Thursday, December 31, 2009

Your auld lang what hurts again?

With apologies for radio silence (save for one bout of kvetching) I bid you the happiest time on Maury's Secretly Favorite Holiday. (See, everyone always says aw jeez New Year's is always such a letdown, and you'd have to be kind of the opposite of a killjoy, more a forcejoy, and nobody likes those either, to say "no, as a matter of fact it's always wonderful." So I mope along* and then secretly love the shit out of New Year's Eve.)

Operatically not much going on. At some point I'll figure out how to post sound files and maybe post the thing I bought at Immortal Performances in Austin, or rather one track of it. Says I to Stewball, "I have a peculiar piece of Troyanos kitsch to send you. I wonder if you have it. I mean, you very likely have it." Says Stewball to me, startling me with his proximity since apparently he's been sitting in the dark balcony of my brain, "Is it the Pachelbel Canon or the Albinoni Adagio? Those I do have. Oh how I hope it's Rose's Turn from Gypsy." Sadly it is items 1 and 2, 3 being available only on a Mapleson cylinder. Mapleson being in this case Bogdan Mapleson, a janitor in Madame Troyanos' post-college walkup who taped her singing in the shower.

Anyway the Albinoni is particularly amusing. She sings it as if pouring it out of a cement truck.

In case you'd like to indulge in the New Year's tradition as is practiced where I whoop it up, or I guess I should use some anti-optative and say "if I may indulge it upon you," here is Madame Melba:



All the very best in this time of arbitrary but nonetheless viable new beginninging from the staff at MFI, which as you know is me and the cat.

*Oh, it's second nature anyhow. Mope springs eternal hereabouts.

Coming up: me trying to think about something to write about in January because I don't have a ticket in my name until February.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Alas. It's my old tradition to post on holidays when everything is closed but I'm currently (oh, don't ask why) on a bus, trying to drown out R&B with Yo La Tengo as we wind our way along state roads. Right, and praying for death. That too. But I have nothing in my head that's fit to post. Happy whatever. "Happy day off," as a friend of mine says.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stepping up in class (or: My Life as a Parterrorist)

Well if you're looking here for my semi-coherent musings about Elektra, I must redirect you. Being asked to pen a piece for Parterre when you are the resident scribbler of MFI, well it's sort of like the Paris Review called and said "you know those sonnets you wrote to your kitty? We simply must have them."

I will say this: it's a different experience writing something that may be widely read instead of doing some equivalent to sitting in your bathrobe talking about it. So perhaps I'll put down a few more thoughts in the house style (idiotic) back here when I'm caught up on sleep.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Jar of Eyeballs

If you've ever lived south of Ohio, you are perhaps aware that the world is divided into two kinds of people; those who can never drink tequila again because of that one night senior year, and people who can never drink southern comfort again because etc. I was the third kind: people who could never listen to Tales of Hoffmann again because of a production in college that was, I guess, through no individual misdeed, the equivalent if a night of bedspins and praying for death on the bathroom floor.

As I sit here on the A train with Milton Cross whispering sweet nothings about Vina Bovy in my ear, I am a man transformed, renewed. I now recognize Tales of Hoffmann* as a work toward which I feel a mix of patient mockery and intermittent grudging admiration.

Oh, shush. I'm exaggerating of course. Who could not love the Venice act, other than maybe Ekaterina Gubanova, who sang it quite well but was tepidly received at curtain calls for reasons I haven't worked out. Who indeed?

Well Bartlett's Hair seems to like it, and get it. While I'm not delighted that last night's Hoffmann will now enter the cannon of critical cliches as this season's counterbalance to that Mean Nasty Tosca that Took Away Our Candlesticks, I can hardly hold that against the production. The Olympia and Giulietta acts, in particular, display a kind of ease with the operatic theatrical idiom that, for my money, Sher was visibly still learning in Barbiere.

The Antonia act has some regie clunkers. I am srsly not going as far off topic as you think, but did you ever read the Hitchhiker's Guide books**? Douglas Adams writes of mankind's general tendency toward unhappiness: "Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy."

I keep flashing on this, because at times I'm fairly certain Bartlett Sher thinks the stories of the great operas have more to do with the movement of large rectangular panels than I think they do. This happens in the Antonia act, and it's jarring, because the Olympia Act is pure devilish visual invention, in particular one scene I refuse to spoil for you but that I think will be much talked about, maybe the stage tableaux of the season were it not for the tonally antipodal coups of House of the Dead. (I'm never right about this stuff, by the way.) Also, please, if you are considering becoming a major director of opera at an international house, pretty please do not have a violin float down from Above when someone is about to sing "Vois, sous l'archet fremissant" because no. But I'm harping on small stuff that bugged me, and not the many things that went right.

Both of these acts, in any case, get some deluxe vocal characterization, though the second one starts out with Trebs' surprisingly blankish "Elle a fuit." I'm thinking if I were watching her do it from Seats Occupied By People Who Made Better Life Choices Than Maury (heretofore SOBPWMBLCTM should the topic ever arise again) it might have had some inspiration not visible from space, but I'm a little reluctant to invoke the whole visual/musical Gelb era debate, especially when speaking of Netrebko, who occupies a complicated place in that schema.

Certainly the physicality of her performance as the role grows more frenetic is unrestrained and (guiltily?) pleasurable. Likewise, the vocal engagement with character, though I don't think it's a moment of greatness for AT. The D, sorta greschreilich in rehearsal, was a bolt of aural pleasure in full-on performance, but it's not a style of singing that seems natural to her. (What is, you might ask, and I'd fish out my record player and my record strategically scratched to say "Pucccini" over and over. Or big Italian lyric stuff anyway.)

Hey have you heard people talking about the curse hanging over this production, by the way? Because of all the cast changes? It's worth taking a moment to think whether we have in fact lost much by the changes, right?

Calleja for Villazon, well, who knows. Villazon as a concept might have been more dashing in passages like "Oh Dieu! De quelle ivresse," but Villazon as an actual singer would have given us all a terrible case of nerves. Calleja, despite being thirty and not 100% at home in the role, did not. Perhaps he was tired by the end, but generally speaking, he doesn't sound out of his depth in the role. I went back and forth between enjoying the basic sound, marveling at how jussily he bjorls--I know, the caprino is a bit much for some--and wishing for a little more give, a little more (forgive me) swing. Maybe opening night nerves, maybe more. He's a fine singer and I'm happy to wait and see, though something tells me if we're talking about him in twenty years, it will be for other roles.

Kathleen Kim for 1/3 of Anna Netrebko is a pretty solid bargain. This would not have been a success; chez Mlle. Kim, it was a star turn despite here the smudge, there the hint of sharp. Good athletic vocalism, and an impressive ability to meet the role on its strange comic-but-not-actually-that-funny terms. I know already she's excellent as Madame Mao (Chicago Opera Theater, 2007ish) and now am curious if she'll find the shadow of regret that makes a Zerbinetta great or just go for the cute. Vocally, it's bound to work.

Garanca for Lindsey I can't say much about, never having heard the former. Ms. Lindsey has a fine instrument and moves well on the stage and I think I'm going to enjoy her a lot in a different sort of role. Alan Held for Pape I'm also not sure how to ring up, but maybe these comparisons are a little stupid anyway. Held was vivid if not mesmerizing in stuff like "Scintille, diamant" and...I just don't know the Four Assholes' music well enough to speak with even feigned authority about it, so I'll refer you to other reviewers for more.

I'm pretty sure Roberto Alagna was in attendance on account of this woman on the A Train Shuttle of Disappointment was talking fortissimo via cell to her father about having met him at an opera opening night, presumably the same. I couldn't actually hear her father's response, but I assume it was some combination of "how interesting" and "why are you calling me at 12:30 at night?"

Side notes: youtube seems to be particularly full of interesting Hoffmann clips including lots of Dessay doing her freakish, arc-welding*** thing and some more clips to make you go Why Isn't Robert Carsen a Fixture at the Met God Dammit? Maybe I should embed one of those since pure text entries don't really catch anyone's eye.



Next Up: ELEKTRA ELEKTRA ELEKTRA WHAT IS BETTER THAN ELEKTRA NOTHING IS, by Richard Strauss.

*I would very much like it if my phone would stop insisting on Goffmann for Hoffmann. It is making me imagine an opera called Tales of Guffman in which a bunch of yokels think Peter Gelb is going to attend their awful little production which is much like, well, see paragraph 1. But when you get back here, you can stop reading. You don't have to go in loops, forever.

**Embarrassing fact about your host: he cried at the death of Marvin the Robot when he was a little nerdling.

***If I explained it, it wouldn't be funny.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

More holiday fun

Let's maybe see how much blithering I can get in before I get tired of thumb-typing.

Recent outings have included In the Red and Brown Water, the cause celebrish play by Three Name Playwright, Something Something McRaney (nuh-huh, it's too much trouble to multitask on here) at the Public. Heralded in some quarters as an almost epoch-making work...well, I'm going to go all Margo Tenenbaum to Mr. McRaney's Eli Cash and say this is specifically not a work of genius, though it's high quality stagecraft done with fervor by an ace ensemble so it's an east mistake to make. Listen, the guy is 29. There's time.

Oh hey I'm on a real computer now. Where was I? I think where I was was emboldened by having seen the thumbnail review in the New Yorker to say more or less what an actual critic has said, which is that there's more vigour than rigour* but if you're just in it for a good ride, you could do a lot worse. It's involving and well-paced. I'm just not convinced it's awfully substantial and I am convinced it's not terribly new.

The Brechtian device of actors speaking the stage directions (paging the estate of Virgil Thompson!) never really earns its weight in distraction, but the language is piquant and the direction tuned in to the play's ideal momentum. And beyond the fine sense of ensemble, there's not a bad performance in the lot, though some are subtler than others, where subtelty is to be wrung from a script full of enormous gestures.

Oh, and if you go, and sit in the front rows, you may get audience-participationed, so be ready. I got terrorist-fist-jabbed by an actor (at which I made a face indicating "go easy on me with your complicated heterosexual handshakes. All I know I learned from Barack and Michelle." Yes, you have to have eyebrows of doom to convey all that in one grimaceous shrug.) and pulled into a high five of help-a-sister-out complicity on a funny exit line. So, y'know, caveat spectator if you're scaredy-cat about those things.


**

It's good to revisit a production a year later and evaluate it from a settled place of familiarity. Sher's Barbiere struck me as more facile and un-involving on second viewing, for instance, whereas Jack O'Brien's Trittico (alright, in my case, Il Bittico) seems to me a production that may later be thought of as the kind of thing the Gelb administration does exactly right.

And they've had the good fortune to get some casts that worked out really well. I still remember my delighted shock a year ago at the "why does this work?" Tabarro of Guleghina and Licitra, singers I thought of as past-prime who scored a real triumph in the piece. They're not, on balance, bettered by this year's exponents, but they're not shall we say worsed either. Ms. Racette would come back an hour later and sing a knockout Suor Angelica, but Giorgetta is something she doesn't have quite the right palette for. The style is good, and the acting can't be faulted. I think it's a matter of slancio, if I gotta be all Opera-L about things.

If you checked out the link a day or two ago, you know how I feel about her pal Aleksandrs Antonenko, though. For me, it's pure ecstasy to hear a tenor voice fearlessly hurled around as he does. There's really nothing else to say about it. I'm quite thrilled at the idea of him taking on some things that have been gingerly managed by Heppner or unidiomatically muscled through by Botha. Oh, excitement.

The way Lucic is used at the met mystifies me. On the evidence of his Germont, it's a sensitive lyric instrument of some quality, but every time they put him in dramatic stuff, it's just not great. I guess they're not drowning in dramatic singers but I hope they won't break Lucic by plugging him into this kind of thing.

Suor Angelica is Not My Favorite Thing, as I've doubtless made clear. I'm bored for half an hour then horrified to the point of disengagement for fifteen and then the last quarter hour is of course exquisite but it's like flowers from an abusive boyfriend. Still it's hard to resist when it's delivered unstintingly, as Racette served it forth. Yes, yes, she busted a flat at the veeeery last moment of Senza Mamma at the prima. You'd rather hear this role cautiously? Other than her riveting, truly more-than-solid/reliable Jenufa, this is the best thing I've heard her do. It's an honor to do the whole triple crown at the big M, and she proved herself worthy. Uh, and she was probably great in Schicchi, too, but I was having margaritas. You want complete reviews, read a real reviewer, bub.

Like the fellow who writes for the Post, for instance. I was interested to read that review, in part because it's become sort of a given that one will speak only praise of Stephanie Blythe, and Mr. Jorden (rarely one to throw a gratuitous punch, but never one to pull one) broke this rule. I mean I basically disagree, for once, about a lot of the plusses and minuses of this production, including Blythe who I have had my indifferent moments about and my fan moments (Orfeo!) but found pretty on-target as the least nuanced villain maybe in all of opera.

The curtain calls for Angelica are always a laugh because it's like "hooray, seventh person dressed as a nun!" I'm ashamed to admit that I have a friend in the production and was not 100% certain which nunly lines were hers since Angelica is not a work I've ever warmed to and so ever gotten to know in detail. Looking forward to hearing her later in the season in a role I know and love, that will be lovely in her voice and, well, she won't be surrounded by 40 people dressed exactly like her.

Ok there was something or other else but I'm all blug out. Next up is the Hoffmann final dress, which of course I will only comment on in the most discreet and politic way.

*I hardly know 'er, I hardly know 'er.

[ETA: Oh, obviously I was going to write about House of the Dead. Only I'm not. Monday, Monday, sometimes it just works out that way.]

The exact point of intersection between the terrible and the sublime



Happy Turkey (Lurkey) Day, if such you celebrate.

I'm up at an unaccustomed hour--yes, Tallulah, there are TWO five o'clocks in the day--to catch a train. Brain not really functioning but I'm telling myself later on I'll post about a couple of things I've seen lately.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A wondrful tnor.

Aleksandrs Antonenko, my new musical crush.



Yeah, I know. I'm not remarkably writish lately.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Placeholder



Look, internets, if you're not going to cough up a photo of the exact moment from the prison drag pantomime I am after, how am I ever going to slip in the caption SURPRISE BUTTCZEKS?

Tags: only potentially funny if you like(/tolerate) Janacek AND LOLcats.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two-fer

Ok the blogging muse is not really with me lately but here's what I gots on two recent performances.

1.

So there I was in the downstairs gents' room at the Met (oh that is not where this is going, you beast! We are not that kind of blog!) when it suddenly and insistently popped into my head that perhaps if I started humming "a-amen a-a-a-a-a-a..." the next fellow would get a look of guilty complicity on his face and then pick up the tune and then, two urinals down...well, no. I didn't try it. I think maybe that kind of thing makes one look a tiny bit not right, as Southern parlance has it. (In the south you actually pronounce the italics when you say it.) You'd pretty much have to get to the urinal uh...bank? stand? just as a bunch of other giant raging geekosauri were answering the call.

Oh this was at Faust, if that wasn't clear. Sorry for starting the story in the middle except that there isn't that much story. A kind friend helped us get good seats; we had both liked the production a lot last year and wanted to see it with what was, on paper, a better cast. Well, sometimes things look good on paper for the excellent reason that they are good.

Ramon Vargas is 49. I don't know if this is a tenor's prime--really I'd expect it's past it, but he's in fact quietly sidestepping the idea of prime by finding the virtue in each era of his voice. Though he sang the ferocious Rosenkavalier aria earlier in the season without much problem, it no longer sound wholly comfortable when he sings in the heights. (Though if they cast him as Usnavi in In the Heights I would definitely go.) And indeed, he dodges the pair of C sharps in the duet here, but it was all around a more appropriate sound than Giordani made last year. The phrasing was elegant if more placid than passionate, and the voice itself healthy and sweet. Like bananas.

Borodina often strikes me as a singer who knows that her instrument is one that pavlovianally produces the word "opulence" in later descriptions and rests a little on her laurels. This is not a bad thing. Maybe I've never heard her entirely let loose, but I think of her Dalila, her Laura, and so forth with a nostalgic reverence that will be insufferable in about fifteen years. My first indelible memory of her is a radiant high whatever-note-ends-the-Inn-Scene-in-Boris-Godunov. Fortunately, this took place in a production of Boris Godunov. Unfortunately, I was rushing out the door to find the fabled Opera Quiz. Also a little unfortunately, that range hasn't really hung onto its lustre entirely since then--on dit that the chain smoking has not helped--but Marguerite is fairly safe territory for her voice, where it is now. I'm curious what rep she'll settle into over the next few years, and won't be at all disappointed if it's heavier, lower, Germaner.

Yeah, it was kind of giggle-inducing when her giant head first floated across the screens of this rather beautiful production, but the thing about LePage as opposed to a more traditional envisioner of stagecraft is that it isn't so disruptive if something's a little funny. It really does fuck things up some if you get a nervous laugh in the middle of a deeply literal production. Here, it passes, one of many moods. And the next one is awe, because she really...it's something about the phonetic placement of vowels in Russian vis-a-vis French, maybe, that makes for a frequent lack of perfectly idiomatic utterance but an extra edge in depth and pathos. And though I've said before she sometimes seems a little less than convinced by the material she's presenting (a slight edge of sarcasm in Gioconda sometimes maybe?) she never phones it in.

Ildar Abdrazakov had the stiffest competition in terms of last year's cast. John Relyea is at the very least extremely competent in this rep (I hear people say they find him uninspired; I can't say I do) but if I had to choose...I think I'd probably pick Ildar. Do you suppose when he and Olga started going out the Russian tabloids called them Ilga or Oldar? (Sometimes I like to imagine people in other countires give a fuck about opera.) He manages, by the verve of his singing, to make you almost forget that hat. That pen-hat combo. He sings the WTF out of the hat, I'm saying. It's an extremely comfortable fit vocally and characterologically.

This particular night we witnessed a slightly nerve-shattering tech fail, one of the many screens having a dramatic issue with authority, but it was near the end and didn't cause a great delay. It was jarring (and loud) but it was a total "on" night at the Met and I don't imagine it ruined the opera for anyone.

2.

Say, remember that time we all got together and improvised a fugue of "Why should I go to Turandot when the Met is having notable trouble assembling a worthwhile cast?" Well, I am improvising a countersubject to that fugue, and it goes a little like this: the Met has just assembled a fantastic cast for Turandot, fuck yeah! Right, I know, "fuck yeah" is not a line I can pull off.

I'd have to look to see if Lindstrom has any more in the run, and I'm sort of not having one of those days where an extra keystroke seems acceptable, but listen. If she is, go. Me, I did this whole Freudian parapraxis thing where I almost made myself late for the show because who wants to sit through a whole scant 1:45 of opera, even if it's like seven once the Met gets through with intermissions, when it's just going to be a rueful rehashing of the other casts they've gotten together for T'dot because somebody's gotta sing it?

I'm thrilled I did not. Reason #1 may be Giordani. I am finding lately that the radio accentuates the stuff about his voice that rubs me wrong (though the fact remains that his interpolated C at the end of Act II owes rather too much to a 1973 Buick trying to start in the winter of 2001.) In house it is strong, fearless, go-for-broke singing. Yes, I'd like him to have a few lessons with my roommate Abe from college* or maybe a drag queen about how to make more of a gesture out of gonging a gong, but I can find nothing else, besides that one C, to fault him with. Terrific stuff. Even oversang the irritating decision to place some brass in Score Desk at the end. Also, while I'm on the subject of tenors, I think we had a sorta pre-celebrity sighting, to wit: the terribly promising Michael Fabiano.

Maria Poplavskaya, as you have read elsewhere, has a voice that's strangely matched to Liu. Essentially a success in the role, and in its distance from complete success for me lay the suggestion that this voice may well be important to us in coming years in other roles. If memory serves, she's thought to be the replacement for Trebs in the Decker Traviata, when and if it comes to us, and I for one can't wait. A Friend of This Blog (well ok, just a friend of mine) once succinctly and mercilessly dismissed a certain soprano currently approaching ubiquity--alright, Diana Damrau--saying "you walk down the halls of a conservatory and hear exactly that sound coming from about a dozen practice rooms." Poplavskaya is the negative embodiment of that statement. It's a sound with face, with a certain built-in room for darkness and introspection. I'm very curious to hear more.

Lindstrom is a slightly more complicated case, I guess. It's hard to think what rep she's going to kill in, outside of Turandot, in which she's certainly quite exciting. The couple of growly utterances in the role, as earlier noted, are in an underdeveloped range, but it's tough to get too sad about it when the Turandot notes are so big and so bright, delivered with such a lack of the "oh shit am I gonna make it?" quality of basically everyone else I've ever heard sing it. (It isn't wholly the quality of the voice, you know, that makes the primary soprano in the run a poor choice. Some of it is the palpable deer-in-the-headlights-of-an-oncoming-orchestra effect, that could only add to the character of Turandot if you have a sort of Lars von Trier sensibility.) Anyway Lindstrom's bio notes that she sings some thing that might be really great and some I'm not so sure about, but whatever the case, she can certainly go around now telling anyone she chooses that she was at the center of a brilliant night of Puccini singing on this august stage.

It remains a privilege to hear the voice of Samuel Ramey, the moreso (do I totally overuse that construction? I think so. I'll shop around for an upgrade but not right now.) when he's singing a role where the sonic treadmarks of time are not only easily excused, but appropriate.

Next up: Z Mrtveho Domu!

*no shit, if he had a cigarette in his hand, turning on the light was like a whole scene out of Now, Voyager.

Monday, November 02, 2009

From the shallow end of the think tank

I get these ideas lodged in my cranium and they won't go away.

So you know how singers do Tribute to [Extremely Dead Singer] albums? Dawn Upshaw's Jane Bathori thingy, Bartoli helling around with Maria Malibran, Joyce DiDonato's recent...

Wait stop there. Joyce DiDonato, you say? Me, I mean. You probably didn't say it unless you read out loud. Say, what if she were to do another tribute album where, well I'll give you hints and you can guess the theme.

1) She's wearing a white wig on the cover that follows the Texan maxim: the higher the hair, the closer to god.

2) She might also be wearing what one friend of the tribute-object termed "appalling American clothes" if she can be persuaded to doff her habitual good taste in favor of a gamine sense of kitsch.

3) Highlights of the disc might include (oh I'm just giving it away now) Berio's divoon folk song do-ups, a set including Pergolesi's "Ticket to Ride," and perhaps a bonus track of "Surabaya Johnny."

C'mon, you know it'd be great. I can't help it. It's my ipod's fault. You start going down a road of "mezzo...keen intellect...sense of adventure" and where does it get you?







[With all due apologies to the object of this game of vocal paperdolls, which we all like to play.]

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tosca II (Scarpia 0)



Sequels are just never as good but I'll admit I'm curious...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Boston Pilgrimage

Not in the writiest of moods but sometimes I say that and then the tactile pleasure of typing takes over. And it does seem like a tease to post the Podles marquee and then not say anything. You might call it marquee sadism, if you were something awful. Anyway I thought it might be a lark to write a Podles review in which the word "cavernous" is, just this once, allowed to stay home in its bathrobe, so here's me doing that.

You know how I feel about EP, so I'll start elsewhere and you can skip the end if you're not in the mood for that kind of thing. For the rest of y'uns (is that a Boston regionalism or somewhere else? It sounds a little too rural, middle class and not Back Bay in any case) harken to the tale of Amanda Forsythe, a young soprano I'm eager to hear again, ideally in a context where she isn't done up to look like she's about to sing "The Grass is Always Greener" with Raquel Welch. Well now I'm just trying to be obscurely funny but truly, they were not going for glamour here.

Anyway she was pretty excellent as Amenaide, not excellent like "oh wow, Opera Boston must have spent a lot on Ewa Podles but it's nice they have some local talent to bask in her glow" but rather, impressive independent of other considerations. The voice is happy in the heights, effortless in fioratura, and, y'know, purdy. Good thing, because what you forget when you're a Podles fanatic is that Amenaide is a big role with lots of good music. In fact, me being me, I forgot that Tancredi is largely pleasurable throughout, containing a great deal of enjoyable music (here conducted so buoyantly, on top of that, by Gil Rose that I didn't catch Rossini Fatigue even once, which is rare. Gil Rose, CILMOW, for those of you who rely on MFI as the Tiger Beat of opera blogs. What, Conductor I'd Like to Make Out With. This was not obvious?)

You know how we go through periods where we have good voices in different categories, and I get all impatient because everyone's so busy shooting themselves because we don't have much by way of Wagner singers that they forget we have about a grillion fantastic lyric tenors? I am wondering if light high lyrics are now in ascendence, thinking of some of the swell coloraturism I have heard of late--one the bus back from Boston, for instance, I was reminded to do a nervous little dance at some point in expectation of Kathleen Kim's Zerbinetta as I listened yet again to Rusalka (she's one of the Hou Hou Hou girls.) Maybe not though. I tend to generalize in moments of what ought to be discrete satisfaction.

Generally the rest was well-cast also, though with here and there a misgiving. Yeghishe Manucharyan doesn't stand out in a world with Florez and Brownlee hogging the spotlight, but has many fine qualities of his own. Unlike those fellows, he shies away from Rossini money notes, but in the mortal range, sings a gratifyingly articulate line. Victoria Avetisyan has something of a jabby top few notes but sings with gravity and taste below them.

But I was there for Podles, as is known. I fear it may turn out to have been the last time I will hear her*, as her scrupulously maintained fan site lists nothing beyond a Wigmore Hall recital and, unless they finish the transatlantic highway by then, I'm probably skipping that one. I actually did the Eve Harrington thing after the performance and asked if she had anything coming up in New York or Boston and she was fairly shruggish about it.

She's not quite who you'd expect in person, by the way. She comes off as such a character in interviews and of course onstage, you irrationally expect her to be flamboyant even at the end of a long night of singing, and then in fact she is quietly friendly, reserved though also subtly funny. I gave her the booklet from the Italian Orfeo recording to sign (the French one is better but my copy disappeared five years ago and it's opportunistically priced when found used on Amazon) and she looked around for a good place to sign, eventually looking me in the eye to say in the world's best deadpan, "maybe on the breast?"

Shockingly, for someone who is rumored to have offered to make her Act III entrance in Gioconda by throwing herself down a staircase, she also looks a little frail nowadays. And, in contrast to her stage presence, which remains heroic, she has begun to sound a little frail. The head-wagging that in the last few years has become so pronounced and that apparently serves to fling the voice around her mutant oltrano range now accomplishes something like flinging, but slower. Flownging. Hrm, not so much. Anyway the notes are still all there, but the effort is greatly more evident and though she can get the top to blaze, for the early part of the evening it is sheathed, perhaps taking a while to warm up. This means in "di tanti palpiti," where you'd expect her to pop the most wheelies, she actually stays mostly on the ground.

But remember how she used to toss high B's around like she didn't care if it lasted forever? That it has not lasted forever is 100% compensated for by the memory of all that. (Phraseology intentional so you will know whether to try to take that away from me.) The commitment to go-for-broke dramatic gesture remains what it was, as does the rakish and frequent channeling of Alexander Kipnis. Oh, a little bit hilariously but mostly wonderfully, her entrance was staged in a way that, outside of an opera stage, suggested professional wrestling or an Iron Chef spinoff or something: a section of the back wall was raised slowly, the stage in darkness, Podles silhouetted by intense backlighting. Cheezy, but in the best way.

I just read Heidi Waleson's thing and am wondering if I've become that sort of devoted fan who doesn't notice glaring flaws, as she apparently found Podles to have all the presence of a hulking pot of kasha, but actually I don't agree with half of what she said so I guess it's just the usual matter of de gustibus a son gout. We both think Amanda Forsythe is a gem, though, as do the local reviewers I also just read, who tended to be more Rah Rah Podles.

Be all of that as it may, a certain kind of through-going glory hid behind the flaws and the shabbyness of this detail or that. My lovely friend who went with me is not an opera person, per se, loves Callas--as one does--and was persuaded by my nauseating enthusiasm to check out Mama P. Just as he shared my adoration for her, I share his appreciation for--and mind you, this isn't about camp or the queer fascination with the eternal feminine in extremis--greatness in its decadent phase. In the worn patches of this peculiar voice are the grooves and etchings of the moments of heedless generosity that made them and acknowledged, each in passing, the debt of bliss to impermanence.

And so I have heard, for perhaps the last time in the flesh, my iconic diva, this blog's muse. Many of you fans of other great figures of the vocal stage who will no longer sing to you (unmediated by our beloved but incomplete means of preserving what's gone) will know the melancholia of this moment. Of course it's 100% possible the Podles blog simply hasn't been updated and she's singing Annie Get Your Gun in Newark in July, but I can't help visiting the moment of sadness that may or may not happen because I'm like that. When a favorite is gone, there will be others, but none to occupy exactly the same space in one's inner life, eh?

***

Last night's broadcast of Turandot inspired a rather expected hateathon on the Parterre chat, but suggests to me that Lindstrom may be one of those freak voices that largely sits just right for Turandot. True, I have no notion of loudness from a broadcast, and yeah, there was something fishy about the "si, la speranza che delude sempre" outburst that raised questions about the availability of the low register, but I'm certainly looking forward with some excitement to November 10. And that's what's next up on my dance card.

*srsly I futzed with the tenses in this clause for a while and then gave up. I'm glad English has only the laziest of subjunctives or I'd be publishing this next month.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

cold storage

Last entry put in mothballs. Seems tacky to speak cheekily of the canceled.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Anyone in the publicity department taking notes?


Or, as Nick of Trrill remarks: Laś Węgaś much?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Catch-all

...as there are several things pawing to get out of my head.

Here's one:

I approach music that still gets called New Music, as I may have said, with a kind of hangdog "please just don't be too mean to me" expression on my, uh, soul or whatever. I try to like it, but I don't try very hard, and that's the truth. It's because part of the process of liking something is recognizing it, and though it's just the build of my own metaphorical ear, I know, I can't often find the voice or face or whatever half-apt concretization is least offensive here. This form of enjoyment is built partly on insecurity, no doubt: who wants to say "I love Medea Mei-Figner" when there's some possibility (admit it, there is) that at some later moment, a recording of Madame Mei-Figner will come on the jukebox and you'll go "what is this awful croaking" and someone will say "but I think you loooooved (with ironic iconic lengthening) Mei-Figner." I trust you have followed this imbecilic narrative and taken the point anyway: there has to be something to grab onto, some aural object permanence, or the music can't be your friend.

So I get especially happy when that does happen. There are two Bright Young Things that spring to mind whose voice I think I have happily made the tentative acquaintance, like that first coffee you have that's sort of an interview for a date. I posted a clip of Judd Greenstein some time back, because I found his "Hillula" interesting and knowable.

Now, because I am apparently the guy who is like "hey I just got an Atari have you heard of it?" I am introductorily onto the very talked-about Mr. Muhly. I felt like I should be is the honest truth of the matter. I had gotten past the slight resistance one sometimes has to causes-celebres and watched a clip on youtube which, yes, of course I'm about to make you watch, too.



Something of its mood was still with me when next I read his name, so I think we're off to a good start, me and his compositional oeuvre, and will maybe have a second date, traditionally an ethnic cuisine designed to show one's worldly appetites, ideally followed by one of the mints from by the cash register and then by making out. Except not as much when the talk is of music and not an actual second date.

Now that I've thoroughly worn out my welcome, I do think I should say a word or two about Rosenkavalier, but really, let's keep it brief, like a bad date where you sit in a cafe on Damen Avenue waiting enthusiastically for the rain to end so you can leave. Oh wait, you weren't there for that one. Fleming, as you have read elsewhere, has reined in a lot of the things about her Marschallin that are true of her Strauss-singing more generally and that have earned her a lot of fairly justifiable criticism. Gone is the fuss. Gone is the inscrutably-motivated constant dynamic change. This is all cause for celebration.

What is still lacking, for me, and I will say this is just not my favorite role for her, maybe especially in comparison to Rusalka which I've been addictively re-listening headphonically...what's still lacking is passion. I don't know why this never comes through, for me, in Fleming's reading, but it makes the opera tough to sit through, because there is enough about the Marschallin that's redolent of money and status that the unbegreiflich Herz that beats under the conventional persona must be glimpsed. Though I'm glad the cooing has gone AWOL (because in fact it never accomplished this, either) there remains a certain too-virginal quality in Fleming's Marschallin that seems to convey not passion contained by years of upscale socialization so much as passion contained as passion domesticated to the point of utter manageability, like flyaway hair happily responsive to conditioner. The moreso when her Oktavian is someone whose sense of poetry never makes it to my ear, either. In both cases, it almost feels like something [oh yeah, I'm gonna go there] that could be shaken up into something better with a production that wasn't so insistently traditional.

I'm not saying that's the only answer, but I do enthusiastically remember what seems to me to have been the greater sincerity of Fleming's body language in the more-or-less modern dress of Capriccio at last season's opener. There's just something so all-around corseted about these characters' interactions, at this moment, in this production, that feels stifling to me, and I feel almost certain it could be otherwise. Am I alone in this? Miah Persson, by the way, has exactly the right voice for Sophie, not too busy stretching toward a note to bloom, and aurally conveyable intelligence, to boot, but perhaps lacks that last degree of musical personality that would have rescued this for me and made it, ahem, a three-act Rosenkavalier rather than a two-acter. It was a good time, all in all, but it takes more than that nowadays to make me miss the last uptown express, some worknights, at least for an opera whose third act begins with several hours, experientially speaking, of tedium before twelve minutes of heaven. And a local train.

See, this is also where I could mention Regina Spektor at Radio City, but it's a bit much at this point. Suffice it to say I started to mention her above, because in some better world, pop singers, who often know how to connect bodily with their music, might be engaged to offer master classes in same at opera companies. It is, in some ways, a more powerful thing to watch someone perform her own compositions to a hall of people allowed to do more screaming than to watch people sing music with a lot of socioeonomically prescriptive baggage to a room with a lot of rules. There is more freedom, of course, and it's not fair to compare the two things. But watching what must have been a very emotional experience (play a huge, famous hall in your hometown, singing things you came up with to people shouting your fucking name!) it was impossible not to long for some transfusion of energy from this night of song to the other, in the opera house. Yes, well, and the ability to take one's alcoholic beverage into Radio City would not be such a terrible thing, either...



(On the topic of Perssons. Or Peoplle, I guess. Chain of association. Miah Persson->Nina Persson. Is everyone in Scandinavia blond and can I be Scandinavian next time?)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Oh great



Is it all this good? Am I going to have to go through something on the scale of my Gencerjahr, skulking about in the dark corners of record stores looking for her single pirated aircheck of Praskovija di Broad Channel? Oh, Raina, my as-of-eight-minutes-ago Bulgar enchantress!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The mark of the true fan...

...Ms. Baranski, is showing up not just for the red carpeted season opener, but for a Tuesday night Rosenkavalier prima!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Wallace Shawn on Art and Politics, More or Less

Transcribed from introductory remarks at a signing/Q&A/screening of My Dinner with Andre at the Avon Theater in Stamford, Connecticut. Wallace Shawn, one of my intellectual heros (am I an asshole for using that phrase?), addresses the topic, more or less, of how his writing became political.



Well basically, and by the way, if you don’t care, I understand that. In other words, why should you, in a way, except for some reason you’ve chosen to come here and so the topic of me is, in a way, inevitable.

Basically after My Dinner With Andre...My Dinner With Andre was basically a success. A large number of people liked that movie, and I’d never done anything successful before and it was much more successful than anything I’ve done subsequently. So, I suppose the mere fact of having done something that was a little bit successful or well-liked maybe took a bit of the pressure off of me and led to the later thoughts that I had, in a certain way.

So I wrote a play* about five years later and it was being done in London. And the director was having a very hard time making the play work in rehearsal. And he basically said to me words to the effect that "I don’t think this is going to work. I think it’s going to be, well, terribly boring for the audience and basically unbearable." And I had a strange reaction to that.

I thought: hm. I guess I don’t have talent, but I wonder why I ever thought that I did. And I thought: well, I think that’s because my teachers in school always made a fuss over me. But if I had no special ability, why did they do that? Well, it must be because I went to a very nice private school and they were paid to flatter the students. And somehow that thought carried me down some kind of a path where I began questioning certain things about myself and my own cheerful complacency about life, and I had other thoughts about my childhood in my private school and the very privileged neighborhood that school was in.

And I realized that, well...I’d asked my parents when I’d seen a group of children in the park who weren’t dressed the way I was dressed, and they seemed dirty, and they looked sort of thin and blotchy. I sort of said who are those children? What’s their problem? What’s going on? And my parents said something to the effect of “well, I mean, they’re poor!” And I thought: oh, what is that, I wonder?

And I suppose that parents, if they are raising children in a privileged way and the child asks why are other children poor, I suppose the parent has to either say “well, it’s because the world is very, very unjust and people like us are unfairly advantaged, basically because, you know, our ancestors somehow managed to steal and we got to keep what they stole, and others are disadvantaged and oppressed,” or they can say, in effect, “well, some people are, you know, so terrific that they actually deserve a bit more and others have something a little bit wrong with them so they deserve a little bit less.” Because those are really the only two answers to that question, and of course most parents don’t want to go near it. And mine didn’t really answer me.

But the implicit answer was the second one, really. Because what else is a kid supposed to think? Unless he’s told that it’s a crime, and is unjust, he’s going to believe that probably he deserves it, and that must be because he’s a little bit superior and other people are a little bit inferior.

And now I don’t believe that anymore. And so I’ve gone in the direction of identifying with the people who are poor, crushed, less privileged. And I do think that the reason that I am privileged is basically because of theft, because I don’t really, I don’t actually believe in any of the justifications for inequality such as, you know, well, I worked harder.

Because I don’t say that I’ve never worked a day in my life, although some people could say that, in a way. Because writing and acting are quite enjoyable. But, I mean, compared to actual work, where you’re working in a coal mine or even in a bank...but, I know I don’t work any harder than somebody who does work in a coal mine and yet somehow it’s worked out so that I get paid more than the guy in the coal mine. And the people in the coal mines actually don’t think it’s fair. They might rebel, and so they’re kept in their place by force, violence, torture, what have you.

Anyway, this is the journey that I’ve taken that led me basically into writing my essays and those of you who belong to the tiny cult of people who follow theater, I also write plays, and some of my plays deal with these topics. And you can see weird roots of it in the movie. And Andre of course is encouraging me to, you know, not be so contented really.


*timing-wise, I'd say this would have to be Aunt Dan and Lemon which is from 1985.

Extra Credit: The internet has everything, as usual! Need a webpage listing scenes in movies where people eat soup? There's an app for that! Fortunately, no reference to the worst line in any opera libretto ever, which also involved soup. I guess HD moviecasts don't count. If you do can't guess how I got to this page, you are not a real Wallace Shawn fan and cannot be part of my fan club.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Myths of the Traditionalists, or: Being Offended Does Not Make You Right (A musical huff in five parts)

1) Directors reënvisioning canonical works do not do so because they think the work isn't good enough to hold our interest. I'm particularly weary of the "what, Figaro isn't good enough for you?" cavil. It's either disingenuous or intellectually lazy.

2) Art that we don't fully understand is not meant to belittle us. I have never been able to make much sense of what's going on in that one bit of Act II of Nixon in China but I'm pretty sure Peter Sellars and Alice Goodman are not sitting in a bar somewhere laughing about me. Actually Alice Goodman is now a priest or something so maybe she is not allowed to drink in the first place. I don't really know the rules.

3) It is possible to have good ideas for directing opera without having a musicologist's understanding of the score or decades of experience in opera. Purely subjective example here, but Mark Morris is musically literate enough that he has conducted an orchestra, and if you ask me, his Orfeo shows no evidence of an aesthetic connection with the work outside of the dance sections and no evident feel for coherent stage pictures on the level of place as opposed to person. Whereas I don't believe Anthony Minghella was even a musician, and I'm fairly certain Butterfly was his first opera, and it remains the finest production perhaps of the decade, certainly of the Gelb era so far.

4) It is not a slippery slope from doing a radical restaging to rewriting your beloved opera. That is really not likely to happen. I'm sure someone did it somewhere, sometime...like gerbilling! That does not mean you need to hide at home lest someone sneak up on you with a rodent/a version of Andrea Chenier where the text has been replaced by Dadaist found poetry from the C section of the Pittsburgh phone book.

and of course

5) That old production you are so fond of is not the embodiment of the composer's wishes. Nothing is, and nothing should be. I have already bitched about this but I'll say a few words more: performed art is dynamic and involves interpretation. That old production of La Gioconda you love loses none of its creaky charm and will be fondly remembered even if someone decides maybe there are other ways Gioconda might look.

I get that this probably sounds preachy. If you feel preached at and are thus turned off and the more entrenched in your traditionalism, then this was a stupid thing to write. Fortunately, the seven people who read this tend to agree with me on this kind of thing, so I think no harm is done.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Candle shtick

The thing is it's always a mistake not to dump everything out of the, uh, vast basin of my brain immediately upon returning to my palazzo, because the next day it's sort of like "right, so there were a few famous people and then everyone got vocally upset for reasons I don't wholly understand. The End." But here goes.

Remember that time the Met put on a not particularly reverent production of an Italian opera heartily beloved by the kind of opera fans who refer to 19th century art song singers by their first name and expect you to know who they're talking about and this production was recieved as shocking and insulting instead of what it actually was which was inept more than anything and the opera fans a few clauses back got up in the production team's grill insofar as that is possible from a great distance which basically meant howling their disapproval like somewhat less masculine football fans?

Because that happened again. But much, much louder, and earlier in onset. We knew there was trouble a-brewin' when there was scattered howling after Act II. Um, there was also scattered howling in Act II. More on that. But here I am going to be the worst opera blogger ever and, am I going to be this tiresome? I am. I'm gonna quote myself. Because things happen first at Parterre, naturally, and one of these was an exhaustive, or at least exahusting, discussion of whether or not it is kosher for directors to get all "oh yes I did" about what I'm going to go ahead and label "authorial intent" and then tilt my head in such a way that you know I am not a finger-quotes kind of gal but distancing myself from the idea nonetheless. Also in such a way that you can see my new haircut. Thanks, yeah, just some pomade. No, I like Mad Men ok but I'm not trying to look like him. Much.

See the problem here is that Tosca, like many operas, has some traditions you are not allowed to fuck with*. Don't fuck with the candles and don't fuck with the jump would be two good rules for not getting pelted with verbal tomatos when you're putting on Tosca. Luc Bondy fucked with both of these, as you have almost doubtless read. And a few more things, besides, but I think these were what you'd call the "top charge" if your day job involved reading people's rap sheets. Anyway I'm pretty sure these are the two that got him in trouble.

So how Act II ends is...actually, wait, how Act II begins is Scarpia is helling it up with some pretty hilarious silent-character hookers, and this part is lame in a dozen ways and could stand to be rethunk and edited out. They're part of the "a little from this era; a little from that era" aesthetic that even I find hard to make much sense of. I think they're wearing leg-warmers. Then the usual stuff happens--and I really do think it's worth noting the difference between taking liberties with details and taking liberties with substance, though I'd probably be fine with the latter in some cases. But it's a distinction that's jettisoned in this conversation quite often and it bugs me.

For instance how Act II ends is that Tosca, having dispatched Scarpia and yelled the name of a minor opera blogger, fails to engage in century-old candle schtick because there are no candles onstage (to judge by the other stuff onstage, this may be because Ikea wasn't making candlesticks that season.) Instead she goes to the window, visibly considers taking a header an act early and heading back to the hotel for some delicious Finnish food made with herring and umlauts, and once she's decided against that, she picks up Attavanti's fan and slowly fans herself in a rather "oh shit" manner. That's it. That's where it all turned into a giant slap in the face for some.

A sensible objection I heard voiced is that she should be getting the hell out of there since she just murdered the big guy, but I'm pretty sure the point of the entire way the scene is played is to give us a Tosca who is really derailed by what she's just done and not thinking straight, which is valid. It's not the standard read of the scene, of course. But here's where I start feeling like this is all a bunch of inchoate indignation, anger at this production standing in for other woes, well familiar now from the tempest in a teapot we put up our umbrellas for every few years. To those who find this Tosca wrong by virtue of being so radical I want to say:

[begin recycling text from tl;dr comments section argument!] It’s just such an obvious fallacy that there’s this platonic ideal of exactly how everything should go in a production that matches the composer’s infitely detailed intentions. Like it or not, we know some of what a composer intended and not the rest. Music and text tell us a good deal and also leave a good deal up to others to interpret. The rest of what people espouse when they get hot under the collar about authorial intent is largely a projection of what they want to see.

Look, performed arts are collaborative, and there’s no way around it. If you’re unable to cope with the idea of consuming art that is not one person’s unadulterated vision, go to a gallery or read a book (and try to forget that some ambiguity creeps in even there, because you may not percieve the work as the author intended it.)

The traditionalists here frame this in terms of right and wrong, which leads to the conclusion that, choosing an example already discussed, the crowds that sell out a house to see the once-reviled Wilson Lohengrin are wrong in what they like and want. This would be insulting if it weren’t so flimsily argued.

If I were to take issue with some of the productions of recent years, it might be that their vision is too much of a compromise. The Wilson Lohengrin succeeds because it has an unmistakeable point of view and the strength of its convictions. The Bondy Tosca is not wrong for being radical; it’s flawed (with some strenghts as well) for not having “face”–it could be a traditional production with stronger personregie or a more thorough rethinking that didn’t basically cleave to audience expectations. Either would be better, though it’s not awful as it is. [end recycling]

And in fact, on this viewing (having gone to the open rehearsal as well), I find the lack of vision more troubling than I did before. There isn't a lot going on here beyond one or two memorable tableaux. The changes that are made are either insubstantial or, in a couple of cases, clumsy and uninteresting (the problem with having Scarpia get to second base with the Virgin Mary isn't that it might shock good churchgoing folk. It's that it's king of an obvious idea and hard to stage in a way that isn't humorous.)

There isn't a lot of insight on display and one doesn't feel the singers were steered toward a good deal of psychological detail beyond their own instincts...Mattila is doing her usual thing that you either love or hate, Gagnidze puts a lot into his sung characterization and gamely goes through some formulaic "Scarpia's real gross" motions that bring nothing new, and Alvarez is a tenor. Maybe these deficiencies would be highlighted less on the familiar old comfy couch that is Zef's production instead of the mostly drab canvas of Bondy's physical setting. Me, I'm alright with it, if not enthusiastic. I'm preemptively bemused that, like last time with Sonnambula, this will make me look like the passionate champion of this production. Anyway, I liked a few of the bold gestures that were there and can live with the rest as long as the singing is good?

Say, Maury. Was the singing good?

The singing was good. In some cases it was extra special good. Starting with the most provisionally good...

There is no way around the fact that Tosca is not now and probably was never truly Mattila's role. The voice isn't shaped right, and all her intense musicality in the things she's great in just doesn't seem to translate into a genuine feel for how to shape a phrase of Italian opera. It's not a disaster on that count, but it's not a major achievement. And the chalky thing that goes on in the top few notes of her voice just does not work out in this material, even though it's only a real problem a couple of times. It's a piece of bad luck, I guess, but one of those times is the central vocal moment of the opera, the last phrase of "Vissi d'darte." You can scream the C in the cantata, and you can scream the C after Mario gets dragged off, and you can kind of scream the whatever-that-note-is when she's regaling Mario with the one about the time she killed Scarpia, but it is a big drag if you have to shout the end of the aria. By force of will, she made the notes happen, but they were not enjoyable listening. All that said, she made a certain amount of the role her own, chested the hell out of the chest parts, and created a coherent and distinctive character, by no stretch the generalized diva you often get. I have to score it as an interesting mistake with moments of real success in it.

It didn't help her that she was singing with/against Marcelo Alvarez, who suddenly deserves to be the house's go-to guy for Puccini. I don't remember being wholly convinced by his Manrico, though I liked it, but after a nervous start with some chopping away at the phrases of "Recondita armonia," Alvarez did pretty much everything right, including some sobbing tenorizing I have missed in recent years, but more prominently just a lot of punch in his phrasing and a big league large-lyric-or-hell-maybe-spinto sound. I guess I'm a German-opera queen at heart, because "E lucevan" tends to find me mentally alphabetizing the valkyries and things like that, but last night after a couple of phrases I was practically humming along. Like those people we wish would die in a fire.

George Gagnidze was, ok, actually my favorite. And not just because he was a humble cover, called upon to step into the deeply inadequate shoes of Juha Uusitalo, who withdrew on account of why did they hire him in the first place. Sitting in Fam Circ box because I'm just not that fancy, it was sometimes hard to hear him because of the orch/singer balance up there, but another balance was more felicitous, that of musical line and vocal characterization. Scarpia is tough on that count, right? You have to get it across that you're everything along the spectrum from morally irredeemable to icky without turning the role into Wozzeck on one hand or Benoît on the other. Gagnidze was, first of all, game for all the OTT chazzerei Bondy demanded of him as a physical actor, and at the same time conveyed the character's squickogenic nature with vocal shadings but without resorting to the barking you do sometimes hear. I hope he's signed up for more at the Met, and not just covering, as I'd love to hear him again. (I'm not terrifically optimistic about this, thinking about some covers who have seriously saved the Met's bacon in stuff like Tristan and Agyptische Helena and not exactly been handed the keys to the city.)

Levine continues to get a hero's welcome from the minute he steps out of that dark, mysterious hallway that turns out to come out somewhere near the cafeteria, so much for mystery. As well he should, having made the Met's orchestra what it is. But for the sake of nuance, it is worth admitting that there's stuff that doesn't constitute his A game, and I'd include Tosca on that list of stuff. The first act is, what...saggy, I'd say. The second is driven and rather dramatic, and the third is just too much of too much. This music is already pretty fromageous and Levine just draws it out to the point that that one really hot cellist has to play that one solo in a way that is rather shameless. A sense of restraint is sometimes the perfect garnish for schmaltz. One begins to want to sneak into James Levine's bathroom and add to the list of affirmations on his mirror, "Not Everything Is Parsifal."

Oh, by the way, as long as I'm somehow miraculously still typing, Bondy fucked with the jump, and I totally forgot to say that. Instead of singing her big diva line and hitting the road, Mattila got to hang around on the staircase for a bit, almost coquettishly taunting the Keystone Cops (srsly, what is up with having Spoletta keep falling on his ass?) before making the production's one real reference to Hitchcock, semi-diagetically, running into the turret dealio where (I am told) one of the go go girls from Act II, done up in her wig, got launched out halfway into space, presumably on some kind of harness for a brief freeze frame, rather arresting in my book but I guess appalling if you like your Tosca old-school. The rest of the act was left alone, I guess, normal e lucevan, normal mock-mock** execution, maybe a little extra crazy for Tosca while she's giving Cav the recap.

Next up: Barbiere w/ Banks + DiDonato, may or may not blog it.

A propos de rien, it is weirdly tempting to post a picture of me leaning against the ballustrade of the central staircase, trying like hell to look posh, because about 12% less of me went to the opera this season than last and I am feeling vain about it and you'd all, those of you who have not died of old age reading this far, be more or less obligated to make noises to the effect of "Lookin' good, Maur!" because you're nice people, well raised, and presumably competent liars when the need arises. Curse that wretched veil of secrecy!

CELEBRITY ADDENDUM: Not a highly starry year, it seemed to me. Martha Stewart was there as usual, looking swell as always, and gave some nice quotes about opera to the press. Albanese made an appearance and was cheered, which I like even though I can't listen to her recordings. Fleming, of course. Harvey Feirstein, yay. Leelee Sobieski,I have read, though I didn't see her. This woman got photographed a lot and I'm curious who she is but guessing only people ten years younger than me know. [eta: Chanel Iman, a model. eta again: nope, Joy Bryant.] I'm not sure who else, actually.

*unless you are. Let's say you're a frumpy soprano who is believed to carry on THE SACRED FLAME OF ITALIAN SINGING. In that case, you are allowed to ad lib all this unwritten "mea culpa" stuff in the same scene and are not ridiculed, except occasionally by me.

**Who's there?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Another show

Perhaps a bit of liveblogging now that I'm an iPhone douchebag. This will depend on how much like dialup the network is acting. So far, one has only the sense things are scaled back a bit from last year.

5:53 have already heard the name Zinka Milanov invoked. Here we go with all this.

Ok liveblogging did not so much happen. More tomorrow. The headline is of course an audience reaction that
makes last year's Sonnambula snit look like a chorus of "Hello, Dolly!"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Last to get the joke

Probably a billion people already said this but I finally realized what this



reminds me of.


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Autocorrect Fail!

My text message to Jonathan von Wellsung, hat tip to the programmers of iPhone autocorrect:

It is Latoya Mattila's birthday!

Pure fail, and yet pure win...

Friday, September 04, 2009

Soupcon!

Someone we know of formidable musical intelligence (who has not specified the degree to which he wishes to be identified, so we'll stick with pronouns and descriptors here) has started a food blog that promises to be good reading!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

One for the "why not here?!" files



Elizabeth Connell in the Siegfried finale. MFI seal of enthusiastic approval goes here.

ETA: that's kind of the rhetorical "why" in the subject line, you will have gathered. She's not what you'd be forced, these days, to call "cinematic." On the other hand, Wagner sells out no matter what, or anyway the Ring and Tristan do, so it's not like any particular campaign need be waged to lure the young and unsuspecting into the opera house with the promise of great hair and abs...

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Asked and answered

I don't know, is it considered bad blogging to quote comments from elsewhere if they were totally excellent and I want everyone to read them?

So it starts with a revealing post with complex implications at Parterre about the fellow who is funding I guess the overhaul of the State Theater, who turns out to be a teabag toting wingnut. (Me, I've always said I'd go libertarian if I weren't so darn fond of roads, hospitals, public schools and universities, the post office &c. &c. &c. I've also been known to say libertarianism is just anarchism with so much hedging you can't even get a decent punk album out of it. That's my libertarianism set. I'll be here all week.)

Anylez...people quickly get up in arms because die Heilige Kunst shouldn't be sullied by mean, dirty politics, and I guess someone with the nom de blogge of javier said "Anyway, opera and politics don't mix," because Will, who we suppose to be Will of Designer Blog who also comments here knocked it out of the park, and I'm gonna make you read it:

When you get to heaven, javier, look up Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner, Kurt Weill, and Daniel Francois Esprit Auber, among many others, and mention your little fantasy to them.

Be prepared for gales of laughter.

Mozart deliberately conspired with da Ponte to put a play that had been banned in Paris the day after its premiere for its political content onto the opera stage in Vienna. Play and opera are both inflamatory political/social statements.

Verdi’s Risorgimento operas from early in his career ignited demonstrations and riots and were filled with coded references to the Austrian occupation of northern Italy. If you go to Atilla at the MET next season, listen for Ezio’s line “Avrai tu l’universo; resti l’Italia a me! which set off pandemonium in the theaters.

Wagner was an immensely political composer on and off stage–and I am NOT referring to what was done with his operas long after his death by Hitler and his gang. OK, with Weill I AM referring to Hitler and his gang, via Weill’s social and political protest in so many of his works.

And Auber, composer of what is arguably the first of the great French Grand Operas–what could possibly be political in his tale of a mute girl in love? Only that its run in Brussels caused riots that brought down the Belgian monarchy.

It’s amazing that people still insist that politics must NEVER be mixed with art, particularly “high and refined” arts like opera as if it pollutes them. All the arts are steeped in politics and have been. That’s why when Dictators seize countries, the arts are amont the first things they clamp down on.


Well, it doesn't get much more thorough than that.

It is a mess of a topic. Should we just be grateful of any money thrown at our pet art regardless of the source? I mean I don't think I'm on board with the commenter who said "NYC Opera and Ballet will not be getting a cent of my money," though I respect his conviction. It's worth talking about precisely because it's not straightforward, and precisely because there is some broad impulse not to talk about it. And yes, I also find it interesting to see the wingnuts coming out of the woodwork when something like this comes up. You assume that art broadens people. You are, it would seem, mistaken.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

FWIW

The increasingly afterthoughtish-feeling Glimmerglass Opera (of the neato performance space, physical environs out of a fucking 19th c. painting, palpable lack of relevance) has announced 2010. You're probably sitting down because you're at a computer, but you don't really need to be.

It can be a fun parlour game* to make up swell Glimmerglass seasons because there's something of a formula: 1 Baroque, 1 20th C. usually in English, 1 warhorse, and a wild card, maybe Mozart or a musical. (There should be a Maybe Mozart festival. You show up and they're like "Nah, we weren't in the mood for L'Oca del Cairo after all. Tonight's Harry Partch. I think they're doing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik across town at Partially Partch if you've got cab fare.")

One thing you can count on in recent years, due to unfortunate economic realities, is a production that can be staffed wholly with the pack of hungry young things that make up the Young American Artist Program. This year, that will be The Tender Land, which I guess was written for young singers, so that's convenient and all. I have to say I've never met anyone who lamented the infrequency with which The Tender Land pops up at opera companies but maybe it's just so musically satisfying it only has to be done once in a while. You never know.

To someone-or-other's credit, the world's most photographed production of Tosca is not being pulled out of the retirement one assumes it has, by default, kinda entered as the buzzards circle around City Opera, twittering at one another "Possible free meal in the west 60's #carrion." A new one will take its place, and it actually is intriguing to wonder what they'll do casting-wise there.

During the aforementioned Tosca, they hired a pretty, petite, young singer as Tosca, and everyone in the company did kind of a two-month long version of the old Soprano joke (Q: How many sopranos does it take to change a light bulb? A: One to change it and one to say "really it was too high for her," should she fall off the ladder) except in this case all they could do was talk about how she was going to break her medium-sized voice on Tosca. It's possible she did, actually...she was booked for some stuff like Salome and more Toscas and then for not much. She really put a lot into the performance, though, so it's always felt sort of sad to me. Anyway then they got this tall, menacing-looking Italian without so very much voice for Scarpia and a tenor with an absolute monster of a sound (one vocal agent present noted that the fellow was louder than Heppner, and indeed when he busted out his "Vittoria!" in early rehearsals, astonished glances flew about the high school auditorium as the walls very nearly shook), and all of it added up to something pretty compelling, but none of them sings a lot that I've seen, so whatever. Einmal ist nicht keinmal, and I still think back on it fondly.

Figaro is the third one up next year, and what is there to say about that? Figaro is always cause for some happiness and rarely cause for much.

Tolomeo rounds things off. Handel is just the kind of thing that works best at Glimmerglass, the kind of opera it's actually a shame to see in a larger house, and most houses are that. Countertenors don't have to push and on nights when they throw open the sides of the theater to the night air, there's an undeniable enchantment in the delicate intimacy in those arias, sung with the finesse the space affords. One wonders if the house style of Handel productions is still in full swing, for better and sometimes worse, full of imagery that puts a few toes across the border between whimsical and dumb.

*and yet I don't feel like doing it just now. Feel free to play along at home.

p.s. things I have bailed on this summer include Semiramide (it turned out they were doing the full Ramide and between that and the weather forecast, I envisioned a soggy slog through a few too many roulades) and Les Huguenots, which fell from my schedule due to concerns of distance and tedium.

p.p.s. Hey do you need some salt? Because here's a grain: I do think Glimmerglass is not very interesting these days, but I'd be an ass to write something overwhelmingly sour like this and not acknowledge that I had professional dealings there many years ago and met probably four of the top five worst people I've ever met anywhere in terms of, oh, everything (though I met some lovelies, too...it's just that they weren't running the company/in a position to sap my life force.) So while I'll, on the other hand, always have a certain misty remembrances you don't get to hear about, I can never be quite fair to Glimmerglass, the Little Company that Occasionally Could.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

frank martin--->lulz

Maury: poulenc + strauss/2=martin?
Maury: i think i mean mahler, not strauss
DSJ: maybe more Berg?
Maury: right on.
DSJ: he sprinkles his elegant neoclassicism with tone-rows.
Maury: it feels more immediately listener-friendly than berg
DSJ: yeah definitely
Maury: sorry, i actually really hate the game of "one hears echoes of puccini in the score." i am always turned off by reviews that do that.
DSJ: Well, you know, he's Swiss, so half French and half Austrian is about right
Maury: genau
Maury: great, i put "vin" and "herbe" in the search window and carla fucking bruni comes up
DSJ: Carla fucking Bruni fucking Sarkozy!
Maury: or vice versa
Maury: argh, it turns out i like her cover of "you belong to me." I am not sure how I feel about this.
DSJ: I wonder if... was it Nathan Gunn's??? Tom Waits cover is on YouTube
DSJ: lol HORRIBLE
Maury: what is this from?!
DSJ: his CROSSOVER ALBUM.
Maury: oh right
Maury: pass
DSJ: omgomgomg
DSJ: http://www.frankmartin.org/eng_s/eng_s_gastboek.html
DSJ: (WHAT?????)
Maury: hee hee hee hee hee
DSJ: DEAR MADAME MARTIN
Maury: “Please don't ask questions to which the answers can be found on this site.”
Maury: [redacted]: not on the site.
DSJ: SERIOUSLY
Maury: oh nevermind, it's under "concise biography"
DSJ: how can I not send obscene mail to Mme Martin
Maury: oh nevermind again, that says 12 tone

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

On not bothering to bring the mountain to Mohammed

Fragment of a comment from "Pelleas", chez Parterre, regarding Rufus Wainwright's "bringing opera to people who normally wouldn’t consider listening to it,"

...except that I don’t believe his audience is going to listen to any opera other than his. He’s made no secret of his operaphilia over the years, and it’s made no difference so far, in much the way that his Judy concert didn’t really make Garland fans out of people who weren’t in the first place.


There's something not just correct but, I think, significant in this sentiment, and as soon as I work out what it is, you'll know. This is me thinking out loud.

Say, do other people known by their friends for being an opera fan get the question "what should I listen to if I want to get into opera?" a lot? Because I do. And, not wholly for the sake of being an asshole, what I sometimes say is, "if you're not into opera, there may be a very good reason." Which is to say: it's not for everyone.

What I'm questioning, I guess, is the very idea of "bringing audiences to opera"--whether it happens at all, and whether it's worth all the pontification that goes on around whether Rufus Wainwright/Andrea Bocelli/the Muppets/&c. &c. &c. will get people to like opera. I'm not sure it ever happens that way. From time to time some appealing face of opera pops up in broader culture, but it seems to be a self-contained thing.

If you liked the blue diva in The Fifth Element, chances are really not that awfully great that you'd be excited by the rest of Lucia. If you were inspired by Paul Potts singing "Nessun dorma," I might speculate while firmly refusing to discuss the merits of his performance that what you liked was largely backstory and novelty and, sure, you might love opera, but chances are good you wouldn't, and Paul Potts is not a good weathervane.

Think of the scene in The Last Picture Show where all an earnest teacher's love of Keats means nothing to his students, because the other parts of their lives aren't fertile soil for a love of poetry. Except take some of the condescension out of that, because a love of opera, like the love of poetry, does not make you a better person. Operaphilia in addition to the love of, say, Gene Autrey does make you a broader, more interesting person, but that's a two-way street, a clap that takes two hands.

None of this has much to do with RW's day-in-the-life-of-a-diva opera, on which I can't comment because I've only heard the excerpt played on Parterre. I didn't love or hate it, though I find Wainwright's crooning a little uncomfortable to witness when it's not in music written with croon in the blueprints (how can I hate on "Poses" when I listened to it obsessively for a year?) but then I'm thinking of his youtube-documented Berlioz, and not his opera, which may very well have built-in croon.

Oh but ok, so take the Berlioz. Someone hears those, thinks "what Rufus likes, I may like," and buys Steber's ravishing trip through those songs with Mitropoulos. Yet again, I think that's not going anywhere. It's just that music is not always a continuum of listener-suitability. Opera is really specific. Opera is discrete. (That does not mean it refuses to send its picture, certain gheis.)

All that's left to do, then, is for me to suggest how new audiences are to be found so opera doesn't die if Sheryl Crow singing "La ci darem la mano" with Pavarotti* (count the problems!) isn't going to do the trick. Obviously, I have no fucking clue.

But if the answer is that opera is on its way out, I'm not going to leap out the window, just hope it outlasts me. I read this book once, okay I read a chapter, about language death, and for anyone who loves languages and appreciates that each has things it can express that no other can (though this can never be more than a hunch), the idea of a language disappearing forever is really to dab your eyes about. But it's also completely inevitable and a part of the backdrop against which the languages that hang on, for now, live out their own interesting lives. Nothing is immortal and few things last very long at all.

Sorry, I'm totally killing time 'til I can get on a train for a long weekend, so it's getting a bit purple in here. (I never work blue. Except a few paragraphs up, for a second, and then only light blue.) But I think I'm not wrong about all of this. Please feel welcome to disagree politely, as it cheers a blogger up to see comments.

*awful but not reprehensible. This is an important distinction. Also, please admit there is a loveable screwball comedy in the part where...well this one friend of mine told me about a recital in High School where she couldn't remember the words to one of the "24 Rather Moldy Italian Art Songs" and had to start making up Italian words. I always wondered what that would look like, and now, to my delight, I know.

P.S. (!) while one is momentarily asserting one's presence in the blogosphere, one really ought to take a moment to congratulate La Cieca on being quite the It Girl, everywhere but the goddamn cover of Time lately!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Missing Link

I'll let you try and figure out the elusive connection between these there videos. (Hint: there isn't one.)







Ok, fine. The connection is they all make me happy. Thanks to the people that posted them. The last one, yes, is bittersweet, in that it explains a certain amount about my love life: born too late to gaymarry Glenn Gould.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Professor and Mary Ann

Ok so I'm obviously not going to write about the rest in any detail. In the interest of some kind of misguided completism, thumbnail sketches of everything I can call to mind.

Billy Elliot: incoherent first act, musically and dramatically mixing up two themes (the personal and the political, in effect) that don't really make sense together until the much more enjoyable second act. Excellent class and gender politics for a B&T blockbuster, some clumsy cheap sentiment, set design that's busier than it needs to be and (outside of what is basically a socialist anthem) not much music you will remember half an hour later. Reminded me how wonderful Chaikovsky is (!) One "how did that make it past previews" scene involving nightmare-inducing giant dancing garments. Lovely showcase for some gallingly talented kids. Weird that Gregory Jbara and Carole Shelley are nominated in such uninteresting roles.

Norman Conquests: Only saw the Table Manners section. Deft ensemble stuff, genuinely amusing though as usual, hard to feel quite a part of the uproarious guffawing of the audience. Probably I've missed what makes it special as I saw only one, but is Alan Ayckbourn a bit gimmicky often or something? One hears the other parts are less comic and more introspective. On the basis of only one part, should win some acting trophies and not Best Revival.

Exit the King: like a draft of Beckett run long, but for all that, cumulatively troubling in a way that feels true. Geoffrey Rush, clownish, tireless, sometimes appropriately uncomfortable to watch. Andrea Martin I don't think has been mentioned much but she's strange and hilarious. Susan Sarandon YMMV, I find her dull in imperious mode (even in Enchanted, but there it was fine to be an inch from camp. Here, arguably less so.) Fantastic sound design, which I don't usually notice but I was sitting right behind the guy w/ trumpet & drums. Who is hot. But that's not why.

Next to Normal: Much more than the sum of its parts. Alice Ripley is the heart of the show, and this despite very significant, Behrens-in-the-late-90's vocal issues. Under a yell, she doesn't have the support to stay on pitch for more long at all; at a yell, she mostly does. And yet...she's good. She's Kunst. What she's working with has undergone a lot of revision, apparently used to be a lot more cutesy and a lot less dire. The only parts that feel off now are the remaining winks and nudges. It's not a happy show, but it claims a few honest, uplifting moments. The lyrics falter with some regularity, but the book and the music hold it together. Good supporting cast, Jennifer Damiano in particular. Hilariously needless shirtless scene for hot, reasonably talented Aaron Tveit presumably intended to rake in the queens by word of mouth.

Mary Stuart second viewing: still fucking splendid. Pity we won't get to see if it wins best revival, those of us at home, since apparently the broadcast has jettisoned a number of minor awards for such as the writer and director in favor of, I kid you not, excerpts from Jersey Boys and Mamma Fucking Mia, if the Post is to be believed. Jeez, why not Phantom? I'm sure there's still someone in Paramus who would see it and go "a Phantom?! At the opera?! Why that sounds too good to miss!"

33 Variations: Now closed. Fine star turn for Jane Fonda, backup band more hit or miss. I saw that Zach Grenier was playing Beethoven but flashed on Adrian Grenier, and at least it was less hilarious than that. The history lesson parts fit awkwardly with the parts about intellectual curiosity, the interpersonal expense of having lofty goals, and so on. And when I say they fit together badly, what I really mean is the latter is good and the former mostly not. You'll have to forgive me if I use the rotten descriptor "heartwarming" to describe the work of Susan Kellerman in her supporting role, but I think it's apt and the internal thesaurus seems to have snapped decisively shut for the evening.

Ok, I think that's surely enough. I saw a couple of other things but who cares, Edith? I read what Ben Brantley said today about Coraline and, Seagull review notwithstanding, I think he's a fair and intelligent critic, and I suspect I just am not the right audience for Coraline. God knows I could fill a page here mocking Neil Gaiman but this is not that kind of blog!

Next up: um? I dunno. Vague thoughts of attending Les Huguenots, Les Hugues to its friends, at Bard. Maybe some kvetchy liveblogging of despair during the Antoinette "My Career is Being Immortalized through Hourlong Commercials for Jukebox Abba Musicals? I'm Glad I'm Dead" Perry awards broadcast.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quelle belle vie!

I don't know if you ever saw this film Aria, I think curated (if that's the right word) by Ken Russell...most of it I recall as schlocky or tiresomely provocative, demonstrating no perceptible understanding of what we love about opera and how it would look if the little stage we each have in our head were projected outward, but this one segment popped into my head this evening for no reason I can figure. I find it exquisite. Hope you do, too. And yeah, that's pre-famous Tilda Swinton. Vocals by Madame Price.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The (passive-aggressive) revolution continues...

Yep, still on the company clock, and so many shows left to have frivolous opinions about!

The one that keeps poking its nasty little snout in my ear, asking to be prattled about is God of Carnage, somehow the toast of the Great White Way*. Which is probably appropriate in some desperately grating way, because I think it's exactly the sort of thing that makes a certain segment of the populace you may or may not have any patience for exhale sharply and say "well I mean really isn't Broadway just a bunch of plays about white people's problems?" (and then they have to run along to Problems in Theory: Kristeva through My Hairdresser Who Has One About Everything, and so the discussion ends there.) Honestly, I don't mind if they do take that kind of shot, as the play doesn't stand up to much better. Mock profundity by means of flitting reference to existential concerns may seem to do when you're discussing a class of people nobody in the audience believes to have much of an inner life in the first place [in the adapted version, Cobble Hill stroller jockeys], but at times it seemed to me nobody would give this thing a second look if the cast weren't so game and able.

What it mostly is is** an easy and not especially novel potshot at the thin veneers of civilization marriage and child-rearing depend upon. What else it is is sure-handedly entertaining, here and there brutally funny and, again, gifted with a cast that has seemingly rolled up their sleeves and committed to a roll in the mud for four, in a way it's tough to find fault with even if it's not the very highest quality mud. Gandolfini manages to be a compelling brute without being You-Know-Who; Marcia Gay Harden flinches not once from being head-explodingly irritating; Jeff Daniels somehow manages to make a stock character of modern civilized villainy freshly loathesome and kind of hot; and Hope Davis (the least horrific of them all except that she gets to deliver the show's one rather-too-vile stage effect) maybe does just the opposite trick, slowly revealing that the best of them isn't so by much. But if I'm not wholly in the amen chorus for a play about how parenting has come to be the destroyer of people's ability and will to tame the id and connect, something has gone awry.

Nearby at the Broadhurst, Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter do quite the opposite trick, dusting the cobwebs off a play one feels certain would be edifying in the forehanded and backhanded senses of the word in lesser custody. Schiller's Maria Stuart, yep--the source of Donizetti's libretto, I believe, is not what I would have guessed would be the most exciting thing on Broadway but I'm in as much of a position to say so as I ever have been after a monthlong TDF binge, and I will say so. It's made of win, marinated in win, garnished with win. McTeer and Walter are riveting (I do think Walter's role is the harder in some sense; fewer opportunities for the acting equiv of a D flat in alt or a well inflicted glottal stop) and their single, apparently apocryphal confrontation lives up to any operatic reading of the same scene. Purists may find the Konzept--men in business suits, ladies in Ren Fair garb--distracting, but I was on board, emphatically so. It is, by the way, very frequently on TDF, so you can probably see it for $35 though good seats are not guaranteed.

Great, that only leaves like eight shows to write about, and then I'm going to Coraline tomorrow if I didn't mention. I'm like Lucy at the candy factory here, not that I'm complaining.

*if we are to go by where I ended up getting a ticket, which was in a weird little corner behind a railing. Because it's not like I walk around the theater district with a pad going "hey pardon me but what show is the talk of people like you, you big tourist?"

**is