by BRIAN KELLOW and TRISTAN KRAFT
Antonacci and Devia at La Scala, 2008
Marco Brescia/© Teatro alla Scala 2013
Essential Roberta Peters Primer: Her 1958 recording of Il Barbiere di Siviglia with Erich Leinsdorf and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Like Mary Jane Phillips-Matz's Verdi biography or Emanuele Senici's Cambridge Companion to Rossini, some sources warrant repeat experience. Case in point: this RCA-released Barbiere, which we've recommended before for Cesare Valletti's excellent Almaviva, again makes our list for Peters's performance as Rosina. The recording captures the soprano in her heyday. It's a clear, nimble sound throughout, and her precise and playful "Una voce poco fa" sticks out like a gem. Leinsdorf leads such an animated reading of the score that the orchestra often sounds like its own buffo character. Roberta Peters is this issue's "Reunion."
Essential "Vil bastarda": Mariella Devia and Anna Caterina Antonacci at La Scala in 2008, available on DVD via Arthaus Musik. We always long for opera's big confrontation scenes to explode before our eyes, but sometimes we are disappointed. One scene that seldom lets us down is Maria Stuarda's denunciation of Elisabetta, "Figlia impura di Bolena." Everyone has a favorite: currently on YouTube, there's a compilation of scenes from some of the great Maria–Elisabetta combo platters in history. One of the best we've seen in recent years is Devia and Antonacci, at La Scala in 2008. The moment is cleverly staged by Pier Luigi Pizzi (though his handling of the opera as a whole is wildly uneven). Devia is superb showing Maria's attempt to ingratiate herself with Elisabetta. Her self-loathing, as she attempts to control her temper when the latter tells her precisely what to do with her supplication, is almost palpable. As Maria utters the famous "Vil bastarda," Elisabetta ascends the staircase in a stunned, unbelieving state, as if she were the one being sent to the gallows. Coverage of the Met's new production of Maria Stuarda begins on page 42.
Essential Janet McTeer Performance: Sanford Meisner famously observed that acting is the reality of doing in imaginary circumstances. Possibly no other performance we have seen comes as close to fulfilling Meisner's description as Janet McTeer's portrayal of Nora in the 1997 Broadway production of Ibsen's A Doll's House at the Belasco Theatre. More than any other interpreter, McTeer conveyed Nora's manipulative charm and sexiness; in that sense, Torvald's "fritter bird" seemed a match for him from the very beginning of the play. How often do we attend a performance in the theater and feel that we have witnessed a complete absence of dramatic artifice? Almost never. McTeer's performance was gimmick-free. She brilliantly caught Nora's fear that her best-laid plans for salvaging her family's existence are about to be blown out from under her. (The haunting terror in her eyes on the line "Those hard times are gone" is unforgettable and is available to one and all at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at Lincoln Center's New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.) As Nora, McTeer never seemed to be acting at all. She just was. F. Paul Driscoll's joint interview with two famous Mary Stuarts, Janet McTeer and Joyce DiDonato can be found in "Face to Face."
Essential Political Foxtrot: John Adams's The Chairman Dances: Foxtrot for Orchestra. To our knowledge, it's the only political foxtrot in opera, but the twelve-minute piece functions perfectly as an introduction to Nixon in China. Adams composed the piece as an exercise before finalizing Nixon. It doesn't appear complete in the opera (Adams has called it an "outtake"), but it tells a brief story of Madame Mao "gate-crashing" the Presidential Banquet and dancing the foxtrot to a gramophone. (The ending of the piece is that gramophone wearing down.) The foxtrot theme, along with the domineering Madame Mao, do make their way into the opera proper. We like conductor David Zinman's recording with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (pictured, on Argo records) best of the available versions. Zinman takes the most deadpan approach to the music, which makes us question, as we are wont to do often in Nixon in China, whether what's going on is just whimsy or actually plausible. Laurence Bergreen remembers Nixon in China in"Coda: Revisiting Nixon in China."
BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT
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