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First sip

UPDATE: A video preview of the new Elisir follows the jump. La Cieca’s spy reports: “Bartlett Sher‘s warm and winning new production of Donizetti’s L‘Elisir d’Amore was presented at today’s annual Opening Night free public dress rehearsal.

The undercover audience member continues:

The most gratifying aspect of the performance was that the characters onstage were presented as three-dimensional, likable people rather than the cartoons that often take the stage in Elisir.

Anna Netrebko, keeping her warm, smoky voice light and free, was a complex and touching Adina, much different from the usual shrill soubrette shrew. Opposite her as Nemorino, Matthew Polenzani gave one of his most accomplished Met performances to date singing with style and nuance and creating a credible, likeable bumpkin that one really rooted for.

Marius Kwiecien can do the swaggering Belcore in his sleep by now but happily his singing featured less bellowing and more agile command than it did this spring opposite Damrau and Florez. Ambrogio Maestri really sang Dulcamara and didn’t camp it up with ancient buffo stage business.

Maurizio Benini‘s quicksilver conducting was a definite improvement over his disaster-prone predecessor last spring. Despite some pretty glaring lighting problems, particularly in act 1 and a snafu involving Dulcamara’s coach which brought the performance to a temporary halt, this new staging is in all ways an improvement over the aging cotton-candy Copley-Montresor eyesore it replaces.

87 comments

  • ardath_bey says:

    Definitely not a improvement over the last production, which never bothered me like it does so many of you, I saw it live 15-plus times, then the Pavarotti/Battle dvd several other times, etc. It was colorful, magical and unpretentious like the score. No creativity or invention in Sher’s concept. The sets are generic, the costumes conventional. Not opening night material. The barn set’s identical to the saloon in Fanciulla. And let’s admit that Sher’s got no flare for comedy, indeed the funniest thing yesterday was unintentional, the assistants desperately trying to open Dulcamara’s wagon. They should keep it. And what was that rifles smuggling going on behind Dulcamara’s wagon during his aria about? Silly & unnecessary distraction.

    The magic of L’Elisir d’Amore is Adina’s repressed love for Nemorino finally bursting out at the end of the opera. Bart Sher misses that by turning Adina into Carmen with a top hat, extrovert, fearless, jumping around, fighting with a sword, biting Belcore on the lips, etc. That’s not the character. I don’t see Netrebko’s Adina sophisticated enough to repress anything. The revelation of her love for Nemorino at the end is watered down and it comes through as just another one of Netrebko’s Adina eccentricities. For this alone the production has failed.

    Vocally I was *very* pleased with Anna, she’s a totally different singer from the one we heard in Don Pasquale in 06 or Puritani in 07. Much more focused, the runs, high notes and coloratura much more precise. It’s still mostly an imitation of bel canto, but a darn good imitation I must say. Polenzani’s a great singer (with a generic, dull tenor sound) but definitely not an opera star, never will be, no charisma and surely not a comedian. He’s the only miscast, not in the same caliber of the other singers. Maestri good but awkward. Very little chemistry between him and the rest of the cast. The voice of Kwiecen always pleases me like the rest of him, superb, elegant, funny and so very strapping. Benini’s conducting: overly concerned with unnecessary detail failing to ignite. Bring back Levine, who loves the score.

    • lucy brown says:

      I found the production enchanting. Polenzani, who underwhelmed me in the past, was adorable (although I’ve heard sweeter renditions of Una Furtiva Lagrima); Anna was funny and generous in her performance. Kwiecen was surprisingly inaudible at times… it’s one thing to mark at a closed rehearsal, but dude! There’s an audience here! And Maestri was a riot. The sets are cartoonish but very appropriate and attractive. The orchestra made one or two very bizarre sounds, but was generally fine. I’d like to see it again once Schrott comes in…

  • La Cieca says:

    See the “First Sip” posting for a video preview of Elisir!

    • Clita del Toro says:

      I just don’t get it; loud, throaty, expressionless singing. Was this Anna or Adina? I heard no difference. But, that’s just me.

      • Porgy Amor says:

        I liked her singing of this more in the Vienna one with Villazon (when was that, ’05?), and I preferred the costumes and especially the staging of this part there too. This one is so dark that they look like the Wälsung twins on the run. Maybe if I saw it in context it would work better.

      • messa di voce says:

        How does one hear a “difference” between the singer and the role they are singing?

        “Was this Maria or Norma? I heard no difference.”

        • Clita del Toro says:

          Messa: I meant Anna Bolena, not Anna N. LOL As far as Callas is concerned, Maria WAS Norma.

          • Clita : how’s the Ring doin’? :)

          • Clita del Toro says:

            To clarify, To me, Trebs sounded the same as Adina as she did as Anna Bolena.

            But I love the sentence, “How does one hear a “difference” between the singer and the role they are singing?” That would be a good trick question for the Opera Quiz! LOL

          • messa di voce says:

            OK, makes more sense now!

          • messa di voce says:

            ‘But I love the sentence, “How does one hear a “difference” between the singer and the role they are singing?” That would be a good trick question for the Opera Quiz! LOL’

            The layers of persona theory one could explore are mind-boggling.

          • kashania says:

            I agree that this is no longer an Adina voice. I felt the same about her Norina (though she still gave a great performance with what she had).

    • louannd says:

      I liked it. Definitely not “Hello Kitty,” more like Elisir with the set for Carmen. They at least seem to be having a good time.

      • messa di voce says:

        Agree. If this is representative of the whole show, I’m going to like it a lot.

      • Clita del Toro says:

        CF I am now in Act III of Walküre and am especially impressed by the direction/acting and the Wotan. Elming is very sexy and acts well, but falls a bit short in the voice department.
        I would be further on into the Ring, but have been bit busy lately. Can’t wait to see the Siegfried and GD (and with Waltraud Meier)! The sound is excellent. Love the production so far.

    • adina says:

      Very interesting clip -- a lot more physical than the old E’lisir. I would love to be Matthew Polenzani’s Adina. Also, I have to agree about the broccoli stalk in the middle of the set. Wish I could be there opening night.

  • I like the 1990s Elisir from Lyon set in the 30s. The Vienna Elisir is a bore IMO :(

  • Donna Anna says:

    I love this production from the Licieu and with this cast. The staging captures the essence the period, the place and the prelude to the second act (a scratchy recording of an Italian love song during the wedding feast) is just right. RV could still sing the hell out of the role and deserved the encore for Una furtiva. Everyone is having a great time and the finale’s reprise of Dulcamara’s verses is in keeping with the sense of fun.

    • ilpenedelmiocor says:

      JUST QUOTING (the sole youtube comment:

      “La dizione e il fraseggio della Bayo sono orrendi. Non ha il? minimo senso del legato.”

  • Donna Anna says:

    The reprise starts at 3:50. Enjoy!

  • louannd says:

    Ah, Renata Scotto -- no problems enjoying this:

  • louannd says:

    Another nice rendition of Prendi per mei sei libero -- I don’t know this voice at all and she appears to be a strikingly beautiful woman -- Rosanna Carteri

    • armerjacquino says:

      You’ve got a treat in store discovering Carteri- the best TRAV letter and ‘Addio del Passato’ on record. And she recorded a lovely Angelica, too, when she was something mad like 21.

    • Porgy Amor says:

      If you want to see her as well as hear her, don’t overlook the Serafin/Graf/RAI FALSTAFF film available on VAI, with Carteri part of a real murderers’ row of 1950s Italian-opera talent: Taddei, Colombo (the best Ford I have ever seen or heard), Barbieri, Moffo and Alva. Note some cast overlap with the Karajan recording, which came very shortly thereafter.

      Some of us were talking elsewhere here of TRAVIATAs in which Alfredo was older than his father. Here, we have something I suppose is even more common, but an extreme case of it: visually, the Ford women would be more likely sisters than mother/daughter. At the time of the telecast, Carteri was 26, Moffo 24.

      • poisonivy says:

        There’s also a grainy but absolutely lovely video of La Rondine with Carteri that’s a live performance. Also an RAI film of Otello with MdM and Renato Capecchi.

    • The_Kid says:

      OMG i can’t believe someone beat me to posting this…
      she is WONDERFUL. i read somewhere that tebaldi considered her to be a huge threat!

  • tancredipasero says:

    Oops -- accidentally posted the following in the wrong thread. Apologies to anybody reading it twice.

    Having bailed out of Elisir in boredom, i’ll give a quick account of Act One. Boredom mostly due to Bartlett Sher – is there anybody who respects him as an opera director? This looked like any overacted high-school musical – anything to keep people in frenetic motion, zero finesse or comic timing, and not very careful attention to the story. Adina and Nemorino are presented as Musetta and Marcello – long-time lovers who are on the outs currently, but whose inevitable reunion is obvious from the start. They are seated *à deux* at Adina’s reading table, and it goes from there – their freedom in touching each other would read, even in a contemporary setting which this seemingly isn’t, as that of people who have clearly spent a good deal of time in bed together… And why not? Mightn’t they have? I guess so, but it sorta removes the only charm the slender story has.

    Much unclarity throughout – Dulcamara, Belcore and Nemorino seemed to run through all possible attitudes towards one another in no particular order. I’d call it sub-professional, actually. The funniest part was Belcore singing about the fact that he’s refraining from using his hands *while* employing his hands to strike Nemorino.

    Netrebko did well what she always does well – producing totally open-throated, totally relaxed upper-middle and high notes without a hint of strain and with a lot of honest beauty – and did poorly what she always does poorly (agility passages – not too prominent in Act One – and Italian pronunciation). There’s not much color or interest in the middle, and not much in the way of phrasing. She should really stay with the repertory where most of the phrase-shaping is built in to the orchestral score and the music mostly just needs a beautiful voice slathered onto it. One wouldn’t want to judge her acting in this mess; she flounced and pouted vigorously.

    Kwiecen pretty much bellowed – his voice is still handsome but already starting to show loose vibrato and dryness on the pumped-up high notes.

    Maestri – if he were trying to sing Belcore one would probably have something similar to say about him, but it was a pleasure to hear a Dulcamara whose voice could ride the high tessitura, and a genuine (and very big) Italianate sound. Some roughness and iffy pitch, but not more than is usual for buffo parts.

    Polenzani – really impressive for the way he keeps the voice free and collected in the difficult F to A region on top. I sort of regret not staying for his big aria. Also: attractive tone and *non-phony soft singing* – the timbre stays consistent, the notes connect into a line. And he has no trouble singing full voice without strain. I think he deserves a lot of credit – this kind of medium-light lyric tenor often turns dry and patchy in middle age. He shows no sign of that. Overacted like everybody else, but what’s he gonna do?

    Benini – sloppy and boring as usual. A prediction: When Michele Mariotti starts doing bel canto operas here, the decades-long Met tradition of weak conducting in this rep will be broken (and the people who don’t realize what we’ve been missing will realize it). No predictions as to how he will do with Carmen (well, one hopes) but he is definitely the guy for making Rossini et al lively, precise and elegant, and bringing real life to the orchestral participation, *while* breathing with the singers, etc.

    Bottom line, though – the show as a whole has the charm of a very stale Whitman’s Sampler, and except for checking in with Polenzani’s estimable progress I can’t see much reason for attending.

    • Vergin Vezzosa says:

      “she flounced and pouted vigorously”

      Anna has obviously taken a cue from some of us who frequent this site.

      Thanks for the review. It seems that I was wise to stay home instead and watch the premiere of this season’s Dancing with the Stars. I had a lot of impure, non-virginal thoughts watching some of those boys on TV. More even than than tonight’s Belcore could provide.

      • Camille says:

        Very funny.

        Who were the *stars* on the Dancing With The Stars? Remember?

        • Vergin Vezzosa says:

          All-Stars returning. Gilles, Drew, Helio, Emmitt. Pros Max and his brother and the operatically named Tristan among others. The girls include Kirstie Alley (“La Bovina”) and Pamela Anderson (“La Bovinetta”).

          • Camille says:

            I thought “La Bovina” had already been on the show and won it or came in second?

          • Vergin Vezzosa says:

            Yes, they are all returnees from prior seasons. To atone for even knowing that, I will spend the rest of the night restoring my equilibrium by listening to…..how about Einstein on the Beach?, as it has been of topical interest lately.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      Excellent review! “… is there anybody who respects him as an opera director?” Yes, obviously the misguided Yellow Man.

    • Clita del Toro says:

      Tancredi: I agree with you about Netrebko in l”Elisir. No real phrasing or sculpting of the vocal line, which to me= not much in the way of expression. As I said on the chat, she seems to plow her way through the music, banking on her big, gorgeous voice to wow everyone. IMO, she sings everything in this manner. Her coloratura was okay tonight.

  • taminosboyfriend says:

    Did someone record the Met Opening night? I had poor reception and lost a big part of the second act. Thanks!