A Hotbed of Operatic Innovation Wins With Tradition

09.24.18
Corrado Rovaris, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Christian Van Horn, Patricia Racette, James Darrah
The New York Times

The highlight of O18, in fact, is the standard: a new production of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” a work at the center of the repertory, performed in the ornate, old Academy of Music. Snooze, right? But Laurent Pelly’s searing staging, produced with the Vienna State Opera, crisply played and superbly cast, showed that a fogy can burn with as much — if not more — fire as something fresh.

Mr. Pelly, the conductor Corrado Rovaris and the singers take this melodrama, about a troubled young woman whose love for a family enemy sends her toward homicide, deadly seriously, setting it in a snowy landscape of carceral bleakness. The costumes are Victorian, but there’s a pervasive sense of out-of-time unreality. Lucia sings of the ghost she witnesses; this dark, misty production feels persuasively haunted and disoriented.

Quivering with fear and rage in the title role, the soprano Brenda Rae acts and sounds girlish but somber, innocent but wounded. The tenor Michael Spyres, as Edgardo, sings with burnished energy and a touch of metallic sheen. It’s starkly clear how the only thing bringing these characters together is their shared emotional damage; this is a star-crossed love affair you watch queasily.

Troy Cook’s compact baritone rang out at climaxes as Lucia’s cruel brother, Enrico. The bass-baritone Christian Van Horn — soon to get a star turn in the title role of Boito’s delicious “Mefistofele” at the Metropolitan Opera — made a booming sound as the generous Raimondo. The orchestra and chorus, barometers of any opera company large or small, sounded crisp and passionate. This was a “Lucia” to be proud of.

[...]

There’s nobility, too, in the soprano Patricia Racette’s startlingly exposed yet consummately artful interpretation of Poulenc’s great monodrama “La Voix Humaine,” which gives us the woman’s side of a brutal telephone breakup. It’s too bad her masterly performance, and Christopher Allen’s responsive piano collaboration, is saddled with the rest of “Ne Quittez Pas,” the director James Darrah’s strained attempt at giving this classic work some context.

[...]

If you’ve ever been to a huge, high-concept fashion party — frantically busy yet somehow empty-feeling — you have an idea what “Glass Handel,” the festival’s shortest but most ambitious event, was like. (It comes to New York, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in November.)

Designed to accompany the release of the countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo’s new album juxtaposing music by Philip Glass and George Frideric Handel, the hourlong performance filled the soaring atrium of the Barnes Foundation with a starry array of companions for Mr. Costanzo: dancers including the ballet star David Hallberg, doing swooping choreography by Justin Peck; the painter George Condo, sketching live; music videos by the likes of James Ivory, Tilda Swinton and Maurizio Cattelan. Glass and Handel got respective orchestras.

Raf Simons of Calvin Klein designed everyone’s outfits, including a series of gowns, gradually removed like a Russian nesting doll, for Mr. Costanzo. Audience members, remaining seated, were occasionally lifted by a phalanx of assistants wielding ingenious dollies, and then solemnly wheeled to new vantage points.
 
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