Les Fetes Vénitiennes - Les Arts Florissant

I never thought I would say that I hated an opera production.  Even the poor Met performances I've attended have never made me feel like I've been insulted.

But I loathed this production, I hated its relentless vulgarity and how it insulted my intelligence.

So we began with a thinly veiled "black mass" showcasing a Luciferian puppet complete with a crown that had the all seeing eye on its third eye chakra.  Subtle.  Then we had another character come out as the Whore of Babylon complete with imps wearing wigs mimicking the horns of Baphomet.  To top it off, the whole black magic shindig was completed with an orgy.

I wish I was kidding but I'm not.  That is what this opera subjected its viewers.  All under the puerile guise of being "outrageous".  No, No, NO, they were not being outrageous.  I could have seen what they showed on late night Cable.  I could access hard core pornography on the web at any time, if I wanted.  But that is not what I wanted to see in Opera.  I highly doubt Andre Campra, the poor late composer, thought that his opera celebrated Lucifer.

I read an interview regarding the production beforehand.  The creators were all about giving opera comique to contemporary audiences.  Audiences who didn't want to watch the same old historical piece.  Well, this viewer wanted to see an historical production.  I would have liked to see the opera staged in a fashion that the royalty of the early 18th century saw it.  What was wrong with pretty costumes done in a comedy dell'arte style?  It still could have been cheeky.  I mean little Bo Beeps dressed in cute pastel dresses surrounded by masks can be cheeky.  No one needed to see topless women.  Yes, there were female dancers missing their bras.

But no, they had to push the YOU ARE IN HELL!!!!! style.  So everything was a garish red.  EVERYTHING.  From the lighting to the sets to the ugly costumes.

All of this, I could have overlooked if Les Arts Florissant gave me good singers.  BUT NO!!!!  The supermodel types are back with their shitty voices that can't be overheard over the orchestra.  Which is really poor because Baroque orchestras are quite a bit smaller than what Verdi employed.  Only three singers in the whole production were worthy, they were Rachel Redmond, Marcel Beekman and Cyril Auvity.  The runners up were Elodie Fonnard and Jonathan McGovern.  But really, besides the three who could actually sing and be heard over the orchestra, the rest should leave the stage...forever.

But the orchestra did well.  At times the chorus was very good.  When they were not required to hold black mass orgies.

All I can say is AVOID this production.  But if you have to see it, then go.  But don't say you haven't been warned.  I'm hoping I can one day see a truly worthy Opera Comique staged in the beautiful, witty and sarcastic style that royalty of the day expected.  But this wasn't it.

Lucifer Welcomes You to the Opera! See, I wasn't lying.


Esmeralda - Carla Fracci and Stephen Jeffries

I've just discovered that many of the little clips of Fracci in period pieces were part of a television mini-series regarding the history of 19th and early 20th century ballerinas.  At the time it was filmed, Fracci was 51 years old.

Also I have to repeat how wonderful it is to see two dancers just dancing and celebrating the choreography.  They aren't turning the performance into vanity showcases.  They aren't slowing down the tempo to give themselves some leeway to pose like Barbie dolls.

The Esmeralda solo in particular is quick, sexy and witty.  Traits that are sorely missing in the piece as it is danced today.  As usual the Russians have slowed it down to Frankenstein monster tempo and it looks something like the monster tap dancing to "Putting on the Ritz" in Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein.  They also changed the choreography to that vulgar, gymnastic move where the ballet dancer hits the tamborine with her foot in a huge grand battement.  Just so we can get a crotch flash along with the showcase of unwanted flexibility.  And of course, everyone follows the Russian lead and now anyone seeing the piece today, thinks it is a drecky, vulgar, overly cutsey mess.


At time mark 17:07, watch how Esmeralda should NOT be danced but how everyone does it anyway...because Russians.


Simon Boccanegra - Placido Domingo

I bought tickets to this opera a few months back and even then it was mostly sold out.  Except for some partial view seats.  And they were really partial view.  Box seats in family circle practically above the stage.  I had to lean over the box and look down in order to see the performers.  Many times, my view was obscured.  But that didn't bother me too much, I got to hear Domingo and exciting up and coming performers.

After my last visit to the opera, I thought that maybe the fun experience I had in "Tosca" was just a fluke.  But luckily this production restored my faith.

The acting was fantastic and this time it was married to gorgeous voices.  Everyone was on key and heard above the orchestra.  Placido Domingo, was of course, wonderful.  My new fave rave is Lianna Haroutounian who played Boccanegra's long lost daughter, Amelia Grimaldi.  She was so beautiful with a top vocal range that was like crystal.  Her voice had a clarity that ran though me and reverberated so much that I felt like living bell.  Again I understood why many people become obsessed with Opera.  Because that feeling, of having a vocal sound move through you and rearrange every cell in your body is absolutely heavenly.  It can be addictive.  And it is so disappointing when voices don't reach that stratosphere.  My other new favorite was Joseph Calleja who played Gabriele Adorno.  He also had a gorgeous tone that cut through the orchestra and was bolstered by it.

The story?  Well like most operas, it was a tragedy.  Domingo played it to the hilt.  Could he have been stronger vocally?  Yes, of course, but he is not a young man anymore.  Still he has a command that isn't a strong suit of the younger singers being touted nowadays.

This lack, is not only evident in Opera but in ballet and even drama.  There seems to be no presence, no sense of craftmanship and bravura these days.  People schlump onto the stage, do their thing and that is it.  No more and no less.  Why?  What happened in the past 20 years for such a change?

I advise everyone to get tickets to this production if they can.  Not only to see Domingo but to hear future mega stars like Haroutounian.


Dance Theater of Harlem - Divertimento, Change and Return

Dance Theater of Harlem returned to City Center for their NY appearance this year.

What I love about this company is that they never forget that they are a Neoclassical BALLET company.  And this aim is carried through all of their repertoire including their newly commissioned works.  No matter how modern it gets, DTH never allows toe shoes and classical training to be forgotten or ignored.  I also think it helps that one of the most beautiful ballerinas of the 20th century, Virginia Johnson, is protecting the flame at DTH.

The company troupe is smaller than what it was before their hiatus.  But that doesn't stop their ambitious projects.  It is also a more mixed company with an eclectic mix of dancers of all races. However its aim to promote black artists has not faltered.

My favorite dancer of the night was Ingrid Silva.  Maybe I'm a bit biased because I'm a short person, but Silva sparkles among the tall girls.  She is pretty, sprightly and graceful.  I've noticed tall dancers have more balance wobbles and slower reaction times.  This doesn't mean I don't think they are beautiful.  The long classical line of tall dancers is lovely.  Which is why they are so popular to cast.  However the loveliness comes with the impediment of slow movement.  Tall dancers just can't pull their limbs in quick enough and the rare dancers who could (Merrill Ashley) are few and far between.  There is a wholeness to how Ingrid Silva (and other small dancers) moves.  You can actually see the choreographic through line of the steps on her body.  Simply because she is not composed of long, wavering limbs but a compact, no nonsense whole.  I really wish ballet would come back to the norm of smaller dancers.  They simply move better, freer and the steps aren't bisected by out of control body parts.

The opening night began with Elena Kunikova's Divertimento.  Chyrstyn Fentroy and Lindsey Croop were substituted for Alison Stroming and Silken Kelly.  I was a bit disappointed that Alison Stroming was not performing that night.  I follow her youtube channel and was looking forward to seeing her dance.  However Fentroy was beautiful.  The choreography was a classical tribute to all the great ballets.  It was great to see all the dancers very careful to be classically rounded in the arms not jazzy neoclassical.  There is a prevalence today for pointy elbows and claw hands in dancers today that is simply awful to look at as a ballet fan.

The next standout to me was Change choreographed by Dianne McIntyre.  Which was a tribute to DTH and minority women.  It was a lovely mix of classical and folk dance.

The highlight was Return choreographed by Robert Garland and set to contemporary music of James Brown, Aretha Franklin etc.  The style was an exciting mix of just regular dancing and classical ballet.  It was distinctly an audience favorite.  The only caveat I had with the ballet were the costumes for the women.  They looked like bikini bathing suits with little skirts attached to them (see above photo).  Now, I'm not a prude but I'm baffled by this costume trend to revealing the bodies of female ballet dancers sans tights/leotards.  Seeing ripped musculature of the dancers goes against the grain of the art form.  Also I'm not a fan of also witnessing bruises and scrapes garnered in the pursuit of the art.  Yes, I know female ballet dancers are only human.  But I don't need personal verification that even the skinniest of dancers has wobbly bits on her body.  Despite the questionable costumes, I loved this ballet.

If you the time, get tickets for the last few performances of this great company.


Manifest Destiny - The Musical

I was looking for a clip of Lewis & Clark when I happened upon this gem.  Oh so funny.


Sarah Lane rehearsing Sleeping Beauty

Sarah Lane has posted a video of a rehearsal for Sleeping Beauty.

She looks lovely as always.  My only caveat is that the tempo is way too slow.  After seeing the sparkle and flash of the Moira Shearer recording, everything else looks as though it is being danced underwater.


Happy Easter

Have a great Easter everyone.

For you viewing pleasure, a clip of Moira Shearer in Sleeping Beauty.  It seems to have been taken from one of her acting films.  So the choreography is a bit truncated.  But it still showcases how beautiful a dancer she was at the time.  It is such a shame that she was not appreciated at the time.  It is also sad that we don't have more video records of her dancing in full length ballets.  People now are crying for more opportunities to see her dance outside of The Red Shoes.

In the clip you can see the glory of classical choreography done right.  No overly slow tempos.  In fact seeing Aurora's wedding solo done at tempo is a revelation.  I've been so used to seeing it Russian slo-mo speed that the delicacy of the choreography is lost.  In this clip, the steps sparkle!  I also love Shearer's regality and poise.  There is a business like brio to the ending positions that state her Aurora is now an adult and taking on adult responsibility.  So lovely.  I wish I could see dancing such as this now.

For Opera fans, this is Le Nozze di Figaro from 1973.  It stars beauties such as Frederica Von Stade, Kiri Te Kenawa and Ileana Cortrubas.