30 January 2008

Mot du jour

"Marcello Giordani is, how can I put this, what Franco Farina would sound like if he weren't awful." -- My Favorite Intermissions

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15 October 2007


La Cieca has just heard that Roberto Alagna will sing his first Met Radames tomorrow night, replacing the ailing Marco Berti. Which means, if you haven't guessed it yet, that Marcello Giordani is jumping into tonight's Butterfly. By the end of the season, Giordani will have five different roles in his Met repertoire for 2007-08: Edgardo, Roméo, Pinkerton, Ernani and des Grieux (Manon Lescaut.)

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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.)

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10 October 2007

Someone else does the heavy lifting for a change

La Cieca introduces a new feature on parterre.com, the guest review. First up to bat is longtime print zine stalwart Little Stevie, who saw Lucia di Lammermoor last night.

Take this as you will: based on this evenings performance the new Met Lucia is pretty bad. The acclaimed Ms. Zimmerman simply doesn't know how to direct opera. The chorus work was among the WORST I have ever seen in any theatre - no motivation, and some of the most boring groupings you can imagine - very static. The highly touted "nuanced portrayals" of the principles translates to "can't get the performances past the footlights". As viewed from Parterre Box 12 tonight, my impression was that the relationships were so poorly realized that everyone was acting in their own opera with no connection happening between any of them. Dessay and Giordani hit the mark in the Act 1 love duet, but prior to and after that the opera turned into an emotional black hole.

As each act came about I could feel the performance slipping away dramatically. This was unfortunate for Ms. Dessay's Mad Scene - which was very well sung, with reinstated pages of music new to my ears, and extremely interesting and difficult coloratura tailored to her abilities. If the opera had actually built up to this scene it would have been an experience to remember. The production lets her down, and the scene is an island in a vast ocean of emptiness. You really must experience Act 3 Sc. 1 between Edgardo and Enrico to believe it. Passionless, limp, "cross the stage on this line" type of directing - no conflict, no danger. It played as thought they were an East Village avant garde opera troupe making fun of the structure of the piece in a deconstructionist production. There was barely enough applause to cover the time to black out and raise the scrim (see below) on Sc. 2.

I have read that Ms. Zimmerman traveled with her designers to Scotland to soak up local color and get inspiration for this production. Well the only thing they seemed to have soaked up are several hundred gallons of sea foam green paint, and not a very stage worthy or pleasant shade either. Based on the designs released prior to opening I was expecting darkly foreboding landscapes, expressionistic backgrounds, gloomy yet appropriate spaces. The grassy mound in Act 1 works, yet I couldn't shake the feeling that it was the anorexic sister of the Met's Parsifal set. Act 2 is a deluge of the aforementioned "sea foam green" - from the floor to way up past our site lines - all three walls of the set.

Act 3 is where it really falls apart. Scene 1: Lightning out of your local carnival's "spooky house" housed in a black scrim that materializes into Wolf's Crag Castle thanks to two cutouts at top and bottom with part of the Scene 2 stairs sticking out. Edgardo enters to a bare stage with your uncle's ugly yellow wing backed chair the only piece on stage. Scene 2 was the most confusing - the costumes, giant wooden stairs and balcony (read faux-finished cat walk) seemed to place the scene in the Wild West and looked to be straight out of Miss Kitty's Saloon from Gunsmoke!! Perhaps up close the impression was richer, but from my seat it sure didn't read as Scotland. The Ravenswoods cemetery was a particular embarrassment - 2 or 3 cutout headstones that looked to be supported in the back by 2x4's. Cheap cheap CHEAP!

The singing was OK. Myers (as Normanno in Act 1 Sc. 1) was inaudible when the ensemble was singing, and weak on solo lines. Relyea was wooly and tended to go flat. Giordani was Giordani - very good but just shy of superstar tenor quality. Kwiecien - I wish I could rave - but he has one dynamic - mezzo forte - a short breath line - and was quite cardboard tonight. He also really sang over Dessay in their scenes together. Stephen Costello projected youth, vigor, and a super fine tenor that has alot of ring top to bottom, though the absolute top didn't quite bloom bigger as one might want - but what a fantastic sound. -- Little Stevie

If you would like to be a guest critic on parterre.com, please contact La Cieca. First priority will be given to regular commenters.

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06 October 2007

Serial monogamy

La Cieca has just heard that Marcello Giordani goes on tonight (i.e., two hours from now) as Roméo at the Met, jumping in for Joseph Kaiser who presumably is ill. That brings the total number of lovers for Anna Netrebko's Juliette to three after only four nights of the 10-performance run. By the end of December, Anna may be giving Elizabeth Taylor a run for her money!

UPDATE: The Met's website (already!) reports on Giordani's "rescue act" and, incidentally, provides a few minutes of the opening night Lucia on video.

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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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13 February 2007

Cessarono gli spasmi del dolore?

A highly-placed source for Opera Orchestra of New York has expressed the hope that all is not quite lost for the company. In an email sent to a long-time supporter of OONY this morning, the source concedes "big problems because of the dramatic drop in box office" and admits the board is "hard pressed to make up the difference." OONY is is "sure of one opera next year," we are told, but they are "not sure about the other two evenings." The source further suggested that very strong ticket sales for the upcoming L'arlesiana might rescue the 2007-08 season.

UPDATE: An OONY spokesperson confirms that the company has scheduled Bellini's La sonnambula (featuring the well-received tenor Dimitry Korchak from this year's Dom Sebastian) for February 27, 2008 and promises that further plans will be announced "very shortly." Meanwhile, La Cieca has heard that one possible event for OONY's next year would be a gala concert headed by Marcello Giordani and Aprile Millo.

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26 January 2007

The Verdi is always greener

La Cieca's cher public are, as in so many aspects of their existence, well ahead of the curve on foreknowledge of casting at the Met in the bel canto and German wings. Perhaps this wintry Friday is a good time to move on to a more semi-substantiated gossip, now on the subject of the operas of Giuseppe Verdi. (Do keep in mind that none of this is set in stone. In fact, given the Gelb administration's penchant for last minute switcheroos, one should probably hold off on booking tickets for 2012 until, oh, 2011 at the earliest.) But, anyway, herewith a few possible highlights of the next five years:

Next season's hot ticket will surely be a rare revival of Ernani starring Marcello Giordani, Sondra Radvanovsky, Thomas Hampson and Ferruccio Furlanetto. That certainly sounds more fun than the new Macbeth "starring" Andrea Gruber, Leo Nucci. Carlos Alvarez, Marco Berti and Roberto Aronica. Will anyone be surprised at massive audience attrition following the second-act demise of Banco (John Relyea/Rene Pape)? Fans of Mr. Berti (if such there be) may expect to hear him as well in revivals of Ballo (shared with Salvatore Licitra, and featuring Dmitri Hvorostovsky's first local Renato) and Aida (alternating with debutant Nicola Rossi-Giordano in an otherwise dismal cast). Renee Fleming offers repeat engagements of La traviata and Otello, with Ruth Ann Swenson optimistically double-cast as Violetta and Johan Botha as the Moor.

Rumors of Ms. Radvanovsky's "buyout" should be dismissed once and for all since she is on the books for two high-profile assignments in 2008-2009, a new Trovatore (opposite Mr. Lictira) and her first in-house Traviata (alternating with Anja Harteros). Those two up-and-coming tenors Giuseppe Filianoti and Joseph Calleja share Duca duties in a Rigoletto otherwise notable only for Diana Damrau's Gilda. And speaking of tenors, Placido Domingo is supposed to cross over to the bass clef for the title role in Simon Boccanegra, but La Cieca will believe that when she hears it.

The big news of '09-'10 is the Met debut of Riccardo Muti leading the company premiere of Attila. There will be singers as well in this production, notably Violeta Urmana and less notably Ramon Vargas, C. Alvarez and Ildar Abdrazakov. Mme. Urmana will also join two other golden-age physiques, Dolora Zajick and Mr. Botha, for Aida. La Radvanovsky's career continues full-tilt in a revival of Stiffelio heavy on hunk-appeal (Jose Cura and Mr. Hvorostovsky), and the Gruber doesn't seem to be going away either: she's up for a repeat of Nabucco.

As we move into the twenty-teens, we can foresee new productions of La traviata (with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon in the Willy Decker update) and Don Carlo (probably not with Angela Gheorghiu, though the rest of the cast seems firm enough: Mr. Villazon, plus Luciana D'Intino, Simon Keenlyside/Anthony Michaels-Moore, Rene Pape. Antonio Pappano and Nicholas Hytner will reprise their Covent Garden duties. Also: revivals of I Lombardi (Giordani) and Il trovatore (Fleming). That year may also see Mr. Hvorostovsky's Boccanegra.

The "jackpot" year of 2012 is still pretty much up for grabs, La Cieca hears, with only Falstaff (Bryn Terfel, James Levine) a definite maybe.

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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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16 November 2006

A turkey and some mistletoe

You all remember that new Norma slated for Zurich with Renaaay (and Marcello Giordani, by the way)? Well, La Cieca hears that talks are already in progress to import the show (complete with The Beautiful Druidess) to the Met. The good news is that we'll see the retirement of the "Ping-pong Table Norma" last glimpsed behind Jane Eaglen; the bad news is, well, you know.


14 November 2006

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

Coming attractions

What's happening next week on Sirius.

Monday, November 13, 2006

6:00 AM Offenbach: Les Contes D’Hoffmann. 12/3/55 Monteux; Tucker, Peters, Stevens, Amara

9:00 AM Donizetti: Don Pasquale. 4/15/06 Benini; Florez, Netrebko, Alaimo, Kwiecien

12:00 PM Mascagni/Leoncavallo: Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci. 4/11/1964 Santi; Farrell, Miller, Tucker, Bardelli / Amara, Corelli, Colzani, Marsh, Ghitti

3:00 PM Wagner: Tannhauser. 1/21/78 Levine; McCracken, Bumbry, Weikl, Kubiak, Macurdy

7:30 PM Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia (LIVE FROM THE MET). Benini; Damrau, Florez, Mattei, Del Carlo, Ramey

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

6:00 AM Wagner: Gotterdammerung. 4/22/00 Levine; Eaglen, Anderson, Palmer

12:00 PM Massenet: Manon. 12/21/63 Schippers; Moffo, Gedda, Guarrera, Tozzi

3:00 PM Verdi: La Traviata. 4/6/1957 Cleva; Tebaldi, Campora, Warren

7:30 PM Puccini: Tosca (LIVE FROM THE MET). Luisotti; Gruber, La Scola, Morris

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

6:00 AM Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini. 12/27/2003 Levine; Bayrakdarian, Giordani, Del Carlo, Carfizzi

9:00 AM Wagner: Tannhauser. 1/21/78 Levine; McCracken, Bumbry, Weikl, Kubiak, Macurdy

12:00 PM Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera. 2/26/66 Molinari-Pradelli; Price, Peters, Bergonzi, Dunn, Merrill

3:00 PM Donizetti: Don Pasquale. 4/15/06 Benini; Florez, Netrebko, Alaimo, Kwiecien

7:30 PM Puccini: Madama Butterfly (LIVE FROM THE MET). Fisch; Gallardo-Domas, Zifchak, Giordani, Croft

Thursday, November 16, 2006

6:00 AM Verdi: I Lombardi. 1/15/94 Levine; Flanigan, Pavarotti, Plishka, Beccaria

9:00 AM Massenet: Manon. 12/21/63 Schippers; Moffo, Gedda, Guarrera, Tozzi

12:00 PM Verdi: La Traviata. 4/6/1957 Cleva; Tebaldi, Campora, Warren

3:00 PM Mascagni/Leoncavallo: Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci. 4/11/1964 Santi; Farrell, Miller, Tucker, Bardelli / Amara, Corelli, Colzani, Marsh, Ghitti

6:00 PM Wagner: Gotterdammerung. 4/22/00 Levine; Eaglen, Anderson, Palmer

Friday, November 17, 2006

6:00 AM Donizetti: Don Pasquale. 4/15/06 Benini; Florez, Netrebko, Alaimo, Kwiecien

9:00 AM Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera. 2/26/66 Molinari-Pradelli; Price, Peters, Bergonzi, Dunn, Merrill

12:00 PM Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini. 12/27/2003 Levine; Bayrakdarian, Giordani, Del Carlo, Carfizzi

3:00 PM Offenbach: Les Contes D’Hoffmann. 12/3/55 Monteux; Tucker, Peters, Stevens, Amara

6:00 PM Wagner: Tannhauser. 1/21/78 Levine; McCracken, Bumbry, Weikl, Kubiak, Macurdy

9:00 PM Verdi: I Lombardi. 1/15/94 Levine; Flanigan, Pavarotti, Plishka, Beccaria

Saturday, November 18, 2006

6:00 AM Massenet: Manon. 12/21/63 Schippers; Moffo, Gedda, Guarrera, Tozzi

9:00 AM Verdi: La Traviata. 4/6/1957 Cleva; Tebaldi, Campora, Warren

12:00 PM Wagner: Gotterdammerung. 4/22/00 Levine; Eaglen, Anderson, Palmer

8:00 PM Puccini: Madama Butterfly (LIVE FROM THE MET). Fisch; Gallardo-Domas, Zifchak, Giordani, Croft

Sunday, November 19, 2006

6:00 AM Mascagni/Leoncavallo: Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci. 4/11/1964 Santi; Farrell, Miller, Tucker, Bardelli / Amara, Corelli, Colzani, Marsh, Ghitti

9:00 AM Verdi: I Lombardi. 1/15/94 Levine; Flanigan, Pavarotti, Plishka, Beccaria

12:00 PM Offenbach: Les Contes D’Hoffmann. 12/3/55 Monteux; Tucker, Peters, Stevens, Amara

3:00 PM Verdi: Un Ballo in Maschera. 2/26/66 Molinari-Pradelli; Price, Peters, Bergonzi, Dunn, Merrill

6:00 PM Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini. 12/27/2003 Levine; Bayrakdarian, Giordani, Del Carlo, Carfizzi

9:00 PM NPR’s World of Opera

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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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06 November 2006

Questo o quello

Quello, as a matter of fact, because Marcello Giordani is going on tonight as the Duke in Rigoletto at the Met, jumping in for Joseph Calleja. It's on Sirius, of course.

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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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19 October 2006

Millo in the house

To begin with: everybody was there. People you haven't seen in 20 years were there. People you were sure were dead were there. (They were alive, at least as of the third intermission.) The house was quite nearly full, and there were no significant defections as the long evening wore on.

Miss M herself began in slightly rough voice (nervous, surely), but after that note that Zinka spoiled for everyone, she settled in, and there was a lot of glorious singing, most especially the quiet introspective moments in the last act. She looks better than La Cieca has seen her for years, slimmer and handsomely costumed.

The acting was in the trademark Millo-grandiose manner. It's not perhaps what you'd want to see in a Minghella Butterfly, but this is a melodrama played on 40 year old sets, and Millo is not embarassed to play it big. La Cieca has heard the top in more consistent form, but it never lacked for power, and Millo doesn't tiptoe around the high C's the way Violeta Urmana does.

La Urmana was in the audience, by the way, and she's exotically attractive in person, far more so than in photos. Marcello Giordani was there too, and he is not exactly hard on the eyes himself. Ildar Abdrazakov showed up backstage to escort his Mrs. (Olga Borodina): she very blonde in a pink linen jacket and low-rider jeans; he just the right degree of scruffy. Onlookers viewing Abdrazakov up close agreed unanimously that Borodina is one mezzo who will never have an excuse to go lesbian. (As La Cieca left the building, Mr. A was being accosted by one of the autograph crazies in the tunnel. She -- the crazy, not La Cieca -- was cackling, "So, in Faust, do you have a tail? Do you have a tail?" La Cieca wanted to say "I'm sure he has all the tail he can handle," but you know one must be polite, even to crazy people.)

One bit of gossip to be passed along: Dwayne Croft is jumping into the Met's Pagliacci as Silvio, replacing the originally scheduled Pavel Baransky -- who departed after the dress rehearsal.

Oh, and another bit: La Cieca was told that Sirius now has about 6 million subscribers total, including approximately 440,000 new customers in the July - September period.

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26 September 2006

Return from the Plaza

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

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

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

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

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22 September 2006


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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21 September 2006

Illuminata a festa splende Venezia nel lontano

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

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

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

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

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

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16 August 2006

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

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

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

  • a panel discussion with the singers and the creative team

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

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

  • and a puppetry demonstration by the Blind Summit Theatre

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

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11 August 2006

Enzo sees the future

Our old, old, old friend Enzo Bordello has been laying low for the last year or so, but he seems to be sniffing about the web again in search of the latest operatic news. He's uncovered quite a trove over at Brad Wilber's Met Futures page. Enzo's sum-up:

  • Maria Guleghina's star appears to be on the ascent again. In addition to Aida and Norma (!) next season, she is slated for Lisa in Pique Dame and her role debut as Turandot in 2008-2009.

  • Marcello Giordani, Marcelo Alvarez and Giuseppe Filianoti will all share the role of Edgardo in the next season's Lucia di Lammermoor revival.

  • Philip Langridge continues a Met tradition with appearances as the Witch in next season's Hansel and Gretel production.

  • Vienna darling Elina Garanca debuts as the Barbiere Rosina next season.

  • Prokofiev's The Gambler returns next season with Vladimir Galouzine reprising his critically acclaimed Aleksei.

  • Roberto Alagna sings his first Met Andrea Chenier next season.

  • A new production of Thais is scheduled for 2008-2009. No casting details but one can only assume this is a vehicle for Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson.

  • Karita Mattila has apparently come to terms with whatever her alleged issues were with the Met's Salome production and reprises her triumph in the title role for 2008-2009.

  • Lulu and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk return to the repertoire in 2009-2010.

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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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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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24 May 2005

Anne Midgette, opera queen?

"Something happens on the opera stage when Aprile Millo and Marcello Giordani are on it together. It may not be perfect. It may even be a little awkward at times. But it's real singing - at best, wonderful singing. And people want it." That's Anne Midgette in today's New York Times, and she's obviously as "starved" as the rest of us for operatic dementia. (There's also a fun Beth Bergman photo of the "Something Happens" duo accompanying Midgette's article.

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20 May 2005

Yes, it is good to be back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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04 May 2005

Into the 21st century

La Cieca abandons HTML today and shifts to a blog-driven site. She's hoping that the easier interface will mean more frequent and timely updates, but I guess you'll be the judge of that!

A rave review for last night's Ballo at the Met from the hard-to-please Charlie Handelman, in particular Miss Millo and Mr. Giordani tickled his fancy.

Don't worry: the old La Cieca columns will still be online

And now, on this lovely May morning, a moment of nostalgia for that time when
we all were young.

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