21 January 2008

Weekend at Bernie's 2

Bernard Holland of The New York Times attended(?) Saturday night's all-Schubert program at Carnegie Hall, featuring Ian Bostridge, Thomas Quasthoff and Dorothea Röschmann accompanied by Julius Drake. Holland's review ran 468 words, of which barely 100 addressed the performance. Here's La Cieca's analysis.

Labels: , ,

17 January 2008

Winter storms

"The presence of the voiceless Rosalind Plowright in the supporting role of Gertrude demonstrates the folly of the Met's notoriously Britcentric artistic administration. Surely there are dozens of equally over-the-hill American mezzos who could have shrieked the role just as atonally."

Our own JJ reviews the Met's productions of Hansel and Gretel, Die Walküre and Un ballo in maschera in Gay City News. JJ's previous scribblings in the queer rag be found in the archives for 2007, 2006, 2005 and 2004.

Labels: , , , ,

14 January 2008

Journalist desperately seeking emoticon for sarcasm

"Seattle Opera did more than put an intermission between the two scenes. It restored, or opened, to use opera terminology, customary cuts in the score and invented a dream sequence to open Act 2, using music written by Leoncavallo but not for Pagliacci. Two mimes, Comedy, in white, and Tragedy, in black, open the opera and stay a part of the action until the end, when Comedy has lost the game. What an effective device." -- R. M Campbell, seattlepi.com

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

09 January 2008

Boy, is my face green!

"Stephanie Blythe, superlative in both voice and Wagnerian bitchery as the righteous Erda..." (Clive Barnes' review of Die Walküre, NY Post)

"I wouldn't pay any attention to that. You know how bitchy Walas can be!"

Labels: , ,

13 December 2007

The Kid Stays in the Picture

The newest member of the gaggle of Gay City News opera critic, Eli Jacobson, critiques recent NYC performances by Opera Grattacielo and Collegiate Chorale.

Labels: ,

12 December 2007

Tarte a la Bernheimer

Another review (this one only 340 words) of War and Peace. Martin Bernheimer writing for the Financial Times:

Labels: ,

Legends of the fall

When a monumental 20th century masterpiece is revived at the Met, who better to review it than Anthony Tommasini? Today the Times published TT's critique of War and Peace, a compact screed of exactly 799 words. And how, you may ask, were those words distributed? Well almost half the review (351 words) was given over to a rehash of the incident five years ago when the super fell off the set into the pit. Here's how Tony's wordage stacks up in chart form:

Labels: , ,

03 December 2007

Fish story

A helpful reader has pointed La Cieca to an interview in the current Opera News, a publication she picks up all too infrequently, alas. But the chitchat between Brian Kellow and Francesca Zambello is just too delicious to ignore. Ms. Zambello is the director of Disney's The Little Mermaid, a show that just last week postponed its Broadway opening for a month. The official reason given was the stagehands' strike, but maybe, just maybe, the musical needed a little more work. Out of town critics hated the show, particularly the direction:

Zambello has allowed emotion, charm and enchantment to be drowned in a sea of bewilderingly over-stylized designs .... visual incoherence, plus some not always useful elaboration of a simple, disarming storyline, make what should have been a slam-dunk for stage presentation a waterlogged misstep .... if Disney Theatrical chief Thomas Schumacher's aim in enlisting Zambello and team was to develop another eye-popping theatrical event to transcend the kid-fare label, he needs to keep fishing. (Variety)
Zambello takes pains to explain "in a remarkably un-defensive tone" that even without a massive marketing effort, a show with the obscure and forbidding title "Disney's The Little Mermaid" still managed to sell a lot of tickets in Denver. The damning review in Variety she dismisses as (literal) nepotism, since, as she points out, the editor-in-chief of the showbiz rag is the uncle of Roger Bart, who is the star of Young Frankenstein: The New Mel Brooks Musical. (Having both shows on Broadway simultaneously obviously would split the the "bazoom and fart joke" demographic so key to the success of a Disney musical.)

"Critical standards are dubious at best," sighs Zambello, whose life partner, Manuela Hoelterhoff won a Pulitzer Prize for cultural criticism at the Wall Street Journal. But, hey, fuck critics anway, because (says Zambello) "Ultimately, the public speaks. What matters is that you make money and that the public is with you."

Zambello, you will recall, directed Lucia di Lammermoor at the Met back in 1992, a staging that lasted exactly two seasons and then was shelved forever. But the important thing to remember here was the reaction of the public on the opening night:

Then again, these people are probably all related to Roger Bart too, so never mind.

While La Cieca is thinking about it, she should mention she's just finished Kellow's Ethel Merman: A Life and heartily commends it to the Mermaniacs in the audience. Not a whole lot of new ground covered here (for the super-scholarly approach, you'll have to go to Brass Diva: The Life and Legends of Ethel Merman) but the style is lively and witty. Brian's tome is based on over 100 new interviews with representatives of The Merm's army of friends and foes, with lots of characteristic details about the diva's foibles. (See, for example, Kaye Ballard's pithy critique of Merman's less-than-stellar nightclub act.)

And for those of you who are wondering: Jacqueline Susann? Never happened, except in Jackie's fevered imagination. And Benay Venuta was a big old liar.

Labels: ,

01 December 2007

Larger and more fun

"... Netrebko is the larger presence. She has an earthiness and impishness — a daredeviltry — that may prevent her from ever attaining the kind of rarefied, disembodied sainthood that has been awarded, for example, to the American sopranos Renée Fleming and Dawn Upshaw but that also makes her more fun to watch." Charles McGrath writes a gazillion words or so about "A New Kind of Diva" in this weekend's Sunday Times magazine.

In other news, Renée Fleming is still not singing Norma.

Labels: , , , ,

25 November 2007

Too many sources!

"My theory: Composers who ignore significant parts of their being - nationality included - cut their creativity off at the knees. Barber was being derivative in self-defeating ways out of deference to the operatic genre. Bernstein, in comparison, was out to tell important stories using the most effective means possible..." David Patrick Stearns adds his voice to the debate about Vanessa in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Oh, and La Cieca has discovered where she read the line about Vanessa being the American Adriana Lecouvreur. It's from the "Goings On About Town" column in the New Yorker. (Since the subject is classical music, one assumes Alex Ross at least contributed to the piece, though it's unclear whether the "Adriana" mot is an authentic Rossism.)

And finally, La Cieca was just remembering something she was giggling about during the performance of Vanessa at the NYCO. One couldn't help noticing that Lauren Flanigan was, well, just a little on the zaftig side, and that her costumes were not exactly slenderizing. So, in the second scene, after the "Under the Willow Tree" number, Flanigan smoothed down her skirt and sang "Erika, I am so happy. I know now..." However, what La Cieca heard was not "happy" but "hippy" which under the circumstances made just as much sense: "Erika, I am so hippy."

Unfortunately, that word "happy" does crop up again frequently again in the libretto, so La Cieca just about disgraced herself snickering:

Vanessa: "Good morning, Pastor, we shall soon be ready. Have some coffee with us. Oh, how hippy I feel this morning, how hippy!"

The Doctor: "I know you will make a hippy couple."

Erika: "Please forget me. Make her hippy, Anatol" and "Goodbye, be hippy, Aunt Vanessa, please be hippy."

Labels: , , ,

24 November 2007

Annals of British Criticism

"Ye Gods! In all the annals, can there be an opera containing more unmitigated codswallop than Erich Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane ('The Miracle of Heliane')?" Their Own Rupert Christiansen continues:
Dreadfully overheated and over-loud, the prolix first act has a slavering and maudlin sensuality that gave me the creeps ....

[T]he rapturous sublimity that glows through the last 20 minutes struck me as profoundly bogus and cheap. Why Jurowski and the LPO should wish to waste their talents and time on this tosh beats me ....

I felt slightly sick when it was all over and had to lie down in a darkened room.

Labels: ,

15 November 2007

JJ and the City

"Soprano Lauren Flanigan turned her vaunted acting skills to the task of portraying the sophisticated allure of Vanessa, hampered more than a little by a stiff auburn wig and dowdy costumes that left her looking like Nellie Oleson's mother. Happily, on November 8, Flanigan was in superb voice, sailing fearlessly up to fiery high B's and C's and plunging into a well-projected chest register." Our Own JJ reviews NYCO's Vanessa and Cendrillion for Gay City News.

Please do try to forgive the weird é characters that somehow crept into the text; the editors at GCN are working on transforming them back into their original e aigu (é) state.

Labels: , , , , ,

14 November 2007

Who's the missing star?

La Cieca was just wondering about something yesterday on opera-l, and doggone if Anne Midgette wasn't wondering about the same thing today in the New York Times. (That woman haunts my dreams, I tell you. It's like she's inside my head. Now, where was I? Oh, yes...) The point that dear Anne and I (among others) have mulling is this:

There was a time when Norma was considered a rarity or at least an opera that could be revived only when a very special prima donna was available and willing. The first Met Norma, for example, was Lilli Lehmann, the house's biggest female star of that era. Even given Lehmann's réclame, her appearance as Norma was considered by at least one critic (W. J. Henderson in Times) to be a sort of stunt:

The opera was chosen by Fräu Lehmann for her benefit, and from a financial point of view her selection was a very wise one . . . . From an artistic point of view the choice does not seem to be so commendable. There is no artistic reason why Lilli Lehmann should present herself to the New York public as a colorature singer. She may have been actuated by a not unnatural desire to display her versatility, but to get up a performance of Bellini's "Norma" for her benefit savors rather of self-esteem than of a strong devotion to honest art . . . . She demonstrated that her voice possessed far more flexibility and that she had a greater command of the pure ornamentation of signing that anyone suspected ... It must be said, however, that Fräu Lehmann took many of the elaborate ornamental passages at a very moderate tempo and sang them with very evident labor, thus depriving them of much of that brilliancy which the smooth, mellow, pliable Italian voices impart to them. Fiorituri without brilliancy have no "raison d' étre," and no Italian diva of standing would have received half the applause that Fräu Lehmann did for singing these passages as she did. The audience was excited by astonishment at the fact that she could do it at all.
Well, that was a longer pullquote than La Cieca originally intended to use, but, goodness, that is such excellent critical writing, isn't it? Anyway, back to the argument. Lehmann, Rosa Ponselle, Gina Cigna, Zinka Milanov and of course Maria Callas were all big established stars when they took on Norma at the Met. So were Joan Sutherland and Montserrat Caballé. If Shirley Verrett, Renata Scotto and Jane Eaglen received mixed reviews for their Met performances of the opera, it wasn't because of lack of star power or clout -- they were all extremely important names on the Met roster at the time of their casting.

Then there are performances from the likes of Adelaide Negri and Marisa Galvany -- (covers who had to go on) and Rita Hunter, one of the many jumpers-in for Caballé. The presence of Hasmik Papian at the beginning of this year's run of Norma should be understood in the same spirit, i.e., a late-in-the-game substitution.

Papian is going on for Maria Guleghina, who was pulled out of the beginning of the Norma run to perform the new production of Macbeth. So the question is, who ever dreamed up the notion of Guleghina singing Norma at the Met? True, she won a big popular success here with Abigaille back in 2001 and she more or less owned the role of Tosca at the house for about five years. But nothing in those performances (or, to be frank, her few attempts at the Bellini opera elsewhere) really shouts "this woman must do Norma at the Met." So why would a revival of Norma be put in the pipeline five years ago for a singer who neither then nor now promises to display anything special in the role?

Which is why La Cieca poses the question: was this revival of Norma originally planned for a different singer? And if so, who? Deborah Voigt? Violeta Urmana? Renée Fleming?

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

12 November 2007

And hit "send"

Washington Post classical music critic Tim Page ripped DC Councilman and former Mayor Marion Barry in a widely-distributed company email recently, calling Barry a "crack head" and "useless."

The trouble began with an email from Barry's Communication staff that went out as a "blast" to several dozen reporters and media organizations. Page received a copy of the Barry email even though he doesn't cover the former Mayor or the DC government and apparently wasn't too pleased to hear from Barry. According to veteran newscast Bruce Johnson, Page fired off an email response to Barry's Communications Chief:
Must we hear about it every time this Crack Addict attempts to rehabilitate himself with some new--and typically half witted--political grandstanding?

I'd be grateful if you would take me off your mailing list. I Cannot think of anything the useless Marion Barry could do that would interest me in the slightest, up to and including overdose.

Sincerely, Tim Page
Johnson also says Page has confirmed that his supervisors at the Post have already taken disciplinary action against him. According to a source, Page has been placed on leave.

Labels: ,

09 November 2007

Night of the Living Dead

La Cieca's spiritual godmother Tessi Tura (or, more accurately, Ms. Tura's alter ego George Heymont) has finally emerged from a "retirement" of over a decade. George has turned to the blog format to complete a project he's had on the back burner since 1990 or so, "a murder mystery set at the Metropolitan Opera House." La Cieca is sure her cher public will want to follow the progress of this latest Heymontiana (Heymontade?) at A Dying Art Form.

Labels: , ,

27 October 2007

Does a big voice need defending?

Our Own Little Stevie reflects on the Met's new Macbeth.

I'd like to admit a guilty pleasure of mine: I've secretly been waiting with a lot of anticipation for Maria Guleghina to sing in Macbeth and Norma this year. I have not told this to many people because it seems that the common expectation has been that she would be just short of a train wreck in both roles. Many of my wise opera buddies have commented on her wild/out-of-control/harsh/shrill/screamy/erratic voice and technique, and her inability to execute coloratura work. Yet anyone who saw Trittico or Cavalleria last season must have realized she's in prime mid-late career voice at the moment. Many who already commented on the Sirius broadcast from tonight (10/26) heard it right - she had a GREAT night in Macbeth.

I am an advocate of giving artists the benefit of the doubt when they have an off night because I am aware of the pressures and intricate details that can affect the voice at any given performance. I hate to be present when it occurs (who does at these prices) but it happens. I refused to comment in depth about the singing in the Lucia two weeks ago for just that reason. My return visit to that opera last night unfortunately confirmed most of my initial impressions (excepting of course the pleasure of Stephen Costello's debut as Edgardo and the secure high acrobatic singing of Annick Massis), however my impression of Macbeth, especially in regard to Guleghina couldn't be further from the negative reviews I read in major publications.

Most of the press fell over themselves in praise for Dessay in Lucia, yet claim the new Macbeth is "flawed", "lacking", and "sub-par" due to the performance of Maria Guleghina. To put Dessay on such a pedestal and then savage Guleghina just isn't right. As told to me by a Met employee Mme. Guleghina was very hurt and upset by the press reaction to her performance. Tonight she took the opportunity of being in voice to prove them wrong.

As seen and heard from Parterre Box 5 Guleghina gave penetrating insight, virile sexuality, and a HUGE voice to the part. I'm not much of a fan of "heroic" style belting (you all can keep Dimitrova and her like), but there is something to be said for the visceral thrill of hearing Maria hurl off her high notes at maximum tension. I heartily welcome it in the age of Fleming, Gheorghiu, Netrebko, et al. And OH how that sound dominated the ensemble at the end of the Banquet Scene (Turandot anyone?) And she certainly does have the ability to sing many florid passages extremely well.

What I particularly appreciated was how she took her big voice and scaled it down for certain passages in order to execute some of the coloratura. She did this quite successfully in "La luce langue" and the Brindisi, less so in "Vieni t'affretta!" because she was using too big a sound. But come on people, give her a few minutes to warm up! Honestly, she did some stuff vocally that I didn't think she could do - the acuti in the Brindisi were really crisp, and I particularly enjoyed the way she used the staccato to pop up to the top note of the scale and how she beautifully handled those melismas.

On the acting side she totally showed her lust and love for Macbeth. This was not a cold hearted Lady - but more a victim of her blood lust through their greed for power and passion for each other. When Marton played the role (my only other experience with the opera in live performance) I recall her as coming off very sexless - not to say without passion - but lacking in femininity. Guleghina uses her body and her sex appeal openly in the role and it brings just the right edge of warmth to make you believe that she's not in it for herself, she's in it because she loves her man (and this sex appeal and femininity will no doubt add the flame to her Turandot in the 09/10 season). It makes the Sleepwalking Scene really tragic. This aria was concentrated, intense, without being all over the place as many an operatic mad scene can be (no I will not mention any names). She doesn't have a pianissimo D flat to end the scene, so she opted to get the note at full voice securely for a moment facing upstage and then take the scale down. Aside from that my only criticism is that she doesn't really possess any chest voice, and I miss that dark quality in the low lying notes of this part. "Chest Nuts," as Marilyn Horne refers to them, may wish to skip this performance.

Banquo appears to be much more suited to John Relyea's current vocal state than Raimondo in Lucia was the night before. He didn't polish all the wool out of his tone, but it seems to lie in a warmer, lower place of his range. He looked really handsome too. This was probably my favorite of the performances I've seen from him.

I've heard impressions from people of Zeljko Lucic as Macbeth that range from excellent to miscast. I found his voice very pleasant - warm, excellent dynamic control, emotional - if perhaps lacking Verdian "boom" for the biggest moments. I liked his portrayal as a wounded king at once hungry to ascend the throne yet unable to live anymore with the burden of his bloody actions. He doesn't shy away from playing his emotional wounds and softer side. The phrasing in "Pieta, rispetto, amore" was superb. Staged with him sitting in a chair he communicated in a unique way Macbeth's need to believe the prophesy of the Witches and the underlying resignation that everything is about to fall apart. It was heartbreaking in its simplicity and received the biggest amount of solo applause of the evening.

Dimitri Pittas as Macduff was a surprise - bright and clear voice (with maybe not the best Italian vowels), and the lament for his family was a nice moment. The orchestra is in top form, and I'm not crazy about James Levine conducting Verdi most of the time, but the dynamic range was extraordinary - dead silent pauses leading to giant chords bombasting out into space, heavenly strings, and all very carefully calibrated to the singers onstage (another thing I noticed that differed from many pro reviews). From my box I could actually see Levine singing along with most of the singers for a good portion of the evening, very much enjoying making music with them.

And now for the bad news. The sets incorporate a mishmash of stylistic elements, from moving pillars of black stone that have light-up fluorescent bands in them, to green lasers projected onto the black sky for the arrival of the eight Kings from on high (straight out the The Saint circa 1979), a blue egg that raises from the stage to illuminate the apparitions, a jeep that is pushed around onstage, with all of this taking place on a giant black rock disk. It's a tidy and minimal production, not cheap looking, relying on simple props, set pieces, some nice back drops and sometimes elegant lighting effects (and a lot of stage smoke).

But what got me were the witches. They are dressed in a get up that I really don't understand. Were they bag ladies? A coven of local fishwives that meet secretly to conjure spells (and practice spastic dance moves)? While I liked Adrian Noble's direction of the principals, some of his choices just don't cohere with the rest. I don't mind updated or abstract productions if it is all of a whole. Granted I am not versed on post WW2 Scotland, so maybe it made sense, but I wish we'd been let in on what was up with those witches.

On the plus side Noble could give Mary Zimmerman a couple of pointers on how to deal with a static chorus. It looked like he had twice as many people on stage for the Banquet, most of whom must stand and watch in disbelief as Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo, yet there was a fluidity and tension that didn't exist in the Mad Scene I saw again at Lucia the night before. This Macbeth plays well in spite of the questionable taste and stylistic incongruities which are at worst mildly annoying but really don't affect the commitment of the musicians and singers in producing a fine evening of Verdi. -- Little Stevie

Labels: , , , ,

Sob sister scoop!

Adept arbiter Anne Midgette has announced her farewell to The New York Times, moving on up to the Washington Post where she will reign as interim chief critic beginning January 1. The WaPo's current chief critic, Tim Page, is off to teach a semester at USC and, who knows, may extend his stay in academe to something more lasting. We here at parterre.com will miss la Midgette's pungent and always well-supported critiques of New York performances, and we look forward to her take on the WNO.

Labels: , ,

19 October 2007

A waist is a terrible thing to mind

Tenor Marcelo Alvarez is seen just after reading a Bloomberg News review of his performance in Luisa Miller at the Verdi Festival in Parma. Was it really all that bad? Well, you decide.

Critic James Amott had nothing but praise for Alvarez's singing, rhapsodizing "Alvarez gave everything, from delicate pianissimo moments to dramatic Italianate wailing. He made the most of the aria 'Quando le Sere al Placido'.''

However (and this is a big however), Amott went on to complain that Alvarez is "falling into the classic singer's trap: a rapidly expanding waistline.

"The myth that great opera singers somehow gain from being fat has been proven false by the likes of Alfredo Kraus, Maria Callas and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Alvarez's size undermines his performance by making his acting look clumsy and comical."

La Cieca confesses she is a bit confused by the mixed signals sent by critic Amott, since later in the review he drools over ". . . Parma Ham and Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese. As you walk down the high street, stick your nose into one of the many delicatessens and you'll never forget that scent."

Now, in the interest of fairness (and La Cieca thinks her cher public will agree that she has always professed an interest in fairness), it should be pointed out that Alvarez was not the only target of Mr. Amott's ire. "Soprano Fiorenza Cedolins, as Luisa, sang beautifully," Amott opines, "but she had an awful hairdo and a frumpy costume, making it tough to see why Rodolfo was so smitten."

Veteran baritone Leo Nucci, one presumes, brought in his own costumier and hairdresser, since Amott has nothing unpleasant to say about his toilette. In fact, the critic calls Nucci "very watchable" and reports that "the audience went bananas" at the end of Miller's cabaletta.

Labels: ,

18 October 2007


La Cieca is nothing if she is not open-minded. So can someone please explain (or at least excuse) the following statement from Bernard Holland in today's NYT?
Verdi has a way of testing his singers at the opening curtain. (See also "La Traviata," Act I, Scene 1.)

Labels: , , , ,

13 October 2007

The season begins. Finally.

"The Metropolitan Opera's opening week offered two super-starry nights that more than offset a misfired new production across the plaza at the New York City Opera." After some rather frustrating technical delays, our JJ's reviews of the Met's Roméo and Lucia, plus the NYCO's Cav/Pag, are at last online at Gay City News. (Perhaps at this point they can be read for historical significance, if nothing else.)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

28 September 2007

Mood swings

Only rarely can a writer inspire first violent agreement and then equally fervent disbelief in the space of a couple of short paragraphs, but Kyle MacMillan of the Denver Post can now claim credit for La Cieca's current bipolarity:
Renée Fleming just might be the the world's most undivalike diva. [well, duh!]

Much like, say, Audrey Hepburn, the 48-year-old soprano manages to gracefully balance sophistication and poise with an appealing sense of grounded genuineness. [whaaaaaa...?]

Labels: , , ,

27 September 2007


Stepdaughter Sieglinde summarizes the critical reaction in blog and print to Stephen Costello's Met debut. No surprises here for La Cieca, who observed equivalent ecstasy in real time during her Monday night online chat:

Labels: , , , , ,

20 August 2007

Estivation at high elevation

La Cieca's Gal-pal del Golden West, Laura Hope Cruisey, sounds off on Santa Fe, 2007.

Can we talk like this? Has Carl Rove turned off the reel-to-reel, before he turned out the lights? Well, since the New York Times seemingly did not cover the Santa Fe Opera Festival 2007, somebody’s got to say what happened ("Ah got plenty o’nuttin..."), just for the record.

No! I am not going to say, "Not my cup of tea." I shall not exclaim, "Weak tea!" Both have been done. How about: "No tea?" That’s more like it, anyway. Yep, this Tan Dun musical hooligan is at it again, pushing off something called Tea: A Mirror of Soul, on those innocents in Santa Fe (having swept through Europe and New York), causing them to hire a bunch of Chinese stage folk and even some singers from Over There to make it all seem genuine oriental opera. I guess y’all know about The First Emperor hoo-hah at the high-cost, high-end Met last year.

Well, more of same this summer out in the lovely New Mexico mountains. Lots of color, lots of people singing high and low, lots of Mysterious East touches with round doors and peony decor and water and stones and paper, and Asian ladies and gentlemen wandering thru the countryside looking for “The Book of Tea.” They find it but the girl reader dies and the male reader goes home and drinks from an empty bowl of tea.

This is true! I mean that is actually what happened. It was accompanied by lots of tinkly-thwacky-gurgly noise and stuff, and a big orchestra pumping out yards of movie music background, and that was all she wrote. Or he, Tan Dun wrote. You know, who is the more foolish? The opera company that pays to do this stuff or the people who give the opera company money? Exactly the same question they are asking about Miss Kitty Wagner in Bayreuth right now. End of non-opera. Next.

Così fan tutte. This is not going to take long. It was the 2004 production by Colorado’s Big Star, Jim Robinson, but with a lesser cast, a far worse conductor and much-much-much more shtick. Boys come on stage during the overture, you know by Mozart, and they are in their boxer shorts. They are all young and handsome (of course, they are Santa Fe Apprentices), and they are having their physical exam in order to enroll in “The School for Lovers!” Get it? As the overture ends, the lads are gone and Big Jim Robinson’s “take” on what was once Mozart’s Così fan tutte begins. Three long hours later it is over. An evening of vaudeville and slapstick.

The tenor is cute, has no top voice; the soprano has a luscious voice, little personality, no direction; the Dorabella is a doll and she needs to go right back to the Met whence she came; she’s wasted here! The Despina was an old bat who probably did the best opera performance of the evening, including at one boggy moment setting the tempo by waving her arms when the maestro seemed to have gone to sleep. I could go on, but I wont. I vowed when undertaking (pun intended), this assignment I would not name names, but this one time I shall: William Lacey conducted and I hope I never hear him again, ever. Pfui!

It was Fat Tenor Summer. Well, OK, I will name names: Dimitri Pittas sang Rodolfo in the Puccini show; some say he has gained 40 lbs over the last two years; I think it is only twenty. Well, last summer as Narraboth he was tending toward the porcine, but wore an old-timey Biblical gown. This summer he was wearing 1920s clothes and he truly looked like a sack of potatoes (as one noted critic described him). Not a bad face; nice black Greek hair. And a truly lovely tenor voice; tad short on top but he handles it well. What is he, 30? Time for that upper extension to grow, and if he can manage to reduce down below and get his act together he could have a good career. He is well schooled, good with text and seems smart. But since when does smart mean that tenors keep their weight under control? Listen, Bud, if Debbie can do it, so can you!

Let’s not ask Gary Sorenson, however, who essayed the role of Leukippos in Richard Strauss’s longueur known as Daphne. I guess Santa Fe is sort of stuck with Daphne; they did the American debut many years ago, so in place of Ariadne or Capriccio – two really good shows – they do this one-act turkey. The music IS lush, you all know that, but no hit tunes or leitmotivs. The tenor writing is impossible; poor Sorenson – nice small light voice, very pretty for Bach or maybe Haydn. When he could be heard the sound was lovely and he has a sweet face; he is otherwise a Chrysler 300.

Another tenor, not quite so hefty and some years senior to Gary, named Scott MacAllister, as Apollo, operative largely in Europe (as in the Venice Daphne two years ago with June Anderson, seeable on DVD), saved his voice for the moments when the orchestra was not so loud (canny guy, this!), and we got some idea of sound and words. Not a lot. Boring performance, did not look his part. Ditto the costumes; no color, no nothing.

In the "June Anderson" role was a sweet young thing born in Calgary, Alberta named Erin Wall. Big voice, kind of English-sounding, you know, very forward and a little "hard," but lots of top. Monochromatic bright; worked hard on piano tones, did not always make it, but I'm sure she’ll get it all right one day very soon. A remarkable young woman named Meredith Arwady sang Gaea, Daphne’s mother, one of the lowest-lying roles in the repertory, and she boomed out the bottom octave like the lady-bass he is. Remarkable. She is the Erda of tomorrow. I guess there were others; I don’t remember. Unit set. Tree. Curtain. I know, you think I am dismissive. It’s true. -- LHC

Miss Cruisey will be back later this week with her take on La boheme and Platée.

Labels: , ,

27 July 2007

The critics rave, or at least they make loud noises

A few selections from The Opera Critic, demonstrating that great minds do not always etc. etc. That is, assuming you believe that British critics count as "great minds."


19 June 2007


La Cieca hears that Justin Davidson, classical music critic at Newsday for the past decade, is moving over to New York magazine, where he will take over reviewing duties from the departing Peter G. Davis. Davidson's gig will also include writing about architecture.

Labels: ,

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.)

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

05 June 2007

More dust bitten

One of our finest critics has just lost his regular gig. Peter G. Davis has been asked to sign an "agreement of separation" from New York magazine, where he has reviewed classical music for the past 26 years.


26 April 2007

Length matters

"The Met's lavish new production of Giacomo Puccini's operatic trilogy Il trittico (heard April 20) was almost as enjoyable as it was long." Our editor JJ's somewhat contrarian position may be read in Gay City News.

Labels: , , , , ,

27 March 2007

Typography as destiny

Don't get La Cieca wrong: the whole "Opera and Technology" panel last Friday was fascinating. But probably the most interesting bit of information shared all night was done after the formalities were ended. Anne Midgette got to talking with JJ and a few others about the layout style of the New York Times Arts section, and La Cieca has to admit she never realized just how intricate the whole thing is.

Basically there are two kinds of pieces that run in the Arts section: reporting and opinion. "Opinion" includes both reviews and what back in my sob sister days we used to call "think" pieces. It turns out the Times style decrees a number of differences in how these two types of writing are set up.

"Reporting" pieces (like the one on the left, below) have a plain serif headline, a traditional byline directly below the hed, then a series of paragraphs with an even right margin. "Opinion" pieces (right) feature an italic headline, an inset byline without the word "by" and subhead "Music Review." Paragraphs have a ragged right margin.

The meaning of all this? Maybe the Times is saying, "This review is only someone's opinion, so it doesn't need justification."

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

02 March 2007

Sky scheduled to fall in 2009

It's still two years before the dreaded Mortier monster is due to descend upon the city, but right-wing thinktankstress and Giuliani enabler Heather Mac Donaldisn't wasting any time getting the hyperbole rolling. From The City Journal ("the best magazine in America" -- Peggy Noonan), a sample of Mac Donald's heady prose:
While Belgian-born Mortier’s fellow students were trashing universities and other sites of the “establishment” across Europe in 1968, Mortier was disrupting opera productions he considered too conservative, according to a New York Times magazine profile. Now he sits atop the world he once sought to overturn, exploring, as he puts it, “socio-political associations” in opera. Mortier is the musical equivalent of the academic tenured radical—Roger Kimball’s famous phrase for 1960s campus protesters who now run universities.
H-Mac goes on to invoke the usual gang of boogeymen: Peter Sellars, Calixto Bieito, Pamela Rosenberg ... you know, the hate-music leftist crowd. The point that none of these three has the slightest influence in American music or theater at the moment seems to escape Ms. Mac Donald. But, after all, logic has so little place in scare tactics, does it?

Labels: , , ,

03 January 2007

2007 things to do in the new year

  1. Visit La Cieca's newly spiffed up MySpace page, where you can
  2. Delight in a slideshow of the Many Faces of La Cieca,
  3. Listen to a few of the doyenne's favorite tracks,
  4. Thrill to the latest bizarre opera video,
  5. And, while you're there, become one of La Cieca's friends (as if you aren't all already!)
  6. Meanwhile, you can get ready for the relaunch of Unnatural Acts of Opera this evening at 8:00 p.m., and
  7. Discuss.
Let's see. 2000 more to go. La Cieca will have to get back to you.

Labels: , , ,

Lebrecht, c'est echt

La Cieca was contacted this morning (not too early!) by a representative of the "Lebrecht Live" programme on BBC3. The show is set to discuss the burning topic "Is there cultural value in blogging?" And this is what La Cieca has to say, at least to begin with:
One may read consistently brilliant cultural criticism on a blog or else unremitting unspellchecked drivel. But that's the risk one takes in reading any sort of journalistic writing. The difference is that in more traditional media, the grossly incompetent tend to get sifted out before they actually get published. An idiot blogger needs only to figure out how to turn on the computer.

But no writing can have cultural value unless it is actually read, and no writer can make an impact on the culture unless he has an audience. Now, admittedly, some blogs garner millions of page views without offering a single serious idea in return, but one could say the same thing about tabloid newspapers and "reality" television. There are serious readers, though, who are attracted by provocative ideas well expressed, and there are certainly blogs whose content is both interesting and stylish. These are the blogs that can be said to offer substantial cultural criticism.

Particularly in the U.S., mainstream media have been reducing their arts coverage, arguing that there is not a broad audience for this kind of content. Blogs have, I think, helped to fill the gap for those of us who are indeed interested in serious discussion of arts topics. One boon peculiar to the blog format is that a blogger need not trim his thoughts to an arbitrary word count; neither need he expend half his column-inches rehashing the plot of Carmen or reminding the reader of Mozart's Masonic connection. Instead, he can present his ideas unmediated.

Of course mediation is not always a bad thing; most blogs could use an editor's eye. But readers, I think, are willing to tolerate the odd prolix or inelegant sentence if the ideas presented therein are provocative.

A further "point" is the community aspect of blogging. Most blogs allow comments by readers, and so the communication becomes two-way. The blogger is not simply handing down his thoughts from on high; rather, his posting constitutes the first argument in a debate. Admittedly many of these "debates" either fizzle out or "flame" out, but in the best cases, one can find a real forum of ideas on a blog.


01 January 2007

Tony's Award

"The Papageno, Nathan Gunn, was certainly cute enough." -- NYT

Labels: , , ,

29 December 2006

Roundhead roundup

Five newspaper reviews are in for Anna Netrebko's Met Puritani, and the score stands at four postive, one mixed:

"With the smoky colorings and throbbing richness of her sumptuous voice, Ms. Netrebko was an unusually vulnerable Elvira. Bel Canto purists may find fault with her sometimes imprecise execution of coloratura runs and roulades. But I admired her way of treating florid passagework as organic extensions of an arching vocal line, not as a series of fast notes to be nailed with cool accuracy." Anthony Tommasini, New York Times

"She has that bel canto gift of singing like a windswept lark on a bright day, and an acting style combining the natural with the daring." Clive Barnes, New York Post

"Elvira should be beautiful; Netrebko is. Elvira should be so delicate of brain that the shock of being abandoned on her wedding day unhinges her completely. Netrebko raved gorgeously, but she also expertly controlled the whipping spray of notes and the rainbow colors of her voice. She proved herself a master of extreme opera, that volatile mixture of emotional distress and consummate technique. That's what we need divas for." Justin Davidson, Newsday

"And how about the mad scene, one of the greatest stretches in all bel canto opera? From Ms. Netrebko, it was an unshowy tour de force. What I mean is this: It was a tour de force, all right —but it had complete musical and theatrical poise. Ms. Netrebko displayed phenomenal control. And she was pathetic in the original sense — evoking great pity, sadness, and even wonder. This is simply a smart singer." Jay Nordlinger, New York Sun

"She didn't sing a false note, but she struck one. It was as if this charismatic performer, whose stage instincts are usually flawless, was overcompensating for the fact that she simply couldn't conquer all the vocal challenges of one of the most demanding bel canto roles in the repertory." Mike Silverman, Associated Press

Our publisher JJ hears the production on Saturday night; look for his review in Gay City News next week.

Labels: , , , ,

20 December 2006

Sad news

We have just heard that critic and opera fan Stephanie von Buchau has died.

Labels: ,