Sunday, December 28, 2008

Was it Utterly Shamless Diva Worship? Yessss. Do I Regret a Minute of it? Noooo.

by Jules Massenet
December 27th, 2008

Conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos
Thais- Renee Fleming
Athanael- Thomas Hampson
Nicias- Michael Schade
Palemon- Alain Vernhes
Albine- Maria Zifchak
Crobyle/Myrtale- Alyson Cambridge/Ginger Costa-Jackson
Violin Solo- David Chan

I think the whole point of putting on a production like Thais is so that the audience can bask in the glory of a diva and worship her 'til night is done. In fact, I know that the only point of showing a rarely seen diva-mobile is to show off an opera house's most venerated soprano.

Renee Fleming herself seemed to rise to the occasion and delivered a beautiful and rich interpretation of this saintly courtesan. My one fear of the evening was that she wouldn't make the high note at the end of "Je suis seul", but how foolish of me! She of course sang the note perfectly, along with the rest of the gorgeous aria. While she might need some more lessons in "seductive dancing", as it were, Renee needs no help in playing the part of the ultimate diva, because isn't she the ultimate diva herself? She looked glorious in the two Christian Lacroix gowns, especially the first with the huge pink poofy jacket that I want to own and wear on the weekends. =) My English teacher always says that an author can not expect his/her audience to believe that a character’s personality can drastically change unless there are hints throughout the work. I had that in my mind while watching Thais, looking for hints. The biggest hint of course comes from the opera itself in Act II when Thais explains that she is looking for more in life and her fear of what will happen when she grows old. Massenet leaves the rest to the soprano. Renee here again rose to the occasion. Hint #1: Thais meaningless declarations of love to Nicias. Hint #2: The way she reacts when Athanael comes into her room and promises her eternal life. Hint #3: Her desire for eternal life. Hint #4: Her reaction when she hears Nicias’s voice (she says she hates Nicias.) Hint #5: Her willingness to burn everything she owns, even if she wants to keep a small ivory statue, she’s only human. We can forgive Renee the last note she sang, which was…not lovely… because the rest of the performance was truly magical.

While this opera is a diva-mobile it struck me how much focus there is on Anthanael. That’s not a problem of course, because I found the character intriguing thanks to the brilliance that is Thomas Hampson. The opera could be called Athanael, because I feel that the focus is (or should be) not just on Thais’s conversion, but on Atahanael’s struggle and decent into obsession. Thais is almost a cameo role, while Athanael has a back-story and a struggle and a journey that shapes the plot. Thomas Hampson was miraculous as this tortured monk. He, if you can believe, almost (almost) completely stole the spotlight from Thais/Renee. He almost overshadowed her in their scenes together, but I suppose that that is the intention of the opera, for Athanael to overpower Thais. Either way, he sounded fantastic. To my ears he sounded thousand times better than he did at Renee’s Big Opening Night. Athanael suits his voice much better than Germont. His “conversion” was more believable than Thais’s, in that he becomes obsessed with her memory and when he finds her dying he yells “It was all lies! There is no heaven! Everything I have told you is wrong! Stay with me!” While extremely disturbing, these lines do provide a small amount of comic relief.

Michael Schade has never been on my list of favorite tenors. Don’t ask me why, because he was a wonderful voice, but something about him just doesn’t click with me. However, his portrayal of Nicias was great. Despite his Mafioso style costumes (which are not his fault) I enjoyed his performance as the thoroughly creepy, but idolizing Nicias. His duet with Thais was beautifully sung, and I wouldn’t mind hearing him again.

All the supporting roles were very commendable. Alain Vernhes as Palemon, the head monk, was beautifully sung as was Maria Zifchak as Albine. Alyson Cambridge and Ginger Costa-Jackson as Nicias’s lackey’s Crobyle and Myrtale were extraordinary. One is a graduate of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and the other a member, if these are the singers this program is churning out then I am an avid supporter!
The “Meditation” was simply glorious and although it was at times rudely interrupted by noisy set changes backstage, it was mesmerizing as played by David Chan. I found myself not looking at the orchestra but gazing around the opera house thinking “Is there a more perfect place to play such a perfect piece?” I just worship the Met and the “Meditation.”

IN THE WORDS OF A FAMOUS TENOR “SHUT UP WITH YOUR DAMN COUGHING.” For goodness sake, people. During intermission hack up your lungs for all I care, sneeze until your brains come out, but when the lights go down I want SILENCE! It wasn’t just an occasional sporadic cough or sneeze, but every time someone coughed it would send a chain reaction of “Okay, then I can cough/sneeze now too.” Sometime’s it would go on for minutes until I wanted to scream! Seriously, opera fans, it’s not that hard to cough at intermission, or to keep quiet for the short amount of time the singers were on stage!
Love always,
CaroNome of Score Desk

Quick note on the production itself: It reminded me of the Otto Schenk Ring. The desert set looked very difficult to navigate, I was always worried Thomas Hampson was going to fall!!!! Overall, I did enjoy it. Nicias’s palace was my favorite set.

Next Post: The New Met Opera Store!!!!!!!!!!

Happy Listening!!!! =)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Did No One Else Hear This?

NY Post: Page Six
December 18th, 2008
"THAT Placido Domingo is being touted as the next general manager of the Metropolitan Opera should Peter Gelb depart. The tenor would presumably quit his posts at the Washington National Opera and the LA Opera."

Did no one else see this on one of the most notorious gossip pages presumably in the country? Or am I the only gossip hound in the opera blogosphere?
However, I digress. The main point here is for me to say: WHAT THE HELL, PETER GELB, WE'RE ALREADY TALKING ABOUT YOUR RETIREMENT?
You just got here, for crying out loud! I don't mean to be rude, but quite frankly (if Peter Gelb doesn't mean to retire right away) wouldn't Placido Domingo be too old to take his place? I love him, I really do, but he has two other opera companies and I don't think it would be fair to them and their fans if he picked up and left them for the Met.
Peter Gelb leaving the Met was not on my radar at all until I saw this little blurb. Why would he leave? Why would he do this to us?
Yes, granted, the Met has been through some trying economic times, but isn't that part of the process of change? You need the valley to get to the mountain, right? That's no reason to ditch the whole project.

I'm getting ahead of myself. This is, after all, a gossip column. This could be totally fictitious in every way, shape, and form.
It's late, I'll revisit this in the morning.... or after Christmas.

Happy Listening!!!!!!
AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!!! =) =) =)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Puccinimas!!!! 150 Years of the Italian Master

(Title lovingly taken from the FaceBook event titled "Puccinimas" which I thought very clever.)

In honor of this GENIUS's birthday, I will present an assortment of my favorite moments in Puccini operas.
One of my favorite things about Puccini is that you can hear a simple chord progression or a rhythm and immediately say "Oh, that is so Puccini!" What would we do without his melodrama?

Che il bel sogno di Doretta from La Rondine
Donna non vidi mai from Manon Lescaut
Act 4 Duet from Manon Lescaut
Ch'ella Mi Creda from La Fanciulla del West
Un Bel Di from Madama Butterfly
The Humming Chorus from Madama Butterfly
Si Mi Chiamano Mimi from La Boheme
Che Gelida Manina from La Boheme
O Soave Fanciulla from La Boheme
Act 3 Marcello/Mimi Duet from La Boheme
Sono Andati from La Boheme (One of my favorite moments in the opera is when Mimi tells Rodolfo that she's not beautiful like the dawn, but like the sunset. *sob*)
Vissi D'arte from Tosca
Act I curtain of Tosca
Recondita Armonia from Tosca
E Lecevan Le Stelle from Tosca
O Mio Babbino Caro from Gianni Schicchi (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)
Nulla, Silenzio from Il Tabarro
Final Scene of Suor Angelica
In Questa Reggia from Turandot
Liu's Death from Turandot
Signore Ascolta from Turandot
Act I Finale of Turandot
Act II Ping, Pang, and Pong from Turandot
Nessun Dorma from Turandot (Pavarotti)
Nessun Dorma from Turandot (Lando Bartolini)
Final Scene of Turandot

I hate to wear this story out, but seeing the final scene of Turandot changed my life. Almost four years ago I sat down with my mom to watch The Turandot Project (yes I WILL tell this story every year) and almost had a heart attack when the big crashing "Nessun Dorma" theme came booming out of the stereo system. I never thought anything could sound like that! Sure, I'd heard "Nessun Dorma" but this was insane! It gave meaning to those foreign phrases.
Puccini changed my life. Puccini is life.

Happy Birthday Puccini!!!!! May another 150 years go by just as happily!

Happy Listening!!! =)

Monday, December 8, 2008

"The Year in Classical And Dance" from New York Magazine

The Big Entrance
The unofficial start of Alan Gilbert's reign at the NY Philharmonic with a free concert in Central Park takes the cake as the most important classical music happening of 2008. While some people (and some players) expressed grief at his replacement of Riccardo Muti who, as we know, lovingly declined the position of music director, his official reign (which starts in September) is guaranteed to be new and exciting. He already expressed some new ideas he has for the Phil: Phil: "a new-music ensemble, a renegotiated balance between contemporary music and traditional repertoire, and the world premiere of a work by composer-in-residence Magnus Lindberg; Messiaen’s Poèmes pour mi, sung by Renée Fleming; and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique."

The Year in Superlatives
Best Changing of the Guard: City Ballet's New Male Trio
Sean Suozzi, Tyler Angle, and Robert Fairchild are the three new male headliners for the New York City Ballet. Having seen all three I can tell you that these are three thrilling dancers. Sean Souzzi happens to be my favorite of the three, with his "dark romanticism" and gorgeous dancing.
Best Choreographer: Benjamin Millepied
I've only seen him dance (and sing) in Jerome Robbin's West Side Story Suite so I can tell you nothing about his choreography. To experience Millepied's "unique vision" for yourself you can visit the New York City Ballet this spring at the start of its new season.
Best Use of an Unexpected Space: Die Soldaten
This avant-garde opera written by Bernd Alois Zimmermann found an equally obscure home at the drill hall in the Park Avenue Armory. In this extraordinary production has movable bleachers that transport the audience from one scene to another.

The Top Ten Classical Events
10) Youtube Symphony- Global online auditions for an orchestra to play a new work by Tan Dun were launched by Google last week. All auditioners post a video of themselves on Youtube playing the music Google posted. Sounds like I'll be wasting even more hours on Youtube!
9) Tristan und Isolde- That old cursed thing? Apparently New York Magazine thinks it was worth the wait.
8) Alarm Will Sound- I'm not sure I understand it, but apparently this ensemble played an orchestration of a player-piano piece that can not be played by human hands.
7) The Opening of (Le) Poisson Rouge- A new hot spot for "genre hoppers." I'm not sure it's a cross-over club...
6) Brooklyn Rider at the Brooklyn Lyceum- Brooklyn's leading string quartet and Iranian fiddler Kayhan Kalhor displayed "magical logic"during that one night concert, which you can catch on their CD Passport.
5) Peter Grimes- The most disturbing production, in my opinion, of the Met's 2007-2008 season
catches this number 5 spot with Athony Dean Griffey's performances as Peter Grimes.
4) Bernstein at 90- What would a classical countdown be without a little Bernstein love?
3) Jordi Savall & Hespèrion XXI- A unofficial soundtrack to Don Quixote played by a Catalan viola da gamba master and his ensemble, featuring works written during the time of Cervantes.
2) Jeremy Denk at Zankel Hall- Fellow blogger Jeremy Denk performed two rigorous piano works by Ives and Beehtoven and later picked the keys out of his teeth.
1) Doctor Atomic- "Adams’s score overwhelmed the weaknesses in Peter Sellars’s quilted-together libretto." Apparently. The orchestra, led by Alan Gilbert, was the real star of the show. Not that I would know. I didn't the production and I don't possess a true ear for new music.

So, the best the Met could muster was Doctor Atomic, Peter Grimes, and Tristan und Isolde. Well, good for them, it could have been far worse I suppose.

My favorite?
The Worst of the Year:
"Already wheezing during the boom years, New York City Opera suffered a triple trauma when renovations to the State Theater forced the current season's cancellation, fund-raising hit a wall, and incoming general manager Gerard Mortier decided to take his ball and go home. The tragic debacle leaves the company on the brink."
Silly Mortier, NYCO is for Sills!

Happy Listening!!! =)