27 May 2006

Other Arts

[Moma, Friday, 4:47pm] Rothko.

21 May 2006

What's Sieglinde to do for 4 months

1. Just woke up; had a dream about Roberto Alagna (seriously); Rene Pape, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Juan Diego Florez were hot as hot goes, but chubby Bobbie, in that dashing white tux last night, is still the boy who has my number, and who knows how to use it.

2. Dear Sarah B provides pics (including one of Heidi, forever Kundry-cursed to be ticketless) and a nice positive spin on the event. I wish I could be as generous.

[Bagel break.]

3. The only other boy to mount a real challenge to the Bobbie for my heart was the Zajick, who burned everyone's cochleas during her searing "O mon Fernand." There were pounding walls of sound waves, interpolated full, uncheated high Z-flats (sorry, I never bring tuning forks to galas), and then I was like, "Hey Dolora, wtf are you honoring Volpe for? He's given you squat." (She was Adalgisa to Eaglen's Norma, but girl she could have been a glorious Norma herself. And now Gelb won't do anything for her coz she's old-school fat and not a glossy Russian vamp. We're doomed, by the way.)

4. I've never heard Dmitri Hvorostovsky sing with such long lines (and hair). He usually likes to ornament his arias with audible asthmatic aspirations, but this time he took the long Verdian lines of "O Carlo, ascolta" in single breaths. (Take that, David Blaine.) The result was elegant gorgeous. Meanwhile, Rene Pape was in his customary form, a gentleman artist of words and tone: "Ella giammai m'amo" was another clear highlight. Then there's Placido Domingo, defiant, not a day younger than 119 years but whose voice can't be a day older than 19. If he ever decides to take up a career in vocal coaching (on his days off from singing, conducting, administering, recording, selling, selling ...) his first pupil ought to be Ben Heppner, whose ovations come mainly from a relieved audience always fearing the worst. Heppner has beautiful tone and a vigorous thickness, but his excursions above the staff shouldn't be so technically dramatic: i.e., physical pain shouldn't accompany what's supposed to be proud and exuberant. Ben, we were all scared for you.

[Instant noodles break.]

5. And who the f* is Ben Moore? A poor imitation of our very own composer-in-residence NYCOF: "with all due respect" (a la Big Pussy of The Sopranos), Ben Moore should go resume his proper role as a can of house paint. The D.O.A. opener "We're very concerned," an homage to the worst of off-off-Broadway, was aptly titled. We came in not all Kathy Battle sympathizers, but if there ever was a turning point, this would have been it: tired, tasteless, way below the sequined belt, and beneath our beloved Deborah Voigt. (Now Gelb should totally sign Kathy for something ... like, uhm ... the Celestial Voice? High Priestess? Woodbird? That'd sell out the house for sure, Mr. Gelb, believe me.) I really don't care for La Voigt's odd cabaret career, so I won't go much further than to say how thoroughly hot she looked outvamping New York's blondest. The second Moore song "The audience song" came off flatter than Flicka's chest and more annoying than Bill Irwin's career. Poor Suzie Graham. (I'd sue.)

6. Denyce Graves came as the evening's Maria Ewing, blew us all away with that baritonal ooze she used cap her "Can't help lovin' dat man." Waltraud Meier's intense edge was effective for the first half of the aria "Je vais mourir" but was too intense and edgy (oh Sieglinde, how eloquent) for the second half, which succeeds only with a touch of innocent sweetness in the voice, which Ms. Kundry no longer has. Meanwhile, her Santuzza "Regina Coeli" was a total waste of minutes of the universe. Who programs this sh*t? I would have sh*t in my p*nties for Meier's Liebestod, or Mattila's for that matter, or even Debbie Voigt's. Speaking of waste, what was Karita Mattila doing in operettalalaland? (We were pissed in the boxes.)

[Noodles not enough; trip to Chinatown for some soft shell crabs.]

7. Hey Sieglinde, you haven't said one peep about The Beautiful Voice™; what gives? Nothing really, dears. One unshakable thing about Renee Fleming is her constant ability to make it her own, whatever it is. Rodelinda was Handel's before Renee made it her own creation; similarly, Trovatore Leonora's first-act stopper "Tacea la notte placida" and cabaletta "Di tale amor" was firmly Verdi's until Renee reconfigured it to sound distinctly Renee. There were ravishing emanations coming out of her throat, the sound so brilliant in the auditorium, full and mellifluous in all registers, richly hued as fine rosé. (I haven't listened to the radio transmission, but I doubt the mikes were able to pick up the sheer brilliance of that sound.) Coming off of a scintillating Rodelinda (her best evening of the 9 I've seen of the last two seasons, out of 14 total Met performances) where she received wallshaking ovations and curtain call confetti, she is once again enjoying a perfectly tuned instrument (cf. her subpar outing in the first Met Rodelinda this season), just in time for national TV. The interpolations and ornamentations she discharged are at once beautiful and out of place: one quality "forgiving" another. Renee's ethereal floating pianos recall Leontyne Price's ecstasy and ravishment in this aria, but then she swoops up and down the staff and scoops for legato to bring us back down to camp reality. I'd still buy a ticket to her Trovatore: no surprise there. It's just that ... well ... can we enjoy her dolce de leche without the pukey oversweetness? Is it possible? (Short answer: no.)

8. Best salt and pepper soft shell crabs: New York Noodletown, 28 Bowery.

9. Natalie Dessay did a job on "Ah! non credea, mirarti" with characteristic commitment and steely timbre. I'm an unqualified fan of her Zerbinetta and Olympia, two roles that rely heavily on virtuosic technocoloratura. Amina, however, requires more than fireworks: a certain quiet pathos, elusive, steeped in innocence, elevates the role into the third dimension. Dessay approximates this with impressive technical acumen, but ... uhm ... In 2001, I saw her Amina at La Scala opposite the Elvino of a young bel canto tenor named Juan Diego Florez. It was a cold interpretation. Her voice has evolved, and now has considerable interpretative capacity, but ... uhm ... let's just wait for 2008, shall we? (A certain Renata Scotto may have ruined my taste for future Aminas. A few years ago, I was at a masterclass where she demonstrated how to essay Amina's pathetic aria: she held an imagined flower in her hand, and breathed the first lines with a haunting softness I shall never forget.)

10. Speaking of Juan Diego Florez, oh my god. My friggin' god. He melts my ice cream mounds. (With cherry on top.)

11. We interrupt this opera nonsense with pictures of David Wright, the Mets' third base boy. While Sieglinde's a certified Yankee fan (as rabid as VF), she also appreciates that kind of chubby exuberance (e.g., Alagna) on display at Shea. Yanks lost a close game tonight, but this gives us hope for yet another Subway Series in October. (Meanwhile, A-Rod sucks.) Back to David Wright: his autographed used blue sweatband, at $99.99 (plus s/h), makes my $125 gala ticket a Chinatown bargain. (Doubt slowly creeps in as I contemplate the various ways one could enjoy a used sweatband.)

12. Clearly, I'm sleeping with the wrong people. Friend Khaleem reports nicer things from 10th row prime orchestra, where the likes of Anthony Tommasini and Bernard Holland hang out. Great pics of the final bows! We await (a) details promised, (b) more Rodelinda pics, and (c) more gossip about Renee.

[Monday morning.]

13. So heartwarming to see Dame Kiri Te Kanawa on the Met stage again, and for two numbers! Marietta's Lied didn't quite soar with her now limited physics, but her understated elegance made it endearing. Similarly, her Cosi duet with Frederica Von Stade "Ah guarda sorella" (among my favorites) didn't have the lift, with two aged singers trying hard to be youthful sorellas on love's perch, but it reminded opera lovers of what these two singers accomplished in these roles (and in Mozart), and we're nothing if not sentimental about fleeting beauty. Equally important, they looked fabulous as ever, opting for trim pants over gaudy gala gowns.

14. Hodgepodge. Stephanie Blythe did her usual virtuosic thing with "Ah! que j'aime les militaires!". Deborah Voigt came back out for "Du bist der Lenz", which no longer had the magical ease and flow of her old Sieglindes, but the basic elements are still there for a competent Sieglinde, if she ever chooses to go back to the role. (I was afraid she's pushed way beyond Sieglinde at this point.) Still it's a voice in major transition, etc., etc.. Meanwhile, Susan Graham's "Parto, parto" is a soft meadow on a clear day. Olga Borodina, fabulous as fabulous can be, was fabulous in the Italiana Act I finale. Ramon Vargas wasn't in top form for his "Una furtiva lagrima", but it was nonetheless an affecting performance. With his natural ability for line and legato, he was born to sing Nemorino, and that aria in particular. The Fidelio finale to end the evening's printed program had the appropriate celebratory tone, and yet ...

15. Mirella Freni can't pull a Birgit Nilsson (but who can): her unrehearsed speech brought a mixture of endearment and uneasiness to the house, which pretty much set the tone for the close of the evening's festivities. The bent nail shtick needed its own bent nail. Watching the participants gathered around the Fledermaus set was interesting: Natalie Dessay, the bored French woman with a bored look on her bored face, was seated beside the clown Bill Irwin. That combo was exactly how I felt at that point. Renee Fleming delivered the only encore, with the classic "When I have sung my songs", but it did nothing to reverse the anticlimactic end to the evening.

16. What, no Jimmy? Gawd I miss the man. The Parsifals missed him too, by the way. Anthony Tommasini suspects: "Though Mr. Levine was one of the talking heads in a filmed tribute to Mr. Volpe, he was otherwise absent. This month he made it a point to participate in a chamber-music program at Weill Recital Hall to honor the 90th birthday of the composer Milton Babbitt, interviewing the composer onstage. Might he be unhappy with the way he is portrayed — as an artistically brilliant music director who relies on others to fight his battles — in Mr. Volpe's new memoir, 'The Toughest Show on Earth'? Whatever the case, his absence was notable." Let me add that he was also present in the audience during the Met Orchestra performance at Carnegie Hall on May 14. Seems he's well enough to show up at events he deems important. I think Levine's appearance would have made up for Freni, but that's how the show ended: Volpe, respected and admired, but largely "unloved", was greeted with an awkward curtain call. (UPDATE: A reader writes of a sighting of the Maestro in the General Manager's box at some point during the Gala. He may have been there, but the fact remains that he didn't do a more public show of gratitude to Volpe. Would it be so much pain or distraction to do a little walk on stage, a wave at his adoring audience, and a kiss on the cheek for a man he rose to power with?)

17. Other ways to spend your work hours. Fellow blogger Maury (who hates my guts, by the way) does an insightful and hilarious blow-by-blow of the gala's first half. Meanwhile, we await AUV's impressions. Photos can be found at PlaybillArts and at the NYT (multimedia feature). Note: Clive Barnes of the New York Post calls Jean Volpe "the birthday boy's wife" (as in "itcha birthday, itcha birthday, we gunna pahtee like itcha birthday"?). If you're weird and you have a New York Sun subscription, you're weird ... and you can also read their take on the event. In other news, the Washington Post can't spell.

The End, for now.

18 May 2006

Volpe Gala Central

UPDATE [May 21]: My impressions of the event are all here. Enjoy.

THE GOOD NEWS. Sieglinde is going. (Yeah, score. Meanwhile, my jaw is officially numb ...) THE BAD NEWS. Event officially sold out (except perhaps Sponsor & Benefactor seating, at $3000 and $5000 respectively; massage from Renee or Debbie will cost extra, but free if you write for the NYT). MORE BAD NEWS. Standing room tickets ($35 and $50) will be sold the day of; box office window opens at 10am; line may begin to form the night before. (Bring favorite Ring set, change of underwear, lube.) Only one ticket per person: "there has to be a body present and that body will get only one ticket." [Josephine Rowe, The Boss of you.] TENTATIVE PROGRAM. Official list of singers; meanwhile, Mama Cieca has moles. FOR THOSE WHO AREN'T SO LUCKY. Radio and TV: the Met broadcast radio network will carry the event (check with local station for time and day) and PBS will air it on TV June 1, 8pm (edited version; i.e., you won't see all of Mirella Freni's 3-minute crawl from the wings for her curtain calls). More importantly, parterre.com will liveblog (classic!). THE PRESS. Where is Catherine Malfitano? "(W)hen you look at the soprano and tenor voices, there is a yawning void." [NYTimes]. "Vulgarity is a common denominator" (and take note of the invisible Volpe-Gelb Battle battle). [FT.com]. " The price of all this sleek efficiency is fear." [Newsday]. "I don't think it's skills so much, as knowledge and awareness." [PlaybillArts.com] MISSED? Elaborating on Anne Midgette's NYT piece, here's a list of female singers (active during the Volpe regime) gone AWOL (and no, Susan Dunn shouldn't be on this list: she sang nothing but the Trovatore Leonora at the Met, I believe): June Anderson, Cecilia Bartoli, Hildegard Behrens, Barbara Bonney, Jane Eaglen, Angela Gheorghiu, Hei-Kyung Hong, Jennifer Larmore, Catherine Malfitano, Susanne Mentzer, Aprile Millo, Heidi Grant Murphy, Jessye Norman, Sondra Radvanovsky, Diana Soviero, Cheryl Studer, Sharon Sweet, Dawn Upshaw, Carol Vaness, Veronica Villarroel, Anne Sophie Von Otter. Certainly, not everyone can be invited, not everyone can competently sing for a house any longer, not everyone has celebrity wattage-- but if Denyce Graves is coming, then why not Carol Vaness? (Marina Mescheriakova, anyone? "Marked for deletion," as per her AWOL website.) FIVE HOURS? YEAH, RIGHT. The plan is to begin the festivities at 5:30pm, drop curtain by 10:30pm, then have one of those feasts at the ex-Vilar Grand Tier. The "five-hour" event will be split into two segments, two and a quarter hours each (longer than Parsifal Act I, wtf), with only one intervening 30-minute intermission (just enough time for sushi rolls and a pee). I'm betting my ticket (pictured above) that we don't get out till way, way after 11pm.

17 May 2006

Millo delivers the pasta

Puccini TOSCA, Met 17.V.2006; c. Rizzi; Millo, Villa, Morris.

There will be talk about the seriously flat closing notes of "Vissi d'arte" and the skipped phrase in the closing duet of the third act-- but nothing can diminish the thrill felt by New York hungry for genuine, old-school extravagant style. Too exhausted to elaborate further, but anyone who's attended an Aprile Millo performance knows what that's all about. That said, here're some random nitpicks: (1) Allergies bandied about as a possible reason for her less-than-perfect outing. (2) Sang Act I Tosca like it was Act I Parsifal: slowed down the love duet to near Wilsonian pace, milked the soy out of every bar and arch. Maestro Rizzi, always the pushover, had little argument. (3) The vibrato/wobble on her forte top notes wider than usual, but even that had oodles of style. (4) Noticeably behind the beat during many mini-climaxes, took about a split second before submitting to many of Puccini's high notes. I didn't mind, really ... (but I'm fearing that it may be part of a larger issue of, uhm, diminished technique). (5) "Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" ad lib over Scarpia's dead body. (6) No one alive today can crescendo the "Egli vede ch'io piango!" with such truth and pathos. (7) Millo fans in astounding force; auditorium had that nice feel of celebration even before the curtain rose. (8) Flowers attended her visit with the freakline by the stage door. Victorious, she left the grounds in a grand limo:

[Not the truck, silly ... the black stretch limo on the left. Geez.]

16 May 2006

Perfectly understandable

Waltraud Meier (whose backside is pictured above), the evening's Kundry (certifiably unhinged), appears at the Met stage door within 15 minutes of her curtain call, signs only a couple of programs, tells everyone else on the freakline "Sorry, next time.", then rushes out to the garage. I'd probably do the same if I had Ralph Fiennes for the night. (I'd maybe even skip the "Dienen, dienen" of Act III and proceed to actually doing some dienen on the Ralph.) Meanwhile, Sieglinde's way behind on things around here. She doesn't know how much she'll get done to catch up this week, as she's planning another one of those David Blaine stunts: the Parsifal tonight and on Thursday, the Millo Tosca tomorrow, Wednesday's Filianoti Elisir, the last Rodelinda on Friday ... and perhaps the Volpexit Saturday? More later.

07 May 2006

Mr. Subtle warns Mr. Bottom Line

[Rodelinda radio broadcast intermission feature: Joseph Volpe in conversation with Robert Marx, Part 2]

ROBERT MARX: "Now, opera has changed quite a bit during your career, as was true in our discussion with Maestro Levine during the first half. What do you see as some of the greatest risks and challenges for opera, not just the Met but opera in general, as the field moves into a new generation. There are so many looming issues, issues of audiences and technology and money. Where is the field going?"

JOSEPH VOLPE: "Utmost is artistic integrity, because of this art form. And if one attempts to change the art form to attract younger audiences or different audiences, I think that will be a big mistake. I think that will be the downside [sic: he means downfall] of opera and in fact could ruin many companies. I think, artistic integrity. And that's key in my mind. Because as we move further and further away from the time that these operas were composed, it's more difficult to really perform them in the way originally intended and we really need to protect that."

06 May 2006

Can't chat now ...

Gotta go do that 8 1/2 hour thing. Talk later.

04 May 2006

German Light

Wagner LOHENGRIN, Met 3.V.2006; c. Auguin; Mattila, Vogt (d), Jane Wray, Grimsley, Pape, Taylor.

[Brief note; have to rush back to the Met for Rigoletto.] Back-to-back debuts of testosterone-free German men. Last night, 'twas Klaus Florian Vogt's turn. Alluringly bizarre voice: lieder-beautiful, pitch-complete, crystal clear, loudly soft (a.k.a. softly loud); hovers mysteriously above his head (seemed like he was lipsynching a recording emanating from the chandeliers) as if a cool halo; harkens back to the reedy drawing room gentlemen of those scratchy 78's; down pillow; shaped more like Lohengrin's angel messenger (if he had one) instead of your store brand "heroic knight of the Holy Grail" (a Leonardo DiCaprio to Heppner's Harrison Ford), a voice that has no space for vengeful human anger or intense lovelust (cf. Mattila's thrust had more passion and earthy thickness) but is lullaby-sweet, and has major claims to the Department of Quiet Longing; I shall never ever hear "mein lieber Schwan" whispered so achingly beautiful, and so lonely. Vogt received the largest ovation I've seen for a debuting artist; was he holding back tears during his curtain calls?; I get choked up recalling his sound in my head; a minor miracle, really.

03 May 2006

Soft Landing

Handel RODELINDA, Met 02.V.2006; c. Summers; Fleming, Scholl (d), van Rensburg, Blythe, Relyea, Dumaux (d), Vail Elkind.

DEBUTS. Andreas Scholl's adolescent-sweet voice suspends the sighing first act aria "Dove sei" in a delicate, whispery breeze. Indeed it is odd to hear that kind of gentle voice compete with Renee Fleming's in the heartrending "Lo t'abbraccio" duet, but who refuses an angel's kiss on the cheek. (David Daniels, last season's Bertarido, is a smoky lesbian to Scholl's girl on the verge of falling in love.) Three hours into the opera, the "Vivi tiranno" tries any countertenor: the full-blast Handel orchestra nearly drowns Scholl's small-scale, chirpy coloratura and weak lower register/chest, but a clean attack with sheer bravado carries him through (but oddly with minimal ornamentation). He receives the loudest ovations of the evening. Christophe Dumaux, the other countertenor debutante, has an even more feminine sound, a soubrette younger sister to Scholl. Dumaux, though light and pleasant, has neither power nor ping, leaving Unulfo's arias sweetly done but with none of the show-stopping, scene-stealing, spotlight-hogging electricity of Bejun Mehta last season. HOLDOVERS. Stephanie Blythe (Eduige) should be given more arias to massacre: with that meat 'n potatoes kind of mezzo, the Met should allow her to "encore" the "Vivi tiranno" for family circle devotees, perhaps while we're all exiting the auditorium. Oh hurricane: she's why we have that secret attraction to pain and fear: why there aren't any grand Met plans at work for her is truly beyond duh. Kobie van Rensburg (Grimoaldo) provides the same raw, titillating tenorial testosterone, and John Relyea (Garibaldo), while only adequate in the hyperbaroque style, dazzles nonetheless with his handsome tallness and a thundering bass in his baritone. Also back, Zachary Vail Elkind, in the mute role of Flavio (young son of Bertarido and Rodelinda), is the same charming actor. RENEE. There's something slightly off in Renee Fleming's performance this evening. Peculiar, since she's nothing if not consistent (automatic, reliable, etc., etc.). It may have been a touch of cold or allergy phlegm: a kind of tiredness mars her usually fragrant middle range, and a handful of her top notes are unfocussed, unpolished, and lack the high-carb Fleming caramel. Commitment is still 101%, but we got a disturbing preview of what she would sound like 10 years from now. THE PIT. Patrick Summers, among Renee Fleming's favored maestros, delivers a gnawingly listless tour of the work: no discrenible baroque bounce and sway, none of last season's Maestro Harry Bicket's dynamic ebb and flow, only a half-hearted interest in metronomic precision (crucial in baroque), no celestial symmetry, no gallant beauty. It just doesn't breathe. From the pit, this Rodelinda proceeds without any real tension or excitement, leaving all the pushing and pulling to the singers onstage. The recitatives wilt on first exposure, and we are left waiting for the next aria to commence. Narrow dynamics diminish the dramatic impact of the music. I saw a bunch of Rodelindas last season (see here, here, and here), and never did I find myself staring at the ceiling and its peeling gold paint. The Met auditorium needs a paintjob, Mr. Gelb.

P.S. Birthday wishes to Albie, (surprisingly) the Diaries' most devoted reader.

02 May 2006


[03 May 2006, 6:47pm.] On my way to see the Rodelinda prima and Andreas Scholl's Met debut, a glass sphere filled with 2,000 gallons of water and David Blaine, who has plans to be at Lincoln Center all this week. Me too, actually ... Tomorrow, it's the Lohengrin with Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin) and Margaret Jane Wray (Ortrud); Thursday, the Rigoletto with Norah Amsellem (Gilda) and Paolo Gavanelli (Rigoletto); Friday, another Deborah Voigt Tosca; and Saturday, a marathon 8.5-hour double feature: the Rodelinda matinee broadcast and the evening's Lohengrin. (Yeah, who's crazier?)