10 October 2007

We'll need no castles in Spain

Autumn in New York means many things to many people. To some, it's glittering crowds and shimmering clouds in canyons of steel; others reflect upon upon jaded roués and gay divorcées who lunch at the Ritz. To singers it's the height of the allergy and cancellation season.

But to us, the most echt of all opera lovers, autumn in New York heralds the announcement of "The F. Paul Driscoll Awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence." Luminaries receiving this accolade for 2007 include Stephanie Blythe, Olga Borodina, Thomas Hampson, Julius Rudel and "retired soprano legend" Leontyne Price.

TFPDAFOAITFOE, or, to use its perhaps less amusing but certainly cumbersome original title "The Opera News Awards," will hold its annual gala reception and dinner at the Hotel Pierre in New York City on Thursday, January 24, 2008. In what La Cieca applauds as a heart-warming effort at outreach to the lesbian community, the ceremony will boast Sigourney Weaver (above) and Susan Graham (not pictured) as co-hostpersons.

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23 July 2007

She got through all of last year and she's here

More proof (as if any were needed) that 70 is the new 50: "Viva la Diva: Gala zum 70. Geburtstag von Grace Bumbry." The concert (performed at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival on July 17 of this year) featured the septuagenarian siren in a demanding program of arias and scenes from Aida, Ernani, Les Troyens and the complete third act of Tosca!

La Cieca offers her cher public a pair of Querschnitten from this historic concert:

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12 April 2007

The gala continues

In further celebration of our 200th podcast, La Cieca presents a second program of superstars and their superstardom. Featured in the current episode of Unnatural Acts of Opera are Karita Mattila, Rolando Villazon, Renee Fleming, Dorothy Kirsten, Renata Scotto, Elena Obratszova, David Daniels, Ruth Ann Swenson, Renata Tebaldi, Giuseppe diStefano, Marilyn Horne, Montserrat Caballe, Kostas Paskalis, Alain Vanzo, Krassimira Stoyanova, Marcello Giordani and Aprile Millo.

And don't forget Part One, starring Maria Callas, Cesare Valletti, Rosanna Carteri, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Tito Gobbi, Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek, Alfredo Kraus, Jeannette Pilou, Cesare Siepi, Jessye Norman, Joan Sutherland and Leontyne Price.

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03 April 2007

Sing a little, chat a little

La Cieca (not pictured) reminds her cher public that tonight's 40th Anniversary of the Met at Lincoln Center gala will be the subject of an online chat right here at parterre.com.

The program, starring Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón, begins at 7:00 PM and so the chat room will open at 6:45. Maestro Bertrand de Billy will lead the duo in staged performances of La bohème, Act I (with Mariusz Kwiecien as Marcello); Manon Act III, scene 2 (with Samuel Ramey as the Comte des Grieux); and L’elisir d'amore Act II with Mr. Kwiecien as Belcore and Alessandro Corbelli as Dulcamara.

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26 March 2007

Met Barbiere on YouTube

... though not the one from last weekend!

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28 December 2006

Bel canto lushinghier

La Cieca thought that now that Puritani has opened at the Met, it's as good a time as any to review the company's (rumored) bel canto plans for the next five years or so. Remember, everything in this life is uncertain, so please regard these "predictions" as the gossip they are.
Anyway, La Cieca hopes you'll find plenty of fodder for discussion in the following grafs.

Next season (as you all know) opening night will be a new production of Lucia di Lammermoor starring Natalie Dessay. Sharing the role of Edgardo will be a trio of toothsome tenors: Marcello Giordani, Marcelo Alvarez and Giuseppe Filianoti. Further upping the hunk quotient will be Mariusz Kwiecien and John Relyea. The Mary Zimmerman production will be led (on opening night at least) by James Levine.
Per La Cieca's sources, Mad Lucy will pay a couple of return visits in following seasons, first with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon in the fall of '08, and then with Mlle. Dessay again sometime in 2010. Ze French diva gets the unusual honor of opening two new productions next season, the Lucia, of course, and then a new Fille du Regiment opposite puppylicious Juan Diego Florez.
JDF and Dessay reunite in the fall of 2008 for a new Sonnambula. The tenor will reprise his Tonio during the 2009-2010 season, this time with Diana Damrau as Marie. And that pairing will be repeated in the Met premiere of Rossini's Le Comte Ory the following season.
Now, jumping back to 2009 again, that's when the new production of Rossini's Armida is skedded, featuring of course Renee Fleming and (among other tenors) Eric Cutler.
And then comes 2012, aka "The Year of the Jackpot," when just possibly we will hear the Tudor Trifecta (Fleming, Netrebko and Angela Gheorghiu) as well as a new Giulliame Tell (presumably for Giordani) plus revivals of L'elisir (Netrebko, Florez, Kwiecien), L'italiana and Semiramide.

Oh, and for Druid fanciers, the outlook is not quite so rosy: a single revival of Norma next season with Dolora Zajick, Maria Guleghina and Franco Farina -- or, as Mme. Vera Galupe-Borzkh might sum it up: "Can Belto, Can't Belto and Can't Canto."

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13 December 2006


Well, it had to happen sooner or later, and so it did happen, sometime between last night and tonight. La Cieca has decided she's taking Roberto Alagna's side in The Scandale.

Yes, yes, La Cieca hears your gasps and snorts of disbelief and contempt, but you know, cher public, La Cieca is, deep in her bleeding heart, always on the side of the underdog. And, yes, by this point Alagna is the underdog.

Of course La Cieca knows that Alagna brought this upon himself. But in life (as in opera) there are very few pure heroes and villains. Do we not, for example, weep for Manon as she so movingly expires, whether at Le Havre or in the desert near New Orleans? And yes, she brought most of her misery upon herself. If the poor dear thing had even a shred of morality, she could have saved everyone (particularly Des Grieux) whole cartloads of heartache. But morality wasn't what Manon was about; that's not how she was made.

Is it supposed to be news that Roberto Alagna is a hothead? Does he have a track record of behaving coolly and rationally in a crisis? Has he ever been known to say, "no comment" when asked a question, any question? So why is everyone so shocked, shocked to witness what should be -- by now -- familiar behavior?

La Cieca is of the "fool me once" school, frankly, when it comes to opera singers. And, to tell the truth, it's Stéphane Lissner who ought to be saying "shame on me" these days -- at least to himself. In other words, Lissner is not helping the situation by acting so inflexibly, refusing to negotiate with Alagna over his return to the theater.

Now, please understand, La Cieca is not saying that Lissner should simply cave; rather, she's suggesting that there is a win-win possible here, and Lissner is dropping the ball. It's not a particularly impressive act to fire a recalcitrant artist; basically the lawyers and the press office will have to do all the heavy lifting anyway. A great impresario is one who can bring an unruly tenor to heel, and, what's more, trick the tenor into thinking it was his own idea.

Take Rudolf Bing with Franco Corelli, for example. No artist was more "difficult" than Corelli, and yet Bing got him onstage for over 300 performances -- far more than he sang anywhere else in the world. Bing once joked that handling Corelli was what he was "underpaid" for, but in fact, that's what a general manager is supposed to do, to get important artists on the stage and before the public. Firing a singer is, in a sense, an admission of failure. In fact, Bing even admitted in later years that his inability to come to terms with Maria Callas was one of the worst blots on his record as General Manager of the Met.

In contrast, consider Lissner's inflexible behavior in the past few days. Yes, he's showing everyone who's boss, but meanwhile, he's presenting a sold-out "gala" Aida with Walter Fraccaro and Antonello Palombi alternating in the star tenor role. Yeah, I'm sure the audiences who have to sit through that are saying to themselves, "Well, it's excruciating, sure, but at least somebody put his foot down! Thank God La Scala has returned to its artistic mission of upholding the Rule of Law!"

Since last night, a couple more tidbits of information have surfaced suggesting that Alagna's sense of persecution is not 100% paranoia. To begin with, the video of the walkout.

Doesn't it strike you as odd that a television station should have such access to video footage that was recorded for DVD release? Does anyone think that someone in the Decca crew might have leaked it? Hardly. The only way the clip of Alagna's "exit" could have emerged was for the management of La Scala (i.e., Lissner) to make it available. And why ever would an opera house want to publicize so sordid an event? (Can you imagine, for example, that the Met's press department would supply the media with a sound bite of Domingo's being booed last week?) The answer is simple: La Scala is actively working to make Alagna appear the bad guy.

Furthermore, doesn't Palombi's "save" strike you as just a bit too miraculous? How often does it happen that the second cover is standing in the wings, warmed up and ready to bound onto the stage, when there is no prior warning that the artist he's covering might be in vocal distress? In other words, did Palombi know in advance that Alagna might be booed?

If you must know, La Cieca's tipping point on this issue was reading Norman Lebrecht's predictably anti-artist and pro-bandwagon comments this morning. The Alagnas are difficult, the Alagnas are self-absorbed, lot of opera houses are pissed off at the Alagnas, but of course this slap in the face of the honorable public of Milan is the last, the very last straw.

Well, Norma, your middlebrow maunderings are wrong yet again. This might be the end of the line for the Alagnas -- if they were the sort of dull, uninspired singers that mostly populate the world of opera today. But they're not. Despite their vocal flaws and outrageous behavior, they are something special and rare. The main reason that opera is in such dire straits today is that nobody wants to shell out hundreds of dollars for a ticket to hear some well-behaved mediocrity. (That is, unless that mediocrity's name is Fleming, but she's not working much at La Scala lately either.)

La Cieca will have more to say about this later; cher public, do chime in.

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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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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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Three tenors

La Cieca must be brief as she is on jury duty (can you imagine, La Cieca being asked to pass judgment?) Anyway. Highlight of the Tucker Gala was definitely Marcello Giordani, who was in absolutely ideal voice for the "Improvviso," and only slightly nervous for the "Vicino a te." (He sharped on the very final note, noticeable of course since Aprile Millo's high B was so solid and gleaming.) Biggest surprise was Joseph Calleja, who sounds like a different singer in person: the voice is quite large and the fast "Schipa" vibrato, so intrusive on his Sirius broadcast, resolves into an energetic throb in the vast spaces of Avery Fisher Hall. La Cieca is still not 100% convinced of this singer's insistence on pulling a diminuendo on every other high note, but he is a born artist, with geniunely aristocratic phrasing in the "Ah leve-toi soleil."

And then there's Jose Cura, beefy of voice and physique, and obviously of the opinion that he is always the life of the party. Honestly, Verdi is serious music and does not need all that showing off. His Desdemona was Pat Racette, who also sang "L'altra notte." The voice is big enough for this rep but La Cieca thinks utterly wrong in color: it all sounds like Baby Doe. Racette wore the least flattering dress of the evening, a matronly beige and gold thing that clung to every bulge. And her hair was very flat. Best dress of the night: a tie between Elizabeth Futral's filmy black strapless and Sondra Radvanovsky's classic off-the shoulder aubergine silk.

Uncharacteristically, La Cieca was most interested in the low voices, especially Rene Pape, glamorous in Boris, and Sam Ramey, shedding a couple of decades for "Ecco il mondo." Even James Morris was in good voice, particularly for a gorgeous aria from Rachmaniov's Aleko.

The Roberto Benigni-style podium antics of Asher Fisch were not to La Cieca's liking, but she couldn't argue with the results: rich, vibrant playing from the orchestra and chorus, and sympathetic collaboration with the singers. For the first time in years, the Tucker concert really amounted to a gala; this was an evening worthy of the event's namesake!

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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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21 September 2006

Auspicious flashes

photo: Carol RoseggAccording to our editor JJ, the current NYCO production of Semele "provided a luxe vehicle for the talents of soprano Elizabeth Futral as the mortal princess Semele who becomes the mistress of Jove. Futral is gorgeous enough to tempt the king of the gods, feminine and curvaceous, and she has the personality and wit to put over her director’s concept of Semele as a superstar sex kitten." Gay City News.

"The first thing you need to know is that Carol Vaness bears the most uncanny resemblance, in terms of the placement of her speaking voice and her speech cadences, to Shelly Long in the role of Diane Chambers on Cheers. I mean, that's pretty important, right? Also, she seems high." Maury D'Annato turns his gimlet eye to the Tuesday night's NYCO gala.

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20 September 2006

Sirius fun

As La Cieca predicted a fortnight ago, the Met Opera today announced a partnership with SIRIUS Satellite Radio to broadcast live and archival Met performances. The series will begin on Monday, September 25th, with a live broadcast of the Met's opening night gala performance of Madama Butterfly, conducted by Music Director James Levine and directed by Anthony Minghella.

The format for the new Sirius channel, 85, will include four live broadcasts a week during the season plus 10 archival saturday matinee broadcasts. Amusingly, the NYT piece announcing the new channel says the programming "will range widely, including the likes of a 1937 performance of Carmen, starring Rosa Ponselle, and a performance of La Traviata in 2004 with Renée Fleming." Yes, "widely" is definitely the operative word here.

La Cieca must admit that she is not an early adopter of satellite radio. So clue her in, cher public, what are your experiences with Sirius? (And for those of you who are as clueless about Sirius as she is, here's a video that is obviously targeted precisely at La Cieca's core audience.)

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11 September 2006

Artificial flower

That "Age of the Diva" soprano, Renee Fleming, swept into Los Angeles last weekend to lay down video tracks for her upcoming DVD of Traviata. Los Angeles Opera cleverly captialized on the public's interest in America's Sweetheart by selling high-priced tickets to the taping, calling the event a "gala opera performance." We will of course have to wait for the DVD to see how it all turned out (and La Cieca's breath is already bated!), but at least one critic was less than bowled over. Muses the LA Times' Mark Swed,
. . . what's to be done about Fleming? She is renowned for her beauty — of voice, of appearance. At 47, she retains both. She gives a lot, yet the audience receives little. Her every move onstage feels overly motivated. Portraying a courtesan, she wears 19th century gowns with grace, but she seems to hide behind them . . . . ultimately, Fleming seemed slave to her glossy beauty of tone and confined by her corsets. What would happen if she put herself in the hands of a powerful director who cut through the plastic?
Oh my! Well, at least Fleming had the wit (and the clout) to veto the company's 1920s update of the Verdi classic, insisting on traditional hoopskirted garb. After all, those jazz age frocks might have looked a little unflattering, unlike, well...

But Placido always does things in such a big way! I mean, how many other impresarios could convince Ruth Ann Swenson and Nia Vardalos to alternate as Flora?

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25 May 2006

So long, farewell...

Curtain call at a recent gala event. (Note, toward the end of the clip, Denyce Graves holding up the bodice of her strapless dress!)

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Puccini, still unknown

La Cieca doesn't want to get all pedantic here, but she does want to point out that the phrase Mirella Freni sang at the end of her rambling monologue at the Volpe gala was not from Act 3 of La boheme. Or rather, the musical phrase reappears in the opera, but the version Freni sang was obviously meant as the tag of her scheduled encore, "Sole e amore." This number is a parlor song written by Puccini in 1888, and he recycled the main melody later for "Addio dolce svegaliare." "Sole e amore" is one of the songs that Michael Kaye collected and edited back in around 1990 for a book called The Unknown Puccini. The last phrases of the song are set to the words, "Al Paganini -- G. Puccini." It's a whimsical touch, to set the signature of the song, and apparently Freni's version of "Sole e amore" was meant to end with a dedication to the retiring General Manager, "To Joe Volpe, from Mirella."

From the tenorissimo.com site, here's a clip of Placido Domingo singing the song.

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21 May 2006

You gotta get a gimmick

When she's dressing for a gala and she wants to stand out from the crowd, what's a diva to do?

Well, she can hire Angie Dickinson's hairdresser, but then confuse the issue by making her dress out of window sheers.

Or she can go for a classically simply mother of the bride dress, and then forget to wash her hair.

For the divo, though, nothing screams "gala" like a tuxedo from the Gaylord Ravenal Collection.

One non-fashion related note. If you're singing a trio and you think you might want your voices to blend, the three of you might want to get together and decide what vowel you're singing on. One "urr" and two "ee's" do not a pretty chord make.

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She's still here

At long last (but far more than worth the wait!), the latest episode of The Entertainment Beat with Frances Gumm is online. If you haven't listened to this marvelous series, well, you just don't know show biz.

And, before La Cieca slumps into unconsciousness, please let her thank the almost 100 participants in tonight's live chat on the Volpe Gala. Frankly, without the chat, La Cieca would have found the whole thing a crashing bore (all except that Hvorostovsky/Pape/Zajick sequence in the second half) and probably would have switched the radio off. La Cieca promises her cher public that "Chez Cieca" will re-open for business next fall (as the Met broadcast season begins) at the very latest!

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20 May 2006

BREAKING! Volpe Gala

We interrupt this liveblogging with this bulletin: James Levine didn't show for the Volpe Gala. (Obviously he wasn't going to conduct, but not even to walk out onstage?)

What's more, Rudy Giuliani didn't show either.

And Uncle Joe himself didn't even make a speech.

Oh, God, how they must all hate him!

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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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18 May 2006

Generation gap

Astute Anne Midgette (glimpsed earlier this week among the faithful throngs at the Millo Tosca) wonders today in the Times whatever happened to singers like Richard Leech, Sharon Sweet, Susan Dunn, Francisco Araiza, June Anderson, Cheryl Studer, Carol Vaness, Aprile Millo and Dawn Upshaw. All these artists were mainstays of the Joseph Volpe 1990s at the Met, and yet not one of them is appearing in Uncle Joe's farewell gala on Saturday. Midgette points out that these singers are in their late 40s and early 50s now, certainly not elderly in their field. Ironically, the gala does feature a number of stuperstar singers of the previous generation, including Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Mirella Freni, Kiri te Kanawa and Frederica von Stade.

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15 May 2006

Breath control

You know, La Cieca heard there were some staging modifications to the Wilson Lohengrin since the last revivial, but who knew?

As La Cieca announces in her current podcast, she will be liveblogging the WQXR broadcast of the Volpe Farewell Gala this Saturday evening. Comments will be enabled so you can be as interactive as you like. Or, come to think of it, how many of you would participate in a chat room devoted to this broadcast? Let La Cieca know and, as always, she will do her best to turn your wishes into reality.

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04 May 2006

Why did the podcast cross the road?

This week's podcasts feature a reprise performance (the 1977 Turandot starring Luciano Pavarotti, Montserrat Caballe and Leona Mitchell) with all new chatter from La Cieca. In the current episode, she yaks about the Volpe Farewell Gala and poses yet another of "The Enigmas of La Cieca." It's all at Unnatural Acts of Opera, of course.

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30 April 2006

I could go on singing 'til the cows come home

La Cieca has just learned the scheduled roster and repertoire for the Volpe Farewell Gala to be performed on Saturday, May 20 (and, if all this music stays in the show, part of May 21 as well.) Deborah Voigt will open the program with special material by Ben Moore, accompanied by Brian Zeger. The first of the James Levine stand-ins, Valery Gergiev, will then conduct selections from Ruslan and Ludmilla and Tannhaeuser. (Further baton duties for the evening are shared among Marco Armiliato, James Conlon, Plácido Domingo, Peter Schneider and Patrick Summers.)

The first operatic solo of the evening ("La speranza" from Semiramide) goes to Juan Diego Florez. Further highlights of the first half include a duet from L'italiana in Algeri (Ildar Abdrazakov, Olga Borodina), "O mio babbino caro" (Ruth Anne Swenson), "Una furtiva lagrima" (Ramon Vargas), "Ah non credea mirarti" (Natalie Dessay), the Count's aria from Figaro (Dwayne Croft), "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (Denyce Graves), "Tacea la notte" (Renee Fleming [!]), "Je vais mourir" from Les Troyens (Waltraud Meier), the Prize Song (Ben Heppner), and Marietta's Lied (Kiri te Kanawa[!!]).

Frederica von Stade, Salvatore Licitra and Domingo (who sings, too!) will also perform a few songs in this segment, and after a "gala film" is shown, la Voigt will return to perform "Pace, pace."

Susan Graham is first on after intermission with another Moore ditty, followed by Stephanie Blythe ("Ah, que j’aimes les militaires"), Thomas Hampson (Pierrot's song from Die Tote Stadt), Samuel Ramey (Mephisto's serenade from Faust), Dimitri Hvorostovsky and Rene Pape in arias from Don Carlo, and the double-barrelled mezzo excitement of Dolora Zajick's "O mon Fernand" and Ms. Meier's Easter Hymn from Cavalleria.

Two numbers from Così fan tutte follow: "Ah guarda sorella" with Mmes. von Stade and te Kanawa, and "Soave sia il vento" with Fleming, Graham and Hampson. The baritone returns with Karita Mattila for selections from The Merry Widow, and then the audience will take a well-deserved bathroom break while the Met Ballet performs a jolly polka. (UPDATE: further clues suggest that this number will accompany an "open" scene change, so the audience will finally learn the meaning of all that yelling and banging that goes on while we sit in semidarkness for ten minutes at a stretch. It's important that we see this now, because that spoilsport Peter Gelb has vowed to use some sort of voodoo "technology" to facilitate instantaneous scene changes, the way they do on Broadway, at the NYCO, in every European opera house, and, well, basically everywhere in the universe besides the Met.)

James Morris will then lead the Gods into Valhalla, and Susan Graham will bid us all farewell with "Parto, parto." But wait, the show's not over yet. In what might best be called the "TBA Segment," we will (or perhaps will not) hear tenors Roberto Alagna and Marcello Giordani in arias from Cyrano de Bergerac and La gioconda respectively. The legendary Mirella Freni is penciled in for an aria from Alfano's Risurezzione and a Puccini song, and then comes an item listed merely as "(34. L. Pavarotti)."

Returning to the scheduled program, Mattila, Heppner, Pape, Morris (and Matthew Polenzani) bring the curtain down with the finale to Fidelio under the baton of Maestro Schneider. At this point, La Cieca assumes, Rudy Giuliani will present Volpe with a plaque or something and perhaps make a joke about how he's expecting Joe to be on time for work. And then The Beautiful Voice will be heard once more asking the musical question "When I Have Sung My Songs."

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03 April 2006

You're going out a youngster but I've got to come back a star!

Like many of you, La Cieca was a little surprised at the blitz of publicity attendant upon the Met debut of Erika Sunnegardh last Saturday afternoon. A front-page feature in the New York Times, and then, a few days later, a followup article with photographs taken in the soprano's dressing room.

But did you notice -- also seen in those photos is a whole phalanx of video and still cameras. In fact, La Cieca has learned that Ms. Sunnegardh's dressing room was closed off to fans after the performance in order to accomodate the crowd of media covering the story. There were also video and still cameras out in the house during the performance.

Now, here's the puzzling part. Ms. Sunnegardh doesn't (or didn't) have a publicist. And, frankly, covers go on quite frequently at the Met without so much as a ripple in the press. So why all the attention to this particular debut?

Well, what La Cieca has heard is that this isn't so much about Ms. Sunnegardh's Ruby Keeler moment as it was about Joe Volpe -- specifically about his memoir The Toughest Show on Earth, due in print around the time of his his farewell gala on May 20. A key motif in the final chapter of the book is Volpe's "Julian Marsh" ability to elevate a nobody into a superstar.

In order to reinforce this point, press coverage for Sunnegardh's official debut was already arranged well in advance. But when Karita Mattila canceled, Volpe's publicists reportedly jumped at the chance to build up the drama -- and, of course, Volpe's status as hero of his own story.

The Times article includes a particularly self-serving snippet of the memoir: "Not since Rosa Ponselle's debut in 1918, opposite Caruso in La Forza del Destino, has the Met given an unknown singer such an opportunity." He wrote that before Sunnegardh set foot on stage. Now that she's made a successful "surprise" debut, count on that story to be featured front and center in the upcoming book launch puffery.

La Cieca wishes the best to Ms. Sunnegardh, and certainly hopes that her good deed will go unpunished by the Met. But La Cieca also recalls what happened to Lauren Flanigan after she saved the Met's bacon back in 1993.


12 March 2006

O tentatrice!

On dit that America's leading verista, Aprile Millo, will sing her first Manon Lescaut in the fall of 2006. La Cieca is not at liberty to divulge the venue, other than to say that it will not be in New York City.

Rumor has it that the process of replacing James Levine as conductor for the Met's spring season is already in full swing, under the close direction of Maestro Levine himself. Expect to see Maurizio Benini leading Don Pasquale. Asher Fisch will likely helm both Parsifal and Lohengrin; presumably his own scheduled performances of Rigoletto will be delegated elsewhere. For Fidelio, La Cieca hears that Paul Nadler will be in for the entire run. No word yet on who will conduct the Volpe Farewell Gala, but so long as the ticket sales don't suffer, Uncle Joe will muddle through somehow.

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09 March 2006

Lend me a tenor (or two)

La Cieca has just heard that Neil Shicoff has canceled the dress rehearsal of Luisa Miller at the Met; Eduardo Villa (cover for the run) will do it. And La Cieca has heard further that Sergio Blazquez, scheduled to make his NYCO debut in La boheme in April, is having visa problems, so Gerard Powers will likely do all nine performances.

In less Rodolfocentric news, our own JJ's review of the Met's Forza is online at Gay City News: "On May 20, Joseph Volpe will celebrate his retirement as general manager of the Metropolitan Opera with a lavish gala performance. On February 24, a disastrous revival of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino demonstrated why this retirement is long overdue." And do lend an ear to the "Jambalaya" show on Unnatural Acts of Opera, a potpourri of outtakes from this year's podcasts.

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08 February 2006

Starry night

Alas, La Cieca can't comment regarding onstage goings on at last night's Traviata at the Met (her evil twin JJ is writing about the event for Gay City News), but things were pretty gala in the auditorium as well. Representing the Blogosphere was one of the Wellsungs, Jonathan Ferrantelli, a deux with the always charming Greg Freed. Down on orchestra level, La Cieca noted Anna Netrebko deep in conversation with scribe Matthew Gurewitsch. (La Netrebko, it is rumored, will be singing her own Violetta in New York a few seasons hence, though not, perhaps, in the Franco Zeffirelli staging she saw last night. On dit that Peter Gelb plans to import the Willy Decker production from Salzburg.) Aprile Millo, swathed in mink, held court at the base of the pole that bears her name. Noted in her orbit were ten-percenter Neil Funkhouser, NYCO tenor Andrew Drost and Premiere Opera's Ed Rosen. And everywhere La Cieca looked, boys, boys, boys, on a cuteness level to rival that of a David Daniels audience. Were they there for Angela Gheorghiu in the title role, or, could scrummy tenor Jonas Kaufmann (left) have something to do with it?

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07 December 2005

The Quiz continues!

La Cieca thanks the record number of listeners who have downloaded the "Unnatural Acts Gala" already. Two of the prizes have been awarded to sharp-eared fans, but two DVDs remain to be awarded. Everyone so far has got the first two questions correct, but the third seems to be the sticking point. La Cieca will offer the following hint: the singer in question is not any of the following: Elly Ameling, Catherine Malfitano, Petula Clark, Peggy Lee, Linda Lavin, Shirley Verrett or Yma Sumac. The next two emails with correct answers to all three quiz questions will win historical opera DVDs, so crank up those headphones!


06 December 2005

High Noon: the Gala and Quiz!

Here it is, cher public: the Unnatural Acts Gala and Quiz. To listen, just click on the arrow button. (Make sure your speaker volume is turned up, and allow 10 - 15 seconds for the show to start playing.)

Listen to the Gala and Quiz!

You can also download the mp3 at this direct link. When you know the answers to the three questions, send them to [email protected]. For more details on the gala and quiz, see the posting below.

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05 December 2005

"Unnatural Acts" Gala: Divas! Prizes! Filth!

Be sure to check back here on parterre.com at noon (17:00 GMT) tomorrow for the First Unnatural Acts of Opera Gala and Quiz, featuring performances by Leontyne Price, Placido Domingo, Beverly Sills, Simon Keenlyside, David Daniels, Regine Crespin, Piero Cappuccilli, Regina Resnik, Diana Soviero and Eleanor Steber. (There will be some filth as well, but you'll have to listen to the show to find out who the perpetrator is.) The quiz will consist of three opera-related questions; the first email received will win a pair of tickets to the English National Opera's Billy Budd; three runners-up will receive historical opera DVDs. You can listen to the show directly through a link on this page beginning at noon, or you can download the show through Itunes. Until noon, then!

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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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20 October 2005

Stand clear of the closing doors

The next time you roll your eyes at an operatic plot complication involving mistaken identity, just consider this: Mirella Freni's cancellation of her gala peformance of Fedora at the Washington National Opera last month was apparently due to a bungled phone message. According to a WNO insider, La Freni telephoned the company's main office to inquire when to expect the car that would take her to a costume fitting. Whoever answered didn't recognize Freni's voice (or, apparently, her name) and advised the diva that she shouldn't be taking a car anyway, given that her hotel was right near a Metro stop. The offended soprano (perhaps muttering "e troppo! e troppo!") then canceled her contract.

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09 October 2005

Sillsmania continues

A few of La Cieca's cher public wrote in to complain that last week's podcast, the Beverly Sills farewell gala, offered lots of gala but not much Sills. So we're remedying that this week on "Unnatural Acts of Opera," with an all-Sills program featuring music by Handel, Mozart and R. Strauss.

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03 October 2005

Kiss Yesterday Goodbye

Have the years flown that fast? Well, you tell La Cieca. She just this past weekend realized that it's been 25 years since Beverly Sills retired from singing. To put that in persepctive, the duration of her retirement (1980 - 2005) is now exactly equal to the duration of her New York City Opera career (1955 - 1980). Yes, that means that Bev debuted at NYCO 50 years ago this year! And yet, to La Cieca, 1980 seems like, if not yesterday, then at most the day before. To mark these anniversaries (silver, silver, and gold, respectively), La Cieca is delighted to present an episode of Unnatural Acts of Opera featuring highlights from the "Beverly!" farewell gala. The show begins with a few numbers from Die Fledermaus, Act 2, starring Kitty Carlisle (Prince Orlovsky), Gianna Rolandi (Adele), Alan Titus (Eisenstein) and La Sills reprising her debut role of Rosalinda. Then out come the guests: Donald Gramm, John Alexander, Leontyne Price, Sherrill Milnes, Eileen Farrell, Renata Scotto and Placido Domingo. The program winds up with a pop/opera medley, Sills duetting with Carol Burnett. On second thought, don't kiss yesterday goodbye: do what you can to bring it back!

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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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23 April 2005

Adieu, forets...

This one is just a whisper at the moment, but La Cieca has heard that Mirella Freni is not going to show up for the Met Pension Fund gala in May? Like I said, it's just a whisper, but...

Those of you listening to today's intermission feature during the Met's Walkuere broadcast just heard Sally Billinghurst (in her adorably artless manner) confirm our March 15 item (below) about Placido's next new role. So sorry, Tommy!


06 March 2005

Laugh (at, not with)