Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Einstein on the Stove

Isn't it true that Einstein said a minute sitting by a hot stove is like an eternity while a minute sitting on a pretty girl is like an instant? You know, I think I have my prepositions backward. But he said something like that. (Anyway, if you're the sort who would find it funny, imagine some lovely lass shrieking at Einstein "for fuck's sake get off my lap--you're a fully grown physicist!") I couldn't help but think about it tonight.

Why? Well Wagner, of course. I find it interesting that people tend to agree on the idea that Furtwangler can play things slow and still have them hang together better than other conductors (name your whipping boy--Barenboim?) who also play them slow. I agree, too, and yet I don't think it's one of those things you should just say and not think about what it means. On the face of it, it's pretty nonsensical. Could it be something we just say because we cathect to Furt and not to Bohm and once we've settled on an opinion, we become overly identified with it? I don't think it is, but I invite you to tell me how this works. Is it about proportion, perhaps, in subtle ways that can't be formulated? One friend of mine always speaks of Furtwangler in terms of an overarching architectural conception but you know how I hate metaphors. They are a poisoned arrow flying through the heart of a melancholic aardvark. I mean it.

Whatever the reason, tonight's date with Lorin Maazel was like five hours with a pretty girl sitting ON MY TRACHEA. It could hardly have gone by slower--matched, in fact, the visuals of Herr Schenk bore for bore. I left after the second act, feeling like I'd gotten way more for my money than I intended. Even the thunderous prelude felt leaden. Oddly enough this had one pleasant result: with nothing else to do, I really sat with James Morris' interpretation and found it, on such a backdrop, more profound than it had sounded before. Yes, I still flashed forward to a future hypothetical Pape-Wotan, but not with bitterness. The regret, the fear, the plain old age: all felt organic to the character, and necessary, highlighted somehow by the tedium in the pit.

I'm pretty tired of hearing myself talk about Voigt, moreso since so many reports of her have turned into a predictable "State of the Voice" address, but could only be nostalgic, hearing her Sieglinde, for a very long trip I made to hear it in another century. Her partner then was Domingo, who I heard as Siegmund twice, about ten years apart. Each time was a marvel, but I think I've heard his better in the role. Clifton Forbis should be singing every role at the Met that requires serious lungpower, which is not to say that's all he has. Nothing like it. Next year may call for a trip to Chicago to hear what bids fair to be the bona fide Tristan of, well, right now. Tonight was his last in this run and he looked triumphant at his "my character is dead and I'm going to Fiorello's" curtain call, as he should have. Beyond volume, there's a matter of authority in this kind of singing, and that's what was so wonderful to hear.

Harder to comment on Gasteen because the role opens with an iconic moment she objectively cannot deliver, which colors one's experience...ok and because I didn't hear half of her role. There's good heft to the instrument, and generosity or openness of spirit in the performance that stops short of fiery inspiration in the mode of Leider, but I'll have to hear her again before I really know what the deal is.

I'm in the vast minority here, but for my shekels, Michelle DeYoung is really a work in progress. People talk a lot about line in bel canto, but there's a Wagnerian sense of line one must have as well (think of Jon Tomlinson's King Mark for a great example) and I don't hear it in her singing. Certainly it's a fine voice, and I'm glad to hear the warm reception she gets.


On another topic altogether, the New Yorker article on Nico Muhly by Rebecca Mead quotes one of our own. It's rather an engrossing article, at least if you come in knowing zippo about Muhly. It does appear I'm going to need to familiarize myself with "Speaks Volumes" if I'm to continue thinking of myself as a snooty music fag, and in any case, the article makes mention of an upcoming commission at the You-Know-Where. (Rhymes with retro collagen.)


Anonymous said...

Your opening paragraphs made me spit milk out of my nose. And I wasn't drinking any.

Will said...

It's more a matter of firmness of beat and, indeed, the shaping of an act or entire opera "architecturally, I think, rather than just length of performance. I attended a Die Meistersinger in Chicago conducted by Thielemann that was longer than any DieM I had ever experienced but it seemed to fly by, natural as breathing. It was gorgeously shaped and and played.

Some of Knappertsbusch's performances seem literally to last for eternity. Slack of tempo and sometimes phoned in, they ghave no shape and even if rather fast, they just SEEM long. I know his reputation, but he's one of my least favorite Wagner conductors for that reason.

jondrytay said...

I can't comment on conductors in the Ring per se, because Wagner is a blind spot for me. Well, selective blindness.

The conductor I always reach for if I want too-slow-but-it-works is late, late Klemperer. Those last couple of Mozarts on EMI- the Figaro and the Cosi- are absurdly, ridiculously, laughably too slow. But they work.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Wagner and conductors. Something about Wagner inspires conductors to think they must one-up the Bayreuthian master.

Last night was my second encounter with Maazel's Walkuere. And while I agree with you on Maazel's excesses, I enjoyed myself both last night and two weeks ago. Why?

Maazel has a knack (particularly with the messy New York Philharmonic in muddy Avery Fisher Hall) for reshaping an orchestra into a series of instrumental lines that represent the purest of voices. At times, it is like looking at a Seraut painting one inch away from the canvas. It can be maddening - clarity when it is not called for is not beautiful. A Maazel opera is first and foremost an orchestral piece. The singers, if they merit any attention, are simply other instrumental voices.

Having heard the opera about 10 times at the MET over the years, I have heard more illuminating moments IN THE ORCHESTRA in the two Maazel performances than in all of my Levine and Gergiev listenings. (Although I still love Levine's reading of the opera, as a whole, the best - no one can compare with the tenderness with which he caresses the soprano, tenor, clarinet, and cello in Act I.)

I am sad to hear you left for Act III, which contained some of the most illuminating insights into the wind lines around Brunnhilde's "war is so schmaehlich". The winds, in particular, had more of Maazel's attention than any one on the stage.

One moment nearly made me jump out of my box: the self-indulgent total breaks Maazel inserted 4 and 8 bars after Wotan's "freer than I, the God", one of my favorite passages in the opera. Apparently, Maazel wanted to announce that the conductor-God trumped Wotan-God.

A Maazel review usually dwells on the orchestra, yet I should mention the singers. Forbis was the best Siegmund I have ever heard. He was on fire. And Gasteen's Act III was perfect.

(Blythe, from two weeks ago, was a bitchy, sarcastic, and powerful Fricka -- moreso than last night's deYoung.)


Maury D'annato said...

Steve: if one person has spit imaginary milk out his nose today, I have done my job.

scifisci said...

i'm so glad forbis is getting the attention he deserves. Vocally, I found him to be the most satisfying singer of the evening, and also the best siegmund i've ever heard too. He has the ability to really sing directly to the listener and command his/her attention. Not to mention his gleaming, huge sound!

I thought I was in the minority about Maazel, when I initially thought he conducting to be so very dramatically slack. I've never been more bored by act II. he even made "oh hehrstes wunder" a climactic-non event! Yes the orchestra was beautiful, but the same could be said of those synthetic late-karajan recordings. I may be biased however, bc i was raised very much in the bohm/leinsdorf school of wagner, though I have always enjoyed furtwangler and some kna too.