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Catch of another day

“The nameless heroine of Dvorak’s Rusalka is one of those hybrid creatures that crops up so often in myth and fairy tale, half woman and half fish. The Met’s current quickie revival of this opera is also a half-and-half sort of thing: a charming musical performance welded to a dramatic production so old and stale that, like fish left out too long, it’s starting to smell.” [New York Observer]

111 comments

  • 1
  • 2
    Krunoslav says:

    The Kurt Baum Fund for Civil Rights rejects a belated apology:

    http://www.wtv-zone.com/fantome/storage/tuna.jpg

  • 3
    Avantialouie says:

    Mark Twain once observed that a Puritan was someone who harbored secret suspicions that someebody, somewhere was actually having a good time. JJ has turned himself into someone who harbors secret suspicions that somebody, somewhere, is attending a traditional production of an opera and sincerely enjoying it. He has morphed over the years from a fine objective critic into an agenda pusher. Which is all VERY SAD, because he otherwise has so much to offer.

    • 3.1
      tatiana says:

      Yes, Avantialouie. It was disappointing that both JJ and Zachary Woolfe had to take gratuitous slams at the representational aspects of the Met “Rusalka” production. Criticisms against the physically worn aspects of same, or at the lack of freshness in the direction of the singers, OK.

      • 3.1.1
        Regina delle fate says:

        Unfortunately, productions now tend to date very quickly as the latest hot new Regie production circulates on DVD. So the time-honoured shows trotted out by Traditionshäuser such as the Met and Covent Garden -- even Vienna has a lot of very old stuff -- inevitably begin to look a bit moth-eaten and dust-coated. Gelb may have upped the number of new or shared productions dramatically in his time at the Met, but he would need Pereira’s or Loebe’s subsidies in Zurich and Frankfurt to have between 12 and 14 new shows per season. I was at Pelly’s Manon at the Garden last night -- it’s only three and a bit years old, although it has already been seen at the Met, Vienna and Toulouse -- and even that is looking creaky. I’ll be surprised if it’s revived again. I must have seen that Rusalka at the Met 20 years ago with Benackova and I remember loving it, but I can guess that people who have seen all of the revivals hanker for something a bit more penetrating and edgy. Presumably, Rusalka isn’t revived often enough to justify a new production. At least we can watch our Pountney, Kusej and Herheim DVDs, unlike previous generations.

        • 3.1.1.1
          Poison Ivy says:

          The color scheme of Schenk’s Rusalka (all the browns, dark greens, powder blues) age poorly after 20 odd years. It was much prettier when i last saw it in 2004. The Zeffirelli productions, whatever you want to think about them, rely more on primary color schemes that look less faded and careworn after many years of use. I remember the similarly earth-toned Schenk Ring looking very careworn by the time it was replaced.

        • 3.1.1.2
          calaf47 says:

          Did you see Ailyn Perez as Manon?? If so…how was she?? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

          • manou says:

            Hi Calaf -- I was there too and did see Perez, who was very much better than Jaho two weeks before. Polenzani sang very well in good French, but his acting is desperately wooden still.

      • 3.1.2
        armerjacquino says:

        Why is criticising the production ‘gratuitous’?

        • 3.1.2.1
          La Cieca says:

          “Gratuitous” in this context means “I don’t agree with you.”

          • aronocity says:

            I think that many people think that you are criticizing the production because it is more representational, rather than because you think it lacks insight.

            I’d be curious to find out if there have been any excellent productions recently, of any opera, that were in a more representation vein.

    • 3.2
      DeepSouthSenior says:

      Actually, Avantialouie, that quotation is from H. L. Mencken, not Mark Twain. Other than its being a gross mischaracterization of Puritanism, I agree with the sentiment as regards certain critics. Given our current obsession with “diversity,” why can’t we rejoice in the full spectrum of productions, from “traditional” to “edgy” to “regie”? My only criteria are whether the production complements or enhances the text, and whether it pushes the story aside and makes itself the “star.” Of course my reactions are subjective, but that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? I can’t imagine a more gripping scene than the Te Deum that concludes Act I of “Tosca” in the old Zeffirelli production. Yet I also like the dying Gilda in the trunk of the Cadillac in the MET’s recent “Vegas” Rigoletto.

      That being said, I’m looking forward to the Live in HD “Rusalka” next week. Along with the upcoming Live in HD of the Zeffirelli “Boheme,” sometimes you just gotta wallow in it. Next up at home: The Boulez-Chereau Ring, hydroelectric dams and all.

      • 3.2.1
        Grane says:

        I would hope that a traditional or “representative” production need not automatically be insipid, just as I feel a grimy, industrial set doesn’t immediately convey complexity. Couldn’t the deeper psychological themes of a fairy tale be explored in a set that contains forests, lakes, castles, etc.? Is an opera only relevant if it takes place in a contemporary setting?

        • 3.2.1.1
          La Cieca says:

          “Even in a more literal production the darkness and depth of the story could be brought out far better than they are at the Met.”

        • 3.2.1.2
          MontyNostry says:

          I have to say that the Rusalka by David Pountney at the ENO back in the early 80s captured both the fairytale and Freudian elements of Rusalka marvellously. The first Regie-ish production I saw (unless I count Serban’s Onegin for Welsh National Opera about five years before), it was poetic and fantastical, but also intelligent and dark. It would probably look rather dated now, of course, and it starred an array of Brits and Commonwealth artists, but worth catching if it’s still knocking around on a video format somewhere.

          • MontyNostry says:

            A couple of samples of its ‘haunted nursery’ …

          • Krunoslav says:

            The men are pretty bad on that video, but Eilene Hannan was clearly a **superb** singing actress. If only the voice could get above a high A! How did she ever get through some of the roles listed on her website?

            “In her international career she sang Rusalka, Pamina, Susanna, Cherubino, Dorabella, Zerlina, Lauretta , Mimì, Tatyana, Mélisande, Micaela, Blanche (Dialogues of the Carmelites) Léïla, Kát’a Kabanová, Jen?fa, The Vixen, Eboli, Pat Nixon (Nixon in China), the Governess, Sieglinde, Venus, Marzelline, Oscar, Salome (Hérodiade), and Poppea.”

            • MontyNostry says:

              It was a rather fragile voice, with a raw edge, but it had drama in it because of that. If I remember rightly, there were bits in that video where you could see from the synching that she’d been overdubbed -- big, high phrases, unsurprisingly. Eboli? Sieglinde?

            • Regina delle fate says:

              Well, her “international” career consisted mainly of Sydney and ENO, with possibly a few of the smaller European houses, and I am presuming she must have kept Marilyn Niska out of a job somewhere in the States in order to have earned some of animosity she arouses on here. The Salomé in Hérodiade was, I think in Wexford. She was a light lyric soprano, so how she sang Eboli is anybody’s guess. She certainly didn’t do that in London, but she was lovely as Pamina, Susanna, Zerlina, Lauretta, Marzelline and Poppea. Rusalka was the role that really stretched her in London, but she made up for vocal shortcomings with her appearance and acting ability. I’m guessing the Sieglinde, Venus and Eboli come from the latter end of her career when she had left ENO. She probably sang them outside her native Australia, so that explains her international career. Please correct me if she turned up at the Met in any of these roles.

    • 3.3
      laddie says:

      I don’t think JJ is critiquing for that someone having a good time. That is your first problem. Your second problem is that you assume he is pushing an agenda.

      What could JJ possibly offer about a fairy tale opera about a mermaid which takes no dive into being anything else but a straightforward representation of a fairy tale, the moral of which, any 10-year-old Disneyite can deduce for him/herself?

      What he is offering up is an idea that a fairy tale, opera or not, can offer us adults much more,especially when in the form of such a masterpiece of a musical composition. JJ 1, straw-man arugment 0.

      • 3.3.1
        havfruen says:

        “fairy tale opera about a mermaid which takes no dive into being anything else but a straightforward representation of a fairy tale, the moral of which, any 10-year-old Disneyite can deduce for him/herself?”

        Perhaps the problem is that contemporary audiences are mostly clueless about “fairy tales” and immediately reduce to Disney when the subject comes up. Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale ( from which Dvorak got inspiration) is really for adults, although children can grasp the straightforward story. This is not simply a problem of native Danish vs any other language. Andersen’s tales have unfortunately been “simplified” also for Danish children. Were modern audiences in tune with this tradition there wouldn’t be a need to put a spin on the story to make it interesting. Disney is partly to blame, but our own ignorance of a literary tradition is too.

        • 3.3.1.1
          oedipe says:

          Perhaps the problem is that contemporary audiences are mostly clueless about “fairy tales” and immediately reduce to Disney when the subject comes up.

          I agree with you 100%! But there is a whole school of thought out there that believes all that counts is the here and now*. If we believe that today is better than yesterday and tomorrow will be even better than today, there is no point wasting one’s time and energy in learning about (ancient) traditions: they are for the birds.

          *This is not a new phenomenon and it is not limited to opera, of course. It all started with the aftermath of the scientific revolution and was reinforced by the cultural changes that have accompanied the vast technological development and the incredibly rapid wealth accumulation experienced by the Western world in the last century or so. Immer besser, immer besser!

        • 3.3.1.2
          MontyNostry says:

          There was a dramatisation of Andersen’s The Red Shoes on BBC Radio before Christmas, and it was so nasty I could hardly listen. I read The Snow Queen about 10 years ago and wondered what HCA was on when he wrote it … Perrault is fantastic -- far too witty and wicked for kids.

          • manou says:

            What about “Peau d’Ane”? Quite the most peculiar fairy tale ever.

          • Grane says:

            You could probably argue that Anderson’s tales are more stories written by a writer, using folk elements, than true folk tales handed down through the generations. “Snow Queen” is indeed bizarre. I like it, though.

            • MontyNostry says:

              Absolutely -- they are art song as opposed to folk song, as it were. HCA also has a streak of 19th century sentimentality (eg The Little Match Girl) of a kind that you would never find in a real fairy tale, which offers very little in the way of purposeful emotional engagement.

            • oedipe says:

              Anderson’s tales do not come out of the blue, there are numerous folk sources and “set” themes in them, just like in Brüder Grimm’s and Perrault’s tales.

            • oedipe says:

              Andersen’s, that is.

          • oedipe says:

            Perrault is fantastic — far too witty and wicked for kids.

            You mean, Bluebeard’s Castle is NOT for kids?

            • MontyNostry says:

              You mean the opera, oedipe? I adore that piece, but it really is one of the most depressing operas in the repertoire -- there’s a lot of truth in it behind all that symbolism.

              The Perrault version is fantastic, because it is almost like a ritual rather than a story. (I suppose the opera is like a ritual too, though of a different kind.) And I love the way it’s mentioned literally in parentheses — if I remember rightly — that the bodies hanging up on hooks belong to Barbe-bleue’s former wives. Very wicked indeed.

            • MontyNostry says:

              Here’s the passage I’m talking about:

              D’abord elle ne vit rien, parce que les fenêtres étaient fermées ; après quelques moments elle commença à voir que le plancher était tout couvert de sang caillé, et que dans ce sang se miraient les corps de plusieurs femmes mortes et attachées le long des murs (c’étaient toutes les femmes que la Barbe bleue avait épousées et qu’il avait égorgées l’une après l’autre).

            • oedipe says:

              Teasing you, Monty. But fairy tales are often depressing, actually.

            • manou says:

              Gilles de Rais has a lot to answer for.

            • oedipe says:

              Yep.

            • MontyNostry says:

              Fairytales might be cruel and brutal, but they are rarely depressing, since there is a usually a degree of alienation in the narrative.

        • 3.3.1.3
          La Cieca says:

          Perhaps the problem is that contemporary audiences are mostly clueless about “fairy tales” and immediately reduce to Disney when the subject comes up.

          Neither contemporary audiences nor Disney made the artistic decision to introduce into the scene of Jezibaba’s incantation a gaggle of adorable children dressed in darling little forest creature outfits, as if Jezibaba was holding an open audition call for Príhody lisky Bystrousky. That’s all Otto Schenk’s idea, and the responsibility for the promulgation of this vision of the work is shared with the Met.

    • 3.4
      operaassport says:

      Avant: pish posh. What a load of twaddle. The agenda pushing seems to be by those who think that anyone who deviates from the “traditional” is some sort of satanic fascist desecrating some holy relic.

  • 4
    Cicciabella says:

    Rolando recounts, among other stories, his Met debut with Renée. And JJ compares and contrasts: http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/rolando-villazon-returns/

  • 5
    irontongue says:

    Aaaaaaah, “permasmirk,” how I love it. That is the perfect description of her bearing and emotional range.

    • 5.1
      Regina delle fate says:

      Yes, I smiled at that, but it’s a sort of last-minute kick in the shins at the end of a review that bends over backwards to be as nice as possible to Renée. I’m glad to hear that Piotr was glorious at the Met, especially as one of the reasons he gave for pulling out of “his” Salzburg production of Rusalka at the ROH was that he wasn’t convinced he could sing the Prince at a house the size of Covent Garden. The Met acoustic, of course, is much friendlier to singers, so maybe the size of the house is not the real issue. He was fantastic in the Kusej production when I saw it in Munich -- and the Nationaltheater is almost exactly the same size as Covent Garden. Maybe he wanted to Manon at the Met -- and the LIVE in HD relay to cinemas -- more than a revival of the Salzburg show.

      • 5.1.1
        irontongue says:

        Oh, I don’t know about bending over backwards to be nice to her: “Botoxed performance” is in the same league. I am not a fan of hers and haven’t been for a long time. Too much empty prettiness for me.

  • 6
    Signor Bruschino says:

    Is there any update if we are actually getting the Kusej production with Opolais in the future?

  • 7
    luvtennis says:

    I haven’t seen the Met production, but I hate the notion of a “faerie” story being Disneyfied. I also have a problem with heavy handed reworkings of such stories. The basic components of the tale are so resonant that adding another layer of symbolism runs the risk of turning myth, legend into mere allegory. Which I also despise. Tell the tale seriously and the deeper meanings will come thru.

    Psychology is nothing but the cliff notes version of myth.

    • 7.1
      MontyNostry says:

      “The basic components of the tale are so resonant that adding another layer of symbolism runs the risk of turning myth, legend into mere allegory.” A very good point, luvtennis. The audience is denied the respect of being thought capable of making its own interpretation and drawing its own conclusions.

    • 7.2
      steveac10 says:

      I think American’s a prone to wanting their fairy tales Disneyfied and have been for generations. I recently reread the original Wizard of Oz (because it was free on Google Play) and I was taken aback about how matter of fact it was about the less savory aspects of the story. It wasn’t bring me the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West ad I’ll send you home, etc., it was bring me proof you killed her. The cowardly lion went on nocturnal forays to eat that were blunt about the fact he was killing prey. Contrast that with the pastel version MGM gave us. It’s a classic, but it whitewashes the gore that exists in most “fairy” tales.

      • 7.2.1
        operaassport says:

        And thanks be to god for that. MGM took a fairly dull and pedestrian work and turned it into art. Eastwood did the same thing with Bridges of Madison County and Peter Jackson with LOTR.

        Thank god for imaginative filmmakers who take mediocre source material and turn them into great works of art.

        • 7.2.1.1
          Poison Ivy says:

          That’s because the original Wizard of Oz wasn’t meant for entertainment. It was a political parable promoting the populist movement. The shoes were silver in the book as a representation of the silver standard. The emerald city was the US government. Dorothy is from Kansas because the south/Midwest is where the populist movement had its roots.

        • 7.2.1.2
          luvtennis says:

          Operassport:

          I think that LOTR is one of masterpieces of Western culture. It is also perhaps the most popular and one of the most broadly and deeply influential works of fiction ever published.

          Do love the movies though! :-)

    • 7.3
      oedipe says:

      Psychology is nothing but the cliff notes version of myth.

      Yes, this is quite important to keep in mind.

      Also, myth always sublimates some important societal conflict that took place aeons ago and had a very traumatic outcome, whose reenacting -through myth- serves to remind people of boundaries that should never again be crossed.

    • 7.4
      La Cieca says:

      The basic components of the tale are so resonant that adding another layer of symbolism runs the risk of turning myth, legend into mere allegory.

      I’ll be happy to hear an example of whatever it is you’re talking about.

      • 7.4.1
        luvtennis says:

        I mean simply this:

        A myth is distilled symbolism. THe images (characters, settings) and the plot -- the story -- work together to convey some “important” truth about the human condition. A myth that retains meaning over time does so because the images and story retain resonance (the power to stimulate deeper understanding) on a level deeper than the passing generations.

        So let me be clear, I have no problem with translating myths into our own era. That’s pretty much the whole point. Rather, I have a problem when a layer of symbolism is deliberately added on top. SO that it becomes an allegory of the original myth. It certainly can be done -- the recent Met Parsifal comes to mind -- but it is risky.

        • 7.4.1.1
          jackoh says:

          You are right about the explanatory power of myth, it allows people to make sense of their experiences. But that explanatory power resonates with people who have not been exposed to a more compelling narrative. In our era that place has been taken by varieties of “scientific” narratives. It is not a matter of “translating myths into our own era.” It is a matter of reimaginig myths in a language that speaks to the consciousness of those who inhabit our era. Opera is nothing more than a story (and stories make palpable to us our own lives) told in words and music, and if those stories do not resonate with those of us who are its audience, it is of no account.

        • 7.4.1.2
          La Cieca says:

          I don’t think I recognize the “layer of symbolism” you say you see in the Met production of Parsifal. What I saw was a use of certain modern imagery to evoke something of the sense of mystery and wonder that the faux-medieval setting did for an audience in 1882. This romanticized historicism was, I think, the science fiction of the 19th century, that is, almost pure fantasy with only a veneer of “period” detail for the sake of picturesqueness.

          To a 19th century audience, the faux-medieval I think communicated “myth” in a way it doesn’t communicate to audiences of any other period. Were an audience from 1760 somehow to be transported to the Festspielhaus in 1882, I am pretty sure the staging would seem as bizarre and meaningless to them as Wagner’s music; similarly, if an 1880s audience made the same time trip in reverse and took in a performance of the original production of Gluck’s Alceste, they wouldn’t get it. Besides the music sounding all wrong, the costumes and the painted drops and the lighting and the stage movement would seem so quaint as to be ridiculous, or at best sort of cute. Whatever considerable power Gluck brought to his score, and whatever the majesty of the mythic material upon which he based the opera I think would be overlooked by an audience trying to figure out why the noble Alceste was tripping about in a Louis Quinze ballgown.

          As to the “allegory” question, is not Lohengrin a reworking (of a reworking of a reworking…) of the Cupid and Psyche myth? Is not the confrontation of Wotan and Brunnhilde in the last act of Die Walküre a synthesis of Antigone and the Book of Genesis?

          • luvtennis says:

            Yes, La Cieca. Lohengrin is a reworking of those and even older myths, but that is the point. Wagner took the existing myths and wrote a story that is unique while partaking of the myth’s resonance. Modern director are typically constrained within an existing framework (music and libretto and occasionally stage directions). In a work where an underlying myth is of paramount importance altering the action and the stage images without the concommitant freedom to rework the music and the libretto means that the Director makes his staging an allegory of the original work that itself is already very much sympbolic in nature. Now, I personally find allegory a very limited and limiting form of narrative. Something that should be organic and basic becomes artificial. Narrative as puzzle game.

            • luvtennis says:

              Think of Verdi’s Otello. He and Boito take Shakespeare’s play -- which in the Bards usual manner takes basic myths -- in this instance the myth of the fall -- and gives them a twist by putting us in the mind of Adam as it were -- and re-mythologizes (warning neologism) by streamlining the plot which has the effect of highlighting the underlying myths and making the characters universal. Iago is no longer an evil man -- as he is in the play -- he is Evil. Otello is no longer simply a hero brought low -- he is The Hero. Desdemona is no longer a good woman -- she is Goodness in human form.

              Modern interventionist directors of course are less free than Boito and Verdi to alter their source material -- hence dissonance ensues when the re-imagining confronts the more or less unalterable source.

              Perhaps the next evolution in stage directing lies in that direction. Certainly stage directors have been allowed more freedom when restaging spoken drama. The problem is the score. What modern composer could be trusted to alter Verdi’s score….

  • 8
    MontyNostry says:

    And just think about the basic premise for the 1001 Nights!

    • 8.1
      luvtennis says:

      Besides, we already have a modern day Rusalka -- La Traviata! THat’s how the deeper myths work.

  • 9
    MontyNostry says:

    Talking of which, this forgotten piece was recently revived in Halle after 80 years.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUDEw8T7BNo

  • 10
    giannetta says:

    Anyone who finds the Met’s traditional setting of Rusalka too stale should be forced to watch the Paris Opera Rusalka with Fleming from 2002, (mis)conceived by Robert Carsen. The flagrant absurdities of that production include the usual clichés (business suits worn by every man, including the Water Spirit)as well as the “novelties,” including the elimination of the forest scenes in favor of what appears to be a Holiday Inn, for some reason split into two “matching” halves (is this Freudian?). This is a production utterly inimical to the fairy tale, and worse yet, to Dvorak. I, for one, am looking forward with delight to a traditional production that doesn’t ridicule the composer and the roots of the tale.

    • 10.1
      Grane says:

      Yecch. And shapeless dresses & cardigans for the women, no doubt.
      I didn’t feel that the review was bashing Rusalka for being traditional, and I agree traditional productions can be vapid. But if this is the only other choice, then bring on the adorable tots in their darling costumes. A banal traditional production at least is easier to ignore.

    • 10.2
      Porgy Amor says:

      For what this is worth, Renée Fleming disagrees, giannetta. During her interview with Margaret Juntwait that was taped for Sirius airing on the opening night of the current revival, she mentioned that she had sung in “this kind” of Rusalka (the Met’s) as well as in Robert Carsen’s “wonderful” production in Paris, and she recalled that experience fondly.

      I have not yet seen the Schenk, and I expect I will enjoy myself at the HD, but I feel that in reducing Carsen’s work to choices of costumes and scenery that you did not like, you do not give adequate credit for much that is poignant and insightful in the actual direction. (Anyway, is there one way a Water Goblin should look? Why not a suit and fedora?) That staging had a lot to say (oh, look what I did there) about relationships, communication, and intimacy; it explored in an interesting way the idea of muteness as an allegory for frigidity, and also of a darker, violent subtext to romantic and sexual conquest…

      httpv://www.youtbe.com/watch?v=54kmlYmovzU

      …and it got at something that, in my opinion, is right at the heart of this story, the futility of trying to be something one is not. Fleming near the end of Act II is memorable, trading her virginal white gown for a copy of the Foreign Princess’s chic and provocative ensemble, throwing herself at Larin’s Prince, desperately trying to be this “other” kind of passionate woman…and being cast aside anyway, because he has the real thing there in the room, and he’s going to prefer that to the trying-too-hard imitation.

      It even had an austere beauty about it, in my opinion, the lighting giving a cool temperature to the “outdoor” scenes and a warmth to the bedroom set.

      It is fine to prefer something else, but I don’t think we should presume Robert Carsen made the choices he made in order to ridicule the composer or the story. Sometimes he comes closer to the bullseye than other times, but he is thoughtful, sensitive, and professional. If he dislikes something (for example, the operas of Rossini), he turns down an offer to stage it; he doesn’t spend time and energy scoring points at its expense.

      • 10.2.1
        Porgy Amor says:

        Link fail above. Trying again.

      • 10.2.2
        armerjacquino says:

        It’s a favourite canard of the reactionary brigade to go on about ‘ridiculing’ the composer or the opera.

        This bizarre idea that people should decide to make a living directing works they have contempt for in a genre they despise.

        Peter Gelb hates opera, had you heard?

      • 10.2.3
        Regina delle fate says:

        Porgy I saw the revival -- not with Renée -- and I loved it. Certainly the most theatrically audacious Rusalka I have seen -- and I’ve seen a few including Pountney, Kusej, Herheim, Wieler/Morabito, as well as Schenk at the Met when it was new. Carsen can be hit and miss, but when he hits, he often gets the bullseye -- his recent Paris Elektra was a far more gripping staging than Chéreau’s in Aix.

  • 11
    MontyNostry says:

    That trailer omits to mention the composer’s name! It’s Bernhard Sekles.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernhard_Sekles

  • 12
    Bill says:

    I saw the Schenk production of Rusalka in Vienna when it was new in 1987 “nach Entwuerfen von Schneider-Siemsssen” as it actually was borrowed or copied from
    a previous Rusalka in Munich. It was evocative, fresh and lovely to look at -- the embodiment of what one
    imagined a production of Rusalka should be. At the time Rusalka was not frequently in the repertoire of
    any major opera one went to hear the music, the glorious cast conducted by Vaclav Neumann -- Benackova, Peter Dvorsky, Nesterenko, and Eva Randova as both the Jezibaba and Foreign Princess -- it was a picturesque staging (with some cuts actually) and I saw 6 performances of the opera in Vienna in 5 years. The production then played in the Southwest (Houston maybe) and at the Met with Benackova. I believe that all the psychological drama can be found in the music, the text and in the musical performance and one does
    not need a Regie production necessarily to evoke
    what is already in the score. The old Munich/Vienna production has re-surfaced, first at the Met as a new
    production and I think in 4 revivals (all with Fleming after Benackova’s superb performance in the first run).
    One does notice that the scenery is not as fresh as
    it had been originally -- one does notice that the lighting is darker than it was at first in Vienna in 1987 perhaps to disquise the wear and tear of the backdrops. But I differ with JJ’s review -- I do not think a very modern Regie production illustrating all the underlying currents in this opera is needed -- the
    music tells all. The audience at the Met applauded
    the scenery for the second act earlier this week --
    it is beautiful (of the old school) and shows exactly what we are supposed to see -- a Palace of the Prince.
    Not more or less -- It is not particularly different that the glorious Tannhaeuser which the Met presented in 1977 with Rysanek, Bumbry, etc. -- Vienna had that also and replaced it with a silly Regie production of Tannhaeuser that did not go over well with most of the Kritics or the public. Regie productions may be good for Festwochen where the production never appears again anywhere after a few weeks -- but for repertory houses a production, which will be repeated for 25 years or longer, must be made which will suit all types and shapes of leading singers. The current Met production of Traviata might be thrilling but if Caballe, Callas, Tebaldi, Sutherland, Albanese, and a host of others were singing today, with that production, we would never have been able to experience or see their assumptions of Violetta at the Met and that would have been a great loss. Better to have a Rusalka with fine voices (Benackova, Fleming) than a very modern up to date staging and scenery with someone in the title role who can do the production but cannot attractively sing the role with a gorgeous voice riding over the superb Dvorak orchestration.

    • 12.1
      operaassport says:

      If the “music tells all” then what need is there for a production at all? You could just do concert performances or just listen on the radio.

      This argument that the “music tells all” is so ridiculous and so out dated that its a wonder that anyone makes it anymore.

    • 12.2
      La Cieca says:

      but for repertory houses a production, which will be repeated for 25 years or longer, must be made which will suit all types and shapes of leading singers

      You are therefore talking about exactly one opera house in the world, the Vienna Staatsoper, a theater synonymous with lazy routine.

      The current Met production of Traviata might be thrilling but if Caballe, Callas, Tebaldi, Sutherland, Albanese, and a host of others were singing today, with that production, we would never have been able to experience or see their assumptions of Violetta at the Met and that would have been a great loss.

      And if Rudolf Bing had been cryogenically frozen next to Walt Disney, he could today happily be serving as intendant at Hamburg, at least until the theater was shut down by the invasion of the space aliens.

      • 12.2.1
        CwbyLA says:

        Forget about Bing. Would you agree that Angela Meade has the voice to sing Traviata? If she does, will she ever be cast to sing at the Met’s current Traviata production?

        • 12.2.1.1
          La Cieca says:

          So the solution is to design all productions for 300 pound singers and then take in the dress in case any normal sized woman show up to sing?

          • Poison Ivy says:

            The little red dress has been adjusted for different singers. Damrau is a pretty buxom woman and it was lengthened and the top adjusted for DD.

          • CwbyLA says:

            you wanted an example of a living artist? No, the solution is not to design around a 300-lb woman but for many different types of women who will sing the role, especially a role like Traviata, Boheme, etc. I can’t imagine Radvanosvky or Gheorghiu in the red dress Traviata, either.

            • Poison Ivy says:

              Gheorghiu I can. Whether she’s willing to I don’t know but she can sing in the red dress as can Renee.

            • La Cieca says:

              Why, because they’re too fat? Because they aren’t willing to show their legs? Because they don’t like to act? Because they’re just plain difficult?

              Have you asked them?

            • CwbyLA says:

              what i meant was the production and not the red dress. Sorry, it didn’t come across correctly. By the way, just for disclosure I really like the Decker Traviata; however, I think it is suitable for Netrebko, Dessay, etc and not Meade, Radvanovsky or Fleming. That’s all I meant.

            • pobrediablo says:

              I’m having a hard time picturing the lethargic Gheorghiu spinning and twirling on the couch.
              Sondra -- too old looking for her age. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s older than we believe.

            • Poison Ivy says:

              Does SR sing Traviata? She did maybe 12 years ago but in the last decade has she? I can’t see her in any production personally just because the voice and temperament aren’t a good fit.

            • La Cieca says:

              Well, the thing is, you don’t know until they try it. The successes Radvanovsky has had at the Met in my opinion are the productions that really challenged her as an actress, the Trovatore and Ballo. In a stock production I find her very dull.

              I honestly don’t know about Gheorghiu. I think if the project were approached as a restudied production, tailoring the concept to her personality as it obviously was with Netrebko when it was first created, she might be interested in the challenge of making it an “Angela” show. She really does dig into the Marguerite for McVicar at Covent Garden, so I think she has the spark in her, but I don’t know how hard she is willing to work unless there’s some glory in it for her.

              But I see what you’re saying: it’s not a Traviata for everyone. But it’s not an eternal Traviata: my guess is it will play two or three more seasons and then be replaced, which is as it should be. The era of the opera production that stays on the boards for three or four decades is thankfully drawing to a close.

            • Indiana Loiterer III says:

              The era of the opera production that stays on the boards for three or four decades is thankfully drawing to a close.

              Even for works infrequently revived?

            • CwbyLA says:

              Induana, perhaps “regie” productions are less of a problem for infrequently presented operas since there are a handful of singers that the opera will be revived for. My comments were following Bill’s initial observation about Caballe fitting into the Decker Traviata. After a roundabout discussion, i think La Cieca and I are finally on the same page. :-) I think part of the problem, at least for me, is that Netrebko and Villazon were so excellent in the Salzburg production that that production is etched into my mind with their performances. Indeed Dessay made it her own (in acting of course) but she is a rare performer. The Zefirelli Traviata, while totally overstuffed, is kinder to many different types of Violettas. Matthew Polenzani did not fit into the Decker Traviata, for example. I know he is inhibited in the acting department so perhaps he is not the best example. I thought Bill brought up an interesting point. By having many daring productions of operas, does Met limit itself in the casting department? Again for the record, I am not against regie or daring productions. My favorite Magic Flute to date has been the cinematic Flute that was presented at the LA Opera a few months ago.

            • La Cieca says:

              Even for works infrequently revived?

              I think so, yes. Works in the “infrequent” repertoire are these days more and more treated as “festival” productions, that is, they show up for a season or two only, and then, when the opera is revived a decade or 15 years later, it’s in a new production. I doubt, for example, that we will ever see the Pelly Manon at the Met after next season’s revival with Damrau. When some new spectacular Manon comes along, or when there is one of the next generation (post-Netrebko) of superstar sopranos who needs a vehicle, then the Met will create a new production for her.

              Now, I’m not saying this will always happen. For example, when Mattila comes back in a couple of seasons to sing the Kostelnicka, the Met will almost certainly use the existing Jenufa production. But the next Jenufaafter that, say sometime into the mid 2020s, will more likely be new.

        • 12.2.1.2
          antikitschychick says:

          interesting discussion. I am fairly certain that Angela Meade would make a fantastic Traviata (vocally at least) and I do think she should be given the chance to sing it at least once in concert or something, preferably with Michael Fab as Alfredo :-D. If the Met mounts a production for her I do hope it won’t be a traditional one. I mean, she would def fit the mold of an unconventional Traviata anyway, which I think should somehow be incorporated into the production. Actually, I think if it is tailored, the red dress and the Decker production could actually work since, judging from her performance in Falstaff she can be physical if the role requires it and since she is young and mobility is not so much of an issue now she should have a go at it. Not trying to be incendiary or anything I really just think it could actually work, if she sings it as well as I think she can and really commits to the physical demands.

          Its really a shame about the weight though, because she is a fabulous musician with a very rare voice type…and she’s not unattractive. She seems to be tall and she has a nice face. I do hope she can get herself to a healthy (not necessarily thin) state. Personally, the weight doesn’t bother me (it would if she were a dude :-P) but I do realize that it might be inhibiting to her career.

          I agree with Cieca about Sondra. Alden’s Ballo was one of her best (if not the best) dramatic performances she’s given methinks.

      • 12.2.2
        Bill says:

        Come now Cieca -- One opera house in the World as a repertory house ? Not only the two
        houses in Vienna, 3 in Berlin, 3 in Prague,
        2 in Budapest, but Leipzig, Chenbutzm Dresden, Dueseldorf, Hamburg, hanover, Gaertnerplatz in
        Munich as well as the Staatsoper, Nueremberg, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Aachen and many other small German Opera Houses, Essen, Vilnius, Brno, Bratislava, Wroclaw, Timisora, Ekterinburg, the Bolshoi, the Maryinsky, Zurich, Bucharest, Ankara, Riga, Ostrava, Kiev,
        and others which do not cross my mind are all full or quasi repertoire houses. Not quite like the very old days when the Vienna Opera might produce a single Tristan maybe 7 different times in the year. Many do 3 or 4 performances of an opera in a series in one month interspersing those with other operss in between. The Met is kind of a repertory house though maybe with only 5 or 7 different operas
        in a full month. There are no repertory houses in Italy these days -- nor really in France. Scandinavian Opera Houses, unlike in the past, run several productions of different
        operas in the same month, but do not change the
        operas every day. Personally I should rather be in Vienna and have the chance to hear over
        50 different operas at the Staatsoper alone each year than to be in Milan with only 9-12 different operas each season. Nor do I believe that the Vienna Opera is synonymous with lazy routine -- some repertory performances are
        under rehearsed, of course, but I have attended over 300 performances there and few have been
        downright dreadful…one can stay in New York
        at attend the Met if one wants that. Have you never been to an opera house in Eastern/Central Europe? -- they all seem to be repertory houses with fixed ensembles (and occasional guest
        singers or conductors). They often do not have extravagant budgets for elaborite productions and costumes, but sometimes a bit of imagination in set design can go a long way.

        • 12.2.2.1
          Bill says:

          Sorry I meant Chemnitz (not Chenbutzm) it is senility from attending so many repertory opera houses

          • Poison Ivy says:

            The now defunct NYCO was sort of a repertory house. Looking back many of their productions look like current Met productions — more minimalist in scenery, more modern aesthetic, some updating. The “traditional” productions that we are talking about are more a Met thing from the 1980’s and 1990’s.

  • 13
    Poison Ivy says:

    There really no hard and fast rule about which productions age well and which look stale and tired after the initial sheen is off. I remember the sensation caused by the 2004 Flimm Salome. The screaming, stomping hysteria Mattila caused. Four years later the production looked cheesy, Mattilas voice and body were no longer that great of a fit for the role. The blocking, the singers all the same, but the magic was gone.

    On the other hand the Bondy Tosca was booed vociferously at its premier but after 4 years it’s been revived with a variety of artists and is a big Met warhorse. Go figure.

  • 14
    phoenix says:

    WhAt? Yet another R. Fleming promotion? Isn’t it sufficient that we have been getting bombarded with interruptions during ESPN basketball game broadcasts with clips of her ‘in performance’ advertising her appearance at SuperBowl tomorrow -- and then to come on this once entertaining site & have to put up with thread after thread ‘discussing’ her tired old commercial shticks. I hope you are getting enough from these promotions to make it worth your while.

  • 15
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    I will always miss the final image of Nilsson being transformed into a glimmer of a star in the cyclorama in the old MET TRISTAN and the effect of the majority of the chorus being moved into place on a huge stage wagon sort of on a diagonal from the darkness in the old Lohengrin. Those and Rysanek crashing through the floor to writhe over the sleeping Gherman in Pique Dame were highly successful coups de théâtre.

  • 16
    javier says:

    this review is a great example of how to give a backhanded compliment.

  • 17
    jackoh says:

    All of this handwringing over traditional vs “regie” productions. Here is what I want from an opera presented on a stage today- a story that makes sense to me, that presents and elucidates experiences with which I am familiar (I don’t care what the period of the costumes are). And I want that story told in the most exquisite, nuanced, and visceral way possible. It seems to me that that is exactly what the composers of these operas were trying to achieve when they wrote them. And whatever it takes to reproduce that, if it is effective, I will support.

  • 18
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    What a drag the conductor of the BUTTERFLY is today. Interesting how highly detailed Brian Hymel’s attention to the Italian diction and pronunciation of the libretto in every measure, but the tempi are not helping any them. Hymel is so very impressive. Bravo. It’s true that Puccini’s metronome markings make the music slower than usual, but I don’t have the patience to check them with this performance. They may be right on the money.

    • 18.1
      pirelli says:

      “It’s true that Puccini’s metronome markings make the music slower than usual”

      That’s one ironic statement, lol. Who wrote the music, after all? ;-)

      If all these years we’ve been generally hearing the music faster than Puccini expected it, that’s *his* fault? ;-) Puccini’s markings don’t “make” the music slower -- WE “make” the music faster. ;-)

  • 19
    Will says:

    I have attended opera in Eastern Europe, specifically Verdi’s Don Carlo in Kiev in the late 1980s. Many things seemed strange and anachronistic to an American at that time. A beloved, industrial strength mezzo was making her farewell that night, seemingly in great shape to me, and there was a ceremony on stage with flowers and a medal after O don fatale for about ten minutes before the opera resumed (she did not appear in the following prison scene).

    The scenery was clearly assembled from stock elements that could be used in other operas and ballets. The Queen’s garden scene was very Swan Lake and painted in a different style from the other sets. The single heretic (very small pickings for the average auto da fe) was burned downstage center with full benefit of the colored lights flashing under the fan-driven, flame-shaped china silk streamers that date back to at least the 19th century. Bows were taken after arias. It was fascinating, charming, and very endearing it its way, a window into vanished stage traditions. As serious drama it didn’t exist except in the individuality of the various singers’ performances. Over-all, I had a very food time (and the intermission buffets and bars were world-class).

  • 20
    giannetta says:

    Porgy, IMHO costumes and scenery basically represent the concept, and are not just incidentals. I do agree that in a case like (but not limited to) Carsen’s Rusalka, I for one would have preferred a concert performance. Don’t you find it disconcerting that those baggy suits make the men look like East German commissars? And why doesn’t the Prince take off his shoes in bed, much less his suit? As to the “chic and provocative ensemble,” I would have said a peignoir over a black slip is cheesy rather than chic, and again reminded me of Polish movies. And why does Jezibaba also wear the same outfit, as well as all the dancers in the ball/rape scene? Of course Fleming would say it was wonderful, Porgy. What else would she say? I’m still looking forward to Saturday.