Cher Public

On boroughed time

“By the end of next year… the axis of opera in New York may just possibly have shifted from Lincoln Center to a loft in Gowanus.” [Observer]

  • Rowna

    Really wonderful reporting. I am not a “fan” of any Britten opera, but I have seen several productions that have been captivating. It takes a lot of guts to schedule The Rape of Lucretia, whose title alone, and thumbnail plot summary would never get me to buy a ticket voluntarily. But now I wish I had been around and seen it. Your view of the Met overall is exactly how I feel, but remember, it is a business #1. Without sold out or nearly sold out performances, they won’t survive. I know their more ambitious opera choices are not always audience hits, and no matter what you or I think, Fledermaus is going to appeal to a broad range of people which translates into filled seats. I am just sad you weren’t there when Andrey Nemzer stepped in for Ms. Graham. From all accounts (all friends of mine and Andrey’s) he was spectacular and received a great ovation. Re Levine -- he reminds me of the Joe Paterno of classical music. Everyone appreciates all that he has done, and no one wants to draw the short straw right now. Thanks for your write up as I am laid up in bed with a head cold and no energy. Reading about opera is brain candy for me and you always make it come to life. Thank you!

  • PCally

    I also find this opera problematic but I do find it fascinating. I guess I’m just a huge Britten fan in general. I very much regret missing this and that I’ve never attended a loft opera production.

  • luvtennis1

    I am flying into the City tomorrow and am being taken to the Fledermaus.Just how bad is it?

    • Gualtier M

      I actually enjoyed the second performance Luvtennis -- Sams has cut miles of Beane’s new libretto (all the stuff about Eisenstein being Jewish and the menorah on the piano are gone) and keeps the dialogue short and sweet. And though Susanna Phillips and Toby Spence have vocal shortcomings they give charming acting performances (she has come a long way in that regard since the production premiere a few seasons ago). Lucy Crowe has a lovely voice and is charming and cheeky as Adele. Susie Graham is a terrific Eisenstein. Levine was really enjoying himself in the pit and I had a quite good time.

  • Wow, JJ’s not pulling his punches!

    The LoftOpera staging sounds wonderful. I wish I had seen it.

    It’s true that Barbara Frittoli has been past her best for a number of years now but I feel that she often still has compensating qualities, especially as Elisabetta in Don Caro last season. But I like fresh voices for Boheme. I can’t imagine liking Frittoli’s weathered soprano as Mimi. Even Vargas without a cold is a bit long in the tooth for Rodolfo.

    And it’s sad to hear of Levine’s troubles with Fledermaus. Not so much sad for him but for the company. As the review points out, one wonders how much of his job as Music Director he’s doing. Gelb would be a much stronger GM with an active, keen Music Director by his side, rather than one who is merely collecting his paycheque and sleepwalking through a job at which he had equivocal success even during his prime.

    • PCally

      I would probably see frittoli in mozart or something. I enjoyed both her Elvira and vitellia immensely, vibrato and all that. She’s just so stylish in those sort of roles. Her elisabeth last season may have been fine but the one under mazaal was atrocious.

      • I enjoyed both without being blown away. The Vitellia especially is one in which I would have liked more personality. I do agree that she’s a stylish singer.

        • PCally

          I liked the vitellia but like you I could have used a bit more drama. I wish veronique gens had been asked, her debut is overdue. Not sure who I would currently want to hear as Elvira though.

          • armerjacquino

            Gens is a favourite singer of mine on record but she gets a little lost even at CG, so the Met might not be a good house for her.

            • PCally

              Armer, your probably right but even small scaled gens would be better than frittoli or Emma bell, the latter being the worst Elvira I’ve ever come across either live or on records. Gens had the mozart style down pat and her performance on the beito DVD is one of the best recorded IMO. I personally would love to see didonato in the role. I don’t love her in everything but after Schwarzkopf she may be my favorite Elvira.

            • armerjacquino

              Yes, it’s very sad what happened to Bell. She went from hugely promising to clapped-out without ever having a prime.

              I saw DiDonato as Elvira in what should have been a gala night at CG- with the at-that-point very exciting Poplavskaya as Anna, Persson as the ideal Zerlina, Keenlyside, Ketelsen, Vargas… but some dull conducting and Zambello’s awful (and quickly retired) production meant that nobody did his or herself justice. JDD was very good, but not as exciting as I had expected her to be (and she took the downward transposition in Mi Tradi, which is also a bit of a dealbreaker for me). I think kruno is right that Martinez would probably be the best choice now. Piau would be great but she sings Anna, Damrau ditto. Elizabeth Watts, maybe, in a couple of years? Or Persson?

            • PCally

              Thanks for checking JML. I found an in house recording of the partenope online. Did you see the show live?

            • PCally

              Armer I have to admit that the transposition doesn’t bother to me so much especially since didonato sang it flawlessly otherwise in comparison to roschmann and gens who struggled even with the transposition. It’s not really an aria that stands out to me. Personally I prefer Zerlinas arias. I wouldn’t mind seeing roschmann in the part. She’s killing herself singing some of the roles she’s singing but she’s just born for mozart. Persson is one of my favorites and I enjoyed her countess a couple of summers ago but I have to say I want more bite and neurosis in an Elvira than I imagine her supplying.

          • Bill

            PCally -- you would like to hear Olga Besmertna as
            Donna Elvira (currently on leave from the Vienna Opera expecting her second
            child) one of the best Mozart singers around but currently scheduled in Vienna for more Donna Elviras
            in April.

            • PCally

              Thanks Bill. I’ve never even heard of her but I’ll be sure to check her out. It seems like a few years ago mozart singing was among the best things in opera but it seems most of those singers have moved on.

            • Krunoslav

              Ana Maria Martinez is a very good Elvira as well.

            • Bill

              PCally -- I first encountered Olga Bezsmertna whom I believe is Ukrainian, when she replaced Kuehmeier as the Figaro Countess in Vienna -- I was a bit dismayed knowing
              Kuehmeier has the Mozart style one expects, but from her
              first utterance in Porgi Amor, I knew Bezsmertna had the Mozartian style of a Scharzkopf or della Casa, very refined and controlled singing and a pleasing stage
              countenance. Bezsmertna has also sung Elvira, Pamina and should have done the February Fiordiligis but had to cancel those, Rosalinde in Fledermaus and the premiere of Eotvos’s Tri Sestri due to pregnancy. Bezsmertna also had a triumph replacing Opalais as Rusalka and replacing Isokoski as
              Rachel in La Juive when Isokoski decided to retire the role and largely limit her career to devote herself to teaching back in Finland. Bezsmertna also made her Salzburg debut this past summer as Marzelline in Fidelio. No idea of her future plans as she has stuck mainly to Vienna so far and is one of their very promising soprano ensemble members there (Regine Hangler, Aida Garifullina,
              Chen Reiss, Ileana Tonca, Valentjina Nafornita, Daniela
              Fally, Hila Fahima). If they all stick around in
              Vienna as their careers blossom one can expect some
              very fine Mozart singing particularly if Kuehmeier begins to sing more often after a long pause and many cancellaions following the death of her husband (not to speak of the rising Mezzo Margarita Gritskova who may well prove to be the next Garanca). Veronique Gens, by the way, has 3 roles at the Staatsoper this season,
              Figaro Countess, Vitellia and Alceste but Gens is a guest artist not an ensemble member. Guest artists seem to be booked only for specific roles and performance dates -- ensemble members stick around and sing both
              leading roles and smaller roles and seem to cover
              certain guest artists in certain designated roles and it is not infrequent that the ensemble members get chances
              to perform suddenly with all the frequent cancellations which crop up these days. I suppose ensemble members are also eventually entitled to pensions upon retirement if they stick around for a good many years. In the old days almost all the engaged singers were ensemble members but that changed under Karajan when he also
              engaged many of the more famous La Scala singers from
              1957 on though at that time they seem to have been engaged for certain periods of time (a month or two) singing a variety of roles in of their respective repertoires. Those who came in for just a performance or two in the old days were usually bound to other opera houses and appeared “als Gast” which one never sees in the programs any more. Ensemble members in Vienna may have two or three year contracts which are often renewed if the singer is successful or useful but some leave
              and end up in Munich or Hamburg etc. in the same position and some advance to “Guest Artist” as they become sought after internationally a recent example being Anita Hartig.

            • Bill

              PCally -- please add to the list of up-coming lyric sopranos at the Vienna State Opera, two from Budapest,
              the enchanting Emoeke Barath who has also sung
              Susanna at the Theater an der Wien and Maria Celeng,
              a fabulous Fiordiligi in Budapest, who sings also in
              Munich and in Baroque operas as well -- and speaking of Munich, Mueller, Salzburg’s last Zdenka who has had
              fine reviews -- so a plethora of fine lyric sopranos
              (and Fang from Julliard to boot) who should assure that
              we shall have some excellent Mozart singing in the coming years.

            • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

              Bill and PCally, you are totally correct -- but all they have to do is stay healthy (hremmm….Frau Harteros, please stay away from open windows) and put off having children for a few more seasons, at least until they get themselves firmly established here. Have you seen the online Umbesetzungen for Staatsoper recently? It seems almost every opera is hit from “Vec Makropulos” (and I do adore Rainer Trost and wish him a quick recovery) to a waaaaay past his prime Siegfried (Wolfgang Schmidt, with Linda Watson: the “Ring” cast from hell), and too many changes in “Die Fledermaus” than I can count (or care about).

              I am staying away for a while -- I haven’t been to Staatsoper once yet this season (well, I may just go to “Vec Makropulos” on Wednesday, the perfect Christmas opera), but I shall definitely go hear Joseph Kaiser as Peter Grimes at Theater an der Wien om Sunday. Such a young Peter… I just wonder what the Regie will be (and I will not withhold my utter contempt for Christoph Loy, who has ruined so many operas for me from “La donna del lago” to “Armida” to “Intermezzo” to “Der Prinz von Homburg” to “Charodeyka” -- I fear it’s going to be an opera about child molestation, shown more graphically than in other productions).

              Aber! I have -- in great sound -- the Salzburg “Carmen” with Rattle conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker with Genia Kühmeier and Jonas Kaufmann (and a severely miscast Mrs. Rattle -- Magdalena Kozena -- as Carmen and nobody we ever heard of as Escamillo), and the Act I duet is among the most perfect things I have ever heard. Ever. Being in the 6th row right in front of them probably, but not necessarily, helped. I was sobbing -- not tearing-up but actually sobbing -- by the end, and looked over at the little old(er) lady next to me to find that she, too, had tears dripping down her face. We exchanged that nod which needs to happen more often, the validation of one’s emotional reaction by means of sharing it, with a silent nod or a huge roar, with one or 4,000 other persons.

              I will post the performance in 2016 as part of “Montag mit Marianne” (with our doyenne’s permission, of course), but if you want to hear just the duet, I will e-mail it to you as am mp3 file. Just send me a note at


              P.S. I was at Kühmeier’s Staatsoper debut in the tiny-but-impressive seconda donna role of Inés in “La favorite” back in 2003 or 2004 and instantaneously fell in love with the voice. I heard a lot of her for a few years -- Pamina, Ilia, Micaela -- until her personal tragedy. Funny thing: Damrau -- also a major Mozartean force who now seems to be everywhere but here, where she has sung only 46 performances between 2000 and 2010 -- has cancelled on me more than any singer since Caballé.

            • Krunoslav

              ‘nobody we ever heard of as Escamillo’

              KOSTAS SMORGINAS

              Jul-Aug 16 Don Giovanni Leporello it Santa Fe Opera C: John Nelson; D: R Daniels
              May 16 Carmen Escamillo fr Sächsische Staatsoper, Dresden C: Carella; D: Axel Köhler
              Mar-Apr 16 Boris Godunov Andrei Shchelkalov ru Royal Opera, London C: Pappano; D: Richard Jones
              Jan 16 Der Damon Demon La Monnaie/De Munt, Bruxelles C: Tatarnikov;
              Dec 15 Carmen Escamillo Teatro di San Carlo, Napoli C: Zubin Mehta / Delacôte; D: D Pasca
              Nov 15 Le nozze di Figaro Figaro it Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, Vilnius C: Staškus; D: Sagi
              Oct 15-Apr 16 Eugene Onegin Eugene Onegin ru Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, Vilnius C: Servenikas / Pitrenas; D: Vasily Barkhatov
              Jun 15 Aleko Aleko La Monnaie/De Munt, Bruxelles C: Tatarnikov; D: Dehlholm / Skulberg
              Apr 15 Le nozze di Figaro Figaro New Orleans Opera C: Lyall; D: Condemi
              Mar-Apr 15 Eugene Onegin Eugene Onegin ru Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, Vilnius C: Servenikas; D: Vasilij Barkhatov
              Nov 14-Feb 15 Le nozze di Figaro Figaro it Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, Vilnius C: de Kort / Staškus; D: Sagi
              Sep-Oct 14 Carmen Escamillo fr Welsh National Opera, Cardiff C: Erik Nielsen / Southall; D: Caurier / M Leiser
              Jun-Aug 14 Carmen Escamillo fr Santa Fe Opera C: Rory Macdonald; D: Lawless
              May 14 Cosi fan tutte Guglielmo it Vilnius City Opera C: Rinkevicius; D: Ibelhauptaite
              Dec 13-Jan 14 Carmen Escamillo fr Royal Opera, London C: Oren; D: Zambello
              Nov 13 Cosi fan tutte Guglielmo it Vilnius City Opera C: Rinkevicius; D: Ibelhauptaite
              Sep 13-Apr 14 Carmen Escamillo fr Sächsische Staatsoper, Dresden C: Caballé Domenech; D: Axel Köhler
              Jul 13 Don Giovanni Masetto it Festival d’Aix en Provence, Aix-en-Provence C: Minkowski; D: Tcherniakov
              May 13 Cosi fan tutte Guglielmo it Vilnius City Opera C: Rinkevicius; D: Ibelhauptaite
              Mar 13 Don Giovanni Don Giovanni it Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse C: Cremonesi; D: Jaques-Wajeman
              Feb 13 Carmen Escamillo National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing C: Guoyong Zhang; D: Zambello
              Nov-Dec 12 Eugene Onegin Onegin ru Vilnius City Opera C: Rinkevicius; D: Ibelhauptaite
              Oct-Nov 12 Don Giovanni Don Giovanni Teatro Municipal de Santiago C: Rodolfo Fischer / José Luis Domínguez; D: Pier Francesco Maestrini
              Sep 12 Don Giovanni Masetto Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow C: Barenboim; D: Carsen
              Aug 12 Carmen Escamillo fr Salzburger Festspiele C: Rattle; D: Aletta Collins
              Jul 12 Il viaggio a Reims Don Alvaro Royal Opera, London C: Daniele Rustioni; D: Pedro Ribeiro
              Jun 12 Don Giovanni Leporello Opéra National de Bordeaux C: Tatarnikov; D: Laffargue
              Mar-Apr 12 Carmen Escamillo Osterfestspiele Salzburg C: Rattle; D: Aletta Collins
              Jul 11 La traviata Il barone Douphol it Festival d’Aix en Provence, Aix-en-Provence C: Langrée; D: Sivadier
              Jan-May 11 Carmen Escamillo fr Opera North, Leeds C: Delfs / Licata; D: Daniel Kramer
              Sep-Oct 10 Le nozze di Figaro Figaro San Francisco Opera C: Luisotti; D: J Copley

            • Krunoslav

              “Joseph Kaiser as Peter Grimes at Theater an der Wien om Sunday. Such a young Peter…”

              Funny how, um, one’s own aging changes perceptions of, um, age.

              Joseph Kaiser is 38. Peter Pears was still 34 when he created the role. Brian Suliivan, the Met’s second Grimes in 1948, was 31.

            • At parterre you can always count on a lot of interest in young Peter.

            • PCally

              Bill I just listened to Bezsmertna sing dovo sono and like it quite a bit. It’s been a while seen I’ve heard sung as securely, though I didn’t see Willis Sorensen and the met and most people liked her. Hopefully I get a chance to see Bezsmertna at some point. I think she could do little more with the words but hopefully that will come. She sort of sounds like kuhmeier.

              JML-there’s been so many cancellations it’s a little absurd. I saw the makropoulos case opening night and I think you’ll enjoyed. Nothing revelatory about the production but it does the job and I was suprised with how much I enjoyed Aiken in the role, considering that I tend to be indifferent to her.
              I have a request for a possible posting if you have it. Do you by any chance have a theatre an der Wien partenope with schafer and Daniels from 2009. I’ve heard it was a big success and I recently bought the gauvin recording and think schafer would be a nice comparison. I would be very grateful.

            • PCally

              That or the rape of lucretia from the same place?

            • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

              Kruno: I guess I should have just written “an Escamilio way in over his head, not of the caliber of the main trio of singers.”

              As for Peter Grimes, I have only ever heard Vickers (a million times, but not enough, in his 40s and 50s) at the Met, Gabriel Sadé at Staatsoper, and dear, dear Philip Langridge at both Covent Garden and the Met, so I tend to associate the role with an older singer (I am sorry I missed any opportunity to hear Anthony Dean Griffey) and the originally-announced Grimes for this production was Kurt Streit, now 56; Kaiser was only recently announced. Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding…

              PCally: Re “Partenope” -- Theater an der Wien uses different orchestras and ensembles appropriate for the time of each opera. So we get regular pit appearances from Wiener Symphoiniker, RSO-Wien, Les Musiciens du Louvre (which recently played the Urfassung of “Der fliegende Holländer” prepared for Paris), Klangforum Wien for “Die Dreigroschenoper” in Jänner, etc. But being a radio orchestra, only the performances with RSO-Wien in the pit (z.B: “Peter Grimes”) are broadcast, except maybe if they get a big guest star or there is some special occasion or a world premiere. If the “Partenope” exists, it will be an in-house recording, and since I and Händel do not get along well after about 20 minutes, plus the fact that there must have been a period orchestra, it is highly unlikely to come my way if it does exist, but it was definitely not broadcast.

              Now Britten is a different matter. I shall have to check which orchestra played for “The Rape,” which was just fucking spectacular. I may even have it sitting on a shelf in another room but it is 1° and foggy and I don’t want to move from the bed (nor will the cat permit it).

              Oh, the hell with it (he typed as the cat, dismayed, ran beside him into the library): the orchestra for “Partenope” was Les Talens Lyriques; for “Rape” it was Klangforum Wien, so neither were broadcast. I would be interested in that “Rape” so I shall check with my sources.

              Wohnst du in Wien, oder warst du gerade auf der Durchreise und fing den “Vec Makropulos” prima? Treffen?

            • Krunoslav

              JML- Do please let us know how Joseph Kaiser fares as Grimes! Who is Ellen?

        • PCally

          Also while I basically agree with JJ I will say the at every performance of hers I’ve attended the audience has responded enthusiastically, with not one boo. So maybe the met just hirers her because she’s relatively popular. I certainly find her more engaging than Vargas.

      • Gualtier M

        I think the big difference between the Frittoli Elisabettas was the conductor. Yannick N-S basically kept the orchestra very quiet and let her float the tone in lower dynamics keeping the pressure off so the wobble wouldn’t intrude. He really tailored the dynamics to keep her within her vocal comfort zone. I also think she is very musical and is a sympathetic stage figure, so she gets by. However, in the early aughts when she was at her peak she frequently turned down Met offers in lieu of juicier European gigs and was quite the diva. Now she will pick up any Met gig at the last minute gladly.

        • Porgy Amor

          I agree with that, Gualtier (re: YNS and the role he played in making her more recent Elisabetta successful). Frittoli has been sounding worn for a while, and I remember thinking that her time in the front-rank houses must be nearing an end when I heard her Micaëla in the then-new Carmen five years ago. I admired her performance then, though, and I often do enjoy her, in spite of the years making things that were already problematic 20 years ago (such as the weak lower register) much more so. She has been a good Italian soprano in an era with few great ones, and on occasions the tradeoff between her style/intentions and the compromised vocal material still comes out in her favor. For me, at least.

          The Voigt situation that came to an overdue conclusion a couple years ago was a worse case of house loyalty.

  • grimoaldo

    I saw “The Rape of Lucretia” at the smaller auditorium at ROH some years ago, and I have long known the recording with Dame Janet. Beautiful, heart-breaking, intense music. Yes, the “Christian” framing of the story is daft.
    That “Fledermaus”, which I experienced only on audio broadcasts, was ghastly, an insult to J Strauss, and the librettists/adaptors of the original Meilhac and Halevy play.
    It was one of the main reasons why I did not listen to opera or think about it for about a year. But I have decided that since what the Met does doesn’t affect me, they almost never put on anything that appeals to me and when they do it is usually awful (new productions of the Ring, Faust, this Fledermaus, numerous others with leading ladies who could not sing their music whatsoever) it is best for me just to ignore it.