(Above: Robert Wilson and half the cast of Grace for Grace. Photo Montblanc)
Opera Chic was in gorgeous Montecarlo last week to celebrate the launch of Montblanc's Collection Princesse Grace de Monaco line among a VIP guest list including royals (Princess Caroline, Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene) and celebrities (dainty Steel Magnolia flower Daryl Hannah and Emmanuelle Béart).
The evening began at the intimately-luscious Opéra de Monte-Carlo for a Robert Wilson-curated vignette of performances by Shenyang, Bryn Terfel and Diana Damrau (among other performers such as Rufus and Martha Wainwright) and the evening continued to the Hotel de Paris for an elegant gala.
Out of the 350 travelling members of The Metropolitan Opera (which includes singers, orchestra, chorus, ballet, and staff) it's Diana Damrau’s eight-month-old son Alexander that is the biggest star of the company's current Japan tour. The New York City opera company touched down in Japan on May 30 for three weeks of concerts and operas (Lucia di Lammermoor, La Bohème, and Don Carlo) from June 4 - 19 in Tokyo and Nagoya. It's The Met's seventh Japan tour, and this year is chaperoned by Italian conducting super-powers Fabio Luisi and Gianandrea Noseda.
Soprano Marina Poplavskaya, tenor Marcelo Álvarez, tenor Rolando Villazón, and tenor Alexey Dolgov all came to the resque of the casting department when Anna Netrebko and Joseph Calleja pulled out of the tour at the last minute, citing radiation fears despite the all-clear from a team of scientists.
Other principals on the tour are Diana Damrau, Barbara Frittoli, Ildar Abdrazakov, Piotr Beczala, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Mariusz Kwiecien, Yonghoon Lee, Željko Lučić, and René Pape.
Follow The Met's Japan tour through photo here and here!
The Metropolitan Opera kills us softly with the news that tonight's La Fille du Régiment leads, Diana Damrau (sweetie down there) and Juan Diego Flórez (hottie up there), have pulled out of the production due to sickness.
Filling in are Lawrence "JDF" Brownlee and Leah Partridge.
German soprano Diana Damrau covers her sweet goldilocks with an angsty razor cut for Jules Massenet's Manon, which opened at the Wiener Staatsoper last week. Conducted by Betrand de Billy, Damrau is in the title role as Ms. Lescaut vs. Ramón Vargas's Des Grieux. New Yorkers barely have to waitfor Damrau to sing again in NYC because she kicks-off her Big Apple takeover on January 24 at Carnegie Hall, where she's singing against James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for Beethoven's 5th and a Strauss/Schubert program.
There are many things Opera Chic -- still back in New York for the summer -- misses about Milan: things like restaurants and concert halls and galleries and cobblestones and stores and torrefazioni and rosticcerie and the way a particular church is illuminated at night, especially at midnight, in that silence, and yes she misses even some select people -- but the good thing is they'll all be there when she's back eventually.
Sadly Diana Damrau, who appeared earlier tonight at la Scala in a much-awaited recital, won't be there when OC is back -- missing tonight's recital gets more painful the more OC's inbox and cell gets filled with txt and email telling her just how amazing the whole evening was.
First things first -- Diana being Diana, not just Opera Chic's female singer of 2008, but quite simply one of the very few sopranos of her generation who will certainly be remembered among the greatest, up in the Olympus of opera, and Diana being Diana it wasn't your usual piano+voice recital. No piano on that august stage, but a hawt French harpist working his big bulky thang -- Xavier de Maistre was Diana's partner.
The program made for an eclectic night of Strauss, Fauré, Debussy, with some awesome encores -- a Bellini aria from I Capuleti e i Montecchi, then Schubert's Ave Maria. Some of the messages OC is getting from across the ocean:
"She makes everything sound so EASY I don't know how she does it"
"She thanked us because everybody was so concentrated nobody moved or coughed! She spoke in Italian to say thank you and that she was happy to be here and then added in English: 'The audience here is special: it's like a studio but with energy!' We all loved her and gave them so many bravas and bravos"
"The harpist is so hot!!!!!!!"
And then OC is told stories of Milanese ladies of the old skool, usually aloof in their "I've heard it all already from la Maria and la Renata and all the others, let's hear this goofy German girl sing our Bellini now then let's go to dinner OK?" jump up in an impromptu standing ovation by the end of the recital, saying things like "phenomenon", because Diana is like that.
While reading the program OC felt it was worth it the plane ticket to Milan, round trip, just to hear Damrau sing Strauss's "Wiegenlied" -- Opera Chic can just imagine being there: happy... then sad... throughout the concert as Damrau sings in three different languages, switching from whisper to prayer and back again, because it's as if she's sitting right next to you then she's airborne, circling the globe, she flies like Superman, then rushes back to earth and circumnavigates your heart. It's all there, really, if you know her voice and you're familiar with what she sang tonight -- it's there, in full, after the jump:
Surprise choice? If you think so, you have never heard him conduct. Fabio Luisi is Opera Chic's Conductor of the Year 2008 because he has a German brain and an Italian heart. Because with the Dresden Staatskapelle – “Dresden’s gold”, wrote the following day august Corriere della Sera newspaper -- he appeared at la Scala, in a benefit concert, and showed those of us who were ready to listen that Heldenleben (with the original finale, and Konzertmeister Kai Vogler teaching how you play the violin) is a masterpiece of subtlety and even irony far different than the usual windbaggy, sappy, irony-free piece we’re accustomed to hear (and that includes Herbie, genius as he was, photographed with his airplane and his Porsche, triumphant over his enemies). Luisi can do Wagner, he can do Italian opera (AND he recorded “Jerusalem”, that forgotten Verdi masterpiece). Because he once conducted in a Pink Panther costume (long story). Because his website seriously rules. Because he published his autobiography in Germany and Austria, and he isn’t even 50. He went so native that now he even speaks Italian with a faint Teutonic inflection. He has two cute pugs. Luisi downright rawks.
SINGER OF THE YEAR, FEMALE Diana Damrau Because if an alien race of giant rabid mutant penguins threatened to invade Earth she’d wear her Queen of the Night costume and she’d stare them into submission even before opening her mouth. Then she’d proceed to bash all their heads with a baseball bat and she’d make herself an alien penguin sandwich. On rye. With mayo.
SINGER OF THE YEAR, MALE Ernesto Palacio What? He retired years ago? Yes, he did – as a singer, OK. But he manages Juan Diego Florez in a way that he makes us wish he ran the careers of so many singers of great talent we see crash and burn for so many reasons. Maestro Palacio is behind Juan Diego’s decision to drop for the time being the Duke of Mantua after one preview in Lima and one run in Dresden; Palacio understands that the increased visibility that Verdi gives you is not worth damaging your voice; Verdi (except for Fenton, but you don’t really build a career on that role) is too heavy for Juan Diego’s perfectly tuned instrument. Hence, he will not push his voice to do Verdi. Better to be the king of Rossini and Donizetti, “el mejor tenor libero de la historia” in Placido Domingo’s words, than to be just another tenor who pushed his voice and crashed and burned. Opera Chic knows he’s busy but she’d like Palacio to be an adviser for her personal decisions, too – like a life coach. Fish or chicken? Ask Palacio. Seaside or mountains? Ask Palacio. Creme brulee or panettone? Ask Palacio.
OPERA PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR Salomé, with Nicola Beller Carbone, directed by Robert Carsen, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, Teatro Regio di Torino Salome in a Vegas casino vault? Horrible slimy old men stripping down during the dance of the seven veils instead of Salome? Salome surviving the end of the opera, in a genius plot twist? Leave it to Carsen to twist the Strauss opera on its ear finding new layers of meaning in that wonderful way of his. Whenever Carsen is on, he’s totally on. Noseda (OC did not hear him conduct when she saw Salome, it was his night off, but she's well aware of his work) may be the most underrated major conductor out there. And Teatro Regio di Torino does very interesting first class productions without the same massive amount of public financing enjoyed for example by la Scala.
NEW WORK OF THE YEAR “Elogium Musicum”, Hans Werner Henze On October 2, 2008, Riccardo Chailly conducted in Leipzig Hans Werner Henze's latest work, Elogium Musicum Amatissimi Amici Nunc Remoti, the 25-minutes elegy Henze wrote -- with prominent Classics professor Franco Serpa's Latin text -- in memory of Henze's companion of more than 40 years, Fausto Moroni, who died unexpectedly in April 2007. It's the story of two falcons always flying side by side, until one of them disappears from the sky; the music begins as a heartbreakingly beautiful string quartet, in quiet and serenity that gets increasingly animate -- then the second movement, "Nox", Night, becomes dissonant and chaotic and upsetting, a tempest of sorrow.
It's a stunning work by a man who had to endure a crushing blow and nevertheless turned it into art, a work made even more heartbreaking by the fact that, as the music in the finale seems to resign itself to disappear into nothingness, an alto saxophone appears, faintly at first, then stronger: it's Fausto. And Hans Werner Henze's dark night of the soul ends in the warm light of an Italian dawn.
Well, what to say of a work of such power? In the indifference of the blissfully distracted American media, German opinion immediately understood that we are dealing with a historic work here: Neues Deutschland called the elegy Henze's "Opus summum", the pinnacle of his work. The economy and precision of Henze's writing reminded Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of Verdi's Quattro Pezzi Sacri. "History is being made again, finally, in Leipzig", exulted the Leipziger Volkszeitung.
This is just a silly blog of a silly girl somewhere on the Internet; and our calling Elogium Musicum the new work of the year 2008 is nothing. But our admiration is real -- as is the timeless beauty of that elegy.
DUMBEST DECISION OF THE YEAR La Scala unions' strike for 3 nights of Dudamel's Boheme. The winner, hands down, is the Scala unions who senselessly -- and masochistically -- chose to sink the first three nights of Gustavo Dudamel's "La Bohéme" at la Scala. A hot young conductor, an interesting young cast (among them the really cool James Valenti) and Franco Zeffirelli's super-famous staging of the work, all at la Scala, made for a really cool event. The cancellation created a flurry of reimbursements for the three sold-out shows, didn't do anything to advance the contract drama that was protracted to this month a few hours before la prima and is probably not entirely over yet anyway. What it did, it punished the audience and disrespected a conductor who had already conducted an interesting Don Giovanni at la Scala -- but who won't appear in another opera here in Milan for a while now. The opera had the eventual greenlight by the unions in the second half of July, in the semi-deserted city, in the silence of the international media -- despite Dudamel's prominence -- and even hometown paper Corriere della Sera relegated the show to a small notice. But then la Scala's leadership in shooting themselves in the foot is a well known fact.
Below, Dudamel's triumph in Berlin with the same opera.
If you've ever fantasized about a mulleted Juan Diego Flórez fondling (fondueing) the bewbs of a topless young lady who happens to be naked aside from black spandex bottoms and a giant eagle head, you've come to the right place. Thanks to the 8-bottles-of-Robotussin-induced direction for the Staatsoper Dresden's Rigoletto, Nikolaus Lehnhoff begins Verdi's timeless masterpiece with a Hieronymus Bosch bang, which by Scene II, dies back down to a barely audible LeRoy Neiman fizz.
~*OC*~ made two flickr sets of plasma screen shots from the ARTE "live" broadcast of the June 21, 2008 Rigoletto at Staatsoper Dresden to satisfy all your Flórez needs.
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Go here for the Safe For Work set of 50ish images from the opera.
Go here for the Not Safe For Work set...JDF cupping Act I bewbs.
Ignore that silly baby blue house of dolls the director has trapped her in; nevermind those zany ninjas waiting to kidnap her. Just listen to her phrasing, witness her colors come alive. And watch her fall asleep, safe in the arms in love. To steal the show from the greatest tenore di grazia of this age on the night of his first big Duke of Mantua, you need a voice like this, and this kind of dramatic truth.
Opera Chic is awed by the brilliance of Diana Damrau's star, even in that darkest night of Regietheater.
Just a teaser because it's late; and until tomorrow, enjoy the photos and just a few words -- tonight at 7PM Juan Diego Florez debuted in Europe his Duke of Mantua, his first big Verdi role (unitl now he had steered clear of all Verdi except for his delicious Fenton) that he had introduced to the world in Peru two months ago.
At 9PM -- just the time to crudely edit out all intermissions and the big ovations after the big arias -- Arte Tv has broadcast the entire show via satellite. Here are some images from the insanely bad production -- whose director thought a good idea to burden JDF with a terrifying mullet, a tragic ponytail in Act II, 1970s dinner jackets, leather trench coats, leather vests (revealing not-so-toned upper arms -- el mejor tenor del mundo needs to hit the gym a bit because, for once, we'd like our opera legends of today and tomorrow and of the day after tomorrow to be ripped, if at all possible) -- the Duke of Mantua in the Dresden production was in fact the Duke of Star Trek, presiding over a court of devils, lizards, crows, space aliens with grey metallic skin, topless girls with giant pigeon heads.
How was his Duke, ignoring the visual horror of the production? Juan Diego created a nervous, capricious monster of egotism with a hidden romantic, sweet streak -- whose lighter tenor voice cannot obviously match the greatest, thuggish Dukes of the past, but whose beautiful phrasing, warmth and clarity -- oh the sheer beauty of Florez's voice -- can make us understand not the Duke, but Gilda better.
Because it makes us understand how is it even possible to die for his lies -- even his "dear name", of course, is as phony as everything else about him.
The fact that Gilda was Diana Damrau -- not simply the queen of the night but one of the very few queens of nowadays opera, really at the top of the game -- only made the night more special. And it was difficult not to swoon for the Staatskapelle's sound, thanks to Fabio Luisi's intelligent reading of the score -- a dark, burnished hearbeat pulsing through the night, with a wonderful transparency of sound, rich of German depth and Italianate warmth.
Of course, with a different, saner director in Niki Lehnhoff's place and Leo Nucci as Rigoletto we'd be able to call tonight's Rigoletto "the Dresden Rigoletto" the same way we say, fer example, "the Lisbon Traviata". But since the only true giant of this impossible role, il maestro Leo Nucci, wasn't part of the cast, we can only say that, yes, Zeljko Lucic's Rigoletto was vocally correct, if dramatically inert.
Much more, of course, tomorrow.
Long story short? Mei says it better -- and more charmingly -- than anyone else:
¡Qué dominio de la expresividad! ¡Qué técnica más prodigiosa!
A bada$$ program (Robert & Clara Schumann, Mendelssohn, Berg, our immortal beloved Alexander Zemlinsky -- that forgotten giant of the 20th Century -- and finally Richard Strauss) from an artist at the top of her game, with three encores and a last gem to thank her public of the many deserved ovations: Del cabello más sutil by Fernando J. Obradors flaunting, Mei guarantees, flawless Spanish diction.
For those of you who haven't caught the diva ranting (and let's give a hearty thanks to reader Crew Mantle), here below is a YouTube clip (#2 on google rank for "Diana Damrau"). We love her Ice Capades glitterific bodysuit, her gothy, Count Chocula widow's peak, and that crazy look in her eyes as she fondles the knife.