Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hooray! (You want witty headlines? Try The Onion.)

I don't know quite where to start in gabbing about how much I liked last night's Trovatore, and yes, that's your shot across the bow in case you listened (was it broadcast?), hated it, and are going to get the vapors if someone gets enthusiastic about it.

In fact, that's all that is, because I know exactly where to start: Sondra Radvanovsky! Who received quite an outpouring of audience love after D'amor, the only possible response to such an exquisite traversal. There are valid quibbles I don't happen to think were truly significant, yeah. The voice is utterly American; not Italian. It's lean, not Tebaldi plush. There is also the fact that her expression in phrasing tends more toward plain sincerity than abandon: on the Joan Scale she's further toward Fontaine than Crawford.* Some people need more thrashing about in their Verdi, so caveat auditor.

But to balance these, she's...just fucking great in this music is what she is, I daresay exciting. We all heard the run was going to be split with Fleming. Whatever she might have done in the role, her voice is about half the size of Radvanovsky's and her high notes, these days, not as secure, so that's a win. Ukh, the high notes. They're just massive, but also with a fancy fil-di-voce option, and not overused at that. And she did, if I'm not wrong, two verses of "di tale amor" as well as a passionate "tu vedrai," and some very game physical acting if Anna Netrebko hasn't completely worn us out on Jeritza-and-beyond singing in non-traditional positions.

The thing to remember is that for years, it almost hasn't mattered who sang Leonora, because whoever they were, they were going to get upstaged by the Azucena. I saw this happen with Diadkova and...I'm not certain who, and that's not a rhetorical forgetting. Timing-wise it may have been Crider. So take it as a sincere doffing of the cap to Radvanovsky when I say in no way was she sung off the stage by Zajick. Right, the Zajick who is an absolute monster (in the best way) in roles typified by Azucena.

Also the Zajick who is aging a little, but as with so many things, this has its advantages in with the bargain. For one thing, I think singing a wider variety of roles like Tammy Faye in American Tragedy has broadened what is generally an essentially nonexistent philosophy of acting. Zajick has found intermittent pathos here, viz: Ai nostri monti, utterly affecting with Mr. Alvarez. Meanwhile, she can tear you a new one with guttural lines like the almost George Crumb-ish dare to a mezzo that pops up twice in "Deh! rallentate, o barbari." An unwritten maybe C had to be rescued, but rescued it was. [ETA: well...salvaged. It didn't squeak to a stop and it didn't crack, but you couldn't say it was a good note.] The rest of the role she kinda stands there and sings like it's no fucking big deal. I have never been Zajick's #1 fan but in shit like this, c'mon.

Alvarez was not triumphant but, I think, successful. Not so much in convincing us he's a spinto now as in convincing us he can pull off a spinto role with some aplomb and no vocal mishaps. "Ah, si" was, sure, a touch cautious. Like any lyric flirting with spintery, he ain't got no trill, substituting an ornate little figure out of Couperin (with some very particular notation that looks like a fishing fly for catching trout) and the rest of the aria was similarly a little bit on eggshells, but then he went on to fare quite well in the barn-burner that follows, dropping out where it's traditional to do so and returning with a long, loud C with two syllables (even if they had the same vowel: al agua! I'm sure there is something deep in the psychic underworld of the libretto to explain his sudden urge to go swimming, if not his sudden change of nationality from libretto-Italian story-Spanish to Spanish through and through.) Okay or B if it was transposed. I'm not the person to ask. I think later in the run his often stylish way with a phrase is going to triumph over nerves. I hope to be there to find out. Also, whether you feel he's filling spinto shoes or not, he doesn't sound like he's beating his voice up, so at worst, we don't have to listen to him croaking stuff in five years he was booked for now.

Hvorostovsky needs little approval from me, house favorite that he is, and truth to tell, I had just slightly less approval to give than the rest of the house did. Obviously there were no major faults, because the man's a machine. He doesn't fuck up, or come close. Maybe here it was a matter of personality, too much Oneginly hautuer? Il Balen just didn't kill me, nevermind that I always think it's about whales. (Cetology joke, yo! What, I'm reading Moby Dick right now.)

Oh, you wanted to hear about the production? Well sure, I can do that, after a fashion. It's good news, lads and ladies. Neither radical nor ploddingly literal, it does what it needs to do. Makes some spatial sense of the world's least convincing case of mistaken identity, e.g. (It's so dark I thought you were a tenor! D'oh!) It, uh, needs a good healthy greasing of the loudly crunchy stage turntable, but then who doesn't love a production on a turntable? One thing the turntable does that I'm fond of is allow us to watch characters and supers whose act has ended exist for a moment more, giving something of a cinematic fade instead of curtain up, curtain down.

And yes, there's a fair amount of "I am grabbing your arm! Look in the other direction" bustling about, but certain crowd scenes work out well. As Will Berger's thoughtful essay-interview in the program points out, the production makes no foolish effort to pretend the anvil chorus is a naturalistic scene of great subtlety. It's the goddamn anvil chorus, so it's played for big, with wonderfully loud anvils whacked away at by some unapologetically cast slabs of man with all the stately grace of Olivia Newton John's video for "Physical." This is as it should be.

Shit, I almost left out Kwangchul Youn, because that aria always feels like, forgive me, the plot before the porn, but here as in Tristan, he's stylish and solid.

Seems like there was something else to say but if so I'll come back and edit. That's how I roll.

*For the record, 1 is Joan Sutherland and 10 is Joan of Arc as portrayed by Falconetti

Up next: Adriana, then the auditions.

Monday, February 16, 2009

One More Reason I Want to Gay Marry Regina Spektor

...which is complicated, I realize.

To be watched with a handkerchief in one hand (for theatrically dabbing the tears) and a molotov cocktail in the other (fuck petitions!)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Not a rhetorical question, though you'll quicky wish it had been

I don't think I typed about Onegin, but the main thing I wanted to do in any case was clone about 100 of me and have us stand arranged so that if you saw us from above, it spelled WTF. Not about Hampson, who had good moments and bad (the Russian displays a positively Puerto Rican relationship with the consonant kingdom, but he basically gets the character), nor certainly about Mattila, who sang the letter precisely as it is meant to be sung. Oh, not Beczala, either. Fine showing. I thought he sounded strained in Lucia last year but am beginning to suspect he's the Next Big Tenor Thing.

No, ladies and germs, my WTF is reserved for Mr. Richard Bernstein, the evening's Zaretzky, and tucked into its what-the-fuckish abbreviationality, it carries the condensed message: why on earth are you singing tiny roles, man?! This can only be an "I wanted my weekends free" raise-the-kids kind of lifestyle choice, it seems to me, because the voice is objectively of such fine quality. Also he looks like a Jewish fratboy all growed up, but in a good way. (I lived across the street from the SAM house in college. Only time I've ever had a fond thought about basketball, or, say, used binoculars to watch it.)

Well you know where I'm going? I'm marching straight over to his website to see if maybe he takes a bunch of gigs in some other city or something. Won't you come with? Oh, uh huh. See? This season it looks like he has covered a bunch of stuff, for one thing. I hear you can make a living that way and potentially never have to put a wig on. And then he did a shitload of Raimondos at Central City, which is almost certainly in one of those states with more outdoors than indoors where people choose to spend their summers even if they're not singing Raimondo, which most people aren't.

Well, as that great opera fan Chernyshevsky once asked, what's to be done? Either he sings tertiary roles at the Met because he wants to or he sings tertiary roles at the Met because someone's an idiot. I'm not in a position to change anyone's mind and god knows I get no say in the world's idiot count, though I have been accused of adding to it. And that, as the bard wrote, cleans up the matter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Okay so there is ONE surprise

At least I'm surprised, and as much as I tell myself it'd be more fun to learn of the new season all at once (as in olden days) I can't stop myself from looking into the crystal ball over the course of the season. What the crystal ball failed to mention that is faintly amusing is that next year will apparently be...your chance to hear Kiri te Kanawa bellow "he's on the BOBSLED TEAM!" I don't mean to be critical but she's not known for her irrepressible way with a punchline, is she?

You've read about the season elsewhere already. It sounds pretty good without being vastly exciting, right?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Also: This

If I'd known earlier that this existed as a visual document, I might have led a happier and more productive life:

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Eric the half-a-concert

Awful to find oneself riffing on Monty Python when, in one's high school days, one associated Monty Python mostly with mortifying attempts to cobble together enough English accent to get through the parrot skit and, consequently, with bitter weariness. But I couldn't help it. It was just such an odd joy to plunk down $10 for a lousy seat in a hall where (aurally) there really are not lousy seats and strike a deal with oneself to go to the first 50 minutes of a concert and the guiltlessly go home. The second half (Strauss tone poem whatsitcalled) was most probably fab, but then so is getting home at ten to my blissfully overheated apartment.

Not a lot to say, enjoyed Ligeti's Atmospheres though I'll never quite have a place to tuck Ligeti away in my brain, i.e. don't wholly know what's special about him. For sure there are gripping effects in Atmospheres, but also...the section where all the string players are just doing layers and layers of harmonics? That is a bold, bracing musical gesture that not one person in the history of Suzuki lessons who realized how to play harmonics has not thought "oh hey what if a room full of people were doing this?" I'm not making the argument from "my third grader could paint a Jackson Pollack," because that's the oldest trick in the anti-intellectual's playbook, just saying when you watch the bass section sliding heir hands up and down the giant fingerboard, you might have a moment of wondering what separates originality from doodling, iconoclasm from mere fancy. Insofar as I can judge the performance of the avant-garde, it was crisply and convincingly laid out. People laughed at the part where the brass players blow notelessly through their instruments, but it seemed more like a "wow, that's diff" laugh than a nervous WTF giggle, so fine.

Predictably, I went mostly out of curiosity about Measha Brueggergosman, who has some interesting hype online, some good press in general, and a few worthwhile vids on youtube. It's a very pretty voice, and there seems to be plenty going on verbally, but I'm a little sorry to report that she had about half the vocal presence she needed to pull of the Wesendonck Lieder. Now listen, I'm not one of those. "I couldn't hear her in Row K," is the mating call of idiots on opera-L, almost invariably the sign of someone who has an axe to grind and a wit somewhat duller than the unground axe. But, c'mon. Wagner, Max. Why pick this when you're young and fresh but not fat of voice? Carnegie is very acoustically kind, and only in places did the voice strike its proper proportion with the orchestral environs. I do not think this is the conductor's fault. I look forward to hearing MB in something else. It seems certain she will be a delight.

Can't think what's next. Possibly Adriana?