Monday, April 30, 2007

Exciting Week in Opera

This week is the Orfeo premiere, about which I assume we're all a little giddy. The Straussmonster has hilariously pointed out that the poster on the plaza makes David Daniels look a bit like Johnny Cash, of all people, and also that Gluck would probably approve of the Man in Black's directness of expression. It's hard to understand why they scheduled so few performances--I realize it's not the world's most popular opera, but they had to know that the opera plus Mark Morris plus Isaac Mizrahi combo was going to pull in basically anyone above a Kinsey 1.5 in New York.

All levity aside, I think we'll all enjoy it through a certain sadness for what are now historical reasons. I have no doubt Mr. Daniels will do honor to the memory of the intended protagonist.

Also this week, the Tristan Project. I find "Project" to be a hilarious title, since anything they have the balls to charge that much for had damn well better be a finished product. I'd go but I'm staying home and rolling around in hundred dollar bills shouting "money! I have so much money!" instead.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Il Hittico!

Oh god, that's even worse.

People do seem to love it, though, and not without reason.

Last night was, for me, a few things. It was the first time I heard ACB at the Met (um, yes, her debut was last Friday and I was AWOL) and that by itself was a thrill, especially in that she sounded de-lovely. It was a fascinating lesson in casting to the strengths of singers who at times don't seem to have any, about which more in a minute. It was also, and this isn't necessarily of interest to anyone who doesn't live in my head, where I discovered which Puccini opera is my favorite and which is my least.

The least, I'll just end the suspense here, is Suor Angelica. For me, a painfully treacly exercise, this one. Makes my teeth hurt. I once read in liner notes somewhere the opinion that the first act of Samson et Dalila is like watching asparagus grow. Same goes for the first half hour of Angelica, as far as I'm concerned, and in this production actually...well I decided to watch without reading my Met titles and can tell you now: it's about nuns gardening. Maybe they're growing asparagus. No, of course not. It's actually about how religion inherently ruins people's lives, but then I think a lot of things are about that. The cast was without a weak link, though I felt like I might enjoy a slightly heftier voice in the title role, and the set was the best kind of purely representational stagecraft: realistic but not kitchen-sinky, though the mule could go, cute as it was. Say did you ever stop and wonder, when she's signing over her fortune to la Zia Principessa (a villain of dumbfounding banality) what name she's signing? Because, like, it must be her real name. Her whole name. I like to think it was Rivka Rosenblatt, because it makes the whole story just a leetle more complicated. Maybe just more comic. My friend Michelle in high school insisted that certain works--I think her example was Jane Eyre--became tolerable only when you thought of them as comedies. Certainly a Vera Galupe-Borzkh Angelica would be good fun; is there one?

But yeah, my new fave Puccini, the one that gets to go around wearing a sash that says "Maury's Favorite Puccini Opera," is Il Tabarro, just for being so very lean and unsentimental both lyrically and libretto-wise. This one was the miracle of casting. Guleghina, whose Norma I'm dreading like everyone else, sounded like a dream, and of course her dramatic commitment has never been in question, so she was fun to watch. Juan Pons who has given me some great nights (Pagliacci years ago) and some headaches (can't remember, blocked it out), well, Michele fit into his voice just as whatsername, Murgatroid?, did for Guleghina. Flaws erased, strengths underlined. Above all, Salvatore Licitra was like a completely different singer than I remember pissing all over various Verdi scores. Virile is a good word, and "in tune"--that's two very good words.

I know I should be saying more about Stephanie Blythe. There is absolutely no question she is a top notch singer. I bet, if you think about it, you have a singer everybody really loves that you think is just fine. That's pretty much Stephanie Blythe for me. I have absolutely no idea why she doesn't set off fireworks for me. There's really nothing missing. I guess I liked her most as Zita in Gianni Schicchi because I think she's a fun comedienne, and the whimsical spirit of Jack O'Brien's very updated Schicchi made nice use of that. Yeah, the hijinks are a bit senior playish in a way the libretto makes unavoidable, but it's gentle and the sets (plural, yep, well hello Mr. Stage Elevator! How've you been since Aida?) are, at risk of damning with pastel praise, really pretty, and it's hard not to like. Good ensemble cast with some soloists I feel I didn't get to size up properly.

Up next: Cesare on Friday, but you've already heard all about that, and besides, I'm dealing with a minor case of blog burnout.

Monday, April 23, 2007


I think my original attempt at posting about Elektra was devoured by my laptop. So here's take II.

Context: I am not right in the head about Elektra. In Houston, with Behrens and the grand ruins of Rysanek, it was the first time music made my heart beat as if I'd just run a block. (Mm hm, that's my version of "run a marathon." Hi, I'm Maury, and I'm a sedentary blob of out-of-shapeness.) It was before I'd found my bravo, if you happen to have read that entry, so at the end, after Eschenbach pulled the final bars out so long you thought you'd scream or at least have a birthday waiting for the resolution, I was all pent-up excitement. That was a Serban production, and I remember it as not overly inventive but very tuned in to the exuberant rage that is Elektra. Barstow, it was rumored, had shown up not knowing the role and was told, "learn it or hit the road." I wouldn't be completely surprised if this were true, given the deliriously nervous character of her reading.

Since then, I have seen it at the Met where Voigt was the lone beacon of delight, saddled with a combo I remember through a haze of blah as Schnaut and maybe Hannah Schwarz; and in concert at Tanglewood with the generally excellent Lisa Gasteen and Hurricane Palmer as her moms, about which I have spil't ink already. It's an opera I had to take a break from because I had listened the juice out of it, usually in one of the many Borkh outings. It is a work that produces in me that gratifying feeling of "this is a thing I could never, with any amount of training, have thought up myself," like standing at the base of the pyramids, I'd imagine--and at the same time it's so deeply familiar to my soul it feels, I might say, were I a mad Greek on the verge of collapse instead of a nebbishy opera blogger, as if the music came from me.

So what the hell can I tell you that's going to be at all objective? You already know how I feel about Podles, unless you are illiterate, in which case what are you doing reading this? Go back to watching Wife Swap and voting republican. Actually that may be a point of entry, though, my nigh autistic worship of perhaps the animating obsession of these pages: Podles in most things one sees her in is a little like Voigt up in the previous paragraph, surrounded by capable, even good singers whose highest notes but taste the glory of EP's lowest. The Wizard of Oz metaphor is tired but, for me, inescapable: she puts everyone else in black and white.

I'm pleased to report, maybe surprisingly, that Ewa Podles in the Canadian Opera Company's Elektra is in context. I didn't come away feeling like I had heard her and some other incidentals. In a negligible way, it felt sad not to be uniquely blown away by her, but the payoff was a consistently taut and heart-rending sing from basically everyone. Not on purely Stimm-based merits, you understand, but in roundly gesamstkunstwerklich terms.

Susan Bullock I know previously only from a Houston Butterfly whose sonic form has vanished utterly from my mental files. I was not expecting much. It is a voice that has had a kind of greatness beaten into it, on evidence of the prima. The top spreads and will never be pretty, but the middle has lingering warmth that lends itself better to the recognition scene than most who can soldier through the role. Ok, it's not a terrific instrument, but (after a tentative first few minutes) it is deployed with a ragged dementia I have not recently seen on an opera stage, something that takes me back to Behrens in fact. Much rocking and uncontrollable weeping, stuff along those lines that we live for. Elektra, you know, is not where you want a whole lot of restraint and good taste.

Which brings us naturally enough to Madame Podles. In an interview before the opening our hero says to a reporter for the Toronto Star, ""Ah, Strauss. It's like a good piece of steak. There's blood inside." [Interstingly, in this interview, she goes on to totally harsh on her stepdaughter/accompanist, and it's sliiightly hard to tell if she's kidding.] If you've heard her sing anything, you know she always ends up with blood on her teeth, and this was no exception. The staging of her entrance was ingenious (I was fond of the production as a whole, despite a few touches like the-past-as-pantomime that can go horribly wrong) and from there, she just pretty much did her thing, chesting what needs to be chested, pulling faces that could be seen in Kansas, but with that aesthetic grounding and consistency that makes for catharsis rather than parody. From "ich habe keine gute Nachter" on, she evinced an understanding of what makes Klytamnestra a compelling villain, the grandeur under the decay; her singing embodied both. It was the exact midpoint between the unhinged harpy school of Klytamnestren, cf.: Fassbaender, and the dignified, well sung version put forth by such as Blanche Thebom.

Alwyn Mellor, unfortunately costumed, refused us the howl of a wild animal that's supposed to come just before "Orest ist tod!" but otherwise was as ready for a romp through the carnage as the rest of them. Funny voice,'s pretty round and well-behaved throughout until you get to the top few notes which are, how to say, wiry or something, but large and clear. They do their own thing. I guess a wild top never did Ms. Rysanek any harm, I'm just sayin' is all. I wish the director had let her laufen an die Tür des Hauses, as the libretto states, and schlagen daran. For some reason I've never seen that happen, and it seems like it would be so satisfying, I mean really schlagen the hell out of the Tür, because the very end of Elektra is even less the time for restraint than the rest. I bet Mattila schlagte the damn thing schwarz and blau.

My only quibble was the conducting, I guess, and it's half a quibble, more of a quiblet--it's a very good orchestra, and I suppose I could see how the score came out as a deliberate thing: every jagged edge was sanded down to an interesting smoothness: come see the softer side of Strauss! A little slowness here and there, some narrowing of dynamic ranges, the whole thing comes off as deco and diaphanous, maybe as Mendelsohnnian "fairy music," as Strauss is said to have requested. Only he can't have been serious, cuz honey, this is Elektra. It is about steak and blood, as certain people know. It kind of ruined the monologue for me, to be honest, and pissed me off in a couple of other places, though as you have gathered, the whole product was immensely exciting. Kudos to the conductor, whose name I don't have right here, for opening up at least one large traditional cut, y'know, the whole "hot girl-on-(related)-girl action" bit a little while after the CD break.

Wait, can I talk about the production again for a sec? Because I just read Ken Winters' review in The Globe and Mail and it reminded me of some stuff. I have to agree with Mr. Winters, by the way, that there was something about Ms. Bullock's costume and affect that called to mind Judi Dench's similarly crazy-and-then-some turn in this year's Notes on a Scandal. Anyway what I started to say is I think the reason I'm so content with the odd convention of portraying the House of Atreus (here I mean the actual physical dwelling, as in "open no doors in this house!") as little white monopoly house in the middle of the stage is that attempts to make it represent all the misery that have made Elektra what she is overlook the fact that it's probably nothing all that grand. The libretto doesn't say much about it, but let's not forget it's the people who should be draped in expressionist gloom, if anyone. A blank, white house suggests that the House of Atreus (now the family) is only interesting and distinct from, let's say, the families on Wife Swap in that they're the primal fucked up family, one we can project everything onto. Am I full of shit? I didn't get all that much sleep last night. Don't you kind of hate how that's always my excuse? Oh well, the proper response is to become my blogpatron, then I'll quit my day job and be well rested and coherent always.

Incidentally, the company's new house is a wonderful space. I hope to return there next time I feel recharged and equal to the creepy once-over you get crossing the border back. Try telling a butch number with a handgun and a lot of arbitrary authority you left the country for 24 hours to see an opera sometime and see what he makes of it.

Next up: Il Trittico. Not to ruin anything but if I hate it I may refer to it as "Il Shittico." Oh, my rapier wit!

p.s. Wife Swap is a really good show.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

In bocca al lupo...

and toi toi toi to fellow blogsterino ACB, debuting at the Metropolitan tomorrow night. By a stroke of stupid timing, I will be out of town and have to catch something other than the prima. Y'all go hear her, though, k?

God wants you to listen to Finnish art songs, Gaius.

I finally realized what it is I find torturous about piano+voice recitals, and not by going to a bad one, quite the opposite. Though also not out of sheer amusement at Karita Mattila telling her hairdresser, apparently, "Make me look as much like the blond Cylon that's not Xena, Warrior Princess as possible." That was just a bit of lagniappe.

I'll have to let someone else tell you how she does with Barber or Hugo Wolff, not that I didn't enjoy them, but lieder feel faintly like a lecture to me. What I can tell you about is the riveting thing she did with the Turina songs on the program, which basically involved a bodily connection with the songs you sometimes see in opera but almost never in recital--the most recent example of this I could ponit you to off the operatic stage was Bjork in the Meredith Monkathon at Zankel, doing the little playful/intense maybe self-indulgent yoga-meets-charades she does as she sang "Gotham Lullaby." That's right, I just compared Karita Mattila to Bjork, and there's nothing you or Matthew Barney can do about it.

Mattila danced. Not a stationary swaying, either, the deliberate marker of "oh yeah, I'm feelin' it." Not KM. She lifted her arms and moved around and threw her midsection into it. It was unexpected, a little bit insane, and enthralling.

Among her encores, "The Man I Love" which though you may not have known it, is subtitled, "Dear Renee Fleming, This is How you Sing a Standard."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Itunes Bargains, sorta

I feel like I should post about things that feel like a steal on itunes--this one time (at band camp) someone, maybe Chalkers, posted that they had put up the entire Italian-language studio William Tell for $9.99, and though I've never listened to it, it felt great buying it. It's a four disc-er.

So, there are two complete Zerbinetta scenes you can get for a buck even though the scene is usually 11+ minutes and so "see album." And they're both old and scritchy, which means good, right?

#1: Lea Piltti, a Finn, I think. Pretty average, weak and vibratoless at the very top, better trill than most Zerbinetten. Charm factor: more the tweety-bird Zerb than the, yeah, some proponents are alluring and even complex. Dessay, it is said, gave meaning to each little trill and roulade, though I missed her in the role--the run I showed up for, she did not, and we got the perfectly ok and, the heterosexuals tell me, way cute Lubov Petrova, who does a lot of utility duty at the Met these does, doesn't she? Piltti is rhythmically pert, but not memorable. The list of her conquests is delivered more like casual 6th grade gossip than the self-amused confession of a world-class coquette. Still, hey, a dollar. What costs a dollar these days, other than [mean, mean, mean. deleted.]

#2: Joanna Kern. Wait, that's the mom on Growing Pains. Adele Kern. That's better. Well above average. Fuller tone, more variety of expression. It's a little effortful in the acuti, and the voice catches a bit here and there, trill is maybe fakey, but this is unquestionably a better sing. There are notes she leans into like an Italian lyric, and they're much appreciated. The highest arpeggio, just before "als ein Gott" is the only place she truly shows her hand, effort-wise. The D in the rondo is sort of crappy, then she rescues it for the second syllable, so to speak, and it's brilliant. The C then fails to spin, but "stumm, stumm" is sung with a curtsey and a shrug, as it ought to be always.

Now when will coat-pocket live recordings start popping up on itunes? Probably never. It's just I really want bits of the Mesple-Troyanos-(Crespin).* My god, have you heard Mesple in the role? Put aside the fact that she sounds like she could sing it up an octave and you are left with the dumbfounding fact that une francaise feels this role of an Italian character singing in German as librettified by an Austrian better than anyone, including the Slovak and the African-American. See, Zerbinetta is yet another character who can be sung as just a minx, but it's far better when she's not. As embodied by Mady, she's smart and laughs at herself a little. Combined with Troyanos' transparently high strung Komponist, and it's just about ideal. I'm pretty sure you can see it on youtube, actually. Flickery, but divine.

*Sorry NYC Opera Fanatic, if you're reading. She's just falling-apart bad on this one.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Flotsam (I hardly know 'em!)

Item: Has the Gelb lovefest ended so quickly? The peanut gallery at Parterre is already filled with talk of how his policy of hiring flashy young singers is (in the most hysterical instances) going to be the end of opera. Hey remember that time everybody was happy PG was shaking things up? O idyllic, innocent, bygone era of last September!

Overheard: NYCOQ on Netrebko in selfsame gallery of peanuts--"Time will tell if she is the Neely O'Hara of opera." Most amusing. Let's try to picture her all pilled up, moaning into a mirror, "Anna Netrebko!!! Anna Netrebko!!!" If we're thinking about possible candidates for Helen Lawson (and I can't speak for you, but I as a homosexual am required by law to do so) Ruth Ann Swenson seems to have gone and nominated herself in a stunning blow to Aprile Millo.*

Plain old heard: Have y'all been listening to Sirius much? Because there's been some good stuff. JSU tipped me off to the Price/Bergonzi Ernani and now I am 1) much more excited than I was that they're putting it on with Sondra R. next seez 2) adding two stars to the Constellation of Luv and Sycophancy that is any opera blog's inner organizing principle. Those would be Madame Price who I've always adored but am beginning to think of in the same half-crazed way I think about Gencer et al., and Giorgio Tozzi.

Tozzi I have admired since being indoctrinated into adoration of Vanessa, but then last weekend I heard his Orest in a Borkh Elektra from Carnegie. Well. The words that come to mind are Virginia Woolf's, from "Slater's Pins Have no Points." "Out of the night [he] burnt like a dead white star."

Don't you think of these blogs a little bit in terms of their animating diva? Parterre sprung from the screaming mouth of Callas (as many of us did to some extent, but Parterre has the tattoo to prove it); AUV has a Della-Casian reserve and refinement of expression; actually I have no idea what I'm talking about since there's nothing particularly Borkhig or Gencerific, not to speak of Podlesian--pronounced pod-LEE-zhun--about this here blerg. I have written myself into a corner. I think I was just feeling self-conscious about not having posted in a while and so had to clear my throat and sing a verse of "I'm Still Here."

Anyway now I'm listening to a Bumbry Orfeo and remembering that great singers in the wrong role can be sort of not all that appealing.

ETA: Okay this is actually fascinating...I'm sort of glancing around Opera-L which is all I can do before my eyes start to cross, and it appears there is lengthy debate about whether or not Villazon cracked during the Big Netrebazonko Whoop-de-do a few weeks back. This is just...nuts. I mean, there appears to be some interesting discussion of the comparative authenticity (scare quotes? eh.) of in-house vs. broadcast hearings. But I'm just truly shocked to read that there's any discussion of whether or not he cracked. I'm a big, big fan of RV, and just the same at intermission fired off a text message to a friend that said, more or less, I just heard the most spectacular vocal misfire I've ever heard live. Or, apparently, I maybe didn't...!

Next up: it's possible I'm not going to anything until Podles-Klytamenstra, and god only knows if I'll post anything after that since life will have no meaning once it's over.

*take this in the spirit of slightly indifferent ribbing. I was very taken with Swenson's Marguerite, on the one hand, and nearly fell asleep during her Lucia in 1998ish, on the other.** I don't have that much of an opinion on the article except it was somehow like watching a ship crash slowly into a glacier, if you had basically positive feelings about both the ship and the glacier.

**which led to me unknowingly dissing her to someone she's related to. Awkward! Actually it wasn't that big a deal, but I mention it because two people who were there occasionally read and might get a laugh out of the reference.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Home of the Brave

I'm no more a connoisseur of kitsch than the next guy, but something about the cover of the Leontyne Price Sings Kitsch cd beaming up at me out of the bin at Academy said, "buy me," and that something was the $1.99 price tag. See the other CD I was buying was a 1937 Met Tales of Hoffman with Tibbett and Rene Maison and some gal named Bovy, and the smart folks at Academy know people like me will fork over for old Met stuff, even of operas we don't particularly like. And it's important to buy a cheap CD after that to average things out. (..and now you know why I have no money.)

Thing is, I'm wondering if parts of the kitsch album might turn out to be wonderful. It's not impossible. She sings O Shenandoah, and if you'll bear with me for a minute while I seemingly digress, the whole reason Madame Price's recording of Barber's Knoxville is so much more loveable than Steber's, even though the piece was written for Steber, is that LP is able to sound guileless and sweet where Eleanor maintains the diction and vocal bearing of a school teacher throughout. Now, don't be hatin'. I love Steber lots and lots. But I think in sweet simple songs, Leontyne may be just the woman for the job.

I started reading the liner notes at dinner. They're kitschy, too. Sweet, in a way, though, kind of patriotic-naive.
The Star-Spangled Banner was sung at the inauguration of Mississippi's Governor William Winter, who in his acceptance speech said, "We are proud to welcome home Miss Leontyne Price." The Chamber was filled to overflowing with past governors,senators, and citizens of all races and religions who stood enraptured as this magnificent woman sang our national anthem, which resounded in the Capitol building and out into the streets.

And then racism ended, yay!!!

Ok, I'm going to put it on and see if it's awful or cute. Tracks to be sampled: America the Beautiful, Shenandoah, and (not kidding) Blowin' in the Wind. Oh and what the hell, When Johnny Comes Marching Home.


It's awful.

Well, I suppose I can always hold out hope that "Right as Rain" where, I believe, she sings "Sunrise, Sunset" pops up in the bargain bin one day. That just could not be anything but wonderful.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Everyone Loves a Gala

Funny, but I was just telling the story this afternoon about how, in grad school, I was in a choir that performed shouty Siberian folk music, and our director (who, among many other qualities that made me want to kill him, made us dress up in Siberian peasant costumes) would do this spiel between songs about how the minor second is a a consonance in this kind of music, and I don't know, I just kind of thought of it when Rolando Villazon was up there experimenting with intervals nobody else has ever tried in the end of Act I of Boheme.

I can joke about this comfortably because Villazon reminded us all of something kind of reassuring: if you're a certain kind of wonderful, you can fuck up repeatedly and still run off with everyone bravoing themselves hoarse. And yeah, part of the frenzy of braying was because everyone paid rather a lot to hear Opera's Best Marketed Platonic Couple and were there for the event as much as anything. Nothing wrong with that, though it can be annoying. But there was a lot of worthwhile noise, too.

As you've read or heard, they did a chunk of Boheme, a chunk of Manon, and a chunk of L'elisir d'Amore. Early on, it was apparent something was going wrong, wrong, wrong for Villazon. Not all-over-the-place apparent but like, on an early high note, or maybe the climactic note he cut off early with that noise Michael Bolton made at the end of "Pourqoi me reveiller" on his opera album, My Secret Passion. (Not secret enough.) This noise I think exists as well in Arabic. One textbook describes it as "the sound of incipient retching." Then there was some tentative singing, and some other minor bits of Arabic, and in fact the note one comes down to from the biggie on "Che gelida" also kind of caught in his throat. And at the end of the act, as many of us were wondering if he'd take the gentleman's option and not howl a C or whatever they'd transposed to with the soprano, it became evident that he intended to take said option, but wasn't sure how to do it.

Let me think about solfege for a minute. I guess the non-chivalrous version goes:

sol miiiiiii, do laaaaaaa, laaaaaaa [portamento hook please] doooooooo.

and the chivalrous:

sol miiiiiii, do faaaaaaa, faaaaaaa miiiiiiiii.

and the Rolando experiment:

sol miiiiiii, do faaaaaaa, faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa[ruh roh]aaaaa.

So what's fa on do? I guess it's a nice normal fifth, but in context it could only be described as jazzy.

Anyway he did his usual high quality thing throughout in terms of perfectly charming acting that almost wiles away the torment of one more slog through the Benoit scene, and relentlessly musical and intelligent phrasing. And Netrebko did the same, without the vocal mishaps, because this is her best rep, and in it, she is worthy of the hype.

Manon was the same, taken to extremes. The vocal-cord shredding at the top of "Ah, Fuyez!" was absolutely harrowing. And he just kept right at what he was doing, which was a stylish, impassioned reading of the scene that could scarcely be bettered except for yeah, the hideous noises he made here and there. I'm pretty sure I got aesthetic whiplash. Trebbers in this sounded lush and comfortable, but there was a question of whether she was going for laughs with the acting, which seemed to have been coached with Miss Piggy. I don't mean to sign on with the hardcore Fleming-bashers, but I'm going to go ahead and say AN's take on the music was quite refreshing. And of course she looked like sin waiting to happen. (I think they disposed with some of the insane costume business where she does what amounts to a laborious striptease--either La Cieca or Dawn Fatale once quipped she looked like Super-Manon.)

L'elisir was when it all came together. Villazon's vocal troubles apparently vanished, and Netrebko sounded about the best I've ever heard her. I'm no singer (as my shower curtain would attest, if it could talk, after it had stopped crying) but I am sort of shocked to think that the vocal demands of Bellini are so very different from those of Donizetti. What else, though, could explain how Trebs is so amateurish in Puritani (minority opinion here, obviously, but seriously...) and so deft in this stuff. It almost made me like Elisir. "Una Furtiva Lagrima" was most noted, this evening, for its solidity at the end of a bumpy night, but here again the elegant line and emotional transparency were the real selling points.

Admirable assistance came from the likes of the venerable Mr. Ramey, Monica Yunus, the excellent Patrick Carfizzi, and audience fave Marius Kwiecien.

Next up: possibly Cesare, for my sins.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Credit where it's due

Ok. I have to admit something a little bit dorky: getting quoted in the New Yorker would be pretty easily the most exciting thing to happen to me in, oh, wait, nevermind: ever. But I have to give credit where due: as cited in my Helena write-up, the clever line came from Jonathan von Wellsung. Here's the whole review.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Like Christmas morning for the heathen opera queen

Seriously, I look forward to the Finals concert for months. It's just...exciting. You never know, one year may be a bunch of perfectly talented kids and a lovely afternoon of aural bon-bons but nothing that makes you want to get in a time machine and hear the singer in question five years hence after indenture of the "cena e pronta" variety.

And then another year you might hear Amber L. Wagner sing Vanessa and Tannhauser, and wet your pants just a little from excitement. Purely as a figure of speech, you understand--I'd never do that to the nice velvet seats at the Met. I'm getting ahead of myself, though, as usual.

I'm actually not feeling like a full run-down of everyone. Suffice it to say, all the young singers--Jesus Christ, they are at this point, to a one, several to many years younger than me--that got up there had stellar attributes. I'm not just being nice. They made it through a lot of cuts because They. Are. Good. Period.

The people that totally knocked me over and ran off with my wallet, though, I guess there were three. And all three were among the winners, so yay. The first, as I have stealthily already told you, was Amber L. Wagner, who I'm pretty sure won her spot after about four bars of her aria. When you're 26 and have a little bit of Helen Traubel in your voice, there really can't be too much suspense, though she looked stunned when she came out at the end. It's just a magnificent instrument, though I've begun to hate that phrase and its separation of the artist from the sound. She sang "Do not utter a word," which of course I love anyway, and "Dich teure Halle," which I don't really, and I feel pretty secure in saying she will be coming to a Halle near you, soon. JSU, who turned a more critical eye to these artists, seems to have been similarly bowled over.

Maybe even more of a surprise, Michael Fabiano, a 22-year-old from Hoboken who fucking knows how to sing verismo. I'm not drunk, and I'm not kidding. He did an aria from Le Villi (which I assume is an opera, though I always get stuck thinking it's part of your intestine) in a way I haven't heard seasoned 30- and 40-somethings willing or able to do Puccini, though I've wished they would. It's tough to evince elegance and vulgarity at the same time, but if you can't do it, you shouldn't be singing verismo, or you should attempt to get lessons in it from Michael Fabiano before you try it. Then he sang Lensky, also extraordinarily well. In terms of, pretty much, everything.

Last but not least in this partial round-up, Alek Shrader gave us a reedy, heart-rending "Il mio tesoro" with the long phrases that have come to be somewhat expected, but with no sacrificial rush through the notes and an apparent reserve of breath at the end to judge by the insouciance of the syllabe "-gar". But what brought the house down, as it will if it sounds like anything but suffering, was "Pour mon ame." I don't mean to imply that the choice of arias was the key to his success. The key to his success was the panache, well and yes also just the ease with which he sang it. And I couldn't tell for sure from where I was sitting, but he may be adorable. Sorry, buddy, you hit the big leagues and crazy old things like me get to say "and he has cute hair." It's probably not a bad thing if you're singing the same rep as certain Peruvians of oft-noted cuteness. It's also not a bad thing if you can hold a C for a really, really long time.

In brief: the three other winners were Jamie Barton, whose Hansel and Gretel aria was sung with great relish; Ryan Smith, who sang from "L'arlesiana" with pathos and great vocal assurance; and Angela Meade--the audience almost didn't let her sing the cabaletta in their enthusiasm to applaud a vocally lush "Casta diva."

Also to be lauded: Kiera Duffy imbued "Tornami a vagheggiar" wit and dynamic subtlety; Matthew Plenk graced Tom's aria from The Rake's Progress with ardor and a lovely tone; Nicholas Pallesen had high notes to burn in Figaro-Figaro-Figaro; Disella Larusdottir seemed to find easy humor in "Chacun le sait," and has a naturally very pretty voice to boot; Ryan McKinny's song to the evening star was subtle and solid; and ok that's everybody after all. Except Mark Delavan and Alexandra Deshorties, and they can fend for themselves.

Actually no, I do think it's odd that Ms. Deshorties threw herself so fully into "D'oreste" and got such a nothing reaction. I'm afraid Met audiences may still hold her, uh, inauspicious broadcast debut against her. This was good singing in a drag of a timeslot, and nobody really gave it up for her, and then they were quite vocal for Delavan's (also expert) reading of the Falstaff scene. C'mon, folks.

Next up: I have no idea.