Thursday, April 30, 2009

Area Musician

So I was on the A train and there was a subway musician which can be a headache (percussion groups! hi, this is a really small space!) or a delight (mariachis!) and as it turned out, she was swell. And I gave her like the world's most lousy subway musician tip because I didn't have change so I'm making up for it by making sure a couple more people see her. 'atsall.

[ETA: I didn't make the vid, btw. Just embedded it.]

Monday, April 27, 2009

Go, Hagen! Get the ring back!

I have been noodged (never know how to spell that) to write a few syllables about Gotterdammerung. Since everyone has seen this production elevnty times, I won't go on and on about the visuals, only I must pause to recant. I've always bitched about the Schenk Walkuere, or at least since 1997 I have, but the minute everything went kablooey after that very long sit that comes two operas later, I thought, mortifyingly: gosh, it's too bad they're not keeping this around. Ah well, you don't come here for consistency, now do you? MFI is all about Berlinian hedgehoggery, in a (hedge)pig's eye. Except I totally got that backward.

If I begin to review post-curtain ovations, you may put me out to pasture*, but it's hard not to comment on the extra fervor that attends Ring curtain calls. Especially for Levine, of course. But all around, they're preposterously loud, and why shouldn't they be? Makes it feel as if there's a cult of the Ring, or perhaps a cult of Levine, and really I do think everyone deserves a cult at some point, or most people.

Am I making it up that the loudest of all, among the singers, was for Jon Tomlinson? Loudest anyway if you do some math involving inverse proportionality and a 1-to-10 scale of how big a putz the character is. Tomlinson's vocal estate was described to me at intermission as "post-vocal" and it's hard to work up many objections to this, but depending on your disposition toward everything-but-the-paper-fan-moustache** villainry, it's...I find it impossible to take my ears off him, you know? He has that old school vocal patina that just sounds right to me in Wagner. And I guess to some other people as well.

Hey should I ruin something for you forever? Would that be fun? It was also pointed out to me at selfsame intermission that there's this one part where it really sounds a lot like the chorus is singing "Go, Hagen! Go, Hagen! Get the ring back!" If you hear it now, it you will never unhear it.

If only Christian Franz had been given such a pep talk. Not to say he was a failure in the role or anything, but he had certain indisputable inadequacies. Everything was spent by Act III and of course Wagner, being something of a prick even if you don't count the whole holocaust thing***, wrote Siegfried's most lyrical music to be sung after three hours of basically beating his lungs against a rock. Still, some manage it better than Franz, whose recalling of the Forest Bird's music was, oh, moderately painful. There's a way to make this music work even if your voice is worn or ugly to begin with, viz: Bernd Aldenhoff in the Knappertsbusch Gotterdammerung I basically never shut up about. Franz seemed maybe to have given up by Act III, took a very cursory lunge at the (terribly unfairly scheduled) C, sang Siegfried's death like walking on a broken wasn't enough.

The thing about Dalayman is that if the whole voice were like the top fifth or so, she'd be so good that even the most intolerable opera queens would have to stop wailing for long enough to listen. It's big and solid and warm, and she throws it around with considerable emotion. It must be said, though, that it fades rapidly in some of the mid range that's always up against a squadron of trombones or something in Wagner. Anyway, taking into account this limitation, it was a satisfying account of the role and makes me wonder in a not very specific way about other roles she might be great in. Sadist that I occasionally am, I think immediately of the roles that frequently get croaked on top like maybe Elektra but that would have the same problems. Just i wish someone with an unhideous voice would sing it, right? Last time I heard it at the Met I think it was Schnaut. 'Nuff said.

And with that, though there are more singers who contributed importantly to a B+ afternoon of opera, I am basically out of commentary. And out of season, come to think of it. Over the summer there's bound to be something, though, unless there isn't. Glimmerglass can be so unalluring these days, though the Caramoor Semiramide is of some interest--not least because everyone keeps pointing out to me that Brownlee is an exceptional artist, and I keep missing him. I don't know. Feel free to suggest things. I can occasionally be coaxed out of the house.

*I know, why now? When I've reviewed everything down to the brownies, stopping short of critiquing the little paper cones from which one drinks water from the water fountains In Memorium Ezio Pinza. Which are rather difficult to detach from the stack.

**You must pay the rent on Valhalla! I can't pay the rent on Valhalla! You must pay the rent on Valhalla! I can't pay the rent on Valhalla!

***I am emphatically kidding. Antisemitism didn't begin with Wagner, and the much repeated fact that he was Hitler's favorite composer rises only to the level of trivia. Every bad person loves some good things. I'm sure W. had a favorite composer. Ok, bad example.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

For Armer Jacquino, who certainly isn't required to like it, especially on account of it never happened

The bit where everyone more or less collectively loses their shit isn't until the last four minutes or so. You'll know.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Third pass or so

Rather than editing again, I'm going to add a couple of interesting details from the papers that came with the DVD. I'm going to call them the press kit because it makes me feel glamorous! Anyway I didn't look closely at it, at first, and it gives some more info on what's coming up for the singers.

Yes, ok, I'm harping on Michael Fabiano because he was my favorite. There. I've admitted it. Well according to this, he's in Stiffelio next season at the big M.

Amber Wagner won a Tucker Career Grant. That's actually not from the provided materials; rather from an email from the proverbial little bird.

Ryan McKinny is doing Oedipus Rex with the L.A. Phil and Figaro at the Aspen Music Festival.

Kiera Duffy is in Atlanta's Akhnaten. Which I think already happened and was completely sold out, so don't go having ideas about the south, ok?

Matthew Plenk sang Iopas in Toyens with the Boston Symphony what looks like last season. I mean, that is a seriously lovely aria, so go Matthew Plenk. And Boston Lyric has him as Don Ottavio.

Aright, anyway.

The Audition

Maybe I'll do a little liveblogging of this screening copy of The Audition I was kindly sent.

Granted, I'm the ideal audience for this. The auditions are a highlight of my year, and the year documented in the film was probably the best I've attended.

Ok amusingly they just showed one of the singers, I didn't see which, reading The Power of Positive Thinking, because it is 1957. I'm not sure why that makes me laugh, but it's also an extra glimpse of how terrifying it must be to be 25 and see the house from the stage.

Some reasons to watch:

-attaching a face not only to singers you may remember watching in competition, but also to behind-the-scenes Met folks who serve as blank screens onto which crazy opera fans project their frustrations. Like oh hey, there's Peter Gelb and he's not rubbing his hands together going "Who's the skinniest?! I don't CARE who can sing!" as he apparently does in the collective feverish hallucination of many opera loons.

-attaching a non-long-distance face to singers I still recall hearing from fam circ, seeing how they sing in detail (wow Disella Larusdottir's lips shake when she sings high notes! Jesus, Alek Shrader doesn't just have a great headshot and really is that cute!) Getting to hear the traces of regional accents they haven't tamed is also fun.

-Oh, probably a great glimpse at the bowels of the Met if you live far away or just never had that autograph-hound moment in your life where you saw it in person. Also maybe a glimpse of, not to be a dick, that fakey thing singers do around each other where their niceness doesn't always cover their mutual mistrust. [ETA: which Fabiano just acknowledged. He actually spends the least energy of any of the pretending to care heaps and heaps about the others, based on this film, and he comes off a tiny bit unsympathetic for it, but perhaps his honesty ought to earn him some points. Anyway he's 22.]

-Getting to watch singers watch and react to each other's performances. The first time they show Alek Shrader singing the C's, they pan immediately to the other singers, which is hilarious.

It's sort of awful to watch Ryan Smith, of course. If you don't know, he died of lymphoma not too long ago.

Whoops, a Met dramatic coach just said "Opera is moving away from the idea that a voice is all that really that is not to say that voice is not (perhaps) the most important thing," and now the gnashing of teeth begins again. It is poignant, then, to watch Angela Meade, between clips of singing "Casta diva' and talking about her love of Callas and Caballe also acknowledging her own fear of the what are we calling it, new focus on visuals.

Did one female singer just say "go back to a drag bar and learn more"? Because that would make me laugh and maybe slightly want to buy her a drink. But I'm guessing that's not what she said.

Heh, I wonder if they should have done a little subtitle explaining lip trills. It's making me laugh. The first time I saw singers doing lip trills I was very WTF.

Ok they're completely saving "Pour mon ame" as the money shot, though some of that is just where it happened in the program. As much fun as it is to watch A.S. realize he is going to nail the Cs, it's also perhaps a little sad to see the documentary not focus at all on a couple of the other singers. Only so much time and all.

Total voyeurism to watch the judging.

And we get a "One Year Later" postlude, which is exactly what you don't get at the auditions or even after unless you're obsessive and track these folks. They're a little bit press-packety, but gratifying nonetheless. And of course by now they're another year old, leaving up to you and me and Google to figure out Where They Are Now.

You know, it would have made a lot more sense to post this yesterday. Because the theatrical presentation was today. But presumably it will be released on DVD. In which case, yeah, I recommend it.

Ok since this is the least substantial thing ever, I'll do a little of the footwork on Where Are They Now, how's that?

From the CAMI website, "The brilliant lyric tenor Alek Shrader made his San Francisco Opera mainstage debut this season, replacing an indisposed Ramon Vargas as Nemorino in two performances of L’Elisir d’Amore." From my neurotic skull: I wish he still had the floppy bangs no longer in evidence on his head shot.

From Laifer Artist Management, Michael Fabiano sang Rinnuccio at La Scala (as alluded to in the film), sang Rodolfo in Kansas City and Pinkerton in Colorado and Jesus Christ must be 24 now or 25. I don't like to play favorites at the auditions but I would really like to hear him. He impressed me a lot.

Angela Meade's website says she was scheduled to sing Elisabetta in Devereux in Dallas but I'm wondering if that happened since Dallas Opera's website lists Papian and I'm having trouble finding other reference to it. She's at Caramoor this summer in Semiramide and she did make her real Met debut in Ernani when, er, what was the story? Did Radvan cancel? "Our own" Hans Lick wrote it up as a fairly bumpy start but by the end, says he, "suddenly we’re across the border into Verdiland: a full-sized deep and even spinto of great beauty with good top and great passion."

Amber Wagner seems to be in Chicago's young artist program still? I'm having a little trouble telling. Her Myspace page has a "Tacea la notte" I think from Lyric's summer concert in Grant Park that reminds me what an impression her voice made at the auditions concert. It sounds like maybe she's going to be short on top and then she isn't. It's live and really quite good.

Hey doesn't Kiera Duffy remind you of the girl who calls Mena Suvari "a total prostitute" in American Beauty? Anyway she's with IMG which is kind of a big deal, right? And she seems to have done some interesting stuff like Boulez and Elliot Carter.

Matthew Plenk you heard from offstage if you went to Tristan last season. He's in Lindemann, and you know what? I think I am now crossing the line from "skimpy write-up" to "someone shut him up," so I'm going to trail off here. I'm sure the singers I skipped will somehow bear the ignominy of not being mentioned on My Favorite Intermissions. If you know something fabulous one of the singers has gone on to do, drop me a line. All I've got left to write about this season is Gotterdammerung.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Everything But the Boy

You probably tuned in to this afternoon's Siegfried* on Sirius so I'm not breaking any good or bad news. Let's group things into surprising and not surprising.

-Surprising, to me, because I've never heard him and had to think to come up with any info about him (think he was in the Busoni thing?): Brubaker. Fantastic singing in a drag of a role. Lagniappe: from Balcony he looked like Edith "Big Edie" Bouvier Beale, which really explains everything you ever needed to know about Act I of Siegfried.

-Somewhat surprising: Christian Frantz, who I had heard turn in a tireless, high quality Tristan in concert not that many years back, kind of got sung off the stage by See Above. He wasn't bad, but he wasn't very audible in Act I (which makes the forging song kind of a dud) though he sounded considerably warmed up in the next act. By the end, he was doing some shouting, I'm sorry to say. Maybe an off day, and in any case not a catastrophe. More points for physical characterization than vocal.

-Not particularly surprising, on the basis of youtube clips: Irene Theorin. The first thing I said to my long-suffering opera-going companion when the lights came up (well, shortly after "could you believe she kept unwrapping that food for that long?!") was that I have no regrets whatsoever about not hearing Brewer, though I was looking forward to Brewer as much as the next guy not named Schenk. It's a short, intense sing, and she was ravishing. I know it's a horribly overused joke, but for some reason I can't help myself--she had me at "Heil dir."

-Not in the least surprising: Jon Tomlinson=Wagner. The extra fun here was that Schenk's design for Fafner was actually wonderfully spooky to me (in that you can't tell where Fafner begins and where the forest ends, so he might be UNDER ALL OF OUR FEET) until I realized he was also kind of reminiscent of Mr. Snuffleupagus, at which point he became hilarious. Although still creepy in a way since who the hell would drive a sword into the heart of Mr. Snuffleupagus?

-Surprising only to me, and not entirely that: James Morris' utterly affecting Wanderer, as aurally resplendent as it was heartfelt. I've long been a naysayer, but once in a while, he blows me away, and this was one of those. Not for nothing, did I just witness his last Wotan ever? Because I was just discussing with someone the things we will taunt young opera queens with in twenty years and I need to know if this goes on the list.

Next up: the big G.

*or, as my friend BAD likes to call it, "Siegfried." Nevermind, doesn't work in print, but hopefully he'll laugh when he reads it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Off Book

Very briefly noted...Teatro Grattacielo seems perhaps to be run on pocket change and good will, so far be it from me to kick them when they're down, but I caught one of three acts of their Piccolo Marat last night. Either they ran out of cash like the rest of us, or someone did the math wrong: not enough printed libretti and no projected supertitles. This would be fine for Tosca, but for a work receiving (I believe the program noted) its North American premiere, it was a more than a little problematic. All I can tell you for certain is that "Il Piccolo Marat" turns out not to be Italian for "The Little Mermaid," and actually that's more of a hunch. I can mumble nice things in a generalized way about some of the singing, but there were apparently numerous cancellations and no program inserts (or, again, not enough) so I wouldn't know quite whom to praise other than the conductor. At intermission, i.e. after the show, we played a parlor game of trying to figure out who had sung what. We think the cute guy with the slightly too long hair and the wallop of voice on him matches up to the Israeli name in the program, but could not be certain. Yes, the music does sound worth further exploration, much more modernist than Mascagni's single* familiar work, but not as abstract art, I'm afraid...

*unless you're a big Magda fan in which case you probably know Iris backwards and forwards, and really Iris is divine, though in that case I always tried to read the libretto through my fingers.

Friday, April 03, 2009

You Really Ought to Give Iowa a Try!

Trouble, indeed! Ok, yeah, I really wanted to post "Iowa Stubborn" but for some reason the versions that exist on youtube range from handheld footage of community college productions to this perplexing vid of two high school boys singing their own arrangement in gym clothes. (Maury D'Annato has been called many things, but "chicken hawk" is not among them.) Anyway, step to it, New York, lest it be writ in history that you trailed "flyover country" into the 21st century.