30 November 2004

Blue-State Critic Tony T. has a Red-State Heart

Golden Age Tarnishing

Our dear friend Tony T. declares his joy at the current state of classical recording. His rosy- picture-in-a-rose-garden article (a.k.a. the entire list of new recordings published in the year 2004) unabashedly champions the Bush economic doctrine. Tony says with a Cheneyan grin "Perhaps for once the free market is working the way it is supposed to." OK, wait, hold the mayo! The red states got what they wanted on November 3rd; must we also give in to the Bocelli-WalMart coalition and give them the go-ahead to drag the arts down even further? Listen, if Fleming sang two generations ago (and I'm talking typical current reigning diva treatment here), she would have gotten two Traviata studio recordings at this point in her career, as well as a Pirata, a Susannah (no one would buy it), two Rosenkavaliers, maybe even a Norma (with Zajick) and a Jenufa, and so on, instead of the free-market shockers "The Beautiful Voice" and "By Request".

In matters of art, music, and literature, we should all say F*CK THE FREE MARKET. The free market knows nothing. The free market likes SpongeBob SquarePants and Kenny G.. In the streets of New York, the free market shops at Barnes & Noble and devours Posman, Shakespeare & Co., Rizzoli, and Spring Street Books. Over at PBS, the free market puts on Fleming and Terfel crooning broadway tunes, while Ariadne and Hans Sachs continue to wait in the vault (and now newcomer Salome just took a number). The free market drives a Hummer and drills in wildlife refuges. Heck, the free market is even killing baseball.

Elsewhere in the article, in discussing the demise of once-distinguished classical catalogs, Tony says:

Could Peter Gelb, the president of Sony Classical, be jumping ship by accepting the post of general manager of the Metropolitan Opera starting in 2006?
That's free market at work for you.

29 November 2004

Reality Check

Our Diva on Record

Many thanks to our dear friend Anne for helping us get a handle (second paragraph) on the Handel. In fact, I was temporarily mesmerized by the diva quote she used in the article:

"The character is so strong," she said recently. "It's so rare that I get to really be powerful onstage. And it's a compelling story. In the middle of the opera, she says to Grimoaldo, ‘I'll marry you, but only if you slay my son, right here in front of me.' It kind of surprised me. The situation, the people, are so realistic."

Dame "outed" by Diva

(While waiting for the Rodelindas to finally happen)

From Playbill (a.k.a. gay Playguy):

Fleming, a bona fide theatre buff who is edging closer and closer to that medium (albeit, never more than as a spectator so far), was a repeat customer for Dame Edna. "I saw the show trying out in San Francisco when I was there singing," she said. "He's a genius."
Dame Edna a "he"?? Fleming edging closer and closer to yet another medium?? Next, Renee reveals she'll out Joy Behar, who she says is so obviously not "female".

25 November 2004

Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Acid Reflux

Barenaked Lady

With the headline "SpongeBob SquarePants leads balmy Thanksgiving parade," Newsday reports:

In addition to the balloon characters, flesh-and-blood attractions at the parade included singer Andrea Bocelli, Barenaked Ladies and opera star Deborah Voigt.
I was too busy taking snapshots of flesh-and-blood La Voigt (with much less flesh and blood) to note down what she sang exactly ("Dich, teure halle", maybe, or was it "Drop It Like It's Hot"?):

She lip-sync'ed a la Ashlee Simpson. She was lovely.

Afterwards, we turned our 12-lb turkey in the brine. The grill is ready. Happy Thanksgiving. OK now let's shop.

24 November 2004

Dallas "Confirms" the 80 lbs.; Debbie will be Macy Float; Debbie does ...

Who is their "Deep Throat"? And can she now float?

Everyone knows to peruse the Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram PEOPLE WATCH column over the morning porridge for the hippest talk on people. From November 20, a tidbit:
Remember Deborah Voigt, the American soprano cut by London's Royal Opera in the spring because she wouldn't fit into a little black dress? Well, she has dropped about 80 pounds and reportedly gave a riveting performance in the Metropolitan Opera's revival of Wagner's Tannhaeuser that opened in the Big Apple on Thursday night. Brava!
OK, I told y'all down there 'n Dallas NOT to quote me on the 80 lbs. Cheap seats, cheap opera glasses, no concept of poundage: I got no credibility.

Now Debbie has to make sure she's really down 80 lbs., or else she may not float in the Macy's Thankgiving Day Parade. Here's another snippet from the Charlotte Observer, my other favorite source of big city girl info:
A senior at Union County's Weddington High School, Kupcow is one of 50 students selected nationwide to march in the color guard alongside a float carrying Metropolitan Opera star Deborah Voigt in the famed parade.

23 November 2004

That fanciulla, Licia

While I was away in a Red State

Today, my grief of having missed possibly the sickest Aprile Millo event ever (unanimous in Opera-L) was multiplied upon reading Leyla Devereux's report on Trrill. OK, Forget Millo for a moment; I would like to know (1) what this no-nonsense nonagenarian sang, (2) who threw the confetti afterwards, (3) was fellow Queler groupie Anna Moffo within earshot, and if so, (4) why aren't there any pictures of Anna? Surely Leyla likes her too.

Signore, ascolta! Signore, ascolta.

22 November 2004

Pilates Redemption

18 November 2004
Metropolitan Opera
(posted on Opera-L)

This morning's headline: Deb Drops Weight, Keeps Voice Intact.

The rich magnificence of the voice survived whatever medical and/or psychological intervention Deborah Voigt underwent the past few months--and the professionals who worked to keep her instrument essentially untouched while she melted all the excess weight around it ought to really be 2004's Opera-L Men and Women of the Year. La Voigt must feel super wonderful and hot/sexy now with her new physique and the improved health that accompanies it: it showed in the way she moved about the stage and during her pseudo-bashful but evidently *proud* curtain calls. In Act III, while sitting in prayer to the Virgin Mary, she sang the aria as she rocked back and forth and gyrated all around, as if doing Pilates sit-ups: this would have been simply impossible (on so many levels) before the extreme makeover. From the balcony, my cheap opera glasses are guessing (don't quote me) she must have lost maybe 80 lbs or so (at least from her peak, I imagine)?? I find it hard to discern medieval ladies' weights when they're always hidden under layers of medieval garb. But the last time I saw her was on her Carnegie Hall debut:

and back then, from any vantage point even her corpulence was corpulent; but now wait till you see! Anyway, the squires carrying Elisabeth's body at the finale funeral procession couldn't be more pleased. In Act II, Elisabeth turns her back to the audience as she receives a choral procession of her knights, princes, and pages: the view from the back reveals that Voigt appeared to have lost much of her shoulders and arms, and her medieval cloak fell so naturally down her back without any lipid interference from her hips and gluteus. This "biggest loser" simply looks gorgeous. I could go on. I would have gone to wait outside the stage door to do a real close-up inspection, but was discouraged by those that read memos who know there's always a reception after each opera's season premiere. (Even Boheme??)

As for what really mattered: the entire Voigt sound remained intact, from the rich pseudo-chest through the passaggio, the upper middle, and up to her colossal screaming top, all on display last night. Among the current batch of singers, no one can shreik ON PITCH like Voigt, and so her Act III "Haltet ein!" (Elisabeth's first line following half an hour of no music) stunned anyone who wasn't expecting it, and easily overloaded everyone else's hidden recording devices. Elisabeth is a cruise vacation compared to Voigt's other roles-- why not do the Venus as well next time? Anyway, Michelle DeYoung, a very competent singer who held her own as Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's Troyens Dido caretaker a couple of seasons ago, created a compelling Venus, but last night was easily overlooked amidst the buzz. So excuse me for also overlooking her for now (as I have a plane to catch). I closed my eyes for a minute here and there during Elisabeth's music, to try to discern any difference, and I just couldn't,because there is none, and I'm relieved.

I'm suspending the rest of this review till later (or maybe even after my next Tannhaeuser following Thanksgiving), except to say that Peter Seiffert's debut in the title role was an unqualified success in my view (I heard shades of Peter Hofmann, very virile), and after the forgettable Don Giovannis from earlier this year, Thomas Hampson (the Wolfram) is happily back on everyone's A-list.

Salome receives Elektra and Klytamnestra

Picture of the Day

27 March 2004
MET Stage Door
after the Salome broadcast

21 November 2004

The "Generic" Voice

The Empress by the Beach

I remember someone e-mailing me some time ago to declare that his displeasure for Deborah Voigt's voice stems from it being too "generic," and many others have made similar comments elsewhere. I sit in the sun-filled "Florida" room on a Sunday afternoon, listening to Act III of the MET Die Frau ohne Schatten broadcast for the first time in many, many months, after being the one CD alternating with all else in my CD player. If Voigt's voice is indeed generic (I'm assuming they also mean lacking uniqueness and personality), then why is it that the venerable American voice factory isn't producing more clones; that, in truth (to my ears), no one else in the world's current roster can sing like her. The evenness in vocal production is astounding, as is the certainty in tone, and the audacity to constantly sing on pitch. With such technical attention, the passion isn't lacking, as some lazily conclude, but is profoundly cleansed; through her singing, one can reach the domain imagined by the composer unencumbered by vocal limits, and therefore participate in a transcendent, more timeless passion. The other night, her Elisabeth shimmered without compare, and it still plays in the soundtrack of my days. Those who say generic will be hard-pressed to name another active soprano that can overwhelm the theater with a sound as full-bodied, as relentlessly classical; have they even heard Voigt live? OK, the opera has just concluded; Peter Allen is speaking; there's a blue jay splashing around in our bird bath, which we bought from a yard sale yesterday: our first guest.

19 November 2004

Move over, Anna Nicole

La Voigt Refurbished

Youn, Hampson, Voigt, Seiffert.
MET Tannhaeuser, 18 November 2004

And Debbie, don't forget to give Jane a call, ok.

17 November 2004

Dear Santa

Did I make the cut this year?

I want this for Christmas.

Or this.

Merce, dilette amiche

Sondra aglow
in the midst of her high E-natural ovation
MET, 16 November 2004

Merce del don, ah, si! ah, siiiiiiii-iiiiiii-iiiiiiii!

Sondra, in vostra man

16 November 2004
I Vespri Siciliani
Metropolitan Opera

(posted on Opera-L)

One isn't being unreasonable to suggest (gasp) Callas in describing the over-all affect of Sondra Radvanovsky's voice; indeed, both voices bear the dark veil of quiet suffering whatever the aria or context. Radvanovsky's instrument has grown a shade darker since her Trovatore Leonoras a couple of years ago, and has become significantly more flexible, but has thankfully lost none of its staggering volume. Last night she used the default emotion intrinsic to her instrument to produce a most heartrending "Arrigo! ah parli ad un core," and with such talent she is assured to be remembered by this generation of fans. However, to get to the next step up the kunst pantheon (where Scotto & company sit) would require greater emotive range and some risk-taking from Radvanovsky: specific to Elena, the anger and vengeance must be palpable from the moment she opens her music in Act I. Radvanovksy's take was to sing "In alto mare" as a dignified, quietly grieving woman and rely only on the intrinsic sadness in her timbre to propel the music into "in vostra man" and through "su corragio". Where was the unnerving thirst for vengeance, the acid fire that Callas/Gencer/etc. spewed? Elsewhere, Radvanovsky revealed another weakness: the steadfast refusal to use chest. It may be because she thinks she can get away with it, for I've noticed that her register break occurs lower than what is usual for sopranos, and with her ample vocal power she can push down to the limits of her head voice and get by without resorting to full chest. But chest, aside from giving those low notes the pleasing attention they deserve, can also be another emotive tool; therefore her refusal/inability to plunge down there substantially limits her interpretation.

Anyway, she's a young soprano with a young career, and the vocal development I have noticed the past couple of years signifies to me that she's headed in the right direction. To be compared to our favorite divas at this point in her life is true testament to her enormous talent and potential. Already she has defied the American curse by nurturing a distinct voice with personality and edge; now in order to succeed in this kind of repertory, she has only to delve deeper into the Latin aspect of her soul: i.e., show emotion beyond the dark veil, and please apply the chest!

According to a friend who has seen both the prima and last night's performances, Radvanovsky's technical marks have gone down from a 9 to maybe a 7.5, in terms of agility and cleanliness in ornamentation, and the singular matter of the high E natural. Even if I didn't attend the prima, I could tell she was a bit off, basing solely on the near-unanimous acclamation expressed on this list to date. The high E extravaganza that capped the bolero wavered slightly, and seemed to me to be a last-millisecond decision. Earlier in the evening, she was already being a bit tentative in reaching a couple of notes above the staff, and some of her ornamentations to me sounded a tad amateurish. But of course this is all nit-picking, and maybe my own knee-jerk response to everyone else's overwhelming adulation. Radvanovsky gets a couple of weeks off after this weekend's performance, thanks to the other Callas practitioner Nelly Miricioiu, so she should have ample time to rest and recover for the radio broadcast (which is always more unforgiving of those sylistic and technical slips).

I'll leave the analysis of the boys to others. In aggregate I agree with much of what has been said of Ramey (wobble galore), Casanova (beautiful tone but lacking in volume and stamina), and Nucci (noble, surprisingly fresh baritone). The maestro Frederic Chaslin seems too much of a pushover to the singers, giving in to everyone's selfish whim: the result is a collection of arias and scenes without unified dramatic progression and forward push. My intense desire for a caffeine injection during the evening was also due to (a) Verdi's lackluster dramatic structure (the composer had already created the tightly constituted Il Trovatore and La Traviata by the arrival of Vespri) and (b) the mind-numbing Dexter stairs that also induced mild vertigo. And really, what a silly production: scene changes via shifting of stairs from right to left; and I had a mental chuckle during Elena's Turandot-style costume change in the middle of the stage in the last act, from Sicilian black to bridal white, behind ladies-in-waiting holding up a makeshift curtain, with Radvanovsky carefully hidden from the audience but ostensibly in FULL view of a platoon of rugged Sicilian men crowding upstage. Yes, I know she merely put on the white on top of the black, but still the center-stage illusion of dressing/undressing remains, and therefore the silliness of the entire to-do as well.

16 November 2004

The Inner Voice

La Fleming.

I just "made" a book.

You better read and learn.

Help Wanted: Aida

November 15, 2004
Metropolitan Opera

(also posted on Opera-L)

Tonight featured Italian Norma Fantini, gorgeous body, charming face, intense stage presence; unfortunately, Aida is a singing part. She probably does much better in the smaller houses that populate her bio; however, since the MET auditorium is unforgiving to a soprano voice that fails to bloom significantly at the upper registers, Fantini's talent wasn't easily apparent to those seated farther than the front orchestra. In fact, during her Act II duet with the Amneris, Irina Mishura (whose voice is only adequately sized) sounded exceptionally lush and vivid while Fantini sang faintly, as if in mono; another instance: Fantini's Ritorna vincitor downstage was about as loud as Jennifer Check's Priestess sung backstage; her forte top notes sounded less like a soprano and more like an ambitious mezzo: vibrato-laden, constricted, and edgy. I don't mean to be too fussy about vocal size, but obviously in order to be appreciated, a voice must first be heard and heard well--and really it's not only the size that matters but the capacity for resonance. Fantini's instrument has neither the extra heft/umph, nor the ringing resonance that can make a smallish voice penetrate the depths of the MET auditorium (witness La Fleming).

Once one is reconciled with the fact that this isn't a big-voiced Aida, the other more favorable aspects of Fantini's voice come into focus. Italians singing Italian opera in NYC are a rare breed these days, and so it's a treat when a native with much passion and theatrical instincts forms something out of a too-familiar role; however, the tragedy of not having an evenly audible instrument is only emphasized once again. In the piano/pianissimo department, she has the goods (especially during thinly orchestrated portions of the opera), and so it wasn't all a bust. (Although again, the Numi pieta that capped Ritorna vincitor was just about as loud as the intense "forte"s that preceeded it. For reference, Iwas seated in the balcony boxes about halfway, where I sit majority of the time.)

Mishura is fast becoming our house dramatic mezzo, and we should count ourselves lucky, though as she steadily conquers beloved Dolora Zajick's repertory, we are also reminded of how truly, truly exceptional Z is. The best part of this Aida was the judgment scene; Mishura can throw chest with the best of them, and moreover she has authentic and accurate high notes. She was the one voice tonight that prevented this Aida from degenerating fully into regional opera quality. The debut of Ambrogio Maestri as Amonasro was greeted warmly; his duet with Aida in Act III was satisfyingly Hunding-like. As for Franco Farina, no remnants of his cold were detectable, so now I can only blame the basic quality of his voice for the unpleasant expressions on my face during key parts of Radames'music. Farina tries his best, no one can doubt, but there is a vulgar, undisciplined/unschooled color in his voice that doesn't sit well with me; he sings with an open style that is probably too naked for my personal comfort.

In short, we continue to hold vigil for the coming of an authentic Aida. It's very telling that my diva event today wasn't at the MET but during this afternoon's Oprah, where the Destiny's Child triumvirate sang and danced their latest single "Lose My Breath." Did anyone see it, and didn't you think they were absolutely divine?? Beyonce is da bomb.

15 November 2004

Other blogs and websites of note

[in progress]

3 Quarks Daily, The Razas, et al.
The American Prospect, liberal intelligence
The Caucus, New York Times political blog
The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman
DailyKos, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, ed.
Eater, NYC Food Blog
Ezra Klein at The American Prospect
Female Science Professor, on academia
Firstread, MSNBC political blog
Gawker, Manhattan gossip
Gizmodo, gadgets etc.
Heading East, Raul Gutierrez
Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker
Hullabaloo, digby
The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, ed.
Incoherently Scattered Ponderings, on academia
Joan Walsh at Salon
kottke.org, Jason Kottke
Lumpenprofessoriat, a tenured prole
Media Matters for America
MyDD, Direct Democracy
Pollster.com blog on polling
ScienceBlogs, a compendium of science-related blogs
Shakesville, politics, culture, vim, vinegar ...
Swampland, Ana Marie Cox and the Time gang
Talking Points Memo, Joshua Micah Marshall
Think Progress
TVNewser, news about the news
Wonkette, D.C. gossip
Youngna, Youngna Park


Opera and Music Blogs Parterre Box, La Cieca The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross Wellsung, Alex & Jonathan An Unamplified Voice, JSU Night after Night, Steve Smith Oberon's Grove Wagner Operas, Vincent Vargas PostClassic, Kyle Gann Sandow, Greg Sandow Operavision, Aprile Millo (yes, the Aprile Millo) My Old, Old Friends from the Golden Age of Opera Blogging Vilaine Fille, Marion Lignana Rosenberg Adventures in the Endless Pursuit of Entertainment, SarahB Out of Town Opera and Music Blogs (more or less) Ionarts, Charles T. Downey, Jens F. Laurson, et al. (Washington, D.C.) Trrill, Nick Scholl (Seattle) The Standing Room, Monsieur C- (San Francisco) Prima La Musica, Sarah Noble (Sydney, Australia) mad musings of me, Gert (London, England) Sounds & Fury, A.C. Douglas ofthekosmos, Khaleem (Cambridge, MA) Opera Chic (La Scala) Soho the Dog, Matthew Guerrieri (Boston) Yankeediva, Joyce DiDonato Opera Chanteuse, J.R. Donasco (Chicago) Civic Center, SFMike (San Francisco) Sounds Like New, Marcus Maroney The Penitent Wagnerite, Patrick J. Smith (Indiana) twang twang twang, Helen Radice (Passau, Germany) Iron Tongue of Midnight, Lisa Hirsch (San Francisco) DesignerBlog, Will Fregosi (Boston) I Am Sitting In A Room, Jason Hibbard (Cincinatti) A Southern Gal in the North High and Low Notes, Rich Russell (Sarasota) Adventures in Opera Singing, Campbell Vertesi The Concert, Anne-Carolyn Bird Jessica Duchen's Classical Music Blog, Jessica Duchen (London, England) oboeinsight, Patricia Emerson Mitchell (San Jose, CA) Operatically Inclined, Clayton G. Koonce (Columbia, MD) The Reverberate Hills, Patrick Vaz Kinderkuchen for the FBI, Dr. B Mostly Opera (Copenhagen) Adaptistration, Drew McManus Pecheurs de perles (Lyon, France) Parsifal's (Greece?) No guru, no method, no teacher (in Italian) Operalogg, Mogens Andersson (Malmö, Sweden) Theatrum Psichotechnicum (in Spanish) Il Grand Inquisitor (in Dutch) Opera e Demais Interesses (in Portuguese) De Opera e de Lagartos (in Portuguese)