Saturday, April 29, 2006

With hiatuses like this, who needs...what's the opposite of a hiatus?

I've always believed if a thing was worth doing, it was worth doing in a half-assed, ambivalent manner, and that seems to include my hiatus. I mean, here I am not a day later passing along to you the amusing news, sent by a loyal reader who is hopefully to be blogging (again) soon himself, that according to this link, Met stars Patricia Racette, Dolora Zajick, and Ruth Ann Swenson are all going to be singing the national anthem at baseball games out in SF. My correspondent thinks Zajick is the funniest idea, but for some reason it's Racette that tickles me most. I don't know whether it's a cheap "did you mean to say softball?" joke that's stuck in my head or just that last time I saw her she was stalking Nathan Gunn and then drowning.

Meanwhile, in National Anthem news, cross posted under "unbelievable hipocrisy," the man who got himself "elected" (in heavy scare quotes) to some large extent by going around speaking worse Spanish than I do with two semesters under my belt, now voices his objections to the new, admittedly horribly cheezily arranged, Spanish language version of selfsame song, called in this guise Nuestro Himno.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Addio senza addio...

"Lloyd always said that in the theater, a lifetime was a season, and a season a lifetime."
--Karen Richards in All About Eve

Well, no. I'm not pulling the plug on Maury D'Annato exactly. At least probably not. I am, however, scheduling a heart to heart with him after Parsifal, presumably the last big operatic event I'm hitting this season. It's just that valedictory postings are such fun, I didn't want to get cheated out of one just because I'm not necessarily leaving.

And the facts are these: I started this blog six months ago thinking two or three friends might read it if they were exceptionally bored at work. And a certain number beyond that have begun reading it, and that's a bit of a thrill. But my writing on this topic has begun to feel a little formulaic to me, and maybe to you as well. The reason to keep blogging would be if I thought I were writing something usefully or at least enjoyably unique/new, and I have mixed feelings about that. Occasionally I write a sentence that makes me laugh, but often it looks a lot like another sentence I wrote three weeks ago. Nu...

The summer may be something of a natural break, though already I'm booking up Caramoor and the like. Who can say? If you find me posting a time or two a week, a year from now, you can retrospectively consider this little more than an excuse to quote a beloved farewell by a real writer to his fictitious creation: [yeah, yeah, I'm gonna translate, but I'm just so excited to have found the text online]

Блажен, кто праздник жизни рано
Оставил, не допив до дна
Бокала полного вина,
Кто не дочёл её романа
И вдруг умел расстаться с ним,
Как я с Онегиным моим.


Blissful is he who left the party early,
Left the last of the wine undrunk,
Who didn't read the last page of the novel
But was able simply to part with it
As I do now with my Onegin.

And I my Maury, except probably not really. Gosh, I think I got something in my eye.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hoch soll er leben

In about 20 minutes you should sing "Happy Birthday" to Jonathan von Wellsung. Sing really loud, so he can hear you.

p.s. he likes German opera and Janacek if you're feeling gifty. I'm just sayin'. (Just address it by name. The post office will know. Kinda like Santa.)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Bel rispetto

You know, before I even get going, I'm wondering if I can make it through this review without using the word italianita. I bet you I can't. If I do, you owe me a dollar. If I don't, you can have Franco Farina. Aw, hell, why don't you go ahead and take the little fella and, just, do me a favor--don't let him out for a couple of weeks.

I think I said I was blogging Parsifal next. As a matter of fact, I went to the Tosca prima on an absolute last minute whim, third row standing downstairs. I was having thoughts of going to the Voigt/Villa Tosca, second to last in the run, because I had some non-specific memory of a Farina fiasco that kept nagging at me. Aida maybe? I mean, you've been reading me, perhaps, and know I'm actually not that quick to slag on a singer. And though I was star-struck by the Met itself and New York the first time I took in an opera there, I seem to recall he was a pretty good Lenski somewhere in the vicinity of eighty years ago, in my youth.

But I didn't wait for Villa's turn in the role, and must report that what sounds to have been, in better days, a big, pretty voice, with the added attraction that he's not shy about hanging on to a high note, is now severely worn and sports a vibrato as big as all outdoors. It is impossible to speak about his pitch; one must write instead about his pitches. As the New York Times, in one of their better hatchet jobs, once said of Tori Spelling, "[His] every entrance is cause for regret." The opera houses of the world seem to disagree with me...he gets a lot of work. But really, the thought of his Pollione is not a nice one. Happily enough, the New York public agrees with the opera houses of the world, and gave him a nice ovation. I'd rather someone like his singing so I don't have to try.

Voigt had kind of a strange evening. All but three and a half minutes of her singing made a fine case for her as a singer who, by virtue of general vocal splendor and a newly vigorous stage presence was going to overcome a fundamental lack of...oh wait, I wasn't going to use that word...wasn't going to let her much stronger affinity for a Teutonic line keep her from a truly appealing Tosca. It's a minor shame, not for her, but for me, that she's not instead a temperamentally Germanic bass singing Scarpia, or I could have ended that sentence with something about wresting success from the jaws of Fafner. Ok, no, not such a shame after all. (Sometimes you have to type these things before you know.) Her chest voice is resoundingly present and the middle has the right oomph for Tosca.

The rotten part is that those three and a half minutes were, as you may have guessed, "Vissi d'arte." There's no explanation for the total inconsistency that makes sense to me except she started with a dry throat, or swallowed a bug or something. She rushed past the conductor from the first phrase, and then had drastic support problems that made of the last note something quite desperate. It was like watching a good friend fall down stairs, I'm afraid. (Though let's keep everything in perspective...a short flight of stairs, and in the past one's friend had achieved deserved renown in climbing the world's staircases.) I hope hope hope it was a one-off. I guess the other possibility is some of these roles really just aren't for her, and there's still a lot of jugendlich dramatisch stuff she's peerless in. But then what explains the solidity of her recent Leonoras? Anyway, as it is now traditional and right to add, she looked really nice, and though it's hard to say a lot about theatrical subleties from standing spot 89, the murder of Scarpia came off well, and her header onto the sidewalk looked like a real jump. (The river, it has been pointed out to me, is far enough away she'd need a jet pack, and then the opera would end quite differently.) It is also, I might add, rather a thrill to hear one's name shouted from the stage by Ms. Voigt.

You know, if one were to indulge in a revisionist Tosca of the sort that makes everyone get all misty for the days when opera didn't ask any questions, wouldn't it be funny to let the air out of everyone's deeply cathected curiosity and have her jump off a transparent parapet so we could see: where does she land? Is there a mattress? A trampoline? How far does she have to fall? Sorry, these things pop into my head unbidden when I'm hearing Franco Farina sing "E lucevan le stelle." Think of it as a defense mechanism.

I know a lot of people love James Morris. I never have. Still I'm pretty sure I'm being fair in saying it's time for him to enjoy his place in opera history from somewhere other than the stage. It's just too hard to get properly creeped out by a Scarpia when he's such a compromise in one of opera's great entrances, and follows up accordingly. We size up the mettle of opera heros and villains a fair piece on the vocal strength of their proponents, don't we? Voigt could just too clearly kick his ass. It just doesn't work.

One line shout out to the muscular voice of Kyle Ketelsen, an up-and-comer spotted here as Angelotti.

So just for the hell of it, and just to show I'm open-minded, I'm now toying with dusting off my tinfoil hat (to fit in) and taking in the Millo outing, especially if I can get the Wellsungs in on the act. In part, I've had to question how much of my indifference to Millo is in response to her minions after some riveting excerpts posted elsewhere on the occasion her birthday. In part I'm curious to see this whole routine where she crawls around in circles licking the floor or whatever it is she does after she whacks Scarpia. So look for me there, I guess--if I'm really managing to pass, I'll be the one with the glassy eyes and a perm, muttering to himself.

p.s. I think I'll experimentally turn off comment moderation (because it's a pain in the ass) with a polite request to the person known as Marschallin not to post here. I'm sure you're lovely, but your internet persona seems to be that of shit-stirrer and I'm just going to delete your comments.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

In all things

I've just turned on comment moderation, so your comments won't appear right away.

Friday, April 21, 2006

A unique concert experience

A strange, funny, somewhat alarming moment at a concert I'm not going to blog in any depth because it's just not my fach. NYPO, Rostropovich, Vengerov: Shostakovich violin concerto & Symphony 10.

They play the first moevement of the concerto. It ends, everyone coughs and coughs. They open the doors to let in the stragglers, who straggle extensively. Really it was several minutes, and then at the end of several minutes, with Vengerov and Rostropovich just standing up there being musical eminences [quibble if you will; Rostropovich certainly is one and Vengerov, I mean, he's younger than me dammit but he's just so in charge on that there fiddle...] these two tackily dressed, helmet-haired matrons are still standing in the aisle. Just standing. I think perhaps someone was in their seats but for god's sake, just sit somewhere, I mean...!

And then the audience, en masse, HISSED at them. But I'm not kidding. And an usher went down and straightened the whole thing out, and Rostropovich and Vengerov did I think have some subtle outrage in their body language, and when the biddies found their seats, everyone APPLAUDED. I've seen localized hostility at the bearer of an errant cell phone, but this was kind of wild.

Anyway so all I'll say about the concert is it was mightily impressive to hear MV take that utterly cold and jagged cadenza and play it with legato. Remember in the early 90's when it seemed like they were turning out a bunch of violinists with technique to burn but no real edge or soul? It seems like that was all bad dream, sometimes, when you happen to hear the likes of Vengerov, or Mutter, or Shaham, who have it all. I wonder if the cadenza of the heart-stopping final allegro contained just a little venom reserved for a certain pair of latecomers...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Is it plagiarism if you're stealing your own lines?

To be filed under...I'm not sure what. Someone with a long memory and an even longer cache of saved emails* has sent me my reaction to Lohengrin in 1998. Rude awakening #1 is that I was all Mr. Literal-pants and didn't cotton to the production. Rude awakening #2 is that I'm stealing my own jokes, seven and a half years later, pretty much word for word.

For the hell of it, here goes:

Thus runs the timeline of movement-as-art in the twentieth century:

1913 - Nijinsky's Sacre du Printemps raises Parisian eyebrows
1984 - Synchronized swimming becomes an Olympic event
1997 - Robert Wilson's Lohengrin booed at the Metropolitan

Granted, I probably left a few things out. Also granted: the temporalpossibility of WIlson taking in the summer games proves nothing interms of causality or inspiration. The trend, nonetheless, is downward. It seems a shame, in any case, the R.W. didn't turn his talent for devastating tableaux to ballet or something else not explicitly textual, as the frequent contertextuality of his directing is by turns frustrating and hilarious, in opera.

Some examples: Ortrud and Elsa's Act II confrontation. Unavoidably,gripping drama. Unless they sort of skate around one another, Ortrudmaking a Vulcan salute, while Elsa answers "Live long and prosper"with what can only mean in a late 90s gestural lexicon: "Talk to thehand, cuz Elsa ain't listenin'!" Later Telramund perishes in opera's first death by voguing -- no sword, just attitude! But the best/worst may have been Lohengrin, singing to Elsa to give Gottfriedhis horn, ring, and sword, and proceeding to hand her what appears tobe either a Hallmark card or a paper airplane. Is the moral of this opera that it's the thought that counts?

Anyhow... it had its moments, and the singing (Ben Heppner, Karita Mattila, Deborah Polaski, René Pape) was uniformly solid. Everyone hadexciting moments, even. Levine got a screaming ovation from thethird-act survivors, (Thank god no-one loves Wagner; I heard the lastact from orchestra seats) though I've heard the Met orchestra soundbetter -- it's basically gradations of perfection.

And we're back to the present, for better or worse.

*ok wow. Correction. This was apparently an actual letter on that material they used to make from trees.

In other news, you know what would be lots of fun? A Robert Wilson Fledermaus, that's what.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Wann geht die nachste disembodied ving on veels?

First thing I must do is see a psychoanalyst for a few years and see if he can't cure me of the infernal urge to turn to withered old ladies in the august elevators of the Metropolitan and murmur, "Pardon me, madam, but...aren't you Frida Leider?" It's worst at Wagner operas.

I first caught the Met's Robert Wilson Lohengrin in its second season, when Mattila had already stepped in for Voigt and I think perhaps Pape had just joined the party. Robert Wilson, by the way, is from Waco, Texas. I don't know if you knew. I just find it sheds and interesting (bluish) light on things. Anyway the shock had at least to some extent worn off in '98 after what is reported to have been a scandalous opening, at least among les bourgeois epates, with the booing and the out-walking. At this point everyone had decided it was really awfully pretty, which it is. And now, I mean...I'll tell you a secret, which is that if you've never seen another Lohengrin production, it's actually rather difficult to imagine how some of the time is filled (for instance what the hell is Elsa doing as the herald asks her lengthily to answer for herself--combing her hair?) if not with crazy underwater vamping around.

Aright, Blogger has crashed my browser twice now, so here's a very skinny skinny and if I pull myself and my computer together later, I'll edit. [Which I did, but may do again. People are writing thoughtful and provocative things about this performance and here's Maury, cracking jokes.]

Mattila I've never heard in such good form. I realize it makes me a huge hypocrite to complain about her fidgety nature onstage after praising Netrebko's Norina so highly a few weeks ago, but I like the way RW's straightjacketed choreography stills her, and I'm very pleased about the way Elsa fits her vocally. Very very pleased. I can be a bit of an agnostic regarding her deity status, but I can find no fault with her here. Can we play gay slumber party games now and cast her in things we'd like to hear? Tentatively I'm going to run Ariadne up the flagpole and see who salutes. It's a role in which I've never been fully satisfied with any active singer. (I started to say "living singer" but decided to put aside my suspicions that Schwarzkopf is doing a Weekend at Bernie's thing. I always thought Boris Yeltsin was, and then he went and actually died, disproving my theory.) Anyway if you don't believe me, pull up a chair chez Jonathan von Wellsung and JSU. Oh and now Steve Smith of Night after Night. I am, as ever, cheered greatly by a warm audience response, and hers was a stomping ovation.

And at long last I have the sensation after last night of finally having heard Ben Heppner when he's not having an off night. There were a couple of cracks on notes right in the middle of his voice, sung mezzo forte, that were kind of inexplicable in the context of an unflinching march through the opera's estimable terrors of tessitura and volume. I suspect I'm never really going to warm to the color of the voice or awaken to unnoticed psychological detail in the singing, but there's no denying he was in fine form.

Now, Luana DeVol is a good kind of singer to have around these days, but of her kind she isn't quite what I'd hoped. She's actually quite expert at Robert Wilsoning around the stage and wringing grandure out of cruelly proscribed gesture, however that's done. She's also got the kind of loud, ugly voice I for one can't get enough of. It just isn't well put together, or perhaps has worn badly over the years--it's been pointed out elsewhere that though this is her Metropolitan debut, she's had a career already elsewhere. Lest one is tempted to make jokes of the form "The weebles called...", a moment must be taken to peruse the mental list of alternative Ortruden. DeVol is kind of fine for now, given what we have. It is not lost on me, by the way, that unless you were four years old pretty much exactly when I was, my weeble joke is going to look like gibberish. I'm filing Ms. DeVol under: not disappointing/not thrilling, to be reviewed at a later date.

The dude whose name I am blanking on who stepped in for an ailing Other Forgotten Name Dude as Telramund had a bit of an impasse with Mr. Wagner in the first act, but it was brief, and otherwise he sang with distinction. (Edit: the cover was for Pape as the King.)

I think for once I am totally, but for real, going to bow out on orchestral commentary, since others seem to have been paying more attention or perhaps gotten more sleep before writing their reviews.

Funniest part of production: (No, I don't think it's bad, but there are moments that teeter between awe inspiring and guffaw-inspiring. Sometimes those are my very favorite details.) when Lohengrin and Telramund have a voguing competition and Lohengrin throws more attitude, thereby voguing Telramund to death.

Next up, I think: Parsifal.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Who gets eaten, and who gets to eat

I think it's probably really good to be Patti LuPone. I just get that impression.

I'm a little out of my depth discussing the current revival of Sweeney Todd (which seems, by the way, to have inspired a movement, or the beginning of one: the upcoming revival of Company is also done in the DIY, company=orchestra format.) I know opera people are obsessive about their rep, but seriously, queens that know their Sondheim know their Sondheim. And though I like him lots, I'm pretty much limited to having seen a live production or two and worn the Len Cariou version of A Little Night Music down to a scratched plastic coaster. So this is I suppose today's caveat lector: your mileage may vary, as the young folk say.

I did in fact see Lyric Opera of Chicago's big, confused musical-qua-opera staging of Sweeney a few years ago, so I've got that to compare to, but they're so different it's almost laughable to compare them. Terfel sang the role in a way Michael Cerveris simply can't, and on the other hand played it rather generically...I've never really been able to hop on board the Terfelwagon, and unlike so many, I dread the idea of his Wotan. It's quite a voice, but I've never been able to warm up to his "best kid in the drama club" characterizations. Also in Chicago, Judith Christin did a creditable job of what I have it on good word from a more versed Sondheimer every Mrs. Lovett until LuPone has done: a really passable stab at being Angela Lansbury, the UrLovett. There are many worse people to be, and it's not really anyone's fault that her portrayal is an immortal moment in theater. It takes guts to try something totally different and (in addition, I suspect, to smart direction) guts are a strong suit chez LuPone. And she looks fantastic, by the way.

The production itself is radically spare and at the same time looks like an ingenious act of trickery. The cost, I think, of wrenching Sweeney out of the rut that is the heritage of a fanatically beloved first production, is a certain lack of fun here. Nuh huh, I know it's about murder and stuff, but Lansbury and Cariou don't gild the tuberose: they are sinister and Mephistophelean, but in the way of 19th century Mephistopheleses(eseses), evil with a glint in its eye. That glint is dead in the current staging. Which sounds like a diss, but it's not. Going to this Sweeney is, opera-wise, more like going to Elektra than Don Giovanni, if that metaphor does anyone any good. It's about people doing bad things because they're human wreckage.

Cerveris plays Sweeney as a walking corpse, and as for LuPone...I think there's something quite complex about her portrayal really. It's dire, but it's also a little bit Lotte Lenya, a little bit Marjorie Main. (I realize that's a bit far out, but listen to a couple of the no-bull line readings...maybe I'm wrong.) By the same token that her character's fit with that of Cerveris takes away some of the fun in numbers like "A Little Priest" where a darkly funny, game sense of collaboration between the two is replaced by a bloody deal well made and sealed, and perhaps also takes away a bit of the pathos--Lupone singing "By the sea" is just creepy--I think there's an urgency, a macabre radiance here that the original pairing didn't so much have.

Certain gestures in the staging (the pouring of buckets of blood, Mr. Todd walking around with the coffin lid on his shoulder) wear out their welcome a little, but on the whole the economy of the thing is almost shocking. The singing other than that of LuPone is all around B+ material. As Alex has noted, the arrangements, while not sumptuous, do a very neat trompe-l'oreille thing and let you forget quite often that there's a kind of compromise going on.

Lots of empty seats in balcony, so I'm thinking if you want to catch this, you should consider stepping on it.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Periodic Not Opera Posting

Under the flimsy rubric of "Hey, this is a culture blog," I must pause from not reviewing all the opera I'm not seeing these few weeks to urge you out of your houses, should you happen to live in a major coastal city with art houses that premiere relatively small indie flix, to go see Brick. It's...well, it's a high school film noir. In a formulation I think we've all grown to hate, I suppose you could say it's Heathers meets The Big Sleep, only no, something better than The Big Sleep...maybe Double Indemnity. The film takes up this ridiculous task of genre-fuck and does not blink. Some performances are more assured than others, but all within the range of making it work. A special Maury Thinks you're Swell and maybe kind of wants to Do You award* goes to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a sitcom star made very good, in fact seemingly destined for indie royalty status. [Edit: story about JGL being offered the role in Dazed and Confused deleted when MD realizes he has things backward ad probably it's that Wiley Wiggins was offered/turned down Third Rock. It's a funhouse of mistakes, folks!]

I couldn't ruin the plot for you if I wanted to, because really they did take a page from The Big Sleep, in terms of almost un-navigable complexity. But it occasions all manner of sly talk, occasionally also oblique to the point of incomprehension, but quite nearly musical in composition. And interspersed with hilarious trivialities of teenage life. Gordon-Levitt, most of all, manages to put over the poetry of an idiom that died out decades before his birth. The whole thing reminded me a little of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, so comparably, thoroughly vanished is the language used. In both films, some of the young actors sound a little like they're reading lines phonetically, but in Brick the majority seem to have done their homework, to have gotten the rhythm of things worked sufficiently into muscle memory that they can deliver with spontaneity and embellish with nuance. Meagan Good and Noah Segan, playing stock types (the drama club vixen and the stoner who talks a good game) shine particularly in this.

And it's all put together with considerable visual flair and the kind of indelible sense of place that the great noir films had. Highly recommended. Go see it if you can.

*Oh, put down the phone. He's 25.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

This Just In

Updates substantial and insubstantial from the opera blogosphere:

Parterre is the new Opera-L, by the look of it. Entries are logging up to 60 responses--holy cow! And, like Opera-L postings, some of them are long and informative, some are wildly irrelevant but interesting, and some merely meshuggeneh. We're wondering what La Cieca thought of Don P, but suspect her silence indicates that editor JJ is dishing it up at Gay City News.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...I don't think I'm going to anything for a while, probably 'til Lohengrin. If I blog at all, I suppose it's going to have to be gabbing about recordings, which I sometimes suspect is not that gripping. I did, after literally years of eyeing it at academy, finally plunk down for the 1962 Bohm Iphegenie with the amazing lineup of Borkh, Ludwig, and Berry. So far I'd say it's good blood&guts non PEP (oh wait, I mean HIP. PEP is post-exposure prophylaxis) Gluck, something to make the John Elliot Gardeners of the world go back to...gardening, I guess. Ewa Podles, in one interview, referred to early music conductors hilariously but not quite sensically as "pharmacists." Back to Rite-Aid with the lot of ye! I mean, yeah, you have your Minkowskis and your Jean(ne) Lamons [side note: there are definitely references to this musician as both Jean and Jeanne. Is this a transgender thing or just a de-Gallicization?] but there are also plenty of hangovers from the bloodless aesthetic of the 90's and who wants to sit through a Medea where nobody's allowed to emote?

With a silent 21 gun salute, I have taken the Chicago Canadienne out of the sidebar, as she has moved on from the 'sphere. And ACB of the concert is on a long-sounding hiatus--what's up with the mad attrition? Are we all burning out from the peculiar experience of having strangers look into our heads?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

If it's really such a Namelose Freude, could you maybe shut the hell up about it?

And for the record I have no real opinion on Sunnegardh because I can't tolerate Fideedly-doodlio and was mostly not listening. I mean, is there any uglier writing for the human voice than the two big arias in this opera?

Happy Ending


Some nights are; some nights aren't. Last night was, and there's no way around it.

The strangest piece of commentary I have to offer on the Met's new Don Pasquale, unveiled to roaring approval last night, goes something like this: Anna Netrebko is now, in the way of Margo Channing, a Star. She will never again be anything else. Her natural charm and comic flair on the boards of the Metropolitan were so great, so conquered was I by them, that I will go see pretty much anything else she's in. Not since Bartoli's staged opera debut in Houston in what I'm remembering as 1993 have I seen such natural comedy and joie de chanter. Her voice fills Sybil's Barn with gratifying ease. And I still don't like her singing.

What's an opera queen to do? I'm happy enough to live with contradictions. I really do want to go see her in almost anything (I keep qualifying because she's on for Romeo et Juliette next season and I really don't think I'm up for that particular trudge again.) I was a little in love with her by final curtain. But the voice itself remains, to my ear, ugly, and its production still a little unsubtle. I can't think of another singer I've felt this way about: I can imagine attending her career for the next may-it-be-many years and never wanting a recorded souvenir. I'm sure I'm in the minority and I don't begrudge anyone their more total enjoyment of her. My heart lept up at her mid-act applause after "So anch'io la virtu magica" and stayed with her the whole evening.

It's not even a matter just of being funny, though it's a pleasure to hear a full house laugh rather than giggling on cue [oh, there's the punchline. must produce laughter.] I think what it is above all else is the privilege of watching someone capable of producing deeply convincing spontaneity onstage. Or watching someone who acts with apparent affection for/generosity toward her colleagues. Or watching someone who can act with her feet. Or even just someone who wears clothes that fucking well. Anna Netrebko could bring out the vicarious drag queen in anyone.

I mentioned her chemistry with her colleagues, and it is only moral to mention that each and every one of them responded with what surely was his own estimable best. If I've seen a production where the average level of performance was so high, I can't think of it. My warmest approval goes to Barry Banks. If you haven't read another write-up already, you're thinking: Maury is hitting the bottle again. Barry Banks was not scheduled even up to the last minute. In fact, up to the last scene. Before his services were required, Juan Diego Florez gave a performance of such vocal radiance I had to stuff tiny metaphorical sunglasses in my goddamn ears. I don't know Don Pasquale particularly well, but I kept hoping for the scene where Ernesto and Norina would interact more, because the thought of that pooled wonderfulness was intoxicating. It didn't really happen.

Several people left as soon as the words "Juan Diego Florez has had an allergic reaction" were out of Joe Volpe's mouth. Imbeciles. I was in a good mood anyway from the rest of the opera, plus I had a positive association with the name Barry Banks from somewhere (was he on that jaw-dropping clip from Ermione La Cieca posted a while back? With Pendatchanska @ NYCO?) and had a hunch this might not be a bad thing. Well, I'm not just patting the underdog on the back here. Ernesto's last act aria and the duet with Norina that follows were a triumph of vocal security and loveliness by the brilliant Barry Banks. He sings with an ounce less sweetness than Florez, but a marvellous plangency and, at risk of leaping head first into judgement after a short sing, artistry of the first order. I really may go stand for his one-off later in the month. Bear in mind a week or so ago the best I could come up with to say about Don Pasquale was "it's shite!"

I guess I don't have as much to say about Simone Alaimo and Marius Kwiecien or else I'm afraid of sounding like I was on ecstasy last night and am just a fount of indiscriminate praise. Alaimo was quite funny and idiomatically very connected to this music, perhaps a little moreso than Kwiecien who nonetheless was extraordinarily appealing. At the end of their duet, they stood, back to back, at the edge of the stage, pumping out rapid-fire Italian patter. It was just wonderful is all. I'm sorry to be such a sap.

The production itself was a realist Otto Schenk affair, heaps sunnier and better than the other Schenk productions at the Met. I don't feel I ave anything particularly enligthening to say about it, so I won't.

Ridiculous as it is, I'm going to mark my last comment with a spoiler alert, because the thing I want to describe, the thing that sealed the deal on Netrebko for me, looked so spontaneous I hate to ruin it for you if you go, even though we all know it wasn't an act of invention by Trebs. So stop reading if you want to be delighted by it without forewarning. This was I guess right at the end of the opera, and it was just a little trick of staging: what she did was she came all the way forward, almost to the very edge, and then crouched on the prompter's box to sing the end of the scene. Sounds inconsequential. Go see it and tell me if you agree.

Oh and p.s. April Fool's, they all sucked.
And p.p.s. no of course they didn't; could I fake that kind of enthusiasm? Answer: I could not.

Edit, added later: I've only read a couple of reviews by others in the blogosphere/opera-l-osphere and it appears I may be alone, or in any case alone plus the thousands of people screaming their fool heads off last night. Strange feeling.