Sunday, August 23, 2015

Listening Library: Turandot

There's nothing like blasting an opera on the stereo to help oneself settle into a new place; this is a credo by which I proudly live. And I have found it to be particularly salutary in the eerie quiet of a carpeted house. (I'm still suffering from NYC-withdrawal.) Turandot may seem an odd choice to inaugurate my listening sessions here. It is, by almost any standard, one of the most unloveable of operas. Being unfinished, it's in many ways an oddly unfulfilled work. Moreover, it is, even by the criteria of opera's mostly-nineteenth-century standard repertory, astonishingly sexist and racist/Orientalist. It's a mess. However. It is--to me--musically fascinating. (Lots of Aida productions have managed to leave the banks of the Nile behind; I'm waiting for Turandot to make a more decisive break from China.) The score, evocative and experimental, not only shows Puccini's technical mastery, but shows him pushing the expressive potential of that mastery in new ways. I am a well-documented sucker for all the emotional manipulation of Puccini's mid-career standards, and believe them to be unfairly mired in a largely kitschy production history (cf. William Berger). But Turandot, with its disturbed characters, disturbing libretto, and unquiet musical undercurrents, manages to an unusual degree to transcend its own surface narrative, at least for me as a listener. It has also benefitted from what has to be one of the great vocal lineups of opera recording history.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Opera Obsession: the wilderness year(s?)

Brace yourselves, Gentle Readers: this post may be answering a question nobody is asking. The question is: what is happening to this blog? If you are regular readers (bless you, I don't deserve you) you may have been asking this for some time. Herewith, I attempt to answer... and I ask some questions of you, in turn. As I've mentioned on occasion, I'm working on a Ph.D.; somewhat to my own surprise, the longer this degree goes on, the greater the amount of my time it seems to absorb. Less surprisingly, the longer it goes on, the more impecunious I become... and the larger the realities of job-hunting loom on my horizon, restraining my natural impulses towards the purchase of opera tickets. So much for the recent past of this blog; now for its immediate future. Being temporarily without funding, I have been forced to leave NYC for the coming academic year. I hope this is only a temporary exile; justified though I feel my complaining about the Met's excessively conservative programming to be, it's not the only show in town, and I will miss the city's rich operatic offerings, from the site-specific productions of new and rare works at Gotham Chamber Opera, to the intimate and creative work of Amore Opera, to the Bronx Opera in my own borough... and beyond. So, what will I be doing with this space? This, Gentle Readers, is where I ask for your input on my ideas.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Proms Postcard: a belated Beethoven blog post

 My summer, as you may have suspected, Gentle Readers, was mostly spent in libraries, pursuing the Ph.D. which seems to take up more time the further it progresses. But! under the good influence of Zerbinetta (recently reporting on Bregenz, for those indulging in vicarious opera-travel or planning their own) I was pulled away from my desk and up to London for a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. My experience of the famous queue was enjoyable and fairly low-key. Arriving in mid-afternoon, we took our seats on the stairs, were eventually given numbered slips marking our appointed place, and were instructed not to be absent for more than half an hour at a time. As at the Met, and perhaps as in any opera queue (cf. Benzecry's anthropological study) official staff were joined, and sometimes challenged, by line regulars in the enforcing of good order. But it was all very pleasant, and rather less hectic than I'd expected. (Picnicking highly recommended.) Later in the afternoon, the queue became longer and more anxious, but everyone seemed to get in. Once packed in the arena, it became somewhat difficult to struggle out in the interval, as those standing sat down... but despite suffering from mild claustrophobia, I was never uncomfortable. And the concert itself? With Andris Nelsons leading the magnificent CBSO in the music of my beloved Beethoven, it was a treat indeed.


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