Sunday, March 30, 2008

I'll get letters!

Please note, if you wish to contact me (though I'll warn you, things don't get any more coherent in email) that I'm ditching hotmail on account of it is lousy. Requests, opinions, and declarations of undying love may now be addressed to maurydannato...wait, this is one of those things where if I type it out I will get rather presumptuous emails regarding my anatomy, isn't it. Well, my name at yahoo. Not with a dot in the middle as it used to be at hotmail, no underscore, just my plain old fake name. If I'm being clear as mud, you may check the profile, which should display the address.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


No, seriously, this is, in its tiny way, utterly thrilling, right? Despite the fact that as Gawker hilariously points out, it sounds "remarkably like Joanna Newsome"? Still, the idea of hearing something recorded in 1860 knocks me out.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hold the mild, easy on the leise

It's the damndest thing, or at least I think it's a little strange, what happens to me at the beginning of a Wagner opera, and I'm wondering if it happens to anyone else. It's a lot like the feeling at the beginning of a long drive, and I suppose there's no other word for it than anxiety; the knowledge that, come good or come awful, one is more or less strapped in for the long haul. So even though I have come to think of Tristan as, under ideal circumstances, an opera without any dull patches, I have a moment of wanting to run for the exit. Fortunately I haven't, yet, and boy am I glad I didn't last night. Because the other impulse I had to rein in at last night's round of Tristan und Isolde, oder: Wer singt heute, und mit wem? was the occasional urge to applaud mid-act, mostly for Mr. Heppner though also for his colleagues.

A Heppner is a sometime thing, and I've lamented it before, and won't try to pretend I haven't. He gives me shpilkes waiting for the cracks. I will, however, forgive it (and there was exceptionally little to forgive last night, though I hear the microphones picked up flaws that weren't evident in house) and perhaps get his name tattooed on my ass when he brings the dementia. I'm not sure which conventionalized way of praising his singing to choose in fact. Hey, pick one:

a) like a god
b) like a real heldentenor*
b 1/2) like a hero
c) shut up Maury you are writing this column

You know what I'll say, and don't roll your eyes at me, is that as of last night I am slightly less mopey about the fact that I am not 90 and never heard you-know-who in the role. Truly, Heppner lacked nothing. I have heard the Hep produce fetching tone before, and I have heard him sing loud, and sometimes I have heard him sing with that inebriating wallop that almost nobody has just now. Now I have heard him sing like a fucking lunatic, sing like he would break if he did not. I am grateful to him and to the universe. For a better description of what he did, I refer you to my host and fellow astonished listener.**

By the way is it true that the Dane never sang it without cuts?

Some of the assembled Celts (Gaels?) last night were the same as before in this ever shifting cast (including Salminen, thank god) and sounded great as before. I do have my ear on Mr. Gaertner after hearing him twice decant a fine Merlot I mean Melot. Some were new, as was Richard Paul Fink, a wilder and woolier Kurwenal, and probably a notch louder than his also excellent counterpart.

And, as the little white slip of dread told us going in, Ms. Voigt had contracted a touch of sea sickness from all the crossing from Ireland to Cornwall and would not be with us. You may have heard Janice Baird the other night, but I had not, and was very well pleased. Comparing her with DV would be like comparing apples and some more hochdramatisch fruit. I'm glad to have witnessed both assumptions of the role and wouldn't willingly choose between them. Baird's voice is not as beautiful, and as many have noted, it has an overly broad vibrato at times, but it's steely and has a bit of a Nilsson bite without going over into Linda Watson territory, and fach-wise, it's yeah a little bit more convincing. And yes, if your entire evening hinges on a single F#, you'll want to know that it was in tune, though I don't see why you'd pay a bunch for a ticket rather than sitting at home with a tuning fork going "that's what I'm talkin' about!" In the parlance of the playground, I am tempted to ask if you are going to marry F# if you like it so much.

Baird sang the role as if hungry for the taste of the words, and as we know, that's not something DV always does--I hear she did during the moviecast, especially in the narrative/curse. This thing Baird was doing, it wasn't naturalistic acting, ecole de Mattila, but there was passion in it, and especially in this production, that'll do the trick. She's Seattle's new Brunnhilde, one reads, and the thought of her in the 'dammerung cannot help but interest us.

Really, I do think this is one of the Met's most successful productions. And am apparently the only one who does not find it funny when they drink the potion and everything goes Valentine red. I'm not used to being the sappy one but I just think it's pretty. Wait, we interrupt this regularly scheduled paragraph to inform you that Hans Lick (a Person who Knows Things) has mentioned in the Parterre Comment Mosh Pit that the last T/I will be Salminen's Met Farewell. Ach! Weh! Um, maybe I'll go again Friday.

If not, I'm due for an Ernani, so that's probably next up. Beyond that lies....Satyagraha!

*Yep, you've been Renee-rolled. Oh god, it's a long story. I believe it may have started here. (No, I promise I'm not Renee-rolling you again.)

**really one of the great luxuries of living here is the frequent opportunity to go to the opera with people who are there to love it, and at intermission to run into more of them. I don't mean uncritical people, as I hope is obvious. What I do mean may be another entry altogether, it occurs to me after typing and deleting seven times. But probably you know what I mean.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Many years later and in another town Maury revisits a production from something like his youth

Ugh, Spring, you big dumb beast! Here I was, contentedly sub-clinically depressed, going to nothing because the couch and a stack of Little Debbies sounded infinitely more compelling*. And now it's a little lighter out, and I have crawled out from underneath the Star Crunches, and suddenly there's lots of things to be at. Like for instance how am I meant to creep in for standing at Ernani Friday when Saturday's the next in a line of what's turning out to be a hybrid of Tristan und Isolde and I Love Lucy, with the hijinx already...

Nonetheless, I did sneak out from under the still lifting veil of blah to take in City Opera's Falstaff. (Yeah, yeah, Maury at City Opera. Pretend you'd have been more surprised if I'd said Grant's Tomb. So well known is my indifference, it would seem, that I was not among those bloggers invited to take in Purcell vs. Mark Morris a few weeks back, sniff sniff. Well that's the grandiose take on things, the more realistic being that no-one's ever heard of me.)

Cue: Snows of Yesteryear. I saw this production take its first steps, so there was a certain amount of nostalgia at work. Not, alas, enough to mitigate the City Opera Effect. Honestly, I think the deal is this. Plenty goes right at NYCO, but somehow there's just not a critical mass, and it shows in the energy in the house. Maybe you'll hear a great singer, and maybe you won't know for sure what you're hearing due to what we are encouraged to call Sound Enhancement. The orchestra will never surprise you, for better or worse. It just so rarely comes together in an incendiary way there. Even the productions I haven't liked weren't bad in an outrageous way. Maybe the new regime will shake things up.

Anyway as Miss Golightly was saying when she so rudely interrupted herself, I saw this one when it was being fussed with in a high school gym, and I vividly remember how it fit on the stage of the Alice Busch Opera Theater, and how the sound of the low strings was enhanced by the night air when they opened up the sides, and everything. I remember Mark Delavan, who I think someone said had sung Ford to Milnes' Falstaff stepping up into the fat suit of greatness with gallons of voice and enough spite in his reading that nobody went into an insulin coma. Fenton and Nanetta were nicely and attractively cast from the Young Artist Program. The production fit well on the small stage, exactly as it doesn't in the State Theater, and there was a certain [pause to open the cliche cabinet] magic.

I've spent many less enjoyable nights at the opera, but there's not a lot of magic left in this one. It's a chicken or egg thing: is the audience actually laughing--and far be it from me to discount a good bond between audience and cast--at a production whose aesthetic hallmark is the spit take because that's what they're offered, or are they being offered it at this point because they laughed last time? Maybe I'm just a sourpuss and it's really hilarious the third time Quickly shakes her bazooms on on the /e/ in "Riverenza."

No matter, enough went right that we didn't leave or set fires or play gin rummy or anything drastic. This John Tessier, I'd like to hear him without a middle man. I think there's a kind of freshness and possibly gentle elegance there. Stephen Powell sounds as firm and take-serious-able now as in the first run, and that's plenty. Oh and Pamela Armstrong makes me quite upset with myself for having skipped the Capriccio. Someone tell me about it. I feel like she must have been just right, as she seems to have a good mix of instinct and raw materials. Alice is actually a part I have never once in my life found myself humming, it's that much of a blank for me, but she found the swells and ligaments to interest me in the character to some degree.

Jan Opalach as Sir John was harder to size up for me, not least because much of Falstaff's music makes me long for earlier Verdi. Sue me. As I have implied, he was directed in a way I found wearying--at intermission we amused ourselves shaking our hands up by our faces going "look at me!!! I'm funny!!!" and that was about the flavor of it. Certainly he seems to have the role worked into his voice, and within the parameters of a production that presents two guys trying to go through a door at the same time as an act-ending punchline--which, yes, I think is supposed to be funny like old cartoons, smile-funny, not puke from laughing funny, but it's just so unfresh--he goes about the inhabiting of Falstaff with gusto.

One very good thing: the company has thankfully abandoned the spell-it-out-for-you choreography that used to attend the fugue, and the opera probably ends better for it. Just...why have I said so many positive things in with the sniping and still am writing a review whose one word summary is "meh"?

Next up: Tristan, unless the whole cast trips and falls on things, or whatever else hasn't happened yet. Um, knock on wood when you read that, k?

*No, seriously, depression is measured on many scales, but at my house, it's the Little Debbie Scale.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Calgon, involami!

I did intend to be in the house this evening and write it up--though I have been known to refer to Hampson as the William Shatner of the operatic stage, I am always on board the Rad Van--life got in the way, and life>blog, so a review will have to come later. So far on Sirius it's sounding good or fine or maybe great. I came in a little late...currently MJ is interviewing the lovely Reri Grist, and it's actually fairly interesting, and MJ just called West Side Story "a musical about gang violence" which I suppose it is, but it struck me funny.

Friday, March 14, 2008

We hear...

...that Mr. Lehman is doing a fine job as Tristan and that Voigt pulled out (perhaps mid-act? Text messages, so peskily telegraphic!) to be replaced by her cover in the second act. We wish her a speedy recovery, and look forward to hearing more soon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Voigt Smacks Met Crowd Around with Riding Crop, Says: You Are My Bitch. Met Crowd Concurs.

I believe the first order of business is this:

If, by any chance, you were one of the people booing John Mac Master at this evening’s Tristan, git. That’s right, get out of here. We don’t serve your kind in this here pub.* Mr. Mac Master stepped in for the generally acknowledged Tristan of choice on the world’s opera stages on what I believe was short notice. He had a rough night, with some moments of admirable ardor and, in a few climactic moments at high volume, good muscular sound. Yeah, some of it was disappointing, but most of us, not being heartless boors, let it go. If you had the bad taste to think your disapproval was really that important, my writing, however little or much it’s worth, is sullied by the passing over of your eyes. Stop reading My Favorite Intermissions, and don’t come back. Get lost.

Now. Tristan und Isolde. An opera. In German.

Hard as it is to imagine such associative looseness in these parts, I think it was a review of Einstein on the Beach where I went on about how different the Liebestod sounds when you’ve come through all of Tristan to get to it. When you have climbed Mount Everest, as it were, to get to the Valley of the Dolls. Now add to this effect a long career leading up to the role of Isolde and you will begin to imagine the splendor of midnight this evening as the Love Frog ended. It was not hard to predict this success. It was nonetheless gratifying to watch it happen. Moving, I would go so far as to say, in an extra-musical way.

I'm going mostly by the second act, by the way, when I commend the whole production to you. One of those perfect standalones that's almost an opera itself. This is not because I got there late, just...I'm no longer 20 but my sleep schedule thinks I am, and I had to practically pull nose hairs to stay awake through the first act. It's bewildering to think how much of our enjoyment of an event is based on our state of mind going in, no? But the second act of Triz+Iz is kind of where it's at anyhow. Everyone gets a star turn.

Among the starriest was that of...Matti Salminen. He's the one who isn't dead, right? We used to have a terrible time trying to keep the names of the Dead Finnish Bass and the Living Finnish Bass straight. Yes, Salminen, heard here as Koenig Marke, a role that separates the royalty from the grown men got up in Burger King crowns. This I learned watching Tomlinson sing it in Chicago, surrounded by very capable Wagner singers. It wasn't that any of them were doing it wrong; it's just that he was doing it righter. Likewise I don't think I need to tell you that there is nary a whiff of onion rings about Matt Salminen, who is vocal royalty, no further questions. It's something about the ability to, well, hang on.

There's this delightful essay in last week's New Yorker about perfume, by John Lanchester. Discussing the language we use to describe sensory experience, he writes

The language of taste has, therefore, reached something of an impasse. On the one hand, we have the Romantic route, in which you are free to compare a taste to the last unicorn or the sensation you had when you were told that you failed your driving test—and others are free to have no idea what you are talking about. On the other, we have the scientific route, which comes down to numbers, and risks missing the fundamental truth of all smells and tastes, which is that they are, by definition, experiences.

And, not to say sound and smell work much the same, I've always (or at least since I started blarghing about sounds) thought the balance there should be a slightly conservative one, edging away from "her high notes are all peachy pearls and violet confit." But there's something about Tristan that makes me edge just a little the other way, and want to fling descriptors at Salminen such as "tarry" and "midnight black" and maybe even edge into the ridiculous things they call housepaints. [Uh huh, I'm trying to decide on an "accent wall" at the moment. Did you know they had a term for that?] Because in the pitch of his voice there is, verily, night. And Tristan, insofar as I can bring myself to watch the words go by during the second act--aren't they kind of wearying?--seems to be fixated with day/night.

I should say more about Voigt but mostly I'm just kind of happy for her. As one gentleman said, at intermission, "we're all rooting for her." And I would have written polite things if it had been a polite success, but it wasn't. Some of the Italian stuff has been. Isolde is exactly the right role at exactly the right time in her life. Isn't it? Did anyone else think so? Also, I think, a very good staging for someone who, while not immobile as the creatrix in this production, is not in a profound sense a stage animal.

And a very good staging for us out in the dark, too. As I am wont to say, none but the most Amelia Bedelia literal could object. I suppose I have my hesitations about the little castles and soldiers that pop up out of the ground in the last act, and yes, I'm a sucker for a big blank wall that keeps changing colors, but mostly what it does, this production, is stay out of the way and allow for some stillness without going too far into Robert Wilson territory for the "How Dare You" crowd. It sets things up well for a Liebestod whose base note, beneath the rapture, is stillness. As it should be, and as it was last night, at the end of five goddamn hours. Sorry I'm not posting this last night, by the way. It was a combination of the whole "five hours long" extravaganza and my computer being, in tribute to Tristan, on death's door.

Support was all-around pro stuff. Stephen Gaertner and Eike Wilm Schulte in particular sang it like it mattered and like they wanted people on Long Island to know it, by which I mean nobody had any audibility issues. Levine, of course, has this score tattooed on the inside of his eyelids, and received his usual hero's welcome, not least from the orchestra who stayed 'til the house lights came on, always a sign of an electric evening. Michelle DeYoung remains a voice that doesn't quite fit into my ear, but let's blame that on my ear. The Watchtower scene lacked nothing I could put my finger on.

This is pretty sold out, ladies and gents, but a lot of people apparently jumped ship last night when Mr. Heppner's fluish condition was leaked, so you might still go. Me, I may go again. It's a hard decision because, well, I'm not a Rockefeller, and also, as I once heard a lady in a laundromat say about Dulcolax, Tristan don't play. Which is to say it's not just a jaunt to the opera; it's serious business.

Intermission review: the ham & brie sandwiches at the bars are totally recommended for those moments when you realize the other sandwich shop across broadway is closed and the gongs done gung and you have four minutes to eat something. They're not only delicious, but sort of shaped for gluttony, long and thin and devourable. Oh and the crowd last night? Kind of dishy. Note to clutch of well dressed French boys in lobby: call me! Overheard at intermish: a cute young couple or possibly fag+hag discussing, with great relish, Parterre's coverage of the OONY benefit review scandale!

*By now I figure if you're down here reading the asterisk, you know to expect something irrelevant not only to opera, but to everything else as well. I just felt like pointing out that in parts of the South, maybe only Kentucky, "this here" is pronounced with a /sh/ sound in the middle, which is really weird because it looks almost like a spelling rule affecting phonetics across a word boundary, which can't happen. Anyway "right here" is pronounced "right cheer" which makes the whole thing make even less sense. Isn't that nuts?

Thursday, March 06, 2008


One exciting possibility for this evening: the new ensemble M6 (featuring your congenial host at The Standing Room) is performing the music of Meredith Monk at Symphony Space. My experience of Monk's music is limited: I listened to Book of Days in college and caught part of the mammoth Monkathon at Zankel a year or two ago. What I can say, in particular from the perspective of an opera fan, is that her vocal music might be especially intriguing to our kind because of the way it limns the potential of the voice in areas mainstream classical singing basically leaves alone. Pieces like Dolmen Music, as I experience them, are the theater of sub-semantic utterance. In some way, it explores what we experience in the most primal way in what people say or sing to us. I don't think of it even so much as a tour of the instrumental possibilities of the voice, like some of George Crumb, so much as a lovely experiment about what happens on a psychological level when we hear or are spoken to (actually like other of George Crumb, come to think of it.) Also I said hi to her on the subway once and she was totally nice and did not mace me.

As this post explains, M6 is a group dedicated serving as the next link in the oral tradition of Monk's music. Concert's tonight at 7:30.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Well of course the moment I go and get all gossipy about the jaw-dropping final tableau of John Doyle's Peter Grimes to a couple of bloggers at ACB's successful and enjoyable* birthday event, it seems they have edited it out. In comments and elsewhere I have had a few conversations to the effect of "what are you talking about" with an implied "and what are you smoking?" So in case you're seeing it now, I will ruin the surprise that isn't there anymore. As originally staged on opening night, the big wooden set that had been shifting around all night like a teenager in a tux finally, in the last moments of the opera, flung wide. And what did it reveal? This sort of...scaffolding, I guess, with people in modern dress striking various voguish poses, as if the whole thing had been some really long ad for herring-scented cologne. And on dit (though this is fourth-hand, one of those hands is that of La Cieca so I think we can assume it's as trustworthy as the World Almanac) that it had something, for real, to do with the LGBT youth of today, and (I'm using the word "and" a lot here, because the hilarity is just kind of endless) the little kid A.D. Griffey was all but mopping the floor with is up there too, because I guess Peter Grimes gayed him. I believe the word you're looking for is "WHAT?", or I hope it is. So anyway that's gone and now what is revealed when the Fish Palace swings away is just the radiant white light of heaven, and though there may still be some fags and dykes there, they're off watching Project Runway. I'm actually kind of sorry nobody else gets to see it.

*not to comment on a charity event, as that doesn't seem sporting, but did we remember from whatever year's auditions that John Michael Moore was quite that good (even in the dreadful soliloquy from Carousel) or that he was, well, quite that hot? We did not.