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Subject: Tchaikovsky Iolanta & Stravinsky Persephone - Teatro Real Madrid - 23, 24 & 26 - 2012
From: Sergio da Silva <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Sergio da Silva <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Thu, 2 Feb 2012 14:40:34 -0500

text/plain (134 lines)

At last a post not about the MET ! Make that two because my other post will
not be about the MET either :-)

Well I went to Madrid on a business trip and finally, after a couple of
trips to Madrid over 15 years, had the chance to attend opera at the Teatro

For those who don't know it, the Teatro Real is not very fancy either from
the outside (rather austere) and the inside (simple with some wood work,
marble floors, some paintings on sometimes naked walls, at other times
walls decorated with red drapes); it is at the heart of historic downtown,
facing the Palacio Real and a short walk from Plaza del Sol, very easy to
get to, the subway station is called Opera!!

The theater is on the small side (by US standards at least 1,746 seats),
I'd say less than half the size of the MET (for an easy reference for US
readers), the acoustics are superb (at least where I sat), I'd really like
to come back to  hear a Verdi opera ideal for this theater. There are
plenty of obstructed seats, the box office will tell you no or limited
visibility - I particularly "hate" these seats, I remember a Don Pasquale
in Paris where I was staring at a column (fellow opera lovers quickly found
me a better seat though) - anyway I chose good seats, one for 100 euros,
the others were 54 euros, not cheap but excellent seats. There are
subtitles at the top of the theater, the top of the "family circle/highest
seats" and, unusual, to the sides of the stage (which do help if you are
sitting on the sides). There are projection screens too at the top, which
do help in getting a close up if you are sitting far from the stage.

I'm not a big fan of Gerard Mortier but my kudos to him for a very
interesting programming for a seasoned opera goer, I was really excited to
finally get a chance to see Tchaikovsky's latest opera Iolanta - I love the
duet and the tenor aria - and Stravinsky's opera (or musical
drama) Persephone.

The production was by renowned opera regisseur Peter Sellars. I've seen
some of his productions but only on video, this was my first time live.
Well I knew Sellars was crazy but not that crazy !!! The set(designed by
George Tsypin) was minimal, three doors (only the frame) with what looked
like rocks on top of the door frames, panels (each panel had a different
color or drawing) which raised from the stage floor and a larger panel at
the back. The sides of the stage were "naked", that is, not hidden, so we
could see the power grid and so on (rather strange no reason was given).
The same set was used for Persephone. Costumes were all black for all
characters in Iolanta, except for Iolanta dressed in blue; in Persephone,
Persephone was also dressed in blue, Eumolpe in white, and the other gods
in other colors, yellow and gray. So it was left for the lighting to
suggest the different moods, a job extremely well done by James F. Ingalis.

Iolanta is the story of a blind princess, who doesn't know she is a
princess nor blind, who lives secluded in a garden with her maids. Her
father, King Rene, does not want anyone to know she is blind so as not
to jeopardize her marriage to Count Robert. One day, Count  Robert and his
friend the knight Vaudemont enter the garden and Vaudemont falls in love
with Iolanta, Robert flees the garden to seek help because he thinks
Iolanta (he does not know she is her bethroted) is a sorcerer, Vaudemont is
left alone with her and in the ensuing duet he discovers she is blind - he
asks her to give him a red rose and she always picks the white rose - and
tells her about it and describes the light. In the end, they stay together
and Iolanta recovers vision through the help of Ibn-Hakia, a Moorish

Sellars sees this story as an allegory for oppression and also sees ties
to Tchaikovsky's homosexuality, since Tchaikovsky had also to "lie" to
everyone about his sexuality. So, we know Iolanta is blind because she
carries a cane in this production, but her garden has no flowers, the
crucial moment when Iolanta mistaken the flowers colors is not made clear
(except for a red panel at the back which to me should be white).
Notwithstanding, the singers/actors were well directed, in
fact Vaudemont almost "rapes" Iolanta - taking advantage of her blindness?
It is all rather abstract in this production but the essence of the work
gets through.

The singers were all excellent, I saw it  3 times !!! - when will I get to
a chance to see it again? maybe never. There were different singers for
Iolanta, Vaudemont  and Robert. I saw twice with Ekaterina Scherbachenko
and once with Veronika Dzhioeva, both (as Iolanta) were excellent but
distinct vocally, Scherbachenko a more lyrical voice, while Dzhioeva had
more edge, a bigger voice, spinto like. I also saw twice with Pavel Cernoch
and once with Dmytro Popov, both as Vaudemont, they were excellent too,
Cernoch more lyrical and Popov more robust, Popov particularly invested a
 lot on his acting, an edgier Vaudemont. Also two Roberts, Alexey Markov
(excellent, delivering his aria very well although he is no Hvorostovsky
who is unforgettable in this aria) twice and once with Maxim Aniskin who
was also very good. The rest of the cast was the same for all
performances. Dmitry Ulianov as King Rene sounded more like a bass-baritone
than a bass but sang his aria very well and acted quite convincingly in
spite of being young for the role. Willard White was by far the largest
voice, a quite dark beautiful rounded voice, he had some trouble
with Ibn-Hakia's aria and could not reach the high note but elsewhere
great.Ekaterina Semenchuk was very good as Marta and the other minor roles
were well sung too. I was really impressed Teatro Real could assemble two
casts with excellent results.

The star of the night (or nights in my case) was Teodor Currentzis's
conducting, Currentzis looks like a kid (although turning 40 in a few
weeks) and is a very exciting conductor, with nicely judged speeds and
dynamics. The orchestra was excellent, as a matter of fact just listening
to recordings I did not have a full idea of the score, Iolanta sounds live
almost chamber like, it requires some quite virtuoso playing from every
section of the orchestra. The chorus as expected, directed by one of the
best chorus masters Andres Maspero was outstanding!

Persephone was more Regietheater even, using the same set, Sellars
put Eumolpe as a blind man (dressed in white with sunglasses and a cane),
Pluton (king of the Underworld) as a dancer, and the other gods as dancers
too. So it was a mixture of dancing, pantomime, singing; the first time I
saw it I honestly did not understand it, there is so much happening on
stage it is difficult to concentrate, repeated viewings helped a lot. The
dancers from Cambodia were very good. Paul Groves
was outstanding as Eumolpe (a very difficult, tricky role to sing) and
Dominique Blanc an excellent actress as Persephone (a spoken role). The
same set as Iolanda, seemed to fit better to Persephone, Persephone's
farewell quite striking, The chorus was again superb (again very difficult
and tricky to sing).

One complaint, Currentzis made some cuts in Iolanta and added a "coro a
cappela", the Cherubin Hymn from the San Juan Crisostomo liturgy right
before the final scene. Harmonically it does not fit at all in
Iolanta. Currentzis said he did that to emphasize the "Greek Chorus" aspect
of the choir in these operas!!! Huh ???

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