Tag: Donizetti

Donizetti – Roberto Devereux / Metropolitan Opera 4-16-16

When you are faced with a production of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, it is good to keep in mind that yes, it is ridiculous. It is ridiculous on the grand scale – it has the distinction of being (I’m pretty sure) the only story based on the life of the Earl of Essex that includes his execution but does its best to avoid talking much about the abortive rebellion he led in early 1601 that according to most non-Donizetti’s-librettist schools of historical scholarship was the primary reason he was executed. Also it leaves out the part where he tried to shift part of the blame for the rising to his sister Penelope (I am not making this up), which I suspect gives you a sense of why Donizetti’s librettist decided to leave this and many other things out of the libretto.

It is also ridiculous on the small scale – the ending has Elizabeth basically drop dead after she realizes she was wrong to execute Essex. Given that in this version, she has him executed basically because she’s mad at him for loving another woman, I suppose maybe she was embarrassed. You know how sometimes you’ve momentarily wanted to drop dead, when you’ve done something really stupid and everyone in the room knows? Well it may be that if you’re an anointed monarch, you can actually do this. But of course, you can only do it the once.

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Donizetti – Anna Bolena / Metropolitan Opera 9-26-15

David McVicar’s production of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena resembles his Maria Stuarda: there is a lot of gray and dull brown and white, with splashes of bright red. The red is hard to miss. Anna is wearing it for a while, and then at the beginning of Act II the red has moved to the bed in the room where Anna and Giovanna have their conversation, and by the time Giovanna is pleading with Henry (for consistency’s sake, I suppose I should refer to him as Enrico, but I can type Henry more times in a row without mistakes, so Henry he is) for Anna’s life she (Giovanna) is wearing a red dress, and the last time we see Anna she is wearing white – if red means you are the focus of Henry’s attention, for good or bad, Anna has escaped. The royal buck has been passed.

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Joyce DiDonato / Stella di Napoli

One of my fondest opera memories is of being at the Houston Grand Opera a little over two years ago to hear Joyce DiDonato in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. It’s one of those operas that I seek out more as a chance to hear specific performers than for the opera itself. In Houston, I remember being simply mesmerized listening to the way her voice could sail through all the little twists and turns of ornamentation in a way that was both technically a thrill to listen to and dramatically compelling. There were several moments where she made the vocal line stop, hang in the air, and then in the same breath moved it on in a different direction – it was stunning. This recording reminded me of that experience, and not just because there is a selection from Maria Stuarda on it (it’s the prayer scene from the finale).


Donizetti / Anna Bolena / Wiener Staatsoper 2011

I watched this on a whim after going through the Met’s Maria Stuarda on DVD again. I had only ever heard Anna Bolena in audio form before, an older recording with Beverly Sills and Shirley Verrett in the two main roles (Anna and Giovanna). Anna Netrebko and Beverly Sills are apples and oranges in a lot of ways. Netrebko has a sumptuous voice, but I have never really warmed to her acting – this is weird, but I find I often prefer to listen to her sing rather than watch her because often her face is so oddly immobile. Not all the time, but enough that you just want to ask her to furrow her brow, just a little, to show that she can, you know? Sills, on the other hand, could sound shrill sometimes, especially later in her career, but she inhabited those Donizetti queens. Verrett, too – the scene in Part II when Anna and Giovanna figure out what the score is and Giovanna feels awful and Anna forgives her is dynamite on that old recording. (It’s the one with the London Symphony conducted by Julius Rudel, from 1972).

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Maria Stuarda / Met Opera 2013

I saw the live performance of this (twice!) and I was not sure what my reaction to the DVD would be.

vlcsnap-2014-05-18-21h23m12s1It’s a different experience seeing it from close up – and hearing the commentary. Elizabeth’s odd rolling gait was the director’s idea (the singer, Elza van den Heever, had initially gone for ‘royal’ but McVicar had other ideas), and according to Deborah Voigt, who does the interviews/introductions, the second act is supposed to take place ten years after the first. This was news to me. I don’t think there’s a ten year gap at any point during Schiller’s play – at least, I don’t remember one – and I had no idea there was supposed to be one in the opera. I don’t think it’s necessary; the drama, such as it is, works without it, and as far as structures for stories are concerned I’d rather have one seamless arc than two chunks with a hole in the middle. (Mary was involved in a series of plots in the 1580s before her execution in 1587 – maybe the idea is that those happened in the interim, making her innocence less obvious and changing the game a little post-confrontation scene? Maybe if I paid more attention to the libretto this would be obvious. Then again, Mary had been accused of all kinds of sketchy things even before the late 1570s (i.e. the end minus ten years) so I’m not sure that works either. This is probably one of those questions that is not worth pursuing.) But it does make some visual details of the second half easier to explain – the fact that Leicester’s hair and Cecil’s beard are grayer.

There was one thing that I suspected I would find slightly irritating close up on DVD: Mary’s constant trembling in the second half. I was right, although it wasn’t as distracting as I thought it might be. And besides, when DiDonato sings the way she does here, she can basically do whatever else she and the director want as far as visuals and I do not mind at all.

Donizetti – L’Elisir d’Amore

The university opera company put on a little production of this Donizetti opera this past weekend. It was in one of our smaller performance spaces (aside from classrooms, we have one great big auditorium, one or two medium sized ones, and then this, which is attached to the arts department and probably sits about 60 people) which was suitable for what the students were performing and how they staged it.

The set-up was pretty simple. A few screens set into the back of the stage that showed pictures of Italian fields, or crying cherubs (when Nemorino is sadly leaving for the army and hoping that he saw a tear in Adina’s eye) or two roses when the hero and heroine fall into one another’s arms at the end, with era-appropriate costumes and a few benches, wine flasks, etc. The size of the hall was such that the ‘property of university library’ stamp on Adina’s book in Act I was visible.

The opera was performed in a mixture of Italian and English, with the big numbers in Italian. My running theory was that they were switching to English for expositional purposes, even though there were supertitles on one of the screens at the rear of the stage. My friend S who is here for the weekend and went with me thought that it might have been the challenge of learning an entire opera in Italian in one semester. Perhaps a combination of both.

But seeing the students throw themselves into this was really fun. The woman who performed Adina was probably chosen because she can get all the coloratura right, although it seemed to me that she was still learning how to control her voice – she hit all the top high notes, but at a much higher volume than everything else she and the others on stage were producing. Dulcamara was performed by a slightly rotund young man who between the dancing, comic timing and some quite nice singing has, I suspect, a bright future ahead of him in comic tenor roles (my sense is that some of the male roles were transposed or adjusted due to constraints of who was available to sing them). The Dulcamara/Nemorino duet was very well executed, and I would have liked to hear more of the baritone who sang Belcore.

Perhaps next they could try for a Mozart opera, or something baroque – just to see what would happen.

Donizetti – La Fille du Régiment / ROH 2008

This is cute. vlcsnap-2014-04-04-23h59m33s21Donizetti’s opera about a little girl raised by a regiment (alternate title: Eight Hundred Men and a Baby) who discovers that she is the natural daughter of a noblewoman and ultimately marries the young Tyrolean lad that she had fallen in love with in Act I is not necessarily what you would call deep, but it’s entertaining enough.  Having Natalie Dessay in the title role doesn’t hurt either. I know she has recently said she is giving up opera, but I am not sure that I really believe this. I hope it’s not so. At the same time, watching her antics in this production led me to think about things French and antics in a general sort of way, and I had to wonder what would be like if you put in Patricia Petibon as Marie? I bet that would be entertaining too.

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Listening to Donizetti while a little bit hungry

20140318-232825.jpgSpent the last hour listening to Kasarova’s first (I think?) recital album – the one from 1996 where she’s tangled up in a coffee colored silk sheet on the cover. It made me think of how much I would like some coffee ice cream, which I suspect was probably not the designers’ intention. She’s vocally very recognizably VK but a little lighter in sound, which is used to great effect in some of the earlier numbers, e.g. the delicately rendered selection from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, or “voi che sapete” where she really does sound appropriately pubescent-boyish. (And I just spent longer than I should have figuring out why autocorrect kept trying to capitalize the “che” in “voi che sapete” – I think it was assuming that I meant “voi Che Guevara sapete” which would I suspect make for a profoundly different sort of opera.)

I sometimes say snarky things about bel canto, but even so I thought that the Rossini and Donizetti selections were the best parts of this – Frau K makes this music lyrical and expressive, e.g. the “vedi per tutta Italia” section of “amici, in ogni evento” from L’Italiana in Algeri or Giovanna’s more anguished moments in the selection from Anna Bolena, though I remain committed to my longstanding opinion that the “bump-twiddily-bump-twiddily-bump(twiddily) ba dump dump BUMP-twiddily-bump-twiddily bump” and so on theme that recurs in that opera (you know what I’m talking about?) is both profoundly dumb and at the same time one of the best bits. It’s like a little musical scoop of strawberry ice cream.

And now based on the frequency of sugar references in the above, I believe it is time to leave off the opera and eat some dinner.

Mary Stuart: cross-linguistic funhouse edition!

The take home lesson of this DVD is that even though Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda is based on Schiller’s play Mary Stuart, the two works of art do not actually have all that much in common. Indeed, they are quite different. I am not sure that performing them GLEICHZEITIG is strictly necessary to get this point across, but I tell you one thing, it is an experience that one does not soon forget. In fact, my impulse is to state from the start that many a production of the Donizetti opera might well be improved by having the two queens meet in the park, insult one another in Italian and then start screaming at one another . . . in German. It gives it that added “am I high?” kind of ping! that your more conventional productions of bel canto operas often lack. 20130620-222938.jpg

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New Horizons in Artistic Expression (Apparently)

I am not sure whether this is the bottom of the barrel or not, but I have succumbed to desperation and have taken out this specific DVD of Maria Stuarda that the library has. Up until today I had given it only a sort of cursory glance because I wanted to pretend I wasn’t thinking about watching it, and so I thought it was merely a dubbed movie version of the opera.

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“Cold is God’s way of telling us to burn more Catholics” / Maria Stuarda – Metropolitan Opera 1-19-13

You know the prayer scene in the second half of this opera? Every time I see it, I always end up wondering, who are all these people? If they’re supposed to be Elizabeth’s courtiers and they all think that Mary Stuart is really great, I begin to see William Cecil’s point, if you know what I mean.

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Donizetti – Maria Stuarda / Metropolitan Opera 1-15-13

Maria Stuarda is one of those operas for which I have difficulty imagining anyone working up a Regie treatment. It’s so grounded in the specific historical (sort of) story it’s drawn from that I have trouble picturing, say, the BDSM Maria Stuarda or the Claus Guth Maria Stuarda or the Maria Stuarda in which everyone lives in a Lego forest and wears wood-grain patterned body stockings. (However: by all means, bring it on!)

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Donizetti – Lucia di Lammermoor / Metropolitan Opera 2009 (2)

(Previous section here.)

The Met’s production of Lucia moves the action from Scotland in the early 1700s to Scotland in the mid-1800s. This has the effect of causing some aspects of the story to not make a whole hell of a lot of sense. For example, Enrico forces Lucia to marry Arturo because he is afraid of getting the axe unless he politically rehabilitates himself, but the sort of political feuding that this fear comes from makes much more sense for the 1600s or very early 1700s than it does for, say, 1835. Being beheaded for political crimes was not a primary concern of Victorian-era Scottish noblemen.

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Donizetti – Lucia di Lammermoor / Metropolitan Opera 2009 (1)

I have to admit, all that Strauss last week spoiled me for Donizetti. In comparison to Der Rosenkavalier, the score of Lucia di Lammermoor feels more than a little bland. Pretty in places, but after a while it starts to feel repetitive – and at the risk of sounding mean-spirited, there is a sense in which if you have heard some of Donizetti’s operas, the rest tend not to come as much of a surprise.

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Donizetti – Roberto Devereux / Bayerische Staatsoper 2005 (3)

(Previous section here.)

I get a kick out of Donizetti’s Tudors! operas mainly because I’m fairly familiar with the history they’re based on, and it’s extremely entertaining to see familiar stories tricked out in early nineteenth-century bel canto garb. The music itself is fun, definitely, but I don’t find it gripping in the same way that I do Handel or Mozart or Verdi. There are a few arias in this opera, e.g. Nottingham’s “forse in quel cor sensibile” (the one where he repeats “santa voce d’amistà” over and over AND OVER again) where I tend to get impatient.

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Donizetti – Roberto Devereux / Bayerische Staatsoper 2005 (2)

(Previous section here.)

So as noted, Robert Cecil and James in this production appear to be involved in a slimy little plan to speed up the latter’s succession to the throne. This is completely in keeping with the general concept of the production, which puts Elizabeth as almost an outsider in her own kingdom, as far as power is concerned. She’s a woman in a society run by men, and when she says at the end that her reign is just about over, one gets the sense that as far as these people are concerned having a man in control again is a restoration of the normal way of doing things. The opera itself implies this, of course, but this production leans on this idea in a much more self-aware way than would have occurred when the opera was originally written.

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Donizetti – Roberto Devereux / Bayerische Staatsoper 2005 (1)

Donizetti was not the type of composer who would let his creative juices be stoppered up by the dry cork of historical plausibility. The plot of Roberto Devereux has a kind of inspired mix of the not entirely wrong and the patently ridiculous – which as far as I am concerned is why it’s so much fun. That and the music, of course.

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Wednesday Overtures

I sat down to watch a DVD of Verdi’s Otello last night and got as far as opening up the plastic case before I decided that it was too late for this kind of racket. Shakespeare plays, and operas based on Shakespeare plays, always make me think of teaching, and memories of assigning Shakespeare plays always evoke memories of student questions like “what does ‘tupping’ mean?” or “so, was he like, African, or was he like black black?”

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Mary Stuart / Houston Opera 4-21-12 (2)

(Previous section here.)

This opera can be a little bit weird if you start thinking about it too hard. For one thing, it’s very much one of those nineteenth-century ‘history with the politics taken out’ operas. (I am going to talk about only the opera here, not Schiller’s play, or else we will be here all morning.) Taking the politics out of history can be a tricky thing. In this instance, what it does is flatten the complicated confessional and dynastic politics of the late sixteenth century into a story about romantic jealousy. Or something.

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