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.


calcio9 said...

Don't feel alone -- I cannot remember ever seeing one complete Siegmund/Hunding dinner in Act 1 in about 20 Walkures...maybe if I took a nap beforehand rather than coming direct from the office...

Anonymous said...

the tessitura is simply a happier place for him

That's a significant possibility--it's not a high role at all, and it has a lot of nice soft lyric passages in it. Can you tell I'm excited about tonight?

Maury D'annato said...

Hoping you will report here or the other place.

Paul said...

I've dozed off twice during operas, both times while traveling overseas and after a FULL day of walking and sightseeing. That's my excuse, anyway. The first time was in Bucharest, where they did Mozart's "Enfuehring" in Romanian, sans supertitles. The second was in a Dublin production of Verdi's "Don Carlo" in Italian (thankfully the four-act version, not the five-act one) with an all-Russian cast. I think the only thing that kept me awake toward the end was the fact that the producer had everyone slogging through ankle-deep piles of leaves scattered across the stage, which caused a huge aural distraction even to those of us in the balcony. I still don't get the concept.

Maury D'annato said...

Dead leaves seem like lazy directorial shorthand for regret and decay. Well, not always lazy...I liked the dead leaves in the Carsen Onegin at the Met.

Brett said...

I totally agree about Waltraud Meier in Don Carlos. I imagine she would be good in other things, but the French language is just not for her. She has quite possibly the ugliest [œ/ø] I've ever heard. Her second aria is considerably better than the first, though.

Maury D'annato said...

I think I gave up at the veil song. Which is not fair, maybe, but certain things are just unforgivable.

I'm amused at the idea that she has the ugliest....ok, I can't type phonetic symbols. I'd like to think one day someone will say "That Maury D'annato had the loveliest schwa since Ponselle."

rysanekfreak said...

I have fallen asleep many times. Flying over time zones and then going to the opera house at what is really your bedtime in your real time zone can do that.

I once drank four glasses of white wine and immediately slept through the entire first act of a "Cosi" without stars. This taught me the best way to enjoy "Cosi."

I also fell asleep at the beginning of the 3rd act of a boring "Tristan." Luckily, some boor's cell went off loudly just moments before the Liebestod was to begin, so I was able to force myself to stay awake to the end.

Princess Alpenrose said...

I must add to the "me too" chorus of Parsifal snoozers.

I have the dubious honor of having fallen asleep as the one and ONLY audience member (yes, the audience side of the house was empty, save me) in attendance at a Levine led final dress rehearsal, back in I think Spring of 1983.

I fell asleep scrouched down in about Orchestra Row 5 (right side). I slept for a big chunk, but weirdly heard every note.

Dad (age 75, Mr. "Old School Austrian Opera Know-It-All) claims emphatically that, "Wagner MEANT you to fall asleep, then startle awake going "Who is this guy and what's up with this SWAN???"

Oh and one more delectable bit about that production: Levine ADDED BACK IN MUSIC WAGNER HAD CUT OUT! It was over 5 hours long, straight through, no corrections or breaks, as I recall.

I just hope Jimmy didn't hear me snoring ...