27 April 2005

Radio Lies

Sieglinde excerpt exposé

A dozen readers were brave enough to tell Sieglinde what they thought of Monday's trick quiz, though I'm certain many more downloaded the two clips featuring Sieglinde's ecstatic naming of her brother/lover Siegmund. I shall not name the Sieglinde here (and no, it's not from the Lyric Opera), but this detail should be obvious to any reader of this blog. What may be a surprise is that the excerpts are from two performances, a few days apart, by the same artist. Excerpt A would be a fair approximation of what the auditorium audience experienced, while excerpt B is what the global audience heard via the radio broadcast. The difference is so stark (esp. the distortion of the dynamic range on the sweeping "Siegmund!" crescendo) that I don't need to say more--except to conclude, with queenly certainty, that the drastic compression protocol implemented for radio transmission can f*ck things up royally. Indeed, the dozen brave readers all indicated preference for excerpt A, though some have praised the fullness of the middle register of the "singer of excerpt B," yet another major artifact of close miking. In short, don't be a shut-in, girl; your radio lies like the ex-bf. Shut it off, sashay to the opera house, stand prettily in the standing room, and live in the glory of your diva's voice, undertones and overtones and all.

26 April 2005

Dalayman on Sieglinde

Incest, Rape, Insanity

"Why is she so hysterical? Hunding is raping her every night, so it's never a nice relationship. She and Siegmund had one good night together and then everything is wrong again. Maybe that brings out this guilt and this feeling of being dirty. You can put in whatever you like to make it believable for yourself when you're singing it."

Women on the Verge [The Guardian]

25 April 2005

Monday Morning Trick Question

Sieglinde vs. Sieglinde

Here are two excerpts from recent Walküres:

excerpt A [363kb,128kbps,23sec]
excerpt B [363kb,128kbps,23sec]

War Wälse dein Vater, und bist du ein Wälsung,
stiess er für dich sein Schwert in den Stamm,
so lass mich dich heissen, wie ich dich liebe:
Siegmund: so nenn ich dich!

Which Sieglinde do you prefer? [Tell Sieglinde, don't be shy.] Which Sieglinde do you think Sieglinde prefers?

22 April 2005

Schizo Met

Die Walküre, 19 April 2005

Suffer my slow reaction times these days. But despite being deep in work and the necessary spring wardrobe cleaning, I’m compelled to come out of this hole of holes to display my utter ecstasy Urbi et Orbi. Amidst the crap currently happening at the Met, I exclaim “Habemus Opera!”

1. Sieglinde’s Sieglinde. Katarina Dalayman's instrument is a persuasive embodiment of Sieglinde, a lustrous, dark voice (an ex-mezzo; the Met roster now lists her as a soprano) yawning brightly in the upper register, and then exploding like a cat in heat at the forte top. When this cat in heat shreiks, the elements enter into a higher dimension, and raw sound fills up any dead space in the theater, including the breathing pores on one’s face. As if to emphasize the otherworldliness, the forte top notes are sharped consistently (enter the ghost of Rysanek), and momentarily she breaks from the symmetric grasp of Wagner’s music and becomes your dear mother, loving but dominant, intimate but grand, disappointed but patient. She held back during the more contemplative moments of Act I, as if to pretend that she’s virginal, but I wanted her to crush the sonic balance right from the start. I prefer my Sieglinde to believe that she’s the mother of the Ring, and certainly the star of Die Walküre (oh puhleeze girl, forget Brünnhilde, around whom the narrative pivots, but whose music wilts easily in comparison). Oh dear Katarina, I implore you to release the artificial inhibitions and be the supreme Desperate Housewife that Sieglinde is. Leave the Brangaene life behind; now you belong to the queen’s roster.

2. Sieglinde, who’s your Sieglinde? I’m not comparing boxers to briefs, except to say that Deborah Voigt’s Sieglinde is a separate creation, whose place in my heart is ever secure. The purity in the Voigt is authentic; when it pushes through Act I, levitates above Act II, and pulls away in Act III, the character can maintain a credible and constant nobility. The Dalayman, on the other hand, is vulnerable and insecure, whose DNA is closer to her earth-mother than her god-father. With the terrifying voice, she formulates the question “Will Sieglinde survive?” which she answers ecstatically “F*ck yeah, and thank me later for clearing out your sinuses.” As Voigt moves away from the Sieglinde and approaches the Brünnhilde, I’m literally counting the minutes leading to that first evening when both women are on stage vying for my abandoned heart.

3. Faust. That orgasmic Die Walküre will almost certainly include Placido Domingo as Siegmund, who is going straight to hell after he dies at age 127. No other explanation is more plausible than a bargain with the devil, and I’m telling you, I had to pick my body up from the floor after being struck down with a lavish, sexy, heroic high A on Wälsungen-Blut!, the longest I’ve witnessed him hold it, to finish a magnificent Act I (currently my favorite act of all of Wagner). It seems he’s just about ready to caravan with Giordani and Licitra for a "Three Tenors, Next Generation" tour. He tires a bit in the middle of the first act, but listen, I get tired just ascending to the family circle from the plaza; then he picks up a vessel and drinks devil water and bam! the tenor is back, more frightful than ever. The Wälse! is more than solid; the Notung! sags a bit; but the Wälsungen-Blut! must have been lipsynched from a Melchior recording. There's just no other way to explain. Elsewhere, he is pure Siegmund, 23 years old and thoroughly jock-y.

4. A little Verdi in Wagner. Fricka was unavailable for the evening; Azucena graciously stepped up to fill in. Dear Larissa Diadkova knows how to make an immediate impression with such a short, monochromatic role. The voice pours out like thick burning lava, and shows everyone who’s "Wotan’s daddy." She was insane as Herodias last year, drunk and swollen; as Fricka, none of the campy sliding and sashaying. The mask of dignified anger on Fricka was unmistakably Verdian; the thickened blood in Walhalla melts, and boils with the force of a wife on the side of reason. Fricka’s scene is almost always transitory, but Diadkova isn’t about that, girls.

5. Bottle the lightning. The schizophrenia continues. During the short Die Walküre run earlier this season (in the fall), Valery Gergiev was deaf to Wagner, a goon impersonating an ape. Perhaps the mechanisms of the Met weren’t ready just yet to move onto post-Levine Wagner: the orchestra was simultaneously sluggish and impatient, and the epic narrative never coalesced and made sense. Today, the Maestro has found his comfort level in this repertory, creating an imperfect but thoroughly honest reading of the Wagner. Levine revels in the psychological subtext, centering the opera on Wotan and in Wotan’s music; Gergiev is cheaper and more romantic, and thinks it’s all about the unkosher love between Siegmund and Sieglinde. Therefore, Gergiev plows through Wotan’s narrative in Act II as if it were Moussorgsky, just to get to Brünnhilde’s encounter with the incestuous couple. His Act I pulsed with life, sensual and forbidden; Act III felt shorter. (Indeed, he was about 20 minutes faster than Levine, total evening.) Levine risks putting everyone to sleep during Wotan’s music in Acts II and III, relying heavily on the charisma of the bass to sustain the magic in the stillness of his funereal gesture. However, James Morris is now older, and no one else seems as capable. On the other hand, Gergiev doesn’t require much from his Wotan (and Mikhail Kit delivers the minimal set); instead, his restless orchestra drives the drama forward a la Karajan or Böhm. After his majestic Salomes last year, Tuesday’s Die Walküre is probably his best work at the Met so far.

6. The title role. Olga Sergeeva is a clone of the enigmatic Hildegard Behrens. Enough said. Love her, hate her, at least she manages to give all the notes their rightful value (vs. veterans Eaglen and Schnaut, both acutely suffering in the passaggio department).

7. Weekend forecast. If this weekend’s broadcast manages to replicate the hammer and fire of Tuesday, expect its recording to be bartered and exchanged among generations of shut-in queens to come. I suspect Dalayman’s forte sharps will not carry well across the airwaves (Leonie’s curse), so it’ll be a case of “you gotta be there” sort of thing.

OK, now back into the hole for me.

19 April 2005

The end of the world is near

so why not allow videocams into the opera house?

Forgive this totally out-of-topic post, but this article on St. Malachy's papal prophecies, written in November 2004, is the freakiest thing I've ever read. First, trrill is dead; now we got Benedict XVI. What's next? Fleming's Norma???

EDIT (3:05 pm): An astute reader kindly pointed out that end-of-worlds are very much on topic, as it's safe to assume that even Maria Guleghina will not survive such a cataclysm. No diva, no opera queerdom; no opera queerdom, the world might as well end.

18 April 2005

Still here

but more irrelevant than ever

Hey Sieglinde, where ya been?

1. Just really busy with work these days.
2. Been to nothing but bad things at the Met the past couple of weeks, and getting tired of hearing myself bitch about it.
3. Will bitch about it as soon as life permits.
4. Terrified that trrill is no more.
5. For a long time, fully realize how irrelevant queer opera blogging is in the grand scena of things.
6. Also hate opera, the way it takes over every aspect of a queen's life.
7. On pills because the Yankees are sucking right now.
8. "Spring" is here.
9. Not going anywhere; nowhere else to go; not welcome anywhere else anyway.
10. Except maybe down there.

08 April 2005


Ballo in Maschera, Met 07 April 2005

Perhaps I was being too dramatic to use “impostors” and “fraudulent” in characterizing the Tosca from two evenings ago, when I should have used more measured words like “mediocre,” “provincial,” “seedy motel,” and a “sorry waste of $21”. Maestro James Conlon returned to the podium for Thursday’s Ballo in Maschera and, in the same fashion, proved to be the weakest participant in an otherwise superb Verdi: thoroughly uninspired conducting, absent of a greater purpose, no dramatic arch, no Italian contour, heavy-handed while lacking poignancy and intimacy. One cannot be satisfied to just accompany Verdi (as one could in, say, a Tosca or a Butterfly); during the just concluded Met Don Carlo, Maestro Fabio Luisi showed us how it’s done, with (1) marked sensitivity to singers, (2) a flair for the dramatic and the romantic, (3) a masterplan to tell a story with music, (4) intelligent use of dynamics, tempi, and other tools. In this Ballo, Maestro Conlon is, in the best light, an accompanist.

Why is Sieglinde so bitchy about conductors these days? Because they usually spell the difference between a good night and a great, ethereal one. It’s unfortunate to have an “almost-five-star” cast (Deborah Voigt, Marcello Giordani, Carlos Alvarez, Lyubov Petrova, Marianne Cornetti) wallow in a routine reading. Conventional wisdom declares Voigt, while sparkling in Wagner and Strauss, is a work in progress in Verdi. Indeed, while lacking the Latin pose and short on the lachrymose hue in tone, Voigt’s Amelia can float and soar with the best of them; unfortunately, Conlon’s rapid push through the Campo Scene didn’t allow Voigt to showcase her strengths. What’s the rush, Maestro? The following duet lacked a swelling heart, even though Giordani was individually stellar in Gustavo’s music. Conlon lightened up a bit for Amelia’s “Morro, ma prima in grazia” and, happily, the results for Voigt were more satisfying. However, Conlon was stubbornly aggressive everywhere else; consequently, the Levinian pearl in the sound of Met orchestra was diminished. But enough of Conlon; you get what I mean. (We miss Levine already; I remember fondly the three Pavarotti Met farewell Toscas from a year ago, conducted by Levine, who broke the rule of the bread-and-butter by making a commonplace opera surprisingly nuanced, insightful, and memorable.)

Giordani is a changed tenor. His previous outings that I’ve heard (Cellini, Des Grieux, Gualtiero, Enzo) were marked by a vigorous brilliance, but qualified by a laziness/unruliness in the lower and middle registers. I’m pleased (and really surprised) to report here that last night, I sensed a discipline (and greater ease) in vocal production combined with a generous fullness of warm sound up and down the staff I’ve not heard from him previously. Adding those to his ever-natural delivery and the majesty of his stupendous top and we have, finally, a real Italianate tenor to speak about in this generation.

With Carlos Alvarez around, I don’t know why the Met continues to suffer Dwayne Croft. No offense to Croft, but Alvarez has a more full-bodied, elegant baritone, perfectly audible and regal for Verdi; Renato was well served indeed. The “Eri tu” was thrilling. Marianne Cornetti’s gifts are better displayed in Amneris’ music, but even in the short, one-dimensional role of Ulrica, she managed to hold her own. Lyubov Petrova elevated the role of Oscar to more than a supporting role. Every time I encounter Ballo, I’m always surprised at how much great music Verdi had written for this character, and glad to have with us an accomplished singer whose middle register is as authentic as the necessary leggiero top.

A few final words about Voigt. She can certainly sing the role of Amelia (and other Italian roles), but her true vocal temperament lies elsewhere. The voice is relentlessly bright, constitutionally joyful, regal, virtuous; her phrasing is even, its unit of expression broad (i.e., nuance moves from phrase to phrase, not word to word or sound to sound, a la Fleming); the flavor of the voice is heroic, superhuman, superfemale, archangel. Therefore, she will never truly succeed in much of the Italian repertory, which values qualities of intimacy, despair, quiet suffering with nobility, tragic darkness (even in the “happy” arias), as well as subhuman revenge. Much as she would like to decorate her delivery with tears and sobs, she will never be able to form an authentic dark veil around the voice. Much of it is genetic (Radvanovsky, Villaroel, and Frittoli were born with a natural throbbing sadness in timbre), some of it personality (she’s a happy, happy girl). She is, however, supreme in Wagner and Strauss, repertories that value a broader expression. Her superb accuracy in pitch and innate ability for loud sound (qualities thankfully preserved post-gastric-bypass) are especially exciting elements for roles like Sieglinde, Ariadne, Kaiserin, Elsa, Leonore, Elisabeth, Chrysothemis, Isolde; and hopefully Salome, Brünnhilde, and Elektra in the future. Which is not to say that her Aida, Leonora, Amelia, and Tosca are horrid; on the contrary, in my view, if no one truly great ascends and claims that repertory, Debbie is more than a pleasant stopgap.

06 April 2005

The Oceanliner & the Met need repair

Impostors at the Met Tosca

Last night's Tosca Act I was the most fraudulent act I've ever heard at the Met. Our intrepid Intrepid, Maria Guleghina, queen of big things, has never been comfortable in music not hovering above the staff, her sound tending to disappear behind the quietest orchestration no matter how much she pushes and thrashes around the passaggio. It is therefore a given that she would suck in Act I's love duet. So she did ... Having never been enamored by the first act of Tosca, I was prepared to "doze" through the blather soon after this muscular Floria Tosca screams her "Mario! Mario!" from backstage. I soon realized, however, that the evening wouldn't be a classic sonicfest I had hoped when Salvatore Licitra's Mario on-stage was actually megadecibels louder than our Tosca's pre-entrance lines ... Licitra's voice has some admirable angles, but the upper register doesn't bloom as one would like. He was OK. But Maria, dear Maria: I could sing the love duet much better than you. Did you need a score in front of you? Was the prompter deaf? And who was that "conductor" impersonating Maestro James Conlon? And why wasn't I told that it was the Met orchestra's day off, and that some OONY/NYCO rejects were filling in? The brass almost always fumbles, but the string section, the Met orchestra's sparkling jewel, failed to even sustain a lushly written Puccini moment (the easiest kind), much less an entire scene. It was all amateurish. (Later in the evening, the cello segment anticipating Cavaradossi's "E lucevan le stelle" in Act III made us all cringe.) The third principal, Mark Delavan, competent but unexciting in Scarpia's music, isn't the rescuing kind ... Of the 861 Toscas the Met has performed, last evening's first act must be the most grotesque and frightening. No one was left but Zeffirelli, whose lavish sets appeared to have saved the Met yet again. Things improved some in Acts II and III, I'm guessing by sheer chance ... But I'm not turning in my oceanliner fan club card just yet, for I suspect Guleghina is suffering from something. Physically, she was still all over the place, lunging at both Delavan and Licitra with characteristic abandon. (Entering Act III, she rushes in to embrace Licitra, who uses her massive momentum to lift her up in the air and pivot a few times.) However, her voice lacked its usual overbearing bulk, and my ears never hurt once all night. This will not be noticed during the coming Saturday radio broadcast; but when speaking about Guleghina, we care only for the unique kind of excess she brings live on stage, and when this is absent in a bread-and-butter like Tosca, the whole enterprise becomes a frustrating box of stale Ritz crackers ... But the sordid crime was the inept performance in the pit. The object in conducting an unnuanced work like Tosca is to not be noticed. Maestro Conlon, and the Met orchestra he was dealt, just plain sucked. I'm at a loss for words. They really, really sucked.

Let's hope Guleghina gets her groove back. Here she is during her curtain call, still standing.