30 April 2007

Separated At Birth

28 April 2007

<rant> Oh how I wish I could see the Salonen/ Viola/ Sellars/ Brewer Tristan und Isolde, but I just can't afford it right now. The lowest ticket price is $175, equivalent to almost a dozen evenings at the Met. I'm pissed that the organizers can't corral more corporate sponsors or Mercedes Basses to offset the large production cost. I'm hearing so many good things about it left and right, but I can't do more than imagine what it would be like to finally hear Christine Brewer's Isolde live, to participate in the Esa-Pekka worship engulfing much of the literati, see and be moved by Viola's moving art. So I say, f* you all, who'll come out of it declaring that they've been forever altered by the singular experience. </rant>

27 April 2007

While (Deborah Voigt) believes the art of singing should be more important than appearance, or "package," she said, "in order for the art form to survive with the media of today, singers have to be more believable, whatever that means to the public. Opera houses have to compete with everything else, and audiences are less likely today to accept singers who are 130 pounds overweight."
Dear Debbie, is there really any need for the Gelbspeak?

Speaking of getting a hold of yourself, Paterson is the man who takes credit for inventing the Michael Jackson signature crotch squeeze. He also danced in Jackson’s “Beat It” video, and choreographed his “Smooth Criminal” and “Black or White” videos and has worked with Madonna on her “Express Yourself” video and “Blonde Ambition” tour production. Directing an opera was the next step, naturally.
Thus the crotch squeezing continues with Paterson's travelling Netrebko-Villazon Manon-cum-sex show, currently in Berlin. Among his future engagements: a predictably crotch-heavy Elvis Presley Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas.

26 April 2007

Re: the two faces of Cleopatra. Sieglinde knows you want her to say that Ruth Ann Swenson is a true custodian of bel baroque, while her alternate Danielle de Niese is the kind of soprano Peter Gelb daydreams of when he's not busy poring over daily box office receipts: a good enough voice of some sparkle, with a willingness to (over)dramatize, palpable charm, an apt physique and a knockout face--in short, an eminently packageable "theatrical" product. But Sieglinde won't. It's not her practice at all. (Right.) In fact, de Niese is a fine singer in her own right, and it's unfair to weave her budding career into the whole Gelb scandale. Sieglinde was, however, on her seat's edge the other night during much of Cleopatra's music, intently observing the "show", when she'd rather sit back and relax into the easing milk of baroque's simple beauty.

(How could I have missed this?) During the gala dinner for the Met's 40th Anniversary at Lincoln Center a few weeks ago, General Manager Peter Gelb engaged in what even Variety considered "trash-talk":

"You won't be attending any performances like this at the City Opera of the future, or the Paris Opera of the present," he declared, drawing a few catcalls and grumbles from the highfalutin gathering for those remarks.

Gelb called the two charismatic singers (Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon) "the future glory and hope for opera," which drew hearty applause ...
Two questions for the highfalutins: (1) 2008: which will be bloodier, the prez elections or the impending yo-mamma-fight at Lincoln Center Plaza? (2) If they're the "future glory and hope for opera," why do we have to listen to them today?

25 April 2007

The Met's run of Giulio Cesare features Michael Maniaci, the lone "male soprano" in the current Met roster, as Nireno; but last night Gerald Thompson, debuting as Tolomeo, out-interpolated Maniaci, tossing high Zs at every chance, despite being listed only as a lowly "countertenor" in official documents. Oh this incarnation of Handel's gender bender is severely confusing--the tessitura partitions have been largely erased, this stage direction decidedly gay--so that I had to take a moment to think if it was alright for the Republicans in the audience that Lawrence Zazzo was kissing Danielle de Niese. (Zazzo = Cesare; de Niese = Cleopatra ... so ok, no cause for alarm.) Elsewhere, Alice Coote, a handsome Sesto, and Jill Grove, a chesty Cornelia, added to my perplexity.

Spotted in the audience: Mercedes Bass in her center parterre box, Chelsea Clinton in the manager's box, and Sieglinde in her usual box. What do you think that means. (Meanwhile, Sieglinde sends her apologies to Ruth Ann for missing her sensational Cleopatra. It was a cruel scheduling conflict.)

Further "research":

Maniaci is a true male soprano. He is not a countertenor with a falsetto head voice above a tenor or baritone chest voice...

“During puberty my voice just stayed where it was; it didn’t change with the rest of me, although it’s got stronger and fuller. Doctors examining my throat found that the larynx and vocal cords had not lengthened and thickened in the normal way; I don’t have an Adams apple, and yet in every other way I’m a normal male.”
I need to stalk the Met stage door Friday to verify this myself.

UPDATE: These two baroque arias reveal Maniaci's extraordinary gift.

Is this porn? For Berlin's Manon, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon make out to make up for what's missing. (Warning: borderline NSFW) And yeah, I'm back. And survived escamoles. (Tasted like barley, actually.)

18 April 2007


Re: continuing coverage of Roman opera acid reflux. The Guardian picks up the story:

Opera singing may be a glamorous occupation, but it brings with it some unglamorous hazards.

It has long been obvious that exponents of bel canto have a tendency to obesity. But now, thanks to researchers at the Catholic University in Rome, we know they are also unusually prone to "wet burping".
Exponents of bel canto tend to obesity? I didn't know. Let's check the veracity of the proposition. Bel canto = obese; Netrebko = thin; therefore, Netrebko ≠ bel canto. Check.

Corollary: If/when Netrebko finally gets bel canto, she'll be obese. But she risks losing future Met contracts. Therefore: status quo. Darn.

Now, it's your turn. Try it with Dessay, see what you get.

17 April 2007

For a bit of music fun today, try these audio "optical" illusions: audio versions of Escher's Stairs, tones that appear to scale down (or up) in pitch, but actually don't (or appear not to, it's a bit confusing), and a beat that appears to quicken in tempo, but really doesn't.

This afternoon, there was a dolphin on my way to the store.

On 'vocal' technique:

I've known a singer who had a hell of a time relaxing for his high notes. At his teacher's suggestion, this young man asked his girlfriend to help him "rehearse" - if you get my drift. The assignment was, at the moment of greatest relaxation, to sing a high note, rather than lighting the more traditional cigarette.
(Private to Campbell: can Sieglinde be of any assistance.)

16 April 2007

Gualtier Maldé, positioned by the Met stage door after the Aprile Millo Andrea Chenier on April 14 (via comments at parterre.com):

Aprile came out in a big fur coat with ... a large birthday cake to distribute among the Aprile faithful. Aprile was asked if she was coming back next season and she replied "Oh yes, I'll be back, I just have to lose a few pounds...you know there is a sickness going on around here..." ... Her manager Ken Benson however would not confirm that Gelb demanded that Aprile lose weight.

How many more of these horrible things will happen before Washington moves toward a sensible federal gun control law?

FBI and the ATF believe two handguns were used by the lone gunman at Virginia Tech.

The Second Amendment: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Let's regulate the 'militia'. And not with wimpy, utterly spineless state laws that allow even this:

In Virginia, as in many states, carrying a concealed weapon requires a permit, issued by a local court. But no permit is required to simply wield a gun in the open, a right reinforced by a state law that took effect July 1 (2004).

... a married couple were walking their dogs down Market Street, the busy thoroughfare in the heart of Reston Town Center ... In addition to pistols on their hips, both the man and woman were carrying an extra magazine of ammunition. An officer spoke with them and was informed that they were members of the defense league ... the officer took no further action ...

Virginia law 18.2-287.4 expressly prohibits "carrying loaded firearms in public areas." But the second paragraph of the law defines firearms only as any semiautomatic weapon that holds more than 20 rounds or a shotgun that holds more than seven rounds -- assault rifles, mostly. Regular six-shooters or pistols with nine- or 10-shot magazines are not "firearms" under this Virginia law.

Medical researchers at Rome's Cattolica University report that Italian opera singers in Rome may be more susceptible than ordinary Italians to gastroesophageal reflux (otherwise known as acid reflux). Is this a problem unique to Rome, is my first question. The bucatini at the opera house cafeteria? The mozzarella in carrozza? More urgently, does this explain the utter chaos currently engulfing Rome Opera's Gheorghiu/soprano#2/soprano#3 sans Filianoti La Traviata ?

Lyricorgasm x 2. Giuseppe Filianoti and Juan Diego Florez on one stage. Is it possible? Yes: Otello (Rossini) at the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, August 8-20, 2007. (Hmmm ... Pesaro. Coming from Union Square, which subway should I take?)

WRITING UP A STORM. I don't know the first thing about journalism (can't you tell), or how the New York Times regulates metaphors in news stories, but they ought to write more like this:

Coming on a weekend, the storm had a relatively light impact on most residents. Many shops and restaurants that normally would have been open yesterday were shuttered, but without jobs or schools to attend, many people spent the day indoors with the Sunday papers, relaxing with music to go with the silken lash of rain hissing at the windows, dripping on a lazy afternoon.

The day was, in a way, like great theater: the drama of the approaching storm, the searching wind at the panes and rain dancing on the pavement, the smudged sky, the iron-gray day like a movie in black and white. The overcast was solid, great plates of corrugated iron fused from horizon to horizon, and the streets glistened in the rain: a metallic futureworld.

"Gorgeous is in. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a piano virtuosa or a diva darling – if you’ve got looks to match your dazzling chops, the music marketeers will have a field day. So be a babe! Take Angela Gheorghiu, for instance ... just try to identify her publicity photos as that of an opera singer. Wouldn’t the unwashed guess she’s a starlet? A model? Someone whose sole claim to fame is beauty?

Well, we have a virtual flood of candidates to fill the current glam standard. And do they. Anna Netrebko, who, months ago here, gave us an inimitable Manon that was on a par with Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara, flashes about in her flamboyant videos and runway-style publicity events..." LA City Beat

15 April 2007

Re: the Duke lacrosse team rape case dismissal. One of the accused had some remarkable things to say during the press conference: "This entire experience has opened my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice I never knew existed. If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can’t imagine what they’d do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves. So rather than relying on disparaging stereotypes and creating political and racial conflicts, all of us need to take a step back from this case and learn from it." But this sort of thing has been happening for a long, long time in this land of ours. Just switch the races involved, and of course the outcome of the case, and the scenario becomes awfully familiar.

Hey, if #42 is on first, who's on second? Can't be #42, right? But it is, I'm confused. Hold up, the batter on the plate's also #42. So's the man on deck, wtf. What's going on today?

Sieglinde's still in Florida, so she didn't quite make it to Aprile Millo's last scheduled performance at the Met. But Sieglinde knows enough to declare, with little hesitation and absolutely no breakfast, that Millo was positively sublime, the best she's ever been, or will ever be; 'twas a truly wondrous evening of classic "golden, golden age"; indeed Tebaldi was resurrected (or was it Zinka); we couldn't believe our ears; and that missing it will be the one regret you'll carry with you to your grave.

14 April 2007

Today is Aprile Millo's 49th birthday. Tonight, she sings her only Maddalena (Andrea Chenier) at the Met this season, capping an active year that also included two Toscas and one Gioconda. Next season, nada. Among the operas scheduled to be performed in 2007-08, only Amelia (Ballo in Maschera) could be conceivable for her to sing, but alas, Michele Crider (returning after a few years of absence) and Angela Brown (who had a much talked about debut at the Met in 2004, remember?) have been engaged instead. On a good night, she could outsing them both. Millo owns, owns "Morro, ma prima in grazia".

I hate to put it out there, but will tonight be it for her career at the Met? Let's hope not. Sure, she likes to stand-and-deliver, but she stands magnificently, like divas of yore, and she delivers the most authentic kind of Italian operatic pathos you could have today.

Meanwhile, a check on Millo's wiki entry finds just one sentence, while even Crider's has a couple of paragraphs. Calling all literate Millo fans ... and perhaps this is a good opportunity to verify birthyears and such.

Today's Saturday radio broadcast from the Met of Turandot features, among tattered sounds, a perfectly spun Liu of Met veteran Hei-Kyung Hong. Over the years, I've seen her Liu many times. In this, she has never failed to move. Her crystalline lyric voice, still showing little sign of age, is the kind of bright, simple sound that Puccini wrote this pathetic role for. With Hong, the breathtaking crescendos that end Liu's arias become highlights of the performance.

Sadly, she may be among the sopranos on Peter Gelb's chopping block. She is not engaged for anything next season, and she's uncertain about future engagements with her home company. This after a season of successful performances of Violetta, Liu, and Eva (from Die Meistersinger). She's neither fat nor stand-and-deliverish: it's inexplicable. This coming Thursday, April 19, she sings Liu for the last time this season. Fearing that it's also possibly her unintended farewell to the Met stage, her fans are planning a confetti shower for her curtain call, to thank her for more than 300 magical performances at the Met, beginning 23 years ago in 1984. She will be missed.

There's growing talk about possible finalists for the music directorship of the New York Philharmonic. The "scribbling" class is excited by the possibility of Alan Gilbert, not too thrilled by the prospect of Riccardo Muti. As Sieglinde sees the whole universe through jeweled opera glasses, she'd be ecstatic to have either man. Gilbert is music director of Santa Fe Opera (and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic), while Muti to many is the testosterone embodiment of Italian opera. Gelb will get more sold-out evenings to have Muti come more often, so it might be convenient to have him a few feet away. Other names mentioned are Riccardo Chailly and Daniel Barenboim. Now that's an A-list if I ever saw one.

12 April 2007

It's over, "the fat lady sings" no more

The extraordinary piece in the paper this morning regarding the alarming trends in casting at the Met is interesting in so many ways, not least because it emanates from what we've all come to accept as the Met's premiere kowtow-central, the New York Times, and penned by its kowtow-in-chief Anthony Tommasini, whose unfavorable criticisms of our beloved institution throughout the years can be counted with one hand. Because it is a rare event, such a piece yields more force, and will likely echo in many chambers for some time. Putting Peter Gelb on notice by using the Ruth Ann episode as a springboard, which by the way validates the essential positions of the scorned soprano, may be an inflection point in this continuing struggle of sound v. sex at the Met:

Singing must come first in opera, and Mr. Gelb has emphasized that he of all people understands this. But if his determination to raise the dramatic impact of opera has caused him to undervalue a singer as fine as the soprano Ruth Ann Swenson, then Mr. Gelb may be going too far in his campaign to make the Met a hotspot of musical drama.
The piece goes on to identify a possible solution to the dilemma, which is that the Met should engage imaginative directors who can turn fine singers (some "built like linebackers") into acceptable actors. I agree with this suggestion. The other path towards "theatricality", the now infamous Covent Garden approach (i.e., make the little black dress and engage that soprano who can "move" best in it), is clearly not the best way.

However, the article walked carefully around the fundamental problem as I see it. The axiom "singing comes first in opera" may itself be under siege. In
Charlie Rose, Gelb himself said (my own transcription):
The Met board understood that, as great an institution as the Met has been, and it's generally regarded certainly as the greatest opera company in the country if not in the world, that it wasn't enough in the last years to rely just upon musical excellence. The Met is the most musically excellent of all opera companies, with great tradition with the wonderful orchestra ... It's really the envy of the opera world, and the Met is also known as the house of the greatest singers, the deepest casting; and in any given night or week, the greatest opera stars are at the Met.

But what the Met has not been able to deal with in recent years has been a need to kind of reinvent itself. And this is not an indictment of the past, but merely a truth of today, which is that when you're dealing with an ageing artform, which opera is, it has to be approached with a very modern, extraenergetic fashion. And opera has to be treated both as a theatrical as well as a musical artistic event.
Gelb has been very consistent in emphasizing that "theatrical" considerations are co-equal with "musical" values in the production of a perfect operatic experience. In every single interview, this is the one point he's sure to make. I grant that this concept has legitimate academic appeal, but its application to real world scenarios can be problematic. The "balance" between theatrical and musical values can never be fully realized in many situations, because there will always be demands coming from both sides, often squarely contradictory, that will require painful compromise to resolve. It is impossible to serve two masters, and that sort of thing. Some may not agree with the "singing first" axiom to begin with, and for them these may be welcome developments. But for folks like me who don't cringe at the word "museum", who actually enjoy things like "the voice", and who hold "musical excellence" as the summit of our best dreams, our worst fears are beginning to play out on our most cherished stage.

09 April 2007

Not in my house

I'm sorry I missed this year's Met Council Auditions Finals, but juicy accounts (via JSU and Maury) report of very promising female voices that will likely work their way into the rosters of many great opera companies ... uhm, except perhaps the Met, which Peter Gelb insists, in every interview he's given (up to the most recent, with Charlie Rose) is a place where "theatrical" considerations are at par with "musical" values. ("Theatrical" of course being code for "slim figure, glossy face", or equally "gastric bypass." BREAKING: it's also code for "facelift".)

[Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]

05 April 2007

Another casualty of Gelb

This morning I found this thunderbolt on the top of the first Arts page of the NYT. Needing to drop the paper every few lines to pace the room and breathe, I'm sick to my stomach. I'm trembling. I won't even be able to comment on this for a while.

Brava Ruth Ann! You've been a marvelous singer all these years: among your most memorable roles, I single out the ones I've enjoyed the most: your true Adina (cf. the recent gala fakery), your thrilling Lucia, and your affecting Violetta. You are very brave. Your hometown fans support you.

Meanwhile, the book sent out by the Met to announce their coming season has Natalie Dessay on the cover, looking heroin-chic in a "little white dress" for the new production of
Lucia di Lammermoor. Swenson's declaration "I think I'm not skinny enough for him" stabs me right in frailest section of the heart.

04 April 2007

Met Gala Idols

RANDY: "Dawg, keepin it real, it wasn't good for me dawg. The Mimi was good, I liked it, but the Manon was not comin' together. And the Adina, that was pitchy, dawg. And you, man, there's something wrong, man. Your Nemorino, I'm not feelin' it."

PAULA: "Like, I'm really proud of you, to sing like that with a lot of heart. I like that. Not your best performance, but you tried your best, I know it. Maybe you picked the wrong songs. And maybe you oversang a bit. But I like the energy. And the chemistry, it's so real. And guys, you look great!"

SIMON: "Donizetti must be turning in his grave tonight. Really mediocre performances. Very bad vocal. You sounded hoarse and pushed, and you there just sounded dreadful. It was like bad karaoke performed by someone's drunken mom and dad during a wedding on a cruise ship. I don't know if you are really ready for this stage of the game."

RYAN: (to Simon) "Shut up and just come out, fag."

[via Sirius]

UPDATE: Sieglinde should note that (a) she was home eavesdropping via Sirius, (b) she participated in the wonderful parterre chat at Chez Cieca, where (c) nearly all expressed disappointment with the 'trainwreck' of a gala, and (d) after having listened to the recording again this morning, with rested ears, she's not revising her impressions. However, in the interest of balance (huh?), she notes that reports coming from people who were in house are much more positive. Maury says "L'elisir was when it all came together. Villazon's vocal troubles apparently vanished, and Netrebko sounded about the best I've ever heard her." In Opera-L, a well-respected poster says, after detailing his Manon creds (from Moffo to Fleming): "I cannot imagine a better Manon until Netrebko last night." This is odd, but not entirely a surprise. There are widely-acknowledged limitations of such radio transmissions, whose compression can be severe and can truncate parts of the 'timbre' and dynamic spectra that make the voice sparkle and mystify. Another limitation is the mics' suspect ability to capture and relay charm and sex appeal, qualities gaining more prominence in the operatic arena than ever before.

03 April 2007


1. Pair has been chosen; tickets have been sent by mail.

2. This morning, my partner needed some music for his novel class, which is currently reading Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. There's a meaningful scene in the opera house. He wanted to set up today's discussion by playing some of the music from Gounod's Faust, the opera in question, specifically a recording of the duet between Marguerite and Faust, "Laisse-moi, laisse-moi contempler." Out of all the recordings I own, the duet I chose was from the radio broadcast of the Met on tour in Boston on April 6, 1940. Richard Crooks was the Faust and Helen Jepson the Marguerite. They imbued the duet with a kind of elegance rare in today's crop of verismo-styled singers. Crooks in particular poured such a serene sweetness, more breathed than sung-- made me wonder how anyone in the audience could have heard him at all. It's just transcendent.

3. Tonight, the Netrebazon Gala to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Met at Lincoln Center. I'm not there; I'll tune in via Sirius; Sieglinde liveblogging highly unlikely. But there's a livechat at parterre, hosted by Mama Cieca.

02 April 2007

01 April 2007

M4M blind date at the opera


I just posted this ad on craigslist:

I have an entire 4-seat balcony box (nice view, great sound) for the season premiere of the opera GIULIO CESARE at the Metropolitan Opera this Friday, April 6. I won't be able to attend, and none of my friends could make it, so I thought of a fun thing to do with the tickets:

I'm looking to match up two guys for a 'blind' date. Here's the deal: I'd like to give away this 4-seat box for the evening, for free, but I'm only looking for TWO guys to share the box, in the interest of comfort and privacy. If you're interested in going to this wonderful revival of a Handel masterpiece, and would like to possibly meet a nice guy, a potential friend (or possibly more?) with similar interests, then all you need to do is:

(a) send me a short e-mail describing yourself, your interests, your stats, whatever you feel like including in your personal description.
(b) then tell me what kind of guy you're interested in meeting, as a potential new friend, or more ... the more specific, the better, of course.
(c) Because this is happening in less than a week, I need to hear from you by Tuesday morning, at the latest, so I can send the tickets out by mail in time for Friday.

I promise to do the following:

(a) Out of all the responses, I'll find the best matching pair. I will not guarantee that you'll meet your one true soulmate or anything, but I'll try my best.
(b) I will NEVER reveal to anyone else, nor publish in any blog, any information about the winning pair, which box they're located, or any other piece of info that can identify them to anyone else in the universe.
(c) I will not divulge any info about the other replies that didn't get chosen. Your e-mails will be acknowledged with an e-mail response, and will be DELETED forever. Really, I have no interest in making more out of this than to give two guys a great time at the opera.
(c) For the winning couple, I will not ask about how the 'date' turned out. It's your choice if you want to keep it private. I'd of course be DYING to know how it turns out, but any info is entirely voluntary, and will be kept as privileged info.

SERIOUS REPLIES ONLY. And no, this is NOT an April Fools prank.

(Sieglinde's Diaries)
I repeat: this is not an April Fools stunt, and I will not speak about this, in this blog or with anyone, unless I have express permission from the participants (winning or otherwise). You can either e-mail me via craigslist, or directly at: castadivanyc (at) gmail.com.

UPDATE: I received more e-mails than I expected, thank you all for taking me seriously. (I mean, if I come across this kind of thing in some blog, I'd probably have a chuckle and move on without any thought of participating just because I've been raised Catholic and suspicious.) There are a few pairing possibilities, and I expect to e-mail the 'winning' couple tonight. A number of e-mails asked (a) why I'm only inviting 2 to a box of 4 (or why not 2 couples, the more the merrier), and (b) why only gay men. Well folks, have you sat in one of those balcony boxes? There's really only enough space for three grown people to have sightlines (and legroom) that don't involve Cirque du Soleil-type contortions. A pair of couples is an intriguing idea, filled with possibilities and permutations, but that would also require a more sophisticated algorithm for selecting the 'winners', and there are just too many more things that can go wrong, so no to that suggestion. And finally, a big duh in response to the second question. I don't have the first idea about what lesbians really mean when they say "attractive" or "muscular", and as far as single straight people hooking up at the OPERA-- I mean, can such a thing really happen.