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.

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27 February 2007

To infinity, and beyond!

The delectable details of the 2007-2008 season at the Metropolitan (discussed this morning in a press conference with Peter Gelb, James Levine and representatives of the new season's production teams) may be found on the Met's web site. Our publisher JJ was there in the flesh, and he forwards his impressions:

The biggest news this morning was something unspoken. Instead, it was Levine's body language, which (in contrast to previous years) suggested he is both comfortable and secure working with Gelb. Levine stayed for the entire press conference and was particularly attentive when Phillip Glass was speaking.

The press conference was as carefully staged as a Met performance. In fact, a lot more carefully than Simon Boccanegra. The meeting began at exactly seven minutes after 11 a.m.

Mr. Gelb reflected on the successes of the current season, which include:

  • An increased audience for the HD simulcasts, now up to 250 screens for Eugene Onegin
  • The box office (though "not necessarily a thermometer") is running nine percentage points higher than this point last season
  • This season so far 61 performances have sold out, in contrast to 20 sellouts for the entire 2006-2006 season
  • Eight HD presentations are booked for next year
  • Opening night 2007 (new production of Lucia di Lammermoor) will be simulcast in the plaza, and the Met is in negotiations with NYC to show it in Times Square as well.
James Levine chimed in that what he finds "even more exciting" than the many innovations this year is that he sees a strong sense of follow-through. It is one thing to get new audiences into the theater the first time, but to sustain that audience you must offer them quality. He adds that he is pleased with how Gelb works with him on a day-to-day basis on solving problems. Levine will conduct the new productions of Lucia and Macbeth next season, plus revivals of Manon Lescaut and Tristan und Isolde, as well as the Met Orchestra's Carnegie Hall series.

Tweaks to next season include revival of the Anthony Minghella Butterfly with Patricia Racette and Roberto Alagna, Barbiere and (as reported by La Cieca a while ago) The First Emperor.

Mary Zimmerman (funny, unpretentious and smart) talked about her production of Lucia. Scene changes in this staging will be done "a vista."

Glass and associate director and designer Julian Crouch introduced Satyagraha. The composer stressed the political and social content of the work, and Crouch talked about how the set materials of corrugated iron and newspaper were suggested by the themes of the opera.

Stephen Wadsworth waxed un peu teachy-teachy on the subject of Iphigénie en Tauride ("Gluck was an ethnic Czech, did you know that?"), but, as Dawn Fatale pointed out, at least the set does not include a built-in shower. The edition of the score will be based on Gluck's Vienna revision, in which Oreste is a tenor, presumably in order to facilitate the participation of Placido Domingo.

The other producers appeared on video. The most buzzworthy statement from this segment was from Adrian Noble, who says the design of his Macbeth is suggested by photographs by Diane Arbus.

The cutest stage director of the whole group was Laurent Pelly (La Fille du Régiment), with Crouch and Richard Jones (Hansel and Gretel) tied for second.

Zoe Caldwell will the the Duchesse de Krakenthorp.

In response to reporters' questions, Gelb said that the Met has negotiated rights to release all its archival performances on CD, DVD, download on demand and "media not yet invented." Anne Midgette asked if there were updates on new commissions by the Met, but Gelb declined to comment, saying that the Met would have a statement later this season.

And then, finger sandwiches and coffee on the Bass Grand Tier, where yet another of parterre.com's web of reliable sources noted that the Gérard Mortier/NYCO deal is all but signed on the dotted line.

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20 February 2007

No time for "Tragedy"

La Cieca has just heard from one of her myriad of reliable sources that the Met's surprise box-office smash of this season, The First Emperor, will return in the spring of 2008. In order to make room in the schedule, a projected revival of An American Tragedy has been 86ed.

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21 December 2006

Be among the First

Don't forget to join La Cieca at 8:00 tonight for a live chat about the prima of The First Emperor at 8:00 p.m. Would any of La Cieca's cher public care to give her a hand as moderators in the chatroom tonight? To serve, as it were, as Roger Alberto to her Vecchia Madelon? Well, if you'd like to help out, please drop La Cieca an email and she'll give you the brief instructions necessary.

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17 December 2006

First, among equals

Join La Cieca on the evening of Thursday, December 21 for a live chat about the world premiere of Tan Dun's The First Emperor. The chat room will open for this special event at 7:30 p.m. and the yakking will continue until the final curtain. Check back at parterre.com on Thursday for a link to the chat room.

In the meantime, La Cieca has managed to obtain several minutes of video of the top-secret dress rehearsal of this production. So, for your pleasure, cher public, a sneak preview of The First Emperor.

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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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24 October 2006

Gently down the stream

Beginning tomorrow night with the season premiere of Rigoletto, the Met will offer weekly free (yes, that's right, free) streaming broadcasts of opera performances over their website, metopera.org. Further broadcasts through the end of the year will include:
  • Rigoletto (Siurina, Calleja, Pons) Wednesday October 25

  • Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci (Guleghina, Racette, Licitra) Monday, October 30

  • Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Damrau, Flórez, Mattei) Friday November 10

  • Madama Butterfly (Gallardo-Domâs, Giordani, Croft; Levine) Saturday, November 18

  • Tosca (Millo, Fraccaro, Morris) Saturday, November 25

  • Idomeneo (Röschmann, Deshorties, Kožená, van Rensburg; Levine) Wednesday, November 29

  • La Boheme (Netrebko, Villazón) Tuesday, December 5

  • Don Carlo (Racette, Borodina, Botha, Hvorostovsky, Pape, Ramey; Levine) Monday, December 11 (7:00 PM/EST)

  • The First Emperor (Futral, DeYoung, Domingo, Groves; Tan Dun -- world premiere) Thursday, December 21

  • I Puritani (Netrebko, Cutler) Wednesday, December 27

These broadcasts will be streamed with "support from RealNetworks®, the leading creator of digital media services." In honor of this innovation, La Cieca will host one of her legendary live chats tomorrow night during the Rigoletto streaming broadcast. Check back on parterre.com Wednesday afternoon for a link to the chat page.

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06 September 2006

Tech talk

As La Cieca rather broadly hinted yesterday, the Met Opera will indeed bump up their number of broadcasts (and telecasts) this season. Six simulcast video performances (to be viewed in movie theaters) and "more than 100" audio-only Web and satellite radio presentations are promised according to a press release on the Met's website.

The first season of high-definition videocasts will include "the new English-language adaptation of Julie Taymor’s Magic Flute, conducted by James Levine, on December 30; I Puritani starring Anna Netrebko on January 6; the world premiere production of Tan Dun’s The First Emperor with Plácido Domingo in the title role on January 13; Eugene Onegin with Renée Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, conducted by Valery Gergiev, on February 24; the new production of The Barber of Seville with Juan Diego Flórez on March 24; and the new production of Il Trittico, conducted by Maestro Levine and directed by Jack O’Brien, on April 28."

All these telecasts will later be made available to PBS in the United States and various international networks for conventional telecast.

What's more, over 500 historical broadcasts from the Met will be made available for purchased download through the Rhapsody online music service. Another 1,000 archival broadcasts should be made available in coming seasons. (The loyal public of parterre.com of course knew about this innovation as long ago as August 14!)

And now La Cieca is off to invest in Sendrax.

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