Friday, November 20, 2009

Even More Opera Review

As if I hadn't seen Turandot enough this year (see my posts for July 8 & 14), the other night I went to see the Encore presentation of Turandot on the Met's Live in HD series at my local movie house. (I didn't see it on its truly "live" presentation on November 7 because I was watching the Iowa-Northwestern game on TV. First things first.) I thought it was a great production. Maria Guleghina was very fine as the princess Turandot (some of her high notes were a bit approximate, but this is a role in which a dramatic soprano has to work pretty hard). Marcello Giordani was also very good, if perhaps a bit wooden, as Calaf. He got through "Nessun dorma" pretty well, if not quite superbly; the Met audience then went bananas, which I thought was a little indiscriminate. I was quite impressed by Marina Poplavskaya's Liu; I had never seen/heard her before, and she sang and acted the role very well. Samuel Ramey (Timur, the old blind king, father of Calaf) was as usual very good in a role which is not really very big. I really liked Ping, Pang and Pong (I don't have the singers' names at hand), who put some depth into what are often merely stock characters. Perhaps the most notable thing was Franco Zeffirelli's production, which was Zeffirelli all the way. Very imaginative and elaborate choreography. However, this opera still has the dumbest plot in the repertoire, but in this case the Zeffirelli production (together with Puccini's music) helps one not to notice as much. It reminded me that Toscanini was probably right at the opera's premiere at Milan in 1926: he stopped the performance after the death of Liu, which was the point at which Puccini had died without completing Act III. All downhill from there.

But my enjoyment of Zeffirelli's over-the-top production reminded me of the great fuss over the Met's new production of
Tosca last month, by Luc Bondy. I rather liked it, actually, but it's true that it had several flaws that sometime down the line (when Bondy isn't looking) should be corrected. (The floozies in Scarpia's apartment at the beginning of Act II were a seriously wrong move.) Many critics were comparing the Bondy production to the previous one, which was another Zeffirelli-all-the-way. The problem with the Zeffirelli Tosca was that the sets (Sant' Andrea Della Valle, the Palazzo Farnese, and the Castel Sant' Angelo) overwhelmed the action of the opera, which is actually a fairly intimate melodrama. Oh well. I thought Mattila was very good, but she's not Callas. Nor will anyone ever be again....