Monday, December 31, 2007

A cup of kindness

Edited for saccharine...

Madame Melba sings for you a sentimental song, to usher in the new year. [I swear, that syntax totally works if you imagine, like, the Voices of Firestone theme in the background.]

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Now that you're near

Oh shit. Here it is, that holiday I always forget the name of, and me without a thing to post about. Only post I will, as post I must. It is a point of pride around here, as you know.

Well I can write a little something about Xanadu, I suppose, having taken in that very spectacle with my sister. That's how the D'Annato family says "Happy Birthday, Jesus! You don't look a day over 2,000!"--by standing in line at TKTS. It is as if to say: see? We suffer, too.

There's no reason to convince you folks that you should or should not see Xanadu. I think more than any play in Broadway history, you pretty much know from the name, the poster, and the crowd lined up in front of the theater whether this is going to be your cup of merde or not. Although actually, my sister went in thinking they had just settled for staging the unvarnished affront to a first grade education that is Xanadu, the movie. And so was taken aback to find that those responsible have chosen to parody what is already parody.

The main question is whether you've seen the movie, and even that doesn't help entirely. Sure, it makes sense, or perhaps I should dust off the scare quotes and say "sense" of a few details like the streamers they all pull out at the end of "I'm Alive." But I think it is also possible to feel a tiny bit sad for Olivia Newton-John while you're watching the hilarious, disarming Kerry Butler making sport of the world's least self-conscious performance of anything, ever. I mean, isn't that why Xanadu is somewhat beloved camp instead of completely unwatchable crap, because of its infinite sincerity?

I can tell you that if, long about 1980, you were a seven-year-old who was just beginning, in the depths of his latency-stage soul, to wonder if maybe possibly you were actually....Olivia Newton-John, some of this is actually unironically life-affirming. Yes, you now think I'm either kidding or mildly retarded, and that's fine. But I know when I beheld the scene where poor Gene Kelly's character is reminiscing about the 40's and Sonny is talking about that rad new 80's music, and an imaginary Andrews Sisters type ensemble gets aesthetically smooshed together with the very worst of what I believe was called New Wave, saw it taking place in the flesh in front of me, it was like I relived those ten minutes or so when I didn't mind being 8 again. That scene, as I may have said, is the Ariadne auf Naxos of movie musicals on rollerskates.

The part you've probably heard most about is, say, can you have a subplot when the plot itself is already rather sub-everything? Well I mean the added characters played by Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman, and they are indeed hilarious, I think not so much because their lines are great but because they're just very funny people--the genius of their use here is about context more than material. Jackie Hoffman's very being seems to scream out "are you kidding me with this shit?"

But, also too--as I used to hear people in the midwest begin their sentences, shortly before I beat them to death with a style manual--there is low-key genius in the performances of Kerry Butler and the inhumanly attractive Cheyenne Jackson. Srsly, I went in ready to hate him because he is the embodiment of phenotypal unfairness in the universe, but he gives this completely goofy performance that exonerates him for looking like everything you ever hated about The Big Cup. (Hey did you ever see how there were actual I-kid-you-not candles burning in front of that place after it closed? Some friends and I stumbled upon that little funeral and I coudn't stop myself from muttering "e avanti a lui, tremava tutta Chelsea" to nobody's particular delight.)

And Kerry Butler, yeah, was like a big beacon radiating fun as Clio/Kira, the role mortalized by ONJ in the Ur-Xanadu. Once in a while she privileged humor over singing in a tiresome way in songs that I really do think are rather fine exemplars of their era, but until ELO does one of these "back from the nursing home" tours everyone else is doing, I guess I am alone in taking them semi-seriously anyway. Ms. Butler has lots of things to commend her: she's a New Yorker, she has very good comic timing and a solid set of pipes, and she never looks like she's going to crash into the orchestra pit.

Xanadu is playing at the Helen Hayes maybe for a while longer. Or forever. I keep getting them mixed up. Get me with the actual Xanadu quotes, huh? Guys like me shouldn't blog!

Next up: good question. I keep saying War & Peace and I keep not going.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dial M

This blog is new to me via The Rest is Noise, but it looks like fun, especially if you're a musicologist groupie, and I just know I'm not the only one. Hey, aren't crickets more of a summer thing?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Upstate Julie Brown (a blogospheric term of art--what did MTV do when they had two Julie Browns?) is insisting I listen to Judy's concert at Carnegie Hall, because apparently sitting up nights wondering what Leider sounded like in person makes me not-quite-gay-enough. I will make every attempt to spare you my musings as I embark upon this potentially crippling new fandom.

It's true, I'm not going to very much in December. December's a bit of a lull. I'm certainly interested in seeing War and...That Other Thing and maybe even a Ballo but December has a way of making me hide under the bed. Forgive the de facto hiatus.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

If I had a dime for each (I'd still have a lot of student loans)

I think I got my actual 100,000th hit sometime back, but way back when I changed the name of the blog, I couldn't figure out how to do it without sitemeter the kinda-sorta 100,000th visitor to My Favorite Intermissions is somebody in Ridgefield, NJ that clicked over my way about 8:30 this sunny morning. I would have thrown confetti or something, dear citizen of Ridgefield, but I was still asleep.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Of course there's no real way for me to write about August: Osage County because I feel a (somewhat spurious) personal connection to the thing. I have a mostly visual memory of being at Tracy Letts' 13th birthday party in Durant, Oklahoma--I would have been five--and picking out a firecracker for someone of age to set off. No, he wouldn't know me from Adam, but I had fond, vague memories of his folks, Billie (a novelist) & Dennis, who has what amounts to a one-aria role--lovingly and lyrically delivered--in his son's sprawling, grandiose, wonderful play. He's the kind of person that makes you, despite everything, miss the South. So there's a substantial misting of sentiment on the lens.

After the play, I stood outside the stage door, feeling a tiny bit like Eve Harrington, and because I am apparently still five years old, muttered "Mr. Letts" when Dennis walked out. As we stood in the cold, surprised to know each other so many years later, someone I can tell you about more objectively walked out, kissed him on the cheek, and went on her way. That would be Amy Morton, one of under ten things I miss about Chicago.* Ms. Morton is, on the basis of what I've seen, as riveting an actress as they make, and I've never been at any of her birthday parties. In the impossible opening monologue of Homebody:Kabul she spoke for an hour and then vanished, haunting the rest of the play.

Here, in August, as Barbara Weston, she is asked to make a long, grueling transformation whose finality is announced at the end of the second act by one of the most shattering curtain lines I have ever witnessed. She delivers it with the kind of terror and truth you associate with Silja at the end of Jenufa's second act ("Jako by sem smrt nacuhovala!") It took several minutes to stop ringing in my ears. The role contains notes of cruelty, despair, love, and a hundred other things; whether they're reined in to realistically fit in one digestible character by Ms. Morton's art or Mr. Letts' vision, I cannot say.

The second act is the strongest; at other times during the play it's possible to regard what you're taking in as extraordinarily polished southern gothic. Isherwood, in the Times, said as much: the raw materials here are those of pulp genres, and in fact the single moment in over three hours that struck me as a misstep was the one that most self-consciously tried to escape this genre, strove most seriously for bigness, the final moment of the play. Up to that moment, though--a sentimental one in its way--the younger Letts strikes the damndest balance between the essential sympathy for his creations without which no play is very worth watching and a merciless black humor founded on genuinely unsettling, existential skepticism. (Without that, black humor is a teenager's bravado and nothing more.)

Even when the play succeeds mostly as wickedness, it's a sort of miracle of pacing and of ensemble. The playwright knows when to let a joke go on far too long (if you've seen anything more uncomfortably funny than the scene where they say grace recently, email me) and when to make everything happen at once. The latter happens as fluidly as it does, I think, in part thanks to a game and agile director, but also very much because things like that happen when you have actors who really feel each other's rhythms. It's kind of a shame Broadway doesn't have an ensemble like Steppenwolf, where that phenomenon is the bedrock everything rests upon.

Morton, then, is prima inter pares, sharing the spotlight with the likes of Deanna Dunagan, in many ways the star, who goes for broke as Violet, the matriarch and the undoing of the Weston family. She's given some tough material and sails through it, funny as she is dreadful. Dunagan provides no footholds for understanding Violet; to do so would ring false with everything else going on. Instead she barrels through the role, and if you're with her, you're with her, and if not, well, at least she's not real, because you wouldn't want to be on her bad side. Jeff Perry plays husband and foil to Morton's Barbara, the two of them portraying a marriage in the last stages of distress. It's great to watch them shift responsibility for their demise as a couple, suggesting at many times that culpability where two people are concerned is neither stable nor proportional. On balance, Barbara is about 40% to blame; her husband, about 75%. There are plenty of dark suggestions here about how likely any two people are to make it, often made palatable with a devastatingly funny riposte.

Letts picks interesting targets, not all of them safe. The moment I'm hearing most reactions to is a lethal smackdown directed at "the greatest generation." I of course will reveal nothing. He also doesn't exempt kids from his withering gaze, making good use of Madeleine Martin, who you may see occasionally in your nightmares if you took in The Pillow Man (by Martin MacDonough, who cites Letts' earlier, more physically violent plays as an inspiration, I read). Martin now plays an understandably creepy wreck of a teenager.

A certain type of New Yorker will get a kick out of knowing the role of Johnna is played by Jerry's girlfriend in the "Indian giver" episode of Seinfeld. Probably something she's trying to escape, but I couldn't help bringing it up. Her role is the only one that gives me pause. There's an element of the "magical negro" in a native American variant in her final moments, but enough has been given to her earlier that it's not a serious failing.

The show has no serious failing. Even the design strikes this often visually obtuse viewer as somehow simultaneously expansive and efficient, evocative of a place and what it has come to mean, being there.

This is a limited run, folkses, and after the Times review, I imagine despite the fate of musicless plays on Broadway, you may need to get while the getting's good.

*the others are: about four friends, Margie's Candies in Bucktown, blond boys of Nordic heritage who never give me a second look, and Harold's Fried Chicken.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Hang on a few while this pretends it's about Tristan. It's not really.

Almost everyone learns the same lesson the first time he or she hears Tristan und Isolde, at least supposing the listener in question is a fanatic of the voice and not, say, a Furtwangler nut who's listened to every possible recording of it seven times through. The listener I'm imagining, who was me, hearing Tristan for the first time has heard pieces, and most especially the Love-Frog, as we have taken to calling it, the Love-Frog over and over and over. It's a fine thing to know and of course stands on its own as a piece of heavenliness, but what you learn later on is that it is in fact even more exquisite if you've just listened to all of Tristan und Isolde. It's a lesson about water and thirst, not to say that the rest of the opera is a lack of something, but if you know what the crowning moment is, you'll be thinking of it throughout. Won't you? And, unless you are a Wagner fanatic of the first rank, there really are moments of Tristan that it's tough to get absorbed in, and in those moments especially, you might think, "could someone sing just a few phrases of the Liebestod, please?"

This is a little like what happens with Einstein on the Beach unless I'm totally wrong and it's not that typical to have heard the closing monologue long before ever hearing the other 3-5 hours of music. My friend the classical guitarist in college who introduced me with contagious enthusiasm to many things ranging from pot to Perotin to the Pixies once said (and maybe he was stoned) you have to listen to the end of Einstein on the Beach, because it's so great, and then he recited a little of it in a creaky old-man voice that made me assume Einstein was actually a character in the opera. And I had heard this and that in high school--my friend M. and his friend M. would act out one of the Songs from Liquid Days--but there is something sweet and instantly memorable about that last scene with its text. It gives you very little flavor of the rest of the work if it's what you've heard first, because it makes narrative sense, and is concise, but there it sits at the end, like the Love Frog, and it's even better if you've just been through a lot.

Saying it that way makes Einstein sound like an ordeal, and it sort of is. Maybe I'm speaking here for the listener still somewhat ambivalent about much avant-garde music (and yes, E on the B is thirty years old and it's only minimalism and etc etc etc but it's a challenge, verily.) Jonathan says that in the most positive way, there are parts of this piece that make you want to scream. I can't disagree. It's sensory overload, and for me the only way to enjoy it is to go in having written yourself a permission slip to let your mind wander as it will. Unlike Tristan, E/B has moments that you simply cannot process: the text is solfege syllables, going by at a rapid clip to changing rhythms, and the most you can do is register it unless perhaps you're my other concert-going companion A, but I'd venture to say most of us aren't. Hell, in fact all of us aren't, except A.

I'd like to think of this kind of listening not as inattention but as the psychoanalytic concept of floating consciousness or, as one analyst has it, listening with the third ear. You will almost inevitably go in and out, especially if you're seeing it in concert without any Robert Wilsoning going on in the background, and some of the sonic assault may in fact be difficult, unpleasant. You can't not hear it, and perhaps it will resonate in your head as any number of things including fear and distaste, which are a valid response to art as well, and do not mean the art is bad. And when, as floating consciousness implies, you tune finely back in, it may be on a moment of textual revelation or sonic splendor. I'm not guaranteeing anything, but it might.

So was for me, at times, as in Tim Fain's solo in the "knee play" section: precise, elegant, alarming on the simplest level of "how does he keep count", and with a core of emotion and dynamic nuance you may or may not associate with this kind of music. At other times, I read my program notes, more than once over. Mrs. Dalloway remained closed, at my side, though at times I wondered what the reasonable limit might be on my decision to drift in and out of music deliberately devoid of obvious footholds. What is the difference between thinking about your day while the tedious dancing gypsy scene in Traviata goes by and cracking a book at Einstein on the Beach, especially in the age of mechanical reproduction of music, some of us listening to Penderecki on the treadmill?*

Lucinda Childs (whose name I almost typed as "Lucinda Williams" and kept mentally confusing with minor 90's pop chanteuse Toni Childs during the performance) was on hand to deliver what the program note described, I believe, as her famous reading of the "Prematurely air-conditioned supermarket" monologue, and indeed it was something to behold. I'm told by A, who knows more about these things, that it's kind of crazy and wonderful of her to show up to do this as she is, as confirmed by her program bio, busy elsewhere being Really Important. The "lovers on a park bench" monologue I started talking about back before the Rhine overflowed was delivered by Melvin van Peebles, who is a little bit mumblier than whoever does it on the old recording, but speaks with poetry in his voice, so it was fine.

It's tough to comment on the rest. This is obviously not an opera review. I'm not sure it's a review at all, and I'm not sure it's an opera. Most things seemed to go musically very right, and it was another fun evening with Event Buzz in the air. It was also pointed out by those present that, given E/B's busy performance schedule on the order of once every fifteen years, we may have witnessed the last performance led by its creator, which is a large thought to get in one's ear, a responsibility almost.

*not me, not bragging here. I hate exercise and am not sure about Penderecki.

Next up: Iphigenie! Unless I decide to write about the play I'm going to tonight.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The danger of a good night out

See now I'm thinking what Wadsworth and his team ought to be doing once they're permanent fixtures at the Met, which surely they will be. And the perverse thing I keep landing on is La Vestale. Cuz here's the thing: Gluck is at best riveting if not religious, and at worst, a little dull. Even in the hands of someone whose musical intelligence is pretty much universally acknowledged (I'm talking about Mark Morris, of course) things can go pretty wrong, and you're stuck in a living, breathing version of what, er, normal people think opera is like, an airless pageant of artifice and pretense. Mr. Wadsworth is the enemy of that kind of aesthetic death, if the current production is fair evidence of his work. So I say sic him on the things that feel lost to the accreted dust of changing taste. No, for once, I don't have a Giulia in mind, nor a Licinia, nor a Cinna, not at all. It's just a formless idea.


Did you guys read this article? I am posting after having read 1/4 of it because it's so fascinating and irritating.* I'm of course tickled to see that Wellsung has again influenced the Lexicon (viz: Trebs) but also look: Peter Gelb either reads the blogs or has someone do it and tell him about it. At least it sounds that way, since the Peanut Gallery @ Parterre is the place you're most likely to hear charges of "Gelb likes the lookers." Ok maybe I'll go finish the article now. Small pedantic point from the metaphor police aimed at I'm not sure whom: kvass can't be gooey.

Here's something Trebs says later in the article that ought to piss plenty of people off:

There are so many young singers he’s given opportunities to — big roles at a young age, which never happens in America. They have what they call the young artists’ programs, but what they’re really doing is putting singers in their graves. They’re sitting there in the big theaters wasting their best years, studying, covering, looking at the big stars. It’s so wrong. You can never learn to sing if you are just watching.

I am charmed by the fact that she talks about needing to work on coloratura. How I do go up and down with AN. Fortunately, the up is mostly when I'm actually watching her.

*irritating that it refers to bloggers as catty about thrice and trots out some stuff like the business about the Greek soprano...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Malheureuse Iphegenie, Tres heureux Maury

There we all were 24 hours earlier saying rather (pronounced "rah-ther" for effect) uncharitable things about a perfect Tabarro Giorgetta who flew, nu, a little too near the sun. Who was to know that 24 hours back this way, a lucky some of us would be transported to the place where there are no jokes to be made. Not from suffering, you understand, but from dumb joy at having ears and eardrums issued with them.

Can I pull that trick that always made me throw bricks at the tube when they did it on Alias? You know, Sydney's about to jump out of a plane and the door opens and they play that sul ponticello tremolo of danger and the screen goes black and it says:

Twelve hours earlier...

Twelve hours earlier, I wrote a rather pissy post about how trop cher it's gotten to hear a lousy pack of Bohemians moan about the cold, or what have you. Write something like that and you run the risk of sounding like you're asking the universe for a ticket, so the only honest thing to do is decide, but really, not to go. Which I did. It is after all Domingo in a bit of stunt casting, Ms. Graham who (let's not pretend) I have hemmed and hawed over in the past, mostly hawed. It's another new production in a season where, despite the sparky wattage of Dessay, one was forced to recall stories of theatrical directors in opera asking the conductor, "What should they do here? There's music, but no words." Maybe there will be no Minghella-fly this season--didn't you think as much?

Sometimes you gotta be rescued from your own stupid. My white knight was the voracious listener whose impeccable verbiage you read at Night after Night, among other places. After all, nobody's going to say no to meeting the folks who do for real what you and I (well, some of you) play at with tea sets and barbies, and if there's a prima involved, more's the incentive to accept.

There's something I have to say about tonight's Iphegenie, but I'm asking you to let me off the hook if I sober up later. Maybe I'm just high, but I may have just spent my finest evening at the Met. "But Maury," says my cat, who was not asked, "what about Frau? And Troyens? And Jenufa? And Tebaldi's Gioconda?" She's trying to make me feel old, I think. I wasn't at Tebaldi's Gioconda, nor was I in Our American Cousin the night Lincoln was shot.

And she has a point. I think it's fine, though, to have all-time favorites that last until the next. So correct me next time something is the best EVAR if you will, but right now, I am at the feet of all who performed and perhaps most of all, Stephen Wadsworth and his team, who must, must becomes fixtures at the Metropolitan. You know I'm serious when I use its full name, right?

Because what Wadsworth did was, I guess, magically sidestep the problem of whether to try to wrench a stageworthy performance, in some naturalistic sense, out of someone who must at the same time sing, or just try to get everyone comfortable in stock gestures that are almost impossible to produce with aplomb. How he did this exactly I am still working out, but I think it was embodied most fully in the Act III trio between Iphegenie, Pylade, and Oreste are basically reenacting the duet from The Impressario where Madames Herz and Silberklang spend twenty minutes saying "No, I am the prima donna!" "No, I am the prima donna!" [lather, rinse repeat] except in this case it's "No, I want to die!" It's static stuff.

So Mr. Wadsworth a) chained them to an altar, which meant nobody got to run to the front of the stage, and b) let them all sit down together, Graham in the middle. Because yes, some really important conversations take place without people facing each other and without anyone getting up. All I can compare it to is Barak, in aforementioned Frau, sitting forlornly in front of an open fridge, also known as My Favorite Thing Anyone Has Ever Made an Opera Singer Do. I'm probably making too much of this.

The set itself seemed conceived as a visual whole in a burst of inspiration, where so many seem to have come from words: so there are these screens, and they move around a lot; or, so they're all about to be in a photograph. It divides the stage seemingly instinctively rather than practically. I am staunchly opposed to stage action before music, but am fully prepared to make an exception for the admittedly ostentatious gesture that begins this work. I wouldn't dream of ruining it for you. If you don't get to go, ask me later.

If you'd like to serve me a plate of cold crow regarding Susan Graham, I will fetch the A-1 sauce. It's true. I've never liked her singing, or never liked it enough, and hearing her praised I could only shrug and feel defined by my minority opinion. Now, I don't think much of epiphanies and conversions, and if you asked who I'd rather hear as der Komponist in an Ariadne to be mounted tomorrow, I'd still write "Mentzer" on my slip of paper without hesitation. As Iphegenie, however, there is nothing that could be done that Susan Graham did not do. She has found what JSU once termed (in discussing what makes a soprano able to deliver "Es Gibt ein Reich" as it must be delivered) inner stillness. I credit her and her director, oh and Gluck while I'm at it. The sync between artist and role was immaculate. And, since this is always my barometer, yes: the acting was as much in the chords as the hands or the face. Or that hair that is such a problem in the posters.

I find it interesting that Domingo has not, last I looked, sold this show out. As we all know, the little old ladies would knock down the hearty to hear him sing Die Toten Augen. Either Gluck is beyond the pale, or someone let it out that he's not singing tenor here, or not exactly so. Oreste, so I understand it, is proto-zwischenfach, and what better to sink your teeth into when you're an already notably baritonal tenor many years past his last Manrico? As Oreste, making sometimes a different sound than the one we know, he was fascinating, and not in the least doing a star turn. You could hardly fault Paul Groves for going all gay for him, I mean really. His lack of vanity was equaled only by his trust in the role, which he treated as no less a sing than Siegmund. Of course there's a certain contingent whose only comment will be "I told you he never had a C." On them a pox, as always.

Speaking of Groves, though, despite his high standards in Mozart, didn't we all think of Groves as a leetle bit of a reliable milquetoast? And then, like the quiet kid who it turns out has a mean left jab, we all sat there slowly realizing as he sang "La calme rentre dans mon coeur" that he can sing Gluck with that balance of passion and elegance that matters here perhaps even more than in Mozart.

William Shimell as Thoas sang with great commitment and, well, limited vocal resources. You know what else, before I try and wring a few hours' sleep out of the night, though? Not enough can be said about how much the Met needs to keep it coming with the Gluck. Maybe it was Louis Langree's extraordinary sense of how to make Gluck sound appropriate in a huge hall without turning into into old-school steroidal proto-Bruckner, but I think just as much, what happened tonight was a cue for anyone listening to reevaluate Gluck, not an academic figure of reform from a textbook or a dusty champion of mythology, but rather as a musical mind whose dramatic heart beat fast and urgent as Wagner's. I'm thinking it's time to dig up my Minkowski Armide and listen to the terrifying ending and hope Peter Gelb might own it as well.

No kidding, I think I may have to see it again before I can tell you everything that was great about it. It is a terrible burden of duty, you understand, but I suffer for you kids.

Next up: probaby another Iphigenie. Jonathan of Wellsung and I are thinking of having a bake sale or just selling our furniture on craigslist as a means of funding several more times on this particular ride.

My thanks again to my kind and gregarious host, who I'm guessing will have words for you as well.

ETA: for all you versionologists out there, Matthew Westphal at Playbill Arts clarifies just what it is we've seen.

The version of Iphigénie used by the Met for this production is something of a hybrid, adapted for the particular strengths of this cast. The bulk of the score will be performed in the original version Gluck wrote for Paris in 1779, but with some changes taken from the adaptation the composer made for its 1781 Vienna premiere, in which Oreste is a tenor rather than a baritone role. Other borrowings from the Vienna version include the transposed version of King Thoas's opera and several orchestral movements.

Out of Gluck

I know it's a well worn chant that if the Met wants younger audiences they should find a way around charging a fortune for tickets (more corporate sponsorships? I don't know; I don't run an opera company for very good reasons.) But you know what? It's true. If the Broadway strike ends anytime soon, I'm hoping to spend $26ish to see August: Osage County from seats where I can see the actors' lips move. Because of a last minute price reduction, I could possibly pay $26 for a seat in rear fam circ for the Gluck prima. From which I could see the mooring mast on the Empire State Building, if the roof were off.

But I'm not. For the first time in two seasons, I'm skipping an opening night. Not that it's anyone's god-given* right to go to opening night or sit in good seats, but since I started writing these little reviews, I've gotten in the habit. Hopefully later in the run I can find a decent balcony box seat, the only remaining bargain for people whose day jobs preclude the rush line and whose standfleisch** is no longer game for long hauls. Yes, I could probably have managed twenty-six bucks, but there's a fine balance of "this is still a lot of money" vs. "for all I know, that's not Placido Domingo but some other stocky Lebanese gentleman up there" that tips as I grey.

I'm actually very excited about Iphigenie, less because of the cast than because it's Gluck, but I just had to cry uncle on this one. My apologies to anyone who does what I do, once I'm done writing anyway, clicking around 'til all hours looking for the first review. Doubtless there is some other blogger loopy enough to stay up past midnight or one on a Tuesday who will satisfy this late night craving.

*huh, I'm having a vocabulary-poor morning and can't think of a satisfactory secular alternative to this irritating phrase

**is it just me or does that sound obscene? I suppose I just mean lower back muscles but I was, y'know, thinking sitzfleisch/standfleich

Thursday, November 22, 2007

In memory as usual of that Thanksgiving or was it Christmas when my only companion was Margarete Klose

Here at MFI, we like to stay open on major holidays in case it's not your holiday. Nothing's so dull as finding everything closed, tout le monde indoors celebrating whatever their perception of the holiday's meaning happens to be (I think we've all grown up past believing the nice pilgrims and the nice natives collectively revved up the can opener for the tubular cranberries, but the gesture of thinking what you have to be content about is a good one in inwardly- and outwardly-directed ways.)

The truth is, though, I haven't gone to anything in weeks now and I have little to entertain you with. I did, on the bus down here to DC, come to the ipod-fueled realization yesterday that no matter how much of her I have on my ipod because she's the kind of thing I should adore based on everything else, I'm never going to love Emmylou Harris in that visceral way...but that's about my only musical thought in the last few days. So instead I'm going to go on about nothing for the benefit of the truly bored.

I guess for the sake of a shallow joke I can snap in place a phone photo of some ecrevisses pas du tout a la bordelaise from the seafood stand on the Potomac. God I hope the ecrevisses don't actually live in/get fished out of the Potomac. Uh huh, I've gotten obsessed with that menu. I swear one day I'm going to have a Vanessa themed dinner party, hopefully not ending with a spontaneous abortion in the woods. Now all's I need to do is learn to cook.

Here's a recipe from some crayfish-centered site.

Ecrevisses a la Bordelaise

This is the traditional French recipe for cooking crayfish which are served whole and unshelled. The dish can be prepared the day before and re-heated gently. To serve 4 people
12-16 whole crayfish
3 cup of dry white wine
4-6 carrots
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
4 onions
8 tablespoons of cream
300gm butter
Salt & pepper
8 sprigs parsley
Cayenne pepper to taste
2 bay leaves

Chop vegetables into thin strips ( julienne). Melt butter in a large pan and simmer the vegetables and herbs until the former are soft. Add the crayfish and cook over high heat, stirring continually until the shells are red. Add the win and tomato paste and boil gently for a further 15 minutes. Add the cream. Take off the stove and season to taste.


My favorite part is "add the win." I have a feeling with my cooking skills, I would not be adding the win. Say, look [he said, editing later]: La Cieca, too, is having a culinary moment. In the part of the world La Cieca and I hail from, you know, ecrevisses are known oh so elegantly as "crawdads." Well, you can just think of us as the Giada di Laurentis and Rachael Ray of opera, for today. (Sue me, I picked the cute ones instead of the ones who make anything interesting.)

Aright. Enough. Have a great holiday if you're doing that, and if you're not, I hope something else good happens today.

ETA: here's something else good, in case nothing else came up of its own accord. Who wouldn't feel a little grateful to the universe for this?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

;_; ;_;

Beyond a fondness for fortified Estonian vanilla liqueur, the Straussmonster and I have a good many things in common. One of these is that we turn into profoundly emo walrii (see subject line for illustration) when folks hate on the libretto Giancarlo Menotti wrote for Samuel Barber's Vanessa. Bemoaning this fact this evening, between big, walrusy tears, we came upon one review that started out by defending the opera itself, only to join in slagging on the book. "Vanessa," the review went on, "is about Vanessa." Well yes, and many other things besides. It's a funny review, with a madcap reference to "Three's Company," but as I said to the Straussmonster, said I, "'x is about y' is almost never an interesting or meaningful sentence unless Y is a pretty long and detailed clause." I meant it, too.

Not to keep you in suspense, here is what your monster and your Maury think Vanessa is about: Vanessa is about (obviously) regret and self-deception, about the disasters inherent to family, the disasters inherent to patriarchy if you'll pardon the undergraduate-level gender politics in summary, the horror of aging, the narcissism inherent to love, and about the importance of never serving ecrevisses a la bordelaise and langoustines grillees sauce aux huitres on the same menu. Vanessa is about the lies that we all tell ourselves, the unknowability of another human being, and the need to get along to go along. Vanessa, finally, and we feel a number of reviews we have read miss this point most of all, is about the failure of the human character to provide satisfying resolutions a good deal of the time.

La Monstre has also not unreasonably noted the misogyny that underlies certain opera queen readings of Vanessa, ones that do give us pause as we look past the trees to the forest and think about opera queen discourse in general. (And if you care to look further than that, there's lookin' to be done.) We hope, as we sit here in our cozy fit of not quite pique, that no-one will take this as a personally pointed finger, unless of course they should.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The best at their worst: Video Edition

Well, they're actually in good form, it's just irredeemably dreadful anyway. Note the English line right at the beginning that would surely get a few guffaws these days. Anyway, here are two of my very favorites in a clip I couldn't watch through to the end.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Apocryphal or not?

"For three and a half hours you sing and sing your heart out, and then it turns out the opera is about Maria Jeritza."

Somewhere, a million years ago, I read that Lehmann said this about Frau but I don't know where and can't find any reference to it. Did she say it? I've always found it a hilarious+poignant expression of second fiddledom.

If by any chance you are reading this RIGHT NOW, go log on to WFMT's streaming broadcast of Frau with Voigt, Brewer, Grove, Hawlata. I had high expectations and still am shocked at how good it sounds. Travel-plan-inducingly good. I am off the fence about Brewer.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Word on the street (62nd Street, that is)

We're hearing very good things about the current cast of Figaro, centering around Anja Harteros, an upcoming Met Violetta if the Met Futures Page is to be believed, and it usually is. As sampled in half an act of last night's broadcast, Harteros is a countess verging on the overripe, which is certainly preferable to the too sedate countesses you get at times. Also heard in that half act, the Barbarina of your beloved singing blogstress Anne-Carolyn Bird. ACB's a pal of mine, but I heard and liked the voice before I knew and liked the person, so you can take it as relatively objective when I tell you her verses were delivered in fresh and youthful tones. I think I'm gonna stand on Saturday and see for myself what the fuss is about.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Someone didn't fully explain to Franco Farina the rules of the Gong Show, it would seem. Oh, that's in the score? Never mind then.

I can't shake the irritation I experienced, reading one discussion of Norma where it was suggested that the opera be shelved for twenty (was it forty?) years until someone worthy of, oh, what was the rhetoric, "the mantel of the great priestess" no doubt, should burst upon the scene. I don't remember, but I'm guessing this was in reference to the rumored Fleming/Wilson Norma. Actually for what it's worth, I think a Robert Wilson Norma might be just the thing. Just as Lohengrin is the better for taking singers' instincts about what to do during static moments out of the picture (well, and directors' frequent inability to help them), Norma might really lose some of the awkwardness it's frequently bestowed with if Waco Bob had a shot at it. Robert Wilson: for operas that are marginally viable in a non-concert setting. I dunno, I'd show up.

But we hear Fleming has sensibly dropped the project, and it was hard not to think about this and approve last night. While I do think the difficulty of filling Norma's apron, er shoes--sorry, Norma is such an archetypally waitressy name, I sometimes forget what the opera's about--is slobbered upon rather too much, it is a big sing. Fleming would be terrific in The Aria, if recent habits have any permanency, and then she'd be lost. Someone more fixated on fach than I might be tempted to think of Fleming as Adalgisa, but hell hasn't frozen over, last I checked, so again never mind.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the role is being sung by Hasmik Papian, and not badly either. Thank god nobody locked that forty-year safe. Not to say she was at all moments electrifying. Here and there the voice goes all squishy, seriously I can't think of a better word for it. And the top is a sometime thing, potent when the approach is felicitous; short or flat when it ain't. But she's not what I recalled from Aida in the 90's, a soft and wholly unmemorable presence. Her phrasing is, while not riveting, attentive and regal, and in the last scene of the opera, she found some inner resources of tragedy and shared them with us.

Oh, Dolora Zajick. How long has it been now for you and me? I'd say about ten years. What a long strange trip its been, huh pal? First there was Aida, and I really think at that point I'd never heard a bigger voice. Then there was Marfa in Khovanschina, we still laugh about that one, right? Oh and then there was the time I got super cranky because I went to a dress rehearsal for Cavalleria and you marked a lot, and your cover sang the aria, because yes, a rehearsal is a rehearsal, but what can I say? I'm a prick when I'm disappointed. Last time I heard you, you were ripping it up as the annoyingly pious mom in An American Tragedy and I think that's how, twenty years from now, forcibly regaling the young 'uns with stories of the old days, I'd like to remember you.

Adalgisa is an ok fit. Like Papian, Zajick has a good florid technique, which I guess is why everyone constantly thinks of her as slightly edgy casting for Macbeth. There are a couple of little opportunities to belt. From a dramatic standpoint, it's kind of a mistake, though, and all the soft singing brings out the more generic side of her formidable instrument. Know what, I do think she's oddly used at the Met. Ideas I've heard tossed around by the geekerati include Die Amme, which would be ever so much more gratifying than Adalgisa. Or, again, Macbeth, though the potential complexity of the character would be missed.

The singing of Eduardo Valdes was a welcome relief.

Ok, I'm not going to let it go at that. Farina sang well for about twenty measures of the opera, when he was singing softly. And the rest of the time, well, you pretty much know how I feel. No need to harp on it. But the thing is, am I on crack or did he take several low variants in his first act aria that aren't there? That pissed me off as much as the monochrome bawling. I covered my eyes, because it seemed slightly less rude than covering my ears.

Julianna di Giacomo, who made such a nice showing at Il Podlatore, was certainly a bit of luxury as Clotilde. Vitalij Kowaljow, who I somehow forgot about until I was editing this, for my money made the finest vocal showing of all.

Next up: was going to be another Vanessa, but for a scheduling snafu. I'd get up and look at the ticket pile but the cat is having none of that idea.

Monday, November 12, 2007


For someone who asked, and anyone who wondered.

Ti soffoca il sangue?
E ucciso da una donna!
M'hai assai torturata!...
Odi tu ancora? Parla!... Guardami!...
Son Tosca!... O Scarpia!

Soccorso, aiuto!

Muori dannato! Muori, Muori!

More youtube/Verrett

Well, this one pretty much kills me dead.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A return to form

Remember this statement from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe?

"...when a recent edition of Playbeing magazine headlined an article with the words 'When you are tired of Ursa Minor Beta you are tired of life', the suicide rate there quadrupled overnight."

Maybe you weren't geek enough to have read The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. That's possible, too.

When you're tired of Traviata, you're probably also tired of life, or at least of opera, as Traviata kind of is opera. Um, but I'm really, really tired of La Traviata. So this is going to be a simulacrum of a review, written by me pretending I care more. The truth is I spent a lot of time keeping a mental scorecard, which doesn't happen when I'm truly engrossed.*

It's been a long, hard road for me from die-hard Flemingian to disciple of that Cassandra of the ether known to you and me as La Cieca. "Why is La Cieca so mean?" I would sit and wonder, fanning myself with a program from RF's jewel-like Arabella in Houston, long about 1998. And then there were a number of excruciating outings in a row, my personal low point being Manon with Alvarez, and these days I go in with a sense of trepidation if not dread. I think I'm not alone in this dreary progression, and La Cieca must be feeling awfully vindicated.

People can always surprise you, you know. While I'll note with some dismay that the voice is at times during the first act so small as to occasion questions about the appropriateness of the Metropolitan as a venue, the overwhelming impression of last night's Violetta was one of relief and admiration. Here again was the singer who (was it only six years ago?) sang a Desdemona in Chicago of such purity and grace as to largely excuse her Handel outings, otherwise a one-way ticket to art hell. "E Strano"--potentially the staging ground for her most indulgent cooing--was done 98% straight, though with evident joy and introspection. The flights of coloratura that followed in the aria were wholly flawless, from my vantage.

As the evening went on, the sound grew and the vocalism remained impeccable. Yes, for me it lacked some of the glamor of Gheorghiu, and the last act aria (both verses!) was more accomplished than moving, but from start to finish, this was Renee Fleming demonstrating why she's famous to begin with, and neglecting to demonstrate why lots of people think she's overrated. Report card moments such as "Amami Alfredo" were absolutely lavished with voice, and "Dite alla giovine" took me back to Houston and Arabella and the moment during the duet where I was conscious only of the music and the slowed passage of time.

Now, I mostly went, it must be said, to hear Polenzani, lately the Met's jack of all trades, master of most. And though I've heard him do other things better, his Alfredo was certainly a pleasure. This may be the first time I've ever heard a tenor do much acting in the role; utterances like "O ciel! Domani!" were sung with actual "o ciel!" in them. I wish I had been more conscious of him when I went to Troyens or maybe just more familiar with Troyens. I daydream about what he must have done with "O blonde Ceres." Feel free to tell me, if you recall it well, or just send an mp3.

Dwayne Croft continues to sing with great dignity, but I wish he didn't always punch at the beginning of every note. It tramples the legato, or so think I.

'at's about all I got. I'll say this though: several people I talked to at intermission expressed something like horror at this production, but I gotta say: as heavily doilied productions go, I think it's a keeper. The second set is gently atmospheric in the kitchen-sink mode, and the stage elevator moment in the last act strikes me as a little moment of absolutely viable theater magic. Right, yes, the big party can only be described as ongepotchket, but if I were sneaking around the warehouse with a can of kerosene and a book of matches, this one wouldn't be high on my list of targets.

Next up: Norma

*Know what, that's a big lie. I always keep score. It just isn't the main eveny under ideal conditions.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

And so he did

Update the blogroll, that is, somewhat. I imagine I missed some folks, so I'll keep an eye out.

Well as long as I'm posting, I think it's worth noting that lots of people out there seem to be of the opinion, hunch-wise, that Erika is indeed the daugther of Vanessa and Anatol, Sr. I can't say I had ever thought so, but then I pay so little attention to the plots of things I only recently realized Violetta had an evening job. No, I kid, but what do you think? Oh oh oh. I just thought of a tiny contextual clue: what does Erika pull off the bookshelf to read to Vanessa? Why, it's Oedipus, which is also about the wacky hijinx that ensue when you sleep with family members.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

With the cold, already, enough

News Item: somebody kidnapped that ragtag band of fiddlers that is sometimes indoors long enough to accompany operas at the Little Opera that Occasionally Could and replaced them with a top notch ensemble of musicians.

Alternate theory: all they ever needed at City Opera was (the music, and the mirror...wrong song) a conductor with a little vision because obviously this is New York and if they weren't terrific musicians they wouldn't be down in that there pit, now would they? Anne Manson is pretty clearly the hero of the day, leading NYCO's roundly excellent new production of--at long last--Barber's Vanessa with as sure a feel for the unapologetic romanticism of the work as for its jaggedy edges. If this were the sole virtue of the thing, I'd still kind of be glad to have gone and end this by urging you to go, too, which you know by now is what I'm gonna do.

Yes, we had a moment of panic when it looked like someone might not have gotten the memo, written in 1979, that the scrim craze was over, but it went away quick as you please, revealing an essentially conservative but not unimaginative production of this work, not staged in New York so far as I can tell in the last forty years. Truly, I can't for the life of me figure out why this is so, by the way. It's not drastically, Trovatorically hard to cast. The Met could do it right now, like literally tomorrow though I guess it'd be with piano and maybe sets by Ikea, with Voigt, DiDonato, and Polenzani.*/2 (Not that I think the casting would play out quite that way if they did put it on, but hey, welcome to the opera house in my head.) It's also a reasonable bet as a house-filer: profoundly accessible without ever flirting with banality. Melodrama, yes. Banality, no. Who wouldn't want to hear that?

I've long thought of Vanessa as a Douglas Sirk film with music, actually, but better.* It has more dimensions without being needlessly more subtle or less sentimental. Which is, upon several seconds of reflection, an impression I formed on the basis of the original cast recording, and the broadcast, and the Salzburg Festival air check with everyone the same except I think Ira Malaniuk as the old biddy. Hi, have I mentioned I'm obsessed with Vanessa?

Today's cast actually took a slower-burning approach, I think, starting with Katharine Goeldner, our Erika. Now, Erika's best known music, and that of the whole opera, is of course "Must the winter come so soon?" On the old recordings, Erika is already burning at both ends in this whisp of an aria, but I'm pretty sure Goeldner make a conscious departure, and I think it's totally valid. Remember that in the first act, Vanessa asks her niece to read to her, and after she has complied with a strophe or two of Oedipus**. The next part never made sense with Rosalind Elias: Steber/Vanessa chews her out for her boring reading. And you're sitting there going, "wait, that was totally not boring. Who died and made you Pauline Kael?"

So I think there was a deliberate blankness (I hope, or else I'm going to sound really backhanded) to Goeldner's reading of Erika in the first quarter of the opera. It's like Enzo Bordello says: if Lucia starts out crazy from the word "ancor," there's nowhere left to go. In the similarly heightened emotional clime of the unspecified, weirdly intense Scandinavian country wherein takes place Vanessa, it's good to leave some room, and Goeldner did indeed give her character an arc of development. "Must the winter," was very pretty and not a character manifesto. Anatol, thus it seems, opened her horizons. Unfortunately not in the good way. In act I, an emotionally frigid girl; in Act II, a somewhat grown up neurotic mess. Again with the possible unintentional backhandedness, one thing I loved about her portrayal was that Erika was never particularly likable. By the same token, she was never completely pitiable, a choice that may sit well with those uncomfortable with opera's endless profusion of feminine victims.

Now on to her sister. The transitions department in my brain closed early this evening. It is, in fact, staffed by French brain cells, and they are on strike.

Lauren Flanigan is at an interesting place in her vocal lifespan. It can only have had something to do with her casting that they chose the revised version of the big V, senza skating aria. Fond as my memories are of Flanigan skating, nay, roller blading in the 90's mounting of Intermezzo***, the skating aria probably would have been thin ice under the weight of her mature instrument, a pliant but rather drab thing that for all its essential lack of character allows her to create, as always, characterizations straight from the gut. Some voices are like blank canvasses, and when we're lucky, they're allotted to people who see gesso and think of paint.

Ms. Flanigan made her entrance in, well, did you ever drive through Williamsburg on a Saturday when all the Bukharian Jews are wandering back from presumably shul with the hats that look like a spare tire made of cheapish fur? (The last part of the mink, my grandfather would have said, to go over the fence.) Swear to god, she was wearing one of those. It gave us a delightful moment of imagining a Vanessa where everyone's Jewish. Vanesseleh. Potage aux matzoh balls? Potage aux matzoh balls. Reubens maybe? Feh, too many sauces. He just got here--you want he should plotz? Except then the entire opera would be them planning the menu, and you'd have to somehow squeeze the rest into a tiny epilogue.

That (alas for you) said, Flanigan delivered. It didn't sound easy, but it also didn't sound like a walk on the tightrope. Which is, probably, to say: she too is much unlike her predecessor. Steber's Vanessa is a triumph of Stimm, though she doesn't skimp on the Kunst either. Note how she's able to make, unless I'm imagining it, a subtle difference of tone on the protracted "ay" in "this very day" in her big scena after the music around it resolves. Flanigan didn't lay on that kind of vocal filigree; her Vanessa was a little older and wiser and tougher, underneath the mannerisms of the time, as imagined, more bent on getting what she wanted maybe. She sounded haunted, though, and desperate, and pounded on the window when they men who had gone to find Erika were dragging her back to the house, and it was a fully realized character. In the last act, before the devastating quintet, her carriage was younger, her choice of hats, much more flattering.

The young and the old fared well here: Ryan MacPherson overcame his terrible stage moustache to sing a crystal clear Anatol, diction to make Gedda proud really. Perhaps he lacked a little swagger that makes Anatol, Jr. seductive to the audience instead of just poor, sheltered Erika who honestly if you think about it would have jumped on anything in pants that walked through the door. He found the character's nihilism more easily than his charm. The voice is meanwhile easily produced and substantial. On the other end of the range, veteran Richard Stillwell must have been doing something right since his house debut in 1970. He has plenty of voice left for the wistfully comic little monologue of the doctor right up through that very long G, and if his acting was on the frenetic side, it was none the less assured. Pro stuff.

The real veteran, though, is Rosalind Elias, the creatrix of Erika in 1958. It doesn't take long with the abacus to figure out that she's flirting with 80. It is an honor to have her in the role, though if I'm going to be 100% honest (which isn't usually worth doing) it's an honor and a compromise. Something about Vanessa gets me obsessed with everyone's age, and I find myself noting that Regina Resnik would have been about 35 when she created the Old Countess. You come to think of it as a sort of cameo because her character is defined by her silence, but the fact is there are some real vocal demands in the beginning of the second act, and of course she's an equal partner in the quintet. Still, she brought great conviction to the role and many would be thankful to have that much left at her age. Anyway the opera is so suffused with nostalgia, nobody could really argue with the choice. And once in a while you heard a flash of Erika's archetypal voice, and that was terribly poignant.

Most generally what I'm trying to say is: go. Please. For you, because dollars to donuts you'll like it, and for me and the rest of us who wish City Opera would do this instead of a good deal of the things they do instead. I'm going again next week, and then, if I may drop (I promise) my last hint to the universe, again when they put it on a hundred yards northwest.

*/2 right, not literally tomorrow, unless it was on-book. These young opera singers, showing up to imaginary productions in my head not knowing the score. What do they teach you in imaginary school today?

*nuh-huh, I've only ever seen one Douglas Sirk movie, but you get the drift pretty quickly and it's a handy reference.

**um, why'd the audience crack up when she said what she was going to read? my new favorite line from Vanessa is "I hate your laughter!" No joke: they also laughed when the Doctor, in the last act, sang the line, " have always known I am a bad doctor. Now I know I am a bad poet as well, for I have never learned to read the human heart." Fine, it's a little bit campy, but who ARE you people? As long as I'm on this, did I ever mention the time I went to see Glenngarry Glen Ross, and Alan Alda was in the cast, so le tout New Jersey assumed it was a sitcom and laughed at the whole thing? GLENNGARRY GLEN ROSS IS NOT A COMEDY. NEITHER IS VANESSA. kthanxbye.

***I'm pretty sure I suggested at the time that if Tobias Picker felt like writing a biographical opera about Wayne Gretzky, they'd know who to call. Thus concludes this year's sports reference.

Oh, footnote. Just to fight the trend of so many irritating reviews and program notes, so often, I'd like to mention for the record that Menotti and Barber, just in case you didn't know, were, without further euphemism, doing it. I'm sure it was much more beautiful and loving than that, but just to be on the safe side and not leave anyone with the possible impression they were housemates, yeah, I don't know the details, but there was definite intercourse going on there.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The best at their worst

There's some small, sad fascination in hearing our favorites do things they can't, I'm going to say. This Clemenza currently on Sirius features Troyanos as Sesto, and she just barely made it through "Parto, parto" with her life. A moment of true desperation. Levine could have tossed her a life preserver but for some reason instead chose to barrel along with his hapless star bouncing along on the road behind. It's not a fun listen; you can hear the distress of this famously nervous singer as she approximates the ruthless triplets and gets a breath wherever the hell she can. Just the same I think it enriches one's love of Madame T., the shade that makes the painted apple rounder.

ETA: of course she's wonderful in the rest. And Roberta Alexander is maybe even better. Why was this her last performance at the Met?

Next up in real life: Vanessa! Tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

[Yes, Aida was skipped. And then the passive voice was used. If you are last night's performance of Aida, please feel free to be reported by someone else. I guess the passive voice doesn't really work there.]

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Setting oneself up for unhappiness

One of my less endearing hobbies is having a really specific test to see if I like a singer in a role which consists of judging the whole damn effort, all the hours of learning the words and blocking and everything, by how he or she manages some more or less inconsequential passage of several syllables. It could even end in the middle of a lexeme. You just never know. It's probably something I should talk to someone about. Do you think they make psychoanalysts whose specific task is to make one more able to appreciate perfectly good opera performances instead of pick-pick-picking?

The relevance of this to, oh, anything marginally related to anything, is that one moment of decision for me at last week's Macbeth vis-a-vis Zeljko Lucic was this: if, at the end of a dark, hard sing, a fellow has it in him to sing the words "ahi lasso! la nenia tua," at the point in the aria where they're all on one note (2:19 is the timing for Leinsdorf/Warren, Warren being someone who sets the standard) with legato and a hint of a sob, I'll forgive any other transgressions retroactively. You know what I mean? Can I get a "you're not nuts"?

Selfsame Macbeth is reviewed yonder in one of those reviews that you just never would have gotten to read in the dark years before the A.B. era. (Anno Bloggini) He's absolutely right, except of course that I totally don't agree with half of what he says.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sundry (no, not Kundry. Must everything be about opera with you?!)

Started to manufacture a thorough opinion on the Costello debut (not debut, but y'know) heard only on Sirius by me, but I think it's been soundly dished at Parterre. I suppose my opinion in briefest brief is that it sounded like a little bit of a stretch but as a one-off I enjoyed his performance very much indeed.

I ought to say something about Massis, though, having heard her now once on air and once in house. The only interesting thing I have to say (and by interesting I mean "slightly fucked") is about the mad scene with and without flute. Oh and it's not about the singing, so whoops. So here's my crackpot theory: one of the great successes of Dessay's mad scene was the absence of flute. "And why is that so great?" you fail to ask, which I ignore. Because by doing this, she pulled a fast one and made 90% of the audience know what it's like to hear things that aren't actually there to be heard, which is to say she shared with us in the smallest way the experience of madness. Didn't you kind of feel unsettled during the blank spots? And feel like you were hearing the old flute line, and then feel for a moment like singing it back at her? And maybe stabbing someone? So it was an operatic folie-a-douzaines.

No but Massis did a commendable turn, and created a wholly different interpretation without being what I imagined she would be, the other half of a "demented, but the voice is fraying" duality in which she's "pretty chirping, but doesn't this thing have a plot?" None of that. She's a good actress, particularly adept at the backward cower, and some of the acting (in a distinction I find increasingly central to my enjoyment of the art) takes place in the voice. And for all you Stimmhounds out there, she hangs on to the high notes 'til the crazy Scottish cows come home. Covered in blood. Whoops, runaway figure of speech. It's not so substantial an instrument as to be heard clearly in ensembles, but she doesn't sound lost in the Big House, either. Um, the Met I mean. Not jail. If they had lots of money to lose (because I don't think that many people like Lakme much, but I've ruined the surprise of where this sentence is going) they ought to put on, uh huh, Lakme for her, though as my kind host at the Lucia said: over Dessay's dead body.

Your moment of Podles: Madame was, one hears, applauded after her first note in rehearsal for Ballo by the HGO orchestra. Fortunate Houston to hear her twice this season while we in New York hear her only in fond memory of concerts past.

In news of the operoblogosphere, JSU is back from a few weeks of quiet with the unavoidable truth, and the opera blog called Opera Blog is tentatively scheduled to come back on the air. Me, I don't have much coming up until Aida, and if the Radames turns out to be Farina, I can only honor my opera-going partner-in-crime's resolution:

1) I will never again be in the same opera house as Franco Farina.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Scottish Play

Oh, antes de nada, if you were going to ask, it's pronounced LU-chich, where the first "ch" is pronounced on the, hmmm, I guess alveolar ridge, like the first c in "Lučić" and the second one is further back, like the second c in "Lučić." What, I'd give you examples in English but it's not phonemic in English, so I can't.

Well, if I were cursed, you know, I think I'd want it to be a big, awful curse. A totally terrifying curse, yessiree Bob. What I mean is imagine you had a haunted house and you invited your whole family over and the clock struck midnight and some rather apologetic ghost sidled up to your Aunt Chayudis and muttered, "oh yeah. Boo or something," and then just helped itself to the artichoke dip, nobody would really talk about it the next day, and pretty soon you'd have to serve better hors d'oeuvres to get people to come over. So in a certain way, it's a pity the Met's new Macbeth isn't a full-fledged disaster. I say that sincerely: disaster is something you can sink your teeth into. This was just a disappointment, and like Royal Tenenbaum, I'm not very good with disappointment.

Your first question might, I'm thinking, be: did Guleghina take a shot at the C# in the sleepwalking scene? And I think what actually happened is she took a shot at the C# in another work altogether, perhaps one by Luigi Nono. Or, hell, La Sonnambula. It's confusing. No-one can blame her. What she actually hit with that shot was...well it was a high C#, right where it should be, but it wasn't something you'd ever ask to hear again. (I'm imagining Guleghina auditioning for the part, if that's how things happened. Thank you, Ms. Guleghina. Please don't do that again. Did you bring any Mozart?) It came from the wrong side of the tracks, that C#, and it brought its friends C and B, thugs, the lot of them. I have started with the bad news, because I'm like that. The good news is if she could walk around with maybe Elizabeth Schwarzkopf behind her, she would be a certain kind of fascinating in this role.

Things are missing, other than the high notes. She uses no chest voice at all, which I understand from those who make more of a study of technique than I do, may have something to do with the lack of high notes, actually. If you're secretly Cornelius Reid, you can correct me, or even if you're not, but be polite. And for some reason I can't dream of knowing, the passagework on the way up works ok, but the down escalator is more like a staircase.

However. She's also, for one thing a riveting stage presence, as we knew from other appearances. She makes gestures that reach Fam Circ, but they're somehow not obvious. Her reading of the letter was better than any I know on record, offhand--she sounded giddy/nervous/bloodthirsty. That's worth plenty. Also the middle third of the voice is like a silver girder. In something like Santuzza, she'd still be a treat.

You know what they should really do is when they have someone like Guleghina in the cast, have her come out to the Peter Gelb Walk of Shattered Dreams and, needing no microphone, make an announcement in her native tongue to her coutrymen to shut the fuck up. I peasanty ancestors lived in Russia, I speak the damn language, I've even visited, though I never went to the opera. But I am dead certain their opera programs there include an insert with suggested conversation topics in case anyone should find that, during "Ah, la paterna mano," they can't think of anything to say.

(I liked what I heard of said aria through the Slavic banter a row up, but didn't love it. Dimitri Pittas has a top notch set of pipes, but hasn't yet worked out an elegant or stylistic way of using them, and sings without much urgency, besides. The crowd went maddish after his number, but I think it was more of a "Hooray, at long last a tenor" thing.)

Lučić is less of a mess but also less to get worked up about. The role of Macbeth presents no hurdles he has to kick over, but again, it's not a very distinguished reading. Here and there, the finely turned line of Verdi, but oh. You can't sing "Pieta, rispetto, that's amore" like you're not that into it. Fudge the rest of the opera if you have to, but don't get lazy on the swan song in one of the few operas named for the baritone, Zeljko old thing. I say this as a friend, as someone who can pronounce both kinds of c in your last name.

But then on the other hand, who could blame you, surrounded by such a lot of terrible mistakes. I am wont to over-rely on references to Twain's Fennimore-Cooper essay, but then who the hell else am I going to go to, having witnessed out of a possible 114 directorial mistakes, 112? The crown jewels in the treasure trove of bad ideas may have been the big green flag. Not that there's anything wrong with big green flags. But if you have a stage full of tattered looking folks singing a chorus, and someone runs up from behind and unfurls a flag (does any other noun make use of the verb to unfurl?) and starts waving it around, the gays are immediately going to start looking for Fantine.

Other highlights: stuff pouring from the ceiling until you really began to wonder if they just hadn't gotten all the falling petals out from the other night's Butterfly (note to powers that be: moratorium on snow for a while, k?); a naturalistic attitude about diagetic stage noise that meant the music was frequently drowned out by fakey "we're at a party!" hollering, for instance; and for heaven's sake, I realize the witches' music is kind of a no-win situation, but can't someone think of a way to stage the witches that isn't so clumsy and amateurish as to make it all worse?

The set itself was kind of grand, and there were a few stage effects that were jaw-dropping, but I'm not sure how to describe them, and I'm actually writing this paragraph last, and I gotta go to bed. Someone else will tell you, pretty surely. Morning edit: I sound like I'm describing a disaster after all. Like I said, I'm not good with disappointment, and when I think of Macbeth, I turn into the high school English teacher my father told me about who would read Yeats at them aloud and say in a beatific voice, "isn't it wonderful!" while they all thought, in chorus, "no it ain't, lady." There were a couple of real coups including the How'd They Fucking Do That succession of kings and (less on the level of effect, more significant) the fact that lord and lady were allowed to look like they actually liked and wanted each other, which keeps them from being moustache-twirling villains.

Oh I've neglected to mention John Relyea, and truly, he probably did the best singing of the night before they chopped him up like eggs for caviar. I seem to hear rumblings of discontent about him lately, to the tune of "dutiful but boring," but all I hear when he sings is a fine instrument and a good sense of style, so I can't board that ship. I have also neglected to mention Maestro Levine, and will continue to do so until he gets his Parsifal out of my Macbeth. Seriously, love the guy, was struck anew on Saturday by how much more he makes of Lucia than is actually there, but this was the worst kind of plodding, self-conscious reading. The bigs were too big and the smalls, well, they didn't happen much, and as a result, it felt like a very long opera.

As I crossed the plaza into the unhaunted night, I received a text message encouraging me to review the production in three words. A child of my generation, I settled on "Oh, the humanity." If I were going to aim for something a little more today, I might instead go with: Made Of Fail.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

My turn next

We flipped a coin. She gets first crack.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Crystal Ball

New thing I'm oddly excited about: the ever reliable Met Futures Page lists an upcoming revival (new production? Do they even have a production?) of Adriana with Guleghina and Kaufmann. How high does the Simionato role lie? Could Podles do it? I suppose Borodina is a more likely choice, or DZ. Yeah, I barely know Adriana and I associate it wholly with Magda, which is to say, Guleghina WTF? But anyway my interest is piqued.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


A blog makes a fine pet, I suppose. You don't have to feed it, though it's a bit like a cat you have to knit fresh every few days from scratch, on the other hand; otherwise, it's just aesthetic taxidermy.

So happy birthday, little pet blog! I think these entries have to start "X years ago, I got it in my head to etc. etc." Well, two years ago, I started doing this with no idea of the fame and fortune that would follow. As I sit here in my Central Park West penthouse, acquired with the lucre of opera blogging...

Real story of course, as I may have explained last year: I started writing whatever bullshit popped into my head and now several people read it. And I thank all several of you for doing so, and thank you again for commenting. Sincerely. The exchange of [pick one: ideas, witticisms, raw snark, coded aggression, bourgeois banalities] is the whole point of this. To put it in context, I'm creeping up on my 100,000th hit, whereas I think Perez Hilton gets like 8 million hits per day. So I think from a statistical standpoint you could say that nobody has ever read this blog, including you. In the grand scheme of things, you are doing something else right now.

But anything that contributes to a sense of community is good in my book*, and just as the devoted found the mothership of Parterre back in the day, I hope this little network--please see blogroll, and the blogroll of those people--of opera fans and singers and so on, yammering on a virtual street corner (how many times, he thought, I have used the verb "to yammer" since starting a blog. what, I wonder, does it mean?) can contribute to that feeling of being among one's own. It's lovely to be a tiny part of that. If MFI is the corner of a cushion on a barstool in a virtual, operatic Cheers, rah!

Before I dispense with this round of sentimentality, I do have to say: through various stories that are almost funny enough to constitute a failed film script, I've met some fine and peculiar individuals in ways involving (oh, for instance) a blog, 2/3 of an operetta, pomegranates, and a traffic jam on 10th Avenue. For these things, I am willing to forgive life's failure to reward blogging with park view penthouses.

*well that's probably an overly general statement since Hitler created a really rather impressively strong sense of community, for example.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Remind me: what is the rest?

The Rest is Noise is now in bookstores, which is exciting. I'm trying to think if there's a bookstore near work where I could sneak for a few minutes and read the first few pages. (Yes, I am an author's thrifty nightmare. I have been known to read entire books at the bookstore, though mostly I did that at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park where you had to act a lot stranger than that to stand out. In this case, as all we bloggers I think feel a real investment in the book in question and a hopefully not too corny sense of kinship with its blogging author, I am certainly intending on, you know, purchasing this fine, hefty stack of words sometime soon. You should, too!)

Friday, October 12, 2007

"My dream would be an empty stage"

In recommending that you spend half an hour of your life watching Dessay on Charlie Rose, I cannot avoid the word "inspirational." How does she come off? A bit grandiose, which is for some reason is not only ok, but seems just and right. It would be a little tiresome if she were humbly unassuming. It's a treat to revisit opening night with closeups, a guilty pleasure to hear Dessay diss Mary Zimmerman in a way that could possibly read as innocent. La D also throws a little shade Sutherland's way, but it's wonderful to hear her pay tribute to Callas as Callas did to Ponselle. Some may note the symmetry of Dessay saying in English approximately her antipodal American diva said in French sometime or other: I'd like the public to forget that I'm singing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Highly negligible note on Figaro libretto

Don't you awfully wish modern English had an utterance like "Che gran fatalita" to be used in moments of distress?! I think if it did, it might look like: what a fucking funeral! And yet, if you spoke those words just as the turnstile went from "swipe again" to "card recently used," people would think you were nuts.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Lepidoptery for fun and profit

Sorry for the delay. I like to imagine y'all were sitting around humming while you waited.

There's a moment I'd always like to judge a singer or even a whole production of Butterfly by, that being the lady in question's outburst of "E questo!" in the middle of Act II. Unfortunately I cannot. For a moment, I am always derailed, and it would be like trying to review a storm at sea. (Points deducted here for mixed metaphors of travel, but onward...) Fortunately, thereafter, the thing returns to paint-by-numbers pathos, and as for the rest of this most popular, most awful wallow, I'm pleased to report that it is in every way improved from the last time you saw it.

The things that were iffy still are iffy. I'm not cheating by going back to look and see how I felt about the puppet last time, but for all the marvel of watching really intricate stagecraft, I now bang my operatic gavel and rule that it is too unintentionally Brechtian and dulls, for instance, the death of Butterfly, a moment so precariously balanced between heartache and melodrama to begin with that you want all the other factors exactly right. Oh and if you had any kind of ambivalence about the puppet ballet that begins the last...scene, I guess (The Metropolitan Opera: Now Serving Drinks Between Arias!) I'd suggest the back seat in a balcony box, whence you simply can't see it.

Anyway the main point is of course that Patricia Racette is done being Lucine Amara if she wants to be and should agitate for an opening night, having shown them last night what Butterfly without compromise is like. Oh, um, fasten your seatbelts. Epic digression ahead. There's this book about the history of Yiddish called Kvetch, and even though I totally only read two chapters of it, it's really interesting. It starts out with a Yiddish joke (formerly known as Jewish joke) where this old Yid is in a train compartment, presumably in Russia, and he keeps muttering "Oy, am I thirsty....oy am I thirsty," ceaselessly, into the night. Finally the other fellow in the compartment has had it and goes and gets the alte kaker a glass of tea. He chugs it [I bet Yiddish has a great verb for "to chug." Yiddish is handy with stuff like that] and a moment later begins muttering "Oy, was I thirty....oy, was I thirsty...."

The book then theoretizes the joke in a way I don't entirely follow, but my understanding of it is: if you relish things, truly, you relish complaint, and if you relish them almost to the point of insanity, then complaint even in retrospect becomes a sport, an art. I bring it up because I don't want to jump right back into slapping Gallardo-Domas around, great as the temptation is. It's being done elsewhere, if you're in a spectator mood. So I'd like to compare the two geishas, hey, two geishas walk into a bar, isn't there some kind of joke in there?, by way of praising Racette, and the CGD-bashing that may occur is an unavoidable by-product.

The first thing of course is that PR's top is healthy, full, and in tune. Maybe the soprano-killer last note of The Big One was clipped off a moment early [oh god, the temptation to lapse into wretched Orientalist imagery, clipped off like a chrysanthemum not fully....blegh, nevermind] but it was dead centered on the pitch, had spin and throb, and filled the house like a trillion, uh, marshmallows. Fine, a trillion jasmine flowers, whatever. There's one odd thing, cognitively, which is that while Racette's voice is robust everywhere it needs to be, the basic sound is not spinto in the least, but then neither was Toti dal Monte's and it didn't hurt her any. Apparently the point is that there's more than one kind of Butterfly, and though it's fun to dream about one in the Tebaldi mode, Racette's is something different and equally worth having. The high-and-soft stuff probably comes from what the wags, ages ago, termed "the fake place," but it's killingly effective.

At a moment I've had to rely on others to identify for me as the utterance "ei torna e m'ama" so refulgent was Racette's tone in its own way, and so wrenching, in that moment, her connection to note and text, that a Monday night audience broke into fairly persistent mid-act applause. This was a highlight, but her ability to blur the line between singer and character was admirable throughout. I get the feeling from interviews the lady is a no nonsense sort, and Butterfly is one of opera's most enthusiastically foot-seeking doormats, so it's interesting to wonder about the process by which the singer finds her Jungian shadow. [Yeah, Jung is the least interesting and most gratingly coopted face of psychoanalysis but I couldn't think of a better way to say it.]

Alagna for Giordani feels like more of an even trade-off, though given the choice, I'd rather hear Alagna. Some heft is sacrificed, though he phrases as if he had the spinto goods, if that makes any sense, leans into the notes as if they were about to knock you out, and they never do 100%. It's fine, though. His voice is obviously younger and less toughened than his predecessor's, and they share a sauvity onstage that lends some kind of complexity to one's internal fantasy of breaking him in forty pieces for being the foot that seeks the mat. Even if he does remind me in an itchy way of Kevin Kline. I thought "Addio, fiorito asil" might get some more of that applause that ignores the lack of a musical platform, but it didn't. I suppose we're lucky he didn't storm off, ha ha. The reception at curtain calls was very warm, and deservedly so. The one real problem was his tendency to play tug-of-war with the conductor, especially in the first act.

Maria Zifchak continues to make improbably much of a truly thankless role and continues to get a roaring reception for doing so. Luca Salsi brings gallons more voice to Sharpless than Croft before him, though in the conversation with Butterfly where the humming chorus music starts up in the background, the opera's other heartbreaking moment for me, I remember a marvellous ability to convey guilt and regret through body language in Croft that wasn't really there for Salsi. I meant to tell you that I got a good read on the voice of Mr. X who sang Yamadori but it's going to have to be a later edit because my program's at home.

I do think I'm done with Butterfly for a little while, unless Mortier gets someone to stage a radical feminist reading across the plaza wherein "Butterfly! Butterfly!" is the death cry of Pinkerton upon being stabbed by a geisha who changed her mind about who in this picture needed a good knifing.

Next up: the one with the girl and the guy and their parents getting all uptight and the poison.

Monday, October 08, 2007

This just in, but don't get all revved up.

You'll be wanting to know that Gramophone gave its opera recording of the year nod to, well, apparently Rossini wrote something called Matilda di Shabran. Seriously, does someone sit around making up new bel canto operas by the formula [Girl] di [Place] knowing nobody will say, "hey, that's not an actual Rossini opera!"? Next year's race, I predict, will be a tight one between a historically informed reading of Shaniqua di Gowanus and a remaster of recently unearthed reel-to-reels featuring the hit of Glyndebourne's 1956 season, Amy di Plano, Texas starring Blanche Thebom in the role of Plano, Texas. (A revival is planned with Susan Graham in mind, a little bird tells me.)

Also awarded a little soccer trophy: Keilberth's Gotterdammerung on Testament. This award was given with a shrug of uncertainty, as several judges opted to make house payments instead of forking over for this recording, whose price tag is apparently not intended as comedy. Me, I ripped the Knappertsbusch from the public library, and I'm feeling fine about that decision.

Various other pieces of plastic were deemed more worth having than yet other pieces of plastic, and appeared pleased at the news.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The moral of the story... when you're traipsing around Academy, talking yourself out of things so as not to have to explain the importance of old Met broadcasts to the landlord, you should never count on those things being there the next day when you've decided that a Price/Bergonzi Ballo is indeed comparable in some way to a roof in the rain. The Irene Dalis Macbeth may also be gone, snatched up by some vulturous fiend who may or may not number among the select few who really get Irene. (Yeah, sometimes we like our divas even better when they feel like something we discovered.) And then, to make everything worse, you may get home to find that the Tucci/Corelli/Dalis Aida that you returned for to claim--because 1) see 'bove about Ms. Dalis, 2) the Corelli/Price Trovatore you got yesterday has renewed your understanding that it is all, all, all about Corelli and 3) you want to know what the golden age whiners are squawking about when they say "if a second stringer like Tucci walked among us today, she'd be worshipped as a god"*--is in fact a McCracken/Troyanos/Cruz-Romo Aida a kind friend slapped on CD for you years ago. Hm, the use of the second person here to universalize the experience is somewhat undercut by the specificity, I suppose, but I'm leaving it.

The one happiness of this tale of woe is that you get to feel like the most unbearable sort of smarty-pants for knowing what you've been stuck with, the moreso after you verify this fact by means of the distinctive bravo long into the applause for Celeste Aida. Well plus you did go ahead and buy that Tibbett set with a little of this and a little of that and the funny programs that declare Mr. T, I mean Tibbett, "a 'natural' negro" [please now sing "you make me make me make me feel like a..."] that turns out to be rather spectacular, so all is not lost.

But really, Bensar records. Why break my heart? Perche me ne rimuneri etc?

*Yes, the point is conceded: there's no really good Verdi spinto just now that I can think of. But I don't think it impossible one will pop up. Just for fun, let's say this: keep an eye on Dana Beth Miller whose Desdemona in Iowa (!) just got a great Opera News write-up, and who, when I heard her as a young pup at Glimmerglass, already had promising heft an plushness. It could be her. It could be Amber Wagner of last year's Finals. It could still be Racette, though actually for my shekels, Verdi doesn't seem to be the realm of her finest output. I actually live in much greater despair of ever hearing anyone do what Corelli did. Do you like it when my parentheticals are as long as the purported substance of posting? I can't help it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A little more of the story

Well of course I had to email LaCieca about it with all possible haste because it was so funny and besides, one would want to hear if one's neologism had made prime time. But the part I left out, that makes the story somewhat funnier, is that after La Juntwait popped the hunkentenor question, Mr. Kaiser (who comes off as both charming and unassuming, sudden ubiquity notwithstanding) sounded just a tiny bit flustered, whereupon La J most amusingly channeled her inner flapper and told him he's "the cat's pajamas." Which I suppose he probably is--I'll find out in about a week, but anyway, still mid-fluster, he managed the modest semi-sequitur, "Well I'd rather wear the cat's pajamas than be called a hunkentenor." And then, "but I don't wear pajamas. I suppose that's too much information."* Hardly!

I mean god forfend I should ever be interviewed on the radio. I have a feeling I'd probably sit there muttering, "right, cheers. Thanks a lot."

*all quotations approximate and intended for entertainment value only.

Spotted the Metropolitan, on Tuesday, in the audience: Anna Netrebko. Again. Why do I mention this? Because in my ongoing inner deliberations about Trebs' place in my operatic affections, I just have to award her trillions of points right now based on the fact that she actually goes to the opera, apparently rather frequently. And maybe she's going because she's doinking Figaro, and maybe she's going because she likes to be seen in a fetching frock, but hey. The experience of going to the opera is many things to many of us. I like walking up the central staircase at the beginning of the evening. Don't know why, guess it makes me feel grand and elegant in my jeans and bad haircut. Anyway the fact is she goes, and stands around at intermission where anyone can approach, and I just think these are things I like in a singer. I'll always think of that interview with a defensive June Anderson saying, "this is just my day job," as if to say: oh, don't worry, I don't actually LIKE this stuff. It appears Anna Netrebko likes opera. Regardless of whether this can somehow be heard in her singing, it's certainly not a bad thing.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Half 'n half

There's a cumulative risk associated with attending the Grand Ol' (Metropolitan) Opry all the damn time, and that is that once it's not, alas, a special occasion sometimes, there will be nights that are neither cause for rejoicing nor a platform for neat little one-liners. That night, you may actually decide you've gotten your fifteen bucks' worth in-house, and that half a Siriusabend with Pakistani takeout and the company of the cat just doesn't sound like any kind of comedown. Maybe you'll feel a little jaded, maybe not. If you are, ahem, a fellow or a dame of the bloggish persuasion, you will also risk looking a little apathetic. Maybe it will make you feel a little less extraplanetary that beforehand, in the Met shop, you saw a bigshot CAMI artist manager, and recognized him, and thought, "I recognize managers now. This opera thing has gone too far." (Because you're not crazy if you recognize that you might be crazy, you tell yourself.)

Oh hey, get this. In the midst of leaving, I texted he-whom-I-text-from-the-opera saying what the hell do I write, and he informed me that I once said "pretty good is the hardest thing to write about." It's great being prematurely senile because it's like you're just leaving yourself all these time capsules, and when it turns out you agree with yourself, it's...I can't figure out if it's reassuring or a good hint it's time to check into a home.

I do have the 'cast on, and some ground chicken something or other (I'd offer you some but you may well be in Boise or somewhere) and the cat is attempting to ingest the toes of my right foot. None of this because it wasn't good. It had been long enough since my last Fils-Caron that it didn't feel pre-heard, and we had interesting seats--funny balance, nice view--and the sting of Roschmann's cancellation had mostly passed. It just felt like two acts were enough.

The other cancellation, you know, recent enough for a program slip but not last minute enough to slip by La Cieca's notice, was Isabel Bayrakdarian, an always welcome singer who just happened to be, as I believe they say in her native Canada, seven months pregnant*, with a kid who's going to rebel by becoming an accountant. In her stead, an auditions winner from a few years back many of us liked especially, the very young Lisette Oropesa. Her showing here was very promising and showed no sign of her short rehearsal period, though it did hint that the Met is still a large space for her poised, exquisitely sunny sound.

Oh hey, here's Kathleen Kim, who was waving a machine gun around last time I saw her. She's tonight's Barbarina. Even for me, the vibrato is pronounced. We're talking Erika Koth. I think she's going to be great in a kind of narrow range of roles. God knows she knocked us out as Mama Mao. I think I was about to talk about Hong, though. If I've said it once, I've said it 6.0221415 × 10^23 times: I recognize the appeal of her unfailingly fine singing, but once in a while I just find myself thinking, "this is a singer who doesn't do demented." That's kind of ok in Mozart. Yeah, I wanted more self-pity in "Porgi, Amor," but then for the rest of the act, she measured up taller than my memories of Fleming in terms of emotional transparency, humor, and apparent spontaneity. The countess of course holds a certain danger of looking like a spoiled rich gal, so I was at times quite moved....uh...hang on.

Aright. Got distracted by what Erwin Schrott was doing there. One of my regular complaints about singers is that the acting in the body isn't reflected by any acting in the voice, but that's a touchy balance in Mozart, and he keeps crossing it. He did earlier, too, turning in a rare verismo performance of "Non piu andrai," but just at the end, after a good amount of unimpeachable singing, so granum solis or whatever, Chalkenteros will correct me. It's a big voice, and he's funny in a non-stupid way, so really I just want him to occasionally turn it down. "Aprite un po'" not equals sign "Nemico dalla Patria." Actually when he's not doing that, he's absolutely suitable to Mozart, which can't really be said of Pertusi at this point. Too gruff and blustery. JSU liked him a little, but not much, better than I did.

Confession time! Yeah, I know, how scandalous could it be. Here's my secret: I like Susanna's suitcase arias way better than her actual arias, which is one reason I didn't care that Bartoli was being a dick in 1998, the other being that Jonathan Miller didn't exactly come off as Prince Charming in that one, least not as it was reported back then. Also whatever, Bartoli could sing the Rush songbook and I'd show up. And you have no idea how I feel about classic rock unless maybe you're on Prednisone. I bring any of this up because I'm pretty sure Oropesa just tied "Deh vieni" up in a neat little bow and took it home, but I couldn't say for sure because I've never heard a performance of it that did anything for me at all.

Hey, any mezzos out there tonight? (I know. It's like I'm practicing to be a failed standup comic.) Because I wonder if Cherubino is a role one looks forward to singing or not. From my perspective, as one who has only sung it in small, porcelain halls of notable humidity, and only the arias at that, it's not really brimming with opportunities. I suppose if you're the creme de la creme, you can make something of it--von Stade in the film from Paris, or Mentzer at the Met. My gentleman companion was shocked to report that "Voi che sapete," of all things, reduced him to tears when the artist in question was Joyce DiDonato. But for 99% of the mezzo world, it's hard to distinguish yourself in the role, or so it seems to me. I have no complaints about Anke Vondung's delivery, or none that I wouldn't blame on Maestro Jordan's twenty yard dash approach to some of this music, but I also don't feel like I know what she's about. For a second I thought she looked like Jo from Facts of Life in the ponytail, and then I started imagining the Countess as Mrs. Garrett and Susanna as maybe Natalie, but then you're kind of out of girls, so I guess that's a bit of regie madness that will never see the light of day. Too bad, right?

This doesn't really have anywhere to fit in my review, but I did want to say that the end of the second act was diminished for me in a small but not ingorable way by the fact that I was watching Patrick Carfizzi stuffed into the role of Antonio, a few measures of slapstick that will not contain his stature as a fine, underused singer at the Metropolitan. It's been too many seasons for there really to be any excuse for this. Really.

My cat says hi. I typed that because she walked up and spoke her mind (a brief utterance), and because I'm on some level a 55 year old secretary from the suburbs. Named Jean. And because I have nothing else to say. And because the opera is now over. Next up: Butterfly with a protagoniste worthy of the set.

*Or was she born in Armenia? Ah well, I believe they use the same quaint turn of phrase in Armenian. Or I could look in the program and see that she was born in Lebanon.