Cher Public

Chat: Madama Butterfly

Alagna ButterflyWelcome, cher public, to the real-time chat for this afternoon’s Met broadcast and HD of Madama Butterfly, starting at 1:00 PM. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

  • Gualtier M

    Kristine is better as the more mature dramatic Act 2 Butterfly. She is interesting in the big aria.

  • Constantine A. Papas

    Supper star of today’s performance: the Met’s orchestra with a stellar, stunning sound, volume control, color; at least on the radio. I thought I had a different audio system. Of course Puccini’s score is a miracle of sound, but Chinchon extracted every note and passion to the fullest. I’m not a musician; but that’s my gut reaction as an opera lover. Bravo!

    • reedroom

      Yes it’s great orchestra. But they were often not together today--a lot. With a score as familiar as this, played by an orchestra that good, I question the conductor. I had never heard of him so can offer no opinion, except that they were often not together.

      • The conductor was Karel Mark Chichon, aka Mr. Elina Garanca.

      • Porgy Amor

        I’d go in the other direction. They have long been a great orchestra, but they’ve been losing ground in the last five years, with a number of defections and the difficult situation with Levine. Chichon’s work today was very impressive: dreamy, subtle, colorful, atmospheric. He couldn’t have gotten a big slice of the pie in the apportioning of rehearsal time, but he led a strong performance. I hope we hear more from him.

  • none

    I am just back from seeing the HD performance and I thought it was superb. The whole cast were excellent and played together beautifully. Singing, acting, chorus, orchestra all excellent. Most enjoyable, and the cinema audience burst into applause at the end of Act 1 and the end of the opera. If ever a performance should be preserved on DVD, this is it!

  • gerbear

    I have been watching the Met’s existent commercial dvd of the Minghella Butterfly a lot in the last month, in preparation for today’s HD. Should the Met choose to release this one as well, I would purchase it immediately. I thought today’s simulcast was marvelous, and by attending the encore next Wednesday, there will be at least one more chance. Also, I’m thinking that most (or maybe even all) of the simulcasts end up on Met’s opera on demand site. It would be interesting to watch the two performances (Opolais and Racette) back to back.

  • I had to turn the radio simulcast off after a half hour because Alagna was sounding so terrible as Pinkerton.

    • laddie

      I too was listening on the radio (Sirius) and I just couldn’t stomach it either. I know he is lovely to watch as a performer and I will give it a second chance when it makes it to PBS.

  • Amnerees

    It is so bewildering to read these contrasting accounts of this afternoon’s broadcast performance of Butterfly. It’s as though people who watched it on screen and heard it on the radio broadcast were experiencing different performances. The sound quality of the FM transmission was indeed impressive, but on my (pretty sophisticated) sound equipment, the orchestra sounded rather remote, although the conducting definitely emphasized atmosphere and coloration--if not precision. The mix definitely favored the singers.

    I think it’s definitely an advantage to SEE Opalais. She’s beautiful and moves beautifully, but the singing is unidiomatic and not so wonderful to listen to. Her use of occasional parlando moments is not convincing. There’s no real answer to this situation. I want to hear a fully realized sung performance of this role, but opera should be seen as well as heard. She seems to make a big impression on people who see as well as hear her performances.

    Both Alagna and Croft are audibly--and often unpleasantly--too old for their roles. No amount of artistry can compensate for this. I can only hope they were visually convincing.

    I am a veteran of the Saturday afternoon broadcasts, and my interest in opera is primarily that of vocal excellence, but I think that new audiences want to be convinced visually as well as vocally. And opera isn’t opera without both components.

    Superlatives for the afternoon: The dullest Singer’s Roundtable in the history of the feature. Why oh why can’t we dispense with the backstage interviews (repetitious, predictable, and boring), and quizzes that turn out to be showcases for egomaniacal singers. There’s some really out-of-touch and stupid production going on here.

  • sdika

    I enjoyed HD but thought there were too many close ups. Opolais was not convincing in Act 1 as far as her acting was concerned. She appeared opposite of innocent and could have passed for Turandot with her steely glances. I actually have never heard her before in full role and enjoyed her performance but would not go out of the way to buy her CD. Roberto was wonderful as an actor but the voice had definitely seen better days.

  • Batty Masetto

    I enjoyed the Butterfly HD immensely – my first encounter with this beautiful production. It’s visually lavish in a completely fresh way and I fell totally in love with the little puppet Trouble, to the point where I was shocked when Debbie Voigt treated him like just another prop. Kleist’s Marionettentheater rules!

    The sound for the first act at our venue was just bizarre – Alagna seemed in good voice but was often miked so far forward he was almost shrill. Yet at other times he almost disappeared, as though the mike had lost him. At the end of the act he suddenly covered Opolais in a completely unnatural way, as though his mike had suddenly been boosted and hers had been cut back. Weird. (Things settled down after that.)

    I didn’t understand her remoteness in Act I at all, but warmed to her a lot in the rest of the performance. As heard in our HD theater, the voice was free from the disturbing wobble I’d heard from her recently. I was a bit disappointed she had to cut up so many long vocal lines. And I didn’t believe her for a minute as Japanese – or even an “interpretation” of Japanese. She was a Latvian war bride. But a moving one all the same. And she wasn’t as relentlessly European as some – I’m especially thinking of former Munich stalwart Leonore Kirchstein, who looked like she’d wandered in by mistake from a production of Countess Maritza. (Shame the wig was giving Opolais so much trouble in Act I, that must have been maddening.)

    Zifchak was a very moving Suzuki, and Cross did fine accompanied with the visuals; I can see how a purely vocal version might not have been as effective. I agree there were times when the coordination from the pit seemed a little off-kilter.

    • Batty Masetto

      Oh, PS -- I wasn’t watching the titles all the time but they seemed very good for once.

      • So there weren’t howls of laughter at moments of drama, as in Tosca?

        • mrsjohnclaggart

          Batty, I so respect your tone. I’m glad that you liked it and you expressed that in an intelligent reasonable way. You do not perform blow jobs on shit, as another, “the screamer” does.

          I was in the chat … mio dio!!! Many nice people actually but two jackals. I absolutely hated Opolais. Her production is throaty and she falls back on the throat fully when she brings any pressure. The result is a harsh, unsettled sound, approximate in intonation, a poor breath line (so many odd phrases broken, to no great advantage to her, she doesn’t know how to “feed” her breath through the line.).

          Although she has something vocally, she is compromising it badly or has lost what was best about it, for her singing never worked for long and the lack of overtones in her singing — a result of the sound falling back and getting caught rather than her bringing it forward so it resonates fully — meant a continual sense that she was “under” the note. She can’t float her voice, which the style needs; she may not be coarse as a musician but her limits cause a coarseness in the sound.

          Poor Bobby is having issues, whether it’s just fatigue or he has sung himself out will remain to be seen.

          I appreciated the conductor’s imagination, feel for color and sense of line but I had the impression there hadn’t been enough rehearsal. One of the jackals, a true pig, said as a put down of me that he had conducted four performances — but performances aren’t rehearsals and even after four he may be working by the seat of his pants to maintain contact with the orchestra. Mr. Levine was clearly discussing cues with the orchestra in the pauses between scenes of Simon B last night, one would assume that there too there hadn’t been enough rehearsal and that was the first night and supposedly they know him.

          But this was an audio only experience and it is a wonderful production.

      • manou

        Not really Batty: “Alla piccina s’è spento il sol” = “This is the end for Butterfly”?

        • armerjacquino

          I suppose it depends on what function you want the subtitles to perform. I always cringe a little when a title attempts to match the poetry of the original because under the circumstances they can’t help but be second-hand and second-rate. I think they work best when used as a delivery system for information- ‘here’s what’s basically going on’- so you can concentrate on the opera without wondering what’s happening or being distracted by someone’s best translated metaphor.

          • manou

            This reminds me of a relative who is a conference interpreter -- she says that if a delegate makes a joke, they often translate it as “someone just made an untranslatable joke, please laugh”.

          • Batty Masetto

            I’m mostly with AJ here, though it’s certainly not a very good title. The line is flat-footed but it could be worse. It didn’t detract in the moment (no laughs at our venue). And I doubt that any reproduction of the Italian image in English would “read” quickly, which is essential.

            Part of the problem with titling is that there’s already so much visual information going on in a performance that any additions need to inject as little distraction as possible. Introducing an image that’s even a little bit hard to decipher can produce a WTF moment that’s totally counterproductive.

            On the other hand, ideally you do want each title to have a certain eloquence, which is why “this is the end of Butterfly” is still anything but ideal. I’d bet a nickel that this is yet another Met cannibalization of a singing translation: tie a few of the repeated notes on single pitches, and it sings readily: “This is the end of But-ter-fly, of But-ter-fly.”

            But I saw relatively little of that kind of thing on the whole.

            And then there’s always the question of finessing certain words just for the production’s sake. Trouble was utterly adorable, but his “bei cappelli biondi” were even less in evidence than usual. I thought they navigated around that issue rather well.

            Speaking of Trouble, I was very aware of how much he was contributing to the emotional impact while he was onstage. Even when Opolais wasn’t quite hitting the musical or histrionic marks, having a kid who was so lovable and responsive and vulnerable kept the snowball rolling just fine. He’s one of the main components of this production’s brilliant bullet-proofing. I hope they always have those splendid puppetteers to take care of him.

            (And yes, Manou, conference interpreters have to make a lot of compromises. ;) )

            • manou

              I am sure Dolore plays better in the house when you cannot see three large men manipulating him. I am still bothered by it, especially the microcephaly and the nodular neck.

              Signed -- your friendly scumbag/idiot/moron.

            • manou

              Sorry -- overlooked “fool” as well. It would be a pity not to list all in invective.

            • manou

              …all THE invective”

            • rapt

              Oh, I thought you were referring to the mood (indicative, subjunctive, invective…)

            • manou

              …subjective, defective, corrective, ineffective…

            • manou


            • Batty Masetto

              I’m glad to have Mrs JC’s backing, but Manou, I don’t think your comment was irrelevant in the least. You’re bringing up one of the fundamental controversies in translation theory, which I won’t bore everybody with here -- but it’s basically, just what are we supposed to be translating in a given environment?

            • manou

              Some backings involve knives.

  • Tory Adore
    3 April
    Sunday 19:30-22:30
    Maria Guleghina Gala
    Marking twenty-five years in the arts and at the Mariinsky Theatre

    Maria Guleghina (soprano)

    For her legion of fans, if you’re into that sort of thing…

  • Milady DeWinter

    I agree mrsclaggart: Opie works hard, is a fine actress, and has a voice, and ultimately pulls you in, but she has no technique. Butterfly IS her at her best, for what it’s worth. However, that “back in the throat” production is a real problem, and though there were lots Kleenex out by the end, her singing of the death scene shaded to flat throughout.
    And a breath before the B natural of the lullaby “Dormi amor mio”? I clutched a pearl or three.

    Frankly, I love Alagna -- a true singing actor who always seems to have a fresh insight, dramatically or vocally, but the sound is becoming worn, alas. Sic transit and all that.
    Still, this production is the jewel in the crown of current Met productions.

    • mrsjohnclaggart

      Thanks for responding, Milady. I’m skeptical about Opolais — some idiot put down Amara who was exceptionally accomplished and utterly secure. It’s only a slight exaggeration to suggest she could still sing the role. Opolais, at an age when most are in their prime, sounds like someone of fifty who is in trouble. She got through it and some people will naturally respond to her voice more than others but the effort and misfires in her singing reduce her effectiveness, require way too many compromises (you nailed a big one but there were so many) and are signs of technical problems which sooner or later will create difficulties for her. I don’t think that’s only my opinion…

      • Bill

        Mrs. JC -I only heard this Butterfly on the radio andnot the first act. Opolais is quite capable, vocally, of turning out an attractive phrase -- but there is a lack of consistency in her legato or even the sound emitted.
        There is a lack of vocal steadiness -- we all know it is not a creamy voice -- but many others also do not
        have that positive sound either. Just listening,
        Opolais does not rank among the top Butterlys we have heard. We all know she is a compelling actress, and committed to bring a character to life. Better in
        person than on the radio, methinks.

        Alagna just sounded strained throughout -- pushing his voice which has a narrower sound than it once did.
        Again, like Opolais, Alagna, among tenors, cuts a reasonable figure and is able to act. His forays
        into slightly heavier tenor repertoire may be taking a toll on the freshness of his utterances. He has been working hard at the Met of late learning a new role
        under pressure. But to just listen to him in the last act of the Butterfly broadcast gave little joy. He has the notes, but perhaps he should push his voice a little less for more fluidity of sound.

        • mrsjohnclaggart

          I’m less convinced by her than you, Bill, but of course, I respect your opinion, and mine is only an opinion too, after all. I wonder if you looked at the idiot above who — just to intrude I think, I’ve never seen it make a reasonable musical/interpretive point, disagreed with Batty, an experienced professional translator and cited the title for “Alla piccina s’è spento il sol”. The titler wrote, “This is the end for Butterfly”.

          But the scumbag thought it should be literal and read: “The sun’s going down on the little one”.

          Really? That’s HELPFUL? Or perhaps, “it’s sunset for the baby girl”? Does any audience KNOW that means Butterfly (which is does) or do they wonder if her child is in danger? (Yes, her child’s a boy, but there will always be those who are a little shaky about that, it’s a puppet in this production and on another list people have been complaining about how “unclear” the choice is — it’s not just Parterre that has some morons. And in many productions, “Trouble” is played by a little girl — the translation may travel to theaters where that’s the casting choice made.)

          Should it be translated, “Oh, it’s sunset for the little one”, or since the sun doesn’t die, I wish it would on that fool, “it’s night for the little one” which along with being vague means, it’s soon going to be time for Butterly and her child to go to bed. This moron seems to think it’s like “Gone with the Wind”, “Tomorrow is another day.”

          No, in context and given the story, it DOES mean, “this is the end for Butterfly.” Titles need to be short, and precise. They also need to support the particular story. That title does, and I agree with Batty.

  • Milady DeWinter

    How I would LOVE to have a stab at those surtitles!
    I surely could do more damage or cause more hilarity than the current status quo does.
    Mind you, I love them, specifically in the Met or other major houses on the back of the seat -- brilliant idea: they don’t distract the viewer/auditor’s focus. Or should I say, everything is in deep focus, and you can absorb it all without taking eyes off the stage.
    And Amara. Some would wail when Leontyne or Anna or Renata cancelled and she filled in, but Amara was as secure a technician as they come, extremely versatile with a good set of cords, perhaps just lacking that last iota of pixie dust that is granted sparingly by the opera gods. I get that Opolais has ‘It” (although it certainly isn;t in the voice itself) and I get what audiences respond to. If it weren’t, as you say, at such a price. But I suppose that’s what makes it all interesting, and helps fill seats and keep our poor little opera train chugging along.

    • Milady DeWinter

      That would be “surely could NOT do more damage” -- but then again, I’m sure I could if I tried.

      • mrsjohnclaggart

        Milady, I’m sure with a little practice and an editor you could very well with titles. It’s hard but I think it’s mostly developing a knack for the pithiest way to express a moment. Whether it’s specific dialog, or essentially summary. With highly emotional work it’s hard to avoid humor at climactic moments. It’s why NPW Paris mentioned the hilarity that can ensue at serious moments in Tosca. But I think surtitle-ists (?) have gotten cleverer about it and just leave out what is bound is read as funny. I will always support opera in English, a battle long lost, but I’ve seen it work. But Batty is great to read in defending surtitles and a master of tact too.

        I heard that “the audience” apparently quite large ‘LOVED” Opolais in the house yesterday from someone who knows. So the total impact must be effective (though I have heard big ovations for lousy Butterflys — it’s a surefire role which is why every soprano in the world wanted to sing it from the Brescia revival — a hit a few months and some big revisions after the disastrous world premiere at Scala).

        When I listen to old Met b’casts with Amara, I am often impressed. She really knew what she was doing and had everything but a conventionally beautiful timbre (though once used to it, it becomes much more attractive) and a fiery personality — but again she is never inexpressive. I saw her a lot and will grant that she did very well, but you’re right audiences were always disappointed. Of course, when she went on for Scotto, really an amazing performer of Butterfly, maybe the MOST amazing (not to dismiss Vicki D, the great Stella, or The Godhead Renata Tebaldi, or even Lee — whose physical manner brought some laughs — but then they all cried, she was quite wonderful) in the role, one can understand.

        Of course, things are different today. All those great ladies and several other esteemed ones were singing the role more or less at the same time. There are probably two or three very good Butterflys in the world today who sing it better and more easily than Opolais. But she’s gotten the Met push and will sit there for a while, with some better people (Martinez, Latonia Moore) coming in for a couple of performances here and there.

        • armerjacquino

          I just don’t understand why people are sniffy about Amara. That Tatyana in English under Mitropoulos is one of the best I’ve heard- rock solid, very expressive, very musical. (In the same series of Met reissues, she sings a highly competent but unbeautiful NOZZE Countess which is the only thing I’ve heard from her which is anything less than very good).

          And she’s full of character as Musetta on THE recording of BOHEME, of course.

          • rapt

            And the only time I saw Amara live was as the Countess (late-career, at Wolf Trap)--and I, who had been often disappointed by radio broadcasts with her, actually wrote her a fan letter. She really embodies an operatic puzzle for me. I loved that Countess--she outshone the rest of the cast, for me--and was stunned a few years back when I heard a re-broadcast of her Antonia in an old Tales of Hoffman. I think, too, that any composer who’d be happy to have the actual written notes sung with accuracy and beauty would be satisfied with Amara. And yet, and yet, I DID find her disappointing in the 19th century Italian rep. All I can think of is Milady De Winter’s pixie dust, though it twists my innards to have to settle for such an answer.

        • Nelly della Vittoria

          MrsJC, I saw Opolais’ Butterfly in the house two Fridays ago, and went in expecting her to be rather bad (I’d never heard her live before)--lightweight and overparted in this music, and an inexpressive reader of the score--but I was surprised and moved when I actually heard her. I don’t think she’s a Butterfly for the ages, and I’d agree that the singing is by no means perfect (they also announced that she had a cold that day), but is it possible that she sounds a fair bit worse on recording/broadcast? In the house, with air around the voice, the sound she was making seemed rather a complex thing, with partials high and low, and at that distance (I was up in the nosebleeds) it seemed richer, warmer, more forward-produced than I expected. Maybe she was having a good day, “cold” be damned? I don’t think she worked any interpretive wonders with the score (though the acting was quite an effective bit of semaphoring up to us in the cheap seats) or the words, but she sounded like chocolate and you know how Butterfly can be--and I got all stupid and teary--between her and me, I think it was I who was ingolata that night.

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            Thanks for your great points, Nelly. As with Batty, I respect your insights and your manner — good sense and honesty. It’s funny but the friend who was at the Met yesterday and knows her well described her Butterfly as “Very Iron Curtain”, not really highly emotional and a bit dangerous.

            And I certainly know that live is different and better than audio but the way they mic now, very close, has an analytical element that wasn’t there in broadcasts of the past where the mic was farther way and there was only one for singers and orchestra so within some limits one also got a better sense of how a voice projected into a real space. Some of what those of us in the chat heard was probably only obvious on mic; out in the house especially upstairs she would have had more impact and no one would have been as aware of the mechanics of her singing.

            I’m glad you had a good experience of her. I never have but have not seen her frequently. It may finally be partially my own subjective response to a specific sound, and her having the kind of voice that sounds a lot better live.

            • Nelly della Vittoria

              I also enjoyed seeing that the programme notes were by your venerable twin! I assumed they’d been written earlier and that the Met continues to use them forever without his knowing, but I’m maybe too quick to assume that the Met and basically everyone in the world is a wicked exploiter of writers. At any rate, they made a strong contrast with the milk-and-water interviews of Sondra and Javier that adjoined them.

            • Nelly della Vittoria

              And thanks for your kind words, of course. I used to listen to the audio broadcasts and (rarely) watch the HD things some years ago when I lived some 7,000 miles away from New York, and I used to wonder what kind of close, individual miking made them sound so different from live documents from the Met even in the 90s; it’s been good to learn that I wasn’t imagining it.

        • oscar

          I heard Amara in 1983 at the Met as a very last minute substitution for Bumbry in Forza. There was a lot of audience growling when the announcement was made but she sang a very fine performance. Her voice was not conventionally beautiful and this was very late in her career but she still had a beautiful line and her Pace pace was flawless.

          • Camille

            You know, quite interestingly , a few others have independently averred the same about that Forza performance, rather an anomaly in her career methinks, and at that age, surely a highly respectable accomplishment.

            Perhaps she had a mid-weight voice, perfect for Antonia et sœurs but because of her musicianship and adaptability she was drafted into parts, -like Aïda-, which were a bit beyond her expressive capacity and basic metal. In any event, I’m pretty sure we’d all be happy to have her on hand these days.

            • steveac10

              I see her as the female John Alexander (who somehow managed to keep everything from Ottavio to Bacchus in his rep well into his 50’s). Both had quality voices and amazing technical resources that allowed them to sing pretty much anything not heavily florid or hard core heroic well past the age most are able to. Both of them had long and active careers as utility players centered in the US (and the Met in particular). Both were better singers than many with much higher profiles, but neither became stars. Both, from the few live performances I saw, were somewhat charisma deficient. There wasn’t a note out of place, but it was rarely inspired. Sadly, there appears to be no place for singers like them these days in a house like the Met.

            • Bill

              We all saw Amara with some regularity -- sometimes as
              scheduled such as in Peter Grimes or as Antonia in
              Hoffmann or Tatiana in Eugene Onegin three new productions in which she participated and then sometimes as a replacement for an indisposed singer and sometimes in a scheduled series of repertory performances.
              Amara was the Pamina also in a new Magic Flute under Bruno Walter when Seefried, who was Bing’s and Walter’s first choice, chose not to sing Pamina in English. Amara was extremely valuable to Rudolf Bing as she could be
              counted on to sing a viable performance in a variety
              of roles. I may be mistaken but as I heard it when
              Bing planned the new Peter Grimes with Vickers, Solti was supposed to conduct it and wanted Claire Watson (who had sung with him in London) for the production but Bing
              felt that he should grant Amara the premiere and Solti
              backed out of the production altogether. At the time Amara was at her peak Bing had in his stable of sopranos the likes of Tebaldi, Stella, della Casa, de los Angeles, Price and a large number of well known singers who sang some of the same roles as Amara and hence Amara was generally second cast only when the more famous singers were not available. Amara may not have been as exciting vocally or dramatically as some of her peers but she could be counted upon to give a very musical performance of a large number of leading lyric and even spinto soprano roles. I do not ever recall Amara giving a bad performance nor did I ever read of her doing so. It was just that, at the time, there were some superb
              sopranos in Bing’s roster who by nature of their fame
              could eclipse Amara in the same fach in the eyes of the public.

              Every repertoire opera house needs to have singers of
              Amara’s capability and flexibility as members of the ensemble. A more recent example would be Eliana Coelho in Vienna who for some 15 years or so could sing almost
              any soprano role from Arabella to Maria Stuarda in the repertoire save for the most dramatic Wagner and Strauss roles. She, unfortunately, had to retire after a bout
              with cancer (though later on having recuperated sang a few performances in her native Brazil).

  • Milady DeWinter

    You’re quite right, armer about Amara’s Musetta on THAT Boheme. Probably the best sung and classiest of them all.
    Spot on, mrsjc -- textual land mines for producing mirth at inopportune dramatic clinches abound!
    But one can try to be in tune with the tinta/style of the particular opera, in other words, not be afraid to actually tinker with writing in non-standard prose construction, less linear than spoken grammatical order, and put a little music into it for heaven’s sake.
    I think comedy the hardest genre to do really well.
    The Met’s Meistersinger titles aren’t bad (excepting the always awkward “Heil Vaterland” closing apostrophe).

  • Camille

    All I know about Alagna is that he sounded extremely good, with no trouble whatsoever with his high note at “Ventitre ore” in one of his performances in Pagliacci when I happened to walk past the TV monitor at the Box Office at the Met. I was happily surprised by his performance and looked forward to hearing him in it. Unfortunately, that was not to be. It would SEEM to me that switching back to a somewhat more lyrical type of vocal part as in Manon Lescaut and Butterfly is just not the easiest nor the best thing for him at this point in his career. In none of the bits and pieces (a portion of “Amore o trillo” which I heard yesterday) has he sounded as free and easy as he did to me in that lortion of Pagliacci I happened upon, not to mention the wonderful accounting of Don José’s music he gave the previous season. Marvelous.

    In one of those ongoing TMI interviews they give over the airways, he mentioned that he really did not sleep in that preparatory ten day to two weeks prior to the Manon prima. Not good for anyone and especially for a middle-aged man, no matter what good shape he’s in.

    • Camille

      “Amore o Grillo”, haha, no trill needed.

    • grimoaldo

      I am still bitterly disappointed that I didn’t get to see and hear Alagna as Canio and I went on an expensive trip to NYC especially to see him in that part which he was then not in so I wasted what to me is a lot of money although I stopped talking about it on here since I wore out peoples’ patience. I think Canio would have suited him much better at this stage than either Des Grieux or Pinkerton.

      • Camille

        Yes, I am sorry about that, grimoaldo, and yes, from the tantalising tidbit I heard of his Canio I heard, he was leagues ahead of himself in the more tenore robusto repertoire. However, the stress of cramming the entirety of Des Grieux’s role on such short notice plus learn all the staging and accommodating himself to a singing partner with whom he had no previous experience, is all enough to take a toll on anyone’s voice. Plus, his stated inability to sleep, all adds up to too much. As Des Grieux is a role which requires quite a bit of both kyrical and declamatory/dramatic singing, it could have been a great role for him under normal circumstances, or, ideally, five to ten years ago.

        I recall our own œdipe, long since lost to these pages, and highly knowledgeable about Alagna, telling us of how much a risk taker Bobby is/was and what a crazy busy schedule he has maintained. When younger that is possible, but now that he’s in his early fifties, he may have to refrain a little from such impulsive risk taking. His performance of Don José, heard a year or so ago in house, proved to me beyond any doubt he still has got it, when doing the right repertory, but I have always preferred his singing in French over that in Italian, in any case.

        So far as travelling to hear singers and operas, I’m just not willing to do so anymore. It is rarely worth the expense and stress. If Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland make a return to sing Valentine and Margierite in Les Huguenots ,though, I will make an exception. Even I realize, however, that to be highly unlikely.

  • Chimene

    Well, I guess I am just the plebeian bread and circuses person in the room because I absolutely died at Kristine’s performance as Butterfly, her singing and acting were overwhelming, and Alagna’s performance was not as wonderful as his performance on the 26th which I saw in house… absolutely riveting and beautiful… but certainly not as horrible as you all describe… I guess all the other plebians liked it as well, because the applause for the sold out house was quite loud…

    • Rosemont

      Dear Chimene, thanks from another Parterre plebeian. I am as passionate about the art as any other nonprofessional audience member. I so often come here after being swept away by a performance like Ms. Opolais’ yesterday only to find sneering and derision in favor of a mythical long ago performance by some dead or retired star. I will say that I was in the house three weeks ago for Manon Lescaut by the same two and they both do indeed sound better live and in person. Kristine is so much more beautiful in voice and in appearance in real life! Imagine! I for one want to honor the performers of today, their passion, their flaws, and the sheer thrill they give to us of imperfect but compelling live performance. For me nothing compares to the live, the real, and the now in opera, and…in life.

    • DeepSouthSenior

      Note to the Parterrian pillars: My negative remarks below are addressed to no one in particular. Promise. Cross my heart, etc. Just commenting on a trend that I think is real, and that others may, too.

      Chimene, I betcha a lot of fans may feel the same as you, but for one reason or another do not express it.

      I’ve noticed a familiar pattern in the four years or so that I’ve been visiting Parterre regularly. Singer X (let’s say KO, shall we) emerges in a short time from relative obscurity as a “promising young artist” to internationally acclaimed star with a rise that, if not meteoric, is rapid and highly visible. Most critics and fans worldwide proclaim KO’s technical brilliance, interpretive artistry, and personal charisma. Then, at a certain moment in time that is likely predictable with great precision by the math wizards, the “pig-pile” begins. KO is not that good, really. Look at what savvy marketing and connections can do. Although KO is still young, their -- no, her -- voice is not what it was even a couple of years ago. Passages are smudged, intonation is variable (especially in the performance we heard), chest voice and upper register are at war with each other, and her sound is not very pleasant to begin with. Much of the charisma is mere stagecraft. (Didn’t Katherine Hepburn say something similar about the young Meryl Streep: “I can see what she’s doing. Click, click, click.” My apologies for butchering that story-DSS.) See how low we’ve fallen that such a second-rate artist can become a superstar with clearly limited equipment, especially given the long line of far greater talents waiting unnoticed in the wings (except that we’ve noticed them, of course).

      I hope it’s obvious that I’m exaggerating for effect. I really do believe there’s something to that analysis, though. What is obvious to most of the musical world, plebeian and patrician alike, is that KO arrived at the Big Leagues on her own merits, and that she deserves to be there. She’s not now, and may never be, history’s greatest Butterfly, or Manon, or Mimi, or whatever. To be sure, her voice may not be the most naturally beautiful on the scene today. (Purty nice, though!) Her technique is spotty from time to time. (Now, this is too easy: Name one singer whose isn’t.) Time will tell if her career in the Big Leagues is long and storied, if she will become a legend in her own time, or if she crashes and burns. But for now, why is it so hard for some to acknowledge that here’s a major artist of great skill, still in the formative stages, and perhaps on the way to greatness?

      Sometimes I wonder if performers like KO want to shout (or scream) to the public, “Don’t hate me because (1) I’m physicall beautiful, (2) I get the biggest gigs, and (3) I’m half of one of classical music’s reigning power couples!” Oops, I think Angie G. did that fifteen years ago, except it was “better half.”

      With that rant over, let me say, Chimene, that I too loved Krsitine’s Butterfly yesterday on Live in HD. I don’t much like audio-only opera, except for Baroque and a good recital CD now and then. My consumption of opera for the past several years is almost exclusively in the full theatrical context. (I count Live in HD as a “full” operatic experience. I know the difference between being in the house and watching on a big screen. I was in NYC for Manon Lescaut on Feburary 27th and at the Cinemark on the Gulf Coast with same work, same cast, exactly a week later. Both were true and valid, though different, theatrical experiences. But that’s another discussion entirely.) Opolais was in fine voice, I thought (better than Manon, IMO), and utterly convincing as an actress. Alagna was excellent too, of course weaker than ten years ago, but still a match for all but a tiny number of tenors on the scene today. The Minghella production deserves all the praise heaped upon it. Croft and Zifchak are still more than respectable. It was a wonderful afternoon, and did Puccini proud. When the HD is available on Met Opera on Demand six months or so from now, I may return to pick or nitpick, depending on my mood at the time. I may even notice some of the flaws that made the “experts” cringe yesterday. But for now, I’m perfectly content to remember with great fondness a fine performance from a world-class cast and orchestra, well worth my 130 miles of travel and the $21 ticket. (The hot dog wasn’t too good, though.) And, yes, I may even purchase the DVD. Is Opolais one of my current favorites? Yes, along with Netrebko, Stemme, Radvanovsky, and She Who Can Do No Wrong, Garanca. (Natalie Dessay is in that category, archived.) These singers, every one of ’em, are our treasures. Every quality diamond has a few flaws, right?

      • Rosemont

        Thank you DSS. Great comments.

      • Krunoslav

        Sorry, DSS this is a fantasy blaming those with ears- not just memories.

        “a major artist of great skill, still in the formative stages, and perhaps on the way to greatness?

        I don’t hear the great skill-- an audibly flawed technique, pitch issues, a short breath line- or any “major “artistry whatsoever.. Yes, she looks like a babe and the voice under no pressure has some attractiveness.

        36 is hardly a time to be ‘in the formative stages’ singing the lyric soprano repertory. Think about the ages de los Angeles (27), Freni (30) and Scotto (31) and Tebaldi and Maliponte (32) came to the Met- all after successes on other major world stages.

      • Cicciabella

        DSS, thank you for expressing your thoughts at length. It should be obvious, though, that experiencing opera via radio, live and in the cinema are very different experiences. Some performers have such visual charisma (and not just looks) that it diminishes any vocal flaws. I always find much to appreciate in Opolais when I can see as well as hear her, less when just hearing her. You yourself were very critical of Westbroek’s Isolde very recently. Whlle Westbroek is not a flawless Isolde, these performances with Rattle have earned her very good reviews. She also has a voice that does not record well, and indeed it did not seem to convince you. You can see how people consuming via different media, and having different ideas about what the visual/aural balance should be, would assess the Butterfly very differently ftom you. I love Alagna’s voice, but he sounded exhausted on the radio. He is a good actor and very charismatic, so I can see how his Pinkerton would be much more convincing in the house and in cinemas, especially in such a wonderful production.

        • DeepSouthSenior

          Thanks, Cicciabella, for those thoughtful and balanced comments. Skelton, Westbroek & company with Rattle/Berlin Phil. performed Tristan und Isolde at the Baden-Baden Easter Festival before concluding in Berlin. Maybe the final performance yesterday caught Westbroek on a bad day. I had the same problem with her Santuzza in last year’s new Cav & Pag, though. Pity, because I really like her personality, and I know she’s a fine artist. It’s just that a wide vibrato is fingernails on the chalkboard territory for me.

          • Cicciabella

            DSS, I’ve had time to listen to the first two acts, and I was disappointed overall, after the good reviews. The orchestra is far too loud. Could the singers even be heard in the hall, except Westbroek, who was loud all the time? Conolly is too intelligent to strain, but she also sounded as if she was turning up the volume to the detriment of interpretation. Milling, who has a huge voice, was also forcing when there shoukd be no need. Skelton refused to play ball and sang at a more comfortable volume, which did not help the balance. It’s wonderful to hear such a rich orchestral sound in this work, but I’m not aure it gelled into a whole for me. I need to listen again. I agree with you that Westbroek was not at her best. The wobble in the high notes is what it is, and the beauty of her middle voice never comes across recorded, but she sounded pushed lower down and screechy on top. She was singing so loud and pushing so hard she sang sharp a lot. The Curse was cursed, shall we say. Having said that, I’d buy a ticket to her Isolde if it came anywhere near me because I find her very sympathetic in the role and I think this recording does not represent her best assumtion of it.

            • DeepSouthSenior

              Here’s some fun from Westbroek, the lovely Sarah Willis and the gang from the Baden-Baden Easter Festival 2014, “Manon Lescaut in 3 Mintues” (almost 5, actually):

            • Cicciabella

              Charming! Thanks for posting.

            • DeepSouthSenior

              Here’s the entire Live Lounge from Baden-Baden 2014 with Westbroek and Berlin Phil. musicians. Lots of chatty music stuff, including opera anecdotes. I love these guys!

  • DeepSouthSenior

    And now for something completely different, a few words contrasting two productions. I’ve agreed with myself that the following report does not violate the tone of my recent long post. Self-rationalization, while not good for the soul in the end, at least brings peace for the moment.

    On March 16th, Mrs. DSS and I saw the Bartlett Sher production of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette at Lyric Opera in Chicago. For the first and likely only time in my life, I’m one step ahead of many Parterrians, having already seen live a production new to the Met next season. We had good seats on Row A First Balcony, which is roughly equivalent to Grand Tier at the Met.

    I’ll say only one thing about performance: I reluctantly had to admit that the critical consensus of Susanna Phillips, whom I like a lot, was on the mark. Her tone as Juliette did indeed, as one reviewer put it, sound “thin and constricted” at the high end. Perhaps it was a hall too large, in a role too big, with a voice too small at this stage of her career. Let’s just say “not the best fit” there and then, and leave it at that. (Diana Damrau should be wonderful at the Met next year, teen + 30 ans notwithstanding.) Still and all, I enjoyed the evening. B- all around.

    As for the music, to me mid- and late-nineteenth century French opera (does anyone think of Carmen as “French”?) is often like three hours of rich Parisian pastries. I tend to overdose pretty quickly.

    As for the production, if Minghella’s Butterfly excels in invention, atmosphere, and visual splendor, Sher’s Romeo fails at all these points, and as many others as you can count. Dark, dark, dark. Not mysterious, foreboding dark, just dark like in hard to see. A single building (with, can you believe it, a balcony!) for the entire evening, with all the action in the open space in front -- Ballroom, courtyard, town square, bedroom, church, chapel, and tomb. Get your imagination working; you’ll need it. Maybe the point was that through their needless strife, the two warring families had reduced their world to this tiny, cramped space. Or maybe it was just lazy and unimaginative.

    The balcony scene came across not as the most romantic encounter of all time but more like a nighttime conversation at a mid-level Italian-themed resort at Disney World. “Honey, have you found the ice machine yet?”

    R and J’s big night of passion was -- I kid you not -- staged with a gigantic white sheet (hereinafter TT for “Traveling Tarp”) on a two-step wooden riser of equal size. Nary a bed in sight. Much to my delight and her embarrassment, Mrs. DS laughed out loud when I leaned over and whispered in her ear, “They must like a really firm mattress.” I was in a naughty mood that night. And poor Susanna Phillips had to wrap herself -- literally -- in said TT to create her wedding gown. (You know, the fall-down dead wedding, not the real one.)

    And Catherine Zuber’s costumes, oh my. Supposedly late 18th-century (why?), but the opening scene looked like a grab bag garage sale of half a dozen retired repertory productions. This scene, while awash in color from dozens of choristers from grungy to genteel to garish, reminded me of spilled errant M & M’s on a dining room table. But, as I said, I was in a naughty mood and tired, and my mind may have been playing tricks. I hope so.

    And Eric Cutler’s Romeo getup, what was that? He looked like Porthos wandered in from a B-movie Musketeers remake.

    As we were leaving the theater, we stopped to check out a model for the Civic Opera House’s proposed state-of-the-art stage turntable. I didn’t see a coin slot but did notice a mailing address and website for donations. All I could think of at the moment was, “Well, I wouldn’t want to see the backside of that thing tonight.” As I said, I was in a naughty mood.

    All in all, though, a good time was had by all. The story does not turn out well, by the way.

    • grimoaldo

      “does anyone think of Carmen as “French”?”

  • phoenix

    How do they manipulate the audio on these HD broadcasts (I’ve never attended one) to make it sound so good as the commenters above have noted? Or do people like DSS & the gang hear with their eyes?
    -- Alagna’s Canio was probably one of the greatest tenor performances I have ever heard (just using my ears, mind you) and even Frittoli as Nedda sounded more authentic than Opolais has in ANY Puccini broadcasts I’ve heard her in. The radio broadcasts of Manon Lescaut & Butterfly (I recorded them on both Sirius XM radio and the internet stream -- and promptly erased them upon hearing) the same tenor, Alagna, sounded strained but at least he sang it. Opolais, multiplex star of the Mall and favorite of the Department of Social Services rant above, declaimed more & sang less than Alagna, saving her voice in the whole first (and best) act of Butterfly.
    -- Only the blind can see and the deaf can hear. Viva Jane & DSS!

    • DeepSouthSenior

      I rarely see a body mic on Live in HD, but Alagna’s was obvious last Saturday. Right at the breastbone, poking out between two buttons, it was white to match his white uniform in Act I, and dark for the dark uniform in the final act. Is a body mic common for solo singers during Live in HD? Someone else remarked about the sound imbalance from Alagna in Act I. That struck me as odd, too, and unusual.

      • One of the camera operators for the HD’s belongs to and often comments in the FB group: Met Opera Live in HD Fans.He stated that for “this” production the principals are wearing body mikes. He states the reason is the production. Artist’s voices, when singing from way back of the stage or singing from behind shoji screens, do not make it to the stage lip mikes.


        • DeepSouthSenior

          Well, that certainly clears things up nicely. (Not!) The inevitable question comes to mind: You mean a principal’s voice can be heard clearly, way up in the gods or under the infamous overhang, yet the technology doesn’t exist to transmit that same voice adequately from the foot of the stage? Something doesn’t seem right here.

          • phoenix

            you have a point there: ‘under the infamous overhang’ -- I presume you are referring the back of orchestra seats at the Met? I stood back there for 25+ years before the body mike audio technology they have nowadays came into play. The voices, even the most modest in volume, came through back there clearly -- the victim of the overhang was the orchestral sound, which came through like mono, no separation that I can remember. Upstairs in the Family Circle there was better balance between orchestral & vocal sound, but I found that unless I was standing near the side walls on either side, the scales seemed to be tipped a bit in favor of the orchestra over the singers. But I didn’t regularly stand up there, I usually went downstairs to hear the singers, so those people who did sit/stand in the Family Circle region could better gauge that balance than I could up there -- but here were certain singers whose Samson-like volume pushed the walls apart in the Family Circle. I remember Tucker, Tebaldi & Crespin doing it most noticeably. By the way Corelli, who also had a very big voice anywhere I the house, was the first singer I remember to use a sort of walkie-talkie headphone in his ear to give him accurate pitch. Not that he really needed it, but he was always very concerned about this singing.

            • DonCarloFanatic

              Position is everything in life.

            • You do realize that the “body mike audio technology” is used to capture sound for broadcasts only and therefore has no impact on how a singer sounds in the theater, right?

            • phoenix

              No, Cieza, I didn’t realize it but thanks for letting me know.
              -- How do they get the spoken dialogue across the auditorium so well -- what other kind of amplification is used during non-broadcast performance?

            • Some pieces, Merry Widow for example, use amplification only for the spoken dialogue and not for singing. It’s not a perfect solution because it tends by contrast to make the singing sound a bit distant at least at first.

              My understanding is that body mikes were gradually introduced for broadcasts that took place in acoustically unfriendly sets or productions with a lot of stage noise from dancing or whatever. Because the HDs are positioned as a premium product, the use of body mikes became more general for those performances so that the sound could be captured as precisely as possible.

              A lot of the HDs are later released in other formats, streaming and DVDs and so forth, and again consumers of these products demand realt excellent sound that would be difficult, if not impossible, to capture with the stationary mikes used for the broadcasts until the 1990s.

            • phoenix

              Thanks very much. Its understandable that people want the closest audial experience to live performance. But with the movie theater broadcast HD’s, I have read complaints from commenters that some singers still sound distant or ‘in the background’ (of course considering our aged ears …) -- if such is true, I assume it can be corrected in editing so the next broadcast + any commercial release doesn’t have those problems.

            • phoenix

              Sorry Don Carlo, I scrutinized the earlier part of this thread and found something about scum-bags & knives and I couldn’t figure it all out. Anyway, yes I can understand how you or anyone else could be ‘offended’ but really this site has it’s own peculiar qualities and it’s best not to take it all too serious.
              -- Now, to get onto more important. The next reprise of God Save the Queen will begin on Sirius-XM in about 10 minutes.

          • DonCarloFanatic

            It’s my understanding there are lots of body mics in the HDs. Saw Peter Mattei struggling with his once--in Don Giovanni? The thing had half fallen off. Didn’t seem to affect the sound, though, so it may be used often only as a fail safe (oh, god, talk about ancient idioms).

            It’s a shame so many posts on recent Parterre threads have been downright nasty to other posters. I ascribe it to a general end-of-season malaise regarding what the heck is happening with the Met in more than one area--including the plumbing.

            • phoenix

              What were you offended by in any recent post? You are the only one that I have read who seems to be ‘offended’. Does this call for another round of God Save the Queen?

  • becca

    Thank you Don Carlo, for noting the sadly nasty posts and kindly suggesting it is from end of season malaise. Perhaps so. I hope there will no more of it.

    On many levels, this has been an exciting season at the Met. I saw the three Queens this year, which was a once in a lifetime thrill, Opolais and Alagna in Manon Lescaut ( excellent singing, execrable production), a less than memorable Othello. And a wonderful rare experience, a lovely Pearlfishers on New Year’s Eve. I also caught Ana Maria Martinez in her outstanding Butterfly (with a cringe inducing tenor) thanks to Parterre Box reviews.

    Since I have stopped buying a season ticket and buy a Series instead I can hand pick what I want, and add on when something sounds interesting. I recommend it.

    Against my better judgment, I bought a ticket to LULU, having been told by people I respect it was not to be missed, however even the wonderful Marlise Peterson was not wonderful enough to make me appreciate that opera.

    But the reason for this post now, is that I listened to the Saturday radio broadcast performance of Butterfly while in Philadelphia with my 5 day old grandson. He listened intently when he was awake. Opolais and Alagna were very moving, and much better matched than Martinez and Berti. I like Dwayne Croft’s interpretation of a sensitive Sharpless. The radio performances have a special place in my heart because that is where I first heard opera, and it is still a deeply pleasurable afternoon.

    I hope the Met can stay the course so that I can take my grandson to a performance one day.
    And maybe by the time he is old enough to go, someone at the Met will figure out how to fix the light fixtures in the ceiling so they can once again ascend up to the ceiling at the beginning of each performance.

    Broken all season…. and not a mention of it or when they will be repaired. He is only 11 days old today… so let’s hope in the next 8 or 10 years, they will fix the lights.

    And a few other things that still need fixing.