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


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


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, 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.