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February 17, 2007

Karita Mattila as Jenufa and Anja Silja as Kostelnicka
Photo: Beatriz Schiller 2007

The best shows tend to come in twos and threes for some reason and this Saturday was no exception. It was a double header at the Metropolitan Opera with the final performance of Jenufa in the afternoon and later that evening, Eugene Onegin. This was probably one of the best opera days I’ve had in awhile for a number of reasons, but as is usually the case with opera, it rests on a confluence of factors. While great singing is no surprise at the Met, great productions too frequently are, but you would never suspect it seeing these two shows.

There are few superlatives left that have not already been bestowed on the current Jenufa. It deserves all of them especially those directed towards the exemplary Anja Silja. Karita Mattila, Jorma Silvasti, Jay Hunter Morris, and maestro Jirí Belohlávek were all excellent. But equally important to this success was the inventive but subtle production from Olivier Tambosi. There have been naysayers on this design but I think it works very well, especially the huge rock that dominates the stage in the second act providing extra metaphorical weight to Silja’s tour de force performance. The rock becomes everything - the truth, the baby, honor - and Kostelnicka is left to hopelessly throw herself against these immobile facts with no good choices. And then there is the snow. Janácek seems to take very well to snow-effects on stage, and Jenufa is no exception as the back walls parted in Act II to reveal snow during Jenufa’s dream of her child’s distress. It's not often that I'm tearful at anything, but I was here. Too bad so many people stayed away from these fantastic performances over the shows run. Oh well, their loss.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Eugene Onegin
Photo: Ken Howard 2007

Jenufa was worth the trip to New York alone, but to my surprise, that evening’s Eugene Onegin turned out to be a real winner as well. Of course the bad news was that conductor Valery Gergiev was out that night and replaced by Paul Nadler, but the rest of the cast was intact including Ms. Fleming Mr. Hvorostovsky, and the ever-present Ramón Vargas as Lenski. But what really made the evening was another modern, visually engaging and insightful staging this time from Robert Carsen. The stark empty white stage allowed for a variety of powerful lighting effects and an intense focus on the performers who were uniformly excellent. The dueling scene was performed behind a white scrim and back lit leaving the performers to appear only as silhouettes to the audience heightening the sense of fear and loss the characters themselves are facing. Rooms are suggested with only the simplest of furniture. Though it wasn’t clear what language Fleming and Vargas were singing in all of the time, they more than held their own against a radiant and super steamy Hvorostovsky. I've always been a little ambivalent about the white-maned one, but last evening I was sold without a question on his abilities. As sorry as I was to miss Gergiev, the theater HD broadcast next week should allow me another chance to catch him and the rest of this stellar cast again.

Before heading back to LA there is one other matter of business, and that is Monday’s Simon Boccanegra with my favorite soprano, Angela Georghiu.

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