28 January 2006

Another closeted Fleming flapper?

In a review sure to make Renee's Saturday brunch absolutely festive (pop the champagne, bitches!), James Oestreich of the New York Times calls ("understudy") Cecilia Bartoli's soprano imitation a pungent "so-so", adding: "Hitting the high notes was no problem for Ms. Bartoli, who has an enormous range. Hitting the right tone was a problem. By definition, this is exultant, jubilant music, but it is not comic opera, and Ms. Bartoli's mugging, vocal as well as facial, falsified its exalted spirit." Dagger not sharp enough today, James?

Meanwhile, Oestreich didn't write one word about how Cecilia actually fared in the aria of contention, "Ch'io mi scordi di te." Huh? [I'm sorry I missed the radio broadcast entirely: they don't transmit such things on the radio down here in the south; equipped with subpar computer speakers, I'm not (yet) a fan of internet radio; and oh, it was 72°F and an intense sky-blue sky. So I, accused of being a closeted Fleming flapper myself, am really more than curious.]

Meanwhile, I just learned how to connect my radio to the DVD recorder, so I'm ready to immortalize today's Met broadcast of Cosí fan tutte. Note: for an example of James Levine's relentless brilliance in this music, pay attention to his architecture of Ferrando's melting aria "Un'aura amorosa del nostro tesoro," which occurs close to the end of the first act. Indeed, the piece is Mozart's true breath of love, and Levine paces the aria so delicately and close to the chest, that we become accidental witnesses to a young lover's virgin heart. The pauses Levine installs toward the end of the aria are just long enough to contain our quiet sighs, and to hear the beating of our own hearts. Matthew Polenzani has the exact boyish joy and vulnerability, and Mozart will be very pleased.

UPDATE: No Matthew Polenzani; it's Paul Groves today.

27 January 2006

Obligatory Mozart Post

My ten favorite studio recordings of Mozart's operas (in no particular order):

1. Mitridate (Decca). Rousset; Dessay, Bartoli, Asawa, Sabbatini.
2. Cosí fan tutte (London)*. Solti; Fleming, Von Otter, Scarabelli, Lopardo, Bär, Pertusi.
3. La clemenza di Tito (Philips). Davis; Popp, Baker, Minton, Burrows, von Stade, Lloyd.
4. Idomeneo (Archiv). Gardiner; McNair, Von Otter, Martinpelto, Rolfe Johnson, Robson.
5. Die Zauberflöte (EMI). Klemperer; Janowitz, Popp, Gedda, Berry, Frick.
6. Don Giovanni (EMI). Giulini; Sutherland, Schwarzkopf, Sciutti, Alva, Wächter, Frick, Taddei, Cappuccilli.
7. Lucio Silla (Teldec). Harnoncourt; Gruberova, Bartoli, Upshaw, Schreier, Kenny.
8. Cosí fan tutte (Deutsche Grammophon). Jochum; Seefried, Merriman, Köth, Haefliger, Prey, Fischer-Dieskau.
9. Le nozze di Figaro (London). Solti; Te Kanawa, Popp, von Stade, Ramey, Allen, Moll.
10. Cosí fan tutte (RCA). Leinsdorf; Price, Troyanos, Raskin, Milnes, Shirley, Flagello.

*recorded in performance at the Royal Festival Hall, London.

A list of my favorite live recordings will come at another time. (In a few years?) One live recording I'm certain will be part of that list has yet to be performed: tomorrow's Met broadcast of Cosí fan tutte is sure to charm and mesmerize anyone with a heart. The brilliant fall cast returns, with the exception of Barbara Frittoli. Sigh. But no matter how Alexandra Deshorties does with the Fiordiligi, Maestro James Levine, the true star of the show, will be at the helm to keep this Cosí as light and fluffy and joyous as Mozart's gayest dream.

25 January 2006

Midweek blogdrool

1. No big ideas this week; time for one of those ADD posts once again. My next scheduled event is not till this weekend: I'm saving up some psychic energy to be able to withstand the quintuple assault of Bartok, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Silja, Levine. (Enough Mozart already!) The great Anja Silja is about 200 years old, by the way, but can still scream the curd out of the sour milk. Last time I was witness to her art was in Brooklyn (BAM) in the spring of 2001, via the Glyndebourne troupe: Silja was Emilia Marty; is.

2. Is this why, even with the large sum of $46, I'd still be sitting closer to the Upper West Side than the Carnegie Hall stage? Has anyone heard of $46 cheap seats in their classical music lives? (Please, Anja Silja may be ancient, but she ain't being raised from the dead. Is she?) BUT SIX FIGURES FOR MOVING CHAIRS? I don't even get one figure doing this friggin' blog, and Ghena knows I've blown a few veins on my forehead (and other parts) trying to find charming ways to insert "Netrebko" in every post.

3. As usual, Sieglinde speaks too soon. How about $275 cheap seats? The life-altering Viola/Sellars Tristan und Isolde comes to Gotham in the spring of 2007, and they're asking each one of us to maybe give up health insurance for a month, or that anti-wrinkle face cream for an entire year, or else any hope of eating anything beyond the McD dollar menu for the foreseeable future. (The union stagehands have to have their yachts and Caribbean villas, after all.) Christine Brewer better be the best goddamn Isolde since the Exodus, is all Sieglinde's gotta say about this ... before she stares at her bank statement one more time.

4. My dear sister has taken up the $275-cheap-seat-Tristan cause: "I'm ashamed and embarrassed that Lincoln Center would even feel that they could get away with this or that they thought it was okay to charge $275 for the cheap seats! But I will be more ashamed and embarrassed if nobody but me makes a big fuss about this." Indeed, Lincoln Center has to be held accountable; I join the NYCOF in making the necessary fuss. FUSS!

5. Apparently, Sieglinde's not alone in saying "hey guys, enough Mozart already." Diva Renee Fleming is back home in New York, after being sacked unceremoniously by the International Mozarteum Foundation for refusing to sing the jewel concert aria "Ch'io mi scordi di te" (K.505) for Salzburg's gigantic intergalactic Mozart Birthday Bash on the 27th. Read Khaleem's careful dissection of the brouhaha here. First question: what's wrong with Renee's low-to-mid register to precipitate such a cataclysmic realignment of stars?

6. Second question: who the f* cares if the Salzburg audience doesn't hear a single chest note from Renee? This event will be beamed to millions of consumers, via microphones that will pick up the slightest ruffling of taffeta gowns, if desired. Renee has a master's degree thesis on the topic of microphone (both in the studio and the Met broadcasts), so it's inconceivable that she believes she can't produce enough luscious chest even for the transmission alone. (Clip the f* mic to your bra, lady. Remember, millions and millions of consumers.) There's gotta be another story.

7. Third question: so what if the aria sits low on the voice? A quick survey of "Ch'io mi scordi di te"s that I own (and I have about half a dozen accounted for, so far) suggests that, indeed, major parts of the aria like to dive chestward, via lots of laps through the passaggio, but isn't this so typical of a Mozart soprano aria? On records, the aria that Cecilia Bartoli sings sounds different from that of Leontyne Price: Cecilia evens out the aria with a meaty middle thrust and does it fabulously, while Leontyne milks whatever high notes she's given to run away and soar to her customary Olympian heights. Leontyne has faked her low notes since birth, and so the microphone's become her best friend in such cases; can't Renee trust her instrument enough to glide through those hollow patches and concentrate the sparkle on those notes she can gush with gusto? Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, probably Renee's closest spiritual vocal ancestor, quietly succeeds in her rendition: not the best track on her Mozart CD (with Maestro Jeffrey Tate), but there's no real indication a contralto is necessary to pull it off. I'm confused.

8. SIEGLINDE IS A FOODIE TOO. The photograph above is a record of the best paella my partner and I have had in our lives. It's a paella of rabbit and snails (and real saffron), laid out almost one-rice thick on a traditional pan. Every bite was a sublime excursion. The small, charming restaurant, Ventorrillo Murciano, is located in Madrid's gritty East Villagey section: few tourists ever find their way there. But we did. (C. Tres Peces, 20, Madrid 28012; tfno: 91528 83 09)

24 January 2006

Oh Sieglinde your blog accessories are so 05

Sieglinde takes a tiny break from the world, turns around, lifts fake lashes, and finds her curtain call pictures aren't as thrilling as they once were. Alas, the phenomenon of YouTube is finding ways to enliven every aspect of our dear sport. Witness our newest convert, Cambridge/Boston blogger Khaleem, broadcasting a little video of a recent Missa Solemnis all-star-cast curtain call (Christine Brewer, Jill Grove, Ben Heppner, Rene Pape, James Levine); and some moving pictures from the most recent Carnegie Hall appearance of La Fleming, whom Khaleem adores about as much as Sieglinde does. Even my own mother is going beyond sound (via her widely acclaimed podcasts) to the tube frontier: opera edition. (I especially love Birgit Nilsson's fingers in the TV Turandot; but we're really just waiting for Mom to broadcast Colin Farrell's "shot" to videostardom once and for all.) Then, from across our porn-loving land we have Nick at Trrill (which gets my vote for Sexiest Music Blog), bearing an accounting of every note of Arsace's calisthenics, courtesy of freak-of-supernova Ewa Podles. Now all I'm waiting for is a videochat between the Wellsung boys to know we've entered a new age in operablogging. Sieglinde shan't be far behind. (Ideas for her first project: a video of the traditional cursing and spitting by the Millo pole during Renée event intermissions, or else an exposé on the mysterious sounds emanating from the bathrooms on the balcony level. Don't you dare touch that dial.)

P.S. Of course, this is how YouTube will be used mostly, but who's complaining.

20 January 2006

Spring is in the Air

Sieglinde's remaining Met tickets

1. La Traviata. Angela Gheorghiu v. Franco Zeffirelli. (Anne Midgette: "To sum it up: Ms. Gheorghiu made no demands; it was all a misunderstanding; and, oh yes, she is now getting the changes she wanted.")

2. Rigoletto. Another old college try for Anna; and a sampling of the fabled Netrebko/Villazon pairing, which I missed last month. Meanwhile, curious about Norah Amsellem's Gilda (set for May).

3. Lohengrin. Karita Mattila v. Robert Wilson, plus Luana deVol's Met debut; Ben Heppner always a velvet treat.

4. Forza del Destino. Decades from now, they'll speak of Deborah Voigt as the supreme Wagnerian and Straussian soprano of this generation. Don't ask me why the Met only has her singing such incongruous Italian roles (this Leonora and that Tosca) this season. Whatever. Meanwhile, big boy voiced Salvatore Licitra can clear my ear wax any time.

5. Tosca. Curious to hear a "Mario! Mario! Hojotoho!" (how often do we get this chance). Meanwhile, luxury cover Aprile Millo sneaks one performance in (last week of the season). And, hello?? Marcello Giordani.

6. Mazeppa. Met premiere; with Valery Gergiev, who's been doing a fabulous disappearing act as principal guest conductor of the company. (De-facto house conductor James Conlon has more engagements this year.)

7. Luisa Miller. The delicate soprano of Sieglinde's current favorite underdog artist, Barbara Frittoli, should be winning in the opera's final act; Neil Shicoff grayer but still fighting.

8. Don Pasquale. James Levine has always figured out a way to present every singer of any talent in the best possible light. So, Anna, let's see what you really got. Meanwhile, Juan Diego Florez is more than enough star to pull me into orbit.

9. Parsifal. What's an agnostic to do on a Good Friday night? (Wait ... this year's Parsifals fall a month after the Holy Week. What kind of dumb programming is that? Oh yeah, the same brain trust that installed An American Tragedy and Wozzeck during the joyous holiday season.)

10. L'Elisir d'Amore. The rapid return of Giuseppe Filianoti.

11. Rodelinda. Two countertenor debuts (Andreas Scholl and Christophe Dumaux); a Renee Fleming event (how can one miss?); a Stephanie Blythe event (ditto).

SO BASICALLY, the girl's got tickets to everything. Sieglinde's also looking into a Fidelio with Karita Mattila and Ben Heppner (and one evening with an anticipated debut of big-voiced Erika Sunnegardh as Leonore); A Hei-Kyung Hong Violetta; the Cyrano de Bergerac (with Placido Domingo, and Sondra Radvanovsky who I haven't seen in a while, and I refuse to acknowledge the existence of Die Fledermaus); a Samson et Dalila (I pay full price just to hear Olga Borodina carress "Printemps qui commence."); an Aida or two (with Andrea Gruber, Borodina, and Johan Botha; because it's my favorite Broadway show); the Volpe Gala. (Did I say everything.)

P.S.. Who's the new hottie at the box office? Ever since I can remember, the Met box office has always been manned by a crew of nice, jolly grey-haired men (never been rude to Sieglinde, I love them!), a couple of middle-aged tall men, and a couple of high-school-teacherish females; but now there's a city kid with penetrating eyes. Smells to me like it's part of incoming emperor Peter Gelb's masterplan (i.e., the Netrebko Strategy, a.k.a. Only Pretty People Please). A free copy of Sieglinde's Diaries, the Director's Cut to the first person to send me a photo of the Box Office Hottie!

18 January 2006

There are many ways of dying on the operatic stage

I'd give up my left anything to have a print critic like Edward Seckerson on this side of the Atlantic. He hated Covent Garden's current Traviata; therefore, he uses every sentence of his hissing review to remind us of his vast unhappiness. Alas, such queeny candor exists in New York only in half-cooked blogs and discussion boards, and we all know how that goes down.

[Photo above is from Sandy Steiglitz's fabulous Opera Gallery. She has various sorts of photos, including a set of opera death scenes. Enjoy.]

17 January 2006


Inspired by The Smoking Gun's success in overthrowing Oprah's favorite bogus memoir, Sieglinde decided a few minutes ago to sniff around pop favorite Anna Netrebko's official biography for "inconsistencies". After a few keystrokes, she finds, in the Deutsche Grammophon website, a mysterious account of Netrebko's first year of life. It's very likely an exaggeration or dramatic embellishment. It reads: "1971: Born in Krasnodar, in the south of Russia; receives her vocal training at the St.Petersburg Conservatory, where she appears as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro and Violetta in La traviata."

As of this writing, Sieglinde's fact checkers are digging up records in the beaches of St. Petersburg, Florida for official confirmation of alleged performances of infant Anna. (So far, nothing. Meanwhile, weather report: mostly sunny, 72°.)

16 January 2006

Iraq & Opera

And how much for a can of paint? I challenge anyone to figure out the details of this peculiar news story solely from its title: "Opera House pair loses paint bid." (Read more about the history and view a picture of the crime scene here. View a picture of the cleanup here.)

15 January 2006

What happened to Brangaene?

TAGLINE: "Before Romeo and Juliet, there was Tristan and Isolde."

P.S.: (1) Back. (2) Still sleepy, yet craving for a full bottle of Rioja and tripe in a fatty tomato stew. (3) James Franco ... u-huh. (4) Angela shall be there; universe is good. (5) Back to regular programming in a few days.

11 January 2006

She made one hell of a daughter-in-law


Sad news travels to all parts of the world. (Back in the good old U.S. of A. in a few days.)