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 . . .