Monday, June 25, 2012

American Ballet Theater – Mendelssohn’s The Dream; Stravinsky’s Firebird. June 23, 2012.

Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center – Dress Circle (Seat C125, $75.)

The Dream
Choreography by Frederick Ashton
Music by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, arranged by John Lanchbery
Staged by Anthony Dowell with Christopher Carr
Sets and costumes by David Walker
Lighting design by John B. Read

Conductor – Ormsby Wilkins; Titania – Xiomara Reyes, Oberon – Cory Stearns, Puck – Herman Cornejo, Bottom – Alexei Agoudine, Helena – Marica Riccetto, Hermia – Stella Abrera, Demetrius – Sascha Radetsky, Lysander – Jared Matthewsa.

The Young People’s Chorus of New York City, Francisco J. Nunez, artistic director.
Jody Sheinbaum, solo soprano; Lindsay Bogaty, solo mezzo-soprano.

Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky
Music by Igor Stravinsky (“L’Oiseau de Feu”)
Scenery by Simon Pastukh
Costumes by Galina Solovyeva, costume consultant: Holly Hynes
Lighting by Brad Fields
Projections designed by Wendall Harrington

Conductor – Charles Barker; Firebird – Natalia Osipova, Ivan – Marcelo Gomes, Maiden – Simone Messmer, Kaschei – David Hallberg

Firebird story.  Ivan is looking for his lost love and hides when he sees a flock of firebirds.  He captures one and gets a magical feather to be used to summon the firebird when he is in danger.  A group of maidens under spell then appears, and Ivan is drawn to one of them.  As they come together the evil sorcerer Kaschei appears to harm them.  Ivan uses the feather to summon the firebird, who leads everyone to dance until they collapse.  The firebird then struggles with Kaschei, who seduces the maiden.  The firebird helps Ivan break the spell by shattering an egg that contains Kaschei’s soul and power, and Kaschei dies.  The maidens awake and are liberated.

We got a double-header today.  Both on paper should be quite interesting, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Stravinsky’s Firebird.  The cast and the conductor were different, the same orchestra performed in both ballets.

First, The Dream.  I couldn’t find any synopsis or reference to the story.  “Luckily” we saw The Enchanted Island recently, so we were somewhat familiar with the characters (although sometimes it is difficult to decide who belongs in The Dream or The Tempest.)  My conjecture is that the ballet isn’t trying to tell the whole Shakespeare story, and I found it difficult to guess what scenes were being depicted during the performance.  You know there are these two pairs of lovers who may or may not be getting married (well, the wedding march is included), you wonder what this cupid-like character (Puck, and boy, could he jump) and little child (Changeling) are doing there, and you cringe at how Mendelssohn’s music is botched in the arrangement.  To boot, the dances didn’t look all that compelling.  Perhaps ABT expects its audience knows their Shakespeare, or perhaps it thinks the staging and dances are compelling enough that no explanation is necessary, or perhaps it is just incompetent.  I probably would have trouble keeping up when I am at my sharpest; and today isn’t one of them since I just returned from Hong Kong two days ago and have not been getting enough sleep.

The Firebird worked out much better for me.  I learned from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet that a composer would extract Orchestral Suites from music he wrote for the ballet.  That tidbit came in handy today since I didn’t have to wonder why the ballet music sounded different from what I remembered of prior orchestral performances I heard.  (For the record, I did hear the complete ballet in April, 2008.)  While we are on this subject, the music for this ballet sounded much fuller than The Dream, perhaps due to its not having been tainted by the ubiquitous arranger.

The colors were certainly nice.  The costumes for the firebirds, the maidens, and Koschei evoke the appropriate images.  Anne also remarked the scenery reminds one of Chagall, who actually did the scenery and costumes by Marc Chagall.

With a story to follow, things certainly made a lot more sense.  Hallberg, whom we saw two weeks ago as Onegin, played the role of the evil Kaschei very well.  Ivan, however, didn’t leave a lasting impression, as I write this two days after the performance.

Overall, the evening had a lot of potential to showcase what great ballet can be: choreography, scenery, costumes, and music.  Despite some of the highlights, it failed.

The New York Times Review goes into great detail about The Dream, which it raves about, and pans in a few short paragraphs The Firebird, going as far as calling it “Alexei Ratmansky’s new comic psychodrama.”

Saturday, June 23, 2012

New York Philharmonic – Alan Gilbert, conductor; Emanuel Ax, piano; New York Choral Artists. June 22, 2012.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Orchestra 1 (Seat P106, $70.)

Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat major, K.482 (1785) by Mozart (1756-91).
Mass in C minor, Great, K.427 (1782-83) by Mozart.

Jennifer Zetlan, soprano; Jennifer Johnson Cano, Mezzo-soprano; Paul Appleby, Tenor; Joshua Hopkins, Baritone.
Joseph Flummerfelt, Director, New York Choral Artists

After dropping off some items at church for the garage sale on Saturday, we went to the Yangs and got a ride from them into the city.  Being a summer Friday afternoon, traffic was quite bad.  We navigated through side streets of Jersey City to get in the Holland Tunnel, and then had to crawl along for a while because of an accident on West Side Highway.  The trip took over two hours, and we only had 15 minutes or so to gulp down a sandwich purchased at the Expresso Bar in Avery Fisher Hall.

Other than a few “special events” scheduled for next week, this is the final series for the season.  Ax, being the artist-in-residence for next year, is a natural pick as the solo artist.  Most people think of a mass as choral music accompanied by an orchestra, thus I find it a bit interesting that the final program of the season does not have the orchestra play a dominant role.  One could psycho-analyze this in depth, or just sit back and enjoy the program, which I chose to do.

I have always enjoyed Ax’s playing.  Technically flawed sometimes, but the musicality always came across.  This is the first Mozart concerto I heard him play, though.  The Program Notes mentions this interesting correlation between Mozart’s popularity and the number of piano concertos he wrote during any given year.  Makes sense as Mozart wrote the concertos mostly with himself as the soloist in mind.  Three were written in 1785, a decline from prior years – and Mozart was not quite 30 years old.  I often make the remark that Mozart’s music comes across as a bit repetitious, this concerto does not.  Actually the first two movements (Allegro and Andante) sounded downright un-Mozartian to me.  The Allegro [Rondo] third movement did exhibit a lot of Mozart characteristics; however, it was a delight, especially at the relatively fast tempo taken.  Ax played his own cadenzas, since none that Mozart wrote survived.

Of all the piano concertos I recall having heard in Avery Fisher Hall, this one had the best balance between the soloist and the orchestra.  That probably had more to do with the seats we got rather than the actual performance itself.  Anne at first complained the piano was too loud, but I convinced her that this was one of the few times a live performance sounded like a CD playing.  Overall it was a great performance: the audience certainly thought so, with the enthusiastic applause at the conclusion, and the attempt of some to do so after the first movement.  If this had happened a few years ago, I would have doubted myself and wondered what did they hear that was so remarkable that I didn’t.  Now I am more confident in attributing their behavior to being star-struck.  The sound was nice and crisp (the way I like Mozart being played), the balance was great (perhaps due to our seats), the virtuosity impressive (especially for a Mozart concerto), the orchestra was competent (I even remarked all they had to do was to come in early and go over a few passages, and they would be ready), so what’s not to like?  For me the disappointment was the overall architecture that Ax was so good at didn’t come across as clearly as I had wished.

The Program Notes had some interesting background about the mass.  It posited that Mozart wrote it to get on the good side of his father Leopold since Mozart married Constanze without Leopold’s blessing.  He did not complete the work either because Leopold seemed to accept Constanze, or because Mozart was too busy.  Evidently many scholars tried to complete the work by splicing in the missing parts; tonight’s performance, however, mostly kept to the original.  Thus we have Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Benedictus qui venit; and some of the sections are incomplete.  A expert in masses may complain, but it worked fine as far as I am concerned, even though the ending seemed a bit abrupt.

The soloists are all on the young side, and a couple of them are products of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.  It turns out we had seen several of them at the Metropolitan Opera: Zetland as Xenia in Boris Godunov,  Johnson Cano as Wellunde (a Rhinemaiden) in Das Rheingold and Gotterdammerung, and Appleby as Demetrius in The Enchanted Island.  Hopkins actually didn't have a solo part: he only sang as part of the quartet at the end.   I didn’t remember any of them, probably because they didn’t have the lead roles, and also because I am not familiar with the vocal artists scene.  The balance between soloists, chorus, and orchestra was great; the soprano choir voice sounded a bit strained at times, though.  The only detraction was Johnson Cano tended to move around a lot more than the other soloists, which was slightly disconcerting.  One expects a bit more harmony in stage presence as well, and wonders if the movements are intended to upstage others.  It is especially unfortunate when this is the first thing about the performance that comes to mind.

I came away relatively pleased with the overall program, Anne came away saying she really enjoyed it.  Perhaps I should listen to Mozart more often.  In any case, we were glad Shirley made the trip with us.

The relatively straightforward New York Times Review spent as much ink on the length of the New York Philharmonic season as it did on the performance.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hong Kong Philharmonic – Oleg Caetani, conductor; Johannes Moser, cello. June 16, 2012.

Hong Kong Cultural Center Concert Hall, Stalls 2 (Seat HH62, HK$240).

Program – Russian Shakespeare
Hamlet – Fantasy Overture after Shakespeare, Op, 67, by Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33, by Tchaikovsky.
Romeo and Juliet Suite by Prokofiev (1891-1953).

I think to call the program by the name of “Russian Shakespeare” is too clever by half.  Yes, the composers are Russian, and yes, most of the music references Shakespeare.  On the other hand, the title would make people hesitate to attempt something so esoteric.  Cases in point: I couldn’t get anyone to go with me, so I ended up going along; and the attendance at this concert is one of the lowest at any HKPO concert I have been to.  I am not only saying the program title is too sophisticated for a Hong Kong audience, I am saying it is too sophisticated even for a New York audience.  (For proof, see my rumblings about NY Phil’s Modern Beethoven series.)

Which is a real pity.  All the pieces on the program are interesting, they were done on the whole well, and one would get to see this (undoubtedly) up and coming young cellist Johannes Moser.

The concert didn’t start out that great.  In the past I have always remarked that the Hong Kong Philharmonic is a surprisingly competent orchestra.  For the first piece they seemed lackluster and a big dragging.  To me Tchaikovsky doesn’t bother with a lot of mystery, he just tells the story the way it enfolds, with great musical themes, lively tempo, and dramatic dynamics.  And Hamlet is great drama, what with murder, insanity, and ghosts.  While not the entire story is told in this 18 or so minute piece, there should be enough drama in it to make it riveting.  All I heard was a competent reading of the score.

Things got considerable better with the Variations.  They are described in considerable detail in the Program Notes (which are free, by the way) and are quite easy to follow.  What is impressive is the young cellist Moser (he was born in 1979.)  The auditorium is small, so I am sure it helps: but I was simply amazed at how he made the instrument sing with clarity and feeling.  Other than the high register notes, I don’t know how challenging the piece is for a virtuoso cellist, but Moser seems to know the piece like the back of his hand, and seems to relish playing it.  He should: per the Program Notes he won a Special Prize at the 2002 Tchaikovsky Competition for the piece.

He played two encore pieces.  The first one is the Andante Cantabile adapted from Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet.  Even I could tell it was technically not difficult, but the piece highlighted how pleasant good cello playing could sound.  The second encore was a selection from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 (the Sarabande, I think).  That piece unfortunately didn’t do much for me, except to think “too much of a good thing.”  Paraphrasing what George said in a Seinfeld episode, you should leave with the audience wishing for more, rather than have them think enough already.

In any case, I am sure we will hear a lot more from him (or about him, at least.)

We have seen the ballet Romeo and Juliet a couple of times, and enjoyed both the choreography and the music.  Prokofiev took 20 numbers from the original score and formed them into two orchestral suites; he liked the idea so much that he added a third suite some ten years later.  (The ballet must be about 2 hours, so there was enough material to draw from.)  On top of that, conductors have compiled their own suites by picking from these three, and to add back some numbers that didn’t make its way into them.  Evidently tonight’s performance is one of those.

First let me list what was performed tonight: 
  • Introduction (from the ballet).  Suggestion of early morning and beginning of play.
  • Juliet as a young girl (Suite 2, No. 2).  Young, but beginning to come of age.
  • Montagues aned Capulets (Suite 2, No. 1).  Hints at the upcoming tragedy.  One of the more memorable numbers in the ballet depicting the two families.
  • Masks (Suite 1, No. 5).  Romeo and his friends gate-crashing a ball wearing masks.
  • Gavotte (from the ballet).  Departure of guests from the masked ball.
  • Romeo and Juliet (Suite 1, No. 6).  The famous balcony scene.
  • Friar Laurence (Suite 2, No. 3).  The priest who tried to help the young lovers.
  • Tybalt’s Death (Suite 1, No. 7).  Romeo kills Tybalt in anger, contributing to the on-going feud.

 The selection of the numbers does not make much sense if one wants to tell a story.  It works reasonably well as a musical number.  Of course, the Notes does not help as the listener would inevitably ask why it would conclude with Tybalt’s Death, other than this number's dramatic ending.  (I don’t remember how the ballet ends musically, but wonder it would provide an equally dramatic end to the Suite.)

I enjoyed it, and I am sure that knowing what the selection is trying to depict helped.  The applause afterwards was as enthusiastic as I ever heard from a Hong Kong audience.

This is the first time I heard (or heard of) the conductor Oleg Caetani.  He seemed a bit mechanical in his interpretation, and had to refer to his music constantly.  The thought that the HKPO is unfamiliar with his style crossed my mind initially – perhaps there is a ways for the orchestra to go yet, as I can’t imagine expressing similar sentiments with the New York Philharmonic or Boston Symphony.

One other curious fact.  The orchestra is quite large (10 cellos and 8 basses for the Prokofiev), and the concert hall is on the small side, yet the sound isn’t as deep as one would expect.  I wonder why.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sebastian Chamber Players. June 9, 2012.

All Angel's Episcopal Church, New York City - Hall ($15.)

Yi-heng Yang, fortepiano
Daniel S. Lee, violin
Ezra Seltzer, cello

Program: The Composer's Instrument
Trio in E minor, Hob. XV/12 (1788-89) by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).
   Allegro moderato
   Andante; Rondo
Sonata for violin and piano in C, K. 296 (1778) by Mozart (1756-1791).
   Allegro vivace
   Andante sostenuto
   Rondeau: Allegro
Sonata for piano in E minor, Wq. 59/1, H. 281 (1785-1788) by
          Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788).
   Presto -
   Rondo: Andante un poco
Trio in G, Op. 1, No. 2 (1793-94) by Beethoven (1770-1827).
   Adagio - Allegro vivace
   Largo con espressione
   Scherzo: Allegro - Trio
   Finale: Presto
Encore trio piece by Haydn.

After the ballet we met up with with Yi-heng's parents at Gennaro's for dinner, after which we went to All Angel's Church for the recital by the Sebastian Chamber Players, with Yi-heng at the fortepiano.  She explained a bit how the fortepiano differs from the modern day piano.  The one used at the concert was borrowed from Julliard, and is a replica of an instrument used at Mozart's time.

The instrument was quite out of tune, the tuner frantically worked on it before the concert, and during the intermission.

There is a collection of paintings and lithographs by Ben Zion and Marc Chagall at the church which we got to see before the performance.

American Ballet Theater – Tchaikovsky’s Onegin. June 9, 2012.

Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center – Dress Circle (Seat C101, $73).

Choreography by John Cranko
Music by Peter Tchaikovsky, arranged and orchestrated by Kurt-Heinz Stolze

Conductor – David LaMarche; Eugene Onegin – David Hallberg, Lensky – Joseph Gorak, Tatiana – Hee Seo, Olga – Yuriko Kajiya, Madame Larina their mother – Sarah Smith, Their nurse – Kelly Boyd, Prince Gremin – Roddy Doble.

Story.  Lensky brings his friend Onegin from St. Petersburg to visit the area since Onegin is bored with the big city.  Tatiana falls in love with Onegin, writes him a love note, but Onegin rejects her and tears the note up.  As the provincial gentry come to celebrate Tatiana’s birthday, Onegin flirts with Lensky’s fiancĂ© Olga which causes Lensky to challenge him to a duel, at which Lensky is killed.  Onegin continues with his search for meaning, when he returns to St. Petersburg and is honored at a ball host by Prince Gremin, Onegin finds to his surprise that he is actually in love with Tatiana.  He writes Tatiana a love letter, but is rejected by Tatiana the same way he rejected her years ago: with the love note torn up.

We saw the opera quite a few years ago, also at the Met Opera House, by a Russian group (I think it is actually from St. Petersburg, but not sure.)  I don’t remember much of the music, or the story, or how well it was done, except that the sets were quite Spartan, with a white piece of cloth serving as the river where the duel took place.  Today’s sets were a great improvement over that, although they would not be what one would call elaborate, with the possible exception of the third act where the ballroom had three huge chandeliers.  The costumes were also quite well designed.  Not overtly Russian, but do evoke images of the countryside.

I suspect the score arranger did a lot to Tchaikovsky’s original score for the ballet.  I wouldn’t even have guessed it was written by Tchaikovsky without my prior knowledge.  The melodies sounded nice enough, but the saccharine music mostly served the choreography and probably won’t stand up well on its own.  The choreography when not predictable is confusing.  Most of the pas de deux (what’s the plural form?) and the one pas de trois are quite disjoint.  Remember my earlier remark about the music as being inadequate?  I actually felt it was wasted when Olga and Lensky had their pas de deux.  I find the dream of Tatiana particularly disappointing: it is a series of jerky movements with a muddled message.  When I make this remark to Anne, she said I just don’t understand what romantic means.

On the other hand, there are some moments that are quite well done.  The group dances look very nice with well-coordinated movements; some, such as the leaps by the females dances while running, are quite difficult.  And I have never seen someone go backwards on point the entire width of the stage, as Tatiana did when rejected by Onegin.

When Onegin first came on the stage, he had this haughty look about him that eventually gave way to a more subdued stance, even though he didn’t slump as I predicted he would.  His blonde hair actually got a bit darker as he turned gray – not sure if that happens in real life.  Both Tatiana and Olga were played by Asian dancers, probably a first at ABT, and they acquitted themselves very well, garnering enthusiastic applause at curtain call.

The New York Times reviewer saw a different cast.  While he manages to find good things to say about the dancers, he certainly shares my same discomfort with the music and the choreography.  He points out the score has other Tchaikovsky’s works interwoven into it.  Actually the one tune (a waltz) Anne remember from the opera isn’t in the ballet score at all.

Despite all my misgivings, the story still came through.  That may speak to the original creative power of the original artists (the story is based on a poem by Pushkin), or the simple fact that regret is such a common emotion.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Tonhalle Orchestra - Giovanni Antonini, conductor. June 6, 2012.

Tonhalle, Zurich, Switzerland.  Main Floor (Row 25, Seat 586, CHF 85.)

Concerto in G minor RV 576 for Violin, Oboe and Orchestra by Vivaldi (1678-1741).
Artists: George-Cosmin Banica, violin; Simon Fuchs, oboe; Giovanni Antonini, recorder; Elaine Frankhauser, alto-recorder; Emanuele Forni, lute.
Concerto in E minor RV464 for Bassoon and Orchestra by Vivaldi.
Artists: Matthew Racz, bassoon; Emanuele Forni, lute.
Symphony in G minor KV183 by Mozart (1756-1791).
Symphony No. 1 in C major Op. 21 by Beethoven (1770-1827).

We actually tried to go for another Zurich performance (La Boheme) on June 5, 2012.  We knew we wouldn’t have a lot of spare time, coming back from Zermatt that afternoon.  Indeed we missed the 1:49 pm train and thus had to take the 2:49 pm which got in at around 6 pm.  It became quite impossible, what with trying to find our bearings in the city, and checking into the hotel.  Well …

Tonhalle is reasonably easy to get to from the hotel, two tram rides and a short walk at both ends, about 30 minutes in total.  It is ornately decorated, seats 1455, and was inaugurated in 1895 by Brahms.  For tonight the hall was perhaps 85% to 90% full.  Considering Zurich is a city of about 350,000 (metropolitan area about 1 million), and that this program is repeated three times (one abbreviated), this is not bad at all.

The acoustics turned out to be quite good.  The orchestra size for the Vivaldi pieces was small, so the thought “Orpheus” came immediately to mind.  Even though Antonini played the recorder, he also doubled as the conductor for the piece.  The balance was quite good, except the two recorders by nature sound quite soft, so sometimes difficult to hear.  The performance was quite animated, and quite enjoyable.  The three movements are Allegro, Larghetto, and Allegro.

A program costs CHF 5, which is not unreasonable, but we didn’t get one since it is in Swiss (that would be German for this part of Switzerland).  What is unreasonable is they didn’t even hand out a small flyer listing the program and the musicians.  I also think the artists should protest as it takes a lot to get onto an international stage, and people end up saying “I really enjoyed the music but I don’t know who played in the concert.”

I did know from the posters I saw that Mozart and Beethoven were also on the program.  So I naturally thought the next piece was by Mozart.  After a while I decided it sounded too baroque, and without repeated notes, so it had to be Vivaldi again.  The bassoonist was certainly very energetic, and there are some very difficult passages that he nailed – most of the time anyway.  What I found surprising was how low the bassoon sounded.  The definitive bassoon passage for me is the one from “The Rite of Spring,” which sounds at least an octave higher.  The movements are Allegro poco, Andante, and Allegro.

The symphony by Mozart (his 25th) was reasonably familiar, and the orchestra played it well.  From my college days I have thought of Mozart as “Master of the Repeated Note,” not necessary a term of praise.  After listening to this symphony I must add the title “Master of the Repetition.”  Definitely not a term of praise.  The symphony itself is quite short at 25 or so minutes, so without the repeats it may only be 15 minutes long.  The four movements are Allegro con brio, Andante, Menuetto – Trio, and Allegro.  Evidently I was wrong in thinking Beethoven invented the term “Allegro con brio.”  Of course there is “con brio” and there is “CON BRIO.”

We heard Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 recently, as part of the New York Philharmonic “Modern Beethoven” series, conducted by of all people Tonhalle’s Music Director David Zinman.  Since I went to three of these concerts at two different locations, I don’t remember if I heard it in NJPAC or Avery Fisher (I am in a plane as I type this.)  I don’t remember enjoying that performance as much as this one.  One possible reason is that I was “Beethovened-out” by the time I heard this with the New York Philharmonic, even though I didn’t feel it at the time; or tonight’s was simply a better performance.  In any case, for me this reconfirms my earlier observation that Beethoven defined himself as a romantic composer with this work instead of showing signs of transitioning into a romantic composer.  For the record, the movements are (i) Adagio molto – Allegro con brio; (ii) Andante cantabile con moto; (iii) Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace; and (iv) Finale: Adagio – Allegro molto e vivace. [Note: We heard it in Avery Fisher.]

There were eight first violins and two double basses used in this symphony.  The orchestra’s roster lists 21 first violins and 8 double basses, which actually shocked me a little bit.  My understanding is a lot of European countries heavily subsidize their artistic organizations, perhaps this is a symptom of that?

In any event, we got out at around 9:30 pm and it was still light outside.  We were back in our hotel at around 10 pm.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Frohsinn-Cacilia Choir of Interlaken, Switzerland. Erich Roth – Conductor. June 3, 2012.

Schlosskirche Interlaken, Switzerland (Seat Rear Right Bench CHF20.)

Triumphszene aus der Oper AIDA by Verdi (1813-1901).
Messa di Gloria by Rossini (1792-1868).

Orchestra ad hoc.  Concertmaster: Daniela Ianos-Latsch.
Beatrice Ruchti, Soprano; Pascal Marti, Tenor; Christoph Meinen, Tenor; Martin Weidmann, Bass.

We saw a poster for this concert at the Interlaken West train station the day before, and after asking the front desk person at our hotel we figured out where it was going to happen.  We got back from our tour early (it was cloudy) and got to the church 10 minutes before start time.  All the seats were sold out, but they put out benches at CHF 20 each.  Those were soon all gone.  I estimate about 400 people attended the concert.  The total number of musicians was at least a hundred.  They did perform this the day before though.

I didn’t know what to expect, but thought the Aida piece is always a crowd pleaser, and Rossini always wrote enjoyable operas, so he may do equally well with Masses.  We just saw his opera a few days before in Paris.

Overall the performance was very satisfying.  The most notable passage in the Aida piece is the trumpet announcement, and it was done with confidence.  The choir voices were not always done with precision or balance, but that is to be expected with (what I assume to be) an amateur choir.  The Mass sounded happy – even for the passage on Christ’s suffering.  The composition concluded with a rather complex movement by the choir, which they couldn’t quite get (I think even the conductor didn’t know how to get them back on track).  For tonight I was ready to ignore details like that, and simply enjoyed the concert.

The soloists – needed for the Mass - all had adequate voices; the church is on the small side after all.  Their dynamic range is quite good, although I would have like some softer passages.  Particularly worthy of mention are the English horn and the clarinet, they sounded great when accompanying a couple of soloists.

With my limited knowledge of Italian, Latin, and German, I actually could make out most of the libretto, which was very satisfying after my Paris experience.  I assume many conductors are left-handed, but had never seen one who held the baton in his left hand, until today.  Worked okay, except he dropped it during the last few minutes.

I believe most if not all of the musicians are from the surrounding area which doesn’t boast a very large population.  In that regard comparison with the Bach Choir of Bethlehem is inescapable in my mind.  I certainly enjoyed tonight much more than I did back in May.

Then I only have to drive about 2 hours from New Jersey to Bethlehem, PA.

Opera Paris – Rossini’s Le Barbier de Seville. May 29, 2012.

Opera Bastille, Paris, France.  Section Parterre (Seat E44, E115).

Story.  See before.

Conductor – Marco Armiliato.  Il Conte D’Almaviva – Antonino Sirgusa, Bartolo – Maurizio Muraro, Rosina – Karine Deshayes, Figaro – Tassis Christoyannis, Basilio – Carlo Cigni, Fiorello – Vladmimir Kapshuk, Berta – Jeannette Fisher, Un ufficiale – Lucio Prete.

We met up with Kin and his family in Paris, but couldn’t get them interested to see an opera; so Anne and I ended up going by ourselves.  The weather in Paris has been nice for the three days we have been here (today is May 30), shirt-sleeves weather, generally not too hot.

The building is relatively new (I don’t have reliable web access in the hotel I’m at, so can’t do the research), and is now the main venue for operas for Opera Paris.  The traditional opera house is still in use, and we saw a display at Musee d’Orsay, and can usually pick it out if we are at a high point (Basilicia Sacre Coeur, e.g.).  It remains impressive, I wonder if we will get to visit it the next couple of days.

I got tickets mostly because I wanted to try the opera at a different location, and because Paris has had a long opera tradition.  I also read somewhere that subtitles are available in both French and English.  Turns out tonight they had it only in French, which made the story basically unintelligible, even though I had some idea of what the storyline is.  Suffering from a huge jet-lag (or lack of sleep, sometimes they are the same), I just had a hard time keeping awake and had trouble concentrating while awake.

The sets are about the same level of complexity as what I remember of the Met production we saw a few years ago.  Certainly the rotating stage aspect was the same.  The costume and building designs were basically middle-eastern, which generally worked for this production.  Only problem is how many people from the area have “Count” in their titles.  The only possible reason is there is this “off script” segment they put in where Lindoro (Count Almaviva) became Football (Soccer) Player No. 10 and hammed it up a bit with his football techniques.  My son told Anne the actually person wearing No. 10 is Moroccan French – that would explain the many flags on stage at one point also.  While it certainly was interesting, I didn’t think the overall quality of the opera needed the division.

The acoustics of the hall is great.  Perhaps that’s because of our seats, or because the main hall is on the small side.  While sometimes I wish the voices would be a bit more sonorous, they generally projected clearly into our seats.  The orchestra seems a bit on the small side, but it produced a good sound.  The overture was quite enjoyable, the conducting having given it a slightly different interpretation.

There were these two men who, soon after they sat down in their seats, began to move to other empty seats, climbing over rows of seats at times.  The seats they had during the first half were claimed by their rightful owners after the intermission, so they ended up in their original seats.  While they are atypical (after all, they were two out of thousands), their behavior somehow adds to my view of Parisienne’s rudeness.

We didn’t get out of the concert until about 10:40 pm.  It was about 11:30 pm when we got back.  The metro was surprising busy this time of day.  Also, we happened to pass by the old opera house (Garnier) the next day.  It is an extremely imposing and ornate building.  I don’t know what the acoustics and seats are like, but certainly would like to be able to pay it a visit some time.