Monday, January 31, 2005

Classic Italians

When I was studying for my doctorate, I was required to memorize long lists of composers and compositions and dates, most of which I had already studied before. I was fascinated to see the names of Italian opera composers:

Caldara
Paisiello
Stradella
Scarlatti
Cavalli
Cimarosa

Who were these people and why had I never heard of them before? Paisiello came up again as a character in a novel by George Sand. And why had I never heard their music except in the Classic Italian Songs books? It’s something that has puzzled me ever since.

The beginning and ending of the arc are known -- Monteverdi and Rossini – but what about everything that went between? What could the explanation possibly be?

One piece of the puzzle is, of course, the rise and fall of the castrato, but is that the whole story?

I’m fascinated by the commercial explanation (see money). These people, the composers and the castrati, were the chief purveyors of commercial opera. The idea was to produce, make money and move on. Rossini, for instance, was the first to compose the ornamentation, a sure indication that the art was preparing to die. What was composed was a framework for the singer to build on.

They were known to compose the same libretto over and over, the objective being new music, new money. Libretti are hard to come by, but modern composers don’t consider redoing a famous piece. Rossini received a lot of criticism for composing Barber of Seville, because it was already a famous opera by Paisiello.

Composers: consider a new trend. Do another Streetcar, another Dead Man Walking, until someone comes up with a well-composed opera, something with melody a singer can really sink their teeth into, with music that rises to the level of the story.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

money

Music always follows money.

In Europe the church had money, so we have lots of church music.
Money dictates the terms of purchase.

Monarchs and princes had money, so we have lots of music to accompany their lives. In France music had virtually an audience of one, so French music of the Baroque is for the specific pleasure and to enhance the status of Louis XIV and XV.

The middle class didn’t come into the picture until Venice in the 1640’s (1637 to be precise). There was still quite a lot of money in Venice and it began to spend its money on commercial opera. With a small orchestra, half a dozen or fewer singers, painted sets and a few pieces of machinery it was possible to make money with music. A slightly more pompous version originating in Naples took over and completely dominated music through the time of Beethoven.

The Viennese classicists were not the most important figures of their era. They weren’t even the most import musical figures of their city where Gluck and Salieri would have been the more significant composers because they composed in the Neapolitan style.

Beethoven was the first to try to earn a living outside of the church, the court or the popular opera.

Throughout the 20th century the money flowed up from below almost exclusively. No one even thinks to acquire status through music any more. I take that back. College professors think to acquire status through music, their own that is. So we have basically two kinds of music:
The boring and arcane (for the academic audience)
The trivial and insignificant (for the popular audience)

If you were asking yourself why there is no good 20th century opera, this is the answer. What a wonderful opera could be composed of Streetcar, but it would need to be composed by Gershwin or Count Basie. Once in a while great talent comes out of the crowd, a Bernstein or a Previn, but instead of composing great works, they are sucked into the academic context where good always equals complicated and hard to understand.

The best post Puccini opera is West Side Story. No contest.

Perhaps colleges should be required to fire all their composers and make them earn a living in the real world.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Pamela Rosenberg

I wish her well. I have experienced enough of the European, especially German speaking, opera scene to know that Pamela is completely in tune with it. She did not invent the style of production that has so scandalized San Francisco. It's quite common all over Germany and down into Switzerland. On one of my trips to Zurich to see the Italian singer she was singing in Haydn's L'Anima del Filisopho. The action, which concerns Orpheus, took place on a bare, steeply-raked stage with windows on the sides where many of the subordinate characters' heads appeared. Most mysterious was the tribe of natives with large heads (or perhaps masks) who seemed to be the chorus. Or? What they meant in a story about Orpheus, I will never know. The Italian was in drag in this opera and sang fabulously. She gives value.

My position is simple: if it makes the story clearer, as in Armida, I'm ok with it. I might even like it. If it distracts attention onto itself with no apparent connection to the story, I'm against.

I know that Robert Commanday is irate over how she manages the opera financially, but this has never been my grievance. My chief complaint is with the decline in the quality of the singing. It's not a steep drop, but it's enough to annoy. She saves money on singers in order to spend it on productions. One begins to wonder about the price of one's ticket, and once this thought has occurred, there's no going back.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Mansouri

Pamela Rosenberg doesn’t fill me with rage the way Lotfi Mansouri often did. An acquaintance explained that he married money and that that was the explanation for him.

Early in his tenure there was a financial crisis which he resolved creatively—he hired someone to do all the productions very cheaply. The problem was that they were all the same dismal, abstract brown and very depressing. This did the trick—crisis over.

Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel calls for the nuns to strip off their clothing in a lunatic rage at the end. The heroine wore a body stocking, as I recall, but the other disrobing nuns were rumored to come from the local strip joint in the Tenderloin owned by the Mitchell brothers. (Their successful long-running partnership ended with one of them shooting the other.) Fine. What’s a little nudity here or there?

But other operas that season seemed suddenly populated with naked individuals. Finally a reason to bring binoculars to the opera, used to search all crowd scenes to find the nude ones. Oh, he could drive me into a rage.

He imported entire productions from the Kirov Opera. The Fiery Angel was one of these, as a matter of fact. Who could forget the incredible Ruslan and Lyudmila with Anna Netrebko in her spectacular American debut? Both productions were conducted by Valery Gergiev when we could still afford him.

One of the great scandals also took place during the tenure of Lotfi Mansouri. It is good to remember that Adler had to interest us entirely without benefit of supertitles. The only rule for supertitles is that the audience must never laugh at them. They can explain something funny on the stage, but must never themselves be the source of laughter. The drama is on the stage and not in the titles.

So perhaps some operas we are better off not knowing. La Gioconda is one of these. The plot and the action are ludicrous and the supertitles tell you just how ludicrous. Eva Marton in the role of La Gioconda simply stopped singing when the audience laughed and said, “It’s not funny.”

Adler simply wanted to be the best and nothing less would do.

McEwan came to his post from the recording industry and stayed with his strengths.

Mansouri was eclectic and often crass, but carried the opera through some rough times. And he is an excellent stage director.

Rosenberg stays with her vision when all is collapsing around her. This is both her strength and her profound weakness. We’re not sure we share her vision, and we are certainly not willing to see the opera die because of it.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

San Francisco Opera

I used to live in San Francisco and most of my experience of professional opera theater comes from there. They are currently experiencing a financial crisis which is to be accompanied by the resignation of the current manager, Pamela Rosenberg. I want to try to evaluate her tenure by writing an appreciation of the San Francisco Opera with a list of memorable performances in no particular order—or rather in the order of memory. Note to Jean—this is my list. You write your own.

The first professional opera I attended was a performance of Bellini’s I Puritani in the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, a space more suitable for wrestling and the Ice Capades than opera. It starred Joan Sutherland and was memorable mainly for its sheer absurdity. There was a tiny set in the center of vast emptiness. Everyone seemed to move around Ms Sutherland while she stood in one place, as though she couldn't attend the rehearsals.

And another with Joan Sutherland years later: Terry McEwan brought Joan and Marilyn back to do one more Norma. Awesome singing. One longs for this.

Monserat Caballé and Marilyn Horne in Rossini’s Semiramide, dressed as decks of cards. They all looked so miserable. I sat next to a woman who loved Monserat Caballé as much as I loved Marilyn Horne. She would gasp during the soprano parts, while I gasped at the mezzo sections.

Olga Borodina as Dalilah. She has said that this is her favorite role and her favorite music. I’ve seen the video of her performance at the Metropolitan, and ours was much better. Her singing was very mature and sophisticated, musically a step above anything I had heard. The acting was very sexy. The sets of the San Francisco production are much sexier than the Met’s, and Olga felt her way into her surroundings. Olga Borodina achieved true greatness in this role. I thought that the golden age had come again. She is a fabulous singer of the here and now.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in Der Rosenkavalier. Life altering. She has said that her husband, Walter Legge, taught her to lift her performances beyond the ordinary.

James Morris in Terry McEwan’s 1985 Ring cycle. Until then I didn’t think I could love Wagner.

Messiaen's opera Saint Francois d'Assise. I adore Messiaen. I have heard people complain about the score, but the opera is five hours long and more people walk out during Tristan and Isolda. Willard White was towering. And who can forget the angel playing her heavenly harp? Messiaen achieved his spiritual aim in this gigantic work.

This memory segues nicely into Glass’ Satyagraha, a work both numbing and deeply spiritual.

Missing Margaret Price and seeing Leontyne Price in Aida instead. She was the unqualified master of this role.

Anything with Marilyn Horne. Orlando Furioso.

Kiri in Capriccio. I don’t want to forget this wonderful singer. The Versace production, not the one they filmed.

Maria Ewing’s Salome. I went twice.

Reri Grist’s Ariadne auf Naxos. She brought the opera to a complete standstill.

Maria Collier’s Tosca. The curtain calls went on for hours. Well, maybe not hours. Nothing like that happens today. She wore a long red train and never stepped on it once. I hope I have remembered her name right.

La piece de la resistance: Helga Dernesch as Orlovsky in Die Fledermaus. I can see her now in her slender army uniform and cigarette holder. I laughed till I hurt. I smile thinking of it now.

Opera is food for the soul, and we judge an intendant by how nourished we feel. I have attended the opera during four different managers: Kurt Herbert Adler, Terrance McEwan, Lotfi Monsouri and Pamela Rosenberg. They are what I know of opera. The above list includes examples by each.

Adler made the San Francisco Opera the equal of any on earth, and his followers have not been able to match him. Adler made sure the best singers came here. His biggest blunder was with Maria Callas.

I complained bitterly about Lotfi Mansouri because of his commonness. He had three particularly notable seasons: one where all the sets were made from brown logs in different arrangements, one where strippers appeared in every opera, though only one called for them, and one in the civic auditorium where all the singers were miked like a broadway show. He was entertaining, but a bit crass.

Pamela is harder to evaluate. I once complained that we had gone from a first tier opera house to the equal of any medium-sized town in Germany. Pamela dares big and fails big. She is in the mainstream of German opera production, but sadly, we are not. She produced more empty seats than any of the others. From my list you should deduce that for me the singing is what really counts, and under Pamela Rosenberg the overall quality of the singing diminished.
The job of an opera manager:

1. fill the seats
2. balance the budget
3. make art

In that order. Pamela has her priorities backwards.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Arguing about Fidelio

I called my friend Jean, she’s living in Oregon now, and she said she disagreed with everything I said in my blog, and I said, “Like what?” She loves Fidelio and has been fine with a mousy Leonora who is just trying to keep unnoticed.

But Jean, the one thing that never makes any sense in Fidelio is Rocco and Marzelina. If Leonora is successfully staying unnoticed, then why has Marzelina thrown over her perfectly respectable boy friend for her, and why is Rocco making such a fuss over her? These parts are what give Fidelio such a bad rep. A completely convincing Fidelio has to account for them, and this only happens if the pretense is completely convincing. No, you’re wrong. Leonora is a woman who dares big. She knows the risks, and she takes them.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Heppner

I first heard Ben Heppner years ago in a concert performance of Fidelio with the San Francisco Symphony under Herbert Bloomstedt. He was wonderful in this, the perfect Heldentenor in both voice and expression, but the role is also very short.

There was a period of several years when he was constantly reported with vocal difficulties. I also heard him on the radio last week in Otello, the last act of the last performance of the run at the Metropolitan. His voice was only barely holding out, but he made it all the way to the end. So is he all fixed now?

The big roles, the Tristans and Isoldas, the Otellos and Brühnhildes, are the ones that kill voices, just the ones that Ben sings. So what is it with Ben? Is he just failing to take care of himself, or is he screwing up? There are two possible culprits:

1. The life of a touring opera singer is hard and not for everyone. He has definitely let himself go. To do really huge roles requires a minimum level of muscle tone and general physical health. Maybe this is all there is to it.

2. Or maybe he isn’t doing it right from a vocal technique perspective.

I can’t contribute anything to getting Ben to eat right and keep himself and his voice fit, but I would like to comment on item number two. When James Morris first started his reign as the world’s leading Wotan at the San Francisco Opera in 1985, during the reign of Terry McEwen, he talked about his approach to the part, saying he would sing it like Verdi. James Morris may be regarded as a role model here, because he has achieved enormous success in a role for which his voice was just a little light. He’s still singing it after 20 years. Whatever he’s been doing must be right.

I can tell you what I heard in James Morris’ Wotan—he stuck faithfully to his gorgeous legato, did not try to push his voice beyond its capacity, and kept everything comfortably within his grasp with no over-reaching.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Sturm und Drang

“Last night [we] saw a film as part of the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival at the Castro, called Mein Name ist Bach, about an encounter between Bach and Frederick of Prussia. So much of it was fictional, I'm not sure what we could count on, but a son of Johann's, Wilhelm Friedeman, played some of his own compositions, which sounded like they would have been written a hundred years or more later. Do you know anything about his work? Seemed kind of wild and dramatic.”

This is what is called “Sturm und Drang”. The most important thing to understand here is that J. S. Bach lived on well past his era. By 1740, 10 years before Bach’s death, no one was writing counterpoint any more and Bach was the master of a dead art. Thus Art of the Fugue; in this work he was describing his art to future generations. The fugue was basically dead. Churches had entirely abandoned the contrapuntal art of the past. It was a lot like now, actually. Have you been to a Catholic Church lately? It’s not anything like it was in my youth.

Bach was never considered prominent during his lifetime. His son C.P.E. Bach was far more famous. Wilhelm Friedeman was another of Bach’s sons, the oldest, I think. They were doing something completely different. They worked in the court of Friedrich der Grosse in Berlin, and the elder Bach is known to have visited his son there. Whether or not he met Friedrich, I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. He is supposed to have seen his first piano in Berlin.

The sons played pianos, not organs or harpsichords, and were fascinated with writing things that showed off what you could do with a piano. It sounded more like recitative than anything else, with lots of tempo and dynamic changes: storm and stress.

Primitive versions of the symphony first appeared then. It was a period of great turmoil in music, with possibly a little continuity from the Italians. Handel became old fashioned, too, and shifted to oratorio.

Baby Mozart is entirely in the new style. I hope this answers your question.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Rodelinda

I am banished to the hinterlands and am listening to the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts more than ever. I caught Handel’s Rodelinda driving back from Ohio, switching from station to station on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The Cecilia Bartoli effect has not spread to the Metropolitan Opera where big voices still abound. On the radio it still sounds the very traditional way it always did.
http://www.metopera.org/savemetbroadcasts/

The stars of Rodelinda were Renée Fleming and David Daniels, a falsettist. Also known as a countertenor. Countertenors always wear beards so you will know they’re real men, and David Daniels is no exception. Falsetto singing is a funny sound I’ve never had much taste for, but now that Marilyn Horne is no longer around to perform the heroes in opera seria someone has to pick up the slack. Daniels has a far more robust tone than falsettists generally do. I think the idea is that if you push too firmly, it turns into tenor, and this usually keeps them light and whiny. He’s fun. I may allow myself to be persuaded.

I have been hearing Renée Fleming for quite a while now. She just gets better and better. She is moving deeper and deeper into the essence.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Evenings

I was reading Wikipedia’s article on Berlioz in order to research Les Nuits d'Été and came upon the words, “a scathing satire” used to describe Evenings in the Orchestra. I must have missed that part. It’s been a long time since I read it, but “charming” is more what I would have called it. It is a one of a kind book, just as its author was a one of a kind person.

Berlioz became the first important conductor for the simple reason that he couldn’t play anything. What would be the point of sitting down at the keyboard when you couldn’t play it? So he stood up and waved something instead. In Evenings he sat in the orchestra and watched the opera, not because he was playing but because he knew someone who was and he enjoyed the better than front row seat and the low price. He described how the opera looked from this vantage point and how he naturally adopted the point of view of the musicians, passionately adoring some, loathing some, sleeping through some.

He was an enthusiast for Spontini, a now virtually forgotten composer. He openly declared his own passions and foibles, throwing aside the god-like authority of the critic for the emotion of the enthusiast. One would wish to have written such a book oneself.

Il Tabarro

Request: [Berkeley opera] are doing “Gianni Schichi", "Suor A", and "Il Tabarro". Tell me about "Il Tabarro".

They go in the opposite order. Gianni Schichi is a comedy, Puccini’s only comedy, I think. The three operas together are called Trittico, which premiered at the Metropolitan opera just after the end of WWI. Even the presence of Geraldine Farrar in the title role could not save Suor Angelica which has pretty much faded from sight. It’s hard to deal with the way women used to be treated. The three operas are rarely performed as a group any more. Gianni Schichi is the most popular.

Il Tabarro is true verismo, a style of opera that grew up in reaction to Verdi who wrote almost exclusively about bad behavior in the upper classes. Verismo is about bad behavior in the lower classes and can verge on the completely sordid. So naturally, we adore it. It’s like stuff you would hear about on Jerry Springer.

Tosca is considered verismo but is about the upper classes. Tosca is a celebrity, the most famous singer of her era, and her friends and cohorts are prominent political figures. This kind of thing would probably make it on to the front page.

The plot of Il Tabarro is very similar to the plot of Pagliacci: older man has married young woman who wants to have fun with someone more her own age. Older man goes into a rage and kills someone.

Verismo makes great movies:

Tosca
Cavalleria Rusticana
Pagliacci

All are opera movies starring Placido Domingo. All three are well conducted, beautifully sung and very sexy. Placido cannot be beat for sex appeal in opera.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1890-1910]

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Essence

I suppose for a musician to write about music is a difficulty. I know how it’s done. I know how the rabbit gets out of the hat. Music is more than just a magic trick, much more than the sum of its parts.

In the center of the round building at Indiana University are small lobbies with vending machines. Over their coffee the pianists would discuss rotating their elbows to ease stress problems in their arms. Who would be discussing the essence and meaning of the music they were playing?

I recall listening to a radio interview of Glenn Gould discussing his performance of a Beethoven piano concerto. He used the phrase “sublimating the octaves.” Glenn Gould was who he was because every note overflowed with meaning, because he never forgot about the essence. So what was he talking about? Octaves means playing two notes in the same hand an octave apart. They’re written into a piano piece because they both look and sound flashy. He decided not to give in to flashiness. He was looking for the meaning in what he played, and it was the success of these interpretations that made him such a great artist.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Reynaldo Hahn


It’s funny about music. You listen and you know. It makes the connection or it doesn’t.

For a long time I have been listening to Susan Graham’s album “La Belle Epoque”, the songs of Reynaldo Hahn. Before this I had only heard “L’Heure Exquise,” but he wrote a lot of other music, apparently. Who knew? I had heard only of this one song. I’m very fussy about how people sing French, and Susan Graham doesn’t completely pass the test. But I’m still listening.

It’s like you want the place where this is. And the place is the Paris of Debussy and Gertrude Stein. Gertrude never wanted to escape to a desert island like Gauguin. She was at home and at peace in Paris. And so are the songs of Reynaldo Hahn. These songs are at peace with themselves. One takes a sip of chocolate between songs. “Let us believe this is the moment; this is the exquisite moment.”

These songs are not striving, and Susan doesn’t strive with them either. They stay within her voice and her emotions. Try not to think too much.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Why don't classical records sell?

10. Because they all look like Roseanne instead of like Brittney.

9. Because they all sing funny, and when they’re not singing funny they’re not singing at all.

8. Because these pieces have all been recorded 100 times before.

7. Because the three tenors are too old now.

6. Because you can’t understand the words.

5. Because the records are too expensive.

4. Because you can’t dance to it.

3. Because it’s all about the technicians and not about the musicians. Oops! That’s pop music.

2. Because it’s all too old, too stale, too frozen in the past.

1. Because no one will commit to going that last mile, because there are no performers today willing to stick their necks out and step up to greatness.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Cecilia Bartoli Effect

I don’t know Cecilia Bartoli the way everyone else does. I once gave her advice, it seems, and she becomes all diva-like around me.

Nevertheless, I consider her to be the defining artist of her generation. She is making the classical music world over into her own image. She is like an archeologist digging up old bones. So now everyone else wants to do it, too.

A lot of young singers express a desire to follow her path. I went to a performance of Fliegendehollander in San Francisco recently, and the roles were all performed by people with voices much too light for Wagner. They proceeded to rephrase the whole opera and do the same notes in a completely new way. This is the Cecilia Bartoli effect. We will by sheer force of will make this music into something no one has heard before.

Wonderful! My requirement is “Make me listen! Make me look! Drag me out of my indifference and make me pay attention.” To the production designers and stage directors the requirement is “Explain this opera to me. Make me understand why these people are on the stage together.”

Cecilia does this. Did Figaro ever make so much sense as when she explained it to us in the Met production? She finds the emotional core of any role she plays and draws the weight of the drama to her. Watch Cosi with her playing Despina and then with her playing Fiordiligi, something you can actually do on video. Each time, she is the emotional center. She makes you look. She makes you listen. You can love it, hate it, maybe even worship it, or run from it—but you have to look, you have to listen.

We are going to a new place, and no one is quite sure where.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Fidelio

This is one of my first posts on this blog, and I'm reposting it in honor of Beethoven's birthday.  Yes, I know.  One isn't supposed to write like this about classical music:

I’ve heard through the rumor mill that Karita Mattila is coming to San Francisco next season to sing Fidelio. I’m worrying. I saw the Met broadcast of her in this role and adored it. So I’m worrying.

For me Fidelio is a great opera. I think sometimes it’s necessary to understand the context first, before getting the idea of Fidelio, an opera which appears unexpectedly toward the end of the Neapolitan era. The only other still performed work from its genre is Mozart’s Zauberfloete, a sophisticated comedy in the otherwise unsophisticated Singspiel repertoire.

Beethoven is closer to the center of the genre, thinks himself to be writing an ordinary Singspiel with dramatic content. People everywhere sang in lighter voices then, were trying for flash on the Italian side, entertainment on the German side. There was nothing anything like Fidelio. Beethoven always shoots the moon, and in Fidelio he outdid even himself, inventing not merely a dramatic style but a whole style of singing as well. Beethoven invented the dramatic soprano and dramatic tenor which fill the opera repertoire through Wagner and beyond. He wanted an intensity that was unimagined until he imagined it. With Fidelio he's basically trying to stuff a 1000 lb gorilla into a Mini Cooper.

The opera existed for almost a decade before Wilhelmine Schroeder-Devrient took it on as a career builder. It made her, and she made it. Opera was never the same. Weber immediately took up the idea of heavier singing and was followed closely by the Italians. Rossini took the opportunity to retire. And the whole thing was Beethoven’s fault, as were most things in 19th century music. Wagner thought of himself as following Beethoven’s lead, of composing symphonic development in the opera genre.

But for Beethoven it’s supposed to be a Singspiel. So there is a soubrette and a comic bass like in any other Singspiel. The heroine is in disguise as a man, and this is where the whole thing falls apart for us. The woman who sings this sings the other heavy German parts, too, and can’t actually be disguised as a man. Normally. She looks like Jane Eaglen. In the current San Francisco production she is wrapped up in a bulky coat, so anyone at all could be inside. To think this is a man means you have to take her word for it.

So I am worrying. In the Met production Karita Mattila is wearing WWII army fatigues and swaggering around like an actual gent. She cleans guns and flirts seriously with Marzelina, her ostensible fiancé. Her singing is wonderful, but her flirting is even better. This is the first Fidelio I’ve seen where you believe everything. Marzelina is heart-broken, and you actually think about this when the heroine is being carried around on the crowd’s shoulders. How will they fit this swaggering, powerful interpretation into the San Francisco production? Will they try?

From 1/2/05

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Kennedy Center Honors

Did you catch the Kennedy Center Honors? Singing was very much in evidence. Joan Sutherland, looking a bit frail, was one of the honorees.

Renée Fleming was there to answer the question "What if 'Over the Rainbow' were an opera aria?" What if it arced up and down like Puccini and grooved like Ella and crescendoed like, well, like Renée Fleming? Renée is a cross-over. You knew that about her, didn't you? She is the exception that proves the rule that you can't cross over from pop to classical. Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli are the ones who follow the rule. For the last month these two singers were the only people listed by Yahoo as releasing classical albums. Ach! What is happening?

I digress. Back to Renée. I would like to see more risk taking by Renée and all the classical singers. Everything Renée tries doesn't necessarily work, usually because she doesn't take enough risks rather than too many. Renée, sing everything just that amount of out there. If you go too far, we'll let you know. 'Over the Rainbow' was perfection, a bowl of ice cream with nuts and cherries.
Billy Joel and Kid Rock were there to honor Elton John, a man who is always more out there than anyone thought possible. And there was Fantasia. I will be found to obsess over American Idol, which I regard as both the apex and nadir of music on television. Other people will talk endlessly about Simon, Paula and Randy, but I'll talk about the music. It's wonderful to think that the highest advertising rates on TV go to a talent scout program.

Elton John is watching out for Fantasia, just as he said he would do on the show. Her talent very much exceeds her context, and she is going to need help to find her nitch outside Idol. In Idol terms her album is a bust.

So Randy Jackson, why is it that your top 10 music list for 2004 didn't include one thing from Idol? And what are you doing to change that? Or is it all just bullshit?

Name

I suppose it would make sense to explain the title. I often proposed this as the title of my autobiography. All my German friends would say "no, it's not kinderkuchen, it's LebkuchenKinder." I couldn't explain why Kinderkuchen was funnier in English.

It was a brief summary of my operatic career. I was a member of the chorus of the Ulmer Theater and made my first appearance as one of the children in Hansel and Gretel (you'll recall that the children have all been turned into cookies.) "For the FBI" was a feeble attempt at self-aggrandizement. I was not singing in the chorus; I was infiltrating it. In this guise I discovered nothing at all political, but found out a lot about German beer and wine. I learned the beer may contain only 7 possible ingredients, for instance. That a Mosel is heaven.

I also learned that I was not destined to set the operatic world aflame.