02 December 2007

It's December because the calendar says so. Otherwise it could have been a kind fall day by the gulf. Today, 80 degrees Fahrenheit, humidity moderate, in spineless breeze-- a slight chill greeted us as we went in the water, but we went in anyway. For a few minutes, we floated beneath the same sun. At one point, I felt a soft warm surface brush my side, but J. was nowhere near me. It must have been a big fish if it were a fish. Now I'm not so sure. We were far from the slow greying, suspended by the little ripples of our unyielding questions.

01 December 2007

Sieglinde's vigil

Intent to acknowledge the profound disappointment spreading across the city and the land, the New York Times saw it fit to insert an article into the record regarding diva Renee Fleming and the Norma that is not to be. The Zurich and Tanglewood engagements aside, a news report of Fleming backing out of a "scheduled" new Robert Wilson production of Norma at the Met in the 2011-12 season is remarkable because, well, it's four goddamn seasons away, and according to Peter Gelb "was never formally scheduled" anyway. But it's big news nonetheless: because the Fleming Norma would have been the summit of an imposing career, backing out of it is, in itself, a peculiar milestone. Such a decisive act underlines the exceptional challenge of the role, made more severe by the current crop of singers at the Met battling it out with Bellini. (Did anyone else catch the Marina Mescheriakova interstate pileup on Sirius last night?)

The paradox invading Sieglinde's thoughts these days is that Renee Fleming currently has command of the technical elements necessary to pull it off. Mysteriously, her "spokeswoman" Mary Lou Falcone (hey, I want a "spokeswoman" too!) has indicated that "Ms. Fleming would not be interviewed about the decision." (Wow, have you ever heard of such a thing? Not since Dick Cheney...) Falcone, however, provided a glimpse into the diva's private thoughts:

“She came to the conclusion it was not something she wanted to live with. It was just the overall feeling. It’s one thing to sing it. It’s another thing to bring the drama to it. At the end of the day, the decision was: ‘This is just not for me. There’s a lot of other repertoire to do.’”
Thus Fleming feels that while she can sing it (well), she won't be able to cover the dramatic range of the role to her absolute satisfaction. As a friend sees it, Renee is just too "nice" to be angry and fierce, or to be feared or revered as a priestess. Moreover, some have brought up the incongruence between her vocal size and the Met's space, becoming a factor when exhaustion kicks in around the middle of Act II, when the Norma's dynamics is harshly tested. Is Renee just too "nice" for Norma? Is her lyric voice just too small for prolonged exposure at the Met?

Fleming probably can't do "angry" convincingly, but she does "desperate" and other dark sentiments quite well. Furthermore, her status as the reigning Met diva automatically endows her with a metaphysical aura that Maria Guleghina and Hasmik Papian, current exponents of the role in New York, can only dream of. An authentic star, with little need for the spotlight. But if she were to actually do it onstage, in a helpful production and under a nurturing conductor, I think she would imbue "anger" or any pushed emotion into the character the traditional way: that is, via the forgotten custom of singing it as written, actually maintaining fidelity to the music's original intentions. She can do the fioriture and the legato while skipping and chewing gum at the same time. And she may not look as draconian as Guleghina in appearing to trample anyone in her way (after biting their heads off first), but Fleming's sound, when pushed and in forte, can be quite formidable and otherworldly. Beautiful and imposing at once. The genius of Callas and Caballe--to address the range of emotion bounding Norma, but still hold true to the purest bel canto traditions--is within Fleming's mightiest grasp.

So then what is Renee Fleming really afraid of? This is my question. Is there something we don't know about her current vocal condition? (But if Armida is still on the horizon, it can't possibly be a crisis in technique.) Or is Renee Fleming just afraid of Failure? To an artist of such stature, but who has been very measured and relatively sheltered thus far, any outing that is less than spectacular morphs, in her mind and in every critical eye, into a cataclysmic collapse, rightly or not. More so in the hallowed realm of Norma, a work revered by opera fans and mortally feared by conscientious sopranos. But it is by these coordinates that Fleming should reverse her decision. The rare moment coalesces when guts and will are truly tried, when the sweetest fruits appear in the mystical tree, and when, in the end, our legends are rewritten.

Previously: No Norma, Latest word from Irminsul, Missing Norma

30 November 2007

No Norma

Renee Fleming has decided to ditch plans to perform Bellini's opera "Norma" because the role "just didn't fit," her publicist said.

"The part just didn't fit as she had hoped it would after living with it," Fleming publicist Mary Lou Falcone said Thursday. "Sometimes you can sing it through, sing it through perfectly, it's not a problem. But I think that she lived with it and realized that when you infuse it with the drama and everything else that goes with it, it just wasn't the best choice for her."
Sad day for Sieglinde, but hope remains. With the kind of vocal fitness she's nurtured in the last decade, Sieglinde sees another full decade of peak Fleming. Sieglinde still believes that caution may have to give way to challenge, if she is to approach the highest pantheon of operatic legend. So it may still happen, people. But the reverence with which she has treated the supreme role of Norma is admirable, and itself worthy of worship. With every other divette singing every other role these days, it's remarkable to now find a Diva withdraw, at the height of her vocal health and influence, from a role that she ostensibly can sing, and sing better than any other active soprano of this generation. Brava diva.

(Fellow Fleming flappers, be sure to pepper the discussion developing at parterre with positive vibes.)

28 November 2007

Latest word from Irminsul

Khaleem, opera maven and part-time sleuth, awoke Sieglinde early this morning with depressing news. Amidst the thick program notes for this weekend's BSO concerts, he and his cohorts found the jarring announcement, half-hidden in Renée Fleming's bio:

This August at Tanglewood, Ms. Fleming will sing the role of Tatiana opposite Ramón Vargas's Lensky and Peter Mattei's Onegin in a concert performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin with James Levine conducting the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.
If you haven't dropped your laptop yet in utter despair and aren't wailing in the hallways or else searching for an instrument sharp enough to cut flesh, let me explain: Tatiana = wait, where's the Norma = Norma dropped? = Norma f*ckin dropped! = ok now proceed to searching for the sharp instrument.

We at Sieglinde's Diaries are hoping that she's only postponing the Norma, as she masterfully did with the Violetta earlier in her career. We've been following this thread from the very beginning, and wouldn't it just suck turnips if it all ended as a footnote. Yes, anyone who dares assume the role of Norma will be automatically filleted (Callas included, if she were to rise from the dead today); but Renée Fleming, we (still) believe, is the one artist that could triumph in the role amidst utmost expectations. However, she's also a cautious artist, unwilling to commit if she's not confident of victory. Bummer, huh.

Our vigil for the Fleming Norma recommences.

27 November 2007

Whatever it was, it wasn't Norma

Yet I wet myself a few times during the opera just the same.

(So sorry, I've been occupied with other things lately. But still I made it to the season's last Papian Norma Friday, the Saturday matinee Zauberfloete, and then certainly last evening's--vulgar is too cordial a word--performance. Things I'll come around to blogging if I can't sleep one of these nights. Meanwhile, if you need further proof that hate comes from the same substance as love, I suggest attending one of these Guleghina Big Apple Circuses. )

21 November 2007

15 November 2007

Sieglinde's Traum

Wonderful news from the backstage of the Met has just reached Sieglinde's inbox! We've been informed that, in her dressing room after a stupendous Traviata last Saturday (which I attended, and would have gushed excessively about already, if not for that Druid priestess hogging the spotlight), Renee Fleming told her fans that she is preparing (still under negotiation?) to record an album of Strauss and Wagner arias, possibly with Maestro Christian Thielemann (!). Perhaps not trusting her ears, one fan asked "Strauss songs?" to which Renee replied "Not songs. BIG arias!" (Big? BIG! Big big? BIG BIG!)

Not songs. BIG arias! Implying of course those beloved arias and scenes she's likely not essaying on stage in this lifetime. Isn't this exciting? "The Beautiful Voice: Big, Big, BIG Strauss and Wagner Edition." Thus in a fit of gassy inspiration (with much gratitude to a lunch of split pea soup), Sieglinde provides below, totally free of charge, the track listing of Renee's next Grammy Award winning CD, as she imagines it. (Decca, take note.)

1. "Zweite brautnacht!" (Helena)
2. "Ist mein Liebster dahin" (FroSch)
3. Empress' Awakening Scene (FroSch)
4. Recognition Scene (Elektra)
5. Salome Final Scene

6. Senta's Ballad (Hollander)
7. "Du bist der Lenz" (Walküre)
8. Elsa's Dream (Lohengrin)
9. Isolde's Narrative and Curse
10. Isolde's Liebestod

14 November 2007

The missing Norma

Sieglinde's been obsessed with Norma since way before she met Hunding. The opera's mythic status in the pantheon of great musical works; a lead who is asked to essentially sing across widely divergent vocal styles (and bake and garden and clean your house too!); a lead who has to withstand withering comparison with the pantheon of past singers who did no wrong; Callas, Callas, Callas; absolutely ravishing duets, contained within a score of unimaginable imagination; its relative rarity of performance. In view of the last point, La Cieca asks for which star this current revival of Norma at the Met was originally intended.

I vaguely remember the time when the first indications of a possible Norma revival were floated in various Met bathrooms. Around the time I began this blog, it's likely that I saw it on Brad Wilber's Sublime Met Futures List (which, by the way, has just been updated, so I suggest you take this afternoon off to mull over your 2008-12 opera schedule). A slot for Norma for the 2007-08 season! It was a mysterious item in the list, if memory serves, for as time passed it remained largely uncast, while the other operas became progressively populated by singers and boobs. Only Maria Guleghina's website (March 2005) claimed to know who was singing the title role-- an odd circumstance, to say the least. I then started thinking that perhaps the slot was being held for Met diva Renee Fleming, that perhaps Renee, in a sugar rush, floated the idea to a summer intern (I imagine at some afternoon office birthday party, right by the Krispy Kreme donuts and the leftover bagels, while pouring powdered creamer in her coffee) and as talk spread, became a viable possibility. In this scenario, it made sense that the opera remained uncast, for no matter how late in the ballgame, once a star soprano jumps on board the Norma, it's relatively simple to put together her backup singers, not to mention the convenience of having a production that can fit into three of Montsy's suitcases.

So Sieglinde fantasized about possible Norma-Adalgisa tandems (Sept. 2005), while she sent her surrogates to whisper into Renee's ears the vision of her grand ascent to the pantheon as Sieglinde imagines it. (OK, in truth, I asked my friends to utter "Norma" while she signed their programs.) Then, Renee acknowledged the clamor in an interview with Rupert Christiansen (Nov. 2005), and Sieglinde went full force in her campaign. (Which was, uhm, basically sending the same three people to do the same thing every single time they see Renee backstage. Don't knock this strategy-- "shock and awe" don't always work.) Anyway, Sieglinde likes to fantasize.

Dreams do come true, as one Orlando Denny's waitress told me once during her cigarette break. But dreams, like fiber in the digestive system, sometimes take their sweet time. And Renee Fleming, true to form, doesn't just plunge into a role at the Met without first trying it out in the backwater, so the 2007 Norma remained an enigma. In October 2006, La Cieca interrupted regular programming to puke and bring news of signed contracts for Renee's first Norma (in Zurich), and then months after, Renee herself revealed her commitment to singing it in our country 'tis of thee (in Tanglewood specifically), adding "It's a huge risk. But, what? I should never take a risk?" Damn right, bitches. Risk? She eats it for breakfast, with Yoplait. Once Peter Gelb saw a $en$ation in the making, the avalanche is complete.

But lost somewhere were the calculations made for the Norma revival for the 2007-08 season. It seemed everyone forgot that it remained on the list--for the reason Sieglinde cooks up here, or another--well, everyone except Maria Guleghina, who'd eagerly trample anyone in her way. So it remained. A shakeup of the overlapping Macbeth cast gave Guleghina a second assignment, necessitating an alternate singer for the Norma, and this, mes amis, is how we got the world-touring priestess of Hasmik Papian.

In any case, however it unfolds, we are still very much united in wishing that the Fleming Norma come to fruition at the Met. I'm certain the anti-Fleming cabal has already written their reviews before the first "sediziose" is even uttered, so they're also aching to lunge and devour. It is thus displeasing that rumors of Renee rethinking the decision have come up recently. It only underlines the magnitude of the risk. And what a supreme risk indeed, even for an accomplished diva of unmatched technical abilities and in the prime of her already historic career.


Anne Midgette's NYT review of the Met Norma prima is structured, I reckon, around a false dichotomy. I am baffled by her comparison between the performance of one Norma and her handmaiden Adalgisa. Bellini wrote maybe twice the number of bars of music for his Norma; moreover, if it can also be measured, a magnitude wider dramatic range. Midgette herself describes Hasmik Papian's heroic outing on Monday as evoking "an athlete hurling herself repeatedly at the high-jump bar, sometimes dislodging it, sometimes propelling herself over with only micrometers to spare, her whole body wiggling in time to her coloratura." Thus an artist taking on the role of Norma ("one of the toughest in the repertory") assumes a nearly impossible burden: so is it conceivable that perhaps a singer of Dolora Zajick's talents, however vast, may not be able to shine as excellently as Norma as she could as Adalgisa? Apples to oranges; or more accurately, watermelons to champagne grapes. Everyone (including myself) is understandably hysterical about Zajick's brilliant Adalgisa, but let's also be fair to Papian. While I admire Midgette's vigilance, this particular case is not about "opera is drama" vs. "opera is music" at all. (For better examples, might I suggest looking into the careers of singers with prominent boobs and words of impresarios who see dollar signs for tits.)

13 November 2007

Mira the Norma

Bellini NORMA, Met 12.XI.2007; c. Benini; Papian, Zajick, Farina, Kowalkow.

Two requirements of the role of Norma that very few singers, past and present, could clear: (a) extreme range of vocal ability-- from halcyon lyricism in scale phrases, to unblemished florid coloratura for killer cabalettas, to theatrical declamatory outbursts in recitatives; and (b) superhuman stamina to do the first requirement ALL F*CKING EVENING. And we're not even getting to the inordinate emotional and dramatic demands on the soprano to make it all work on stage. Line up live renditions (no stitched up studio recordings please) of Norma's entrance cavatina--from the "Sediziose voci" to the "Casta Diva" pasta commercial to the deceptively simple cabaletta "Ah! bello a me ritorno"--to see that very few excel evenly through the three sonic faces of Norma. Then, doing this all evening long would surely defeat whoever's left standing. Thus it's a major miracle to have the likes of Callas and Caballe audaciously make this role a career calling card. In such a playing field, one can take two viewpoints: (1) think everyone's a failure, and critique to shreds anyone stupid enough to attempt the role; or (2) think everyone's a failure, forgive wistfully and move on. Hasmik Papian presents a joyous challenge to these two viewpoints. She delivers a more than credible Norma that one is apt to analyze her performance to the molecular level to find the misplaced hydrogen bond; while on the other hand, a more than creditable Norma is a cause for bliss, and to hell with the misplaced hydrogen bond.

If she were to come to my apartment and sing this role in my bathroom, she'd have sung this role everywhere. Well, not exactly, but I suspect that by the end of her career she'd have sung it wherever there's a room full of people. And she ought to. Foremost, she has extraterrestrial stamina. She regaled us with "Ah padre! un prego ancor", Norma's last hurdle, as she had begun the evening-- with freshness and nuance, gamely taking long and leaping phrases in single breaths. Throughout the marathon she was fearless in the florid passages, steady and calm in the pianissimi, and vicious in the explosive moments like "Guerra, strage, sterminio!", which surely roused the morale of her troops, not to mention some of my bodily organs. I don't remember much of the Aida she did for her debut at the Met a few years ago, except that I thought hers was a smallish voice of unimaginative qualities. The transformation can't be any starker-- in this Norma she exhibits total involvement, above par control, and "measured abandon", of an interesting voice that has substantial cut and ping. Surrounding her is an embarrassing production, possibly the cheapest production the Met has ever staged (sadder if it isn't), but which does one thing well: the polished raked stage is absolutely sound reflective, propelling any voice out to all corners of the auditorium. So Papian was helped by the stage physics, but I imagine she has also continued to build more power into her voice, while still retaining the beauty and brilliance of her top notes, in piano as well as in forte.

Papian's range is stunning indeed. To stand beside a singing Dolora Zajick and still be noticed is worthy of highest praise. Papian matched Zajick's stealthy vocal weapons with sure poise: messa di voce for messa di voce, high C diminuendo for high C diminuendo, luxuriant tone for luxuriant tone. While some of the rapidfire coloratura was smudged slightly (quibbling!), there was hardly a missed note, this while still addressing every crevice of the fantastic emotional dimensions of the role. I also like the slightly distressed quality that settles into her voice at times, to me suggesting her character's humanity and, paradoxically, femininity.

Zajick is formidable in any role, but especially as Adalgisa. With her boundless talents, her sopranic top, her bel canto bel canto, her authentic piano singing, she ought to try the Norma too. Seriously. Zajick as Norma, and Stephanie Blythe as Adalgisa-- wouldn't that totally blow your mind's nut. Meanwhile, Franco Farina is experiencing some sort of a minor renaissance. He improved vastly in the Aidas just concluded, and now, as Pollione, he is determined to not be the ugliest voice on stage. The wobble notwithstanding, his voice was sufficiently pliant, delivering some surprising pianos and sensitive phrases, while still remaining male. Vitalij Kowalkow, the Oroveso, continues to impress New York with his rich dark chocolate bass. James Levine, who led a Wagnerian Lucia early this season, should take lessons with Maestro Maurizio Benini in delivering a no-frills bel canto opera with still a lot of excitement and verve.

12 November 2007

A rare outing

Barber VANESSA, NYCO 10.XI.2007; c. Manson; Flanigan, Goeldner, MacPherson, Elias, Stilwell.

I made it to the Vanessa. It's a freaky piece, eerie New England goth brimming in the text and music; the singers, all brilliant in their respective roles, took to embody Barber's intentions fully. Lauren Flanigan powered her way through Vanessa's jagged lines with much excitement and undeniable commitment. However, it was partly a waste of metaphysical energy, for sadly Barber's title role withdraws from the drama after the pivotal Act I scene when Anatol arrives. Thus after anguishing for 20 years, Vanessa finds some happiness in Junior, becomes oddly clueless and a little naive, and what doubt that could have texturized her character was visited only tangentially by the narrative. Thus no matter how charismatic the soprano, the role of Vanessa is a bore, and Maria Callas was correct to refuse the offer to premiere it. If Barber and Menotti only took that rejection as a signal to revise-- perhaps to write in a wrenching ending aria for her, to reveal what she really thought about her uncertain fate, to explicitly name her doubts, but then to also conclude that this is preferrable to the 20-year vigil that she suffered, and that Erika was preparing to do. Whatever-- Vanessa could have been a more complicated and sympathetic character if something else was written for her in the last scene. (Of course, the haunting quintet in Act III, Scene 2 suggests her eventual fate, but why only suggest when you could have a wistful aria for soprano to embody an immense longing?) Instead, Vanessa has this powerful "He has come!" aria within minutes of the curtain--which Flanigan milked till the cows came home milkless--and then quickly drops behind the character of Erika, who then sustains the tension throughout the rest of the opera.

Regarding the other singers: as Erika, Katharine Goeldner sang with much poise, with a lyric mezzo that can open up and soar with no effort, but with an alluring dark edge that shaded her music perfectly. Ryan MacPherson sang and played Anatol with correct ambiguity, at times as a youth lost in love, at times as a cunning opportunist. The Doctor, Richard Stilwell sang with a lot of elegance and poignancy, surely grabbing the spotlight when it was close by. Rosalind Elias looked so old and stately, her presence on stage was enough. But she has a handful of lines, which she delivered with a faltering, but august voice. An how wonderful it was to see a woman at the podium: Maestra Anne Manson's reading is measured, appropriately restrained, never excessively melodramatic or dark. The entire cast, the orchestra, the conductor, even the sets, could all be transported to the Met as is, and this revival wouldn't look out of place at all. It's that good.

11 November 2007

10 November 2007

Preferable to writing an NIH grant proposal

Verdi AIDA, Met 8.XI.2007; c. Ono; Brown, D'Intino, Farina, Delavan, Kowalkow.

I'm sneaking in this post--in the midst of absolute chaos in my work--the same way I snuck in the Aida a couple of evenings ago just to hear the Amneris of Luciana D'Intino, who only three seasons ago debuted at the Met with a phenomenal Eboli despite already enjoying a full career across the Atlantic. It was a strange evening. D'Intino's cabernet mezzo billowed, powered by what seemed to be a team of four or five distinct singers hiding in her Amneris costume. She ain't a big girl (in the traditional manner), so I can't be sure where they were hiding. For instance, her top notes, genuine and attractive, had the security that Angela Brown could only dream of. Her middle range was typical; proceeding lower still, I heard what must have been three general kinds of chest tones: a normal soprano chest (the one that disappears as it descends down the scale); a chest in the speaking mode (a la Broadway); and a gigantic mother-in-law chest (the Zajickian kind that takes the opera to an entirely different, lavatory direction--which we queens enjoy). The luck of the draw, I suppose, was what determined which sound would materialize for a given phrase. I didn't mind that her register breaks were as definitive as the US-Mexico border. It made for a totally fun and interesting evening. (A question to the oldtimers who are all hailing D'Intino as Simionato's second coming: was Simionato that bad?)

This was also my first Angela Brown this season. Aside from the tragic sinking in the high C, she did a nice job with the Aida. Apparently (according to friends who have seen many more Aidas this season than toes in your left foot--don't ask me why) she was horrid in her first couple of outings, but has since improved measureably to deliver her best yet. If it's a case of illness, then she ought to be given a second (or third) chance, but I suspect it's more than that. The consistent fraying of her voice in the upper registers is alarming. Should she pull back now and undergo some vocal bootcamp, before it's too late? Brown has a gorgeous, multifaceted voice, warm and endearing, full of character and charisma, so to hear her fail miserably in the fundamentals is saddening. Even Maestro Kazushi Ono and his orchestra surprised me, making me sound like a big liar in my earlier review-- because he led a vigorous, vivid reading of the score, with exciting dynamics and total synchronicity with the singers. Many reasons for the discrepancy, some of which include: (a) a different set of principals, this time more immersed in the drama; (b) the last evening of the run, when everything pretty much gels nicely; (c) Sieglinde is just full of BS. All of the above? I report, you decide.

Back to work for me. (But I have a Vanessa ticket for this afternoon, so there lies the quandary: to rid the world of disease, or to go see Lauren Flanigan? Stay tuned.)

08 November 2007

No equal

Verdi LA TRAVIATA, Met 07.XI.2007; c. Armiliato; Fleming, Polenzani, Croft.

Busy, busy busy ... but finally I found myself back again at the opera house, in time to take in possibly Renee Fleming's greatest operatic achievement to date. Her Violetta, a grand display of all the carats in her voice, is also very disciplined and painfully thorough. Her sterling voice and mature stage deportment come out to you in brilliant technicolor spectra, this time amidst unremarkable backdrop: Matthew Polenzani, whose sweet and open top notes regrettably come with a middle register of dull and uncultivated quality, and who acts like he's trying really hard to act; Dwayne Croft, who should thank his wig's grey streaks for making him appear more imposing than his voice suggests; Maestro Marco Armiliato, who didn't carry a score to the podium, instead taking his cues from his singers' dual gluttony for meandering tempi and for excessive fermatas, tawdry pedestals meant only to shamelessly exhibit vocal jewels. Thus everyone was in complete agreement that the evening was all about Renee Fleming, and if that's the case, I thought, well, so be it-- let us receive the grace in full, be joyful and glad ... Oh how she handled Violetta's multifarious vocal and dramatic challenges with equal command! Her coloratura, always brilliantly executed, was also less mannered this time around. Her ravishing lyric, spun with the most delicate gestures, choked me up in "Dite alla giovine" and "Alfredo di questo core". Her spinto, in places like "Gran Dio! morir si giovane", which she let out in terrifying fortissimo and in a single f*cking breath (!), pushed me to the precipice. This is a supreme achievement, indeed. There is simply no question in Sieglinde's mind that (a) she owns this touchstone role, (b) by all accounts she appears to still possess the capacity to churn out such Violetta perfection for many years to come (so dropping it from her rep, as reported, is mystifying), and (c) her voice, contrary to her clamorous naysayers (you know who you are), is just getting better and better. The last part is especially thrilling, for she has plans to bring new things to New York in the coming seasons: her Thais (already a success elsewhere), her Armida (cf. the Sony recording, orgasmic but from a performance from the last ice age), her capricious Countess, perhaps (if chatter is to be believed) only postponing her Norma for a later time-- indeed, with this fine porcelain betraying absolutely no crazing, she can afford to take her time.

[An apology: You know how Sieglinde can just go on and on about Renee, but I'm terribly busy these days, with grant proposals to write and manuscripts to finish. Also, I'm seeing more of this Traviata--are you kidding--so there shall be more opportunity to dissect and worship.]

05 November 2007

View from center parterre

I'm just catching up with the pile of fall New Yorker issues growing by the nightstand. One item that caught my attention this weekend: from three weeks ago, a feature on Peter Gelb morphed, in my mind, into a more curious mini-feature on Mercedes Bass, New York socialite and key Met patron. Since the entire article is not (yet?) available online, I have included quotes below, which should establish just how utterly ___* this powerful woman is.

"Opera is somewhat of an acquired taste, and it is very time consuming--you need to have three or four hours to devote to it. And then, to a certain degree you have to have the finances. I am very aware that for a couple to go to the opera, it means basically a hairdresser, a babysitter, a taxi or car, dinner on the Grand Tier. All of that mount up to being sort of an expensive evening."
Regarding the multiplex simulcasts, she notes:
"When the camera is too much in the mouth of the singers, it bothers me. I think it is unflattering for the artist. I don't think we need to look down their throats. Even if you are in the front row of the Met, you don't see that."
On productions:
"One of my first major conversations I had with Peter was to say, please, don't get rid of the old Zeffirelli productions. My example was that one cannot appreciate contemporary or modern art if you don't begin with the 'Mona Lisa' or the Old Masters. Zeffirelli productions are mind-boggling, and I will go to all of them, and when I hear the audience gasp in the second act of Tosca, or in Boheme, that, to me, is the experience of going to the opera."
(Apparently she asked Gelb if it were possible to mount a Zeffirelli marathon, to which Gelb responded "it is possible.") On repertory:
"I don't think I'm going to see (Janáček's From the House of the Dead), frankly. Peter Grimes is another one. There are certain operas I can live without. But that's all right. There are other audiences that will love them."

*fill in at your own risk

04 November 2007

Clear majority

Question 31 of the poll just released by ABC News/Washington Post:

Do you think homosexual couples should or should not be allowed to form legally recognized civil unions, giving them the legal rights of married couples in areas such as health insurance, inheritance and pension coverage?
         Should   Should not   No opinion         
11/1/07 55 42 3
6/4/06 45 48 7
3/7/04 51 46 3
2/22/04 45 48 7
1/18/04 46 51 4
9/7/03 40 51 9

01 November 2007

Village freak show

Last night I went to see the Greenwich Village Halloween parade. There were hags and witches (or were they just homeless), guys in military gear (or were they just dikes), lots of fake blood (or real), men wearing fake crowns (sad), ghostly apparitions of the freshly dead out to ruin parties, your usual Village fare. Scariest shit was this one drag queen bearing/baring large boobie implants and enormous manfeet, who rose from the black asphalt of Bleecker Street to trample them all. She had this depraved gaze, like she's hungry for bartenders, or for chicken fingers and can't wait another moment. She wouldn't just kill you with one stab, she'd have sex with you, then chew off flesh around key arteries and wash herself with the warm blood gushing out of you. She'd even kill any aria in her path-- no, wait: she'd first waterboard it, and see what happens. Cabalettas, forget it. They're just little notes written by foreign men with tiny penises. She didn't say that exactly, but this is the sense I got.

Risking life and limb, Sieglinde did what she's paid for, walking away with a few pictures (along with sweet memories of savaged fioriture). Here she is, Maria Guleghina, carnal and unbroken, ready to jump off the stage and chop the head off anyone daring to talk shit about her.

31 October 2007

It's not the length, but how you use it

Verdi AIDA, Met 30.X.2007; c. Ono; Carosi, Borodina, Farina, Dobber, Kowaljow, Kavrakos.

The Met decided to nix the third intermission of their classic production of Aida, intended to shorten the evening by a half-hour, but the opera actually felt longer, thanks to Maestro Kazushi Ono's funeral parlor treatment of the score. There were finely spun details and moments of ravishing beauty, but dispersed throughout a generally lifeless evening. It's not so much that his metronome's default setting is on largo, but that he is a metronome. I don't mind slow (cf. Levine), but what makes the music drag so much more is when there's only minimal variation in tempi beyond the most obvious shifts. To sustain life on stage, the opera's breathing and pulse must race and retard organically, and triply so for the romantic Italian rep. Instead, Ono appeared to be content in presiding over a grand autopsy. If forced to point out a plus: his mathematical articulation highlighted things I never noticed in the score. Oh, another "plus": I never paid much attention to the whispering male chorus in the temple scene (Act I, Sc 2) till last night-- Ono certainly gave me a few extra moments to notice it.

Despite the funeral in the pit, however, the Aida of Micaela Carosi is full flesh. In the long line of Aidas in recent years, hers is the most nuanced and thoughtful. She has lovely high notes, at times quite thrilling; an engaging dynamic plan, insterspersing more than usual mezza voces to make her fortes appear gigantic; an alluring stage presence. However, she has a tendency to wash off the vibrato in some of her mid-register notes, making her sound a bit whiny and wail-y, sometimes gray and dull. Moreover, there's significant wavering in pitch. She must address this unevenness. Olga Borodina is her same competent self, but the iconic status of Dolora Zajick's Amneris at the Met is a no-win situation for any mezzo. Franco Farina, temp-ing as Radames, wasn't the trainwreck I feared. Without the wobble at the top, and with less of that brute, rough delivery, it would have been an acceptable, if unmemorable, performance.

28 October 2007

What subway to take to Abu Dhabi?

Soon there shall be an "an adjunct of the Metropolitan Opera Company" in the United Arab Emirates. General Manager of the Universe Peter Gelb is buttering up sheiks and their respective Mercedes Basses (and vice versa) for a branch of the Met in the Middle East. Implications, should this plan push through, are much too profound for Sieglinde to contemplate on a subdued Sunday afternoon. (First thing that comes to mind: Anna Netrebko, tits, and a fatwah.)

What Canada thinks of this blog: as close to a box of baloney as you can get.

Hear this

The Rest Is Noise” is a great achievement. Rilke once wrote of how he learned to stand “more seeingly” in front of certain paintings. Ross enables us to listen more hearingly.
Thus the front page (!) of this weekend's NYT Book Review declares. Though Sieglinde's copy doesn't arrive till Monday (the last blogger to receive it, I'm betting), I don't hesitate to say, basing on his many articles that I've read and loved and love to reread, that Ross has enabled me to also "feel more thinkingly". (In every meaning of the phrase.)

ADDED: In fact it turns out that I'm not the last blogger to receive it. (Private to ACD: check if Amazon Prime is also right for you.)

26 October 2007

Call security

Someone has hacked into La Cieca's blog.

So far so good

[9:03PM] Lucia, first intermission. A thousand miles away, I'm listening via Sirius satellite. Young Stephen Costello, already an established success as Arturo, sounds divine in the primo role, so far. A joy to hear a pure lyric sing Edgardo. Marcello Giordani did something intense with the role, but he has substantial spinto in his voice to destabilize bel canto's easy flow. Costello, on the other hand, is pure sweetness. I look forward to the rest of the evening, and greatly regret that my schedule pulled me far away from this sparkle of the Met fall season. (Meanwhile, Roberto Alagna, the intermission guest and my hubby-in-waiting, is pumping out vats of charm.)

REPORTS FROM THE MORNING AFTER: Even from the broadcast, I sensed some signs of stress and tightness in Wolf's Crag, due in large part to Levine's penchant for thick, late-romantic sonority, as well as his duelling partner Marcus Kwiecien's trombone of a voice. But he finished the evening with a nicely spun final scene, graceful and sensitive, multitextured and rightly nuanced.

Reports from more credible witnesses are trickling in [parterre, opera-l 1, 2]. Costello is not rating as well in those qualities that are impossible to judge over the airwaves, those having to do with space presence and dimension such as vocal weight, ping, and projection. Much like Massis, who I thought, from last week's performance, would have done better in a smaller house and with a more sympathetic bel cantist at the podium. It's adding up to a work in progress: his weak points could certainly be overcome by experience and smart choices, but the graceful beauty of the voice, that elusive mystical property of singing, appears to be an authentic presence. A promising beginning to a fine career.

25 October 2007

Now playing

Check out Sieglinde's cool music site of the day, SeeqPod, which crawls the web for mp3 files and makes them available for playback on your computer. (No, I won't teach you how to download the files-- figure that out yourself.) Obviously aimed at pop stuff (it found 1006 files for Beyonce), but the likes of Maria Callas (36 files so far) and Richard Wagner (33 files) are there. But shockingly, no Anna Netrebko ... yet (it said "We'll start looking for Anna Netrebko right now, check back later"). Renee Fleming, with 7 files, shows Anna how it's done.

24 October 2007

Oceanliner s(t)inking

To appreciate the performance of the longtime soprano Maria Guleghina in the role, you must remember that Verdi wanted his Lady Macbeth to be “ugly and evil,” and her voice to be “harsh, stifled and dark,” as he put it in a letter.
Ugly, evil, harsh, stifled, dark: yep, that's my girl, Guleghina! You just wait hon, Sieglinde's coming to see you next week.

23 October 2007

Late edition: Maria Gavrilova

Puccini MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Met 19.X.2007; c. Elder; Gavrilova (d), Alagna, Zifchak, Salsi.

Rude of me to skip out of blogging, but been travelling up and down the country the past few days--but here's the gist: heart sank immeasurably upon seeing the lobby announcement that Maria Gavrilova (who?) was taking over for an ill Patricia Racette (overheard: she better be more than "ill"); sagging heart brought back to vigor upon the first notes of Butterfly's entrance, sung from Amsterdam Avenue, soaring to plaza fountain and beyond; Gavrilova ought to be covering Isolde and Sieglinde this season as well, with that terrifying sound; soprano in the usual two-tier mode: mostly plain yet still accomplished lower middle and chest, but once above the staff, cutting and rich and absolutely Turandific; a formidable sonic presence in the Guleghina tradition, yet brimming in emotion and sensuality; her Butterfly a thorough interpretation, actually more italianate than Racette; a (refreshingly) wide girl, in the quaint tradition of big-voiced sopranos: Bobbie Alagna's refusal to carry her off downstage at the end of Act I perfectly understandable.

Thus did Maria Gavrilova, in her Met debut, fill in for a success successfully. My partner confessed to being moved to tears. Despite having seen this thing a gabazillion times before, I was quite misty-eyed too. I once again give great credit to Maestro Mark Elder, who has continued to display complete mastery of this deceptively complex Puccini, which tends to either sag or melt into a saccharine creampuff under less thoughtful leadership. No hesitation to declare that this is among the best conducting jobs I've seen at the Met in many years. Bravo Maestro, brava Gavrilova!

20 October 2007

Why Sieglinde doesn't sit in the orchestra

Well, aside from the money thing. Was at tonight's Butterfly, happily perched in my usual box, but had family down on orche$tra level. So during the meditative humming chorus that ends the first scene of Act II, with Butterfly and Suzuki and the freaky bunraku boy preparing for vigil, they hear some guy behind them solemnly whisper to his seatmate, "He's not gonna come." And then, there was the lady to their right who just had to clear her staphy nasalwork whenever Butterfly felt like singing softly. Also old people who are into candy wrappers, plenty of them down there. Up where Sieglinde sits, Lois & Co. don't even so much as breathe for entire acts.

[I'll add ecstatic words about Maria Gavrilova tomorrow. Right now I'm dead. Night.]

19 October 2007

Not a farewell

Mozart LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Met 18.X.2007; c. Jordan; Hong, Oropesa, Schrott, Pertusi, Vondung, Muraro, Murray, Kim, Leggate.

On the same day that the Yankees lost a great man, the Met may have also seen the last of a great soprano. I haven't heard of any future engagements for Hei-Kyung Hong, but I wouldn't be surprised if she turns up once again as a replacement for a high-profile cancellation in the future. But for now, last night may have been it for Hong, though from the kind of voice I just heard, she ought to be engaged by the Met for years to come. Showing little degradation or weakness, her sound is the same sparkling, poignant thing I remember from the first time I saw her many years ago, also in the same role. In an accomplished Figaro ensemble, she stood out, lending the Contessa a rare dignity and lighthearted charm, but with pathos and generosity. Her two arias shimmered in suspended time. Her presence gave the evening an air of elegance. New York values performance and excellence, and also loyalty and service. Twenty-three roles in the same number of years: Hong, the voice fresh and gorgeous as ever, should be cast by the Met for more.

18 October 2007

A simpler madness

Donizetti LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, Met 17.X.2007; c. Levine; Massis, Giordani, Kwiecien, Relyea.


A quick one; busy day. I'm pressing the "easy button", and claim how refreshing it was to finally hear a Lucia sung in an uncomplicated and fluid manner. Annick Massis brings to New York, beginning last night, a standard interpretation, on the heels of the other French soprano, Natalie Dessay whose face is still plastered all across town and the rest of my tickets, and whose overwrought approach to this bel canto is a tad problematic. But for Massis's ravishing top, you trade quite a bit of Dessay's miraculous volume. Here I'm surprised that James Levine, always a best friend of singers, does not scale down his Wagnerian orchestration for his tiny-voiced soprano, so her sound diffuses behind her duet partners easily, and her bland middle range swallowed mercilessly by the bright resonance of the Maestro's unforgiving strings. Perhaps to compensate for an unconventional sound, Dessay applied idiosyncratic shading and dramatic nuance to every other phrase of Lucia's music, varying from evening to evening (which now appears to be inspired by that drama-mechanic Meryl Streep, who she proclaims in the Charlie Rose interview to be the greatest actor in her mind), which could be exhausting to hear. In contrast, Massis brought but a breeze to the role, a light air, simple sparkling sun (if you can hear her)-- which made me sit back in bliss and enjoy this bel canto for what it is (and what it's not), though not so much, since Levine is still confusing Lucia with Otello. All this is saying is that, if Ruth Ann Swenson were only petite and had a marketable pop schtick (e.g., Angela's temperament, or Anna's boobs), problem solved.

[There was a misstep in the mad scene (aria proper) where Massis, in Lucia's ecstatic state, appeared to be going for another phrase entirely, losing Levine completely. Stopping to sing for a second (a terrifying eternity!), she rejoined the rest of the universe a couple of bars later. But the Melba cadenza returns too, along with the flute, and many many more sparkling top notes.]

UPDATE: I got a couple of e-mails protesting my implication that Massis is inaudible, which she's not, more or less. Lucky that key sections of Lucia's music are underlined by light orchestration (well scene, mad scene), so during these moments she's perfectly alright. But as soon as a duet is called for by the score, struggle ensues. With an aggressive pit, only her top notes, which are gorgeous, ring out over the commotion. Otherwise, her nonexistent chest (she seems to just declaim, in normal speaking voice, around this register) and her challenged passaggio just couldn't keep up with Hunding, Wotan, Siegmund, and Fricka (here called Raimondo, Enrico, Edgardo, and Alisa). I should apologize though for placing Massis squarely in the middle of the Dessay-Swenson hair-pulling bitch slap fest still unfolding in my mind. A polished artist in her own right, she most certainly doesn't deserve this location.

16 October 2007

not really liveblogging the alagna radames

[8:03pm] Somewhere in the south this evening, 1000 miles away from the action. Marge J. hints at the subhistoric context of tonight's Met Aida: Roberto Alagna's first Radames since La Scala.

[8:15pm] "Celeste Aida" just wrapped; the Met, in love, showers Bobby with New York's customary bravos. I don't spend that much time listening to Bobby on the radio-- I'd rather hear him live. And for good reason. He does sounds (mildly) pedestrian over the airwaves. A bit goatish, under some unusual pain. (Still love him tho.)

[8:18pm] Dolora Zajick to the rescue!

[8:45pm] Intermission. Act I a bit underwhelming. Margaret Juntwait joins in the lethargy, and it's time once again to switch the Sirius off. (In the meantime, go Cleveland!)

[9:17pm] OK, I'm still here, but only to hear Zajick dissect "Ah! vieni, amor mio".

[9:21pm] As expected, La Zajick, celestial phenomenon, gives a ravishing set of "Ah! vieni, amor mio"s no one else in history could match. Does the audience realize this?

[9:29pm] The chest on the "FaraONI"! Brava, Dolora. We can all die now.

florida tuesday

Lost in midsentence
I count twelve white ibises
cross to the next lawn

14 October 2007

Nat a singer

Maury alerts us to Natalie Dessay's guest appearance on Charlie Rose, where she again claims to be not a singer but an actress first. More accurately, the label is "singing actress": doing the opera thing but with that burning ambition of graduating to the higher art form of theater ... someday. Metaphorically: I'm sitting (not so) quietly in my balcony box, and she's giving me the stiffest finger.

11 October 2007

Lucia trivia

Fall rain, enemy of cheap mascara, is how the Yankee fans among us feel this week. Also: how fans of good trill feel after seeing this Lucia; or how Lucia herself feels when a dog (claiming to be Macbeth) lurks in facades. Two evenings ago, I was back at the Met, for a third (!) Lucia. I've said all I could say about Dessay. (Also, my prima night comments are here.) Moving on: one nice thing I've noticed but failed to mention thus far is how refreshingly alive James Levine has been on the podium. He's using both arms. His right arm (the baton arm) has many more nuanced gestures than I can remember, and his left hand is back in full command of the prissy strings, with a very authoritative palm-up-curled-fingers gimme-more-tremolo posture. And he's vigorously singing along with his singers, like he used to in those DVDs from the 90s. I think this means another 20 years of healthy conducting. Of Strauss and Wagner and Mozart (but leaving the bel cantos alone, please).

Speaking of Wagner, Mary Zimmerman's Act I set does resemble Otto Schenk's Met Die Walküre. Coincidentally, in terms of pure volume and dynamics, her singers Dessay and Giordani can indeed hang with their Wagnerian compatriots sans size envy. They're deafening. I will also include the comprimario Michaela Martens, whose trombone of an Alisa absolutely dominates that Nabucco-like choral rah-tah-tah that caps Act II-- she's one fat-sounding Fricka in progress, Sieglinde declares. We need to hear more from that loud mouth of hers. Lastly, a third sampling of Stephen Costello confirms the observation that there's a little Calleja in his vibrato, though not as unattractively severe. Mama Cieca is being Ed Rosen to Costello's Giordani, which is interesting. No doubt we're all rooting for the young man's further success.

09 October 2007

Good tragedy on stage, bad tragedy at the ballpark

Puccini MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Met 08.X.2007; c. Elder; Racette, Alagna, Zifchak, Salsi (d), Cangelosi.

I chose to hear the (not so fat) lady at the Met over the depressingly fat lady at Yankee stadium who may have sung her song on the saddest night of this generation of fans. (Thank you, Joe Torre, we shall miss you.) Back to the Met: the scene I was anticipating most was at the end of Act I, when Minghella's beautiful production calls for the Pinkerton to carry the Butterfly through drapes of petals to the back of the dark stage as the curtain falls. Last year's mighty Marcello Giordani and frail Cristina Gallardo-Domas were a perfect picture; this season, we have Roberto Alagna, all too familiar with elevator shoes, and the full-sized (I don't want to say burly) Patricia Racette, who doesn't take shit from anyone. I took a huge breath with Bobbie as he lifted Pat off her feet, and held it for a few seconds, fearing he'd slip on Butterfly's stripped negligee lain on the raked floor.

It became a depressing exercise to call my sister for updates on the Yankee score during intermissions. That, mixed in with a happiness I felt to hear Racette again, the first after those magnificent Elisabettas of the Met Don Carlo last season, was an appropriately operatic juxtaposition. In the role of Butterfly, she's given an occasion to showcase the amazing breadth of her vocal talents: the power in climactic moments, the high and ascending pianissimi, the lesbianic chest tones. What I missed was the sense of vulnerability that Gallardo-Domas embodied (her physical body, her masterful stylized movements, her fraying voice), because Racette is so on top of her game right now that she makes this formidable role seem like a laughably easy sing. One petty thing: if she would only release those deafening fffff's (which I know she has) at crucial points of the opera--perhaps she doesn't want to come off too strongly?--then it would be a complete Sieglinde orgasm. There is no more argument: Racette is a topflight artist, the kind that a major opera house can build around for a generation.

Meanwhile, Alagna is just the most delicious Pinkerton, I could just eat him with roast pork and steamed rice. Bounding on stage, light-footed, arrogant and youthful: thoroughly the American lieutenant out for world domination. In my book, he can do no wrong, so I just took the sharpness in his top notes to be dedicated expressions of exuberance. Foolish infatuation on my part, what can I say: I, and the rest of New York, love the guy. We gladly offer him asylum from La Scala.

Maestro Mark Elder's reading: superb. The top of Act I pushed forward as fast as Alagna would let him, communicating Pinkerton's juvenility and fleeting concerns wonderfully. The love duet shimmered, never overhanded or severe, not gushing, not too melodramatic. His Act II descended slowly down the darkness of Butterfly's immeasurable sadness, the orchestration thinning, those quiet sections really quiet. Butterfly totally forsaken, even by sound. His virtuoso orchestra sounded transparent and light throughout, a joy to hear. Yes, there was a recurring tempo battle between stage and pit, but this should subside as the (short) run progresses.

(But the heavy cloud over New York today: that's how the city feels about Jeter's Yankees.)

07 October 2007

We live another day.

Don't wanna jinx it, but so what. It's the 7th inning, the Yankees lead the Indians 8-3. Always this time of year, the question for Sieglinde: Game 4 or the Butterfly?

end of season pangs

Four days ago, I predicted that the Chicago Cubs would sweep the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Philadelphia Phillies would slide out on top of a close series (3-2) with the Colorado Rockies in Major League division play. Right, so of course both D'backs and Rockies come out last night with awesome sweeps. More than a show of my natural actuarial talents, it's another demonstration of the cagey beauty of the game. Now the New York Yankees are facing similar elimination tonight, in a crucial game with the Cleveland Indians in the Bronx, when the Boston Red Sox are setting up to advance in the same kind of sweeping glory over the Los Angeles Angels. But hold the champagne, Cleveland. (And you too, Boston.) Singing fat lady aside (as in Gelb's opera house), the Yankee dominion is holding on to that cosmic truism "it ain't over till it's over", this while my Phillie compatriots (among them, my brother-in-law and my nephews, 5 and 7 years young) are lulling their hurt in another more poignant phrase, "there's always next year". Or more accurately, next century.

06 October 2007

No End In Sight

Check here to see showtimes near you. Read L. Paul Bremer's NYT Op-Ed article from 06 September 2007, oddly titled "How I Didn’t Dismantle Iraq’s Army", and then watch the filmmaker Charles Ferguson's video response, also in the film's official website (click on "Director Responds to Bremer's NY Times Op-Ed Article" below the trailer).

05 October 2007

[sort of live-blogging a random Friday evening, because it's not like any work or sex is being done on a Friday evening in these parts]

1. The NY Sun refers to Angela Gheorghiu as Roberto Alagna's ex-wife: typo or not? Join the debate at La Cieca's, in the midst of a totally unrelated post on some conductor with a sex life. BREAKING: I got an e-mail from a well-placed, but unverifiable, source that Angie and Bobbie are still in marriage bliss as they "can't keep their hands off each other". But the same can be said if the two are trying to strangle each other, so the debate continues. (Nevermind the nonexistent status of the NY Sun in the city's press totem pole--even below the Post, if you can believe it.)

2. Look, the armonica mama is outlasting Natalie Dessay in publicity! She deserves every press she gets. But should we call her armonica gramma instead, is an issue too. The article says "during Lucia’s first scene, when the character’s melodies are introduced by the glass harmonica, the sound is eerily beautiful and entrancingly strange." Which is indeed eerie and strange, because the armonica mama doesn't join the pit till Act II, long after Lucia's first scene. (Perhaps another one of Zimmerman's ghostly apparitions at work?)

3. Holy shit! Melky "Leche" Cabrera just saved a run. (I'm like screaming by my lonesome here in the Florida exurb.) Leche for prez!

4. Holier shit! Melky just hit a towering home run for the first run of the game! Leche for Met GM!

5. Aprile Millo, Wonkette with a devastating legato, is adamant about the defense of the golden age in her glorious blog. She declares that "being attractive in opera is not a new idea", as if to pooh-pooh our current fascination with hunkenthings and boobie lyrics. The difference with the new generation of opera babes however is that, we have digital video cams and rapidshare, so we're really just waiting for a clip of Costello having it with Kaiser to surface and spread. Or perhaps a tape of the closed-door rehearsal of the Romeo bed scene between Anna and Bobbie--perhaps real reason for Angie's visit and subsequent firing? Speaking of, I love that (a) sopranos are still being sopranos, and (b) sopranos are still getting fired for being sopranos.

6. Still holding 1-0 Yankees, top of the 5th inning. But shit, I gotta go do something else. (Don't know if this live-blog will resume later tonight. It's been fun though, right.)

7. [past 11pm] Just returning from a viewing of "No End in Sight", a documentary film about the appalling mismanagement and execution of the Iraq occupation. Sharp and damning, it is a must-see.

8. I see the Yankees lost a heartbreaker. Because of "flying ants"! I hardly believe I've seen everything in baseball--I'm still waiting for major lockerroom exposés of the "wide stance" persuasion--but this one's truly incredible. A friend says that this is solid proof that God is not a Yankee fan. Yeah, but apparently God isn't a Phillie fan either, so we're about even.

nothing of essence here

When I was being interviewed (for the Met general manager position), I explained to the board that if I was to take this position, we'd all have to recognize what was wrong with the Met. There was a reason the audience was declining. And it had to do not just with the marketing of the Met, but with the core artistic essence of the Met. It needed to go through a quiet revolution that would be exciting enough to engage a new audience.
Read that again: what's wrong with the Met, according to Peter Gelb, isn't just that they didn't think of advertising on the sides of buses or simulcasting performances in suburban multiplexes, but it's also in the "core artistic essence" of the opera company. However, nowhere else in the interview did he speak more about this supposed problem, which makes me think that by "core artistic essence" he meant things other than the Met's "core artistic essence". Basically, importing the Minghella Butterfly from ENO, kicking off a massive media campaign, and providing live video to Times Square on opening night are more of marketing initiatives than anything, inspired as they may have been. And streaming performances via satellite radio (in addition to the multiplex simulcasts) is more a creative repackaging of the same staid product than a serious realignment of any artistic essences. Moreover, bringing in new directors and launching new works aren't his innovations at all--Zeffirelli, after all, was once a new director (centuries ago), and there have been a number of world premieres of new works by youngish composers since the Volpe years. Which makes me wonder: did Gelb misspeak, is he looking to do a marketing job to recast his marketing accomplishments into something else, or is he really out to tinker with the real core artistic essence of the Met?

04 October 2007

Bad night. (Overflowing with respect for Joe Torre, but I have to disagree with the pitching change in the bottom of the 5th inning. Choice may have been limited, but to call up a rookie, Ross Ohlendorf, when the game, at 6-3, was still within reach, is indefensible. Postseason pressure on pitchers is extreme--and more so for those wearing the storied pinstripes. Definitely not the place or the time to give a Helmwige her first Brünnhilde.)

Sirius thoughts

Reviewing the Met's Romeo, NYT's Anne Midgette poses the question:

The ultimate measure for a singer should be, Is this a sound you want to listen to? The answer here was yes.
Which is, for opera lovers, the prime question. (It certainly addresses my lukewarm response to Natalie Dessay.) I uttered a "yes" to that question last week, and eager to relive those prodigal moments, I listened to the Sirius broadcast of the Romeo last night. I was quickly frustrated though, appalled by how unradiogenic Netrebko's sound is. This morning, to confirm, I accessed an in-house recording of her performance last week (don't ask me about my source, I have complete deniability). The tape confirms the same acrid sound of her Juliette: lazy in the pianos, just slightly under the pitch in fortes, sagging like an old mattress. But she's anything but an old mattress-- I mean, she's not that old. Thus, unlike the diva Renee Fleming, whose rich sound transmits perfectly from mic to speakers but whose boobs aren't that perky, Anna Netrebko, if behaving well, is probably better experienced live, in the (barest) flesh. The radio just can't communicate the sheer bigness of her voice--what Anne Midgette calls "a luscious sound that you wanted to bathe in forever"--and her tits. Moreover, you'll detect none of the brilliance of the jewels that attend her high fortes, and none of the bigness of her tits (did I mention her tits?), all of which made Sieglinde watery in some parts of her body last week. I know the radio-vs-live thing (a.k.a. cd-vs-live, etc.) is a tired subject, probably written about from the first Met broadcasts a century ago, but I think still worth repeating today, as the opera experience migrates further and further away from the four walls of the opera house. And the issue still fascinates me, so deal with it.

(I know, you're saying WTF, Sieglinde's lost it completely, what's she doing talking up Anna. Sieglinde's mumbling the exact same thing to herself, rest assured.)

Meanwhile, 6:37pm first pitch: chicken wings, here I come.

03 October 2007

[division series: yankees over indians in 4 games; red sox over angels in 4; phillies over rockies in 5; cubs over d'backs in 3.

league championships: yankees over red sox in 6; phillies over cubs in 7.

world series: yankees over phillies in 5.]

UPDATE: Phillies lost the first game this afternoon, *sigh*. But meanwhile: check out Cole Hamels, their (losing) starting pitcher, and you'll get one clue as to why Sieglinde's a huge baseball fan: specifically, examine his rookie baseball card and, more urgently, his default position on the mound. (Wipe that drool off your face before your mama sees you.)

02 October 2007


Submerged in a widening city of blogs, I can blow an entire day jumping from link to link. How much guilt for every minute spent away from work, for every "free" mp3 download? Used to be that "if you can't find it in New York, you won't find it anywhere" ... well, it's now the internet. The hardest thing to do these days is to click "close" on my browser. Is there rehab for this addiction? (Or a virtual prison, for those, uhm, unprincipled Akon-to-Zemlinsky downloads?) This is just wrong.

30 September 2007

Therefore, ignore everything I say

Unavoidable to wander away from the music and get sucked back into thinking about work, or to consuming lists of daily life. Happens to me at the Met, during awesome scenes, and more than I care to admit. I nearly had to slap my face back to the opera on Thursday, for the obligatory second helping of Lucia di Lammermoor, right at the vortex of the mad scene. Walking off into the clear fall night of New York, I could say how meticulous and thoughtful every placed note, every action was; how well the text was served, how professional the phrases were churned, and with undeniable passion; how world-class the grand musical performance just witnessed. But in the end, it comes down to an elementary question, of how much I really dug the underlying Natalie Dessay sound, and I can't say I really do. Lawd knows I'm trying.

But plug a favorite singer into a similar scenario, and a comparatively thoughtful and professional performance would yield an opposite reaction. Which is to say that all (my) criticism collapses from the arbitrary scaffolds built around ad hoc criteria. One's deep resonance (or dissonance) with a voice may be rationalized with creative words and witty metaphors, but at its heart it is really elusive to logic or explanation. This is my simple experience: this is how I adore Renee Fleming, how I can now fathom the possibility of liking (gulp!) Netrebko, etc.. For if a formula can be mapped out that can justify the level of ecstasy, then all magic that attends that ecstasy is, by definition, drained. I see that every other thing around the voice may help or diminish the way it touches me, but the prime thing is that it touches me. And in unnameable ways, so screwed up that the words in this blog cannot even point to the vicinity of that love.

27 September 2007

Blog prec8m from a few bars of Arturo's music

I can give you the musical highlights in one sentence: Stephen Costello as Arturo sang beautifully, with gleaming, compact tone and jaw-dropping confidence.
I can't say Marcello Giordani had a very good night in the end. Stephen Costello's debut as Arturo was striking indeed; the young tenor sang with perfect confidence from the outset, his voice showing real personality as it blended clarity of line with grainy richness of texture. I found myself wishing he were singing Edgardo in Giordani's place; he will do so on October 25.
A heads up: you might want to catch the performance in which Stephen Costello graduates from...Shemp, or whatever the character's named, to Enrico, because I think in a year or two you may have trouble getting tickets to hear him. This is just a hunch still, based on not that much, but I will tell you the boy isn't even my type so I'm at least not listening with the ears in my pants.
The most secure singing came from debutant Stephen Costello in the small role of Arturo, his tone bright and hardy, with a strip of metal down the center.
(from a non-review of the open rehearsal) Young Stephen Costello will be making his Met debut as Arturo in Lucia on the Monday Opening Night. This young tenor is destined to become one of the greats, IMO. His voice is clear, beautiful, and carried extremely well in the large auditorium that is the Met. His performance leaves one wishing that Arturo has more to do in the opera!
The best part for visiting Philadelphians, though, was when tenor Stephen Costello (locally born and trained) arrived for Lucia's arranged Act II marriage. In his Met debut, he looked wooden - but outside the confines of the Academy of Vocal Arts' acoustically odd theater on Spruce Street, his tenor voice unfurled as though it had found its true home.
An appealing young tenor, Stephen Costello, had a solid Met debut as the well-meaning Arturo.

(That's it, Mr. Tommasini?)
My personal favorite:
Monday night saw the Met debut of a lyric tenor with a big future: That's Stephen Costello, an American. He was Arturo, and, initially, he was a bit tight. But he was also focused, penetrating, and remarkable. He will graduate to the part of Edgardo soon — indeed, he will take it later in this Met run.
Initially = first few notes of his little stanza? (Tight & penetrating ... not going there.)

26 September 2007

Yet another schizo evening

Gounod ROMEO ET JULIETTE, Met 25.IX.2007; c. Domingo; Netrebko, Alagna, Leonard, Degout, Sigmmundsson.

Anna Netrebko is nothing if not loud. And bosomy. Loud and bosomy. But this time, she was actually good. No matter for Sieglinde, she hears that crow tastes like chicken anyway. I wasn't exactly totally blown away--well, physically blown away by her sheer sonics, yes--but she delivered something mature, nuanced, sensitive: traits one doesn't normally associate with Hooter burgers. In dim lighting, away from the toxic limelight of fame (the day after the overhyped prima), I can see how some thoughtful people can fall in love with Anna: her instrument has a natural glow, a dark sheen, a texture that conveys joy in sorrow (and vice versa)--and when used well, there is magic. But she tends to sing awfully loud (did I mention how loud she was?), and by the end of the evening, my ears were shot (thanks to Domingo too, see below). And her tone sometimes sags like wet towels hung on a clothes line, but this time she was alert to correct much of it, which pleased me. And let me tell you, she inhabited this drab production much better than Natalie Dessay. Two years ago, tiny Dessay looked tinier and so out of place, while Netrebko embraced the kitsch with an abundance of game and spirit. She had what appeared to be a minor mad scene with the potion, energetic and in-the-moment, perhaps feeding off the spirit of Dessay's Lucia lingering in the air. Netrebko was brilliant in this scene and the last act, fully committed, solid in voice ... With these words you'd think Sieglinde's writing about someone else. But when well-behaved, and in the right rep (i.e., lyric) Netrebko can really rise to deserve her pop fame.

Roberto Alagna, on the other hand, performed slightly off the mark. I blame Netrebko's loudness, and Maestro Placido Domingo's utterly vapid and deafening orchestra, for Alagna's hopeless attempts to make his sound bigger. The result was major tone spreading, and what difficulty in the top range he's been experiencing of late was pushed front and center. Also, the desire to be as loud as Netrebko (nearly impossible) made for a monotonous and at times painful delivery, with none of the grace and sweetness that marked his Werther and Faust in my cherished memory. But he looked dashing in the turqouise tights, and moved as a Romeo moved, with a boyish charm and some innocence.

Does the Met get a wholesale discount when they employ Domingo as tenor and conductor in the same season? Because that's the only reason for finding him in the pit that I could think of. His tenor is legend, but his conducting is appalling in its crudeness. He refuses to reign in the dynamics, instead encouraging the orchestra to modulate only between loud and louder. So any trace of sweetness or hushed wonder is erased from the score (except those overtly quiet moments with the string solos and such, which even Domingo can't f*ck up), and the evening felt soooo long. Gounod's love opera ought to come as a nice cool breeze at sunset (with a drink of potion in hand), but Domingo is too muscular, too much of a tenor, not "gay" enough to revel in whispered affections. He is ruining my Bobby, and this opera.

So yeah, weird that Sieglinde would come out of an evening also headlined by Alagna and Domingo nearly raving about Netrebko. Stranger things have happened, certainly, but I'm happy to give credit, and happier to have appreciated her fine performance.

Oh, I almost forgot: the bed scene made everyone blush. Bobby and Anna made out like they were actually doing it prior to the curtain's rise. And then they did some "cowgirl" maneuvers that I never thought I'd see on the Met stage. The top of Anna's white negligee rested just a hair above her nipples, because it was showing ample mammary skin, even this thoroughly gay viewer was noticed gawking. Not so Juliette-ey, but then Anna isn't about such archaic notions anyway. (Another observation: Anna's feet are larger than Bobby's dainty pair. What could it mean?)