A Passionless Tosca

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January 26, 2014
From Seen and Heard International By: José Mª. Irurzun

GermanyGermany Puccini: Tosca, Deutsche Oper Orchestra and Chorus, Matthias Foremny (conductor), Berlin Deutsche Oper, 22.1.2014 (JMI)

A year ago I saw this production of Tosca and Anja Harteros’s debut in the role. We have now moved from a special occasion to a mostly routine performance that held little interest.
The Deutsche Oper again offered the stage production by Boleslaw Barlog that has had 365 performances in this house. It turns 45 next April – a true marvel of longevity. It’s a production that is out of fashion nowadays, with realistic sets, costumes from the period when the drama unfolds and not even the slightest provocation. The sets lack nothing: the Madonna in a column as the libretto states, together with the stack and the chapel in the first act. And, of course, there are the crucifix and candlesticks in the second act, and the terrace, the angel and the view in the distance of St. Peter’s in the last act. It is a production to be recommended to nostalgic opera goers.
Last year Donald Runnicles was in the pit; this time it was Matthias Foremny and the difference is important. His reading was too slow in the first act, improved afterwards, but never moved beyond routine. Mr. Foremny’s reading was 12 minutes slower than Mr Runnicles’s last year, and the orchestra disappointed. A Tosca without passion is not acceptable to this reviewer.
Russian soprano Tatjana Serjan was a rather modest Tosca. Listening to her, one does not understand how she has become Riccardo Muti’s Verdi soprano of choice. Her voice is not too attractive in timbre and rather short of harmonics. She is a good interpreter on stage and offered a strong “Vissi d’arte,” but it was far from what Anja Harteros gave us a year ago.
Marcello Giordani was Cavaradossi, and his performance was unconvincing. His tenor has never been very bright in the middle range, and his vocal evolution has been fairly negative in recent years. As I said, the center was never his strength but today it is much duller than before, and his low notes are almost nonexistent to the point of being inaudible. The top notes are still there, but more insecure than before, particularly at the passage area. He went unnoticed at “Recondita armonia” but sang “È Lucevan le stelle” with gusto, although he had problems at some piani.
Baritone Thomas Hampson canceled as Scarpia and was replaced by Sergey Murzaev, who gave a recital of decibels and bad taste. There was not the slightest hint of nuances in his performance.
Ben Wager was Angelotti and his voice was poorly projected. Seth Carico was good as the Sacristan, but his voice sounds too young for the character. Jörg Schörne (Spoletta) and Andrew Harris (Sciarrone) were well suited to their roles.

Floria Tosca: Tatjana Serjan
Mario Cavaradossi: Marcello Giordani
Baron Scarpia: Sergey Murzaev
Angelotti: Ben Wager
Sacristán: Seth Carico
Spoletta: Jörg Schörner
Sciarrone: Andrew Harris
Production: Berlin Deutsche Oper
Direction: Boleslaw Barlog
Sets and Costumes: Filippo Sanjust

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Superb Traviata—with Skeletons

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December 28, 2013
From Seen and Heard International By: James L. Zychowicz

United StatesUnited States Verdi, La traviata: Soloists, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Massimo Zanetti, (conductor), Civic Opera House, Chicago. 20.12.2013 (JLZ)

All of the elements that contribute to the appeal of Verdi’s La traviata were fully in place for Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production. The casting, staging, and acting all came together to pay homage to the story’s nineteenth-century setting. Massimo Zanetti gave a convincing reading of the score, which had a sense of drive and direction while never seeming the least bit rushed. The orchestral timbres were heard clearly not only because of the rich, textured sound from the pit, but also through Zanetti’s attention to dynamic levels that brought out some of the more intimate sonorities.
In the title role Marina Rebeka was convincing musically and dramatically, with a commanding performance that remains strongly in memory. Stylish and persuasive, Rebeka had no problems with demands of range or tessitura and delivered a clear reading of Verdi’s melismatic passages. While this is de rigueur in the opening “Libiamo”, it continued at the end of the act in “Sempre libera” and also in the second act, with Rebeka’s duet (with Germont) “Dite alla giovine,” and in the final act aria, “Addio del passato”—her precision accentuated the pathos.
Joseph Calleja was outstanding as Alfredo, a role he commands fully in range and technique. His “Libiamo” had exquisite phrasing and dynamic nuance, and the duet with Violetta, “Un di felice,” was also memorable because of Calleja’s sense of detail. Calleja was powerful at the opening of the second act, when he realizes the sacrifices Violetta made for him as expressed in the cabaletta “O mio rimorso.” Calleja gave a bravura performance, with a full range of dramatic emotions, plus clear and idiomatic phrasing. His duet with his father Giorgio Germont was also powerful, as was the acting that defined the tense relationship between the two. Such dramatic pitch continued in the dénouement, with the duet “Parigi o cara” evincing a masterful balance between the emotional relationship of Alfredo and Violetta and the musical demands of the scene.
Quinn Kelsey gave an intense approach the character of Giogio Germont. Kelsey’s rich, deep, bass-baritone was just about perfect, and he was expressive throughout. The duet with Violetta, “Dite all giovine” was persuasive, but the scene with Alfredo at the end of the act was even more powerful. Here the conductor Massimo Zanetti did not take the usual cuts, but performed the latter in its entirety, perhaps reflecting Kelsey’s intense performance. The estrangement between Giorgio and Alfredo was even stronger in the act’s final scene, when they confront each other during the decisive party at Flora’s home. Kelsey was utterly convincing, and more importantly, sang with conviction.
The production merits attention because of the ways it evokes the period. Accoutrements of mid-nineteenth century Paris are present, plus some modern touches. The party scene costumes emphasize the decadence of the milieu. Also, the use of life-size puppets for the party at Flora’s at first seems gratuitous, but the skeleton shapes prefigure the death that takes placed in the final scene. Those puppets return in shadow in the opening scene of the final act, when Violetta hears the revelry outside her chamber, where the skeletal shapes portend the tragic conclusion.
While some may quibble about moments when the volume of the orchestra covered some of the vocal lines, it is hard to dispute the result. In this fine, new production, Michael Black’s chorus preparation was evident, as was the orchestra’s contribution with Zanetti.

Violetta Valéry: Marina Rebeka
Flora Bervoix: J’nai Bridges
Marquis d’Obigny: Will Liverman
Baron Douphol: Nicholas Pallesen
Doctor Grenvil: Richard Ollarsaba
Gastone de Letorière: Adam Bonanni
Alfredo Germont: Joseph Calleja
Annina: Julie Anne Miller
Giuseppe: John Irvin
Giorgio Germont: Quinn Kelsey
Conductor: Massimo Zanetti
Director: Arin Arbus
Set Designer: Riccardo Hernandez
Costume and Puppet Designer: Cait O’Connor
Lighting Designer: Marcus Doshi
Chorus Master; Michael Black
Choreographer: Austin McCormick

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Interview with Video Director, Tiziano Mancini

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Chiara Amarù HS
Tiziano Mancini is the video director for the Rossini Opera Festival. He was also the video director for almost all of the “Tutto Verdi” series, operas filmed exclusively in honor of Verdi’s Bicentennial. And in December 2013, Mancini made his debut as Stage Director for Verdi’s Otello at the Teatro Verdi in Salerno.

Nick del Vecchio: You mentioned in your email that you videotaped over 200 performances starting around 2001, how and when did you begin your filming career?

Tiziano Mancini: My involvement started with the coming of the new system for digital editing. I am the founder of Metis Film which today is known as Metisfilm Classica with two associates who are highly trained technicians. We have put together a modus operandi which has allowed and still allows us to obtain work of good quality at a low cost.
The basis for all this is that we do careful research and select the most suitable shooting and editing systems that get the best results for us. Above all, there are many possibilities for us because the market has a wide range.

NDV: What did you do to prepare yourself for this career?

TM: I studied the arts in High School and, after that, I spent a year in set design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Urbino. Then, I attended the Academy of the Performing Arts in Bologna.
Before finishing the University, I thought I’d try to join the working world by starting Metis Film which turned out very well for me. I began to move into the world of audiovisuals doing nearly everything: I was a cameraman, a fitter and a director.
My educational background is linked to the world of performance, and it suggested that I connect the theater and the video recording world and even musical theater, which was far from the practice of video recording.
My own “digital recipe” is now working and has taken off in a short time. That explains the 200 videos in less than ten years.

NDV:What is your process in preparing for a video of an opera? Do you work with the Stage Director?

TM: My method of working is totally original. First, I film with a wide camera lens and set the dress rehearsal performance. With that, I decide all the camera movements, and I store them vocally in a laptop with the correct advance times created by us. During the recording of the opera, the computer sends the commands by way of an intercom to the operators. I check that everything is correct and, if necessary, I confirm or modify the commands.
There are other small tricks I use, but they are just part of my whole working concept.
I rarely collaborate with stage directors because most of them are not involved with the world of video recording. However, I have good relationships with them, and they have full trust in my work. I discuss the final editing with them, especially those who have worked in cinema.

NDV:What organizations/opera companies do you work for?

TM: Our major contractor is UNITEL CLASSICA in Munich, Germany. They produce most of our operas and own a television network which includes 26 classical music channels in many countries and are involved with the largest music festivals in European theaters.
In the past, I have collaborated with RAI, Italian State Television and now with SKY TV, an international pay-for-view for which we have recorded two operas in 3D: Falstaff at the Teatro Filarmonico in Verona and Aida at the Arena in Verona. Whereas in China, the last two operas I recorded were produced directly by the NCPA theater, ( National Centre for the Performing Arts, the opera house in Beijing).

NDV:Do you decide what operas to film or do the opera companies come to you with a proposal?

TM: I often propose operas from the Italian repertoire to UNITE; however, from abroad, they are the ones to decide what operas to film.

NDV:In your email you mentioned that you are in China to film Turandot with a Chinese cast and an ending to the opera by a Chinese composer, would you describe how the experience has been?

TM: I filmed Un Ballo in Maschera and Turandot. It was an exhilarating experience because the theater supplied very professional equipment and the shape of the theater itself allowed us to work with various pieces of equipment. For example, I was able to work with two Jimmy Jibs and one can see the result, especially with Turandot, there’s a lot of movement, above all, in the opera’s most static moments.
I was surprised by the young ages of the Chinese audiences. They are not familiar with the world of opera, but are very attracted to it.
At the moment, it is not possible to do shows with contemporary interpretations outside of the historical context in which they are set. They need time for this. But in China, marvelous opera theaters are cropping up in major cities, and in my opinion, this art will have a great future there.

NDV:Do you film by yourself or with a staff? If with a staff, who are they and what do they do?

TM: My team is made up of 14 people including the cameraman, the staff of “Making of” and the ones that do the audio recording. Professionally speaking, I avail myself with very capable people who have professional points of view and many of us are Italian. As the Germans say about us, “When everything is on fire, you give the best of yourselves.” We know how to work with great ingenuity in those moments of crisis, and I can tell you that by now emergencies are standard.

NDV: After watching your videos of Mosè in Egitto and Adelaide di Borgogna from the Rossini Opera Festival, I wondered what decisions or adjustments did you make in filming them, since Mosè was in the Adriatic Arena and Adelaide in the Teatro Rossini?

TM:The decisions I make always depend on the working space I have available and the type of opera. The Adriatic Arena is an indoor stadium which becomes a theater for the Rossini Opera Festival.
It is a very difficult space to work in because the stage directors have to make use of it while working with very complex operas such as Mosè in 2011, Zelmira in 2009, and this year’s Guillaume Tell.
I am always forced to invent something using various equipment such as Jimmy Jib and Steadycam,* along with hanging video cameras and other equipment that we invent ourselves. In the Rossini Theater, it is a lot easier; I adapt the same camera position because the traditional theaters offer less space for positioning the equipment, alternatives to the simple video cameras mounted on a tripod.

*Jimmy Jib is a robotic camera crane and Steadycam is used to produce smooth moving shots with a camera rig. ( Jimmy Jib was previously mentioned in #6 without a footnote.)

NDV: Do you teach courses about filming opera videos, and if so, where and to whom?

TM: I have been given a professorship of directing TV as is applies to the theater at the Opera Academy of Verona. But the course has yet to come about. I don’t have a lot of time to devote to teaching. I hope to have more time in the future.

NDV: My readers are very interested in your professional career, would you like to add anything else concerning the interview?

TM: At this time, after having experimented with 3D Technology, we are interested in 4K ( enhanced HD.) It is my objective to be able to make musical theater into a type of experimental cinema. I am not interested in experimenting with “Live” opera in places outside of the theater which has been done with Turandot, Rigoletto and La Cenerentola.
If one goes outside the theater, you need to have the courage to experiment and live taping is never an advantage because it limits the most interesting aspect of experimentation. I have taped “Assassino nelle cattedrale,” by Ildebrando Pizzetti, twice within a five year span. The first one was in Basilica di San Nicola a Bari and, again last year, in the interior of the Duomo di Milano. I tried to insert some scenes that were taped outside of the opera in order to show some important and suggestive moments of the story. I believe one could say the experiment was partly successful. Opera is not a sports competition in which we do not know the outcome. We all know what is going to happen at the end. It is better to make your ideas work rather than lose yourself behind useless operations in the marketplace of live taping that are, in and of themselves, expensive and don’t add anything to the future of the art form.
In December, I will make my debut as stage director for Otello at the Teatro Verdi in Salerno with a cast that includes Gregory Kunde, Dimitra Theodossiu and Renato Bruson.*
Also, this year I have taped two Otello productions, one at the Palau de les Arts di Valencia and the other at the Palazzo Ducale di Venezia which has already been shown on TV on October 10th, G.Verdi’s birthday. In both cases I had Kunde as Otello. Now I find myself as a stage director for the first time, and it seems it’s always Otello. One could say that Otello and Kunde are my “ obsessions” for 2013.

*The Otello performances took place on December 6, 8 and 10, 2013.

English Translation by Rosann Petrella Gonzalez and Nick del Vecchio

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