Monday, June 2, 2008

All'alba vincerò! (not)

Photo by Stefanos

I had been waiting for this Turandot for quite a long time. The names were so promising that I was sure I would watch a wonderful performance.

The set during intermission

The first shock came when I entered the Odeon. The set was vast, it covered most of the stage and looked really ugly, poorly manufactured and definitely not elegant. But I tried to convince myself that the ugly cuts on the set were just gates and once the performance had begun I would forget about them.

The set just before the performance

Am i the only one who can see these ugly cuts?

I already knew Renata Scotto’s work as a stage director by her previous Madama Butterfly and Lucia di Lammermoor at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall some years ago and even if those were not the most original mise en scène I had ever watched, they were pure opera, traditional and sentimental.

What La Scotto tried to create for this Turandot, was a 3 level performance. People would move on the floor (first level) and then there would be the Palace interior where Altoum and Turandot would move or be sitted, and then on a third level there would be the choir and the Mandarin. All children chorus was excluded from on-stage and we only heard them (with the use of loudspeakers. Loud speakers indeed…).

So il tuo nome! So il tuo nome!

What was the result? A kitsch extravaganza that insulted my aesthetics. A horrible chinoiserie. And creating a chinoiserie for Turandot is the worst thing that a stage director can do. Gold, gold and more gold, staircases (not to heaven), ugly costumes (all of them reminded me of something…..Turandot with a white immaculate dress and really REALLY long, black hair? How original!!). And what made it even worse was that Scotto had even castrated the parts of Turandot that usually cause impression… No gong for Calaf at the Act 1 Finale. The Ministers (Ping, Pang and Pong) were so boring that I could die of boredom during their scene in Act II. And then, when Turandot gives the OK for the death of the Prince of Persia, Scotto has put her, (totally Arena-di-Verona-like), behind the audience and she has an allure really mysterious and exotic....but then again when she comes on stage to sing at last her “In Questa Reggia” she just comes in walking in front of Altoum? If you wanna impress, do it with class dear Renata. If I could describe Scotto’s work with a few words I would say:

Second class, kitsch, provincial

(if not inexistant overall)

Diecimila anni, al nostro Imperatore

Il suo nome é Amor...

And then the finale! Padre Augusto blah blah blah, and on stage we see a bunch of ghosts (vampires???) that surround Turandot and we lose sight of her. And when the circle of ghosts finally opens, what we see is an aged Turandot with grey hair and wrinkles. And Turandot dies on the (golden) staircase in front of Calaf (who during all this time doesn’t move a bit!!!) while the choir is singing “O sole, vita eternitá”. End of the show.

Da vampires are here! (and Calaf doesn't give a damn)

Calaf is still hesitating...What are these vampiros lesbos doing to my girl?

I have seen tons of performances in which even a horrible production could not undermine a great set of singers. But that was not the case last night.

Yorgos Matheakakis’ Mandarin was weak, with a volume that hardly made it to the first rows of the Odeon. C’mon! Is that the best Mandarin you could find? He was like a bad joke! And while Ping, Pang and Pong sing “I ministri siam del boia” (we ‘re ministers of the executioner) what they should actually sing is “I ministri siam di noia” (we ‘re the ministers of boredom). Kostas Mavrogenis, Dimitris Sigalos and Nikos Stefanou, competed in who would offer the worst sung minister and the most boring one…I couldn’t say. I would probably award all three of them.

And then the 4 soloists. Dimitri Kavrakos still displays an impressive voice and a most expressive one but his Timur was flat and not interesting.

On the other hand, Elena Kelessidi as Liú won our sympathy (well, this is always the case for Liú) with her mellifluous singing and I give her kudos for not being distracted by the Act I incident (*at the very beginning of “Signore Ascolta” a woman started crying for help in the audience -really loud- as apparently her son had fainted. That was not all: During Turandot’s “In Questa reggia” a woman was carried out of the theatre unconscious. Both incidents were noticed by everyone in the Odeon*). Kelessidi’s “Tu che di gel sei cinta” might have been the peak moment during the whole performance but it was really undermined by the stage direction (or the total lack of it).

Franco Farina was a less than mediocre Calaf. He was actually bad. He fought his way through the role and he lost. Ugly sounds, terrible high notes, and above all a “Nessun Dorma” of an amateur and definitely not a tenor with such a career. As you can hear, his “Dilegua, o notte! tramontate stele!” lacked consonants! It was only vowels! And he even tried to sing the acuta in “ti voglio ardente d’ amor”! And the result was a squeak, a shrill awful noise but certainly not a high B (of course, neither here were the consonants present). If he dared to sing like this in another theatre he would be severely booed. And booed he got indeed in Athens at the curtain calls. And I think he was not that surprised…

Photo by Stefanos

I was anxiously waiting to listen to Janice Baird. And while I was getting more and more disappointed during Act 1, I was yearning for Janice as a remedy to this dreadful Act. But remedy didn’t come. Ms. Baird came on stage trembling and sang a most mediocre “In Questa Reggia”. Unstable, even off tone sometimes, with a low volume voice and some lapsus of memory (ok, I know the libretto by heart, of course I noticed), thin high notes and really not into her role. Imperial and dominating in Act 2? Nope, I would say lost and disorientated on stage, with a funny wardrobe and an even funnier turban in Act 3. That was definitely not the Brünnhilde nor the Isolde I adored.

Listen to Janice Baird (and F.Farina)- In questa Reggia

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Listen to Franco Farina - Nessun Dorma

Once again, the very same question was buzzing around my mind: Why the &*^% is Loukas Karytinos still conducting??? After last year’s fiasco at the Epidaurus Medea, this time with this Turandot he proved himself to be an uninspiring maestro, that can turn into pure boredom even the most wonderful piece of music like Turandot. Slow tempi, lack of support to his singers, wrong entrances of the orchestra etc etc. Even the Chorus of the Greek National Opera that have a –usually- high level were really below their standards. A special reference to Turandot’s servants who in Act 1 sing “Silenzio, olá! Laggiú chi parla?” and who are supposed to be ethereal and out of this world but instead they sounded like Ulrica’s long lost daughters….

Curtain call for Ping-Pang-Pong

Curtain call for Janice Baird

Curtain call for Renata Scotto and Carlo Diappi (the creator of the obnoxious set and costumes)

Productions meant to be of grandeur, need nowadays a totally different approach. I hope that this Turandot won’t set the standards for opera at the Odeon Of Herodes Atticus and especially for next years’ Aida which is going to be a co-production with the Arena di Verona and -as my spies inform me- will once again be directed by Renata Scotto (alas!)


Anonymous said...

Why did you erase all the comments?

Parsifal said...

Comments? what comments? All comments for Turandot have been left in the post below (Padre Augusto) for some unknown reason....

Ντεμης said...

Ὅ,τι κὶ ἂν ἔγινε, συγχαρητήρια σὲ σένα γιὰ τὸ πάθος καὶ τὴν ἀγάπη σου γιὰ τὴν Ὄπερα. Νοιώθω πὼς ὅσο ὑπάρχει τέτοιο ἐνδιαφέρον καὶ τέτοια γνώση ἐκ μέρους τοῦ κοινοῦ, κἄτι καλὸ θὰ βγεῖ τελικά!

Τώρα, ἀφοῦ διαβάζουν σε καὶ ξένοι, ἐννὰ συνεχίσω το στὰ ἀγγλικὰ καὶ σόρρυ γιὰ τὰ λάθη...: I feel you went in expecting too much, not realizing where we are! It's an regular opera performance in Greece, of a dificult piece not staged very often in these parts of Europe. We can't expect to hear Nilsson and Corelli in the Zeffirelli staging. (Sometimes I say that it's a blessing the Callas Medea and Norma in Epidaurus in the early 60's were not recorded live, they COULDN'T have been very professional!) I remember the famous pianist Dimitris Sgouros emerging furious from the Ethniki Lyriki some years ago after a performance of Ariadne auf Naxos, saying that works like that should not be staged if one cannot serve them with dignity and professionality. Maybe this applies here as well!

Farina was indeed mediocre, I want to ask you the very difficult question: who was in charge of signing him for this part, what are his credentials, based on what facts is he/she recreuting artists? Even Fragoulis or Boccelli would have done it better! Baird sounded better but she is no dramatic soprano! She should have sung Liú perhaps. It's bad for her, she 'll lose her voice singing this murder-role!

Finally, based on your fotos, I liked the staging. A little kitsch maybe yes, but it suits the opera. You should have seen Thais staged in Egyptian (ancient pharaonic Egyptian!) style in Great Britain where I studied!
The ending you describe sounds interesting. If I may dare an interpretation: these ghosts are something like the ancient Erynies, Furies, they came to punish her for all her crimes. They strip away her youth just like she took the lives of all those young princes. You must be worthy to receive the blessings of Love and she certainly is not! The moment she admits its existence, she falls as his victim. I have always believed that it's unfair for this blood-thirsty woman to suddently enjoy love ever after just because Calaf was a good kisser! So a death-finale we have, like in all other Puccini operas!
Sorry for the long comment, bravo to you Parsifal!

Parsifal said...

Thanks for the bravos Demis.

"Farina was indeed mediocre, I want to ask you the very difficult question: who was in charge of signing him for this part, what are his credentials, based on what facts is he/she recreuting artists?"

Well, we all know who is responsible for signing all these people. A guy who has a relation to opera equal to the relation that my 3 year old cousin has to do with modern architecture....Non-existent.

"not realizing where we are".

I have seen stunning opera productions in Athens. I can't take this for an excuse. I can remember a Turandot in 1996 with Francesca Patane and Nicola Martinucci that was a lot simpler, and poorer but a lot more real and sentimental.

The fotos are all shot during Act should have seen the Ping-Pang-Pong thing in Act2 or the executioners in Act1....Or the moment when the set "opened up" and the staircase came out, and together with the staircase came on stage (during the performance!!!) the technicians dressed in jeans that put the banister to the staircase...It was hilarious.

And regarding the ending, i already knew even before going what i was about to see, and i thought it was an interested idea, but nevertheless it was badly executed...Calaf was just standing there, still, and there was finally no...finale. No catharsis. And believe me, i go to opera for this catharsis...not to hear a failed high B flat...

Ντεμης said...

You are very right about that Tourandot in Athens 12 years (!) ago. I also remember one of the greatest opera nights of my life, it was here in Athens 10 years ago, in Verdi's Nabucco with Ghena Dimitrova (and I had heard then that in the premiere performance she was even better! And all this a few years before she passed away....)
Who knows what they 'll do to poor Tannhäuser next Season..... (Is it with Jonas Kaufmann, or it this asking too much?...)

Anonymous said...

OMG! Baird was FANTASTIC. Her voice is ENORMOUS. I was there. Maybe your seats weren't so good? The pictures look like they are very far away. BTW The recording of "In questa reggia" sounds wonderul. Thanks for posting it. How do I get a copy? How could you think she will ruin her beautiful voice singing Turandot? She just came from the Metropolitan Opera where she had a huge success as Isolde.

windgassen said...

Dear Parsifal,
Yes, I liked the staging too! I don't understand why you are so negative about everything. It was a lovely evening and there was a huge ovation from the audience.

Parsifal said...

I ve already published this comment of yours below, and have given you an answer regarding Baird and my seats.

Did i mention anything about ruining her voice???? I really like Baird and i hope that on Thursday when i m going back, she ll not be stressed and shaky as on Opening Night. You can email me for whatever you want (u know what i mean)

Parsifal said...

Dear Windgassen,

An opening-night audience (who still enter at 21.30 showing their desrespect towards everyone) never has been and will never be my compass. I trust my ears and my eyes only. And i know a lot of the backstage facts so as to know that even Scotto was not pleased with the result. And chatting with many people that work in the National Opera or who actually live for opera, there was a lot of disappointment...For both the musical and the stage result. I have nothing against grandes spectacles, i have enjoyed myself immensely at the Arena di Verona. But i get furious when i get the feeling that somebody (a director, a conductor, a singer) is making fool of me, the audience and the money i 've (we have) paid.

hypsophobia said...

Hello, I was there, and it was my first time in Herodios. Don't know what some of you mean about opera and singing, but I felt really far from this concept. In my opinion the biggest problem is that this theater is absolutely improper for the opera, comparing the acoustic with the Florence theater where I use to go (I live in this town), it was appearing to me that the singers, specially the soprano, was totally lost. Ms Baird was looking to me as someone continuously seeking for an acoustic feedback, going too high with the voice and resulting in a vibrato sforzato. Quiet disappointing is that Ms Baird cantato was completely incomprehensible. Not to mention the Maestro Karytinos conduction, really opaque. My opinion about this general fiasco is that: if you want to be serious with the opera go to a closed theater (Scala, Comunale, Megaro, ecc..); the show has been built around pour tricks, with a big lack of pathos. Regarding a final opinion over the singers, we have to wait them in a real opera house. And last but not least, 50 euros for the cheapest ticket and for this kind of show, is an armed robbery.

Parsifal said...

I'm glad that we agree.

50 euros is a robbery indeed if you consider that for the Renee Fleming recital the most expensive one costs 80e and for the Boris Godunov, in the Bolshoi-Aleksandr Sokurov production, the most expensive costs 60e. The tickets of the Greek National Opera have the last 2-3 years gone that expensive....

Don't complain, i have friends who flew to Athens, paid a hotel, bought an expensive tickets and now, after the fiasco, swear that they re never coming back...i wouldn't blame them.

hypsophobia said...

the last Opera I saw in Firenze is the Carmen, few weeks ago, with Zubin Mehta on the podium, amazing, and it costs me half. Regarding this Festival I see the same trend in italy too, with summer festivals, with the opera in open places, with fool prices, and sometime with microphones, disgusting. Regarding the opinion about Ms Baird intention to don't compromize her voice with an Italian Opera, I would like to remember that this opera need an American or a German voice, and not an Italian one, 'cause is too sweet.

with respect.

Anonymous said...

Yo, Parsifal. Based on the music segment you provided of Janice Baird as Turandot, she is not so bad to me. Not the greatest for sure and she is no Nilsson but that's no discredit to Baird. She is no Nilsson either as Isolde, by the by. Yo, very strange that Franco Farina chose to defend himself here. Reads like a basket case of insecurity to me.

belcanto said...

Dear Parsifal,
Well, everyone is entitled to his own opinion and taste. I liked very much this production. It was very tasteful, classical interpretation and very beautiful costumes. I speak italian and found the italian fine. Mr. Farino has a very large voice and very dramatic one. Calaf and Turandot are roles for dramatic voices. Miss Baird too has a very dramatic voice which I thought was very beautiful. I have heard Dimitrova, Jones, Guleghina and Marton live as Turandot and in my opinion she was just as good. The acoustic in the Odeon is very bad. So you have to allow for that. The local singers were not world class but also quite acceptable. I enjoyed the premiere.
Best wishes!

Popp Fanatic said...

Well, I went yesterday and I really liked it. Yes, the acoustics of the theatre are really unsuitable for opera and there WERE some projection issues. My seat was dead centre and half-way up in the lower tier, which I consider as optimal as it can get, and even there there were some audibility issues, particularly in Act 1. I would attribute a large part of this to the strong-ish breeze, which though excellent in terms of my personal well-being (I dislike the normal summer heat), also hindered voices from carrying properly. From Act 2 onwards the breeze died down a bit, as it usually does at night, and everything was much more audible.

I normally dislike traditional productions. I liked this one though; I found the fusion of modern aspects with traditional ones in the visuals (particularly for the costumes) interesting, and I found that the use of the dancers really helped those parts of the libretto which can dramatically drag terribly (the start of Act 2 in particular). I have to say that I was impressed by the professionalism and verve of the normally staid Lyriki chorus and ballet. Indeed the criticism of yours that I take most issue with is the "provincial" comment. I have seen far worse, unimaginative and, frankly, idiotic productions at the Met or at my local opera house (CG). I don't need to go far in the past to find examples: the idiotic Don G revolving stage at CG, the boring-to-tears Eyre Traviata, the moronic Met Romeo et Juliette. These I would truly call "χωριατιές", not yesterday's Turandot.

Musical comments: I also found that Baird had a rather unpleasant vibrato in "questa regia", but I also put that down to the poor acoustic feedback because it vanished after a point. Kelessidi impressed me (again), Kavrakos was fine and, you're not gonna like this, but I really enjoyed Farina's performance. He had a very large voice, by far the best projection in the cast, a very secure range and, though no actor, some good dramatic instincts (vocally I mean). I liked him. Honestly, other than the audiblity issues mentioned above I could find no real fault with the musical performance, and that includes the orchestra which in the case of the recent Boheme and Tosca I found bordering on the disastrous.

In my opinion this was a very creditable, extremely professional, hugely entertaining effort. There were some ideas that I didn't think worked very well (the ending was rather silly, a bit like Donna Giovanna :-) being taken down to Hell), but overall it would be unkind not to congratulate our favourite Civil Servants :-).

Parsifal said...

Hey Popp Fanatic! Long time, no hear! Glad you enjoyed yourself! My spies informed me that the last night (second) performance was light years better than the opening night! Oh, they also informed that Farina rocked last night and that made me happy indeed. Well, i couldn't make it yesterday (i had to watch the Papaioannou "Medea"), but i will be back tomorrow, Thursday, to watch Turandot again (first cast) and i 'll be happy to report that what i watched was 100/100. (BTW, you refer to the Francesca Zambello Don Giovanni? The one with Schrott and Poplavskaya?)

Anonymous said...

In one word, a mediocre performance.
In all aspects.(That's the permanent curse of our National Opera and in the past it was much worse!)
And the performance of Baird was a total disappointment! On June 3 there was no applause after "in questa reggia"!!!
I think the theater is not really the matter - i've seen Dimitrova, Gwyneth Jones and other dramatic sopranos there and they sound marvelous. Baird didn't give me the impression of a real dramatic soprano.
Also, few of the other voices were really good.
And the tickets were so expensive!
I also agree about the zombies in the end!

Parsifal said...

Well, thank god there was no applause after In questa Reggia, it would totally ruin the atmosphere...

Popp Fanatic said...

Parsi: yep, *that* Don G. I've seen it on 4 occassions (original cast with Terfel et al in 2002, then 3 performaces in 2007, two with Trebs/Schrott and 1 with Pops/Schrott). I hate it with a deep hatred, but it IS my favourite opera hence the repeat visits :-).

Re: applause, I find it as TERRIBLY poor form to applaud ANYWHERE in Puccini. OK, some occasions are now standard (the usual 3 in Tosca for example), but I still hate it, it truly ruins the atmosphere as you say.

Parsifal said...

Well, at least you got to listen to Netrebka, Poplavskaya and Scrott (and Gerald Finley maybe? I remember there was a time that Gerald was singing Don G and Ervino Schrottino was singing Lepo?

Popp Fanatic said...

Nope, I missed the 2003 Schrott Leporello (with Keenlyside as Don) I was in the army (!)

It's a terrible production but has been blessed with great singing. The 07 revival was much better than the 02 original; Trebs, Martinez, Ketelsen all superb, and I actually prefer Schrott to Terfel in this role. They say that the 03 Keenlyside run was the best of the lot, but I was in Avlonas then.

I haven't seen Finley live as Don yet, which is a shame as I am a big fan (best Count Almaviva I've ever seen).

mahler76 said...

Πόσο χαίρομαι που με γλίτωσες από αυτή την παράσταση...

Anonymous said...

It was amazing....i like it very much,i don't know very well the opera because i hear only Greek traditional music(dimotika)but it was good for me...big voices!!!

Parsifal said...


Jordi said...

Hi there, I was at the Herodion on saturday 7th, it was my first opera, so you can imagine I am not expert at all.

My wife & I were at row 12, we could hear the singers quite fine, although the orchestra was covering them most of the time, maybe because the best acoustics of the theater is in the original scene, where the orchestra was.

I have to say that I enjoyed it very much, except for the very disappointing finale, so weird that I did not know what had happened until I read your blog.

It may be a big topic, but who I liked most was Liú.

hypsophobia said...

regarding the newspaper comment... it's nice to be on the audience side (and paid to be there), instead of being on the stage with the risk to be compared to the legends of the opera, like Di Stefano, Callas, and so on. :-)

Parsifal said...

The newspaper comments were very harsh indeed....and believe me, i translated only what could be translated and published....

Parsifal said...

@ Jordi

Glad you enjoyed it! And you would have enjoyed a lot more if this Turandot was not so mediocre overall. I wasnt there on the 7th of June (last performance of the first cast) and cannot give any opinion but i' m sure that Liu was the best one!