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.]


armerjacquino said...

I'm kind of wondering who else one would want to see do the Trittico Trifecta. Frittoli, maybe, although I suspect Giorgetta wouldn't be much fun. Pieczonka would have the notes but not the temperament, much as I adore her.

Oh, how silly of me. Gheorghiu is perfect. Tabarro would be a shade too big for her but she'd act the hell out of it. She'd break the heart as Angelica, and her Zerlinaish past would serve her well for a cutesy but generalised Lauretta, which is all one can really ever hope for.

I am envious. I'd love to see Trittico on stage.

Oh and (cheekiness alert) since you mentioned some theatre I feel obliged to mention to anyone reading that there is a really, really good show involving some very good friends of mine on at the Brits off Broadway season at 59E59.

Plug ends.

Will said...

Frittoli is the highly moving and quite well sung Angelica of a 2008 La Scala video, with the grand old veteran Mariana Lipovsek as the Principessa.

A textual variant was used in this production; instead of the familiar passage when Angelica returns after the intermezzo, there was a rather eerie section where she names and picks all the various herbs that will combine to kill her. I don't know if it was Puccini's first thought for this place in the score that he later replaced, or if it's presented i the score as an alternate, but it was an interesting and striking episode.

Another soprano for all three parts? I don't know if she has the stamina to remain up top for all the extended passages required of Angelica, but Anna Caterina Antonacci would act the socks off all three roles and be fine for both Tabarro and Schicchi.