Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Meanwhile, across the plaza

Give me a medal. All night at NYCO's gala I somehow resisted the wicked temptation to channel Renata Scotto's creepy heckler and cry out "Brava, Metropolitan Opera!" I did.

As JSU has pointed out, it's a little bit of a drag to read a bullet-pointed round-up of these galas, so I'll forego that option and just tell you what you need to know. And the first thing you need to know is that Carol Vaness bears the most uncanny resemblance, in terms of the placement of her speaking voice and her speech cadences, to Shelly Long in the role of Diane Chambers on Cheers. I mean, that's pretty important, right? Also, she seems high.

For some reason it was about 45 minutes sitting in that there State Theater at yon gala for an opera company before anyone sang. There was an overture, and some speeches in which Madame Sills was sort of charming and Paul Kellogg made absolutely no attempt to sound like he was doing anything other than reading off a teleprompter. Which was huge and at the back of the house and you could turn around and see how closely he was sticking to the script. And then there was singing, and it was Carol Vaness and Vinson Cole and for some reason they chose Mozart. I'm sure they're very nice people. No, I kid. It was fine., I'd steer clear of Mozart if I'd been singing much heavier stuff for 15 years. I know, I know: I said I like big clunky early music better than wheedly tinny early music. (We're counting the classical period.) But that's about style more than vocal estate.

Shit, it looks like I'm doing a run-down after all. I can never resist. I shall resist. Getting back to the Important Parts: the voices that excited me most were, hmm...James Valenti and Beth Clayton, I think. Valenti is a-fucking-nother young, handsome, very well schooled and promising tenor. He sang the Pearl Fishers duet with a baritone I couldn't hear so much because of stage positions. In twenty years when all these young things want to make some money, if they've kept themselves up, they will have The Ten Tenors concerts or something, in stadia. Seriously, I think we're now fixed for lyric tenors the way we were suddenly flooded with lyric mezzos in the late '90s. Without much effort, I can think of at least 8 I'd be happy to hear any evening or matinee.

Clayton sang in the Rosenkavalier trio/duet (d'you know, I realize we're all supposed to get all mopey about the trio, but I've always liked the duet better) and though she wasn't ideally positioned for me to hear her, I couldn't take my ears off her. I get the impression it's an imperfect voice and that she's the kind of unhomogenized singer that often wields that kind of voice. The kind that doesn't sound mass produced. Certainly she's a very striking figure, and I think she's also openly Sapphic, so hooray for that. If I figure out that I'm mixing her up with someone else, I'll edit like the wind. [ETA: tip of the hat to Gert, who informs me that Ms. Clayton and Patricia Racette are opera's newest love couple. Picture it: a marketing campaign like the Gheorghius got from their record label or like platonic pals/onstage amours Villatrebazonko currently enjoy. Yeah, not gonna happen.]

Vivica Genaux wins the Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg Prize for bizarre facial movements during peformance, by the way. Either she's singing with an incredibly loose jaw or she's chewing her coloratura, but it's rivetingly weird to watch. Meanwhile, though, (as predicted) I liked her much better in Rossini than Handel. The Cenerentola rondo was a triumph. One strange details is that from time to time she'd back herself into breathing in the middle of a word, but mostly she sang bellows-in-the-back long phrases. Her ornamentation was way over the top, which is a valid choice.

Lots of jaw-wagging of the usual sort about how New York City Opera invented sliced bread went on. And a few unsubtle jabs at, well, the rest of the world for claiming NYCO-bred singers as their own. And then, like, Carol Vaness would suddenly be on body mic commenting on the greats she remembers singing with, and one couldn't help but notice that the list, well, it went something like this: June Anderson, Jerry Hadley, Rockwell Blake...I dunno, draw your own inferences. I'm being difficult, but I guess the facts as I see them from my somewhat ignorant perspective are: City Opera has had its moments of glory and a real golden age with Treigle and Sills, but let's not get loopy about it.

In keeping with my usual habit, I'm going to interrupt myself in the midst of a basically well-intentioned mocking of Carol Vaness to recall a performance of hers I wholly dug, that being Norma in Houston in the mid '90s (with Mentzer.) I wasn't a rabid bel canto enthsiast but I do remember finding her singing and stage comportment equally worthy of praise.

Oh, at one point they showed a film with Placido Domingo talking about how great City Opera was. It was a film because he couldn't be there that night. Or any other night since the 1960's.

There were also film clips from various productions over the years. The most enticing was Regina Resnik singing "Liaisons" from A Little Night Music. She forgot to read in the decrepit diva handbook where you're supposed to croak this particular song with leathery tone and approximate pitch, finessing the whole thing by virtue of age and attitude. If this exists as a whole, I'd love to see it.

What drove the crowd most vociferously bonkers was also my favorite item: Lauren Flanigan dressed in a rather outrageous get-up singing the sleepwalking scene from Macbeth with such delicious melodrama you'd think she was trying to remind the opera companies of North America of her existence. Listen, on dit that she's not the world's most pleasant colleague, and it seems like it miiiiight have something to do with her long absence from City Opera. Since I don't have to work with her, I wish to say: HIRE HER.


Anonymous said...

Beth Clayton and Patricia Racette are a couple. Very out.

I have been presented with a Word Verification that says ibukpd. If there had been one letter different...

Anonymous said...

From what I have heard, Flanigan no longer has the vocal means to get through a full operatic role. She can sing and/or declaim an aria at a gala, and last season she sang Tan Dun songs for a ballet at NYC Ballet but beyond that I don't think we will see her tackling much big stuff unless/until she finds some solutions. I don't think being "difficult to work with" has sabotaged her career as much as vocal variability and some stories about not knowing her role at dress rehearsals.

Then again, I may be wrong.

Maury D'annato said...

anonymous fellow or gal: it's a tricky instrument. My first impression of her was from tapes of Macbeth at City Opera. I thought she was way out of her depth. Later I heard her sing Abigaille in-house, expecting catastrophe, and I still don't know if it was voice or personality or some of both, but she unquestionably put it over. A complete success. It just didn't sound like a done-for voice at this gala. "Una macchia" is not a walk in the park, and the parts of the voice you'd expect to be gone if the instrument isn't working anymore weren't. It wasn't a beautiful sound but it wasn't ever, was it?

JSU said...

Her best part was Christine. The heavy stuff: why?

Your Domingo joke: classic.

Anonymous said...

I can say from working with her repeatedly that Ms.Flanigan is not difficult to work with. She was in pretty good voice at the Gala and was the only one called back for another bow. Yes. City Opera should hire her again. It needs the kind of fire she exhibted that night.

As one who has watched her vocal state for a long time- she's managed to essay dramatic parts when, in fact, her instrument is that of a full lyric (she was very good in coloratura parts at one time!) soprano.

Her real talent lies in her commitment to character. She make you believe in what she does, despite her vocal defects. And for good or ill, that is what modern audiences have come to demand.