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 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.