Category: Non-Toronto Opera Companies

Other Opinions of Holländer

Though Heather and I enjoyed Friday night’s performance of Der fliegende Holländer at the Met, the other critics (at least, the two I could find) were not terribly enamoured. Here are some other reviews:

The New York Times: “…except for the singing of Deborah Voigt, who brought steely power and lyrical elegance to her first Met Senta, the performance lacked intensity, focus and Wagnerian vocal splendor.”

Superconductor: “Mr. Uusitalo is a tall, handsome singer with a strong stage presence. However, Friday night’s performance was somewhat anemic.”

Heather and Cecily review Der fliegende Holländer!

On Friday evening, ATC’s New York correspondent and I enjoyed opening night of the Met’s Der fliegende Holländer, starring Deborah Voigt. We’ve decided to review it jointly, as a back-and-forth dialogue between us. Neither of us had seen Hollander before, and we loved talking about it as a work as well as about this specific performance.

CECILY: One thing that struck me is how much Senta at the beginning of the opera acts like a modern-day Twilight fan. She’s obsessed with the Dutchman’s portrait, likes to hear his story over and over again, is kinda turned on by his supernatural dark broodiness, and has fantasies of “rescuing” him from his dark fate. She’s an interesting character, isn’t she? Chaste but quivering.

HEATHER:  She is interesting for sure. I love when she sings about the legend of the Dutchman to the chorus of woman. The song is so strongly voiced…but then she swoons at the end. She is a contradiction! And *sort* of chaste.  Though it is Wagner, there was a bit of humour in the suggestion of her sexual fascination with the Dutchman. Musically, he is far sexier than her suitor Erik. His arias are blandly traditional rather than the stormily Romantic music of the Dutchman.

CECILY: You can really hear foretastes of the Ring Cycle in the Dutchman’s music, although not the sexy parts. The Dutchman was clad a bit like a Byronic hero in this particular production.

HEATHER: The Dutchman was definitely Byronic. I’m glad the Dutchman looked more like Heathcliff than Dracula. He was pretty pale though. I thought the supernatural element was done well–present, but not excessive.  I like the scene with the chorus–who are trying to persuade the sailors to party with them–and the ghostly crew of the Flying Dutchman. There was quite the visual and musical contrast between the ordinary and the unworldly in this exchange.

CECILY: Yes, the dueling choruses were a highlight for me, and it was a very visually effective (though our view was obstructed a bit from standing room). Did you find that Senta’s death moment was fluffed a bit, visually? These days I’m starting to think that after over a century of leaping Toscas, we’d be interested in something a bit more interesting than just “the jump”.

HEATHER: Fluffed up how? I agree that leaping to one’s death seems derivative (so why bother emphasizing it on stage). Tosca will always do it better! (i.e. in Italian). In some way I didn’t quite expect Senta to do it though. She’s totally obsessed with the Dutchman, but I think a tiny possibility was presented that she would choose the more staid Erik. His songs were nice.

CECILY: Mostly I was just wondering if there’s a better way to execute the final jump than the Climb To Precipice/Make Emotional Appeal/Carefully Jump Behind Set drill – something a bit more unexpected. And it’s interesting that Senta is sort of stringing Erik along – trying hard to placate him and not quite admitting, in her first scene, that she’d leave him for the Dutchman.

HEATHER: You’re right. It was kind of a boring way to do it. Not my favourite demise of a heroine either. Nothing will ever beat Adriana Lecouvreur’s death; she keeled over after sniffing poisoned violets. I think you’re right about Senta’s treatment of Erik. She is a bit conflicted there. She’s pretty set on the Dutchman though (and from first glance) What did you think of that first scene between the Dutchman and Senta?

CECILY: I like the tension in that scene – the long, long interval where no words are exchanged. Not a lot of composers would have had the guts to attempt something like that. And in this production, the lack of motion carried on for an almost agonizingly long length of time. I’d be interested to see if, in other productions, Senta and the Dutchman ever move toward each other or touch, or if they usually take the “stillness” approach.

HEATHER: A brave move indeed. Silence can be profound or awkward. I didn’t hear any giggles though. It was an arresting moment. Their lack of contact (and extended silence) seemed to suggest containment–they are each still profoundly wrapped up in the idea rather than the reality of their beloved. It is the opposite of the Erik/Senta dynamic, which is much more familiar. I generally prefer higher male voices, but I was really taken with Juha Uusital. I’ve rarely enjoyed a bass-baritone so much.

CECILY: Yes, both Uusital and Voigt were marvelous. There’s an interesting brightness in Voigt’s voice that I like – it allows her to be both powerful and girlish when the music requires it. All in all, an excellent first experience with the Dutchman – I’m looking forward to comparing this one to the COC’s version coming up this May!

Guest Review: New York City Opera – Partenope

[Cecily's note: this review comes courtesy of my lovely friend, Heather, who is spending the spring in NYC. With this and the possible Dutchman tomorrow, we here at ATC are engaging in a bit of blog tourism before the Toronto opera scene kicks into gear next week with Figaro]

In the first act of Partenope, the heroine of Handel’s three-act comedy is surrounded by eager suitors, who are seated as she sings and struts in pink heels around them. Dressed in a rose coloured sixties-style dress suit, the princess, like Joan from Mad Men, is playfully conscious of her appeal to the opposite sex. Sieden breezes through this difficult aria, this experienced soprano confidently hitting the astonishingly high notes in this and subsequent scenes. As the title character of this comedy set in Naples, she has a lot of singing to do. Vocally, she is plainly up to the task. Her exertions are supported by an orchestra (under the capable baton of Christian Curnyn) that sounds equally at home with this lively, perhaps a little lengthy, slice of the Baroque.

By turns, Partenope’s suitors sing about their feelings for the princess, who favours Prince Arsace for much of the opera, though she ends up with the more boyish Armido. Both heroes are countertenors (the first 1730 London production would have featured a castrato, however); the trio of suitors is rounded out by a tenor, the warlike Emilio, who desires both Partenope’s heart and land. Armido’s first aria, sweetly expressing his unrequited love for Partenope is exquisite, promising much for later solos. But the honeyed countertenor never quite reaches the same heights of beauty in later acts. Moreover, the youthful Anthony Roth Costanzo lacks the stage presence his rival (and superior) countertenor, who shines in scenes with his ex-lover, Rosemira, who disguises herself as a man after her fiancé abandons her for royalty. Tall and athletic, Stephanie Houtzeel, a solid mezzo-soprano, is hands-down the best actor in the opera. Consequently, I felt real investment in her trials as a scorned lover and incipient matchmaker (between Partenope and Armindo).

The costumes, colourful and basically modern, are neither distracting nor particularly striking. (Some part of me always hopes, however, that the characters will don the ridiculously elaborate wigs, face patches, and waistcoats of Handel’s day.) The set too is pleasant, neither lavish nor skimpy, lending a casually eighteenth-century feel to the work. Most memorably, a starry sky of lights is the backdrop to one lover’s evening song of yearning. Fire is also used to great effect, a model of the city of Naples opening to reveal an inner flame. An interesting visual motif—an orb nestled in a cube—is repeated with variation throughout the opera. Seen several times in the hands of the princess’ (unfortunately rather dull) tutor, Ormonte, this symbol reinforces the central theme of the cultivation of reason.

The director, Francisco Negrin, has several obstacles to overcome in order to make this dramatically and musically exciting to a modern audience not used to being so drenched in coloratura. Honestly, it is sometimes hard work to enjoy all of the florid arias and silly plot twists. During one of the two intermissions I overheard a lady in the restroom remarking, with a smile, on the “corny” storyline. Hence, I will refrain further summarizing the nuances of the plot, with its duels, cross-dressing, overheard conversations, etc. The story, like that of many other operas from Handel and company, is a collection of narrative stereotypes—albeit one with very likable characters. Silvio Stampiglia’s libretto, with its musty clichés, does not dull a work that overall sparkles musically. Minor quibbles with the revival production aside, I was delighted to experience such a high-quality performance of a relatively little-performed eighteenth-century opera, especially one that displays so prominently the voices of two countertenors!

Sadly, it’s over now, so you can’t enjoy it as I did. Burn.