Cher Public

Anagnorisis

ButterflyAna María Martínez will sing Cio-Cio-San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on February 27 and March 5, replacing Hei-Kyung Hong, who is ill and has withdrawn from the run of performances,” says the Met’s press department.

UPDATE: It’s official! “Latonia Moore will sing her first Met performance of the role of Cio-Cio-San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on Wednesday, March 2, replacing Hei-Kyung Hong, who is ill,” the Met press desk adds. 

latonia

  • merveilleux

    quelle surprise!

  • Satisfied

    Called it!

    • Satisfied

      But what I should rather say is: run, do not walk, and observe this amazing artist finally getting her due at the Met! I can only hope for many future engagements to come!

  • Christopher Corwin

    Highly recommended.

  • Constantine A. Papas

    Anagnorisis! Only a sophisticated artist and a thespian of depth and renown, like La Cieca, will use this word. I’m stunned.

  • meowiaclawas
  • antikitschychick

    Agreed meowiaclawas. Wow indeed. I had actually seen this along with several other clips from that concert and was very impressed. Am very happy for Latonia! I might be in NY next week Friday and Saturday and if I am I’ll try to catch ML and/or Butterfly if I can. I would have loved to have gone March 2nd but alas that’s the first night of my competition.

    In any case, toi, toi, toi to them both!

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    The new La Scala I due Foscari is beautiful with lots of Venetian colors and projections to flatter the singers. Domingo in fine fettle. Very loud booing for the soprano -- who did not deserve such disdain. Some of her grimacing was really over the top, and if her pitch had been really accurate it would have been so fine.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      Also, an online opera guide was available in German during the video streaming on SERVUS. The hostess was charming and Pereira’s interview at the start showed him in a very good way.

    • armerjacquino

      Wow, so the Pirozzi backlash has already started? That was quick…

    • phoenix

      I guess things are tough all over. I Due Foscari is one of my favorite operas -- I’ve only heard one other recent professional performance (Los Angeles Opera 2012) that approached, but did not overcome, the mediocerity of this utube from last Thursday’s naufragio del treno alla milanese posted above. You can rest assured that Domingo will not give up too soon. My crystal ball tells me that 30 years or so from now -with great fanfare & media acclaim- he will be starring as the apple core pickerupper in Act 3 of Guillaume Tell. Francisco Meli (Jacopo) marked time for much of this performance and got away with it. Why? But the real bubblebuster was ‘the great Verdi soprano Anna Pirozzi’ with her uniquely personal autograph ‘pick & choose’ edition of Lucrezia’s vocal line, singing a great of her role below pitch -- when she sang it at all.
      -- I have never been a professional performer in opera or theater, so I am at a loss trying to come up with reasons why this Foscari played out the way it did -- BUT on the other hand I am not going to cry crocodile tears of sympathy for such filth. I know there are active performers who come on this site who could venture a pretty good guess at why. Serously, does anyone have any explanations, excuses?
      -- As far as I am concerned, last Thursday la scala che va al abissale.

      • Quanto Painy Fakor

        You can expect Verdi’s Miller and Rodrigo before TELL. Long may he wave!

        • armerjacquino

          He surely won’t do Rodrigo? Whatever one might think of the voice, the baritone roles he’s chosen are largely age-appropriate- fathers and authority figures.

          • Hippolyte

            Athanael?

            • armerjacquino

              If only I’d bothered to write ‘largely’.

    • grimoaldo

      ” Very loud booing for the soprano — who did not deserve such disdain. Some of her grimacing was really over the top, and if her pitch had been really accurate it would have been so fine.”

      Hmmmm…….I am afraid I tend to disagree that “she did not deserve such disdain”. You go on to remark that had she not looked and sounded so ugly ( not talking about her person but, as you say, her over the top grimacing) she would have been fine.
      I have never booed a singer and never will and do not really approve of it but I understand why she got that reaction.
      The tenor is also terrible, what I saw, could not bear to watch the whole thing.
      Very sad.

      • grimoaldo

        That post came out in a funny place. I was replying, or trying to, to QPF about the Due Foscari from La Scala. But thanks for posting the link QPF,very interesting.

        • grimoaldo

          I Due Foscari is one of my favourite operas too phoenix and the big ensemble one of the best things ever, to me. The tragic and very human situation combined with a wonderful “big tune” and enormous forces is just unique to Verdi.
          Had to wash my mouth out, as it were, from that dreaaaaaaaaaaaaaadful performance with another one, not that long ago, also from La Scala, with Nucci, Pendatchanska, La Scola -- it’s so much better-

  • GRDowntown

    Martinez was superb in the February 19 performance, which I heard via SiriusXM. Only a few quibbles with the end of the entrance (and just not the shortness of the high D), but I was very moved by her performance. I have listened to the audio several times since then, and have enjoy it.

    There are many excellent artists for whatever reason do not become mainstays at the house. Then there are some that do so that shouldn’t. Joyce El-Khoury for example was in the Lindemann program and poorly used. She has gone to to sing in other houses. She has a unique sound, a gorgeous pianissimo, and is a terrific Rusalka (magnificent at the Amsterdam as was her Violetta), I have to say better than Martinez and without question Fleming was totally wrong for the role.

    Then there is my other example, Sondra Radvanovsky, who at one point didn’t have anything in the future (Peter Gelb at the time did not like her voice it is reported). Then she blew him and everyone else away with her Leonora. Couple that with a rescue Stiffelio and Aida PLUS Netrebko dropping two of the queens and you have a history making year. I was a late comer to her voice, but I have to say that for me is the best since Callas in this rep. (I cannot get past the sloppy diction of Joan Sutherland or the laziness of Caballe.)

    So maybe Martinez will be an artist for whom the stars aligned and she has a breakout moment. It doesn’t hurt that LA Opera released her so she could do these Butterflys and she has appeared often with Domingo in concert.

    I suppose Beverly Sills was another who seized a breakout moment in 1966 and still wasn’t engaged while Bing was there.

    Superb performances are given at other places other than the Met.

    • armerjacquino

      without question Fleming was totally wrong for the role.

      I mean, a lot of people think she was a terrific Rusalka, so ‘without question’ is pretty dodgy.

      Meanwhile, much as I like Radvanovsky, ‘the best since Callas’ is pretty arguable too. And hasn’t it been established that the ‘Gelb was going to sack her then she was brilliant so he didn’t’ narrative is a bit of a fairy story?

      Superb performances are given at other places other than the Met.

      Has anyone ever claimed otherwise?

    • Gualtier M

      A note about Sills and Bing. Sills was an aggressive careerist and savvy self promoter. She also knew how to spin things for publicity. Several people have looked in her artist file. First of all -- she sang a Donna Anna for the Met in the parks on July 8, 1966. It went well according to those who heard it. Her artist file showed that Bing offered her Gilda, Luisa Miller, Violetta and the title role in Flotow’s Martha. She turned them all down. Bing had a firm rule that if you turned down three contracts you weren’t offered anything. Three strikes you’re out at the Met. I think Sills wanted to hold out for an event debut and Bing felt she was worthy of debuting in a revival, not a new production. He had Sutherland, Moffo, Caballe and many other star sopranos. (He said in his book that he felt that Joan and Montsy were superior to Sills). Bing didn’t need Sills as much as Rudel at the NYCO did. She couldn’t name her terms with him.

      • I didn’t know about the roles Bing offered Sills. Gilda and Violetta were perfect fits. And Luisa Miller would’ve suited her attraction to roles bigger than her voice. Perhaps Sills forgot that even Callas made her debut in a revival production (though it opened the season).

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Saw Fleming twice as Rusalka, in New York and in London -- 2 of my most memorable nights at the opera. I also adore her recording of the role, and I’m not the only one. I’m not sure what you imagine the role calls for that she couldn’t provide.

      • manou

        I also loved Fleming in Thais -- both the concert performance in London and the New York one (not that I liked the production there -- but the singing was first rate). I can see that some here can be put off by many of her mannerisms, but I think a blanket condemnation of everything she does is not deserved.

        Awaiting brickbats now.

        • grimoaldo

          But I agree with you manou!

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          I thought the Thais was also fabulous -- only saw it live in London, but do have the Met DVD. In fact I think I probably rate Thais and Rusalka higher than all her other work in complete opera roles, having found her curiously unmoving as Desdemona and Violetta, and although I like her in Strauss and Mozart, I do think they bring our her most exaggerated indulgences, probably because she finds/found them easier to sing. I’m basically a fan, so found much to enjoy in her Handel and bel canto roles, but they are borderline eccentric in parts. I love her best in recital with piano.

          • Porgy Amor

            The Met Onegin (I’ve only seen the HD/DVD) was one of my favorite performances of Fleming’s. Maybe the challenges of the language kept her honest. She seemed to work hard to capture something of that character’s inner life, and she and Hvorostovsky partnered well.

            • Cocky Kurwenal

              Yes, I’ve never seen her in the role live, but agree the DVD is fabulous.

          • I’m not the biggest Fleming fan but I thought her Thais and Rusalka at the Met (in the same season) were both terrific. I agree with Porgy about her Tatiana.

            • manou

              I would also rate her Tatyana very highly (only saw the HD), and certainly much prefer the old Carsen production over the newfangled Deborah Warner effort currently at the Met.

          • Camille

            Having never heard her in recital I have been most curious about just that, so will be attending her Carnegie Hall recital this very week, even if I shall be obliged to submit to hearing two song cycles I avoid, the Schumann and the Debussy--there will be some compensation in the Rachmaninov and am really quite curious about Patricia Barber’s oeuvre.

            So--good to hear of your good opinion of her recital work. One may carve her up in many ways, and call her this and call her that, but NIEMAND may NIEMALs accuse her of not being very intelligent as a musician, not to mention, the possessor of a wide-ranging, sincere curiousity and musical tastes, all of which I find commendable. The recital seems to suit her as she has always struck me as a kind of shy girl who had a spotlight forced on her and learned to cope with it as best she could.

            That Eugene Onegin mentioned above I have consistently missed and think it best to check out someday….

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Beloved Camille, I knew Fleming very well and worked with her and Hvorostovsky on the Eugene Onegin produced by PBS and broadcast all over the world, which I wrote. They killed themselves, going over and over their scenes (Frank Corsaro was the stage director, stupid and bumbling, the real director was, of course, Kirk Browning who chose what anyone but those in the hall saw). F and Hv worked like slaves (as did Francis Sternhagen who played the old Tatyana who reminisced about the love of her life but with irony, the telecast was only the Tatyana and Onegin scenes). In every rehearsal, including the small rehearsal room, they gave everything, singing full voice, and full out on stage in Carnegie.

              I deliberately used the style of American translators of Onegin, rhymes (Nabokov attacked them venomously) — some idiots, illiterates really, didn’t get it, and some were jealous scum. But I did well from it and it was a great experience (and the differences between a few American reviews and the European reviews in intelligence was considerable — but the important American reviews even the august Times were very good for everybody.)

              I worked with her also on Ariadne. This was at Bayreuth, not a good experience for either of us. But on the summer afternoons where she was free because musical rehearsals were in the morning, and there were complete dresses at night, we studied the score at the piano in the little house she was renting. We only had the orchestral score; she could reduce it instantaneously and with precision. Now I can do that too but not as fluently or exactly. We looked at the vocal line but always at the orchestra. She wanted to know the harmonic structure of Ariadne’s scenes, how the chords were voiced, what markings there were in the orchestral parts. She believed they applied to the singer too in establishing mood and meaning. She also detected the endless allusions to (and quotes from) other composers Strauss makes and was very amused finding in those a clue to how the singer should approach the “character” of Ariadne. She worked through every phrase, trying different phrasings; she articulated rhythms wondering if there was value for her in anticipating strong beats, or in underplaying them, in pointing weak beats, perhaps as a kind of “ornamentation” of the line. We talked of whether creating a slight dissonance now and then really was the style (The Schwarzkopf manner) or if finally it was better to be more prompt. I’ve worked with a lot of singers, but she was amazing musically.

              This was all before 2001 and now seems to me her prime years. She sang out more generously and was less cautious; she scooped less as an “expressive tactic” and there was nothing she couldn’t do within the framework of her voice. Above all, there was a hunger for music, a deep seriousness, and impressive knowledge, that was very moving. She knew she was awkward on stage (I suggested she study Alexander technique as a way of getting in touch with her body) and was very self-critical about it. In fact, I don’t think there was anything about her own voice and performing she didn’t know.

              Her girls were little then and the first marriage was still on. She had moved to LA with that husband semi-abandoning her career so he could pursue acting — jobs were always in flight. But too many people had urged her to come back to the Easy Coast and give her own career everything. I think after a lot of soul-searching they did, but I also think it was the end of the marriage. For some years after I think she suffered, had her children to raise (it had not been an easy divorce) and I think that changed her. I noticed she became less generous and more guarded as a performer, surrendering herself less fully to her roles.

              With her manager (who I liked very much) she decided to take her successes and try to become well known outside of opera and classical music, walking the line between dignity and outright self-promotion. Sills had talked to her. I won’t quote her on that lady, she saw through her, let’s say, to the actual person. But Sills had learned about becoming a “legend” the hard way and gave her some shrewd advice. But I think it did lessen what she achieved a bit, she became more risk averse and more inclined to develop a “persona”.

              But I wonder now, with all that behind her, and nearing retirement, she has become again that simpler person more intent on expressing the music she loves through her voice? You’ll let us know, I hope.

            • Camille

              On my word…your words in the last paragraph have brought a tear to my eye and I thank you so very much for your delineation of her personality, as well as her wonderful and scrupulous musicianship, as once you experienced it. I certainly SHALL hope for the best, and if anyone may make those mawkish Schumann songs (well, perhaps they are not, but they so often come off in that way) SOUND, and not be slobbered and drooled through, maybe she can, for at the very least, the experience of motherhood and marriage, and loss, could only help to deepen the realization of these songs.

              Why thank you once again for letting me know a bit more regarding that particular Eugene Onegin, for I shall certainly now go and look it over, if on youtube and am reasonably certain it is. This is the PBS special, which was some time ago, correct? And not the HD which was broadcast sometime in the last six or so years, I take it.

              In my opinion, the role of Ariadne is really quite a complex issue to sort out, musically speaking, (and one that is usually glossed over with a lot of lovely-ish, lyrical singing and that’s ALL, and not enough, in my opinion), so she not only did very well to go into such detailed lengths, but shows me considerable wisdom and skill for having done so. A shame she never did sing it earlier before the rich middle voice seemed to evaporate—supposing she didn’t want to poach in Voigtlandia……

              A singular and greatly talented person, perhaps too richly endowed for many to tolerate her well, (and not in small part because of the rank snobbism and terrible jealousy which exists in the highly competitive and claustral world of ‘classical music’), and, as I have long suspected and to which you more or less allude, because of the personal problems with the marriage and the concerns for raising her daughters, she was a woman who had a big collision of too many things happening all at the same moment, and therefore had to choose a protective coat of colorings covering for herself and her life’s work, to survive in that world. That’s been my intuition for a long while now, fwiw……….

              Whatever happens, Grandissima e Divina Clargartessa del Cielo, I shall try to report back in on what transpires. It’s sort of my own way of saying goodbye to her, too, (I shan’t be going to the Four Last Songs Fest coming up, e.g.), as I have been acquainted with her for just past twenty-five years now; her Rusalka, one of the loveliest things ever revealed to me on any stage, and something one sees a few times but never very many in one’s life, and only if one lives to a ripe old age because of the inability to die young and good and virtuosa………

              Thank you once again both very, very much and very kindly, for all your grand perception and knowledge, greatly appreciated and esteemed by little me.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Thank you, Camille, she was subject to grossly unfair attack by vicious queens. She used to ask me to read those attacks to her. There was one so horrible I refused (it referred to a sexual act). But she kept insisting. That manager I liked — actually her press person but a great ally for her (Fleming inevitably moved on from her as her career got bigger and more international) told me I had to. So I did. She shrugged: “I think that’s autobiographical confession hiding as a comment on my singing.” And she laughed.

              She was realistic about opera people, both in the business and also those who have access to unedited comment on the ‘Net. Not only is anyone who puts themselves out there inviting all kinds of attack (as well as intoxicated acclaim, which she certainly received, and that level of acclaim sharpens the attacks) but even among the balanced and knowledgeable opinions will vary. She had been through it with Schwarzkopf of all people (not so balanced maybe) and with others she respected. She had one joy of people in her position, no matter how they are attacked, she was doing it at the highest level, getting paid to do it, making records and being pursued by many famous conductors and experiencing great recognition. You have to expect some brickbats under those circumstances, but you can afford to laugh them off.

              As usual I made mistakes, it was FRANCES Sternhagen, and, of course, it is “East” Coast not Easy!!!! (and those are just the ones I caught!).

  • John L

    I saw last night’s performance. I thought it was all right. For me Martinez was ok. She is more of a lyric soprano rather than a spinto. But I find her voice “covered”, kind of like Jonas Kauffman. It might give a dark mysterious quality to Kauffman, but it was kind of incongruous for my ears hearing a light lyric voice with a covered quality. The tenor Di Basio was underpowered and just looked extremely uncomfortable with the high As and Bs (Martinez was definitely accommodating him for the penultimate high B at the end of the love duet). Its very easy to find fault with anyone singing Pinkerton. Zifchak was OK. Some of the interactions between Martinez and Zifchak was touching. Rucinski brought some honeyed tones, but I noticed some shifts when moving to a higher register, which might make some more challenging baritone roles more challenging. The Minghella production is still charming and provides great visuals. I noticed a few things that seemed new compared to the last and only other time I’ve seen this production (it was one of the runs with Racette). I can see the Met keeping this production for a while.

  • outer

    Can’t help myself, but it’s a C at the end of the duet and it’s the ultimate note not penultimate.

    • John L

      How embarrassing, yes ultimate (in both sense: that it is the last note and it is the climax!).

      • John L

        Forgot to mention, I gave her another listen. There is sort of nobility to her sound. Maybe it’ll take a while for me to warm up to her i.e. like a Radvanovsky.

  • becca

    I saw the Saturday evening performance as well, based on the reviews of James Jordan and Christopher Corwin. Ana Maria Martinez was one of the best Cio Cio Sans I have heard live.

    I checked the Met performances over the years ( starting in 76) and am struck with what a terrible bunch of second stringers I’ve seen over the years.. tenor, sopranos and conductors.

    I absolutely love the Minghella production… the child puppet is so much more affecting than seeing a child actor…. they are always awkward and over whelmed.

    Martinez is a graceful actress. And a gifted, musical singer… her pianissimos were exquisite. Very tasteful choices in her interpretation and yet still emotional.

    Catherine Malfitano was a very good Butterfly, and Renata Scotto; Giordano in his prime an excellent Pinkerton ( despite his ” Louder and Louder” two dimensional interpretations.)

    I am surprised at how limited the Met casting has been over the years… I wonder why???? And we only got to hear Martinez because the scheduled soprano was ill.

    Perhaps Patricia Racette turned in an inspired performance in this opera, or Diane Soviero, but not at any performance I heard them in. It was always the opera which carried the day, not the singers, until Ms. Martinez.

    • armerjacquino

      I’m surprised you found Soviero uninspired. She seems on fire in everything I’ve ever heard of hers, but I guess everyone has off nights.

      • mrsjohnclaggart

        Well, we didn’t see the performance, Amerjacquino, but you’re right about Soviero, who in many performances I saw her give, including in a period where she was very sick, NEVER gave less than everything she had, and always sang with assurance. She was doomed to become one of those great Americans who was never widely recognized as such (Johanna Meier was another, and frankly one could argue that one of the greatest American singers of all time, Eleanor Steber was taken for granted even at her best).

        • armerjacquino

          I don’t know if this is due to geography- it must, in part, be thanks to growing up in the UK- but I became obsessed with opera at the age of 12/13 and had never heard of the extraordinary Steber until my thirties.

          • armerjacquino

            Wait, slight lie- she was ‘that woman in VANESSA who didn’t apparently do anything else’- basically till I started reading people talk about her on this site.

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            No! The reason is you are too sane and have too much taste to be obsessed with Vanessa!!!! Even as a youngster I knew it was the story of my life and Eleanor had captured me perfectly. Vanessa was the gateway to Eleanor and in print continuously. Now, there is a plethora of material with her, video as well as audio. She made relatively few commercial records but the live material is really amazing with no capacity under the circumstances to “sweeten” her performances. She was thrown away — very sad indeed.

            • armerjacquino

              A few years ago my mum searched the corners of the internet and dropped ninety pounds sterling to get me Steber’s autobiography as a birthday present. Had I been a screenwriter I would have optioned it immediately, written a script with the Continental Baths as a framing device and had someone send it to Stockard Channing…

              I know there’s a poster here who likes to say what a terrible unprofessional lush of a trainwreck his beloved friend Eleanor was, but I’m yet to hear a bad recording of her in her massive repertoire. The Fiordiligi is as good as the Minnie is as good as the Sophie is as good as the Marguerite is as good as the Empress. It sounds like faint praise, but it’s the HEALTH of the voice that is so impressive. Whatever was thrown at her, however fiendish its reputation- ‘Or Sai Chi L’Onore’, the exposed C in ‘Laggiu nel Soledad’, the ninth in ‘Depuis le Jour’- she just seemed to eat it up. I’d heard that Tosca wasn’t a huge success for her, but there’s a Mitropolous performance on Met Player where she is electric.

              And, to come full circle, she ain’t bad in VANESSA either…

            • armerjacquino

              Here she is in FrOSch, or so the uploader claims…

              I mean, it sounds awfully like ARABELLA to me…

            • armerjacquino

              Actually, looking at that still, the biopic casting is Gillian Anderson.

              Somebody make it happen.

            • Camille

              Be Hoppi, Mrs John, be hoppi!“.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              AMERJACQUINO!!!!!! Great-souled one!!!! That “Frau” is THE Arabella!!!!!!!!! Eleanor IN ENGLISH, in the first performances of the opera at the Met, with the GREATEST Hilde Gueden, the GREATEST George London and the VERY GREAT Rudolf Kempe. It is the MOST SUBLIME Arabella I know (Roberta Peters is the Fiakermilli and everyone’s favorite, as usual, singing a mezzo role, the Fortune Teller, although she was a high lyric and an impressive one, Thelma Votipka!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

              It is the THREE ACT version and is sublime!!!! Eleanor gives the greatest account of the role I know of (IMO) — and I AM Maria Reining — but she and the greatest Hans Hotter go off the rails big time in the second act duet at Salzburg, AND I ALMOST AM Lisa Della Casa, the very great Arabella (in that English translation, excellent, by John Gutman, first, then in German, at Met and in Munich), and I had a very unhealthy worship of Julia Varady (maybe not ECHT but IN EXCELSIS in Munich).

              WHAT A FIND!!!!!

              Eleanor had problems, as though the many idiots who mock her don’t — including the one who’s been in and out of madhouses to no noticeable improvement. But WHAT she achieved!!! She suffered too. And I SAW her do Tosca and Butterly (staged, in Philly) and she was FABULOUS!!!! She is also STILL the greatest Donna Anna I have seen, and though I was a tad young when I saw the Vanessa (my Grandfather LOVED IT and we went back!!!!!!) I knew in my girl’s heart that for all the silliness it was ME and Eleanor was GREAT!!!

              Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

            • Batty Masetto

              Mrs. JC, I don’t doubt for a minute that Steber and the whole production were revelatory for an audience who had never encountered the work before, and I would dearly love to have heard her sing the role in whatever language. But this clip only reminds me what a losing proposition it often is to sing opera in English translation. (And yes, my own dear non-German-speaking hubby has said just now that as weird as this is, it still gives you some impression of what it would be like to hear it if you understood the language.)

              I know that Hofmannsthal is supposed to be passé these days. Michael Hofmann (a poet I don’t admire much) did quite a hatchet job on him a few years ago in the LRB. Still, within his own framework, I think he’s deeply honest and insightful. His awareness of language’s inability to express what really counts, and his rigorous efforts to act on that awareness, couldn’t be more up-to-date.

              And on top of it all he writes such exquisite German. To hear English like this:

              “… because he says he cannot live if I don’t love him” (why a contraction in the first clause and none in the second?)

              “… but for Matteo there’s no longing in me” (um, remind me which language we’re speaking here?)

              “… with whom I never spoke a single word” (would a serious English writer really want that “single”?)

              “… I shall have seen the last of him” (just the opposite of the inexpressible yearning in the German)

              “… and I shall be its reigning queen” (Just how many other queens will be there?) (Don’t answer that.)

              —when Hofmannsthal’s language is so delicately sculpted, well, to me it’s like hearing somebody sing a lot of wrong notes.

              I have similar problems with the English Carmelites, no matter what the composer “intended.” And I know perfectly well that Strauss approved having his operas sung in translation. But what alternatives were there then? I can’t believe that either Poulenc or Strauss would have approved a sung translation if supertitles had been available.

              (Though—another beef—Met titles are often nothing but repurposed singing translations, and just as bad and misleading as if the performers were singing the English themselves.)

              ENO has achieved some minor miracles in this regard, admittedly along with a number of disasters. Handel in particular seems to come through the ordeal very well. Mozart too can emerge relatively unscathed. And Italian seems to go into German surprisingly well at times. But even Andrew Porter, bless his memory, can’t make Wagner work for me in English.

              How I wish we had Steber doing the role as it was written.

            • Bill

              The Arabella of 1955 with Steber was a novelty and
              some at the time were disappointed that it was
              not a second Rosenkavalier precisely feeling it was
              the weaker score. Of course the cast was good and
              there was, at the time, a desire to perform not so well
              known operas in English. One season prior to 1955
              Bing presented Boheme in both English and Italian the same season and Met patrons were supposed to choose which language was preferable. I guess Italian won as that experiment was not repeated in subsequent seasons.
              At the time of that Arabella the Magic Flute was also in
              English and Boris was in English as well at the Met.
              That, in 1955, there was a huge German/Austrian population of immigrants living in NYC was apparently not considered. Arabella came back later with della
              Casa singing in English and Gueden had already sung
              Rakes Progress in English so had some experience with the language. Earlier Covent Garden presented almost
              everything in English and when engaged Schwarzkopf, Hotter, Seefried, Welitsch had to sing in English and
              re-learn their roles. Presumably Bing felt that
              Arabella in English would attract greater audience
              ticket purchase. Steber was a very solid singer with a
              technique which allowed her to sing a large variety
              of roles with distinction. She did sing the Kaiserin
              in Die Frau ohne Schatten about the same year as
              her Arabella debut -- but the Frau was I think a concert
              performance in Vienna with Boehm conducting (and I believe some tapes available) though I do not know
              if Steber repeated the Kaiserin elsewhere or ever in a staged production.
              l

            • Batty Masetto

              By the way, I want to make clear that I have no wish at all to criticize my fellow translators who kill themselves to make these versions. The constraints are hair-raising. And for exactly that reason, I think most of the time it’s a losing battle.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Batty you are correct and Hofmannsthal was a more complex and significant figure than is known in America. His writings about women, marriage and (in a way) heterosexuality are unusual and would offend people in a PC culture. There’s no question that he was a prodigy and a member of the George-kreis, adored by the genius and pedophile Stefan George who discovered him when he was 16, and who published his first poems (under his actual name).

              How far their relationship went isn’t known and it seems to have ended badly. Hofmannsthal (who was mostly of Jewish extraction) married a Jewish heiress. But the poet was intensely “Christian” and his wife converted to Catholicism. He was also politically conservative and wrote much that might be considered questionable during the First World War. His son Franz committed suicide at 26. Hofmannsthal died of a stroke two days after the funeral and was buried in the costume of a Franciscan monk.

              He was a genius no question. His language is very beautiful. No translator is going to match that. Strauss set his lines to Hofmannsthal, a translator is trying to keep Strauss’ lines and emphases while keeping the characters and story clear in whatever language other than German.

              But I like translations. I think REALLY understanding what is being said at every second is crucial in music drama, as it is in spoken drama. I think opera lovers very often have either no idea WHAT is going on, really or only the vaguest idea. Although singers today are more conscientious in acquiring language skills than they were, there are still many who have learned their words by rote and have no idea what is meant word to word, or what nuances or ironies a line may contain. Finally, there is communication. When the singer knows exactly that s/he is saying and enunciates clearly in the audience’s language, then the audience is riveted. Singers in their own tongue naturally have more nuance and color.

              I have never supported surtitles in live performances, no matter how they are handled (subtitles in a filmed performance function differently). When there are surtitles attention is split. Going to the opera is like watching a tennis match, one’s eyes jerk up from stage to screen where the projections come. Or at the Met, one can see people even in the most expensive seats sitting with their eyes glued to the back of the seat in front of them, rather than being immersed in the totality of the experience. And yes, “titles” are severely abbreviated explanations, are often inappropriately funny, and are frequently more confusing than not.

              I’ve seen performances all over Europe and in Russia (I even saw performances of two of my plays in Russian, I have seen productions in Hebrew and Japanese too). Because I am a WAS (please ask Gualtier M what that is) when I’ve seen Russian or Czech operas in those countries I have been well prepared, knowing the texts well. But it was wonderful to see La Boheme in Prague and La Traviata or the original Forza at the Kirov for audiences who understood totally what was happening at every second.

              I’d contrast that to Traviata here in the city of sewers this fall (I reviewed it here). I was surrounded by a group of intelligent British people who were lost after act two. There were surtitles, there was a synopsis in the program but still the comings and goings, the changing of minds, the precise points of the outbursts were lost on them. What was that letter Violetta wrote, just why did she conceal it from Alfredo, why’d she give in to the father, just why did Alfredo (evidently) insult her at the party?

              I think it would all have landed much better in a clear English translation well projected (and not all translations are foolish or clumsy) and given the quality of Italian pronunciation from the cast in general, I don’t think much of anything would have been lost.

              To hear gifted Germans declaim in German, even if they lack wonderful voices is a thrilling experience. But even when Americans “kinda/sorta” know the language there isn’t the same color, the same intensity, and specificity, the same freedom.

              I’m not going to labor the point except to bore you with another anecdote. I was involved in a small opera company here in the City of Sewers. I demanded we do a lot of new operas but we balanced it with familiar rep.

              We did Don Pasquale six times. Three times we did it in English, a pretty decent translation, which I brushed up a bit and three times for the “old timers” in Italian. We did the English versions in quite a big theater for us, and since there were a lot of tickets to sell, some of the old timers were asked to come. They did grumbling. At the end they surrounded me (I had directed) and said, “I never really understood what was going on, really, in this opera, and I’ve seen it a dozen times” and, “I’ve never heard people actually LAUGH the way this audience did” — but Don Pasquale is a comedy and is meant to be funny.

              At the Italian performances, the audiences were attentive but only a few moments staged to get laughs really did. We used titles too. But the many jokes in the text didn’t play. The joke (or dramatic event) had already happened BEFORE the title appeared, or it happened AFTER (typical).

              I’m sure our translation had its bumptious moments but those who got to “connect” with the story (set in Fort Lauderdale in 1933) really enjoyed it.

              And now I will be banned for pretension, logorrhea and navel gazing by La Cieca.

              Oh, BTW, Batty, the Rigoletto in German with Schlussnuss, Berger, Roswaenge, or that with Metternich, Streich, Schock and ME (Grete Klose) are wonderful, the broadcast of Aida from Stuttgart with Teschemacher, ME (Inger Karen), Roswange, Hann, Weber is one of the best I know as is the one in Russian with Vishnevskaya and Arkhipova, The Berlin Broadcast of Macbet with ME Martha (Never say Die) Modl and Metternich is stunning, the Tosca with Hildegard Ranczak, Roswaenge, Hann is unforgettable, Der Mantel conducted from Munich with C. Kraus is the best performance of the opera I know bar none and, of course, is in German, the live Carmen with ME (Karen), Roswange, Lemnitz is thrilling as is the early complete recording with Destinn and Jorn, the Italian opera completes in Russian where either Kozlovsky or Lemeshev sing are marvelous, and Kozlovsky’s Lohengrin in German is unforgettable, as is the remarkable Don Carlo with Arkhipova and Petrov among others, the Lohengrin in Italian with Tebaldi, Nicolai, Penno and Guelfi is one of the great accounts of the score, as is Mastersingers with Taddei and Rosenkavalier with Pobbe and Hansel and Gretel with Schwarzkopf and Jurinac and I could go on — right up to the Ring, conductor Goodall, exceptional English translation by A. (mi chiamano Andrea) Porter. I also saw Frau in English and Otello in English and Frau in particular was powerful (my sister, Pauline Tinsley was the Dyer’s Wife.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Oops, sorry Batty, the “original” Forza was done in Italian, more or less, not Russian. Apologies for the long post and I didn’t know you were a translator. I am sure you know of what you speak but I am still pro opera in the vernacular where it’s feasible.

            • Batty Masetto

              Mrs. JC, this thread is getting pretty ancient (like me) but I share your disdain for uninformative titles. And I’m sure your English Pasquale worked very well. In fact I think comedies in general tend to take better to singing translations, probably because the hijinks onstage are more compatible with the outlandish language choices that the vocal line can sometimes force on us. I’ve even seen a pretty respectable Falstaff in English, though it still lost a bit in translation. (There’s also a pretty amusing English-language Quickly-Falstaff scene with Resnik and Evans somewhere on YT.)

              But it’s really only fair to compare singing translations with well-done titles. I’ve said before that doing good titles is a bit like writing hundreds of haiku in sequence. They need to be informative, poetic, concise and accurate. Too much of the time they are none of these—they’re just short fragments lifted on the cheap from some outdated source that’s in the public domain.

              I think the Met gets the worst of both worlds. In my experience the titles themselves are often slovenly. And thanks to the efforts of the title-hating Levine, they’ve been made as physically inconvenient as possible to watch.

              I find that titles above the stage, as we have in SF, are much less of a problem, especially in our era of closed-caption TV. I have no trouble shutting them out when I want, and when I’m curious to see what they’re up to—as in fact I usually am—they don’t get in the way of the rest of the performance.

              It boils down to this, I think. One way or the other, some aspect of the work is going to get distorted—either the visual experience with titles, or the aural experience with a sung translation. Neither one is ideal, but generally I’d rather have good titles.

  • tiger1

    Does anybody know what is happening to Ms Hong? I hope nothing serious is wrong with her. I am not aware that she has any future engagements, which seems kind of sad, if her career ends with her cancelling Madama Butterfly. Also, even though she is no spring chicken, she got very good reviews for her performances last year (at least for Madame Lidoine and Mimi) so, unless something has happened, she should still have some good performances left in her.

    • John L

      Someone mentioned this already, but she could be covering. Which I know is disappointing for those who want to see her and is not the same thing. Looking at next season’s lineup it could be anywhere from 3 to 6 roles. Either that or Gelb wants to move her out of the roster despite sounding still pretty good at age 57.

      • messa di voce

        “Either that or Gelb wants to move her out of the roster”

        That she may have planned on retiring is not a possibility? It had to be some evil machinations on Gelb’s part?

        • John L

          She’s supposedly doing a recital in Boston in a few years so I assume she doesn’t want to retire from the stage yet. That and we know Gelb is all about new and marketable.