Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Magic Flute Live from the Met in HD


I caught the Met's simulcast at this Lincoln Center, in Miami Beach.

This afternoon I headed to the Regal South Beach cinema on Lincoln Road, Miami Beach. The ticket taker warned me to be sure to hold on to my ticket stub, because, she said, this showing had sold out three weeks ago and it was likely that people would "try to sneak in."

I took my seat a few minutes before 1pm. On the screen were views of the Met auditorium. At first, rock music was blasting. But after a little while we got to hear Met sounds. The orchestra was doing its thing. Then the auditoirum opened up. On screen and in the cinema, I watched people taking their seats, and I took in the mise-en-abime.

There was a countdown every minute on the minute for the last five minutes before curtain. With each minute, the screen displayed a different production photo.

At the opening we were shown a prerecorded (I assume) view of the Met's façade and a greeting from Peter Gelb, who said that opera was meant for the big screen. I think opera was meant for the opera house, but whatever. More on this later.

I was surprised that Katie Couric introduced the opera from backstage. I was glad to see such a major media personality cover the event. Again, I can't tell if her appearance was live or prerecorded.

The opening credits featured excellent footage of the singers getting into costumes and makeup. What a neat idea! The credits ran during the overture, and ended with James Levine.

The cast was uniformly excellent, often outstanding, and there are few better things than the combination of Mozart and Levine. Nathan Gunn is a remarkable actor, his Papageno a highly engaging and memorable characterization. Rene Pape's commanding bass and towering presence dominated every scene in which he appeared (that is this outstanding singer's trademark). It was amusing, though, how awkwardly he delivered his spoken dialogue! I bathed in Matthew Polenzani's gorgeous tone.

The camera directing was extremely natural, and the angles often shifted to just where you'd want them to be.

OK, on to business. I don't know if this big screen thing is such a big deal after all. I mean, at least in the Miami Beach cinema, the sound was awesome, but the HD wasn't so hot. It seemed kind of grainy. That's what happens with digital formats, I suppose. Anyway, I would advise people to sit in the rear of the cinema.

Also, cinema etiquette is different from opera etiquette. Yes, you can eat nachos at the movies. But that means you can also hear your neighbor crunching. And so on.

Another possible concern: watching a 100-minute version of "The Magic Flute" in English and without an intermission is one thing. How will longer, more challenging (for the audience) operas go down? Hm. Probably just fine. We'll see.

With about 20 minutes of the simulcast left, the cinema management switched on a couple of the house lights. It didn't severely alter the image quality , but it was annoying. I suspect that they did this to monitor "sneaking." As we exited the room, we passed three or four staff members who guarded the passageway.

I would probably have preferred to watch this at home on my Sony HDTV with surround sound. Driving a half hour or forty-five minutes and paying twelve dollars in parking (and eighteen dollars per move ticket) to sit in a crowded movie theater with people wasn't so hot. On the other hand, it is pretty neat to see opera on that big screen and to hear it in that glorious sound. So, I will attend these presentations whenever it's possible, and I certainly recommend them to everyone. In fact, I will certainly use these presentations to save me from trips to the Met.

Next weekend will be interesting, as I'll be in the Met auditorium for the I Puritaini matinee, which will be the second performance to be transmitted live from the Met. It will be cool to see how this works from the other side. I'll be watching out for the cameras and lighting. That evening, I will attend Die Zauberfloete, as in the normal version of the opera presented today. Levine, Polenzani, Pape and Polenzani will perform. (On Friday, I will also attend The First Emperor, which will be simulcast the following weekend.)

I didn't join some of the audience members in their ovations for the singers today. It seemed silly, because, well, we could see them but they couldn't see us. It might as well have not been live. Weird.

Why I Attend 862,000 Performances a Season: Reason #74

Yes, singers are human and it's different every time.

By the way, I finally got around to uploading those Don Carlo photos. Check it out.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Etiquette

The New York Times is running an article today on cheap seats (standing room and rush tickets) at the Met. Nothing in there concerns me, because I don't live in New York and I buy my tickets long in advance. But this passage made my blood boil, reminding me of what happened on Monday night:

The rush tickets do not buy the best seats in the orchestra. They tend to be on the extreme left and right of the hall, or in the back, but as I found at a weekday performance of “Idomeneo,” quick moves can greatly improve one’s station. I was in seat P33, far stage right, and just beginning to sink into my chair when the lights started to go down.

All at once people around me darted out of their seats like horses at Saratoga, heading for unoccupied spaces closer to the center aisle. Caught off guard, I was only able to move two seats in. But with each intermission I moved a few more, until I was most definitely in one of the best seats in the house, and I enjoyed the opera tremendously.


Moving closer to the center aisle is fine. But moving from your seat in the boonies to the seat right next to or right in front of mine is not OK, especially if you a) have a remarkably large head, b) talk during the opera, c) read the program with the light from your cell phone, or d) wave your arms to the music. On Monday night I was subjected to the atrocious etiquette of seat-hijackers.

If the Met allows this shuffling, all I can really say is that if people have the guts to do it, more power to them. The two seats to my right were empty, and I should have moved down, or into one of the empty seats in front of me. But really, things were getting out of hand. Thankfully, when reflecting on performances I have attended, I generally don't remember my neighbors' bad behavior.

The bottom line: people attend live performances, so if you attend live performances, you just have to deal with people. And people are people.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Don Carlo at the Met

Tonight I attended the fifth (no, not my fifth) performance of the Met's current revival of Don Carlo. James Levine conducted. This was my first time seeing him conduct since his injury. Olga Borodina, Johan Botha, Dmitri Hvorostovky, Rene Pape, Patricia Racette, and Samuel Ramey sang. They sang extremely well. The Metropolitan Opera orchestra played and the Metropolitan Opera chorus sang. Extremely well. I sat in orchestra prime, fourth row center. I saw extremely well. Following the performance, I met all six principals at the stage door. All six singers were smiling and in a great mood. They all autographed my program, and I photographed them. The photos came out extremely well.

Really, is there anything more to say?

Happy to be back in the States for a bit.

Update: Check out the photos!














Friday, December 15, 2006

Magdalena Kožená in Paris

[in progress]

Magdalena Kožená sang a very impressive Mozart program tonight at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. She sailed through the difficult program with her elegant yet highly expressive--often thrillling--singing. Her large voice is warm, from a baritonal chest register to a gleaming top.

[in progress]

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Second Rosenkavalier in Paris

[in progress]

Well, in a word, tonight's Rosenkavalier was so-so. I'm not sure what wasn't right. Maybe Anne Schwanewilms, recovering from illness that kept her away from two performances, was not in top form. There were some good moments, but she was frequently covered. She deserves credit, however, for her thoughtful characterization. This is an angry and bitter Marschallin. My highest compliment: Schwanewilms makes us think, "Ah, so that's what the text is saying!" She emphasized her character's bitterness in Act I when she tells Octavian that he'll fall in love with a younger, prettier girl. When the Marschallin sees the look on Octavian's face upon Sophie's entrance in Act III, Schwanewilms portrayed the very definition of extreme disappointment.

Elina Garanca's voice lacked its trademark shimmering warmth for much of the evening, and, though few mezzos today could make such a fetching young lad, she was too subtle next to Schwanewilms and Heidi Grant Murphy, both highly expressive actresses. Garanca certainly has a flair for comedy; her best moments were as "Mariandel."

Grant Murphy's voice is really tiny but she was again a lovely Sophie.

The tenor playing the Italian singer stumbled horribly on a high note (his voice gave out) and sang the troublesome phrase an octave lower in the reprise. He of course didn't come out for the Act I curtain calls. I felt his pain. This must have been tough. I mean, you're cast in a cameo role, and you come out wearing a tuxedo and looking flashy, surrounded by photographers, and you sing these long, very difficult lines, and you're supposed to be really impressive, because the audience is supposed to get a sense of the wistful state of the Marschallin, who doesn't look up as he sings. Anyway. He was fine on Sunday, and I hope he gets it together for the remaining performances. (I have to say, I also heard this young singer as Narraboth in Salome at the beginning of this season. I'm worried about him. He doesn't look comfortable on stage and his voice sounds strained. It seemed that he was poised for an international career, but I don't see it happening.) This is too much text for such a small incident, but it was worth mentioning.

I thoroughly enjoyed Franz Hawlata's Ochs. His was a vivid and involved portrayal, and his leathery voice has a certain charm.

[in progress]

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Elina Garanca to sing Octavian in Paris!

I have checked the Paris Opera's web site to see what might be going on at Thursday evening's performance of Der Rosenkavalier, as I have a ticket. Elina Garanca will sing Thursday's performance (as well as on the 21st)! I am thrilled.

Vesselina Kasarova has been removed from the cast list.

Candide at the Châtelet in Paris

[in progress]

Well. I'm not really sure what to think of Robert Carsen's new staging of Bernstein's Candide. His take on it: it's an American satire that calls attention to the dark side of the American dream. (Westphalia becomes "West Failure." Yawn.) Some bits are sort of intelligent, but it gets old really quickly. I'm undecided, but I'll say this: the three-and-a-half hours or so seemed to drag, while listening over the internet to Don Carlo live from the Met the other day kept me riveted for five hours.

[in progress]

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Felicity Lott in Paris

[in progress]

Felicity Lott sang a lovely recital tonight at the Châtelet.

[in progress]

On this whole Roberto Alagna thing

If you're not refreshing Opera Chic's blog every other minute while at your computer this week, you're missing out on the juiciest operatic scandal in quite some time. Even the firing of Deborah Voigt wasn't nearly as scandalous, partly because she kept silent for so long, and partly because it might have been a good thing for her.

It could have been a giant scandal when the Mozarteum replaced Renee Fleming with Cecilia Bartoli for an enormous birthday celebration in January. But Fleming's publicist, Mary Lou Falcone, said, "She's, of course, very disappointed, but she also is very respectful and is graciously accepting this decision."

That's class.

And, of course, Fleming was herself booed in the Milan house, during a performance of Lucrezia Borgia in 1998. She has spoken and written about the incident, which occurred during an extremely difficult year for her. She returned to La Scala in October as the soloist in a Strauss program given by the Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (I caught the program the following night at Parco della Musica in Rome), and in November for a recital.

By the way, if you didn't read my post about what happened after Angela Gheorghiu's Paris recital last month, you need to. I include a couple video clips; in one, Alagna appears on stage to present his wife with a bouquet.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Preparation


I attend a lot of performances. Many of the works I hear are new to me, but I don't always prepare for programs or operas. If I get a peek at a recital program, I might download songs on iTunes if I don't have them in my rather small recording collection. If the venue (such as the Barbican and Carnegie Hall) provides a pdf file of the program for download ahead of the concert, I'll try to read it, focusing on the texts and translations.

Prior to Renee Fleming's February 2005 Boston recital, I spent an afternoon in the listening room of Harvard's music library. I listened to her entire program, hearing extraordinary recordings by singers such as Felicity Lott, Kathleen Battle and Michael Chance in Purcell and Handel and Jessye Norman in Berg. There was one song I had difficulty in finding: Schumann's "Stille Traenen". After much searching, I found one recording of the song, on a souvenir (non-commercial) CD of a star-studded gala concert given to benefit the Marilyn Horne Foundation. Who was the singer? Renee Fleming. After listening to recordings of half a dozen singers in pieces that Fleming was to perform that night in Boston, it put a smile on my face that the last and most difficult-to-find song should have been recorded by Fleming herself.

Sometimes I like to hear a work for the first time in a live performance. This is one reason I sometimes attend more than one performance of a program or run. But if this is not possible, I sometimes try to listen to a recording or watch a DVD. Reading a libretto is also helpful, particularly if the opera is in a language I speak.

As I write this, I'm listening to the Met's live broadcast of Don Carlo, linked on the Met's home page. In one week I will attend this opera at the Met. I found librettos online (in Italian and English), and, as ever, operainfo.org has been immensely helpful. Given that I will see only one performance of this run--with an amazing cast that is unlikely to be assembled again--I want to be prepared.

It's possible to enjoy opera without doing your homework. But, while I lose myself in the intense emotions as much as the next person, I see opera as a means of discovering so much more. Program notes, supertitles (or Met Titles), librettos, recordings, DVDs, HD cinema broadcasts: we need all of these to enrich the experience of live performances, and, in the case of recordings and broadcasts, to leave archives and souvenirs.

Back to Carlo: Alex Ross has written a nice little piece on Rene Pape. I am lucky to have tickets to hear this singer several times this season (Verdi, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner) in three different cities. Stay tuned for reports.

Idomeneo in Paris

[in progress]

The new Paris opera production of Idomeneo currently playing at the Palais Garnier features a remarkable young cast: Ramon Vargas, Joyce DiDonato, Camilla Tilling, and Mireille Delunsch. Luc Bondy spoke at an event a couple weeks ago along with the Gerard Mortier, who directs the Paris Opera, and Thomas Hengelbrook, conductor of this run.

[in progress]





Sunday, December 10, 2006

Der Rosenkavalier in Paris

Too bad my camera batteries died. I could take no pictures of glorious Angela Denoke, a regal and very human Marschallin. Isn't the Marschallin the most human of characters, though?

In the title role, Daniela Sindram sang and acted with intelligence. Her subtlety and sensitivity impressed me. I won't soon forget the adorable way Octavian covered his head with a pillow in Act I, as the Marschallin taunts him, or the priceless look of embarrassment on his face and in his gestures in Act II as Sophie mentions "Quinquin" as one of Octavian's names.

Heidi Grant Murphy was a lovely, if somewhat underpowered, Sophie.

I arrived at the Bastille a good fifteen minutes prior to curtain (that's super early for me), and I picked up my program (10 euro). What a striking cover! Alas, with fresh batteries, I guess I do have something to show you:



A mirror. The set consisted of large paneled mirrors that folded, sometimes reflecting the audience, sometimes reflecting set images. Provocative, given that the opera contains one of the most eloquent meditations on aging. What better calls attention to our own aging than a mirror? The director clearly wants to underline the universality of the Marschallin's struggle.

At the same time, there is something quite specific about the Marschallin's position. (For the moment I'm putting aside the historical and political setting.) A mature woman, she has a lover still in his teens, and she knows that "today or tomorrow or the next day," he will love someone else. She knows this can't last.

There's something heartbreakingly beautiful about the grace with which she gives Octavian to this girl she doesn't know. In that luminous trio, she sings that she vowed to love him, even to love his love for another woman.

But it's not all about the boy, of course. In giving him up, she acknowledges that she is aging. She carries this painful reality with dignity and poise. Faninal invites her into his realm--as an older person--with his statement, "That's how they are, the young folk!" She confirms her separation from (the) youth and says goodbye forever with her famous response, "Ja, ja".

In the Wernicke production, the Marschallin enters a carriage stage right and Faninal enters another stage left. The carriages slowly glide into the wings as the young couple sings of its dreamlike happiness. I feel there's some irony in their bliss. The notion that it's like a dream suggests that one day they too will wake up.

This hope tinged with wistfulness makes me think of that wonderful line that ends The Light in the Piazza: "May it last forever."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Opera is like that

If you go to enough performances, you come to accept that singers cancel. Something odd--or perhaps just coincidental--has been going on with the cast of the Paris Opera's current run of Der Rosenkavalier. Casting of the Marschallin and Octavian has been changing frequently. I don't know if either of the contracted principals, Anne Schwanewilms and Vesselina Kasarova, has actually sung yet. (Update: I learned that Schwanewilms sang on opening night.) The other day, I was super excited because the web site listed the superb Elina Garanca as Octavian in Sunday's matinee, for which I already have a ticket. But now Daniela Sindram is scheduled to sing the part.

I am delighted, however, that Angela Denoke will sing the matinee. Last I heard, she was said to be unimpressive in a tasteless production of Salome. But in March 2005, Alex Ross said this about her Marschallin:

The German soprano Angela Denoke is giving a first-rate performance as the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier at the Met. Any New Yorker who loves Strauss' sixteen-ton comedy, or who wants to experience the ultimate artistic meditation on the self-absorbed minitragedies of thirtysomethings, should try to see it. Denoke sings with phenomenal purity of tone, yet she is also an emotionally transparent, actorly performer; there's a welcome lack of expert caution in her delivery, and an expressive dark lining to even her brightest upper notes.

Meanwhile, I have not heard how things went down at Salle Pleyel last night, but part of me (who prefers Wagner to Rome at the turn of the 18th century) regrets my choice. Ah well, it was just one of those nights. I suppose.

Cecilia Bartoli in Paris



Cecilia Bartoli at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, 8 December 2006

Her voice is at once among the prettiest and the ugliest. Just as she inspires awe with her soft, creamy sound in slow passages, so she annoys with her hideous coloratura. Whatever you make of Bartoli, there's no doubt that she knows how to thrill an audience. Some of this is intentional. Her programming ends both halves with a bang, and she doles out red meat for encores ("Bel piacere," "Ombra mai fu" and "Da tempeste"). Some of her appeal is probably unintentional, as we find ourselves chuckling at her infamous facial tics and spastic dance moves. (Is she actually conducting the ensemble or just really caught up in the music?) Still, there's something lovable about this charming woman and natural talent.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

OK, I'm back

After some heartfelt emails from friends asking that I not discontinue blogging, I've decided to give it another try. This time, instead of making promises such as "coming soon" or "more later," I'll probably just say, "I went to x event and it was really good," and leave it at that.

Responding once more to feedback, I will now allow comments. Feel free to share your thoughts. You may even do so anonymously.

After two thrilling Renee Fleming concerts in Lucerne (KKL) and London (Barbican), on Friday I begin another intense concert-going period. Still haven't decided whether to attend Ben Heppner's all-Wagner program at Salle Pleyel or Cecilia Bartoli's castrato program at the Champs-Elysees. I have a ticket to each.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Pause

Blogging is fun, but I will take a break from it. It really does take a lot of time, and while I enjoy chronicling my experiences, I have other ways of doing that. I never intended to blog indefinitely. Soon, I will remove my archives, but I will keep this account alive for possible occasional posts.

Lately I've enjoyed some great moments, most notably Andreas Scholl in a Bach program at the Barbican in London and Kiri Te Kanawa in an eclectic solo recital in Reading. I was fortunate enough to meet both singers following the performances.

Up next: Renee Fleming in two very different programs in Lucerne and London.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Toni Morrison reads from her unpublished next novel at the Louvre

I don't think I've used this old line before, but I need to use it now: where to begin?

I will write later with details, but for the moment: Morrison read a moving and lyrical excerpt from her next novel, Mercy. It fit beautifully with the theme of her astonishingly stimulating program, titled The Foreigner's Home, this month at the Louvre. I have heard her read before (twice--well, almost three times--I happened to go to the bathroom and miss her reading from Jazz at Wynton Marsalis's Higher Ground Benefit in September 2005!), but I was not prepared for the beauty of this work or for the manifest excitement of knowing that this was a healthy glimpse at this great writer's next work, which she describes as "very much in progress."

Following the reading, there was a signing at the Louvre bookstore. Appropriately, I had Morrison sign the program's catalog. I thanked her ("very much") and she looked at me deliberately and replied, in her signature gravely voice, "You're welcome." Yes, on paper this sounds banal, and I have had her sign a book before (Love, in 2003), but this was a moment for me. It's too complicated and personal to get into here--suffice it to say that this day will go down as one of the great ones.

It doesn't hurt that I spent part of the afternoon in the peaceful autumnal splendor of the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Pictures and video to come.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Philippe Jaroussky

I am reading Balzac's Sarrasine at the moment. Witnessing the public's reaction to countertenor Philippe Jaroussky's creamy voice and youthful presence stirs interesting thoughts in my head. Born in 1978, the French singer seemed poised for an international career, but a Google search revealed that, inexplicably, he's no longer managed by IMG Artists. Now represented by a French firm, he's performing mostly in his homeland.

That's a shame, because he's one of the finest and most exciting young singers I've heard. His strikingly beautiful voice--rich, creamy, incandescent--covers a large range, from a strong chest register to shimmering tones above the staff. In Jaroussky's mouth, Vivaldi's florid (understatement of the season) coloratura sounds beautiful and natural. But he's equally at home in slow, introspective pieces, where he unleashes tender and luscious legato.

Following Thursday night's concert at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, his label, Virgin Classics, hosted a signing to mark the release of Jaroussky's new disc. He and conductor Spinosi have a clear love for their work. They never stopped talking, carrying on a constant dialogue with fans who passed through. I didn't see one person who wasn't wearing a smile. It was an hour before I finally arrived at the signing table, and there remained at least a dozen people behind me.

[Note: I need to put some links in here. I also need to update a couple entries.]

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Angela Gheorghiu at Salle Pleyel


There are two things I will remember about Saturday night's concert. One, Gheorghiu's vocal performance, which was excellent. But just as strongly burned into my memory was what happened once the official program had ended. Gheorghiu and the audience were so fervent in their mutual admiration that, after four encores, the management shut off all lights in the venue, leaving only emergency lighting to see us out. Gheorghiu remained on stage in complete darkness for several minutes, waving and bowing down to the ground, making her conductor do the same. It was a strange moment.

After the first encore (a lovely "Non ti scardar di me," capped with a blazing high C), Roberto Alagna came on stage to present his wife with a large bouquet. The crowd went wild. Here's video of that. (In the confusion, I did shake the camera quite a bit--sorry about that.)



Here's a bit of Gheorghiu bowing in complete darkness, as if nothing had happened. This time I move the camera about to show the state of the place: those weren't house lights, but emergency lights! You can see Gheorghiu illuminated a couple times by camera flashes.



More on the music and the post-performance performance, later. (I also have a pic or two taken before the blackout.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Antonio Pappano and Renee Fleming present all-Strauss program in Rome


More later.

UPDATE:

Santa Cecilia Hall, in Rome's Parco della Musica, is a beautiful venue filled with scarlet seats and cherry wood walls and ceilings. The sound in there is like nothing I've heard. The reverb is quite high, giving the impression of a liquid sound. Renee's voice swam in a Straussian sea.

Her performances of the Capriccio final scene and the Vier letzte Lieder were different from previous ones. They were more introspective than ever, and, especially in the Capriccio, there was a profound sense of sadness. (After the performance, she mentioned that there are so many ways to do it, and that it's different every night.) The explosive passion of "Caecilie", an encore, provided an appropriate contrast to the wistful poignancy of "Im Abendrot".

I will post more details later, but I wanted to share a bit of news about the program for Renee's upcoming concert at the Barbican. I am one of many, I am sure, who discovered the remarkable aria "Ich ging zu ihm," from Korngold's Der Wunder der Heliane, because of its inclusion on Homage: The Age of the Diva. Renee seems born to sing this rich and densely-orchestrated aria. It's in the sumptuous key of F# minor (the key of the final scene of Daphne and the trio from Der Rosenkavalier), and its undulating legato lines build intensity right up to the A# climax on the repetition of in Schmerzen ("in pain"), Heliane's qualified mea culpa (she gave of her body, but only in the youth's mind, and she did so only to console him). I asked if she has plans to sing this live, and she replied, "Yes! In London." Click here to listen to Lotte Lehmann's recording of the aria. Lehmann, who premiered the piece, inspired Renee's interpretation.

UPDATE (6:35pm, 11/4/06):

Before attending another live performance (Angela Gheorghiu at Salle Pleyel tonight), I wanted to get in a few more observations about Renee's Strauss concert on Tuesday.

I have heard Renee sing these pieces before (the Capriccio at Carnegie Hall and the Lieder at the Barbican), and also in recordings, but the performances on Tuesday were different. Pappano nursed subtle and sensuous playing from the orchestra, bringing out sparkling counterpoint. Renee sang completely in character, which is something that she does not do often at concert performances. During the "Moonlight Music" that opens the final scene of Capriccio, she wore an anxious expression. It was a nuanced, complex performance filled with gestures big and small. Most remarkable were the contrasting moments at the end. First, the power that she unleashed when she sang, "Will you be consumed by these two flames?" The weight in her voice even made me think of Salome's final scene. Second, the soft, subtle, slow, and introspective beauty of Madeleine's final words to her reflection. This was very different from her Carnegie Hall performance, which was louder, colorful and ironic. There were tears in her eyes as the orchestra played the lush finale. There's one part that sounds as if Madeleine is leaving--at that point, Renee sighed, rolled her eyes, and batted her eyelids. After the performance, I mentioned how differently she did this scene, and she said that there are so many ways to do it, and that it's different every night.

Her Vier letzte Lieder seemed to have been sung in one long breath. There is no question that she bears a strong emotional connection to this music.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Giulio Cesare in Egitto closes at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris


AS ALWAYS, CLICK ON IMAGE TO VIEW LARGER
Pictured: Sunday, 22 October 2006; Renaud Delaigue (Curio), Sonia Prina (Cornelia), Franco Fagioli (Tolomeo), Christophe Rousset (conductor), Rosemary Joshua (Cleopatra), Andreas Scholl (Giulio Cesare), Mario Cassi (Achilla), [supernumery], Alice Coote (Sesto), [supernumery]
I attended opening night of this new production at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. I returned for the final two performances. (In between the first and the fourth performance, I attended two other events at this venue, and I sat in the same section all five nights. You can bet they know me there!)

Without question the big news about this production is its star, Andreas Scholl. Christophe Rousset (who grooves like no other conductor I've seen) led Les Talens Lyriques, and Irina Brook headed the stage production.

Opening night was not an overwhelming success. The orchestra sounded dry. The audience was not enthusiastic about the production. During curtain calls, Brook was booed off the stage.

Things were entirely different on Sunday. I noticed not only the excellent singing of the cast, but also the warm playing of the orchestra. Also, I was surprised to observe that the production worked. There's nothing genius about it; it's a simple set consisting of sand dunes and some sight gags. But I found that it never distracted from what was happening, and so what if there were some cheap laughs? I was entertained, and, most importantly, I heard these voices.

I'll start with the other countertenors, Damien Guillon and Franco Fagioli, who are both my age (born in 1981). Nireno doesn't sing very much, but I like what I heard of Guillon's voice, and, with his spiked hair, he certainly had a presence on stage. I very much liked Fagioli as Tolomeo. Grotesque and decadent, this was a Tolomeo who swaggered about in purple, showing skin when he probably shouldn't. It is quite extraordinary to see such a young singer wield such a strong dramatic presence. As remarkable is the voice: loud, dark but not hooty, with a powerful lower register and a gleaming (but underused) top.

I heard Rosemary Joshua sing Cleopatra with David Daniels in Miami in 2000. I remember liking her then, and her performances here indicate that she loves singing this rather demanding role. The arias are difficult, to be sure, and, while I haven't done the math, I'm certain that Cleopatra sings quite a bit more than Cesare. Joshua's pretty voice is ideal for Handel. Her lines are clean, her coloratura clear as a bell, and her ornaments seem faithful to the music. (She did not interpolate many high notes--I doubt there was anything above A--but I did not miss them.) This is another singer with remarkable stage presence. A joy to watch on stage, she danced through this role--often literally, using moves that seem inspired by Madonna's "Don't Tell Me" video.

Recent Met debutante Alice Coote is one of the most impressive younger singers I have heard lately. (Elina Garanca is another.) Her beautiful, rich sound is largish, and at the end of her first aria--Handel certainly wrote Sesto some damn good solos--she unleashed the highest and loudest note of the evening. Her "Cara speme" was breathtaking, with seamless legato and shimmering tone to spare. She will sing Sesto in the Met revival this spring.

Speaking of breathtaking, on Sunday in particular, Scholl floored me with his gorgeous "Aure, deh, per pietà," whose opening phrase he started singing softly, gradually increasing the volume. (He does a similar thing at the opening of "Dove sei, amato bene" in Rodelinda.) This role also gives him plenty of chances to show off his dazzling coloratura. Scholl, who stands 6'5" (I haven't confirmed this; I heard it from a very famous recent Met costar of Scholl's), looked every bit the part as the ruler of the world. Still, he has a youthful presence, and also comes across as very warm and self-effacing. Sporting a Caesar cut and a light beard, he looked quite smart, especially in the tailored suit in the final scene.

The one dreadful part of the production: the horrible playing from the horns. What happened? All three nights. The boos were deserved. "Va tacito e nascosto", which is supposed to be a high point, was ruined, as were parts of the final scene.

Finally, I have to compliment the make-up artists, who made everyone look great.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Kiri Te Kanawa and Frederica von Stade in Paris






A look at the program, which was presented in three United States locations as well as in England (I'm not sure where else), would make one conclude that it was meant for Paris. Like Madonna's "I Love New York," which insults every city but the Big Apple, Poulenc's ecstatic "Voyage a Paris," programmed in the first half, says that any place other than Paris sucks. Kiri looked at Flicka and was clearly extremely excited to sing that song to us. Such enormous smiles!

Last night's recital was the most satisfying performance I've seen this season. I can hardly top the accuracy of Joshua Koshman's spot-on review of the Berkley recital, which occurred about a month ago. He describes why these artists are so special, what makes them legends, and why the recital was such a blast.

As hard as this is, I'll sketch my thoughts. Kiri: silvery, creamy tone; gentle, elegant, natural delivery; poise; uncanny ability to sing so softly; crisp diction in English; unfailingly clean lines; gorgeous face. She barely opens her mouth. Sometimes, her teeth touch and her mouth is open, revealing them--where does the sound come from? I have never seen a classical singer look more attractive while singing.

Flicka's goofiness clearly rubs off on Kiri. But Flicka can also be deeply moving, as in "O Waly, Waly," and "Connais-tu le pays." In these pieces, she unleashed an especially haunting sound.

Part of the fun was watching the divas interact on stage. I'll never forget Kiri's elegant pose, her legs crossed, as she watched Flicka sing her solos. Flicka often closed her eyes in rapture as she listened to Kiri sing.

The finest groups on the program were the Berlioz, Poulenc, and Cantaloube.

The lovely "Barcarolle" from Hoffman was somewhat underplayed, and Kiri came off as a little detached because she constantly glanced at the song's text, which had been placed on the piano.

The highlight of the entire recital, for me, was the second and last encore, a song I've never heard, consisting of "Meows." (UPDATE: Rossini's "Cat Duet.") After the first movement, the divas bended their knees and Marilyn-Monroed (yeah, it's a verb), "Mr. President!" There was a sense that there was no separation between artist and human being; Kiri and Flicka were just Kiri and Flicka, having a ball on stage in Paris.

Kiri's was the first classical voice I ever heard live, when I was twelve. This was only my fourth time hearing her, and I never thought I'd have the chance to meet her. I still didn't, not really, but I did get an autograph. She messed up as she was signing and said, "Sorry!" with a laugh. The crowd at the stage door was large, and she stayed quite a long time signing just about every program (and vintage memorabilia) before saying "Bye!" and "Au revoir!" and walking down to the sidewalk, turning left, and retiring to the Plaza Athenee.

After watching Kiri disappear, I returned to the throng to catch Flicka. An assistant accompanying the mezzo said that she has to get going (Flicka looked at me and quipped, "Je suis vielle!"--the tone was, "They're saying I'm old!") and can sign for three more people; thankfully, I was one of those.

As Sarah and I left, glancing now and then at Flicka, who was walking parallel to us on the other side of the street, we turned a corner and, as I looked back, I saw the Eiffel Tower sparkling, as it does for ten minutes every hour on the hour. Magic.

Sarah and I proceeded to a lovely Italian restaurant on the Champs-Elysees and talked the night away; hours later, we caught cabs at the Arc de Triomphe.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bejun Mehta

It occurred to me that, given the number of performances I'm attending, it's going to be impossible to write on everything. So, I will post titles/descriptions of the events I attend, but I will elaborate on only a few of them. And I will share photos and videos when possible.

Having said this, I'll write on Mehta's Châtelet recital tomorrow morning, and I'll also tie up a couple other loose ends.

UPDATE (4:31pm): Time is too scarce!

Rumors

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rameau's Les Paladins at the Châtelet with Les Arts Florissants, William Christie

What a lovely production. Outstanding playing and singing, imaginative staging--what more could one want? After the three-hour performance, the audience demanded at least half a dozen curtain calls--if the Chatelet hadn't turned the lights on, we would've demanded a half dozen more. More on this opéra hip-hop (as it's billed) later.

The Age of This Diva



I don't usually listen to recordings. I collect them as souvenirs. But this one is different. I cannot stop listening. As in her incandescent recording of Daphne, a beautiful souvenir of the concert performance at Carnegie Hall one year ago, I marvel at how sound engineers have finally figured out how to capture the sumptuous beauty of Renee Fleming's voice.

I find myself getting tipsy while listening to the Korngold tracks, especially "Ich ging zu ihm" from Das Wunder der Heliane. As Fleming has said [thanks, Sarah], you just want to take a bath in it.

More on this later.

UPDATE (6:36pm):

This eloquent passage is from Jay Nordlinger's review in the New York Sun:

I have a strange opinion, which is that Ms. Fleming, famous as she is, is underrated. Critics, particularly, tend to overlook how good she is, because she's something of a pop celebrity, and because her mannerisms — vocal mannerisms, I mean — can annoy. Really annoy. Like anyone else, she's capable of performing badly. But she can also perform like an immortal.

And "Homage" is one of the best albums she has ever done. It is a tribute, not just to divas past, or to the diva present, but to opera itself, and the human voice.


What he says is very true. Underrated and underappreciated.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Andreas Scholl is Giulio Cesare in Egitto in Paris


Details on opening night coming soon.

In brief:

The production team was booed!

Fine singing.

3/4 of Les Troyens and Bryn Terfel

Yesterday I had to leave during the second intermission of Les Troyens (I missed Act V), but I did catch this production in its entirety at the premiere last Wednesday. This opera is very trying on the audience. There are few rewards for a lot of pain. What was especially painful about this production was the awful singing. Jon Villars (Enee), even at his best, has a terribly unattractive sound. He has what seems to be a pushed-up baritone. It's a loud, weird voice. Elena Zaremba (Anna), beautiful on stage, ruined her character's beautiful lines with a garbled, extremely hooty sound. Neither was in command of pitch.

But there were some good things. Deborah Polaski has a powerful voice that cuts through the hall with astonishing clarity, but she also sounds lovely singing softly. Polaski has a formidable stage presence. She is not a subtle actress, however. And though I can see there might be reasons for this production to have her sing both Cassandre and Didon, I'm ambivalent about the results.

The best thing about the production, as I mentioned previously, was Eric Cutler's lovely Iopas. Cutler seems a little awkward on stage, but his tiny, beautiful voice is assured. On opening night the audience erupted in ovations after his solo, but this didn't happen yesterday. He delicately caressed the long phrases, sighing beautiful pianissimi and rising up to a loud, ringing high C. He reminds me of Matthew Polenzani, who may well be my favorite tenor, although Polenzani's voice is larger and has a lot more weight.

The Opera posted a video from the sublime Act IV love duet, which is probably the high point of Troyens. This may be from the DVD of the production, which was filmed at Salzburg. I think you'll "hear" my points about Villars and Polaski.

I'll write on Bryn Terfel later today. He rocked Salle Pleyel last night; I believe they're repairing the roof as I write this.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

No, I do not have naked pictures of Catherine Naglestad


Come on, people. Catherine Naglestad has got to be the most frequently Googled opera singer in Europe. My site meter is exploding with entries revealing naglestad salome as Google search terms. I've also gotten a few catherine naglestad nude or catherine naglestad naked pictures searches. I know these people are not interested in her voice or her portrayal. They want to see her breasts and her

I attended my third Salome of this run last night. It was not the strongest of the three. But there were some good moments.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Les Troyens

So, I went to opening night of Les Troyens at the Bastille. I'm going again on Sunday, so I'll have more to say. The most exciting part for me was hearing Eric Cutler. I'll write a little more on this later.

I tried for a fifth and final Lucia tonight, but, alas, it was sold out. I was a little disappointed, but I'm happy I got to see it four times.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Live in the moment

My friend Sarah passed this along: "Heppner, Levine, Pape, Scotto and Voigt Win 2006 Opera News Awards."

Awards are always silly (Michael Cunningham once said it's like a bunch of people getting together and deciding that the bell pepper is the best vegetable), but people in opera don't have many chances to be recognized, so this is sort of nice. It's interesting that three of the four singers are best known for their Wagner. Rene Pape is one of my very favorite singers. Voigt's Salome is big news this year--I'm so curius about how that will turn out.

Renee Fleming, as the most famous opera singer working today, is such an obvious choice for this award that they'll probably wait a decade to give it to her. Domingo is the only other singer as famous, and he got it last year, because he's old.

This reminds me of something. There was a point, around 2000, when Kiri Te Kanawa, the most famous and popular soprano for a couple decades, became a legend. The opera queens stopped bashing her and began praising her Strauss and Mozart. She entered the pantheon of immortal legends.

Many years from now, it will be really interesting to see how this plays out with Fleming. When she's absent from the spotlight, people will start to remember what got her there in the first place.

Do a lot of people take our best singers for granted? Yes, and they're really missing out. People need to get off their couches and go to live performances. Opera wasn't meant for little computer screens and iPods. Those are good for archives, but don't sell yourself short.

Well, I take that back. I'm all for choice. Do as you please. If listening to scratchy old bootlegs of a dead singer gives you hours of orgasmic pleasure, then by all means. But there are great singers today, and we need to go out and hear them and support them--while they're singing, and singing well, not when they're mute or deceased "legends."

UPDATE:

Amusingly, in reviewing performances of Te Kanawa qua legend, critics pointed out the simple elegance of her delivery, and contrasted this style with the "mannered" singing of Renee Fleming. In her prime, Te Kanawa's "simple elegance" was written off as bland and uninvolved singing. Will the expressiveness of Fleming's singing be one day recognized as a virtue?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Fourth Lucia in Paris

I'm sure glad I was there tonight. For a couple reasons. One, I love this production and cast. Two, some things went wrong tonight, and it was quite thrilling to see.

First, from Lucia's opening lines, I noticed that Natalie Dessay was having an off night. The first and third performances I attended were vocally perfect. In the second the voice was slightly vulnerable. But tonight, the voice was remarkably different. The tone wasn't as clear. There were a few breaks in her voice. I didn't have a pitch fork out, but I believe she replaced the high E-flat that she did on the other nights with a lower pitch (D-flat?) at the end of "Regnava nel silenzio" and at the end of the wedding dress scene. She compensated for the weaknesses, however, with ferocious acting.

A couple things went wrong on stage. The first was at the end of the Lucia-Edgardo duet. There's a swing in this production [when I stop feeling lazy I'll link to a previous post where I youtubed a video clip I took of said swing; in the meantime, you can just scroll down for it], and at the end of the duet, Edgardo pushes Lucia and they play around. He jumps in front before she swings back, etc. Anyway, tonight, at the end, something weird happened (I didn't see exactly what) and Matthew Polenzani didn't catch Dessay or she was unable to stop, and, with her standing on it, the swing kept swinging and jerked forward. She held on tight and kept singing. Polenzani looked a little nervous and shot a glance at Pido. Dessay could have easily fallen, and Pido would have had to stop the orchestra. The professionals that they are, the scene ended smoothly and the audience probably didn't notice.

The other mishap was significantly more dramatic, and I'm even grateful for it because it led to one of the most memorable scenes I have ever seen on stage. So, the set includes a bunch of large metal ladder-like things that fold across the stage. But something strange happened and the large folded ladder that's meant to create a huge triangle at the center of the stage did not descend properly. This triangle/pyramid contraption is important because Dessay climbs over it, up the left end, down the right end (where she slides down, actually) during "Spargi d'amaro pianto." It's quite fun to watch. Anyway, since it didn't descend properly, when she walked over there, a couple stage people (dressed as supers--maybe they were supers?) who had tried to fix it indicated to her that she is not to mount. Because she was distracted by this, Dessay eliminated the wonderful scream that she usually does just as the "il fantasma!" music plays, right before "Spargi".

She walked stage left, and knew she had to improvise. Boy, did she improvise! Because she didn't have this large thing to climb, she had to fill all of the dramatic space. She picked up a large hay fork that's used in the production--the priest holds up Lucia's dead husband's hat and a bloody cloth on it. Arturo (who is extremely creepy in this production) brandishes it at some of the young couples on stage. Anyway, as she's singing, she wields the very large tool. Since this clearly had not been rehearsed, it was a little odd--the hat and bloody cloth fell off at some point. Dessay brandished the fork at the characters on stage. At the end of the first part of the aria, she flung the fork on the stage with a loud crash. She picked up the bloody cloth and threw it across the stage. She kicked a couple balloons, and one fell in the orchestra put. Right before her last phrase (the famous "Ah" that ends in a climactic E-flat), she started trembling, looking utter confused, sad, ecstatic. I have never seen such intensity on stage. For the first time, she screamed after singing, crying out, laughing/sobbing. I'm not sure what state Lucia was in, but it was scary. The ambiguity made it even scarier. The lights stayed on her shaking body for longer than usual.

The ovations were intense. Her curtain call (in this production, the Opera allows a curtain call following the mad scene) featured a standing ovation. She glared at Pido (or someone)--It must have been tough for her to have to improvise dramatically.

The other news is that I've totally changed my mind about Polenzani. Yes, it took four performances, but I finally got it. It's possible that he's gotten better over the run. Or maybe he's just grown on me. I don't know. He has a rich, beautiful voice, and his high notes are remarkable. He can be ferocious or sweet. His pianissimi are the best I could imagine in a tenor. And dramatically I found him to be quite compelling tonight. His final scene remains the best, again drawing tears. And Dessay, who appears in this scene as a phantom or angel or something, is utterly beautiful. I'll never forget that gorgeous image. The opera ends, in this production, with Dessay leaning against the frame of stage right, laughing ecstatically in her gorgeous wedding dress.

Of the eleven performances, two remain. This was my last, and I'm delighted to have attended several performances of this exciting and beautifully sung production.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Dolly Parton

I somehow missed the news that Dolly is a 2006 Kennedy Center Honors recipient. The Honors are severely underpromoted. Perhaps this is a reflection of the majority of the honorees: tremendously talented people who have made enormous contributions to the very best of American arts and culture, but who are inevitably marginalized in mainstream culture.

(A friend mentioned that Jessica Simpson was on Jimmy Kimmel's show and, answering a question about role models, Jesscia singled out Dolly and revealed that her idol is receiving some big award (though she couldn't remember the award's name) and asked her to perform. I Google-searched and found the Kennedy Center press release.)

This would be a good opportunity to expand my much-delayed (over ten months) Dolly Parton post, which was to include a review of her Boca Raton concert on November 26, 2005. I'll see what I can do.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Life is messy, I always say

Come upstairs. I don't care why you come. No, that's not what I mean. Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is and I didn't know this either. But love don't make things nice, it ruins everything, it breaks your heart, it makes things a mess. We're not here to make things perfect. Snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and break our hearts and love the wrong people and die! The storybooks are bullshit. Come upstairs with me, baby! Don't try to live your life out to somebody else's idea of sweet happiness. Don't try to live on milk and cookies when what you want is meat! Red meat just like me! It's wolves run with wolves and nothing else! You're a wolf just like me! Come upstairs with me and get in my bed! Come on! Come on! Come on!

--Moonstruck

Monday, October 02, 2006

Closing night of La Clemenza di Tito in Paris; Elina Garanca and Anna Caterina Antonacci triumph





More later.



UPDATE (10/3/06, 1:52am):

I know some people don't like this opera. I wasn't very fond of it when I saw the Ponnelle production at the Met in May 2005. But after tonight's performance, I can't help but love this opera, especially when it's played with such beauty and conviction.

This Herrman production at the Palais Garnier is quite different from the sepia Met production. The stage is so bright that each patron who buys a program is given a libretto whose cover reads (I translate): "The brightness of this production's scenery diminishes the legibility of the surtitles. For this reason, the Paris Opera offers you the entire French translation of the libretto of La Clemenza di Tito." From where I was sitting (a wonderful seat), I was still able to read the titles, though it was quite a strain on my eyes. Since the house lights were switched off, it wasn't really possible to read along with the libretto (and it was difficult to find your spot anyway, since the translation in the booklet was different from the translation on the surtitles).

At any rate, one of the highlights of this production: Vitellia's gorgeous costumes. What a joy to see Anna Caterina Antonacci, a major star in Europe who is unknown in the US. A beautiful woman, she has a powerful stage presence, and her equally powerful voice, though at times almost strident, can be downright thrilling. Her Vitellia was a convincing seductress, a cruel beauty who has no qualms about sacrificing Sesto's life for her own gain. We pity her when she reveals her treachery to Tito. We know how humiliated she must feel, but we also know that she has been cleansed of her evil by the constancy of Sesto. And Tito's clemency is a beautiful thing. It's karma!

Beautiful, youthful, and endowed with a golden voice, even more impressive tonight was Elina Garanca as Sesto. Radiant tone, flawless coloratura. And she actually looks and sounds like a beautiful youth. She got the loudest ovations of the night.

Ekaterina Garanca as Servilia and Hannah Esther Minutillo as Annio also gave lovely performances.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Salome in Paris a second time around

Today's matinee at the Bastille confirmed my suspicion on opening night: the company could have used another rehearsal before the premiere. The performance today, the run's fourth, was solid. Catherine Naglestad flourished in her portrayal and her shimmering voice soared.

More later--pictures too!

UPDATE (8:57pm):

Here is a photo of Catherine Naglestad's first curtain call. You can see Iokanaan's head on the silver platter, a couple of the veils, and a vase from which Salome drank wine as she battled with Herod for her reward.



More later. (And I haven't forgotten to elaborate on that Mozart concert.)

UPDATE (10/3/06, 2:21am):

I'm looking at the notes I scribbled during Sunday's performance.

Naglestad succeeded brilliantly in portraying Wilde's teenaged princess. She clearly and effectly sketched her take (the director's take?) on Salome's motivation. When she hears Iokanaan's voice, she's horrified and aroused at the same time. She says to Narraboth, with glee and fascination--and with a huge smile--that Iokanaan says horrible things about her mother. Naglestad's girlish grin is remarkable.

One memorable line is her lovely delivery of "the son of man", where she repeats Iokanaan's phrase, in the same melody. Iokanaan tells her there is only one who can save her, the son of man. She sings, "the son of man," transfixed by Iokanaan, and one might think that she's seriously interested in what he has to say. But, softly and innocently, she then asks, "Is he as beautiful as you, Iokanaan?" No, no one can save her . . .

In this production, Iokanaan is tempted by Salome--there's a strange dance between the two following his cursing of her. He moves to touch her, and then resists. This choreography reinforces Salome's motivation in this production: she's a woman scorned.

Taking up this point, just before Salome dances, she looks towards the cistern (in this production, a large cage that slowly glides in from stage right; see my opening night post for a production photo) and points. After the dance, as she's naked, Naglestad grins mischievously at Iokanaan, who is on stage (his cage slides in at some point during the dance and remains there until some point during the Salome-Herod power struggle). Her expression seems to say, "I'm gonna getcha!"

Naglestad gave a ferocious performance, as the copious sweat on her face would attest. She's a major star here--I've gotten a large number of hits to this blog from European (mostly German) visitors Google-searching her name and "salome" and/or "paris"--and it's not hard to see why.

Chris Merritt was really an outstanding Herod. There was so much to like about his performance: his strong voice, his wonderfully amusing antics (one of the funniest: after Salome sings, "I would like, on a silver platter . . .", he picks up and plays with one of her veils, laughing and covering his head with it--when she sings "the head . . .", he removes the veil and looks surprised, then horrified when she sings "of Iokanaan"). Jane Henschel also an effective Herodias, rather understated and elegant. We pity her when she watches in horror as Salome kisses the head--Henschel backed away slowly and disappeared into the palace, her eyes never wavering.





Saturday, September 30, 2006

What I found today

So, I decided to take an early evening stroll. Walked up Saint-Michel, crossed into Ile-de-la-Cite, followed the Seine for a little while, and ended up at the Louvre. Contemplated sitting at the pyramids for a while, but I heard Mozart. Somewhere, a coloratura soprano was singing "Der Hölle Rache." I followed the sound and found a young woman singing in Cour Carree. She was holding a clever little electronic device that played her accompaniment. She sang a few songs and arias, and during her encore of "Der Hölle Rache"--this time, with stunning ornaments--rain poured down on the palace and thunder and lightening cast a foreboding backdrop. My video of that didn't turn out too well, so here is the second half of Olympia's "Doll Song." Listen for the gorgeous high G near the end!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Third Lucia in Paris; Christine Schaefer does Mozart



Natalie Dessay swings after her big Act I aria in Lucia di Lammermoor tonight at the Opera Bastille.

On Tuesday, September 26, Sylvain Cambreling conducted the Opera's orchestra in a lovely (though long) Mozart concert at the Palais Garnier. The highlight for me: Christine Schaefer, who made two of the composer's difficult concert arias sound like they were a piece of cake.

More later.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A second Paris Lucia



I was in the first row at the Bastille tonight for my second Lucia. Natalie Dessay gave another powerful performance. This time, there was less perfection and more vulnerability. And also this time, since I was prepared for Dessay's tour de force, I was able to pay more attention to the men in the cast, and to admire their excellent voices.

More later. (More pictures and ovations videos too.)



UPDATE (9/26/06, 12:51pm):

By the way, I haven't figured out how to adjust the time on this thing--that last post was actually posted six hours later than whatever it says there. Well, it displays EDT, and I'm on Paris time.

So, I was thinking. Last night was the Met's opening night. And last night in Paris, we had Dessay in Lucia. At opening night next year the Met will have Dessay in Lucia. People have been celebrating the apparently stunning new Madama Butterfly production (I hope to see it in a revival at some point), but I've heard little about the voices. Dessay is a total package artist.

Last night I mentioned that I noticed the men this time. The bass Kwangchul Youn as Raimondo was solid. It's a small role--I don't think he really has an aria--but he made it memorable, and he deserved the large ovations he received. There wasn't anything special in Ludovic Tezier's dramatic portrayal of Enrico, but vocally he was outstanding. It's not a beautiful voice, but it's a solid (yeah, that's the word of the day) lyric sound and his support never fails.

I'm not sure what to make of Matthew Polenzani. As an actor he has his moments (his final lines drew tears from a certain audience member), but he's not consistently convincing. The stage director clearly showed him to play up the rage in Act I, when Lucia urges him to keep their love secret. In the second act's love duet, he cradles her more like a father than a lover. Vocally, I'm even more confused about Polenzani. Part of me wants to say that he's miscast. His light Mozartean tenor would seem suited to bel canto, but his singing lacks the requisite sexiness. He sounds sexy in Mozart and Verdi, but this role does nothing for him. On the other hand, the way he caresses a phrase can often be quite breaktaking. And he certainly has enough vocal weight to pull off the declamatory passages in Act III. Still, his Edgardo is a mixed bag.

As for the production, the emphasis on men oppressing this woman is on point. (A brochure reads--I translate: "the story of a woman manipulated and pushed to despair by a militant and arrogant world of men"). I think it's a smart reading of the opera. Certainly an interesting one. And it works. Boy do we feel sorry for Lucia at the end. The scariest aspect of the mad scene is set up by Raimondo, who tells the people that Lucia, covered in blood and completely disoriented, was smiling. Natalie emerged slowly from under a collapsed tent, first her bloody arms, then her face with those large smiling eyes. She played with a balloon, referring to it as Edgardo. She washed off, water flying across the stage. She played in the hay. Found a hatchet. Hacked in the air as she ferociously attacked coloratura. One of the most convincing portrayals I have ever seen.

Also wanted to add--sitting in the first row, to the left, I was lucky to have a good view of the large instrument made of glass that uses water. (I have no idea what it's called, but I'll try to find out.) It was fascinating to watch the musician lightly dip his hand in water, and pass his hand over the tops of glass cylinders to make those haunting sounds.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A la recherche du mot juste

I clicked on a link to Alex Ross's blog yesterday and discovered one of his finest columns: his beautiful and honest remembrance of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Yes, how I too discovered that it's possible to mourn the loss of someone you've never met (as Ross so perfectly put it, "I never got closer to her than Row H"), and to reach a level of appreciation for which there are no words. The most striking passage:

In the days after she died, I tried to write about her, and failed. It felt wrong to call her “great” and “extraordinary,” or to throw around diva-worship words like “goddess” and “immortal,” because those words placed her on a pedestal, whereas the warmth in her voice always brought her close. Nonetheless, empty superlatives will have to do. She was the most remarkable singer I ever heard.

It's a statement as direct and as meaningful as Lieberson's solid and irreplaceable artistry. Mr. Ross, while no one has found the right words to describe Lieberson--an artist who came as close to truth as a person could--you've done well in characterizing that space where words fail.

I have my own remembrance to write, but it will be many more months.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

L'embarras du choix

The French expression l'embarras du choix refers to a state in which the only difficulty is in choosing. In English, we'd say embarrassment of riches. It comes down to this: when you've got (at least) two performances that happen to be at two difference venues on the same night, which do you choose?

Thankfully, this dreadful situation doesn't happen as often as it could. But, sadly, I will have to make several choices this season.

1) BEN HEPPNER vs. CECILIA BARTOLI
December 8, 2006:
Paris, France

So, look. I've heard them both, Heppner in solo recital a couple seasons ago (and at the Volpe gala), Bartoli in concert last season. I've also heard both in opera (Otello, Parsifal, L'Italiana in Algeri. So they're even in that regard.

Neither is in my list of treasured singers, but I like them both. Mere liking doesn't help in the decision-making.

Heppner will give two concerts in Paris this fall. The first, on November 14th at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on November 14th, consists of exerpts from the Ring. The second, on December 8th, is another all-Wagner program, this time excerpts from Lohengrin, Tristan and Parsifal. I have tickets to both.

Bartoli's concert went on sale only last Friday. The program hasn't been announced in detail, but it sounds like it might be the Opera proibita stuff, which I heard her sing in Boston last season.

I am a huge fan of Wagner and of the arias that Heppner will sing. At his best, Heppner is nothing short of stunning. Bartoli's stage presence can sometimes distract from her singing. She's at her best, and reachs her most beautiful sound, in slow, lyrical music. There's a dull sameness in coloratura passages, which also bring out the ugly parts of her voice. At the same time, she's a great performer with energy to spare.

This is a tough one, and I have to say that I have not decided . . .

2) SUMI JO vs. FELICITY LOTT
December 12, 2006
Paris, France

These two sopranos rarely perform in the States, and I have not had the chance to hear them, though I admired the recordings of both (when I listened to recordings). Lott promises a program of art songs with piano, while Jo offers an unbelievable program of mad scenes. I have a ticket for Lott, because somehow I feel that hearing her program would be better for me, though I have to say I'm tempted by Jo's aural-pornography, with its high notes, florid coloratura, and trills.

Currently, Lott is in the lead . . .

3) BARBARA BONNEY vs. JOYCE DiDONATO
April 5, 2007
Paris, France

I bought a ticket for Bonney's performance, but later learned of DiDonato's. Matters were made simple by Bonney's early retirement and the cancellation of all engagements. And then, my travel plans will prevent me from staying the night in Paris, so I'll miss DiDonato as well. At any rate, I'll have the chance to hear DiDonato in a couple other things in Paris this season. So, nothing lost, nothing gained . . .

4) RENEE FLEMING vs. SOILE ISOKOSKI
April 21, 2007
Paris, France

This is a good story, actually.

[to be continued . . .]

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Catherine Naglestad's Salome in Paris


The Opera de Paris has lavishly promoted its revival of Lev Dodin's 2003 production of Salome, originally mounted for Karita Mattila. The poster, featuring a woman who appears to be floating in icy water, decorates metro stations and shops around the city. For the last couple weeks, the web site's home page has featured music from the Dance of the Seven Veils cushioning a vignette from the production (and a typo in Strauss's death date). And in the Opera Bastille's lobby, stacks of lovely postcards featuring the production's poster are there for the taking.

I'm fascinated by Oscar Wilde's strange play, and Strauss's rich music and complex orchestration rescue Wilde's bizarre work from utter ridiculousness. Salome is a stunningly difficult work and, if opening night was any indication, this revival is acceptable at best. I do think, however, that things will improve with future performances in the run. Harmut Haenchen was often out of synch with the singers, who made their entrances too late or too soon. Catherine Naglestad, in her wonderful dance (girlish, amateurish), often made her moves before or after the beat. There was a general sense that everyone wasn't absolutely on the same page. I would attribute this to inadequate rehearsal time. That's what I'm hoping, at any rate.

Tomislav Mužek, as Narraboth, opened the opera rather tenatively and seemed uncomfortable on stage, but his smallish voice sounded beautiful. Evgeny Nikitin handled Jochanaan's lengthy legato passages very elegantly, even if his voice is placed a little too high for the part. Chris Merritt and Jane Henschel were pretty much standard as Herod and Herodias. These are ridiculous characters who make up a sort of cheering section to the real drama, and the singers' antics were engaging and amusing.

The beautiful Naglestad (bearing a resemblance to the stunning Waltraud Meier), who debuted this role last night, is a promising Salome. She possesses a powerful instrument. From a chilling low G (and powerful chest register) to a blazing high C (and shimmering top), it's a rich sound that, at its best, evokes Deborah Voigt's. She played Salome with a lot of smiles, and at the end, I didn't feel as sorry for the character as I did during Karita Mattila's 2004 performances of the final scene with the Boston Symphony. Naglestad's rather superficial characterization brought the work dangerously close to kitsch, but her high-octane sound saved the performance. I'm not sure if I'll attend another performance of this run, but if I do, I'd be interested to see if Haenchen manages to pull everything together.

UPDATE (CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS AND VIDEO OF OVATIONS!): Salome in Paris a second time around

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Natalie Dessay's Lucia in Paris

Back on George V after a ride on the 1 from Bastille. Today's matinee was my first Paris Opera production. May I just say, Natalie Dessay is a goddess. No, it's not a very imaginative statement. But, at the very least, it's a true one.

Her voice is in solid form. It's a rich, beautiful sound that maintains a gorgeous liquid tone even in the most intricate coloratura passages, and yet, though agile, it has enough weight to swim over the orchestra and fill the hall.

Her stage presence puts her in Karita Mattila territory. Singing and acting are one. Lucia could so easily be a perfunctory coloratura showpiece. Dessay made the most of every note, and she maximized the resources of this odd production to render the role as interesting as possible. I'll never forget the playful way she balanced on a swing and see-saw in Act I, or her sad expression with horrible make-up in Act II, or her chilling antics during the mad scene. Andrei Serban's physically demanding directions seemed to be a breeze for Dessay, and her commitment shines through. This opening production of the Paris Opera's season marks a considerable success for Dessay, whom we bathed in lavish ovations, even demanding a curtain call following the mad scene!

The rest of the cast (Matthew Polenzani as Edgardo among them) was good, but there was clearly only one star on stage.

This was my first experience of Lucia, and I rather liked it. I read the Met's synopsis before leaving the hotel, and I rolled my eyes at the silly plot. But there's depth there, and Dessay certainly dug deep and found something quite real and quite chilling. And knowing how to turn an audience to mush with a forte high E-flat doesn't hurt either . . .

It is said that Dessay will essay the role to open the Met's 2007-08 season. New York, get ready.

The Old Style

I have deleted my Facebook and MySpace accounts. I just don't like where we're headed. Communication has become thin and lame. I have no interest in meeting people who for me exist only in these virtual realms. And if my good friends feel that these online meat markets are an appropriate way to contact me, I'd like them to rethink contacting me.

In other news, I am in Paris. I took a full two days to recover from jet lag. While I will be studying here during the year, in this blog I will report on performances and other things of interest.

In a previous post I erroneously stated that today's Lucia will be my first classical performance since the Volpe gala. I actually attended Opera Boston's Angels in America in June. I found both the opera and the production to be forgettable (apparently so . . .).

Also, as it turns out, my first classical performance of the season came a couple days sooner. On Wednesday night, while checking the Theatre des Champs-Elysees's web site for the on sale date of Cecilia Bartoli's December concert, I noticed that William Christie was to conduct his Les Arts Florissants in one performance of Mozart's Idomeneo, so I bought a ticket. It was a solid, assured, and satisfying performance on a rather intimate scale. The singers and chorus members were directed on stage, so there was a dramatic aspect not usually found in concert performances of opera.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Strange Thing

While working on a paper on voice and failure in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, I came upon this powerful and spare letter that Beckett wrote to Alan Schneider upon learning of the death of Schneider's father after a long illness:

I know your sorrow and I know that for the likes of us there is no ease for the heart to be had from words or reason and that in the very assurance of sorrow's fading there is more sorrow. So I offer you only my deeply affectionate and compassionate thoughts and wish for you only that the strange thing may never fail you, whatever it is, that gives us the strength to live on and on with our wounds.

More on Beckett to come; next month the Comedie Française will produce Happy Days in its French version.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Countdown to Paris

I leave in a little over two weeks for Paris, where I will spend most of the 2006-07 academic year. The first performance on my schedule is the Paris Opera's Lucia. Needless to say, I am tremendously excited to finally hear Natalie Dessay in an opera; I heard her only at the Volpe gala, which was, incidentally, the last classical performance I attended. The day after I attend Lucia, I'll witness my first staged Salome. But this is not the Salome production that will be the focus of the eyes and ears of the opera world, of course; the Lyric Opera of Chicago will present Deborah Voigt--my first Salome, in the concert version at Tanglewood in 2001--in a new Francesca Zambello production. Still, I am tremendously excited to see the drama, particularly since Karita Mattila's 2004 performances of the final scene with the Boston Symphony re-awakened my obsession with the opera (discovered at 14) and gave birth to a rich fascination with Oscar Wilde's play.

All this seems faint and stretched out in the distance like a mirage. Check back here and read as the adventure unfolds . . .

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

You're being watched

Most people, I think, aren't aware that everything they do on the internet is tracked and recorded somewhere. I can see this clearly when I check my site meter. This useful tool tells me the IP address of every visitor to my page. Along with this information, I'm aware of the location of the user, the system they're using, the operating system and the web browser. And I also know what search terms were entered in which search engine, and which pages of mine were visited, and the length of each visit. Yes, I have all of that information.

And if you've sent me an email, I have your IP address and I know exactly when you're reading my blog.

Isn't this all nice to know?

Ah, the things I've learned . . .

Friday, August 11, 2006

Summer Confessions, Madonna and Mariah in Miami

Thanks to Sarah for issuing a challenge and bringing me back to the blogosphere.

It's been a busy summer, folks. Can't reveal it all (alas, there are limits to these confessions), but I will say that, above all, this has been a summer of music. Not in the usual sense, as I attended no classical performances. Rather, I fully embraced my fantasy of being a conservatory student (not something I'd want in reality, trust me; I like being a scholar of literature very, very much). To this end, I continued beginning piano, resumed voice lessons, and took a full, private course in solfege. That's a lot of work.

So what did I accomplish? Well, I can play scales and chords on the piano, and a couple pieces. I can play my vocal and solfege exercises. There's some progress.

As for the ear, I can wake up in the morning and sing middle C. From that middle C, I can sing a C-scale. From there, I can sing other scales. And intervals. One project for next year: working on all of the major scales.

Most significantly, I've made great progress in singing. It finally clicked: I now know where the tension should be (in the abdomen) and where it should not be (in the neck). When I'm singing with proper support, my feet feel firmly placed on the ground, and up to my abs I'm a firm pedestal. From just above my hips, I'm a sort of genie. Very flexible, waving around, in my imagination. The mouth opens very wide, and there's a space at the back of my throat. Because of this space, I'm able to produce an open, clear tone.

So that was one thing, as far as the voice is concerned. The other: range expansion. I recently sang my highest and lowest pitches. Lowest: C#2. Highest: D7. Yes, I sing in a full five octaves. Since this range expansion occurred after my lessons, I've been careful not to overdo it by spending too much time in the extremes. So, since I'm a sopranist, I avoid the bottom (which can damage the purity of the falsetto), and, at the top, I avoid the whistle register. (I sing up to F#6, the F# above soprano high C, without any breaks, so that's my typical top pitch every day.)

So there: my music news.

But there are other confessions to share. While I attended no classical performances this summer, I did catch Madonna and Mariah Carey on tour in Miami. Madonna ended the first leg of her Confessions Tour with two shows at the American Airlines Arena in Miami. Mariah, on the heels of her very successful The Emancipation of Mimi, opened her new tour at the same venue less than a couple weeks later.

I caught Madonna at her very last show before she took it to Europe. It was July 23rd, a balmy Sunday. But it was even hotter inside than outside. I was barely moving, and yet sweat was trickling down my face. Reportedly, Madonna is under the impression that the heat preserves her voice. This is of course laughable, because Madonna was never known as a great singer. I mean, Jane Eaglen sings Bruennhilde at air-conditioned venues around the world and she hardly needs such a bizarre request. As Mariah herself has said, it's humidity that the voice needs, not warmth. Duh.

Anyway, I'm happy to report that Madonna's voice is actually in great shape. She's sounding better than she ever has. I caught her Drowned World tour in 2001, and thought she sounded rather good. But she's been working very hard at it, and it's quite rewarding to see her emerge from that multi-ton disco ball and unfurl the long phrases of "Future Lovers", each phrase in one giant breath. And her attention to keeping a consistent vibrato, even on the lowest pitches, deserves mention. NBC will broadcast the concert, recorded in London, sometime this fall, and I'd like you compare the live versions of "Like a Virgin" and "Live to Tell" with the studio recordings, which are, in my opinion, pretty much unlistenable (those screamed top notes and faked low notes!).

The show was two hours of FUN. Madonna loads the show with symbolism (eroticized horses at the opening, X-rays of broken bones, a giant cross--and in Rome, an Islamic moon-and-star and a Star of David, each painted on the chest of a male dancer), but keeps its polysemy whole by not commenting on any possible meanings. It's just there to enrich the experience.

What I'll remember most about the show, perhaps, is that something went wrong. As is well known, Madonna is a perfectionist. So it was strange to see her out of her element. During "Let It Will Be," she danced alone up and down the main catwalk. She was very naughty during this number. Before she sang, she put her hand down the front of her pants, removed it, brought to her lips, and licked a finger. Yup, that's the Madonna we know and love! While singing, she caressed an audience member's hat, then donned it, then threw it back into the mosh. Her dancing was frenetic and looked like she was about to collapse. From what I've heard, she danced like this at all of the shows.

But while on the main catwalk, at the center of the arena, she kept repeating the words "Let it will be," and eventually collapsed on her belly and exclaimed, "FUCK!" and sang something like, "I forgot what I'm supposed to sing!" The next minute or two, as her band tried to improvise so she could finish the song, my jaw dropped as I saw the most famous woman in the world in a very vulnerable moment. It seemed as though she wouldn't be able to continue. The song ended with a ritardando on "Let . . . it . . . will . . . be," as Madonna threw herself down on the stairs at center stage. She drank water and spoke to us for a little while. "We're having technical difficulties. In my brain!" She added that when she messes up, the band does too. Adorably, she asked, "Do you forgive me?" She then commented on the heat. "Is it hot in here?" Um, yeah. She said something about "global warming" entering the arena. She asked if she should talk to Mr. Bush about it. "Could you imagine the two of us in the same room!?" She regained her wits and sang a beautiful "Drowned World."

The end of the show was probably the most exciting. Her "Lucky Star" was very fun, complete with a cape that lights up (very kitschy), and the bass line from "Hung Up" (well, ABBA's "Gimme Gimme Gimme") entered slowly and sinuously. What an awesome closing number! She has had problems with the sustained vocal lines of the song (see her Grammys performance), but she was vocally strong that night. Hm, maybe there's something to the heat.

As we exited the arena, giant bolts of lightening had everyone running to their cars. Before we got to ours, the rain came down as heavily as it ever had, and we were soaked to the bones. But we all needed to be cooled off after Madonna.

I wish I could say the same of Mariah. Her show on August 5th was pretty close to being a disaster. The main problem is that Mariah focuses way too much on how she looks. She is extremely self-conscious. And poor costume designs did not help. She's at her best when she stands and sings. The worst number was probably "Breakdown," which was clearly lip-synched (so was "Fantasy"). During "Breakdown," she performed ridiculous antics with a chair while wearing an equally ridiculous red bustier. Another disaster was "My All," during which Mariah kept missing the same note and became very self-conscious, visibly trembling.

"Heartbreaker" was beautifully delivered, as was "Honey." The best number of the night was "Fly Like a Bird," a song I'd never heard, as I do not own the new CD (or any of her CDs, for that matter). Mariah usually holds back and does not sustain long climactic notes, but she did at the end of this one, and also sang a gorgeous slide well above high C and held it. This was Mariah at her best.

If I have more to add, I'll do so. Sarah has requested that I list the 19 2006-07 performances for which I already have tickets, and I will do so sometime soon, although more tickets will be purchased in the next few days, making the list even longer.

During the next three weeks or so, I will be hard at work finishing up unfinished business before I leave for Paris. I hope to be a more consistent blogger while there. There will be a lot to report on . . .