Friday, December 30, 2005
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
First, though, Ariadne Obnoxious has tagged me for her meme. How can I say no?
Four people currently living most likely to produce an interesting & stageable brand new opera plot & libretto (ie, you would go to see it!):
1. Lorrie Moore. She loves opera and references it in her stories. She's free of the stuffiness that can drag a libretto howling to the depths of boredom. And of course she's just a stupefyingly good writer.
2. Tom Stoppard, fer fuck's sake. I mean, c'mon.
3. Richard Greenberg, maybe? The Violet Hour had a certain operatic quality. And of course Take Me Out fairly cries out for Zambello/Gunn/Burden. Two words: shower scene. And the baseball/democracy speech was really pretty much an aria without music.
4. Wes Anderson, though I can't imagine he'd have the least interest. Maybe I'd just like to see him direct a production, not write one.
Four books you could buy at a regular bookseller's like Borders, Barnes & Noble or on Amazon, that, if re-worked, would be most likely to produce an interesting & stageable opera libretto, (ie, you would go to see it):
[Okay I semi-wilfully misread and did not pick exclusively books. Borders sells dvd's as well, right?]
1. last season's brilliant slap in the face, The Pillow Man. I assume one can buy the script. The role of the brother pretty much screams for A.D. Griffey to start warming up and giving T.M.I. interviews to the Times. Katurian could be maybe John Relyea or someone, though I'm having a lot of trouble coming up with an operatic equiv for Jeff Goldblum.
2. Edna Millay's Conversation at Midnight, heavily cut. I am definitely cheating, as it is long out of print. Oddly both of my suggestions are basically all male, though there could be a trouser role in the Millay.
3. Alice. Flo could be played by Sue Ellen Kuzma of the Sellars/Mozart/DaPonte stagings, and her aria "Mel, Kiss my grits!" would be a winning audition piece for sure. Vera would be kind of Lily Pons role. This actually is not in bookstores, not on DVD, vergogna! But in any case I'm kidding. I'll pick a real one. Oh wait but how about Sanford Sylvan, if he could be convinced to shed his customary quiet dignity, as Mel? Or no, get James Maddalena! He'll do it. He's like the Mikey-from-the-Life-Cereal-Commercial of opera. He'll try anything! He was in the Harvey Milk opera for the love of god. Voigt might could play Flo as well, finally getting to show the world her comic chops. Ok seriously, I'll shut up.
3. Do you think Catcher in the Rye would make a good opera if Salinger weren't hiding in a shack in Connecticut eating cardboard and suing people for thinking about adapting his works or whatever he's doing? No? Ok, it was just a suggestion.
3. Say, would there be any way to stage Hitchcock? Vertigo, starring LHL who is the only soul haunted enough to be Madeleine. Or Kozena, maybe. Jimmy Stewart is also hard to operatize.
4. The Last Picture Show? I don't know, at this point I'm just picking favorite films because I'm not the world's biggest novel reader. Anyway, near as I can tell, I've worn this one out...
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Name or Nom de Blogge: Maurizio "Maury" D'Annato. Which is, yes, a big lie.
Age: 32. I swear this is not me riffing on The Consul. Papers! Papers! No, seriously. I'm 32. [Note upon googling: she's 33 anyway.]
Locale: New York, baby!
Raison de blogre: Get the words out of my head
Intended tone of blog: Halfway between Addison DeWitt and an eight-year-old girl talking about ponies. Plus occasional references to sodomy.
Voice type (real): lyric baritone that peters out around e.
Voice type (in yer dreams): dramatic soprano
Arias sung in the shower: "Il Balen," Onegin's aria "Kogda by zhizn'" "Un aura Amoroso" down a fifth or so.
Arias of other gender sung in shower: "O Don Fatale," "E Amore un Ladroncello"
First opera seen: probably Magic Flute, Cincinnati
First opera to elicit madly queeny reaction of obsession and dedication to a lifetime at the opera: Traviata, Cincinnati, don't actually know the cast
Uberdiva, living: Ewa Podles
Uberdiva of the past: Callas goes without saying, so my unter-uberdiva is probably Borkh*. Honorary mention to Lucia Popp, my uberstimmdiva
Fave singer you never hear anyone else enthuse about: Rose Pauly
Favorite line from a libretto: " Ach, solcher wüsten Inseln sind unzählige auch mitten unter Menschen, ich - ich selber ich habe ihrer mehrere bewohnt und habe nicht gelernt, die Männer zu verfluchen."
Opera you'd rather eat thumbtacks than sit through ever again: Fidelio
"Why won't the Met/my local company put on...": more Janacek? Like every season?
"A perfect role assumption I have seen was...": Fleming's Desdemona. Seriously.
"If I had a time machine...": Mexico City, 1951. Aida: Callas, del Monaco, Dominguez
cut, paste, modify if you're entertained by such foolishness
*...who isn't dead, by the way, so perhaps active/inactive would be a better distinction. Any time Madame Borkh wants to come out of retirement, I shall be first in line to buy tickets.
Monday, December 26, 2005
For my gal pal who was having me over for din I got Lucinda Williams' magnificent, tight, clean, adjective, adjective Ramblin', and for me, a marked-down-from-its-already-teeny-price Laserlight CD of Regine Crespin: Ses Plus Grand Roles. There's some really good (Faure's Penelope which I guarantee I never would have listened to otherwise) some pretty bad (Mozart, 'nuff said) and some remarkable indeed: Crespin and Corelli singing the Ballo duet. I have listened to it four or five times now. Actually 60/40 percent because of Corelli, but that's ok. Being 2/3 as ear-popping as Corelli at his best, and this is his capital b Best, like in Gli Ugonotti maybe, is a form of greatness.
The Marschallin scene, jarringly cut/spliced together with the end of the act, shows how enchantingly she could make a huge voice do little-voice tricks; her "silberne ros'n" is a clydesdale on a tightrope, suddenly more nimble than physics should allow. The second Cosi aria, in French, shows that there are limits to everything. I'm betting the Abscheulicher is good and butch, but I'm in touch with the folks at Guinness about a possible new record for "least times listened to Fidelio in lifetime," so I can't tell you.
If I had gotten my act together and asked someone about 1) psoting sound files and 2) the extent to which you can do this before someone writes you a nasty letter threatening legal action, there would be a bit more point to this other than encouragement for the Crespin-curious. Alas, I was busy sleeping 'til ridiculous hours and eating. Maybe I'll come 'round to this christmas thing after all.
Current soundtrack: Parsifal Act I Transformation Music, Bayreuth/Muck 1927.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Did we know there was at least an excerpt of Flagstad in Elektra? If someone knows if there’s more than just the beginning of the recognition scene, for the sake of the war on Christmas, email me! I mean…I’m actually about to give it another listen and see what I think about it. Just between you, me, and the people who say “between you and I,” (so they can learn their lesson) I’m not the world’s biggest fan of KF. (A dear eccentric friend in Austin refers to her exclusively as “KF” and to Furtwangler as “god.” He’ll say to people “have you heard the Siegfried with KF and god?” and then stare them down as if to say, “no you’re nuts.” I miss Austin eccentrics.) But there’s a kind of roundness and solidity, as opposed to the taut solidity of Nilsson for instance, that’s the reason I always kind of wanted Voigt to sing Elektra and the reason KF could be terribly gratifying in the role. A round, plummy tone (though we hate food metaphors for singing...what the hell is chocolatey?) is a luxury, though-solidity is the sine qua non. Any fragility must be the province of Chrysothemis: della Casa sounds lost in her I believe one-off of the role, and it's what makes her so touching. Sometime around 1995 when Voigt for one thing was the first diva with a website and for another didn’t have a bajillion fans, she answered emails personally and told me she wasn’t seriously considering it which I think was how a charming, polite midwesterner says “hells naw.” Ok, sounds like a concert ending. No more KF Elektra I’ll wager. Rather a loss.
Current soundtrack: Golijov; The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind. Kronos Quartet w/ David Krakauer
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Current Sountrack: Salome (1947) Cebotari, Rothmuller, Hongen, Patzak, C. Krauss dir.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
1) huge box of 78's for my table model Brunswick. Highlights include Gadski, Tibbett, and apparently one of the first recordings of the Macbeth sleepwalking scene which opera, I suppose, had fallen out of fashion early in the recording era. Oh and Das Lied with Kullman and Thorborg. Das Lied on 78 is a fine thing.
2) Tristan bleeding chunks (in the truest sense--they just sort of stop and start wherever) from the 1933 Broadcast with Leider, Melchior, Olszewska. Had no idea this existed. Still curious why it's in such pieces. Ok sound though.
3) 1940 Broadcast of Lakme with Pons, Tokatyan, and Pinza in slap-my-face-and-call-me-Inge good form. The Bell Song is pretty much nonpareil. Crowd does not lose its collective mind and begin screaming, which is puzzling to say the least.
Jesus died for my listening pleasure.
I sometimes buy a little holiday gift pour moi-meme but don't have my eye on much in particular. Suggestions?
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Judy Kaye, whose bio informs us she has sung with the Santa Fe Opera--and we're not talking the Countess of Krakenthorp; Eurydice and Musetta are listed--does indeed make rather an athletic spectacle of going after the almost aleatory aesthetic of Madame J's vocal style. It's not easy singing like that, as I particularly noticed during a scene when Kaye is additionally called upon to march in place completely out of time both to the piano and to what she is singing. In a performance writ a few points too large, I thought this was a little coup de theatre. During the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria, she does hit upon the real sound as we hear it on record, and so some of its pathetic, unhinged sincerity. Much of the time, however, as in the initial affront of Caro Nome, she seems to gild the lily. Do I even need to type this next sentence? Florence Foster Jenkins doesn't really need embellishing.
As a small note of no real significance, even less than usual I should say, I'm a little curious why they told the story of Jenkins' cab accident and left out the funniest line of FFJ lore, wherein she marvels at how she now can sing "higher an f than ever before." It's apocryphal, but so's the whole play.
Lilygilding is I suppose the guiding aesthetic in this production. Donald Corren, as Cosme McMoon does his fair share of pulling faces and playing to the folks on 43rd street, and then at other moments he displays a real finesse. It's tough to see how a play that has him reminiscing about a soldier he gave an extra ticket to and tossing off the little bit of heartbreak, "I wondered what life had got in store to temper his enthusiasm," can play like a sandbox bully for so much of the evening. But what I think most makes an intermittently frustrating trifle out of a subject with all kinds of possibilities is the jumping about and yipping of Judy Kaye. FFJ comes out a sort of hyperactive Hyacinth Bucket, and in combination with the singing and despite the contrast of a few quiet scenes played relatively deftly for pathos, it makes her hard to like or loathe, to have any substantial feelings about. Maybe it's a theater-going pecadillo of my own, but I find this kind of broad, schematic idea-world deeply uninvolving.
The Carnegie Hall scene itself got lots of laughs, or I think it did. Someone made the decision to pipe in sound footage of people laughing and applauding, so it got hard to say what was real and what was Memorex. Probably a great way, all told, to make people think they'd experience great hilarity. I'm reminded of a story from someone I used to know that now that he had been subjected to Mama Mia! with visiting relatives, he realized that the press about people dancing in the aisles failed to mention the actors storming said aisles and commanding people to dance. And I must say the moment of cinematic expressionism that ended the recital scene rubbed me entirely wrong, struck me as tonally wildly out of place.
The play ends with McMoon asking us to imagine the music, the lovely music, that Madame J hears in her head while howling at us like a stuck pig. And then, and I keep going back and forth over whether this was a mistake, Ms. Kaye comes onstage and sings the Ave Maria, this time straight. It's actually a pretty good performance (with just a hint of a late Sills bleat) but maybe not enough so to prop up the sentimental little paean to self-expression it follows. Without a moment of true transcendence, too many questions about money, delusion, dependence, and the like hang out by the theater door, poke at us as we pick up our hats and coats, and ask why they weren't invited onstage.
I don't feel entirely at ease turning up my nose at a play about opera that actually made it to broadway, but bearing in mind the vast influence of my blog, I think I'll sleep ok just the same. In a late scene of the play following the legendary Carnegie Hall recital, Kaye/Jenkins speaks of the past and of the lost joy of anticipation, saying "until today I had this in front of me." I couldn't help but think of a famous rebuke to a review:
I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review in front of me. Soon it will be behind me.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
I missed most of the 'cast, but it's ok, I've already spillt a good many words over it. And yet, I didn't even really look to see what else was on.
One quartet, coming up.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
(Speaking of, I have for the first and only time scooped Parterre with casting news of Brokeback, the Opera. Get me!)
I think we're all wondering just a little whether Villazon will rejoin us for Saturday's broadcast. A discontented soul in standing room was heard to mutter Tuesday that perhaps the big V was saving his voice for an audience of millions, though I think that's the voice of disappointment rather than reasonable suspicion. I do have a hunch the radio may magnify some of the less ideal aspects of the singing in this production.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Trebs still out of tune. Zon fucking canceled. Cover, poor soul, was booed and not without reason tho' I'd never. Going home. Lassu or no lassu.
Salient details: Cover=Raul Melo. Nice enough voice, mellow tone (forgive pun), produced quite clumsily, possibly owing to nerves. James Courtney's wobble bothered me more, AT's tone quality and acting wowed me more, vendetta e-flat nixed in favor of big warm, what, b-flat? But am I high or is she sharp all over the place? Reaction to Guelfi remains lukewarm. Some nights, though, you can just feel the "off" in the air.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
A-sung over at Wellsung meditates on the debased state of love in Rigoletto as embodied in the character of the Duke:
On a related note, isn't it funny that La Donna e Mobile, maybe the cruelest number in the show, has become its jaunty calling card?...and touches directly on something that's been bugging me in opernregie lo these...lo these however many minutes I've been at work, trying to come up with things to think about that don't involve work itself. I don't think I agree entirely about the nihilistic take on love described over yonder, linkwise, though I find the idea compelling, but I'm going to use it as an excuse, nay, a jumping off point for my own sermonette.
Was it not Adorno who dreamt up the idiotic notion that Wagner was the first composer to write music that reflected two conflicting emotional states simultaneously? Fine, maybe it wasn't, but some guy in college told me it was. Anyway I think perhaps audiences, as imagined by directors anyway, have all become pre-Wagnerian in our abilities to hold it in our heads that any character might have a complicated inner life.
The Duke must be a monster, as must the Count in Figaro. Susanna, while I'm on Figaro, must be 100% faithful in deed and spirit or our ideas about monogamy might develop little cracks in them. Doesn't it strike anyone else as more interesting to have these people change their minds once in a while? I have long kvetched that the reason so many productions of Figaro could be piped into hospitals for use as a sedative is encapsulated in the way the duet "Crudel, perche fin'ora" is played. Seriously, I'm getting back to Rigoletto in a flash. As my friend Emily used to say, "There is a point. I am famous for getting to the point."
"Crudel," as we see it done, is a comic little number, wouldn't seem out of place in the Catskills in 1950. The Count is a vile lech and Susanna a clever little minx who keeps slipping out of his clutches because she's true blue to her big boy. As she gets all mixed up and says no, she won't meet him in the garden and, yes, she's gonna fool him, the audience titters, and tittering is not a natural action; it's something we learned from sitcoms. But, say, just for kicks, why do you suppose she gets mixed up? Read the scene as prose and it is not confusing, least of all for a whippersnapper like Susanna.
C: So you'll come to the garden [for kinky outdoor sex]?
S: If that's what you want, I'm there.
C: And you're not yanking my chain, right?
S: Nope. I'm not yanking your chain.
C: You'll be there?
C: You're not foolin'?
C: So you'll be there?
S: Um...Nope! Tee hee hee oops I mean yeah!!! Math is hard!!!
Once upon a time, listening to the wonderfully subtle recording Matthias Goerne and Dorothea Roschmann made of this scene, I dared to dream of a production in which the Count, who is probably getting plenty of ass anyway, gets so hot and bothered about Susanna because in fact he loves her. I'm not saying he loves her well or purely, but there's something real going on there. And Susanna gets flustered not because she's suddenly Totally Hair Barbie, but because she loves him a little, too. We don't always love who we should, y'know? [cf. A Life of Maury D'Annato: Volumes 4-17]
And so to Rigoletto, and the Duke. So much fucked up royalty, so often. The Duke is a beast but he needn't be that and nothing more. It's a harder sell, because long about the quartet, he's pretty much up in Maddalena's bidness, but it sure makes his duet with Gilda more exciting, and if you ask me, no musico-fictional figment could emit the musical line of "Addio, addio! Speranza ed anima!" with nothing but a good blowjob in mind. (I hokked the same chainik about Cosi some postings back: Il Core vi Dono is either a little bit serious or it's crap.) By the same token, I think Gilda is a little less, well, Sutherlandy if she's not carved out of soap. You could imagine, if you tried, that Trebs' Gilda wanted to get her rocks off once she figured out that papi and Giovanna weren't the only possible people she could be hanging out with, right? Embodiments of Platonic Love don't have such good makeup.
So I'm not saying every Rigoletto henceforth should sing La Donna with a quizzical look of self doubt or anything. I'm just thinking if the character is well drawn elsewhere, it won't be an anthem of awfulness, but rather might have a shading of sad irony to it that is in line with our conflicted inability to deny that it's irresistably, in the words of A-sung, jaunty.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Sunday, December 11, 2005
I auditioned several headlines for this, and liked, "Blind Item" best but then I was afraid you'd get your hopes up that I had some good dirt--which wholesome looking baritone fresh from success in a new American opera was seen making out with which prolix and occasionally too vulgar opera blogger under the Ponselle portrait at second intermission or something like that. (I suppose that would be less blind and more near-sighted, in need of a good squint.)
Well. My tickets, bought at the very end of the mad rush when there were a few left, were for Tuesday night. And then I started getting all tied up in knots about consistently having blug things after all the other lads and lasses blag them. The things I do for you kids. All, uh, twelve or thirteen of you, I'm guessing. I bought a score desk ticket. What that means is you go aaaaaall the way up like you were going to Family Circle, and then you go down the side where the family circle tickets that are slightly cheaper because the view sucks are, and then you wave hello at that person whose view sucks, cast a furtive look of envy and despair at him, and sit at a little desk beside him where the view? She done gone. Like, entirely. You have a little desk with a light in case you are the rare scholar that bought score desk because he wanted to follow the rich counterpoint of the Capriccio sextet, and then what you do, having put your coat on the score desk, is more or less the equivalent of listening to an exceptionally well mic'd live recording. (Oh, hey! Blind item! What purveyor of live recordings whose company has the funniest habit of changing names a lot was seen in Fam Circle last night, leading us to believe that a souvenir of this event will be coming soon to a website near you?)
It's actually a very peculiar sensation which is why I'm glad the fellow in the Lousy But Existent View seat in front of me went and found a less lousy seat at first intermission. And the guy beside me found one for the first scene until he was kicked out of it by people with a lot of gall and, yeah, tickets to sit there, so I basically only missed the scene at Rigoletto's house. Did it ever occur to anyone that Rigoletto goes in the list of characters whose names we never learn? Because I'm pretty sure Rigoletto isn't really his name. I'm just saying.
So first I can see: hello, trusty old hideous Otto Schenk Met Rigoletto! How's the drab, unimaginative eyesore business? Why, I haven't seen you since Vargas and Rost were respectively champagne and chloroform on your well worn boards. And Villazon makes his entrance and, old fashioned that I am, I'm hoping for entrance applause but it doesn't happen. (I get that it disrupts the music. I sort of feel like in Verdi and other stoppable/startable lego-like operas, this is not such a huge crime.) Villazon's voice, in the last negative comment I will make about him, is maybe a size smaller than I was expecting, damn the studio. The Duke doesn't have opening lines that tell you much, and Eduardo Valdes as Borsa actually does have kind of a meaty voice, so it was a moment of doubt. "Questa o quella," came off as a job interview, a good pitch but a little bit tentative. Fortunately the crowd went tenor-assuringly bonkers anyway and next time Villazon had a big scena, the jitters were gone, and by the time he got to "Possente amor," he tossed it off with the swagger of the guy who knows he got the job.
I give credit for swagger alone, but in this case I don't have to. Pretty much everything that was promised in the recital discs is there in the house. The voice is aural cake, and the technique suggests there's enough for everyone. Did I seriously just write that? I'm just flailing around for something more interesting to say than: go! Go hear him now! He's just what we all wanted! But I think he may be. There's stimm and kunst, messa di voce and punch-me-in-the-stomach-and-see-if-I-stop-singing high notes, a few weepy glottal attacks and a few syrupy portamenti but not too many. He moves well, he's less funny-looking than in some photos. I. Am. A. Fan.
Anyway his first scene ends and my row-mate returns, having fallen prey to the ushers, and I am plunged into darkness. So my first impression of Netrebko is 100% aural. Which is kind of ironic in the Morrisettian sense of not actually ironic but sort of annoying. Because, maybe you've heard? She's pretty. And, as I will find out later on, quite a compelling stage presence. The voice itself has presence in spades and several other suites. Much, much fuller and pingier than I was expecting, probably because of the way she looks. It's also weirdly covered in places, extraordinarily solid at bottom, and deployed from time to time with a certain insouciance about pitch. If you're hearing mixed feelings, you're hearing right. I found her Gilda overall quite exciting, but not without worries. She pulled off the trick of making Gilda tragic instead of just infuriating. She beguiled in Caro Nome. This is all good. She also went for the e flat we all love in the vengeance duet, and in her enthusiasm, added just a leeeetle extra flat to the e. At which point she put the unwritten high notes in the garage for the evening, not to appear for the quartet (ruined by jerky conducting, by the way) which I'll admit is one place I get all disappointed at the lower option. So the short version of this is: I'm still making up my mind for myself, but last night certainly had the feel of a Sternstunde.
We're all used to the fact that the title character in Rigoletto is most often an afterthought these days, so it shouldn't disappoint anyone horribly that Guelfi was basically ok, big voice, lots of lurching around. You know, though, the one time I heard it sung, but sung, the big guy given some vocal class courtesy of Mark Delavan, the whole show worked better as a theater work one could care about. Guelfi's reading was just a little too woolly and reliant on occasional shouting for me. [Edit: having read the Wellsung review I am wondering if I've been too uncharitable. I'll decide on Tuesday.]
Eric Halfvarson is a very high quality Sparafucile, and it suddenly occured to me I never hear anyone talk about him much. James Courtney was not always audible, but Monterrone's scene is one conductors love to bulldoze, and what you could hear was good and solid.
Blind item: what amateur reviewer is at this point not going to anything new until, like, Wozzeck unless maybe, maybe to catch the last Fillianoti-abend or Feldermaus if he can bear it?
Rolando Villazon is the next tenor we will wait eagerly to hear in each new role. Rolando Villazon will be the next automatic cause for dreadful 6 o'clocks in the basement of the Met waiting for standing room because the house is sold out flat. Licitra and Giordani will sing what they sing, but Rolando Villazon is the next great lyric tenor.
Yes, yes, these are statements we make at 1:30 in the a.m. having just stumbled in, and then feel silly about the next morning, only I'm betting I won't. More tomorrow.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
You know what? I think I may confine myself to writing about the music because my feelings about the work itself are very mixed, and still sorting themselves out. But my feelings about the music are of a piece. The general tenor is disapproval. The charge goes something like: Ang Lee, girl, spend some time in the flyover states before you take a stab at what they sound like. And then I spend three seconds on IMDB and realize 1) he's straight, 2) he's 5'7" which isn't relevant but adds him to my mental file of short celebs, and 3) he went to Urbana-Champaign, so there's no excuse for what I'm tempted to call an orientalist approach to the sound of life in emptier places, with my apologies to Edward Said for my cavalier use of his word.
What I mean by this is, for instance, the spliced-in-sounding three second overlays of slide guitar during the otherwise somewhat bleached-out sonic wallpaper of a guitar playing a bunch of tenths without much melodic direction. It's something like a game of telephone between John Fahey and John Williams with twenty people in between so everything is lost. And what's the excuse, in an visually very attentive period flick, for dressing a scene in a bar with a jukebox playing a Steve Earle song from quite a few years later? The excuse, I'm afraid, is that all that exotic twingy-twangy music sounds pretty much alike. For me, though, the groan-inducingest moment of musical pandering came in the final credits with the inclusion of a song by ubiquitous gay songster Rufus Wainwright. Don't get me wrong--I listened to Poses practically on tape loop for about a year, but here he sticks out like a tiara in a kicker bar.
Alright, I'm tiptoeing off the soundtrack for a moment to say that I think the exoticizing impulse toward rural manliness is the main problem with the movie. I'm going to avoid spoilers here if I can, but the opening scene, for me, played like parody, an effete fantasia of What Real Men Are Like. It is almost put over by Heath Ledger's astonishing, flawless role reading. (I never say this kind of shit but seriously, dude, just give the man the statuette and be done with it.)
Unintentional real-life tie-in: since QXR's webcast has been relegated to some AOL system that (surprise!) doesn't seem to work, I'm listening to the first bars of the NPR World of Opera/Houston Grand Opera b'cast of Trovatore thanks to a connection to Yellowstone Public Radio.
So, listen, I won't go on and on* but in bemoaning the mythos of a distant land where men like men but arent like men who like men, can I whine about the obvious way in whichHollywood that thinks very differently about women's bodies and men's? Much was made, much, of how explicit this was going to be. And [minor spoiler alert] yeah, it will be a very new moment for America to realize that Jake Gyllenhall is in fact the bottom, so it's not a sex scene that fades away at the, uh, tent-flap. But isn't it droll to put this in the basest terms and realize at the end that the count of girl parts seen (because, yes, Western culture has sexualized female breasts and not male ones--we're starting from there) is, um, four, which is to say two girls worth of parts, and the count of boy parts seen remains at zero, pretty much in line with all of cinematic history? I'm not counting a scene where they jump, naked, into a lake, from a great distance, though I'm sure some techie geniuses out there are already working with screen-freezes and the magnify tool. And I hope they have my email address.
As long as I'm going on about bodies, though, thank god they had the honesty to show Ledger after what I assume may have been an enforced period of not working out, with an only mildly idealized version of the body issued to 99% of humanity. I kind of wonder if the reason we didn't see as much of Jake Gyllenhaal was that he was sticking to a Hollywood Hunk regimen and was too cut to be a country guy who does hard labor that doesn't take place at the David Barton in Chelsea.
No, seriously, I'm going to shut up now. All else aside, my feelings about what we used to call the story would I think involve major spoilage.
Meanwhile, back in opera land, Radvanovsky is doing her thing. Her thing, since you asked, is singing "Tacea la notte" with a sobbing rubato that makes me want to slam my hand in a door to stop the endorphins before I run out. Actually, it's looking like Bruno Caproni's di Luna may stand in quite nicely for that door...
[always a later edit. Damn me for not having a program to record streaming b'casts! She even did "Tu vedrai" which for some reason I adore. I think the florid passages are not an unqualified success, so I'm no longer praying to the pagan gods to make her the next Norma, which I think was JSU's idea, but I do wish she were in something more enticing at the Met this year. I feel I ought to add something about Mishura except she's not rubbing me the wrong way or the right way. She's fine, and I don't mean that as quite the damnation it sounds.]
*totally kidding, of course I will.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
JSU: i was kicking around the idea of an all-russian cast of this
JSU: 'an unamerican tragedy'
JSU: of course!
JSU: starring hvoro, of course
Maury: he's too old
JSU: doesn't matter
Maury: sort of.
JSU: he's a similar combo to gunn
JSU: not very loud, good looking
JSU: good sound
JSU: though hvoro has better breath, etc
Maury: gunn has better pecs, so it's a draw.
JSU: evseeva as roberta
Maury: borodina is inevitable as sondra i guess.
JSU: not sure about the light tenor
Maury: yeah neither am i
JSU: for the uncle, galooooosin
Maury: galuzin* as the father i guess.
Maury: uncle, whatever
JSU: as the cousin
Maury: oh, in the upshaw role?
Maury: jesus, that was easy casting.
JSU: maybe guryakova for evseeva if you want to go all-kirov
JSU : Guryakova has a not-huge voice but good dramatically...was v. good in Mazeppa
Maury: i've never heard either
Maury: oh no no no Prokina
JSU: what was she in?
Maury: i saw her a hundred years ago in kat'a in dallas. intense. only problem is she's perhaps not plain enough.
*de-Gallicizing the transliteration of his name is a tic of mine. Sue me.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Alright, that's out of the way.
Well, boys and girls, though mostly boys, I was in simply the rottenest funk about going to An American Tragedy. Said I to my dinner companion: you know what the last thing in the world I feel like doing is? Attending a new American opera. I hate to get all "mes cheres!" about things, but ah my friends and oh my foes, was I ever wrong.* Cutting to the chase, it was great. Not exactly wet my pants great, or even run around in little circles shrieking great, but if I may frame things ever so egocentrically, anyone who can write an opera that ends with a little boy singing about Jesus and does not end with me swinging from the rafters has done a neat trick. (Three of my least favorite things: organized religion, children, and children singing. Here at FPMFOB, we aim to alienate.)
Truly, this was satisfying on all levels, as stagecraft, as song. The score itself, with its off kilter nostalgic Americana (in the breathtaking hymn, for instance) flavored everywhere with palatable mid-century film score modernism, the utterly non-embarassing libretto--and we all know that's an achievement--both erased memories of some much duller recent premieres. The production, though it looked better in motion than at rest when it got where it was going, ran aesthetic rings around last week's Shakespeare romp. Yes, it looked like a gigantic "memory" game (where did I see the other drowning girl? over in that corner, I think) or one of those grids where you push the numbers around. But, and how can I explain this?, in a good way.
Statistically unlikely as it is, I'd actually never heard Patricia Racette in house. She does have an air of utility diva about her, but I'm happy to see she can be rather more. True, in lyrical scenes there's a mildly generic quality to the instrument, but emotional climaxes apparently put the girl on her mettle. Her death was quite gripping. Also filed under happy surprises, Nathan Gunn it turns out is more than just a great rack. Heretofore I had seen him only as Billy Budd, and anyone who tells you they remember the sonic element of that bit of one-handed listening is lying, lying, lying. As it turns out, he's a masterly steward of his voice, though I do think...well, let's just call him the male Mattila, ok? Calendar cute, no vocal worries, and a certain disconnect between the physical performance and an intermittent instrumental/non-dramatic quality to the singing. [Edit: I remembered later what struck me as I was listening, that this was not entirely Gunn's fault. His arias really aren't the most memorable music, not by a longshot the best things in the score.]
Susan Graham is something of a whipping boy around these parts, but I mostly have to hand it to her. Did you ever read the story about the kids who live on a planet where it rains for seven years and then there's one sunny day and they all lock this one kid in a closet so he misses the sunny day? No? Well the one time in seven years Susan Graham gets to dress as a girl, I do think it's a bit mean spirited to make her wear that wig is all. She didn't always set me on fire but the aria about being changed by New York was a fine moment for her, and she sank her teeth into the role of Sondra Finchley and chewed. There were moments of real vocal class.
The only real ovation went to Dolora Zajick. Mine is not to reason why. Now, don't think that the fact that I recently quoted Mrs. Parker is going to keep me from doing so again, oh no. Writing about Dawn, Mrs. P says:
One can but revise a none-too-hot dialectic of childhood; ask, in rhetorical aggressiveness, "What writes worse than a Theodore Dreiser?"--loudly crow the answer "Two Theodore Dreisers"
It does at times seem on the decibel evidence there are two Dolora Zajicks, not to draw any parallels. If there were a shred of artistry in her phrasing, she'd be the best goddamn singer ever. Husbanded as they are, her vocal riches make me someting between whistful and irritated.
In some smaller but equally well drawn roles...William Burden was also a one-off for me until tonight, previously familiar only from the World's Ugliest Entfuhring (hereafter WUE excepting I don't intend to speak of it again. Ever.) And he was solid in that and even better in this, his acting perhaps the best of the bunch. JSU called this one: Jennifer Aylmer = Dawn Upshaw + Clairol Winsome Wheat Blonde, in mostly good ways. Richard Bernstein has gotten very little attention but I think quietly turned in a very praiseworthy reading of Orville Mason, the district attorney, who presumably also pops a mean corn.
I have this feeling I just did more picking than praising. Other than my generally negative nature, I'm not sure why. I pretty heartily recommend this, if you're on the fence. Ok or even if you're just daydreaming about bringing your binocs and try and look up Nathan Gunn's dowdy bathing garment. (Doesn't work. I tried, kids.)
Now, do I wait for Tuesday's Rigoletto or try and get score desk for the prima? Would that be totally pathetic or what?
*Great. Channeling Edna Millay. That's the way to turn it down a notch.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Tonight though I went to Miller Theater's Composer Portraits series, in this instance John Adams. There was very little singing, and what singing there was could hardly be damned with the label "opera," so I'm of two minds whether to write about it here. Suffice it to say--no, don't suffice it just yet. Let me first do the full disclosure routine and mention that I'm pals with someone involved. But you know what, I think this opinion is just shy of universal, so I'm going to assume it's not loyalty speaking when I say what a ruthlessly precise killing machine they are. Somewhere on the way to being a weirdly worded compliment, that took a left turn, but you get it.
The opera-but-not-opera portion of the evening was the apparently rather uncategorizable work "I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky." It's...really not that satisfying. I think it suffers from fish nor fowl syndrome, maybe.* If you like broadway, it's going to strike you as stuffy and not so very tuneful. If you like opera (everybody now: and I know you do!!) or downtown art music, whatever the hell that is, the broadway vocal mannerisms involved may drive you up a tree. It's like what would happen if somebody had the newsreal-as-opera idea that brought us Nixon in China without the genius-level clarity of vision that makes it more or less the only opera from the last 25 years anyone gives a fuck about.
Still it was easy enough to dig into the virtuosity of absolutely everything else. I'm continually blown away by their protean violinist, Courtney Orlando, who in this concert played keyboards and sang a small role in Ceiling/Sky with more vocal assurance than the soloist (which is not really fair of me because she only had a few lines) all as a warmup to the murderous violin part in the Chamber Symphony. There were bowstrings everywhere, I'm telling you. My friend in the ensemble and I joke that my vestigial four heterosexual brain cells have quite the crush on her. If so, last night's no-sweat-broken performance didn't help any, nor did that devastating pair of boots. Oh there. I'm a big fag again.
Many of the rest of them evince a similar sense of being able to do anything, backwards, in heels. There's a certain sadness to watching musicians like this because you can't [I can't] pretend that even if I'd started early and worked hard, I could ever do what they do.
Other works featured were the quirky, intermittently grating Scratchband , a piano transcription of Short Ride in a Fast Machine matched only by last concert's Ligeti etude for sheer shock value (Mr. Adams, after intermission, jokingly compared this to the Horowitz transcription of Stars and Stripes) and Gnarly Buttons, a vivid pastiche requiring the clarinettist, here one dauntless Elisabeth Stimpert, to borrow the pair of bellows Caballe wears on her back.
Ok. It's official. I'm quite unable to write about anything but singing. Well it was a fine concert, and I gave it a shot.
*I'll have the veal.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
There's this insane batch of good opera online today. I actually passed on the Podles Tancredi because I have the Naxos one somewhere, even if live is always better, and 1) I'm presumably going to see her do it...isn't she doing it at Caramoor or somewhere? and 2) Dalayman's Salome tempted me away. Girlfriend has a voice on her, but apparently the only thing as big is her fee, because the only reason I can think of for this Jokanaan is there was no money left and they had to get someone's uncle Ingvar to do it. You remember Ingvar, he used to sing the little song about the farmer's daughter that made us all laugh so hard. Sorry, I really got into being Swedish for a second there.
Edit: as whichever Baldwin it is says after a car crash in State and Main, "Well, that happened." The last twenty minutes of Salome verged on somnolent, though pretty. But then a very good thing happened, in that instead of opting for Knjaz' Igor on the basis of "it should be going for a good while longer" I took a little gamble on Die Gezeichnete because The Straussmonster was joking about the ridiculousness of Schreker's plots the other night. An instant convert to Schreker am I. And Schwanenwilms, little black dress grudges notwithstanding.
Friday, December 02, 2005
It had to be about three minutes into Romeo & Juliette that I figured out why I had let four performances go by while all the cool kids were already blogging it. The explanation requires subtlety, intricate logic, and a fine grasp of the Kleinian concept of the depressive position: I hate Gounod. For the lenght of one '78, he's great. Then I go into sort of a trance and find myself (for example, throughout act II) hearing the voice of Mrs. Parker saying:
Although I work, and seldom cease,
At Dumas pere and Dumas fils,
Alas I cannot make me care
For Dumas fils and Dumas pere.
So what I'm basically telling you is I have no review because you just can't say much worth reading about something you dislike a priori. (Get Maury with the Latin and the italics and shit!)
Except I paid twenty five smackers for my age-inappropriate student ticket, and I'm damn well going to write about it.
The production seems to be the first thing leaping to everyone's finger tips. I won't buck convention. It's...it's fine is what it is. It's not shockingly avant garde, nor is it an artifact from Otto Schenk dustbunny hell. I would say for all the bells and whistles, one basically never feels from one act to the next one has gone anywhere new, except for the justly ballyhoo'ed floatin' bed, an image so pretty as to recall ...one's first kiss? One's first Met b'cast? [Mine was Rosenkavalier, I'm pretty sure. In the immortal words of Patty Bouvier: there went the last lingering shred of my heterosexuality.] The weather forecast in the back did get a bit ponderous, but I'll admit that the giant moon made me smile. Laughing with/laughing at will not here be debated.
And I kind of think avant garde design should go with some attempt at quirky staging, otherwise you have all these people milling around acting normal despite the fact they're in La Serva Padrona set in a strip mall, or what have you. This is why I'm stoked for the return of the Bob Wilson Lohengrin, despite the fact it's, well, preposterous. Well or worse than acting normal is when they're clumsily staged. I'm afraid the swordplay conformed uncomfortably to tristoogean aesthetics for me (which is to say it cleaved to the teachings of Larry, Curly and...right, that's what I was after.)
And nobody, nobody, looks good in purple velour.
I'm really going on about the staging. There's a reason for that. We'll get there. But, wrapping up, if the main piece of stage business that sticks in my head from the production is the cute little pantomime Dessay and Vargas did during the applause for the Waltz, I should probably have stayed home and read a book. [Jesus was it cute though. Her little mask took a bow, his little mask clapped for her, both little masks kind of hopped toward each other and I think made out or something. It's not impossible I dreamed this part.] I really do believe Dessay sees the silliness in this opera. In one scene she made stock soprano gestures that could only be interpreted as self-mockery or a kind of mean imitation of Aprile Millo.
Alright. I'm backed into a corner. Cards on the table time. I put off talking about the singing because I have practically nothing to say about it. Vargas was I think maybe nervous about ye olde falling bedde because he sounded tentative until the damn thing was on the ground and then great like I remembered him. When he's singing quietly, he's in a league of his own. When he's not, he does a bit more gear-shifting than I imagine to be part of ideal French singing. Having heard Alvarez lately, I miss the splash of bad taste Diana Vreeland (as quoted by The Mother of us All for years in his opera-l signature) recommends. Dessay's voice has a nice ping and her diction seemed swell to me but my French is rotten. [Franklin Pierce Adams or someone round tably like that is reputed to have noted that once you step off the plane, you quickly realize nobody speaks Intermediate French.] I'm sorry to say her voice always makes me think of recordings of Mady Mesple and wish I'd been born earlier, and in France. It gets around the bends pretty flashily, but it just isn't love. I wouldn't not go hear her again (say, I bet that would be tricky in French what with the double negatives) but...
I agree with everyone about Tybalt and Mercutio: they're fab. I'd like to hear them sing other things, things that don't make me consider the sacrilege of leaving before curtain calls. Theodora Hanslowe's timbre reminded me in some insubstantial way of von Stade, but her scene is so short it's hard to size her up.
And with that, forgive me, I'm out of ink.
Oh, but no. One other thing. Why is Juliette's calling card that we all know and, depending who we are, trot out at auditions, when in fact her little "I'm so nuts I just may drink this drano" number has actual dramatic content, more moods, and a greater variety of musical ideas?
Next: I try to drag myself to An American Tragedy, having learned no lessons.