Friday, December 31, 2010

Nights at the Opera: 2010

Fast away the old year passes.  So, what were my favorite nights at the opera in 2010?  Although it's not as organized or as hierarchical as a top ten list, I have come up with five favorite everything-has-gone-right nights, and five standout performances, from a whirlwind year of becoming increasingly obsessed with opera.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Year's Resolution: URL Change

Pride goeth before destruction (and an haughty spirit before a fall,) and pedantic perfectionism before elementary spelling errors such as "obession."  Gentle Readers, this blog's first resolution for the new year is to be correctly spelled.  Those of you who have done it the honor of bookmarking it, note that the URL will be, as of the 31st,  It will actually reflect the title of the blog, as it was always intended to do!  Let joy be unconfined.  All content, comments, etc. should transfer without a hitch.

...Famous last words?  I hope not.  In other exciting news, I will soon be indulging myself by posting a subjective list of my Favorite Things in Opera from this past year, and what I'm most looking forward to in the spring.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Jauchzet, frohlocket!

Regardless of the whens and ifs and whats of celebration, I wish you joy, Gentle Readers.  And Bach.  Which can often be, in my experience, the same thing.

The rest of the Bach is under this link.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fanciulla bis

Last Saturday (18 Dec) I went with a friend to see Fanciulla a second time (photos (c) Ken Howard for the Met.)  The luxury of attending two performances in a run will probably remain rare (exception: next spring's Die Walküre.  The Beloved Flatmate and I have a date with the rush tickets line, I'm going a second time with another Wagner-impassioned friend, and my darling mother is going to try Wagner for the first time, mostly pour les beaux yeux de Jonas Kaufmann.  We'll see how that goes.)  But, back on topic, which is an extra post for Fanciulla, in the spirit of acknowledging the glorious, heartbreaking, thrilling fact that no two opera performances are the same.

Sitting in the balcony instead of family circle, I got a better view of some of the production's lighting effects, which worked nicely both to evoke the passage of time in this opera which is so shaped by it in the libretto, and to underscore the dramatic trajectory.  I am still bothered by the production's fussiness.  I saw more clearly this time why the bar brawl starts: I think it's touched off by an inebriated fellow at the bar. I still don't think it makes a lick of sense (to borrow the idiom of the genre.)  And I really dislike the fact that Minnie is made to brandish her Bible in Act III.  I think it takes away from the celebration of how unexpectedly disruptive the transformations effected by transcendent moral pronouncements can be.  A few touches were altered: Nick's handing a Havana cigar to Johnson/Ramerrez at the end was more subtly handled, and therefore more sweet than distracting.  And Rance, in that final tableau, picks up Minnie's pistol but doesn't level it at the lovers, rather staring at it like a man who has lost his bearings, then sinking to his knees, devastated.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Si j’étais Dieu, j'aurais pitié du coeur des hommes

I went into the season premiere of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande imperfectly prepared, but eager; I came out shattered.  The Cambridge handbook to the work was my cramming resource.  The recording I ordered from the NYPL a few weeks ago didn't arrive, so my musical preparation was unfortunately limited to excerpts (and picking out motifs from that invaluable handbook on the piano.)  Go here if you need a quick synopsis.  I can't speak to what the musical atmosphere of the opera usually is, what inflections or tempi are customarily given to the score.  Under Sir Simon Rattle, the Met orchestra created a dark tapestry of sound that reflected the piece's changing moods and atmospheres, from claustrophobic caverns (here, scaffolding; still stifling) to mysterious seascapes, while maintaining a sense of tension fueled by the desperate actions of people trying to find their fate (or flee it.)  Space was also given for the sounds of silence, through hushed pauses in the music and deliciously drawn out pianissimi.  We heard not only the sounds of the sea, but the sounds of light and darkness, of doubt and desire.  Although there were a few rustlers, and what seemed like excessive coughing in the few instances where the curtain was lowered between scenes, the audience seemed to be sensitive to the delicacy and tension of the piece; with an exception for Yniold and Golaud's scene at the window, applause was limited to the intervals, and was not premature.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ein ernster Tag, ein grosser Tag! Ein Ehrentag, ein heiliger Tag!

Right now, I am euphorically happy.  The Metropolitan Opera, after giving me multiple surveys in which they did not ask how financial considerations affected my ticket-buying habits, have introduced a Student Club.  Behold the promised land: here is the link to registration with details of all the privileges appertaining thereto.  It's true that the option to buy $25 or $35 tickets on the morning of performances that aren't sold out has long existed; it's just been very difficult to find that out on the website.  And in my 2.5 years of Met attendance, none of the flyers I got in the mail advertised that, either.  Furthermore, student tickets have in the past proven to be chimerical; the Beloved Flatmate and I have asked, not infrequently, about availability, only to be rebuffed.  But the wilderness years are (possibly) over!  If these student tickets, quantity and location unknown, continue to be elusive, then it does me no good to be rejected over e-mail as well as on the phone or in person.  But, if this does mark a turning point, who knows how many performances I may attend sitting down during the second half of the season?  And there are more benefits: dress rehearsal access (so exciting) and shop discounts (that could be dangerous, of course... but still exciting.)  Oh, Metropolitan Opera, ricco non sono, ma un core vi dono.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Whiskey per tutti! Fanciulla Centennial at the Met

I admit, it took me some time to warm to Fanciulla.  When I first found the Tebaldi/Del Monaco recording, in college, my sophomore self just couldn't get past California miners shouting "Hello! Hello!" and singing rousing choruses of "Doodah doodah day" in a Puccini opera.  The lexicon of John Wayne films meeting Puccini (and exciting, experimental Puccini at that) threw me for a loop.  But I kept listening (finding Corelli, Frazzoni, and Gobbi along the way,) and I'm glad I did; I love the sweep of the music and its rich harmonies, and the drama keeps revealing more details.  So I was thrilled to have my first live Fanciulla one hundred years to the day from its premiere at the Met.  (There's a nifty website in honor of the occasion with all sorts of goodies--interviews, pictures, scholarly articles!--which I just discovered this week.)  I had some quibbles with the production, but Nicola Luisotti cherished the details of the score, the Met chorus made a great camp of miners, Marcello Giordani was a very sympathetic bandit, and perhaps most importantly, Deborah Voigt sang and acted Minnie with a commitment which made it clear that she loves Minnie, and believes passionately in her courage and its significance.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sir Colin Davis and Nikolaj Znaider with the NYPhil: Mozart and Elgar

Thanks to a friend's invitation, I threw caution and editing to the winds and spent Thursday night with the New York Philharmonic.  It was an evening of excellent performances: I confess to being intellectually and emotionally tired by the conclusion, as well as exalted.  I'm not sure that makes sense in print; the best way I can find to explain it is that the commitment of the artists created a need for listening which was committed not only to receiving but to reaching out, to conscientiously gathering in every last detail that I could possibly soak up, while feeling that a great deal was flowing past before I could quite understand what made it extraordinary.  This was enriching, and rewarding... and tiring! (I feel that I should also offer thanks to Mark Berry, who writes erudite and entertaining prose over at Boulezian, and whose encouragement gave an extra spur to the decision that in the grand scheme of things, an extra evening away from books and laptop could and should be spared.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Visions of sugar plums: George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Really Shameful Confession, of grab-the-smelling-salts proportions: I have never been to the ballet in New York City.  I'm sorry.  Another Really Shameful Confession: I have scarcely been to the ballet at all.  My younger sister and I did all but wear out a VHS of Swan Lake, but family excursions to musical performances, when they happened, were mostly to the symphony (with occasional Gilbert & Sullivan.)  College was rural.  Excuses, excuses.  I did see a really exciting performance of Prokoviev's Romeo and Juliet at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in 2005, unabashedly fierce and angular in choreography and musical interpretation alike, if memory is to be trusted.  But that, as far as memory extends, is my only ballet experience besides a Nutcracker when I was seven (I loved the Christmas tree, and the Dance of the Snowflakes, and was fascinated and frightened by Uncle Drosselmeier) and one when I was thirteen (I thought the pas de deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier was the most ravishingly romantic music I had ever heard, and was fascinated and frightened by Uncle Drosselmeier.)  Why, after allowing so many tantalizing offerings to pass unseen, do I inaugurate my New York City Ballet experience with The Greatest Christmas Cliché of Them All?  Well... I did love it when I was seven, and when I was thirteen.  Furthermore, the Beloved Flatmate has never seen The Nutcracker live!  "But the Christmas tree!" I stammered, when I learned this.  "The snowflakes!"  And then I pulled myself together and said that, after all, Tchaikovsky has been unjustly trivialized, and all the musical sparkle and spectacle would be lifeless without the thrillingly dark, ruthless streak that lies within the best fairy tales (in my raised-on-the-Brothers-Grimm opinion.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Lob des hohen Verstandes: Sir Colin Davis leads the NYPhil in Beethoven and Mahler

Yesterday I went to hear the first of three concerts in which Sir Colin Davis leads the New York Philharmonic in my beloved Beethoven's rarely performed second symphony, and Des Knaben Wunderhorn with soloists Ian Bostridge and Dorothea Röschmann.  I had heard neither piece live before.  Feeling more than usually incompetent, faced with an attempt to describe a symphonic performance (hence the self-deprecation in the title,) I'll keep this brief and hopefully coherent.  Under Davis (surprisingly spry in appearance!) the NYPhil sounded warm and played with vivacious responsiveness.  The Beethoven flowed like a conversation, individual parts clear and crisp, forming an elegant whole where the anticipated resolutions always held something unexpectedly complex.  I'm anything but a connoisseur, but I enjoyed the performance thoroughly.

This was not only my first live Wunderhorn, but also my first time hearing Bostridge and Röschmann in person (so many firsts in one evening!)  They had good chemistry together and both seemed to feel a strong connection to the music.  There was superb work from Davis and the orchestra here, too.  Unfortunately, Ian Bostridge will have to be marked alongside Alice Coote as an artist I'm glad to have heard, but must still look forward to hearing in peak form.  I had some trouble hearing him at the lower end of his range, especially at the outset, and was surprised and dismayed.  He seemed to be fighting a cough, though, and was forced to the discreet use of a handkerchief towards the end of the set.  (It is "cold season" in New York: the audience filled the hall with such a symphony of coughing and hacking as I hope never to hear again, by no means limited to the breaks between movements or songs.)  Still, Bostridge produced some beautiful tones and haunting phrases, often with an unexpected, incisive emotional twist.  More power to him, and good health.  Röschmann was a treat.  Her voice was radiant and rich, and filled with emotion, and her treatment of the language delighted my German Language Nerd soul.  Her characterization of the mother and child in "Das irdische Leben" was a standout in a riveting performance.  For more of Sir Colin with the NYPhil, lucky New York area folks can see not only this concert on two more dates, but also, on the 9th-11th, a program including Mozart's 36th symphony and Nikolaj Znaider with Elgar's violin concerto which, according to Jessica Duchen, is an experience not to be missed.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

S'il y a des sorcières...

I decided to take refuge from NYC's winter rains in sunny Seville, and headed down to see Elina Garanca's polarizing Carmen on Tuesday evening.  I'm glad I did: she has a vocally superb Carmen ("Duh!" you may exclaim, Gentle Readers; and you are right to do so, given the reactions of the international press.  Still, I was genuinely surprised by just how good she was.)  Furthermore, I feel as though she also has a fascinating Carmen just waiting to break free.  There are more details on Richard Eyre's production in my review of the performance I saw last season, with a different cast, than I'll include here.  Although it's fair to say that Eyre could have exploited and explored the 1930s setting of his Carmen more, the production stood up very well for me in this second viewing.  The action flows well, there's a clear point of view on Carmen's world, it can comfortably house a variety of different interpretative choices, and caricature is avoided.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Juan Diego Flórez: Santo

Now that it's almost Advent, I can listen to Christmas music with a clear conscience.  And this year, I decided to start things off with something new: Juan Diego Florez' new album.  The commercial inevitability of "the Sacred Music Album" is something Florez jokes about in the liner notes; but he's succeeded brilliantly in putting together an interesting program.  Comparative rarities appear alongside familiar favorites, with an original composition thrown in: all of it beautiful music that plays to Florez' strengths.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ei segua il suo destin

Auto da fe: (c) Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
With some trepidation and a lot of excitement, I headed downtown to catch the Monday night premiere of Don Carlo at the Met.  I first got to know Don Carlo through what may loosely be called my pre-blog modus operandi: I grabbed a recording in the library because it was there and looked good, found the libretto online, and listened (over and over and over again.)  Nicholas Hytner's production was elegant and emotionally powerful, with stylized sets that recalled the Escorial (and environs) while evoking a powerful sense of a fate that approached inexorably, and imprisoned the complex men and women who struggled so furiously against it.  Here Nicholas Hytner talks about his sense of the opera and his interpretive goals.  In the first (Fontainebleau) act, for instance, it is winter, and a black path cuts a stark zig-zag path through the snow.  Neither Carlo nor Elisabetta use this route, entering; but having agreed to become Filippo's wife, she is carried down it in procession.  The prison-like nature of strong walls with small windows was effective throughout the rest of the opera (such a wall ascending and descending to divide the space of the stage also made scene transitions seamless.)  The set for Elisabetta's garden I found jarring and strange; but that was an exception.  Against this sleek, streamlined backdrop, the costumes and furnishings were deliciously detailed.  Photos from the dress rehearsal may be found here; I'll add more as soon as they're available.  Hytner was on hand to guide the Personenregie (is there an English word for that?) and it was amazing, drawing out the complexities of all the characters, including a hard edge for Martyr to Duty Elisabetta.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin's conducting was, of course, fast, but it was not merely fast.  The orchestra did occasionally outrun the singers, or at least (to my ears) rush them, and did occasionally threaten to drown them.  But there was drama in the pacing, not a mad rush through the score; details were pointed up, and the sheer sweep of Verdi's music was relished (I've said it before: I love the Met orchestra. Nézet-Séguin let them shine here.)  Despite the issues in balance and pacing, I was on the edge of my seat and holding my breath most of the night, so by that standard of measurement, they were doing something very right.  I worried for Roberto Alagna's Carlo during the first act, but whether it was an issue of nerves or warming up, things soon improved and I could relax.  It sounds like a relatively heavy role for him, but he delivered it with passion; he does have a beautiful timbre, and his nervy, anguished Carlo was sung with unflagging energy. "Io vengo a domandar grazia alla mia regina," and the subsequent scene, was a highlight.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Così fan tutte

In the wise words of the Beloved Flatmate, "Gender in opera is never NOT problematic."  In addition to recording and libretto perusal, I prepared for last night's Opera Outing by looking through essays with the trained scholar in me chanting "Problematize! problematize!" and some other part of me saying "...Happy Mozart?"  Everyone starting with the New Grove Guide to Mozart notes Così's history of being labeled as one of Mozart's "weaker" operas, and the problematic, clearly temporary nature of its "resolution."  (For me, this doesn't seem terribly exceptional: I always want to know what happens after the curtain falls.  If there's anyone left alive, that is.)  An essay in Jean Starobinski's Enchantment: The Seductress in Opera (did someone mention problematic gender in opera?) persuasively argues for the significance of the setting of Naples, noting the Neapolitan tradition of opera buffa with its stock characters, and the recurring sea and volcanoes of the libretto.   I read about the Enlightenment and social and theatrical sensibilities (as well as the use of key structure to indicate falsehood and sincerity) in Andrew Steptoe's  The Mozart-Da Ponte Operas.  A chapter in Jessica Waldoff's Recognition in Mozart's Operas (how could I not read a chapter entitled "Sense and Sensibility in Così fan tutte"?) argues that
"the opera's representation of sentimental experience [is forced] to divide against itself.... One has the sense that here as nowhere else in Mozart the lieto fine is a compromise with neither the characters nor the audience can be entirely comfortable.  In its resistance to the reconciliation recognition brings, Così remains true to sentimental experience."
It also remains problematic.  I threw up my hands and went to the opera.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Der Zauber der Boheme

I had a batch of papers to grade this past week.  Experience taught that my emotional equilibrium might be benefited by some pleasant potential distraction.  I chose "Der Zauber der Boheme," (also known as "The Charm of La Boheme") a film I've had out from the NYPL for weeks without finding the time to watch.  The plot is billed as a parallel to "La Boheme," the draw of the film lying in its principal singers/actors, Marta Eggerth and Jan Kiepura.  Used DVDs on Amazon are outrageously expensive, but it is available as a Quicktime download directly from the Bel Canto Society.  It's a tearjerker; it could with justice be called rührselig.  With a high tolerance for the sentimentality of sentimental '30s and '40s films, and for a certain amount of secondary-character situational comedy, it's very enjoyable fluff.  (I confess that I ignored the some of the broadest bits of comedy and the most maudlin of melodrama in favor of the papers.)  Here (embedding disabled) is a clip from the finale of the opera, and the almost-finale of the film.  

It's not a piece I would necessarily recommend as film, but it was for me a happy way to expand my knowledge of opera singers chronologically backwards.  I'm pretty sure the film was supposed to be set in Paris, but everyone speaks German with a bit of a Viennese twist (which gives me warm fuzzy feelings.)  The English subtitles are both non-optional and sparse, sometimes laughably selective.  The chemistry between the two principals is palpable and winning (they would marry a year after the film's release, and remain devotedly so until Kiepura's untimely death.)  Further research led me to this 2008 Times article on Eggerth, and this retrospective CD collection covering over six decades (!!) of her singing.  Formidable.  YouTube has quite a few selections uploaded by her devotees, mostly singing jazz/swing, but also with some operetta and lieder.  I would probably watch the probably ridiculous Schubert biopic (for some value of "biopic"!) from which this appears to be taken:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sing on: Nicholas Phan at Carnegie Hall

My discovery of Nicholas Phan was a little backwards: I linked from mezzo Jennifer Rivera's blog to his, and only then to his website, where I duly investigated audio clips which inspired me to mark the date for his Carnegie Hall debut this past Friday.  Phan's own blog provided me with my homework material: reflections and history on Purcell and Britten, the composers to whose work his recital was dedicated. Carnegie Hall has videos, which I discovered only after the fact, on the preparation of the recital and on Phan's obsession with Britten.  It was a program both passionate and (for me, at least) challengingly cerebral, which Phan delivered with vivid, versatile characterization and impressive command of dynamics and phrasing.  The complete program, with notes, may be found here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Interval Adventures: Am I a musician?

While waiting for Nick Phan's recital to begin last night (post on that soon!), an Old Opera Lady who was the only other person half an hour early addressed me.  I think we exchanged some bromides before she asked: "Are you a singer?"  "Only in church," I answered.   "Oh," she said, and the conversation was over.  Exchanges at the reception after the recital followed a similar, and familiar pattern.  No, this isn't one of my first times at an opera (is my enthusiasm that unusual? is open delight not socially acceptable?); no, I'm not a singer/musician.  When I say I'm a graduate student, the confused interlocutor perks up. "Oh, so you're doing a degree in music!" No.  Oh.

I am unclassified.  Unclassifiable?  If, in these situations, I were to answer that I am a singer, a musician, I would be seriously misleading these people.  I play the piano, but not very well.  I have sung in university choirs, but only those without strict auditions (I tried the latter, and failed.)  I am the cantor of the weekly psalm, but for a congregation whose musically literate members could be counted on one's fingers.  (Two months, and two traumatic debacles: a cracked note, and one terrible time of simply not finding the intervals in the first iteration of the refrain.  The vicar probably notices.  The organist, a deeply passionate and professionally active musician, certainly does, and is kind enough to console and advise.  Others compliment me.)   But even if/though I am "not a musician," does this disqualify me from being a serious audience member?  Interlocutors tend to be surprised if it is once established that yes, I can read a score, or yes, I am familiar with a selection of singers and recordings from the 1950s onward.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Then did Elijah the prophet break forth: Mendelssohn at the NYPhil

I was invited to hear Gerald Finley with the New York Phil under Alan Gilbert perform Mendelssohn's Elijah on Wednesday, and enjoyed a very fine performance from orchestra seating (a treat!)  The oratorio is a favorite piece of my Respected Father's, but it had been ages since I'd heard it.  Encountering it on Wednesday, I was intrigued by Mendelssohn's weaving of texts to create a powerful narrative of an individual's struggle for his faith (both on behalf of it publicly, and internally with doubt and even anger.) The English texts, excerpted from Job, the Psalms, and prophetic literature of the Old Testament, as well as the stories of Elijah, may be found here.  Many of the episodes in the oratorio are inherently--even sensationally--dramatic, with music for tempests, fire from heaven, and a miraculous raising of the dead, but Gilbert and the orchestra maintained a sense of tautness and drama through subtler passages as well.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happy Marriage: Intermezzo at City Opera

The New York City Opera's production of Intermezzo served as a happy reminder of many of the reasons I love Richard Strauss: music and drama with a sense of humor, and unstinting compassion and creativity.  Publicity makes much of Christine, the wife who believes herself wronged, as a comic character... but Strauss' music and drama are more nuanced than that, and the singers' performances acknowledged as much.  The bright production tended to veer too far towards gimmicky for my taste, but was generally serviceable and sometimes charming.  The Art Deco furnishings looked so nice I wanted to steal them, while bits of spiking tape and an absence of painted walls were an occasional distraction (the Beloved Flatmate and I briefly debated whether this was an intentional commentary on the issue of the central couple's private life being in the public eye, and then the subsequent issue of staging a domestic episode precipitated in part by this tension...but thought, on the whole, that it wasn't.)  The 1920s costumes were individualized enough to serve the characters well; Christine, the volatile central character, had a wardrobe full of slightly-eccentric chic.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Intermezzo: the backstory

When all is said and done, what can strangers ever really fathom about the secrets of a heart in love?  I had seen much in the Strauss ménage that rather worried me and that seemed incomprehensible; yet Pauline was and remained Strauss's beloved wife.  I am utterly convinced that he was deeply happy at her side, and that between them there existed harmony and understanding beyond all appearance, that their marriage served as the fundamental inspiration for many of Strauss's immortal works.  --Lotte Lehmann

I'm off to Intermezzo at the City Opera tonight, and my reading on the subject has entertained and interested me so much that I decided to give it its own post.  So voila!  Intermezzo wasn't classified by its composer as an opera, but as a "bourgeois comedy with orchestral interludes."  Richard Strauss's confidence in and affection for the work doesn't seem to have been shared by too many since.  Even NYCO's own publicity seemed strangely apologetic, especially before the bolstering with positive reviews after the opening.  Much was made of the work's "lighthearted" and "cinematic" qualities (I had a friend who received the mistaken impression that the City Opera was performing "I Love Lucy: the Opera" after reading an ad headline which said just that.)  Maybe somewhere there are potential audiences whose ears perk up when they hear an opera described as "accessible," but to me, this seems patronizing of audience and work alike.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Die Frau wirft keinen Schatten

Spirits are high in the bohemian garret: our long-suffering super (not to be confused with Benoit the Landlord) has spent an hour doing battle with the door, and we now have a functioning lock and a shiny new doorknob... and the darn thing is even straighter on its hinges!  Never has the act of leaving the apartment felt so much like a glorious assertion of freedom and independence.  During this week of No Opera Outings, I impulsively entered the labyrinth of Twitter.  The internet is a terrifyingly large and open place, but Twitter has so far given me not only opera news both thoughtful and frivolous, but also a number of contests for free CDs and discounted tickets, one of which I even won (album review later) so I'm sticking with the experiment for now.

I also decided to put my enforced performance hiatus to good use and discover a new opera through an old recording: a live 1977 Frau Ohne Schatten with Leonie Rysanek and James King as the Kaiserin and Kaiser, Ruth Hesse the Amme, and Walter Berry and Birgit Nilsson as Barak and his Wife.  I am aurally addicted and intellectually overwhelmed.  I cannot get enough of the sound; I think I've listened through it three or four times.  Trying to think about how this would be interpreted and staged gives the povero cervello quite a workout.  I turned to the Met's database, but found it difficult to get a feel for the Herbert Wernicke production from photographs alone; a review from its opening didn't help me much either.  I feel as though some further understanding is needed before I can productively begin an investigation of scholarly literature on the subject.  "Hofmannsthal's Response to the Symbolist Dilemma" sounds fascinating, but I can't concentrate on reading it while my brain is screaming "Religion! Power! Virtue! Gender!! What is going on?!?"  The music is achingly beautiful and thrillingly strange and it's presented by artists who are past masters... and I don't know what to make of it.  Suggestions for Further Study or personal reflections, Gentle Readers, would be gladly received.  Trying to answer the questions rocketing around my head could, I imagine, yield some interesting production choices: "What has the Dyer's Wife's past been like?  What do the Three Brothers mean?  What about the falcon?"  Hopefully I can soon say, as the Emperor does in the last scene: Nur aus der Ferne war es verworren bang, hör es nun ganz genau, menschlich ist dieser Klang.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Oh, sventata, sventata, la chiave della stanza...

I had planned, Gentle Readers, to venture forth to Don Pasquale tonight, as the Met's cast bids fair to handle Donizetti with vocal and comedic agility.  However, the door to my own bohemian garret, never what one could call straight on its hinges, has developed a problem with the lock.  So, until Benoit, er, my landlord gets around to dealing with it, the Beloved Flatmate and I are taking turns sitting at home to let the other one in from the cold world of the library and lecture hall.  No Opera Outings for us.  My apologies for the unexpected hiatus... in addition to Don Pasquale, Intermezzo and Così are planned for the near future.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Addio, senza rancor

Last night marked the 1221st performance of La Bohème at the Met, the 398th in Franco Zeffirelli's production.  I had never seen La Bohème, ever.  So I went.  But I left dry-eyed.  And I didn't go in expecting to be disappointed or disdainful; I went in hoping to be childishly delighted.  But the production (in my opinion) often crossed the line from thoughtfully detailed into distractingly fussy.  To be fair to production and performers, the fact that I failed to be drawn into the narrative had much to do with the audience.  I didn't hear the final chords of any of the acts.  I believe there was applause after every. single. aria. and. duet, interrupting the flow of Puccini's music and drama as misplaced periods interrupt a sentence (sorry.)  And applause for the Act II set drowned out "Aranci! Ninnoli! Caldi!"  I feel as though I aged about thirty years towards being an Opera Curmudgeon last night.  I also emerged with a persistent, niggling worry.  I am glad that there are "non-opera-goers" who decide that they want to invest an evening in getting tickets, getting dressed up, and Seeing La Bohème At the Met.  But... what if they decide that opera is quaint?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Love, Death, and Local Color: Cavalleria and La Navarraise

I blame the scaffolding for the lighting.
I could also claim it's an artistic effect.
The Opera Orchestra of New York's much-anticipated return to the musical landscape was, for me, actually a Planned Event rather than Spontaneous Frivolity.  The orchestra, conducted by Alberto Veronesi, played with energy and sensuality, if not faultlessly.  There were a few brass wobbles, and I thought I noted one missed cue.  Veronesi seemed to have very clear ideas about how both verismo operas should sound, however: atmospheric and unabashedly, urgently emotional.  His website is still under construction, but according to Opera News he will be officially directing the OONY from next season onwards.  Technical faults are fixable, so I look forward to good and exciting things.

Usual caveats in place about the fact that I am feeling my way into the vocabulary, not to mention the more technical aspects of musical appreciation, I found the singing of Cavalleria curiously uneven.  The sexiest thing about Lola was her red dress (nerves, maybe?)  Alfio, Carlos Almaguer, seemed to have a nice timbre, but this was masked by a tendency to bellow, which affected intelligibility as well.  Veteran artist Mignon Dunn was a treat as Mamma Lucia, vividly characterized and sung.  Maria Guleghina sang a Santuzza I wanted to like more than I did.  With a warm tone and dramatic commitment she created a Santuzza with uncommon understanding of herself and Turiddu, and a resulting gentleness which was quasi-matronly.  Even phrases like "Turiddu mi tolsi l'onore" were more informed by fond memory than by present anguish.  (Quite a contrast with Waltraud Meier, who created a Santuzza straight out of a Greek tragedy, fierce and rawly passionate.)    Interesting as she was, though, she was occasionally inaccurate, and more than occasionally nigh-inaudible, which I found puzzling and disappointing.  Alagna sounded darker, stronger, and more focused than when I heard him in a run of Cav/Pag at the Met last spring.  (And I heard him from the orchestra, thanks to rush tickets, so the potential problem of his not-very-large voice getting lost should have been obviated?)  At any rate, I was quite impressed.  Curiously, he was the only performer on book for Cavalleria and I missed the unrestrained energy of his on-stage Turiddu.  Still, he sang vividly, and "Mamma, quel vino" was sung with a sob in the voice, urgent with desperation and remorse.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


On Saturday, I finally made it to Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov at the Met, with original orchestration and the restoration of some censored scenes, in Stephen Wadsworth's production.  The libretto (in Russian) may be found here; images from the current production here.  Shameful Confessions up front: I am not familiar with this opera at all.  I frantically skimmed some background reading and gave the Karajan/Ghiaurov recording a listen-through, and that was it, not counting a childhood encounter with the clock scene on LP thanks to my Respected Father's ideas on High Culture (it is still as viscerally terrifying as it was then.)  So I arrived ill-equipped, but eager.  Unfamiliar as I am with the score, I can only say that under Valery Gergiev's direction, it seemed fluid, evocative, and nuanced.  Pacing and balance were problem-free as far as I noticed, and the music came across as emotionally powerful: tense, humorous, mysterious, and achingly empathetic by turns.

Friday, October 22, 2010

True Symphony: Gergiev leads Mariinsky in Mahler's 8th

Fluchtdrang war sie, daß er es sich eingestand, diese Sehnsucht ins Ferne und Neue, diese Begierde nach Befreiung, Entbürdung und Vergessen,--der Drang hinweg vom Werke.  --Thomas Mann, Der Tod in Venedig

It is simplicity itself, the true symphony, in which the most beautiful instrument of all [the human voice] is led to its calling. --Mahler, correspondence on the Eighth Symphony.

Tome on marriage litigation stuffed into my purse, guilty knowledge about the hours of the open library I was missing stuffed to the back of my mind, I sped downtown last night for the only concert in this week of Mahler at Carnegie Hall that I could possibly make.  Valery Gergiev led what I think can safely be called his orchestra, that of the Mariinsky, with soloists from the same theater and Orfeón Pamplonés, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus Academy.  I was told at the box office that, by request of Maestro Gergiev, holders of the ten-dollar student tickets would be seated in the first rows, rather than in the back of the balcony.  I was thrilled.  I love being able to sit in Carnegie at all for that money, but actually walking into the beautiful gold hall, rather than climbing up the back stairs and trying not to bump my head on the ceiling and sitting with my knees jammed against the row in front of me, was a real treat.  It did affect the balance of how I heard the music (the choirs probably rode over the orchestra more for anyone who wasn't sitting practically underneath the first violinist) but such issues were counterbalanced for me by getting to watch the conductor and the musicians... and feeling the music of the climax vibrating through my bones.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kommt, ihr angefochtnen Sünder

My plans for the next few days are as follows: reading a monograph on the development of Europe in the Middle Ages (yes, all of it.) Then another one about marriage and canon law.  Then writing a lecture. Then guiding a museum tour.  Then giving a lecture.  Then attending a seminar.  I do not know when I will next go to the opera.  This is rather sad.  But here is some nice Bach:

Is anyone interested in forming a committee against dubious wardrobe choices?  I know Definitely the Opera has addressed this important issue.  And Magdalena Kozena's dress is a lovely color and appears to be a nice cut... but all I can think of looking at those sleeves is Anne of Green Gables.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Triste ou folle

I had two main reasons for wanting to catch the fall run of Hoffman at the Met: firstly, reviews and word-of-mouth praised the tenor, Giuseppe Filianoti, with remarkable warmth and unanimity.  Secondly, after seeing the rebroadcast of Bartlett Sher's production, I really wanted to experience it in its natural habitat.  Photos from this season's run, focusing on the principals, may be found here; from the past season, containing more striking images of ensembles and tableaux here.  Well, and also Kate Lindsey.  I may have mentioned before that I adore, covet, and salivate over this outfit.  I really wanted to experience her panache in person too.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit

Carnegie Hall sent me and the Beloved Flatmate a flyer advertising "A Transcendent Evening of Brahms," to feature the Alto Rhapsody, with Stephanie Blythe, and the Deutsches Requiem with soloists Erin Morley and Eric Owens; to these blandishments we were far from indifferent.  The first piece on the program was the rhapsody, a piece with which I was unfamiliar (and the program notes provided very little help.)  Subsequent attempts at research turned up fairly little (Wikipedia page here, "detailed listening guide" here.)  The Cambridge Companion to Brahms will be my next stop.  Update: see the comments section for a fascinating (and conveniently accessible) reference provided by Zerbinetta.  The evocative text was excerpted from Harzreise im Winter.  I do love Goethe, but I would never have guessed he could remind me so much of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.  Maybe it was the setting.  Stephanie Blythe is maintaining her perfect record of being fabulous when I've heard her.   She here produced an almost chilly sound, without sacrificing fullness, remote, while still compassionate; the voice of a Miltonian angel, perhaps.  The transition to a plea for divine mercy at the end seemed almost abrupt, given the bleakness of what had gone before, but she characterized it with equal conviction.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Addio del passato

Opera Chic brings the news that, while I was happily observing Verdi's birthday yesterday (by listening to Traviata for the millionth time), the woman who was my first recorded Violetta, Dame Joan Sutherland, passed away.  Tributes have been multiplying since.  Update: Jessica Duchen has shared links to an in-depth interview on her blog.  Frankly, I was surprised at my own reaction.  Why should I feel bereft?  Clearly, I came into opera-listening a generation too late to hear her live.  But she was still part of my landscape; she was there, a venerable presence, a diva larger than life and fully human.  She died not suddenly, but rich in years which were richly lived.  My own sense of being thrown off balance in the wake of some profound change doubtless has much in it that is egotistic.  But I--even I, who knew her only through still-miraculous recorded sound, reported anecdotes, and unearthed interviews--shall miss her being there.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The shape of sound: Debussy, Sibelius, and Lindberg at the NYPhil

Last night, I went to hear a much-advertised program comprising Debussy's Prélude à l’après-midi d'un faune, Sibelius' Violin Concerto in D minor, op. 47, and Magnus Lindberg's orchestral work Kraft.  (I then resisted the temptation to title this "A faun, a fantasy, and a Finn.")  Admittedly, none of this is opera, but it was exciting, so I thought I would share, with the caveat that I am, if anything, less qualified (because a less habitual listener) to review orchestral works than opera.  Still... it was a very interesting night out.  (An unfortunate drawback to the listening experience was that I was seated next to two snorers and behind a row of talkers; there was applause after the first movement of the Sibelius, and defections began approximately halfway through the Lindberg, growing gradually less surreptitious and more numerous up until a scant few minutes before the piece's conclusion.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Der Sänger klugen Weisen

Der Tannhäuser, Codex Manesse
Univ. Heidelberg: Cod. pal. Germ. 848
October already, and the academic year is rushing me towards the central Middle Ages, and, this week, a curious confluence of my professional and opera-related passions, as I come to the study of courtly love.  Suddenly Tannhäuser and the Sängerkrieg are appearing with mention of manuscripts instead of musical motifs.  Although the Minnesänger are not a specialty of mine, I have been fond of them ever since an undergraduate course on high medieval German literature.  A digital facsimile of the gorgeous Codex Manesse, a.k.a. Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift, may be found here, full of poetry and portraits, including those of several of Wagner's protagonists.

Shamefully flighty, I wandered from the paths of focused scholarship into a rereading of the Tannhäuser libretto, where I was charmed to find a connection of the narrative with nature very reminiscent of much medieval secular poetry, as well as (of course) different types of "courtly love."  (Recommendations of favorite Tannhäuser recordings are eagerly solicited, as I am acquiring an itch for deeper acquaintance with the work.)  Scholarly ink has been spilled on the relationship of Wagner's drama to the historical originals of his characters, and their music.  The historical Walther von der Vogelweide, I suspect, would hardly have been disconcerted by Tannhäuser's passionate declaration.  Here, for instance, is one of his most famous songs, praising the pleasures of a lovers' tryst under a linden tree. Wolfram von Eschenbach's lieder are charming (at least to me!), as well as somewhat more earth-bound than "O Du mein holder Abendstern."  The latter, however, is hardly less firmly associated with Wolfram for me.  I love Thomas Quasthoff's interpretation, but this version by Bryn Terfel, shared on Opera Cake, is a current favorite, a perfect antidote to stress or distress.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Interval Adventures: traditionalists and twentysomethings

Verdi, portrait by Giovanni Boldini, 1886
At Rigoletto on Wednesday night, much of my energy was occupied with herding ducklings (i.e. one undergraduate and two freshly-minted M.A. students who were enthusiastic opera novices) in the intervals, but this paid off, as their reactions to the evening ranged from quite pleased to rhapsodic and starry-eyed.  To be fair, they didn't really need herding, but I felt a sense of Solemn Responsibility, as well as the enthusiast's desire to make sure they saw "The Triumph of Music" and benefited from the Ezio Pinza water fountains.

In the second interval, we encountered a startling apparition.  He was full of Dark Prophecies about the Future, yet personally, as he told us, from the Past.  The beloved flatmate and I decided on Imprecating Opera Specter as his official title.  The I.O.S. materialized at our elbow to tell one of our ducklings, who was (rather touchingly over-)dressed in his family tartan, that he should really be at Lucia di Lammermoor.  "I have been coming here for decades," he said, rather lugubriously, "and it used to be that everyone on stage was dressed that way."  I pointed out that Mary Zimmerman's production still had the chorus in hunting costume, if non-ubiquitous kilts.  Or I started to.  "Do not mention that name!" boomed the Opera Specter.  "That woman is death!"  He then unleashed upon the bewildered opera ducklings a torrent of invective against all the "minimalist, abstract, updated, modern Eurotrash" which creeps into the Met like a disease.  "Mary Zimmerman!" he exclaimed, returning to his original target.  "And her ilk.  They make a nonsense of the works.  I hope you're not her daughter!"  I took my opportunity, and spoke up. "When it comes to La Sonnambula," I said, "I thought that it was less coherent and therefore less effective than it could have been.  But Lucia, while it may not be a brilliant production, I thought was inoffensive."  (I don't think it's brilliant, but I rather liked the incorporation of the over-the-top Gothic visual vocabulary of Sir Walter Scott and his contemporaries.  Whether through silent cowardice or discreet valor, I did not say so.) "Well," said the I.O.S., "well, you're right, it wasn't too bad."  And he melted away to his seat, leaving the beloved flatmate and me to opine, sotto voce, to the ducklings that things could be minimalist without being abstract and modern without being either, and that no aesthetic had a monopoly on bad productions.  It was quite an adventure.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Quanto affetto! Quali cure!

Having both a special ticket price offer, and severe opera withdrawal symptoms, I found myself at the Met again last night, for the season's first Rigoletto, with Lado Ataneli, Christine Schäfer, and Francesco Meli in Otto Schenk's production (the fullest spread of photographs, from the '05-'06 season, may be found here.)  Rumor has it that the next outing will be a new production, and soon, news which I must confess to greeting with some sense of relief after last night.  Now, I'm deeply attached to Schenk's venerable Ring, but his Rigoletto never convinced me that it was anything more than merely monumental, a massive, static backdrop for the singers.  The blocking was fairly static too; the worst moment was probably when Rigoletto was pleading "scorrer fa il pianto sul mio cor" from halfway across the stage.  Renaissance architecture and costumes were indeed very beautiful, and the backdrop of gradual dawn over the Italian countryside in Act II looked as lovely as gradual dawn over the Italian countryside; but I'm afraid I must damn poor Otto Schenk with faint praise in this instance.  Oh! and as long as we're being traditional, couldn't we have a door that isn't invisible at the top of a giant staircase for when our hunchback is frenziedly yelling "Ah! la porta! assassini!"?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rheingold! Rheingold!

(c) Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Leuchtende Lust!  Robert Lepage's Rheingold design may not deserve to be labeled as an artistic triumph, but I do think it can be called a success.  It doesn't read against the libretto; the action is clear, and Lepage seems to be more interested in showing off Wagner's drama (and, sometimes, his own technical imagination in doing so) than imposing a heavy-handed interpretation on it.  This is not to say that it was devoid of ideas.  The use of space was creative, placing singers in arresting tableaux and dramatic interactions.  He wasn't afraid of the opera's moments of humor, but let them happen.  And we got a Riesenwurm with thrashing tail menacing Wotan from one side of the stage and fossil-like head, with malicious tongue and deadly jaws, entering from the other: es wand sich ringelnd!  There were moments where the interaction between realism and abstraction didn't sit perfectly easily, but overall it worked well.  There was, occasionally, an audible, unsettling creaking as the enormous mechanism shifted; I imagine, and hope, that something may be done to silence it.  Update: a Met gallery of production photos may be found here.

Weia! Waga! Woge, du Welle...

The Met season has begun! Great was my rejoicing to behold the house ablaze with lights, the plaza thronged with the formally-dressed; to greet the ushers, to ascend the stair, to drink once more from the water fountains dedicated to Ezio Pinza. A full report will have to be of Wagnerian proportions, and be postponed at least until after I have lectured tomorrow. But the joyous news extends to the fact that the sets have been promoted, in my head, from The Picket Fence of Symbolism to Robert Lepage's Design for the Ring. The house was abuzz with talk! My beloved flatmate and I of course contributed our share, and were happily chattering about interpretations as we exited, waited at the stage door, gave up on waiting, and shared dinner and a bottle of wine at a nearby restaurant. There were a few points which I thought could have worked better, it's true. But the direction did not seem to me to cramp the drama; rather it opened it up, highlighting themes and examining the implications of the characters' interactions (wondrous to relate!) At the close, there was a determined cadre of booers, but it was, clearly, a cadre; the energy in the house was positive, the applause hearty and unfeigned. Some of the bravos, including my own, may have been augmented for the sake of trotzing the Buhrufer (clearly it is late at night, since my English and German are beginning to cross-pollinate), but the reaction was unfeignedly passionate.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dich, teure Halle

The Metropolitan Opera (in aeternum floreat) recently set up a survey for "fans" of its Facebook page to fill out, providing information about their opera-going habits and preferences, as well as about what they would like to see as part of the Met's Facebook presence, through answering multiple-choice questions.  These were tricky.  How important is a director to me when choosing to see an opera production?  I'm unlikely to say no to anything on the basis of its production... so I suppose this makes me officially "neutral," though far from indifferent.  Do my friends and family like opera?  Optional answers were Yes, No, and Don't Know.  What about "Some," or, "Generally Indifferent," or, "If They Don't It's Not My Fault"?  One notable and distressing omission was the complete absence of any question asking to what extent financial concerns influenced opera attendance and ticket-buying patterns!  I may not buy a subscription series, dear Met, or ever (hardly ever) sit anywhere but the Family Circle (heck, I hardly ever sit, unless thanks to rush tickets), but to paraphrase the parable: these have given unto you of their abundance, while the graduate student hath given thee all she hath!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

L'amor della diva

On this, the thirty-third anniversary of her death, I've been thinking about Maria Callas, for whom adjectives seem either superfluous or misleading.  Aprile Millo has a touching post here.  There are some great stories of Callas-discovery over at Parterre box, but I had no older-generation opera-lovers to take me literally or figuratively by the collar and command, "Listen to this!"  I find I can't say for certain what the first time I heard Callas' voice was.  But I do remember, vividly, the first times I listened.  Tosca was one of the first operas I loved, and her Tosca was the first opera recording I bought for myself.  This was an investment undertaken in fear and trembling by my undergraduate self, after searching reference works and internet comment for recommendations.  I listened.  I was drawn in.  And the diva's entrance was, for me, an "aha" moment: so that is what Tosca sounds like.  I was mesmerized.  It was impossible not to take the emotions expressed by that voice seriously; impossible not to be moved.  After that, I checked Un Ballo in Maschera out of the college library; that became the second recording I bought.

The person and persona of Maria Callas are, of course, of legendary stature. Here she discusses the definition of a prima donna (!), serving music, acting in opera, Serafin, and Bellini (further parts of the interview include discussion of choosing and learning roles, interpreting characters (and convincing the public you're right!) and giving opera life in the face of changing audience sensibilities.  But I hope it is a tribute to the artist that, however much I may admire, pity, and puzzle over the particulars of her life, all that fades and is forgotten when listening to her sing.  She is Tosca, Amelia, Norma, Leonora, Violetta, Medea, Anna Bolena; and I believe every note... after the first one, which is always occupied with me thinking "Ah yes! Callas."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Quando m'en vo

Franco Corelli buying zeppole in Little Italy, (c) unknown
This past Sunday, despite a steady, drizzling rain, saw my neighbor-hood celebrating Ferragosto with restaurants adding sidewalk tables and menu specials, lots of music from stereos and bands alike, and more zeppole than you could shake a stick at.  The evening was finished off by an event sponsored by the pastry shop (the owner is a retired professor of Italian literature who likes Puccini and Pavarotti.)  After working at home, resisting the blandishment of riotous goings-on in the streets for most of the afternoon, I rewarded myself with this.  And it was a joy, an insouciant smörgåsbord of Sinatra hits delivered by the resident specialist, Neapolitan song by a second resident specialist, piano selections by Tchaikovsky and Debussy, and arias and duets from Verdi, Puccini (of course,) and Donizetti.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Music for a While

Gentle readers, a narrative of serendipity: on Tuesday, while browsing Kinderkuchen for the FBI (a blog worth investigating not only for its magnificent name, but also for its eclectic content) I chanced across a notice in the blogroll: Jesse Blumberg performs in NYC.  I followed, of course, this scent, and Barihunks (!) informed me that the program would be one of British song.  It remained but to inform my visiting friend, a singer, who exclaimed that this was among her favorite repertory... and we were off to the piano dealership (where we coveted things!) where the recital was to be held.

The personable Mr. Blumberg informed his audience that this was the first time, and hopefully the first of many, that he and pianist Erika Switzer would be performing the recital, and our indulgence for occasional referrals to a music stand was therefore begged.  The program was organized into three sets--a Shakespeare set, a "Young Love" set, and a "Day and Night" set--with Britten arrangements as "palate cleansers" between them.  While I was familiar with most of the texts, much of the music was relatively unfamiliar to me, and some pieces entirely unknown. Mr. Blumberg stated at the outset that the pieces were infrequently heard (especially together,) because of a contemporary sensibility which shies away from their lush romanticism, a romanticism which should require no apology.  I felt that, did I own a lace-edged handkerchief, it would have been suitable to wave it in a gesture of support for Unapologetic Romanticism.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tutti mi chiedono, tutti mi vogliono

The fall season may not begin for almost a month according to opera houses worldwide, but according to universities, including my own, it is well and truly upon us.  While of course I shall be continuing to obsess about opera without interruption, September may be a month of somewhat sporadic posting, as I reenter the academic arena as student and teacher.  If I can be as patient and firm as Minnie with her miners, I'll be doing well.  Getting into a routine of waking up with early-morning pinks and golds still on the brickwork, making sure my briefcase is adequately packed, notes adequately prepared for lecture and library, I've been feeling a certain amount of empathy for Figaro being pulled qua, là, su, giù.  "Ahimè," I was saying to myself, "che furia! Ahimè, che folla!"  

Is it possible not to be drawn in by the animal high spirits of Hermann Prey's Figaro?:

I'm always mildly shocked when Tito Gobbi isn't playing Scarpia... especially when he's having as much fun as here.  I love the old-Hollywood-style filming (although why a busy barber is wearing pompoms is a mystery to me): 

Watching these, I was struck by something:  Figaro is happy.  Just listen to him tra-la-la-ing!  Keeping long hours, being pulled this way and that, overwhelmed with demands... he's a happy man, who loves his work and is proud of doing it.  And I can say that too.  I need to remember that, like the barber of Seville, I am "fortunatissimo per verità."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar' Ding

Summer is drawing to its close according to the academic calendar, if not to that of opera houses, and despite the fact that New York temperatures remain stubbornly above 90 degrees.  My flatmate and I have stolen our last balmy late evenings on Lincoln Center Plaza, enjoying the HD rebroadcasts of Der Rosenkavalier and Les Contes d'Hoffmann.  I should have anticipated the thought-provoking consequences of this pairing of operas, but I didn't.  So, now I am sitting in my flat with a cup of tea and pondering the fragility and strength of mortal loves.  Melancholy? Perhaps, but then there's this (here from the video which marked one of opera's few, memorable irruptions into my childhood and adolescence):

Unbelievably, people started leaving before this.  Unbelievably, when R. Strauss himself is rumored to have complained about the length to a violinist during rehearsals for the premiere?  Well, yes... because they sat through nearly all of Act III and then left.  Before this.  I entertained impossible visions of throwing myself across the aisles and grabbing ankles.  But I was in the center of a row.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Furchtbarer Ring

From hi-tech Ring from the late 19th century
Philip Kennicott's article on the Ring in the current issue of Opera News makes some claims which are considerably more tendentious than the tone of the article grants.  For instance, Kennicott seems to imply that the ideological viability of the Ring stands or falls by the person of Siegfried.  Surely Siegfried can hardly be less than problematic, but a number of interesting stagings have rendered him less central than Kennicott claims he must be. Take Brünnhilde, for instance: Definitely the Opera has a recent post about the significance of her arc in the narrative and how different directors have treated it, especially from feminist perspectives.  And come to that, is the Ring's status as an opera (or four) of ideas really that exceptional?  I might argue that the Ring differs from other philosophical reflections in operatic form in degree, not in kind.  (If I argued this, of course, I would not be able to cite sources other than the operas themselves and I could never maintain a debate.  I need to read some books about Wagner.  My father suggests that I should "just add another degree on the side."  I disagree.  But I do want to read some more books.)  At any rate, I enjoyed reading and rereading the article, sometimes wondering how I would formulate a polite and intellectually respectable disagreement with Mr. Kennicott over coffee, and sometimes just savoring things like a description of Ring-lovers as "itinerant crowds of slightly deranged pilgrims who will hop continents to see it."  Can I add "become slightly deranged Ring-pilgrim" to my lifetime to-do list?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Giulietta! son io!

I feel that I ought to add a category similar to Really Shameful Confessions in cataloging my opera obsession: Really Exciting Discoveries.  This week I made another one!  Und zwar, a tenor aria previously unknown to me, the impassioned "Giulietta! son io!" from Riccardo Zandonai's Giulietta e Romeo.  The NYPL has no circulating copies of this opera, I can't find its libretto online, and so I am left with only this tantalizing excerpt.  This itself seems to be fairly rarely recorded, although Alagna has a rendition on a recital album, and it's set to be on the forthcoming verismo album of everyone's favorite German tenor.. A comparative proliferation of YouTube videos tempts me to the inference that it may have been a favored show piece of Mario del Monaco.  Thanks to operabathosa, here is a 1956 rendition (embedding disabled).  And I am addicted to it.  (As if there were any doubt as to my sentimental susceptibility...)


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