Sunday, October 30, 2005


Well clearly I didn't go to Aida. I managed to get too old to stand without an income to match my decrepitude. It's not like I can't stand for four hours but doing so and enjoying myself don't so much happen simultaneously anymore.

And now the decision is whether to go lean on the old velvet what-you-may-call-it for the duration of Cosi. I am told Tuesday is the last A-cast Cosi, and really I have come to like Kozena (once I got over my suspicions of singers who are that hot.) Plus all I know of Deshorties is that one nightmarish broadcast of The Best Little Whorehouse in Ankara. I've since heard she's better in other rep, but Fiordiligi isn't exactly other rep. Less florid, no d's, and really was the most aggressively awful singing I've heard from that august stage.

In far more exciting news, I was emailed not the expected Podles Cieca scena, but instead the Seattle Siegfried Erda. The vocal majesty of it is not something I feel up to describing right now.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Saturday at the (virtual) opera

How rude is it to say to people, "yeah, this isn't really the TALKY part of the library..."?

The library is where I get my internet, at present.

And so where I am listening to Werther from the Vienna State Opera. Actually, this sounds like it may be a studio recording, only I didn't think there was one with Alvarez. Maybe it's just really good sound. Alvarez notwithstanding, this was my third choice, but WQXR is now webcasting through some AOL dealio that doesn't, as it happens, work very well. So no Villazon/Netrebko Traviata for me. And the Beeb's website sent me some infuriating message about how I don't have realplayer, which I do, and so would not be listening to their Siegfried.

Werther is slippery, for me. It contains some music I like but overall I find it a bit unengaging. My in house experience of it is limited to the revival of the baritone version for Mr. Hampson. As some said at the time, it's like going to a rehearsal where the tenor is leaving out the high notes. Did not work for me. Nor did Graham's robust Charlotte.

Maybe it would have been more fun if they had hired, like, Podles to sing Charlotte and taken a really slow tempo for the whole damn thing and pretended the whole thing was being played on a victrola that was winding down. How's that for high concept?

Alvarez has just past the first tiny test, the leap of I guess a fourth on "paradis" in the lead-up to "O Nature." To sound idiomatic, it must be done with real finesse, and it was. The thing about Alvarez that makes one want to jump up and down and perhaps squeal like a little girl is that he combines the kind of legato and precision in dynamics to make that moment work, but can bust out the big guns he'll need for much of the rest of the opera.

Charlotte is one Elina Garanca about whom I know not even if she's a mezzo or soprano Charlotte. [Time lapse.] She's a mezzo. And perhaps intriguingly unpasteurized. Let's see how this goes. [More time lapse.] Yeah she's getting a B+ hereabouts. Good raw materials, deploys them with some chutzpah. Alvarez meanwhile remains highly wunderbar, especially in soft passages. Meanwhile, this being MY virtual opera house, I'm walking out after Pourquoi and and seeing if I can get Siegfried to work now.

God, it IS pretty, wintry music.

Friday, October 28, 2005

more links

And I've added Standing Room, which I stumbled upon via Trrill (which I guess I'm not linking because it's not really about opera anymore.) Lately Standing Room looks to be much about Doctor Atomic, which makes Maury just a wee bit jealous*, as there's nothing new and out there to blog about here that I can think of offhand. Ariane probably would have been interesting that way [No, I know it's not new, but it had that certain buzz on it] but it takes a lot to drag me to the State Theater, and honestly though we hear good things these days, Renate Behle was an early cypher in my opera-going career, a Fidelio about which all I can remember is she didn't fill the hall so very well.

La Cieca's intros for Unnatural Acts are hilarious lately. I'm trying to think what it was that made me laugh out loud today, but I'll have to wait until Ms. Behrens is done having her bad dream to go back and listen. See now, Behrens. That's a singer who can sound desperate, haunted, etc. The things I want a lot of the time. And no, it's not that I require a craggy, screamy voice for these--my gold standard in the scene is Steber...

Ok, what was so funny: describing the three brothers in FrOSch as "the one eyed, the one-armed, and the....lactose intolerant."

I just put a picture from DV's website of her in the Carsen production of FrOSch. That's not, like, illegal, right? I know fuck-all about intellectual property law, so note to people who own things: please do not be with the suing. Gimme a holler if I've posted something I shouldn't have and it'll vanish.

*though, truth to tell, it's not certain I would have gone, if I lived on the other coast. The disappointment of LHL cancelling might have kept me away. On the other hand, a certain ex-boyfriend probably would have strangled me had I skipped it, in this hypothetical other universe wherein I live in California.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

sausage (canzonetta della salcice?)

Well then, I've gone ahead and created some links, led through the dark of technology by my friend with the unamplified voice. I'm happy to link to anyone who's linked to me, if I know you've linked to me. I also of course linked to "The Rest is Noise" as pretty much anyone of taste would. (Oh c'mon, that's not ass-kissing; I mean how likely is he to stumble on this mess of words?) And the Chicago Canadienne, who posts about life upon the wicked stage. And a few more. And more to come, it can be assumed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Taking Out the Middleman

La Cieca has posted a FrOSch over on Unnatural Acts that reminds me that Hildegard Behrens has to be one of the most outstanding examples ever of a singer overcoming a deeply ugly voice by singing like it goddamn well matters. p.s. who knew she could pop out a c# if she needed to!?

It has been suggested I might use hard returns. I'm not sure if this means hitting return when I reach the end of the little frame here or putting an empty space between paragraphs. How's this?

Just to prove a point, probably only to me, I'm about to do something totally absurd. I'm going to write a review of tomorrow night's Aida before I go. (I'm celebrating a new job, but unti paychecks come sauntering my way, I'm a standee again I think.) And then I'll write one after. And if they're exactly the same I probably need to take a break from the opera gig, wouldn't you say?

There was some temptation to go to a later Aida with Ataneli and Burchuladze just because Go Georgia, rah rah! but I think it had Farina or something, and my latest Met Aida with Farina (have I mentioned I have seen this production like 7 times? thanks be to jebus that I like it) was not really an aural experience I'm chomping at the bit to replicate. Plus I'm curious about Licitra and hearing a new singer is always better than hearing a known singer unless the known singer is also adored. I wish I had an accent grave for "adored."

So yes. Review in advance. Zajick remains a bit of a natural disaster, awesome to behold but with no more musicality than last time I heard her in the role, which must have been 1998. The judgment scene, well, see my recent entry on the judgment scene. Something of a 100 yard dash with some precise and ear-shattering singing. An Amneris not to make you weep but to make you run home and sign up for voice lessons in a fit of envy. And yes, I do go straight for the cookies in reviewing Aida. I've never seen a production in which Amneris wasn't the more interesting character. And yes I know the opera urban legend of [insert African American soprano with an air of grandeur] responding to a similar statement on the part of the mezzo, saying "I am about to go out there and show you why the opera is called Aida," and sailing onstage to do just that.

Crider, who I'm thinking hasn't been heard her for several+ years (did she take time off singing, I wonder?) retains her slightly peculiar technique that doesn't sound like she's going to reach the highs but usually does. It's not an extraordinary voice, but it's not a bad one, and she's basically endearing onstage. No complaints, you understand, but I don't find myself running out the door with my shirt untucked to hear her.

Ataneli [I just checked and I'm's a later perf with Delavan that has Farina. This one IS the double dose of Georgia. Have I managed to go on about Georgia and its fine culture of singing, much like that of Wales?] doesn't always sing on pitch but the voice is gratifyingly meaty.

Ok I think that's as far as I can go with this exercise in sillyness. I've never heard Licitra except on his debut recital disc during the Post-Pav marketing blitz of a few years back. Now let's see if I actually feel like going tomorrow. Otherwise we can all play like I went and this is my review.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Caught a few moments of the Liceu (I think) Gioconda as webcast. Actually my timing was horrendous and what I mostly caught was about two hours of intermission features as I waited first for the second act of the Covent Garden Fanciulla. Then I noticed the Gioconda was on, and switched over to that, cathing about thirty seconds of singing that informed me I had missed some of the best music. And then another forty five minutes of intermission features. For what it's worth, consolation-wise, I am told that "The Note" did not work out all that happily for Voigt, who nonetheless sounded swell in the screaming match with Laura. It's a bit hard to know, though. Broadcasts don't give an entirely fair picture of how a soprano whose many glories do not include a booming chest register ("totenreich!" was always a little bit of a compromise) is doing with a lowish role. Mostly, of course, I was reduced to gnashing my teeth over having missed "Voce di Donna," the Italian text of which translates to: I am Ewa Podles and I am yet again stealing the goddamn show in a five minute role. You'll note a certain similarity if you read my singing translation of Rheingold's Erda scene, but what of it? Anyway I'm promised a gigantor email containing said scene, so for the moment you can picture me pacing about like some internet-addled version of Amneris, long about the judgment scene. I suppose in some updated version she's perfectly likely to keep googling "Radames" to see if the Drudge Report has any advanced word on his sentence, instead of the whole "the stage director told me to look anguished and I am going to lose some weight while I do it" routine.
Meahwhile, the Laura, who at first impressed me as a bit loud, as the act wore on began to seem rather exemplary. I think her name was Fiorello. Wonder who's to sing it when Urmana takes her turn at the Metropolitan. Urmana has what sounds like a really healthy technique, to me, and ought to make good work of The Note, though I'm not sure she has a wrenching Suicidio in her yet, in terms of acting.
I mean to create some links soon to people who are actually knowledgeable and not just blowing smoke like me. My friend with the unamplified voice (see auv at this same site) has given me a bit of advice on how to do this.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

more mucking about in the past because I have nothing to go to for a long while

One had always ignored the older Mitropoulos Elektra because Konetzni is said to be past her prime. Konetzni is, yuh, past her prime, but there's a certain grandeur to the voice. Moreover, oh my god. Between Modl in one of about three recorded years you could really say she was in good voice and Mitropoulos being as usual a fucking genius the very least that can be said about it is it has the prettiest Klytamenstra scene ever. No, I'm not stoned. Only by virtue of being a true contralto and not a whatever-the-hell-Modl was, which involves in part not having yet developed her low register entirely since she hasn't murdered the high one yet, is Madiera a superior Mommie Dearest. Well and perhaps Modl also hasn't learned the true art of hystrionic screaming, again because she didn't have to when her voice was this (yeah, I said it) luscious. So I am left petulant and bereft when what I can only designate as The End of Disc One goes by without shrieking, hellish laughter.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

can it be?

We hear from an intensely critical source who would not say this kind of thing if it weren't true that none other than Jane Eaglen sounded like a million bucks singing from Salome on a broadcast from the Proms. Now, we don't know anyone who likes Eaglen, and can't imagine how such a thing could happen, but seriously, the friend who said this? Very hard on singers. I'm not sure why I just started we-ing, but I think I'll stop. "We hear" just seems right for this kind of thing. Well, here's hoping it's true, and something has erased the last years of lazyness and workmanlike singing. Nobody wants a high quality big voiced soprano on the scene more than I do.
I ran this by the editor over at trrill (golly it's hard to remember who in the blogosphere uses a real name and who doesn't, best to err on the side of discretion) who would have none of it. Now, said editor is of the school of thought that a good voice is a good voice regardless of rep, that fach is a very overplayed idea. I'm on the fence about this, but if he's right, then it can't just be that Jane was somehow unsuited to Wagner, and anyway I just remembered I actually own a disc of JE singing the Four Last Songs that squarely refutes any possibility that Strauss brings out her musicality. "Awful" does not begin to...
Meanwhile, it is being said on opera-l that Fleming in some interview or other ruled out, and I'm not sure whether this was explicit or implicit, singing such roles as Ariadne and Chrysothemis. Me, I find this heartbreaking. It's just what I'd like to hear her do. I have some sort of baseless certainty that singing things a bit wilder than her current rep might shake some high spirits into the gal. And I've always thought della Casa's Chrysothemis was lent a certain vulnerable beauty by the fact that it's just a bit out of reach for her. Chrysothemis [oh hey, bit of trivia: is her name ever spoken in the opera? Hint: the answer is not yes. Because that wouldn't really be a good trivium.] is one character who should not necessarily sound assured.

Scratch that. I'm talking out my sleeve. I didn't exactly have a lot of complaints about Voigt. But let's just say solidity is just one viable option.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Don't suppose I can fairly say I was watching so much as skimming a 1990 Tosca. Australia, Marton, blah blah cast you've never heard of. Marton we watch for acting, mostly, but you wouldn't know it here, which is why I skimmed. Maybe she was hemmed in by the deeply traditional production? I caught a few nice touches, and there may have been more, but on the whole it was a passel of train flinging and conventional hand gestures. Or worse yet, that thing singers do when they don't know what to do with their hands. Cute when he reaches for the divan as he's falling dead and she pries his hand off, yes.
I'm put in mind of two things, or maybe more. One is an Elektra I can remember no details of, also on video, in which Marton is indeed intense. She cries, in fact. You can see the tears. I'd like to find it some day. The other is the now sort of shopworn NYCO Tosca that I watched grow up. I notice, watching this one, that I can remember nothing about the stage business in that Tosca except for a few touches that were so tasteless they vanished before it got to City Opera. Did she do the whole soft shoe with the crucifix and candles? It wouldn't seem in character with the production overall, but I can't remember. Actually what I remember now other than the first time the Cavaradossi (Ian DeNolfo, think he's disappeared) sang the "Vittoria!" in a high school gym and almost killed us all, but a happy death, was the Tosca (Amy Johnson, also m.i.a.) who said "Everyone thinks my voice is too small for this," with a lot of disdain for people who would say it. She sang things like Tosca and Salome in places like Memphis for a few years and then, perhaps, it turned out they were right.
Suddenly I'm looking forward to the Voigt Tosca, not just because I like DV so much, but because after Tosca kind of stalked me for a few years, popping up in opera houses wherever I lived, I have avoided it long enough I like it again.
Now why are the gods punishing me by putting Villa, who I like, in the production with Millo, at whom I roll my eyes, and Voigt with Giordani who I mean I don't hate or anything...
p.s. I think, having mulled over the Sills and Sayao Manon pieces parts I listened to during the day, that I was too easy on Fleming. I think it was just not a good Manon. "Bye bye Mr. Table" should leave one limp.
Oh and another thing. I suddenly find myself thinking up the silliest haute-regie ideas for operas I think have become calcified crap, just crazy stuff. Maybe I should round up some other singers as dreadful as I am and a pianist and start some kind of Brooklyn indie opera collective. of course I'm not serious.
On the ipod: Sills sings "Je marche sur tous les chemins." Immeasurably better than Fleming, though there was just a gaudy little ornament.
Now listen, I'm so not hating on Fleming. I want no part of the backlash, with its flavor of "if I say truly horrible things about [singer], I will appear discriminating." One of the best performances I ever heard (Desdemona, Chicago, 2002?) was Fleming in good form, a number of the mid-range good ones, and a few clunkers. Her "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" makes me want to run for the hills. Fleming in my book is a one-in-a-million voice emanating from a lovely looking gal with reliable intelligence and variable taste.
On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is that Desdemona and 1 is maybe "Il Pirata" (which only my cheapness and the possibility of more bliss-inducing Fleming trills kept me from bolting) the recent Met Manon was about a 5. The weird thing is I found her to be in rather _small_ voice. The gent who kindly took me to the opera that evening agreed: "She sounds awfully tentative." She did the hideous thing she does during the little scale descending from a high note in "je marche" but this was expected. Sort of a flat-tone with a burst of volume right at the beginning of each note. I've never known what she was going for with this. It's an almost sarcastic use of vocal technique. She had some unintentionally funny stage business in St. Sulpice, a scene stupidly conceived in that it requires her to dramatically fling off a lot of costume bits that don't fit such that flinging is really much of an option. It takes her about half an hour to get the drab thing she's wearing over her hooker-red number off her shoulders and throw it impetuously on the floor? N'est-ce plus ma....hey, could you help off with this fucking thing?
Everything else worked fine. She didn't move me, but I'm not sure who would in this role. I'd love to hear Gheorghiu.
Meanwhile, Alvarez was busy rocking my world. I remember when Alvarez kind of came on the scene and there was a recital disc and all and I thought: stop marketing Latin tenors at us as if we were dogs trained to salivate at last names ending in vowels. Well you know what? I'm adding his Des Grieux to my list of "perfect role performances I have seen." In fact, right up there with Fleming's Desdemona. It reminded me a lot of John Alexander, whose D.G. with Caballe in New Orleans has long reduced me to mush. Impassioned, not over the top, dynamically nuanced. Vocally, a home run. And if he's not rather dashing, he appears to be from the distance of decent seats.
I should comment on the Lescaut only I have nothing to say, so I won't.
Jean-Paul Fouchecourt who has something of a cult following, well, I didn't really see what the fuss was about at least where voice is concerned. He was appropriately repellant, though too much was made (for my oversensitive liking) of his height.
So now if they'd trot this back out next season with Alvarez and maybe Dessay and somehow magically make La F sing Italian rep in which she does so much less squiding around, so much less noodling and sliding and toothpaste-squeezing, we'd all be happy, and by "all" I mean of course me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Belated Ariadne

By the end of the best evenings at the opera, of course, you feel as if you'd run a marathon (or in my case, a block) or else perhaps had been hooked up to electrodes. Spent. So, nu, this Ariadne...not an electrode evening. But with electrode moments.
The production is what it is, and either you love it or you hate it, except really it's easier to do both because the prologue is such a Zeffirelli "Oh Look! A Staircase!" affair whereas the opera itself is just...dreamy. My own fantasy is that they'll scrap it eventually, not because I'm that tired of it, but just you know I've seen it twice--nothing compared to my endless viewings of the Aida, but still--and get Carsen to make a new one. And while he's at it, an Orfeo, and a Jenufa, and for good measure a Beatrice di Tenda and perhaps Shaniqua di Mill Basin. You see.
And in the new Ariadne, they'll retain Damrau for sure, because she's not perfect, but as close to perfect as I think we're likely to hear, and I'm grateful to have heard her. Sort of a plump voice for Z, more in the vein of Berger than Dessay. Alright, the trills are not trills, as the girls around town are saying. But she did a kind of wag on the D in the rondo. Points were awarded. And beyond all this, and ignoring a little the way she futzes with the vocal line just a little too much, for vocal effect, there is her stage comportment. It is a satisfying mix of well observed gesture and an apparent gladness to be singing. It is intoxicating. Me, I do like a Zerbinetta with a sad or knowing side, but that's really for the couch and not anyone else's concern.
Villars was a marvel, also, in spite of...well, let's be honest, BECAUSE of the tight-rope element of his performance. Reportedly in all performances he conked out right at the very end, but everything else was jaw-dropping. A singer friend I ran into told me he's been singing it for seven years. It's probably time to let someone else do it, even if not so well. It just can't be good for the guy's long-term prospects.
And so to Urmana, ending the many year reign of Ariadne Incorporated, aka Madame Voigt. I must admit now, and I hate to, because I am an old and loyal fan, that I never felt quite satisfied by her Ariadne. Which of course means, as opera queens are fickle, awful creatures, I now miss it. Urmana's Ariadne was in some ways better, in some ways worse. More solid on bottom, it goes without saying. Less so on top, same story. There was more acting going on, but since I imprinted on Schwarzkopf, nobody really ever satisfies me because none of them seems haunted. Nobody's "Es Gibt ein Reich" convincnes me she'd really be absolutely content to die at the end of the aria. Voigt certainly never did, but I guess, superficial that I am, what I miss is those goddamn high notes that felt like they were aimed at YOU, even if you were in family circle.
The less said about Graham, the better. Because going on and on about why one dislikes a singer everyone else dotes on is a dull sort of neurosis. Suffice it to say, I really miss Mentzer, whose composer was one of the most sincere creations I have ever witnessed, and one of the most prettily sung as well.
Ok, in the spirit of full disclosure, I only started this blog so I could leave a mean and nasty comment on parterre. But as long as it's here, I guess I'll write about opera, when I go.