Thursday, March 31, 2005

Beverly Sills

When they were evaluating Beverly Sills for the Metropolitan Opera, they applied the traditional rules, and generally said no to her.

There are two things: voice and style. Beverly Sills had a fairly light, high soprano voice with a fairly wide vibratto that makes it a bit hard to tell when she's trilling. It's a voice probably most suitable for Daughter of the Regiment, a performance of hers you can buy on dvd. It's a pretty but fragile voice. She is in the same Fach (classification) as Roberta Peters, and no doubt the Metropolitan thought they had the better singer.

That's because they ignored the other thing: her style. Beverly Sills rose above her category. If she had stuck to Roberta Peters' repertoire she probably would have sung much longer. She had the voice of a soubrette and the heart of a heroine. She sang Joan Sutherland's repertoire (I Puritani) and Mirela Freni's repertoire (Manon) because she simply could not resist, and since she was based at City Opera, she could give in to this impulse. It is impossible to imagine Roberta Peters in these roles. She reaches beyond her grasp, succeeding in her heart if not always in her voice. You can hear in her work the heart of a lion.

This is a review of Beverly Sills - the Great Recordings.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


The American musical began in vaudeville, and progressed to the fabulous reviews of Ziegfeld before reaching the play based, story musical that we think of as the true Broadway musical, the musical of Ethel Merman and Mary Martin. But life went on. We went on to Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the golden age passed.

Rule of thumb: if Marni Nixon didn’t dub it, it’s probably not from the golden age of musicals. This is a better generalization than it sounds at first. Marni Nixon isn’t the sound you want for Dream Girls, though she might work for Phantom of the Opera.

Styles of singing change from generation to generation, too. In my youth white singers didn’t ornament. Ethel didn’t ornament. Marni Nixon didn’t ornament. Styles have changed even for black singers. The great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson ornamented, but not to anything like the extent modern gospel singers do. Her style of ornamentation feels very middle-of-the-road to us now, and we forget that when we first heard her she was shocking.

When they sing off the expected, composed note on purpose, that's ornamentation.

Ornamentation in pop music is a fascinating subject. They’re the same old ornaments they always were with blue notes added. We are in a period of extreme ornamentation. Fantasia’s recent performance on the Image Awards was an example of this. She is in the center of the style of ultra-ornamentation. Farinelli wouldn’t have let a good song go by unornamented, and neither does Fantasia.

Expression is found in ornamentation now, not through the cooler, more rhetorical styles we liked. Idol isn’t causing it—they’re just bringing it to our attention. Interestingly, the current crop don’t ornament as much as Kelly or Fantasia. Problems arise when they feel like they have to do it, but can’t. Everyone who tries to ornament doesn’t succeed.

There’s not a lot interesting going on in music today, and ornamenting is a way to pick up the slack, to counter the boredom of blandness. Try to enjoy it. The clock never runs backwards.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The end of life as we know it

The Sunday New York Times has a long article about how American Idol is ruining Broadway. There is a comparison between Ethel Merman (good) and Sarah Brightman (bad). Give me a break. American Idol does not in fact stand anywhere between Ethel Merman and Sarah Brightman. What does? Search deep down into your knowledge base.


The difference between Broadway singers of today and yesterday is that today’s are miked. So are the singers on Idol, but they can hardly be blamed for this. Ethel was on her own. Her fame rested on the fact that no one in the back rows had any trouble hearing her entirely without a microphone. Opera is still not miked, praise god.

Sarah Brightman is one of the worst offenders. A substantial percentage of performers in shows wear body mikes that don’t show, like Bill Clinton giving a speech. Sarah Brightman uses the Madonna configuration with a mike right in front of her mouth. Like she can’t project her tone any further than that. I confess to not ever having had any interest in Sarah Brightman. Her voice is an annoying whine.

So I agree with the conclusion—yesterday was better than today, singers used to have a lot more character than they do now—but I disagree about the cause. Frenchie Davis is a lot closer to the singers of old than Brightman, in my opinion.

Idol is just a publicity machine.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Money Voices

So what are the money voices?

Weight in the tone is always a nice start for any singer. A moderate amount of weight can be padded to sound like a lot. The Russian teachers are very good at this.

Money will follow high notes. Good high notes with some weight in the center is a home run.

Flexibility is good. If you have any hope of doing coloratura, work hard to improve it.

The biggest extra, the one that will create the most excitement, is weight with coloratura. If you can do this, you will have the world at your feet.

Technical talk

There’s a very nice discussion going on in Opera News over Leontyne Price’s vocal technique. The original writer, Leighton Kerner, was trying to say that he preferred the way she sang Aida in live performances he had seen to the way she sang on her two recordings of the opera. He threw around a lot of terminology in an imprecise way. For instance, he used the term spinto. I would have recommended to Kerner that he stay away from subjects he isn’t qualified to discuss and try to describe Price’s singing some other way.

The main elements of classification are weight and tessitura. How heavy is the voice and what pitch range is does it prefer? The same voice can have different weights in different parts of the voice. A true mezzo needs weight in the center.

Voices don’t always fit nicely into the invented classifications: coloratura soprano, lyric soprano, dramatic soprano, coloratura mezzo, lyric mezzo, dramatic mezzo. Spinto is a subcategory between lyric and dramatic and is applied to both tenors and sopranos. It’s supposed to describe the voice and not the technique applied to it. The technique is applied to the voice based on the teacher’s assessment of the classification.

Is the voice capable of sustaining a loud, heavy sound for up to three hours, particularly in the mid and high range? Or at least would it be once it reaches 40? Would it be suitable for Isolda, for instance? Or Turandot? Or Lady Macbeth? The answer to this question determines whether or not the voice in question is a dramatic soprano. Deborah Voidt is a dramatic soprano. So is Andrea Gruber. So is Jane Eaglen.

Is the voice capable of doing a good high E or F with flexibility? Could they sing Queen of the Night, or anything Ruth Ann Swenson sings? The answer to this question determines whether or not the voice in question is a coloratura soprano.

Is the voice too light for mezzo repertoire? Then you are a lyric soprano. Most women are lyric sopranos. So where does spinto come into it? If you are a lyric soprano who can add weight when the situation calls for it without being ready to move to dramatic, you may be a spinto. Mirela Freni is a lyric soprano with spinto possibilities. She has gotten more spinto as she has gotten older. The classification charts don’t actually include a category for spinto.

I think it would be correct to call Leontyne Price a spinto. Classification is never an exact science. The singer should be evaluated for the role as an individual and not as a classification. I am familiar with Price’s Aida both on the recordings and live in the opera house. Recordings can take the spontaneity out of things. She sang Aida in an unusual way, with lots of high pianissimo. Everyone can’t do this, but she did it with a fantastic mastery.

It is also true that Leontyne pushed her chest register and carried it up too high. At least that’s what I thought at the time. She wanted a fatter sound than she could get with regular mixed registration in the center. It became part of her sound. She is known to have gone through periods of technical difficulty and reemerge with spectacular success. We used to speculate about what caused this, pointing out the chest register problem.

Judgment of the quality of a performance is found in the heart. There was never a more moving performance in the opera house or on recording than her “O patria mia.”

She successfully sang Verdi for many years, a feat that must be celebrated and praised. She was one of the great sopranos of the twentieth century, both for her beautiful voice and for her great heart. She went the extra mile.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

This is a test

She starts off with the treacherously difficult “Jewel Song” from Faust. It’s difficult enough to sing, but it’s even more difficult to phrase. Victoria de los Angeles set the standard for excellence, and I suppose Nancy Gustafson set another standard for completely not getting it. So will she get it? The answer is YES. So it’s true—Anna Netrebko really does have everything.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Streetcar named Desire

A friend has reminded me that jazz also occupies the twentieth century, thus negating my “modern music is either irrelevant (academic) or trivial (pop)” argument.

The great jazz decades were 20’s through 40’s, with interesting work still going on in the 50’s and 60’s, but eventually jazz was replaced by rock and roll, and the period of great jazz ended.

There is a lot of music I love that was written in all parts of the twentieth century. The original impetus for modernism, the Ballet Russe, provided an environment that was still deeply rooted in audience involvement. Academia doesn’t completely take over until they all move to America to avoid Nazi Germany. If we are talking about the second half of the 20th century, my generalization holds. It’s all too complicated or too simple, too academic or too mindless. The college professors are writing for one another and not for us.

He also mentioned, “You're probably well aware that the T Williams Estate refused to let Previn & Co cut or alter the text, which kind of made making an opera out of the play pointless.” My problems with Streetcar were primarily with the music, though the acting was also inadequate. I would be more inclined to think that the presence of the film with Vivian Leigh and Marlon Brando would do more to discourage making an opera of it than problems with the libretto. Where could you find an opera singer who could project the overwhelming animal magnetism of Brando, or the prissy nuts-ness of Leigh?

To write an opera of Streetcar I would have chosen Andre Previn, actually. He does seem perfect for the job. I expected a lot more than I got. With Renée Fleming as Blanche the entire project seemed made in heaven. So what went wrong? Dammit, it just doesn’t swing. You could do Streetcar as a history of jazz. Blanche can arrive accompanied by ragtime; Stanley and Stella can be accompanied by Dixieland; the huge scenes of conflict can be big band; and the strangers who take Blanche off to the asylum could be accompanied by Dave Brubeck. The whole play cries out for jazz.

But Weill is the only one who successfully converted jazz into musicals. And Bernstein, of course. Previn channeling Bernstein seemed ideal.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Live from the Met

I used to joke that I had lived through all of television. Past a certain point this is no longer amusing. We are moving rapidly toward the style of entertainment carried on in the Roman Coliseum.

In the old old days operas were broadcast live from sound stages just like Playhouse 90. The camera angles were about eye level. Who knows where the orchestra was hidden? Then they moved to the opera house where performances were filmed, but still retained the title “live.” The released videos are edited from films of multiple performances. Except occasionally I notice that they’re not. When Placido Domingo was being honored after a performance of Samson and Delilah, they left in his blooped high note at the end. Hearing it, I realized how seldom this sort of thing actually happens.

The broadcast of Houston’s La Cenerentola with Cecilia Bartoli obviously contained an extended section of a studio recording dubbed over the filmed singers. The acoustics suddenly change. Perhaps they were out of tune. Now-a-days you can impose reverberation on studio recordings. You can even choose the hall. You could produce a “live from Carnegie Hall” recording without ever having been there.

We have reached technical nirvana while the content continues to degrade. In the current issue of Opera News, all in the same article, the Metropolitan Opera brags about the sophistication of its equipment and tell us it has virtually stopped televising operas. This year there is just one: Die Meistersinger. They blame the singers, PBS, the current financial state of the institution.

My two personal favorites from the long list of televised operas from the Metropolitan are the recent Fidelio and the incredible Der Rosenkavalier with Kiri Te Kanawa and Kurt Moll, featuring the amazing performance of Tatiana Troyanos in the title role.

It feels like a terrible loss, one that can only be replaced by buying some of the pirated opera dvds sold all over the internet. Debate topic: Does the presence of the internet itself cause the current degradation of television?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Perhaps I'm trying to do the impossible. In spite of the fact that I was young a very long time ago I am trying to stay in touch with what is happening now. The metropolitan opera seems to be trying very hard to ignore it. I think that if you just reject the entire phenomenon, you miss the interesting aspects. I think I should pick a more obscure opera and develop a bizarre staging for it. I'll let you know.

Problems with opera

There are 2 problems with opera.

One has to do with the style of singing--some people just hate all that booming and screeching that goes on. These people should just get over it. Besides, miked crooners are just not that wonderful.

The other problem is the plots. From a modern perspective there just aren't that many great opera librettos. There is a book called Opera as Theater where the author writes long essays on the most theatrically significant librettos: Figaro, Don Giovanni, Fidelio, Carmen, La Traviata, Otello, Tosca, Turandot, Meistersinger, Rosenkavalier. Tell me and be honest: how many outrageous productions of these operas have you seen? Peter Sellars translated all three of the Da Ponte librettos to modern times. He had people shooting heroin in Don Giovanni, as I recall. But generally speaking these aren't the operas that get the bizarre treatment.

It's easy to make good theater of these operas. The problem comes up primarily when translating less successful librettos to the modern stage. Production designers are basically giving away the fact that they don't see the relevance in these pieces. They want to impose relevance, to drag the opera kicking and screaming into the present. Sometimes they succeed but more often they don't.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Reinterpreting opera

I have some problems with the term Eurotrash.

It implies that it’s never ok to reinterpret an opera, to recast it into another era, for example. I won’t go as far as my friends who seemed to be saying that they were appalled that anyone would think of doing such a thing. My criteria are much narrower: I just want it to work.

The way people view opera changes through the passage of time. If you look at drawings of costumes and sets from the Baroque, you see that the people on the stage look a lot more like the people in the audience than they look like the characters they’re playing. So how exactly would we go about observing the “composer’s wishes?” (The composer “wished” to achieve money and recognition.) Should General Horne have worn a tall wig instead of a tall helmet—observing the composer’s wishes by making everyone look Baroque? Or would it be just as logical for Julius Caesar to dress like Saddam Hussein—observing the composer’s wishes by making the actors contemporary with the audience? The only solution completely unrelated to the composer’s wishes would be to make Julius Caesar look genuinely Roman.

Wikipedia: "The plot of Alcina concerns the sixth and seventh cantos of Orlando furioso, which tell of a knight, Ruggiero, enslaved by the sorceress Alcina. Bradamante, Ruggiero's fiancée, and her companion Melisso rescues Ruggiero by breaking Alcina's enchantments, in the process freeing her former lovers whom she had turned into beasts, rocks, waves, and sand."

By the end of the infamous Alcina production, where Alcina is constantly changing her very modern garments, we were sure that the vamping heroine was a slut. I thought it successfully communicated the plot of the opera, and did it almost as well as Pocket Opera’s comic narrative between the arias. Pocket Opera is a by now ancient San Francisco tradition.

What we mean when we are arguing is that we want the opera to stay the way it was when we were young. This is a wish we are doomed not to have fulfilled. It is not the composer’s wishes we want answered—it is our own.

Friday, March 11, 2005


I’m particularly pleased with my Don Giovanni as Austin Powers idea because it illustrates better than I ever imagined possible the problem with opera today. The problem isn’t with opera—it’s with us. Austin and the Don are both men constantly on the make, men aggressively pursuing sexual encounters. Why don’t we feel the same desire to see Austin cast into hell?

It fills my requirement that the production must explain the action on the stage, and it fills it far better than most modern productions manage to do.

Does the Planet of the Apes concept explain anything about Rigoletto? Planet of the Apes is a parable about racial hatred. Rigoletto is a man whose physical deformities define his life but not his soul. He tries to maintain an island of beauty for himself, while living his life in the midst of debauchery. His job requires him to ridicule this debauchery for comic effect. How well he succeeds in this task is the plot of Rigoletto. Can he keep the inner goodness in the midst of outer evil? Ultimately he fails.

There’s also a feminist element that I’ve never seen exploited: the plot is also about masculine desires to keep their own females sexually pure and prevent them from growing up, an unwillingness to let women control their own destinies.

Casting the opera into Planet of the Apes makes it about prejudice against deformity. These prejudices explain why he’s a jester, but they don’t explain the rest of the plot at all. The actions of the court toward Rigoletto’s daughter are based on their perception that he is the same as they are and not on a perception of difference.

The tragedy of Rigoletto lies in the success of his pretense—it never occurs to them that he doesn’t share their values. We weren’t told how Rigoletto dressed. Is he dressed as a human in an ape suit? No, I cannot get this concept to cast any light on the plot of Rigoletto. He creates his tragedy. The others are merely the means. His deformities explain why these two very different types of people are thrown together, but Rigoletto creates his own fall.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Anyone can do this

I have decided to get into a little Eurotrash of my own. I have set myself the task of translating an opera into a modern popular icon.

My first choice is to do Don Giovanni as Austin Powers. The Don would be Austin, of course, and Leporello would be Mini-Me. You know, dressed in the same outfit only littler. It might be hard to cast this, but we could maybe cast a girl and sing it up an octave. Dr. Evil would play the Commendatore. That fat character, what is his name? He could play Masetto.

The main gimmick of this production would be the 60s London outfits. All the girl characters, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Zerlina, would dress like this. You remember the style? Mrs. Peel, only not quite so butch. A randy, flirty modern Don sort of changes everything, don’t you think?

OK. Now I have another one for you. La Boheme done as the TV sitcom Friends. The garret is the apartment. The café is Central Perk. So where would they go in the out of town scene? That’s a tough one. Maybe they could all ride around in Phoebe’s taxi for that whole scene.

Anyway, you get the idea. Anyone can do this. I’m rather attracted to the Austin Powers idea. Maybe we should do some story boards and try to sell it.


I would like to remind everyone here that it's their opera, their music they're messing with here. Modernism is fundamentally a European phenomenon. We came up with Ives, Copland and Philip Glass so we're not exactly in the lead here.

There are only so many pretty rooms you can do.


Discussion found in my email:
DC: Maybe Pamela R's eurotrash operas weren't all that bad. The Financial Times has a revue of Bavarian State Opera's ''Rigoletto" set in outer space -- a production designed to appeal to younger audiences -- and based on "Planet of the Apes". The Duke of Mantua is a gorilla, Monterone is an orangutan and there is a mixed simian chorus. Gilda is got up like Princess Leia and she dies in a plastic garbage bag. Tito Beltran sang the duke, but it couldn't be heard very well through his hairy mask. The audience showed the good taste to boo the performance.

Dr B: This all starts out innocently enough.
KC: Leave it to the Germans to come up with wacko ideas.
Perhaps they just can't stop their compulsion for tinkering?

BC: is there any chance we could drop "Eurotrash" as a critical term? I doubt it can be adequately defined and I think name-calling gets in the way of clear thought.
I do like the idea of audiences booing, though.

Dr. B: and now the plot thickens.
KR: BC wrote: "is there any chance we could drop "Eurotrash" as a critical term?"

My answer: NO! at least not from my perspective, and here it is:

It seems to me that some European directors, in a move to say something new in their version of old classics, have explored this new concept as a way of tagging the old plots as non-important to today's modern and very conflicted world. Ambiguity is the rule, and so operas should reflect that movement. Trovatore in non-traditional dress, and with a plaster-of-Paris head plunked stage left means that we should get it that while the plot lines of jealousy and delayed revenge are OK, it's an old sometimes sucks, and we need to get on with it because...because...well, I (the director) am just tired of this old plot.

Verdi and his librettists, Cammarano and Bardare were not tired of this old plot. To them it rang with intensity and meaning. The plot was the message, and all else existed simply to further that end......(and to make a little money, Certo!).

In short, the concept of Eurotrash trivializes the great masterworks of opera, while seeming to serve them by not messing with the original language, but while thoroughly messing with everything else on the stage. To some of us, that is a gross insult, and to ward off criticism of their policies, directors have fallen back on certain tactics used by some of our current world leaders, which say in no uncertain terms, if you criticize our methods, there is something basically wrong with you.

Pamela Rosenberg proposed the bringing of the Eurotrash concept to San Francisco, which the San Franciscans refused to buy. Some could say it was a noble experiment, but it didn't sell. Lotfi Mansouri always said San Franciscans were too provincial and culturally naive to really appreciate opera, and he is gone (but not soon enough!). Maybe San Francisco could be a bastion of old-hat, traditional opera, and for my part, what could be wrong in that?

The term "Eurotrash" is a pejorative, but it also describes a whole concept of performing opera. Anyone familiar with opera knows what it is, and the fact that no one has really come up with another word to replace it seems, to me, to indicate that it serves well in its descriptive role.

.......But that's just my idea......I'm sure no one else has another.....

Dr. B: So then these two guys ( BC and DE) start their own arguement:

BC: So what you're saying is, all productions of, say, "Aida" have to conform to whatever Verdi and his librettist and impresario staged during V's lifetime: no electric lights, for starters, just candles, no instruments made after whenever Verdi died...same sets, same costumes. Anything else risks "insulting the intention of the original creators," because, how would we know? For "Walkure," you'd have to have real horses on stage-things that eat grass and poop and whinny, not pictures of horses on shields, not carnival-ride hobby horses hanging from the ceilings-because Wagner's libretto calls it...pferden. Nnnnn? Anything else might insult Richard W. All Bach and Handel played on original instruments with tiny orchestras-never mind that our halls are gigantic now. Well, it's a point of view. Neville Mariner (I think) has made a pretty decent career out of exactly that attitude, and taught some valuable musical lessons thereby. But, ojalla!, what a harsh standard, How f*ng boring if every opera, play, dance piece, whatever had to be frozen in time: always the same set for, oh, I don't know, Carmen. No films made in the streets of Sevilla. West Side Story, it can't be Puerto Ricans vs. African Americans (the names don't work for Black folks, but never mind), oh, no, it always has to be whites (and Poles, at that). No concert versions of anything that was originally staged. The "Otello" I played in-nope: we only used 2 trombones and one trumpet (probably was 3 and 2 in the score) plus a CD of the fanfares. Pretty harsh, pretty damned harsh.

DE: I don’t recall saying anything about stage mechanisms---I was talking about the artistic intentions of the creators. For example, when Janacek tells us that Kata'a throws herself into the Volga, and that the villagers gather around her drowned body (after it is dragged out of the river)--so Kostalnicka can give her final cynical statement--I think the intent is pretty clear. I think this is part of what the opera is about. I think having the soprano flop into an inch of water on the stage--after two hours of completely naturalistic stage-craft--lovely stage-craft--is just silly--and having two guys in scrub suits wheel a stainless-steel gurney onto the stage and haul her out is just plain abominable--it interferes with the singing--and the feeling of the music--and is not there to advance the ideas of the creator.--but to insult and shock the audience. This is not my idea---this is what the famous German directors say about their work. Shock and awe indeed.
Weimar--and beware what comes next Mind you--I have no problem with folks doing this in their own theaters--I just don't want it done in a theater where I not only paid for a ticket but gave lots of money to the company.

BC: I wasn't crazy about that scene in KK, either; and didn't like the last tableau in Cosi, either, though it took one trivial plot device way too seriously (then, again, it made me think: Mozart treated war as a joke or prank--it wasn't clear there really was a war for those yoyos to go off to--but in this day and age can we really even THINK about war that way?...). the second part of your criticism, yeah, sure, I respect that. but the first part, like I say, how are we to know? saying "original intention" means you can't reinterpret anything, because you might just possibly maybe it could happen we can't be too careful--reinterpret anything.

DE: Yes indeed--there is a danger in trying to decide what the "original intent" was in many works of art--that's why we have art critics---to tell us that. But to cavil at that problem, is to evade the main point---. An Analogy would be too complain that we cannot tell how much saturated fat is really harmful, so why try to set any limits? I say--everyone can (or should ) agree that in general, for most folks, reducing saturated fat in the diet is a good idea--and I reject the diets which tell us to scarf up all the saturated fat we can find. I feel the same way (in general) about revisiting works of art. Finding new ways to present them is great--so long as one doesn't stomp all over the art. We can spend the next decade arguing over what is "stompimg"--and what is "interpretation"--and eventually we can become art critics!!!

Dr. B: Back to the main arguement.

DC: I agree with BC in a way. I'm guilty of using the term ET as a catch-all to describe production concepts so weird that they are alien to the opera or play involved. Maybe we need a new label for a production -- costumes, sets, lighting, stage directions -- so bizarre that it compromises the story and detracts from the beauty of the music. I am not against innovative productions, as such, because art has to have some meaning for today's audience; however, I don't think using icons from German Expressionism or tired old movies is an answer.

Dr. B: Isn’t this fun! My rather wet-blanket comment: “My opinion. I think the phenomenon is more important and more interesting than what you call it. Calling it Eurotrash is descriptive but also dismissive.” See previous entry on “the composers wishes.”

One more:
KC: Well, Eurotrash has such a wonderfully cheesy ring to it. One hates to abandon it wholesale.

But one man's trash is another woman's treasure (e.g.the modern-dress Alcina of 2002) so the term does leave a lot to be desired in the way of specific qualification.

And does it always have to apply to an outre take on a classic or can it apply to a new production?

Last season's Le Grand Macabre comes to mind as a candidate for the term whenever the thing was written.

Dr. B: Well, Herb Cain certainly would have used it. I loved Alcina, too, and it was definitely a pure example of Eurotrash.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


Conductor:  Bertrand de Billy
Production:  Franco Zeffirelli

Turandot: Andrea Gruber (soprano)
Liù: Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano)
Calàf: Johan Botha (tenor)
Timur: Hao Jiang Tian (bass)

While I was in New York, I went to the Metropolitan Opera to see Turandot. I am a sucker for Turandot. When she says "His name is love," it's one of the greatest moments in opera.

I have been to the Metropolitan only once before when I sat in the orchestra. This time I was in the center of the dress circle, a wonderful place to sit, and especially wonderful for this fabulous production--they have revived the Zefferelli production. I believe the tiers are closer to the stage in the Metropolitan than they are in San Francisco, so the center of the dress circle feels like the best seat in the house. It's a great house, with great acoustics, great sight lines (for a horseshoe theater), with a great tradition.

In the lobby were costumes that had been worn by Renata Tebaldi in her appearances at the Met. She died that week.

The Metropolitan Opera is very traditional, very fuddy-duddy, very out of touch with the rest of the opera world.

Andrea Gruber appeared in the role of Turandot. Her big soprano voice has a harsh edge to it, hardly a drawback in the role of Turandot, who shouts at the top of her voice the entire time. I tend to think that this is a role to avoid (Lady Macbeth is another) unless you are very sure of your shouting abilities. Advice: sing it when you are young to get cast and advance your career, then avoid it like the plague once you can get away with it. It's the only Puccini role that's like this.