Saturday, December 13, 2003

OPERA: Orfeo ed Euridice

Notes on Los Angeles Opera's production of Orfeo ed Eurice by Gluck:

Vivica Genaux - beautiful voice and great actress, very moving as Orfeo: her palpable longing to look back, and her anguish at not being able to explain to Euridice. She carried herself so convincingly in her trouser role, that I was shocked for a moment when, at the curtain call, she kissed the conductor!

Maria Bayo - awesome golden powerful clarion voice. her anguish at not understanding why Orfeo wouldn't even look at her was very moving.

Beautiful choreography - especially the marvelously heart-tugging interaction of movement between Orfeo & Euridice.

The combination of music, movement, and acting, especially between O&E, was powerfully, hauntingly memorable.

The sets were minimal and abstract but very effective. In the first scene, impressions of trees in a grove, people gathered among them, with a body covered in a bright white sheet in the center (E's funeral), all given an ethereal quality by a giant nearly transparent, slightly translucent film in front of it all; contrast of characters moving in front of or behind the film.

Second scene, the gates of Hell were represented by a giant black frame, the lower portion of which was about chest high on the chorus of Furies behind it, all backlit by actual flames - very effective. Third scene - Elysian fields - two layers of those giant pieces of film that characters could be behind both, between, or in front of - again giving an ethereal quality, and a visual transition between the Elysian fields and the world of the living. When Euridice is lost, the whole floor raises up with her on it, but Orfeo left down below - good visual, but oddly disconnected from the plot timing (Euridice is visually "taken away" before it actually happens in the libretto). The god Amor, when he appears in beginning and end, is lowered down from the ceiling on a large silver ball with a Saturnine gold ring; Amor in a white toga-style gown and crown sitting side-saddle on the thing (God love her - hope she's not afraid of heights!).

The baroque music by Gluck was beautiful, but simple; no wildly ornate arias. It would definitely be a nice recording. Most of the time, the music suited the drama in its baroque way, but the touted aria "Che faro senza Euridice?", while beautiful, was strangely incongruous in a major key. The conductor Hartmut Haenchen, in his program notes, gives some musicology reasons why it should not be played as a song of mourning, but I thought the result was just slightly puzzing dramatically.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

OPERA: Don Giovanni

Los Angeles Opera put on a very creative staging of this Mozart classic from the Polish National Opera (much more memorable than the first production I saw). The costumes were brightly colored Commedia Del'Arte style, with minimal sets and a staging that emphasized the theatrical box, as if it were all a puppet show. The director, Mariusz Trelinski, did a tremendous job of conveying Don Giovanni as both man and myth. As the first notes of the overture begin, the three ladies of the opera summon Don Giovanni up from the grave: his story must be repeated, and the ladies can't let go of him. In the beginning of Act I, Leporello appears bearing a huge hourglass on his back, a symbol that reappears at the end as he is preparing supper for Don Giovanni and the Commendatore.

Don Giovanni wears a bright red tri-corner hat and cape, and these symbols stand for him, in some scenes on their own. He pulls all the strings: In the scene where he has switched costumes with Leporello who is sweet-talking Donna Elvira, a forest of strings hang from the rafters and there are mirrors on the back and sides of the otherwise dark stage, as Don Giovanni shadows behind Leporello lending his voice. The strings and mirrors continue as Don Giovanni (disguised as Leporello) cleverly dispatches Masetto's gang of thugs, leaving Masetto alone to be beaten. In another innovative scene, where Zerlina is trying to reassure Masetto of her faithfulness, the director has playfully made it just more of Don Giovanni's string pulling: Don Giovanni literally choreographs a forest of topiary trees, so that he keeps grabbing Zerlina when Masetto isn't looking and then disappears behind a tree just in time. (Zerlina and Masetto are in bright yellow clownish feathery costumes, almost spoofing Papageno/Papagena.)

Many of the voices in this production were excellent. The Uruguayan bass Erwin Schott made a powerful, sexy Don Giovanni with a remarkable clarity for the bass part. Hungarian soprano Andrea Rost sang a sparklingly pure Donna Anna, with American tenor John Matz singing passionately at her side ("Dalla sua pace" was deeply moving) as Don Ottavio. Anna Christy gave a wonderful coloratura performance as Zerlina, and Adina Nitescu was also very good as Donna Elvira. The acting was excellent all around, and much credit is due to choreographer Emil Wosolowski as well.