21 January 2011

Listless List

The List is out. Here's how our boys fared:

But the dynamic duo of 19th-century opera, Verdi and Wagner, aimed high. As I already let slip, they both make my list. That a new production of a Verdi opera, like Willy Decker’s spare, boldly reimagined staging of “La Traviata” at the Metropolitan Opera, can provoke such heated passions among audiences is testimony to the enduring richness of Verdi’s works. A production of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle has become the entry card for any opera company that wants to be considered big time. The last 20 minutes of “Die Walk├╝re” may be the most sadly beautiful music ever written.

But who ranks higher? They may be tied as composers but not as people. Though Verdi had an ornery side, he was a decent man, an Italian patriot and the founder of a retirement home for musicians still in operation in Milan. Wagner was an anti-Semitic, egomaniacal jerk who transcended himself in his art. So Verdi is No. 8 and Wagner No. 9.
Mozart was listed, of course, but only at No. 3? The other opera composers who made it are Beethoven and Debussy.  It's actually an amusing read, full of funny apologies and excuses. The exercise of putting together such lists is not unlike choosing a favorite child, if you're too serious about it. But it can also be a "gun-to-your-head" or desert island game, if you're on your second bottle of wine.

I wish a blog like Parterre Box would host a similar challenge to readers, for our very own Top 10 List of Opera's Greatest Composers.  I'm sure it's been done here and there, more times than I can imagine, but to have perhaps the greatest collection of queens bitch it out for days and days would be a true highlight of operablogging in a while.  (Sorry, it can't be hosted here, since (a) I have a readership of about a dozen, and (b) I don't allow comments in the blog.) Mascagni, anyone?

19 January 2011

La Travesty

The limitations of her performance were particularly glaring in Act II, when Germont, Alfredo's father, arrived like a death knell to separate her from her last chance at happiness. Here, she was paired with Andrzej Dobber, whose dour, monochromatic baritone emphasized Germont's cruelty and self-righteousness, with no hint of his growing respect for Violetta's integrity and his sympathy for her, and the long duet pitted two equally stiff characters against each other. Ms. Poplavskaya simply flailed against Mr. Dobber's implacability, and this sequence, one of the richest in the opera, missed the intense development that Verdi wrote into both these people. It became part of the production's scheme without persuading us of its emotional truth.
Well said.

My lingering thought now is Holy Crap, I have to see this modern Decker monstrosity every time I go to the Met for Traviata.  It's one of my faves!  How can this happen.  My next thought, somehow comforting, is, well, who will agree to sing this Violetta here anyway.  Only youngish and semi-athletic sopranos can do that riding the couch shit with any credibility.  Seriously, of the Violettas that graced the Zeffirelli extravaganza in the past decade, only Cristina Galladro-Domas, the young Patricia Racette (but no more), Krassimira Stoyanova, maybe Anja Harteros, maybe Hei-Kyung Hong, maybe Mary Dunleavy can do this production to some degree (but will they agree to do it is another question). The list leaves out really good interpreters such as Ruth Ann Swenson, June Anderson, Renee Fleming, and Angela Gheorghiu.  That blows, don't you think?

17 January 2011

Breaking news: Verdi and Wagner Make it to History's Most Pompous Top 10 List

The New York Times' Anthony Tommasini argues for their inclusion in his own most exclusive list of "The 10 Greatest Composers of Classical Music", otherwise known as "The Most Predictable Top 10 List Out There, Really".

15 January 2011

Real Housewife of UWS

We have something spontaneous (for lunch), something small. Dinner is the big meal. I love to eat, but no way am I going to do a diet; forget it! I just am careful about how much I eat. Sure, I would like to lose a few kilos, but I don’t want to be skinny. You see these skinny, starving women always with the unhappy faces! In my profession, you need the big lungs; my upper body is one or two sizes bigger than my bottom half.
Elsewhere, Anna Netrebko professes her devotion to TJ Maxx, Century 21, Starbucks, "The Tudors", and "popcorn, a Coke, and a movie".  Don't yawn, it's rude.

13 January 2011

Traviata Epic Fail

Verdi LA TRAVIATA, 12.01.11; c. Noseda; Poplavskaya, Polenzani, Dobber.

The sets, supposedly new, squeaked and creaked a number of times throughout the evening, which was distracting, to say the least. But what I really minded was the way Willy Decker managed to strip off the human intimacy in key scenes, all for the sake of "interpretation". The disjuncture between Verdi's era-specific story and Decker's dislocated reimagination is jarring. If his Violetta is this modernish hooker and her parties have many transvestites and their couches are from Ikea, then why the hell does the Germont family even care if the son is cavorting quite happily with some Lindsay Lohan? Surely in this imagined modern plane, morality and shame don't bear as much force as in, say, the socially rigid Zeffirelli universe.

Because of this dissonance, Decker's first scene of Act II, which is the opera's breaking heart, where Verdi wrote his most wrenchingly personal music, was a total failure. I do recall that in the traditional Zeffirelli, Renee Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu, Ruth Ann Swenson, and Hei-Kyung Hong (to name a few) managed to induce a melodrama that left me shamelessly misty-eyed. In the new production, Marina Poplavskaya, during this scene, wanders here and there and up and down and left and right, attempting to fill an otherwise big, empty, brightly-lit sterile void. (Paradoxically, the "big" Zeffirelli production was actually cozier and warmer in Act II, Scene I, than this "spare" Decker; the singers in this current run have been inadvertently miniaturized.)

The other problem with "concept" productions is that you end up expecting to be dazzled and surprised at every turn, so that the opera seems engaging only during special effects moments or dynamic staging (like Robert Lepage's undulating Das Rheingold platform spines) but can quickly become staid and dull when things stop moving or changing. Again, Act II's crucial scene with Violetta and Papa Germont was one casualty, the proverbial drying paint of the evening. Runner up was Act III, the other emotionally packed scene, where Violetta again wanders around, but this time in her bodacious camison, obsessed with Doctor Death. (Yawn.)

More things to say about this; perhaps I'll get to them later this week. Also, a few words need to be added regarding Marina Poplavskaya's uneven but ultimately satisfying portayal and Matthew Polenzani's singular success. But the bottom line on the Decker: an annoying disappointment.

12 January 2011

Critically short

Scary for other reasons was Sondra Radvanovsky’s first Met Tosca, sung flat and evoking all the tragic grandeur of a Real Housewife of New Jersey.
Funny! (But only one line devoted to the headliner?)

Radvanovsky did seem a bit suburban in her demeanor, but interpretation of interpretations is almost always about personal taste more than reality. What may be gauged a bit more objectively is flatness, and after reviewing one in-house recording from first note to last, I could not sense any consistent flatness in her rendition. (I should be fair to Alagna as well: his top notes weren't terribly flat either; but the way his face tensed up launching up to them was just a tad painful to watch in person.) Alternatively, I may need to take my ears in for a tune-up. (Get it??)

But what has not been mentioned in any review that I've seen thus far is the rare kind of ovation that greeted Radvanovsky, for her exquisite Vissi d'arte and during her ecstatic curtain calls. After many years and hundreds of evenings at the Met, I could sense different degrees of ovations, and believe me, there was something special going on. The evening was buttressed with the kind of sustained energetic applause and bravas from all parts of the house (not just from one or two freaks) that the likes of Deborah Voigt may never get at the Met again. (Heck, even Renee Fleming hasn't gotten it recently.) The only other active soprano that garners the same feverish adulation is Anna Netrebko, but we know that Netrebko's is as much about the back story as the evening's performance. With no-name Radvanovsky, it seemed more a visceral response to what was actually occurring on stage. If this is a "work in progress", then we got ourselves the next major New York supernova.

11 January 2011

Flat review

For the soprano, mark it down as a work in progress. Give the tenor extra credit for a save-the-day substitution. But the highest grade goes to the baritone, for masterfully stealing the show. ...

Most of the advance attention focused on Sondra Radvanovsky, an American soprano who has been impressive in Verdi roles and who was singing her first Tosca at the Met. She started off shakily, sounding flat in her offstage calls to her lover ("Mario! Mario!"). And she remained tentative through much of Act 1.
The only flatness audible from where I was sitting was emanating from the Mario. My only thought of the "Mario! Mario!" entrance was "Wow, she's offstage behind this Luc Bondy atrociousness, and she's as loud as Angelotti and Cavaradossi" who were front and center.

Just to make sure, I reviewed a recording my friend made of last evening, and confirmed that indeed, there was no such offstage flatness. (She also overwhelmed the dB capacity of the mic in much of Act II, by the way.) I don't have Sirius, but I'm sure that the broadcast recording would also disprove this AP report.

As for remaining tentative through much of Act 1, I would be too, if this new guy is singing with me, and he's tongue kissing and fondling my breasts and mounting me every chance he gets.

Ringing Tosca

Puccini TOSCA, 10.01.11; c. Armiliato; Radvanovsky, Alagna, Struckmann.

The throbbing, relentlessly lachrymose and sonically gifted soprano of Sondra Radvanovsky enters a new dimension. She probably vaporized many in-house recordings and shattered hidden microphones tonight, with the sheer gigabigness of her top notes and that characteristic, mechanical vibrato. But the good news is that she's finally using some chest tones! Not a lot, not as big, and not consistently, but they were there when it mattered. One quibble: too much ad-libbed sobbing and screaming and screeching. But a sonically thrilling performance nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Roberto Alagna needs to download some porn and relieve himself before going out on stage, because he needs to stop molesting his co-stars. More than once, he interrupted Sondra's lines with creepy mouth-to-mouths. And then, there was actual missionary-style mounting of Sondra. It was a bit disturbing. And yes, Alagna's voice sounds like it's been put through the shredder a few times, but we still love him. The fear, shared by everyone in the house, was palpable every time he launched a sustained top note. The other guy, Falk Struckmann, did his best imitation of George Gagnidze's Scarpia.

And lastly, enough of the Luc Bondy; bring back the Zeffirelli, please.