Thursday, April 28, 2016

New York Philharmonic – Bernard Haitink, conductor. April 19, 2016.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra 1 (Seat Q103, $69.50).

Symphony No. 9 in D major (1908-10) by Mahler (1860-1911).

I remember telling myself that I didn’t have a lot to say about this gargantuan piece (advertised at 79 minutes, probably lasted 10 minutes longer).  Due to family visits, this is more than a week after the event, so I probably have even less to say about it.

A listing of the movements gives a hint of how unconventional this composition is: (1) Andante comodo; (2) Im Tempo eines gemachlichen Landlers, etwas tappisch und sehr derb (In the tempo of a comfortable Landler, somewhat clumsy and very coarse); (3) Rondo: Burleske (Allegro assai, sehr trotzig) (Allegro assai, very insolent); and (4) Adagio (Sehr langsam und noch zuruckhaltend) (Very slow and even holding back).  Other than the third movement, the music was generally slow and sad; although I got only hints of coarseness and insolence in the middle movements.

I heard this piece in 2008, conducted by Lorin Maazel.  That blog entry actually contained a more detailed description of the music than I remember of this one; I probably took notes then.  I also mentioned that the piece lasted about 90 minutes.

However, I felt a bit differently this time.  The most noticeable difference of this piece is how much less it wanders compared to many of Mahler’s other symphonies.  That was even more marked in the case of the first movement, rather long at about 30 minutes.  I could hear motifs repeated throughout the movement.  Also, I didn’t find the ending repetitious at all this time; I was straining to listen to the notes as they slowly petered out, to good effect.  The first violins were not playing any notes towards the end, but all the players kept their bows in the playing position – except one who evidently didn’t get the memo.

The piece calls for solo passages from many of the principals, including quite a few by the concertmaster Huang.  Huang certainly didn’t have an intonation problem, but I can’t quite tell how good he is, yet.  Later in the season he will be playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but we probably have to miss that concert.  Most section principals were at tonight's concert, but many associate principals were missing.

CS, who went with me, saw a video with Bernstein discussing this symphony.  He said the piece reflected the despair Mahler felt, at many levels.  First was his personal tragedy, he knew he didn’t have long to live because of his heart condition.  Then was his lament that the traditional symphony form was on its last legs (one would think he contributed to its demise, but he evidently didn’t think so.) Lastly, the world probably was in a very agitated state, as the first world war would occur in a couple of years.  Indeed the Playbill describes this symphony as “filled with intimations of yearning, nostalgia, regret, despair, isolation, resignation, and even personal solace.”

This was the first time I got to see Haitink conduct.  When I saw the stool on the conductor podium I was expecting him to walk out with a cane; he is 87, after all.  Instead, he only needed 30 or so seconds on the stool in between movements.  He was quite economical with his gestures, but was clearly in control.  There were several well-deserved curtain calls.

Bernard Haitink flanked by New York Philharmonic players. 

I could find the New York Times review tucked within an article talking about other performances of Mahler in New York (the review is titled “A Mahler Mini-Festival in New York.)  Only two, albeit positive, paragraphs were spent on the performance.

Anne couldn’t go, so we gave her ticket to CS’s neighbor.  Traffic was quite bad getting into town, so we could only share a sandwich from the Geffen Hall cafĂ© before we had to rush into the auditorium.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

San Francisco Symphony – Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Inon Barnatan, piano. April 15, 2016.

Prudential Hall at NJPAC.  First Tier (Seat B8, $37.50).

Orchestra Variations (1958) by Copland (1900-1990).
Inscape (1967) by Copland.
Piano Concerto (1927) by Copland.
Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 61 (1846) by Schumann (1810-1856).

While surfing a couple of weeks ago, I found out tickets for this concert were offered at a 50% discount.  A no-brainer as SFS and MTT are on the program.

Thomas actually described the first two pieces before they were performed.  I vaguely remember the Orchestra Variations can be called a concerto for the orchestra, and Inscape as starting on a 11-note chord, then resolving into simpler music for various parts of the orchestra, and ending on the same 11-note chord again.

If I have to name two Copland works, they would be Appalachian Springs (1944) and Billy the Kid (1938).  Both these works predate the first two pieces in the program, and the evolution of Copland as a composer clearly shows.

Copland’s description of Variations, cited in the Program Notes, is simple enough: a theme of dramatic characters followed by 20 variations and a coda.  The annotator adds more, grouping the piece into “Chapter 1” (through the 10th variation), a slow movement (11), a scherzo (12-18), section of increasing speed (19-22), and a “magnificent spare-textured coda.”  All well and good, except the theme sounded more complicated than I thought, and I gave up on counting the variations after a few.  I suspect this music is more interesting studied on paper than heard with the ear.  The entire piece lasted perhaps 12 minutes, so things were going at a fast clip.

There are 12 notes in the chromatic scale, so I naturally wonder which note was skipped in the initial chord (calling it a chord is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion.)  Interestingly the chord sounded much more harmonious than I would expect.  I like the intervening passages that seemed to probe different aspects of new music.

A search of the web indicated some suspected Copland, whose music had been lyrical, was trying to stay relevant with his exploration of new styles of music writing.  The premiere of Inscape – commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and conducted by Leonard Bersetein – was not well-received.  I, on the other hand, would only attribute the “head-scratching” to my lack of understanding.

In contrast, the piano concerto was written early in Copland’s career, and was much easier to appreciate.  It consists of two movements played without pause: Andante sostenuto, and Molto moderato (molto rubato) – Allegro vivace.  Not only did it sound like the Copland I know, to me the jazz and “American” elements in the music made it sound like Gershwin on many occasions.  The Program Notes contains the composer description of the music, and it is relatively easy to follow.  This turns out to be the last composition Copland wrote in this style, remarking that American music could not possibly be confined to two dominant moods: the blues and the snappy number.

Inon Barnatan probably is an up-and-coming pianist, having been retained as NY Philharmonic’s artist-in-association.  He put in a delightful performance, often masquerading himself as a jazz pianist (successfully, I might add.)  We heard him last year performing Ravel’s F with the NY Philharmonic.

Curtain Call, Barnatan and Thomas.  

The other interesting aspect of the first two pieces is the number of percussionists they called for; at one point I counted six of them.

I am not familiar with Schumann’s second symphony, even though I had heard it a couple of times in the past few years.  The Program Notes describes this tribute to Bach with the notes B-flat/A/C/B-natural.  I tried very hard to listen for it, but failed.

The San Francisco Symphony is a large organization.  In addition to the many percussionists, they also have large sections – I counted 14 first violins, roster says 18.  They sounded precise, and had good dynamics. Unfortunately the acoustics at our seats were a bit flat, so I couldn’t characterize the sound.  The played the same program at Carnegie Hall twice before coming to NJPAC.  Attendance was okay, although there were quite a few empty seats in Tier 1.

Parking fee just jumped to $20 (from $17), so we parked at the hotel lot for $15.  I notice with some satisfaction that the lots were quite empty.

The New York Times review is of the Carnegie Hall performance.  It is generally positive, and provides more background on Copland's works.  The review did complain that the Schumann reading was a bit on the "sober" side.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Metropolitan Opera – Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. April 14, 2016.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat EE21, $25.)

Story.  The pirate Simon Boccanegra is elected doge of Genoa.  The daughter he has with Maria disappears when the old lady she was left with dies.  Maria’s mother (also named Maria) dies while being imprisoned by her father Fiesco who disapproves of Boccanegra.  Twenty-five years later baby Maria has grown up as Amelia, daughter of the wealthy Grimaldis, who are actually the Fiescos, who in turn isn’t aware of Maria’s true identity as their grand-daughter.  Amelia and Gabriele are in love, but Grimaldi wants her to marry Paolo. Gabriele has been plotting to overthrow the doge.  Boccanegra meets Amelia and by comparing portraits of her mother, they two recognize their father/daughter relationship.  Paolo attempt to kidnap Amelia is thwarted, and Boccanegra forces Paolo to curse himself.  By putting poison in Boccanegra’s water bottle, Paolo poisons the doge.  While Boccanegra suffers from the poison, all the relationships are sorted out.  Paolo is condemned to death, and Boccanegra pardons Gabriele and names him his successor.

Conductor – James Levine.  Paolo Albiani – Brian Mulligan, Simon Boccanegra – Placido Domingo, Jacopo Fiesco (aka Andrea Grimaldi) – Ferruccio Furlanetto, Maria (daughter of Boccanegra, aka Amelia Grimaldi) – Lianna Haroutounian, Gabriele Adorno – Joseph Calleja.

I tried but was unable to put together a story that both makes sense and describes the plot as it unveils.  While I think my summary hangs together, it skips over parts of the story that deals with the political climate at that time.  The most noticeable missing parts are how the government of a city-state worked, and the rivalry between Genoa and Venice.  There was also mention of Guelphs during the opera which I frankly didn’t understand.  (Per Wikipedia, Guelphs is a faction that supported the Holy Roman Emperor.)  To indicate how complex the plot is, the Playbill compares it to that of Il Travatore, another Verdi opera whose plot is difficult to summarize.  This opera also has the distinction of having a tragic beginning (death of Boccanegra’s love Maria) and a tragic end (his own death.)

CS mentioned to me a while ago he read a New York Times review of the performance.  Before I could stop him, he said the review wasn’t kind.  I asked if the reviewer complained about Domingo’s being a former tenor trying unsuccessfully to become a baritone, and that Levine was also past his prime; he basically said yes.  That didn’t stop us from wanting to see the opera, and we did so today, together with a couple of his friends.  Anne had too many things on her plate and couldn’t go.

Let’s start by saying of course things could have been better.  Domingo could have a stronger voice, Levine could have conducted a better performance.  But isn’t that always the case?  I am glad to have attended.  Exaggerating a bit to prove my point, instead of an A+ performance we saw only an A performance.

I haven’t seen Domingo at his prime – the first opera I remember seeing him in was Tan Dun’s “The First Emperor” in 2008 – so I don’t have any reference.  But he did a splendid job today.  His singing was rich and strong most of the time, and I didn’t notice any deficiencies in the lower registers.  Maybe a tad weak here or there, but I thought this role fitted well a singer who was at the twilight of his career (I mean “singing career,” I hope he has many good years as a conductor ahead of him.)  Similarly with Levine, while one has to sorry to see how Parkinson’s has ravaged him, he put in a great performance.  The orchestra sounded exquisite and precise.

The other principals were impressive, each fulfilling their roles brilliantly.  This was my first encounter with the Armenian soprano Lianna Haroutounian, she had a beautiful voice, and was a match for the others, even though it was one woman against many men.  Ferruccio Furlanetto - no spring chicken at 66 - demonstrated what a rich basso voice should sound like, and Joseph Calleja also did great as Gabriele Adorno.

The sets, first used in 1995, are quite elaborate: outside a castle for the prolog, a garden that reminds me of Tuscany for Act I Scene 1, the inside of a doge’s palace for Act I Scene 2, a room inside the palace for Act II, and a repeat of Act I Scene 2 in Act III.  Levine conducted the 1995 series, with Domingo in the role of Gabriele.  It was repeated in 2010 where Domingo played the title role.

A few years ago I caught this opera on TV, but saw it for only a few minutes.  I remember it starred a young and dashing Domingo (in hindsight he was probably playing Gabriele); I was blown away by this handsome singer.  For tonight he played the role of an old man.  Time marches on.  He could still fall impressively, though.

Curtain Call, with Domingo in the center.

The New York Times review is indeed unkind, suggesting Levine and Domingo should retire lest they tarnish their towering and colossal career, respectively.  Tonight’s auditorium was fuller than it has been for a while.  The reviewer also says Domingo has been booked as a singer far into the future.  I am glad the regular opera attendee doesn’t follow what they read in the paper.  The reviewer mentioned (grudgingly, no doubt) that the two will reunite next season in Nabucco.  Perhaps not at their prime, these two artists still hold their own, and they should do so with well-deserved pride.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra – Xian Zhang, conductor; Jennifer Frautschi, violin. April 9, 2016.

Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank, NJ.  Balcony (Seat E101, $37.60).

Marche Slave, Op. 31 (1876) by Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).
Violin Concerto, Op. 14 (1940, rev. 1948) by Barber (1910-1981).
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 (1878) by Tchaikovsky.

This is the first series with Zhang as the conductor after she was named the next music director of NJSO.  I had seen Zhang two or three times before, conducting the New York Philharmonic when she was an associate conductor there, and the New Jersey Symphony recently as a guest conductor.  CS, Shirley, and Agnes also came to the concert.

Calling this program “Zhang conducts Tchaikovsky” is only partially correct as there is also a Barber concerto.  Perhaps someone can Barber with Tchaikovsky, but not I.  Even though this is touted as “the most-performed” violin concerto by an American composer, it is still not program all that often.  A search of my blog indicated this having occurred twice: in 2015 with Lisa Batiashvili, and in 2010 with Gil Shaham.

The name Frautschi is quite familiar as there is a Laura who is with the Orpheus and Mostly Mozart Festival orchestras.  Jennifer Frautschi looks quite a bit younger.  She is the recipient of an Avery Fisher Grant (I wonder if this is now renamed David Geffen Grant), and performs on the 1722 “ex-Cadiz” Stradivarius.  Things look good if name recognition is the game.

The parallel that sprang up in my head once the concerto got underway was Sibelius. Not that the two sounded at all alike, but I thought the first movement of Barber sounded wistful and sad, and the second, frustration.  However, while Sibelius there was a clear “resolution” in the third movement, Barber’s third movement seemed to be an etude showcasing the soloist virtuoso technique.  The three movements are Allegro, Andante, and Presto in moto perpetuo.

Frautschi came across as a better musician than a technician.  She managed to convey (what I thought was) the mood of the first two movements quite well, although her intonation was off slightly on occasion.  However, the third movement sounded just like a good student playing a difficult exercise piece: passable, but not much beyond that.  The most puzzling aspect is how the Stradivarius sounded ordinary in the smallish Count Basie venue.

The program started with Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave.  It is a collection of some very familiar tunes, which the Program describes as “a mish-mosh of Serbian tunes that sounded strikingly like Tchaikovsky’s original themes.”  On top of that was the Russian National Anthem.  Indeed it was a music that one could tap along.  I do wish a listing of the tunes had been provided though.

Perhaps this piece set my expectation for the rest of the program.  There was quite a bit of volume dynamics in the presentation, but somehow the music sounded flat for eight or so of the ten minutes.  The only time it got exciting for me was the end where everything was thrown into the coda, including the Russian National Anthem.

Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony is in four movements: (1) Andante sostenuto; (2) Andantino in modo di canzona; (3) Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato; and (4) Finale: Allegro con fuoco.  While I am quite familiar with it, somehow I had in mind the theme from his Pathetique in my head as the performance was to begin.  So, on the bright side, the piece sounded refreshing when it began.

Everything seemed to work well.  The orchestra was together, the dynamics were good, the different sections were quite impressive.  However, at the end we have only a competent orchestra playing some well-known passages by following the dynamics markings faithfully.  There is this missing element of what the music was trying to say.

In the past Zhang usually wore heels.  Today she wore flats, which made her small stature that much more noticeable.  She conducted with the same level of gusto I have come to associate with her.  The orchestra responded to her well, which is a good thing.  I hope as she develops a closer relationship with the organization some of the musicianship would come through more clearly.  She did engage the audience with a short talk at the beginning of the program, including the fact that Barber knew he wanted to be a composer at a very young age.

The event was newsworthy enough that I found a New York Times review on the concert.  The reviewer is generally positive, describe Zhang as “a name worth memorizing” and “a pint-size bundle of energy.”  She also said the orchestra had moments “that would be the envy of better-known ensembles on the other side of the state lines.”  I assume she is referring to both NY and Philadelphia?

Saturday, April 09, 2016

New York Philharmonic – Bramwell Tovey, conductor; Joyce Yang, piano; Virginie Verrez, mezzo-soprano. April 5, 2016.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra 1 (Seat P105, $69.50).

Ballet Music from Le Cid (1885) by Massenet (1842-1912).
Noches en los jardines de Espana (Nights in the Gardens of Spain), Symphonic Impressions for Piano and Orchestra (1908-16) by Falla (1876-1946).
El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat), complete ballet (1916-19) by Falla.

These tickets were purchased as part of the CYO subscription, that was around September, 2015.  Turns out Anne had a class, so she couldn’t go.  So CS made use of the available ticket.

This was billed by the New York Philharmonic as a “Spanish Nights” program, although I would say the music was peppered with some French influence.

Evidently other than the violin solo Meditation from the opera Thais, Massenet also wrote lots of music (my attempt at humor.)  Indeed I have also seen Werther and Manon.  I consider these works French in nature.  Le Cid, on the other hand, is derived from Pierre Corneille’s 1637 recounting of a tale of conflict, love, and honor from Spanish history (quoting directly from the Playbill.)  As customary for operas in that period, a ballet was included, in this case the opera’s second act.  Each of the seven dances is an example of a different Spanish form, which the Playbill further claims “many listeners may recognize without being quite able to place them.”

Listed in the Playbill under this ballet are the following dances: Castillane, Andalouse, Aragonaise, Aubade, Catalane, Madrilene, and Navarraise.  Among areas of music that I don’t know much about, Spanish music ranks among the highest, so I wasn’t holding out any hope I would recognize any of the tunes.  Even more confusing was Tovey’s introduction, he said there would be five movements, with the last movement repeating the theme of the first.  All I could say is the music started off sounding more French than Spanish, although it changed as the movements progressed.  As to Massenet writing Spanish-sounding music, I do want to observe at that time he was living in Marseilles, which is relatively close to Spain.  I did catch the similarity between the beginning and end of the music, though.

Tovey also made some remarks about “Nights in the Gardens of Spain.”  He said all we needed to think of was someone waking up after the afternoon siesta, and imagine how he would then proceed to spend the rest of the evening.  The three movements are (1) En el Generalife (in the Generalife) (Allegretto tranquillo e misterioso); (2) Danza lejana (Distant Dance) (Allegro giusto); and (3) En los jardines de la Sierra de Cordoba (In the Gardens of the Sierra de Cordoba) (Vivo).  Manuel de Falla had never travelled to Granada where the Generalife Palace and Sierra de Cordoba gardens were located; evidently pictures and literary descriptions were enough of an inspiration for him.

Our decision to buy these tickets was no doubt influenced by Joyce Yang as the soloist.  Yang sprang onto the music scene several years ago (evidently as far back as 2005) after she won a silver medal at the van Cliburn competitions.  Even though she appears in New York quite frequently, this was the first time I got to see her perform.  While the piece is difficult enough, I can’t really say whether I was awe-struck by her as a pianist.  In trying to get a sense of the composition as a whole, I didn’t have the bandwidth to understand the piano as a voice separate from the orchestra.  The piece seemed difficult enough, and I could hear the piano distinctly most of the time; there were instances when the orchestra overwhelmed it, somewhat surprising as our seats were quite good.

Another observation I would make is there is quite a bit of French in this work.  Which is not surprising as de Falla spent a lot of time in Paris, associating closely with Dukas, Debussy, and Ravel.  This work was first imagined as four nocturnes for a piano, and over eight (!) years it evolved into what de Falla would call “symphonic impressions.”

If you say “Manuel de Falla” to Anne she would respond with “Three-Cornered Hat.”  This work, likely most well-known of de Falla’s, was based on a story making fun of the Corregidor (Magistrate) whose three-corned hat signified his status.  Tovey did explain a bit about the story, and how the bassoon represented the magistrate slinking from a rock.  (He said more, but I forget.)  The copyright holder of the story would not allow it to be turned into an opera, so it was scored for a pantomime.  Serge Diaghilev saw a performance of this play and asked de Falla to expand the work into a full ballet.  The premier was in London in 1919, with Pablo Picasso as the designer of sets and costumes, and other luminaries were involved as well.

The 38-minute (per Playbill) work consists of the following.  Introduction.  Part One – Afternoon, Dance of the Miller’s Wife (Fandango), The Corregidor, The Miller’s Wife, The Grapes.  Part Two – The Neighbors’ Dance (Seguidillas), The Miller’s Dance (Farruca), The Bodyguard – The Miller’s Wife – The Corregidor – Dance of the Corregidor, The Corregidor and the Miller’s Wife, The Miller, Final Dance (Jota).

All this should make for an interesting experience, if the ballet had been performed.  It would take a lot of imagination to picture the ballet and its props as one listens to the music; and I don’t have that good an imagination.  So I was left with trying to catch the bassoon tune, which I managed to do; that wasn’t enough for me to follow along the plot, though.  About the only other aspect I capture was the Seguidilla, a term I learned from the opera Carmen.

De Falla added a couple of voice passages to the ballet, which was to warn the villagers that the devil was about.  Verrez had a booming and pleasant voice, but the total singing time was perhaps three minutes.

I have seen Bramwell Tovey several times, when he conducted the New York Philharmonic during their summer series.  He usually gave a small introduction to the program he conducted, with a nice dose of humor.  This was the fifth (and last) concert of the series, so while the introduction was still informative, the humor was a bit dry (tired, not the “dry” as in British humor.)

The program probably would appeal to some folks (Anne, for example), but for me it seemed more like a lost opportunity.

The New YorkTimes review was somewhat mixed.  The program was discussed in reverse order: great praise for “The Three-Cornered Hat,” generally good for “Spanish Nights,” and quite critical for “Le Cid.”  I didn’t catch the miscues the reviewer was talking about, perhaps the coordination improved by the fifth concert.

I met up with CS for a light meal at Europan, and we took the train back to New Jersey together.  Anne had just returned from DC and was able to pick me up at the train station.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Metropolitan Opera – Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux. March 28, 2016.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat T33, $25.)

Story.  Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, comes back to England, having failed to win the war with the Irish.  He is accused of treason and is condemned to death, but Elizabeth, who is in love with him, wants to pardon him.  Robert loves Sarah, who was forced to marry the Duke of Nottingham, a good friend of Robert.  When the two meet, Sarah gives Robert a blue scarf.  When Robert is arrested, the scarf is discovered, which makes Elizabeth suspicious enough to sign the death warrant.  While waiting for his execution, Robert asks Sarah to give Elizabeth a ring which will earn him a pardon.  Sarah is unable to do so since she is confined by her husband.  When Sarah manages to get to Elizabeth with the ring and the Queen is about to relent, Robert is executed.  Nottingham admits he wanted revenge, and Elizabeth laments that she only wants to be freed of her role as queen.

Conductor – Maurizio Benini; Sarah Duchess of Nottingham – Elina Garanca, Queen Elizabeth – Sondra Radvanovsky, Robert Devereux Earl of Essex – Matthew Polenzani, Duke of Nottingham – Mariusz Kwiecien.

The synopsis I provided above is basically a further synopsis of the one found in the Playbill.  Chung Shu read up a bit on Elizabeth’s real story, and thought the romance angle was a bit dubious.  In any case, what I got from watching the performance was this is indeed a very simple story, which I can summarize as: Elizabeth loves Robert and wants to spare his life after he returns from Ireland.  However, when she finds Robert with a purple scarf she orders his execution.  She eventually relents, but it is too late.  All the other incidents probably happened on stage, but they didn’t leave a mark on me at all.

So this is one of those operas that need great music to save it.  While there is some drama in the third act, the first two acts are quite flat dramatically.  Perhaps that is why this is the first time this opera is staged at the Met (what I saw was the second performance.)  Luckily, the music is great, and the orchestra and the singers all put in a great performance.

The great music started with the excellent performance of the overture, under the direction of Benini.  A review of my blog indicates I have seen him several times before, conducting Donizetti operas – perhaps an expert on this particular composer?  The orchestra kept up the great sound throughout, sometimes in support of the singers, often times on their own.

We last saw Polenzani and Kwiecien together in the Pearl Fishers, and enjoyed their singing.  Today they did an equally admirable job, although I would say Polenzani was particularly good.  I had a similar reaction to their Pearl Fisher performance, calling Polenzani’s performance “great” and Kwiecien’s “dependable.”

Garanca’s voice was simply heavenly, penetrating and smooth.  Of all the principal roles, I enjoyed her singing the most.  Since I didn’t know how the story unfolded at the beginning, I actually thought wow, this Elizabeth is really quite something.

And this Elizabeth is really quite something.  She has the volume and the expressiveness that fit the role very well.  Her tone is a bit on the harsh side, so it didn’t work very well for the tender moments; but when there is anger, jealousy, or hatred, it footed the bill very well.  And there were a lot of those moments.  Scene 3 of Act 3 is basically a mad scene for Elizabeth, and I really wish the earlier parts had a similar level of drama.  At some point she shed her wig and acted credulously as an old woman.

The Met made a big deal out of Radvanosky’s singing the roles of all three of Donizetti’s Tudor queens this season.  For various reasons I didn’t get to see the other two.  I do wonder if the level of difficulty is comparable to being Brunnhilde in Wagner’s Ring.

Given that this is a Met first, the production is naturally new.  That makes the staging a bit puzzling, it is basically the three walls, with two rows of chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.  By moving the center wall back and forth, the audience is supposed to surmise whether we are talking about the palace, the plaza, or, at the end of the opera, a grave.  The chandeliers also move up and down so as not to be caught by the moving wall.  On many occasions I couldn’t tell what the staging was supposed to represent.

And what is this peanut gallery on the second level?  Chung Shu told me it was to show royalty at that time didn’t have any privacy, their lives lived out for everyone to see.  Maybe, but it didn’t add to the story at all.  Similarly, the opera began with a display of Elizabeth’s tomb, which reappeared at the end of the opera.

The costumes were generally okay, with Elizabeth’s two “wings” a bit on the overdone side.  However, if you google Elizabeth’s images, many of them have these wings, so there is some historicity to the design.

Curtain Call.

I have seen the other two Donizetti Tudor queens: Netrebko as Anna Bolena, and DiDonato as Maria Stuarda.  I must say both were impressive performances, and both had more drama to them.

I resisted reading the New York Times review until just now.  As usual, I admire the wordsmithing of the reviewer, but take some issue with his observation that there may be some degree of homoerotic longing between Robert and the Duke.  Shades of Pearl Fisher?  I would say his “ranking” of the singers is the same as mine.  For instance, he described Radvanovsky’s voice as having a hard edge to it, and Garanca’s as sumptuous.  He is also scratching his head a bit about the staging, but correctly points out the hint of Tower of London in one of the scenes.

[Note added 4/8/2016.  Just wanted to note the overture had the British National Anthem "God save the Queen" woven into it.  A bit of anachronism, no doubt.]

I met up with CS to have a quick meal at Europan.  Since we had to take the 11:18 pm train, it was past midnight before I got home.