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.


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