Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Looking back, just for kicks

Addendum, last year's favorites, excerpted/edited with kind permission from Trrill :

"To my tastes, though, only two sang in a way that said 'get out of my way and hand over the mantel of greatness.' That one of these was 21-year-old Lisette Oropesa only goes to show sometimes you just got it, and time will only (we hope) make what is good better. This young chicky could sing us some fine vulnerable Mozart ladies or maybe a Lakmé or two at the Met or anywhere else, providing vocal loveliness and frightening accuracy for those who lap it up and fodder for the kind of people who love nothing more than to say 'her voice isn't big enough for the Met' to grumble at each other all the way home to put on their records of Zinka and cry. Just between you, me, and the ten-foot-tall autographed poster of Ghena Dimitrova on the wall here at the Palazzo D'annato, your friend Maury loves the thrill of a big voice as much as anyone, but some flavors don't come in extra large, and this is one. It's audible, it's beautiful, and nobody's asking her to sing Ortrud. For the record, her pieces here were 'Ruhe sanft' and 'Una voce poco fa.' The former was so appropriately, unobtrusively pretty that nobody got all that rowdy about it. The latter was actually funny, which is something of a feat, and the fiorature were beyond reproach, her pitch better than anyone else in the competition."

Ms. Oropesa's Lindemann Recital debut will be Tuesday, April 4.

"The other standout, it seems to us, was self-described-in-bio 'character tenor' Rodell Aure Rosel, who is more or less guaranteed a career. The Hoffmann aria, arteesteecally speaking, teetered on the brink of pandering, but the voce was all there, so really it seems ignoble to complain. The "Song of the Worm" (from Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles) gets points just for chutzpah in programming and yet more points for having the goods to back it up. This lad (and let me shed a tear here, moved as I am always by the success of fellow Children-of-a-Lesser-Height) knows what his career is going to be about and knows exactly how it's done. Never thought we'd utter this one but: move over, Gerhard Stolze!"

Ghosts of Versailles is on for 2010 or whenever...Peter Gelb, meet Rodell. looks like there were actually three I liked a lot, though, as I wrote:

"Also ridiculously young, bass Jordan Bisch pulled fast one by singing an aria from Aleko, an opera nobody has ever heard. Ever. The lowest notes ring true, he's bothered to learn good Russian diction (wise move for a bass, eh?) and the climactic note of the piece was held so long the poor fellow was gasping for breath, as were some in the audience. We approve of a singer who isn't afraid to look a little beat up after a good workout. At least it's not the bored look they seem to be teaching in conservatories everywhere."

...and that wraps up the "quoting myself because I'm just that self-absorbed" edition of MFI. Next up: Don Pasquale. Yeah, I know what I said.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals Concert

Writing up the Met Council is a rather different assignment, I think, than opera reviewing. Assignment, he says, as if he were Roz Russell and Cary Grant had just said, "Hildy, that Metropolitan Opera has story written all over it!" Anyway I certainly don't go in with my poison pen in hand; everyone that's made it to this stage is an accomplished singer in one way or another, though some will be more succesful than others, and that's the way things go. I find it poignant that this may be what some remember as their moment in the spotlight, and I don't find myself in the world's most critical mood. I will say that this year's slate of singers were more about potential for me than present excitement, compared with last year's singers some of whom seemed a bit more...finished. It occurs to me I wrote about them folks under an entirely different operanym and maybe will try and wrest that text from Nikk over at Trill and print it here.

The concert is really about showing up with friends, comparing notes on who you think should win, affecting some air of shock if they don't, and enjoying the casual air of the event. I guess if I went and thought someone was truly awful, I'd just not mention their particular performance*, and nobody was awful or even bad, so can I please stop hedging now and write about the damned thing?

1. Nikki Einfeld of Canada
Selection I preferred and what I thought about it: The Willow Song from Baby Doe. Warm and distinctive tone, natural stage presence without movements born of nervous agitation.
What I'd like to hear her in: probably Mozart. Maybe more 20th century music.
What I think would add to the Nikki Einfeld Experience: a little clearer diction in English would solidify my impression of a singer very interested in the character behind the notes.

2. Paul Corona of Illinois
Preferred selection: La Calunnia. Nice heft in the middle, youthful comic energy. If he sounds this good at 22, the best is yet to come.
What I'd like to hear him in: More Rossini for now, and there's time to grow into things like Verdi.
What would add to the Paul Corona Experience: Time, and beefing up the lower part of the voice.

3. Holli Harrison of Tennesee
Preferred selection: L'atra notte from Mefistofele. I shall unabashedly call the top "thrilling" because the word popped into my head while she was singing. Sounds like she could be convinced to cut loose and give us some demented.
What I'd like to hear her in: Verismo.
What would add to the Holli Harrison Experience: I'd like to know if there's more dynamic variation available, especially on the high notes.

4. Seth Keeton of Georgia
Preferred selection: hard to choose, because Claggart's aria fit the voice better but it was just such a treat that he chose "Wie schoen ist doch die Musik" from Schweigsame Frau for one of his offerings. "Thoughtful" is a word that came to mind for his delivery, and I hope I don't need to say that's a big deal.
What I'd like to hear him in: lieder, Britten in a jewelbox house like Glimmerglass.
What would add to the Seth Keeton Experience: A hall better matched to the size of the voice.

5. Donovan Singletary of Florida
Preferred selection: Sorge infausta una procella from Orlando. Impeccable articulation without the tinny early music voice that frequently accompanies it. Incidentally, rather striking headshot, I can't help but say.
What I'd like to hear him in: more Handel, please. Bellini?
What would add to the Donovan Singletary Experience: A more introverted approach to things like Figaro that can go a little over the top if you're not careful.

6. Katherine Jolly of California
Preferred selection: Durch Zaertlichkeit from Abduction/Seraglio. No fear or hesitation in the highest range, which is solid and precise in intonation.
What I'd like to hear her in: I'm thinking we might have a very funny and accurate Cunegonde here.
What would add to the Katherine Jolly Experience: a bit more trust in the voice to convey charm without quite so much frenetic physicality.

7. John Michael Moore of Iowa
Preferred selection: Ein Madchen oder Weibchen, which is a shock since normally it makes me want to run screaming from the theater. The little bit of staging at the very end was actually hilarious. If you were there, you'll know what I'm talking about, but it doesn't retell well. Sonically, a well schooled voice in the mold of Nathan Gunn.
What I'd like to hear him in: Less annoying Mozart. I'm betting Guiglielmo would be a dream, funny and vocally suave.
What would add to the John Michael Moore experience: A bit more punch to the voice; don't know if this was a matter of nerves or the basic quality of it.

8. Marjorie Owens of Virginia
Preferred selection: D'oreste, D'ajace from Idomeneo. Sung with guts at no cost to the Mozart line.
What I'd like to hear her in: Donna Anna for sure, possibly Strauss as the voice has some real muscle.
What would add to the Marjorie Owens experience: A bit of abandon, the courage to hurl the more declamatory lines in the Consul aria out a little less prettily.

Hopefully these don't seem cursory. I was a bit of a wreck when I got in.

Simon O'Neill and Margaret Jane Wray did the halftime show. She's got an enviable instrument but I sometimes think what the hell can you do with Dich Teure Halle. And (we all have bad days) she fumbled on the climactic note. He sounded excellent in "In Fernem Land." JSU, who seems to be back from hiatus, speculates that he's covering Lohengrin, and as I am never able to get very revved about Heppner though I kind of recognize objectively he's a high quality tenor, I have to say I wouldn't mind if Hep had a cold one night.

*unfortunately I was riding my bronco back from the Wild West Ring that wasn't and missed Jonathan Beyer, so I can't write about him, but I heard he was one of the best of the bunch, actually. I couldn't really have judged well anyway, since I tend to find Papageno's suicide aria puts ideas in my head.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Winged Toasters of the Gods

Like anyone, I sometimes imagine what it would be like to be an opera director. Like anyone mentally ill, I suppose I should say. Some of it sounds fun, and some it sounds daunting, and I think the worst thing might be knowing that things that look one way in your head...well, let's take the kookier scenes of a Wagner opera. Somebody has to turn into a snake, for instance. Why, that's no big deal says Director You. It's no longer the 19th century and we have all kinds of technology. And that loud rushing sound you hear is the flushing of the toilet of history, and caught in the unforgiving vortex are the people who think technology is automatically going to help anything.

I'm not a very visual person. I can't picture the characters in books and if there are geographical descriptions, forget it. So I can well imagine not having any idea what it might look like if I had someone turn into a snake by
1) having them put a gold lame kerchief on their head (because contrary to what you've heard, this is not the Native American themed Ring; It's the drag themed Ring. I kid. It's neither. We'll get there)
2) having something explode stage left so they can quickly run offstage right, which is known I think as misdirection in the card trick biz, but unfortunately if you do it twice, the second time everyone's going to be all, hey, I'm watching Alberich when the thing explodes. Oh, there, I've gone and ruined the abstract quality of this little scenario. It was about Alberich all along.
3) having a big, and I mean massive projection of a snake head kind of poke down out of the flies, and then project a bunch more snakes squiggling around. Avoid outright hilarity and pandemonium only by not using any airplane imagery, thereby escaping the possibility the audience will shout en masse, "Snakes on a plane!!!", thump each other on the back, and promptly leave to have a beer and laugh about it.

Bonus points: having Alberich turn into a frog, after misdirection explosion #2, by replacing him with what appears to be a really adorably cute big wind-up frog. [Rather important tangential lesson: you don't want Wagner and cute on the same stage.] I'm just saying " the biggest laugh of the evening" was not a phrase I was expecting to use in a Rheingold review.

A day or so ago I wrote that I'm no fan of stultifyingly conservative productions/happy enough with crazy revisionist staging, and I am. But, just..they can't suck is all. I'll try and elaborate, but what it's going to boil down to is that my problem with the talk-of-the-town Zambello American Rheingold is not the lack or horned helmets or even the baffling presence, after the whole thing turned out not to be so Native American as we had heard, of Erda-hontas and other weird cultural mash-ups. Knock yourself out, FZ; put 'em all in white linen suits. Memorial Day is just around the corner, isn't it? The problem is that, unlike many fine Zambello productions, it is just fucking dumb. Clumsy. Sloppy.

I should pause to dole out vocal kudos where due. As far as I'm concerned, honors go to Gordon Hawkins for his well-crafted if not conceptually lived-in Alberich and Elizabeth Bishop for an echt Wagnerienne turn as Fricka. (In long Island you could plug this name in, it occurs to me, to the old joke: Fricka? I hard know 'uh!) The rest of the cast was uniformly at risk of damnation with faint praise, capable but not special. Though I think I should exempt the Froh of Cory Evan Watz, which rose a good bit above good enough; and really all three Rhein maidens (JeeYoung Lee, Frederique Vezina, and Jennifer Hines) for excelling in music that doesn't tend to make or break the opera, but can go quite badly and instead went well. Robert Hale got through the evening fine, but I can't say his performance was particularly gripping, and I don't know that I'd care to hear him in the longer Wotans.

A pretty enthusiastic nod goes to conductor Heinz Fricke, not to be confused with Fricka, or I suppose Heinz 57 Sauce for that matter. His architectural sense of the score was firm. He delivered the goods in climactic moments, ready also to speed along the occasional longeurs of this shortest Ring score. I mean, the bickering in Scene II? That shit can last for hours. It did seem that Fricke met with some orchestral lack of preparation, unless I'm simply that spoiled by the Met. And for some reason the entry of the gods into Valhalla came off as a bit flaccid...perhaps in part because of the "when's this cruise leave for Bermuda" staging and also (small point, but not) because it was not puncuated in the middle by the expected resounding CLANK; rather, the silent and inexplicable image of Donner thrusting that damned architectural t-square he'd been toting around all evening into the ground, as if to say: the next time a bunch of farshtunkeneh dieties ask me to build them a weekend place, I'm upgrading to computer drafting. As well he should, if we're not being all hoity toity about time periods.

Behind, above, and all around these singers was some of the lamest crap. A special nod in this category, the lameness award (a golden crutch) to Mark McCullough, another person whose work I'm sure I've enjoyed elsewhere. I think at Glimmerglass, actually, so you'll know I'm not just being pro forma with the snark-mitigation. The ploddingly literal use of color, from the froggy green of the tarnhelm scene to the stop-sign red for Erda, was [pep talk: ok, Maury. What are the chances someone being written about here will read this? Obviously not that great. Go ahead and be cunty.] embarassing. Only slightly less so: the giant digital graphics projected on a scrim during each orchestral interlude and the riveting opening bars of the opera. No fooling around, can you remember the early days of screen savers with the one where stars were coming at you? Because that was one of them. Don't get me wrong; they were all pretty. They were also reminiscent of a deadly awful Tales of Hoffman I saw as an undergraduate, put on by a department that had just purchased a $10,000 laser and figured they had damn well better use it. As I recall, all it would do was it would spell out the words "Tales of Hoffman" every once in a while, as if wielded by kid who has learned only one trick. Well, it had better be a good trick and not too reminiscent of Koyanisqaatsi, a video game, or (god forfend) a meditation video.

I'm sort of tripping over myself to mention all that was wrong. Because, truly, I'd be remiss in not asking: what in the name of all that is good were the Fafner and Froh costumes about? More presumably unintended visual references here, this time to Freddy Kreuger. Freddy Krueger with huge feet. Please stand and join me in a chorus of "huh?!" I guess it's true what they say about guys with big feet: they build big celestial mansions, and then abduct your sister. And the murder of Fasolt went for nothing, choreographed with all the assurance of a high school play. A middle school play. A Christmas pageant in Fort Stockton, Texas.

I am trying to imagine what went wrong. Zambello was responsible for, among other things I've liked, the Met's enthralling new Troyens a few years back. Perhaps someone was very taken with the idea of an American Ring, and didn't think through what is clearly not a good fit, like how everyone says "Rheingold!" a lot, and no matter what's going on lately with American public education, someone in the audience is bound to recall that an interesting thing about the Rhein is that it's pretty much just not in America. So your supertitles can say "Pure gold!" if you think that's an intellectually honest approach to translation, but if you ask me, they might just as well say "Russ Feingold!" or "Hermione Gingold!"

But as usual, I wasn't consulted. I'm not even going to carp about the clearly audible brouhaha backstage as the sets were changed. Me, I'm just not going back for seconds next year when Walkure two-steps its way onstage.

Next up, today's Met Council National Auditions. Meanwhile, here's a link to a review from someone who liked the above a lot more than I did.

Friday, March 24, 2006


Well, I'm just going to have to admit that I sort of assumed Sarah Caldwell died years ago.

On the agenda: Das Rheingold on the Range, tomorrow night. Relevant query: is there some reason Elena Zaremba gets hired for contralto roles with important companies?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Maury flips randomly through the latest Opera News for your doubtless uncontainable amusement

Ok so now for instance this Salome in Innsbruck, directed by Brigitte "Das L-Wort" Fassbaender? It sounds unstintingly moronic and abgefuckt, and yet I'd love to have been there. Firstly because the soprano was supposedly good, but also, isn't an interesting failure more fun these days than a totally non-embarassing retread of something we've seen forty times? I know--the horse is dead; I can put down the stick.

The whole Judith Blegen story really is awfully sad, though I can't say I know her singing. Maybe I should add her to the roster for the ol' daydream where a celebrity decides you're they're best pal. She seems like she'd be a totally sharp conversationalist but also bake you cookies possibly.

Aright, the cover photo of Trebs I think establishes that she is not merely Opera Hot but in fact rather stunning. As someone or other, ostensibly drag queens, used to say in the '90s: Love your Hair! Hope it wins! So then she gets to explain about the e flat on opening night that was extra special flat, just for you, and how she didn't want to do it in the first place but everyone was like in one of those afterschool specials about peer pressure..."c'mon's just an e flat...everyone else is singin' acuti..." and then the slow mo sets in and the claustrophobic distorted audio of everyone chanting "do it! do it! do it!" and first thing you know, she's out there singing what she very gamely admits was basically a D, and then it's just the gateway note, and she's lunging at mid-phrase high f's for no reason, but in the end all her friends gather around and hug her and she admits she has a problem. I actually once saw a pre-edit text of an interview with Gheorghiu and ever since, it's fun to imagine what these things looked like before they were edited for crazy and edited for non-native.

Totally skipped the article on opera reviewers. It was just going to be too devastating when they were asked for their role models and didn't mention me. So since I didn't read it, it's possible they did mention me--the article exists in a kind of Maury-indeterminate state. It's Schrodinger's puff piece.

Speaking of nothing, since there is absolutely no theme or (let's be honest) point to this posting, will someone try to explain the Scotto thing to me? Because I've never gotten it. I realize most of the time these things can't be explained, but on the other hand it's fun to watch people get really red in the face over their faves. I was just watching the Scotto thing on Parterre, and I know La Cieca is hugely pro-Scotto...whatevs, just if there's some recording I should know that will make the little cartoon lightbulb appear over my head, tell me, and tell me why. Oh but wait, Trebs mentions Scotto. Retroactive relevance.

The Kate Aldrich photo makes me laugh. Think for two seconds about sitting in that position. Nobody would ever, for any reason sit in that position, unless to make the statement "Hey I'm not fat."

It goes without saying I am not reading the article about how Don Elisir du Regiment is a great opera.

Is it just me or does Luana Devol come off a little bit, I dunno, high in her mini-interview?

So, right. I haven't been to the opera in absolute aeons, or anyway like a week and a half, but it seems like I'm going to something or other next week. And I promise to have opinions, and to blather on like a drunken socialite. For today I'm off on a convalescent trip to the country, or something like that, and won't even hear the broadcast, helas!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Odds and Ends

Heavens. James Jorden liked Forza even less than the rest of us.

Meanwhile, we'd say Luisa Miller is imploding, except as it happens, cover Eduardo Villa is a more than competent Verdian.

Query: to see Don Pasquale or not so much?
Argument in favor: everyone coming in waves over Juan Diego Florez, and not just that he's Opera Cute. (I think this is a distinct category from Opera Hot.)
Argument against: it is shite.
Argument in favor: Gilda didn't feel like the perfect Trebs role, and we'd like to give her another shot to knock our socks off.
Argument against: knock knock. who's there? shite.
Argument in favor: Suspense of whether James Levine will in fact fall apart in several pieces on the podium.
Argument against: Slightly tired of opera right now, if that's possible. Oh and p.s. shite.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Not Lost in Translation

A quick note of apology to whoever googled "In Time which Made a Monkey of us All" perhaps looking for the full text of the story by Grace Paley, she whose literary garment I am not fit to kiss the hem of, and ended up here of all places. Does it make your flesh crawl just a bit that I can see what google threads lead to MFI? Well nevermind, it doesn't give me your phone number or anything.

A lovely lad we'll just call Boris gave me a Gala Barbiere di Siviglia (that is in fact a Barbier von Sevilla, geh weiss) after seeing me pick it up and put it down about a hundred and twenty times at Academy. I'm sure I've made my feelings on opera in translation clear--read: known to even the dead--but the cast got the better of me, as happens to all of us I'll wager*. I mean, it'd be silly to turn up one's nose at Wunderlich, Koth, and Prey (oh and Hotter!?!) just because things aren't sonically Mediterranean enough.

Ok, but let's step back for a moment into Maury's World of Negativity. Opera in translation always sounds to me like it's being put on for school children. I just had to say that, and if you agree, stomp your foot or something. And now I'm done with the hatin'. I guess I'll just listen and comment incoherently. If it were coherence you were after, you'd have stopped reading.

Well this is fascinating to report: the annoying trick of upshifting straight into falsetto on the last "Figaro!" in everyone's favorite cartoon moment is apparently no newer than 1959, and forgivable here only because of the overall charm and suavity of Prey's singing. Note to all other baritones: if a measure of girly voice is the only fun trick in your bag of shtick, just shut up and sing. I wonder if I need an acronym for that, like Dan Savage and his DTMFA: SUAS.

He was a funny looking guy, that Hermann Prey. Seriously large forehead.

Minor note to...producer or someone: if you're doing a bonus track with Reri Grist, why pick a part of the opera that hardly has her in it? Well nevermind. We're not really concerned with Reri Grist here. So am I correct in thinking that Erika Koth's vibrato is so fast and intrusive that I'm the only person in the world capable of liking her voice? I think I'll feel better if someone else likes her, thought it's always fun feeling one's tastes are rarefied I suppose, in a teenage "nobody understands me" sort of way. That's actually a line in Onegin, by the way. Nikto menia ne ponimaet. And yet Tatiana doesn't come off as an unbearable ninny. Koth's ornaments, aright, are a little uber the top, but holy fuck, was that a G? My guitar thinks it was. I'd blow the pipe on her but I don't have one at present. I know, I know, what kind of opera queen...

Considering he's 30 years into a career of Wagner singing by this point, I'd say Hans Hotter makes...still something of a disburbing Rossinian.

[this is how boring the Oscars are: they're on, and I'm watching out of one eye as I listen to disc 2 and continue to write. This is fit treatment for Seventh Heaven but a sad standard for the big gold guy. ed.:and now you know I started this a few nights ago]

I think they left out Berta's aria. Probably she was sung by 75 year old Hildegard von Blutfliessendevondenohren and someone at Gala thought: maybe not. Also seemingly absent, the lesson aria, although perhaps what's missing is my ability to translate German track names into Italian via English. (One would end up with something out of "English as She is Spoke," the phrasebook that spawned phrases such as "to craunch a marmoset," which I encourage you to use when possible.) Oh wait. Best actor. I heart Ph. Seymour Hoffman but that was a boring damn speech.

Wunderlich is like puppies or something: so universally liked that it's just incredibly boring to say anything about him, because it's just going to amount to "yeah, me too." Would that have been funnier if instead of "puppies" I'd said "oral sex," do you suppose? That's one reliable thing about Maury, he always shows his work. For the record, Fritz sounds like he could have sung it standing on his Kopf. Juggling. Knives.

I cannot help but note that Keilberth does not blow in Rossini, a surprise after many years of hating his recordings of German rep. And having so noted, cannot help but wonder if reviews of random recordings are in the least entertaining. And on that note of insecurity I still my keyboard for now, though I just got a couple of other swell ones (and a DVD of Simionato et al in Aida, on the visual end of things.)

*and today what do I do? I go and stumble upon the absolutely rotten, absolutely wonderful fact that Mazeppa was recorded in the 50's at the Florence May Festival with Olivero, Christoff, and Bastiannini. My keen intuition tells me Olivero probably did not enroll in Berlitz for the pleasure of one memorable Mazurka with Chaikovsky.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I just met a boy named Mazeppa

Mazeppa, Mazeppa, Mazeppa...say it once and there's music playing. Oh. There actually is music playing. Nevermind.

I have to really crank this out because I refuse to be beaten to the punchline on one hilarious moment in an otherwise pretty beautiful production of a rather riveting opera. See the thing is...did you listen to the opera quiz I guess it was last week? They were talking about names that got changed in for instance German productions of Butterfly, where apparently Pinkerton would be [if I'm reading between the lines correctly] like the equivalent of being named Benjamin Franklin "Penis" Wankerboy. And not that anyone ever puts on Mazeppa, because they're busy putting on crap like Forza instead, but if they did, I'd like to suggest they make up a title if possible, but eliminate from their Met Titles the word "hetman." It just gets funnier each time it pops up on that little screen. "I once was hetman," said one screen, calling to mind some kind of imaginary ex-straight ministry's rewriting of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

So anyway a New York audience gave a warm though not altogether rapturous reception to the Metropolitan Opera's premiere of Chaikovsky's Mazeppa, if you hadn't gathered already that was what I was going to write about. Bear in mind this was a Monday night performance without the courtesy of a 7:30 curtain and perhaps this accounts for the lack of hysteria.

I'm a tiny bit reluctant to judge voices from side orch "I have Friends Under 30 Who are Willing to Score me these Seats" seats, as one is in a sort of echo chamber. Naturally, the preceeding sentence is purely formulaic language, and I'm going to judge them all to hell and gone.

But first the production, which I hear got some boos from the schmancy seats. I think the thing about George Tsypin is he has this knockout combination of a dark, crazy, out of control side combined with a childlike sense of wonder. Now, bear in mind, there's nothing I find so distasteful and generally emetic as a childlike sense of wonder, except when you combine that with the other part, it all works out. The tableau at the end of the second act is for my betters to describe. All I can say is it was like you were playing a Ukrainian history themed pinball machine and you hit the ball in the little hole all the way up top and got 100,000 points.

It didn't hurt that in the foreground, Olga Guryakova was running around in circles with a severed head in her hands, while Larissa Diadkova fainted, stage left. Larissa Diadkova is a virtuoso fainter, and that's the truth. She's also, as you know if you saw her Azucena or Fricka, an all around fine actress with a voice that isn't quite luxuriant on its purely sonic merits, but is always wielded intelligently, sometimes daringly. It's strange to think what a cypher she was as Herodias, when everything else I've heard her sing has been uniformly top drawer. I wonder what that was about. Eh. Don't care.

Her Act II scena with Guryakova must surely have been the vocal highlight of the evening. Guryakova is an extremely game and appealing singer with a top that sounds to me like by no means a sure bet, but when it gets there, you know it. The vocal production is unabashedly Slavic, and I for one couldn't be happier about it. And I suspect she's Opera Khot, though I left my binocs back at the palazzo.

Oh wait but back to the production. Can I be king of the world for a minute and make a new rule where I get a dollar for every minute the fucking scrim is down? Generally, this is distracting. Here it was actually very actively a problem in places--you couldn't see, for instance, that Kochubei's head was covered in blood from a long day of torture until about fifteen minutes after Lyubov more or less had kittens about it. And you couldn't see her rather gorgeous opalescent purple dress until the curtain call. It's Kochubei, right? I keep wanting to type Kochujang, but that's actually a fermented red pepper paste indispensible in Korean cuisine. Delicious, seriously, but not relevant even by my standards.

The fantastic costumes were designed by one Tatiana Noginova, herself working a sort of Bettie Boop look, at her curtain call. At the Millo Pole, Dawn Fatale was heard to remark of Noginova's get-ups for the ballet in the first act how lovely it was that they got their costumes at Fredericks of Vladivostok. Why Dawn doesn't blog is a mystery to me, helpless as I always am rendered by her wit.

Wait, there were boys in this opera.

Putilin makes the logical first choice of subject; it's just that I haven't made up my mind about him. It's a long, tough sing and he poured himself into it, even doing an "Anything Karita Mattila can do, I can do lower" number where he sang, flat on his back, with his head hanging backward over a step, just like KM did in her Salome. Points were awarded. Still, there were mishaps, the voice losing its lustre at climactic moments and also in soft ones. It's not like I have a lot of Mazzep to compare him to, but I can hear, in that center of my brain that is assigned to "fantasy football" in straight guys, a baritone I'd like better. He sounds like the love child of Tita Ruffo and Pavel Lisitsian.

The venerable Paata Burchuladze, I had heard from reliable sources, is sounding sometimes lousy these days, but not here. You wouldn't mistake him for a young singer, but the goods are still there, which is a phrase I'm afraid I'm overusing lately. It is after all nice being a bass: the important part of your voice ages but generally doesn't break. Depending on your tolerance for wobble, your mileage may vary, but I didn't find myself lunging for the dramamine.

The only real weakness in this cast was Balashov as Andrei and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day. (Did you have that book as a kid? That boy had nothing on our Andrei.) Balashov's strengths don't justify his weaknesses, I'm afraid: if the voice were one of those Galuzinoid monsters, we'd forgive the sliding up to pitch and the sliding almost up to pitch and such. It ain't/we don't.

Really I ought to say something about the score, since it's so unfamiliar to most of us, but for the most part I'd like to leave that to folks like Alex Ross, both Aleces in fact (it pluralizes like matrix, I'm assuming) who know what the hell they're talking about. All I can offer are vague impressions of surprise and delight that the composer whose operatic output I had imagined to be typified by Evgenii Onegin, a wonderful but relatively polite work, has a much darker range on his palette. Onegin is, yes, also a lot tighter, but Mazeppa succeeds on different territory altogether. It's tempting now to think of Chaikovski/Pushkin as one of those Mozart/DaPonte, Strauss/von Hoffmansthal pairings, albeit not a living collaboration. Hang on, though. I'm forgetting about Pikovaia Dama, whose libretto is a total abortion. Anyway the point is Chaikovsky's range of expression is perhaps equal to Pushkin's own.

So, yeah, this is pretty much another run-don't-walk though I think my companions were even more enthusiastic. I'm not kidding--I'm a deeply negative person, ask anyone. I'm just finding a lot to recommend this season.

Next up: actually I have no idea. You'll know when I know.

p.s. thanks to "linguitte3" who linked me on a NY Times discussion forum. Really, though, linguitte3, I am excited; I just have a way of talking, I'm afraid! I don't visibly lose my shit unless...well, cf. my Podles review.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Market Correction

Hey, serious question for you: didn't Juan Pons suck for a while? Because he totally doesn't right now; quite the opposite. And that's the best news I have from last night's Forza.

Really, after the last few things I've attended, I think it's fair play on the part of the universe to take it down a notch. And I knew what I was getting into...Forza is a show that finds me furiously reading the plot synopsis, looking for shortcuts. Plus I'd probably seen this clunker of a production on tv--wasn't this the one telecast with Sharon Sweet, or was that a uniquely boring nightmare I had?

Rataplan rataplan rataplan! See, it's no more charming or in fact bearable when I do it. I'd have to diagnose Ildiko Komlosi, who I'd be surprised if the Met is rataplanning to invite back much, as not conspicuously talented, perfectly adequate and rather pretty.

But ok, Voigt was in really nice form. I'm almost tired of praising her singing, and tempted instead to say: Deb, sugar, you are looking super. But I'll pull myself together and comment instead that the mildly shouty quality of last year's Ballo is gone, the messa di voce is working, and she connected with Verdi stylistically in a way I wouldn't have guessed she would from her Aidas. I don't think anyone will remember this as one of her great roles, but it's a feather in her cap nonetheless. And she looks hilarious as a boy. There is no denying this.

Delavan is a singer who (in Parsifal, in Chicago, for example) has knocked the wind out of me, but he didn't at all last night, for whatever reason. There was something hollow about the sound he was producing that I hope is not chronic.

I'm going to admit something. I'm having a rotten time writing about this goddamn Forza. I did get to watch a hilariously concise set of gestures from one box patron to another that managed to encapsulate with remarkable economy: 1) stop rustling that godforsaken paper 2) because it's getting in the way of me listening to this intensely boring opera so 3) sorry, not trying to be overly cunty, but 4) STOPIT STOPIT STOPIT. Oh and I hear someone had, to say the least, severe indigestion in Family Circle, about which: ew. But it's something to write about. Which the production itself isn't, nor is Licitra really. Pretty voice; nothing going on.

So with that, I throw in the towel or the cowl or something. Monday is Mazeppa and at the very least I can act all knowledgeable because I am with the speaking of the Russian.

Oh wait, though. I'd like to take a second to dedicate a song to Samuel Ramey, and that song is "I will Always Love You." Not the sweet, guileless Dolly Parton original, but rather the big hideous Whitney Houston cover, I think. He looks 90 if a day, but he's still an Artist.

In the Jinx Department: Alex von Wellsung delivers a more measured meh.