Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I want a name with a circular diacritic


I understand if I were on a Mac that would actually look real and be easy to do, but you know what? My ipod is a piece of crap, itunes is infuriatingly proprietary and makes me upgrade to a thousand features I won't use every few months, and their ads are smug in a way that rubs me wrong. So despite the fact I think identifying with macs OR PCs is a little loopy, I'm not rushing out and buying a Mac just so I can type diacritics. So there. Take that.

Oh, that's right. This is supposed to be about opera. Conveniently, I've just been to see the shockingly undersold revival of Jenufa at the Metrupulitan. Fuck, again that would only work with diacritics.

We're talking only-one-section-sold-out undersold. Big red stripes of velvet visible in prime orch. And this is odd considering Jenufa is from its first note to its last, operatic perfection. Now, I know. Aesthetics are subjective, no matter how many classes you took at Yale. No matter how much I hate it, The Piano is never going to be objectively a bad movie. But I can't shake the feeling, listening to it all these years, in a studio apartment with no furniture in Texas or a car driving between Ann Arbor and Detroit or half asleep with a fever in Brooklyn, that it is this chunk of Janacek's unconscious mind, where all art springs from (well not all art from his, but stick with me) lifted out into the light, without the translation that waters down most creative acts. The fun thing, as Jonathan pointed out, is that because it is thus, and because it's also in some way forbidding, the crowd you get is really invested in it. J says, in fact, and I'm wondering if he might post about this, that at intermission, you hear solitary opera fans, in line for a scotch, humming little hidden semi-melodies from the opera.

Like maybe Laca's confession to the foreman that he loves Jenufa, which is the first place in the evening my heart stopped. Yes, it is almost stupid how many good tenors the 'politan (oh, just for variety) has on its roster. A year ago, I casually told someone there were ten tenors singing there I'd be happy to hear any night, and when challenged, I rattled them off without too much thought. Some of them are duplicates in a sense--I'd love to hear Beczala again in Rigoletto. Or Villazon--and some have a niche. Jorma Silvasti is just a little bit special, I think. It's not just the fast vibrato, either. It's...what that you say? Shut up and tell you whether Silja sank or swam? Well, alright then. (But Silvasti, really. I'm telling you.)

Reactions were mixed when Silja was announced for this revival. Deborah Polaski, for one thing, was extremely "on" last time around, and though her voice is worn, she is not 400 years old like certain other people. Some ten years ago, when she was 390 but to be polite everyone was saying 389, Silja sang Act II with Roberta Alexander and the Philadelphia Orchestra at I think Carnegie, and it was (as termed by Dawn Fatale at intermission) "decrepit diva heaven." An unqualified success. Last night was not a succes d'estime. It was a triumph d'estime. You had to take it for what it was, and ignore the hollowness in the middle that made Auntie K's Act I parade-raining a largely visual affair. And yes, on those terms, Silja delivers 100% of the time, but this is opera and that ain't enough.

Perhaps she was husbanding her resources, and there are no rules against that. Act II was art without compromise. Squally? Of course. But she didn't duck a note or clip one short, and somehow she earned each wobble. That, taken with the fact that she's been singing the role since long before it was written, and taken with her exquisitely strange face, put it over in a way I'm pretty sure won't come across on Sirius. God knows it didn't on the Glyndebourne recording where the only thing that saved her from disgrace was Jerry Hadley, by comparison. But in the house, it was exactly right. There are other singers I'd like to hear have a go at it, and I'm looking forward to Forst and then to Malfitano in DC, but in the moment, she lacked nothing. There's no reason to record it. It was ephemeral, but beautiful. Ugly-beautiful.

You know what the thing that really cracks me up about Jenufa is? This production, I mean (since obviously the fun never stops in Preissova's bubbly comedy)? All the clothes on the floor. I'm not sure what it's supposed to represent, unless Oliver Tambosi is commenting on how I keep my apartment.* For that matter, I'm not sure about the big boulder either, but I don't object to it. It's a very, very pretty production and you'd have to be kind of a killjoy to begrudge it its inscrutable imagery. Who could fail to reach for a sweater when the house opens up to reveal the snow in Act II? Actually one thing that truly was funny: one line of the translation has the Kostenlicka telling Jenufa how much better it would all be if god would "take the child off your hands." Doesn't that sound kind of like they're at a swap meet or something? What IS a swap meet anyway? I've never known. But I'm certain that's how they talk there. Can I take that baby off your hands? I've got this swell rosemary plant filled with worms. I think they say "swell" a lot at swap meets, too.

Raymond Very was, oh Heather, so very. Which is to say Steva isn't the great role Laca is but he acquitted himself quite nicely, and can now change his name to Raymond Nicely. Barbara Dever got a pretty enthusiastic ovation, and why shouldn't she? On the merits of volume alone, she was topped only by...

Karita Mattila. Who is in bigger voice every time I hear her, especially Up There. That should be read with a suggestive lear, like the southern euphemism "Down There." I have a silly fantasy she could leapfrog certain other singers and be the next big deal dramatic after all, so solid has her voice become in every octave. I don't think it'll really happen, but if it does, you heard it prophesied here. Bear in mind she was on for Turandot for a while, then ditched it. For now, her brand of tightly wound sonic neurosis works very well indeed in Jenufa. I'm still holding out for Ariadne, but that's not going to stop me from going to most of the Jenufy. (Why do Czech conductors only do Janacek operas in the genitive pural? Because several are Jenuf. That used to be a joke about French chefs and eggs, and was the better for it.)

The conducting, eh, was not for me much of the time. Things were muted that I didn't want muted, especially in Act I. The ending, from "Odesli..." was happily luminescent, however.

(Oh and there was one little white slip I was hoping to see in the program, though I'm not sure whether the subject of that tiny piece of literature would have wanted to be there anyhow.)

*For the mental health mavens out there, this particular delusion is known as "Ideas of Reference." Which is also the name of one of my imaginary bands, in which I play gamelan flute and waterphone. My other imaginary band is called Bad Breast. Our lyrics are taken from the writings of Melanie Klein.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Birthday Wishes...

...to cousin Louie Tremava, and many happy returns of the day.

(a little belated, I'm afraid)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

I'd love to, but I have to groom the mule

Of the traditional, 100% representational productions at the Met, I must say Battlestaria Galacticana and Pagliacci are two of my faves. Yes, they indulge in the livestock fetish that has become one of opera's hoary cliches, but they evoke a real sense of place (says me who was in Italy exactly once, at the age of 13, or twice if you count that we flew out of Milan. Fool that I was, I didn't insist on a pilgrimage to weep at the steps of La Scala.) Well, Italy aside, they're nicely lit/lighted and the way the sets hold a crowd avoids some of the "Hi, we're extras. Watch us move our hands" effect. It's one of those productions it's hard to imagine them bothering or indeed having any good reason to replace for a long time. As opposed to things like their Gioconda, which they just won't replace since they practically never do it and in some sense, a new production of Gioconda (and I say this as one much devoted) is like buying a nice new silver chalice to serve Yoo-Hoo in.

The only quasi-substantial comment I have on the performances is that it's difficult to watch Krasimira Stoyanova and fully understand the marketing campaign behind Anna Netrebko. See, she has this neat, somewhat hootily Viennese voice that is pretty malleable, an lively stage manner that, no, doesn't really have the electricity of A.N.*, and she's not bad looking. I know, it sounds like I've just tried to compliment someone's dorky sister, but what I'm trying to say is this is a good, capable, well-endowed, watchable singer who you won't see on a poster in the lobby that says "Stoyanova is Habit-Forming!" which by the way, wasn't that the ad campaign for Nunsense? It's meaningless to compliment her by detracting from someone else, but it popped into my head, and that usually means it's coming to a screen near you pretty soon, unless my internal editor is having a rare sober day.

Licitra was Licitra and much better than in Verdi, at that. The Siciliana, sure, can be sung more prettily, but he's not lacking in heft, and besides, he gets a furlong's handicap for volunteering last minute for an indisposed colleague. The big Pagliacci to-do was dramatic and blustery and, well, better in tune. Zajick remains an extremely gifted singer I can't quite love, but I'm always grateful to a Santuzza who shouts her "Bada!" and "Mala pasqua!" rather than making that uniquely operatic noise that is meant to convey rage but sounds like a vocal warmup of some sort. And the low notes, my god, are not going anywhere. Alfio found Delavan in good voice but somehow out of his element. It's an awkward role...More and more I wonder if that Chicago Parsifal was his zenith or if he just needs to be singing more Wagner. We'll find out, as I think I saw he's on for Wotan somewhere, and soon.

Um, what do you guys think of Ataneli? The theme of today's posting is: I can't make up my mind. Either he's variable or I am. The house received him kindly. Russell Braun gets a pass this time around because I dug him but don't have any useful adjectives for him.

*Yeah, I feel like I'm blowing hot and cold vis-a-vis the Trebazoid as well. That's what you were going to say, right?

In continuing news of always-the-blogmaid-never-the-blogger, I once again was not quoted on the radio!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Briefly Noted

Do you ever silently, in a moment of pre-composition, mix up the words caveat and cadenza? I do it constantly, and I guess I must make a lot of caveats because I'm developing and absolute complex about it. Well, if I offer you cadenzas or even credenzas, I guess now you'll know just what I'm talking about, even if you also think I'm an oaf.

I went to see Alarm Will Sound at the Miller Theater Friday doing their "If it ain't Varese, it ain't in there" show. But why, you will ask in a hopefully not too skeptical voice, would you go and do that, Maury, you who are something of a stick in the mud about music you can't walk home humming. Rather than humming Ionisation just to spite you, I will remind you 1) that I occasionally try not to be such a lowbrow, and 2) that I am on speaking terms with a couple of the alarmniks. And then I will pick up my violin and play a whole bunch of notes and eventually return to the tonic and nod at the conductor, because that's my cadenza, I mean caveat, I mean filing cabinet. You can't really do much with my review of their concerts, because I'm automatically going to think they're neat.

Well actually, though, there is still a lot of Varese I am quite prepared to do without for the rest of my days, and even a stellar performance won't sway me. If I never hear Deserts again, it's no skin off my ass. And I think I'm still on record as on the fence about the staging of concert works, though the audience was riveted by what director Nigel Maister did with Integrales to close the program. Staging isn't quite the right word, though I don't have a better one: it's not the clumsy kind of thing they always do at the opera these days during the overture, trying to give non-programmatic music a plot of any of that. It is in fact quite the opposite of staging, taking the concert in part off the stage, into the theater.

I think I'm for it in principle, but then you have to do it in an actual theater and results may vary. Hey, maybe you could name a lesser ensemble that: Results May Vary. Anyway yes, what I'm trying to put into words is that I happened to be in this terrific seat a nice old man gave me, and so the musicians were all around me, but in other parts of the theater, I am told the effect was a bit puzzling. And, wait here while I set this comment up by saying I really did adore the theatrical element of their Cale/Warhol thing at Zankel...for me, house lights to black at the end of a piece comes from a certain corner of the effect drawer. So, alright: mixed feelings, but I'm glad they do these things. Unlike the Cage piece (also Zankel) Integrales mostly just required the performers, when they weren't playing, to appear fascinated by each other's music-making, and I feel safe in saying they honestly were.

One of the fun things at an AWS concert is the moment where they do something they really oughtn't be able to. In my experience there tends to be at least one piece that seems like a little bit of the impossible laid before you. This time it had to do with Poeme Electronique. Now, if I understood the program notes correctly, Poeme Electronique springs from Varese's idea that the most wonderful thing in the world would be if we could have music without performers. This is of course wrong-headed, impossible, uninteresting, and stupid. In that order. The only stupider idea I can think of is: hey wouldn't it be neat if we had music without listeners?

In this admittedly pouty mindset, I suffered through the tape of Poeme Electronique before the intermission. And then, after the intermission, they played the thing live. And then we all rose as a unit and carried conductor Alan Pierson through the streets on our shoulders in celebration of the gall of trying it and the unblinking derring-do of pulling it off. Well, we should have.

I think the person who gets singled out this time for the absurd reward of my praise is going to be Jessica Johnson, who plays flute and piccolo for the group. I'll admit right now when I saw her putting in an earplug for the extended, merciless piccolo passages in Hyperprism (I think it was that one) I wondered if the piece might not be issued with a few extra pair for audience members, but that's just me and my highly conditional love of modernism. So, after intermission, she performed Density 21.5, a flute solo. I think it is fair to say the music is not dramatically less thorny, but her performance was so assured as to make easy sense of it, make it beguiling, even, and far more than a box of avant-garde trickery.

Nods also to the Manhattan School of Music Percussion Ensemble, who were tight as you could ask in Ionisation, and also somehow relaxed. Um, and cute. Sorry boys, can't help but notice. (And why are 93% of percussionists boys, I wonder? I mean, don't do a research study or anything, but why?)

Well, there may be a Cavalleria in the offing, or if not, next stop: Jenufa.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Looks like season announcements are beginning to roll in.

DC has announced, as I learned from Operatically Inclined. Not the world's most exciting season, in my book, but any Elektra is cause for dancing (oneself to death) in the streets. I have vague memories of Susan Bullock as Butterfly, subbing for someone else, in Houston in the mid '90s but couldn't say much about her. Goerke, one always hears, is a committed performer, often at the expense of disciplined vocalism, and that's something you either like or don't. Meanwhile, Domingo is singing Handel? Seriously?

Notice that there is no Siegfried next season. Has the Zambello Ring been scrapped?

Baltimore has announced as well, and the reason to get on the Chinatown bus--other than who wants to live forever--is: Maria Stuarda. Maybe with a recovered Swenson? I'm just guessing. No casting is listed on their site. I can think of worse things. Let's daydream for a moment it's Flanigan, though.

The Big House hasn't announced, but of course we know practically everything. Sometimes I miss the old element of surprise, but then whose fault is it I click over to Met Futures every twenty minutes? The clip on youtube of Dessay singing the Lucia marble-losing scene has me much more eager for opening night than expected, considering what a drag Lucia can be. It's not even the singing, but the acting: Dessay's unhinged laughter at the end is a masterstroke.

Seattle soldiers on as the Eaglenhaus, for whatever reason, presenting her near the end of the summer as Senta. Listen, I'm told with the right direction she's capable of arousing interest onstage--her Ortrud was by one report "terrifying." Also on the lineup: Iphegenia in Everywhere, now required by law to be showing at an operahouse near you; and Puritani. And Pagliacci without its friend Cavalleria.

Caro Soles from our civilized neighbor to the North points us to Canadian Opera Company's season. See comments, or of course their website. If I lived closer I'd surely pop in for Bayrakdarian's Melisande, and though I've never given it a careful listen, I suspect you can never have too much House of the Dead--it's like Jello that way. Maybe Melisande would have gotten some damn therapy if they'd had socialized medicine in the kingdom of Allemonde.

Chime in if your home company has announced. I'm not deeply invested in being the one who breaks the story! ETA: for more, see comments, as people are indeed chiming in. I will only add that Chicago will be a happy place for opera fans next season.

Wait, I will add one more thing: I always wait for OONY to announce their season with an anticipation that doesn't make much sense, considering every season they trot out stuff I don't really care about and the only thing I've ever seen there was a Fanciulla with a certain over-ripe Minnie. Um, and also that the OONY crowd worries me. But I always think: this year's the year they're going to pull another one out like the Jenufa with Rysanek and Benackova! I just know it! And then they don't.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hardly a Review

Is Phillip Glass the new John Williams? Is minimalism the new sound of movie soundtracks? I'd be tickled to think so. Glass plays a very strange role in Notes on a Scandal, namely lending something that looks like class or gravitas to a story that, without his score, would be pulp. Pulp with marvellous acting, yeah. But in my mind, the movie comes closest to Baby Jane: it's two mammoth personalities who have agreed to a no-niceties roll in the mud.

Slight spoiler alert: I am kind of gratified that the old trope of the queer who tries to gets his/her tentacles on a straightnik has been subverted. I mean, we've come far enough that a homo villain is not an issue, because it's not a mainstream idea anymore that that's redundant. As long as you're able to be the good guy, even just the faintly mortifying snappy best friend, it's no longer such a trap to be the bad guy.

But in this film, it seems to me, the creepishness is embedded instead in the pathology of being closeted. People in the movie ask Judi Dench's character about someone who had been perceived as her former paramour and she snaps back she has no idea what they're talking about and these are the moments her psyche is most pointedly revealed, in its interface with society, as being non-functional. I can live with that. (And p.s., larger spoiler alert though if you've read any reviews, you know this: Cate Blanchett's character is boinking a 15-year-old so she's not exactly set up as the moral foil.)

Anyway the screenplay is for the most part without any particular point of view, but the thing speeds by and somehow you never feel dirty enjoying it. Maybe partly because of that soundtrack--it's by Phillip Glass! The guy that wrote that music you could put on in college to impress a date with how intellectual you were! Oh wait, that was only me! I'll be in my room if anyone needs me!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The problem with very small venues

Jeez, who do you have to blow to get Neko Case tickets...
< /disgruntled >

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Tired mumblings about Floot


See, the thing about Rene Pape is he saved me from getting boringly giddy for the grillionth time because Sarastro is really a dull role for him. I susppose I liked Morris Robinson better because he's got better sub-woofers, more growl on bottom.

My boxmates were iffy on Miklosa but I remain impressed. She's singing QoN every-goddamn-where, which I guess is what happens when you don't ever sound at all like you're going to miss the f's and include every note of the tweedliest passages of O Zittre Nicht. I wonder what she vocalizes up to. Isn't there some singer rule about the interval between the highest note you vocalize to and the highest note you'll sing in public? Anyway it's hard to say what else she'd be this good in. Boxmates noted a lack of oomph below the tweedlerealm.

Anyone else think the Met needs to let Polenzani move on from Mozart? He was in fine voice, because that's apparently the only voice he has, but there were hints of boredom and a punchy quality to the louder notes that sounded like vocal chomping at the bit, to me. And of course he was dressed up like an extra for Memoirs of a Geisha, but that's just the production, which I have publicly noted mixed feelings about. (The best of its images remain home-runs of fairy-tale invention, but you pile it on so thick and it begins to seem like Der Kitschensink, an opera about a land where you need to take aspirin just from looking around.)

I was not inclined to like Pogosov after a thing or two I read about him but it was a losing battle against his charm. He's really very funny and sings just fine in a role that makes my teeth hurt. I'm just sad I didn't get to hear him sing my new lifetime low in opera translations "cuckoo with bliss." It would sound particularly funny with a Russian accent.

Milne, hm. Yeah, fine. Pretty voice. As you can tell, it's a little bit hard to evaluate singers in roles that I find inherently irritating. So, got through "Ach" without any audible or visible fear, tone more appropriate for Mozart than my last Pamina, Dunleavy, and oh, I thought of something a little more interesting to report: she actually uses a little rubato. In Mozart, which can save things from John Eliot Gardnerdom. I'm all for that.

The (I suppose) unintentional scenic nod to Twin Peaks still smacks me in the eye.

Ho hum. Worse ways to spend an evening. Jenufa is next. Jenufa makes everything better.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Aside to fellow blogsterinos

If I haven't blogrolled you or don't comment much on your blog, it doesn't necessarily mean I don't read it.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A story we have always enjoyed

Cousin Louie Tremava recounts the following tale of the Old Met, which
took place 56 years ago today:

It was January 5th, 1951, after one of Helen Traubel's 4 performances
as The Marshallin. I was going to walk home but was curious about a
small knot of people outside the stage door on W. 40th St. and
decided to wait. Eventually the door opened and out came Mme.
Traubel wrapped in mink. A man raised his hat and said, "Schöne
Musik, madame." Traubel nodded her thanks and got into a waiting car.
After a while the door opened again and out came Risë Stevens, also
wrapped in mink. The same man doffed his hat and repeated his
compliment. Stevens smiled, said "Danke schön," and got into a
waiting car. Another short wait and the door opened again. Out came
Erna Berger, also wrapped in mink. This time a woman burbled, "What
beautiful music!" Berger said, "Oh no it wasn't, lady," and got into
a waiting car.

Thanks, cugino. Louie has such better stories than I, it must be said.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Maury Myth

That's what it would be called if Norman Lebrecht wrote a book about me, I suppose. It'd be more of a pamphlet, I'm guessing.

Right, so ostensibly I did just write something for someone affiliated with same. I suppose I should say I was drunk when I wrote it and then go into rehab like prominent republicans do when it's found out they're boinking little boys. But actually I have no idea, it may have been brilliant! I was at work and the only thing my brain can process when I'm at work is how much I'd like to be doing something else, so really I haven't the foggiest notion. Wouldn't it be kind of fun, though, if it were accidentally (as certain among us used to say) a stunning indictment of Thatcherist Britain?

It was also long-winded, not to knock you over with that piece of news. Anyway Woody Allen supposedly once took a speed reading course and then read War & Peace. "It's about Russia," he said. So, since I am clearly the Tolstoy of people who write about Rose Pauly talking to you from beyond the grave, let's just say: it's about blogging.

Expected next opera attendance: Der Stupidfloot soonish. Which in a way is needless to blog, because Sirius is at this point more or less The Magic Flute Channel.

Expected next entry: a story of thwarted passion. And Erna Berger.