Thursday, February 28, 2008

Peter Grimes! Neely O'Hara!

The critic Ivanov said of Dostoevskii: he threatens me, but I am not frightened. Oh, put your pen down, I know he didn't. Someone said it about someone, and they were both Russian, and I've googled it six ways to St. Petersburg and I can't for the life of me come up with it. Anyway this isn't that kind of review. I just wanted to win a little preemptive cred by paraphrasing famous people in expressing my failure to get Britten. For, surely, we are all grown-ups and can acknowledge that the things we don't like are not diminished by our disdain. That said, Britten makes me want to throw things.

It's not that I can't find any good in it. You'd have to be passionately wedded to the traditional not to be chilled at the quartet that ends the #th Act. (My new approach: vagueness trumps incorrectness). My god, and the orchestral interludes. These are the very point of 20th Century Music. And yet they're always so deeply encrusted in quarter hours of pallid, restless nattering that it saps the whole thing of any emotional impact, as far as I'm concerned. I am not frightened, and it's ostensibly a pretty frightening tale.

But I went, knowing this already and as productions of things I don't much care for go, it was (musically) a winner. I know, the unrestrained enthusiasm of that sentence is blowing out your laptop. Really, though, I think if you like the work, you'll be very pleased by this. Maybe especially as a broadcast, I'm half sorry to say. But the nice half of what I mean by that is that Anthony Dean Griffey, while occasionally not a fluid physical actor, is vocally very sure of what he's doing. It's a sonic portrayal with no real compromises. Powerful, well-articulated, and from the gut. Now I'd love to hear him sing something I give a fuck about.

Pausing for a moment to note the smaller roles, I am out of luck, because the color pallet of the costume designer ran the gamut from kelp to mud, and it became difficult to know who anyone was. I'm pretty certain Teddy Tahu Rhodes, who I regret to inform you was very fully clothed, let out some luxuriant tones. Honestly I had begun to assume he was a pin-up, but the truth is he's got the goods.

Racette, well, what's not to like these days? Really if the administration has any sense of what's right, they'll give her an opening night one of these next few seasons of Gelbdom to acknowledge her solidity and reliable inspiration, which must be very valuable to have on hand. But again: something's lost when you slap her into a drab and (Embroidery Aria aside) rather thankless role, and in a production like this one...

Oh yes, you knew I was going to wax catty about the production eventually. I foreshadowed it with that crack at the costumes! I think you're going to hear a lot about the production, both the physical and the regie, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say much of what you hear is going to be negative. It's not a disaster, and in fact parts of it are dramatically rather keen, but overall, you'd never know this was the director who managed to make audiences rethink a musical (Sweeney Todd) with one of the most known and beloved original productions of all. The spatial konzept invites endless jokes (advent calendar? Let's Make a Deal? One wit was heard to compared it to Laugh-In) and flattens out what drama there is in this drab music.

And you know what, rather than comment directly on how crowd scenes were staged, I'd like to let Mercury Opera Rochester comment for me, kinetically:

It's not actually like that but it's about that well thought out. For much of the opera they simply stand and look out at the audience as if to say: is there a stage director in the house?

Oddly, though, the scenes in which Grimes tosses the kid around were rather terrifying. I found myself worried for the little lad, and you know how I feel about children, Whitney Houston. (As Rebecca Pigeon says in her fortunately inimitable way in State and Main: I never really saw the point of them.) So again, a mixed bag, although I feel duty-bound to warn you that the final tableau is a jaw-dropping mistake on the order of the Famous Dead Folks Chorale from last season's Orfeo. If I had to guess, I'd call it a loose visual quotation of the Cell Block Tango in the film of Chicago but one is still left to ask why.

[ETA after a few moments' consideration: I'm not kidding about this one. This was not a choice I didn't agree with; it was simply baffling. I'd love to hear people's thoughts on what the hell it could possibly have meant.]

Ok but you know what? You should still go. And only partly so the Met administration won't program solid seasons of Aida thinking nobody likes any diversity in programming. It's true, though: lots of visible velvet in the house. Go fill it, I say. You're bound to like the production more than I did, because you're probably going in with a better attitude. And you really should hear the bloom on Racette's upper register lately, because it's grand. Also Felicity Palmer is not getting any younger.

I knew someone once who wrote his musicology dissertation entitled Britten and Pears: Who was the Top? A Schenkerian Investigation. Well, you can't prove I didn't.

Four Day Forecast

Don't forget that this weekend is Anne-Carolyn Bird's recital, Sunday afternoon.

And tonight is the prima of Peter Grimes. I called the Met to see if they couldn't be persuaded at the last moment to put on Daphne or something, but you wouldn't believe it, they staunchly refused to put me through to Gelb. "Gelb," I was fixing to say, "I'm all for diversifying the rep and all, but couldn't you pick something less dreary and redolent of fish?" But no go, so I shall be grumping about Britten in the middle of the night, if I know me.

Actually what I just decided should happen is the lights should dim halfway at 7:30 and Gelb should step out in front of the gold show curtain, and we should all gasp or groan or whatever, and then he should say, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm sorry to inform you that the opera Peter Grimes is indisposed this evening. We hope you will accept Lakme in its stead."

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Concert with the Long Name

Spring is here, Spring is here.
Life is skittles and life is beer.
I think the loveliest time of the year
Is the spring! I do - Don't you? 'Course you do.
But there's one thing that makes spring complete for me...

...and that is not, Mr. Lehrer, poisoning pidgeons in the park, but rather the Met Council Final Auditions Concert Gala How Many More Words Are There in the Title of This Event? Actually it doesn't feel like Spring yet, but the Finals do help when it is damp, drizzly February in my soul and it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off. Or just excessively quoting actual writers instead of putting words of my own on the page.

I don't wish to go singer-by-singer this year, I don't think. There was nothing shabby going on up there, lots of fine craft such as you'd be glad to hear. I will pause for a moment to note my surprise that Carolina Castells was not among the winners, not so much on the basis of her "Klange der Heimat" which I can't imagine anyone making anything other than a bore, as her elegant, perfectly met-sized bel canto in "Ah, quante volte!"

Mostly, though, I'd just like to express my excitement at the young but not green talent that is baritone Edward Parks. Mr. Parks chose a big scena from The Pearl Fishers, or perhaps more accurately it was chosen for him, but nobody could argue it wasn't a fine choice, sure as he was of style and solid as he was of tone. In the second half, he sang "Mein Sehnen, Mein Wahnen" from Die Tote Scrim to a wildly enthusiastic ovation, of which I was an ovator. More than anything else we heard, this was star material. It wasn't about the diction or the high notes, both of which passed muster quite securely, but more generally about budding artistry. And jesus, he's probably like 23, as there was only one person over 25 on the whole program. Someone who sat nearer can confirm, but I think he might also be kind of dishy.

No huge surprises in rep. We got to hear "No Word from Tom," and "A woman is a sometime thing," along with the requisite "Ah, mes high C" and "Parto, parto" (go already! alright, I'll admit it, I am developing partopartophobia...though in this instance the obstacle course part of the aria was sung with much flair) oh and yes there was one nutty selection, which was "O pretres de Baal!" (punctuation possibly mine, not sure) from Meyerbeer's Le Prophète. Well also I suppose it is unusual to hear "Amour, viens aidez ma faiblesse" in the original Polish, as we were given it by Ms. DeYoung, if I may be so rotten. In "Du bist der Lenz," she sounded swell.

It might be fun to go back to the first year I went to this event and see what those folks are doing. I believe my favorite was Lisette Oropesa, who's doing quite well for herself. I hope Sundays young'uns are similarly on top in a few years' time. Best of luck to all of them.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Teresa Berganza: Seguidilla Murciana

Sunday, February 17, 2008

So that's what Lulu's problem was

As an aesthetic experience, this is about the most schrecklich thing I could inflict upon you, and I'm only doing it because if you watch through the first few song clips, I think you'll see a surprising name on the list of, er, "performers." Were we aware of this affiliation?

Bitter, bitter hat tip to the Straussmonster.

Friday, February 15, 2008

To Craunch a Marmoset

Hat tip to B.A.D.

I won't translate it because...well, yes I will. Oh hey or I'll teach you Russian the way graduate programs do: through reading.


собираться--to be collected
замужем----behind a man
ждать-------to wait
ребенок-----a child, the child, the idea of a child

Bear in mind that замужем doesn't properly function like any known part of speech, you'd never guess the conjugation of ждать by looking at it, even if you squint, and the o in ребенок is fleeting in oblique cases because of the fall of the jers. And now you know, in record time, why that method of language pedagogy is a colossal misjudgment.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Was anyone else surprised to see this on for Carnegie next this seez?

I hope it's great and not Sunset Boulevard. I loved Pleasures of their Company in high school. But it's been a long time and lots of blood under the bridge since

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Une humble retraite

Don't you think the Met needs to open a little bar, maybe where the gallery on the southeast corner is? Just a little lounge of sorts for the people who aren't quite ready to rush out the door and go home? Much more informal than the restaurant, you understand, just somewhere dim you could sidle up to a Campari or something comparably suggestive of banter and commiserate or revel as appropriate? Thing is, once you're out the door it's either the 1 train or the $25 pizza at Fiorello's, it feels like, especially during these drear months. Oh hey maybe there could be horrible theme drinks like milk punch after Butterfly. Oh dear, maybe not. I'll just have the whiskey.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

2nd Anniversary=Paper, more specifically Kleenex

Did you know the Latin root of the chemical name for aspirin is the same as that for "O salce, salce, salce?" That's because aspirin is derived from willow...bark, I think. I'm not going anywhere snippy with that, though I suppose I do sometimes feel like I need an aspirin or seven to deal with the Verdian orthodoxy that later Verdi is more worthwhile, Verdi for cognoscenti. Well and actually I find Iago's drinking song to be something of a musical hangover, so there's that. Mostly though you're just suffering through this preemptive diversion because we used to play the Latin Prefix Game in the D'Annato household while the other kids were playing basketball, which goes a long way to explain my figure and my popularity with the gents, I guess. Where was I?

I was where I always am: in a balcony box. Funny balance up there, works out alright for Mozart but not highly recommended for louder things. Mostly all you hear is orchestra, even when you (finally) have a tenor who doesn't sound like the music is going to break him. It's funny--if you'd asked me, sitting there in our box, to name the places Heppner used to make me stand up and scream something about Amy Winehouse calling and wanting her crack back, I couldn't have told you exactly. But I knew it in my gut, and when those places came around, I tensed up. For naught, my friends, or for naught much anyway. Act III saw something a bit like a shout, but the tenor-killer near the beginning of Act II was apparently not a big deal for Botha. Always audible, frequently sensitive in his phrasing...say, who gives a handkerchief as a romantic present anyway? What do you get on the second date, gym socks?

A propos de rien, is it maybe time to cut it out with the blackface in Otello? Not that you can reverse these things but they didn't put Madame Price in Bulgarian-face in Forza so she'd pass for Ghiaurov's daughter. No but my real point, insofar as I ever, ever have one is that it's explicit in the libretto, the audience knows the deal, and it looks stupid, not to speak of the awkward cultural baggage. It's one of those places I'd just as soon let my imagination do the work.

Getting back to the sonic side of things (keep it on the sonic side, always on the sonic side...< /carterfamily>) I sat and waited where Fleming was concerned, too, but not for cracks. I'm like a broken record about Fleming and Desdemona: best role ever, cuts down on her futzerei for whatever reason, yada yada, cut and paste. I feel vindicated, though, by my Fleming-skeptical (fleptical?) boxmate's agreement that yes, this is a far finer thing than much of what we've witnessed in recent years, and wait though I did, not once did I notice her slipping into the premeditated cooing we have come to dread. Moments where she really lets go, like the climax of the Aspirin Song, both legitimize her status and excuse her hype. All of Act III is unimpeachable craftsmanship.

Guelfi had some living down of his own to do, i.e. a lousy Rigoletto a couple seasons back, and he more or less did. "Neither brilliant nor offensive" was my verdict early on, not the very best balance for Iago. But the credo was convincing in musical terms (less so, dramatic ones) and he held up his end of the bluster in "si, pel ciel." Wendy White was a fine Emilia with some terror and urgency at the end; Garret Sorenson reminded me that for some reason we often get a little luxury in Cassio--my last Cassio was Jonas Kaufmann. Sorenson may well follow a similarly fruitful career trajectory.

Semyon Bychkov (oh thank GOD someone tugged on someone's sleeve about the avoidance of false cognates in Russian transliteration) led a reading that was maybe a little four-square in places but made up for it with blood and guts where required. Among the Met's stodgy productions, this one ranks with Aida among the winners.

It occurs to me for no reason that Desdemona is one of rather few Verdi heroines not asked to sing a trill. One of you will doubtless know that Alzira or Shakira or someone also does not. Suddenly I think Aida doesn't either. Maybe nevermind. Actually speaking of Maury D' stupidism of the day, on the 1 train platform after it all wrapped up, we were discussing whether anyone had ever written an Anne Frank opera (other than Neutral Milk Hotel's somewhat abstract Anne Frank opera that is In the Aeroplane Over the Sea that is.) I have an odd reason to know that someone did, as one or two of you may know, but the Gracie Allen moment came when I specified that the only one I knew of was a 20th century work. Say good night, Maury.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tarkington on Gelb and others, perhaps

Youth cannot imagine romance apart from youth. That is why the roles of the heroes and heroines of plays are given by the managers to the most youthful actors they can find among the competent. Both middle-aged people and young people enjoy a play about young lovers; but only middle-aged people will tolerate a play about middle-aged lovers; young people will not come to see such a play, because, for them, middle-aged lovers are a joke--not a very funny one. Therefore, to bring both the middle-aged people and the young people into his house, the manager makes his romance as young as he can. Youth will indeed be served, and its profound instinct is to be not only scornfully amused but vaguely angered by middle-age romance.

The Magnificent Ambersons

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Einstein on the Stove

Isn't it true that Einstein said a minute sitting by a hot stove is like an eternity while a minute sitting on a pretty girl is like an instant? You know, I think I have my prepositions backward. But he said something like that. (Anyway, if you're the sort who would find it funny, imagine some lovely lass shrieking at Einstein "for fuck's sake get off my lap--you're a fully grown physicist!") I couldn't help but think about it tonight.

Why? Well Wagner, of course. I find it interesting that people tend to agree on the idea that Furtwangler can play things slow and still have them hang together better than other conductors (name your whipping boy--Barenboim?) who also play them slow. I agree, too, and yet I don't think it's one of those things you should just say and not think about what it means. On the face of it, it's pretty nonsensical. Could it be something we just say because we cathect to Furt and not to Bohm and once we've settled on an opinion, we become overly identified with it? I don't think it is, but I invite you to tell me how this works. Is it about proportion, perhaps, in subtle ways that can't be formulated? One friend of mine always speaks of Furtwangler in terms of an overarching architectural conception but you know how I hate metaphors. They are a poisoned arrow flying through the heart of a melancholic aardvark. I mean it.

Whatever the reason, tonight's date with Lorin Maazel was like five hours with a pretty girl sitting ON MY TRACHEA. It could hardly have gone by slower--matched, in fact, the visuals of Herr Schenk bore for bore. I left after the second act, feeling like I'd gotten way more for my money than I intended. Even the thunderous prelude felt leaden. Oddly enough this had one pleasant result: with nothing else to do, I really sat with James Morris' interpretation and found it, on such a backdrop, more profound than it had sounded before. Yes, I still flashed forward to a future hypothetical Pape-Wotan, but not with bitterness. The regret, the fear, the plain old age: all felt organic to the character, and necessary, highlighted somehow by the tedium in the pit.

I'm pretty tired of hearing myself talk about Voigt, moreso since so many reports of her have turned into a predictable "State of the Voice" address, but could only be nostalgic, hearing her Sieglinde, for a very long trip I made to hear it in another century. Her partner then was Domingo, who I heard as Siegmund twice, about ten years apart. Each time was a marvel, but I think I've heard his better in the role. Clifton Forbis should be singing every role at the Met that requires serious lungpower, which is not to say that's all he has. Nothing like it. Next year may call for a trip to Chicago to hear what bids fair to be the bona fide Tristan of, well, right now. Tonight was his last in this run and he looked triumphant at his "my character is dead and I'm going to Fiorello's" curtain call, as he should have. Beyond volume, there's a matter of authority in this kind of singing, and that's what was so wonderful to hear.

Harder to comment on Gasteen because the role opens with an iconic moment she objectively cannot deliver, which colors one's experience...ok and because I didn't hear half of her role. There's good heft to the instrument, and generosity or openness of spirit in the performance that stops short of fiery inspiration in the mode of Leider, but I'll have to hear her again before I really know what the deal is.

I'm in the vast minority here, but for my shekels, Michelle DeYoung is really a work in progress. People talk a lot about line in bel canto, but there's a Wagnerian sense of line one must have as well (think of Jon Tomlinson's King Mark for a great example) and I don't hear it in her singing. Certainly it's a fine voice, and I'm glad to hear the warm reception she gets.


On another topic altogether, the New Yorker article on Nico Muhly by Rebecca Mead quotes one of our own. It's rather an engrossing article, at least if you come in knowing zippo about Muhly. It does appear I'm going to need to familiarize myself with "Speaks Volumes" if I'm to continue thinking of myself as a snooty music fag, and in any case, the article makes mention of an upcoming commission at the You-Know-Where. (Rhymes with retro collagen.)

Happy Holidays!

Hey I just noticed on the street: it's Schmutz Wendesday! This is, insofar as I've been able to understand, the day when Jesus rises from the dead and goes, "oh hey, you've got some schmutz on your head" and wipes it off for you. He's like an amalgam of a zombie and some great aunt that way. Presumably then he goes back to being dead, but I'm not sure. Religion is confusing! Anyway it doesn't seem to be incredibly popular and I'm just wondering if they should branch out on the color scheme a little. Note to Our Lord and Savior: Black does not go with every outfit.

I have a hunch I make this joke every year. Let's just call it a holiday tradition.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Who did I hear?

A recent discussion of Carmen found me googling Graciela von Gyldenfeldt. She seems to have existed also as Graciela de Gyldenfeldt. She's who I heard sing Carmen in Cincinnati in what the intertubes confirm was 1991, and she's the first person I ever heard have a full-on vocal crisis right in front of me. Maybe she didn't think she was having one, as she stayed on 'til the bitter, bitter end, but even my untrained ears and the healthily not hypercritical ears of my father recognized that when the bottom half sounds like a truck on a steep incline and the top half sounds like a Vespa, all is not well.

I love this kind of archeology. I've gone on about it before. One day I'll find out if the woman who sang now dimly recalled songs in German, one with a lyric about a traveler on a path at night, about whom some sophisticate at intermission was heard to say "she goes around the world singing Frauleinliebe und Leben was indeed Troyanos. This would be at the Singletary Center in Lexington, Kentucky in the late 80's or possibly 1990 but I don't think so. If you know, you're welcome to burst my bubble or make my day. And one day perhaps my father will unearth his programs and I'll know if it was Callas he heard in Dallas, as a kid.

Further searching this evening confirmed that it was Richard Leech we heard the night we raised our eyebrows at each other about some Verdi opera we'd never heard of called A Masked Ball. I thought it might have been Millo, too, and that would have been funny, but it wasn't. Who was in my first opera, and yours? Cinci doesn't seem to be one of those companies with an exhaustive history on their website, that I've found, but anyway I'm enjoying the mystery and the possibility I heard names I know now and love or turn up my nose at. It wasn't until years later I would keep track, because the names didn't mean anything to me and I had nothing to compare to.

I'll never be able to say, like so many New Yorkers I now know, it was Tucker, and it was a matinee, though I suppose when I'm 70 I can fudge and say it was Bartoli, and it was Houston, and it was 1992 or 3. That was sort of the first time I went on purpose and chose who to hear...

In other news, I have a Birth Opera after all. It was La Cieca's idea to rescue us Leos by looking to the Salzburg Festival. Here's what happened on my date of birth, and I'm most pleased with it:


ossia La scuola degli amanti
Dramma giocoso in two acts K. 588
Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte

Sung in Italian


Karl Böhm, Conductor
Günther Rennert, Stage director
Ita Maximowna, Stage sets
Ita Maximowna, Costumes
Walter Hagen-Groll, Chorus master

Gundula Janowitz, Fiordiligi
Brigitte Fassbaender, Dorabella
Reri Grist, Despina
Peter Schreier, Ferrando
Hermann Prey, Guglielmo
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Don Alfonso
Walter Taussig, Cembalo
Chor der Wiener Staatsoper
Vienna Philharmonic

Kleines Festspielhaus

Saturday, 11 August 1973, 7.30 p.m.

'Moor is Less

Here's what they're doing at Caramoor this summer. There's no press release to be found on the site but I assume that's a full account of what's being offered. It's...maybe a little disappointing. I mean, Barbiere has not exactly been underrepresented in town, though it is always pleasant to see it (or whatever else) in the country. Some of the singers are unknown to me, which might draw me out of my lair into the wilds--Ms. Di Giacomo was a pleasant surprise last year--but for Forza I'm content to stay home. That's just my peccadillo, but no, I refuse ever to be in the same room or outdoor space with Preziosilla again, no matter who plays her. Yes, even if it were You-Know-Whodles, who does not seem to be up for car alarms and mosquito bites this summer, tant pis. Maybe the Vivica Genaux recital of Falla and the like will be this season's enticement off the happy island.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

It may be like this around here for a little while

The first stroke of rhetorical genius in this season's campaigns is a musical one.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


I've always insisted it was practically opera. Sometimes, in fact, when people are all "hey, make me a CD to convince me I should like opera" and I'm not in the mood to say "who says you should like opera?" I will slip this in between, oh, Kathleen Battle and Jussi Bjorling. It's as close as you're going to hear to a dramatic soprano in pop music, which gives me a perverse thrill. Please ignore the cheezoid visuals and enjoy, and if you're not up to here with me for posting it in the first place, make sure to watch the end, where the real Inge Borkhing happens.

Oh and since I've recently been taken to task for not identifying what I'm posting, this is Blue Angel performing "I'm gonna be strong" by...I dunno, Pergolesi. You know the girl with the pipes as Cyndi Lauper.