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 feel...is the K/Y ratio ok or do you need more?"
A: haha
A: he refused to explain the K/Y ratio and...it 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
J: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTEiEvkl1KY
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: wait...you 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