Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hiatus? They hardly KNOW us!

Alright, my weeks of going to nothing are about to come to an end. Romeo & Rigoletto: purchased.

Thing is, spending a reported $40 for the obstructed-view seats to hear LHL sing a couple of songs by a composer whose stuff I don't if I dig was more of a bet than I felt like placing. Had Roschmann not canceled, I probably would have gone. No major slight meant toward Three Name Soubrette*, you understand. It's just that there are artists whose names get me out of the house to hear a program I'm iffy about and those that don't. And Mahler 4 is (because we're all so crazy mad for ranking) about my fourth fave Mahler with the symphonies coming in behind the song cycles at that.

Now, do I want to catch one of these Carmens or not? Carmen is on the short list of operas I can't honestly say I care if I ever hear again, and the Met's production is beastly. Or one of these Bohemes, since Swenson is making a nice thing of this transition to lower lying ladies? Or the last Filianoti Lucia despite the fact that Young Ok Shin is Korean for Three Name Soubrette? I mean I am now officially the only kid on the block that didn't hear Filianoti. I just don't have the knees for standing as much as I used to, and don't you DARE voice that comment about kneeling that's floating above your head in a cartoon bubble.

*one of those well established categories like Hyphenated British-Tenor. JSU tells me this phrase is one of his. Hm. I dispute this, but not very emphatically.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

When there's a craze for fims of actual operas, let me know

The Maury d'Annato Prize for Underrated Singer of the Year goes to...Heinz Rehfuss, because I was listening to him on my ipod last night and thought: why is there so little of his stuff to be found, and why don't I know anyone else that has tender feelings about him?

Not quiiiite about opera: the movie of Rent is, overall, a resounding disappointment. The first hour is jaw-droppingly badly paced and captures not an ounce of the electricity of the stage show. (Yeah, I have my reservations about the material itself but it was a hell of a spectacle when I saw it...the crowd seemed to be full of screaming teenage girls with a huge thing for drag queens. For some reason I find that cheering.) What's interesting is that the thing I thought would bug me most, namely the fact that they're all ten years older than they're supposed to be, doesn't really get in the way much. Alright, perhaps because I'm ten years older, too.

What instead bugs me most is the detail sloppiness, I think, e.g. if it's 1989 and you're on AZT and heroin, you do not have a six pack like Rosario Dawson's, speaking of whom? Not such a singer. Although better than she was in the painful Shakespeare in the Park John Guare thingy. Ok and the heavy-handedness where the musical just sort of (I can't believe I'm going to use this phrase) rocks straight through the parts that risk death by treacle. In purely musical terms, it also lacks some of the punch, makes me wonder how the folks that made Chicago did it so much better other than plain old greenbacks. What I'm talking about specifically now is making voices that aren't that great (e.g. Ms. Zellweger/Ms. Dawson) or haven't aged entirely gracefully (Adam Pascal who, by the way, could someone give him my phone number and adjust his sexuality if needed?) sound right anyway. I suspect it's partly a matter of arranging and partly a matter of studio tinkering.

Current listening: Busoni's Turandot, which I ended up having to buy for stupid reasons, about which I am retroactively happy because it turns out to be rather zesty.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Gench, etc. (in which I still haven't gone to anything in ages)

So first I find out (I guess I should have known this) that if you buy a Family Circle ticket online because, oh, let's say that's all that's fucking left, you will be charged about 20% of the ticket price over again in fees. Same goes for phone.
I am you-know-not-how-cheap. Largely because I make you-know-not-how-little money. And then there's the matter of living sola, abbandonata, in questo popoloso deserto che appellano Brooklyn where the cotton, I mean the rent, is high. So I was all kinds of not into the fees, dragged my carcass into town at the crack of noon through untold service changes. I mean, for god's sake, I rode the Q train. Did you know there was a Q train? There is.
And then I shelled out the greenbacks and got seats that are apparently in the very heavens. So if the tone of my Rigoletto review is a little heady, you'll know it was the altitude sickness.
On the endless subway ride of death, I Genched it up on ipod, Leyla sings Maria Stuarda. Now, my eyes cross when I hear a certain breed of queen go on about how Nobody Sings Like Nordica Anymore...but the final scene? I'm listening to it again. I'd love to hear there's some kid out there with a trust fund that does not require that her career last long, and she sings like Leyla, but I'm not holding my breath.

in vino, well...

At JSU's instigation, an evening of drinking and arguing about Toti dal Monte. I was sent home with a super early Tebaldi recital on loan because, sweet fancy Moses, she was good back then. Anyone who compares Millo to Tebaldi will be assigned to listen to the recital in question, once at bedtime, once in the morning for a year.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Opera AWOL

Maledizione, I'm not going to get to see the reportedly gasp-worthy visual effect of the new Serban-or-whoever R&J at the Met, because according to the opera world's Dolly Dupuyster last night something broke and all that art unceremoniously sent Dessay and Vargas hurtling to the ground. This blog is rapidly turning into Great Moments I Skipped. I hereby pledge to attend Figaro tomorrow. Unless I don't.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

in which I am pushy and not a little sentimental

So here's what I command you to do.

(Because we're such close friends and all.)

What I command you to do is go get a recording you haven't listened to in five years or so and give it a spin.

What has inspired me to such heights of chutzpah? Callas' studio Norma for EMI, that's what. (You asked, or rather, more accurately, you didn't.) The one from some year rather too late to be prime Callas. Which is probably why I haven't listened to it many times since I got my hands on it probably late in high school.* There has always been the thought: why listen to Callas in '61 when there's the Scala w/ del Monaco and Simionato, my overall fave hands down. (Yeah I guess if the Trieste existed in better form I might be into that. It's been so long since I heard it at all I'm not sure.) And really for the last four or five years I've always turned up my nose at studio if there's live to be had. Can I get an amen?

Also I've never been the ardent Ludwig fan everyone else with any taste is, though certain roles are almost unarguably fine. Such as Adalgisa, I must say. (Don't start with me, JSU. There are plenty of perfectly stellar mezzo Adalgise.) But I mean, who knew? A great Ariadne is hardly where you look for your Adalgisa. But there she is, caught on record, singing an exemplary turn in a not wholly grateful role. It's full bodied, distinctive in its plangent tone, reaches the highs and the lows. You'll pardon me while I hope in a time machine and give the 18 year old me a good thorough shake for not getting it.

Corelli, of course, is godhead. I'm not very objective about him, but here in particular, in the recording that made me like dramatic tenor singing, he is peerless.

I haven't listened to the Callas bits yet, really. I'm afraid the microphone may have been particularly unkind to her at this stage in the game, in one of those recordings that seats the listener somewhere around her soft palate. I'm neither afraid of an ugly voice, though, nor a total Callas necrophiliac, sending out bounty hunters to find the "Stormy Weather" from Elsa Maxwell's party. I'll get to her tracks eventually.

So off with you. Go pick up that Olivero Iris that's gathering dust because you could no longer stomach the tenors that squandered the honor of singing with her. Break out the old Czech Jenufa with the hilariously translated libretto but uniformly idiomatic singing that was naturally enough eclipsed by Soderstrom's. You loved them once, and in the words of Pushkin, love may still be there, not quite extinguished in your heart.

*Modesty prevents me from saying what year that was.

Monday, November 14, 2005

More Times

JSU the unamplified points me to an article I missed on Dessay. This is what I liked most:

"The English baritone Simon Keenlyside, who took the title role, says he regards Ms. Dessay as 'one of those artists that it is sort of unnecessary to deconstruct.'"

Maybe I'm punch-drunk but that strikes me as a wittily offbeat thing to say about one's fellow singer.

I think I have a minor attitude problem regarding Dessay because she's canceled on me twice, and we lunatics that haunt the opera take these kinds of things unreasonably personally. I can't remember what the second was, but the first was Ariadne that year that Lubov Petrova took over ably but not brilliantly, and ever since, a certain friend of mine at any mention of Ariadne taunts me, "ah, but you didn't hear Dessay..." I like to think Damrau was of similar stature in the part, but I'll never know, since Dessay I assume has dropped it.

[Edit: and she's canceled tonight.]

Whither the Traubels of yesteryear?

"Ms. Jansen, who took part in prestigious programs like the Glimmerglass Opera's and Merola, described Glimmerglass as both 'artistically a wonderful experience' and an 'opera boot camp.'"

This from a not deeply interesting piece* in the Times yesterday from the quill of Ann Midgette, but it made me laugh. The Young American Artist Program at Glimmerglass is pretty intense, but it's also about the prettiest boot camp you could imagine.

The article is about why conservatories aren't turning out big voices anymore, and unless I skimmed too lightly, it ignores a pretty simple point that could be made about the role of amplification in this.

Meanwhile, I have discovered the unsettling phenomenon of feeling I should attend the Romeo prima, not because I have much desire to hear Dessay's spin on "Je veux vivre" (which I don't much) or that I haven't heard Vargas sing in years and miss his voice (which I haven't, and do, but not with any real urgency) but because I need something to blog about. More unsettling still, now that we are so many, I'm going to be glancing around Family Circle--no, not looking for Dolly & Billy--sizing everyone up for bloggishness.

This feeling didn't compell me to any of the last week's three big events, of course. No Deb/Ben, no Tell (don't ask!), no Millo pep rally. Wanna make something of it?

*really, I'm not being gratuitously catty. I often like her reviews. And as usual, the point should be made: who's writing for The Paper of Record and who's essentially yammering on a virtual street corner?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Elektra it ain't, or: Pauly, you're in the wrong opera!

Ok. Hypothetical. It's 1973 and you get the neat idea to record Arabella with Caballe. Do you a) ruin it by having Oliviera Miljakovic howl her way through Zdenka, or b) no, get someone good; it's 1973, maybe Helen Donath is sitting around somewhere singing with flawless beauty of tone and could use some cash.
B, you say? Well where the hell were you?

a word of explanation, redux

Take II:
Before, it was: why I'm not linked to Parterre.
Now it's: why I wasn't linked to Parterre. Because I was convinced that my reasoning was lacking.
The first reason was that, well, tout but tout le monde knows where it is without my saying so, or at least le monde that's going to be reading this. But that's silly, because I linked The Rest is Noise immediately and the same is true.
The second reason was that I just don't write the same kind of blog. I have no dish to dish and I'm rarely handy with a devastating one-liner. Una piccola Cieca, non sono.
A certain trrillarina told me these were not reasons at all. Maybe I was just having an imaginary Oedipal/Elektrical conflict with the mother of us all. (Dostoevsky is said to have remarked on Russian writers: we all came out of Gogol's Overcoat. I always thought it would have sounded snappier if it had been The Nose Dostoevsky admired so. We'll not extend this conceit further, vis a vis La C, I think.)
So, my latest link: Parterre. Perhaps you've heard of it?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

par avion

My favorite opera queen has just sent me, by post from abroad, "Notes on the interpretation of Donizetti's Queens" by Ms. Leyla Gencer, translated (from Italian? Turkish? Polish?) by one Stephen Hastings. It seems to be a talk she delivered at the Donizetti Society. I'm making myself not read it just quite yet. She is for now Schrodinger's Spinto: maybe insightful, maybe inarticulate. We'll see.

Why, we could fix up this old barn and put on Rienzi!

Ok, somebody please post about "The Debbie & Ben Show" and put me out of my misery. All I have to go on at present is two short text message reviews. I feel like I probably missed a buzz laden event, it just...didn't sound like that much fun. I figured if I did go, I'd enjoy one or two things and feel like a chump for blowing the cash; and I didn't go, I'd hear later on that they'd done the Dawn Duet and Act II scene ii from Turandot as encores and I'd have to put my head in the oven.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Items of varying consequence

Night after Night points us to a very disconcerting article about LHL's health. Yes, I think we'd all been wondering (and we still are, but if the Times is doing a story on it, it can't be a good sign.) Think thoughts of health in her direction, for her sake and ours! On the selfish side of this, the Met Futures Page has for a long while had her in a new production next season of Gluck's Orfeo, choreographed by Mark Morris. Can you imagine anything better? So good health to her and good Gluck to us.

Trying to talk myself into going to "The Debbie and Ben Show." They're calling it that, not me. Surprisingly difficult, this. The Siegfried scene at the end is the only part I'm really sure will be good. Voigt was the reason for my first pilgrimage to New York when I was a budding opera whatever, and I have quasi-religious feelings about the sound of her voice, but when it comes down to plunking down the greenage for a ticket, I must remind myself she's fached herself out of stuff like Dich Teure Halle, hasn't she, a little? And Weber and Beethoven, alas, I find powerfully soporific. What I'm really revved up about is for some reason her run of Toscas in the Spring. [Edit: It occurs to me on further consideration that a not insubstantial part of the "eh..." factor is the ugliness of Avery Fisher Hall.]

I have linked trrill, to which I once contributed pseudonymously, ok even more pseudonymously, what I liked to flatter myself was a peppy little hatchet job on one of thoes OONY evenings when they let Millo's fans indoors long enough (as Margo Channing would say) to take in a Puccini opera. Trrill isn't usually about opera these days, but the author's sensibility is--oh, my dear, if you're reading you know I mean it in a nice way--inescapably operatic.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

every day a little blog

Oh, I'm liking this new (to me) opera blog: well sung.

Meanwhile, in the case of Filianoti or not-i, I can only think of the words of Dawn Fatale some years ago: I'm tired of going to Aida, quoth he, for the Amneris.

Now, I've only seen Futral in Partenope, and Partenope is not Lucia, but the fact is I find Lucia pretty dull and so find myself avoiding it until someone who rather sets me on fire comes along to tweet it at me. Futral was kind of disappointing in Partenope, so what are the chances she'll come bearing matches in Lucia?
So yeah, I guess until Rigoletto or maaaaybe Romeo, it's just me and the victrola.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Attended three hours or so of a 4.5 hour Meredith Monkathon at Zankel. No kidding. It was an accident that I missed the first hour+ but...not a deeply lamented one. Not entirely bloggable as opera, maybe not at all, except to say that Bjork (of whom I'm going to come out as not a big fan, before saying anything more) gave a corker of a performance in a short piece called Gotham Lullaby which I think she may also have put on one of her albums. [Yeah, I'm dating myself...everything's an album to me. The 78 will rise again!] If kunst and stimm there be in pop, Bjork Whatsitsdottir is in my book all kunst--the range of vocal effect seems to me, and this may be blasphemy, to focus now on whisper, now on growl and not much between 'em.

So anyway that all worked out nicely with her singing downtown art music, got up in a fairly conservative and completely flattering pink frock and little red boots she took off (surely a bit gesturally--why wear them for the fifteen steps from the side of the stage?) She gave a brief and moving, if automatically so, account of having sung the song spontaneoulsy in concert on September 11, 2001 after hearing of the events of the day, and then, accompanied by harp, delivered in the kind of tightly coiled, in-the-moment performance I'd like to see more on opera stages, wringing her hands and pacing with a little dance in her step--pacing not from lack of things to do, but apparently from inner reaction to the music that required kinetic expression.

Moron that I am, I didn't bring any kind of recording device (shocking revelation: I don't own one) or I should not be posting here for making my fortune on ebay! [Personal to Carnegie Hall types: note counterfactual nature of posting.]

Of the rest, insofar as I heard, Dolmen Music was the closest thing to opera. Regrettably, I missed the excerpts rom Atlas, her one opera as such. But Dolmen Music, without having words, has a lot of peculiarily enthralling interaction and vocal doings that stand in just fine for narrative events, especially to someone like me who at times prefers to ignore the libretto. Very accomplished and athletic singing from Ms. Monk's troup and the composer herself. The audience laughed a fair amount, as audiences do at everything lately*, because the effects are at times so outside what we're told to think of as singing as to be disconcerting and hard to know quite how to react to. It'd be easy to make fun in a barrel like Phillip Glass to the Simpsons. But they're sounds worth making and worth rehearing.

Meanwhile, I've been linked on two sites written by people far better versed than I: The Rest is Noise, and in a piece on Parterre by the Londonist's dauntingly erudite musicperson--both of which made me jump up and down just a little. But also made me think: dear god, I may have to edit the crap I'm spouting.

*seriously, I'm thinking of going only to the most unambiguously tragic theatrical events so as to avoid one day being dragged out of the theater screaming, "Why are you all LAUGHING!! Glengarry Glenn Ross is NOT FUNNY!"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Cori Ellison's program notes for the Met's Cosi fan Tutte, which I'm going to admit right now I didn't make it through (the notes, not the opera) began, as all program notes for Cosi must by law, with a discussion of that darned title. So hard to translate! CE offers up two possibilities: All Women Act Like That and So Do They All or something superficially more literal like that. And then she writes about how it's either a loopy comedy or--and actually at this point I sort of hooted with laughter, possibly causing some consternation among my row-mates--"a proto-Freudian nightmare." CE knows a hell of a lot more about opera than I do, but I mean, in all seriousness...

I'm gonna make a little suggestion to solve both problems. Directors who think it is one of those two things should pick which and bill the opera accordingly, and I'll let you match the title to the mise-en-scene, as either "Knock knock! Who's There?" or "Fuck!!! Fuck!!! We're all fucking Fucked!!!" Because I don't see how you could really go to the opera expecting either extreme and have a nice time or be remotely satisfied. It's just not hilarious now, if it ever was, and unless you were born in 1850, its commentary on human nature is hardly going to make you wake up screaming. Ok so annd then, if there's a director who's a grown-up, he can put the whole thing together a bit less simple-mindedly and call it Cosi fan Tutte and let the audience take the trouble to look up three goddamn words of Italian. Actually, Peter Sellars did a famously weird but also I think happily complicated rendering of the whole thing, and his suggestion was Women are Bathmats.

A couple of the singers last night fell squarely into the knock-knock school, to my way of thinking. Well, mostly Nuccia Focile. She sang nicely and put on a cute comic performance. The notary shtick was no more excruciating than usual. I have no real complaints but, yeah, I kept sort of wishing for someone else, something more. At least someone with a voice you can bite into and chew, aurally speaking. Marius Kwieczen, too, was a bit buffo for my tastes, but it was harder to get worked up about it because his voice is so rich and healthy, it's a pleasure just to soak in it. That said, the difference between a heartbreaking "Il Core vi dono" and a throwaway version is just that, just what he doesn't really have.

I think I should say, by the way, that I'm in the process of being critical about all but one voice, oh and one conductor, but really you could only consider the evening a triumph of ensemble and an overall resounding success.

You know, the audience seemed to love Frittoli most of all, and I'm not 100% sure why. The voice is there, and she's fun to watch, but if we're going to be horrible, picky opera people, the triplets in Come Scoglio weren't there, the low-lying stuff that makes it a bitch of a role were iffy, and what the hell is someone so young doing with a beat in the voice up top?

It's a pleasure, perhaps even an honor to hear Thomas Allen, a real artist by any account I'd reckon, and a definitively lovely voice, though it's dried up in places.

And I've saved the best for last. I don't have a lot to say about Matthew Polenzani except that at times he sang so sweetly I thought I'd die from it. Levine, too, I will dote on briefly: I didn't realize he had such effervescent Mozart in him, and was delighfully surprised.* Magdalena Kozena, on the other hand, I have a lot to say about.

Magdalena Kozena: Hot Mezzo. Yep, no doubt about it, she's cute, and I am notably not the very first to notice les belles femmes. So I at some point began assuming she'd be mediocre, a sort of Bo Skovhus with tits. [I hope in voicing doubts about purdy singers I have not offended La Canadienne, whom I have not heard in person but whom reviews confirm is rather more than just a looker!] Then I heard the disc where she sings in about six languages and was intrigued but not bewitched. Then I heard her Varvara in Kat'a and thought: aright, aright, she's got the goods. Then I heard her Dorabella and almost had to leave halfway through to have her face tattoo'ed upon my bicep. Not really.

She's for sure a dugazon, not a red-velvet-cake-voiced borderline contralto. But the voice has face, a distinctive vibrato. And technique to burn, it would seem to me. And she's an artist, a real one. "E Amore un Ladroncello" is the test--it's not an inherently gripping aria. In fact, at the mercy of most of its exponents, it's a trifle. Put someone like Kozena in it, however, and it is a spellbinding three minute story about love, the kind of material for grownups I started to go on about earlier. I think the key is you have to sound a little bit nuts, but not annoyingly so, like that friend most of us have who's just a bit too intense about things but once in a while you catch on that she's half laughing about it herself. Kozena as Dorabella actually reminded me of a real live friend of mine, and I find it's a rare enough occasion that an opera portrayal is specific enough to do so that I think I'm going to have to go and see her in whatever else she and the Met agree she's going to sing in New York.

Well, this has gotten out-of-hand verbose. Perhaps its a good thing I'm probably not seeing anything else until...well, maybe I'll go to Romeo et Juliette.

*Oh also I don't know whether to credit the fanciful but tasteful [what an awful word...all I mean is non-ostentateous, several notches in clunky kooky-ness below let's say the old Leinsdorf set] ornamentation to the singers of Maestro L.