Cher Public

I used to think I needed a man to define myself

capucineBorn on this day in 1928 actress and model Capucine

Born on this day in 1412 martyr and saint Jeanne d’Arc.

Born on this day in 1838 composer Max Bruch.

Born on this day in 1894 bass André Pernet.

Born on this day in 1903 conductor Maurice Abravanel.

Born on this day in 1903 soprano Mafalda Favero.

Born on this day in 1907 baritone Francesco Valentino.

Born on this day in 1913 actress Loretta Young.

Born on this day in 1927 baritone David Ohanesian.

Happy 77th birthday mezzo-soprano Shirley Love.

  • Lady Abbado

    On this exact day, 60 years ago Anita Cerquetti was delivering this legendary performance at Teatro Comunale de Firenze (January 6, 1957). I can’t think of another rendition of this aria that comes even close to this feat:

    Anita Cerquetti “Ecco l’orrido campo” Un ballo in maschera

    • Magpie

      OMG! I thought this was incredible. I am getting it. I just listened to Callas, Price, and Caballe’s versions. Although the voice seems to saturate the mic, it is so even from top to bottom and I do find it beautiful on tone. Fire!
      Thank you for posting this!

  • Hello All! Happy new year! Someone wrote comment weeks ago saying they were still waiting on my follow-up thoughts/post about the performance of Nabucco I saw on December 21st and to my great embarrassment I promised to write it in the coming days and never did. Apologies! I didn’t intend for that to happen. In all honesty I didn’t have time to write it the two days after the performance and then I went on vacation and, well, vacationed lol. I am sorry though and I hate to disappoint those that were interested in hearing what I had to say (all two of you LOL). For those that are planning on seeing the HD tomorrow and haven’t seen this production please note that I will mention a couple of spoilers down below so you may want to hold off on reading what I have to say. Finally, this is not intended to be a formal review, just my own humble thoughts and opinions. I had seen this opera live once before at Florida Grand Opera and I have listened to some recordings and watched videos of other performances on Youtube so I am fairly familiar with the work, though I have not examined the score but I have seen videos with score animation of Callas singing Abigaile’s big scena and I do plan on listening to the famous 1949 recording soon! I mostly just wanted to share my experience and mention the two really fun, campy moments that made the performance worthwhile for me. Aside from the other draws I previously mentioned, i.e. seeing Levine conduct and seeing/hearing Placido live at least once, etc, there were a few nuggets of live theater I enjoyed.

    Overall I did like the performance and I am looking forward to seeing the HD (though not tomorrow unfortunately since I have a paper to write; I will see it later on for sure) but in all sincerity I did not really enjoy Act I and was very underwhelmed by what I saw and heard. I will admit that I wasn’t immediately taken with Maestro Levine’s conducting, even though the orchestra sounded way more cohesive and ‘neat’ as one review I read noted than many other performances I’ve seen and heard both in the house or through a broadcast. The syncopation issues between the orchestra, soloists and chorus that plagued those other performances were totally nonexistent, but by the same token I think this was achieved by having the orchestra more subdued both in terms of volume and expressiveness, and the tempo slightly dragged i the beginning of Act one as well but that was also due to the singers, especially a certain soprano.

    I was sitting on the left side of the balcony in the second row going from Family Circle downward; I previously sat there for two performances and very much enjoyed the sound…it was because I had that point of comparison that I was underwhelmed with the orchestra and even the singing as well. None of the voices sounded particularly large, though they all sang out more once they warmed up. I just thought Levine’s conducting was a bit too clinical an approach for my taste I guess, as it seemed he preferred uniformity and concision over a more overtly theatrical and electrifying approach.But I admit this is probably a bias of mine, as we Latinos tend to be more vivacious and overtly passionate and thus we embrace that style of performance, and this is an Italian opera after all. Personally, I do prefer a more passionate, even if less precise style of conducting. It is possible to strike a balance between the two, and that’s exactly what I thought YNS did in Otello, what Luisi did in Cav/Pag and Sir Rattle in T&I though it also depends on the theater, singers, the opera and production. And well, chacun à son goût I guess.

    I can’t really specifically say anything about the overture, since the binoculars I was given were not functioning properly and I spent the entire time trying to adjust/focus them and never completely succeeded, which was frustrating. But I could see well enough once I got them semi-focused. There were only two seats to my left, which were occupied by a very nice couple in their 40s or thereabouts. To my right was a lady who said has been a Met subscriber for several decades. The women who was seated immediately to my left was very friendly and gracious; we chatted for a bit and it turned out her husband was a lawyer as well…Won’t bore you with anymore of those details…I actually got lucky and went to try and exchange my binoculars for ones that focused better I during intermission and one of the employees that worked there doing the coat checks was kind enough to give me his personal binoculars. They were expensive-looking camouflage binoculars and I could see erryythang really well with those. Anyway back to Act I…

    As I mentioned I found the overall sound to be subdued and there weren’t many dramatic crescendos so I didn’t hear as many overtones as I did in other performances where the sound and singing really reverberated through the theater…the set was better than I thought it would be although it’s basically just a big center piece with difference sides, and though the story plays out in a very straightforward manner it didn’t seem like the umpteenth revival of a 20 year old production where singers are basically left to their own devices.

    So moving on to the individual performances, out comes Dmitry Belosselskiy to sing his opening aria and I am having trouble finding him onstage because there are other singers posing as Babylonians and soldiers and such, plus the chorus members onstage and my binoculars aren’t well-focused, so it was like looking at one of those Where’s Waldo children’s books lol I didn’t think his costume was terribly flattering but he started off sounding great with a round, pleasant and well-projected Baritone sound, and I was getting excited…and then there were no low notes to speak of. His voice would just completely drop out in the lower passages and nothing would come out. That was disappointing. I did enjoy Russel Thomas and while he certainly has a nice even tenor sound the voice was smaller than I imagined and at least in the small bits he had to sing in this opera he didn’t have a whole lot of ping. He certainly projected well enough but I expected a bit more sound based on what I heard on the broadcast, and he also looked a bit stiff, albeit Ismaele is a very small role. I’d like to see/hear him in something more substantial.

    And then out comes Liudmyla…I could see the expression on her face when she entered the stage and she was not in character. Her facial expression alternated between an indifferent pout and a look of mild consternation over the fact that she had to walk down a few steps to get from the set piece to the stage, which she did extremely slowly and cautiously…and the outfit and the sword business were silly. She looked like an extra from Pirates of the Caribbean, except with too much lip liner and a poofy wig. But this wouldn’t have mattered if she was committed to what she was doing, instead she looked and sounded cautious and it was unconvincing. The way she also walked around pretending to forcefully yank other people’s swords away…it was kitschy and looked completely fake. Singing-wise she dragged the opening phrases and seemed to be holding back as the sound didn’t have the thrust I’ve heard her sing with in other performances of this and other roles, but sure enough during the ensuing ensembles and during her big scena she sang out more. There was a great moment (still in Act one) when she walks away from the stage toward the side of the pit and from there the sound did reverberate nicely, but she was not consistent in giving it her all and opted for more subdued soft singing, with some newer embellishments and dynamic variations thrown in here and there. She was never shrill or off-pitch or anything like that but she left a lot to be desired in Act I especially since she kept coming and going from the stage during the last Act I ensemble, after Nabucco makes his entrance, until eventually a chorus member sang her last phrases I think. That I didn’t like even though I realize she had a costume change. In terms of the commitment/acting issue, I don’t know if it’s psychological for her in terms of not being very engaged in the beginning and needing time to settle in just as her voice does…or if it’s reluctance because she doesn’t like the stage direction and goes through the motions because she has to. Perhaps its a bit of both issues. This is why I think she is better in newer, less traditional productions.

    Her lack of commitment was made more evident when contrasted with the deamanor of the others in the cast, namely Jamie and Placido who were both very present and engaged from the get-go and who were the ones projecting the most energy in that first Act, which is very static. I have to say I was very impressed with Placido. The man can put on a show and at 70-whatever he is light on his feet, energetic, passionate and aside from a couple of botched phrases due to breathing issues he was very good. Did he sound like a tenor the entire time? You bet. Was it still worth it to go see him live? You bet.

    So after Act I I was a bit dismayed and thought that maybe I should have just waited to see the HD… my phone died just as I arrived at the theater so I couldn’t take any pictures or videos which was a bummer, but I did enjoy a nice glass of wine during the intermission..

    Then in Act II, the set piece slowly turned and the giant altar/throne was revealed. In the house, from my vantage point at least it does look impressive, though perhaps too decadent for a sacred ancient Temple. The orchestra begins to play and several bars later, out comes Liudmyla from the left side of the stage, rather frantically, and, gasp, she finally she begins to sing out more and we finally see Abigaile. Have to give props to the costume designers as the dresses she wears, though colorful and ornate, are nicely tailored and manage to make her look regal and voluptuous, as opposed to the OTT oversized froufrou dresses with ridiculous head pieces I’ve seen in other performances of this opera that are often unflattering. Here, they nailed it. Bravi. Oh and the cleavage game was on point. In all seriousness though, I’m glad she got to wear a nice costume rather than a bedazzled mumu or that fugly black robe she wore in the ROH production. Best of all, she looked totally at home on that throne, like a real queen. She also sang a very lyrical and tender anch’io di scuso. The cabaletta (salgo gia) while well sung I thought was less effective only because she kept bending down and struck a weird pose on the steps with her legs spread apart and her hand on her hip which I thought was distracting and looked totally unnatural and staged. But this is when the first campy thing happened that I really enjoyed. At some point during the aria (or perhaps it was after..? I can’t recall exactly when it was) she climbed up the stairs and sat on the steps, and while she was singing placed her hand on the side of the stairs and literally stroked the stair. Not in a sexual way; she was literally petting the stair like it was her pet LOL. I hope she does it again tomorrow. It was just so quirky to see her singing this sad, plangent aria and then all of a sudden she starts stroking the stair, as if to say “miiiine”. That’s how I interpreted it at least. I think she was a cat in her past life. She certainly has a cat-like demeanor that I find super hilarious and endearing.

    I’ll just skip to the second really campy moment since this is getting too long…during Act II, after it is revealed that Fenena has converted to Judaism and she is told that the king is dead and her life is in danger, she grabs the crown and tries to escape by going through one of the large, dark doorways on the set piece (there are two). She rushes through it and, this was totally predictable but hilarious nonetheless, immediately runs back out into the stage as (shocker!) Abigail comes in through that same doorway demanding she be given the crown. This was a very rudimentary and simplistic way to stage that moment of confrontation and what they tried to convey was that Abigaile was menacing and that people were afraid of her, which is fine except it contradicts Monastyrska’s approach to the character, which was to portray her as less evil and more human, more like a scorned woman, so those moments where she is supposed to seem menacing kind of fell flat, but that was also because of the costumes and makeup which I think softened her image. But really it was just funny to see Jamie sprint backwards like she was being chased by an angry chiawana or something lolol anyway you’ll all see it soon…

  • The other major highlight of the performance was definitely the duet between LM and PD. They symbolized the shift in the power dynamic and how alienated she was from him and everyone by having her sing from atop the altar/throne while he was all the way down to the right of the stage; it was impressive how they were able to sing at such a distance from each other and the orchestra. Also, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do a better job at ripping up a piece of paper into little bits and scattering them on a person. She got skills yo.

    We also got the encore for Va Pensiero, which was lovely but seemed gratuitous rather than spontaneous. Still, someone, I believe it was Krunoslav, noted that people can still resonate with this piece and the plight of the Hebrews, or something to that effect and I completely agree. There is so much hate and violence going on; so many terrorist attacks, communities being destroyed (those poor people in Aleppo come to mind) and people who are still marginalized and deprived of basic human rights…I couldn’t help but think of those people while listening to that neatly sung chorus and how privileged I was, how privileged many of us are to not have death and destruction staring us in the face.

    I myself come from a country in which people are censored and oppressed. I left Cuba when I was a small child and grew up in a community of exiles, which I’ve grown to love and appreciate. In College, I had an English Professor who used to say that we are the Jews of the Caribbean, given that by and large, we have been displaced. And to make things worse, as if we hadn’t suffered enough, after Castro’s death there was a government imposed “grieving period” which lasted through the Holidays. It was forbidden to celebrate Christmas and I think new year’s as well. It’s so sad how the tyrant is dead, yet the shackles of tyranny remain in place.

    As a side note, Placido was supposed to give a concert in Cuba around the time Fidel died and had to cancel it although I’m glad he did because I later found out it wasn’t going to open to the general public. It was “invitation only” and many seats were being reserved for tourists who had traveled there to see the concert, along with the communist bourgeoisie. He, or whoever manages his twitter account, tweeted out a link to a dubious Cuban news article in which he stated that he “sympathized with the grief and lament of the Cuban people for their loss” or something to that effect which I thought was inappropriate and just plain extra. It ended up being deleted although he also posted a video on his Facebook page that was equally dubious. But I did see a couple of subsequent news articles which reported that he wants to give a concert in a larger space/stadium for “all of Havana”. I hope this will be the case so that ordinary citizens can attend instead of just the tourists and government cronies. I have an uncle who likes opera and lives in Havana and would like to attend the concert. Anyway, I digress…

    Placido also sang a pretty moving and solid Dio di Giuda while laying face-down on the ground which was impressive. Jamie’s aria at the end was also a treat and best of all (I think) was LM’s final aria before she dies. She sang it tenderly but there was also a nice musical build up and there was a sincerity to the singing that was moving. The opera ended on a high note (literally) when DB sonorously proclaimed Nabucco as king, and then the applause began and I had to sprint out of the theater IN HEELS. I could have died, and almost did out of disappointment and panic. Glad I survived though.

    Lastly, there are a few elements of the production, specifically the interplay between Fenena and Abigaile in Act II which I think cheapened the drama, as this is supposed to be, you know, a weighty biblical drama, not a lowbrow soap opera about two sisters fighting over a dude and a crown. I think it was because the director wanted to flesh out Fenena’s character more and have her interact with the other characters, including Abigaile, and to also make their conflict seem more human, however seeing them fight over the crown and such reminded me of me and my sister when we quarrel about something, and I found that problematic, because I don’t want to see what amounts to bratty behavior when we are dealing with the massacre of innocent people and when one sister literally wants to have the other executed. Perhaps others will find those choices more effective. Overall though, it was a good performance and I was glad I went. I’m planning on going to see Boheme and Barber of Seville next weekend given that the casts are stellar! Fingers crossed I can make it happen.

    Goodnight and toi toi toi to everyone who is performing tomorrow!

    • Rick

      Thanks a lot -- much appreciated!