Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The End of the (Classical Music) World?

For those of us who love classical music, doomsday predictions are a part of everyday life. While the Chicago Symphony is (reportedly) courting the ultra-conservative Riccardo Muti as its new music director, two of the country's most prominent orchestras are charting a new course. Alan Gilbert (age 40) is the new music director of the New York Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel (age 26!!) is set to take over the Los Angeles Philharmonic in two years.

In fascinating recent articles, The New York Times has profiled both conductors. And if their talent is equal to their youthful energy and enthusiasm, they could breath new life into this supposedly floundering genre.

(Photo by Dan Porges)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Syracuse Opera's "Rigoletto"

An opera can survive a few technical flaws. But when the singers are overmatched and emotionally disengaged, any production will fail.

Syracuse Opera opened its new season Friday night with a lifeless production of Verdi's Rigoletto. To succeed, this opera requires three strong voices in the leading roles. A single weak link is damaging, but this triumvirate was catastrophic.

As Gilda, soprano Judy Berry displayed the strongest voice, albeit a somewhat unpleasant one. Her glaring botched high note at the end of Act II was unfortunate, but predictable: Throughout the night, every high note--the moment at which arias culminate and audiences rejoice--was an uncomfortable stretch for her.

Baritone Constantinos Yiannoudes, as Rigoletto, and tenor Marc Schreiner, as the Duke of Mantua, seemed completely overwhelmed by their roles, unable to project into the hall. Schreiner in particular was frustrating. Maybe he was saving his voice for the third act, but even "La donna e mobile," one of the core arias of any tenor's repertoire, was a disappointment. If, at this moment, he doesn't sing out in full voice, when would he? Truth is, he probably doesn't have the voice to handle such a demanding role in such a large hall.

The Syraucse Symphony Orchestra tried valiantly to avoid covering the singers, but to no avail. Conductor John Mario Di Costanzo kept the orchestra's dynamics so low, the drama and color of Verdi's score was mostly lost. And the singers still couldn't be heard.

But more distressing was the lack emotion on stage. Opening night jitters could be to blame, but the singers appeared cautious and stiff, making sure they were always making the correct gesture in the correct spot on stage. In only one moment--Rigoletto's "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata" in Act II--did one of the principals let down his guard. As Rigoletto sang of his love for his daughter Gilda, Yiannoudes engaged the audience with gestures and singing that seemed spontaneous and genuine. The crowd felt his pain and devastation, and responded immediately, rewarding Yiannoudes with the evening's loudest ovation. But as the opera deteriorated into a climax of murder and deceit, the cast never reached those emotional depths.

Rigoletto is such a dramatic story, with the fundamental themes of love, betrayal, and vengeance. But the even keel of Syracuse Opera's current production robbed the audience from the full range of Verdi's emotional journey.