Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Voigt Smacks Met Crowd Around with Riding Crop, Says: You Are My Bitch. Met Crowd Concurs.

I believe the first order of business is this:

If, by any chance, you were one of the people booing John Mac Master at this evening’s Tristan, git. That’s right, get out of here. We don’t serve your kind in this here pub.* Mr. Mac Master stepped in for the generally acknowledged Tristan of choice on the world’s opera stages on what I believe was short notice. He had a rough night, with some moments of admirable ardor and, in a few climactic moments at high volume, good muscular sound. Yeah, some of it was disappointing, but most of us, not being heartless boors, let it go. If you had the bad taste to think your disapproval was really that important, my writing, however little or much it’s worth, is sullied by the passing over of your eyes. Stop reading My Favorite Intermissions, and don’t come back. Get lost.

Now. Tristan und Isolde. An opera. In German.

Hard as it is to imagine such associative looseness in these parts, I think it was a review of Einstein on the Beach where I went on about how different the Liebestod sounds when you’ve come through all of Tristan to get to it. When you have climbed Mount Everest, as it were, to get to the Valley of the Dolls. Now add to this effect a long career leading up to the role of Isolde and you will begin to imagine the splendor of midnight this evening as the Love Frog ended. It was not hard to predict this success. It was nonetheless gratifying to watch it happen. Moving, I would go so far as to say, in an extra-musical way.

I'm going mostly by the second act, by the way, when I commend the whole production to you. One of those perfect standalones that's almost an opera itself. This is not because I got there late, just...I'm no longer 20 but my sleep schedule thinks I am, and I had to practically pull nose hairs to stay awake through the first act. It's bewildering to think how much of our enjoyment of an event is based on our state of mind going in, no? But the second act of Triz+Iz is kind of where it's at anyhow. Everyone gets a star turn.

Among the starriest was that of...Matti Salminen. He's the one who isn't dead, right? We used to have a terrible time trying to keep the names of the Dead Finnish Bass and the Living Finnish Bass straight. Yes, Salminen, heard here as Koenig Marke, a role that separates the royalty from the grown men got up in Burger King crowns. This I learned watching Tomlinson sing it in Chicago, surrounded by very capable Wagner singers. It wasn't that any of them were doing it wrong; it's just that he was doing it righter. Likewise I don't think I need to tell you that there is nary a whiff of onion rings about Matt Salminen, who is vocal royalty, no further questions. It's something about the ability to, well, hang on.

There's this delightful essay in last week's New Yorker about perfume, by John Lanchester. Discussing the language we use to describe sensory experience, he writes

The language of taste has, therefore, reached something of an impasse. On the one hand, we have the Romantic route, in which you are free to compare a taste to the last unicorn or the sensation you had when you were told that you failed your driving test—and others are free to have no idea what you are talking about. On the other, we have the scientific route, which comes down to numbers, and risks missing the fundamental truth of all smells and tastes, which is that they are, by definition, experiences.


And, not to say sound and smell work much the same, I've always (or at least since I started blarghing about sounds) thought the balance there should be a slightly conservative one, edging away from "her high notes are all peachy pearls and violet confit." But there's something about Tristan that makes me edge just a little the other way, and want to fling descriptors at Salminen such as "tarry" and "midnight black" and maybe even edge into the ridiculous things they call housepaints. [Uh huh, I'm trying to decide on an "accent wall" at the moment. Did you know they had a term for that?] Because in the pitch of his voice there is, verily, night. And Tristan, insofar as I can bring myself to watch the words go by during the second act--aren't they kind of wearying?--seems to be fixated with day/night.

I should say more about Voigt but mostly I'm just kind of happy for her. As one gentleman said, at intermission, "we're all rooting for her." And I would have written polite things if it had been a polite success, but it wasn't. Some of the Italian stuff has been. Isolde is exactly the right role at exactly the right time in her life. Isn't it? Did anyone else think so? Also, I think, a very good staging for someone who, while not immobile as the creatrix in this production, is not in a profound sense a stage animal.

And a very good staging for us out in the dark, too. As I am wont to say, none but the most Amelia Bedelia literal could object. I suppose I have my hesitations about the little castles and soldiers that pop up out of the ground in the last act, and yes, I'm a sucker for a big blank wall that keeps changing colors, but mostly what it does, this production, is stay out of the way and allow for some stillness without going too far into Robert Wilson territory for the "How Dare You" crowd. It sets things up well for a Liebestod whose base note, beneath the rapture, is stillness. As it should be, and as it was last night, at the end of five goddamn hours. Sorry I'm not posting this last night, by the way. It was a combination of the whole "five hours long" extravaganza and my computer being, in tribute to Tristan, on death's door.

Support was all-around pro stuff. Stephen Gaertner and Eike Wilm Schulte in particular sang it like it mattered and like they wanted people on Long Island to know it, by which I mean nobody had any audibility issues. Levine, of course, has this score tattooed on the inside of his eyelids, and received his usual hero's welcome, not least from the orchestra who stayed 'til the house lights came on, always a sign of an electric evening. Michelle DeYoung remains a voice that doesn't quite fit into my ear, but let's blame that on my ear. The Watchtower scene lacked nothing I could put my finger on.

This is pretty sold out, ladies and gents, but a lot of people apparently jumped ship last night when Mr. Heppner's fluish condition was leaked, so you might still go. Me, I may go again. It's a hard decision because, well, I'm not a Rockefeller, and also, as I once heard a lady in a laundromat say about Dulcolax, Tristan don't play. Which is to say it's not just a jaunt to the opera; it's serious business.

Intermission review: the ham & brie sandwiches at the bars are totally recommended for those moments when you realize the other sandwich shop across broadway is closed and the gongs done gung and you have four minutes to eat something. They're not only delicious, but sort of shaped for gluttony, long and thin and devourable. Oh and the crowd last night? Kind of dishy. Note to clutch of well dressed French boys in lobby: call me! Overheard at intermish: a cute young couple or possibly fag+hag discussing, with great relish, Parterre's coverage of the OONY benefit review scandale!


*By now I figure if you're down here reading the asterisk, you know to expect something irrelevant not only to opera, but to everything else as well. I just felt like pointing out that in parts of the South, maybe only Kentucky, "this here" is pronounced with a /sh/ sound in the middle, which is really weird because it looks almost like a spelling rule affecting phonetics across a word boundary, which can't happen. Anyway "right here" is pronounced "right cheer" which makes the whole thing make even less sense. Isn't that nuts?

28 comments:

Straussmonster said...

I saw this Tristan the last time it came around and I'm not enough of a masochist to want to go again (not to mention lolol I am so out of town), but...

Matti Salminen. *insert little hearts here* His Gurnemanz in Helsinki made me so happy. So very happy.

Maury D'annato said...

I thought I remembered you were a fan of Mr. [+Finnish] [-Dead].

henry said...

I really like the production. When I saw it with Heppner/Eaglen they were totally sidelined by Monsieur Pape. He always seems to rewrite the operas. You tend to wonder why the leading lady in question does not go with him instead of the tenor. I've seen that in Tristan, Don Carlos and Faust.

Anonymous said...

If Michelle DeYoung falls questionably on ones ear. The last performance is with Margaret Jane Wray -- she and D. Voigt were Met Opera National Council finalist together in 1985. And both have garnered the prestigious Tucker Award. Voigt (1992) and Wray (1989) You might want to revisit with these two.

Maury D'annato said...

Henry: certainly one would not dally in choosing between Pape and Botha. I mean really.

Anon: thanks for the tip! Maybe I'll catch that last one.

Benjamin Rous said...

Tomlinson is a marvel: I had the exact same reaction - of Wagnerian 'rightness' - during a Walküre Act I in which he sang Hunding: he practically stole the show with probably the least interesting music to sing. That's saying something, considering the other singers were Clifton Forbis and Eva-Maria Westbroek...

Maury D'annato said...

Ben: That's terrific that he could pull that off as Hunding in particular. I can't think of a less interesting role in Wagner, offhand.

R. said...

It's gratifying to read a temperate (and, at any rate, insightful) review to counteract the vitriol being slung around some places about the Tristan. Gratifying, I say, for myself, ticket holder to next Tuesday's performance, one still being billed as (to use your notation) [+Heppner] [+Voigt].

(More apropos of nothing, I think the 'Lon Gisland' pronunciation might be another example of spelling influencing pronunciation across a word boundary, since there's no velar stop in the individual words. But maybe it's a case of assimilation. I'll think about it more if the performance does drag on a bit on Tuesday.)

Anonymous said...

Too bad we didn't hear anything comparable to this last night:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6V0mDgwu7po

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J--mJzxcF3U

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muwWNxXA_gg

Maury D'annato said...

r: it's not my notation system; it's Chomsky and Halle's! :) It's just not usually used outside of phonetics and phonology. Check back and let us know whether you loved it or hated it...it certainly wasn't perfect, but I'm just allergic to the school of thought that being discerning means being disgusted as often as possible.

btw, I was with you on "Long Island" until I remembered what you may or may not know, depending where you live: the "ng" in "Long" does, in fact, in this region, have a velar stop. It's not the /n-with-a-tail/ you get in most of the country.

Maury D'annato said...

anon: yeah, man, the Bernaise have all the luck. It sucks to not be them.

Jonathan said...

Maury puts all blogs to shame, really. Beautiful round-up of last night. Agreed on the "boo-ing" front. I mean, one loves a touch of barbarism now and then, but preferably not at the expense of someone clearly a bit our of his element.

And yes, this was Voigt's Ohio. Or her Texas Two-step, or whatever.

jfmurray3 said...

Maury, thanks for the insightful perspective AND intermission snack recommendations.

Re. booing. Everytime I have booed, I have regretted it afterwards. I have now replaced boos with tepid applause, pianissimo and at a rate as slow as Levine's Parsifal prelude.

On a side note, is Sieglinde still blogging? I miss her. I rely on my Cieca-Maury-Sieglinde fix to get me through some tough days.

Joe

stewball said...

Your comment about the sometimes dubious notion of actually paying attention to the words during this opera put me in mind of the first performance of Tristan I ever attended, back in the days before projected titles. I went with an elderly German-speaking lady, who watched the whole thing in a serious and absorbed manner, but suddenly had a little giggle fit in the midst of some of Tristan and Kurwenal's raving and tussling in the third act. Afterward she explained that she just couldn’t get past the moment when the latter looks at the former and asks “Bist du nun tot? Lebst du noch?”

Of the two questions, I’d say the first is definitely the funnier. Comedy gold, even.

Anonymous said...

thanks for a balanced view of the evening. I was there and thought Voigt was great - a definite improvement over Jane Eaglen to my ears - yet all I see on the other blogs is vitriol. I'm sure it sounded different on the radio but in the house it was pretty thrilling - even without a Tristan!

Paul said...

I don't understand what compels audience members to boo someone on an operatic stage, especially if it's known that the singer is filling in at the last minute. The last time it happened in my presence, I was sitting in Chicago's Lyric Opera balcony during a 2001 performance of "Otello." Ben Heppner was experiencing vocal difficulties [a nice way of saying he stunk] but still didn't deserve the noises coming out of the man sitting a few rows ahead of me. When the curtain closed on Act II, I hissed to the offender, "Hey, this isn't Wrigley Field, ya know." He apparently got the message, since he never came back for Act III.

BTW, I loved reading your asterisked "elison" commentary. I had an uncle who always said "right cheer" -- actually it came out more "raat cheer" -- even though he'd never lived farther south than Columbus, Ohio. Of course, he also used to clean his ears with his car keys, so 'nuff said.

armerjaquino said...

I just want to add a hearty hurrah to the anti booing sentiment. Self-important, self-satisfied behaviour which has no place in a room where people have just been sweating away for five hours in the name of entertainment.

About the opera itself, nothing to say. I'm allergic to Wagner

Gregory said...

/ðiʃɪr/ is not specific to KY. I have oft' heard it *and* /raɪtʃir/ spoken in the Alabamic region as well.

Jim McDaniels said...

Sorry, I was at the Tristan and I joined in the chorus of boos. I feel that I have every right to show my pleasure or displeasure at a performance. I don't care if Mac Master came in at the last moment, he should not have been on the stage croaking out a performance.

It looks like Heppner will not be singing on Friday and Mac Master will not be singing the performance. Maybe I and my fellow audience members who showed their displeasure should be thanked. I hope we booed Mac Master off the Met stage for good.

Anonymous said...

Well, there are two sides to any booing. One is that a singer who steps in and "saves" a performance should not be booed. Another is that one of the world's greatest opera houses should be absolutely sure that they can present a fully viable cover and that is doubly true of such an arduous role as Tristan and triply true when the person cast has been known to have vocal difficulties in recent years. And if a top opera house wants people to pay top ticket prices, the public is entitled to boo if they feel they've not gotten their money's worth. The only way to displeasure - since there are no refunds for crappy singing - is to boo.

The Met's trying to cut corners by eliminating the old "cover six and sing two" rule so they don't have to pay the fees required to get a first-rate (or a seasoned second-stringer) to cover. And people who have other offers are unlikely to sit around covering and then find when the incumbent cancels, Gelb calls on Marcello Giordani.

It's Gelb who should be booed; he should stop frittering away money on mediocre productions like his MACBETH, LUCIA and GRIMES and spend the money instead on having good singers on hand.

After hearing Debbie's flat ending of the Liebestod, why wasn't she booed? Well, because she's DEBORAH VOIGT, that's why.

I understand the Met is seriously contemplating a 'three tenors' TRISTAN if Ben is not up to the whole role by Friday.

Maury D'annato said...

Paul and Gregory: right on. I actually think you, Paul, transcribed it better than I did, as "right" comes out almost as "rot" (sorry, GP, I don't know how to do IPA on here) in Kentucky. p.s. very amused by descriptor "Alabamic."

Maury D'annato said...

Last Anonymous: Oh, or, I don't know, it could be because one flat note after hours of good singing is not the end of the fucking world.

I'm hearing this argument here and there about how I Paid A Lot For My Ticket And I Deserve Better. I can't even formulate a rational response to this. Boo fucking hoo. You went to the Met, got five hours of opera about which I daresay unless you are statively discontent there was probably something enjoyable, and I'm going to venture a guess that the purchase of the ticket didn't cause you to skip any meals. I pretty much hated a particular production last year, but was generally polite about it because I'm not a spoiled five-year-old. Gave it a bit of a diss here where nobody involved is ever going to see it, expressed my disdain to friends. The deal is, at the Met or at Massapequa Lyric, you pays your money and you takes your chances, and at the Met, more often than not, it pays off. My response, if I couldn't deal with that, would be to stay home. Those who prefer to throw a tantrum, well, I can't stop them.

armerjaquino said...

maury- again spot on. What you get when you pay for your ticket is an undertaking that the performance will take place. They don't and can't guarantee that you'll like it.

And as for the other anonymous- yeah, I'm sure MacMaster stood on stage thinking 'Oh dear, guess these people don't like Peter Gelb's casting policy very much, this'll show him'. Grow up.

Anonymous said...

Oh, sorry...I'm so sorry to have ruffled your feathers, Maury, although we have often agreed on things in the past. I won't trouble you again.

Grrg said...

Maybe they were all saying "Boo-ritten! Boo-ritten!"?

Henry Holland said...

But mostly what it does, this production, is stay out of the way and allow for some stillness without going too far into Robert Wilson territory for the "How Dare You" crowd

It's not the stillness, it's the Bangles Walk Like An Egyptian arm movements that bug the crap out of me. Oh, and every production is the same, the only thing really changing being the colors that the stage is bathed in.

I'm generally against booing, but I couldn't help myself when Lang Lang literally pounded his way through the Tchaikovsky 1st piano concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic a few years ago.

Re: John Tomlinson, years ago I heard him in a radio broadcast and he sounded bad: wobbly like all hell, past it. About a year later, I heard his Guernamanz at the Staatsoper Berlin and he was a revelation, the voice in good trim, almost as good as Kurt Moll in the part. It helped that he was singing in an intimate, horseshoe theatre as opposed to the airport hanger that is the Met.

Maury, if you go again, you'll get Robert Dean Smith or Gary Lehman, who was a fine Parsifal here in Los Angeles a while back.

Anonymous said...

I was listening on Sirius and didn't think Mac Master embarrassed himself, so I was pretty surprised at the boos. But they were strongly outvoted by the cheers. Too bad he didn't get a second shot with less pressure.

But what do I know, I loved Macbeth, Lucia and Peter Grimes!

Sorry - I have to sign anonymous as I don't have any of those accounts listed.

Anonymous said...

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