Saturday, February 16, 2013

Opera Australia – La Boheme by Puccini. February 16, 2013.

Sydney Opera House, Stalls K44 (AUD118.)

Conductor – Tom Woods; Rodolfo – Martin Buckingham, Marcello – Samuel Dundas, Colline – David Parkin, Schaunard – Shane Lowrencev, Benoit – John Bolton Wood, Mimi – Natalie Aroyan, Musetta – Sharon Prero, Alcindoro – Adrian Tamburini.

Story.  The four men are poor artists living together, they decide to go to CafĂ© Momus.  While Rudolfo stays behind to finish up writing, Mimi shows up asking for a light.  The two eventually fall in love.  As their relationship goes on, Mimi feels Rudolfo is too jealous; Rudolfo actually acts out that way knowing that Mimi is very sick and that he cannot provide for her.  The two part.  A few months later Musette – an on-and-off girlfriend of Marcello – brings in Mimi to the house.  Mimi dies soon afterwards.

Well, what I wrote above is the story about the main characters Rudolfo and Mimi.  There is a “side show” about Marcello’s love with the free-spirited Musette.  And Puccini (or rather the librettist Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica) doesn’t hesitate to throw in a lot of drama.  Strangely, it makes a story that is quite simplistic on paper a rather compelling opera.  I have seen this opera a couple of times, including ones on Broadway, and have been moved to different extents each time.  This performance is no exception.

Indeed this is probably the best opera I have seen from Opera Australia.  Later on I plan to quibble with the performance a bit, but – all said and done – I enjoyed it.  I am not sure my companions (Ruth, Stephen, Tim, and Alyson) were that impressed.  Their major complaints were (i) the surtitles were so far above the stage that they had to move their heads up and down too much; and (ii) there are not that many singable tunes.  (i) was also a problem for me, compounded by my strained neck.  I told them with Puccini they should listen to how the voices work with the orchestra, and oftentimes the voice is used to accompany the melody that is played by the orchestra.  In most of Puccini’s operas one can find several singable melodies.  In La Boheme there are quite a few familiar arias, but they are not ones that you find yourself humming as you amble along – not for most people, anyway.

My biggest complaint would be most of the singing was belted out.  One would think in such a tragedy soft singing would be the order of the day; and one would be wrong.  While a booming voice carried above a full orchestra is impressive, the effect may have been better with a soft whisper.  Of course the latter is much more difficult to pull off.

Natalie Aroyan, playing Mimi, did okay.  However, it would be difficult to make a case that she is malnourished, so the audience ends up having to do more suspension of belief than usual.  Buckingham as Rudolfo was good most of the time, but his voice sometimes broke off, especially at the beginning.  The other three men did quite well.  Musette was believable as a flirtatious woman and delivered the aria in Act II with gusto.

Overall, I enjoyed the evening.

Friday, February 01, 2013

New York Philharmonic Open Rehearsal – Christoph von Dohnanyi, conductor; Radu Lupu, piano. January 31, 2013.

Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, First Tier (Right side, $0.)

All-Beethoven Program (1770-1827)
Overture to Die Geschopfe des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus), Op. 43 (1800-01).
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15 (ca. 1795/1800).
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1804-08).

Our friend CS’s son-in-law gave him this ticket, I ended up getting it since he couldn’t use it.  I set my alarm for 7 am, and when awaken decided to get up and get going for the 9:45 am concert (instead of going back to sleep.)

What I want to record here are some of the observations I made during the rehearsal, which lasted until 12:15 pm or so.  It started at about 10 am, with a 20 minute intermission.  The pieces in the program add up to less than 70 minutes.

They didn’t practice per the sequence listed in the program.  It was more practical to do the two orchestral pieces first, before bringing out the piano for the concerto.

I was not familiar with the first piece – it was from a ballet Beethoven wrote (and I didn’t know he wrote ballet music.)  It was quite short a about 5 minutes.  I was surprised at how often Dohnanyi had the orchestra repeat a particular transition passage in the music, at one point asking the concertmaster Dicterow play that passage.  I thought at that rate it would take a long time to get through the rehearsal.

The other two pieces are familiar Beethoven orchestral pieces.  In these instances Dohnanyi mostly just ran through the pieces with some isolated comments.

I chose the First Tier seat because it commanded a good view of the action on stage.  Unfortunately, since I saw Dohnanyi’s back most of the time, I couldn’t get what he was saying to the orchestra.  That might have been interesting.

The last time I went to an orchestra rehearsal was about 40 years ago when I played for the Cornell Symphony.  I remember (vaguely) sitting around not paying attention to what the conductor was saying to other sections of the orchestra.  I wonder if a similar situation obtains here

Anne and I actually have tickets for the Friday concert.  Since she is in Boston, and I didn’t want to go by myself (and to somehow dispose of the extra ticket), I gave the tickets to Ellie and Kuau, telling them that this is a rather “lightweight” program that should be quite enjoyable.

Overall, this “sausage making” process was quite interesting to observe, and I got to hear the entire program, albeit with an occasional interruption here and there.