30 September 2005

Der Ring des World Series

Can't talk now. Yanks up by one, with three games to go ... with ... the ... Red Sox.

UPDATE (Sunday): OK, deja vu all over again. Both teams in the playoffs. Baseball's a funny game.

28 September 2005

The Met's Manon

Jens F. Laurson of ionarts says of Renée Fleming's newest release Sacred Songs, "I cannot stand her self-conscious, über-vibrato-infused voice when she goes into 'let's-impress-everyone' mode. It's one of the most unnatural sounds, artificial, and affected. The wobble that masquerades as vibrato turns her already round voice into mush while the increase in decibels drives home a point about her ability, not the music--much less beauty itself. To be honest: I suspected this album might be annoying to my ears after repeated listening. Sadly, it is annoying from the first notes on ... If you ever wondered what narcissism might sound like ..."

I don't have to listen to the album myself to agree, because I've heard more than my share of previous albums, and am able recognize that JFL's bull's-eye description is oh so patent Renée. In the recording studio, she swoops and scoops and swoons and reclines and mystifies everyone. But then she turns around and delivers a glorious Manon, live from the Met stage, and we are all mystified again. I saw the premiere last week and was so thoroughly enchanted that I'm plotting to see it again (and again). Meanwhile, over the summer months of no opera, I listened to a tape of Renée's Met Traviata (from two seasons back) with some regularity. I'm in love with her Act II, Scene 1 exchanges with Dmitri Hvorostovsky's Germont. I melt with every modulation of timbre, I hold my breath for each of her exclamation marks, I close my eyes with her every whisper.

The freedoms given by the recording studio and by her well-established artistic (and commercial) stature as diva result in such toxic cream-on-butter albums. Each phrase can be thought about, reimagined, managed, re-recorded, and so she does. Because she is so good at micromodulating the delivery of every line, and her precision instrument of a voice can do as told, a five-minute aria turns into a grand tour of the literature of expression. Much like downing a tall glass of ice cream shake after devouring three full slices of New York cheesecake, a sitdown with a track of recorded Renée can leave one light-headed, sick in the gut, and thirsty for a gallon of pure spring water.

Renée on stage is a different story. She is constrained by the ostensibly "live" event: her costume and the sets that surround her establish boundaries, her co-stars demand some form of emotional rapport, and the swelling music pushes a particular narrative forward (more or less). In the awesome evening cascade, there's little time to pose and linger, to beautify, to toast the voice with champagne. If the conductor isn't too much of a pushover, our thoroughbred is kept focused on the grand arc of the scene. Even as she experiments heavily on fioritura each night (as she did all through the Traviata run at the Met), the fence that the composer has erected pretty much remains firmly set. And once in a while, during purely operatic sections of the soprano's music, even mushy delivery is appropriate. Massenet's music plays with her voice so well. This Manon, vivid and breathtaking, high D's and all, is among her fullest achievements.

Voices from Heaven (via the Marketing Department)
A Rare 'Manon' Sighting [NYT]
Fleming Stars in 'Manon' at Met [AP]
She's sweet 16, but rest is a bit sour [NYNewsday]

Meanwhile, music critic Martin Bernheimer, who isn't easily impressed, thinks much more highly of the Manon libretto, and in thinking about it all during the singing, "missed the crucial illusion of spontaneity as (Fleming) traced Manon’s progress from waif to vamp to victim." Personally, I don't know what else Renée could have done to address Mr. Bernheimer quite elusive argument.

Plenty of Gallic grace, but a lack of passion [FT]

27 September 2005

Current weather patterns

There's a tropical storm dissipating quietly out in the Pacific. Officials have agreed to call her Norma. One place she's surely not headed is the Met. We're all so busy with the Baroque renaissance to notice there's a Norma drought in our midst. Look here, the list of sopranos (and one daring mezzo) who've done the priestess on our stage (courtesy of the most holy Met database), including appearance year(s) and number of performances for each (in parenthesis):

1890-92 (6) Lehmann, Lilli
1927-32 (29) Ponselle, Rosa
1937-38 (6) Cigna, Gina
1943-54 (16) Milanov, Zinka
1956 (6) Callas, Maria
1970 (27) Sutherland, Joan
1973-76 (11) Caballé, Montserrat
1975 (5) Hunter, Rita
1976-79 (10) Verrett, Shirley
1979 (1) Galvany, Marisa
1981-82 (14) Scotto, Renata
1982 (1) Negri, Adelaide
2001 (7) Eaglen, Jane

Total Met performances: 139. Notice the three broad gaps: 1893-1926, 1957-1969, 1983-2000. Is there another gap developing this decade? Or was Jane Eaglen a blip (granted, a gigantic one) in the widening pattern of absence now spanning two generations? Meanwhile, can someone gather enough balls and whisper into Renée's ear that her time has come (this time, for real), that she's being called to duty, and that seconda donna Angela won't hesitate if asked?

Below, Sieglinde has organized a list of a dozen possible Norma-Adalgisa tandems to give incoming emperor Peter Gelb some initial options. (As far as the tenor role, Sieglinde thinks Giordani is the only reasonable choice for Pollione.) Here goes:

1. Fleming-Zajick (safest choice?)
2. Zajick-Blythe (my personal wet dream)
3. Fleming-Gheorghiu (a.k.a. bloodydivabitchslap)
4. Gheorghiu-Blythe (most likely?)
5. Gheorghiu-Borodina (voluptuous duo)
6. Fleming-Blythe (the other safe choice?)
7. Guleghina-Graves (drag in drag on drag)
8. Zajick-Guleghina (can you imagine)
9. Radvanovsky-Diadkova (compelling?)
10. Deshorties-Silja (just checkin' if you're paying attention)
11. Mattila-Meier (picture that for a second)
12. Moffo-Graves (that Scotto shall see how it's done ...)

Note, the last permutation is not entirely improbable. Ask Moffo yourself. (Hang around the standing room grapevine long enough and you start hearing things.) Anyway, what's up with this Met-Norma-phobia, and what are you waiting for, dear Renée?

Tropical Storm Norma [NOAA]

UPDATE: Norma has been downgraded to a tropical depression. Indeed. Watch her move away from the mainland as fast as she can.

26 September 2005

Monday Stats

Off-topic alert. Received some literature from the Florida Aquarium in Tampa this morning. Said one headline: "Chances of being involved in a shark attack are one in 12 million." Would like to know what in Millo's name this statistic means. Could it be (a) one shark attack per 12 million Americans per year, (b) one shark attack per 12 million humans per year, (c) one shark attack per 12 million Floridians per year, (d) one shark attack per 12 million beachgoers per year, (e) one shark attack per 12 million visits to the beach per year, (f) one shark attack per 12 million instances of humans going in the water per year. Critical distinctions, because Sieglinde will not be counted among the 12 million in (a), once in (b) and (d), a half in (c), maybe 100 in (e), and maybe 200 in (f). Stat-wise, that's a factor of infinity (from zero to finite probability), and in the confusion of the murky waters of the gulf at dusk, Sieglinde needs to be armed with the most accurate odds.

24 September 2005

Guess what I got in the mail

The postcard features a quote from a certain 'ABC,' who says "There is no mistaking it ... Millo is the real thing ... a beguiling mix of the spiritual and the carnal." The carnal?? Those guys at ABC Carpet are so horny.

Meanwhile, Aprile Millo refuses to go Norah Jones on her fans. This Ron Delsener guy must truly be insane. If one can buy tickets to see the actual Norah Jones sing Norah Jones, why in Tosca's name would anyone want to witness an almost-over-the-hill lumpy soprano regurgitate Norah Jones? An Elton John impersonation would be a bit more credible for Aprile at this point in her career, but still, I'd rather see the diva attempt the Dance of the Seven Veils than croon "Can you feel the love tonight." Are there real "crossover" fans out there, an untapped market, waiting patiently for a classical performer to do pop or rap? Oh right ... Broadway queens. (Lame fags.)

When Music Worlds Collide: A 'Crossover' Concert is Canceled

22 September 2005

Millo Cancels; Pussycat Dolls to Sub

Of course ...

Breaking News [parterre]
Refunds available at point of purchase [rondelsener]
Monster Rita approaches land [NYT]
NYCOperaFanatic the cause of all catastrophe [her words]

(This post is updated frequently.)

UPDATE 1: Someone else cancelled her rock concert. It wasn't Millo. In fact, she had two gowns prepared.

Not Millo's fault [Ed, via opera-l]

UPDATE 2: Rumors agree that it may be a clash of repertoire. According to one, Delsener wants "high, higher, highest," referring to high notes (of what other use is a soprano, basically), while La Millo shall only be guided by "kunst, kunst, kunst." I suspect it's something more fundamental. For his "rock" concert, Delsener may have insisted on Missy Elliot covers, while Millo held she can only go as far as Alanis Morissette.

UPDATE 3. Ron Delsener is a businessman, first and foremost. Anyone who puts together a concert with Daryl Hall & John Oates has no business dictating repertory. What does he know about anything if he calls Millo "the greatest living soprano in the world right now." Anyway, no one cancels a sold-out event, unless you're Montserrat Caballé. And you and I know Millo ain't Montsy. So, OK, those are the facts.

UPDATE 4. You know how the Arts & Leisure section of the Sunday New York Times has separate ad sections for Broadway, Jazz, and such, and for classical performances (Met, City Opera, NY Philharmonic, etc..). Well, Sieglinde was alerted by a close friend that this past Sunday's paper featured an ad for Millo amidst notices for B.B. King, The Color Purple, Blue Man Group, Kitty Carlisle Hart, and some crafts festival. (Meanwhile, the ad features a quote from the presenter Delsener himself: "The Greatest Living Soprano.") Why they couldn't figure out to place it among its own kind is probably why the show got cancelled. Not to mention that up to its very end, there remained no official word of what the musical program would have looked like. Basically, the ad-strategy was: "Aprile Millo: greatest soprano; now you'd be a fool not to buy a ticket."

UPDATE 5. Here's the ad.

UPDATE 6: Official reason is the age-old contemporary crossover vs. classical repertory. Here's what's wrong with it: (a) Delsener will promote Joy Behar singing countertenor arias if it put butts on seats, (b) what was Millo thinking to associate with rock promoters, (c) could Delsener be thinking of Renée Fleming when he uttered "greatest living soprano"? 'Coz that other girl needs no persuading to "cross over."

Aprile Millo Recital Canceled Over Differences with Producer [PlaybillArts]

UPDATE 7. Little detective work can yield colossal clues. Sieglinde was flat wrong to have accused both parties of no development in musical program. Between the publications of these two PlaybillArts reports (here and here), there was, indeed, a momentous change in musical program. Specifically, an earlier mention of Handel now morphed into "a rare aria by Handel." Aha! Sieglinde thinks Delsener wasn't about to go beyond "Ombra Mai Fu" or "Endless Pleasure" in Handel, but our girl Millo ain't giving up on a bravura aria from Athalia that was reported to have just resurfaced in someone's New Jersey basement. This story gets more and more tragic by the minute. Stay tuned.

Sound Check

I'm usually the most reliable ear in the business, at least as far as judging vocal volume at the Met. I sit in the same general area most of the time; I see multiple performances of the same opera during the season, and with various casts; I'm attuned to the acoustics of the Met, how the sound of the voice projects upward from the stage about 10 feet in from the pit, reflecting back down from the sloping ceiling to bathe us all in sound, and how standing a few feet deeper cuts down the sound that reaches the top tiers significantly; I've heard loud, soft, and points in between, in the space I've called my second home; I'm intimate (at least empirically) with the dynamics of orchestral sound, the ways it could cover a singer's voice, the ways singers compensate and improvise, within parameters set by this particular space. In short, I know this space like the back of my bra. So I've been scratching my head lately, mystified by the near-unanimous judgment of the opera literati that Angela Gheorghiu didn't quite put together an audible Tosca at the Met prima earlier this week.

We can all agree that she's no Millo (the last to inhabit the role at the Met before Gheorghiu); heck, lately even Millo's no Millo either. But Angela's not the Sylvie Valayre "I can't be heard, I don't care if you sit front row orchestra" kind either. Tosca is a punishing role, and in Act II, her vocal line jumps off cliffs and falls squarely on the chest voice many times, the orchestra surging all the while. The middle range is tested, and as I've said before, many sopranos, including Gheorghiu, begin to fail in this arena by mid-career. She, however, maintained full volume in the upper-middle and upper registers: I distinctly remember pulling back in response to her arching screams (on pitch) during one exchange with Scarpia. Gheorghiu wasn't served by comparisons with Terfel's booming baritone, as well as the kind of support Levine's "I don't give a flying f*" conducting lent, but in terms of sheer decibel, I didn't think Gheorghiu was close to being "barely audible." These diaries may appear to like La Gheorghiu much more than others, but loudmouth Sieglinde's the first to condemn a singer for not meeting fundamental requirements of operatic singing (volume and pitch).

There won't be any second chances to "clean out" my instrument for a reevaluation of the sonic size of Gheorghiu's Met Tosca. Fortunately, there are tapes. Faulty as they may be, tapes should at least be able to distinguish between "barely audible" and "normal." I'll report as soon as one of them surfaces.

21 September 2005

More Snapshots of Met Prima

The evening paraded as many jewels and diamonds as sparkling stars in the house chandeliers. About 90% of the audience were in formal garb. Amidst the tuxes, Sieglinde was wearing a polo shirt, tan pants, and sneakers. Everyone lined the stairs and corridors to look at one another. There was a Japanese TV crew videotaping interviews with guests during intermission. They asked a beautiful, shimmering white couple about opera and about the Met and the coming season, and they got painfully generic answers (the kind generic Americans can give in their sleep). Sieglinde was standing a few feet away, munching on her smuggled cookie. They should have picked her. Can you imagine the kind of exchange they would have gotten. But Sieglinde looked dumpy, as did the true, everyday fans that attended the evening. Sieglinde panicked momentarily when she couldn't find Lois Kirschenbaum in the Family Circe boxes, but then found her and her rebelliously grey head positioned in the left orchestra. Who did she sleep with to get that thousand-dollar ticket? Like Sieglinde, Lois was wearing the same frock she's had since the Carter years. Elsewhere, Sieglinde spotted Barbara Walters, sporting a new face yet again, and Sean Connery from above (the bald head was shiny). The rich people had dinner at the grand tier promenade. Sieglinde thinks the Met should charge them double: they can afford it, and they get so much mileage out of it. Meanwhile, Sieglinde runs to the corner Chinese take-out place before they close for the night. Beef w/ broccoli. White rice. Diet Coke. *burp*

20 September 2005

Gheorghiu's Tosca

I didn't realize that the Met Prima Tosca Act II was Angela Gheorghiu's first Floria on stage, but looking back there were indications that she was still feeling her way around the role. Nonetheless, the lady's out to make it her own. She comes in red-gowned with a train so long it has its own train; Tosca is singing her first lines while the last yards of her train are still making an entrance. Meaning, La Gheorghiu brings her own couture, or has it made-to-order'ed, acting here every inch the diva she is over across the Atlantic. Let us see if she does a Fleming and has new frock sown for her Spring Violettas. (Close friend Peter Gelb might oblige; Joe Volpe shall be left holding the wig.) She must also now hate to sing with fellow-diva Bryn Terfel, that scene stealing stooge who can out-overact Jerry Lewis. Levine's heart and attention now appear closer to Boston on I-95 than New York, and you could hear his baton say "I don't care, this is bullshit" during Scarpia's monologues, which had the feel of Terfel auditioning for the Met Wotan. All the dramatic pauses, the lengthening of phrases and notes, the sluggish, empty spectacle (wasn't even campy, so totally nothing for Sieglinde there)-- the pace is deadly. What's a girl like Gheorghiu to do but match this brute's show. Finally, Terfel loses steam and almost fails to cap Scarpia's monologue following the "Quanto? Il Prezzo" exchange. Meanwhile, Gheorghiu gets tired of that crap and shifts gears for her "Vissi d'arte," adopting a brisker pace she's wanted from the beginning. This is why, according to Tommasini, "she inhabited her own time world" during her aria. So you now know, boys, where to send the hate mail. Meanwhile, Gheorghiu has none of that Floria-on-the-floor schtick and instead begins her aria upright unbowed, but ends it gazing to the heavens kneeling. Not quite as effective as protocol, but she again lets you know she has her own take on things. Vocally, she is what she is: a lyric with a foundation of emerald, cool and spicy, rough on the edges but never off-pitch, intense, of medium heft with a formidable fierce top and patched up chest. (I disagree with assessments on opera-l that the Met is too big for her voice; sitting where I always sit, I thought she commanded the space as well as a prime Carol Vaness Tosca.) Chestwise, she suffers in the way most middle-aged sopranos do: plunging to the middle and chest she quickly loses support; however, if the vocal line begins in the middle or lower middle, she can fake it as well as anyone. Tonally, the "Vissi d'arte" is actually ravishing, if one can hear beyond the sudden jolt of tempo. Her arching "Ah!"s that trail Scarpia's lines are bone-chilling, as are her "muori!"s. One misstep is to do slapstick and lift and drop Scarpia's lifeless hand by the thumb while uttering her last lines "E avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma!" Meanwhile, no throwing the crucifix on Scarpia's body for the last haunting cadence. During her thunderous curtain call, she waves to all sides enthusiastically, and stays a few seconds longer than her ovation can withstand. It's evident she relishes Big Apple love. I can't see her eyes from where I sit, but I imagine they have the same look as the Clintons' in their visits to the White House. "Not bad, not bad at all," we all say in unison.

Met Opening Night, 2005-06 Season

Sieglinde's Exclusive Prima-bile Scores [1 = what the f* are they on; 10 = moon-landing-historic]

Le Nozze di Figaro, Act I. Score: (a generous) 2.2.

Reasons: (1) A Figaro without a Countess is nothing more than a Barbiere, and we all know how much we secretly hate that opera. (2) Beyond Isabel Bayrakdarian's name, not much about the girl excites me. (3) Oh wait, who goes to a prima for Bayrakdarian? (Guys, next time do La Netrebko, or anyone with backstage personality.) (4) Bryn Terfel's stage idols: The Three Stooges. (5) Friend-of-Bush Susan Graham is nicer in other things; her voice is too rich and complex for Cherubino, as her voluptuous hips.

Tosca, Act II. Score: (a queen-in-heat-in-July) 7.8.

Reasons: (1) Score could have been higher, but Bryn Terfel's stage idols remain the Three Stooges, and (2) Levine "leads" tentatively, modulating tempi at singers' behest like an aromatic cab ride through Times Square. (3) Angela Gheorghiu singlehandedly keeping further score erosion. (4) Angela Gheorghiu stabbing the stooge. (5) Angela Gheorghiu appearing to be a diva worthy of the gala-priced ticket.* (6) Renée fans seen quivering in their seats.

Samson et Dalila, Act III. Score: (a Jersey-City-in-heat-in-July) 3.5.

Reasons: (1) Seriously, who the f* cares how this opera ends. (2) Still plenty of time to see/hear Placido (this guy isn't retiring this or next decade). (3) Oh, is Placido still trying to break his own record for the most opening nights? That's getting old. (4) And really, they only included the Samson so we could tell friends one of the following: "Dahlin yes, I was at the Met opening night gala and I wore my ginormous pearls and my ginormous gown and I chatted with Barbara Walters about her plastic surgeon and I don't really care for opera, who does, but saw one of the Three Tenor guys last night, Pavarotti or the other guy, I forget, but I thought he retired, and oh, he seemed to have lost a lot of weight, I wonder if he's the singer who had gastric bypass ..." or "Girl, you go on ahead to the Boiler Room, I'm no longer itchy for boys, memories of that Bacchanale are still vibrating through my senses and back fur, who cares if I had to endure Denyce Graves' butt-screechy mezzo, I still wish I had her figure ..."

(*Later, I'll try to piece together my impressions of La Gheorghiu's performance. Meanwhile, it's Manon tonight.)

19 September 2005

Angela Gheorghiu

New York, meet your diva-in-waiting (i.e., dear Renée, watch your back and be sure to lock up your gowns and tiaras). This one's fierce.

18 September 2005

Opening Night Eve Treat

Flicka, spotted in a galaxy far, far away, doing TV series theme song vocalise.

Mezzo-Soprano Frederica Von Stade to Sing on Emmy Telecast [PlaybillArts]

While I was away

Why we don't like W. Reason #182: May not last Das Rheingold date.
Move over Justice Ginsburg. There may soon be a bonafide opera queen in the Court.
What's easier than finding fags at the opera house? Finding them here.
Worse than Katrina, is it possible? Yes.
What's she singing anyway? Still no friggin' idea.
Crying in baseball, etc.. If season ended today, my Yanks don't get post-season invite.

p.s. Christine Brewer's 50. Who knew?

16 September 2005

The L word

Sick of your sickly opera queen companions? Finally, a date-opera to take juicy straight males to.

First lesbian opera premieres in U.K. [PlanetOut]

01 September 2005

Order Millo tix from the island: Check

On an island one square kilometer in size, there's powder white sand, DSL, and five-bar cellphone coverage. Sieglinde checks in with Carnegie Hall, sees no new details about the "rock" concert, but goes ahead and purchases tickets online anyway. Mysteriously, she's assigned front row seats. Elsewhere, she finds the following: "Accompanied by pianist Ken Noda, Millo will perform music by Puccini, Verdi, Donizetti, Bellini, Handel, Brahms, Donaudy, and Mahler, as well as Neapolitan songs" and that "Millo, Delsener said, is the 'greatest living soprano in the world right now.'" Sieglinde walks away from the internet dazed, looks for her next daquiri. (Meanwhile, the Diaries goes back to regular programming. See you in a couple of weeks.)