Cher Public

Lepage turner

“Near the end of Robert Lepage‘s production of Wagner’s Die Walküre, which opened at the Metropolitan Opera on Friday, there is a moment of arresting visual beauty. The raked stage slowly rises and, with the help of projections, turns into a looming, stark, snow-covered mountain. It’s a breathtaking transformation, one that encapsulates everything that’s wrong with Mr. Lepage’s work.”

The first deep reading of the Lepage Ring is by Zachary Woolfe, naturally.

  • Pelleas et Melisande @ Most Addictive Opera


    Two serious questions:

    Have you ever met anyone who greatly prefers to experience opera by listening to complete audio recordings at home as opposed to seeing the whole theatrical event in an opera house?

    In other words, do you know anyone who is simply not interested in the libretto or the visuals and who approaches / appreciates / loves all operas as absolute music?

    • Alto

      When I began your post, I thought you were describing me. But, no, one reason I prefer recordings to the kind of production Mr. Woolfe describes so eloquently, is so I can concentrate on the libretto and imagine the whole as a theatrical event rather than witness it as a director competing with the opera itself.

    • grimoaldo

      There are quite a few concert performances of operas these days, they should suit such people nicely I would have thought.
      Hearing music live beats any recording.

      • Harry

        grimoaldo: I will describe a funny phenomenon I experienced in reply to your “Hearing music live, beats any recording” stance. I once attended a concert performance of a Wagner Opera given one particular night in what would be called a perfect seat. It also was FM broadcast. Later I happened to be at a party where its sound engineers -who had worked on opera recordings for a major label- revealed they had also quietly for private use, recorded the performance on 2 track master tape at 15 i.p.s. When they played sections of it, what was apparent various caught examples of things not heard live (so to speak) in the concert hall .Things like: one of the Valkyries giving out a startled extra-musical yelp ‘as if someone had given her a hard pinch on the bottom’.
        Hidden detail, folks!
        I have no time for all the on going myths about the only true way of hearing something, is sitting in some nominated seat in an crowded auditorium.
        Thereby acting as a acoustic sound absorber unit, together with everyone else present.

    • stevey

      Clita, it’s strange that you bring that up…

      I’ve always enjoyed my recordings more than my live performances, I think perhaps because i can just close my eyes and let my own visuals create what, to me, would be the ideal experience to go along with the music. I also always have to listen to everything on an obscenely high volume and the visceral thrill of hearing, say, Elektra’s outburst to her mother, or Amneris’ Judgement Scene, or the Presentation of the Rose at an obscenely high volume that normal people can’t obtain sends shivers up my spine. Recordings may be scrubbed and polished, and in many instances thus somewhat sanitized, but that might be why I enjoy them more… perhaps I haven’t learned to appreciate opera as an art form, and for me it’s JUST the music and the voices and I want those to be as intense, as sublime, as PERFECT as possible. I freely admit that I’m no scholar on the situation… just bringing up what I realize works for me (partially because I have always wondered about others thoughts on the matter!)

      Thanks for bringing up the matter! :-)

      • Harry

        Add me to the number. Who is to tell us that such experiences are less personally intense ‘than actually being there’. I am not ashamed in the least to say it. I now prefer listening to recordings than being confronted with most of the shitty presentations, directors put on stage. Nor do I have to dress up , travel, suffer long boring intermissions and then drag my arse home. In the same time, I probably can get through two operas in the same time. Nor have to worry about the chatter about whether some tenor or soprano ‘was bad on the night’, fell off some scenery, did not appear or the orchestra was out of tune in some section. The cost: zilch! Planned perfection!
        I have been known to completely listen to Parsifal twice, or go from the start of Rheingold and get as far as the middle of Siegfried in one night.

        • CruzSF

          I’m guessing we’ll never see you argue for “composer’s intent” again, since opera composers wrote their music for the stage.

          • Henry Holland

            + 100, well played CruzSF.

          • jrance

            We have no way of knowing what Mozart, Verdi or Wagner would have to say about having their works made available for home enjoyment on discs and DVDs.

            Doubtless it is preferable to experience opera in the theater (the only place to judge a voice) but for many music lovers who do not have easy access to opera houses, recordings must fill the bill. And even for those of us who live in major opera centers, it becomes -- in the face of increasingly dull productions and decreasingly civilized audience behavior -- an attractive alternative to stay home with a good recording and enjoy the theater of the imagination.

          • armerjacquino

            Between the ‘ah, but have you ever seen her live’ camp and the ‘opera is better at home’ camp, things are getting a little bipolar around here.

          • CruzSF

            jrance, it’s one thing to say one avoids going to the local opera house due to dull productions (or high costs, or busy lives, etc.) and another to say that opera is best experienced at home. You argue for the former. Others are — incredibly to me — arguing for the latter.

          • Batty Masetto

            I can understand taking a hiatus from attending live opera. I did it myself some years ago, late in the Adler era at San Francisco, when it seemed like every production I saw was nothing more than a dreary costume pageant with singing, and often the voices were not what I had hoped for, either. But it was my loss. (Among other things, I missed a white-hot Thaïs with Sills, much better than her later rendition at the Met.) And later, when McEwen took over and friends started enticing me back, I was sorry I’d left at all.

            At least now we know that many of those who rail at production values here don’t really like the theatrical aspect of opera all that much anyhow. Clarifies things a little.

        • stevey

          Well said, Harry!

      • Angelo Saccosta

        Hear, hear, Stevey. You have my vote. I’m even getting to the point where I want to listen while following in the piano vocal score.

    • Henry Holland

      In other words, do you know anyone who is simply not interested in the libretto or the visuals and who approaches / appreciates / loves all operas as absolute music?

      No, you’re the only one I’ve ever encountered who rides that particular hobby horse. I’m simply nonplussed why you bother with opera, what with all those pesky words and ideas and emotions and images they conjure up. Opera ISN’T absolute music, it was never intended to be that and it never WILL be that. Why you persist in seeking that in an art form whose very existence repudiates your premise is something best left to a $200/hour psychoanalyst. It’d be like me saying “I love baseball except I don’t like that whole pitching thing and why do they have fielders anyways?”.

      And your two paragraphs have nothing to do with each other. In my experience of almost 30 years, just because you don’t go to live performances doesn’t mean you don’t care about the words or force yourself *not* to visualize the action taking place (even if it’s like Pelleas et Melisande which was once described as “Nothing happens then Melisande dies”).

      For one thing, not all of us live in New York or Europe, where you can fairly easily travel around to the big houses/small houses where interesting things are done. Some of us live in places that are now doing six operas a season, all of them boring standard rep. The stuff I like is rarely done in the US and after 30 years, I’m burnt out on being in a mode of constant paycheck-to-paycheck living because I choose to save up for trips to Europe to hear Lear and the like. I’ll continue to buy pirate recordings and seek out the 20th century stuff I like (D’Albert is a new enthusiasm, for example).

      • CruzSF

        Henry H, I don’t know if you like P. Glass, but FYI: Portland (Ore.) Opera is staging Galileo Galilei next Mar/Apr.

        • ianw2

          What is going on in Portland?! I spent most of last weekend obsessively listening to their excellent recording of Glass’ Orphee, which I think has some of the best music he’s ever written.

          • Will

            Galileo Galilei was done in Boston several years ago and is a very fine piece of work; Orphee is my favorite Glass work of all. Lucky Portland!

          • CruzSF

            I kicked myself for missing the Portland Orphee a couple of years ago, but a small company just produced it here a couple of months ago. A bare-bones production, but still very effective and so persuasive that I ran out to the Web and ordered that Portland recording.

          • Harry

            Being a little cheeky for the moment? May I ask did you only have to listen to Track 1 and you felt,you had already heard the entire work?
            The only music I can readily accept of Glass,is what he wrote for the film The Hours. Complimenting beautifully, the recurring nature of the movie’s plot lines.
            Other than that, hearing his serious works, anyone could be sympathized with, if they heard someone exclaim “Hey! I think the laser’s stuck, in the CD player. It needs to be fixed or thrown out. It makes this Glass fella’s music sound funny” Truth is, he is…in that funny sort of way.

          • CruzSF

            I assume you’re responding to ianw2.

          • ianw2

            I don’t know why I bother Harry but no, it doesn’t all sound the same. As one of the very few working composers who does nothing but composer for a living, Glass is definitely a recycler- the third movement of his violin concerto is also more or less the dance from Ankhnaten- what I like about Orphee is- in the penultimate scene above all- there is a sense of passion rarely found in anything Glass I’ve listened to before.

            For me, and I know I’m in the minority, I find dismissal of Glass due to his use of repetition to be as bizarre as dismissing Rossini because he had a fall back to the crescendo.

        • Henry Holland

          No, I loathe Glass’ stuff, but my brother and his partner go to the Portland Opera once in a while, I’ll let him know that they’re doing it, they might like it. Portland Opera has one slot per season that they use for off-the-wall stuff, good for them.

      • stevey

        All I know is that I live in the jungles of Central America, where access to opera is severely limited. Desperate for music and ‘operatic culture’, for the past few years when I have been able to go away I would plan trips around opera performances that I thought I wanted to see, in places that I was interested in visiting. And, with very little exception, I came out of my live-opera experience feeling incredibly dissastified with what I had either seen, heard, or both, and was thankful that said opera performances were at least in places that were able to redeem themselves, and that I was able to enjoy. Some of us, ignoring the advantages and stimulations of Regietheater, would kill for a traditional staging of a beloved work, well sung because for reasons beyond our control even that eludes us.

        • Harry

          stevy: Perhaps I am normally considered a bit of a musical acid tongued bitch here. But, for once …I can understand the problems you face. I once also lived in an isolated region for some years, though not I think anywhere near isolated as you. In such circumstances you then find you are considered an odd ball,since the local populace are not into opera or classical music. Therefore the normal ability of so many others as we see here IE: , to converse -perhaps daily with other opera lovers they know (even face to face) ; becomes extremely limited or frankly non -existent. Let’s imagine those of us including those have local opera houses near at hand or are frequent visitors to Vienna, London or say the MET found themselves in the same situation. The culture shock would be tremendous. Then all they could do to keep ‘an equilibrium to the daily life’- and I do not say that lightly -- would be to value and rely on obtained music magazines, broadcasts if available ,their records, videos and CDs. Hooray now, for the Web! Unless a music lover is placed in such musically social isolation situations , I do not think they can fully understand or truly value what is readily available for them to choose at will: is something not available to others.

      • luvtennis

        I am so sorry, Henry, but that is just about the most reductionist argument you could have offered.

        Personally, I think way too much of the dramaturgy in opera is simply ridiculous. A couple steps below the average soap opera, about par for the average Hollywood movie. There are numerous exceptions, late Verdi, late Wagner, the Da Ponte operas. But most operatic storytelling is just as silly (to me) as most Broadway musical storytelling. The book is a hook for the music. Yes, most great operas have moments of intense drama because of the connection between the music and the words of a particular aria or scene, but those moments are at best intermittent.

        (And if we are going to use the original intent argument, I would argue that drama is the least important aspect of opera. I don’t think the restless, loud, inattentive audiences for opera seria, or French Grand Opera, or . . . were there for the dramatic intensity of the experience.)

        I think opera is less about drama and more about “emotion.” I think that for most operas the drama is simply a convenient McGuffin to allow the composer to write music for situations that reflect intense Human Emotion. How that emotion plays out in the context of the story is often less important. When I think of how many operas had characters, plots, even music changed willy nilly due to censors, performers, venues, composer second thoughts, etc. It is hard to argue for opera as dramatic totality given the vast majority of its history. So I am generalizing but not wildly. ;-)

        (On a side note, I think that while you cannot judge the intrinsic qualities of a voice without hearing it “live”, it is misleading to suggest that hearing the voice in one acoustic on a handful of nights provides some sort of magical insight. In fact, I would go so far to suggest that the excitement, transitory experience of live performance can really distract from all sorts of vocal issues and technical issues.

        I have occasionally listened to recordings of live performances that I attended in the flesh only to be shocked by how much I missed during the performance. That’s fine of course since a live performance should judged on its own terms. But it does suggest, from a critical perspective, that judging a singer’s musicianship, technique, breath control, agility, etc., based solely on live performances can be a tricky business.)

        • armerjacquino

          I can’t quite believe that quite so many people on an opera site are arguing quite so passionately against going to the opera.

          • CruzSF

            Now we have an idea of why opera companies are going out of business. (Although, luvtennis himself seems to go quite a bit.)

          • Harry

            Let’s look at a couple of silly plots we are supposed to take with utter seriousness and always be in their staged presence ‘to fully understand’.

            When Manrico in Trovatore learns ”Oh dear, they have captured Mummy’ what does he want to do?
            Stands there and sings about wanting to go and rescue her and so, he belts out and holds a note (a top C) longer than it is called for in the Score ….instead of a B anyway, to impress the audience that he is a tenor with a C no less.
            The clot is wasting time, singing about it. I want to say “Manrico get off your arse ..and move”, even if I already know what the same result will be- the long lost brothers trick -later used by Gilbert & Sullivan in Cox & Box!!!
            And as for the Ring: looking just a little closer…. imagine if Siegfried & Brunhilde had a off spring after bonking on that mountain top! As it is ‘Auntie was having it off with her nephew who in turn , also just happened to the creation of just yet another incestuous union created by Wotan poking a bit of dirt -Erda, and also two-timing his frumpy Fricka.
            Plot wise: Ha! then Gunther in fact -- could be claimed by some devout Wagnerite ( WE KNOW how they do go on) that Gunther was perhaps trying to make Brunnhilde a bit better ‘good woman’ come to think of it.
            Part 5 The Ring : if it ever happened -- would have had to be called -- ‘Annihilation of the Gene Pool’.
            No wonder some people call it the Rinse Cycle

          • marcello52

            @ Harry who says “When Manrico in Trovatore learns ”Oh dear, they have captured Mummy’ what does he want to do?
            Stands there and sings about wanting to go and rescue her and so, he belts out and holds a note (a top C) longer than it is called for in the Score ….instead of a B anyway, to impress the audience that he is a tenor with a C no less. The clot is wasting time, singing about it. I want to say “Manrico get off your arse ..and move”,

            I actually find this quite brilliant about Trovatore because everyone is being driven to act by their irrationality. No real thought to any of their actions. Manrico in Pira is all a show because after that C if he hits it, the next time we see him…is actually hear him from behind the walls of his cell. Complete impotence. It’s almost like meeting a 6’4” Adonis at the bar or an Amazon and when you take them home, they are this complete let down in bed or worse in the case of the Adonis, he can’t get it up or as big as a Vienna finger biscuit…. Manrico has been totally struck down for all that talk not so long ago. And here is a woman no less, the catalyst for the entire drama coming to rescue him.

            I know there is a lot of talk about opera having silly plots. However, is real life any more intelligible? People do stupid things all day, every day that defies logic. It’s what makes us human to a certain extent. I do agree that opera works for me based on the “emotional truths” that they try to explore.

            As for the live vs. recording, I just saw Rigoletto last night and I swear I wish I were home listening to a recording. But I got Rush tickets, so I could not be mad. That Rigoletto looked as if someone woke him from a sweet nap and said you have to perform now. He appeared very irriated all night long. It was some of the worse characterization I have seen on stage for any role. Damaru was fine but she had nothing to work with from a rather cold fish performance from Rigoletto. As for the Duke, I never like to see this role being performed live because tenors try to ham up this role so much that I am left feeling disgusted that I even find men attractive. Plus they are waiting around for the crowd to go wild when Donna e mobile comes around. Last night’s performer was definitely giving me the willies and not in a good way and he was not singing well, cracked on his very last bit for the night. Nonetheless, I like them both and I am happy to be able to enjoy them both. I always like the fact that with live performances, I can see the music being made and also for vocal and dramatic surprises.

          • grimoaldo

            Harry says:
            April 27, 2011 at 3:32 PM
            “Let’s look at a couple of silly plots we are supposed to take with utter seriousness and always be in their staged presence ‘to fully understand’.

            When Manrico in Trovatore learns ”Oh dear, they have captured Mummy’ what does he want to do?
            Stands there and sings about wanting to go and rescue her and so, he belts out and holds a note (a top C) longer than it is called for in the Score ….instead of a B anyway, to impress the audience that he is a tenor with a C no less.
            The clot is wasting time, singing about it. I want to say “Manrico get off your arse ..and move”, even if I already know what the same result will be- the long lost brothers trick -later used by Gilbert & Sullivan in Cox & Box!!!”

            Cox & Box isn’t by G&S.
            And I do not think the plot of Trovatore is silly. It is the epitome of Romantic drama, ie it is concerned not with everyday mundane life but with the absolute extremes of human existence, the greatest joys and utmost suffering, the most intense emotions and experiences possible. It is a wild Gothic horror story, and I think it is sheer genius.
            To say it is silly because Manrico sings an aria instead of rushing off immediately to rescue his mother from being burnt alive misses the point of opera altogether. People don’t sing all the time in real life either. You might just as well say Macbeth and Hamlet are silly because their plots involve ghosts and people do not stand around talking to themselves in blank verse.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            Here we are in strong agreement AJ. I’ve always believed that snobbish attempts to delegitimize the appreciation and experiences of opera fans who are unable to make it to the opera were irritating. But, to actually argue that given the choice, staying at home is preferred? What on earth? Even if you’re there *only* for the stimm of it all, no matter how spectacular your stereo system is, nothing is going to match the thrill of hearing and feeling a voice arch out of a human throat to shimmer in the air. Beautiful singing live has never been only an aural experience for me, its physical, visual even. The same for beautiful playing and music making of any kind.

            To me this is some sort of weird backwards justification for being a shut-in, a means of shaking ones cane at an imagined uneducated rabble of operagoers. In a way it takes a particularly honed sense of Scroogey harumph-ness and I guess there’s always respect in the ability to take something to its ridiculous extreme.

    • iltenoredigrazia

      That’s me. I appreciate the drama or emotions that, based on the libretto. the composer is able to communicate through his music. Similarly, the visuals can indeed support and even augment the impact of the music. But I can be perfectly happy with just the music. My imagination takes care of the rest.

      Now, listening to music at home through electronic systems -- no matter how good -- never matches the sound of live music. Thus, live performances will always provide a unique and incomparable audio experience. (I’ve been known to close my eyes during a live performance to enjoy the music without the distraction of whatever is going on onstage.)

      • Harry

        Listening at home can come pretty close to the so called ‘live situation’ today. Hi Fi systems have gone ahead in leaps and bounds. As long as people carefully choose their equipment and go full multi channel. To think that years ago, it was a pipe dream to set up microphones in a listening room, in your favorite seat position. Then throw a switch and watch a AV amp go through the process of digitally doing, not just level sound tests but complete frequency range sweeps top to bottom of each individual speaker according to its position in a room and make the required adjustments to equalize each one evenly………..
        Accurate? Yes. When you see the measured distances of each speaker come up printed and calibrated on a screen. If even checked with a physical tape measure, you find each is dead accurate to the centermeter or inch. And it was done, sonically. Then you want say various famous hall acoustics to match maybe a ‘live recording ‘ made in the same venue -throw another switch.
        I perversely go to live opera to see if they can match the same excitement I can recreate home. AND too often I detect a little bit of subtle micro-phoning ‘going on’ or ‘help’, shall we call it.
        I;E I do wonder why I may be sitting on some far left or right of a theater, yet when I close my eyes,I may hear what is known in Hi Fi terms as ‘point source’ direct material coming directly straight at me, yet the singer or particular instruments in the pit are on the totally opposite side of the House. I know: that they just got in the way of the pick -up area of the wrong microphones for ‘hiding the fact’. I do not believe in such magic, intermittent -time bent reflections in sound -- happening in live situations.
        Years ago, I saw a photograph of a hideously expensive sound reinforcement system actually installed into several famous opera houses by the firm Technics. The explanation given :for sound effects ‘like thunderstorms’ etc. It was a staggering amount of money at the time for just a few thunderstorms say, in Macbeth or at the final banquet scene of Don Giovanni. So whose kidding who…opera managements? “Oops, forgot to keep them turned off…is that the explanation, to expect?” . If they were caught red handed at it.

        iltenoredigrazia; ” Now, listening to music at home through electronic systems – no matter how good – never matches the sound of live music”.

  • operadent

    Mr. Woolfe has written one hell of a review! I was at Monday’s performance and was distracted by that behemoth of a gadget on a number of occassions.
    A Question: It appeared to me that Levine rearranged the seating of the orchestra in the pit for Walkure. Did anyone else notice this?

  • mrmyster

    Operadent, yes -- I agree it is an interesting review by Woolfe.
    But why does he not mention that Voigt sings out of tune most
    of the time? It is a hallmark of her recent work and it totally
    ruins the music — it’s like Wagner wrote wrong notes, though
    of course he did not. For me any commentary not making that
    key point is incomplete. Mr Woolfe knows better; I wonder what
    he and the Force are up do? Debbie handing out the green?

    • operadent

      MrM- I know what you mean. It seems to me that Voigt gets handled with kid gloves by a lot of operafans and reviewers. Remember the “Fanciulla” run -- it happened then also. Why -- I wish I knew! But I think Woolfe knows she will not always be in this production and even when (and if)a wonderful Brunnhilde takes over, the production will remain a big problem.
      BTW -- I agree with something in the Times review (Gasp!)- those projectors do make a very distracting hissing noise and need to be silenced. I noticed it also (to my dismay) when the horrible Sonnambula production had its prima -- but nobody mentioned it at that time.

    • Joe Conda

      Not to mention her sloppy approach to the score. In the Hojotoho alone, I counted 15 disappearances of printed notes plus the omitted G at the reprise. She sounded god-awful.

      • scifisci

        Which begs the question….why did tommasini praise her rhythmic accuracy?? Does he really not know the score to a work as important as die walkure?

        What i find the most infuriating is that she nipped and tucked just to get through it w/out a disaster that everyone would notice but robbed the role of any life….so why bother singing it?

        • peter

          TT is an apologist for the Met. He is not a very critical reviewer and you know he wasn’t going to be critical of Voigt no matter what she sounded like. I was thinking back to the live performances of Walkure that I have seen over the years. Jones, Polaski, Behrens, Eaglen, Hunter, and Altmeyer. With the exception of Altmeyer, I have never heard a soprano so ill-suited to the role of Brunnhilde as Voigt is (at least what I heard on Friday night’s broadcast). I was shocked at how thin and unattractive the middle of her voice has become. The question is whether her supposedly “acceptable” performance will be sufficient to bring her back next year to do the other two Brunnhildes. I have nothing against Voigt personally but why was she cast in this role with her vocal decline so evident a few years ago?

          • Bosah

            AT is a kind person who doesn’t squash the joy out of performances by focusing only on the negative. He understands singers. He sees the big picture. He mentions only that which he feels affects the overall performance for the overall audience -- as is his job.

            Shockingly, he is not concerned with appearing smarter or better -- he puts himself in the place of the audience and allows himself to enjoy the experience, faults and all.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            For serious Bosah? If you have to resort to defending the critical perspective of TT as a means of apologizing for Voigt, you’ve officially gone. too. far. Time for Claques Anonymous meetings.

          • 98rsd

            Thomasini can’t be trusted on any vocal performance. He seems to be a fan of certain singers and will never write accurately about them when they sing badly. Voigt is just one of them.

          • operaqueen

            I don’t think that TT is an apologist for the MET as that would require a modicum of intelligence which he simply doesn’t possess.

            It’s really quite simple. He’s clueless.

          • Harry

            One only has to read the reviews of the likes of Tommasini and I find he mirrors the attitudes and uses the same non committed terms of a couple of critics I know. People that I go to their homes on a social basis for dinner or sometimes I attend the theater withas their guest. I hear the same smack -bang nice, nice, non offensive cliche’s: the same fruggin FUDGE, the same bland terms that they too, espouse to make sure, they stay sweet with those that -- matter. When privately challenged about some performer we both saw on the same night: sure I do get them at times, agreeing that they really equally hold the same lousy opinion. This is usually quickly followed by a comment “Oh! I but I could not say or print that, though!”. To them it all a big junket, and about keeping their job. To me, straight honesty matters more, and I would not care if I was ever put off their ‘theater guest list’ as a result.Pushing s…t uphill is not on. I did notice though, once or twice, my exact comments to them ‘word for word’ did find their way into their printed reviews!

          • Bosah

            That’s fine, ON. Truly, I don’t care what you think of my opinion. I decide what I think all by myself. And I find the negative tone of some here sad. I can’t imagine seeing only negative about certain things or certain people -- seemingly purposely LOOKING for something to criticize or attack. But, as brooklynpunk said, to each his/her own.

            If spewing negative over and over floats your boat, go for it.

        • Harry

          Nipping and tucking of notes (AKA -cheaping!)is something I notice generally, in a lot of singers today that are allegedly ‘Stars’. Apologists then call it individual interpretation or expression. Ha!

          • Harry

            I made a slight mistake. The word “AKA cheapng” should have read “AKA cheating”

          • brooklynpunk

            This use of of the term(s) “apologist” , or “apologizing for” are real puzzling-to me

            Isn’t it possible that people (even Critics) are --permitted-- to enjoy an over-all performance by an Artist for WHATEVER reason(s) turn them on-even if it might not be “The performance of a life-time”-or even if it ain’t “note-perfect”..?

            The fact that Mr. T commented on DV’s deficiencies in his review, yet still found something to enjoy in her showing shouldn’t necessarily brand him-or anyone else, with a scarlet letter.

            …Each to his own…eh?

          • peter

            Brooklyn, that’s how I feel about a lot of performances. There was much too enjoy in a particular performance despite some deficiencies but I expect more from a critic. I expect them to write more than a school report on what they found enjoyable but rather a professional critique of the performance at hand.

          • Harry

            Brooklynpunk : An apologist as a term -- can also be a person that paid big bucks for something, and found one or two people cast; let the whole expected magic experience down. Does one admit you were ‘had’ or like many a simpering critic, put some spin on it and convince yourself, it is better than it really was.After all it is now gone and past. It will not and cannot be repeated exactly in human terms exactly, another night. It is now but a memory, really. Who is there to fully test any such held opinion?
            I like the healthy term ‘Some may believe…but thousands would not’.

          • Bosah


            Your comment reminded me of a conversation I had with friends around the time of the third or fourth expected opening of Spiderman on Broadway.

            We talked about how some of the greatest musicals were closing or closed, and yet, this one was doing well in percentages of seats sold.

            One friend opined the loss of influence of critics in general and how they’d been almost completely ignored. Another wondered if that’s because with blogs and other avenues, audiences just don’t depend on old-school newspaper critics anymore.

            I think in opera the old-school critics remain more important than in musical theater, but I can’t tell you how many friends/colleagues I’ve met who don’t even bother to read what was in the NYT or WP or whatever. They go to blogs, mostly, and also depend on word of mouth, video clips and articles about the production.

            I personally think there’s a huge disconnect between some critics and audiences that is causing this loss of importance for the profession as a whole (and I do think there is a loss of importance).

            I’m also torn because I think there is an extremely important value and service provided by truly knowledgeable critics. Many times, I’ve seen something and then be forced to think a bit more by a review. But, when an audience member wants simply to enjoy a performance, he doesn’t really care is somebody left out a G.

            The varying reviews for DW, even for Kaufman, have been baffling and confusing. Imagine being someone deciding whether to go see DW (assuming there were tickets) and reading these various opinions. Would you listen to one over the other? Would you bother to even read them?

            I ask not because I have any fully-formed opinion, just because it’s something that has puzzled me.

      • operadent

        And her lurching for those C’s was downright scary!

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Would someone who saw the production please tell me exactly what music LePage uses for the scene change Zachary Woolfe describes (so well?) “This scenic shift takes place right after the god Wotan has been forced, harrowingly, to disown his favorite daughter, Brünnhilde. She lies on the ground in shock; he has turned away in grief.”
    He probably means after the exit of the Walkueries, but If it’s where I fear it might be I probably would have booed right on the spot. For easy reference there is a piano-vocal score of Act III right here:

    • The scene change begins around the meno f after the exit of the Valkyries, at the stage direction “Bald legt sich der Sturm; die Gewitterwolken verziehen sich allmählich.”

      So far as I can recall, the actual movement of the set is completed before the “Etwas langsam” at the beginning of the Dritte Scene. However, the projections on the “rock wall” continue to evolve during the scene between Wotan and Brunnhilde.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        Many thanks for the specifics. For a moment, from Woolfe’s description I thought the Verwandlung might have intruded much later during the long postlude to Brünhilde’s last aria before the traditional embrace, which would have been totally misplaced, but “Gewitterwolken verziehen sich allmählich” definitely signals more than a psychological situation, so I guess LePage read the libretto a little.

        • Quanto Painy Fakor

          PS: Sounds like a fabulous effect.

  • Arianna a Nasso

    operadent @ 3.1 -- Why does Voigt get a soft treatment from critics and fans? Because she provided the New York audience with 12-15 years of some really exciting singing. I’m not saying she was outstanding in every aspect, or that everyone loved her, but the thrill of hearing her live (recordings never did her justice) on a regular basis built up a significant following. Wasn’t she one of the first celebrity interviews in the print version of Parterre? it’s not uncommon for artists with such support to be treated gently when they have late career vocal problems, given the good will they built up earlier in their career. She’s not the first, she won’t be the last.

    • Harry

      This ‘recordings never do certain singers justice’ I find puzzling. It is a qualified decision n the part of the person making that statement. If we were talking about recordings made many decades ago.Fine! But Voight has had the advantage of being recorded totally, consistently and well inside the digital era.
      The quality of a singer’s technique and abilities or lack thereof becomes quickly apparent in any case. Any fault a listener thinks a singer may be suspected of, one can repeat and zero in on.
      I have found that judgments made of a singer heard on recordings, usually I had confirmed when I then heard them live.

      Did it take so long for everyone to see that Villazon was headed for a complete disaster? Just a couple of his opera recordings told the whole story long before the big spectacular fall. Throwing his voice like a plate of porridge as if, at some wall. People can plead that recording editors can ‘clean up faults’. Sure quite a few,if they want to, but they are not miracle workers…they always slip up and leave others , for all to see.
      I;E Does it take some expert out there, to say that Terfel is one shoe size too small for a Wotan? The typical barking bluster that Terfel has always used as ‘technique’ for expressing dramatic authority in music, is surely, clearly transparent to anyone.

    • 98rsd

      Basically, a huge segment of the audience has no idea how she’s singing. Which is how she got away with the Forzas, etc.

  • LeperEllo

    Zachary Woolfe writes: “A sure sign that Mr. Lepage doesn’t quite trust the text he’s been given to interpret…”

    Doesn’t trust the Text? was it only the Text he has been given to interpret? (sigh)

    Sounds to me from what I have been reading in the reviews is that what he doesn’t trust is the Music -- you know, that unorganized, non-descript background noise that plays during his pretty pictures and the high tech machinery stuff, and which has nothing to do with the stage action.

    • “Text” in this context means the score, i.e., the part of the thing that’s already written down. The complementary part to text is performance, i.e., the part that’s created anew on the night.

      The music is part of the text.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        What I love most about so much of the commentary, banter, and reviews for recent new productions is that more and more people are beginning to understand what it means when a director does not know how to TRUST the music and trust (/ realize) the original dramaturgy of the creators, which is quite different than developing a profound new interpretation of a masterpiece as was done with the Bieto “Parsifal” and “Entfuhrung”, so well depicted in prose by James Jorden and his associates here and on the blog at Musica America.

        • Well, no. That’s not what’s happening, and (speaking only as one person who is not wild about LePage’s Ring) it’s kind of irritating to have my dislike of a non-traditional production characterized as an overdue awakening to the importance of authorial intent.

      • LeperEllo

        Ah, thanks, LaCieca -- after reading your note, I re-read Woolfe’s article, and now I see that he specifically calls out Lepage for missing the quality of the music; my misunderstanding about what he meant by “text” after reading too quickly the first time around.

  • atalaya

    I sat next to a very passionate opera fan from Munich at Rigoletto tonight. (Decades of attending opera, Margaret Price was the singer that hooked her) About last night’s Walkure, she gasped in disbelief that “Terfel’s German was perfect. It was like my father was singing Wotan to me.”

    As for the ladies, “They need a language coach. Couldn’t understand what they were singing.” She singled out Blythe in particular saying Blythe sang wonderfully but really mangled the language. Interesting criticism that I had not seen raised elsewhere.

    She also mentioned Claus Guth’s Ring in Hamburg was excellent as well as his Luisa Miller at her local Bavarian State Opera.

    • DonCarloFanatic

      I caught the last few minutes of that Rigoletto on Sirius last night and was shocked at how ragged the Duke sounded. It’s a role for a voice that can remain sweet and smooth (to use completely non-technical terms). Was it so badly sung throughout the evening?

      • Feldmarschallin

        yes he was bad the whole evening. Damrau and Lucic were great though. The production is VERY dated. Filianoti cracked badly in the end.

      • atalaya

        Yes Filianoti (the Duke) did not sound good at all. My German neighbor thought he had the wrong type of voice for this. Mentioned he’d be a fine Nemorino but this wasn’t the role for him.

        Being a little more charitable -- I enjoyed Filianoti in Hoffmann in October -- I just thought he must have had a very, very long season. He did not sound like this back then. Still four more performances for him which may not be so healthy. It seemed like he was really pushing things -- as if the house was too big.

        Damrau was great. Some people seem not to like her voice. I love it and she was the reason I decided to see this Rigoletto. Just like to point out how I really enjoy her acting. From where I often sit in the Family Circle, one can’t see performer’s faces so acting just with facial expressions does nothing for me. The good actresses can use their entire body to convince the audience of the emotion they’re going through and do it such a way as it seems natural. It’s something that is very visible from anywhere in the house and can add tremendously to the performance.

        I think Damrau is one of the best opera actresses today. Her singing conveys her emotions, her movement/physicality conveys her emotions, and when I’ve sat in the first few rows, seen that her face conveys her emotions too. I know some people don’t like her acting -- it’s been accused of being “hammy” -- but when I’m sitting far up I really appreciate what she does. She had the body language of a teenage girl done extremely well last night.

        The other actress who I think does this well is Isabel Leonard. I was in the last row of the FC for Nozze last season and just the way Leonard moved as Cherubino was hilarious.

        Luisi had the crisp playing and fast tempos I think he is know for and I like. My neighbor thought him too fast and also mentioned throughout his career he constantly was hopping quickly to get somewhere better. She was not a fan and didn’t think him a top class conductor. I’m looking forward to having him at the Met more.

        • Yes to be blunt Filianoti stunk. Strangled top, harsh, metallic middle, captured none of the showboating style so crucial to this role. But since he’s gotten excellent reviews this season I’m going to chalk it up to a bad night. He did do an unusual cadenza at the end of “Parmi veder” but messed the whole thing up very badly, including a badly attempted trill.

          I disagree about Lucic being a “cold fish” for Rigoletto. True he doesn’t ham it up, but I found his interpretation dignified and his voice is the real thing.

    • Blythe doesn’t come in for a lot of criticism because people (not including me, actually, though I like her a lot in contralto stuff like Orfeo) find her singing so gratifying in other ways, they just aren’t picky about everything.

      I kind of get it. It’s a big, bold, secure sound. For some reason, though, I rarely find her singing truly transporting.

      • MontyNostry

        My opinion of Blythe was transformed when I first saw her perform live (Azucena), only having heard her CDs before then, which had made her sound a bit of a Horne ‘me-too’ with less attractive tone. Who could not be impressed by such a big, secure sound? I thought she must have a mic hidden in her poitrine. And she knows how take ownership of the stage without hamming.

      • At its best, Blythe’s is one of the most luxurious voices in the world today. I admit that I haven’t heard her in anything that’s too high-lying (and I’ve read some complaints that her voice is strained on top). But the mid and lower parts of the voice are extraordinary.

      • atalaya

        Regarding the Blythe comments, I’m a Blythe fan and think she’s wonderful. I wish I had seen her in Gerolsteiner in Boston last season -- in which I heard she was fantastic. I just mentioned the German diction criticism because I didn’t think she did anything less then excellently. I know there’s some people here who are good at picking out Italian (mis)pronunciation. I thought it’d be interesting to recount a native speaker’s take on the performers/ German. That Terfel’s was so good came as a surprise to me.

        I expect to go to Walkure and find Blythe -- at least -- very good. My German’s not close to good enough to notice any mispronunciation.

  • Buster

    OT, but great to see Sophie Karthäuser -- Gardiners Agathe in the Berlioz edition of Freischütz -- will give a New York recital tomorrow. Without the adorable Cedric Tiberghien, unfortunately:

  • Angelo Saccosta

    It is not only Robert LePage who doesn’t trust the work he’s been given to stage. It is virtually ALL current opera directors as well as their enablers, the opera house managers, who don’t trust the works they’re hired to present. They view everything as kitsch or outdated melodrama to be brought up to date as 21st Century theatre, an obvious exercise in futility as well as condescension to composers and music dramatists of surpassing genius, Verdi, Wagner, and all the rest, including Rossini ! To bring the drama alive in the theater requires not gimmicks, but helping singers to be as comfortable as possible physically so they can sing music of enormous difficulty without any amplification. And they need writers on opera who don’t condescend either with such idiotic phrases as “park and bark.” Of course the singers need to “park and bark.” The physical act of singing requires the coordination of muscles in the entire body, something that cannot be accomplished if a singer is writhing on the floor or is afraid she will fall down and break bones.
    Opera is perhaps the greatest artistic creation of the human race uniting as it does the essential traits that make us human, language and music. let’s allow it to speak as its creators intended, and not let it be trivialized by know-nothings.
    Bravo Zachary Woolfe.

    • ianw2

      Oh, here we go. There’s always one.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Bravissimo Angelo Saccosta !

  • operaqueen

    Not a single word about the singing except where it relates to the acting of each performer. Pathetic. Apparently, Mr. Woolfe doesn’t know a thing about voices or how to write about it/

    He should stick to describing scenery; it appears that’s all he knows anything about.

    • The focus of the piece was on the production: that was made clear from the beginning. Woolfe isn’t an overnight reviewer in the Observerand so I don’t see why his piece should be treated as if it were a straight overnight review.

      When he writes for the Times, he’s more than capable of dwelling on vocalism when that’s the point of the piece. For example, last week, on Il trovatore:

      The soprano Sondra Radvanovsky gave an earnest, sympathetic performance as the fought-over noblewoman Leonora. Her voice is big and steely, but her distinctive wide vibrato is a Catch-22: It gives her appealing richness while tending to drag her pitch flat. Her high notes can be loud and penetrating or soft and filament-thin, but both varieties pop out as imposing effects rather than organic parts of the musical line….

      As the two brothers… who both desire Leonora, neither the tenor Marcelo Álvarez nor the baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky sounded entirely comfortable on Wednesday. Mr. Álvarez sang with moments of characteristically warm, natural phrasing, and Mr. Hvorostovsky had his usual nobility and intelligence. But both sounded dry and easily tired, resulting in clipped phrase endings, forced tone and tight high notes. The mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick has been singing the role of the vengeful Azucena at the Met for 23 years. If she has lost some vocal power, in full cry she remains chillingly formidable.

      That is more than enough vocal detail for a short overnight review in a general interest newspaper. If you insist on 3,000 words talking about “emission” and “tessitura” and “slancio,” then you’re out of luck: no editor in the world is going to let a writer blather on like a fanboy.

      • Henry Holland

        If you insist on 3,000 words talking about “emission” and “tessitura” and “slancio,” then you’re out of luck: no editor in the world is going to let a writer blather on like a fanboy

        There might be a God after all.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        Or you could do what Martin Bernheimer recently did to Die Walkuere and smash things to smithereens with two words like “mighty irk”

      • operaqueen

        I think there’s a wide chasm between writing NOTHING about the singing and writing 3,000 words. Call me silly but … I think in a review of any opera — no matter the focus — a critic is obligated to write at least something about the singing. Not 3,000 word but how about something like 100 words or even 50?

        And while I realize this will probably get me on “moderation” no where in my post did I “insist on 3,000 words about the singing” and I can’t help but wonder if this over-the-top — and repeated — defense of Mr. Woolfe is because someone is sleeping with him or wishing or hoping they were?

        Sorry, I had to ask because it’s getting a little creepy and obvious, respectfully.

        • So long, Bookbinder. Go back to reviling everything that moves at opera-l.

        • Does it help to think of the article as an opinion piece instead of a review? I fail to understand how a thoughtful analysis of Lepage’s staging would have been aided by a few prefunctory words about the singing “just because”.

          If this were the official NYT review of the perofrmoance, I could see all the kerfuffle. But I just don’t get why people insist on making every article about their needs rather than trying to understand what the writer’s objectives are.

      • parpignol

        just back from Trovatore: Woolfe basically got it right on the voices; Zajick formidable to be sure, but also still so beautiful!
        Hvorostovsky, less beautiful than he was in this role two years ago, gunning to be a full-voiced Verdi baritone, will be the most glamorously handsome Rigoletto ever. . .
        Radvanovsky: has her voice actually gotten bigger? yes, the vibrato is intense, yes, there are some control problems; but she’s quite an experience in the opera house; wonder if she’ll have enough control for Norma a year or two from now; she should sing Abigaille right now!
        Alvarez: has his voice gotten smaller? some nice phrasing and nice sound; but he should not be singing Di quella pira on the Met stage. . .

    • semira mide

      Not much description of scenery in the recent R&J review by Woolfe, which is one of best reviews I’ve read in the Times in many years. It reminds us of what is important.

  • WindyCityOperaman

    OT, but am majorly bummed this morning to learn about Sir Robert Tear’s passing last month. There was nothing in Opera News, local obits or, gasp, here on Parterre box (and if there was, my apologies, but still, you posters from across the pond . . .).

    Always liked his singing and admired his musicianship. RIP.

    • armerjacquino

      There were quite a few posts here about Tear last month. As you say, very sad. (He was never knighted, by the way)

  • il_guarany

    Slightly off-topic, but it has to do with Sieglinde: I hear that Pieczonka will sing Die Kaiserin in Vienna in March. At first I didn’t think it would be a vocal match -- I think of her as a lyric soprano along the lines of Schwarzkopf-Te Kanawa-Fleming. Then, I remembered she is a gorgeous Sieglinde, a role that as far as I know these three ladies never sang. And Tosca is on her rep too (which Te Kanawa did sing but wisely dropped ere long).

    Are the vocal demands of Sieglinde comparable to Die Kaiserin? I think Die Kaiserin has a broader range of emotions and styles, but vocally would they be similar?

    • Kaiserin is much higher.

      • Ilka Saro

        And Kaiserin has coloratura.

        • uwsinnyc

          It has that bit of frilly music in her opening scene, but is there any coloratura after that?

    • armerjacquino

      Among lyrics, Janowitz sang both- although she only did the Kaiserin early on, and dropped it PDQ. And Studer of course, but then Studer sang everything.

      • stevey

        I’m still waiting for the Studer ‘Boris Godunov’… (Hey, there’s time…) ;-)

      • Harry

        And the role has some 9th intervals too.

        • Harry

          Opps sorry! I was referring to the role of Kaiserin

    • stevey

      Vienna will not be her role debut, either. She sang Die Kaiserin in Florence last year and got excellent reviews (I recall the vast majority of them going on and on about how, apparently, ‘lyrical’ her Empress was…)

      • il_guarany

        Thanks, everyone! At the risk of irreparably ruining my standing here, there’s a lot of Studer I do like. I’m watching that Salzburg Frosch again, and she sounds gorgeous in it. Yes, I should have thought of Studer re Pieczonka’s Marschallin
        -- that reckless eclecticism more often than not paid off for her (more so than Voigt’s, I’d say).

        • La Valkyrietta


          Voigt is a good woman, but, yes, eclectic, so much so that at times she even reminds me of La Chonga, “La Chonga estaba bailando peteí emboyeré, que no era ni balseado, ni conga, ni chamamé.” :)

    • Kaiserin is closer to Chrysothemis.

      • stevey

        Yes, and even higher (with written high D’s)

      • Pu-Tin-Pao

        But Chryssie is a considerably shorter role than Die Kaiserin…

    • Feldmarschallin

      Sieglinde is quite low actually. Opposite of Kaiserin. For Kaiserin you need those easy top notes which a great Sieglinde doesn’t need. I heard Studer do both and she was actually quite good in both. Maybe even excellent as Kaiserin. Rysanek of course was the most famous soprano to sing both but she did come to grief with some of the first act of Walkuere sometimes. I heard Westbroek in Paris give an amazing performance of Kaiserin but the top wasn’t as easy as Rysanek or Studer.

      • La marquise de Merteuil

        And I don’t think Rysanek ever sang the D in the opening scene either.

        • richard

          Sometimes she did and sometimes she didn’t.

          As the years went on she sang the d less and less.

          But she certainly did sing the d the first season I saw her back around 1971

        • Feldmarschallin

          the recordings from the 50’s have the high D.

          • La marquise de Merteuil

            mea culpa!

    • fistfull

      all of the parts mentioned for this so called soprano are too demanding…. and kaiserin is not only stretching it but will probably ruin her….. I would bet money she backs out…….

      • I think Pieczonka’s voice has the right colour and weight for Die Kaiserin. She has a solid upper register. Just because she has sung Sieglinde all over the world doesn’t mean that she has a low-lying soprano. I have to say I don’t understand the description “so called soprano”.

      • Feldmarschallin

        so called soprano? how are you referring to? Pieczonka? Well she has sung the role already and has gotten good reviews. So far she has been pretty smart with adding new roles to her rep without ruining her voice or career. Or are we talking about Rysanek who had a career of about 40+ years.

      • Evenhanded


        Please, I’ll take your bet: I could use some easy money.

        Pieczonka has proven to be an extremely thoughtful artist, and has added roles cautiously over the years. Her voice is absolutely seamless and solid from top (gleaming) to bottom (steady, unforced). She received pretty much rave reviews for her debut as the Kaiserin in Firenze last year, and sounds quite spectacular in the short bit she got to sing in the recent Gala for Ioan Hollender in Vienna.

        Her voice fits nicely between ‘lyric’ and ‘spinto’ -- and she is able to encompass roles (some, not all) from both categories with ease, grace, and assurance. She is a solid musician with a firm command of all the qualities one might desire in an ideal Kaiserin, except perhaps for Rysanek’s well known histrionic embellishments.

        AFAIC, Pieczonka should be at the Met every year like Fleming, Netrebko, etc. The Viennese are lucky to be able to hear her so frequently.

        • fistfull

          barf…i must have landed in the lesbian corner… she should sing Mozart……

          • Melot’s Younger Brother

            I’ve heard her as the Countess.

          • Feldmarschallin

            she has sung Mozart. There is a Donna Anna from the Wiener Staatsoper on DVD. I never heard her in Mozart but find others are better here. But she is quite good in Strauss and Wagner. She is a bit placid on stage sometimes. Her Eva was a bit mature but granted those were her last ones I heard. She is quite good but not great in my opinion. Her Lisa and Ariadne were quite good. Her Marschallin was a bit on the surface and didn’t move me the way Schwanewilms or Denoke or Jones has. Perhaps the Ariadne worked so well is because Ariadne can take a singer who isn’t necessary a stage animal. For every Damrau, Callas, Varnay and Moedl you get a Fleming, Florez, Sutherland and Bergonzi. Some singers are great actors and some are not.

  • sorella

    • Feldmarschallin

      actually the Senta and Kaiserin were two of her better roles I find and I was skeptical before hearing them althought not live since I didn’t know how she would handle the tessitura. Those roles lie considerably higher than her usual fare. But the top was quite good and came without effort. I would like to here the Sieglinde again too albeit in a different production than the old Met one. I think she needs a good director. Her Orfeo CD of Strauss and Wagner is very nice.

  • il_guarany

    Ooh, that was fabulous -- and even more fabulous of you to share it. *smooch*