Wednesday, March 18, 2009

For B

Did you know Ildar Abdrazakov has a brother named Askar Abdrazakov who is also on the Met's roster? There seems certain to be a limerick in this.

A second (bass) fiddle named Askar
Being Russian*, liked opera, not Nascar

˘ ˘ ¯˘ ˘ ¯
˘ ˘ ¯˘ ˘ ¯
˘ ˘ ¯˘ ˘ ¯˘ ˘ ¯ ¯

Ideally the last line should not involve references to a song by Tracy Chapman, tempting as it is, since it's not entirely kosher to rhyme "car" and "car" even if the morphology is a little different (car not being truly its own morpheme in Nascar, if you ask me.) References to large islands Southeast of Africa, however, are not only accepted but seemingly right somehow.

(In case you are thinking they did not exactly score big in the name lottery, know that there is an Uzbek name "Dildor" so things could be worse.)

*right, not exactly.

ETA: Here's where we are. Breaking news!

A second (bass) fiddle named Askar
Being Russian*, liked opera, not Nascar
Though his rival fraternal
Made sounds more supernal
(˘) ˘ ¯˘ ˘ ¯˘ ˘ ¯ ¯

ETA: JFMurray wins. Our condolences to him on this dubious honor.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A belated tip of the hat

Well it does look like James Jorden is the regular opera reviewer for the New York Post. Two sparrows a spring do make, if you will. I'm not going adjective hunting--this is just great. Mind you I don't write this at the expense of the usual suspect--I am not one to join the Tommasini dogpile. Mr. Tommasini's obviously a smart man and a good writer (I know, I know, "strapping," but you try writing reviews on a regular basis and not developing a few tics*) and he cares about opera.

But a Times review is what it is, has developed a sort of formula where half or more is plot review, however nicely said. What this news means is the Post, of all entities, now has an opera reviewer who writes a review that will neither bore the the coronated opera queen nor mystify the casual tourist in our realm. These, as you know if you've been reading the Gay City News pieces, are reviews for anyone looking for a tight, immaculately-worded take on vocal events backed by a knowledge of the art form and its players you don't want to tangle with. Pardon me for reviewing a reviewer, but there it is.

Mr. Jorden, you know, is a known associate of La Cieca and rumored to have had something to do with the original Parterre Box publication, and for anyone who came to New York in the last so-many years because the opera is here, he is therefore largely responsible for shaping the entire gestalt of the New York opera fanatic.

So hats off to JJ, and many happy reviews, and now if someone catches you reading Page Six you can say you were merely thumbing through for New York's smartest opera review and everyone will think you're fancy.

*no, I refuse to give you an example of an opera writer's over-used rhetorical device. Oh.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Little Nixie Divey

Current revival of Rusalka seems to me a must-see. In a way, since she's done it here before, least of it is that Fleming finds something in the role to sweep away the cobwebs of habit and mannerism (despite one uncanny vocal reference to her patented "Death to Maury" herky-jerky downward scale from "Je marche sur tous les chemins") and unleash her biggest and best voice, and what's more finds something mythical to connect with in the character to make us forget the perfume, the dessert, and the other trappings of diva-as-Diva. Act II was--despite above-referenced scale and a clunker high note from Sigmundsson--operatic excellence from start to finish. I'm puzzled by the lack of love for Goerke at calls, and gratified by the outpouring for Antonenko, both of whom sang with a brashness I haven't heard recently, encouraged in this by Belohlavek in the pit. Let me not leave out Stephanie Blythe, and forgive me for borrowing last year's internet slang. As Jezibaba, she is EPIC. More later? Eh, probably not. I'll add lastly that it's a profoundly traditional, pretty if dim production with nary a sarcastic dirndl in sight.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Can't quite let it go yet

Funny how, when you're approximately the only person that liked something, you feel like its defender and champion even if you liked it in a decidedly tepid way.

Here's what I think happened, though I didn't come up with this entirely on my own: people read/heard/read about/heard about Dessay's dismissive remarks about Sonnambula and it colored their reaction to the entire piece, made them see satire and condescension where, by and large, it wasn't there (even if what was there wasn't exactly beauty or genius.) Central to this idea, for me, is the now much bemoaned piece of business in which Dessay makes her entrance to that enchanting orchestral bit just before singing "Ah, se una volta sola..." and walks up to the board on which has been written "Village Square" and all that, and dreamily writes "ARIA" in big letters.

Judging by the reaction, people find this to be a gigantic "fuck you" to Bellini, to the audience, to the stagehands, to Jesus, and pretty much everyone else. I kind of understand why, especially when I reach back and think of Mark Morris' kitschy-cute biz for Amor in his Orfeo, but I just think this reaction is mostly about things external to the moment. When I saw it, before the angry outpouring, I found it to be gently funny, albeit basically of a piece with the shallow self-referentiality that even I concede makes the Concept ultimately unworkable.

There is only one truly derisive gesture in the piece (coupled with one absolutely inexplicable one, the tearing of the scores and that whole hoedown before the first curtain) which is the aggressively dopey Swissing it up for "Ah, non giunge." Perhaps people are right to feel poked in the eye by that one. Since I don't love the opera itself, I found it funny, but this is (a little to my surprise, I'll admit) a minority opinion.

Listen, our forgiveness of ridiculous libretti is, I think, directly proportional to our love for the music. I guess I might get indignant about a production that seemed to mock La Gioconda even though it's asking for it. I pissed off a friend by calling Sonnambula nonsense: it's no more nonsensical than plenty of other things. I've just never found the music sufficiently wonderful to transport me to that land of suspended disbelief we ideally inhabit in the opera house when we need to.

The reaction at the prima still feels bitter and puritanical to me, but only in tenor and volume; I'm willing to grant that Ms. Zimmerman took a potshot at her audience (and by this I mean the people she should have considered her audience--the people who love the opera she chose to conceptualize) with the sarcastic folk-dancing, even if it felt more like a gentle nudge to me.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

briefly noted

Check for details: March 20 @ 7:30, a recital by former (?) blogstress and very fine soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird et al.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

ETA, sort of

There's actually one thing I wrote that I just reread and felt like an asshole for saying, which is that people who love Sonnambula probably don't have adventurous tastes in theater, basically. I was take to task for a couple of things, but not this one for some reason. It's just not fair, and I wish to request those words on a plate with some sauce, k?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Another openin', another show

So when I was studying some language or other, the professor, if you said something in a way that was viable but unlikely, would reach his right arm around the back of his head and grab his left ear [you should do this. it still won't necessarily make sense but I want to feel I have some influence in the world] and say "that's one way of saying it."

That's more or less my reaction to Mary Zimmerman's perfectly acceptable, occasionally charming new production of Vincenzo Bellini's perfectly acceptable, occasionally charming opera La Sonnambula. Because the re-imagining of La Sonnambula as...uh, let me see if I can get this right...mostly stuff that happens backstage during rehearsals for a production of La Sonnambula, except when it isn't quite that, leads one into a number of scenes that don't make sense unless we're suddenly exploring the liminal spaces between performance and reality, which frankly I just don't think we are. But...

Here's the thing. La Sonnambula is, but really, nonsense, and your two main options if you are saddled with the task of reviving it are 1) run with it, whoop it up, let the sweetly nostalgically ludicrous parts as opposed to the just plain dumb ones happen where they happen, give the core audience for La S the Swiss Miss commercial they are craving, or 2) fuck with it a little because maybe you'll hit some of the right notes, though if you're not perceived as having hit enough of them, you'll get violently boo'ed. Like seriously the only time I've ever heard anything like it was when Djokovic told 4,000 people "you don't like me anyway because I'm not Andy Roddick."*

Anyway, that's how it went down, because one thing I guess Mary Zimmerman or Peter Gelb might have thought of is that people who really think La Sonnambula is great are not usually the ones saying "did you catch that nutty new Hedda Gabler with the dwarves at BAM?" They are, however, the ones who tonight were heard to yell (in what might have devolved into violence) "Go back to Greenwich Village" in an argument right after the abbreviated curtain calls. This is the funniest insult ever for reasons I hope are obvious.

Now you will possibly exhume the corpse of Callas, the better to beat me with, and say if it's so goddamn stupid, Maur Bear*, why was it the best thing that ever happened on earth when Callas sang it? Which I won't answer because I wasn't born then, but my guess is it was a beacon of Kalageroupoliciousness in a sea of drivel, but I don't really know because not only was I not there, but I don't listen to it much. Actually, it's slightly interesting to imagine Callas in this production (I started to say "the instant offense" but that's just habit) because it never would have worked. On the basis of recordings and my own personal Callas mythology which may not be yours, how she put stuff like Amina over was some combination of a somewhat profound lack of critical intelligence that let her take such a story fairly seriously and the explosive creative genius we all agree on that rested upon an ability to somehow make any character** mythical in stature.

This is kind of the opposite of Dessay. Dessay goes at a character in a calculated way, and when the character isn't as smart as she is, as Jonathan von Wellsung points out, she sometimes makes great sport of, y'know, mocking the character a little. She and Mary Zimmerman must have ganged up on Amina that way (btw Amina is a fictional character and has no feelings, so please don't start feeling sorry for her even if I do have some old couch cushions sitting in my apartment because I can't put them on the curb when it's snowing. It's diff.) because the very last scene change, for "Ah, non giunge!" is absolutely in the same spirit. In it, Ms. Zimmerman seems to say: look, I could have given you Natalie Dessay in a fucking dirndl doing everything but yodeling, but I thought that would be dumb. Don't you agree? Because in fact the vaguely deliniated rehearsal-within-an-opera is over and JDF slaps on some Lederhosen and they all look like a bunch of idiots. I think this is what pissed people off to the point of almost violence. Well, this and my very favorite detail, which is what Dessay writes on the chalkboard just before "Ah! Non credea" which I won't spoil, but it made people laugh. Come on now--you know I'm pissy about overly laughy audiences, but I thought it was a funny-sweet moment and absolutely unoffensive.

The thing is it's all so harmless. It's the most superficial makeover imaginable, basically an excuse for modern dress, which I found vastly refreshing to see on the Met's stage. The only noteworthy sin of the production is that, as I think I started to say, the rehearsal/real life conceit makes almost everything having to do with count Rodolfo tough to fish any sense out of without excessive use of situational quotation marks. But you know me, I have trouble with the plot of Mary Tyler Moore episodes sometimes, so maybe I'm not the person to ask.

Certainly there are some other misfires sprinkled throughout. The stock diva stuff at Dessay's entrance, this and that. But there were also scattered lovelinesses, like the small redemption granted to Lisa at the last minute. I guess what I heard people reacting to most was the production making light of the material, and again, if you really love the material, that's kind of a fair charge. I really don't.

Oh but Dessay, right. Really I think in healthier voice here than in either Lucia or Fille, much as I liked her in both. She's obviously not doing as much vocal tearing-it-up as in Lucia, and it leaves her some room to breathe. The 93-year-old gent who sat beside us and who didn't love the updating but managed not to get hysterical about it said: she's perfect in this. And I think in fact she has become very good in this, despite a voice that isn't quite right for it. "Ah! Non credea" was very fine-grained but the line was firm, and though she busted loose a little more with her high notes at the dress, there was nothing to complain about. The ornamentation was, to my ear, inventive but idiomatic, the trill realish and the scales and arpeggios clean and unhesitant. Less than before I had the sense of hearing a too reedy voice trying to fill out music that wanted something fatter.

Our 93-year-old friend went on to say that he didn't think Florez was quite right for Bellini, better in purely flashy things where the fluidity and the top are all he needs, probably alluding to his indisputable success in Barbiere. He was probably basically right about this, too, though the second act aria and cabaletta were awfully convincing. He didn't express his thoughts, our pal, on Jane Bunnell but I was kind of happy to see her given a role that suited her nicely and not made to wear some dowdy wig.

Honestly, the rest of the singing I don't have strong opinions about, but I'm sure someone else will. Same goes for the conducting, though I was a little surprised at the total lack of rowdiness at the conductor's call. I think people were doing Lamaze exercises in preparation for their response to the production team.

By the way, once in a while it's good to pretend you're not an opera fan, for perspective, I mean not a hardcore one, and think: how would I be responding to this if I were not funny in the head? We did this accidentally by talking to this totally cute fellow in front of us during the chorus of disapproval. "Who are those people?" he asked, and we explained that they were the production team. He started laughing and eventually shouted "may god strike them all dead!' Yeah, exactly.

So basically if you love Sonnambula you shouldn't go see this because you're going to get your feelings hurt, and if you hate Sonnambula, you maybe shouldn't see it either because the production doesn't do sufficient violence to the material. It's sold out anyway, so either way you're in luck.

Next up: can't remember. It's late.

oh hey p.s. it's the next morning and I'm trying to do the "Am I a Hypocrite" test which is almost always worth doing. The case in point being my kvetching about Mark Morris', uh, fanciful reimagining of Gluck's Orfeo. I didn't boo, because I don't, but I probably shouldn't call people oversensitive when I felt pretty enraged at an assault on a thing I hold dear. So yes, looks like this is me being a hypocrite. Welp, that's the internet for ya, a forum for the parts of ourselves we would, in a perfect world, keep to ourselves.

*which was absolutely true, but not the sporting thing to point it out
**yeah, I grew a beard at the suggestion of my waistline
***except maybe Rosina. Ow. And that other Rossini role she recorded, Muffaletta or whatevs.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Best of the Best

100% Stimm + 100% Kunst=Verrett