Giuseppe Verdi


A weekly Quixotic pursuit for appreciators of opera who don't expect too much, would-be appreciators of opera who don't know what to expect, and those somewhere in-between,
such as your host.

Thrown together in haste every
Saturdee morning by
Rip Rense

Giacomo Puccini

SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 62: Good/Bad Production Edition

The ridiculous Achim Freyer/LA Opera "Ride of the Valkyries," from
Wagner's "Die Walkure." Bicycles and light-sabers, I ask you.

The S&M "Carmen." Roberto Alagna and Elina Garanca.
 Can cunnilungus be far behind?

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
"Carmen," by Bizet. Slam-bang. 

These days, every "Carmen" is nearly topless, with (usually massive) breasts pumped, primed, pushed like rising zeppelins. And "Carmen" is generally no more lascivious than Miley Cyrus, openly suggesting and/or simulating fornication, fellatio, and other forms of uh, good fellowship. It's ridiculous, of course, part of these dumbed down, hypertrophic, vulgar times. So here is a pleasing (I hope) throwback to the soprano who essentially owned the role at the Metropolitan Opera in the '40's, and '50's, Rise Stevens. A civilized "Carmen," where all was conveyed in voice and subtle gesture. The "Habanera," or "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" ("Love is a rebellious bird.")
Setting: A square in Seville
Synopsis: After appearing out of the cigarette factory, Carmen seductively sings about love and its unpredictable actions. 

Just for contrast, here is wonderful Anna Catarina Antonacci and her trained breasts. (I am omitting specimens with flagrant S&M.) 

The "Ride of the Valkyries" from Wagner's "Ring" cycle, has been staged in almost every conceivable fashion, but this is one of the funniest, or, depending on your viewpoint, most creative. It is fun to watch, at least, though I don't imagine Valkyries---goddesses on flying horses who carried fallen soldiers to Valhalla---on see-saws, know what I mean? Great singing here, regardless. This is the recent Met production by Robert LePage (new one coming in 2018), in which a huge, creaky machine transformed into different abstractions, from scene to scene. Good or bad, you decide. 

Then we have the version introduced by Bob Hope.

Sticking to well-known scenes from opera, here is "La Donne e Mobile," from an unusual Met production of Verdi's "Rigoletto"---set, apparently, in. . .Las Vegas! A prevalent idea in opera these days is to make the settings as wildly improbable (I would say preposterous) as possible, and then claim all sorts of intellectual import. Yawn. But the singer is quite good, Piotr Beczala. With English captions.
Setting: The inn of Sparafucile
Synopsis: The Duke of Mantua, disguised as a soldier, sings that all women are fickle and that they will betray anyone who falls in love with them. (Note: No, haven't seen many soldiers in tuxedos recently.) 

There was an enormous flap about "Madame Butterfly," (so to speak) when it premiered---as a flop---at La Scala in 1904. Roars, howls, laughter, bellowing, guffaws greeted the opera, which since became one of the most loved in the genre. Can you believe it? The acts were too long, the Japanese folk elements artificial, and Puccini was accused of cribbing from his own work (the act 3 duet of "Boheme")---so wrote outraged critics. (Today, the opera is ridiculously criticized by politically correct fascists for "yellowface.") "Butterfly" is almost always staged intelligibly, intelligently, with liberties erring on the side of symbolism. Here is a bit of a novelty---the very pleasing animated sequence of "Un bel di. . ." ("One fine day. . .") from the engaging "Opera Imaginaire." 
Setting: Butterfly's house
Synopsis: Three years have passed since Butterfly's American husband left her. Her servant Suzuki, tries to convince her that he isn't coming back, but Butterfly is convinced that he will. She sings of the day that he will return. She dreams of him sailing into the harbor and climbing up the hill to meet her.

More about Opera Imaginaire: 

Not all of the most loved moments in opera are arias, duets, etc., involve the main characters. There are wonderful ballets in opera, and choral pageants. The chorus, "Va Pensiero," from Verdi's "Nabucco," became a de facto Italian national anthem, and there is nothing more delicately arresting than the "Humming Chorus" from "Madame Butterfly." Well, here is a fun bit from "La Traviata"---the rousing gypsy chorus and matador dance. "Noi siamo Zingarelle" ("We are gypsies.") Nice, traditional production, to boot! 
Partial translation: 
Full translation: (search for "gypsies") 

Oh, and by the way. . . 

Gounod's "Faust" is another opera that had a rough beginning. It was rejected by the Paris Opera, for starters, for not being "showy" enough (hard to believe.) And there were cuts, and showings in lesser venues---and the addition of a ballet sequence---before it caught on in 1862. It has been standard repertory ever since, which is more, sadly, than can be said for Gounod's other eleven operas. (You know Gounod, of course, from his arrangement of "Ave Maria.") Well, here is a scene from a "Faust" production that is creative without being nonsensical or pseudo-intellectual. He said, pretentiously. Here is "Le Veau D'or," or "The Golden Calf," featuring a rather large one. The great bass, Ruggiero Raimondi, does the honors. With English captions.
Synopsis: Appearing in the midst of a celebration by Valentin, Wagner, and their student friends, Mèphistophélès sings about greed and men's susceptibility to it. No! Shocking. 

This Wagner production makes the one posted earlier (the Met's recent "Walkure") look old-fashioned and quaint. A pretty good example of the idiocy permeating operatic productions today; the product of directors and producers who are legends in their own hinds. First of all, you have lots of people in Spiderman suits suspended from the ceiling. Add to that costumes that are like rejects from "Lost in Space" for the rest of the cast---and the fact that the "action" has nothing to do with the events supposedly taking place, and you have a feast for poseurs and lightweights. Oh, well, but it does have the virtue of weird, anyhow. This is the "Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla" from "Das Rheingold," in which the hopelessly corrupt king, Wotan, essentially sells his soul---and the souls of all around him---for a new home in the clouds (built by giants, no less), Valhalla. All proceed across a rainbow bridge into the new digs. The rough analogue for the average person: a weekend in Vegas. (Coming soon: the "Vegas Ring Cycle," no doubt.) This is an ending that is supposed to be dramatic, moving, fraught with implication and irony, and yes, even triumphant, in a fateful, bittersweet way. Er. . .doesn't quite happen here. I'd advise not even thinking about this very much. (Note: very weak applause fully warranted.) 
Translation: (scroll down to "Golden at eve")

What was I just saying about an operatic weekend in Vegas? The Met beat me to it, with last year's insane production of "Rigoletto," set right in Sin City. (See previous post, "La Donne e Mobile.") Too bad, in this case, that "what goes on in Vegas didn't "stay in Vegas." Understand that "Rigoletto," by Verdi, was based on a play by Victor Hugo, a tragedy involving the randy Duke of Mantua, his hunchbacked court jester, Rigoletto, and Rigoletto's beautiful daughter, Gilda. The opera's original title, "La maledizione" (The Curse), refers to the curse placed on both the Duke and Rigoletto by a courtier whose daughter had been seduced by the Duke with Rigoletto's encouragement. The curse comes to fruition when Gilda likewise falls in love with the Duke and eventually sacrifices her life to save him from the assassins hired by her father. Got that straight? Take it away, Vittorio Grigolo! "Questa O Quella," or "This one or that one." 

For comparison: 

Just so you know. Mimi never had chemotherapy. She did not go to a cancer ward, or any hospital at all. But don't tell that to the producers of a new "Boheme" in Oslo. This brain-trust felt compelled to stage "Boheme" in, uh, "fresh" fashion. Evidently Puccini's score and stage directions are inadequate, and the story just not sad enough! Here is the summary:
"A cancer victim lies dying in an intensive care unit, the twenty-first-century poet Rodolfo at her side. When the EKG machine flatlines and a medical team fails to revive her, Rodolfo, wild with grief, reanimates her in his own fantasy world as the nineteenth-century Mimì. A hospital janitor becomes Marcello, doctors become Colline and Schaunard, and a nurse becomes Musetta."
As Jack Paar used to say a hundred years ago, "I kid you not."
Marita Solberg's singing is perfectly wonderful, even if she looks more fit for a role on "E.R." 

Now here is the way to present an opera. Step one: Hire Zefferelli. Even at 94, as he is today. Here is the conclusion of his treatment of "Turandot," by Puccini. No Spiderman costumes, no human mountains, no hospital wards.
The plot of this fairy tale, in this scene:
The Prince has a riddle for Turandot: "You do not know my name. Tell me my name before sunrise, and at dawn, I will die." Turandot accepts. She admits that ever since she met the Prince, she realized she both hated and loved him. She asks him to ask for nothing more and to leave, taking his mystery with him. The Prince, however, then reveals his name: "Calaf, son of Timur – Calaf, figlio di Timur", thereby placing his life in Turandot's hands. She can now destroy him if she wants Turandot and Calaf approach the Emperor's throne. She declares that she knows the Prince's name: Diecimila anni al nostro Imperatore! – "It is ... love!" The crowd cheers and acclaims the two lovers (O sole! Vita! Eternità). 
Translation: (scroll to scene two)

Saturdee Opry Links Encore!
Enrico Caruso sings the Neopolitan song, "A Vucchella." 

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