Thursday, April 24, 2008

Recommended reading

If you have any interest in music outside of opera (hey, some of us do; some of us don't) I urge you to pick up this week's issue of The New Yorker and read Burkhard Bilger's piece on the unearthing and preserving of American folk music. Fascinating and a marvellous piece of writing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"I'd say ample for a regiment!"

There are two ways, at least, of looking at the kind of ovation that followed Juan Diego Florez's's' first jaunt through "Pour mon ame" in last night's opening of La Fille du Regiment at the whatsitcalled on the Upper West. Well, two ways of looking at the fact that it isn't, these days, atypical. The more cynical is that something in the audience has changed, and we're more likely to yell our fool heads off, the implication being that our standards are wearied and worn away. The other, no more convincing as an absolute, is that the Met has just gotten so consistently wonderful that it's all we can do to keep from leaping off the balconies to land on the stage. You know, in my head, that sounded like an expression of enthusiasm but now's I read it, I guess it's just a symptom of severe depression.

The point, such as it is, is that a number of things inform the newly vociferous audiences--I'm not making this up, right? My memory of performances in the Volpe era is that the reception was rarely so rowdy--for a number of reasons, some of them kind of intangible. Gelb has made a lot of changes, and cumulatively they have made Sybil's Barn a more exciting place to be, have not they?

Two people I spoke with after the performance expressed the same...I think we'd call it a concern. Which is that the rerun of the aria might become a reflex, as it did with "Va, Pensiero" that one season. And indeed, M. Armiliato was doing what in Charades might mean "turn the page back" pretty quickly on the heels of the last "militaire!" Not for nothing, the decibel level of the roar of the crowd did compress what might be considered the requisite wait for an encore; an ovation can surely be sized up by intensity rather than length.

To me, though, it did have the feel of something more set-up than spontaneous, which isn't a terrible thing, and the fact remains it was exciting singing, as was the rest of JDF's Tonio. My reaction may be tempered a little by the fact that, for my groschen, it was almost measurably less exciting than his reading of "Cessa di piu resistere," a year and a half ago. The Fille aria proves only one thing about a singer. The Fille aria, to be a little blasphemous, was delivered just as convincingly by a Met auditioner two years back, one Alek Shrader*. Could he have delivered the rest of the role with such charm, have sung "Pour me rapprocher de Marie" with such finesse? I haven't heard him since, so I can't say. But the aria on its own, well, for me it was a nice trick, and not the real measure of the tenor. I think it was a moment that had to happen--Fille now has baggage, albeit pleasant baggage, and you give it to a tenor with weighty expectations.

Part of what I'm struggling to say, if the point hasn't already been made too much elsewhere, is that Juan Diego Florez isn't The New Pavarotti, nor should we care that he isn't. What's so great about him is his own combination of strengths, not least his presence. The singers we love are the singers we feel we know; seeing them onstage is (in the least creepy-stalkery way) like seeing a friend. Florez, his physical energy, slightly nervous, his gait, his boyish eagerness and warmth, these are a part of why we carry on for him.

An older friend is Natalie Dessay. Well familiar to us, her intensity, her ability to find a dramatically logical physical flourish to go with a vocal one, her sense of fun at curtain calls, her spontanaeity. All on display here, to great effect. What I wasn't expecting was how much freer her voice sounds in this score than in Lucia, though her top isn't available nonstop like water from a tap like it used to be. Some will find her comic sensibility over the top, but it's an opera that begs for it. I think I've never seen anything so funny on an operatic stage as her brief piano solo during "Salut a la France." Also, she wins the Teresa Stratas Prize for being able to sing a high Q while being toted around or doing something that looked like moshing. It's a little bit of a shame that what they're taking out of the crate for her next season is something as dramatically stillborn as Sonnambula but then a Greek lady once made something of it, and wasn't it the Sonnambula scene in which she was so on fire at the Volpe gala?

Felicity Palmer remains a great asset to the company in whatever she does. I'm dying to know if she was singing anything in particular during her most comic moment (a good deal of the humor made use of the piano) or just improvising wildly, and I think she gets a prize as well for accompanying Dessay in the beginning of the trio. Marian Seldes, given sort of odd lines in an updated script, did a lot by means of her inherently expressive bearing.

Now the production I don't know quite what to do with. As you can see, I thought a good deal of it was funny, but there was some amount of WTFery going on, too, some clunky, unamusing staging for the regiment and other groups of chorus/supers, business I'd have to describe with a word like "zany" or some descriptor with a little self-destruct built in like that. The postcards that descend from the flies I find mystifying, and all the undergarments in the first act, cute at first but maybe overused. Overused underwear, great, didn't mean to leave you with quite that image early in the day, but..."Il faut partir," is not a comic number--it should be, while not grand tragedy, sweetly sad, and the audience giggled, as anyone might, when Dessay began it trudging across a stage, trailing a phalanx of soldierly underpants. On the whole it brought me neither delight nor fury, but I did wonder that it had been such a hit in London, unless that was just about the singers themselves, I suppose. The production team recieved a friendly but not raucous ovation, and it seemed about right.

My god, did anyone else notice that the season is drawing to a close?

Next up: maybe a Macbeth with the notably more intriguing cast

*JSU dissents, and I concede that I am at least to an extent making a point. Which is that the requirements of the aria are steep but narrow, and do not engage what I like best about the singer in question, his astonishing florid technique. And for some reason the staccato attack on the first of each pair of c's I find a tiny bit jarring.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Bis of "Ah, mes amis" at the prima!

More tomorrow.

[eta: duh, I mean "Pour mon ame"]

We could fix up this old comment thread and make a post of it!

Would it be tiresome of me to take a thread from comments that I found interesting and write about it? It just seemed like there was more to say, on my part and perhaps on yours, if this thing is on.

The setup is that the Met had their open house, open dress, and some of us in the 'sphere went, and then some of us wrote about it. I wrote very little; others gave a more detailed report. Someone in comments gave me a thumbs up for not violating the unspoken rule that most of us know: you don't review a rehearsal. (Sort of like you don't boo a cover. I thought that bore repeating.) Our doyenne weighed in somewhat to the contrary, however, noting the difference between a review and a report. (Italics hers. She lent them to me.) La Cieca went on to say:

After all, if a company welcomes the public to a rehearsal, then surely it is expected that there will be talk afterward. If the Met really wants to keep a lid on a show, they have the option of closing the final dress...

And the point is well taken. I think one thing that's important and a little hard to put a finger on here is where blogging falls on the continuum between conversation and, not to be grandiose, journalism. The deal with reviewing a rehearsal, it would seem, is that you're critiquing something not yet fully on display because it's not fully finished, and if you do that between friends, it's just ungracious, whereas if you do that on a front page, it's really quite unfair, and if you have an audience closer to a crowd than a flock (as I do not), you could even affect whether people put the event on their calendar or stay home that night to touch up their highlights.

I mentioned, in comments, my own history with this: once upon a time, at an opera house moderately far away, I went to an open dress for a rather blood-and-guts piece starring a mezzo famed for shaking the walls. She marked almost the whole time, and her cover sang the big number, and not giving it much thought, I sniffed about it on another forum in a manner I'd now call petulant. I believe I specifically made reference to the spelling of the singer's name, said that the "c" was silent, and huffed that so were a good many other notes. Well. They like to ran me out of town, and not wholly without reason.

I think it was said to me that criticizing a free preview was like being invited to someone's house for dinner and mocking their fricasee. But what I felt back then, and still do to some extent, bolstered a little by what La C has said, is that the company in question invited a passel of folks to come hear, and by doing so, changed the nature of the event in a substantial way. The difference now is not between a closed part of the rehearsal process and a finished public spectacle but merely between a performance you were given free access to and one you had to pay for. And that makes it less clear whether you can, in good faith, be critical.

I did, that day, feel I was going to the opera. I took time out of my busy schedule of, well, frankly, sitting around wondering why I was in graduate school, but that's not the point. I think it's the norm now for a rehearsal to be more of a performance than a run-through, and because of this, yes, it's probably a little bit open to scrutiny. I wouldn't have gone to the above anonymized performance if I had known it was mostly for blocking and publicity photos. I'm not really interested in how Madame Silent C gets from point A to point B. I wouldn't have gone to Fille either, and I think the way the Met publicized their open house shows that they knew people were coming with some expectations.

Yes, there were differences...the intermission was extremely short; there were cameras swooping around, the audience was slightly chattier though generally still well-behaved. None of us minded that, I shouldn't think. And indeed, I do still err on the side, as I've said, of not pissing anyone off, because it doesn't seem important enough to make a big deal of. But in principle, I think the people who did write, insofar as they stayed within the bounds of giving a generalized sneak preview, did no disservice to anyone.

I'm interested to know if this is fair. Singers, in particular, I'd imagine might feel protective of the final dress. But that's my ten cents. (Now where's my dance?)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Female Offspring of the Military-Industrial Complex

Our spy at the Final Dress of Fille (hereinafter FDF, though this posting is going to be like two lines long so it's a short hereinafter), we'll call him Raury L'annato, knows better than to gab about a rehearsal, but figured it can't hurt to mention that all principals were in top form and sang out, Louise. It's been sold out for months and tickets are going for mortgage-like prices online, but anyway it seems likely to be the talk of the town, insofar as opera ever is.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Coming Attractions

Once in a while Events of Note are brought to my attention by people involved, and my first response is "you have clearly mistaken me for someone with a Vast Readership," and then once that's on the table, I check it out and see if it's something I'm actually intrigued by because it seems cheap to get up on this, my very low rooftop, and yell to the heavens (by which is meant internets) about something I wouldn't go to myself.

Well this one looks good, so here I am on the rooftop. B.A.M. (in the Borough Adjacent to Manhattan) is putting on something called David et Jonathas, and I'm not going to pretend I know heaps about it, humming it quietly on the subway, but it's by the same composer as the version of Medea in which the great LHL had one of her triumphs, and the production bids fair to be good theater rather than stand 'n sing. A little bird tells me it is "incredibly compact dramatically" and through-composed in the way of the Gluck-Wagner lineage.

American Opera Theater sounds to me a little like a D.C. version of Chicago's excellent Chicago Opera Theater, a company that does what City Opera did once upon a time before they became largely irrelevant. That is: rep the city's main opera company won't ever do in thoughtful, smaller-scaled productions.

Performances are May 9 and 10 at the BAM Opera House. You can find out significantly more than I'm able to tell you at the blog written by the company's director. The latest entry has to do with 17th c. France and teh ghey. What's not to love?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Quick, to the catafalque!

So, my cousin was in town and I was trying to explain my evening plans to someone with absolutely no interest in OONY or opera in general and I said: think "Star Trek convention" plus opera. Actually though, the other keynote besides internal preoccupation--what I noticed, given the privilege of not sitting in what we might term the Belfry, was women in their golden years laboring under the assumption that henna looks natural. It was like Russia that way.

This was only my second time at OONY, the first being that occasion when I heard one dragocious diva's culty fans, I kid you not, shoosh the bravos for another singer. The offering that evening was Fanciulla. Tonight we were given Edgar, which to my surprise turns out to be rather a lot of fun as long as you don't mind a libretto that uses words like "catafalque". Hey, spellcheck knew catafalque. Geh weiss. Spellcheck does not know "spellcheck." Order of Meta, table 2.

I understand OONY has like three minutes to stage things, which is part of their scruffy charm, but I have to say, I have never seen anything so funny as the "everything but voguing" war between Ms. Larmore as Tigrana and Latonia Moore as Fidelia (the character was named thusly by her parents after a viewing of Fidelio. They had a hunch she'd turn out a little bit boring.) It was, seriously, the kind of antics usually reserved for the Rossini cat duet. It might be noted that Madames Larmore and Moore were clothed in dramatic red and blue, respectively, giving the proceedings an air of political allegory.

Ms. Larmore, who is looking almost scarily svelte, changed at the interval to a fetching black number, with, uh, wavy things. What, I got the opera badge, not the fashion one. Without being one of those rotters who uses "inaudible beyond row K" as an all-purpose take-down, I will note that the role of Tigrana is a size large for JL, though the state of the voice is fresh and healthy. Her reception at the end struck me as a touch on the polite side, comparatively, which made one feel bad for her...I suspect the go-for-broke nature of her acting struck some as de trop around the edges, in a concert performance. I'm not sure--Tigrana isn't exactly the Marschallin.

As her love interest, Ms. Moore [well fine you caught me lying. It isn't about lesbians. I just thought it'd be kind of a hilarious love square if it were] was simply fantastic. She's got a metric shitload of voice, and a solid grasp of verismo style. I know I get overly enthusiastic sometimes, but I think and hope you will be hearing more of her. She graciously mouthed "thank you" over and over again at her extremely warm ovation. And, not for nothing, she seemed to be singing the role without a glance at the music stand, which is class.

Wait, there were men in this opera. I may have discounted Marcello Giordani in that count because he sang not like a man, but like a god! Uh-huh, I used an exclamation point. I have dissed Giordani as recently as Thursday, but I suppose it's a matter of rep. Let him never sing anything so early as early Verdi again, say I. All I had to compare him to, going in, was a recording of Bergonzi, I assume also from OONY and I assume past prime, but Giordani's reading was certainly the more persuasive. He was in big, ballsy voice and I'd say he knew it, and rode it.

The medium thankful role of Bert--it is my new habit to improvise when I can't remember--the brother of Fidelia, or some such, was taken by Stephen Gaertner, and his voice is substantial and responsive and I think I am developing a small crush on him so I'll just shut the hell up before I embarrass either of us. Wait, Frank, not Bert. They sound equally silly in an Italian sentence, so I say he's Bert.

Ms. Queler found every unsubtlety in the score, which is precisely what is called for.

Next up: I'm not sure. It was a long few days of constant opera-going.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Got yer what hurts?

Don't even try. This subject line brought to you by the fact that the title Satyagraha is resistant to punnish riffs, any I can think of, and I did sit around, earning my salary, thinking of words like "Minnehaha" and then emphatically discarding them as too much effort to work one's way around to.

This is going to be hard to write about. I'm not gonna lie to you. Funny thing is, all my snootoise New Music friends (I kid, they're all super down to earth, except not) for some reason have it in for Phillip Glass, and I, Mr. "Berg is the Very Edge of Music" think he's, uh, neat. I'm not willing to put this down to Glass being somehow middlebrow, though I think he's heard that way by a lot of people, through the filter of his ubiquity and prolific output. It may be that I like him a lot because the stuff I heard first was the cream of the crop, stuff like Songs from Liquid Days and Koyanisqaatsi that excuse some of what I'd later sit through like the Kafka opera, whatever that was called.

In any case he's got rather a loyal New York following if tonight was any evidence. The only thing to top the ovation for the production team was the one for Glass himself. And why not? It was, overall, an enthralling couple of hours.

The production itself, by the way, is fascinating from what I could see. Like the sentimental gal who keeps giving that good-for-nothing guy another shot, I can't quite get it through my head that most balcony box seats are for shit. Waldorf and I were in 5 and 6, the balcony of the balcony box, and the main aesthetic casualty was that, well, you heard the one where this opera is in Sanskrit? So and they projected translations on the back wall, which I can dig, but then I guess because there's a lot of singing things over and over and over and it would be awkward, Met-title-wise, they didn't have any Met titles. Leaving many of us with nothing to grasp onto at all, due to the angle. Jeez, if Gandhi heard that the masses who couldn't pay $80+ for a seat were denied subtitles, he would fucking go ballistic. Don't make me call him. So anyway you pressed the button on the little screen and were informed in blocky yellow letters that you might want to find other reading materials.

Fortunately for me, who listens to this music in a more diffuse way ("listen" and "diffuse" don't go that well together but you follow, right?) there's lots of interesting stuff in the program. Ok but I was talking about the production. Which s filled with inspired chimera, I'm pretty certain. Giant puppets, for one thing. During Butterfly, I'd begun to suspect that I had that thing about puppets that most people have about clowns, but I think that was because of the "uncanny valley", hat tip to Grrg, and these things fall happily on the fair side of that. They're less cloyingly whimsical than some of the stuff in Taymor and more damp with the dew of primary process. They're beautiful, but you might see them in a nightmare.

I have to take some small issue with the King section for trading in the commodified iconography of MLK in a way that verges on cheap or even a little reprehensible (showing the back of him at a lectern doesn't, in itself, dehistoricize and bleach his radicalism, but it makes reference to something that, in its use and overuse, does.) It is a minor misstep if it is one at all.

Kids, I can't tell you much about the singing. There was really nothing to associate singer with character, so other than Richard Bernstein who was identifiably blue and in robust voice, and Richard Croft who was M.G. himself. Croft sang with fervor and stamina, and his Sanskrit diction is perfection! Joking, I have no idea, and neither does anyone else. I wanted to commend the singer in the white dress and fancy hat with the parasol for singing music in which it can be hard to find the emotion as if it were Mahler. I think it may have been newly minted Met Fave Maria Zifchak, but someone should correct me if I'm wrong. Someone always does! Waldorf wondered aloud if the original cast sang in such operatic voices or something more like the Phillip Glass Ensemble uses, but as the evening wore on it seemed to me this is about as close as Glass gets to Il Trovatore and I find it hard to imagine it sung without an operatic thrust and technique.

If I had other things to say, they'll surely come back to me tomorrow. Tomorrow's the eye of the operatic storm before Edgar on Sunday. Anyway, yeah, you know without me telling you whether you're going to the 'graha, but I will say it's a captivating spectacle.

ETA: and if you want a second opinion, here's a review-preview of someone who liked it even a notch better, I'd estimate, than I did.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What're you having?

...the bartender asked Mrs. Parker, who (apocryphally or not, one never knows, and it doesn't matter) muttered:

Yeah, that's my whiskey flask. I thought it'd be a nice inscription since I'm a bit of a downer, myself. As is [cue: relevance] the current run of Ernani at the Met, of which I saw approximately Erna this evening before giving up and hitting the subway. Not Erna Sack, mind you, or Erna Spoorenberg, or even Erna Schluter*, just the first two thirds of Ernani. I thought I'd explain that to death in case it was previously funny.

Ever your Closing Night Clara, I dropped in on a balmy Thursday night, found there were no rush tickets, and decided to leave. Except JSU all but double dog dared me to stay, and stay I did, until stay I didn't. It wasn't terrible or anything. It just wasn't much fun. The one trick I came up with is that, like iconography of the crucifixion, several entire acts of Ernani are more palatable if you pretend they are scenes where someone forgot the safe word. Some people like French maids; others like Spanish bandits. No, stop! The King I'm supposed to marry might hear us!

The rotten thing is I had been waiting I think 1.5 seasons (when was Cyrano?) to hear Radvanovsky. I've had stupid timing with her, and that's nobody's fault. All I've heard her do at the Met was Roxane, which isn't the best role ever, and once upon a time, the High Priestess (I wonder if Aida is ever tempted to say to her "girl, you high." ) which was mostly a promise of things to come, though truly I do know a number of people who heard it and said: this one's going to be a star.

Which she isn't, and I don't get it. Not here, anyway. She's a respected singer who gets here and there a starry assignment, which I have to think premiering Roxane opposite Domingo is, but then lately sort of this and that. B-cast for Trovatore, though some of us may think she's the A. Not to sniff at Leonora, but there's just something unspecial-feeling about this whole revival. Reverting to Fametracker Fame Audit terms, one is tempted to assess

Current approximate level of fame: Dorothea Roschmann
Deserved level of fame: Deborah Voigt

Because what is it she doesn't have? The voice is objectively Met sized, which is to say anywhere-she-wants-sized. It has "face" as they say, and while the C+ top is a little funny, it's there for party tricks, and the normal soprano range is absolutely reliable, including a no-worries though not cavernous bottom. I think it even has an unobtrusive character-giving flaw in that once in a while in a predictable place, she flats, but not enough to ruin things. She doesn't sing as if she were trying to preserve her voice for 50 years, she moves well on the stage, and she is, as Enzo Bordello was heard to term her, a handsome woman.

So while I'm not one to apostrophize the Met, get with it, Met.

As Leonora or Elvira or Jenny or whatever the heroine's name is, it must be admitted, she did not seem 100% cast to her strengths. Here and there her sound forcibly livened one's pulse, but...maybe I just don't love Ernani, in which case there's not a lot of sense reading this review. Or maybe it's that nobody was cast quite right.

Not that the audience agreed with me much, by the sound of it. Giordani, who I thought only lived up to some of his recent performances in the cabaletta at the second curtain, sung with a swagger and a lot of ping, was given the hero's welcome, and I won't be so condescending as to put it down entirely to the "oh look, a tenor!" effect. To me, it was 3/4 of a good performance**, unignorably weak in softer moments, with one or two small-scale wrecks. He's been sick, I guess, but really this is not the rep in which he's such an asset to the house. The volume is appreciated, as is the ardor, but it's music that gets mauled if you sing it a certain way, and some of the time, he's guilty of that.

The house was very warm as well to Furlanetto, who maybe had a touch more growl than I'd have wished for (isn't it Tozzi on the old RCA? Well nevermind that game, and anyway I just looked and it isn't) but bluster notwithstanding, it was certainly a vital and Italianate reading.

Listen, I'm trying not to be a dick about Hampson. If you haven't had your hands over your ears, you know he's not really my speed, but I guess this evening it was basically an appealing sound, and he didn't Shatner around too much (Jonathan von Wellsung still does a deadly imitation of the croon at the end of the big Boccanegra duet) and I guess I don't have anyone in mind who would have done it a lot better, and in the interest, aforementoned, of not being a dick, I'm not going to sit here and try to come up with a list. Just, even where the gestures were the right ones, or in the right direction, it wasn't lit from within, is all. Well, I loved him in Parsifal and am sure I'll love him in something again. But not in this.

Thus begins my lunatic weekend of opera-going. Tomorrow is Satyagraha (how could I passively resist?!) and Sunday is Edgar, which is an opera, not kidding.

*Stewball did I totally just steal your line? I'm pretty sure you joked about the Erna Trifecta. You should sue me, we can maybe have cocktails after.

**well fine, if you insist, 3/4 of 2/3 of a good performance, which is...well fuck, I haven't thought about fractions since the 80's.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Bearded Lady

For my fellow Podlesians, especially those who travel more than I do, Operabase has that great lady singing what I'd think is a role debut, Baba the Turk, in Madrid next January. Also of note: the following month she will sing Azucena (not a role debut, but something we'd have been lucky to hear earlier in the game) in Atlanta. No, seriously, Atlanta. Meanwhile the Met is offering her the comprimaria role of La Cieca, he sniffed, though with every intention of going often to hear it.