Sunday, December 09, 2007

"World indoor premiere" of Golijov's Azul with Yo-Yo Ma; Bummer, pt. 3

Here is where I'll write on my bounty of Yo-Yo Ma encounters, if I get a chance.

Bummer update: on Saturday, I missed Iphigénie at the Met - for which I was to be seated in Parterre Box 1 - to attend an all-day conference at Harvard. It was absolutely worth it this time, however! I'm going to try to make it to the Met for Friday's performance. Anyone have a ticket?

Friday, November 30, 2007

BSO, James Levine, and Renee Fleming perform new Henri Dutilleux and rare orchestrated Duparc

Last night, the Boston Symphony Orchestra under James Levine performed the American premiere of Henri Dutilleux's Le temps l'horloge, a group of three songs featuring soloist Renee Fleming. When the nine-minute cycle ended, Fleming shielded her eyes from the bright stage lights and searched for M. Dutilleux in the crowd. The 91-year-old composer, seated in the orchestra's center aisle, about a dozen rows back, slowly stood up and, with the aid of a cane, proceeded to make his way to the stage. The audience, witnessing the frail figure of a venerable man, rose to its feet and bathed him in cheers and applause.

At this afternoon's performance, the same thing happened, but this time I got it on video.

More commentary to come.



[Note: Last night, Fleming wore her green Dior mermaid gown, but this afternoon she wore something different, with different earrings, no Rolex, and the large ring was on her left hand, not her right. Yes, the fashion report is crucial.]

UPDATE: I'll also report on the amazing experience of the Silk Road Ensemble's performance of member Jonathan Ganelsman's arrangement of Hajibeyov's Layla and Majnun.

UPDATE - (Sunday, December 2, 1:16pm):
So, it's now Sunday. I was lucky enough to attend all three concerts of the Berlioz/Dutilleux/Duparc/Debussy program. Here are some observations.

The program was too long. At the first concert, I noted that there were some magical moments in the Berlioz (about 45 minutes of orchestral excerpts from Romeo et Juliette, which I saw complete at the BSO three years ago with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Matthew Polenzani), but it was just too long for a program whose raison d'etre was the American premiere of a new work by a revered composer, who wrote the piece for The Diva. I mean, 45 minutes of Berlioz followed by 9 minutes of Dutilleux? What gives? I skipped the Berlioz at the second concert, but decided to give it another try at the third concert. Sure enough, having heard the vocal pieces twice already, I was still as excited as ever but the anticipation wasn't unbearable, so I did very much enjoy the Berlioz. The love scene is so tender, so quiet, the theme very simple, with a limpid quality that the orchestra realized so gently and lovingly.

Renee did the right thing in switching to a black dress with gloves for the second and third concerts. I didn't think the green Dior was right for this program. :)

She was in splendid voice throughout. The seamless legato was there, as was the trademark creamy tone. The first song, "Le Temps l'horloge," has a start-and-stop rhythm that reflects the text, which contrasts the seen and unseen passing of time. Time is "seen" when it passes in the clock; otherwise, it passes "among [in] us noiselessly / like a thief in the night." The piece ends with a magical rising flourish and just disappears - it's brilliant. In his pre-concert talk on Thursday Mark Mandel said the song evaporates into space and time.

The second song, "Le masque," sketches the strange, vague "Visage" of a mask. Renee tells the story and it's kind of creepy and mysterious. In the program notes Thomas May observes, "The vocal line's wide-ranging intervals seem palpably to trace the object" (59). We get a vague, broad sense of what this thing is, but we have only an outline. On the last line, there's a huge interval on "cristaux," and on the second syllable Renee's voice sounds exactly like crystals.

The third song, "Le dernier poeme," is very sad. The poem is only about eight short lines long, but the word "shadow" appears six times. The music is appropriately shadowy; it's a quiet lament.

Hearing orchestrated Duparc songs is a rare pleasure. Hearing Renee sing "L'invitation au voyage" and "Extase" is a highlight of my concert-going life thus far. We all knows these songs; just imagine them sung to perfection.

Renee's French throughout was superb. I should note, however, that she has a tendency to paraphrase or change words, which is normal, though distracting for those who know the texts. It's funny because speaking a language probably makes it easier to confuse words. :)

La Mer was beautifully sketched. And Levine really loves to highlight the Wagner in anything. Fine by me.

Thursday concert was festive; Friday's was happy (lots of smiles from Renee and Levine); and Saturday's was somber. Last night Renee brought out the sadness and longing in the texts. Those attending the New York concert tomorrow, please get in touch with me with your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bummer, pt. 2

So, the NEC basically sucks. Don't [] announce that you're hosting a Renee Fleming master class that's open to the public and then turn around and [] restrict it to your "students, staff, faculty and board members." Sometimes events at my institution (Harvard) are restricted to ID-holders, and that practice is perfectly understandable. But really, don't tell people they're invited to the party and then turn around and uninvite them. []

Meanwhile, this afternoon I attended instead a soporific lecture at Harvard's New College Theater; the event was, however, saved by the glorious Silk Road Ensemble, led by Yo-Yo Ma. The group--currently in residence at Harvard--is rehearsing a chamber version of the 1908 opera Layla and Manjun by Uzeyir Hajibeyov, from Azerbaijan. We heard just a brief excerpt, and we were absolutely floored. The two vocalists, Alim Qasimov and his daughter Fargana Qasimova, closed their eyes and delivered some of the most awe-inspiring singing I have ever heard. I don't have a ticket but I am surely going to make every effort to work my way into the audience for Friday's free "work-in-progress" performance of the Ensemble's arrangement of the full opera.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bummer

I'm about to call the Met to donate my parterre ticket to this afternoon's Madama Butterfly at the Met - its last performance this season. I just have too much work. :(

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Wallflowers at the Somerville Theater in Davis Square

1) Jakob Dylan is an extremely good-looking man. This should be mentioned more often.

2) I hate drunk people.

SET LIST (with my binoculars I could read it pretty clearly):

Shy of the Moon
Building
6th Avenue
Passenger
-------
Hand Me Down
Mourning Train
Delivered
Up from Under
God Says Nothing Back
God Don't Make Lonely Girls
Witness
-------
Wasteland
Sick
Closer to You
Nearly Beloved
Everybody out of the Water
--------
Baby Bird
3 Marlenas
Everything I Need

SOMERVILLE THEATER, SOMERVILLE, MA
OCTOBER 31

'Nuff Said: Golijov's Ainadamar in Boston

Following today's matinee performance at the Cutler Majestic, there was an "Artist Talkback" moderated by Richard Dyer. To close, he asked of the four-person panel, "Can art save the world?" Dawn Upshaw eagerly gestured for the microphone and simply answered, "Yes." And that was that.

Today's performance reminded me of the first time I saw Brokeback Mountain. I had read Annie Proulx's story, which moved me immensely, and I thought the film was beautiful, but it also left me cold. I didn't shed a tear. But on the walk home, I realized, as I approached my building, that a massive pool of emotion had been quietly accumulating during the film.

The metaphor serves Ainadamar well, not in the least because the title means "Fountain of Tears." Tears were shed during the performance, but the work ends quietly, almost soothingly. No crashing fortissimo chords. It just fades, folding into memory.

And then there's the walk home.

I have more thoughts to share - I have to head to Somerville Theater for The Wallflowers...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tori Amos in Boston

So, after Kiri's beautifully sung and extraordinarily satisfying recital on Sunday, I thought I'd be pretty bored at Tori Amos's concert - especially since I found her Paris stop on this tour to be a snooze (she was extremely subdued that night), ditto recent TV appearances (Leno a couple weeks ago). The new album has a silly concept (four characters that are not Tori, and their names come from Greek goddesses and it's all very kitschy).

On this tour, Tori starts "Act I" as one of the four characters that are not Tori, and changes into her Tori costume for the rest of the show. It's sorta interesting in a performative sense (think Judith Butler), but, eh. I went to the fourth show on the tour, in Paris, and there Tori debuted Clyde, the fourth character she presented. Tonight in Boston, it was Clyde again.

I wasn't disappointed to see the same character, for two reasons. One, Clyde's makeup and wig suit Tori extremely well - she looked lovely. Two, Clyde has some nice songs, and "Bouncing Off of Clouds" is a killer opening number.

The voice was a bit weak in this song, her current single, but it was out in full force for the rest of the show, starting with "Little Earthquakes." Tori uses both chest and head extensively - she spends much time in her gravel-toned lower register, and for special moments she soars into a shimmering soprano realm, often above the staff. In "Little Earthquakes," she dazzled with her coloratura runs near the end. "Sugar" (!), "Northern Lad", and the closing number, "Hey Jupiter" (Dakota version), all featured extended passages that allowed her to shine vocally. It's a classical sound, very unusual in rock/alternative music, and Tori exploits it extremely well.

Her phrasing is never careless. She means the text. The gorgeous lyrical interlude of "Space Dog" tugged at the heart strings, and "Merman" made me cry. There was another song I did not recognize - perhaps an improv (she does an improv at each of the shows on this tour, and she did one tonight on border-crossing, but this isn't the song I'm referring to) - that was the most moving thing I had ever heard her song. Something about a well and having an ocean to swim in. I thought it might be dedicated to her niece, who was in the audience. She said her niece called her a "MILF" and keeps her "fucking hot" (Tori touched her ass and made a sizzling noise).

I haven't even mentioned her keyboard-playing. She had a Boesendorfer grand piano (as always) as well as an organ and a keyboard. Many times she straddled her piano bench, her left hand working the piano, her right hand on the organ or keyboard. At the opening of "Bells for Her," her mic had come undone at the back, and she kept playing like this, at times trying to fix it with one hand, until she gave a cut throat signal to a stage hand who came to fix her mic pack as she continued playing. Once her mic has been fixed, she began singing as if nothing had happened. Can we say ambidextrous?

There was much impressive playing, but "Cornflake Girl" contains some of the most awe-inspiring and virtuosic passagework you'll ever see at a rock concert.

Tonight was special. It was good to see Tori perform another great show - the Paris show this year was the only disappointing one I have seen, and that may be because just two years earlier I'd heard her solo (where she's best - the current tour is with her band) at four amazingly moving concerts.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Kiri Te Kanawa in Boston

Kiri is an impossible 63 and her voice is as beautiful as ever, her technique just as flawless, her cool elegance just as cool and elegant.

I feel incredibly lucky to have heard the perfect "Morgen!".

Click here for the revised program. I was delighted to hear the two Puccini arias, and Kiri's vamping during the Ginastera number (and her sensuous, idomatic command of Poulenc) suggested that she would make an awesome cabaret singer.

Kiri will always be remembered for her crisp diction, ineffably beautiful voice, and gorgeous stage presence.

When a fly threatened to upstage her [brb]

Friday, October 12, 2007

Drew Faust's Inauguration at Harvard

So, we have a new president. At the inauguration, the use of African and Indian music was very welcome, and Simon Estes gave a beautiful rendition of "Amazing Grace." I enjoyed watching Toni Morrison on the stage. People don't talk about this enough, but her preternaturally striking and unforgettable face, like Beckett's, is as interesting as her prodigious oeuvre. I missed her reading yesterday, but of course I was there at the Louvre about a year ago, where she first read from the novel she's currently writing (still "very, very, very much in progress").

Faust delivered a well-written [brb]

Monday, October 08, 2007

Boston Symphony Orchestra's All-Ravel Programs (Oct. 4th and 6th); Lucia at the Met; Honk! at Harvard Square

I had a fun weekend.

Excellent Interview with Kiri Te Kanawa

You've got to hear Dame Kiri tell the story of her Met debut, make reference to the personal sacrifices she's made for her career, and wistfully state, "Fate doesn't give you that chance," when asked if she would do anything differently.

She's the picture of cool elegance, and she was my first diva.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Natalie Dessay's Lucia at the Met last night

Apparently the Met uploaded the mad scene to YouTube.

UPDATE:

And they're gone. Rats, I didn't get a chance to save. :-/





Thursday, September 20, 2007

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Kiri Te Kanawa saves the Vancouver Recital Society

News from Vancouver:

Because of the ongoing civic strike closing down the Orpheum, fans were worried the much anticipated show [Kiri's first stop on her Farewell Recital Tour] would either be cancelled or moved to a venue, as the Sun reported, like a car dealership.
To accommodate ticket holders the soprano will now perform two shows, one on September 20 at 8 p.m. and another on September 23 at 8 p.m.
"We are most fortunate that Vancouver is the first date on the farewell tour," says Leila Getz, Artistic & Executive Director of the VRS.
"Dame Kiri is willing to come to Vancouver earlier than planned to perform an additional concert in order to accommodate the re-allocation of all ticket holders into the smaller Chan Centre venue. She has been extraordinarily generous."

My understanding is that she agreed to this without doubling her fee.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Should Anna Netrebko shut up?

Recent interviews have shown Anna Netrebko to be something of a flake. Boy is she entertaining. I say give her a reality show. After all, mainstream culture has Paris, Lindsay and Britney. We have Anna.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

omg knock it off, perverts!

Recent search words that led surfers to this blog:

karita mattila breasts

renee fleming's breasts

angela denoke, breasts

nackt or sexy or nude "catherine naglestad" [covering all bases?]

karita mattila nackt

karita mattila salome nude

karita mattila naked picture

elina garanca nude nackt

angela denoke nackt

"angela denoke" breast salome

picture of mouth of a jamaican boa [wtf?]

Friday, August 31, 2007

Better Get to Livin'


Um, Dolly Parton's new single was released on iTunes a couple days ago. Get it.

Her new CD, Backwoods Barbie, will be released in February. After some amazing bluegrass CDs (it was during her promotional tour for the stunning Little Sparrow that I "discovered" her), she's returning to "mainstream" country.

Her first official music site is here. Pending the full site's launch, there's a cool photo slide show and some of her famous quotes.

The paradox of Dolly Parton: she looks so fake, but she's soooo not. She's the real thing...her songwriting, her singing, even her shtick, which always rings true.

Oh, Dolly. I'm just a little happier knowing that you're around and livin'.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I Love YouTube

So, back in the fall of 2004 I missed this because I heard about it too late. I remember I'd had a pretty dreary night and I deeply regretted the chance to see Renee on late-night TV.

That was life pre-YouTube. Well, it's taken a while, but someone has finally uploaded the performance...and what an interesting performance it is! Lots of ornaments in there...it's fun. William Christie told Renee to sing Handel as jazz...she sure listens to him. :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

2006-07: A Final Accounting

OK, so I decided to take a look at my iCal in order to determine the number of performances I attended last season.

The number is...really big.

I can't quite wrap my head around it.

At the end of the 2005-06 season, I listed the performances I attended, and I got some attention for it.

I wouldn't even consider doing such a thing for last season, because I'm not sure it casts a positive light on me. It just shows that I spent a very hedonistic year.

I guess that's what Europe does to an opera buff?

Oh, and a little update: I now have a few tickets in hand...Metropolitan Opera tickets...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Secret Weapon

In a few weeks, I'll unveil a new format, the likes of which remains unchartered territory for shy, anonymous opera bloggers...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Estivation


I last heard an unamplified classical voice on June 19th (Zurich, Renee Fleming singing the words "Ich kann nicht anders werden, nimm mich wie ich bin!"), and I last heard a classical voice on June 22nd (St-Denis, Dawn Upshaw's (amplified) voice gently fading into the unbearably beautiful ending of Ayre). Not attending performances has allowed me to focus on other things in life, such as work, friends, and activities of daily living (haha).

But a couple months of that is enough. I am not well. I'm starving. I'm falling into a depression! Renee, I miss you!

My academic schedule in 2007-08 will make attending performances a bit tricky. But gosh darn it, I'll make it work. This . . . silence . . . has reminded me just how important vocal music is in my life. Recordings don't help at all; they only make me yearn for the real thing. At the moment I feel trapped in an acoustic wasteland, and without one single ticket in hand for next season, I don't see a way out...

Anyone going through a similar withdrawal?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Have a great summer, everybody!


Julia Kleiter, Morten Frank Larsen, and Renee Fleming following a performance of "Arabella" at the Zurich Opera, June 16, 2007. Please link to this blog if you decide to use this photo anywhere.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

About-face: Closing night of Lohengrin at the Bastille

OK, so, I take back what I said about Mireille Delunsch's Elsa. Heard in excellent form last night, she's an outstanding Elsa. Her voice is creamy yet has a steely strength that's ideal for the part's wickedly high tessitura. At certain moments, I fantasized about hearing that voice sing Salome. Her solid acting also moved me. She was every inch the serene blonde girl dreaming about her savior. In the third act, plagued by doubt, she became frantically unhinged, running upstage into the darkness armed with a dim flame, imagining the arrival of the swan to take away her lover and savior.

There are few things as amazing as Ben Heppner on a good night. His clarion, ringing sound, and his musical, intelligent phrasing melt my heart. Last night he sang with relative ease, showing little of the strain that was in full display at the performance I attended last week.

It occurred to me that Ortrud has so very little to sing in the first act, and yet Waltraud Meier seemed to dominate the crowded stage. Her dramatic presence was so powerful that when she emerged on the balcony, at the end of the second act, to glare at Lohengrin and Elsa, standing hand in hand on the opposite balcony, I nearly jumped out of my seat. The expression on her face was so evil that if she had shot me a glance, I swear I would have turned to stone.

The orchestra played splendidly. The trouble in the strings last week was not present last night. I greatly admire the vitality and spontaneity of Gergiev's reading of the score.

The cast was exuberant during multiple curtain calls, and the sold-out crowd was on its feet. I heard very few people around me speaking French; Wagnerites had traveled from all over to witness this star-studded production.

One thing about the staging: last week, I was puzzled that Elsa's brother planted a sapling at the very end of the opera. But last night it made sense. He had been anointed by a knight of the grail, who had emerged from the lush forest symbolic of his faraway land. The planting of a tree in the barren, war-torn wasteland of Brabant is a symbol of hope. As the tree grows and flourishes, so will he. Meier pointed at him and leaned over the balcony, extending her fingers like talons. But she couldn't reach him; evil had been conquered.

On my way to the Bastille, I saw a poster in the Luxembourg RER station, and boy am I glad I did, because I have just ordered a ticket to this:



What luck! Just two days before I leave Paris, Osvaldo Golijov will conduct, at the Festival de St-Denis, the French premiere of Ayre with Dawn Upshaw, Gustavo Santaolalla, and the Andalucian Dogs! What a send-off...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Lohengrin in Paris; Trittico at the Met; 110 in the Shade on Broadway

OK, so a bit of catching up. The highlight of the Met's Trittico (seen on closing night at the Met, with an audience that included Joseph Volpe in the General Manager's box), for me, was the wrenching final scene of Suor Angelica, exquisitely sung by the lustrous Barbara Frittoli. The idea of doing something that can't be undone, and begging for forgiveness--it's heartbreaking. Everyone was in tears. Some were practically bawling. Tissues were passed around. I first saw this opera in Miami some ten years ago. Diana Soviero, one of the great Angelicas, sang that night. Hearing the opera revived the memories of that great performance.

Earlier that day, I caught the matinee of Roundabout's revival of 110 in the Shade. I enjoyed every minute. I really don't care that it's not a great musical. There are no words for Audra McDonald's talents. I got chills when she first sang, with those little maybes. That preternaturally beautiful voice. It was a privilege to see pour her whole self into the part. She cried in more than one scene. Yes, her father's recent tragedy was on my mind. I reflected on what she said in an interview ("The show keeps me going") and the performance took on even more weight. At the stage door, she was nothing but gracious, signing autographs and posing for photos. Someone commented on her tears during the show, and she replied that it's an emotional role for her. There was a certain sadness in her eyes that I'll never forget. Sadness, but she looked each of us right in the eye and smiled, as if we were all that mattered in that moment. That mutual sense of gratitude is so precious.

Lizzie's story resonates with me on so many levels. It's too personal for the limits of this blog, so I'll leave it at that. What I will say is that I wholeheartedly embrace the "be yourself" message, which may be trite, but it's absolutely true.

I have an update on the Matthias Goerne saga (I missed him at Tanglewood in 2005 and in Paris this past April). Well, I bought a ticket for his Philadelphia recital, hoping to catch that program that I'd missed in Paris, but I missed Philly too. Work called. His wasn't the only performance I missed. I remained in the States and missed Rufus Wainwright's Paris concert. Because I stayed near school, I also missed the Met Orchestra's concert and Spring Awakening (I gave up my front-row-center seat). But such is life. I'll see Awakening next month.

Last night I was front-row-center, this time at the Bastille for Lohengrin with Ben Heppner, Mireille Delunsch, and Waltraud Meier, under Valery Gergiev. Gergiev took the podium sixteen minutes after the scheduled curtain. The audience had become rowdy, booing and hissing. He was greeted with sparse, reluctant applause. He conducted a riveting performance. There was some weakness in the strings, but the brass sounded fantastic.

Heppner had some vocal trouble, cracking twice and Act II and sounding as if he were coming apart at the seams. Before Act III, it was announced that he had taken ill but would continue. He sounded fine in Act III--In fernem Land was stunning, with ringing high notes and a beautiful dramatic arc. It was Delunsch who suffered in Act III, sounding strained and even cracking once or twice. With the exception of occasional fine moments, I found Delunsch to be miscast, her voice lacking the weight for this rather heavy part. She sang the notes (though she transposed the high note at the climactic moment when Elsa asks Lohengrin his name), but compromised the beauty of her tone. It's a strange role, because Elsa must sound pure and angelic, but make no mistake, it's a dramatic soprano role. Anyway, I had to compare her Elsa with Karita Mattila's stunning performance at the Met in May 2006, and, really, few could live up to that. I should also say that Klaus Florian Vogt, also heard at the Met, strikes me as a far more suitable Lohengrin than Heppner. Heppner's voice simply does not seem comfortable in the part. I will see how he does on closing night next week.

Waltraud Meier stole the show as Ortrud. Whenever she was on stage, it was impossible not to look at her. She was in excellent form and held back none of the dazzling power of her voice. Her two entrances on the set's right balcony (ending of Acts II and III) inspired awe. I will never forget the menacing look on her face as she glowered at the couple...

The staging of this revival worked. I have no idea what it's supposed to represent, but it looks like a random war zone in the 20th century. What I loved was Lohengrin's entrance. A large door opens in the rear, and we see a lush forest and a medieval knight in shining armor. The contrast between the abysmal, hopeless setting of the "kingdom" and the magical realm of the swan-knight was moving and effective. It really is a surprise to everyone that Elsa's dream knight actually appears, and Carsen's idea attempts to double that effect. It also helps to explain why Ortrud is able to persuade Elsa to doubt the knight's origins--I mean, he really seemed to come out of a fairy tale.

That's all for now--thanks to Sarah for encouraging me to post!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I know, I'm a deadbeat blogger . . .


Backyard view, Miami

. . . but life has been fabulous lately. I have no idea how to blog about it. Renee Fleming, Evgeny Kissin, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Michael Tilson Thomas. Strauss, Korngold, Dvorak, Sibelius. Vier letzte Lieder. Music, literature, conversation. Spring blossoms in New York, sunsets in Miami. I think I'll leave it at that for now, as I write this . . . im Abendrot . . .

Update:

I forgot to mention something, so I'll be lazy and link to other people who were also too busy to write more than a line or two (yeah, that's how bad it is). Alex Ross and Sieglinde both had praise for the Met's Mark Morris Orfeo, which, as I told my friends on opening night, I loved.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Just a flash: Angela Denoke stars in L'Affaire Makropoulos at the Bastille


Just wanted to write a brief note on Denoke's performance in Paris last night. It was a thing of astonishing beauty. She was every inch the diva, and yet her portrayal of Elina's ennui and solitude was heartbreaking. Her cool timbre was an ideal match for this part. There's one moment I will never forget. When Emily shows Gregor the scar on her neck, Denoke pulled down the right strap of her dress and exposed her breast*. So many men have tried to kill her, she says. Her body is covered with scars. The exposure of her breast was moving because it underlined her indifference to her body. She carries those scars, but they're only scars; her body is immortal. She has no use for happiness, because she knows that she will never die. How moving that she says she loved only one man in those 337 years. She reminds me of both Kundry and (Wilde's) Salome. Kundry's longing for peace. Salome's mysterious desire. All three characters are monsters, monstrous women who have to die, because only death can contain their desire. Good and bad lose currency. Love is impossible. They are alone, and this life is too small for them.

Krzysztof Warlikowsk production was filled with clever and thoughtful ideas. And yes, the King Kong moments were way cool. Yes, Elina is an immortal star (many of them, in fact), and she is, like him, a monster. At a Pleins Feux event with Gerard Mortier last week, Warlikowsk "answered" an audience question about the use of King Kong. (Actually the man asking the question referred to the "dinosaur," haha.) He said there were many, many reasons, and that he can't give one answer. But he mentioned the fact that King Kong is an ape like we are. He referred to the human "myth." "Eternity." "Contact with a myth that's irrational." It's funny, I get what he's saying. That's one of the interesting things about his production: it stimulates you, but you're not sure how to articulate what you're seeing.

The orchestra, under Tomas Hanus, sounded fabulous.

This opera needs to return to the Met. I'd love to see Karita Mattila in the Met's striking production. Catherine Malfitano starred in it under Sir Charles Mackerras on closing night of the 2000-01 season--that was my first opera at the Met!

PS: Věc Makropulos/The Makropulos Affair/The Makropulos Case--how should we call it????

* Later in the scene, she bared both breasts during an on-stage costume change. Yes, I'm aware that this is the soprano who allowed the tenor playing Herod to lick her breasts in a recent German production of Salome...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Be Back in Two Weeks

Sorry to leave you hanging in recent posts, but work is very intense and I will be away from this blog for two weeks. I'll wrap up reports on Thais and Boccanegra, and I'll also post on a few upcoming events: the new King Kong Makropulos Affair at the Bastille; the Met's new Mark Morris Orfeo; and Renee Fleming's concerts with Esa-Pekka Salonen (Strauss/Korngold in New York) and Michael Tilson Thomas (Vier letzte Lieder in Miami).

Thanks for reading! Peace.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Thaïs at the Châtelet: Wrap-up Post


Gerald Finley (Athanaël) and Renée Fleming (Thaïs) during curtain calls on April 21, 2007, following the last of three performances at the Châtelet in Paris.

I was lucky to attend all three performances last week, and I also attended a performance of Simon Boccanegra, starring Dmitri Hvorostovsky, at the Bastille. More later; see previous posts for some commentary on Thaïs.


Video: Gerald Finley (Athanaël) and Renée Fleming (Thaïs) following Act II of a concert performance of Massenet's April 21, 2007 at the Châtelet in Paris

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Radu Lupu at the Châtelet; more thoughts on Karita Mattila; more thoughts on Thaïs

I attend a number of orchestral concerts and instrumental recitals every season, but I seldom blog about them, as there's so little I can really say. I can speak about voice, as I know a little bit about singing. And vocal music, with its use of text and theater, is probably more accessible to non-musicians than instrumental music.

My mind always wanders at a piano recital. It's amazing sometimes. I start thinking about one thing, and a few minutes later my head is on something totally different, and I play a little game where I backtrack, attempting to uncover the sequence of thoughts, all the way back to the first. It's not that I'm not paying attention to the recital. It's strange. It's as if a piano recital were for me some bizarre invitation au voyage; I find myself in places I could never access otherwise.

As I noticed at Lupu's performance of Schumann at Daniel Barenboim's Mahler Festival at the same venue last fall, he's a quietly compelling musician. It was remarkable how he used four completely different styles in his program of Schubert, Debussy, Brahms and Beethoven. There were two stunningly beautiful and lyrical encores, but I have no idea what they were.

At some point during Lupu's recital--which, by the way, lasted about 2.5 hours--Mattila floated back into my head. I remembered the gentle, sad swaying of her first encore, Als die alte Mutter. She announced it with: "Everybody knows this, but just in case: it's Dvořák." She referred to it as her "favorite" and "sad." With an introduction like that, how could it not be even more memorable? It was a softly etched performance, deeply felt and staggeringly perfect.

In introducing the second encore, she said, "There is one Finnish composer . . . I hope you didn't get enough!" We all laughed out loud. She sang a Sibelius song, set to a Swedish text, as Swedish is the "second native language" in Finland. She said that in this song, "spring speeds up," and added, "which we all hope!" True, spring has yet to arrive in the Northeast. Martin Katz was translating the text for her, and she stopped him and said, "Why don't you!?", asking him to translate it for the audience. He did that and joked, "Swedish maven that I am," with "blond hair."

When Mattila emerged for her third encore, she picked up the large bouquet that she had placed on the piano during her first curtain call. She caressed it during the introduction, first two verses, and halfway through the third verse of Gershwin's "The Man I Love," sung not in a jazz voice, but in her full dramatic soprano. At that point, she slowly turned her back to us and placed the bouquet on the piano. Suddenly, she turned around, and sang fortissimo "Maybe Tuesday will be my good news day!" The house went insane. There was laughter (not from me, my jaw was on the floor), but not because she was silly. Rather, people had no idea how to react to such an outsize personality. I am under the impression that Mattila is one of those artists who becomes herself on stage. It's her authentic mode of existence. So what we saw wasn't over the top; it was simply who she is. She doesn't hold back; she gives you the real thing, with no apologies.

There's so much I could say about the Finnish songs, but I'll only say one thing, and this is for those of you who will attend her upcoming recitals on this tour. Watch out for "Kun païva paistaa" ("When the sun shines") by Oskar Merikanto. In my program I wrote: "I have never heard so much sunshine in a voice."

Still haven't recovered . . .

UPDATE:

I noticed that for tonight's recital, the Châtelet didn't clear the set it had created for Thaïs. Even the screens for the supertitles remained intact. The set consists of a faux-stone frame and faux-stone walls at the rear and sides. A black curtain covered the stage tonight, and Lupu's piano stood on the stage's curve. For Thaïs, there is a raised black platform, rather high, and the backdrop is a screen lit to evoke the sky. It is a very beautiful and most welcome design. Indeed, I have to say that, even during the ballets, I did not miss the presence of sets, costumes and choreography. For one, the evocative score, with its lush orientalism, is so colorful and redolent of perfumes . . .

The orchestra, chorus, and cast were all dressed in black, except for the female soloists, such as this one:


Close-up of Renée Fleming (Thaïs), taken on Monday, April 16, 2007, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Please credit me and link to this post if you use this photo anywhere.

More observations to come following the remaining performances . . .

Monday, April 16, 2007

Renée Fleming and Gerald Finley in Thaïs at the Châtelet


Nicolas Courjal (Palémon), Gerald Finley (Athanaël), Renée Fleming (Thaïs), Christoph Eschenbach (conductor), and Philippe Aïche (violin solo) during curtain calls following the first of three performances at the Châtelet in Paris this week. I took this photo. Please credit me and link to this post if you use it anywhere.

Fleming was a scorching hot Thaïs in a sparkling green mermaid gown by Dior. More to come after I attend the remaining two performances this week.

I have to say, though, that I was sorry to learn that Barry Banks, originally scheduled to sing Nicias, was replaced.

I'll also say that Fleming and Finley were in fantastic form. (Yeah, alliteration, how about that?) Fleming elicited the first applause (lasting a really, really long time--she nodded to Eschenbach three times before he himself stopped applauding and raised the baton to resume the opera) of the evening with a luscious "Dis-moi que je suis belle." The desperation was palpable, and her voice was simply dripping with eroticism. Overall, there was so much to savor: rich and velvety yet bright, ringing tone; outstanding French; pianissimi galore; high notes that made me jump out of my seat. And that crescendo on her last note ("Je vois Dieu!"), well that was . . . heavenly. The standing ovation that greeted her first curtain call, well, that about summed it up.


Close-up of Renée Fleming (Thaïs), taken on Monday, April 16, 2007, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Please credit me and link to this post if you use this photo anywhere.

France Musique will broadcast the opera on June 9th at 7:30pm Paris time. This will be streamed on the web.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Karita Mattila sets Jordan Hall on fire

UPDATE


Karita Mattila in her dressing room at Jordan Hall on Friday night. I took this photo. Please credit me and link to this post if you use it anywhere.

The brilliant Martin Katz strummed the opening chords of Samuel Barber's wonderful Hermit Songs . . . her voice entered the beautiful and intimate hall . . . well, that moment was like the first touch with a great lover. That flutter.

I'm back in Paris, and I cannot stop thinking about Karita Mattila's spellbinding recital in Boston on Friday night. I was extremely lucky to have an amazing seat--five rows back and directly across from Mattila. Jeremy Eichler offers an accurate review of the recital, but I need to underline Mattila's staggering artistry and outsize presence. Her huge, refulgent voice. Those delicate crescendos. Those dances!

But really, who am I kidding? I'm not up to the task. As I told my friend that night, Mattila is a great argument for why live performances need to be experienced, well, live. I can only sketch, badly, that which can actually be articulated. A performer like Mattila resonates on so many levels, some so profound that the body rings with the sensations for days, even weeks. It was probably a blessing that I saw Eugene Onegin the evening of the final performance of Jenufa, a matinee, because I may very well have obsessed to death about it. (I ended up obsessing about Onegin, which is a far tamer thing.) The lingering question: how on earth will I handle Mattila's Salome? At least Jenufa has a happy ending . . .

I need to mention that she looked stunning. She showed off her svelte body in two boldly form-fitting gowns, one in off white with black beads and embroidery, accented with white diamond jewelry, the other in black--with a slit on each side--decorated with copper beads and accented with jewels of a similar smokey color. I have never seen a sexier a woman on stage.

What's also amazing is her genuine humility. That just can't be faked. I noticed that she seemed genuinely surprised and touched when the audience applauded after the first group of Finnish songs, two songs by Toivo Kuula. She later said that she didn't think we would applaud so early, and that we have been so generous. Speaking in the pause between the Oskar Merikanto and Leevi Madetoja groups, she said that she thought that this would be the first point at which we would applaud (just after "Kun päivä paistaa", a glorious piece that ends triumphantly). She talked a bit and found herself rambling, and poked fun at herself ("I should just sing!"), eventually saying, "And now I need a glass of water!", but decided, "I will be brave." Backstage she mentioned to a young singer that she was so moved by the audience's warm response. I believe that this was the first performance of her brief US recital tour, which she will take to New York's Carnegie Hall on Wednesday.

UPDATE: READ MORE ON THE MATTILA RECITAL HERE

Also recently attended: Andrea Chenier (outstanding) and Die Aegyptische Helena (inscrutable, but worth it for the aria) at the Met; Flavio (a must-see) at City Opera.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Giulio Cesare in Egitto opens at the Met; Jessye Norman in Paris; Robert Wilson's staging of Bach's Le passion selon Saint Jean

The big news last night was, of course, Ruth Ann Swenson, who so publicly expressed her discontent with Peter Gelb, and his beef with her, here. Sieglinde, once again, provides insightful commentary. It's all a bunch of drama, and, really, I find myself not caring one way or the other. It's showbusiness. Last night, though, it was clear that the audience was with her all the way. Huge cheers greeted the end of her arias, and the entire house rose to its feet when she emerged for her curtain call. Confetti (well, these people didn't bother to shred the pages, they just dropped them whole) rained down and bravas were shouted. She was moved to tears. She pointed at the whole audience and at the confetti-throwers.

She sang very well last night, though her top often sounded pinched. She was a lively, engaging presence on stage, and she evoked pathos during the laments.

Alice Coote, as was the case in Paris, was a revelation as Sesto. Her ornaments in this production are very different. They are subdued and less organic.

I didn't know that Michael Maniaci had been cast as Nireno for his Met debut! What a gorgeous voice and magnetic stage presence!

Patricia Bardon (Cordelia) and Lawrence Zazzo (Tolomeo) also made their Met debuts.

David Daniels was in top form last night. I heard him in this role in Miami seven years ago. His timbre has darkened, but it remains beautiful. His powerful voice and solid technique make an excellent case for the countertenor voice in general, and for a countertenor in this role specifically. Also, he's quite a flamboyant Caesar, and I enjoy watching him flip his cape. I preferred Andreas Scholl's Bertarido, but Daniels is a far superior Cesare.

On March 30, I attended Jessye Norman's stunning all-French program at Salle Pleyel in Paris. This took place couple night after the Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon concert, and I remember thinking, "Man, Jessye is the real thing." It doesn't matter that she doesn't wear Dior or Westwood, or that her gold flat shoes (with a royal blue dress?) suspiciously resemble some of the merchandise at Payless. Or that she wipes the sweat from her nose. Every note was in place, every word perfect. And I have never witnessed a brighter, more inviting smile. The audience went absolutely crazy for her. I'll never forget her "I Love Paris" (last encore) which she began softly, sitting on a piano stool. Midsong she rose and moved stage left while increasing the weight and volume, and she ended on a loud, gleaming, climactic high note, held for an eternity, that threated to blow off the roof. A hundred or two ecstatic audience members remained in the hall long after she had taken her final curtain call. They cheered, "Jessye! Jessye!", hoping she would return. After about ten minutes, a staff member emerged to say that, um, she ain't coming back.

If you ever have a chance to hear Norman, don't miss it for anything.

I also attended two performances of Robert Wilson's staging of Bach's Saint John's Passion at the Châtelet. It looks pretty much like the Met Lohengrin, to be honest. The lighting is really cool. And it was priceless to see Andreas Scholl in in a purple toga and geisha-like wig, wearing black eyeliner and purple eyeshadow. As I noticed last fall at his Paris performances as Giulio Cesare and his Bach concert in London, his voice sounds considerably underpowered. I'm not sure what happened, because his Bertarido at the Met last spring was nothing short of stunning.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon in Paris

Rarely have I been as excited to blog about a performance as I am about tonight's concert at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. Filmed for television, it starred two of opera's hottest stars, with support from a first-rate orchestra and conductor, all performing a no-nonsense program of French, Russian, and Italian opera, as well as Zarzuela.

Unfortunately, as I left the theater about three-quarters of an hour ago, my most salient memories of the concert were two moments that Anna Netrebko would, I'm sure, rather forget. In her opening number and in the third and final encore, she messed up. In Juliette's waltz, she cracked (at length) on the climactic high C, but recovered beautifully. Her error in the Brindisi from La Traviata was worse: during the duo and chorus parts after Alfredo's solo verse, she forgot the words and covered her face with both hands, letting out an embarrassed yelp. Villazon was most solicitous, taking a large bouquet from her hands and placing it on the podium, along with some book (wrapped in blue plastic) that he'd been holding. The audience started singing the melody on la in solidarity, and Netrebko clearly knew she would be OK. She returned with Tra voi and stayed to the end, finishing on the glorious top note. UPDATE: OK, so, when I blogged on this I forgot to mention that after putting their stuff down, Villazon proceeded most charmingly to dance with Netrebko!!! How could I fail to mention that!!?? It was adorable.

As I look over my program and reflect on my memories, these two incidents are so minor compared to the many moments of sheer magic. Aren't those moments exactly what we're here for? And, I have to say, I find Netrebko utterly charming. Yes, she is also astonishingly, stunningly, staggeringly beautiful. And Escada and Chopard should win some sort of prize for those shimmering gowns and dazzling jewels.

Most of the program hovered somewhere between the mishaps and the magic. I've already covered the mishaps. On to the rest.

Overall, Netrebko has a radiant sound. It's a large, beautiful voice with a fast vibrato and an even tone. I've seen her in three stage roles (Gilda, Adina, Elivra), but this was my first time seeing her in concert. She's a very good actress and commands a stage with ease. But the concert format seems to make her nervous, and it shows. Maybe she has commented on this somewhere. She was at her best when she got in character. Perhaps her most disappointing number was Rachmaninov's sublime Zdes' khorosko. It's a peaceful, softly rapturous song. As Netrebko sang, she seemed to be considerably uneasy. Looking tense, she exerted tremendous effort, and singing this piece seemed to be painful and difficult for her. The soft high note (Da ty/"and you") came after much anxious thought. Compare Renee Fleming performance of this song (a live recording might be on the Tony Palmer DVD). Fleming seems to sing the entire thing in one breath. Netrebko, ever the performer, mesmerized the audience during the orchestral postlude, softly extending her arms. She was a sight to behold, as the sea of strings gently lapped behind her.

The first half contained two duets. As Manon in the Act III, Scene 7 duet (St. Sulpice), Netrebko was seductress extraordinaire, and her embrace with Villazon at the scene's conclusion set the room ablaze. She cherished the vocal line with luxurious portamentos. But, yet again, I have to wheel Fleming back in. Fleming sang the part to perfection at the Met on April 8, 2006, in her final complete performance of the role. Musically and dramatically, Netrebko didn't come anywhere close to the subtlely and depth of Fleming's interpretation. As I have said, one could write a dissertation on Fleming's use of dynamics alone in that performance last season. Yes, they are two different singers. But given that they're singing the same repertoire at the same time, it makes sense to compare them.

The duet from Tchaikovsky's Iolantha, however, was rather impressive. I love hearing music that's new to me, and there was much of it on this program. Featuring a prominent use of two harps, the scene contains lush Romantic writing, culminating in triumphant ending.

What a thrill to hear Violetta's Act I scene! And to hear two high E-flats! And to hear Villazon sing Alfredo's part from offstage! This was neat. But, again. The phrases that start on high D-flat, Netrebko starts an octave lower and does a leap up to them. To my ears, that doesn't work as an ornament. After hearing Angela Gheorghiu sing this to perfection at the Met last weekend, in a complete, total performance, I had a hard time with Netrebko's interpretation. Yes, she sang the notes, and she conveyed Violetta's struggle. But she had to think way too much about it. Ditto the aria from La Wally.

The two duets in the second part went over very well. Again, Netrebko and Villazon sang in character. The final duet from Luisa Fernanda closed with a remarkable moment: as Javier reached his hand out to touch Luisa Fernanda, whose back was to him, she raised her right hand and shook it in pained disapproval. It's the only thing I remember from the duet, and I'll never forget it.

O soava fanciulla, which closed the concert, was probably the best thing on the program. They walked off stage for the final Amors. That was magic. My mouth is watering for Netrebko's Mimi.

You may have noticed that I haven't said much about Villazon. Well, [to be continued...]

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Angela Gheorghiu's Violetta on March 24, 2007

I hope to write more later, but I need to point out Sieglinde's post on Angela Gheorghiu's Violetta last night at the Met. In a word, the post is a spot-on accurate account of the evening. My schedule is crazy at the moment, so I'm really glad I made a point to squeeze this one in. Instant standing ovation and all, it will surely become part of Met mythology.

I have some catching up to do around here. Sometime I'll share thoughts on: opening night of Ariodante at the Champs-Elysees in Paris; New York City Opera's La donna del lago; and two performances of the Boston Symphony's star-studded Fidelio.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Oops . . . I Did(n't Do) It Again

For the second time, I have missed a Matthias Goerne recital for which I had a ticket. The first time was in the summer of 2005, when I couldn't have been bothered to drive three hours through the wilderness to head to Tanglewood. (I also missed Deborah Voigt that summer, for the same reason, and also with a ticket in my possession.) This time, it's for a far less justifiable reason.

See, I use iCal as my diary. It works just fine, but there's a little problem when I fly back and forth across five time zones. Dates move around. I loaded Salle Pleyel's web site to see what was on the Goerne's program for tonight, only to discover that, yes, the recital was last night. As in, last %$#@!&* night!

So, I have never heard Goerne live, and at this rate, I never will.

I also missed the Barenboim/Pape (yes, Rene Pape) Boris Godunow at the Berlin Staatsoper on Thursday. I let my first-row seat go to waste because work tied me down here in Paris.

Other events I missed this season, despite having a ticket: the Opera Bastille's L'amour des trois oranges (missed for Kiri Te Kanawa in Reading the night before; couldn't have made it back in time); Ben Heppner (chose to hear Cecilia Bartoli instead); and Ian Bostridge (decided to remain in States in January).

My first brush with the sort of disappointment I'm experiencing right now occured in June 2005, when I missed Karita Mattila's Paris recital. I was jetlagged and my nap lasted three hours too long. It took my quite a while to recover from that loss. Closing night of Jenufa at the Met last month was extremely cathartic, and I think that's when I finally let it go.

I don't feel such a great loss right now. Yes, it would have been lovely to hear Goerne, but it could have been worse. And I've got the whole evening to work, so I'll make the most of it. As Beckett's Winnie would say, "Great mercies."

Friday, March 16, 2007

James Kotecki



This young political analyst and commentator is doing some amazing things. He observed that the 2008 presidential race will be the first in which online videos--specifically, YouTube--will have a role to play. Very early in the game, he started offering commentary to the candidates via responses to their videos on YouTube. After a couple months of puzzlement and frustration, during which Kotecki remarked that he had received not a single video response from a candidate, on March 16th Dennis Kucinich uploaded a direct reply to Kotecki's analysis of Kucinich's Youtube channel. In Kotecki's words, "Today, Congressman Dennis Kucinich made history as the first American Presidential candidate to engage in a real video dialog using YouTube."

Kotecki's substantive, accurate and concise commentary, combined with his corny but infectious sense of humor, makes him a refreshing and most welcome presence in the messy sea of online videos. It will be fun to watch him as the race continues.

Check him out: http://www.jameskotecki.com/

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

La Juive at the Opera Bastille; Le Jardin des Voix; Trinidad; Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Susan Graham at the Garnier

Well, you just can't have everything. I love blogging, but I haven't been at it lately because I'm very much under the gun, a hostage to my work for the next few weeks. I wanted to check in to let you know that, and to quickly run through what's been going on lately.

I had no idea what I would think of Halévy's La Juive, presented at the Opera Bastille as a new production this season. The most popular opera in 19th-century France, it's rarely heard today. Well, thanks to effective stage direction and a striking set consisting of elaborate metal and lights, and, more importantly, to a stunning cast, I was absolutely floored. I will remember Neil Shicoff's wrenching performance of Éléazar's famous Act IV aria as one of the great moments that I have been lucky to witness. Even Anna Caterina Antonacci--a remarkable actress--couldn't quite match Shicoff's formidable presence. But Robert Lloyd, with his biting voice and intimidating appearance, certainly did. Brogni's final plea for his daughter's whereabouts elicited my ambivalent pity. I'll never forget the vengeful tone of Schicoff's ringing, stinging, burning "La voilà!" ("There she is!"), as red light flooded the stage (representing the boiling oil that kills her), framing Antonacci's graceful physique in the background while Lloyd collapsed in horror and grief. I also have to mention two other singers: John Osborn, who handled Léopold's cruel tessitura with ease and cut an attractive figure on stage; and the elegant Annick Massis, who was born to sing the high-flying lines of Eudoxie with princesslike grace.

This past weekend, I was lucky to catch three events. William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, currently on tour with the 2007 incarnation of Le Jardin des Voix, played two nights at Cite de la Musique. These young singers sang beautifully, and I strongly encourage you to see them if they come to your town.




Parc de la Villette featured the music of Trinidad, the country of my birth, as its theme for this past Sunday's program in the series Scenes d'Hiver. The 5.5-hour program was remarkably well organized, with an ingenious combination of performance, demonstration and lecture in the sexy venue Cabaret Sauvage. Unfortunately, I missed Calypso Rose's performance, as I had to leave to make it to a very different venue . . .



. . . the Palais Garnier, in time for Pierre-Laurent Aimard's recital featuring Susan Graham. Last month, I spotted Graham in the lobby of the Met at three performances in a row. At the last, my friend Sarah and I (as she recounts on her blog) spoke to her, and Graham mentioned that much of her material on the Aimard program will be new to her. She sang an extraordinary, little-known Ravel song cycle ("Nobody knows it," she said to me following the concert, when I mentioned that I'd never heard it) called Trois chansons madécasses. At its center is the chilling "Aoua!", a tale of the horror of colonialism, bearing the refrain, "Méfiez-vous des blancs"/"Beware of the white man" (I translate). Graham delivered a thrilling, no-holds-barred performance, altering her voice to sustain an admonitory tone.

Finally, I wanted to mention stage director Irina Brook, who found my blog and took the time to comment on my Giulio Cesare post. As I mention in my post, the opening night audience booed her off the stage. In her comment she reacts to this, and I especially appreciate what she says about putting her "heart and soul" into her work. I always try to keep this in mind in my commentary.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Renee Fleming at the Kaplan Penthouse; Norma at Tanglewood in '08

The big news: Renee will debut Norma in a concert version with James Levine at Tanglewood in 2008. She mentioned that Levine said, "You have to do this role because you have to do it." While dramatic sopranos have been singing Norma recently, this will be a lyric Norma. Renee added, "It's a huge risk. But, what? I should never take a risk?"

This was an especially informative interview, and any time spent with the charming soprano is time well spent.

More later.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What I've been doing in the last week

Well, I can't say I've been doing nothing. What I won't be doing tonight is attending Angela Gheorghiu's interview at the Kaplan Penthouse, becaused she canceled. When I called around noon to inquire about a duplicate (yes, with all this traveling, I do misplace a ticket here and there), I was told that they'd just gotten word that Gheorghiu has taken ill and canceled her appearance tonight. Ah, the drama.

Last Tuesday, I attended the Bastille's Les Contes d'Hoffmann with Rolando Villazon and Patricia Petibon. I arrived in New York on Friday for three Met revivals: the Met's last Jenufa this season (Karita Mattila and Anja Silja in a shattering performance); two performances of Eugene Onegin (Renee Fleming, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Ramon Vargas); and the season premiere of Simon Boccanegra (Thomas Hampson, Angela Gheorghiu, Marcello Giordani, Ferrucio Furlanetto). I will also attend the Guild's interview with Renee Fleming on Thursday.

Also of note: I spotted Susan Graham at Jenufa and Boccanegra. The back of her head appears in several of my photos of the Boccanegra ovations. It's always exciting to see opera stars in the audience; they're fans too!

More to come.

Monday, February 12, 2007

This is what I get to read for work

Tagged, I transcribe:

À mon âge, aucun intérêt ne me distrayait le cœur, aucune ambition ne traversait le cours de ce sentiment déchaîné comme un torrent et qui faisait onde de tout ce qu’il emportait. Oui, plus tard, nous aimons la femme dans une femme ; tandis que de la première femme aimée, nous aimons tout : ses enfants sont les nôtres, sa maison est la nôtre, ses intérêts sont nos intérêts, son malheur est notre plus grand malheur ; nous aimons sa robe et ses meubles ; nous sommes plus fâchés de voir ses blés verses que de savoir notre argent perdu ; nous sommes prêts à gronder le visiteur qui dérange nos curiosités sur la cheminée. Ce saint amour nous fait vivre dans un autre, tandis que plus tard, hélas ! nous attirons une autre vie en nous-mêmes, en demandant à la femme d’enrichir de ses jeunes sentiments nos facultés appauvries.

Balzac, Le Lys dans la vallée (1836)

My life isn't so bad.

I tag Sarah, litwit and Matthias. (Instructions, via tsr: "find the nearest book, turn to page 123, post the fifth, sixth and seventh sentences"; "tag three folks")

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Parsifal at the Staatsoper unter den Linden






Everyone seems to be in Berlin at the moment. I didn't learn of the Berlinale until a few days ago when I tried booking a hotel room. (Apparently, festival's opening night is the busiest night of the year for Berlin hotels.) I almost canceled this trip, but I didn't want to pass up the chance to hear Parsifal with Rene Pape under Daniel Barenboim. When I bought the ticket a few months ago, Waltraud Meier was scheduled to sing Kundry. I heard both Pape and Meier in this opera at the Met last May, with Ben Heppner and Thomas Hampson, who were making role debuts. Despite such stellar casting, excellent playing from the orchestra, and a beautiful production, the opera failed to move me. I even fell asleep during Act II (one of Meier's top notes awoke me, and I was rather embarrassed to discover that I had nodded off). But I had loved every Wagner opera I'd heard, and I knew I had to give this, considered the ne plus ultra of Wagner's art, another chance. I mean, I started Wagner with nothing less than the full Ring at the Met during a week in New York in the spring of '04. And it's hard to top the Met's Lohengrin last season. (I remember Renee Fleming mentioned she saw it and it made her "a convert!")



While reading the libretto this afternoon at a restaurant just down the street from the Staatsoper, I found myself profoundly moved, and I knew things would be different this time around. Sitting in the house (a beautiful one it is), it took only the opening chords of the prelude to move me to tears. Weird, huh? For the next few hours, nothing came close to the purity and promise of that moment, but that's not the point. Moments like that don't happen at every performance.

Rene Pape. First, that gorgeous voice thrills you with its size, tone and sheer power. It's a beautiful, resonant sound. And it emerges from a physique that's no less commanding. Pape makes every word, note and gesture count, bathing every moment with subtely.

Michelle DeYoung wasn't in top form vocally, but she sounded splendid nonetheless. Few artists I have seen can command a stage like Waltraud Meier, whose Kundry was so compelling that she owned my gaze whenever on stage, even all of Act III. But DeYoung has a lot to offer in this part. I'd like to see her in a less irritating production.

What's so moving about Parsifal? In a word, for me it's the longing for peace. Healing. Wounds, sins, whatever. And when it happens, well, that's just magic.




Monday, February 05, 2007

Daniela Barcellona and Juan Diego Florez at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées

I'm not sure why Barcellona received top billing, as she's not a megastar, but she did. Both singers were somewhat uneven tonight, but the concert was pure fun. The singers showed much charm during ovations, and I wish they could have brought some more personality to their performances.

Florez seemed nervous at times. I wonder how much of this music might be new to him. His "Il mio tesoro" was especially unsuccessful; he stumbled in one of the early runs, and he carried the long lines only with much effort. In general, Florez was often detached and thinking a great deal about what he was singing. Only in the Pasquale aria did he really command the stage.

Barcellona possesses a powerful dark voice. Sometimes it veers towards hootiness. I wouldn't say it's a beautiful voice. It's big. It seems unusual for bel canto. Still, her coloratura sparkles and her performance of "O mio Fernando" pretty much brought the house down.

Rolando Villazon, in town for Les Contes d'Hoffman at the Paris Opera (which I will see next week), sat in the first row of center corbeille. During intermission he signed quite a few autographs and cameras throughout the auditorium flashed incessantly.

I have photos and videos to share. Stay tuned.

Friday, February 02, 2007

My week in Karita Mattila and Anja Silja; Deborah Voigt sings Beethoven; Esa-Pekka Salonen's piano concerto


Anja Silja and Karita Mattila at the Kaplan Penthouse on Thursday evening

On Monday night I attended opening night of the Met's revival of Jenufa starring Karita Mattila and Anja Silja. Met a new friend waiting at the stage door. Waited two full hours, as the cast members were at a party! It was worth it. Silja exited earlier than Mattila. Both women were warm and in great spirits after a successful performance, and they signed my program.

On Thursday evening I attended an interview with Mattila and Silja at the Kaplan Penthouse. I took copious notes. The big news is that Kaija Saariaho is currently writing an opera for Mattila, who was worried that she might get in trouble for making the announcement. She asked, "Are there any journalists in here?"

There was some tension between the two, who clearly admire each other but are so different. I'll write more on this later (hopefully).

Sarah had received two tickets to the New York Philharmonic's Thursday night concert. After the interview we walked across the Lincoln Center campus and entered Avery Fisher Hall in time to hear the world premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen's piano concerto, written for an dedicated to Yefim Bronfman. I thoroughly enjoyed this extraordinarily dynamic and exciting piece.

On Wednesday evening, in Boston, I attended the Boston Symphony's open rehearsal of its latest Beethoven/Schoenberg program. Two Beethoven pieces were rehearsed that night: Ah! perfido and the eighth symphony. James Levine, who said he was trying something new in using a microphone that would allow us to hear him, started with the vocal piece. Deborah Voigt was, as he said, "in great form." What a thrilling sound. I was glad to attend the rehearsal, because travel plans prevent me from attending one of the concerts.

More later, if I get a chance.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

My week in René Pape; Susan Graham's French program

I just returned from Jordan Hall in Boston, where Susan Graham and Malcolm Martineau presented an intelligent program of exquisite French songs. Last week I was lucky to be in New York for the Toscanini tribute at Avery Fisher Hall, and in Miami for the Cleveland Orchestra's inaugural concert at Miami's Carnival Center, where the orchestra has launched a new subscription series.

Details to come. A bit of news: Susan Graham mentioned backstage that she will open the Boston Symphony's 2007-08 season this fall with Ravel's "Shéhérazade."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

René replaces Renée

There are only two René(e)s I travel to see. Disappointment canceled.

Update:

The concert is completely sold out.

Update:

The AP report.

key words: renee fleming, rene pape, toscanini, new york philharmonic

Wow this is ugly . . .

. . . and the best thing on TV this year so far.



In other news, Renee Fleming has withdrawn from the New York Philharmonic's Toscanini concert on Tuesday due to illness. We wish her a speedy recovery!