Monday, May 29, 2006


With all the Parsifal lately, I have been trying again to make some sense of the thing.

What the hell is it about Parsifal? One can see Tristan in it, and the Ring, and even Lohengrin for that matter. Yet there is something else so terrible and fascinating all at once. The music is the noise of the yoke around all of our necks. The sound of our horrible little existence ringing clear. I daresay there are times when I have to turn it off just to maintain an even keel.

Case in point, has music as excruciating as Kundry's in the second Act ever been written elsewhere? Somehow Wagner manages to infuse every pleasurable sound with poison, every interval with a dark underbelly, every climax becomes imperfect and rotten.

And what of the final redemption? It takes the form of the Christian redemption, yes, but Wagner strips the act of every shred of triumph usually attributed to it. All the trumpets and hosannas fall away, and we are left with the simplest indication that amidst so much pain, and wandering, there is indeed the possibility that wounds can be healed. It isn't optimism, it is simply a statement of fact.

I have had moments in the last month where the score has suddently evoked the same feeling of chills one gets in the most foreboding pieces of science fiction, say, the first Alien movie. That's not to say that Alien is the same work of art that Parsifal is, of course. But there is that same same sense of dread in the pit of one's stomach that an unknown universe is revealing itself. That a truly novel world, with rules you have yet to comprehend, is in your presence, and that it is entirely possible that this is your world after all.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


This kind of slipped by before, but after Tosca it sticks out like sore thumb. James Morris is really going to sing Sachs in next year's Meistersingers? Really? I haven't heard the video from 95 but I'm sure its fine, just as he is fine in the Ring video from 91. But it is not fine anymore, as he made abundantly clear to everyone who envied Mr. Blaine in his bubble listening to him earlier in the month. It's one thing to deal with for all of Scarpia's 25 minutes of singing, quite another to contend with it for 6 hours. Has anyone heard him do this recently? Should we be afraid?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Off topic

So, I saw Pollini live for the first time the other weekend at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, playing a program of Chopin and Liszt. It was one of those handful of moments in life when one suddenly finds oneself in possession of shocking new proof about what a human is capable of. Not impressive/mind blowing, but literally/mind blowing. He has an ability to see the structure of a piece with such clarity and foresight that one gets the giddy uncanny feeling that every note is truly in its proper place as the composer intended it.

Now, I suppose he has a rap for being 'distant', and its true that the Liszt which turns on rapture rather than structure (exhibit A being the B minor sonata) was less intoxicating. But in those pieces which fully play to his strengths of allowing you to see a work in its totality--the motherfucking oh my god out of fucking control Chopin Polonaise for instance--he is equal to none. The wonder of the thing literally brought tears to my eyes.

And PS, it should be noted that his technique is IMPECCABLE. His fingers look like the fingers you would see in a piano video for 10 year olds, yet moving an order of magnitude faster. It is virtually incomprehensible.

His *five* encores were an unmissable concert in and of themselves. He played the Transcendental Etude at least half as fast as twice as articulate I've ever heard it. The last encore, Debussy's "Cathedrale engloutie" confirmed that Pollini is as magically adept with the fast as the simple. It is difficult for one to hear his Debussy in its entirety. It requires a different sort of attention to the perfection in the value and placement of each note which one tends to take for granted. But when one hears it, it is the voice of Debussy himself.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sorry, Blog

I know. We have been bad. Things have been going down.

Parsifal was wonderful. Waltraud is a phenomenon and a bag of chips--les deux. Hep B nobly overcame his Lohengrin broadcast slips, but had a couple of questionable moments when I saw it. Rene "say hey" Pape was a divine Gurnemanz. I finally got the Thomas Hampson's really not a 'pretty' voice when the going get tough, but boy does he push it to the limits.

Tosca with La Millo was a bit of an anti-climax. I've heard the tape on Parterre so I know why she's to die for, but this is not true on the stage at least not the other night. Although I guess I found it more interesting than el Voigto, who, artist that she is, just doesn't get my goat in the Italian rep. Do Ariadne like you used it!!! Oh well.

James Morris continued to be a bellowing and unpleasant Scarpia, though who are we to blame. Eduardo Vila was a hair more listenable than Farina in Cavaradossi, but that ain't saying much.

Due to illness and life troubles we bailed on the G-Fil Elisir tonight, which I am now feeling guilty about. Hopefully someone went and will rub it in.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Good listening

If you have the chance, do check out the new podcast from Wellsung friend Vincent over at Wagner Operas. The theme is Wagner sung in Italian and the offerings range from the delightfully absurd to the rather divine. The selections are heavy on the Lohengrin, natch--the centerpiece being a full blooded "In Fernem Land" courtesy of none less than Mario del Monaco. Sweet toned Girliemen of the Grail need not apply.

Download it here.

Jenufa not-Live Blogging

A: Steva is such an asshole
J: dude
J: that whole family is trouble
A: everyone sounds so freaking good in this
A: uh oh
A: someone's bout to get themselves cut
J: which are you watching/listening to?
A: Glyndebourne
J: the vid?
J: oh hot
J: it is so awesome
J: maybe I will put it on too
J: when it comes time for act two tell me....and I will start it at the exact same time
A: ok
A: get ready
J: I am ready
J: finger on button
A: go
J: ok shot of cross
J: and jesus
A: check
J: lone candle
J: are we sort of in synch?
A: yes
A: Silja's makeup is so creepy
J: seriously
J: Bert Alexander is so great
A: for reals
A: is that really great extended aria coming now?
J: I think it is after Kostelbitchka goes to off the baby

A: weak!
A: good headline here
J: haha
A: this opera is tha bomb

A: Silj-tastic
J: it is so awesome
J: I mean her voice is insane
J: but like
J: she is oddly wonderful
J: and this scene is so amazing
J: and now is the amazing beautiful aria
A: being in a little theater with her and having her do that must be NUTS
J: I love that violin line
J: oh man I can't wait for all the Jenufa action in the coming year
A: it's like Jenufapalooza
J: it so is
J: Glimmerglass
J: Met
J: Washington DC
J: sweet
J: Mattila is going to be amazing doing this scene
A: oh yeah!
A: she going to freak out
A: *chills*
J: oh I am so happy you are watching this
A: it's just so great

A: I mean, the Kostelnitscka isn't totally evil
J: I mean
J: she drowns a baby in the freezing river
A: right
A: ok
A: but context
J: I suppose there is some greater good in mind
J: as opposed to the Kabanicha
A: I bet some Slavic language has a word for an 'OK baby drowning'

A: fo
A: shizzle
J: seriously
J: ok, the exciting conclusion
A: It would be cool if the Kostelnicka started biting people in the Third act
J: haha
J: that is a wonderful idea
J: or started snarfing baby parts
A: in the corner...she has a little big she keeps digging into
J: ew
A: wait
A: why is she dressed like a widow?
J: because the baby died
A: huh
J: but everyone thinks she is just being plain, because only the boys and the Kostelbitch know she even had a baby
J: I love this Laca
A: It's nice we don't have those mandatory clothing issues anymore
J: indeed
J: he has a line coming up I love
A: it is basically like wearing a button that's all "Ask me about my baby that died"

J: yay
A: who the f are you
J: she is the mayor's daughter
J: Steva's fiance
A: right
A: that is good "this character is a drip" music
J: but like, have you ever heard of knocking, mayor daughter?
J: "My stepmom drowned Stevusko and all I got was this lousy black frock"
A: ha
J: oh man
J: she is awful

A: ha
A: good one Jenufa
J: which "See Steva you have found true love?"
A: yeah
J: yeah well he can't stand your voice lady
J: evidently this is really some czech tradition
J: that random village girls show up to dance at weddings
J: I find this all so creepy in context

A: oh fuck
J: shit hits fan
A: *more chills*

A: wow
A: now that is some opera
J: I am one minute behind
J: because of a technical difficulty
J: it is def in my top 5
A: hearing the Met Orchestra playing that live is going to be very, very kick-ass
J: that is serious shit
J: god damn!
J: it gets me every time!
J: I want the entirety of Jenufa to be performed at my funeral
A: noted
A: since Anna Silja will probably still be an option when that happens, do you want us to shoot for her or someone else?
J: well I was thinking her or Judy
A: haha

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Boy in the Bubble

J: oh wait
J: tomorrow is the Voigt Tosca
A: right
J: I think I just made Diet Sprite®
J: I had some seltzer
J: and I squeezed in a lemon wedge
J: and a packet of Sweet & Low™
J: and it tastes like delicious Sprite®
A: huh
A: maybe that is their secret
J: maybe
J: mine is a little better
J: I forgot about DVoigTosca tomorrow--are you still down?
A: yep
J: it is 7:30
A: kel
A: +w
J: hah
J: sweet, it'll be out by 10:30
A: oh nice
A: it looks my dry cleaner is making good progress
A: they got a lot done this weekend
J: hah excellent
A: have you delved into the new acquisitions?
J: not really
J: some of the Onegin
J: which is great
J: and the Sarka is beautiful
A: oh cool
A: I got out a birgit nilsson elektra video the other day
J: oh hot
J: who else is on it?
A: Rysanek
J: whoa
A: met 1980
A: w/ Jimmy
J: who is the Klytemsentra?
A: Nilsson is Elektra
A: I don't know from Elektra, tho
J: so tomorrow I work for new people in a new office
A: oh right
A: crazy!
J: right?
A: how are you feeling about that?
J: good
J: I feel like I may drink a whole bottle of wine before the night is over
J: ugh--ABC news is up at David Blaine
A: did they say when he's going to be out of there?
J: seriously though, I hope D. Blaine has some brain damage or something so we never have to watch him and his retard fans again. Though it will give us something to do during the Tosca intermission
A: tomorrow is the potential drowning?
J: yes
A: what are they going to do with all that nasty water afterwards? Let it drain into the fountain??

J: ew

Sunday, May 07, 2006

La Dolce Lohengrin

Comme Monsieur D'Annato, I'm having a complicated reaction to Klaus Florian Vogt's Lohengrin last night.

Theoretically, I really love what a voice quality and sensibility like this brings to the role. The ethereal, impossible sweetness in Vogt's Lohengrin is a far cry from the standard lusty knight characterization, and the medieval cautionary tale reading it implies. In heightening Lohengrin's estrangement from the world and sense that he is too perfect, we are brought deeper into the question of whether the holy, utopian love he brings can actually exist among humans and the world they live in. As has been argued, Wagner indicates his later explicit commitment to Schopenhauer's metaphysics here--that destiny for the soul and true happiness actually can't exist in the tangible world we can perceive. Lohengrin's sadness at Elsa's failure is thus our sadness for the world, and the futility of hoping that we can achieve something more perfect than ourselves. Or something like that.

And make no mistake, Vogt presents a marvelous reading in this vein. As promised, "Mein Lieber Schwan" was a thing of heartbreakingly delicate beauty. The effortless honeyed tones produced throughout soared above the ensembles. And as Maury notes, it's really a fascinating aural puzzle trying to reconcile his crystal tone with its volume.

And yet.

A lot of Lohengrin's music just has trouble hitting that sweet spot without that big time lusty sound. Vogt's sweetness, while unimpeachable, had a mannered quality, an excessive concern with placing each note in its proper gold-foil wrapped box that kept the unending lines from soaring to that breaking point one needs for a Grade-A Lohengasm. All the rambling above aside, Lohengrin doesn't quite feel right without that unabashed thrust of the romantic hero. It doesn't have to sound like Verdi, to be sure, but you need to be able to recognize they've got genes in common. And besides, ambivalence about what his departure means aside, he does have to do some serious stuff while he's there, killing people and getting hot for Elsa and stuff. Vogt's Lohengrin sounds more likely to ask her if she wants to get dinner sometime: "I mean, yeah, I guess it would be like a date, but we'll just do something low-key ok? Do you like Thai?" (J had a killer impression of this going by the end of the evening.) There were moments when Vogt deliberately tried add some girth to his sound, but if not intrusive, it was very decidedly not organic, and didn't do much to change that essential lean beef sound. Suggestions over at Maury's place that Strauss might be an interesting fit strike me as very intriguing. I think I would be all over his Bacchus.

So I guess the moral is that Lohengrin is an endlessly fascinating opera, and that Vogt is possessed of a freakishly lovely voice that I would like to hear again. Preferably the next time he takes the mound he'll put a little more spit on the ball.

P.S. The Mattaliciousness just won't quit. Can she please make a recording of this so I can get it and listen to it all the time?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

One Rodelinda, Please. Hold the Rodelinda.


I really have to throw my two cents in here about the crimes against humanity's ears and general musical sensibilities that occurred on Tuesday night at the Met.

How do I put this delicately... Renee Fleming is a disaster as Rodelinda. What the hell is going on? WHY does she sing this rep? It was like one big slur that lasted for four hours. I did not hear one consonant, and there was no sense whatsoever of where one note ended and another began. It was just this sort of formless, free-flowing sound that sort of skated over Handel's music--the music that was hiding somewhere under this drool-bag of vocal drivel.

I will reiterate what Alex mentioned--I don't get off on disliking Renee Fleming. By HER, I think I am reffering to her singing. I have definitely enjoyed and respected elements of her singing in the past. But I don't f-ing want to hear her sing Handel ever again. Also, I resent that somehow people have convinced themselves that it is good--or even that it is vaguely acceptable. The crowd of deaf (evidently), bravo-screeching Renee devotees were really pissing me off. She really, truly is singing her own precious little arrangement of this role--her covered, safe little sound cowering behind the deceptively daunting challenge of singing Handel as written. And I really want to make these people understand. Or at least make them go away.

OK, that said, it was actually a lovely evening all in all. John Relyea had me at Ciao. Actually, I was pretty convinced of my adoration for him back in October after his virile turn in Lucia. Stephanie Blythe's characteristically near-baritone sound was as precise and impressive as ever. I feel like she is one those Met go-to singers who gets a fair amount of work, but rarely gets to really show off the goods as much as I'd like.

The Wellsung Prize for Awesomeness goes, without question, to cutie countertenor Andreas Scholl's heartbreakingly beautiful turn as Bertarido. His flawless precision and control culminated in an breathak artistry that actually made up for the lack of substance in the leading lady.

Also awesome was this production. As it is a year old I will not say much--it manages to strike just the right balance between detailed extravagance and understated elegance. It is an accomplishment.

It looks like we were at a different performance or Rodelinda Starring Renee Fleming than Steve Smith. I think Mr. Smith is a terrific writer and critic. Though I have to quote, for humor's sake more than anything, Alex's thoughts on the discrepancy in our reactions:

"I mean, there are differences of opinion, and then there are the noises she was making."


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Very Nice Amount of Handel

On balance, a delightful Rodelinda last night...

First things first: extreme props are granted to Andreas Scholl in his Met debut. Quite simply, it is the most beautiful countertenor voice I have ever heard. Words aren't enough to describe the exquisite sound and painstaking artistry he brings to this music. It is a crying shame that his fach went out of fashion a few centuries ago, because I want to hear him in everything.

In fact, both J and I were hoping he would take over for Renaay. Now, when I say this, please know that I take no joy in hating on her. I really like believing hype! And I have heard and very much enjoyed her in the past, including Manon earlier this year. But she sounded like ass last night. It was like all of her most infuriating qualities on steroids. The most weak, contrived, covered sound you can imagine. Utter, baffling lack of precision (which is doubly inexcusable in Handel). Total sacrifice of any phrasing or larger line to trying, and failing, to make everything precious. Diction so wretched and lazy I spent the whole evening annoyed that I couldn't understand what she was saying. And I don't know a lick of Italian. And she seems to think the obligatory Beautiful Voice™ moment at the end of each aria makes up for the ten minutes of dreck that came before. I'm not buying it, lady. Hopefully this is just the worst possible music for her and doesn't represent total submission to her demons. Because it really, really sucks to listen to. And it double sucks to hear 5000 people hoot about it pretending like they don't have ears on their heads.

And especially a shame here considering how much the rest of the cast outshone their leader. Stephanie Blythe is such a joy. She takes Handel and makes something really rich and unique out of it. And the voice is just so big and deep and endlessly fascinating. Methinks hers is really what they mean when they call a voice Met-sized: every note just effortlessly cuts to the back of the hall. She's too classy to turn on the guns in Handel, but I have a feeling that when she chooses to sing really, really loud it is literally earsplitting. Christophe Dumaux, also making a debut, did very nicely as well. Ditto John Relyea.

And who couldn't love such a beautiful production? There's "whoa there's a courtyard onstage" and then there's "whoa what an aesthetically pleasing tasteful courtyard onstage". This was the latter. The scene conveyor belt thing was also very cool.

I don't know if I can say whether I necessarily like Rodelinda 'more' than other Handel operas, as it really does all kind of blend together after the fact. But I certainly am very pro Handel in general today. I don't have any huge beef with period instrument stuff, which I find perfectly enjoyable most of the time. But as a bid for Handel as living breathing opera it seems to me that the set up here is hard to beat. It's just a fact that there's a quality in Handel that is a bit beyond the veil of history for modern audiences. The corrective is here: fantastic singers really DOING the arias and with no apologies.