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Fog lifts over channel

Comprimarios begin at Calais“When you read, and credit, the more feverish musings of the internet chatterati, there is some kind of British invasion storming the bastions of American opera. Last month, when the Metropolitan Opera’s Peter Gelb announced the appointment of Robert Rattray, a consultant with the London-based classical-music agency Askonas Holt, as ‘assistant general manager for artistic affairs’, the American opera blogosphere went ballistic, with speculation rife that British Askonas Holt artists — the company represents prominent Americans, too — would be depriving local talent of work at the Met. Last weekend, in New York and Chicago, it was just about possible to believe the paranoia was justified.” [Times of London - paywalled]

17 comments

  • havfruen says:

    Perhaps there is someone here who has access to the article? It would be a lovely gesture to post it so we can all be in on what is going on.

    • ljushuvud says:

      When you read, and credit, the more feverish musings of the internet chatterati, there is some kind of British invasion storming the bastions of American opera. Last month, when the Metropolitan Opera’s Peter Gelb announced the appointment of Robert Rattray, a consultant with the London-based classical-music agency Askonas Holt, as “assistant general manager for artistic affairs”, the American opera blogosphere went ballistic, with speculation rife that British Askonas Holt artists — the company represents prominent Americans, too — would be depriving local talent of work at the Met.

      Last weekend, in New York and Chicago, it was just about possible to believe the paranoia was justified. Both the Met and Chicago’s Lyric Opera have important new productions directed by British knights of the realm. From New York, Sir Richard Eyre’s production of Massenet’s Werther, starring the hunkentenor du jour, Jonas Kaufmann, was relayed to cinemas worldwide yesterday — selected UK Picturehouses offer a (cheaper) encore screening on Tuesday — while Lyric Opera, headed by the British music director Andrew Davis and another across-the-ponder, general director Anthony Freud, has an end-of-season double of Sir David McVicar’s new Rusalka and the transfer of his Aix-en-Provence staging of La clemenza di Tito.

      Eyre and McVicar — American donors, who fund opera, love those titles — are popular with opera managers in New York and Chicago because they provide patrons with the kind of opulent spectacle that has all but vanished from mainstream European opera houses. Eyre’s set and costume designer, Rob Howell, updates the action of Werther from the 1770s of Goethe’s novella to some 100 years later, around the time of Massenet’s composition, but the former National Theatre director tells the story fairly straight — apart from a dumb show during the prelude, depicting the death and funeral of the mother of Charlotte and her siblings.

      The dark side of Massenet’s Romantic tragedy is never entirely obscured by Howell’s pretty rural idyll in Acts I and II, or Charlotte’s handsome palatial home, with daunting bookshelves, in Act III — this is the Met, after all, which has a lot of stage space to fill. Werther’s tiny garret, where he shoots himself in despair, moves to the forestage on a truck.

      It’s an effective staging that tells no lies about the opera, but doesn’t ask too many questions, either. Kaufmann, of course, is the main attraction. He had cancelled the previous performance and was evidently not restored to full health, but he often begins an evening with clouds around his vocal cords, only to burst out of them later, as he did here with a resplendent account of his Act III “Ossian” aria, Pourquoi me réveiller? With his tousled hair, elegant figure and troubled demeanour, he looks the tragic young suicide to the life, belying his 44 years, even though his trademark soft singing doesn’t cross the footlights as effectively as it does at, say, Covent Garden.

      As we know from her London appearances, Sophie Koch, making her belated Met debut, is an idiomatic and touching Charlotte, and Lisette Oropesa, a rising Cuban-American soprano, was enchanting as her perky younger sister, Sophie. The Frenchman Alain Altinoglu is an idiomatic conductor of this music, but he had the misfortune of following James Levine’s sensational conducting of Berg’s Wozzeck the night before. Despite his long period of illness, the Met’s music director is still a force of nature in the pit.

      McVicar’s Lyric Opera Rusalka is more ambitious and, as designed by John Macfarlane, even more spectacular, with an initial despoiled woodland setting close to a dam — shades of Patrice Chéreau’s illustrious Bayreuth Rheingold — signifying the ecological disaster humanity has wrought on nature (which, implicitly, takes its revenge when the titular water nymph kills her Prince with a poisoned kiss). Act II begins in a hellish kitchen, with beef carcasses that would pass no hygiene inspection today, and ends in an opulent baronial hall adorned with hunting trophies (more despoliation).

      As in his soon-to-be-revived Faust at Covent Garden, McVicar treats Dvorak’s dark fairy tale as a gothic horror — there are more malignant dancing wilis, and far-from-sinister ravens, choreographed by Andrew George, than I can take at one sitting — but it keeps a 3,500-strong audience gripped for nearly four hours. That’s no mean feat, as this opera is unknown in Chicago.

      Musically, it has strong performances, led by the versatile and hard-working Davis — who also conducts the Lyric Opera’s La clemenza, with starry leads in Joyce DiDonato (Sesto), Amanda Majeski (Vitellia) and Matthew Polenzani (Tito) — and is sung by outstanding principals. Ana Maria Martinez, in the title role, and Brandon Jovanovich are both familiar in their parts from Glyndebourne. Jill Grove is a baby-eating bag lady of a Jezibaba, Ekaterina Gubanova a glamorous and grandiosely spiteful Foreign Princess, and Eric Owens a powerful presence as the Water Goblin. Altogether, the Brits seems to be doing a fine job of keeping Lyric Opera at world-class level.

      • Porgy Amor says:

        It’s an effective staging that tells no lies about the opera, but doesn’t ask too many questions, either.

        I like that line.

        It’s odd to talk in this day and age of a popular opera such as Rusalka being “unknown in Chicago.” LOC may never have done it, but this is not a world of 100 years ago when the only people familiar with an opera until something made it to town were those who could read scores.

  • operaassport says:

    Chatterati? I like that.

  • La Cieca says:

    A perhaps not unrelated note.

  • bluecabochon says:

    “Eyre and McVicar — American donors, who fund opera, love those titles — are popular with opera managers in New York and Chicago because they provide patrons with the kind of opulent spectacle that has all but vanished from mainstream European opera houses.”

    That’s right -- nobody but these two are offering opulent spectacles these days.

    LOL.

  • Krunoslav says:

    Odd that London-based Aussie Jonathan Summers’ stunning, thrilingly vocalized Bailli-- clearly the best Bailli since the War-- went unmentioned here.

    • Cicciabella says:

      Summers sounded like a doddering old Bailli. In this production he was obviously much older than his fecund late wife.

    • Regina delle fate says:

      lol -- Zinka thought he was rather good, too, as I recall….

  • MontyNostry says:

    By the way, Robert Rattray was at Ukrainian baritone Andrei Bondarenko’s (superb) BBC Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall yesterday. Does that make him a cultural imperialist?