Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Not My Typical Ovation Shot



I stopped posting the good ones on here anyway (I'm selfish - though I do share them with Facebook friends) - but I think this is a pretty great one, given the conditions under which it was taken. I was so far away! :)

Could I just say that Mike Silverman from the Associated Press shouldn't have been allowed in the Met tonight? Because clearly he spent the evening with his head up his ass, as this review shows. It's no secret that I'm a fan of Renée's - I have a great deal of respect and admiration for her as an artist and human being. But even so, I think he probably just wasn't in a good mood tonight? I mean, I'm aware of Renée's weaknesses, but she was in great form tonight, vocally and dramatically.

I think it says a lot that I was moved just a few minutes into the performance. Really. Renée portrays Violetta as a woman of great honor (she's said in recent interviews that Violetta has more integrity than any other character in the opera), and the noble sweetness that she brings to Dite alla giovine is almost unbearably touching. That scene is critical because, just as the first act tests her capacity to love, the first scene of the second act tests the quality and strength of that love. Her rapturous Amami, Alfredo! is a powerful moment because this is not "brb" (as she lies to Alfredo), but rather, "Good-by - because, I love you," as Kate Chopin so eloquently put it. This is all in the score and in the libretto, but you know what's great? Renée gets it.

The first time I heard her live, in a Fort Lauderdale recital in January 2000, what struck me the most was her intelligence. She was beautiful then but not as glamorous as she is now. Her voice was beautiful but the terrible sound in that hall didn't allow its true timbre to shine. Her stage presence was somewhat reserved; she was not as chatty as she is now - with the best stage banter in the classical music business. What came through were the workings of that prodigious mind. If the composer provided a gem, she polished it into brilliance with her keen intelligence.

As revealed in interviews (on the Met's site and during the Live in HD), Renée is fully aware of the intertexuality of Manon Lescaut and La Dame aux Camélias (btw, that the sonnet in Capriccio was actually written by none other than Ronsard completes the trio of French literary sources in tonight's gala). We need more singers who are aware of of the literary history of the works they sing, because they were created in and for a culture of people who appreciated these resonances. Think of the Lucia scene in Madame Bovary and the ways in which hearing that opera opens a floodgate of memories for Emma - of her past as a reader of the Walter Scott text, of the disconnect between her dreams and her reality, of the girl she used to be and the woman she is now...that spellbinding scene of tension and opposition is rendered all the more powerful because of these layers of meaning. And this is the sort of depth that I witness in every Renée Fleming performance.

She's now one of the lyric stage's finest actresses - this became clear to me upon observing roles she's repeated after a long gap. Her 2007 Met Violetta was worlds apart from her 2003 Houston version, and her 2007 Zurich Arabella revealed countless nuances that were absent from her 2001 Met outing in the part. The Met's opening night gala tonight allowed her to revisit scenes from roles on which she's made her mark - and it was fascinating to watch a great artist as she explores new territory on familiar ground. A little laugh here, a new ornament there - there's always something new when you attend a Renée Fleming performance. She has said that she wants us to forget that she's singing - and when she's at her best, this does happen, in an odd way, because we're so involved with the characters.

On to some other stuff. We arrived at the cinema at 5pm and I asked the staff whether there might be a line for the Met simulcast. I was told that it's "over there," and that it's "already big." I headed over and, I swear there were some 30 people already waiting there. And boy were they scary! This crowd was not unlike the audience at the Met Guild events. They get there way early and they will totally kill you if you get in their way. (We call them "Old Bitches.") My friend went to get coffee across the street and I frantically texted her to return, as I feared for my life.

They were pretty well-behaved during the show, so that's good, because I'm seeing 10 more of these simulcasts at this cinema.

How cool was it to see Nico Muhly!? I'm such a fan. Buy his CDs! (Btw, he's currently my favorite blogger.) His concert here at the Museum of Fine Arts last month, with Sam Amidon and Doveman, was one of the musical highlights of the year. Susan Graham is a smart lady and it's unfortunate that she wasted their interview time asking him those "what's your favorite color" questions - there's so much one could ask him! I will definitely want to be at the opening night of his opera - that's something I'm dying to witness.

It was also cool to see Rufus Wainwright make faces at the camera during Graham's interview with Martha Stewart. Haha! By the way, what's the name of the liqueur that Stewart used in her Grande Dame cocktail? I missed that. Rufus distracted me. (Btw, Sarah wonderfully documented parts of our experience a couple weeks ago at the Apollo with Renée Fleming, Rufus Wainwright and Elvis Costello.)

The last thing I have time to say (I'm falling asleep) is that it's sometimes overwhelming to experience opera on the big screen - opera, as it is, is larger than life (as Francesco Clemente suggested of divas), and seeing this stuff on that giant screen can be really intense. In a good way. I'm with Ann Patchett on this - I'm a huge fan of Live in HD. I love the backstage access and the interviews - which, by the way, were so well-produced tonight. Sure, we didn't hear Graham for the first minute or so, but they fixed it. Same with the subtitles (fortunately I know that scene so well..).

And I just heard about MetPlayer, which sounds wonderfully convenient (and it's nice if you have a huge monitor and great speakers or headphones).

This is a great time to be an opera buff! Best wishes for an awesome season.

UPDATE: The Met posted Martha's cocktail recipe here

2 comments:

SarahB said...

Bravissimo!!!! The Old Bitches were out in droves at the Chelsea Clearview too - and were about to riot when they were warned that we might have to wait until 5:30 to go in the theatre. That was only 15 minutes away. As Sally pointed out, it wouldn't be a night at the opera if they weren't bitching about something. There were a couple of Renee haters sitting behind us - fortunate another lady hushed them before I had to say something. WHAT A GLORIOUS NIGHT FOR OPERA LOVERS AND LA DIVA RENEE!

(The orange liquor that Martha was using seemed to be a version of grand marnier. I intend to be certain because I want to taste this cocktail asap!)

Will said...

I have always been put off by the fierce nature of the Renee haters.
Particulartly as nobody actually KNOWS how bel canto was sung in the day, their constant mantra that Renee doesn't know how to sing it seems to me a version of "She doesn't sing it exactly the way Maria Callas sang it." As we have no sound recordings until after the bel canto era ended, we have no idea whether Callas sang it like Pasta and Grisi either.

Bottom line, Renee is a serious artist with an extraordinarily beautiful voice and she has, as you rightly point out, worked to develop and deepen her engagement with the roles she sings constantly. I'm revisiting her Rusalka this season and I can't wait.