Monday, January 29, 2007


I have always wanted a faux fur, and now at last I have a gorgeous one. It received the ultimate compliment last night when a young man accosted me in the street in Zurich. I pretended not to speak German so he would go away, but when he said the words "pelz Mantel," I knew what the problem was. I said, "It's not real," and this made him happy.

When I lived in Germany so many years ago I had a real one to help me withstand the German winters. My faux one is nice and warm.

My bad luck is holding. Oliver Widmer has cancelled for health reasons. The Sunday performance of Semele was in the afternoon, while I was on the train. I'm getting a cold.

Friday, January 26, 2007


I went to Venice to escape the snow and to see Meyerbeer, but I arrived too late. The Meyerbeer was over the same day that I went to Fidelio. I don't know how I messed that up. Venice is different in the middle of winter. Carnival had not yet started. My legs were good enough to wander around the streets and get lost, the perfect activity in Venice.

Now I am in Rome because the cold weather was coming to Venice, too. It rained today in Rome but not very much. Because I have an umbrella in my suitcase, I didn't buy one from the vendors that magically appeared with the raindrops. This seemed logical for some reason. Here the internet is cheaper and I know where to find cheap food. Not having a home is very expensive, it would appear. I wrote a friend that if I had a home, I would go to it.

I came to see art. Specifically the Matisse & Bonnard exhibition, held in the Complesso del Vittoriano. Apparently this title refers to the wedding cake, torta di matrimonio, the only name I have ever heard it called. Why don't they just say so? The man in the hotel called it the "white one." It is quite an excellent exhibition with the works of the two men side by side. What is the difference? Bonnard is an excellent painter who departs from the post impressionist style mainly in the use of color--fauvist, I believe it's called.

Matisse is more daring, further away from the impressionist tradition, trending more toward modernism. His nudes have black lines around them, something Bonnard would never do. Matisse leaves unpainted places in the paintings sometimes. Bonnard never does. I bought a few postcards for my collection.

I like to write about art because I know nothing about it except what my eyes tell me. There is also a Caravaggio exhibition in Termini that is closing soon. One is a painting of a man having his tooth pulled. Very funny and not Caravaggio's usual clarity. I think this is the one that is a recent attribution. Or maybe they all are.

An x-ray shows the marks on the paintings Caravaggio made to show where to position the models for later sittings. This is something that is looked for.

There is no tennis on television, but there are lots of films of snow in Germany. I feel more at home in Switzerland.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Fidelio 👍🏻

Sunday afternoon was Marc Minkowski's first performance of Fidelio, Beethoven's Singspiel that completely transcends Singspiel. I grew up on Boehm and found his tempos a bit fast, especially the "O welche Lust" chorus toward the end of Act I. The effect of a slow rendition is profound.

Perhaps he's the one coaching people to sing sotto voce, an effect I don't particularly care for. A fast tempo and singers you can hardly hear don't make the four part canon work for me. Matti Salminen ignored this and boomed right in. He is a great Rocco, old and bumbling but not buffo.

The pit at the Zurich Opera is not very deep, so when the singers are sotto voce, they are completely overbalanced by the orchestra. In my humble opinion. There were no Leonora overtures and nobody missed them. Perhaps this tradition has died. Good riddance.

I have bitched about Minkowski's performance enough. The overall effect was dynamic and effective. Good work.

Jonas Kaufmann was a Florestan to die for, with a gorgeous Heldentenor sound and a body lean enough to convince you he might be starving. Everyone looked and sounded exactly as they should. Camilla Nylund has plenty of squillo and is tall and slender enough to pass as a boy.

Is it our modern sensibilities that notice so much the plight of Marzelline who planned to marry Fidelio? Martina Jankova was excellent in the part.

The costumes were period and the sets minimalist--isn't everything these days? The staging of the confrontation in the dungeon was clearer and more effective than others I've seen.

I always imagine Beethoven himself at the end and feel how much he loved this opera, how much he adored these characters. "O namenlose Freude." For me Fidelio is a great opera and this was a balanced and beautiful performance of it.

Monday, January 22, 2007


A friend reminds me that the German Requiem by Brahms includes the words "wir haben keine bleibende Statt." This describes my life right now. I have no home. I just fly from city to city going to the opera. Today I am in Venice. I am due a review of Fidelio but I left it in the hotel.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Zurich Semele

Semele just may be my favorite Handel opera. By then he had been in England so long the English had begun to rub off on him, and this influence flowered into "Oh sleep" and "Where e'er you walk", two dreamily gorgeous songs in the English style. After writing so many oratorios, he had begun to feel that a chorus here and there would break up the monotony of aria and recitative.

And the plot is so wonderfully juicy. Jove whisks his darling off to a newly built castle in the mountains and showers her with presents, leaving his wife at home to fume.

Zurich Opera got it right. It is exactly like a story from the tabloids--like Brad running off with Angelina. It worked in New York as a semi-serious scandal, and it works here as something like a slapstick comedy. Iris, Juno's servant, played to perfection by Isabel Rey, is the comic sidekick, kicked around the stage by her mistress and constantly getting into trouble.

I begin to wonder if it mightn't be Handel's only opera buffa--especially when Semele herself is also played as buffa by Cecilia Bartoli. She continues to present the most spectacular detailing in the coloratura that we've ever heard. I know I said Anna Netrebko was the most athletic singer I've ever seen, but that was before I saw Cecilia in mid cadenza in "Should I persist in gazing" bouncing up and down on the bed. It was a Cecilia Bartoli moment. The entire aria was a complete tour de force I hope I never forget. Each phrase was a masterpiece, a miracle of phrasing and not merely one of comic genius.

The giant Birgit Memmert in the role of Juno loomed over her Iris and was at once dramatic and funny. They didn't combine the roles of Ino and Juno in one singer as they did in New York, but then they didn't have Vivika Genaux either. Liliana Nikiteanu was a lyrical Ino, and Charles Workman's Jupiter was also fine.

One nice comic bit worth mentioning was the staging of the search for Somnus whom Juno wants to put Jupiter's guard dogs to sleep. He is lost in a crowd of sleeping men, and Juno and Iris search in the dark with flashlights. Iris happily serves as his reward.

Both productions, New York and Zurich, ended in the same way: Jove and not Apollo appears with Juno at the end. Jove finds a new girlfriend to replace Semele. It has to have this ending.

The current trend in ornamenting the da capos was everywhere in evidence here. Cecilia's ornaments were particularly wild. Of course. What fun!  It's possible it will come out later on DVD.

Cecilia Bartoli appeared at the beginning in a wedding dress.

She is to be married to a man selected by her father. The omens for the marriage from Juno are good, but Semele pleads to Jove to rescue her from this marriage she does not want. Her sister also does not want it. This scene is dramatically but not musically interesting.

Jove steps in and sweeps Semele off to a villa he has created for her. Cecilia then came out wrapped in a sheet to sing "Endless pleasure, endless love." This is one of the hit tunes of Semele, and was sung with great enthusiasm.

Semele becomes discontent almost immediately. Jove leaves her alone at night and she sings the beautiful song (beautifully) "O sleep." To placate her Jove gives her stuff.


One outfit she chooses to wear is currently being worn by someone else.

The opera is very sensual, and Cecilia projected a lot of sensuality in her voice, her manner, her body, her style. Time is spent keeping Semele happy.  Chorus crowd the stage.

Jove sings a love song to Semele "Where e'er you walk", one of the great pieces by Handel and one of the greatest love songs ever written.

Finally Semele is seduced from her true path by the image of her own beauty. "Should I persist in gazing," a very funny song done in the style of a great virtuoso, both in the field of comic business and Handelian coloratura.

Semele goes on to throw a tantrum immediately afterward. The role offers great scope for La Bartoli, offering her sweet songs, comic coloratura and an intense rage aria.

The opera ends badly for Semele who is burned up by Jupiter's flame after briefly seeing the error of her ways.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Zurich diary

This is my home away from home. I know what to say about breakfast, can even conduct a conversation if required. This morning there was not enough coffee.

Minimalist productions are the norm, it would appear. Remember, they are vaguely modern but of no particular style and mostly black and white. I have a friend who complains that she likes opera for the costumes--of which there are currently none. Cecilia wore a wedding dress at the beginning and an unflattering off-white nightgown the rest of the time.

That's what I'm here for, of course, to see Cecilia Bartoli. The mirror aria--Juno gives Semele a magic mirror, and she sings "Should I persist in gazing, myself I shall adore"--was an endless string of comic business executed by the mistress of opera comedy herself, Cecilia Bartoli. At one point she looks at her feet in the mirror and smiles in admiration.

I met people from the forum. K is younger than I imagined and loves only Cecilia and Maria Callas. He is too German and too serious to tease about Anna Netrebko, whom he loathes, but I gave it my best shot. Other forum members like her, though. I didn't bring my camera because K scorned them, but in the autograph session everyone had one.

I had chocolate with my friend Ursula in the Cafe Schober. Be sure to visit here if you are in town.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno

Belezza:  Malin Hartelius
Piacere:  Anna Bonitatibus
Disinganno:  Marijana Mijanovic

I was in Zurich so I bought a ticket to see Handel's Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at the Zurich Opera. It's an Italian oratorio that has been staged like an opera. Beauty and pleasure form a pair set off against time and disappointment. This quartet are idling away their time in a bar, like one in Zurich where the rich and elegant congregate, when time challenges beauty with a claim: time always beats beauty. Where are the beautiful in the graveyard? While they are arguing, the clientele changes constantly. People in evening clothes are replaced by members of the Salvation Army, altar boys, sailors, and four men who bring in a dummy and set him up at the bar. At the end the dummy bursts into flame. (In Germany fire is not allowed on the stage. Here they constantly burn things up.)

Disappointment, sung by Marijana Mijanovic, warns that when beauty leaves, it never returns. I was fascinated by this woman who sounds remarkably like a falsettist, but isn't one.

The dynamism of the coloratura in this work is extreme. Perhaps Handel worked with some incredible singers in Rome in 1707. The most incredible of all is pleasure, a role that was sung by Cecilia Bartoli in the opera's last mounting here, and whose arias form the framework for her Opera Proibita tour. In this mounting it was sung very well indeed by Anna Bonitatibus, a personal favorite.

Time wins all arguments. It hardly seems an argument worth having. Beauty, sung by Malin Hartelius, begins as a blond, bejewelled and evening gowned woman and ends as a nun in full habit who has seen the error of her ways. Pleasure is driven out.

The star of the evening was unquestionably Marc Minkowski, the conductor. His work is remarkable.

Other side of the argument from one whom beauty has long abandoned: because it is fleeting, all the more reason to flaunt our beauty while we still possess it. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Should we hide all the flowers because they bloom only for a day?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


In The First Emperor the prompter could be heard shouting by the audience in the theater. This creates the impression that Placido's hearing may not be the best. This reminded me of my own life in the theater, such as it was, when I can truly say that I never heard the prompter who worked every performance sitting in her chair by the side of the stage.

One of my companions said she also heard prompting for the tenor in I Puritani.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Post Script

After the opera we went to the Freeport Bakery for a cup of coffee and met a couple--she is Caucasian, he is Chinese--who frequent the Chinese opera in San Francisco. Who knew there was Chinese opera in San Francisco?

We described the way everyone in The First Emperor except the Emperor died at the end. They nodded. This is normal for Chinese opera, apparently.

We described how all the dead characters returned as ghosts to describe how they had died. They nodded. Normal stuff for a Chinese opera.

Then we talked about the miraculous recovery of the princess through sex. This was new to them.

They described our opera as chop suey. We laughed.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


This is an interview with Cecilia Bartoli before her appearance in Semele in Zurich with my usual translation.

Seit Cecilia Bartoli hier Händel-Opern singt, ist das Zürcher Opernhaus eine hochburg der Barock-Freaks geworden. Nun steht ihr Rollendebüt als Semele an - einer Frau, die Unsterblichkeit erlangen will.
[Since Cecilia Bartoli sings Handel operas here, the Zurich operahouse has become the main city for Baroque freaks. Now comes her role debut as Semele, a woman who wants to become immortal.]
Interview Werner Pfister

Cecilia Bartoli, ungefähr vor zwanzig Jahren starteten Sie zu einer weiss Gott stratosphärischen Karriere durch. Überraschenderweise hat die Musik Händels dabei erst relativ spät eine Rolle zu spielen begonnen.
[WP-Cecilia Bartoli, approximately twenty years ago you started on, god knows, a stratospheric career. Surprisingly the music of Handel began to play a role only relatively late.]

Nun ja, am Anfang habe ich mich als Rossini-Sängerin profiliert, später kam Mozart hinzu, und ĂĽberhaupt war fĂĽr mich in den ersten zehn Jahren das Belcanto-Repertoire zentral. Mein Interesse fĂĽr Alte Musik und fĂĽr Originalinstrumente wurde erst später geweckt - 1998 mit Händels Oratorium «Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno» unter Nikolaus Harnoncourt. 1999 machte ich eine CD-Einspielung von Händels «Rinaldo» unter Christopher Hogwood, und hier am Opernhaus kam im Jahr 2003 abermals «Il Trionfo», diesmal szenisch, sowie 2005 «Giulio Cesare», beide Produktionen ĂĽbrigens unter Marc Minkowski. Solche Dirigenten waren es, die mir die TĂĽr zur Alten Musik öffneten. Mittlerweile lebe ich ganz stark in der Welt Händels.
[CB-Yes, at the beginning I profiled as a Rossini singer, later Mozart was added, and in all the bel canto repertoire was central for me in the first ten years. My interest in old music and in original instruments was aroused only later - 1998 with Handel’s Oratorio "IL Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno" under Nikolaus Harnoncourt. In 1999 I made a CD of Handel’s "Rinaldo" under Christopher Hogwood, and here at the opera house again in 2003 came "IL Trionfo", this time staged, as well as the 2005 "Giulio Cesare", both productions by the way under Marc Minkowski. Such conductors opened the door for me to the old music. Meanwhile I live completely strongly in the world of Handel.

Was macht diese Welt so speziell?
[WP-What makes this world so special?]

Händel war nicht nur ein grossartiger Komponist, er kannte auch die Stimmen unheimlich gut und verstand viel vom Gesang. Als ich die Cleopatra in «Giulio Cesare» sang, hatte ich wirklich das GefĂĽhl, dass jede einzelne Note perfekt in meiner Stimme liegt. Das gibt es bei anderen Komponisten nur selten.
[CB-Handel was not only a great composer, he also knew voices extremely well and understood much about singing. When I sang Cleopatra in "Giulio Cesare", I had really the feeling that each individual note lies perfectly in my voice. This happens only rarely with other composers.]
[DrB-this was my impression as well.]

Mittlerweile gibt es auf den Opernbühnen einen regelrechten Händel-Boom...
[WP-Meanwhile there is a proper Handel boom on the opera stages... ]

Händel ist halt wirklich einer der bedeutendsten Barock-Komponisten. Ich betone das, weil es hier starke Niveauunterschiede gibt. Bei Händel bewundere ich seine Einfachheit, die gleichzeitig so eminent schwierig ist - je einfacher, desto schwieriger.
[CB-Handel is really one of the most important baroque composers. I stress that, because here there are strong differences. With Handel I admire his simplicity, which is at the same time so eminently difficult - the simpler, the more difficult.

Gilt das auch fĂĽr seine Oper «Semele»?
[WP-Is this also true for his Opera “Semele?”]

Auf jeden Fall. Aber bei «Semele» kommt noch etwas Entscheidendes hinzu: die Mitwirkung eines Chors. Was Händel hier macht, wie er den Chor einsetzt, das ist kaum zu fassen. Ich kann nicht genug davon bekommen, wenn ich auf der BĂĽhne dem Chor zuhöre.
[CB-In any case. But with "Semele" something crucial is added: the co-operation of a choir. What Handel makes here, as he includes the choir, is hardly to be grasped. I cannot get enough of it when I listen to the choir on the stage.

Bei Händel ist Chor eigentlich im Oratorium und nicht unbedingt in der Oper beheimatet. Bei der UrauffĂĽhrung wurde «Semele» etwas schieläugig als «Opera after the manner of an Oratorio» angekĂĽndet. Was gilt nun wirklich: Oper oder Oratorium?
[WP-With Handel choir is actually resident in the oratorio and not necessarily in the opera. During the premiere "Semele" was announced somewhat squint-eyed as "Opera after the of manner of an oratorio". Which now really applies: Opera or Oratorio?

Auf jeden Fall ist «Semele» ein durch und durch englisches Werk. Ein LehrstĂĽck ĂĽber Moral sozusagen. War es in Rom einst der Papst, der sich gegen die in den Opern propagierte Unmoral stellte, so war es in Händels England das BĂĽrgertum, welches gegen jede Unmoral in den Opern zu Felde zog und sich ans biblische Oratorium hielt. «Opera proibita» nannte man das, und ihr habe ich eine ganze CD-Produktion gewidmet. Unmoralisch ist die Geschichte von der jungen Semele und ihrem göttlichen VerfĂĽhrer zweifellos. Dass Jupiter sie dann fallen lässt, ist gleichsam die Moral von der Geschichte: Versuche nie, dich ĂĽber deinen eigenen Stand zu erheben. Irgendwann fällst du wieder.
[CB-In any case "Semele" is thoroughly an English work. A didactic drama about morals, as it were. In Rome there once was a Pope, who placed himself against the immorality publicized in the operas, then it was in Handel’s England the middle class, which pulled against each immorality fielded in the opera and adhered to the Biblical Oratorio. "Opera proibita" one called that, and I dedicated a whole CD production to this. Immorally is undoubted the history of the young Semele and her godly leader. That Jupiter then lets her fall, is the moral of story, as it were: Never attempt to raise yourself over your own conditions. Sometime you will fall again.

Eigentlich ein durchaus zeitgenössisches Thema, gerade auch in der English Society und der Royal Family...
[WP-Actually a quite contemporary topic, straight also in the English Society and the Royal Family... ]

In gewisser Hinsicht durchaus. Darüber darf man aber nicht vergessen, dass Semele ihren göttlichen Verführer liebt, und das macht die Sache erst recht spannend. Sie liebt ihn aus Liebe, nicht aus Berechnung. Diesem Gefühl will sie unbedingt vertrauen und deshalb nicht den ihr vom Vater bestimmten Mann heiraten. Wie sagt man heute so schön: Sie will ihrem Herzen folgen.
[CB-In certain respects quite. One may not forget, however, that Semele loves her godly leader, and that makes the thing quite exciting. She loves him from love, not from calculation. She wants absolutely to trust this feeling and not to marry the man determined by her father. As one says today so beautifully: She wants to follow her heart.

Das funktioniert letztlich doch nicht?
[WP-Doesn’t this function in the long run nevertheless?

Weil es da noch Juno gibt, Jupiters eifersüchtige Gattin. Sie versucht mit allen - auch unlauteren - Mitteln, ihre junge Nebenbuhlerin auszuschalten. Sie wird zur grossen Versucherin für Semele, indem sie dieser heuchlerisch den Wahn einflösst, sie könne, wenn sie es nur richtig anstelle, unsterblich werden.
[CB-Because there is still Juno, Jupiters jealous wife. She tries with all - also unfair - means to switch her young rival off. She becomes the large temptress for Semele, by creating the illusion, she can, if she only correctly employs it, become immortal.

Dieser Versuchung kann wohl keine junge Frau widerstehen...
[WP-Probably no young woman can resist this temptation!...... ]

...auch keine ältere! Im Gedanken an solche möglicherweise zu erlangende Unsterblichkeit verliert Semele die Kontrolle über sich und über ihre Liebe zu Jupiter. Damit hat Juno ihr Ziel erreicht. Eigentlich ist Semele ein Opfer Junos.
[CB-also no older woman. In the thought of the possibility of attaining such immortality Semele loses control of herself and of her love for Jupiter. Thus Juno achieved her goal. Actually Semele is a victim of Juno. ]

Nicht auch das Opfer eines ĂĽbertriebenen Ehrgeizes?
[WP-Not also the victim of an exaggerated ambition? ]

Nein. Selbstverständlich ist Semele ehrgeizig. Aber wäre sie ĂĽbertrieben ehrgeizig, dann hätten wir keinerlei Mitleid mit ihr und wĂĽrden am Ende der Oper denken: Recht ist ihr geschehen! Eigenartigerweise aber berĂĽhrt uns Semeles Schicksal - weil sie ein Opfer ist. Denn auch Jupiter lässt sie zum Schluss fallen: «She must a victim fall!», sagt er.
[CB-No. Of course Semele is ambitious. But if it were exaggerated ambition, then we would not have any compassion with it and at the end of the opera would think: The right thing has happened to her! Strangely, however, Semele’s fate affects us - because she is a victim. Because also Jupiter lets it fall in the end: "She must be a victim!", he says. ]

Interessanterweise scheint am Schluss der Oper niemand wirklich glücklich zu sein. Jupiter nicht und selbst Juno nicht. Auch nicht Semeles einst vorbestimmter Bräutigam, der nun mit ihrer Schwester Ino Vorliebnehmen muss...
[WP-Interestingly enough nobody seems to be really happy at the conclusion of the opera. Not Jupiter and not even Juno. Also not Semeles once pre-determined bridegroom, who must now marry with her sister Ino...]

Eine Besetzungsänderung sozusagen. Zudem, das Leben geht weiter - Semele wird nicht Jupiters letzte Geliebte gewesen sein.
[CB-A change of occupation as it were. Besides, life continues - Semele will not have been Jupiter’s last love. ]

Am ehesten hätte Semele Veranlassung zum Glücklichsein - ist das doch Ihre erste Opernpartie, wo Sie zum Schluss ein Kind auf die Welt bringen...
[WP-In antiquity Semele ultimately was lucky - is nevertheless your first opera role, where you bring a child in the end on the world... ]

(lacht) Allerdings sozusagen eine Frühgeburt. Und Jupiter pflanzt das Kind in seinen Schenkel ein, um es dort auszutragen. Aber Sie haben schon recht: Dieses Kind ist der Gott Dionysos, und er wird später Semele aus dem Hades befreien und sie zu den Göttern holen, womit sie glücklich ihre Unsterblichkeit erlangt.
[CB-(laughs) however as it were a premature birth. And Jupiter implants the child into his thigh, in order to deliver it there. But you are right already: This child is the God Dionysos, and he will later release Semele from Hades, and raise her to the Gods, with which she luckily attains her immortality. ]

Premiere von Händels «Semele» am 14. Januar. Weitere Vorstellungen mit Cecilia Bartoli am 17., 19., 21., 24., 26. und 28. Januar sowie am 2. Februar (Benefizvorstellung zugunsten der Cecilia-Bartoli-Stiftung).

The First Emperor in HD

Emperor Qin.............Plácido Domingo
Princess Yueyang........Elizabeth Futral
Gao Jianli..............Paul Groves
Chief Minister..........Haijing Fu
General Wang............Hao Jiang Tian
Mother of Yueyang.......Susanne Mentzer
Yin-Yang Master.........Wu Hsing-Kuo [Debut]
Shaman..................Michelle DeYoung
Guard...................Danrell Williams [Debut]
Principal Dancer........Dou Dou Huang [Debut]
Zheng player............Qi Yao [Debut]

Conductor...............Tan Dun [Debut]
Production..............Zhang Yimou [Debut]

I am a big fan of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, so you can predict where I am going with Tan Dun's The First Emperor from the Metropolitan Opera. What he is trying to do is create a fully integrated western and eastern opera. This is a big chunk. In his own words [more or less] he has included the king of western opera, Placido Domingo, and the king of the Peking Opera, Wu Hsing-Kuo. The latter plays a kind of master of ceremonies, master of yin and yang, who sings and dances entirely in the style of the Peking Opera and introduces us to the characters.

I don't have to tell the plot, do I? Placido is the Emperor who was prisoner as a child with Gao Jianli, also a tenor. He admired his music and wants him to write his coronation anthem. Daughter Yueyang falls for Jianli. Things go from bad to worse.

The blending of east and west occurs at many levels. In the pit we have a standard orchestra with some unusual percussion. I'm sure I saw them playing the 8 tympani with the cover disks left on. Then in a strictly orchestral section between scenes anyone who wasn't playing vocalized short percussive notes.

On the stage is a zheng, a multi-stringed instrument resembling a samisen, which provided the accompaniment to one of Elizabeth Futral's arias. There was also a set of ceramic pots that were struck, rocks played by the chorus, and some kind of dangling pot that was played with a violin bow. The chorus also made a lot of percussive sounds in the first act, while also performing in a very western choral style.

The opera singers sang in a western pointillistic style rather like Lulu,--I thought this was passe--while trying to appear Chinese in their costumes and movements. As I have said elsewhere, pointillistic singing that jumps around to very high and low notes proved not difficult to sing. In the film between the acts Elizabeth Futral said as much.

The movie theater technical issues were much worse this week. Despite the very large crowd, the theater chain didn't seem to think the film needed an attendant in the booth. The sound went out for about ten minutes in the first act, giving us Norah Jones for a brief moment. At the intermission and at the end the lights never came up, resulting in a lot of old people stumbling around in the dark. The sound was too loud again.

My overall impression was positive. The most unfortunate part of this opera is that the dramatic arc is unvaryingly downward. The story becomes grimmer and grimmer, and the music more and more somber. The first half is quite exciting and made a wonderful impression. After that it was mezzo mezzo.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I Puritani in HD

They brought out the big guns for this Metropolitan Opera broadcast of I Puritani. We had Beverly Sills cracking wise ("The tenor role is so high only a dog could sing it.") We had Renée Fleming interviewing Anna Netrebko not once but twice. Anna made faces to show what she does not do for the television cameras. She graciously complemented Renée for her work in Bellini's Il Pirata earlier in the season. Renée could interview for a living.

I am pointing this all out so A will be envious of us movie theater attendees. We got lots of closeups of Anna who looked fabulous, as always. The down side was the sound was too loud and the brightness was a bit low.  I looked for A in the audience but didn't see her.

Since Flute was sold out, they moved us into a larger theater in the same complex. The technical delivery mechanism is clearly imperfect. We'll have to see. The sound went bad on occasion--once in the middle of the mad scene. It would be desirable if adjustments could be made in the receiving theater--we were assured that this was not possible.

Elvira..................Anna Netrebko (soprano)
Arturo..................Eric Cutler (tenor)
Riccardo................Franco Vassallo (baritone)
Giorgio.................John Relyea (bass)
Enrichetta..............Maria Zifchak (mezzo-soprano)
Gualtiero...............Valerian Ruminski (bass)
Bruno...................Eduardo Valdes (tenor)

Conductor...............Patrick Summers
Production..............Sandro Sequi

We are pleased to report that the production included the by now already traditional bit of Anna standing on the furniture (bench in the mad scene.) She also lay down on the floor and hung a bit into the orchestra pit for a while. Beverly Sills talked of standing and singing, but Anna is never allowed to do this. She must run wildly from place to place so people can complain that she sounds short of breath. I have never seen such an athletic opera singer or one from whom so much athleticism was expected.

The plot of I Puritani isn't much. Elvira, a puritan, loves Arturo, a cavalier, and everything is set for their wedding when Arturo discovers that the Queen is hiding in their midst and decides he will rescue her instead of getting married. Elvira thinks the worst and goes mad. It's an excuse for a mad scene, the glory of bel canto. Everything ends happily.

The costumes were prettier than the ones in Opera News, but made no sense. Anna looked lovely. One always wishes to see what she will do. Her singing was also lovely.

The tenor, Eric Cutler, winner of the 2005 Richard Tucker Award, did not quite achieve Rubini, but the insanely high notes were reasonably well done. He must have been hard to find. He was nice to see and hear, and looked well with Anna.

They stood for Anna.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Making Music

I am always fascinated by the process of art. We are supposed to delight in the finished product, the performance, with no thought of how it came to be. I was telling a friend that the reason American Idol is interesting is because it lets you a little bit into the processes--you get to see the performances becoming. I remember how it worked in my own life--the passion of the song leaped out of me, but the painstaking correctness and musicianship did not always come. And sometimes I could not damp down the passion enough to hear the corrections. Judy Garland, the greatest shaper of songs we know, while experienced from childhood and brimming over with talent, still had to be taught her art. I forget the man's name--he was a laborer behind the scenes at MGM. The trick is to make the magic with every piece, to find its heart, to reach that perfect intersection of work of art and self, to find the music of your soul. I always imagine that Cecilia Bartoli loves the concert format so much because she can present only the pieces that work for her and throw out the ones that don't. But then everything in her fabulous Cleopatra seemed to work. It was simply one magnificent performance after another. I wish there was a film. I often think we would be happier with Renée Fleming if she threw out more. Record too many arias and songs and throw out the ones that aren't working. Why do a magnificent Handel album and leave in the one or two that fall dead? Everyone doesn't get everything, but some people I guess just can't tell the difference. Renée coached Homage with Gerald Moore. I think I thought he was dead. He was a great coach and accompanist and now he just coaches. She works at it and doesn't take her greatness for granted. Maybe all that's missing is a little editing. There is a film of Kathleen Battle being coached. It is often what makes the difference, what lifts the performance above the mundane. It is the question of striving for ecstasy.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Opera Broadcasts

Imagine my shock to read that 48 of the 60 theaters where the Metropolitan Opera was broadcast were sold out. People were standing outside the theaters begging for tickets and thinking of driving to Fresno. This is very exciting.