Monday, January 30, 2006

Ou sont les juifs d'antan?

Incidentally, speaking of Charlotte Rae, nee Lubotsky, why have the numbers of yids in the operatic ranks thinned so, I wonder idly. Gone are the days of Silverman, Ticker, Peterman, and so many more. The only name that springs easily to mind is Richard Bernstein, a singer I think very highly of but who seems only to be getting supporting roles. (I'd have been happy to hear him step in for Gunn in AmTrag, even if he doesn't have the same Shikse Goddess thing going on. He ain't chopped liver, either...he's just more the yeshivah bokher next door than the boy next door.)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

An Afterthought

So I'm wondering if anyone of my approximate age and viewing habits experienced a certain deja vu when Tsypin's Flute sets spun around to reveal what I could only take as a visual tribute to Twin Peaks: a checkerboard floor by a red curtain that looked for all the world like the Black Lodge. I realize David Lynch and opera are not fandoms with a massive overlap. (Okay and tribute implies that Mr. Tsypin' has seen Twin Peaks which is probably not all that likely.)

Current and unexpectedly delightful listening: Anny Felbermayer and Alfred Poell with the Vienna State Opera Orch under Prohaska in songs of Mahler, the Ruckert Lieder and "Songs of Youth."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tootie Voigt IS Tosca

Well, then, I've checked "hear Deborah Voigt sing the Facts of Life theme song (albeit under her breath)" off my list of things to do in life, so if you need me, I'll be dead. Only I guess I'd better stick around this mortal coil in case Podles doesn't cancel so there, I'm alive again. She did, though, and then said she always liked the kid in roller skates. Should I back up? I should back up.

Deborah Voigt sang a program of American music theater music (theater. music. theater.) for a rather unattractive looking crowd at the Allen Room this evening. It's not the kind of thing I know how to review very satisfactorily, so I'll keep my remarks brief*, but I will stick my neck out and call it an enormous success. Selections ran the gamut from inspired/unexpected (Bali Ha'i...yeah, I know, total standard but for DV? A bit out of left field, I thought) to deservedly obscure (Children of the Wind, from Rags which is not a good thing to name a musical, unless it happens to suck.)

As fags go, I'm not deeply literate in this rep, so many numbers that may in fact be old hat were fresh enough to my ears. I do suspect, though, that Cole Porter's "Come to the Supermarket (in Old Peking)" has not stood the test of time with its mortifying plinky plonky "me Chinese, me play joke" aesthetic, though it gave Voigt the opportunity to quip, "that thing's as wordy as the second act of Tristan." Freeze there for a second. That's not really a hilarious joke. Unless you've got a certain comic swagger, in which case it's pretty funny after all, and that's why it's sort of a tragedy that large-voiced lyrics spend their careers singing long-suffering ladies and goddesses and a lot of you may never get to see Deborah Voigt do something she does with real flair, except maybe in the comic song her accompanist wrote for her about how a lot of you may never get to see etc.

My friend JC used to practically spit when he talked about Eileen Farrell's jazz recordings. Inevitably he would compare them to Dorothy Kirsten's, and most often he'd end up wondering why Farrell had to condescend to the music, in his words. Now, I've heard Kirsten's jazz albums and they're pretty swell, but I've never heard Farrell's, beloved though they are of many. So, though I suspect there's some awkward parallel to be made here between those two and Fleming/Voigt in this kind of song, I've essentially wasted billions of your neurons on a paragraph that isn't going anywhere conclusive. Hate mail should be addressed to my hotmail account.

What I can say, what I did discover that maybe you knew, is that this kind of recital lives or dies by body language, almost more than by voice. It's possible it requires more theatrical skill than opera, or maybe it's just you can get away with much worse in opera because there's scenery and no microphones and besides, the bar has not been set very high when you think about what passes for acting. (Well that was just downright gratuitous, that link was. I'm surely going to hell.)

Voigt made a self deprecating remark that she was singing "outside her comfort zone," which I just have to label a big honking lie. Some gent in the elevator afterward commented specifically on how comfortable she seemed, and I couldn't agree more, and it floated a bunch of numbers I don't know that I'd go out of my way to hear again, including an oh so ribald number by Marc Blizstein called "A Modest Maid." Um, not to spoil it for you, but the punchline is she likes cock. It was premiered by Charlotte Rae**, which led to the patter about The Facts of Life. Which in turn culminated in DV, not to be confused with Diana Vreeland, promising to make "Tootie Voigt" her new stage name.

It's kind of a huge drag that Voigt probably puts more personality into this stuff than her usual fare, but I guess if she's Kunst over here and Stimm over there, we'll all find ways to enjoy both of her on the merits of each of her. She livened up some really rather staid tunes with such delight in accents and inflection and the occasional well placed belt...but in any case, having heard her intone (in "Paree" from Home Abroad) "Toujours l'amour!" I think we can put to rest aeons of opera-l speculation as to who'd get cast as La Comtesse de Lave were The Women ever set to music.

Encores, since I know you were wondering, were a piece Sondheim wrote for one of my favorite movies, Reds, and a relaxed, spontaneous "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man."

Incidentally, the Allen Room is a peach of a venue. The theater is small and the seats are pricey, but it's hard to beat the view of Columbus Circle and Central Park South. (I started to type "Prospect Park South." You can take the boy out of Brooklyn...and for god's sake I wish you would.)

*total lie, as always
**in case you didn't know, I'm the wholly unreligious and yet weirdly curatorial yid who annoyingly must know everyone's business, and yes, if you were wondering: Charlotte Rae Lubotsky. IMDB is indispensible.

Everything but a basketball hoop

Here I am typing at 12:30 a.m. on a weeknight. What on earth compels me to such behavior? Pardon me for a moment while I cut off my hands and avoid further troubles of this nature.

There, all better. No more pesky hands. Anyway.

Not fair, but something drove me to wonder:

If I spoke no German (which is almost true), and weren't reading my Met titles (which is utterly true), and didn't know The Magic Flute (which is regrettably false) what would I think this was about? I am rotten to the core for thinking it, because there are many fine productions that don't go in for, oh, y'know, representational schemes of action. But just for fun I tried it.

And I'm pretty sure after the first act, I would think it was about this goth kid who got abducted by aliens who took him to the fanciest store in the mall during a Star Trek convention.

I think any review of this Magic Flute is just bound to be production-centered, because for better or for worse, the production is absolutely overwhelming. I'm about 30/70 on the for better or for worse question. It seemed to me a production concieved with an audience in mind who didn't find The Magic Flute very interesting and needed a shitload of (extremely imaginative) distractions. And then I thought this over and decided it couldn't be right because of course I don't find The Magic Flute very interesting and the kitchen-sinkiness of things gave me a little bit of a headache so clearly I wasn't the target demo. Perhaps it's for people who don't find opera in general all that interesting? I don't mean to be needlessly negative here. I could be way off base. It's just that at several points I found myself suddenly unaware of the singing because there was so much other mishegoss, ranging from cutesy mishegoss to awe-inspiring mishegoss, to digest.

I suspect this possibility occured to me right around the time the gi-normous bears, which were a perfectly bewitching bit of stagecraft, roared in some unpleasantly amplified fashion. Almost as bewitching were they, I think, as the is-it-set or is-it-costume? winglike dealios wielded by the Sternflammende Konigin [here translated because someone finally got a clue as "Star-shimmering queen." I mean, you just can't get away with "flaming" and "queen" together at the opera without everyone getting a horrible case of the giggles.] So you see, there was much, much I liked in this Magic Flute, only it just was excessive in a way that made me want to stomp on my eyes after a while. There were enough visual chimera for four operas, including I hope one or two I like.

Of everyone, Nathan Gunn looked most comfortable in these surroundings. I'm really not in love with his singing (though for god's sake, the man is still handsome dressed as a flingin' flangin' parakeet) but I don't think he's bad either. Just a little undervoiced, especially in this solid cast, and somewhat bland as a stage presence, but very pleasant if not inspired, and in this ungepotchket* landscape, sort of cute and funny.

Who was not undervoiced is Eric Cutler, that's who. We all know the Met is rolling in excellent lyric mezzos, but I think we can maybe add Mozart tenors now to the category of voices we're not running low on. This instrument doesn't round the bends as fleetly as Polenzani's, but it has this confounding quality of undiminished softness across its considerable dynamic range. Dramatically, he looked a bit lost, but then it's possible he assumed from his costume he was making his role debut as Nanki-Poo, so anyone would be confused.

I'd like to say nicer things about Mary Dunleavy. I feel like I've heard she's reliable and hardworking and other things we like. I guess I just wasn't in the mood for this kind of voice in Pamina. A little unruly in what apparently is a deceptively grueling role--does anyone remember the Opera News interview in which Cheryl Studer and some other sopranos said they'd rather sing any number of Der Holle Raches than a single run through the g minor aria?--and not of the youthful color that makes me excuse the gal for being such a bore.

Morris Robinson has by virtue of the glorious color and presence of his voice stepped permanently into the spotlight, no? The very bottom isn't booming, but the solidity makes for pure aural gratification. And Erika Miklosa might call for a second spotlight if everything she sings is as good as her Astrafiammante. The last note of O Zittre Nicht was iffy; the rest was perfection. The measures leading up to the not so secure F (high note experts? F? F#?), the ones that make it clear Mozart was high or joking, included every single cotton-pickin' note, and the triplets in the vengeance aria were equally jaw-dropping.

You know, back in September I looked at this season as announced and thought, "What a dud!" And I'm happy to say I was wrong. It hasn't been wall to wall excitement, but it's been studded with here and there the extremely winning performance and many strong ones in between.

As a parting shot and call to arms, where is the mighty cult of Podles, and why was I able to pick, by letter, the row of my tickets with her Avery Fisher concert a month away? Come forth, you admirers of Ewa, and make this thing not get cancelled, y'hear?

*ask your bubbe what it means, and if you don't got one, ask your friend with the name what ends in -stein.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


An attentive reader brings the following items from the Times' corrections column to our notice:

A film review in Weekend on Friday about "Le Pont des Arts" misspelled a word in the title of a Monteverdi madrigal that a character sings on a recording. It is "Lamento della ninfa," not "ninja."

Is this the kind of thing Gelb has in mind to bring in younger audiences, do you suppose?

In another department....With a tip of my hat to Victor Borge, whose account of Wagner's early attempts at theater rendered me absolutely helpless with laughter when I was 17 (ou sont les neiges indeed) I am leaving the world of toy department, title-wise.

Meanwhile in the world of limericks we have been asked to contribute our limping wit to the following:

A young man from Bashkortostan
Whose wife was a Mezzosopran...

how about:

A young man from Bashkortostan
Whose wife was a Mezzosopran
Worked mostly when she did-
She was the more feted-
So he may never sing Gurneman(z)

Um, because she's not likely to sing Kundry. Get it? Well, I gave it a shot. The comments section is open and the bar has not been set very high if you're feeling in the spirit for a little lyric cage match.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

An earnest kvetch: I want my Spem TV!

< andyrooney> Have you noticed how if something is under 10 minutes you can buy it for 99 cents on itunes and if it's over, it's album only? This is sort of reasonable, I guess, except it starts seemig weird when for instance recordings of Spem in Alium range from 9:46 to 12:19 (which is a little shocking in itself) and the 9 minute one (The Sixteen under Harry Christophers, only here perhaps they are The Forty or does that sound too much like malt liquor?) is 99 cents, which is fine if you like it best, and not fine if the one with the most compelling snippet belongs to Chapelle du Roi under Alistair Dixon which clocks in at 10:07 and therefore carries a "view album" tag, like the "seasonal price" line in a menu that tells us, "if you have to ask, you can't afford it." View album isn't a price, it's a command, one would say if one talked to software. Isn't there a way, one would say if one pleaded with software, for me to buy the extra 8 seconds that put this bad boy over the top? Again, this is understandable: if a track takes up a quarter of an album, they're losing money to sell it for a buck. But, eh, why not sell it for two bucks maybe? There are limited instances in which you can buy works within cd's, but mostly if they're a set of short tracks and one longer one that's not for individual sale I think, like the "vier letzte Lieder" (retail value: $4.46! I feel like Bob Barker.) But in the case of Spem in Alium and I suspect many other things, you're on your own. I WANT SPEM and if you go quoting me around town on that, please type carefully. < /andyrooney, only I guess he wasn't so much with the sperm jokes>

Saturday, January 21, 2006

In which Maury is kind of a stick in the mud

Cannot listen to Met b'cast because I'm going to Zauberfloete on Tuesday and I have so little liking for the opera itself I'll be sick of it if I listen today. Plus it'll ruin the fun element of surprise with a cast full of people I've never heard/not heard much of. They say this Miklosa is top drawer. So hey it looked like someone was re-casting that Schreker thing I liked so much a few weeks ago and that, after I run out for cheap luncheon resources, is probably what I shall listen to today. If anyone reading is listening, feel free to drop comments about how it is so I'll know whether to be half-heartedly excited or wearily resigned.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Brand Name Recognition

I'm feeling a little guilty about the number of searches I see that lead someone to this tarty little blog that clearly was looking for a Fisher Price toy. So I think I may change the title, though I remain ever yours,

That wasn't me actually signing off. It just started sounding like the closing of a letter is all. In any case I came up with the name of the blog in thirty seconds because I was on a park bench with my laptop bumming someone's wireless. It's a long story involving Vermont, Medicaid fraud, and Romance languages. Yeah.

Someone who statively prefers to remain nameless played me the most soul-wrenching thing last night in the form of an Arabella conducted by Kraus and of course given voice by the stupefyingly awful Viorica Ursuleac. She's long enough dead I'm not softening that one up. So anyway you get a kind of aesthetic whiplash listening to it because she sounds about 80 though she was 46 when she recorded it, but behind her is the most nuanced, emotionally fraught orchestra playing courtesy of Kraus. The kind of playing that suddenly makes other readings sound black and white. We must have listened to four recordings of the duet, really the only part of the opera it requires no special effort to love.

Meanwhile for any of you that are on itunes, they still have that whole Guiglelmo Tell w/ Pav and Freni on sale for $9.99. I read about this courtesy of Mr. Chalkenteros in the comments section over at Wellsung, and couldn't resist. Surely someone will notice, so rush over there if you want it. I'm not a card carrying LP fan but he sure as hell shines in the big last act scena.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

textual healing, or: There's More than One Opera Fan with a Cell Phone in the Greater Seattle Area

Our intrepid correspondent in Seattle [who is NOT the person whose words you will find if you follow this link] says, using only his thumbs, in 90 characters or less:
Shock!Shock!Shock! Eaglen is geuinely funny in fledermaus! Yes really.

Time passes.
Ok. So we had heard that she would interpolate the liebestod into act 2 - i guess that was only opening night, because it didn't happen. Blessing or curse?

If we did not have ultimate faith in our intrepid correspondent, we would be checking his arms for track marks right about now, especially after his earlier reports that her Ortrud was genuinely frightening.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


L.A. has posted as well, but other than Manon starring Villatrebazonko, it's nothing to blog home about.

Now what about Houston, I wonder?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

As threatened

I think maybe it'll be more entertaining if I do this from memory, because I am sort of famously un-detail-oriented and I'll get all kinds of things wrong and you'll be all "but Maury, you moronic fuck, Voigt is not either singing her first Papageno," and we'll all have a good laugh.

So. Things I want to see in the coming season after all these mouth-watering press releases of the last week or so only I probably won't because in the words of Hedwig, travel exhausts me, plus anyway who's got the greenbacks?

[Please note, two of the links are to pdf files, so if that crashes your browser or anything...]

Book I
Reasons to go to Chicago:

1) Voigt disproving my assertion that on August 4, 2001 (DV's birthday; hoped everyone would spontaneously burst into "Happy Birthday" during curtain calls but my vision was apparently not shared) I was hearing her one and only Salome. She sings it in Chicago, lookin' all fit, in a staged production with the often enjoyably gutsy Judith Forst as mumsy and Alan Held as pops. Zambello and Tsypin ought to dream up something worthy of the occasion. Seriously, you know what the great thing about Voigt and Salome is, as evidenced by her readings of the final scene in concert more than her somewhat nervous semi-staged role performance? For once she's not playing wronged nobility, and I think she's gonna run with it.

2) Mark Delavan and Paul Groves addressing the bear community's charges that Iphegenie has too often been cast with twinks. [um, link is not especially worksafe.]

3) Oh hey wouldn't it be great if major companies would stage challenging works of subtle, subversive beauty like Die Fledermaus?

4) Lyric has an excellent young artist program, so when LHL cancels her Mere Marie, you'll probably get someone really good as a cover. (I kid because I love.) Meanwhile, Isabel Bayrakdarian and the ageless although surely at this point rather aged Felicity Palmer light up the marquee pretty well themselves. p.s. It's a Robert Carsen production, which in my limited experience is cause for rejoicing. p.p.s. yeah I'm not doing this from memory anymore.

5) You've read her blog, now hear what I'm thinking is her big role mainstage debut in this house. "Thinking wrongly," he edited, "very wrongly indeed, as she has sung the little tiny comprimaria roles of Donna Anna, Pamina, and Marguerite." Jeez, D'Annato, do your homework.

6) Galuzin belts Calaf. Me, I like that kind of thing.

Book II
Reasons to go to Seattle:

1) Well you've got to be curious how Vaness is sounding these days. (Customary snark mitigator: the acting is bound to be sure-footed, and besides, we're still kind of laughing with-not-at her after that weird interview in Opera News many years ago in which, out of left field, she vehemently but not hatefully denied all those rumors of lesbianism we have to admit we'd never heard in the first place. Good times.)

2) Dana Beth Miller in Don Giovanni. It's been long enough since I vaguely knew her that I think I can fairly say I'm not shilling when I describe her as a young singer to look out for. Plush, purdy voice.

3) Podles is Giulio Cesare. Man, this is almost enough to get plane-averse MD' to cross the country. Sets by Paul Steinberg. [ok, minor shout out. forgive me.]

Book III
Reasons to go to San Francisco:

1) The press materials about "San Francisco Opera Unveils New Visual Identity" are kind of hilariously overstated. Wonder Twin powers, activate! Form of: an opera company!

2) Admit it, you kind of want to do David Gockley. Oh, that's just me? Hey it's really quiet in here.

3) "Hey, I heard they're doing Die Fledermaus in Chicago but I'm stuck on the west coast. Fuck! How am I ever going to hear this neglected masterpiece?!?!"

4) Ok, ok. I'll stop picking on San Francisco. The City by the Baaaaay. Um, Rosenkavalier cast could work out pretty well. Yeah, I was 100% perplexed by Isokoski's mess of a Marguerite, but am hanging on to the idea that her glorious 4 last recording means there's good Strauss in there.

5) More Carsen, more Iphegenie. Rigoletto costumes by Constance Hoffman. Really good sushi. I don't know, don't ask me--I don't go that far west...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Heaven is a place on earth

Belinda Carlisle isn't gonna sue me for the subject line, do you think?

I am speaking, if it need be said, of Academy Records. Have just continued my streak of buying delightful operatic feed for the ipod at less than the cost of the two piece meal at Popeye's. You have to get up on one of those undignified stepladders and take a few gambles, but I'm not kidding, there are some finds to be fund up in that shit.

Exhibit A: Zurab Sotkilava Wears Funny Hats. [not actual title] [Actual Title: Zurab Sotkilava Glares Suspiciously At You While Sitting on What Appear to be the Palace Curtains] Now, this one was a total crapshoot, and the main thing that made me buy it was the Marina-Dmitri scene with none other than Makvala Kasrashvili. She's singing in the "Stars of the Bolshoi" evening at Carnegie next week that I probably won't go to, so for some reason that seemed like a really good reason to buy the cd. Also her name is really fun to say. Georgian is stress-initial, if you want to try it at home.

I've actually listened to less of this one, but my meaningless snap judgment review is that once you get past the Iolanta aria that constitutes the first track and is unhappily nasal in tone, the man sings better than he has much right to at 60, which is what I reckon he was when the thing was recorded. Lenski's aria has a real authenticity about it; though he's Georgian, and I think I just heard a little Georgian-specific phonetic mistake, the style is right. He also sings a few Russian folk songs including one called "Oh Nastasia" that I am really nervous will turn out to be a Russian translation of Rufus Wainwright's "Oh Natasha." Whatever, it's goin' on the pod. That's, like, as close as I have to a Ebert/Guy-Who-Isn't-Siskel thumb system.

Goin' on the pod. Not goin' on the pod. As if I dropped my participial g's.

Exhibit B: Ok, Alexandrina Pendatchanska's agent really should have told her to change her name to something that doesn't have nine syllables, something that trips more easily off western tongues, like "Whitney Houston." So much is true. Meanwhile, oh my god. Personal to B: you called this one. So, I've decided when they outlaw everything but going to church in this country, I'm packing my bags and moving to Bulgaria. I know, I know. Not everyone there is Ghena Dimitrova or, um, Whitney Houston, but they do have a lovely musical culture, or did at some point. I hope it hasn't gone the way of many folk musical cultures. Anyway.

Super high quality voice, very bright but chesty where it needs to be, and this was recorded when she was 24. That's just nuts. She's got some tricks down a lot of singers don't learn 'til a lot later, if at all. I listened to part of it last night at like 2:45 am but I'm pretty sure I heard a good trill, and the florid technique in the Traviata scena gives me no cause to doubt it. The e flat is there, and it's cake. So for the real test now I'm revving up "Ah non credea" and taking it for a drive. Trill: check. Gooey Bellinian Legato: check. Cabaletta: Check (!), although what is the conductor smoking (?) because I do not believe these are in fact dotted rhythms in Ah, non Giunge, are they? What the ending is reminding me of as much as anything is the the ending of "Oh Luce di Quest'anima!" on that first Naxos recital Organosova put out before kind of vanishing; in particular, the joyous shout of a trill at the end. A triumphant dash of singerly brio. So here's hoping Whitney will return to our shores and still sounds this good, and that's all I have to say on the matter.

Next up: in want of anything to review, Maury shoots the shit about all these season announcements. Expect little of substance!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Time, which made a monkey of us all

[Entry hesitantly reinstated. I get neurotic about whether things are worth saying.]

Where to file, emotionally speaking, the death of an artist who never truly made you weep or laugh or gasp for breath?

One is sad of course because any death is sad, and maybe also because there's such a weight of belovedness around a singer like Nilsson that one can't help and mourn along a little, and hope it's not somehow a cheap or hypocritical thing to be feeling. When I read the news I felt deeply moved and then immediately like a fraud because, well, she wasn't mine to mourn.

I loved her Brunnhilde, especially in the dawn duet, and admired much of her other singing, but never felt that bond of boy and diva. It is a mark of adulthood to be able to appreciate what you don't especially like, isn't it? Her voice, as recorded, never got under my skin, though I got that it was unique, important, a sort of treasure. And yet...maybe it's that she seemed like such a good sport, a game gal, coming out of retirement for a few moments in her 80's to sing a brief salute to James Levine nobody has forgotten. And in The Ring Resounding, my recollection is that she comes off as someone you'd like to know.

And a certain age of singing, without engaging in too much breast-beating about it, is indisputably closing with each year, and that's a little hard to take even if you love this age, too. Other than that one war cry at 80-something, I could never have heard her in house (was young, lived in the wrong places), and now that she's gone, I think even more of the day when current loves will retire and die and I'll say to some young opera queenlet, if they're still making them, "I heard her Didon," and know that no-one who wasn't there can know what I heard (as I was always told of Nilsson.)

I'm sorry this is a little ponderous (and maybe, around the edges, just a little purple.) My thoughts, however briefly, and however little it means, are with those she left and those who never knew her, and loved her.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Firsthand account

From the diaries of Dawn Powell, a true New Yorker though born in the midwest:

March 8: [1936] Flagstad in Fidelio. What difference is there between a good voice and a magic voice? Sometimes no difference in tone, placing, or quality, but Flagstad's simple great voice flowers, soars, fills the ascending tiers--one voice enough to charm and fill with joy 10,000 hearts. It rose and grew (the great hall was not big enough), flowed through the orderly rows of light-struck EXIT signs, roamed the halls, consorted with old echoes in shadowed corners, visited the old caged attendat in the Ladies Check Room, floated kindly over her proud book of autographs--Sembrich, Schuman-Heink, Tetrazzini, Caruso, Jeritza, Adelina Patti--and was reined in again by silence, a splendid echno left warm and unforgotten on the air.

This would have been a performance the afternoon before with Rene Maison, Ludwig Hofman, and Emanuel List, conducted by Bodanzky. It was broadcast, in fact, though I have no idea if it's extant/hard to find or simply lost to history. Not something I'd move mountains to find, but I was a little enchanted by the mention of it anyway. It's like the glimpse of Christine Nilsson in Faust at the beginning of House of Mirth: a trusted voice reviving an otherwise irretrievable moment in music.

Interestingly B.H. Haggin in the Brooklyn Eagle wrote:

There were one or two minor accidents in stage business, there was a major accident in Kirsten Flagstad's lapse of memory in the Allegro portion of her first act aria-only a momentary lapse, but one that left her insecure and tentative in the climax that called for the utmost assurance and intensity. Until then, however, she had sung with characteristic loveliness of tone and richness of feeling; and once she had recovered from the accident her singing rose to breathtaking heights of tonal splendor.
Of course perfection isn't always the hallmark of a great performance.

p.s. Sorry, I have no idea what's going on with the font.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Much Flap over Fairly Little

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is what were her encores? Which is the quickest answer of all because there weren't any. No Summertime, not even a paltry two minute Zueignung. So there, that's out of the way.*

The next thing you might want to know would be stuff about her gown, a sparkly purple something or other thingy in the form of a, uh, dress. The forces of gayness apparently determined that I didn't need the fashion gene to complement my overdeveloped opera gene, so I can't tell you a damn thing. Besides which I was in the second worst seat in the house. Truly. I am reasonably certain she was clothed, but I may have been looking at the concertmeister.

I'm sounding grumpy, I think. It's just I hemmed and hawed over this, decided not to buy a balcony seat from a kind reader, was about 34th in line for 30 cheap seats, and eventually said yeah, what the hell, I'll wait around for the rest of the afternoon and blow a few hours' wages on a return in row Q (and that's not a fanciful bit of hyperbole) in the balcony. Three guesses, all you alphabet afficionados out there, how far the rows in Carnegie go.

And this for a concert I feel safe in calling an instant non-classic. Now let's get oriented for a moment. I was a big Fleming fan in the early 90's, and over the last few years have become something a good deal more ambivalent. I recently spoke of her Desdemona as one of a very few perfect role readings I've had the pleasure to witness, and Arabella in 1998 wasn't too far off that mark. But then there's Manon, and Irma or Shirley or whatever the name of the heroin in the one about the pirates is.

How does the nursery rhyme go?

There once was a girl
With a strawberry curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
And when she was good,
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad, it was usually in some revival of 19th century crap we didn't really give a good goddamn about anyway, but increasingly it was also in Strauss which is not ok.

You had your nursery rhymes; I had mine. The point is I'm not in the business of trashing her for kicks.

Actually, i don't know...I think this was more mixed than truly disappointing, and so in fact disappointing from an artist of often high and consistent caliber. Tatiana's letter was pretty but underpowered. I posted earlier this year that her Manon sounded a little small-voiced compared to my last memory of her this fair? Her Russian is correct but not terribly clear, which is to say if you knew the text, it was quite comprehensible and I think also idiomatic on a phrase level, and she didn't make any of the phonetic mistakes you'd expect other than a dropped palatalization here or there. I think this shows a passion for detail that is not a minor deal. I can't entirely decide if she's going to be a good Tatiana--the voice and the manner speak more of the glamour of the post-Queer-Eye Tatiana of the last scene than the bookish girl who falls for the bad boy, and the big teen drama that closes the opera is louder stuff than the letter.

I'm sort of kicking myself for not having known the Altenberg lieder even slightly, both because they're sort of riveting and because it's hard to judge a performance of a work you're not familiar with. She made some very excellent sounds, but otherwise I'm not sure what to think. I have a hunch this was the highlight of the concert but I'm not going to bullshit you.

The Capriccio scene was hardest to file. It wasn't outrageously swoopy in the style of her Manon, say, and the high notes were stunning even in Row Q, but, eh. Overall, not a thought-provoking reading. Me, I was a little thrown by the fact that they billed Julien Robbins then skipped directly from the Mondscheinmusick to "Morgen mittag um elf!" Someone, presumably Robbins, did sing the Haushofmeister's single line at the end of the scene, so what? Was he in the bathroom? If anyone figures out what was up with that, I'd love to know. Anyway maybe the main point, if there is one, is that this music is not what I want she seems to do better than anyone anymore. I still harbor these peculiar fantasies of hearing her in a lot more Italian rep. Well, excepting Il Pirata.

Maybe what's bothering me is just that Fleming concerts are approaching OONY in terms of the number of people you see talking to themselves, rocking gently back and forth, and generally betraying a level of internal preoccupation that makes me wonder if I'm hanging with the right crowd. Maybe it wasn't Fleming at all, but my seat and the expense and the whole air of head injury ward field trip. This isn't an entirely fair review, I fear.

Incidentally, always your Closing Night Clara, I did show up for the very last Fledermaus. I actually went the other night as well, on the kind invitation of a charming fellow in turn invited by a cast member, which is why I did't blog it--reviewing something you're attending as a gift strikes me as bad karma indeed, even if the inviter turned out to be perhaps the strongest link of the cast (or I thought so, but to each his own. Well fuck me, I couldn't stop myself from throwing in a little hint.) So anyway there's not a hell of a lot to tell about this production except maybe could we just assume everyone knows the story or doesn't care and skip the dialogue? It's not a piece I find ideal for siizing up singers, at least not beyond their capacity for zany hijinks. I'm still profoundly and immediately delighted by the very sound of Radvanovsky's voice, though I'm a little worried by the weird way her very top notes don't hold a vibrato very well, or didn't Friday.

p.s. yeah, there was orchestral stuff. This is an opera blog. Rest assured you would't want to read the words I could muster to describe an orchestral performance.

And now I really, honestly don't think I'm going to anything for two weeks or so. The Met is dark, and just for laughs I have decided to see what happens when I spend my money on food and shelter. Because the single drawback of the Metropolitan is that they won't let you sleep there, and the restaurant is only open for dinner.

*Yeah yeah don't yell at me. Encores are a privilege, not a right.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Minutes from the Jews for Wagner Society's first (and only) meeting

Quel week.

One day I'll learn my lesson and go to the prima if I'm going to write things up, but as far as Wozzeck is concerned, I'm afraid I went to the ultima and can only basically stand around pointing enthusiastically at my betters and yelping, "what (s)he said, and then some!" I mean for instance it's certainly what the French call de trop at this point to let you in on the secret that Levine conducts Berg like a master, or even to add my recollection early in the evening of Strauss' demand that Elektra be played (as this score was) "like fairy music." So perhaps I should forego holding my hands out sooooo wide and waggling my eyebrows around a lot and just confine my critique to the words "holy shit!" and claim my rightful place beside Shaw in the annals of music writing. Perhaps there's one too many n's in that.

And, you know, the Wellsungs have already done a bang-up job of knocking the physical production, and I can only add my delight in knowing that Ikea has a branch in purgatory, should I ever be stuck there with a little time for shopping.

I'm almost as stymied by the overall excellence of last night's Wozzeck as I was by the middlebrowishness of the Lucia, you know what I mean? Can I get an amen? Well that's alright, I didn't really want one anyway. It could be asked that Dalayman sing this stuff a little more fear and lust, and I did find myself wondering what Steber (in English, alas) sounded like, but in the interest of not being one of those operatic necrophiliacs that would sleep with the corpse of Mary Garden if they could find a shovel and a big plastic bag, I'd like to move on with my life and applaud her for a rock solid Marie that has no reason not to become something more.

By the same token, though Wozzeck's monologue in the first scene has probably been ruined for me forever by Matthias Goerne's recording of it (detailed in a way some singers save for Mahler) I can't see letting that fact deflate my appreciation of Alan Held's urgent, thoroughly shattered but vocally quite refined Wozzeck. The physicality of his realization was, in the estimation of one of my companions, overdone perhaps to the point of parody, but I think I'm comfortable with that in this rep as long as there's something motivated and specific about it, as there was.

Oh. Before I go on. (This is structurally a propos, it is not lost on me.) There’s something richly cinematic about bluntly dropping the scrim between each scene, but if I were king, they’d fucking stop it right now anyway. Because as we all kow without reading Pavlov, when you drop a curtain, a scrim or a hat, audiences immediately contract galloping bronchitis, recall a sudden need to tell Aunt Rivka they like her dress, and generally go about the business of stomping mercilessly on any dramatic tension that may have built up like so many grapes in an I Love Lucy episode. I’m sure I’m turing into a regular librarian about things, but unless the interruption is an Italianate eruption of audience approval or ire, I’d just as soon eliminate the ringing bell that brings it on. (Now, the decision to play the thing without intermission is, on the other hand, very welcome.)

I'm not sure what those links were about. You must forgive me. Sometimes I just get giggly about Emma Goldman.

Graham Clark is of course a genius and you don't need me to tell you so. Even if there were a dozen tenors specializing in the "ew! ew! must take shower!" subfach, I think we'd all have to pinch ourselves occasionally for joy that someone does it so forcefully and with such precision. How excellent, then, to have found his bass clef counterpart in the meticulous pitchblende-voiced Walter Fink, whose doctor tipped the needle on the creep-o-meter to a reading of "Dick Cheney."

Time to change gears if I'm going to listen to the broacast of that opera about the sleeping potion. What's that you say? It's a love potion? I guess I always assumed otherwise for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Nein! (see also under: Ja!)

Somehow this Met Orchestra thing slipped in under my radar, and now it looks to be sold out. Curses! In the end, probably a good thing for me, financially speaking.

On a more felicitous note, another blogger and I (he didn't say whether he'd care to be named so I'll go with no and let him post otherwise) were pleased to find audio selections linked by the proprietress of The Concert, and more pleased yet when the Grossmachtige Prinzessin--naturally what we lunged at first--turned out to be most enjoyable indeed. Props to the owner and caretaker of a fine and distinctive voice.

Monday, January 02, 2006

I feel-ya-not (i), take II

So did you ever have that thing happen where you leave after Act II of Lucia too dispirited to even attempt a wee hatchet job on all those implicated? I guess that's rather specific. If you ever had that happen, we are kindred spirits indeed.

Anyway I still don't want to write one of those wretched tantrum-y postings, but I thought it right to be a bit less...oblique, having made my basic pouty disdain relatively clear. What's the opposite of oblique, anyway? In drafting, it's isometric. So here's my isometric take on Lucia:

Dissing a "silver cast" production is a little like dissing a cover. It just seems like bad sportsmanship. So please understand that I am absolutely sincere in saying that Youngok Shin must have had a rather delicious voice once. Sunny in coloration, not at all small for its type. I'm not saying it just to set up the "but." sounds as if it were held together with scotch tape and pipe cleaners at this point. A wand'ring minstrel, she (a thing of shreds and patches.) Phrases worked. They did. Yes, I put my head down on the ol' standing room railing in anticipation of the high notes she seemed to have no intention of dodging.

But you know what, here's how I'll cut her some slack: Lucia is perhaps the first opera recording I ever listened to. Callas, Karajan, you know the rest. It was on one of those cd's where you have to listen one time through with the left speaker on and then again with the right one. I listened to it fairly obsessively, unaware that this dread opera thing wasn't going to be a phase. I think the reason I now basically hate Lucia, other than that it sucks [when did the Met, please, last put on any of the unoverstatably superior Three Queens operas?] and that I listened it into some kind of structuralist paradigm of rote aesthetic experience is that it's only an interesting role if the soprano has absolutely everything.

It helps if the tenor has a lot going on, of course. And this is why I went, having heard that he did. And by gum, I'm not writing a review of the form I Am Right And Everyone Else is a Tin-Eared Lowbrow. Y'know, the ones on opera-l that either end with the statement "The emperor has no clothes!" or a simple cry of "vergogna!" (Coincidentally, both end with me shooting myself.) But, yeah, I'm pretty baffled. What I heard, moi-meme, was a pedestrian performance from a tenor of average quality with a couple of grating tics. And a few let's call them Tuckerisms that (and again, this is just me, just little Maury) I think come off a lot better if you're actually Richard Tucker or something very like. Sobs and growls, in my book, are something you get to do once you've got everything else solidly nailed into place. Else you risk being called, by me, Guelfi on 45 rpm. And god knows nobody would voluntarily endure the slings and arrows that are my formulaic insults. I will certainly give him another shot, but in contrast to howevermany years ago when I left a Swenson/Vargas Lucia at second intermission out of sheer exhaustion, I just don't have heap many regrets about having missed the mad scene or the big tenor scena.

And so, on with the second half of the season say I. Up next at the plate: Katarina Dalayman and Alan Held in Berg's mean little masterpiece.