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.]

The exact point of intersection between the terrible and the sublime

Happy Turkey (Lurkey) Day, if such you celebrate.

I'm up at an unaccustomed hour--yes, Tallulah, there are TWO five o'clocks in the day--to catch a train. Brain not really functioning but I'm telling myself later on I'll post about a couple of things I've seen lately.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A wondrful tnor.

Aleksandrs Antonenko, my new musical crush.

Yeah, I know. I'm not remarkably writish lately.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Look, internets, if you're not going to cough up a photo of the exact moment from the prison drag pantomime I am after, how am I ever going to slip in the caption SURPRISE BUTTCZEKS?

Tags: only potentially funny if you like(/tolerate) Janacek AND LOLcats.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Ok the blogging muse is not really with me lately but here's what I gots on two recent performances.


So there I was in the downstairs gents' room at the Met (oh that is not where this is going, you beast! We are not that kind of blog!) when it suddenly and insistently popped into my head that perhaps if I started humming "a-amen a-a-a-a-a-a..." the next fellow would get a look of guilty complicity on his face and then pick up the tune and then, two urinals down...well, no. I didn't try it. I think maybe that kind of thing makes one look a tiny bit not right, as Southern parlance has it. (In the south you actually pronounce the italics when you say it.) You'd pretty much have to get to the urinal stand? just as a bunch of other giant raging geekosauri were answering the call.

Oh this was at Faust, if that wasn't clear. Sorry for starting the story in the middle except that there isn't that much story. A kind friend helped us get good seats; we had both liked the production a lot last year and wanted to see it with what was, on paper, a better cast. Well, sometimes things look good on paper for the excellent reason that they are good.

Ramon Vargas is 49. I don't know if this is a tenor's prime--really I'd expect it's past it, but he's in fact quietly sidestepping the idea of prime by finding the virtue in each era of his voice. Though he sang the ferocious Rosenkavalier aria earlier in the season without much problem, it no longer sound wholly comfortable when he sings in the heights. (Though if they cast him as Usnavi in In the Heights I would definitely go.) And indeed, he dodges the pair of C sharps in the duet here, but it was all around a more appropriate sound than Giordani made last year. The phrasing was elegant if more placid than passionate, and the voice itself healthy and sweet. Like bananas.

Borodina often strikes me as a singer who knows that her instrument is one that pavlovianally produces the word "opulence" in later descriptions and rests a little on her laurels. This is not a bad thing. Maybe I've never heard her entirely let loose, but I think of her Dalila, her Laura, and so forth with a nostalgic reverence that will be insufferable in about fifteen years. My first indelible memory of her is a radiant high whatever-note-ends-the-Inn-Scene-in-Boris-Godunov. Fortunately, this took place in a production of Boris Godunov. Unfortunately, I was rushing out the door to find the fabled Opera Quiz. Also a little unfortunately, that range hasn't really hung onto its lustre entirely since then--on dit that the chain smoking has not helped--but Marguerite is fairly safe territory for her voice, where it is now. I'm curious what rep she'll settle into over the next few years, and won't be at all disappointed if it's heavier, lower, Germaner.

Yeah, it was kind of giggle-inducing when her giant head first floated across the screens of this rather beautiful production, but the thing about LePage as opposed to a more traditional envisioner of stagecraft is that it isn't so disruptive if something's a little funny. It really does fuck things up some if you get a nervous laugh in the middle of a deeply literal production. Here, it passes, one of many moods. And the next one is awe, because she's something about the phonetic placement of vowels in Russian vis-a-vis French, maybe, that makes for a frequent lack of perfectly idiomatic utterance but an extra edge in depth and pathos. And though I've said before she sometimes seems a little less than convinced by the material she's presenting (a slight edge of sarcasm in Gioconda sometimes maybe?) she never phones it in.

Ildar Abdrazakov had the stiffest competition in terms of last year's cast. John Relyea is at the very least extremely competent in this rep (I hear people say they find him uninspired; I can't say I do) but if I had to choose...I think I'd probably pick Ildar. Do you suppose when he and Olga started going out the Russian tabloids called them Ilga or Oldar? (Sometimes I like to imagine people in other countires give a fuck about opera.) He manages, by the verve of his singing, to make you almost forget that hat. That pen-hat combo. He sings the WTF out of the hat, I'm saying. It's an extremely comfortable fit vocally and characterologically.

This particular night we witnessed a slightly nerve-shattering tech fail, one of the many screens having a dramatic issue with authority, but it was near the end and didn't cause a great delay. It was jarring (and loud) but it was a total "on" night at the Met and I don't imagine it ruined the opera for anyone.


Say, remember that time we all got together and improvised a fugue of "Why should I go to Turandot when the Met is having notable trouble assembling a worthwhile cast?" Well, I am improvising a countersubject to that fugue, and it goes a little like this: the Met has just assembled a fantastic cast for Turandot, fuck yeah! Right, I know, "fuck yeah" is not a line I can pull off.

I'd have to look to see if Lindstrom has any more in the run, and I'm sort of not having one of those days where an extra keystroke seems acceptable, but listen. If she is, go. Me, I did this whole Freudian parapraxis thing where I almost made myself late for the show because who wants to sit through a whole scant 1:45 of opera, even if it's like seven once the Met gets through with intermissions, when it's just going to be a rueful rehashing of the other casts they've gotten together for T'dot because somebody's gotta sing it?

I'm thrilled I did not. Reason #1 may be Giordani. I am finding lately that the radio accentuates the stuff about his voice that rubs me wrong (though the fact remains that his interpolated C at the end of Act II owes rather too much to a 1973 Buick trying to start in the winter of 2001.) In house it is strong, fearless, go-for-broke singing. Yes, I'd like him to have a few lessons with my roommate Abe from college* or maybe a drag queen about how to make more of a gesture out of gonging a gong, but I can find nothing else, besides that one C, to fault him with. Terrific stuff. Even oversang the irritating decision to place some brass in Score Desk at the end. Also, while I'm on the subject of tenors, I think we had a sorta pre-celebrity sighting, to wit: the terribly promising Michael Fabiano.

Maria Poplavskaya, as you have read elsewhere, has a voice that's strangely matched to Liu. Essentially a success in the role, and in its distance from complete success for me lay the suggestion that this voice may well be important to us in coming years in other roles. If memory serves, she's thought to be the replacement for Trebs in the Decker Traviata, when and if it comes to us, and I for one can't wait. A Friend of This Blog (well ok, just a friend of mine) once succinctly and mercilessly dismissed a certain soprano currently approaching ubiquity--alright, Diana Damrau--saying "you walk down the halls of a conservatory and hear exactly that sound coming from about a dozen practice rooms." Poplavskaya is the negative embodiment of that statement. It's a sound with face, with a certain built-in room for darkness and introspection. I'm very curious to hear more.

Lindstrom is a slightly more complicated case, I guess. It's hard to think what rep she's going to kill in, outside of Turandot, in which she's certainly quite exciting. The couple of growly utterances in the role, as earlier noted, are in an underdeveloped range, but it's tough to get too sad about it when the Turandot notes are so big and so bright, delivered with such a lack of the "oh shit am I gonna make it?" quality of basically everyone else I've ever heard sing it. (It isn't wholly the quality of the voice, you know, that makes the primary soprano in the run a poor choice. Some of it is the palpable deer-in-the-headlights-of-an-oncoming-orchestra effect, that could only add to the character of Turandot if you have a sort of Lars von Trier sensibility.) Anyway Lindstrom's bio notes that she sings some thing that might be really great and some I'm not so sure about, but whatever the case, she can certainly go around now telling anyone she chooses that she was at the center of a brilliant night of Puccini singing on this august stage.

It remains a privilege to hear the voice of Samuel Ramey, the moreso (do I totally overuse that construction? I think so. I'll shop around for an upgrade but not right now.) when he's singing a role where the sonic treadmarks of time are not only easily excused, but appropriate.

Next up: Z Mrtveho Domu!

*no shit, if he had a cigarette in his hand, turning on the light was like a whole scene out of Now, Voyager.

Monday, November 02, 2009

From the shallow end of the think tank

I get these ideas lodged in my cranium and they won't go away.

So you know how singers do Tribute to [Extremely Dead Singer] albums? Dawn Upshaw's Jane Bathori thingy, Bartoli helling around with Maria Malibran, Joyce DiDonato's recent...

Wait stop there. Joyce DiDonato, you say? Me, I mean. You probably didn't say it unless you read out loud. Say, what if she were to do another tribute album where, well I'll give you hints and you can guess the theme.

1) She's wearing a white wig on the cover that follows the Texan maxim: the higher the hair, the closer to god.

2) She might also be wearing what one friend of the tribute-object termed "appalling American clothes" if she can be persuaded to doff her habitual good taste in favor of a gamine sense of kitsch.

3) Highlights of the disc might include (oh I'm just giving it away now) Berio's divoon folk song do-ups, a set including Pergolesi's "Ticket to Ride," and perhaps a bonus track of "Surabaya Johnny."

C'mon, you know it'd be great. I can't help it. It's my ipod's fault. You start going down a road of "mezzo...keen intellect...sense of adventure" and where does it get you?

[With all due apologies to the object of this game of vocal paperdolls, which we all like to play.]