Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A little bit of Youtube perfection

As friends of mine used to say with reference to the Nilsson Salome LP cover, that's my kinda woman.

Second-hand News

Very briefly noted: I was pretty sure I was hearing the end of Villazon's career last night. Act I he kind of barfed out the first big high note, futzed around with vowels some, left out the last high, and I think maybe took a note or two down. At the end of Act II he strangled horribly on the tenor's big note before the big concertato finish (am I using that right?) and actually stopped singing. He cleared his throat loudly, paused an unbearable couple of seconds, and tried it again, without improvement. It was just simply awful. The act finished. We were told his cover was going on (you know who you are!) and left. Well I'm told by a reliable source he not only went back on, but was "spectacular."

Trebs and Lucia, in my book, not a great match. She was a very gracious colleague to VR and she popped out some nice high notes, but it was largely just a mess in the ways you'd predict. Pitchy, not stylistically idiomatic (and yes, that's a range, but I don't think her singing fell within it), not enough there to be rescued by her presence alone. Kwiecen and Abdrazakov admirably solid. Another good Arturo in Colin Lee.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I'm not sure if reception line stories are considered entertainment. In any case, this is mine, which should be prefaced by the fact that I become rather mumbly and verbally inept in such situations, which is kind of embarrassing. But it went something like this.

MD: [in a prepared speech] That was intense!
JDiD: You're telling me!
MD: Oh, er, yes. Well. Good point. It must have been even worse for you.
[MD quietly internally hangs self for word choice, since "worse" connotes, well, "bad"]
MD: Oh, so I thought it would be minorly hilarious if you were to sign it to "Maury" which is my blog name.

Oh wait. Brief backtrack. Did I tell you the one where I was finding the italic font on YankeeDiva a bit eye-stomping in combination with the color scheme? And then I wrote a note to the author of same saying so? I think I was really tired or something, and my "Who the hell do you think you are?" filter was off, and the Yankee Diva not only did not go all Patti LuPwn on me, but actually changed the font. She mentioned that it had been a girlish caprice, the italic font, at which point I joined the ranks of those who crush the dreams of others, but she was not only gracious but (apparently characteristically) funny and nice about it. Aright, you're all caught up. Except for the part where I email her wondering if Dejanira is a cognate for "le dejeuner" and she has been touring around in the role of Breakfast. Upshot: my doddering incoherence was announced aforehand. Any singer at this point would be forgiven for saying "ah, uh-huh...To Maury, with all wishes for a speedy recovery from whatever it is that afflicts you." Instead

JDiD: [Complimentary things about blog!]
MD: Ahem, yes, well. Your singing is wonderful. More obviously. [Hangs self again.]
JDiD: Thanks, Maury! [Which is actually only the second time I've ever been called that aloud, in case I am seeming like the loser kid who goes by "D'Artagnan" in French class and then wants everyone to keep calling him that. I am that loser, too, but not in this instance.]


I have half a mind to scan in the CD insert because the inscription is pretty funny. After she wrote it, she said "I'm actually not sure what that means," which makes it all the better.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The internet, in its wisdom...

has provided me at last with a response to Mark Morris' Orfeo production.

I did figure out a strategy for making lemonade (there is no such beverage as crapade so I'm not sure what you are supposed to do when life, or the Met, hands you etc.) which was to try to locate Burger King in the Standing Room of the Dead bleachers. He must be in there somewhere. Everyone is. A cleverer observer pointed out to me the kind of hilarious fact that all the dead people I could name standing up there (on what looks like this one scene from one of the Star Trek movies*) are not, in point of fact dead, at the time Orfeo is tooling around Thrace, on account of not having been born. Abe Lincoln, for instance: not dead back then.

But other than the bleachers full of pre-deadniks, Mr. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the opera? I'm glad you asked. Because I didn't enjoy it all that much, but this is not Stephanie Blythe's fault. She, indeed, gave the perfect Stimmdiva performance with gilded edges of Kunst (where does extremely well-judged ornamentation fall on that spectrum?) with the single exception of those few moments when Levine was busy proving you can be very, very good at some things and not have a clue about others. His pacing throughout was waterlogged, but "Che faro" was I guess the musical equiv of him taking a tire iron to Ms. Blythe's kneecaps. An assault, I think I mean. There was really nothing she could do. He frog-marched her through it at a vicious clip and all pathos was flattened underfoot. Elsewhen, however, she really lived up to the things people say about her that I have never 100% been on board with. No way to judge her physical performance from fam circ, and her saddled with a guitar and a gimmicky look to boot, but vocally it left nothing to be desire. Her chesty lows? A visceral pleasure.

Can't quite make up my mind about Heidi Grant Murphy, who for the better didn't sing Amore with bleached early music seriousness, but there's probably a happy medium I'd have liked better. I'm speaking of the vocal mannerisms, since the shtick is part of the production, and probably my very least favorite part at that. And without the lovely "Cet asile aimable et tranquille"--why this version of Orfeo, o Met???--I am finding myself without a very convicted opinion of De Niese, though it's a pretty voice.

Next up: Lucia, and then possibly the intriguing Measha Brueggergosman singing the Wesendoncks w/ Cleveland.

*Here is why blogging is bad. I have spent actual, non-figurative hours googling around to find this so I could insert a picture. All I have to show for my effort is he knowledge that the woman who played the whale scientist in what youtube reveals to be the horribly campy Star Trek IV went on to be the mom on Seventh Heaven, a swirling vortex of Bush era televisionary wholesomeness that...nevermind, I'm not going to finish that sentence. I'm going to take a minute to revel in the use of "Bush era" as a thing past and complete.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Alas a fanboi, I

Yeah, it's true, the danger of blogging about someone like Joyce DiDonato after a recital such as she gave at Zankel just now is that you run the risk of sounding like a blithering fanboi. But hey, at this point that's a label I'm comfortable with. Part of the problem is that JDD has a blogospheric presence that's so fan-friendly that I'm pretty sure we all have a sort of "our Joyce" feeling about her to begin with, so you're starting at level of admiration that may require insulin to read about, and then if the singing is good, forget about it...

Speaking generally for a second about the love of singing, here is what's confusing: unless I'm overgeneralizing my own experience, you start out as an opera fan loving the beautiful voices (Kathleen Battle's Pleasures of Their Company hung the moon for me), and then after a few years you discover the appeal of flawed voices, and at some point this becomes a dichotomy. You suppose that the prettiest voices rest on their laurels and that the monstrous ones just work the harder and are the more to be entrusted with the work of serious artistry.

But so unless I'm devising an imaginary dichotomy here, JDD doesn't have the innate tragedy in her voice, the tonal sob of, to pick the most obvious example, Troyanos. It is a sunny-colored voice that goes with the face (ok, fine, as long as I'm having a mock-heterosexual moment, it's probably worth noting that the lady, in photographs possessed of an agreeable Midwestern prettiness, is in person fairly dazzling.) So I suppose she must work very hard indeed, because here is art, no doubt about it. No, let's make use of the shift key. Here is Art.

It doesn't look like work. I overheard a gentleman at intermission saying "she'd better not keep singing like that--balls out all the time," and it was sweet of him, I thought, to be concerned for a singer he likes (well and obviously we do all like to play If I Were a Vocal Coach once in a while), but I'm pretty sure he's wrong. The strain of a hard sing is not in evidence; in this selection of tortured scenes from Handel what is heard is not that the sounds pain the singer, but rather that the sentiment does. If La DiDo were singing recklessly, the second encore, the lyrical and un-furious "Dopo Notte," could not have sounded so, well, bouncy.

That's actually the best word I can think of for how you have to sing it for the the repetitive figures in that piece to sound like anything but a repeated poke in the ear--LHL knew this, too, as evidenced on record. And in fact, between vocal passages, the singer bounced on her feet perceptibly to the music. Hey remember that time I was in Zankel for four or six hours of Meredith Monk? And Bjork sang and I was all "whatever, Bjork" until she got out there and, hang on, gotta self-google here...sang Gotham Lullaby "in the kind of tightly coiled, in-the-moment performance I'd like to see more on opera stages, wringing her hands and pacing with a little dance in her step--pacing not from lack of things to do, but apparently from inner reaction to the music that required kinetic expression."

Right, that. The physical engagement in the scenes from Teseo was gratifying, the braced-for-battle stance somehow not impeding but perhaps somehow aiding the lengthy roulades. In the justly famous "Joyce DiDonato decompensates in front of you" scene from Hercules, it was what I can only happily call harrowing. I wonder if this is all about trusting that a curl of the lip that may not be seen even in a small hall may still be heard, and so doing it regardless of whether it is seen.

What I'm getting at is the gestures were generally not large. Which of course means that the ones that were something ferocious. So, for instance much of the "I'm fixin' to fall out" vibe of "Where shall I fly?" (apparently first performed at Carnegie by no less than the Heink--big shoes to fill, and you know what they say about a Contralto with big shoes, don't you? Neither do I) was put across by means of a mix of gestures small and large. By the time she ever so slightly messed up her hair, something chameleonic had occurred, and for a moment you might have felt she was standing up there looking a fright instead of still working a dashingly bazoomatic red frock.*

If I were better able to access the emotion in Handel, I assume my head would have exploded at some point, and then once I'd put it back together, I'd have more useful commentary for you. To my mostly post-baroque ear, in any case, this was a real Sternstunde, and certainly (with the exception of the two gentlemen in good seats who almost started whapping each other with programs over something or other...one is curious but will never know) the mistake of putting a concert that could have filled Stern in tiny Zankel did pay off in terms of its friendly, intimate feel. If you want to judge for yourself, there is, you know, a CD with a notably similar program.

Next up, probably a few sour words about the Orfeo production and a few happy ones about Blythe, this already seen and heard at the time of final mouseclick.

*Right, Parterre is the one where they coherently describe clothing. MFI: colors are about as detailed a description as you're going to get.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Broken News

Tbe news done broke and we here at MFI played absolutely no role in breaking it: George Steel is the new director at City Opera. Mazel tov to The Little Opera Company that Occasionally Could, and we hope this works out well. It should, right? One has the impression it's like getting Mortier with much, much less baggage. You have to think they're probably feeling pretty sour in Dallas, though.

I go back to the opera, um, the day after tomorrow, and then some more after that. Despite my quite nearly violent dislike of Mark Morris' production of Orfeo, and my rather staid approval of Stephanie Blythe, the Sirius b'cast of opening night made me think this is going to be maybe something special.