Monday, May 29, 2006


Bit of a half-assed write-up of Nixon in China in Chicago, I think. Vacation from work=vacation from blog? Apparently not. Blog springs eternal.

One of my sources/correspondents opines that Nixon, with its several upcoming productions, should be liberated from all influences of Sellars, and step on it. Still, I'd like to see the video of the Houston premiere production [I am positive I saw a video of it in, um, well, high school, but it must have been one of those things on Great Performances that was banished to outer space, because I've never seen any mention of it since...] because I'm dying to know if the third act makes a whit of sense in a more literal production, which I believe Houston/Sellars was.

I know NiC primarily from the highlights disc, which is wonderful, but apparently also not really representative. The tracks on there give it a feel of being poetic but not impenetrably abstract. And unless there are just some stage directions that got tossed out the window by an ambitious director, that's not the case. This is closer kin to Gertrude Stein than to Giancarlo Menotti. And yeah, I guess I'm coming from a somewhat conservative place vis a vis narrative in my art, for better or worse. I'm the guy who thinks Vanessa is a perfect libretto. I mean, jeez.

So the second and third acts--literal sense seemed less and less important as the evening wore on--was a long scratching of the head, but vocally pretty satisfying. Word is it was amplified, right? Puzzling, since Robert Orth still sounded lacklustre down low, the only truly weak part of an overall strong run through the role (which he repeats in Cinci and Houston, as do several of his colleagues.) Maria Kanyova was very much his equal as Pat, in an unfussy performance that lost little dignity during some of the more clueless directorial moments. One awaits her Glimmerglass Jenufa with heightened interest. I think, in fact, all the principals created viable characters, worthy of later reflection, but thanks to Alice Goodman mostly, only in a sidelong fashion.

As on the recording, the most distinguished reading was that of Chou En Lai (there: the wonderful Sanford Sylvan; here: the calmly enthralling Chen Ye Yuan) Chou gets some of the most quietly wunderbar music in the piece, and Chen, like Sylvan, decants it aristocratically.

Of course I think we were all waiting for the well hyped Kathleen Kim in the ball-breaking role of Qiang Qing, the wife of Mao. To hear her aria "I am the Wife of Mao Tse Tung" is to go around humming it for 72 hours or so until you bust yourself smartly over the head with a curling stone in despair. Really a masterpiece not just of 20th century op lit but the whole damn shindig. Ms. Kim did not shrink from it until the end, where she skipped the final trips into the ionosphere for lower options, and it would be idiotic to complain, as 98% of the rest of it was solid stuff. When I listen to the aria next I'm sure I'll see her in my head, standing surely under 5 feet (my compatriot in stature) with an uzi* in hand, looking just about ready to use it. The amplification and her tiny, tremulous vibrato makes it hard to judge quite what's going on with the voice, but LOC is lately much in the habit of turning out killer voices, so I'll be watching to see where she goes.

Mao, too, is a cruelly written role, and I'm not sure how to judge Mark Duffin on it. His tone was no day at the beach, but he was persuasive and quite comprehensible over an orchestra that wasn't doing anyone any favors.

Moments of the production were certainly a success--Pat Nixon's whole scene in Act II conveyed character without too much concrete to go on--but the overall feel was one of adolescent striving, a concept piece that's just a little too high maintenance. Two of the things that serve as warnings to me turned up early on: a mute but Clearly Very Meaningful character meandering about, doing things like sprinkling snow from above (an activity endorsed by the Clearly Very Meaningful Mute Characters' Union) and a bunch of television screens. In the end, I couldn't much say that either really merited its inclusion.

At intermission I ran into my friend who used to write as Enzo Bordello, one of the folks whose opera-writing back in r.m.o. days taught me opera. Now there's someone whose blogging we'd all like to read, but alas, his work eats up all his time, I think.

*Uzi? I think uzi. Try not to perish from the shock of it when I say I wasn't one of the kids who sat around drawing artillery in middle school.

Next up: lordy, not so much. Potentially naught 'til Caramoor.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Second verse, same as the first

...and so we all walked around and said hello to the people we usually say hello to, heard Barbara Walters was there, heard Giuliani was not. Had refreshments, flexed the ol' sitzfleisch, and dug in for the second course.

I'm trying now to remember "Trouser Roles"--the piece Ben Moore wrote for a Sue Graham recital tour or album. Because if it was really clever, then maybe this time they simply held a gun to his head and said "Write songs about how great Volpe is or you'll disappear in the night like Esenin." (yes, the whole thing is somehow more fun if we imagine it to have taken place under the watchful eyes of a tyrant regime, am I wrong?) And that's why these two weren't really that memorable, because nobody likes to write under threat of a whipping, except maybe Sondheim. But if it's just the original Voigt Wagner roles song that really gets a laugh, then that one's the one-off and we can all go back to disliking novelty songs.

"The Audience Song," as you will have gathered, was a little forced. I mean, not awful, and god knows I couldn't write a funny song, or an anything song, to save my life. Graham delivered it cutely, and you know, I think it actually merits mention that this little song made mention both coy and explicit of the inumerable fags who make opera opera, apostrophizing the audience thusly:

For you are young and old
And gay and straight
And left and right

[yes and you, missy, sang at the Bush inauguration and have some 'splainin' to do, but nothing rhymes with inauguration except "impeachment" and that's sort of a slant rhyme. I digress more than usual.]

You see, amazing as it is, I'm told the opera world is rather conservative about sexuality, and I suppose it stands to reason--outside of the countertenor range, can you name one out male singer? (There was an old joke about the comparative difficulties of being gay and being black, and the punchline is you don't have to tell your parents you're black. Or a countertenor.) And the few on the Sapphic side of the aisle came out in the last few years.

Blah blah Lohengrin prelude, blah blah annoying Grande-Duchesse aria. Yeah, Blythe has a classy instrument, but I never hear her sing much interesting, so I'm not fully in the fan club. Licitra: cancelled. Shucks!

Ramey is an artist I've heard be so wonderful and so goddamn consistent I'm just going to forgive the fact there's not much left. "Vous qui faites l'endormie" was creaky but top notch in its way, and I'm not exactly sitting around wishing they'd hire him for his old roles, but once he retires altogether the loss will be felt. Ramey was the one thing in SFO's dinner theater caliber Louise in '99 that made the opera seem like anything other than life's bleak little three hour joke on anyone who just wanted to hear Depuis le Jour.

So, hm, perhaps it was a blood sugar thing, but I don't remember anything about Alagna in the Cyrano piece, and I was really looking forward to it because 1) I heard the hapless Barasorda sing the role this season, and 2) Alagna in French can be really fine and stylish. I hope you heard his Faust.

At this point I must issue a no bitchiness warning because the next few things were all great, and I can't find a single rotten tomato to lob at the artists. And in the case of Hvorostovsky there's sometimes not much to say even when it's great: his is a quiet perfection, not flashy, and I'm never sure what to say except keep on keepin' on, DH. Onegin next seez should be a very polished thing, though you could wish for a bit more extroverted takes on the role, as I'm recalling his recorded turn in the role. He doesn't seem like someone a bookish, sheltered, country girl would get all crazy mad for letter-writing over, unless she just liked his hair that much.

Oh god, and then Rene Pape. I almost feel like skipping over this entirely because this is a tawdry little blog full of silly jokes and the like, and not the place necessarily to discuss something so downright religious as what Pape did to Verdi. I guess I do nothing to diminish its splendor by slathering a few more words on it,'s just that I love "Ella giammai m'amo" rather passionately, and sometimes even daydream about how I would sing it if I had the voice to match the ideal version I hear in my head. Well I'm done with all that, as I've heard it out loud. He pulled all the stops, from hearbreakingly wrecked to solid and virile, but not for show. I suppose for me this was the highlight of the gala.

I have had some pointed things to say about Dolora Zajick in the past but some nights, in some rep, she's on fire and there's no two ways about it. "O mon Fernand" actually calls up an even worse SFO memory (naturally enough, La Favorita, done in Italian I think, but I've suppressed all recall of the event, and now what's left of it in my unconscious is expressed as hysterical hiccuping on occasion, if at all) but then on the other hand, dismissing the dreck that it comes wrapped in, it's a pretty piece that puts one in mind of pleasant evenings by the victrola. Once, when I was 21 and knew everything, I told someone in a minor knock-down-drag-out that Zajick was a dramatic soprano and if she continued to sing as a mezzo, she would be remembered only as a footnote. Being wrong really is an art of sorts. Mostly, though, I mention it because why is the Met having Gruber do Macbeth when they have some swell fach-jumpers like Urmana and Zajick that could really rip it up? It's hard to tell how reliable the top is but it burns like bad whiskey and I like it.

Two numbers from Cosi: Te Kanawa and von Stade in the Act I duet and Fleming/Graham/Hampson in the beloved trio. I was actually just wondering the other day what it would do to the dynamic of the piece if some nutty regisseur decided that Dordiligi and Guigliando should be 45ish and somewhat the wiser. Because I sit around thinking about things like that. One wit was heard to call Kiri and Flicka's take "Cosi Fan Golden Girls" and it was an interesting glimpse into my little Walter Mitty opera fantasy. It found them both quite up to the task, including that one endless phrase they both get, and cutely mischievous. The Cosi trio went for nothing, as I'm afraid it must out of context, in a gala, in fetching frocks.

Oh wait. I skipped the other Meier number. Eh.

Mattila in operetta: Why?

You know what? This is really long. And the rest of the gala was for me, for the most part, a series of shrugs. It was a blast being there and I was still glowing from Pape and Dessay, but...I'm just going to barrel through it. Graham sang Clemenza, and it's something she's good at. Vargas sang Elisir, and it's something he used to be good at. Still pretty, but for the twentieth time, weird choice. Why not some of the slightly heavier stuff he has grown into beautifully? Freni babbled like a loon and sang a very tiny snippet of Boheme under her breath. I guess she was charming, but I wasn't really there for her career, and without the filter of nostalgia, it was like listening to a Tiger Beat article that had been translated into and then back out of Thai. For closers, a bunch of people sang the last few pages of Fi-diddly-eye-oh, which is the height of jubilation if you're German and in a nursing home. And yes, Virginia, there was an encore. Someone sat Volpe down on a stool and made him listen to Fleming singing light music ("When I have sung my songs") as if to say: look what you did to this perfectly good singer.

And that is that.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hope you're hungry!

Well then. There's really just no good way to go about this other than go down the list I think, just pour it all out and print it and edit when someone says "but Maury, you dear, doddering old thing, nobody dies in Die Fledermaus." Actually it's true: very little editing goes on here at My Favorite Intermissions. Well act surprised. Raise your eyebrows or something. Anyway if this becomes interminable, though I guess I'll skip orchestral and choral numbers, I encourage you to scan down the page for the names you're interested in. I mean, let's be honest: I'm not gonna know.

Last night the Metropolitan Opera threw its big five hour fete for outgoing boss Joseph Volpe, only as parties go it was in some ways rather staid--the only person who appeared to be drunk, even, was Mirella Freni. People sang, and people spoke, and there was a big sentimental film about the Volpe era/regime (depends upon who you are I guess) in which a retired chorus member said Franco Zefirelli "just about fell out" when Volpe did something or other. I forget what because the idea of FZ falling out was just too grand. If you're from the south, you'll get it, ok?

The two original numbers written for the gala were tittery and in the spirit of very gentle roasts and, I'd have to say, not really as clever as "Wagner Roles," the song Mr. Moore wrote for Deborah Voigt many seasons back. Her number, "We're Very Concerned" had a by now somewhat expected "I lost lots of weight" reference (and here we pause to note how nice she looked) and a rather jaw-dropping potshot at Kathleen Battle. Not to overstate things...he didn't accuse her of sorcery or anything. Maybe it's that people were speculating on whether she might be a surprise guest a few weeks ago, but it just struck me as a little shocking, though funny, that a song for a huge, expensive gala took a very specific swipe at a person who will no doubt hear of it. Voigt was armed with a microphone and her customary game and articulate way with light music.

Juan Diego Florez followed with "La speranza piu soava" from Semiramide sung in very long breaths and with undiminished sweetness. The high notes were such as anyone would envy. After this, more Rossini on the Olga and Ildar show, and here's where the truly lamentable programming began. I would find myself wondering as the evening went on if the artists chose their numbers themselves. If so, someone please have a talk with Olga and Ildar. The Italiana duet was an awful fit, like one of those nights on American Idol (which I've watched about thrice, I'm serious) where some 18 year old cheerleader from Plano dukes it out with Rogers & Hart. It sounded like Simionato and Pinza or whoever that was, only this was "Anything you can sing, I can sing less idiomatically." No you can't, yes I can, yeah you're right.

Placido Domingo proved he speaks Spanish in case you thought the ethnic thing was an act. Frederica von Stade proved that some people age better than...I started to say better than others but why not get one last barb in and say "some people age better than Aprile Millo." I think I will. I think I did. Ruth Ann Swenson proved that she really was sick and not just playing hooky from the afternoon's Elisir. Say, who was her cover, and how did she do? Bill Irwin flounced inexplicably around the stage to the Onegin Polonaise.

And a strange thing happened to me during the next number. I spent all of the recit ("Ah, se una volta sola...") and most of the aria ("Ah! Non credea mirarti") wondering if the pinchy quality about Dessay's voice is forever going to keep me from enjoying her singing despite its obvious craft and quality. In that way that the past wrecks things for us sometimes, I always think she's about to have the effortless spin of Mesple, but that's just not her sound. And then, from the first instant of the cabaletta ("Ah! I begin all my utterances with 'Ah!' and by the way, non giunge!") that thing happened that only happens maybe twice a season. It feels like electricity entering through my feet and crawling up my spine. I wonder if maybe I have an idea what it was like, now, to hear the young Sutherland--different sounds, obviously, but that same daredevil sense of "fuck you, I can sing anything." The house shared my pleasure.

The same house gave a surprising, markedly cold shoulder to Dwayne Croft. Wonder what that's about. He didn't really own the Count's Aria as in olden days, but he didn't suck.

So then on sails Denyce Graves dressed, apparently, as a mermaid and sings "Can't Help Mispronouncin' dem Pronouns of Mine." This could not have been her idea. I do think Showboat is a masterpiece, but, um...yeah. Her diction throughout was puzzlingly non-native, her famous commitment and her vocal unevenness equally in evidence, and the audience gasped en masse as she ended the piece on a low Z or something. It's not for me to know whether this was a gasp of admiration or aesthetic bewilderment. Or, hell, who knows, some of those folks in Orchestra may simply never have seen a black person.

Say, do you remember the time when I was all "Renee Fleming in Verdi will be something to cheer about!"? Can we pretend that conversation didn't happen? Thing is, she in fact made much less of an expressionist masterpiece out of "Tacea la notte" than she has made lately of Manon, to name the most grave offense. If it was not on par with Radvanovsky, it was at least pretty. But also at most pretty, I'm afraid. I don't know where this Fleming train is headed is what I'm getting at. I have to admit in the cabaletta I could think only of the standard criticism of the Fleming bashers: there was, as they say, no note produced at a single volume. Each one was a tiny "pace, mio dio!" And that's just too much. I guess the jury's still out, but I'm not what you'd call optimistic.

James Morris sang "Bill Frist ist um" (you know--from The Flying Right Wing Nutjob) and erased some unfond memories of his Scarpia.

I, for one, was rather excited to see that Meier was singing the death of Didon, but it didn't really pan out, I'm sincerely sorry to say. I'm thinking Waltraud maybe just doesn't translate. The gestures were grand and her choice of gowns triggered a certain existential nausea that was interesting in its way, but the specter of LHL stood there impatienty, tapping its spectral foot. Phonetically and stylistically, a bit of an abortion; dramatically, neither fleischig nor milchig, with here and there a declamatory wallop. Did I say how much I liked her Kundry? [Listen, I'm sorry this is turning into such a laundry list, devoid of narrative flow. I was serious, though: hit control F and scan for Mirella Freni if that's what you're after. Not for nothing, it's also almost 1:30 again and this time a school night, so this is looking like a two parter.] Meier's partner of a few nights ago, the occasionally wonderful Ben Heppner, trotted out the Meistersinger prize song in excellent voice.

I really couldn't disagree when La Cieca dubbed Kiri Te Kanawa "the world's highest paid church soprano" many years ago. And yet, in certain rep the simplicity of her singing works out to something quite moving. I still recall the way the air went out of my lungs when this singer I thought of as bloodless sang "Madeleine! Madeleine!" into her mirror in that one Capriccio broadcast. Marietta's Lied in the gala had a little of this quality, and maybe the wear on the voice lent a little pathos. God knows it's not in bad shape--Te Kanawa left the opera stage before any real decline happened, and at its best the voice was what Fleming would sound like if she'd shut up and sing. That good.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who wished, upon seeing Stratas' brief, warm tribute in the film segment, that she had been the surprise guest. (Not to keep you guessing, there was no surprise guest, except Mirella Freni's senile dementia.) It was the same feeling of nostalgia and regret, I'm afraid, that Voigt's reading of Sieglinde's aria provoked. Once a vocal marvel that felt aimed individually at you as you sat in your cheap seats, her Du Bist der Lenz is still radiant but on a much smaller scale. Over the course of the past season I've grown less and less confident that the new, reduced Voigt is quite the voice we knew before.

To close the first half, Domingo sang "Granada." Agustin Lara is a wonderful song writer who penned such gems as "Despues" and "Piensa en mi," but Granada is more a snowglobe in music, a little, local bit of kitsch. I seriously can't fathom what was going on when they planned this.

Alright, go mill around in the lobby now, and have a cup of coffee. Maury's gonna hit the sack and finish this later.


And now the season is really, truly over.

Holy jebus was that a lot of opera.

I'm obviously blogging it later. It's 1:30.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Talk about your out of town tryouts!

Didn't I say she'd be great in this rep?

Next year Sandra Radvanovsky sings her first Lucrezia the Canary Islands!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Whereupon Maury might should look into Witness Protection programs

I've heard it said that when Magda made her Met debut at age 104, as Tosca, apparently with the same delicious lack of subtlety onstage that marks her recordings, all the queens could say to each other at intermission was, "and then she saw the knife!" You can imagine the mix of adoration and ridicule, I think. Tosca, as a piece of theater, as a brilliant piece of crap, presupposes laughably outsize gestures. If you ask me, the one from last night that's going to get the most play is unquestionably the moment when Millo, having screwed her courage to the sticking place with a supersized swig of chianti, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and shook it dry like a quarterback chugging gatorade. Certainly for me this was the biggest laugh, and I saw a number of sort of vicious imitations of it after the fact. One wit added, bewilderingly but rather devastatingly, "like she just finished a goddamn pot of matzoh brei."

Well, I'm neither slain in the spirit nor wholly unconvinced, which is more than a little disappointing. I can't really trash Millo entirely or discount the enormous ovation she got, on account of she mostly didn't suck and did have moments of glory. The voice, at this stage of the game, is a rather ugly one with a few fascinating features I imagine have always been there and are the reason for all the to-do. The big, rich Tebaldi register is, I am forced to concede, quite unique on the opera stage these days, as far as I know. And as far as Italianate phrasing, when she's on, she's on, and I'm grateful to hear it. And when she's off, she sings like the rotting corpse of Maria Caniglia, to wit: much of Act I.

And the crazy thing about Villa is that he's a perfect tenor version of Millo. The top is loud and frayed and hints at unreliability but mostly makes it. The phrasing has its old school moments, very gratifying. I can't argue with his "e lucevan," though the rest of the evening his tone was wearying, like a long argument. Here perhaps I've overreached and the similarity ends...whereas his acting chops are a bit coarse, her basic manner of inhabiting a character is, in this opera about a bunch of Catholics, vulgar in a way I'd always associated more with Southern Baptism. And then she sings the beginning of the big aria with an exquisite line and I forgive her. And then (yes I know I'm going out of order--think of it as a postmodern narrative) she sings "egli vedi ch'io pianga" and though it's absolutely nothing special and owes much of the breadth of the "vedi" to the large breath before "ch'io pianga", her fans begin to applaud mid-scene with the inevitability of death and taxes, and I unforgive her. At least at this one, they didn't shoosh ovations for other singers, as I witnessed at the (vocally much more succesful) Fanciulla at OONY, where the overall concentration of mouthbreathers is for some reason always higher, a year ago.

I think the reason I never give the Millo a break is that her fans seem not to forgive her faults so much as to cognitively suppress them. In an OONY benefit concert in '99 at Alice Tully, Millo sang "Pace, mio dio" sort of well and ended it quite flat (as, in fact, she ended Vissi d'arte--the final note was, in horseshoes and hand grenades terms, close enough, but the one before it was...actually the same note, which it ain't supposed to be.) But then she made that gesture of snatching something out of the air which is international sign language for "applaud or I break your face" and the house exploded. Someone else has an off night, they get a slightly diminished ovation, you know? It happened to Heppner, quite recently. And while there was no snatching of invisible handkerchiefs out of the air tonight, there was so much swanning about with arms outstretched, at times I thought she might be about to pick a fight with Luana DeVol.

I'm done picking on Morris I guess, except to say RETIRE RETIRE RETIRE DAMMIT RETIRE. And if you're going to sing like that, try not to do it within fifteen minutes of Kyle Ketelsen, whose comparative freshness and solidity carry a doubltess unintentional subext of: RETIRE, BITCH. Tonight was actually better than the prima, but I despair of forever seeing the world's best entrance music lavished on someone who can't run with it.

And with that, except for a special event that's really its own self contained big deal, the Met season is over for Maury. My first season as a blower of hot air, a blogstress, a reviewer if to say so isn't grandiose. I've never had such a season, truly. I think I went to every production but two (Aida, Elisir), many on opening night with pen at least imaginarily in hand, some of them twice. There was filth and there was dementia, as Dickens once wrote, only I promise not to launch into a teary retrospective on you...

Next up and probably last for a while, though there is Caramoor over the summer: Volpedammerung.

Monday, May 15, 2006

An imaginary Parsifal you won't want to miss [...and other loose ends from my brain]

The nice thing about sitemeter is you can see what odd queries brought people to your blog (well, most of them actually aren't odd. To be honest, most of them are the names of Met Council Audition finalists. Dear Holli Harrison, thanks for all the hits! xo, Maury) and then you can see what other stuff came up on the same searches. Which landed me at this really funny Parsifal coming soon to a theater near you, or more likely not. Ok, usually, the word "this" would be a clicky link, only and my computer are having a fight, so I'll just show you the URL:

This in particular kind of killed me:

The Holy Spring will be on stage. Preferably, a deep pool with a small waterfall. Whenever anyone is baptized, they will be dumped into it. None of this "few drops of imaginary water on the top of the head" crap. In Act I, the trainee knights dump Amfortas right off his litter and into it as well. All must make a reappearance a few bars later, soaking wet and gasping for air.
I've been back on a Gencer bender, me. In my spare time. And also grooving on Lisitsian, yesiree Bob. And I stumbled upon a cheap-enough-I-couldn't-not copy of the Cigna/Olivero/Merli Turandot at Academy. I'd always wanted to hear it. In fact, it's...flawed but compelling. What's with Cigna anyway? I knew her first from a "Suicidio!" from I believe sometime around the same year as the Turandot, only she sounds rock solid there. In the Norma I have, she's a bit of a spaz, likewise the Turandot. Not unenjoyably so, but I wish it sounded more like the Suicidio. Ah well. Also just downloaded Neko Case's "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood" but that's neither here nor opera.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Or: Never attend Five Hour Operas on Five Hours of Sleep

Fetch me a bib, Eunice! I'm fixin' to eat my words.

What I'd like to say right off the bat is Ben Heppner just gave a very fine performance in Parsifal, full of fire and music; one that is certainly making me rethink my proclamation that he's an essentially lyric tenor who's always going to fail in big boy roles. I'm still not sure what I think about this whole Siegfried notion, but in any case it's causing me substantial cognitive dissonance that the singer I heard tonight was the same one I heard on the broadcast two weeks ago as a very troubled Lohengrin. This was solid, fearless, and fairly loud.

I wonder if the tessitura is simply a happier place for him or whether perhaps he needs to be able to move about spontaneously to produce a healthy sound. I know when I took my semester or two of largely fruitless voice lessons in college, my teacher would sometimes downgrade the sound from strangled to merely pinched by tossing a ball back and forth with me. So, not to buy into Domingo's whole "Robert Wilson made me sick," mythos, but some singers more than others may in fact find their voices don't flow so freely when they're doing underwater yoga. Whatever happened, this was really good, really non-nerve-wracking singing, and I wonder what all the cancellation talk was about. Anyway, let it not be said that I'm dogmatic in my judgments of singer, though just to firm up my reputation for being a deeply negative person, I do suppose it bears mention that his acting continues to run the gamut from Gilligan to Skipper.

Listen, by the way, I slept through a certain portion of this evening's performance, so maybe I shouldn't even be talking. I'm deeply ashamed (as is evidenced by my public announcement of the fact)--I've only ever fallen asleep at the opera one other time, that being in Houston in the 90's when someone had just dusted off that week's Totally, Not Kidding This Time, Definitive Version of Boris Godunov. Anyone would have fallen asleep, trust me. Until they dig up a version with a big torchy Act I closer and some really sassy backup singers for BG, I'm busy that night.

I don't know what to say except it was a really long week. Act I is achingly beautiful music, and I am going to aesthetic hell for what I did.

But let's talk about Waltraud Meier. Did you ever get off on the wrong foot with a singer and then discover later she's utterly divoon? Exhibit A: that French Don Carlos from like ten years ago. Meier's contribution I recall as ghastly beyond words. Well tonight, kids, she brought the demented. Sure, we all get a bit skeptical when a mezzo decides she's going to fach up, as they say in certain parts. Y'know: how many sopranos does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Three; one to screw it in, one to put the ladder out from under her, and a third to murmur through a very tight smile, "well reallydarling, it was to high for her."

Meier is many years into this one and the top is absolutely surgical. Act II was sung with great poise and real commitment. I feel like she goes around singing Kundry at any opera house, high school, or nursing home that's putting on Parsifal, but she hasn't routinized it or put it on autopilot in any perceptible way. "Ich sah das Kind" was produced with the sort of musicality that makes it sound like far more accessible music than it is, like Puccini or something. It was almost enough to make me forget what mystical crap the libretto is, and that takes some doing.

I can't get too enthusiastic or on the other hand too bitter about the conducting. I'd say it lacked some of the grandeur and pacing of the Lohengrin run, but I'd say it softly and hope nobody much heard, and then wait for someone who's more keenly tuned in to conducting to give you the real skinny.

It's getting really hard to say anything about Rene Pape that doesn't sound somehow like saying, "Puppies are really cute. No, I mean seriously cute. Hot damn are they cute." Unless you're trying to be the most controversial kid in the fourth grade, you're just kind of stuck being part of the amen chorus, because at least in Wagner, there's never going to be anything negative or even lukewarm to say about him. I will simply venture to comment that Gurnemanz is all the more an accomplishment for being an absolutely endless sing. For god's sake, he doesn't even have the good sense to know that singers with such beautiful voices are usually boring.

I didn't end up having much of an opinion on Tommy Hairdo, nor even much snarky to say. There remains an element of late period Jessye Norman to the delivery, something pedantic, but it's not overwhelming, and while I don't think the voice has a real Wagnerian steel in it, it was very pretty and always where it needed to be.

Next up, I brave the Millo Tosca (with the Wellsungs--safety in numbers) waiting either to be reborn as a Millatic or say truly rotten things after.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Just for the hell of it, a second look

Well I mean I was hardly going to miss Vogt's Lohengrin after the things people were saying online, right? And so I did not.

A short report, then. First of all Mattila just keeps getting better as Elsa. I've never been a hardcore Mattilist, often find there's a disconnect between the frenetic physical acting style and the voice, which has a smallish palette if you ask me. So either I haven't been giving her enough credit, or Esla is just a role that calls for exactly what she's got to give. She makes the Robert Wilson thing look like an obvious choice (though I'm going to have to paste in an image later that may ruin the production for you) and is so vocally ping-y the tiny casting agent in the mind makes little paper dolls of her and puts on Isolde costumes and such, just for fun, when no-one's looking. DeVol continues to work out in the role despite a certain vocal curdle that just isn't going anywhere. She had a few slips on high notes, forgivable at the end of the evening at the end of the run, and also really nothing compared to the unfortunately well documented Heppner mishaps. Her closing night clearance sale vamping was a special treat. Did that sound sarcastic? Because it so wasn't.

Pape is another singer I hadn't fully signed on with until last night. His turn in last season's unexpectedly mediocre Faust was solid but to my ear rather joyless. You can have all the technique in the books in that role, but if you lack a certain swagger, you are toast. French toast. Maybe with carmelized bananas, like they make at Marseilles in Hell's Kitchen. Note to Maury: don't blog when hungry, or everything turns to brunch. So anyway as the King, Pape is a mile high stack of raspberry pancakes with tons of butter. Listen, just be glad I didn't go in for a bagel metaphor or we might have ended up with a Pape schmear. Thanks, I'll be here all week.

So who's that leave? Right, Klaus Florian Vogt. Do you pronounce the g at all? Does it like totally vanish or is it more of a guttural thing, pronounced like the ghghghghghg in "Heighghghghghgl dir, Elsa!"? It took me most of the evening to figure out what I thought about Herr Vogt, because the sounds was so thoroughly disorienting. The color doesn't go with the size, it''s like Anton Dermota was suddenly singing Otello. Really, truly, it sounds amplified. There are negatives, in particular a marked lack of legato, but the big picture is exciting, for sure. It's just confoundingly difficult to think exactly what rep he's cut out for. I'm a champ at dream casting and haven't a clue. When the first adjective that springs to mind to describe your Wagner tenor is "limpid", you know you're off the grid. For Lohengrin it makes for a rather spectacular success, though. It throws off the aesthetic balance of things if Lohengrin sounds prettier than Elsa, but in an interesting way. I have heard clips of Gedda and Pertile singing the big aria, but this was even more pronounced. Ok, you know what? I haven't figured out what I think of Vogt after all. Judging by his reception, though, I should have ample opportunity to do so.

It bears mention that the swan was out of order in Act I but Mr. Vogt made no reference to Leo Slezak. The nice thing about a Robert Wilson production is if you hadn't seen it before you'd probably just assume it was part of the whole abstract minimalism extravaganza. They called in a swan mechanic before the third act, thereby avoiding the crisis of a little boy covered in white paint having to cool his heels in his little Gap Kids loincloth upstage for half an hour before it was time for Lohengrin to pull him out of a hat.

Tune in next week for reviews of Thomas Hampson's hair in Parsifal. Tune in to Wellsung, where I'm expecting some opinions on Vogt any moment.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

A little note about a favorite voice

If you've been reading for a while, you probably know by my incessant harping that Susanne Mentzer is one of a few singers I consider truly out of the ordinary, and artist and not just a pretty voice. I notice on Chicago Opera Theater's site that she is joining the faculty at Rice after years at DePaul. Lyric, it seems to me, never made much use of her. I wonder if she will now be gracing the stage of Houston Grand Opera, in many ways my home company, the first place I saw a real operatic star turn (Bartoli's US opera debut as Rosina) and the first place I heard Mentzer, as Octavian in 1993. Lucky Houston, if so.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Possente amor

Far be it from me to fan the flames of opera faggotry*, but y'all are gonna wet your pants over this one. I mean, everyone's already kind of having kittens about Stephen Costello, but I think I just joined up, myself. Check the link. Mr. Costello, who really is infuriatingly good looking on top of the rest of the sundae, sings the big Rigoletto scena 'til it begs for mercy. For my money, the performance lacks only Villazon's nervous energy. Meanwhile, someone with a score or a pitchpipe tell me what the high note is, k? My guitar thought it was an e flat, but my guitar has not been tuned to an external source in quite a while. And I mean, it couldn't be an e-flat, because that just wouldn't be fair.

[Almost forgot to tip the hat to Nick von Trrill who put me onto it.]

*The lies we tell, really.

You were expecting, maybe, a Rodelinda review? Aw, heck, I just cannot get up the steam to go see it. I think I've already spilled a few words too many about Fleming la belle and Fleming la bete, but without further dissertation, Fleming in Handel makes my teeth hurt. I'm absolutely thrilled, on the other hand, that she's singing Tacea la Notte at the Volpedammerung. If she goes that direction in the next few years, I'm quite prepared to become her cheerleader once again, pom-poms and all. Gimme an R!

Monday, May 01, 2006


The thing that frustrates me is that a year from now, he'll sing something without any croaking, and people will say (as they did last time this happened, and the time before), "Heppner really seems to have come through his vocal crisis. I guess his technique is all patched up now." And the Rhein will overflow its banks, and we'll be righ back where we started, with apologies to Anna Russell. Evidence of what I'm talking about over at Parterre. And, yes, he sounded much better than this the night I went, but a musicologist friend informs me that very very strange musicology eminance Carolyn Abbate is actually writing these days about the effect Ben Heppner's cracks have on our listening experience. Speaking only for me and anyone who will sign my petition, I'd describe these effects as: wishing (hopefully without becoming one of those people) that someone would turn up another Melchior, or Vickers, or even Windgassen. Jeez, I don't hate his singing or anything, and he seems really nice, but it's getting to be like certain wines: odd years are fine; even years, let's just go see some nice Mozart.

Edit: Ok, this sounds unreasonable to me, re-reading. Heppner is a good singer. I guess I just wish we could stop referring to something so clockwork-regular as a crisis. Let's review: Heppner is a good singer. Heppner has a pretty, large, lyric voice. Heppner is going to fuck up in certain roles that require more than that, and if I don't feel like bracing myself for a lot of phlegmy sounds, I can always just skip those when he sings them, except I probably won't because there's no stellar alternative right now and I don't want to forego these operas altogether. The announced Siegfried in Aix sounds like a big mistake, but fortunately for everyone involved, I have a fear of flying matched only in intensity by my lack of funds for opera-going jaunts in Europe, so I will not be there, smacking my head, saying: it's not a vocal crisis, and he's not going to fix it. If this were the McLaughlin Group, and McLaughlin had just asked for everyone's predictions, I'd say: Heppner will sing Siegfried in Aix and then drop the role. And then I'd propose (platonic) marriage to Eleanor Clift for being so excellent. Anyway I'm probably wrong. I am not infrequently, it may be noted, wrong.