Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.
BWW Reviews: 'And the Winners Were...' A Report Card for the Metropolitan Opera's 2012-2013 Season
May 17, 2013
The regular season just ended for the Metropolitan Opera--all that's left is a series of HD rebroadcasts on Lincoln Center Plaza and a couple of low profile concerts in New York City parks--and it's time for a look back at what kind of season it was. With seven new productions and 21 other operas in rep during a season that ran from the end of September to mid-May, the Met was nothing if not far-reaching in its repertoire. And that's the way it should be. But how did its ambitions work out?
BWW Reviews: GOTTERDAMMERUNG Brings Another Twilight to the Met's RING
May 9, 2013
Katarina Dalayman is one of a handful of top Wagnerian sopranos in the world, but for the first act of the Met's GTTERDMMERUNG, the climax of the Met's second 'Ring' cycle of the season, she didn't seem very heroic. Neither, for that matter, did tenor Jay Hunter Morris, who caused quite a stir when he jumped into GTTERDMMERUNG's premiere season a year ago. Who knows what was wrong? In any case, they recovered vocally for Act 2 and excitingly sailed through the rest of the mammoth, exhausting work.
BWW Reviews: The Met's Stirring Production of Poulenc's DIALOGUES DES CARMELITES is 'the Anti-Machine'
May 7, 2013
What would the Metropolitan Opera (and its audiences) do without its production of Francis Poulenc's DIALOGUES DES CARMELITES, which opened for the season with Saturday's matinee, May 4? As created in 1977 for its Met premiere by director John Dexter, this CARMELITES is unlike anything else in the company's repertoire--simply designed and a showcase for a brilliant ensemble of female voices. It is a reminder that opera productions can be moving, effective and, yes, thrilling in the most understated ways.
BWW Reviews: Soprano Nina Stemme Leaves Audience 'In the Dark' with Swedish Chamber Orchestra
April 26, 2013
Anyone expecting vocal fireworks from soprano Nina Stemme's appearance last night at Alice Tully Hall with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, under Thomas Dausgaard, was woefully disappointed. Count me as one of them.
BWW Reviews: Monty Python Meets Offenbach in City Opera's Daffy LA PERICHOLE
April 23, 2013
New York City Opera's production of Jacques Offenbach's LA PERICHOLE feels right at home at City Center, home of the 'Encores!' series, which reintroduces audiences to lesser known Broadway musicals that failed or went out of fashion despite wonderful scores. PERICHOLE doesn't have a care in the world in Christopher Alden's boisterous vision. It's a cheerful reminder of a musical style that has unjustifiably fallen by the wayside.
BWW Reviews: Hail Caesar! Metropolitan Opera's New GIULIO CESARE Is Victorious
April 13, 2013
The groans were audible--no, powerful--when the Metropolitan Opera's General Manager Peter Gelb stepped out in front of the curtain on the second night of the company's new David McVicar production of Handel's GIULIO CESARE. They grew louder as he announced that soprano Natalie Dessay was ill and would not be singing the pivotal role of Cleopatra. But I'd bet that these same operagoers were cheering along with the majority of the audience at the sensational portrayal of the replacement, soprano Danielle de Niese, whose brilliant coloratura took the runs, roulades and trills of this demanding score with ease.
BWW Interviews: Soprano Diana Damrau Finds Verdi's 'Lost One'
March 29, 2013
Besides singing her dream role of Violetta for the first time anywhere, soprano Diana Damrau was also RIGOLETTO's Gilda in the Met's new 'Ratpack' production that was seen by millions worldwide as an HD broadcast in February. And, oh yes, there was the arrival of her second son, Colyn, whose impending birth late in 2012 had sent the opera world into a tizzy, when Mama Damrau began cancelling performances.
BWW Reviews: American Symphony Blows a Kiss to DER VAMPYR at Carnegie Hall
March 19, 2013
I've always been a sucker for a good vampire story--and Heinrich Marscher's opera DER VAMPYR fits the bill. And while I don't expect it to turn up at the Metropolitan Opera (or even New York City Opera, for that matter), this 1827 singspiel sung in German with dialogue in English, performed by the American Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein, provided an exhilarating introduction to the work.
BWW Reviews: STREETCAR with Renee Fleming Jumps the Rail at Carnegie Hall
March 18, 2013
Andre Previn's operatic version of Tennesee Williams's A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, with a libretto by Andrew Littell, made its belated New York debut at Carnegie Hall on Thursday. It plays to Renee Fleming's vocal strengths, with her shimmering, lyric soprano and soaring high notes. This is not surprising since Previn wrote the role of Blanche specifically with her in mind and it shows with every note she sings.
But is she Blanche? Unfortunately, she's too healthy, too sane and too much a star to be the character that Williams created, a woman clings to a false gentility--and her sanity--from the moment that she arrives on stage. It also doesn't help that she has zero chemistry with New Zealand baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes the Stanley Kowalski of the evening. Rhodes' muscular baritone carries the threat that Blanche should feel, but he might as well be playing to the Merry Widow.
BWW Interview: From Butterfly to Little Sparrow, Soprano Patricia Racette Soars
March 13, 2013
Expect the unexpected from cabaret stylist Patricia Racette. Yes, I said 'cabaret.' If you've only heard her at the Met or San Francisco Opera as Tosca or Madama Butterfly, you'll probably find her performance in 'Diva on Detour' a revelation. It's 'a high-note-free zone'--which doesn't give a hint that its owner spends most of her time on some of the world's great opera stages.
BWW Reviews: Jealousy Is a Wild-Eyed Monster Named Jose Cura in the Met's OTELLO
March 13, 2013
With a popular opera by Rossini already co-opting the title OTELLO, Verdi momentarily thought about calling his work IAGO, after the story's villain. But then, he'd never seen Jose Cura's portrayal of the title role, which made its house debut at the Met on March 11. It's over the top, a freight train going full throttle over a cliff and totally exciting to watch.
BWW Reviews: Audience Is Real Winner at the Met's National Council Auditions Grand Finals
March 11, 2013
On Sunday afternoon March 10, the air was buzzing with anticipation at the Met, before the performances by the ten singers who had made it to the Grand Finals of the opera company's National Council auditions. No, this wasn't the opera equivalent of American Idol, where the emphasis is on the judges as much as the performers. It was a grown-up affair.
BWW Reviews: All Hail the Conquering RADAMISTO by the English Concert at Carnegie Hall
February 26, 2013
The English Concert's spectacular performance of RADAMISTO had me from its first notes and swept me away to its unlikely but happy ending. Three-and-a-half hours never moved faster than it did at Carnegie Hall on Sunday.
It's easy to think of Carnegie as simply the premiere venue for symphony orchestras and plush sound, but it is also an ideal hall to hear small-scale works, as exemplified by this performance by these early music specialists. It was notable for clarity and an intimacy that put the music in the spotlight, with a cast headed by star countertenor David Daniels.
BWW Reviews: Redemption for the Metropolitan Opera's New PARSIFAL Is in the Music
February 20, 2013
There used to be an ad campaign from a New York bakery company, You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's rye bread. Well, a similar statement could be made about Richard Wagner's final opera (or as he called it, a benenweihfestspiel , or a festival play for the consecration of the stage): You don't have to be Christian to love PARSIFAL, with its themes of redemption, honor and loyalty.
It is a unique experience, regardless of one's faith, because the music's the thing. And I'd follow the cast, orchestra and chorus of the Metropolitan Opera's new production anywhere. Heard at the opera's second performance of the season, February 18, they were superb.
BWW Reviews: City Opera's Production of POWDER HER FACE by Thomas Ades Is Raining Men and a Dirty Duchess
February 17, 2013
She is a beast to an exceptional degree.
She is a Don Juan among women.
She is insatiable, unnatural and altogether fairly appalling.
(Hotel Manager as Judge
POWDER HER FACE, Act II, Scene 6: 1955)
BWW Interviews: Viva Las Vegas! Designer Christine Jones Sets the Stage for the Met's Rat Pack RIGOLETTO
February 13, 2013
If God is in the details, Christine Jones must certainly be praying at the right church.
As the scenic designer for the Metropolitan Opera's new RIGOLETTO, Jones has taken the concept that director Michael Mayer sold to the Met--the '60s Las Vegas of Sinatra's Rat Pack vs. the 16th century Mantua of the original--and flown it to the moon. The result is a smart production that is fun to watch and works visually even when certain directorial details--Rigoletto doesn't live up to his billing as a 'Don Rickles-type'--seem tenuous.
BWW Reviews: Metropolitan Opera's Vegas-Set RIGOLETTO Finishes 'In the Money'
January 29, 2013
Full disclosure: I'm not fond of updating operas. Most of them simply don't work, because the directors appear to have a disdain for the art form or, at least, for the particular opera they're staging. They assume that trashing 'Un Ballo in Maschera,' 'Don Giovanni' or 'La Sonnambula' is the only way to get anyone under 50 into an opera house. On the other hand, Michael Mayer, the Broadway director best known for his work on the musical 'Spring Awakening,' seems to actually like opera and is making his splendid Metropolitan Opera debut with the bold and brassy new production of Verdi's RIGOLETTO, which opened on January 28.
BWW Reviews: Metropolitan Opera's IL TROVATORE Is Alive and Well, Even Without the Marx Brothers
January 27, 2013
For the music alone, you can't beat Verdi's IL TROVATORE, with a demanding string of arias that, in the right hands (or voices), can raise the rafters. But when it comes to the action, you must suspend your disbelief at the door--or stay home and watch the Marx Brothers have fun with it in 'A Night at the Opera.'
BWW Reviews: Kaufmann and Dasch Triumph in HD Broadcast of LOHENGRIN from La Scala, Despite Directorial Missteps
January 24, 2013
You have to love the Italians--particularly the Milanese. Where else but at La Scala, the city's temple of dramma lirica, could you find a public so passionate that it complained loudly and bitterly when it was announced that a work by a German (Richard Wagner) was opening the season rather than an opera by a local boy (Giuseppe Verdi)? It's because they care--and it's rather comforting that it can still happen in the 21st century (unless you happen to be on the receiving end of their wrath, of course).
BWW Interviews: HOUSE OF USHER Falls, Andreas Mitisek Rises
January 23, 2013
Once upon a midnight dreary (sorry, "Raven"), Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" was perhaps the favorite of his short stories adapted as horror films for mid-20th century audiences. These days, "Usher" may be more familiar as the subject and title of the Philip Glass-Arthur Yorinks opera, which takes a more psychological but nonetheless chilling approach to the story. A new production opens at Chicago Opera Theatre (COT) on February 23, after a premiere at the Long Beach Opera (LBO) on January 27, and marks the start of Andreas Mitisek's tenure as COT's General Director. Not surprisingly, Vienna-born Mitisek, who also conducts the opera, heads both companies.
BWW Reviews: Cheers for DiDonato, Van den Heever and the Metropolitan Opera's MARIA STUARDA
January 9, 2013
There's usually not much in the way of fireworks in New York between New Year's and July 4th, but there certainly is no shortage of pyrotechnics in the Met's new Maria Stuarda, which is having its long-overdue premiere in the house. It brings us two sensational performances: American mezzo Joyce DiDonato in the title role, Mary Stuart (Maria), and South African soprano Elza van den Heever as Elizabeth I (Elisabetta).
BWW Reviews: I WANT MAGIC
January 9, 2013
I missed the debut and broadcast of Andre Previn's operatic setting of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" from the San Francisco Opera back in 1998. But I can't say that anything I've read would compel me choose it over a couple of hours with Brando and Leigh on TCM or even a less than stellar [Stella?] production of the play. The fact is, how can Previn's score compare with the music of Williams?
BWW Reviews: Alagna Topples Opera Orchestra of New York's ANDREA CHENIER
January 9, 2013
With all the attention being paid to the French Revolution these days, thanks to the film of "Les Miserables," it probably seemed like a good idea for Opera Orchestra of New York to mount ANDREA CHENIER, Giordano's opera about a poet during the downfall of the monarchy in 18th century France. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the focus to turn from the opera to the performance of the tenor of the day, Roberto Alagna.