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.