Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Many years later and in another town Maury revisits a production from something like his youth

Ugh, Spring, you big dumb beast! Here I was, contentedly sub-clinically depressed, going to nothing because the couch and a stack of Little Debbies sounded infinitely more compelling*. And now it's a little lighter out, and I have crawled out from underneath the Star Crunches, and suddenly there's lots of things to be at. Like for instance how am I meant to creep in for standing at Ernani Friday when Saturday's the next in a line of what's turning out to be a hybrid of Tristan und Isolde and I Love Lucy, with the hijinx already...

Nonetheless, I did sneak out from under the still lifting veil of blah to take in City Opera's Falstaff. (Yeah, yeah, Maury at City Opera. Pretend you'd have been more surprised if I'd said Grant's Tomb. So well known is my indifference, it would seem, that I was not among those bloggers invited to take in Purcell vs. Mark Morris a few weeks back, sniff sniff. Well that's the grandiose take on things, the more realistic being that no-one's ever heard of me.)

Cue: Snows of Yesteryear. I saw this production take its first steps, so there was a certain amount of nostalgia at work. Not, alas, enough to mitigate the City Opera Effect. Honestly, I think the deal is this. Plenty goes right at NYCO, but somehow there's just not a critical mass, and it shows in the energy in the house. Maybe you'll hear a great singer, and maybe you won't know for sure what you're hearing due to what we are encouraged to call Sound Enhancement. The orchestra will never surprise you, for better or worse. It just so rarely comes together in an incendiary way there. Even the productions I haven't liked weren't bad in an outrageous way. Maybe the new regime will shake things up.

Anyway as Miss Golightly was saying when she so rudely interrupted herself, I saw this one when it was being fussed with in a high school gym, and I vividly remember how it fit on the stage of the Alice Busch Opera Theater, and how the sound of the low strings was enhanced by the night air when they opened up the sides, and everything. I remember Mark Delavan, who I think someone said had sung Ford to Milnes' Falstaff stepping up into the fat suit of greatness with gallons of voice and enough spite in his reading that nobody went into an insulin coma. Fenton and Nanetta were nicely and attractively cast from the Young Artist Program. The production fit well on the small stage, exactly as it doesn't in the State Theater, and there was a certain [pause to open the cliche cabinet] magic.

I've spent many less enjoyable nights at the opera, but there's not a lot of magic left in this one. It's a chicken or egg thing: is the audience actually laughing--and far be it from me to discount a good bond between audience and cast--at a production whose aesthetic hallmark is the spit take because that's what they're offered, or are they being offered it at this point because they laughed last time? Maybe I'm just a sourpuss and it's really hilarious the third time Quickly shakes her bazooms on on the /e/ in "Riverenza."

No matter, enough went right that we didn't leave or set fires or play gin rummy or anything drastic. This John Tessier, I'd like to hear him without a middle man. I think there's a kind of freshness and possibly gentle elegance there. Stephen Powell sounds as firm and take-serious-able now as in the first run, and that's plenty. Oh and Pamela Armstrong makes me quite upset with myself for having skipped the Capriccio. Someone tell me about it. I feel like she must have been just right, as she seems to have a good mix of instinct and raw materials. Alice is actually a part I have never once in my life found myself humming, it's that much of a blank for me, but she found the swells and ligaments to interest me in the character to some degree.

Jan Opalach as Sir John was harder to size up for me, not least because much of Falstaff's music makes me long for earlier Verdi. Sue me. As I have implied, he was directed in a way I found wearying--at intermission we amused ourselves shaking our hands up by our faces going "look at me!!! I'm funny!!!" and that was about the flavor of it. Certainly he seems to have the role worked into his voice, and within the parameters of a production that presents two guys trying to go through a door at the same time as an act-ending punchline--which, yes, I think is supposed to be funny like old cartoons, smile-funny, not puke from laughing funny, but it's just so unfresh--he goes about the inhabiting of Falstaff with gusto.

One very good thing: the company has thankfully abandoned the spell-it-out-for-you choreography that used to attend the fugue, and the opera probably ends better for it. Just...why have I said so many positive things in with the sniping and still am writing a review whose one word summary is "meh"?

Next up: Tristan, unless the whole cast trips and falls on things, or whatever else hasn't happened yet. Um, knock on wood when you read that, k?

*No, seriously, depression is measured on many scales, but at my house, it's the Little Debbie Scale.


Anonymous said...

Oh,you did not mentioned Ursula Ferri and Eric Jordan-- and their both harismatic voices/acting' presence.I would try to hear them again in every possibility.Also,it seemed, conductor,though very professional, but sort of "mezzo-fortist" (one who makes everything out of rough edges)--his interpretation made a good old traectory for singers,leaving them without any opportunity to bring a new look at roles./forgive my poor English, please/.

Maury D'annato said...

anon: your English is totally good, don't sweat it. Doubtless better than I could do in your language (Anonymese?) I did basically like Ferri but Quickly is worst of all for getting an idea of a singer--everyone thinks you have to play it incredibly broadly and chest out the "riverenza" and "povera donna" in the least musical way possible, so I don't think I know what she really sounds like when she's not basically in a kind of vocal drag.

jondrytay said...

The most effectively-staged Falstaff I have ever seen wasn't even staged- it was the semi-staged version of the 1988(?) Glyndebourne production at the Proms. Desderi as Falstaff, Felicity Palmer as Quickly, Eva 'what-happened-to-her-wasn't-she-the-next-big-thing' Lind as Nanetta. I'll always remember the moment of silence followed by a football-stadium cheer at the end of the final fugue. Still gives me goosebumps to think about it.

It's an opera that I tend to avoid seeing live, since Fenton's nocturne always rather embarrassingly makes water come out of my eyes.

Anonymous said...

/You may call me AnonyRuss/:Well,if not to see HOW Ferry won out her path through all Reverenza's chest-out truisms,and if without her very personal and immediately gypnotising charm of her chest-out/chest voice-out Povera Donna ---then yes,in review it will look terribly expected stage directing road.But Ferri was really magnetic even with such too much expected devices .Her voice,best reminder of Louise Homer' (though,more wide,less focused then Homer')sound-- was easily traveling through the hall(unlike Nannette' and Falstaff'),of great quality(though with few difficulties when switching from chest to middle voice).IMHO: Ferry and Jordan voices are almost another,higher level than all other's lovely company of "Falstaff".Jan Opalach's beautiful color and overall musicality in last Act aria had somehow a shade of Titto Gobi' influence....Overall--wonderful evening,I would definitely saw everything else of same singers.

Quoth the Maven said...

I would suggest that, considering NYCO's "sound enhancement system," it is impossible to compare the performers there with any in the past: We simply aren't hearing what they sound like.

Henry Holland said...

I'm torn about sound enchancement. While it seems to violate the spirit of what operatic singing is about, I'm also really tired of straining to hear voices that are a size too small fighting against a large orchestra.

I heard a Carmen in San Diego in the early 90's that was sound enhanced and it was very well done; when they turned to the side, the mics still picked them up. Fine, the Escamillo probably didn't sound like a Wotan in training, but still.

It would be nice to think that everyone had a voice like Birgit Nilsson's, one that could pimp-smack a 120-piece orchestra in full cry, but alas.

The awful acoustics of the State Theatre --thank you NYC Ballet-- are another issue altogether.

Anonymous said...

I honestly compared those wonderful singers' sound judging only on few practically unaccompanied moments of each singer(when they did not struggle with orchestra). I believe,no matter what acoustic in State Theatre is,the singers are treated equally by that acoustic... But I agree with both comments totally.

jondrytay said...

Total and utter thread hijack, but maury- the other day I saw on some site or other (can't remember where- I follow links like a trufflehound when I'm in the mood) your recommendation of the incredible Troyanos 'O Don Fatale' on YouTube. Well, I found THIS today. You've probably already seen it but if you haven't you're in for a treat.