Sunday, February 26, 2006

Two Bits

It's time to pull my metaphorical dancing shoes out of the Ikea metaphorical-shoe-holder thingy and hit the streets. By which I mean, in my fashion, it's time to reiterate that this Met season which for some reason had certain dud-like qualities on paper, has instead been a source of consistent satisfaction, and mutter a quiet, quasi-religious word of thanks to the likes of Olga Borodina and Clifton Forbis, a pair anyone would be happy to hear again. And by "anyone" I mean me, but maybe you, too.

Hours away from going to hear my very favorite low-voiced lady sing at Avery, I must take a minute to eat some crow over my long-held indifference to Ms. Borodina. It's not that I didn't like her, but more that I kind of didn't entirely get it. I heard her first as Marina in a Boris I was standing for, and only ever again as Polina or Praskovija or Pippi or whatever the throwaway sister in Pikovaia Dama answers to. In fact I heard all but the last note of her Marina, as I was in upstairs standing, had never been to the quiz, and thought it would be sufficiently fun to merit bolting from the upper reaches as the act was ending. I thought she had a wonderful strength in her voice but not as much kunst as I was craving. I have resisted the horrible temptation to say "kraving" and you may thank me. And as Dalila, she sounded much as I recalled. Well, listeners are allowed to mature as well as singers, no? Borodina is in fact a bit like Podles in that her approach to roles is based on luxury of sound and grand gestures. Borodina, of course, does more of a Simionato thing, producing equally unshakeable sound up and down her range without the punchy contralto chest notes. Neither one radiates canny intellectual smarts (illusory though this may well be) the way say Lisa Saffer or, to give an obvious example, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson does. It is certainly enough, and maybe a matter of matching of talent. Dalila need not come off as particularly deep. The standardized scorecard for this opera requests a letter grade for the act-ending cry of "lache!" and I, red grading pen in hand, have given an A without much hesitation.

Clifton Forbis should have been a big name years ago and I hope he will be now, though I can't guess how well his voice took to the airwaves. You may recall his excellent turn in Wozzeck recently, and if you're from Texas (as am I and, it would seem, as is Jean Phillipe-Lafont, judging by the hook 'em horns element of his get-up in Samson...NYCOF will know what I'm talking about, if no-one else does: orange paint all over your face and a little white longhorn on your forehead? I mean c'mon, the season's over, I think. Football's the one with the horses and the swimming pool, right? Anyway pack up the tailgate party, Lafont.) you may also remember him in a gem of a Kat'a K with the riveting but vanished Elena Prokina. I'd like to think we're going to hear him in Wagner at the Met--beyond being compelling and having a basically pleasing sound, the voice is absolutely Met sized. I will say I was taken aback upon his opening lines, as he produces the least tenory sounding tenor I think I've ever heard. It's like the beginning of the Ozawa Gurrelieder when McCracken opens his mouth and Hans Hotter falls out.

Lafont, to my tastes, was a little dull and wooly, but not show-killingly so. I'm trying (very unstrenuously...I mean, the Met database is two clicks away) to remember who else has sung the high priest in this production. Surely someone could bring a bit more brio to the proceedings, you'd think. At least he kind of worked his costume, has some inner RuPaul going on. James Courtney as Abimelech looked for all the world like a fratboy in drag on a dare, trying feebly to work those humangous fingernails without ever tapping into their potential for campy gestures of slightly dandyish villainry. Nu, it would have been so hard to queue up The Crying Game on Netflix? (As in everything since Paradise Lost, if not before, though, it was pretty clear if you had to choose to spend next Saturday with the good guys or the bad guys, you'd probably already be on the b's on your speed dial. This despite some conducting, especially during the Bacchanale, that lacked Elvis, as I think we used to say during the Clinton years.) Yes, I'm commenting on his fingernail flicking skills, because really he does the same thing in this as in Rigoletto, turning out late career comprimario sounds that at least have a feel of being well earned.

Am I alone in basically admiring the look of this production but wishing the destruction of the temple looked a little less like a radical redecorating scheme and more like something going boom?

Podles shall be blogged later in the week.

Another Toothless Blind Item: what opera photographer and bon vivant turns out to do a surprisingly riotous imitation of Licia Albanese clearing her throat?

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