Thursday, May 31, 2007


Georges Thill loved cats, it seems. This is only one reason to adore him.

Hat tips to Greg, who finds these things in places you and I would not be likely to look.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Aw, man!

The Manprano blog has left the building. Bloghalla giveth, and bloghalla taketh away.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I wonder...

Pleased as I am to hear that the Met movie-casts are a success, I find myself wondering if the immediate expansion of the program isn't jumping the gun a little. You have to factor in the novelty of it, I think, and give it some time to settle, no? I'm wary of what happens if turnout next season is disappointing--do they can the whole thing, as it's evidently quite expensive? Hopefully I am dead wrong and what is in fact happening is some kind of opera youthquake and soon all the kids' MySpace pages will have pictures of Jarmila Novotna and Richard Crooks on them (unless in fact MySpace is very ten minutes ago already and I am as usual genus: Fuddy, species: Duddy.)

Monday, May 14, 2007

A better way to end the season

It wouldn't have done to have the season sputter out with two acts of Turandot or a a misbegotten Orfeo, though everyone's sincere love for the latter is beginning to make me wonder if I'm guilty of excessive fuddy-duddery. Be that as it may, the season should end on a note of mad opera-lust, or what's to get us through the summer, other than the sincere desire to stay home for a few evenings in a row or occasionally breathe the air of the outdoors?

Anyway, the question is now an academic one, as I did in fact leave the auditorium for the last time this season with that unique sensation of having been pounded with a meat tenderizer then doused in Listerine that comes so rare. And who do you think was weilding said kitchen implement? I'll give you a hint: I've expressed ambivalence about her before, in particular when she was trussed up in regal garb and making out with Johan Botha.

That's right, it's Patricia Racette. We've had a long journey, she and I, not that she is aware of this fact. We are now pals. She's not aware of that either. Nay, not pals, rather I bow my head in the presence of she who may no longer be regarded as only a singer. Patricia Racette is an artist, which lots of you apparently already knew. Jenufa is something she's sung a lot, and familiarity in this case has bred foremost an absolute dramatic commitment to the role.

Now, there is no reason to compare Racette's Jenufa to Mattila's, at least not in that scorecard way. I will say, though, that Racette's is in no way a lesser achievement, and as you can probably guess from my having heard Mattila sing it five times, that's a compliment. Much as I've loved on the Met production, Racette had the advantage of singing her Jenufa surrounded by a more character-driven one, that of David Alden for ENO. It's bleak and shrill and nearly perfect, though I remain agnostic about the staging of the "Let's Get Jenufa!" scene in the last act with everyone breaking in the windows.

Hey, guess what happened. Nah, I'll tell you. I sort of forgot the rest of what I was going to say because first we had to drive back and then I got the most vicious flu and then suddenly it was today (no more suddenly than usual, I guess) and who can remember anything they were going to say for more than a day or so? It doubtless had something to do with Malfitano and my high level of satisfaction therewith. In a different way than Silja, she ate up the stage, and was in good voice besides. I'm beginning to think the Regina from Lyric a few years ago, where I thought she'd reached the end of the line, was just an off night.

Oh, you're probably used to me doing this, this bit where I imagine what some idiotic directorial idea would look like, but just for sport, what if Kostelnicka forewent (is that a word?) her stern black wardrobe in some production and instead was a sort of hot older gal, a FILF if you will (Fostermother I'd Like know the rest)? I'm not saying anyone should do it, just it popped into my head, and generally when that happens, you're subjected to it. Besides which someone probably has done it.

So that's my season. If there were a weepy film montage right here, it would probably feature the love duet from Minghella's Butterfly (um, with audio from some other production), Florez singing "Cessa di piu resistere," the Tristan Project with me standing outside looking sad, one of each Jenufa, Podlektra, DV's "Zweite Brautnacht," Dmitri telling Renee thanks but no thanks, and doubtless a couple of things I loved but can't think of just now. I think the end of the season also merits a tip of the hat to La Juntwait, whose intermission interviews were done in just the right way.

There will be things to write about over the summer, I assume.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I screen, you screen...

The good word on National Opera's Macbeth, which opened this evening, is that it's not the kind of pallid, 98-pound Verdi some of us have come to dread. (I remember once in a PhD program in a kingdom far away, a t.a. with bad boundaries suggested to me "you might want to try using your whole ass next time." That's what a lot of Verdi productions have made me feel like saying in the last few seasons.) The conducting is full-blooded and Italianate, and the singing, whose glories and belly-flops I'll get around to in a sec, is never less than balls-out.

The bad word is, unless you poke your eyes out, you have to watch it, too. The designer of the thing, whose name I resolutely decline to look up in the program, has a vocabulary whose richness is matched only by the Smurfs. Now, if we've talked at all, you and I, you probably know that high on the list of things I think should reassign someone's profession from director/designer to perhaps lead usher is the overuse of scrims. Through a haze of scantly diminished fury, I recall a Chicago Dutchman which took place I believe 100% behind scrims, and they didn't do a thing to contain the sound of Malfitano's voice*, so really I never figured out what they were there for.

If I thought long and hard, I could come up with isolated uses of a scrim that worked out well. But you don't want to wait while I do that, so let's just say generally I find them to be a lazy lunge at an effect that automatically diminishes my enjoyment of what I'm watching. Now, just as Mrs. Parker was able to think of something that could write worse than a Theodore Dreiser**, I have just been helped to come up with what I like less than an entire opera behind scrims.

That would be an entire opera behind scrims onto which inscrutable, frequently unintentionally funny images are projected, almost throughout. Absolutely headache-inducing. Subtle, also--I may be wrong, but my feminine intuition tells me the incessant use of red might bear some kind of semiotically complex relation to blood. I don't know. Don't quote me. The program makes mention of "new media," which is a scream, since the media implicated would seem to be 1) computer design, which ain't that new, 2) projection, whose newness would be a shock to Alban Berg among others, and 3) thoughtless, schematic story-telling. Maybe that last one is the innovation. Stupid is the new smart, isn't it?

I'm dwelling on this because it stinks, and because it at times diminished my enjoyment of Verdi's most richly characterized score. (Really do think so. Can't back it up.) What saved it was a lot of good music-making of different kinds. It wasn't, vocally, the strongest cast you could come up with, in fact. Other than Vitaly Kowaljow, whose Banquo was beyond reproach, a mixed bag.

Paoletta Marrocu is banking on a number of things, I think. She has a pretty powerful voice, she's a good actress in a way that's low-key but not afraid of a few campy gestures, and she's willing to put it on the line. A good example of all of this was her sleepwalking scene, nuanced throughout and physically well played, vocally ragged here and there, worst of all a shout of a c#, the note you should probably just leave out if you don't really have it, but never tentative and overall convincing. Vocally, La Luce Language worked out better--it ends at B and doesn't ask you to dip into chest as much. But it was the sleepwalking scene that affected my heart-rate. Her technique sounds a little crazy and I'm not sure she won't blow it out, but if she doesn't, I look forward to hearing more of her.

Lado Ataneli feels like someone I go back a long way with, if only because I heard him before his Met career began, in Cincinnati singing Nabucco to Flanigan's off-the-hook Abby (at the time I termed it "extravagantly dykey," which I kind of still like.) There's no way around it: he's a singer of uneven quality. Some things work, and some don't. There was a bit of an ugly crack tonight that he caught quickly, and a lot of over-taxed sounding singing in "Pieta, Rispetto, Amore, and other abstract Italian nouns," though it warranted the most noise this fairly quiet audience made in response to anything.

You know why nobody does Macbeth much, don't you? It's not because it's bad luck. It's because the tenor part is so negligible. John Matz sounded nervous but stylistically dead-on as MacDuff. So but the overall deal is that everyone had some flaws, and the big picture was an exciting, worthy reading of let me tell you again how much I love Macbeth, which I love. Really there was nothing wrong with the whole evening that a long ladder and an exacto knife couldn't cut down to size. All eyes (well, all of mine) are on the Met next season, wondering what the new production will be like, whether Zeljko Lucic who made a decent impression in Gioconda wil shine, and what the hell Gruber is going to do with the part of the role that lies in the curdly part of her voice. Time will tell.

Believe it or not, at 2 tomorrow, I will duck into Kennedy Center again, for Jenny, Jenny, I got your number (867-5309)...

*Customary snark mitigation: her Kundry? Loved it, with no reservations. She was my first Lady Macbeth as well, and was riveting. Oh and tomorrow I'm hearing her Kostelnicka, and look forward to it. Senta was just the wrong idea.

**Two Theodore Dreisers

Thursday, May 10, 2007

See? See?

Well at least I'm not completely alone in my distaste for this production.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Not exactly a bang, but not quite a wimper, either

Well, it's a little sad. With the end of the riddle scene this evening, the season drew to a close for me (that's right, notably the season I left after more second acts than ever before...sometimes I think my love for opera is tightening in some way. It's harder to sit through something I never felt even a little bit giddy anticipating.)

Yes, I love the Met's Turandot. Shit like that is why Zefirelli will coast to the grave on rehashings, because once he dazzled us. The big "Holy Fuck!" set on which the opera's best music is delivered remains, I'm sorry, the biggest visual wallop I've ever been on the business end of; not just an overload but a real thrill.

I'd love it even more if the singing more often really matched the wallpaper. Tonight was actually fine. I was pleasantly surprised in a number of ways, the biggest of which was that Margison, who over the radio sounds like what you'd scrape into the sink, has a lot left in-house. The act II interpolated C, it is true, absolutely must go. I'm neither joking nor exaggerating when I say it sounds for all the world like a 1983 Chrysler on a January morn in Chicago, and you should really only pull that note out of your holster if you're planning on killing with it. Up to that point, though, the guy just sounds remarkably solid. It's what I remember about his Bacchus: the sweet relief of no worries.

Hey I'm going to write a version of Turandot from the point of view of Ping, Pang and Pong. It'll be just like Wicked, only with a higher suicide rate among the audience I guess. Don't Ping, Pang, and Pong kind of make you want to end it? Anyway it'll be called Pwng, and nobody will know how to pronounce it.

Actually, know what the other nice surprise was? It was an unsurprising surprise, because basically any time someone starts singing these days in a small role and you think to yourself "why isn't he in a much bigger role?" it's Patrick Carfizzi. I'm giving him his own paragraph, that's how much I like him, and it was a bit of a blind tasting because I didn't look at the program to see who was going to be singing the Mandarin. (Who does?) For once I'm not playing "Let's Pretend We're Agents" and don't have roles in mind. I just think he's underused.

Liping "Lizards" Zhang didn't make a huge impression on me but I've never gotten as weepy about Liu as a lot of folks. If you can float a b flat, you do it, and everyone puts a checkmark in the blank. The rest is about trying to make us believe that pathetic devotion to a guy who's really no prize is a romantic virtue. It might make sense for some not particularly sentimental director some day to stage Turandot with the corpse of Liu left onstage for the remainder of the opera for everyone to step over since for Pete's sake, she killed herself ten minutes ago and you, Calaf, you big brute, are already halfway through the love duet, such as it is. Anyway she sounded pretty, despite an "almost" at the beginning of said b-flat, and that's all I have prepared on that topic.

And so, with that...oh, the Turandot, you say? That would be Erika Sunnegardh, she of the healthy top and almost nothing else, I'm genuinely sorry to say. Still, it's a pleasure to hear someone not struggle with the riddles, albeit a limited pleasure.

I hate to end on that note, so I'll probably review the weekend's DC excursion and pretend it happened here. So,

Next Up: Macbeth

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dispiriting, to say the least

Can't bring myself to write a typical M.D' 90-page gab about the Met's...well-intentioned Orfeo. It just felt like bad decision after bad decision, to the extent that the overwhelming wrongness drowned out a couple of moments of bright, shiny joy, notably in the dance at the end of the opera. Yes, I think we all enjoyed seeing dance with a pulse on the old stage, but as for the rest, I will be lazy and borrow from Twain on Fenimore-Cooper: out of a possible 115 musico-theatrical offenses, it committed 114.

Chief among these was the decision to put Levine at the helm for music he is very, very, very ill-suited to. Repeating an intensifier--that's lousy writing. That's all I can muster. Orfeo can go in a couple of directions: bloodless early music/HIP approach, happy medium of pathos with some lightness, or Brahmsian dirge, which is what Levine served up. Gluck, and we may as well face it, runs the risk of being dull, and as if driven by a lacklustre sort of sadism, Levine underlined this in almost every phrase. Long pauses between scenes and immediately after the orchestral prelude were awkward. Please bear in mind my general esteem for this dedicated and accomplished conductor when I tell you how hard he sucks ass in Gluck.

Next in line was probably the casting of the very fine artist who is David Daniels. I get the feeling a countertenor in the Met has to spend all his energy being heard, and on top of that, as has been pointed out here and there, the role is low for him. And yes, I know I've been conditioned to a contralto sound in the role by my blithering Podles idolatry, but there just does have to be some chest there and Daniels is sparing with it these days. I was playfully chided by someone who knows a hell of a lot more about music than I do, for wanting a very narrow thing from my protagonist. "You're a Wagnerian!" she said, and indeed, I want my Orfeo to weep and wail. Despite my objection to Levine's heavy reading, in the singing I want something on a grand scale. It may well go over the top, but it has to aspire to the mythic and the Greek.* I don't think these needs are necessarily contradictory; think of Maureen Forrester with Mackerras: there is restraint and there is grief. Daniels' approach was one of eloquent simplicity that I suspect I could live with in a different production in a different house. Here it was a cypher. "Che faro?" was just a question.

Anyway, the rest...Kovalevska was fine. I hear she's pretty from those in the care. I wished like hell they were doing the Berlioz with its lovely scene for Eurydice, not to speak of the sparklers and batons aria for the big O. Heidi Grant Murphy sounded really very lovely--I liked her better in this than in anything I've heard her in, despite some wacky stylistic choices toward the end of Amore's aria that seemed maybe to spring from Levine's death march through the score. But (he said in a high pitched, testy voice) she sounded really very lovely in a pink Izod shirt with plushie angel wings. I hear Mark Morris is a warm and thoughtful human being, so I'd feel awful knowing that if I ran into him and had to slug him. [Okay, that sounds like I've turned into one of those humorless opera queens. Substitute "and had to be politely ironic and raise my eyebrows at him."] If you don't get why this kind of cutesy ootsy humor makes me livid, I'm not going to be able to explain. Pretend you really love this opera and take it a little bit seriously for a minute, and you might get there.

What else...uh...chorus of dead famous people (no, seriously. keep an eye out for Abe Lincoln. He's the one with the hat, the beard, and the vanished dignity), ostentatious and pointless use of Met's stage resources, overuse of murky lighting. Folks, I'm sorry. I hated this.

ETA: Everyone else appears to have loved it. Ah well, a stick in the mud I remain.

*Ok, for the hell of it, Orpheus was perhaps Bulgarian. I think it's stated somewhere that he was from the Rhodope mountains in Trakia aka Thrace.