Saturday, September 26, 2020

Die Wahrheit! Die Wahrheit wär sie auch Verbrechen!

 We shall speak the truth, even if that be also a crime.

Noble words one doesn't hear much in our day. But Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is a work about ideals, and often about how noble efforts conflict with earthy pleasures.  I was happy to view a recent Royal Opera House YouTube post (dated June 25, 2020) of a 2017 Flute performance.  

No one who knows me or who has been reading this blog for very long can doubt my love for Mozart and his sublime operas.  I have sung and studied more Mozart roles than any other, and indeed, Tamino was the first full role I ever sang.  

This was a 2017 revival of a David McVicar production, under the direction of Thomas Guthrie.  I'll start with some of the visual elements I liked.  I found it a great relief to have the chorus of priests dressed in 18th century costume instead of the muu-muus one often sees them wearing.  Having said that, Sarastro must guard against looking too much like Pangloss.  In this production Papagena (Christina Gansch) looked more like a late 1960s glamor-puss cougar than a grandmother.  One could be forgiven for expecting her to sing "Ladies Who Lunch" at the drop of a fur-brimmed hat (does anyone still wear a hat?), but when she revealed herself, she became a current-day young woman--very nice.  Tamino's trials by fire and water--rather than having Tamino and Pamina trudge through lame set pieces intended to represent flame and water, in this case they remained in one position while dancers and supernumeraries behind them, aided by skillful lighting, represented flames and waves of water.  A good solution to a scene requirement that is often rather awkward.

Often I start of with glowing descriptions of singers who left me charmed and enraptured, and I can't say I was disappointed by any of the singing.  (Well, perhaps in one case, but we'll get to that later.)  Tamino was sung by Mauro Peter, a tenor I did not know.  I hope to hear more of him as this young man's career progresses.  His singing was 100% secure, and he handled this traditionally stoic park & bark role admirably.  Pamina was quite beautifully sung by Siobhan Stagg, and young Australian soprano who has achieved great acclaim throughout Europe.  Reviews at the time mentioned her absolute understanding and commitment to the text and the strength she gave Pamina.  And let's face it--Pamina has her issues.  Sarastro was quite nobly sung by Finnish bass Mika Kares, another young singer with an impressive list of accomplishments and a promising future.  Sabine Devieilhe sang the Queen, and vocally was completely present and beautiful. One hoped for a little more madness during her vengeance aria, but in her introductory aria there were girlish elements I had never seen before, as she spins her web to convince Tamino she is in the right.  

The character tenor is an unusual breed.  Usually sought after for his acting, in some cases his singing doesn't matter. Think of Monostatos, Pedrillo, Franz in Les Contes d'Hoffmann. The singing of this Monostatos must not have mattered at all.  Yes, the man can act, and yes he looked menacing, especially in his Nosferatu-like costume and makeup, but I dreaded every time he opened his mouth. The world is full of accomplished character tenors who can sing much more beautifully than Peter Bronder--were none of them available?

As expected, the chorus and orchestra of ROH Covent Garden were excellent. Conductor Julia Jones gave a spritely, nuanced, and compelling performance.

I would recommend this YouTube video.  It's beautiful, and beauty is what it's all about for me.

Friday, September 18, 2020

In memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

It is with great sadness that I share news of the death of our dear Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 18. It is difficult to write this without crying. Not only do Iconsider myself fortunate to have lived in the same world as RBG, but I have been blessed to be in the same room with her several times. I've written of my many trips to the Glimmerglass Festival, and on at least two occasions I was fortunate to see programs where she introduced opera scenes that had to do with the law. I was to have seen the opera based on her correspondence with Antonin Scalia--although politically opposed, they were apparently great friends--but was prevented from going to Glimmerglass that year. Best of all were the several times I was in the auditorium at Glimmerglass, and she entered to enjoy the evening's opera as an audience member. Every time she entered the auditorium there was an explosion of applause and everyone stood. If the US had royalty, This great lady definitely deserved to be counted among them.

What follows is picked up directly from Wikipedia's article about the dear lady:

Ginsburg has been referred to as a "pop culture icon".[164][165][166] Ginsburg's profile began to rise after O'Connor's retirement in 2006 left Ginsburg as the only serving female justice. Her increasingly fiery dissents, particularly in Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 2 (2013), led to the creation of the Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr and Internet meme comparing the justice to rapper The Notorious B.I.G.[167] The creator of the Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr, then-law student Shana Knizhnik, teamed up with MSNBC reporter Irin Carmon to turn the blog into a book titled Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.[168] Released in October 2015, the book became a New York Times bestseller.[169] In 2015, Ginsburg and Scalia, known for their shared love of opera, were fictionalized in Scalia v. Ginsburg, an opera by Derrick Wang.[170]

Additionally, Ginsburg's pop culture appeal has inspired nail art, Halloween costumes, a bobblehead doll, tattoos, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and a children's coloring book among other things.[168][171][172][173] She appears in both a comic opera and a workout book.[173] Musician Jonathan Mann also made a song using part of her Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. dissent.[174] Ginsburg admitted to having a "large supply" of Notorious R.B.G. t-shirts, which she distributed as gifts.[175]

Since 2015, Ginsburg has been portrayed by Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live.[176] McKinnon has repeatedly reprised the role, including during a Weekend Update sketch that aired from the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.[177][178] The segments typically feature McKinnon (as Ginsburg) lobbing insults she calls "Ginsburns" and doing a celebratory dance.[179][180] Filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen created a documentary about Ginsburg, titled RBG, for CNN Films, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.[181][25] In the film Deadpool 2 (2018), a photo of her is shown as Deadpool considers her for his X-Force, a team of superheroes.[182] Another film, On the Basis of Sex, focusing on Ginsburg's career struggles fighting for equal rights, was released later in 2018; its screenplay was named to the Black List of best unproduced screenplays of 2014.[183] English actress Felicity Jones portrays Ginsburg in the film, with Armie Hammer as her husband Marty.[184] Ginsburg herself has a cameo in the film.[185] The seventh season of the sitcom New Girl features a three-year-old character named Ruth Bader Schmidt, named after Ginsburg.[186] A Lego mini-figurine of Ginsburg is shown within a brief segment of The Lego Movie 2. Ginsburg gave her blessing for the cameo, as well as to have the mini-figurine produced as part of the Lego toy sets following the film's release in February 2019.[187] Also in 2019, Samuel Adams released a limited-edition beer called When There Are Nine, referring to Ginsburg's well-known reply to the question about when there would be enough women on the Supreme Court.[188]

We have lost a great lady and a great voice for educated, enlightened people.  All the fear I had about the future is now increased tenfold!

Them Lammermoors Just Ain't Right

Once again I sing the praises of as a source for beautiful opera, ballet, and concert.  It's all free, but most of the videos are there for a period of a few months to a year.  The repertoire is varying, the productions ranging from traditional to Euro-trash.  You be the judge.

Photo:  Matthew Murphy
I knew of this production of Lucia from Madrid's Teatro Réal already because of dear Lisette Oropesa, who very kindly granted me an interview that resulted in this artist profile in 2018.  As I recall, one of my first questions was something like, "You know that thing where you sound totally free, comfortable, and beautiful regardless of tessitura or repertoire?  Um, how do you do that?" In earlier, more ignorant days, I considered Ms. Oropesa a lyric coloratura--a Susanna or Blondchen.  I wrote in glowing terms about her Werther Sophie at the Met.  Then I saw her Violetta in Philadelphia. The memory still brings tears to the eyes. She shared with me that while she was singing very light roles in a very large house, she was coaching on meatier roles that fit her voice and the smaller European venues that are fortunate to enjoy her talents nowadays.  If you read the profile, you'll see she graciously shared a metric ton of information and insight, and I must say she was extremely kind and friendly during our Skype interview.

I was looking forward to seeing this production, having read reviews and knowing it was a bit controversial.  Some critics wanted a bigger voice for the role, and some took issue with the production itself.  True. it is updated a bit, but I'm OK with that.  It has been said that Lucia is already a bit mad with grief over her recently departed mother before the story begins.  In this production we see suggestions she's not the only mad one in her family.  True, Enrico is desperate to marry Lucia off in a way that will benefit the family, but that was the period, and the family was suffering hard times.  (Women of a certain economic class were chattel, breeding machines, and in the literature of the period, marrying for love seems more a pipe dream than a reality.  Can you tell I'm a big Jane Austen fan?)  

Edgardo by Javier Camarena.  Were I really up on my game, I'd already have written extensively about my admiration for this fine singer. The Enrico of Artur Rucinski left nothing to be desired. Big moments like Enrico's Act I aria, Lucia's "Regnava nel silenzio", the famed sextet--all completely amazing in vocal power and in commitment by the singing actors. The extended applause following the sextet was quite moving, and nothing can describe my delight when they repeated it as an encore. God bless those Europeans! 

Mad scene:  Oh.  My.  Gawd.  Becky!!!!!  They used a real glass harp! And this is where Ms Oropesa's ability to easily and beautifully float a melody line were contrasted with her ability to capably sing more agitated vocal lines. Her performance of the scene as envisioned by director David Adler was beyond reproach. What I would have given to see the performance live in the house instead of online!  Ms Oropesa's maintenance of a crucified posture during the extended applause alone was well worth the ticket price! I don't know if it was a tear or a trickle of sweat (stages are very warm places!), but in the end, it didn't matter--we saw the illusion of a tear after all that applause and posture holding.

Other production elements: Many seemed to suggest Lucia's status as a young woman still until the tutelage of a governess. School rooms and windows. It's OK, and is better than some other productions I've seen.  The costumes--well executed and thorough, but suggestive more of a mid- to late-19th century setting, certainly more advanced than Sir Walter Scott's 1819 novel publication date or Donizetti's 1835 opera composition date.  I just don't see the reasoning behind updating from a remote period in history to a less remote period in history.  (Unless you count the many productions where designers are allowed to run amok with their Jackie-O flair. I suppose that's OK, it being Jackie-O.)

But there were ways in which the lighting was absolutely inspired.  

Regarding conductor, orchestra, chorus--my tendency is not to notice them unless something is wrong.  I might write about excellent and sensitive phrasing and very well prepared ensembles (I've done opera chorus--it can be very difficult indeed), but usually if I don't notice a conductor or a pit orchestra it's because they doing a good job of supporting what is happening on stage. This is such a case.  While I must give conductor Daniel Oren his due for all the skillful wrangling that is involved in conducting a production, the fact that I never once thought about him should be taken as high praise.  (I have written before of conductors who disappointed, so don't take this as laziness on my part.)

My lasting impression.  Damn, what fine singing!  And this is a production worth seeing!  I suggest you follow the link above and find this and other OperaVision presentations, all free, and enjoy at your will.  (Tip:  Headphones and earbuds give you better sound than whatever speakers are internal to your computer.)