New York Diary
by Philip Anson
January 12, 1998. The
Metropolitan Operaís first staging of Richard Straussís
Capriccio was a triumphant success. Though the opera
is supposed to take place in 18th-century France, the sets and
costumes were updated to 1920s Brideshead Revisited / Merchant-Ivory
interwar chic with the intriguing result that the whole opera seemed
caught in a Twilight Zone between two epochs 150 years apart. The
strong cast featured Jan-Hendrik Rootering as La Roche and Kathryn
Harries as Clairon. It strained credulity that the Countess
preferred plain David Keubler (the composer) to hunky Simon
Keenlyside (the poet). Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was the star and
raison díÍtre of this production and it
would be sad to think it was her farewell. Radiantly beautiful in a
simple robinís-egg-blue dress and pearls, Kiri remains at 53 as
bewitching as ever, sounding in better voice than on her recent EMI
album of German arias. The musical highlight of the opera was the
Countessís final "mirror scene." Bathed in a transcendent blue
spotlight, Dame Kiri examined herself in an imaginary "mirror"
facing the audience, casting her wordless spell directly onto the
mesmerized Met audience. Andrew Davis squeezed every drop of
orchestral schmaltz from this magical Marschallin moment. Kiri
Jan. 13. The Metís new production of
Stravinskyís The Rakeís Progress had everything going for it: beautiful sets by
Peter Davison, stylised Roaring Ď20s costumes by Judy Levin, and an
all-star cast directed by Jonathan Miller. Kudos first of all to
Jerry Hadleyís stunning interpretation of the title role. Hadley has
always been a fine actor. Now he is also in top vocal form,
deploying a marvellous palette of expressive colours. Sam Ramey was
a restrained Nick Shadow, more like the devilís advocate than the
devil himself. Dawn Upshawís Anne Trulove was vulnerable enough to
be pitied but not desirable enough to appeal to Tom, which is as it
should be. Stephanie Blytheís Baba the Turk was vocally opulent but
could have used a touch more camp. The auction scene was rather flat
and the Bedlam scene was like diluted Marat-Sade. James Levine gave
a correct but unexciting reading of Stravinskyís score. In the end,
despite marvellous individual performances, one felt that director
Jonathan Miller had no dramatic vision of the opera.
Jan. 14. Singers and critics alike have abused
the 1998 Met production of Verdiís Il Trovatore
(Joan Sutherland also blasts it in her new autobiography).
The slippery stairs painted in high-gloss black and the Stygian
non-lighting make movement dangerous and direction impossible.
Nevertheless this evening was redeemed by a top drawer cast.
Canadian tenor Richard Margison gave a heroic performance as
Manrico. June Andersonís Leonora was less vocally errant than usual.
Admirable technique goes a long way towards stabilizing her insecure
instrument. However, as an actress, her generic posturing had little
to do with Verdiís heroine. The star of the evening was mezzo Dolora
Zajick - and she knew it, shamelessly milking her curtain calls
while Margison and Anderson cooled their heels in the wings. Anyone
who says there are no more great voices hasnít heard Zajick. The
American mezzo is a force of nature and her Azucena is the equal of
anyone in the history of recorded song.
Jan. 15. Everyone knows Carnegie Hall is
an acoustic miracle, reverberating like a seashell from the wooden
distant cheap seats (and you hear best from up there). Tonight over
100 choristers joined the superb Orchestra of St. Lukeís for a
ruggedly moving performance of Haydnís The Creation, the
culmination of a week of workshops under wizard Robert Shaw. It was
a night to remember for Canadians Dominique Labelle and
Nathan Berg, both star solists in this prestigious concert.
Labelle delivered a radiant performance as Gabriel, even outshining
her more famous colleague Sylvia McNair, who sang the part of Eve.
Though Berg was a last-minute substitute in the big role of Raphael,
his narration was confident, richly voiced and animated. Both Berg
and Labelle are oratorio singers of the first water, and they
deserve to be heard more often in Canada. (Berg -
Clement - Labelle at Carnegie Hall, photo:
Jan. 16. Carnegie Hall was packed for the
Marilyn Horne Foundationís Fifth Annual Gala. Highlights
included Sam Rameyís aria from Attila and a rollicking "Donít
fence me in" (Ramey is a Kansas boy), countertenor David Danielsí
"Sweet rose and lilly" from Handelís Theodora (his Peter
Brook-directed Glyndebourne performance of Theodora is now
available on video), Dolora Zajickís aria from Adriana
Lecouvreur, and the phenomenal
Deborah Voigtís two Strauss Songs. The Horne Foundationís "up and
coming young singers" - Lynette Tapia, Rinat Shaham, and 1997
Cardiff Singer of the World Competition winner Guang Yang - were
what one would expect to find at the top of the class in the best
Jan. 17. The Bronx Opera Company is a
great place to hear unusual repertoire for under twenty dollars.
They recently staged Vaughan Williamsís shamelessly tuneful
Hugh the Drover (1914) in Manhattanís
John Jay College Theatre. As with any low-budget, community-based
opera company, singers were a mixture of admirable young
professionals and enthusiastic amateurs. Constantinos Yiannoudesís
Showman was a believable and unifying presence. Honorable mention
goes to soprano Maureen Tye (Mary) for her fine voice and acting.
The chorus of two dozen moved and danced smoothly, singing with good
diction and robustly enjoyable sound. The BOC orchestra played
Vaughan Williamsís folksy music ravishingly well, making a good case
for this neglected work.
Jan. 18. Die gyptische Helena (The
Egyptian Helen, 1928) is one of Richard Straussís least known works,
but as the American Symphony Orchestra under Leon
Botstein proved this afternoon, it
makes for a thrilling listening experience. Hofmannsthalís
hallucinatory libretto, full of apparitions, exotic transformations
and voyages on magic carpets is best staged only in the imagination.
Soprano Helen Field delivered an intense reading of the witch
Aithraís role (as difficult as Electra or Salome). Canadian tenor
Paul Frey plowed bravely through the long and heavy part of Menelaus
with mixed success. The star of the show was Deborah Voigt as the
operaís eponymous Helena. From first note to last Voigt was absolute
mistress of Straussís complex, gorgeous score. Her rhapsodic "Zweite
Brautnacht!" elicited ecstatic applause. Unfortunately much of the
The Omniscient Seashell (or The Talking Mussel)ís important
Erda-like commentary was lost by being sung through a megaphone.
Orchestra and chorus were top notch. Kudos to all involved in this
strikingly successful and fascinating project.
Jan. 19. A packed but surprisingly cool house
greeted the opening night of the Met LíElisir
díAmore, suggesting that the publicís infatuation with a
certain ailing tenor is waning. Compared to his "stand and sing"
Calaf, Pavarottiís Nemorino was a miracle of youthfulness,
once even kicking up his leg like a geriatric who had found the
elixir of youth as well as the elixir of love. According to the
tabloids, Pavarotti is Nemorino: a simple country bumpkin
with a weakness for the ladies who gets fabulously rich and is
suddenly surrounded by women. Sadly, the sextagenarianís voice was
patchier than ever, he had to cough to clear his throat in the
middle of phrases, high notes were not even attempted, and there
were memory lapses. He nibbled on apples and drank water throughout.
Despite all these follies the show was fun, heroically redeemed by
Earl Patriarcoís superb Belcore, Paul Plishkaís slick Dulcamara and
Ruth Ann Swensonís bewitching Adina. The Crayola-coloured sets
looked like a bad acid trip, but the zany soldier extras raised many