Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Polar bear puppets make people happy

Not a ton to say about the Taymor ZF except that I can't imagine finding it anything but delightful. The constant play between astounding image and theatrical devices laid bare makes Taymor's stagecraft perfectly pitched to allow the opera's whimsy and seriousness equal footing. It manages, without resorting to kitsch or anachronism, to provide a sense of continuity with the Magic Flute as we feel it must have been performed in Mozart's time. This is spectacle at a human scale, and thus a very different, and refreshing, experience from the cinematic lens through which we are used to viewing musical theatre.

In that sense, it is worth noting that last night actually made me less stoked about the hypothetical of a Taymor "Ring". For all the spectacular, spectacular of Wagner's tetralogy, I think it may suffer from the performative and self-reflexive trademarks which make Taymor's staging so enjoyable. The "Ring" is meant to exist less than it is meant to be performed. While this has no bearing on whether a staging is literal to rocky outcroppings, etc., it does mean the fourth wall is supposed to be firmly in place, and the circle of suspended belief kept whole throughout. In this way, Wagner's conception of the stage really does anticipate film, whereas Taymor's strengths flow in the opposite direction.

The cast is very good, Mary Dunleavy and Eric Cutler especially. Miklosa hit the notes but she needs a little more volume and heft to make it into really memorable QOTN territory. Gunn's voice is Gunn's voice, but let no one deny his Papageno keeps the show in the black, acting-wise. One Anna Christy singing Papagena was dang near inaudible. Special jury prize for Morris Robinson's Sarastro--I don't know how the role gets much more satisfying than that.

The orchestra sounded fine, tho my critical faculties have been a bit spoiled by that Klemperer recording I heard last week.

On a related note, its funny how I had planned to get sick of Mozart after last week, but all I wanted to do when I got home last night was put on Don Giovanni.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Mpmpmp grab bag

What's lying around the ol' work itunes for your evening listening?

  • It's Caballe imitating pure sugah (mp3) in "Io Son L'umile Ancella" from a live Adriana Lecouvrer.
  • Oh, and here are Renata Tebaldi and Mario del Monaco getting on very well (for now...mp3) in this 1961 Otello.
  • And just to clear the palette, the alegretto (mp3) from Berg's "Lyric Suite."

Muchos Placidos

A: um...this is a lot of placido domingo
J: !
J: too much I daresay
A: right...obviously one must be ok with that amount of domingos
J: Domingi
A: Dominguses
J: haha
J: Domingois
A: ha
A: Domingons
J: haha
J: Domingonese
A: def. a german dialect only sung by spaniards whose voices are so purdy you don't give a shit
J: hah

Friday, January 27, 2006


A: me and cat are listening to the salzburg concert
J: http://www.stuffonmycat.com
A: hah
A: I love this
J: haha
J: it's a princess!
A: cecilia is tearin it up
A: some of the WQXR announcers are there and announcing it like the superbowl or something
A: "Jeff, a lot of talk in the last week about Renee Fleming"
A: "That's right Bill"
J: haha
J: http://www.stuffonmycat.com/index.php?itemid=111&catid=11
A: ha
A: great feet on that cat
J: love this site
A: thomas hampson is on now
A: I don't love him
J: no
J: he did a nice job the other night, but that is different
A: like, there's more going on with his real opera voice, but not enough
J: "gayla"
A: heh
J: oh I get to hear this a lot in the next days
A: seriously
J: was there anything really great?
A: on this?
J: yes
A: no
A: I mean, nice enough
J: so here is the question
J: since today is the actual geburtstag
J: will it chill after this?
A: I don't think so...maybe after February a little bit
A: I think it will stop being constantly on the radio
J: what a dumb finale
J: I mean
A: this guy is a tard
A: just in case you are totally Zberflted out after this weekend
A: I heard a great recording on WNYC last night
J: oh cool
J: which?
A: 1964 w/ Otto Klemperer
A: I think its considered kind of a standard...but for good reason
J: dazzling gold pants suit
A: Yeah...I hope there's a picture of that
A: she gives great google image
J: "Thomas Hampson is leading the parade of soloists"
A: haha
A: that was a new low in obvious commentary
J: and what exactly about the Salzburg love for him is "unspoken"??
J: I wonder if Renee and Cecilia hate each other now
A: They need to have a smackdown called "PBS Divas"
J: Kathleen Battle will officiate
J: whoa HvK has his own Platz?
A: that's something to work for
A: Ferrantelliplatz
J: that would be a particularly awesome platz

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Mozart: whatevs?

AC Douglas is doing yeoman's work in culling the best ruminations on the Year of Mozart (YOM) here.

Good reading, as I myself have been wrestling with some mixed feelings about the YOM. Even for people who like Mozart a lot, the cult of Mozart carries a lot of undesirable baggage that needs to be dealt with. It's not an elitist thing. Just an understanding that the way of Mozart as he is understood in the culture at large -- as shorthand for 'genius' and catch-all for classical music as it happened in some mythical time gone by -- is the path to irrelevance. Peter Shaffer's "Amadeus", surely the most elegant expression of some of these notions in our own times, has very little to do with Mozart's music, which is reduced to a terribly effective set piece set piece. The fear that this indulgence in the 'idea' of classical music will be accepted as a substitute for the actual thing is why the cult of Mozart looks so threatening.

So there is bound to be some groaning when every program link for the next month returns an "All-Mozart" line-up. It's like the eye-roll when one sees a Mozart piano concerto chucked into a program that has nothing to do with it times a hundred, accompanied by the requisite dark thoughts about how Mozart is just bait for the people who only want a classical music-flavored night out. And it is compounded when one's smart, interesting friends, who are just on the other side of being interested in the music, make a point of noting that Mozart is "too pretty" or "too sweet" for them. And when they say it, you know they're compounding quite a bit more than just Mozart in that statement.

Amidst all that baggage I find myself wondering how the current glut of Mozart can really do much good, and numerous snarky thoughts pass through my head about how maybe a lot of Mozart kind of deserves its rep as aural wallpaper, and won't I be glad when this is all over, and boy does Mozart squeeze out a lot of other interesting stuff out of the concert hall.

But then I calm down, and I am reminded that that Mozart has in fact been responsible for two of the most extraordinary musical experiences I have had this season, ones which I am likely to remember for a long, long time. I still haven't quite sorted out the above, but in honor of the YOM:

The first came in a masterclass Leon Fleisher gave in November. Enjoying Fleisher a lot and having read rapturous descriptions of his past masterclasses, I was quite happy to come into a ticket, but felt neither here nor there about the actual pieces at hand: the piano concertos K488 and K595. Each student played the first movement of their respective concerto at the outset, and my reaction was standard: nice...some things noted...pleasure at getting to actually focus some energy music I sometimes find too easy to zone out to.

But then Fleisher started in on them. I'm still not quite sure what kind of voodoo magic that man's words are capable of, but as the talented young pianists began to process and translate what he was getting at, it was as though a different Mozart entirely rose up from the keyboard. Something to do with a greater structure being revealed, the precise connections being made -- like suddenly the deeper and vastly more resilient architecture of the music was made clear, unlocked only by playing of an almost supernatural grace and omniscience. The pianists couldn't get it consistently, and frankly, I'm not sure how anyone can, but when they did...the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.

The second came during the recent Cosi Fan Tutte performances at the Met. I'm hardly a stranger to Mozart's operas, yet I had never experienced their dramatic power in person quite as I did at that performance.

I suddenly understood the radical contradictions which the operas force us to contend with: for example, in the second act, where Fiordiligi sings a song of love, and lust, and longing to this absurd stranger, her boyfriend's friend in disguise, and yet. That these things coexist is breathtaking, and terrifying, yet at no odds with the beauty of the music. How do we reconcile this? That her longing is real and beautiful, even as the reality of her situation is so pitiful?

And then, near the end, at the faux wedding feast, when together, they sing a quartet of weariness in which they ask to forget all that has happened and get on with their lives. It is the music which has passed through all of our minds when we try to make sense of our infinitely confounding selves. Yet the opera suggests this may in fact be the best option.

Mozart is difficult for two reasons, as far as I can tell. First, he does not offer up answers easily, because to find those answers you can never, never, give into the aural wallpaper response. It is all hidden in the graceful lines and elegant melodies, and our ears are simply not preconditioned to interrogate these. Second, understanding him requires finding more familiarity and truth in the music of a man of the eighteenth century than our long vantage point is inclined to allow.

Someone Has a New Look

I just noticed that someone has a new identity.

Check out the "simple yet elegant" rebranding over at MY FAVORITE INTERMISSIONS, the blog formerly known as FISHER-PRICE: MY FIRST OPERA BLOG.

This is the home of Maury D'Annato: a terrifically smart opera blogger, enthusiast, and judging by his most recent post, poet.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Die Geheimnisvolle Helena

I am *slowly* making my way through the Jackpot of opera recordings I came across back in December. Evidently I sent them via Donkey; aka Media Mail...talk about delayed gratification. They arrived to my wee Chelsea studio only last week.

A few sure-fire hits thus far: The Solti Ring, the Karajan Ariadne, the Glyndebourne Jenufa DVD (with Roberta Alexander and a deliciously decrepit Anja Silja)...

This morning, however, I came across a bit of a mystery: A 1979 Decca/London recording of Die Ägyptische Helena. Detroit Symphony Orchestra--Antal Dorati at the helm. Gwyneth Jones, Barbara Hendricks...I can't seem to find much information. Certainly no particularly enlightening reviews. Now, on first listen, I am pretty into it. Jones is a powerhouse--really, this is a heavy voice. But I find it works here, especially in the context of Dorati's utterly balls-out interpretation (I say this as though I had ANY point of comparison. Admittedly, I do not.) Anyway, this recording seems to be not wildly easy to come by, and I am wondering if anyone else has heard it, how it stands up, etc--especially in anticipation of this mention of a new production next season at the Met.

So, listening to all this Strauss is making me painfully aware that I do not have a Salome recording. Seeing as there are about a billion of them readily available, and most of them relatively cheaply, I am going a bit crazy trying to decide which to go with. As a first recording, I tend to prefer super clean, studio sound. Yet, something about Salome leads me to lean a bit toward the live options. Suggestions and general guidance would be sehr appreciated.

On a different note, I listened to most of the broadcast yesterday, and was very into both Dunleavy and Miklosa. Gunn was....Gunn. Totally...er, serviceable but not extraordinary. Still, I think a perfectly fine choice. And his rousing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" was completely...oh wait. Regardless, I am looking forward to seeing it next week. If nothing else, it'll be like seeing The Lion King for $26 instead of $100.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Pass the Zauberflote

J: the woman on this panel is funny if you imagine her as a fat lispy gay man
A: haha
A: totally
J: oh the Barbara Cook thing sounds like it was neat
J: :-(
J: Audra Macdonald did a few numbers
J: and Elaine Stritch
A: oh
A: nuts
A: did you go to bartok?
J: the sound quality on the broadcast is nice today
J: no I did not
J: I am excited to go to this
A: juntwait has been totally selling those puppets
J: I wonder if she is bummed that it's not Italian
J: she is all Zarrrrrrrastro
A: ha
J: um it is 61 degrees out
J: also, it is January 21st
A: yeah...I gotta get me some of that temp
J: it looks like it is about to pour
J: yeahh!
J: woo!
A: that was shweet
J: seriously
J: woo!
J: ok so that major famoso soprano aria from a few minutes ago is "The" Queen of the Night aria right?
A: then what is the one in the first act considered?
J: ok I dunno
J: but wait
J: that one from a few minutes ago is sung by said queen right?
A: yes
J: ok becuase my mom called after the act one one
A: it's like Queen of the night Aria (reprise)
J: oh are they the same?
A: not actually, but same general idea
J: this is nice
J: and I bet weird in this production
J: I like her voice--it gets a tad heavy here and there
A: that is Mary Dunleavy?
J: I think so
A: what is b. firttoli coming back for in the spring?
J: Luisa Miller
A: I see
A: w/ Alvarez too
A: I don't know anything about Luisa Miller
J: my dad says it has nice things
J: tho occasionally is a little early Verdi-tastic
A: ah
A: nice screaming nathan gunn
J: hah
A: where do you think he takes his shirt off in this one?
J: curtain call
A: ha
J: I wish we were going on Tuesday
A: so, the met rosenkavalier coming up is Susan Graham and Renee Fleming--which is kind of a funny lesbo couple
J: haha
J: we shd watch this rosen-K video I have
A: yes
A: neat
J: ohh
A: her 'troyens' looks cool
A: I don't think that's anywhere in the next few seasons
A: did a puppet just fall over?
J: haha
A: Nathan is now like entangled in a puppet, but still singing
A: these are making me more confident about the buffalo Rheingold
J: yes
J: she is cool
J: her Butterfly looks neat
J: lots of thunder in this production
A: I wonder if it is recorded or like that thunder machine they had for rigoletto
J: or like Meegan waving one of those flexible metallic thunder sound makers
A: ha
A: nuts...the warmth is going away tonight
A: after some rain
A: heh
A: "shed the cage like material they were wearing over their costumes"
A: read: NGunn's shirt
J: hah!

Alternative Careers

J: did I ever tell you that one of the sound assistants on Lost in Translation was this dopey stoner kid named James Levine
A: ha
A: You're all "could some one please send James Levine for doughnuts?"
J: haha
A: "I think James levine got high during lunch"
J: "fuckin' James Levine screwed up his time card again. the payroll company will be pissed"
A: that is good
J: "James Levine PLEASE stop playing that fucking Green Day album"
A: haha
A: "Who was that stupid-looking girl James Levine made out with at the Christmas party?"

Friday, January 20, 2006

Not Opera

But so awesome. Here's me, J, and a raft of other people singing in the finale (mp3) to Symphony Space's Wall-to-Wall Sondheim festival last March--arguably the most kick ass night of 2005. After this, the master himself came out on stage, and a packed-to-the-gills room of successful New York theatre nerds professionals were reduced to shrieking uncontrollably like 13 year old girls at a backstreet boys concert.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Brother, Can You Spare some Rheingold?

A: whoa!!!
J: Fam Circ is $260 for the cycle
J: $65 per opera
J: that is only $23 more than their regular Sat night tix now
J: which is less of a gouge than I expected
A: seriously
J: I mean
J: Alex
A: that is very reasonable
J: what are we going to do??
A: I know
J: I mean
A: I need to think about it
A: our chances to see a full Ring cycle are like this
A: 2009 at the Met
A: or 2009 in Bayreuth
J: shit
J: or 2007 if we get our tickets right now
J: ok well 2nd question
J: if we did get them
A: maybe seattle, but considering they had Jane Eaglen on the last outing, they are not so trustworthy
J: ew
J: would it be better to do Cycle 2...so it is 4 days in a row, as it was intended?
J: it would mean leaving work at 5 three days in a row
J: I mean
J: it is in 2007
J: so like whatever
A: right...
A: I'll take the f'ing week off
A: the issue with 4 days
A: in a row is how they run the casts
J: oui?
J: ah
J: like the other cast will be less fatiugued?
A: like, they have to switch up the casts to do 4 days in a row
J: well I am thinking
J: if there are two casts
A: there's no way Brunnhilde can sing Gdammerung two days after Walkure
J: probably both cylces are split casts?
A: maybe
A: sometimes they do change Wotans for Siegfried
A: all tho they wouldn't necessarily have to in the first configuration
J: right but if not
J: then cast II would be singing four nights in a row
J: which is doubtful
A: at least, that's the sense I get for Western opera companies
J: unless there are three casts, which also makes no sense
J: hm
A: but these are Russians, so maybe they don't mind worn down voices by the end
J: Gergiev is all "do it"
A: haha
A: "In soviet union, we send Wotan to Gulag if he wusses out on third night"
J: haha
J: Cut to: Brunnhilde in the back of the bread line. The WAY back.
J: the fun thing about Cycle I
J: would be seeing the first night AND the last night
A: good point
A: oh right...option two is nestled in option 1
J: cozy!
J: I am guessing both cycles see both casts
A: we need more intelligence about how many Wotans are going to be involved in this thing
J: seriously
J: we shd call my sister
A: and if we actually know any of them
J: she's on the Eurasia desk
A: Awesome

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Scarlett Johansson is no Patricia Racette

OK, now I am sure this may have been discussed in all sorts of other settings--but clearly Woody Allen has read Dreiser's An American Tragedy, or perhaps just really loves A Place in the Sun?

I am a huge Woody Allen fan, despite some of the crummy stuff he has spun in the past few years. I just (finally) saw Match Point, and thought it was quite good, in spite of Scarlett Johansson's characteristically non-existent acting. Someone please explain. Have we not, as a film-going society, caught on that she has no skill? I say, keep hiring her (hey she sells tickets), but stop saying she is good. And for God's sake, stop giving her awards.

Really, stop. F-ing crappy actress.

That said, has anyone been able to find any mention that Woody Allen has in any way credited Dreiser, or perhaps even mentioned the actual events from the late 19th century upon which the novel is based? Having only read endless articles and synopses of the book, and having seen Picker's opera twice, I am going to go out a fairly sturdy limb and say Match Point is SUCH a direct adaptation, that the lack of credit is pretty shocking. There must have been some deal made at some point, no? I am no legal expert, but I *do* work in film, and if we ever dared to develop a movie that was so directly based on other material, we would have a team of lawyers warning us against calling it original material...

Woody Allen, come ON. I adore you....but this ain't no original screenplay. Out with it!

And PS--I really like the movie, and would like to invite to invite Jonathan Rhys-Meyers over for tea to tell him as much...the door is open.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Already thinking about next year...

J: I got this Makropulos case DVD
J: and Silja looks like she is *actually* the age of the character, which happens to be 375
A: ha
A: nice
A: that lisa hirsch has the SFO sched
A: a Tristan
A: your girl Joyce DiDonato in Rosenkavalier
A: Marius K-Fooz in Don Giovanni
A: and Ball that is Masked w/ Da Voigt
J: Joyce DiDo is great, despite her boring showing in R&J
J: she was magical in Figaro
A: her R&J part was like nonexistent in a POS production
J: speaking of that Figaro
J: hot Luca is in that Don Giovanni
A: ah, indeed...
A: some worthy items there
J: yeah some good stuff fo sure
J: Prince Orlofsky - Gerald Thompson
J: that is a mezzo role
J: counter tenor?
A: huh
A: I s'pose
J: the Orlosky from the other night is one of the SF Carmens--she was good
J: did you see DC's next season?
A: man...that's a good season!
A: dang it. There's kind of a wait before more opera comes.
A: I am jonesing
J: I know
J: neat season, right?
A: totally!
J: the director of Bluebeard/Schicchi is the director of The Exorcist!!
A: nuts
J: hah
A: I thought that sounded familiar
J: so are the NY companies the only ones that wait 1000 years to announce?
A: maybe so
A: which seems funny because they are always talking about how they book everything like 5 years in advance
A: at that level
J: right? weird
J: worst summary of Sophie's Choice ever:
J: Told through a series of flashbacks, Sophiefs Choice follows the story of Holocaust survivor Sophie and her important life choices, including her troubled love for Nathan and their friend Stingo and the decision of which of her two children must be doomed to the gas chamber.
A: hahaha
A: that's amazing
J: hahah
A: "Yeah, I have had some tough times...I mean my love life couldn't get any crazier! And that whole thing about dooming one of my children to the gas chamber."
J: Sophie, a Brooklyn resident, reflects on several pivotal moments in her life, including her rocky marriage and the time when she had to send her daughter to be murdered.

Met d-base

The Met database, in case you were wondering, is the devil. At least as far as my office work is concerned. Nonetheless, some fun items:

Tristan, 1959: "People seemed disinclined to go home. The lights in the theatre were dimmed, but men and women throughout the house remained near their seats, applauding for Miss Nilsson's return. After more than fifteen minutes of plaudits, the enthusiasts let Miss Nilsson return to her dressing room."

Ballo, 1963: "Her [Nilsson's] closest partner in credibility as well as vocal excellence was Robert Merrill, long a fine-sounding Renato and now a believable one in action as well. The current state of Richard Tucker's Riccardo was observed on an earlier occasion this season, and might be summarized as a combination of the sublime (to the ear) and the ridiculous (to the eye)."

Martha, 1897: "An audience of 2500 people at the Metropolitan Opera House last night saw Armand Castelmary die on the stage, and applauded to the echo, thinking it a splendid bit of acting."

Norma, 1952 (Callas' debut): "Already warmed by ermine, the ladies in the audience at the Metropolitan Opera's opening night (is) were further comforted by the sure knowledge that they held tickets of admission in greater demand than "My Fair Lady." Priced at $35 and scalped at upward of $200 the implication was clear: grand opera was topping George Bernard Shaw set to polka music...

For Maria Callas cannot be dismissed by cheering the tenor or bestowing an ovation upon her mezzo-soprano sidekick. Nor by the standees (those audibly opinionated ones) sneering that she had adnoids and a rich husband. Such cracks were plentiful at the Met Monday before the final triumphant Act IV curtain at midnight. They suggest that the Callas publicity buildup had been too successful for the lady's own good and equally that her own "claque" was inferior in vigor to those of Del Monaco and Barbieri. Of course there are not supposed any longer to be "claques" at the Met. Just partisans.

Actually such partisanship and enthusiasm represents more than the unpredictability of an opening night (or of any night). Herein lies the strong meat of audience reaction. Without this caring and dividing of the masses, in or out of evening attire, grand opera would not be grand."

Walkure, 1935: "Mme. Flagstad is that rare avis in the Wagnerian woods - a singer with a voice, with looks, with youth. She is not merely another of those autumnal sopranos who passed their prime when the Kaiser was a boy, and whose waistlines have gone to that bourne from which no slenderness returneth...

She is solacing to the eye - comely and slim, and sweet of countenance. "I still need a Sieglinde!" wrote Wagner despairingly to a friend while he was casting the "Ring" for Bayreuth sixty years ago. "That need," he added, "is a calamity - for she must be slender." Wagner knew his Germans. Yesterday was one of those comparatively rare occasions when the exigent Richard might have witnessed with happiness an embodiment of his Sieglinde. For this was a beautiful and illusive re-creation, poignant and sensitive throughout, and crowned in its greater moments with an authentic exaltation."

Friday, January 13, 2006

Procrastination w/ Photoshop

Opera News in the Gelb era?

Something Different

Thanks to a roommate, I ended up at New York City Ballet's Swan Lake last night, which I'd never seen before.

The production was ugly as sin (long stretches with lighting like a high school gym...possibly the most hideous fabrics ever made by hand of man...sets like community musical theatre--is it a NY State Theatre curse?); the orchestra, with some fortunate exceptions, sounded like ass; and, not that I really know from ballet, but I swear I detected the same hints of lameness in Martins' choreography here that I have in the handful of other pieces of his I've seen.

But that's not really the point now is it?

There was really some tremendous dancing, notably from Jenifer Ringer, who danced the lead with equal parts breathtaking elegance and sheer, mind-blowing skill. The small ensembles, particularly the quartet in the beginning of the Second Act, were almost uniformly a joy. The corps de swan girls was appropriately mesmerizing (the design here was fine, but I don't give credit cuz 40 people in white tulle with blue lighting look priddy--I could do that).

Oh--and if you thought riff-raff at the opera was bad...our fairly respectable seats third ring center were treated to almost every disruption in the book: not one but TWO confused ladies with noisy plastic bags walking out in the middle of the show, several full-voice disputes about candy wrapper noises, and an audible snorer two seats away to top it off.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

CDU in '08

A: I really like that Angela Merkel
J: yeah she is neat
J: I hope she sits on El Presidente
A: from that article, it sounds like she is going to restore relations, but same diff
J: haha
J: right
A: I don't blame her
J: I mean
J: restore relations, but also with a wink to her people
J: which I appreciate
J: "Ja, this guy ist a tard, but we have to pretend to liebe him for a bit, OK?"
A: *link*
J: "For example, I regard Lufthansa’s innovation of playing disembarkation music as no improvement on my quality of life."
J: most genius quote of all time ever
J: ok she is amazing
J: that is a wonderful interview
J: she is the leader of a country!
J: I am moving to Germany.
A: I know!!!
A: It just boggles the mind to imagine what it would be like to live in a country not governed by a borderline illiterate
J: I know
J: jesus
J: god damn

Nay nay, René Pape

J: nicht opera hot
J: boy needs some eye cream
A: mercy
J: that O.H. photo of him on the Met website is really misleading
A: "It's cool if you want to consecrate the grail and everything, but I think I'm going to pass on dinner."
J: haha
J: "We can totally hang out, and like, diss on Kundry and talk about how awesome swans are and stuff but...as friends, OK? Like...not like a date. Is that cool?"
A: haha
A: He's Just Not That Into You: Grail Knight Edition
J: hah
A: *20 visits to go*
J: "I mean....Gurnemanz is totally cool, but...I dunno, he sorta tells these kinda long, boring stories over and over...and like, he's really 'naturey' and I am just not that into that. I mean, I could never be a vegetarian"
J: woo! I thought it would be fun to do something for the 10,000th visitor
J: like, give them the old pair of Mazeppa tickets

Jimmy on Jimmy

The Penitent Wagnerite points us to this delightful NPR interview with James Levine. Levine discusses his understated conducting style, something I've been pondering as of late, after good vantage points at Wozzeck and the Carnegie Hall concert:
This was a gradual thing for me. I started off fairly gestural, but I've tried to make myself obsolete in the performance. I don't like the audience to have to go through a middle man interpreting what the piece is expressively by his gesture. To take a simple example, if I want the orchestra to come in uniformly loud and sustained, and I make a huge upbeat, maybe the sound when it comes out is more than the audience expected or less than the audience expected. But the point is it's killed either way because the audience expects it because they saw the upbeat. . .

I give them all the things that they would need to feel the shape from the rehearsal and to deal technically with, say, the people on this end of the pit who can't hear so well, the ones on that end. For this, they need to see. But the school that thinks somehow that the gesture excites the audience so they can follow visually--that's not the sort of experience that they're supposed to be having. And there are very little oral media left that aren't mixed up now with visual ones. And I fight it because I think everybody has bigger and bigger ears and less eyes and less discerning ears.
A little something to remind us what it's all about when we start looking to the ephemera of the concert experience to 'save' it from extinction. No musicians dancing about, no musicians in jeans, no innovations in applause etiquette...indeed, barely more than the flick of the baton--but if an audience member isn't going to 'get it' at one of Maestro Levine's shows, I think its pretty safe to say she/he and orchestral music should probably call it a day and go their separate ways.

Fire and Ice

The Valkyrie succumbs: Nilsson's "Ewig war ich" from Solti's Ring, here (mp3).

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sad News

Most have probably read this already.

Beloved Wagnerian soprano Birgit Nilsson has passed away. The AP article (with an outstanding accompanying photo) can be found here.

Thanks to the many folks over at the CUNY Opera List (where I often "lurk") for their various related insights, anecdotes, etc this morning.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Please GOP? Just this once?

A: I do hope John Boehner gets Delay's job
J: so we can say things like "the Boehner problem"
A: indeed
A: the bill would have passed, but for the small Boehner issue
A: It was thought there would be trouble getting in, considering the Delay, but Boehner turned out to be unyielding--and pretty slick, too
J: hahah
J: How's next week look? Well it's really really tight, but I won't be satisfied until we cram Boehner in there as early as possible.
A: hahaha
A: "corrupt Boehner"
J: "Democrats plan to lick Boehner in '08"
A: Republicans: "What else is new?"
J: Democrats: "They know not what they are missing"
A: haha
A: Boehner Urges Further Stimulus Measures
J: haha
J: Under Pressure from Rice, Boehner Explodes on House Floor
A: hahaha
A: its a g-d shame we don't have any influence over the Republican party
A: god forbid they go with "Roy Blunt"
A: lame!!

Any Given Friday

As J alluded to below, we put on our game faces last Friday and took in this 1981 Parsifal vid from Bayreuth, all part of our training regimen for the big game with Hep, Waltraud, Rene "Say Hey" Pape, and Jimmy in May. Parsifal is Siegfried Jerusalem, Kundry is Eva Randova, Bernd Weikl--Amfortas, and Hans Soltin is the 'Manz. Horst Stein QBs. Unless you have access to J's stash, I'm not sure where you can find it.

While it may have been all the delicious food and drink with which J plied me, Parsifal seems to be the Wagner most unfit for video. The big grail scenes, which are hypnotic to listen to on the ear phones, and (I'm told) a near spiritual revelation in the opera house, just don't register so good on the small screen.

That said, the production is super priddy, with trippy forest/garden/grail realm backdrops in green and hot pink, and the intra-act scene changes are pulled off with nice flourish and minimal cheesy fx. The costuming is from the "everyone gets a mumuu" school of Wagner fashion, but what are you going to do?

Siegfried Jerusalem sounds buckets better than in the Met Ring vids of seven years later. Not quite as demanding a role I suppose, but still--he's in full control here and produces some real nice sounds. Also, his 70s white boy fro is far more flattering than the feathered bidness he sports as Siegfried. Eva Randova turns out a very memorable Kundry. She looks the part very well--the perfect "oh hot--no, wait, she's crazy! Run!" face to bring it all home at the end of Act II. Soltin brings an especially lovely baritone and long sweet phrases to Gurnemanz. Weikl did an ok Amfortas I guess, but I've kind of forgotten now so it must not have been so especial.

Rather, that accolade is reserved for the muy delicioso Patron Silver which saw us through Act III, a taste of Jenufa to come, and my unexpected detour on the JMZ at 3 in the morning.

Private to L train: F your mom.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Eyes on the Prize, Fleming.

The topic of Renee Fleming's general mediocrity is so unconscionably boring and easy, I am practically asleep even mentioning it.

Instead, because I am uncool, I am going to mention something *good* about her.

Yes, that's right Sieglinde. And you heard it here first La Cieca. I am ready to risk being permamently cast out of the oh-so-exclusive classical blogosphere by saying:

Renee was really kinda decent on the Berg Altenberg Lieder.

JSU deigned to acknowledge this as well. I, as others have also mentioned, am not wildly familiar with the Altenberg Lieder. I do not intend, however, to use my lack of knowledge as a reason to avoid the strenuous admission that they were ACTUALLY PERFORMED WELL. By RENEE FLEMING. Seriously, it was without a doubt a bright spot in her otherwise lackluster showing.

Alex and I discussed that RF is able to produce such an assortment of different sounds, yet has trouble commiting to one for very long, ultimately negating a certain fluidity we have come to expect from most of the better singers. Perhaps this was why Tchaikovsky's "Letter Scene" from Eugene Onegin, when audible, seemed to be delivered with the artistry of a middle of the road senior recital. Or why I found myself listening to the notes she was producing in the final scene of Strauss' Capriccio (minus one scene partner), and remembering how beautiful that music is when it is really "sung", performed, refined, etc.

So, what went right on the Berg? I mused yesterday on the topic and used nearly the exact words of our friend JSU. I will quote him, as he is characteristically articulate and succinct on the matter: "I think his inherent trickiness prevents her from getting in her own way".

Bravo, JSU. That is exactly it. This is not to say that Strauss and Tchaikovsky are a walk in the park. Not at all. But these Berg pieces FORCED Ms. Fleming to focus in a way I have never seen/heard from her. I took a lot of delight in the fact that arguably her most musically and vocally challenging selection on the program was the only music she was truly able to deliver. And I really think it is an issue of her being forced into the moment, as it were, in order to be able to hold it together. Consequently we get a more phrased, thoughtful, consistent performance.

Also worth noting, that this was the one non-operatic selection of the three. A topic for later.

And yes bravo, as usual, to Maestro Levine and the Met Orchestra. They're so terrific when all those dang singers stop getting in the way...

MOO unbound

Maury D's take on Renaay's outing yesterday seems pretty spot on to me--there simply wasn't much going on outside the expected schedule of nifty vocal fx. It's singing that just isn't very captivating--plenty of "Huh, well that is a nice sound" moments, but little real satisfaction. IMO, mind you, that's a big contrast from her thoroughly enjoyable Manon in the fall.

Maybe she's just not that good putting across isolated numbers. Or perhaps it was the different configuration with the orchestra, which nearly swallowed her whole every time she dipped below the stratosphere in the Tchaikovsky. The Berg lieder were easily the most interesting, but that, after all, is probably due more to Berg and the orchestra than her. The Capriccio sequence, in addition to the weirdness with the MIA major domo at the outset just failed to register. Also, and I didn't notice this in Manon, but her sound here was inconsistent to the point of distraction. She is capable of very different sonic qualities, especially in the top, and while all are fairly beautiful in their own right, she seemed to deploy them arbitrarily. You never know quite what you're going to get when she heads up north, and it screws up the dramatic unity of the piece in question.

But thankfully that somewhat disappointing showing wasn't the whole show (for the record, its not like she sounds bad, of course). Time alone with the Met Orchestra in broad daylight was an exceptionally worthy way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The orchestra's two pieces sans Flem, the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy and the Tannhauser Prelude and Bacchanale, plus the Berg, were all tremendously exciting. Levine was in his customary form as master surgeon, wielding the breathless precision and authority of his band to methodically peel away all inessential tissue and isolate musical ideas of the utmost purity. His touch is utterly transparent, and yet capable of producing such unexpected revelations in the most familiar scores.

On fine display in the R&J Fantasy, Levine has a very special understanding of how, more than conveying a mood, music tied to specific dramatic content needs to be played differently than abstract material. Each element in the the musical narrative is cleanly and distinctively portrayed in such a way that when the main theme finally cuts through it all, it is as if the thrust of the drama itself becomes clear.

Likewise, in his Tannhauser, the fevered climax of the Bacchanale doesn't so much give way to peacefulness--rather, it heaves and disintegrates under its own weight, the product of imperceptible shifts in tempo and tone. The effect cuts to the heart of the opera: we see how Tannhauser hasn't truly understood that his life with Venus is false yet. He simply finds his soul exasperated by earthly pleasure and pines for calm. Thus his subsequent rejection of Venus isn't true repentance, but a vain attempt at relief from the burden of earthly experience. Levine's reading brings all these shadings to life in wonderful detail.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Low-Key Multi-tasking

After an evening of margaritas and Parsifal chez moi last night, the apartment is in need of a real tidy.

So I figured I'd listen to the second half of what has proven itself to be the Olive Garden of Italian opera, L'Elisir d"Amore. With this distinction in mind, only a very few comments are in order:

First, if Margaret Juntwait rrrolls one more rr I will shoot my radio...well, shoot it an evil look. She is the worst.

Rrrramon Vargas as the "completely gullible but all heart" Nemorrrrino is sounding pretty terrific this afternoon. I agree with Alex--he is sounding better here than in the the ill-fated Romeo et Juliette prima (and he was pretty solid there, too). The audience is certainly eating it up. I still think I will skip his duke in Rigoletto in Rome.

Ruth Ann Swenson is in her element and generallly doing fine. Certainly more comfortable than a couple other things I have heard her in of late (Micaela in Carmen and Mimi in Boheme) A few moments of connecting with her former splendor here and there, and a few more of standing at the biglietterie for "out to pasture". This post over at Parterre makes us wonder whether the latter is more true than we care to discuss.

Anyway, a worthy distraction from this hospitaliano is Maury D's clever assessment of the Wozzeck Ultima last night.

Up next: Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall tomorrow afternoon. It'll be like a 6 year old running into his 1st grade teacher outside the classroom (but I thought you LIVED there, Mrs. Jones...).


What a funny life musicians in the Met Orchestra lead. Triumphing in Berg's score of endless permutations and complexities last night, then coming in to play oom-pah this afternoon. Not that they still don't sound great.

Not really listening closely enough for comment, but Ramon Vargas sounds smoother than he did in the Romeo prima a few months ago, which means he sounds pretty dang smooth. RAS sounds fine too, but nothing spectaculah.

I'll check in again before it ends if I happen to start giving a shit.

Friday, January 06, 2006

If loving you is Rong, I don't wanna be right

A: how about that "Tristan & Isolde" movie???
J: I mean
J: at least they are hot
A: it would be sweet if there was like an electric guitar version of the Liebestod
A: during the gratuitous sex
J: or perhaps sung by Peabo Bryson and Linda Ronstadt
A: hahaha
A: "What is this and, in Ronstandt and Bryson? Is not Ronstandt Bryson, and Brsyon Ronstandt? Eternal Love...joyous Death!!!!"
J: or perhaps Aaron Neville can make a comeback
J: I don't kno-oh-oh-ow mu-uh-ch, but I know Iso-oh-oh-lde
A: you didn't see any Tristan videos, right?
J: no
J: hast du einen?
A: I've seen one, but despite being both Birgit Nilsson and Jon Vickers, it is shitty
J: huh
J: I hope my package of goods arrives tomorrow
J: if not, I packed a few
A: cool
A: I returned Ariadne auf Noir
J: bummer
J: that's ok
A: I was pretty into that Walkure tho
A: Siegmund is this guy called Gary Lakes who isn't so great
J: the met one?
A: yeah
A: la Norman is very exciting, however
A: and James Morris does a nice job
J: yeah I don't remember what Ring videos I took. Oh, I can look at my post
A: and even though Hildegard Behrens has a cowgirl costume on, she is good
J: hah
A: seriously
J: Even Hildegard Gets the Blues
A: haha
J: oh I guess I didn't take a full ring set
J: maybe there wasn't one
J: I mean video-wise
J: CD-wise I scored big on the Rong front
J: er Ring
A: Rong dos Nobelongen
A: we have to acquire this Norma with Montserrat Caballe
A: it is from the same theatre the shitty Tristan I saw was
A: but seriously, its supposed to be the best opera on video ever
J: wow
A: check the amazon reviews
A: "silken ladder to God"
A: "one of the best things I have seen or heard"
J: jesus
J: we need this
A: that opera is freaking awesome

New design

As it appears we're going to stay around for a bit, it seemed a modest redesign was in order. I may continue futzing with it for a bit, but I think this is the basic idea...comments about readability, etc., are welcome.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Mmmmm. Bass.

A: it's very bizarre to want to send a thank you to this random rich woman
J: um whoa
J: that is so great!!
2:00 AM
A: Dear Mrs. Bass, Thanks for keeping the Met alive. We are totally free for dinner.
J: haha
J: Man, I like people with money who give it to stuff I like
A: yeah it is nice
2:15 AM
J: ok bedtime

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Happy New Year, Nonetheless

A: hey
J: hi
A: that email was a nice juxtaposition re: the Miners, no?
J: you mean, the miners' (dreadful) situation here vs. the horrific mining conditions every day in Afghanistan? totally...
A: included under subject "Happy New Year!"
J: omg totally
A: It's like "Merry Christmas! You might enjoy these pix of a Cambodian brothel"
J: hahah
J: Wishing You and Yours a Very Joyous Holiday Season. Take a Look at These Pictures of the Thai Child Sex Trade. Warmly, Frank
A: haha
A: Hope your Hannukah is filled with peace and light. Also, see attached jpegs of the civil war in Congo. Mazeltov!
J: hahah
A: any how...
A: what is this about Rome?
J: well my sister is going to do some work at the embassy during the olympics
J: and I found a real cheap ticket
A: there's another olympics?
J: so I just went ahead and bought it
J: Torino, in February
A: ah right
A: That is f'n awesome
A: I assume you have reviewed your operatic options
J: slim
A: boo
J: Rigoletto
J: with Ramon Vargas
J: and some Italiani I do not know
A: been there on both counts
J: totally
J: I am little Rigoletto'd out this season
A: I hear dat
J: Did you see Maury D's none-too-pleased Lucia post?
A: no
J: He thought Filianoti was boring
J: and average
A: odd
A: that soprano sounds like a mess
J: Seriously
J: Wozzeck!
A: well, I think the tides are against him on G-Fil. I mean, despite maintaining their defense, I certainly understand why people might find Netrebazon mediocre. But tics and all, ain't no denying that G-Fil has produced some of the most spine-tingling sounds all season.
A: Yeah Wozzeck!
A: I listened to about half the b-cast
J: yeah I mean....the man's resonance is very bit as full in his uppermost registers as it is on like a middle C
J: and like does it all on one breath.
A: right. That part isn't so much up for discussion. It is just awesome.
A: methinks
J: Anything that actually entices me to see L'Elisir d'Amore has got to be pretty damn awesome. Because talk about an exercise in mediocrity...
J: Anyway. Wozzeck!

Did someone say blut?

As its been noted, James Levine and the Met Orchestra are just freaking exquisite in the Met Wozzeck. Every detail is impeccable and deeply felt, the architecture utterly seamless--every time you think the magic has to end, some new wellspring is tapped, and a fresh utterly organic direction is found and followed to its conclusion. Revelatory moments pour out of the densely woven texture and the last 20 minutes especially are simply spine-tingling. It's really, really great.

Maybe too great? By the third act I found myself almost craving the scene changes so I wouldn't be all distracted by the people. For one thing, the balance between orchestra and singers was off, and almost all the singers besides Alan Held (Wozzeck) found themselves drowned out at one point or another.

But more to the point, the happenings onstage just didn't work all that well dramatically. Not that I really fault anyone in the cast: Alan Held was ferocious in the title role; Kristian Dalayman stunning as Marie, buttressed by a supporting cast of very strong actor-singers.

I think J will have more on this count, but somehow things just don't come together as far as the production is concerned. The creepy/shocking buttons don't get pushed, the theatrical climaxes aren't quite reached, despite the marvelous music being made. While I certainly wasn't bored, I wasn't terribly engaged in the drama either.

One related problem might be the annoying choice of dropping the curtain as the final notes of a scene were being sung. Nice in that it hastened the chance to sit back and listen to Jimmy and his magic band, but bad in that it screwed up the pacing and gave the whole thing a weird workmanlike feel at odds with the tone being set by the pit.

This was my first hearing, so perhaps I was expecting something different drama-wise. As I am now officially very into it, time to go to the tape and find out.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Someone Please Tell Me

Why the Met's top-flight performance of Wozzeck was not 100% there for me this evening. I am initially inclined to think it was environmental: I did have a little tummy ache, and was having a sort of allergic reaction to the bucket and a half or perfume the sleeping Frau in the next balcony box had evidently bathed in. And a loud cell phone went off in Act II, from somewhere amidst a generally squirmy audience. So, I was a tad distracted. Also, I didn't really do my homework: This is not a score I know as well as I should. I read a bit about the structure, and some bits from a translation of a lecture Berg gave in the late 20's--but did very little active listening. Really, though, I have certainly been able to fully engage with productions under conditions more adverse than this. So, what was the issue? Let's break down the elements:

This musically intelligent, focused cast was in top form: Alan Held turns in a rich, vocally commanding, and dramatically potent Wozzeck. More than most, this baritone role requires not only a powerhouse voice, but a real actor. Held deftly manages both, and does so with an overwhelmingly energetic consistency. He has gained a fan.

After Sieglinde's post about the production, my expectations were particularly high for Swedish soprano Katarina Dalayman's Marie. She does not disappoint (though Held was really my primary source of thrills on this particular evening). She delivers the consistent power (alternating with incredible delicacy) required by the role, without ever veering into the overly strident--a quality I am finding increasingly common and irksome in many sopranos.

Tenors Clifton Forbis and Graham Clark sing the Drum Major and Captain, respectively. Both turn in assured performances of these vocally taxing roles. I mention them together, though, because they both suffered a bit from an occasional burial by the orchestra (who were really at their finest this evening...more in a minute). Nothing massive, just a slight balance issue that popped up now and again, unfortunately at moments that would have otherwise showed off the goods that these guys clearly have.

Lastly, Viennese Bass Walter Fink's imposing voice and physical stature make for an effective and appropriately upsetting Doctor. The interplay between Fink and Clark in the Act II Scene II Street scene (Fantasia on Fugue on Three Subjects) is particularly strong.

For several weeks, I have been looking forward to the Met Orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall this weekend. Yes, yes I know, I should not be SO openly anticipating such a Renee-centric event. But really, a couple of hours with this orchestra under Maestro Levine's baton is time well spent. Point being, tonight's Wozzeck served to seriously amplify said anticipation. I will credit Alex for saying "the orchestra was the real star this evening." I think it may be true. I found myself excitedly waiting for scenes to end in order to have a few minutes to just watch Levine and listen to the orchestra. I also think much of the real brilliance and emotion of this score is found in the orchestral interludes. I am perfectly content to be a willing passenger on the met-orchestra-is-magic-under-Levine's-Baton bandwagon.

So what was missing? Great piece, great cast, great conductor, orchestra in top form...everyone present was at the top of their game.

What about someone who was (most likely) not present? I know it is a bit fruitless to discuss in too much depth the specific design or directorial aspects of a non-premiere production. Truthfully, though, I think Mark Lamos' production may have been a large part of what kept me from fully engaging with the piece, despite the otherwise outstanding showing. I am not a big fan of his. I think his work functions well at City Opera. His Madama Butterfly there is great for the space and for the company. And his fascist Italy-set Tosca works dramatically, at least (tho it is pretty early 90's-tastic). But the scope of the stage is lost on his visual choices. Aestheticallly, this production is sort of a blown up version of his Tosca. That production is a fairly barren, monolithic slate of grays and blacks, with a *surprise* splash of red near the end. We get the same color scheme/progression here--along with an assortment of vague, imposing geometric shapes and extensive use of shadows and near darkness. It's all fairly representational and otherworldly. I just don't think it amounts to a whole lot and is somehow disorienting in a piece contingent upon the success of the communication of the dense drama. Instead, it just presents a sort of generic "modern" theatrical palette and hopes the opera will fit into it somehow. And I just don't think it does, in this case.

I really think this is an outstanding incarnation of this production, and certainly not to be missed. So, I am sad to feel a bit unmoved by it, despite the basic elements being very much in place. I am considering a second viewing on Friday, just to make sure I don't miss an opportunity to feel excited and satisfied by what is truly a pretty remarkable achievement.

PS: Deine Mutter ist tot.

Interview with the 'Trebs

A: BTW, what happened to your Trebs tickets?
J: they are sitting comfortably on my shelf
J: she is 3/2
J: but don't forget (if you are still up for it) Met Orch on Sunday afternoon
A: she cancelled
J: oh!!
J: well then I guess I will get an automatic refund
J: oh well
J: her little statement is nice
J: "I will be unable to perform as I am morte in a bag--on some desolate plain"
J: "oh well, Maledzione. -'Trebs"
A: what the f is she wearing in that picture
J: Jesus
A: It's like if an Anne Rice novel took place in a Russian trailer park

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Not rockin'

J: WHOA Dick Clark is a MESS
A: he is so upsetting

A: like, who has the job of telling him he needs to hang it up?
J: The Grim Reaper
A: hahaha
A: there is really nothing "rockin" about a 90 year old stroke victim
J: or coherent even
J: like
J: Dick Clark's Totally Fucking Freaky New Year's Eve
A: haha
A: Dick Clark's Relentlessly Shudder Inducing New Year's Eve
J: hahah
A: They should bill next year's show "The Abyss of Time"
J: when he dies they should taxidermy him and prop him next to Ryan Seacrest and see if anyone writes a letter
A: haha