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....