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Robert W. Wilson, 1927–2013

Robert W. Wilson, the American hedge fund manager and former chairman of New York City Opera, has died, an apparent suicide. Bloomberg reports that the philanthropist died December 23 after leaping from his 16th-floor residence at the San Remo apartment building on Manhattan’s Central Park West. He was 87.

96 comments

  • 1
    La Valkyrietta says:

    Here is another coverage of the subject with more details about the suicide.

    http://nypost.com/2013/12/25/philanthropist-carefully-planned-suicide-jump-not-ashamed/

    I wonder about this,

    “I think he thought this was the least painful way. It seems violent and dramatic, but .?.?. he ended his life very precipitously with no fanfare.”

    Would not falling asleep with an overdose be less painful? In any case, one has to respect his decision.

    • 1.1

      @ Valkyrietta

      Would not falling asleep with an overdose be less painful?

      I’m sure that would be everyone’s preferred method. Unfortunately, the drug that provides one of the most peaceful death imaginable -- Nembutal -- is not easily available.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/21/world/americas/21tijuana.html?pagewanted=all

      I really don’t understand why our society forces the terminally ill or the exhausted to live on when they no longer want to. Why do we go to such lengths (in the year 2013) to refuse people access to a gentle death.

      • 1.1.1
        oedipe says:

        I don’t want to advertise such things here, but there are other (easy) ways to overdose…

      • 1.1.2
        La Valkyrietta says:

        Interesting article. Nembutal was the drug George Sanders took in that hotel in Barcelona, but that was many years ago when, no doubt, the drug was more widely available. Still, I would assume a drug would not be hard to obtain for a multi millionaire. I guess it is impossible to penetrate the mystery of every suicide, all the questions may not be answered or aswerable.

        • 1.1.2.1
          Porgy Amor says:

          Quoting Valkyrietta:

          Nembutal was the drug George Sanders took in that hotel in Barcelona, but that was many years ago when, no doubt, the drug was more widely available.

          Right; barbiturates in general are hard to get one’s hands on now. People believe any sedative or “sleeping pill” will do, but you can take a hundred Ambien, Xanax, or Valium and still wake up, unless your respiratory drive already is compromised. Relatively low lethality in overdose is among the reasons these medications are prescribed instead of the barbiturates of 50 years ago.

          I assume Wilson resorted to this method because it seemed sure-fire, and he was aware that prescription drug overdose is one of the methods with the lowest success rate, something like 12%, ahead only of self-cutting (6%). So he was serious about dying; he did not want to wake up with additional medical problems.

  • 2
    papopera says:

    “apparent suicide” ? There is nothing “apparent” about defenestration. It is a sad and brutal reality. Poor man.

  • 3
    La Valkyrietta says:

    I was not suggesting something other than suicide as I know absolutely nothing. It just seems to me that sometimes means of suicide are chosen that seem too painful. I never forget some years ago a gentleman by the name of Rothschild, can’t remember the first name, hang himself with his belt at a hotel room on the automatic lever that pushes the door closed. I thought then he could have chosen a less painful way. But, of course, we don’t know the last minute thoughts. All we can do is commiserate.

  • 4
    pobrediablo says:

    I’m glad he didn’t kill anyone passing under his window.

    • 4.1
      Quanto Painy Fakor says:

      The news is shocking and tragic. May he rest in peace. But there are definite advantages to living on the relatively calm Central Park West. Had he plunged onto the sidewalk of the congested Central Park South it probably would have been ugly and to jump to the tiny alleys behind those buildings would have required something equal to a swan dive. The whole thing is horrible

  • 5
    Constantine A. Papas says:

    “Sudden death,especially by one’s own design, is so complex to comprehend. In any sport or game, sudden death will crown at least one winner and the looser will be given a second chance in the future. In the game of life self-induced sudden death, suicide, is a resounding and irrevocable defeat and an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual meltdown and failure with no second chance possible. Its permanence will torment for life the lives of those left behind with a question that will never be answered, irrespective of how many times it will be asked. “Why?” Feeble reasoning and infinite excuses will be made, which may have some transient redeeming value, but the real answer will always remain an elusive dark mystery.” From “Murder by Suicide,” by this humble blogger. How the mother of the 3-year-old boy, whose father killed him before committing suicide, will ever find a redeeming and logical answer? To me, even the suicide of a 87-year-old, is still a mystery.

    • 5.1

      @ Constantine

      In the game of life self-induced sudden death, suicide, is a resounding and irrevocable defeat and an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual meltdown and failure with no second chance possible. Its permanence will torment for life the lives of those left behind with a question that will never be answered, irrespective of how many times it will be asked. “Why?”

      Sorry, this is basically nonsense.

      I much prefer the words of Matthew Parris:

      “When I die, and if I have to arrange it myself, I will consult nobody,and do it unassisted if I can. I entertain not a flicker of moral or practical doubt on the subject, and never have. Speaking only for myself — in such matters one should never judge for others — if Nature does not do the job in a timely manner I shall consider it a duty to take matters into my own hands.

      I can’t tell you how simple I find these arguments: so simple that I’ve hardly bothered to write about the issue. Suicide is the greatest of human freedoms, underwriting all the others, for it gives us the possibility of defying every thing and every one there is. The possibility of suicide is what makes life voluntary and each new day an act of will. No wonder the faith community gnash their teeth at suicide. God Himself, if He existed, would gnash His teeth at suicide: the supreme act of defiance, the final rasberry. The knowledge that I’m here by choice, that every breath I take I take by choice, injects into my soul a transcendent joy”

      [….]

      “Is suicide not the greatest of all tokens of the primacy of the human will ? How shall a man ever demonstrate with more finality that he is the captain of his soul, the master of his ship, than by taking it by his own choice on to the rocks ? Self-inflicted death is the ultimate defiance, the one freedom in your life and mine which nothing and nobody -- not even God -- can take away…. I have never contemplated suicide and hope I never shall. But to know that I can — to know that tomorrow I too could make that splendid, terrible two-fingered gesture to creation itself is more than life-enhancing: it is sublime”

      • 5.1.1
        bluecabochon says:

        For once, I agree with GCR, but in my own words, if I am faced with a long painful decline under certain circumstances, it would be a comfort to know that I could end my life if I chose to. This man had two strokes, was possible depressed as well as impaired and chose a dramatic way to go but I’m sure that with his resources, he could have arranged a peaceful exit in his home, even if it would have involved the help of others.

        As for the man who threw his son off the roof, his intent was to punish his wife for leaving him and his control, and getting custody of the boy. This murder-suicide was a failure of the court system that often doesn’t protect women and children from venal partners.

  • 6
    papopera says:

    Just about one month ago, Nov 20, serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin was executed in Bonne Terre MO. He was injected with pentobarbital. He died in 10 minutes.

  • 7
    Anna Notremolo says:

    Perhaps this will make sense only to me, but I’ve always thought of one’s life as a series of rings, each with a break in it. They’re constantly in motion, each ring representing an aspect of the life, such as love, happiness, security, fulfillment, and so much more. If all the breaks in the many rings are open downward, then one’s life can fall out, but if even one break in a ring is not down with the others, then the life is held. This is why I’m not opposed, in principle, to a barrier at a well-known place of suicide, such as the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s that barrier that might make the difference at that very moment. It has been said that a would-be suicide, confronted with the barrier, would find another place, but I think that may not be so, that at that very moment the ring representing, perhaps, utter despair, might then shift. In the case of my friend who recently committed suicide by hanging, perhaps the cat didn’t brush his leg, he didn’t hear a bird sing, he didn’t see a loved one’s photo out of the corner of his eye, nothing shifted even just one ring. He was indeed loved, but I cannot presume to judge why, at that moment, it was not enough…

  • 8
    pobrediablo says:

    Suicide is one of the most unnatural actions a living creature can take. So, when someone does it, you better believe it was in a moment of despair or insanity.

  • 9
    Constantine A. Papas says:

    pobrediablo,

    You’re so right. Many years ago, I met a young, beautiful, educated, well-to-do professional couple at a wedding reception. They were so proud to show me the picture of their angelic looking 8-month-old daughter. Two weeks later, the husband shot to death his wife and daughter and then himself.
    Well, Genevieve, it maybe nonsense to you; and that’s all right; but not to me and some others.

    • 9.1

      Constantine,

      I’m sorry… I guess it’s the the knee-jerk “Suicide is Terrible” response that bothers me. The societal condemnatory tone in your line here:

      In the game of life self-induced sudden death, suicide, is a resounding and irrevocable defeat and an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual meltdown and failure with no second chance possible.

      Suicide is a VERY PERSONAL and very difficult subject to articulate. We are all different and what seems like an insurmountable problem for one person is a challenge for somebody else. We assume that we all feel the same under the same circumstances (have the same emotions etc.) and that if ?I can cope with desperate issues…. so can anyone else. Also, we are here by chance and we remain by choice. You have to realize that just prior to conception there were NUMEROUS possibilities for our physical and mental characteristics as there were for our parents, etc.

      Anwyay, two final comments that sum it up for me and we’ll leave it at that.

      1. “Humans are hedonic creatures, in addition to calculative creatures. That’s not to say we’re solely motivated by pleasure and pain, but the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, do explain a great deal of our behavior. Thus, we (some more than others) have the ability to figure out whether our future likely has more pleasure and less pain in store for us, or more pain and less pleasure. If our future is found wanting (likely, to be wanting), and, being self-conscious and conscientious creatures, having an awareness of life and death and all these processes likely entail (life = presence of experiences both positive and negative, death = absence of experiences both positive and negative), some of us, especially the more hedonic among us, may decide no experience is better than to continue experiencing a life of consecutive and consistent disappointments, hardships, anguish, torment and dread. I abhor the idea that people who are living excruciatingly painful lives are being emotionally or psychologically pressured to continue living because of religious ideals or nonsense like “betraying human kind.”

      2. “I think Matthew Parris has a valid point although I’m not sure if I’d want to say that suicide is the “supreme act of defiance”. I see what he means, but my gut reaction is that this way of speaking glorifies suicide. Suicide is such a sad, ugly thing I’m a little nervous about talking about it in that way. I like how he describes suicide as the “final raspberry” though. But yes, perhaps if one sees life, for whatever reason, as having an unbearable ‘thing’, an entity, something you continually battle with, then you could be said to be defying it — ultimately, you are saying…. ‘I don’t have to live you’. Also, it would seem to me that suicide can sometimes be the most rational and logical of acts. The will to live comes from instinct and emotion, hardly something that should be given over to as a matter of course. They are there as evolutionary processes, a process not known for its compassion or rationality”

  • 10
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:


    This one’s for Mr. Wilson


    • 10.1
      Flora del Rio Grande says:

      Quanto, that is just about as tasteless as anything
      I have ever seen on PTB. Really now; I thought you were
      better than that.

      • 10.1.1
        Quanto Painy Fakor says:

        It was certainly not meant to be disrespectful to the deceased and if you find Callas and Rysanek tasteless… I’m sure they would have been saddened by the late Mr. Wilson’s decision.

  • 11
    Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    He had interesting neighbors!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_San_Remo

  • 12
    La Valkyrietta says:

    Suicide is very personal, yes, and I think the word is deceiving because it denotes experiences that might be very different, even totally opposite. Adolescent depression, terminal illness, amorous deception, etc., etc., etc.

    Since Parterre is about opera, perhaps one should also bring that up. Jonas will act soon in two suicide operas, in Munich and in New York. In Werther the tenor shoots himself. In Forza it is more complicated, but in the play the opera is based on, and in the original Verdi version of the opera, after Leonora dies, Don Alvaro jumps to his death. For both Werther and Don Alvaro, to continue living seemed unbearable.

    • 12.1
      Quanto Painy Fakor says:

    • 12.2
      Porgy Amor says:

      I have a friend who thinks the original Forza is the superior one. I do not. I believe every musical change made along the way is an improvement; and while the original ending has some dramatic punch, the music accompanying just sounds like warmed-over Rigoletto to me — not in the same league as the transporting final trio we so often hear.

      • 12.2.1
        La Valkyrietta says:

        Yes, the trio at the end of Forza is sublime. I think, though, the logical ending of the drama is Don Alvaro’s suicide. I reconcile myself mentally with the trio version by thinking that after the curtain, perhaps even after Leonora’s burial, Don Alvaro does jump to the ravine below.

      • 12.2.2
        meowiaclawas says:

        …actually…I hear more of the Requiem than Rigoletto at the end of this version of Forza. Gripping finale, this St. Petersburg version…and for me, right in line with the theme of the force of destiny. No offense to the version played these days, the final trio is lovely…but facing destiny straight on is not about beauty. It can be pretty ugly.

      • 12.2.3
        pobrediablo says:

        Is that original trio on youtube? I’ve never heard it.

        • 12.2.3.1
          pobrediablo says:

          Never mind, found it. The chords right after Leonora’s death are reminiscent of Rigoletto’s overture.

          • meowiaclawas says:

            I’m becoming obsessed with the original final scene. This is balls to the wall music, and the words are taken directly from Duque de Ribas play:

            DON ÁLVARO.- (Desde un risco, con sonrisa diabólica, todo convulso, dice.) Busca, imbécil, al padre Rafael… Yo soy un enviado del infierno, soy el demonio exterminador… Huid, miserables.
            TODOS.- ¡Jesús, Jesús!
            DON ÁLVARO.- Infierno, abre tu boca y trágame! ¡Húndase el cielo, perezca la raza humana; exterminio, destrucción…! (Sube a lo más alto del monte y se precipita.)
            EL PADRE GUARDIÁN Y LOS FRAILES.- (Aterrados y en actitudes diversas.) ¡Misericordia, Señor! ¡Misericordia!

            DON ALVARO -. (. Starting a cliff, with devilish smile, all convulsed says) Find, moron, Father Rafael … I am a messenger from hell, I am the demon exterminator … Flee, miserable.
            ALL -. Jesus, Jesus!
            DON ALVARO -. Hell, open your mouth and swallow me!Sink heaven, perish the human race extermination, destruction …! (Climb to the top of the mountain and rushes.)
            FATHER GUARDIAN AND FRIARS -. (Terrified and in different poses.) Mercy, Lord!Mercy!

            • grimoaldo says:

              Although few Verdi lovers would want to sacrifice the sublime final trio or the magnificent overture of the revised version, I do agree that the original is actually artistically superior as a whole, yes the nihilistic, grand guignol original ending is more in line with the rest of the work.
              I think Verdi responded to criticism that the original ending was over the top with too many deaths, and also, as already mentioned, the tenor part was written for Tamberlik and was virtually unperformable by almost anyone else.

      • 12.2.4
        Angelo Saccosta says:

        The other great change occurs in the third act and involves a major simplification of the tenor’s part. After the Preziozilla/Melitone/Trabuco scene Alvaro returns, healed from his wounds and is confronted by Carlo in the “Sleale, il segreto” duet.They go off dueling and Alvaro returns almost incoherent, singing, “Qual sangue sparsi, orrore.” He has killed yet another Vargas, he thinks. He is called off to battle and the concluding cabaletta expresses his hope that he will die in battle. He ends on a high C that Verdi wrote himself for his friend, the tenor Enrico Tamberlik, the one who had first interpolated the high C’s in Trovatore. The original third act is a tour de force for the tenor, beginning with “O, tu che in seno,” through two duets and then the concluding number just described. I guess it was clear to Verdi that the act was unsingable for the tenor. The only tenor in my lifetime who could have done it was Corelli, and sadly no one thought to let him give it a try. Kauffman might do it in a recording, but he seems now to be avoiding high C onstage.
        The matter of the concluding scene presents another much subtler matter that involves musical keys that are so very important in Forza. Roger Parker, in his superb book, “Leonora’s Last Act,” notes how the new trio ends the opera in the key of A flat, a key that earlier in “O tu che in seno” occurs at the moment when Alvaro calls out to Leonora, who he thinks she is in heaven, to save him. It’s as if Verdi had a complete change of heart about the dramaturgy. Perhaps after all, redemption is possible. Did he maybe begin coming out of the funk he may have been in since 1840 after the death of his whole family ? Only Aida remains as the opera still having the parent/child relationship at its core.
        Interesting speculations. Reactions from you all ?

        • 12.2.4.1
          La Valkyrietta says:

          In a production in Australia they decided to present a third ending, dramatically, if not musically, which one may call the anti-redemption (non-Verdi) ending. After Leonora dies Alvaro plunges his sword into the body of Christ in a big crucifix.

          http://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwopera/article/BWW-Reviews-LA-FORZA-DEL-DESTINO-THE-FORCE-OF-DESTINY-Is-a-Thrilling-Night-of-Grand-Opera-20131014

          • Will says:

            Angelo S., five years after the St. Petersberg premiere of Forza came the Paris premiere of Don Carlos, which most certainly has a parent-child relationship at its core. Thereafter, Forza and Carlos/Carlo leap frog each other in the first performances of their various revisions. Somewhere in the middle of all that Boccanegra’s revision joins the mix, so Verdi was involved with the parent-child relationship up to 1886, the year before the premiere of Otello.

            And there is certainly a parent-child relationship in Falstaff — much of the plot involves Ford’s plan to marry his daughter to Dr. Caius and Alice Ford’s efforts to block that marriage. Really, the parent-child relationship was with Verdi right through to the end.

            • Krunoslav says:

              Indeed, Will.

              It should not be forgotten that after FORZA Verdi also revised SIMON BOCCANEGRA (second version premiered in 1881) which certainly revolves signally around a parent/child relationship (or two, if you count Fiesco and the first Maria, Simone’s abducted bride).

            • Krunoslav says:

              Just re-read your post more carefully and saw that you had mentioned BOCCANEGRA…

            • Clita del Toro says:

              Forza is one of my favorite Verdi operas and I bought the CD of the Gergiev/St Petersburg Forza when it first appeared.
              Is the video (same performance??)
              Gorchakova is very uneven. She was excellent in the first scene, but her scene with Padre Guardiano was a big letdown. She was nowhere near up to it. I did enjoy the variations from the final score.
              The Alvaro has a good voice, but I think he is miscast in the role. Bass and baritone were good.

              It’s fun hearing new (old) music in this opera. Will finish watching today.

            • Angelo Saccosta says:

              A revision is not a new opera. It is a revisiting to something done earlier, albeit with changes, additions or subtractions, and the parent/child relationship in Falstaff is part of the joke that is that opera. So I stand on my statement that after Aida Verdi had come to terms with the early trauma he had suffered.

            • Krunoslav says:

              “A revision is not a new opera. It is a revisiting to something done earlier, albeit with changes, additions or subtractions”

              Your dogmatically saying so does not make it the case that he w no longer concerned with the parent/child dynamic.. Verdi’s strong feeling that he wanted to work to advance the fortunes of this opera that he loved so that it would have a new life speaks for itself.

            • armerjacquino says:

              So I stand on my statement that after Aida Verdi had come to terms with the early trauma he had suffered.

              If you loftily discount revisions, we’re left with the fact that Verdi wrote two more operas after AIDA. If you then discount the parent/child relationship central to FALSTAFF, you’re left with one opera.

              So your statement becomes something along the lines of ‘OTELLO is not about a parent/child relationship’ which, while true, isn’t particularly illuminating, and certainly doesn’t tell us nearly as much as you want it to about how much the elderly Verdi was still affected by the devastating losses of his early years.

            • Krunoslav says:

              Plus one could discuss Verdi’s decision (with Boito) to cut the paternal figure out of OTHELLO by removing Shakespeare’s first act and the disapproving Brabantio. The daughter figure, separated from the father, goes to her doom, the final stages witnessed by her father’s cousin Lodovico.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Kruno- don’t get me started on the decision to cut the ABSOLUTELY PIVOTAL character of Gratiano… ;-)

            • Krunoslav says:

              But note, armer, that Verdi and Boito also spared their audience from seeing Bianca-- always a wise policy on the lyric stage.

              Ah, je ris!

        • 12.2.4.2
          grimoaldo says:

          “The original third act is a tour de force for the tenor, beginning with “O, tu che in seno,” through two duets and then the concluding number just described. I guess it was clear to Verdi that the act was unsingable for the tenor. The only tenor in my lifetime who could have done it was Corelli”

          There was a Prom in London, about 1981 or 82 I think, cannot be bothered to look it up, of the original version of Forza with Martina Arroyo and the wonderful tenor Kenneth Collins who was magnificent in that aria for Tamberlik you mention, in fact he was great all the way through, I heard him in many Verdi roles at ENO, he was great, great, great, every time (he started out in the chorus of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company)

          • Krunoslav says:

            That performance is available on CD from Opera Rara. Collins is probably the best thing in it; Arroyo is fine but not as good as on her revised FORZA for Gardelli ( her best Verdi studio set?) and Glossop and Janet Coster “let down the side”. Hammond-Stroud is as ever as Melitone.

          • Angelo Saccosta says:

            Right, Grimoaldo. I thought of that performance, which I own, after I posted my comments.

            • grimoaldo says:

              Collins sings (one verse of) Di quella pira in the original key with a sensational tenuto high C at the end.

        • 12.2.4.3
          Camille says:

          Roger Parker’s book Leonora’s Last Act, mentioned above by Angelo, is indeed a very good book, which also holds a chapter on Leonora’s last act in Il Trovatore. A very interesting and enjoyable read.

          • Angelo Saccosta says:

            Thanks for posting Collins, Grimoaldo. It’s a most impressive performance.
            Did he ever appear in NY anywhere ? I can’t seem to recall anything. The Met, NYCO, OONY ?

            • grimoaldo says:

              That I do not know, Angelo. He moved to Australia at some point in the 80’s and appeared with Sutherland a lot.

      • 12.2.5
        papopera says:

        The original Petersburg version of Alvaro jumping into a precipice, after cursing just about everyone, is hilarious. Glad Verdi modified it. Tsar Alexander II hated it.

  • 13
    Flora del Rio Grande says:

    Mr Wilson was owed a considerable award of thanks for
    all he did for the world of opera. I remember when he gave
    $40-million to NYCO (matching as I recall), and it was a
    huge benefit back in that day.
    Thus, this discussion of the technicalities of his death I find
    more than a little off-putting. At eighty-seven anything is
    possible and sufficient to cause a forced exit from life —
    ill-health, personal matters, business matters — why
    belabor his choices?
    Let it just rest! God bless him and thanks be for his
    munificence to the operatic world. We honor and respect
    Mr Wilson, and he is due much. May he rest in peace — and
    not any more on the dissecting table at the PTB autopsy lab.
    God save us every one!

  • 14
    Troppo Primavera says:

    Tigeridyk you’re right.The joke has been exhausted,and it’s pointlessly disrespectful to Genevieve,whose posts are interesting and carefully considered even if they do not please the majority.Give her a break.

    • 14.1
      armerjacquino says:

      I think you may have put this in the wrong place- tiger’s question was in a completely different thread.

      Anyhow, there is nothing remotely nasty about GCR in the Rumpus Room posts, and plenty of people enjoy them.

      You’re free to say you don’t, of course, and you have done, but that’s as far as that freedom extends. I suspect that as long as people appreciate them, Batty (one of the most courteous and uncombative of posters) will continue to post them.

  • 15
    oedipe says:

    Marshie,

    In a previous thread I promised to write something about the TCE Carmélites in response to one of your posts, but that thread became so huge that I no longer know where to insert my reply. So I am posting it here, for better or worse.

    In my opinion, the one thing ALL great productions have in common -be they “modern” or “traditional”, deconstructed or not, transposed or not- is a high degree of identification on the part of the director with the work being staged. The worst productions are those where you get the feeling the director has asked him/herself from the start: “What shall I put on stage that will wow/please/surprise/shock people?”. And it’s amazing how easy it is to tell when a director is mainly interested in audience reaction and the directorial approach has remained external to the work being staged.

    As far as I am concerned, a botched regie production, with all the cliches that have become “de rigueur”, or a grotesquely ornate, supposedly historically accurate production convey the same directorial attitude of compromise and lack of artistic honesty: “All I care about is to cater to audiences’ set expectations of spectacle”. On the other hand, in a great production the director has so entirely internalized the work being staged that (s)he and it become one, seamlessly, and the effect on the public is a re-discovery, palpable empathy and organic authenticity. Of course, this kind of identification is only the beginning of the creative process, but it is, I think, a sine qua non condition.

    All directors have their ups and downs: even Parterre favorites have signed some lousy productions and even directors hated on Parterre, such as Py, have had their great moments. I think the TCE Carmélites is one of these great moments. It is obvious that Py’s religious and philosophical beliefs, as well as his cultural background made it easy for him to identify with Bernanos’ libretto and with Poulenc’s music. In addition, there is an evident complicity between him and the conductor, Jéremie Rhorer, and this complicity gives the production a rare conceptual unity. Not that I ever found Carmélites outmoded in any way or manner, but what Py has done with the opera is give it an understated but extremely modern reading, a reading that made me see it anew with different eyes.

    Here’s how I saw it: Py has chosen to focus on a few essential themes and to de-emphasize others. He has de-emphasized what could appear sensationalist or picturesque, such as the concrete representation of revolutionary terror and of the execution by guillotine, and has focused on a few essential questions: How can someone today reconcile one’s personal agony into death with religious belief? How does one deal with the sexism of the Christian religion? How far should personal responsibility go under oppressive regimes, when keeping one’s dignity endangers one’s well being or even one’s life? What is the meaning and extent of personal choice?

    One of two important “novelties” in this production is the interpretation of de Croissy. In the death scene, Py crucifies de Croissy. Her death bed and the room furniture are shown vertically, as if the room were seen from an impossible angle. In this position, the bed resembles a cross; when she dies, she stretches her arms and bends her head like Christ on the cross. This is significant in two respects: firstly, Py is telling us that the concept of Christ has no gender. Later on in the production, before the nuns set on their journey to martyrdom, there is a stunning Last Supper image, where the nuns are seated at a table and take a communion by drinking from the same glass, and where Constance takes Jesus’ place in the middle of the group (a detail that has a lot of relevance, as we shall see). Secondly, for many people, de Croissy’s ugly agony and death, her wrath at God’s unfairness towards her after an exemplary life as a nun are difficult to associate with the figure of Christ. But Py introduces here a modern way of looking at Christ’s death which, if I understand it correctly -I am no expert in theology; hey, I am not even Christian!-, holds that there was nothing sacred about this death, Jesus suffered and died and had doubts like anyone else in agony, hence the exclamation: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”; the sacralization of Christ came after the fact…

    The second important “novelty” in this production is ascribing the one negative vote for the vow of martyrdom to Blanche instead of Constance. Having voted no, Blanche runs away to her father’s house, while Constance forces through the martyrdom vote by saying that it was she who voted no and she has now changed her mind. In this interpretation, Blanche evolves from someone who is paralyzed by fear -fear of death, fear of the upheavals in the surrounding world, fear of responsibility- to someone who makes an ultimate choice of love: she doesn’t HAVE to come back and share the others’ deadly fate, since she voted no to the vow of martyrdom; but she knows Constance expects her to come back and join the others, and she does come back. As for Constance, she is the most idealistic character in the opera. She is luminous and full of empathy, sort of a young Mme Lidoine. That is why Py seats Constance at the place of Jesus in the Last Supper image. She is also the character who gets to reflect on the random nature of one’s death. In spite of religious beliefs, one’s death can be quite ugly and has little relationship to the way one lives. Constance says that maybe people sometimes exchange their death with others and take upon themselves the ugly death so that others can have a better death.

    A few words on the subject of martyrdom. It is interesting how Py “hijacks” the revolutionary slogan “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” to hint at moral and religious freedom against revolutionary dogma: the “Liberté” and “Egalité” graffiti furtively scribbled on walls by revolutionaries become, at the hands of the nuns, “Liberté en dieu” and “Egalité devant dieu”. Mère Marie, who is the most Cartesian and detached character in the opera, clearly states that in times of societal upheavals there is a need for martyrdom -or scapegoating- in order to reestablish peace in the society (societal scapegoating, by the way, is an idea that is central to the theories of philosopher René Girard). That is her rationale for pushing the nuns to make the vow of martyrdom -which she votes for herself, but eventually escapes from. But whereas, for her, resistance against terror and dictatorship is a worthy enough cause for martyrdom, the nuns are pushed into it by peer pressure. So in my view, accusing the nuns of fanaticism, as people occasionally do, is misplaced. When is compromise better than becoming a hero (or a martyr)? Who are we to judge? Under Hitler and under the Soviets, most people compromised with the regime; subsequent generations found such compromises despicable. A number of vociferous armchair critics expect Netrebko to behave like a hero; though these days, these same critics are completely quiet about the fate of Ukrainian protesters. But I digress…

    In this sober and atemporal production, the nuns die for one another, they are the scapegoats whose senseless death brings about catharsis. Thus the Salve Regina is a given, a “dénouement”: the way they are executed is irrelevant; showing the guillotine would add nothing and would be almost obscene in this production. This is not Brünnhilde’s sacrificial pyre, this is politically motivated murder. The sound of the orchestra is lively and brisk, but sober enough to fit the tone of the production. Poulenc here sounds, appropriately, more like Debussy and Stravinsky than like Wagner. Among the singers, most of whom have a strong baroque background, the standouts for me are Véronique Gens and Patricia Petibon. Gens’ warm, musical and elegant tone is very different from Crespin’s rougher and louder sound, and several French reviewers and bloggers have said they prefer Gens over Crespin as Lidoine; I tend to agree with them. Petibon is an outstanding Blanche, she is so involved in the role that she seems in a trance; some bloggers have called her demented. Sophie Koch, Sandrine Piau and François Piolino (l’Aumônier) are also excellent. Rosalind Plowright’s voice is very worn and her high register is a painfully loud shout; but even worse, she seems to base her characterization of de Croissy on the Exorcist.

    The TCE Carmélites is the best thing I have seen anywhere in a long time. It was performed to sold out houses and made a huge impression on the French audiences. But anglo-saxon music publications and opera bloggers barely noticed it. We probably live on different planets.

    • 15.1
      marshiemarkII says:

      Mille grazie caro oedipe. Will respond tonight. Just finished first act of Fledermaus. Stunning production, camp beyond dreams and Fabiano stunning. Gorgeous sound and enormous.

      • 15.1.1
        Krunoslav says:

        MMII

        enormous what?

        Are you day-dreaming of Bernd Weikl again?

        • 15.1.1.1
          marshiemarkII says:

          Kruno, see below about “enormous”, but not to disappoint you, but Fabiano ain’t got no bubble at all, not remotely anything like Grigolo’s. He moons the audience at one point, as he climbs the window, and that is definitely NO BUBBLE :lol: rather shapeless and flat :D
          The rest I did not see through the pants, pushing or not pushing :lol:

      • 15.1.2
        marshiemarkII says:

        Sublime Glorious second act. “Oh what a night what a night divine oh what a night of bliss” says it all :-)

      • 15.1.3
        marshiemarkII says:

        Kruno funny but there is a joke about exactly that :-)
        But I only meant the voice ;-)

        • 15.1.3.1
          kashania says:

          Marshie: You would know the answer to this. What do you consider the best version of the Callas/MdM/Simionato/Votto 1955 Norma.

          • marshiemarkII says:

            Kashie, the Norma is Myto 2008, and it’s a new tape recently discovered that for the first time doesn’t have the noise in dormono entrambi…. teneri figli, so it’s most definitely worth over all the others, and it’s now on sale :lol:

            • kashania says:

              Marshie: Thank you so much. You gave such good advice on the Lisbon Traviata that I knew I could count on you for this. I’ve had a burned copy of this Norma that a friend made for years. I was listening to it the other day and thought that there was must be a better version out there. Turns out that Norbeck, Peters & Ford have it for a mere $6.95! Thanks again, dear.

            • marshiemarkII says:

              And don’t forget the Trovatore Scala, was also a MMII recommendation :D.
              Actually while you are at it you should get the London 1952, the one with the “tears” in a-a-a-a-bi di lo-o-o-r, and for completeness sake the Rome with Serafin for Ebe and Serafin, because the Only Maria had her period, and sounds pure acid (nothing like the sublimely smooth Scala of a few months later), though I love that acid also :lol: With the Only Maria, the more wobbles or acid or whatever she throws at you, the more you love her, right? :lol:
              Anyway they are all on sale and all in fantastic sound!

            • kashania says:

              No no. I have not forgotten about the Trovatore recommendation.

              I have the Serafin Norma Stignani though I haven’t listened to it in a while. I don’t recall acidity of tone necessarily. I do recall that Maria was in firmer voice for that one, especially on the high notes. But the La Scala performance had more vulnerability and femininity.

        • 15.1.3.2
          marshiemarkII says:

          Latest Myto ca 2011 (? Will check later) your boy Fabiano magnificent

      • 15.1.4
        marshiemarkII says:

        I tell the Qs run to see this. It’s a simply glorious production and singing. No weak links the voices right on my ear from the first row of Grand Tier

        • 15.1.4.1
          marshiemarkII says:

          Wow what a day, I just came home from the absolutely WONDERFUL Fledermaus final dress, the production/rewrite[Jeremy Sams ™ ] is to die for, I hope I will have time later today to do justice to the fabulous morning, and maybe the fabulous Bluecabochon will also chime in. I had the great pleasure of meeting her, and as with the other parterrian encounters, it was a real real treat to meet such a wonderful person in vivo!

    • 15.2
      armerjacquino says:

      oedipe, this sounds like a fascinating production and I wish I could see it (especially some of the casting- Petibon’s voice must have really grown if she’s now playing Blanche?)

      As for the coverage, how much international coverage does anything anywhere get? I mean, it’ll be reviewed in OPERA, but other than that I can’t think of any UK publication which routinely reviews productions that take place abroad. You’ll get an occasional review of something at the Met or Bayreuth, but that’s it. Is that different in France and in the US? And are there opera blogs which are truly international? I’ve never seen one, perhaps you can enlighten me?

      • 15.2.1
        Krunoslav says:

        George Loomis actually does *frequently* cover productions all over Europe (including France, and not just Paris but Lyon and Aix) for the NY TIMES online, though they are not always in the print edition.

    • 15.3
      Camille says:

      Oui, M œdipe, we are on very different planets. And that is all very well and as should be.

      Your description of the TCE Carmélites was most interesting and intriguing, in particular and to me especially, of la petite Sœur Constance, my favourite character by far. I have always loved her and felt she is more truly and genuinely spiritual than many of the others and would have loved to see la Petitbon-bon, of whom I am fond at times, give it a whirl. I am so happy for you that you had this wonderful opportunity to see and hear this marvelous stage work and do thank you for informing us of it.

    • 15.4
      peter says:

      Oedipe, thank you so much for your thoughtful and detailed review of the Carmelites. It sounds like a wonderful production and performance!

    • 15.5
      Krunoslav says:

      “Rosalind Plowright’s voice is very worn and her high register is a painfully loud shout; but even worse, she seems to base her characterization of de Croissy on the Exorcist.”

      Ray Liotta in drag?

      http://www.rosalindplowright.com/engagements

    • 15.6
      grimoaldo says:

      I too say thank you oedipe for a most interesting essay on this opera and the production.

    • 15.7
      marshiemarkII says:

      Oedipe, fantastic post, and nothing that I didn’t expect from your brilliant mind. I will try to address some of the points (I agree with the majority of course) when I can get back in the Carmelites mood. I went to sleep last night with the Muti Scala and woke up this most tragic and ready for a fabulous discussion as will generated by addressing your points by serious Marshie, but unfortunately the Fledermaus rehearsal intervened and now I am all campy and bubbly effervescence, and totally in that frame of mind, which was not without its thoughtful points, some references about the hubris of Empires and the very poignant Nozze di Figaro like ending between Eisenstein and Rosalinde…… but more on that later, but overall it was camp camp camp, and so gay gay gay :lol: . The singing for the most part glorious, especially Maltman and Archibald and of course Fabiano, but also Philips very nice at the end. I used to looooooove Constanzo, but he has become a screaming SHREW, horrid screechy top, what happened to the angel from Enchanted Island?!?!?!?!??!?!?

    • 15.8
      marshiemarkII says:

      Some random thoughts on the Fledermaus today. The curtain has a copy of the invitation to the Centennial Ball (of Prince Orlovsky of course) on 12/31/99 (which is 1899), and is engraved with a Beardsley drawing, giving it immediately a strong Art Nouveau flavor, and the very camp gay element. :D
      The curtain rises over this rather smallish apartment (only about two thirds of the Met stage) that is all RED, walls, carpet, and all furnishings, including a red piano. The only other colors are the two golden Klimnts on either side of the wall, and white candelabra over the piano. The dialogue is very modern and resonant with Sucksee ca 2013, rather than turn of the 20th century Vienna, but who cares right? The accents for Rosalinde is decidedly Brooklyn, and Maltman tries his best but cannot escape his very elegant British accent….Alfred is not a music teacher but a “tenor’ with all thereby implied, and Rosalinde is in admiration of his “enormous” top notes (with some echoes Kruno to “Bernd Weikl enormous” :lol: ), there are some direct digs at opera, “opera is very political” (did they read parterre a couple of days ago?) and at the ball invitation, Rosalinde is told “something you don’t wanna do but you must do” and the answer is “go to the opera?”. The French are also the butt of at least half of the jokes, “you must pretend you are French [as Marquis Renard]….. answer: “Oh too bad I took a bath this morning”.

      The second act is immensely opulent but the only colors are gold and black, until the enormous gold art nouveau ceiling is flooded with blue. The costumes for everyone are straight out of Klimnt, including a gold caftan for the Prince who arrives with a Russian bear holding a pagoda over his head. More French jokes, Eisenstein and Frank are French aristocrats, that when exhorted to chat in French, one says “that would be rude to the other guests”, whereupon Falke says “why are Frenchmen worried NOW about being rude when they are all the time……” and so on. The Prince injects some gay gay gay lines, looking out to the audience says “I see a billionaire friend and his lovely wife, who used to be a He” and later “there will be some very kissable ladies and some men too”. The two arias, for Adele (Laughing Song stunningly sung with staccatti for days..) and the Czardas are both staged with distracting ballets punctuating the words. Right before the end, some interesting lines that show also some more serious intent than just mere camp. Someone toasts “let’s celebrate for the new century that will bring nothing but prosperity and peace to Europe” (two Worlds Wars anyone?) and the Prince answers “I think the new century will be very very good to the Russian aristocracy” (working as taxi drivers in Paris after 1917?). The ballet then has their turn with a stunning “Unter Donner und Blitz” and then the final ode to Champagne! A very Sucksee Times Sq Ball chandelier descends from the golden ceiling on cue, and fireworks and quadraphonic thunder from all around the auditorium.

      The third act is just pure unmitigated camp, what with Danny Burstein just stealing the show, and making an act that typically goes for nothing after the stunning second act, here your attention is held even more intensely with the fantastically funny dialogue (too many camp throwaway lines to remember) and Fabiano giving it a shot at Una furtive lagrima and Vittoria vittoria from the jail cell. Then the recognition scene turns very serious and the duet Eisenstein-Roslainde take Nozze di Figaro dark overtones, very moving and touchingly human. Gorgeous gorgeous performance all around despite the intolerably shrewish Anthony Roth Constanzo, God I adored him as Ferdinand in the Enchanted Island, but here he is very unpleasant, and it is the sound of the high register, and not the character that I am referring to. But Maltman, Fabiano and Archibald simply stunning singing, and last but not least the spectacularly idiomatic conducting of Adam Fischer, Viennese to the Manor born! Magnificent!!!!!

      • 15.8.1
        bluecabochon says:

        It was fun to meet you, too, Marshie! What a nice treat during such a frothy performance! I agree with most of what you have written. :)

        I think that because a dress rehearsal that took place last night, things took a little while to warm up this morning. There are a lot of demands on these performers who have to sing, deliver dialogue that’s funny/poignant and demands that they get their line readings just right, act and dance. Some are more successful than others, and a few could be greatly helped by either projecting better or having their body mikes turned up a notch or two. Agree that Danny Burstein and Betsy Wolfe (Ida), both Broadway performers, were most winning, and I liked Christopher Maltman, Jane Archibald and Susanna Phillips best of the singing principals. I am not on the Paulo Szot train, Costanzo didn’t work for me in this role and thought that Fabiano sang nicely but was hampered by a very unattractive costume. I didn’t hear any Brooklyn in Rosalinde but I sure did when one of the chorus women spoke at the ball, which I assumed was supposed to be funny. Where were the special guests at the ball? I guess they thought the evening would run too long.

        If you love red, black, gold, Klimt, excess and shiny things, you will probably appreciate what they aimed for and accomplished. They spent a lot of money and it looks lavish and mostly authentic to 1899 Nouveau-ish kitsch. I found it a pleasure to look at fairly realistic scenery, even if I did find things a little tacky here and there, especially the red room of the Eisenstein’s apartment. I am quite sure that it will look very pretty in HD. The costumes were less successful; the womens’ dresses were very heavy-looking with no graceful lines, and were encrusted with schmutz, then accessorized with even heavier jewels. There are plenty of examples of Jugendstil evening gowns with beautifully stylized lines and surface decoration that would have looked beautiful against the lines of the golden steel cage that surrounded the ball and that incredible golden domed leaf ceiling. The set design was heavy with the sinuous lines of Klimt and Beardsley but the costumes spoke a different language completely and I’m scratching my head over this disconnect. The Folies Bergere servers in their bodystockings were attractive but from a different era as well.

        I noticed that there was a menorah with unlit candles on the Eisenstein’s piano, and the use of the word “goyim”, which would indicate that he is Jewish, even though he and Rosalinde were drooling over the pig trayfe that they had Adele order for them. Maybe someone can explain this -- I suppose that he is easily assimilated?

        On the whole, the proceedings seemed rather forced, as in “we are trying SO hard and you WILL enjoy this”. The first two acts, an hour in length each, seemed long to me, but the third act picked up with the addition of Frosch. Not every joke landed where it needed to, but he was quite funny with his scripted and ad-libbed lines and business. I won’t spoil any for anyone, but there were some real belly laughs and cleverness. I thought I heard a few instances of disconnect between orchestra and singers but on the whole it was well-played and conducted. What’s not to love about this piece? Even if you aren’t on board with the visuals, it’s a pleasure to listen to.

        • 15.8.1.1
          bluecabochon says:

          Buster, thanks and you’re welcome. Please all, excuse poor grammar in my post -- what was I thinking, I wonder.

          Here’s a little interview with Danny Burstein, who may be unfamiliar to some Parterriani:

          http://www.newser.com/article/ec9a326c7ff34cc5bbbe0686d9114313/danny-burstein-from-broadway-to-the-metropolitan-opera.html

        • 15.8.1.2
          marshiemarkII says:

          Blue, it was really wonderful meeting you and I am so sorry that we couldn’t stay for coffee, as it was I was late for my conference call, but all’s well that ends well :P Hope to see you soon. Oh and I forgot to tell you the Nureyev story that cannot be published in a family blog such as this, with all these “chaste” people uhhhmmmm

          Buster, thank you for your sweet comment, what on earth is SImone Kermes doing??!?!?!??!?! I think I am getting addicted to her :lol:

          • Buster says:

            Kermes did sing Rosalinde before, Marshie, and Clivia, so she knows about operetta. We’ll see…

            Beau Skovhus is there too, Kasarova as Orlovsky, and Gloria Rehm as Ida -- who really is ready for Adele by now, I would say, great singer!

          • marshiemarkII says:

            Oh mille Grazie Buster, how I wish it were Kermes at the Met then, she would have fit like glove on hand, and her German accent in the dialogue would have added even more camp to the proceedings. :D Maybe in some future revival….Since that Masnadieri clip of a while back I am following her moves :P
            Please do report when you see it in Cologne then.

    • 15.9
      Buster says:

      Thanks a lot Oedipe, for your great review. I hope La Monnaie will have at least some of the same singers. Will it be there next season?

    • 15.10
      Buster says:

      And to Marshie and Blue for your fun reports on Fledermaus!

      I have been doing a lot of preparation for the Cologne one next week, with Simone Kermes, and I am curious, in particular, what music can be attributed to Richard Genée with certainty, as M. Croche pointed out here a while ago. Interesting that the Czardas premiered a year before the complete operetta!

  • 16
    oedipe says:

    Some French sites with extensive coverage of opera events in much of Continental Europe (including France), the UK, the US (NY, SF and beyond): ODB Opera, Le Blog du Wanderer, Forum Opera.

    Examples of Italian sites with a wide coverage: OperaClick, Il Corriere della Grisi.

    I know a Catalan blog that covers many operatic events in all of Continental Europe, the UK and the US.

    I am not an expert in German websites, but the Der Neue Merker site has an intensive coverage of all of Central Europe. I am sure there are others that I am not familiar with.

    The British blogger Intermezzo covers, in addition to the UK, all of Germany and sometimes Austria. She very rarely talks about France. (In a recent post on Intermezzo, someone moaned that there was absolutely nothing of interest to see on TV/internet around X-mas time, while waiting for Forza; no one mentioned the Carmélites broadcast.)

    Parterre covers, in addition to NY, a number of events in the UK and Germany, but almost never in France (the only opera in my recent memory being the Aix Elektra).