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Subject: ROMEO and LOHENGRIN (with a new Ortrud)
From: Mitchell Weitz <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Wed, 18 Mar 1998 00:57:01 +0000

text/plain (72 lines)

I attended the first ROMEO last night and the LOHENGRIN this evening.

As far as ROMEO goes, I have to agree with all the other listers who
were there:  Gheorghiu sounded bad.  All the highest notes were
screams, and spread pretty wide.  She doesn't have the coloratura
facility to make the Waltz aria sound effortless and scintillating.
And the less said about her pitch the better.

Her hubby was much better -- he lacks the finesse and style of a
Kraus but he has more voice, although the voice is definitely
more Italianate than Kraus's.  I think the makeup people overdid
things a bit -- his face looked like it was colored in with a Crayola

The supporting cast (William Burden as Tybalt, Russell Braun as
Mercutio, Robert Lloyd as Frere Laurent) were all better than Mrs.

As noted by others, Bertrand de Billy did a splendid job conducting.
And as also noted by others, the production looks pretty ratty and
should be replaced.

As for tonight's LOHENGRIN, let me say up front that I really did try
to keep an open mind.  Really, I did.  But I hated the production.
>From the minute Deborah Polaski made her first entrance posed like a
painting on the inside wall of a pyramid, I felt bad for the singers.
Mr. Wilson has turned them into automatons, rigid and robotic in
motion, devoid of the opportunity to show any signs of life, much
less any individualism.  (On occasion, as one singer or other moved
across the stage in slow motion with arms fixed in strange and
awkward configurations, they reminded me of Gumby.)

I was left with the impression that Mr. Wilson regards opera as
nothing more than a series of still-life images (a slide show,
really) with background music.  The singers are mere props to be
positioned on the canvas, as if they were bowls of fruit or
candlesticks.  I do not share that view of opera as an art form --
a successful opera makes us feel something about the characters and
their situation (like a successful drama, albeit enhanced by the
music); Mr. Wilson does his best to prevent us from even perceiving
the performers as anything but objects. We can't care about the
characters they portray because he does not let them portray

I should note that Miss Polaski withdrew from the performance after
the first act -- the announcement from the stage at the beginning of
Act II was that she became ill during Act I (no details were provided
as to her illness, but I suspect she sprained her
silent-horror-movie-gesturing muscles.) The role
of Ortrud was taken over by Eva Urbanova for the last two acts.  Miss
Urbanova was noticeably more lifelike than Miss Polaski was -- I'm
sure Mr. Wilson will scold her for that tomorrow morning. Her singing
was OK when she sang at moderate volume in the middle of the voice.
When she sang loud or high (or both, as Ortrud is wont to do), the
sound turned sour.  She did receive a big round of applause at the
end of the evening, and a kiss from Maestro Jeemie.  All the singers
were very well received, especially Ben Heppner and Debbie Voigt.
(The Telramund tonight was Richard Paul Fink, who was pretty good
although I think he opens his sound up too much at the top.)

I didn't find the sets and lighting effects as bothersome as the
staging, but I didn't think Mr. Wilson created a visual masterpiece,
either.  And the stage business with the red cloth at the close of
Act II, and the illuminated-hands-amid-darkness bit (didn't Bob Fosse
do that in PIPPIN on Broadway?) was a bit over the top (as was
Ortrud's plastering herself against the left side of the proscenium
towards the end of Act II, as if she were holding it up).

Mitchell Weitz
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