27 February 2005

Sonic boom

Maria Guleghina, phenomenon

The first challenge of a voice in performance is to be heard. There are metaphysical tricks and illusions available to ladies of modest gifts. Among them, the mastery of the open and upward projection of an average-sized voice (e.g., La Portaméenta, Ruth Ann Swenson, Cynthia Lawrence); the cultivation of a unique timbre easily discernible from the arching drone of the pit (Veronica Villaroel, Olga Borodina); an intelligent use of forte/fortissimo (truly loud but used sparingly) to punctuate key moments (Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, Karita Mattila, Deborah Polaski, Michele DeYoung); empirical knowledge of the sonic idiosyncrasies of the auditorium (every stage has a punto Callas); the Olivero maneuver of launching a drawn-out crescendo from a good pianissimo (Hei-Kyung Hong, Barbara Frittoli).

Then, there are the occasional grand dames with the natural faculty of decibel. These ladies can be clustered into two general kinds: the Raw and the Refined. Among the current batch of singers, the latter counts Deborah Voigt, Dolora Zajick, Stephanie Blythe, and Jane Eaglen as practitioners (and potentially Angela Brown, Violeta Urmana, and Elisabeth Bishop). The Raw cluster would include the voices of Katarina Dalayman, Andrea Gruber, Gabriele Schnaut, Sondra Radvanovsky, and their fearless leader Maria Guleghina.

Maria, oh Maria Guleghina, oceanliner, mountain range, supernova.

Maria, more than a freak of nature, you are a freak of opera. Your harsh Abigaille is never easy to bear. It violates good people’s sensibilities and blasphemes the art of singing. You mock the dynamics of sound, ridicule the question of acoustics. Your voice is carnal, erotic, exotic, extraterrestrial. You transform any music into a challenge of physics; pitchwise you will fail but you shall not surrender. Upon every scene’s end, you are often bloodied, yet you still dare the high note option. You pawn the capital every single time. You defy uniformity. You are gutsy, you are dirty, rude, profane. You destroy. You make live live. Queer, you shall never belong.

25 February 2005

Met-iquette, part I, Q/A

Sieglinde, thy mailbag overfloweth

1. Dear Sieglinde, this past month I was pressed to choose between Lawrence and Esperian for my annual Met Butterfly pilgrimage, but in the end my boosted Zoloft prescription decided I should go to some Britten thing at Avery Fisher instead. There are just too many to choose from, all these alternate casts. What/who to see? OK, first, you're annoying me. Buy a one-way ticket to a Three Sopranos soiree and end it all there. Second, you're the subbest of sub bottoms to even think to ask me that. Let's put it in a more tangible perspective: it's like Sieglinde asking you which among your 14 cats ought to get his weekly pedicure. Ever see Sophie's Choice? Same thing with Sieglinde: she can't/won't ever, ever bring herself to choose between Stingo and Nathan. Even after 19 viewings. So attend them all.

2. I don't agree with the particulars of rule # 2. Will La Portaméenta's Manon next year sell out, really? You see, you're not sensitive to the other meanings of the idiom "sell out". Try looking it up, and you'll see what Sieglinde means precisely. As the mezzo-soprano Madonna Ciccone likes to tell the sushi chef, it ain't the kabbalah, lil'star. Now let's stop speaking about the La Portaméenta, Inc.; Sieglinde doesn't like the word litigation.

3 Regarding rule # 3, don't you forget Teresa Zylis-Gara, bitch. Dear titmouse, didn't it occur to you that the omission may be intentional? I know you're president of her fan club and hatemail is part of your pledged duties, but I mean just look at her. But more to the issue, she had a real career. Among wide-eyed opera newbies, you're absolutely forbidden to spew out names of singers that had real careers.

4. I have an old Marantz cassette recorder from the 80s, but it doesn't seem to be picking up all of La Portaméenta's frequencies. Which recording equipment do you use and/or would recommend? No, no, no, no, no, you must not misunderstand Sieglinde's words. She would never, ever do anything even remotely illegal in her life. Sieglinde also hereby complies willfully with the following declarations of action: 1) she will immediately cease and desist from any further suggestion in association with magnetically or digitally recording live performances and from distributing or in any other way exploiting such recording(s) recorded at the Opera House or alleged to be recorded at the Opera House, 2) she will immediately remove from her website any overt reference to the Opera House in connection with the production or distribution of any magnetic or digital recording(s), 3) she must confirm in writing within three (3) business days that she has taken the foregoing actions and will refrain from further unauthorized pronouncements on her website. So you see, little sparrows, by "recording equipment", Sieglinde just means pen and paper, to be used only to instantly record your impressions on paper, lest you forget crucial details for your post on rec.music.opera. However, be sure tell your seatmates you're not Anthony Tommasini (or, if you're seriously tattoo'ed, Anne Midgette). It's a dangerous place for print critics, Sieglinde knows. The New Yorker critic and hottie Alex Ross even goes so far as to take a bunch of faggot friends (he sweetly calls opéramanes) to view "Jose Cura's goods" just to shield him from his "public."

5. For a few years now, I've been wearing my Opera-L pin every time I'm at the Met, but no one has yet come up to introduce themselves to me. Is there a new pin edition I should be wearing? And where the f* is the Millo pole? I've searched all the bathrooms. Peaches, they don't like dykes, didn't you know? The L in Opera-L ain't for lesbo. (Unless you're suitably femme, then maybe they'll overlook the chest hair.) As for the Millo pole, I was just told by my gerbils at Met management that during their latest emergency meeting (called to manage the Jose Cura's wardrobe "malfunction" situation and is it worth the fines), someone put the Millo pole issue on the floor. Even after a personal plea by the diva herself (she showed up!), a thin majority pushed the decision to rename it the "Cura Pole" for the time being. (And oh, it's the thickest pole at the Opera House, it's not easy to miss.)

6. Dear Sieglinde, I would like to be your friend and sit beside you. Where do you like to sit? Depends on your "stats," really. But let me tell you this. Back where the ushers hang out and "smoke," they got a picture of Sieglinde posted on the wall, so I like to mix it up, sit in different sections, wear different heels and eyeliner color schemes, use various pseudonyms. But any seat in the house is fab. And each section has its own charms. For instance, the "family" circle standing room is always close to my heart. One truly memorable Saturday matinee at Dialogues des Carmelites, I was there and by god, it was stickier than an East Village backroom on a Sunday morn.

7. On behalf of the thousands devoted to the NYCO, how about us? Sieglinde has been there quite a few times, and sure, the boys are cuter and more affordable, and the Jasper Johns is more her style than the Marc Chagall, but in truth she's never sure if she's at the ballet or the opera. Singers who look the part, singers who could be ballerinas, no one can sing, it all sounds amped, Lauren Flanigan is aging, it's all really hard to tell from opera. In any case, she recognizes that the City Opera serves the purpose of mounting lesser-known works, so uhm, yes, it does serve the purpose for academic freaks among us who take opera as legit art. Apologies, but Sieglinde's Diaries isn't about that, though cheer up, I hear someone has put up a blog specific to your devotions. And wait, while I have you on the line, lemme ask you this: a friend told me that you could hear Met curtain calls from the NYState Theater's 4th ring. Even Valayre's?

8. So I was at the Samson last night, got my scalper by the balls, dressed appropriately, clenched and pee'd at recommended locations, followed your every rule, had the pen and paper on "record" mode, etc., but then the curtain rose and I was lost. When's Part II coming out? I can't say just yet. However, I will confirm that there is indeed talk between the gray ladies of the Met Guild and Jose Canseco's agents about possibly doing a two-for-one pay-per-view event very soon. As he's administered a polygraph to prove his tell-all book's veracity, Sieglinde will be asked to divulge what she knows about backstage steroid use. Because these things tend to travel faster than the Marina Mescheriakova meteor, I've already heard from Jane Eaglen's internet posse that she's drafting her own version of things, in case the issue reaches court. I guess she's triply entitled to any right, so I won't stop her. (Really, who can?) But I got other leads. For instance, I have already sent apprentices to Krakow to dig around for Ewa Podles' birth certificate. It's a start, I think.

Send real questions here; or hatemail here.

23 February 2005

Met-iquette, part I

Your Queen-approved Maximum Pleasure Guide to Attending Met Performances

Ever wonder whether it's kosher to throw your underwear onto the opera stage for the new hottie barihunk? Extreme, yes, but still within the realm of possibility. We're chatting about opera, after all. Sieglinde is folksy enough to pull together a list of tips on proper behavior to help guide you through the intricate process of attending opera, specifically at the Met. The list below, Part One of an ambitious series, should cover every aspect of your life prior to the opera's curtain.

1. Buy a ticket. Sieglinde never buys full price, nor should you, unless it's potentially a sold-out to-do, in which case proceed gayly to tip #2. Those genteel accountants-by-day, scalpers-by-night out on the plaza are your points of access to world-class opera. They are always out there, through rain, sleet, or Valayre-show. Wait till about 7:50pm, approach the best-dressed guy (in a tux, preferrably), offer $10 for his spare orchestra seat, and see what happens. (Threaten to subtract a dollar for every minute that passes.)

2. If necessary, buy ticket in advance. These include all La Portaméenta events, Ring cycles, the Good Friday Parsifal, some Met premieres (works from bel canto to verismo will sell out; anything before or after will probably not, except if designed by Julie Taymor or headlined by Karita Mattila), and debuts of anyone featured on the front pages of the New York Times (prematurely or otherwise). The dirt-cheap route would be to leave the Roxy at 3am the Saturday before (yeah, just when the boys are getting hotter) and sashay to the standing room line. The line forms secretly at the Met basement, (parking garage level); leave those tourists alone to form their own little pathetic line out on the plaza. Caveat: Aprile Millo evenings are a tough call: could be one of those magical nights mythologized for generations, or a routine run-through with the Russian-import cover. Sieglinde says to buy the cheapest ticket and attend, at the very least to earn the right to bitch about it for generations in the likely event of a no-show.

3. Do homework: read before the big event. Honey, skip the New York Times and head straight to the queer blogs, opera-l, and (if you dare) rec.music.opera to know the latest backstage dish. Practice saying things like "girl took her time to warm up, but by her second aria, god was she on fire" or "someone puhleeze lecture the conductor on tempi" or "seriously, what career, she can't even mezza voce" or "I hate Zeffirelli as much as you, but this Eurotrash thing just isn't my kind of Xanax" in the event you're asked at intermission to comment on any aspect of the evening. Also, keep names like Felice Huni-Mihacsek, Irene Minghini-Cattaneo, Ottilie Metzger-Latterman, Gilda Cruz-Romo, Katerina Senger-Bettaque, Adelaide Borgi-Mamo, Jeanne Gerville-Reache, Lily Hafgren-Waag, and Marie Texier-Gauley ready in your arsenal at all times, in case you're called upon to give the eager newbie some perspective and healthy doses of nostalgia and bitterness.

4. Listen extensively to pirate recordings. Take note of which arias and cabalettas are routinely interrupted by applause, and by how much (but put aside Covent Garden recordings: Brits just don't know how to get "hard" about anything); which kinds of things get bravas, which don't; how long the high note has to be held to be classified as "historic" (skip Magda Olivero's recordings on this issue because she leaves everyone in the dust); how many blank minidiscs to bring, etc..

5. Dress appropriately. The more Blackglama you look, the farther your standing room ticket can get you. The ushers down at the orchestra and grand tier have been instructed to stop any Jersey-types to check their tickets, so accessorize and behave as if you belong in the $200's. If you're happy to sit upstairs, then by all means wear the most comfy stain-proof clothing in your closet.

6. For security reasons, please do not bring huge suitcases, bags, backpacks, parcels, or boxes to the opera house. The latest models of video-cams and other recording equipment can now fit neatly in the sheerest couture frocks. Other things to take with you: two binoculars (in case one breaks), digital camera, cough drops for your tubercular seatmate (get them free next door at Avery Fisher), home-made confetti (in case Aprile Millo actually shows, who needs to waste their intermissions tearing up programs), sushi and a spare set of undergarments (for Wagner operas that begin at 6:30pm), gold and silver markers for the meet-and-greet by the stage door following the performance, as well as covers of CDs, LPs, magazines, old programs, and bad reviews of rivals you'd like signed by the diva.

7. Not all bathrooms are created equal. The amount of ventilation in the boys' bathroom is directly proportional to the average ticket price of its location. (Curiously, Sieglinde can't speak about the girls' bathroom. She's not lesbian, after all.) One can feel a refreshing breeze from vents at the two bathrooms servicing the orchestra level, but up at the balcony/family circle bathroom, save your breath. I hear this is part of a detailed strategy to regulate bathroom activities of opera queens. And I don't mean that (the gutter's for during the opera, sugar). It's to combat piracy by making it too pukey gross to be changing cassette tapes in the bathroom stalls.

8. Bladder peace is opera happiness. If it's your everyday Wagner, go 3 minutes before each act's curtain in order to maximize bladder "space". Never ever drink an hour before Act I, and skip the intermission beverages. Yes, coffee will keep you awake through the deadly Act IIs of Meistersinger, Tristan, Walküre, and Parsifal, but only because of caffeine's action on your delicate liquid homeostasis. Remember, the Met likes to do many operas uncut these days. And they do Der Fliegende Hollander as a one-acter, so it's best to leave grandma home for it. (Bring Detrol for Elektra, Salome, and Das Rheingold.) For Puccini, drinks for free at the Ezio Pinza!

9. Scan the place to make sure the Met universe is in order. After taking your seat and appraising your neighbor's borrowed couture, take the time to orient yourself. Lois Kirschenbaum is the white hair with black-rimmed 60s glasses, seated usually in the back left family circle boxes or the left balcony, depending on availability. (You'll meet her and her posse at the stage door after the opera.) If it's a can't-miss evening, look for Mr. Fire Island and his boyfriends in a left balcony box, opera-l creatures setting up their assigned sniper positions (also at the balcony level bathrooms and the Millo pole during intermission), old queens salivating over newly minted opera chicks, the occasional lesbian academic in drag, at least one Japanese woman in elegant kimono, and shifty characters with wires sticking out their vests. If a routine evening, Park Avenue teenagers in nice clothes on first dates, ethnic attendees consistent with the nationalities represented in the second cast, an embarrassing abundance of Asian-Caucasian couples for Turandot and M. Butterfly, and the same shifty characters with wires sticking out their vests. If they're all there, everything is in clean order, and the opera can begin safely. But first, reach for the cellphone and make sure it's on vibrate.

10. Achieve star status early; be the only one in your section not to applaud the entrance of the maestro. He has to earn yours, after all. The conductor comes out from the right side of the pit; the moment you see Krusty the Clown curls emerge from the pit door, start yapping with the lady behind you about the prior evening's dreadful performance. This way, your seatmates will think you've been many times, that you're deftly familiar with big-house routine, that you have opinions, and they will know to take them seriously.

(pick up binoculars and adjust focus)

(take a deep breath, lose yourself)

For fear of prosecution

a retrenchment

Because of such fearful actions against Our Dear Mother, this humble website will hence refer to Her Royal Highness Queen Rodelinda only as La Portaméenta in discussing any sub-legal notions directly or indirectly related to her or her "art." (We borrow from the NYCOF, the ascendant queen of Reneéflapperotamia and first source of all things derived/recycled from the diva. She uses the unaccented La Portamenta.) Contrary to Lebrechtian prognoses, the big labels are still around. (Or at least their legal departments.) Beware.

21 February 2005

Languid February

but a promising March/April/May

With the exception of the Pelleas, nothing of great thrill has happened to my Met life since their mid-season break in January. (1) I attempted a Turandot for another appraisal of Andrea Gruber's vocal estate, but she was a no-show the night I came (a clue, possibly?). (2) Who wants to see another Butterfly, I wonder. (3) This Nabucco, long a rarity on stage, has now been performed at the Met more frequently than Aida since its new production premiere a few years ago. However, there is still the temptation to visit one evening to get some of that Maria Guleghina (a.k.a. Ms. Guilty Pleasure), just for the sheer physics of loud things. (4) The La Boheme was mildly interesting: I've always rooted for Ruth Ann Swenson, but I feared her vocal condition is over the hill for Mimi. Indeed the Saturday broadcast found her current condition to be less than desirable. Mimi, probably the touchstone for the light lyric, a mainstay at all auditions of eager youngsters, becomes formidable as one approaches their scary age. Dear Ruth Ann no longer has the crisp, laser accuracy she once threw abundantly. In its place is a developing wobble that would more aptly characterize Mimi's grandmother. Moving on: (5) There's the Samson et Dalila, Denyce Graves' choice gig at the Met; why am I not interested? (6) Only the Figaro seemed enticing; but alas, it was easy to miss, as it got only 4 evenings.

But March promises to be a series of promises: beginning with (1) the Don Carlo, which will feature high-E-natural Sondra Radvanovsky (subbing for AWOL Barbara Frittoli) and the Met debut of Luciana D'Intino (Mezzo debuts; Sieglinde's there.); (2) the Der Rosenkavalier with Angela Denoke and the other White House friend Susan Graham; (3) the Tosca rerun with Guleghina (again, another sonic orgy) and Licitra (I'm curious to hear more); (4) the return of Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci for the Saturday broadcast; and (5) the coming of Don Giovanni, with the double Met debuts of Tamar Iveri and Adina Nitescu as the two Donnas. March bleeds easily into April, when (6) shrinking Deborah Voigt comes back to New York as Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera; (7) the massive Die Zauberflöte and (8) Gergiev's Die Walküre caravans return for broadcast; finally, (9) the Faust production premiere occurs (manly triple lutz/toeloop Alagna-Hvorostovsky-Pape). (10) May enters and ends spring with the sumptuous Clemenza di Tito under Jimmy; (11) Franco Alfano's Cyrano de Bergerac Met premiere, with Domingo and Radvanovsky; and (12) the explosive two opera-queen-wet-dream evenings with the certifiably last of the "Last Prima Donnas" Aprile Millo as drama-queens Floria and Amelia. Sieglinde declares that "if you're not there, you can't say you'd been."

But until then, Sieglinde will write mostly about things she knows little about ("classical" music; birds; blogging). Christian patience, pity, and love, my dears.

Small, but growing


A warm welcome to readers who have found this site via a search for "aida opera topless production" at Altavista. Please feel free to put your feet up on the coffee table, hang out, stay a while.

20 February 2005

Blog pets

Weekend blues (Tampa Bay edition)

They got cats. Mine's a great egret. Meet Melisande.

Since Monday, she's visited me once a day. Melisande likes left-over grilled salmon. The ethics of feeding the wild are another day's discussion when dealing with such relentless beauty. So far, I've found she's OK with canned pink salmon (flaky, falls apart too easily), but loves loves loves canned squid.

19 February 2005

The tyranny of queens

An operatic perspective

Listen, Sieglinde lives at the opera house. It's a scary place. We applaud whenever, we bang walls wherever, we brava whomever. We mercy clap, we boo sometimes, we laugh, we cry, we make fun, we record, we exchange recordings, etc.. Over at the symphony, where our earnest grandmothers live, they ask who made it unpretty to clap between movements. Apparently this is a big issue; The Rest Is Noise felt it necessary to put out a Special Report that attempts to interrogate its nebulous history.

Sieglinde reads it all thus: at the symphony, the ego of the priestly conductor overpowers every other; at the opera house, no dice, sister. The opera audience is composed of competing egos wanting to exert control over how everyone else ought to think/behave/see. The claque of Diva X cares little about anyone/anything else, so long as X is meticulously acclaimed; the Wagnerians will poison your Moet & Chandon if you dare interrupt their spiritual masturbation with your lozenge wrapper; the matrons applaud the Zeffirelli set every single f*ckin time, while Zambello has had to hire bodyguards at Lincoln Center.

Queens up in the boxes and family circle dictate the duration of applause, the length and pitch of bravas, which aria will receive the climactic ovation. The opera conductor, mostly a minor player, may elect to stop the opera in deferrence to ovations, or else can force the orchestra through the music, earning the ire of the principal and his well-paid cabal. The Saturday Met broadcasts, among the remaining international platforms for classical music, are notorious for semi-orchestrated ovations for the diva/divo. The confetti is thrown, Peter Allen describes the "shower of paper, forbidden by the Met, but these things happen," the Diva is served. Amneris gets bouquets; Aida none. Or worse, Radames gets the bouquets.

Question to my grandmothers: is this the model you aspire to? Queens who'll create buzz, dictate their preferences to the clueless middle-class, take control of how every performance ought to be remembered? To espouse democracy at the classical music hall is to advance the oligarchy of queens. Dreadful thought? Not to this queen.

18 February 2005

Mrs. Dalloway's Party

RSVP not necessary

As I'm falling from grace at the San Francisco parking scene, I just had time to hear I've been invited to an exclusive soiree up at Faulkner Place. There're recent benevolent mentions at simmering blogs listen. (101) and aeternam, both exceptionally named. Blog rolls are funny estates; the lordly invite's the thing.

But the party, the party; I shall buy the knives myself.

UPDATE (11:17pm): Out west, San Diego's SpearBearer has kindly adopted me. Meanwhile, I appear to be blog roll "auditioning" for someone's mad musings across the Atlantic. Who do I have to sleep with to get the part?

Ask Sieglinde III

Opera v. "Classical" music II

Dear Sieglinde, why does this guy say opera is another story? --Jennie from the Pelhams

Honey, it's always another story. Have you ever been to Avery Fisher? (They have $10 rush tix, you know.) NPR music punctuated by the prickly sound of turning pages is all I'm saying. However, every night at the opera house, you could potentially be witness to a full All My Children episode of take-no-prisoner bitch-battles: between singer and pit (Fleming v. Gergiev), singer and set (Price v. Zeffirelli), singer and physics (Fantini v. Met auditorium), singer and composer (Fleming v. Handel), singer and queen (Voigt v. Brewer fan), singer and singer (Aida v. Amneris), pit and pit (Gergiev v. Met orchestra), queen and queen (family circle standing room), even between musica and parola (Il Trovatore), music and theater (Wagner), theater and narrative (Ring cycle). The layers of risk are numerous, and simultaneously deep and accessible, and you, dear Jennie, can pick the operatic fight you'd like to attend, and boo or applaud as your loins dictate. (No Ph.D. in Music necessary, as he might imply in his post "update", where he confuses engagement with connoiseurship. All you need are a comfy pair of pumps and lots of bladder control.)

In contrast, the concert hall is dying because risk is largely absent from the static symphonic genre (the premiere of a new work an obvious exception). There's simply no visceral drama to view at the symphony akin to what transpires at the opera house next door. Why do you think there are no concerto queens, that Lois Kirschenbaum doesn't hang out at Avery Fisher, that Maazel-flappers (with tickets to his every NYC appearance) are unimaginable (but Muti vigilantes do exist, even in NYC)? Why do Bocelli haters outnumber and outscream Vanessa Mae's? Opera will always be the exception, jewel. Prepare to be marginalized further.

17 February 2005

Ask Sieglinde II

Opera v. "Classical" music

That bitch last night sharped on the high D-flat, phlegmed her way through the passaggio, refused to go chest, limped through the cabaletta, but rushed though the pianissimi, and then had the nerve to linger and tear up during her curtain call. Should I have boo'ed her? --Daniela from Flushing, Queens.

Dear Danny Boy, heck yeah. Opera ain't the symphony, girl. There are no rules. You can boo her. You can brava the fag maestro, you can throw confetti for the mezzo, you can interrupt the music to applaud the entrance of your favorite comprimario. Those folks over at Avery Fisher worry if they should applaud or boo between movements; they think they're attending "culture". But honey, the opera house is trash, filth, rot, and gut. We kill sopranos who don't sound like the CD.

As for boo'ing, we got Renée, who swore never to return to La Scala after being shunned by the loggionisti; Dear Renata Scotto sought her afterwards to welcome her to the club; Leyla Gencer, queen of La Scala, sent her flowers and told her not to worry. Muti's come scritto shtick gets boo'ed routinely, as are the design teams of any new production at the Met. Karita Mattila got some too, from a Christian fundamentalist (I suspect) idiot who didn't appreciate the full monty at one seismic Met Salome last year. Alexandra Deshorties got some feedback for trashing Mozart's music for Kostanze; the conductor Fredric Chaslin got boo'ed during his curtain call at one recent Met Vespri Siciliani for not covering a mistake committed by diva Nelly Miricioiu during her tragic Bolero. Back in the olden days, maestros got boo'ed for not allowing bis for hottie Franco Corelli; Callas got salad thrown at her in lieu of flowers; grande dame Licia Albanese even boo'ed fierce Catherine Malfitano's Butterfly; there was a "Brava Maria!" screamed from the darkness at one infamous Scotto entrance. I could go on.

As for applause, let's see: the greats have been applauded upon first sight, and Tosca's is a damn fabulous entrance to get that kind of love; I'm counting on the Millo-freaks to stop the show in May. Pick up most any Franco Corelli pirate, and you'll just know which point in the opera he first shows his pretty face by the applause and the bravo's that interrupt the music. His Vittoria! was a chronically cheered event. Dear Renata Tebaldi caused a tumult by simply showing up at the door with a blown candle as Mimi (who goes crazy for Mimi? unheard of). Even excessive applause from one faction gets boo'ed by the other. Go figure.

In short, the opera audience ain't shy, dear Danny Boy. We let them know how we feel, what we want, who we adore. The auditorium gasps at mistakes, sighs at the passing of a magical phrase. Queens laugh at corny situations and slapstick moments, we throw confetti (verboten at the Met, but who cares) and cheap flowers, we hiss at maestros that make our divas look bad, we stomp our feet and bang the walls, we clap after every ending cadence and curtain fall, and we shush the patrons who applaud after Parsifal acts. We are not shy.

So don't be shy. There are no rules of decorum. Just enjoy.

16 February 2005

Ask Sieglinde

She knows from art

1. I miss Renata terribly. What should I do? Gaze upon the Toulouse shot of the shrunken Debbie over at trrill.

2. I'm color blind. When did saffron become more than a pricey spice? Girl, get with it. Check out Jeanne-Claude's hair. Or, sashay to trrill again and examine the site's skid marks, the Ebersole lips, and trrill's melodious banner. I don't think Mmes. Grisi Pasta & Co. will mind if Sieglinde says the jarring color motif of their effervescent website is orange. But Sieglinde believes Jeanne-Claude will claw your eyes out if you tell her her Gates are.

3. Opera & Broadway, aren't they the same expensive shit? From the NYT, regarding Broadway's repeat attenders: "Fans like Bowlegged Lou do not need a reason to feed their habit and are not looking for something different each time, any more than a child wants something different each time he watches 'Toy Story' on DVD. 'We do the same show eight times a week,' Ms. Espinosa pointed out. 'It's not like we're going to slip in a deleted scene." The experience itself, preferably unchanged, is what these fans want..."

4. Opera & NASCAR, aren't they the same expensive shit? Ed Hinton, a syndicated sports columnist, thinks so: "NASCAR has long been considered a diversion for common audiences, as surely as opera was supposed to be only for the rich. Both the Feb. 19 performance of La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera and the Feb. 20 running of the Daytona 500 are virtually sold out. But one legitimate Web ticket broker lists the best seats for La Boheme at $295 each, and for the Daytona 500 at $345 each. Just what is priced beyond the reach of whom?"

5. After weeks of watching world series of poker on TV, this girl wants real action, but is too lazy for a trip to AC or Foxwoods. Where can she go instead? Again Sieglinde refers you to the paper of record. Their article on "secret" orchestral codes reveals the where & when of the nearest game: "Backstage traditions at some orchestras include decades-old poker games. At the Metropolitan Opera, the game extends back at least to 1940, said Craig Mumm, a violist in the orchestra. Hands are played during tour travel, breaks in rehearsal and, most famously, intermissions. 'We really play fast,' Mr. Mumm said. 'Of course, we don't have time with intermission to be changing chips, so everything is done in cash.' The games of choice are stud, draw, Omaha and the increasingly popular Texas hold'em. Stakes range from $2 to $8 a bet, he said."

6. Who's that drag queen doing a filthy impersonation of our beloved Renée, and how dare s/he? Sieglinde's saffron lips are sealed on this one.

7. Wait, but isn't opera a dead art form? F*ck yeah. My mother always says one can only truly/thoroughly love dead things. She's always right, sugar.

14 February 2005

Valentine Baby

America's Diva-Next-Door is 46 today.

"Itcha birthday, itcha birthday ... we gunna parte like itcha birthday."

Anyway, while surfing the old circuit scene, Sieglinde came across a spine-tingling soundfile of some diva reading some famous letter or something. She's told it's from October of 2003. Is this art? You be Judge Judy.

("Teneste la promessa") [mp3, 128 kbps, 1.77 MB]

News Flash: the Emperor has new clothes

Color scheme: "saffron"

10 February 2005

Happy 78th

Leontyne Price (b. Mary Violet Leontine Price; Laurel, Mississippi; 10 February 1927)

You are a goddess.

08 February 2005

All That Jazz

(A little dumpling before going back to that diet)

I've heard from the grapevine (here and there) that La Diva Renéééée is set to release her cute little jazz album. To commemorate this momentous event, here's a little "scoop" for y'all.

It's RF, a debut of a certain RV at the big house (no, not that RV, the other Mexican RV), one exciting evening in October 2003. Jazzy alright, but ardently sung, and it touches me everytime I hear it. Enjoy.

("Amami, Alfredo") [MP3, 128 kbps, 2.18 MB]

Now, back to work for me.

UPDATE: Our Mother, La Cieca, has outdone us all once again with the biggest "scoop" yet. Follow me here, and download the divine leak.

Duty calls

Another short break


I have nowhere
to go and

nowhere to go

when I get
back from there

(A.R. Ammons)

03 February 2005

Up close and personal

Pelléas et Mélisande

I'm somewhat surprised to find that last evening was the Met's 107th Pelléas, considering that the previous evening had the 250th performance of Turandot, a far more popular work than the ratio might imply. Debussy, who wrote to his friend Ernest Chausson "Music really ought to have been a hermetical science, enshrined in texts so difficult and laborious as to discourage the herd of people who treat it as casually as they do a hankerchief!", must be turning in his grave.

The No. 107 is also my No. 1; I'm nearly certain there'd be a No. 2, and if I live long enough a No. 20. At my slow rate of absorption, I would probably need more than 20 to claim this Debussy. Sitting at the orchestra section, eight rows away from the pit, added to my uneasiness. I consider it a necessary part of the experience to watch the maestro and his players at the pit dance and undulate with the score. This element is absent from row H ground floor; it was a foreign thing. The music seemed to emanate from the ground and walls; Debussy's translucence highlighted the eerieness. From my seat, the Met's proscenium was gigantic, the chandeliers appeared so far away.

The sound that arrives at row H orchestra is half-blended, the fringes nearly raw. From this pricey vantage point, it's impossible to judge vocal size (a blood sport I happen to enjoy) and (paradoxically) hard to savor dynamic extremes, including titillating floated pp's and fortes that seem to reach out for you, perched up just beneath the crusted ceiling. This is among the few cases when I can honestly revel in my poverty without shadow of envy, as rich folks hear an entirely different performance that may not be as preferrable. I doubt critics of major print sit at the bleachers for their reviews, but I hope during their off time they come and sit incognito among the middle class. Singers have to work hard to affect the bleacher-creatures, but when they succeed, they are rewarded by tumult and pandemonium. Sitting at ground level, I realized that much of the ovation comes from above. (Ecstatic Leontyne Price looked up to the heavens whenever she took her bows; perhaps she knew who sat where.)

Of course, all this is about: (1) catching only one performance of a run (who goes to only one??-- as soon as I can spend freely, it will be one evening at front row orchestra, another at front row grand tier, a couple in the side boxes, and one in the balcony; I bet the Rodelinda must have been a lush chocolate treat close-up) and (2) placing the aural experience before the spectacle of the spectacle. I think this particular production is best viewed at ground level; this is the trade-off. Jonathan Miller's staging embodies effectively the brooding placelessness of Debussy's work, and having no view of the stage turntable pulls you closer to the intended effect. It was mesmerizing to see Miller's high walls float through the orchestral interludes and the characters, their servants, and all their shadows glide from scene to scene.

Lastly, I find it difficult to discuss the singing (a true first for me); they all seem to just recede in Debussy's background.

02 February 2005

Signore, ascolta

Turandot at the Met

I interrupted my sabbatical last night with what would have been a check-up of Andrea Gruber's latest vocal state; however, yesterday afternoon, word got out that Gruber has taken ill (u-huh), and her cover, Rebecca Copley, would be singing the Turandot instead. Disappointing news, as I was aching to be witness to another Gruberfiesta (a.k.a. an orgy of singing on interest, capital, and the entire mango farm, not unlike a Guleghinaxtravaganza). The tone of discussions following the Met weekend broadcast had been mostly grim; as I'm a fan of pitch accuracy (esp. on top), and don't much mind prominent vibrato, I actually thought Gruber did a splendid job (considering the character has nothing beyond wrath and fire). But knowing that the radio lies in a myriad of ways, I have had to reserve firm judgement till I could hear the thing (again) live; now, the diagnosis will have to wait.

Regarding the substitute: there are valid reasons why some singers are destined to cover. That said, having Ms. Copley as back-up is a luxury for any major opera house. She knows how to extend her medium-sized, bright-colored lyric-like voice out from an expansive stage without undue strain. Her top notes are open (screamed on pitch is not a far description, if one's being unkind), and some of her middle seems almost spoken, but the over-all package remains pleasurable. The live Liu of Krassimira Stoyanova was a more pleasant experience to me than her radio performance: the warmth of the house has a way of smoothing out and clarifying the voice, and she benefitted markedly. She got the biggest ovation; the Liu almost always does.

Tonight, the Pelleas!