Sunday, December 31, 2006
Friday, December 29, 2006
Ewa Podles is the Polish Samuel Ramey
Patricia Racette is the American Lucine Amara who was already American
Patricia Racette is the Lesbian Lucine Amara
Brigitte Fassbaender is the Lesbian David Daniels
David Daniels is the Lesbian David Daniels
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is the dead, Nazi Renee Fleming
Anna Netrebko is the Russian Anna Netrebko
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Also I'm ready to declare this not Netrebko's rep because the passagework is not entirely working out and the first high note of the evening was definitely iffy, but she sure sounds pretty in the simple lyric moments.
Ok and the bass singing Ah per sempre (if I'm not mixing up my wholly interchangeable bel canto arias): that was a lesson in what bel canto style is not. That is to say, I Puritani is not by Mascagni.
Not heart-broken about not having gone to this. Will update later, no doubt. Having a bit of a compulsive writing day.
Ok and Son Vergin is sounding perfectly adequate, and no high note. Hm. Yeah, sorry, it sounds idiotic to yelp "No e flat! No e flat!" except it's I Puritani, so it's kind of part of the package.
And then John Relyea shows up to save the day, singing a very pretty "Cinta di Fiori"...
Qui la voce: droopy in that pretty, dreamy late Sutherland way. Vien diletto: a little bit droopy in the not so good way, i.e. approximate, but very pleasant to listen to. E flat? Long, solid, and perhaps a shade flatter than intended? Someone tell me if I'm wrong, Netrebko always sounds pitchy to me. Crowd: loving her.
A bunch of what leads up to Vieni was quite heart-breaking. It seemed like Kunde was trying super-hard to sound younger and prettier, and it wasn't happening. And then the duet itself was sort of ok, and the f was weird, as it must be, but not bad and not wholly falsetto.
And then, I just can't put sugar on it, there was a howl of desperation from Netrebko to end the opera that just, ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Blekh. What can I say to convey the wrongness of that note? But you know what? I'm giving her points for trying it. Without that kind of chutzpah we wouldn't have had the e flat in the Callas Mexico City Aida. It could have been a triumph, if it hadn't been a fiery freeway accident.
Is it time to put Puritani back into the crate for another twenty years, or fifty?
Netrebko is a singer to be reckoned with. She's hot stuff onstage and off, and yes, off does matter--making a splash is the difference between an artist and a star. Who knows which one she wants to be eventually...She's more a star at present, albeit a star with fantastic theatrical instincts and a lot to work with in the chords.
But where to start? 1) She could never, ever sing Brunnhilde, or Isolde and if she's got a Norma up her couture sleeve, it's many years down the pike (though honestly, the rhetoric around Norma does get a little hard to wade through--mortals have made their way through it and even sung parts of it well.) Fine, Callas might well have sucked as Lyudmila. 2) She (Trebko? Net, spasibo) didn't have to totally overhaul herself to be (conventionally) hot; she was already there. 3) The florid technique is just not remotely as fine tuned chez la Russe as chez la Grecque 4) Her public persona is rather straightforward and conventional, no champagne vs. Coca Cola remarks, no running off with famous people, though I guess there's still time, but she just doesn't seem like she's going to die alone, mysteriously, in an apartment in Paris. Etc., und so weiter, i tak dalee...
Most importantly, though, her acting is more physical than vocal. That is the main way in which she is not Callas.
Anyway wouldn't it be more fun to call her The Cossack Callas than The Russian Callas? She's from Krasnodar. It's Cossack Country. I googled it.
Monday, December 25, 2006
I got a recording or two, nothing new, just old stuff I had wanted for a while. Solti's Figaro, can you believe I didn't have it? When I was just getting into Figaro I had it in my head Susanna's entrance should have a certain lilting, easy quality and it turned out I had heard the Solti some time earlier and that's what I had in my head, the perfection that is Popp. If you haven't listened to it in a while, treat yourself. I haven't gotten to the Count's aria yet, but I'm looking backward/forward to it (having doubtless heard it years ago.) Also the other day on Sirius they were playing a Manon Lescaut excerpt that appealed, and to my shock it was Albanese, who I've never, ever liked. So I waltzed over to J&R, at this point practically the only game in town, and I bought that, the old studio deal with Bjorling. The croaky quality is indeed there in Albanese's singing, but it's forgivable. It seems to be finally getting me into the opera that may in fact be the first one I ever saw but has never really grabbed me.
Coming up: can I drag myself to Puritani after re-discovering at Caramoor what a lumbering bore of a thing it is? Well, it'll be hard not to, with the usual expectations about Trebbers (I really want much, much more vocal purity in things like "Qui la voce" but if anyone can enliven this walking Ambien of a character, it could be her) and my really very happy impression of Cutler last year. Also I"m trying to figure out what Amato is doing but their website is much in keeping with the air of charming disrepair one hears characterizes the company. That's right, I've never been to the Amato.
And of course there's the countdown to Jenufa. Well, that's all I got...
Aright, off to partake of the traditional Chinatown fare of the Hebrews.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
To pass the time, since there's not much to say, here's a brief history of your humble correspondent and 20+ century music. At age tennish he was taken by an overly optimistic father to a program of chamber works by, I'm not sure, did Xenakis write for violin and piano? Someone whose name struck ten-year-old ears as exotic and whose music scared a young Maury away from the twentieth century for the next six or seven years until Poulenc and Ravel provided an easier way in. Time passes, M.d' becomes a perfectly respectable listener who, while he might have to pretend he gets Ligeti, is not one to go into things raring to declare them monstrosities. Or even lifeless, hectoring bores, but we'll get there...
Now, I'll admit I went into last year's excellent An American Tragedy wary that it might be one of those pieces of dutiful modernism that loses its way between 21st century concessions to the existence of the audience and presumably conservatory-instilled horror of sounding anything like Puccini, never finding a personal voice and never displaying any understanding of what people want from an opera. I'm just talking about a basic narrative thrust that is reflected somehow in the vocal line. Lulu meets this criterion just the same as Don Giovanni, and opera audiences flock to it despite its daunting language. Am-Trag turned out to meet it admirably as well. The First Emperor fails spectularly.
Perhaps JSU is right and the libretto is the rug that got yanked out from under things. I'm trying to imagine act one with a text less redolent of Vogon poetry, but I just can't do it. The problem with putting over ideas that feel mythic in scale is that mythology (pace Joseph Campbell) can be a very local thing, and so your language is going to have to be extremely assured when, let's say, you show a princess seducing a prince by spitting food into his mouth. If it's unconvincing, everything will just seem exotic with all the worst weight of that word. If it's truly ungainly, you may have a comedy on your hands. Toss in some leaden music with nary an appealing vocal line in the first hour and a half, and the question you see in the eyes of your audience might just be, "how long 'til that thrill ride, Akhnaten?"
There is almost nothing to redeem this work, unless act two includes a screening of Xanadu. Paul Groves, reliably sympathetic and sweet of voice, almost manages to puncture the dreadful gloom of the scene in which his character fucks Elizabeth Futral so hard she can walk again --insert standard Anna Russell disclaimer--but not really, not quite. Futral is asked to sing wretched, clumsy sounding lines, though fortunately her diction is not as good as Groves' and you can't always make out the deeply unpoetic libretto. (One exception I regret most is when she calls his mouth "a stubborn oyster.") Groves, by the way, is the Anatol in the Vanessa that keeps opening at the hallucinated Metropolitan Opera in my head, and he's swell.
Suzanne Mentzer, in her only Met appearance this season, had about two lines in the first act, which is criminal. Michelle de Young had many, and I have no other hearings to judge her by but I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she sounds better in less grating music. Hao Jing Tian displayed a bit of grace when he was given the opportunity.
I just have no way to judge Domingo. He was certainly there, ergo the sold-out run.
The design is briefly striking, but largely static. An illustration of what Minghella's Butterfly might have looked like with a good deal less taste and imagination, it is arresting in that way that doesn't last very long. Another production might choose to root the poetastery of the libretto in something a little more literal, but with any luck, there will never be another production.
ETA: apparently not a flop. Jonathan has noted a screaming audience response on the broadcast...I mean, who's to call it a flop when it sells really well, but I did assume people would hate it. Opinion on Opera-L, for what that's worth, was looking pluralistic when I checked in last night.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Please advise me on the following point of etiquette:
If I have a case of Martian Death Flu, as just about everyone in New York does right now, only I simply adore Rigoletto and decide to go anyway, what is the appropriate behavior? First of all, should I unwrap my Kleenex at the beginning, or would that be unimaginative? Should I, maybe, instead, buy one of those plastic packs that has a little seal on it so I can seal and unseal it every wonderful time the urge to blow my nose arises?
Well, and speaking of the blowing of noses, should I dab at my nose in a genteel fashion, quietly expel air and offending matter, or (oh, I just know you'll choose this one, since it obviously the proper manner of conduct) opt for the florid splendor of the loud, long, cartoonish honk followed each and every time by two wet coughs?
Heavens, I know I'm pushing it by asking so many darn questions, but there's just one more, 'kay Maurizio, old thing? Let's say I've opted for the crinkling and the honking. Should I do it when there's applause, or at intermission, or when they go more or less apeshit with the wind machine during the storm? Or might it really spice things up more to blow my nose loudly in quiet moments, in the middle of Sparafucile's low F, during Parmi Veder le Lagrime, and just about every other possible exposed moment as if I WERE FOLLOWING WITH A FUCKING SCORE.
All the very best,
The person behind you
Aright, that's out of my system.
It can't have been much more or less than a year ago that I got exceedingly enthusiastic about Villazon, and had my first deeply mixed feelings about Anna Dovol'no-trebko. Who I'm smarmily happy to report is a full tilt knockout in person, drinking her champagne five feet away near what we've come to refer to as the barbecue deck (because that's exactly what they should do with it at intermissions in nice weather, Rene Pape out there flipping burgers) in her totally cute skirt and long boots. There's always the temptation to say something to glamorous personages one runs across, but if you imagine the conversation, I mean really go through with it in your head, it ends up sounding like that bit from The Waltz: "Did you go to the circus this year, what’s your favorite kind of ice cream, how do you spell cat?" Only possibly in Russian. And I mean how well is "your Gilda was magnificent except for the singing" going to go over? (I'm just fishing for a laugh here; I could easily and sincerely praise Miss N's exquisite Mimi.)
What I remember most about that earlier Rigoletto, and what I think I'll remember when I'm a withered old windbag (shuddup) is the jittery energy with which Rolandochka (as I'm certain Trebs calls him...I should've asked) swaggered around, physically and vocally, during "Possente Amor," and then ran offstage like he was really, truly about to get laid. I have to admit, that was missing tonight in Piotr Beczala's Duke, but nothing else was. I'm dying to hear what everyone else* thought of him because I was Im. Pressed. As was pointed out to me, there were some choppy phrases and weird cutoffs, but really it was a most athletic piece of singing. I suppose I should throw in the word slancio somewhere here, so there it is, and there it was. If I had to choose between hearing Beczala and Villazon, I think what I'd most likely do is start a new paragraph, about Ekaterina Siurina.
Bit of a drag to go point by point here, comparing last year and this year, but it's late and I had this weird blood sugar thing going on all night, so humor me. Trebbers wowed me last season (twice) without actually doing much singing I liked. She's very alive onstage, and the girth of her voice is exciting, but in every other regard, Kathy S. is her vocal better. The voice itself is that kind that should be a dime a dozen but ain't. It's sunny and even-tempered and makes soft landings wherever it goes. It is, for me, illustrative of why "pretty" is not necessarily faint praise. I want a duvet filled with it for all the winter nights we're apparently not having anymore since we're headed straight for the sun. I want to bathe in it. It should be noted that Ms. Siurina doesn't so much as roll her eyes when there's a trill in the score, so YMMV if you're a stickler about those things. And her acting, yeah, is generalized. She should probably be enrolled in that deprogramming course where lyric sopranos are broken, by any means necessary, of the habit of spinning around with their arms up when they're playing happy, but if she started singing, her deprogrammers would make like the animals in the Magic Flute and start dancing around, and she'd escape.
What am I talking about, though? The real news, given the things we have and don't have, is probably Carlos Alvarez. I do mean Carlos, right? I'm not just making up some Mexican sounding name because I can't remember his real one? Oh, whatevs, call him Fifi Alvarez if you need to; just call him next time anyone's doing Verdi. I saw this one coming when he sang in Ballo with Debbie. I mean...sometimes lately I feel like the Roger Ebert of opera bloggers, not in terms of anyone actually reading me or havng a tv show or anything, but rather because I'm relatively enthusiastic about what I hear, at cumulative risk of sounding uncritical. So let's say this was not perfection, but certainly it was excellence. Ok, back to the drawing board on toning things down. And even though this is one of those hoary cliches of opera reviewing, I just gotta say it's a pleasure to hear the role sung rather than shouted. I can't seem to write my way around it. The only thing missing in Paco Alvarez' assumption of the role of Rigoletto is the spark from within that makes people like Villazon and Netrebko appear to be living their roles, making it up as they go along. The motivation here is so clearly externally motivated, the action frenetic without a point, and though Alvarez stays in character a while into curtain calls, which suggests a connection he can sense, it hasn't made its way out, to us, yet.
Just the same, with that, we may have reinstated another vocal category missing for some time in any confidently claimable way from the Metropolitan: the Verdi Baritone.
I am in serious need of sleep right now, but don't want to sign off without noting Robert Lloyd's luxuriantly charred-black sound and Kate Aldrich's fluid physicality and decidedly non-comprimaria sound as Maddalena. And now I'm off to dream a little dream about Kleenex filled with chloroform.
*okay, except for some people
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Friday, December 15, 2006
They're making a broadway musical of Xanadu!!!
Starring Magdalena Kozena!!! (not really. but they are making a musical.) And Thomas Hampson!!!
I'm going to look like the world's biggest hypocrite for finding this exciting after whining about pre-fab musicals like The Wedding Singer, but if you've ever seen Xanadu, maybe you'll understand. Because unlike middlebrow, ephemeral but acceptable nothings like High Fidelity, Xanadu is utter crap! "Exuberantly idiotic and wrong," said one critic (me). "Divinely sincere in its embarassing missteps," said another (still me.)
It has its own music. And it's by E.L.O.! It has a crazy number where an old Andrews Sisters type number has to share the stage with that crazy 80's "Rock and Roll" sound, so it's kind of like Ariadne auf Naxos that way. It's fool-proof. Like a musical of, I don't know, Carrie.
Monday, December 11, 2006
[The secondary theme of this posting is: yes, I have a line from All About Eve for every occasion. Much like Uncle Tom's Cabin, it is the key to all knowledge and culture.]
Friday, December 08, 2006
Now is the part of Shprockets ven ve commit blasphemy. You're going to run around clutching your heads acting like Jews #1-5 when Herod gives the go-ahead or rather the go-behead, but I'm going to say it anyway.* Naturally, in December the mind turns to making lists of the best and worst things that happened over the year, if one is a particular sort of ninny, and I am. Not to get all Oscarific, the Best Male Performance I saw all year was pretty likely Rene Pape as Phillip II. And the second best was...
Raul Esparza in the brilliant revival of Sondheim's Company playing at the Barrymore. Now, don't faint or anything...I'm not exactly equating the two things. Esparza gets to sing into a microphone in a small theater. From the standpoint of quasi-athletic achievement, it doesn't take the same kind of chops, though Esparza's production is indeed well schooled and easy. Main thing is, he convinced me that a role I never really liked is actually a magnificent piece of writing. Favorite performances of the year aren't about being convinced, though; they're about being shaken or stirred (anyone feel like a martini?) I left the theater quite moved. I'll have to see it again, I think.
Actually, I reevaluated the whole show, not just Bobby. Please understand: I really like the original cast recording, in a certain sense of the verb "to like." I enjoy the story behind it, have watched the documentary with everyone staying up all night to record it. I listened to it a bunch before I ever saw the show, and once I got past the annoying opening chorus, I found the writing delightful. I think almost all of it, however, is improved upon by this cast, and I can't wait for their recording.
Highlights include: 1) Heather Laws' so-fast-it's-physically-impossible delivery of Amy's mad scene/patter song "Not Getting Married." Her deliver, also, is so funny as to almost diminish my monomaniacal love for the platonic-ideal that is Beth Howland, creatrix of the role's original reading. (Amy Justman as Susan also displays formidable musicianship in the opening bars, shrieked rather hellishly on the 1970 version.) Bear in mind all these people are traipsing around the stage playing various instruments. The one that struck me as particularly funny was Barbara Walsh as Joanne, laconically playing the triangle.
Walsh is the cast member most likely to be raked over the coals of comparison, of course. But, what can I say. Blasphemy #2: while I admire the ferocity in Elaine Stritch's account of the show's best known tune, "The Ladies who Lunch," (and it is ferocity that Walsh lacks, a little) I've never really bought her as Joanne as the book and score present her: a well heeled society gal who's hard-as-nails as an acquired accent to her basically classy nature. Yes, she's screaming inside, but she has mastered the WASP trick of not letting it out, and when she does, it's a party trick.
Stritch, in delivery and vocal persona, is a bit too much the broad. She doesn't sing with any introspection, so I've never totally bought her as Joanne, and you can disinvite me to your Sondheim karaoke party now, though I think I'd do a nice "Ladies who Lunch." Barbara Walsh isn't 100% convincing in the scene that leads up to the number, but her delivery of the song itself has a certain refinement to it that I think is necessary. [In moderation. Check out this hilarious disaster to see what happens if things get too genteel.] Not that Company is big on coherence, but "Ladies who Lunch" really can pop out of the frame excessively if it turns into a real bar brawl. Walsh makes it a contained breakdown--the availability of vibrato, for instance, reminds us who the character is. Not a trick Stritch had in her bag.
The production has a cold and sophisticated look, and the "look, ma--no band" idea works very differently than it did in Sweeney Todd, but equally well I think. I'm thinking if I shut up about the concept and the staging and all that, though, a certain other blogsterino might take up the topic better than I can.
I realize this makes me sound like a whore, but truthfully, I'm not getting paid to urge you to run out and see this, if you like musical theater at all. Last season's gem, The Drowsy Chaperone, just recouped its investment and another jukebox musical just closed (who knows which one, and who cares?) So my point here is go see high quality stuff, vote at the box office, and maybe good revivals and good new musicals will seem like a good investment to the people who fund this stuff and we won't have to live under the constant threat of a musical version of Mean Girls or Sometimes I Give Myself the Creeps: The Green Day Musical.
Oh, not for nothing, I made the title of this posting what it is as a sort of string around my finger to remind me to ask if anyone knows what the hell this line from "Not Getting Married" refers to ("Why/Watch me die/Like Eliza on the ice?") since I've never known.
*Right, yes, I'm pretending anyone who reads this is an opera fuddy-duddy. I know it's not true, but for some reason it's more fun if I imagine you're going to be scandalized.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
I think maybe tonight was a coulda-been-a-contender night, where one problem takes the air out of a whole lot of potential. Not to keep you in suspense, since I'm sure otherwise you'd have been positively shredding your food wondering who ruined Christmas*, the culprit is a tenor, and it ain't Villazon, nosireebob. Oh and it's not Parpignol either, since Parpignol as an operatic role is sort of like Family Circus as described in the movie Go: he just sits there in the score, waiting to suck. He's probably the only character who deserves the miserable fate of being surrounded by a children's chorus. So, who's left? Flacido Flamingo, of course, whose Siegmund I would gladly hear any day, but who just doesn't have it going on conductorially. Many people have told me so, but it was driven home for me last night: what should have been a big event was instead a slightly frustrating, decent night at the Met.
It just never came together, and I mean that in a broad figurative sense as well as the most literal: a bunch of world class singers at the country's premiere opera shack were actually not together with the orchestra and sometimes with each other, and near as I can figure, it may have been from the shock of having to drop any notions of musically conveyed drama to plod along with Domingo's workmanlike concept of the score.
The singers weren't bad. Quite the opposite. Villazon in the first act raised questions about his ability to sing a spinto part in such a large hall, but Act III was perfectly audible and terribly pretty. His reaction to [spoiler alert!] Mimi's death was just as hammy as it needs to be to jolt you out of having heard the scene four score and seven times. His little scream before the big "Mimi!" outburst was a fleeting moment of grand tragic over-the-damn-top acting that crowned a nuanced, deeply endearing performance (the seduction of Mims was particularly funny and convincing.) I'm trying to stop short of saying his performance made me want to give him a big old hug, because that would just be creepy. Seriously, though...Rolando, man, if you need one, I'm here for you. His Duke in Rigoletto was more exciting, but Rodolfo is certainly a success, too.
Ne-osobenno-trebko sounds so, so much righter in Puccini, to my ear, than she did in Rigoletto. Though I was expecting her to knock it out of the park on that one note in Act II that Tebaldi fans used to sit around waiting for, her performance was more a whole package, tastefully imagined and more than competently produced. Nothing flashy, but nothing less than excellent. Maybe not riveting, but I mean, c'mon, it's Mimi...you shoot for "endearing" more than "fascinating." I've never gotten to the end of a Boheme and thought "wait, but if she dies, how can she finish her dissertation?" Here and there, the Trebs could use a consonant transfusion, but I've heard worse cases of that particular disorder.
A native of Perm, Russia ("Where Every Day is a Bad Hair Day") Anna Samuil, who stepped in for someone named Glanville as Musetta, has a pretty sweet and youthful sound except right at the top, where it goes a bit Russian. She got through the legally required mugging without being irritating, but didn't create a particularly vivid character as Musetta, which I do think is possible, though I'm having trouble thinking of anyone who does it. That Quando M'en Vo didn't get a mid-act ovation I'm going to blame on the guy with the stick, and if you disagree, you'll tell me.
The backup crew, foremost the dependably top notch John Relyea and a charming Patrick Carfizzi, were entirely in line with the caliber of casting, and equally besmirched by the torpid flow of things.
Now, I fall solidly into the category of non-booer, myself, but I have to say it was amusing to watch a boo-vs-bravo war start up at both intermissions when PD hit the podium. Didn't happen at curtain calls--presumably the booing party could stand to be there no longer. I don't think I'll ever boo anyone (was in fact mortified when people booed an admittedly lackluster sub for Villazon last year...maybe it marks me as Southern but I think there's a certain virtue to gracious acceptance of lousyness when an expression of our disdain won't accomplish anything beyond hurting someone's feelings) but I have to admit, knowing Domingo has years of fame and success buffering him from taking these things too seriously, or so I'd guess, never having been famous, that it kind of tickled me.
Oh, for the record: whether this was Villazon's lapse of taste or Domingo's, I have no way of knowing, but Rodolfo did not take the genlteman's option in ending Act I but rather took the top note with her, which is always vulgar. Also for the record, I believe the end of the act was in key, though honestly-truly I've kind of forgotten where to listen for the transposition. Is it right after "Gia mi mandi via?"
Next up: remains to be seen.
*I've heard some protestant families have a wintertime fun ritual of determining who ruined Christmas. As a General in the War on Christmas, I certainly hope it was me.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Already two musicologists have informed me that musicologists really aren't opposed to cuts, although one of them admits that Phillip Gossett, the grand inquisitor of Verdiana, does indeed hate all cuts. It seems it is in fact a certain kind of opera queen, not musicologist, I'm thinking of, that gets huffy if you cut ten bars of Die Frau Ohne Schatten or do the wrong damn version of Boris G, the edition from last June instead of last August.
Okay, must go spend some time thinking up new things to be wrong about. All those mistakes out there aren't gonna make themselves, you know.
Monday, December 04, 2006
"Is Renee Fleming a better singer than Kiri Te Kanawa is or was?"
Renee Fleming was, until several years ago, a better singer than Kiri te Kanawa is now, primarily in that Kiri te Kanawa barely sings now and that's no good at all. RF now is certainly a worse singer than KtK was at her best, except when (occasionally) she's really good again, like in those Berg songs at Carnegie.
Some days RF is a worse singer than KtK ever thought about being, like when she's singing in a Southern accent, which KtK would never do, I'm guessing, or when she's singing jazz, which KtK did in a less misguided and grating way than RF. Te Kanawa, at her worst, was just dull. One of the crew at Parterre dubbed her "The World's Highest Paid Church Soprano," but then she went and sang that final run of Capriccio at the Met that (all snarkitude dropped for a moment) brought tears to my eyes at the outburst of "Madeleine!" in the final scene. Follow that link, by the way, and you'll also find the witty potshot about how K's Tosca is the only one you'll ever hear described as "soothing."
We could always compare them in certain roles. I, as much as anyone, like occasionally reducing opera to little more than the sausage race at a Brewers game.
Desdemona: Fleming wins.
Countess in Figaro: te Kanawa wins, unless it's Fleming fifteen years ago in which case it's a draw
Mimi in Rent: Neither of them ever sang it but wouldn't it be hilarious?
Effie in Dreamgirls: Oh stop, now you're just being silly.
Vanessa: Kiri was supposedly pretty good but Fleming hasn't sung it and I guess won't be offered it at the Met because they haven't staged it since 1965. *tap tap tap* Is this thing on?
So there you have it. Don't you love it when the internet provides an objective answer to your question?
Another disappointed reader googles his way here with the search string "words lamento della ninfa." Well I don't know them, of course, but I'm happy to make some up.
Ahime, com'e triste d'essere ninfa!
E ninfere qua e la, notte e giorno
Senza gia il tempo per fare altre cose!
Ahime, non vuoglio essere piu ninfa,
Ma che puo fare? Cantaro un lamento, cosi,
E forse Signore Monteverdi puo lasciare
La sua opera somnifera e interminabile di Poppea
Per due momenti, e scrivere le note
Per una povera ninfa, cantante suo lamento, ahime, senza musica.
Nymphs speak lousy Italian, as it turns out. One supposes they speak Nymph. I do hope ninfa means nymph, or I'm going to look like I'm not serious about these matters.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
I just came as close as I have in years to enacting the fanboy ritual of getting my program signed.
This was a relaxed, non-tired-from-work, matinee experience, different in feel from the fever dream of a buzzy opening night, but probably equally satisfying. It was the cushiony couch of contentment rather than the wild ride of discovery, delirium, &c.
Flipping through almost-signed program, by the way, we find that Anna Netrebko is frequently compared to Callas (premature much?) and that the Met is presenting the Magic Flute in a new English translation. There's about a 10% chance that's good news, if you ask me. Singing translations are second to maybe military occupations of sovereign nations in terms of likelihood of going horribly wrong. And, not to always privilege the dead over the living, there's always that English translation by that Auden fellow...
Did I say Don Carlo was (narratively) in an emotionally irretrievable medium? Because opera seria, now that's some hard shit to get really exercised about. And on top of everything else, there's no applause window after two of Ilia's big numbers.
This shows a particular lack of foresight on Mozart's part when Ilia is Dorothea Roschmann. Note to Mozart: Roschmann needs an applause window. Just give us a V-I and hold your horses with the recit. Don't let it happen again. Remember the time I said I wasn't going to use food metaphors for singing because it's facile and overly subjective? I'm going to do just one, just to keep a hand in. Dorothea Roschmann's voice is like raspberry puree served in an ivory dish made from the tusk of the last elephant and slurped up through a straw made of pink diamonds. Don't you think?
The weird thing is I'm not exactly sure what I want to hear her sing. The Countess, no doubt, Figaro and Capriccio. Daphne? A soprano Oktavian? (Shuddup, JSU.) Jenufa? Ok, here's my answer: anything she wants to sing. She gives the impression of a singer who nailed up her technique so long ago she is able to devote absolutely all of her energy to making it art.
The very best thing was maybe the duet with Kozena, about whom I have probably enthused to the point of great tiresomeness. Idamante wasn't as fulfilling as Dorabella, but it sure was an easy sing (which I noted in particular after Kirstine Jepson's interesting intermission chat the other day, in which she told Maggie J. something to the effect of "after the first time I got out there and sang ''non ho colpa" I called all my mezzo friends and asked, "why didn't you tell me how hard it is?!" p.s. have I mentioned how relaxed and engaging MJ seems as an interviewer? I feel inclined to weigh in after all the ludicrous moaning about her first season as an announcer) She and Roschmann reminded me of those postwar central European Mozart singers, actually, in many ways I can't quite put words to right now.
The two of them did absolutely all you could to inhabit the stylized storytelling of opera seria, although in this they may have been outshone by Alexandra Deshorties, vocally much, much improved since last I heard her. I can't say I love the basic sound but she's doing a lot with it and has really worked out a kind of fluid stage comportment for herself. D'Oreste was pretty nuts. She's the only member of the cast who seems to have hired a drag queen consultant for hand-movement seminars, which is too bad for the rest of them. Idomeneo, more than most operas, needs a little Paris is Burning to get things going.
I don't have a hell of a lot to say about Kobie van Rensburg. Wasn't at all disappointed, but there wasn't some moment I wanted to run home and tell everyone about. At the risk of relegating everyone else to a sum-it-up paragraph, here, Jeffrey Francis displayed admirable flexibility as Arbace, and Simon O'Neill tore it up pretty good as the high priest of Neptune. There was no real weakness in this cast, down to the Cretans (including an auditions favorite from a few years ago, the sweet-voiced Lisette Oropesa and ubiquitous and quite talented bass Andrew Gangestad, who I knew vaguely years ago and is also a nice fellow.)
By the way, my sources in the front row report that when the crown fell off Kozena's head in the last minutes of the opera, she was visibly almost cracking up, which I wish I'd seen. Everyone else just stood around in a very stately manner, trying to pretend that the Fumbling of the Crown is part of any first-rate coronation.
Tuesday's Boheme, and isn't there a Rigoletto this week? Opera burnout, here I come!
Bonus (?) chat-post. Kind of like a commentary track you'd never pay extra for:
JSU: netrebko callas?
JSU: ha ha ha
JSU: ha! no, you kid
Maury: and I like her
JSU: they're both skinny!
Maury: they're both from east of the mississippi. i dunno, i just report.
Maury: "to whom Netrebko is routinely compared" says the program
Maury: did you like my shout-out about soprano strauss roles? :)
JSU: yeah, but you picked the wrong one ;)
JSU: i'd prefer her marschallin...
JSU: oh, btw
JSU: i realized why i didn't think kozena was a soprano
Maury: the marschallin is a less interesting sing.
JSU: cause she wasn't any good in mahler 4
Maury: i missed it
JSU: with the hub
Maury: you suggested roeschmann as komponist, no?
JSU: rosenkav is a lot beefier
JSU: it's really a jugendlich role
Maury: i can never tell who will look dumb as a boy, though. i thougt kozena would.
JSU: as a boy, she looks like a boy
JSU: which, if you think about it, is unsurprising, considering her shape
JSU: roeschmann may look a bit like flagstad in fidelio or something tho, it's true
Maury: give me a heterosexual perspective: she's actually totaly hot, right? not just opera hot?
JSU: both ways, she looks like an extra from the lord of the rings
Maury: that's disturbing
JSU: well, i was thinking about this thru 90% of her baroque recital last yr (maggie k)
JSU: you didn't mention stephen milling!
JSU: neither did i, mind you
Maury: i'm not sure why i said te duet with koz was the best part, except as a transition. ilia's arias really were the best part.
JSU: i thought elettra's first was the best part ;)
JSU: well, maybe not, but close.
Maury: i have trouble with her voice
JSU: somehow, it's what's been stuck in my head since wednesday tho
Maury: love her hand gestures
JSU: yeah, the top is still artificial, even if it's solidified
JSU: but it works, and there's a menacing boom somewhere near the bottom, so who cares
JSU: 2 more chances!
Maury: no, i liked it but i'm not really up for another idomeneo
Maury: i did just pull Cestina Hrou (Czech for Fun!) off the shelf in case i need to express my approval to MK
Maury: hezka hudba=beautiful music, i think
Maury: velmi krasna hudba. very beautiful music. i don't feel like going through the book looking for the preterite so i can say "that was". I have forgotten most of the 1 quarter of Czech I studied
[minor deletion about Boheme to protect the innocent]
JSU: in fact, it's the only safe one with her to see, since the first is 'conducted' by domingo and the second is singles night (gaaaaak)
Maury: they should make jenufa singles night [which, credit where it's due, was I may have been Jonathan's idea.]
JSU: bluebeard's castle ;)
Maury: american tragedy? :)
JSU: btw, you didn't blog kozena's ornamentathon
JSU: is it more ok in opera seria?
Maury: oh, true. in opera seria it doesn't...jinx
Friday, December 01, 2006
Now, I'm known far and wide as a musicologist groupie, maybe the only one in existence. I hang around them, have been known to date them. But one thing I'll never get is the idea they all seem to have that operas should never be cut. Have you ever heard the Callas Vestale? Have you ever tried listening to all of Vestale? I'm not proposing anything drastic, mind you, just I'd be happier if we could cut all of Don Carlo but Act III scene I and then the last two acts.
Alternately, it could be presented in some radical restaging designed to piss everyone off. The whole thing is set at a gas station, except Act IV scene I, which is at a high school dance because that's the only place there's ever that much drama. Or, hell, flip the score over Bob Wilson's way. I'm all for that. It's just so damn dusty, Don Carlo, that without a bit of devilry, it is almost always going to be, for all the fine singers you can muster, emotionally rather inaccessible.
To be fair, certain things do not help. In the roles of Elisabetta and Carlo, Patricia Racette and Johann Botha have pretty much exactly the chemistry you might expect from, yeah, a fundamentalist Christian and a lesbian trying to play two hot-headed fools that can't keep their damn hands off each other. In with the bargain, they are dressed like a hotel lobby. And somehow this fails to ignite their passions.
Racette, however, is in very fine form. May I digress? Thanks, don't mind if I do. I find it's best to get to know a new or relatively uknown voice in an opera one knows well, just as it's helpful to see singers you like if the opera they're in is one you've never heard. It gives you something to latch on to. So this was in a way my maiden voyage with Racette, having heard her only as what's-her-head in American Tragedy. Didn't know her voice, didn't know the piece, couldn't really take it all in at once. Now I sort of get it.
There are debits...the floaty p's are sweet but not 100% sure to stay in place; some find her phrasing in places pedestrian. The overall package, though, is admirable. She sings a Verdi line that's hard to argue with and there's real strength throughout the voice. Her acting this evening was pro stuff and best of all, she sings a reasonable amount of the time with abandon, the one thing in such short supply.
So this stood in pretty sharp contrast to Botha, so wonderful tis summer in Gurrelieder and so plain as Carlo. "Io la vidi" was, in particular, something like ungainly, its grupetti phrased in a desperately clunky mannner. He warmed up, but I'm just not buying him in this rep. Jonathan von Wellsung liked him better than I did and has blogged the whole thing up most amusingly.
Nor, I'm sorry and surprised to say, am I buying the sure-footed, steel-voiced Borodina as Eboli. Either the woman's got a cold or the tessitura threw her, but it just wasn't friendly territory, and while the Veil Song was fetchingly put together, some of the ensembles went for nothing and "Oh, Dawn Fatale" (as we have come to think of it) came shockingly close to true vocal mishap. Acting is very context-dependant for the habitually regal Ms. B, and she missed the desparation of Eboli by a wide mark.
Her compatriat is a shoe-in for Rodrigo, and nobody seemed particularly surprised when he walked off with it. Besides which, we all saw him do it at the Gala, right? It's 2 a.m. and I'm not fishing around for my program to make sure I'm not making that up. Okay but one thing while we're on the topic of Russia, which we sort of were when the paragraph began, and that's good enough for me. And that one thing is can we make a rule about, I don't know exactly, performances where Hairostovsky and Olga B bring out an audience full of a certain nationality that is a wee bit more talkative at the opera than is accepted hereabouts? I'm not sure what the rule would be exactly, but it might involve ejector seats.
Don't I always save dessert for last? I don't want to repeat my Volpe Gala freakout about Pape, but...JSU and I were, blogwise, kind of discussing performances that are almost unnarguably good vs. performances that really slap you around. Pape, in his heartbreaking monologue [must think fast...will sound repetitive if I say he broke my...] truly sprained my liver. Fuck, that didn't work out at all. Um, he made me sad, and anxious, and lonely, and all of this was welcome, because if that aria is done right, that's how you're supposed to feel, for a few minutes. Jesus Christ I can't wait for his Wotan, whenever that happens.
One of the most complimentary things I ever say about a piece of singing I will say here: breathing stopped being and automated process somewhere during his account of Ella/Dormiro. (Which one was next? Inhale or exhale?) Why are all these attempted compliments making it sound like he gave me a panic attack? Not sure, but Chalky corroborates the effect over at marginalia.
But see, you could totally go to Rosa Mexicana until 10 or so, have a late dinner, and then go in and hear that part, and Ramey's perfect cameo as The Old Mean Religious Dude who is So Old He Justifiably Sounds Like That, and Racette's meticulous "Tu che le vanita" and then the stupid scene that doesn't make any sense and then enjoy the curtain calls.
And that's that until Boheme on the 5th, unless I sneak out and go to Idomeneo beforehand.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Considering that the last time I saw Mattila on this stage she was tearin' it up as Kat'a, can you blame me for being shocked at how girlish she made her act 1 Manon? Also: her voice is sorta perfect.
And then, later:
Okay, so after act 2: maybe not *perfect* - some little pitch problems, some strident moments, but still, there are few people I'd rather hear sing this. This tenor Didyk is very much not to my taste (fast wide vibrato makes every note sound sharp) but there's no denying he can hit the notes. Overall, act 2 wasa funnier than I remember it being.
Incidentally, on youtube you can catch a glimpse of Mattila's Tosca, if you're so inclined, and some bits and pieces of Robert Carsen's Lohengrin with Mattila and Gwyneth Jones. Dame (?) Jones, in interview, sounding rather sweet, says how much she prefers singing nice characters to rotten ones. If I'm feeling a little sharper in the morning, I'll post a link, but I just finished watching Reds. At 3 1/2 hours (and not a minute that wants cutting) that movie really takes it out of you, doesn't it? And I always watch through the credits, waiting for the fleeting reference to Galli-Curci. For some reason I get a kick out of that.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
And that is what you bring to the theatre: an unimaginably vast store of memories, any one of which could be unexpectedly brought into the light by something that happens as you sit and watch. Not necessarily on the stage, either, but the whole experience of being there.She then lists some of these. I'm now about to quote food writing at you, not because I'm hungry or nuts, but because it reminded me of a foreword M.F.K. Fisher wrote to The Gastronomical Me that I think of as a guide on How to Write About Very Particular Things.
Not that I live up to it, but here it is:
People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?
They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft.
The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot write straightly of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it,...and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied...and it is all one.
I tell about myself, and how I ate bread on a lasting hillside, or drank red wine in a room now blown to bits, and it happens without my willng it that I am teling too about the people with me then, and their other deeper needs for love and happiness.
There is food in the bowl, and more often than not, because of what honesty I have, there is nourishment in the heart, to feed the wilder, more insistent hungers. We must eat. If, in the face of that dread fact, we can find other nourishment, and tolerance and compassion for it, we'll be no less full of human dignity.
There is a communion ofmore than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Magdalena Kozena's new Mozart disc is on itunes, and it's a real pleasure... but enough, Simon Rattle, with the crazy ornamentation. It goes far enough overboard on "Voi che sapete" that there's a bonus track played straight. I'm no scholar of HIP, and maybe this stuff is utterly appropriate. To my ear, it's ungainly in places, most especially "E Amore un Ladroncello," which she sang so memorably last season.
Is it time for Magdalena to drop the purely nominal "mezzo" yet? I guess Bartoli still hasn't. Perhaps you can get by better as a not particularly huge voice lyric mezzo than soprano these days. It's not mezzo in range, coloration, or in this case, rep. As I saw noted in someone's review (sorry, someone, for the lack of attribution; damn my memory) she shies away a little only at bottom.
Aural frosting of the voice aside, this is intelligently done stuff. Kozena finds a little room here and there for the tiny amount of rubato you can get away with in Mozart, and it pays off. Recommended track (which you can only get, dammit, with the whole album): Per Pieta. Yeah, like I said--not a mezzo. She emotes touchingly in what is not, per pieta, a showpiece. She doesn't yell the top of the aria, because she doesn't have to.
Yes, I will eventually go to the opera again. Don Carlo, if not before.
Personal to RysanekFreak: would you consider emailing me that step-by-step for the "audacity" recording program?
Saturday, November 11, 2006
I lived #7 on the list of opera queen nightmares (below the thin white slip in the program announcing Madame Voigt is indisposed and will be replaced by Jane Eaglen and above sitting beside the chatty couple who have never been to an opera and think it's ok to continue the conversation through things like recit and overture) this evening, the one where you realize, just as the lights are going down that you have to, yes...well... piss like a racehorse. I made it, uncomfortably, through Ecco and Largo--respectively: surprisingly only fine, and superb--and headed for the door, thinking I'd just come back in at the scene change.
Only the Met doesn't do that. Which isn't the usher's fault. He's just the messenger. But I'm standing there in the doorway trying to figure out what to do, thinking maybe I can hear a little of Una Voce before I meet with the fate of Tycho Brahe. And girlfriend, wanting to go back and watch and not risk me loudly opening the door, says to me, he says, "You have to make up your mind." Fine, I made up my mind: you're a bitch.
So I watched 45 minutes of this evening's prima from List Hall, with other people betrayed by their bladders, I guess. And people who are late to things, the horror.
I saw the rest, though, so sit back and put in your earplugs and smile while I tell you about it. Starting off with the lukewarm news, the production is inoffensive in the word's fullest range of meaning. That is to say I can't imagine it pissing anyone off, though there were boos at the production team's curatin call, but I also can't imagine anyone feeling stirred by it or indeed remembering anything but the singing a month from now. There are several very funny bits of stage business, foremost among them Florez at the harpsichord during the lesson scene.
The design is in that grey area, not ploddingly literal but not set at a rodeo or in Darfur or anything. There are all these doors, see, and they move around a bunch. Oh and if you're allergic to whimsy in the form of staged overtures, take your benadryl. Figaro's entrace is rather large-scale and makes use of livestock, which always gets applause for some reason. I guess for New Yorkers any animal that large that isn't a subway rat is a true novelty.
Speaking of the lesson scene, though, can we make a hasty return to the era of suitcase arias? It could be because my first Barbiere was with Bartoli in Houston and when she got to the lesson, she sang "Tanti Affetti." The two-octave ascending-then-descending run near the end was so poised, so lilting, I'm surprised nobody lept from the balcony to land at her feet. But "Contro un Cor" just leaves me cold. Damrau used it to get in some spectacular tricks, and was in fantastic form all night. I do like her somewhat better as Zerbinetta, and I'm concerned there may be some nascent Fleming futzerei going on with the frequent dynamic changes, but for now she's terribly impressive and sings with a sense of fun.
Which does not begin to cover how Florez fared in "Cessa di Piu Resistere." I don't want to sound ga-ga. Rossini tenoring is something I find thrilling but never moving, and I was here only thrilled, but of its kind, this was singing of the very, very highest caliber. It was sweet and fleet and secure the way death and taxes are. It was astonishing, and the house went mad. I've never heard such a pre-curtain ovation.
Still if the evening had a hero, for my money it was Peter Mattei. He is [hang on, digging in bag of cliches] the whole package, but really. As you know, he is for one thing hot. I think they secretly abort anyone with the ugly gene in Sweden. But his voice has its own thing going on, some mix of tonal luxury and swagger, and his acting is casually quite wonderful, and bless his heart, he doesn't try to come up with his shtick for the whole "Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!" extravaganza, like singing the last "Figaro!" up two octaves in falsetto or whatever, because when you do, you make that the center of the aria, and that's just dumb and boring.* I want to hear him as...ok, hang on, started typing that just because the paragraph felt like it needed another sentence. Oh god, I know. I want to hear him as Onegin. Right now, please.
He has the patter-song element of that aria down cold, and I'm guessing his part of the "Dunque io son" was great fun, only it was kind of hard to judge in List Hall plus I think I was having some kind of PTSD opera-on-tv flashback involving David Letterman. [Jonathan von Wellsung opines, and I cannot help but agree, that there was something offensive about the way they kept announcing "Dustin Hoffman! Jamie Oliver! and the Metropolitan Opera!" They didn't even introduce the damn singers. Oh, don't mind them, they're just The Opera.]
I'd say Bartlett Sher did Wendy White no favors since it is common knowledge that Bertha's little nothing of an aria can actually be a cameo in the best sense, a star-turn in miniature, and she certainly did nicely by the music. I like to imagine Podles in her dotage doing the role but I imagine she'd scoff. Or maybe kill me with her hands for suggesting it. I can kind of picture that, too.
Ramey was lots of fun but is really starting to sound like a good candidate for the old Countess in Pikovaia Dama. John del Carlo I couldn't really make up my mind about, so I'll have to give him another shot on a Joyce di Donato evening. And on that evening, I'm bringing a stun gun for the ushers. Bzzzt!
*Oh, nothing. It wasn't important.
Look for reviews at Wellsung and An Unamplified Voice. I can attest to the presence of both blogsterinos at last night's shindig and will make sad faces at them if they remain silent. ETA: AUV now reviews the production in a detailed and thoughtful way I'd rather just refer you to than try to emulate. If you need hare-brained nattering about the singing and hard-won advice about whether to go to the men's room when in doubt, you know who to call.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Please tell me Bartlett Sher was not responsible for the look of the Letterman scena last night, or the choice of rep. That would be a dark foreboding, indeed.
First they pick a Rossini scene-ender, i.e. the part of the opera where everyone stops being funny or even lifelike and shuffles up to the footlights to stand in place and sing. Maybe this was so they didn't have to risk a comic scene going over like a lead balloon, but the side effect was that everyone sang in ensemble and nobody got to do any singing you or I couldn't get away with. Awful, boring, not the face of opera the world needs to see.
Then, insult to injury, everyone is dressed in powdered wigs whose semantic content, if wigs can speak, is "opera is dead." I mean, I'm fine with wigs-'n-bustles productions once in a while but context is important. Really, I think if they were going to do a scene with nothing going on, they should have had everyone just dress nice for the camera and let 'em sing. Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau, and Peter Mattei are all extremely photogenic. Not to encourage cheezily dressed down opera (no Il Divo if you please) but ach, the whole thing just seemed so static and uninviting.
Of course my idea of a good time is for them to do Act II of the Robert Wilson Lohengrin. No, seriously, though...there have to be some 3-minute scenes that would come off better, or maybe they could even spring for a whole aria. I think part of the problem is that it's Il Barbiere they chose, and as much fun as it can be, it's kind of inherently dowdy and the cast and director and everyone else will always be struggling with that.
Better ideas, according to me:
1) a little snippet, even with some awkard arranged ending, from Butterfly. Maybe there's not room enough on the stage, and the run is (almost?) over, but they really used it as the driving force behind the whole season, and p.s. it is beautiful, and beautiful in an unforbidding way
2) for god's sake, the obvious choice: find an evening when Villazon and Trebbers are free and slap them up there on a bit of scaffolding to sing "O soave fanciulla." Um, and send him to a threading salon the night before. That's just a little friendly advice from my eyebrows to his.
3) people hate subtitles, so why not a scene from the Met's new production of Vanessa. Sorry, we all ended up in my fantasy world for a minute there. HINT HINT NONSUBLIMINAL HINT TO MET VANESSA VANESSA VANESSA.
Next up: Il Barbiere di Letterman, on Friday.
Reinstated from deleted version of this entry: tip of hat to Letterman for more or less unsmilingly shredding Bill O'Reilly the other night.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Cura doesn't so much have a great Cavaradossi in him, I'm going to hastily surmise.
ETA: um, Vissi ended in tears, but it always seems to these days. Voigt tripped on it, as did Millo. It's (obviously) a hard sing. I'm still pleased with the overall performance.
And then I'm going to take it back about Cura, too. Sounds like a real voice. Someone care to report on the loudness factor?
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
I'm going, back, really. It's convenient, though, because it gives me some room to go to the theater and see things like the wholly satisfying revival of Shaw's Heartbreak House. Plays don't last a minute on Broadway, so git if you wanna see it. Support non-singing happenings upon the stage, much as we love the singing ones. Heartbreak House: singularly bad candidate for musical setting. In fact, it's a play that could have used a brisk edit, but you won't mind once it's Swoosie Kurtz, Laila Robbins (so unforgettable in Frozen, both of them. Please do go to nonmusical theater or they'll stop making it, and that will make me cry.) and Phillip Bosco chewing their way through it.
Unfortunately the Met doldrums have also given me time to spend somewhat less than two months' salary at Berkshire. One game I like to play is the one where I make myself feel better about the looming spectre of the poorhouse by thinking how much more I would have spent if I'd bought everything new. In this case $130 more, based on numbers I (of course) mostly made up.
1) the one I'm listening to right now: La Gioconda with Cerquetti, del Monaco, Simionato, Siepi. So far the only letdown is La Cieca. One wishes one could choose a different disability for her. La Muta? Anyway it cost $3.99 so who cares, Edith?
2) Now you're all going to have to line up and let me box your ears (sorry, Shavian moment) for not telling me there was a Gotterboomerang with Mechior, a whole one. I mean, except for I assume several hours of cuts since it's on 3 discs. I can't remember if I like Marjorie Lawrence, but I shall find out.
3) There's this decision process where another Borkh Salome seems more important than ongoing ability to repay student loans. The argument goes: Mitropoulos is betterer than Keilberth than solvancy is better than soup kitchens. You agree, right? I trust you do.
4) Irene Dalis sings all the parts in Parsifal. And conducts it. Fine, maybe she had a little help from Jess Thomas, George London, and Hans Hotter. I mentioned to the fellow who probably taught me most about the adoration of fine singing that Hotter is probably singing with a cane, and he said, "Oh, no matter what year it is, everyone always says 'pretty late for Hotter!' " or else if it's really early they'll say he's not fully formed. This is hard to dispute.
"Voce di donna", my ass. I wish I were La Sorda, and I don't mean Tommy.
As usual, when Maury D'Annato makes a sports joke, that's the last sentence of the posting, because the world has just ended.
Irrelevant ETA in the "itunes ain't right" department: want to guess how many songs by Michelle Shocked you can find on itunes? THREE.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Monday, October 23, 2006
Salome, it seemed to me, addressed exactly what was lacking in certain Voigt-abends. She really wasn't kidding, maybe, when she sang that novelty song in her recitals about the drudgery of singing noble, suffering Wagner heroines. It's a knack you either have or don't, and despite the great fit of the voice in many of those roles, there really was a little something missing, a kind of failure to crawl into the role. It's not Ms. Voigt's fault she's more fun than tragic. And it's no more her fault than yours or mine that there are no comic roles written for her voice type.
Barring comic heroines, it has always seemed to me, the next best fit for her would be characters who are to some greater or lesser extent fucked in the head. Elektra one day, maybe? I had hoped. In the days when the internet was slightly less filled with mouth-breathers and Voigt, the first online diva, was able to answer her own email, I actually asked her about Elektra and she said: probably not. I'm still kind of hoping. Her Chrysothemis remains on my obsessively maintained list of the five or so assumptions of any role I heard in the house that I consider without flaw and don't hope to hear bettered. (Play your cards right and I won't list the others.)
And then there's Salome, who is in fact here and there funny, if you're listening for it. Maybe it's me; I always get a chuckle out of the line "So, this prophet, is he...old?" She has a better list of qualities for DV than all those sob-sister spintos. Compare it to the Forza Leonora, essentially a musical episode of Queen for a Day. As Salome you get to be flirtatious, deranged, imperious, homicidal, and so on, and then you get to be crushed to death under a bunch of shields. This last one just doesn't happen in Italian opera, though I wish it would in Forza, actually, long about Act I, to every single character. Rataplan, rataplan, Mann tooooooote dieses Weib! [squish!]
And here's the part where I admit I'm not about to review her Salome because I didn't see it. I'm just flapping my gums. Reviews are starting to roll in, though, and they're unanimously full of praise for the Debster. I know the Wellsungs went, so you can bet one or both will blog it up. All I'm really saying is I hope they'll split the next Met run between her and Mattila.
Your classical listings are a fucking disaster. Did it occur to you I might want to know the name of more than one singer per track? Like maybe if you have this album full of tracks of Melchior in Wagner, maybe I'd be curious who the soprano singing the Dawn Duet with good old Lauritz is? Because, oh I don't know, it's a duet?
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Like anyone, I've spent the odd quarter-hour painfully backed into an elm tree at an outdoor party by some opera queen who thinks it's funny to recreate the entire Ring lecture. Her stuff was just so inspired, it turned people into raging geekosaurs. It's like Monty Python, in a way--ludicrous and unique, so maybe it's no surprise that we sometimes have to live through the grown-up variant of those gangs of kids in high school that thought each singing of the Lumberjack Song is as fresh and hilarious as the first.
Not sure why I'm going on about the painful legacy of Anna Russell when the main thing is that her comedy, with its extremely particular demographic, has become part of our language. I have this feeling if you did a search on opera-l for the phrase "not making this up" smoke would start pouring out of your computer. And people quote it, endlessly, because at the point where Madame Russell says it in her Ring synopsis, it is the only reaction a rational being could have to the subject.
This is a sad passing in its own way--a different age is gone than died with Nilsson or Tebaldi. Try to imagine, if you will, anyone making a career of pointing out the humor in Art Music. These days, her great wit no bolster against the cruelty of time, the most she'd amount to is a blogger. There could be no Victor Borge today--and to him I tip my hat especially for titular reasons--and there could be no Anna Russell.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
Yes, I had doubts when I heard they were making a musical of Grey Gardens. Actually, that's not right. Doubts imply mixed feelings. I just thought it was the worst idea I'd ever heard. I began to imagine musical numbers with chorus lines of big dancing racoons waving slices of white bread, and wake up screaming. Because really the choices seemed to be either: go for broke/insane; or just lift the entire text, for lack of better term, from the movie and through-compose it into a nightmarish epic.
Well, the creators had an idea I had not, which is why they're writing musicals and I'm typing whatI think of them for an audience of seven. They filled in the backstory, much alluded to in the film, giving Christine Ebersole a chance to pull of one of those Broadway coups everyone likes, playing first Big Edie in the 40's and then Little Edie to the B.E. of Mary Louise Wilson in 1973.
You know, the first time I saw the film Grey Gardens, I was so bored I couldn't make it through. It's certainly grown on me, though I'm not a full-fledge fanatic. But yeah, I get that they're utterly fascinating personalities...Little Edie famously notes how hard it's getting to drawn the line between the past and the future, all the while straddling the line between batshit crazy and eccentric in a way I'm not sure society allows anymore.
Through vocal mimicry of the most modulated, lived-in sort and a kind of physicality most opera singers never learn, Ms. Ebersole and Ms. Wilson channel exactly that quality, and it's tremendous theater. The supporting cast is quite capable in roles that feel a bit half-imagined, maybe 3/4, best of all/most of all Bob Stillman as Big Edie's accompanist/royal subject of fag haggery George Gould Strong. The role is a throwback, not in a good way--it features (but seriously) a joke where Big Edie says she's been looking for flowers for a party but there's not a single Pansy from here to East Hampton or something. I'll let you fill in the punchline. But Stillman makes much of little.
This Rigoletto on Sirius, by the by, is pretty wonderful. Tucker in nice form, Gueden, Warren, and my peculiar fixation, Jean Madiera. Hopefully they'll replay it and you can listen if you're a subscriber and fond of Verdi. I don't make any money from them, honest, I am just enjoying the fuck out of the broadcasts. Hurrah! Um, so anyway...
The songs, save for two melancholic little gems to close each act, are not awful. They're just not special. They suffer in comparison, say, to the deft, deadpan wonderfulness of the writing in The Drowsy Chaperone. The songs from Grey Gardens are 90% less likely to get enjoyably lodged in your cranium. And one or two, like the "Jerry Likes My Corn" number are pretty perplexing. Still, if I were you [and, consequently, not sitting here typing out this duller than dishwater review] I'd at least consider going, and make sure to dream up the right costume for the day.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
I'm trying to figure out why I feel compelled to point this out. I feel like one of the hellish, barn-bred Domingo bashers on rec.music.opera back in the day who couldn't leave people's liking for their singer alone. It's just...I admit the flaws of the singers I love--I'm sure I'm going to be irritatingly enraptured by Podles' Azucena next summer, but I'm equally sure she's not going to reach the climactic notes with much grace-- and without trying to tear down anyone's idols, it does seem fair to point out the claylike substance in the sandals when it's all getting up around my neck a little.
Anyway I had to run out on an adventure involving domestic violence, the Kartvelian language family, and walnuts so I missed all but the first hour of the broadcast. By all accounts Madame Millo sang the rest of the night with an easier top and her, uh, usual gusto.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
So I tried just to hear it with new ears, and it's been long enough since those car trips with the ol' cassette playing, I think maybe it worked. And on those terms, the revival is a real success, though I'd love to hear it settle into something even better. Almost everyone onstage is a double threat, with a triple here and there. Charlotte d'Amboise as the ostensibly most three dimensional and for me, the least interesting character, Cassie, for the most part knocks it out of the park, though her vocal production feels weird to me, seems like she's about to bust a chord. I think my favorite though was Natalie Cortez (I just googled, hope that's her name) as Morales. She does, yeah, sound a bit like Priscilla Lopez, so YMMV, if anyone still says that. But she sings on the words, which the rest of the cast does to varying degrees. And yeah, the horrific 70's gay shame monologue of Paul the Tragic Queen, whereafter he is to all intents and purposes snuffed plotwise, made me cry. What can you do?
The weekend's other excursion, with Mama D'Annato, was to this year's Capote biopic, Infamous. The film begins promisingly enough with a strange, wonderful scene of Gwyneth Paltrow as Peggy Lee, either having a little breakdown onstage or putting on a riveting performance of one. GP can sing, by the way. And then she has her breakdown and so does the movie. The movie purports to be based on George Plimpton's fascinatingly curated volume on Capote, a bunch of written records of oral history. The movie starts out lunging in this direction with some fake documentary interviews with the likes of Gore Vidal and Diana Vreeland. These are awkward. Holy mackerel, are they awkward. And they set the tone that this is going to be a movie about imitation rather than interpretation as was the much, much more succesful Capote with Phillip Seymour Hoffman. To this end, they have cast an actor who looks shockingly like Capote, certainly moreso than the decidedly un-waify, strangely handsome Hoffman. Before you ask, I do realize I'm probably in the minority in finding him hot, yeah.
It's an incredibly difficult way to do a movie like this, and the film fails rather starkly. And so it goes in other directions as well, including a daring, sort of embarassing go at pure speculation involving TC's relationship with Perry Smith. Um and this is the part where I return to the draft of my review and am still a tiny bit drunk from this benenfit thingy but want to turn out an entry, so my review is going to die an untimely death. Go see Infamous and tell me I'm not nuts, that it's really incredibly clumsy. And wins this month's award for bad southern accent on film, though I won't say who because she's really kind of endearing.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
...I write to confirm the comment Zinka made about the b-flat. She made it on a public radio program called "The Vocal Scene" during an interview with the host, George Jellinek. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing in disbelief. I figured that I had heard this incorrectly. A few years later, they reran that episode and, sure enough, that's what she said.
However, my favorite Zinka moment was the one I had the privilege to witness. In the mid 80s, Queler and OONY did a Gioconda with Ghena Dimitrova. Although she later sang some decent performances at the MET, this performance was definitely NOT one of her triumphs. After the performance, where she had been booed a bit, I noticed Zinka standing on 7th Ave. just below 57th St......waiting for her ride? As was her way, she stood larger than life, in a white coat, signing autographs. As I got mine, one of the "faithful" said to her, "Ooh, Mme. Milanov......no one could EVER forget YOUR Gioconda!!" She seemed to grow another few inches as she steeled herself and smilingly replied, "ESPECIALLY after tonight!!!"
*I sort of hate this "Reader Flying Diva" business because it seems condescending..."Enthralled follower of my glorious pen," etc., but I can't very well say "Faithful correspondent" since I had never heard from Mr. or Ms. Diva before.
Mad as I am for Dimitrova, I couldn't resist passing along a delightful story.
Another Obituary of Sorts
Reader, I mean correspondent, I mean person-who-is-reading, I hope you have been appraised of the closing of Tower Records if you live in the New York City area. More to the point I hope you have been appraised of it but aren't going to go snap up the things I want. I have an odd history with Tower--just after college, I actually worked there, for minimum wage, for a little while. Nasty people to work for. But I also used to go there every trip to New York before I moved there, knowing I'd find things I couldn't get at home. Maybe I could have ordered them online but there's something about having it all arrayed before you that can only dredge up the awful cliche of a Kid in a Candy Store.
Blah blah, vaseline the lens, insert fond memories of rushing to tower after a late performance, crazy things I found there, I'm being dismissive because in point of fact when I walked into the one on lower Broadway and saw the "Going out of Business" signs, I felt (cross my heart and kiss my elbow) like crying. It's hard to explain. I think the key fact is that until now when I went in there, because I'm not a bazillionaire, I'd look at forty things and say, "I'll maybe get it later" and then walk out with some laserlight crap "Mado Robin sings Disney" bullshit that fits my budget better. And then, if you'll excuse the materialism, I'd dream of the ridiculously priced Keilberth Siegfried I left behind until one day I found it on sale for whatever one third of ridiculous is and decide to sacrifice the cat's college money. Now there is no later. I imagine there are recordings I simply won't find again.
I have no idea what I'm going on about. It feels a little like that dire prediction of many years about the classical record biz going belly up on us is a little bit coming true. itunes is still hideously understocked for opera, and besides, itunes is becoming creepily proprietary and universal in a troubling Googlean way. Listen, I'm going back to 33's, if not 78's. It has been pointed out to me by One Who Knows that of all musical recording media, the oldest ones hold up best if you look at it one way--78's sound exactly as they did in 1945, whereas CD's I bought last week won't play. So I'm throwing the battle, as far as technology goes. If you need me, I'll be in the corner with my Brunswick suitcase model.
Oh p.s. I got my Dalibor. It was the last copy. Sorry!
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Much to my surprise, I think I'd take this cast over the one that opened the production, though that may be mainly about Soile Isokoski and the newly wonderful Ruth Ann Swenson. I once had a brunch go very awkward over the fact that as Lucia, I found her utterly banal. (Doesn't that sound like I was having brunch with Ruth Ann Swensen? 'K, think that if you want.) Since then, her voice has settled into a warm, pliant thing though the last few notes are a little dire, and her acting has gone from nonexistent as I remember it to rather moving. It was always a substantial sound and remains so. Marguerite isn't really a money note role anyway as long as you sound solid in the trio.
If one were to look back over the last 15 years, can there be many singers who have been consistently so rewarding to hear as Ramon Vargas? No, I'm actually asking, or at least half asking. I have missed plenty of his work but every few years when I check in he's still such a class act. True, he didn't bowl me over in Romeo et Juliette but I don't think anyone would've. It's just not an opera I can deal with. As Faust he left nothing to be desired, vocally speaking. If he had better stage instincts, he'd be unquestionably a better choice than Alagna, who I adored in this role during the first run of the production. As it is, he's just a better singer. I heard him the morning of the performance on Sirius singing an equally lovely Alfredo to a pleasantly restrained Fleming. Personal to RV: can we be pals? Best Friends 4EVAR? Mejores amigos pa' siempre?
Tommi Hakala I missed on Sirius the other night, and he's really an interesting, not straightforward singer. I'm surprised to find by googling him that aside from being pretty cute, which is statistically very likely if you're Finnish, he's also apparently young. He doesn't sound it. The voice is kind of all over the place, most unruly. And he pours it out with a generosity that stands in contrast to all that caution that makes for long, dull careers. Jesus, he'd make a great Wozzeck, not least because his acting is (on the evidence of one performance) good and over the top.
Not much to add about Abdrazakov--still impressed. Still wondering about the bottom of his voice, but it's not a big deal. When you can hit it out of the park in the "et Satan conduit le bal" range, you can sell enough of the role that only the very sourest would throw a fach-fit.
A propos de rien, or is it just a propos rien?, Bernard Holland's review of Gioconda made me kinda happy.
p.s. Why is there no recording of Dalibor on itunes? What is the world coming to?
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Your posse of ballad-singer buddies carrying the chick who likes the guy you're after in a chemically induced death-resembling sleep.
You know your life is way crazier than the other girls at the office when your gang of street-singer friends shows up at the front door with the etc.
The question is: how does La Gioconda manage to be about an hour too long, feature the stupidest (but this time we mean it!) most verkakte libretto ever imagined, include a ditty we all know either as "Hello muddah" or "that commercial with the little puppy who can't quite sing the last line but has no more fleas" and still be one of the best times you can have without Ann Coulter and a pack of hungry lions?
In the case of The People vs. La Gioconda, here are the exhibits:
Exhibit A: (con) Seriously, I don't know about you guys, but I'm never sure where to go about getting a bottle of stuff that isn't poison, but looks like poison, but only knocks you out, and allows you to awake just when your rival in love who has decided to save you is about to be stabbed. Apparently in 17th century Venice, this was like getting a latte.
Exhibit B: (pro) The great thing about hiring a soprano who used to be a mezzo is she can get all chesty about the "fra le tenebre" and such. The great thing about that soprano being Violeta Urmana is that the fach reassignment surgery appears to be a done deal, no Frankenstein seams on the voice. I bet her Lady Macbeth would be a bitch on wheels, though after seeing her in La Gioconda--Italian for You're Joking--and Ariadne, it's hard to know if she's a stage animal or not. The former is a bit of a cartoon and the latter is too, only a grand and tragic cartoon. Neither one cries out for acting, per se.
Exhibit C: (con) The Dance of the Hours would be one thing if the opera weren't already (with intermissions) on a geological time frame.
Exhibit D: (pro) The Met has some excellent dancers on hand. Actually their ovation was louder than anyone else's, whatever the hell that's about. Perhaps Peter Gelb's next direction in pulling in audience should be to cancel the entire season and just put on Giselle and The Nutcracker and stuff. I jest. Where are those smelling salts? Does the vast majority of people secretly like ballet better than opera? I know I don't. But I digress from my original point which was that the dancers really were awfully poised and lovely to look at. That "I can spin around on my toe and my other leg won't touch the ground" trick becomes quite jaw-dropping after a point.
Exhibit E: (con) Plieting about on a 40 year old set, it probably goes without saying you're not going to bust out the newest moves, which suddenly makes me think of that horrible poseurish looking thing on the mailing from BAM where the swanned up Ballerina is flashing gang symbols. Shoot me. But just the same, with that much mothball-ready material onstage, I kept half hoping some mad auteur would swoop in and stage it instead with footage of Satanic rituals or whatever's hip in Berlin this season. A revisionist Gioconda: that would be comedy gold.
Exhibit F: (pro) the rest of the cast, for the most part. Point, game, match, and set. Once in a while I do get the faint sarcastic vibe form Borodina in stupidhead material, but I may be projecting. She certainly brings the loud. Say did anyone else hear she smokes? Because her voice sounds something like indestructible, in that Simionato way. While I do like a little element of nervousness and potential heartbreak in my singers, there's also something gratifying about a pair of brass cords, a voice built like a tank. Mishura, by the way, who didn't entirely impress as Amneris in one of the joyless Aidas of the last few years, was pretty much a peach as La Cieca. Didn't keep one from anticipating Podles, but you couldn't ask for much more in the chestage department, nor that of campy, just-in-case-you-forgot representations of blindness.
Machado sounds like a work in progress, but maaaybe an excellent work. He spent more of the evening tiptoeing than I'd have liked, but he's decametres if not furlongs ahead of the pack (Licitra, Farina...) in terms of tone and musicality. Lucic (I hate to lose his diacritics, as it's one of the fun features of Serbian that it has two distinct "ch" sounds. They're phonemic. Isn't that exciting?) barreled through the role of Barnaba but wasn't much fun in an awfully juicy villain role.
Exhibit G: Oh my god, the note. The note the note the note.* How could I not talk about the note? It made my eyes roll back in my head is all. She didn't do that "Am I still even singing?" trick--it was a plain old one-p piano, but it was shapely and ravishing.
I'd kind of like to say something statementy about Paata Burchuladze and the value of a well aged bear of a voice but I think he's just one of those singers I like because I like him.
Oh and p.s. the other reason Gioconda prevails despite its many laughable qualities is that nearly every bar is filled with operatic deliciousness. Maybe Urmana, whom I first heard in--no joke--a high school auditorium in Cicero, Illinois, billed as Violeta Urmanacitivus or something along those lines, can talk the Met in the interest of novelty into putting on I Lituani. That could only be a positive development.
*I wont be coy. In case you're not a Giocondaphile, The Note is a b flat that comes between the contralto's aria "Voce di donna" and the baritone/tenor duet "Enzo Grimaldo, Pricipe di Santa Fior." It's well set up to be a dazzler, and back in the day some Croatian lady named Kunc** whom I've never much cared for made it her calling card. "Pipple came for mine b flet," she is rumored to have said, "and vent home." Story courtesy of one Mr. JL, who may wish to remain nameless so we'll stick to initials.
**There I am being coy. Zinka Kunc, better known as Milanov.