31 August 2007

OMG! Metropolitan Opera is in my extended network!

So excited to be, like, a few nutjobs separated from the Met, but somewhat disappointed that it's "Female, 21 years old". Which is odd, because it's always swarming with fags. But whatever, Met and me, friends forevah!

Update: I got another friend named "Met Opera", a bit more mature (41) but still female.

30 August 2007

"I wanna be a producer ..."

A podcast interview with Peter Gelb from Chautauqua begins with a recitation of our general manager's extensive pre-Met accomplishments (Emmys and that sort of thing) by the interviewer Jay Lesenger, general manager of the Chautauqua Opera. This is followed by this comment from Gelb:

"All of the qualifications you read off do not include ever having run an opera house, which is why when I was appointed to run the Met, it was something of a shock to the opera world. And the Met patrons and observers of the Met were somewhat concerned about had to be convinced that I was going to be a benign influence on the opera."
Couldn't you see the smirk on his face as he utters the word benign? He then spends the rest of the 15-minute interview detailing how he singlehandedly rescues opera, that "aging art form," from certain oblivion and eventual death ("the writing on the wall"). The crux of his governing philosophy is no secret, and he repeats it, more bluntly, here:
"The biggest mistake that a head of an opera company or a symphonic orchestra could make is to believe that just because the music has stood the test of time, that the audiences will be satisfied without some kind of changes. And therefore my appoach to running the Met is really as a producer, somebody who is looking at the artistic and the audience development at the same time. It serves no good purpose at all to run an opera house like the Met, one of the largest opera houses in the world with 3800 seats, if one is not constantly thinking about how we are going to fill those seats."
There's really nothing in this Gelb interview that we haven't heard before. What may be different is that he's no longer checking his bluster these days. There is now a more obvious self-congratulatory swagger in his every response. With the kind of box office success he's been enjoying of late, it's perfectly understandable. Our only concern stems from that one little axiom about box office numbers and quality being uncorrelated (true of just about anything you could think of), at times even diametric. We won't know the true price of all this for a while.

29 August 2007

I am the agent of your sweet procrastination ...

... and you are mine. Now that that's out of the way, I point you to an ingenious new toy called wikiscanner, a tool to detect and expose evil in the net, this time in the form of coordinated assaults of your beloved wikipedia by partisans and corporations. (Don't try too hard to look surprised.) So, for instance, simply enter the name of the company or organization ("Metropolitan Opera") and then put check marks on their IP ranges (check both), and voila, you got yourself a list of wiki-edits that have been initiated from the computers of the specified company (the Met). In truth, the Met list is pretty boring (ugh), when compared to Philip Morris's or Exxon's for instance. Was I fearing/hoping for multiple edits of Peter Gelb's wikientry. But you only have to spot the persistence of quotes like

to know Gelb's wiki hasn't been actioned by his tech-savvy media team (yet?). So, back to the list (click on the "diff" column to see the details of each particular edit): there's your usual obscure Anna Russell edit; the obligatory Arctic roll edit ("sometimes called Icebox Cake in the United States"); the prissy lecture on vocal types ("heldentenors include USHER?! Usher will most-certainly never sing Siegfried or Florestan"); and the addition of a couple of jokes ("What do violinists use for birth control? Their personalities.") It really only gets interesting when you come to the Kristin Chenoweth edit. I'm not going to quote the added line so I don't propagate it in perpetuity (click on it yourself), but it's safe to say that someone at the Met Opera Guild really, really hates her annoying chirpy personality. (Oops, did I just say that.)

OK, that's it. Now get back to work.

28 August 2007

Mom, she's all over my tickets!

What supreme pressure. To be on ALL the tickets for the entire season. If she ever cancels one Lucia, we'd all be like "the gall to still show up on my ticket!" Months into the season, we'd be reminded of her performance every time we pull our tickets out at the door. Natalie Dessay shall still be there, looking all heroine-chic in a madness of off-white and a touch of cobweb. I would like to see her succeed, of course. But bel canto, a fiercely followed subcult, has an especially luminous and familiar lineage, their disciples vicious and unforgiving. Ruth Ann Swenson, our spurned bel cantist and the last authentic practitioner to grace our stage (I'm skipping over Futral, much as I love her), had ... excuse me Mr. Gelb, has the stuff to pull it off. I know Dessay has that stuff too, but I fear in the same way that Voigt has the stuff to do Italian roles. If anything, her challenge would be to imbue the voice with air of (latin) vulnerability, a quality I've yet to fully sense in anything of her I've heard thus far (including a Sonnambula in 2001, my one La Scala visit). All this is putting the mad scene before the love duet, I admit, so feel free to sniff and move along. But the Met has chosen to exult her ascendance with the a kind of omnipresence that ad agencies deploy for sneakers and diet soda, and so expectations can only be high. I mean, she's on all my tickets, what can I say.

[Oh, I'm seeing it five times; there's Giordani, Massis, and Filianoti to check out too, after all.]

27 August 2007

Just as good as any

Synopsis: La Bohème

Act I
Lucia, a consumptive seamstress called Mimi, comes upstairs to get a light from the poet Rodolfo. They fall in love.

Act II
Everyone except Alcindoro has a good time at the Café Momus on Christmas Eve.

Mimi and Rodolfo don't separate.

Act IV
Mimi dies.
Other curious synopses I've found so far: La Traviata and Madama Butterfly. The full list of operas are here. Many external links are no longer working (paging whoever-- stop downloading Gruberova pirates and go back to work, please), but it's worth a half-hour of indoor amusement on this humid Monday afternoon.

25 August 2007


How easy it is to critique, but it's actually just as easy to say thanks: Sieglinde is here, now, in full face, to thank Met General Manager Peter Gelb for lowering the price of my admission to the opera. Seats in the balcony and family circle boxes, $26 and $21 two years ago, have been $15 for weekday performances since Gelb took the majestic helm. (I could hear bravos! from the family circle as well, which has seen a similar delightful plunge from $26 to $15.) Thank you, Mr. Gelb. I'd like to say that I'm a few bucks wealthier every night I'm at the opera, but it turns out that I'm parlaying the difference on more nights at the opera.

Or, more accurately, more planned nights. Since the Met has opened up all tickets to the entire season for sale, this has meant looking far ahead through the ice of winter and out into spring of '08, and projecting how I would feel about two Bohemes here and a Clemenza there (after persisting through a stack of Walkueres and Tristans). Nevermind creating possible conflicts with work and friends' birthdays and influenza (and that human curse of fatigue): the relentless buzz generated by the Gelb marketing machine, and a bit ironically the lowered cheap seat prices, have the potential to sell out more evenings and thereby dare operaddicts to buy a larger bulk of tickets than usual, more than a month before Dessay flirts with "Regnava nel silencio" (in her own cold way) on opening night. I doubt that I will make it to all my 50+ evenings.

Undeniably, all these innovations have been designed to sell more tickets, earlier and faster. (Witness the crowds on that fateful Sunday, and another record broken.) Adding the upper side boxes into the subscription rolls, and conjuring more mini-subscription combinations, are two other reasons for the increase in sales--albeit minor, these affect Sieglinde and Lois most significantly. That increased demand causes further increase in demand isn't foreign to me (my research sometimes deals with such beautiful differential equations): I bow to these natural cycles with reverence: I admire the textbook skills of the MBAs who have conjured the conditions for it; I'm suspicious, but remain secretly hopeful; I watch the clock as it marks the gray hours that lie listlessly between now and that time when I turn my ticket in and enter the darkness, shut up, and listen awestruck to that wounding sound come from the soprano's soul.

But yeah, thank you, Peter Gelb.

23 August 2007

Mass (culture) marketing

Peter Gelb's seven part plan to rescue opera from certain death, as outlined in a business blog article "Making Opera Cool" (filed under "Branding"):

1. Develop informal and audience outreach (get feedback from customers)
2. Increase the number of new productions from 4 to 7 or 8 (increase product offerings)
3. Put a greater emphasis on more performances with the greatest singers (highlighting most popular products and services)
4. Perform contemporary work on a regular basis to expand the repertoire (bring product line up to date and include items that appeal to a younger audience)
5. Produce an annual holiday entertainment for families that does not diminish high results (invite your customers in for a special sale, one day event)
6. Rebuild ties with the art world (reach out to vendors and like-minded businesses for partnerships where possible)
7. Take advantage of modern media technology (what is your Internet Marketing strategy?)

The result? He took a business with a negative sales trend year on year to an increase in audience participation of 7% and subscriptions up 11%. He also had a huge increase in sold out performances.

He is successfully taking a musical art form thought to be for the aged and making it cool, contemporary and desired.

Can you use any of Gelb's seven part plan for your business

22 August 2007

Hooting hooters

I'm probably the last blogger to cite the Times interview with Anna Netrebko, but the Diaries will cease to be the Diaries if I let this one slip:

My voice has doubled in the past few years. It started suddenly to be bigger, because I was using the microphone between my tits!
I love this quote so much that I'm elevating it to my title banner (see above). How refreshingly unselfconscious, how marvelously unpredictable and spicy she is. You just have to read the entire interview (perhaps twice) to believe ... It's not out of the realm of possibility for Sieglinde to adore this kind of Anna. Too bad there's the little matter of the singing that has to get in the way of our complete communion.

(That odd whirring sound you hear is the universe clicking back into place.)

Ticket fever

The Metropolitan Opera has a new record-- in opening-day sales.

Sales topped $2.08 million, a 25 percent increase over last season's opening-day sales of $1.66 million, after the box office opened to the general public Sunday, said Met spokeswoman Sommer Hixson. Sales on the Internet this year were nearly 50 percent higher than last year ...

Hixson attributed the robust box office to the new leadership of general manager Peter Gelb and the announcement earlier this year that the Met will be presenting seven new productions in the new season. That is the most new productions at the Met in any one season since the nine in 1966-67, the company's first season at Lincoln Center.

Hixson also cited a number of marketing and advertising initiatives, including an ad campaign on subways and buses and the live Times Square telecast of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," which opened the season last year.
No snide remarks here this time. (Perhaps.) Only warm congratulations to Peter Gelb for figuring out a way to make opera popular once more. The soundness of his new formula is being proven by every conceivable statistic, including Sieglinde's initial pre-season ticket count (83 for her and her family and friends). Indeed, this is an historic shift in the footing of opera in the mass cultural arena. Opera is the new Louis Vuitton knockoff. We all just gotta have it.

17 August 2007

OK, let the season commence

To the riddle I posted last night:

What's 5 1/2" long, 2" wide, 3/4" thick, and holds the promise of unbearable ecstasy?
the answer is:

Got my share of the fun yesterday!


(Not worrying about how to pay back Mastercard just yet. I'm still enjoying fanning myself with the thick wad (ahem). And devising other fun things to do with a thick wad.)

16 August 2007


What's 5 1/2" long, 2" wide, 3/4" thick, and holds the promise of unbearable ecstasy?

"Wish you were here"

Thanks to the digital camera, one can postpone the experience of contact with a work of art to another place at another time. Many do. I've made it a policy to spend much, much more time gazing at a piece than reading its caption or the guidebook. I did observe a number of "digital-shotgun" museum visitors who saw the great halls mostly through their camera viewfinder. It's nearly as interesting to observe what people do in museums as to look at the art objects themselves. The Louvre, the most visited museum in the world, is an extreme case. Thanks to The Da Vinci Code, it's only going to be more popular. There's even an audioguide, fully sanctioned by the museum:

Tickets, etc.

Yes, Sieglinde's been decidedly mum about her arrangements for this coming Met season. But she has quite a bit to say about it, particularly about the 'innovations' that the Gelb regime has instituted, ostensibly to distinguish itself further from the oh-so-20th-century Volpe years. She'll open her big mouth once she gets her tickets. But first off, have you gays seen the new Single Ticket Calendar? More of a booklet now than a calendar, it can no longer hang conveniently on the tackboard by the old work desk. That blows. It was the calendar of my entire life, used to plan out dinners with friends and trips to sunnier places-- never mind that Sundays weren't indicated. Now it's just another mall catalogue. And the page layout of the months, more cluttered-- used to be that the names of the operas were in boldface, making them easily scannable on the page. Now they're hiding in italics. I could go on. But I need to use this energy to organize myself and plan out the entire season. The entire season! (Mumbling: Volpe at least had the courtesy of dividing the season into two ticket sale blocs, which gave working class folks like me some credit relief. Now, by selling tickets for the entire season, it's become about generating great fear of being shut out of sold out evenings in order to induce one into giving the Met a huge lumpsum of high-interest Mastercard money more than a month before the season prima, some for performances in April and May that will probably see 4 or 5 cast changes, based on the current rate ... Get them to commit early and often-- indeed a stroke of business brilliance, Mr. Gelb. But really not that nice.) I'm stressed, gotta go.

15 August 2007

Silver lining

"I sing by sensation and I think that's important because the acoustics will change no matter where you are, whatever practice room you are in, whatever concert hall you're in. But, yeah, there have been times in the course of the whole experience when I don't feel as engaged in my abdominal muscles as I'd like, because there's not so much weight there any more.

"Has that resulted in some sort of change in the quality of the instrument? I can't hear it. I sometimes think my voice sits a little bit higher than it used to. But then I turn around and nail the low notes in the Marschallin, say, in Der Rosenkavalier, which I performed at Vienna State Opera last year. So, it's no longer golden? Maybe it's silver; I can't say."

CNN takes a stand

One of the cons of programming a festival of this kind (Tuscan Sun Festival) is that the stage is content-hungry. It requires the services of many artists. And when cancellations occur strictly through natural events -- illness, family emergencies and so on -- they can appear to be more frequent than they are because performances are clustered into a weeks-long format.

Many concertgoers who made the hike up to this mountaintop town for the fifth anniversary of the festival may have been disappointed when violinist Joshua Bell and then soprano Anna Netrebko canceled.

But then there are more pros: On Monday night, the the ailing Netrebko was replaced by the better-known and acclaimed Cecilia Bartoli.

14 August 2007

Breaking (sort of): Alagna bags Netrebko (again)

Roberto Alagna is replacing tenor Rolando Villazon in the first two performances of the Metropolitan Opera's revival of Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette" next month.

Alagna will sing in the Sept. 25 and Sept. 29 performances opposite soprano Anna Netrebko. She canceled concerts in Austria and Italy this month because of laryngitis.

Matthew Polenzani will sing Dec. 27 and Dec. 31. The Met didn't announce a replacement for the Oct. 3, Oct. 6 and Oct. 11 performances.

Villazon remains scheduled for the Dec. 15 matinee, to be broadcast on the radio, simulcast in movie theaters and recorded for television.
My suspicion is that Peter Gelb came across this racy Netrebko-Alagna Manon clip and found himself a perfect (West) Hollywood solution to the current Villazon longterm illness drama. I mean, who doesn't like porn, right? Expect lots of borderline-X skin on skin action on that floating-in-the-heavens Romeo bed. Or your money back.

[Alternative headline: Netrebko to do Juliette and three Romeos.]

Hollywood movie sellout

The Metropolitan Opera plans to expand still further its live high-definition simulcasts into movie theaters around the world for the 2007-8 season, potentially tripling the audience for these broadcasts to an estimated one million viewers.

“In the movie-theater industry, this is one of the talked-about events of last season,” said Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. “For the first time, alternative content can actually command an audience ...”

We’ve created the opera equivalent of the Hollywood movie roll-out,” he said, citing the now standard trajectory of a studio film from movie theaters to pay-per-view to DVD to television. “We’re in negotiation with In Demand, the lead supplier of pay-per-view to cable networks,” he said, “and there is every expectation we will conclude an agreement with them in the next few weeks.” PBS has also renewed its commitment to feature the broadcasts, and five will ultimately be released as DVDs under the Met’s new agreement with EMI.
OK, so to complete the whole blockbuster Hollywood movie thing, all the Met needs to do now is to cast excessively telegenic Hollywood-type faces and bodies ... oh wait, too late.

High notes

This was the Divina plane that took us to Vienna. [The ride was mostly smooth, a tad bumpy at high altitudes, but the coloratura remained unparalleled.] While we're on the subject, this clip of Anna Netrebko doing "Casta Diva" should put all Maria Callas comparisons to rest.

13 August 2007

Dept. of Sieglinde's Back in America

It's so cheap and easy to take digital pictures-- but when it comes time to sort through them, to perhaps fashion some sort of public album of your better shots, then it sucks that it's so cheap and easy. So I took 1,823 pictures: quite an excess of old buildings and ancient streets shot from below, most of which won't survive the edit; many pictures of "slow food" food on plates; sweet and patient J. decoding guidebooks and city maps in various poses; and gawky images of Raphaels, da Vincis, Titians, Veroneses, Caravaggios ... and certainly the St. Sebastians in various S&M poses. In Vienna, there is La Divina Bar, referring to none other than La Divina herself. The Austrian Airlines shuttle plane we took from Copenhagen had the name "Maria Callas" painted on the fuselage by the entrance door. I didn't know she was that big with Austrians in particular ... YES, it was indeed strange for Sieglinde to be at the great centers of opera when opera houses were all "chiuso per ferie". (No, I didn't make it to Salzburg.) I thought I'd be alright with it, but with each little reminder the regret deepened. Walking around Trieste, we came across a plaque on some random building where Verdi had once lived. So we took some espresso from an antique cafe across the street where I imagined he also sat, a century and a half ago, poring over his Stiffelio score.

Nessun dorma

Mr. Giuliani, an avid opera fan, said he would keep arias out of his campaign repertoire.

“I don’t think the crowds are ready for me to pick out who is singing ‘Nessun dorma,’ whether it is Plácido Domingo or Luciano Pavarotti,” he said recently in an interview in Sioux City, Iowa. “But I can do it. It is one of the things I can do.”
How about picking out truth from fiction, can you do that? (Would be amusing to have someone in the White House actually know what an aria is ... but no thanks, really.)

Update: Speaking of arias and the White House, I've recently come across a set of YouTube videos of the great Leontyne Price singing for President Carter and the nation (via PBS) in 1978. By that time, her quirky mannerisms (which I find thoroughly charming) had been fully installed, but the golden sheen could still be discerned. And the pure joy in her singing, truly singular, remained-- this is why I love her and long for her.