Cher Public

Sunday in Stuttgart

Just five hours from now: Parsifal! Musikalische Leitung: Manfred Honeck; Regie: Calixto Bieito; Gurnemanz: Attila Jun; Amfortas: Gregg Baker; Parsifal: Andrew Richards; Klingsor: Claudio Otelli: Kundry:  Christiane Iven; Titurel:  Matthias Hölle.

  • pasavant

    Looks like a Thursday evening at the Mineshaft in the late 70’s.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Yes, Amfortas definitely has that pissed on look.

    • peter

      Or downstairs at the Anvil.

  • manou

    How unlike the home life of our own dear Queen…

    • DurfortDM

      Why manou, are you casting doubt on the invariably pristine and uniformly felicitous character of Her Majesties Household?

      • DurfortDM


        • manou

          Wrong Queen -- quote refers to


          • DurfortDM

            My profound apologies to Her Imperial Majesty. Special commendation goes to her Majesty’s Royal son and successor. Come Scoglio that one.

  • spiderman

    How big is the chance that LaC will DISlike this? LaC is so nouveau-regie now… :)

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      No, I think La Cieca will really love it for the right reasons. Good Bieto is good.

      • Henry Holland

        Here’s 10 minutes of clips from the production. I’d love to see this in the theater.

        • Harry

          Not me! It just looks like a similar 23 word titled production of old. This time -around,it has been just slightly re- titled as : ‘The Persecution and Assassination Of Wagner’s Parsifal…. As Performed By The Inmates At Bieito’s Stuttgart Academy In The Style Of Being -- Marat/Sade’.

          What a cultural ‘put-on’!
          It just goes to show what some clowns attempt to sell and get away with. If they believe enough people suffer, from R.A.P.H.D…’rapidly advancing performance history -- dementia’.

    • Besides, she posted on this production when it first came out, and she loved it then.

  • havfruen

    Anyone heard of the singers?

    • Feldmarschallin

      I heard Iven (sp?) there in the Neuenfels Don Giovanni as Donna Elvira. She was fine. She is one of the main house singers in Stuttgart and also sings the Marschallin there.

      • Camille

        Iven was die Feldmarschallin in a production I saw at Teatro dell’Opera Roma in late 2008 and I found her to be quite good in the part. A nice take on the role: die Kluge Frau. I enjoyed her performance very much and wondered if ever I should hear of her again.

  • Bart

    Most of these types of productions have young up-and-coming singers, because those are the only ones willing to sing in crazy productions most of the time. Once you have clout you pick and choose what you will and will not do, and if it is too crazy, star singers don’t want any part of it. Young singers who are not quite famous don’t have a choice.

    Now with that said I am not totally against postmodern productions. I have seen some I like, some I don’t. Some actually open my eyes to aspects of the opera I never thought about, and I think that is a good thing. The only thing I hate is when I feel the director has no respect for the work like the Met’s La Sonnambula where the chorus tears up Bellini’s score (that is the scene where they lost me). If I feel the director loves and cares about the work, I can get into it (like the Copenhagen Ring).

    But star singers probably have a low tolerance of “nonsense” since they probably had their fair share of it early on in their careers, and once they get some clout they refuse to have any part in craziness.

    • A. Poggia Turra

      Bart -- many, but certainly not all. Evidence:

      Stars like Botha, Beczala and others have spoken out against what they feel are unmusical and incoherent Regie/modern productions, but do not dismiss them out of hand. Beczala has worked with Bechtholf in Zurich (such as the Don Giovanni that is available on DVD) and with Wieler + Morabito in the 2008 Berlin Ballo in Maschera, among others.

      I’ve read and heard that many stars don’t like when the producer comes into rehearsals with the entire production already in his or her mind, and does not allow the artist to propose changes or to question motvation. It’s probably not a huge stretch to guess that many of the more successful regie productions are those in which the producer and the stage proformers work out the production in an organic, all-views-considered method and process.

      I think that Andrew Richards described some of this kind of give and take on his blog as he described the creative process behind his tow recent parsifal productions, the Stuttgart with Bieito and the Monnaie production with Romeo Castellucci.

      • Bart

        I agree with what you say. There are no absolutes. Not all postmodern stagings are terrible. Not all traditional stagings are good. If it becomes a collaborative effort with buy-in by all the singers I think it is more likely to work. If singers are doing things they hate to do I think it will somehow come across all wrong and the production will suffer.

        I also think some operas are a lot easier to stage as a “crazy” production. Most of Wagner’s operas have other worldly or mythological elements to them already so a “crazy” production works okay with them, in my personal opinion. I think it works less well with something like Traviata where hardly anyone dies of consumption anymore and where sleeping around doesn’t have the stigma it had back then, although I personally liked parts of the Salzburg Traviata that the Met imported. I am not anti-“crazy” productions, but some of them do not work.

  • Billys Butt

    Andrew Richards, the Parsifal, will give his MET debut in the not so far future… Gregg Baker has performed several roles at the MET… Attila Jun performs regularly at big European houses… and Matthias Hölle has been around for ages, including singing many summers at the Bayreuth Festival. It’s not like these singers are nobodys or completely unknown. Aside from that, many productions in Europe and most productions in Germany are what you call “crazy”, for most singers here it’s normal, including many stars. Unfortunately, the States are about 100 years behind when it comes to real conceptual Regie productions (Zimmerman doesn’t count: that’s just updating a story to a different time period, so it LOOKS modern, without any substance or deeper insight or interpretation).

  • SilvestriWoman

    Gregg Baker has more than paid his dues. Give the Euros credit for casting him in opera… Here in the States, he mostly sings in Porgy and Show Boat, as well as concert work. Sadly, most companies just don’t have the guts to cast a gorgeous black man (once shared an elevator with him, he must be at least 6’5″) in opera.

    • SilvestriWoman

      Amfortas never looked like this!!!

    • OpinionatedNeophyte

      Now that’s a bari-hunk! Someone grab the smelling salts.

    • MontyNostry

      I’ve always been surprised Gregg Baker isn’t more famous. It’s an awfully long time since he recorded Crown for EMI (late 80s). He sang Luna in, I believe, Philadelphia years ago.

    • Camille

      Looking for Nr. Goodbar no further! YUMMY!

      I remember hearing/SEEING Gregg Baker @ the Met and lovin’ it. Was it as Escamillo? I don’t care what he sings, tell him to come on back home!

      With the obsession for “looks” @ Met why isn’t he there more often--wonder what gives.

      • Camille

        That’s MR. Goodbar.

        Old woman w/o glasses.

        All I know is I want me some more of that Mancandy.

    • sutherlandfan

      As a matter of fact, Gregg Baker has sung frequently in Philadelphia and is an audience favorite. Recently, he has not only done di Luna, but also the Friar in Don Carlo, and Renato in Ballo. We have also had him sing in P&B (but no Show Boat to my knowledge), but we that was after several appearances in a range of operas.

      • Just a few seasons ago, Gregg Baker returned to the Met and sang the High Priest in “samson et dalila” with such sensitivity in contrast to the usual rant of others, that I thought maybe this is a great baritone role after all. I certainly would like to have heard him in some of those Philly roles you mentioned.

      • Uninvolved Bystander

        As well as Macbeth opposite Lauren Flanagan’s Lady.

        I don’t want to throw out racism easily but looking at the Met’s track record in the past regarding singers of color, there doesn’t seem to have been many. Particularly men in leading/romantic roles. And I am aware to the possibility that there aren’t that many to begin with. So it’s all the more suspicious that Gregg Baker, who fits every criteria that should make the Met want to use him (sings well, fine actor, looks terrific) hasn’t been used much.

        • OpinionatedNeophyte

          When it comes to male opera singers racism in casting has lasted much longer. Is there any other explanation for the career of Thomas Young who should have sung all the romantic Italian roles at houses around the role in the 80s and 90s? Here he is well past his prime.

          • Lucky Pierre

            funny, cause whereas historically there were black diva superstars, now it seems it’s mostly black men who are singing principal roles at the met, not women — eric owens, brownlee, russell thomas. i can’t speak for why baker is not among them, but the whole thing is reversed now in terms of gender.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            What principal role has Thomas sung at the Met? I think black men have trouble securing romantic leads at major opera houses, for the most obvious and banal reasons. Baritones and Bass have had a slightly easier run of it. Brownlee is only one singer remember, and even then, he had to play second fiddle to Florez for years for no other reason than he was short, black and not as handsome as Florez.

          • Lucky Pierre


          • Cocky Kurwenal

            ON -- for no other reason? Believe it or not, some people find Brownlee an inferior artist to Florez, so that might somehow be involved, if he has indeed played second fiddle at all.

        • As lucky pierre says below, the Met currently has more black divos than divas; but I think in their eyes the time has come and gone for Baker who’s somewhere btw 55 and 60. It should have happened earlier for the man, more’s the pity.

        • some might even find him more handsome!

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Well, quite.

  • OpinionatedNeophyte

    Here’s this Parifal’s Kundry, Christian Iven in Vier letze Lieder. I hear an intelligent singer, but a less than beautiful voice, think late career Rysanek on a bad day. Fruhling is a particularly hard listen, but September is quite nice, touching. Great conducting as a sidenote.

    • DurfortDM

      No thanks OpNeo. Kundry, perhaps but one wants something quite different in several respects in this repertoire (Rosenkavalier as well). Intelligence much valued but more plushness is a must.

      • Gualtier M

        BTW: The “Vier Letzte Lieder” are being performed tonight by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at Carnegie Hall. I have not bought a ticket as I am somewhat perplexed as to what she will sound like. I have heard few divas really rock this cycle. I have heard a past-it Margaret Price, a too-small voiced Felicity Lott and post-weight loss Deborah Voigt struggling. Mattila lacked something in the text and dynamics. I actually liked Renee but she didn’t blow me away.

        The other thing that isn’t listed in La Cieca’s calendar is that Nathan Gunn is singing a duo concert of Broadway with Kelli O’Hara and the NY Philharmonic. I want to hear both… So I haven’t bought any tickets and may just do laundry.

        • DurfortDM

          I’m going tonight -- for historical reasons if nothing else. I was at the Price (with Met orchestra wasn’t it) and liked Mattila. Renee was amazing in 1998 with the BPO less so but impressive enough more recently.

        • armerjacquino

          It’s at this point that I always have to mention that I went to a concert where Maria Ewing sang VLL, and present myself for people’s condolences.

          • MontyNostry

            Well, when it comes to pushed-up mezzos, at least at wasn’t our beloved Nadja.

        • MontyNostry

          Well, my VLL live roster runs to Margaret Price in 1980, Lucia Popp in 1983 and Christine Brewer in (I think) 2004, replacing Mattila at short notice. They all did it for me. Soile Isokoski sang them beautifully last year in a chamber version at Wigmore Hall, but the conductor — Jurowski — elected to put her **behind** the instrumental ensemble (14 players or so), which really undermined the impact of both her voice and her diction, both of which seemed pretty impeccable. A really bad decision. Spoiled the evening for me!

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            I think I’ve only experienced them live once -- Mattila at the Edinburgh Festival ages ago, which was excellent as far as I can remember (although most of my memories of the occasion relate to her low-cut backless black dress slit to the crotch front and back). I’ve recently booked for Renee’s in December though.

          • MontyNostry

            Nine months ahead????

          • MontyNostry

            By the way, it always used to be ‘Beim Schlafengehen’ that made me snuffle (the violin solo onwards), but now I find ‘Im Abendrot’ the most moving, providing it is not taken at a dirge-like tempo which compromises the sense of both the melody and the words. It’s the classical equivalent of ‘The Folks Who Live On The Hill’ -- another song that always gets me. But I find Weill’s ‘September Song’ even more touching than Strauss’ ‘September’.

          • Buster

            A “new” singer who does them incredibly well is Gal James. At least, she moved me more than some of the other, more famous singers I heard in them recently (Dorothea Röschmann for Nézet-Séguin, and Anne Schwanewilms for Ed Spanjaard.

          • MontyNostry

            Here’s Gal going to sleep … It’s somewhat on the slow side, but she has a nice, ample sound.


            I can’t imagine Schwanewilms being moving in anything, I’m afraid. She just sounds so damn uptight to me.

          • Sheldon

            I’ve heard them live twice--the first in Paris sung by Deborah Voigt in June of 2005 (and she really floored me), the second was some last-minute replacement I can’t recall in Washington, DC in 2006/7, and the most recent was again Deborah Voigt, this time in Carnegie Hall (this must have been the same performance Gaultier M referred to above). Less easy than the Paris cycle, certainly.

          • Sheldon

            Crap--I can’t count. Three, of course. I guess that mystery DC singer really didn’t make any impression at all.

          • Harry

            Monty Nostry: I saw Jessye Norman do the VLL in a first half of a concert . Then come back , during the second half and do the final scene from Capriccio. It was around the time of the release of her VLL on CD.
            I envy you witnessing Lucia Popp doing VLL. Popp also was one of my favorite singers. That gorgeous ‘springboard lift’ vocal quality that was part of her vocal technique: is a lesson for many, how to place and use voice. Sadly missed but we are fortunate having so many wonderful recordings to remember her by, including those VLL.

          • MontyNostry

            It was Popp’s VLL on TV in the late 70s (with Solti) that introduced me to the pieces. She really knew how to sell them visually too. Just look at the expression on her face before the violin solo.

        • scifisci

          Be glad you didn’t go. Kiri was barely audible or inaudible below high G. there and above she still retains some lovely shimmer and the natural forward placement of her voice makes it sound bigger than it really is. Everything below is pretty much nothing. Though, the orchestra was not exactly accommodating and she snubbed previn, who could barely walk, at the curtain calls. She was in fact very rude to him, but i’m guessing it’s because of tempo and volume issues which plagued all the songs. Not a great note to end on though.

          In general I don’t think lyric sopranos succeed in this cycle in a big-hall, big-orchestra setting. So much of it is relatively low, that it really is best served by “juicy” lyrics or dramatic sopranos IMO. I’m jealous of anyone who heard jessye sing it live, even if her interpretation is overly grand.
          These days, I imagine harteros sings a pretty good 4LL.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            I don’t know if folks have seen this rendition from late career L, Price, but wow. So much better than her recorded version.

          • scifisci

            terrible recording, but what a voice…the climax is ecstatic!

          • fartnose mcgoo

            I actually enjoyed it. I definitely agreed with you that much of her range is inaudible at this point, probably due to the extremely poewrful, but moving, playing and her diminished low notes. But I think she warmed up throughout. Her third and fourth songs were pretty good. Either way, I was happy to see Te Kanawa to perform once in my life.

            I also saw Comte Ory this morning. To be honest, I was a little bored, but Rossini’s not exactly my cup of tea. The production’s ok; nothing offensive about it, but nothing particularly interesting either. The highlight was Joyce DiDonato. She had this gorgeous full sound, and it’s one of the first times I’ve heard Rossini at the Met that is both beautifully sung and audible. I also liked Damrau more than I expected. Her voice sounds a lot warmer than the recording of her Met Rosina from a few years back. The voice is also surprisingly flexible considering that she only gave birth a few months ago. I think Florez is a voice that you either like or don’t like. To me, Florez sounded a bit whiny and his high notes sound kind of pinched. It’s also disconcerting that his voice sounded small from the eighth row of the orchestra.

            A lot of kids laughed during the opera, which is a good sign.

          • Lucky Pierre

            sorry, ON, gorgeous it may be, i can’t deal with the scooping in the first VLL…

          • DurfortDM

            It was very impressive, I thought, age-adjusted. The shimmer on top is quite remarkable for many sopranos in the late 50s, much less late 60s. I actually did hear her pretty well from where I sat but Previn raced through it -- under 19 minutes. By far the fastest I’ve heard.

            You’re correct respecting the bottom of her range but if I recall Renee’s bottom wasn’t exactly overpowering in Rosenkavalier last season, and compared to Dame Kiri she’s barely out the Cloister, as it were.

          • DurfortDM

            In any case what could be heard had considerably more luster than what Iven seems to offer on the YouTubes (usual caveats) that OpNeo posted above.

          • Thanks for those clips, ON. There’s a lot of beautiful singing there. Those descending portamentos in “Frühling” were too much for me but I like much of the rest of the singing.

            Does anyone know of a live recording of Jessye doing these songs? Her studio recording is still my favourite (and I LOVE the slow tempi) but it is still very much a studio effort. I’d love to compare that recording with a live performance, preferably from around the same time (early 80s).

    • ilpenedelmiocor

      Wow. I have just gained tons of respect for anyone who can even get through “Fruehling” after listening to this. I’m so used to the greats all just sailing through it as if it were the easiest thing in the world. Which I guess is the whole point.

      But you’re right, ON, “September” is much better. Yet she sings it as if she doesn’t understand what it means — at least she doesn’t look like she understands it. I had to Google her to verify she was actually German. Anyone who’s ever spent one of those dismal rainy summer days in Central Europe can’t possibly think that this is meant to be anything but wistfully melancholy -- and Hesse had not one shred of Selbstironie in his entire body [of work]. She acts like it’s just the best thing ever: “Summer silently shudders its way to its end.” (grin!)

  • Harry

    Billys Butt: Can I ask some rather polite questions? When do these ‘crazy’ regie productions have as you state(quote) …. “substance or deeper insight or interpretation” .Or taking the other tack: (quote)… …..”the States are about 100 years behind when it comes to real conceptual Regie productions”
    Are they really?
    By who and by what measure are those points to be judged as correct; or are is it so much fancy hyperbole, for supposed new age people, who know no different?
    Personally I find full blown, sledge-hammer strength -- ‘regie’ : a short word for ‘anarchist theater’- is DATED! We have seen it -- all, before!
    Its whole pervailing attitude : ‘piss on the audience’ and tell them they should interpret ‘its profound meaning’, since it ‘must’ have one??!! Being generally such a visual confused contradictory mess, anyway.
    If people presently, are so ignorant and think ‘it is all so modern and so, so wonderfullly confronting’ then I say -- grow up. Perhaps though, some may not around -- back in the old days, to know any difference. For the record, to prove the point and just not take my opinion, they should first go back and have a look at the very early Brian di Palma send -up film ‘Hey Mom'(?) with a then rather unknown very young Robert di Niro.
    Its plot synopsis : ‘Where the first night patrons at a garret theater performance are first personally ridiculed, then taken hostage, and rough-handled by the actors -- as part of the deal.

    Let’s now take as a real life example -- say Kosky, (one of the present ‘new’ wave darlings.
    I can remember, in his old days -- when he was an absolute ‘nobody’ say at least 30 years ago. When he was running ‘a theater’ in a old dilapidated dump of a car repair shop on cold winter nights . One show: naked actors, prepared for the performance -- sloshing themselves first, with wet cement. If any patrons wanted to go to the toilet, they had to go down the street into a dark notoriously unsafe park. How Kosky and the rest of his mob troupe , ever got around Health & Fire Laws in a enclosed place of paid public gathering / or by not providing toilet facilities -- beats me.
    In light of that example of what ‘raw regie theater’ at its finest, is: ‘I am sure it is just as well the Met patrons would prefer to be ‘100 years behind’ than be made to ‘cross their legs and hold on’ for the entire evening. Perhaps that situation I previously referred to: complements what is always the pervading thing about regie. A recipe for virtually saying ‘F…k the audience, completely ‘ and then, laugh behind their backs when the fans run up and fawn how allegedly brilliant a production was’.
    Having that supreme personal accolade paid…. is what any cultural anarchist worth their salt, inwardly aspires for.

    • Billys Butt

      I guess I should have been more specific. I don’t mean that Regietheater productions per se offer more insight or depth. I agree that many, too many Regietheater productions are pretentious, completely empty and devoid of any meaning. In many cases, the directors have no clue what the opera is about, they don’t know anything about music, about singers and singing, and they don’t give a damn. They just want to shock and to provoke, and of course that is annoying. But I think this trend of ignorant directors who think it’s “cool” to shock a seemingly “conventional and old-fashioned” opera audience is a trend that has already peaked some time ago. Audiences, critics and theater managers in Europe are tired of it and are more and more looking for “the real thing”, for a new, more substantial direction. However, it is obviously very subjective what exactly that could be. I personally think that Barrie Kosky is one of the most interesting stage directors at the moment, and I know that provoking people for the sake of provoking is the last thing on his mind. I think that Dawn Fatale’s review of the Komische Oper’s “Rusalka” here on parterre gives a pretty clear idea of what I mean by substantial, insightful productions. Kosky explores a level beyond the obvious story, he actually interprets it instead of just illustrating it. Of course that is HIS view, it’s very subjective, very personal, and not everybody might agree with it. The same goes for Martin Kusej’s “Rusalka” interpretation at Munich’s Bayerische Staatsoper, which is radical and shocking (in the best possible way) and was (and is) a huge success with audiences and critics alike. I love to go to the opera and attend a performance of a piece that I know inside out — and then get this feeling like I’m seeing and hearing this piece for the first time: I love new interpretations, new views, if they make sense and if they are intelligently done, which is definitely the case with these two “Rusalka” productions. The same is true for me with most of Richard Jones’s productions, with some of Calixto Bieito’s, most of Hans Neuenfels’s and some of Peter Konwitschny’s stagings. And there are many more exciting directors. I just love to discover a new take on a well known and beloved piece, I find it incredibly exciting and enriching. At the same time, Otto Schenk’s super conventional Munich “Rosenkavalier” (premiered in 1972 and still in the repertoire) is for me by far the best and most beautiful staging I have ever seen of this piece, and I have seen many. I passionately disliked Stefan Herheim’s Regietheater “Rosenkavalier” at Stuttgart Opera last season, except for a few interesting ideas (most of which made sense in an elaborate essay in the programme book but didn’t translate onto the stage) the concept was forced, self-indulgent and über-intellectual. So I’m not saying that Regietheater is always great, and traditional productions are bad. Not at all. I enjoy many of the very traditional, classic productions in the MET’s repertoire. My remark with the States being behind just referred to my experience especially at the MET where “modern” or “Regietheater” is misunderstood as updating the story to a different time period and making it look seemingly modern, while the blocking, the portrayal of the characters is pretty much the same like in any decades old Zeffirelli production, and there is absolutely no interpretation that would give the audience any new insight into the story or the characters, their conflicts, motivations and their relationships. Dessay using a cell phone in Sonnambula for me is a superficial attempt at pretending that this is a “new” view on the story. It’s a pretence of Regietheater. I personally find that totally empty and not interesting. Also, if you look at the MET’s new “Rheingold”, the blocking is an embarrassment, it’s basically park and bark, bare of ANY interpretation (and I think especially Wagner can handle a lot of that; and if not an interpretation, then at least strong and refined acting). However, with that outrageously expensive abstract, meaningless set which obviously has nothing to do with the settings originally required in the story, this “Rheingold” pretended to be “modern”. Unfortunately, it was nothing but lame and dull. But again, of course all of this is very personal and subjective. I understand if people dislike or even hate radical Regietheater productions. But I think that La Cieca has chosen excellent examples for her European tour, and as the reviews of Kosky’s “Rusalka” and Bieito’s “Entführung” on this website show, there is lots to be discovered in these productions and lots to be discussed. Like it or not, but these stagings are thought-provoking in a way that no conventional production could ever be.

      • manrico

        So true. In any art form we are subjected a lot of unmemorable hacking -- anything that we walk away from and still feel passionate enough to defend months and years later, has stirred us in an important way.

    • ianw2

      30 years ago, Kosky was 14. So even for someone as prodigiously talented as he is, he was still very much a nobody in the world of opera.

      • Harry

        Checking up I realize it was only 20 years ago not 30, my first experience of Kosky. Perhaps when something is so bad, we tend to distance it in Time further than it was. I met a couple of his then toupe and found them arrogant. Already they knew ‘everything’.
        At least Kosky has a rather strange distinction to his name. When he did Nabucco for Opera Australia,it caused a lot of uproar. One patron so enraged took the matter to a small Court and actually got an Award he wanted: his ticket admittance refunded, to prove a point.
        Now imagine at the MET if outraged patrons ever grouped together and decided on a similar action with a opportunistic running board Lawyer….wow!

        • ianw2

          I’m very familiar with that infamous Nabucco (the parrot! the parrot!); but I understand that small claims story is an urban legend. To refund a ticket based on dislike of an artistic product would set impossible precedent (or Opera Australia just decided not to show up to the small claims for the sake of a $80 ticket).

          And even 20 years ago, he was still a student. Which is the ideal time to be experimenting with crappy shows in dangerous parts of town. I know I did!

          • manou

            Whilst looking for more information on Barrie Kosky, I found this lovely comment (about an article mentioning that 10 years on, Opera Australia still get complaints about his Nabucco):

            “Theatre audiences throwing in comments is a long held tradition in NSW. Many years ago in Newcastle a visiting theatre company performed Hamlet at the Civic Theatre. One audience member must have been bored and during Hamlet’s famous soliloquy “To be or not to be”, the patron requested from the darkness “Show us your dick”.

            The actor bravely ignored it and continued on, only to have the same request ten minutes later. The third time was too much for the actor, who stepped out of character and to the side of the stage, and announced indignantly to the audience “I will not show you my dick.”

            A minute later another request came back from the darkness from the same patron, “Well, sing Melancholy Baby.”

          • Harry

            I did see main newspaper reports where the person actually got his money back. I assume it was part of Opera Australia in Sydney, running for cover. The matter was not over passing patron dislike of the production per sec. It was about -- given the nature of the plot- Kosky’s modern mockery of it with all the offensive ‘pile of excess shoes’ left on the stage, etc.
            By the time it ever traveled elsewhere, much of its alleged offensiveness had been toned down or changed
            Likewise a Flying Dutchman, Kosky did in Sydney. The ship crashed into Senta’s lounge room. In Melbourne- using the same sets -it did not. It certainly would not be because of any technical difficulties. Who was behind such ‘modifications’ I do not know. Melbourne has perhaps the largest stage / best most advanced facilities in the Southern Hemisphere and Sydney’s is but a child’s miniature ‘doll’s house’ with virtually no automated stage facilities.

            Kosky always liked referring to himself, by going around , gloating -- about making it, to being rated an ‘enfant terrible’. He then went off to Germany . The general cry was “Bye, Bye now, Barrie- don’t forget to just stay there”. I chuckle…he indeed, does have talent …he was able to fool the Europeans.

          • Harry

            Manou: That Hamlet’ story you came across….epitomizes the character essence of Australians perfectly. L.O.L I love it!
            If they see something they don’t like, they let people know in no short measure with dry humor. In a regional mining place like Newcastle, I would expect even more so. For the actors to even put on Hamlet there, I would consider that, rather brave. A case of go there and ‘expect what you get’.

            One night in one of the major cities, I was at the play ‘A Man for all Seasons’.I witnessed
            two old dears chatting away, flapping their held fans, rather noisily. Just as St Thomas More on stage comments to his worried daughter about ‘We all have to die sometime’. One of the gals was heard saying to the other “You can say that, again” Behind them a fellow kept trying to take sweets out of a packet quietly…they spilled all over the floor..
            The old gals then turned around and glared.
            The fellow exclaimed to the old dears ” Well I happen to in the funeral business and I will happily box the two of you up, any time you care!”
            I do not know if it survives in the apparently slightly- sanitized , now opening Broadway version of Priscilla -the Musical, but there is a spoken comment on the Australian original cast recording which also drives home the same point. A male character makes ‘a offer’ nonchalantly exclaiming ..”Hey Sheryl, how about a root?” The tone of such a comment, in which it is delivered -- is critical to true intent of its speaker. A comment that would be considered devastating and foul in more refined areas. Yet could be considered quite a back handed ‘dry’ compliment or even ‘endearment’ in rougher areas.

          • grimoaldo

            Ha ha manou that story is absolutely hilarious, thank you for posting it!
            For some reason at various times over the years when in the opera house it all goes very quiet as everyone is completely rapt and spellbound whilst listening to one of my favourite divas such as June Anderson or Angela G or whoever I have been seized by a wild impulse to shout out “SHOW US YOUR KNICKERS” but so far I am glad to say I have restrained myself.

          • lorenzo.venezia

            Manou: a similar story is told of Lily Pons. She was singing in Peoria, Illinois on a concert tour. A drunk in the front row shouted after each encore, “Sing ‘Stormy Weather'”. After several repeats she finally turns to him and says, “but I don’t know ‘Stormy Weather.'” The drunk replies, “then show us your tits.” It was always something about the petit Mme. Pons that made this particularly hysterical. It obviously has many forms ;-)

    • oedipe

      Harry, you are SO right! It all goes way back: Bieito is heavily indebted to the theatre of Antonin Artaud. There is nothing new under the sun, is there?

    • Pu-Tin-Pao

      Harry is my hero!

    • DonCarloFanatic

      It was “Hi, Mom!” and I remember parts of it vividly. So true to what goodhearted liberal people were feeling back then--completely insecure about what behavior to tolerate from people newly welcomed into their world.

      Some of the art that happened way back then was genuinely imaginative, daring, and new. Nothing I have seen or heard about regie so far convinces me that anything new is being said.

      • Harry

        DonCarloFanatic: You underpin perfectly in your first paragraph, what I was trying to get across.

        When good well meaning people willing to watch and listen: were being intimidated by walls of anger, the shock tactics of displaying all forms of unremtting alienation and cruelty. The so called ‘magnificent creators of experience’ forget ,there is always a natural barrier between stage and audience that must be broken down over the period of any performance. An audience must be given the means to have empathy with situations or characters -- with what is being depicted.

        As a defensive result from such ‘punk’ onslaughts over the intervening period: we have become more cynical,and tough as well. Mentally: confidently able to tell what we are being presented with, at times: ‘to piss off out of our sight’, stop wasting our time and never try to bug us again’.
        Any wonder with all forms of theater…it is getting harder to get an audience? As if we, the audiences are to blame for this dearth of attendance. What option, were the thinking regular theater-going public, left with- but vote with their feet (and their money).

        Having been in the happy position of not having to pay admittance for all the countless performances for the last 30 years I have seen. Luckily, I can therefore easily dismiss ‘shit’ whenever I am unfortunate to be roped along to see it. Be it opera, musicals or straight drama.

        I genuinely pity those though, that had to pay to see it. How many others are in the happy position -where simply listening to an opera : are able to instantly and mentally ‘flesh out in their mind’ a concept, stage action, and visual scenery to personally suit?. That is the place to be.

        Funny the one ‘outrageous’ production that I truly appreciated was the notorious Ken Russell Madam Butterfly -- set in a 3 level 6 room brothel that finished, with the A-Bomb going off. Every part of his concept fitted together and followed through, perfectly. Using but a slight shift in time forward ,and using same place location-Nagasaki . While, honoring Puccini’s actual original score intentions and plot lines -again for the first time since its premiere. All done, without placing the slightest trace of confusion on any member of the audience. With Russell, though at times he misfired, he produced enough examples to show he was a true ‘straight from the shoulder’ visionary, who was brave enough to let us see what his ‘game plan’ was.
        He did not need someone perhaps, trying to do ‘some Art doctorate’ attempting to ‘apologetically defend the then usual other twits of the Time’ explaining his work, to us.

  • Ii’d like to defend mary zimmerman’s sonnambula if i may. I feel the reasons people were offended by her production had to do partly with too much literal minded interpretation. Remembering her association with ovid’s metamorphoses might help in understanding where she’s coming from. Being offended by the tearing up of the score as anti-bellini seems a bit prissy. She used it as a visualization of the chorus/townspeople’s disilllusionment with the thwarting of their expectations of a fairy-tale happy ending. Her entire concept is a morphing back and forth between two worlds, that of the opera’s characters, and that of the singers and choristers rehearsing the opera. Some people were put out by not being able to tell which story was being related when, but i enjoyed that aspect. It reminded me of what strauss/hoffmanstahl tried to do in ariadne, play two stories simultaneously. But they (Strauss/H.) were only able to play pieces of each one after the other, ultimately. I felt that in the sonnambula you were not always sure which story you were in and I often felt I was in both simultaneously. This had the uncanny “logic” of a dream. I never for a moment felt any disrespect for this beautiful score, which is a favorite of mine. Wait, I take it back -- that Swisser-than-Swiss number at the very end was borderline, but I was laughing too much by then to be offended. There were some really deft comic touches throughout, some better than others. Lisa stuffing her wedding dress in the trash can in her defeat is an example, and quite in character. She’s surely intended as a comic foil for the ingenue leads. Other comic touches that rubbed some the wrong way seemed to me an affectionate teasing of the bel canto traditions, like some of Dessay’s antics accompanying her coloratura flights in act one. Usually when I told friends that i loved the production, the immediately assumed that I did not like Bellini’s Sonnambula. As I told them, count me as a big fan, both of this opera and of Mary’s production.

    • I think what was the worst thing about Zimmerman’s production was that it seemed designed to hide a singer who at that point was in severe vocal distress. All the stage business couldn’t conceal the precarious state of Dessay’s voice around 2009. The wiry top notes, the breathy, unsteady middle, the inability to sing a clean vocal line without the tone thinning and straying off pitch, all that was painfully present during the run of La Sonnambulas, and Dessay running around onstage like a madwoman couldn’t hide it. It was a severe vocal crisis, and I believe Dessay had surgery afterwards. When a singer can no longer sing a role and the production seems designed to be a distraction to all the vocal problems, the public can smell it a mile away. It was for me a severely depressing sight, seeing one of my favorite singers trying to seem like a circus sideshow.

      • In 2009 I doubt that Zimmermann, Gelb or even Dessay herself thought she could not sing Amina well. My experience of the live performance that I saw in the house, borne out by the later DVD, is that her performance was not distressed nor distressing. This, like any subjective opinion, is debatable, but probably shared by the director and star. (Dessay already had both her operations by 2009 and was back in full career swing.) I agree that she was not the Dessay of the brilliant Zerbinettas and Olympies ten years before, and that the vocal faults you cite were beginning to show, but not to the disaster-point you imply. My point is that I disagree that Zimmerman’s production was “designed” to conceal “severe vocal crisis”: I doubt if any Met production was ever created with that in mind. It’s true that Dessay had plenty of input into the production; for one thing she disputed Zimmerman’s original plans for a “traditional” production, but was pleased when Zimmerman came up with this concept, possibly because it lent itself more to comic scenes, which Dessay has acknowledged is her real forte. So in that sense the production was designed, if not for her, then around her, but certainly not to the degree of Pelly’s “Fille” which is so locked into her personality and comic shtick that her successors have been unfortunately reduced to embarrassing imitations of her performance.

        • I was at those La Sonnambulas. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Dessay sound worse. There was this harsh, thin quality to every part of her voice, and I believe she canceled most of her engagements in 2010. The Dessay that just sang these Lucias sounds completely different from the Dessay who squeaked her way through Sonnambula. There were several things about the Zimmerman production of La Sonnambula that made me think it was designed in part to cover up Dessay’s vocal deficiencies:

          1. The finale of Act 1, when Amina has the very soaring, exposed vocal line, Zimmerman famously made very “busy” with the chorus tearing up music.

          2. The movable plank Zimmerman designed for “Ah non credea,” which allowed Dessay to sing practically in front of the audience. I remember being in the house for that and thinking that I still couldn’t hear her. I NEVER had troubles hearing Dessay before.

          3. The finale, which calls for rather ornate decoration, was also extremely “Broadway busy”, with the dancing and the Springtime in Hitler feel. “Ah non giunge” also exposed Dessay’s weaknesses negotiating her upper register.

          In contrast, in the moments when Dessay actually could sing the music, like the duets with Elvino, the business of the production disappeared, and it was just two people singing together. It just seemed weird that the very moments when Dessay’s voice was failing her the most, the production resorted to the frantic stage business for which it was much criticized. That might not have been the exact intentions of Dessay and Zimmerman, but that’s how it came across to me.

          • Were you at EVERY performance, Poison? Perhaps there were one or two when she was in better voice than in the one(s) you saw. At any rate, I still dispute the notion that a production at the Met (or anywhere) would be created according to the vocal estate of the original star. The next Amina is going to be Damrau, I understand, and without getting into the merits or demerits of that lady, it’s not as though the Met saw this production as a Dessay only one-timer.

          • Camille

            Ivy, I support and concur with your opinions.

            The other day I found a ticket stub in a book. It read: Ariadne auf Naxos 13 October 1997. I don’t know if it were opening night or soon thereafter, but Dessay was absolutely wonderful and revelatory in the role. I was in the Family Circle, that night, and several others and I jumped up after the Grossmaechtige aria and yelled Brava till we were exhausted. What was interesting about the voice was that it sounded full and round, and carried very well--all over the house it would seem.

            I am glad she is somewhat recovered and I fankly wondered if Renata Scotto had helped her out at all? She does coach the young singers, or did, so maybe so.

            Anyway, never will forget that Zerbinetta nor the Olympia while pregnant. The crowd was screaming that night.

          • I’d be interested to know if she canceled any of those Sonnambula’s. When I hear “vocal crisis” I would think cancellation would be easier to deal with rather than a redesign the production, though her name does indeed sell tickets. But if you are truly in a “vocal crisis” wouldn’t it be ultimately a better decision to cancel? I do know that she went on that summer from July through August to sing a full run of La Traviata at Santa Fe. (granted she only had to sing a Verdi heroine for 2100 people over a two-month span). That production WAS completely designed for her, and, though I don’t agree that she is a Violetta for the ages (or maybe ever?) she had the energy and *voice* to pull through the entire run.

          • Dessay cancelled no Met Sonnambulas. And “vocal crisis” is one person’s opinion.

    • messa di voce


      Agree completely with you. Sonnambula is a profoundly beautiful work that functions outside the realm of well-made drama. Zimmerman’s production captured the poetry of the work, its exploration of the boundary between waking and dreaming, in a way I found very moving.

    • Evenhanded


      I will leave aside any comments on Dessay’s voice -- though I mostly agree with Poison in regard to both the Sonnambula and recent Lucia performances.

      Whether or not Dessay could actually do justice to Bellini was not the biggest issue, IMO. The problem was Zimmerman’s utter lack of understanding of the idiom: La Sonnambula was composed as an ‘opera semiseria’ yes, but with strong tones of ‘Pastorale’ and a story that fit much more comfortably into the ‘seria’ form than the ‘semiseria’.

      Zimmerman chose -- rather naively -- to emphasize the comedy, an aspect that Bellini drastically underplays in his music. The love story is simple, as are the two protagonists, and for the music to make its full impact, both the story AND the singing from Elvino and Amina must be taken utterly seriously. To a degree, the Count can be seen as a cardboard stereotype. But it is only Lisa who is truly funny, and Bellini carefully restricted her exposure (musically) to distinct scenes: she comes in, sings, and leaves. And again, the same for Act Two.

      Zimmerman -- abetted by Dessay -- rather broadly spread the comedic flavor throughout the piece -- most damagingly in the two Act finales (already mentioned by Poison). In a way, it’s all small potatoes, dramatically (which I’m sure Bellini would have acknowledged), but we the audience will feel the emotional impact when the BEL CANTO SINGING strikes us with its beauty, simplicity, and earnestness. And there you have the meat of the problem: What Zimmerman created was neither beautiful, nor simple, nor earnest. Thus, she failed. She failed to serve the composer and most importantly, she failed to trust the audience and their willingness to accept a naive plot in exchange for some of the most ravishing music from the bel canto era.

      Add to this that Dessay herself seems totally uninterested in the fine points of bel canto and serving the composer’s intentions and you have a miserable failure of a production. And, I might add, a whopper of a lost opportunity in bringing Bellini’s art to the Met stage.

      • Well.

        I for one felt the emotional impact when the BEL CANTO SINGING struck me with its beauty, simpllcity and earnestness, in spite of Zimmerman’s every effort of sabotage. But that’s just me i guess. (And poor Messa di voce).

        And now, if you like, i’m prepared for a defense of Graham Vick’s 1999 “Il Trovatore” …

      • Camille

        “…a whopper of a lost opportunity in bringing Bellini’s art to the Met stage”.

        Just had to be bissed. Bravo and Amen.

      • semira mide

        Thank you, Evenhanded, for hitting the nail on the head.
        I felt the Zimmerman production was an insult to Bellini, turning subtle comedy into slapstick. There is no reason that a contemporary take on this opera couldn’t work -- but the director has to have a better understanding ( or has to care) of what he/she is bringing to life. You put it very well.

  • floridante2k

    Spare me :)

  • oh rest

    who remembers The Saint?

    • Sheldon

      I do, and now that you mention it, this Parsifal DOES remind me of how some nights played out under the very operatic dome.

      • oh rest

        high times, high times

    • Never went to The Saint, but almost have memories of The Saint-At-Large Black Party at The Roseland Ballroom.

      But that was soooo last century for me.

      • oh rest

        true, true

    • WindyCityOperaman

      …a very dim memory, 1981, my first visit to NYC. Don’t mean to get all Larry Kramer on anybody else’s nostalgia for the place, but I thought it was disgusting. I left my friends there and headed back to the East side apartment where I was staying. I turned on the lights and watched all the roaches scurry. I wanted to go home so badly that if I had the $$$ I would gone home that night.

      • WindyCityOperaman

        . . . here me out, that trip not a total loss . . . stood for the that-season new Zefirelli Boheme (second cast, though -- Zylis-Gara’s voice giving out in the first act, but whoa, that Momus scene with over 100 on stage!), first time at the Met and there was a really cute man standing next to me . . . not a total loss after all . . .

  • Porgy Amor

    OT: Because I was skimming through the reviews of the Kaufmann/Koch Werther DVD the last time I visited Amazon, the home page is advising me I might be interested in the following five items, from left to right: the DVD with Alvarez and Garanca. Colin Davis’s recording with Carreras and Von Stade. A paperback of Goethe’s ‘The Sorrows Of Young Werther’. Jurowski’s recording with Vargas and Kasarova. And a 5.5-ounce bag of Werther’s Original Hard Candies. Two customers have written five-star reviews for that last one.

    Gotta love one-stop shopping. Supply your own joke about the sugar content of the bag of candy relative to the Massenet score, if you like.

    • Harry

      I also always find it funny what Amazon and similar sites come up with : in those “if you were interested in this, you may be interested in…” suggestions, when browsing.
      You do get some crazy option ideas thrown at you.
      Though where Massenet as a composer is concerned -- I can take all of the sugar content in his scores, any time. Yummy! I would be happy to pick up and completely devour, some nice eagerly awaiting love -sick Werther. Checking out especially ‘that reputed 5.5 oz bag of candy.’

  • sidessa

    Thanks for that Porgy. It gave me a good laugh.

  • WindyCityOperaman

    Local review (Chris Jones in this AMs Tribune) of the B’way Priscilla opening was fairly positive. Anyone out there catch it?