Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Saved for Posterity

January 25, 2011


Over the post-holiday blues yet? Well, if not, Sony Music and The Metropolitan Opera have the perfect after-Christmas gift for you or anyone who cares about music with four new DVD releases in the company’s live in HD broadcast series. Now, I have not typically written about these events here at Out West Arts, preferring to focus on flesh-and-blood performances I’m sitting in the audience for. But I’ve seen most of the HD broadcasts so far at some point and would say that the four performances that are reaching the public today on DVD are among the four best the house has broadcast in the series to date. The new releases include Strauss’ Salome, John Adams’ Doctor Atomic, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, and Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra with Placido Domingo in the title role.

Perhaps my favorite among all of these great releases is the searing Salome from the fall of 2008 starring Karita Mattila. Mattila reprised her original, highly lauded 2004 performance of Strauss’ titular baddest-of-all-bad-girls at the opening of the 08/09 season for The Metropolitan Opera, and the house was extremely wise to capture it on video the second time around. It’s simply amazing. Mattila’s power and beautiful lyricism rise above everything else in this production leaving one dumbfounded in its wake. Salome is a piece that turned music, and opera in particular, on its ear, and any production that can revive that feeling a century after the fact is a keeper. There are other great vocal performances here including Kim Begley’s Herod and Joseph Kaiser’s Narraboth. Jürgen Flimm’s contemporary and colorful production looks fantastic as filmed under the direction of Barbara Willis Sweete. Patrick Summers leads the always-excellent Met Opera Orchestra in a big, beautiful turn as well. But this show is undoubtedly dominated by Mattila’s voice and her incredible physical performance. The best of the best and not to be missed.

The 08/09 live HD broadcast season for The Metropolitan Opera also brought a revival of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which, like Salome, was led by Patrick Summers. Now, I will be the first to admit, I am no fan of this opera generally. In fact, despite several opportunities to see this particular show while in New York, I had passed it by every time and only elected to see the broadcast after hearing so much about it. The production, conceived by director Anthony Minghella and choreographer Carolyn Choa originated at the English National Opera and originally opened the 06/07 season in New York as the introductory salvo in Peter Gelb’s new administration of the company. At the time it seemed like an underwhelming idea to me, but after seeing this broadcast, I quickly learned how misguided my judgment was. Minghella’s take on Butterfly is simply the most convincing one I’ve ever seen – even if only on video. It is cinematic in the best sense of the word, highly attractive and stylish at every turn. It can be richly romantic with flower petals falling from above and flocks of bird puppets. It can also be intensely dramatic as in the climactic scene of Butterfly’s death awash in red. The production stars American soprano Patricia Racette in the title role for what is undoubtedly a career high mark for her. Marcello Giordani is the able Pinkerton and Dwayne Croft and Maria Zifchak round out the rest of the principal cast. And, while not every moment of Gelb’s administration at the Met to date has reached this level of success, the importing of Minghella’s Butterfly continues to set a standard for what the house is striving to become. It’s also a DVD worth owning. Stay tuned for Doctor Atomic and Simon Boccanegra later on.


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