Well then. There's really just no good way to go about this other than go down the list I think, just pour it all out and print it and edit when someone says "but Maury, you dear, doddering old thing, nobody dies in Die Fledermaus." Actually it's true: very little editing goes on here at My Favorite Intermissions. Well act surprised. Raise your eyebrows or something. Anyway if this becomes interminable, though I guess I'll skip orchestral and choral numbers, I encourage you to scan down the page for the names you're interested in. I mean, let's be honest: I'm not gonna know.
Last night the Metropolitan Opera threw its big five hour fete for outgoing boss Joseph Volpe, only as parties go it was in some ways rather staid--the only person who appeared to be drunk, even, was Mirella Freni. People sang, and people spoke, and there was a big sentimental film about the Volpe era/regime (depends upon who you are I guess) in which a retired chorus member said Franco Zefirelli "just about fell out" when Volpe did something or other. I forget what because the idea of FZ falling out was just too grand. If you're from the south, you'll get it, ok?
The two original numbers written for the gala were tittery and in the spirit of very gentle roasts and, I'd have to say, not really as clever as "Wagner Roles," the song Mr. Moore wrote for Deborah Voigt many seasons back. Her number, "We're Very Concerned" had a by now somewhat expected "I lost lots of weight" reference (and here we pause to note how nice she looked) and a rather jaw-dropping potshot at Kathleen Battle. Not to overstate things...he didn't accuse her of sorcery or anything. Maybe it's that people were speculating on whether she might be a surprise guest a few weeks ago, but it just struck me as a little shocking, though funny, that a song for a huge, expensive gala took a very specific swipe at a person who will no doubt hear of it. Voigt was armed with a microphone and her customary game and articulate way with light music.
Juan Diego Florez followed with "La speranza piu soava" from Semiramide sung in very long breaths and with undiminished sweetness. The high notes were such as anyone would envy. After this, more Rossini on the Olga and Ildar show, and here's where the truly lamentable programming began. I would find myself wondering as the evening went on if the artists chose their numbers themselves. If so, someone please have a talk with Olga and Ildar. The Italiana duet was an awful fit, like one of those nights on American Idol (which I've watched about thrice, I'm serious) where some 18 year old cheerleader from Plano dukes it out with Rogers & Hart. It sounded like Simionato and Pinza or whoever that was, only this was "Anything you can sing, I can sing less idiomatically." No you can't, yes I can, yeah you're right.
Placido Domingo proved he speaks Spanish in case you thought the ethnic thing was an act. Frederica von Stade proved that some people age better than...I started to say better than others but why not get one last barb in and say "some people age better than Aprile Millo." I think I will. I think I did. Ruth Ann Swenson proved that she really was sick and not just playing hooky from the afternoon's Elisir. Say, who was her cover, and how did she do? Bill Irwin flounced inexplicably around the stage to the Onegin Polonaise.
And a strange thing happened to me during the next number. I spent all of the recit ("Ah, se una volta sola...") and most of the aria ("Ah! Non credea mirarti") wondering if the pinchy quality about Dessay's voice is forever going to keep me from enjoying her singing despite its obvious craft and quality. In that way that the past wrecks things for us sometimes, I always think she's about to have the effortless spin of Mesple, but that's just not her sound. And then, from the first instant of the cabaletta ("Ah! I begin all my utterances with 'Ah!' and by the way, non giunge!") that thing happened that only happens maybe twice a season. It feels like electricity entering through my feet and crawling up my spine. I wonder if maybe I have an idea what it was like, now, to hear the young Sutherland--different sounds, obviously, but that same daredevil sense of "fuck you, I can sing anything." The house shared my pleasure.
The same house gave a surprising, markedly cold shoulder to Dwayne Croft. Wonder what that's about. He didn't really own the Count's Aria as in olden days, but he didn't suck.
So then on sails Denyce Graves dressed, apparently, as a mermaid and sings "Can't Help Mispronouncin' dem Pronouns of Mine." This could not have been her idea. I do think Showboat is a masterpiece, but, um...yeah. Her diction throughout was puzzlingly non-native, her famous commitment and her vocal unevenness equally in evidence, and the audience gasped en masse as she ended the piece on a low Z or something. It's not for me to know whether this was a gasp of admiration or aesthetic bewilderment. Or, hell, who knows, some of those folks in Orchestra may simply never have seen a black person.
Say, do you remember the time when I was all "Renee Fleming in Verdi will be something to cheer about!"? Can we pretend that conversation didn't happen? Thing is, she in fact made much less of an expressionist masterpiece out of "Tacea la notte" than she has made lately of Manon, to name the most grave offense. If it was not on par with Radvanovsky, it was at least pretty. But also at most pretty, I'm afraid. I don't know where this Fleming train is headed is what I'm getting at. I have to admit in the cabaletta I could think only of the standard criticism of the Fleming bashers: there was, as they say, no note produced at a single volume. Each one was a tiny "pace, mio dio!" And that's just too much. I guess the jury's still out, but I'm not what you'd call optimistic.
James Morris sang "Bill Frist ist um" (you know--from The Flying Right Wing Nutjob) and erased some unfond memories of his Scarpia.
I, for one, was rather excited to see that Meier was singing the death of Didon, but it didn't really pan out, I'm sincerely sorry to say. I'm thinking Waltraud maybe just doesn't translate. The gestures were grand and her choice of gowns triggered a certain existential nausea that was interesting in its way, but the specter of LHL stood there impatienty, tapping its spectral foot. Phonetically and stylistically, a bit of an abortion; dramatically, neither fleischig nor milchig, with here and there a declamatory wallop. Did I say how much I liked her Kundry? [Listen, I'm sorry this is turning into such a laundry list, devoid of narrative flow. I was serious, though: hit control F and scan for Mirella Freni if that's what you're after. Not for nothing, it's also almost 1:30 again and this time a school night, so this is looking like a two parter.] Meier's partner of a few nights ago, the occasionally wonderful Ben Heppner, trotted out the Meistersinger prize song in excellent voice.
I really couldn't disagree when La Cieca dubbed Kiri Te Kanawa "the world's highest paid church soprano" many years ago. And yet, in certain rep the simplicity of her singing works out to something quite moving. I still recall the way the air went out of my lungs when this singer I thought of as bloodless sang "Madeleine! Madeleine!" into her mirror in that one Capriccio broadcast. Marietta's Lied in the gala had a little of this quality, and maybe the wear on the voice lent a little pathos. God knows it's not in bad shape--Te Kanawa left the opera stage before any real decline happened, and at its best the voice was like...like what Fleming would sound like if she'd shut up and sing. That good.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who wished, upon seeing Stratas' brief, warm tribute in the film segment, that she had been the surprise guest. (Not to keep you guessing, there was no surprise guest, except Mirella Freni's senile dementia.) It was the same feeling of nostalgia and regret, I'm afraid, that Voigt's reading of Sieglinde's aria provoked. Once a vocal marvel that felt aimed individually at you as you sat in your cheap seats, her Du Bist der Lenz is still radiant but on a much smaller scale. Over the course of the past season I've grown less and less confident that the new, reduced Voigt is quite the voice we knew before.
To close the first half, Domingo sang "Granada." Agustin Lara is a wonderful song writer who penned such gems as "Despues" and "Piensa en mi," but Granada is more a snowglobe in music, a little, local bit of kitsch. I seriously can't fathom what was going on when they planned this.
Alright, go mill around in the lobby now, and have a cup of coffee. Maury's gonna hit the sack and finish this later.