Cher Public

happy spirit

All the way from exotic Portland, Operaman writes:

Yesterday I attended the Met HD transmission of Orfeo ed Euridice and, once I have told you my reactions and feelings about this show, I cannot wait to hear what members of your cher public who saw or heard it have to say about it. And I must let it be known immediately that I don’t purport to be able to critique this work with the sophistication or depth and breadth of knowledge displayed by so many of your correspondents. My views should be considered vox pop so I hope your readers will bear that in mind.

First, the piece. Gluck. Who knew? Maestro Levine, on camera before the show, described it as a “truly great, great masterpiece of music” and while I am used to the hyperbole with which conductors and directors describe their piece of the moment, in this case I don’t know how one could argue. One thing which surprised me was that it didn’t sound one bit derivative of anyone else’s work. Not like Mozart of course who was only, what, seven years old when Gluck wrote this Orfeo? But not like Handel or Purcell or anyone else with whose work I am familiar. This was sui generis – and how exciting for that. The writing is rich, colourful and shows a respect for the drama as expressed in the libretto in a way that alas is rare in opera of any period. 

Other than the Dance of the Blessed Spirits and “Che faro senza Euridice” I knew none of the score. How could I have missed the magnificent choruses all this time? How did I not know the music given to Orfeo which, while having been written for a castrato seems such a perfect fit for the (right) mezzo-soprano? It goes without saying that Levine and the orchestra were not just simpatico. As I sit here and remember the playing I think “ravishing” best describes the sound.

Okay, now tell me. Is there another mezzo-soprano on earth who currently can match the beauty of sound and musical intelligence of Stephanie Blythe? If she is not a superstar within the next 24 months then there is NO justice! No growling in the low register and no shrieking in the higher stuff. Just a totally seamless, mellifluous and truly gorgeous sound. It’s a big, big voice but she uses it in a way that says “I don’t need to shout. My merest whisper can bounce off the rear walls and stun you on its way back!”

My limited musical vocabulary doesn’t enable me to do justice to all Ms. Blythe brought to this performance. The shades of expression, the nuances she brought to this tragic tale. I believe that both David Daniels and J.D.deF. have both sung this piece relatively recently. I hope they didn’t hear Ms Blythe yesterday, for much as I like the voice of both those singers I cannot imagine they would not have heard themselves being totally out-classed in this role. I can hardly wait to see what star vehicle she is offered next. The Manhattan telephone book, you say? Are tickets still available? I am so there!

Both Mark Morris who was responsible for the production and choreography, and Isaac Mizrahi who designed the costumes, came in for a good deal of flack from the theater audience yesterday. As they left the auditorium I talked with people about the show (I was there representing Portland Opera) and many folks thought the dancing and the costumes were a big distraction. I kept hearing comments along the lines of “What was all that dancing supposed to mean?” That wasn’t my own view.

I don’t know Mark Morris’s work but I was rather pleasantly surprised by the dance pieces in this Orfeo. They were very , um, balletic(is that a word?) as opposed to being modern dance and while there were lengthy stretches where I wasn’t quite sure what the danceers were supposed to be telling us about the drama being played out before us I was quite happy to enjoy the dance as a purely abstract interpretation of the music. After all, no one asks what a minuet “means.” I can see why people may think that Mizrahi dressing the chorus as historical figures is somewhat chintzy but I liked it. My only criticism of the costuming would be that I found the modern dress of the dancers – including suits and ties, strangely at odds with the more historical look of the chorus.

But what the hell, most of the time I was listening to Stephenie Blythe anyway and when my attention was on the chorus it was because of the amazing sound they made. What has Donald Palumbo done to them this last couple of years? They have gone from being, I thought, rather ragged, to being very well disciplined and musically of the highest order. He must be cracking his whip in a most efficacious manner.

I have seen all of the Met movies save the Gala opening. I think I enjoyed this one the most. And ultimately that can be attributed to Gluck and Stephanie Blythe. Huzzah for them both, I say!

  • Amnerees

    I’ve now been to performances at all the movie theaters in NYC that show the HD simulcasts. I was at the Regal Stadium at Bdwy and 13th on Saturday mostly to see the Morris/Mizrahi production, which I couldn’t see well from my seat when I heard Daniels last year. If you’re going just to SEE the Met’s productions, this theater is your best bet, but all of them have serious problems with sound. Operagoers accustomed to the in-house acoustics at the Met will be disappointed at best and some will be appalled. The sound systems in all of them overemphasize and misrepresent the singers, perhaps because they were designed primarily to project speaking voices in movies.

    RE the Orfeo production: I can’t understand why the rows of balconies for the chorus have those grills that obscure them from tit to toe. (Perhaps to prevent falls?) You can scarcely see their wonderful costumes. This production is a good idea sabotaged by poor execution (unlike the Damnation of Faust, which was a bad idea with predictable results).

  • (Perhaps to prevent falls?)

    Well, they didn’t fall out of the Dr. Atomic cubbies, did they?

  • operboy

    The voice before Stevens that essayed the role was another student of Anna Schoen-Rene, Karin Branzell. Schoen-Rene’s teacher was Pauline Viardot-Garcia, who revived the role to great success in a version by Berlioz.

  • DanPatter

    The Berlioz version of Orfeo is well worth hearing. Sofie von Otter’s recording is quite fine, and she does well by the big “extra” aria (“Amour, viens rondre a mon ame”) with its Viardot cadenza.

  • mrmyster

    Hans Lick and Alto, we are not alone in what we heard from Blythe last Saturday. This evening I received a call from a well known Met singer, long retired who lives here (Santa Fe), and we discussed the Orfeo at length. My discussant said, “No expression at all in her singing; she does not sing a line or connect with the emotion in the music. Disappointing.” There was more, but that sums it up. My own view is that Blythe is a far better singer than we heard Saturday. I have heard her a lot, and never before did I hear such a dis-connect. I continue to wonder if she was not medicated or had just recieved bad news or something — she was so distracted so impassive.
    Hard to see how so many here (and in the Met audience), could be so impressed by her performance. Odd.

  • amy gurchy

    The ultimate performance of Che Faro is the one done by Zarah Leander in the 40s. One of the Ifs of opera is what Pola Negri would have sounded like singing it in her strange really Low doleful voice.

  • Hans Lick

    mrmyster --
    A whole lot of people LONG to hear a GREAT VOICE, and if you are unfamiliar with what Ms. Blythe can DO with her voice (on other occasions), just the size and beauty of it can sweep away judgment. Is what I am telling myself. (Also a lot of people seem not to know Orfeo, which surprises me. But I am have only come to appreciate Gluck’s achievement in recent years myself -- and how much the Mozart of Idomeneo and, as my friend Ombremesta points out, Pamina, owes to Gluck.)

    The only other time I heard Blythe give less than her splendid best was in the concert Mignon for OONY -- as Blythe always expresses certainty, essential conviction so well, she did not seem able to connect with this waif of a character who is uncertain about everything -- her race, her ancestry, her position in society, even (arguably) her gender. She is a fragile character and Blythe does not portray fragile well. It goes against her natural grain. (I felt this, too, about the Liu of Stoyanova, another singer I greatly admire.)

  • Bitchy Testiculi

    Not to knock DDN: But “Bella mia fiamma, addio!” Does she really think she’s got anough weight and colour to sing this concert aria? Really?

  • Bitchy Testiculi

    enough even

  • mrmyster

    Well, Hans, I DO indeed!! I Do well know what Blythe can do with her voice — I spent all one summer listening to here in Santa Fe. She is very gifted, and I heard her Carmen in Seattle and her Verdi Reuiem; it’s a Brewer-level voice. I think I expressed this opinion (above).
    That is why it was so dismal hearing her in such indifferent form
    on Saturday She seemed not well and not giving her best. I am sure we must agree in this.
    Come to Santa Fe and hear Brewer sing Alceste this summer!

  • quoth the maven

    I do think that on the broadcast, Blythe was still suffereing from the remnants of a cold that forced her to cancel the second performance, and made the third one (which I heard in the house) something of a trial. The broadcast sounded better, but she still wasn’t in top form--the singing sas a bit cautious, precluding the kind of unbridled expressivity that MrMyster, um, missed. It may also account for the somewhat raw chest tones that Bill (#69) noted.

  • Graciella Scusi

    I’m relieved to see that this thread finally achieved some balance. I bow to no one in my admiration of Blythes remarkable voice, and although I tried to make a case on sat. for classical restraint, beyond a general tone of lament and a somewhat fixed frown, I thought her performance was disappointingly blank.

  • Hans Lick

    This thread has not only achieved balance, but in the parterre tradition, we are extremely, even hysterically balanced! We’ve got balance up the proverbial yin/yang! Fuckin-A! (whatever that means)

    Mrmyster -- you DO tempt me -- never been to Santa Fe -- heard Brewer as Dyer’s Wife in Chicago, she sings like FLAGSTAD, so she ought to be one hell of an Alceste. (which is the right destination, there and back again, yes?)

  • G

    Seriously Vitellia you must be tone deaf to say the least!
    Why do you think people rag on her so much?
    honestly.The met gives singers like her credibiliy..and she has no place at the Met Opera Stage..Not even in the
    How can you say people are jealous of her?
    Jealous of what?
    A singer who’s only level of singing is Forte!
    Who shakes her ass and pouts her lips as if that is some serious
    Give me a break..We could care less what La Danielle does ow what she sings..
    There are much better singers to invest time in listening to and watching on screen..
    Put her type of singing against a true Opera singer like Joan Sutherland or Ruth Ann Swenson and she can’t even do a pianissimo..or cresendo to save her life!

  • Eccomi in Escada vesta…

    I saw it on the 20th and was bored off my tits. The chorus was all gussied up but looked zoned out and irritated that they had to form some sort of elementary-school People In History mural and “do the wave” with the dancers. I actually snorted when everyone was singing about “il mondo” and everyone drew a large circle with cupped hands--get it? The world? It’s round!

    The dancing alternated between “let’s trip daintily in the merrye month of May” and “Flashdance anguish.” Ms. Blythe sang with worrying muscularity for most of the night, and “Che faró” was just dull and emotionally flat. She has done some extraordinarily affecting singing, and is a true musician’s musician, but something was just off here. DDN sang with no particular distinction other than utter incomprehensibility. She would be well served to seek some differentiation in vowel sounds.

    But the biggest shonda was Heidi Grant Murphy. How ragged and flimsy her voice has become! On top of it all, she was forced to wear an outrageously unflattering costume that made Amore look like a cashier named Barb at Costco.

    Eh, I got a cheap seat and it only took an hour and a half out of my night.