20 February 2006


Skin cells rejuvenating, neurons repairing, nails drying ... Sieglinde's still away; apologies to those who've sent e-mails: I'll get to them eventually. Major retrenchment, you see. But I've been to a few things lately: an Aida or two, another Traviata, then a couple of Forzas in the next two weeks, maybe another Traviata, a Samson, and of course the Mazeppa prima ... retrenchment ain't total abstinence, after all. (P.S. I love you all.)

Now, back to our regular programming ...

10 February 2006

I need some rest

Back in a few ... (a) days, (b) weeks, or (c) months? The answer, when we come back.

[P.S. I love you all.]

09 February 2006

Suburban Brokeback

4 terabytes and counting

That's how many operabytes I have. (What's a tera? Read here.) A significant majority of them are CD-R's, so imagine my panic this morning upon reading this article, which proclaims that "'(u)nlike pressed original CDs, burned CDs have a relatively short life span of between two to five years, depending on the quality of the CD'". Two to five years, what the f ... First thing I did was to reach for one of my earliest CD-Rs: a live Traviata from 1950 with Albanese, Tagliavini, and Silveri, produced circa 1998. It's more than 7 years old, and playing as we speak ... Licia sounds fine; a bit over-the-top sobbing while writing her little note to Alfredo (Annina, get the doctor, she's choking!), but more to the point: complete.


A little more google reveals that expert opinion on this matter varies widely. Some indirect evidence pegs the lifespan of well-kept CD-Rs at 50 to 200 years. Of course, we'll never know if their theoretical extrapolations are accurate till we actually reach that point in time and observe massive degradation (and mass suicide at Lincoln Center plaza?). My own plan is to check in with Licia periodically (about three or four times a year), and the moment I observe my canary fade, I shall embark on a colossal rescue project of a magnitude this universe hasn't seen before. (A petabyte? Possibly.)

08 February 2006

Look Ma, No Stretch Marks

This is what Sieglinde's talking about. DANG!

[Photograph by Skrebneski]

07 February 2006

Gheorghiu's Violetta

Verdi LA TRAVIATA, Met 04.02.2006; c. Armiliato; Gheorghiu, Kaufmann (d), Michaels-Moore.

Angela Gheorghiu, with that limpid lyric voice of a throbbing, lachrymose sound, fulfills all of Violetta's musical requirements merely by showing up in costume. When her voice flutters like a butterfly with cut wings, even during moments of joy and celebration, one is led to believe: a finite voice, in all its artful artifice and calculated architecture, breaks free of such limitations (as well as the parameters set by the score, stage, and physics) to give voice to our murky, shapeless emotions, and we forget how FAKE opera is. But the deception is by no means complete: despite the intrinsic sonic glory of Gheorghiu's Violetta, there are three major seams that need to be corrected: (1) over-the-top dramatic deportment, (2) careless vocal projection, and (3) bizarre tempo tendencies.

First: Gheorghiu's behavior on stage borders on hysteria. She overwhelms the production not by grand (yet simple) gestures but with lots of little nutty ticks and frantic movements. There are moments when such things are effective, but a monotonous kind of literal intensity held throughout the evening inevitably loses its sting, and quickly becomes visually tiring. Balance and measure make a Violetta more sympathetic, while a comical madness only confirms many stereotypes of opera. Some may find those things necessary aspects of 'diva', but what's more diva than to hold the attention of 4,000 by not moving at all. The kind of complexity and nuance in the sound emanating from Gheorghiu's throat jars with her crude stage presence: I recommend a more quiet set of motions to suggest some basic inner torment.

Second: Gheorghiu does not have a big voice, and therefore intelligent sound projection becomes critical in a cavern like the Met's. Some odd positioning, whether it's from poor stage direction or a diva doing her own thing regardless, resulted in significantly compromised aural impact: for instance, she runs to the back during the "Follie! Follie!", rendering the "sola, abbandonata" almost inaudible because she's still facing backstage. (Similarly, "E strano" is uttered while facing away, but since it occurs without orchestration, the only problem may have been the absence of 'face' to illustrate a turn of emotion.) Meanwhile, in the Carmen costume party in Act II, she was positioned far into that huge Zeffirelli during the heartrending "Alfredo, Alfredo, di questo core," defeating her attempts at piano. (In contrast, Renee Fleming was only a few feet from the pit.) During Act III, Alfredo and Violetta's reunion music is sung directly to one another (face to face), with little regard for how much sound actually escapes out through the fourth wall. In some cases, the dramatic impact of such in-the-moment singing probably outweighs any physical considerations; elsewhere, however, Gheorghiu's habit of twirling around and singing to the furniture makes her voice seem even smaller.

Third: Like a girl on speed, Gheorghiu likes a faster pace, leaving everyone else languishing in more conventional tempi. She surges through Act II's "Dite alla giovine" with essentially the same temperament as Act I's "A quell'amore ch'e palpito"; the orchestra, here and in many other instances, finds itself involved in a pointless game of tug-of-war; the diva, by virtue of diva, wins every match; but we are all left with scenes that miss the overwhelming power of Verdi's quiet peaks. I venture to say that Maestro Marco Armiliato, who led without a score, bears the "correct" tempi. I don't think he has any interest in hanging out and milking dry the maudlin aspects of the score; there simply is an attempt to air the latent lyricism: nothing wrong with that. Moreover, this Violetta is vocally capable of drawing out the pathetic face of the character with a calmer pace (she may not have a large voice, but she has large lungs); I really don't understand why there is a rush to get to the next bar. Maestro Armiliato is an unusually attentive conductor, who has led this season's Cyranos with an energetic gayness, never the one to insipidly wallow in sugar: he should be given a chance to dictate the over-all pulse. Meanwhile, Armiliato (fast becoming one of Sieglinde's favored conductors) should also be credited with sensitively scaling down the pit further than usual, to accommodate Gheorghiu's precious decibels, and to do so without actually sending half the orchestra members home early. (This, by the way, has the side effect of rendering the Alfredo of debutante Jonas Kaufmann and the Germont of Anthony Michaels-Moore majestically Wagnerian in size.) The maestro must have a heart-to-heart with the diva before this coming weekend, for this point is the only purely aural issue (as far as microphones are concerned), and the one that can detract from a potentially historic 'she has finally arrived (... in NYC ... as Violetta)' broadcast.

A DAY LATER: Rereading the above, finding how petty many of the points seem, makes me question what the hell I want from life. One can easily read this post, diagnose Sieglinde to be a bitter 30-something in need of love and attention (or at least a good lay), and float on to better, more upbeat blogthings. These words may be a monument to the unhappy existence of the opera fan, not for the eternal longing for that performance in my mind, but for the mystery that colossally greater heights can be achieved by a synergistic action of little details done well: and no, it doesn't take a hack-connoisseur to experience such a separate ecstasy, for I know sensitive amateurs recognize when an indescribable magical thing happens on the operatic stage. (Think of your first experience with great wine, or fresh uni, or a new sexual position.) It is an elusive gathering of stardust: and when an artist like Angela Gheorghiu graces our lives with a vista of (or)(g)astronomic (de)light, we want more because we're reminded, yet again, that we can't live by bread and Prada alone. The law of diminished returns does not apply when the heights of artistry are concerned, for those 'petty' details are the rare jewels in the seams which distinguish legend from great, Diva from another Pretty Voice, metaphysical rapture from just a grand, glittery evening at the old opera house.

04 February 2006

02 February 2006

Netrebko conquers

Verdi RIGOLETTO, Met 01.02.2006; c. Domingo; Netrebko, Villazon, Burchinal, Herrera, Kowaljow.

I wasn't planning on blogging much the next couple of weeks (crisis of purpose), but a particular wrong can't wait for Sieglinde to finish sorting out her existential confusions, and needs to be addressed immediately. Singers have off-nights, but there's never been such a dramatic conversion since Damascus: Anna Netrebko, much maligned in recent weeks (here and here), was such an entirely different singer last evening it was like seeing Transamerica but with better hair. AWOL high e-flats notwithstanding, Anna had complete command of notes and dynamics, character and stage. It was ostensibly a bad week in December for her, and it's unfortunate the radio broadcast occurred then: the lazy attack, the tonal inaccuracy, the dry bulk of sound all gone, miraculous--honey, last night's performance is the one pirate recording to trade your cherished Gencer-in-the-loo recordings for. Her timbre of black pearl is still not the Gilda you'll find on Noah's ark, but she makes a one hell of a case. She looked up to Sieglinde's perch and said to her "f* you, f* the top notes, f* that virginal Gilda crap, I'll show you what ravish means!" and then proceeded to shade and caress the Verdi out of her lines with an uncommon elegant passion. All I can say is, I can't believe it's not butter! Meanwhile, Rolando Villazon must stop the practice of French kissing chorus members (not to mention the Gildas and Maddalenas). That's how bugs are spread. But what a voice. Last night his tenor had none of that straddling the limits of physics quality: because his sustained top notes were technically magnificent, he had lots of leftover calories to deal with pumping out grace. His searing "Parmi veder le lagrime" won some heartfelt applause from Maestro Placido Domingo, who led a limpid and human reading of Verdi's lush score, and who, in my opinion, may be better (in standard repertory) than many on the Met's current list of conductors. Frederick Burchinal, of adequate voice and average acting skills, was a royal upgrade from the Carlo Guelfi (though even Lois Kirschenbaum would have been an upgrade): but at the very least, he held his own during the duets and quartets, thereby allowing greater attention to the real stars of the evening. It has been proven: both Netrebko and Villazon are capable of churning out magnificent evenings. The challenges now are consistency and longevity. (For this, they must take courses at the Anja Silja School of Age Is Just a State of Hair.) Brava Anna! Bravo Rolando!

01 February 2006

How do you get to Carnegie Hall (from the Met)?

Vocal highlights of the 2006-07 Carnegie Hall season just announced:

Thomas Quasthoff with the Cleveland Orchestra on opening night (Mozart arias) and three days later, then with Philadelphia Orchestra in January (Mahler's Kindertotenlieder), and in March (An American Songbook)

Karita Mattila with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in November (Strauss's Four Last Songs), and a recital in April (Stern Auditorium)

Anne Sophie von Otter and Albert Dohmen with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Bluebeard's Castle)

Jose van Dam, Yvonne Naef, Paul Groves with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (La Damnation de Faust)

Dawn Upshaw with the St. Louis Orchestra (Britten's Les Illuminations), in a concert that will also feature John Adams' Doctor Atomic Symphony

Barbara Bonney and Yvonne Naef with the Philadelphia Orchestra (Mahler Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection")


Dorothea Roschmann (Zankel Hall)
Stephanie Blythe (Zankel Hall)
Ian Bostridge (Stern Auditorium)
Renee Fleming with the Orchestra of St. Luke's (Christmas concert)
Susan Graham (Stern Auditorium)
Diana Damrau (Weill Recital Hall)
Matthias Goerne with Christoph Eschenbach on piano (Stern Auditorium)
Deborah Voigt (Stern Auditorium)
Thomas Hampson with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (Mahler lieder, etc.)
Natalie Dessay with the Met Orchestra (Mozart, Thomas, and Massenet arias, and Strauss lieder)

P.S. I owe these Diaries a review of the Anja Silja Erwartung and this evening's Cyrano, but work's been busy lately, and sometimes a relentless kind of funk just happens. Cheer me up!