Friday, December 25, 2009

I see that Bonaldo Giaiotti has a Christmas birthday. Happy birthday (yesterday, actually, at this point) to this fine (and, in his prime, underrated) basso, now 77! I saw him often as Sparafucile, Ramfis, Alvise -- and of course, his voice defined Timur for a generation.

Here he is singing "Ella giammai g'amo" (how is Ella, anyway? Merry Christmas to her) at the Arena di Verona in 1985. Not as warm and grand as Tozzi, not as omg-cantante as Siepi, but, one could argue, more sheer bassiness than those super-greats who outshone him. Ad multos annos!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

- La Muse, si vous le permettez, sortira d'un tonneau.

- Si je le permets? Volontiers, mademoiselle, pourvu que vous ne rentrez plus dedans, mais restez ici!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Met HOFFMANN: Muse at 11 !

Well, I have a new opera lovemuffin: Kate Lindsey, the mezzo-soprano who plays the Muse and Nicklausse in the current production. (I said new, not only: I still love you too, Anna!)

And therein lies a point: this is the most Muse-centric HOFFMANN I've ever seen. Afaik, productions since the '70s have been stressing Nicklausse's dual identify as Hoffmann's male best friend and his female Muse. As "gender-bending" has become more popular, along with increasingly erudite reconstructions of Offenbach's original score and dramaturgy, this trend has only continued.

(The problem of conflicting "original versions" of this opera, and their contestable preferability to the more familiar "corrupt" version that made this opera a world-wide hit, is well discussed in this review from 21 years ago.)

Without endorsing "gender-bending" as such, I approve. Nicklausse was always more than just the one who "du ben sens emporta le prix," though he's at least that. There's a reason he's there in every story with his "good sense." He doesn't just want Hoffmann to stay out of trouble, as a good "best friend" character. He -- or rather she, the loving and jealous Muse of Poetry -- wants Hoffmann for herself. Even in the Cluytens recording on EMI, made before many of the current trends, the Muse announced (speaking) to Hoffmann: "L'homme n'est plus: renais poete! Hoffmann, appartiens-moi!"

The difference today is that the Muse is not an elderly French actress (as in the Cluytens recording), but a rather attractive Kate Lindsey, who looks good in Nicklausse's Dietrich-esque suit and top-hat -- and even better in the Muse's white shift!

In Bartlett Sher's production for the Met, the Muse is after Hoffmann with a vengeance. Her "sortira d'un tonneau " scene in the Prologue is not spoken (there is no spoken dialogue in this production) but sung, to an aria-tune I was not familiar with (is this an Oeser "discovery"? Authenticity in dispute?) She's got her work cut out for her: at curtain-rise, Hoffmann and Stella are making out on a table at Master Luther's tavern. Sensing Hoffmann's heart isn't in it, Stella (played by Netrebko, doubling Antonia), slinks out to get ready for her role in DON GIOVANNI at the opera house next door -- but not before bestowing a challenging mock-kiss on the Muse. Girl, we're fighting this one out! And the Muse as good as says so!

This leads to this production's most unusual feature: virtual collusion between Nicklausse/Muse and the Villains. Some will say, more than virtual. I don't think we need to go that far. But, at a minimum, the Villains take Nicklause into their confidence in a way I've never seen before, or could have imagined. Nicklausse helps Coppelius sell Hoffmann the glasses (Levine here uses a trio that I think is Oeser; anyway he doesn't use the aria "J'ai des yeux"). Nicklausse ushers Dr. Miracle into Crespel's living room, and lends his/her wrist to Dr. Miracle for the taking of the absent Antonia's pulse. Dr. Miracle's "Morte!" was half-whispered aside to Nicklausse. In the Venice Act, "Scintille diamant" (yes, we got the complete and exclusive traditional Guiraud/Choudens Venice Act: no poison, no "Tourne miroir," no "L'amour lui dit la belle" -- the dream of a traditionalist, like me!) began as sort of "OK, now here's the plan" speech to Nicklausse.

So the question then becomes -- wtf? Does Nicklausse join the Evil Genius in wanting Hoffmann to suffer and wanting to destroy the Three Heroines? Well, first, remember that there is the gravest doubt that the Three Heroines, unlike Stella, are real, as opposed to being pure creations of Hoffmann's imagination. In the Prologue, Nicklausse significantly asks: "Que parles-tu de trois maitresses?" And Hoffmann replies with words that strongly suggest stuffing a pipe-stem in Nicklausse's mouth to shut him up: "Fume!" ("Smoke" Or, "Here, have a pipe.") He follows this up by assuring Nicklausse that he will understand only when the stories are told, and his own role as the one who "carried off the prize for good sense" becomes clear. The Muse's only rival in "real life," if that term has any purchase in this opera, is Stella.

Second, according to the ensemble that ends the opera in the Met's version (another Oeser-ism?), the poet is made great through love. But implicitly, it is not as a lover that he is to be great, but as a poet. Hoffmann's travails in the three tales are his artistic boot camp. Nicklausse, in this view, becomes his artistic drill instructor -- adversative, but for constructive purposes -- even if the Evil Genius remains an Evil Genius. In Sher's view, a certain alignment of intent arises between the Villains and Nicklausse/Muse, but not an alignment of motive. Both want to ix-nay Hoffmann's romance of the moment -- the Villains, to destroy him; the Muse, to build him up and win him over.

(Sher refocuses attention away from the Villains by costuming the patient Alan Held substantially the same in each of his four roles. I've seen productions in which each Villain was costumed gloriously differently: generally I prefer this, but Sher's alternative view is valid.)

Singers: I loved Joseph Calleja's Hoffmann. There are experts who don't, finding an unpleasant vibrato in his voice. I don't: I hear a voice that is lyrical enough to convey Hoffmann's tenderness and vulnerability, yet with sufficient stamina to get through the role. I think it is the sheer length of the part that takes it out of the reach of some lyric tenors. An excellent Hoffmann was served up to us at the Virginia Opera about a year ago by Dan Snyder -- but Dan is a budding Heldentenor. John Alexander was a leading Hoffmann at the Met in the '60s -- but John was really a juegendliche Heldentenor, discovered as such by the City Opera (Stolzing, Bacchus), and by James Levine in a concert LOHENGRIN, but never by the Met. Long story short: Hoffmann is a tough role, and to get through it with a consistent sweet voice is a feat. Calleja pulled it off with grace.

Kate Lindsey -- who, as I said, must now put up with my crushing on her -- was clearly the #2 star and the #1 diva of the performance: when has Nicklausse ever achieved that? At curtain calls, it was she, not any of the Three Heroines, who brought Maestro Levine onstrage for his bow. And that was with Netrebko on stage and eligible for this privilege -- gewalt! Lindsey has a clean and lithe lyric mezzo voice, and a face that says "handsome" more than "gorgeous" in a, you know, Netrebko-esque way. She also showed, like Calleja, great vocal stamina, as the version performed here includes several Nicklausse/Muse arias (Oeser's, I suspect) that one doesn't usually hear: the sung version of the Muse's self-introduction aria, a Nicklausse aria making fun of Olympia early in Act I, the "violin aria" in Act II, and the "love makes art" ensembe at the end of the Epilogue.

To help make time for these, and perhaps to spare Calleja some effort, Hoffmann's "O vivre deux" in Act I was dropped -- and was not missed. Point is, Nicklausse/Muse in this version is a role of near-Wagnerian length, and Miss Lindsey shone from first to last.

While Calleja has largely been spared invidious comparisons to Rolando Villazon, whom he replaced, Alan Held, in the role of the Four Villains, has been made to suffer by comparison to Rene Pape, whom he replaced. (Quick: has it ever happened before that one bass-baritone with a 4-letter first and last name replaced another one with a 4-letter first and last name in the same production? -- I have no idea.)

Held need not worry. Perhaps Pape, with his bassier voice and well-known dramatic flair, would have been even better, but Held is a pro in this trying tour-de-force, and held his own (ha ha ha) vocally and dramatically. Those who remark that his performance fell short of the breath-taking bad-assery of the greatest "Four Villains-es" (London, Evans, Treigle, Bacquier) should remember that this production dials down the Villains' importance a little, making him share attention with Nicklausse/the Muse. Blame that on director Bartlett Sher, if you must, but not on Held.

The Three Heroines: After La Netrebko decided not to attempt the unnecessary tour de force of doing all of them, we ended up with three specialists: Kathleen Kim as Olympia, Netrebko as Antonia (and, in flapper gear, as Stella), and Ekaterina Gubanova as Giulietta.

Miss Kim, all four foot two of her, give or take, has an ample, supple, and precise coloratura vice; she coordinated it well with mechanical moves, which at one point included turning so as to knock Hoffmann down. Netrebko is in good vocal form, and she conveyed the agony of Antonia's choice -- love and domesticity, or singing, career, and public acclaim -- very movingly.

Gubanova showed an acceptable mezzo voice, not much more; she was burdened by a costume and hairdo that made the Venetian courtesan decidedly the least alluring of the production's heroines, including the Muse (when in female attire) and the doll! This was the only costume Fail of the production: having moved the entire action into the early 20th century, in pursuit of the Kafka side of Hoffmann's fiction, why revert to the ROSENKAVALIER-ish 18th century for the Venice Act? More flappers -- that's what we needed! And a less crowded stage altogether: shouldn't the stage clear for "Scintille diamant" and the ensuing Dappertutto-Giulietta and Hoffmann-Giulietta duets? And fill up again when Schlemil returns? Aren't his words "Venez, messieurs, venez" a cue for the chorus and extras to reenter, which assumes they've been gone?

The smaller roles featured numerous outstanding performances. (Hat-tip to Michael Scarola for providing me with the full cast -- the Met website does not, and I've mislaid the relevant issue of Opera News.)

Mark Schowalter, looking like Dr. Evil, was a strong Spalanzani. Alan Oke portrayed the Four Servants with a completely different look in each part, and delivered Franz's aria with great charm. Michael Todd Simpson's youthful, long-haired Schlemil looked like Russell Brands, which is an off-beat way to present Schlemil to say the least (remember when this role was taken by the cavernous, Karloff-esque Morley Meredith, a former Four Villains?), but Simpson, doubling as the student Herman in the Prologue, sang well. Dean Peterson doubled Luther and Crespel respectably, and Rodell Rosel, who will soon sing Valzacchi in ROSENKAVALIER, showed some character-acting potential as Nathanael.

Wendy White was, perhaps inevitably, Antonia's mother -- not the "voice of," as the character actually entered and roamed the stage during the "Cher enfant" trio, decked out as an opera singer of the previous generation -- not even scary. A bit of failure of directorial imagination here: no painting (it was withdrawn at the last minute, according to set designer Michael Yeargan in an interview during the telecast), nor a statue, as in Lillian Groag's brilliant production for the Viriginia Opera.

Levine and the orchestra kept tension at the max. Offenbach is hardly Berg or Messiaen, but that only makes this opera easy to fake -- not easy to play. Offenbach meant this as his "no kidding" opera, and he was well served in this today.

Despite a few flaws and debatable interpretations, this brilliantly-sung HOFFMANN presents a credible and thought-provoking way to re-think this eminently re-interpretable story. And one gets to see Kate Lindsey!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wish I'd been there -- I hear Lise Lindstrom just finished a spectacular surprise Met debut as Turandot! "Sounds like a Turandot to me," says one observer. "At the curtain call," says another, "she was jumping up and down, hugging and kissing Mr. Giordani. She knew, and she did hit it out of the park." And broke the tension, too, sounds like.

Welcome, Lise!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Met's Bondy TOSCA: Be careful what you wish for, Martin!

I'm going to see it "at the movies" on Oct. 10, so I'll comment then. For now, I'll just note that the dichotomy "traditional/innovative" does not map squarely onto the dicthotomy "rock/suck," or vice-versa.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sorry if that last post left a despairing taste in the mouths of those dropping by here. I certainly did have an end-of-era feeling when I heard that news and wrote the post, but my wife reminds me that I most likely will not be following anyone into the dark night just yet, and in case, it's not my belief that a dark night is what necessarily awaits any of us, so let's move on.

Since the Met RING last May I've seen SIEGFRIED and TURANDOT at the Washington National Opera. Should give you a quick rundown on those soon.

I've also spent three weeks in Strasbourg, with a side-weekend in Paris, and a spot of farhrening auf der Autobahn as well. No opera, though, alas: I was there to teach law (my day-job).

I thought about dashing to Munich, but what I most wanted to see their was Jonas Kaufmann as LOHENGRIN, but that was sold out, and the production, from what I hear, weakens my reticence about using the term "eurotrash." (No production should be condemned sight unseen -- I've learned that -- but even the German critics and public thought director Richard Jones had some 'splaining to do.)

We did see something we very much wanted to see -- not in an opera house, but on one: Apollo's Lyre, atop the Opera Garnier in Paris. This statue plays a major role in one chapter in Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera, the scene that corresponds to the final scene of Act I of Andrew Lloyd Webber's show (the most faithful adaptation of the nover ever done, btw). My daughter was very, very pleased!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sandra Warfield, RIP

Farewell to another hinge of my childhood, since I grew up with the Metropolitan Opera Record Club Record series in which Sandra was frequently found in important secondary roles.

Perhaps her voice was not big or durable enough for a star career, but it was a smooth and attractive upper-contralto sound -- as attractive, in a maternal sort of way, as the famous photo of her that MORC and RCA always used, the one where she's looking back over her shoulder....

When I was in my senior year at Yale (and a classmate of Jimmy's and Sandra's daughter Ahna, class of 1980 -- like you, Richard Slade!), they both came to campus. Jimmy gave a master class, and Sandra gave a song recital at Sprage Hall. She still sounded lovely, and I got a chance to talk to her backstage and tell her how much she -- and that photograph! -- had meant to me as I learned about opera. That generation is dying out....

Sandra… bontà! Sandra… dolcezza!
Ah, camminiamo insieme un'altra volta
così, con la tua mano nella mia mano.
Dove vai ben so.
Ed io ti seguirò per posare a te vicino
nella notte che non ha mattino.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Loge's fire and the Rhine's waters ended the world and the Schenck/Schneider-Siemssen RING last night in fine style.

Linda Watson's wobble was gone. Instead, she simply shone as Brünnhilde. Is she Flagstad? No, but she's a keeper, if she keeps on like this. Likewise Jon Fredric West, who showed not a trace of the too-common diminution of voice in the Act III narrative, and who even sang with some soft sadness -- within the limits of his instrument, which tends towards the fortissimo-only setting -- in the death scene.

Margaret Jane Wray, from whom your reporter saw an effective Ortrud three years ago, was radiant as Gutrune. Great things coming here. Our Gunther was Iain Peterson, who showed an impressive baritone voice, while his bio shows confusion as to whether he's a baritone or a bass. Pick baritone and stick with it, I'd say. Fwiw, in an effort to strengthen the weak character of the Gibichung chieftain, he did the DFD bellow on "greife dich immer," leading to a well-staged fight with Hagen -- Sir John Tomlinson, practically perfect in every way.

Richard Paul Fink made the most of this opera's short but important Alberich scene -- and once again did his little curtain-call dance as he took his solo bow at the end of the Act II. Another audience favorite. Has anyone noticed that in this production, Alberich's cape, already seen in RHEINGOLD, has grown to regal proportions in GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG? Bravo, Mr. Langenfass!

Norns: the First doubled the Erda of earlier evenings, as is traditional, and had an acceptable exponent in Wendy White. Numbers Two and Three did not, however, double Waltraute and Gutrune, respectively. The Second Norn was sung respectably by Elizabeth Bishop, and the first evening's Freia, Wendy Bryn Harmer, had a true star turn as the Third Norn. Later, Yvonne Naef worked her now-familiar magic as Waltraute, setting aside Fricka's hauteur for the Valkyrie's despondent humility, but with the same plangent mezzo sound.

Last Monday's Rhinemaidens -- Lisette Oropesa, Kate Lindsey, and Tamara Mumford -- returned, popping up downstage with a pert ta-daaa gesture and familiar fine voices: a fitting light opening for the act the ends the world.

A few advantages of seeing this spectacular production from the Family Circle: though you miss the Rainbow Bridge in RHEINGOLD, you see the River Rhine at certain points in GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG where I'm sure you can't see it from "better" seats; e.g., off to the right in Act II, and off to the left and upstage in Act III Scene I (except for the little downstage estuary in which the Rhinemaidens cavort).

Günther Schneider-Siemssen took a bow with Levine. [EDITED TO ADD: But see comments infra. Seems I was wrong about who was taking that bow, but I stand by the remarks that now follow.] He deserves to: not only for this production's set designs -- though that would be enough -- but also: how many designers have done back-to-back RINGs, at the Met or anywhere? Yes, GSS was the set designer of the previous RING as well, the so-called "Karajan RING." He is diversely talented. Since 1967, when the Karajan WALKURE premiered at the Met, no other designer has done a RING opera at the Met (except for visitors from outer space like the Kirov in '07). That's 42 years, and counting until the proposed opening of the LePage production in 2012....

Will the LePage production be the good kind of modern production, as opposed to, you know, the sucky kind? Will there even be a LePage production after all, or will this one live again? Will it be stored and be seen in the future? Singe, Schwester, dir werf ich's zu: weisst du, wie das wird?

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Jon Fredric West gets through this killer role with his voice and energy intact, reliable volume, some attempts at lyricism, decent if not melting sound, comic touches that never cross the line to the inappropriate, and an obvious sense of enjoying what he's doing. Can a Siegfried today do better?

He's a burly guy. A snarky reference to World Wrestling Entertainment was overheard by your reporter at intermission. Well, maybe Siegfried is a big guy, d'you ever think of that?

West is "in it" at every moment, e.g. reacting constantly to Mime, and even (I've never seen this before) looking over his shoulder to see where that bass-baritonal laughter is coming from when he's just killed Mime. And that reminds me, Richard Paul Fink made the most of the SIEGFRIED Alberich -- there's a lot of it to make, though only in one act -- and he proved an audience favorite.

Linda Watson still has a wobble. Well, WALKÜRE was just two nights earlier! But she delivered a lyrical "Ewig war ich" with an on-pitch an un-forced "leuchtender Spross."

James Morris was the other great audience favorite, and he and Levine did their "two Jimmies" thing again at final curtain calls. Robert Brubaker excelled as Mime, Wendy White gave a good mezzo-but-alas-not-contralto rendition of Erda, and the Unseens -- Tomlinson as Fafner and Lisette Oropesa as the Forest Bird -- were superb. Now curtain calls for the latter two, though.

Production note: Sitting were we are -- Family Circle, scrape-the-ceiling territory -- has its disadvantages. Couldn't see the Rainbow Bridge, for example. (!!) However, we had a great view of Fafner the Dragon, seen in this production as Jabba the Hutt's country cousin. From where we sat, his eyes blinked and his mouth moved, as his lines required. The speaker from which Sir John's awesome vocal portrayal emerged was placed right at the mouth. Bravo.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Curtain call question

Since the Met preserves the venerable tradition of curtain calls act-by-act in front of the curtain -- instead of the lame Broadway style where everyone comes out lamely under a lamely raised curtain and bows lamely on the lamely illuminated lame final set -- a question sometimes come up with special acuteness w/r/t Act II of SIEGFRIED (it could come up with B'way style curtain calls too -- did I mention that these are lame? -- but the Met style highlights it): should singers of unseen characters take bow?

My answer is yes: the soprano who sings for Forest Bird and the bass who sings Fafner the Dragon have legitimately sung important roles. As long as they're willing to put on something better than rehearsal clothes for the purpose, they should take a bow.

The consensus answer, however, has been no. I have never seen a Forest Bird or a SIEGFRIED Fafner get a curtain call (tho' I assume it's different in those productions, like Chereau's, where the Dragon turns back into his rightful form as a giant after Siegfried skewers him).

Some say: no costume, no bow. I say that's silly -- but if you insist, OK, let the soprano carry out some feathers and a beak with her, and maybe the bass can drag the giant-crab contraption after him on a leash. Seriously, though, why (tomorrow night) can't Lisette Oropesa and Sir John Tomlinson take bows in presentable non-costume clothing?

I ask because -- and here's the point -- Sir John wants to, and means to.

I could tell you how I know this, but then I'd have to kill you. Or not, but I'd just as soon you worried about it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Well, Placido started, but they took him out for a pinch-tenor in the middle of the first.

Before Act I, the Footlights of Doom went up, and a guy with a mike appeared, but the announcement was that Mr. Domingo, though feeling ill, intended to sing the performance "like the professional that he is."

As his Siegmund stumbled into Hunding's hut, he sounded winded -- and why not? verisimilitude! -- and with the familiar Domingo sound, just a tiny bit less of it. As Act I moved on, it became clear that he was conserving resources: singing near the footlights whenever possible, and introducing mezza voce into long stretches of the narrative. 

Would he make it through "Vaelse Vaelse"? Yes, with good voice, though not very long held. And he continued through the soliloquy. But by the end of it he was, in his own estimation (we in the audience might have been more forgiving, but a pro knows when he's had it) matching vocal condition to lyrics: "Da bleicht die Bluete, das Licht verlicht...."

With that he slipped off into the wings stage left (stage left? audience's left, I mean). To get a glass of water from a thoughtful stagehand, many of us thought. Adrianne Pieczonka, the evening's studendous Sieglinde, who presumably had been briefed on contingencies, slipped out of Hunding's bedroom and asked "Schlaefst du, Gast?" of an empty stage. "Wer schleicht daher?" came from a brand-new Siegmund, who schleiched out from where Mr. Domingo had schleiched away, in costume and ready to go.

It was -- Gary Lehman, substitute Heldentenor extraordinaire, hero of last year's snakebitten run of TRISTAN! He finished the act with aplomb ("'Course he did, where d'you think Siegfried came from, har har har." Shaddup!! -- I shouldn't write these things late at night....) At Act I curtain calls, Rene Pape (Hunding) applauded Lehman directly. But it was in Act II that Lehman really hit his stride vocally, showing a baritonale Heldentenor that I'd like to hear more of, preferably in the starting lineup.

James Morris, as he did last night, sounded splendid, if no longer young. He now takes the Farewell very, very lyrically. Levine of course accommodates him in this expertly, but, if recall aright, so too did Lorin Maazel in last year's performance. If that's what it takes to get Morris through a Wotan these days, I'm for it, because he still sounds great, and has added depth in the years -- decades, it now is -- that he has done this role. At final curtain calls, he and Levine took a special one together, suggesting a special partnership of "the Jimmies" in THE RING.

Linda Watson's Brunnhilde: those who think a wide vibrato is no vice will say she sounds like Gwyneth Jones; those who think it is will say, dude, she's got a wobble. I say she's not the second coming of Dame Gwyneth, still less of Nilsson; but she got through this difficult role with as much voice as when she started it -- in fact her last line, "dem freislichen Felsen zu nahn," was delivered with lovely lyrical control -- and her initial ho-jo-to-hos were mostly on pitch, which these days is saying something. 

I've now seen Watson's WALKURE Brunnhilde twice, tonight at the Met and two years ago at the Washington National Opera; on both occasions she was outshone by her Sieglinde, vocally and visually (Anja Kampe in Washington, Adrienne Pieczonka tonight). But since I don't recommend engaging bad Sieglindes as a way to make your Brunnhildes look better, I therefore do recommend keeping Linda Watson on the roster.

Yvonne Naef rules: Christa Ludwig lives! And what a difference a great Hunding like Rene Pape makes! 

Since I'm known to love this production, let me quickly register two minor critiques: 

(1) Despite years of minor restagings, they have always had Fricka try to reach out, literally, to Wotan at the end of their confrontation scene. Uh uh. Wrong. Buzzer. Gong. Any possibility of communication between these two other than arm's-length-legal has withered a long time ago: the scene is meaningless without that presumption. That's why Fricka is so successful in standing on her (impeccable) legal rights.  

(2) While rich use of color is generally one of this production's virtues, as it should be in a production of THE RING, I've never understood why so many of Rolf Langenfass's costume designs are so gray that certain characters -- notably Wotan, tonight -- become almost invisible at times. In keeping with the production's naturalism, the ground is earth-tone gray. Anyone dressed in that color is generally detectable only when moving, or when under a particularly kind follow-spot. Fortunately, and in contrast to the neo-Bayreuth style, Schenck and his successor-stagers keep the characters moving a lot.

In the current RING, Sir John Tomlinson is singing Fafner. That is, a Knight is playing a Giant and a Dragon. How did their unions ever agree to that?

Monday, May 4, 2009


James Morris is no youngster -- but you might think otherwise from his junger Wotan tonight. It was good to have back Yvonne Naef as Fricka (will the Met offer her the Italian roles that she'd also like to do here?), and Charles Taylor (a good Herald in LOHENGRIN three years ago) suggested Heldenbariton potential with his dark Donner.

But both musically and dramatically the evening belonged to Richard Paul Fink, as Alberich. He unleashes a titanic sound that is bassy with full baritone range, acts at every moment (I loved his "Oh stuff it" gesture at the Rhinemaidens when they're starting to tell him of the power of the Gold), and, in the Neidlinger-Kelemen tradition of "bel canto" Alberichs, he sings every note: not a hint of growl or Sprechgesang (though he certainly has the evil laugh thing going for him when he wants it).

When Fink got to the dramatic pause at the "crest" of the Curse -- right after "des Ringes Herr als des Ringes Knecht" -- there wasn't a cough, there wasn't even an intake of breath in the whole house.

Fink got the second biggest hand at curtain calls, after Morris.

Giants: Rene Pape and Sir John Tomlinson. If you can beat that, you can build Valhalla. Pape's lyricism put across Fasolt's underlying tenderness. Sir John has no problem putting across thugs (has anyone ever reviewed him w/o using the word "craggy"?), but it's more than that. E.g., it was chilling the way he looked from the pile of gold to Wotan's hand during the passage in Scene Four where Fasolt is wavering about accepting the deal. I understood this moment as never before: Fafner cares nothing for Freia except as a bargaining chip: he wants the gold. For him, recidivism on Fasolt's part serves no useful purpose. Then he sees It -- on Wotan's hand. Suddenly, Fasolt's backsliding is very useful indeed: it's the way to bargain for the new Precious that Fafner has only just discovered.

Kim Begley turned in a professional-caliber Loge, singing and acting very well though not outdoing Siegfried Jerusalem in the DVDs. At curtain-close, you'll remember, Jerusalem folded his arms at us and looked bemused; Begley made a what-u-gonna-do gesture. Both fit this production's concept of the end of RHEINGOLD, which gives viewers a stunning Valhalla and Rainbow Bridge, but at the last second closes in on Loge, his skepticism, and (presumably) his incendiary intentions.

I've heard critiques of Wendy White's Erda, stepping in for Jill Grove in the second cycle and this one. But what's not to like? She's not technically a contralto, but her mezzo sound is darker than Naef's, which itself is dark enough for Fricka.

Levine and the orchestra were as always: Wagner on the grand scale, with exquisite attention to detail, and (so far as I could tell) flawless execution of the Vorabend's many difficult and painfully exposed solo instrumental parts.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Readers of this blog, if there are any, may have wondered why I haven't blogged up any of the Met's RING broadcasts. Two reasons:

1. I have had a busy spring with my professional and non-operatic social life, and it has actually been very difficult for me to catch those broadcasts.

2. I am on my way to NY, today, with my opera-loving, James-Morris-fan teenage daughter, to see the final cycle. W00t! My goal is to blog up brief reviews, performance by performance, if I can persuade my mom to let me handle my youngest brother, viz., her new I-Mac.

(The SIEGFRIED review, in any case, will have to wait a bit, since right after it I have to dash back to Virginia Beach for our law school's Commissioning, a very important event for the students and for me. Naturally I will fly back up the same day, for GOTTERDAMMERUNG the following night.)

Big drama: cancellations? Is Ben Heppner waiting in the wings w/o public explanation? Will anyone slip on the scenery? Etc. I really hope not. Last year I saw Stephanie Blythe, as the WALKURE Fricka, trip on her hem, and though she and Morris handled it brilliantly -- they never broke character -- I'd rather see THE RING straight (p. the e.).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

1965 Bayreuth RHEINGOLD rehearsal scenes, showing (after a few unexplained seconds of Silja doing Senta's aria):

*Wieland showing Theo Adam and William Olvis (Froh) the blocking for just after Erda's exit

*Windgassen going over Loge's narrative with a repetiteur

*Wieland coaching Erwin Wohlfhart on Mime's "vielleicht, ja vielleicht" moment

*a wild-eyed Gus Neidlinger, as Alberich, "marking" (an octave down) the "Habt achts" as he blocks out his Scene 3 threats against Wotan. (Gosh, Neidlinger looks like he was fun to work with, and I hear he was. Keep in mind that at this rehearsal he was well into his second decade as Bayreuth's house Alberich. And he's still having fun!)

*Böhm conducting the Rainbow Bridge music and giving verbal instructions to the orchestra as Olvis (unseen) sings Froh's "Zur Burg führt die Brücke" gorgeously (why did this guy have a short career?)

*Wieland barking orders about the "Apparat" for the Rainbow Bridge

Monday, March 16, 2009

OK, a little update here.

Virginia Opera did a TROVATORE last fall with an outstanding tenor and baritone: respectively, Gustavo Lopez-Manzitti and Nmon Ford. (Latter's first name is pronounced "ENmon.")

Manzitti is a true spinto tenor; he had done an excellent Turiddu and Canio for us in Virginia the previous season. Tall, too; not bad-looking, and a passable actor. In a word, da bomb.

Ford was our Kurwenal in the (Virginia premiere of!) TRISTAN about seven years ago. Best I ever saw -- wonderful acting, too: you sensed his joy when Tristan awoke -- but I wondered whether he had a Verdi style. Well, in the years since that TRISTAN, he's developed one. He has to work at it -- his relief after his gorgeously sung Il balen was palpable -- but gorgeous it was. Throw in the gangsta look, and you had one helluva a Verdi villain. (Is DiLuna a villain anyway? My wife always says Leonora is a loser with no sense of who's the right guy to pick....)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thursday, January 8, 2009

An interesting discussion here about concert pitch, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the (more recent) CD re-release of the Solti RHEINGOLD