28 December 2004

My fifth Rodelinda

It's official, my middle name is Lois

D'lovely Renée Fleming confetti'd again tonight. Bejun Mehta is back, so all is good again in the world. I have eyebags as big as David Daniels' ovations. I end the calendar year drained and ecstatic, just the way I like it.

25 December 2004

Guess what I got for Christmas

(Ho, ho, ho.)

Wrapped in iridescent gilded sunshine, with rich velvet ribbons and starburst crystal bows, another year of sweet insanity, another year of love.

23 December 2004

Rudy & Berta

My fourth Met Rodelinda, are you kidding.

Handel fatigue has set in; I'm aching even for a Fantini Aida. Meanwhile, ill Bejun Mehta continues to be a no-show, now missing two and two-third evenings. Theodora Hanslowe, who can hardly be heard beyond the prompter's box, is a poor replacement, and Unulfo's bravura arias were left languishing amidst the great performances by the other principals. This was David Daniels' best night so far, matching his prima evening, perhaps even exceeding it in some sections: hitting his groove and ready for his close-up, Ms. Juntwait. Renée Fleming continues to be dear Renée, though I noticed some thinning in her voice whenever she ascended to her top. It is her custom to bring the entire mass of her voice up with her to the upper registers, but last night it seemed she lacked her usual reserve power to do so; instead, she had to trim down the fat when she lunged upward, still reaching notes accurately but with a certain fear foreign to my ears. This crazy New York weather can't be good for any singer; let's hope her condition doesn't get any worse. Meanwhile, Stephanie Blythe has improved markedly to my ears--it's not her glorious bottom/middle that needs an upgrade but her top, which she frequently tosses out there without the same polish; last night, she seemed to have extended her clean trumpet all the way up with as much cream and elegance. Kobie van Rensburg is also hitting his stride, executing with more daring precision. Oren Gradus, scheduled to sing Garibaldo in place of John Relyea, was equally tall and manly, but was only adequate in the music.

What's that? Will there be a fifth Rodelinda for me? Duh.

22 December 2004

Kat'a Redux

Met Kat'a Kabanova, 21 December 2004

Yet Mattila remains a puzzle to me.

Once the proverbial thoughts are collected, I'll try to write.

21 December 2004

Rodelinda's Baby

It's really a septet

Some of the buzz surrounding the six singers of this rich as fried cheese on butter Met Rodelinda should also extend to adorable Zachary Vail Elkind, the delightful 10-year-old boy playing Rodelinda and Bertarido's son Flavio, which while a non-singing part is all over the production, and is fittingly listed on the program alongside the stars. His character is a true mama's boy; whenever La Fleming is on stage, there is little Flavio at her tail (save for the last scene of Act II, which ends with mama's "private" duet with papa the King). But he does more than tag along, of course. At one point, in what Fleming claims is a truly "realistic" scene, he survives a disturbing firing squad. He does it all with an abundance of grace and endearing stage-presence.

And look, he also poses for pictures at the stage door:

Oh what a lovable smile! Moreover, he bears the requisite poise to endure signing programs for Lois & Co..

Here's a scan of one of the cabal's programs (look for it on eBay soon). Notice how little Zachary signs his name at the appropriate spot--isn't he just adorable.

19 December 2004

Pirate Defense

Yesterday's Corrupt Tannhaeuser

The Met needs to launch a separate fundraiser for new technology. If this is the best they can do, if this is the product they're trying to sell for $150 million, we're not buying. It's as if the goal of these broadcasts is to strip away the glorious acoustics of the Metropolitan Opera auditorium. I'm listening to this crap, and I'm thinking it could well be happening at a Walmart store in Indiana. Lifeless, totally false, shamelessly amateur, a colossal insult to the artists and to the opera-loving folk.

I'm so disgusted I had to put on a copy of a pirate Tannhaeuser recording made by a friend of a friend of a friend (of a friend of a friend ...) to cleanse this crap out of my system. The proof is all there:

(a) The signal range coming from the FM broadcast is about -30 to -12 dB, while the pirate recording uses -30 to around -2 dB: from college physics, recall that these are logarithmic values, and therefore the stretch from -12 to -2 dB differential is wider than the FM range of -30 to -12 dB. Therefore, on radio, the boy-soprano shepherd is as loud as a Voigt forte; everyone seems to be singing mezzo-forte consistently through the opera; Wolfram's harp is about as energetic as the entire Wagnerian orchestra and bleating chorus.

(b) The pirate recording carries the awesome reverb of the hall, making Voigt's and De Young's intense vocalization readily accessible to anyone but the deaf.

(c) The treble/bass extremes are absent from the radio broadcast, which can lull a baby to sleep, while my apartment shakes, the glass windows vibrate in resonance every time I play the pirate recording, and my neighbors are a step closer to a bloody lawsuit.

All this foolishness diminishes the experience of opera. Natural ears don't hear in such a truncated range cleansed of overtones and reverb. Certainly, the natural ears' experience in the hall more closely resembles the pirate recording rather than this crap on my radio. Voigt's majestic "Dich teure Halle" greets a magical hall of song, not the backroom of an East Village bar. One is foolish to throw their Voigt fan club membership card because of the broadcast; though not apparent on radio, I must assure that the B natural is there, in its full gleaming glory, and the full column of Voigt sound is relentlessly on pitch. I wish you could hear what I'm playing on my CD player right now.

Disclaimer: upon publication of this blog post, and on advice of counsel, I have destroyed the pirate recording, burned any traces of it, disowned the friend who provided it, told him to go to the confessional and admit his sin against the holy copyright laws of the holy American empire, put my left hand on Rasponi's The Last Prima Donnas, swore with my right never again to partake in such barbaric activity.

Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore

Renata Tebaldi (1922-2004)

18 December 2004

Kat'aish Mattila

Karita vs. Janacek

With none of the kind of ecstasy/insanity latent in the Salome score, and none of the sustained lyricism of the Jenufa two years ago, our dear Karita Mattila had to rely on her other tools to attempt to make the same devastating impression as Kat'a. It seems Janacek's experiment was to strip as much sentimentality out of such an overtly sentimental story as can be permitted; and while there are segments of Kat'a's music that freely revelled in such emotions (the underlying strings emitting a heart-tugging yearning), key moments are less sensational, and therefore demand more subtle drama out of the voice (and body), making the role an exceptionally difficult tour. In the same Met production Gabriela Benackova seemed to have flourished in the role (reading from published reports in the early 90s); then during its second incarnation in the late 90s, Catherine Malfitano brought an entirely different level of tragedy to the role. I saw Malfitano's Kat'a, and I remember being devastated for days (having sat in the front row orchestra); I suspect Mattila's interpretation lies a bit closer to Gaby's than Cathy's, and being an admitted Cathy worshipper, I came away slightly (just slightly) underwhelmed by our third Met Kat'a.

The ending five minutes is crucial in the experience of any live opera: in non-comedic works, the heroine routinely dies, the tenor laments (if he doesn't die himself), the orchestra resolves the musical puzzles, the high notes are abundant and stretched, the crowds roar for the diva. Instead, Janacek gives us an unfamiliar psychological twist, such that from when Kat'a's lover Boris shows up to her inevitable suicide, her music doesn't move much (comparing to her monologue prior to this scena). Her last lines are spare, about birds and other small things, the last high note before her river jump feels like an afterthought, and we're all left wanting more: indeed, the soprano ain't getting any easy favors from Janacek, and to pull off a satisfying resolution to the evening, the soprano must become a complete actress of small gestures. Malfitano exuded a fatal resignation, and not possessing an intrinsically attractive sound (esp. late in her career) she has learned to live on stage by singing with the body and the face. Mattila, on the other hand, relies heavily on the voice, which is such a powerful dramatic instrument (in the forte range) that, with its every undulation, her body is pushed to convulse automatically and her extremities unleashed in excessive passion. Without the forte tops, Mattila wasn't as effective, and from afar, didn't make an indelible impression in quiet moments. To me, the problem is that her soft singing, if not book-ended by those delirious forte's, passes without much poignancy.

Curtain calls are part of the performance, and Mattila during her solo bow was sufficiently moving, though again not as overtly dramatic as stage-animal Malfitano, who met the foot of the stage sprinting as the scrim rose, with a sheer white sheet of a dress, hair and body dripping in river water (wet t-shirt contest style), whereas Mattila chose to keep her black skirt on, wasn't too wet, and barely moved in place (save to pick up a bouquet of red roses). This contrast exemplifies the stark difference in their performances: Mattila needs cues from the music (and the startling magic of her crescendo'ing top) and the stage production to move. Nothing wrong with that; it's just that sometimes we want to witness the universe under the absolute control of a goddess's sheer breath every time she appears (or leaves).

Elsewhere in the opera, Janacek permits some sustained, overtly emotional, forte singing, and during these moments Mattila triumphs without peer, shadows of the Salomes all over the stage. In her Act I monologue for Varvara, the vocal display was astounding. I find Mattila's vocal affects to be similar to Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson's: the voice gives the impression that it has a limit in terms of pitch and volume, but then, as the music builds further, breaks above and beyond physical boundaries, leaving us all breathless and nearly deaf. In Act II, when contemplating the repercussions of the temptress key, Mattila was once again propelled to unspeakable heights of sensuality and desire.

Still, Mattila is god. Long-story-short: you bet I'm going back for more. Next time I'll maybe get to my impressions of the other singers, the debuting conductor, and other things, but certainly premiere night was all about Mattila's first emergence on the Met stage since her unfathomable Salomes of last season, so that's that.

17 December 2004

Let the Worship Commence

Kat'a Kabanova at the Met

Goddess Karita Mattila is back in New York City. Hysteria abounds.

Full report tomorrow.

16 December 2004

Never the Same

My third Met Rodelinda

Addiction. Odd to think that I've seen Rodelinda three times already, but now its music is part of the constellation of my daily life. I'm finding that the sextet performance varies quite significantly in the three evenings, with the premiere night the best vocally over-all. My second was the cast's second as well, and everyone (save Bejun Mehta and Stephanie Blythe) seemed to have relaxed down from their intense adrenaline prima posture and delivered a good (but still admirable) product. Last night, the heart of the run, they've all managed to find their world-class stride, with the exception of Mehta, who was taken off after Act I and replaced by Theodora Hanslowe. It was so obvious that Mehta was ailing in Act I, as his little show stopping ditty, which he delivered with true vivace style previously, never took off, and instead weakened so much that the conductor Harry Bicket was forced to shush the orchestra to almost a whisper by its end. The collective audience sensed it, as they received it with lukewarm applause (when, of course, at this point on previous evenings, Mehta temporarily overtakes David Daniels in the applause/bravo meter measure). The serendipitous comparison with Hanslowe reveals that countertenors possess at least the power and presence of a light mezzo (but with Daniels' cabernet instrument a couple of sizes larger).

Diva undressed. My third experience with Diva Renée Fleming allows me to look beyond the cookies and cream and give a more balanced assessment of her work as Rodelinda. The delicious sauterne of her voice can overwhelm anyone's palate and in a single sitting will impress beyond words. But then multiple tastes of her rich voice in a Handel role presents a series of mini-paradoxes, which when gathered become significant: singlehandedly, she brought this production into fruition, yet among the principals she's probably the least qualified to sing Handel; she's the title role, yet there's always this wish to hear her golden instrument in anything but; along with Daniels, she delivers the most heart and pathos to her role, yet certainly Handel was limited by his era, and his music (no matter his genius) just doesn't (and can't) anticipate verismo, such that Renée's constant battle with the mechanical harpsichord (and I feel the harpsichordist needs a bit of flexibility himself), with her predilection to recline the voice into a 19th century legato, somewhat tears the neat celestial balance; she is technically flawless, has always been, yet her technique can't quite grasp the requisite cleanliness of the baroque line; she is diva, free to choose whatever role she can contemplate, yet she chose a vehicle that doesn't utilize her extravagant gifts to the fullest. Some argue that the Met Il Pirata two years ago was a stretch; I'm not one of them, and in fact if there's a neglected genre that needs a diva, it's bel canto, a genre that comes to life, relies almost exclusively on the individual interpreters that bring them to being. I have no argument about bringing Handel to the masses, but solely in terms of Renée, I would say that this is a detour costly for all of us and for opera.

An ecstatic renunciation. Having said all that, Renée is the one singer that can still pull it off. This is the ultimate paradox. Indeed, the confetti that rained from the upper balconies is testament to the singular power of Diva with Voice. Our beloved art is more art than art itself, and the magic of a holy voice transcends any critic's petty existence and any roach fan's backroom bickerings.

Icing on the cake. Now back to more mundane matters: Daniels last night was nearly the Daniels from premiere night, and even if he never reaches the peak again, he'd still leave a grand legacy in the form of the new year's day broadcast. It's an impossible role, and there's no active mezzo that I know who can do anything close to Daniels' work. (Question: who is covering this role for the Met??) His smoky, 3-D instrument is beyond a Barnum & Bailey falsetto-spectacle. This is the real thing. His duet with Fleming ("Io t'abbraccio"), as I've said before, remains a season highlight.

Ornamentations. Blythe wants to "live on the down low." Her voice is built an upright pyramid (opposite your typical soprano construction), solid and unbelievably resonant in the bottom and middle, but her top, while still pitch-accurate, seems to have only been grafted on out of necessity, lacking the polish and grace that La Horne (despite her apparent difficulty up there) possessed. But once she plunges down there, her voice evolves into a formidable hammer, made even more gargantuan by the spare trappings of a Handel movement. The Met will be wise to cater to her further development, for we have a superstar voice that will soon enough be dictating its own opera settings and new productions a la Fleming. As for Kobie van Rensburg, I will quote Bill Fregosi's opera-l post, which sums up my view (to the letter) of his work as Grimoaldo: "Earlier, a list member asked why Kobie van Rensburg didn't get more applause for his performance. He seems a valuable artist but I will make two observations: the voice while well placed, bright and of good size is not particularly beautiful;and his coloratura while absolutely secure and fluent is also somewhat hard and mechanical. He is a handsome presence and a very good actor." And the role of Garibaldo is too short for John Relyea to exhibit his, uhm, sizeable gifts. His two rocking arias (in Acts I and II) were nice little jewels, and his thigh-high leather boots are da bomb.

Supersized Handel. The Met walls shake for Wagner and Strauss, Verdi and Puccini; the strings vibrato across the wide hall and immerse the queen in unholy sound. Handel has none of that; the truncated orchestra (about three dozen players) emits a musically/technically accurate sound, but passes through the cavernous auditorium just once, and to those who make the Met their second home (me, me, me), the over-all effect is disappointingly flat, much like attending a philharmonic evening at Avery Fisher Hall. The feeling I treasure is staggering out of the Met into the cold New York night nearly spent from bearing a thunderous aural orgy; none of this happens during Rodelinda evenings. New York must build a space for baroque.

Shower of Affection

Rodelinda Reneeeee confetti'd tonight

Bejun Mehta taken ill after the first act; mezzo Theodora Hanslowe filled in as Unulfo for Acts II and III. David Daniels smoldering tonight; Renée "diva next door" Fleming was the evening's crowning bouquet.

Full report tomorrow.

14 December 2004

Reneeeeee and Bahbah Wawa

Our Diva graces The View

"Ooooh, watch out. I'm glamma mamma."

"Yes, I wrote the book myself. No Midgette ghost-writing or anything. But don't you like my earrings?"

"Yes, that's right, Ms. Walters. During my wild teenage years, my Rochester friends and I got drunk one Oscar night and woke up the next morning with 'ABC's tattooed on our asses."

"Don't you guys know, divas don't sit on stools. I f*ing hate you, Barbara."

"Uhm, OK, TV adds about 10 lbs.. But f*, sitting with these carb-hating pencil-thin Barbara and Meredith adds another 10 lbs. Where are the other bitches Star and Joy??"

"Aaaaaa-ve Mariiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-aaaaaah."

"This is how you sing with your Inner Voice."

"Ah, great. 100 free books for your illiterate daytime audience is 100 books I won't get royalties for and 100 books on nickel-eBay tomorrow."

13 December 2004

Monday Morning Shocker

Liz Smith full monty scoop

Newsday society page reports:

The magical Renée will be seen on the January cover of Town & Country in all her glory. Then, she takes off ...
You just have to read to believe.

Hunding's Book Club

Anne M. vs. Pav.

The New York Times finally printed a review of the Herbert Breslin/Anne Midgette exposé The King and I, detailing our dear Luciano Pavarotti's oozing gluttony, sloth, and other deadlies that apply, but held off till the 8th paragraph to acknowledge that co-author Midgette is among their publication's classical music critics. Rival Washington Post, on the other hand, in their review from months ago, didn't mince words in questioning Midgette's integrity, launching a low blow right in the lead:

The King and I is a vulgar, mean-spirited book that casts little credit on either the author, Herbert Breslin, or the subject, the world-renowned opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti. It also makes one wonder why co-author Anne Midgette, a respected music critic for the New York Times, would lend herself to such a project.
It makes you wonder, indeed, whether Midgette was wise to risk her "reputation" as "venerable" NYT music "critic" for such a spleeny collection of anecdotes. Midgette obtaining a Pav interview for their book's final chapter (where Pav declares "Herbert was my wife in the opera" ) is particularly nasty:
... a final chapter, presented as the work of Pavarotti himself. One suspects that the tenor was invited to add his two cents worth without first being given the chance to read the rest of the book.
This is Anne's first music-related book, and it's already Kitty Kelley delish, and if I were a secretive maestro or a loony intendant or Lois Kirschenbaum or her kind, I'd beware the Midgette pen. But long-story-short, I will not acquire the book till it dips below $3 (used) on Amazon, so I'm relying on sensational tidbits culled from the web to warm these deep winter nights. This one from Pittsburgh is particularly bitchy:
(Breslin) tells us that soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was "a great beauty ... onstage. ...Offstage, she looked more like a ... cleaning woman." He calls Joan Sutherland "pretty dopey," Kiri Te Kanawa "boring," Katia Ricciarelli "vacant."

11 December 2004

LiveBlogging the Met Vespri

a la Wonkette (bitch sans wit)

I Vespri Siciliani, Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast
Sondra Radvanovsky, Francisco Casanova, Leo Nucci, Samuel Ramey, c. Frederic Chaslin

[5:01pm] The Radvanovsky Vespri saga ends. The 20-year wait for the next Met Vespri begins. Margaret Juntwait will be hosting that one too.

[4:58pm] Fine dell'opera. Curtain calls. Juntwait will learn how to pause so the radio audience can experience the initial bursts of ovation for each principal. The prompter chooses not to take a curtain call.

[4:46pm] Casanova still winning his battles at this late hour. If only he had big-house power.

[4:42pm] Merce, dilette amiche ends. High E-natural clarion. Success.

[4:38pm] Merce, dilette amiche commences. Odd Chaslin tempi. Sondra sounds a bit tired (but thankfully our friend the prompter is still fresh). OK, now she regains some bounce.

[4:35pm] Act V begins. The Merce anticipation now consumes the globe.

[4:25pm] Sondra's Addio, mia patria amata melts my heart like butter on coal.

[4:15pm] Arrigo! ah parli ad un core ends. Despite the glissando freakshow, Sondra is immortalized.

[4:10pm] Arrigo! ah parli ad un core begins. This aria was made for Sondra. (But please, shut the prompter's mouth.)

[4:05pm] My favorite Vespri set of duets (hints of Traviata/Trovatore). Don't be fooled by Sondra's chest; she ain't got any. But WOW, she's on fire!

[3:58pm] Giorno di pianto. When God showered squillo from the high heavens, Casanova was nowhere to be found.

[3:53pm] Act IV begins. Here's when Sondra will shine, shine, shine.

[3:48pm] Peter Allen's voice, pure honey. He sounds 15 years younger! Bring him back. Uhm, wait, why's he talking about Rodelinda?? What the f* is he talking about?? Retire him now.

[3:37pm] The Quiz panel dreams of sex change.

[3:33pm] The Quiz continues. Queens identifying queens.

[3:27pm] Opera Quiz. Snack break.

[3:23pm] Act III ends. Juntwait sounds more even now. She sounds like the NYC subway: "42nd Street, Port Authority .... 34th Street, Penn. Station .... 14th Street, Union Square ..."

[3:20pm] Some off-pitch singing from Casanova during the ensemble; Sondra's voice is much louder than this--did I already mention how she's not transmitting fairly?

[3:13pm] Act III, Scene 2. (What, no ballet??) This is when Sondra's lower-middle betrays her in-house (can't be heard at all), but thanks to the close miking, she's heard easily by the entire planet.

[3:07pm] Casanova-Nucci duet; I'm impressed. (Not quite close to tears, but close to close.)

[3:00pm] Ovation for Il Nucci--lusty but short (the couple of times I was there, the auditorium sustained the applause for at least a minute). Odd out-of-town audience.

[2:57pm] Is there a mike over the prompter's box?

[2:49pm] Act III. Complex soprano voices don't transmit well; unadorned, straightforward baritones do. Nucci sizzles.

[2:35pm] Sondra's piano high notes: nice, but (again), in-house they're simply breathtaking.

[2:32pm] Presso alla tomba. Sondra sounds less like Callas, more like an older sister of Scotto.

[2:28pm] Verdi has lots of great ideas here (Act II trio). But don't ask me to hum any of them tomorrow.

[2:22pm] Ramey gets the first great ovation of the afternoon. (insert own comment here)

[2:17pm] Act II. O tu Palermo! It's not your antennas, folks: Ramey's wobble tours about two to three octaves. Really.

[2:10pm] Casanova's voice doesn't open up well; he sounds pinched. Nucci sounds elegant and old. This whole thing is beginning to resemble regional opera.

[2:07pm] OK it's official. My personal recording is worthless. My radio signal falters for the fourth time.

[2:06pm] Trio with Nucci, Casanova, and prompter. The prompter needs voice lessons.

[2:04pm] The transmission *skips* a second. What's going on??? There's another one. WQXR needs money too. My recording is ruined. What else is new.

[2:01pm] Note to Sondra flappers: start fund-raising for 21st century radio signal compression system.

[1:59pm] Some timing issues between singer and stage. Sondra's never been too clean about this.

[1:57pm] Trust me, Sondra sounds normal in house. Her top notes sound radio aw-aw-awful just now.

[1:56pm] In vostra man. She sounds like David Daniels at this point.

[1:55pm] In alto mare is happening. Sondra doesn't record well. She has too much going on with her voice, the FM doesn't do her justice. Should we switch to AM?

[1:54pm] Si, cantero. As freaky as Miricioiu. Good girl!

[1:52pm] Sondra enters. O mio fratel. Vibrato central this afternoon.

[1:45pm] The overture ends. So did my radio transmission. What the f* was that fade-out all about. OK, wait, there's the continued applause of the Met audience. *Whew!* Welcome back, broadcasts!

[1:42pm] The gorgeous Vespri overture. The FM signal compression (evening out the dynamic range of the orchestral sound) sucks.

[1:37pm] Debutante Juntwait falters a bit; I can sense her overloaded nerves, I can't eat my soup.

[1:35pm] Joe Volpe begs for money. We'll miss him.

[1:31pm] Welcome broadcasts!

10 December 2004

Tannie Sundries

09 December 2004, Met Tannhaeuser

Final curtain call. Thomas Hampson, Peter Seiffert, Elizabeth Bishop, conductor Mark Elder, Deborah Voigt, Kwangchul Youn.

A busy, busy (wet) Friday, so quickly: (1) why no m4m action at Venusberg?? how redstate of the Met; (2) late substitution for the role of Hermann: Kurt Moll was ill; announcement occurred before the second act, eliciting grunts across the auditorium; sensing Debbie fans' rabid alarm, the guy nervously waved his arms "No" and apologized for not announcing the Youn change before Act I (must have slipped their mind than Hermann & Co. appear in the last few minutes of the act); (3) last time I heard Bishop was in the thankless role of the girl Fenena, and I remember being mildly impressed; last night sizzled like a principal--not as overtly sexual as Michelle DeYoung: her Venus had more than a tinge of grand feminine dignity; schooled voice even up and down the register a la Voigt, and knowing that she's a short night, made every phrase and turn count; defended Venus' membership in the mezzo repertory convincingly; if the Met braintrusts are even half-conscious, expect Bishop to be our Wagnerian mezzo for the next decade; (4) by her own standards, Voigt wasn't quite in the zone: only because she consistently delivers up at the same impossible level, therefore any sagging is noticeable, however minor, and last night miniscule cracks appeared in the middle register transitions during Act II; but then happily she was back to her old goddess self in the third act; (5) Hampson perfect as Wolfram, but the bigger surprise was Seiffert outheldentenoring his memorable debut evening's performance; the atmosphere was electric/serene by the opera's finale, made me think I was at a Levine Parsifal; forget Venusberg, Seiffert's enough for me to consider gracing the next Tannie on Tuesday. Ladies and girls of North America, we got ourselves a true Wagnerian lyric in our bosomy midst: can't, just can't let him escape back across the Atlantic.

09 December 2004

Drop the Bruennhilde, how about Tannhaeuser?

Breaking News

The Associated Press reviewer Ronald Blum's Met Tannhaeuser review spread all across the highlands and the heartland, from Wichita to San Luis Obispo, from Myrtle Beach to Macon, with accuracy oozing right from the top of the piece. Never mind the extra letter in the name (La Miricioioioiu doesn't complain), but the news is that Deborah Voigt has become the leading heldentenor of our generation overnight. (Being the home of "everything classical", the folks at andante.com thankfully knew better, dropping the sensational title for their own.)

Across the AP world, the 80-lb estimate has become fact with these words:

Since the controversy over London's Royal Opera cutting her from a Strauss production last spring because she wouldn't fit into a little black dress, the American soprano has dropped about 80 pounds.
Apparently, I wasn't the only hack reviewer sitting in the bleachers with sucky opera glasses. (Or else, I should probably ponder a new career as country fair spectacle, open my own "Guess the Weight" booth, and guess redstatefolk's poundage from up atop a Ferris Wheel.)

The fat blog and the low-carb forums are in a consuming uproar on the news.

I didn't realize that La Voigt lost the same 80 pounds years ago; therefore, the lipid estimate has precedence and may indeed have some historical credibility. According to the Seattle Times:
Her case is a particularly interesting one. She's a beautiful woman with blond hair and brilliant blue eyes. Several years ago, she lost 80 pounds and looked extremely glamorous. When Voigt came to Seattle in 1999 to make her debut here in "Der Freischütz," however, she had already regained about half the lost weight, after undergoing a painful divorce.
Who knew she was even married? I suspect though that the 80-lb loss level may have a deeper physiological basis for singers (some sort of a safe limit to preserve the integrity of the voice), as the other leading heldentenor Ben Heppner was estimated (by no less than J.Jo. at GCN) to have lost the same amount prior to his Enee's at the Met ... Or, we don't know what the f* we're talking about, and 80 is just a nice, credible number (isn't as improbable as the round three-digit 100, yet still more remarkable than, say 50-60 pounds, which is what each of the Biggest Losers may eventually lose after their freakshow is over).

For those like moi who don't have any reliable concept of sheer poundage, this is what 80 lbs. looks like (a weight set and a whole piece of ivory):

For the latest news on "80 pounds", click here for alerts.

08 December 2004

While she summoned Sicilian corraggio

The biggest loser was watching The Biggest Loser on TV

Unless I decide to sacrifice my entire Saturday morning for a standing room ticket (and I suspect the line for this one will be repressive), my first Sondra Elena became my last (this season), when, at 7:15pm, the ultimate minute of decision (takes roughly 45 mins total to do the subway, rush from Columbus Circle and sashay across the plaza, barter for ticket, push through throngs of queens in the lobby, scale the Svoboda/Dexter-like stairs, push through throngs of queens in the bathroom--Wagnerian patience required for combined Acts I-III, so one has to go--settle into my bleacher seat, check my program for any cancellations, sigh, and curtain), the battle decisively tilted body over soul.

Fortunately, a dear friend of mine captured my last Sondra Elena sighting, shown below for future generations to worship.

I Vespri Siciliani, November 16, 2004

The white trail disappearing behind the golden curtain is, yes, Sondra Radvanovsky, don't you know it. There's the conductor Frederic Chaslin to the right, and Leo Nucci in blurry motion gliding by the prompter's box; you can also see Francisco Casanova and Sam Ramey arguing who should exit first (should be easy to distinguish between the two).

This weekend's broadcast will be a memorable one, but I'm all anxious now about how Sondra's voice will record on the radio. I remember her Il Trovatore Leonora a couple of years ago: blew people's panties away in the house, but sounded acidic and overbearing on the transmission. We'll see. I predict Casanova will be much more warmly received at a radio distance than he has been live, for while he lacks big-house power and stage presence, the essential quality of his voice is attractive and his notes are all there. Nucci will rock, and Ramey will rock ... uhm, back and forth in an ever-widening wobble. Enjoy!

07 December 2004

What's for dinner?

Still deciding whether to Vespri tonight or doze off into sitcom cable rerun heaven

The other "Other First Lady". Meanwhile, at the Kennedy Center Honors Sunday (note to TiVo: CBS Dec. 21), Leontyne Price claims that Dame Joan Sutherland's voice "started in a place I affectionately call nosebleed country" [LAT]. Here's Dame Joan bowing to King George II and Queen Laura:

Pinch hitter is MVP. Afraid of giving Norma Fantini the title of box office queen, the Met quietly inserted Angela M. Brown into the last Aida of the Met's season on Wednesday. However, it was revealed to me that Fantini ain't the real cause of the "SOLD OUT" tape, shown here:

Look closely, and you'll see that the billboard announces the long-awaited debut of Mark Rucker as Aida's daddy, a seasoned African-American baritone who has sung across the plaza (as early as 1988 at NYCO) and around the world. Still, the question remains: where is Norma?

I gotta catch up on sleep, but Sondra calls.

Neither Rain nor Sleet nor Snow

Just some typical city drizzle, really

But inside, the high summer heat of grand voices. Not quite as smoldering as premiere night, but still phenomenal; details at a later time. But while there's still Diet Coke in my bloodstream-- La Daniels didn't have the same level of umph tonight, his tiring middle range suffering from your everyday soprano passaggio predicament: can't grasp the core, dropping resonance and body (especially apparent during Vivi, tiranno!); however, his andanteish arias (with thin accompaniment) were ardently projected. (And WOWZA, what an "Io t'abbraccio" duet with Rodelinda!) My friend V says Daniels' voice needs some getting used to; I told him to f*ck off. Kidding! I agreed, insofar as not having a typical clean, lithe countertenor timbre (the kind Bejun Mehta for instance has); however, I argue that the smoky richness of his voice allows considerable emotive range, a great thing to have in a character who spends a lot of time in lamentation and really doesn't sing hard bravura till the very end. Renée Fleming verismo'ed her way through some of those slow movements; at times her dense delivery seemed at odds with the airy strings and harpsichord accompaniment, which is sure to irk the Handel purist. Renée couldn't clean it up for Sempre libera, how can she even begin to cleanse the vocal line for baroque? Anyhow, there's a seductive, separate beauty in her Rodelinda, unconventional, yes, but arguably as valid.

Tomorrow during my decaf break I'll maybe talk about the other singers, for a change.

06 December 2004

Berta & Co. Back Tonight

High carb music at the Met

Much as we love lovely Renée Fleming, the Rodelinda poster on the Lincoln Center Plaza doesn't tell the entire story; while the lady may have singlehandedly smuggled this grand work to New York, much of the on-going baroque euphoria is due equally to her florid co-star David Daniels, who certainly sings the Berta out of Bertarido. Girl, he's the closest we could get to this Handel without compromising anyone's body parts.

The hair is dry, the nails are buffed, the bags are packed; I'm ready for another ride.

Monday Morning Roundup

Topics to take with you to the water cooler

Miricioiu Watch. A lusciously detailed post on the Nelly Miricioiu Yahoo list (who knew) recounting her first Met Vespri evening this season also sums up her performance on the second night remarkably well. Save for the Merce entrance mishap, of course. Speaking of which, the conductor Frederic Chaslin brushed off his boo'er(s) from Friday, telling a Nelly fan at the stage door that he did all he could to save a singer in distress, and what's a maestro to do, really. It was a mere one-second slip, barely enough time to do anything but move the music along. Just one of those things.

Rodelindamania Redux. Print reviews for the Met Rodelinda are overwhelmingly ecstatic (NYT, NYN, AP, NJSL), but Philly doesn't like the production; Liz Smith discusses "boy soprano" (a.k.a. woman with balls) Bejun Mehta's tough puberty. Speaking of falsettos, next season's Met Rodelinda is set to feature the company debuts of babes Andreas Scholl as Bertarido and Christophe Dumaux (b. 1979?!) as his sidekick. *pant* ... Tonight is Rodelinda's second evening (sold-out, baby); I will be there, along with those too cheap to justify buying a prima ticket.

The Legend Evolves. The CBS Evening News segment Sunday made it seem like Angela Brown broke into the big leagues on Nov. 2, when she was called mid-performance to substitute for an ailing Fiorenza Cedolins in Act IV of the Met Aida. Indeed, a more compelling, heartwarming story (the rookie being called to pinch hit at the bottom of the 9th, then hitting a walk-off home run, etc., etc.), but we all know that the real occasion of her first (national media) "success" was her debut evening days before, on Oct. 29 (arranged months in advance). She was originally scheduled to sing another on Dec. 1, completing the initial contract of two evenings; however, by final count she came away with four complete performances and the one Act IV; the Nov. 6 was a Cedolins sickday, but the intriguing question is how Brown muscled Norma Fantini out of this past weekend's matinee. Stay tuned.

Shattered Glass. Dame Joan Sutherland was recognized at Sunday's Kennedy Center Honors for helping "opera rediscover a long-lost world of beauty, the age of bel canto." The WPost article reports that "Leontyne Price, honored in 1980, turned her toast of diva Sutherland into a crystal-shattering aria." Also present were past honorees Marilyn Horne and Sherrill Milnes [AP].

04 December 2004

The Eyes Have It

At the Met stage door after her second Vespri

A dear friend sent me these pics of Nelly Miricioiu's body parts. Remnants of the stage eye shadow glitter remain:

Her eyes are strangely Vaness-ian. And then, there are the french-tip nails:

My friend reports that during the meet-and-greet, Nelly was absolutely radiant, excessively generous and open even to the scariest of the stage door flock; she clarified, once and for all, that the "c" in Miricioiu is pronounced like the English "ch" [or the Italian "c(i)"], but she's used to so many other variants (of the c's, the io's, and iu's), so she doesn't care, really; hopes to sing more in North America, but was shaking her head to indicate how difficult it's been to arrange (including this set of Vespri's); took the time to sign photographs, CD booklets, programs, whatever else shoved to her face, and agreed to every request for pictures; seems like a thoroughly delightful lady, with just the suitable amounts of fag and diva to please any boy's heart.

Maybe the Third Time's a Charm?

Unfortunately, it may never come

Over-all, a decently sung Met Vespri this evening; diva Nelly Miricioiu wasn't the complete disaster I feared: she did some admirable work early in the evening, but her Achilles heel remained the treacherous Merce dilette amiche, reportedly the same point of failure at her first try Monday; this time, however, she began the aria on the wrong "foot," entering a full bar before Verdi intended. I felt the whole auditorium gasp quietly. The consequences were severe: the maestro Frederic Chaslin had to scramble; Miricioiu spent the first minute of the aria visibly off-balanced (terror written all over her face), and her singing was understandably tentative (imagine the joy completely drained out of a supposedly joyous bolero); she regained some of her confidence for the repeat, only to squeak a high note of the glissando at least a full tone lower. It is sad that this performance will be remembered this way (if at all), for she did some very emotionally charged work elsewhere (though the polish was never present). But such a verdict is probably a fair one, as (1) the aria is the most famous portion of Vespri, (2) its construction is eminently danceable, engaging all but those asleep (like the guy in front of me), and (3) this is the point of the opera where Sondra Radvanovsky becomes diva. But Sondra could still learn a thing or two from her, e.g. the way Miricioiu composed Elena's electrifying entrance music: from the haunting "O mio fratel," through a defiant "Si, cantero," then an "In alto mare" that sent shivers up and down my spine, an "in vostra man" that was half-sung, half-declared, all building up to a very meaningful "corraggio" cabaletta.

Further impressions/observations: (1) Miricioiu's lower-middle to low register is shot; chest is possible only when willed, but anything in the passaggio is mimed; (2) her upper middle to top pianos, while not laser-accurate, are nonetheless floated heartrendingly; (3) the lachrymose quality of her tone is touching, and effective during her Act II duet with Arrigo; (4) she moved on stage so naturally despite the inane/nonexistent direction; (5) she had glitter in her eye shadow, and her nails were kick-*ss long, such that the black Sicilian garb looked less for mourning and more for cocktails (dumpy, yes, but with those nails, she can pull it off).

During the curtain calls, the conductor Chaslin was boo'ed (by a couple of really loud guys), possibly due to the Merce mishap: clearly wasn't his fault, but the conductor was the easy target for the diehards, unless they're boo'ing him for his bizarre tempi choices (e.g., I've never heard the Bolero done this way) and other stylistic decisions, but no one's that bold for such queeny reasons.

A friend of mine attended Miricioiu's "reception" at the Met stage door with Lois K. & Co.. She has juicy tidbits to share; we'll get to those later.

03 December 2004

Second Chances

As I prepare for my third evening in a row at the Met

I was not there (as these things usually go), but a friend of mine, who's a fan of virtually everyone (and no, not Lois Kirschenbaum), waited for dear Nelly Miricioiu at the MET stage door after her first Vespri earlier this week. He tells me that in the midst of high praises (and who would tell a diva she sucked and then expect an autograph), she appeared apologetic, almost embarrassed by the disproportionate response to what she knew was a subpar evening, but also sent a defiant tone that she'll do so much better in her second try.

The point is, she may deliver tonight. I will report, as always. Check back with me late tonight, or tomorrow morning.

Vivi, tirann-o-o-o-o!

Still half-asleep, but already crooning La Horne

First thing on my CD player this morning: that aria with La Horne (live Met concert with Leontyne Price and James Levine, 1982). First google search: "Is David Daniels really male?".

Golden age re-reborn. Daniels sang the Act II duet with his queen Renée Fleming without ceding any ground to the Met Hausfrau. The combination of their voices was thoroughly legit, and to me (with eyes closed) it sounded balanced and unforced. Daniels' is a smoky full-bodied sound, and, with lustrous Fleming's, created one of the many highpoints of the evening. And to be able to do Vivi, tiranno! unexpurgated and close to the fourth hour of the still-perfect evening, with all the principals present on stage, ("acting" their way through the Handelian repetitions as if in a silent movie), must be such pressure that only Michael Phelps could know. Daniels took the challenge like a man, and in the process may have temporarily out-diva'd the diva.

Daniels' rich cabernet was suitably complemented by "boy soprano" Bejun Mehta's pure clarified butter. Mehta may have been the only principal who won the battle against conductor Harry Bicket's vigorous tempi, which I wholeheartedly support, because the risk of sagging in Handel is severe and near-fatal to an unfamiliar audience. Because his voice is slender and uncomplicated, Mehta has amazing precision when it comes to baroque, and his scenes with Daniels are explosive (a testament to how far our nation has come with regards to transgendered people, a friend quipped). The handful of missteps between pit and stage (by others in the cast) will be corrected as the run progresses, as these things go, but it's not simply nit-picking, as Handel's eminently tappable construction (monotonous to a degree) demands inhuman accuracy. Anyway, moving on: every time Stephanie Blythe (the manliest of the mezzo/contre trio) opens her mouth I'm simply blown away. John Relyea, in the supporting role of Garibaldo, is indeed studly, and managed to keep the momentum rolling along with his filler segments. With all of the activity (honestly, much of it quite unfamiliar to me), I will demur on my evaluation of the debutante (and aptly named) Kobie van Rensburg, except to say that he fills the role quite perfectly.

Still, the queen of the night is Fleming, who we should all thank for making this magnificent event a reality, by actually buying her new CD instead of asking closeted-Fleming-fan friends for a copy (just for the sake of "completion," u-huh). She is the undisputed diva of the big house, and I for one am thankful that she uses her influence this way. The opera opens with her shackled in bed, moaning (oh gawd, I thought, how can she quickly destroy the cosmic symmetry of Handel with such ugly sounds), but ever the gamer she moaned with gusto, dragged her chains around, and lamented endearingly. Her book The Inner Voice explains much of the hard work she puts in to sound effortless, and while she still jazzes up and broadways some of her legato (nothing new here), her work remains relentlessly at its best.

I will say a couple of things about the elegant stage production at a later time, except to say kudos to those perverts who had Fleming in chains; Fleming *kissing* Daniels (with tongue, it seemed like) (the inexplicable fantasy of every opera queen, to taste the diva's mouth); slender Bejun topless (note to make-up department: please put some blush on his morbid-white body; his rosy neck and face seemed exotically "disembodied"); the Baba the Turk in Blythe aching to "bust" out of her frock and "top" Kobie.

Time now for a word from our sponsors (Renée, please paypal ad fees to me):

Bravi tutti! Boys, hoard those tickets now and show Norma Fantini she's not the only girl who can sell out this month.

Check out my blah-blog for recent updates.

The King and I

King Bertarido matches Queen Rodelinda's aura

Renee Fleming was obviously divine--no surprise there. (Who's more bankable these days??) In fact, the evening turned out as well as promised on paper. But special mention must go to David Daniels before I collapse in exhaustion. Fantastic, explosive cast; the production/set designers Stephen Wadsworth and Thomas Lynch, along with the costume and lighting designers, were vigorously applauded (unanimous and definite) during curtain calls for their elegant/balanced creation.

Marilyn Horne was in the audience. Daniels' Vivi, tiranno must have brought her close to tears for many reasons.

The bed calls; it calls for me.

(Check out my blah-blog for recent updates.)

02 December 2004

Tonight, Amneris seems to have won the catfight

And tomorrow, a recount if demanded

Just got back from the Cornetti/Brown extravaganza. Cliffnotes review: Brown cleaned up a bit, but now all her shortcomings (and there are major question marks here) are ever more apparent (i.e., "I can see clearly now, the rain has gone"); meanwhile, Queen of the Nile Cornetti did a Zajick and threatened to outlast her rival: she managed to turn the audience to her corner momentarily during her Act IV masterclass; speaking of the audience, tonight was a house full of Brown would-be admirers, thanks in part to the front page NYT promo: I'm betting many of them came away abuzz with Cornetti talk; lastly, in the spirit of the holidays, I'm upgrading Farina from poor to tolerable (and at times even serviceable). So there.

Brown is on her way to stardom: I spotted a camera crew in the right grand tier box closest to the stage. They were videotaping snippets of Brown's scenes and all of her curtain calls. Looks like a 60 Minutes segment I bet in the same vein as the NYT front page; following that, a near-certain series of engagements here and elsewhere. Hard to say at present if she's truly deserving of all the fuss and buzz. We shall see.

01 December 2004

December Agenda

While it's raining winter out my gray window

The Renee Rodelindas (a few times, are you kidding me?).

Maybe another Angela M. Brown Aida (tonight!) just because; and also for Marianne Cornetti's Amneris, which I first heard on the same venue a few years ago, and which blew me away. Cornetti sang with Michele Crider, who I think is grossly underappreciated. But she can float, she can forte, she can chest (a bit), she can certainly Aida better than Fantini and Cedolins.

Another Tannhaeuser or two. The Voigt/De Young/Seiffert/Hampson quartet is historic, and the coming broadcast will remain among the most cherished of the recent MET Wagners, I guarantee.

ALL the Mattila Kat'a Kabanovas. OK, not all, but more than a few.

A Miricioiu and a last Radvanovsky Vespri. Nelly got panned by the blogosphere, but we don't get many chances to hear her, so whatever, if I had money to burn for Fantini, I most certainly have enough change collecting somewhere for La Ioioioioiu. Also, I'm interested to hear a fully rested Sondra, for contrast.

Maybe a Barbiere di Siviglia? NOT.

OK, here's an interesting box-office development: as of this minute (9:40 am, December 1), the December 8 Fantini Aida (*yawn*) is (1) outselling the next evening's Tannhaeuser; (2) matching the 4th evening of Rodelinda and beating the next weekday evening; and (3) blowing away every single Mattila Kat'a, including the prima and the Christmas broadcast. Anyone with a plausible explanation, please e-mail me.

Still raining outside, and the wind is picking up.