Cher Public

There is a God

old_man_michelangeloThe answers of millions of supplicants worldwide (and thousands of Met-goers citywide) have been answered. “[Peter Gelb] said there were no plans to replace Mr. Zeffirelli’s productions of La Bohème and Turandot. [New York Times]


    At this point I don’t give a rat’s ass about the sets or costumes. That’s how sad times are. As long as the singers can sing their parts I am happy.

  • Dawson

    “(Looking at one photo that showed Violeta, apparently a stand-in, Ms. Poplavskaya said, “Not me — My legs are straight!” before plopping one of those legs, ending in a red high-heeled shoe, on the table.)”

    It’s not only her legs that are straight. Her voice is straight as well.

      • Agreed. The problem with Poplavskaya is an uneven technique, not her voice, which has a fair bit of texture to it.

      • I’m glad to finally hear a bit of Popsy’s Violetta as it will be the centerpiece of my first Met experience (only 3 weeks away!) and I just wanted to set my expectations. I’m not horrified…but I think I understand what people are saying about the hollow quality of her sound. There’s also a hard edge to the top notes, its not exactly a shredded sound, but you can see the seams popping loose over time. I’m listening as I type and something really GROSS happened from 5:12-5:18 on that descending run. It seems she is working it real hard to produce a big enough, pleasant enough sound but nothing seems natural or effortless.

      • louannd

        Nice audio. It gives more clarity to what the voice actually sounds like than we got last Saturday.

        • louannd

          what we got.

      • Camille

        Listened to the whole thing. Don’t like it.
        She tries hard in a lot of ways to get the runs correct but it sounds as if her throat is not sufficiently open and it does not come out fluently enough and have a sense of line. Don’t know what the hell she is doing but I am finally understanding what Ercole Farnese says about her. I was willing to give her the pass in Don Carlo and even the Boccanegra aria, but this is not right. Period. Won’t pay to hear this, will listen on the radio and consider myself lucky to miss it.

      • ilpenedelmiocor

        Oh boy. If she’s working it this hard at this stage of her career, I hesitate to ponder what this will sound like ten years from now.

        “And I was like, why the fuck are you singing half mezza voce? Who needs that? Open your mouth, give me your voice — on the breath, supported, pointed, and that’s it. But lots of people think this is the musicality. I think it’s bullshit.”

        • Camille

          Out of the mouths of Babes…Oh, ilpenedelmiocor, thanks for bringing back this gem of great wisdom from Madame Netrebko.

          It may be rough and rude, crudely put, but dammit! it is exactly right and spot on.

    • Nerva Nelli

      The Pop Tart would seem to be auditioning for Musetta.

      The Great Daniel J. Wakin and the NY TIMES editors and fact checkers (sic) do not know how to spell the name of one of opera’s most famous heroines.

  • bluecabochon

    What a boorish thing for her to say.

  • Though I will say that I’m a *little* disappointed that my first Met outing will be the minimalist Decker set, which (based on what I’ve seen of it online) may be dwarfed by the Met stage. I wouldn’t have minded seeing an old Zef spectacle. I know that its not all about me, but La Traviata does seem like one of those operas where a large chunk of the audience very well may be total neophytes or opera or experiencing their first Met experience, that should be considered I think.

    • bluecabochon

      Especially as Violetta’s opulent world is all in the music. I liked the ideas of Mr. Decker, but there’s no reason why he couldn’t have incorporated them into a less stark setting. It needn’t be a budget-blowing opus…why do some think that it has to be either stark or overblown? There IS a middle ground.

      • louannd

        I think that was what was so nice about Don Carlo, opulent costumes against a not so opulent set -- seemed to be a nice balance.

      • The video of the Salzburg production is actually quite busy visually, though the effect is achieved not through static “opulence” but rather through lots of choreographed movement and an intricate lighting plot.

        I question whether the ideal introduction to an art form for any neophyte should necessarily conform closely to his expectations. A lot of newcomers to opera are under the impression that the art is something old-fashioned and stuffy, and at least at first hearing the music and text (which are of course immutable) may seem to reinforce that notion. Too much harmony between the music and the visuals may, I think, lead to a certain complacency, even boredom, for the newcomer who is not yet attuned to subtleties of performance, e.g., “Did you hear how she held the fermata before the Dite alla giovane?”

        This is not to say the the Decker production is an ideal solution for presenting this opera to a Met audience. But I don’t like to underestimate the opera neophyte, either.

        • louannd

          OMG. I want to SEE this!

        • I’m persuaded. And yes, of course a compelling evening of theater, first and foremost, will keep unfamiliar audiences coming back for more. Your comment actually encourages me to be a little bit more self-reflexive about what this trip means to me. As uncomfortable as it is to admit considering my comments on nostalgia, I think there is a slight desire on my part to travel back in time a bit and experience the Met as a house that “does what no one else can do, merely because we can.” Which (in all areas of life) is actually a ridiculous reason for doing anything. And now that I think of it further, its one of the things I find abhorrent about American imperaislim/capitalism in general. Is there an intellectual difference between “might makes right” and “parade an elephant around the stage, merely because it amuses me?” Not so much actually.

          • bluecabochon

            I don’t necessarily mean opulence as far as scenery and costumes dripping with excess and tons of bodies onstage. I agree with LaCieca that the starkness that I often see in minimalist productions undermines what the very score is telling us as far as mood, setting and action. I’d be happy to see a spare production that made sense on all levels and that helped me understand the piece better. I have so rarely experienced that.

        • NYCOQ

          And this scena can be done without “dancing cows”.

        • Quanto Painy Fakor

          Video of Decker’s “O Carlo, ascolta” duet:

      • ilpenedelmiocor

        ‘Mr. Decker said his production stripped away extraneous elements to focus on the characters. It emphasizes the “conflict between female and male,” he said. The opera is an “almost voyeuristic” extended look at a woman dying and Verdi “gives an artistic answer to the phenomenon of death,” Mr. Decker said. He noted that the set has only one exit point, conveying the dead-end faced by the lovers.

        The design also emphasizes circles: the circle of the clock and the curving set, for example. It is a reflection, in Mr. Decker’s view, of the circular nature of the piece — it begins with music associated with Violetta’s death at the end and has prominent flashes of three-four time waltz music, a circular dance.’

        Tief. Sehr tief.
        Tiefstens sogar.

        • La marquise de Merteuil

          ‘Mr. Decker said his production stripped away extraneous elements to focus on the characters. It emphasizes the “conflict between female and male,” he said.

          How awul for Verdi and Piave didn’t have Decker around for advice when they wrote the opera. Luckily we have lived to see Decker correct V&Ps conception of this opera.

          The opera is an “almost voyeuristic” extended look at a woman dying and Verdi “gives an artistic answer to the phenomenon of death,” Mr. Decker said.

          Maybe it is Decker’s take on the opera which is “almost voyeuristic”.

          • Verdi wrote the music. Piave wrote the words. In Decker’s production both these elements are pristine (though it remains to be seen what cuts are to be made at the choice of the conductor and singers).

            So what can Decker mean by “extraneous elements,” then? As I understand it, what he’s saying is that he’s removing certain visual elements (originally the ideas of a director, a designer, or a singer) that have accreted to the text of Traviata. Verdi didn’t write “hoop skirts” or “corkscrew curls” and Piave didn’t write “gilt mirrors” or “upholstered pouffes.” In fact, according to Budden, the first Violetta to play this opera in the 1840s dress of its source material La Dame aux camelias was Bellincioni — in the 1880s. Before her, and for a time after her, the piece was done as a mix-and-match of Louis XIV and modern dress. So our idea of “how Traviata is done” is essentially a performance practice that grew up decades after Verdi and Piave had finished their association with the work.

            It seems to me that what Decker is talking about here is a treatment of the text as a different type of drama from the way it is usually performed or at least perceived. Ordinarily, Traviata is presented as a more or less realistic work, and Decker, it seems, is trying to emphasize a different quality that is also innate in the text, i.e., the mythic. He is saying, I think, that Traviata is not about the sex trade in Louis Phillipe’s France any more than Swan Lake is about waterbirds. The specifics of the story, then, are only a pretext; what matters is the universal myth on the themes of jealousy and self-sacrifice.

            When a director talks about his work, he tends to speak in terms that only other directors (or the occasional critic) are going to understand: basically, he’s talking about how the sausage is made. That is to say, in general, we don’t need or want to know the director’s intellectual process in devising a visual “metaphor” any more than we need or want to know what sort of visualizations and physical adjustment a tenor uses in managing the passaggio in “De’ miei bollenti spiriti.” (I do find it interesting, but I’m not, I think, part of the mainstream of the audience.)

            However, just as the tenor does have to work out how and when he will cover his voice in this aria, the director has to make intellectual decisions about how he will present the work visually in order to convey the meaning of the work as he understands it. Every director at least tries to follow this process; the only difference is that one director may employ a different vocabulary of theatrical imagery than another may choose.

          • ilpenedelmiocor

            I actually like the production, LC.

            Having lived unter meinem Volk for an extended period of time, however, I have little tolerance left for Germanic intellectual pretentiousness, especially in the arts — even though, ironically enough, that’s what I went there for in the first place. But at some point hat’s mir einfach gereicht, because there’s frequently not as much there there as one would like to give the impression of, with certain notable exceptions. Decker may or may not be one of them.

    • louannd

      Your comments reminded me of this Traviata from Berlin, from which I have seen numerous clips, that apparently was staged entirely with only a blue curtain as the set and no costume changes. I don’t really know how effective this was because I haven’t seen this production, though it is available on DVD. This is Mireille Delunsch singing in this clip, but there have been others, including Ailyn Perez. The tenor here is Matthew Polenzani.

      • This Delunsch video--it’s rather awful, isn’t it? I love her Armide and I think it’s a very attractive voice but this might be a contribution to the How To Sing Verdi thread: a counterexample.

      • Camille

        okay. Listened to this for 30 seconds only ’cause I could not stand anymore. She makes Poplavskaya look and sound good.

        In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.,

      • ilpenedelmiocor

        Snow White sings La Traviata.

  • Constantine A. Papas

    Is Popsy going to suffer “the Netrebko effect?” Netrebko, with all her shortcomings, owns this Violetta, including the gams!

  • blanchette

    Oh my God. Listening to this painful attempt without any visuals to distract was very revealing. I can’t speak in technical terms, but it was evident that before every high note there was trepidation, a snatched breath which either distorted the lline or slowed the tempo really noticeably, then a shrill if mostly accurate effort ending in a little shriek. The reckless, joyous sense of the aria is lost, as is the whole giddiness of being swept unwillingly into love. It’s really interesting in light of a recent posting on here of Dame J. singing this aria-I wasn’t going to listen to it at first but then I closed my eyes and heard it so fresh, so abandoned as if Violetta were actually experiencing these feelings for the first time. It was amazing and beautiful and kind of changed my whole feeling of Joan being only a technical wizard. As to Pop., she is a very lucky woman right now due no doubt to lots of blond hair and the conjunction of the planets or something. I am going to Don Carlo on Sat. so will see for myself how I feel.

    • Even this less than traditional performance *gets it* about this about aria being about the joy of being swept away in it all. And I still think she would’ve been a GREAT Violetta.

      • blanchette

        Chills. some odd things.. but involuntary chills nonetheless.

  • Signor Bruschino

    slightly off topic, but did anyone see this WSJ article on Debbie V?

    It says, and I quote “Ms. Voigt delights in looking ahead. She’s planning to sing the title role in Strauss’s “Elektra” in 2013. And having already portrayed that character’s sister, she aspires one day to take up the opera’s matriarch, Klytemnästra. “I want to be the first woman to sing all three roles on stage,” she said.”

    please correct me if I’m wrong, but haven’t there been other women before to sing all three roles on stage (Gwyneth Jones comes to mind…)

    • Eva Marton I think also did all 3 roles, she did Klytamestra just a year or two ago in Spain; after having done Cristomesis very early on and Elektra in the 90’s.

      The divine Leonie also sang all 3. Yes,i know,she only took on Elektra for the film and only for Bohn, but the fact is that she did.

      Seems like this could have been also something Varnay did,but i do not think she ever did Cristomesis, only Elektra.

      You know? I respect Debbie as a singer and as a wonderful musician I hear she is, but sometimes we do need to look back and realize that opera existed before we came into the scene. This lack of knowledge of what happened before her is the exact same BM -- AM (before ME -After ME) mentality that affects so many singers these days.

      No wonder we are in the age of homogeneous and boring performers. And in the same breath I am going to exempt at least 2 singers from that: Liz Caballero and Netrebko. Netrebko, with all her faults knows whose steps she is following and she has spoken publicly about it. Same thing for Caballero…

      • Indeed. Marton did do all three roles and this was even the subject of discussion on parterre, with a nice photo tribute.

        • lorenzo.venezia

          She just did a November run of Klytemnestra in Geneva, Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet as Elektra.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Charbonnet’s Elektra was a disgrace when I heard it at the Barbican not too long ago. Definitely did not sound like a natural for this repertoire.

    • Camille


      Ask Nerva if she sang it in Bloomingdales. She sure wasn’t yesterday when I was there.

      DV should skip the Elektra and forge straight on ahead to old Klytemnestra.

      • Nerva Nelli

        Don’t stop there-- what about the Schelpptraegerin?

        • Camille

          Nerva, I actually saw Miss Ruth Ann Swensen, Herself, as the Schlepptraegerin at San Francisco Opera in 1984. She was excellent.

          and after die Schlepptraegerin, there’s always the other one, Die Vertraute, and Die Aufseherin.

          No Leonie at Bloomingdales. Only tons of maquillage and anxious salesladies.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Signor Bruschino, are you sure Gwyneth Jones has sung Klytemnastra? I didn’t think she had, although never say never.

  • Nerva Nelli

    That’s Bloomies dialect for “Schlepptraegerin”

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    The video of the magnificent Marilyn Horne’s interview has some really shameful typos and flat out errors in the subtitles. This, of course is not Ms Horne’s fault, but it really makes one wonder how they could have approved it and have left it uncorrected. Horne perfectly clearly states that she sang Micaela’s aria and the subtitle states “Meilhac’s aria”, Robert Craft’s name is transcribed correctly, but with “(ph?)”, later Anton Webern’s last name is typed as “Abram” … so much for the National Endowment for the Arts wasted money on whomever did those subtitles.

    • Camille

      Marilyn Horne’s sister was right, all right!

      Thank you for posting this wonderful woman’s interview. She is a treasure.

      A year ago last summer, I saw her give a concert with Barbara Cook at a theatre in Santa Barbara and then at one of her master classes at the beautiful Music Academy of the West. She corrected and helped the young singers in such a manner as to truly help them. Each one of them sounded so much better after they followed her instructions, which were given in such an insightful and helping manner, so unlike others’ I’ve seen.

      We salute you, General Horne! You are one of the greats.

  • Zeffy is a violent director.
    When a good director gets a fat old lady as a character of a young princess- he does not present her as a good looking girl which she is not; he may do so mant interesting things with that, instead of pretending. When Violetta Valery is fat and ugly- it changes the story and the characters, so the director should make it propriate and the result may be interesting.

    However- for Zeffy, if you’re not what the librettist discribed, you will pretend you are, unless you are already dismissed because of that like with the Daniela Dessy case.

    Good operas are versatile and not unequivocal, so a good director should respect the good brains of the composers.

    • Baritenor

      …did anyone get a word of that?

      • Batty Masetto

        Google translated?

      • Batty Masetto

        Actually, I’m very wrong to mock. But as someone who has to feel his way along in a number of other languages, I do know it’s important to be very cautious how one expresses oneself in print, especially if what you want to say may not be entirely complimentary.

      • Indiana Loiterer III

        I think Haydn is referring to Zeffirelli’s kicking out of Daniela Dessi from his Rome Traviata production on the grounds that she was too old and fat. His point seems to be be that having a Violetta who was not conventionally consumptive-looking could tempt a good director into an interesting and not at all inauthentic angle on the opera--but that Zeffirelli isn’t that director. And I agree. Singers aren’t all made alike; and it’s a disorder of the repertory system under which we expect opera to be made that such differences tend to be papered over in the run of routine productions.

        • Exactly. Please excuse me, I wrote that message after a 4 hours nightsleep.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    At time marker 2:11 Deanna Durbin will sing Nessun dorma!

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Long before Callas (in 1930) there was:

  • Tim

    Since the topic is, in part, the Zeffirelli Boheme it is not too far of track to mention a video clip of Calleja and his Mimi (forgot her name in my excitement) in the duet that ends act three. Signor Grigolo has much to learn from a Rodolpho who is one year younger than he. All I can say is WOW! Shades of Jussi! Found the clip on his facebook wall.