Sunday, July 15, 2007

No wait; this really does end up being about Trovatore, eventually

On a recent ride down from Columbia County, we were listening to the Bohm Rosenkavalier (in which you get the fleeting thrill of hearing the perfect Tatiana Troyanos make a false entrance, by the way.) It's nearly flawless Strauss, Oktavian a better fit for Troyanos than Der Komponist, and Ludwig's Marschallin leaving nothing to want. And then Edith Mathis, who sounds like she might have made an excellent Zdenk@, waltzes in and kills it, every inflection 100% wrong. Had Mrs. P been an opera fanatic, she might have written
Why is it no-one's sent me yet
One perfect Rosenkavalier, do you suppose?
Ah no; it's always just my luck to get
One Perfect Rose, and some bleaty Swiss soubrette.

But she wasn't, and she didn't, oh and also it doesn't rhyme. Just, why are there so many near misses with Rosenkavalier? Popp's definitive Sophie paired with either Gwyneth Jones in jello mode or Fassbander's taffy-pull of an Oktavian, the brilliance that is Donath with the (if memory serves) rather nondescript Minton in the drag bit. Think about it: there's something fairly major wrong with every damn recording of the thing.

That's not what I'm posting about, of course. It was just on the top of the box, mentally speaking, so I had to move it.

Here we pause for an unaccustomed commercial break, because the picnic is as much a part of Caramoor as the yodeling, and one of the fine gents who invited me along when I was whining about taking the bus brought the most ravishing soppressata from a place on Bleecker called Faicco's. Go get some, and email me one, and in the text of the email explain to me once and for all that soppressata doesn't mean a sausage so terrible it must be forgotten.

Am I putting off the actual review? Oh, probably. It's just that Saturday was the first time I ever heard the Podles sing something that is objectively no longer within her vocal means. (Is that the "forced transition" leitmotif I hear? I'm certain it is!) Azucena is, right, not a contralto role. And while the big Rossini extravaganza at Carnegie where first I heard EP had unflappable A's and maybe above, at fifty-whatever-she-is, Madame's voice has settled into a glorious but by no means ambivalent or flexible contralto place. The interesting thing is that she resolutely and repeatedly opts out of the gentlewoman's compromise on high notes, going so far as to put in an extra one in a tiny cadenza in (I think) "Condutta era in cieppi." I think the rhetorical content of what sounded a lot like a scream was: why didn't anyone offer me this role fifteen years ago? Or it may just be that she will do nothing, but nothing halfway.

For, of course, she brought to the role, as always, that Podles touch, playing it with all the quiet dignity of a Mexican variety show, and that is why I will always hear her if I can. A sort of operatic anti-Lillian-Hellman, every word she sings is true, including "e" and "la." There is towering intensity, stopping always before the point of cheap effect, and the low passages remain confounding. What would have been the best approach, according to Emperor of the World Maury, would have been if Crutchfield's deeply permissive ornament-positive attitude had allowed for his Azucena to indulge exclusively in interpolated sub-acuti, and in fact during "Stride," she did indulge thusly with the expected effect. Best of all, to no-one's surprise, was "Deh, rallantate, o barbari," though though "Ai nostri monti" showcased La P's flair for pathos, seen in last year's death of Tancredi.

Also, not to be mean, but you may be pleased to hear she was not wearing the gold lame thing, for once.

The thing about cult divas is they sometimes fall prey to what I think I'll call The Curse of Magda, singing with drastically inferior support from their colleagues. Not the case, this fine evening, at least not all around. The young Juliana di Giacomo provided me with the opportunity to watch a singer turn it around entirely between acts: "Tacea" wasn't conservatory stuff but it was more promise than delivery. Everything that followed was cheeringly splendid, especially "D'amor," which she decanted like the fine stuff it is. There's room later for more ideas in the flow of sound, but no-one could complain it wasn't beautiful.

Do you really want to hear about Mr. Casanova? Srsly? Well, better you should hear about him than hear him. Famous to you, perhaps, for his lumpen stage presence, he should instead be famous for his exasperating singing. The thing is, you can't completely dismiss him, because the voice is good in places and there are even moments of elegance; "Ah si, be mio" was not half bad. And then "the pira" as I understand it's called by opera-fan-as-sports-fans (yes, we're all guilty of this sometimes) who almost literally sit with a scorecard, shuffling around and waiting for the second-to-last note so they can rate things in comparison to dead people...where was this sentence going? Rightyo, the pira was by way of "Di Quella Pierrot Lunaire," and I'm not at all kidding. Scarcely a note where you'd expect it, and a veritable seventh inning stretch while we waited for him to rejoin us for the C.

I'm a little lost trying to talk about the performance's Di Luna, Daniel Sutin. I am usually in favor of singers who look like their heads are going to explode or like they may faint from their physical involvement in what they're doing, speaking of Troyanos as I was once upon a time, but in this case it came a little at the expense of the line. The Verdi Line--sounds like a fleet of cruise ships, when really it's just an opera writing cliche. But how else am I gonna say it? Di Luna is an elegant role, and the fury must be presented with the genteel strictures of the style. Sutin sometimes did and sometimes didn't pull off this act of aesthetic trickery. I guess I don't mind a little Wagner in my Verdi, but maybe just a half cup less. I see he's in National's Elektra next season, and I'm pretty sure he'll be terrific.

Did I mention the performance was mic'd to the point that I, who never notice these things, or any other things, felt a little iffy about writing a review of what I'd heard? Where it bothered me most was at the very beginning, when Daniel Mobbs, a singer of reliably high quality, was singing a robust account of Ferrando's air that was nonetheless tough to size up on account of the electronics. It's also one of those no-win arias like the drinking song from Otello, I'd say, but with that in mind, I think he did admirable work.

So, whither Podles? If it were up to me, there would be Mahler and Wagner in the future, more Klytamnestren, maybe some Gaeae. Things like that. And of course the Russian program she takes on the road will never fail her. It is too early in the game to give her the parting gift that is the Pikovaia Dama Countess. Actually, her Polish website usually lists a long way into the future but right now seems to have only three things past Friday's Trovatore, not including the rumored La Cieca at the Big House. So I'm afraid that may be all I hear this season.

Next up, Siegfried and Gergi-dammerung. Thanks again to my expedition-mates for having me along! One of whom, before I sign off, emailed me something for the gameshow portion of My Favorite Intermissions, namely a crazy Victorian singing translation of Trovatore. So here are three excerpts, and you can try and guess what they are! I actually don't know, so it's only a game really in the way that, say, voting in Ohio is a game.

Tremble, ye tyrants!
I will chastise ye,
My flaming beacon
ye have uprais’d,
Yes, by that burning pile
My wrath defies ye,
Your blood I’ll scatter
Where it hath blaz’d.

Here at thy feet a suppliant
Oh, let my tears implore thee!
If neither tears nor pray’rs avail
My lifeblood I’ll pour before thee.
Let me die! Let me die!
If vainly I kneel before thee
Then tread upon my lifeless corse,
But harm not the Troubador.

Oh, tyrants, loose these cruel bonds
Ye drive me to distraction,
Let death at once release me
But spare me this protra-ha-ha-haction.
Thou impious son of cruel sire,
I he-e-e-e-re defy thee
Tremble, there is a pitying God,
His wrath on thee shall fall,
Tremble, there is a pitying God,
His wrath on thee shall fall

Good luck!


La Cowntessa said...

I am so glad I'm not the only one who was weirded out by the acoustical issues Saturday. I didn't think that Caramoor usually "enhanced" anything, but the sound was so changeable throughout the night.

I wasn't as thrilled with the delivery of Azucena, but yes, I agree...this is just not a role for her. It didn't help that I couldn't hear her through a great deal of the first act, either. This was the first time I'd heard her live, and though there are moments when the voice is very intriguing, I was expecting a lot more than we got.

Giacamo's relentless swaying combined with the hesitant delivery and the hands took the focus away from what was very lovely singing.

I'm sort of curious as to how the second performance will work out.

Maury D'annato said...

I'm curious about the second performance as well. In particular, I'm wondering if the fact that EP tried the high notes means she has them some nights, still. But I'll be at Siegfried, so I won't know unless someone goes and reports back!

Anonymous said...

"He was your own brother!"

"Oh...what horror!"

"Thou art avenged, oh mooooooooooooo-

"And I live on!"

JSU said...

IMO that's Böhm's least interesting Strauss recording. Ludwig sounds dispiritingly matronly and Adam's forgettable.

But it's been a while. Minton's fantastic on hers, btw -- it's Solti who kills that set.

Maury D'annato said...

Oh, huh, I love Ludwig on that and I'm actually not a particularly devoted fan of hers.

Ok and also in truth it's someone else, someone almost universally beloved that kills the Solti for me but talking too much about it right now is considered bad taste.

Chalkenteros said...

Pshaw, Maury -- Crespin is divine on the Solit set. And Donath, as you say, is brilliant: so clear and pure and youthful. Minton is ok, except when she does the, "Nein nein, ich trink kein wein" schtick.

Maury D'annato said...

Chalkushka, what can I gustibus a son gout, it's just a voice that always hit my ear wrong. The crazy thing is Donath probably could sing Sophie today.

Anonymous said...

Hey! whatever one thinks about the performance, it was NOT amplified, not at all, not even the offstage singing. No amplification is EVER turned on in that theater except during a thunderstorm, when a rather crude sound system comes into play. Whatever you heard was the live sound. (from a participant....)

Maury D'annato said...

Hi anonymous participant. Funny, I guess my ears are rotten after all. Mr. Mobbs was, from my vantage, directly behind a support pole and his voice seemed to be coming from I'm-not-sure-where. I saw microphones and made the obvious assumption.

Anonymous said...

Maury - I've said before, I'll say again, I love how you make the performances live before my mental eyes. "The quiet dignity of a Mexican variety show" -- having seen video of EP, and living surrounded by families whose roots are in Guadalajara, I'm right there with you. Verdi meets Sabado Gigante.

Anonymous said...

A sort of operatic anti-Lillian-Hellman, every word she sings is true, including "e" and "la."

I loved that. Actually, the whole thing is a lot of fun to read, as usual. (BTW, that C in the cadenza in "Condotta" is written, not an interpolation.)

Maury D'annato said...

Thanks, Piet, and thanks anonymous--if you've been reading for a while, you're well aware that innacuracy is something of a calling card at MFI.

La Cieca said...

I have heard a variant version of the last two lines of Leonora:

Trample my corpse on this cold floor;
But pa-a-a-ar-don the Troubador

jondrytay said...

I'm not at all enamoured by the ol' Nazi, but her, Ludwig and Stich-Randall make something very special of Rosenkavelier.

There's a bootleg I've got somewhere of Janowitz, Fassbaender and Cotrubas which would be stunning with a better conductor.

Maury D'annato said...

armer: exaaaactly my point. Every Rosenkavalier has something that ruins it. Now I know you could say no opera recording is perfect, but I can name any number where I think all the major elements are good at least. For me, every Rosenkavalier I know has at least one flaw big enough to stop me from loving the thing as a whole. It's maddening.

jondrytay said...

Steber and Stevens are on riproaring form in the Naxos 1949 Met broadcast- then Erna Berger comes in.

Has anyone heard the Pieconzka/Garanca/Damrau trio on Garanca's DG recital? There's nothing wrong with it, per se, but on a mezzo recital you do just kind of go 'What's the POINT?'

Anonymous said...

People can have opinions about my vocal sound as with others, it's all personal taste. I can state that NO sound system is used at caramoor. I have sung 9 roles in 7 seasons, and know for a fact that those mics are just to record the event for the archives.
Perhaps the differences in volume and sound had more to do with your seats, and an outdoor venue, weather... and perhaps vocal differences.
Maybe my voice has grown? Stranger things have happened.....


Maury D'annato said...

DM: Yes, I was corrected on this above. I stand re-corrected. For what it's worth, I've always liked your singing and spoken well of it here.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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