Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Jack of all trades, master of some more than others

Ok, how embarassing. I have almost nothing to say about tonight's Boheme. I shall have to try extra hard to whip up my 1.5 thoughts on the matter into a big, verbitudinous empty nothing.

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 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.


Thomas said...

Why does PD always conduct N/V performances. I think he's conducted all their performances in LA too.
I saw Trebs Musetta two seasons ago, and even though I have some serious reservations about her voice, she was born to play Musetta. When she made her entrance, the other 200 people on stage completely disappeared.

TomN said...

I agree completely about Domingo's conducting. The first time I heard it was on Jose Cura's Puccini CD, which could have been great with another maestro but just wasn't. I wasn't looking forward to the Butterfly here in DC a few weeks ago because he was conducting. I almost got proved wrong -- act 1 went pretty well. Acts 2 and 3 didn't though, partly because of the singing (poor thing cracked before Un Bel Di) but mostly because he couldn't shape any of those little details coherently and put them together where it counted. Moment after moment went by with no differentiation, Che tua madre might as well have been any other bit. Even with the vocal problems, there were good performances that could have been coaxed out, but not by Domingo.

manprano said...

Well written as always, Mr. D.

meretrice i. d'oscena said...

Maury, you kill me.

As a fellow Southerner, taught from birth that it's better to choke to death quietly at your table rather than disturb the other people in the restaurant, I can't bring myself to boo either.

I came very close after sitting through an excrutiatingly bad 'Magic Flute' that featured the most god-awful, out-of-tune atrocity of a Papageno (seriously, dude, if you can't sing Papageno, you have no effing business on even the most provencial, church basement opera stage... I mean, when have you ever said of a Papageno "He doesn't have the top for it."). The fact that man played Papageno as Otto, the fey medium from 'Beetle Juice' really didn't help.
But as I thought of booing, someone else actually did, and my stomach seized up.

I can't even bear to walk out on a bad performance during intermission- I've only managed it once, leaving before Act 3 of a Tosca so awful that I would been the one leaping off the castle had I stayed. Is it me, or does a bad 'Tosca' seem worse than a bad 'Carmen' or a bad 'Boheme'?

And also, my family start accusing each of of ruining Christmas as early as February. We literally scream "You're ruining Christmas!!!" but I have to say that I usually take first prize. My advise to anyone who wants to win the Ruining Christmas sweepstakes: demand that your boyfriend be invited to Aunt Sassy's house for the big family Christmas dinner. Works every time.

straussmonster said...

I booed at the end of the Don Giovanni I saw at the Komische Oper--it just came out in one rush of anger as I realized the director thought the ending ensemble was fake and thus decided to have it trail off into nothing. All of the offenses of the night (repeated nonsensical stripping, interrupting Ottavio's act II aria for a speech, replacing Ottavio with Elvira for the scene involving 'Non mi dir') suddenly weighed so heavily...and then I got into an angry argument auf deutsch with the guy next to me about it.

Good times!

Maury D'annato said...

Straussina: I have to admit, that would have been fun to witness, you chewing the guy out in German. And interrupting Ottavio's aria is way over the line. Yellow flag on the play.

Maury D'annato said...

Merry: I'm not sure about the bad Tosca...I seem to remember a bad Carmen at the Met that felt like it would never end, Uria-Monzon or someone. In fact, for me, unless it's outstanding, Carmen is usually a bit of a drag.

rysanekfreak said...

Are we all the same person under different names?

1--I am a Southerner with extreme manners.

2--I would never boo, although I'm always hoping the people around me will. I loved being at a Rossini "Otello" in San Francisco when an entire row behind me of German students on a tour booed the production team like crazy. To me, that was the best part of the performance...young Germans booing.

3--Aunt Sassy? I have an Aunt Dainty at whose house we are forced to have large holiday dinners, but the issue is always over the race of dates, not their gender.

4--I once saw Uria-Monzon in something and wanted an earthquake to destroy the whole building so that it would all be over.

straussmonster said...

YouTubing for Uria-Monzon produces this:

Costuming ahoy! Is it a peasant bodice, or S&M wear?

meretrice i. d'oscena said...

Booing the production team is different. I could get into that, especially if it was chorus of men reading the paper on the toilet kind of nonsense that interferes with the singers or the music itself.

It is a little spooky, what with you and I both lobbying for a longer Don Carlos...

However, I don't really have an Aunt Sassy (names changed to protect the whomevers); but my partner of 9 years and I were very plainly told that we were not to show up as a couple for Thanksgiving at her house.
How I do love the holidays.

I had the coolest piano teacher ever, who once critiqued a performance of mine with "You need to suck less in this section."
She was at a Pratt performance of Beethoven Piano Con #5 and some teenagers were cutting up during the first movement; she went over to them at the interval and told them to "Shut the fuck the up", and took a seat immediately behind them. Brava!

JSU said...

I find my urge to boo multiplied considerably when undeserved bravos ring out.

Anonymous said...

"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."

No, not true - he reacted as any of us would react. We are ALL human, even the famous ones. Everyone goes out there to do his best work and no one intends to do badly -- that's why I never boo a performer, no matter how much I disagree with what they do.

alex said...

"Everyone goes out there to do his best work and no one intends to do badly -- that's why I never boo a performer, no matter how much I disagree with what they do."

Booing always seems to draw out a lot of different perspectives. My own, I think, clarified in contrast to the above statement. I think that there's a difference when a performer does something that can be classified as "something I don't agree with/don't like" and "that was just bad" (obviously, heavy on the subjectivity). I'm reminded of a Janet Baker quotation in the Full Circle documentary (I was such a nut I got the DVD -- read the book years ago) -- "to lead a life of an artist is one of the greatest privileges in the world" or somesuch. And I do believe that is true, but not to the extent that the difficulty and effort of performing is necessarily enough to exonerate a performer from criticism/booing. Though it is a privilege, being an artist, it is a double-edged sword that in addition to having bosses "behind the scenes" (opera administrators, etc.), performers are beholden, in some way shape or form, to their public, and I don't think I can bring myself to proscribe(philosophically or otherwise) that fellow audience-members (shareholders in the performance, if you will) express their feelings in one of the few ways they can. I suppose they can always write a letter, but really, how effective is that going to be? Even critical writing isn't all that efficacious (though of course there are always stories of performers being very affected by them -- and really, does philosophically rejecting booing as acceptable behaviour mean that biting musical criticism [as long as honest] should be shelved, too?) and it's certainly not an available means of expression for most people.

Returning to earlier distinction between "don't agree with/like" and "bad," I think I have to say that while nobody ever wants to be bad or do a poor job, sometimes they do *anyway* and that's just how being human works, just like how truly good and considerate people can inadvertently (or advertently) be utter assholes. However, accidents and unintentional crappyness still have consequences, and I think its disingenuous to exonerate people based on their good intentions. Manslaughter can't be overlooked because you really didn't mean to (which would, by definition make it manslaughter rather than outright murder), and if you accidentally rear-end another car, you're still bound to be liable for paying damages, etc. That's just how it is. So if you get on the stage and people are charged money on your behalf and you end up sucking, whether you mean to or not, I dunno. Does it make me seem like a hardass to say that while I appreciate everyone's efforts, sometimes, someone's best just isn't good enough? It's just lamentable that the only effective way to express dis-satisfaction at something like a performance is something as jarring as booing (cf. previous letter writing analysis).

To wit, I haven't booed (and probably won't either because I can't bring myself to or because I attend all of these things with a student mentality) but I also can't really justify (to myself) an abstract objection to it.

Anonymous said...

Do you perform, Alex?

alex said...


Anonymous said...

OK, Alex...well I see your point of view and I wouldn't argue your right to express yourself that way if you chose. I just come at it from the perspective of one who has seen these people obsess with the booing for years to come and really, REALLY suffer over it. Writing letters and musical critiques are a different matter in that they don't include the instant humiliation of the performer and the result that the audience sees that humiliation. Your intellectual analysis aside, written criticism has a longevity and permanence that make it a perfectly valid expression of dissatisfaction, if that is truly one's goal. Too often, however, the actual goal is to show off one's musical perception to the surrounding audience members. In this most recent case, PD is rehearsing extremely long days trying to prepare the First Emperor and this kind of thing just makes that all the more difficult for him, as it would for anyone...

Primarily, I was reacting to the statement that fame and money make one immune to booing as if the rich and famous are not human............

best wishes, Alex, and thanks for your thoughts

alex said...

Thanks for your well wishes, could always use more!

It sounds like we approach or reach the same conclusion but word it differently. All of your reasons why not to boo are completely valid, and as someone who performs, I certainly understand (on some tiny, microscopic level) and sympathize with the pressures of putting oneself before a public. However, I still believe that none of these reasons point to the indefensibility of booing, a priori, regardless of whether or not *all* cases of booing are appropriate, in good taste, good ideas, etc.

I am reminded of a conversation that one of my friends had with her bible study group, who were shocked to learn that she was pro-choice. She said that everyone had a right to choose and that her own personal choice would be for life. I guess I feel similarly about booing. I would object to people who boo to "show off one's musical perception" at the expense of the performers, but I'm not philosophically opposed to booing itself.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, too, anon.

Maury D'annato said...

Anon: fair enough about the famous being human, too. And, as I said, I can't bring myself to boo despite this perhaps erroneous conclusion I drew, that it wouldn't matter to someone like Domingo. I do, though, think there's something unpleasantly grandiose about Domingo's need to conduct. Nobody will stop him from conducting, despite the fact that a lot of people think he's terrible at it, including people who think he's a great singer...and I think very objectively someone who wasn't Placido Domingo that had his talent in conducting would not be conducting at a major house, much less the Met. So that's why I couldn't bring myself to very loudly deplore the booing, even if I wasn't entirely in favor of it and never would have joined in.

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