What I did on my summer vacation

I wrote about opera and modern life in Saturday’s New York Times:

Beneath the artifice, the virtuosic singing and the foreign languages, opera’s stories are deeply familiar: tales of love, loss and duty that anyone could identify with. But lately, there’s another way that opera has been recognizable to many in its audiences: its dissatisfaction with the state of the world.

During a recent operagoing trip to Europe, I was struck not by the extent to which productions were placed in the present — contemporary settings are routine there to an extent they are not in the United States — but by the degree to which they were critical of the universes they portrayed. They were, above all, savage and skeptical, and therefore felt very much of our moment.

You can read the whole thing here.

The above also constitutes my review of Lohengrin in Zürich. To add a few more review-y things: it’s hard to judge in the Opernhaus Zürich, which is approximately the size of a two-car garage, but Rachel Willis-Sørensen sounds like a genuine jugendlich-dramatischer Sopran, which is always exciting. She’s only in her early thirties and it will be exciting to see where her voice goes. Anna Smirnova was a big and blowsy Ortrud whose dramatic highlight was a point at which she kicked a bunch of bouquets off tables like an aggressively untrained soccer player. Finally, this a performance found Fabio Luisi doing Peak Luisi (delicate, exquisite) and I found the production involving and admirable if not very thrilling.

Hopefully I will soon be able to very belatedly complete my review of Die Frau ohne Schatten in Munich (which currently is a draft and a lot of notes), mostly because the conducting was extremely good.

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  1. I saw Willis-Sørensen in Dec. 2015 as Eva at the gigantic War Memorial Opera House, which seats 3200, and I agree with you about her. Beautiful voice, good musical instincts, looking forward to seeing her in a more dramatically interesting part.

  2. I was surprised to see Fabiano in a Tcherniakov production. I thought he was on the record as really not having any sympathy for directorial interpretation. Maybe he’s coming round? I hope so because he has a fabulous voice.

    1. I have no idea what how he feels about the production but he was certainly good in (and seemingly extremely committed). But as I said in my review, it’s a compellingly executed but not terribly new reading of Don José–the frame is radical but the actual character development really isn’t.

  3. It’s true. In Europe, we do have modern settings, which is not always a good things. Some people believe the avant-garde is still fashionable. Personally, I’m sick and tired of opera settings where the singers are dressed like businessmen.

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  5. Why are you saying that the Zürich Opera house is the size of a two car garage? Wonderful productions mostly, and much bigger

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