Sunday, December 31, 2006


A very lovely New Year's Eve and New Year to you and yours from me and Rose Pauly. Seriously, I'm channeling her and she really likes you guys and wants to wish you a super 2007. "Super"--that was her word!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Maury D'Annato is the Male, Jewish, Non-Singing Callas

Maria Callas is the Greek Anna Netrebko
Ewa Podles is the Polish Samuel Ramey
Patricia Racette is the American Lucine Amara who was already American
Patricia Racette is the Lesbian Lucine Amara
Brigitte Fassbaender is the Lesbian David Daniels
David Daniels is the Lesbian David Daniels
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is the dead, Nazi Renee Fleming
Anna Netrebko is the Russian Anna Netrebko

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A moment of live-blog agony

Oh, that c sharp. That did not bode well. We here at My Favorite Intermissions are, in the spirit of daring inspired by Parterre's call on Levine, going to lay good odds on Kunde bowing out at intermission. Is there a cover for the cover? [D'oh! Wrong as usual!]

Also I'm ready to declare this not Netrebko's rep because the passagework is not entirely working out and the first high note of the evening was definitely iffy, but she sure sounds pretty in the simple lyric moments.

Ok and the bass singing Ah per sempre (if I'm not mixing up my wholly interchangeable bel canto arias): that was a lesson in what bel canto style is not. That is to say, I Puritani is not by Mascagni.

Not heart-broken about not having gone to this. Will update later, no doubt. Having a bit of a compulsive writing day.

Ok and Son Vergin is sounding perfectly adequate, and no high note. Hm. Yeah, sorry, it sounds idiotic to yelp "No e flat! No e flat!" except it's I Puritani, so it's kind of part of the package.

And then John Relyea shows up to save the day, singing a very pretty "Cinta di Fiori"...

Qui la voce: droopy in that pretty, dreamy late Sutherland way. Vien diletto: a little bit droopy in the not so good way, i.e. approximate, but very pleasant to listen to. E flat? Long, solid, and perhaps a shade flatter than intended? Someone tell me if I'm wrong, Netrebko always sounds pitchy to me. Crowd: loving her.

A bunch of what leads up to Vieni was quite heart-breaking. It seemed like Kunde was trying super-hard to sound younger and prettier, and it wasn't happening. And then the duet itself was sort of ok, and the f was weird, as it must be, but not bad and not wholly falsetto.

And then, I just can't put sugar on it, there was a howl of desperation from Netrebko to end the opera that just, ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Blekh. What can I say to convey the wrongness of that note? But you know what? I'm giving her points for trying it. Without that kind of chutzpah we wouldn't have had the e flat in the Callas Mexico City Aida. It could have been a triumph, if it hadn't been a fiery freeway accident.

Is it time to put Puritani back into the crate for another twenty years, or fifty?


Can we stop with the Netrebko=Callas? Like, immediately? I can't begin to understand this comparison except as a bit of wishful thinking: we'd all love to have an epoch-making diva.

Netrebko is a singer to be reckoned with. She's hot stuff onstage and off, and yes, off does matter--making a splash is the difference between an artist and a star. Who knows which one she wants to be eventually...She's more a star at present, albeit a star with fantastic theatrical instincts and a lot to work with in the chords.

But where to start? 1) She could never, ever sing Brunnhilde, or Isolde and if she's got a Norma up her couture sleeve, it's many years down the pike (though honestly, the rhetoric around Norma does get a little hard to wade through--mortals have made their way through it and even sung parts of it well.) Fine, Callas might well have sucked as Lyudmila. 2) She (Trebko? Net, spasibo) didn't have to totally overhaul herself to be (conventionally) hot; she was already there. 3) The florid technique is just not remotely as fine tuned chez la Russe as chez la Grecque 4) Her public persona is rather straightforward and conventional, no champagne vs. Coca Cola remarks, no running off with famous people, though I guess there's still time, but she just doesn't seem like she's going to die alone, mysteriously, in an apartment in Paris. Etc., und so weiter, i tak dalee...

Most importantly, though, her acting is more physical than vocal. That is the main way in which she is not Callas.

Anyway wouldn't it be more fun to call her The Cossack Callas than The Russian Callas? She's from Krasnodar. It's Cossack Country. I googled it.

That answers that question

(Sign in the window at Lincoln Center branch, RIP)

Monday, December 25, 2006

We're Open Today

I do so hate it when everything's closed on, you know, that holiday, the one they have in December, with the suicides and know, I read people spend on average $800 a year on gifts, which is just nuts. So I wanted to post something, in the spirit of not being closed, only I haven't gone to much I could write up. I did see Company again, and it is if anything, tightened up, Raul Esparza's 11:00 number even more intense. That's not much to tell you. Also, la sorella D'annato is in town and as she is crazy mad for Rent we saw that, and though I can't say much for the crowd, the show has happily cycled through every C-grade celeb that wanted to sing in it, so now it's just these young, not-half-bad kids who probably dreamed of being on Broadway, which I'm guessing Joey Fatone did not.

I got a recording or two, nothing new, just old stuff I had wanted for a while. Solti's Figaro, can you believe I didn't have it? When I was just getting into Figaro I had it in my head Susanna's entrance should have a certain lilting, easy quality and it turned out I had heard the Solti some time earlier and that's what I had in my head, the perfection that is Popp. If you haven't listened to it in a while, treat yourself. I haven't gotten to the Count's aria yet, but I'm looking backward/forward to it (having doubtless heard it years ago.) Also the other day on Sirius they were playing a Manon Lescaut excerpt that appealed, and to my shock it was Albanese, who I've never, ever liked. So I waltzed over to J&R, at this point practically the only game in town, and I bought that, the old studio deal with Bjorling. The croaky quality is indeed there in Albanese's singing, but it's forgivable. It seems to be finally getting me into the opera that may in fact be the first one I ever saw but has never really grabbed me.

Coming up: can I drag myself to Puritani after re-discovering at Caramoor what a lumbering bore of a thing it is? Well, it'll be hard not to, with the usual expectations about Trebbers (I really want much, much more vocal purity in things like "Qui la voce" but if anyone can enliven this walking Ambien of a character, it could be her) and my really very happy impression of Cutler last year. Also I"m trying to figure out what Amato is doing but their website is much in keeping with the air of charming disrepair one hears characterizes the company. That's right, I've never been to the Amato.

And of course there's the countdown to Jenufa. Well, that's all I got...

Aright, off to partake of the traditional Chinatown fare of the Hebrews.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Message from a Nightingale

And now a few words about the first act of The First Emperor. No, cherished reader, not because it's late and I need my sleep do I bring you news only of the first half of this much-hyped premiere. Rather because I am not a food writer, and I was enjoying a plate of tacos al pastor at Hell's Kitchen's El Azteca during act two of The First Emperor, the ghastly and unlovable flop that landed with a thud on the stage of the Metropolitan this evening. And no, I'm not trying to make up for my sunny tone of late. If I'd been on the aisle, I might very well have left twenty minutes sooner.

To pass the time, since there's not much to say, here's a brief history of your humble correspondent and 20+ century music. At age tennish he was taken by an overly optimistic father to a program of chamber works by, I'm not sure, did Xenakis write for violin and piano? Someone whose name struck ten-year-old ears as exotic and whose music scared a young Maury away from the twentieth century for the next six or seven years until Poulenc and Ravel provided an easier way in. Time passes, M.d' becomes a perfectly respectable listener who, while he might have to pretend he gets Ligeti, is not one to go into things raring to declare them monstrosities. Or even lifeless, hectoring bores, but we'll get there...

Now, I'll admit I went into last year's excellent An American Tragedy wary that it might be one of those pieces of dutiful modernism that loses its way between 21st century concessions to the existence of the audience and presumably conservatory-instilled horror of sounding anything like Puccini, never finding a personal voice and never displaying any understanding of what people want from an opera. I'm just talking about a basic narrative thrust that is reflected somehow in the vocal line. Lulu meets this criterion just the same as Don Giovanni, and opera audiences flock to it despite its daunting language. Am-Trag turned out to meet it admirably as well. The First Emperor fails spectularly.

Perhaps JSU is right and the libretto is the rug that got yanked out from under things. I'm trying to imagine act one with a text less redolent of Vogon poetry, but I just can't do it. The problem with putting over ideas that feel mythic in scale is that mythology (pace Joseph Campbell) can be a very local thing, and so your language is going to have to be extremely assured when, let's say, you show a princess seducing a prince by spitting food into his mouth. If it's unconvincing, everything will just seem exotic with all the worst weight of that word. If it's truly ungainly, you may have a comedy on your hands. Toss in some leaden music with nary an appealing vocal line in the first hour and a half, and the question you see in the eyes of your audience might just be, "how long 'til that thrill ride, Akhnaten?"

There is almost nothing to redeem this work, unless act two includes a screening of Xanadu. Paul Groves, reliably sympathetic and sweet of voice, almost manages to puncture the dreadful gloom of the scene in which his character fucks Elizabeth Futral so hard she can walk again --insert standard Anna Russell disclaimer--but not really, not quite. Futral is asked to sing wretched, clumsy sounding lines, though fortunately her diction is not as good as Groves' and you can't always make out the deeply unpoetic libretto. (One exception I regret most is when she calls his mouth "a stubborn oyster.") Groves, by the way, is the Anatol in the Vanessa that keeps opening at the hallucinated Metropolitan Opera in my head, and he's swell.

Suzanne Mentzer, in her only Met appearance this season, had about two lines in the first act, which is criminal. Michelle de Young had many, and I have no other hearings to judge her by but I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she sounds better in less grating music. Hao Jing Tian displayed a bit of grace when he was given the opportunity.

I just have no way to judge Domingo. He was certainly there, ergo the sold-out run.

The design is briefly striking, but largely static. An illustration of what Minghella's Butterfly might have looked like with a good deal less taste and imagination, it is arresting in that way that doesn't last very long. Another production might choose to root the poetastery of the libretto in something a little more literal, but with any luck, there will never be another production.

ETA: apparently not a flop. Jonathan has noted a screaming audience response on the broadcast...I mean, who's to call it a flop when it sells really well, but I did assume people would hate it. Opinion on Opera-L, for what that's worth, was looking pluralistic when I checked in last night.

A singer of note goes online

Some of us are chewing our nails to the quick waiting for She of Many Syllables to sink her teeth into...honestly not the world's meatiest role at City Opera this Spring.

Evviva Bulgaria, as usual.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Letter from an Imaginary Reader

Dearest Maury,

Please advise me on the following point of etiquette:

If I have a case of Martian Death Flu, as just about everyone in New York does right now, only I simply adore Rigoletto and decide to go anyway, what is the appropriate behavior? First of all, should I unwrap my Kleenex at the beginning, or would that be unimaginative? Should I, maybe, instead, buy one of those plastic packs that has a little seal on it so I can seal and unseal it every wonderful time the urge to blow my nose arises?

Well, and speaking of the blowing of noses, should I dab at my nose in a genteel fashion, quietly expel air and offending matter, or (oh, I just know you'll choose this one, since it obviously the proper manner of conduct) opt for the florid splendor of the loud, long, cartoonish honk followed each and every time by two wet coughs?

Heavens, I know I'm pushing it by asking so many darn questions, but there's just one more, 'kay Maurizio, old thing? Let's say I've opted for the crinkling and the honking. Should I do it when there's applause, or at intermission, or when they go more or less apeshit with the wind machine during the storm? Or might it really spice things up more to blow my nose loudly in quiet moments, in the middle of Sparafucile's low F, during Parmi Veder le Lagrime, and just about every other possible exposed moment as if I WERE FOLLOWING WITH A FUCKING SCORE.

All the very best,
The person behind you

Aright, that's out of my system.

It can't have been much more or less than a year ago that I got exceedingly enthusiastic about Villazon, and had my first deeply mixed feelings about Anna Dovol'no-trebko. Who I'm smarmily happy to report is a full tilt knockout in person, drinking her champagne five feet away near what we've come to refer to as the barbecue deck (because that's exactly what they should do with it at intermissions in nice weather, Rene Pape out there flipping burgers) in her totally cute skirt and long boots. There's always the temptation to say something to glamorous personages one runs across, but if you imagine the conversation, I mean really go through with it in your head, it ends up sounding like that bit from The Waltz: "Did you go to the circus this year, what’s your favorite kind of ice cream, how do you spell cat?" Only possibly in Russian. And I mean how well is "your Gilda was magnificent except for the singing" going to go over? (I'm just fishing for a laugh here; I could easily and sincerely praise Miss N's exquisite Mimi.)

What I remember most about that earlier Rigoletto, and what I think I'll remember when I'm a withered old windbag (shuddup) is the jittery energy with which Rolandochka (as I'm certain Trebs calls him...I should've asked) swaggered around, physically and vocally, during "Possente Amor," and then ran offstage like he was really, truly about to get laid. I have to admit, that was missing tonight in Piotr Beczala's Duke, but nothing else was. I'm dying to hear what everyone else* thought of him because I was Im. Pressed. As was pointed out to me, there were some choppy phrases and weird cutoffs, but really it was a most athletic piece of singing. I suppose I should throw in the word slancio somewhere here, so there it is, and there it was. If I had to choose between hearing Beczala and Villazon, I think what I'd most likely do is start a new paragraph, about Ekaterina Siurina.

Bit of a drag to go point by point here, comparing last year and this year, but it's late and I had this weird blood sugar thing going on all night, so humor me. Trebbers wowed me last season (twice) without actually doing much singing I liked. She's very alive onstage, and the girth of her voice is exciting, but in every other regard, Kathy S. is her vocal better. The voice itself is that kind that should be a dime a dozen but ain't. It's sunny and even-tempered and makes soft landings wherever it goes. It is, for me, illustrative of why "pretty" is not necessarily faint praise. I want a duvet filled with it for all the winter nights we're apparently not having anymore since we're headed straight for the sun. I want to bathe in it. It should be noted that Ms. Siurina doesn't so much as roll her eyes when there's a trill in the score, so YMMV if you're a stickler about those things. And her acting, yeah, is generalized. She should probably be enrolled in that deprogramming course where lyric sopranos are broken, by any means necessary, of the habit of spinning around with their arms up when they're playing happy, but if she started singing, her deprogrammers would make like the animals in the Magic Flute and start dancing around, and she'd escape.

What am I talking about, though? The real news, given the things we have and don't have, is probably Carlos Alvarez. I do mean Carlos, right? I'm not just making up some Mexican sounding name because I can't remember his real one? Oh, whatevs, call him Fifi Alvarez if you need to; just call him next time anyone's doing Verdi. I saw this one coming when he sang in Ballo with Debbie. I mean...sometimes lately I feel like the Roger Ebert of opera bloggers, not in terms of anyone actually reading me or havng a tv show or anything, but rather because I'm relatively enthusiastic about what I hear, at cumulative risk of sounding uncritical. So let's say this was not perfection, but certainly it was excellence. Ok, back to the drawing board on toning things down. And even though this is one of those hoary cliches of opera reviewing, I just gotta say it's a pleasure to hear the role sung rather than shouted. I can't seem to write my way around it. The only thing missing in Paco Alvarez' assumption of the role of Rigoletto is the spark from within that makes people like Villazon and Netrebko appear to be living their roles, making it up as they go along. The motivation here is so clearly externally motivated, the action frenetic without a point, and though Alvarez stays in character a while into curtain calls, which suggests a connection he can sense, it hasn't made its way out, to us, yet.

Just the same, with that, we may have reinstated another vocal category missing for some time in any confidently claimable way from the Metropolitan: the Verdi Baritone.

I am in serious need of sleep right now, but don't want to sign off without noting Robert Lloyd's luxuriantly charred-black sound and Kate Aldrich's fluid physicality and decidedly non-comprimaria sound as Maddalena. And now I'm off to dream a little dream about Kleenex filled with chloroform.

*okay, except for some people

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Holiday Wishes

Happy Chaka Kahn to all you of the Hebraic persuasion!

Friday, December 15, 2006


They're making a broadway musical of Xanadu!!!

Starring Magdalena Kozena!!! (not really. but they are making a musical.) And Thomas Hampson!!!

I'm going to look like the world's biggest hypocrite for finding this exciting after whining about pre-fab musicals like The Wedding Singer, but if you've ever seen Xanadu, maybe you'll understand. Because unlike middlebrow, ephemeral but acceptable nothings like High Fidelity, Xanadu is utter crap! "Exuberantly idiotic and wrong," said one critic (me). "Divinely sincere in its embarassing missteps," said another (still me.)

It has its own music. And it's by E.L.O.! It has a crazy number where an old Andrews Sisters type number has to share the stage with that crazy 80's "Rock and Roll" sound, so it's kind of like Ariadne auf Naxos that way. It's fool-proof. Like a musical of, I don't know, Carrie.

Monday, December 11, 2006

what's attractive on stage need not necessarily be attractive off

If you like your opera, well, operatic, it's hard to do better than the current to-do at La Scala. You can find the blow-by-blow over at OperaChic. In depth commentary and all manner of footnotes from the peanut gallery, as usual, at Parterre. I, for once, don't have a damn thing to say except it's made for exceptionally fun reading.

[The secondary theme of this posting is: yes, I have a line from All About Eve for every occasion. Much like Uncle Tom's Cabin, it is the key to all knowledge and culture.]

Friday, December 08, 2006

Like Eliza on the Ice

My friend Emily once said, in the middle of a very, very long story, "There is a point to this story. I'm famous for always getting to the point." I think we should all be famous for something, don't you? Even if nobody knows who the hell we are? I, for instance, am famous for just going ahead and saying it even though it's stupid.

Now is the part of Shprockets ven ve commit blasphemy. You're going to run around clutching your heads acting like Jews #1-5 when Herod gives the go-ahead or rather the go-behead, but I'm going to say it anyway.* Naturally, in December the mind turns to making lists of the best and worst things that happened over the year, if one is a particular sort of ninny, and I am. Not to get all Oscarific, the Best Male Performance I saw all year was pretty likely Rene Pape as Phillip II. And the second best was...

Raul Esparza in the brilliant revival of Sondheim's Company playing at the Barrymore. Now, don't faint or anything...I'm not exactly equating the two things. Esparza gets to sing into a microphone in a small theater. From the standpoint of quasi-athletic achievement, it doesn't take the same kind of chops, though Esparza's production is indeed well schooled and easy. Main thing is, he convinced me that a role I never really liked is actually a magnificent piece of writing. Favorite performances of the year aren't about being convinced, though; they're about being shaken or stirred (anyone feel like a martini?) I left the theater quite moved. I'll have to see it again, I think.

Actually, I reevaluated the whole show, not just Bobby. Please understand: I really like the original cast recording, in a certain sense of the verb "to like." I enjoy the story behind it, have watched the documentary with everyone staying up all night to record it. I listened to it a bunch before I ever saw the show, and once I got past the annoying opening chorus, I found the writing delightful. I think almost all of it, however, is improved upon by this cast, and I can't wait for their recording.

Highlights include: 1) Heather Laws' so-fast-it's-physically-impossible delivery of Amy's mad scene/patter song "Not Getting Married." Her deliver, also, is so funny as to almost diminish my monomaniacal love for the platonic-ideal that is Beth Howland, creatrix of the role's original reading. (Amy Justman as Susan also displays formidable musicianship in the opening bars, shrieked rather hellishly on the 1970 version.) Bear in mind all these people are traipsing around the stage playing various instruments. The one that struck me as particularly funny was Barbara Walsh as Joanne, laconically playing the triangle.

Walsh is the cast member most likely to be raked over the coals of comparison, of course. But, what can I say. Blasphemy #2: while I admire the ferocity in Elaine Stritch's account of the show's best known tune, "The Ladies who Lunch," (and it is ferocity that Walsh lacks, a little) I've never really bought her as Joanne as the book and score present her: a well heeled society gal who's hard-as-nails as an acquired accent to her basically classy nature. Yes, she's screaming inside, but she has mastered the WASP trick of not letting it out, and when she does, it's a party trick.

Stritch, in delivery and vocal persona, is a bit too much the broad. She doesn't sing with any introspection, so I've never totally bought her as Joanne, and you can disinvite me to your Sondheim karaoke party now, though I think I'd do a nice "Ladies who Lunch." Barbara Walsh isn't 100% convincing in the scene that leads up to the number, but her delivery of the song itself has a certain refinement to it that I think is necessary. [In moderation. Check out this hilarious disaster to see what happens if things get too genteel.] Not that Company is big on coherence, but "Ladies who Lunch" really can pop out of the frame excessively if it turns into a real bar brawl. Walsh makes it a contained breakdown--the availability of vibrato, for instance, reminds us who the character is. Not a trick Stritch had in her bag.

The production has a cold and sophisticated look, and the "look, ma--no band" idea works very differently than it did in Sweeney Todd, but equally well I think. I'm thinking if I shut up about the concept and the staging and all that, though, a certain other blogsterino might take up the topic better than I can.

I realize this makes me sound like a whore, but truthfully, I'm not getting paid to urge you to run out and see this, if you like musical theater at all. Last season's gem, The Drowsy Chaperone, just recouped its investment and another jukebox musical just closed (who knows which one, and who cares?) So my point here is go see high quality stuff, vote at the box office, and maybe good revivals and good new musicals will seem like a good investment to the people who fund this stuff and we won't have to live under the constant threat of a musical version of Mean Girls or Sometimes I Give Myself the Creeps: The Green Day Musical.

Oh, not for nothing, I made the title of this posting what it is as a sort of string around my finger to remind me to ask if anyone knows what the hell this line from "Not Getting Married" refers to ("Why/Watch me die/Like Eliza on the ice?") since I've never known.

*Right, yes, I'm pretending anyone who reads this is an opera fuddy-duddy. I know it's not true, but for some reason it's more fun if I imagine you're going to be scandalized.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Jack of all trades, master of some more than others

Ok, how embarassing. I have almost nothing to say about tonight's Boheme. I shall have to try extra hard to whip up my 1.5 thoughts on the matter into a big, verbitudinous empty nothing.

I think maybe tonight was a coulda-been-a-contender night, where one problem takes the air out of a whole lot of potential. Not to keep you in suspense, since I'm sure otherwise you'd have been positively shredding your food wondering who ruined Christmas*, the culprit is a tenor, and it ain't Villazon, nosireebob. Oh and it's not Parpignol either, since Parpignol as an operatic role is sort of like Family Circus as described in the movie Go: he just sits there in the score, waiting to suck. He's probably the only character who deserves the miserable fate of being surrounded by a children's chorus. So, who's left? Flacido Flamingo, of course, whose Siegmund I would gladly hear any day, but who just doesn't have it going on conductorially. Many people have told me so, but it was driven home for me last night: what should have been a big event was instead a slightly frustrating, decent night at the Met.

It just never came together, and I mean that in a broad figurative sense as well as the most literal: a bunch of world class singers at the country's premiere opera shack were actually not together with the orchestra and sometimes with each other, and near as I can figure, it may have been from the shock of having to drop any notions of musically conveyed drama to plod along with Domingo's workmanlike concept of the score.

The singers weren't bad. Quite the opposite. Villazon in the first act raised questions about his ability to sing a spinto part in such a large hall, but Act III was perfectly audible and terribly pretty. His reaction to [spoiler alert!] Mimi's death was just as hammy as it needs to be to jolt you out of having heard the scene four score and seven times. His little scream before the big "Mimi!" outburst was a fleeting moment of grand tragic over-the-damn-top acting that crowned a nuanced, deeply endearing performance (the seduction of Mims was particularly funny and convincing.) I'm trying to stop short of saying his performance made me want to give him a big old hug, because that would just be creepy. Seriously, though...Rolando, man, if you need one, I'm here for you. His Duke in Rigoletto was more exciting, but Rodolfo is certainly a success, too.

Ne-osobenno-trebko sounds so, so much righter in Puccini, to my ear, than she did in Rigoletto. Though I was expecting her to knock it out of the park on that one note in Act II that Tebaldi fans used to sit around waiting for, her performance was more a whole package, tastefully imagined and more than competently produced. Nothing flashy, but nothing less than excellent. Maybe not riveting, but I mean, c'mon, it's shoot for "endearing" more than "fascinating." I've never gotten to the end of a Boheme and thought "wait, but if she dies, how can she finish her dissertation?" Here and there, the Trebs could use a consonant transfusion, but I've heard worse cases of that particular disorder.

A native of Perm, Russia ("Where Every Day is a Bad Hair Day") Anna Samuil, who stepped in for someone named Glanville as Musetta, has a pretty sweet and youthful sound except right at the top, where it goes a bit Russian. She got through the legally required mugging without being irritating, but didn't create a particularly vivid character as Musetta, which I do think is possible, though I'm having trouble thinking of anyone who does it. That Quando M'en Vo didn't get a mid-act ovation I'm going to blame on the guy with the stick, and if you disagree, you'll tell me.

The backup crew, foremost the dependably top notch John Relyea and a charming Patrick Carfizzi, were entirely in line with the caliber of casting, and equally besmirched by the torpid flow of things.

Now, I fall solidly into the category of non-booer, myself, but I have to say it was amusing to watch a boo-vs-bravo war start up at both intermissions when PD hit the podium. Didn't happen at curtain calls--presumably the booing party could stand to be there no longer. I don't think I'll ever boo anyone (was in fact mortified when people booed an admittedly lackluster sub for Villazon last year...maybe it marks me as Southern but I think there's a certain virtue to gracious acceptance of lousyness when an expression of our disdain won't accomplish anything beyond hurting someone's feelings) but I have to admit, knowing Domingo has years of fame and success buffering him from taking these things too seriously, or so I'd guess, never having been famous, that it kind of tickled me.

Oh, for the record: whether this was Villazon's lapse of taste or Domingo's, I have no way of knowing, but Rodolfo did not take the genlteman's option in ending Act I but rather took the top note with her, which is always vulgar. Also for the record, I believe the end of the act was in key, though honestly-truly I've kind of forgotten where to listen for the transposition. Is it right after "Gia mi mandi via?"

Next up: remains to be seen.

*I've heard some protestant families have a wintertime fun ritual of determining who ruined Christmas. As a General in the War on Christmas, I certainly hope it was me.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mea Culpa: Take MCMXIV

My god, it's been weeks since any post of the form "forget what I just said because it's totally wrong."

Already two musicologists have informed me that musicologists really aren't opposed to cuts, although one of them admits that Phillip Gossett, the grand inquisitor of Verdiana, does indeed hate all cuts. It seems it is in fact a certain kind of opera queen, not musicologist, I'm thinking of, that gets huffy if you cut ten bars of Die Frau Ohne Schatten or do the wrong damn version of Boris G, the edition from last June instead of last August.

Okay, must go spend some time thinking up new things to be wrong about. All those mistakes out there aren't gonna make themselves, you know.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Answer to a poor soul sent here by google

Here's a search string that led to my page:

"Is Renee Fleming a better singer than Kiri Te Kanawa is or was?"

Gentle reader,

Renee Fleming was, until several years ago, a better singer than Kiri te Kanawa is now, primarily in that Kiri te Kanawa barely sings now and that's no good at all. RF now is certainly a worse singer than KtK was at her best, except when (occasionally) she's really good again, like in those Berg songs at Carnegie.

Some days RF is a worse singer than KtK ever thought about being, like when she's singing in a Southern accent, which KtK would never do, I'm guessing, or when she's singing jazz, which KtK did in a less misguided and grating way than RF. Te Kanawa, at her worst, was just dull. One of the crew at Parterre dubbed her "The World's Highest Paid Church Soprano," but then she went and sang that final run of Capriccio at the Met that (all snarkitude dropped for a moment) brought tears to my eyes at the outburst of "Madeleine!" in the final scene. Follow that link, by the way, and you'll also find the witty potshot about how K's Tosca is the only one you'll ever hear described as "soothing."

We could always compare them in certain roles. I, as much as anyone, like occasionally reducing opera to little more than the sausage race at a Brewers game.

Desdemona: Fleming wins.
Countess in Figaro: te Kanawa wins, unless it's Fleming fifteen years ago in which case it's a draw
Mimi in Rent: Neither of them ever sang it but wouldn't it be hilarious?
Effie in Dreamgirls: Oh stop, now you're just being silly.
Vanessa: Kiri was supposedly pretty good but Fleming hasn't sung it and I guess won't be offered it at the Met because they haven't staged it since 1965. *tap tap tap* Is this thing on?

So there you have it. Don't you love it when the internet provides an objective answer to your question?

Another disappointed reader googles his way here with the search string "words lamento della ninfa." Well I don't know them, of course, but I'm happy to make some up.

Ahime, com'e triste d'essere ninfa!
E ninfere qua e la, notte e giorno
Senza gia il tempo per fare altre cose!
Ahime, non vuoglio essere piu ninfa,
Ma che puo fare? Cantaro un lamento, cosi,
E forse Signore Monteverdi puo lasciare
La sua opera somnifera e interminabile di Poppea
Per due momenti, e scrivere le note
Per una povera ninfa, cantante suo lamento, ahime, senza musica.

Nymphs speak lousy Italian, as it turns out. One supposes they speak Nymph. I do hope ninfa means nymph, or I'm going to look like I'm not serious about these matters.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Sneaked, unless it's snuck

I suspect it's dialectal. Teutonoform strong verbs are a dying breed, anyhow.

I just came as close as I have in years to enacting the fanboy ritual of getting my program signed.

This was a relaxed, non-tired-from-work, matinee experience, different in feel from the fever dream of a buzzy opening night, but probably equally satisfying. It was the cushiony couch of contentment rather than the wild ride of discovery, delirium, &c.

Flipping through almost-signed program, by the way, we find that Anna Netrebko is frequently compared to Callas (premature much?) and that the Met is presenting the Magic Flute in a new English translation. There's about a 10% chance that's good news, if you ask me. Singing translations are second to maybe military occupations of sovereign nations in terms of likelihood of going horribly wrong. And, not to always privilege the dead over the living, there's always that English translation by that Auden fellow...

Did I say Don Carlo was (narratively) in an emotionally irretrievable medium? Because opera seria, now that's some hard shit to get really exercised about. And on top of everything else, there's no applause window after two of Ilia's big numbers.

This shows a particular lack of foresight on Mozart's part when Ilia is Dorothea Roschmann. Note to Mozart: Roschmann needs an applause window. Just give us a V-I and hold your horses with the recit. Don't let it happen again. Remember the time I said I wasn't going to use food metaphors for singing because it's facile and overly subjective? I'm going to do just one, just to keep a hand in. Dorothea Roschmann's voice is like raspberry puree served in an ivory dish made from the tusk of the last elephant and slurped up through a straw made of pink diamonds. Don't you think?

The weird thing is I'm not exactly sure what I want to hear her sing. The Countess, no doubt, Figaro and Capriccio. Daphne? A soprano Oktavian? (Shuddup, JSU.) Jenufa? Ok, here's my answer: anything she wants to sing. She gives the impression of a singer who nailed up her technique so long ago she is able to devote absolutely all of her energy to making it art.

The very best thing was maybe the duet with Kozena, about whom I have probably enthused to the point of great tiresomeness. Idamante wasn't as fulfilling as Dorabella, but it sure was an easy sing (which I noted in particular after Kirstine Jepson's interesting intermission chat the other day, in which she told Maggie J. something to the effect of "after the first time I got out there and sang ''non ho colpa" I called all my mezzo friends and asked, "why didn't you tell me how hard it is?!" p.s. have I mentioned how relaxed and engaging MJ seems as an interviewer? I feel inclined to weigh in after all the ludicrous moaning about her first season as an announcer) She and Roschmann reminded me of those postwar central European Mozart singers, actually, in many ways I can't quite put words to right now.

The two of them did absolutely all you could to inhabit the stylized storytelling of opera seria, although in this they may have been outshone by Alexandra Deshorties, vocally much, much improved since last I heard her. I can't say I love the basic sound but she's doing a lot with it and has really worked out a kind of fluid stage comportment for herself. D'Oreste was pretty nuts. She's the only member of the cast who seems to have hired a drag queen consultant for hand-movement seminars, which is too bad for the rest of them. Idomeneo, more than most operas, needs a little Paris is Burning to get things going.

I don't have a hell of a lot to say about Kobie van Rensburg. Wasn't at all disappointed, but there wasn't some moment I wanted to run home and tell everyone about. At the risk of relegating everyone else to a sum-it-up paragraph, here, Jeffrey Francis displayed admirable flexibility as Arbace, and Simon O'Neill tore it up pretty good as the high priest of Neptune. There was no real weakness in this cast, down to the Cretans (including an auditions favorite from a few years ago, the sweet-voiced Lisette Oropesa and ubiquitous and quite talented bass Andrew Gangestad, who I knew vaguely years ago and is also a nice fellow.)

By the way, my sources in the front row report that when the crown fell off Kozena's head in the last minutes of the opera, she was visibly almost cracking up, which I wish I'd seen. Everyone else just stood around in a very stately manner, trying to pretend that the Fumbling of the Crown is part of any first-rate coronation.

Tuesday's Boheme, and isn't there a Rigoletto this week? Opera burnout, here I come!

Bonus (?) chat-post. Kind of like a commentary track you'd never pay extra for:

JSU: netrebko callas?
JSU: ha ha ha
Maury: seriously
JSU: ha! no, you kid
Maury: and I like her
JSU: they're both skinny!
Maury: they're both from east of the mississippi. i dunno, i just report.
Maury: "to whom Netrebko is routinely compared" says the program
Maury: did you like my shout-out about soprano strauss roles? :)
JSU: yeah, but you picked the wrong one ;)
JSU: i'd prefer her marschallin...
JSU: oh, btw
JSU: i realized why i didn't think kozena was a soprano
Maury: the marschallin is a less interesting sing.
Maury: why?
JSU: cause she wasn't any good in mahler 4
Maury: ah
Maury: i missed it
JSU: with the hub
Maury: you suggested roeschmann as komponist, no?
JSU: yes
JSU: rosenkav is a lot beefier
JSU: it's really a jugendlich role
Maury: i can never tell who will look dumb as a boy, though. i thougt kozena would.
JSU: as a boy, she looks like a boy
JSU: which, if you think about it, is unsurprising, considering her shape
JSU: roeschmann may look a bit like flagstad in fidelio or something tho, it's true
Maury: give me a heterosexual perspective: she's actually totaly hot, right? not just opera hot?
JSU: yes
JSU: and
JSU: both ways, she looks like an extra from the lord of the rings
Maury: that's disturbing
JSU: well, i was thinking about this thru 90% of her baroque recital last yr (maggie k)
JSU: wait
JSU: you didn't mention stephen milling!
JSU: neither did i, mind you
Maury: i'm not sure why i said te duet with koz was the best part, except as a transition. ilia's arias really were the best part.
JSU: i thought elettra's first was the best part ;)
JSU: well, maybe not, but close.
Maury: huh
Maury: i have trouble with her voice
JSU: somehow, it's what's been stuck in my head since wednesday tho
Maury: love her hand gestures
JSU: yeah, the top is still artificial, even if it's solidified
JSU: but it works, and there's a menacing boom somewhere near the bottom, so who cares
JSU: 2 more chances!
Maury: no, i liked it but i'm not really up for another idomeneo
Maury: i did just pull Cestina Hrou (Czech for Fun!) off the shelf in case i need to express my approval to MK
Maury: hezka hudba=beautiful music, i think
Maury: velmi krasna hudba. very beautiful music. i don't feel like going through the book looking for the preterite so i can say "that was". I have forgotten most of the 1 quarter of Czech I studied
[minor deletion about Boheme to protect the innocent]
JSU: in fact, it's the only safe one with her to see, since the first is 'conducted' by domingo and the second is singles night (gaaaaak)
Maury: they should make jenufa singles night [which, credit where it's due, was I may have been Jonathan's idea.]
JSU: bluebeard's castle ;)
Maury: american tragedy? :)
JSU: btw, you didn't blog kozena's ornamentathon
JSU: is it more ok in opera seria?
Maury: oh, true. in opera seria it doesn't...jinx

Friday, December 01, 2006

damp firecracker

Here's your plan: next time Don Carlo is up, go get a nice dinner somewhere and show up for Acts IV and V. You think I'm kidding.

Now, I'm known far and wide as a musicologist groupie, maybe the only one in existence. I hang around them, have been known to date them. But one thing I'll never get is the idea they all seem to have that operas should never be cut. Have you ever heard the Callas Vestale? Have you ever tried listening to all of Vestale? I'm not proposing anything drastic, mind you, just I'd be happier if we could cut all of Don Carlo but Act III scene I and then the last two acts.

Alternately, it could be presented in some radical restaging designed to piss everyone off. The whole thing is set at a gas station, except Act IV scene I, which is at a high school dance because that's the only place there's ever that much drama. Or, hell, flip the score over Bob Wilson's way. I'm all for that. It's just so damn dusty, Don Carlo, that without a bit of devilry, it is almost always going to be, for all the fine singers you can muster, emotionally rather inaccessible.

To be fair, certain things do not help. In the roles of Elisabetta and Carlo, Patricia Racette and Johann Botha have pretty much exactly the chemistry you might expect from, yeah, a fundamentalist Christian and a lesbian trying to play two hot-headed fools that can't keep their damn hands off each other. In with the bargain, they are dressed like a hotel lobby. And somehow this fails to ignite their passions.

Racette, however, is in very fine form. May I digress? Thanks, don't mind if I do. I find it's best to get to know a new or relatively uknown voice in an opera one knows well, just as it's helpful to see singers you like if the opera they're in is one you've never heard. It gives you something to latch on to. So this was in a way my maiden voyage with Racette, having heard her only as what's-her-head in American Tragedy. Didn't know her voice, didn't know the piece, couldn't really take it all in at once. Now I sort of get it.

There are debits...the floaty p's are sweet but not 100% sure to stay in place; some find her phrasing in places pedestrian. The overall package, though, is admirable. She sings a Verdi line that's hard to argue with and there's real strength throughout the voice. Her acting this evening was pro stuff and best of all, she sings a reasonable amount of the time with abandon, the one thing in such short supply.

So this stood in pretty sharp contrast to Botha, so wonderful tis summer in Gurrelieder and so plain as Carlo. "Io la vidi" was, in particular, something like ungainly, its grupetti phrased in a desperately clunky mannner. He warmed up, but I'm just not buying him in this rep. Jonathan von Wellsung liked him better than I did and has blogged the whole thing up most amusingly.

Nor, I'm sorry and surprised to say, am I buying the sure-footed, steel-voiced Borodina as Eboli. Either the woman's got a cold or the tessitura threw her, but it just wasn't friendly territory, and while the Veil Song was fetchingly put together, some of the ensembles went for nothing and "Oh, Dawn Fatale" (as we have come to think of it) came shockingly close to true vocal mishap. Acting is very context-dependant for the habitually regal Ms. B, and she missed the desparation of Eboli by a wide mark.

Her compatriat is a shoe-in for Rodrigo, and nobody seemed particularly surprised when he walked off with it. Besides which, we all saw him do it at the Gala, right? It's 2 a.m. and I'm not fishing around for my program to make sure I'm not making that up. Okay but one thing while we're on the topic of Russia, which we sort of were when the paragraph began, and that's good enough for me. And that one thing is can we make a rule about, I don't know exactly, performances where Hairostovsky and Olga B bring out an audience full of a certain nationality that is a wee bit more talkative at the opera than is accepted hereabouts? I'm not sure what the rule would be exactly, but it might involve ejector seats.

Don't I always save dessert for last? I don't want to repeat my Volpe Gala freakout about Pape, but...JSU and I were, blogwise, kind of discussing performances that are almost unnarguably good vs. performances that really slap you around. Pape, in his heartbreaking monologue [must think fast...will sound repetitive if I say he broke my...] truly sprained my liver. Fuck, that didn't work out at all. Um, he made me sad, and anxious, and lonely, and all of this was welcome, because if that aria is done right, that's how you're supposed to feel, for a few minutes. Jesus Christ I can't wait for his Wotan, whenever that happens.

One of the most complimentary things I ever say about a piece of singing I will say here: breathing stopped being and automated process somewhere during his account of Ella/Dormiro. (Which one was next? Inhale or exhale?) Why are all these attempted compliments making it sound like he gave me a panic attack? Not sure, but Chalky corroborates the effect over at marginalia.

But see, you could totally go to Rosa Mexicana until 10 or so, have a late dinner, and then go in and hear that part, and Ramey's perfect cameo as The Old Mean Religious Dude who is So Old He Justifiably Sounds Like That, and Racette's meticulous "Tu che le vanita" and then the stupid scene that doesn't make any sense and then enjoy the curtain calls.

And that's that until Boheme on the 5th, unless I sneak out and go to Idomeneo beforehand.