Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sweeney Todd: The Movie

So, I've been doing some soul searching since seeing the new Sweeney Todd movie the other day, trying to decide whether my dislike for it was justified, or just me being salty because Burton et al. went a different way than the Sweeney dream movie I had pictured in my head. But I think I'm right.

The Sweeney Todd movie is not a good movie musical. Indeed, it is a straight movie that is ashamed to be a musical. The price of that shame is a film that fails to inspire any real feeling, much less evoke any of the majesty of Sondheim's original creation.

How could it be? This is Tim Burton, the man who made the delightful musical "Nightmare Before Christmas" and a handful of other movies with strong musical film sensibilities, esp. "Beetlegeuse" and "Edward Scissorhands". But I happened to catch a bit of his "Sleepy Hollow" the day afterward, and it explains a lot about what went wrong. Burton is approaching Sweeney Todd as an arch gothic drama, not an imaginative spectacle, and its the wrong choice. To be sure, were he adapting Sweeney's 19th century source material, this would probably turn out pretty well. But instead he's trying to shoehorn all the pathos, grand opera emotions, and explicit wit of Sondheim's score into this bleak frame. The songs are still the songs, but most of the life has been beaten out of them.

The trouble is not 'doing' the numbers as numbers, but simply bleeding them into the spoken scenes, unmarked by any transition in how the camera treats the material. Somehow these songs, which can really take care of themselves, turn out dull and workmanlike, as though everyone involved is trying to bide their time until its done. Take "A Little Priest"--the showstopper of the whole piece, crying out for morbid Burton-esque details, and the thing gets staged with Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett literally looking out the window at the professions mentioned in the song. Who looks at this material and thinks "let's play it as straight as humanly possible?" I dunno. Maybe the humor is meant to be in the literal-mindedness. But the humor is already there for the taking. Why fight it like this?

There are some exceptions that prove the rule:

1. The epiphany scene involves a sort of dream sequence where Johnny Depp is stalking around the streets threatening the dishonorable throats, who can't hear him. But again, the movie seems uncertain whether it wants to admit its doing a number or not, and it ends in a bit of confused musical logic, where suddenly Depp is back in the garrett and we're back in reality. In an admitted musical, such a transition would be ok, but in the hyper-realism context of the whole, you realize he's just been banging about in the corner for a while.

2. The "Johanna" staging picks up some momentum, altho it may just be that the song is a montage and requires crosscutting.

3. "By the Sea" is the only one that really works, and its because Burton momentarily lets loose and does it as a complete fantasy number. Unfortunately, the sudden infusion of easy laughs feels cheap against the otherwise terribly serious proceedings.

I would like to be charitable about the voices on Depp and Carter, and in a better staging of the whole thing, I think it would be easy to get over. But both contribute to the sense of caution pervading the film. I can't quite believe some things I've read that they were actually recording the vocal tracks for the songs while they were filming, but at least it would explain the extreme apprehension in places--one would assume you wouldn't keep that take in the studio. Seriously, some of HBC's entrances sound like she's being forced to stand up and sing My Country Tis of Thee at high school assembly. But she at least has a good sound in line with the character she's created. Depp's songs are ridden with scoopy pop mannerisms that are entirely unbelievable in the throat of his Sweeney.

I also had some beefs with the orchestration. Despite being done by Jonathan Tunick, the original orchestrator, I was struck at times how bland the usually rich textures of the score came off. It was partially the choices discussed above: musical films must work to make you aware of and engaged in the off-camera music; here they might as well have been listening to a CD player in the corner. There were also some oddly slow tempi, which gave the unfortunate effect of a conductor slowing down his orchestra to coddle the unprepared singers on stage.

Mind you, this Sweeney does not belong on the pile of truly inept modern film musicals, i.e. what I hear of Phantom and Rent. It is a very competently and beautifully made film. But it moves the genre backward not forward. All of the successful examples of the recent crop of film musicals had the security blanket of staging conceits--Hedwig, Dreamgirls, Chicago--one had hoped we were now ready to see a film musical in the classic form, and who better to do it than Burton, a director who seems capable of suspending disbelief with impunity? But instead he decided to run the other way.

Ah well. Guess we'll just have to wait for that Jekyll & Hyde adaptation...keep your fingers crossed for Sebastian Bach to reprise his role! And remember kids: it's all a facade...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Now that that's done

Can we please have a one-year moratorium on Christmas song covers next year? Chicago's WLIT 93.9, decided to replace its usual lit(e) fare with nonstop Christmas songs between Thanksgiving and December 25th, and flipping past it amidst the other car presets over the past month has subjected me to near overdose levels of holiday treacle. Is there any lower form of art than the opportunistic pop Christmas song cover? If you don't agree, I beg you to audition Jessica Simpson's "Little Drummer Boy." We need to take a year and think about what we've done.

So, I saw War & Peace and Iphigenie on a short jaunt to NY the week before Xmas. I feel J said what needed to be said about I 'n T, and anyhow, its done, so you can't act on my praises if you missed it. Suffice it to say, any equivocations about the piece following last year's Lyric version were entirely dashed, and I am embarking on an Iphigenie teach-in of one. I think maybe the super-abstract Lyric production just had me confused, and I was taking it out on the opera. Ditto to Maury's fanatic praise for the Wadsworth team.

You do, however, still have a chance to see W n' P, or V i M as it were, and you really should. As a piece of theatre I've decided that War and Peace is a bit like the Les Miz of opera. Which in my book is a great thing. Both are improbable attempts to satisfy our desires to see huge works as movies, but somehow they've ended up on the stage. While that should be a recipe for disaster, both succeed with a remarkable economy of storytelling and stagecraft that enables the enormous structure to skip rather than sag.

That said, Les Miz compacted its story by simply excising things most of its audience will never know are missing, while Prokofiev's audience knows all 1K+ pages backwards and forwards. On the one hand, he gets to gloss over explication chores, since everyone knows what's going on, on the other hand, the audience gets to keep score. On the third hand, is there any chance a War and Peace opera will be anything more than pantomime to an audience rereading it in their heads?

The conclusion of this War and Peace stops somewhere short, or to the side, of the book's final conclusion--the final choral orgy (chorgy?) of national feeling comes off like so much propaganda. Although it is awfully rousing propaganda, to be sure. As for the rest, the real magic is not whether he says anything new about it, but that he makes it come alive in the music. I am totally in love with the musical language of War and Peace--it's narrative power, its lyricism, its marvelous textures--it's a powerfully modern version of everything one loves in Tchaikovsky's opera writing.

As for the Met show itself, it's a very strong, if not particularly distinctive cast. Vocally, Kim Begley didn't quite have the goods to make Pierre's lyric passages soar, but the acting was great. Pierre is far and away the biggest dramatic challenge of the show, and Begley got the nuances and thoughtfulness as well as the despair in Act II. I was quite partial to Alexej Markov's Andrei, who sounded wonderful in addition to looking like an Andrei straight from central casting.

Oh PS, I was sitting in extreme left orchestra row *C* thanks to student tickets and a mean wintry mix going on outside that evening. Which is definitely closer than I've ever sat before. Pros: the visceral thrill of how loud people's voices are projecting at the Met, and a chance to see the acting up close. Cons: the acting up close and some loss of stage magic, being able to look straight into the cavernous flies. This range was especially unkind to Marina Poplavskaya's Natasha, who suffered from a severe case of APFD (all purpose flitting disorder). It might have played well in Fam Circ row X, but up close it was pretty bothersome. Pretty voice though.

Now let us talk about Samuel Ramey. The reviews I've seen have ragged on him for excessive wobble and old man's voice, with some grudging praise for his still formidable presence. Not being a fan of old man wobble (I'm looking at you J-Mo) I was ready to dislike this. But people. If Kutuzov is not the role crusty aging basses should play in the twilight of their careers then what the hell is??? Yes, there was wobbling. And it was magnificent. Ramey rams through that wobble with shocking bravery, and Kutuzov's big monologue arias end up being the most memorable numbers in the show, heartbreaking and staggering in their evocation of the ancient general shouldering all the nobility and suffering of his beloved nation. It is vocal acting of the first order.

Love the production, too. Tsypin and co. have on their ambitious yet respectful hats, relative to some other outings. And honestly, the show is so complicated that trying to work in a more aggressive design would have likely just cluttered the field. That said, they don't disappoint in the burning of Moscow sequence, which includes some of their trademark wowza stagecraft.

Looks like the last show this Thursday is sold out, but do yourself a favor and wait on line or wrangle tix some other way if you can. It shouldn't be missed.

Christmas traditions

So I guess we now get to look forward to a new cringe-inducing English translation of something every holiday season. I suppose this Hansel is better than some, but its still pretty unpleasant. Swell.

Friday, December 14, 2007


WFMT is streaming the Dr. Atomic premiere from Lyric this evening, at 8/7 central. Get it here:

Friday, December 07, 2007


Maury mentioned earlier that Philip Glass is probably incredibly frustrated that "seven" has two syllables. Hee.

The mention was made, not surprisingly, at this evening's concert performance of 3 of the 5 hours of Glass' Einstein on the Beach at Carnegie Hall.

So I know nothing about this piece (I am hesitating to casually say "this opera" because I know it's *technically* an opera, but it really feels more like a major choral work to me), other than the most basic of basics: Philip Glass developed it in the 70's with Robert Wilson, and at the original, 5-hour, intermission-less performances, the audience was allowed to walk around and chit chat and such, which basically sounds like my worst nightmare.

Actually, it sounds kind of great. I wish I could have walked around during last year's totally mediocre Meistersinger. Speaking of five (six?) hours. Anyway, this evening's event kept the audience seated and, for the most part, well behaved. I would really loved to have seen the original staging of this--I kept imagining it set against some 70's-tastic Robert Wilson tableau.

In case it isn't already totally apparent, I'm sort of avoiding writing about the music or the performance, because I don't really know how to comment on it. I really, really enjoyed it. I even found it emotional. So I'll let that suffice. And other than one wayward soprano who flatted her way through a lengthy, ethereal solo near the evening's end, I can say confidently that this was a stage of rock solid musicians, each of whom (including the individually mic'd choristers) were very exposed throughout.

So, this was a worthwhile change of scenery. It was cool to watch P. Glass play and conduct, and as one Einstein-going companion noted after the performance, it could be the last time the Philip Glass Ensemble ever performs this together. Which made me retroactively appreciate it that much more.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Accept no substitutes

So, I didn't get to see the Met countdown thing because lame Chicago PBS was busy playing another Celtic Christmas Carols concert or something (for Chicagoans...seriously, how bad does WTTW blow these days?)

But J pointed me to one of the highlights on YouTube, Leontyne Price's farewell performance of Aida in 1985. Maybe I'm just emotional because I've been writing a paper for the past 48 hours, but damn...that is some fucking OPERA right there.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Naughty Elsa

A: this is amazing
J: urg I got half way through and it froze the browser
J: oh she's so huge and Elsa is so little
A: its like the setup for a rough lesbian porn
J: seriously
A: "say it elsa, say you want me to do you with a piece"
J: sick
J: oh there's more:
A: oh wow
A: this is so dirty
J: it's nasty!
A: can they bring her back for other things please?
J: right?
J: I mean, her 'trud was a mix of fun and hard to listen to in places
A: not a desert island 'trud
J: indeed not
J: ok I'm off to see "Enchanted" with Karen
A: enjoy
J: thanks

Not without mein schatten

Getting reasonable seats at Lyric is kind of a bitch. The Lyric Fam Circ, called "Balcony 9" or something, is priced at $31, but unlike the Fam Circ, which is only really far away, Balcony 9 is really REALLY far away. And more expensive. They do have $20 student tix, which get you in the very back of the main floor, but getting them is also a bitch. They only tell you if they are available for a certain performance about 2 weeks in advance, and they tend to sell out quickly, so if you miss your email, you're screwed. And you have to order them through the website, and then go to this special window away from the regular will call. Lyric ends up selling out most of their shows, so I don't blame them for not working to make it more friendly, but if some wealthy donor feels like it, by all means.

Blerg. Anyhow, onto the FroSch. Anyone who heard that kick ass broadcast the other weekend can understand that expectations were way high (see Dannato, M). And it was a fine show for sure, but not quite the earth shattering business one might have hoped for.

Robert Dean Smith sounded like a bit of a chore on the radio, but in person it was really a liability. He scores about 50 percent of the money notes (which is like half the role) but the other 50 percent were kind of brutal. Maybe total reliability isn't a reasonable expectation for your run of the mill Emperor, but it needs to be better than this.

Franz Hawlata was suffering from a cold (and Jill Grove was full on sick--definitely one of the more nerve-wracking pre-show announcements) which seemed to manifest only in a handful passages and at the very end of the show. Otherwise he was lovely.

I don't remember the name of Jill Grove's cover for the Nurse, but she did a tremendous job. Great, non-harpy rendition--no lumps. But enough of the small fish.

DVo: So, I have seen the DV live thrice prior to this, all in context of beloved 'pre' recordings. Forza was meh, as was Tosca. Salome was tremendous. FroSch is right on up her alley. Yet I would be lying if I said there weren't moments when I wasn't thinking "oh, that's the part of new DV I don't like so much". When she goes up top with the full commitment, it is immaculate. When it is semi-committed, there is on occasion a fleeting inconsistency. In the middle, there is this--oh, how to describe--nasaly thing? Pinchediness? I dunno. But one must admit that one doesn't love it. But enough of that. When it was good, mercy was it good.

Brewer! That is some shit, yo. Wow. I heard her Isolde from SFO on the radio the other week, and it was great to hear that marvelousness in person. Unfortunately, I felt like she was holding back a tad in the 3rd Act duet due to Hawlata's cold, or something. Ditto for her and Voigt in the quartet, for a while at least. But we finally got a glimpse of the full power for both of them, and it was quite a thing.

Andrew Davis: Man, FroSch is hard. I mean, Salome is hard, but at least its clear what needs to be done. But FroSch gives no such roadmap. I felt like there was less ecstatic Strauss goodness than I wanted...maybe some reluctance to overpower the singers? There was some sort of disconnect--perhaps a balance thing. I was also sitting under the orchestra overhang, so there may have been some dampening. But that said, the detail was marvelous, and the Lyric Orchestra played with fantastic polish and sensitivity.

The production is kind of exactly what you might expect from a company like Lyric putting on FroSch. The spirit realm bit was often priddy, if not especially inventive. The human realm kind of looked like a disco Ewok village. But what are you going to do?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Iphigenie en Sale

In a 4AM IM to Alex from a problematically orange hotel room in London, I proclaimed that, due to opening night pricing and a pocket book drained from a failed attempt at low budget international travel, I would not be attending the Iphigenie prima.

Then a spectacular thing happened!

Iphigenie went en sale. This happened last year for the opening night of Die Ägyptische Helena. If an opening night is not selling well, it seems the best strategy is to wait it out until about 24 hours before, as there just may be some price slashing.

I could not be more pleased that this happened. Not only because I love a bargain...

Folks. RUN to this production. I'll make it easy: Click here for tickets to this terrific production

Stephen Wadsworth, whose Rodelinda was without question the best part of that particular evening, has brought to the Met (via Seattle) a tasteful, coherent and ultimately pretty simple production. Punctuated with a few moments of well placed theatricality, this staging is effective in a way very few of the new productions in the past couple seasons have been. In fact, only Minghellafly comes to mind, really.

The thing is, the performances this evening could have been given in a flourescent lit rehearsal space and I'd have been on my feet screaming.

Susan Graham. Who knew? I mean, I liked her a lot in AmTrag, and thought her Komponist was totally solid. But seriously--I always sorta figured she may be a hair on the unexciting side. Not addition to seeming totally comfortable in the role (she HAS sung it a fair number of times at this point...) she brought a sensitivity and and an urgency that really caught me off guard. Add to that a completely committed physical performance and you are left with excitement indeed.

Maury and I are currently discussing going to every performance.

Groves and Domingo seriously gayed it up as Pylade and Oreste. It was really sort of sweet and sad. And they both sang the crap out of those roles. It's unbelievable to me that Domingo's sound is still as big and focused as it is. It was my first time hearing Groves, and I'm pretty impressed. And what a gorgeous role...

Is it fine if I like Iphigenie more than Orfeo? Because, I think I am leaning that way. Maybe it's just a phase.

So, this gets my vote for best thing so far this season. See you there. Seriously, maybe at every performance.

Maury makes a bold proclamation.
JSU is none too pleased.


J's threat to stay away from the Iphigenie prima has proved baseless. This just in via text: "They lowered fam circ prices so I came. Awesome production. Priddy tree."

Shout out

For this Rigoletto Henry Fogel played on his WFMT radio show the other night. It's really something of a revelation. I don't think I've ever heard Rigoletto sound so 'serious' for lack of a better word. Gavazzeni slows the tempi way down from what we generally hear, but plays it to the hilt, and the effect is tremendous. Moments one generally consigns to filler become fraught with tragedy and emotion and the readings of the arias are wonderful. There's no chance of falling into the 'pretty line over oom-pah' syndrome here. Each is distinctive, incredibly engaged, and heartbreaking.

The singers--young Scotto, Kraus, and Bastianni--are tremendous, but most of all Bastianni. Sweet lord let me hear a Rigoletto like that live in my lifetime. It is at that rare freaky level of operatic art where somehow the vocal reading is elegant, refined, and smooth AT THE SAME TIME as the raw, unvarnished emotion of the moment comes through with disturbing "opera can be this upsetting??" clarity. Kraus's voice, which I don't love in Mozart, is right-on for the Duke. Scotto doesn't sound terribly distinctive here, but it ends up being a plus, making for an extremely pure, flawless Gilda: i.e. none of that choking it through the last scene for effect, she does it as intended and the result is marvelous.

It has been noted.

Apres la Norma terrible

J: William Berger on Norma:
J: "this is not just one of these symbolic women who kills children for fun"
A: ha
A: that was not so good
J: it was god awful
J: awul
A: made one appreciate the ol' HP
J: yeah Hazmat Pompadou was great compared to this.
A: give it up for Hazel Pasternak
J: good work Hamsteak Papillon
A: v nice
J: Farina got no cheers, which was nice
A: oh swell
A: he's no where on the met futures page
A: that is encouraging
J: funny I scoured that for him earlier this evening too
J: Guleghina is all over that shit though
A: seriously
A: so wierd
A: like...what cachet does she have?
J: right?
A: cat is going nuts trying to get into this tupperware filled with science diet
A: he is going to be so disappointed
J: yeah seriously
J: Andrew is biting my hand furiously, then, remembering he has no teeth, starts licking it like crazy
A: haha

Sunday, November 25, 2007

News from London

J: I found some good YouTube links to people who snuck tape recorders into the Rent Remix
A: nice!
J: I forgot to mention that during Seasons of Love, which was done as part of a medley at the opening of the show, was accompanied by a loud ticking clock
A: "God...I just, I really want the audience to get that like time is running are we gonna do that???"
J: hah
A: there is a 2001 meistersinger on
A: and Heppner just cracked something brutal
J: jesus
J: he better not ruin Tristan
A: like
A: the big Meistersinger song isn't all that high, I don't think
J: if you crack on the Lied, you don't get no freaking Preis
A: serious
A: he just got close again
A: but he righted himself
A: Sachs is all "this was an ok you think you could avoid dairy before the show tomorrow? Maybe its the dairy..."
J: who's the Sachs?
J: J Mo?
A: yeah
J: boo.
A: i'm still not really sure what I want in a Sachs
J: I'm not sure about Meistersinger in general
J: I don't think I can go to the first Iphigenie
J: it's just too damn expensive
A: meh
A: i think that's ok
J: yeah
A: it may improve if you get really into it
A: but it is definitely pretty boring the first time around
J: oh hrm
A: or so I thought from the one here last year
J: oh fun
J: there are clips on YouTube from the original Rent at NYTW
J: and there are songs that never made it to Broadway
A: oh neat
J: wow they're awful
A: yikes
J: One Song, Glory used to be called "The Right Brain"
J: "Fiiiind, The RIght Brain"
A: ha
A: "Jonathan, about the Brain song"
J: there's also a goofy little song where Benny tries to talk Mark into going into Real Estate
A: i sort of don't want to like KM as Eva
J: why?
A: it's just such a different sound than other Evas
J: right
A: and it seems like there are about a million better uses for her
J: yeah. I mean, it's probably not bad.
A: indeed...all that kind of falls apart when she starts in
J: I sort of can't believe the subway here ends at midnight
A: yeah
A: that is nuts
A: PS, shortly after you signed off, KM did the quintet
A: it was out of control
J: oh man
J: I need to hear that
A: she's on this really nice recording i have with Solti and the CSO
A: but this even blew that out of the water
A: like, you don't know what to do with yourself
J: man
J: hm, it says I can't download it from you
J: is that the CSO quintet?
A: here it is
A: wrong one before

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Late Night Kabanova

A: are you going to listen to some of the Kata Kabanova?
J: totally
J: I just got back from an awesome freaking Figaro
A: oh you were there!
A: it sounded amazing
J: that Harteros woman needs to be president
A: yeah
A: wow
J: did you hear Dove Sono?
A: totally sick
A: Terfel sounded lovely
J: he did
J: and Keenlyside was great
A: i can't really identify Barbarina over the radio
A: how was ACB?
J: oh she was good
J: I mean
J: it's a weird little part
J: but she got some "woo"s in the curtain call
A: swell
A: It's interesting how Figaro with a meh cast is such a hugely different experience from Figaro with a great cast
J: yeah I mean, it still feels interminable in places
J: but yes it's a completely different experience
A: that stupid ballet the principle from Ferris Bueller had him put back in
J: that damn ballet
J: that took me a minute
J: oh you should sign up for Skype
A: on it
J: KM is awesome in this
A: damn
A: she really is
J: Greg points out it may be even better for her than Jenufa, which I'm willing to accet
J: accept
A: I mean
A: these are difficult distinctions
J: it's true
A: do you have a recording of her doing this?
J: no I don't think there is one
A: dang
A: it would be great to have this for one's own
A: they don't seem to be playing it again in the near future
A: or I would try to do the computer recording
J: Saturday afternoon
A: ah
A: I see
A: ok
A: I should remember to do that
A: they had paul plishka on the intermission today
J: hah Xmas day
A: hah
A: nice choice
A: merry christmas: go jump in the river
J: merry christmas: your mother-in-law has S&M sex before watching you die
A: ha
J: there are like 4 singers who know these Janacek roles
J: Raymond Very was in this, Jenufa at the met, and Jenufa in DC
A: yeah
J: the production looks neat
A: kewl
A: the ending to this act is so great
J: I was just going to type "god I love this little melody"
J: I wish I could go back in time
A: this is incredible
J: hm earlier it was "Janacek's Opera of Oppression"
J: now it's "Janacek's Opera of Injustice"
A: gotta love those slavs
J: are you listening to this Brewer bit from Vanessa?
A: yeah
A: nice
A: go Brewer
J: she's sorta great
A: I need to spend some time with it
A: word
A: I wasn't really feeling the grandeur in Flanigan's version
J: right
A: this is more like it
A: i can't tell if he sort of blows it with her in the later acts, or if it was the performance
A: i definitely got tired of her being so clueless
A: and not in a tragic way
J: right, she's just sort of desperate and annoying
A: i think maybe it is getting the extreme contrast with the first act right
A: and playing that duet in II for desperation
A: rather than enthusiasm
J: uh which duet? you remember better than I. I may go back Saturday
A: the "Take Flight" one
A: or maybe that is III
A: the one happy one with her and Anatol
J: oh right
A: who is this
A: yerg
J: total yerg
J: Jon Vickers
A: they need to put the singers on the internet player
A: oh
A: yikes
J: from Benvenuto Cellini
A: not a good day for JV
J: yeah I've told Greg I am going to put a webcam in front of my sirius receiver and leave it on 24/7 so he can always know who the singer is. it drives him crazy not knowing.
J: bleh, I guess I should sleep
J: goodnight
A: 'night

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

That's all we needed: a Druish princess...

Well there sure are a lot reasons to dislike this Norma revival. Let us enumerate them:

1. Franco Farina: please stop shouting at me. I don't know what I did to deserve this, but you have made your point several times now and it's beginning to look silly. Seriously tho, there were times in this that I forgot my distaste for him a bit--he spun some lines in the middle regions that certainly suggested something sensitive and lyrical and not shouty, but overall, it wasn't so much 'enjoyable' as it was the aural equivalent of partially turned half and half. Sure, if you smell it really quick, you can sometimes convince yourself its OK, especially if your other options are skim and non-dairy creamer, but ultimately it's going to leave a nasty taste in your mouth.

2. Someone needs to tell Maestro Benini that it is a purifying of the sacred clearing and not a funeral for said clearing. Too bad, too, because the sound he was drawing from the orchestra had lots of light n' clear bel canto goodness. But all that purdy sound quality don't count for much when it's deployed with zero momentum. The main numbers and the climaxes hummed well enough, but I found a lot of the intervening stretches ploddy and lifeless, enough so that I feared the whole thing might accidentally grind to a halt.

3. This is one cheap-ass looking production. It's like they had some cash left over in 1992 and someone bet the scene shop they couldn't put together a whole Norma with it (although it is fact only *5* years old). Seriously, it's like they decided to do Norma as the random Winter musical at my high school that no one got too invested in. Only my high school had better stage direction. This is amateur, amateur stuff. And PS, 6 guys with mini torches does not a funeral pyre make. At the very least, they could have turned the ginormous moon shaped piece of scrim red for the finale. But perhaps there wasn't money left for red gels after they had bought all the papier mache and chicken wire for the Druid-y stump things that make up the 'set'.

And yet...despite those misgivings, I'm still awfully glad I went, thanks to DZ, the greatness of the piece itself, and the wonderful Hasmik Papian. Papian is a Norma worth the price of admission. The tone is beautiful, the top crystal clear and exciting, the vocal acting nuanced and frequently disarming. Seeing it live for the first time, I really understood why people go on about the difficulty--I suppose one really needs to verify in person that the same noises are successfully coming out of the same throat to be awed at the challenges of the part. So it was extra exciting to watch Papian take it in stride. Sieglinde has a nice description of Papian's virtues. If you won't go without quibbles, I will note that 1) in a few of the florid lower passages she sounded a bit anemic, and 2) she relinquished focus and control of the stage at times, especially during a few ensembles (tho I felt there might also be opening night nervousness/wretched blocking in play). Happy now?

DZ was her usual brilliant self. She definitely makes for a heavier-voiced Aldagisa than I've heard in my limited listening experience, and it seemed to show particularly in the bits with Norma, that were more power duets, less delicate trifles. I'm awfully intrigued by the chatter in other quarters about how she should take on the title role herself.

Bottom line: you can't keep a good opera down no matter how you try. So let's do it for real next time. If no RF/Wilson, let Hasmik headline it. Bring DZ back. Put ANYONE in there for Farina. And don't even be clever about it, just build an applause-at-the-curtain realistic field/rocky monolith set and include some tasteful fire FX at the end. Is that really so hard? Come now.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pauvre Mignon

Seeing as how I don't understand sung French so well, if MJ didn't keep reminding me that the story is completely wack I might just say Mignon sounds better than R&J, as puffball French operas go. The MODB has it as the second most popular opera not performed in the past half century (reigning champ is Meyerbeer's Les Huegenots).

Now why don't crazy opera directors revive things like this and go to town on them? Unlike, say, Madame Butterfly, which really ought to be left alone, Mignon is just begging for some deconstruction. French opera of that period gets uncomfortable because the 19th century archetypes age so poorly (being embarrassed by the past is a funny phenomenon, isn't it?), so a production that earnestly unpacked some of that would be neat. I say bring on gun toting Native American Mignon in space.

Granted, my appreciation isn't hurt by the sweet lineup on this b-cast: Rise Stevens, Ezio Pinza, and the very awesome tenor, whoever he is.

Monday, October 29, 2007

What Sirius giveth...

Finally back in the good graces of Internets radio--all my audio up and stopped for about four days, taking the Met along with it. Only required a complete reinstall of the OS. (HP support blows.)

Fortunately we had some non-auditory musical entertainment for the weekend:

What is it about cats and this book?

Friday, October 26, 2007

CSO: Mozart/Turnage/Brahms

First trip to the CSO this evening...Mozart Symphony #25, a premiere by the British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, and the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto with Emmanuel Ax for the main event. I was really there for the Brahms, so that is where I shall begin:

Haitink's hyper-precise thing is really well suited to Brahms, especially in as rich and polished a work as the second piano concerto--try to force too much on this piece and you'll just spoil the thing--you get fake articulation where the precisely correct articulation was there all along. But Haitink conducts with the optimum expression of the notes on the page in mind, almost to the point of obsession, and nowhere was it more evident than the Andante. He built the thing from the ground up, hunched over the podium like a car mechanic, twisting and prodding each color and harmony into just the right place before moving on. Letting the details shine through where one usually gets Brahmsian fog made this piece thrillingly new.

Emmanuel Ax gave a tremendous performance even if there is a part of my Brahms luv that yearns for the kind of manic precision someone like a Pollini could deliver in this part.

The Haitink thing is less successful in Mozart. I wanted to be into it and go along with the experiment, but at some points it sounded a bit like Haitink was leaving the poor thing stranded, refusing to impose the structure that old-pro Brahms doesn't need, but maybe 19 year old Mozart does. That said, there were some find moments, especially that beautiful little wind interlude in the (I think) third movement.

I need to think about the Turnage a bit more, but promise I'll post later.
* * *

So, here's a random Sandow-eque suggestion. The CSO is doing a really nice job with program notes these days--besides the standard biographical context and musical breakdown, they offer some insights into the bigger reasons why such and such piece is interesting. I.e., in the notes for the Mozart:
The opening of this symphony is probably the earliest music that sounds wholly Mozartean to our ears--not the charming, finely crafted, yet slightly anonymous music of the period, but something utterly individual, music that leaps from the page and lodges in our memories...A second theme in B-flat major, provides contrast and a glimpse of the generic musical world Mozart was quickly leaving behind.
This kind of thing allows the occasional or semi-occasional concert goer (among which I certainly count myself as far as Mozart symphonies are concerned) to situate the works in his or her own musical knowledge, even if they haven't thought about Mozart symphonies for a while. It sticks with you and helps to deepen your perspective and critical ear even if you're only going to two concerts a year.

So why don't we do something similar in the performers' bios? It isn't rocket science to figure out what people mean when they say they don't go to classical music because they don't 'understand' what to like in a performance. It's not a lack of deep musical knowledge, its just the simple fact that even if you go twice a year, you probably don't have enough reference points to judge another randomly selected performance out of the vast world of soloist/orchestra/repertoire configurations. So let's get someone to write a few interesting paragraphs about where Emmanuel Ax and Bernard Haitink fall in their respective worlds, what some of their specialties are, and what qualities set them apart.

A successful classical listener needs to want to learn something about classical music outside of what's going on onstage. It isn't as easy to get to a basic level of appreciation as it is with pop music that speaks directly to our era and comes in 3-minute packages. That's just the nature of the beast. But we can do everything to ensure that going to a classical concert is more than just one opaque data point in the concert going experience, we can actively try to get people interested in learning about the performance world and different or similar experiences to be had than what they're seeing at the moment.

Naturally this would require a change from the safe C.V. feeling of most program materials, and might make some uncomfortable. But the current impression an occasional concert goer gets in uncharted territory, that everyone in the classical world likes everything else, and it's all swell and beautiful and pristine is a big liability. Clearly, people who are engaged with the music don't talk about it like this, so the challenge is getting people past the edifice to the far more interesting debate on the other side. It's time we measure victories in the number of occasional listeners who can walk out of the orchestra and mutter "Haitink's Mozart really sucked ass."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Re: Jenufa in Hollywood

Um, hey California...why is everyone hating on the boulder set in the Met Jenufa?

(Actual boulder may vary in size.)

If you can't say something nice about our boulder, don't say anything at all.

Seriously tho, it is great that this production is on the road and everyone is getting to bask in the awesomeness--with Matilla sure, but Silvasti and Begley too. Despite that gonzo central performance, the huge appeal of the New York engagement was ultimately in the remarkable ensemble. Eva Urbanova sounds great.


Update: Brian alerts us to a creeping pro-boulder backlash.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Scottish Opera

8:22}Guleghina just made me turn down the volume on the computer. Hells yeah.

8:25}I mean, yeah, the top scares me a little. What of it? Maybe I like it when my pubes stand on end.

8:26}And the crowd goes wild. That is a noise, yo.

Things you learn on Sirius

So wait...Werner Klemperer, the guy who played Colonel Klink on Hogan's Heroes, was actually the son of Otto Klemperer, and also had a late career doing funny parts at the Met, like the Pasha in this 1980 Entfuhrung w/ Levine, Battle, etc. that's on right now? That is one kick ass piece of trivia.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I'd weep for that

Lisa Hirsch has a game about pieces of music that make one cry, originally inspired by this clip of Esa-Pekka-Salonen getting choked up on the podium during Sibelius 2. My short list would go something like this:
  • Third act of Walkure, the orchestral interlude between the "Leb wohl" bit and "Der augen leuschtendes paar".
  • Hadn't felt this way about the end of Traviata, but then I went to the Gheorghiu perfs the other year. That was embarrassing.
  • The "Sunday" chorus at the end of the first act of "Sunday in the Park with George"--I still don't quite understand why and it's a big part of why I like the show so much, despite that often unfortunate second act.
  • The last lines of the last movement of the Brahms' Requiem: "daß sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit; denn ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach" (that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them).
  • This terribly sappy song by Iris DeMent called "Our Town", which just kills me.
From the Times' piece about the Gelb "Stars for Covers" program this morning:
In an interview, Mr. Alagna said he had been a cover before and also understood Mr. Melo’s disappointment, but he pointed out that sometimes a lesser-known singer can hurt his career by performing poorly as a fill-in. Mr. Alagna, smiling, then brought up the Gospel story of Jesus’ anointment with expensive perfume, when Judas Iscariot objected that the money should be used for the poor. Jesus replied that the poor would always exist but that he would not always be there.

“You will never have me forever,” Mr. Alagna said. “Better to have me now.”
God's gift to opera, indeed.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


I mean...damn. What was the deal with the conspiracy against Tchaikovsky's 'other' operas? Listened to a Maid of Orleans production from SFO last year on the radio yesterday and it sounds AMAZING. Looks like the other three post-Onegin works--Cherevicki (an update of an earlier work called 'Vakula the Smith', The Enchantress, and Iolanta (Yolanda?)--are getting some play these days, but recordings are still few and far between. Projects, projects...

In other news, DZ was Joan of Arc in this recording, and besides sounding awesome, also did an intermission interview in which she noted she had added the 'Trud to her rep. Bonus.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Butterfly now

Looks like Pat Racette isn't singing the budderfly which just started. 'Twas hoping to confirm what I already know all the fuss is about. Instead we have one Maria Gavrilova making her debut. So far, so ok. Bit more of a wobble than you want on your fifteen year old or whatever she's supposed to be. But them's are the breaks.

Alagna sounds like he's on better footing than the impromptu Aida the other night--which was certainly very enjoyable even so. Can't quite decide where I fall out on Bobby Love. There's something just undeniably "real-deal" and exciting about the purity of the core sound when its on--that sort of haters-need-not-apply gusto and consistency--which one can't help but fall for. Yet there's also this unpleasant very non-warm piece that kind of goes against what you'd expect from the aforementioned purity of sound. Like a sort of disappointing stale area of an otherwise excellent cookie. On the other hand, it seemed to dissipate with time the other night, so perhaps he just requires some warm-up. Hook it up Peen-ker-tone.

UPDATE: Yowza. Robert darling gave a killer end of Act One.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Did the season start already? For serious?

A: DZ is tearin it up
J: this was the first thing I ever saw her in
A: good one
J: do it DZ
A: damn she's good
A: word
A: bobby has warmed up nicely
A: it wasn't awesome at the very beginning
A: there's a bit of a chance I will come to the first Norma
A: I think i will be in NY that weekend, and am tempted to ditch monday so I can go
J: oh awesome
J: oh dear god
A: oh I know Planet Unicorn, let me assure you
A: I had that song stuck in my head for like the entire month of August
J: haha
J: it's so great
A: at one point Lindsay turns to me and says "did you just hum 'give it up for Feathers'"?
J: hah
A: i am partial to the america's next top model one
J: yeah that is great
J: the one withe the watercorn is also good
A: yes
A: i wonder if you could get a planet unicorn episode to show up on the front page of GodTube
J: there must be a way
A: this is awfully cute
J: aw

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bye, Pav

For anyone growing up in the 80s with parents who were casual opera listeners, Pavarotti was the king of the big time opera stars one recognized on the sleeves of recordings and in PBS telecasts. His voice is like mother's milk for all of us who were introduced to opera in that period.

I got to see him in person once, when singing in the children's choir for Solti's farewell gala from the CSO, in a concert performance of Otello with an 80s all-star cast of Pavarotti, Kiri Te Kanawa, and Leo Nucci. He wasn't an immaculate opera star to be sure--he had a special armchair onstage, dedicated prompter, and proceeded to litter the ground with fruit peels throughout the dress--but getting his autograph afterwards was nonetheless like meeting a minor deity.

There will be a lot of tired sentences about how he "democratized the art form" in his obits, but Pavarotti's appeal really has nothing to do with high or low culture. For whatever opera may or may not be, opera-singing is about using the beauty of the human voice in the service of expression, something anyone with ears can appreciate. And Pavarotti made that exceptionally clear to novice and expert alike.

I don't have anything good to play on hand, so I'll just direct you to the podcasts La Cieca put together for Pav's 70th birthday--a 1969 Boheme with Mirella Freni, plus amazing bonus tracks from his prime after each act. If one could wear out the grooves on a podcast, I would be in need of a serious trip to the podcast store to pick up new copies of these. Go to this archive page and search "Boheme".

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Don't get me wrong, I'm not denying that the notion of juicer opera stars has a certain ring to it (Villazon and Alagna hosting notorious cortisone parties in the Covent Garden dressing room...nefarious agents who take you aside and ask if you would really do "anything" for that b-flat...Ben Heppner as the cautionary tale every rookie must learn) but I think the sports analogy is off the mark. The problem with steroids in sports is that it actually changes the nature of the enterprise to the point where the drugs are part and parcel of what people consider the state of the art in the field. And it's uncomfortable to know that you're rooting for something which may be essentially artificial.

But the issue here for opera has little to do with the thing itself. It's a simple case of opera stars getting roped into the same demands that rock stars and other international performers have been facing for years. Unfortunately for them, while its considered OK and even kind of endearing for Keith Richards to go onstage strung out and phone in a set from time to time, no one has much sympathy for an opera singer on an off night.

So definitely a big problem, but let's be clear that the appropriate reference is more Stevie Nicks: Behind the Music than Juiced: The Jose Canseco Story.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


A: do you know what the deal is with Norma #1?
A: "Hasmik Papian"?
J: yeah she's supposed to be good, though Greg finds her ordinary
A: hrm
J: probably better than Guleghina
A: ok
J: we waited in line for 4 full hours yesterday
A: there are really non without stupid Farina, huh
J: F-ing Farina is in all of them
A: so
A: weak
A: what were you waiting for?
J: oh just a bunch of balc box stuff
J: my new obsession is balc box 1
A: interesting
J: the one right up at the stage
A: did you have an experience with BB1 recently?
J: well last year we sat there for those national council finals
J: and I was very pro
J: and then we sat there for Cesare
J: and it was sort of great
A: nice
J: and $15.
A: they were selling for the whole year?
J: yeah
J: the line wrapped around the Met lobby 4 times, went out the door and past the fountain
A: dude
A: I think my priorities are as follows, in no particular order
J: ok
A: T n' I
J: natch
A: Walkure
J: natch
A: Otello
J: yeah
J: despite Guelfi
A: oh balls
J: total balls
J: continue
A: Norma
J: despite Farina
A: War and Peace
A: In the second tier of things that could be awesome but aren't pressing life list things
A: we have
A: The Gambler
A: Peter Grimes
A: and I'd like to see Fille du Regiment for the CDF
A: and one of the Dessay outings
J: yeah I think the Lucia will be sort of awesome
A: oh
A: I forgot that its new
J: with Dessay
J: right
A: despite Dessay and all, I was having a little trouble getting stoked about that lame old production
J: totally
A: with Levine conducting no less
J: we skipped a bunch of key things yesterday that we wanted to wait until we could afford decent tickets for
J: so we ended up with:
J: Lucia (Season opener)
J: Figaro
J: Butterfly
J: Aida
J: Norma
J: Manon Lescaut
J: Macbeth (new prod opening)
J: and Otello
A: nice
A: I might throw the MacBeth on my pile too
J: the rest of the premieres require some saving
A: which cast did you do
J: as even the cheap seats are $50
J: we did opening night of Macbeth
A: dang
J: T und I and Walk may require balc
A: yeah
A: oh
A: Roschmann is Countess in the Figaros
J: yeah
J: she is awesome
A: trying to come on a weekend and paying the weekend prices is annoying
J: yes
J: ugh
J: the only semi-affordable Saturday seats are fam circ boxes
J: even then it's $27 for sucky seats
A: I suppose I should wait to figure out classes in case I have weird days off
J: oh yeah
A: and try not to choose classes based on their opera vacation potential
J: that will be the tough part

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

On Slow Culture

I like this from Matthew Guerreri very much. A great addition to the debate that actually sounds like it is asking some new questions.

I often think that maybe classical music hasn't gotten smaller, the world's just gotten bigger. And classical music, i.e., a sort of music and a practice of experiencing it figured out when the world didn't have so many people in it, therefore has some natural limits on its ability to maintain the market share it did in 1860. And, as Matthew and others seem to be pointing out more and more lately...that's OK.

It gets me thinking, though, about that mid-century golden age of modern classical music appreciation that serves as the benchmark for the classical music debate. We seem to spend a lot of time thinking back to that period, when the country waited with bated breath for the next Saturday Met Broadcast, when opera stars made the cover of Time Magazine, when NBC devoted more energy to a symphony orchestra than it did to Fear Factor and its imitators, and wondering: what's wrong with us today that seemed to work back then? We're not talking about hundreds of years Bavaria...when people had no electricity. The country looked more or less the same, yet it actually seemed to give a damn about art music and serious culture. Pretty soon otherwise rational people are feeling warm and fuzzy towards the Eisenhower era, while the Sandows of the world are using it as a cudgel to justify just about anything in the name of putting butts back in the seats and slowing classical music's long cruel slide from the relevance it used to enjoy. It's not a pretty state of affairs.

So here's my armchair cultural historian take, intended to at least start parsing out how we ought to reconcile ourselves with the nagging questions raised by that mid-century classical music heyday. In short, I think that period, as tantalizing as it sounds sometimes, should be seen as an aberration rather than the norm. Back in the day, what we might call "art music" and "popular music" both subsisted on live performing traditions, and, as such, more or less co-existed in their separate spheres as defined by experience, setting, class, what have you. The great breach which upsets the order of things is, of course, modern recording and distribution technology. The short song form and malleable structures which figure large in popular music forms collide with new technologies favoring discrete packages, easy recognition and rapid stylistic assimilation. A truly viable product for the new media is born.

And what of the mid-century heyday? Perhaps it was nothing more than a lag period during which this process took place. The pinnacles of recorded music, hybrid popular music forms like rock and R&B, had not yet been reached, and those guiding the industry were distributing the old music through these channels because people wanted it and nothing better had come along.

If that sounds like snark, it shouldn't. The radical break in music precipitated by modern technology is a simple fact, and it has produced its own tailor made art forms which have great virtues. But 'proving' that certain styles of music and musical experiences are now inferior or irrelevant because they have trouble competing with musical mousetraps designed specifically with world domination in mind just makes no sense.

And if that's true, then the takeaway should be that the "classical music problem" isn't a problem with classical music, per se: it's a bigger problem for all music still firmly rooted in the pre-mass media performance traditions attempting to compete in the 20th century information universe. The immediate issues are genre specific to be sure, but the overriding challenge is the same.

Now, that doesn't mean I think classical music and popular music don't have their differences. Call them what you will, there are clearly some broad differences in the character of the listening experience and the nature of intellectual engagement entailed in classical and, say, the blues. All I can say is that anyone who would argue that those things are equal must not care very much about the unique qualities of either. And to be sure, when talking about the practical question of how you keep a tradition alive, there is a resource question. You're probably not going to do struggling Bluegrass traditions any favors by consolidating banjo faculty, whereas losing Juilliard, Eastman, and Curtis would leave a substantial void in the classical world.

But in the end, is the music really so endangered? I suspect the contractions we've seen in recent years, far from heralding the coming disappearance of the tradition altogether, were more likely the final death throes of that mid-century moment when the classical tradition found itself grafted wholesale onto the emerging modern media universe. And besides, its not at all clear that the net gain in classical enthusiasts hasn't been positive--it stands to reason that more people have heard Brahms 3rd in the past decade than heard anything by the man while he was alive.

If the gains don't seem to be keeping pace with the total universe of music listeners, or don't live up to some mythical period when 'everyone' listened to serious music, then so be it. But its time to start thinking about this process as moving toward some sort of natural rate of engagement rather than a descent into oblivion. Partisans and Sandows of the world alike need to realize that "the music isn't for everyone" doesn't mean its elitist, or that everyone should know better, or that its suffering from some massive and elusive failure in appeal. To a large degree, those are just the breaks for an art form built for personal experience trying to make it on a planet which has figured out ingenious ways to circumvent the personal experience.

So what is to be done? As far as changing attendance patterns, concert formats, programming, etc., I don't think there's terribly much we really can "do". We can innovate and try to tinker here and there, but in the end the serious music tradition will be based on whatever it has always been based on in one form or another, and there's just no way around it. It will evolve in whatever way its adherents decide is most conducive to that experience.

In thinking about how to make a functional rather than value driven distinction between the classical and modern pop tradition, I keep coming back to the idea of expropriating the term "slow culture". I like the analogy with the 'slow food' phenomenon, and its distinction between food production as it has been more or less throughout history and food production as it is in the modern era of industrial agriculture and mass processing; you can extrapolate a lot of positive and negative conclusions from there, but the fundamental point is purely about the mechanism of production.

And that's where the slow culture idea comes in handy. As Matthew's post points out, while most sensible people have figured out that arguing aesthetic value is a dead end, we're still trying to wage proxy debates about value using circumstantial evidence and half-baked economics to figure out what is 'in demand'. Slow culture makes the simple point that 'demand' for art is a relative quantity in an information landscape where different art forms operate on wildly different scales.

Update: Since I got called out on "there are clearly some broad differences in the character of the listening experience and the nature of intellectual engagement entailed in classical and, say, the blues" above, I feel like elaborating a bit. To be honest, I never understand why such a sentiment is so problematic. I'm not denying that there are true experts and devotees for music genres besides classical, nor am I denying that any one of these traditions involves opportunities for intellectual depth as rich as one wants it to be. Either of those claims can be disproved instantly. But that's why I said broad and not absolute differences.

There are good reasons why copious program notes at a punk show would injure the experience rather than enhance it (not that anyone's clamoring for punk to change its performance practices, despite its slide from relevance), just as there are good reasons why those notes are now deemed a welcome and essential addition to the modern classical concert. And there are reasons why people like to listen to Beethoven in as close to dead silence as possible, while people generally like to listen to blues in a crowded bar, and listening to it in some antiseptic concert hall just feels weird.

"Intellectual", which I suspect is the word which causes the real offense here, isn't supposed to be a sneaky value judgment. It denotes a specific kind of artistic experience, and in some contexts it has its place more than others. I mean seriously...does the intellectual wing of popular music really believe people want to experience it in the same way that people want to experience Beethoven? So sue me, but I think the primordial appeal of popular music is precisely its immediacy, its power to effortlessly evoke memories and emotions, its ability to tell stories. That's its folk heritage. By contrast, art music's primordial appeal is its range of ambiguity, its perfectly contrived effects, its technical depth. Yeah, of course there are exceptions, and people do what they want, but why is it a crime to say there's some kind of general distinction here? That way of thinking seems to go against everything in front of our eyes, and everything we know about the motivations of artists who actually created the music in question. Am I missing something?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Classical Music Triumphalism (!)

Well, well. Looks like boring moldy ol' opera is nearly as big as American football, admissions wise (ht: ACD).

I'm thinking some billboards along the lines of:

"Opera: Like Football for Sensitive People"

...might win some converts. At least you don't have to worry about rooting for dog-torturers.

For the record

Caught the Pat Racette Buddahfly at Ravinia this weekend. Pat was in glorious form--I never really noticed how sweet her voice is in the middle regions and the slash and burn stuff was as thrilling as hoped for. Having the CSO for the band was also a luxury--the perfect antidote to the usual sinking feeling that opera orchestras are phoning it in on this one.

I thought rookie James Valenti, the Peenkertone standing in for Frank Lopardo was a real highlight, though John von Rhein thought he was a lightweight up top, which I may have chalked up to the vagaries of the amplification system out on the lawn. I also can't quite decide if he is really really good looking or merely opera hot, to revive an old term. His little black and white picture in the program argued strongly for the former, but this might indicate the latter...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Well played: Renee

Splendid show by Renee Fleming at the Proms the other day: first up is some of the Berg she does so well...this time its the Seven Early Songs. After the interval she dominates on two barnburner Korngold arias from some of the lesser known (to me at least) works. It's on the proms page for a week or something. Her first set is 30 minutes or so in.

P.S. Not to rub snark on an otherwise unabashedly positive recommendation, but even on good behavior she still has to do that little slide up to the note thing that I think she thinks is part of the trademark BV sound. OMG that is so bothersome.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Last Dance: Parsifal

A: this gurnemanz is kind of a chore
J: yeah I have it on fairly softly
J: I have been listening to so much Ring I keep waiting for like the Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla motiv
A: yeah
A: that would confuse things a bit
J: it would
A: Wotan is all "what, the cup is a god? Weak"
A: deine mutter ist tod!
J: Greg has a friend in Austin who refers to the Liebestod as the "Love Frog"
A: hah
A: that's great
A: so
A: I was taking notes for this conference the other day
A: and got kind of sleepy for a bit
A: and am now trying to go back through that part
A: it is not good
A: the conference was about responsible credit use
J: oh man
A: I wrote "Australian mammal feelings…"
A: at some point
J: hahaha
A: Grail Knight #8 (trans.): whispers. You have got to be shitting me. That guy is still back there?!? Sick...
A: here's another good one:
A: "Good reason to think that those arranged it wielly wowou"
J: hahah
J: were you falling asleep?
A: little bit
A: it was like 5 minutes out of 8 hrs of meetings
A: but it was this really dense presentation
A: I think its going to be over soon
A: wish it had happened during some of the crap they had the next day, tho
A: arg
J: oh lovely Parsifal
A: yes
A: did Adam Fischer do the Met ones we saw?
J: I don't think so
A: he did something year before last
J: Peter Schneider conducted the ones we saw
J: are you thinking of Asher Fisch?
A: dur
A: yes
J: he condcted Rigoletto in 05-06
A: right
A: well, Adam Fischer is nice
A: good tempi
J: he had a short little Met career in the mid-90's
A: did someone yell something out there?
J: oh man I turned it down for a phone call
J: is this the dead bunny Parsifal?
A: that it is
A: totes Häschen
A: or maybe totes Kaninchen
A: for rabbit
A: rather than bunny
J: I like bunny
A: ooh
A: rotting bunny is Verrottenhäschen
A: thank you deustch
A: Parsifal, mit Verrottenhäschen
A: um
A: I think maybe this parsifal is crap
J: I have sort of not been paying attention
A: the parsifal himself
J: was there a Kundry problem?
J: ah ok
A: I'm kind of stoked about her
J: she seems great, yeah
A: definitely one of those sock you in the gut Kundrys
A: that was a good noise Flowermaidens
J: that was an insane noise
A: I kind of love her
A: it's not priddy by any means
A: but still awesome
A: that was a hott note
J: fucccck I had to turn it down
A: her low down note before the makeout
A: was extra smokey
J: has the crazy high note happened yet?
A: no
A: almost
J: mexcellent
J: woo!
A: huzzah!
J: yeaaah!
A: she hit that shit fo reals
A: little trail off at the end
A: but all good
J: god she's awesome
A: "Evelyn Herlitzius"
A: "bad-ass"
A: *chills*
A: bra-fing-va

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Watson brings her A-game

J: oh CRUD!
J: I forgot about G Dams
A: me too til just now
J: well, I didn't want to hear L-Wats sing that diet anyway
J: duet
A: the end of Siegfried was nicht gut I take it
J: oh man
J: her last note especially
J: was a mess
J: like, not even in the ballpark
J: just some random note
A: gah
A: she needs serious warm up time
A: I feel an oath coming on
A: while listening to the bcasts I sometimes have these sudden moments of realization about just how nutso what's happening on stage right now could be
A: like Hagen could be in a bunny suit for all we know
J: yeah! I think about that too
J: I mean, esp after the Meistersinger stuff
J: like, it's all nice pretty Meistersinger
J: but their cocks are out
A: i suppose it makes directing kind of straightforward
A: ok...let's do a run through...who's turn is it to take their pants off?
J: hah
A: um
A: there is a comic strip about bayreuth
J: ahhh!
A: dang
A: I wish that site had an english version
A: uh oh
A: looks like someone is not about to be out-oathed
J: hah
A: sounds like gould's getting a little tired
A: it sucks how everyone gets burnt out before the nice Act III bidness
J: yeah that sucks
A: Brunnhilde (trans.): "Know what? Fuck him. You heard it. Brunhild don't play like that, bitch."
J: at which point she tries to ride off triumphantly on her flying horse, only to hit the ground with the glorious thud of mortality
A: d'oh
J: act 2 is short
A: 'tis
A: this is handy
A: the length of siegfried act 3 is surprising
A: those Meistersinger times must be with cuts
A: in Act 2
J: and also Siegfried was shorter than G-dams by like 20 mins when I saw it
J: confusing
A: there's now way that last act is 100 minutes
A: no
A: I just ate the nastiest piece of cheap birthday cake and am about 15 minutes from a severe sugar crash
J: ew
A: brutal
J: he didn't quite nail that
A: arg
A: I am in a meeting and can't listen
J: did you hear?
J: urg
J: Gould's woodbird stuff is fairly bad
A: yeah
A: nuts
J: are you listening again?
A: its only a meeting with my co-intern
J: ah
A: so I turned it on
A: I haven't quite explained it to her yet
A: oh man
A: he's suffering
J: poor guy
J: well
J: the end is near
J: it's a good thing he's about done
A: valiant efort tho
J: yes
J: I mean he made it
A: I am pro Gould
J: I am mixed, but impressed he can sing it
A: I think a recording made with him singing one act on different days would be swell
J: yeah
J: that makes sense
A: get that spear ready, Hagen
A: save it Guturne
J: god damn that is so hard
A: lwats saved some gas
J: yeah
A: well done
A: do people sound wierdly underwhelmed?
A: not for the Wats i guess
A: she really brought it there
J: yeah I wonder what the problem is