Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Triff noch einmal!

Oh life in New York. Listen, some of you out there must be terrible drama queens (well it's an opera blog, after all) and must want to help me come up with a way to wreak Medea-like havoc upon a broker. I hardly need say more than that: brokers, well...come the revolution, they should be shoved up the ass of whoever's first against the wall. If brokers were an opera character, they'd be...instant opera-quiz question in a box: who's the lowest of the low? (Psychoanalyze as you will, my mind raced first to Germont.) Anyway mine has lied to me like it's going out of style and caused me unbelievable stress, so if anyone has excellent ideas involving fire ants and honey--nevermind, Texas reference I think--or knows where to pick up a poisoned diadem of an at-this-point-very-aged Princess of Colchis (now Mingrelia, in Georgia. It all comes back to Georgia.) drop me a line. Or if you're a real estate attorney looking for your pro-bono hours, drop me a line too.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Onegin Afterthoughts

It has been noted that Dimitri Hvorostovsky professes being bored with the role of Onegin. Which is exactly why he is the perfect Onegin.

I snagged his aria on the broadcast the other day with some intention, if I can figure out how and it's not illegal, of posting it and Lisitsian's reading.

Rumor has it the next run will include Mattila and Hampson, which means Very Mixed Feelings here at MFI. Although...

I watched a DVD of Macbeth, possibly my favorite Italian opera, this weekend with Thomas Hampson. He actually sounded pretty good and his fussy acting seemed to have found a good use. Plus it was overshadowed by the very fun over-the-topping of Paoletta Marrccu, who's singing it in DC this Spring (the reason I 'flixed it.) Maroccu doesn't have the world's easiest time with the role, but she doesn't sing it like she's saving herself for a matinee of Boheme the next afternoon, and that's the #1 qualification for singing Lady Gruach. #2 is not sounding like she sang a matinee of Macbeth earlier in the day, and she doesn't, particularly, though she doesn't reach the early Dimitrova standard of a 1:1 ratio of florid and mean. Anyone who's heard her in-house should feel free to tell me exactly how excited I should be. Measured in, um, International Excitement Units. 0=how excited I am about coming to work tomorrow; 10=end of Bush administration or Podles/Klytemnestra.

This didn't end up being very much about Onegin but I'm sure you've figured out by now not to put much stock in my subject lines, or what's beneath them.

Oh wait, I'll add this to bring us back to Onegin: earlier in the week I was asked to recommend a translation of Pushkin's novel in verse. It's a subject I have a hard time not talking to strangers in the street about. In googling around for the spelling of Falen (not Phalen) I found Wikipedia's Onegin page, which has many useful links, including this article by Douglas Hoffstadter in the New York Review of Books (yeah, I'm ordinarily not smart enough to read the NYRB) that talks about the various translations. Naturally enough I am very rah rah Hoffstadter because his predlictions are mine pretty much. Short version: read Falen, avoid Johnston, and don't even dream of going with Nabokov, whose translation is an exercise in snarkyness, or more accurately a novel-length rhetorical gesture on themes of "poetry can't be translated." (Well, it probably can't. But if you don't think so, go stick pins in moths or something and don't waste our time with your unreadable drivel. You might as well have translated it into binary while you were at it.) It's said the accompanying volumes of commentary are extraordinarily enlightening, but I'm sure they'd sit happily next to Falen on the shelf.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Notes in passing

My lovely lad got me a copy of Popp's recording of Daphne, long out of print ("Out of print?" you cry! This fact proves two things: 1) there is a god, and 2) he's an asshole.) The only small trouble here is the first time I listened to the closing scene, on LP, I finished the record, took it off, and semi-promised myself I would never listen to it again, or at least not for twenty five years, or maybe on my death bed. It's been something like twelve years and it seems like a promise worth breaking. Thanks, Boris.*

In other news, someone got tapped as one of the Best Gay Blogs and then gave gracious a nod to some of us other gals! His blog is just a wee bit Not-Safe-For-Work right now, if you're thinking of clicking over and your boss is hovering behind you looking for the Penske file.

Here's good tidings: a bunch of the Lebendige Vergangenheit series is on itunes. I just bought Supervia's oddball Presentazione della Rosa, if that's what you'd call it. I may be guilty of excess extrapolation here, flinging oregano at English words if you will.

*name obviously fictional

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Dumb Idea

I'm not actually sure it's a dumb idea. The title of the post was more a reaction to how every time anyone writes something they think is a little bit edgy they call it "A Modest Proposal" and every time they do, I shoot myself a little.

So I was thinking on the subway...City Opera always seems to be scheming to leave the State Theater, as they should, and real estate is cheaper in Brooklyn, as it should be, and also, too (they say that in the Midwest. "Also, too." Not kidding. I lived there. You can even start a sentence with it. Most of those sentences end with "and what-not.") one of the target audiences involved in the project of opera not dying in twenty years is getting the young 'uns into it. Are you seeing where I'm going with this?

Brooklyn! It's filling up with Young People With Money! First it was Park Slope, then Fort Greene, then Red Hook (p.s. we're not counting Williamsburg-now-Bushwick because those kids would only go if they staged an ironic singspiel on the works of Devo) and really I think if you plunked down an opera company somewhere in downtown Brookers, the crowd that goes to BAM might go. And what-not.

p.s. Happy Schmutz Wednesday! It's the holiday where Maury wants to walk up to random people in the street and say, "Eh, you got some...some schmutz on your forehead!"

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Casting Rumors of the Damned, Part II

JSU has hinted at further Norma horrors over at Met Futures. I'm afraid to look.

He's also mentioned, however, that we're (Jesus, finally!) getting Radvanovsky in Trovatore. It seems to me at this point a house seems a little provincial if it hasn't showcased her Leonora, so I'm glad to hear it. [ETA: hey was anyone getting nostalgic about my glaring factual errors? No need, I'm back in the game! Giorgio gently points out my mistake: R has already sung the role here. I just didn't hear it, because the acoustics aren't that good when my head is up my ass.]

You're not going to believe this, but I sat here for ten full minutes trying to make up a casting joke about Thomas Hampson but they were tending toward the mean and unfunny, and the policy here at My Favorite Intermissions is generally: if you don't like it so much, just don't go, so I'm leaving it alone.

Monday, February 19, 2007

False Advertising

I was going to, but we only ended up staying for half.

Wrong mood, wrong night of the week, wrong production, wrong baritone, kinda.

Positive comment: Gheorghiu projected better than in Traviata.

Negative comment: Hampson crooned the end of the big duet, embarrassingly so.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Encores, etc.

Lucas Rhonn has elbowed me gently in the side to prompt a wee review, y'see. I meant to write one anyway but if you can imagine a steamroller going over a tube of tootpaste, ok see and now the steamroller is my job and the toothpaste, naturally enough, is the human spirit...

Yeah, just woke up, the metaphor center is still operating on a skeleton crew.

Actually first things first. Exhibit #17,923 in the Opera=Mental Illness file is that I was very graciously invited to Onegin last night, demurred on account of I've gone so much lately that opera is just part of the weather...and then everyone said the word "Jenufa" a little too much on Saturday morning, and I realized I'd miss her when she's gone, and I surreptitiously slunk up to standing room after all.

It's impossible to stack the performances up against one another at this point...I feel like I may be making it up if I say Mattila was extra-intense and Silvasti extra-pretty, but of the, um, four I went to, it was certainly one of the four best. Well, fuck me, but they were all great.

This one did have Jay Hunter Morris in for Raymond Very as Steva, and if I had to hand out little soccer trophies, yeah, he'd probably get best Steva. Voice has a bit more presence and probably "face" than Very.

Also we did this thing I haven't done in nearly a decade: we went to the stage door. One has mixed feelings, of course. Getting closer to your beloved star is purely illusory, and except in certain rare instances, is a little disappointing once you do it. You don't want to be one of the OONY sorts that thinks the person emerging from that door is dying to hear your opinions on what s/he should sing next and so forth, but it's also a little bit of a letdown to let the moment go exactly as it should: hand over the program, say "Thank you," and maybe "We came to hear you four times!" or some little compliment, and step aside, unless otherwise engaged by the star in question. (Some people, like say Voigt and Menzter, are quite gregarious. I think it's not presumptuous to chat when the person signing the autograph initiates.) I indulge myself insofar as saying thanks in the star's language if I know it, and that's as close a step as one ought to take to the daydream wherein Madame Cantatrice says, "oh, you're from Antarctica, too?" and the two of you go off and have tea and after that it's all phone calls and birthday cards.

Anyway, we did it because we had in fact gone four times and a souvenir seemed appropriate. It's idiotic to report on it because singers would be well within their rights to skip the whole thing, so a word or two will suffice. Silja, after many years no doubt of doing this, is warm and funny. Someone said how nice it was to hear her at the Met and she said grandly but with umistakeable humor, "After fifty years, they discover me!"

Silvasti was in a rush but sweet and self-effacing. "Four times? Wasn't it too much?" He was off to Zurich, he said, flight in three and a half hours. Barbara Dever was surrounded by a little entourage but made time for everyone and seemed perfectly pleased to do so. Jay Hunter Morris was charmingly Southern and stopped for a minute to tell us about the excitement of getting the call to show up. I know, it's weird: I'm reviewing people offstage. If anyone had been chilly or thrown anything at me, I would've left it out. Frankly, we were thinking it would be an honor, in a way, if Silja murdered or even just threatened us a little.

Mattila, one has heard, will not be seen until she looks perfect, and emerged last in a crazy fur hat. And announced what she's singing next season. Well, she's probably not too worried anyone's going to fire her for it, but just the same it seems like bad etiquette to blurt it out here when it was a casual answer to someone's question backstage. Check out Met Futures--it's probably on there. She has a grand manner about her, a little aloof which god knows is understandable given some of what was standing around in the cold to breathe on her. Seriously, people really get up in a singer's bidness with their video phones and such. I'm not trying to be superior here...I mean, yeah I am, a little...I think it's just bad manners and kind of icky.

...which leaves me about twelve minutes to think of what to say about Follies, because I have a luncheon appointment, I do.

Well first off, cross your fingers the Broadway-bound rumors are for real, because it was a very good time. Apparently Donna Murphy will be busy when they're talking about doing it, which is a big drag, but life goes on.

The Encores series is billed as unstaged, I think, or semi-staged. Keep in mind that I've never seen Follies before, so I may not know my ass from my elbow, but this seemed as staged as it would need to be, being (as it is) set in a somewhat imaginary space. I mean, the first part is set in a theater, but in light of the second part, which is set I suppose in the inner lives of the four protagonists, the whole thing takes on an air of unreality, not much reined in I suppose by the fact that people periodically start singing. Yes, yes, I know. That happens in all musicals. I haven't completely lost my own negligible grasp on reality. I'm just saying in this particular instance, with the semi-staging and stuff, it was extra dreamlike.

Especially when the plum role is that of a woman for whom the line between what's in her head and what's out of it is not extra-special thick. That's Sally, played here by Victoria Clark, who could not have been much better. The show's greatest number, by my reckoning, is "Losing my Mind," which she sang by an imaginary stage, curtains descended from above and a spot, as if holding a little nervous breakdown cabaret in her head. It was at once elegant and terribly sad.

Donna Murphy, as I have implied, was also terrific, and I went in with not the very highest expectations since I was the person who didn't really like her that much in Wonderful Town. I don't know her music as well, but there's a certain cred you get just for making it through the Jesse & Lucy song, sort of like "Getting Married Today" in Company. Her dancing is also spectacular.

The men were not quite on the same level. Victor Garber, who I'm afraid I'll always think of as a tight-lipped secret agent and a really lousy father, was maybe the best actor up there, but the singing is of that "extremely good for an actor" variety more than something I'd want to judge by the barroom, benzedrine standards of this voice-obsessed blog. Um, also, I know he's basically my dad's age, and I always get squicked when people (usually women, come to think of it) go on about how hot Sean Connery is, in fact I'm feeling a little nauseated just typing it, Victor Garber kind of slightly lights my fire. Michael McGrath as Buddy I simply didn't care for that much, but I also don't think it's as good a part as the others.

Christine Baranski got the number everybody loves: "I'm Still Here", complete with the couple of verses that get clipped because nobody gets the references. I'd been watching Yvonne de Carlo a bunch on youtube after she died and I discovered she was the original Carlotta, and Baranski took a different approach, one I generally liked. She didn't come out of the gate belting, let the first half of the song warm up to the balls-out Broadway stuff. This would have been a particular success had the climactic belt of "heeeeeere!" not fallen in a weak or worn part of her voice, or had she not had a dry throat, or whatever happened, but it did, and though it was no Behrens at Tanglewood moment, it let the air out a little.

Mimi Hines, from whom I don't know, was Hattie, who gets to sing "Broadway Baby!" and did so with a great sense of fun. Lucine Amara was Heidi, who sings a duet with her younger self, and it was neat to get to see her, though time and years of faithful service have not left her with a lot.

And I'm done, I think. Longest. Entry. EVAR!

Boccanegra on Monday? Oh, probably.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Tagged by Alex, to whom my hat is still off for the phrase "pureed diction":

The game: pick up the nearest book, turn to page 123, and copy the 5th, 6th and 7th sentences. The result:

There are cultural variations in the degree to which it is considered desirable to tolerate separation. It is important to differentiate Separation Anxiety Disorder from the high value some cultues place on strong interdependence among family members. The manifestations of the disorder may vary with age.

Brought to you by the florid quill of the American Psychiatric Association. Shame nobody's thought to set the DSM to music, so poetic are its lines.

I'm tagging Burns, Meretrice, and greg from the ol' comments section, which requires all of them to start blogs.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Too much to blog

Ow, my aesthetics are chafed.

It's the week of too damn many performances. Later tonight is the now very well-reviewed Follies at City Center, which depending on how much my job does or doesn't trample my spirit tomorrow, I'll write up a little then. Tuesday was the final installment of Tom Stoppard's fluffy soap opera The Coast of Utopia which was too overwhelming, in itself, to blog though the last part is certainly the least memorable.

Yesterday I took the train to New Brunswick to see a run of I am My Own Wife that's ending its run and anyway le tout New York saw it a few years ago. Tragi-comic story there, I went through the TKTS line twice intending to see it and, at the last moment, decided instead to see 1) the overrated revival of Wonderful Town, but more forehead-smack-inspiringly 2) Stephen Belber's enormously ill-advised Match, in which Frank Langella delivered a lyrical paean to cunnilingus, as I seem to recall through a haze of mortification. I mean, we're all in favor of it, but...

So that leaves Jenufa last night, about which I've already expended verbiage--add only, here, that Forst was really marvellous but both because the one-off cast change produced a less cohesive feel and because everyone's ears are (remarkably) tuned to the color and scale of Silja at this point, it felt like less than it was. Oh and Silvasti was, if possible, even more wonderful than the other two nights I heard him. He's the center of the production, for me, it turns out, despite the caliber of his collaboratrices.

And Onegin.

Onegin was a fine time and I think you should go. Which is not exactly practical advice since either you have a ticket or you're S.O.L. The big question on the minds of people I talked to was: is this going to be a winner for Fleming or a continued slide down the slope. The letter scene as delivered about a year ago at Carnegie wasn't much of an indicator. Which was actually an indicator.

Tatiana was a mixed bag for The Beautiful Voice. She was a bit underpowered, but sang with real fire in the last act, the kind we sometimes miss in her mannered, well-mannered accounts of certain roles, and recall fondly in older essays. The letter had a kind of spontanaeity, but...the energy I long for here is nervous intelligence, kind of like Dessay brings to pretty much everything, if that makes things clearer at all. That's who Tatiana is, in the novel: she's this girl who likes to read and probably gets told to cheer up a lot and goes off the deep end a bit when she meets someone totally not from her hick town. This is not Fleming's long suit, this restlessness, which is not to imply she's not smart. The very pleasant news is that she sang many notes at one fixed dynamic, adding to my theory that she doesn't have to make every note a little concerto when she's busy concentrating on things like palatalized t's and dark l's.

Not for nothing, wouldn't it be great if the Met had a soprano with native Russian who was really pretty, could look girlish or regal, and whose acting got a lot of raves, and whose voice had in recent years had gotten quite plummy to the point that her Puccini was a lot more enjoyable than her bel canto, suggesting an ability to be heard in the loudish final confrontation where Chaikovskii's Tatiana is considerably less composed than Pushkin's? That would be downright habit-forming.

Anyway they did hire a native for Onegin. Not doing so would almost be crazy--like do you remember that film of Othello some years back with Irene Jacob as Desdemona and it pretty much didn't work? Pushkin, chopped up as we may find him chez Chaikovskii, is something you want delivered by someone who is not reciting phonemes. Hvorostovky is such an obvious choice in this. He's not quite handsome but extremely interesting-looking, and his vocal suavity and the hint of coldness about him are Onegin in a nutshell. Additionally, he sings the fuckity fuck out of Onegin's splendid, introverted, better-than-the-tenor-aria aria.

Vargas is kind of a favorite of mine but Lensky, not so much my favorite role. He was at his best in the aria, and moving elsewhere I suppose. The less said about his lady love, the better, strange to say given the phalanxes of able mezzos out there. Olga isn't the brightest bulb, but if there's no mystery at all about her, the romance with Lensky plays as farce, and that's no good.

All I have to say about the conducting is: Gergiev/Obama '08.

Seriously, he really gets it.

Oh, um, I've seen Follies now, but this is getting longsome. So maybe tomorrow. My goal for this week is to avoid culture altogether. I may go so far as to read The Post on the subway tomorrow.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Begone, veil of secrecy!

Fine, fine, Oberon. I'll post a picture of me.

D'oh! Not me after all. I've succumbed to the call of catblogging, like Alex Ross. Contrary to visual evidence, Dora the Cat is not available for purchase at Zabar's. She is simply doing her impression of a chocolate babka.

p.s. yeah that little program insert says what you think it does. Dora is a whore for 90's musicals.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

If You'll Pardon the Autobiography...

You've heard this one before, but you're not allowed to stop me.

The first time I had any inkling my life was about to be hijacked by a large building in the West 60's (though verily I didn't know the West 60's from the West Indies at that point) was around 1990. In the car. I was driving home from whatever effort I had made on a Saturday to stave off the suburban soul-death of high school, and the radio was on, and it was Der Rosenkavalier. I wouldn't get Strauss for a couple of years, but the crazy, pesky little chords that play as Sophie and Oktavian are singing about how goddamn much they like each other flipped some kind of switch, for better or worse. And then I proceeded to go batshit mad for opera, first La Traviata, then anything with Callas, and on and on. And sometime in the middle of college I knew with grim resignation that I was going to have to go to the Met.

I did so in 1997. This here story is feeling like it's about to get unusually autobiographical, and geographical. Maybe it will. I just got the latest issue of The Atlantic--you're bored, you can borrow it.

I think I had just quit a job, and I drove to Beaumont, Texas, as one does. Spent the night in a friend's worn but also lovely house on the Bayou, sleeping among the victrolae. And then to Montgomery where I stayed with the first person I ever...well, let's get back to opera. I drove on to Charlotte, dropped my car off with my sister, and took the train to New York. Yes, it was all out of fear of flying, but it's a hell of a way to see the country, and a hell of a way to arrive in New York. And it feels more like a pilgrimate if you're going to see one eminence of the stage do her thing, so that's worth doing, too.

Stayed with a friend who sings a fine Wotan. He was in law school at NYU and I hadn't an idea of New York so I thought: I wonder if I'm going to get mugged around here, which now is pretty funny. Mugged by Meryl Streep maybe. We walked from NYU to Lincoln Center, stopping at Carnegie Hall so he could give me a backstage tour. He didn't work there but he said if you went down this one hallway and looked like you belonged, you could look out onto the stage or even go out onto it. So we talked really loudly about James Levine and did just that.

On the walk up, another devastating addiction was initiated: Academy Records.

Oh, hm. It's not really possible to digress from something as utterly meandering and pointless as this, so I'll just quickly mention that I also saw Dixie Carter do The Master Class with surprising conviction and Stockard Channing (with a young, hot Frederick Weller) in a Little Foxes that didn't quite gel. And went backstage to have Ms. Channing, who is actually Ms. Stockard, sign a copy of Six Degrees of Separation--the only thing I've ever stolen!

I had a ticket for a non-cycle Walkuere, because this pilgrimage was largely meant to land me at the hem of Deborah Voigt's garment. Voigt and Domingo were doing their Act I show, and Janis Martin was in for Eaglen, which is probably why I was able to score a ticket, and I guess James Morris was there, the beginning of my many years of almost exhausting indifference to him. I had listened to Wotan's Farewell plenty of times and knew it was meant to put her, not us, to sleep.

I had bought my ticket on from someone I met briefly at intermission who told me her favorite tenor was Bjorling, pronounced Beejerling, which kind of amused me and also let me feel superior because my Swedish is so world-renowned. I was 23 and kind of a putz. She seemed nice.

Oh wait, the point. My friend Wotan and I walked all the way up the day before, and while we were up there, we decided to see if there was standing room for whatever was playing that night, and there was, so I made an unschedued Met debut. The opera that night was Evgenii Onegin, performed by Galina Gorchakova, Vladimir Chernov, a pre-awful Franco Farina...Arkhipova was making her laughably delayed debut as a touching Filipevna and Michel Senechal pulled something off I'd never heard as Triquet, a pianissimo that reached the back row and pinged off the gold paint. Gorchakova hadn't blown it out and was pretty and convincing as Tatiana, young and grown up. Carsen's immaculate production, I believe, was premiering, and there was some consternation about the way he staged the Polonaise. I still think it's a stroke of genius.

Afterward, following instructions from, I went backstage to have the singers sign my program though I didn't really know of them, to speak of. I asked someone: will Ms. Gorchakova be signing programs? Yes, they said, but she doesn't speak much English. And thus was my entire college education justified. (Well, not really. I've always maintained that reading Onegin in the original is the only real reason to go to the trouble of learning Russian.) She was friendly and pleasant, flattered me by asking, when I said "I'm a student of Russian," "Student, a ne uchitel'?" A student, not a teacher? There's a picture of me with her. I look thin.

I bring it up at all because tomorrow night is my 75th trip to the building in the West 60's, and they're so kind as to indulge my nostalgia, putting on the very same opera.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A dream come, oh, about half true

As subcribers now know...

Opera fans at Lincoln Center will at long last hear Barber's Vanessa again (yay!) and with Lauran Flanigan in the title role (ZOMG TEH YAYS!), but they will have to take a left turn as they walk onto the plaza and hear it in the piss-poor acoustics and aesthetics of The Little Company that Sometimes Could (Um...yay, ok, better than nothing.) Katherine Goeldner, whose Orlofsky we did admire at the other house on the block, will sing Erika. I forgot who the others are, actually. Anne Manson conducts.

The rest of the season seemed like pretty standard fare with here and there an interest-piquing cast member like Beth Clayton (as Carmen.)

Hey it's not immoral or illegal or anything for me to pass this info on, is it? If I get a cease and desist email I will perform both verbs promptly. Which, considering that I tend to slag on the company, I could hardly kick about.

Casting Rumors of the Damned

We hear...that Anja Silja, buoyed by raves for her Kostelnicka, is having one last fling at Salome, replacing Karita Mattila in the next run. Not one to do anything halfway, she's sticking with Ms. Mattila's costuming choices for the dance.

Well, that idea fizzled out pretty quickly. I started to make up a lot of over the top fake casting rumors, but my heart wasn't really in it.

Instead, for lack of better until Onegin (which by the way will probably be my 75th opera at the 'politan. It was also my first. I love it when the universe lines up that way) I thought I'd share a meaningess anecdote entitled: How I found my Bravo. It's a coming of age story of the lowest order. Gather round the fire, young'uns.

Sometime around 1998 I was taken, by someone who otherwise did rather little to earn my love or respect, to a benefit concert given by the Opera Orchestra of New York in Alice Tully unless I mean Avery Fisher but I think I don't. This was actually the occasion upon which I realized I don't, um, like a certain kind of opera queens all that much. The fellow next to me, friend of my benefactor, sat through Alessandra Marc's In Questa Reggia exclusively so he could hiss, the moment the music stopped, that Nilsson did it better. And so I killed him, barbecued him, and served him on paper plates to all of my friends.


Semi-benefactor took me because Ghena Dimitrova was singing and he knew I worshipped the ground she Bulgarianly trod upon. Ghenadammerung sang, let's see, she sight-read her way through the Aida catfight with Millo. She was Amneris, in glasses. It wasn't extraordinary, though it was good fun to see them battle over who could be more frumpy in a very glamorous scene. But then she sang La Luce Langue and oh my god, I am so pissed off that she's dead. It was a pleasure if not an honor to hear, and afterward we went backstage and I gave her some incredibly cheap looking flowers and said to her in not very good Bulgarian, "that was very lovely music." She chuckled, if you can imagine that, and stroked my cheek. Like Marcia Brady, kissed by Davy Jones, I have not washed it since. Well, a couple of times, on special occasions.

Also she signed my LP of the Italian recital, not the weird Puccini one with her hilarious Mimi and O Mio Babbino. I'm afraid to look, because like an idiot I had her sign it as it was, sealed in plastic, and I'm afraid perhaps it's faded entirely. Plus I can never play the record, even if I could get my turntable working.

Rewind a little, though. Well first rewind a lot so I can establish clearly what's so great about GD, which is that her voice could wake the dead. Not just the volume, but the bandsaw edge. But it wasn't a big godzilla stomping through Tokyo voice like, say, Guleghina--it really hung together when she was in the mood to make it do so.

Notably she was not always. There are Normas from Houston where she can't be bothered with the high notes and approximates other stuff, then one from I think Rouen where she's just simply a dream. There's a story that Stratas and whoever the tenor was visibly rolled their eyes as she sang Turandot, or maybe that's a story about Gwyneth Jones, come to think of it. That was how she was I guess: sometimes she lunged half-heartedly at the monstrous roles that were thrust upon her and sometimes she casually conquered them. To hear her studio Abigaille is to understand why it wrecks singers and why they try it anyway. Somehow she was not wrecked.

But that's not where I was going, at all in fact. After her big aria was done, I clapped 'til bones were broken, but didn't do anything more. Knowing my Ghenaphilia, semi-benefactor said "aren't you going to brava?" I muttered something about not having a good voice for it and he said, and was right, that you really owe it to your diva.

I am, believe it or not, very awkward at certain things. Oh, you hush. I can't dance to save my life, I can't make that "woo" noise one makes at football games or the Letterman Show, which is fine because I don't go to either, and when I yell bravo, it doesn'ts ound convincing. Only lately I think it does, more, and I think it was a matter of having the conviction to do it.

I mention it because I was screaming like a ninny at the recent Jenufa, and it felt good, because they deserved it.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

This Just In: Waiting for the Barbarians in Austin

Friend of many years and Austin correspondent Lucas Rhon brings you this account of an operatic premiere:

Maury, I saw Philip Glass' newest opera, Waiting for the Barbarians on Saturday night. It had a very good crowd, not sold out, but quite substantial. This work should be required presentation at all of the opera companies is the USA. Its message is so pertinent to the situation the USA now finds itself as a result of Bush's Middle East policies. The book was written in 1980 and the idea and composition of the opera were all pre 9/11; while it was not conceived an an anti-Bush work, it certainly can fit like a glove today.

There has been all sorts of reaction to the work. A friend that works at ALO told me one woman called and said she was returning her tickets because the opera was anti-Bush. The caller was told that the work predates the Middle East situation and was finished before the invasion; the woman would still not come to see it. But last night the upper balcony where I sit was full; the company is selling rush tickets to UT students beginning about two hours before the performance and the students certainly took advantage of them last night, and they did not leave at the intermission. The story is so compelling and with the clear diction of the singers plus the titles it was an engrossing work and evening.

The work was first presented in Erfurt, Germany, in September, 2005. The production designed by George Tsypin and the stage director, Guy Montavon, were imported from Germany for this USA premiere. It is a stunning work. Glass' signature underpinnings have developed from his earlier compositions and in this work they are a perfect accompaniment to the text by Christopher Hampton; the vocal line is of the 'sung speech' nature: not a high C to worry about. To sum it all up: it ain't Puccini, but first class Glass! Sorry you could not be present.

Two of the original creators, Richard Salter, the Magistrate, and Eugene Perry, Colonel Joll, recreated their roles. The important part of the Barbarian woman was sung by Adriana Zabala and Wilbur Pauley was Joll's officer who does the dirty work! Richard Buckley conducted magnificently. The work is really stunning and the audience gave it very prolonged standing appreciation at the end. To see what the Barbarians went through with imprisonment and torture was horrifying enough but then there are the contemporary parallels which cannot be put out of the mind. The work is about 2 and a half hours in length. The first act is about 75 minutes and the last about 60. Time just flew by. I saw two performances and had to miss the dress rehearsal because of the icy weather situation we had on that night.

There was a symposium on the opera two weeks ago; Glass was present. He is very articulate and could be very amusing too. I had seen him eating at a restaurant, Kiev, 8th and 2nd Avenue, in NYC on several occasions in the past. On my last visit, the restaurant had been redecorated, the prices raised, and the food quality not nearly as good. At the reception after the symposium, I told him this little story and he immediately said the Kiev was now closed and the place to go now was two blocks up the street at 10th and 2nd Avenue; I will check it out on my next trip. I cannot recall the name of the approved eating place but it does have a Slavic name.


Thanks, L.R., and keep us posted. ALO really matured from a regional-feeling house to something more during my seven years in Austin. Late in my years there, they presented a memorable, very well-staged Chenier, and these days they get some distinctly non-regional singers. p.s. we suspect Mr. Glass' culinary haunt is Veselka, home of many happy fried potato products.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

And now Menotti

Dead at 95.

A story that sticks with me is that Menotti, while writing the libretto for Vanessa, told Barber that he wasn't able to write words without imagining music as well, so there was a whole other Vanessa by Menotti. Much as I love the Barber version, it's intriguing to imagine maybe he remembered it or even wrote it down someday, put it in a trunk...

Recommended listening: Inge Borkh's heavily accented account of "To This We've Come" from The Consul. I don't know a lot of Menotti, but that's a wonderful scene.

Farewell to a great fellow Texan

Molly Ivins has left us to fend for ourselves. Anyone who writes anything should mourn the loss.

In the first few weeks after 9/11 when almost everyone was a hysterical mess, I remember the relief of reading Molly and thinking: well, at least someone's not lost her mind. I actually emailed the contact link on her column once to urge her to run for president. It was a fanboy gesture, but fueled by a sincere fantasy.

This, more than any of last year's spate of operatic losses, feels like losing a friend, and maybe harder to take still, a protector against the worst.

ETA: As the day wears on, I'm coming to find people without a Texas connection don't necessarily know who she was. Suffice it to say: a columnist, a no-bullshit liberal, an intense intellect almost problematically unable to indulge in self-importance or pretense, a riotous wit, an American in an individualist sense now mostly consigned to history. I realize this sounds over-the-top. What can I say?