Saturday, March 12, 2011

Queen of Spades: Three, Seven, ACE

I have a new object of hero-worship and his name is Andris Nelsons.  I spent much of Friday night on the edge of my seat (which, unbelievably, was in the orchestra section and obtained at student price 15 minutes before curtain.)  The Met's Queen of Spades, in a suitably moody production, romantic and stark by turns, and always stylish, is cast this season without a weak link; each of the principals brought impressive vocal artistry and theatrical intensity to their respective roles.  Pictures from previous runs of Elijah Moshinsky's 1995 production may be found here and here; update: pictures from this run here.  I feel I'd be better able to evaluate it if I were more familiar with the score, or other productions, but it served well to highlight the contrasts between the "normal" world of St. Petersburg and the fateful trajectory of the obsessed Hermann.  I'm not quite sure I understood the device of the picture frame, although it did serve as a dramatic demarcation between Hermann and society in the scene at the ball and elsewhere.  The restricted color scheme also helped keep even the grandest scenes from the merely spectacular (a scenery-applauder was shushed, and my soul rejoiced, but unfortunately they found strength in numbers on two occasions.  Premature applauders were also shushed, twice!  Overheard conversations confirmed the impression that although there were empty seats, those who were there were enthusiasts.)  For a quick synopsis of the opera go here.

Secondary roles were cast strongly, and the chorus--no surprise--was excellent.  I can't comment on anybody's Russian, Gentle Readers, for which I apologize profoundly.  I did learn how to call a woman "a beauty" last night, though: krasavitsa!  And that мой друг/моя подруга is a bit like the French "mon ami(e)," as it can be used for a friend or a significant other... I think.  Dina Kuznetsova made her Met debut as a charming Chloe, and  Paul Plishka and Adam Klein brought strong characterization to Sourin and Tchekalinsky, respectively.   House stalwart Tamara Mumford sang Pauline and Daphnis, with lovely sound for both and distinctive manner for each.  Alexey Markov was, I thought, an excellent Tomsky indeed.  His vivid portrayal of the bon vivant was not cartoonish, and he sang both the Act I ballad and the dirty song of the final scene with vigor and fine melodic and dramatic shaping.

My eagerness to hear Swedish baritone Peter Mattei, vulgo dictu barihunk, live, was enlivened by this comments exchange, and I was not disappointed.  Can someone tell me how tall this man is, besides "very"?  This production played up Prince Yeletsky's status as grownup Prince Charming fantasy, and his majestic center stage entrance in an incredible cream-colored cape (yes, I want it) was arresting.  I don't mean to suggest that Mattei's portrayal was two-dimensional; in addition to commanding stage presence, he brought to the role both a sense of vulnerability and a decidedly steely aristocratic pride.  Also, his voice--powerful, sonorous, expressive and quite simply gorgeous--struck me as the kind that Opera Curmudgeons complain isn't around anymore.  "Ya vas lyublyu" was both meltingly tender and convincingly ardent.  Dolora Zajick--unusually for the countess, with an impressive career still in full swing--was formidable.  Age does not wither nor custom stale, it would seem, her lush, powerful mezzo tones.  She sang the role with commanding assurance, and it was easy to see why everyone was terrified of her.  My only quibble is that the portrayal was somewhat lacking in uncanny creepiness.  And since so much of the Countess' aura comes from her having known another world, making the rest of the cast and the audience uneasily aware of mortality and transience... I think it helps to have a diva of a different operatic generation from the rest of the principals in the role.  I still gasped when she appeared at the card table, though.

Karita Mattila was in her element as Lisa, convincingly passionate and neurotic.  She sounded slightly fatigued by the conclusion, but she was blazingly intense, and commensurately compelling, throughout.  To navigate the vocal demands and the feverish emotional states of her two solo scenes would be achievement enough, but she was really fine throughout, with gorgeously radiant top notes and dramatic descents into chest voice (not always perfectly smooth, but always thrilling.)  She was in good form, and it was a great performance.  I was--Really Shameful Confession--unfamiliar with Vladimir Galouzine before this performance, but I'm in no danger of forgetting him.  In the first scene, I feared that he might be merely awesomely loud, but these fears were assuaged.  His take on the character of Hermann is very focused; he is driven by his fascination with Lisa at first, and later by his obsessive need to know the Countess' secret.  Of his character beyond this, and his uneasy sense of his own doom, I didn't get much sense... but perhaps this is the very essence of obsession.  His descent into madness was convincing and unsettling.  Galouzine's timbre is very dark, and I would call it grainy, but he produced ringing high notes, and sang with undiminished fervor and strength over the course of the evening.  His scenes with Mattila were brilliantly tense, and his final aria was savage.  I was so wound up, in fact, that I emitted a small, inadvertent shriek when he shot himself.  The men behind me shook with laughter.  Sorry, men behind me (they left before the bows were over, but I apologized to the lady two seats over, and she said it was quite all right, so I've obtained some sort of absolution.)

This leaves only the best part.  The Met orchestra got the chance to shine like the world-class ensemble it is, under the baton of Andris Nelsons.  I had, of course, heard from all sides--newspapers, singers, bloggers--that he was great, but... holy goodness.  I hope Tchaikovsky's ghost is happy, because last night was a miracle of sustained energy and tension, dynamic subtlety, magnificent management of the orchestral forces.  I was literally given chills.  This was full-blooded romanticism with an anti-heroic twist.  I was on my feet for Nelsons' bow, and I wasn't alone. A great night at the opera.  (Also, I promise to replace the terrible pun in the post title if one of you presents me with an apt line from the libretto, which I can't find online.)  Bows:

Peter Mattei (Yeletsky)
Dolora Zajick (Countess)
A very happy Karita Mattila (Lisa)
And who am I missing?  Only the central character who's on stage in every single scene.  I have two excuses: 1) Galouzine bowed hastily, applauded the orchestra, and made his retreat; 2) people were so excited that they were standing up and waving things over their heads.
Andris Nelsons <3

Company: Mumford, Zajick, Galouzine, Mattila, Mattei, Nelsons


  1. Alexey Markov was great in godunov.
    p.s. on youtube there was even a video with him sing La donna e mobile:-)))

  2. I know who your vote is going to when Levine finally retires.

  3. I think Gaulozine started kinda rough in his first aria but, yeh, he really warmed up. As good as he was when Mattei opened his mouth ... can you believe (as per his bio) that he'll be making his Vienna debut this year?!?!?!? I mean he's been around for a while (great Count and Don G - with Trebs, Furlanetto, et al - I think on Met Player - highly recommended).

    Now to decide between another Boris and Nilsons conducting Mahler 9 with the BSO. Ugh.

  4. Saw Mattei in a concert performance of Onegin at Tanglewood. This was no hardship at all.

  5. @asperias: I did find Markov a fine Shchelkalov, but thought Tomsky displayed more colors, expression in the voice. Also, I believe you have found a textbook example of the "variety" video.

    @DTO Hee! Yes indeed, please and thank you. Although I would also be very happy with Luisi, cf. the Tosca that made me cry for days.

    @marcillac I admit to an initial worry, but all's well that warms up well and keeps on going! Wasn't it an exciting night? :) And... no, I can't! Weird. One of these days I will succumb to MetPlayer. In the meantime, I have a Matthaeuspassion with Mattei sitting around waiting for me to watch it.

    Die Qual der Wahl!!! The torture of choice! Also for me that of being in ruralest PA while Mahler 9 is happening. I haven't decided yet whether I can bear being devastated by Pape's Boris again... or whether I can bear not going a second time. Oh, opera.

    @stray Relieved to hear that you survived! ;) Really, sounds great. And on an Onegin-inspired note, what is it with Pushkin and these doomed letter-writers? Honestly.

  6. what have i found?

  7. @asperias Oh! Sorry to be unintelligible. Since a "variety show" is one including different unusual and (hopefully) interesting performances, I thought it might be appropriate to call a video of a baritone singing "La Donna è Mobile" a "variety" video!

  8. i don´t know, because i am not an english native speaker:)
    i looked on a web ( and according to it it seems Markov will continue to sing in the MET:), in Iolanta and Valentin? in Faust. No wonder.

  9. gerhaher is said to have won olivier award for tannhauser :-)

  10. I believe Peter Mattei is approximately 6'4". Riccardo Muti once joked about Peter Mattei's height by saying that in Italy they have a saying which translates as 'To be tall is already half way to beauty' (Altezza e mezza bellezza). I certainly think Peter Mattei is beautiful in his own way, so maybe there is some truth in the saying, haha!

  11. @catejones84 I'll have to remember that proverb! Thanks for the anecdote and the info.

  12. today you can listen online to this Queen of SPades, f.e. here:


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