Tuesday, October 7, 2008

PEARL FISHERS in Washington

An unpretentious production that tells this improbably but touching tale -- a Ceylonese Phantom of the Opera, my daughter pointed out to me -- with good singing and colorful if not overly imaginative sets and costumes. What's not to like? Especially since, to my great delight (though to the groans of Urtexters, I'm sure), conductor Giuseppe Grazioli opted for the crowd-pleasing return of the great "Oui c'est elle" melody at the end of the Nadir-Zurga duet, rather than the lame "Amitié sainte" ending the was (they say) Bizet's "original intent."

Nora Amsellem as Leila, Charles Castronovo as Nadir, and Trevor Scheunemann as Zurga all gave satisfaction. Scheunemann is the journeyman of the group, and did not even attempt the high note at "Et son chant qui plane sur nos têtes" -- in fact that whole passage was taken down -- but he has a pleasant light baritone voice. So do forty gazillion other young American singers, which might be his main problem right now.

Castronovo managed Nadir's stratospheric tessitura not quite like Gedda or Kraus, but who can demand that? He didn't go into ridiculous falsetto either. Amsellem was in good voice and very feisty (though I could have done without her mock-Indian head motion during her curtain call).

Keep an eye on Denis Sedov, the young Russian bass who sang the thankless role of Nourabad. He had impressive heft, volume, and dark tone.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Are you grading exams and reading Supreme Court opinions? No? Then you'll have time to watch Lego TOSCA!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Check it out: a 1919 NY Times review of L'AMORE DEI TRE RE. Can't agree with his dissing of FRANCESCA, but on everything else -- good piece.
I didn't know until this past weekend's Commencement ceremony (or Common Cement, as the electric traffic sign always manages to put it) that at the Ed School that's part of my university we had an MA student named Amneris Lopez Boyd!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Well boil my borscht. Pimen's narrative of the murder of Dimitri is in the 1869 version of BORIS but not the 1872 version. Guess Mussorgsky deleted it to "make room" for the Polish Act, but the later performance tradition -- correctly -- deemed it essential (as is the Polish Act) and put it back.

One of many things you learn from listening to Gergiev's side-by-side recording of the 1869 and 1872 versions.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Converted? I don't know if I'd say that. But I'll say this.

I rarely turn off classical radio just because I can't stand what I'm hearing. In fact, I never do so -- except once. It was years ago, and the piece under transmission was, of course, SATYAGRAHA; specifically, the beginning of Act II (the "ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha"s).

Listening to it yesterday, I found the opening of Act I very beautiful. Not operatic, really; more like a cantata. But beautiful. More demanding as the act went on; but hey, I like Strauss and Berg: I can do "demanding."

When Act II and the "ha ha ha"s came around, I found they sounded very different from how I remembered them when I Scarpia'ed them off my radio all those years ago. From back then, I remember it as a very industrial sound. Yesterday, it was lyrical and tonal. Fault of memory? Difference of interpretation? (A very bad car radio?)

Anyway, yesterday's broadcast was a pleasant surprise.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

OK, I'm enjoying THE GAMBLER right now; I didn't blog the broadcasts of BOHEME b/c I didn't feel like listening to it (that's a see opera for me, you know?), nor that of PETER GRIMES b/c I don't yet know it well enough and I had a lot work for my day job.

Anyway, I did go down to the multiplex and March 23 to see TRISTAN. That was only partly that I love TRISTAN, tho' I certainly do. It was also because of the amazing run of incidents that plagued this year's TRISTAN run at the Met: if anyone else upchucked or broke their butt, and I had a chance to see it live, well, I'd feel pretty foolish if I let a sawbuck and a drive to the mall had stand between me and seeing that.

As it happened, the broadcast performance was incident-free, and a fine performance. Full comments to follow.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why I didn't blog LUCIA: I was away. Not just on the road, but in the Matrix.

Now, were you at the opening TRISTAN? If so, feel free to comment, but from my vantage point (not having been there or heard it), I'm going to side with the apparent majority who think the booing of John MacMaster was bang out of line.

The dissenters say he was so goshawful that artistic justice demanded booing, just like they do at La Scala and Palermo. The majority says he wasn't that goshawful: he was singing his first Tristan at the Met, on short notice, with no rehearsal.

I would add that for better or worse -- mostly for better -- the Met is not La Scala or Palermo, and anyway, Wagner is not Italian opera, with its "school" conventions that can be easily applied by an audience full of gifted-amateur critics.

Mr. MacMaster, take heart. You saved the show, and most Met-goers are grateful to you for it.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Applause after Iago's Credo?

Credo in unendliche Melodie

I've had one insider answer (hi, Mom!) as to why Guelfi didn't get applause for the Credo last Saturday: Bychkov is not among those conductors who believe in interrupting the flow of drama for applause.

Oi veh -- cue the chin-stroking and the musicological jargon. It's a big debate.

The Italian tradition favors applause after big numbers. The bel canto composers (including early Verdi) clearly expected it, and even the Verismists left room for it. But OTELLO represents Verdi's longest stride in a Wagnerian direction. And Wagner clearly does not favor interstitial applause -- unless it's Wagner himself doing it, as he is said to have once done at a dress rehearsal for PARSIFAL. (Then there are those moments in Wagner when you know there's not supposed to be set-piece applause -- b/c it's Wagner, you know -- but you cheat and sneak it in anyway, like right after a rousing rendition of Ortrud's curse!)

Following Iago's Credo, Verdi neither forces the conductor to stop for applause, nor forces him to move on. Much like (Mom reminds me) Mascagni after Vo lo sapete.

Now, I'm a big Wagnerian opera-as-drama type. So you're guessing my view would be: plow on, and be damned to the singers' egos and fans. Well, you'd be wrong: I say stop and give a baritone a break. He's playing a disgusting character with a lot of tough singing, and this is his only chance for applause, b/c you certainly can't wedge any in after the Brindisi or Era la notte. At least for Met purposes, I'm sufficiently wedded to the House's italianate traditions to take that position.

But Bychkov apparently thinks differently, and these days, that may just be part of the cost of getting a conductor who makes the sparks fly. Fausto Cleva always stopped for applause, and his name is circumstantially linked with innumerable great memories. But face it, do music magazines do Cleva retrospectives? Do record companies issue The Cleva Recordings, Vols. I - XX? You see what I mean. I repeat: Bychkov made the orchestra sound greater than great, and conducted the most orchestrally moving OTELLO I've ever heard. (Maybe I should go back to the Karajan for a comparison, but I know Barbirolli's performance, and he's no slouch.)

Support your local baritone
Besides, the audience has to take some responsibility too. How much do they want to applaud their baritone? I noticed they had no trouble forcing Bychslap to sit down and let them cheer for Renee after Salce/Ave Maria. As one who has (in smaller houses) personally initiated "hands" that would not otherwise have happened, I say: break in with applause for your baritone too, if you like him! Don't be such a damn Saturday-matinee, drove-up-from-Philly kind of crowd that you only clap for the soprano!

Next debate -- NOT!! -- should Iago laugh evilly at the end of the Credo? Correct answer: no. Acceptable alternative answer: yes, if he gets no applause, and if he waves a chainsaw at the conductor.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

OTELLO was as I predicted, only better. Judging from my car radio (the only opportunity I had to hear it), Botha presented a very unusual interpretation by being so lyrical, and showed great athleticism by doing it so well. Perhaps it's what Bergonzi would have done, if Bergonzi could have done it at all.

True, the repetition of the point about Verdi and the pianississimi in Otello's part grew grating after a while. After one has read it in Botha's Opera News interview, and then heard it a gazillion times in the broadcast patter, one has gotten the point. But the proof is in the performance -- can he really do it, and if he can, how does it come off an interpretation of Otello? My answers: yes; and, a very valid one.

In another Opera News article, Toscanini was quoted as saying that the pianississimi in the OTELLO score shouldn't be taken at face value (recalling what he heard Verdi himself say when he, Toscanini, was playing cello in the world premiere). But for a loud Otello, we have both commercial and private recordings of DelMonaco and (my favorite) McCracken. Botha's was a new approach, and lovely.

Guelfi was much better than I expected. There's a wobble there at times, and no, he doesn't quite sound like he did in that old TRITTICO. But on radio it came off as a good strong Verdi-villain voice: confident up top, and bassy in the low range. Why no applause for the Credo? No longer part of Met performance practice, or did the house audience not think he deserved it?

Fleming ruled. But so, above all, did Bychkov. I know the Met orchestra is the world's greatest, but I've rarely heard them like this! Magnificent playing, and perfect dramatic timing. The opening and Si pel ciel nearly peeled the vinyl off my front seat.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

I won't be quasi-live-blogging the OTELLO b'cast today the way I did CARMEN last week, b/c I'll be on the road, but I'll give my impressions afterwards.

What I'm expecting is that Botha will observe the piani and pianissimi in the score, will be criticized for it, but will sound beautiful nonetheless, if not exactly del-Monaco-italianate. Fleming will be great. Guelfi will get the job done, and with dramatic flair, but those who remember his awesome recorded Michele will wonder what became of that guy.

As for Semyon Bychslap, I hear good things about him, but have not yet heard him conduct....

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Well that was fast. The '57 Bayreuth RING under Knappertsbusch became available at Berkshire Record Outlet about a week ago -- opera by opera, not as a unit. Then --blink twice, and all except SIEGFRIED are gone.

That year's Siegfried was Bernd Aldenhoff. Hmmm.

Most in demand, I guess, was the WALKURE -- Nilsson's last Sieglinde before her promotion to Brunnhilde. and her only one at Bayreuth. (Varnay was Kna's Brunnhilde.)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

CARMEN b'cast thoughts, 3

Nancy Fabiola Herrera is your basic central-casting Fiery Gypsy, good voice, nothing remarkable. (But how does a singing-actress bring something to Carmen that hasn't been done a bazillion times?)

Marcelo Alvarez is giving us a much more lyrical Don Jose than usual. His Flower Song had passages sung mezza voce that we're used to hearing "can belto." I thought it was lovely.

Lucio Gallo is a gifted basso buffo, but not an Escamillo. (The Met has made some strange Escamillo choices in recent years. Sergei Leiferkus?)

Two thumbs up for Krassimira Stoyanova's Micaela.
CARMEN b'cast thoughts, 2

The Quiz -- a quiz hosted by opera characters? It just might work, as a once-in-a-while gag, provided the character was impersonated by someone widely known for playing that role. The question tossed out to the public at the outset would be, who is this person "really."

EDITED TO ADD: Wait a minute. No, it would be a terrible idea. What was I thinking of?
CARMEN b'cast thoughts, 1

a. What's wrong with Borodina? This is not the first Carmen she's missed this season.

b. Good to hear this new comprimario baritone, Stephen Gaertner, singing Morales. He's scheduled for Melot later this season. I like a baritone Melot (check out Bernd Weikl in the Karajan recording!), and young Gaertner sounds like he's got just the right sound.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Rolando Villazon! (And get better, whatever keeps going with you.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008


"Welcome, opera lovers in the United States and Canada....!"

I had to start that way, because that's the way Milton Cross, and later Peter Allen, used to begin the Saturday afternoon broadcasts. Those words came right after "TEXaco presents -- the-uh-uh Metropolitan Opera!" Of course that was back when Texaco did present the Metropolitan Opera (you haven't bought gas from Texaco or Chevron since they stopped, have you?). And it was back when we had distinguished, knowledgeable, and manly announcers, instead of -- well let's not start a bitchslapfest down that alley on our very first day, shall we?

Anyway I've just been listening to Act II of SIEGFRIED in the Barenboim set. While B's prelude to Act I didn't have his trademark solemnity, his prelude to Act II did.

Other things going on in my life right now (besides federal preemption of state common-law tort actions, but that's for the other blog) is that I'm majorly ramping up my knowledge of the Janacek operas. Since Mackerras recorded the major ones with Elisabeth Soderstrom, and since Soderstrom had one of the great voices of all time, and since she was also a great friend of my mother's ("Aunt Bibeth" was what I called her), this is a pleasant undertaking. Aunt Bibeth said Emilia Marty/Elina Makropoulos was her favorite role, and I don't doubt it.