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.


Paul said...

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading your Met reviews throughout the season, and I look forward to many more - or at least as many as you can stand to compose. I thought your comment on "matzoh brei" was hilarous, but the goyim among your readership may have imagined it to be some Franco-Judean delicacy, as you spelled it "brie." It's only broken-up pieces of matzoh, fried in a pan with scrampled eggs, folks.

Maury D'annato said...

I wondered as I was typing it to spell it. Will correct. I've only ever heard it said (and never eaten it, in fact--my mother loves the stuff but I'm matzoh-averse.)

Anonymous said...

Well done, Maury. I too have enjoyed the scraps from your table. Thanks for writing. Perhaps summer will bring something a little more fluffish from your cyber-quill. Shall I hold my breath for reviews of the X-Women, whom the writers at The Advocate claim to be THE homosexual metaphor of the age?
Whatever you chose to do, please don't hiatus on my ass. Life is more than October to May.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Maury! With latter-day Olivero, one was getting the remnants of an unpleasant voice attached to old-school stage sorcery and a technique that permitted prodigious feats of breath control and phrasing. With Millo, twenty years ago, I suppose she had a voice with some interesting qualities that made up for her bumptious and glamor-free stage persona.

Now what's left? Why are people pretending that she's offering some kind of lesson in Italian style or emotional expression when she can't hit the notes, sing in rhythm, enunciate the words, or convincingly bring off the many familiar bits of business that make up the role?

Maury D'annato said...

Mr. Manprano: I'll try and change your name on the sidebar. I for some reason find blogger's interface really tiring. Meanwhile the summer blockbuster I'm most excited about is A Scanner Darkly. Which probably won't be a blockbuster, but oh well. I'm relatively stoked about X as well, enjoyed the first two, had a teeny tiny girl-crush on Famke Janssen.

Maury D'annato said...

Burns, as usual you should be writing this stuff. Glamor-free is about as efficient a way to describe the 'lo as I can think of. De gustibus as always, her fans think she's Ava Fucking Gardner in the glam department. For me, most of the time she's a couple of sparklers and a kazoo, as an avatar of glamor once said. She did have her moments, but not a whole lot of them. Maybe Gioconda next season will be a bit more satisfying but I think I'll see Urmana instead.

rysanekfreak said...

Am I the only one that remembers when Millo first made her big splash at the Met, rumors abounded that she was really 10-15 years older than she claimed?

She was middle-aged when she started, so she is positively ancient right now...not Good Magda ancient. Just La Puma ancient.

Anonymous said...

Millo is a joke. If you believe her bio and Renee's, Millo is only ten months older than Fleming. Take a look at the two of them and tell me if it's possible.

Millo's Gioconda at OONY was not so hot, so I wouldn't expect much from her in the role next season. But I have heard from a "source close to the Met" that next season will be Millo's last at the Met.

Maury D'annato said...

I'm amused and ok probably a little pleased that this posting has brought out the "Millo? Meh." faction. Maybe we can have a jets/sharks thing going on with the boys at Parterre. Rumble! Ok, know what? There are a lot more of them, so let's forget I said anything. (I jest, I jest...we should all be friends even if she is 65.)

Anonymous said...

I dunno, Maury, I think you over-estimate their numbers. They are noisy but desperate. And most of them are big sissies anyway. We can take 'em easy. Besides, if we hold a certain ballet dancer hostage they will surrender at once.

meretrice i. d'oscena said...

My girl crush on Famke Jansen went up when she had the good sense not to come back to the recent season of 'Nip/Tuck', which, Julian McMahon nudity aside, spiraled into bottomless vortex of suck.
But then I saw the christ-awful red/purple SCA beer-wench/Pocahontas costume someone designed for Jean Grey in XIII.
Not that they could have put her in the shiny-fab 70's disco catsuit that Jean wore in the comics, but I'm just saying.

And yet, with all that, she's got Hugh Jackman and James Marsden fighting over her, and I salute any lady who can manage that. Especially if she has to wear a scarlet duster.

Anonymous said...

Millo is far from perfect, but she is the real thing in an age of over hyped HORRID Ballerinas who really are pitch deprived. She is 48 this year, get over it. My friend went to Hollywood High with her and that's that! Sorry for all of you, get some glasses and a few hearing aids and enjoy what everyone else is cheering about. The voice is fresh and full of nuance, and the HighC's were amazing. You few that do not get it, what's new? Blithering about all the newbee's with anticpation of what? They know nothing.....must make those that HATE her really froth at the mouth...love it. When she sings,
stay home, there are many people who want to get in and can't...or better yet wait for the economy Gioconda and hear the slavic voiced Urmana who is too small for it. Millo's Gioconda is the one I want to hear.

Maury D'annato said...

Knock yourself out, anonymous. I'm done picking on her because I'm done going to her shows, I think.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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