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On the Beat

On the Beat

Ireland's foremost stage director makes her opera debut with Kát’a Kabanová at Spoleto USA; Chang wins top prize at Lissner.

On the Beat Hynes hdl 614
Tony winner Hynes
© Robert Day 2014

GARRY HYNES is a stage director whose work consistently catches the audience by surprise; just when you begin to think that you have the characters in her productions all figured out, you discover how wrong you are. Hynes's direction is filled with jarring, perverse jolts to your sensibility, the beautiful end result of which is that she commands your complete attention at every second; as an audience member, you have no choice but to stay in the moment. In MARTIN MCDONAGH's Beauty Queen of Leenane, the dance of dependency and cruelty between mother and daughter (MARIE MULLEN and ANNA MANAHAN) was like a fire that seemed now and then to be dying down, only to keep throwing off a few more lethal sparks. In her 2008 staging of McDonagh's Cripple of Inishmaan, there were heartbreaking revelations of character, such as the moment in which the spiteful JohnnyPateenMike (DAVID PEARSE), after brutally sparring with his drunken mother (PATRICIA O'CONNELL), gently climbs into bed next to her. And in her staging of Sean O'Casey's Silver Tassie, which played at the 2011 Lincoln Center Festival, Hynes gave this diabolically difficult play a music-hall madness that made its depiction of the ravages of World War I all the more horrifying.

Despite the fact that opera was in the family — her late brother, JEROME HYNES, was the chief executive at Wexford Festival Opera for years — she has never worked on the lyric stage until now: her production of Kát'a Kabanová, starring BETSY HORNE and JENNIFER RODERER, led by ANNE MANSON, runs at Spoleto Festival USA through June 6. It's the sort of visceral drama that seems bound to appeal to Hynes, and in a recent phone interview from Dublin, she said, "I was drawn to Kát'a herself, and to the music. I could sort of understand her particular dilemma — the kind of society she lived in. It's based on Ostrovsky's play [The Storm], and it's Russia in the 1860s, but this sort of religious grip that the characters are in, and Kát'a's sense of herself channeled through the spiritual — all of those things connected with me."

One of the greatest roles in all of Janáček is the tightly controlled and controlling mother-in-law Kabanicha, whose staccato music stands in stark contrast with the lyricism the composer provided for Kát'a. "Kabanicha has a sound, from the moment she appears, that's different from everyone else," says Hynes. "I'm certainly not going to be putting big pointy hats on her, but I've known lots of women who look like butter wouldn't melt in their mouths, and if you crossed them, it's another matter."

Hynes will force a specific realistic setting on the opera. "To attach it to a specific time and place was to impose the journey of Kát'a on a particular culture," she says. "More to the point is the need of any human spirit to be free. I considered 1930s and '40s Ireland as a setting, which would have been a good match for it, but I felt to put that onstage was to paint a picture, rather than to do the opera itself."

AT THE END OF MARCH, MARIO CHANG was justly awarded the top prize ($15,000) in the 2014 GERDA LISSNER FOUNDATION INTERNATIONAL VOCAL COMPETITION. At the finals concert at the Liederkranz Foundation, Chang's moving, heartfelt "Salut, demeure" was the most consistently absorbing performance of the long day. The seven first-prize winners ($10,000 each) were also impressive — tenor BENJAMIN BLISS, with a beautifully connected "Una furtiva lagrima"; mezzo SHIRIN ESKANDANI, whose spot-on coloratura and a voice with genuine "face" ignited "Non più mesta"; bass-baritone RYAN SPEEDO GREEN, whose big, exciting sound, never pushed, was heard to good effect in Ernani's "Infelice! E tuo credevi"; baritone ALEXEY LAVROV, with Silvio's "Tutto scordiam"; the stunning bass SAVA VEMIC, whose "Il lacerato spirito" was probably the one performance that gave Chang a serious run for his money for the top prize; mezzo VIRGINIE VERREZ, who showed imaginative command of dynamics with her highly polished performance of "Deh, per questo"; and the exciting baritone YUNPENG WANG, who sang a fearless "Nemico della patria."

IN MARCH AND EARLY APRIL, there were lots of reminders of why it's a privilege to be a music-lover living in New York; there are so many choice, underpublicized events happening around the city, if you just take the trouble to go out and find them. On March 19, the WAGNER SOCIETY presented SIMON O'NEILL in a fascinating evening of performance and heldentenor tales; not only is he a terrific raconteur; his ability to throw himself down at the piano and start accompanying himself as he sang was purely dazzling…. On March 25, the Atria Residence on West Eighty-sixth Street held an affectionate retrospective of Met character mezzo JEAN KRAFT's career, highlighted by clips of her in telecasts of Luisa Miller, Dialogues of the Carmelites and a superb PBS Gala of Stars performance of the trio "Cher enfant" from Hoffmann, with CATHERINE MALFITANO and JAMES MORRIS…. On April 1, the French Institute/Alliance Française and the Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence offered an HD screening at Florence Gould Hall of PATRICE CHÉREAU's stunning production of Elektra. I was lucky enough to see it in Aix in July 2013, and despite some projection problems that made the screen far too dark, it was great to experience it again. As Elektra and Chrysothemis, EVELYN HERLITZIUS and ADRIANNE  PIECZONKA deserved every ounce of the acclaim they received; after seeing this encore, I still feel that WALTRAUD MEIER is the most compelling Klytämnestra in my experience, and I was struck once more by the pure, unforced singing of sixty-five-year-old ROBERTA ALEXANDER as the Fifth Serving Maid. spacer

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