Saturday, September 30, 2006

First night in the new house

Revised a bit from last night on account of sobriety.

Good times at the Lyric Opera last night, for its new staging of Iphigenie en Tauride. The main attraction? One Ms. Susan Graham, of course. Her harrowing, damaged, exquisitie Iphiginie is trademark Graham through and through: the unerring instincts, the consummate musicianship, etc. One just can't get over what a unique talent it is (nor can the Lyric, apparently, who saw fit to give her her own curtain call, replete with special spotlight...I mean, it's not like she's Elvis, people).

But last night really demonstrated a new side of SG for me--I've only seen her live three times, and one of those in concert, but she has always struck me as a very 'still' presence onstage. That's not to say stilted by any means, but simply that her physical presence plays second fiddle to the vocal drama. Or maybe it's just that she's like, 6'5'', and that conjurs up less mobile adjectives like towering and statuesque. In any event, this was not the case last night. Barefoot, clad in a black shroud, and sporting long unkempt hair (instead of that kicky highlighted business we usually associate with her), her Ipheginie stumbles about, curls up in the corner, lunges impetuously, and beats the walls with all the bravado of an inmate in an asylum. It's a dynamite performance and a persuasive reading.

But if I were to make one small quibble, and I were, it would be that she seemed guarded in her upper register. It didn't come up that often, but there was notable cautiousness in several big flourishes up top. Question for people that know more about Iphigenie than I: is that because the role has some sections decidedly at the fringes of modern mezzo range? It's nominally sung by full fledged sopranos, no?

As to the rest of the cast: very high marks to Paul Groves' Pylade--a thrilling clarion tone and deep commitment, although the admittedly very hard big aria in Act III seemed to get the better of him in a few places. Lucas Meachem, in the role of his, um, "special friend" Oreste brings a very agreeable light baritone to the part, but had some notable intermittent shortfalls in the power and pitch departments. Mark Delavan turned in a solid Thoas, but I didn't enjoy him as much here as I have on other occasions.

The staging, which plays out on a simple box of slate walls, is on its face a standard minimalist angle, but definitely effective, and in parts very inventive. The lighting design is spare and on target--harsh spots down stage are used to throw the singers' shadows against the slate walls and a devious orange wash crops up to denote points of madness, a haunting blue for Iphigenie's sorrow. Shadows are used cleverly throughout to create a murky, foreboding atmosphere and imbue the simple set with a remarkable range of textures. In a nod to the source material, the chorus is deployed here in the Greek sense, as an abiding presence shaping the action, though with a good deal more writhing around, to be sure.

I took some issue with the major gimmick of the first and second acts, which has everyone writing "Iphigenie" and other character names "REDRUM" style on the walls, then washing it off in various ways. Now, I like it when actors draw on the stage as much as the next guy, but this may have gone a bit over the top--by the fourth cycle of drawing/erasing I kind of wanted someone to take their chalk away. All in all though, file this under thoughtful minimalist productions of the sort you think City Opera should be able to do in its sleep, but for some reason just can't.

In the pit, Louis Langree led the Lyric Orchestra in a swinging, carefree reading and drew a really lovely delicate texture from the players. I wondered, though, how responsible he was for a not insignificant handful of moments where singer and orchestra got out of sync. (Private to Met Orchestra: don't worry, you're still my best girl.)

Some pics of the new house forthcoming...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Greetings from Chicagoland

First off, I'd like to register my seething envy for everyone who was at the Met on Monday. Spotty Cio-Cio San or not it sounds like a simply delightful evening, and should, I think, be taken as a sort of recognition for everyone out there laboring in opera-loving obscurity. Maybe it's one man's pipe-dream. Maybe it's the start of something big. Either way, it's nice to be validated by jumbotrons once in a while.

As for me, I'm still jonesing for that first sweet fix...couldn't quite bring myself to endure Turandot feat. Andrea "Suckola" Gruber. But no need for pity, the Lyric's first ever Iphigenie staging bows Friday with Susan "Hook em' Horns" Graham at the helm and I expect to be there. And that, of course, is mere pregame to the christening of the all-live, all-____ Voigt Salome in October.

Must go back to the books, but I would like to throw in my two cents about the brewing child v. puppet debate engulfing critics and bloggers alike. (Question: where would Shari Lewis come down here?) No opinions about the case in question of course, but it got me thinking about other children's parts ripe for takeover--I mean, freaky puppet child Sound of Music, anyone? Please?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Peter Threw a Party. Everybody Came.

The Wellsung blog aspires, in the new season, to crawl out of our deep hole of obsolescence. We will attempt to post with our former regularity and provide frank, unfiltered, and on occasion, thoughtful comments on the season's offerings.

One major shake-up: My dear friend and blogging buddy Alex has moved to Chicago. Yes, it's as depressing as it sounds; thank goodness for those $39 each way fares on Southwest. Alex will now officially head up the Chicago office of Wellsung, while I keep the home fires burning in New York. Between him and me, and regular offerings from my parents in San Francisco, we should be able to cover a lot of territory between now and June.

And of course, we will still IM with a frequence and level of sophistication approaching that of middle school girls. So, um, stay tuned for that.


HOLY CRAP. Last night was insane!!

Me likey the Gelb.

A quick note on the event--the parade of celebrities, video screen simulcasts, tacky rich ladies in f-ing ugly kimonos (yes, the Upper East Side dusted off their finest KIMONOS (Kimoni?)), Melissa Rivers interviewing Licia...well, maybe she was there. This was spectacle at its finest. The whole thing had me giggling from the moment we emerged from the 1 train. The best part of this whole circus was that everyone truly seemed to be having a total blast. It made me really happy. It truly felt like a massive celebration of a massive rethinking of the way opera is marketed and perceived by the general consuming public. I am hoping the message I took away from the frenzy is in fact the intention of the new administration:

We're not going to mess with the product. We ARE going to make sure people know it's here and accessible.

I hope I'm right--fingers nervously crossed on this one. I am 100% in support of building audiences, as long as the quality of the work remains at the highest possible level. We shall see. I am optimistic.

As for Madama Butterfly (oh right, that.)...

I have no criticisms of this heartbreakingly beautiful, perfectly conceived production by Anthony Minghella. Every design element is in perfect harmony with the others, and the performers' movements within these elements result in some of the most sublime theatrical moments I have seen on any stage in this city. It is truly breathtaking, and a massive, massive accomplishment. Mr. Minghella and his team of designers were unquestionably the stars of the evening.

James Levine, in his one-performance-only appearance as the conductor of this production, lead the orchestra in an energized, intelligent reading of one of Puccini's most emotionally wrought scores. It was Mr. Levine's first outing conducting this particular piece in its entirety. He has certainlhy faced many a more daunting challenge, but met this one with elegance and apparent ease.

On a slightly more troubling note, the singing was on par with neither the production's artistry, nor the event's bombast. Marcello Giordani's Pinkerton had some lovely moments, as did Dwayne Croft's Sharpless and Maria Zifchak's particularly robust reading of Suzuki. They all turned in very solid, reliable, and unremarkable performances. But on to the lady of the evening...

I am sorry to report that Cristina Gallardo-Domas is sort of a mess. She has nothing on top, and lacks the breath support to survive key phrases. Consequently, several of the piece's more iconic moments fell flat. REALLY flat. She was missing notes here and there by upwards of a whole step. When she DID reach them, she couldn't sustain them anywhere near their full value. This is supposedly her "signature" role. Considering that, I'd think she would at least be able to at least sing all the notes. Perhaps on a night with less pressure she will deliver something a bit more solid--all eyes were truly on her, and that can't be easy.

That said, this is one of those rare productions that is unquestionably worth experiencing regardless of the very real vocal shortcomings of the leading lady. And the crowd seemed to like her more than I did, anyhow.

Then again...wearing that costume, under that brilliant lighting plot, and descending Minghella's massive raked stage toward an audience more hungry for a thrilling evening that any I can could stick just about anyone up there and they'd be likely to get a standing ovation.

Any takers?