Sorry for the long silence. The past ten days have been so busy from early in the morning until late at night that I just didn't succeed in writing anything for the blog in my spare time.
First and foremost, we have finished preparing our production of Britten's Death in Venice. The dress rehearsal was on Wednesday and we open tomorrow evening. Alan Oke must be the best Aschenbach around and Steuart Bedford, who also conducted the piece's world premiere in 1973, contributes his wonderful musicianship and the seal of authenticity.
Yoshi Oida's production is stunningly, magically beautiful and just looks as if it had been designed for our Four Seasons Centre. Yoshi and I met a few years ago when I was working for the Ruhrtriennale-Festival in Germany preparing the world premiere of a new play staged by Peter Brook. Yoshi has been (and still is) a member of Brook's theatre company in Paris for many years, but he also is a very accomplished director in his own right. At 77, he is as active as ever and above all a wonderful and profound human being. It has been a true pleasure to have him at the COC.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have posted comments about our production of Aida here. An open discussion with our public about why we do things the way we do them can only help us to deepen our understanding of the expectations, challenges and satisfactions of performing opera here and today.
Yesterday evening, I had the great pleasure to present a Ruby Award to Roger Moore, one of opera's greatest supporters in Toronto. In his acceptance speech Roger spoke about the necessity and challenges of a putting on new Canadian work for a big company like the COC and wondered how audiences would react to these news works when already an unconventional production of Aida alone causes so much controversy. I hope we will find out together.
Today, I am off to New York for a day of meetings and to see the Met's new production of Boris Godunov.
Posted by Alexander Neef / in Season / comments (2) / permalink
As you all know we opened our 2010/11 season with a new production of Aida on Saturday. Putting on a piece like Aida is a major undertaking and I am proud that we succeeded in assembling a world-class cast, led by the astonishing Sondra Radvanovsky in her role and COC debut, under the direction of our Music Director Johannes Debus. During the rehearsal break of Death in Venice yesterday evening one of the long-time members of our orchestra told me that never in all his years with the COC he heard an audience erupt like they erupted after Aida's first aria Ritorna vincitor. It was wonderful to experience on Saturday that the performance was such an unqualified musical triumph.
On the other hand, Tim Albery's production has caused quite a bit of controversy. When Tim and I started talking about Aida two years ago we decided that a lot of traditional productions of the piece had gotten in the way of telling the story through over-sized sets and spectacle, especially in the triumphal scene. It was a very deliberate decision that we would want to tell the tragic story of people in times of war, Aida and Radames trapped in their national identities and in love with the enemy with no possibility to break out and live their love.
Let me say here that I don't believe in updating a piece for the sake of updating it, or even less in provoking our public for the sake of provocation. I don't adhere to any kind of postmodernist dogma. Nothing could be further from our intentions than "tinkering" with a piece (as one reviewer put it). My love and respect for great composers, like Giuseppe Verdi, would prevent me from doing so. When we decide to present a piece as a new production we go through a very careful, serious and respectful process of understanding its meaning. Sometimes, this results in a production aesthetic that might be different from the performance tradition of a piece. While being respectful of this tradition, I believe we also have the obligation to question it.
The first big updater in the history of opera was Gustav Mahler. During his tenure as the Director of the Vienna Court Opera from 1897 to 1907 he presented updated stagings of masterpieces like Mozarts's Le nozze di Figaro, Beethoven's Fidelio or Wagner's Tristan und Isolde which caused uproar then and are considered classical stagings today. When facing criticism about his productions Mahler would respond: "Tradition ist Schlamperei" (tradition is sloppiness). Throughout the 20th century there have been numerous shifts in production styles, often leading to new performance traditions. Just think of Wieland Wagner's work at the Bayreuth Festival after World War II or Patrice Chereau's radical new interpretation of Wagner's Ring Cycle, also in Bayreuth in 1976. Both are considered landmarks for the staging of Wagner's operas today.
Verdi's letters are an invaluable source for us to learn about how he intended his opera to be staged and performed. Reading through them I just can't help asking myself what he would have thought of our production. All his life Verdi was politically engaged. He wanted his pieces to be relevant and meaningful to audiences. For most of his life he fought censors who forced him to diminish the relevance of his works. Just think of La Traviata which had to be transposed from the contemporary 19th century setting, which Verdi had originally intended, to the early 18th century for the 1853 world premiere in Venice. Only in the 1880s Verdi's original wishes were carried out and contemporary productions were staged. I am sure he would have hated for his works to be considered representational artifacts in the museum of opera. If he would have approved of our production or not we will never know, but I am sure he would have respected our search for relevance, and our integrity in approaching his work.
Posted by Alexander Neef / in Season / comments (42) / permalink
This was the first time we were invited to the opening of the Met's season and it was a special evening indeed, starting with a walk on the red carpet in Lincoln Plaza and ending with the biggest black tie dinner I have ever seen in a huge tent next to the Met after the performance.
And, of course, this year's opening was a Canadian affair with the first installment of Robert Lepage's highly anticipated new Ring Cycle. It is completely impossible to judge what a complete cycle will look like after having seen Rheingold only, but the beginning was auspicious and at times very impressive. The already famous (and very heavy) unit set didn't fail to show off its almost unlimited ability for transformation even though a technical failure at the end of the opera denied us the Gods' entry to Valhalla. I'm looking forward to the remaining three operas of the cycle with great curiosity.
For me, however, the most memorable part of the evening was the superlative playing of the Met Orchestra conducted by James Levine, celebrating his 40th season at the Met. The level of transparency and detail he achieved in a well-paced, energetic reading was simply breathtaking. The cast lived up to the high level established by the orchestra. From the Rhinemaidens to Wotan there wasn't a single weak link and it would be difficult to choose between Bryn Terfel's impressive Wotan or Eric Owen's powerful Alberich, between Stephanie Blythe's regal Fricka or Patricia Bardon's warm Erda. A very impressive line-up of great artists that did Wagner and the Met extremely proud.
It was a huge privilege to represent the COC yesterday evening in New York.
Posted by Alexander Neef / in Travel / comments (4) / permalink
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