Monday, February 27, 2006

Omnia Vincit Ewa

Well the good news is most people either love Ewa Podles or think she's a big honking foghorn, so the gentle art of persuasion can rest unused in its tissue-stuffed crate for the length of this writing. And the other good news is that the former crowd was out in force on Sunday, not enough so to fill the upper reaches of Avery but you'd never know it by the noise. And the other good news is that, while i Podliani are not utterly unlike Millo fans in their creepy devotion, I think I'm being a tiny bit objective when I say she really earned each precious decibel. God knows she puts out about as many as she takes in over the course of an evening.

Madame Podles, you see, was the featured soloist at the Moscow Chamber Orchestra's matinee concert, though I think it is safe to say the majority of the crowd would have remained in their seats had a bad batch of borsch called for a last minute substition of the PS 153 marching band on backup. This is not to denigrate the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, except for the first violin section. It is to denigrate them just a little, as their pitch issues are something jarring in a world class ensemble, pretty solo playing of the concertmaster notwithstanding. But an opening band can tell when you're waiting for Led Zeppelin, I suspect. (yeah, no idea. I hate Led Zeppelin.)

Meanwhile, they played the Haydn "Pasione" symphony with great gusto and Prokofiev's Visions Fugitives [Rus.: Mimoletnosti] were marked by considerable nimbleness and wit. Shostakovich's chamber symphony was, if memory serves, and it usually doesn't around here, actually arranged for them from the 8th quartet, though I think it's safe to say none of those members are around any longer. And it had gravitas and soul, and we all just wanted Podles to get her besequined ass out there and yell at us some more.

Alright. "Yell" is not the best choice of words. But for the record, this was some exquisitely loud singing, and in the last of the Songs and Dances of Death, the middle register note on the word smert' (death) roughed me up as no note has done in recent memory. And, vulgarian though I may be for saying so, loud does go a long way with me. It's the rugby element of opera.

Meanwhile, there was everything else. Podles' first number was Rossini's Joan of Arc cantata for solo contralto. Podles is no longer 35 (try flipping the digits around a little and you'll get there...I actually only know this because Tommasini did his homework), and she does a crazy-looking sort of calisthenics to catch all the notes in this kind of music, but unless you require your soloists to look like Kiri te Kanawa or the Buddha at all times, it's worth it. Personally I find it kind of fun to watch. And the bravura, the sheer balls of the singing...I think most anyone who was there will tell you this was a unique moment of delirium in this season. In almost anyone else's concerts, you wait for the high notes. And there are good high notes in a Podles concert, but fewer than there used to be [and in the spirit of full disclosure, the high note in the second encore was a good save rather than an easy triumph]. But really you wait for the low notes. To some listeners, they're discordant with the rest of the voice. To these listeners I say: blow me. But in a jokey tone of voice, so we're all still friends.

EP acts her way through even concert pieces, which is also great fun. It's silent movie acting, but it's from the gut. And what's better still is the non-narrative physicality of her singing--some of it from effort, sure, but the majority I think from a brand of whole body engagement with the music I imagine Leider and Garden must have had. Certainly it finds a happy home in Mussorgsky's fairy tale told by a goth drama queen, Pesni i Pliaski Smerti. La P's Russian is a damn sight clearer than her Romance languages, which tend toward the Polynesian, ecole de Sutherland, which also helped out in her two encores, the Nevsky and Moscow Cantata pieces to be heard on her superb Russian disc. (I'm only sad she didn't sing Varvara's Limericks from Schedrin's "Not Only Love" with its slithery portamenti ending in a sort of queasy grunt. Good stuff.) These were followed by much stomping and European clapping-in-time, even, that went on until our game but weary soloist drew a finger dramatically across her throat, the bum's rush as an international gesture.

Would I love Podles as much in subtler material? Gluck's Orfeo can go either way: quiet nobility or gestures on the scale of Marie Falconetti, and hers is resoundingly the latter. I was meant to hear her in Das Lied the year she broke her arm and heard the lovely Susan Platts instead. I'm not sure how much it matters when there's great rep in her range that works the cinematic scale of her art. Certainly I'm beside myself waiting for this summer's Tancredi ([-subtle]...little notational joke for any linguists in the crowd. Thanks, I'll be here all week!) and can hardly type about the Toronto Klytamnestra without fainting, so I'd better sign off, since nothing's less attractive than me passed out at the keyboard.

Up next: Forza. Which is tonight. p.s. not to put too fine a point on it, but did anyone take home a sonic souvenir of this concert, not that any of us moral paragons would do such a thing?

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?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Faute de mieu

Latest purchase: (With What Money??)

1) I Troiani. That's right, not Les Troyens. Highlights disc, actually, but it has the parts one is curious to hear. I'm trying to remember my Mario del Monaco timeline and whether 1960 is after his car wreck/goiter/whatever but I would guess not. I mean he ditches the C in "inutiles regrets" and we all hate that, but the final B (?) is so long and fearless as to make up for it. The crowd agrees. Simionato as Didone isn't quite what I imagined...I think the grandeur of her big scena is all tied up in its Frenchness and even an artist of her caliber can't really make it sound right in translation. I'm trying to imagine Janet Baker doing it in English, which seems likely to have happened. It just doesn't make me want to rev up the time machine. I haven't given Nell Rankin's Cassandra a fair listen; cursorily I'd say the goods are there.

2) Cebotari Sings This and That in Really Good Sound. Can someone clear up for me whether she was or was not Hitler's little darling? I'd swear I read it somewhere but it's hard to wrap my head around since she's from Kishinev, ancestral home of the D'annato family and so many other shtetl Jews. Anyway if she was in fact the songbird of Sobibor maybe I'd actually rather not know it, because she made some irresistable records. While we're on her, che-bo-TA-ri? Because it's a semi-made up name anyway, from Cebutaru. And while I have no idea what a "c" represents in Romanian, it's not impossible she was aiming for something with more of an Italian ring to it like, y'know, Rossellini or Buccatini or, oh, Millo. Herein are featured excerpts from Puccini, Verdi, etc and Cebotari's second to none Es Gibt ein Reich, complete with Ferrieresque mythology that she knew she was dying when she sang it. It could be true.

Honestly, I haven't stopped going to the opera. I'm bound to go to Forza sooner or later, especially since I got an intriguing text message about it from JSU. Go click on his page until he's forced to review it. (Actually I haven't checked today--he may have done so already. All I've seen lately though was Walk the Line, which I secretly suspect was just the negatives from last year's Ray.

Over at The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross outlines a Ring set in an American high school, which made me laugh, in part because I have at times daydreamed about other operas set in high schools (they being the last place it is socially acceptable to indulge in high drama/operatically sized emotion all the livelong day.) Is the Duke of Mantua really just the captain of the football team? Is Der Komponist really just the faggiest kid in the drama club? Watch your back, Calixto Bieito--here I come!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Abject Disclaimer of Any Objective Merit as a Review

When I was in college I had a t-shirt silk-screened with a page from Brahms' German Requiem on it. Someone once asked me, "can you play that?" and (thinking myself quite the wit) I responded, "No, I don't play the orchestra." Nobody plays the orchestra, get it, get it?

Alarm Will Sound gave a sort of mash-up themed concert at Zankel this evening, pairing "odd couples" of composers whose stories intersect in one way or another. Seriously, for once, I'm going to try to be brief, because I mean, I'm a Wagner-Strauss sort--I'm from Philadelphia*; we believe in God...** If things get any less instinctually graspable than Wozzeck, I have to fight not to fade into the rabble of middle American anti-intellectualism, turning into your Uncle Cletus who resorts to highly rigorous criticism of the form "my four year old coulda composed that aleatory and highly performative fantasia on sound and meaning." I do think I have a certain ear for virtuosity, but as AWS concerts go, a relatively small part of the evening was devoted to pieces that could stand on the staggering technique of ensemble alone. And I'm afraid I'm particularly out of water trying to wring the musical worth of things like Varese into words, though in fact Varese is by some random chance one of the post-Schoenberg composers I do get on some gut level. Integrales was given a showy staging that stood unafraid on the precipice whence artful looks down on silly. The placement of players in the theater can look like a stunt if you can't back it up with unfailing chops and unblinking conviction.

That said, with a ready hand on the delete key in case of impending cold feet, I'm going to say something a little critical of a concert given by a bunch of people I think highly of, some of whom I know personally: I just don't see how, as an audience member, one can not feel a little bit condescended to when 4'33" or its pal 0'0" is programmed. It amounts to an undergraduate lecture, an aural but non-aural conspiratorial wink, something I think works better as a historical event than a present one in the post-Sprockets age. But, as I've said so many times, I'm something of a half-wit, so more's my loss for not getting a seminal (the seminal?) piece of music after modernism. Maybe it's just harder to countenance now that we're all painfully aware now that those five minutes of cheeky neo-dada pile up to about fifteen bucks in the pocket of some Carnegie stagehand.

There, I'm done. Now back to the task of trying not to overuse the word "virtuosic." Go hear them next time and you'll see why this is an issue. Really the pieces that showed off the group at its best, according to me, were: Will Sound, commissioned for them from Wolfgang Rihm, not something written in language I can parse much but a swell platform for the always astonishing musical sense of conductor Alan Pierson; and...which one was it that featured Courtney Orlando adding the accordion to the long list of instruments she plays? I stand corrected on one thing. It seems very possible that Ms. Orlando plays the orchestra. (In case you didn't read your Chekhov, if there's a t-shirt in the first paragraph it has to go off in the fourth. Suddenly it seems I'm writing about burlesque.)

It becomes something of a nightmare to single out individuals for praise when everyone is so sure-footed, but for the hell of it I'm going to toss out random props to percussionist Dennis DeSantis, partly for his gripping John Cale arrangement, and percussionist Payton MacDonald and...Jesus, if you'd told me in high school orchestra that I would ever have anything nice to say about percussionists I'd have told you to light up another one. The Cale selections, from his music for Warhol's Kiss were performed with clips of that film projected behind/above the players, and of the pieces I've seen AWS do that call for a spatially motivated, quasi-theatrical staging, I think this one worked best.

Least informative review ever. I'll leave it for others to comment on such as Woma's Gyil Mambo which I enjoyed but not in any very specific way or Bermel's Three Rivers which I didn't enjoy, but not in any very specific way. [Conveniently, smarter listeners than I am have provided links to more informed opinions from those who really get this kind of music.] A small, heartbreaking note: those metal detectors that caused such a backup getting to the will call window? They're not permanent; just deemed necessary for a performance by the Israel Philharmonic. Once in a while one is reminded in a mundane way of the fact that, while monotheistic religions are clearly a big mistake in general, monotheistic religions with a concept of martyrdom really take the cake in the disaster bake sale.

*Not true.
**Even less true. I'm just making a movie reference for the amusement of exactly two people.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

And yeah, I'm kind of glad it's not Taymor

So now the questios is: what does anyone know about Robert Lepage. Right? Not sure what I'm blogging next. Probably Podles if the concert isn't called off.

A grus in der heim,
(which is Yiddish for Word to your Mother),
Chairman Mau

Monday, February 13, 2006

Well, dog my cats!

DOGME 2006 Manifesto of Opera Blogging

1) I shall not describe voices in terms of food, unless in a spirit of blatant absurdism. "Ms. Mentzer's mezzo is a heady mix of starfruit and bliny, her top redolent of ham hocks and Big Red soda." Yeah, no idea why I picked Mentzer except in mentioning her name I get to think about her singing.

2) I shall not describe voices in terms of jewelry, precious metals, semi-precious stones. Nobody sounds like diamonds set in steel any more than she sounds like orthoclase set in ruthenium. It occurs to me I read "diamonds set in steel" somewhere recently so if it's yours, sorry for the potshot.

ETA: I begin to think the reason people read me in such, ehm, medium-sized numbers is to watch me be humorously wrong, sort of like why we watch the State of the Union Address only without the body count. The apologies here are due to Stephen Holden, and the phrase is "diamonds set in silver."

3) I shall not confuse an exacting, quasi-religious epistemology of fach for having something to say about a voice. One of you out there knows exactly what example I'm going to use in my theoretical non-DOGME-compliant review: "Norman should not have sung the role of Salome even on record, as she is not a jugendlich-dramatisch but quite obviously a Falcon."

Oh gosh, that's all I've come up with so far. Am I leaving out any clunkers? We've all seen the threads on opera-l about staging trends that must die--if memory serves, some deservedly popular choices were staging the overture, sopranos spinning around as they pop out a high note, and my own contribution: Big Tall Menacing Shadows. So I'm just saying there are some reviewing trends that make me a little nutsy. That's all. If anyone needs me, I'll be in my room.

Oh but before I go, have you checked out the little sister to Unnatural Acts of Opera? Our hostess sports yet another operanym I find awfully funny in its excess: Stella Maria Krazelberg von und zu Brabant, and the latest podcast is here. Meanwhile did you read Alex's rather gratifying tirade against the "let's dress it up as pop music and see if anyone comes" trend that looks likely to dominate the first years of the Gelb regime?

Little bits of big news tossed in as afterthoughts

A Mattila Tosca, eh? Color me daft but I can't say I saw that pairing of singer and role coming down the pike. Think she'll play it barefoot?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Talk about discouraging

After spending 20 years asleep, it seems possible, in a ring of fire, Terrence Malick has awakened to show us what happens when greatness goes unused. Right, in fact he made The Thin Red Line seven years ago, but I didn't see it so I can't very well write about it. And I'm not going to write much about The New World except to say that the three playings of the entire world-being-born-in-e-flat-major extravaganza from Rheingold are pretty much the only good things that happen. No, that's not fair. There are quite a few arresting images including one I would deem unforgettable, but somehow the man who gave us the soul-wringing narrative that runs behind each museum-worthy tableau of Days of Heaven has turned out an endless, tedious piece of dreck I have a hard time imagining anyone enjoying. The Wagner may be all that kept me in the theater, though the performances, one suspects, were good. It is hard to know--buried, as they were, in crap. Folks, this is the man who gave us the mean, lean Badlands. What the hell happened?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: I keep hearing rumors of this Threepenny Opera with the potentially brilliant casting of Cyndi Lauper and Nellie McKay. I haven't gone mad, have I?* I've seen nothing official about it. In a way it's too bad because I have this little dream that Patti LuPone could get tired of doing Mrs. Lovett in the now long running do-it-yourself Sweeney Todd everyone's been so nutty about, and Ms. Lauper could somehow be persuaded to step in. You may or may not know this, but the woman has an impressive set of pipes. (I have been known to put "I'm Gonna be Strong" on opera mix cd's for reasons that one listening should explain with no room for back-talk.) It would involve some suspension of geographical disbelief, since I doubt that Queens honk is going anywhere, but then if the telecast with LuPone was any evidence, her British accent is sporadic to say the least.

All snowed in here at Palazzo D'Annato. Perhaps it's the ideal time to watch the rest of that old Elektra with Marton and Studer and just generally make things worse.

*"No, Maury," say the happy little voices. "You're as sane really sane thing." It's so official it's got a website. And the translation is by Wallace Shawn, a man whose genius is largely unknown to the public due to the fact that he makes a really good visual punchline.

Friday, February 10, 2006

See, that's actually a hilarious idea for blogfodder. Presupposing some imaginary dreamland in which I'm not instantly creeped out by the idea of very liberally giving out my phone number, I publish it en blogge and then you all text message me reviews from whatever you're seeing. Whereupon I take inexcusable liberties with your words and publish them for all to see. All fourteen or so to see. Yes. So not gonna happen.

Maybe it's time to expand the blogroll a bit, as I've stumbled upon some amusing ones. Merely linking for now: the opera yenta tells us "How Internet Opera makes me a better Jew..."; the solidly written, rather serious and daringly named Opera Blog; and because anyone who likes Bruckner and Boulez must be, well...smarter than me, The Penitent Wagnerite. Enough for now. Click in good health.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

More reviews from my vast network of cellular informants

A reader who dissed my last limerick
Informs me by means of Sony-Eric-
sson text message Gruber's
more "gruesome" than super
(though Olga is "awesome" wie immer) ick!

I really, really do not have the knack. In other news that I was given confidentially but now may disclose because it's more or less public (well, if you're a subscriber it is) Alexandrina Pendatchanska returns to City Opera next season as Elena in La Donna del Lago. Must shop for bells, on with which there to be.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hooker with a Voice of...well, you know

You know, it's a little difficult to get up the steam to write an opera review when this guy, by contrast, has used his blog to do a real and substantial service.

But I'm gonna anyway. You knew that.

All else aside, it's Traviata, probably the first opera I ever loved. If you'll pardon me while I vaseline the lens a little, Papa D'Annato used to load us in the jalopy and take us to Cincinnati Opera and I remember thinking during Manon Lescaut, at age 12 or something: please, please, please die already. That was what my reviews would have sounded like back then, yup. If we'd had blogs. "Um, so like this lady? She wouldn't stop singing?" etc. And then a few years later we went to Traviata, and it became immediately clear I would never, ever like football. One day I'll indulge my nostalgia and figure out if anyone in that cast was someone I heard later.

So the thing about an opera that plays that kind of role in your life is there's a good chance you'll listen to it way too much and not be able to hear it anymore, which is pretty precisely what I did. I'm always tempted to lunge for my undergraduate understanding of critical theory in discussing this because famed Russian mieskeit Roman Jakobson and his Ikettes, the Formalists, described this all very well: things become routinized, and good art must shock us out of our perceptual habits. I do think parts of La Traviata are lost to me forever. I can judge a good "Sempre Libera" but never again will it totally grab me by the balls, right?

Not entirely right.

I'm not about to crown Angela Gheorghiu the queen of the lyric stage, because that would be corny and premature. I will say, though, that I was very taken with her performance and at times very much moved, and there's not a long list of singers that really move me, whatever their other merits. See, Gheorghiu kind of does the Callas thing. Not a tic-by-tic phonetic masquerade ecole de Tiziana Fabbricini or Lucia Aliberti. Rather she has what I'm just going to go ahead and call a marvellous kind of negative capability. She doesn't flail about after gestures. She just has a good old school knack for physical and vocal melodrama. I never believed the stuff about Callas being Callas because she studied the scores word by word--singing is not geometry and critical intelligence is very, but very different from creative intelligence. What it means to be a creature of the stage is, for instance, to know as Gheorghiu does (instinctively, I suspect) when to slow your movements down and when to speed them up.

This is why, when she started condensing her gestures and walking so slowly as to fit in to a Robert Wilson production, it really launched her "Amami Alfredo" straight into my heart, or my gut, or somewhere signifying a happy reception of good singing. This and the fact that it was luscious. It should be mentioned, by the way, that some of us had misgivings at the beginning of the opera that her Violetta was going to be undervoiced. The first few minutes were remarkably quiet. In the final analysis, nobody would complain if the voice were a size larger, but I do tend to think kvetching about the size of voices is about half the time the last refuge of he who has nothing else to say.

A few weeks ago in this space I whined most gratingly about how the Met puts on Lucia but never Bolena or the other, far more enjoyable Donizetti. I didn't have any definite idea at the time about who should sing them, but now I do. It occurs to me that Gheorghiu put "Al dolce guidami" on her early recital album, the same one where you can hear her and Mr. Gheorghiu do a delightfully dreadful "Tonight!" from West Side Story. I liked it at the time and, lack of notes above C notwithstanding, I'd like to take my turn in the great tradition of Bloggers Futilely Adressing the Universe about Casting. Gheorghiu=Bolena.

Act III was dramatically dead on (except for maybe the "You can hear me but nobody else can!" spotlight...and come to think of it the entire physical production, not least the Dancing Cow Convention. That the headliners overcame this is much to their credit. Yes, I'm going to extend this parenthesis as long as I damn well please, and while I'm on the staging, is clapping-for-the-furniture making a slightly unwelcome comeback? I've heard it said that when the new house opened, people clapped for the chandeliers as they made their 7:59 ascent. We all like clapping, but let's be reasonable.) and the letter and [spoiler alert!!] death scene were riveting. And occasioned a stomping ovation which for some reason they quashed early on by means of the house lights.

Speaking of absolutely nothing, I swear there's a riff at the beginning of Act III that Philip Glass quotes in Koyanisqaatsi. I'm high, right?

Kaufman's success and equally enthusiastic reception was not a surprise to me. You know how a bunch of us heard Sondra Radvanovsky backstage singing The High and Highly Repetetive Priestess in Aida in what must have been 1998 and knew she was eventually going to knock everyone else aside for the spotlight? I think I had this same thing happen at the famously uneven Heppner Otellos in Chicago, thinking: who's that Cassio, and why on earth is he Cassio? It's a shock, but the good kind, to hear a voice with such a low center of gravity in this role. I find food metaphors irritating but red meat does kind of irresistibly spring to mind. And no, the C in the cabaletta didn't quite plug in, but my reaction a lot of the rest of the time was what a lot of you, apparently, experienced hearing Filianoti. That is to say gratitude that someone was making the right sounds and vocal gestures. I'm guessing Susan Graham was feeling some gratitude of her own, if she happened to take in any of these Traviatas, since Mr. Kaufmann has kindly displaced her in this season's Worst Wig competition. (Ms. G's wigs were much better, though I'll have to admit the act II one made me think of Alanis Morisette*. It's possible she'd look good in any wig. Not to belabor the obvious and much noted, but girlfriend is a knockout.)

ETA: an anonymous reader informs me that those ain't wigs. The problem with posting in a public forum is being publicly wrong. Anyway I'm hoping the Alfredo do is a styling choice by someone at the Met, because he does not need to be walking around the streets with that hair.

Anthony Michaels-Moore sang with admirable conviction, though if I had a magic wand he probably would have traded roles with John Hancock. Who may actually be younger than Gheorghiu but is also perhaps literally seven feet tall, so I think we can all feel comfortable calling him daddy.** Gallons of voice, from what I can tell having heard him in a couple of thankless roles. Germont's aria is another thing I've listened into a flavorless pulp, and even sung in the shower much to the horror of my soap I can only assume. It's almost an argument against listening to the likes of Tibbett, because I sort of casually assume nobody's going to do that ever again, which is not something a fair or sane person would hold against today's Germonts. But there it is, nonetheless, this little nagging voice in the mind's ear, and the sometimes clunky way Michaels-Moore's voice gets from one note to another did nothing to appease it, though I must reiterate that the role assumption was on balance a success.

You'll hear it Saturday, nu, and you'll tell me if I'm wrong.

*A year and a half later I removed the link to this picture where Alanis looks exactly like A.G. I kept getting hits from it and thinking "these people don't want to see my opera blog."

**It's moments like these when one is grateful there is little danger of the subject reading the review. To wit, statements of distaste or, well, compliments nobody's going to put in their press materials. "Maury D'Annato of says, 'this is one tenor I'd like to roll around in a vat of passionfruit Jello with, and his use of voix mixe is also tastefully stylistic.'"

p.s. as noted by Alex there does seem to be a February slump going around, as if there were some transcendental blog oversoul. Why we're all having crises of purpose at the same time is anyone's guess.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Truth about Cats and Dogs

Groucho Marx is said to have reviewed a performance by tenor Guido Nazzo saying "Guido Nazzo is nazzo guido." You don't get a chance like that in every lifetime, folks. So I was sort of hoping a few of you would be drunk and not notice if I tried to pawn off "Barasorda is sorda bad-a" on you, but as things turned out, I don't have to, because he was perfectly alright, and got a nice ovation for surviving the world's meanest sentence in a review.*

I mean, it's a shopworn voice, apparently the worse for many years of use, and did I think wistfully about Domingo, a singer I hold in high esteem but do not dote on? Of course I did. I'd like to hear him do it and am the more curious whether he'll get on his pogo stick and hop to it for the broadcast. If not, I've promised to start nasty rumors about vocal crisis among those half-wits on opera-l and usenet who start salivating at the mention of his name, cutting and pasting old posts about how he's never sung a C in his career. Where was I? Barasorda was not Domingo and that's that. I'm not disappointed I heard and saw his take on the role, though it wasn't world class.

Meanwhile, on the same stage, Sondra Radvanovsky made a case for the immediate Fedexing of Joe Volpe's soul to hell for putting her only in three performances of this and then that high school musical about the birds and the bees and the Viennese, and as far as I can tell from the Met Futures page, nothing next season, or was there an Ernani or something? Let's pause a moment for moral outrage. If there were an Oscar for best high note, she could go ahead and thank the academy because that baby was out of the ballpark. (And the Oscar for most egregiously mixed metaphor...) This being only the olive in the martini, really: I won't pretend to know the role at all but I'm having a hard time imagining a better run through it. If I got to design voices, there would be lots like hers, and the thing that knocked me out in the last act is that it's so present down around where you'd think it might fade from hearing.

I'd have a hard time going into much detail about the other singers, who were all dressed as Burger King. It was a little confusing. The set, though, I rather liked. Yes, it falls into that sort of watery category of not entirely traditional but not particularly daring. I just found it thoughtful and consistent and so I suppose stopped worrying about where to file it.

And the work itself? Delightful, conspicuously so: it's a mystery to me why it's not done more often, really. Well paced, imaginative though conservative in its language, maybe better written for the orchestra than the voice. But I had a short, frank talk with Mr. Gelb and any time someone suggests putting on, say, Tales of Hoffman he has been instructed to program this instead.

And then Maury woke up and it had all been a dream.

*"For with all respect, no one wanted him there." and yes, there's more positive context there but I'd still hate to read that about myself. And no, I'm not really jumping into the Tomassini Wars; I read his reviews, find them more or less helpful, and am not really in any position to correct him on things, being something of a dullard.

p.s. I thought so, but I had to google it after I got home: there is a certain adolescent humor in having a character named DeGuiche prancing around your opera, because in America a guiche is also the name of a body piercing in a pretty hilarious/agonizing place.