30 December 2006

I don't know if I should have my ears checked or my eyes

Two critics who've been profoundly charmed by Anna Netrebko's Met Elvira are saying the exact opposite thing. An unexpected twist to this sad critics roundtable.

In this corner, Canada's the Globe and Mail critic Paula Citron declares:

Netrebko does not have the most beautiful voice in the world. In fact, her high tessitura is just this side of thin. Her brilliance is in what she does with her instrument. First of all, Netrebko has formidable technique. Perfect placement of pitch is accompanied by exact coloratura ornamentation. She is also fearless in going for her money notes in singing that is totally without artifice.
And by now we've been thoroughly briefed on what Anthony T. said yesterday:
With the smoky colorings and throbbing richness of her sumptuous voice, Ms. Netrebko was an unusually vulnerable Elvira. Bel Canto purists may find fault with her sometimes imprecise execution of coloratura runs and roulades. But I admired her way of treating florid passagework as organic extensions of an arching vocal line, not as a series of fast notes to be nailed with cool accuracy.

In a recent interview Ms. Netrebko criticized her own tendency to let her pitch turn sharp. She is being hard on herself. She sings with such a focused vibrato that even a slight wavering of pitch stands out more than it would with a soprano whose thick vibrato masks imperfections. At the climax of soaring melodic phrases Ms. Netrebko easily filled the house with shimmering sound. A couple of top notes might have been shaky, but what mattered more was the courageous intensity of her singing.
I'm dumbfounded. These critics are falling all over themselves to starf*ck NetGelbko Inc., but they're pouncing from entirely opposite directions. One thing they agree on is Anna's courage and fearlessness. In the end, it's perhaps the only thing I'd also agree with.

29 December 2006

Spin City

The New York Times review of the I Puritani by premier critic and starfucker Anthony Tommasini is full of crap. First, he calls me a purist; thinks fast notes are stupid anyway: "Bel Canto purists may find fault with (Anna Netrebko's) sometimes imprecise execution of coloratura runs and roulades. But I admired her way of treating florid passagework as organic extensions of an arching vocal line, not as a series of fast notes to be nailed with cool accuracy." He lowers the bar without apology: "It is best for Bellini buffs to forget for now that when this production was new, the four leads were Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes and James Morris. Today we have Ms. Netrebko to be thankful for." He makes up an excuse even the diva won't touch: "In a recent interview Ms. Netrebko criticized her own tendency to let her pitch turn sharp. She is being hard on herself. She sings with such a focused vibrato that even a slight wavering of pitch stands out more than it would with a soprano whose thick vibrato masks imperfections." Best of all, he admires courage over all other musical traits: "A couple of top notes might have been shaky, but what mattered more was the courageous intensity of her singing." Upon this Met press release, Anna Netrebko's bel canto career takes a decisive push forward. I'm feeling nauseous.

28 December 2006

Sub-provincial evening

Bellini I PURITANI, Met 27.XII.2006; c. Summers; Netrebko, Kunde, Vassallo, Relyea.

For Elvira’s mad scene, Anna Netrebko got one of the most passionate ovations I’ve witnessed at the Met in many years. It wasn’t deserved. Her coloratura is smudged, her top notes are suspect, her middle register is tedious (sounding monoish in a bright stereo world), her stage deportment labored (ain’t even campy). She does give a beautiful turn every now and then, a surprising jeweled phrase, a melting note here and there, but then so can dozens of other sopranos, and with much more limited couture. Bel canto is the comfort food of opera, easy on the ears, open, honest, quiet, radiant. Netrebko, with a jigsaw puzzle instrument glued together with an unattractive ad hoc style, does not have the natural talent for it. Thus the evening became an exhausting affair, and I left the house wondering what all the glossy press and hysterical ovations are about. If it’s a work in progress, then what a luxury to do your progressing at the Met. In other words, where the f*ck is the beef, and can I have my money back. There is no excuse for this one. (And let’s not even get into a dissection of the roadkill named Kunde, or the lifeless conducting of Summers.)

24 October 2006


Sieglinde too busy to keep up with diary responsibilities. Please forgive. Went to Chicago for the Salome, saw Voigt bare her body (suit), heard Voigt bare her (uneven) vocal prowess. Will definitely say a few things about this soon. Meanwhile, back in New York in time for the Cav/Pag at the Met. Two words for M/V Maria Guleghina, the Oceanliner: German roles. (How about some Chrysothemis, or Elektra, or Sieglinde? Or the Siegfried and Götterdammerung Brünnhildes?) Gotta go.

11 October 2006

Balcony Box, Home Edition

Serious. The live Met broadcasts on Sirius, four glorious times a week, have been life-altering to a great number of opera fans across our etherland. While the quality of the "premium" stream (on the internet, at 129 kbps) is satisfying, there have been a handful of signal dropouts every broadcast, enough to annoy pirates and non-pirates alike. (Drivin' me crazee!) Still, it's remarkable how seamless the whole massive operation has been. Even Margaret Juntwait, the estwhile wrinkle of Saturday matinees past, has softened into a gentle fireside companion, delivering fresh and informative (borderline gossipy) off-the-cuff interviews during intermission.

Fake. The other night, while doing dishes, I hummed as Erika Miklosa navigated the stratospheric staccati of the Queen of the Night's music. Last week, Cristina Gallardo-Domas, close-miked, wobbled her way through Butterfly's music in an unattractive way, an encounter vastly different from what one actually hears in house. Indeed, physical distance buffers acidic textures, smooths edges, highlights stunning dynamics, while the Met's air and walls add warmth and depth to the vocal sound. Meanwhile, the endless Idomeneos and Giocondas continue this week. Distinction ceases.

Overload. Four times a week: a cruel prison sentence. Repetition, oversaturation, extreme exposure, beyond submission. Drowning in gigabytes of nicotine sound, paralysis shall set in. Soon a slow death midseason, in the claws of Sirius.

10 October 2006

The Fleming Norma

It's finally (almost) happening. La Cieca announces that contracts have been signed in Zurich for Renee Fleming's first Normas. Like Swiss clockwork, vocal opera queens in various online opera forums are near-unanimous in censure. Alone, Sieglinde has campaigned for the Fleming Norma from the beginning, even sending her "emissaries" to see her backstage and put a word in for the Druid priestess. The extraordinary reverence that bel canto aficionados have for the role and the opera is sure to make Fleming's next experiment the fiercest battle since Francesca Zambello. If Zurich doesn't turn out to be too disastrous, Fleming will most certainly take the show on the road, and to grander stages. Meanwhile, we have Peter Gelb, always with the eye for splash and the bottom line. Thus, it is inevitable: the Fleming Normas are coming to your nearest balcony box. O what glee!

05 October 2006

Dry Patch

Gounod FAUST, Met 03.X.2006; c. de Billy; Swenson, Vargas, Abdrazakov, Hakala, Deshayes.

Faust is a pretty piece with pretty tunes. With a cast brimming with sex appeal and a conductor sensitive to Gounod's swagger and sway, an evening of Faust becomes a major musical event. That happened at the Met two seasons ago. This month, the Met brings the production back with house singers of solid repute. The good news is that Ruth Ann Swenson, New York's beloved light lyric, still has those magnificent top notes, huge, brilliant, gorgeous. The bad news is that Marguerite's music doesn't really make full use of them as much as, say, Adina's or Lucia's. Apart from those familiar climaxes (a few bars in the Jewel Song, and the like), not much happens in the stratosphere, and so Ruth Ann has to flex those drab mid-register tones more than she's used to. But when a high B-flat (or above) arrives in the score, it's magic! Her voice navigates an odd register break, suddenly launching creamy tones that are significantly louder and brighter than what preceeded them. Please, someone give the girl a bel canto role with a juicy mad scene. Meanwhile, Ramon Vargas, to my ears, is experiencing a drastic change in his instrument: once a beautiful and confident sound with a front-and-center ping, it now seems tentative, muffled, and fearful of high notes. A few seasons back, his Edgardos and Alfredos were youthful and elegant, fragrantly lyrical in the smallest detail; but then, Romeo last year wasn't up to his par, and this Faust is, I fear, another data point in an alarming downward trend.

As for the other singers: Ildar Abdrazakov, as Mephistopheles, doesn't have the wattage (or the decibel) of Rene Pape, but he delivered nuanced and committed singing throughout the evening. The Valentin, the debuting Finnish baritone Tommi Hakala, answered the grace deficit of the evening decisively. And he seemed quite binoculargenic, I can't wait to stalk him at the Met stage door. As Siebel, the other debutante Karine Deshayes unveiled an attractive and potentially world-class voice. And finally, without the stellar diversion of the threesome Alagna-Hvorostovsky-Pape, the production was naked in the full glory of its dullness.

03 October 2006

Cristina Gallardo-Domas

Puccini MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Met, 30.IX.2006; c. Fisch; Gallardo-Domas, Giordani, Zifchak, Croft.

Gallardo-Domas's frayed voice is less effective in Act I, when Butterfly's music carries a wide smile, and wobbly top notes make Cio-Cio-San sound matronly (quindici she ain't). In Act II, once the darkness sets in, the wobble, managed properly, becomes an asset. A wide vibrato launched from an open palate (in most of the Love Duet in Act I) is unattractive; however, upon a hooded palate, in melancholic ("Oh le dolci parole" during the letter scene) or highly charged lines (the "Che tua madre" stanza), a wobble is a wail, a futile struggle. In this opera, it resembles the beating of clipped wings. With an electric chest voice (the forbidding "Va a fargli compagnia") and rich Kabaivanska-style middle register, phrases that rise stepwise from bottom to top (like the "Ci portera lontano" and thereabouts) trembles in full, emphatic verismo. In the final scene, pivoting on "Tu, tu piccolo iddio", peppered with mini-diminuendos and cutting fortes, the devastating Minghella staging is exceeded only by Gallardo-Domas's full commitment to the drama. Tiny in stature, she is an immense artist. On this demanding spinto touchstone, she may have harmed her lyric instrument irreversibly. The sacrifice is noted, and deeply appreciated by the heart.

30 September 2006

A Most Stylish Curtain Call

Opinion on Cristina Gallardo-Domas's Butterfly has been divided. The Diaries is firmly on the pro side of the debate. But Sieglinde is off to the matinee today for a second hearing, this time without the fog of opening night, prima-evening jitters, shiny people that divert attention, or a conductor uncommitted to this Puccini. Her report will come by early next week. One point of agreement may be the graceful curtain call, most certainly choreographed by the director Minghella. The video above is from opening night.

29 September 2006

Balance restored

Mozart IDOMENEO, Met 28.IX.2006; c. Levine; Röschmann, Makarina, Jepson, Heppner, Francis.

James Levine leaves the tumultuous Puccini behind and returns to what he does best. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's classic production, sans severed heads, is a clear and quiet mirror, reflecting the brightness of this Mozart work unfiltered, and by doing nothing more, goes straight to its heart and then to all our hearts. Levine in Mozart is the word balance: he is vibrant in a quick Baroque style, dark in anticipation of Mozart's later works; and he lets melancholic passages breathe, gliding just above the Romantic realm where he probably shouldn't be. But it all sounds right, and he dependably guides them back to symmetry. In that sense, Ben Heppner is his ideal hero; with an innately beautiful tone, always tastefully expressive deportment, a full-bodied texture, and, on good evenings (which this one was), only a slight quivering in the top register (adding a sort of gravitas), he is Mozart's human face. He was magnificent in the virtuoso "Fuor del mar" aria. (Recent pattern suggests he'll encounter problems during the latter part of this run; but I, inexplicably, am always ready to forgive him. He is just a beautiful singer.) A long time ago, I read a description of the (early) Carol Vaness voice as ruby-colored. I didn't fully understand that description till Dorothea Röschmann: she sounds like dark jewels breaking white light into many cuts of exquisite colors, and with the ping of fine porcelain and the resonance of seasoned wood. What a devastatingly gorgeous matter. And she sings with such sensitivity and intelligence; oh Sieglinde is a lesbian in love! Meanwhile, Olga Makarina is a fitting Elettra, always with a comforting technical accuracy but seasoned with lots of red pepper flakes. She is unfailingly exciting to hear. Jeffrey Francis, who debuts this season as Arbace, held his part of the opera with polish and elegance. Young Kristine Jepson, as the hero(ine) Idamante, would have been the highlight of any other evening, but with such a formidable cast alongside her, she shined as much as a luxurious broach on a Mercedes Bass or an Imelda Marcos. I would have preferred a thicker mezzo for this role, but yes, this is a spoiled brat talking. The nearly full house surprised me, for this was (a) a lesser-known Mozart and (b) the beginning of the season, when nothing sells well. Peter Gelb scores another point, but it's a long, long game.

28 September 2006

Met Opening Night Video: Part II

[First intermission] Starring Peter Gelb, Mercedes Bass, Jude Law, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Joe Volpe, Renee Fleming, Barbra Walters, and a hundred of New York's glitterati. Yes, lighting levels aren't the best, and shots are a bit shaky. But this is pure guerilla filmmaking (total budget = $75 box ticket + roundtrip subway fare), so deal. There may be a Part III, who knows.

27 September 2006

Bathroom Break

Ponchielli LA GIOCONDA, Met 26.IX.2006; c. de Billy; Urmana, Borodina, Mishura, Machado, Lucic, Burchuladze.

The Met Opening night's hyperelegance was cleansed away thoroughly by last night's La Gioconda, and not just because of the opera's libretto. Sitting a box away were three of the smelliest people I've ever had to smell for more than a minute. I mean, literally bathroom smelly. And they didn't know one another. The stench was competing big time with the Ponchielli, which just has to be everyone's guilty pleasure, and which is just so putrid they give you three intermissions to make an embarrassed exit. But despite the fetid swamp of an evening, I didn't move from my seat, and neither did my three best friends. Meanwhile, the production is from the first season of the new Met (1966), which saw Tebaldi, Corelli, Dunn, MacNeil, and Siepi: so grotesque it captures The Venetian perfectly (or the real Venice a few days after acqua alta, when things start to get really interesting). I mean, an elevated four-poster curtained death bed in the ballroom.

Violeta Urmana (Gioconda) is the new Marton. One of my three best friends was grumbling soon after "Enzo adorato", but seriously, even Milanov herself couldn't pass the now well-established Milanov pianissimo test, which is: if you can still hear something, anything, you're no Milanov. She does extremely well with expansive phrases (e.g. Suicidio), but an unstable top register betrays her during barreling jagged lines (e.g., the catfight with Laura "L'amo come il fulgor", which Maestro Bertrand de Billy treated with much indifference and a hopscotch tempo). The mezzo-to-soprano makeover is still a work in progress. (The bonus you get from such women is the ever rich lower middle/bottom.) Olga Borodina (Laura) is such a paragon of elegance and taste it seemed like she was singing another opera entirely. Her tone is gorgeous: monotonously gorgeous, she almost sounds like an American. Irina Mishura, on the other hand, is just the kind of mezzo you'd want in a Cieca: her forbidding intensity (and perfectly crafted wobbles) stole Act I. Aquiles Machado (Enzo) sounds like a Tenor, graceful and masculine at once; I look forward to his future outings at the Met. Zeljko Lucic had an accomplished debut evening, and won the favor of the entire house.

On the whole, it's what you'd want from an evening of La Gioconda: some fearless singing, some instability, more than a dose of stench. And, I almost forgot, you get a serving of buns too. The handsome and brilliant Angel Corella, on loan from the American Ballet Theatre, has really really nice ones. I'm going back for more next week.

26 September 2006

From Subway to Seat

I'll try to put together a Part II, which I'm provisionally calling "From Curtain to Curtain Call", if I find enough energy later today or tomorrow. In the meantime, I gotta get into a trashy groove for tonight's La Gioconda, my first.

Met Opening Night

Puccini MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Met Opening Night, 25.IX.2006; c. Levine; Gallardo-Domas, Giordani, Zifchak, Croft.

Yesterday as I was lamenting the shift in vision at the Met, I overlooked the one thing that can stop them all. No matter the diamond wattage of the glitter audience, soon enough the chandeliers dim and the golden curtain rises, and as the orchestra prepares the silver platter, the veiled soprano opens her mouth. Watch as everything else around her wilts at her slightest breath. The walls of the old opera house shiver the strings' resonance, heartstrings are tugged, eyes closed. Lost amidst the massive blitzkrieg in the months leading to this opening night was tiny Cristina Gallardo-Domas, reduced to a Mingella poster here, half a Butterfly face there. Tonight, however, order was restored when the spotlight turned the other way: tiny indeed, but her voice carried the force of a thousand flashing bulbs, finding the farthest point in the ceiling and the deepest cuts in the skin. Colorful as Mingella's stage, with a Soviero throb and an Albanese cut, Galladro-Domas's beautifully frayed soprano is now a member of the vocal pantheon of the Sirius generation. Marcello Giordani is Domingo with Pavarotti's lustre. Frequently unwieldy but consistently effective, his voice tonight had a perfect combination of control and rough elegance that would make you forgive Pinkerton, even at the sight of Butterfly's innocent blood. Maria Zifchak sustained a superb Suzuki, while Dwayne Croft relied on his creamy baritone to offset any deficiency in volume or expression.

I'm grateful to see Maestro James Levine at the podium this evening, heading another great season of music. My admiration is no secret. But among his most recent works, this Butterfly may be his least complete. The production's thrust was a Butterfly that moved as if she knew her fate very early on, and Levine seemed to underline the darkness of her inner torments with a extra-fat Wagnerian Sharpie. In fact, there were moments in the third part of the evening that resembled the meditative scenes of the third act of his Parsifal. Puccini is melodrama of the Miss Saigon sort, with tensions as open and direct as can be, and so, in my view, any serious attempt to "heighten" the drama by enunciating every phrase with historic accuracy and highlighting the naked woodwinds a la Parsifal can only stoke the opera's wet rag longueurs. In other words, no need to break out the fine china for Chinatown pork chop. Elsewhere, however, his mastery of controlled sentimentality benefitted tear-jerker scenes to great effect: Act I's love duet was truthful, while the letter scene was perfectly measured. Levine may never conduct another Butterfly in his career (if in his long career he hasn't conducted a repertory stalwart, chances are he doesn't like it), and so it was an interesting exercise. (Asher Fisch takes over the rest of the gazillion Butterflys this season.)

Anthony Mingella produced a dazzling Spectacular spectacular: my comments will come at a later time (perhaps after my second or third Butterfly). Also, I took little video snippets of the circus. I'll figure out the best way to package and YouTube it tomorrow.

Reports from other seats: Sarah was at the Plaza. So was Alex. And Mama Cieca. JSU was in Times Square. While Maury was also inside.

24 September 2006

The Fall Season

The digital innovations that Peter Gelb has launched this season (plans for multiplex simulcasts of a handful of Saturday afternoons, Sirius satellite broadcasts of four performances per week, beginning tomorrow) seem at first blush revolutionary, but taken in the larger context, are mere incarnations of the story of opera’s migration out of the opera house, begun about a century ago. Before the era of recorded music, opera belonged firmly within the gilded walls of the opera house, locked in time, dead by curtain’s fall. Then it became a thing (a cylinder), and morphed into other things (a record, tape, laserdisc, CD, DVD, mp3, YouTube), made immortal, and a thing to own, private and portable. These days, it lives in my hard disks, my video iPod, the FM airwaves, in the ether of the net, and very shortly, at the mall and circling in outer space. Apart from the changed landscape of the economics of opera distribution (from the megacorporations down to the mom-and-pop pirates of family circle), nothing else of the essence has been altered. The many refractions of opera have been in distribution since before yo mama was born, so Sieglinde just has to get with it. (And she got Sirius today; more later.)

The Met is large enough, singers great enough, and die-hard fans die hard enough, to withstand the relentless packaging of the Met’s magic as readily consumable items for the pop aisle. This is my better hope. The paradox, however, is that it is the Met footprint’s sheer size that makes its every stomp register decisively in the wider world’s cultural Richter scale. All the talk about “opera as a whole theatrical experience” to me is code for things like: (a) Deborah Voigt’s gastric bypass being, in hindsight, genius, and Jane Eaglen born a generation later would have little chance of cultivating the Met career she had; (b) more Kristin Chenoweth, less Soile Isokoski; (c) regietheater of an American sort (i.e., corner of Broadway and Hollywood), etc. etc. (Interestingly, Renee Fleming, ever durable, fits both models.) We’ll see how hard Peter the Great will push; I'm deeply suspicious and regrettably skeptical. Meanwhile, the red carpet, Liz Smith, Times Square: the marketing of opera as social currency, beyond the power of the notes and the words, is a kind of a return to opera’s former self. Glamour and intrigue, made accessible to a casual public, craving headlines, so ready for any form of mutation and consumption. If there ever was a golden age of opera, opera as the realm of the voice above all else, it may have been what we just had.

14 September 2006


Handel SEMELE. New York City Opera, 13.IX.2006; c. Walker; Futral, Genaux (d), White, Sylvan, Hauman, Breault.

I used to go to the City Opera quite regularly, back when I could legally get those $10 student rush tickets, often for first row orchestra seats. My first Boheme, my first Turandot, my first Mathis der Maler... Then I happened upon a couple of tickets to a Die Zauberflöte across the plaza, with James Levine at the podium, and the rest is history. Since the great migration, I've only been back to the New York State Theater once, for Lauren Flanigan's hot Roberto Devereux, till last night. I was starving, and who can wait 2 more weeks for a fix, and a Semele couldn't be that bad if the likes of Elizabeth Futral and Vivica Genaux were headlining, right. From my balcony-box-equivalent seat (they lovingly call the fourth ring, as in Dante's Inferno), I felt like I was having a jelly sandwich on stale white bread (and I hate jelly). It was a three-hour jelly sandwich. I know we're absolutely prohibited from viewing at the City Opera in the same light as the Met (i.e., "NYCO: we're the Mets to the Met's Yankees"), and we're tired of discussing the auditorium's shameful acoustics, so I'm stopping this train right here because I'm just grateful to find Die Tote Stadt in New York's calendar this season.

Elizabeth Futral is a favorite of these Diaries because she is insane, and she came close to the expected level as Semele. But what truly makes baroque singing orgasmic is keeping true to the rapid runs while maintaining an evenly beautiful tone through the many minutes of da capo and still sounding like you could go for more, no sweat. Futral, however, has just enough talent (buttressed by magnificent balls) to pull off the notes, and was therefore too busy to worry about other things. Semele is a killer role, we should all agree to leave it to virtuoso baroque/bel canto specialists, and so Futral gets a "get out of jail free" card on this one. What she lacked in vocal style, she made up for in theatrics. Her Marilyn Monroe (or was it Christina Aguilera?) cavorted like she was the last jelly sandwich in the world. (I don't know what that means, it just sounded apt.) Vivica Genaux, debuting at the City Opera (if that counts for anything) as Ino/Juno, has a well-schooled, if a tad plain, contralto. A sort of Susan Graham-lite. I'd like to hear more of her (and in a different venue, please). The one singer who rose above the bland acoustics was Matthew White, whose buoyant countertenor alighted with a first-class softness, killing the subpar curve set by the rest of the cast. Maestro Antony Walker led with neither distinction nor fault, tolerating the cadaver-cold support of the continuo from the pit. (To paraphrase the Secretary of Defense, "we go to war with the orchestra we have, not the orchestra we want.")

Meanwhile, the "repackage and sell" operation across the plaza continues:

06 September 2006

Nessun dorma

For an art form that rests on centuries of repertoire and well-established tradition, the recent march by the Met (read: Gelb) towards new digital media is nothing short of revolutionary. Sieglinde, just emerging from summer slumber, can't keep up. (She can't even keep track of her tickets.) Here's a list of links; comments and thoughts to follow later this week (or next).

Met reaches groundbreaking agreements with unions and develops range of media partnerships [Met press release]
Met to broadcast live operas into movie theathers [NYT]
La Cieca: Tech talk [parterre.com]
Met announces plan to simulcast opera [AP]

31 August 2006

Butterfly Tix

[An impression of the Met's Great Minghella Blitzkrieg.]

Meanwhile, it's only the first set; will procure more later today; I got no more money: it's all being used wisely for inspired ad campaigns and such. [via Parterre.com]

28 August 2006

I don't think I can handle 800 more days of this sh*t

"You can't rebuild a community, if the community is full of debris." - Bush in Biloxi, Mississippi today

24 August 2006

A Thursday to remember

Today, I can't decide which is more shocking: that Pluto is no longer a planet; or that my Met seats have actually become cheaper.

In related news, yet another fast-falling celestial object: Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, whose death a month ago reignited the debate about the relationship between an artist's art and her character. In a Guardian article, Michael H. Kater outlines Schwarzkopf's extensive activities during the time of her membership in the Nazi party. It's quite damning. (I best rearrange my fave VLL list, fast.)

22 August 2006

Near Summer's End

The day after the Boston Massacre Redux, the Yanks are secure in first place. Fall almost emergent, there's a softness in the morning air, shadows are growing longer, air fares are settling back to earth. In discussing Roger Federer's brilliance in the New York Times, David Foster Wallace remarks: "the truth is that TV tennis is to live tennis pretty much as video porn is to the felt reality of human love." I've stewed in recordings the past few months, and apart from the thunderous Elektra at Tanglewood, have not been witness to live opera in so long: so permit me to extend the comparison, and say that pirate recordings may be able to catch fleeting, fluttering moments of ecstasy and set them to material memory in magical sound bits, but nothing can come close to recreating the ultimate porn of being there, live, a hundred feet away from a mouth that bears the power to rearrange the molecules in the air at will, with a resonant terror that rouses all the hair on the body. Human love may be its only known measure, indeed.

I shall be planning my Met season this week, and buying the bulk of the potentially sold-out events, as funds permit. I count the days till the curtain rises for the first time this season, and I'm sick, sick, pukey sick of seeing images from that Butterfly production pasted all over every Met literature. (Peter Gelb, veteran of commercial megamarketing, enforces the cardinal rule of advertising: choose a schtick, and stick with it. Numb the brain with the brand. I haven't seen the ENO-imported Minghella production, supposedly fresh and creative, but really, I'm sick of the schtick already.)

16 August 2006

Box office opens August 20, 10am

[View of the Atlantic from the Southern Hemisphere.] Wait, single tickets for all 2006-07 performances will be available for purchase on August 20? Shit.

04 August 2006

Talk about Weather

Counting the weeks till the fall season. ITEM ONE. Sieglinde's first ticket purchase: Salome prima at the Chicago Lyric. DAME ELISABETH SCHWARZKOPF. I find the divergence between the obit of the London Times and New York Times quite striking, specifically the treatment of her connection to the Nazi Party and her activities during the war. Whereas Tommasini brought forth the sensitive topic in the third paragraph, with the (intended) effect of coloring the lengthy discussion of her career and successes with a tinge of "ick", the Times went by it quite fleetingly, and only in a chronological account of her early biography, characterizing those activities as "moves (that) were purely pragmatic." Surely she must have known something, and if she did, such pragmatism is all the more frightening. In any case, her recording of Vier Letzte Lieder, my first VLL ever, remains, to me, the most heartrending and personal; her Mahler, Wolf, and Strauss lieder are all works that cleanse the palate, and hold a delicate place in the iPod of my mind. BREAKING NEWS. Schwarzkopf, coloratura? The Washington Post: "As a coloratura soprano, she mastered the very highest octaves with remarkable precision and breath control." (Hidden past, indeed.) BACK TO DEBBIE. The Lyric Opera is out looking for a few good belly dancers to decorate Francesca Zambello's sure to be skin-ny Salome production. (But why no similar casting call for buff boys?) LATE GAY NEWS. Speaking of lesbians, Lance Bass of 'N Sync is gay. (Boy band boy, a fag? Scandal.) He has a boyfriend.

27 July 2006

23 July 2006

West window

Still on break.

09 July 2006

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson

Heaviness in the chest; spasms of the physical heart pushing against the deep, still sadness. This is how it feels now that she's gone; and how it was, every time she took the stage and sang for me. The last time was in November of 2005. There were those magical nights at the Met during the Les Troyens run of 2002-03 season. (I was there for five of them.) She did thoughtful things with words and notes, and moved in full trance; she was always beautiful; but what I will remember most of all is the physical impact of that sound: an austere resonance that the gut knows, not from bitter song or poignant art, but from the recurrent trudge of the falling human life. I'm hearing her sing in my chest, and it is a living, common affair.

01 July 2006

Full Pitch

Two words. Cristiano Ronaldo. Next two words. Zinedine Zidane. Final two words. Oh, England.

27 June 2006

Midsummer Break Concert

The lyrebird, courtesy of Sir David Attenborough.

20 June 2006

On Break

Sky, raw and high, is a beautiful summer pastime in Florida.

13 June 2006

Cup Runneth Over

Kakà. (The heat of summer; Sieglinde glued to the tube.)

27 May 2006

Other Arts

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

21 May 2006

What's Sieglinde to do for 4 months

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

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

[Bagel break.]

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

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

[Instant noodles break.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Monday morning.]

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

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

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

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

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

The End, for now.

18 May 2006

Volpe Gala Central

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

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

17 May 2006

Millo delivers the pasta

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

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

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

16 May 2006

Perfectly understandable

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

07 May 2006

Mr. Subtle warns Mr. Bottom Line

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

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

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

06 May 2006

Can't chat now ...

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

04 May 2006

German Light

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

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

03 May 2006

Soft Landing

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

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

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

02 May 2006


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

28 April 2006

Spring Cleaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 April 2006

Voigt's Tosca

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

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

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

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

20 April 2006

Gimme another dose of dat Mattila

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

19 April 2006

The Rest

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

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

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

18 April 2006

Karita Mattila, off da hook

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

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