28 April 2006

Spring Cleaning


1. Opera v. Broadway. Difference #12: They got critics ... Ben Brantley of the New York Times (yes, the same one) writes of the new Elton John show Lestat: "A promising new contender has arrived in a crowded pharmaceutical field. Joining the ranks of Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata and other prescription lullaby drugs is 'Lestat,' the musical sleeping pill that opened last night at the Palace Theater." Read the rest of the belt-high criticism here.

2. Dept. of Dumb. Guess who has (thus far) failed to secure a ticket to the grand Bon Volpe Voyage? (File also under Dept. of Poor.) Among the highlights she'll miss: Renee Fleming reconfiguring "Tacea la notte placida ... Di tale amor"; Natalie Dessay showcasing "Glitter and be Gay"; Anna Netrebko & Rolando Villazon going AWOL (hmmm ...); Dolora Zajick, AWOL of late, gracing the glitterati with "O mon Fernand"; Deborah Voigt reprising "Pace, pace"; Placido Domingo clearing his throat for some zarzuela (zay what?); Luciano Pavarotti clearing his throat.

3. Dept. of Backdoor. Check out what kinds of tickets are left for the Volpe Thing. (Yeah, same here: for $2,000 I also expect some real physico-chemical action, preferrably with Rene Pape or Juan Diego Florez, or at least with Susan Graham.) But I'll tell you a little secret: a mere $350 is enough to get you in. Just call the box office directly, tell them websites are for suckers, and they'll quickly offer you an orchestra seat for that bargain price. (Still doesn't help me though. Zigh.)

4. Porn Pasquale. Yeah, Sieglinde went to one of those. While she ain't as pissed as sister MLR (a.k.a. vilaine fille), she comes close: "(Anna) Netrebko also indulged in idiocy such as waves to the house while supposedly in character. It was the most self-serving performance this writer has ever witnessed; nonetheless the audience ate up every last bit of it. The soprano was in lustrous but thick voice, with her pitch tending to sag, her vowels sometimes lugubrious, and her handling of musical intricacies less than fastidious." Martin Bernheimer reports that, on opening night, Netrebko "preened, purred, twitched, gesticulated, cackled, grimaced, beamed, waved to the crowd, wiggled her toes, danced, pranced, twirled, somersaulted (yes, somersaulted), modelled a mock-Tosca costume for comic effect, flashed a lot of bare leg, sang brightly and loudly, forgot to trill, and mushed the Italian text. The fans adored her." Bottom line: mediocre/idiotic/silly but paying audience (incoming impresario Peter "Bottom Line" Gelb's main charge) loved it.

5. Slapbitchshtick. But what did I think of the Don Pasquale? I thought Juan Diego Florez was brilliant to a fault, Simone Alaimo was satisfyingly buffo, and Mariusz Kwiecien is just plain hot. As for Anna Netrebko, well ... she's a good singer (distinctive voice, perhaps cloudy technique), a magnetic stage animal, a fantastic body: I don't mind her. Really. What I do mind are: (1) the overwhelming audience adulation ostensibly disproportionate to her musical artistry, and (2) the Met's happy willingness to sell such glossy stuff. Until recently, opera personalities that cross over to the lucrative pop arena (Pavarotti, Domingo, Fleming, Bartoli, Voigt, et al.) have made more than solid reputations on the operatic stage years before breaking platinum (with the possible exception of Mr. & Mrs. Gheorghiu). Netrebko, star of the new Met, has no time for that.

6. Root of all roots. Nothing intrinsically wrong with the equation Netrebko = capacity audience = money. Especially under severe deficits. On the other hand, nothing pretty happens when one engages the slippery slope while wielding a double-edged sword. (Especially while wearing fishnet pantyhose.)

7. Dean Jimmy. Cheers and applause for the Met Lohengrins were among the loudest I've heard this season. Wagnerians are a grateful bunch, and Wilson has his acolytes, but there seems to be a formidable contingent of Maestro Philippe Auguin fanatics. Despite Wilson, Auguin puts together a dynamic Lohengrin, when James Levine would have created a more celestial, somber thing. Auguin prefers a shore with beautiful waves and a grand sunrise, while Levine goes for an ocean of still water at endless dusk. Love him/hate him, Levine puts you in a lovely trance (or peaceful sleep). Meanwhile, the Don Pasquales would have been a bit more tasteful with Levine at the podium. We shall see about the Parsifals.

8. 26th Mile. Sieglinde ends the season with a bunch of Rodelindas, a couple more of the Lohengrins, two Parsifals, another Voigt Tosca, the Millo Tosca, perhaps a Filianoti Elisir. The Volpe Thing remains a question mark, pending the generosity of the Met or whoever else feeling generous these days.

9. Vox populi. Via Vilaine Fille: Andrea Bocelli comes to within a spit of the Met. Your move, Mr. Gelb.

24 April 2006

Voigt's Tosca


Puccini TOSCA, Met 22.IV.2006; c. Rizzi; Voigt, Farina, Morris.

After a Forza Leonora that tried her instrument in such raw relief, Debroah Voigt graduates into a thoroughly legitimate Italian spinto with a passionate and surprisingly personal Tosca. The opera's second act was received with a fiery ovation she hasn't heard at the Met since the Empresses two seasons back. But first things first: nothing in the first act flatters the soprano except for the diva entrance, and on this evening Voigt made no serious argument. Tosca's lines are cute but jagged, the orchestra is relentlessly loud, the evening's conductor is anxious, and there's the matter of Zeffirelli recreating the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle at the Met, the similarly cavernous nave of which sucks up much of the sound of any poor singer not within 10 feet of the foot of the stage. (Note to Debbie: ignore Cavaradossi; love us instead and sing close to the prompter's box.) The costumes are pretty (but, while period, appeared oddly dated), church ritual is forever awesome (can't wait for the pope to die again), and the Te Deum is actually memorable, but we don't attend Tosca for these things (unless the likes of Giordani were singing "Recondita armonia").

So we move our interest to the second act. Anthony Tommasini observes that Voigt's "bright and penetrating sound recalls Birgit Nilsson's Tosca." It was, indeed, a laser show. Those who fear that Voigt has lost that "fat" creamy lustre (me included) can now mourn its passing full blast, for she's no longer in possession of those purely orgasmic, lavish, round full-frontal sounds that in the past elevated her Empress and her Ariadne into pantheon. We can also slowly move on, and experience another kind of force, this time with a more earthy, feminine, committed, human face. As observed previously, the lost poundage, while accompanied by lost cream, marked the emergence of a woman vulnerable in love's inevitable prison. Voigt constructed Tosca's confrontation with Scarpia with seething, single-minded passion, with none of the kind of helplessness other Toscas deploy to buy sympathy. And her voice follows suit: laser high Cs, ff's that humble brass, sobs and moans that puncture the music, chest tones that gargle in blood: a kind of sonic commitment to mad desperation. This is why her "Vissi d'arte" appears out of place: her instrument, fully expanded thus far to subdue her attacker, is asked to deliver a pathetic prayer. (Didn't Callas hate this interruption too?) Voigt's difficulty in sustaining those ending top notes (specifically, minute flatness and a tired flutter) is ostensibly another proof of a fundamental alteration in her sonic physics, but it's also strangely alluring. We want to witness the diva suffer. And despite our declated taste for "beauty," the vocal precipice has always been an ally to the Italian spinto. Soon after that interruption, Voigt is back to form, trashing books and thrashing furniture, including the imposing Scarpia of James Morris. Who is sixty next year. Poor Morris, falling onto the chair and tumbling with it to the floor, after being stabbed by the dinner knife (Note to props dept.: double-check safety of props). Fearing real-time danger, the auditorium gasps slightly. But Morris lives to see a thunderous curtain call, both for him and for La Voigt, who appears exulted and invigorated (and certainly relieved). The third act is comfortingly morose, and everyone's calmed down to a whisper. Voigt puts forth a straightforward account, but we're still shaking from Act II's echo, and greet the final curtain call with another rousing applause.

Clearly Voigt's fans came out in droves, and weekend tourists greeted the show's star with Broadway fervor, but there were those of us who cheered in celebration of a great evening of opera which we initially approached with some caution (and a dash of dread). Interestingly, in the same week as Voigt's success as Tosca, Karita Mattila continues to pump out magnificent Elsas which Voigt (the Wilson production's originator) will almost be hard-pressed to reprise (though she may now be able to do the glacial gestures with less wtf). La Voigt's instrument may still be in flux, but she has found an animal in her that loves the blood and glory of the stage, and that's a diva step in the right direction.

20 April 2006

Gimme another dose of dat Mattila


Tonight, another evening of dark chocolate goodness. Jonathan Wellsung exclaims: "I have been considering proposing marriage to Karita Mattila." Kinky. The picture above was taken at the Met stage door after an ecstatic Fidelio a few weeks ago. She's being Cyrano; I'm feeling like Roxane: that's one way that could happen.

19 April 2006

The Rest


Luana DeVol's voice has a Turandot cut, with the kind of wide vibrato that gestures contempt, perfect for Ortrud's temperament. No Ortrud voice can be too big or terrifying, and I wish she let it all out during her performance Monday, but I totally understand the need to appear tasteful for one's Met debut. She gave hints of bad, however, during Ortrud's curse, which grabbed the vocal spotlight from Karita Mattila for that one minute. Please Luana, more venom, more hysteria, more raw decibel, and maybe longer finger nails. (I have a feeling you got lots of all that stuff.) Regarding stage business, Robert Wilson builds an Ortrud as visual antithesis to Elsa, and in DeVol he has found a compelling scene-stealer, a drag queen of the first caliber. (More drag material can be found in her glorious webhome.) All in all, an agreeable debut.

Ben Heppner, as Lohengrin, continues to thrill; I believe his voice has now settled into a good, stable equilibrium, which involved basically trading in some raw power for more top-note security. It's no longer as big as one would like, but it carries extremely well, and when the top notes come clarion, with that true heroic heft, oh boy it sounds marvelous. His elegant legato is the mayo on the french fries.

[RETURN FROM REST(?). I'm still negotiating with Sieglinde regarding the terms of her reentry into the blogosphere. (She gets a few dozen hits a day, she plays hardball like she's Maureen Dowd.) But change is afoot, for sure. Expect a gradual reappearance.]

18 April 2006

Karita Mattila, off da hook

Wagner LOHENGRIN, Met 17.IV.2006; c. Auguin; Mattila, Heppner, DeVol (debut), Fink, Greenan, Schulte.

I've never heard Karita Mattila sing more beautifully: her Elsa, model of technical acuity, is just ravishing. Wagner's long, high-lying lines permit her voice to expand and bloom with that cool vibrato and elegant seam. Never once did her voice falter, even slightly, or show any hint of strain-- unbelievable, really. Note-perfect; a voice of impressive subtlety; pianissimos of sweet sadness that melt the air, and fortissimos that ride over the Met's gigantic chorus without struggle; mastery of the stylized Wilson histrionics (which I love, by the way); that face of cool pain: tall trunk, full bosom, nice hair; oh she blows me away. Could this be her finest creation so far? Her Salome (which burns my iPod at least once a week, suitable for a power run on the beach) remains a homerun of homeruns, but this Elsa displays all aspects of her artistry on a true Silbersch├╝ssel. I'm hoarse today from screaming the loudest bravas I could organize for her thunderous curtain call. It was loud, baby. Sick loud.