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Subject: Re: Two Evenings at the Teatro San Carlo: Puccini's _Manon Lescaut_(Very long)
From: donald kane <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:donald kane <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 26 Jun 2017 15:54:24 -0400

text/plain (320 lines)

This is the kind of thing I wish there was more of on Operalist; being
something of a recluse after all these years, vicarious pleasures are
becoming the ones I depend on.   Thank you, Harris Saunders, - not
a frequently encountered name here, but a welcome one.  I can't
imagine a more engaging and informative account of what it is like to
experience opera in Naples as an American tourist.   There is in it
even a comment I can quibble with: I would dig deeper into my pockets
for a good performance of the Puccini work than for Massenet's, any
day, any where.  But maybe, if staged as dreadfully as you describe,
it wasn't that good a performance.  I hope the musical aspects were
more satisfying: I was quite taken with the Butterfly of Maria Jose Siri
last December at La Scala, (via Youtube).


On Sun, Jun 25, 2017 at 5:48 PM, Harris Saunders <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> I am here in Naples for three weeks to take advantage of the last few weeks
> that the library of the Conservatory San Pietro a Maiella is open in the
> summer (since I work during the academic year in the United States).  The
> conservatory’s academic year ends on 14 July after which date the library
> will be closed.  I was walking around on Tuesday afternoon 13 June (the
> library is only open 9:30 to 1:30) and came upon the Teatro San Carlo right
> down the street from where I am staying just off the Via Toledo.  I was
> pleasantly surprised to discover their season had not ended, so I bought a
> ticket to see Puccini’s _Manon Lescaut_ on Thursday evening, which—it turns
> out—was the prima.
> I was so excited.  I would get to see the interior of the Teatro San Carlo
> for the first time.  Should I mention my anxiety that Aer Lingus lost one
> of
> my suitcases, and I dreaded the thought of appearing at the opera house in
> blue jeans?  Perhaps not.  Luckily, they managed to bring it to my hotel on
> Wednesday.  I had thought all those clothes were gone forever.
> I will discuss the theatre and the production.  Many of you will have
> experienced opera in Italy, so what I discovered will be old hat to you,
> but
> I have only attended opera in Italy a few times.  The entire year I lived
> in
> Venice back in the day I only saw two performances at La Fenice, though
> they
> were special indeed, since they involved Alan Curtis conducting
> Monteverdi’s
> _L’incoronazione di Poppea_.  I have been to the arena in Verona twice, if
> memory serves me (of course this is not an opera house).  I have been
> inside
> La Scala only once, but I cannot remember what I saw there (if I were home
> I
> could still dig up the program).  I believe it was a staged production of
> something that is not an opera.
> The prima of _Manon Lescaut_ was on the 16th, and then continued on 17, 18,
> 20 and 21 June.  As you can well imagine with such close dates, they have
> an
> alternating cast.  So this, I gather, is the stagione system, of
> performances of a single opera clustered together.  The singers were:
> Manon Lescaut  Maria Jose Siri
> Renato des Grieux  Roberto Aronica
> Lesaut Alessandto Luongo
> Geronte di Ravoir Carlo Struili
> Emondo Francesco Marsiglia
> Un lmpionaio Vincenzo Peroni
> Un musico Clarissa Leonardi
> Un oste Giuseppe Scarico
> Il maestro di ballo Cristiano Olivieri
> Un sargente degli arcieri Angelo Nardinocchi
> Il comandante di marina Costantino Finucci
> Lello Serao in the role of the elderly Renato Des Grieux (explanation
> below)
> (I have omitted any diacritics.)
> All my comments about the voices should be preceded by the phrase, “in my
> view.”  All of the singers had voices of appropriate size.  Ms. Siri’s
> voice
> carried well over the fortissimo swells of the orchestra, but I liked the
> timbre of her voice better when she sang softer than fortissimo.  Mr.
> Aronica’s voice has complex resonances that are not particularly to my
> taste.  Mr. Struili had the most commanding vocal presence.  Ms. Leonardi’s
> singing of the madrigal was a pleasure to hear, a firm, well placed timbre.
> The other responsible parties were:
> Conductor Daniel Oren
> Maestro del coro Marco Faelli
> Director Davide Livermore
> Set Design Gio Forma and Davide Livermore
> Costumes Giusi Giustino
> Lights Nicola Bovey
> Video Designer D-Wok [a company, not a person]
> When I walked into the box office to buy a ticket, the man at the box
> office
> first offered me a ticket for a seat on the main floor for around 130
> Euros,
> which was not an amount I was ready to pay (not even for Massenet’s
> _Manon_).  He then told me the range of prices, and I said I wanted
> something around 50 Euros.  He offered a ticket for 60 Euros in what turned
> out to be the third tier of boxes on the right side (from the point of view
> of an audience member looking toward the stage).  Although he showed me
> where this was on his seat arrangement, it really did not convey much to
> me.
>  It turns out I had a box all to myself!!!  The performance began at 20:30,
> which struck me as very late.  We did not get out until just before
> midnight.  I asked one of the ushers whether this was usual and she said it
> was, unless it was an afternoon performance, but in fact the performance
> times vary.  Friday’s was at 20:00; Saturday’s at 18:00; Sunday’s at 17:00,
> Tuesday’s at 20:00 and finally Wednesday’s at 18:00.  I am transcribing the
> times in the style used here, so that my fellow Americans with no military
> background will experience the need to make the conversions, just as I had
> to.
> Unless you have a seat on the main floor you will need to talk to one of
> the
> ushers.  After you enter the main lobby, there are corridors that hug the
> shape of the auditorium, but I had little sense of where things were.  In
> the event, when I got to the third tier, I had to show my ticket to the
> usher who had to walk me to the box, because each box is locked until the
> first person comes to sit in it.  (This will seem obvious to those of you
> who have sat in boxes in some American opera houses, but I usually sit in
> the balcony.)  My seat was the middle seat in the front row of three
> free-moving chairs (without arms).  There was one more chair behind that
> was
> taller than the chairs in front.  How ingenious!
> I realized after a sitting for a while that I did not have a program.  I
> know that one usually has to purchase a program booklet in European opera
> houses, but if I remember correctly from my year in Munich one usually gets
> a free sheet of paper with the cast, etc.  So I went out to ask the usher
> where I could get a program, and she told me I needed to go back down to
> the
> ground level, by the entrance.  There is little marketing savvy here.
> Without it being pointed out, there is no way I would have noticed the man
> to the side of the entrance with a pile of programs.  I purchased one.  It
> is well worth the 10 Euros it cost.  I haven’t yet read it, but it has a
> beautiful photograph of the auditorium and reproductions of the costumes
> and
> sets, in addition to essays on Puccini and_Manon Lescaut_, and information
> about the performers.  It also includes the libretto in Italian.
> There were lots of firemen walking around, something I have never seen
> before.
> The Neapolitan audience must hold the conductor Daniel Oren in high regard
> because they consistently applauded his entrances.  He wears a skull cap (I
> believe that is the term people use today; please do not take offense if it
> is not).  I have never seen a conductor do this before.
> The performance starts with an old man in a white suit walking into what is
> supposed to represent Ellis Island.  The Statue of Liberty is seen in the
> distance in black and white, and the water in between actually moves.  A
> guard comes in and tells the man to leave.  This is in English, which is a
> jolt.  The place is about to be closed, but the old man asks to stay for
> five minutes; this place brings back memories.  The guard says he can stay,
> but just for just five minutes.  [Later, I discovered that this “dialogo
> iniziale” is in the program booklet (in English with its translation into
> Italian).]  Then the opera begins.  This old man represents Des Grieux in
> his old age, and he will shadow the actual Des Grieux throughout much of
> the
> opera.  The story of Manon is the story of displaced persons coming to
> America, you see, with obvious relevance to contemporary life.  There are
> projections of black and white photographs of various people who—I
> assume—are supposed to people who passed through Ellis Island.  I will
> leave
> it to you to assess the legitimacy of the connection of all this to the
> actual story.
> The opera therefore is set in the 19th century.  Manon arrives on a train
> in
> Act I.  In Act IV, there is a row of beds on the left hand side of the
> stage
> with sick women; I suppose these are immigrant women in quarantine.  There
> is little interaction between them and Manon and Des Grieux, who are mostly
> on the right hand side of the stage.
> There are supertitles in two languages, Italian above and English below.
> There were two twenty-minute intermissions between Acts I and II and Acts
> II
> and III.  A woman announces this in Italian and English over the
> loudspeaker.  The bathrooms are single toilets.  I think perhaps three (3)
> on each tier and several on the lower level.  I am not sure how they
> manage.
> Much of what I say about the theatre will be things I already knew, but I
> had never experienced this theatre first hand before.  The auditorium is in
> the horseshow shape one would expect of a theatre built in 1737 (a date
> that
> is easy to remember because it is on all the signage for the theatre).  It
> has six tiers of boxes.  The main floor is sharply raked with individual
> armchairs!  (I would love this, not having to share arm rests with
> strangers.)  The orchestra pit is lower than the main floor, which I cannot
> believe goes back to the original set up.  The pit is much shallower than
> the pits at the Metropolitan in New York or the Civic Opera House in
> Chicago.  The pit extends forward as far as the columns on the far end from
> the stage that separate the first set of boxes from all the others.
> What I find so remarkable about the auditorium is the sense of intimacy.  I
> do not know what it is like on the sixth tier, but from the third tier I
> felt very close to the singers.  The acoustics strike me as excellent.
> The elevators are, of course, modern additions.  They are in a strange
> trapezoidal shape (I think “trapezoidal” is the correct word) that must
> have
> been especially fitted to accommodate the space that was available.  They
> are small and hold only six (6) people.  (Come to think of it, I am not
> sure
> there is more than one elevator.)
> The orchestra is arranged as follows: the first violins are to the left of
> the conductor, and the second violins are to the right.  The cellos are in
> front of the conductor and proceed back next to the first violins.  The
> harp
> is behind the cellos.  The double basses are to the extreme left.  Some of
> the double basses have five strings.  One double bass (the closest to the
> audience) has a strange shape, its shoulders shaped like the rest of the
> violin family rather than like the viol family.  The violas are the next
> row
> in from the second violins to the right.  The woodwinds are arranged in two
> rows behind the cellos; left to right, flutes and oboes (also English horn)
> in front; clarinets (also bass clarinet) and bassoons behind.  The
> percussion (three players, I believe) are at the back under the apron of
> the
> stage.  The brass are to the extreme right, with the exception of the
> French
> horns, which are at the end of the second row of woodwinds on the opposite
> side of the pit.  Interesting!  I am sure I have never seen this placement
> of the French horns in Chicago.
> I returned on Tuesday 20 June when there were the following changes in the
> cast:
> Manon Lescaut  Ainhoa Arteta
> Renato des Grieux  Murat Karahan
> Geronte di Ravoir Gianvito Ribba
> Un oste Antonio De Lisio
> Ainhoa Arteta and Murat Karahan impressed me as having voices perhaps a
> half
> order of magnitude larger than the principals in the cast of the prima.
> Mr.
> Karahan has a lovely, bright timbre.  He is capable of singing ringing high
> notes and melting pianissimi.  I am afraid Arteta did not impress me as
> much.  “In quelle trine morbide” was not entirely successful.  There were
> odd breaths that broke up a couple of phrases.  Also, she was not quite in
> synch with the orchestra.  This was the only point in the two evenings that
> I sensed the singers and the orchestra out of synch with each other.  I
> think she her view of how this aria should go differed from the
> conductor’s.
>  She held out the last notes of the aria to engender applause, which in
> fact
> followed.  The only other time this evening that applause interrupted the
> stage action was after “Tu, tu, amore, tu.”
> On Tuesday 20 June, I sat on the other side of Tier 3 of the boxes.  I was
> one box closer to the stage than at the prima, and the sightlines were
> terrible. (Also I had to share a box with two other people and was the
> closest to the stage.)  If this had been my first and only experience at
> the
> Teatro San Carlo, I would have been rather upset.
> At the prima, there were cries of "Bis" after the prelude, but the
> performance proceeded with Act III without any repeat of the prelude.  On
> Tuesday 20 June, the conductor, Daniel Oren, turned to the audience before
> beginning the prelude and said something about a “bis.”  I did not catch
> the
> beginning of his sentence. After an impassioned performance, the audience
> just would not stop clapping.  There were shouts of “Bis.”  The conductor
> acknowledged the applause, had the first seat violist and first seat
> cellist
> stand, so the audience could acknowledged them.  One man got out of his
> second row seat on the main floor, walked over to the conductor, kissed his
> left hand, kissed him on both cheeks and held a conversation with him.  I
> could not believe what I was seeing.  Meanwhile, the applause and the
> shouts
> persisted. So, they actually performed the prelude a second time!!!!  I
> have
> never experienced this before.  His conducting was highly athletic.  He
> would sometimes jump in the air for a fortissimo or crouch down for a
> piano.
> While the players were warming up before Act II, the tuba warmed up by
> playing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”  I don’t think this is an Italian
> nursery rhyme.  As far as I could tell, I was the only one that laughed.
> Yours,
> --Harris Saunders
> [log in to unmask]
> If you respond to this, please send a copy to my e-mail address
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