On the Beat
Angus brings Kát’a Kabanová to Boston Lyric Opera; Fabiano triumphs as Rodolfo at the Met.
IF BOSTON SOMEDAY realizes its long-thwarted dream of having a proper home for opera, it may just have something to do with DAVID ANGUS, music director of Boston Lyric Opera. In his work at Wexford Festival Opera, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Glimmerglass Opera, the Belfast-raised Angus has developed a fine reputation for his probing artistic curiosity and admirable equanimity in dealing with both singers and orchestra members. “Boston Lyric Opera is fighting to build things,” he says. “It’s hard to expand further, because we’re not getting enough money from the city. Other cities, like Chicago, have major opera companies and buildings and a lot of money, and they can afford to take risks. We have to be cautious all the time, because we don’t have a big reserve. Bostonians talk about their orchestra and their Museum of Fine Arts, and the opera isn’t in that position at the moment. BLO is desperate to get some kind of a hall built, so that the whole city knows about the company more. We’ve talked about having a restaurant with glass walls, where people could watch the rehearsals. We try to pick the next stars, the best voices for the money we do have, rather than using big names.” Nevertheless, this month sees Angus leading a hard-sell opera, Kát’a Kabanová, directed by TIM ALBERY and starring ELAINE ALVAREZ, at the acoustically grim Shubert Theatre at the Citi Performing Arts Center.
Janácˇek is one of the fifty-nine-year-old conductor’s great passions. “It’s like Puccini, with real muscle,” he says. “The characters are real people, not cardboard cutouts. Right now, my wife [soprano LEE BISSET] is preparing Jenu°fa for Scottish Opera, and I’m working on Kát’a. So my head is spinning with Janácˇek. There are much worse things.” Angus also has a deep respect for one of the twentieth century’s other great musical modernists, Benjamin Britten. As a boy, Angus sang at Britten Central — England’s Aldeburgh Festival. He loves Aldeburgh because it is “very flat, with those huge skies, and the sea is very dramatic. You can feel the space around all of it.” Angus found Britten not at all intimidating but rather “like a nice grandfather — very charming to everyone. We had been well prepared, so he was pleased with our work.”
Accepting the post at BLO meant that Angus had to give up the music directorship he held at Glimmerglass Opera from 2008 to 2011. He recalls that when FRANCESCA ZAMBELLO assumed the role of Glimmerglass’s artistic and general director in 2010, she was clear about wanting an American in place as music director. “The writing was on the wall,” says Angus. “They wanted to do more musicals. I enjoy musicals, but I don’t bring anything to them, and I knew it was much better for me to do what I know best.”
By the time Angus arrived at Boston Lyric Opera, the company had been without a music director since the 2007 departure of STEPHEN LORD. But BLO had, unbeknown to Angus, found a sponsor to pay for the music directorship, and after he successfully led an Idomeneo for the company, he was offered the job. “BLO’s is a freelance orchestra still,” he says, “so there’s a limit as to how much they’re going to get to know each other. I try to impose my musical standards, and I feel it’s getting better.” He does not favor leading the orchestra by intimidation: “I try to be an enthusiast and take people along with me.”
Angus is concerned that that might sound a bit sanctimonious, but he is not afraid to discuss music that fails to speak to him. “I have a mental block against Berlioz,” he says, laughing. “I can’t bear his music. People I respect greatly love it, and his orchestration is spectacularly clever and imaginative, but that doesn’t make the content of his music any better. I feel it rambles on shapelessly. I did Béatrice et Bénédict when I was chorus master at Glyndebourne, and I thought, ‘This is about as bad as it gets.’”
On December 10, MICHAEL FABIANOsang his first Met Rodolfo in La Bohème, filling in for RAMÓN VARGAS, who was forced out of the run by illness. (The revival had opened in September, with the excellent BRYAN HYMEL as Rodolfo.) For years now, the casting in FRANCO ZEFFIRELLI’s bursting-at-the-seams, crowd-pleasing production has varied wildly — a risk that is run when the production, not the singers, becomes the real star of the show. (In this respect, it’s uncanny how Zeffirelli’s staging presaged the assembly-line nature of casting ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER shows on Broadway.) Fabiano, however, properly refocused attention on the singing. His Rodolfo was sublime, perhaps the best I’ve heard since the young RICHARD LEECH. His voice was warm and bright, a perfect aural match for the exuberant, impetuous Rodolfo, and he beautifully observed the score’s dynamic markings, particularly in “Che gelida manina,” in which he soared to an ecstatic high C that was loaded with squillo and ended on a stunning pianissimo. Fabiano was also an observant, natural actor who really listened to the other singers. His Mimì didn’t bring as much to the party. In Act I, ANGELA GHEORGHIU often sang behind the beat; in what seemed an attempt to be conversational, she often stretched out the line until it nearly fell apart, delivering one of the most relentlessly back-phrased Mimìs I’ve heard. She was frequently inaudible, and her efforts to pull focus from Musetta (SUSANNA PHILLIPS) in Act II were a distracting nuisance. (Gheorghiu improved in Acts III and IV and was often quite moving.) But Fabiano’s was one of the most exciting performances of the season, making it a night to remember.
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