflects the true feelings of the characters as well as the future.
Based on Schopenhauer’s pessimism of never satisfied needs and desires; opera opens with an tritone and doesn’t resolve for four hours, until the very end. Tristan und Isolde can only find resolution in death. There’s a whole act of talking about night and light. You cannot separate these wonderful beliefs from the essence of the opera.
That being said, let’s see how Mariusz Trelinski’s staging respected that. In this production, Trelinsky made an interesting and very bold choice of bringing a very minor point of the story to the center: suicide of Tristan’s father. During the prelude, we saw a radar signal rotating. The visual later switched to black and white waves, a soldier holding his son, a gun, a lighter.. This video sequence made the most powerful part of the score merely an accompaniment and audiences weren’t allowed to swipe into their own imagination. This sequence repeated in the each act. This turns out to be the image of Tristan’s father. Since you won’t be getting this during the prelude -because why would you-, Trelinski needs to repeat it in each act. Only when you saw Tristan dreaming about his father and the setting suddenly changed into a burnt house with his father’s uniform, we understood.
In Act 1; everything was on solid grounds. The stage was a ship that has 9 different compartments. The bottom was where Isolde was hold, at the background black and white waves were playing on the video. The usage of places and light was the outstanding aspect of this production. When Isolde tells her story, suddenly Tristan’s room was lid. This rooms used very cleverly to enhance the feelings of other characters. There were spying cameras at Isolde’s sections, and we saw Tristan watching her touched by her story. Since he offered Isolde a knife to kill him, we know that he’s also moved and disturbed by the story but somehow director choose to make him a bad guy by making him kill a random guy in the ship.
Act 1 has its contributions to the score and text, but in Act 2 it started to fall apart. The meeting point of Tristan and Isolde is again the deck of a ship. Why would they choose to meet in a ship? They talked about light and night at the deck. When Brandade's -portrayed wonderfully by Ekaterina Gubanova- off stage warning started, we saw a clip similar to eclipse. The couple than went to downstairs, something like a storage room that has chemical waste bins around. Heated by the soldiers of King Marke (who’a a general, not a king), when Tristan talks to Isolde, he moves to a corner where Isolde seats, other characters disappear, Tristan talks to Isolde in his dreams. Than suddenly the stage is lid and all other characters are in position, we turned to reality. This was a powerful visualisation.
In Act 3, Tristan is in a dark hospital room. A child wonders around, plays with lighter. When he remembers his father’s death, again with a powerful lighting we see him at the yard of a burnt house suddenly. Here the child continues to wonder with a bloody white jacket. The child is Tristan’s childhood. But there’s also a bloody white uniformed person appears time to time. In first act, I assumed it was Isolde’s fiance. I am not sure if he supposed to be Tristan’s father. Either way, it doesn’t contribute anything to the score.
As you noticed, Isolde, their incapability to unite in anything but death, poison that caused all this events remained at the background. However, the most disturbing thing about this production that Tristan and Isolde couldn’t unite in their death. They died separately in the different corners of the stage.
Nina Stemme was a powerful Isolde, her strong voice was enough to disguise her minimal facial acting. Stuart Skelton’s Tristan had a soft timbre but clearly exhausted through the end. Simon Rattle who followed Mahler’s markings while studying, enriched the score and brought the space for the listeners.
There’s a restaurant in Italy that offers a very expensive wine for free to anyone explaining Il Trovatore’s synopsis unmistakably. Known for its complicated and incoherent story, Il Trovatore still is a loved and frequently staged opera. Member of the ‘popular trilogy’ along with La Traviata and Rigoletto, it’s music will capture you. But let’s first examine the issue with the plot.
The Most Brief & Easy-to-Read Synopsis of Il Trovatore
First act opens with Ferrando explaining a story of the Count to the soldiers. This story is at the heart of the opera; and leads the rest of the narration. So, most of the story is already happened. A gypsy that is believed to bewitch a boy -Count’s brother- end up burning alive at a stake. Her daughter, Azucena, witnessing the events, kidnaps the boy and throw him into fire. Count’s father dies of grief and Count is still seeking revenge of the event.
Giving the background, Leonore who’s the Count is in love with, explains how she loves a troubadour -hence the title- Manrico. When Manioc arrives, the Count obviously get jealous and they duel over her.
Act 2 starts the duel already happened, Manrico defeated the Count but spare his life. Now, he’s in the mountains with his mother, Azucena. She tells the obvious story. But here story has a different ending. Turns out she threw her own son to the fire out of rage and raised the boy -Count’s brother- as her own son. Manrico suspects rightfully his own parentage, but somehow convinced with the excuses Azucena created to defeat his suspicions. Manioc learns that Leonora is about to take the veil, believing him to be dead, goes to her and kidnaps her from Count’s side.
Act 3: While Azucena is searching for her son, captured and taken as prisoner by the Count who recognises her. On the other side, Manrico prepares to be married to Leonora but hears about his mother and goes to save her.
In Act 4, Manrico is defeated and taken prisoner, off stage. Leonora arrives to save her. She offers herself to the Count for Manrico’s freedom. But she drinks a bottle of poison first. Trying to free Manrico, not knowing the poison, Manrico gets angry about the deal she made and refuses to be free. She dies, he gets upset. Count understands her intention, gets angry and sends Manrico to death. Manrico dies off stage. Azucena reveals to the Count that he killed his own brother and she took her revenge.
The main reason for the complications is so much of the story is happening off stage. Most of the action is only told that diminished the believability of the story and keeps us away from the characters. Even Manrico’s death is off stage and we don’t feel anything about it - neither does the music. Count is actually the victom, only bearing his father’s sins and we don’t feel anything for him. His only fault is accepting Leonora’s deal, which was a common thing in operas at that time :)
Manrico, as a title character, doesn’t have a standing point. He doesn’t insist too get to the bottom of the story. He only concerns about Leonora. But why he didn’t send her a letter after the duel ? He was serenading her before but now after a duel he made for her, he just returns home long enough for Leonora to take action? Doesn’t add up really.
Manrico, Azucera and the Count is related by their past. Leonora is an outside character that has no dept in the story. Up until her sacrifice at the end, audience is distanced to her. Her wonderful arias compensate for that absence.
The main problem for me is this; is Azucera really loved Manrico as a son, and out of grief of his death, reveals the truth to the Count to make him suffer too or she get arrested on purpose and this was her plan all along to get revenge by the death of Manrico? It should be the first one. But we know that Verdi initially want to name opera after Azucera and the second suggestion was the direction he wanted to pursue.
This is not a Verdi & Piave piece, and yes, you can tell. Verdi couldn’t get his wishes done as easily as he does with Piave while collaborating with Cammarano. He didn’t want any standard forms (opening with chorus, cabalettas etc) and want the story to be bizarre and unusual as possible. Cammarano died before completing the text and Barware finished the text.
Let’s get to the reason this opera captures the hearts even with these problems. Verdi couldn’t get what he desire from the librettist about the standard forms to be freer. However, he also showed how he mastered these cantabile-cabaletta forms. Here is few notable moments from the opera:
Stride la vampa.
Azucera states she should revenge her mother.
Condotta ell'era in ceppi
Azucera tells how she threw her own child to the flames.
Il balen del suo sorriso. Per me ora fatale.
Count di Luna signs his love for Leonora.
Ah si, ben mio coll’essere. Di Quella Pira.
Manrico states her love for Leonore before their wedding. In cabaletta, he learns her mother being captive and prepares for a fight.
D'amor sull'ali rosee. Miserere.
The peak moment of the whole piece. Leonora begs for mercy to free Mancino and offer herself for his freedom. This recording belongs to famous Turkish soprano, Leyla Gencer. It’a an old recording, but please bare with it. See how she made high notes very piano and see how dirty her voice is, how she felt the character…
Udisti… Mira, di acerbe lagrime… Vivrà! Contende il giubilo
Count di Luna and Leonora made a deal, but she drinks a poison to kill herself.
Staging is always essential but if there are issues with libretto, it’s director’s job to make it more believable. So I have many expectations from Il Trovatore staging to conceal all my concerns about the story somehow.
Let’s follow the Met Opera’s 2015 production by David McVicar. With a starry cast of Anna Netrebko, Yonghoon Lee and Dimitri Hvorovstosky. Setting is very dark, there’s a burnt woman poses like a Jesus on cross, black trees and grey castle wall with stairs. The turning two different setting separated with the stairs is very effective. Also I love the connection that it give to a non-connected story. It showed the other perspective for us; the same story sharing a wall but different. Grey/black colours turn into yellow scheme, as it is always warm colours when it comes to Gypsies.
The only problem I have with this staging is the ending. At the end, Manrico is prison alongside of his mother. Azacure signs an aria with Manrico about freedom, than falls asleep. Leonora comes, they fight and she’s still sleeping. After she wakes up, she just stood at the background. Somehow it would be better if she realises the events right before Count orders Manrico’s death. Otherwise, we should wonder why she didn’t reveal his true identity to stop the Count.
Although it's unconventional for Met to stage a Handel opera, David McVicar's modern-dressed staging is a splendid masterpiece that should increase the Handel frequency of the opera house. Agrippina, written by 24 years old Handel, is the oldest opera Met is ever staged. With its eternal subjects of politics, power and ambition, David McVicar's production manage to convince you that nothing is ever changed since Ancient Rome.
David McVicar opened the scene with a curtain that has the image of Romulus and Remus fed by a she-wolf. This image is associated with ancient Rome. We see this curtain four times due to the setting changes at the background. Of course, McVicar used the curtain to hint us about the storyline rather than just blank safety curtain. First time is before the begining. Second time is during Ottone's famous “Voi che udite il mio lamento,” which he sings after every character on the stage accuses him. We see that the she-wolf is hurt, representing the Ottone's damage. The third time is during Nerone's “Quando invita la donna l’amante,” image is similar to the begining suggesting that in Nerone's eyes, nothing changed. And the fourth time is after Nerone crowned. We see that she-wolf is murdered. Ancient Rome is not in good hands.
Agrippina, appearing in her black night dress, looking sexy and powerful, was a convincing villain all along. Her plan to make her son Nerone the future king was ready at the beginning, and it was hard for the audience to not fall for her strenght when she was freshen her makeup at the first scene. She used her sexuality to fool Pollente and Narciso, even do a hand job to Narciso in a public restaurant under a newspaper with excellent facial acting. You can read her every thought of disgust she felt for Narciso, her ambition to fool him, her double acting of enjoying what she's doing.. You don't feel distant, in fact you understand her every motive in every act. Joyce DiDonato amazed with for powerful sound and wonderful portrayal of a complicated character. Her reaction of the news that Ottone saved the king from deadly storms and named king after his heroic act, is so realistic. Her double acting is not exagurated at all. Her rolled eyes, her reluctant applause for king's return was so fun to watch. She somehow manages to be convincing villain and made the audience laugh with her facial expressions that hints her true motivation. DiDonato's peak performance moment was her “Pensieri, voi mi tormentate'' that she appeared with a bottle after her plans interrupted momentarily. Her gentle beginning that turned into a powerful crescendo was her minor 'mad scene' that will be overcomed very quickly of course. Her power will be visible again when she licked the gun pointed at her face by Pollente. She will be dancing along with her new plan to murder Ottone and pushed the scenery off the stage by her gentle touches to the pillars on ''Ogni vento ch’al porto lo spinga.”
Nerone is a teenager who has no plans, never serious, always high.. While other characters are more down-to-earth, Nerone is an exagerated portrayal of the youth. Tattood and always wiping his nose, Kate Lindsay did a wonderful act, often made audience laugh. I'm not denying that it was definitely fun to watch and interpret however, as wonderful as the idea is, the acting was a bit too much. It was caricatured rather than a believable. Her eyes were always wide open, sometimes she was crawling at the ground and doing a cardio during an aria (congrats for the performance, though). These moments, we lost the meaning.
Overall, Nerone is modernised so cleverly. He trying to gain the public's heart by distribting free food for the poor, but only making fun of them until a reporter arrives for the scene was a heartbreaking truth about today's policy. His spoiled, childish acts was very entertaining. At the heart of the plot, he amused audience with his 90s dance figures or giving someone a finger from their behind. As spoiled and ridicule as he is, Lindsay convinced us of his attraction for Poppea. When she playfully pleases him at the bar scene, I saw the sexual torture he's in in her acting, bravo!
McVicar is so clever when re-interpreting the masterpieces that he never overlooks the text & scene coordination -that is ofter overlooked. In his aria “Come nube che fugge dal vento (Like a cloud that flies from the wind)'', he pours a can of cocaine and start sniffing that resulted with the loudest laugh of the night.
At the end, when he finally gets the throne, he climb the stairs like an animal, dancing in every step and when he reached on top, gives everyone a finger.. Although there's a tiny detail of Poppea reaching for Nerone when he was at the stairs unable to resist his power, and the two trying to hold hands until Ottone stops them; hinting the rest of the story; Poppea will be the second wife of Nerone. Similar to that moment, Nerone also acting to strungle Agrippina momentarily until she turns and gave him a hug; again suggesting he will kill his mother evantually.
Poppea started as an innocent character that is driven to wealth and power with her first scene admiring the pearls. Than Agrippina showing with the same dress as her, makes her give a high note of surprise indicating her naive character. As the plot advances, she becomes more and more crafty. In her first scene, she has two gay friends with her, an elegant touch for her lifestyle. After her first scene with Agrippina, she's stripped down by her made on the stage, get a normal skirt-jacket combination and goes to streets searching for cabs. We see video image of the city at the background. She searches for a cab and gets wet in the rain. When she meets Claudio, she again undresses and get a sweater in return for her wet clothes. When Cladio trying to seduce her by his striptise show, her attemps to get away from him made audience laugh. After she thought Ottone betrayed her, she gets a bottle of wine and chocalate box and showed the basic symptoms of depression.
The second act was set in a bar. Poppea getting drunk while other customers try to hit on her, buys her a drink and take secret selfies with her. When Ottone arrives, she hides behind flowers. When she gets drunk and put her face down to the table, Ottone spots her and signs how about how beautiful she look when she sleeps. It is wonderful to see these text realizations in such a diverse staging. The famous harpsicord solo is placed on the stage, played by Bradley Brookshire. McVicar also made a dancing sequence during harpsichord solo to two customers at the bar. Brenda Rae perfectly sang her duet with the harpsichord and proved to be equal for Agrippina during the opera.
Ottone, sang by counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, was a straight-forward character all along the piece. Since he represents the moral of the story, he doesn't have any obscene act. He had a boy band dance during “Coronato il crin d’alloro'' and made our hearts ache with “Voi che udite il mio lamento.”
Claudio, played by Matthew Rose, was a so-called king that had no power display at all. He is portrayed as a modern politician who plays golf indoors.
Pollente, sang by Duncan Rock, was supposed-to-be powerful man who was played easily. His opposite Narciso is a cry-baby. His character amused the audience. First, with the Agrippina's hands between his legs, melodic embollishments of ''Volo pronto e lieto” becomes the sexual noises which was very amusing.
Lesbo, played by Christian Zaremba, was less interested with the events surrounding him. He often followed others by the side of his eye while continuing to scroll down on his phone.
Handel's opera is a long one. Every time the plot advances, every character involved has a seperate aria. McVicar's production showed how much can be done to re-interpret and keep the audience alert in every single moment. Linked with today's politics and everyday ambitions of power, we were seen that even after the mobile phones, so called 'free' media, drugs and alcohols to be entertained; we are still on the same road.
After a long detox of La Boheme to regain my enthusiasm about the piece; lost due to heavy studing during my dissertation; Royal Opera House's somewhat new production intrigued me. ROH sustained the traditional John Copley production of La Boheme for over thirty years. Since 2017, new production of Richard Jones is staged. New productions are important tool for opera houses to attract audiences to long-staged pieces like La Boheme. Some take it too far and staged La Boheme on the moon; some made minor changes to stay on the safe side like Richard Jones's.
The first time I heard the Jonathan Tetelman as Rodolfo, I blamed my seat to have a terrible acoustics since the orchestra was so dominant, I had a hard time hearing the tenor. It turned not to be true when Eleonora Buratto as Mimi appreared. Vlada Borovko was a wonderful Musetta.
It was a no curtain staging and magical snow started long before the beginning. The Bohemians' house was a minimal rooftop. Darker and colder than John Copley's warm and cozy home.
La Boheme must be so real; sadness behind the joke, jealosy disguised as love, tuberculosis as a form of affection. The scene started with our four favorite Bohemians' everyday life, the jokes between them managed to amuse audience genuinely. However, rather than a everyday careless livings of artists, it seem like a Rossini styled forced comedy. The most touching moments and arias are shadowed by the continuing laughters. It seemed unnatural.
When Mimi and Rodolfo were walking towards Cafe Momus, the house disappeared from stage and three blocks of shopping passage arrived. It was a modern way to show street shopping of the original production. It's fresh and interesting. We see Cafe Momus entry in the right block of the passage. As our protagonists enter Cafe Momus, passages startes to move and Cafe Momus entered the stage. The continuance of the blocks and cafe was very good, we see waiters and people walking through moving pieces. Cafe Momus was also more modern with white table sheets and logo. This far, it was an interesting modern way of displaying Bohemian life, however the street life that should enrich the everyday conflicts of passion and pure love was not connected to this modernism. Childrens part was missing the actual toy seller; chorus reactions was missing the interaction with the Cafe Momus customers.
Musetta's aria should reveal the opposition of pure and fragile love of Mimi & Rodolfo versus passionate love of Musetta & Marcello. Musetta can be different than Mimi, but at the end, as dictated in the final act also by Mimi, should have a pure heart after all. But her playful aria to flirt with Marcello turned into heartless play that made her remove her underwear in the middle of the cafe. Mimi and Rodolfo's lines are just sang and not acted.
Act 3 opened with a small closed cabinet with a painting on the side. Casual acting around was again too synchronized to be casual. These small details was very important in La Boheme, but Jones clearly wanted to emphasize Mimi and Rodolfo as opposed to place them as an ordinary story among many others. At the end of this heartbreaking act and false promises to seperate in the spring were made, cabinet is drawn from stage slowly. Act finalised with empty stage (backstage was visible with previous act's setting).
Final act, as touching as it is, left all the jokes aside and showed different characters of Musetta, Marcello and Schaunard. All the Rossini act is left out and characters finally melt our hearts. Even the costumes were different. Musetta had a black dress, very different style than her red dress in Act 1. At the end, realizing Mimi's death one by one could have been acted better.
Conducted with Ariane Matiakh, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House was extraordinary. When it is our lovely La Boheme, we have certain expectations to find this bitter sweet and very natural story even in the most obscure productions. The production had some minor problems as mentioned above, however overall it was a satisfactory performance that made everyone cried. Genuinely everyone around my seat, including my sister who is a stranger for the art of opera, crying at the end. Sometimes a heartbreaking story is just one story among others and the most painful part is not the story itself but the experience.
Yesterday was the last day of Met Opera's Manon (Massenet) production for this season. The last performance was broadcasted to the world via MetHD Live series. Massenet's 'Manon' is not the outstanding piece among the program one can say, falling behind Porgy and Bess, new productions and scandalous Macbeth. However, it is a safe piece that will always attract audiences, and a perfect piece for a diva-to-be. Yesterday, I witnessed a new diva entering the field: young, fresh and brialliant.
Lisette Oropesa's Manon was extraordinary. I never seen her perform before and I was very happy to see a new diva entering the field. Her take of La Traviata in 2020 shouldn't be missed! Aside from Manon's vocal range, the different skills needed for each act was easily concured by Oropesa. Her different vocal character in each act supported by her convincing acting created an innocent, relatable Manon. For me, Manon is the most difficult female character in 19th century opera since her story and death is the consequence of her decisions. Audience doesn't immediately understand her motives and get touched by her story, that's why it's not easy to make audience feel sorry for Manon. Her acting showed the character development scene by scene in Pelly's demanding production.
Pelly's production placed the opera in Belle Epoque; at the same time the opera is written. Setting for the whole opera is minimalistic. It doesn't have a Paris glory, even the festival scenes are a bit distant and cold. Maybe we are so used to Zefirelli's way of seeing Paris, but I definitely searched for something cosy.
The main thing about the production that bothers me is to see all the men in black either gazing or chasing women. From the very beginning, men waited for the new arrivers at the top of the staircase while women were looking through the window. Women side characters seem to be pushed to the background. The male point of view - the male gaze as Mulvey suggests- is important for the story, we are in a world that woman's future is all about men: either they marry someone decent, either they go to convent for being too friendly, or they became courtuzans to become rich. The men in black appeared thoughout the opera: they were gazing the new arrivers, later they were walking outside Manon & des Grieux's home, they were window shopping women at the festival... Clearly, we were watching Manon from a male perspective. We saw the ballet pleasing only men, their kidnapping of the balerinas as a funny excerpt.. Audience forced to think that this was a very ordinary situation and Manon just being a part of it as opposed to her becoming a victim of the choices she's forced to choose by men. Also, audience wasn't just witnessing the male gaze, we were also forced to gaze; both woman display and ballet performance was meant for the audience as well. This comment is meant for the regular auditorium audience, Live HD audiences seeing close up Manon's and her wonderful facial gestures had a different experience.
I loved the choir's froze ups! When they were commenting on a situation and not advancing the plot; like commenting on the roadtrip experience and gambling, they all froze and just sang the lines. When lines changed, they continue to act. It was entertaining :) I couldn't resist to mention one more time that even the gambling scenes lacked its glory. We couldn't understand what Manon envies throughout the opera, we were never shown.
In cinemas, thanks to close ups and different angles of the cameras, we had a different experience. Especially the facial expressions become so much important when it is filmed. Oropesa's facial acting was extraordinary, in duets with Fabiano, she never looked away from him for a second. I couldn't say the same thing for Michael Fabiano. He is a loved tenor and I loved his performance; but in duets there was a little disconnection among them. Fabiano always looking away from Manon -to prompter or conductor, we don't know- really disturbed my perception.
Costumes.. I liked it.. Sometimes we forget how they indicate an impostant insight of the production. All men dressing the same was very accurate to indicate that all men have the same urge. Also, Manon's character development was very clear form the costumes in each act.
Last but not least.. Arthur Rucinski was a extra ordinasry Lescaut. He made his existance somehow essential. His voice and acting made Lescaut very easy to identify with. Let's see him more often in Met productions.
In July, I was on Paris for work. It was a last minute thing and I checked the opera schedules desperately knowing that it's the holiday season and my chances are very low. However, I was lucky that both Opera Bastille and Opera Garnier were continuing their programme. Luckily, I catched the last performance of 'La Forza del Destino' on Opera Bastille.
Verdi's 'La Forza del Destino' was not popular enough comparing with other works of Verdi. I strongly recommend this piece for the 19th century opera lovers. You can find the sadness of 'La Traviata' in the clarinet solos, the taste of 'La Boheme' in the reality of people suffering in the streets and the politics of 'Tosca'. Elena Stikhina (soprano), Varduhi Abrahamyan (mezzo), Brian Jagde (tenor), Zeljiko Lucic (baritone), Rafal Siwek (bass) and Gabriele Viviani (baritone) was wonderful!
Orchestra under the baton of Nicola Luisatti was amazing, The Sinfonia melted me in my seat with tender clarinet solos that you realize you've been crying. You can feel the wind of destiny around you, than you face the ugly truth with the violins.
The original production belongs to Jean-Claude Auvray, and the revival made by Stephen Taylor. The staging is very minimal but effective. The opening is a beutiful setting of the house; the lighting, the paintings behind imade the setting traditional but modern at the same time. You can see that there's a Jesus painting at the wall, this detail is convinced me to Leonara's retrieve because now there's a background to her religious upbringing. When her father accidently killed by her lover, the wall of the house dropped to the floor, her house falled apart at the very moment.
When we see Leornara going to the Monk to beg for acceptance, there's nothing on the stage except a big Christ sculpture dangle from above and a white background behind lighted blue and red in turn. While her love aria was extraordinary, the Monk and his assistance's dialogues manage to make the audience laugh with jokes from 19th century. I am very happy to see that successful productions still achieve to make people laugh with very old comedy techniques (misunderstandings and so on) that we no longer find funny. But with a good staging and acting, Opera Bastille were sincerely funny; congratulations to Rafal Siwek and Gabriele Viviani.
The second act, begins with Don Alvaro. We see him in the war field. Behind him, there are guys gambling. They are actually in different places, staging emphasizes that with a small background of moon and clouds behind Don Alvaro that follows him while he's walking. I'm not sure if that really made the trick though. The worst part of this performance was watching Alvaro and Vargas fighting with the gamblers; it was the most unconvinging fight of all time for me :)
The parts that we see people suffering from war was really made me think that why this piece is so underrated. You can nearly call it a verismo piece; it showed the people supporting becoming the real victim of war. Behind the cripples and beggars, there was a banner that has VIVE LA GUERRA that the word GUERRA crossed and replaced with V.E.R.D.I. This is a wonderful reference that makes me excited immediately. VIVA VERDI was a famous acronym for Viva Vittorio Emanuele Red’Italia (Long live Victor Emanuel, King of Italy). Verdi became a patriotism symbol with Nabucco's 'Va, Pensiero'. This hebrew slave aria was about longing for independence and Italians identify themselves with it so much, at the premiere the applause didn't stop, and they had to repeat the aria although it was forbidden. Today, this aria is repeated in every Nabucco performance as a tradition.
Later, you see the crew singing for war celebrating end of the war. You see jubilees, people passing by, beggars and soldiers and so on. There are a lot of thing going on but it is so wonderfully coreographed that you don't miss anything, you don't confuse where to look (it happens a lot). Than comes the most expected aria of the mezzo: 'rataplan, rataplan.' Until this point, I thought mezzo sang out of her range in the first act and her volume was not adequate but this aria was wonderful. It was the peak of the performance both in staging and singing.
The third act has its Rossini moments :) Fra Melitone's lack of believe in the beggars were the funniest moments of the opera. During this act, Christ is not at the back facing towards at at the floor. Leonara spent 5 years in retreive and the moments later she recognizes Don Alvar, she found out the he murdered her brother. Before she had the time to digest this news, she's killed by her brother.
Overall, we left the auditorium with a great satisfaction of seeing this wonderful performance in mid-summer.
Highlights of the piece:
Festival has a star productions and the star names to attract more audience.. This year's star names include the one and only Anna Netrebko. Her Salzburg La Traviata production was extraordinary, the best La Traviata I ever saw: read the review from here. This year's performance was the concert version of Adriana Lecouvreur; one of the best verismo examples. Her husband Yusifzov played Maurizio, Anita Rachvelishvili played The Princess and Nicola Alaimo played Michonnet. For the 31 July performance, Anna Netrebko cancelled due to a cold and Hui Han replaced her. For these kind of activities, cold is the enemy, if you purchased the tickets months ago, just for seeing Netrebko, it would be very bad luck.
About the Opera
Verismo is an opera movement of realism. Instead of gods, mythological figures or kings, verismo operas focus on the real people. There are some examples that are derived from the historical figures; Puccini's Tosca, Giordano's Andrea Chénier and Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur.
Adriana Lecouvreur was an actress in 1700s that has a relationship with a high figure and has a suspectable death. She has so many admirers, including Voltaire who faught for her to be burried in a decent cemetary. Her story was very popular in the 19th century. First it became a play and it was specially written for the title role actress Elisa Rachel Felix who has a similar story. Audience started to perceive the play as it's about Rachel herself. They saw Rachel speaking but they hesitate if it the play or Rachel's own feelings; just like I Pagliacci, but not intendedly.
In the plot, we have 'play in play' moments just like Pagliacci. First one is the Adriana's performance as Roxane (Bajazet). Is it the real performance, or is it the real reaction to a letter from Maurizio? The difference from Pagliacci is that we don't witness the performance as the audience, we witness it thru Michonnet's reactions.
The plot is quite complicated because of the so so so many misunderstandings just like a Baroque opera. This makes the staging really important but we only saw the concert version.
About the Performance
Why the concert version? Because the new production operas are already attractive for the audience. And if they want to get a diva starring on the opera, concert versions has less rehearsals.
Netrebko came to a stage with her dress that has 140.000 Swarovski crystals. The magnificent diva sparkled all over the stage. Of course, she didn't need any crystal to be spotted. Her voice mesmerized the audience from the very beginning and it didn't disappoint my high expectations at all. Her voice was so powerful and tender at the same time, she took a melody and played with every note but didn't spoil anything. Make me want to listen nothing for a month to keep her voice in my head :) Also, she's a very good actor, even in the concert mode, her acting felt like a staged opera.
Before the performance, there was part of me wondering if Yusif Eyvazov would be offered this role, if he wasn't married to Netrebko. However, he was very good at the role. Anita Rachvelishvili was a very competent mezzo. In her aria, her unique voice color was very suitable for the role. Also, I adored the somewhat dirty breast voice, it was realistic and full of emotions. However, her voice color didn't blend with Netrebko's in the duets. Nicola Alaimo, Mika Kares and Andrea Giovannini was also very good and amusing :)
Before the last act, the conductor didn't come to stage for a while, the appluase had faded, and the speculations started in whispers thru the auditorium :) Than, a cast member came to a stage and put the flower to the stage, appearently they forgot to place it during the interval :) Than, Marco Armiliato came and make us applaud the flower :) Speaking of, Marco Armiliato and Mozarteum Orchestra was also deserved my compliments. They were little laud since the orchestra was not in the pit since it is a concert version, and the greatest opera singers couldn't be heard time to time.
Last year was my first Salzburg Festival experience and I was already excited for 2019. This year's festival theme was myths; you can read from here the details of the festival programme. Mozart's Idomeneo was the opening performance of the opera programme. Peter Sellars's production had sounded really interesting and gave me high hopes. Just a quick googling gave away the major idea behind the production: climate change and global warming. Wow. I like this kind of big ideas, it makes you appreciate the piece in a whole other way.
Global warming and Idomeneo. You can say 'no way' when you first hear, but actually it makes sense to connect an opera that has sea monsters, angry wheather conditions with the enviromental problems we're facing: climate change and global warming. It is a great way to get our attention to nature since we still discuss wheather it's happening or not while we are facing the hottest summer ever in Europe. But Peter Sellars didn't think just about the sea monsters, he also think about the generations: Idomeneo tried to help his son Idomente but actually end up hurting him. The young generation also needs the older generation to act on the climate change. In the programme notes, there are some quotes across the universe from young activists that ask older generation (politicians and more) to act. Older generation thinks they doing the best they can but actually they keep destroying the planet that their children supposed to live. This can be related to Idomeneo & Idomente's relationship. Another great point. Bravo.
With these information in mind, I enjoyed the performance. Seeing Idomeneo getting Neptune angry is just like our generation couldn't keep their promise to protect the nature and left an unlivable world behind. However, without these information, I have doubts that the audience made this connection. Let's dig in!
Russell Thomas was the star name of the cast. It was very special to hear him live, but due to his age, he was not at his best, especially after the first act. Ying Fang was a really successful Ilia. But Nicole Chevelier impressed me the most at the premiere. Especially her last aria was completely impressive, I felt her rage in me.
We're in the Felsenreitschule, there is no curtain on the stage, so we saw the George Tsypin's set before the performance begin. There are some big plastic balloon type wastes above the stage. The setting was impressive, especially the lighting. Let's assume everyone in the audience read the programme notes and get the reference.
My expectation of the global warming references were really high. I expect there to be waste storms on the when sea monster attacked, I expect the people suffer from extreme heat/cold etc. This led to disappointment, because there were no other reference other than the setting. You just need to get the idea behind it with the waste on the stage, and that's it.
Ilia and other prisoners wear orange pyjamas, Idamente and others wear blue pyjamas. I didn't understand why Idomente, an acting king, was wearing pyjamas; or the same uniform with the prisoners and the people. Elektra was wearing normal clothes: dress, jacket etc. Is it because she's not belong to either sides? Couldn't say I liked the costumes that much, I will get to the detail as the plot advances :)
Since the three characters are on the stage at the same time (normally they don't suppose to), the storyline didn't make sense for me. Elektra witnessing Idomente and Ilia's talks, Idomente keeps hugging Elektra for no reason, then Elektra gets mad suddenly (and you think why she waited that long to get mad). A very small detail, but really irritated me. Idomente, a castrato role played by a soprano, was really feminine, I don't know if it's by choice, she kept hugging and touching everyone's faces thru the opera, I hope it was intentional but it was really confusing.
The big plastic wastes on the stage were impressive but I don't think they did all the job to this big reference. It was obvious that they had no other point, they had to move around the stage just to clear a space to choir or other things. Some went to side stage, some got lifted to the above. There were some tubes that come from the ground time to time; sometimes it has red lights (when Elektra was mad), sometimes they act like a sea (when Idomeneo comes from the sea). Also, there were two yellow columns appear when Idomeneo first encounters with the choir. For me, they didn't represent anything particular, but Peter Sellars claimed that they are Atlantis in one of his interviews. Atlantis, really? Who would say they were Atlantis? Appearently, only stating in an interview is enough to convince the audience in 2019. These columns got bigger, and than the first part of them flew above the stage while the second part disappears to the ground. Great visual effect but it didn't contribute to the story for me.
In the second act, Ilia came with a jean and t-shirt, Idomente stayed in his pyjamas, Idomeneo came with a military uniform. Idomente being his own prisoner? Ilia is now a free person? But she was freed at the first scene? She didn't time to change clothes then? No, not a really big fan of costumes this time.
Some other thing that I din't quite like was unfortunately the coreography. Other than Idomente being so feminine and touchy, in arias singers made some ridiculus symetrical coreography that consists of circling their hands, putting their heads down etc. that just made me laugh. It didn't go with the storyline or the big, important and serious point that production trying to make. Even the love stories seem unrealistic with the gestures for me.
And the finale ballet! I think this was the most shocking part of the opera for everyone. Idomeneo pave the way for Idomente to rule the country, Ilia and Idomente are together, Elektra just died (and they kept hugging Elektra while she was cursing :)) and Lemi Ponifasio puts to the stage an ava ceremony by the troupou. Of course I know that now, but when I was watching, I saw a woman dressed like a bride come to stage and some men from a far away island dance very angrily. I didn't get anything. Bride eventually went and gave Elektra a hand to join the applause ritual. Now I read that those dancers are from a Pacific Island that is endangered due to rising water levels. Well that connection was pretty much impossible to understand during the performance if you're not a fan of troupe dance :)
Overall, I adored and appreciated the idea of linking Idomeneo with enviromental issues. But how did they do that? My only answer is the plastic waste on the stage. (and the trailers, interviews and well designed programme notes). They did much work writing about it than showing it on the stage. When you read the programme notes, it affects you. But I would rather be impressed after the performance, not after I read about it later. What do you think?
P.S. This year's Salzburg was the hottest summer moments in Europe for me, and while we're seeing the performance, it started to rain heavily. Neptune was definitely agreed with the creative team that it is time to act.
Wait no more: Salzburg Summer Festival 2019 is starting on July 20. It feels like a yesterday that I participated for the first time last year. Now as a experienced (!) attendee, I can say it is not overrated. It was a lovely festival with great stagings.
Last year I attended Salome and Die Zauberflöte, and both productions made me see the pieces in a different way. For the reviews of last year you can click here for Salome; here for Die Zauberflöte.
This year again exciting venues waiting for us. I have again two performances to attend (hopefully time will come for me to attend all the shows: free and first category tickets; waiting for sponsors I guess :) ). Since in reality I am doing this in between my busy work schedule and with my own afford, two performance is ideal. But before that: let's look into the festival programme.
2019's theme is mythts from antiquity. The opening piece will be Mozart's Idomeneo. The other new productions from the festival will be Offenbach's Orphée aux Enfers, George Enescu’s Oedipe, and Cherubini’s Médée. The other opera venues are Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, Pascal Dusapin's Medeamaterial and Handel's Alcina. Salome, last year's great success will be repeated with Asmik Grigorian. The concert versions of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur and Verdi's Luisa Miller will amaze the audience with their amazing casts.
Anna Netrebko will be starring in Adriana Lecouvreur; Placido Domingo will be in Luisa Miller; Cecilia Bartoni will be in Alcina. For me, the most exciting venue will be Idomeneo; I wonder Peter Sellar's retake of the piece with Russell Thomas in the title role.
There's also lots of concerts you don't want to miss. Riccardo Muti will conduct Verdi's Requem and Daniel Barenboim will conduct Mahler's Kindertotenlieder and Symphony No.5. Vienna Philharmonic will again mesmerize all music lovers in the city of Mozart.
Festival preperad a wonderful theme and program for us, I believe it will be again wonderful to see all the classical music lovers in one place with their music love in these hot summer days and with their wrinkled clothes that shows their admiration :) I will be among the crowd, come and find me if you dare :)
Let's meet again in the review of the Idomeneo and Adriana Levcouvreur!
Lydia Steier created a lovely Magic Flute for the Salzburg Festival. Mozart's most famious opera interpreted as a fairytale. Magic Flute was often searched for deeper meanings due to being a composition of Mozart. However, there is no reason for that. The libretto and the intention of the opera has no clues of hidden messages. This production focuses mainly of the entertaining purpose of this opera.
In the overture, we saw a woman in the living room that gets mad for some reason. The maid helps three children to go to bad and their grandfather prepares to read them a fairytale. When overture ends, after a brief silence, he starts to read the story chapter by chapter. Each chapter has a unique name and a beginning sentences that makes it easy to follow. But the intention is not to make opera easier to understand, rather make it a fairytale story staged from the imagination of a child.
When the first act starts, we are still in three children’s house and the prince comes from their window. The characters of the story were played by the household of the three boy’s since children tend to imagine the stories based on their lives. Papageno turns out to be the butcher’s son (as three boys recall him in the middle of the music), and the three angels were the maids. The Queen of the Night was their mother. Turning the Magic Flute into a fairytale makes sense, since the opera is already like a fairytale. Seeing this from the imagination of a child again was amusing. Also, when imagining the story, children were so realistic; three angels killed the monster with a gun, we didn’t see the monster on the stage, all the costumes were ordinary outfits, characters were similar to household etc. The only downside is that Papageno didn’t have a costume that we are used to: but it was a clever reference to turn a ‘bird catcher’ into ‘butcher’s son’.
Having a narrator in the story was interesting. The reinterpretation of the story could be easily expressed without the narrator also. But having one, make the fairytale more believable. Sometimes, I felt like it interrupts the music by pausing everything. But at some points, it gave a groundwork for the director’s understanding of the story. For example, three boys constantly asked questions when they didn’t convinced by the story and the grandfather’s answer give the director’s opinion. They asked ‘where is Tamino?’ when Papageno arrived to Sarastro’s place. When Monostatos tried to force Pamina, three boys begged their grandfather to change the story; they said ‘somebody should help Pamina’ right before the Queen of the Night arrives. Three boys were also involved in the story, they are also the ‘three little boys’ in the real story. Narrator also has some jokes. In the beginning of the chapter he always started to say somebody’s line and then the story begins with that character and that line. Sometimes he repeated the line until finally the character says it –as if the characters has forgotten the line-, sometimes characters said before the narrator when he replies as ‘danke schön’. These moments – although it was predictable- amused the audience.
The one thing I didn’t understand and like in this production was the Sarastro’s staging. All the characters and the décor was belong to a circus. Pamina was dressed like an acrobat, not like a princess. There was a metal construction at the background with lots of characters from a circus. Is this how the children imagined the place? It was nothing to do with evil vs good; the trials etc. I just like that the original home setting was present most of the time. The old Papagena was like a plastic toy that the younh Papagena come out from the skirt.
The lighing was great; the entrences of the Queen of the Night, the reading light.. We clearly understand when we are seeing the story and when we are in the reality. Vienna Philharmonic was delicious as always – really, there is no other word for it. :) In general, the production was entertaining, but I am not sure if I recommend this one if you have only one chance to see Die Zauberflöte.
In this year’s summer Salzburg Festival, the most expected production in my opinion was Richard Strauss’s atonal opera Salome. If you are not familiar with the opera, here is the link to read all about it.
Under the baton of Franz Welser-Möst, Wiener Philharmoniker was extra-ordinary. With the help of the great acoustics of the Haus für Mozart, I did feel every crescendo in my bones. It was a wonderful experience. It is not easy to be heard in wonderful way over the fortissimo of this orchestra, but Asmik Gregorian was perfect as a Salome. One of the hardest roles in opera repertory, she sang the role so well that you can mistake her singing a Mozart aria instead of an atonal piece. I cannot say that Gabor Bretz gave a perfect Jochanaan, there was something unconvincing in his voice for this role.
Now let’s get into the production. When it is Salome, my expectations are set very high due to the wonderful production of David McVicar. Although I left the opera with a great satisfaction, unfortunately it was not caused by Castellucci’s production. Asmik Gregorian is the essential element of the success as well as the applause.
Before the curtain is open, ‘Te Saxa Loquuntur’ (The Stones Speak of You) was written on the curtain. The same sentence is written at the entrance of the tunnel in Salzburg. Later when the curtain opens, the stone structure that resembles the tunnel surroundings embraces us.
When I am encountered some hint about the staging before the beginning, I am expecting it will be a huge part of the production. Because you stare at this sentence for like twenty minutes, you feel that you have to understand what it means, you go through the program notes and everything, and there is no connection to the story.. At least, I couldn’t think of it yet. We saw Salome in a wedding dress, she lifted a sword and the word ‘loquuntur’ is divided in a horizontal half.
At the first glimpse, we saw people cleaning the blood on the floor and some dead bodies in a plastic bag on the stage. First, I immediately wonder if it is a reference to the gas chambers like in McVicar production, but I concluded it isn’t. Bodies are carried by some people during the act. I just assumed that there are many murders commited here and that’s all.
Except for Salome and Jochanaan, everybody’s face is painted in the half. I don’t know if it’s serve anything than losing the charaters on the stage since they all look exactly the same. For me, Narraboth is a very important role, his line feels most melodic to my ears everytime he adores Salome. Personally, I am nor comfortable Narraboth staring at her in a different angle, her entering the scene from a whole different angle. But the main thing that makes me very uncomfortable is that the characters sometimes lay down on the floor and stay still, what is that all about ? We know that he’s not dead yet, he lays down, then he stands up sings his part and goes down again. It was felt like a undermining of the character to me.
After Salome begged Narraboth to see Jochanaan, some soil appeared near the Jochanaan’s hole. Also, from beginning to end, some characters continue to bring and take objects to the background. Salome stands in her arms and legs like a horse, takes a saddle to her back and pretends to be a horse (saddle is one of the things that they brought to the stage at one point). Then, an actual horse appears on the stage from the Jochanaan’s hole and turns around while Salome dances on her back with her feets. I actually laughed at that point, why we see a horse at the ground level of a palace? Horse actually has a significance for the production since we saw it in later references as well. When Jochanaan comes to the stage, he has a black paint all over his face and a fadder in his head while holding a drum with a fadder in his hand. That person really didn’t convince me to be a prophet with his attitude and costume. When the first appearance of the Jochanaan the lightening was really good and it increased our anticipation to see Jochanaan. This makes us feel the excitation of Salome to look into his eyes. When he climbing from the stage, a dark circle started to grow from Jochanaan’s spot and expend to the whole stage eventually. Than it started to get smaller, and at one point it only existed around the head of Jochanaan like a saint signature.
When Herodes enters the scene, there was some giant glass or trophy (I couldn’t decide what it is). When they come, they brought some furniture with them (and take them back although the plot was not changing place). Also, since this is a place where Salome briefly stops to sing, a white dressed girl entered and stayed at the corner as a Salome (we understand this when Herodes points her as Salome) and we saw Asmik to go to the backstage. Than, she comes back (not from a side door or anything, right in the middle of the stage) and take her place. Does she desperately requested to go to the backstage? Because this was really disturbing.
While Jews were discussing, there was frozen boxers in the background. Really. Also they brought Jochanaan out of the hole (with wooden stairs that you see, and carefully watch three actors climb the stairs and stop following the actual scene) and wash him with water. These actors later remove some parts from Herodes’s circle and place them in the back. Again, audience watched them try to balance the parts. It was really hard to focus on the actual scene when too many things happen on the stage.
Let’s come to the first disappointment: Dance of The Seven Veils. This scene is really open to interesting interpretations through staging. But here, we saw no dancing. Salome just get undressed (only underwear) and climb into a stone that says ‘saxa’ on it. Again, the stone reference. Then crawled there, some woman take a black ribbon and place it around her. That’s all, she just stayed there. At the end, some big stone approached from above, take her inside and climb back to the air. Salome was then seem to be disappeared. She just came back with her dress on from the below part. No reference to the seven sins, no reference to the Herodes’s desire, Salome’s true intention.. nothing..
While Herodes are offering his fortune instead of Jochanaan’s head to Salome, some people dragged dead bodies in colored bags to the scene. Was that supposed to scare Salome? At the end, dead bodies just stood up, and exit the scene. Really, no place for me to believe in any of the acting on the stage as if they are deliberately saying this is all acting.
When Salome asked for Jochanaan’s head, some actors filled the Jochanaan’s hole with milk. Salome then played with the milk. At that point, some men tried to fill the missing places in Herodes’s place (due to the removed parts) with gold, but hole never filled. Really, I didn’t understand the point. Just lots of action, but no point.
-Drumrolls- When Salome finally get her desire.. She gets everything but Jochanaan’s head. We never saw the head. They just brought the rest of the body! Salome first puts her throne above the headless body. Then she puts horse head above the body (they brought severed horse head to the stage – but since they placed it very strange, not until the end I understand that was a horse head. Salome never kisses Jochanaan, just at the end we saw her kissing his imaginary head. Meanwhile, some sort of balloon starts to get filled at the righthand side of the stage. It got bigger and bigger. What was that, I really couldn’t understand. All of this time, Salome was alone in the stage. Herodes and Herodias just came to the stage when they sing and left right after that. We didn’t see how they are surprised from Salome’s act. When Herodes ordered to kill Salome, he blow up the balloon. Salome goes to a small hole filled with water.
I think bringing the Jochanaan’s body instead of his head was really surprising. It was an innovation for Salome, the missing object of the whole opera didn’t appear at all. But rather than try to understand the meaning, audience was lost between milk, water, horse, jazz band, boxers, balloons… The feeling I got was ‘with this much budget, I can use the stage this much’. Everything opened, filled… As if they did everything for audience not to focus on singer on the stage.. While you look other place, you see all the Jews at the ground, then they stand up and continue.. It is clear that staging is not the successful part of this production.. But musically it was above all expectations..
Claus Guth designed the set of La Boheme in space. At the first look, this seems like a very bold choice. But it is not the first time that a setting placed in the space actually. As you may guess, when the subject is La Boheme, audiences tend to be more conservative. They want productions of La Boheme each season, but they don't want new groundbreaking productions, they want the traditional staging that is loved and adored a lot. I, on the other hand, am open to new ideas. When I first heard the space staging, this immediately triggered me and I couldn't wait to see the production. And I would appreciate if the storyline, the libretto and the feelings were adjusted properly to a new timeline or a storyline. This would enlarge our understanding of the piece. I think if the aspects of the piece were somehow able to be connected to the new story, the creativity will be appreciated. So my look for this production was all positive, because aside from the traditional staging which would be the first choice for every opera lover, it is good to have alternative creative productions to keep the opera alive. Now, let's see how Claus Guth achieved / not achieved this.
First of all, it is not easy to find this production online. I watched it from medici.tv; it is available until the middle of the March, so hurry if you want to watch it. When you watch a production like this, you are focising more to the questions in your mind like how this scene will be adjusted.. etc. So it started immediately in space where our team of Bohemians were in the space shuttle. When curtain opens, music doesn't start immediately; instead we see Rodolfo typing in the subtitles to make us understand basicly that they are in a space mission that somethings go wrong, they are hopeless, they had so little materials to survive, no connection etc. After we understand this, it was easy to connect the first scenes. They were frozing in the shuttle, so the libretto was fitting actually. Event the lyrics about to the look of Paris were connected when Rodolfo watched the Earh from the window. Since we understand that our Bohemians are the only ones in the mission, I immediately started to wonder about the landlord (and Mimi and Musetta of course). For the landlord, they bring a corpse from somewhere.. we don't know who it is or the story of it. In the first appearings of the corpse, we don't understand the purpose. But later, our Bohemians who are so bored, pretends the corpse is the landlord and plays pretend with it. It is not entirely convincing but I can live with it :)
Rodolfo stays to write in the space journal and others left to go to 'Cafe Momus'. Of course, we are wondering where that can be :) But we are even more curious about Mimi, and where she'll be coming from. We don't get a cue there, we hear Mimi knocking on the door and she enters to the scene; with a red dress and a candle (try not to question the candly in the space - maybe it could have been replace with a lighter). When they start their converstaion, Mimi looks directly to the audience with dead eyes, not moving like a ghost. She doesn't look ill or cold at all. We understand from the act of Rodolfo that he's imagining Mimi, no other clue until that point. Le me comment there, I think Rodolfo imagining Mimi is understandable, they are about to lose their minds due to the lack of oxygen and other supplies; also loneliness. However, since now we are in the space, we are clearly in the modern times. So Rodolfo's memories doesn't really make sense on that point, she met a girl who has a tuberculosis who needs the neighbor to light her candle to go home ? Hmm. Maybe a little adjustment needed for the memories, as well. Going back to the production, when Rodolfo starts ''Che Gelida Manina'', he starts to film himself singing. I thought, is Mimi still alive on Earth? Will he send this video -hoping it will reach her- to Mimi? But after this aria, there is no suggestion to any of this. But I was still hopeful and find it interesting up to this point. When they finished their singing, they should have been left the stage to join others in Cafe Momus, but instead Mimi disappeared, and Rodolfo went to the freezing unit (? I don't know - a strange bed :) ). Then we see in the subtitles an entry from Rodolfo -but he wasn't typing at that point- that he's having visions of Mimi - ''Mimi returns, always Mimi'' he says.
Hence, the problem starts! Now the Cafe Momus scene has started, we already have a Rodolfo in the stage. This point onwards things are not going as I imagined. Cafe Momus comes to the shuttle in the imagination of Rodolfo, but other crew is there also, are they also imagining ? Let me begin from the top. Rodolfo wokes up from his bed and sees the children, clowns and other casts from the original Cafe Momus scene. They are also bringing tables etc and now we are in the Cafe Momus. However, this is the interesting part, all crew are still in their space suit. And they have doubles that comes with Mimi ! Actually, it is more complicated than this even. Because, other crew members are switched to the normal clothes and sit around the table. But Rodolfo -since he was on stage already are in his spacesuit and his double is in the normal clothes. Mimi comes with the double. All spacesuit people are watching their imagination on the stage. At some point, Rodolfo and his double switches clothes. Now we have all singing crew in normal suits. Why this caos ? If you want doubles just to stare to the imagination, why Rodolfo stayed in the stage and confuse us all ? He could simple leave the stage following ghost Mimi and we could ready the overtitles alone, he was not typing anyway ! Since the doubles are not really look like the crew members, it was rather confusing. You could see their clothes has names, I could see that on screen, but I doubt that audience could see that (maybe first row only). Also, it makes sense that Rodolfo and Macello dreaming, but why Colline and Schaunard dream this ? :)
The first scene was part really on space, part imagination. But second scene is all imagination; no real connection, even overtitles.. It starts and ends as a imagination while astronauts staring.
Yes, I am not sure about the second scene. If you are about to die in space alone, you may imagine a scene like this if it was all happy memories. Maybe Marcello's dream was okay, bur Rodolfo dreaming where he was jealous of Mimi ? Hmm, don't think so.
Let's go to the third act. Now, we are actually on the moon. Why ? We don't know, they already don't have any supplies, how could they land to the moon ? Why they are outside ? No answer there. But the most disturbing thing for me that we have cast from the Cafe Momus scene ! WHY? This is really strange. It was one dream, even in the real story they are not connected and there were time time passed between these events. We still have doubles. Now, the doubles -who are not singing- are in the space suits - some of them don't wear their helmets though, clearly you can breathe in space now :) - and our crew in their normal suits. This scene is clearly centered around Mimi; and since these are all memories of Rodolfo, how can he dreams a part he didn't witness ? Mimi and Marcello talking about Rodolfo and he imagines that ? This scene should have been really romantic - snows falling, they are promise to be seperated in the future, Mimi's illness first addressed here.. But now, we are waching some mission in the backgound, astronaut Rodolfo tries to interfene with the memory events. Instead of snow, we have ashes. Other than that, this scene became a really cold scene, we are not touched by any of these. Also again Musetta and Marcello's story is so behing that we couldn't see the contrast of relationships. This way we couldn't appreciate the quartet. Also, the most irritating thing for me the star in the background ? What is that ? Is it from the Cafe Momus scene ? How it is connected ?
We come to the last scene; Mimi will die here. This is very critical, very. The whole charm of La Boheme is coming from its natural, unpretentious feeling. It's about a love story that is not perfect (jealous, sick, on and off). The most important thing is the natural death of Mimi and music not taking the hint until Rodolfo finds out. This scene was really really bad. I couldn't appreciate a single thing about the scene, really. First of all, a clown. Why ? I really don't understand why there is a clown in this scene ? It appears from the backgorund, and it is always there. The purpose ? There is absolutely no purpose. He's coming from the Cafe Momus scene. He was there lying in the background. now he is awake and always in the scene :(
Now, be prepared. The most dramatic scene of the opera history has shiny curtains in the moon :) Rodolfo and Marcello has a microphone and pretend to be singing. Yes, I know what you're feeling.
They are all playing behind these curtain - only showing heads etc. Astronaut Rodolfo taking the pink (but red in the production) bonnet for one hour now :) Musetta comes with the bad knows, but it is not convincing that Bohemians has no money, that Mimi is cold etc. We are in this shiny background, with costumes that seems very expensive.. Also how come our astronauts come from such a poverty ? (If we go that far, how come poet ends up in a mission to moon, I don't go there). These details, I can look the other way. But the death scene doesn't connect with me at all. There is no bed, they are all standing in line in front of the curtain. There is no acting in this scene; there are only singing. We hear that others understand the death of Mimi but we don't see them. We don't see that Rodolfo is looking another way and don't see Mimi. We wouldn't be undertand the death of Mimi if Musetta won't make a comment on it since Mimi was walking on the moon even after her death. Music strikes, Rodolfo cries for the Mimi, but we don't get upset, we see Mimi walking still. Is the dream over ? And what happen to the mission ? Is Rodolfo dead already ? The story seems to be abondened.
As I said in the beginning, I wasn't judjemental about placing lovely La Boheme on space, I am very open in that case. But a production that could go really well, seem to be rushed after the first act. But since these productions evokes so many reactions, it reminds the audience how much we love the drama, how much we adore opera. If it was another traditional staging, I wouldn't be writing this. So I recommend you to see it, but imagine what would have done? It is a never-dying love story that could be connected to any time and place. Always something to appreciate.
This production conducted by Dudamel. Atalla Ayan as Rodolfo, Nicole Car as Mimi, Aida Gariullina as Musetta gave a spectacular performance. Musically, it will really satisfy you.
Bizet’s Carmen is first premiered on Opera Comique (Paris) at 1875. This is the last piece of Bizet. Opera was commissioned by Opera Comique. The choice of ‘’Carmen’’ has led to an impass since the heroine is an unusual character and the fact that she dies on the stage. Carmen’s story was based on Prosper Mérimée’s book. The first reception of the opera was not very successful. Carmen is in the Opera Comique genre although the characters Carmen and Dan Jose were very unusual for that genre, in contrast more familiar to Verismo style.
The opera takes place in Spain and it is about the downfall of soldier Dan Jose and the gypsy girl Carmen who is a very strong female character – unusual when comparing the fragile heroines in operas; Violetta, Mimi etc.
Carmen’s orchestration, melodic and harmonic structure was considered perfect by many critics and given as reason to its timeless popularity. Opera has a Spanish flavor; ‘’Habenera’’, "Seguidilla" are examples where Bizet used the folk melody; he places folk songs and rhythm and instrumentation of flamenco. As opposed to the operas at that time, Carmen’s solos are actually songs that take place in the play; heroine doesn’t have an aria that is used to express an emotion in frozen plot. When she has a solo, she is actually dancing or singing in the plot.
Overture defined as ‘’the piece in two or more sections that formed a solemn introduction to a ballet, opera or oratorio’’ in Grove dictionary. It usually summarizes the opera by pre-stating the melodies of important arias, leitmotifs, harmonic structure etc. The overture starts with a bull fight theme in the last act. It is a cheerful, fast theme. We hear the complete team repeated twice. Then we have a secondary motif and a thrill we again hear the bull fighter theme for the third time. Then a sudden switch to Toreador Song from the Act 2 from strings only and then repeated with full orchestra. But before the end of the repetition, there is a modulation within the end of the theme which is unexpected and serves as a quick connection to the first theme again. It connects to the first theme as same pitch as before – the modulation effect is only present for several measures. After hearing the bullfighter theme for the fourth time, it ends. But, after a small pose, violins start with tremolo and cellos introduce a dramatic theme which is associated with Carmen and her fate in the opera. The tension is built with long tremolos, ascending notes, crescendo and dramatic melody. After that there is a sudden stop with no conclusion.
The repetition of the bullfight theme and the connections of the other themes to the first theme, lead to the assumption that we do not want to move away from the first theme and always wants to go back. First theme serves as a tonic, as an ultimate arrival goal. At the end of the second repetition of the first theme, the switch to secondary motive - which is more rhythmic than melodic - is not impressive as the return to the first theme. Also, when we switch to the Toreador Song, we only have a rhythm which weakens the connection as in reducing the energy we have from the first theme. In the first part of the overture is mainly the bullfight theme and a Toreador Song which is associated with Escamillo. Although it is a secondary character, and Don Jose has a crucial role in Carmen’s life, we hear mostly the joyful bullfighter themes and songs. Also similar to the end where Carmen’s death only creates few melodic lines above the Toreador Song people are singing. There is no melodic reference to the Don Jose character in the overture – although the Carmen theme also heard in the beginning of his famous aria ‘’La Fleur Que Tu M'avais Jetée’’- emphasizing that he is a weak character, which we all thought until the very end of the opera. After the tension building, audience is expecting a closer. However, as happened in the end, audience is getting tensed by the strength of Carmen and unexpected killing eliminates the closer. The motif is played by clarinet, bassoon, cornet and cellos over tremolo strings. After the crescendo, the sudden end may be indicating that the summary is interrupted with the sudden change of mind of telling a story from the beginning.
Carmen scored for 2 flutes (piccolo), 2 oboes (english horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, tambourine, side drum, harp and strings. Instruments are within the expected range. It has a heterophonic structure. The first theme is more dynamic than the other themes in the overture. It is always more forte as it is a celebration theme. Other themes that are used in between are juxtaposed with the first theme. The key signature indicates A Major. Chordal motion is slow and repetitive.
Overture is in the 2-4 meter. The opera uses the Spanish folk music rhythms, however in the overture; the characteristic rhythm of the piece belongs to the first theme. It is more fast than others, has a celebration pattern and the rhythm is a reference to the rhythmic pattern of a running bull. In the statement of Toreador Song, there is a difference of rhythm since the second one is played staccato. In the first theme, there is a characteristic rhythmic pattern of 3 times of one eighth note + 2 sixteenth notes + 4 sixteenth notes ending with half note. In the Toreador Song section, the characteristic rhythmic structure is the usages of eight and sixteenth rests and the staccato and legato phrases that creates a contrast.
The melody is diatonic. It uses both stepwise and leaping motion. The melodic phrases are even to the length of grouped rhythmic patterns. Phrases repeated in the themes as analyzed above. Melody is in the violins in the first theme, and in the cellos in the Carmen motive. In the first theme, the general shape of the phrase is; in the first half of the phrase we have a static notes connected with a leap to descending stepwise motion, and in the second half of the phrase we have a static notes connected with a leap to ascending stepwise motion.
Growth is signaled both with repetition as seen in the repetitive motion of the first theme, and modulation within the last measures of the theme– the unexpected, early returning from Toreador Song to the first theme. The repetition of the first theme is identical in every repetition, whereas in the second repetition of the Toreador Song there is small variation. For the full understanding of the growth, the whole opera should be considered rather than just the overture.
Carmen is the timeless piece that uses the Spanish motives. The tunes are very original and imaginative. The tunes are presenting the complicated characters perfectly with a great instrumentation. Other than wonderful arias, the instrumentation – which is performed also as Suits 1&2 – and the songs referred to in the opera create its richness. Even in the overture, one can understand that its unique form by the division of the overture, he unexpected end… Carmen’s character couldn’t even fit into the overture.
La Rue’s technique of SHMRG is valid for the piece. However, since it is only a part of the piece and meant to serve as a summary of whole opera, the technique could be more useful and accurate if it was applied to the whole opera.
We lost Leyla Gencer at 10 May, eight years ago. But do we know her abilities? Let’s get to know her a little. She was a Turkish bel canto soprano who was a member of La Scala in Milan. She performed more that 70 roles. She is known for her Donizetti roles, and she played many of the unforgotten operas of Donizetti.
Rather than focusing her life and career, I will examine an aria she sang that fortunately we have a recording on youtube. There is a few record left of her. Look how great she sings ’’D’amor sull'ali rosee’’ from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. She was known for her piano high notes which requires very hard vocal technique. This technique is named after her ‘’gencerata’’. When we understand this is the ‘’top’’ moment, she sings the high note perfectly piano and the effect is doubled. It is like you reach the most dramatic point but you can not mention it still. Also, you will notice that how she sings the low notes from chest voice. This is sound imperfect but how devoted to the role. This imperfection I adore because I can feel the emotion very intensely, I can imagine that she tries to tell us something. Perfect tones aren’t necessarily give the emotion after all.
This aria is sang by Leonora. Manrico has been captured for trying to save his mother from execution. Leonora comes to the prison in disguise to see him. She hopes that he will be sustained by her love for him. How she sounds powerful at the beginning, how strong… She gives confidence to herself and her surroundings. However, how much misery she got, how fragile she is actually, this is perfectly perfectly given by the dramatic nuance she made.
Timor di me ?...sicura, Afraid of me ?...sure,
presta è la mia difesa. ready is my defence.
I suoi occhi figgonsi ad una gemma His eyes are attracted by a stone
che le fregia la mano destra. she wears on her right hand.
In quest' oscura Wrapped in the dark
notte ravvolta, presso a te io son, night, I am near you,
e tu nol sai...Gemente and you don't know it...
aura che intorno spiri, Wailing wind,
deh, pietosa gli arreca carry to him, mercifully, my sighs...
i miei sospiri...
D' amor sull' ali rosee On the rosy wings of love,
vanne, sospir dolente: go, pained sighs:
del prigioniero misero go to alleviate the sick mind
conforta l' egra mente... of the wretch that lies imprisoned...
Com' aura di speranza Like a breeze of hope
aleggia in quella stanza: linger in that room:
lo desta alle memorie, wake him up to remembrance,
ai sogni dell'amor! to dreams of love!
Ma deh! non dirgli improvvido, Yet do not imprudently
le pene del mio cor! reveal the woes of my heart!
After a very successful career, she was the artistic director of the academy for opera artists in Teatro alla Scala. She also thought opera interpretation in there. Not only she has a huge variety of roles in her repertoire, also she was very famous with dramatic nuances, also she was a great researcher and she reintroduced many forgotten works of the romantic period to the opera stages. Can you imagine she was a prima donna of La Scale in such era that Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Monserrat Caballé, Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills were present? It was a great success and great pride for Turkey.
The last Saturday, we watched the last live performance of the Metropolitan Opera HD series of this season: Elektra by Richard Strauss. It was a good performance but a warning: It is not easy on the ears J It is an important example of the atonal opera, hard to love it at the first instance but later you can comment it as even melodic like I did. :)