Saturday, September 16, 2006

My Date with Zeus: A Tell-All Memoir

I swear to god there's a review in here somewhere (he said, fumbling around in his prefrontal cortex.)

Why don't we just say this, as far as the production is concerned...We are talking of Semele, by the way, at The Little Company that Usually Could. So here's my grand pronouncement on the remarkaby consistent aesthetic they have going on in their Handel department: I get and am even grateful for the impulse to flood the stage with arresting, kookily lyrical tableaux. I guess I'd just be glad of a little less wink and a lot less nudge. But hang on. I've just stumbled upon a much more intelligible version of what I'm trying to say, so my unwitting guest columnist for the day is "boringwhitegirl" from the peanut gallery at Parterre. She wrote:
...for every one great bit of stage busines...there are 3 or 4 meaningless bits that seem to have no purpose except to distract you from the fact that, no matter what you do, they're going to take that damned da capo again.

Personal to bwg: if you're mortified at being quoted, I'll cease and desist; I just decided I couldn't put it better.

You know, maybe this is just the illusion one has that the first time I saw something was the first time it was done, but I inevitably think back to Francisco Negrin's production of Partenope at Glimmerglass and it seems the whole routine was so much fresher back then: strip the thing of all the columns and overstated garb of antiquity, dress everyone well, dream up some striking, motivated but not obvious stage images, and call it an opera. Long about when the rose petals or whatever-they-weres started pouring through the roof of the bedroom on wheels, I lost my patience. Pretty, but so are a lot of things, and you have to choose which ones you put onstage or it comes apart at the seams, stops being theater.

Rant over, I guess. You'll want to know about the singing, and everyone succeeded on one level or another. Sanford Sylvan most of all, for me, but then I've always been a devoted fan, really from the moment I pulled the car over to dash into a building on the University of Texas campus, having just heard his Ungeduld from Mullerin on KMFA and called them on a pay phone (yes, little Sally, they were phones that stayed in one place and you put quarters in them) to ask who the singer was. His absolute evenness of tone has not left him, nor his aristocratic vocal bearing. I wish he'd sing Chou En Lai in one of these revivals, and I am still kind of kicking myself for missing his Wotan in EOS's scaled down ringlet.

Genaux has gotten heaps of good press in the last five years or so but I'd never heard her in house, just on some baroque album full of marvellously long lines. I'm not sure why I was merely pleased and not blown away...she's not missing much on any checklist, and "Iris, hence away" approached the spectacular. Maybe she just wasn't quite what I thought she was going to be and I had some trouble adjustin. One did hear the name Horne bandied about when people were discussing Genaux, and she's really more about an impeccable baroque line and less about gutsy aural machismo. I like her, no doubt about it. I think I'll like her more later.

Robert Breault I was surprisingly into, considering the voice is rather more Mascagni than Messiah. The deal is lately I'm so not invested in HIP or period performance, whatever the kids are calling it, that unless it's supremely well done, I'd just as soon hear something else entirely. Not for nothing my new favorite Monteverdi Orfeo (as opposed to my old favorite which was none, because I could never get into it much) is the one from La Scala in the 1930's. It's not the most florid part, as Handel goes, and someone like Kurt Streit would be twiddling his vocal cords the whole time. "Wherever you Walk" (with its lyrics that always strike me as funny, calling to mind some frightened soul being followed around by a crowd of tip-toeing Dutch elms) came out downright virile. I'm all for that. I guess it's time to lay my hands on that ridiculous old Hercules where Corelli put on thick soled boots so he'd be taller than Jerome Hines. Or isn't there--no joke--a Poppea with Gwyneth Jones?

I have this hunch they must have cut some/lots of Matthew White's music. My ear is a little out of practice with countertenors, I think. The palette can be a bit more narrow and you listen for other things. But he was certainly capable and stylistically on point. Not such a rich sound as we've gotten spoiled on by Daniels and Mehta, and not wildly inventive with phrasing, but then it's hardly the world's best role.

It's going to be hard for me to be very fair about Futral, honestly. Since Handel is so much not my bread and butter, I must have kind of imprinted hard on the first singer who made Handel sound fascinating to me, and everyone is judged by her likeness to Lisa Saffer. Elizabeth Futral's voice is in the same range of color, but baroque music sounds a bit like vocal tourism for her. A good deal of the music was finely sung, but it lacked that last layer of finish. God knows the breakneck pace of her final aria was a feat, a real accomplishment, but it also involved some fioratorical fudgding, and her high notes pop out of the line a little too much. I'm sorry I missed her Daphne. It just feels so far across the plaza some seasons.

So nu, my shaynkeits and meeskeits, the seasons just about to bust wide open, and I'm going to be honest with you: I'm buying the hype hook, line, and [system failure on sports metaphor.] I'm stoked. And unless James Gandolfini has any objections, I'll be writing about opening night when next I post.

Things I left out and am adding later, lazily not bothering to integrate:
1) Props to Pat Collins on the lighting, but for heaven's sake get a strobe light that doesn't make bug zapper noises if you're going to use one.
2) Um, oh yeah, everyone was dressed as Marilyn Monroe and Jackie O and stuff. I guess that's more or less the defining feature of the production. To what can we attribute my complete failure to mention this? Denial, most likely. Everyone looked great, but see above. These directorial ideas that seem great at first, does anyone think them through to the end of the opera? Because Marilyn Monroe, for instance, didn't die because Kennedy came to her in his godly form, or at least I assume not. (I wasn't there.) Really not trying to be picayune, just...


Paul said...

As one of your "meeskeits," I must commend you on having written such a highly entertaining review. I heard Futral here in Denver in "Traviata," which she performed brilliantly. I also have some of her (very fine) early stuff on CD, none of which is baroque in nature. To me she doesn't seem to have THAT sort of voice. But then, I'm one of those people who thinks that Handel operas should be shorter and rarer. Too many notes, indeed!

Nick said...

Christalingus! You were at that Sanford Sylvan recital at UT? So was I. I was competing in NATS, which was being held at UT that year. It is such a small world, I could fart and you'd die instantly!

Maury D'annato said...

You went to the Schoene Mullerin one, for real? You must have been seven years old. Do you remember him getting perturbed about someone coughing and breaking the singer barrier for a second to announce "Could someone give this poor suffering soul a Ricola?"?!

Maury D'annato said...

Paul: rarer, indeed! "This evening we present a little known work of Handel. Hopefully by the end of the evening, it will be littler known still."

Lisa Hirsch said...

Hell, I saw Sylvan do Schoene Muellerin in a church in Boston in the winter of 1979-80, when he was _just_starting out. He was terrific then, too.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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