Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Dorothea Roschmann=Perfection.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Word is in from SF

Transcribed from my cell phone, the words of a left coast correspondent on tonight's Manon Lescaut:

Considering that the last time I saw Mattila on this stage she was tearin' it up as Kat'a, can you blame me for being shocked at how girlish she made her act 1 Manon? Also: her voice is sorta perfect.

And then, later:

Okay, so after act 2: maybe not *perfect* - some little pitch problems, some strident moments, but still, there are few people I'd rather hear sing this. This tenor Didyk is very much not to my taste (fast wide vibrato makes every note sound sharp) but there's no denying he can hit the notes. Overall, act 2 wasa funnier than I remember it being.


Incidentally, on youtube you can catch a glimpse of Mattila's Tosca, if you're so inclined, and some bits and pieces of Robert Carsen's Lohengrin with Mattila and Gwyneth Jones. Dame (?) Jones, in interview, sounding rather sweet, says how much she prefers singing nice characters to rotten ones. If I'm feeling a little sharper in the morning, I'll post a link, but I just finished watching Reds. At 3 1/2 hours (and not a minute that wants cutting) that movie really takes it out of you, doesn't it? And I always watch through the credits, waiting for the fleeting reference to Galli-Curci. For some reason I get a kick out of that.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Me three

I think I'd like to link something JSU already linked, because it reminds me how I'd like to think and write about opera. The blog doesn't appear to be entirely about opera but has a long post about a production of Nabucco that I'm in the middle of. Here's the link, and here's an excerpt:
And that is what you bring to the theatre: an unimaginably vast store of memories, any one of which could be unexpectedly brought into the light by something that happens as you sit and watch. Not necessarily on the stage, either, but the whole experience of being there.
She then lists some of these. I'm now about to quote food writing at you, not because I'm hungry or nuts, but because it reminded me of a foreword M.F.K. Fisher wrote to The Gastronomical Me that I think of as a guide on How to Write About Very Particular Things.

Not that I live up to it, but here it is:

People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?

They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft.

The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot write straightly of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it,...and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied...and it is all one.

I tell about myself, and how I ate bread on a lasting hillside, or drank red wine in a room now blown to bits, and it happens without my willng it that I am teling too about the people with me then, and their other deeper needs for love and happiness.

There is food in the bowl, and more often than not, because of what honesty I have, there is nourishment in the heart, to feed the wilder, more insistent hungers. We must eat. If, in the face of that dread fact, we can find other nourishment, and tolerance and compassion for it, we'll be no less full of human dignity.

There is a communion ofmore than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?

Sunday, November 19, 2006


I'm really not having a schadenfreude party about this, but one hears C G-D bowed out of Act III of Butterfly last night, in vocal distress, perhaps ill. Cynthia Lawrence stepped in after an hour-long intermission. Lawrence I know only from 2/3 of a Fledermaus, and by my recollection, Puccini seems like a better match for her voice. She is reported to have sung solidly. So now we know who the cover was, anyway, and it wasn't Racette. CG-D actually sounded much better in the Ascher Fisch-conducted Siriuscast I heard than at the prima.

Magdalena Kozena's new Mozart disc is on itunes, and it's a real pleasure... but enough, Simon Rattle, with the crazy ornamentation. It goes far enough overboard on "Voi che sapete" that there's a bonus track played straight. I'm no scholar of HIP, and maybe this stuff is utterly appropriate. To my ear, it's ungainly in places, most especially "E Amore un Ladroncello," which she sang so memorably last season.

Is it time for Magdalena to drop the purely nominal "mezzo" yet? I guess Bartoli still hasn't. Perhaps you can get by better as a not particularly huge voice lyric mezzo than soprano these days. It's not mezzo in range, coloration, or in this case, rep. As I saw noted in someone's review (sorry, someone, for the lack of attribution; damn my memory) she shies away a little only at bottom.

Aural frosting of the voice aside, this is intelligently done stuff. Kozena finds a little room here and there for the tiny amount of rubato you can get away with in Mozart, and it pays off. Recommended track (which you can only get, dammit, with the whole album): Per Pieta. Yeah, like I said--not a mezzo. She emotes touchingly in what is not, per pieta, a showpiece. She doesn't yell the top of the aria, because she doesn't have to.

Yes, I will eventually go to the opera again. Don Carlo, if not before.

Personal to RysanekFreak: would you consider emailing me that step-by-step for the "audacity" recording program?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Life Lessons

On the off chance that the other person that reads this blog, the one that isn't my mom, is the usher on balcony level, house left, I'd just like to say you have pried the "Maury's Least Favorite Usher" trophy from the doubtless talon-like clutches of the mean one downstairs that looks like Cher's older sister. You know the one I'm talking about, right? The one who really seems to enjoy fastening people into standing room with the velvet rope of doom? Well she's my pal now, she is, compared to her buddy upstairs. She and I have a standing date for tea.

I lived #7 on the list of opera queen nightmares (below the thin white slip in the program announcing Madame Voigt is indisposed and will be replaced by Jane Eaglen and above sitting beside the chatty couple who have never been to an opera and think it's ok to continue the conversation through things like recit and overture) this evening, the one where you realize, just as the lights are going down that you have to, yes...well... piss like a racehorse. I made it, uncomfortably, through Ecco and Largo--respectively: surprisingly only fine, and superb--and headed for the door, thinking I'd just come back in at the scene change.

Only the Met doesn't do that. Which isn't the usher's fault. He's just the messenger. But I'm standing there in the doorway trying to figure out what to do, thinking maybe I can hear a little of Una Voce before I meet with the fate of Tycho Brahe. And girlfriend, wanting to go back and watch and not risk me loudly opening the door, says to me, he says, "You have to make up your mind." Fine, I made up my mind: you're a bitch.

So I watched 45 minutes of this evening's prima from List Hall, with other people betrayed by their bladders, I guess. And people who are late to things, the horror.

I saw the rest, though, so sit back and put in your earplugs and smile while I tell you about it. Starting off with the lukewarm news, the production is inoffensive in the word's fullest range of meaning. That is to say I can't imagine it pissing anyone off, though there were boos at the production team's curatin call, but I also can't imagine anyone feeling stirred by it or indeed remembering anything but the singing a month from now. There are several very funny bits of stage business, foremost among them Florez at the harpsichord during the lesson scene.

The design is in that grey area, not ploddingly literal but not set at a rodeo or in Darfur or anything. There are all these doors, see, and they move around a bunch. Oh and if you're allergic to whimsy in the form of staged overtures, take your benadryl. Figaro's entrace is rather large-scale and makes use of livestock, which always gets applause for some reason. I guess for New Yorkers any animal that large that isn't a subway rat is a true novelty.

Speaking of the lesson scene, though, can we make a hasty return to the era of suitcase arias? It could be because my first Barbiere was with Bartoli in Houston and when she got to the lesson, she sang "Tanti Affetti." The two-octave ascending-then-descending run near the end was so poised, so lilting, I'm surprised nobody lept from the balcony to land at her feet. But "Contro un Cor" just leaves me cold. Damrau used it to get in some spectacular tricks, and was in fantastic form all night. I do like her somewhat better as Zerbinetta, and I'm concerned there may be some nascent Fleming futzerei going on with the frequent dynamic changes, but for now she's terribly impressive and sings with a sense of fun.

Which does not begin to cover how Florez fared in "Cessa di Piu Resistere." I don't want to sound ga-ga. Rossini tenoring is something I find thrilling but never moving, and I was here only thrilled, but of its kind, this was singing of the very, very highest caliber. It was sweet and fleet and secure the way death and taxes are. It was astonishing, and the house went mad. I've never heard such a pre-curtain ovation.

Still if the evening had a hero, for my money it was Peter Mattei. He is [hang on, digging in bag of cliches] the whole package, but really. As you know, he is for one thing hot. I think they secretly abort anyone with the ugly gene in Sweden. But his voice has its own thing going on, some mix of tonal luxury and swagger, and his acting is casually quite wonderful, and bless his heart, he doesn't try to come up with his shtick for the whole "Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!" extravaganza, like singing the last "Figaro!" up two octaves in falsetto or whatever, because when you do, you make that the center of the aria, and that's just dumb and boring.* I want to hear him as...ok, hang on, started typing that just because the paragraph felt like it needed another sentence. Oh god, I know. I want to hear him as Onegin. Right now, please.

He has the patter-song element of that aria down cold, and I'm guessing his part of the "Dunque io son" was great fun, only it was kind of hard to judge in List Hall plus I think I was having some kind of PTSD opera-on-tv flashback involving David Letterman. [Jonathan von Wellsung opines, and I cannot help but agree, that there was something offensive about the way they kept announcing "Dustin Hoffman! Jamie Oliver! and the Metropolitan Opera!" They didn't even introduce the damn singers. Oh, don't mind them, they're just The Opera.]

I'd say Bartlett Sher did Wendy White no favors since it is common knowledge that Bertha's little nothing of an aria can actually be a cameo in the best sense, a star-turn in miniature, and she certainly did nicely by the music. I like to imagine Podles in her dotage doing the role but I imagine she'd scoff. Or maybe kill me with her hands for suggesting it. I can kind of picture that, too.

Ramey was lots of fun but is really starting to sound like a good candidate for the old Countess in Pikovaia Dama. John del Carlo I couldn't really make up my mind about, so I'll have to give him another shot on a Joyce di Donato evening. And on that evening, I'm bringing a stun gun for the ushers. Bzzzt!

*Oh, nothing. It wasn't important.

Look for reviews at Wellsung and An Unamplified Voice. I can attest to the presence of both blogsterinos at last night's shindig and will make sad faces at them if they remain silent. ETA: AUV now reviews the production in a detailed and thoughtful way I'd rather just refer you to than try to emulate. If you need hare-brained nattering about the singing and hard-won advice about whether to go to the men's room when in doubt, you know who to call.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Not the way to make people like opera

Let's start out with a caveat, shall we? As an appetizer, with toast points? I just re-read my subject line and tilted my head in that way that means: huh? Did I write that? Here's the thing. I don't think you can make people like opera. I think there are people that like opera and people that think it's boring, and that's fine. Much as I think it would make me a well rounded individual, I have given up on ever liking baseball. But what opera on late night tv could possibly do is reach a few people that have never given it much thought one way or another and might enjoy it. And that's worth doing. And I seriously doubt that happened last night.

Please tell me Bartlett Sher was not responsible for the look of the Letterman scena last night, or the choice of rep. That would be a dark foreboding, indeed.

First they pick a Rossini scene-ender, i.e. the part of the opera where everyone stops being funny or even lifelike and shuffles up to the footlights to stand in place and sing. Maybe this was so they didn't have to risk a comic scene going over like a lead balloon, but the side effect was that everyone sang in ensemble and nobody got to do any singing you or I couldn't get away with. Awful, boring, not the face of opera the world needs to see.

Then, insult to injury, everyone is dressed in powdered wigs whose semantic content, if wigs can speak, is "opera is dead." I mean, I'm fine with wigs-'n-bustles productions once in a while but context is important. Really, I think if they were going to do a scene with nothing going on, they should have had everyone just dress nice for the camera and let 'em sing. Juan Diego Florez, Diana Damrau, and Peter Mattei are all extremely photogenic. Not to encourage cheezily dressed down opera (no Il Divo if you please) but ach, the whole thing just seemed so static and uninviting.

Of course my idea of a good time is for them to do Act II of the Robert Wilson Lohengrin. No, seriously, though...there have to be some 3-minute scenes that would come off better, or maybe they could even spring for a whole aria. I think part of the problem is that it's Il Barbiere they chose, and as much fun as it can be, it's kind of inherently dowdy and the cast and director and everyone else will always be struggling with that.

Better ideas, according to me:
1) a little snippet, even with some awkard arranged ending, from Butterfly. Maybe there's not room enough on the stage, and the run is (almost?) over, but they really used it as the driving force behind the whole season, and p.s. it is beautiful, and beautiful in an unforbidding way
2) for god's sake, the obvious choice: find an evening when Villazon and Trebbers are free and slap them up there on a bit of scaffolding to sing "O soave fanciulla." Um, and send him to a threading salon the night before. That's just a little friendly advice from my eyebrows to his.
3) people hate subtitles, so why not a scene from the Met's new production of Vanessa. Sorry, we all ended up in my fantasy world for a minute there. HINT HINT NONSUBLIMINAL HINT TO MET VANESSA VANESSA VANESSA.

Next up: Il Barbiere di Letterman, on Friday.
Reinstated from deleted version of this entry: tip of hat to Letterman for more or less unsmilingly shredding Bill O'Reilly the other night.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Always happy to eat my words

Well, alright then: Andrea Gruber is singing a pretty high quality Tosca right now. Seriously. Didn't think she had it in her.

Cura doesn't so much have a great Cavaradossi in him, I'm going to hastily surmise.

ETA: um, Vissi ended in tears, but it always seems to these days. Voigt tripped on it, as did Millo. It's (obviously) a hard sing. I'm still pleased with the overall performance.

And then I'm going to take it back about Cura, too. Sounds like a real voice. Someone care to report on the loudness factor?