31 December 2005

Sieglinde's Last 2005 Gasp

Berg WOZZECK, Met 27.12.2005; Levine; Dalayman, Forbis, Clark, Held, Fink.

1. Truce. As someone who actually attended the Wozzeck in question, and who absolutely couldn't find any more words to communicate her utter devotion to James Levine (architect of good things and the Met's heavenly aurora), Sieglinde actually planned to bear witness to Anthony Tommasini's review in the New York Times. May be hard to believe, but she meant to write glorious things about this Wozzeck and that review sooner, but (a) fatty dinners and family happen during the yule season, and (b) the cadaver of the whole bloggers v. print critics fracas is still warm. Sieglinde most certainly doesn't want to appear like a Judas or a Mary Magdalene in this whole thing (she's still, by and large, with you on this one, blogger sweets); however: the family members that I took to see the Tuesday evening Wozzeck had three earfuls (each) of instapraise for Levine, Berg, Wozzeck, and for all the singers (especially goddess Katarina Dalayman, who sang Marie) during our (late)dinner walk through the Upper West Side; and one of them remarked yesterday that Tommasini's rave sounded essentially identical (in tone, if not in detail) to my spattered drool. (I so wish I took the first opportunity to comment; now, anything further I say on this issue shall be viewed in that unfortunate clouded prism. So ... uhm ... that's it.)

2. Vision. I don't know much about operatic works that have arrived after Strauss and Puccini, but I think I know how any opera should be. There are nodes in my nostrils, hairs in my ear, buds in my tongue that have to be activated; "what the f*" must be muttered a few times; during key moments, I should be induced to stop my breathing; the calcified heart, upon exit to the plaza, must feel healed somehow. Levine's Wozzeck did all that. Lately, Levine's been doing that. All the time we put in, the cost of CDs and tickets, the pity of friends, the scorn of next-door neighbors and the wrath of ushers, the violent breakups (with nonmusical hot boys), grief for lost love and lost recordings: once in a silverblue moon, all that is remunerated by one high note brighter than the sun, one low chest note larger than the sun, or in this case, one frightening mass of music (and its exact performance) more essential to life than the sun. The Berg is theoretically formidable, but metaphysically it's among the most immediate works on the Met stage this season; or more accurately, Levine makes it somehow possible. Tommasini surrounds the issue attentively; yes, he put the right nut on the right bolt in characterizing Levine's astonishing work as speaking thus: " 'Let me worry about all that; you just sit back and let yourself respond to dramatic sweep and musical power of this tragic story.' " But of course, it's never possible to just sit back, when we are presented with a vision of heaven.

3. Altar. Katarina Dalayman ... oh Katarina Dalayman, you are a blast of powdered thrill. Your sound is both firetruck and mother, thunder and flowerbed. Vulnerable but strong-willed, feminine yet steel, steel yet pathetic. Your every leap to the upper register is an automatic orgasm. The geyser of your top notes spreads an uncommon heat. It is an arsenal of terrifying shreiks slicing a Rysanekian outline through the dark Met air. You are dramatically present, your body cages a raw passion. Why aren't you singing every other dramatic German soprano role at the Met? (Oh yeah, there's the matter of Deborah Voigt.) Please move to New York.

4. Hello? [To anyone on the fence about or decidedly not seeing this Wozzeck: may as well dump that I-love-dat-girl-Sieglinde Fan Club membership renewal notice in the trash. You're no longer welcome here. Decades from now, when Sieglinde, on her 80th birthday, compiles her all time favorites, a Wozzeck or one of their friends will likely make the list, and the one this season'll probably head that group of renegades. If I weren't going away, I'd be there three more times, and be totally shredding programs for some good ol' fashioned curtain call confetti shower. Swear.]

5. Clearing. I saw Brokeback Mountain the same day as the Wozzeck. Aspects of everyone's lives are on every film, if one looks close enough. However, one crucial storyline of my life, the intensely solitary queer longing, has remained a secret in popular film; that is, till Brokeback. Well, I cried and cried my eyes out for Wyoming cowboys, I couldn't have imagined it; I couldn't have imagined it otherwise either: they really had to be cowboys. (Sieglinde melts even at the sight of the word "cowboy." Discuss.) Or major-league baseball players. (Either way, played by Jake and Heath.) What got me about Brokeback, however, is what gets me all the time: years hence, the Marschallin looks away, but all she sees is a love she once knew, a love she knows she'll never again know, and if there's a mirror in the scene, crow's feet, eye bags, and some sad sagging cheekskin. We'll thank Ghena for Botox later; in the meantime, let me see that film again.

6. Taxi! Sieglinde has so much more to say (about Wozzeck and Brokeback, as well as the last Futral/Vargas Lucia this Met season, which she saw and loved), but as always, it's after midnight and those dancing shoes will turn into pumpkin any second now. OK, so ... Happy New Year to everyone, Netrebko lovers and haters alike. (Sieglinde's off to the Old World for some R&R and moblogging. Whee!)

23 December 2005

Stocking Stuffer

The founding partners, board of directors, the executive board, the production and creative teams, the legal department, rank-and-file employees, interns and migrant workers of Sieglinde's Diaries wish you all abundant happiness on your subway and bus rides up and down our great city. Miracles still happen, even on the A train.

(Photo of Anna Netrebko, Salzburg's top traviata, courtesy of "dpa".)

22 December 2005

Our Traditional End of the Year Renee Blog Post

1. As Renée Fleming likes to say, "If it's not a tradition, then it ought to be." I don't think Renée ever said that, but it's so Renée that we'll let it stand for now. So from now till this blog is no more, Sieglinde will hold one of those "developing" posts every end of the year to summarize our feelings, about how much we love and adore her, her aura, her voice, the aura of her voice, her other voices, her Inner Voice(s), her beautiful voice, her most holy beautiful voice ... (pray for us) ...

2. Speaking of the Sacred, read about Renée's Jersey-style Christmas concert in Jersey over the weekend (and learn about how she has her official hair colorist on call during public appearances) on Sarah B's fabulous new blog. (And no, we're not holding her Broadway fetish against Sarah; she loves Renée like she was uni sushi, and we love people who love like that.)

3. I can almost hear Renée say: "That Netrebko's sucking up all the air around here, let's show that girl who's the Opera Box Office Queen in these parts." Exhibit A: Renee's Carnegie Hall soiree on January 8. The Carnegie Hall website makes is seem like there are still tickets available, but try even "purchasing" one ticket (best available), and you'll get this message: "Tickets are not available together in the quantity you requested in this section at this time. Please try a different section, or fewer tickets." Fewer than one? Now that's Box Office Queen for you.

4. Meanwhile, Sacred Cow Songs has moved back to number 1 on the Billboard charts.

5. Opening the Met broadcast season: Rigoletto with the Netrebko/Villazon. Who else should butt in during its intermission but ... the Fleming/Volpe of course. Did you notice how
Renée masterfully singled out Netrebko's "Caro nome" as an instance of feeling naked and vulnerable on the grand stage.

6. [Sieglinde's just been chastised by a reader for being too mean on the Anna; he's right. Sieglinde's new year's resolution #1: be nice to the Anna. Promise... P.S., massive post-editing of the above items ensues at this point.]
Renée telepaths Sieglinde: "That blog post is meant to skewer me, not other divas!"

7. But the real reason for this post is to explore a little theory Sieglinde has on the
Renée and the druid priestess called Norma. As if to anticipate Sieglinde's exploration of this star-crossed pairing, our resident Renée inspector, La Cieca (mia madre), has put up Anita Cerquetti's Norma, the standard of standards, on her podcast. But the Cerquetti standard hasn't been met by the Met for decades now (Scotto? Eaglen? No.), so why worry about that here.

8. Here are the 'facts': (a) Since her Met debut season in 1991, Renee has appeared on her home stage every season. (b) Curiously, the infinitely fun Brad's Met Future Seasons Page has a more than solid accounting of the 2007-08 season, but with no Renée. (c) The roles listed for 2007-08 within Renée's eclectic repertoire have all been assigned to substantial divas, and not one of them will want to share the spotlight with such a scene stealer. (d) However, there are two operas that have no casts as of yet. Unless Renée's thinking of adding Hänsel to her repertory (or more interestingly, Gretel?), we're left with, yes, the Norma. (e) Norma is such a monumental work, and in a house that hasn't produced it much in the past three decades, it needs an A-list cast to justify its resurrection. (f) In various interviews, Renée has acknowledged that she's gotten both positive and negative words about the possibility of adding Norma to her repertoire; but that she's thinking of doing more bel canto. (g) Whatever Renée wants, Renée gets (at least as far as the Volpe era is concerned).

9. SIEGLINDE'S EXCLUSIVE BEHIND-THE-SCENES SCENARIO: (a) Renée has been thinking seriously about launching into Norma in two years, but wouldn't want to commit just yet; (b) the Met is waiting for the diva to finally decide, before filling in the rest of the cast; (c) but that season is incoming emperor Peter Gelb's first solo-planned season, and he may want one of his Gelbgirls to do the Norma instead; (d) There's Gheorghiu, lukewarm with Volpe but hot with Gelb; and there's Netrebko, who can't do coloratura but so what, she still draws in large crowds. (e) There's a gigantic internal struggle at the Met, and various divamafias have been accidentally 'misplacing' wigs and applying the wrong makeup on rival divas. (f) To resolve the conflict, they're planning an American Idol style sing-off for the Volpe Gala, where the three divas will all sing 'Casta diva' (both aria and cabaletta, Renee insists, to throw off the Anna) for the gala audience. (g) Ballots will be handed out to restroom users during the first intermission.

10. NEWS FLASH: We interrupt this Reneedroolpost for breaking news. Anna Netrebko has canceled her much-anticipated Carnegie Hall debut, scheduled for March 2006 [NYT, PlaybillArts]: "I do not feel artistically ready yet to present a recital program on the great stage of Carnegie Hall." (Score 1 for the Reneemafia; expect the Annamafia to hit back.)

11. [Just heard at the corner deli (and from various Russian chatrooms) that Anna has ordered a hit on Sieglinde, blaming the Wälsung for the lukewarm NYC reception of her Gilda; Sieglinde, incognito, moves quickly to this fanatical group's blogger protection program.]

12. A reader suggests that there's still time to "rediscover" Netrebko. Master plan: catch another Rigoletto in February; limit sucky comments to the guy who plays Rigoletto; and blame him for Anna's missing top notes, amateur coloratura, and insecure pitch. That should do it.

20 December 2005

First thought

Who the f is taking me to my Futral? [P.S. If I were Futral, I'd send for Sieglinde, via a limo.] Long story, short: too cold outside, and no limo; I'm stuck watching Barbara Walters ask "Heaven, where is it? How do you get there?" I know where it is; I just don't know how to get there, with this effin' transit strike.

19 December 2005

Two Extremes

Look Ma, that man's talking about our house. In the latest issue of the New Yorker, music critic Alex Ross blankets the Met's fall season with a handful of exact paragraphs. Alex (a) is with the populi on the question of the An American Tragedy; (b) is exceedingly fair with Emperor Volpe, and suspects the Gelb era may bring us yummy treats [chocolatey or fruity? we shall see]; (c) appreciates the Giuseppe Filianoti, the Violetta Urmana and the Levine Così; but inscrutably, (d) gets Anna Netrebko's sound. We in the WTF Diaries don't. Temporarily, at least. [Sieglinde may still do a 180 on the Anya, but not till a more flattering vocal venue; meanwhile, we continue to think that that Gilda was wrong.] Otherwise, Alex's fabulous column is the crib sheet to take to the holiday party.

Look Ma, that woman's talking about our family. The NYCOF, Sieglinde's conscience-elect, gets off on Fricka, our Tragic Family Album, and our upcoming family reunion. We must visit her (at the facility) from time to time, to bring our own inner Freak back to balance.

17 December 2005

Eject Button

[1:30pm] Welcome, Ms. Juntwait ... oh how you love to roll your Rrrrrrrrrrr's.

[2:13pm] The radio confirms everything I've said about Anna Netrebko's lazy, stiff, ill-calibrated vocal architecture. We just heard the least exciting Gilda-Rigoletto duet in decades.

[2:18pm] Villazon's voice is gorgeous.

[2:19pm] Oh look, the Wellsung boys are liveblogging ... maybe Sieglinde should leave this one to the more enthusiastic ...

[2:24pm] Here comes the 'Caro nome' ... Sieglinde's outta here.

[3:27pm] (Sieglinde's back, partially; BTW, did you absof*ckinlutely love the Renée and Joe Show as much as we did? Renée, now that's a Diva.) Meanwhile, Netrebko seems to be always running out of breath. She must have small lungs. Ostensibly, her chest is occupied by other things.

[3:31pm] Someone hand Guelfi a tuning fork. Pronto.

[3:35pm] Terrence McNally (opera quiz panelist): "... unlike this afternoon's opera, where it's all about high notes ... without the high notes, I don't wanna be there ..." So Terrence, whatcha doing there?

16 December 2005

Broadcast Eve

1. Caught on tape. Now on Showtime On Demand, a lurid love triangle involving a cellist of the New York Philharmonic.

2. Suzie AWOL? Because we have to have an item or two on the An American Tragedy ... the role of Sondra Finchley will be sung tonight by one Kirsten Chavez. (Heidi is a leading suspect in the joint NYPD-SPCA investigation.)

3. Department of Marketing. This week's Met Playbills (even those from Tuesday's disappointing Rigoletto? I can't be certain ...) included an insert ad for a signing event with our lyric wet dream duo Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon (Met Opera Shop, today, from 12:30-1:30pm). Sieglinde didn't go, but apparently both starlets did. So we're guessing allergies are cured, nostrils are back in business, and yes, the boy's ready for his close-up, Ms. Juntwait.

4. Crystal ball. To celebrate President Hillary Clinton's landslide election, the Met's 2008-09 season is set to feature the Adams/Sellars SF Doctor Atomic, a new production of La Sonnambula for Natalie Dessay, a La Rondine with the real lyric duo Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, and a few Rings, with the Hojotohos to be shared between Deborah Voigt and Christine Brewer. Sieglinde bills the latter as the Showdown of the New Century. Reserve tickets early!

5. "Hot" off the press. Sieglinde ... er, Sieglinde's words make it to the New York Post. (Next up, the National Enquirer.)

6. Cultural treasures. The real heroes in the preservation and archiving of the Met's historic broadcasts (as well as non-broadcast in-house recordings-- an equally valuable trove) are the opera fanatics and "pirates." Long live the freaks, the hoarders, and the shut-ins!

7. Bronx Zoo. Garciaparra and Damon in pinstripes? The buyout of Fenway continues.

8. Who's liveblogging the Rigoletto broadcast? I hope someone does.

14 December 2005

Tragedy, part 3

Verdi RIGOLETTO, Met 13.12.2005; c. Fisch; Netrebko, Melo (d), Guelfi, Herrera, Halfvarson, Courtney.

I won't go much deeper than to say I was quite disappointed by what I heard tonight, and to explain why, in the fewest possible mean words. This goes beyond the last-minute cancellation by tenor du jour Rolando Villazon and the resulting debut of longtime Met cover Raul Melo. I can forgive the nerves, the lack of power, the insecure money notes--can you imagine a more stressful opportunity to debut, with the house packed and wound for the centerfold lyric couple, expecting ecstacy? I believe I can tune off much of the hype and blogbuzz, as well as compensate for the requisite pain from the fall from unreasonable expectations--and I tried my best to give the music that extra lift in the ear, the added sparkle and ting, but one can't do that all evening and not get exhausted.

Anna Netrebko's voice has darkened considerably since her debut season a few years ago; it has a lovely, tearful hue. But the top notes are conspicuously absent, and faced with a voice that likes to travel by land instead of air, this Gilda isn't your conventional studio-CDable creation. That could be good and exciting, except that there is a laziness intrinsic to the technique, a sort of amateur musicality that is so noticeable in this thinly orchestrated Verdi. Moreover, Gilda demands considerable pinpoint accuracy in the handful of coloratura passages written for her; Netrebko doesn't like to dot and puncture directly at the notes, and instead legatoes/finesses her way up to them. She tends to lose steam at the end of phrases (during duets); labored singing exhausts the listener as well. The over-all result isn't the prettiest line; whatever hints of inspiration are quickly overcome by the insecurity of the voice in this particular music. Certainly, too many recorded and live Gildas in one's memory bank can be toxic to its live performance, but there's a reason why certain types of voices sing certain types of roles. She sings Violetta, which I haven't heard (live or recorded): that may be her better vehicle. Tonight, she had an endearing 'Tutte le feste' but that aria doesn't make Gilda Gilda; the 'Caro nome' was professional, but even the penultimate top notes were omitted from what I thought was standard, singer-proof cadenza. (Oh, the half-empty house I attended a few years ago for one of Maureen O'Flynn's Gildas was closer to the mark, in my opinion, than this full house extravaganza.)

Essentially unhelpful, the pit, led by Maestro Asher Fisch, was mostly lukewarm in this music: may have been a bit too interested in precision such that blood wasn't easy to detect. Fisch was likely compensating for debutante Melo's tiny tenor, but there was palpable hesitancy even when the Duke wasn't on stage. Here we go ... regarding Carlo Guelfi, the tragedy is multilayered. People have said bad things about Juan Pons, but tonight how much did this stage miss him. Guelfi half-spoke/half-barked his way through Rigoletto's tremendous music, fading in and out, losing tonal integrity during key moments. But his most glaring fault is the lack of musical rapport with Gilda. The duets between Rigoletto and Gilda are among the most poignant in the Verdi canon: with a patched up baritone and a darkened soprano, the simple fire never came close to igniting any good emotion in my heart. I'll stop here.

I don't know how this will all sound this weekend; I suspect the return of Villazon will only add to everyone else's performance. But based on my observations, hype is all it is. (A similar hype surrounded the early years of the Gheorghius, but that was buttressed by true, magnificent singing.) Is Netrebko really just another Anna Kournikova? I hope I'm proven wrong.

Incidentally, Villazon waited till the last minute to withdraw, cancelling only after 5 p.m. (another tremendous strain on Raul Melo). (BTW, I don't forgive the lone booer who interrupted the applause following his 'Parmi veder le lagrime'. I've heard worse, from people not debuting under this kind of cauldron.) I'm told Villazon is suffering from allergies. Under more normal circumstances, he may have gone ahead and sang, but instead he decided to shore up his stuff for this weekend's critical broadcast (his broadcast debut, I believe). Entirely understandable. But that blows for me.

13 December 2005

Tragedy, part 2

1. You remember her from the Renée Daphne. She's the girl your mother warned you about. ("Stop smelling that ticket, or you'll turn into that girl.") She's Klytamnestra to Lois Kirschenbaum's Chrysothemis; more accurately, Fifth Serving Maid to Lois's Klytamnestra. She's the missing puzzle piece, the loose tile, the f in freak. She even scares Dolora.

2. Let's call her Heidi.

3. HEIDI: "Maestro, I waited all night for that scene where Roberta drowns and she's in the water shaking and drowning, I waited and waited, but I missed it, I just don't know how I did, and I know I didn't doze off or anything, but how could that be, I can't believe I missed it, what happened ..."
JAMES CONLON: "We had it tonight, that scene was there, I saw it."

4. Incidentally, last evening was also the occasion of Maestro Conlon's 250 performance with the company, the third American (after Thomas Schippers and James Levine) to reach that milestone. Schippers ended up with 300+ appearances, while James the Greater's number is in the thousands.

5. LOIS: "Maestro, congratulations on your 25oth performance with the Met. I know you debuted in 1976, but I can't recall which opera it was."
CONLON: "It was the Magic Flute."
LOIS: "I know I was there, but I just can't remember ..."
SIEGLINDE (to self): "Of course you were. Meanwhile, I was on Sesame Street, learning my ABCs and I love you's with Ernie and Bert."

6. David Daniels was there, visiting his mezzofriends.
LOIS, HEIDI, CHORUS: "David!! When are we seeing you next?"
DAVID (cornered): "Not until 2007."
LOIS, HEIDI, CHORUS: AAAAH ... NO!!! That can't be!! (moan ... moan ... groan ...)
DAVID (to self): "Yeah, can't wait see you and do this shit in '07 ... Susan, let's f*ckin go now ... help! "

7. OK, Sieglinde knows y'all are waiting for pics of Nathan the Gunn. Here he is, boyish and 100% USDA prime grade beefy, signing Heidi's program, parking ticket, and other things, all under the protective gaze of Jessye, Goddess of Stage Door.

8. There're a couple more pics of Nathan somewhere, but in the meantime, here's Heidi, about to pounce at Richard Bernstein (who sings the part of the DA). He survived, but barely. [ERRATUM: A reader alerts Sieglinde that the victim pictured below isn't Bernstein but actually Kim Begley, who plays Samuel Griffiths. I'll have to confirm this info with DNA samples I collect from Heidi the next time I see her.]

9. Meanwhile ... I swear to Ghena, this is true.
HEIDI (holding a Sharpie marker, pushing Jennifer Larmore aside): "Did anyone find a cap? I lost my cap ... where's my cap. Did you see my cap ..."

10. More later ...

12 December 2005

Sunday Countdown

1. Cheap. Looks like only Sieglinde and her sister Brigitta are no-shows. JSU and at least one of the Wellsung boys were there to witness what appears to be a buzz-worthy Netrebko/Villazon apparition.
2. I heart NY, or I left my heart in SF? The SFist, wallowing in their "proverbial provincial San Francisco insecurities with all things New York," attempts to correlate musical philosphy (and other things) with geography. All Sieglinde will say about it is that New York is too New York to be pigeonholed, defined, classified, understood. That's the only cliché about New York Sieglinde's willing to accept. (And P.S., that wasn't Racette "drowning"; 'twas a body double. Even Mattila can't do that.)
3. Music for the depths of your soul. This is the hottest stocking "stuffer" of the season.
4. You've got mail. [Private to Gmail users: does it disturb you too every time the message "The conversation has been archived" appears? ]
5. Diva worship, anyone? If Sieglinde only had some Yvonne Kennys in her ginormous record collection, she'd probably begin to understand what Sarah's been oh so Yvonned about in recent uhm decades. (Oh wait, there's one record ... oh, another ... and another one ...)
6. It shall be broadcast on PBS. The Emperor Volpe Farewell Gala in May. Conductors include: James Levine, Valery Gergiev, and James Conlon; singers scheduled to grace the stage: Ildar Abdrazakov, Stephanie Blythe, Olga Borodina, Dwayne Croft, Natalie Dessay, Placido Domingo, Renee Fleming, Juan Diego Florez, Mirella Freni, Marcello Giordani, Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson, Ben Heppner, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Salvatore Licitra, Karita Mattila, Waltraud Meier, James Morris, Rene Pape, Luciano Pavarotti, Samuel Ramey, Ruth Ann Swenson, Kiri Te Kanawa, Bryn Terfel, Ramon Vargas, Deborah Voigt, Frederica Von Stade, and Dolora Zajick. (We're told Kathleen Battle will be singing by the plaza fountain after the show, to serenade exiting patrons with the ebullient 'Let the bright Seraphim.' and P.S. Where are the Gheorghius? Intrigue ...)
7. Who is this new Boy Wonder? Dude, a real downer to find that someone younger than you's opening La Scala seasons and such. I didn't mind younger baseball players (*slurp*), but major league conductors? No. Who's been stealing my Xanax?
8. Just came back from another helping of An American Tragedy: it's so easy on the ear, I'm humming Roberta's letter aria on the N train. But the real tragedy was by the Met stage door: thre freakiest Sieglinde's seen. She got pictures to prove.

09 December 2005

Why are the Met Rigolettos all sold out?

A perfect storm:

1. Rolando Villazon pulls in the sophisticated fans.
2. Anna Netrebko pulls in the gawkers.
3. Netrebko/Villazon is the new Gheorghiu/Alagna of the lyric stage.
4. There are only three Met Rigolettos this month; the rest come next year.
5. Two of the three are weekend performances; one is a Saturday matinee broadcast (the first of the season), and those inevitably sell out.
6. The lone midweek performance on Tuesday evening has attracted impoverished New Yorkers (like Sieglinde) who don't attend weekend events, which are populated mostly by weekend tourists and out-of-towners who can afford increased ticket prices (or who have no choice but).
7. The rush for tickets to these three performances has built a self-perpetuating buzz; "sold-out" rumors trigger actual sell outs every now and then.
8. Lastly, these performances may actually turn out well.

The storm repeats next year, when:

1. Only five of the nine remaining Rigolettos preserve the Netrebko/Villazon pairing.
2. Of the five, three are weekend performances.
3. Placido Domingo conducts all five evenings (and he has a bit of fanbase, I'm told).
4. Nutjobs/bloggers shall come out with ecstatic "reviews" of the December performances; opera queen newbies from all over North America will make winter pilgrimages to Gotham.

You know what to do.

P.S. Why do people insist on calling this opera Rigoletto anyway? The likes of Guelfi and Burchinal certainly aren't keeping people away, no matter how much they suck.

07 December 2005

Christmas Shopping, Part 1

A search for "deborah voigt" on amazon.com shows us how Renée Fleming has become the Kammersängerin of the every vocal classical CD bestseller list. Look closely at how she infiltrates other divas' digital shopping spaces. (Click on pic for larger view.)

But what I really want for Chanukah is another ticket to see her.

I got one. I want more. It's so sold out. Standing room line this weekend shall be fierce.

06 December 2005

Random Notes: An American Tragedy

1. Nathan Gunn's bare torso makes an appearance in Act I, Scene 5, at the extreme right side of the stage. Those positioned in the left boxes have to stretch their necks a bit for a view. In Act II, Scene 1, he appears in cute swimwear, on the edge of the second tier of the set: a great view for everyone. [Pictures of these two events can be found here.] A true diva, Gunn has about a dozen costume changes throughout the evening.

2. We spend much of our energy on curatorial work around opera's beautiful corpse: exhibition, redescription, auto-cleaning, relighting, replacing the frame. After others dissertate about history and meaning, we're left as bitchy (but content) connoiseurs of sound and voice. The rare arrival of a new operatic work is a resurrection of something: of the "art" (if we're lucky) or at least of haunting questions that suspend our ideas of what opera is (what it does, what it ought to do).

3. The challenges placed on the shoulders of a new work are impossible to meet. In order to be truly "new", it has to disrupt and destroy. But these days opera is a gigantic, conservative material institution, a category 5 hurricane whose immense momentum is circular, but the central eye moving hardly at all. What are the definitions of "success," under these conditions? They will vary from person to person.

4. There are many ways to dispute details of Justin Davidson's savage account of the prima, but his main argument is, in its own terms, honest. He begins by characterizing Picker's work as "flaccid melodrama." I suspect that the operative word there (in Davidson's mind) is melodrama. Opera's full of it; Davidson may simply be of the opinion that we have enough, and that therefore it's a monumental waste of cosmos to make more of it, flaccid or otherwise. (Meanwhile, I'm a sucker for melodrama; therein lies the difference.)

5. But I wouldn't call this melodrama flaccid; I'd first use the adjective professional, maybe (on a good day) even inspired. More accurately: the melodrama has a thoroughly professional core, from which starbursts of inspired moments emanate.

6. Regarding details, Davidson injects: "For a composer with an ear for melody, he keeps launching lovely tunes, only to pinch them off after a few bars," then cites the one aria (Sondra's New York City aria in Act I) that may not have worked as well as others. Sieglinde does this rhetorical trick as well: isolate the one point that makes the case, and make it seem representative of the whole. Meanwhile, Act II is teeming with delicious melody, but of the kind Davidson might dismiss as furthering the "flaccid melodrama," i.e., damned either way.

7. Martin Bernheimer skins it best: "An American Tragedy may be the perfect modern opera for people who hate modern opera." This is why Tony Tommasini is anguished: he would have wanted to witness more daring (and I suspect would have secretly wanted to write like Davidson, but alas, the giant NYT, like the Met, is by definition conservative in such matters); sensing the vigorous vox populi, however, he finds the key to faint praise. In the end, he concludes, "(y)et critics and opera buffs who want the Met to do its part to make opera a living art form have to be heartened that it presented this work, and that an audience on Friday gave a prolonged ovation to a living composer."

8. But how is it possible to find little argument with Tommasini's critique, while at the same time appreciate Wellsung's critique of the critique? Because we know that opera is long deceased, but still hope for some antidote to death. The "art" of opera no longer lies in the work itself but in its interpretation: opera's afterlife is spent finding the diversity of voices that can further illuminate the corpse. This is why Sieglinde likes Picker's work, which may be an honest acknowledgement that today, by and large, the operatic score is but a platform for drama and voice. Foremost, An American Tragedy exhibits her stellar cast's supreme vocal and dramatic abilities quite accessibly, which is why Sieglinde was all about that in her initial reactions.

9. [This is between us: Sieglinde would love to have been to the Doctor Atomic prima instead.]

10. A press round-up appears here. Another Wellsung critique of a critique appears here. A music critic almost had something for us that's "well out of line with the general tenor of my critical caste." We really don't know what to think of it, really. I'm listening to a "dumpling" of Act II; the voices are indeed magnificent. I'm seeing An American Tragedy again next week. Till then, I'm off this topic.

04 December 2005

Sunday Brunch

1. Prime prima seats are dear.
2. Zoom is expensive.
3. Hands are shaky.
4. Ushers are ushers.

This is the best Sieglinde can do. What big feet. [More about the An American Tragedy prima in the next few days.]

03 December 2005

Prima: An American Tragedy

Picker AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY; Met, 2.12.2005, World Premiere; c. Conlon; Racette, Zajick, Graham, Gunn, Burden, Larmore, Begley, Bernstein.

Initial reactions, still stewing, still spewing. This new opera by Tobias Picker (and Gene Scheer, librettist) is a major success both vocally and dramatically. The funnel of the tragic plot practically writes its own dark arias and lamentations (opera's bread and butter, after all); Picker is brilliant in keeping it all in check. I do not know how academics, musicians, and musicologists will judge the quality or value of this new work; speaking as an opera fan, however, a gut check returns the verdict of an unqualified two thumbs up, with respect to the prime task of integrating music into the drama, among many other winners. Theodore Dreiser's novel, from which the libretto is based, is doorstop-thick, so it may indeed be impossible to develop fully and then resolve every character's storyline. Accepting this, one is a nit-picking grinch to list the faults of this work; I'm not going to at this time. (After a few hearings, we can be sure that Sieglinde will come up with a few things.) Condensing such a work in a 2-CD evening may result in a simplistic narrative and caricatures for characters, and this may be so here; but within such constraints, both librettist and composer have come out showing their better sides. (I would, however, cut a few more clichés out of the libretto.)

The work also delivers vocally for the singers. [ADDED NOTE: I'm purposely leaving the discussion of character & narrative for a later time; that will take a whole other post or five.] The stellar cast, headed by Nathan Gunn and Patricia Racette (as the more vivid star-crossed pair this part of the season), has risen above every expectation: more than solid vocally, they all inhabited the stage like Broadway pros. Gunn has an adequate baritone, but natural acting instincts, shimmering stage presence, crisp sung-English, delicious face, porn-cut torso, and big feet. Racette may not be the sweet lyric I remember her to be, but she used the edgy edge of her voice to stunning dramatic effect. Dolora Zajick is simply divine: she wove in and out of a few octaves with ease, emanating with volume, accuracy, and elegance throughout. (Some of those top notes were of the superior soprano variety, the kind that can diminuendo gracefully with the flick of a switch.) On paper, she's the weakest dramatically (coming from the American school of Stand and Deliver), but fortunately her role demanded little outside the vocal arena. She appeared genuinely surprised and touched by the tremendous ovation she got during the curtain call. Susan Graham has the most fragrant sonic essence in the current mezzo roster, and she delivered as advertised. One wishes, however, that she got more opportunities to soar and devour, but this is a minor, minor point. Jennifer Larmore, who had a supporting-supporting role, disappeared seamlessly in the background. (I'd be pissed if I were her, but who knows what the real story is; she could have been used more, but then we're bordering a 3-CD evening, and other issues may start to outweigh such adjustments). William Burden, Kim Begley, Mark Schowalter, Richard Bernstein, and the rest of the cast, including the boy Graham Phillips (as the young Gunn) kept the quality at such a high level. This evening, to me, was conductor James Conlon's least offensive work in a while. (That's a Bravo! in relative magnitude, considering the vile poison Sieglinde has spewed on this maestro's reputation in recent months.)

Heroine Francesca Zambello, head of the production team (no boos during her curtain call-- surprise!), has to be given significant credit for everyone else's success. Nuance and detail were balanced; there is obvious mastery of the Met stage (in particular) and stagecraft (in general); all the stage physics supported, focussed, explained, validated music and narrative, which is all we really ask for. Is that too much? (The Romeo team does the exact opposite!)

The composer, Tobias Picker, was greeted with a most thunderous Met curtain call, reserved normally for the likes of Fleming & Diva Co.. He must still be floating in Cloud 99.

02 December 2005


Oh dear. I wonder what kinds of magazines the great maestro's into these days. (OK, Sieglinde's not even going there, boys.)

Meanwhile, in totally unrelated news (totally, I swear to Ghena!), Nathan "Hotdog" Gunn is currently doing the blogcircuit (here, here, here, and here). It's looking like his bare chest will be responsible for at least half the final receipts for the Met's spanking new opera An American Tragedy, when all is said and done ... and taken off and photographed ... and blogged the day after. Unless, of course, our lesbian brethren pull into Lincoln Center (on their nifty dykebikes) in unexpected droves for some of their own version of Gunn. Does Pat show some skin too? We'll know tonight. Stay close to the dial.

For those of you not within the tri-state area but thirst for homopera nonetheless, you can do two things: (1) check blogs and opera lists over the weekend for pics (and maybe even a review or two) of the world prima, and (2) tune in to NPR's World of Opera, which will be broadcasting Houston Grand's recent Falstaff, where, according to closet-police Pat, "about 50% of the cast [was] gay." (Sieglinde guesses the other 50% was lesbian, or some close variant.)

Interstate Highway: Exit Ramp

Gounod ROMEO ET JULIETTE, Met 01.12.2005; c. de Billy; Dessay, Vargas, Degout, Hanslowe, Sigmundsson.

The last act of this evening's Romeo et Juliette travelled like a smooth highway through the great cornfields of Nebraska. There was a faked death, a suicide, and then another; then why the f* were my eyes scanning the big round turntable stage looking for my zodiac sign (Leo)? It was like looking out the car window; see how the horizon doesn't seem to move despite running over the speed limit; and look at all that corn (popcorn for the Multiplex). While doing that, I wondered where my exit was.

Act II typifies the horror. Right from the top of the act, Gounod made sure his score gushes with first love music; we're talking Romeo and Juliet after all. Curiously, I don't think it's possible to leech more romance off the music than tonight. Maestro Bertrand de Billy works through the bars like Florida rush hour traffic (bumper to bumper, but mysteriously still 60 mph). Then the curtain rises to reveal a protrusion off the left curved wall; supposedly Juliette's balcony, it has the aura of a cubicle at a telemarketing office. Down below, Ramon Vargas jumps up and down and rolls around Constellation Plaza like it was his first time on crystal meth. Natalie Dessay, clarion soprano, delivers to her abilities, but, sadly, in the end, the girl's just an employee-of-the-month amidst such immense monstrosity. This production lacks the ability to induce intimacy, echoing instead the appalling aimless impotence of the pit. Too many colors and shapes on the stage floor and walls; nothing makes sense; the eye wanders off easily; meanwhile, elevator music rolls by.

Scene changes are very cosmetic (a bed here, a staircase there), and yet, inexplicably, take minutes to finish, further deadening the music's momentum (if it had any). The waits between scenes are eerily quiet, punctuated only by certified city coughing: it's that funny feeling of being in a crowded elevator and you're wondering what the others are wondering about. Exciting opera usually elicits lots of discussion and instapunditing among seatmates during such pauses; in this case, however, the auditorium feels a kind of collective whiff of unsettled boredom, going nicely with the defiant sounding out of phlegm.

But it was really like being in your dentist's waiting room, awaiting root canal... OK, I will stop here. (Believe me, I got more material about Acts IV and V, but I must stop here.) Bottom line: two or twenty Natalie Dessays couldn't rescue this mess. Oh, it's a shame.

01 December 2005

No, it can't be December already

1. Martin Bernheimer was at Carnegie Hall for Lorraine Hunt Lieberson too. He's more explicit about the elephant; he's right, however, to suggest that it cast a (severe) shadow on the event.
2. Time for another Romeo? You betcha. JSU is more generous about Bertrand de Billy's mechanical washing/drying of Gounod's sensual score. Let's see if Sieglinde"softens" on this one too.
3. Did I miss registering my extreme delight for Mama & Papa operablogging at Wellsung? I took my own dear mother to a grand total of one opera: a bouncy La Cenerentola at the Met a few years ago, with I-forget-who as Angelina and Juan Diego Florez as a dashing Don Ramiro. Mother didn't know what to think of it all; to be fair, she's from an entirely different tradition; but I don't think she'd be rushing back to the Met even if she lived in the same time zone (and country); she thinks I'm nuts; I love her. Meanwhile, a friend's mother demanded they go back to the Met to see Giuseppe Filianoti's Edgardo again. Truly, opera queen mothers (and fathers too) are my kind of stocking stuffer.
4. Campdiva Aprile Millo scratches her way up into a sane critic's top ten list! Though I wouldn't put her Tosca above LHL's Neruda Songs, I agree that it was a landmark event.
5. Passed by Lincoln Center today to get a ticket for the sizzling Netrebko/Villazon Rigoletto. Whew! The season premiere on the 10th (Saturday) is sold out, and it's looking like the second performance the following Tuesday (the 13th) will be the first weekday sold-out evening of the Met season.
6. "Nathan or William?" I'm getting asked that a lot this week. I guess whoever takes his shirt off first ... Teammate Patricia can't choose between the two ...

So let's ask Dolora ...

[Photos taken from the official An American Tragedy website, © The Metropolitan Opera.]

7. Today is World AIDS Day. Vilaine Fille, Chair of the Department of Juan Diego Florez and Keeper of the Jewish and the Liberal Calendars, provides relevant links.
8. No, I didn't see last night's Fleming exposition on the Sacred and the Profane (on PBS), but I have it on DVR. I plan to run it on loop at my yule party when the eggnog runs out.
9. And in case you're wondering who the Chair of the Department of Placido is, it's Gert. Go to her for any (I mean any) news/gossip on that Faustdude.
10. OK, nuf of this ... time to pack up for tonight's Romeo ... *reloads Met website in case there's another last-hour substitution*
11. P.S. From apartheid to this. How thrilling!