Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Everything but a basketball hoop

Here I am typing at 12:30 a.m. on a weeknight. What on earth compels me to such behavior? Pardon me for a moment while I cut off my hands and avoid further troubles of this nature.

There, all better. No more pesky hands. Anyway.

Not fair, but something drove me to wonder:

If I spoke no German (which is almost true), and weren't reading my Met titles (which is utterly true), and didn't know The Magic Flute (which is regrettably false) what would I think this was about? I am rotten to the core for thinking it, because there are many fine productions that don't go in for, oh, y'know, representational schemes of action. But just for fun I tried it.

And I'm pretty sure after the first act, I would think it was about this goth kid who got abducted by aliens who took him to the fanciest store in the mall during a Star Trek convention.

I think any review of this Magic Flute is just bound to be production-centered, because for better or for worse, the production is absolutely overwhelming. I'm about 30/70 on the for better or for worse question. It seemed to me a production concieved with an audience in mind who didn't find The Magic Flute very interesting and needed a shitload of (extremely imaginative) distractions. And then I thought this over and decided it couldn't be right because of course I don't find The Magic Flute very interesting and the kitchen-sinkiness of things gave me a little bit of a headache so clearly I wasn't the target demo. Perhaps it's for people who don't find opera in general all that interesting? I don't mean to be needlessly negative here. I could be way off base. It's just that at several points I found myself suddenly unaware of the singing because there was so much other mishegoss, ranging from cutesy mishegoss to awe-inspiring mishegoss, to digest.

I suspect this possibility occured to me right around the time the gi-normous bears, which were a perfectly bewitching bit of stagecraft, roared in some unpleasantly amplified fashion. Almost as bewitching were they, I think, as the is-it-set or is-it-costume? winglike dealios wielded by the Sternflammende Konigin [here translated because someone finally got a clue as "Star-shimmering queen." I mean, you just can't get away with "flaming" and "queen" together at the opera without everyone getting a horrible case of the giggles.] So you see, there was much, much I liked in this Magic Flute, only it just was excessive in a way that made me want to stomp on my eyes after a while. There were enough visual chimera for four operas, including I hope one or two I like.

Of everyone, Nathan Gunn looked most comfortable in these surroundings. I'm really not in love with his singing (though for god's sake, the man is still handsome dressed as a flingin' flangin' parakeet) but I don't think he's bad either. Just a little undervoiced, especially in this solid cast, and somewhat bland as a stage presence, but very pleasant if not inspired, and in this ungepotchket* landscape, sort of cute and funny.

Who was not undervoiced is Eric Cutler, that's who. We all know the Met is rolling in excellent lyric mezzos, but I think we can maybe add Mozart tenors now to the category of voices we're not running low on. This instrument doesn't round the bends as fleetly as Polenzani's, but it has this confounding quality of undiminished softness across its considerable dynamic range. Dramatically, he looked a bit lost, but then it's possible he assumed from his costume he was making his role debut as Nanki-Poo, so anyone would be confused.

I'd like to say nicer things about Mary Dunleavy. I feel like I've heard she's reliable and hardworking and other things we like. I guess I just wasn't in the mood for this kind of voice in Pamina. A little unruly in what apparently is a deceptively grueling role--does anyone remember the Opera News interview in which Cheryl Studer and some other sopranos said they'd rather sing any number of Der Holle Raches than a single run through the g minor aria?--and not of the youthful color that makes me excuse the gal for being such a bore.

Morris Robinson has by virtue of the glorious color and presence of his voice stepped permanently into the spotlight, no? The very bottom isn't booming, but the solidity makes for pure aural gratification. And Erika Miklosa might call for a second spotlight if everything she sings is as good as her Astrafiammante. The last note of O Zittre Nicht was iffy; the rest was perfection. The measures leading up to the not so secure F (high note experts? F? F#?), the ones that make it clear Mozart was high or joking, included every single cotton-pickin' note, and the triplets in the vengeance aria were equally jaw-dropping.

You know, back in September I looked at this season as announced and thought, "What a dud!" And I'm happy to say I was wrong. It hasn't been wall to wall excitement, but it's been studded with here and there the extremely winning performance and many strong ones in between.

As a parting shot and call to arms, where is the mighty cult of Podles, and why was I able to pick, by letter, the row of my tickets with her Avery Fisher concert a month away? Come forth, you admirers of Ewa, and make this thing not get cancelled, y'hear?

*ask your bubbe what it means, and if you don't got one, ask your friend with the name what ends in -stein.


Chalkenteros said...

It's just that at several points I found myself suddenly unaware of the singing because there was so much other mishegoss, ranging from cutesy mishegoss to awe-inspiring mishegoss, to digest ... There were enough visual chimera for four operas, including I hope one or two I like.

This is why I am excited about Wilson's Lohengrin later this spring.

Mind you, I haven't seen Taymor's production, and I confess that I don't even know the opera that well (see the most recent post at for possible reasons why -- those boys are keen over there). But I think you're right: by choosing her to direct Zaub., the Met was clearly appealing to the vast hordes of people who are probably just not interested in opera. Taymor's name alone gets them in the seats: regardless of the music, they can be certain that there will at least be interesting things to look at.

How apropos for this apparently volkstümliche Oper.

JSU said...

This is why I am excited about Wilson's Lohengrin later this spring.

Uh, I assume this means you hate the Taymor style and want the opposite? Because that Lohengrin's nice if you like the initial stage picture: it sits there for a while. And then longer. And longer. Zzzzzz.....

Actually, it was pretty except for the wiggly hand gestures, which I understand Mattila started to ditch in the first revival anyway.

straussmonster said...

It's a high F. The original version of Ariadne goes it one better with the F#s, before it was decided that was just too mean to the soprano.

I'm excited about the Lohengrin because Act I is some of my favoritest Wagner, for the snappy choral writing and high harmonics.

Maury D'annato said...

I'm pretty much pro-Wilson. I'm even thinking of hitting the Peer Gynt. I don't know that I'm madly in love with the whole "stand like this. now hold that. for three hours." routine but as a designer I find him marvellous.

straussmonster said...

I'm willing to be pro-Wilson for Lohengrin, which is a deeply static opera, where I wouldn't be for something like FrOSch (I saw his stage designs, they made me weep) which isn't.

Maury D'annato said...

Good point.

Chalkenteros said...

I like that both Wagner and Wilson are *extreme* artists, and for that reason, it sounds like they would go well together. I'll wait and see.

Maury D'annato said...

Yegads, you're making me think of all those "extreme sports!!!" type commercials for beverages for the physically active.

Henry Holland said...

Re: Wilson. I saw his Parsifal here in Los Angeles a month ago and hated it with all the fire of all the suns in all the universe.

It was boring beyond description. Now, Parsifal isn't exactly a Jimmy Cagney gangster movie in terms of action, but damn! it was 4 hours + of the same. damn. thing. The lighting is pretty, sure, but the static singers just drove me nuts. By now, I'm numb to Eurotrash that has Kundry 60 feet away from Parsifal when he talks about her washing his feet but the whole "Make the cast act like they've taken 20 hits of Thorazine" is just....boring. Musically, it was a fine performance, but midway through the 2nd act, I closed my eyes and just listened. And to think Los Angeles is doing his Butterfly, which looks exactly like every other Robert Wilson production. A one trick pony and a fraud, in my book.

Ariadne said...

Well, I was going to chime in and say, "What the hell, let's just let Maurice Sendak or Jim Henson stage and costume The Magic Flute and have done with it!" until I read Henry's comment, that is.

Henry you SLAY me! "20 hits of Thorazine" indeed.

I am reminded of a Parsifal final dress rehearsal I had the privile ... was forced to attend (thanks to a college externship with a Met chorister from my school).

It was final dress, straight run through, no stops, no corrections, no lie, was FIVE hours, Levine, in his infinite wisdom having added music BACK IN THAT WAGNER TOOK OUT.

I was one of 5 or 6 humans present in the entire otherwise empty Metropolitan Opera, and, sitting scrunched down in a seat in about row 5 orchestra on the right side, just about level with Levine's baton, I flat out fell asleep! (Hope Maestro Levine didn't hear me snoring.)

My 75 year old Grazer Austrian Music Guru father says he thinks Wagner MEANT us to fall asleep, then wake up with a jolt and say, "Where the hell did that SWAN come from????" Which is pretty much what I did.

What the hell, Wagner makes me nuts. Not Wagner per se, but all the bs and uproar that accompanies the mention of his name or work. So I'm going to stick with voting for Sendak or Henson to stage their next Magic Flute.

Anonymous said...

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