Friday, May 26, 2006

Happy Ending

Performances attended this season:

Joseph Volpe gala: Conductors: Marco Armiliato, James Conlon, Plácido Domingo, Valery Gergiev, Peter Schneider, Patrick Summers, Singers: Ildar Abdrazakov, Roberto Alagna, Stephanie Blythe, Olga Borodina, Dwayne Croft, Natalie Dessay, Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming, Juan Diego Flórez, Mirella Freni, Susan Graham, Denyce Graves, Thomas Hampson, Ben Heppner, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Salvatore Licitra, Karita Mattila, Waltraud Meier, James Morris, René Pape, Samuel Ramey, Ruth Ann Swenson, Kiri Te Kanawa, Ramón Vargas, Deborah Voigt, Frederica von Stade, Dolora Zajick (Met Opera, New York, 5/20); Handel's "Rodelinda" (Met Opera, New York, 5/19); Wagner's "Parsifal" (Met Opera, New York, 5/18); Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Jordan Hall, Boston, 5/13); Wagner's "Lohengrin" (Met Opera, New York, 5/6); Handel's "Rodelinda": broadcast performance (Met Opera, New York, 5/6); Puccini's "Tosca" (Met Opera, New York, 5/5); Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman (SH, Boston, 4/26); Beethoven's "Fidelio" (Met Opera, New York, 4/8); Massenet's "Manon": broadcast performance (Met Opera, New York, 4/8); Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" (Met Opera, New York, 4/7); Boston Symphony Orchestra, Gil Shaham: Mozart (SH, Boston, 4/6); Boston Symphony Orchestra, Joshua Bell: Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Brahms (SH, Boston, 4/1); New World Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas, Lilli Paasikivi: Webern, Mahler, Schubert (Lincoln Theatre, Miami Beach, 3/25 and 3/26); Boston Symphony Orchestra, Yo-Yo Ma: Ligeti, Schumann, Strauss (SH, Boston, 3/17); Boston Symphony Orchestra: Schoenberg and Beethoven (SH, Boston, 3/2); Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Levine, Johan Botha, Karita Mattila, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Paul Groves: Schoenberg's "Gurrelieder" (SH, Boston, 2/23 and 2/25); Ewa Podles (Jordan Hall, Boston, 2/17); "Romeo and Juliet" (American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, 2/16); Boston Symphony Chamber Players, James Levine, Ben Heppner, Anja Silja: Beethoven and Schoenberg (SH, Boston, 1/22); Boston Symphony Orchestra, James Levine, Christine Brewer, Jill Grove, Ben Heppner, Rene Pape: Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" (SH, Boston, 1/19 and 1/20); Renee Fleming (Broward Center, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 1/17); Renee Fleming (Kravis Center, West Palm Beach, FL, 1/13); Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, James Levine, Renee Fleming: Tchaikovsky, Berg, Strauss, Wagner (Carnegie Hall, New York, 1/8); Puccini's "La Boheme" (Met Opera, New York, 12/3); Bizet's "Carmen" (Met Opera, New York, 12/3); Picker's "An American Tragedy" world premiere (Met Opera, New York, 12/2); Dolly Parton (Mizner Park Ampitheatre, Boca Raton, FL, 11/27); Boston Symphony Orchestra, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Heidi Grant Murphy: Strauss, Lieberson (east coast premiere), Mahler (SH, Boston, 11/25); Deborah Voigt (SH, Boston, 11/13); Wynton Marsalis (Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, Cambridge, 10/30); Cecilia Bartoli (SH, Boston, 10/23); WDR Orchestra Cologne: Strauss's "Daphne" (Carnegie Hall, New York, 10/15); Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" (Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York, 10/15); Boston Symphony Orchestra, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Dawn Upshw: Ives, Foss, Carter, Gershwin (SH, Boston, 10/7); Boston Symphony Orchestra, Simon Preston: Berlioz, Debussy, Milhaud, Saint-Saens (SH, Boston, 10/1); Yo-Yo Ma all-Bach solo recital, Celebrity Series Opening Night Gala (Symphony Hall, Boston, 9/25); Massenet's "Manon" (Met Opera, New York, 9/24); Strauss's "Ariadne auf Naxos" season premiere (Met Opera, New York, 9/24); Verdi's "Falstaff" season premiere (Metropolitan Opera, New York, 9/23); Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert, Jazz at Lincoln Center (Rose Theater, New York, 9/17); Bizet's "Carmen" (American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, 9/8)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Volpe gala

It has come to my attention that I have developed a reputation for being an incorrigible tease. Sorry about that, folks. If you really want the goods, send me an email and encourage me--It helps to know that people actually want to read what I have to say and see my photos, etc.

Yes, I went to the Volpe gala. Yes, I was in the tenth row of prime orchestra. Yes, I have photos--and more. After being upbraided by an usher in the front row of grand tier for snapping photos of the Lohengrin curtain calls, I was somewhat timid, but with hundreds of flashes going off at the end of the gala program, and during Renee's song that closed the show, I clearly wasn't vulnerable.

I don't think there was a dull moment in the entire show. So many highlights, but if you put me on the spot (this in whatever order they come to me): Denyce Graves's ridonkulous low note, delivered with a mischievous smile; Stephanie Blythe's I'm-gonna-blow-the-roof-off fff note; Dmitri's astonishingly beautiful tone, impossible breath control, and genuinely involved acting; the adorable antics of Kiri Te Kanawa and Frederica von Stade; Renee Fleming's sumptuous Verdi; the delicious magic carpet ride of the Cosi trio; Ben Heppner in excellent voice; Karita's unusual and exciting take on "Vilja"; Karita's chemistry with Thomas Hampson in the tuneful "Lippen schweigen"; I actually liked the Ben Moore opening number; "When I have sung my songs" (not a new song, Sarah) delivered with delicious legato by Renee; watching the singers sitting at the table during "Parto, parto" and "Una furtiva lagrima" was delicious fun; the Fidelio finale; the ovations; hearing Kiri's voice again, and her elegant delivery; the scene changes; the beautiful set from Don Carlo; the Act III prelude of Lohengrin; Placido Domingo's large steel-and-diamond voice; the catchy and fun "L'Italiana" duet, with its staccato coloratura; being introduced to some music that's new to me (half of the Die tote Stadt; the Berlioz; half of the Domingo; the Don Carlo arias; the La Favorite aria; others--I did prepare for some of these by means of iTunes downloads, however)

Details to come. Eventually.


I just read Tommasini, and I wanted to note that, as you can see from the original time stamp of this post, I used the word "sumptuous" to describe Renee's Verdi and "elegant" to describe Kiri's Korngold before reading the article. I agree with everything he says, except for his takes on Dessay and Freni. This was my first time hearing Dessay live, and I have to admit that I was surprised by the ragged, dry, unhealthy-sounding tone. That loud high E-flat (if my ear was working properly--I don't carry my pitch fork either, Sieglinde) wanted to impress me, but it made me frown. As for Freni, her speech was rambling and I didn't get the sense that the audience was with her. But, then again, I was sitting next to a woman . . . who didn't know who Renee Fleming was.

UPDATE (12:45PM, 5/22/06):

I'm going to post updates whenever I get a chance, throughout the day.

For the middle bit of Part I, the Met used "Scenery for Act I of La Traviata designed by Franco Zeffirelli". While beautiful, it is also very busy, and dim lighting made it extremely difficult to see the singers. Even for me--and remember where I was sitting. Well, actually, I was rather to the right, and the singers clearly had been instructed to stand stage right, so that didn't help. Anyway, all of this, plus my postnasal-dripping-and-throat-clearing-and-coughing neighbor to my left, and my I-can't-stand-sitting-through-this-why-is-my-husband-making-me-do-this neighbor to my right, distracted me too much. However, what's fortunate is that, while my immediate experience is often affected by these annoyances, my memory of the performance generally remains untarnished.

I have not yet listened to my recording of the radio broadcast (thanks again, Harvey) because I want the memory of those sounds to linger in my head; I don't want to erase them, overwrite them with the inferior electronic substitute. Earlier today, as I was reflecting on Renee Fleming's performance of the Verdi, it came to me: her voice was like moonlight and like gentle, swaying breezes. How appropriate, give the text of the aria! Sometimes I think we forget that voice is nothing but a cascade of waves. Renee Fleming's performance reminded me that voice travels through the air. As she breathes, the muscles of her lower abdomen expand as the diaphragm pushes down and the lungs inflate. Like the spindle of Rumplstilskin, turning straw intro gold, Renee converts the air into something even more precious, and its value is located precisely in its evanescence.

Following Kiri Te Kanawa's "Mariettas Lied", silver and gentle, the set descended into the depths of the Met, marking an ending. With any hope, there will be another time. As the song says ("Mariettas Lied" is after all a song withing a song, or a song within an aria), we hope that there will be an afterlife, that love--that we--will find a new place in death. If the performance lives for only the short time we are in the hall, then the end of every performance marks a death, and we all hope for the chance the live it again. Not to re-live it (because once the moment passes, it can only be an archive, a memory, a souvenir, a souvenir), but to live something as good, as blissful, as happy.

UPDATE (5:50PM, 5/22/06):

I waxed philosophical in my last update; now it's time for some gossip . . . well, "gossip" to the extent that I engage in it. (I have a nasty web site in mind where you can find the skankiest opera gossip imaginable. Would never give it the honor of a link.) So, who did I see in the glittering hall?

Well, I had a very moving moment just seconds after entering the hall. I got on the subway down the block from my Upper West Side hotel and came through the lower level of the Met. Ascended the stairs and, heading to the doors between orchestra right and orchestra center, who do I see out of the corner of my eye but . . . Judy Drucker? Drucker, impresaria extraordinaire, has brought the stars of classical music and opera to South Florida stages for some four decades. She opens every performance with a bubbly speech.

Indeed, it was her unamplified speaking voice that I heard first at Dade County Auditorium the night I heard my first great classical voice. Yup. She, quite literally, introduced me to Kiri Te Kanawa.

I approached Drucker and told her I'm a fan, that I'm from South Florida, and that I now live in Boston and go to Harvard. She was touched and she held my hand as asked me my name and told me about next season. She said she'd remember my name when I call. And indeed, when I ran into her during intermission, she remembered it.

But before my second encounter with Drucker, there was another encounter (albeit a silent one) with another celebrity who knows my name--and even knows how to spell it. Yes, just as I exited from the side doors of right orchestra to head to the men's room, who do I see but Renee Fleming? In a black suit. Missing an opportunity to say hi (I had just seen her the night before and told her I would be attending), I watched as she pointed to a friend and pursed her lips; the two hugged and kissed as they reached one another.

Post-men's-room, I contemplated taking a stroll on the plaza, so I headed up to the landing near the ticket takers, and found Denyce Graves standing there in all her splendor. A friend, or somebody, asked her when she would be singing, and she replied, "I just sang! You didn't hear me!?"

Barbara Cook sat in my section, in the first or second row, and spent a good deal of the hour-long intermission chatting while standing between center and right orchestra.

And, of course, there was Barbara Walters, quite conspicuous in the center of Center Parterre. Diamonds, diamonds, diamonds. She has a regal bearing, one that's rather self-conscious and affected, but the woman looks good.

Then there was the stage door. Lovely Kari, who attended a show nearby, greeted me there and told me that she'd heard someone say that Kiri Te Kanawa had already left. I noticed her absence during "When I Have Sung My Songs" and the final curtain call, so this made sense.

The freakline (to borrow a term from Sieglinde) wasn't very long, but we did see a few stars, and, later, across the plaza, had a brief exchange of shouted niceties with Frederica von Stade.

UPDATE (7:30PM, 5/23/06):

I thought it might be a good idea to post some pictures of the program.

Immediately upon entering the hall, I noticed a sign announcing some changes. Ruth Ann Swenson had called in sick, and Salvatore Licitra was stuck somewhere out of the country. There were also a couple changes of conductor, but nothing noteworthy.

As for the program itself, there was the typical Playbill plus an off-white insert listing patrons, sponsors, etc. This insert also included the texts of the two Ben Moore songs. Here are excerpts from that insert:

The Playbill was rather a precious thing. During intermission, the regular piles of extras were nowhere to be found. I asked an usher for one (an untainted copy, as a souvenir), and he reached into a vault and reluctantly handed me another. Here are excerpts from that pristine copy:

In addition to the program and the insert, there was a book called The Volpe Years: 1990-2006 (also published by Playbill), detailing Volpe's legacy season by season. Copies of this item flooded the halls during intermission, and I caught several patrons picking up extras. I took one extra. Some really neat pictures in it.

More updates to come.

UPDATE (10:30PM, 5/23/06):

Here's some video of the ovations:

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Last Rodelinda at the Met

Andreas Scholl says goodbye to Renee Fleming (I swear, she's there) and to us after a brilliant run in his Met debut.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, half a life, and rain

Walked in a few minutes ago and rolled the blinds down. I hear the sound of rain and sirens. My feet are cold. It's been raining all week in Boston. The basement of my building is flooded. I've heard that it rains more in Boston than in Seattle (and that Boston is a windier city than Chicago).

Twelve years ago tonight, I sat in the penultimate row of center orchestra at Dade County Auditorium in Miami. Ten days shy of thirteen, I had somehow persuaded my mother to buy to tickets to a certain soprano's concert, her only South Florida appearance (until a Palm Beach gala, which I missed, some eight years later). I was in the seventh grade and, inspired by four years of music class with a charismatic teacher, had become fervently interested in classical music and opera. I started with a budget recording of the Carmen and L'Arlesienne suites, and branched out to collections of opera arias. At the time I attended this concert, my first live classical performance, I owned about two of such CDs. But I read with great interest and curiosity, and I had subscribed to BBC Music earlier that year. Each issue came with a CD. On the cover of the second issue I received, dated March 1994, was Kiri Te Kanawa. I read the cover story and was intrigued by this stunningly beautiful woman. Several weeks later, I saw an ad in the Miami Herald announcing her concert. I just had to go.

Now, I didn't know how to pronounce her name, and all I had heard of her voice were the two excerpts from Cosi fan tutte on The Ultimate Opera Collection. But I was excited as my father and I drove to Downtown Miami. On the highway, a sleek green Cadilllac stretch limousine passed us, and remained just in front of us as both vehicles approched the concert venue. The limousine pulled into a small parking lot adjacent to the stage door, and I watched as Dame Kiri stepped out of the rear, elegant in a suit and dark shades, carrying in her arms, as she would a large bouquet, her colorful gown wrapped in tissue. Julius Rudel exited from shotgun and they headed inside.

I knew it was a beautiful voice. I knew it was a great voice. I heard a few cracks, a flaw that did not last for very long. But I knew none of the music that she sang; indeed, I knew very little music at that time. Even "O mio babbino caro" was new to me, though I recognized a few bars from the radio spot promoting the concert.

On May 13, 1994, I heard my first great operatic voice. Twelve years later, I'm about to close a season during which I have attended some forty-two performances at the Metropolitan Opera, the Boston Symphony, and Celebrity Series. And at the last performance of the season, the Volpe gala, Dame Kiri and Frederica von Stade are scheduled to sing "A guarda sorella," the very recording of which introduced me to their voices.

Reading Dmitri Hvorstovsky's bio in the program of his Jordan Hall recital, I noticed that only one other singer's name is mentioned: "Dmitri Hvorostovsky has released numerous recordings . . . including . . . Verdi's La Traviata with Kiri Te Kanawa . . ." That recording, my introduction to Hvorstovky when I received it as a Christmas gift in 1994, fails to capture the beauty and richness of that voice. I first heard him live in last season's Faust, and his brooding presence as Valentin burned into my memory.

[I have to get dinner . . . to be continued]


I'm resuming this post at 5:06am. Ah, where does the time go?

As the house lights dimmed, in preparation for Dmitri's entrance, I noticed something: they were completely extinguished. It's generally the artist who makes such a request. Why would Dmitri want us to be in complete darkness? Surely he's aware that most of us don't speak Russian. Needless to say, I had great difficulty following the texts for three of the four groups. The French group was no easier because, though French is my second language, Dmitri's French diction (as I noticed in Faust) is, well, not very clear.

How I love Jordan Hall for voice! Symphony Hall is also a good venue for voice, but Jordan seats half (or fewer) patrons, and its delicious intimacy sets the stage for stunning recitals. Dmitri blew us out of the water with his gorgeous voice and his cool charisma. He is an intense performer who needs to focus, to concentrate. Perhaps this explains the darkness of the house? Surprisingly, the audience applauded after each song. Renee Fleming would have told us (as she always does) to hold our applause until the end of each group "to keep the continuity," but he just shut his eyes in anticipation of the disruptive applause and did his best to ignore it.

He opened with five Tchaikovsky songs. Dmitri has a cool presence, but he also has a killer smile, and he uses it to great effect. He flashed his teeth during the last song, "Does the day reign," and after the loud cadence, he smiled again and looked up, maintaining a somewhat self-conscious bearing during the long piano postlude. The sheer beauty of his voice and his flawless singing are enough to endear you to him, but these moments of vulnerability make you a true believer.

Dmitri has a clear connection witht he folk elements of Mussorgsky's "Songs of Dance and Death," and it was pure pleasure hearing him sing these four songs. I wanted to commit murder when the audience appplauded right during the suspenseful pause in "Serenade," between the phrases "Be still" and "you are mine." It's Death speaking, and it's a chilling moment. Dmitri made a threatening gesture with his hand as he pumped out the volume. "Russian Dance," which followed had some fun moments of folk-like singing, where Dmitri even used falsetto briefly. I got really frustrated during the long last piece, because I couldn't see the text and couldn't follow. Dmitri, this lights-out thing isn't such a great idea.

I started studying voice last summer, and I learned that in preparing a piece, it's important to think of how you're going to tell this story. Where is your emotional connection to the piece? Dmitri smiled broadly during "Phidyle," the first song of the Duparc group in the second half. He was intimately connected to this song. Dmitri, whom were you thinking of? Some of the softest singing of the evening came in the gentle pleas ("Rest!") before the last verse.

Dmitri really knows how to use his arms. It's almost uncanny. At the end of "Soupir," he held his arms up and quietly sung the last "toujours," the sadness of "jamais" evoked by the final piano chord. Yes, it ended on a sigh. It was a moment, a small moment, where everything came together so perfectly--voice, piano, gesture.

The last Duparc song had the most moving text of the evening, "The Wave and the Bell," a poem by François Coppe. Dmitri looks positively frightened as he sang the last two verses, about a dream that leads the poet to ponder "the fruitless toil and the endless strife / Of which human life, alas, is made."

The Rachmaninov group was pure ecstacy. "In the silence of the mysterious night" is a terribly difficulty song, as I have written elsewhere [link to Podles]. Dmitri sounded a bit controlled in parts, but he cherished the word "mu," holding the consonant in the word's penultimate appearance, and, a couple phrases later, holding the vowel, which closes the song, extra long.

Classic brooding characterized "Alone again," during the second verse of which which Dmitri swayed from side to side. As he sang the haunting final three lines of "An excerpt from A. Musset--Loneliness," he looked up with he most desperate expression on his face. One gesture that's almost impossible to describe took place at the last line of "A Dream." I can only call it a slight shrug--his arms swung ever-so-slightly as he sang "But that was only a dream!", a melancholic reflection of homesickness. He closed the program with "Spring Waters." On the last word, "nej," the sound poured out of him. It just poured out. Instant standing ovation.

People yelled out requests--really, these people were too excited for their own good--and he said that he's going to offer us Verdi. He launched into the most chilling "Credo" I've heard, capped with a hearty, demonic laugh. The crowd went insane. He grinned mischievously before beginning the second piece, which the audience seemed to recognize. Though I understood some of the Italian words ("sei tu!"), I really don't knoww the piece. For the third encore, he came out by himself, and after bowing he sat at the piano and got us to sit down, then promptly stood up again. What a joker! Such a playful sense of humor. Dmitri. His voice is rich and even, and has a smooth tone with the texture and color of melted dark chocolate. We all bathed in it. He introduced his last encore as a "favorite Russian folk song," and he sang a gorgeous, haunting, and highly melismatic tune a cappella. With dynamic variation and a wide range, this was sort of a kaleidescope of his voice and a perfect farewell.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Three sopranos, a tenor, a countertenor, and a bubble boy

I would have posted sooner, but it's reading period at Harvard and, while I haven't exactly been reading, I've been very preoccupied gathering course notes in preparation for final exams and collecting research for term papers. Also, I have been cleaning my place (a major task) and catching up on sleep.

Though I never really posted on my previous trip to the Met, which took place four weeks prior to my most recent trip of May 5-7, I figured I would just go ahead and write about the weekend I spent attending Tosca with Deborah Voigt, Rodelinda with Renee Fleming, and Lohengrin with Karita Mattila. Make no mistake: each was the star of her production. The image above, taken from the inside cover of a Met subcription brochure postmarked April 25, 2005, attests to that. (These are the things you find when you're cleaning.) Interestingly, we see Renee and Karita in photos from the very productions I saw.

On Monday the 1st, I learned that I would happen to be in New York during David Blaine's spherical immersion. Unlike other music lovers (see here and here), I'm something of a believer. More on that later.

In a nutshell, I was significantly disappointed by Voigt's Tosca and the whole show in general; I was pleased with Renee's performance but for me it was really Scholl's afternoon; and, while Karita's Elsa was truly something to behold (despite the frequent absence that evening of her trademark shimmer), it was Klaus Florian Vogt who really floored me.

More details to come. In the meantime, here are some photos. (You need to click on the photos to see the full-size versions.)