Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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In Spades

March 18, 2011

Karita Mattila Photo: Marty Sohl/MetOpera 2011

I arrived in New York on Friday for what turned out to be a somewhat unusual evening at the opera. It was the third performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades this season at the Metropolitan Opera with an excellent cast including tenor Vladimir Galouzine as Hermann and Karita Mattila as Lisa. The weather outside was warm – very warm for mid-March in New York and with the added recent change to Daylight Savings Time, it seemed that the city’s mind was on all things outdoors. The house wasn’t full and there wasn’t the usual crush of bodies getting into the theater when the doors opened. Even inside when the show started, it was one of the quietest and least effusive audiences I’ve heard here. Which seemed ill matched to the performance, which was quite reasonable despite its faults.

Dolora Zajick and Vladimir Galouzine Photo: Marty Sohl/MetOpera 2011

There were some spectacular performances. I’m a big fan of Galouzine and think he makes one of the most obsessed and driven Hermann’s around. I last saw him perform the role in Houston in Richard Jones’ striking production and felt he sounded strong here as well. Mattila can still make a good showing as Lisa at this stage in her career. I felt she did get a bit thready at the top of her range, but she commands attention and gives 100% as is her usual practice. While the pair has had a somewhat mixed reception in these parts, I found them a marked improvement over the last two performers to appear in this production at the Met, Ben Heppner and Maria Guleghina. The conductor in that last outing was Seji Ozawa and despite his reputation as a top drawer proponent of Tchaikovsky’s operas, I was more taken by Friday’s leadership, which was under the increasingly impressive Latvian Andris Nelsons who gave a fiery and lively turn throughout the score.

I still think the biggest problem with the Met’s Queen of Spades is the dreadful Elijah Moshinsky production with its overly dark, primarily black and white color palette. The production seems to be more about crowd control than anything else with the chorus often milling about the stage. Visually, the whole thing is so dark that rarely do the most distressing or dramatic moments stand out. It's the operatic equivalent of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. Just a lot less scary. There are some nice wigs I suppose. The supporting cast was a bit of a split decision. On the one hand Peter Mattei’s Prince Yeletsky was superb and probably the most emotionally resonant vocal performance of the whole evening. On the other had was Dolora Zajick in the bit part of the Countess. Zajick is no stranger to villains, which the countess is portrayed as in this particular vision. Her Russian is only slightly better than her German, but her rather broad approach to the stage action she has to maneuver through here bordered on camp at times especially in the requisite gowns and makeup. Still, Tchaikovsky's musical genius shines through and even the pastorale in Act II drew me in. So even if the rest of the world was happy to be outside, I was still glad to be in my seat at the opera.



I don't believe you. It sounds very much nicer being outside with all the sexy New Yorkers experiencing spring than being inside at the Met with a Deeply Dreary Elijah production of one of my favorite operas.
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