29 January 2008

Tu? Indietro! Fugly!

A loyal reader calls this little number "the worst gown I've ever seen."

La Cieca she agrees that Mme. Guleghina's fashion faux pas here just screams, "that was no lady, that was Lady Macbeth." On the other hand, your doyenne has seen some rather ghastly frocks in her time, and she's sure, cher public, that you have seen worse. If you have, send a jpg (preferably 350 pixels wide or larger) or a link to [email protected]. Let's dish!

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26 January 2008

Ach! Hilde, weißt du, daß wir Ratten im Keller haben?

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18 January 2008

This is my belief, in brief


That grand old man of music André Previn is writing another opera, following up on the clamorous success of 1998's A Streetcar Named Desire. The commission for Houston Grand Opera is Brief Encounter, based on Noel Coward's one-act play Still Life as well as the screenplay for the eponymous film. (First Tennessee Williams, then Noel Coward ... surely a collaboration with Jean Genet is the next logical step!) Well, anyway, the premiere of Brief Encounter, most likely omitting the above imagery, is set for May of 2009. Too long a wait, you say? Well, in the meantime, sit back and enjoy an excerpt from Previn's one universally recognized masterpiece.

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16 January 2008

Front burner

A legendary Lulu crosses over.

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15 January 2008

...and tenderly beckons, Moby Dick, dearest Moby Dick!

Honestly insincere

11 January 2008

The ceremony of innocence is drowned

"Directed by Francesca Zambello, this Little Mermaid burdens its performers with ungainly guess-what-I-am costumes (by Tatiana Noginova) and a distracting set (by George Tsypin) awash in pastels gone sour and unidentifiable giant tchotchkes that suggest a Luau Lounge whipped up by an acid-head heiress in the 1960s. The whole enterprise is soaked in that sparkly garishness that only a very young child — or possibly a tackiness-worshiping drag queen — might find pretty.

"....Ms. Zambello, best known as an adventurous director of operas, rarely lets jokes, songs or set pieces register clearly. And the impression is often of costumed employees from the Magic Kingdom of Disney World, wandering around and occasionally singing to entertain visiting children." -- Ben Brantley, New York Times

In related news, the family of Roger Bart send their condolences.

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22 December 2007

Christmas is here, bringing good Cher

While we're waiting for the restoration of Stephen Costello's ringing rendition of "O Holy Night," La Cieca thought you might like to hear another great American tenor's take on the classic carol.

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21 December 2007


"Starring Leona Mitchell (star of the Metropolitan Opera and other major opera houses around the world) and Sarah Rice (the original Johanna in SWEENEY TODD on Broadway), Leona & Sarah, Songs for the Heart & Soul. These two friends join their thrilling voices in an evening of songs, melodie, chanson and an aria or two, with a little gospel/inspirational thrown in for good measure, to uplift the heart and warm the winter-weary spirit. Come be transported and bask in the musical sunshine!

"BCD concerts have been called 'Life-affirming', 'show-stopping', 'Like Babette's feast for the ear' by reviewers and audience members lucky enough to have seen our previous performances. Don't miss out on this heartbreakingly beautiful and thrilling concert."

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20 December 2007

Fatal sdegno

If, through some miracle of recombinant DNA manipulation, Madame Vera Galupe-Borszkh and Maria Montez were to have a child together, La Cieca is certain this is how she (or he, for that matter) would turn out.

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The blonde leading the blind

Imagine La Cieca's delight when she heard that Julia Roberts has been cast in the starring role of Voce di Donna, a biopic based upon the whirlwind adventures of your very own doyenne.

Oscar-winner Roberts (left) beat out A-listers Nicole Kidman, Susan Sarandon and Dame Judi Dench to portray "Older Cieca." The character in more "youthful" days will be played by Zac Efron. Additional casting for the film includes George Clooney as "Gualtier Malde," Robert Downey Jr. as "Little Stevie" and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as "Maury D'annato."

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18 December 2007

"I am big, it's the opera that got small!"

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09 December 2007

"We're puttin' on an op'ra tonight!"

Mae West goes mezzo-soprano for this scene from her 1935 vehicle Goin' to Town.

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02 December 2007

"Singing Norma Today"

(with apologies to Stephen Sondheim)

Bless her soul,
Bless her golden throat,
All her fans can gloat.
Renée's preparing to chant
The bel canto role.

Today is for Norma
Norma, the role of the divas of choice.
America's soprano will honor us forever.
Today is for Norma,
As sung by the Beautiful Voice.

Pardon me, is everybody here? Because if everybody's here, I
want to thank you all for coming to my Norma, I'd appreciate
your going even more, I mean you must have lots of better things
to do, and would you please inform my fans, remember fans you know,
they're called the Fleming Flappers, but they're not, because they wouldn't flap
at anyone as wonderful as I am--
Change of plans:
I'm all wrong as a pagan,
Change of plans,
I'll do Eugene Onegin,
Tell the fans,
That I'm not singing Norma today.

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27 November 2007

Your pathetic, your loathsome, your despicable majesty!

Dame Kiri te Kanawa embraces her inner Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan for this scene from the Handelian pastiche The Sorceress. Despite the film's 1993 release date, the sensibility is pure '80s: massive hair, voluminous frock, garish lighting design... and don't overlook the multitude of smirking supers! (Just so you know, the aria is "Ah, Ruggiero crudel... Ombre pallide" from Alcina).

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16 November 2007

Lord help the sister who comes between me and my man!

Not the newest observation, but perhaps relevant again at the moment. So, tell me, what do these two ladies have in common (besides the family resemblance, of course)? [UPDATE: I've traded out the original image of Joyce Castle for something more representative.]

Lypsinka and Joyce

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14 November 2007

"Did you get her innuendo?"

"Ms. Fleming's soprano has gotten bigger and richer since her Dallas debut 15 years ago. 'I was replacing Carol Vaness in a lot of Mozart repertoire she couldn't sing anymore,' Ms. Fleming says of her early years."

You can read more of The Tactful Voice's audition for the remake of The Women in an interview with Scott Cantrell in The Dallas Morning News.

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07 November 2007

Wheels within wheels

This is why drag was invented. The artistes are James Bondage and Bella ToDyeFor.

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Least appealing headline of the week (so far)

"Opera's 'fat lady' is a Madison cash cow"

In other news: has anyone ever heard Natalie Bancroft sing opera? Ms. Bancroft is the scioness of the family who recently sold their controlling share in Dow Jones (and thus the Wall Street Journal) to Newscorp for a thousand million gazillion pounds or whatever it was. Anyway, in all the news stories, she is called "opera singer," but there's no sign of a review or cast listing with her name accessible to Google.

And here's a fun photo. No, it's not Vera Charles (though the lady does have a certain air of "What the hell have you got back there, reindeer?) And it's not Cruella DeVil. (Nice guess, though.)

In fact, it's Jane Henschel as Klytemnästra in the Deutsche Oper's new Elektra.

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06 November 2007

Sweet November

La Cieca's DVR hard drive will be overflowing by the end of this November since the indispensable Turner Classic Movies has scheduled a whole month of "guest programmers." Among the celebrities gracing the tube to introduce their favorite flicks will be some of particular interest to the parterre crowd. For example, this Thursday, November 8, playwright/actor Charles Busch will take a brief respite from his Die Mommie Die duties on the New York boards to present a quartet of women's pictures: I Could Go on Singing, The Hard Way, Escape and A Woman's Face.

Iconic Harvey Fierstein arrives on November 26 to introduce The Catered Affair (upon which his upcoming Broadway musical is based), as well as the camp classic The Women and two lesser-known pictures, The Boy with Green Hair and The Devil is a Sissy.

November 18 heralds the arrival of "one of the world’s most beloved and recognized figures in the worlds of opera and jazz," Renée Fleming. Films featured that day will include Red Dust, Captains Courageous, Test Pilot, Gone with the... oh, La Cieca begs your pardon, that was Victor Fleming.

In fact, "The Beautiful Cineaste" has selected for our enjoyment a quartet of musical extravaganzas: The Great Waltz, Song of Love, Interrupted Melody and Maytime.

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24 October 2007

Gli enigmi sono venti

UPDATE: Here's the "Ernani involami" vocal identification quiz -- 20 singers in seven minutes. As of Wednesday night, the two leading entries are tied at 17 correct answers each. Remember, the competition ends at midnight on Friday!

La Cieca (not pictured) is practically beside herself (also not pictured) with glee now that she has published the most recent episode of Unnatural Acts of Opera. Why, you ask? Well, not only does the show include the final two acts of Verdi's Ernani (starring Anita Cerquetti, Mario Del Monaco, Ettore Bastianini and Boris Christoff, with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting), but this time around there's a very special edition of "The Enigmas of La Cieca," one of the composite vocal identification quizzes you so adore. The winner of this quiz will be the (no doubt overwhelmed) recipient of the three-DVD set Cult Camp Classics 2 - Women in Peril, which includes Joan Crawford's final theatrical film, Trog.

You can as always listen to the show on the Unnatural Acts page, or, if you're feeling particularly competitive, you can download it from the Archive page.

UPDATE: as of 8:00 AM Monday, the contestant to beat is "MC," who submitted 14 out of the 20 correct answsers. As Milton Host explained to you all during the podcast, the competiton continues until midnight on Friday, October 26, 2007. If there is no entry with all 20 singers correctly identified, La Cieca will select a winner by means of a random drawing from the tying entries with the most correct answers. La Cieca's decision is (as in all things) final and irrevocable. That email address again [email protected].

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17 October 2007

Santuzza offers a prayer of thanks

"Over-accessorizing and poor taste in makeup is not an excommunicable offense," a specialist on Catholic canon law has explained.

The expert was speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle in the wake of a scandal involving San Francisco's Archbishop George Niederauer and the activist group the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. On October 7, Niedarauer delivered the Eucharist to "two men in heavy makeup and nuns' habits."

The Archbishop almost immediately issued a letter of apology to Catholics, but not soon enough to prevent Fox News screaming head Bill O'Reilly from grabbing the opportunity to sneer at San Francisco's "far-left secular progressives who despise the military, traditional values and religion."

Following up on the story, the Chronicle spoke to Rev. Jim Bretzke, professor of moral theology at University of San Francisco, a Jesuit Catholic university.

"The general sacramental principle is that you don't deny the sacrament to someone who requests it," Bretzke explained. "The second principle is that you cannot give communion to someone who has been excommunicated . . . .

"While I can see Bill O'Reilly and others might be offended, the sisters do not meet the criteria the church has for denying Communion. Over-accessorizing and poor taste in makeup is not an excommunicable offense."

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15 October 2007

When I started stripping they hollered "put it on!"

One of La Cieca's pet peeves (and you know she has so many she has to keep them organized with a spreadsheet), well, anyway, one of La Cieca's pet peeves is that operatic orgies so rarely bear even the vaguest resemblance to orgies in real life. Why, just last week, La Cieca was viewing the Met's DVD of Tannhäuser, and, my dears, what a snooze! If ever a show needed a jolt of HPG, this is it.

Well, anyway, it does seem that finally La Cieca got her wish. Opera Australia just presented a new production of Tannhäuser by Elke Neidhardt. If photographs are to be trusted, Ms. Neidhardt has attended some of the same orgies La Cieca once graced:

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12 October 2007

Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be countertenors

06 October 2007

The names he used to call me!

Aided and abetted by Noel Coward, the scintillating Mary Martin crosses over into operatic territory.

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04 October 2007

Whatever happened to Marwdew Czgowchwz?

Ever since everyone's favorite apocryphal diva (with the possible minority exception of Lena Geyer), the oracular Oltrano herself, Marwdew Czgowchwz, vanished across the ocean at a time (time out of mind) that was somehow both 1956 and 1975 and yet neither, La Cieca, like all the rest of you, has reread her first copy of James McCourt's novel to tatters, purchased the sempiternally-awaited reissue, and wondered, wondered... well, after all, what's left for her?

Cher public, we're about to find out. This month, Turtle Point Press releases Now Voyagers: Some Divisions of the Saga of Mawrdew Czgowchwz, Oltrano, Authenticated by Persons Represented Therein, Book One: The Night Sea Journey. This flamboyant followup tells the story of the charged atmosphere surrounding the legendary diva (and possible CIA agent) turned psychoanalyst. According to Publishers Weekly, the novel
resurrects the literary, musical and gay scene of 1950s New York. About half relates to Czgowchwz's 1956 trip across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary with her consort, Jacob Beltane, to Ireland, where she is to star in Pilgrim Soul, a Douglas Sirk–like movie about the Irish revolt of 1916. Much of the rest relates to the Gotham-centered peregrinations of Mawrdew's friend, the gay poet S.D.J. Fitzjames O'Maurigan .... The most stylistically astonishing chapters are intermezzos of conversation caught on the wing at Everard's Bath house, the book's pre-Stonewall place to meet and greet in gay New York.
This fall's must-read is now on sale at Amazon.com.

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03 October 2007

You Shouldn't Be Dancing

Ah, yes, of course La Cieca remembers the 1970s, or bits and pieces of it, anyway. Your doyenne fondly recalls that everyone spent that whole decade coked up and 'luded out, and she's in no position to condemn anyone. But even the hedonistic, anything-goes '70s Zeitgeist cannot explain the following video; specifically, why Franco Bonisolli should believe that Manrico is a long-lost member of the Village People.

Mr. Bonisolli models another look from the International Male collection here.

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02 October 2007

Marked Down Woman

La Cieca's old, old, old friend and role model Charles Busch returns to the boards this month in the New York stage premiere of one of his greatest film triumphs, the eponymous matriarch of Die Mommie Die. Busch (who is of course the author as well) stars as Angela Arden, a legendary screen chanteuse bedeviled by adultery, incest, blackmail, murder and the servant problem.

The play is a send-up of those 1960s horror films (sorry, "psychological thrillers") like Dead Ringer and I Saw What You Did, with the added twist that the plot is "borrowed" from the Oresteia. In other words, this is the funniest version of Elektra you're ever likely to see.

Die Mommie Die opens at New World Stages for a limited run beginning October 10, and for an even more limited time you can purchase tickets for this not-to-be-missed theatrical event for only $35.00! To take advantage of this near-felonious discount, Click Here and enter code DMTMC35. You can also phone 212-239-6200 and mention code DMTMC35.

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25 September 2007

The winner and new diva

La Cieca wasn't "in the house" for the Lucia prima last night like so many of her colleagues; instead she hosted perhaps the most popular of all her online chats thus far. Approximately 120 of you cher public logged in at some point during the night, with 75 or so on average staying for the long haul. Say what you will about Natalie Dessay or even Stephen Costello, there was really only one genuine "star is born" moment last night, and here, as dear Mathilde Marchesi would say, is "la nouvelle Melba" --

Our nomination for Camp Diva of the 2007-2008 Season: Miss Blythe Danner!

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19 September 2007

Watch out boy she'll chew you up

Jossie is a wild girl," says a former MetOpera colleague. "You never knew what gutter you’d wake up in when you went out with her." .... As her career began to escalate, so did, by many accounts, her outlandish party lifestyle and behavior. Like Carmen, Pérez moved fluidly from man to man, boasting to colleagues and former schoolmates about her conquests onstage and off. She got a reputation for her mouth, her "independent spirit" and for doing it her way.

Anna Netrebko better watch her back, if this article in Williamette Week is to be believed.

And, my dears, you haven't lived until you've seen the splash page on la Pérez' website!

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15 September 2007

Off her Crocker

30 August 2007

Where is style? Where is skill? Where is forethought?

Yes, another YouTube posting, but this one is something very special indeed. Legendary Zarah Leander is seen in a few moments from her 1975 triumph as Madame Armfelt in Das Lächeln einer Sommernacht (A Little Night Music) at the Theater an der Wien. La Leander also cavorts about a studio, lipsynching a medley of her hits with Les Boys. Once she lights up the cigarette, doesn't she look exactly like Bette Davis doing a musical version of The Little Foxes?

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27 June 2007

Gia i biscotti adunansi

26 June 2007

Tu che le vanita project

La Cieca must first of all express how startled she is that this particular item didn't appear first on NYC Opera Fanatic -- after all, Lana Turner as Elisabetta in Don Carlo? Well, in fact, Miss Turner never did sing any Verdi, on- or off-stage (unlike her precursor Joan Crawford), but my goodness, doesn't she just look the part?

It is only with slight disappointment that La Cieca notes that La Turner is not even pretending to be an opera singer here. It's a moment from the beginning of the 1969 film The Big Cube, portraying Lana's character, the celebrated stage actress Adriana Roman, performing one of her celebrated stage roles. (Now, that does seem like a missed opportunity, doesn't it? I mean, with a name like "Adriana Roman," why waste your time in legitimate theater?) Well, anyway, this little scena is only the beginning of a dramatic roller-coaster for Adriana/Lana. Before you know it, her stepdaughter's skuzzy gigolo boyfriend (George Chakiris) will be spiking poor Lana's sleeping pills with LSD in a sinister plot to drive the poor diva mad, mad I tell you.

Now, let's see if La Cieca can remember why she brought all this up just at this particular moment. Oh, yes, now she has it. The Big Cube has just been released on DVD in a boxed set (like Proust!) fetchingly entitled Cult Camp Classics 2 - Women in Peril. The collection also includes our Joan's theatrical swan song Trog and the echt women's prison movie Caged.

Which reminds La Cieca: did you realize that an operatic version of Caged could be cast easily with the singers from Dialogues des Carmélites? (Mignon Dunn as Warden Ruth Benton? Lucine Amara as Matron Evelyn Harper? Régine Crespin as "Vice Queen" Elvira Powell?)

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15 June 2007

I laughed for art, I laughed for love

"This writer approached the new off-Broadway play The Second Tosca with more than a bit of trepidation, worried that it might amount to no more than second-rate Terrance McNally or, even worse, unfunny inanity like Lend Me a Tenor. What a relief, then, it is to report that The Second Tosca is a delightful, campy, and sincere show, bitingly accurate in its take on opera and the crazy people who create it." Our publisher JJ moonlights as a drama critic in Gay City News.

Rachel deBenedet and Vivian Reed in The Second Tosca. (Photograph by Neilson Barnard.)

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08 June 2007

"Life is like an opera"

Who, La Cieca asks, could disagree with this sentiment? Particularly when it is expressed so, well, expressively by the divine Jacqueline van Quaille in Tintin, the Musical (Kuifje de musical). The scene opens as Bianca Castafiore, the Milanese Nightingale, prepares to go onstage for a performance of Faust. She pauses a moment to read a telegram from Captain Haddock informing her of his adventures with Tintin and Snowy as they search for the Temple of the Sun.

La van Quaille may be heard elsewhere on YouTube singing Isolde in 1970!

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04 June 2007

Dog Sees Diva

The month of June in New York traditionally offers scant little in the way of operatic entertainment beyond the Met's Parks concerts. And so the premiere of an opera-themed play off-Broadway sounds like particularly good news.

The show is called The Second Tosca, and it is described as "a contemporary comedy that takes place backstage at Opera California during rehearsals for Tosca. Meet a rising operatic star, her rivalrous brother, the controlling maestro who wants to marry her, a diva with a dog, an assistant with a dream, and a meddling singing ghost." The author is Tom Rowan and the "rising star" is portrayed by Eve Gigliotti. The producer is Sorrel Tomlinson, whose first production, Dog Sees God, was one of the breakout hits of the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival.

The Second Tosca opens at the 45th Street Theater (354 West 45th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues) for a limited engagement through July 1. Opening night, June 13th, will be at 6:30pm. All other performances run Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased by calling 212-868-4444 or visiting Smart Tix.

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21 May 2007

Trema, vil schiava

Although the cult TV hit Gilmore Girls has just ended its run after seven seasons on the CW, La Cieca thought you might enjoy a video featuring the "missing" Gilmore Girl (Miss Gail, that is.)

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17 May 2007

Sometimes the cabin's gloomy and the table's bare

"Wall to Wall Opera," a 13 hour orgy of things operatic, inhabits Symphony Space beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Among the festivities is a master class in bel canto interpretation by Renata Scotto, but the moment La Cieca most eagerly awaits will arrive courtesy of Encompass Opera Theatre. We are promised a performance of "The Silver Aria" from the haunting opera by John LaTouche and Douglas Moore, The Ballad of Baby Joe.

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02 May 2007

Esser madre e un inferno

A rare chance to hear Evangelia Callas (mother of Maria) tell her side of the story. This audio clip from a 1962 television interview is in rather dim sound, but we do get a sample of Evangelia's singing voice!

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01 May 2007

Sweet and low

Gender-bending diseuse Zarah Leander crosses over into opera to sing "Che farò senza Euridice" in this scene the 1938 film Heimat.

It may be noted that the sub-contralto Leander chooses a lower key for this aria than the written C major David Daniels will sing tomorrow night! For more about the iconic Zarah, see Ben Letzler's appreciation of the androgyne goddess.

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23 April 2007

Take that, Eurotrash!

The doyen of operatic stage direction has done it again! (Or, to be strictly accurate, he has done it for about the twentieth time, but who's counting?) Thrill to the brilliantly innovative new production of La traviata Franco Zeffirelli just unveiled at the Rome Opera!

Oh, if only we could have a production of Traviata just like this here in New York! Or, even better, if only we could have two productions just like this!

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03 April 2007

Funny Lady

Sempiternal Montserrat Caballe, erstwhile Verdian, bel canto specialist, Straussian, lyric soprano, coloratura soprano, dramatic soprano and pop singer, reinvents herself once more as character comedienne.

Presenting La Superba as La Duchesse de Krakenthorpe in La Fille du regiment.

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02 April 2007


Anna Moffo in a non-operatic facet of her career, as leading lady in the Italian film Una storia d'amore (released in the United States as Love Me, Baby, Love Me!) In this melodrama, La Moffo seems to be playing the "Lana Turner" role, a sexy matron involved with a good-for-nothing pretty boy gigolo.

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24 March 2007


Our editor JJ's busy week included a review of the Met's Aegyptische Helena in Gay City News, and that panel La Cieca has been yammering about all week. As his presentation on the topic "Opera and Technology," JJ introduced this little documentary about your own La Cieca.

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23 March 2007

Mary Dunleavy joins in the fun

La Cieca has just been informed that soprano Mary Dunleavy will participate in tonight's panel discussion "Opera and Technology" at The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University. No word on whether La Dunleavy replaces or supplements the previously announced Lucy Shelton. Our own JJ will be there of course, along with a veritable constellation of opera pundits: Elena Park, Editorial and Creative Content, The Metropolitan Opera; Beth Greenberg, stage director, New York City Opera; Wayne Koestenbaum, poet and writer; and Anne Midgette, critic, The New York Times. That's tonight at 7:30 PM, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue (between 116th and 118th Streets), second floor.

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28 January 2007

Sein Weg

That most versatile of all golden-age divas, Lilli Lehmann, must be looking down from Paradise right now with a peculiarly puzzled expression on her face, for at last she has a rival.

Meet Ingrid Höfer, an artist with a "mission to sing." Mme. Höfer's discography reveals that her range runs the gamut from Traditional folk material through Bach oratorio, Romantic Lieder and even choral music from Wagnerian stage-consecrating-festival-drama.

Along the way, the protean Höfer instrument soars through material more tradionally associated with dramatic soprano, coloratura soprano, and contralto. Die Höfer even takes on the challenge of a form that the mighty Lilli dared not attempt, i.e., the Broadway show tune.

La Höfer points out on her website about these sound clips "Erwähnenswert wäre noch, dass Sie hier die dunkle (nicht tiefe) Vokalfärbung eines dramatischen Sopran und nicht eines lyrischen hören." That is, "It should be noted that you are hearing the dark (not low) vocal timbre of a dramatic soprano, not a lyric." So noted.

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