30 May 2005

I'm on break

(back in a few)

What I'm doing to pass the time:

1. Correct Freni's data: change Nannetta to Alice Ford. Status: Done! (Thank you MLR for noticing.)
2. Look for topless pictures of Peter Hofmann. Status: Still searching. (E-mail me a pic if you have it, please.)
3. Acknowledge those who wrote Sieglinde regarding the Klytamnestra observation: Yes, Scotto has done her, in Baltimore (but not in New York). Status: Acknowledged.
4. Resist the meme temptation. Status: Resisting. (Though ... not ... for ... long ...)
5. Figure out a way to send $25 to a friend in need (Alberto Vilar). Status: Not!
6. Tell TSR about forgiving Rolando Villazon of all mortal sins. Status: Told.
7. Warn Sarah of the dangers of the Böhm 1966 Bayreuth Tristan: why ruin every other Tristan in this universe? Status: Warned.
8. Swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Status: Duh, like every day, dude.
9. Organize a database of all my recorded music. Status: Still dreaming.
10. Hit "Refresh" on parterre box gossip every 15 minutes. Status: every 15 minutes.
11. Forget the Millo Tosca; hunt for copy of demented Tom Cruise Oprah apparition. Status: Looking, and desperate.
12. Drop everything for National Spelling Bee on ESPN. (There are currently 50,800 google hits for N-U-C-U-L-A-R, can you believe?). Status: Screaming.

PHOTO ABOVE (Dorothy Kirsten and her beloveds) courtesy of Sandy Steiglitz's fabulous website of operatic photographs.

24 May 2005

Post-end-of-Met-season-week post

First sign of withdrawal: rapid breathing

Now that my house is dark, with little to do, Sieglinde's cruising the databases. I picked out a few divas of recent interest, and organized bits of detail from their Met lives. (This is all for a manuscript I’m planning to write, for submission to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences no less, regarding the biomathematical modeling of a diva's career using bifurcation/chaos theory and simple dynamics of large solids. It has potential.) You can help Sieglinde with the interpretation of data by e-mailing her. Don’t be shy.


(in order of vocal appearance in this universe)

Renata Scotto, 71, born February 24, 1934. Metropolitan Opera debut at age 31 (10/13/1965) as Butterfly (Madama Butterfly). Total 314 performances with the company (including galas, concerts, and tours) of 26 roles (in order of first performance): Butterfly, Lucia, Adina, Violetta, Gilda, Marguerite, Amina, Mimi, Elena (Vespri), Giorgetta, Angelica, Lauretta (Trittico), Leonora (Trovatore), Berthe (La Prophete), Adriana, Desdemona, Luisa Miller, Elisabetta, Gioconda, Manon Lescaut, Verdi Requiem soprano, Norma, Lady Macbeth, Francesca da Rimini, Tosca, Vitellia. Last appearance: 1/17/1987 (Butterfly), 22 years at the Met.

Mirella Freni, 70, born February 27, 1935. Metropolitan Opera debut at age 30 (9/29/1965) as Mimi (La Boheme). Total 140 performances with the company (including galas, concerts, and tours) of 13 roles (in order of first performance): Mimi, Adina, Liu, Marguerite, Juliette, Susanna, Micaela, Elisabetta, Manon Lescaut, Tatyana, Alice Ford, Adriana, Fedora. Last appearance: 5/15/2005 (Freni gala), 40 years at the Met.

Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, born March 1, 1954. Metropolitan Opera debut at age 45 (12/20/1999) as Myrtle Wilson (Great Gatsby). Total 17 performances with the company (including one gala) of 2 roles (in order of first performance): Myrtle Wilson, Dido (Troyens). Last (latest?) appearance: 2/22/2003 (Dido). 3 years at the Met.

Aprile Millo, 47, born April 14, 1958. Metropolitan Opera debut at age 26 (6/20/1984) as Amelia (Simon Boccanegra). Total 152 appearances with the company (including galas, concerts, and tours) of 14 roles (in order of first performance): Elvira (Ernani, in Brooklyn 6/20/1984), Amelia (Simon Boccanegra), Elisabetta, Aida, Liu, Desdemona, Luisa Miller, Leonora (Trovatore), Amelia (Ballo), Maddalena, Giselda, Tosca, Margherita/Elena (Mefistofele). Latest (last?) appearance: 5/19/2005 (Tosca), 21 years at the Met.

Renée Fleming, 46, born February 14, 1959. Metropolitan Opera debut at age 32 (3/16/1991) as the Countess (Nozze di Figaro). Total 131 appearances with the company (including galas, concerts, tours) of 17 roles (in order of first performance): Countess (Figaro), Rosina (Ghosts of Versailles), Pamina, Desdemona, Ellen Orford, Fiordiligi, Marguerite, Rusalka, Manon, Susannah, Marschallin, Donna Anna, Verdi Requiem soprano, Arabella, Imogene, Violetta, Rodelinda. Latest appearance: 1/6/2005 (Rodelinda), 14 years at the Met.

Deborah Voigt, 44, born August 4, 1960. Metropolitan Opera debut at age 31 (10/17/1991) as Amelia (Ballo in Maschera). Total 156 performances with the company (including galas, concerts, and tours) of 12 roles (in order of first performance): Amelia (Ballo), Chrysothemis, Leonora (Trovatore), Ariadne, Senta, Leonora (Forza), Sieglinde, Elsa, Aida, Kaiserin, Cassandre, Elisabeth. Latest appearance: 4/28/2005 (Amelia, Ballo), 14 years at the Met.

Karita Mattila, 44, born September 5, 1960. Metropolitan Opera debut at age 29 (3/22/1990) as Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni). Total 86 performances with the company (including galas, concerts, and tours) of 11 roles (in order of first performance): Donna Elvira, Eva, Lisa, Musetta, Elsa, Amelia (Simon Boccanegra), Leonore, Chrysothemis, Jenufa, Salome, Kat’a. Latest appearance: 1/1/2005 (Kat’a). 15 years at the Met.

Angela Gheorghiu, 39, born September 7, 1965. Metropolitan Opera debut at age 28 (12/4/1993) as Mimi (La Boheme). Total of 55 performances with the company (including galas, concerts, and tours) of 6 roles (in order of first performance): Mimi, Liu, Micaela, Juliette, Adina, Marguerite. Latest appearance: 3/18/2003 (Marguerite). 10 years at the Met.

Sondra Radvanovsky, born April 11, 19??. Metropolitan Opera debut at age ?? (12/9/1996) as Countess Ceprano (quiz: can you name the opera??). Total of 111 performances with the company (including galas, concerts, and tours) of 18 roles (in order of first performance): Countess Ceprano, Priestess (another quiz: name the opera), Kate Pinkerton, Antonia & Stella, Dorotea (name this one too!), Leonora (Trovatore), Micaela, Serving Woman (this should be easy!), Gutrune, Freia, Musetta, Violetta (Met at the Parks), Luisa Miller, Donna Anna, Elena (Vespri), Elisabetta, Roxane (Cyrano de Bergerac). Latest appearance, 5/20/2005 (Roxane). 9 years at the Met.


1. Someone’s lying about her age. (You get two guesses.)
2. Longevity trumps intensity (Freni v. Scotto).
3. Intensity trumps longevity (Millo v. Millo).
4. Fleming is diva (lowest appearance/role ratio, at 7.71, not including the outlier Radvanovsky); Voigt is most slighted (highest appearance/role ratio, at 13.00);
6. Scotto and Millo’s candles burn(ed) at both ends; Scotto’s candle was thicker; Millo’s candle, ribboned with “Mea Culpa,” drips all over.
7. Mattila doesn’t really like the Met. (She’s scared of Lois & Co. and Debbie.)
8. The Met doesn’t really like Hunt-Lieberson. (But that doesn’t stop the Angela.)
9. No one has done Klytamnestra as of yet. Who shall be first? (Sieglinde computes the following odds: Scotto, 5:1; Millo, 50:1 as cover; Fleming, even money—she’ll do anyone at least once.)
10. Hardest worker: Scotto (14.27 appearances/year). Hardest to type: Sondra Radvanovsky. Hardest to believe: Millo is only a year older than Fleming. Second hardest to believe: Sondra was Serving Woman to Schnaut/Voigt/Schwarz, and Priestess to Hasmik Papian.

[Please send missing Sondra birth year info to Sieglinde.]

EDIT: Lovely ex-Grisi Nick, over at trrill, has (a) sent me Sondra's birth year info (1969) and (b) made Sieglinde's day (she's still younger than her diva!!)

20 May 2005

This is how you end a season

(short of jumping off parapet)

1. Pick trashy opera.
2. Engage has-been soprano with something to prove.
3. Pair with ballsy tenor with squillo, squillo, squillo.
4. Get some Wotan to do villain.
5. Pick newbie, pushover conductor.
6. Slow tempi down to near-standstill; draw out money notes.
7. Disregard propriety: add “mea culpa”s to libretto.
8. Throw “golden age” around during intermission conversation.
9. Go berserk after final chord, bang walls, burn vocal cords during curtain calls.
10. Surround stage door with Klytamnestra and Royal Co..
11. Pose for picture with diva in black velour shmatas. (Both of you.)
12. Float home via 1/9 train, text global friends about coital insanity, eat leftover Indian takeout, blog “This is how you end a season,” plan to ask around “lavender network” for good “transcript” first thing following morning.
13. Crawl to bed, thank gods (and Visa card) for wondrous, wondrous life.

17 May 2005

Io son l'umile ancella

Mirella Freni

First, read sister vilaine fille’s heartwarming tribute to Mirella Freni.

My first complete opera recording purchase was the von Karajan La Boheme with Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti (cf. my first opera recording, an excerpt CD of the Serafin La Boheme with Renata Tebaldi and Carlo Bergonzi). Freni’s Mimi has yet to be supplanted by another recording; I suspect it will remain unsurpassed, as it is both the technically superior and (in my heart) sentimental choice. The remarkable length of Freni’s career seems Topic A on everyone’s mind (from fans littering in opera-l to Joe Volpe’s Blackglama “What becomes a legend most?” tribute), but beyond that, the Freni mystique doesn’t seem to populate or influence much of the current operatic mythology (esp. queen-built mythology) as much as other Met Mimi exponents like Renata Scotto, even Ileana Cotrubas, or more recently Angela Gheorghiu. Only when Freni was repackaged in the last decade (a decade dominated by white bread divas) as the “Last Prima Donna” (capital L, capital P, capital D) did she enter the nebulous imagination of the queen. All this discussion may be incidental to the actual musical performance, but the divinity of the Diva, for better or worse, transcends the score and the stage, and lives “forever” in the shared canticles of the common worshippers. Of course, the catch is that there is not one mythology: the memoir of every queen traces the lonely narrative of defying myth while establishing another. (I know there are “mostly sane” Carol Vaness connoisseurs; the confusion mounts when I mouth my adulation for the late-90s-vintage Catherine Malfitano). One’s “understated delicacy” and “relatively placid” is another’s “shattering”, “ferocity”, “oozes sex and despair” (oozes? sex? despair? Must Dig Up That Recording From The Mountain Of Scottos and Prices). Indeed, as sister vilaine fille declares, there are many varieties of intensity in opera (as varied as the multiple personalities of the cabal waiting by the Met stage door at every evening’s end). That Guleghina (Oceanliner, Skyscraper, 747), which my sister loves to hate, shall not be placed on the same altar as the Freni; but there is no need, for the catacomb is vast and virtually bottomless. (The smear of filth can be contained!) The Aida, the Butterfly, the Manon Lescaut that I will take to my hospice won’t be the Freni (but the Price, the Scotto, the Albanese respectively--accounting current taste). (News: I shall not arise from the grips of death to look for a Micaela, Juliette, or a Nannetta.) However, my deathbed La Boheme shall be the Freni, not because she embodies the true “recitar cantando” (Sieglinde says “huh??” to vilaine fille’s Peri fetish; gurgling and cooing are valid sounds too!), but because she happened to be the Columbia House Classical Music Club La Boheme, moved a miraculous Mimi that lived once in that young boy’s heart, and, with such small hands, built the vivid garden that now houses the obese Sieglinde. Underneath the turgid, calcified layers of filth, queerdom, nostalgia, suspicion, arrogance, and rabid dementia, that “understated delicacy” is probably still Sieglinde’s truest heart.

16 May 2005

Adieu, notre petite table

Freni Gala, 15 May 2005

One can’t simply jump onto a diva’s bandwagon at the tail end of her career and expect to be touched profoundly by such things as a gala anniversary celebration of her operatic and Met stage debuts, even as an unannounced farewell to the Met stage. (Oversentimental Sieglinde may be able to fake it, but she fakes many things.) If the diva is Mirella Freni (a full half-century on the operatic stage and 40 years since her Met debut), master technician of longevity, singing always “on interest, not capital” (more accurately, on the interest of the interest), who toured the vocal fachs with remarkable restraint (hundreds of lyrical Mimis, Lius, and Micaelas before spintos Aida, Elisabetta, Desdemona, Tatiana; and then when the voice roughened in age, selective verismo), the ecstacy or poignancy of a quiet goodbye (to a relatively placid career) becomes complicated to access. I know, however, that to those who have been there from the beginning, the charge of the gala afternoon was immensely different. Imagine being 20ish in 1965 and hearing her Mimi during her debut season at the Met, then marking the slow ooze of 40 years with dependable Freni performances (though she didn’t sing at the Met at all in the 70s), and now being 60ish and realizing that this “Non ti scordar di me” may have been the last occasion. Alas, 40 years of understated delicacy; with the patience, silence, and consistency of a mother, she has become a second mother to many; but now the mother bows low and with tears in her eyes moves on. Still, to those who were seeing La Freni for the first (and last) time Sunday afternoon, there was a feeling of general loss. I've never bought the Freni title “Last Prima Donna” because there will always be prima donnas in our midst (of varied sorts, now and forever), and therefore always a “last” prima donna in every batch of artists as viewed by succeeding eras; but the occasion of half-built music* for this particular prima donna served to prefigure the moment when our own Voigts and Flemings and Gheorghius and Mattilas make their final bows (predictably, with scary, majestically bloodcurdling versions of “Non ti scordar di me”) and maybe that inevitability was the ghost I saw when the confetti fluttered down silently from the sides and the heavy golden curtain fell (slowly, so gently) on the small, youthfully blonde, tearful Mirella Freni for the last time.

[*N.B. Sieglinde whispers in my ear and says there were three or four other artists at the gala who should be farewell’ing as well. I shall get to that issue at a later time.]

13 May 2005

Weekend Wrap-Up

Neighborhood News

Ten things:

1. Full moon: Sieglinde is in line with NYCOF regarding Wednesday’s Met Clemenza.
2. The mother awakens: La Cieca enters the blogdom.
3. A cut above: our own four razors and his dictaphone are one year old.
4. A hole refilled: trrill reactivates, rises beyond operablogqueerdom.
5. Sister in Yankeeland: Why pine for Paulie when we got Tino.
6. Were there others on stage in the Faust?: Sieglinde could only see Bobby; AUV helps out and notices the sopranos.
7. Queen of Pirates reaches next generation: our girl in Kiwiland discovers the soul of the bel canto resurgence.
8. Hey, Mr. Postman: I really meant to send the package to douchebag.
9. May is TAFTO (Take A Friend To Orchestra) Month: take me!
10. Almost always never ten.

UPDATE [10:52am] : Hold it; there are ten after all!
10. The Gheorghius: setting fire on both sides of the Atlantic (but always an ocean between them these days).

11 May 2005

Roberto Alagna

Faust, 10 May 2005, Beyond Words

No, that’s not Sieglinde posing with Bobby. (That’s Sieglinde’s spiritual godmother, I-only-wear-60s-couture Lois Kirschenbaum, trying to get some at the Met stage door.) Meanwhile, Sieglinde joins the chorus of Alagna admirers whose summer goal is to be the next Mrs. Gheorghiu. Kidding aside, I have never felt such love for male voices until this man’s blossoming renaissance as our leading man of opera. Simply beyond words, the joy in my heart is immense. Those who waited by the stage door after the opera (I was too spent to hang around) told me how warm, generous, infectiously happy, and boyish he was with everyone (Lois or otherwise), exuding an authentic joie de vivre through and through. News: still shaking, Sieglinde is finding it very hard to write any more on this subject. Falling for a voice consumes and paralyzes thoroughly like middle school puppy love. Recovery may be impossible.

09 May 2005

Sieglinde Intervenes in a Private Matter

(She knows from Rings)

Jonathan Evans, for example, is a 22-year-old student from Winter Haven, Fla., who has been an opera buff since he turned 13. He was on an Amazon cruise with his parents, Jim and Sonya, when they learned of the festival and its ambitious program and jumped at the opportunity to see Wagner along the great river. "I've got a 'Ring' recording, the Met version with James Levine and Kathleen Battle," he said. "But to be able to actually see part of the cycle in this incredible place, and for only $20 a ticket" - the best seats in the house - "how can you pass that up?"
A 'Ring' in the Rain Forest [NYT]

Dear Jim and Sonya: sooner or later, we find out the truth. Now that you know, the best thing to do for everyone's highest welfare, especially for dear Jonathan, would be to openly embrace him as proud parents of a "connoisseur." (Just be grateful he didn't turn into a Broadway aficionado.)

For the benefit of other parents of "questioning" pre-adolescents and teens, Sieglinde has organized (yet another) list for you. (Don't we just love Sieglinde's Germanic organization?) This time, it's a chronological list of telltale signs (specific to Wagner's Ring) your dear child is a "connoisseur" too.

1. Age 10, tells you J.R.R. Tolkien is a plagiarizer and fraud. (But still insists on calling his favorite teddy bear Frodo.)

2. Age 11 1/2, asks dad about possibility of moving the family to Valhalla, New York.

3. Age 12, wants to be fat, greets you "Hojoto-ho" from the school bus, and starts referring to you as Fricka in his fiuschia diary.

4. Age 14, "discovers" varsity "sports", switches to diet soda, and scribbles nothing but "Sieglinde" in his algebra textbook. If you have another son (more critically, a twin son) please read Die Walküre Act I synopsis pronto!!

5. Age 15, realizes Hildegard Behrens is too queer for devotion; listens to the Waldvogel in him and erects shrine for Kathy Battle in his room, amidst posters of Tom Cruise (Top Gun pose) and Rosalind Russell.

6. Age 16, obsession with Ring reaches crescendo; collects all types of rings, decorative and otherwise. (Remember that small, ornately studded leather thing you found under the sofa one afternoon and thought was a funky napkin ring?)

7. Age 18, chooses Yale over Harvard, leaves the Levine Ring home, and takes the Furtwängler Ring (RAI Roma, not La Scala) to New Haven.

[Side note: Those with short-haired daughters, only nuanced telltale sign: discussion at the dinner table about the Solti/Sutherland Ring. Everything else should be obvious and frighteningly explicit.]

07 May 2005

The Emperor Speaks

Words, threats, vendettas; the whole stand-up routine

During the La Clemenza di Tito broadcast Saturday (07 May 2005), the intermission feature was another enlightening edition of Opera News on the Air, facilitated by (gutsy) Robert Marx. This week, it was a discussion of current issues facing the Metropolitan Opera with the Met’s General Manager and Supreme Master Mastercarpenter, Joseph Volpe. Sieglinde has summarized the most important points of the interview, as well as incisive clarifications and probable translations (in case things aren’t clear enough) for everyone’s benefit.

1. MARX (regarding the future of these “really extraordinary” live radio broadcasts from the Met): “How’s it all going?”
VOLPE: “Well, Robert, if you asked me that question two years ago, I would say that the future was not looking particularly bright. It was rather dim as we were running out of gas …”
SIEGLINDE: Yeah. Chevron. Texaco. Gas. We get it. Let's move on.

2. VOLPE: “Of course we started our broadcast campaign, and we have about 85,000 .. no, 8,500 contributors. The numbers start going, you know …”
SIEGLINDE: Usually the second thing to go.

3. VOLPE: “It’s expected that we would reduce our broadcast expenses, which we’re working on and we’ve had some success.”
SIEGLINDE: Aha! This explains “the Divine” Margaret Juntwait.

4. VOLPE: “We will also attempt to reduce the fees that we pay to the company and to singers, and and my hope is that they will be agreeable so that we can continue these broadcasts.”
SIEGLINDE: Read: This is an ultimatum. Either Voigt, Fleming, Mattila, et al. agree to a pay cut, or we’ll have to program more of Valayre, Crider, and Papian for these broadcasts. (Remember, Joe doesn’t mess around with threats. Ask Kathy Battle.)

5. VOLPE: “So my dear friends, I can say that we will have our radio broadcast next year, and I feel quite optimistic that they will continue.”
SIEGLINDE: *Let us all bow low*

6. VOLPE: “Now, long term, (the broadcasts) might also be carried in different forms; I mean, we’re looking and talking to satellite radio people and maybe we’ll have it over the internet. So a lot of things will happen in the long term future but for the short term, I’m pleased to say, that these broadcasts will continue.”
SIEGLINDE: What Joe really meant to say was: “Now, long term, (the broadcasts) might also be carried in different forms; I mean, I’m sick and tired of pirates on opera-sell making money off these “free” radio broadcasts, don’t you think it’s time for the Met cash in? Just look at Howard Stern and Martha Stewart. Satellite is the way to go, baby. And the internet, yeah, bitches! If people pay crazy for porn, well we got lots of the same things going on here every week. F*ck you all, po' folks who can’t afford satellite radio or a computer. We’re going upscale, where opera truly belongs … So a lot of things will happen in the long term future but for the short term, I’m pleased to say, that these free broadcasts will continue, so enjoy it while it lasts, cheap bitches.”

7. MARX (regarding the increased diversity in the current Met repertoire): “Is audience taste changing?”
VOLPE: “I was thinking about this the other day. Rudolf Bing produced Nabucco in 1960-61 season. It performed 10 times. The next time it performed was when we produced a new production in 2001. Forty years later. We’ve performed Nabucco in 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005. We totalled 30 performances. Many of those, and I would say most of those, were sold out or sold very well. Now why did not Nabucco do well in the 60s and it’s doing extremely well now. Is that a matter of changing tastes? I don’t know that it is. I think one is the question of, it’s a very difficult opera to produce vis a vis the principals, so do you have the singers to cast it …”
SIEGLINDE: Right. Bing only had Rysanek. Thank the Good Lord we got the likes of Guleghina, Gruber, and Neves. Sure is better to have ‘em than that old tire Leonie.

8. VOLPE: “If you look at my 16 years, of course including next year, we’ve presented 26 premieres at the Met, of which 4 were world premieres. During the Bing days, he produced 11. Now I’m not suggesting that we’re better than he is, I’m suggesting that times were different.”
SIEGLINDE: Not news: Volpe thinks he’s the best Met general manager ever in the history of ever. News: Volpe would like to now use the royal “we” to refer to himself. (Ooops, I meant themselves.)

9. MARX (regarding the upcoming world premiere of Tobias Picker’s opera An American Tragedy): “Is there a particular pleasure in producing a new opera and taking it from commission to first night?”
VOLPE: “… and today, in the courthouse where the trial was, if you search around for old timers, they’ll even be talking about that trial … And the production team, Francesca Zambello, they spent time there also.”
SIEGLINDE: Oh, Fran Zam, that girl; was she on trial too for another American tragedy??

10. VOLPE: “Of course you have the (*pregnant pause*) pleasure or the problem of dealing with the living composer. And I mentioned earlier that someone said that the best composers are the dead ones, but I’m not gonna attribute that to anyone.”
SIEGLINDE: If there’s any more direct hit than this, Sieglinde don’t know her American from her Tragedy. (Speaking of "hits," I'm told Joe Volpe's middle name is "Soprano.")

11. MARX (trying to either rescue Joe, or, more likely, create a bit more tension): “And what is it really like to have a composer backstage working with you throughout the process.”
VOLPE: “Must I say on the air? (*Liszt Hall erupts in nervous laughter*) No, actually in most cases, it’s really quite wonderful. If you go back to Antony and Cleopatra, when it was being produced, and Franco Zeffirelli was working on the staging, and some on the libretto, and he would say to the composer, well I need more music, I can’t get this army on.”
SIEGLINDE: What Joe really meant to say was: “Must I say on the air? No, actually, in Tobias Picker’s case, I’d rather have the disaster of Zeffirelli’s rendition of Antony and Cleopatra, the immense motherf*cker failure of the opening evening of the new house, than this shit.”

12, MARX: “Anything about those old days that you miss or would like to recreate as you move towards your final season?”
VOLPE: “You mean, besides my energy?”
SIEGLINDE: Usually the first to go. (Thankfully these days we got prescription drugs for “long lasting” help in this department.)

13. VOLPE (regarding those domestic tours): “The tour was a time when you gave performances; you did not rehearse during the day. In a way, it was a respite. In a way it was a vacation, it was a break. …”
SIEGLINDE: Yeah, no rehearsals needed for concerts in Duluth, Detroit, Denver, and the rest of the backwater. What do they know from opera? (Give 'em that Aida, Boheme, Carmen. Vacation time! Wet t-shirt contest with Renée and Debbie! Must not tell Jane.)

14. MARX: “Is it possible to recreate (domestic tours), given the economics of opera today?”
VOLPE: “… quite frankly, it’s my belief that we should try in some way to reconstitute a tour … It would be nice if we could find ways to take the company, even in concert form, not with full sets, to major cities in the country and perform. I think it will be an incredible outreach for the audience.”
SIEGLINDE: Read: the impending demise of your regional and local opera companies. The big apple is coming to your town.

15. MARX (regarding the arrangement between Boston Symphony and Levine): “From the Met’s perspective has the arrangement worked successfully?”
VOLPE: “I think it’s really worked brilliantly. I think I should take some credit for that. (*Laughter*)
SIEGLINDE: Insert favorite joke here. (Too easy. Sieglinde's drawing a blank.)

16. VOLPE: “Knowing Jim, flying to Europe, to Munich, or flying to Vienna to do concerts, the jetlag connected to that, where Jimmy would come back and for 3 or 4 days was completely wiped out because his schedule … I mean, James Levine works night and day no matter where he is …
SIEGLINDE: Joe, is it Jim, Jimmy, or James? (I guess it depends on the topic of conversation, and who’s on top, or who’s chained to the post …) PS. As Sieglinde tells La Scala: Good luck!

17. VOLPE: “… Boston is a perfect location. You can fly up to Boston or take the train, if they’re running, to Boston and in no time have a meeting and come back in the evening.”
MARX: “We’ll definitely contact Amtrak for that.”
SIEGLINDE: Oh my god, it’s true. Stop the presses. Joseph Volpe, soon-to-be retired Met general manager, is running for public office!

06 May 2005


It could happen to you!

Talk about a dramatic exit.

Midway through the third act of Verdi's Aida Sunday at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, soprano Marquita Lister suddenly quit singing and walked off stage.

The opera stopped, the curtain dropped, and 2,500 people in the audience sat stunned.

Lister - starring as the Ethiopian slave Aida - inhaled something, although nobody knows just what. Thousands of pieces of decorative confetti floated down from above during the three-hour production, and one could have lodged in her throat.

'She said it felt like a hairball,' said Judith Lisi, president of the center. 'She couldn't sing, and had to walk off. She was trying to gargle it up, but couldn't move it.'
Hairball or not, the opera must go on [Tampa Tribune]

No, Sieglinde wasn't there, but should have been, because she's an expert on both hairballs and confetti. (Tragic, she misses yet another freak show.)

This unfortunate accident highlights the disproportionate risks involved in "live" events. (Just ask any American Idol groupie or Carol Vaness fan.) Indeed, the unexpected could happen anywhere. At any opera house. Large or small.

Here's a list, compiled by Sieglinde's mole (planted among the Met's production crew and stagehands), of very likely scenarios for interruptions resulting from artists accidentally engulfing foreign objects during our favorite shows at the Met:

1. During a Salome, in the heat of the Dance of the Seven Veils, Maestro Valery Gergiev swings his arms up and down and out of control (typical), and accidentally swallows the toothpick that he uses in place of a baton. (Opera stops cold; soprano stands butt-naked on stage for three full minutes while terrified stagehands, all busy checking her out moments before the swallowing happened, scramble to lower the curtain.)

2. In the same Salome production (but a few short years from now), look-at-me-I'm-thin-as-Karita Deborah Voigt, during the now infamous Dance of the Seven Veils, accidentally swallows the sixth veil, filling up her now shrunken stomach and exploding it all over the stage, pit, and the first four rows of the orchestra. (Never mind the seventh veil.)

3. In a Tosca, Oceanliner Maria Guleghina accidentally swallows Samuel Ramey, the Scarpia, in a classic Act II tussle on the floor. (Ever intrepid, our trooper diva sings for both, up to the act's end; in other news, Ramey "retires" prematurely--finally.)

4. In most any opera, La Portaméenta Renée Fleming accidentally swallows a deliciously buttery floated high D-flat, which she released a few seconds before, but has found its way back onto the stage after touring her most ardent (but cheap) fanatics at the family circle standing room and side boxes. (Sieglinde is told in a vision that the ghost of the high D-flat will linger around the men's room up at the balcony level.)

5. During a routine Tristan und Isolde, on-the-diet-and-off-again Ben Heppner and always-off Jane Eaglen accidentally swallow one another as the tragic lovers rush towards each other prior to the bleeding love duet of Act II. (Conductor James Levine, lost in the depths of Wagner's world yet again, doesn't notice, and continues on until bitch-I-should-be-singing-the-Isolde Katarina Dalayman, the evening's overparted Brangäne, shreiks a high B upon seeing no lovers from the high parapet. Sieglinde doesn't know what she sees instead. Hairballs and confetti, not metaphysics, are what Sieglinde knows like the back of her hand.)

05 May 2005

La Scala in La-La Land

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This prospect of opening up the roster of conductors [in the wake of the operatic ouster of Riccardo Muti] is apparently one reason that La Scala's musicians have welcomed Mr. [Stéphane] Lissner. Sandro Malatesta, a trumpet player and union representative, said he looked forward to "a gust of novelty," with new titles and top artists, including James Levine, music director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, "who has never conducted here and I don't know why." Last week, during a quick visit to New York, Mr. Lissner talked with Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager-designate, about closer ties.
French Master Moves to La Scala [NYT]

Sieglinde says, good luck. Already, seeing our principal conductor conduct at the Met is becoming increasingly difficult, thanks to his competing commitments at the Boston Symphony and elsewhere. How can the Milano Zoo entice the maestro to give up a month of his time (factoring rehearsals) when he's already finding it a pain to shuttle between Boston and New York? Here's the situation: at the Met next season, Levine is set to conduct the new production of Don Pasquale, ceding Roméo et Juliette (new production), Mazzepa (Met opera premiere), and An American Tragedy (world premiere) to other batons (of variable quality). In addition, he conducts semi-exciting revivals of Così fan tutte (7 evenings), Falstaff (less than 8; he shares the run with Colaneri), Fidelio (less than 7; shares with Nadler), Lohengrin (measly 6), Parsifal (only 3), and Wozzeck (only 4). The total of about 40 evenings at the Met podium (accounting for the shared duties on Cosi and Falstaff, not including galas and performances with the Met Orchestra elsewhere) is probably the lowest it has been in decades. During his 3rd full season with the company (1973-74, at the tender age of 30), he led about 45 performances; in the 1996-97 season, he led more than 60; the current season (2004-05), he'll finish with only 48.

Meanwhile, I don't know what "closer ties" with the Met would mean. Could it be an influx of US-based artists into Milan's pathetic local roster? Well, here goes: I foresee the triumphant return of Renée Fleming (among the major artists who despise La Scala and/or don't sing there) in Norma, a work created for that historic stage, with Stephanie Blythe as her Adalgisa (company debut), conducted by James Levine (or if unavailable, the other American James, Maestro Conlon). Who shall be booed? What vegetables shall be thrown during curtain call? Deep questions. Plot thickens. Sieglinde *yawns*.

04 May 2005

Guess who's (not) at the Met Millo Ballo

Sieglinde misses another one

--UPDATED, 2:00pm (scroll down)--

[9:00pm, Tuesday] It's alright, boys and girls. Hush. Sieglinde may not be at the Met tonight (Un Ballo in Maschera), but her moles are. Here are the initial reports, hot off the cell:

[9:35pm] Aprile Millo enters Act I, Scene 2, the audience applauds; she begins somewhat underpowered; during the Campo Scene (Act II), some uncertainty in her vocal production, marked stridency in the top register; "you can't tell if something's gonna come out OK or not"; her pianissimi are spectacular, especially under thin orchestration, but as soon as Verdi engages the full orchestra, one notices the now limited size of Millo's voice vs. the Met space; beautiful, idiomatic Italian phrasing we've come to expect from her, exceptionally elegant in the middle range; her forte top is another story: not quite a wobble, but the voice becomes hard-edged; she achieves loudness only at the expense of timbre (i.e., sounds obviously forced); Millo fanatics came out in full force, giving the Diva a huge, grateful ovation after her Act II aria; Deborah Voigt outscores Millo in all aspects of technique and voice, except in the style department. In short, Millo is all style.

[9:50pm] Let's see if my mole calls back after the opera; Millo may be saving all the fireworks for "Morro, ma prima in grazia," among her better calling card arias. The thin orchestration will surely help display the authentic diva pose amidst limited resources.

[10:45pm] NYCOF leaves after Act II, posts an enigmatic "ballo busters all." Hmmm .....

[11:50pm] My mole calls to report from the doors of the Met stage. Regarding the rest of the opera: as I suspected, her "Morro, ma prima in grazia" is her one unqualified success of the evening; with only a cello to battle through most of the aria, her sotto voce is breathtaking, the phrasing in full color; the house is hushed through the quietness, and then Millo ends the aria with a melodramatic long high note, beats her chest, falls to the floor; the auditorium erupts. Millo's curtain call was OK: no flowers thrown, no confetti from the rafters, nothing compared to the ovation after the Andrea Chenier from two seasons ago (her last appearance on the Met stage prior to this evening; that curtain call was immense, continuing even after the house lights were turned on). During the meet and greet by the stage door, she declines every request for photographs; Lois Kirschenbaum, dean of fanatics, offers the diva a bottle of vino; flowers surround an exhausted Millo as she signs her admirers' programs; someone asks her when (or if) she'll ever sing at the City Opera, to which she responds with a chuckle and "not yet, but who knows"; also there, Maestro James Conlon is gracious, inviting everyone to come see him next season in An American Tragedy (u-huh, ok).

[12:20am, Wednesday] So in conclusion: the Millo Maddalena from two seasons ago was an insane (and unexpected) success; the Millo Amelia this evening turned out to be a test of survival. That she is on her way out is not news; how dignified the exit is the remaining question. The concluding act to the Millo saga occurs at the Tosca in two weeks. Sieglinde shall be there.

[1:10pm] News from Opera-L regarding last night's "golden age" event trickles slowly. The pseudonymous Gualtier Maldé, a poster whose assessments I generally agree with, provides us with a starkly different view. In particular, regarding Millo's top register: "The voice has changed this season and not all for the worse. In fact, her top is better than ever. The voice seems naturally to be larger - in fact it seems to be a true italianate spinto-dramatic now rather than the fragile, artificially darkened lirico-spinto it once was. There is more metal in the tone. As I stated, her top is now her glory - it is secure and very large." We're all waiting for NYCOF to break the tie.

[1:53pm] Private comments from other trusted sources: "You didn't miss much." and "Millo performance of the season remains the OONY Fanciulla del West."

03 May 2005

Maestro in Exile

Muti returns to Milan

Marion Lignana Rosenberg is keeping us very abreast of the current opera surrounding the dashing but homeless maestro Riccardo Muti, recently ousted dictator of La Scala. (MLR is Sieglinde's current favorite blogger.)

Do we want Muti in NYC? Local opera lovers selfishly say YES. The easiest route would be to install him as music director of the New York Philharmonic after Lorin Maazel's contract expires in 2009. There, he'd likely program more concert performances of opera over at Avery Fisher (good for opera, bad for the rest of the classical world). A future at the Met is uncertain: as music director of the Philharmonic, he'd "visit" our opera house only under two scenarios: either he's extended a title akin to Valery Gergiev's position as "Principal Guest Conductor," or a major new production (or even a Met premiere) of an Italian work is mounted and he's given carte blanche (with respect to singers and production team). But that's two steps ahead. In the meantime, NYC loves megalomaniacs; opera loves megalomaniacs; Muti will be a welcome addition to our drama.

02 May 2005

Diva Worship

Homo vs. Hetero, Part I

Details that prove our blog-friend Sarah Noble is not a gay man.

1. The plan to show up forty minutes before masterclass doesn't factor in every wrong thing that could happen (unexpected traffic, broken microphone, tear on "I heart Diva" banner, out of order handicap restroom--a.k.a. where to check "audio", change discs, retouch concealer on pimple on forehead, etc. )
2. Dear Sarah, just how many times did you interrupt the proceedings with "Brava Diva"s? Did you even take the time to enlist your seatmates for some maniacal ovations? What did you do when she first appeared on stage?
3. Ask to *kiss* the hand.
4. "You're the finest Amneris I've ever heard." Darling, how many times do you think she's heard that? Next time, try "Mme. Bumbry, you're the most nuanced Norma I've ever heard, and will ever, ever hear. And I just can't wait till you do it again."
5. Where's the bouquet of flowers? Rule #1 on Worship (for Divas, Tom Cruise, God, boyfriends): Give to receive.
6. No pile of CDs, no old programs of things to be signed? Girl, where to begin. Digital camera in the shop this week? Remember, pictures are worth ten thousand of our collective blog-words.

Details that hint Dear Sarah's on her way to becoming a gay man.

1. Eavesdropping on divas vocalizing: good girl.
2. "Grace leaves hall in a cab." Stayed till the very end: great start. (But next time, take pictures of Diva getting into Cab.)
3. Bursting into tears, dying, etc.: promising.

01 May 2005

Sunday Leisure Section

(Page 5)

So I was out having a life at the beach during much of the Faust broadcast yesterday. Don't know much Faust, don't have any particular love for the work (yet), don't know why-- but maybe it's time to check it out. I got back home just in time for the last act. Roberto Alagna's voice is the sighing of a handsome youth in anguished love: my chest tightens and my breathing stops whenever it ascends upwards. James Levine may be the antidote to the monotonous Fausts (on records) I've attempted to take in: under his baton, the piece gives a multidimensional and towering impression. So maybe I should be scrambling for tickets to this slowly (but surely) selling out run. That's a worry for another day, however. There's still the rest of the weekend to do.