Saturday, December 31, 2016

Metropolitan Opera – Verdi’s Nabucco. December 27, 2016.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat BB36, $25.)

Story.  See prior post.  One point I missed until now was Abigaille also converted to Judaism at the end of the opera.

Conductor – James Levine; Zaccaria – Dmitry Belosselskiy, Ismaele -Adam Diegel, Fenena – Nancy Fabiola Herrara, Abigaille – Tatianna Melnychencko, Anna – Danielle Talamantes, Nabucco – Zeljko Lucic.

The roles for Nabucco were sung both by Domingo and Lucic.  All the performances with Domingo were sold out, today’s attendance was very good also.  We did manage to get two rush tickets.  This was (at least) our fourth encounter with the opera, once in LA (around 2002), once in Rome, and at the Met in 2011.

The sets are the same.  We had a balcony seat in 2011, which offered a very different view of the stage.  The acoustics this evening, however, was simply superb.  Every principal’s singing come across clearly.

At the last Met performance I was remarking that Maria Guleghina as Abigaille had only one volume setting – loud.  Melnychenko, a Ukranian soprano in her Met debut, had a much broader emotional and volume range in comparison.  Perhaps Levine got the orchestra to quiet down during some of the softer solo passages, but they were quite exquisite.  Despite the title of the opera, Abigaille is the most complex and prominent character, so it was a nice to have a singer who was up to the task.  Given her girth (no polite way of saying it) Anne and I both worried if she would trip while going up and down the staircase, one time wearing a heavy cape.  Most of the time, however, I was just caught up in the story.

The other singers all did very well.  Talamantes as Anna, Zaccaria’s sister, made the most of the few lines she had.  I am quite sure Talamantes will take on a major role soon.  Lucic was strong most of the time, although there were a few passages he was inexplicably soft, perhaps the background he was against?

Mention must be made of the chorus, which had a lot of singing to do, starting with the opening number.  The Hebrew Slave Song (va, pensiero) was as good as it gets.  Chung Shu, who had seen an earlier performance (with Domingo), said this was repeated, this didn’t happen tonight.

Without the encore, and with only one intermission, the performance was less than three hours long, with a lot packed in.  Levine did the conducting from a wheelchair, although he seemed much more energetic, more controlled and more precise than what I remembered.  Given where we were seated, we couldn’t tell if there was a conductor in the prompter’s box.

The reviewer from New York Times was one of those that called for both Domingo’s and Levine’s retirement, yet he grudgingly agreed that “there was none of that [shame of old age] here for the triumphant Mr. Domingo and Mr. Levine.”  He still managed to put in a few digs about how Domingo is doing as a baritone.  Many of the other cast members were also different in the performance he saw.

We took the PATH and subway from Hoboken, and drove home after picking up the car from Hoboken.  It was quite late by the time we got home.  And this will be the last entry in this blog for 2016.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Monmouth Civic Chorus – Ryan James Brandau, conductor. December 18, 2016.

Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank, NJ.  Orchestra (Seat M10, $35).

Joy to the World: A Christmas Suite

Concert Program

This concert was suggested by the Homs as our annual birthday “celebration,” Lorinda and I share the same birthday on the 22nd.  Their daughter – whom we have known since she was a small child – sings in the chorus.

The concert was quite well-attended.  There were about 100 choir members (per the emcee), accompanied by a 40-member orchestra.  Our seats, while giving us a good view of the stage, didn’t have the best acoustics, so the voices often sounded a bit weak, although we had no problem picking out the singing.

The program consisted of a variety of music, ranging from Bach to favorite Christmas hymns and songs.  A few poems were read accompanied by music, including several by a chorus member (Bob Kelly, who did his own reading); some of them were poignant, some humorous.  Soprano Kaura Kosar sang a couple of selections, and chorus members Gerald Metz and Kenneth Wasser also did a solo each – with Wasser singing at a microphone.  Kosar’s voice is very good.  Selections from Handel’s Messiah included the Hallelujah Chorus which concluded the first half of the program, and a Joy to the World/We Wish You a Merry Christmas medley that ended the program.  The audience clearly enjoyed the concert, giving the artists a standing ovation afterwards.

Brandau arranged a lot of the music for the program, generally to good effect.  He also wrote a two-page “Director’s Note” on the program.  One random sentence from the note: “Pausing, to listen, to sing and to enmesh ourselves in a community of musicians and listeners lets us cut through the din of our noisy recent discourse and tune in to the shared feeling flowing between us.”  Anne and I can’t decide whether it was great-wordsmithing or bad verbosity.  For the record, Brandau has an undergraduate degree from Princeton, and a doctorate from Yale.

We had tickets to NJSO’s Messiah at NJPAC that we had to give up because of conflict with choir practice.  This wasn’t a bad substitute.

After the concert we headed out to China Buffet in Hazlet to complete the day.

Friday, December 16, 2016

New York Philharmonic – Alan Gilbert, conductor. December 14, 2016.

David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat CC14, $50.50).

Messiah (1741) by Handel (1685-1759).

Christina Landshamer, soprano; Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano; Matthew Polenzani, tenor; John Reylea, bass-baritone
Concert Chorale of New York – James Bagwell, conductor
Continuo: Carter Brey, cello; Timothy Cobb, bass; Christopher Martin, trumpet; Paolo Bordignon, harpsichord; Kent Tribtle, organ.

We have tickets to the Dec 18 performance by the NJ Symphony, but won’t be able to make it because of a commitment at church, so we decided to go for this one by the NY Phil.  Actually the billings are impressive: this is the first series that I know of that Gilbert will be conducting, perhaps as a farewell gesture?  I have heard three of the four soloists before, and have enjoyed their singing.

Anne’s only “complaint” was she would have enjoyed the Westminster Symphony Choir more than the Concert Chorale that was on the stage tonight.  She really had no misgiving about what we heard tonight, though.  I am again puzzled by how the different voices seemed to be mixed up in the seating arrangement, but noticed that Gilbert tended to direct at specific sections of the group.

One possible mismatch was Polenzani sang quite a bit better than the other three soloists.  His diction was clear, volume was great, and technique (to the extent I know what it is) impeccable.  I had Reylea in several operas before, and thought he did well.  I found his singing a not quite up to expectations; actually it reminded me of this National Chorale performance where we complained about the tenor’s voice (described as a bowling ball sloshing around by our friend). This was the German soprano’s debut with the New York Philharmonic, she started a bit weak but improved as the oratorio progressed.  We have heard Cooke a couple of times before, including a performance where she sang “sounds.”  She dispatched her recitatives and arias with ease.

Gilbert did draw out a great sound from all the artists involved.  It is difficult to compare one performance with another, but I certainly would give this high marks.  He was quite animated on the podium, which is fine if Messiah is thought of as simply great music, a bit unsettling if one things of it as an act of worship.  The Playbill contains a discussion on this point.  In any case, by having the performance in a regular concert hall setting, one should not complain too much if it was performed for “diversion and amusement.”

The trumpet had a bit of workout during Part III, and Martin – the new principal – did well,  other than for couple of place he had a slight hesitation.

From the left: Reylea, Polenzai, Cooke, Landshamer, and Gilbert.

Our seats were slightly discounted, and were quite good.  The concert was quite well attended.  Most people would stand for the singing of the Hallelujah chorus; but tonight they also applauded after this and Polenzani's first aria ("Every valley shall be exalted.")

I did find a review at “New York Classical Review.”  The reviewer is positive about the performance and has more specific comments.  He did remind me the pace was rather quick as the concert was about 15 minutes shorter in our case.  I had attributed it to the edition that was performed.

Today was a gridlock alert day.  We left a bit after 4 pm and got to the Westside at about 5:30 pm, without encountering too many tie-ups.  And we got to park on Columbus close to 66th Street!  Dinner was at the Szechuan Restaurant on 72nd.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Metropolitan Opera – Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. December 7, 2016.

Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center.  Orchestra (Seat DD23, $25.)

Story.  See prior post.

Conductor – Marco Armiliato; Chevalier des Grieux – Marcelo Alvarez, Lescaut – Christopher Maltman, Geronte di Ravoir – Brindley Sherratt, Manon Lescaut – Kristine Opolais.

We again took advantage of the Rush Ticket program and got these tickets for the performance.  We saw this same opera during the last season (February 2016), the roles of Manon and Geronte were taken by the same artists.  What I intend to do below is just to record some additional observations.

I had only a vague idea of the sets used in the opera (I think I confused them with what I saw in Manon) but they came back to me as the opera unfolded.  My recollection of the February performance isn’t much beyond what I recorded in the blog entry, but I am quite sure at the end of Act 2 Manon wasn’t as indecisive in picking out what jewelry she wanted to take with her.  Tonight it didn’t feel at all comedic, as I did last time (and calling it incongruent with the rest of the story.)  The other difference was I wondered why there was a need for so many Nazis; tonight their presence was minimal.  I do wonder if things indeed were different, or it was simply my perception.

My impression of how Opolais did as Manon is the same: good, but not great.  However, I thought both des Grieux and Lescaut did very well.

There were quite a few empty seats, quite a few people moved after the first intermission.  We decided to move also (and took seats Z7 and 9) after the second intermission.  At regular pricing these are more expensive seats ($140 vs $95), but I actually found the acoustics weaker.  I wonder if it was the singers getting tired or the actual locations.

A blurry curtain call.  From left: Sherratt (as Geronte), Alvarez (des Grieux), Armiliato, Opolais (Manon), and Maltman (Lescaut)

One major change this year in the Met production was Anna Netrebko singing the title role for several of the performances.  We didn’t get to see that.  The New York Times review this season has a rather long discussion on the social significance of the story.  A bit too deep for me.  I do share her curiosity of what the setting of the opera is returned to the 18th century.

[Added after initial post.  A couple more points.  One is the scene where des Grieux and Manon first meet is very similar to how Mimi and Rodolfo meet in La Boheme, down to "mi chiamo Manon Lescaut/Mimi."  This opera was written before La Boheme.  The Playbill also talks about how Puccini drew from both the French opera and Wagner traditions, with the result having a "French accent" (my phrase.)  That may be true, but wouldn't that be even more serious with his later works such as La Boheme and La Traviata?  Or did Puccini abandon the idea after this try?]

Anne went to visit Ellie in the afternoon and parked her car in Hoboken.  PATH trains run every 30 minutes late at night, so it was after 1 am when we got back.