Thursday, March 15, 2007

1 Down; 999 to Go

Aright, next time I tell you I'm going to walk through Penn Station to avoid a block of rain, remind me that on Thursday nights, it is a portal that transports drunk people back to New Jersey.

Well so there we all were at an opera the Met hadn't done in some seventy years and if someone was sitting next to you and sitting on his hands in a most non-metaphorical manner when the production team came out, that was me. I don't boo, as you may know, not audibly anyway, and so while it was fun to listen to everyone else do it, all I could do was pause from my rapturous applause for the musicians to observe a moment of dour silence at the folks who brought you the Met's first bona fide disaster of the season, production-wise. Well, hang on though, let me spare the lighting designer, to some extent. Three words of praise: pretty color palate.

I should save that shit for the end where you can skip it, though, right? You don't want to hear about the piteous, dinner theater of the damned cheapness or the idea-less flailing about that made visual von Hoffmansthal's most wretched
moment of excess, I think. Or the Julie-Taymor-reject elves? If you saw the mock-ups in the lobby, add some stupid, multiply the whole thing by forty, and don't forget the commutative property that means it's not only bigger but stupider. (Commutative? Been a while. As evidenced by my original subject line, which seemed to imply that a thousand minus one is 9,999.)

I trust we'd all rather talk about...well say, there's a nice line here and there in the libretto, and one of them is where Mothra tells Helen, "I have only restored your splendour." And after hearing Voigt take perfectly acceptable stabs at Italian rep for the last year, it was a fine thing that someone restored her splendor. I mean, she did. No, the top is not the same shiny thing it used to be, but neither is the statue of liberty and we still like her.* I think this was a promise of a great Isolde we heard tonight, maybe. The aria was pure, poised grandeur. And for what it's worth, her profile has taken on a 40's film star glamor of late, and seafoam green does her plenty of favors. Dear Peter Gelb, please give half the Salomes to Mattila and the other half to the girl who done launched them boats.

Which is hard work, by the way, launching is, and you need a strong and shouty partner. Enter Torsten Kerl. Exit Torsten Kerl. Pursued by door hitting him on the way out. Oh, I don't mean to be a jerk. He had a serious case of indisposed, and its friend inaudible. I'm told he was cracking as well but I honestly couldn't hear. Maybe it's a good thing when your indisposition is practically on mute. The role, as we all know, is unsingable, and so unsing it he did. It's possible he's ordinarily really good. It's also possible he's not even close to as good as [Someone help me out with a name here...o trusty allewissende backstage source, speak in my aid through text message!] Michael Hendrick, his cover, who came on halfway through after a well-received curtainside announcement and bought the joint, put his name above the door. I would very enthusiastically hear more of him, preferably in something less headache-inducing. The thing is, all those Strauss tenor roles are fucking mean, but in this one there's no real compensation...the character also makes no sense and doesn't have especially beautiful lines like say Bacchus. It's just loud loud loud and then the last ten minutes, I take it back, are nice. But Mr. Hendrick sang securely and without the buzz-saw tone tenors must sometimes resort to in order to be heard over the din. I'm very curious to hear other reactions to him. I was impressed, not less by the apparent calm with which he stepped into the role.

Diana Damrau was in an interesting position in that she gets some of the nicest vocal lines, but they're kind of tossed around the score like tinsel. She continues to produce the most startlingly sure-corded noise, especially up top. I have an idea that her acting may be a little bit more-is-more, but she's game and awfully purdy and the singing is beyond reproach. Well come on now, you know when I use a phrase like beyond reproach I'm setting up for some picky-picky, which is in this case I wonder a little about her talent for legato (no, really, at the end of Act I there are these pretty little phrases that, while I'm mostly happy to banish the recording from my cranial victrola, Barbara Hendricks pours out like maple syrup.)

Jill Grove as the savvy seafood (gods how we were hoping the society matrons would continue the tradition from opening night of themed wardrobing, trading in their kimonos this time to dress as their favorite fruits de mer. Hey, isn't that Mercedes Bass over there got up as a giant lobster roll?) didn't knock me off my block the way she did as Erda in Chicago back when, but then it must be acknowledged that The Super Smart Scampi is just Not a Very Good Role. Only a certain Polish plate of lox could save it, I fear.

Garrett Sorenson piqued my ear as, what, Da-ud? I'm thinking he was in the auditions one of the last two years, is that right? Speaking of which, those are coming up, hurrah!

I don't know that I have that much more to say about the, what do you call something like this, the mise-pres-de-la-scene, but I will quote something hilarious that Jonathan von Wellsung was overheard to say at intermission, and then if he blogs it I'll look kind of silly: certain elements of the production do indeed appear to be borrowed from the Topeka planetarium. I guess for my money the libretto is already so Beyond the Valley of Frau Ohne Schatten incomprehensible that it doesn't need another layer of WTF. And for god's sake, if you're going to float La Voigt onstage for a grand entrance on an Ikea bed (the $99 model, no less), don't make her invisible to half the house when the music announces her. That's not a questionable choice; it's a plain old mistake. Big red X.

Listen, I meant to write about Die Meistersinger, to which I was so kindly taken by one of my very favorite opera mavens, but it was (shameful to admit) my first time hearing almost all 73 hours of that music, and I'd be blogging in the dark. In twenty five words or less, Botha must sing only German music, but lots of it, and Polenzani must sing only on nights when I can go hear him. I want a season-Polenzani pass.

Next up: well, the auditions, but surely there's something before that.

*though hopefully not in that creepy, fetishy, freedom-isn't-free way I used to hear people slathering on their grandchildren on the subway at Smith/9th where you get a momentary viewing


Anonymous said...




You know me, what else can I say?

Kashania said...

What a fabulously well-written and entertaining entry. I hope that I like the production more when I see it next week.

Will said...

Mon cher Maury--
I really enjoyed your account of the evening. I found you via your various and sundry comments on Parterre and will definitely be back for more.

Chalkenteros said...

the production was lame-brained to say the least -- but it had a campy fun feel to it -- i didn't take it too seriously, and I had a good time watching it. I confess to loving Poseidon's harpoon-wielding soldiers and, of course, the big boat from Vegas.

the whole briefcase-carrying cadre of desert boys was just stupid.

Brightshadow said...

What Botha should sing (as anyone who heard his flawless Apollo with Bychkov at Carnegie Hall could tell you) is Menelaus in Aegyptische Helena.

Maury D'annato said...

Thanks Kashania, and Will!

Monsterchen: I still think there's a chance you'll like it better than I did.

Chalkers: yeah, um, WTF on the briefcases?

Hans: now that is a good idea. Didn't you like Mr. Hendrick, though?

Chalkenteros said...

yeah i second (third?) the nomination for a Botha Menelas!

Anonymous said...

One of your very finest blog entries, Maury, especially the seafood variations. Kerl was, tragically, audible on Sirius so count yourself lucky. Poor guy, though. Shades of Edward Sooter.

Brightshadow said...

What Aegyptische Helena needs (besides Johan Botha as Menelas) is a prologue: Two women, one a spunky young feminist; the other middle-aged and plenty of maturity, whatever you can do with them she's done -- quarreling over whether Helen loved Menelaus or not. They are having a cigarette break at the stage door of an opera house in full costume. The house manager (played by the baritone they're wasting on Altair) comes to give them five minutes warning -- they go back inside -- the stage revolves to an indeterminate regietheater set -- suddenly a messenger (the guy who sings Da-ud) enters with the news that the tenor has an unspecified ailment and there is no competent cover. Crisis! Someone suggests the elves mime a play about the Trojan War (Paul Taylor's Troilus & Cressida (Condensed) would fit here). While they are debating how to deal with this, the younger soprano whispers something to the older one, and they shake hands and go to find the conductor.

Act I is played pretty much as now, except that when Menelas becomes exhausted by the phantoms in Act I and turns to Aithra, NOW she tells him that she proposed this deception to Helena, who refused to agree to it. So she gave Helena a sleeping draught with some truth serum in it. (Why not? We've had four other potions that I'm omitting this way, right? Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of Brangaene's Old & Peculiar.)

As Menelas and Aithra watch, Helena's bed slides in; she tosses and turns a la II:4 of FrOSch. Finally she gets up and begins to sleep walk. She has a little nosegay of violets. No, scratch that. But she imagines Menelas has forgiven her, and she is so ecstatic that she bursts into Zweite Brautnacht. Menelas, thrilled, admits he's been an idiot. With Aithra's help, he wakes Helena. They fall into each other's arms. Aithra joins them in a trio -- a paean to forgiveness and true love. Curtain falls. We go home around 10p.m. Hofmannsthal is saved many an embarrassment. So is the tenor -- whichever tenor.

Then, maybe an epilogue: forty years later, aged Helena and Aithra are still living in this house by the sea with too many flea-bitten elves....

(c) 2007 Hans Lick

And oh yes, went last night, first sight of the set made my heart sink (reminded me of a bad video game) but I guess it worked better than the libretto did. (The suitcases, though....) Voigt is no longer up to this (or maybe any Strauss) part -- a hollowness has disembowled the quality of her voice. Damrau is no Barbara Hendricks either. And Hendrick, the tenor ... well, as you all know, only Botha can sing this music.

Nonetheless I guess I should hear it at least once more to see if the music makes sense when the libretto doesn't. But perhaps the broadcast will satisfy that need and I can save my money for extra Orfeos.

ALERT: No Strauss at the Met next year a-tall!