Wednesday, December 31, 2008

sufficient champagne

To a few people in particular I wish not even so much a happy new year as a moment of blissful relief watching the old one vanish. 2008 played rough and not particularly fair with a number of my own, so to 2008: begone already. Now is the time for a moment of optimism that will dry up in a week, so it really ought to be savored! Me, I've ironed my shirt and practiced my aria (Chaikovsky would really not wish to claim it as his own once I'm done with it) and am ready for the festivities. So if 2008 was a fine year for you, I wish you another, and if it was a horror, join me in thinking of it no more. To everyone, though: rest for the weary, fulfillment, inspiration, health...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Clip Show, or: What day is this?

Well it's the 25th, of course, and Thursday, which means the Times puzzle is a worthy but defeatable opponent. We do try and stay open on the 25th here at MFI, just because nothing else is and we figure if you're one of those who isn't singing odd little songs about playing a drum for an infant (I'm surprised that one hasn't been suppressed in today's climate of petri dish parenting..."Little Skylar/Madison/Jesus isn't allowed to hear percussion. It isn't on the list of sounds that encourage later admission to Dartmouth." See also "Three middle aged guys are here to see my son? Quick, online! To the sex offender registry, hie!") you may well be bored.

Well I can't help with that personally, least not blogwise, as I haven't been to the opera in a fortnight. There is no leftover Chinese from Erev Christmas or I'd offer you some. I'm afraid what this is going to boil down to is me looking for Things You Just Have to See on youtube. I swear there was something I was meaning to show you.

Well, okay, not to totally ruin Christmas (oh, who am I kidding...that's totally what I'm here to do) by plunging you into melancholic reverie:

[If you're clicking around from that clip to related ones, check out Madame Seefried's Bridesmaid of Frankenstein do on her Zueignung.]

You know who I've always associated with Seefried because they were both on my first Figaro is Sena Jurinac.

Well and I guess I'll complete that nostalgic trio with this peculiar little clip.

With that I wish you a happy 25th of December, and a happy 26th after that.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I find this lovely in every way (performance, document, film...)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Different Isn't Always Good

Hello and good riddance to the unconscionable revival of The Seagull, a London import with a fine cast and savagely tone-deaf direction closing at the Walter Kerr soon, but not soon enough.

For once I'm not even looking in the program for the name of the director. The funny thing about Chekhov is you read it and it sounds foolproof, in your head. Apparently, some take this as a challenge. Mr. X's concept announces itself immediately: Medvedenko enters and delivers the first half of one of theater's best-known entrance lines--"Why do you always..." and Masha raises her hand to stop him, and doesn't let him finish ("wear black?") for a moment. I can think of two things that are going on with this, and both of them help to explain how awful this revival is.

#1: Work under the assumption that The Seagull is a boring old play and needs freshening up. Try anything. The worse the better, because worseness is unfamiliar, so it looks like you've done something. Continue this ethos of worseness by finding what is loathesome in every character, despite Chekhov's eternal sympathy for his creations, and amplify it to the point of farce.

#2: Notice that Chekhov's characters often are as unhappy as they are because they're unable to listen to one another. Amplify, again, to the point of farce, but this time from both ends: on the one hand, none of them really hears the others, rarely anyway. On the other, the characters so overbroadcast every emotion (cf: Kristen Scott Thomas' blood curdling scream, really only one shot in a barrage, though between ludicrous outbursts she is almost frustratingly exquisite) that the audience is left with no choice but to laugh at the apparent imbeciles parading before them. Add a laugh track, if desired, because what you have now is a sitcom.

The worst casualty of this approach is the scene where Arkadina changes her son's bandages. Mind, he has already entered with his head bandaged from a suicide attempt, and the audience is so clobbered by the aesthetic of this performance that they find this funny. I don't even think this is the "hey everyone, we paid for this so it'd better be fun" problem I've whined about; I think it was set up this way. Anyway the scene is unbreakably moving, and was so here, except that in the context of what was around it, it felt baffling and unprocessable.

Oh hang on, I'm going to back up. Even before the hijinx with the first line (which Masha, by the way, answers "I'm in mourning for my life," which is exactly where you get to decide whether to present her as an object for ridicule or a tart and often overdramatic character, troubled but basically sympathetic...three guesses how she was presented here) this production did that thing you're hearing a lot if you go to plays much, the sound design that telegraphs seriousness by means of echoes, a drone, and some harmonics. Hello, is this the Moratorium Department? Well, can you please connect me, then?

Konstantin, by the way, is played by Mackenzie Crook, perhaps known to you as Gareth in the original, British "The Office." It was actually an interesting idea, I think, to cast someone who with true genius portrayed one of the most annoying people ever born. Maybe he had some range, a way to make Konstantin worth caring about when the play gives us many chances not to like him--from the brief play within a play, an almost offhanded sketch of well-intentioned dramatic drivel. Or maybe he doesn't.

Most puzzling of all was Peter Sarsgaard, a fine film actor who I am still going to assume has acting chops that will carry over to the stage, but who here seemed to have some deeply complex, outwardly ungraspable idea about who Trigorin is, evidenced by a wandering accent and tortured prosody I've never heard the like of in human speech.

Nina was portrayed by, oh someone. The "let's fix up this old character" concept assigned to her appeared to be that Nina was unhinged from the beginning. I just don't know what to say about this. I guess it's possible, but it's so out of left field I honestly [hey, spoiler alert...stop reading if you don't know how The Seagull ends] wondered if they were going to pull something in the end where Yakov (who was made to lurch around menacingly at times) turns out to have murdered Konstantin, who in fact did not kill himself at all!!!!

Have I ever mentioned Vanya on 42nd Street in these moronic pages? I'm going to now, because it's a fine corrective to what I saw last night. Because the thing is, Chekhov sometimes presents his characters with rather mercurial changes of temperament and motivation, and if you watch the first act of VO42, you will see how this looks when it's done well. Julianne Moore, not an actress I love, works a kind of magic doing this, and it's one of the most magnetic performances I know of. I had to watch an act of it when I got home to reassure myself.

This is not to say that there's only one way to do Chekhov, but I did find myself thinking all 3 hours about what was going wrong. The only major thing I can think of that went right was the pacing...actually in contrast to the production at BAM last season, the one you could only get tickets to when it wasn't Ian McKellan, which is exactly what we did. That production was torpid and inert, though not actively wrong. In this one, the hours flew by like minutes; ah, but what lousy minutes!

Somehow, despite all this, the first half the last act was what Chekhov should be, a shaded, heightened version of a plausible human tableau. Oh and not for nothing, as long as I've spoiled, thanks to the sound team for once for making the shot from the other room a discreet thing. Like Mrs. Parker at Ibsen plays, I practically sit there with my fingers in my ears waiting for the inevitable. After 3 1/2 acts of this, I thought of the story of the world's worst production of the Diary of Anne Frank (you've heard this one. "She's under the stairs!" says an audience member) I wanted to write him a little note, maybe fold it into a paper airplane, about what gauge to use so as to finish the job.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Jesus: 1; Fun: 0

Actually I take back the headline, maybe. Thing is, Thais is one of those things that flips around on you at the last moment. You know, like Dancer in the Dark, where you sit there for two hours going "this is fucking unbearable" until it finally dawns on you that it's a comedy. (Come on, anyone who can watch that little boy hand Bjork his broken glasses without laughing has a heart of stone.)

So that's also kind of true of Thais, yeah. I think so. I spent two and a half acts writhing in my seat at having to watch a pious denunciation of women, sex, living in the world, and having a nice place to live. And then suddenly it's the last scene and Thomas Hampson is jumping around like a puppy going "wait, wait, you can't die! I just realized you're hot!" and Renee Fleming is like "fuck it, you should have said something before you made me burn all my LaCroix. Ta ta, cruel world!" At that point it's so clear that the whole thing is virulently anti-clerical satire that it's hard to be upset.

Still, the Met's production is, it must be admitted, a bit joyless. I think this is actually a production that premiered in Chicago in 2002ish with the same principals, and one would be forgiven for wondering if the physical production showed up wrapped in a bow with a note that said "good luck with the staging!" Direction was not greatly in evidence, the crowd scene at the end of act whatever (tired. deal.) was one of those things where everyone's like "hey, stop her, she's getting away. Shit, there are pages of music left, and there is absolutely nothing to stop me from stopping her myself. Shit." For instance. The design itself is attractive in a dramatically quite generalized way. The "is it the desert or is it a dinosaur sized Ruffles potato chip?" effect is used to much greater effect in Santo Loquasto's Salome set, as my less-dour-than-I companion pointed out...

It seems to me the singing was all about what you'd expect, but a bit routine. Hampson sings this stuff well, if a bit woollily. There didn't seem to be toooo much Captain Kirking around, but it may be because the role is preposterous and impossible to overplay.

TH: So what's my motivation in this scene?
Imaginary absent director: You are a boring fucking zealot. Same as the last scene. And the next one.

His French I am temped to term a bit indistinct, but am also willing to be challenged on that, since my own is hardly expert. As always, he looks like a rollicking lay.

Fleming actually benefits a bit from the same impossible-to-overplay factor, perhaps, but the laugh-wait-sob at the end of Act I pushed the envelope. It's just that stylistically, Thais brings out some of her better tendencies, and this allows the glamor of her portrayal to seem organic rather than painted-on, as it can in some roles. The role goes higher than you think it's going to, and at this point it's not effortless for the big RF, but she doesn't hold back, and for that we're grateful. What came off best for both singers were low key moments like the duet in the desert and Fleming's less glitzy aria, the name of which I'm not going to google right now. Michael Schade assisted ably, but honestly I like his voice a lot more in Mozart, you know?

Someone is going to have to tell you about the fashion part, and it is not going to be me.

Think that's going to have to wrap it up, as it is late late late. Still intending to write about Tristan, and possibly the Sondheim show at the Public. (The one where the cub gets the twink, clearly a work of astringent realism...)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Remember that time I used to write opera reviews?

Sometimes I sit and wonder, in my artless Mycenaean way, why is it that Elektra is so much better than anything else that happens, musical or otherwise. Sometimes, while I'm being all Hellenically inquisitive about things, I also wonder why the MTA would choose to piss on my evening by skipping three stops without announcing it. Me, if I were a subway conductor instead of a rage-obsessed daughter of a murdered king, I would announce that kind of thing. But then I don't run the subway or drive a train. Ah, you'll be thinking, but you also never saved an axe for years and years so you could murder your immediate family with it. Well, maybe, maybe not. On the internet, nobody knows you're an Argosian princess, as the old cartoon says.

It's not as if I'm home late, anyway. Elektra is an hour and three quarters soaking wet, and actually I know this from recent experience because that's about what it clocked in at with Lorin Maazel really laying it the fuck on. I heard (and failed to get) a joke about Lorin Maazel and a fan in an elevator, but we'll leave that for the second set, when the act goes blue, because even I can't find the relevance.

Anyway like a Berlinian hedgehog of conducting, Maazel made One Big Choice, and that was to lead everything at a lumbering pace that almost never varied. It wasn't unnuanced if I'm making it sound like that; on the contrary there were places where the breadth of things gave Strauss' grotesque little filigrees (like the tootling around before the big orchestral freak-out that begins Elektra's monologue...insert maybe apocryphal thing about Strauss/Mendelssohn/"fairy music") room to introduce themselves properly, in case you hadn't met. And, somewhat to my surprise, it made Klytamnestra's "oh shit, here she comes" music extraordinarily menacing rather than dulling its impact.

What it did do, however, was underline the few longeurs the score does have, like when they opened out the "Penthouse Forum" cut ("Dear Penthouse Forum: This one time, I told my sister how slim and supple her hips were, and then we had a pillow fight and killed our entire family.") it came to feel like a bit of a shaggy dog story, despite the fact it's really not that long. What else it did is throw some nasty demands the way of the singers. Not only did Chrysothemis' waltz lose its giddy despair, but Anne Schwanewilms had to yelp out a couple of top notes, notes that turned out to be pretty workable later on when she got to approach them a little more favorably.

Schwanewilms, truth to tell, was overparted, but a good way? It's like how Lisa della Casa is the more moving (with Mitropoulos, you know, on record) because she sounds a bit out of her depth, as is her character. She's a good actress, insofar as you can tell in concert, though she doesn't enter right after the double bar howling like a wounded animal, but you know who the hell does?

Jane Henschel, sorta. You remember that one Halloween we sat in the house playing Jean Madeira's hideous cackle from the Bohm recording? Oh, wait, you weren't there. You'll have to take my word for it. It's a highlight of the history of studio recordings, though, right? And her screams: also first rate. You basically don't get to hear that live. It just gets lost, if the mezzo in question does it at all.

The one time I actually had tears in my eyes during this performance, though, was at Jane Henschel's exit, because she made the most unhinged, embarrassing sounds. It was perfection. As were her screams, maybe--one was thrown momentarily off one's critical moorings by the fact that this effect came from up in the balcony. Actually it was fun to watch the lady in front of me keep looking nervously up there ever after, in case there might be more Murders in the Mezzanine.

Weird thing is, Henschel started off with no promise of what was to come. A few things I have always assumed Klytamnestren live for were thrown away like they didn't matter, most notably the line "sie redet wie ein Artzt" in which you just get to sound like an absolute car horn if you feel like it. There was another that baffled me, I think in the part about...uh....well the part that an online translator tells me goes like this:

I wish from my soul all hull
and replace the fan gentle air,
from where it will come up, admit as
the sick do if they cool the air,
Sitting on ponds, evening their bumps
and all their Eiterndes the cool air
disclose the evening, and nothing raquel think
as a relief to create.

Yessiree. I think you're supposed to replace the fan after 10,000 miles right? Or is that the air filter? But so then you get to "Darum bin ich so behangt mit Steinen" [Therefore, I hang out with Gloria Steinem] and all hell breaks loose, with the chest voice, and the basically growling, and my favorite line, the one about zefressen von den Motten, where everyone gets to pretend they're Martha Modl. Well that was all fine and dreadful. No complaints here. For fun, she is two feet shorter than her stage daughter, which adds some kind of dynamic I can't put my finger on.

Actually it was at the moment of the death screams that I remembered something. Which is that riiiight about when I was flirting with maybe liking Not Always Pretty Music, but not yet, I heard a broadcast of Elektra, and thought in that way that romantic comedy heroes and heroins hate one another when they meet: that is some nasty, fucked up shit. This was 1991, I think. Who knows, could even have been Polaski.

Polaski, you see, has been singing the role for goddamn ever. And the natural conclusions you will reach, correctly, are 1) that she is in some ways out of voice, and 2) that she probably knows what the hell to do about it because this is far from her first time at the rodeo. There are places where the sound is very, very frayed, but someone must have told her at some point that if you rev the engine a certain way, nobody will notice you're driving a rusty Pinto.

Here's what she uses: volume you can't argue with, a trick of crooning higher stuff for a second before slamming into it (a kind of "fake it 'til you make it" approach that loud German opera can be pretty forgiving of) and a knowledge of the score that lets her know where she can coast because you're not going to hear her no matter what. Oh and of course rock solid conviction, that thing that comes from within that nobody can teach you. She happens to have that. And it means she doesn't have to move around as much as she otherwise might have to, and that you think you can see her facial expressions even when you're in row KK. (One row behind practically everyone you know. Didn't it seem tout let tout was there? Maybe just my tout.)

Smaller roles (sorry to skip Orest...good voice, not a role I feel I can size a singer up in) were uniformly well cast. All I can think to comment on as I fade off to bed here is Janice Meyerson's pointy German diction, the generous yelling of Richard "I sang Bacchus at the Met really recently" Margison in a bit of luxury casting, just...everyone was good, ok? Hell, even the audience was good, very into it except for the few oldsters that clomped out upon discovering that, as my friend up on row JJ put it, Elektra sounds way different from his earlier work like The Blue Danube.

Potentially a lot coming up to blather about. Tristan for sure, Don G at some point, crazyweird concert at BAM I may or may not write about, Thais...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In which Youtube redeems the intertubes

This is one of my things in any medium ever, and I had hoped I'd eventually find it on youtube.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I'll have the veal bastarda

Really there's hardly anything better than that kind of surprise: a singer or two you don't particularly care about cranking out something riveting. I have always found Gruberova's voice hard on the ear and Baltsa I just never gave much thought to (her O Dawn Fatale takes things juuuust around the bend.) But check this:

Friday, November 14, 2008


Nick von Trrill writes:

It's a shame that Trrill's is just now getting off the ground again. I fear that since La Cieca and Maury and all those queens haven't posted it, it may not get noticed!

[ETA: Oh, I thought he meant that he was blogging. He means the silent Callas-Norma footage he posted.]

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Reader and Friend of the Blog Christopher T.* has beaten me to the milk punch, if you will, suggesting a cleverer recipe for a Sabbatini than any I was going to come up with. It's one part gin to one part Manischewitz (though we are told Mr. Sabbatini's voice is in fact on the dry side, something nobody has ever said about Manischewitz.) Garnish with a slice of hard-boiled egg and serve with a sigh.

*Spotted at last night's depressingly polite collective huff at the Mormons. My protest sign, thanks for asking, said: I Can't Get a Date But I Demand the Right to Get Married.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Hamlet Gonashvili, surely one of the great voices of the last century. For no other reason than I was bumbling around on youtube. Well and the video is hilarious. Fire. Bunnies.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

The World's Shortest Epistolary Novel

Quoth the Foreign Correspondent:

I saw Magdalena Kozena last night from my stage side seat at the Mozart Saal. Fortunately she withstands close scrutiny. She's really rather tall and elegant, like one of the Redgrave ladies, I thought, not the wispy fairy nixie thing she sometimes seems to be in publicity shots. The programme was all Czech, folk poetry set by Dvorak, Martinu, Janecek, Schulhoff u.a., and though there were no English translations, I can't say I minded, for it was a two hour stream of beautiful voice, and in this repertoire that little Popp-ish tang in her voice really pops, so... uh... irresistable!

Hoffmann in Geneva was fun the other night. It was the sort of production where in the middle of the Antonia scene the stage revolves and Hoffmann briefly finds himself in the middle of a street where a naked woman wearing a skeleton mask walks by followed by a donkey wearing an alter of votive candles, and then things shift and the story continues. A lot of bits were effective otherwise and there was a cumulative thrust to the whole thing for a change and the big finale really had some emotional impact. Still, I think for a newcomer to the work it might have been a bit overwhelming and that might explain this conversation overheard in the intermission after the Olympia act. A girl was expressing her general enthusiasm to an older woman who clarified a few points about what had just happened and then:

Woman: The next act is my favorite though. In this one, he falls in love with an artist.

Girl: After that is the courtesan, right?

Woman: That's correct.

Girl: And they're robots too?

Woman: No. They aren't.

Tonight I'm seeing a recital by Jessye Norman. I've no idea what to expect really,at least with regard to her vocal state, but I can't imagine it not being a fascinating experience.

Did you attend last evening's Damnation?

[Well, did I ever! So I spake, spake I:]

I attend every evening's Damnation in some rather obvious sense, but yes. More on that in a moment.

It's just such a relief to hear you confirm that Kozena is excellent because she's so pretty I'm afraid she can't be any good and I'm just suckered by her nice head of hair or something. Did we already discuss that she's doing Damnation at Carnegie Hall, and how much better I think it's going to be than Graham? It's with Quasthoff who is excellent on record but I've never heard live (admittedly I find him a little more irritating having listened to some of his jazz improvisations on youtube) and someone named Sabbatini. I assume he took this name during the few years when people were dreaming up highly emetic cocktails called appletinis and chocolatinis and stuff like that, to be more popular with the Sex & the City crowd. (Not for nothing there is no drop of gin in these cocktails and they need to learn that just because you are served in a martini glass doesn't mean you are anything more than a common sorority house shot.)

Once I've heard him sing I will attempt a clever remark about what's in a Sabbatini.

Someone I tried to convince to be romantically interested in me earlier this year heard Jessye Norman do a benefit concert with Rufus Wainwright. Unless I'm misremembering that in order to have gotten something out of another amorous failure.

Sometimes it's hard to keep straight who's a robot. I'll let you in on a secret: Rigoletto makes much more sense if you admit that they're robots, all robots.

Oh so yes. The opera that Sarah Palin might call the Darnation of Faust. I'm still figuring out what to think of the production, but the singing was all very good, and none of it brilliant. Bad idea of mine: listening to the Pretre recording A LOT in the weeks before. I am not a die-hard Janet Baker fan but must admit she's heavenly in that, and Gedda is the foundation of my understanding of French operatic style, so...

So Graham as you know I mostly don't care for, though I loved her in Iphigenie. She was here what I think she most always is: proficient and even very stylish without the spark of art/genius/whatever the thing we go for is. Due to the insanity of the production, though, I got to see her on fire, so that was kind of nice revenge for her Komponist. Giordani sang with some passion, had the right weight for it, and maybe (predictably) not quite the mastery of the style, but again, possibly Gedda's fault for singing it directly into my ear for a few weeks. The crazy thing is he sang the high notes in [what is the name of the duet?], firmly, solidly, not crooned, not even voix mixe, but in some kind of crazy soft ut-en-poitrine-of-the-damned I had no idea he (or anyone) had. It didn't sound quite like anything else I'd ever heard from a tenor.

Relyea I like a lot, and I think he gets taken for granted. He may have been the best of them. I'd like him to have sung Satan just a little more as if he were freshly laid, but it was very good. I think I saw him on the subway once and now I'm fixated on the idea he lives near me.

Later note on the production itself: MADNESS! MADNESS!!! But in a way that bodes very well indeed for The Ring. Because honestly, The Damnation of Faust was clearly written on laudanum or at least during a series of very bad hangovers, so not-right-in-the-head is it. So you might as well run with that, right?

Notes from Twitter: fanciful, incoherent, lovely, ostentatious, lyrical, and then there's the 5 story head of Susan Graham.

Ok probably only three stories, anyway it was only one of plenty of unforgettable images, some of them awkward; others, ingenious. The thing is, it does what the piece does; it lurches around dramatically, is unafraid to be meditative one moment and violently over-the-top the next. The obvious thing to get excited about a few years early would be things like the Tarnhelm and the big barbecue.

But think for a minute, too, about what happens in the end of Walkuere when James Morris just stands there singing (or sometimes not singing, as the orchestra takes over) on the big rock with the illuminated smoke. It has a kind of grandeur, sure--the music itself can carry plenty of dramatic weight, and Morris on a good night has some drama in him--but it can't help but be mostly static as a Thing Happening. I am quite itchy now to see what goes on behind, uh, presumably Rene Pape in a few years. God, and the "schlafst du, Hagen mein Sohn" scene. It's really rather exciting to imagine what that's going to be like.

So, that happened. And I may go back but I think it's selling like those crazy Palin glasses frames probably really aren't anymore. So who knows what's next, maybe Peek Damn.

Also, in case you have the Sunday night blues and need another dose of this:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Our very glamorous foreign correspondent...


"I'm just back from The Damnation of Faust at the Grand Theatre du Geneve, and thought you should know that when Paul Groves came out for his bow, he flung open his jacket and revealed an Obama t-shirt. Geneva roared its approval very lustily indeed."

So we've got

1) Fine singin'
2) Slightly cubby cuteness
3) Good politics

aaaaand it's a crush, yep.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Say what?

Probably my favorite artifact of the first youtube-intensive presidential election. Vote tomorrow for, well, a future that doesn't make us wake up screaming!

Don't watch at work or you'll totally cry and people will call you names. If you're in CA, vote No on 8 and call your friends to make sure they're voting, too.

I know there are a lot of other important races and propositions, but I don't want anyone calling me Preachy D'Annato so I'll leave it at that.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Traviata Pizza

I don't think it's there anymore but there was this little pizza place on maybe Columbus back when I first went to the Met called Traviata Pizza, which was very funny to think about. I am going to open a chain of theme restaurants: Enchilada Desdichada, maybe, or The Fallen Pot Roast.

Little known fact about Traviata: if the stars are lined up right, the scene at Flora's hoe-down plus one Met intermission add up to exactly as much time as you need to get to PJ O'Rourke's, which is not what that place is called but I'm blanking, get your food, not even wolf it down so very wolfishly, pay your check, and get back to your seat. I'm not kidding. And really who likes that scene anyway, especially in the Zeff production. As our new favorite "get back in free"-pass-passer-outer guy said to us on our way out, "the cows get a little old, right?" Oh also hey great new Halloween costume idea inspired by aforemisnamed restaurant: douchebag. It's more about the attitude than the clothes.

So that's my current favorite thing about Traviata, an opera I have overlistened but will one day love again. No, I jest. My current favorite thing about it is Anja Harteros! I had heard and read all manner of praise for her, and am happy to find it was not exaggerated. It's mainly about the voice, unless it isn't--this is the kind of singing that doesn't make you feel like keeping separate scorecards. But, and the more accomplished listeners will correct me if I'm wrong here, it seems to be a real Verdi voice in the way Fleming isn't, and Hong isn't, and so on, no matter what these other singers' strengths.

Technically I find it a little hard to track what's going on. The top of the role is ...well it never isn't there, and if she has time to settle into a C, it tends to be a beaut. And the fioratura's diligently executed. Something better I can say, though, is that Harteros is the first singer I've heard live who convinced me that "Ah, fors'e lui" is the interesting part of Act I. Which it is, no? It's like how you might never have realized how much more to be savored is "Ah, si, ben mio" than the big bad pira if you'd never heard Bjorling.

The interesting converse effect was that the emotive integrity of her singing popped "amami, Alfredo" back into context, for me at least; not that it didn't hit hard, but it felt like part of what was going on instead of one in a series of trials, hole #4 on the Verdian miniature golf course, the one with the windmill. This scene was aided, I am surprised but happy to add, by Zeljko Lucic, vastly better used here than in Macbeth or Gioconda. I'm not sure if it's about temperament or tessitura, but his Germont is kind of dead on, with a kind of vocal gravity I haven't felt from Croft or Hampson, singers who do more but don't seem to me really to unpack G-Daddy's baggage. Did that sound like a sexual euphemism of some sort? Well never mind.

Giordano: a mixed bag with a positive enough overall impact that one can't really go through with the "Minimo Giordano" joke, about which one was in any case ambivalent. There's stuff in his Alfredo that doesn't work, like I have to remain on the fence about the pretty but sometime almost inaudible crooning he strews about the role, most notably in "Parigi, o cara." It suggests an inability to find a healthy mix between that and his reasonably beefy non-croon, but it may be nothing more than a suggestion. He needs a haircut something awful, but otherwise cuts a fine figure onstage, animated and responsive. So yeah, for the most part a success. High note fanciers (I cast no shade, I'm just sayin') will want to know that there was neither an e-flat in S.L. nor a C in Alfredo's cadenza. You win some, you lose some, you have your brother steal some for you if he happens to be governor of Florida.

Next up: Damnation of Faust. October was a slow month. Also I scribbled some stuff about Podles so I guess I'll post that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yeah, I'll blog Podles later

Here is the site for "No on Prop 8," which is dedicated to defeating California's Proposition 8, a ballot measure that will take away gay and lesbian couples' right to marry, already established in California. The Mormon church has pumped millions of dollars into the state to try and pass this legislative act of hatred by means of poorly reasoned fear-mongering bullshit. I guess because they are so goddamn famous for their history of traditional views on marriage.

For a sampling of the Lincolnesque rhetoric, see the clip above! Note the subtle writing, the considered morality, the attention to rhyme for god's sake. This clip wins Maury's coveted "Worse than the Holocaust" trophy. [ETA: I think this video has disappeared. Description can only be inadequate, but it was basically these two excruciatingly cute Asian kids singing a song their none-too-clever parents, one assumes, wrote for them about how confusing it would be if their mother was a man, while neglecting to sing about the vicissitudes of deities from other planets, polygamy, and religious underwear. Life's confusing, kids. Suck it up.]

There's a view among certain radical queers (for whom I got nothin' but love) that marriage is outmoded/hegemonic/dumb and it's not what we should be shooting for. That's for talking about later, when we have the option. As long as you are denied a basic human right everyone else has, whether you have much use for it or not (and god knows my dating life does not augur matrimony lo these many months), you are a second-class citizen, and your other rights are up for grabs.

This is really, really, really important. Massachusetts looks like they've opted for equality in the long run, but California is, y'know, BIG, and has rather a lot of symbolic weight in this fight. You can give at the site; I did, and I am fucking cheap.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Talk at Parterre was of Vaness, and about how she did many fine years of service and a few not so fine. Well, I think I only ever heard her live as Norma in Houston (in which the main draw was Mentzer) and otherwise associate her with that mixed bag of a Cosi from t.v. and a really weird OperaNews interview. Anyway, the non-lunatic portion of the crowd over there seemed to have some really good memories of Ms. Vaness, and I'm always open to persuasion, so I went plunking around on youtube and here's the first thing I found.

Pretty demented, alright. This scene is a bit of a drag unless the soprano finds a difficult balance of poise and ferocity, which CV obviously nails. I think I'm off to youtube again to dig up some more fun. Because it's Saturday evening and my life is like that lately.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quotation (particularly anti-chronlogical) is the art of the 21st c.

Can it be that I am the only one put in mind, by the first line of the big baritone aria in Doc Atomic, of the somewhat obscure southern hymn "Make my Heart a Corny Dog for Jesus"?

Thursday, October 16, 2008


That felt valedictory. I wonder if she'll drop the role.

Faute du jour

I'm told Doc Atomic is actually really consistent w/ Adams style these days, so my perplexity at its failing to be Nixon is 100% my own deal. As Wittgenstein once blogged: whereof one cannot speak with any insight, thereof one might as well STFU.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hey, here's what

I started to post this over the summer, then figured I'd wait 'til I was writing reviews and readership was back up to its almost incalculable numbers.

Excellent music. Excellent performance.What's not to like?

Anne-Carolyn Bird, soprano, and Jocelyn Dueck at the 88's performing Judd Greenstein's Hillula, link posted with kind permission of ACB and JG.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

and that cleans up the matter

10:38] Maury: [third party] says you might know if Dr. A was amplified
[10:38] DSJ: Yes.
[10:39] Maury: singers amplified? or just sound effects?
[10:39] DSJ: Singers too.
[10:40] DSJ: Somebody complained that the amplification was too much in San Fran, but I think they were talking out of their asses. I didn't even notice it unless the singers actually had their backs to the audience.
[10:40] Maury: it sounded last night like they were projecting really well. it wasn't obtrusive. [ETA: I guess if it'd been obtrusive I wouldn't have had to ask around to find out for sure if it had been amp'd.]
[10:43] DSJ: Yeah, I thought it really worked.
[telephonic interlude]
[10:46] Maury: so, sadly, i really did not like Dr. Atomic, and on top of this was very tired, and...left at intermish.
[10:48] DSJ: Eh, it's kind of difficult.
[10:48] DSJ: It's just people talking, and then they detonate a nuclear bomb.
[10:48] Maury: bang.
[10:48] Maury: it's like capriccio, only instead of a monologue about words and music, a bomb.
[10:49] DSJ: It's exactly like Capriccio.
[10:49] DSJ: Also instead of a sextet, a burst of electronic noise.
[10:49] Maury: that, too.
[10:51] DSJ: Also instead of Music and Poetry having a spirited competition, Music pushes Poetry to the ground and punches him repeatedly in the nuts.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Physician, heal thyself

Oh, the shame. The awful, crushing shame. You go around saying how great it is that the Met is finally showing a little sense of adventure in their programming, hoping it makes you the sort of person who doesn't say "My kindergartner could do that" at exhibitions of abstract art (god forbid I should ever have one...of either) and where's it get you? On the train to Inwood. At 10 pm, sneaking out so Nico Muhly won't see you. Heh. Nico Muhly doesn't know who I am, so it's fine if he did see me. He was just put into that sentence to represent the people whose love of New Music is made up less of good intentions than mine, which is inapt since he actually writes it. But he was by the Millo pole at intermission so hey, welcome to my review.

The worst of it is that to leave after intermission is to leave after the one glimmer of hope, the Donne sonnet setting for the baritone, which someone just tried unsuccessfully to send me. I'd like to listen again and see if it's as great as I thought it was; all I know for sure is it snapped me awake after 75 minutes of pinching myself REALLY HARD because I snore, and that's just not ok. The wondrousness of this aria, however, is a bit of a problem in that the rest of the act is extraordinarily talky and just...not very likable.

Oh hey here's "Batter my heart" on youtube. Funnily enough, on my way home (by which I mean 15 blocks or so out of the way, but I needed a pick-me-up) I went to Coldstone Creamery for cake batter ice cream. Batter! Anyway.

Riveting, right?

Caveats: 1) I was tired anyway and 2) this was not the kind of flight reaction that greeted The Wurst Emperor. I just couldn't get into the idea of 1.5 hours more of what I'd just heard, even if Gerald Finley was something of a revelation. It's just...I think the problem is the libretto, to some extent, and then where that leaves off, the music. I obviously don't know John Adams, nor have I spent any time in his brain (though I read his New Yorker thing) so I have no idea what his motivations are at any given moment, but one might imagine that in composing this, there was some deliberate sidestepping of the minimalist label, yesno?

Listen, I'll go back and get one of them $30 orchestra seats, and I'll listen to Act II. I've mostly heard it's, well, interminable, but just now through the magic of the intertubes, I'm being told some of the staging is miraculous. In fact, the staging of Act I was very much what you'd want; inventive, thoughtful, poetic. So even just for that, I'll go back. For now, though, here is a lesson about why composers should not maybe always talk about their own work, this being the final sentence of Adams' essay in the program:

"As the tape recorded voice of a Japanese woman repeatedly asking for a glass of water plays in the distance, the audience gradually realizes that they themselves are the goddamn bomb." (Profanity mine, for emphasis.)

ETA: Ok, here's another clip that serves as evidence that there was other good music in the act and suggests to me perhaps I just wasn't wild about Sasha Cooke's reading, though folks of estimable taste are wild about her so...what to do. I stand by my narcoleptic reaction to the first scene, and the weird conversation about carbs in the third. But again, here's a good part--

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Village Voice Deathwatch

"This opera is the bomb."



I really ought to blerg about this and that what I've seen or pull the plug altogether here, I'm thinking, and I'm not entirely ready for bloganasia, so...

Lucia--did I tell you about Lucia? The production kind of grows on you, doesn't it? I seem to remember I wasn't that thrilled with it before (too lazy to go back and check, and besides, it makes me feel senile that I really don't know) and now I find the much discussed directorial conceit for the sextet a natural and sensible solution, right down to the pop of the proto-flashbulb. Even the Edward Gorey hallucination for the fountain scene feels more happily familiar than contempt-breeding familiar.

Damrau is doubtless beginning to feel a little like Dessay's much-delayed echo, and for now that's an appropriate status. Yes, she brings a welcome vocal security to this, as she did to Zerbinetta (where her assurance was something staggering.) But know, I'm tempted think Dessay's battle with her voice has been one of deliberate injury. One of those rules of apportionment in the universe does seem to be that if you can sing a high F, you probably don't have a broad range of colors in your voice. Dessay, I'm told (endlessly, out of Schadenfreude) used to find every possible comic nuance in Zerbinetta, but I don't think she could have put the same blood and madness into Lucia had she not banged her voice around until it got some bruises. Her e flats these days are strong but ugly. She has squandered a natural gift in the most ingenious way; a sacrifice that paid off.

Damrau is, on the evidence of her Lucia, a healthier singer. The voice grows as it goes up, and the top few notes...did I ever tell you about the time I was listening to two ladies in a laundromat and one of them produced one of the choicest utterances ever? "Them Dulcolax do not play," spake she. Diana Damrau's top five notes are, forgive me, pure aural Dulcolax. No, that's too awful. Let's just say they pack heat and leave it at that. What's below is pretty and fades into not much in ranges she isn't called on to use very often. Not pretty in the backhanded sense, though. Really a collection of sounds worth hearing, and all knitted together by a technique that allows for fearless florid singing and a good legato in plain lyric passages.

No complaints, then, except it isn't what it isn't. There's room in this world for different kinds of Lucias, though most days I'd rather hear the more harrowing kind, myself. I'm looking forward to her run of Rigoletti, though chances are good by that point in the season I'll be checking it out Siriusly.

I'm actually quite curious to know what other folks thought of Beczala. I sat up and took notice at his Rigoletto, whenever that was, and probably wrote some horseshit of the form: Look Out For This Singer. (Why is that sentiment so often irritating to read, I wonder? I guess it seems like a cheap 50/50 on whether one is just so tuned in to what makes for future success or just easily excited.)

Alright, here's what I said last time about Beczala:

As was pointed out to me, there were some choppy phrases and weird cutoffs, but really it was a most athletic piece of singing. I suppose I should throw in the word slancio somewhere here, so there it is, and there it was. If I had to choose between hearing Beczala and Villazon, I think what I'd most likely do is start a new paragraph, about Ekaterina Siurina.

Which I did. But back here in the present, I'm interested to hear from the past that there were problems, because there were problems again as Edgardo. To the point that I was concerned for him. It was again impressive, and really (as I think I twittered) stylish, but there was a bottled-up quality to the tone in places that gave me pause. By the end, I actually felt like the role was beating him up. Was it worth it to hear him do all the Italianate emoting about the marriage contract, son tue ciffre or whatever? Nuh-huh, mos def. But I'm still curious if it got better later in the run or if it was all in my ear to begin with.

Ildar Palin-Abdrazakov (I dunno, I was just trying to think what would prompt one to name a kid Ildar and then I thought "Track"?) didn't rose tint my world the way he has once or twice before, but was certainly up to the task at hand. Sean Panikkar--who, did you know?, is really cute...I just googled him and it's true, and thus concludes the Tiger Beat portion of this posting--was in the weird position of following quite a trick in a very small role, which is to say Arturo isn't that much in the spotlight unless last year's Arturo impressed enough people to get bumped up to Edgardo for a performance. Anyway, he impressed me more here than in his role in Manon Lescaut. Obviously he's a young guy with plenty of voice, and I think the artistry is budding as well.

Um, and yeah. I left before the last act. Some weeks are like that. So adjust some of the above for broadcast-ness.

It does look like I'm not going to get around to blooghing Gioconda. Suffice it to say: Voigt was, I don't care what you've heard from people who went in expecting her to fail, really in swell form, forked over generously from the chest, and has come a long way in the Italian idiom. Tosca will never be hers, but I'm just going to call her Gioconda, without much hesitation, a success and something she can be proud of. She and Borodina (a cat in catnip in this rep) seemed to inspire each other to give a lot in the big Act II smackdown. Everyone else was, frankly, better than expected, and I'm leaving out one singer I'd waited a long time to hear in the opera house I call home, because by now you know exactly how I feel about her and there's no need to go there again.

Next up, Doctor Atomic, PhD.

In which I am right.

After that year's Met Council Finals Audition Concert Extravaganza Bar & Grille*, I wrote:

"Ghosts of Versailles is on for 2010 or whenever...Peter Gelb, meet Rodell."

So mote it be, as you'll know if you read Met Futures (recently updated with all kinds of news.)

*I just never know where to stop adding words onto the end of the title of that thing.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Rough equivalencies

So, aright, no Finnish Frontal in the HD, but really, the way she sings the /a/ vowel in "ich kann nicht bleiben" is fairly pornographic, unless I'm just having one of my private moments of loose association/synaesthesia.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Friday, October 03, 2008


Have started listening a little obsessively to La Damnation de Faust which I think is French for That Darn Cat! Actually I'm doing something I haven't done in years which is to listen repeatedly but in a disengaged manner, taking advantage of subway noise and my brain's own shall we say porous qualities to listen as if Berlioz had written for vocal instruments, making sounds with no meaning. You end up making up your own meanings, if you're me; not stories or anything, just understanding the emotion of a phrase in some kind of blunt, caveman emotive vocabulary. Funny to think of cavemen and Janet Baker in the same context but there it is. It's a beautiful recording, not too studio-bound, and at least when I bought it, it was on itunes for $9.99 for the whole megillah. [Hat tip to Chalkenteros.]

Yesterday I finally printed a libretto after futzing around to make it compact (sudden memories of the horrible/wonderful summer I spent at Glimmerglass, when they squished the entire text of The Mother of Us All onto one page. It was a much sought after souvenir item among the miserable staff.) and will soon take to crushing my own vague, projected meanings out of it. I mean, yes, I know the story, but it still exists for me right now in the strangest liminal state...I must have listened to Act I of Der Rosenkavalier fifty times before I ever bothered to find out what they were singing. I don't know what this practice means, but I'm hoping it isn't anything in the DSM IV-TR.

In other non-news, I read Latonia Moore's name somewhere this morning and it put me in mind to wonder when we'll hear her next, and in what. It was a lasting impression she made in Edgar. Guess I should look on operabase. Also tonight I am going to Lucia though nine gets you seventeen I'll go home before what is sure to be a terrific star turn for Beczala after going ten rounds with Szechuan Gourmet during last night's frustrating debate and then waking up at 4 am with scalding heartburn. Yeah, TMI, but whatever. So, too, in some sense, are my opinions of people's singing. En todo caso, I'll twitter Act I at least.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

Like MTV in '83

All videos all the time!

This seems like an interesting rarity though the conducting is frightful:

Slowest performance of same on record?:

For relevance to this season, one last:

[3 is Piotr Beczala; 2 is Josef Traxel; 1 is Wunderlich, or says it is.]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Viewing pleasure

Right, you might expect me to be posting about Gioconda, and I guess I may, but...I read a shitload of rehearsed disdain on the intertubes this morning and am feeling oddly averse to entering the conversation just right now. So here are some nice youtube clips. The first is Peter Mattei as Onegin in a pretty-looking modern dress staging. I've expressed my admiration for Hvorostovky's take on the role plenty of times, but Mattei's is certainly the most beautiful voice I've ever heard in the music. Like I actually kind of can't believe how lovely he sounds. Is it too honeysweet for Onegin? Maybe. You tell me.

...and here's another excerpt I find quite thrilling starring Panteleimon (!) Nortzov.

But wait. Did you know there was film footage of Pavel Lisitsian? Because I sure as hell did not.

In fact there's other Lisitsian on youtube, though some of it I can only imagine to be him lip-syncing to recording from when he was younger. I may be wrong, though. Anyway. This Russian loveliness brought to you by my minor fit of pique. (You can just call me the pique dame, if you like.) Later on maybe I'll sound off about how Gioconda, against all expectations, was the best thing Voigt's done in a long time, and of course type in some tedium about Podles.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ich bin verliebt in deinen Oberschenkel, der ist wie eine Schwarzwalder Schinken

First of all I just gotta say the one pissy thing I gotta say: it must really suck to be Morris Robinson and hear Juha Uusitalo singing a starring role while you stand there with your twenty-times-better instrument and sing third Brooklynite or whatever that role is. Why, I ask me, and you too if you're listening, is Morris Robinson still singing this role? Ridiculous. And before I go back to being statively ambivalent, why have I seen Salome as many times as I have and never heard a better than fair Jokaanan?

Salome and I go way back. While the other kids were learning to count from Sesame Street, I was all "seven....six....five....jeez, sister, how long does it take to undress?" No, of course not, don't be absurd. But truly there was a period when I considered a playing of the final scene to bring good luck of a sort, and I copied the Solti from the library's CDs onto tape so I could be all obsessive with the repeat listenings. But you know what? I never liked Nilsson in the role as soon as I heard someone else. Not to get all The Queen's Throat about things, but I need some effort, maybe even (ok, you win Mr. Koestenbaum) some potential breakdown in certain roles, and this is one of them. Sadistic may it be in me, but Salome can't be easy or it's no fun.

So it'll make more sense now when I say two things: 1) Mattila's voice, though the rumors over at you-know-where of vocal crisis are bullshit through and through, is definitely something other than it was five years ago, something cruder and more earthbound, subtly more marine than debutante. And 2) this has made her assumption of the role markedly more thrilling. In 2003 (?) I was most excited by the air of anticipation in the house--who can forget the silence and then the roar? This year, there was less roar, but I didn't need it, as I was already contorted in my seat, unrelaxed as one must be if Salome has had any impact at all.

It's hard to know what's going on in the heights of her range: a note will sound shouty in one context and spin nicely elsewhere. Walking to the subway, we talked about things like Mattila-Elektra, and had to admit it would need to happen soon because the C may be packing its bags as we speak. In any case, when she's getting a note across with evident effort, it is usually at a moment where she's able to make use of the roughness dramatically.

It is, as you have seen or heard, a portrayal that goes for broke pretty much from the starting pistol, replete with a physicality that tells you the girl's not right. Sometimes it's over-the-top and even funny, the example that pushes the envelope being when a dying Narraboth reaches out for one last grope before the great beyond and Salome-Mattila kicks his hand aside, more thoughtlessly than with any apparent malice (though in context, the difference is not great), too busy thinking up nauseous metaphors for different bits of Jokanaan. And, like last time, she goes full monty, putting her money where her well anyway...

That was cheap. I apologize.

The dance is curious, though. My interlocutors pointed out to me that it may well be that Mattila's Salome is not so much doing a 25% clunky extended lap dance as lampooning the conventions of striptease. Not to say that she's a cultural critic in her spare time, chit-chatting with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick over negronis at the cistern, but she may be expressing in her hyper-sexualized and interpersonally stunted way her contempt for Herod.

And this is the thing about her portrayal, actually. A certain monster and I discussed this production. The monster in question had one chief quibble (how! I am Chief Quibble) which was that Salome spends no time in this production as an innocent; even a deranged one. The minute you meet her, she's adjusting her cleavage. But I think a good case is made here for a more believable character than the teenage princess who, even if she's got some scantly suppressed sexual pathology (Atom Egoyan's wacko production took a blunt tack on this one, very Freud-before-he-renounced-the-seduction-theory), needs a big event like, I dunno, meeting an angry prophet who hates her and also apparently is not that crazy about grooming or hygiene either, to derail things.

The physical production is not, I think, a popular one, but I can't much see why. Its visual gestures are bold, but it doesn't impinge on the story as we know it. It makes suggestive/evocative use of implied space outside the stage, which I think is a real limitation of many Met productions which seem to be set, well, on a stage. The only thing that is (presumably) unintentionally funny is the site-specific costuming of the companion was taken aback at the attitude of the normally friendly and helpful B&H staff.*

Anyway yeah, singing, right. Ildiko Komlosi was annoying as Preziosilla some seasons back but that's nobody's fault but Verdi's. She was watchable and made good sounds in the profoundly unrewarding role of Herodias, well partnered by Kim Begley in another dog of a role, though I still remember an insane, sweaty Kenneth Riegel making much of it at Tanglewood. Joseph Kaiser didn't make a huge impression but sang prettily.

And so now, in six more hours, I'll be on the good ship Gioconda. What a week!

Oh, jesus, wait. I almost forgot to kvetch about the conducting, which was...what's a step beyond four-square, sixteen-square? There were moments like the very end when this lent an unusual hint of lyricism, but on the whole one missed the drive and occasional savagery of Gergiev. Well what one missed, frankly, was any sense of tension, but that's the kind of abstract language makes writing about music hard to take.

*It once occurred to me that, if you read the Missed Connections, and I know you do, you'll always see people living out some kind of usually culinary institutional transference, trying to catch the eye of the service person that got away, that you see all kinds of familiar venues named in these, but mysteriously never B&H...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

e due (mille) parole

[Antes de nada, we hear tell congrats are in order to Alex Ross for, jesus, a Macarthur Genius Grant. Yeah I totally got one of those one year but didn't want to brag. So welcome to the club, Ross.]

…but the thing is, there’s little to say about the music that I haven’t said already, and the only thing worse than Maury typing is Maury retyping. So first, more idiot musings about the event itself, and then Capriccio, how’s that? Oh I will say one thing about the Traviata, though, which is that it’s kind of a relief they went somewhere awkward with Mr. Hampson’s hair, because nothing could fuck up the dynamic of that act faster than Germont pere being, well, I think the French acronym might mean Germont pere being a PQJVF, but maybe acronym-based humor isn’t the best idea to begin with. Also minor humor in his and John Hancock’s apparent tallness contest with the ever-splended Vargas a very distant runner up, but what of it?

Anyway, the Proceedings. The Fordham plaza jumbotroncast worked out nicely, on the whole. We ended up retreating to the lobby on account of cold winds and lack of sartorial foresight, but it’s a different and somewhat rewarding way to take in a performance. As expected, much in evidence was one of the underreported shortages during the Soviet Era, that being vaccination against inappropriate chatter, but it wasn’t drastically worse in the house with the exception of an ANSWERED cell phone call. If it had happened during “Amami, Alfredo” there was about to be a reverse pogrom starring me, but it didn’t turn out that way.

We lingered by the red carpet for a spell and, as you possibly already read, saw a few starry stars and a number of skeletons draped in fabric who got lots of attention (the way of the world, I’m afraid.) Helen Mirren looked swell and Martha Stewart looked gorgeous. You know, it didn’t have the same giddy air as two years ago, when opening night leapt from being “when they let those people back out onto the streets” to something glamorous, but it’s still fun to feel like you’ve run into your pal Martha at the opera. Call me, Martha! We’ll do Wagner!

By the time we got over to the plaza, Susan Graham was interviewing Nico Muhly who I imagined to be a little frightened by his surroundings, but whose hair had the studied messiness many of us will spend a lifetime striving for. He’s quite a good sport, that one. Later on we’d catch some footage of Voigt talking to Penny Woolcock in Times Square, and Voigt (it will not be so surprising to hear) is the more natural talkshow host. Graham ended up kind of playing Opera-L “what are your five favorite Verdi operas” games with NM at one point. Voigt seems destined or doomed to inherit the mantle of Sills in some non-vocal sense.

Oh, and they have those perverse portraits of a number of the season’s distaff lovelies, and I can only imagine said portraits are deeply unfunny to the subjects. You can’t help but wonder what the same artist would make of, say, Salvatore Licitra.

Wish I could comment more on Manon but by that time we were listening under less than ideal conditions. The Varg did, as far as I could tell, his usual immaculate thing in the St. Sulpice hoedown, maybe the top’s leatherier than it used to be? And then it was time for Capriccio in almost its ideal form. One would love to hear it presented as the sextet, the sonnet as sung by the tenor, and then right to the Schlußszene, but barring that, just the Schluß will do.

I have been underwhelmed by RF in this music on at least one occasion. In this instance, she nailed it. Somehow without the benefit of a whole evening to burrow her way into Madeleine, she nonetheless found in the big number, Madeleine’s Turn if you will, the elusive balance of intelligence and nostalgia to make the character nicht trivial. Text was pointed but not flogged. The line that took me by surprise was “ich will eine Antwort”—just short of melodrama, which at times is exactly the right place for a phrase to land. From my vantage there was actual demented going on, right down to her exit. If her Manon remains a cipher, her Madeleine is as surely a triumph, or was tonight.

In eight short hours, I will be staring down cool Nordic vaj vadge, so more later.

due parole/faute de mieux

aaaaagh must post something b/c tonight=salome and i am lucy at the candy factory conveyor belt and Ewa Podles is on the conveyor belt too, help! Sure, yes, it might be argued that there is no real urgency in blogging the fucking opera, but insofar as we have suspended disbelief about that, aaaagh.

No time just now. I will say this though: there were some excellent celebs there (isn't that what opening night is about?) that we didn't see. Parker Posey looking like a million bucks and Faye Dunaway looking like a scrunched up twenty!

More later. There was also music.

[text of Twitters posted by phone last night, for the record...reverse chron order because I don't feel like cutting and pasting that much:

Last minute nico muhly sighting!

Sensational! And now my phone is about to die.

She's touching her face rather too much. A director with a strong negative capability needs to iron that out.

As oscar hoped to be worthy of his blue china, she is rising to the occasion of her galliano.

Capriccio dress and hair a knockout. Those more tuned in than i have roundly dissed the others.

And here is where we knew something had gone very wrong for villazon. And the costume ordeal dawn fatale calls supermanon, everything but the phone booth.

Also the part where some old coot yelled out "sensational!" repeatedly that one year.

This is the part where she annoys the shiv out of me. Sorry, phone is a lexical prude.

Can't shoosh people in a lobby. There goes my hobby. Sorry for rhyme, couldn't see a way around it.

Too cold. Watching from lobby. Not ideal.

Celebs: martha stewart, helen mirren, some models who need a serious bag of french fries, rufus w. bien sur.

The doctor atomic banner is up. One can't help hoping the dowagers will attend the prima dressed as nuclear weapons.]

Monday, September 22, 2008

Something like telepathy but thankfully not quite

Over there, on the right. No, that's the wall. Look back a little.


That's where, through the dark shamanic forces of Twitter, I am able to post 140-character micro-blather from my goddamn phone. Srsly.

So of course I'll post something realish tonight or tomorrow morning, but meanwhile, I will be sending tiny smoke signals, as if from half a cigarette, on the progress of the gala. Well, anyway a mediated experience of the gala at lovely Fordham University's Someone-or-other-wealthy Plaza. I don't know what it's called, but they don't name plazas after just anyone, you know.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Two Nights Only

Krunoslav has gently prodded me (shut up) to point out that The Podles is putting on a second show, and then a rerun of same, all this presumably without the olympic staircase diving, later in the month. In this one she will be doing her damndest to liven up Respighi's aggressively dreary Il Tramonto--seriously, I heard Horne go a few rounds with the piece and she either lost or fell asleep, one--and then performing all the roles in Ariadne auf Naxos. Kindly do not contradict Maury when he is in denial. You will know he is in denial when he begins speaking of himself in the third. Well, alright, have it your way. She will be introducing us forcibly to Haydn's Arianna a Naxos which one can only hope is merely Haydn's loving chamber arrangement of a piece written long after his death, but it's probably not, Haydn being a stickler for chronology (seriosly, those damn symphonies...what do you imagine comes after the 98th? Well don't say I didn't warn you, it's the 99th.) Speaking of Chronology, I see that one of the players is Ani Kavafian, who I believe is on the recording of the Quartet for the End of Time recorded right around the beginning of time, possibly with Haydn on clarinet and John McCain on Cello.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tales from school

A little bird told us the most endearingly nutso bit of Podliana...

So this was in a rehearsal, and I guess Madame Podles has been putting as much thought into her entrances as we have, because she announced that she'd like to be, as I was told it, "dragged down the stairs for her entrance in Act III."

She makes this known to Guelfi, who demurs, being a gentleman or perhaps afraid of her. And then, apparently wishing to demonstrate her seriousness of intent, "she dived head first and slid down the stairs on her stomach." As they say in Polish: I szit you not.

The chorus, we are told, was aghast!

Of course what I wish would happen is whoever was in charge of Mario Lopez'z appearance in A Chorus Line, you know, where they took a role with essentially no stage time and put him onstage from the get-go so people could get what they paid for, would be flown in to arrange for maximal Podles. She could just kind of hang out and occasionally throw herself off things, though of course I'd prefer if they could shoehorn in a few suitcase arias, maybe La Cieca is sitting on the edge of the stage before the curtain comes up on act I and she's, like, humming to herself, and then busts out with "di tanti palpiti" because, you know, maybe she went to the opera as a little girl, and compensated for her lack of sight with a really good memory for complex Rossinian ornamentation. I don't care, it could be something else. "Summertime." Whatever. It's just a suggestion.

Friday, September 12, 2008

This does not fill me with confidence.

"Renowned organist Gordon Turk will also be featured performing Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana on the famed Hope-Jones Organ."

Hm. Really?


"Newly auditioned chorus members from the NJSOpera’s Summer 2008 State-Wide Talent Search will be featured as well."

I still want to go, though. Maybe especially now that I know that it might be, well, carnivalesque. This is from a listing for a concert of rather hazy content (Maybe it's Cav/Pag? Maybe it's arias? Maybe it is performance art of some kind?) The point is Galuzin is somehow implicated, and even if he's the page-turner, I'm a little bit intrigued. I was once told that depending on the night, he's either the second coming of Corelli or unrelenting awfulness, but the only time I heard him it was more in the Corelli vein, so it could be worth a train ride.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

This Just In: McCain Follows Gelb Strategy

That's right, John McCain has chosen to appeal to a youthful demographic by nominating as his running mate someone with good hair and star power. McCain's choice? Andrea Zuckerman, West Beverly's own 35-year-old high school junior. It's sort of like how Andrea took her job editing the school paper way too seriously--you get the idea that if someone had asked her to join a presidential ticket, she might've felt qualified, just as one might after being mayor of a town of 9,000 in Alaska...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Slightly Moar

So the answer is: yes, opera in a small room in the basement of a bar is a really good idea. No, the atmosphere never veered toward the rowdy--the crowd, in fact, was no younger than anywhere uptown in a bigger room--but it's simply very worth doing to take in opera on the scale where theater can be achieved in an intimate, direct way.

Speaking still of Opera Omnia's Poppea, presented here in English. Opera in translation is something that usually elicits bestial shrieks of fury from yours truly, but in this case and similar ones, I'll make an exception...I'll forgive a little of the awkwardness that rides on the back of translation (all but the best translations, and even then art and artifice have something to do with each other) for a couple of reasons. Probably the main one is that this kind of theater has immediacy as a keynote. I have listened to (obvious example) Elektra eleventy million times, but it still doesn't enter my head unmediated, if you see what I mean. There's a tradeoff--if I dare use the word authenticity, some of that is lost: the original way the sound lived in the words. But for losing that, you get an experience that's closer to watching tv. (Alright, I'm being deliberately provoc by not picking theatre, spelled "re" for good measure.)

Anyway yeah it's in English.

And an interesting thing about the production that could be seen as a fault or a strength is that there's a homogeneity of approach that can be seen in the singing of English--some singers going with a fairly talk-like diction, others singing "duty" as "dyoo-tee"--and carries over into other areas of performance. Basically all the singers have a different balance of strengths, the theatrical, the linguistic, the technical, the raw materials...and overall I think this makes for interesting listening and watching.

The most satisfying of these varying balances surely was embodied by Melissa Fogarty, the evening's Ottavia, she of the tremulous tone and smartly understated tragic air. "Disprezzata Regina" or whatever it comes out as in English (one likes to play at bad translator and imagine things that work metrically but not otherwise. We'll call that scena "Sister girl's in the doghouse") was dramatically and vocally a highlight of the performance.

Cherry Duke as Nerone and Hai-Ting Chinn as That Girl had a fascinating chemistry rooted in Ms. Duke's physical take on the role, honestly about the most forget-what-you're-actually-seeing travesti turn I can think of just now. Ms. Chinn responded with a Poppea who was a creature of instinct who learned years ago what her looks would get her. Not for nothing, Ms. Chinn works a bob to make Louise Brooks ask for a scrunchy. The vocals of the pair didn't always have the same poise as Ms. Fogarty's, but were never lacking.

Steven Hrycelak sang Seneca in elegant voice, with pathos. Props as well to Avi Stein, who brought polish and depth to a score that to opera queens per se (am I fair in saying?) has some notable longeurs. I mean, even with all the above-mentioned valorous work, Act I requires eyelid muscles of steel...or in the case of this performance in this venue, some gin. (You may be disappointed to hear, as I hinted earlier, that, non-traditional surroundings notwithstanding, the assembled crowd declined to observe period practice and at no point threw things at Poppea for being such a rotter, nor even yelled and cursed.)


In news of the...what's the opposite of monumentally important?, I just made this page for the likely event that I will be taking in opening night from the plaza or other rustic, downright outdoorsy environs, and am sure as hell not taking a laptop. Perhaps I'll use it during the season for 140-character liveblog reviews in brief: Intermissions at Intermissions.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Less is moar

One idea that tends to still the bickering among opera queens (who like nothing more than a good bicker), because it's just so obviously correct, is that venues are needed in the city for operas that lose something in a 4,000 seat house. Venues and companies, really. Because the You-Know-Who can dance on its toes like a cartoon elephant and put on Mozart and Handel, but it's not what they do best, and anyway the hall has a way of ironing out the subtleties. Performances that would work at Glimmerglass would look like not much of anything in the Barn, so the singers have to embiggen everything*. Here and there we have the singer like Roschmann with the right style for Mozart or Handel, the right grain in her voice to put the heartbreak over and be heard, but it's no fun waiting around for things like that.

It's probably just a financial reality of the city and an aesthetic reality of the century that appropriate forces and spaces for, say, Monteverdi...

Did somebody say Monteverdi?! As you may have read in the Times, but it bears repeating, a company called Opera Omnia has taken it into their heads to put on an English language Poppea at a "multimedia art cabaret" called Le Poisson Rouge, whose website proclaims: Serving Art and Alcohol. And who's going to argue with that? “Eh bien! que l’atmosphère est bizarre!” as the boys are saying, but this does seem to solve the problem of un-intimate performance spaces--as I'm guessing they don't seat 4,000--and another one, besides.

Now, I have mixed feelings about the idea of stuffiness in opera venues. I'm as pro-stuffy as the next so-and-so when I'm at a de facto stuffy institution of art delivery and someone the row behind me thinks the whole unspoken "no talking" thing is a milennial relic. But it's all about go to that "Opera on Tap" thing for instance, if that's still up and running, and you know what you're getting into. Here, I assume, in a space called a cabaret, things will be on the loose side as well. And I think Monteverdi might be a good match for that kind of thing, both because--if my history is correct--this is opera from long before concert-going became so formal anyway, and because yes, Poppea has its chatty patches, let us admit, that could be smoothed over admirably by a sazerac or whatever the kids are ironically swilling, and the possibility of not sitting abso-bloomin-lutely still. (I think it is fair to expect that it will be a laid back, almost outdoorsy vibe, considering the line on Le Poisson Rouge's website that says "the venue's mission is to revive the symbiotic relationship between art and revelry" and if that doesn't clinch it, "bring open mind and drinking shoes" does. It's a little hipstery, but ok.)

The whole thing has more the feel of young musicians trying to do a little revitalizing from within, guided by their own aesthetics, than (with all apologies to Mr. Gelb et al who are doing, if you ask me, a bang-up job in most ways) battle-worn pros trying to figure out how to market kids into the concert hall, and this makes it promising.

So hey, theorbos and ethanol! I'm going--are you?

*Cromulence included

Friday, August 15, 2008

Singin' and cryin'

NHB, your wish is my command, which just goes to show you: it is sometimes best to stick with standard wishes like a pony or a filibuster-proof Democratic majority. So, for no real reason except I think they're great and you'll like them, here are two sliiiightly thematically linked clips from the films of Almodovar, the first from Tacones Lejanos (High Heels), with apologies for lack of subtitles, and the second from Volver with--I shit you not, as usual--subtitles in what I assume to be Turkish.

In this one, the magnetic Marisa Paredes syncs to Luz Casal's cover of "Piensa en mi," a wonderful little melodrama by Mexican songwriter Agustin Lara. Sample lyrics: "Piensa en mi quando sufras. Quando llores, tambien piensa en mi" = "Think of me when you're suffering. When you're crying, think of me then, too." Not for nothing is this sung by a character beloved of drag queens. (You'll even find one visual cover of the scene on youtube performed by a real live drag queen.) There's a neat trick Luz Casal does near the end, singing through the phrase "quitarme la vida" with a sobbing vibrato that permeates even the consonants. Curiously, to me anyway, the guitar accompaniment is exactly, but exactly, identical to the cover of the same song by hard-to-take songstress Chavela Vargas, which I think is also on youtube at least in audio. (I was introduced to the beyond-Dylan, beyond-even-Vysotsky gargling of Madame Vargas at this weird house party in Austin where I was also introduced to Laphroaig, perhaps Chavela's sour mash equivalent.) Ok, so my summer entries are all about lamentably autobiographical digression, yes. Cue the next musical example.

Ok, best lip-synching in the history of lips, no? You may or may not recognize the woman doing the crying in this one as Carmen Maura, tough but glamorous twenty years earlier in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Almodovar on the verge of leaving camp and epater-ing-el-bourgeousie behind in order to make a number of increasingly sincere masterpieces.) Maura looks to me to have made the bold move of aging naturally, but in her first scenes in the movie, she's consented to be made absolutely haggard, with tremendous aesthetic pay-off. Cruz talks in the commentary track about wearing, well, a prosthetic ass, and she and Almodovar have a little love-fest about how it inspired her to carry herself like a mother instead of one of today's great screen beauties. The lyrics here are softer camp, and, uh, the subtitles, as promised, appear to be in Turkish. It was the longest version of the clip and I wanted to be sure of having the last seconds of it.

It occurs to me that what makes the second clip more convincing, though the first is more of a tour-de-force, is that Luz Casal is audibly younger than Marisa Paredes, though perhaps her character is meant to be lip-synching to her own beloved recording of the song from younger years. It makes me have vague thoughts about singing voice in relation to speaking voice--and recall an interview in which Upshaw said her coach or perhaps her doctor told her to try and habitually raise her speaking voice to be more in line with the range of her singing--because I'm still not convinced--anyway, Almodovar back then was at least half about artifice.

Really I just posted these because I played both of them for regular commentatrix Grrg, and didn't even think at the time about the fact that they're both so much about singing and memory and loss, even if they show Almodovar reacting to these things first at the tail end of his enfant-terrible phase, then as...I don't know how to categorize what he's become, other than one of the very best. For more on singing and crying, please visit the Opera-L archives, as I recall there was one of those immortal (in the sense of neverending, not in the sense of great or timeless) threads about what music makes you cry! Seriously, it was one of those things where by the end every recording in history has been referenced. Somewhere out there, there's someone who gets misty over Marilyn Horne singing "Groin pull."

All for now. A month, more or less, 'til I can go back to opera blogging. Oh but meanwhile, did you notice Santa Fe made public their intentions for next seez? Highlights include a Brewer/Groves Alceste and Dessay in Traviata. One feels certain she will make interesting and unusual dramatic choices in the role, no?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I'm just sayin' is all

Someone who never forgets a detail tells me that in the Met's production of La Gioconda, La Cieca enters with Gioconda...which makes sense seeing as she can't so much see and all, and a seeing eye dog would distract everybody and risk animal applause, the banal bane of many an Aida production.

So what I'm saying is, a smart stage director might want to figure out a way around this, because there's going to be a strong presence there of Podles cultists, and some of them have been waiting 25 years for her to come back (I say them, not us...I was not inducted until 1998ish.) There is going to be a loudish reaction at her entrance, I imagine, and it seems a little unfair to Voigt to suffer the ambiguity of entering with her.

Much of the bloodsport of the ticket exchange is now happily over, with good results. It almost feels like time to start posting about opera again, only it really isn't. Over a month left! Meanwhile I may post some absurd bullshit about Almodovar. The minutes will fly by like hours....

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Pugacheva takes on the critics

Maybe you know her because of the story (apocryphal? well it's a touch recherche for an urban legend) that Schnittke envisioned her voice in the role of Satan in an opera he wanted to write, I think a Faust opera though I don't recall for certain. Or maybe you know the joking name the Russians have for her: Ustala Alla: Tired Alla. Oh or perhaps you're lucky and know her one song that doesn't sound like everything they should have told kids to fear during the cold war (tell a teen the Russians are sinister and they'll be intrigued; tell him they're unbelievably uncool and tacky and he might enlist), her one song that is an introverted gem, a spare setting for voice and guitar of Tsvetaeva's exquisite poem "Mne nravitjsa."* This is possible, because it was featured in a much beloved Russian film, Ironija Sud'by, i.e. The Irony of Fate. It's a film about hilarity ensuing, I think. Never quite made it through it, though I was graciously given a copy by an auntly Russian psychiatrist who used to diagnose kids, correctly, with the need for "a parentectomy."

What you don't know** is that La Pugacheva perpetrated a disco hit about the New Yorker's music critic. I think the first instance of her tribute occurs at about 1:04.

*what I'd really like is to provide a translation of this, but I tried, my own self, to translate the thing--preserving metre and rhyme--for a long time, and it always came out as translations of poetry so often do, accurate but broken, so eventually I abandoned the project. And I've never seen it translated except literally and without these structural elements, and that's no good either. Oh but here's the song, for all you Tsvetaeva fanbois.

And in fact, gadding about on youtube after the above, I did discover a verse-intact translation of the Tsvetaeva poem, sorta clunky, in the "about" section of an also clunky, though endearingly so, fan cover of the Pugacheva song. Would you have thought there would have been such a thing? It's like Rule 34, except not about porn: if it exists, someone has sat around with a guitar figuring out the chords, sung it with slight intonation problems, and put it on youtube. Oh anyway the point of this was:

"I like it that you`re burning not for me,
I like it that it`s not for you I`m burning
And that the heavy sphere of Planet Earth
Will underneath our feet no more be turning.
I like it that I can be unabashed
And humorous and not to play with words
And not to redden with a smothering wave
When with my sleeves i`m lightly touching yours.
I like it, that before my very eyes
You calmly hug another; it is well
That for me also kissing someone else
You will not threaten me with flames of hell.
That this my tender name, not day nor night,
You will recall again, my tender love;
That never in the silence of the church
They will sing "halleluiah" us above.
With this my heart and this my hand I thank
You that - although you don`t know it -
You love me thus; and for my peaceful nights
And for rare meetings in the hour of sunset,
That we aren`t walking underneath the moon,
The sun is not above our heads this morning,
That you - I like - are burning not for me
And that - I like - it`s not for you I`m burning.

Translator unknown--maybe the fan in question? If it's you, speak up!

**because it simply isn't true

Hat tips for exposing me to the song, and a rousing chorus of "Hachapuri to you" to B, whose oddly timed Georgian birthday dinner occasioned this shaggy dog of a post.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Grazing outside my pasture

I'm the last person you want to ask about pop music because the last time I was particularly in the know involved crouching by the stereo speaker with a cassette recorder, hoping to record a scritchy, unlistenable replica of "Don't You Want Me" by the Human League without accidentally picking up any of Kasey Kasem's patter. I was like a little gay suburban Bela Bartok. Soon after that I discovered classical music, and my inner life took flight just as my social life plummeted to the earth with a crashing thud.

Ever the euphemist, I like to think of my tastes in popular music not so much as "woefully underinformed" as "selective." I like what I like, yessirree, and that's about one thing a year. I can't name an American Idol winner for you, I'm still not 100% sure what is and is not hip hop, and even in the realm of indie pop (back in my day, young feller, we called it "alternative music") I just basically don't know shit from shinola.

However. Occasionally I toss off my Havisham frock and peer into the youthful world, and once in a while there's something good, and once in a longer while, something fantastic. Regina Spektor is at this point years off the cutting edge but in case you don't know her, I would like to be a big bore about her, complete with Youtube clips (the hipster Power Point!) Here's exhibit A. The song is Fidelity. Note the aspirated coloratura. I mean who the fuck does that?

What's so grand about this is, um, a bunch of stuff. Actually one thing that isn't clear here so much is her technical prowess, because though her album is (to my ear) a wonder of production that has a POV but doesn't get you all wet with it, it downplays Spektor the pianist at times. But she's kind of the anti-Madonna, the rare combination of a good voice, artfully deployed, with excellent instrumental chops. Let's watch the same song live, shall we? Oh hm, no. I have a better idea. Here's "Us" from an earlier album, live, because it shows more of what I'm on about.

There's something really bodily connected about her singing and playing, and beyond that, the love fest with her audience (see around 2:55 and at the end) is just enchanting.

Meanwhile, her songs go a lot of places...the tender revision of an not entirely loveable myth in "Sampson", the catalogs of doubts about love dressed up as love songs like "Better", even the sloppily lyric'ed "On the Radio" is a triumph of delivery, here and there the bluesy crag in the voice saving a too coy reference. Dramatis personae tend to be the standard "you" and "I" (my fave pop song used to be "The Boy with the Arab Strap" specifically because it has so many characters) and the verb tends to be love, but with interesting detours.

The songs are urban, multi-lingual, lightly polyphonic in the Bakhtinian sense unlses at this point I'm just bullshitting. And then, if you're still clicking around over there on youtube, songs like "Apres Moi" highlight something you hear a lot more of in the live clips, her playful sense of when to throw in an unsingerly sound.

Oh here's another, as long as I'm being insufferable. Here she's singing "That Time", and I'm including it because of the last riff in the song, a vocal ornament as delicately turned as Callas' ascending thirds near the beginning of "Al dolce guidami." No, I'm serious! Ok, yeah, now I'm totally exaggerating. But here it is anyway:

Regina Spektor is playing somewhere in Williamsburg next week but my skinny jeans are at the welder's having the rivets redone, so I'll probably skip it. We apologize for this detour into things I know absolutely nothing about. Regularly scheduled opera programming ought to begin in a month and a half.