Friday, December 30, 2005

La Meme

Looks like I'm "It":

Four jobs you've had in your life: Dickensian-Costumed Christmas Caroler, Coffee Barista, Recreation Center Receptionist, Post-Production Supervisor

Four movies you could watch over and over: Manhattan, Annie Hall, The Garden of the Finzi Contini, The Nights of Cabiria

Four places you've lived:
Pacific Grove, Upper West Side, Upper East Side, Chelsea

Four TV shows you love to watch: The Daily Show, Six Feet Under, South Park, Colbert Report

Four places you've been on vacation: Paris, Florence, Ljubljana, Palestine

Four blogs you visit daily:Alex Ross, Maury D'Annato, Sieglinde, JSU

Four of your favorite foods: Homemade ravioli, Macaroni and Cheese, Avocados, Pomegranate Margaritas at Rosa Mexicano

Four places you'd rather be: San Francisco, Pacific Grove, San Diego, Center Parterre

Changing the subject...

It's that meme everyone's doing!

Four jobs you've had in your life: camp counselor, library desk worker, legal assistant, website editor person

Four movies you could watch over and over: The Godfather, Cabaret, Labyrinth, Singing in the Rain

Four places you've lived: Chicago, New York (I don't get around so much)

Four TV shows you love to watch: Buffy, Six Feet Under, 24, Strangers with Candy

Four places you've been on vacation: Switzerland, Prague, Alaska, Kentucky

Four blogs you visit daily (besides our friends to the right, of course): Kevin Drum, TPM Cafe, Brad DeLong, Fafblog

Four of your favorite foods: the cuban sandwich, calamata olives, Stoli, cashews

Four places you'd rather be: San Francisco, the 79th street Boat Basin in July, the tundra, December 23rd--when I was 8

I tag Jonathan, natch.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Making Amends

As a genuine gesture of good will, and also as a point of interest, I'd like to steer our attention away for a moment from the below thread regarding the Anthony Tommasini Wozzeck review.

Awhile back, I stumbled across a very conversational, honest and quite moving personal essay by Mr. Tommasini. In it, he discusses his thoughts and memories about the early days of the AIDS crisis. Forgive me if this is something everyone has already read.

The debate continues!

And the essay can be found here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

T at it again

AC Douglas reports for duty, calling out the latest critical belly flop courtesy of our reviewer of record:
How about the Munich premiere of Wagner's "Meistersinger," a work he [Levine] conducts magnificently? I love the idea of Mr. Levine's giving a sublime account of this humane comedy and forcing the anti-Semitic composer to confront his twisted prejudices.
[Mea culpa, see below...] To spell it out: circa 45 seconds of googling confirms that the conductor of that Munich Meistersinger was, indeed, Mr. Hans von Bulow, preeminent contemporary interpreter of Wagner's works, wife supplier, and notorious Jewish whipping boy to the maestro. So the whole "What if a Jewish conductor had premiered it...hah!" line kind of goes up in smoke, don't it?

Not to mention the fact that by choosing Meistersinger specifically, Ton is obviously trying to hook the "Meistersinger as half anti-semitic polemic" angle--the kind of take one gets from people who hear the opera once while also knowing Wagner was a crazy racist. Unfortunately, there's not such a one-to-one connection to be drawn from the man's lunatic bigotry and his operas. A complication to be sure, and that's why people really interested in the work don't toss it around so absentmindedly.

There are two big points of contention as to Die Meistersinger's politics: the chareacter of Beckmesser, and the drama's glorification of German art and nationalism. The problem with calling Beckmesser an anti-semitic character is pretty straightforward, i.e., Beckmesser is a fully integrated member of the town and its society--one who is hidebound and pathetic, but a member nonetheless, which the forward looking and creative elements embodied by Walther and Sachs play off of. If Beckmesser becomes an alien to the other characters in the play, as an anti-semitic reading would suggest, the whole thing would fall apart. There's no need to reject and triumph over Beckmesser if he's an outcast in the first place.

The second charge is somewhat more complicated. The problem has to do with our natural tendency to read the past through the lens of the militaristic German Nationalism which bred the first and second World Wars. Interrelated trends to be sure, but its simply a historical fallacy to elide the German nationalism in Wagner's time, when "Germany" was a motley amalgamation of principalities staggering towards unification, and the Nazi state of the 20th century. In this context, the notorious "Honor Thy German Masters" passage Sachs sings at the end of the opera should be read more as a an affirmation of that political project against other countries' aggression, not as a veiled threat against Germany's Jews.

None of this means that Wagner wasn't a wretched anti-semite. But trying to understand Wagner means delving into the contradictions that allow for both his awful bigotry and his creation of sublime works which offer little evidence of it. And in any event, there's little room for the kind of lazy "I gotta finish a paragraph" sentiment expressed above.

Update: Well now, isn't that a way to wake up. Fact checked by A. Ross himself. A full retraction of the paragraph and snipe about Hans von Bulow is in order and apologies to T. My penance will be getting my 19th century conductors that start with H straight. And no more blogging after post-plane cocktails.

However wrong that may have been, though, I don't think the campaign against TT is at all unwarranted. I am very sure it is difficult to be a music reviewer on short deadline, and certainly think I wouldn't be capable of it. But, uh, the whole thing about having a music critic at the preeminent paper of arguably the preeminent music city in the world is that you shouldn't have to read their reviews and make excuses for them. In fact, they should actually be enlightening. If J and I, who in the grand scheme of things know relatively little about opera (see above), can be routinely floored by the shoddy construction and shallowness of T's reviews, then I think we have a problem, Houston.

Later update: Urf. Well, nice to see that Mr. Ross is still reading. For the record, and then I'm going to think really hard of something new to post, at the time it did strike me as suspect that he chose Meistersinger to make his convoluted point, considering the rap it takes as described above. I also think that someone could call it a "humane" opera while trying to play off the juxtaposition of certain parts--i.e., he's saying that Levine would bring out the best qualities in it over the racism thus warming the cockles of Herr Wagner's heart. But looking back, his comment didn't really warrant that insinuation. Sorry T. I will totally buy you a drink sometime.

Monday, December 26, 2005

JACKPOT! -or- Opera Party Chez Moi

My dad is a professor, composer and choral conductor at a college here in Monterey, CA. I am home for the War on Christmas.

He mentioned to me that he had been given a substantial collection of opera recordings and videos from a local guy doing some downsizing. He also suggested I raid said collection. I sort of thought I'd be shy about digging through it, but that thought lasted about two seconds.

After sifting through only about 20% or so of this collection, this is what I managed to pilfer(!!):


Bayreuth, Conducted by Peter Schneider
With Paul Frey, Cheryl Studer 1991...

Bayreuth, Barenboim, 1991, etc (this looks particularly neat)

Met, Levine, 1992(?)
With Waltraud Meier, Siegfried Jerusalem, Kurt Moll


ARABELLA Glyndebourne, Bernard Haitink, 1984
With Ashley Putnam, Gianna Rolandi, Regina Sarfaty

Wiener Philharmoniker, Karl Böhm, 1974(?)
With Teresa Stratas, Hans Beirer, Astrid Varnay, Bernd Weikl

Wiener Staatsoper, Carlos Kleiber, 1994
With Felicity Lott, Anne Sofie von Otter, Barbara Bonney, Kurt Moll, Gottfried Hornik


Glyndebourne, Andrew Davis, 1989
With Roberta Alexander (who is awesome in this), Mark Baker, Anja Silja, Menai Davies, Philip Langridge
*Remounting of the original 1904 Brno production

KATYA KABANOVA (pick your favorite spelling...)
Glyndebourne, Andrew Davis, 1988
With Nancy Gustafson, Felicity Palmerr, Ryland Davies, Barry McCauley, John Graham-Hall, Louise Winter




1) (Decca/London) Wiener Philharmoniker, Solti, 1962
With Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen, George London, Gustav Neidlinger, Regine Crespin, Lucia Popp

2) Bayreuth, Clemens Krauss, 1953
Many, not all, of the same as above. Astrid Varnay as Brünnhilde.

1) Berliner Philharmoniker, Barenboim, 1995(?)
With Siegfried Jerusalem, Waltraud Meier

2)Bayreuth, Karl Böhm, 1966 (Live)
With Wolfgang Windgassen, Birgit Nilsson

Bayreuth, Clemens Krauss, 1953
With George London, Martha Mödl, Ludwig Weber, Ramon Vinay, Josef Greindl

Wiener Philharmoniker, Solti, 1987
With Placido Domingo, Jessye Norman (as Elsa?!!), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Eva Randova, Siegmund Nimsgern, Hans Sotin

Bayerisches Staatsorchester, Wolfgang Sawallisch, 1993
With Bernd Weikl, Ben Heppner, Cheryl Studer, Kurt Moll

1) Met, Levine, 1994
With Deborah Voigt, Ben Heppner, James Morris, Jan-Hendrik Rootering, Paul Groves, Birgitta Svenden

2) Rias Symphonie-Orchester, Ferenc Fricsay, 1953
With Josef Greindl, Annelies Kupper, Wolfgang Windgassen, Sieglinde Wagner


1) Staatskapelle Dresden, Giuseppe Sinopoli, 2001
With Deborah Voigt, Natalie Dessay,, Anne Sofie von Otter, Ben Heppner

2) Philharmonia Orchestra, Karajan, 1954
With Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Rita Streich, Irmgard Seefried, Rudolf Schock

1)Wiener Staatsoper, Knappertsbusch, 1955 (Live)
With Maria Reining, Kurt Böhme, Sena Jurinac, Alfred Poell, Hilde Güden

2)Philharmonia Orchestra, Karajan, 1957
With Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Otto Edelman, Christa Ludwig, Eberhard Wächter, Teresa Stitch-Randall

Wiener Philharmoniker, Solti, 1958
With Otto Edelmann, Ira Malaniuk, Lisa della Casa, Hilde Gueden, George London, Anton Dermota, Eberhard Wächter

Wiener Symphoniker, Karl Böhm, 1965
With Hilde Güden, Paul Schöffler, Vera Little, Fritz Wunderlich, James King

Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Antal Dorati, 1979
With Gwyneth Jones, Matti Kastu, Dinah Bryant, Barbara Hendricks, Willard White

Philharmonia Orchestra, Sawallisch, 1957
With Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Eberhard Wächter, Nicolai Gedda, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Hans Hotter, Christa Ludwig, Anna Moffo

Staatskapelle Dresden, Giuseppe Sinopoli, 1999
With Albert Dohmen, Deborah Voigt, Alfred Reiter, Tom Martinsen, Jochen Kupfer


Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen, 1991
With Anne Sofie von otter, Vinson Cole, Simon Estes, Hans Sotin, Nicolai Gedda, Patrice Chereau

Orchestre de L'Opera National de Paris, James Conlon, 1998
With Natalie Dessay, Marie McLaughlin, Violetta Urmana, Vsevolod Grivnov


Met, Levine, 1990
With Aprille Millo, Placido Domingo, Dolora Zajick, James Morris, Samuel Ramey, Hei-Kyung Hong

Wiener Philharmoniker, Furtwängler, 1951(Live)
With Ramon Vinay, Dragica Martinis, Paul Schöffler, Anton Dermota, Sieglinde Wagner, Josef Greindl


Bartok's Bluebeards Castle
Bavarian State Orchestra, Sawallisch, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Julia Varady 1979

Cherubini's Medea
Covent Garden, Nicola Rescigno, with Maria Callas, Jon Vickers, Fiorena Cossotto, Nicola Zaccaria, 1959

Dukas' Ariane et Barbe-Bleue
1983, "Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique" Armin Jorda

Britten's The Turn of the Screw
Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Harding, with Joan Rodgers, Ian Bostridge 2002

Berg's Lulu
1959 Live recording from Rome. Bruno Maderna conducting. Original unfinished version.

Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande
Montreal Symphony, Charles Dutoit, With Didier Henry, Colette Alliot-Lugaz 1991

Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire (wha?), André Cluytens, with Nicolai Gedda, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Victoria De Los Angeles, Gianna D'Angelo, George London 1965

I think that is all. Now, as long as I ship tomorrow, these babies should beat me back to New York.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Radio Free AmTrag

No massive insights to report from the AT broadcast, which I was able to listen to almost all of amidst various shopping excursions Saturday afternoon. Chicago's WFMT got hit with the signal trouble as well, which was a serious bummer since the Clyde murder aria ("Huh...Maybe I should hit her with an oar?") got axed. I tried to tape the second act, but the $(%)#* tape didn't switch over for some reason and it cut off right after the sheriff asks to talk to Clyde alone, thus ruining my masterplan to save the Zajicksplosive scenes at the end for posterity.

I did really enjoy hearing it though, and found many new things to enjoy. The Act II chorus/ensemble scene where the family gangs up on Sondra while the townspeople read Roberta's letters seemed especially intricate and beautiful this time. My affection for the big Act I party/impregnation trio grew even further, and the Sondra/Clyde meeting duet ("Shazaar! Shazaar!") came off much better in stereo than it did onstage.

Gunn probably benefits the most from the broadcast experience, since you don't notice he's a notch quieter than the others on the radio as much, but the rest were first-rate, as before. Susan Graham: I like you very, very much, and don't really see how I'm going to avoid your Octavian here (Chicago) in March. Time to start rationing those cocktails.

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Updated Caught most of the AmTrag-cast today--I was streaming it online, as none of the radio stations here on the Monterey Peninsula seem to pick up the broadcast. The streaming was all well and good--though it got really choppy at a few points in Act II, even when I switched computers/stations, etc. Perhaps this was a larger glitch?

As much as we enjoyed her cover, Kirsten Chavez, it was terrific to hear Susan Graham's Sondra Finchley again (even on the factory speakers on my parents eMac). I just freaking love how she inhabits that role. And I force fed my family and our good friends Jane and Karen Lee the Dolora Zajick prison cell aria. To good effect, however--I think we may have six converts on our hands.

More dad just turned on the Bruno Bartoletti/Gianfranco De Bosio Tosca DVD.

Update: The aforementioned TOSCA has been turned off. The Carpenters Christmas Portrait now reigns.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Public Response

Regarding the post War Horses!, reader Henry Holland writes:

"That's a very interesting blog and it's very well written. He seems to be composer-centric rather than in to diva/divo worship, which is in line with my tastes too."

As far as being composer-centric vs. voice-centric, I absolutely see your point. I think there is some explanation, however, beyond "some people care about composition, and some about Diva Worship"

I think, as a lot (though not all by ANY means) of opera bloggers, columnists, etc are New York based, we have unusually extensive opportunities to see live performances, and are motivated to write by their immediacy.

It seems, when discussing performances of the "War Horses" as Bill calls them, we often tend to accept (with many isolated exceptions) the worthiness of the opera itself and its composer as a given. Whereas, when examining a newer or lesser performed work, the inclination is to discuss the music, the context, the composer, etc. (and also, of course...the voices).

If you look at a lot of the blogging about An American Tragedy, for instance, you will see much more evaluation of the actual piece than you would of, say, the Met's Rigoletto. Certainly, we still have criticisms and questions about these works, but, when writing about an old production of a dare I say canonical opera, the focus is almost unwittingly going to be on the voices and the conducting; this is where we will find fresh perspective and reasons to be newly excited about something we already admire.

Monday, December 19, 2005

War Horses!

A long time friend of my dad's e-mailed me this evening. His name is Bill Burnett and he has a new website, including opera blog here. The site is called "Opera War Horses" and it looks not only promising but also something quite different than other opera blogs I have read. Take a look--I like the attitude of it; it seems thoughtful/researched yet conversational and accessible. Here is the description/mission statement taken from the site:

"Welcome to, a website that will be dedicated to an appreciation and analysis of what is often called the “Standard Repertory” of opera houses throughout the world. As this website defines it, it constitutes a body of operatic works, all of which were first produced in a 140-year period that begins with Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro in 1786 and ends with the posthumous production of Puccini’s Turandot in 1926."

Have a look--and best of luck to Bill with his new site!

No business like show business

A: nast...there is like the WORST boy soprano on this cantata right now
A: hey little man, time to give up the ghost
J: haha
A: nothing like listening to nonstop cantatas to prove bach is f'ing hard to get right
A: jesus might be merciful, but not these vocal lines
J: "hey kid, who'd you sleep with to land this gig?!"
J: *points to priest*
A: hahaha


J: OK PS, we totally talked about the Kirov Ring
A: dur...I completely forgot
A: what did we say?
J: that it will be sweet
A: *thumbs up*
J: and goddamn summer 2007 is very far away
A: and you're probably going to have to like donate a kidney or blow Valery Gergiev to get in
J: well
J: the thing is
J: a) I will
J: b) most opera things if you buy early you can get something, I think
A: ha
J: c) I think I have probably blown worse
J: questionable
A: *link*
J: oh fuck
J: that is pretty bad
J: well we have a year and a half to prepare
A: here's the face you can expect
J: haha
J: I dunno
J: that is giving me a lot of credit

More from the Bachageddon

"Neocon" leanings and all, I just need to say it: the harpsichord is a sucky instrument. I mean it's ok as part of a band I guess...there's something to that velvet on top/spiky on the bottom texture which one comes to expect, and the times I've heard, for example, a Brandenberg Concerto with piano instead of harpsichord, while cool, it is a big difference.

But as a general rule, and especially taken alone, it sucks. I don't know anymore than the basics, but there's definitely some evidence that Bach was into the pianofortes which all the early-adopting Princes were picking up (the improvisation which birthed the Musical Offering was performed on a pianoforte, legend goes). Knowing this, and also knowing Bach was obviously a man of taste, do we really have any reason to assume he would have been all "Oh sweet, I'll take this keyboard instrument that sounds like steel wool with pitches, you just keep that thing that allows for like the most exquisite fine grained expression any intsrument has ever offered." Yeah...o-tay.

Thus, it is kind of a bummer that the BBC programmers seem to have caved to the period instrument mafia and are emphasizing harpsichord recordings over the catalogue of Bach on piano (Play da harpsichord or we break you. Do it.) Thankfully, I am currently in an Angela Hewitt patch...but the harpsichord, and the brain hurting, is bound to return.

In The Bleak Midwinter/A Revelation

Inspired a bit by Alex Ross' brilliantly titled (if we do say so ourselves) piece in this week's New Yorker, and bummed out by the relative dearth of potential operatic bliss in the coming month or so, I am inclined to look back on the first Autumn of what A and I call "The Revelation".

The Revelation is a very simple concept. It is the the realization on our part that we may in fact NOT be opera fans, rather, we have become rabid fanatics.

It happened, appropriately, in the Fam Circ chez Met. Earlier in the week, we had casually decided to grab tickets for the Thursday, September 29th performance of Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. The only one in the brilliant cast singing that night who I was truly familiar with was Susan Graham. So, after her very solid Act One performance in one of the more thankless of the major roles in that opera (The Composer), I was basically waiting and earnestly hoping to be impressed. Neither the tremendous Violetta Urmana, nor the thrilling Diana Damrau had enough to do in Act One to fully win me over. Boy did that change quickly--Urmana's performance brought wells of tears, while Damrau's brought one of the longest post-aria ovations I have ever witnessed (Alex (Ross): I was surprised she was not mentioned in your round-up. Are you less of a fan?). She, very sweetly, had to shush the audience after a few minutes so the opera could continue. It doesn't get much better than that. And that was it--simple as that, The Revelation. The Season continued...

October began with Renee Fleming and Marcelo Alvarez in Massenet's Manon. Fleming delived, Alvarez outshone. He is the real deal (talk about "Ping"...christ). What ensued was an ongoing effort on A and my part to count the number of times des Grieux wails "Manoooon!" throughout the opera. I am guessing it breaks 100.

The month wore on...I took in a Carmen and an Aida, to hear Ruth Ann Swenson and Dolora Zajick, respectively. That was all well and enjoyable, if a tad predictable.

In our continuing adoration of Bryn Terfel--Alex, Karen and I attended (on the stormiest night of all time--ever!) a Wednesday evening Falstaff. I don't totally get this opera. Not a score I love...but there was some great ensemble work and Bryn was terrific. And a nice preview of what Patricia Racette can deliver. Also, there was a unicorn.

A sublime mid-week Cosi Fan Tutte finished off the month. This caused a mini-revelation of sorts. I realized I had perhaps never heard (live) a Mozart opera performed to its full potential. I was riveted. Barbara Frittoli and Magdalena Kozena were consistently exquisite--and Levine proved himself a Mozart master.

An unseasonably warm November began with an unexpectedly hot turn from a previously little-known tenor: Giuseppe Filianoti. DAMN. This man can sing. Every note of his Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor was fodder for a vocal wet dream. I can hardly stand 2.5 hours of Donizetti yet seriously considered going back for more. I *may* even drag myself to a L'Elisir d'Amore later in the season--if only to beg him to sing something worthy. Elizabeth Futral was solid, but not overwhelming (and I maintain had slight but bothersome pitch issues.) And Edoardo Müller clunked through the already disjointed score a bit stodgily for my taste.

On to a bit more Mozart. A Friday evening Le Nozze di Figaro proved lovely on all fronts. The Opera Hot Italiano Luca Pisaroni turned in a unusually sexy if a bit dry Figaro. Hei-Kyung Hong and Joyce DiDonato as the Countess and Cherubino, respectively, were the stars of the evening for me. Wigglesworth handled the orchestra well if not astonishingly, and Jonathan Miller's smart production holds up well.

On to one of the season's main events, and by many accounts, biggest disappointments: The new production premiere of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. Oy. This production was conceived around Natalie Dessay, who was a no show on opening night. Consequently, the troops were a bit restless before the evening even began. Regardless, audiences were less than thrilled with most aspects of this new, "celestial" production (though I maintain I quite like the Act IV floating bed.) And evidently Dessay did not make enough of a difference to save the sinking ship. I'll be back to see it in February, with Dessay,some perspective and without the pressure of wanting to love opening night.

Caught a total snooze-fest mid-week La Boheme, again to see Ruth Ann Swenson. I feel as her last living fan, I have a responsibility. Still, most boring evening at the Met in memory. NEXT.

Brrr. December began with, what was for me a truly singular experience. The cast assembled to sing the world premiere of Tobias Picker's An American Tragedy is a true gift to this city. The talents of Nathan Gunn, Susan Graham, Patricia Racette, William Burden, and Dolora Zajick are, under the very capable baton of James Conlon, used to their full potential. I also happen to think much of the opera itself is quite beautiful (Graham's two big Act One arias, and Zajick's tremendous turn in act two, specifically). A second viewing on the 16th affirmed my admiration--and introduced us to mezzo Kirsten Chavez who, as Graham's cover, sang a rich, sultry Sondra (and acted the hell out of it, to boot). Brava to her.

The first half of the season came to a close (unless, against my better judgement, I attend Die Fledermaus) with three much anticipated, sold-out performances of Verdi's Rigoletto, starring the opera hot duo of soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Rolando Villazon. The duo lived up, with Trebs emerging as the real star of the evening. Sadly, Carlo Guelfi's Rigoletto was a poor showing, and often dragged down the scenes with Gilda. Their duets, often so beautiful, were ploddy and unfocused. This was reaffirmed while listening to the first live broadcast of the season this past Saturday afternoon.

In the interest of...well...interest, I will not go into detail about the many worthwhile evenings over at NYCO (A disappointing Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, a terrific Mines of Sulphur, a boring Turandot, the über Mark Lamos Tosca and Madama Buterfly all topped off by the unfortunate The Little Prince)

This Fall was also, of course, the inauguration of the Wellsung blog, which has certainly added a new texture to my and Alex's days. What this blog really *IS* is very much in flux. Most importantly, it's proven to be an always goofy and often effective venue for us to work out our thoughts and opinions about this wholly insane and wonderful art form in a surprisingly safe setting. Your continued comments and encouragement are outrageously appreciated.

On to a VERY exciting spring---get your typing fingers ready. There will be much to discuss.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


The BBC's Bachstravaganza has been quite a delight so far, and I'm looking forward to a long day of office listening tomorrow.

Neat thing heard today: this Hilliard Ensemble recording I was completely unaware of, in which the Ensemble and violinist Christopher Poppen put into practice the theories of musicologist Helga Thoene regarding the inclusion of chorale quotations in what we usually think of as 'abstract' Bach. The one BBC played was the famous Chaconne from the solo violin partitas, overlaid with the title chorale from "Christ Lag in Todesbanden." I haven't googled enough to have a good sense of the consensus about such things, but sweet Lutheran Jesus is it a haunting and provocative musical experience. Listening to the Chaconne deconstruct the chorale, and, from its most elemental bits, create a piece of such soaring originality, has the effect of a thrilling piece of conceptual art. We are suddenly drawn in close to Bach's ability to take so many fragments, music broken down like genes into composite chemicals, and reconstitute them into the sublime.

What's more, the immediate reaction is to note the gulf in expressionism, movement, etc. between the solemn, noble, chorale and the ecstatic Chaconne. What a wonder that these two things were created side by side in the same man's head.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Broadcast Live Blogging

Below, in reverse chronological order, is our thrill-a-minute account of the generally good Rigoletto Broadcast this afternoon. Clearly, it was a busy Saturday.

Finale Ultimo!

4:20 PM
A: *stab*
4:25 PM
J: they killed 'Trebs!
A: Trebs is dead, long live Trebs
J: well not dead, but in a sack, waiting to die
J: long live the sack
4:30 PM
J: oops, guess who isn't morte?
A: d'oh
J: Oops it's his figlia
A: wha?
J: Figlia in a sack
A: I prefer pig in a blanket
J: Guelfi is making that weird French sound again
J: My figlia is in a sack and dying, bring me some jambon
4:35 PM
J: I better be able to sing like that when I am morte in a bag
A: ooh
A: above and beyond
A: ouch
J: Maledzione!!

Act III!

4:00 PM
A: ai'ght. Time for some quartet action.
J: not stuff
J: er
J: hot
J: aight Rolando
J: Bring it
J: nice work
4:10 PM
A: very nice
A: good show
J: yeah thank god he remembered to write that mezzo role

Intermission #2

3:40 PM
J: this is cute
A: it is

We Cave: Guelfi Is a Buzz Kill

3:25 PM
J: see as SOON as they sing together it gets boring
3:30 PM
A: yes
J: meh
A: blahdy blah
J: she was doing really nice work prior to that duet
A: for sure
A: yak
A: that doesn't sound nice
J: hell no
A: dude
A: ok
A: enough
A: where you at Rolazon?
J: seriously!
J: Arriba! Arriba! Come back!

C'mon Marullo, Please.

A: I don't know, tho. I still find Trebs' the more distinctive inspired voice
3:15 PM
J: yes I agree
J: I like his energy a lot
J: I really did enjoy him live
J: cute compact little Mexican wonder
A: he's like the Sonic the Hedgehog of the operatic stage
J: excellent comparison!
A: Marullo!
A: Can't you get me off?
A: Just this once?

The Elusive Top Note....?

3:10 PM
A: nope

Act II!

3:00 PM
J: Trrrrremenda Vendetta
J: turn it on!!
A: all good
J: funny how Verdi used to write so much stuff in 3
J: Rigoletto is sort of the end of that
J: but I love how randomly we get like 3 minutes of Oom Pah Pah
J: in the strings
A: totally
J: Bravo!!
A: that was very exciting
J: yeah--he darkens his top notes a bit too much for my taste, but that is nit-picking
J: let's see if he takes that top note you were discussing

Intermission #1

J: I agree with Sieglinde that the Gilda/Rig duet was a drag
J: But I feel like I blame Guelfi
J: because 'Trebs does great stuff when not singing opposite him
2:45 PM
A: I would buy that...she did take a short while to get it together
J: Renee admits she is "only one person" and "can't be everywhere at once"
A: remind me to start recording again when it comes back
J: will do
J: whoa, Flemball love fest
A: gah...what is this
J: bird in f-ing flight??
A: Yeah, fuck Callas
J: He is like "In closing, I would like to bone her"
A: this is tarded


2:25 PM
A: ok
A: that was spontaneous palm sweating
J: that was fucking genius
J: F you all who say she is smoke and wirrors
J: the only thing smokin' is her voice
J: er, mirrors
A: clap, bitches
A: clap!
J: god damn it we should have gone

See Ya!

J: this is my favorite!!
J: Adio!
J: Adio!
A: Adio!
A: What?
J: Adio!
J: huh?
J: Adio!
A: Hello?
A: Adio!
J: Adio!

Polanski Would be Into It

A: oh, she does make me happy
2:15 PM
J: makes happy in general? Or makes YOU happy?
A: les deux
A: Rolazon: I'm abouts to be up in yo bidness. Are you ready?
J: He is a Mexican, btw
A: ah
J: A Mexican with good top notes
A: indeed...someone wants him some extra credit
J: Olé! He is bringing it!
J: She gets better when he is singing, too.
A: shnap!
J: Good work, kids.
A: that was like the operatic equivalent of "She's my daugher, she's my sister"

Hang On, Guelfs

A: I think Guelfi's problem is that, except for a couple top ones he goes for, he is like incapable of sustaining a note with any oomph on it
2:05 PM
A: it makes his phrases all wierd and choppy
A: notice how in his middle he bugs out on like a half note
J: yeah it is a very manufactured sound
J: 'Trebs, on the other hand
J: is bringin' it
J: though I will be open to listening for flatness

Hit Me With a Low E!

A: That Eric Halfvarson could assassinate me anytime
A: he really does kind of show up Guelfs
2:00 PM
J: oh please totally
J: that is the gayest thing you have ever said
J: and that is saying a lot

Seriously Lady, Cool It

1:55 PM
A: Rolazon had a few flubs
A: but I think he's on the road to being kick ass
J: yes
A: Margaret Juntwait is kind of silly, right?
J: she is very NPR
J: I mean
J: she is just like reading a synopsis in an NPR voice
A: "hover gently over the rest of the opera"
A: then *totally not effective pause*
A: who are you kidding lady, just read it

Whoa Monterone! Look out!

1:45 PM
J: Guess what I am doing?
A: ?
J: Driving a truck through that vibrato
A: haha

Let the Broadcast Begin!

J: are you taping?
J: rather, will you be?
A: I haven't dealt yet
1:15 PM
A: maybe I should run to the 99 cent store
J: yeah I tried but failed
A: hm
A: I'm going to do that
A: brb
J: I have a radio shack across the street
1:30 PM
A: taping in progress
1:35 PM
J: god fucking shit
J: I just bought a boombox from Radio hack
J: for $50
J: and it gets no reception
A: !!!!
J: I mean
J: and my old stereo has no antenna
J: so I have my clock radio on really loud
J: but still
J: oh well
J: as long as you are taping it
J: but I am fucking pissed
J: goddamn radio shack


Douglas Wolk (among others) takes issue with the coda to my post below, in a bout of that ever fascinating paranoia from popular music defenders that there's a classical snob ready to stomp them around every corner. I mean, you guys win, ok? It's as bad as all those persecuted Republican congressmen sometimes!

But seriously: snark aside, I have little interest in waging jihad against popular music or (god forbid) disparaging Bono's work ethic. My point was that we shouldn't settle for the kind of facile equivalencies that Sandow advocates in his attempts to cure classical music lovers of the elitist bogeyman. It's not some grand generalization, I'm simply saying I see no reason why we should feel insecure about approaching Kissin and Bono as artists who, at anything but the most inane and useless level of comparison, make very different kinds of art for very different goals. Kissin's goal is to be a supreme technician of his instrument and interpreter of its literature, while Bono aims to make affecting and innovative popular songs that will be broadly received and enjoyed.

If you can't acknowledge this is a legitimate and substantive difference in experience and values, then you'll probably find no joy in appreciating either. For the record, though I don't think it needs my help, there are obviously a host of advantages which popular and other forms have over classical music (the fact that people aren't compelled to write essays to justify their relevance so often comes to mind).

But more to the point, trying to get people to assent that everything has equal validity in all ways just blatantly denies why people like music in the first place. If people are going to have any reason for liking art its because they make value judgments in relation to other art they reject or at least feel less invested in. By contrast, the naive egalitarianism Sandow is harping on is only good for scoring points on an agenda. I mean, since we're talking marketing here, what kind of slogan does this make for? "Classical music: Nothing you can't get from pop!"?

Also, I think Wolk misreads my last paragraph responding to Sandow's whole thing about how people go to the concert hall for superficial reasons. I fully agree that people who go to classical concerts are, in part, indulging in a self-serving temple of music fetish and all that. That's certainly a part of my experience. And I love it. I just meant Sandow's mistaken for saying its A) unique to classical music and B) such a crime.

P.S. Read this delightful short meditation by Wolk about the Magnetic Fields' ever fascinating and beautiful 69 Love Songs. If somehow you missed out at the time, do buy it and spend a month listening to nothing else.

We now return to our regular scheduled snobbery.

AmTrag 2: Back to AmTrag

Second time around, some part of me was deliberately trying to keep expectations in check. My memories of the premiere now hazy in light of the high stakes and far flung post-show discussion, I was ready to have a pretty different experience than the fairly thrilling first night. And in some senses I did.

If Picker ever revises this, the first 40 minutes could use some work...stringing together such a complicated exposition sequence means a lot of different musical idioms get test-driven and the cohesion pays a price. Moreover, the conversation scenes during the first section tend to spin their wheels both musically and dramatically.

But 40 minutes in, the piece really does hit a stride (J says its the introduction of Sondra Finchley, the best drawn character in the show, that helps). The New York aria is a little stilted, but great to listen to nonetheless, and the final party/impregnation sequence was just as exciting as it was the first time around.

But the second Act is really the main event here, and it did not disappoint. The emotional journey portrayed between the second Act curtain and Roberta's death is just wonderfully put together--ingenious pacing combined with a score that plumbs every shade of dread and hope to be found in the story plus a series of very different but very memorable set pieces: the Sondra/Roberta duet, the stunning church chorus, Clyde's chilling murder aria, and the drowning scene itself. The big courtroom scene didn't bother me as much as it did at the premiere. Although its still not very interesting to listen to (and much fun was made fun of the oar song, again) its useful as a narrative pivot to ensure we have been alienated from the earlier world enough to really focus down on the intimate final scenes.

I know Picker took some flack after the premiere for having written 'just' a melodrama. And its true, but not in a pejorative sense. At its best, Picker's music is capable of describing a vast universe of emotion and fine-grained internal conflicts--i.e., what's necessary to explore the inner life of a character like Clyde. Melodrama in the sense that its primary concern is an emotional landscape, but here one of endless ambiguities and insights.

Random notes

1. Cast still great. Gunn interesting to listen to but the voice never bowls you over, Racette maybe even better than last time, Zajick...I'll just let J handle that one. Two more raves and he gets a free coffee from the fan club. Susan Graham's cover, Kristen Chavez, turned out splendidly. An extremely pleasing, sweet, mellow sound, she's also a great performer, and had obviously really worked with this music. She easily held her own with the cast...I'd love to see her elsewhere.

2. Racette stunt double underwater blender effect still silly. This time, it mainly bothered me because it distracts you from the orchestra at a moment when the orchestra should be taking over and completing the emotional arc of the scene. But instead you're all, how'd they do that? I know its cool, but that's a less is more moment.

3. Ugh. Stop with all the "dreams this" and "dreams that" language in the libretto. It starts to sound like The Little Mermaid.

4. Gotta love that James Conlon.

5. He hit her with the oar! Oar! Hit! Her! With! Oar!

Tragic Magic

First, a retraction is in order: I posted earlier this evening a bit of a snarky comment about seeing a cover for Susan Graham in this evening's An American Tragedy.

Well, shame on me! Alex and I both agreed, as soon as Kirsten Chavez finished the "New York Changed Me" aria from act one--she has got the goods and really delivered. To my knowledge, she is the first cover to go on in this production (Considering this was the 5th performance and there are half a dozen or so major roles, that is actually fairly impressive.)

Her lower register may actuallly be stronger than Graham's. Her voice really carries down there, and has a rich, sexy timbre. That said, she floats effortlesly up top when called upon to do so---specifically in the opening phrases of the New York aria. Not a bad actress either, and quite the opera hot diva. Brava to her. I was (for once) utterly shut up!

A second sitting is really helpful for this piece. I still totally love it and am affected on a real visceral level by many moments in the score (at least as sung by this generally phenomenal cast):

-As I said to Alex earlier, Dolora Zajick's aria in the prison cell in act II is potentially the best thing that ever happened to me, followed closely by my cat and the disco fries at Diner 24. She is an absolute force of nature, and this writing is ideally suited for her powerhouse capabilities.

-The two big Sondra arias, both in act one (New York Changed Me and the one about being on the lake in summer) are gorgeous, lyrical showpieces for a great mezzo.

-some incredible stuff for Roberta--especially the incredibly difficult and stylistically varied act II opener. Racette knocks it out of the park like it was no thang

-Some shining ensemble moments--first, the trio when Sondra is dictating the party invite and shirtless Gunn is about to make a baby with crazy Pat Racette (we decided that we really hope she goes by Pat in close circles). This is just heartbreaking and lovely. The vocal lines remain so disconnected from one another, fully autonomous...and then find each other for fleeting, glorious moments. This trio is a real highlight of the piece. Second, the ominous, musically violent duet between Clyde and Roberta that closes out act one (aka "Whoa Roberta, Maybe It is Just a Light Flow Month") Third, the duet between Sondra and Roberta at the opening of Act II. Checking out Gunn's...calves...and listening to those two profess their devotion in an extended duet for soprano and mezzo is nothing short of heavenly. Lastly, I need to mention the choral writing in the church scene. Picker creates a relentlessly repetitive, dark version of a church hymn that is at once beautiful and terrifying--taking us from the potentially sweet scene of Clyde meeting Sondra's parents for the first time at church into what seems an inevitable confrontation with Roberta. This scene is terrific stuff.

Dramatically, this opera I find works really quite well, cosidering the immense volume of material upon which it is based. It's plot heavy, so things occasionally feel glossed over--but there is some surprisingly sophisticated character development. Particularly Sondra, who we just totally fall in love with, right along with dear Clyde. She is one of the more thoroughly well drawn operatic characters I can think of.

So, I was happy that I wasn't crazy. Though the energy was not the same as the night of the premiere, and the wonderful Susan Graham was absent, it was still a unique and wonderful 3.5 hours. And I still recommend it wholeheartedly and without reservation.

Friday, December 16, 2005


Looks like Susan Graham is out of tonight's performance of An American Tragedy.

Tragically, Alex and I are attending this evening for a second listen/viewing. We both really dig the Graham, so are bummed.

Kirsten Chavez our ass.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Mo' Brahms, Mo' Problems

Not really. The adagio of Brahms' 2nd just made me happy though. Perhaps you agree (mp3)?

A Transit Tragedy

J: if there is a strike, when will it happen?
A: tomorrow at midnight
J: ahh ok
J: that would be sort of pleasant
A: yeah
A: I'm fine with it
J: I am into it
J: I mean, we'd have to find a way to get to AmTrag
A: its not that far a walk into the city for me, and obviously I would walk to Amtrag
J: natch
J: and I suppose you would have found your way to work by then anyway
A: yeah...i guess
J: what is your official company policy in case of a strike?
A: just that maybe some people who drive will arrange carpools, otherwise work from home
J: oh fine
J: I think everyone in our office could walk really easily
J: Janet is on the upper west side
A: I love Dolora Zajick's hat

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Tuesday's Buzz Kill

Contrary to our experience on Saturday evevning:

1) Sieglinde is none too pleased with 'trebs, Guelfi, Fisch, and listening to a last minute cover. Were some of the problems exacerbated by Villazon's absence? I would imagine so.

(Sieglinde mentions some boo-ing from the audience after the Duke's 'Parmi veder le lagrime'. I agree this is unforgiveable. The poor guy is a last minute cover AND making his debut to a full house. Cut him some slack. No matter how much I wanted to boo Maureen O'Flynn at the Romeo et Juliette Prima, I did not. Or perhaps Alex didn't let me. Memory fails.)

2) Maury D. remains unimpressed and sorely disappointed. Defeated, he can hardly bring himself to fully share the experience.

I do hope Tuesday was a significantly poorer showing that Saturday. Otherwise, I need to seriously recalibrate my internal critical faculties. I maintain that 'trebs is the real deal (enough so that I grabbed cheapo tickets to her Carnegie Hall recital in March) I have a pretty decent ear, and other than one or two very specific top notes (perhaps the ones she bailed on during Tuesday's performance?), I wasn't feelin' the same intonation issues registered by Maury.

Ah well...what WILL Saturday bring?

This gets a little out of hand

I missed this at the time, but Greg Sandow put in his two cents on AmTrag for the Post, closing with his patented "I wish this was more like HBO instead of boring, irrelevant classical music" line (most of the review is appropriate, if a bit mean-spirited). I've been thinking about Sandow's recent book post a lot, so I guess this is as good a moment as any to get into it.

Sandow's exercise is this: take the viewpoint of someone with no serious interest in, predisposition towards, or even attraction to the classical music tradition (blah, blah, its a stupid term--I think we all know what we're talking about here). Then mine the classical music experience for things which would maybe surprise the person who isn't interested and thinks its boring in the first place--musicians should dress down; play in a bar; bop around more while playing; the program notes should be less detailed; louds should be louder; softs should be softer; and the list goes on. And that's just the entertainment side. There's an attitude problem keeping his hypothetical Philistine away as well. He suggests musicians and those who love classical music must: stop wallowing in its elitist trappings; stop going on about aspects too difficult for everyone to understand; and, especially, stop pretending its a more complicated or demanding tradition than pop or jazz.

Putting aside the fact that I think I would find this pretty unconvincing stuff if I didn't give a crap about classical music in the first place, what's really going on here? Despite Sandow's dismissal of the "culture explanation" in a later comment to the post (it is yet another failing of people who like classical music that they are always trying to weasel out of the blame for its impending death), I think its just a bit harder to shrug off.

During the past 3-4 decades the U.S. has witnessed: the full maturation of an instant gratification mass media based on ever more efficient technology to deliver it; the emergence of new corporate structures in the form of multinational media conglomerates able to saturate the market more effectively; a wave of anti-intellectualism from the right combined with a wave of antagonism towards the western tradition from the left; a rather sudden retreat of the classical tradition into its avant garde and academic wings; and the drastic lowering of the median age to which mainstream culture directs itself. Against these sweeping changes, is it really more plausible to think classical music somehow just got exponentially more boring?

Contra Sandow, we have to think about classical music as a tradition in flux, rather than a tradition that has somehow lost its bearings and its meaning. Because to take his approach is essentially to claim that the experience of classical music today, is invalid, when in truth that experience is as central a part of the evolving tradition as the music making. And, as I've noted before, an artistic tradition isn't like making widgets or overhauling the school system. It evolves on its own terms and according to its own internal forces.

So what are some of the attributes of the experience today? For one, we prefer to experience classical music from an informed perspective when possible. We care that the artists producing it possess a craft unique in rigor, skill, and detail. We like the fact that classical compositions possess a depth that rewards those who choose to delve deeper. We are pleased that the artists make artistic choices based on the merits as they are currently understood. We are happy that the concert going experience has evolved beyond what it was in Brahms' day, when a concert goer would very likely never have had an opportunity to hear the work in question before and likely never would again. We are glad that people are quiet during performances because it lets us focus on the music in a way that concert goer of the late 19th century would rarely have been afforded. While it might be vindicating to live in a society where classical music occupied the place of primacy it did in Brahms' day, the way classical music is experienced today is a far better fit for how we choose to appreciate it.

So instead of trying to parse out reasons why someone could ever come to like classical music in the first place, perhaps Sandow should ask the people that actually, you know, like it...right now. I know it looks like we're catatonic with boredom and absorbed in our own elitism, but its just listening. You might have run into 4000 of us on 66th street Saturday night after the rapturous applause died down.

Looking around the classical music scene today, there's a lot to be worried about, but where there are doors closing, there are also a lot of windows opening. While commercial classical radio (and for that matter any non-crap commercial radio) is surely going extinct, the Internet has become a remarkable and vibrant tool for disseminating information, music, and discussion, especially regarding new music. While many orchestras are in dire financial straits, many are programming new music and more interesting programs, and an appreciation of new work beyond avant garde circles is growing slowly but surely. While the Plastico Tristan may indeed be the death knell for studio opera recording, the quality of live recording has become so high that we probably don't need any stuffy old studio recordings anymore.

But these promising signs matter to people that are actively willing to engage with the tradition as it exists now. Any attempt to make it more robust has to recognize that there is a meaningful experience being had, even if it is facing a tough adaptation, and build from there. I think its safe to say that most of Sandow's analysis and recommendations, on the other hand, would make any musician or self-respecting classical music fan cringe in horror. Doesn't that tell us anything?

Ok. I know this is long. But just one extended quibble.

As to his relentless attempts to put classical and pop music on equal footing. The whole leveling thing he tries to do is just a deeply misguided and frankly unappealing way to think about different musical experiences available today. We're talking about music, a labor of love for most people...why shouldn't they be allowed to make value judgments? And why is it such a bad thing that different genres should have superiority over others in some respects?

My mother was telling me stories she heard recently about how Evgeny Kissin, during the intermissions to his recitals, finds a piano backstage and continues practicing--this, a man who has probably practiced no less than 4 hours on any given day in his conscious existence. This makes me impressed by Evgeny Kissin, and the monomanical devotion that classical artists have for their craft. But I don't want to hear that this is what Bono does backstage during U2 halftimes. The man is a rock and roll star. He should be blowing lines or doing groupies or solving African poverty or something. I have no doubt he's an extremely talented musician and he writes very good songs, but the two just aren't comparable in terms of infinite technical craftsmanship, NOR SHOULD THEY BE.

And for another thing, I for one am glad that we can be explicit about the fact that a Brahms symphony is an order of magnitude more complex than a rock and roll song. Brahms meant to write complicated music, and while there is certainly great emotional power in his symphonies, exploring their complexity is really the logical end to enjoying them. In that vein, I am glad that there are scholars and critics who write about these things and can help me to understand them when I so choose.

Paul McCartney, on the other hand, for all the depth of his pop compositions, first and foremost means to write good, affecting songs. I suppose it's nice that there are rock snobs around who can obsess about the details, but I could enjoy Sgt. Pepper's for the rest of my life without giving a hoot about what they have to say. Because that's what popular music is. It's just different than art music, and that's how it should be.

Last thing. I need to let the air out of his rock music=authentic experience/classical music=fake elitist experience construct. If he thinks rock music is all about an authentic passion that somehow eludes classical music, I would invite him to come to one of our many fine clubs in Williamsburg and prove to me that 50 percent of the experience isn't just feelin' cool and enjoying the ambiance of the other dour hipsters. Live music is a social experience and it comes with a healthy dose of superficial environmental factors that have little to do with the actual music. That's fine. But let's not pretend like people that go to rock music don't have their own petty reasons for doing so. I mean...please.

Thanks to anyone still time I decide to blow off a morning at the office maybe I'll go back to my thoughts about realistic ways to strengthen the tradition and why Sandow's interminable cries of elitist are so misplaced. Later...

Update: 12/17 - A response to some comments here...thanks for writing!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Rigoletto roundup

Before the next spate of commentary rolls in, just a few more thoughts after 48 hours of digestion:

1. I'll second Jonathan and JSU's comments about the decided lack of ping in Rolando V's upper reaches. It is a clear, extremely enjoyable sound, but it don't make with the shivers; well thrown, but there's no spit on that ball.

2. While I maintain that Carlo Guelfi turned in a full blooded Rigoletto character-wise, listening to Leo Nucci do the thing Sunday proved how much Guelfi leaves to be desired. With the right voice really SINGING Rigoletto to the hilt, there are times when you even forget the Gilda/Duke pyrotechnics and just wallow in what is surely one of the most effective ads ever for the baritone voice.

3. So, I know it's just Rigoletto and all, but what an ever fascinating drama that thing is: a world in which love has been stripped of its power to such a degree that love itself becomes virtually meaningless. It is still ultimately a play about punishment and fate, but Verdi and Piave come to the judgment only after showing what we so often think of as love to be little more than a selfish conceit. We are prone to think, as Rigoletto, the Duke, and Gilda do, that love for another redeems, that the act of loving is enough to change us, and change the nature of things. But that seduction unravels in time, to where it utterly falls apart in Maddalena's dreadful suggestion: her 'compassion' for the Duke is synonymous with utter disregard for another life. That last mile post before the abyss acknowledged, Rigoletto must confront the fact that his love for his daughter, whom he can never understand, has meant nothing, and the only thing real is the cruelty he has done in the world.

4. On a related note, isn't it funny that La Donna e Mobile, maybe the cruelest number in the show, has become its jaunty calling card? I mean, after he's destroyed Gilda and unwittingly set the whole terrible endgame in motion, Verdi has him come on and sing "Bitches are crazy." And that's what everyone has gone home humming for a century and a half. Now that's a man who knows how to manipulate an audience.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Goods Have Been Delivered

As Alex and I left Saturday evening's Rigoletto chez Met (yes Sieglinde, we were both there...), Alex said to me: "She is not just an opera hot face. Netrebko has the goods. And she delivered them. To me."

I am inclined to heartily agree. Her voice is just dark enough to be rich and seductive, but manages to never lose its appealing sweetness. I found this to be true throughout her range and throughout the evening.

That said, what strikes me most about her performance on Saturday evening is the incredible level of control she seems to have over her instrument. Whether folded in the arms of her father, laying flat on her back in a burlap sack, or flitting about the stage with the potentially insane Rolando Villazon, 'Trebs delivers the goods. And fully commands them. I guess what I am trying to say is that this woman seems to take breath support/control to wholly new heights. And she has an incredible stage presence to boot. She was, without question, the brightest point of the evening.

Villazon, as the fickle and, er... compact object of her affections (and a good bit of literal and often awkward pawing) turned in a reliable, energetic, focused, if not overwhelming performance. He did't fully deliver the goods in Act I. Some warming up was in order. But by the time the impressive and virtuosic Act II opener rolled around, he had hit his stride--and maintained it throughout. Upper registers were, in places, not as comfortable and bright as I'd hoped for...but the notes were there, and there was little doubt he was going to deliver them.

The chemistry between the two of them sometimes ventures into the embarrassingly amusing. There is a terrific paw-fest in Act I Scene II that is reminiscent of kitties in a pet store window. Villazon repeats it later, with a full-on tongue attack on that poor mezzo (we'll call her Carmen) singing opera's most thankless role in act III.

I don't have a lot to say about Guelfi. He turned in a solidly sung and soulfully acted Rigoletto. I am giving him my nod of approval. The relationship between Gilda and Rigoletto was far more potent than Gilda/Duke in this particular performance.

The throngs of men singing some of Verdi's most exciting choral writing was a highlight of the evening. This, combined with Asher Fisch' delightful willingness to let the Met orchesta fully unleash the hounds, made for some pretty damn exciting passages. It was terrific to watch him encourage full-on emoting from our celestial balcony box location.

The Saturday night tourist/date/prom(?) audience was a bit unruly (Colonel Chatty Riff-Raff next to us in box 3, for example) but hugely responsive to this highly anticipated season premiere.

Now, one thing to note regarding the ovations...little Rolando came out, took his bow...and then put his hands in the air and BECKONED THE AUDIENCE TO CHEER LOUDER. I kid you not. Natch, the audience responded and cheered like crazy. What happened next was my favorite part of the whole evening: The little dude, basking in the glory he only moments before demanded, HUGGED HIMSELF in congratulatory pride. It was so freaking ludicrous you had to love it.

Breaking it down: Those of you going on Tuesday should expect a thoroughly enjoyable, riff-raff free, paw-filled, Carmen-licking, tenor hugging, chorus wailing, lightning flashing, Fisch emoting, soprano dying evening of pure operatic bliss. Do fill us in.

No maledzione here

At the risk of validating the hype, let me say that tonight's hot-hot-hot Rigoletto was really a very good show.

Anna Netrebko proved (to me at least) that she's a lot more than just an opera hot face. Hers is a wonderful sound: all milky smoovness that turns on a dime, but never comes off cloying or manufactured. She conveys a deep understanding of the part, and precision engineers each aria accordingly, drawing on sounds that run the gamut from anguished, crystal clear highs in the Act II confession to excuciatingly delicate pianissimos in the death scene (completely audible 80 feet above her head, of course). A ticket to her debut at Carnegie Hall in March? Yes please...

Rolando V. also delivered a very strong showing. There were times when I felt he got overexcited and a little sloppy, or maybe there were moments when he was too willing to dip into his bag of affectations instead of just singing the thing. But all this went out the window when it really counted, and R delivered the goods according to schedule--the goods being a full throated sound as notable for its depth as its brilliance. If not quite sure at the beginning of the night, by the third act I was more than convinced he could do just about anything he wanted with that voice. However, I would suggest he take the onstage lustiness down about one notch. It should be possible to portray "animal" and not actually impregnate Maddalena, after all.

If not a head turning sound per se, I thought Carlo Guelfi a wonderful Rigoletto. Not that this is true of Rolando and Trebs, but I think its possible to phone these roles in and still have a good show. Not so with Rigoletto. If we don't experience that irreduceable tension between sympathy and judgement the whole thing falls apart. Guelfi had it all, especially in his big Act II solo and "Piangi mi fanciulla". These should be the soul of the show, I think, and oh boy were they tonight.

All the other elements seemed firmly in place--Asher Fisch kept things kicking in the pit, the chorus sounded great, and a special mention for the ensemble work, so glorious in this opera, which was carried out with an unusual refinement.

The sold-outedness was somewhat noticeable, teenagers that looked like they were going to prom, and a high incidence of talking/coughing/gurgling, including the riff raff behind us, who seemed content to carry on a full conversation during Act I until our combined stares of death finally quieted them. But such is the price of hotness.

Update: And here we thought everyone else was going on Tuesday. Maury's take: Rolando is "the one"; JSU's thoughts are here.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

"Because That Opera is Freaking Awesome"

The title of this post has been Alex's reply on multiple occasions when I ask "I mean...WHY are all of these Rigolettos sold out?"

Now, on occasion he answers "Because people freaking love that opera."

Understood. I sort of freaking love it myself, in fact. Though my embarrassing admission is that tonight will be the first performance of said freaking awesome opera I have attended.

That said, imagine my delight when, seeking enlightenment, I opened Sieglinde's blog this morning. The Mobile Donna herself asks the same question: HOW have all three of these performances sold out?

I suppose it is fairly straightforward. First, people do indeed freaking love this opera. Second, the Brad and Angelina of "opera hot" tenor/soprano pairings reign the evening.

For me, the lingering question is WHY the December performances are selling out while the January perfs seem to have plenty of availability. It is, after all, the January performances that have the novelty of the Placid Flamingo at the helm. I know, it is still early. But to put it in perspective, I went to the Met Box Office over a month ago, and my only "affordable" choices were Row K of Fam Circ on Tuesday, or Balcony Box 5 for tonight (Saturday, 12/10.) I chose the latter. I am on a serious break from Celestia.

Perhaps I am a sucker for hype. Despite the above questions, I am ridiculously excited for this evening.

Friday Randomness

A: I am listening to the 3rd Mennin
A: it is nice
J: By Mennin™
J: oh cool
A: BTW, Fidelio is indeed kind of weak from what I've heard
J: oh really?
J: the opera itself?
A: yeah
A: there's this one spectacular ensemble part
A: but I'm not loving it across the board
J: that is sad
A: yeah...maybe it needs to be seen
A: otherwise its nice, but so far I can think of a lot of Beethoven I'd rather be listening to
J: scroll down to M-A trailer!
A: oh
A: shnap
A: that looks freaking awesome
J: I just watched the first reel on actual film
J: it is like outrageously pretty
A: that makes me so excited
A: kick ass
A: wow
A: I think I just lost my will to be at the office
J: it is unbearable
J: I know
J: I want to drink Svedka
A: at my desk
J: hah
A: in better news, Cynthia gave me a recording of Adriana Lecouvreur with Caballe and Carerras
J: oh neat!
A: Caballe sounds hot
J: awesome!
A: her full name is: Maria de Montserrat Viviana Concepción Caballé i Folch
J: Folch you
A: its such bullshit that Jet Blue doesn't fly to Chicago
J: it really is
J: have you looked at Southwest?
A: yeah, I think that's what I'm going to do
A: 346
A: but everything else was on bad days or too early
J: that is not great but for this late it is not so bad
A: yeah
A: travelocity didn't even have reasonable 1 stop times for friday
J: jesus
J: well, that I guess is not a massive surprise
J: what dates did you choose?
A: 23-28
J: on Southwest?
A: yerp
J: if you want the car to drive out there, you are welcome to it (it will have a window by then)
A: thanks...for that one I'll probably just do the train, since its from work and in the middle of the day
A: random but awesome
A: I have made you another rigoletto btw
J: oh great!
A: as you (and I for that matter) will probably want to listen to nothing else after tomorrow

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

No more drinking and taking the 7 train

A: Cynthia finds the blog delightful, BTW
she's read like the entire thing
oh awesome
well, it is fairly delightful
I broke the news in the middle of the 2nd bottle of champagne on sunday
(i.e., 9PM)
and then they were all, what's it called?
and the answer precipitated like 15 minutes of laughter
did I tell you how that ended?
scene: me waking up at Queensboro plaza at 2 AM, Parsifal blasting in the ears, wasted like there's no tomorrow, making it out of the train by a hair and stumbling home through LIC in the snow
on Sunday night?!
oh no! haha
you walked home from QBP trashed at 2AM?
I got a bus for half of it, thank goodness
that is insane
and great
I like literally walked in my house took off my coat and fell asleep until 10 the next day
did you get Ariadne yet?
no goddamn it
A: I still have to do a systematic office search for Poulenc
Poulenc still missing?
it has to be here somewhere
at the office or a casa?
hopefully the statute of limitations on Ariadne hasn't run out
I know
Could be either, but I'm leaning towards office at the moment
J: oh PS evidently the google search:
nathan gunn bathing suit
brings us up as the 1st hit

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

5 Long Hours: How I Spent My Blogger Site Maintenance

A: it said there was maintenance but it should be over now
J: it cramps my style
J: and that of our fine readership
A: and makes me anxious
J: don't be anxious
J: just drink through it
A: done
J: hah
J: my mom got me an Opera News subscription bc she didn't know I already had one
J: so I am trying to get it switched to you
A: dope A: thanks!
J: my pleasure--I'll see if I can swing it
J: whoo-hoo alternate side parking suspended tomorrow
A: bonus
A: arg
A: where is the blog!
J: yes my mom just phoned with the same question
J: there is this osteoporosis medicine called Boniva
J: it shd be for erectile dysfunction
A: ha
A: totally
A: Hardonexa
J: Stiffelio™
A: ha
A: this is totally going to fuck up our hits
J: I know
J: but it is what it is
A: it is shitty
J: it's been like 5 hours
J: and that is a lot

11:25 PM J: it's up!

They Just Don't Get It -or- Alex Isn't Gonna Like This

First of all, aren't I lucky to have a blogging buddy so eloquent as Alex? I think his assessment of Tommasini's review of An American Tragedy rather succinctly summarizes why we find it so distressing.

Well, it only gets more depressing.

Eric Myers' confusing and ill-informed review in Variety can be added the prissy drivel by a heap of people who I have decided are afraid to committ to recognizing this opera as anything other than a somewhat enjoyable trifle.

Eric, I have never met you. You are probably a lovely, engaging, educated person. But COME ON. Let's have a look, shall we?

On the libretto:
"By streamlining the central story and details, Scheer has constructed a tight libretto, though his lyrics rarely rise to intriguing poetic heights."
Intriguing poetic heights?? This is a fast moving dramatic piece with an appealing, colloquial libretto that manages to actually lead to the development of REAL characters. I actually find it fairly remarkable. Not totally sure what you would qualify as "intriguing poetic heights" but the phrase makes me queasy. Please don't use it again.

On Nathan Gunn, and the role of Clyde:
"Nathan Gunn is a physically ideal Clyde Griffiths -- and few male opera singers would look as good in a 1906 swimsuit -- but his darkly handsome baritone is ill-suited to the character, whose youth and impetuousness demand the more callow sound of a tenor. He probably should have switched roles with William Burden, the fine, attractive tenor who played Clyde's spoiled cousin, Gilbert."
I totally agree re: the swimsuit. But I am totally overwhelmed by this comment: "He probably should have switched roles with William Burden"(!!) Please, please explain what on earth you are talking about. Is this a typo? Were you feeling rushed under a deadline? What a shame. I assume you mean that the character of Clyde would have been better interpreted by Picker as a tenor role, and Gilbert as a baritone. Yes? But this is not what you said. First, you made it about Gunn's performance, which makes no sense whatsoever. Second, you said "he probabably should have switched roles." Kiddo, he is a baritone. Do you want him to sing Gilbert an octave down? Your criticisms, in this instance, are grossly misdirected and, frankly, infuriating.

On the score:
"But all these great efforts count for little if an opera's musical component is not memorable. Despite the masterful hand of veteran conductor James Conlon, Picker's score -- though essentially accessible and tonal -- never reaches out to its audience. Instead, it seems content to comment on the action, rising and falling continuously along with a vocal line that seems similarly aimless."
Oy. I guess all I can really say is: This audience was "reached". The Friday eveing audience went crazy for Picker. To say the score did not connect with the audience is objectively an untrue statement. Personally, I think Picker proved himself to be a master at writing for the voice. We truly got to see an assemblage of some of the greatest vocal talent using their voices to their full potential. How else can we explain this?

Myers contnues and makes some potentially valuable but minor points about missed opportunities to reference music of the time period. But the closer of this review is a real kicker:

"There is worthy musical theater to be found in this story; perhaps Picker was simply the wrong composer for it. If only Stephen Sondheim had gotten there first." How delightfully cliché! First, we have Tommasini suggesting that the score is too "broadway" to be deemed significant. Now we have this guy saying "Sondheim should have written it." What are we to do? Now, I am a foaming at the mouth, rabid fan of Stephen Sondheim. But had he wanted to set this story, he would have long ago. And honestly, there are not many immediate connections to be drawn between his music and that of Tobias Picker. So, why are bringing him into the mix?

Are "we" SO desperate to not accept this opera on its own terms that we have to completely recategorize it and play "fantasy camp" with the one contemporary composer whose name is consistently met with hushed tones?

An easy closer, Mr. Myers. But I'm on to you. There is a well-written review in there somewhere. Perhaps you were simply the wrong writer for it. I'll let you know once I decide who would have done better.

I am open to suggestions.