08 November 2007

Time to say hello?

La Cieca hears that Andrea Bocelli dropped by the Met yesterday to audition for Peter Gelb. The accompanist, on dit, was none other than James Levine!

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19 October 2007

You tell me

Which Met diva has just vetoed her renascence as a bel canto grande dame? So daunting a role must have given her cold feet, or at least mistle toe.

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08 October 2007

Don't come knocking!

Admittedly, this item is ancient history, but here goes. Which curious, sexed-up Met hunks invaded a star dressing room and immediately got their original instruments a whole lot closer than an octave apart?

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09 April 2007

Optional cuts

Which Metropolitan Opera diva has eased her transition into the visual-intensive Gelb era with the assistance of a plastic surgeon recently featured in W magazine and the New York Post? This Park Avenue doctor's "short scar" facelifts promise a dramatically rejuvenated jawline with shorter recovery time and minimal scarring -- just the thing for those high-definition closeups!

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15 December 2006

Out in the cold

14 December 2006

Film at 11

First off, La Cieca should tell you that her producer/alter ego JJ will be heard this afternoon on WNYC's talk show "Soundcheck" discussing (what else?) L'affaire Alagna. The program begins at 2:00 PM and JJ is scheduled to be heard in the final segment between 2:30 and 3:00. "Soundcheck" gained notoriety last month when uber-diva Jessye Norman got into something of a snit after a fellow guest questioned the charitable motivations of certain celebrities. La Cieca hopes that this afternoon's show will include comparable fireworks.

Well, now a different version of the "walkout" video has surfaced from Spanish TV:

In the words of dear Alex Ross, "I'm no Zapruder," but La Cieca does note certain subtleties:

Now, what, if anything, does all this mean? Well, the first two changes would seem to suggest that someone decided to try to avoid "killing" Alagna's applause after his aria. The quiet ending, plus the presence of another character moving onstage) would tend to put a damper on audience reaction. La Cieca's guess is that Alagna was not happy with the polite applause at the prima and so tried to (as one might say) "give the public a chance to express their admiration." The video thus gives impression that Alagna was going a little mild milking of the applause. The well-timed "bravo" might be an attempt by a fan to build the ovation. Now, going further out into the realm of speculation, perhaps the ensuing "boo" was a scornful reaction to the "bravo" rather than a jeer at Alagna's performance per se.

Here's where it gets particularly interesting, at least to La Cieca's fevered imagination. A feature of these La Scala shouting matches is that the exclamations used are both wildly inflammatory and dangerously ambiguous. We are told that shouts were heard of "Vergogna, vergogna!" and "Questa e la Scala!" But to whom were these cries addressed, and in reaction to what? Were they saying, "shame, shame" to Alagna because his singing (in their opinion) was below La Scala standard? Or was the "shameful" part his perceived disrespect (or cowardice?) in walking offstage just because of a mixed reaction from the public. ("This is La Scala, get used to it!")

Or maybe the yelling was mostly, as we might say, intramural; i.e., various members of the audience yelling at each other, in which case Alagna's walk was really a gross overreaction.

But, speaking of the "walk" issue, I think this video takes some of the heat off Riccardo Chailly. When he starts the Amneris music, Alagna is still onstage. All Chailly can see at that moment is that the tenor is not doing the staging he was taught, which is not exactly unprecedented in Italian opera. For all Chailly could see, it may have appeared that Alagna was just stepping into the wings for a moment to clear his throat or grab a gulp of water -- again, these things do happen.

Had Antonello Palombi not bounded on from the wings, presumably Chailly would have stopped the orchestra, the curtain would have been lowered, and the performance would have continued with Walter Fraccaro, perhaps following a brief announcement. Where La Cieca is going with this is that it doesn't look like Chailly was necessarily conspiring against Alagna along with the three mysterious karate men, the anonymous phone caller and all the other members of the anti-Alagna faction.

Meanwhile, the latest installment of

Opera Chic whispers that Stéphane Lissner has given orders to the Scala staff: if Alagna attempts to enter the theater, call the police! In contrast to such hysteria, Riccardo Muti spoke to La Stampa Daily, turning aside questions about Alagna's behavior but sniping at the "moronic" stage production by Franco Zeffirelli.

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11 December 2006

The other Bobby

Walkout tenor Roberto Alagna is just generally pissed at the whole La Scala Aida experience, frankly. Even before the "buu" incident at last night's performance, Bobby was spewing in an interview with La Repubblica that he (and the other singers in Aida) were being treated like second-class citizens: "La verità è che, in Italia, ormai i cantanti non se li fila più nessuno," Alagna fumed. "Esistono solo il direttore e il regista, quando mai vedi sui giornali una foto dei cantanti? Lo sa che alla cena a Palazzo Reale non eravamo nemmeno stati invitati e che anche lì ho fatto un mezzo scandalo? E poi tutti quegli applausi a Roberto Bolle... Vadano a vedersi un balletto, invece di un' opera."

Yes, it's true. Apparently at a gala dinner-reception following the prima, the singers were shuttled off to a secondary ballroom while Franco Zeffirelli, Riccardo Chailly, Scala intendant Stéphane Lissner and hobnobbed with the glitterari in the "A" room. And the photographers did indeed focus on Roberto Bolle, which is understandable at least on the grounds that "the other Bobby" is more than a little photogenic.

Opera Chic has more (constantly updated) details, including the point that the Scala performances are being taped by Decca for eventual DVD release, a project that will be pointless without Alagna's cooperation. Oh, on the same blogsite, a delightful photo of little Bobby's Scotto Heels.

UPDATE: Now Decca and La Scala are making noises about legal action against Alagna. He says he will show up for the performances scheduled for taping, but not the others (in January). And the Italian news site SKY Life has an online video report about this scandale, including bits and pieces of the gaudy Zeffirelli production, an interview with Antonello "Sul Palco in Jeans" Palombo, plus a tantalizing glimpse of The Other Bobby rocking his triumphal thong.

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29 November 2006

Ancient Chinese secret, revealed

So, more scoop on that "emergency meeting" La Cieca hinted at yesterday. It seems that the costumes for the Met's new production of The First Emperor arrived from China in the last couple of weeks. La Cieca is told that when the boxes were unpacked, the wardrobe staff complained of a strong chemical odor emanating from the garments. One worker, she hears, had to visit the hospital complaining of "serious respiratory problems," other staffers report rashes, eye irritation and such. On Monday the costumes were transported to a large rehearsal room to "air out," but, according to La Cieca's source, the room "was reeking in about five minutes."

Which brings us to yesterday's meeting, which was chaired by no less than Joe Clark, which suggests that the Met is taking the situation very seriously. According to an attendee, the staff was assured that the costumes were being aired and laundered, even though no one knows for sure the exact nature of the irritant. "Testing" will continue for several weeks. Oh, and our source adds that even after the costumes were removed from the rehearsal room, the odor lingered on. In fact, La Cieca hears that the next group of singers scheduled to rehearse in the room refused to enter, the stink was so overwhelming.

The elephant in the middle of the room (metaphorically speaking, of course) is how Placido Domingo and the other First Emperor artists are going to react when they are asked to don these allegedy allergen-rich garments -- and then sing for three hours.

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26 November 2006

Improbable, but true

As La Cieca mentioned last month, the 2007-2008 Met season will include a new production of Satyagraha, the Gandhi-themed opera by Philip Glass and Constance De Jong. And now La Cieca has been informed that there is actual basis in fact for her wild surmising. Darling Dawn Fatale drew La Cieca's attention to an announcement on a blog called daytripper of a theater workshop to be conducted by the designer and director Julian Crouch.

Mr. Crouch's CV includes the following fascinating detail: "Currently he is designer and associate director of a new staging of Phillip Glass’s opera about Gandhi, SATYAGRAHA, for the English National Opera and The New York Metropolitan Opera." A glance at the English National Opera's website reveals that, yes, Satyagraha is on the bill, with a production team consisting of Crouch and Phelim McDermott of the theater company "Improbable," best known here in New York for their 2005 production of Shockheaded Peter.

The ENO production is scheduled for April 2007, which suggests that the opera would show up in New York earlier that year -- perhaps for an opening night coinciding with Glass's 70th birthday on January 31, 2007? (Remember, you heard it here first.)

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23 November 2006

Gloomy Thursday

On this day of Thanksgiving, there are so many things for which La Cieca would like to give thanks. But enough about that. Here's one thing for which La Cieca would like to say, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Among the participants in this year's Macy's Thanksgiving parade: none other than The Beautiful Voice, or, as she is identified on NBC.com, "Renee Fleming, Grandma from the Big Apple Circus." Fleming will lip-synch "America the Beautiful," backed by an Army chorus and band. Also on hand will be Super Grover, SpongeBob SquarePants and Healthy Mr. Potato Head, who will perform scenes from Massenet's Cleopatre.

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22 November 2006

Thinly veiled at best blind item

Which Met prima donna recently enraged her maestro when she forgot (or refused) to bring him out a curtain call at his final performance of the run? In recounting the story of this obvious snub, the "always friendly and downright jocular" conductor becomes so emotional that he begins to gesticulate as wildly as he does on the podium. The sharp sword of karmic justice is swift, though, because the diva missed her own curtain call only a few nights later!

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21 November 2006

Bright shining as The Sun

Fred Kirshnit joins the legions dazzled by the radiance that is Millo. In The Sun, Kirshnit writes

People who love Aprile Millo really love Ms. Millo, and so interspersed among the nearly capacity crowd dressed in their finery as the National Italian American Foundation honored the soprano were the occasional young man or pair of young men tastefully outfitted in smart jeans and strategically placed around the hall for maximum claque impact. Whenever their girl appeared, there were noticeable exclamations of pure joy.

. . . .

As for Ms. Millo, she dismissed the printed program as irrelevant and offered an entirely different couple of selections . . . . But the undoubted takeaway memory was her knockout version of the "Suicidio" from the Orfano Canal act of Amilcare Ponchielli's "La Gioconda," which she is currently singing at the Met. This is properly classified as a dramatic soliloquy, and never have I heard it sung quite this dramatically. Ms. Millo, in addition to possessing all of the requisite vocal tools, has a highly developed sense of acting. Her little pauses and flashes of the eyes were mesmerizing. This was one of those rare performances at which I heard a loud exhalation of breath at its conclusion, and realized it was mine.

Those flashing eyes (not to mention the vocal tools) may be witnessed at Millo's first Tosca of the season on November 25 at the Met.

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14 November 2006

When Ladies Meet

The scene: Backstage at the Richard Tucker Gala.

The situation: Diva X is onstage, singing music from the opera _________, a role for which Diva Y (also on the bill) is famous. Diva Z is among the onlookers while Diva Y "holds court."

[The guests chatter.]

Diva Y: Silence! What's that music!

Diva Z: Why, that's a scene from _________.

Diva Y: __________? Who on earth is singing that?

Diva Z: Oh, that's Diva X!

Diva Y: Diva X? Is Diva X actually singing _________?

Diva Z: Well, yes, but, you know, it's only an excerpt, not the whole role . . .

Diva Y: [interrupting] Never mind, my dear. That was a rhetorical question.

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08 November 2006

Midweek midtacular

Where else would La Cieca be this Sunday but basking the the star radiance of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation's annual gala? Now! With 100% more Met artists, including Elizabeth Futral, Samuel Ramey, José Cura, René Pape, James Morris, Marcello Giordani, Patricia Racette, Joseph Calleja, Angela Marambio, Sandra Radvanovsky and Aprile Millo. The galalicious fun begins at 6:00 PM at Avery Fisher Hall.

At least one former winner of the Tucker award won't be appearing, darn it, because she's just finished a gala benefit of her own at La Scala. It's Renaaay, of course, and the new (to La Cieca) blog Opera Chic describes the scene:
Interestingly, La Fleming had arranged to be basked in the glow of a peachy, pinkish spotlight. Hartmut Höll instead was replete in the flat, sterile, blue/white light, which by default, is implemented for every other normal recital. I mean, homegirl looked good, but it was like Liz Taylor and her vaseline filters.
La Cieca feels like she was there, I tell you, and wait until you read the breathless paragraphs detailing The Frock (by Gianfranco Ferré, of course.)

And did La Cieca mention that they're bringing back Big Gay Date Night at the Met? For just $95 you get an orchestra seat, pre-performance hors d’oeuvres, intermission champagne and dessert, and, just possibly, some post-performance nooky. Boheme is on November 21, but La Cieca thinks that the best husband material will be found at the February 2 Jenufa. (For that matter, surely the combination of Karita Mattila and Anja Silja will attract an upscale lesbian crowd as well.)

Plus: don't forget the Smart Singer Tricks on The Late Show With David Letterman tonight, beginning at 11:35 pm (US Eastern and Pacific time) on CBS-TV.

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31 October 2006

Buffman glance

A video of Brad Pitt in wet underpants. Now, you would think that there is no way that such a video would be less than fascinating, right? Well, you'd be wrong, because the video is directed by the only man in the world who could make Brad Pitt in wet underpants look boring.

Robert Wilson, of course. Via Vanity Fair.

UPDATE: Oh, and did I mention that Pitt is furious at what his legal representative calls an "unauthorized" use of a still from the Wilson video "portrait" that Vanity Fair used as the cover of their "Art Issue?" The cover identifies Wilson as an "avant-garde impresario," which of course is zero for two.


25 October 2006

Man on Mantova action

La Cieca hosts a chat tonight on the subject of the Met's season premiere of Rigoletto, which also marks the first RealNetworks free streaming broadcast of a Met performance. (The performance will also be broadcast on Sirius.) The room will open at 7:45 PM.

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23 October 2006

BREAKING: Opera Enjoyed by All

The NYT's ace scribe Bernard "Scoop" Holland breathlessly spills his latest discoveries about that newfangled entertainment called "opera" today. Didja know, for example, that a lot of opera is long and boring, but there's this one opera called Cavalleria rusticana that's not as long as most (" it’s the only opera I know that may be too short")?

Cav, which Mr. Holland types "acts like a single, sweeping transitive verb," has a lot in common with Pagliacci, if you overlook that elusive transitive quality. "Both pieces," Holland confides, "concern triangular adultery. . . . Both leave behind a sufficient number of dead bodies."

Trifles, really. "Indeed, if these pieces can lay any claim to deep thinking, it is that they are at once celebrations of tabloid brutality and of a bygone theatrical artifice since supplanted by machines, the wonders of electricity and the lessened imaginations of spectators."

Holland then rips the lid off the secret of "famous" Franco Zeffirelli's success as a stage designer ("upscale tastes"), though he is maybe a little disappointed at Zeffirelli's "tame" set for this double bill. Alas, the original designs for gold and marble slums paved in mother-of-pearl cobblestones must have got lost in the mail.

Oh, there were some singers too. Holland lavishes an adjective each on the leads.


18 October 2006

Another unnatural chat

The Windy City's own Enzo Bordello will host the next Unnatural Chat of Opera this Saturday night (October 21). Topic of the chat will be Lyric Opera of Chicago's performance of Salome, which will be broadcast that evening beginning at 7:30 Central time. This is the prima of a new Francesca Zambello production of the Strauss shocker, but of course the most intense interest here will be Deborah Voigt's first staged performance of the title role.

Sir Andrew Davis conducts and the cast also includes Kim Begley (Herodes), Alan Held (Jokanaan) and Judith Forst (Herodias). The chat room will be open beginning at 7:15 Central time; 8:15 here on the Eastern Seaboard. Check back here on parterre.com Saturday evening for a link to the chat page.


16 October 2006

Veils, song

As if those opera queens (you know La Cieca is talking to you, cher public) don't already have more than enough to listen to, what with Unnatural Acts of Opera, plus Sirius Met Broadcasts, plus various streaming radio on the internet -- well, now there's lots more where that came from. Well, anyway, one more from where that came from -- the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which will resume its broadcasts beginning this Saturday night, October 21.

This will be the first series of broadcasts from the Lyric Opera since the 2001- 2002 season, and LOC is kicking off the new broadcasts with a bang -- the opening night of Salome, featuring Deborah Voigt's first staged performance of the title role. The live broadcast will be on WFMT, 98.7 starting at 7:30 PM Central Time, and La Cieca has just learned that the broadcast will be streamed live over wfmt.com.

This works out particularly well, since there is no live Met Sirius performance that night. La Cieca knows how harried you get, cher public, when you have to choose which broadcast to listen to, and one at a time is all she can handle as well, at least until someone invents the internet radio equivalent of Tivo.

Well, that's Saturday night, but right now it's Monday, and La Cieca has some podcasting to do. Tonight's program, La Cieca hopes, you will find a special treat. The fabulous Regine Crespin is heard in recital at Hunter College on November 11, 1967, partnered by John Wustman on the 88s. This Unnatural Act of Opera program will be available beginning tonight, October 16.

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15 October 2006

Blind ambition

Ewa Podles shows how it's done.

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05 October 2006

Va! laisse couler mes soupcons

Which young diva's career ascent has been (if not completely, certainly a lot) via her alleged willingness to let the intendant of a certain European opera house into her trousers? Her star turns under his regime have not been well reviewed (as a whole) and her detractors whisper that even her upcoming U.S. engagements would never have offered had her sexuality been as exclusive as her recording contract.


04 October 2006

What a difference a deity makes

The Deutsche Oper, which last week cancelled a production for fear of protests by Muslims, announced Wednesday it was reinstating their Hans Neuenfels production of Idomeneo, but set no date.

Opera house spokesman Alexander Busche said, "The earliest slot for the production is in December, but first we need an okay about security from the police." City police are expected to mount a strong guard at the theatre if there are any demonstrations outside. Via Monsters & Critics.


02 October 2006

There's a kind of rush

This just in: the Met will offer $20 "rush" tickets to selected Monday - Thursday performances beginning with the tomorrow's season premiere of Faust. According to a release from the Met's press department, 200 Orchestra seats -- regularly priced at $100 -- will be offered at $20 per ticket at the Met box office beginning two hours before curtain on the day of the performance. The discount ticket program is underwritten by Agnes Varis, a managing director of the Met's Board of Directors, and her husband, Karl Leichtman, the same folks who sponsored the "Open House" two weeks ago.

Again per the Met's website, "Purchases will be limited to two tickets per customer and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. The program does not apply to performances for which $100 tickets are no longer available. Information about availability is provided online at http://www.metopera.org/ or by calling Met Ticket Service at (212) 362-2000. "


26 September 2006

Return from the Plaza

La Cieca is back in her beloved Sunnyside late this evening, even though the Metropolitan Opera opening night began at 6:30. By her watch, the performance of Madama Butterfly ran not quite four hours including intermissions and curtain call. Oddly, though, the evening didn't seem unnaturally long -- maybe because La Cieca enjoyed a disco nap prior to the performance, or maybe because her seat for this opening night was in the plaza, watching on the big screen video, or, as we have come to call it, the Plazatron.

First things first: quite unlike most free events in New York, and on the Upper West Side in particular, the crowd was mostly very well mannered, attentive and appreciative. The weather, La Cieca must say, was simply superb, with just the hint of a cool autumnal breeze. The much-ballyhooed Red Carpet was somewhat underwhelming, hidden as it was over near Damrosch Park. La Cieca did catch a glimpse of Jude Law in the flesh, looking very dapper in black tie, and on the Plazatron, she noticed our own Dawn Fatale looking very boyish indeed against a backdrop of social xrays.

About the performance proper La Cieca can't really say anything because our own JJ will review a later performance, but she will note that the Plaza crowd was treated to an intermission feature showing director Anthony Minghella and the cast in rehearsal. Minghella talks too much, La Cieca thinks, and in the video one could sense that Marcello Giordani and Dwayne Croft were getting a bit impatient with all the chitchat. Speaking of which, Giordani looks great these days, slim and dashing in his Navy whites, and Croft has evolved into a very sexy daddy type -- particularly since this production makes no effort to disguise his mostly-bald pate. You know how La Cieca goes for the tete de peau look!

As La Cieca was preparing her podcast this evening she was listening to the second Met Radio broadcast on Sirius, a 1971 Rigoletto, and she sees the ante has been upped: she'll have to redouble her efforts to bring you the best in Unnatural Acts of Opera.

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25 September 2006

Sound the alarm

A few tidbits in reference to the impending Sirius broadcasts of the Met Opera. First, La Cieca's backstage spy reports that the Met has installed literally dozens of permanent microphones in various spots in the auditorium. These mikes are described as being reminiscent of CIA spy equipment, "the kind of technology that kind pick up a whisper a hundred yards away." (This sort of sensitivity will surely come in handy when Angela Gheorghiu sings Carmen a few seasons hence.) Our source went on to say that the Met and Sirius are trying for a completely different sound mix and balance from the familiar Saturday afternoon broadcasts.

La Cieca herself has signed up for the online-only Sirius service. The Met channel has not launched yet -- amusingly, the station is at the moment running a "tune in tonight" announcement backed with what sounds like Robin Byrd-era porn music. And that's for listeners who actually can access Sirius online: it seems that for some platforms (e.g., Safari) the stream may not be accessible until tomorrow. (Stone-age La Cieca is still on IE, which seems to work just fine. Right now she's listening to Miss Rosemary Clooney singing "In the Cool Cool Cool of the Evening" on Channel 75 "Standard Time.")

Following tonight's performance, La Cieca will podcast her reactions to the plaza experience along with the third act of a 1967 Madama Butterfly featuring Renata Scotto. Check back here, oh, elevenish when La Cieca returns to base for debriefing and cocktails!

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22 September 2006


That's how one industry insider described today's open dress rehearsal of Madama Butterfly at the Met. "More people than I've ever seen in the theater, some of them with tickets scalped from Ebay!"

A more measured assessment comes from yet another of La Cieca's network of operatives:

"Well I am happy to say that today's affair was well worth the wait in line! To begin with, the Met has transformed into a sort of "butterfly cocoon," with a myriad of exhibits, pictures and a giant ancient chinese banner outside which reads "Cio Cio San". The new art gallery has some very interesting paintings relating to the new production, although I question the inclusion of a collage of lesbian erotica which represents Madama Butterfly (quite a ballsy thing for such a bastion of tradition!). The documentary and Q&A session after the performance were
substantive and informative. Even Mayor Bloomberg deigned to make a short speech.

"Now, as for the performance--it certainly lived up to the hype! The crowd loved it, although a few people were puzzled bythe use of a puppet for Butterfly's child. I, however, felt it heightened the drama in that it allowed for a greater expressive range and highlighted the child's powerlessness. Besides that, the production really stunned everyone. The striking use of lighting as well as the costumes added so much to the performance and made for what is probably the most dramatic interpretation of the final scene. The giant black mirror which reflects the slanted stage gives the whole opera a cinematic feeling: you can see things in the mirror you cannot see on the stage, e.g., something happening behind a screen.

"Unlike so many productions at the MET, the effects are never an end in themselves and are meant to highlight the drama in some way rather that just dazzle the audience. On the whole, the sophistication of choreography, staging, and creativity is way ahead of most productions at the MET. It had the feeling of an excellent small theater production in that it was very specific and pretty much flawless. However, in its own way it was extravagant -- without being overblown like those Zeffirelli productions.

"Now, as for the singing....that is somewhat of a mixed bag. Giordani knocked my socks off with his gorgeous and unbroken sound. Vocally, he and Croft were the best aspects of the production. Gallardo-Domas was, well, not great . . . . She has no variety or delicacy, but at least she has a big enough voice to fill the house. As an actress she is suberb. It almost didn't matter that she couldn't quite fill the shoes of the role in the way that Scotto or de los Angeles could, because the production was just so damn superb.

"Oh and the best thing is that one does not have to be especially close to enjoy it--the production actually has more impact from a distance. For those who like their productions traditional --do not despair! This Butterfly production, while essentially minimalist, is not some kooky Eurotrash kitsch. It has the best aspects of a modern production, but is essentially traditional.

"I applaud the MET for finally doing something right. The open house was exciting, informative and just a wonderful experience all around. I hope this is a sign of things to come!"

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21 September 2006

Illuminata a festa splende Venezia nel lontano

Having recovered from today's five hour dress rehearsal at the Met, La Cieca's spy Barnaba offers this report:

There isn't much point to doing La Gioconda in this day and age if you haven't got a cast who can put it over. Wonder of wonders, the Met has dug its ancient (1967) staging out of the basement and put it back on the stage for which it was designed with a worthy cast of singers and no attempt to update the staging for contemporary tastes that might not approve of this most old-fashioned of grand operas. At the dress rehearsal, though lighting cues were all over the place (is Act IV in day or night? Where does that spotlight aim? And shouldn't there be smoke machines full blast at the end of Act II?), what we got was a real live old-time Gioconda, minimal stand-and-deliver acting, fuzzy cues and all.

All honor first and foremost to Violeta Urmana, whose opulent unstrained soprano gave point to the enterprise and makes one hope the Verdi repertory (Aida, Stiffelio, Forza, Ballo) need not be consigned to the scrap heap just yet. A little unsteady on the floated pianissimi of "Enzo adorato" (I'm sure she'll have that down by later performances), she was passionate in well-supported flood everywhere else in this intense, verismo-foreshadowing role. Olga Borodina had no problems at all singing Laura, her mezzo foil -- if anything, she might hold back a bit to suit her character's more retiring nature -- but she seemed a bit confused at times about how to conceal/revealher identity and how much time she needed to swallow a potion and head for the catafalque. Irina Mishura sang a splendid La Cieca, a bit overdoing the arms-stuck-out-before-her blind lady bit.

The men were not quite of this quality, but nothing to sneeze at. Debutant Zeljko Lucic, another strapping baritone (let me get that in before Tommasini does), sang a thrilling Barnaba, almost too suave to snarl. Aquiles Machado, built like a fireplug and every bit as sexually alluring, attended the same school of acting as Francisco Casanova, but he manages the romantic phrasing of an Italian tenor part with a grainy but attractive sound. (I can't understand why the Met did not give Giordani this role -- I gather he will take it over later in the season.) Paata Buchuladze sang Alvise with a cavernous sound not, methinks, ideal for Italian opera but not inappropriate for this unpleasant figure. Among the many small roles, I especially liked Ricardo Lugo's Monk -- he'd make a good cover for Alvise. And let me not forget Angel Corella, borrowed from ABT, who makes a galactic star turn out of the Dance of the Hours.

Bertrand de Billy conducts with genuine old-fashioned excitement and no condescension to Ponchielli, one of the few composers of his day willing to admit the influence of Verdi and much admired by him in return. True opera lovers can be distinguished by the fact that they love every silly note of this opera, and they will be in pig heaven at this revival.

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Keep watching the skies!

La Cieca hopes you're not tired of news about the Met/Sirius Radio partnership, because she has just obtained a schedule of live performances to be broadcast over the satellite service. The first week of the broadcasts will include Madama Butterfly on Monday, September 25 at 6:30 p.m., Idomeno on Thursday the 28th at 7:30 p.m. and La Gioconda on Saturday the 30th at 8:00 p.m.

On Friday the 29th, Sirius will offer an archival broadcast, and La Cieca knows you won't need three guesses to figure out which golden-age performance they have chosen.

Complete schedule of Sirius/Met Opera live broadcasts for 2006-2007.

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19 September 2006

The Autumn Leaf

Wow, news gets around fast! Within an hour after La Cieca mentioned in passing the sorry state of the peeling gold-leaf ceiling at the Met, a staffer from the house (requesting anonymity) emailed saying that this particular bit of upkeep is, sadly, not to be included among the "nips and tucks" preliminary to the new season. Our tipster says that he
asked what was the status of its repair, and was basically told that they are of course aware of it, but it’s just too expensive, requires shutting down the hall for a period of weeks while the repairs are happening, and that the artisans who do this work well are few and far between and in Europe, so ... don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. To me it’s a glaring problem in a company which is trying to build a new, impressed-with-the-glam-of-the-'opera' audience, but hey, there you are.

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12 September 2006

Renata's revenge

After more than a quarter of a century, Renata Scotto gets the last word over that silly queen who made a career of disrupting her Met performances. The DVD of the "Live from the Met" telecast of Luisa Miller was released today, and is available at Amazon.com at a 30% discount off the list price. This is the performance of January 20, 1979, during which Fernando or whatever her name was shrieked "Brava Maria Callas!" in the instant of silence before Scotto launched into "Lo vidi, e 'l primo palpito." No word so far as to whether the DVD preserves this non-Verdian interpolation, but the important news here is that this Luisa Miller is one of the triumphs of the early James Levine era at the Met, with Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, Bonaldo Giaiotti, James Morris and of course La Scottissima herself in A+ form. If memory serves (remember, it's been 25 years since La Cieca's weary eyes have feasted on this video), the live camerawork is far simpler and more immediate than the overly tweaked fussiness that plagued the Brian Large extravaganzas of the 1980s.

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19 August 2006

parterre 2.0

In her never-ceasing quest for greater convenience and maximum gadget-intensivity, La Cieca has updated the user interface for her podcasts. Now she can insert one podcast directly into the homepage like so . . .

powered by ODEO

All you need do is click on the "play" button and crank up your speakers. (This is the most recent podcast, by the way, the third act of Mercadante's Il Bravo, which includes a few bits of news plus a return of the wildly popular quiz "The Enigmas of La Cieca.") The most recent dozen or so podcasts can be accessed, as always, from the Unnatural Acts of Opera page. And do note that the Unnatural Acts of Opera Archive contains the whole first year of La Cieca's little shows.

Another new shiny object is the updated player on the Podderdammerung page -- now you can listen to the entirety of Der Ring des Nibelungen from a single page here on parterre.com. Podderdammerung.

Another exciting new feature, coming very soon, is discussed in the current podcast.

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16 August 2006

Bleak bummer

Which soprano's sudden cancellation of all her future engagements thankfully has nothing to do with illness, and everything to do with, well, spite? She was in love, and he she loved proved bad, and did forsake her. For his secretary. Since the songbird's soon-to-be-ex-husband still has an interest in her future revenue stream, she has decided to sit and sulk rather than financing the love nest.

Meanwhile, the casts, they are a-changin' over at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Simon Keenlyside is out of Iphigenie en Tauride, replacement TBA and obviously soon, since the production opens in a little over a month. And mezzo-soprano Jane Irwin will be Mere Marie in LOC's Dialogues of the Carmelites, replacing the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.

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The Met opens doors for us! Doors we never dreamed existed!

More Met news, this time something certain and soon. The Metropolitan Opera will hold its first ever "Open House" on Friday, September 22. The all-day event will include:

  • the final dress rehearsal of the new Anthony Minghella/James Levine production of Madama Butterfly starring Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, Marcello Giordani, Dwayne Croft and Maria Zifchak

  • a panel discussion with the singers and the creative team

  • a demonstration of a scene change narrated by members of the company's technical staff

  • a first look at the new Arnold and Marie Schwartz Gallery in the Met lobby

  • and a puppetry demonstration by the Blind Summit Theatre

Tickets for the Open(ish) House will be available free of at the Met Box Office starting at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, September 20, on a first-come first-served basis, with a limit of two tickets per customer.

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06 August 2006

And instead of "Nazi" we should have said "Lutheran"

From the New York Times:

Correction: August 5, 2006
A picture yesterday with an obituary of the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was published in error. It showed Anneliese Rothenberger — not Miss Schwarzkopf — in the role of Sophie from “Der Rosenkavalier,” a 1962 film adaptation of the Richard Strauss opera. The Salzburg Festival mounted that production, in which Miss Schwarzkopf had the role of the Marschallin, and originally distributed the photograph with the incorrect information. A picture of Miss Schwarzkopf appears today on Page C10. The obituary also misspelled the surname of a music critic for The New York Times who reviewed Miss Schwarzkopf’s debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1964. He was Raymond Ericson, not Erickson.


02 August 2006

Too darn hot

How hot was it yesterday? So hot that New York Grand Opera canceled their Central Park performance of Tosca, that's how hot it was. Rather ironic, too, because Tosca is specifically set in midsummer in metropolitan Rome, where the climate is comparable to yesterday's Gotham scorcher. Remember that the next time you see a Tosca sweep into the Palazzo Farnese in a long-sleeved velvet dress and ermine cape . . .

In fact, La Cieca is already beginning to shudder at the thought of the Met in the Park performances scheduled for the last week of August. Traditionally that last week before Labor Day is the most miserably hot and humid stretch of the summer in the city, which is why everyone who possibly can get away does get away. That number of course does not include La Cieca, who never goes anywhere and will during that wretched week cling to her outer borough abode as always. Who knows, if this whole global warming thing keeps up, maybe the Met can start doing their Park performances during their dark week in January.

Meanwhile, over at the Times, "Captain Obvious" Tommasini notices that at Bayreuth some members of the audience boo the stage director. And did he remember to mention the covered pit? Or was he too distracted by all those "pasty-skinned and delicate young men in lacy robes?" (Since when has the Times hired Blanche du Bois as their chief critic?)

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21 July 2006

Blind leading the blind item

11 July 2006

La publicité!

Well, who says that the summer is a slow news season for opera? The top story this week is that the Royal Opera Covent Garden is living up to it name (the royal part I mean) by casting Deborah Voigt as Ariadne for their 2007-08 season. And bravi to La Voigt herself and her publicity team for handling the story so well -- it was everywhere on the net yesterday, including even Fox News.

An interesting detail in the story is that currently Voigt is 135 pounds lighter than her peak weight, presurgery, which was two years ago, or in other words she has lost an entire soubrette. What a shock it will be when the Met's video of Ariadne finally emerges from the vaults -- this was taped back when Voigt was still X-large, and to tell the truth, La Cieca think she's beginning to forget what Debbie looked like back then, since she seems so comfortable in her new skin.

Well, at least the Ariadne made it to the taping stage; the latest big opera video project might not even do that. You may recall that La Cieca revealed last week that Los Angeles Opera will present a short revival of Traviata in the fall so that Renee Fleming's Violetta can be documented for a Decca DVD release. (Part of the deal as that Fleming should appear in a "traditional" production, as opposed to the flapper updating Los Angeles did this summer.)

Well, now it turns out that LAO will have to pony up an additional $600K to refurbish their old Traviata production to bring it up to acceptable standards for video. (I guess if Renee Fleming is your Violetta, you should make sure the physical production is as interesting as possible.) What makes this story so odd is that both the Traviata stagings in question are devised by the same director, and that this director is the wife of the company's general director. And what I think should have Decca worried is that they are putting so much money into a Traviata with a soprano who is not exactly a reliable self-starter as an actress, and then giving her Marta Domingo as a director. No wonder Dimitri Hvorostovsky bailed from this one.

And another thing that struck me as odd is that since the news about this DVD broke first as a rumor and now it's been confirmed, there has been no reaction, even from the big Fleming fans, no cries of, "Oh thank heaven the divine Renee's Violetta will be preserved for posterity!" I mean, it's no skin off La Cieca's Roman nose whether Renaaay films it or not: I'm not going to watch it anyway, but you'd think the hardcore Fleming Flappers would be making a bit more of a stir over so important a project for their goddess. Oh well, probably a lot of the Fleming fans were out in their quarter shares in the Pines this past weekend, and just haven't caught up with the good news yet.

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15 June 2006

Working on the Whale-Road

Our left coast correspondent Baritenor reports:

I would not call Grendel an opera for the faint-hearted. The libretto is well-written, but the score jumps to both ends of the operatic spectrum, going from lyrical to modernistic to lyrical again in the blink of an eye. Think Benjamin Britten on crack, if you will, only with an electric guitar in the pit. While the use of two languages (Grendel and several other characters sang in English, the majority of his foes sang in Olde Englysshe) worked, less effective was the use of "shadow" Grendels to echo his statements and provide harmony in his songs.

I've been disappointed by Julie Taymor before, but this is her best operatic production since that Japanese Oedipus Rex that's on DVD with Jessye Norman. With the exception of a few ridiculous-looking puppets, Taymor provided interesting and appropriate direction, helped immensely by Georg Tyspin's beautiful set: a giant wall, one side made of gleaming ice, the other side jutting rock, which a central section that tilted to provide a multi-layered playing area. It was extremely effective.

The role of Grendel is, in the words of composer Elliot Goldenthal, "really a two-and-a-half hour monologue," and Eric Owens provided the necessary lyricism, vocal bite, diction and passion the part calls for. He sang extremely well in the challenging role, whether booming his violent torments at human kind over blaring horns or producing an beautiful pianissimo as the monster dies, and deserves more exposure than he has gotten. After Grendel, Wotan must seem like a walk in the figurative park.

Taymor also provided ample opportunity for a fine corps de ballet, and the choreography, by Angelin Preljocaj, was a highlight of the night. The rest of the cast provided strong support in their cameo roles. Denyce Graves had the opera's other more-than-demanding role, the elderly Dragon who gives Grendel key advice near the end of the first Act. Ms. Graves has only one scene, but she is required to go from a low E flat to a high B, I believe. She struggled with some of the lower notes on opening night, but her top opened effortlessly and she sang with great drollness as the jaded Dragon.

As the Shaper, a blind bard, Richard Croft was a standout. Given the Opera's most beautiful melodies, he sang with the purity necessary for the spell-binding poet who enchants Grendel with his song. Soprano Laura Claycomb was beautiful in voice and figure as Queen Wealtheow, and Jay Hunter Morris provived humor and a fine Heldentenor as the blustering hero Unferth, a parody of the traditional Wagnerian hero. A fine boy soprano sang the role of Grendel as a child. Charles Robert Austin provided plenty of angst and solid low notes as Grendel's antagonist King Hrothgar, and the three "Shadow" Grendels blended well.

In the important role of Grendel's slayer Beowulf, here a dancer whose voice was given by the chorus, Desmond Richardson was a powerful eyebrow-raising presence, clad only in a dance belt and ritual tattoos.

I would give Grendel a positive review, not least so for Taymor's impressive production, with one warning: at intermission, the lady next to me huffed "well, it's not La traviata", and I counted several walkouts. So be careful: There is modernistic music, profanity in the libretto, and it's rather long (the first act runs about an hour and a half.) It's probably not to everyone's taste. It was to mine.


22 May 2006

Tough guy

Joseph Volpe's memoir The Toughest Show on Earth (see, La Cieca can get the title right when she wants too) is a book about a working-class kid from Queens who wanted to be Rudolf Bing when he grew up. Or, rather, it's about a stage carpenter who was bright enough and ambitious enough to do catch Bing's eye during the disastrous lead-up to the first Met season at Lincoln Center. I'm not sure how accurate the details are in Volpe's story of how he "fixed" the set of Franco Zeffirelli's Antony and Cleopatra (especially the Zef's meek acceptance of an unknown carpenter's hacking away at his work), but it is a characteristic story. Volpe sees himself and depicts himself as a man who puts his thoughts into action, an autocrat even, like his role model Bing.

Volpe's rise from middle management to top dog (when he finally claimed Bing's old office) hinged on a series of coincidences. First came the death of intendant-to-be Goeran Gentele, leaving a lacuna hastily plugged with the semi-competent Schuyler Chapin, first of several weakish General Managers who allowed Bing's centralized power to dissipate. Meanwhile, Rafael Kubelik deserted the newly-created post of Music Director, sweeping the young James Levine into power. Volpe found himself allied with the volatile new Director of Productions John Dexter, who relied on Volpe to get things done in the notoriously entropic Met bureaucracy.

As Levine's power and influence increased, so, apparently, did his hunger for love and approval from his colleagues; he simply wouldn't say "no," even when he ascended to the rank of Artistic Director. After General Manager Bruce Crawford accomplished a financial turnaround for the company, he resigned, replaced by the innefectual Hugh Southern, who shared Levine's distaste for confrontation. Thus Volpe's role evolved into that of Bad Cop. For for example, he's the one who had to tell Eva Marton that, despite what "she'd been led to believe," the soprano would not get the plum of recording the Ring with the Met orchestra. (Volpe indulges in passive voice to avoid pointing fingers at the culprit who misled Marton, but it's not hard to figure out.)

Upon Southern's ouster, Volpe was promoted -- not to General Manager (the Bing/Gatti-Casazza title) but rather General Director, on equal footing with Levine and development diva Marilyn Shapiro. The disgruntled Volpe enhanced his power by taking on the most onerous task in the house -- saying "no" to Jimmy. Finally, in 1993, 30 years since he entered the Met as a stagehand, Volpe attained his goal, General Manager, which conferred not only the duty but the power to say "no" to anyone and everyone.

Volpe dedicates a chapter of the book to what is generally regarded as the most controversial action he took as GM, the firing of Kathy Battle in the winter of 1994. He builds a convincing case against her, documenting behavior ranging from difficult to impossible ranging back to 1982, and assures us that he at least went though the motions of offering the soprano help after he fired her. He even admits that the brutal language he used in the press release canning Battle was in part motivated by his desire to assert authority in his new role. What he glosses over, though, is why the Battle problem was allowed to escalate to total war. The answer, of course, is that she was Levine's pet. He deliberately ignored her bad behavior, and (perhaps even worse), everyone in the house was afraid to upset the maestro. Unchallenged, Battle grew into a monster.

Now, in an opera you send in a hero to slay a dragon. But this scenario was more Godzilla than Siegfried, and Volpe was the only one at the Met ready to use the Oxygen Destroyer. The press release accompanying Battle's heave-ho was overkill, but it worked. The problem, perhaps, is that it worked too well. Volpe convinced himself that bullying was the only effective management style, and the second half of the book is littered with examples of failures of that policy and the resultant lapses of judgment and taste that have plagued the Met for the past decade.

Volpe's motto doesn't seem to be so much "the buck stops here" as "he told me it was a buck; how was I to know it was counterfeit?" He claims he foresaw the disastrous problems inherent in the various fiascos helmed by Francesca Zambello, Graham Vick, Giancarlo del Monaco, Piero Faggioni and Franco Zeffirelli, and even says he tried to do a little last-minute fixup (a la the clouds in Antony.) But Volpe offers no sense of how such misquided production concepts could have survived even the talking stage. How could he have looked at set and costume renderings for Zambello's Lucia, for example, and said, "Yeah, this will work?"

This lack of vision, combined with a habit of delegating casting and planning decisions, plus a conservative tendency to go with the familiar (even when the familiar is mediocre or worse) -- what it all adds up to is a picture of a man with little faith in his own abilities as an artistic director. This, alas, is why Joseph Volpe is no Rudolf Bing. During his tenure, Mr. Bing made good decisions and bad decisions, but they were informed and confident decisions. Volpe's big ideas tended to be more of the "do it because I say so" variety.

For example, we find out that in 1999 the Alagnas in fact did sign the disputed Traviata contracts, but Volpe held them to the letter of his own arbitrary deadline. He said Thursday, and on Friday morning Herbert Breslin was ready to fax over the contracts. Alagna and Gheorghiu were even willing to work with Zeffirelli, which must have taken a whole lot of persuading on Breslin's part. Volpe had in his hand an opera house's crown jewel: a new Traviata with superstar singers, a celebrated director, and no less than James Levine conducting. But he tossed that all away, saying, "Forget it. The deadline has passed. They're out." Then he blabbed the whole story to the New York Times, making everyone involved look silly and childish. And for what? The Met ended up with a Traviata nobody wanted and nobody liked, and six years later Gheorghiu finally showed up for Violetta -- wearing her own costumes and doing her own staging.

The bit about the Alagnas' signed contracts is one of the few new bits of information in this book; obviously the publishers are thoroughly lawyered up and whatever dirt Volpe might have been ready to divulge has been thorougly expunged. We do learn, though, that when money talks, Uncle Joe listens. He tells with a straight face the story of how Sybil Harrington
hated the flat silver walls that Dexter and the designer, David Reppa came up with [for a production of Don Carlo], but she bided her time until after Dexter left the Met. Once he did, the scenery department, at her insistence, redid the walls with an elaborate pattern more in keeping with King Philip's -- and her -- taste.
Volpe also allowed a more notorious benefactor to dictate that the booking operator at the Met's onsite restaurant answer the phone with, "Good afternoon, Vilar Grand Tier Restaurant," as if seeing the "V" word stenciled all over the walls wasn't enough. Volpe insists that he and Alberto Vilar "had little personal contact," and with crystal clear hindsight, notes that Vilar "always seemed to be harboring secrets . . . . I wondered when all this would go up in smoke." But he didn't let that stop him from allowing Vilar to act as if he ran the place.

That about does it for new and interesting content. There's a nude photo of Karita Mattila illustrating an anecdote about how Volpe strong-armed a photographer who took a nude photo of Karita Mattila. There's yet another rehash of the Lincoln Center redevelopment debacle, a "controversy" that even the New York Times is bored with by now. As expected, the Erica Sunnegardh "breakthrough" is predicted in uncanny detail, with comparisons to Rosa Ponselle and Roberta Peters. And, amusingly, Volpe repeats the urban legend about the first-night reception of Robert Wilson's Lohengrin production ("I had also failed to register a recent development in the history of booing. For months, anti-Wilson forces had been peppering the Internet with appeals for the Met audience to give his Lohengrin the same treatment it had dished out to Zambello's Lucia." If you can't be bothered to use Google, Mr. Volpe, at least delegate that task to a fact checker.)

It's a quick read, with lots of names dropped. The Pavarotti stories are either already famous or else are so characteristic as to sound familiar. Neither Volpe nor his coauthor Charles Michener can be accused of being a stylist; the prose is plain and undistinguished, rather like Volpe's legacy. Volpe's hero Rudolf Bing hired John Gutman to ghostwrite his entertaining, bitchy memoir 5000 Nights at the Opera. But then Mr. Bing always did have style.

The Toughest Show on Earth: My Rise and Reign at the Metropolitan Opera by Joseph Volpe. Knopf, May 2006 $25.95

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20 May 2006

Liveblogging the Volpethon

11:40: Then Rene Pape matched Hvorostovsky, then Zajick matched (topped?) them both, then who the hell had the idiotic idea of doing the Easter Hymn with a mezzo who can't sing it and the chorus apparently stoned or else in another city? (Oh, and did you notice the long, noisy scene change afterward? Vintage Volpe.)

11:05: Finally, SOMETHING that sounds like it belongs on a gala. Hvorostovsky may not sound quite that huge in the house, but it's a star voice performing like a star. Stunning breath control (and a fine sense of line) in the first phrase of the "Io morro!"

10:15: Admittedly only the first half . . . but a $3,000 top for this? Yes, La Cieca admits you don't get to hear Kiri te Kanawa all that often, but the only novelty rep thus far was Fleming's Trovatore ... which is one of her current concert pieces. It really sounds like nobody is really trying to make the evening special. Or, dare La Cieca say it, like they are doing what they are required to do, and not any more -- perhaps since nobody can be accused of loving Joe Volpe?

9:30: Fleming singing Trovatore on Milanov's centenary? And, folks, the action in the chat room is so frantic, I'm going to wait until the interval to blog more. BTW, who sings Dutchman at a gala? Isn't it a bit, I don't know, GRIM?

9:00: Natalie Dessay starts at the beginning of the recit. for Sonnambula. I think she actually sounds more interesting now with the slight wear and tear on the voice -- at least in this plaintive music. We'll see what the cabaletta is like.

Maybe she is making more space for the "Credea" than she should. I don't think it should be quite this much work. And of course running out of breath isn't such a good idea.

Well, she seems to know how the cabaletta is supposed to go, but boy the voice is sketchy except at the very top. And not much of a B-flat to finish.

8:45: Placido Domingo in a zarzuela about a fisherman. Oh, it's "No puede ser" -- d'oh! And now Frederica von Stade sings with an untuned piano. If only Voigt's novelty song were of this quality...

When I think of Yevgeny Onegin, the first name that comes to mind is Bill Irwin.

8:30: Half an hour in, and finally some opera singing. Jesus Christ, three conductors for the first three numbers!

Wow, Florez is close miked! A little tight to start with, but after the first cadenza he sounds warmed up. If only that ghastly chorus weren't yowling behind him.

8: 20 PM: Remember, it's NOT a contest. Except to see which first soprano sounds oldest.

8:10 PM: Voigt's special material song is pretty damn awful. She sounds fine, but the song is crap.

Better stream at http://wuot.sunsite.utk.edu:8080/ramgen/broadcast/wuot.rm. Ah, the stunning set for the Ariadne. How appropriate for the ex-carpenter.

For an encore, Debbie will sing, "After You've Gone."

Here comes Debbie.

8:00 PM: Sigh, if Renee really wants to save the Met broadcasts, she would start singing better in Rodelinda. Meanwhile, I'm off to test-drive a Lexus.

7:45 PM: La Cieca's live-on-tape coverage of the Volpe Farewell Gala begins!

Note that the broadcast is available on WQXR's website. The live chat has already begun; you can join by clicking the "chat now" button to the right.

Most recent news: Mirella Freni will make only a "tribute" (nonsinging) appearance, and Ruth Ann Swenson bagged this afternoon's Elisir, so don't expect her tonight.

At the moment, we have a violinist playing Rachmaninoff on WQXR. Not part of the gala...

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15 May 2006

La skype humaine

For those of you who don't do Skype yet, now's the time to give the service a try. They are offering unlimited free calls to anywhere in the US and Canada from now until the end of the year. International calls to, basically, any phone in the world, cost .02 Euros per minute. Unless you are calling Skype-to-Skype, which of course is free anywhere, anytime. Besides voice communication, the Skype connection offers IM, file transfer, video phone calling, and a net meeting function that supports up to 100 participants. And, of course, it's all free. (La Cieca finds that Skype is particularly useful when taking notes while on a phone call, for example, while interviewing.)


05 May 2006

The long and winding Rodelinda

Point/Counterpoint from the wellsung twins:

Jonathan: "Renee Fleming is a disaster as Rodelinda. What the hell is going on? WHY does she sing this rep? It was like one big slur that lasted for four hours. I did not hear one consonant, and there was no sense whatsoever of where one note ended and another began. It was just this sort of formless, free-flowing sound that sort of skated over Handel's music--the music that was hiding somewhere under this drool-bag of vocal drivel . . . . Also, I resent that somehow people have convinced themselves that it is good--or even that it is vaguely acceptable. The crowd of deaf (evidently), bravo-screeching Renee devotees were really pissing me off."

Alex: ". . . she sounded like ass last night. It was like all of her most infuriating qualities on steroids. The most weak, contrived, covered sound you can imagine. Utter, baffling lack of precision (which is doubly inexcusable in Handel). Total sacrifice of any phrasing or larger line to trying, and failing, to make everything precious. Diction so wretched and lazy I spent the whole evening annoyed that I couldn't understand what she was saying. And I don't know a lick of Italian. And she seems to think the obligatory Beautiful Voice™ moment at the end of each aria makes up for the ten minutes of dreck that came before. I'm not buying it, lady."

Please excuse La Cieca, but she's totally farklempt. They grow up so fast!

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18 April 2006

Et je sais votre nom

Which diva is more than a little miffed at Met management at the moment? It seems that a major cast change in her opera was a done deal -- even posted on metopera.org -- while she waited for a frank -- or for any -- word from those in charge.

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30 March 2006

Gli enigmi sono due

Which veteran Met star had his nose buried so deep in his score that he collided clumsily with a chorister at a final rehearsal? The low-voiced divo erupted in threats, but calmed down soon enough when he realized that he was yelling at the AGMA Rep!

Which soprano now has a large hole in her schedule half a year hence after canceling a bel canto role debut? She's been replaced by a considerate colleague who fortunately had a coordinating hole in her schedule (though, unfortunately, rather an unpleasant hole in her voice as well.)

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27 March 2006

Egli delira

Which star canceled his Met season due to a very "committed" performance... of his own personal Mad Scene?


Share, public

Those of you who are enjoying La Cieca's video clips, as presented on Google Video and YouTube now can have a copy of your very own. A new web-based service called KeepVid lets you download any video on these sites to your hard drive. (Note that many of these videos are in the .flv format, which means you'll need to install an FLV player in order to play them. Enjoy! Share! Information (see below) wants to be free!

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04 March 2006

Strike three

A rather startling followup headline in the New York Times today:

And is La Cieca the only one who was puzzled by the blurb for Luisa Miller in the Met's Sunday Times ad? The cast for opening night is listed as Barbara Frittoli, Irina Mishura, Neil Shicoff, Carlos Alvarez, James Morris and Phillip Ens. But the copy reads, "Three of the world's greatest Verdi singers star . . ." So which of these six artists are included in that trio of "greatest" and which are just along for the ride? How is that statement complicated by the defection of Barbara Frittoli from the cast earlier this week? Would the corrected ad state "two of the world's greatest Verdi singers? [emphasis added]" Or would it remain "three?" And would that "three" be assumed to include Veronica Villaroel, who is jumping in as Luisa? And can you tell that La Cieca's day job is at a law firm?

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03 March 2006

Sì, oltre ogni Urmana idea!

Mezzo-turned-soprano Violeta Urmana will sing her first Norma later this month. She will take on the Bellini heroine in concert form at Dresden's Semper Oper beginning March 30, according to an article on Playbillarts.com.

The good news from Boston is that James Levine "didn't break anything" when he fell off the stage after a performance on Wednesday night, per the AP.

So, which Wagner opera do you belong in? (La Cieca belongs in the Ring, and, believe her, that's just how long this week has felt!)

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01 March 2006

Is nothing sacred?

Which still-active soprano has not only begun teaching, but has quickly moved on to the next rung of the pedagological ladder, i.e., interstudio politics? It seems our heroine was invited to a student performance, only to find the teacher of the student in question also in attendance! Air was kissed for public consumption, but once our heroine exited the coulisse, the veteran professor sniffed, "How dare she try to poach from my studio!"


23 February 2006

Clothing not optional

Actress/model/skank Carmen Electra will live up to her dual-barrelled operatic name tonight when she attends the Vienna Opera Ball. Curvy Carmen is the date of Viennese entrepreneur/socialite/reality show star Richard Lugner, who annually throws money at a celebrated piece of arm candy in hopes of attracting publicity.

La Electra (oh, La Cieca thinks that is just so much fun to say!) raised eyebrows at a press conference earlier today when she insisted that she intended to remain fully clothed during tonight's ball, which is the most important event on the Viennese social calendar. The former Playboy covergirl will wear a black and white designer gown to the event, and will at no time during the evening strip out of it.

Lugner first pulled this paparazzi-friendly stunt in 1993, when he squired Joan Collins accompanied him to the ball. In recent years the level of "star" Lugner attracts has spiraled from B-list to D-cup: Grace Jones, Sarah, Duchess of York, Raquel Welch, Faye Dunaway, Farrah Fawcett, Andie MacDowell and, last year, Geri Halliwell.

Viennese grande dame Christl Schoenfelt, who organized the first Opera Ball in 1956, sniffed, "These women are horrible. Their presence damages the event's distinguished image." And then Lugner sued her.

In other opera-related news, La Cieca presents a 1986 recital by Carlo Bergonzi and Piero Cappuccilli on the current Unnatural Acts of Opera.

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06 February 2006

I Feel a Song Insufflating On!

From an article on Teresa Berganza's website, "Teresa Berganza, canto as expression of a style":

She’s got black eyes and a white simile . . . .

Her voice, the subduing voice of Teresa Berganza is something like the invocation of a mystery made accomplice to the shinning of her gaze; a voice full of magic, that isn’t an intention of itself but natural meaning to the service of a sentiment. She insufflates on a song both the ideal lyric purity of a melody and the taking of an existentialist dramatic passion; a voice to and for every vowel; a voice for musical words, which she melts in a prodigious way.

Teresa Berganza enriches the sounds through inexorable phraseology; managing to send forth nitid words through a melody, her “legato” fuses rhythms and cadencies like a goldsmith.

In Teresa Berganza everything previously said gives an abundant argumentation to deduct an aesthetic synthesis, over which a sound personality lays a style . . . .

Undoubtedly Mozart, Händel, Purcell, Offenbach, Bizet and Massenet in the
immense space of their glory, would tremble in pleasure if they heard this
outstanding Madrid citizen unravel the mystery they left for us in their


03 February 2006

Septuagenarian Song

The New York Post's Clive Barnes is going to blush beet-red when he hears from the publicists (or the lawyers) who handle Placido Domingo. In a review of the Met's Rigoletto, Barnes refers to PD as "the 72-year-old tenor." Domingo admits to 65, though some gossips have long sniped that this figure doesn't add up with the dates of his earliest documented performances. (La Cieca might as well say right now that there are even a few Placidophobes out there who would add, "and they got the 'tenor' part wrong too," but she's not even going to go near there.)

And in the Times this morning (La Cieca so loves her morning papers!), Ben Ratliff does a Critic's Notebook about rare jazz and pop music videos found on YouTube.com -- the site La Cieca has been using to share a few opera vids with her cher public. La Cieca rather likes the first half of the piece, in which Mr. Ratliff salivates over footage of George Clinton and Sarah Vaughan he'd never seen before. Inevitably (and sadly) though, the larger part of the article is concerned with what the author calls "legal and ethical problems." An anonymous spokesnazi for the RIAA intones, "uploading or distributing copyrighted material, without permission from the copyright holder, is illegal," but an entertainment lawyer offers the opinion that YouTube is protected by a safe harbor in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. In the meantime, remember that you too can upload favorite operatic video content to share with the parterre community (as explained here), subject of course to YouTube's terms of service.

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01 February 2006

Glamour puss

La Cieca's spy L'incredibile, who has only moments ago slunk home from the Met's Traviata dress rehearsal, predicts a triumph for Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta. "The most beautiful soprano to sing the role here since Anna Moffo," L'incredibile exults, though he adds reservations about the carrying power of Gheorgiu's "veiled" voice and the "frequent disagreements" about tempo between the diva and maestro Marco Armiliato.

New attire for Ms. Gheorghiu includes a flowing "oriental" robe in a deep rose silk for the first act ("think Adriana's first entrance," L'inc explains) which the soprano strips off to perform "Sempre libera" in corset and petticoat. (Apparently this was The Zef's original concept, but for whatever reason it was ditched when this production was introduced back in 1998.)

The spy, though closely questioned, would not commit to an opinion regarding tenor Jonas Kaufmann, since he marked "the entire opera." Kaufmann does, however, appear to be planning on interpolating high C's into the first act finale and at the end of his cabaletta. Anthony Michaels-Moore (Germont) boasts "the loudest voice in the cast, plus he sings directly out into the house the whole time." Incredibile, ma vero! Oh, La Cieca can hardly wait! (In the meantime, she and you can bone up on Gheorghiu 101 in this archive.)

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31 January 2006

Video Vixens II: Public Submission

La Cieca is just so excited about the new youtube capability that she wants you, cher public, to get in on the act. Do you have a favorite operatic video clip you would like to share with the world (well, with the readers of parterre.com, which amounts to everyone in the world that matters)? Just email La Cieca and she'll arrange to get the clip posted right here on the parterre homepage. What's in it for you? Well, other than the glory (and glory is nothing to be sniffed at!), the source of every video La Cieca uses will be sent a La Cieca's Greatest Hits CD; best video of the month gets an historical opera DVD!

So, what kind of video are we talking about? Something rare and not commerically available that you VCRed or Tivoed, or a snippet you sneaked on camcorder or cell phone, such as:

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20 January 2006

The Inner Bark

"Her quirky personality shines through once she gets to know you . . . . In the home, she is very sweet and quite affectionate, however she is not clingy or needy for your undivided attention at all times . . . . She's not a hyper or noisy girl, but she has a wealth of energy and stamina and she loves to go for long walks in the park . . . . All she needs now is someone to whom she can give all that love and devotion. All she wants is someone to love her and spend time with her." Oh, and her singing voice "could rival Renee Fleming," which is pretty impressive, since this bitch seems to have it all over Renaay in the personality department.

Update: on the other hand, maybe I'm misreading this. What if the dog sounds like this?

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18 January 2006

Marilyn Horne's Illness Is Confirmed

This just in from musicalamerica.com: "Marilyn Horne’s manager at Columbia Artists Management Inc., has confirmed that Ms. Horne has been diagnosed with localized pancreatic cancer." A source at the Marilyn Horne Foundation adds:

"Marilyn Horne has been diagnosed with localized pancreatic cancer, which, allowing for recent significant breakthroughs in treatment, offers an excellent prognosis for a full recovery.

"Marilyn Horne is known throughout the world for not only her magnificent voice, but also for her tremendous energy and human spirit, which will, along with the love of her family and friends, see her through this challenge."
Ms. Horne, who turned 72 on Monday, is scheduled to participate in "The Song Continues... 2006" next week, including masterclasses on January 24 and 27.


13 January 2006

Volpe, al giungervi di questo foglio...

So, this is what La Cieca read on the website of the Italian newspaper Il Mattino:
Roberto Alagna
. . . sta male a causa di crisi ipoglicemiche e non potrà cantare per almeno tre mesi . . . . A dare la notizia lo stesso cantante accompagnato dalla moglie, il soprano Angela Gheorghiu, che ha annullato i suoi appuntamenti in giro per il mondo per i prossimi mesi pur di stargli vicino.

Now, La Cieca is not the world's strongest Italian reader, but this certainly seems to say that la Gheorghiu "has canceled her international engagements for the coming months in order to be near him." Which, in turn, makes La Cieca wonder: is La traviata in New York an "international engagement?" (La Cieca will also add that this is the first time she's ever heard of a singer canceling because of hypoglycemia. Can't he drink a glass of orange juice or something?)

UPDATE: January 14 . . . A veteran diva close to Gheorghiu says this morning, "Angela will sing the Traviatas."

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08 January 2006

And one for Mahler!

A double-header of Tony Tommasini delights this weekend in the Times. On Sunday, TT puts on his Captain Obvious hat to ask the musical question, "is it possible that [Nathan] Gunn's appearance has drawn attention away from his fine vocal artistry?" You'll find that story right next to the photograph of Gunn with his shirt off.

The day before, an interview with Elaine Stritch in which the veteran Broadway diva tells about her date with James Levine. (Yes, you read that right.) Jimmy, you see, took La Stritch to hear Barbara Cook at the Carlyle; Tony concludes that "this story gives a poignant glimpse into Mr. Levine's private life." Well, yes, actually: in fact, that scenario is just about the gayest thing La Cieca can imagine -- with the possible exception of Ricky Martin reading Valley of the Dolls aloud while getting fistfucked.

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05 January 2006

Bass, you is my woman now

Congratulations to the Met's Joe Volpe, who has successfully postponed lame duck status by wangling $25 million -- real money, not pledges, and relatively few strings attached -- from socialite Mercedes Bass and her husband Sid R. Bass. Mrs. Bass, who looks simply smashing in the photo accompanying the New York Times piece, made tactful noises about the disgraced Alberto Vilar ("He made pledges across the world, and bad times hit him. I don't think he did it intentionally") and demurred prettily when asked if she expected any quid for her pro quo ("The important thing is not so much having one's name on the Grand Tier, but to help the Met.")

Before turning their attentions to the Met, the Basses were a celebrated Hollywood power couple. Mr. Bass, who made his fortune designing credit sequences for such films as Vertigo and Anatomy of a Murder, met Mrs. Bass when she was acting in All the King's Men, a role for which she won the Academy Award.


02 January 2006


Scuttlebutt from the Met says that Angela Gheorghiu hankers to sing Strauss's Salome -- though presumably she would workshop the role in a more friendly venue first. In other whisperings, La Cieca has heard that Peter Gelb is currently ensconced in the office once occupied by Beverly Sills. Apparently he's to remain there until the General Manager's office can be pried from Joe Volpe's cold dead hands. (Something tells La Cieca that Uncle Joe's exit from the Met will be as protracted as that of Nancy Reagan from the White House -- as played by Jan Hooks in the classic SNL sketch.)

Here's a game to brighten up the first chilly days of 2006 for you. Using Brad Wilber's Met Futures Page and your own insider knowledge, can you suggest to La Cieca which artists' contracts Gelb most needs to buy out? La Cieca's nomination: the threatened 2007-2008 performances of Norma by Maria Guleghina.

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26 December 2005

Middle aged blues

Peter Gelb's new broom continues to sweep at the Met. Perhaps to make room for the Gheorghiu/Netrebko/Damrau generation, the incoming General Manager is buying out contracts. Two Met artists in particular are targeted, and, oddly enough, these two ladies have quite a bit in common. Both are 40-something light lyric sopranos, and they have three names (each, La Cieca means.) Oh, and did we mention the red hair?

In the latest shipment from Berkshire, La Cieca has found a dazzler of a DVD: Lucrezia Borgia (Encore DVD 2087) from Milan, 2003, starring Mariella Devia, Marcello Alvarez, Daniela Barcellona and (Encore DVD 2087) Michele Pertusi. Renato Palumbo is the conductor. Excellent video of the stylish traditional production, and superb sound -- which is a particular plus since all the leads are in excellent voice. (This is the same staging that was so famously booed when Renaay appeared in it, and La Cieca has a better idea now why that demonstration was so vehement. Devia's Donizetti is elegance itself, with a pure line and imaginative but always idiomatic ornamentation. This, obviously, is the way the Milanese want to hear bel canto.) Look for the soundtrack to this production on "Unnatural Acts of Opera" within the next few weeks.

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21 December 2005

Guerra, guerra!

Well, it's that time of year, isn't it? La Cieca is full to overflowing with the holiday spirit, so full of it, in fact, that she's going to speak her mind, just as if this were a company party. There are some out there who have forgotten the true meaning of this time of year, and La Cieca is just not going to put up with that one minute more. There's a war on, mon cher public, and it's a war on what this special season is all about.

La Cieca is speaking, of course, about the war on the winter solstice, which falls this year on December 21. And what better way to mark this important annual milestone than to listen to a performance of an opera about druids – that is, Bellini's Norma? Anita Cerquetti stars in a 1958 performance of this sublime masterpiece on the current Unnatural Acts of Opera, and long-time friend of parterre box The Urbane Pagan contributes an essay on Shamanic Opera-Going.

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18 December 2005

Eye candy

The upscale art book for opera lovers this holiday season is George Tsypin Opera Factory: Building in the Black Void (Princeton University Press). Tsypin is designer of choice to directors Julie Taymor, Peter Sellars and Francesca Zambello; his most familiar work to New Yorkers is perhaps his Met Zauberfloete in collaboration with Ms. Taymor. The volume overflows with huge color photos of Tsypin's massive constructivistic settings for everything from Les Troyens to West Side Story. (This musical was done for the outdoor Bregenz Festival in Austria and is based on the image of an immense steel skyscraper melting and collapsing -- a chilling allusion to 9/11 for this New York-based show.) Tsypin's two takes on Wagner's Ring include a a thrust set of metal and wood with ramps extending out into the audience area (Amsterdam, 1997), and the new Kirov Opera production which is scheduled for the 2007 Lincoln Center Festival. The striking still photographs whet the appetite for seeing Tsypin's work in the theater.

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29 November 2005

Late November Linkerei

Our publisher JJ sounds off on recent productions of Romeo et Juliette, Zaza and Giulliame Tell (which sounds like a very full king-sized bed indeed!) in the latest installment of Gay City News. Meanwhile, La Cieca presents Il trittico on Unnatural Acts of Opera.

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16 November 2005

Previewing the Gelb era

La Cieca, ear to ground as always, has picked up some reliable-sounding scuttlebutt about the incoming Peter Gelb regime at the Met. The first decade will probably be known as "All Villazon All the Time" since (per our source), Rolando Villazon has inked a pledge to sing two operas a year at the Met for the next ten years. A major highlight of this package will be a new Contes d'Hoffmann in '09, with RV opposite Anna Netrebko, Diana Damrau and Rene Pape. Gelb is ready to put his mark on the house as early as opening night of next season, which he hopes will showcase the new Anthony Minghella production of Madama Butterfly in lieu of the "Tenors" gala currently skedded. (Gueswork on La Cieca's part: Cristina Gallardo-Domas as Cio-Cio-San opposite Marcello Giordani or Salvatore Licitra?) This project is supposed to inagurate a new policy of unveiling a new production each opening night, e.g., Lucia for Natalie Dessay in 2007 (assuming she pulls Romeo off this year, we guess) and Tosca for Karita Mattila in 2009. In the nearer future? Aprile Millo's first staged Gioconda next season, alternating with Violeta Urmana.

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11 November 2005

La Cieca is asking


La Cieca scoured Google Images but couldn't seem to come up with an authentic poster for Leoncavallo's Zaza (which of course you and everyone you know will be hearing tomorrow night at Alice Tully Hall). As such, she decided she'd have to create her own. Click on the image for a larger version, suitable for printing or making into a tee shirt.


25 October 2005

To dye for

The only thing better than knowing that a singer has had the greatest Sternstunde of her career is having that performance documented. Montserrat Caballe's Norma at Orange, for example, which is one of truly must-have DVDs for any true opera fanatic. Now, Dame Gwyneth Jones has had many great nights in her amazing career, but it's hard to imagine she (or anyone else!) could ever top her performance as the Dyer's Wife in this 1980 Frau ohne Schatten from the Paris Opera. Voice, commitment, acting, and La Jones's remarkable physical beauty are at their peak: this is a definitive Faerberin. And it's not as if Jones is carrying the whole show. The luxurious cast includes Hildegard Behrens (Kaiserin), Rene Kollo (Kaiser), Walter Berry (Barak), Mignon Dunn (Amme) and Franz Grundheber (Geisterbote), under the baton of Christoph von Dohnanyi. Unnatural Acts of Opera.

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27 September 2005

Music of the Night

"As I have never in life felt the real bliss of love, I must erect a monument to the most beautiful of all my dreams, in which, from beginning to end, that love shall thoroughly satiated. I have in my head 'Tristan and Isolde,' the simplest, but most full-blooded musical conception. With the black flag which floats at the end of it I shall cover myself to die." -- Richard Wagner, in a letter to Liszt. La Cieca is proud and delighted to present as our next "Unnatural Act of Opera" one of the most full-blooded Tristans ever recorded, the 1952 Bayreuth Festival broadcast starring Ramon Vinay and Martha Moedl as the death-devoted pair. Herbert von Karajan conducts. Beginning tonight on Unnatural Acts of Opera.


23 September 2005

The rumor Millo

Sister Sieglinde summarizes the roiling controversy so far in her Diary, and the most recent whisper La Cieca has heard is, "if that rock promoter wanted Avril Lavigne, he should have hired Avril Lavigne; Aprile is an opera singer."

Among the rumors La Cieca doesn't believe:

Now, La Cieca knows she would be a hypocrite to lecture other people on the perils of Schadenfreude; she recalls, for example, practically peeing herself with delight when she heard about the dogs yapping at Cours-la-Reine in Renaaay's previous Met Manon. However, she will say she just doesn't quite grasp the glee with which some of those online greet the news that an admired and important artists is not going to sing.

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22 September 2005

Breaking: Millo @ Carnegie canceled

La Cieca just heard this on opera-l just now, and checked the Ron Delsener Presents web site, which states, yes, "this show has been canceled." No idea why, but La Cieca will ask around.

Update: a source close to the Delsener organization has told La Cieca that the promoter and the artist had "artistic differences," which could mean just about anything, but LC's educated guess is that the sticking point was repertoire. What La Cieca does know is that this all happened very suddenly; as of Sunday Millo was discussing the upcoming recital with great anticipation without so much as a hint of a cloud on the horizon. Well, whatever the reason, it's a pity to miss La Millo in a rare New York area recital performance, but we do still have Zaza to look forward to.

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21 September 2005

Be brutal, be brutal!

"Tell me, Roberto, does this costume make my manly butt look big?" Speaking of which, has Anthony Tommasini started writing under an assumed name?

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15 September 2005

The weed of crime bears bitter fruit

Which mega-manager went on a quest to fleece other agents of the most glittering stars on their rosters, but managed to sign only one medium-major name --- a soprano whose star vehicle at a swanky summer festival was almost immediately scuttled in favor of a Gilbert and Sullivan revival? (A pity this soprano’s repertoire doesn’t include “Poor Wand’ring One!”)


02 September 2005

Champagne for real friends

La Cieca is delighted to announce that our editor JJ is directing yet once again, this time a production of Die Fledermaus for the [working title] opera. The single gala performance of the Johann Strauss II operetta is scheduled for September 18, 2005 at The Ballroom at the Century Center Theatre, 111 E. 15th Street (just east of Union Square). Featured are Samuel Lloyd Kinsey (Eisenstein), Kathleen Berger (Rosalinde), Melissa Raz (Adele), David Root (Alfredo), David Dorsey (Dr. Falke), Juan José Ibarra (Frank), Juli Borst (Prince Orlovsky), Jacob Feldman (Dr. Blind), and Marty Berger (Frosch). Musical direction is by Eric Malson. The performance begins at 7:00 PM and seating ($10.00) is limited, so be sure to make a reservation today: either phone 646-541-7743 or email your request.

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27 August 2005

Master class

In response to the recent lively(ish) discussion about the suitability of Maria Guleghina to the rigors of the role of Elena in I vespri siciliani, La Cieca has decided that she should demonstrate how this music should be sung. No, actually La Cieca is not going to sing it herself; rather, she will present Renata Scotto's peerless interpretation from La Scala in 1970. This will also mark La Scotto's debut with Unnatual Acts of Opera, and an overdue debut it is when you recall that she is La Cieca's favorite singer, ever. La Cieca once opined that Scotto is the nearest anyone ever came to being the Bette Davis of opera; for that matter, La Davis could certainly be called the Scotto of the Silver Screen. But La Cieca digresses. This gala Vespri also stars Ruggiero Raimondi, Piero Cappuccilli and Gianni Raimondi, under the baton of Gianandrea Gavazzeni. Maestro G. took a number of cuts in the score, which means that we have time for some delightful extras following the acts, with Leyla Gencer, Anita Cerquetti, Boris Christoff and Renato Bruson headlining. It all begins Monday on Unnatural Acts of Opera.

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21 August 2005

Obscene and heard

Which suave singer, perhaps distracted by his not-so-noble legal problems, suffered a meltdown at a public master class this weekend, repeatedly snarling "motherfucker" at his startled students? Shocked witnesses swore that the event should have been retitled "I hear America swearing!"


16 August 2005


"While humor and story telling can warm any occasion, a good scoop spreads through a room like an illicit and irresistible drug, passed along in nods and crooked smiles, in discreet walks out to the balcony, the corridor, the powder room." La Cieca is delighted to learn that gossip is the new meth, at least according to the New York Times. (The article goes on to explain why gossip is also sort of like being at a military academy, which frankly is just getting a little too stimulating for poor La Cieca on a sultry day like today.)


15 August 2005

Monday, Bloody Monday

This week on "Unnatural Acts of Opera," a 1998 live performance of Gomes' opera Maria Tudor conducted by Luis Fernando Malheiro. The heroine of this opera (based on a rather improbable play by dear Victor Hugo) is the Queen of England known to history as "Bloody Mary." As depicted by Gomes, Maria is regal, highly conflicted and given to sudden plunges into open chest voice, which means that for Elaine Coehlo, the role is a natural. Hear Maria Tudor on Unnatural Acts of Opera


03 August 2005

Cieca alla Casablanca

Due to the sensitive yet detailed nature of the following item, La Cieca thought it would be amusing (not to mention safer) to present it in the enigmatic manner of "One Blind Vice," Ted Casablanca's gold-standard column:

Leggy Artiste commandeers a whole range of roles, French and otherwise, but lately she's been panting for a change of repertoire. So she asked for (and got) a concert production of one of her warhorse operas. But this time, Leggy would wear the skirt!

The Fach change shouldn't be such a thorny problem; after all, Leggy is famous for her silvery tones. The remaining cast was hand-picked; Leggy's pet maestro was hired on. Those in the know were already predicting that this event would set the whole town on fire.

But then La Leggy changed her mind, and the whole project crumbled like a handful of .... shall we say, crackers?


There are none so blind...

Which intendant was hoping to steal away from the city of his current post, either to that American A-house, that chic summer festival, or even that international theater so beloved of Alberto Vilar -- but, alas, lost out on all three deals owing to a bad case of loose lips?


02 August 2005

Nipped in the Budd

At first glance, the photo from San Francisco Opera's Billy Budd looks like any other opera featuring Nathan Gunn, i.e., pug nose in profile, chin a-jut, freshly waxed chest front and center.

But on closer inspection, it turns out that Billy is getting a tweak from Mr. Squeak:

"Warm as a sailor's pants, gay as a hornpipe dance..."

La Cieca wishes to thank Albert's World of Artsy Fun for the revelation about Nathan's nips, and also for pointing her to SF Mike's Civic Center, which features lots of photos of the campy Pecheurs de Perles production and other sights around the War Memorial Opera House.

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21 July 2005

Tony fumbles, yet again

Piero Cappuccilli, considered one of the finest Italian baritones of his generation, lies in an advanced state of putrefaction today. He died July 12, but for reasons best known to Anthony Tommasini of the Times, that passing was not noted until today, i.e., nine days after the fact. Perhaps if Cappuccilli had achieved "international stardom" (which apparently consists of something more elusive than singing the great roles of the Italian baritone repertoire in every great opera house of the world for over 30 years), his obituary might have appeared a little more quickly. Then again, with a new production of Death in Venice about to open at Glimmerglass, Tony might have been too busy dreaming up adjectives to describe the dancer playing Tadzio ("buff?" "sleek?" "lithe?" "humpy?")

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Floral Hell

More bad news for Alberto Vilar. The Royal Opera House has given him 60 days to pony up the 10 million pounds he promised in return for their naming a reception area of the theater "The Vilar Floral Hall." (Is this guy the Gladys Glover of opera or what?)

Says Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas (chair of the ROH board of trustees, and, La Cieca likes to imagine, looking and sounding very like Dame Maggie Smith's character in Godford Park), "It is our intention to give notice to Mr Vilar according to the terms of the agreement, and indicate that if no further payments within the 60-day period are forthcoming we will absolve him of his liability to make his outstanding payments." Which, translated into American, means, "Start sharpening your chisels, boys, we've got a plaque to remove!" More details on the Beeb's website.

In other news, La Cieca has fixed the glitch that prevented iTunes from downloading the latest episodes of "Unnatural Acts of Opera." If there are any shows you have missed, please email La Cieca and she'll send you a direct link for download.


12 July 2005

Neither intellectual nor proper

La Cieca has to say she is just plain appalled at the turn of events in the Opera Barga / Motezuma fracas. Not that she's any particular fan of Vivaldi opera, but the behavior of the officials at the Berlin Sing-Akademie (who claim copyright ownership of this 270-year-old opera) strikes her as unartistic and just plain nasty. The Sing-Akademie basically stumbled over a manuscript containing something over half the opera. They then published the Motezuma torso online, which under German law apparently grants them a 25-year copyright.

Well, the law is the law, even when the law is an ass, and I suppose that given the 21stt century's Gollumesque attitude toward intellectual property, there's no way the piece is going to revert to where it intuitively would seem to belong, i.e., the public domain.

But here's my problem. The Sing-Akademie have already demonstrated that they have no problem with allowing performances -- after all, they authorized the premiere of Motezuma in Rotterdam last month. Their beef is that Opera Barga (and the Duesseldorf’s Altstadtherbst Festival) won't pony up 10,000 Euros in royalties. So, alas, it all comes down to money -- and, more to the point, who can afford better lawyers. Actually performing a rediscoverd work, it seems, counts for nothing: ownership of the thought is all.


10 July 2005

A good podcast is worth repeating

San Francisco Opera, as always right on the crest of the wave, introduced its own podcast over the weekend. Pamela Rosenberg and Donald Runnicles yak about the 2005-06 season, which will include the premiere of the new John Adams piece "Dr. Atomic," and some musical highlights of the rest of the repertoire are included too. San Francisco Opera 2005-06 Season Preview.

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05 July 2005

Champagne and Coca-Cola

Music fans of all orientations, gay, straight and bi (oops, the Times says you don't exist, my mistake), well, anyway, music fans around the world finally have news worth talking about. No, we're not talking about Alberto Vilar, but you're getting warm. Which is to say, it's good news.

Sir Elton John and George Michael have kissed and made up. The feud is over! (La Cieca will pause a moment so you can collect yourself.) There, deep breath. La Cieca's sisters-under-the-skin The 3 AM Girls report that Elton has been phoning (and, surely, emailing and texting and bluetoothing) for weeks, but George has been refusing to pick up or click or whatever. But the duelling divos finally met for a meal prepared by Gordon Ramsay, the Brit chef who yells abuse at everyone on that reality show. Elton has even granted George permission to anthologize their duet "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," whose lyrics have furnished innumerable moments of delightful double-entendre these many years.

A witness to the rapprochement reported, "... George and Elton spent much of the time creased up laughing as they reminded each other of hilarious stories from their past." La Cieca is not sure what "creased up" means, and she's not sure she wants to know.

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30 June 2005

Arrivals and, uh, non-arrivals

Which young Spanish-speaking artiste is going to the "dogs" with her sex, drugs and coloratura lifestyle? You're not Bolivian, my dear, so lay off the marching powder before you turn into a mess o' soprano!

Which soprano should learn to care more about punctuality at her bel canto rehearsals? Toward her we feel nothing but love; only, we ask, is this any way to revive a dormant career?

And which other soprano with the voice of an angel (and the record contract to prove it), has returned to her accustomed role of spawn of Satan? How else could you explain such antics as clanging silverware onstage during another soprano's aria, hiring a claque to boo a rival, and now, playing hooky from the dress rehearsal of a new production to be recorded for DVD?

Now, ladies, don't get La Cieca wrong. She's totally in favor of colorful and volatile personalities in opera. But consider for a moment: does anyone actually recall how Maria Jeritza sang?

Finally, an item that's not blind! La Cieca is informed by one of her most reliable sources that Christopher Hahn will be the new Artistic Director of the Glimmerglass Festival. Expect an announcement within a couple of days. Smart money says Hahn will continue at Pittsburgh Opera, doubling up a la Paul Kellogg.

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Unnatural Acts with an Apple

Apple bites backThe reviews for Apple's iTunes 4.9 are mixed but the consensus is "thumbs up." La Cieca downloaded and installed the new version last night; very smooth. The interface with podcasts is something less than lavish, the one part of the application that feels "freeware." But La Cieca realizes there are a lot of people out there who use iTunes as their only jukebox software, so it seems likely that this development will increase the podcast public significantly. A good thing. The down side is that Apple has to review the podcasts before putting them on the one-click "subscribe" list, which means that you can't just go to the site and click on "Unnatural Acts of Opera."

But there is a simple workaround. From iTunes, click on Advanced, the Subscribe To Podcast..., then paste http://parterre.com/podcast/unnaaturalacts.rss into the URL text box. Then then click OK. That will subscribe you to the podcast series.

You can also subcribe on My Yahoo. Just Click on Add Content Add RSS by URL, then paste the URL and continue as in the iTunes instructions.

I'm also working on a tweak that would allow you to play the current "Unnatural Act" directly from the parterre podcast page; more on that maybe this weekend, as well as the first "regular" unnatural act, which at the moment looks like it's going to be Act 1 Traviata from Verona 1970 (Scotto, Bergonzi).

Now, about the Met's plans for a tab version of Magic Flute in the Julie Taymor production. La Cieca says, "Oh, why the hell not?" Somehow La Cieca feels that a 90-minute, fast-moving entertainment is a lot closer to Mozart's original intention than the three-hour plus behemoth the Met delivers when they do the Gesamt version.

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20 June 2005

Sexual confusion at the opera

The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, is using "sexual confusion" to prevent wear and tear on their costume collection:

"The traps installed for the Royal Opera House make male clothes moths appear to other males as females, by sticking female pheromones to their bodies.

"In a plot that could have come from an opera, males attempt to mate with the false females, but do not succeed . . . . moths were costing the Royal Opera House tens of thousands of pounds a year.

"The worst affected are ballet dancers' costumes, which get engrained with sweat, clothes moths' favourite taste.

"The Royal Opera House has around 2,000 costumes at Covent Garden at any one time, some of which are more than a century old . . . . Its archive includes the red dress Maria Callas wore in Tosca."

Here's more about this oddly familiar-sounding moth-on-moth action. Speaking of which, don't forget to check out La Cieca's all new, all-femme radio show!

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13 June 2005

Web of mystery

La Cieca is just asking -- why should the Web site of that prominent American baritone suddenly go offline? This artist (recently at the pinnacle of his career) has done musicals before, but this fancy footwork looks like something from Chicago!

And which switch-hitting intendant is making noises about quitting his summer job? Is he feeling cooped up, or is it just that he wants to spend more time looking at New York City real estate?

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26 May 2005

Deep pockets

Which artists' management company (hint: it's one of the Big Three) is in such dire financial trouble that its president is regularly forced to dip into his own (considerable) private fortune to preserve the semblance of a positive cash flow?

Which big-name stage director recently showed up for rehearsals of a complicated opera completely unfamiliar with the music, and, for that matter the text -- which is odd, since it's in his native language?


20 May 2005

Yes, it is good to be back

You could say last night at the Met was a typical Aprile Millo performance, if that expression were not essentially an oxymoron. "Typical" and "Millo" really don't intersect in this dimension (maybe somewhere on a spiritual plane? But I digress.) Let's just say that, what happens at a Millo night, happened last night, which is to say:

People you never see at the opera were there. Like me, for example, and I actually went through the whole ritual of buying a single out in the plaza ten minutes before eight. But everybody was there, definitely a gathering-of-the clan sort of event. The fussy queens were there; I'm pretty sure I recognized at least one recent facelift. And the cute queens were there, the same ones who generally show up only for David Daniels. And, oh yes, the industry queens were there too. This was definitely the night to catch up on all the gossip, such as which manager had just thrown a hissy fit over which tenor's tardiness, yelping, "That's why I hate to work with Italian singers!"

The prima donna's entrance cued the audience not only to polite applause but shouts of "brava," and, mind you, before a note was sung. The entrance ovation went on long enough to drown the first "Perche chiuso," and when's the last time that happened? Caballe?

She wore her own dresses, or at least not the dresses that come with the production. For the record, the Act 1 frock was a throwback to the more formal pre-1964 mode, a maroon faille pelisse over rose georgette, though with mini-mantilla instead of the big Hello Dolly hat.

Instead of the Zeffirelli fire-engine red peau de soie for Act 2, Millo opted for a deep garnet silk velvet cut on Empire lines but resolutely unfrilly, practically severe by Tosca standards. Her garniture of diamonds included a tall diadem, and she accessoried with a plain gold silk damask stole and the traditional 16-button white gloves. (These were perhaps a half-size too snug and Millo flutzed a bit getting them stripped off, but she gestured with them effectively later on.)

Millo's acting is a lot more sober these days too; less fluttering in Act 1 and all night long I don't think I saw her beat her breast even once. She's plump, to be sure, but she moves with purpose and a kind of stately quality that looks appropriate on the massively oversized sets. Even when the plastique turns baroque, she believes what she's doing, and after all, Tosca isn't supposed to be a simple village maiden, is she? And if anybody can get away with moaning "mea culpa, mea culpa..." during the candle business, it has to be Millo.

It's always been a glamorous voice. These days the vibrato is looser, particularly in middle voice. I heard one or two queens use the "W" word, but I don''t think I'd go that far. What matters to me is the easy legato and natural sense of how to make the music "go," and for those qualities, Millo is unmatchable among sopranos singing Tosca today. For the record, the climactic notes of "Vissi d'arte" were frankly flat, but the money notes elsewhere, including the several high C's, hit the bullseye.

There was a lot of buzz out front about a cold, and Millo very noticeably waved a handkerchief about during Act 1, even interpolating a couple of coughs that suggested Tosca might be following in poor dear Mimi's footsteps. Then there was a really long wait for Act 2 to start once the audience was in the house, and you know La Cieca was very much dreading that the lights would come up before the curtain for an announcement. But Millo neither canceled nor asked indulgence, and I for one would never have guessed she was anywhere close to under the weather: she sounded just fine.

We all know that Millo likes to take slow phrases very slowly, sometimes to the point that she has to sneak in an additional breath. And so the last thing she needs is a a tentative and passive conductor like Derrick Inouye, who allowed the performance to stagnate like a bad Pelleas. Actually is was worse than that. Imagine Pelleas actually conducting a performance; that's how aimless and inert this show sounded. This guy makes Nello Santi seem positively perky. Let's hope he gets his act together or at least asserts himself a bit before the park performances begin.

You know, it's amazing how incredible Marcello Giordani can sound when he's given a real role to sing instead of all that Pirata/Benvenuto Cellini freaky repertoire. The nerves or allergies or whatever it was that made the Pirata so erratic (though always thrilling!) have been worked out; he's singing like a god these days. The easiest, most brilliant high B on "la vita mi costasse" La Cieca has ever heard; I was honestly surprised that there was no burst of applause after the "Vittoria" in Act 2. (But, then, nobody applauds much of anything any more, not even when Butterfly sees the ship.)

Now, what I just don't get is why the Met falls all over itself finding opportunities for Salvatore Licitra who thus far in New York has given approximately one really good performance (Forza with Collegiate Chorale), but, until now, anyway, keeps Giordani in the High D Ghetto. How about Faust, at least? Or Lucia, even? Or Werther? (We do get both Ernani and Manon Lescaut in 07-08, so that's certainly heading in the right direction. Met, you go on like this.)

Full disclosure here: La Cieca had to leave after the second act, and now she could kick herself for missing what was described as the house coming down after "E lucevan le stelle." But, as she was saying before, at least she's found the will to go back to the opera house; performers like Millo and Giordani are what make it "worth for."

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Take my wife, please!

Which intendant-to-be is gaining a nasty reputation for nepotism, as in forcing his wife's baton down the throat of opera companies afraid to incur his wrath? This kind of behavior ought to send up a red flag... or at least a yellow one.


20 December 2004

Head line

Which diva, star of a new production that was one of the Met's hottest tickets of recent years, has refused to repeat her role in a future season because she can't stand the staging? We'll hear her sing a different title role instead.

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