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.


rapt said...

Relieved to get your trusted opinion on Lindstrom, Maury (or Lindstrom-through-the-airwaves, anyway, which was how I was hearing her too). I thought she was great--e.g., loved the sense of actual human emotion in In Questa Reggia, and loved not having to worry about the high notes--but the bulk of the parterre comments made me tremble to speak my pleasure. (Was glad, too, for the in-person Podles review; she's only an unheard legend for me, but I love reading eloquent descriptions of such voices, for some weird reason.)

stewball said...

Well, she does have that Pique Dame Countess in Barcelona coming up. The additional presence of Elena Zaremba and Stefania Toczyska in the cast suggest that the word "cavernous" might be utterly essential, as might "spelunky".

I adored this review. The one-two combo of Madame's singing and your writing about it is a great example of Symbiosis in Art. In fact, I can't wait till someone asks me "What is an example of Symbiosis in Art?" because now I will have an answer. I'll notify you just as soon as that happens.

Anonymous said...

y'uns = Pittsburgh

Ernani Involami said...

Seeing Podles, Zaremba and Toczyska on the same bill makes me thing Bartoli unearthed a Malibran version of Rosenkavalier where they all hit low a flats in the trio.

I saw Podles a few years ago as the Marquise in Fille. I enjoyed it, but I regret not seeing her in a role that is more Podlesy.

Maury D'annato said...

rapt, I hope you get to hear EP. I'll probably post some little addendum after hearing Lindstrom in-house, though one's nth production of Turandot is not always much to write about in any depth.

Maury D'annato said...

Stewball, trying to do the math here. If Podles is the old lady, then someone is Polina I guess (Zaremba presumably) and then Toczyszka is...ok I don't know that opera well but can't think what's left. Daphnis?

Maury D'annato said...

Anonymous: thanks for the dialect help.

EI: well, one derives some pleasure from hearing them at all I guess? I heard Rysanek exactly once, as Klytamnestra, not exactly a Rysanecian staple, but at least I heard her.

Jack Johnson said...

What a beautiful piece of writing this is! I like the breaks in your usual "voice" -- the gentle ironic detachment and carefully achieved guilelessness -- to express your adoration for EP, and the "melancholia of the moment." Really lovely.

stewball said...

Actually Toczyszka is playing the Governess, whose sole purpose is to tell Zaremba to shutup because her singing is bothering Podles. It's pretty deluxe casting, even given her veteran status, so I figure she must own a condo in Barcelona or really relish the thought of delivering this particular message. The Polina generally sings Daphnis, though I think that at this point Zaremba's best role in this opera would probably be Tomsky.

y2k said...

Were you at the Friday night or Tuesday night performance?

I attended the Sunday matinee, and was a bit surprised by all the raves in the Boston newspapers.

I thought Podles was good, not great. I've never heard her sing live before, so I have nothing to compare with. It sounds to me her voice changes depending on the register, so during parts of the opera when she had to sing a wide range, her vocal quality changed as well.

Amanda Forsythe did a great job, but she needs to work on the volume a bit. I was in the nosebleed (back of mezzanine) and could barely hear her.

Yeghishe Manucharyan was terrible, IMO. He muddled through many of the notes, and sounded tight when he sang the high notes. But then, I'm partial to Florez.

Maury D'annato said...

y2k: on the whole, I'm going to file this under "we hear what we hear, and we like what we like." I don't write to convince anyone because I don't think I can or should.

I'll address one point, though. In an interview in 1998, Podles said: "And if I sing with three voices, it's because it is impossible to sing over three octaves with the same voice - you can't sing a high C the same way you sing the low C three octaves down. ..I often hear that my chest notes are too forced, too heavy, too coarse, but that's the voice I was born with, grâce à Dieu. I can't sing differently, it's me."

I think she has a point. Find me a singer who sings in three octaves with the same color, and I'll be fairly surprised. People seem to note this effect in singers as a credit if they like them--"her blazing top notes, her smoky low register"--or a flaw if they don't like her--"it's like three different singers!" So, while I don't question your failure to be blown away by her, this particular critique strikes me as a touch specious. And, FWIW, I think you'd have noticed it less as little as five years ago. The lady is 57 years old, it bears mentioning. Tebaldi retired from the stage at age 51, I believe. Ponselle at 42...

Cruz said...

Maury, I really felt the excitement of the trip for you. Great writing. I saw EP in San Francisco as the Princess in Suor Angelica and was amazed at her voice and her presence. I'm sorry to have come to her rather late, as she nears the end of her career. Can you believe that the Princess marked her San Francisco Opera debut? Criminal.

Maury D'annato said...

Cruz, great role to see her in, though, I imagine. FWIW her Met debut went badly, by her own account, and then she wasn't asked back here for 25 years, and then in the comprimaria role, albeit a plummy one, of La Cieca. Glad you enjoyed this account.

sfmike said...

I loved your account also. Heard Podles sing with the San Francisco Symphony about ten years ago in "Alexander Nevsky" and instantly became almost as rabid a fan as you. It took another ten years for her to show up in San Francisco again, though, as the Princess in "Suor Angelica" at the opera this fall, but she proceeded to steal the show yet again, playing the part with such understated, magnetic malevolence that taking the poison seemed a sensible thing for Angelica to do.