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.


Anonymous said...

Check you head. Anyone who calls AN´s blatant rip-off of Fleming´s Manon a fresh approach is definitely in need of a reality check. She sings all the same rep as Fleming and rips off her recordings, albeit without the ability to make herself understood in ANY language. Pardon my French...

Maury D'annato said...

What I mean by fresh approach is she sings it fairly straight instead of fussing with every damn syllable. If you've read this blog at all, you know I'm fond of some of Fleming's work. Her Desdemona was one of the best performances I've ever seen. Her Manon is overwrought, unspontaneous, and not sexy, and I stand by that.

Incidentally, same rep? AN sings no Strauss, has never sung the Figaro Countess or Rusalka to the best of my knowledge, 0% of Fleming's calling card roles. Fleming hasn't sung Mimi or Elvira in Puritani, no Gilda, no comic fact I'd say Manon and Violetta are pretty much the only overlap.

So no, I'm not feeling particularly in need of a reality check.

Jonathan said...

Maury, who are these people reading your blog? Jeez. It's like Opera-L gone even worse. ("Is Domingo good or bad? Bad! Good! He's 66! Hes 73! I called Aprile on the phone the other day!")

I saw the Fleming Manon last year, and it was NOTHING like what I heard last night. Comparitively speaking, it was a pretty cautious reading.

And indeed, Trebs tends to actually hold a vowel in a steady place for more than a beat or so.

Though every time I say somethig even a bit snitty about Fleming, I remember that I'd like to invite her over for snacks. She seems lovely.

Checkin' Reality, J von W

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with people being objective about Fleming's individual performances. But I think it's unfortunate that too often it lapses into personal hatred and vitriol. Some bloggers seem to think it's cool to be snarky about everything she does.

I agree that Netrebko is the better stage presence, but not the better singer. Not even in Manon.

Anonymous said...

Maury, I would totally be up for a Cesare (depending on what night, natch), and given how it's selling, I might well be able to enable the special happy fun tickets, as well.

Maury D'annato said...


Go back and read my blog if you're interested--I am quite fair about Fleming, and I'm just as annoyed as you are by cults of detraction. I think the main reason I stopped reading Opera-L and (longer ago) r.m.o. was I couldn't stand the personality-disordered Domingo bashers any more. I do think Fleming's become something much less than she was--her Arabella in Houston some ten years ago was stunning. These days I just find her, and I know the word gets tossed at her a lot, mannered, and I'm not much able to enjoy her interpretations. Occasionally there's a return to form like her Berg songs at Carnegie, and I'm pleased for her, especially as she seems to be a warm and lovely person.

By the way, I also have mixed feelings about Netrebko, and have said so, including in this blog entry. I think I called her Elvira amateurish, because it was. That's not how Bellini is sung. She's a wonderful physical actress with good vocal raw materials, does too little acting with the voice at times, and sings rep I think is just wrong for her.

Maury D'annato said...

Monster: Yeah, let's email about that.

alex said...

hmmm, i can't actually remember if my last comment went through...apparently not, unless they need to be blog-writer approved :)

in any case, i had to tune into the bcast at work via headphones, and because of doing this and that caught very little of it.

i think that AN's voice has a particular magic at piano and pianissimo volumes. as a result, i think she works a special kind of magic with Manon's entreaties to Des Grieux at St. Sulpice. It's a keening sound of true sorrow with flecks of desperation yielding seduction and attraction rather than attempting to include them as ingredients, as i think many do with less intoxicating results.

That aside, Monster-chan and Maury-kun, what are your thoughts on the Daniels as Cesare? Based on my limited experience of his voice, I can't reconcile the aural picture I have of it with the low tessitura demands of Cesare. It seems to me a role best-fitted to someone like Ewa Podles! (omg omg). Speaking of, are there any reviews of her performances of the role in Seattle? I've done a quick search and the blogosphere yields reviews which don't "get" a female singing a male character, etc. (and as such, I have trouble taking such a review seriously).

Anonymous said...

What's 'platonic', precious? We wonders.

alex said...

how was it how was it??

*bouncy bouncy*

El Doctorcito said...


I have not found a written report on Podles at Seattle, but I was there for closing night in the back of the ORCH section. There was plenty of confused talk that night by people around me about watching two trouser roles and a countertenor AND a male soprano (David Korn). It seemed to distract some, while others were modernly-confused by Podles herking -and-jerking her head to hit the flurry of notes in some passages.

Interestingly, I found the night to be very good and I was more awake for this one than many productions lately. And for me, Podles was the reason.

Lane Savant said...

I was there. I can't offer a very sophisticated revue, but I found Podles to be a fascinating singer.
When it was over I was very surprised to find out how long the evening had been. (I missed some of SNL) This is unusual for me, it's usually the other way 'round.
I had heard Perry Lorenzo give a talk at the Seattle library where he described the Handel operas as a sort of scat singing contest and was prepared to be bored. But I wasn't thanks partly to Ewa
I also don't like to pass up an opportunity to heap praise on Speight Jenkins. Bravo Speight and the Seattle Opera company.
If this hick town is ever going to rise out of it's cultural dustbin it will be largly because of Speight. I hope there are others somewhere.
Screw you Gerry Schwarz!