Gian Carlo MENOTTI (1911-2007)
Goya - Opera in three acts (1986)
Plácido Domingo (tenor) - Francisco de Goya y Lucientes; Michelle Breedt (mezzo) - Doña Cayetana, Duchess of Alba; Iride Martinez (soprano) - Maria Luisa, Queen of Spain; Andreas Conrad(tenor) - Charles IV, King of Spain;Maurizio Muraro (bass) - Don Manuel Godoy; Christian Gerhaher (baritone) - Martin Zapater; Nadia Krasteva (mezzo) - A Singer/Leocadia; Petra Simkova (soprano) - A Maid; Sergio Raonic Lukovic (bass-baritone) - Innkeeper/Major Domo
Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien, Festival-Chor KlangBogen Wien/Emmanuel Villaume
Stage Director: Kaspar Bech Holten; Stage and Costume Designer: Steffen Aarfing; Lighting: Jesper Kongshaug; Choreography: Nikolaus Adler
Directed for TV and Video by Karin Veitl and Thomas Bogensberger
rec. live, Teater an der Wien, 2004
Sound format: PCM Stereo;
Picture format: 4:3; Region code: 0;
Subtitles: GB, D, FR, ES, IT, Korean
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101576 DVD [101:00]
It so happened that Gian Carlo Menotti invited Plácido Domingo for dinner in Scotland in 1977, when the tenor was singing Don José in Carmen at the Edinburgh Festival. It turned out that they shared the opinion that in modern music the human voice was treated as an instrument. Domingo once said: ‘You find the most beautiful passages during the scene changes, but as soon as the singers appear, the melody disappears.’ It soon followed that Domingo asked: ‘Gian Carlo, why don’t you write an opera for me?’ Domingo at once saw an appropriate basis for the opera: the life of Francisco Goya, the artist he admired most of all. Menotti accepted immediately and later said: ‘I think it was the only time I accepted someone else’s idea.’ It was almost a decade before the opera was finished but in November 1986 it was first performed in Washington by Washington National Opera. This was Domingo’s debut there, which eventually led to his taking over the post as General Director ten years later. The audience loved the work, the theatre was filled with celebrities, including Queen Sofia of Spain, and the production was lavish. The critics were generally of different opinions. I have read the New York Times acerbic review, where Donal Henahan piles negativisms like ‘Goya ... had everything in its favor except a composer and a librettist capable of dealing in depth with its operatically promising subject’ and ‘Mr Menotti has simply piled platitude on platitude for three acts’. These are comments that could kill any production, but Domingo still had faith in the work and when he was invited to appear at the Theater an der Wien, the stage where Die lustige Witwe was premiered back in 1905, he chose Goya as a suitable piece, and the present issue was filmed during performances there in 2004.
I may have a partiality for platitudes and thus I am not in the least offended by such in this libretto. Musically Menotti has almost throughout his life been criticized for this and that, mostly for being out of phase with his time. Still several of his operas were not just successes with the public but also rendered him awards, for instance the Pulitzer Prize twice in the 1950s. I have lately had opportunities to review some of his best known operas and have to admit that they are much to my liking. Goya, is, compared to The Medium and The Consul, more uneven but there is a lot to admire. Most of all Menotti is strong in his handling of the orchestra and the interludes are certainly of high quality. Large parts of the opera consists of recitative that is more routine than inspirational and when the composer at emotional high-spots lets loose his creative vein these moments reach heights on a level with his best music from several decades back. In the opening of the opera there is Spanish colouring with a guitarist on stage and there are some ‘arias’ of great beauty - Paradise of flying angels (Act I, scene 1, Ch 4) - and the strongest scene is undoubtedly Goya’s long final monologue. This is powerful and deep-probing music and the appearance of the Duchess is balm for the torn soul of the old painter.
I won’t deal in depth with either the story or the message of the opera. Goya is, however, ‘a symbol of the freedom and constraints of the artist. For Menotti, the main focus was on the dualism between Goya the artist and Goya the man.’ The sets are spare and Kasper Bech Holten puts the characters in focus in what can be described as a timeless world. The life of the artist is largely the same in any historical time.
Centre-stage is naturally Goya himself and, having chosen the subject for the opera, Placido Domingo is a deeply involved artist. I have always stated that Mr Domingo could have had a great stage career also without his singing voice - though Mr Henahan of the New York Times found him ‘not a graceful actor’ but admitted that he ‘lent his famously robust voice to his evening's task like a tenor who genuinely believes in what he is singing.’ Of course I don’t know anything about his acting at the Washington premiere, but eighteen years later in Vienna his portrait of his great compatriot is certainly all-embracing and I don’t believe that anyone - unless one has a heart of stone - can be unmoved by his depiction of the ageing deaf and blind painter. Domingo is truly magnificent here - and it is the actor, not the singer, who impresses most. Michelle Breedt as his muse, the Duchess of Alba, is a marvellous singer, visually appealing and dramatically convincing. As Martin Zapater, Goya’s close friend, Christian Gerhaher sings and acts excellently and Maurizio Muraro as Don Manuel Godoy, Queen Maria Luisa’s lover, is very good too, while the Queen herself, Iride Martinez, is a lively actress but vocally a scream.
I must agree that Goya isn’t Menotti at his most inspired but it is on the other hand not a write-off. Platitudes or not there is enough substance in the score and the libretto to make it worth seeing. With some excellent singing and Domingo in splendid shape rather late in his phenomenal career it can’t fail to move appreciative and sensitive opera lovers.
Domingo in splendid shape and this opera can’t fail to move appreciative and sensitive opera lovers.