Sunday, May 10, 2009

Activities recap

It's been a while since I've reported on our activities. There's a bunch of stuff to catch up on. A few weekends ago, we took advantage of the good weather as well as the Settimana della cultura (Week of Culture), during which admission to the state museums was free, to visit the Palazzo Pitti and Boboli gardens. We weren't the only ones to have this thought, but the whole complex is quite large, so we weren't shoved through or trampled on. First up were the Boboli gardens, which were an ideal destination on this warm, sunny spring day. Not too many flowers, though -- most of the gardens are landscaped with trees, bushes, grass, and some fountains. Afterward, we went to see some of the museums in the palace, the highlight being the Palatine gallery, with works by Raphael, Titian, Rubens, and many others. Like at many other museums, the paintings all started to look similar after a while though. We also went to see the Modern art gallery ("modern" seemingly referring to post-renaissance) and the Silver museum, which houses the treasures of the Medici.
Today, we took the bus to Poggio a Caiano, where there's another Medici Villa. (A bit of trivia on the side: Poggio a Caiano is the sister city of no other place than Charlottesville, Virginia) We arrived just as they let people inside for a brief visit of the interior, which had some 19th century rooms for entertaining (pool room, private theater) as well as a grand hall with 16th century frescoes by del Sarto and Allori. The gardens were pleasant enough, and had an abundance of lemon trees, as well as a somewhat run down forest behind the villa.

As well as going on some sightseeing jaunts, we also visited two fantastic concerts, thanks to the Maggio Musicale festival which takes place in Florence in May and June. Last weekend, we went to see a piano recital by Lang Lang, the Chinese shooting star. It was quite spectacular, and showcased his musical ability (Schubert Sonata D959) along with his technical skills (Debussy Images and Chopin Polonaise héroïque). Unfortunately, the last piece will be forever associated in my head with Oliver Cromwell, thanks to Monty Python.

Then yesterday, we saw Götterdämmerung, the last part of Wagner's Ring cycle at the Teatro Comunale. Again conducted by Zubin Mehta with artistic direction by La Fura del Baus, the production suffered from the same overload of distracting video projections and people scurrying around for no reason as the previous opera, Siegfried, that we saw there last year. After all those effects, the final scene (where Brünnhilde rides into Siegfried's funeral pyre, the Rhine overflows its banks, Hagen jumps in after the Ring and drowns, and Walhalla is seen burning) was disappointingly static and low tech (though there was some guy riding around on a Segway, which didn't make much sense). Our enjoyment in general was somewhat dampened by the fact that our seats (on the side of the second gallery, 101 and 103 if you're inclined to look at the seat map) had a limited view of the stage, so that we had to lean forward or sit on the armrests if we wanted to see everything, and had some bad acoustics in that we heard parts of the orchestra twice due to the sound bouncing off the walls and/or ceiling. Nevertheless, the highlight of the evening was the music, with an incredibly strong cast, and a consistently good performance by the orchestra. As Siegfried, Lance Ryan was a big improvement over Leonid Zakhozhaev from last time, and Jennifer Wilson as Brünnhilde returned with an excellent command of the part. For me, the stand out this time was Hans Peter König as Hagen. If anyone is lucky enough to be at Bayreuth this year, I think he's singing Hagen there as well. I, on the other hand, will have to look into where else he's singing.


Larry Mellman said...

In general I agree, having zipped down there saturday to see the last gotterdamerung, and not having seen any of the others. But I thought there were some pretty harrowing psychological moments when they cut loose from the Circus-Jetsons crap. Hagen absolutely ROCKED. Lance Ryan was pretty impressive, singing while suspended upside down under Brunnhilde's boat, no mean feat. I'm trying to find out why he didn't come out for curtain calls at the end?!??!?!? Everyone seemed to think that strange, but I heard no reasons???? I will be elaborating my thoughts on my blog.

Ben said...

I agree that there were some moments in the staging that were great -- especially Siegfried's corpse being carried through the audience comes to mind. Since this was my first run through the Ring cycle, I don't have too much to compare with, but the productions I saw in Mannheim (Rheingold) and Washington (Walküre), both modern interpretations, agreed with me much more. I don't know about the curtain calls, they seemed quite short, and the house lights came on way too early. Maybe everyone just wanted to get home after 6 hours of intense playing and singing.