Tuesday, February 06, 2007

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.


alex said...

maury, maury, maury. you must get over your gun shyness because I would so attend an opera just to hear you scream.

well, it'd at least be a fringe benefit of attending an opera performance worth screaming about. heh.

Maury D'annato said...

Heh. :)

I enjoyed a couple of the swell audio clips on your site this morning before reality sent its poison in and I had to go to work. A Nile Scene, I think with Domgraf-Fassbaender and...someone. Mornings turn into a haze of uncertainty.

Grrg said...

This was a really fantastic post. More like this, please!

alex said...

heh, maury -- you are too charming for your own good.

That domgraf-fassbaender Nile scene is one of my favorites, and the soprano, Xenia Belmas, is someone I have never heard of before or since though I find her singing pretty great.

which reminds me -- I think it's past time for me to prune/add to my playlist.

winpal said...

Yes, Maury, the bravo thing is fraught with significant issues.

1. Gender/number. Is it most politically correct to be gender specific with -o and -a, or is that sexist (kind of like the Screen Actors Guild does not use "actress" and only gives awards for Outstanding Performance by an (insert Male/Female) Actor). And once you start down that slippery slope, does one then need to also use "bravi," which somehow sounds so pretentious. Although a dear old friend who introduced me to the ways of opera queenery went so far as to use "bravi, bravi, tutti bravi" for the assembled cast.

2. Timing. Of course, no one wants to be that lone boor who always shouts his brava immediately after Desdemona's last Amen. But do you shoot your wad as soon as the diva appears from behind the curtain, or wait until she descends into her humble curtsy or spreads her arms in the Crucifixion position?

3. Volume. Assuming a universally good cast, does one gauge volume so that each successive ovation becomes cumulatively more impactful, leading up to the prima donna?

4. Length. Short, staccato with maximum percussive effect, or long and sustained?

These are pressing concerns. Would that all performances were like your Jenufa, where it doesn't matter and everyone simply screams like a ninny. That's heaven. Wish I had been there.