Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Met Live HD Encore: Iolanta/Bluebeard's Castle

by Dwight Casimere

Photos: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

NEW YORK--Directed by the gifted Mariusz Trelinski of the Polish National Opera and conducted by Valery Gergiev, the Metropolitan Opera's Met Live HD series gives and Encore Presentation of its stunning double bill of  Tchaikovsky's Iolanta and Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle in theatres globally this Wednesday, February 18 at 6:30pm local time. The event is a rare ooportunity to see two of the Met's most gifted dramatic sopranos in one sitting and to experience two vastly different, but masterfully realized, productions.

Iolanta is a showcase for the dazzling soprano Anna Netrebko, whose portrayal of the blind, trapped princess Iolanta, is among the highlights of the year, only outdone by her portrayal of Lady Macbeth earlier in the season. Imprisoned physically by the fact that she is blind and emotionally by her domineering father, the King, Iolanta is eventually freed by the power of love in the person of her ardent suitor, the Prince, sung eloquently by tenor Piotr Beczala. The opera, performed mainly in darkness, with a somewhat irritating rotating box as the main set, ends awash in light, with Iolanta regaining her sight and marrying the man of her dreams.

Bluebeard's Castle is a verty different affair. Dark and atmospheric, it recalls the look and feel of the black and white horror films of old. Think Nosferatu. With Nadja Michael as Judith, the doomed bride, blindfolded in a slinky emerald gown and Michael Petrenko as Bluebeard, sporting a single black leather glove in a cage-like torture chamber, one would have thought they had slipped into the screening room for the kinky hit movie 50 Shades of Grey, rather than a Met opera performance.
 Nadja Michael as Judith in Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle
 Mikhail Petrenko as Bluebeard and Nadja Michael as Judith in Bluebeard's Castle
Bartok's shimmering atmospheric music quickly sets you straight. Director Trelinski's use of projected digital images is most effective in creating the chilling, constantly moving kaleidoscope of Bluebeard's horrific doman, which portends the fate of the wary Judith. Nadja Michael manages to deliver a restrained performance, allowing the sense of dread to build without going over the top. At times, she seems both mystified and solidly aware of the true nature of the beast she has married. 'How could anyone be so cruel?' she ponders. The reality comes to a resounding conclusion that leaves both she and the audience in hushed astonishment. Go see it. For information, visit metopera.org or fathomevents.com.

Monday, February 16, 2015

David Zinman conducts Barber's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra with Lisa Batiashvili and the New York Philharmonic

 Conductor David Zinman
Violin Soloist Lisa Batiashvili with her 1739 Guarneri "del Gesu" violin

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK--The sympatico between New York-born guest conductor David Zinman and Georgian-born Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-In-Residence Lisa Batiashvili could not have been more palpable in their peformance of  Samuel Barber's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.

Zinman's assuring tempo and deft handling of the intricate melodies that emerged and receded in the Andante and Presto in moto perpetuo created the perfect platform for Batiashvili's soaring tone with her 1739 Guarnerri "del Gesu" violin. The two had performed the piece together several times before in Europe, but this was their first time performing it in what the artist called "its home" in America. It was by all measures a commanding performance. There were moments of sheer ectacy, notably the oboe solo by principal oboist Liang Wang.

Zinman opened the program with an evocative reading of the piece "Iscariot" by The Marie-Josee Kravis Composer-in-Residence Christopher Rouse. Inspired partially by the name of Jjudas Iscariot, Christ's betrayer as recorded in the New Testament, the work is at once autobiographical and riddled with musical references to Bach and his cantatas and the work of the composer  Gustav Mahler. The piece begins with  startling opening strokes from the timpani and hammer and moves through a series of  airy and eerie passages that are punctuated with the rare appearance of the celesta, providing added musical color. The composer took the stage for a much-deserved standing ovation.

Sergei Rachmaninoff's  Symphony No. 2 in E minor mined its several Romantic themes which have been turned into popular songs and film scores for all of its sweeping drama. Zinman had the orchestra playing from its collective heart right to the thrilling conclusion which bristled with restless energy. Yo Yo Ma brings his Silk Road Ensemble to Avery Fisher Hall Feb 18-21 with an additional Chinese Ne Year concert with Yo-Yo Ma Feb 24. The orcherstra then performs Sibeliius and Brahms with Frank Peter Zimmermann, Violin Feb 26-28. For tickets and information visit nyphil.org.

Michael Feinstein at Carnegie Hall

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK-Michael Feinstein is currently on national tour and is also in the midst of a series of concerts at Carnegie Hall and at Jazz at Lincoln Center, exploring the Great American Songbook and the music and, specifically, the music of George and Ira Gershwin. His perfiormance Wednesday, February 4 featured Special Guest, vocalist Catherine Russell along with his trio, consisting of Tedd Firth, rotating with Feinstein on the piano and Sean Smith Bass and Mark McLean on Drums. The program ' S Wonderful...'S Marvelous...'S Gershwin! played to a capacity audience.

Feinstein, the multi-platinum-selling, two-tinme Emmy and five-time Grammy Award-nominated entertainer proved why he is called "The Ambassador of the Great American Songbook" in an intermission-less nearly two-hour program  that explored in depth the Gershwin musical legacy. His interstitial commentary gave added depth to the evening, providing personal anecdotes and observations gleaned from his years of work preserving the Gershwin musical legacy for future generations. For six years, Feinstein lived in Ira Gershwin's home, cataloging his music and gathering background information on his many songs and collaborations. His new book, The Gershwins and Me (Simon and Schuster) is combined with a new CD of Gershwin standards. Feinstein is host of the nationally syndicated PBS radio program 'Song Travels' and serves on the Library of Congress National Recoprding Preservation Board and serves as Artistic Director of the Palladium Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana.

Feinstein's commentary and interpretation of the Gershwin masterpieces elevated the evening beyond the realm of mere performance to make it an all-encompassing experience. Vocalist Catherine Russell with her magnetic personality and pitch-perfect delivery caressed the lyrics in a manner that channeled the late Abbey Lincoln.

Like Feinstein, Russell's pedigree is substantial. The daughter of the late Luis Russell, who was the long-time musical director for the great Louis Armstrong, and Carline Ray, a pioneering vocalist-guitarist and bassist who performed with Mary Lou Williams and Ruth Brown, the native New Yorker has garnered critcal acclaim of her own.

Giving flesh and blood to the lyrics is Feinstein's stock-in-trade. In discussing George Gershwins efforts to bring his premiere accomplishment, the opera Porgy and Bess to the stage, Feinstein recounted backstage that "George Gershwin first presented the opera to the Met, but they refused because it would have required having an all African American cast of singers on their stage. That's when he went forward to produce the show on Broadway. It wasn't all that well received, but it proved that there was a pool of classically trained African American singers and it eventually became the most enduring American operas of all time."

According to Feinstein, Gershwin was determined to bring his creation to the stage, in spite of the naysayers. "What people don't know is that he explored various American cultures before deciding on African American folk music as the basis for his opera. He looked at Jewish music, American Indian music among others, and decided that his opera must be based on the music of African Americans. Gershwin called it a "folk opera," but obviously, audiences see it as much more than that.  The test of time has proven the wisdom of his decision."

Feinstein's next performances at Carnegie Hall are February 26 and March 25. For tickets visit carnegiehall.com.

Backstage at Carnegie Hall with Michael Feinstein

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


By Dwight Casimere
Photos: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Met Live HD: Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta /
Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle—New Production

February 14, 2015, 12:30 pm ET
U.S. Encore:Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 6:30 pm local time
Canada Encore:Saturday, April 11, 2015 at 12 pm local time
Monday, April 13, 2015 at 6:30 pm local time

NEW YORK--Opera lovers will have a unique oppportunity to see the Metropolitan Opera's brightest new star in a new production custom-designed to showcase her blazing talent, when Anna Netrebko stars in Iolanta in a double bill with Bluebeard's Castle at theatres globally. The Met Live HD production takes place this Saturday, February 14 at 12:3pm Eastern Time with an Encore Presentation Wednesday, February 18 at 6:30pm local time.

 Netrebko is captivating as the blind poet/princess who is sheilded from knowledge of her affliction by her domineering father, the king, sung nobly by bass Ilya Bannik, replacing an ailing Alexei Tanvitski. The brilliant tenor Piotr Beczala is Iolanta's ardent suitor Vaudemont. Famed Polish director Mariiusz Trelinski, who heads the Teatre Wielski-Polish National Opera, which co-produced the Met staging, uses as the centerpiece a rotating box, in which Iolanta seems to be trapped. A video image of a fleeing deer is projected onto a curtain at the outset. When the carcass is dragged onstage later in the opera, the imagery between the fallen animal and the trapped Iolanta becomes apparent. Trelinski, a revered director in his native Poland, is apprently inspired by the films noirs of the 1940s, and his isolated box and black and white set is apparently an homage to that era. However, the idea falls flat. Viewing it in the massive setting of the Metropolitan Opera stage, it seemed somewhat affected and pointless. I found my mind drifting away from the vocal action center stage and focusing my attention on the taxidermy on the back wall, the box becoming more of a distraction than anchoring the story. It will be interesting to see how his idea plays out on the big screen Saturday.

The opera, with its lyrical, almost cinematic music by Tchaikovsky is a vocal tours de force for Netrebko and she is a wonder to behold. The role is demanding and she is only seen at the very beginning and the end of the opera, with the male parts sung in the middle making for a weighty treat. The opera is a short one, less than an hour and a half, and is paired with Bartok's modernistic Bluebeard's Castle, a dark piece is there ever was one, to fill out the afternoon.

Netrebko's character, despite her blindness, is filled with light. There's even a happy ending, which is rare in opera. Met stalwart Valery Gergiev commands it all majestically from the pit. Go see it. It's a great opoportunity to see one of opera's new greats in action.  Time and a prior scheduled performance review commitment kept me from staying to see Nadja Michael star in Bluebeard's Castle, but that gives me something to look forward to this weekend. A protest group interrupted the curtain calls for Iolanta during the storm-that-wasn't delayed opening night, but they were nowhere in evidence on subsequent nights, so don't expect any added drama other than that provided by the Met.  For tickets and information, visit metopera.org or fathomevents.com
 Anna Netrebko in the title role as Iolanta
 Famed Polish film director Mariusz Trlenski's three-dimensional box set
 Tenor Piotr Beczala is Iolanta's ardent suitor Vaudemont
Anna Netrebko, the blind poetic princess Iolanta with her ladies in waiting