Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Even if my man throws confetti in my face

It feels a tad strange, with Broadway in dire straits as far as new musicals are concerned, to feel almost giddily optimistic about the future of the movie musical. And yet giddy I am.

The cause for this is the new Dreamgirls movie, of course. It's yet more proof that, after so many decades in the wilderness, movie directors (or at least people allowed to direct movies) are finally figuring out how to make musicals with the language of modern movies. Prior to the current crop of new musicals, we've had two equally unsatisfactory templates to draw on. There was the model remaining from the last era of successful movie musicals--delightfully overgrown stage productions filmed with the appropriate restraint. And the music video, and the assorted rock films that preceded them. Awesome for three + minutes, trippy for an hour and a half, these left little on which to hang a narrative.

Navigating a happy medium between these two influences has been understandably difficult. Yet today, we have a burgeoning vocabulary for the movie musical which seems to have real staying power. It takes advantage of the kinetic energy audiences expect from modern editing styles, yet never degenerates into the monotony of constant stimulation. It is a language of spectacle, certainly, but a language of the camera which constantly dissects that spectacle. It uses the intimacy of the music video closeup but eschews its tendency to displace the viewer in time and space. The greater structure of the number is always present and dominant.

Perhaps more importantly, these developments embrace the pop musical recitative common to modern musicals. Dreamgirls uses these parts of the score judiciously, and to be sure, they are awkward for the audience at first. Yet these sequences, so critical to the real goal of advancing the plot through music, are filmed skillfully and win over the viewer quickly. Take note Tim Burton. Excising huge chunks of the Sweeney Todd score because they are too talky will not be taken as lightly.

I'm not going to pretend that Dreamgirls doesn't have its problems, because it does. (Take all this with a grain of salt, tho...I've never seen it onstage, so I don't really know what the book entails.) There is a tendency to use montage to solve those problems left to imagination on the stage, and this becomes alienating on film. And a number of filler numbers retained in the film still feel like filler.

But shweet Jesus did I have a good time. And by far the best times came from the musical sections. This is not a movie that tells its story and has some nifty musical interludes. This is a movie where the story intimately depends on the musical numbers. And it was exhilarating. So everyone and their mother needs to pay their 9 and change for this, because we need to send a message in support of Hollywood's newfound infatuation with the musical. There's a reason why the musical format has produced some of the smartest and most beloved films of the last several years: think Chicago, Moulin Rouge, Hedwig, and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. Society craves the musical theatre, and the recent drought cannot last.

Quick shout outs: Beyonce acquits herself admirably, especially in her big new torch song. Eddie Murphy is fantastic as Jimmy Early. Jamie Foxx was fine, tho his voice was def the weak link in the cast...funny considering all the hype he got for that Ray Charles movie.

As to the matter of how "I'm Not Going" is carried off by a certain Miss Jennifer Hudson. Now, I wouldn't want to oversell it by saying I thought I was going to pass out due to the involuntary spasms of sheer delight racking my body. So I will simply say that Ms. Hudson does not disappoint.

Thoughts on Puritani Broadcast

8:45 PM
Reconnecting to arbaker340…

J: I am really glad we're not at this Piece of S. Puritani
8:50 PM
You left the chat by logging out or being disconnected.

A Christmas without Tower

Just for the record, Christmas sans Tower is not pretty. I ended up at the Virgin Megastore in search of a Salome for my father on the 24th and was greeted with exactly two options. (Tho it should be noted that Chicago Virgin Megastore is considerably quieter and more bearable than either Union or Times Square Megastores, so kudos for not being a slave to your prefix, Chicago Virgin Store.)

I opted for Behrens/Karajan over Nilsson/Solti since 1) I really like Behrens' Salome and 2) methinks the Nilsson cover is a bit unsettling for a Christmas present. Anyhow, the Chicago Virgin Megastore now offers exactly one Salome option. Yes, there are certainly bigger problems in the world, but let's just acknowledge that this is a difference.

P.S. To respond to what seems like the fairly common view that Borders "has a good section": no, no it does not. I recall New York Borders (I'm thinking of Park and 57th) being marginally better than the two-thirds-of-a-Beethoven-cycle-and-Il-Divo-overstock offered at the outposts here, but that ain't saying much.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


That is the time I promptly vacated my seat and walked out of Tan Dun's The First Emperor, the first true failure of the season (not counting Cristina Gallardo-Domas, who was overshadowed by the lovely context in which she blew).

I don't have much to say. The score and libretto are a disaster. The singing was basically fine. Domingo seemed to sound OK though Futral wasn't having an easy time of it. She bears no responsibility, however; the score is awkward and unsingable.

A couple of interesting orchestral bits and some slick design elements were not enough to make up for this $2 Million mess.

I am listening to the end of the Sirius broadcast and of course the audience is cheering like crazy and it's making me furious.

Update: Sounds like Tan Dun and the librettist got some spirited boos. Makes me slightly wish I'd stayed.

Further Update: Maury doesn't care for this opera.

JSU isn't wild about the libretto...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ah, YouTube...

J: ok speaking of YouTube
J: there is a completely wonderful video of Mattila doing the first Elsa aria
J: from Paris or something
A: ooh
J: and it's giving me chills
A: where is it?
J: [click here...embedding disabled]
J: it's mainly that first part
J: jesus
A: that's awesome
J: her voice man
J: whatever the flaws
J: when she is right in her most comfortable place
J: it's really a special instrument
A: no doubt
J: her Elsa is so freaking magical
A: omg:

A: this is really cute
A: I love that scandinavian-tastic rehearsal get-up
J: hah
J: whoa Gwyneth Jones~
J: !
J: sounding like ass, but still
J: here is a C G-D Un Bel Di where she sucks less

J: still not my cup of tea
J: but at least you can see why she was hired
A: those things look like dreads
J: haha
A: and some real silly opera faces
J: yeah her faces are insane
A: what the f is going on with this ariadne:

J: hah
J: Ariadne auf Lauper
A: heh
A: Flourescent bikini top or no, she is spectacular
J: she is ridiculously great
A: ah youtube
A: one moment Richard Strauss, the next moment "Hand Farting the Star Spangled Banner"

J: wait what?
J: this little docu thing about Varnay?
A: I mean

J: heh
J: it's impressive
A: I don't know how he gets different tones

Sunday, December 17, 2006

B-cast chat

J: oh, Jiggletto
A: its sort of weird they brought it right back
J: right
J: I was going to go today, since it's the last perf w/Calleja but I slept through it
A: Calleja is good?
J: he is very solid
J: this is like dumbed down Rigoletto thouugh--no one has taken any high notes all season
A: weak
A: it sucks there are only 4 Meistersingers
A: they are all during finals time
A: or thereabouts
J: blech
J: I feel like it may not be that great
A: I just need to see it
J: it's Wing Chang Gong and Hep B and James Morris. Bleah
A: I think they replaced Heps w/ the Mullet
J: ahh he couldn't cut it!
A: I haven't seen that mentioned anywhere
A: I mean, he was totally in it, right?
J: I think so right?
A: I vividly remember being like "Heps is Walther, natch"
J: well, Mullet Dumpty may be fine in that
J: his Gurrelieder this summer was very good
A: oh...this guy is nice
J: he is pulling it out
J: earlier ones his top was a little weak, tho he was otherwise terrific
J: I wish I had gone
J: damn
J: then again, I am in my PJ's with the cat and the tree
A: there are certainly worse places to be
J: $25 says they'll skip the high note at the end
J: they keep doing it
A: on the broadcast?
J: G thinks it's a conductor choice
A: boo
J: boo
A: Fanciulla got pulled from next year, it seems
A: that is lame
J: well
J: I am fine with it--the cast was so bad
A: oh
A: who was it?
J: I like this line
J: it was Grewwber
J: and Licitra I think
A: snore
J: snooze!
J: she is sounding great
A: no doubt
J: bra-freaking-va lady
A: classy
J: Ziti ziti ziti ziiiiiiii
A: ha
A: I love all the randy mens choruses in this opera
J: hah
A: it's somewhat weak that there are four Meistersingers and yet JL is only doing three
J: that is weak
J: shut up Renaay
A: her midwestern accent is kind of intense
J: it is
J: she isn't the worst interviewer though
A: maybe that's a good second career for her
J: yeah
A: perhaps the advent of constant opera broadcasting will lead to a thing like in sports where washed up singers become radio personalities
J: I am counting on it
A: whoa...he's young
J: wow
A: that was nice and diplomatic
J: what??
A: which? J: when he was all "there's one soprano who can wear horizonal stripes"
A: cuz she's all hot
A: and not fat
J: right
J: but it was just funny
A: "there's one soprano who has perky tits"
J: hah
A: a'ight
A: I'm off to the 'rents
J: ok
J: ciao
A: adio!
J: adio!
J: adio!
A: adiiiiiio!

Friday, December 15, 2006

It's beginning to feel a lot...

J: I got a tree!
A: bonus!
A: a real one?
J: of course
J: bitch please
A: my bad
J: hsh
A: I am going to go to the *gym*
J: whoa
A: I am so bored
A: this is what I have been driven to
J: hah
A: back in a bit
J: ok enjoy
A: so many bad jokes come into one's head while listening to Gotterdammerung on the treadmill
J: haha
J: such as?
A: Siegfried's Funeral Jog
J: heh
A: Immolation (of the carbs)
J: oh jesus
J: check out my tree:
A: that is really, really magical
J: I am happy you think so
A: and it's pretty wide but still fits
A: in your apt
J: yeah it doesn't look too big
A: did you go ornament shopping?
J: at the 99cent store
A: sweet
A: they have everything
J: it's true
A: has andrew tried to climb it yet?
J: he likes to smell it and bat at the ornaments
A: that's pretty cute
A: a'ight
A: I'm out again
J: a'ight
A: good work on the tree

Monday, December 11, 2006

In praise of silence between movements

Checked out the seasonal concert of the choir I sang with growing up today. They sound pretty fantastic these days, yet, as befits a concert with "children's" in the name, the audience etiquette was decidedly subpar. The rampant child non-disciplining and mid-song bathroom breaking is to be expected. As is the gratuitous applause after every. single. song. Including the individual movements of the Poulenc Mass in G. While the last breach might be forgiven in this setting, it made me remember just how bothersome clapping between movements is. And despite the opinion of some that clapping between movements is a sort of trick the sand/head bound classical elite uses to keep the potential prole Beethoven lovers in the dark, I feel I must reaffirm that inter-movement silence should be seen as progress in concert protocol, not some snobby tick to be eliminated.

I enjoy not clapping between movements. It sustains tension between the different components of the piece and makes the ending more satisfying. From the performer's perspective, I feel silence between movements helps to keep focus--maintain "character", if you will. Applause, on the other hand, is a cue to break character, and is thus intrusive when one is caught up in trying to express a single multi-movement work. Performers aren't awkward about excessive inter-movement clapping because they aren't used to it, they're awkward because they feel they still have more work to do.

Do I believe this is a hard and fast rule? Of course not. Many periods of opera have built in applause pauses, and these are very reasonable breaks in the action. Sometimes, in a concert piece, there is a performance so stupendous that all one can do is clap. It is nice when that happens, and refreshing. But it is spontaneous, and relatively rare, and should be kept so.

"Oh, but people used to clap between movements back in the day when classical music was actually popular!" they say. I say whatever. People didn't know a lot of things back when classical music was popular. Moreover, I see no reason to dignify the claim that inter-movement clapping has some relationship to classical music's likeability.

Thus, I call on non-inter-movement clappers of the world to unite. Listening to nonstop applause after every movement is annoying. People interested in the music don't like it and performers don't like it. It's just an inefficient way to run a modern concert. And it's a piss-poor way to attract new classical music lovers. I mean, who are the wilting daisy rock enthusiasts who are so wounded when they find out the concert hall protocol is no clapping until the entire piece is over? Do these people actually exist? And do we even want them in the club? I mean, we still have some standards right?

Just remember kids, only Communists clap between movements.

Update: ACD reprises an earlier post with a nice elaboration of the historical angle here.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Rodolfo come on over for dinner...

J: the Trebs/Villazon Boheme was not all that, btw
J: Domingus is a terrible, terrible condustor
J: conductor
A: that blows
J: like, he was just plugging through the whole thing, not letting anyone phrase anything
J: none of it was exciting
J: and the best parts were just rushed through
J: and like the singers were trying to phrase stuff
J: so everyone was out of synch a lot
J: but Trebs and the Mexicano were really into it
J: and both sounded really good (though he was very very quiet in act 1)
J: Relyea was awesome as Colline
J: best see-ya coat aria ever
A: oh nice
A: was it like trebazon paw-fest?
J: they had a paw, yes
A: Che Gelida Manina (Let me touch your tit)
J: haha
J: "oh my muff is so warm. here, stick your hands in it"
A: haha
J signed off at 6:17:12 PM.
J signed on at 10:53:52 PM.
J: Company!
A: good stuff?
J: really great
A: is it an open ended run?
J: I think so
A: I need to see that on stage really bad
J: yeah you need to see this
J: it's so lovely
A: sondheim revivals are having really good luck these days
J: hah High Fidelity got a HORRIBLE review
A: bah
A: good
J: "Still, High Fidelity definitely deserves a place in my own catalog of Top 5 lists. That would be on the roster of All-Time Most Forgettable Musicals. Now if only I could remember the names of the others."
J: says Brantley
A: good burn
A: broadway people can be such retards

Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves

Caught the last night of "The Azucena Show" featuring Dolora Zajick (aka Il Trovatore) at Lyric yesterday. Needless to say, DZ owns this role like Satan owns Dick Cheney. I saw the Met vid with her and Pavoratti a while back, so it was quite a pleasure to see it in person. I mean:

'Nuff said.

Except that I also want to say how very, very much I am in love with the low end of that woman's voice. I would gladly trade in some high bits, thrilling as they are, just to hear that light-bending black hole that is her lower register a few more times. *Chills*

SandRad was in tremendous form as Leonora. After seeing the Cyrano sans Domingo last year, J called her: "that hard to find perfect balance of presence and delicacy--creating a beautiful sound yet never losing full command of the stage," and I am inclined to agree. I feel like most renditions one hears of the big Leonora songs error on the side of the priddy, but Radvanovsky doesn't really settle for the priddy. Instead, she uses miraculous control over her instrument to perform them like a cat in opera heat. For instance, towards the end of D'amor sull'ali rosee, she spun out this one line longer than most people can hold their breath underwater, covering just about every shade of anguish the human voice is capable of short of shrieking. The audience sounded like they'd been tasered. Granted, the price of that commitment might be a few less than in sync patches (although she can turn on the accuracy something fierce when she wants to) but I for one am glad to pay it.

As for the Count, let me note again that Mark Delavan is just a classy, classy, dude. The man is a pro in the finest sense of the word. Nothing is ever forced or blown off. Everything is elegance and poise. And what's not to love about that marvelous cavern of a voice? For my money, his big number outside of the convent was just about as close to the ideal Verdian art of the baritone as one can hope for.

Vincenzo La Scola (Manrico Due for this run) has a top that's more yodel than ping. And some pitch issues. But he gave a very touching Act IV, so I forgave a bit. And while a good Manrico is awfully nice, I get the sense that the lack of one doesn't make or break a good Trovatore.

This new production...sand...ramparts...revolve...phoned Goya reference on scrim...blah, blah, blah.

I guess that's it for Chicago opera for the time being (tho I might still suffer the Gounod and go to an R&J before Xmas). The next *pair* of productions here are stupid Flaydermowce and Turan-dont (Gruber is still around). Otherwise, I'll be waiting til February for Cosi/Carmelites or hopping a plane back to NY. We'll see how long I can hold out...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Afternoon on Crete

Revisited Idomeneo this afternoon. A quick rundown...

Röschmann is still perfection. Is she scheduled to sing anything else here in the next couple seasons? I don't understand the criticisms I have heard of her in this role. I have heard from a couple people that she is too dark/heavy for it...what?

Bitch please. I haven't heard singing like this in months.

Magdalena Kozena was, not surprisingly, excellent. She was the real reason for this afternoon's revisit, though admittedly I was thoroughly impressed with the smoov mezzo stylings of Kristine Jepson at the season prima. Kozena, despite her grand-scale emoting, makes the whole thing seem so effortless. She may be the 06-07 Mozart Mezzo to beat.

Kobie Bryant Beef van Rensburg, the second South African tenor we've heard at the Met this week, turned in a perfectly solid Idomeneo. Possessing the required agility for the role, KvR is probably a more successful Idomeneo than Heppner, whose singing is just a bit too labored to really pull off Mozart at this point

Alexandra Deshorties was a fun Elettra. I like her voice perfectly well, though I'm not overwhelmed by it. She was light years better than Olga Makarina, however, which allowed for the principal cast to feel nicely rounded out in a way it previously did not.

Jeffrey Francis and Simon O'Neill as Arbace and the High Priest, repsectively, both sing with greater prowess than one generally expects from these semi-thankless roles. O'Neill in particular was a pleasant surprise.

I'm really glad I went back. I think the whole thing was just a bit more buttoned up the second time around. And I still can't decide on a recording...

Saturday, December 02, 2006


A: all this Handel has me kind of itching to see Rodelinda again
J: but not with Renaay
J: you have to remember how awful that was
A: I'm thinking like Rodelinda, hold the Rodelinda
A: or at least get someone who can friggin enunciate
J: and maintain one dynamic level for longer than a quarter note
A: I hope she doesn't fuck up Eugene Onegin
J: evidently she does that one well
A: she is not to be trusted anymore
J: it's true
J: she is officially a COD account
A: no credit for you, Flemball
A: that shit needs to be paid up front, yo
J: and we'll need a PO
A: Quantity: 1
A: Item: Renaay not sucking ass
J: hah
A: man, I'm listening to the CSO's Messiah with Solti
A: the chorus is amazing
J: do they have a resident chorus?
A: yes
A: they were really famous back in the day under a woman named Margaret Hillis
A: most American orchestras don't have resident choruses, right?
J: yeah I don't think so
A: the runs are so insanely precise
J: that is so awesome
J: is it really light?
A: like, it's a chorus of 100 people, and it sounds like about 5 in the quiet delicate parts
A: I think maybe I will start a little handel hobby
J: of recordings and stuff?
A: not sure yet
A: I guess trying to acquire the big operas and some of the oratorios
A: it's really unpleasant when its not done right, tho
A: which would be part of the hobby, I suppose
A: charming weather here
J: oh snow!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Don Carlo: A Solid 6

Alex asks: On the Verdi Enjoyability Scale of 1-10, with Forza being a 1 and Traviata being a 10, where does Don Carlo fall?

Well, tonight was the much anticipated (at least in this household of 1) season premiere of Don Carlo at the Met. After the particularly kick-ass preview we got from Pape and Hvorostovsky at the Volpe Gala last May, I had sort of expected an evening unending baritonal splendor.

The thing I sort of forgot is that the vast majority of the first 3 acts of Don Carlo are sort of a drag. Notable exceptions on this particular evening were Borodina's ever so slightly uneven but well packaged "Nei giardin" in Act 2 and the Act 3 scene 1 trio for Carlo, Rodrigo, and Eboli (virus).

Speaking of Borodina...I am really crazy about her. The love affair started with her Amneris last season, was confirmed with her Dalila, and was further solidified with her Laura in this season's Gioconda. That said...something was up tonight with her Eboli. Perhaps it's because she was singing a role with a name that is the perfect hybrid of a famous & fatal virus and a famous & fatal bacteria. Or maybe she was just having an off night. Her upper register was really strained and lost most of the immeasurable richness and solidity she has so unfailingly in the middle and lower part of her range. I know the top is there--I've heard it. Anyway, no love lost, clearly.

Johan Botha's Carlo got off to a shaky start with a surprisingly wimpy "lo la vidi" but got slowly stronger as the evening progressed. What he lacks in stage presence and acting prowess he makes up for with bright, powerful top notes and a marvelous display of vocal stamina. And a mullet to beat all...

Good ol' Pat Racette was in fine form tonight--her solid performance culminating in a sensitive and agile "Tu che le vanitá". It's hard to know what to say about her. Her voice has harsh edges, but she's just so darn reliable. And in a world of Heppners, Giordanis, and Gallardo Domas-es, that reliability is REALLY valued.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky had moments of brilliance, but spent much of the evening covering his sound in a way that made it come off a bit muffled and smaller than I remembered. His "Per me giunto" in Act 4 (of 37), however, was thrilling and received a lengthy, enthusiastic and much deserved ovation. Also, I decided I think Hvorostovsky looks like this caricature of Peter Gallagher.

Opera Hot Rene Pape remains an absolute genius. His resonances make my entire body vibrate. I don't even know what else to say. He absolutely does not disappoint. His "Ella giammai m'amò" at the top of act 4 was when the evening finally got off the ground. And it was worth the wait. Judging by the screaming around me at the aria's end (including a very nice older gentleman who was quietly saying "yaaaaay")--the crowd was in agreement that it was worth the wait.

So, this isn't my favorite Verdi. And it wasn't the constant magic for which I had hoped. But, in this production, the good bits are really, really good. Definitely don't miss it.

PS: A, I am overall giving Don Carlo a very solid 6.

Update: Maury more elegantly details the "DON CARLO truly begins in act 4" phenomenon.