08 November 2007

Time to say hello?

La Cieca hears that Andrea Bocelli dropped by the Met yesterday to audition for Peter Gelb. The accompanist, on dit, was none other than James Levine!

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27 October 2007

Does a big voice need defending?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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19 October 2007

"Bizarre and nondescript characters corralled from every stratum of society"

La Cieca thanks the visiting Enzo Bordello for pointing out to her some recent updates to the indispensable Met Futures Page so painstakingly maintained by Bradley Wilber. Most of it sound plausible enough, but every now and then a piece of casting leaves La Cieca so stunned she hardly manage to quote a Waldo Lydecker quip. Such is the case with a projected 2009 revival of Adriana Lecouvreur with Maria Guleghina and Jonas Kaufmann.

That show at least seems possible actually to transpire, unlike the new Carmen in 2010. The announced team for the Bizet, which includes Matthew Bourne, Richard Eyre, Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, Barbara Fritolli and James Levine, surely adds up to ten pounds of diva in a five pound bag!

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21 September 2007

Why did I ever buy him those damn long pants?

La Cieca is suffering a mild case of Empty Nest Syndrome this afternoon, since she just found out that parterre.com fave Stephen Costello is all grown up. It turns out that Stephen is the "TBA" who will sing Edgardo (his very first!) in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Met on October 25. In this spectacular followup to his scheduled house debut as Arturo next week, Stephen is joined by Annick Massis, Mariusz Kwiecien and John Relyea in a performance conducted by James Levine and broadcast live on Sirius.

In other TBAlicious news, an artistic administrator or two is breathing a little easier this afternoon as the Met has finally announced completed casting for their new production of Verdi's Macbeth -- only a month before the October 22 opening! Maria Guleghina will sing Lady Macbeth in the "Live in HD" January 12 matinee performance relayed to movie theaters around the world. She will also sing the role on January 9 (which had not been previously announced) and on October 22, 26, 31, and November 3 as scheduled. Andrea Gruber will sing the role of Lady Macbeth on January 5 and 15 (which also had not been announced) as well as on the previously scheduled dates of May 9, 13, and 17. The new production of Macbeth is directed by Adrian Noble.

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23 July 2007

Swiss miss

The nice people at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland cannot be happy about last minute changes to this past weekend's concert schedule caused by late cancellations by James Levine and Renée Fleming. Maestro Levine, advertised for concerts on July 20 and 22, tendered his regrets on July 16, noting "My doctors have strongly advised me not to travel but to stay calm and collect my energies." Also collecting her energies (or whatever) was La Fleming, who pulled out of the the July 22 performance on four days' notice, i.e., July 18.

Barbara Bonney emerged from a mysterious year-long hiatus in her career to substitute for Fleming at the July 22 gala, where she sang the soprano part in the Mozart Requiem in d minor. The other soloists, all thankfully enjoying robust health, were Anne-Sofie von Otter, Kenneth Tarver and René Pape. In lieu of Ms. Fleming's art song portion of the program, Thomas Quasthoff performed Schubert lieder. Wielding the baton for this program and the July 20 opener was Manfred Honeck, future Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

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02 July 2007

Does anyone still wear only one hat?

Iconic Ira Siff temporarily puts aside performing and his busy teaching schedule this summer to direct Cosi fan tutte with the Tanglewood Music Center young artists, in collaboration with Maestro James Levine. The Mozart comedy runs August 11-14. La Cieca further hears whispers that due to the overwhelmingly positive response to Ira's guest appearances on last year's Met/Sirius broadcasts, he will be promoted to co-host status opposite Margaret Juntwait on that series beginning this fall.

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10 May 2007

Morris is less

"No one could doubt the sincerity of Mark Morris' admiration for the late mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who was to have collaborated with him on the Metropolitan Opera's new staging of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. However, the opening night performance of this production (May 2) did not convince me that the choreographer can channel this sincerity into meaningful stage direction." JJ's take is in Gay City News.

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26 April 2007

Length matters

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

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27 February 2007

To infinity, and beyond!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zoe Caldwell will the the Duchesse de Krakenthorp.

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

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

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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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26 December 2006

Cieca plays Criswell

This is the biggest limb La Cieca has ever gone out on:

Expect James Levine to make his official Met farewell at the end of the 2011-2012 season. (First hedge on this prediction: Levine will make occasional "guest" appearances with the Met after 2012.)

Remember, you heard it here first.

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17 November 2006

Bold-faced name

Perhaps you've been wondering why James Levine has taken over the final two performances of this season's Madama Butterfly at the Met. Could it be that Asher Fisch has fallen ill? Well, no, Maestro Fisch is just fine, thank you. In fact, La Cieca hears that Levine has returned so that these two performances can recorded for insertion into a DVD release of the Anthony Minghella production of Puccini's tearjerker.

UPDATE: La Cieca was close on this one, if a bit muddy on the details. The extra Levine performances this season are to complete a CD (not a DVD) recording of the opera. However, the Butterfly will return in 2008-09 hence when it will be telecast, DVD'd and probably by that time distributed by direct stimulation of the neural cortex. No word on whether the 2006 cast will return to reprise their roles, or for that matter if Gallardo-Domas will still be singing by then.

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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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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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22 October 2006

Vers des îles de fleurs

Tatiana Troyanos and James Levine perform "Asie" from "Shéhérazade" (Ravel/Klingsor).

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10 October 2006

La nuit des cinq étoiles

As if the season were not glamorous enough, it's already time for "The Second Annual F. Paul Driscoll Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence," or, as some insist on calling the prize, "The Opera News Awards." (No zing, no zazz, no punch...) Anyway, the lucky honorees this year are "Wagnerian tenor Ben Heppner, longtime Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine, bass René Pape, retired soprano and currently active director Renata Scotto, and dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt." The handing out of statuettes will take place in the ballroom of the Hotel Pierre in New York City on Sunday, January 28, 2007. (via Playbill Arts)

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04 October 2006

Oh, the pain, the pain!

It looks like La Cieca spoke too soon. Dr. Jonathan Miller's 2004 announcement of his farewell to opera direction has turned out to be, like so much the good doctor says, a load of bullshit.

"England is obsessed with the cutting edge, the new thing, and if you're as old as I am, you're assumed to be dead - and actually made to be dead in the end. It's too late for people to ask me. If they asked me now, it would be three or four years ahead. I'll be 74 then and I won't want to be sitting in hotel rooms, getting on aeroplanes, getting visas and putting my finger on to immigration officers' testing boards," Miller whinged in an interview with the Guardian Unlimited back then, adding that he would devote his declining years to the fabrication of metal sculpture.

But instead of turning junk into art, Miller has resumed directing opera, where he turns art into junk. Not that he enjoys the experience. Just now he's blubbering to the New York Sun about how horribly the world treats him, a poor pathetic old man who is simply trying to eke out a living in a profession he's been badmouthing nonstop for the past few decades: ""I wonder whether it is worth it any more . . . . I even have to pay my own hotel. It took three hours to get the papers I need to work here. And another seven hours flying here. And what do I get in return? The New York Times."

Miller, you see, is miffed that the Times didn't see fit to print a review of his production of Jenufa at last summer's Glimmerglass Opera. Apparently it's quite important to Miller that critics, whom he has called "parasitic invertebrates," "midgets talking into a loudspeaker," and "tsetse flies," should shower him with attention.

But critics are hardly Dr. Miller's only nemeses. In the course of 1300 words, he lashes out at Lillian Groag, Phyllida Lloyd, Nicholas Hynter, Cecilia Bartoli, James Levine, Peter Jonas and, especially, Anthony Minghella (whose Madama Butterfly, Miller snipes, "was like receiving a maple syrup enema.") Miller then whets the appetite of audiences for his NYCO production of The Elixir of Love by calling Gaetano Donizetti a "talented typist."

La Cieca predicts that Miller's next career move will be a return to his chosen field of neuropsychology, where he will make history as the first ever self-diagnosed case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

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28 September 2006

Cream of the crop

Announced today: highlights of the archival Met broadcasts to be featured on Sirius during the month of October:

Carmen (1/9/37) Papi; Ponselle, Bodanya, Rayner, Huehn

Lucia di Lammermoor (2/27/37) Papi; Pons, Jagel, Brownlee, Pinza

Die Walküre (12/2/44) Szell; Traubel, Bampton, Thorborg, Melchior, Janssen, Kipnis

Roméo et Juliette (2/1/47) Cooper; Sayão, Benzell, Turner, Björling, Brownlee, Moscona

Aida (2/20/54) Cleva; Milanov, Barbieri, Baum, Warren, Hines

I Vespri Siciliani (3/9/74) Levine; Caballé, Gedda, Milnes, Díaz

Aida (3/6/76) Levine; Price, Horne, Domingo, MacNeil, Giaiotti

Parsifal (4/7/01) Levine; Urmana, Domingo, Ketelsen, Wlaschiha, Tomlinson

Die Meistersinger (12/8/01) Levine; Mattila, Grove, Heppner, Polenzani, Morris, Allen, Pape

La Traviata (3/6/04) Gergiev; Fleming, Vargas, Hvorostovsky

And La Cieca reminds you that the complete schedule of live broadcasts may be found here.

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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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12 September 2006

Renata's revenge

After more than a quarter of a century, Renata Scotto gets the last word over that silly queen who made a career of disrupting her Met performances. The DVD of the "Live from the Met" telecast of Luisa Miller was released today, and is available at Amazon.com at a 30% discount off the list price. This is the performance of January 20, 1979, during which Fernando or whatever her name was shrieked "Brava Maria Callas!" in the instant of silence before Scotto launched into "Lo vidi, e 'l primo palpito." No word so far as to whether the DVD preserves this non-Verdian interpolation, but the important news here is that this Luisa Miller is one of the triumphs of the early James Levine era at the Met, with Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, Bonaldo Giaiotti, James Morris and of course La Scottissima herself in A+ form. If memory serves (remember, it's been 25 years since La Cieca's weary eyes have feasted on this video), the live camerawork is far simpler and more immediate than the overly tweaked fussiness that plagued the Brian Large extravaganzas of the 1980s.

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06 September 2006

Tech talk

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

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

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

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

And now La Cieca is off to invest in Sendrax.

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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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22 May 2006

Tough guy

Joseph Volpe's memoir The Toughest Show on Earth (see, La Cieca can get the title right when she wants too) is a book about a working-class kid from Queens who wanted to be Rudolf Bing when he grew up. Or, rather, it's about a stage carpenter who was bright enough and ambitious enough to do catch Bing's eye during the disastrous lead-up to the first Met season at Lincoln Center. I'm not sure how accurate the details are in Volpe's story of how he "fixed" the set of Franco Zeffirelli's Antony and Cleopatra (especially the Zef's meek acceptance of an unknown carpenter's hacking away at his work), but it is a characteristic story. Volpe sees himself and depicts himself as a man who puts his thoughts into action, an autocrat even, like his role model Bing.

Volpe's rise from middle management to top dog (when he finally claimed Bing's old office) hinged on a series of coincidences. First came the death of intendant-to-be Goeran Gentele, leaving a lacuna hastily plugged with the semi-competent Schuyler Chapin, first of several weakish General Managers who allowed Bing's centralized power to dissipate. Meanwhile, Rafael Kubelik deserted the newly-created post of Music Director, sweeping the young James Levine into power. Volpe found himself allied with the volatile new Director of Productions John Dexter, who relied on Volpe to get things done in the notoriously entropic Met bureaucracy.

As Levine's power and influence increased, so, apparently, did his hunger for love and approval from his colleagues; he simply wouldn't say "no," even when he ascended to the rank of Artistic Director. After General Manager Bruce Crawford accomplished a financial turnaround for the company, he resigned, replaced by the innefectual Hugh Southern, who shared Levine's distaste for confrontation. Thus Volpe's role evolved into that of Bad Cop. For for example, he's the one who had to tell Eva Marton that, despite what "she'd been led to believe," the soprano would not get the plum of recording the Ring with the Met orchestra. (Volpe indulges in passive voice to avoid pointing fingers at the culprit who misled Marton, but it's not hard to figure out.)

Upon Southern's ouster, Volpe was promoted -- not to General Manager (the Bing/Gatti-Casazza title) but rather General Director, on equal footing with Levine and development diva Marilyn Shapiro. The disgruntled Volpe enhanced his power by taking on the most onerous task in the house -- saying "no" to Jimmy. Finally, in 1993, 30 years since he entered the Met as a stagehand, Volpe attained his goal, General Manager, which conferred not only the duty but the power to say "no" to anyone and everyone.

Volpe dedicates a chapter of the book to what is generally regarded as the most controversial action he took as GM, the firing of Kathy Battle in the winter of 1994. He builds a convincing case against her, documenting behavior ranging from difficult to impossible ranging back to 1982, and assures us that he at least went though the motions of offering the soprano help after he fired her. He even admits that the brutal language he used in the press release canning Battle was in part motivated by his desire to assert authority in his new role. What he glosses over, though, is why the Battle problem was allowed to escalate to total war. The answer, of course, is that she was Levine's pet. He deliberately ignored her bad behavior, and (perhaps even worse), everyone in the house was afraid to upset the maestro. Unchallenged, Battle grew into a monster.

Now, in an opera you send in a hero to slay a dragon. But this scenario was more Godzilla than Siegfried, and Volpe was the only one at the Met ready to use the Oxygen Destroyer. The press release accompanying Battle's heave-ho was overkill, but it worked. The problem, perhaps, is that it worked too well. Volpe convinced himself that bullying was the only effective management style, and the second half of the book is littered with examples of failures of that policy and the resultant lapses of judgment and taste that have plagued the Met for the past decade.

Volpe's motto doesn't seem to be so much "the buck stops here" as "he told me it was a buck; how was I to know it was counterfeit?" He claims he foresaw the disastrous problems inherent in the various fiascos helmed by Francesca Zambello, Graham Vick, Giancarlo del Monaco, Piero Faggioni and Franco Zeffirelli, and even says he tried to do a little last-minute fixup (a la the clouds in Antony.) But Volpe offers no sense of how such misquided production concepts could have survived even the talking stage. How could he have looked at set and costume renderings for Zambello's Lucia, for example, and said, "Yeah, this will work?"

This lack of vision, combined with a habit of delegating casting and planning decisions, plus a conservative tendency to go with the familiar (even when the familiar is mediocre or worse) -- what it all adds up to is a picture of a man with little faith in his own abilities as an artistic director. This, alas, is why Joseph Volpe is no Rudolf Bing. During his tenure, Mr. Bing made good decisions and bad decisions, but they were informed and confident decisions. Volpe's big ideas tended to be more of the "do it because I say so" variety.

For example, we find out that in 1999 the Alagnas in fact did sign the disputed Traviata contracts, but Volpe held them to the letter of his own arbitrary deadline. He said Thursday, and on Friday morning Herbert Breslin was ready to fax over the contracts. Alagna and Gheorghiu were even willing to work with Zeffirelli, which must have taken a whole lot of persuading on Breslin's part. Volpe had in his hand an opera house's crown jewel: a new Traviata with superstar singers, a celebrated director, and no less than James Levine conducting. But he tossed that all away, saying, "Forget it. The deadline has passed. They're out." Then he blabbed the whole story to the New York Times, making everyone involved look silly and childish. And for what? The Met ended up with a Traviata nobody wanted and nobody liked, and six years later Gheorghiu finally showed up for Violetta -- wearing her own costumes and doing her own staging.

The bit about the Alagnas' signed contracts is one of the few new bits of information in this book; obviously the publishers are thoroughly lawyered up and whatever dirt Volpe might have been ready to divulge has been thorougly expunged. We do learn, though, that when money talks, Uncle Joe listens. He tells with a straight face the story of how Sybil Harrington
hated the flat silver walls that Dexter and the designer, David Reppa came up with [for a production of Don Carlo], but she bided her time until after Dexter left the Met. Once he did, the scenery department, at her insistence, redid the walls with an elaborate pattern more in keeping with King Philip's -- and her -- taste.
Volpe also allowed a more notorious benefactor to dictate that the booking operator at the Met's onsite restaurant answer the phone with, "Good afternoon, Vilar Grand Tier Restaurant," as if seeing the "V" word stenciled all over the walls wasn't enough. Volpe insists that he and Alberto Vilar "had little personal contact," and with crystal clear hindsight, notes that Vilar "always seemed to be harboring secrets . . . . I wondered when all this would go up in smoke." But he didn't let that stop him from allowing Vilar to act as if he ran the place.

That about does it for new and interesting content. There's a nude photo of Karita Mattila illustrating an anecdote about how Volpe strong-armed a photographer who took a nude photo of Karita Mattila. There's yet another rehash of the Lincoln Center redevelopment debacle, a "controversy" that even the New York Times is bored with by now. As expected, the Erica Sunnegardh "breakthrough" is predicted in uncanny detail, with comparisons to Rosa Ponselle and Roberta Peters. And, amusingly, Volpe repeats the urban legend about the first-night reception of Robert Wilson's Lohengrin production ("I had also failed to register a recent development in the history of booing. For months, anti-Wilson forces had been peppering the Internet with appeals for the Met audience to give his Lohengrin the same treatment it had dished out to Zambello's Lucia." If you can't be bothered to use Google, Mr. Volpe, at least delegate that task to a fact checker.)

It's a quick read, with lots of names dropped. The Pavarotti stories are either already famous or else are so characteristic as to sound familiar. Neither Volpe nor his coauthor Charles Michener can be accused of being a stylist; the prose is plain and undistinguished, rather like Volpe's legacy. Volpe's hero Rudolf Bing hired John Gutman to ghostwrite his entertaining, bitchy memoir 5000 Nights at the Opera. But then Mr. Bing always did have style.

The Toughest Show on Earth: My Rise and Reign at the Metropolitan Opera by Joseph Volpe. Knopf, May 2006 $25.95

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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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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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21 April 2006

Princess Fire and Music

"Not since Delia Rigal," comments one of La Cieca's regular correspondents, referring to the ongoing (not to mention inscrutable) publicity juggernaut for soprano Erika Sunnegårdh. Now she's headlining a revised concert program for the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on May 14. According to an "URGENT" press release sent out yesterday, La Sunnegårdh will be heard in three operatic excerpts by Puccini, Mozart and Wagner. Her assisting artists on the program, Ben Heppner and Rene Pape, each will sing two arias. Changes to the original roster for this concert include James Conlon substituting for James Levine, Giacomo Puccini for Johannes Brahms, and Piotr Illitch Tchaikowsky for Charles Wuorinen. That's at a $155 top, by the way. See you there?


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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11 March 2006

Pult muscle

According to an article in the New York Times, James Levine will cancel all his remaining Met performances this season, including a tour to Japan. He is scheduled to have surgery to repair and injured rotator cuff on March 20. House management is currently scrambling to find replacements for Levine's characteristically heavy workload: preparation of a new production and nine performances of Don Pasquale, six performances each of Lohengrin and Fidelio, and three of Parsifal. His Japan performances included four each of Don Giovanni and Die Walkuere, plus a Renee Fleming concert. Joe Volpe's reaction to the news: "My hope is that it won't affect ticket sales."

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04 March 2006

Strike three

A rather startling followup headline in the New York Times today:

And is La Cieca the only one who was puzzled by the blurb for Luisa Miller in the Met's Sunday Times ad? The cast for opening night is listed as Barbara Frittoli, Irina Mishura, Neil Shicoff, Carlos Alvarez, James Morris and Phillip Ens. But the copy reads, "Three of the world's greatest Verdi singers star . . ." So which of these six artists are included in that trio of "greatest" and which are just along for the ride? How is that statement complicated by the defection of Barbara Frittoli from the cast earlier this week? Would the corrected ad state "two of the world's greatest Verdi singers? [emphasis added]" Or would it remain "three?" And would that "three" be assumed to include Veronica Villaroel, who is jumping in as Luisa? And can you tell that La Cieca's day job is at a law firm?

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03 March 2006

Sì, oltre ogni Urmana idea!

Mezzo-turned-soprano Violeta Urmana will sing her first Norma later this month. She will take on the Bellini heroine in concert form at Dresden's Semper Oper beginning March 30, according to an article on Playbillarts.com.

The good news from Boston is that James Levine "didn't break anything" when he fell off the stage after a performance on Wednesday night, per the AP.

So, which Wagner opera do you belong in? (La Cieca belongs in the Ring, and, believe her, that's just how long this week has felt!)

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08 January 2006

And one for Mahler!

A double-header of Tony Tommasini delights this weekend in the Times. On Sunday, TT puts on his Captain Obvious hat to ask the musical question, "is it possible that [Nathan] Gunn's appearance has drawn attention away from his fine vocal artistry?" You'll find that story right next to the photograph of Gunn with his shirt off.

The day before, an interview with Elaine Stritch in which the veteran Broadway diva tells about her date with James Levine. (Yes, you read that right.) Jimmy, you see, took La Stritch to hear Barbara Cook at the Carlyle; Tony concludes that "this story gives a poignant glimpse into Mr. Levine's private life." Well, yes, actually: in fact, that scenario is just about the gayest thing La Cieca can imagine -- with the possible exception of Ricky Martin reading Valley of the Dolls aloud while getting fistfucked.

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01 June 2005

Ah chi mi dice mai...

La Cieca is as puzzled as everyone else about the mysterious disappearance of the DGG DVD of Don Giovanni (Met telecast with Terfel, Fleming, Levine - you know the one). The disc was released on May 10, then only days later DGG recalled it. Now there's not a copy to be bought anywhere, and early adopters are carefully hoarding what promises to be a major collector's item. So what happened? Is there a glitch in the subtitles? Was Terfel's incessant cooch-grabbing considered too TV-14 for wide release? Does Jimmy want to go back and do it over with slower tempi? Or is this some clever marketing ploy to motivate operalovers to inflate opening weekend numbers?

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06 March 2005

Laugh (at, not with)