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, though...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 rec.music.opera 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.