Monday, December 29, 2008

Holiday Movie PSA

No opera opportunities over the holiday, but I did manage to hit up some of the holiday season/Oscar bait offerings. Be advised:

1. Milk - OK. This is just so clearly the only legitimate contender for Best Picture. No, I haven't seen the old baby man Brad Pitt picture yet, but I kind of feel like I can still claim preemptive outrage that it is going to be considered serious competition. I read the Randy Shilts book in high school I think, and couldn't stop thinking about what an amazing big time movie biopic Harvey Milk would make if done properly, and lo these many years later, it has arrived. Milk is a deeply affecting and serious movie about history and politics and ideas and questions directly relevant to the moment, both Prop 8 and the prospects for a broader re-invigoration of a national politics about equality and civil rights (Rick Warren speed bump aside. WTF Obama???).

The depth of Sean Penn's portrayal of Harvey Milk is shocking. He does something infinitely harder than playing a hero or martyr: he demonstrates how people actually make politics out of relationships. How do you even start to figure out how to play that? His death at the end is devastating, not because you're mourning for the movement, but because you've grown so attached to his character.

Moreover, it is just an incredibly well made movie. Gus van Sant is able to totally avoid the usual pitfalls of the biopic that can make such movies feel like plodding chores. Nor does it have that annoying historical sheen. In the phrase of the Variety review, Milk fills "lived in". Also, the documentary footage is impeccably interspersed, used sparingly enough to avoid undermining the new footage.

Reading about it since seeing it, I feel like maybe there is some weird backlash against it (a suspicion compounded by the Golden Globes snubbing). Like it would be too perfect for Hollywood to give a movie about a gay political hero best picture given Prop 8 and Obama triumphalism. If so, that is some BULLSHIT. I have not had strong Best Picture preferences for a few years, but this year it will be a total travesty if the gimmicky Brad Pitt thing or Batman or Nazi Kate Winslet wins instead. Bah.

2. The Wrestler - This is a movie that keeps it real, folks, I mean--for reals real. But, it is important to note that it is not quite a "downer" movie in the way "Dancer in the Dark" was a downer movie. For one, it spends a lot of time creating this truly fascinating (and gross) backstage world of low rent professional wrestling, but not for cheap laughs. Rather it plays like one of those documentaries at once disturbed and intrigued by its subjects but firmly operating under the conceit that theirs is a deep world worth engaging. Second, Mickey Rourke's performance doesn't really allow it to become a downer, because his character is fundamentally good-natured and can take care of himself and never feels like a pawn of some sadistic omnipotent filmmaker, which is quite an achievement considering the scene with the staples. You don't pity him, per se, but sort of join him as he resigns himself to the fact that his luck has run out. So, still a downer, clearly, but as someone who doesn't have a lot of patience for the genre at large, I think this is different and better. He still shouldn't beat out Sean Penn, but I wouldn't be irate if it went down like that.

3. Slumdog Millionaire - As advertised, very satisfying and then some. It ends more neatly and fairytale-ish than it begins, which could be bothersome, but whatever. While the story and assemblage of actors playing the main roles at different ages are enchanting (except for the adult version of the girl, who was bland and too pretty), the Indian setting is the real entertainment, with nicely observed glimpses into slums as well as call centers. Clearly not Milk competition for Best Picture, but I hope it doesn't end up as a sort of Indian "Little Miss Sunshine" for 2008. This is much worthier.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tristan Bust

Well THAT was something of a lowpoint in my operagoing career, and on my first attempt to see T n' I live, no less. Serious weak sauce alert.

I spent the first act in the penalty box (thanks Delaware!) which was packed for some reason. Watson sounded nicht gut on the List Hall sound system. Like, actual cringe, muttering "Damn" under my breath, nails on a larynx unpleasant at some points.

I got up to my balc box for Act II and some tourist d-bag sitting in my seat says "What, you're just coming for the second act?" Dick. The good news about Act II was that Watson sounded perfectly fine in person. The bad news was that it was way, way boring. I would have thought Tristan could basically work under any circumstances, but I would have been wrong. It does not work when there is zero chemistry going on among the principals. I mean, when Konig Marke's monologue is the most exciting thing in the show, that's just not cool.

Now, I don't want to totally blame the principals. Watson certainly deserves the gratitude reserved for people willing to cover Wagner. That is some thankless shiz right there. And c' was the last perf in a run where the conductor was the biggest story, not to mention a Saturday night and snowing. Also, she was up there with Seiffert, who despite his nice sounding voice clearly could not act his way out of a plastic bag. (Exercise: Pretend you have just been run through with a broadsword. Does that make you happy, sad, or the same?)

Also: I know I'm the last person in the universe to get an opinion about this production, but does anyone else feel like the Met picked it up at IKEA? It's all soothing Nordic colors, competing faux wood veneers, modernish lines, and a bit cheap looking. Lest this production get in a show without one flub, you'll be glad to know the lift for the obelisk thing got caught or something when Melot is busting in during Act II and there was this sort of awkward section where no one knew where to look because Marke hadn't arrived from under the stage yet.

I was thinking about maybe not saying this in public, but oh well. I bailed on Act III. I wanted to just forget the whole business and go home and make plane tickets for Voigt/Forbis in Chicago next month. I just didn't want my first time to be like that, and I think we can all agree this was just the tip, right?


Friday, December 19, 2008

One night only...unfortunately the wrong one

Going up to NY to catch the last T u' I of the season tomorrow, but when Dalayman sicks out do I get the luxury cover? Of course not. I get L-dubs. Not like she is bad. But safe to say it is a serious non-event. I dunno. Maybe her Isolde is awesome and no one knows it and I will eat my hat.


Monday, November 10, 2008

I know what'll cheer us up...moose chili!

A: *link*
J: haha
A: dude
A: the palin interview on fox right now is ABSURD
A: there is a huge bear head behind greta van susteren
J: haha
J: hah
J: ridiculous
J: is it live?
A: no
A: they are all over the place
A: she is going to cook moose after the commercial, I think
A: and make GVS eat it
J: wait
J: really?
A: i half heard a promo for it last night, and I swear to God i heard "moose stew"
A: and a teaser definitely had a kitchen in it
J: good lord
A: that is sad about shitty opera
J: dude.
J: like, the end
A: how do you bounce back from that
A: maybe they should do a "make your own opera" thing
J: like, build a bear workshop?
A: ha
A: exactly
A: like "make your own opera" Thursdays
A: and they just open up the state theatre
A: and you get to come and yell onstage and stuff
J: and have like costume bins lying around
J: and like some old boxes of scores
A: yeah
J: perhaps some paint, and some boards, nails, etc
A: "alaska has so much to offer the nation in terms of national security"
A: and
A: "alaska is the richest state in the terms of its natural resources"
J: haha
J: no one gives a fuck about your state Pei Lin
A: Why you no go away Pei Lin, no one like you no more
A: "moose chili"
A: seriously
J: I'd eat that


Some brutal news for City Opera. I mean...damn. Even the Republican party has to be thinking "at least we didn't have as bad a year as NYCO" right now.

I for one was certainly enthusiastic about the gamble they took--as Chair Susan Baker (who ought to stay out of dark alleys filled with Parterre commenters today) reiterated in the Times piece, the NYCO formula, aka everyone's favorite programmatic whipping boy, has been "financially broken" for some time. Against that reality, its hard to see how they could drop down to just their bread-n-butter-sad-excuse-for-the-Met stuff and retain any pretense that they had a mission beyond picking off calves from the herd headed next door.

The alternative "BAM-icization" plan was clearly a gamble, but it was the honest gamble. Those BAM types have money to burn on more challenging fare, but City Opera is hardly on their radar at present. Cut down the performance commitments to something closer to a regular regional house and aggressively chase those people as the core of a new, more committed audience. And if you program it, the younger and more adventurous in the Met audience will come, too.

But I suppose all that is moot for the moment. Blarg. Such a mess.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Well, that kicked ass, didn't it? Here's one of those fun red/blue state maps that accounts for where all the people in the country actually, you know, live. That's a lot of blue, yo.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pollini at Strathmore

Anne Midgette saves me a bit of trouble with her spot-on review of Maurizio Pollini's recital at Strathmore two nights ago:
Pollini thinks in phrases, not in notes...If music is made up of sentences, these were translating the content into a whole new language. And yet it never felt as if the pianist were being whimsical, imposing a point of view simply for the sake of being different.
Contrast this to Allan Kozinn's NYT review of the same show at Carnegie Hall the other week:
If you like this aspect of Mr. Pollini’s style — his forcefulness and muscularity, and his ability to create the sense that the piano is inadequate to the music’s demands and his own — his tendency to apply the same expressive effects to every work on the program was not a deal breaker...the sameness of his interpretive approach from work to work struck me as a flaw that even the great — and very real — Pollini aura could not overcome.
Kozinn has every right to find Pollini not his cup of tea, of course, but I fear he is trading in the fairly tired Pollini "debate". Pollini is a challenging artist, but not because he offers extreme perfection at the expense of warmth or sentimentality. Rather, it is because he challenges his audience to think "bigger" about the works he plays, for lack of a better word.

Its a hard thing to describe, as AM duly acknowledges, but when he is really successful, the feeling is akin to the revelations one is used to feeling more often in literature or architecture: when you really understand a work as the sum of its parts, and the genius in their relations. Achieving this--making that architecture audible to an audience--requires an absurd level of consistency and control. The second things fall out of proportion, the audience goes back to understanding a piece as simply melody plus harmony, color plus tempo, etc. Anyone not at the pinnacle of virtuoso technique wouldn't be able to even consider such ambitions for the repertoire he plays. Again, AM hits it when she says that his performance was hardly note perfect, but conveyed the "concept" of perfection.

Now, sometimes his interpretations require a lot of work on the part of the audience, because to express the design that he wants to, he needs to contradict the CD playing in our head. Sometimes its successful, sometimes its not. It's a tricky business. But we shouldn't assume for a moment that what we're hearing is anything as mundane as an "effect" that didn't come off right or didn't get enough attention. Pollini is a man with a project, and his interest lies in a very different space than isolated effects.

I could rundown the different pieces in detail, but I really ought to go back to work, so I'll just say: the Appasionata was probably the pinnacle in all around mind blowingness; the Tempest bores me these days but it was good; the C Major Fantasy reading was probably the most 'challenging' by the meaning above, but perhaps the one that will stay with me longest; Pollini's Chopin, which closed the concert and accounted for all the encores is a really unique and special thing, and I'm not going to ruin it by going on about it anymore.

Also notable from the department of ironic bad concert etiquette: some classical music dork's cell phone went off during the Beethoven, and I'm pretty sure the ring tone was from some other Beethoven piano piece. Is that more or less embarrasing than "Who Let the Dogs Out"? Not sure...

Update: Great rundown from Charles Downey at Ionarts here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Norn 3: Cut the damn string already...

Cute video from the New Yorker here. I was initially skeptical of the Palin-Brunnhilde angle (has she learned anything, really?) but I do like Pal-hilde as downfall of the Republican party, her zealotry igniting the flames of wingnuttery to engulf the once god-like party, now undone by the hypocrisies etched on its speer.

McCain as Siegfried is pretty good, but he of course can't blame a magic potion for turning out to be kind of a dishonorable asshole (I suppose they still have a couple days to float that, tho). Also, god willing, the press will not be charitably inclined towards any 'redemption in defeat' BS after he eats it on Tuesday...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Violetta...New Atomic

Someone please talk me out of faking sick so I can take in one of the non-sold out Harteros Violettas. Only another Traviata one hears oneself saying, but then there is the terribly overwhelming b-cast the other night, and this awfully tempting review from JSU:
To my mind it's a miracle that one who can be the rare sort of person Harteros' Violetta is onstage, opening long-unheard sonic-expressive vistas in the part, can also sing well and powerfully enough to be a star in this house.
Dang it.

In other news, sounds like Dr. Atomic's fundamental crappiness is not succumbing to the Met's shiny new production, despite our fondest hopes.

Watching the neat trailer video, I am re-intrigued the way I was before I actually saw the thing, and entertain ideas of seeing the new production and enjoying it and finding all the disappointment in between has just been a bad dream. But then I try to decide whether I was more bored in 2008 by Dr. Atomic or John McCain's acceptance speech, and I find myself choosing Dr. Atomic. And damn...that is just a tough, tough burn right there.

PS...A: For those of you who have not seen it yet but do have tickets, be warned: close to the end, when you will be praying for the end to come, there will be a countdown bit to the atomic bomb detonation. This countdown is not, I repeat NOT, in real time. It will say 5 minutes, but you still have 20, easy, to endure. Do not be fooled. Thanks to commenter E at Maury's place for reminding us of this. We had clearly repressed it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What to do with the rest of the year?

A: were you there tonight?
J: duh
A: damn
A: it sounded awesome on the radio
A: KM brought the A-game
J: for serious
J: she was fucking nuts
A: bonus
A: they better not do that shit again for a while if this is it for her
J: I know
A: not many people are going have patience for an adequate salome with this in recent memory
J: I wish I could get a recording of tonight
J: she did some crazy physical things
A: ?
A: huh
A: her debut at the Met was as Donna Elvira
J: I know
A: natch
J: weird
J: she didn't do anything new tonight I guess, it was all just a little more over the top
A: i'm need to come back for those Onegins
J: totes
A: what are you going to do with yourself now?
J: I don't know!
J: worry about the election I guess
A: at least there is still that

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Last Salomai

Almost at a close. The final "Kopf Des Jokanaan" was marvelous--apparently she's a bass when she wants to be.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


A: catherine and her brother went to see it last night
J: it was way way good last night
A: him: "It was pretty good...I didn't know we were going to see box"
J: hah

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Things I never got around to posting this summer

July 2

Got to see the last DVo Ariadne at Covent Garden last night.

You know what? I think I'm officially done writing about how new Voigt holds up against old Voigt. Trying to gauge whether a voice is living up to expectations generated by CD recordings of nearly a decade ago is no way to watch or assess a show. Is there a different sound today? Clearly. But time passes and voices change, and unless it's an outright decline issue, there's no use agonizing over the differences.

Anyhow. I enjoyed her a great deal last night. The sound was powerful and big and rich, and far more present than it felt in the Frosch at Lyric. The middle was a bit choppier relative to the soaring top, but one hardly gave a damn by the finale.

As for the less thanked Frosch transplant, Robert Dean Smith: I don't know what was wrong with him in Chicago last year, but you know, between this and his Tristan showing, I may just start going to stuff only because Robert Dean Smith is in it. Is it weird to go to Strauss for the tenor? Be honest.

Zerbinetta was one Gillian Keith, a name I haven't heard before--she served up an admirable enough "Grossmachtige...", but it lacked a certain finesse and didn't inspire that giddy "HOLY SHIT" feeling one hopes for. Life lesson: showpieces only work when they look completely effortless, other wise you kind of just want to tell them there's no need for all the fuss.

I was very partial to Kristine Jepson's Komponist (you may recognize her as a Stefano for a Met R&J). I've been more intrigued by the role since hearing the Troyanos tape on Sirius a few times this spring, and it was fun to hear it live with that in mind, though my opera buddy thought her big notes left a bitter aftertaste.

PS, Covent Garden cheap seats SUCK. They are just armless chairs squeezed as close as possible together and the air conditioning in the upper reaches is pathetic. Plus it is London so everyone has a jacket on because British July is like New York October. Clearly it wasn't enough for the Victorian lower classes to get cholera and spend their childhoods making articifial flowers, they also deserved to be super uncomfortable at the opera. If one can stomach the nausea inducing exchange rate, it is seriously worth it to spring for a lower balcony.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Not dead yet...the blog, that is, not Jokanananaan

As expected/hoped for/dreamed about incessantly for the past 3 years, Karita Mattila (that's Katrina Ma-TEE-la for the two guys next to me on the way out) TEARS SHIT UP in the Salome on view at the Met right now. Saw last night's perf, and was sorely not disappointed: and its not just that all those things we love about her were in effect--that brilliant pealing put-your-stomach-in-knots and die from the beauty sound soaring over the Strauss-sized band--but also that her Salome is a real KM original. I mean, did anyone doubt that it would be? Her Salome is NASTY. Not like mean nasty--like Britney Spears with no hair or underwear leearing at the paparazzi nasty. She fearlessly internalizes the fundamental grossness of the piece and it pays off in an experience of the work that is leaps and bounds more visceral and thought provoking than other Salomes on the market right now. I mean, that last scene is not just "priddy" and "awesome" with KM at the helm: it is INTERESTING. I'm going back in about a week. J is going to be there every night. Remember: empty seats at Mattila Salome make baby jesus cry, so go get yours now.

P.S. I don't want it to corrupt the basic greatness of KM, but there is a serious snooze fest going on in the pit with replacement Patrick Summers, as Sieglinde discusses here. Like, isn't this a fun piece to conduct? Even a little bit? Throw as a bone, man. You kept waiting for the good moments to pop as intended and all that came out was dreary academic time beating. Orchestrally it was just non-stop Salome blue balls the whole evening. BLARG.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


A: i'm finally watching the obama speech from yesterday
J: it's good
A: in what kind of universe does he not totally slaughter mccain in november
J: I know, it's so upsetting to think there's even a chane
J: chance
A: i mean
A: i understood about not voting for kerry
A: like, i understood that a lot of people just didn't totally get it yet
A: that it was somehow a little too early
J: right and Kerry was old and boring
J: so like, some peeps weren't motivated
A: right
J: I love how last night all the cable news except for fox bailed early on McCain's awful speech
A: like, i know you don't really spend your time on this stuff, which is fine, and the nightly news version of it just wasn't compelling enough
A: yeah
A: so gracious towards HRC
A: man
A: he is so classy
A: great boo for "Republicans"
A: I swear to god someone just shrieked "gross" when he said "John McCain"
J: really?!
J: haha

Monday, June 02, 2008


A: i want to see another live parsifal
J: man
J: me too
A: i could be ok waiting to see the outer acts, but that act II was awesome in person
A: it didn't seem to be anywhere next year
J: I'm checking Dresden
J: April '09 in Dresden if we get really desperate
A: birthday trip...
J: for serious
J: we are turning THIRTY after all
A: oh shit
A: i forgot about that
A: that might require crossing an ocean
J: oh and it's Klaus Florian Vogt as Parisfal
A: ooh
A: nice!
J: and Dalayman as Kundry
A: well let's keep that in mind
J: let's.
A: I got wasted in cancun for my 30th, what did you do?
J: hung out in Dresden. took in a music drama.
J: a gesamtkunstwerk. you know, the usual.
A: ha

Tony's soon...

J: check this video from the In the Heights recording session---future of broadway!
A: huh
A: i suppose the Marie's crew will have to learn to beatbox
J: haha

Sunday, March 16, 2008


As is his wont, Maury responds to our idle questions like "What Troyanos do you like" with something as simple and surpassingly splendid as this YouTube clip of "O Don Fatale" from 1980 that we cannot stop watching for the life of us. Perhaps this is well-known to many of you, but if not please stop what you're doing for a moment and partake. Breathtaking.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Strange things afoot at the Circle K...

A: yo
A: my internet is wierd, so this may bitch out
J: hah ok
A: what up
J: nothin'
A: saw a nice college Suor Angelica/Gianni Schicchi this evening
J: what up with you?
J: oh nice
A: DePaul's opera
A: it's kind of great to see amateur versions of these things
J: oh DVo bailed midact tonight
A: !
A: whoa
J: greg got some texts about it
A: holy shit
A: she doesn't roll like that
J: evidently she was ill
A: jesus
A: and apparently Heps is like out of commission until further notice
J: so they were BOTH covers
A: man
A: that is a f'ing opera right there
A: killin' people left n' right
J: but the new Tristan cover is supposed to be great, per Chalkenteros, via Greg
A: Lehman?
J: yes
A: damn
A: it made the newsweek site

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New T n' I

J: dude.
J: the T-stan got boo'd
A: yikes
A: he was having issues
J: he was pretty bad
A: that is a tough assignment
J: act 3 was interminable
A: oof
A: i didn't hear much
J: on the other hand, this was like DVo's Ohio.
A: so good
A: so tits
J: DVo was so freaking tits
A: did you get other nights?
J: yeah I got some crap seats to one of the matinees
J: they sort of can't bring this guy back
J: I mean is Clifton Forbis really not doing anything?
A: Gelb must be mad texting him right now
A: what up clifton...pls call when u hav a sec
J: Clif. pls call asap. thx.
A: heh
A: i'm so happy for DV tho
J: oh man, it was so good
A: heps has the whole week to think about it
A: gelb: "Call Forbis...and get Heppner some fucking tea with honey for the love of god"
J: hah
J: the state of Tristans is sad
A: seriously
A: like, there is almost no one on the FACE OF THE EARTH who can pull it off well
A: appears to be the takeaway

Monday, March 10, 2008

9.24: OMG. Sirius and/or my computer and/or my Internets is such a mess right now. And with the Love Duet about to get started! Drat. On the plus side, D-VO sounds tremendous--the laser-y sounds in the new voice make for a super exciting Isolde. John Mac Master, aka "not Hep B", sounds like...a very respectable stand in Tristan. I imagine we are going to be feeling his pain a lot in Act III. How hateful that I am doing homework in another city and not in the haus this evening.

And we're off...

9.42 Mayday. Mayday. Mac Master's upper extension sounds like it just flew into someone's jet wash.

Monday, March 03, 2008

RIP, Giuseppe di Stefano

Was in the car a bit ago, clicked over to WFMT, and found myself in the midst of a "Che Gelida Manina" of disarming purity and power, the kind of thing that makes you wonder if it's really safe to drive while listening to that level of opera. The voice was Giuseppe di Stefano, who has died at 86. La Cieca is already on it with some clips, naturally. Also, this week's "From the Recording Horn" show on WFMT will be a tribute (Saturday after the Met b-cast).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chicago housekeeping

Two pieces of news that are probably old hat to many, but bear repeating:

1) Institution Marc Geelhoed (by internets standards, mind you--he's our age) is going on to what sounds like a very sweet new job at the CSO's record label. His Deceptively Simple blog, (which he keeps abbreviating as DecSimp, tho I think that sounds like the diminutive the tabloids would make up for a hypothetical goth-influenced youngest Simpson sibling who named herself Decaysia, i.e. Jessica to DecSimp: Don't steal my boyfriend!) will thankfully stay around, but will exchange the torturous reports of all the cool things music critics get to go to but you don't for other interesting content. Cheers, Marc!

2) Andrew Patner, reviewer about town and major contributor to WFMT's awesomeness through his show Critical Thinking, started a blog last month, which both consolidates his commentary from various sources and includes fresh stuff. Patner is the real deal where great newspaper music criticism is concerned...just check his Sun-Times review of the recent Ainadanamar (sp?) concert here for a taste.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Piano digression

For the record, I got to see Radu Lupu play live for the first time today here at Orchestra Hall. I liberated this disc from my mother at some point before going off to college and I think it is the recording from which a good deal of my subsequent love of Brahms flows. There was no Brahms on the program today however: Lupu played the Schubert Sonata D. 850 (which I don't know well) and Book 1 of Debussy's preludes. There's a reason why this is less often played Schubert, but Lupu brought out many of its joys.

But the Debussy--well that was on another level altogether. Synesthetes in the audience would have been driven to seizures with the wondrous range of colors he was able to draw out of the Preludes. If one could say of the current greats that it is Pollini who is able to make plain the true structure of a piece, or Argerich who finds its true magic, when we speak of the the authentic color in a work we must speak of Lupu. I don't pretend to know a whit about how pianists go about creating such things, but it was a marvel.

And here's a swell example for your listening pleasure: the Intermezzo in B Minor from that Brahms disc.

P.S. I saw Mitsuko Uchida in the lobby. It was pretty kewl.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Fancy that

PS, did anyone notice how good last night's Carmen was? Carmen is something of a primordial opera for me (I was in the children's chorus circa age 10 and subsequently became obsessed with my parent's cassette tape set) but it's pretty hard to get stoked about post-adolescence, considering A) the general quality of the casts attached to it and B) it lends itself to phoned-in readings better than anything else in the rep. I mean, it's Carmen. That's what it does.

But last night sounded like wall-to-wall blood and guts gorgeousness. Borodina brings more vocal riches than probably half of the current Carmens in North America put together. Alvarez sounded tremendous, warm and passionate and convincingly pissed off. And then, in the oft forgettable part of whiny little simp who is nonetheless totally right about the whole sordid business, we got Maija Kovalevska's disarming loveliness. I mean, when's the last time you got really excited about a Micaela? The Escamillo didn't make as much of an impression, but no matter. I don't know if this is a Gelb gilding the warhorses thing or what but it was awfully nice.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Screw birthstones

J: so, the day you were born the Met did Bartered Bride and Dialogues des Carmelites
J: in Cleveland
A: huh
A: how about you?
J: Tannhäuser in Boston
A: anyone good in it?
J: i don't remember the t-haus
A: that is a fun use of the d-base
J: but Rysaken and Mignon Dunn were the gals
J: Rysanek
A: oh nice
A: i guess you could do it like "what your birthday opera says about you"
A: altho that is dicey for me
J: In which case, I wish I had Lulu
A: that would kick ass
J: "so hey, what's your birth opera?"
J: "mine totally blows. I got Idomeneo"
A: ha
J: I don't know why I find this so unbearably cute
J: *link*
A: haha
A: my father has Tristan with Melchior and Traubel
J: oh wow
J: good one
A: my mother's is pretty sweet too
A: Don Giovanni with Pinza, Milanov, and Steber
J: oh fun
A: conducted by George Szell
A: so
A: the variable for capital is k
A: and the variable for output is Y
A: which means the capital-output ratio is the "K/Y ratio"
A: hehe
J: haha
J: "how does that the K/Y ratio ok or do you need more?"
A: haha
A: he refused to explain the K/Y ratio just chafed me, you know?
J: ha

Monday, January 28, 2008


This afternoon, WFMT played an excerpt from a memorial held for Jerry Hadley last week, including Thomas Hampson singing and saying some incredibly heartfelt and beautiful words about his colleague that had me choked up on my way to the supermarket. Well put, T-Hamps, well put.

P.S. Is there any city in America that can lay claim to a radio station like WFMT? That would rebroadcast an excerpt of a memorial service for a non superstar opera singer in the middle of drive time? That so treats its audience as intelligent people who really care about culture and not just another market segment at which to toss playlists? That continually finds innovative ways to demonstrate its investment in the culture of its host city? I can only really speak for WQXR's failure to hold a candle to it (David Dubal and Nimet's overnight show excluded...I cannot speak ill of that woman), and maybe there is dissent about WFMT out there or worthy contenders I don't know about. But seriously, it's a gem.

Furtwangler on Brahms

Brahms is the first great musician, in whose case historical meaning and meaning as an artistic personality no longer coincide: that this was so, was not his fault, but rather that of his epoch. The loftiest formal creations of Beethoven had been born out of Beethoven's time, in so far as they employed the language and expressive possibilities of this time. The aspirations of Beethoven, as timeless and pregnant with the future as they may have been, were nonetheless in correspondence with the aspirations of the time; Beethoven was "borne by his time." The most audacious and thorough-going works of Wagner themselves attest not only to the vehement humanity of their creator, but to the aspirations and possibilities of their epoch. He was, as much as he then wished to perceive himself in contrast to his time, nonetheless its expression. With Beethoven, with Wagner, as well as with later ones, like Strauss, Reger, Debussy, Stravinsky - personal aspirations and the aspirations of the times coincide.

With Brahms, and for the first time with him, these aspirations part company. And this was not because Brahms were not deeply a man of his times, but rather because the material/musical possibilities of his time went other ways, that did not suffice the quality of his aspirations. He is the first, that as artist and creator was greater than his musical-historical function.

He is hence the first, that had to defend himself, in order to remain what he was - what for his predecessors through Wagner, borne by the favor of the times, fell into their laps as a matter of course. Thus he became the first, that had to confront his times in his heart of hearts, only to be able to do consciously what to earlier generations was self-evident: to make the human being the focus of all art and artistic practice - the human being, who is ever new and yet ever the same. For not the development of the material - harmony, rhythm etc. - is the soul of history, but rather the will to expression of those, who avail themselves of this material. Not the degree of "audacity," the newness of what is said from the developmental-historical standpoint, but rather the degree of inner necessity, the humanity, the expressive power is the measure of an artwork's meaning.

More here...

Sunday, January 27, 2008


JvR scolds Lyric for a safe-ish season next year, I assume due to the absence of one new or relatively new work. But what are you gonna do? They did a great job bringing and promoting Dr. Atomic this year, ditto for "The Wedding" and that other one in recent memory (how do you find past season info for Lyric?)--pound for pound, Lyric probably does better than the Met on that count. Maybe the right project just wasn't in the cards next year. One does wonder what they have in the hopper, however.

Clearly, the winners next year are the new Lulu production and the D-Vo/Forbis Tristan. I must start scheming now about how I'm going to get respectable tickets for Tristan. Despite the niceness of Dessay and Kaufmann, I find it hard to imagine really wanting to check out Manon. Nor do I have much need to see Porgy and Bess. For the rest of the meat n' potatoes, the choice cuts are distributed judiciously, with no evening really devoid of something to recommend it. Here's how I'd line-up the offerings after Tristan and Lulu:

1. Butterfly w/ Racette

2. Entfuehrung w/ Polenzani & Wall

3. Pearl Fishers w/ Cutler & Gunn

4. Cav/Pag w/ Zajick's Santuzza

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


First the good. Make no mistake, there is some very wonderful, top-shelf Adamsian music in Dr. Atomic, especially the opening chorus, the first Kitty Oppenheimer aria, the Donne aria at the end of the first act, some of the Kitty business in the second act, the tenor aria in the second act, and any number of wonderful orchestral interludes.

But dramatically, Dr. Atomic is kind of a mess, veering clumsily between the type of opera it wants to be, and ultimately saying nothing of great interest about its subject, the bomb. And at its weakest points, trivializing it something fierce.

Now, this is a bit of a dangerous case--like others, I've been imagining this opera in my mind for two years now, getting stoked about it, reading articles about it, and generally developing a bushel of preconceived notions about it. So criticism noted if it sounds like I wanted it to be a different opera than it is. But at the same time, I've wanted this to be a great theatrical experience for a long time now, and, while my usual MO is to leave over-hyped things praising the good and looking for excuses for the bad, I left Dr. Atomic with few charitable feelings.

The libretto is the big problem. As we've read, Sellars' libretto is largely drawn from a combination of source material and poetry inspired by the things Oppenheimer and others were famously reading at the time. Certainly sounds good on paper. But the result is basically a total lack of any narrative thrust to the opera. The Kitty Oppenheimer character, who ends up with the lion's share of the lyrical writing, expresses herself almost entirely in broadly relevant poetry. By the end of the night, it sounds like gibberish. Like the woozy feeling one gets after 2 hours of really expressionistic spoken word. Yeah, I guess the words are pretty, and maybe if I sat down with it I would get what it means about the bomb, but an opera on the move is no place for it.

The other side of the coin, the mundane detail material, just sounds really boring when sung. You can see how a straight play composed of this material would work, but the inherent gravity of singing makes these essentially worthless details seem terribly irrelevant. You sit there thinking "Am I really listening to someone sing this stuff?" Mind you, it works for a while in the beginning of the show, when we would expect more exposition setting the stage for the bomb. But later, when we want the work to come together emotionally and intellectually, it just feels like our time is being wasted.

Other parts of the libretto are just bizarre mis-steps. Somehow, in the midst of all this dread and oppressive authority, we are supposed to swallow the Leslie Groves character as a buffoon? Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the Manhattan Project knows that Groves was about as far from a buffoon as you can possibly get. Yet here we have the character milking the same stupid joke about not accepting the weather forecast over and over again. And then the weird-ass exchange about his dieting at the end of the first Act. Yeah, I'm sure it's based on something real, but at that point in the show it just comes off as an inappropriate cheap laugh.

The Oppenheimer character is certainly less vulgar, but its ultimate failure is revealing as far as the libretto's larger problems go. No one is expecting a historical facsimile, but Oppenheimer isn't exactly some obscure figure--he's a towering enigma in the popular imagination and historians have spent countless words attempting to understand the character of his remorse about the bomb. Given that, a clear dramatic choice would have been to explore him as both the villain and ultimate conscience of the play, letting him drive the project on and then ruminating on what he has done of his own free will. But this Oppenheimer just wallows in regret for the bulk of his time, as though he's being coerced against his will to finish the thing. I guess it makes him sympathetic, but it also makes him terribly uninteresting.

The ham-handed staging exacerbates all of this. The libretto demands this sort of cinematic structure for a great deal of the opera. If you were to count up the individual scenes French style, the mind boggles. This may be an inherent flaw, but regardless, it demanded some sort of imaginative staging conceit to keep it in line. Instead, characters just walk all over the place willy-nilly. With a few exceptions, its impossible to invest anything in the exchanges because someone takes a few paces stage left and all of a sudden they're in the desert or back in the living room or something. And speaking of the living room--where the f is Oppenheimer supposed to be during the middle of the second act? It's supposedly a few hours before the test, there's a living room set downstage where Kitty is, and he seems to flit between the living room and the control room at the test site at will. Maybe wouldn't be a problem in something more abstract, but the staging is often so brutally literal that just ignoring those barriers when you feel like it ends up looking sloppy.

The staging also suffers from a serious lack of faith in the music. Very beautiful internal arias that should be simple showcases for vocal acting are marred by all sorts of superfluous movement, i.e. the cringeworthy "break, blow, batten" motions in the Oppenheimer Donne aria. Also the attempts to turn Kitty's second act opener into an actual scene with the maid caring for her and such, because she is obviously going nuts shrieking marginally applicable poetry in the middle of the living room. Opera gives you a free pass to let people get up and just sing these things. Why feel you have to illustrate them?

Which brings us to the Indian maid character. This is a really unfortunate choice. Are we in 1992? Do we need to throw in an essentialized Native American who likes to scold people for raping the earth? When I read about this, I thought "hmm, that sounds sort of suspect, but I trust them, it is probably tasteful and haunting." Wrong. It is almost exactly as cheap as you fear.

I won't continue, but the staging has other problems, like the random, pedestrian dance sequences determined to not allow us any alone time to dwell on Adams' wonderful interludes. I found myself looking at the ceiling just to get away.

By the end, when we finally get to the detonation, it all just seems like so much self-serving anxiety. There are so many interesting, still unanswered questions about the bomb, and all we get is heavy handed dread. Cuz you know, the bomb is fucked up and stuff. And sure, its fucked up. But does anyone deliberately seeing this opera really need that pounded into their heads? I think not. What we could have used were Death of Klinghoffer tough questions--real problematic questions that opera, with its ability to demonstrate deep emotions and motivations like no other art, can illuminate in new and powerful ways.

The heartbreaker is that I spent the first 10 minutes or so really excited because I thought that's where it was going to go. The opening chorus is this perfect John Adams harmony--you're unclear whether it's glorious major or glorious minor, the articulation is impeccable, the intellectual and musical coexisting in stark relief: the chorus is chanting "We believe matter is neither created or destroyed, we believe energy is neither created or destroyed, etc." It evoked something new and chilling about the beauty of the 20th century's faith in the elegance of science, and the inevitable and terrible thing which will grow from that faith. Now there's a tough question about the bomb: if one really considers the scientific discoveries of the teens, 20s and 30s--those marvelous revelations that changed so much of the world we live in--its pretty impossible to imagine that nuclear energy, and its military potential, wouldn't be developed. Oppenheimer and crew had reservations about the thing, and joined up anyhow in many ways based on that logic. So can we really hope for some 'pure' state of nature without the prospect of nuclear war? Or is our fate inextricably tied to nuclear weapons? For that matter, would we want to live in a world without nuclear weapons? Where mutual deterrence wouldn't be around to prevent another cataclysm of the magnitude of World War II?

But by the end of Dr. Atomic we have nothing approaching a tough question. We just have a lot of pretty sounding mush and upset faces. Because in case you forgot, the bomb is fucked up.

Oh yeah. The singers. I had vague impressions that Gerald Finley and the tenor (Thomas Glenn) had nice sounds, and Jessica Rivera (Kitty) had a powerful but not very nice sound. But who could judge with the brutal mic-ing? This was not subtle enhancement. It was full-bore amplification which reduced everyone's sound to a single level and muted any individual nuance. I've read that this is because there are electronic sound effects (extremely grating, BTW) but to me at least, it didn't seem like much solo singing was done while the effects were on, so I don't know why they felt this necessary.

Nice work from Robert Spano and the Lyric orchestra and chorus. If the regular Met chorus does this in a year, they are going to need to step it up.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Les Miz on (Upper) Broadway

J: my little sister just called me angry because she bought a Les Miz recording and she doesn't like the Eponine
A: ha
A: and that's how we know you're related
A: which one?
J: I think it was the broadway one, which I think is the same Eponine as London, which is the one she likes. But she was having none of that argument.
A: ha
A: that's funny
A: I have long disliked the Broadway over the London eponine
J: she was like "she sounds like fucking Madonna!"
J: it's the same gal though
A: yeah
A: look at that
A: well, she definitely broadways it up for the later version
A: not that she is the model of restraint on the OLC
A: but i think it is pretty striking
J: huh
A: i have now compared
J: hah
A: me and your sister are pretty justified
J: do you own both?
A: no
A: just london
A: even from the Itunes clip you could hear
A: "Frances Ruffelle" just really lets go
A: with the little whiny Eponinisms
J: on b'way?
A: yeah
J: hah there are reviews on Amazon where people compare the conducting of the various recordings
A: ha
A: people love them some les miz
J: and there is a guy who does a London/B'way comparison of every character and decides which is best
J: Fantine: LONDON. Patti LuPone is one of the few Fantine's who sings the role instead of wailing it. And she does more than just sing it. If LuPone's "I Dreamed a Dream" doesn't bring you close to tears, you have a stone heart. Randy Graff on the Broadway recording leaves a lot to be desired, but isn't nearly as bad as Ruthie Henshall in the Tenth Anniversary Concert.
A: heehee
A: true that about P-Lupes
A: tho
J: she is very good
J: Eponine: Now, while I ADORE Lea Salonga, I just don't think she is right for Eponine. Nor do I like Frances Ruffle. The best Eponine I've heard recorded is Kaho Shimada. I LOVE her portrayal, and it's even more impressive because she didn't know English at the time.
A: wow
A: which one is she on?
J: she's on that "Complete International Symphonic Recording"
J: the black one with gold writing
A: meh
A: maybe if i heard more than 15 seconds of it
J: eponine tempura
A: i think Trebs would get Eponine in an opera version of Les Miz
J: yeah I think so too
J: though Eponine strikes me as a mezzo
J: she dresses as a boy and all
J: Stephanie Blythe would me Madame Thenardier
J: be
A: word
A: Someone would probably try to cast J-mo as Jean Valjean
A: and it would suck
J: that would blow
J: actually no---they would use Thomas Hampson
A: ah
A: good call
J: imagine him singing "Who am I"
A: damn
J: it's entertaining
A: it really is
A: or the croony faces on the Bring him Home high notes
J: haha
J: I'd enjoy a Mattila Fantine, though it's awfully low for her
A: ooh
A: yes
A: please, someone transpose that and get her to do it as an encore
J: Aprile Millo could be the barricade
A: haha
A: i would enjoy Alagna as a flagrantly over the hill Marius
J: hah
J: who would be Cosette?
A: A Barbara bonney type
J: oh interesting
A: The real question though: who conducts?
A: I know Barenboim is something of a Boubil-Schoenberg specialist
J: hah
A: but I just love the clarity Thielemann brings to the synth/drum kit passages
J: hah
A: listening to some Bring Him Home right now
J: hah
J: natch
A: god help us of t-hampson ever gets ahold of this thing
A: if
A: ooh
A: I like Alan Held for Javert
J: oh good call
J: um, please take 5 mins and watch this
A: shut the fuck up Diane Sawyer
J: oh my god
A: he is such an absurd man
J: watch til the end
J: what a supreme douche
A: i don't know if i can
A: i feel like my computer can't handle this much douche
J: it's worth it
A: hahaha
A: good god
A: no
A: no
A: this is not happening
J: I mean....!
A: people had to start their days with this?
J: right?!
J: Then didn't we go to that concert that night with Randy?
A: yeah
A: !!!!
A: the ending!!!
J: oh you just got there?? haha
J: he does the closed eyes and the teeth and everything

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Death in Sweden

A: this guy is funny
J: the dude from queens or whatever?
A: licitra
J: yeah he is a goof
A: eesa no gonna turn out so good for Gustavo
A: i really want to see Death in Venice live
J: yeah I'd like to as well
J: I left my sirius on overnight and half woke up when it started at 6AM this morning
A: i think it may be really amazing, but it is sort of hard to grasp it listening
A: or I find at least
J: have you ever seen the movie?
A: no
J: it's in my top 5
J: it's pretty incredible
A: whoa
A: who directed it?
J: there's all this blasting mahler
J: Visconti
A: ah
A: i will netflix it
A: who plays aschenbach?
J: Dirk Bogarde
J: there isn't much dialogue at all
J: it's mainly music
A: huh
A: neat
A: there is a really good section about Britten in A Ross' book
A: which has made me want to get my Britten in order
J: oh swell
J: this Ballo is assy
J: she's decent I guess
J: he sounds like a ragged pop singer
A: yeah
A: weak
J: hah the Death in Venice plot keywords on imdb:
• Very Little Dialogue
• Man Boy Love
• Pedophilia
• Beautician
• Train Station
• Prostitute
• Make Up
• Hourglass
• Beauty
• Homosexual
• Plague
• Gay Interest
• Beach
A: yikes
J: "Beach"
J: Plage, Death, Pedophilia, Nice Sunny Day
A: ha
A: What's Death in Venice about?
A: Oh, it's kind of a beach movie
J: hah

Friday, January 04, 2008


J: crazy how close this is
A: ?
J: Iowa results
A: oh yeah
A: i mean, they are all pretty good candidates
A: among the dems
J: yeah
A: i hope its absurdly close
A: and that it continues like that in NH
A: it would be amazing if there was a legitimate three way contest on Feb 5th
A: i'm so glad I have no way of watching Chris Matthews
J went away at 8:33:00 PM.
J returned at 8:40:15 PM.
A: well that's that, I guess
J went idle at 9:00:17 PM.
J went away at 9:35:16 PM.
J returned at 9:47:34 PM.
J: whoops I slept 2 hours
J: so, Obama. OK, I'm down with that.
A: yeah
J: Huckabee is a good speaker
J: boooo
A: really? I have never watched him
J: yeah he's engaging
A: it would be fun if he was all personally channeling jesus during his speeches
J: haha
J: I mean he does toss in words like "zeal"
A: "What? What's that? Ok, got it. Everybody, Jesus says thanks."
A: dude
A: i am watching "The Birds" for the first time ever
A: it is fucked up
J: it's way fucked up
A: seems a little presumptious that Edwards is saying he's seriously beaten HRC
J: oh is he?
J: shut up and suck it, Edwards
A: Link
J: Change/Douchebag 2008
A: ha
A: omg
A: run tippi hedren
A: right now
A: holy shit
J: haha
J: I thought you meant she should run for president
A: ha
A: oh
A: my
A: god
A: the birds
A: and the explosions
A: it is madness
A: wow
A: the little girl is Veronica Cartwright
A: she cries the same way she does like 20 years later when she's getting attacked in Alien
J: hah
J: wow we're gonna know who the nominee is in less than a month
A: i am excited
A: ok--wtf is wrong with these birds
A: these people need flamethrowers
A: that's it?
A: you don't find out why they attack?
J: I don't remember how it ends
A: they just get in the car and drive away
J: hah
A: Hedren was told mechanical birds would be used for the terrifying and brutal attic scene. Instead, live birds were hurled at her by prop men for a week. When one nearly gouged her eye she became hysterical, collapsed and spent a week haunted by "nightmares filled with flapping birds".
J: wow!!
A: i guess they didn't have to put that "no animals harmed" line in the credits then
J: No Animals Were Harmed Except for the Several Hundred Birds We Killed
A: ha
A: No animals (besides birds) were harmed during the filming of this movie.
J: Obama would be a neat president
A: damn: The scene where Tippi Hedren is ravaged by birds near the end of the movie took a week to shoot. The birds were attached to her clothes by long nylon threads so they could not get away.
J: whoa
J: hey Edwards, say "change" once more
A: ha
J: what does that even mean
J: like, they're all three democratic senators
J: we're "change candidates". wtf
J: I wonder if it's an issue for Hilary that she's basically been running for a decade
J: romney has a hot son
A: Edwards is a total change queen
J: hah
A: what's up with the animals this evening
J: oy
J: well I had to put the little guy in the bathroom
J: poor Andrew is pretty broken
J: and now the little guy is in their mewing
J: but I am hoping Andrew will relent and gimme some love
A: come n' caucus with me Andrew
A: watched the obama victory speech?
J: yes
J: it was good I thought
A: totally
A: intersting
A: what's with chuck norris
J: The frontrunner of recent months is lost down in Florida shakily repeating '9/11' under his breath like a hobo who needs a stiff drink.
J: is chuck all into Huck?
A: apparently
A: if Huckabee does happen to get the nomination, it will be great fun to wear buttons that say "Fuck Huck"
J: haha
J: The frontrunner of recent months is lost down in Florida shakily repeating '9/11' under his breath like a hobo who needs a stiff drink.
J: oh oops
A: this is also intersting
A: Fuckabee is boring me
A: "prairie fire of new hope and zeal"?!?!
J: yeah that was hilarious
J: I worry people will find him soothing
A: yeah...that is valid
A: he is very even-toned
A: and calming
J: his website is terrifying
J: My faith is my life - it defines me. My faith doesn't influence my decisions, it drives them. For example, when it comes to the environment, I believe in being a good steward of the earth. I don't separate my faith from my personal and professional lives.
J: I support and have always supported passage of a constitutional amendment to protect the right to life. My convictions regarding the sanctity of life have always been clear and consistent, without equivocation or wavering. I believe that Roe v. Wade should be over-turned.
A: er
J: I support and have always supported passage of a federal constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. As President, I will fight for passage of this amendment. My personal belief is that marriage is between one man and one woman, for life.
A: gah
A: ok
A: enough speeches, I am turning Rosenkavalier back on
J: what is a covenant marriage?
A: oh crap
A: something with the blood of a 12 yr old?
A: ah
A: it is basically like agreeing to go back to the rules before no-fault divorce
A: where you can't just get divorced because you want to
A: you have to prove adultery or abuse or something in a court
J: ah
A: like when people staged these elaborate hoax adulteries
A: and they would find someone to volunteer to be the "co-respondent"
A: and hire a private detective to take staged photographs
J: jesus
J: yeah let's go back to thaht
A: how were this guy and Clinton governors of the same state?
A: nice
J: I hope Kevin Spacey plays him in a movie
A: oh yeah
A: that is uncanny