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I wrote this in April 2011 after going to see Don Giovanni at the Staatsoper when I was studying abroad in Vienna, Austria. Unfortunately, I was feeling ill in the middle of it and left early.

 

The final live musical performance I attended was Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Staatsoper. It was a bittersweet experience in that I will rarely have the opportunity to witness music and productions of the quality that I have seen in the United States without having to pay a very large sum of money.

Mozart always had the flare for the dramatic, and he truly brings it out in the opening overture to Don Giovanni. It certainly reflects the story of the wooer of women and the melodrama, comedy, and supernatural elements that ensue. The backdrop of the stage consists of a screen with a picture of the cityscape in black and white. The bumbling and swooping of the low instruments brings about the loping manservant of Don Giovanni, Leporello, that sings of how he is tired of keeping watch while his master seduces women. It is a great musical portrayal of the “opera buffa” elements, as the listener feels a sense of rustic buffoonery. I thought that Leporello had a nice strong and comedic presence onstage with a resonating deep voice. Then Donna Anna appears, chasing a masked Don Giovanni and demanding to know his identity. Her voice was a bit lackluster and not too impressive, but she was attractive. Don Giovanni was also very good-looking and had a deep, powerful voice. The Commendatore appeared to defend his daughter’s honor and is killed by Don Giovanni while Donna Anna seeks help. Her grief really shines through with the music when she returns with her fiancé Don Ottavio, finding her father dead. In my opinion, Don Ottavio had the weakest and most inexperienced voice out of the entire ensemble. It was very weak, especially in the high register. They swear revenge on the unidentified man as the music swells dramatically into the scene change.

The next scene looks almost like a tavern where we see a woman, Donna Elvira, cursing Don Giovanni for leaving her and scorning her love. Leporello and Don Giovanni enter and find her, Giovanni taking some time to try to woo her until he realized she was a past conquest. A group of women gather there to celebrate perhaps the wedding shower of Zerlina, a beautiful country girl, and Leporello takes the time to brag of the large number of Giovanni’s conquests. This is one of my favourite arias in the opera, and it certainly drew laughter from the crowd. Don Giovanni arrives and is instantly taken with Zerlina and is set upon making her one of the notches on his belt. He offers to host the wedding celebration at his own lavish house, and Masetto, Zerlina’s fiancé, becomes suspicious and jealous. Elvira re-enters and tries to persuade them not to follow through with it and reveals Don Giovanni’s true nature.

Donna Anna and Don Ottavio come to the abode of Don Giovanni in an attempt to ask his help in finding the murderer of her father without realizing that they are right in front of him. Again, I was thwarted with the lackluster quality in voices. Elvira once again enters to reveal the seducing nature of Don Giovanni, and after those two depart Donna Anna realizes and recognizes Giovanni as her father’s killer.

The next scene takes place at the ball at Giovanni’s estate. I really enjoyed the elaborate costuming, but some of them just made me laugh. Leporello looked like a giant, frilly clown, and poor Masetto appeared as if he was in some kind of feathery bird costume. Masetto hides in a closet of sorts, trying to catch Zerlina with Giovanni in a compromising position. Upon discovering him there, Giovanni leads Zerlina to her fiancé and leaves them together. Meanwhile a group of masked ballgoers (Donna Elvira, Donna Anna, and Don Ottavio) enter, hoping to catch Giovanni in foul play and are ushered in by Leporello. Leporello then distracts Masetto by dancing with him in an effort to distract him from Don Giovanni’s renewed pursuit of Zerlina. We are suddenly met with Zerlina’s cries for help as Giovanni tries to frame her distress on Leporello. The group of masked guests reveal themselves and exclaims how they know the truth. Guns are drawn as the music swells into a crescendo as the act ends in suspense.

I was unable to see the second act due to my feeling very ill throughout the first act. It distracted me somewhat from enjoying the performance fully, but I still wish that I could have experienced the entire production. It would have been great to see the dramatic conclusion of Don Giovanni being dragged down to Hell.

dongiovanni

 

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(I was fortunate to see Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle right around my birthday in April while I was studying in Vienna. The 20-plus hours of standing and experiencing one of opera’s master works was definitely worth it.)

 

Das Rheingold

I was very impressed with how large the orchestra was, but then again, this is Wagner at some of his most epic work. The music begins softly and slowly in the low instruments, emulating creation. There was a giant screen behind the actors that would be incorporated in all four works. It first projected an actual video of water flowing. I found the scenery and costumes to be very vivid. The Rhinemaidens rose up into view and rose up and down in steady waves like seaweed. Their voices blended together beautifully. The colour scheme of greens and blues brought you underwater with them in the scene. Alberich entered with a very deep and rich voice, swimming among the maidens and attempting to catch them to satisfy his lust. His movements to emulate swimming were a bit bizarre. However, his desires change as he sets eyes upon the gold that the Rhinemaidens are guarding, and he vows to forsake love in order to steal it into his possession. I was a little offended by the suggestive gestures that Alberich made with the gold. It was almost as if he was rubbing himself against it sexually.

I found it interesting and nice that the flow of the orchestral works was continuous through the scene changes, allowing the listener to not be interrupted in his or her visualizations brought forth by the music. Valhalla was set as a bright white area with settings of stones distributed throughout the stage. The costuming of the gods wasn’t very appealing to me. It looked as if they were dressed in fairly modern cocktail attire. Wotan is certainly gifted with an awesome, strong, and powerful voice. I thought Fricka’s sparkling dress was very distracting. Her voice was pretty good, but I thought her dress sparkled more in quality than her voice. The white suits of Donner and Froh looked almost like dentist uniforms. Freia’s voice was very bright and clear. When she was in her high register, it reminded me of what a colleague of mine’s voice could sound like in the future. When the giants appeared, I had to hold back a few laughs. It looked like their costumes were made out of rocks. But their voices matched the power and strength of their characters. Froh (the tenor brother) was weaker than the rest of the ensemble, and his voice really seemed to be strained. The giants demanded payment for the building of Valhalla, which was originally negotiated as to be Freia, but Wotan was attempting to find an alternative exchange for them. Loge appeared with news that nothing else could yet be found in exchange. The performer portraying him had a great trickster attitude, very nonchalant and sly. His voice is one of my favourites, as it was very smooth. It could use a little more body and power, but in the future his voice will mature very well. The giants end up taking Freia away with them and subsequently the golden apples that keep the gods youthful and beautiful. Loge tells of the theft of the Rheingold, and Wotan has the fervour and resolve to take the gold back and use that for ransom to save Freia.

As the scene changed once more everything turned red, and the orchestra morphed into a chorus of anvils to symbolize the slaving away of the Nibelungs underground. For the gold, mannequins and their body parts painted gold were used. Mime, Alberich’s brother was very expressive as well, but his voice was not very powerful. He forged the Tarnhelm which enables the wearer to become invisible or change shape at will. As I continued to hear Alberich, it seemed like his voice was directed too far back. Wotan and Loge fed Alberich’s conceit and self-worth and encouraged him to demonstrate the power of the Tarnhelm. He turned himself into a snake which was projected as a video of a snake on the screen. That seemed a little cheesy, but it was even worse how a little frog was tied to Alberich’s head and he hopped around onstage. Wotan and Loge quickly capture him and bring him to the surface.

Back on the mountaintop, Alberich is forced to give up his hoard of gold in exchange for his freedom. After much protesting, he uses the ring to summon the Nibelungs to bring up the gold from below. Wotan then asks for the ring, but Alberich refuses. The ring is then forcefully removed from his hand by Wotan as he cuts off the finger wearing it. Furious and in despair, Alberich curses the ring and whoever bears it to be doomed to eventual death. The giants then return and the exchange ensues. The gold they used to cover up the image of Freia was actually put together to form a mannequin. There is still more payment necessary, so the giants demand the ring in payment. Wotan refuses, and suddenly half of the goddess Erda appears to warn him that he must give up the ring or severely regret it. Her voice is very dramatic, and I’m not sure if I care for it. Eventually, Wotan conceded and gave up the ring as a very obvious spear leitmotif played. The giants fight over possession of the ring, and Fasolt is killed by his brother Fafner. The gods know it is time to leave, so Donner builds a thunderstorm to clear the air (in an unimpressive display). Froh creates a rainbow bridge for everyone to cross over into their new home. Loge tells of the ending of the gods drawing near and his hesitancy to follow them, but in this production he actually did accompany them. I was confused. Offstage, the Rhinemaidens mourned the loss of the gold, and there part one ended in a very strong orchestral finish.

 

Die Walküre

            In the next installment of the Ring Cycle, the orchestra bursts forth in dramatic sound, emulating the coming themes. The raging of the brass and low strings reflect the storm. The stage was set in Hunding’s house. I still don’t understand why there was a tree growing in the middle of the main hall. Sigmund enters, staggering in and seeking shelter, following the projection of a white wolf across the stage. Sieglinde also enters and paces the room, following the wolf’s projection. I wasn’t quite sure what that wolf meant, but I later learned that it was the form Wotan took when traveling in the mortal world. Sieglinde was virtually bursting forth in the bosom of her nightgown costume. I think she should have been re-fitted. They experience an unknown attraction to each other as she provides him hospitality. Hunding, Sieglinde’s abusive husband, enters and reluctantly accepts Siegmund into his home for shelter from the night. Hunding really had a deep and powerful voice that projected very well. It suited his character as a brooding and potentially violent man. Sieglinde’s voice was strong as well, but it could use more body. The two men discover they are enemies and vow to fight to the death in the morning. After Hunding falls into a drugged slumber, the other two meet secretly, and Sieglinde relates her sad fate and desire to be rescued by the man able to draw forth the sword lodged in the tree. As he releases the sword into his hands, the two realize they are twin brother and sister yet still declare their love for one another in an overly dramatic display of affection.

In the next Act, Wotan is seen in the forest with a wolf pelt at his feet. I thought it was interesting how they used an actual taxidermy wolf onstage. Brunnhilde enters in all of her fiery passionate glory as a Valkyrie, but I was quickly aghast when she opened her mouth to sing. It was not how I imagined Brunnhilde to sound, lacking the power, strength, and vocal ability. Her high notes screeched unpleasantly. Wotan calls her to protect Siegmund in battle. Fricka, however, is displeased how the ill-fated lovers are going against the sanctity of marriage and forbids Wotan to interfere in any way. I found that her voice improved greatly from Das Rheingold with much more body and spirit. Brunnhilde goes against her father’s wishes anyway and warns Siegmund. She also discovers that Sieglinde is carrying his child. It does not help his outcome in which his sword is shattered by Wotan, who learns of his daughter’s disobedience, and is then killed by Hunding. With one look from Wotan, Hunding also drops dead.

The famous flight of the Valkyries thunders through the orchestra as the entire audience is filled with buoyancy and vigour. I thought the ensemble of Valkyries was outstanding. They had great vocal quality and sang with a lot of bright energy. There were statues of horses all over the stage, making it appear as if they were in a stable. In relation to the actors, they were gigantic. Brunnhilde arrives and seeks sanctuary among them, but she cannot escape Wotan’s wrath. She loses her status as a Valkyrie and is to become a mortal woman. The scene with Brunnhilde and Wotan alone is absolutely heartbreaking, the motives of sanctuary, Brunnhilde’s plea, Wotan’s farewell all strike chords in my heart. He kisses her eyes and they linger together before he puts her into a deep slumber, surrounding her with fire so that only a true hero without fear can have her. The screens project images of fire surrounding the stage in a cool effect, but it would have been more convincing if the horses had been moved and not “consumed by fire” as well.

 

Siegfried

This portion of the cycle was my least favourite. The setting of Mime’s home and forge was interesting in a sense, very industrial and similar to a factory. I wonder if Mime was directed to be a buffoon character and annoying on purpose because his voice was extremely whiny and nasal. It was revealed in class that he was supposedly portraying a Jew with his hoarding, greedy tendencies focused on money and his own personal gain. Siegfried enters, and I was a bit taken aback by his appearance. I was expecting a young and trim man and instead was met with an overweight man with graying hair. Siegfried’s personality was nothing like I expected either. He was basically a self-absorbed asshole, his only heroic trait being pompous and obsessed with himself as many heroes are. The aspect of his character that I liked the most was his musical theme. He constantly verbally abuses Mime and pesters him for a new sword which he breaks. Wotan enters after Siegfried leaves and challenges Mime to a riddle contest, their heads on the line. Mime loses, and Wotan declares that “he who knows no fear” will be his executioner. Discovering that Siegfried is to be that arbiter, Mime is resolved to teach him fear. Upon learning that Mime is unable to re-forge the broken shards of his father’s sword, Siegfried takes it upon himself to do the job and is successful. He is then led to Fafner the dragon in order to learn fear.

The battle with the dragon was a bit odd. There was a screen that showed a giant lizard’s eye in which Siegfried ventured into, so you could see an image of the fighting Siegfried in the reflection of the eye as he waved and stabbed his sword, eventually stabbing and defeating him. He exits the cave with the Tarnhelm and ring in hand. With the taste of dragon’s blood, he is able to detect that Mime is trying to poison him and proceeds with killing him with the sword as well. He also learns the language of the birds. A beautiful voice echoes offstage, emulating a bird’s song. It was so exquisitely beautiful. She tells of a maiden asleep on a rock which intrigues Siegfried and inspires him to find her.

At the mountain, Siegfried and his grandfather (unbeknownst to him) meet and exchange words that quickly annoy Siegfried. Sometimes I really wanted to smack him because of his attitude. He even breaks the spear of Wotan and nonchalantly continues on his way. The final scene between Siegfried and Brunnhilde was extremely drawn-out, probably because of the drama that Wagner exudes. She was wrapped up with so many pieces of fabric that it was almost like unraveling a mummy. I found it well-staged as the timing between the orchestra and process of revealing Brunnhilde was in nearly perfect synchronization. Siegfried kisses her awake, and she is at first startled and reluctant to be possessed by someone. Their bantering back and forth and chasing about the stage was a bit cheesy. Finally they commit to loving one another, and the curtain closes on their heated embrace.

 

Götterdämmerung

            The final installment begins in an almost garden setting with little pine trees across the stage. Three women, the Norns, are onstage pulling string and winding it about the trees in a progression while they sing. Their voices were beautiful, but I don’t understand why Wagner felt it necessary to re-iterate the entire story thus far that had previously been performed. It seemed redundant. Maybe it was for the people that only desired to see the conclusion. Then Siegfried and Brunnhilde venture forth from the cave together. Brunnhilde sends him off to seek adventure, and Siegfried gives her the ring of power as a token of his love while she gives him her horse.

The next Act introduces an entirely new set of characters and location, the Gibichungs dwelling by the Rhine. Gunther is the lord of all of them, accompanied by Hagen, his half-brother and advisor who is actually the son of Alberich. You can guess his type of character based on his parentage. Hagen believes it best that Gunther finds a wife and his sister Gutrune finds a husband, suggesting Brunnhilde and Siegfried for them. He also gives Gutrune a potion that will enable Siegfried to lose his memory of Brunnhilde and fall in love with her instead. His ultimate goal is to get his hands on the ring of power. None of the voices in this grouping really stood out, in my opinion. All were pretty strong in their own ways but didn’t live up to my expectations. Siegfried arrives and is sucked into their lifestyle, drinking the love potion and forgetting Brunnhilde, swearing blood brotherhood to Gunther, and agreeing to venture to the fiery rock to win Gunther a wife.

Meanwhile on the rock, Brunnhilde is secretly visited by one of her sisters who warns her of the transpired events with Wotan and his shattered spear, along with his stacking of branches of the World Tree around Valhalla, waiting for the world to end. As her sister exited, she received many “Bravas” and applause from the audience. If she had a higher voice classification, I almost think that she would have made a better Brunnhilde than the current casting. Siegfried soon arrives under the guise of Gunther with the Tarnhelm and claims her as Gunther’s wife, taking away the ring. It made me uncomfortable how he forced himself on her and practically raped her, thankfully keeping the sword between the two of them as they slept.

In the next Act, Hagen in a half-dream state is visited by Alberich who urges him to kill Siegfried and acquire the ring. Alberich has the same oily and coercive voice as ever, and it is very effective. Siegfried arrives with Brunnhilde, and the war trumpets are sounded which surprise the soldiers upon discovering there is no battle but a wedding celebration. Brunnhilde’s tragic demeanor was powerful, and I admired how her strength in character grew. She was surprised to see Siegfried on the arm of Gutrune, wearing the ring and realizes that it was he who betrayed her, not Gunther. She publicly denounces him and accuses him of seducing her. Siegfried denies it, and an oath is made over a spear, whoever is found to be lying shall die by it. Hagen, Gunther, and Brunnhilde plot the death of Siegfried, and Brunnhilde reveals that his weakness lies in his back. They plan to murder him during a hunting trip.

The Rhinemaidens make another appearance in the next Act, still mourning the loss of their gold. They look a little amusing in their swimming caps. Siegfried comes across them, and they try to persuade him to return the ring to the river, warning him of treachery and death befalling him. He ignores their warnings of course, because of his pompous attitude. Rejoining the hunters, he tells stories of his youth and receives another potion which restores his memory. He recounts his discovery of Brunnhilde and their kiss which leads Hagen into stabbing him, saying that his oath had been false with Gunther. Siegfried’s death was perhaps the most tragic scene and musical portrayal in the entire cycle. I was almost moved to tears by the feeling evoked from the orchestra. Brunnhilde’s immolation scene was just as powerful, and I believe that her voice improved over the course of these productions, although it occaisionally became painful as she held the high notes. She sets fire to Siegfried’s funeral pyre and rides into the flames herself to join him. The ending montage was extremely powerful. The screen images of flames engulfed the stage once more in pulsing and revolving waves. Two nude figures (as far as I could tell) where shown embracing, which could have symbolized that advent of a new world and love beginning. Waves of water also surrounded everyone as Alberich attempted one last time to procure the ring that had now been returned to the Rhinemaidens but failed and drowned. Water and fire merged together as one in an amazing musical finale that I will never forget. I will certainly want to see this cycle again in the future. It is worth the hours of standing.

 

Brunnhilde

 

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Faust — Gounod

(Another opera review from when I was in Vienna, Austria!)

 

It was very refreshing to finally hear a French opera at the Staatsoper with it being my other degree. I really did enjoy this production of Gounod’s Faust. The opening was very dramatic and daunting in the orchestra which set the mood perfectly for what was to come in the plot. The curtain opened to the old man, Faust sitting in an armchair mourning his waste of life on scholarly pursuits and fervent desires for an opportunity yet to shine with vigour and love. Right from the beginning the tenor sounded strained, and the higher he climbed the more I cringed. He really incorporated the sob vocal technique which brought more character and drama to his arias. At one point, his voice did break. After two failed attempts at suicide, he renounces both science and faith and summons the devil. Méphistophélès was the most attractive man I had ever seen on the Staatsoper stage out of all of the productions I went to there. In my opinion, he had the best voice of the cast. So deep and rich, like velvet chocolate. It was a plus to see him without a shirt and in that black leather. His acting and stage presence was very well-thought out and embodied. He tempts Faust with an image of the saint-like Marguerite and offers him a second chance at youth with himself at Faust’s beck and whim in exchange for his soul in Hell to serve him when his death comes.

The next scene is in the town square where the military men meet to prepare for war with first a rousing drinking chorus. Valentin, Marguerite’s brother prepares to leave and sings a wonderful aria entrusting the care of his sister to Siébel, a young and endearing boy also in love with Marguerite. Valentin certainly merited the fervent applause after his song. Satan then approaches the crowd, provides them with wine and sings a song about a golden calf. The others suspect there is foulness and devilry in the air, and Valentin stands up to Méphistophélès, only to have his sword shattered. Faust enters the scene and declares his love to Marguerite who rejects his arm out of modesty. I was not impressed with her voice at all. It was very weak and not fully developed. I could barely hear her over the orchestra, and her French diction was not very precise at all.

I enjoyed the mezzo-soprano’s voice and her portrayal of the Siébel. In the third act he leaves a bouquet for Marguerite on the bench, and Faust creates a competition out of it, sending the Devil after a more impressive gift. He returns with a box of exquisite jewelry. Marguerite finds them and is enthralled by their brilliance. Unfortunately, the “Jewel Song” was very lackluster for me. I don’t think she was strong enough for this role. Faust and the Devil appear and put their charm on the women. I was really surprised when the Devil actually reached down and actually put his hand on the older woman’s breast as he was creating the illusion of romance. Faust and Marguerite finally kiss and declare their love to one another; the Devil is happy to see his plans being carried out well.

In the next act, we discover that Marguerite has been abandoned by Faust, carried his child, and is now a social outcast. But Siébel stands by her. Valentin returns with his company and learns of his sister’s faring, rejecting her outright. He seeks revenge upon Faust, but Méphistophélès guides Faust’s hand, leading to the death of Valentin who curses Marguerite to Hell.

The following act brings us to a prison cell where Marguerite is chained for having killed her child. The Devil helps Faust go to her and attempt to free her, but she refuses his aid, leaving it up to God and the angels to judge her. She rejects Faust and the Devil, fainting. The Devil tries to condemn her but finds her protected, so instead he drags Faust down to Hell. Marguerite rises and walks forward into the brilliant white light in the midst of Heavenly music.

I thoroughly enjoyed this production, but I almost felt that there wasn’t sufficient closure in the staging.

 

Yes, this is a picture of the gorgeous opera star that was Mephistopheles when I actually saw it in Vienna! So handsome!

Yes, this is a picture of the gorgeous opera star that was Mephistopheles when I actually saw it in Vienna! So handsome!

 

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(Another music review I wrote when I was studying in Vienna, Austria. This one is dated April 10, 2011.)

 

For a change of pace, I went to the Wien Konzerthaus to experience the Aron String Quartet performing several different works. The hall in which they performed was lovely. The ceiling had such intricate design and framework, and the dimensions were excellent for carrying sound.

The performance began with a String Quartet piece by Hanns Eisler. It was certainly twelve-tone and had the 20th Century aspects of atonality about it. I don’t listen to very much atonal music and found this particular piece unsettling and disturbing. I could almost picture a scene with demons dancing around a fire in a forest with the incessant plucking, climbing, stark and sudden dynamic contrasts. There was some form to it that told a story, however disjunct it was.

Next on the program was Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F-Major. The first movement, Très doux, or very soft, opened in a very refined and stately style as the first theme was introduced, a stark contrast to what we had previously heard. I felt as if it was describing the nature scene outside of a French estate, following the fluttering adventures of a butterfly. The second theme just floated through the air in wonderful strains, especially from the first and second violin. Movie soundtrack composers may have been inspired by this because I notice similar patterns and musical phrases from shows I have seen. It builds into a frenzied echo of the first theme in a much wilder approach, then settling back into the original feel and flow. Most of the players were expressive as they were performing, except for the viola. He seemed too focused in on the music pages to evoke it through his facial and body expressions. The movement ends on a slight variation of the main theme, slowing to a pause.

Suddenly, the strings burst through in a very catchy theme that they pluck. It makes me think of a more folk, playful, and adventuresome theme. The second movement is written Assez vif, or brisk, which certainly makes sense. I really enjoy watching the first violinist who incorporates his entire body into his performance and expression. His feet are constantly moving, and sometimes they even lift of the floor as he reels back in musical immersion. There are brief allusions to the stated themes in the beginning of the movement throughout as it moves into a slower and darker mood then eventually builds up again into the free-flowing and initial eager outpouring.

The third movement, Très lent or very slow, lives up to its name. The beginning sounds almost like it’s in a harmonic minor key and proceeds with subtlety that echoes a vague resemblance of the first theme but then alters it in a more somber sense. It is very tragic, and you can feel such emotion pouring forth from it. This could almost portray Autumn as things linger as they fade away. You can almost see the wind rustling the fallen leaves in the music. The movement ends after another visitation to the altered first theme lingering in the air with a beautiful chord.

The final movement in this selection jolts you out of your reverie quickly, as it is called Vif et agité, lively and agitated. It is very busy and wild, in a sense. You get the sense that everything is turning in circles about you and building up more and more powerfully. Echoes of themes from the first and second movements burst forth in sudden instances. The idea of leaves being carried on the wind could also be described with this music except in a more intense and motivated sense. One leaf in particular might be carried through the air in winding circles all around the extent of the estate, re-visiting themes and areas previously mentioned in Ravel’s piece. The drama builds until the very last moment with a very delightful ending.

The final piece was Brahm’s Clarinet Quintet in B Minor. The Aron Quartett was joined by Daniel Ottensamer on clarinet. It was an enchanting and dramatic piece. I admit, most of my attention was focused on the clarinetist due to his good looks. That being said, I’m truly being honest when I say that he is the most talented clarinet soloist that I have ever heard. He has amazing tone quality and mastery of technique. When he climbed into the high register, I just sighed happily at the purity of his sound. It did not once break or sound airy like so many clarinets that I hear. I thoroughly enjoyed this musical adventure.

 

 

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When I studied abroad in Vienna, Austria, I took a course called Vienna and it’s Music Live. It was wonderful! Part of the requirements were to attend at least 8 performances and write a review as well as our thoughts about it. The majority of the performances I went to were at the Staatsoper (State Opera House). For 3-4 Euros, I could see a performance in standing areas. That is a phenomenal opportunity! Seats for the performances could be anywhere around 50+ Euros, so you understand why I saw so many shows even though my feet would be sore afterward!

Here is my little review of the first live opera I saw called La Sonnambula by Bellini:

April 1, 2011

La Sonnambula – Bellini

            La Sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini is the endearing tale of a young woman with a secret unconscious habit of sleepwalking that gets her into serious trouble with the town. The light-hearted and fairly shallow plot fits perfectly with the bel canto singing style which embodies the music of this opera. In fact, I think Bellini focused on making the music outshine the actual plot of the story.

The opening overture is light and playful, setting the mood with its lack of depth. As the curtain opened, I exclaimed at the breathtaking staging that the Wiener Staatsoper chose. It really made me feel as if I was staying at a fancy hotel in Switzerland with the grand table and place settings and giant windows. The rousing Viva chorus had my spirits lifted. I wasn’t expecting Amina to be a maid of the hotel, though. She did have quite a beautiful voice, but I preferred Natalie Dessay’s vocal abilities and portrayal of the role personally. There were times when she was very forward in her sound production, and it almost sounded strained. Lisa, the hotel manager, had a good voice, but I didn’t believe it to be strong enough. She seemed like she might have been more comfortable as a mezzo-soprano. Elvino had a decent voice for opera, but I’m not sure he was ready to be cast in a style where so much relies on the vocal abilities that bel canto demands. Count Rodolfo had the strongest voice and character presence of the main cast in my opinion. His costumes were a bit over-the-top, and he must have been sweltering in all of the (faux) fur he was garbed in.

I expected there to be a scenery change into a bedroom setting when the second scene began, but the original set-up remained. The Count’s attempted seduction of Lisa in the empty dining hall didn’t seem as believable. Amina sleepwalked from the outside of the hotel into the main dining hall which also confused me. Where did she originally come from? The Count settled her down onto the floor and covered her with his massive cloak, which was the only indication that he could have been accused of being involved with her.  Morning arrives, and the townspeople catch her on the dining hall floor, and an uproar of accusations arises.  Elvino’s renouncing of his fiancé was a little too dramatic, accompanied by the sudden blowing in of a blizzard into the middle of the room from an open window.

In the beginning of the second act, the pile of snow was still in the middle of the floor along with a broken piano, and the hotel looked nearly deserted and out of business. This was another confusing aspect that I wish I knew the director’s motivation behind this. I did find the duet between Amina and Elvino to be very endearing as she pleads and he turns her away. In the next scene, Lisa redeemed herself with an aria, believing herself to soon be married to Elvino instead. This is not to be, unfortunately, because they find one of her stockings at the scene of the “crime” with the Count. Amina sleepwalked in through the window once more and down the snow pile, which was again strange and a bit dangerous because there were many obstacles in her way that she could have tripped over. It would have been cool to see her sleepwalk out into the audience as was shown in the production we saw in class. The finale was fairly celebratory, but I thought it to be a bit sparse. It would have been great to see dancing everywhere in a wedding celebration, but mainly it was Amina dancing on top of the table in a gaudy red dress. This was probably to put emphasis on the voice of the singers, but it seemed a little lackluster to me.

All in all, I enjoyed this opera as a light-hearted pursuit, but I didn’t experience anything monumental leaving it and was bored at some points. I may want to see it again in another venue with different voices before I pass a judgment on it.

 

 

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