31 May 2007

Movies go to the opera

Is this some kind of joke?

A pilot program that features high-definition video viewing of close-up, mid-range and full stage ensemble shots of the performance on stage will be tested at every (SF Opera) Don Giovanni performance this summer. Two 6' by 9' retractable screens, complete with supertitles, will be hung from the ceiling on both sides of the balcony, offering patrons in the Balcony Front level and above a whole new way to experience opera.
It's now perfectly clear that Gockley's out to outGelb Gelb. But really, wtfffff is going on. (Meanwhile: people, can't Sieglinde get any rest?)

La sonnambula

Now back to our regularly scheduled mini-hiatus.

Momentarily out of commission. But don't celebrate just yet; Sieglinde'll be back shortly.

26 May 2007

Hit by pitch

He thinks it's better to see an opera on the big screen than live. David Gockley's answer Peter Gelb's popcorn and soda? Peanuts and cracker jacks:

San Francisco Opera will simulcast Camille Saint-Saëns’s “Samson and Delilah” (the Biblical story taking place in Gaza and the Vale of Sorek) to the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park. No double-header, the live telecast, featuring Clifton Forbis as Samson and Olga Borodina as Delilah, will take place in the ballpark beginning at 8 p.m. on Sept. 28.

Gockley said he's "very excited" about expanding the simulcasts. "I'm so happy to say we're moving ahead with this," he said. "We started a year ago, prior to the Met's broadcasts. They have really jumped out in a major way, and I don't know if we can keep pace step by step, but we're certainly going to try to find our niche."

23 May 2007

Memorial Day weekend, summer looms, I'm afloat in the Gulf, seaweed in my hair.

22 May 2007

WOW. (I have yet to see it though.)

"It's great to be in an all-male cast. It's sort of like being on a sports team, an athletic meritocracy -- a very different dynamic from a mixed cast.

The women in the stage crew like it, too. We're easy to order around.

When it comes to certain scenes where I'm disrobed, or love scenes, I just do it and seem to get a lot of attention. I'm a fairly athletic guy. In some ways it helps the art form for new audiences to see something they're used to in life, and that opera singers don't always look the way you expect.

When it comes to finding out what people are saying about me, we have a rule in our house -- my children can never Google daddy. It's a good rule, in general, and I follow it myself."

21 May 2007

[So my blog is currently "worth" $25,968.84 ... For a few seconds I thought of cashing in, but decided I'd miss the hatemail too much, so no.]

Adventures in family circle.

... but there's another way to stop his breathing, you know. It's kinda permanent though, so you may end up in jail. Nevermind.

20 May 2007





e.e. cummings, 95 Poems (1958)

Re: the snub that didn't involve a little black dress. If you were music director of a minor regional opera company, and had the chance to book an international star for three out of four performances of an opera, would you? Sort of a no-brainer, but this was the reason given for "going in a different direction": "I didn't and do not believe in having a superstar for three performances, and then try to find someone to sing one performance for one of our heaviest subscribed audiences." Was there more to this than that?

18 May 2007

Go see a movie or something

On the topic currently occupying Sieglinde's deepest thoughts, Diva Renee Fleming sounds off:

"There's no question that it's becoming more and more important, the visual over the musical. I think that's dangerous. I don't want the audience to forget what great singing is and be too focused on how people look. That does concern me. I don't think that's a reactionary statement, because I think in great singing and great music are the real rewards. Because otherwise, go to the theatre, go see a movie–you know what I mean?"

I don't always get vicious hate e-mail, sometimes I get smartly written hate e-mail too. (Perhaps I'll publish a few of them here some time, when I run out of things to say?) But this one is neither. A midtwenties American soprano currently studying and working in Austria reflects on things currently on Sieglinde's mind (and blog):

"What everyone is missing is the fact that the acting that is really necessary for opera is not external; it is primarily internal. I sing, as I have mentioned. I sang for Barbara Bonney this past weekend. When I tried to act and move around, she gave me a weird look (well, I am still learning). Then I stood still and focussed on the sound. I sounded a million times better AND more expressive.

So, now with the HD stuff and DVDs, live opera not only has to compete with recordings, but with MOVIES! People think it´s boring to watch an opera singer stand still and produce waves of miraculous sound? Then pay for something else!

As far as paying for acting lessons, many opera singers say that this would have been their downfall. Acting is a natural side effect in opera. Anyone can act a little. It is human; it is part of society. I know that opera has to evolve with the changing world, but it´s very soul is being challenged by the superficial demands of the age. Singing comes from INSIDE the singers. What is outside is as relevant as the finish on a violin. Sure, we all like a gorgeous soprano or a hot tenor, but this, like the acting, is a side effect and not more."

17 May 2007


I do not now cast for the movies, nor do I ever intend to,” said Speight Jenkins, the general director of the Seattle Opera. Mr. Jenkins praised the (Met) simulcasts, which appeared in towns outside Seattle, as a way of exposing more people to the art form, but like other officials he stressed that the best opera experience was a live one.


David Gockley, general director of the San Francisco Opera, sat in a movie theatre and watched a live broadcast of Puccini's "Il Trittico" from the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

"I sent an e-mail to Peter Gelb," he said a few weeks later. "I said, 'I respond to this better than actually being in a live theatre because the sound is so good, the camera work is so good and it focuses you on the essence of what makes performances great.' "
[Et tu, David?]

Money quote:

"The day of a Luciano Pavarotti or a Placido Domingo selling out a performance on their own is no more. The future of opera is going to be secured through presenting combinations of star artists, an attractive repertoire and acclaimed directors."
$aith our impre$ario. In other word$, you're f*cked if you think the voice alone can $ell this product we call 'opera'. And that'$ Peter Gelb, folk$.

Peter Gelb, the company’s general manager, said he expects the number of people who attend live Met performances in movie houses next season to match the cumulative audience for all 225 performances in the Met auditorium: about 800,000 people. Mr. Gelb also said he expects the series to make a profit, a word not often heard in the opera world.
Succeeding seasons will likely see more movie viewers than actual bodies in the Met auditorium. Which brings us to our trivia question: guess which constituency Gelb will cater to more and more. (The first traditionalist to e-mail Sieglinde with the correct answer wins a prize: a pack of beef jerky for the next Met simulcast.)

16 May 2007

This is the view from the Met's family circle standing room. Up here, the acoustics are unparalleled. (It's so good, Leontyne's pianissimos have been reported to still be sliding around the rounded corners of the space.) The ceiling undulates gently like organic membranes (see picture above), reflecting every wave of sound emanating from the stage in full to my ears. The African rainforest wood surrounding the side boxes resonates on many frequencies with the voice so naturally to surround me in its complexity. The orchestra sound, tamed at this distance, comes to me as a blended liquid, as the voice, still complete, arches directly, creating a comfortable contrast. The result is a marvelous, full sound that may be better than the sonic shrapnel hitting the seats in the orchestra level. Even a small voice can be heard, and it's a remarkable thing. If you think Baroque does not belong in the cavernous Met auditorium, try the family circle standing room next time, and you'll realize just how BS that conventional wisdom is.

[My secret fantasy today: the Norma is Dolora Zajick, her Adalgisa Stephanie Blythe.]

15 May 2007

About the Met at the Multiplex, Alex Ross writes:

No sooner did the H.D. phenomenon take off than opera traditionalists started worrying that the technology would distort musical values. They have forecast a dire era of photographable faces and forgettable voices mixed with outbreaks of crossover kitsch. The danger certainly exists ... but I’m guessing that the broadcasts will ultimately favor singers who can sing and act, rather than those who simply look good on posters.
If only the two were the only choices. How about a singer who sings well but can't act? Another singer who sings very well but can't act and is fat? Would Gelb's operatives choose either of them over the said "singer who simply looks good on posters"? I'm not so sure. So Ross suggests:
If, as rumor has it, some Met veterans are investing in plastic surgery and crash diets, they’d do better to buy acting lessons.
But if holistic "acting" for the big screen places a premium on the actual physical body and face as much as on movement and gesture (as compared to the in-house experience, where many seats are a city block away), then perhaps acting lessons in the end won't be able to overcome the increasing tendency for the Hollywood kind of physical "truth" implicitly desired by these simulcasts. Therefore some money may ultimately be needed to erase the eyebags off the aging Butterfly, or to suck out the extra poundage from the Rubenesque Mimi. These are extreme examples, certainly, but the sad reality is that they are less extreme today than they were just a season ago.

(Not) the end

No, I didn't fall off the edge of the family circle standing room. It's probably just the crossing into the open void of summer, out of the dark box and into the sun, that's causing this funk. But a mini-funk, rest assured. I got many things to say regarding the last two Met things I saw on the last day of the season, from an unfamiliar but altogether refreshing perch: the Orfeo matinee, which blew me away for the second time, and the Tabarro and Suor Angelica duo that evening, skipping out on the inane Schicchi (a.k.a. Barbiere without coloratura, doubly cursed). I just had to call it a season with Barbara Frittoli's piercing "Salvami! Salvami!" that also ends Angelica's life, and so in these intervening days I've been haunted by the deathful chords that surround it, while spring is wrapping the city in a soft cotton shirt, and while walking around the city in the open light I'm also uttering "Salvami, salvami" to myself and to this cleansing spring.

12 May 2007

So this morning, at around 9:55am, I camp out in front of my laptop, navigate to the Saturday evening Trittico at the Met site, and begin to hit 'reload' on the browser every few seconds. At 10:00am, the standing room tickets promptly go online. Because of my superior keyboard dexterity, I'm able to snag a front row orchestra standing room ticket (front row!). The website is giving me 15 minutes to complete the transaction (plenty of time!). I think I hit the jackpot. But I think too soon. A couple of pages down the process, at the point where I'm asked to enter my bio-data, I can't get past an error message. Pain starts. While moving back and forth on the browser, I see my 15 minutes dwindle to 9, to 6, to 4 ... to 2, to 1. At 10:15am, seething, I end up with this apology (click to enlarge):

F*, f*, f*, f*.

11 May 2007

As Suor Angelica, Barbara Frittoli is absolutely riveting. Her voice, balancing right on the cusp of fraying, struggles through Puccini's music with a fitting mixture of brown earth and polished stone, to form a memorably vivid, human response. As it scales upward, the lachrymose voice opens up tentatively, seeming to falter at every step yet always ending up miraculously on the written note. That kind of tension thrills me like no other. The soprano is finite, but refuses to surrender.

09 May 2007

The Orfeo at the Met was beautiful. Loved it. (Will try to elbow for a standing room ticket Saturday. End-of-season exhaustion notwithstanding, it's one of those 'can't get enough' situations.)

“I love women. I love beautiful women and I think the women’s body is very sexy and erotic. But I prefer men. I can play whatever you want but I don’t know if I can really, really be with a woman. But in the future who knows!” -Anna Netrebko

Angela Gheorghiu is much prettier than me” -Anna Netrebko

"I'm not obsessed with Anna Netrebko. No." -Sieglinde

[Visitors from out of town; spring spilling over; Season wrapping up; busy, busy, busy.]

07 May 2007

Now only 200 miles away from the Met (and closing?):

This little post is not about Anja Silja, so I won't continue to insist that she be included in the Rysanek line of succession. This is about Catherine Malfitano, whom I think deserves such comparisons, and whom I miss terribly. She hasn't sung here in nearly five years. In the interim, she has retooled her rep to now include those juicy mama-from-hell types we all love (and want to be in our next life). We're joyed to hear of her successes elsewhere, but we'd be all about forgiving Gelb for Netrebko if he sends a Met contract Cathy's way. Here's another ecstatic review:
(Racette) was matched in intensity, perhaps exceeded, by the other star of the evening, Catherine Malfitano, who reprised her lauded performance as the Kostelnička. In a severe black dress (costumes by Jon Morrell), she is a terrifying figure, making her unraveling at the end of Act II, where she has a guilt-ridden vision of "death staring me in the face," one of the most dramatic moments of the evening.

“When you do opera, you have to know that the central force is the singing. The singing must be so strong to the public that nobody in the place asks, ‘Why are they singing?’ and that they are moved by the singing.”
Right. Now that we've gotten the customary lip service out of the way, let's see what's really juicy in today's episode of Gelb v. Mortier (via the New York Times).
High on (Gerard Mortier's) agenda is cooperating with Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, to make sure they do not duplicate efforts. He said he hopes to meet regularly with Mr. Gelb, which would be unusual for leaders of the two houses. “I want to know what he has in mind,” Mr. Mortier said.

For his part Mr. Gelb said that it would make sense “for us not to be stepping on each other’s toes artistically,” but that they would not coordinate in detail. “There’s no formal Versailles treaty,” he said. “I did not take Mozart and give him Verdi.”
The Treaty of Versailles is an interesting choice of metaphor, don't you think. Sieglinde is excited. This impending war at Lincoln Plaza may prove to be the most interesting sideshow in New York's opera scene since Anna Netrebko.

Puebla, Mexico; 21 April 2007; 5:54AM.

05 May 2007

Angela Gheorghiu grants an interview to her hometown paper on diverse topics:

On her own exemplary courage: “There’s really nowhere to escape in a solo concert. Really, to make my debut at La Scala with a recital . . . I think it was very courageous.”

On that old fart Zeffirelli: “I have a problem with many opera directors because they often don’t serve the music but just make productions about themselves. Either that, or they listen to me sing and just sit with tears in their eyes and don’t challenge me. I need to have help, and I don’t always get it.”

On her preference for blogs: “To tell you the truth, I don’t read the (print) critics.”

On sex: “I’m totally relaxed. I think it’s like a Zen state, if you like.”

On her husband Roberto Alagna's sex life: “I won’t pay for anyone else’s scandals. Are you kidding? I have enough of my own.”

On her status as her own personal God: “Being spiritual and being religious are the same for me. You must believe in something. If you believe in yourself, that gives you strength, calm, happiness.”

On Anna Netrebko: “Pop music is for the body, but opera is for the soul.” (Don't shoot the messenger!)

Anna Get Your Gun. Members of the crazy right have found another reason to adore diva Anna Netrebko. Apparently she's a "second amendment fan" (no matter that she's not American), and she likes to shoot real guns. ("Them ain't no Saturday Night Specials the lady's totin', neither.") Sieglinde is now thinking twice before posting anything less than flattering about dear Anna.

04 May 2007

Time organizes a "list of the 100 men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world." Anna Netrebko is one of them.

Opera, that gorgeous folly, has outlived the rarefied culture that once sustained it. It can't offer the high-voltage stars and sexy mass appeal that today's entertainment scene demands. Or so say its detractors. Then along comes Russian soprano Anna Netrebko ...

Netrebko's blend of vocal splendor and dramatic intensity has evoked comparisons with Maria Callas. Flattering, Netrebko says, but she wants to get to the point where she's celebrated for being herself.
Setting aside the whole discussion of just how she charmed (clawed? legged?) her way into such a list, I'd have to say that I don't see any equivalence between Netrebko and Callas at all--their personalities, their voices, their stage deportment, their careers--superficial or otherwise. It's actually easier to demonstrate just how polarly dissimilar they are, no? (What's that? One is superficial, the other not? You said it, I didn't.)

Sometimes I feel like I traded perfectly good Skittles for this obsession and ask why. It really bites. [Click on the TV commercial with the rabbit icon titled "Trade".]

01 May 2007

The (movieplex) relays are the brainchild of the Met's new general manager, Peter Gelb, or one of his innumerable brainchildren, part of a campaign both to rejuvenate the Met's audience in New York and to welcome what he calls 'the global opera community' into the fold. When I met Gelb in New York last week, I told him I'd decided that seeing The Barber in Clapham was actually better than being at the Met. 'Oh no, that's bad,' he groaned. 'We must be doing too good a job!'
Let me be the first to declare my adoration for the Met's movieplex simulcasts. I think it's one of Gelb's better ideas. But it seems this slippery slope is one that Gelb doesn't see as a slope at all. His aggressive push for "theatrical" values at all costs is consistent with the over-all campaign to sell the world pretty operatic closeups. Meanwhile, a single Saturday afternoon simulcast takes in as much revenue as many sold-out evenings at the Met combined. If rejuvenation is measured primarily by revenue, then we have a problem.
Outside, dusk is settling on Lincoln Center and the wide plaza begins buzzing with smartly dressed sexagenarians -- the stately opera house's loyal patrons. But at the moment, Gelb, who arrived as the Met's new general manager last summer with a mandate to dust off the graying institution, has his mind on another audience, and a very different type of theater.

He rattles off numbers from the loose-leaf sheet that tallies advance ticket sales for the next day's live, high-definition broadcast of Rossini's "The Barber of Seville,"...

"We're going to be well within the top 20 weekend grossing films," Gelb notes with a dry sense of wonder.

Burnout. The Met season ends; Sieglinde can barely walk up to her box. Only one Turandot, one Orfeo, and one Trittico (yes, she's seeing just one!) left, then Sieglinde'll begin her annual baseball sabbatical. She had planned on doing a Kirschenbaum this season, and she came really, really close: by season's end, she would have seen all of the Met's productions save three: the Tosca (which she sees practically every other year anyway), the First Emperor (sold-out!?! wtf) the Zauberfloete (believe it or not, she hasn't seen the Taymor yet ... ever). Yeah, she alse hates the way opera takes over like that. (OK, she'll have her epidural now.)