Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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It's Come to This

August 14, 2010

Piotr Beczala and Anna Netrebko
Photo: Hermann, Clärchen & Matthias Baus/Salzburg Festival 2010

Probably the most popular show at this year’s Salzburg Frestival would be the five performances of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette that Anna Netrebko is scheduled to appear in over the next few weeks, the second of which I saw on Friday. Given that she is one half of the festival’s "it-couple," it’s no surprise, even though the production is a revival from 2008 which starred a radiant Nino Machaidze at the time. Plus the road to her performances in this particular Bartlett Sher production has been somewhat of a long one. Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we? Eager to recapture the excitement Netrebko and Rolando Villazon had created here in the 2005 Willy Decker production of Verdi’s La Traviata (the one that will premiere as a “new” production at the Met this coming New Year’s Eve), the Salzburg Festival made plans to feature the pair in Romeo et Juliette as had the Metropolitan Opera. The two had appeared in the opera in February 2005 in L.A. (and Massenet’s Manon in 2006) to great excitement. But faster than you can say “vocal crisis” Villazon was out of the Met’s 2007 outing, and Salzburg had it’s fingers crossed for 2008 when they would take a stab with the same pair. While Villazon pulled it together for Salzburg that year, Netrebko went and fell in love and all that, eventually resulting in her dropping from that production due to pregnancy and leaving Villazon to film a DVD with Machaidze. Now it’s 2010 and Sher’s Romeo is back as is Netrebko and the new tenor of the moment, Piotr Beczala as Romeo.

So understandably, these appearances by Netrebko have probably seemed a long time in the making though she has been a staple at the festival for nearly a decade. And it certainly seemed by audience response that the show was in fact worth the wait. Netrebko is still one of the most interesting performers around and she does appear to put quite a bit into it. Vocally, she is not the singer she was in 2005 with a much darker tone and I found her runs a bit sloppier than I remember from 5 years ago. But this doesn’t take too much away from her Juliette. Beczala is well paired with Netrebko overall. He’s got an athletic sound, and though I found him a little pinched at the top in this particular performance, he was more than satisfying overall. Yannick-Nézet-Séguin, who is currently leading all of the Don Giovanni performances at this year’s festival, was in the pit with the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra. He was a bit more tame in his choices than what I would have expected after hearing him rip into Carmen eight ways to Sunday last year at the Met, but it was an attentive and often loving performance.

As with a number of other show’s here in Salzburg this week, the biggest problem was the visually boring Sher production. Bartlett Sher is wise in deciding to use his strongest asset, the Felsenreitschule to full advantage with little if an other scenery. He does have a thing for stairs however and litters the stage with platforms that everyone must climb up and down during their frequent lengthy treks back and forth across the very wide stage. There’s a lot of billowing fabric and enough swashbuckling to make the average 8 year old happy, but the staging does little to generate any excitement. The costumes can be a problem as well, turning Netrebko into a walking ball of cotton candy with hair for Act I. In fact I’m not sure about what all the long hair business is for Netrebko and Beczala in this staging, but if it weren’t for the costumes, you’d think it was a Whitesnake reunion. But cotton candy or not, people are getting what they want as long as they get a ticket before Netrebko is out of town. Which is a shame since the production continues through August 30th and the last four performances will feature the return of the excellent Nino Machaidze as well as two performances from Stephen Costello as Romeo. In fact, if you can do without the celebrity, you may just want to catch one of these shows.


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