Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Catch-all 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?)


armerjacquino said...

You were *nearly* effusive enough about Miah Persson, but not quite, I'm afraid. Go back and say she's brilliant.

Nina Persson, of course, would be the Marschallin of one's dreams in many ways, although I'd worry that she didn't have the top b.

David said...

Well, that's the first Nico Muhly piece I've heard, too, and while I like his blog, I was resistant to another Glass. This is better than that, though it ain't no Adams 'Gnarly Buttons'.

A friend of mine talks about the 'hook' so many contemporary composers disdain - something to hold on to among the new effects. Very important.

Miah Persson is perfect and, yes, personable in the Carsen production from Salzburg. Looks like Renee needs uncorseting for that, and apparently was so for the Paris one, too. The film of her Countess in Carsen's Capriccio completely won me round to the new notion that she might actually be a lovely person. Her Marschallin at Covent Garden was rather repellent, and her Arabella ain't great but, yes, put her in a 40s dress and let her connect and she's wonderful.

Schwanewilms, though, is the Marschallin of all times - and she looks so lovely in a 1950s number. The camera adores her.

squirrel said...

Nice, Maury. I liked reading this. We had very very similar impressions. I too felt the tedium of Act three and took it very hard, especially as I looked at my cell and realized it was nearly midnight. (Could they not cut the crap with Ochs right after Marschallin accuses him? I wish he'd just go away so we could get on with the Trio!)

I don't know if Persson is really the ideal Sophie, I think of the part as more of a soubrette. A real ditz, to be frank. And I find Persson to have slightly too large a voice, such that I was worried a little about "Wie Himmlische nicht Irdische...". But she sure is a looker!!!

As for a more edgy staging: I felt that, even within a "traditional" staging like ours, they could have done more to accentuate the prim, stuffy, dressed-up world vs. the intimate, sexy, boobs-hanging-out-of-the-bed-while-Octavian-gives-Resi-head kind of realism. Just me?
All in all, Rosenkavalier is a delight anytime you've got remotely plausible casting, and I found it both comforting and exciting.

David said...

Let's not forget Sophie is what the Marschallin was at her age, and a girl of some spirit; as I think Armer J pointed out elsewhere, it's much more plausible if there's a resemblance between the two (also helps with Jenufa and Kostelnicka, viz Silja and Roocroft). In McVicar's first staging in Scotland, the two ladies had identical dolly wigs.

Agreed, squirrel, Rosenkav is the greatest joy in some department or other, though I really groaned under the combined ponderousness of Renee and Thielemann at Covent Garden.

squirrel said...

i guess I should have said, "rosenkavalier is a pleasure whenever the casting is plausible.. and the conductor is not a ponderous pedant!" Thielemann was one of the few people I've encountered that made Parsifal sound even ponderouser!

manprano said...

I *adore* the idea of some sort of trial by condescension as aspiring divi suffer through a masterclass from Imogen Heap. If you can make it through the ordeal, then you can go on to be a decent opera singer, as well as produce your own aria collection (vocalizing all the orchestral parts and processing them to unrecognizability with Garage Band).

Anonymous said...

Funny - the beginning of the Muhly piece sounded as if he was playing with Mozart's 'Gran Partita'.

Maury D'annato said...

Oh come on now gurlprano, it would not be condescending. Especially if it were Regina. All I'm saying is that pop singers, I think because there are others in their field who sell a house strictly on the basis of extramusical appeal, often learn a better balance of musicality and that indefinable theatricality that makes a person the focal point the eye finds on a stage. I don't see pop singers do their thing much, because I'm a dorkasaurus rex, but I have noted this quality both in Bjork (whose music I don't really care for) and Regina S. I feel it somehow involves a bodily connection to the music, but that's vague. I'll think about it and try to be more precise at some point.