Sunday, October 31, 2010

The annual operatic Halloween story!

Jussi Björling, publicity shot taken around 1940

This story stars my all-time favorite singer, the incomparable Jussi Björling, who not only had the greatest voice G-d ever put in a human throat (or at least a male throat), he was also more often than not a warm-hearted and and incredibly generous person. His widow Anna-Lisa, in her wonderful biography Jussi, talks about how he loved suprising people with expensive gifts. So, especially considering that he rarely did any opera that could be associated with horror (Faust? Not really, although I think he did Max in Die Freischutz very early in his career), you would hardly think that his name would come up on Halloween, especially since in Sweden, they do their trick-or-treating around Easter!

Apparently sometime in the late 1940s, or perhaps the early 1950s, Jussi was at a party in Stockholm which eventually turned into a singalong, and he was shocked to hear a young man sing art songs in about four or five languages very, very well. Jussi was mightily impressed, and went up to the young fellow (who, like most of the party attendees, was not a professional singer), and said "You know, you are really very good. Would you like me to arrange an audition for you at the Royal Opera?" (That is, of course, the Royal Opera, Stockholm, not Covent Garden). Intrigued, the young man said yes. Well, Jussi arranged the audition, and the high muckety-mucks at the Royal Opera were as impressed as Jussi, to the point where they offered the promising singer a place in the Royal Opera School. He told them he would think about it, but a few days later he came back to Jussi and said "I'm sorry, Mr. Björling, but I don't have the money to live in Stockholm full-time. Besides, I think my path to fame and fortune lies elsewhere." Well, he may have been one of the relatively few people who actually could say no to Jussi, but he was right. Because do you know who that young man was?

Alright, everybody...





(Now you see what this has to do with Halloween.)

Actually Lee has an absolutely wonderful speaking voice and I'm not surprised he could sing well enough to impress Jussi - I imagine he must be a bass, although I suppose he could be a bass-baritone or even a baritone. His mother was an Italian countess, which accounts for both his facility with languages and his obvious affinity for "high culture", which probably many horror fans (or people who look down their nose at horror films) wouldn't have expected. I think he actually made a recording of songs a few years ago (in his seventies!), but I can't find it. In light of this revelation, I think it's terrible that he never sang in any of his films, to the best of my knowledge.

But can you imagine what might have happened if he had taken Jussi up on his offer? Instead of Saruman in Lord of the Rings, he might have been Hagen, or even Wotan, in Wagner's Ring! Or he could have been the title character in Märschner's Der Vampyr (and probably made that opera very popular) instead of the many Draculas he did for Hammer Horror! Thank goodness, I'm sure he's too classy to have appeared in John Moran's The Dracula Diary!

And King Phillip might not have been a bad idea, either.

On a side note - the actor who possessed the most beautiful speaking voice I've ever heard had to be George Sanders, most famous for his roles as Bois-Guilbert in Ivanhoe and Addison DeWitt in All About Eve. Not surprisingly, he could sing superbly as well, and often did so at parties, although again like Lee, unfourtunately, he doesn't seem to have sung in any of his films. He was apparently so good that he was actually offered Scarpia by one of the West Coast opera companies (I'm not sure which one), but he turned it down because he "didn't want to be an opera singer". What a pity. That would have been something to see and hear!

Especially if Jussi were the Cavaradossi...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Farewell to a wonderful baritone?

Earle Patriarco in front of the Metropolitan Opera House, date unknown.

Back in 1999 I discovered the wonderful American baritone Earle Patriarco, when he sang Lescaut on the superb Angela Gheorghiu/Roberto Alagna recording of Manon, conducted by Antonio Pappano. His singing was robustt and immensely characterful, and there were several moments during his portrayal (his sheer disbelief when Manon wants to go to Saint-Sulpice and his bribing of the Le Havre guards - "J'insiste!") where I actually laughed out loud. It was a superbly cast recording all around, even in the smallest parts, but Patriarco came close to stealing the show from Angela and Roberto - not easy! I believe he appeared in several recordings subsequently, and I saw him many times at the Metropolitan Opera since. Per the Met database he has sung 177 performances between 1997 and 2010, debuting as Ping in Turandot (1). Most of the time this was in character and comic parts (Taddeo in L'Italiana in Algieri, Falke in Die Fledermaus, the Marquis D'Obigny in La Traviata (2), Schaunard in La Boheme, and Dancaire in Carmen) but I was fortunate to also see his Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia (he was covering the indisposed Simon Keenlyside, injured in a bike accident). While there are baritones who could beat him for sheer voice, I have never seen a more sheerly loveable and adorable Figaro than Patriarco. He also sang Belcore in L'Elisir D'Amore (which on the basis of his Figaro would suit him perfectly!) and Valentin in Faust, which especially in light of recent events, I am very unhappy I missed.

I was looking through my Das Rheingold program last night, noting any new additions to the roster, when I discovered, to my horror, that the newest bass in the Met chorus is...Earle Patriarco. What the heck is he doing in the chorus? My first thought was - he's ill or has had vocal problems - but surely that would be unlikely, with the huge workload the chorus takes on? A victim of nasty backstage politics? I suspect there's a bit less than in the Volpe era of that under Gelb - he seems to be a mensch, whether his underlings are or aren't. After talking with a few people (who know people who know Earle), it looks like it was his decision after all. He has five or six kids and he might have decided a steady chorus gig was better for his family than gallivanting all over the world like most singers do - and possibly the chorus pays better than being a freelance comprimario in other houses (I think it's about $70,000). It seems to be similar to the situation with bass Jeffrey Wells, who gave up singing major roles like Mephistopheles in smaller American theaters to get steady, and better-paying, comprimario work at the Met. Earle also apparently was looking for some local voice faculty jobs, which would also indicate a desire to settle down. And perhaps this isn't all bad - I have to remind myself that there are thousands of singers who would kill to get into the Met chorus. I considered auditioning about 15 years ago, but I'm not a good enough musician and the schedule is probably murderous - I can't imagine singing Turandot the night after I sang Carmen, both very heavy chorus operas that are occasionally performed on subsequent nights. Plus I've heard rumors that they'd fire you if you made the same mistake twice.

What still bothers me is - even if he is in the chorus, why isn't he on the main roster as well? Surely there must be some role, major or comprimario, that he can cover this year (OK, they aren't doing Barbiere or Elisir)? Or is there still a possibility that he could return to the main roster in future seasons? He's given the Met a lot of good work and he deserves to be rewarded for it. If not, his last performance was as Dancaire on May 1, 2010. I wish him to be happy and well, whatever happens.

Actually, it just occurred to me - if Earle is going to be "stuck" in NYC for the next year, maybe we might be able to see him here in recital?


(1) More recently, Ping is the role that the Volpe administration relegated wonderful Chinese baritone Haijing Fu (my first Met baritone, as Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor) to, once they had Europeans they could replace him with in Verdi. And now he's not even getting that...

(2) As the Marquis, Patriarco bombastically attempted to join the flamenco dancers at Flora's party, which considering that he (or the Marquis!) isn't a good dancer, was memorably funny. And former recording colleague Angela Gheorghiu, as Violetta, gave him such a gigantic hug at the Marquis' arrival at Violetta's party that it was clear it was Angela hugging Earle, not just Violetta hugging the Marquis!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Great Choral Resume


Sung with the Stuvyvesant High School Chorus, the SUNY Stony Brook Undergraduate Chorus, Riverside Choral Society, Rottenberg Chorale (later renamed Nashir! The Rottenberg Chorale), Zamir Chorale, St. George's Choral Society, and Berkshire Choral Festival.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Lobet den Herrn

Samuel Barber

Easter Chorale
Sure on This Shining Night
To Be Sung On The Water

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Choral Fantasy
Missa Solemnis
Symphony #9 (Choral)

Leonard Bernstein

Chichester Psalms

David Berger

Hatikvah Hanoshanah
Megillat Haatzmaut

Lili Boulanger

Psalm 24

Johannes Brahms

Eine Deutsche Requiem
"Lass Dicht Nur Nichts Nicht Dauren"
"Hallelujah" from Triumphlied
Liebeslieder Waltzes (Nos. 1, 2, 4, 11)

Yezhekhel Braun

Eishet Chayil
Shir Hashirim

Benjamin Britten

Hymn to the Virgin
Saint Nicholas Cantata

Harry Burleigh (arr.)

"Ezekiel Saw De Wheel"
"Wade In De Water"

Claude Debussy

Salut Printemps
Trois Chansons

Maurice Durufle


Antonin Dvorak

Te Deum

Richard Einhorn

Voices of Light (June 2011)

Gabriel Faure


Giovanni Gabrieli

Jubilate Deo

Nancy Gailbraith

Magnificat (December 2010)

George Frederick Handel

Israel in Egypt
Psalm 122

Howard Hanson

Lament for Beowulf
The Seven Last Words of David

Franz Joseph Haydn

Lord Nelson Mass
Te Deum

Arthur Honneger

King David

Flora Jagody

Ochos Kandelikas

Charles Ives

Symphony #4

Zoltan Kodaly

Missa Brevis

Felix Mendelssohn

Psalm 42
Surrexit Pastor

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mass in C
Regina Coeli K.281

Carl Orff

Carmina Burana

Hubert Parry

I Was Glad

Ariel Ramirez

Missa Criolla

Salamone Rossi

Shir Hama'alot

John Rutter

The Sprig of Thyme (Afton Water, I Know Where I'm Going, The Keel Row)

Camille Saint-Saens

Christmas Oratorio (December 2010)

Simon Sargon


Robert Schumann

Mass in C

arr. Robert Shaw

"Joy, Joy, Joy"

Randall Thompson


Ralph Vaughan Williams

Symphony #1 (A Sea Symphony)

Kurt Weill



(all with the Brooklyn Lyric Opera, later renamed the Empire State Opera)

Georges Bizet


Francesco Cilea

L'Arlesiana (both alto and tenor!)

Gaetano Donizetti

Lucia Di Lammermoor

Charles Gounod

Faust (also understudied Marthe)
Romeo et Juliette

Rugierro Leoncavallo

I Pagliacci

Gian Carlo Menotti

Amelia al Ballo (in English, also played Second Chambermaid)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Cosi Fan Tutte (in English)
Don Giovanni
Die Zauberflöte
(in English)

Giacomo Puccini

Madama Butterfly

Johann Strauss, Jr.

Die Fledermaus (in English)

Giuseppe Verdi

Un Ballo In Maschera
Il Trovatore

This list will continue to be updated as I remember more things I have sung (a lot of smaller works, especially the ones sung with the Jewish choruses) or find the music, and, of course, as I add new concerts. I am not counting brief excerpts from larger works (unless they are song cycles, like the Rutter). For example, I have sung "And The Glory Of The Lord" and the "Hallelujah Chorus" from The Messiah many times, but never the whole work. I seem to vaguely remember singing some Praetorius and Schutz in college, but not specific works. I will also offer up some explanations of some of the more obscure works, especially the Jewish ones.

With great regret, I am also not counting works I extensively rehearsed with the Riverside Choral Society (Brahms Songs for Women's Chorus Op. 17, Orff's Cattuli Carmina, Hindemith's Serenade to Music), but never actually performed. At the time I worked for RGIS, an inventory company that didn't realize that slavery ended in 1865 (probably because most of the people who worked there were black!) and would drive us out to huge stores in the Bronx and Long Island and New Jersey and make us work 10 hours or more, often without any break (1), and I couldn't even call my section leader and tell her I had to miss the rehearsals! No great surprise, they kicked me out (2). And I was also having some hygiene issues at the time, which probably didn't help - I was 22 and really stupid. I have tried in vain to get back in. Unfortunately, while I think I have the voice for the really major New York choruses, which Riverside definitely is now (they perform at Carnegie Hall, have big management, and go on tour), my sightsinging skills are quite poor and I can't pass auditions (3). Once I'm in a chorus, I pick up things by ear and have few problems, especially in strong/large alto sections.

(1) Several workers did threaten to go to the Department of Labor over this, to which management replied "Go ahead. We have lawyers."

(2) And, of course, I was so enraged at this that I immediately quit RGIS. My immediate supervisor, who was as much a "slave" as I was, was totally sympathetic and I did get a new job very soon after working at Tower Records as a clerk in the classical department. Management there was almost as bad as RGIS, but the job itself was great and I loved talking to the customers.

(3) Naturally, I have taken sightsinging classes. The problem is since they are in groups, I naturally "cheat" and pick up from what other people are singing. In order to improve, I really think I need to study this privately.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Mingling With The "Gods"

Das Rheingold

Metropolitan Opera, October 4, 2010 (157th Metropolitan Opera performance)

Music and Libretto (1) by Richard Wagner

New Production

Producer/Director: Robert Lepage (in association with Ex Machina)
Sets: Carl Fillion
Costumes: Francois St-Aubin
Lighting: Etienne Boucher
Video Image Artist: Boris Firquet

Conductor: James Levine

Wotan: Bryn Terfel
Alberich: Eric Owens
Loge: Richard Croft
Fricka: Stephanie Blythe
Freia: Wendy Bryn Harmer
Fasolt: Franz-Josef Selig
Fafner: Hans-Peter Konig
Erda: Patricia Bardon
Donner: Dwayne Croft
Froh: Adam Diegel
Mime: Gerhard Siegel
Woglinde: Lisette Oropesa
Wellgunde: Jennifer Johnson
Flosshilde: Tamara Mumford

Anybody who lives in New York City, and possibly even the surrounding area, is probably aware of the Met's latest publicity blitz. Bus shelters, the sides of buses, and quite a few other things are covered with pictures of Bryn Terfel, costumed as Wotan and carrying his spear, titled "Mingle With The Gods". Well, I was one of the "minglers" on Monday night. Although I have heard a number of recordings (especially the famous Solti one), saw the telecast of the previous production by Otto Shenck (and a few non-Met ones), I have never seen the opera live - the only Ring opera I have seen in it’s entirety is Die Walküre, and I deeply regret not having had the money to see the entire cycle of Schenk's production. Well, virtually the whole world has been waiting for Bryn's Met Wotan (which he's done at Covent Garden - and there was the concert Die Walküre from the Proms), and that plus a promising new production and Stephanie Blythe as Fricka made me willing to brave the hordes of Wagner fans who descend on New York every time a Ring opera is performed here. It turned out to deeply satisfying, far more than I expected (that was, I thought, more from the later Ring operas), and at least musically, one of the best nights I’ve had at the Met in ages.

First of all, I was pretty lucky. The performance, of course, had been sold out for months (and now Die Walküre is sold out as well), so I had to get standing room. I logged on the Met's website at precisely 10AM and went to the performance page, refreshed that page and snagged a standing room ticket at 10:01. By the time I finished the transaction, at 10:08, Family Circle Standing Room was sold out. I suspect Orchestra Standing Room sold out even before that. Unfortunately, online purchase fees, facility fees, and what looked like a mandatory "contribution" (which I whittled from $5 down to $1 - I might have figured out how to get around it if I had more time) turned a $17 ticket into $28. I was too relieved to have the ticket to yell "extortion!" Since I normally buy standing room tickets at the box office where the only thing they charge is the $2.50 facility fee, this usually isn't a problem. And the performance was worth a heck of a lot more than $28. I admit I didn't relish the idea of standing for 2 1/2 hours without an intermission - the last time I stood that long was for Wozzeck, I can't remember when. I did stand through Die Walküre in 1997, but that was a breeze by comparison as there was a "sitting break" every hour and 15 minutes. Naturally, I was very careful not to eat or drink anything until after the performance.

This performance was proof, if any was needed, that no matter how exalted the cast, conductor, or orchestra, recordings do not do Wagner justice - his music must be heard live. Not even the Immolation Scene (with Jane Eaglen) at the James Levine Gala back in 1996 drove home this point so strongly. The orchestra was like a cauldron that Levine stirred with his magic baton, and the sheer raw, elemental majesty emerging from the pit (and elsewhere - where were the anvils?) was astonishing. The opening chords really do sound like the creation of the universe - all the more appropriate considering I just finished reading the biblical creation story in Parshat Bereishit (2). You could hear the leitmotifs swirling back and forth between instruments. For lack of a better term, it sounded truly “3D”. Plus it was a bit of a “shock” to hear some of the leitmotifs (Giants, Magic Fire, Donner’s “Heda, heda, hedo!”, etc.) for the “first time”. Kudos is particularly due to the brass section.

The cast was equally superb, and of the singers, bass-baritone Eric Owens took top honors as Alberich. His voice is huge (easily carrying over the intense orchestration in all but one probably sextuple-forte moment), dark, firm, rich and burnished, and his German diction is superb - I actually noticed it more than the three native speakers in the cast, or Bryn, who is usually a master of it. And he's a wonderful, as well as very physical, actor. One might argue his voice is too beautiful for Alberich (or Hagen, which I hope he does as well - what he could do with the Summoning of the Vassals!), and not "menacing" in and of itself, but that actually makes him almost sympathetic when the Rhinemaidens are teasing him.

I first heard Owens back in the mid-90s when he won a prize in the Licia Albanese Puccini competition, singing a memorable Sparafucile in the duet with Rigoletto (3). He was a finalist in the Met Auditions (not sure if he won) a few years later, and admittedly at that time he seemed a little small-voiced in the Met auditorium, I remember he sang "Arise, ye subterranean winds", which I think is from Handel's Hercules - he is shortly to sing the title role in Chicago. I waited for him to appear on the Met roster for years after (I think he might have been a cover at one point). While he was very young when I first saw him and basses don't reach their full maturity until they're in their mid-40s (not sure how old he is now), I can't help but think that racism might have been a factor in such a long way to the Met, especially under Joseph “Blonde Fetish” Volpe. He finally made his debut as General Groves in Doctor Atomic, a rather blustery comic character role, in 2008. He also sang Sarastro (in the English-language Magic Flute performances?), but I missed that. It looks like Owens is finally getting the career he deserves, and this portrayal is going to raise his star considerably. Some Opera-L posters preferred him to Bryn Terfel for Wotan, and I would indeed like to see him do it one day - although how many singers have done both Alberich and Wotan? Hunding might be more likely - and I think he could make a more sympathetic one than usual. I only hope his success in German and English-language repertory doesn’t “disqualify” him from French and Italian.

One thing I couldn't help but think while watching this - and I'll probably go more into this when I write my inevitable "What's A Nice Jewish Girl Like You Doing Listening To Wagner?" post - was that for all of Wagner's anti-Semitism and the embrace of his music by Hitler (who probably saw himself as Siegfried!) and the Nazis, there is no better allegory for Hitler than Alberich, the "ugly dwarf" who renounces and curses love for the sake of power, enslaves his own people, and has fantasies of world domination. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a production somewhere that actually portrayed Alberich as such, since German productions of almost any opera seem to love to put their villains in Nazi uniforms, whether or not it makes much sense in context of the opera. (4)

I found it a bit odd that the Met Titles referred to Alberich as a "gnome" rather than a "dwarf". I'll have to check the libretto to see if the German word was "zwerg". When I think "gnome" I think the benevolent, one-with-nature Huygen/Poortvliet version, which also draws pretty heavily on German/Scandinavian mythology (their wonderful book Gnomes recently released a 30th Anniversary Edition and was a mainstay of my childhood, as was its sequel Secrets of the Gnomes) or the Dungeons & Dragons version where they're essentially fun-loving and joking. Not to mention "dwarf" more than "gnome" conjures up people who dig for precious metals under the earth (5).

If Bryn "suffered" in comparison to Owens, I suspect that it's simply that Die Walküre is a better showcase for Wotan and the singer playing him - Das Rheingold is much more an ensemble piece and if anyone dominates the proceedings, it's Alberich and Loge. As Bryn himself says in this interview , in this opera Wotan is a character who reacts, leaving most of the “action” to Loge. It's possible he had difficulties on Opening Night, as some reported, although I heard nothing wrong here. I was surprised that there were moments where he was drowned out by the orchestra – this is not a small voice! - but by and large he had both the majesty and internal conflict the role needs. The truth is, there really is no way that Wotan can do the right thing, and Bryn made that clear, as well as showcasing his mercenary quality. For the other gods, Freia is their sister and they love her, whereas for Wotan, she's at best a mere in-law and more likely just a magic apple producer. I still wish his first major Wagnerian assignment at the Met (he did Wolfram in Tannhäuser back in 1997) had been last year's Der Fliegender Hollander, based on his stunning recording of the Dutchman's aria - Juha Uusitalo wasn't bad, but for a role like the Dutchman you need much more than "not bad". And he just did Hans Sachs at the Welsh National Opera (admittedly much smaller than the Met).

Although I’ve admired Richard Croft since I first heard him (as a particularly sweet-voiced and sympathetic Cassio in 1995), I’ve tended to think of him as “Dwayne’s little brother”. Since my Met attendance records were stolen (long story), I am unsure as to whether I saw him as Ferrando in Cosi Fan Tutte (definitely not the performances with Dwayne, possibly ones with Nathan Gunn), so this is probably the largest role I’ve ever seen him in. He’s not just a great singer’s little brother - he more than held his own as the scheming, unctuous wheeler-dealer. As I said, it’s he and Alberich who really drive the proceedings. While his voice is not as beautiful as it was 15 years ago, Loge is more an acting role than a singing role - it's more important to convince as a bastard than to sound great. I’ve seen a few stories in Norse mythology where Loki/Loge is a more benevolent trickster god, and while here he is clearly evil, it was interesting to see him as the outsider among the gods (he’s half human? Who are his parents?), as well as the fact that there’s clearly a backstory between him and Alberich (his cousin).

Stephanie Blythe was magnificent as Fricka, probably the character I most identified with in her desperately trying to revive her marriage to Wotan and save her sister from essentially being sold into slavery. This is particularly satisfying as I think Wagner is at best ambivalent about her, making her the guardian of the "bourgeois morality" he scorns. I originally thought Blythe, being a true contralto, was vocally more suited to Erda, and then I realized that Erda is just that one aria whereas Fricka is a role. I believe this is the first time I've heard her in a German opera, although I've heard her in German song repertory. (And I’ll have to miss her master class at Manhattan School of Music tonight as I have to both give blood and go to my chorus rehearsal!)

The smaller roles were also very well, even luxuriously cast. Dwayne Croft (Richard’s big brother!) had probably the most memorable single moment in the production with Donner’s conjuring the storm and the rainbow bridge; this is the first time I’ve heard him sing in German. It’s still a pity that illness (GERD? Sinus issues? ) reduced him from being the greatest lyric baritone on the Met roster in the mid-to-late ‘90s to being just very good now. (6) I had first seen Patricia Bardon as Cornelia, the role that Stephanie pretty much owns now, and Erda suited her better – it was nice to have both singers in the same cast. I’m also happy to see Wendy Bryn Harmer breaking into her first major role as Freia. Let’s hear her in some Puccini (I had doubts about mostly-Mozartian Hei-Kyung Hong’s suitability for Liu until I heard her Freia). A little surprised to see Lisette Oropesa as a Rhinemaiden (as I said, luxury casting), now that she’s done Susanna and Lisette and is about to do Amor in Orfeo ed Euridice, but I suspect she was cast as this first. There were also two fabulous giants (although I had difficulty telling which one was which until Fafner kills Fasolt, not to mention the similarity between the singer’s names!) – I actually felt quite sorry for them, even if they are dumb brutes, they’re the working class guys exploited by the rich folk. I remember Franz-Josef Selig’s Pope in Palestrina from the late ‘90s (where he sang an easy low G) and Hans-Peter König’s Daland was the best thing about Met's Hollander revival last year. Adam Deigel brief outbursts as Froh were enough to make me want to hear him as Walther von Stolzing one of these days, although I suspect David is more likely. I’m not absolutely sure of this, but I think he started his Met career in the children’s chorus – which would make him the first adult singer at the Met to do so. While I'm still pretty desperate to hear David Cangelosi as Mime (after his stunning performance on the Domingo/Pappano Wagner Scenes disc, plus his equally fabulous Spoletta), Gerhard Seigel was very good.

On Sunday I went to a double bill of The Wrong Trousers and Topkapi as part of Film Forum's "The Heist" series (7). Since these films showcase a lot of climbing with wires and walking on walls and ceilings, this actually turned out to be a pretty good preview of Robert Lepage's new production, on which I'm reserving judgment for now. I’m enough of a traditionalist to prefer the Schenk. Die Walküre will be a major test, as will later performances of Rheingold this year and in the full cycle. As spectacular as some of the descent into Niebelheim and subsequent ascent looked (and I'm not sure how else one can stage the floating Rheinmaidens) I'm a fanatic about performer safety (since my "real life" job is in worker's compensation) and all the wire work, sideways climbing, and sliding down a steeply raked set raised my alarms. Not to mention that such production requirements on the performers excludes great singers who might not be very agile or have fear of heights (8). A production should expand a singer's performance choices, not limit them. The stage machinery famously got stuck at the gods’ entrance to Valhalla on opening night, but there were no problems now, although it was noisy (I suspect that's unavoidable), Still, I would bear in mind the saying "the more complex the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain".

(UPDATE: Apparently Bryn, and presumably the other singers, had stunt doubles. Whew. Actually there was a moment after one of the “walks” where Wotan went offstage – and came back a bit too fast for him to have taken off the wires, so I should have realized. I guess there won’t be any close-ups during those scenes in the HD broadcast. The doubles should have been credited in the program!)

At least nothing Lepage did got in the way of the story or was outrightly offensive, like Luc Bondy's Tosca production or most European productions of Wagner (or anything else). And I'd give a lot more leeway to a story essentially steeped in myth and fantasy. Just don't make the gods literal 21st Century real estate moguls. Lepage meant the production to evoke the landscape of Iceland, as it's a raw, primal location, almost like another planet, and of course Iceland is one of the major sources of this mythology (9), but I didn't get quite as much sense of Iceland as he talked about. I suspect there will be more of that in the other operas which take place on "Earth" (Midgard?) and we have more dealings with mortals. I think the use of film projection probably is the best way to stage this sort of work, and most of them were very effective. In particular, Donner's lightning bolt (I actually jumped!) and the rainbow bridge was incredible. Also the "fire" surrounding Loge looked very realistic. It was a relief to see Wotan looking like most traditional depictions of him (and the publicity photos had him with his two ravens , not seen here) instead of, say, in a business suit, or even the somewhat "generic" costume James Morris wore in the Schenk production. His "comb over", as opposed traditional eye patch, had a few complaints on Twitter (and Opera-L, I imagine), but it has largely the same effect and obstructs the singer's actual vision less. I don't think I'd want to walk "down to Niebelheim" with no depth perception. I admit some "scar makeup" around his eye would have been nice, but that's probably too subtle to be seen by anyone not the front of the orchestra. The giants looked a bit too much like Hagrid (10) for my taste, but then again, I don't doubt J.K. Rowling got some of her ideas from Wagner and his sources, as she's a real polymath when it comes to mythology and folklore. The other costumes were fine - Stephanie looked suitably matronly, but any regality came from her bearing, not her rather plain gown.

One bit of possibly bad news. I only got a brief glimpse of James Levine, at the end of the performance (couldn't really see him in the pit, nor was I sure whether he was standing or sitting), but he did not look well. Of course, he had several recent surgeries, and he's lost a lot of weight, but still... He took his bow from the side of the stage, apparently unable to climb onto the set platform (which wasn't very high) and stand/bow with the singers. Wishing him a refuah shleimah (that's Hebrew for complete healing, body and soul). Would anyone happen to know his Hebrew name? Has it been made public?

The 2 1/2 hours went by pretty quickly - it would have been a breeze if I had actually been sitting. I stood next to a horn player from the Philharmonic. It would have been nice if there were an intermission so we could continue our conversation. I can't remember his name, but I'd recognize it if I saw it in a Philharmonic program. He hadn't bought a seat because he was in Europe while most of the tickets were on sale. Nice guy from Georgia. Played a lot of Broadway shows before he came to the Philharmonic. I expressed regret that he probably didn't get a chance to play Siegfried's horn calls at the Philharmonic, but he said he occasionally played them in excerpts and he couldn't handle the Met Orchestra's hours. He had the aisle place (which I thought I had) and moved away to stand where he could look down the stairs, so I had a bit of room to move in the stuffed-to-the-gills space.

Ironically enough, after the performance the Met elevators were having problems and wouldn't go down to the concourse where the subway was - they kept going up once it hit orchestra level. Someone from the safety office had to override them. And one was apparently stuck on the Grand Tier (with no one in it, baruch Hashem!) for the whole performance. You can build Valhalla, but you can't get out of it?

Oh, I now have a craving for Golden Delicious apples. We now know what happens when we don't eat our fruit...

Afterwards, I tweeted actor Nathan Fillion (best known for his collaborations with Joss Whedon, especially Firefly) to ask if set designer Carl Fillion was related to him, as I imagine it's not a terribly common name, but since Nathan has tens of thousands of followers and I'm not one of them, he may not have noticed it (or found it interesting). I also thought about tweeting Owens to congratulate him on his performance, but I don't think he's on Twitter - although there are at least 20 other Eric Owenses there, nearly all Caucasian.

Hopefully, I should be able to add some pictures onto this post this weekend.

I'll end with the following: A few years ago there was an article in Opera News about suggestions for making very long operas shorter. The winner was:

RHINEMAIDENS: Give us back our gold!

ALBERICH: Okay! (11)


(1) Or as Wagner himself put it, “poem”

(2) The universe, by the way, actually does "make music" - on a frequency about 64 octaves below middle C, As in Parshat Bereishit, the “action” moves immediately from the Creation to the doings of mortals, which in the end are what the story is really about. Take that, fundamentalists who interpret the first few verses of Genesis literally! Note I said “mortals” because compared to G-d, the Norse/German deities are indeed mortals (one of the reasons I put quotes around "gods" in the post title). There are also some Jewish sources that say G-d sang, rather than spoke, the universe into being.

(3) The Rigoletto in question was a Chinese baritone named Xiaoping Dai, who I remember primarily because he kept making circular movements with his right arm that looked like he was winding up for a baseball pitch, and his very strong physical resemblance to Chinese-American character actor Jack Soo, best known for playing Sammy Fong in the film of Flower Drum Song and a memorable turn on The Odd Couple as a Chinese baseball player - he and his girlfriend bring Felix and Oscar "food that Chinese like", and Felix is overjoyed because he's going to eat "real" Chinese food as opposed to Chinese-American food. To Felix's and Oscar's shock, the ball player removes lox and bagels from the bag: "This is the 'food that Chinese like'?" "Are you kidding? I love Italian food!"

(4) I’m thinking of a picture I saw from a production of an opera called Der Templer und Die Jüdin by Heinrich Marschner, based on Ivanhoe, which nonetheless had Bois-Guilbert in a Nazi uniform. Actually, an opera based on Ivanhoe is interesting as George Sanders, who played Bois-Guilbert in the film, had one of the most beautiful speaking voices I’ve ever heard and actually was offered Scarpia by a West Coast opera company…

(5) Remember how spectacular the Mines of Moria looked in the The Fellowship of The Ring film? That was a civilization!

(6) Both absolutely delightful, by the way, especially the Wallace and Gromit short. And I now want to eat some Turkish food, which I don't think I've had for years, if ever. It's one of the world's great cuisines and I intend to visit Turkey one of these years. Probably should have tried one of the restaurants around the Met.

(7) It’s also a pity that Dwayne’s wife, soprano Ainhoa Arteta (gone for several years, presumably to be a mom) seems to be cast at the Met exclusively as Musetta. I’ve seen her Musetta at least 4 times. I’m getting bored – I want to hear her do something else – how about Susanna or Despina?

(8) I feel sorry for any soprano who can otherwise sing Leonore in Fidelio but can't handle really tall ladders, as the Met's production requires her to use one to climb into Florestan's dungeon.

(9) I don't know if it's still in print, but you might want to search out Sequentia's wonderful recording Edda (my copy, alas, is damaged), which is Icelandic music from roughly the 12th Century, based on much of the same themes. You could call it the original Ring Cycle. And Tolkien fans will be delighted to know that one of the songs lists Gandalf, Fili, Kili, Bombur, et. al. These myths are Tolkien's principle source as well.

(10) Bryn Terfel has said more than once that he would like to play Hagrid in an operatic version of Harry Potter - "Oh yes! I am Hagrid! Hagrid is me!" Of course, my priority is for him to appear in Doctor Who, which is of course filmed in Wales. He's a far better choice than fellow Wales native and occasional singing partner Katherine Jenkins, who will be in the upcoming Christmas Special, probably as the equivalent of Fan Scrooge. Then again, if producer Steven Moffat thinks Jenkins is an "opera diva" (even she doesn't call herself that), he probably has no idea who Bryn is!

(11) Might actually work if it was Mercedes Lackey's version of Alberich!

Monday, August 11, 2008

How do modern women deal with Don Giovanni?

Sue the bastard!

Absolutely hilarious. A pity this wasn't open to the public and advertised (as far as I know), or even videoed - it would certainly be nice exposure for the singers involved, as well as instructive to lawyers who didn't attend the ABA convention. Doing something like this as a concert performance is a great idea - and I wouldn't put it past some nutso director to do this as an actual production of Don Giovanni.

I should point out, that although this seminar was about class-action lawsuits, not criminal law, most contemporary productions, even the sane ones, make Don Giovanni out to be a rapist, not merely someone who "intentionally inflicts emotional distress". And frankly, I don't think he does it "intentionally", he just doesn't care. And I'm sure somebody in a courtroom setting would comment on the need for an interpreter as the article heavily implies the characters sang in Italian.

On the other hand, using Mimi for a demonstration of medical malpractice? She was so poor she probably never got to see a doctor! (How long was she actually with the Viscount, anyway?) Violetta, an initially wealthy courtesan, maybe. Poor, sweet Dr. Grenvil...

As it happens, while on the bus yesterday I talked with a lawyer on her way home from the convention. She was from Atlanta and bemoaning the high Amtrak fares and luggage storage fees. No mention of the opera - maybe she wasn't one of the 50 people.

This reminds me of some mock court (I don't know what it's called, but it decides such weighty issues as who invented the fortune cookie) that convened to decide whether chicken soup could legally be called "the Jewish penicillin" as a) there's no proof chicken soup is curative/an antibiotic and b) just about every culture in the world has a chicken soup of some sort. Evidence came from a chicken (OK, an actor dressed as a chicken), and a quote from the great rabbi Maimonides (who happened to be the court physician to the Sultan of Egypt) who said "Chicken soup is good for you, but bad for the chicken". As a vegetarian, I'm totally sympathetic. Just like at the Bar Association, the decision was reserved, and everyone went out to their local diner to have some!

By the way, Maimonides, writing almost 1000 years ago, does better than many modern doctors about the human body. Basically, don't eat too much! His texts were used in medical schools for centuries after, making him almost as reknowned as a doctor as a rabbi/philosopher.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Watch this film. Now!

It won the Best Short Film award at Cannes 2008. Roughly 6 minutes. Time very well spent.

Deeply moving and thought-provoking.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Povero Maestro Jimmy...

Per several news sources, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra website, James Levine will have to miss the remainder of the Tanglewood Season (after he just conducted an apparently triumphant performance of Les Troyens a few days ago) due to a cyst in his kidney. Not dangerous, baruch Hashem, but very uncomfortable, so the kidney does need to be removed, and he will take 6 weeks to recover. He should be fine in time for the opening nights of the Met and the BSO in September.

This after the rotator cuff (shoulder) injury that felled him last (?) year. Working in worker's compensation I deal with a lot of rotator cuff tears - up there with lumbosacral (lower back) sprains and meniscal (knee) tears. It can be pretty serious - surgery, many months of physical therapy, and probably at least some loss of use of the arm (I have noticed Levine, admittedly never a "big gesture" conductor, does seem a bit more limited and stiff now). I hope he's OK with his kidney. You only absolutely need one, after all.

Wishing him a refuah shleimah. I don't suppose anyone knows his Hebrew name? Has it ever been made public?

Maybe if I'm really lucky, I'll "bump into" him again while I'm at the Berkshire Choral Festival, but he'll probably be recuperating in New York.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

New York Philharmonic at the bat in Staten Island (STUB)

Again, the E-mail sent to Brad Wilber until I can put up a more detailed review:

"Went to NY Philharmonic concert in a Staten Island ballpark last night - Xian Zhang conducting Mozart's Divertimento in D, Bach Double Violin Concerto (Sheryl Staples and Michele Kim - finally got to hear that live!) and Elgar Enigma Variations, where the audience applauded after virtually every variation even after being warned that they were being played without pause. Those who had cell phones (not me) could also vote for encores - we had a choice between the Russian Dance from the Nutcracker and an orchestral arrangement of "Summertime". No great surprise, the latter won. Fabulous (but way too loud) fireworks display afterwards, and I had a nice conversation on the ferry back with one of the Met's music librarians who was "on loan" to the Philharmonic and will also work Mostly Mozart. But I'm still waiting to hear Maestra Zhang in an acoustically "normal" concert environment."

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The "wrath" of Khan... (STUB)

... Genghis Khan, that is. And even though (to my embarassment), I wasn't the first to think of it, I couldn't resist the Star Trek reference.

Full review of Mongol will be here shortly. But it was wonderful how it painted this man usually demonized as a complete brute as a human being, and showed some of the depth and richness of Mongol culture. No mere "hordes" here. Apparently it's the first of a trilogy.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

How do you say !@$$#%$! in Japanese???

One of my major haunts, besides Lincoln Center, my synagogue, and the internet cafe where I write this blog and watch certain television shows on YouTube is the magnificent Film Forum, which shows lots of classic, silent (often with live piano accompaniment!) foreign, documentary, and "arthouse films". Membership there is $75/year, allowing you to see films that normally cost $11 for $6, and that includes double and occasionally even triple features. One of the best bargains in the city. However, in light of my less-than-ideal-but steadily-improving finances, I let my membership lapse last year because the upfront fee was a bit much. I also tended not to walk past the Film Forum on my way home from work or check their website because I didn't necessarily want to be tempted with what I couldn't afford (I missed War and Peace last November).

Well, I did check their website today, and found out, to my horror, that they were in the middle of a 7-week retrospective of the great Japanese actor Tatsuya Nakadai (Ran - where he's one of the greatest King Lears ever, Samurai Rebellion, Harakiri, Kagemusha, and many, many, others), the Japanese Lawrence Olivier (1), and not only did I miss some of my favorite films with him, and films I've never seen and wanted to, but ...


Not only did Nakadai appear after a screening of Harakiri (one of my favorite of his films!) on June 20 [okay, that was the night of the Roberto/Angela concert, and I wouldn't miss them even for Nakadai-san (-sama?)], but Film Forum actually had an "evening" (live interview) with him on June 24 (the night I went to the Philharmonic in the Park, but that I would have been willing to miss!), and I didn't know about it! I also seemed to have missed every newspaper article about this - the New York Times, and frankly quite a few other papers, must have had an article on the retrospective, they always do for things like this!

Okay, I didn't miss Ran (2), and they are showing all three parts/ten hours of The Human Condition, and there are one or two other things I want to see - now I'm going to renew my membership and make absolutely sure it stays up to date! But I never met Toshiro Mifune, I never met Takashi Shimura (they're both dead) - I had hoped to meet at least one of the triumvirate of Great Japanese Actors! And I certainly never met Akira Kurosawa! Nakadai is now 75 (and still acting, apparently). What the hell are the chances of him ever leaving Japan again?


(Not quite "samurai" enough. Maybe I should find some "smiley" on the internet of a Japanese swordsman hacking away and put it here. That would be a better description of how I feel.)

I've decided to see Mongol tonight - it's a big, sweeping epic about the rise of Genghis Khan. But that's a poor substitute for meeting Nakadai!

(1) Although he looks like a Japanese Elvis!

(2) The only reason the film isn't in my permanent collection is that there is some debate about the quality of the DVD transfer.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

About time! And how about some more maestras at the Met?

Among the many things I'm looking forward to next season at the Met, rather high on the list is Orfeo et Euridice starring Stephanie Blythe and Danielle de Niese in the title roles. While I rather enjoyed Heidi Grant Murphy's portrayal of Amor the last time I saw the opera (she looked so cute in her costume!), I'm more excited by her alternate, the immensely charming Chinese soprano Ying Huang (a mostly Mozart specialist and a fine English-language Pamina for her Met debut). Ms. Huang's performances will be the only two of the run not conducted by James Levine (who, as much as I love him, isn't necessarily the best conductor for this repertory). Thanks to my indefatigable best friend Brad Wilber, who runs the Met Futures page, I have just learned that these performances will be conducted by Kazem Abdullah, who I believe is, finally, the first African-American ever to conduct at the Met (1).

Maestro Abdullah has been on the Met roster for about two years now (you don't miss a name like that in the program! although I had assumed at first that he was Middle Eastern) as an assistant conductor, and last season he worked on Die Zauberflöte and Iphigenie en Tauride. I first heard of him "in earnest" last year when I was at the Berkshire Choral Festival and I read an article in one of the area papers about him (I've been trying to find the article online without success) because he was conducting an opera - Cosi fan Tutte, again subbing for Levine. He is a Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center which means, presumably, that he is one of Levine's protegés. He began his career as a clarinetist (2) and won several awards as an instrumentalist, as well as a humanitarian award for creating a gay and lesbian jazz ensemble called UMOJA!!. He studied conducting at the Peabody Conservatory under Gustav Meier, who happens to be the conducting teacher of my favorite maestro of our age, Antonio Pappano, and a student of Richard Strauss. There's some interesting stuff that comes up if you search the Web for Abdullah's name. He's had some concerts recently at the Oklahoma Arts Institute and the Indianapolis Symphony (with pianist Gabriela Montero). It would seem from the operas he's already conducted that, at least as an opera conductor, he tends to be a Mozart/early music specialist. I believe he has also worked with Mark Morris, who directs this production.

My main concern is since he is (I assume) in his early twenties that's pretty much babyhood for a conductor, and I'm not quite convinced he's experienced enough for such a huge gig. Then again, I'm sure Maestro Levine is a better judge of such things than I am. Also, since he is essentially Levine's understudy here, he will pretty much have to follow what Levine does with the orchestra and singers rather than being able to put his own unique stamp on things. And needless to say, there are going to more than the usual eyes on him, and I don't doubt at least some critics/commentators/bitchy bloggers are going to make not-so-subtle comments about "pandering to political correctness", or worse.

The only pictures I could find of him as a conductor on the Web were too small and unflattering to show. There is a "civillian" picture on his Facebook site ( I don't have a Facebook account and probably won't get one.

His performances will be on Wednesday, January 28 (my mother's 83rd birthday!) and Saturday (evening), January 31. I imagine with the buzz he'll get, the many Blythe-lovers out there (of which I am one) and that it's a popular production (Mark Morris probably has more fans than Blythe!), this will sell out fast!

Well, now that that barrier has been broken (although, unfortunately, I think it will be quite a long time before there are any other African-American conductors at the Met, or even before Abdullah himself is a regular there - in general, the assistant conductors don't make the "big leap forward"), is it possible that we might finally start getting a few more maestre (the correct Italian, unlike in the post's title)to go along with the near army of maestri? Since Peter Gelb is actually married to a conductor (Kerri-Lyn Wilson, who has conducted opera in Italy and I think a few other places), I'm sure he'd have no objection to the idea, although I presume it is primarily still Maestro Levine who makes those decisions. Marin Alsop, at this point, is probably the "starriest" name they could get, but I haven't heard of her doing much opera, although I think she did conduct Rigoletto for the ENO a few years back. More likely is that she'll do a contemporary opera, possibly a revival of Doctor Atomic or maybe Nixon in China. I would also very much like to see Xian Zhang, now a regular with the New York Philharmonic (although I have yet to hear her at Avery Fisher Hall, or, for that matter, in any setting which isn't acoustically compromised - and I'm so angry that I missed her Alexander Nevsky last year!) who started as an opera conductor in Beijing and has also conducted at the Cincinatti Opera. And what about Anne Manson, who regularly gets rave reviews for her work both at Julliard and on the West Coast? And those are just the names I know - I'm sure the Met scouts know of many other people I've never heard of!

I also want to put in a word for a female conductor who I think has been terribly maligned by many opera fans and critics - Maestra Simone Young, now, I believe, the artistic director of the Hamburg Opera. Her Met debut received almost universally bad reviews (with, of course, some not very well disguised sexism), and I think the only reason that she wasn't actually drawn and quartered was they were too busy doing that to Roberto Alagna, who debuted the same night. I will concede that she wasn't a great Puccini conductor (she herself has said that she finds La Boheme the most difficult opera she's ever conducted, and she's right, it's not an easy opera!), but I didn't find anything horribly wrong with her Les Contes Hoffman, or on the Cav/Pag broadcast I heard her conduct. She is principally a conductor of German opera, especially Wagner, and what little of that I have heard her conduct - mostly on Johan Botha's Wagner album - is absolutely wonderful. Of course, in the late 1990s, you weren't going to hear Wagner conducted by anyone other than Levine, or possibly then-hot German maestro Christian Thielemann, but if they were going to have her there, they should have played to her strengths, and given her operas she presumably wanted to do. Even still, well, there have been far worse conductors at the Met who have never gotten the critical drubbing she did - but they were Italian and male! (3) So, maybe bring her in for a Der Fliegender Hollander or something, and still let Levine have his Ring Cycle. And even considering Gelb is getting some big star conductors at last, once Levine leaves there won't be that many people who will be able to do Wagner!

Oh, has the Met ever done an opera by a female composer? It occurred to me that with Gelb's appetite for new music and the general reverence held by the opera world for Karita Mattila, might we possibly get a work by Kaija Saariaho, who often writes for her? I was also thinking of Ethel Smythe's The Wreckers, but that's probably too obscure. And another opera I missed hearing due to lack of money - the American Symphony Orchestra did it a few months ago. She's probably most famous for writing "March of the Women", which featured in the BBC series about the British suffragist movement Shoulder to Shoulder.

(1) I find it very odd that James De Priest didn't, considering that he's Marian Anderson's nephew, but whether his lack of conducting opera was his idea or the fact he just wasn't hired for it I have no idea. I think Dean Dixon might have conducted a Met-in-The-Parks, but I'm not sure. I tend to think of him as being in the 1940s, even considering how long lived conductors tend to be. It might have been a Philharmonic-in-the-Parks.

(2) That's a very interesting instrument for a conductor to take up - perhaps he didn't decide to conduct until after his clarinet studies? The impression I get is that the overwhelming majority of conductors are primarily pianists, although there are a number of violinists as well. Zubin Mehta is really the odd-man-out as a double bassist. Of course, Abdullah must be a pianist as well if he does standard assistant conductor things like coach singers. Actually, I think you have to pass a piano test if you want to graduate with any music degree, no matter what instrument (or voice) is your primary means of musical expression.

(3) To be fair to that particular conductor, he has said on a number of occasions that he really doesn't like conducting Italian opera but everyone asks him to do it because he's Italian and he can't really turn down work - the same situation, it seems, as Young at the Met. And despite some hacks that have appeared at the Met, I have nothing against Italian male conductors in general - Maurizio Benini is pretty good for comedy and bel canto stuff, if not ideal for Rigoletto, I think very highly of Marco Armiliato, and Fabio Luisi, is, well, just fab!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Philharmonic Pop in the Park (STUB)

Bramwell Tovey conducted Shostakovich's Festive Overture, Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony, Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, Sousa's Washington Post March, Liberty Bell March, and Stars and Stripes Forever, with an orchestral arrangement (don't know by whom - possibly Tovey himself?) of Jimi Hendrix/Led Zeppelin's Purple Haze as an encore. Nice fireworks. I had a VIP seat thanks to my best-friend-at-work's boss' sister working for Lincoln Center!

More later.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Friday in the Park with Gheorghiu (and Alagna) (STUB)

Roberto, Angela, and Maestro Ion Marin taking their bows at the end of the first part of the Metropolitan Opera Summer Concert

Angela Gheorghiu, soprano
Roberto Alagna, tenor

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Ion Marin, conductor
Donald Palumbo, Chorus Master

Long Meadow, Prospect Park, June 20, 2008, 8:00 PM

Verdi: Overture to La Forza Del Destino
Bizet: "Ton coeur n'a pas compris le mien" from Les Pecheurs de Perles
Catalani: "Ebben? Ne andrò lontano" from La Wally
D. Alagna: Air du condamné from Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné
Verdi: "Vedi, le fosche" (Anvil Chorus) from Il Trovatore
Donizetti: "Ah, talor del tuo pensiero ... Verrano a te" from Lucia di Lammermoor

Verdi: Overture to Nabucco
Verdi: "Parigi, o cara" from La Traviata
Puccini: "E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca
Puccini: "Un bel di, vedremo" from Madama Butterfly
Verdi: "Va, pensiero" from Nabucco
Delibes: "C'est le Dieu!" from Lakme
Dalla: "Caruso" (Angela)
Puccini: "Nessun Dorma" (Roberto)
Dendrino: "Te iubesc" from Lăsaţi-mă Să Cânt (Both)
"Granada" (Both)
"O Sole Mio" (Both)
Verdi: Brindisi from La Traviata (All)
"Granada" (Reprise, Both)

This is the initial E-mail I sent to Brad Wilber with my thoughts on this fabulous night. I'll elaborate more in the next few days. If you're wondering about the "Judaism" label, I'll also go into some detail about how I fitted my Shabbat observance around this concert.

"Roberto and Angela completely, utterly, wonderfully magnificent. So was the Met Chorus - can you imagine what it's like being serenaded with the Ultimate Jewish Chorus, "Va, pensiero", while watching your Shabbat candles burn? Gorgeous day, too. They have something I think no other singer today has - you really sense that they love to sing! I think the only other singers today I get that from are Bryn Terfel and Cecilia Bartoli. For too many singers it's "I am a professional. I am just doing my job". I do get "I need to sing" from some of today's greats, or more accurately "Io sono umile servo/ancella di musica", but that's not quite the same thing as "I love to sing". To be fair, I don't often hear Ramon Vargas, Marcello Giordani, and Olga Borodina, for example, singing stuff that's fun. And there are the great Ravenclaws of the opera world like Thomas Hampson (and Cecilia) who clearly have deep intellectual identification with poets and composers, but that's not quite the same thing either.

Only negatives - if the Met had done this in Central Park, they might have gotten the 150,000 people they wanted instead of "only" 50,000 (still twice as much as for the biggest singer prior, Patti Labelle, who's quite a bit better known than Roberto and Angela!), the fact that there were no texts/translations (criminal considering the rarities and the fact that no one outside France has heard David Alagna's opera!), and the fact that I forgot my binoculars. Yes, I was reasonably close to the stage (the equivalent of the back of the orchestra), but I couldn't see facial expressions, and while they did have the big screens, they weren't in 3D, and during duets the cameras only focused on one singer at a time during "solo" moments and I couldn't see reactions from the other."

Re the title of this post, variations of which have been all over the blogosphere, I really regret having missed the original of this, Sunday in The Park with George, not only when I went to London, but also when the same immensely-acclaimed production came to New York. (SIGH) At least Roberto and Angela were free. It was worth a million.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Tosca" in concert at the Philharmonic (STUB)

... with Hui He as Tosca (excellent, but needs a staged performance to judge her as an actress), Walter Fracarro as Cavaradossi (big, powerful voice, good high notes, but needed much more sensitivity) and George Gadzigne as Scarpia (superb - brutal, calculating, and based on a real police chief in Gadzigne's native Georgia). Lorin Maazel conducting. Interesting to hear with the orchestra on stage, brought out a lot of things I didn't notice, especially with the cantata and the "dance band" fully audible.

More later.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Is this kosher?

A bit too late for Purim, but just in time for April Fool's Day...

So, it's your first kiss and several questions might come to mind:

Is it the right time?

Is anyone watching?

Does your partner even want to?

Is your breath fresh?

And... Should you use some tongue?

Then you lean in and just go for it!!!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

O Ciel Azzuri (?)

Gorgeous waterfall somewhere in Ethiopia

O ciel azzuri, o dolce aure native ... O verdi colle, o profumate rive ... O fresche valli, o queto asil beato ... O patria mia, non ti vedro mai piu!

(O azure skies, sweet native breezes ... O green hills, o perfumed shores ... O cool valleys, blessed, tranquil refuge ... O my homeland, I shall never see you again!)

- "O patria mia", Aida, Act III (translated partially by Decca and partially by me)

Now I know what Aida is talking about.

OK, it looks rather gray and rainy on this particular day, not quite "ciel azzuri". But Ethiopia is gorgeous. A pity that when one thinks of the country, one tends to think only of desert landscapes and starving people, although I am by no means suggesting one should ignore them.

The picture, by the way, came from a PowerPoint presentation of scenes from Africa that has making the E-mail rounds around work.

I did have a craving for Ethiopian food (shiro and injera - yum!) after Tuesday night's performance. Unfortunately, my favorite Ethiopian restaurant has been closed for ages and I know of none near my home, my work, my synagogue or the Met!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Roberto and Angela (no, not that one!) make a virtually "celeste" "Aida" (STUB)

The following was an E-mail I sent to my friend Brad of Met Futures fame, which responded to the questions of whether Carlo Colombara, who was listed in the Met Database as Ramfis, sang instead of Vitaly Kowajow, and "Well??? Did you love it??". So this will serve as the "stub" until the full review goes up. Sometime in the next millenium.

"I presume it was Kowaljow, as no announcement was made and there was no insert in the program except for Roberto replacing Berti. Frankly, I don't think Colombara was ever as good as this! Kowaljow is one of my favorite of the "younger" generation of basses (i.e. post-Ramey). Per the program he will be the Colline on the new Boheme recording with Rolando and Anna and he will also be recording something called I Medici by Leoncavallo with Placido Domingo (not sure if Placido is tenoring or conducting)

Did I love it? Mostly. There were moments where it was definitely the best Aida I've seen live, but it began a little ropily. Despite what Roberto said in the "post-game" interview on the Met website, I think he was scared during "Celeste Aida" (can one blame him???) and proceeded very carefully, which I would have minded less if I couldn't "see him working", so to speak. There were a few moments in Romeo like that too. He took it very slowly, no doubt to aid expression, and he and Ono weren't always together (sort of the opposite for Angela Brown in "Ritorna vincitor" - she went too fast!). By and large he made up for it in terms of intensity of feeling and his usual superb diction. Quite to my suprise, and delight, he sang the "Toscanini version" of the ending, with him holding the high B for about two seconds and then finishing with "vicino al sol" an octave lower. I should point out that I don't think I've ever heard a live "Celeste Aida" that wasn't problematic in some way. It's an absolutely killer aria for the tenor, especially coming at the beginning of the opera. You probably know that Jean de Reszke, generally considered to be the greatest tenor immediately preceding Caruso, regularly cut it. Once past the aria, he seemed to relax, albeit he missed a few lines right after. His best bits were at the end of Act II, where he literally pushed Amneris away from him, something I doubt most tenors don't do because they're probably afraid Radames will be executed! Lots of really wonderful little acting details too. I'm still concerned about his growing tendency to use the darkest and roughest colors of his voice to convey emotion. Still I don't doubt he could be a magnificent Met Radames - once he gets the chance to actually rehearse it! I certainly don't think he should retire it, as he was apparently considering after La Scala, although I still think his bread and butter should be Italian and French lyric roles. Oh, all right, anything French. I still want to hear both his Samson and his Rodrigue in Le Cid. I still regret he retired Don Carlos - why, especially if he has Otello plans?

(Note per my usher friend Annie, who thought that Roberto was one of the best Radames' she's ever heard and she's been there for 30 years - a lot of people were really pissed last night at Roberto's withdrawal from Butterfly. There were boos and one man left.)

(Also, Roberto went back to his old, wonderful habit of shaking hands with the prompter - Jane Klaviter tonight. He is the only singer I have ever seen do that, although Annie told me that she saw Frank Lopardo do it once. Probably stole it from Roberto. And Angela (that one!) was probably in the audience as he blew someone a kiss :-) )

Angela Brown - just fabulous. Gorgeous, gorgeous top, wonderful use of messa di voce effects, lots of fire and passion and, particularly in the Nile Scene, specificity. Get this woman a Verdi disc now. And she's singing Tosca somewhere - I'd definitely like to hear her do that at the Met as well as Aida and Amelia (and Elizabetta? Elvira? Leonora? Both Leonoras?)

Dolora Zajick (the shortest person on stage?!) started out almost inaudible, but her Act II confrontation with Aida and the Judgement Scene were just titanic. The Aida/Amneris confrontation was definitely the best I've seen live - although they basically just stood there. Admittedly it is very difficult to stage, and we don't necessarily want to see hairpulling and stuff.

Andrzej Dobber looks about 25 on his publicity photo, but he couldn't possibly be considering his immense amount of experience - apparently a house baritone in Warsaw in addition to a lot of more prestigious European experience. Both physically and vocally, a very lean, dry, muscular Amonasro. The most "warrior" Amonasro I've seen - when he tells the King of Egypt he's a "common" officer, you can see why he believes him. Now we know how he got to be King of Ethiopia.

Reinhard Hagen - excellent debut, looked about 7 feet, would be happy to see him as Sarastro, although I thought one of the giants in the Ring would be the best casting.

And any chance they might actually let Jennifer Check sing Aida??? I heard her as Norma at a Young Artists gala years ago and she was wonderful. I don't suppose she's understudying Papian? It's certainly past time she sang major roles!

Still hate the choreography.

Oh, and I saw James Conlon - he was up in the broadcast booth being interviewed for Sirius - that's right next to the Family Circle ladies room. He's shorter than I am. What is it with short conductors?"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


My rather pathetic rendition of the Triumphal March, as seen above, is actually entirely appropriate to this post.

I get into work at 8:30 AM and quite innocently open up my E-mail. And, lo and behold, there is a note from my best friend, Brad Wilber, copying a Met Press release saying Roberto Alagna would be singing his first Radames at the Met tonight, replacing an indisposed Marco Berti!


After getting up from my faint, I check Met website and it's all sold out except for unbelievably expensive tickets and Standing Room. I check my bank balance. No money. (Expletives in as many languages as I can think of) I borrow $20 from sympathetic, vaguely opera-liking colleague (am getting paid tomorrow), run up to the Met on my lunch hour, which I took an hour early because I assumed everyone would be rushing to buy Standing Room once they found out about Roberto, wait half an hour on line and...

WHEW. I get a Family Circle Standing Room place. Apparently not anywhere near the last one, so maybe I was overly panicked. And I have enough for dinner, too! I tell the ticket clerk that I loved her. Since I bought the ticket with cash, I'd better not lose it!

Yay! Not just Roberto and The Other Angela, but Dolora! And Vitaly Kovaljow! And Kazushi Ono is supposed to be good. I hope it turns out OK with Roberto being dropped into the middle of things at the last minute like this. And of course, with too many people wired to view him (and Angela) solely as villains no matter what they do, there will be more negativity about him missing Butterfly last night to do this than him dropping in to save the day here. I should say that after seeing him as Romeo and Pinkerton, I have no doubt as to his ability to sing a role the size of Radames even in this house. I just hope he models on Bergonzi and Bjorling rather than Corelli.

I'll have to return my DVD of Battlestar Galactica (the new one, Season 1, discs 4 and 5) to the video store before I get a chance to watch all the extras, but hey, this is a once in a lifetime thing! Or at least not until at least 2010, which is when the last role Roberto has scheduled at the Met is...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Maybe it's a cliche to say "Butterfly" soars... (STUB)

... but oh, boy, it's true.

Hitherto, I have liked and admired Patricia Racette, but never went "WOW"! Now I think I see what the fuss is about her (am also, by the way, making tentative plans to see her wife in Carmen across the plaza). Roberto was just glorious - primarily because he actually played Pinkerton as a nice guy, cocky, good-humored, likeable, sensitive (in other words, himself!). If anything, a non-villainous Pinkerton actually makes the tragedy more poignant.I could actually imagine this Pinkerton, had he been assigned to permanent duty in Japan, staying with Butterfly at least long enough for her to have the psychological maturity to handle is leaving. Unfortunately, he has to go back to his duty on the Abraham Lincoln, and "real life" takes over.

But frankly, he needs a haircut, especially with that uniform cap. No American military officer (I imagine especially in 1903) should have hair that long. Something you should know, Monsieur French Tank Corp!

Rest of the cast just fine - I think I would have noticed Luca Salsi a bit more with a less wonderful Butterfly and Pinkerton. Maria Zifchak had about ten times the applause you would expect a Suzuki to get.

More later.

And I thought *I* had credit problems...

The following is yet another E-mail that has been circulating around work:

Be sure and cancel your credit cards before you die.

This is so priceless, and so, so easy to see happening, customer service being what it is today.

A lady died this past January, and Citibank billed her for February and March for their annual service charges on her credit card, and added late fees and interest on the monthly charge. The balance had been $0.00 when she died, but now somewhere around $60.00. A family member placed a call to Citibank.

Here is the exchange:

Family Member: "I am calling to tell you she died back in January."

Citibank : "The account was never closed and the late fees and charges still apply."

Family Member : "Maybe, you should turn it over to collections."

Citibank : "Since it is two months past due, it already has been."

Family Member : So, what will they do when they find out she is dead?"

Citibank: "Either report her account to frauds division or report her to the credit bureau, maybe both!"

Family Member : "Do you think God will be mad at her?"

Citibank: "Excuse me?"

Family Member : "Did you just get what I was telling you - the part about her being dead?"

Citibank: "Sir, you'll have to speak to my supervisor."

(Supervisor gets on the phone)

Family Member : "I'm calling to tell you, she died back in January with a $0 balance."

Citibank : "The account was never closed and late fees and charges still apply."

Family Member: "You mean you want to collect from her estate?"

Citibank : (Stammer) "Are you her lawyer?"

Family Member: "No, I'm her great nephew." (Lawyer info was given)

Citibank: "Could you fax us a certificate of death?"

Family Member: "Sure." (Fax number was given )

(After they get the fax)

Citibank : "Our system just isn't setup for death. I don't know what more I can do to help."

Family Member : "Well, if you figure it out, great! If not, you could just keep billing her. She won't care."

Citibank: "Well, the late fees and charges do still apply." (What is wrong with these people?!?)

Family Member : "Would you like her new billing address?"

Citibank : "That might help."

Family Member : " Odessa Memorial Cemetery , Highway 129, Plot Number 69."

Citibank : "Sir, that's a cemetery!"

Family Member : "What do you do with dead people on your planet???"

And I shudder to think what would have happened had the poor lady been cremated and her ashes scattered over the ocean, or in space...

Poker in Heaven?

Dolly Parton and Queen Elizabeth die on the same day and they both go before an angel to find out if they'll be admitted to Heaven.

Unfortunately, there's only one space left that day, so the angel must decide which of them gets in. The angel asks Dolly if there's some particular reason why she should go to Heaven. Dolly takes off her top and says, "Look at these, they're the most perfect breasts God ever created, and I'm sure it will please God to be able to see them every day, for eternity."

The angel thanks Dolly, and asks Her Majesty the same question. The Queen takes a bottle of Perrier out of her purse, shakes it up, and gargles. Then, she spits into a toilet and pulls the lever. The angel says, "OK, your Majesty, you may go in."

Dolly is outraged and asks, "What was that all about? I show you two of God's own perfect creations and you turn me down. She spits into a commode and she gets in! Would you explain that to me?"

"Sorry, Dolly," says the Angel, "but even in Heaven, a royal flush beats a pair - no matter how big they are."

A pity when you consider that not only does Dolly sing much better than Her Majesty, she's also a really nice person! Admittedly, so is Her Majesty.

Normally I would not spell out the Divine Name, even in English, but since this was a copy and paste from the original e-mail, I thought that editing the Divine Name would be even worse!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Not QUITE raving mad about Lucia (STUB)

Yes, Natalie Dessay excellent (her mad scene was actually scary), but I frankly was more impressed by the men, especially the magnificent Mariusz Kwiecen as Enrico. Marcello Giordani also wonderful (and no, Mr. Tommasini, he never bellowed!) as usual, and John Relyea (the next Sam Ramey?) real luxury casting as Raimondo. And now I'm starting to see what the chat boards fuss over Steven Costello is all about, and the Met seems to agree with me because he's actually getting Edgardo later this month!

More later.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Yes, Americans CAN write opera! (STUB)

OK, Margaret Garner isn't on quite the same level as Porgy and Bess, but it's damned good! I think a lot of the critics who panned it were determined to knock it before they saw it because it wasn't 12-tone serialist or something. All the performances were excellent, but especially Lisa Dalritus as Cilla. I hope the Met is keeping an eye on her. She's singing a number of major soprano roles (Aida, Tosca, Leonora) in Seattle.

And I have to read Beloved.

And am I the only one who thinks Their Eyes Were Watching G-d would make a great opera?

More later.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Met's star-crossed, star-studded, and star-spangled "Romeo" (STUB)

Roberto and Anna both mostly great but often way too loud - Anna largely better with dynamic subtlety, but the end of "Amour, ranime mon courage" was ffff! No "chemistry", but considering that they weren't with their other halves and had no real rehearsal (Roberto got back from Marseilles only a few days before), they did very well - they clearly enjoyed working together (rather like Angela with Marcello Giordani). Neither were much helped by Domingo, who had none of the elegance or spirit needed for the French rep and made me very nostalgic for Bertrand de Billy. Isabel Leonard made a wonderful debut as Stefano, all cocky and agressive. Most other voices good too (although Stephane Degout didn't "stand out" so much as I think Mercutio should), although Mark Heller has one of the ugliest voices I've ever heard from a tenor. Tybalt is a nasty fellow, but many beautiful voices have sung the role. Mixed but mostly positive feelings about the astronomy/astrology motif of production. Overall, a very good night, but more rehearsal and a better conductor would have made it a great one. I don't doubt if Roberto takes over Rolando's still TBA December performances, it will be much better. Further details, and photos, to follow soon.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Well, faithful readers (all four of you!), you must have realized that I have done almost no posting in a dog's age, largely because I haven't had the time to write down massive, yenta-ish reviews of everything I've seen and done. So, what I will be doing once the opera season begins this week is to put up posts that might be called "stubs" - at least an acknowledgement that I've been to a performance and maybe a one sentence review. Then, if I have time, I'll expand it at a later point. That way you'll know I'm still alive and kicking.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Reacquainting myself with the OTHER Met!

I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time in G-d knows when today, and did something I've always wanted to do, namely join the museum. I figure I'll be going often enough that a $60 Met Net membership will pay for itself very quickly, when the "Suggested Admission" is $20. I'm actually a bit embarassed that I don't do more museum-going considering I live in one of the great museum cities of the world, and when I was in London I spent almost all my time in museums (4 hours in the British Museum, of course, is not enough. You could live there and not see everything). When I get the Big Raise in October, that should all change. I definitely want to join the American Museum of Natural History, for the Planetarium if nothing else, and they have what looks like an interesting exhibit on mythical beasts - scientific explanations for mermaids and the like.

I went today because it was my last chance to see an utterly fabulous exhibit on "Venice and the Islamic World". (Will expand later). Note to self: Never go to a special exhibition on the last day - everybody and their mothers wanted to get in!

I didn't have time to do much else except gawk in the gift shop. I mean I do get a 10% discount now, but some of the jewelry and reproductions are very expensive. Some of the books/exhibit catalogs may be worth getting (usually $50 in paperback). I definitely want the Islamic Venice one. My main interest was actually getting some real art for my walls (I have lots of calendars, some very "arty", e.g. Renoir, Van Gogh, John William Waterhouse, Jewish Art, etc, but that's not the same thing. The posters are not too bad, ranging from $10-$25, some on sale for as little as $2, but G-d forbid you actually want to frame them - that will probably add a minimum of $50. They had a digital reproduction of a Mary Casatt painting for $125 (understandable considering the extreme detail), but with a frame (admittedly gilded), it was $425!

Maybe I'll have better luck on I remember seeing some nice, large framed reproductions for $50-$100...

Preview of Angela's new CD

While the idiot loggionisti at La Scala are currently booing Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta (predictable - she isn't Italian, she isn't Callas, her husband is "Spanish", she's too famous, and she didn't pay them clapping money), a more sensible audience at the Milanese sewer ... er... theater went pretty wild over a song recital she did there last year, shortly to be released on CD by EMI. Arie antiche, songs by Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Gounod, Massenet and several Romanian composers (the best known of whom is probably Tiberiu Bredicianu) as well as "I Could Have Danced All Night" and (oh, no Angela, not again) "O mio babbino caro". One minute sound bites are here. They're wonderful - never have I heard a more sheerly joyous "Me voglio fà'na casa", a song I associate almost exclusively with tenors, primarily Carlo Bergonzi. Or a warm and seductive "A vuchella" - I think the only non-tenor I've heard sing this is Cesare Siepi (oh, no wait, I also heard his possible "successor" Roberto Scandiuzzi, but the point is, not a woman). And the Romanian material looks very interesting indeed. She seem to be having a lot of fun, figuratively (though not literally!) taking her hair down, which is a bit of a change. And I would frankly rather have her do more stuff like this than sing the same 7 or 8 arias over and over again in every city in the world, even if not everybody follows her around. Her My World recital CD is one of my favorites of hers and when I first heard it I thought she would be a song recitalist to rival Victoria De Los Angeles in scope and breadth. Sadly, this doesn't seem to be happening. In fact my one real artistic criticism of her is that she's conservative almost to the point of timidity (unlike Roberto, who rushes in where fools and angels fear to tread). (1)

To be fair to the La Scala audience, apparently most of them loved her Violetta, but I don't see why any artist - even ones I don't like (2) - should have to put up with that kind of politically motivated garbage from a bunch of hooligans. I am emphatically not one of those who cherish the idea of "opera as blood sport". I have the feeling if she survives this run, she'll probably eventually wind up queen there. I'm still hoping that she and Roberto will be able to do Manon Lescaut there. Or somewhere. Maybe Covent Garden with Tony? They are apparently recording it. And Tony is apparently preparing a new production of the Other Manon with The Other Couple...

Anyway, the CD will be released in both the UK and the US on August 28.

(1) Actually, her diction isn't always the greatest, but that's a problem with a lot of sopranos and I am, I suppose, ultimately comparing her with Roberto, who has, in general, some of the best diction I've ever heard from a singer (it was the second thing I noticed, after the beauty of the voice), and the best French diction from any singer since Georges Thill.

(2) For example, Luciano Pavarotti wasn't booed for cracking a high B in Don Carlo, he was booed because the loggionisti decided he had become too popular outside Italy. And Renee Fleming, what ever my issues with her as a singer of bel canto (or almost anything, these days), she did not deserve to have people screaming "va, va, puttana Americana!" at her. No, I'm not going to translate that.

Friday, July 06, 2007


Beverly Sills, and Regine Crespin? In the SAME WEEK????

And just yesterday I saw a multidisc set of all Crespin's solo Decca recitals (I already have her EMI ones). Maybe that's why J&R had it out, although they didn't say anything.

I'm still haunted by her recording of Ravel's "Scheherezade" ("Asie! Asie")

Baruch dayan emet.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Cardiff adventures, musical and otherwise

My thoughts on the Singer of the World Competition in Cardiff, and a certain television show produced in Cardiff, will follow shortly. Hopefully within the next week, backdated. Chinese bass Shen Yang won the Main Prize (he's only 23! A baby by bass standards!), English coloratura soprano Elizabeth Watts won the Song Prize, and South African baritone Jacques Imbraillo won the Audience Prize.

And happy Father's Day to all fathers out there. I'm a little distant from this holiday as my father has been dead for 25 years. Maybe next year I'll do a post on all the wonderful father/daughter duets in opera (thank you, Giuseppe Verdi). A pity there are comparatively few for moms.

I do have a new Father's Day ritual, though - watching an episode of aforementioned television show entitled "Father's Day".

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The DEVIL take this weather!

Well folks, my planned sojourns to the Metropolitan Opera's performances in Central Park of La Boheme and Faust on Tuesday and Wednesday were severely hampered, if not ruined, by maleficent (although saying "hellish" would be going a bit too far) atmospheric conditions. Normally, I love going to these concerts because it's a chance to enjoy music in relaxed, informal, and gorgeous surroundings. Not to mention being able to get some grass under my feet and ogle all the cute babies and gorgeous picnic dinners. This year, I was interested in La Boheme mainly because it will likely be my last chance to hear the marvelous Hei-Kyung Hong under Met auspices (she isn't singing there next season and, as I've said before, rumor has it that her contract has been bought out) even though I'm not sure Mimi entirely suits her, for reasons I can't articulate. I would have also liked to have seen Mary Dunleavy as Musetta, a role I don't think she has sung in the house. Faust, once my favorite opera and still high on the list, featured two singers new to the Met family, as well as artists who I had already developed strong liking for.

I should have known on Tuesday. It was raining horribly, and I think even hailing, around 3PM, but stopped pretty quickly. I tried calling the Met right before I left work to see if there was a cancellation, but the line was constantly busy, presumably because everyone was calling for the same reasons I was. When I got home I decided to chance it. So armed with my folding chair, some kiwi fruit, peaches, and plums (but no umbrella!), I went up to Central Park - accidentally taking the E traininstead the C train and having to wait forever while changing at Seventh Avenue! The policemen and park people I talked to seemed to think everything was OK, but once I was about hundred feet into the park, drops started falling from the sky. And falling. Within a minute it was "cats and dogs" territory. I used my chair to fend off some water, but since the rain was being blown by the wind into an angle, most of it wound up on me. I did manage to share an umbrella for a few minutes until the worst of it passed. At roughly 7:10PM, the Great Lawn was pretty empty, and since I didn't see a mass exodus from the rain, I assume most people didn't bother coming in the first place. I had just found a nice spot for my chair and took my sandals off - my brand new sandals which were abrading the skin on my toes and making walking rather difficult - when I overheard someone say that an announcement had been made from the stage that the performance had been cancelled. There would be no rain date unless it rained the next day, and then only for Faust. I was stubborn, and not about to waste the trip to Central Park, so I decided to just sit there and eat my fruit. I was just peeling the label off my very last plum when the park officials ordered everybody to clear the lawn. Oh well.

What really makes me mad about this is that there wasn't any rain after the initial deluge and they could have easily gone on with the performance. Even better, all the allergens would have been washed out of the air, which would have been wonderful for the singers, especially Hong who complained in the recent Opera News about being affected by allergies at these concerts - no doubt that is what caused the slight problems she had in La Traviata last summer. Well, I'll probably be able to see Dunleavy in the house, and I suppose now that since Hong's international career is progressing and I will soon have money, I might be able to see her elsewhere. Washington, or even London, maybe.(1)

Well, there was no rain on Wednesday, but it was awfully cloudy (the scientific term being "yucky"), and once I got into the park, oh boy, there was wind! When I told one of my colleagues my travails of the previous evening, he advised me to bring a jacket, but since I read the temperature as 63, I didn't think I needed one. I generally tend to be quite cold resistant. Wrongo. As it happens, the jacket I would have brought probably wouldn't have helped. I think the wind chill was somewhere in the high 40s. I was actually considering ducking out before the performance started, but decided I at least wanted to get a taste of all the voices. Speaking of taste, I very much enjoyed my dinner of seaweed, avocado, and lambsquarters (at least I think they were lambsquarters, if not it was some other edible weed) freshly picked right there in Central Park. Yes, yes, I can just see the faces you're making. It was delicious. Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah! I wound up leaving at intermission, but I still got to hear a pretty big chunk of the opera - the Met forces played the first three acts, that is, to the end of the scene in Marguerite's garden. While I was largely enjoying what I was hearing, in the end, I was just too cold, and frankly, I'm not sure I love the opera quite as much as I used to. And as it happens, after I got home, I fell asleep before the opera would have ended.

The biggest problem of the evening, besides the weather, was the sound. Usually when I go to these concerts I try to sit as far upfront aspossible, if for no other reason than to try to see the performers. But this time I decided I didn't want to take the time to make my way all the way to the "front" of the Great Lawn. I also didn't want to be too close to the loudspeakers for the sake of avoiding hearing loss. I should have made the effort after all. When the opera started, I could only hear the double basses in the overture, and not the cellos or violins. This is the kind of sound quality I expect at performances ofthe New York Grand Opera at Summerstage, which has a vastly inferior sound system. Even worse, I'm pretty sure the wind interfered with the speakers, distorting the sound further. Oh yeah, and people were talking. Loudly. Despite a reminder from the stage beforehand to talk "sotto voce" and only when necessary. Several thousand people "sottovoce" is still a dull roar, however, and several people were at least forte. In a setting like this, I can understand being on a cell phone to give your friends directions, but not the loud dinnertime conversations while people are singing! I suspect with all the trouble I've had in the house this year with noise issues, I've become overly sensitive and less able to tune stuff like this out than I used to be. Equally likely, there would have been less noise closer to the stage.

Maurizio Benini, although a superb conductor of Barbiere (and presumably, other bel canto and/or comic operas), is basically a routinier for everything else I've heard him do - although, to be fair, at least some of his performances may not have been well rehearsed. This may have been a problem here as well since he and some of the singers weren't quite in sync. I suspect he was deliberately conducting very fast in order to get everybody home at a decent hour - the first two acts took about 40 minutes and the Jewel Song ended before 9PM. I alsonoticed a number of cuts - most of the overture, a chunk of Faust's transformation scene (from "O merveille!" to the chord announcing him as a young man), bits of the quartet in the Garden Scene - which of course are there in the house performances.

David Pomeroy started out badly but improved over the course of the night. He initially had a lot of problems with line and phrasing (likely partially Benini's fault), and his French was, well, not up to the standard of an international house. Quite surprising considering he is Canadian (possibly French-Canadian - isn't "Pomeroy" a French name?) and has sung at most of the major theaters in Canada, although I note, not Montreal ). Since this was his "Met debut" (I only consider it a debut when it is a house debut), he may have been suffering from nerves. His is a very light, lyric tenor, which is a nice contrast to my other Met Fausts - Richard Leech, Roberto Alagna, and Ramon Vargas - and intrinsically quite beautiful. He also had decent high notes, a few nice moments of subtlety (namely the aforementioned "O merveille!") and gave a solid if ultimately unmemorable rendition of "Salut, demeure". Whether he should sing this role in a house the size of the Met is another matter, although I'd be interested to hear him as, say, Hylas or Iopas in Les Troyens. Or Lennie in Of Mice and Men, which he sang in Kansas City (although as far as I'm concerned Anthony Dean Griffey owns this role). I think he might be up for Skuratov in From the House of the Dead when the Met does it in 2009-2010 - how many other tenors have that role in their repertory?

Although I was very curious to hear her, I must admit that I came in with feelings of ... oh, all right, hostility toward Katie Van Kooten,which I admit is almost completely unfair. The soprano spent a number of years in Covent Garden's young artist program, culminating in her being given one performance of Magda in La Rondine alternating with Angela Gheorghiu. Now of course, since she was covering Angela, the British press predictably wrote lots of articles portraying her as the sweet, wonderful, normal person who actually deserves stardom versus the evil diva bitch who owes everything to her marriage and to "hype" - rather ironic considering what little you do hear about Angela these days tends to be vicious, not sycophantic. It naturally got worse when she wound up replacing Angela in Paris as Magda. No doubt had Van Kooten covered Karita Mattila or Renee Fleming or some press darling she would have been completely ignored - I certainly don't remember seeing gushy portraits of any of their covers, as good singers as they may be (2). And of course, she's American and blonde, which is something else the music press and a lot of managements like a little too much. I realize that very little of this is actually Van Kooten's fault, although I wouldn't put it past her management. By and large she broke down my barriers. What most impressed me was that even in a setting like this, she made many attempts at musical subtlety. I also liked the warm, dark bottom ofher voice, and she has a good trill. While I don't think her voice is small, I did have trouble hearing her when she was singing at any volume lower than forte. This may have been miking/acoustic issues, but no one else in the cast had this problem. Despite this, I ultimately found Van Kooten much more interesting than Ruth Ann Swenson, who was my Marguerite last October, and I hope to hear her in the house soon - as long as nobody uses her to bash Angela again.

By the way, it's apparently pronounced Van COAT-ten, in the Dutch manner, not Van COOT-ten. Personally, I think she'd be better off by Katherine or Katerina instead of Katie, as it sounds more formal and "professional", but I imagine she's been through this with her management, and they obviously disagree with me.

There were no disappointments with the house "veterans", although Hung Yun (Valentin) and Kate Lindsey (Siebel) really haven't been at the Met long enough to qualify for that title. I was already impressed by Yun's powerful and incisive Valentin, having seen it in the house. It's a pity I had to miss his death scene. Lindsey really made me sit up and take notice when I saw her as Tebaldo in Don Carlo, and her Siebel, the first time I've seen her in a semi-major role, was equally arresting - warm, lush, and musical, with excellent French. I'm glad to see that the Met is switching her into bigger roles next year (Stefano and Cherubino). She should also be luxury casting for the Madrigal Singer in Manon Lescaut. I'd like to see her go the way of Kristine Jepson, the grossly underrated Suzanne Mentzer, or even Susan Graham.

The biggest veteran of them all, of course, is James Morris. I'll have to check my records, but I believe that he is the principal singer I have seen the most often in my Met-going, certainly in the widest variety of roles (trying to rack up every non-Shabbat performance with Roberto or Angela - and when I have more money quite a few other singers - doesn't count). The growly quality of his voice makes him a very nasty devil indeed - even though I prefer a smoother and more Gallic Mephistopheles (e.g. Pape), Morris' authority and power shine through. Several things I remember from his performances in 2003 were still there, particularly the delightful moment when Faust comes in after Mephistopheles is "repulsed" by all those crosses and asks him what's wrong, and he says "Rien!" (Nothing!) like it really is "Oh, nothing at all!" whereas most basses play this as ticked off. It got a laugh, just like it did back in 2003.

(SIGH) I'll see what I can do about getting to see the operas in the other city parks - Faust in Prospect Park on Tuesday is a definite possibility, although I don't know about La Boheme in Cunningham Park because I have no idea where it is! Certain areas of Queens are more trouble than they're worth in terms of length of travel, especially since the opera is not likely to end much before 10:30PM and it's likely to take a while to get from the park to the subway.

Three things before I go. One is that among all the corporate and political droning that preceded the performance, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer gave a speech where he pronounced "Levine" (as in Jimmy) "luh-VEEN". Yes, I know that's the more common pronunciation, but never mind the fact that he's obviously not an opera fan, as a New Yorker, he should know better! I can't remember whether or not I actually voted for this guy. Also, per the program, the Met will behaving not one, but three open houses next season, including one prior to the Opening Night Lucia di Lamermoor. Finally, I think I heard a rumor somewhere that one of the operas for next year's Parks Concerts will be The First Emperor. While I applaud the desire to bring something new to a wider audience - isn't that really as much of a visual pageant as a musical one? Then again, that's true of Turandot, too. And I want to actually see the opera next April - missed it this season - before I judge it.

(1) Still, I suppose this may be my last opportunity to tell my favorite Hong story. Unfortunately I was not actually there when it happened. On December 31, 1999, the Met presented an "End of the Millennium" Gala (never mind that most intelligent, educated people know that the "end of the millennium" was on December 31, 2000), which basically consisted of pretty much every singer who was in a Met production at the time coming out and singing an aria. Well out comes Hong, and as the applause dies down, her young son - I don't know how old but clearly up late on a special night- yells out, loud enough for the entire Met audience to hear, "Hey! That's my MOM! Hey, mom! Mom!"

Future tenor, anyone?

Poor Hong. Her aria just happened to be the ubersexy "Meine Lippen sie kussen so heiss" from Giuditta!

(2) Possible exception to this is when Erin Wall replaced Karita Mattila on an opening night Don Giovanni in Chicago - but it was a special occasion, and the press was able to laud Wall without denigrating Karita. That's the way it should be.