31 January 2008

Bess, is you our woman now?

Or, to put it another way, could this soprano be what the Met needs for Roberto Devereux?

While you ponder the future, you can enjoy the past: the final act of Verdi's Macbeth is now on Unnatural Acts of Opera.

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Joyce DiDonato in Maria Stuarda

La DiDonato is joined here by Gabriele Fontana and Eric Cutler in this 2005 video.

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30-day flu grips music industry!

UPDATE: La Cieca has heard from more than one reliable source that Juan Diego Flórez is yet another victim of whatever it is that's mowing down all the Almavivas. The tenor, she hears, has canceled Barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Word on the street is that John Osborn will be released from L'elisir d'amore at Palm Beach so he may sing the Rossini in Chicago, with performances beginning February 11 opposite Joyce DiDonato and Nathan Gunn. LOC subscribers (already reeling over having Angela Gheorghiu, Barbara Frittoli, Dimitri Hvorostovsky, Peter Mattei, Bernadette Manca di Nissa and Ambrogio Maestri yoinked from this season's roster) should gird themselves for a belated press release sometime today.

From the Met's press office: "José Manuel Zapata will sing the role of Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia on Thursday, February 21 at 8 p.m., Monday, February 25 at 8 p.m., and Friday, February 29 at 8 p.m. He replaces Michael Schade, who is indisposed." [emphasis added]

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30 January 2008

What do you think you are? A pair of queens?

The Met officially announced today that the company will stage Anna Bolena for Anna Netrebko for the opening night of the 2011-2012 season (old news to you, cher public!) and, the following season, Maria Stuarda for Joyce DiDonato.

The company has no current plans to produce Roberto Devereux. In what La Cieca is choosing to consider a stinging slap in the face to -- well, at least one soprano -- Peter Gelb explained, "The problem is casting ....There's no singer around today who can sing [Elisabetta]."

And you may make what you will of la Netrebko's statement about the Bolena: "Fortunately, it's far enough in the future that I'll have time to learn it really well."

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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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24 January 2008


Don't expect Met HD telecasts to show up on your pay-per-view channel anytime soon. According to the Associated Press, theater owners protested that the release of the telecasts to the In Demand service only 30 days after theatrical release would take revenue away from their broadcasts.

"At least five of the Met's operas this season are to be released on DVD under an agreement with EMI Classics," the story goes on to note. Which five, La Cieca wonders?

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17 January 2008

Winter storms

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

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

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15 January 2008

Anna as Anna?

La Cieca is loath to scoop dear Bradley Wilber, but rumors are swirling once again about future seasons at the Met. Perhaps the most controversial (among the cher public, at least) of these plans is a new production of Anna Bolena to open the 2011 season, with Anna Netrebko's pretty head on the chopping block. Further casting at this point is not set, though La Cieca is confident that speculation will run rife in the comments section.

Now, La Cieca is just going to suggest that we all don't go off the deep end instantly and unanimously here, despite what at least some of may regard as perfect justification for doing so.

It does seem apparent that if Netrebko is determined to do bel canto (not saying "should be doing" mind you), then Bolena does make more sense than, say, Puritani or Lucia. Anna (Mrs. Tudor, I mean) relies less on vocal brilliance qua brilliance than those two roles, and the "fiery" character of the rejected queen is the sort of dramatic type that appeals to Ms. Netrebko's lively theatrical instincts. We should also keep in mind that she now has more than three years of lead time and the availability of Scotto as a coach; as such she does have the opportunity to delve beyond a superficial reading of the music. (Again, no guarantees...)

It will also help, I think that the only "obligatory" sopracuto is the D at the end of the first act, a high interpolation so relatively that even Carol Vaness used to sing it.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Need La Cieca remind any of you that the duration from 2008 to 2001 is the equivalent of a century in Gelb Years. By that time we may end up with Christine Ebersole opening the season in Pikovaya Dama.

Your doyenne further has heard that the title role in Simon Boccanegra (2010-2011?) has been reassigned to Placido Domingo, with Thomas Hampson shifted into a revival of Macbeth -- opposite whom, La Cieca cannot venture to guess, though it's a safe bet the cover will be Cynthia Lawrence. Domingo, La Cieca hears, is already preparing an "out of town tryout" for Verdi's noble corsair with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

But speaking of Macbeth, La Cieca regrettably has a previous engagement and so will not be able to take in this evening's Lawrence/Ataneli version of the Scottish Opera. Any volunteers to serve as Guest Critic?

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12 January 2008

Shirley, no jest!

La Cieca hears that the one and only Miss Shirley Verrett will grace the airwaves this afternoon as an intermission guest during the broadcast of Macbeth.

Do join La Cieca in the comments section of this posting to enjoy this afternoon's broadcast -- especially the words of La Verrett!

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11 January 2008

Željko can and Željko do

Željko Lučic will sing Macbeth for the Met's broadcast and HD simulcast of the Verdi opera tomorrow afternoon, replacing Lado Ataneli, who is "indisposed."

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10 January 2008

Fatal mia donna!

La Cieca has just heard that Cynthia Lawrence will sing Lady Macbeth on Tuesday, January 15 at the Met... and possibly more performances later in the season!

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09 January 2008

Boy, is my face green!

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

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

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02 January 2008

Spring wind-up

Another poll, this time asking which events are the absolute must-sees here in New York this spring. Please note that on this poll you can choose more than one "must-see," which is a good thing, because everything looks most tempting!

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30 December 2007

La parola scenica

At yesterday's matinee Hansel and Gretel at the Met (broadcast and simulcast), a disgruntled audience member expresses his distaste for the "forest" setting, just as Lisette Oropesa makes her entrance as the Dew Fairy. Top marks to Ms. Oropesa not only for singing her solo so enchantingly, but for continuing without a flinch despite the clearly audible shout of "Boo! Change the set!" (At least the fellow didn't yell, "Bravo! Bravo Robert O'Hearn!")

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26 December 2007

Hair of the dog

On New Year's Day, WNET/Channel 13 will broadcast all six operas comprising the first season of Met HD simulcasts. As you stagger home from your year-end revels, you can tune in to The First Emperor at 5:00 AM, followed by I puritani at 8:00 and Il barbiere di Siviglia at 11:00. Following a nice long nap and (one hopes) a hearty portion of hopping john, you can enjoy The Magic Flute at 9:30 PM, followed by Il trittico at 11:30 and (believe me, this is worth staying up for) Eugene Onegin at 2:30 AM January 2.

Those of you not living in New York should check your local listings. And you'll have to cook your own hopping john.

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20 December 2007

Le Scandale, 2007 edition

Cher public, La Cieca meant to turn in early tonight, but she got one of those bees in her bonnet. This particular specimen of Apis mellifera is the "debacle" (as La Cieca has been astonished to see it termed) of Anna Netrebko's Juliette last Saturday afternoon. Such harsh criticism La Cieca has rarely heard since the infamous Renata Scotto Norma. Even La Cieca's own bitchery about Renée Fleming never (well, rarely) reached such heights of dudgeon.

La Cieca should remind herself that much of this accidie springs from opera-l, which most of the time is a valuable resource and all that, but it does seem to be a haven for every tongue-clucking old maid still hunched over her Philco every Saturday afternoon during the broadcast season. (Some of them predate Texaco, La Cieca thinks.) Anyway, the consensus over at opera-l is that Netrebko is kaput, over, finished -- that is, assuming she was ever anything to start with. The Roméo et Juliette has been called "failure" and even (yes!) "debacle." Admittedly , La Cieca occasionally amuses herself by throwing those terms (including the "d" word) around indiscriminately, but she has the defense that nobody with half a brain takes her babbling seriously anyway. On the other hand, La Cieca has her doubts that everybody over at opera-l shares her sense of light-hearted irony in these things.

Look. La Cieca regards herself as a very critical listener, but she simply cannot discern any "debacle" or even "failure" in last week's Roméo performance. Netrebko was admittedly somewhat off her best form at the beginning of the opera. She did have a minor crack on the high D in her first cadenza, and for most of the performance her voice sounded a bit cloudy and thick compared to what La Cieca (and, you, of course, cher public) have heard on Sirius and in the theater earlier this season.

La Cieca hesitates to jump to the conclusion that this one performance indicates an inevitable downward spiral toward ruin for Ms. Netrebko. She prefer to take the more cautious position that Netrebko was simply having a "B" voice day instead of her customary "A." The cause may have been nerves, or a mild case of acid reflux, or a minor allergy attack, or (who knows?) she may have been starting her period on Saturday. The point is, nerves and all the rest (including even dysmenhorrhea) don't last forever.

As, it so happens, tonight's Sirius broadcast neatly indicates. La Cieca tuned in at the beginning of the second act to hear Netrebko in fine fettle. Your doyenne will note also that in the bedroom duet tonight Netrebko is singing with a lighter tone and softer dynamics than she did opposite Roberto Alagna -- the better to blend with Joseph Kaiser's less aggressive approach, one assumes.

Well, enough scolding. A recent news story about Antonio Banderas' directing Carmen got La Cieca to thinking: how long before Angela Gheorghiu backs out of the projected Met production of the Bizet opera -- and how thrilling it would be if Netrebko could be persuaded to jump in!

Oh, and just so you don't think La Cieca has completely abandoned her position as Sultana of the Soupcons, here's a tidbit. Your doyenne hears that among Netrebko's la Gheorghiu's upcoming projects (besides that unlikely Carmen and the perhaps even unlikelier Ghosts of Versailles) is a complete recording of Giordano's Fedora opposite (who else) Placido Domingo.

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Last month our own JJ took in a trio of less than standard operas: Giulio Cesare and Die Frau ohne Schatten in Chicago, and Iphigénie en Tauride right here in New York. The review is in Gay City News, of course.

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19 December 2007

Only in New York, Kids

"At High School of Enterprise, Business and Technology on Grand Street Campus in Brooklyn, the show is sold out at nearly 1000 tickets. The school didn’t spare any effort in terms of marketing: there’s a huge color banner for 'Live in HD' on the side of the building, facing Bushwick Avenue, with a picture of Anna Netrebko, who is singing Juliette, standing 20 feet tall. The school kids also put up posters in local eating establishments, including Grand Street Grill, their local bodega, and The Great Wall Chinese restaurant."

From metopera.org.

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02 December 2007

Mostly mediocre moments

In the words of Stella Maria Krazelberg von und zu Brabant, "Renata was robbed!" La Cieca offers a quick reminder of some moments that should have made the Met's "Top 15" list.

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29 November 2007

Running, standing and jumping Gaul

"Legendary maestro Tullio Serafin once said that trying to perform Bellini's Norma without a great soprano is as futile as attempting to cook risotto without rice. This month, the Metropolitan Opera experimented with such a recipe with less than palatable results."

Our Own JJ reviews Hasmik Papian's Druidess in Gay City News.

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28 November 2007

Divas on Demand!

Ken Howard, Metropolitan Opera The Met announced this morning yet another media partnership, this one with iN DEMAND Networks "to offer all eight new performances from the Met's second season of Metropolitan Opera: Live in High Definition to on-demand subscribers in the United States in both standard and high definition formats." The basic idea is that the video from the Met's live movie theater simulcasts will be offered on a pay-per-view basis within a month after the original performance date. The series will kick off with the December 15 performance of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, broadcast on iN DEMAND on Wednesday, January 16, 2008.

Never at a loss for a sound bite, Met General Manager Peter Gelb quipped, "With this agreement, we are creating the opera equivalent of a Hollywood movie roll-out." The Met will join such established iN DEMAND attractions as major Hollywood films in HD, Major League Baseball, World Wrestling League, and original video programming such as America's Next Hot Pornstar: Naked Tryouts.

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27 November 2007

Diva, from head to mistletoe

Our Own Gualtier Maldè reflects on Maria Guleghina's first Met Norma.

True confession: I love Maria Guleghina, I really, really love her. I know her flaws but her strengths are such that they sweep aside severe demerits that would consign any other artist to filth. Among contemporary singers she is one artist who thinks big, sings big with a big voice and gives everything she has even when it is more than she can afford vocally or artistically. She lives dangerously onstage and at the end of the night there is blood on the stage floor, sometimes hers, sometimes the composer's. She may flirt with vocal disaster but she is never routine or boring.

When she was announced as Norma, I felt some trepidation - would this be the breaking point in my love affair with the Russian diva? This is a role where guts and temperament can only get you so far. A lot of the substance of the role is written into the notes and the range of vocal demands is superhuman. Guleghina's rough, approximate singing at the "Macbeth" new production premiere had earned her critical brickbats (the second performance I attended was much better) and it seemed that bel canto was something beyond her reach at this point. Guleghina has sung Norma before but somewhat outside of the main international circuit and not for a few years.

Now I am sure that over the Sirius network this was not anywhere near a complete musical triumph. However in the house it was certainly impressive and often very, very moving. Guleghina's conception of the role is greater than her technical means of achieving it but she shirks nothing and doesn't shy way from emotional extremes or vocal challenges. As an actress and interpreter she is more consistently successful than as vocalist but she cannot be dismissed as totally provincial or crude. Though a few attempts at delicacy, accuracy and finesse may fail, others will surprise you by succeeding and she scored many points in her acting and singing. The voice is major and imposing and suggests a force of nature. Unlike Papian, she was a fearsome rival and didn't sound like the junior priestess next to Dolora Zajick's majestic Adalgisa.

First of all, she is glorious to behold on stage. She has lost some weight in anticipation of the January "Macbeth" satellite moviecast and the often rather soignée new gowns suited her. Tall and majestic with wide-set flashing eyes, she commanded the stage at all times.

Guleghina is often happiest when she can hurl her voice like steel javelins at the music - preferably in the higher range. Some of these vocal assaults miss the target but the energy and force is always exciting. However as Norma, Guleghina attempted many soft attacks, sustained piano singing and modulated phrasing. This in itself was admirable but years of daredevil oversinging are hard to shake off for one role. These piano phrases - including the opening and ending phrases of "Casta Diva" - suffered from hollow, unsteady tones and fell short of the intended pitch. Whereas Papian was capable of more lyricism and delicacy, Guleghina could sweep you away with passion and terrify you with her rage. The two divas strengths and weaknesses seem to be polar opposites of one another. Neither had pinpoint coloratura control but Guleghina had expressive vocal attack and excitement in her fioritura.

Guleghina's control of her forte top was better than before, none of the many B's and C's turned into a squall though she can sharp. She had good clean attacks on some of the killer high cadenzas which will swoop up to a high note and then spiral downward on a chromatic scale. The downward scale was often smeared and sloppy but the top was responsive including a short but firm high D at the end of the trio climaxing the first act.

Though the first act found Guleghina at times managing the role and thinking through her vocal choices phrase by phrase, the second act showed her in greater command of the role. As the role of Norma goes on the vocal gestures become broader and the phrases grander, better suiting Guleghina's big-boned vocal framework. The scene where Norma ponders murdering her children was a different woman from the proud and almost otherworldly priestess of the first scene - this was a tortured, desperate woman. The maternal aspects of the role were powerfully communicated - the way that she embraced her two boys you knew Guleghina has had children of her own. Maria managed to match Dolora phrase by phrase and staccato scale by staccato scale in "Mira, O Norma".

In the scenes where Norma incites the Gauls to battle showed Guleghina tearing up the stage as the epitome of the warrior diva. The confrontation with Pollione "In mia man alfin tu sei" showed one Norma who was truly in love with Pollione even as her anger turned her against him and eventually against herself. The final scene with the moving "Qual cor tradisti" and "Deh non volerli vittime" plumbed real depths of emotion. Guleghina's Norma was relieved to be able to admit her love and free herself from her lies even at the cost of her life. But then there were her children who were now unprotected. Guleghina's plea to her father could have moved a stone to tears.

Throughout there were pitch problems, phrases broken by inadequate breath control and approximated passage work. But also throughout was a real, larger than life yet very human Norma who was compelling and moving whether alone or interacting with her colleagues. Imperfect? Definitely, but this seemed to be the real thing unlike Papian's often elegant but unconvincing attempt at the role. So though the singing was anything but "casta" in many respects, the "diva" in her human and divine aspects propelled the story. At the end of the night there was blood on the stage but tears too and the fire of Bellini's genius burned brightly. -- Gualtier Maldè

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26 November 2007

Si, parleremo terribile da queste querce antiche

Don't forget, cher public: tonight La Cieca hosts a live chat on the topic of the Norma broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera, featuring Maria Guleghina's first local stab at the Role of Roles. Join La Cieca in the chatroom La Foresta d'Irminsul beginning at 7:15 PM.

Dare we hope tonight's performance will be as fabulous as this one?

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22 November 2007

Something to give thanks for

La Cieca hears that our dear Aprile Millo (who recently had to cancel a Teatro Grattacielo appearance due to illness) is ready to bounce back big time in 2008.

Word on the street is that Millo will join longtime colleague Dolora Zajick for a bel canto duet in OONY's spring gala, followed by a return to the roster of the Metropolitan Opera for the 2008-09 season.

While we wait, here's some prime Millo via YouTube.

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14 November 2007

Who's the missing star?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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13 November 2007

Too much casta, not enough diva

Last night's season premiere of Norma at the Met restored Bellini's opera to musical and vocal distinction but the dramatic fire was burning only fitfully.

Hasmik Papian is a hugely experienced Norma who some consider to be the best contemporary exponent of the role. But the key word here is contemporary not best. Her voice is not the conventional soprano drammatica d'agilita (with more or less agility) that has been associated with the role in the past. Instead it is a bright, high-placed floaty soprano of medium size. The tonal quality is an intriguing and not unattractive mixture of copper and silver. Gold and platinum probably are the elements needed for this role but she wasn't dealing in base vocal metals.

However, it is a voice without a great deal of variety of tonal color and the lower middle register is weak and colorless. This meant that this druidess shone in moments of reflection, tenderness and lyricism like the "Casta diva", "Ah, rimembranza" and "Deh, non volerli vittime" but fell way short in moments of wild anger and dark threatening command. The coloratura was decent but not brilliant. Some of the tricky runs were finessed and the climactic high C's were short and hardly effortless. Vocal thrust and command were in short supply all night. Her weakest moment of the evening was the second act trio with Pollione and Adalgisa. Here Papian seemed lost and clueless as to how to make an effect. She lacks really exciting vocal attack and could not dominate the ensemble. However, Papian did stronger work in the final scenes with solid vocalism and shone in the final moving scenes of renunciation and self-sacrifice.

Papian, a slim shapely woman who was sporting three newly designed and created gowns in blue crushed silk, russet velvet and scarlet velvet with gold accents was an unusually youthful and feminine Norma. One wondered what Pollione and the Gauls were intimidated by. Her anger came across more as agitated distress and her threats seemed mere sarcastic insinuation. The real emotional depths of the part seemed sketched in skilfully but not fully plumbed.

This was contrasted against the heroic yet vulnerable Adalgisa of Dolora Zajick who had the attack and vocal breadth but also depth of feeling and variety of color as the junior priestess. I think in the 19th century Zajick would have been a Norma with whatever adjustments to the vocal line were needed for her comfort and endurance in the role. Zajick showed herself a mistress of vocal coloration and dynamic control. Like Cossotto she removed a lot of the steel and chest coloration from her tone and sang Adalgisa with gentle purity to suggest a virginal, innocent and youthful woman. The soprano-like tone did not preclude power and richness when appropriate but informed the tonal palette - she most often chose to end phrases piano rather than forte and didn't slam into low notes. She performed a flawless messa di voce on "Io l'obbliai" and also managed a pianissimo high C in the second act. Dolora had the grandeur both vocal and physical that Papian lacked.

Franco Farina is a confounding artist, seemingly a Jekyll and Hyde vocalist. A superb musician with excellent technical control in lyrical legato lines and piano singing, he devolves into a braying, wobbling, unmusical shouter when he attempts robusto heroics. At times it seems that a Pertile or Bergonzi are within him fighting for his soul against Baum and Mauro. The whining, blown-out upper middle tones were contrasted against a firm, bright and expert shaped line in cantilena. He managed a superb piano tone in the duet with Adalgisa and when striving for line and style was really impressive. But here or there a loosening tone or shouted high note would intrude and remind you of his dark side. The costume suited him and he worked well with both ladies.

Vitalij Kowaljow poured on rich velvet tones in the musically rich but dramatically uninteresting role of Oroveso. Juliana di Giacomo gave notice of a major soprano voice in the small role of Clotilde in her Met debut. The two boys playing Norma's children were given more specific direction including reaching out for their mother in the last scene with moving results.

I happened to like the conducting of Maurizio Benini who stressed the dramatic weight and symphonic qualities of the score while not slighting elegance and forward movement. This score too often has fallen into the hands of routiniers and this was a step in the right direction.

I won't devote much space to John Copley's production and John Conklin's sets because they don't deserve it. Norma is an opera that seems to confound modern directors. Why Norma decorated her house with wooden crates painted black is not something this inquiring mind wanted to know. Sometimes it looked like a high school production of Shakespeare's Macbeth or a minimalist Camelot. Laurie Feldman who staged this revival attempted some creative choral movement but it was pretty much park and bark. Despite the cheapo minimalist look they might as well have been singing in front of musty old drops of Stonehenge and paper maché rocks.

After the dismal last two outings with a way past-it Renata Scotto (please no historical revisionism here - she could not sing the role by the time she got to the Met) and a never-really-had-it lumpen Jane Eaglen, last night restored Bellini's opera to musical respectability. One could get a sense of its greatness, particularly when Zajick was center stage. But the real fire and ice was last seen with Caballé in 1976 and we are still awaiting her successor. -- Gualtier Maldè

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02 November 2007


Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera"When the Met last offered Verdi's Macbeth a quarter century ago, the New York Times slammed Sir Peter Hall's staging as 'the worst new production to struggle onto the Metropolitan Opera's stage in modern history' and the opening night audience greeted the curtain calls with some of the loudest boos in the theater's history. On October 22, the company neatly avoided a reprise of this notorious fiasco when they offered a bland take on the opera unlikely to rouse much strong feeling at all. "

Our Own JJ reviews Macbeth in Gay City News.

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31 October 2007

Remember, La Cieca is just the messenger

Writes a spy:
Today at the final dress, it was pretty obvious why Reneeeeee would cancel her Normas – the "Sempre libera" was SCARY bad – completely off the voice for the mewing and really sloppy coloratura, and then she had to go back on-voice to try and get to the Bb/B/C/Db area. The repeated C’s were especially hair-raising, and she didn’t actually get up to the pitch on any of them in the whole aria. A friend [also] watching the dress said it was uncomfortable and worrisome to have to listen to her try and get through it. While she can still produce creamy sounds in her basic rep, her ability to sing fioritura (which, while totally wrong for bel canto, was impressive at one time) is basically gone.

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29 October 2007

Nibble, nibble, mousie, who's nibbling at my gallery?

The Gallery Met -- you know, that space off to the opposite side of the box office, over near the State Theater? Oh, didn't you know there was a gallery there? Well, in fact, neither did much of anyone else, judging by the sparse attendance there ever since they removed the lesbian erotica (that is, the Richard Prince piece about Madama Butterfly, which La Cieca thought was kind of fun). Now, let's see. La Cieca knows she asked you here for a reason... oh, yes, of course! There's actually a new exhibition opening at the Gallery Met, a sort of tie-in with the New Yorker, which certainly sounds like a nice intersection of target audiences.

Gallery Met has assembled together artists from the venerable magazine, plus a few special guests, in a colorful exhibition of new, original artworks titled Hansel and Gretel. The exhibition features such familiar New Yorker names as Roz Chast, Ian Falconer, Jules Feiffer, Ana Juan, Ed Koren, Anita Kunz, Lorenzo Mattotti, Christoph Niemann, Lou Romano, Owen Smith, William Steig, Gahan Wilson, and Bob Zoell. The exhibit also features new works by artists John Currin, George Condo, and William Wegman—also inspired by Hansel and Gretel.

The Met's new production of the Humperdinck opera opens December 24. The gallery exhibition will be on view Friday, November 16 through February 2006.

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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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26 October 2007

Di faci tuttavia splende il Costello!

Our Own Gualtier Maldè reflects on last night's Met Lucia:

The Met has often been accused and rightly so of ignoring young talent and waiting too long to hire up-and-coming new stars while hanging on to declining old favorites well past their sell-by date. Occasionally a promising new talent from the Young Artists Program will blossom quickly and get chances - Dwayne Croft fifteen years ago is an example.

However, it was a surprise when James Levine announced 26 year-old Stephen Costello for one performance of Edgardo in Lucia this season. He had definitely made an impression as Arturo on opening night and I have been told did impressively subbing for Giordani as Edgardo in some early rehearsals. It was with a mix of trepidation and excitement that I attended last night's performance. Making a starring role debut at age 26 in a house the size of the Met is a daunting experience for anyone.

Well, how was he? This much can be said - he immediately got the audience on his side and got the biggest ovation at the end (admittedly many family members, schoolmates and friends were in the audience but not that many). His youth, sweet timbre, precocious poise and emotional involvement communicated to the audience. However, the role of Edgardo, though lyric, is demanding with a wide range of dynamics, vocal coloration and requires both declamation and floated legato. Costello's voice seemed a size too small for the role in a house this large. Though he wasn't inaudible, he definitely seemed lightweight vocally. He seemed boyish and slight next to Annick Massis who is hardly a Lucia in the Sutherland/Callas heroic mold.

The elegant phrasing and poised musicianship were juxtaposed against a voice that could turn shallow and a touch insecure when pressures mounted. Lyrical moments like "Verranno a te" and "Fra poco a me ricovero" were sweet and pleasing. Declamatory moments like the outbursts in the "maledizione" scene and confrontation with Enrico in "Wolf's Crag" found the young man working close to his limits. The fact that he didn't push well beyond those limits and lasted in fairly fresh form to the end of the opera speaks well for his pacing and intelligence. A naturally appealing and graceful stage presence, he gained in dramatic authority as the evening progressed culminating in a moving death scene.

However, at this juncture he might be wise to leave the Edgardo to smaller theaters and concentrate on roles like Ernesto, Nadir and Nemorino that could capitalize on his soaring upper register and boyish charm and let himself grow into roles like the Duke of Mantua, Edgardo, Rodolfo and Alfredo with time.

A salutory example currently singing on the Met roster is Matthew Polenzani who started modestly at the Met seven or eight years ago singing parts like Jacquino and Lindoro and now in his thirties is moving into Romeo, Edgardo and Alfredo internationally with superb notices. It isn't a splashy overnight star trajectory but it worked for him and the Met and when the big star roles came, he was fully formed and ready to do them and himself full justice.

The evening really belonged to the elegant Lucia of French coloratura Annick Massis. Her voice is creamier and softer-textured than that of Natalie Dessay but she has a fuller and more reliable upper extension. A patrician stage figure, her acting was detailed and intelligent but lacked the "in the moment" intensity and spontaneity that Dessay brings to her work. There were pluses both musical and dramatic to Massis' more calculated approach - she never lost vocal poise and beauty and her performance was consistent and beautifully paced.

The loss of some dramatic excitement definitely had musical gains and resulted in a performance that gave overall pleasure. The flute obbligato in the cadenza of the mad scene was reinstated for her as was about 95% of the traditional Mathilde Marchesi cadenza minus the top E flats. Those were abundant elsewhere and held to exciting effect.

Kwiecien shows greater command and suavity in his Enrico, singing more judiciously in the beginning but having lots of power when needed - especially in his climactic top notes. John Relyea has a hint of graininess and dryness in his tone that is worrying in an artist who is still fairly young. I miss the vocal velvet of his earlier days. He was solid but not exciting.

Mr. Costello came through his trial by fire with grace and made some new fans. Now, he needs to pace himself wisely singing lighter roles at the Met and letting his voice and technique mature in the smaller and medium size houses until he is ready to tackle the major lyric repertoire here and internationally. The stuff was definitely there last night, but in embryo. -- Gualtier Maldè

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24 October 2007

Radamès, non è deciso il tuo fato

Latest casting news from the Met: Stephen O’Mara will sing Radamès in Aida on Wednesday, October 24, replacing Marco Berti, who has withdrawn from remaining performances due to illness. The role of the Egyptian captain for the the remaining performances of the season (October 27 - November 8) will be sung by that popular man-about-town TBA.

La Cieca's idle speculation: it should be simple enough to get someone in to sing a single performance of Pinkerton on the evening of October 27, which would free up Roberto di Nazareth. La Cieca's prediction: not bloody likely, but she's been wrong before.

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23 October 2007

Put our service to the test

The unsinkable (and apparently unflappable) Birgit Nilsson sings what turns out to be an aria from Verdi's Macbeth -- despite makeup design from Valley of the Dolls and a costume recycled from the "Be Our Guest" number in Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

La Nilsson's performance (as awesome as it is!) is only an opening gambit, of course. La Cieca wants to throw the floor open to discussion of last night's Macbeth at the Met.

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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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18 October 2007

Alagna, Anna again to bed

Ken Howard/Metropolitan OperaOf course, cher public, you heard it about it here a few weeks ago, but La Cieca has just read a press release from the Met announcing that, yes indeed, Roberto Alagna will reprise his Roméo opposite Anna Netrebko on December 12 and 15. (Our Own Gualtier Maldè, as you no doubt recall, confirmed the rumor when he spoke to Alagna after Aida on Tuesday night.) The December 15 matinee of Roméo et Juliette is the first of this season's "Live in High Definition" transmissions to movie theaters around the world.

Joseph Kaiser is Roméo on December 8 and 20, and finishing up the batting order will be Matthew Polenzani on December 27 and 31.

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

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17 October 2007

Bobby takes one for the team

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan OperaSo, was last night a triumph or a disaster? Well, it was neither since the role of Radames doesn't play to all of Roberto Alagna's strengths but it was a very fine showing by a distinctive and sensitive artist in a repertory that isn't his natural metier. The evening's biggest triumph was scored by old reliable Dolora Zajick who got the biggest hand at the end. As she should.

Was Alagna overparted or inaudible? Not at all. Really in some ways the role of Radames is easier than Romeo in that the tenor gets some rest here and there as other major characters take the stage, the tessitura is lower and there are intermissions to give the vocal cords a rest. The orchestra is often less dense than Puccini's orchestration in Butterfly and conductor Kazushi Ono was stressing string articulation over brassy blare. Was Alagna lacking in metal and heft for the role? - not really, the top was there (veering sharp occasionally) and the vibrato was wider than it was (but not really too wide and not only in this role).

Oddly enough, despite its reputation as being a "robusto" tenor role, the part of Radames has long stretches of lyrical singing. "Celeste Aida" is a love song, not a call to arms. The Temple Scene is prayerful, the Nile scene love duet is romantic and impetuous. The Tomb Scene also requires lyricism and pianos. I think that Karajan or somebody told Carreras (or was it Pavarotti?) that the only phrase that requires real dramatic declamation is the last phrase of the Nile scene "Sacerdote, io resto a te!".

In the best lyric Radames tradition (think Gigli, Bjorling and Pavarotti - though not quite in their league) Alagna treated "Celeste Aida" as a love song sung mostly mezza voce with a lot of sensitive coloring and phrasing. He hit the final B flat forte and repeated the phrase softly an octave lower as Richard Tucker did for Toscanini.

It helped that he had the most romantic appearance of any Radames since Corelli. In the first scene he was bare-chested (and looking slimmer than he did last year at La Scala) with a gold metallic collar, cape tucked around his shoulders, gold arm bands and leather peplum and gold sandals (not elevator sandals as he wore at La Scala). He looked very sexy with nice pecs with just the right amount of chest hair. The applause at the end of the aria seemed to please Roberto no end and he smiled joyously at the audience and seemed to feel vindicated and happy to have a chance to put last year's disaster behind him.

Then he made the first of a few musical mistakes (understandable given the circumstances) in the duet with Amneris before Aida goes on. (This is the same piece of music that marked his exit at La Scala) Dolora and the conductor got him back on track and things went quite well from there on. Alagna was occasionally covered by Dolora but reached a pretty good balance with Angela M. Brown.

His lack of an easy and integrated piano was a problem in the Temple Scene which was just okay. His contribution to the Triumphal Scene was solid but Radames doesn't have much to do there. The Nile Scene had his biggest challenges and most distinctive successes. Alagna's top carried him well in this scene ringing out reliably though his lower range can get grainy and woolly-sounding. The duet with Aida was full of interesting nuances and verbal expression that many Radames miss or ignore. Here finally he got some nice diminuendos. The final outburst to Ramfis was broad-phrased and ringing with a prolonged final note.

The "Gia i sacerdoti adunansi" duet with Amneris was well-done though Dolora definitely held back a bit for him and both she and Roberto got out of sync with the conductor. The final "A Terra Addio" duet with Angela Brown was some of his best singing of the evening matched by Brown, both spinning out gorgeous piano phrases. He didn't seem tired at the end and gained strength as he went on.

He acted more than most Radames do and he was visually credible as the romantic bone of contention between two passionate women (less so as a warrior and leader of men). However, the role still is two dimensional and more complex, vulnerable heros like Romeo, Rodolfo in Boheme and Des Grieux in Manon show better what Alagna can do as an actor. His timbre is a little odd-sounding in Verdi. It has a white wine quality - a combination of bright-toned forward tartness on the top with a hint of fruity mellowness below that is ideal for French repertoire but a little exotic in standard Italian opera.

The whole performance was a refreshing change of pace from business-as-usual tenor bombast and highlighted qualities in the role that are often missed. Was it ideal?, was it what we are used to? No. But it was interesting and I mean that in a good way.

Ms. Brown has all the vocal attributes of a great Aida but couldn't pull together an even line as she moved from high to low or forte to piano or declamatory to legato. Whenever she had to change pace (which is often in this demanding role) Brown had a momentary loss of vocal control and focus while the voice changed dynamics or register. This meant that unsettled phrases were then followed by swaths of gorgeous tone. But the bumps did take their toll, particularly on the high C in "O Patria Mia" which started to go badly awry and then was truncated.

Dolora was the pro she is and has been for a very long time giving more vulnerable colors to Amneris but still sounding the brass when needed. Dobber had a handsome compact tone and suave phrasing as Amonasro with a nice mahogany finish to the timbre but also needed a bit more bite - Di Luna might suit him better. Kowaljow was sonorous and solid as Ramfis and Reinhard Hagen had a pleasing but somewhat unimposing debut as the King. Ono does better with the orchestra players than he does with the singers and lacks the slancio and dramatic phrasing that Italians have in their blood in this music. He is a very intelligent musician and, once again, this wasn't a routine reading of the score. -- Gualtier Maldè

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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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11 October 2007

Chi vi frena in tal momento?

La Cieca notices there are only a few tickets remaining to the Met's October 25 Lucia, featuring, as if she has to tell you, Stephen Costello's role debut as Edgardo. Don't waste any more time, cher public.

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10 October 2007

She gets too hungry for dinner at eight

La Cieca's spy backstage at the Met burbles about the most interesting spectacle so far at the new Macbeth: "Maria Guleghina’s rehearsal garb! One day she sported a green spaghetti-strap midriff top (that’s right, she wore a belly shirt), with a sequined crown across her tits."

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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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05 October 2007

"Hunkentenor" makes broadcast debut

UPDATE: And now, my dears, we've even reached the AP! (How long before we're on the UP and every other damn P?)

La Cieca's young, young, young friend Maury D'anatto writes: "Too funny, La Cieca: did you coin hunkentenor? Because there was just this intermission interview with Joseph Kaiser that went somewhat off the rails as Margaret Juntwait asked JK if he had heard people call him a hunkentenor, and then through some rather complicated chain of associations, he revealed that he sleeps naked. It was awkward/hilarious."

Well, yes, La Cieca will have to plead "guilty" to coining this suddenly mainstream term; however it is you, cher public, who have catapulted it into the lexicon. Brava, you go on like this!

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03 October 2007

Too darn Schrott?

Reactions to last night's Figaro prima? Anyone?

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28 September 2007

E Susanna vien

La Cieca predicted a cast change earlier, and what do you know, so it came to pass! Soprano Lisette Oropesa will sing the Tuesday prima of the Met's revival of Le nozze di Figaro and at least one more performance. She is jumping in for the enceinte Isabel Bayrakdarian. Ms. Oropesa is not only a member of the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program but (even more impressively) she is La Cieca's homegirl since she is a graduate of LSU in dear old Baton Rouge! It should be noted, however, that she and La Cieca matriculated in different centuries.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, Angela Gheorghiu has been fired from Lyric Opera's production of La bohème which is scheduled to open Monday, October 1. Thundered General Director William Mason, "Miss Gheorghiu has missed 6 of 10 rehearsals, including the piano dress rehearsal and both staging rehearsals with the orchestra. She missed one of the most critical stage-orchestra rehearsals when she left the city for New York without permission, a direct violation of her contract." La Gheorghiu was in fact spotted in the audience for the Met's prima of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette on Tuesday night.

The news is somewhat less dire for other members of the Gheorghiu famille. Those of you cher public who missed out on Roberto "Million Dollar Legs" Alagna's stylish Roméo this week may get another chance at seeing his collaboration with Anna Netrebko in the Gounod love story. La Cieca hears that Alagna will return in December to fill the "TBA" slots on the 8th, 12th and 15th, including the broadcast and HD telecast. Matthew Polenzani, La Cieca hears, will take over the role on December 20.

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25 September 2007

The winner and new diva

La Cieca wasn't "in the house" for the Lucia prima last night like so many of her colleagues; instead she hosted perhaps the most popular of all her online chats thus far. Approximately 120 of you cher public logged in at some point during the night, with 75 or so on average staying for the long haul. Say what you will about Natalie Dessay or even Stephen Costello, there was really only one genuine "star is born" moment last night, and here, as dear Mathilde Marchesi would say, is "la nouvelle Melba" --

Our nomination for Camp Diva of the 2007-2008 Season: Miss Blythe Danner!

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24 September 2007

Another Opening, Another Chat!

Thanks for joining La Cieca for the first online chat of the 2007-2008 season. If you enjoyed the chat, please visit the Amazon Honor System to help support parterre.com.

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23 September 2007

Something to chat about

La Cieca's chat returns Monday night to welcome in the new Met season. Topic of discussion: the evening's prima of the new production of Lucia di Lammermoor, as broadcast on SIRIUS Internet Radio. Please check back on this site after 5:00 pm Monday for a link to the room, which will open at 6:15 pm for the 6:30 start of the opening night performance.

Note that any of you who do not have a current subscription to Sirius can get a trial 3-day pass in time for the Opening Night chat. The event is also broadcast on RealNetworks.

Are any of you cher public attending this Lucia at one of the outdoor simulcasts? If you are, why not bring a laptop along and chat along with the rest of us? It's easy, now that the Lincoln Center plaza has WiFi!

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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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20 September 2007

"She runs upstage screaming and then sits on the stairs laughing maniacally" is the new "weeping bitterly, she consents to the horrible bargain"

That's a bit of the description of Natalie Dessay's Lucia mad scene, as dress-rehearsed at the Met earlier today and reported by La Cieca's spy. The complete report (including SPOILERS!) follows:
I'm sure some people will be up in arms over the production. It is set in the mid-19th century. The costumes are decent. Mariusz Kwiecien sounded good although he seemed to oversing at times, but I attribute that too the before noon rehearsal time. At any rate, he sounded amazing. In "Regnava nel silenzio," Zimmerman has an actress appear as the ghost that Lucia sings about. I'm sure some people will get their panties in a knot over it, but I think it was done pretty well.

In the mad scene, the set has a grand spiral stairway which leads to an open hallway which runs the entire length of the stage. Stage left is the bridal room. The top of the stairs is downstage right. Lucia enters wiping the blood of the dagger on her veil and then crosses to the top of the stairs. Just before she sings her first line, she runs down the stairs almost to the bottom of the stairway.

On the lines, "Un gelo me serpeggia nel sen! trema ogni fibra! vacilla il piè!" She slowly slumps to the stairs. She lies down on the step and then, fainting, rolls down the two steps to the stage floor. She eventually crosses downstage to the prompter's box where she sings much of the scene on her back. She sings, "Sparsa è di rose!" after holding up her bloody veil.

Later, she runs upstage screaming and then sits on the stairs laughing maniacally. Between verses of "Spargi d'amaro pianto", a doctor administers a shot (morphine?) which prompts the ornamentation of the second verse. Dessay is completely committed to the stage directions, so it works. I think she sounded good. I wish I had remembered my opera glasses. I was in the family circle.

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17 September 2007

Pregnant with meaning

Expect yet another major cast change at the Met in the next couple of weeks. La Cieca won't spill the details at the moment, but let's just say that the problem is a soprano who got knocked up before the marriage!

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12 September 2007

Flash Mab

The Met's star-crossed revival of Roméo et Juliette has just hit another bump. Nathan Gunn, announced for Mercutio, has dropped out of the September and October performances of the opera due to illness. Jumping in will be baryhunque Stéphane Degout, who performed Mercutio in this production back in 2005. Gunn is still on the cast list for the December portion of the run.

UPDATE: It just gets worse. Rolando Villazón is now off the Met roster for the season. His Roméo performances (December 8, 12, 15 and 20) have been updated to TBA; the tenor's Carnegie Hall recital is also canceled.

Gossip elsewhere on the web suggests that Villazón may be off the stage for as long as a year.

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08 September 2007

Photo finish at Lincoln Center

The results of the "Must See" poll are in, and La Cieca is declaring it too close to call and therefore a tie: Vanessa at the New York City Opera and Lucia di Lammermoor at the Met are now officially the hottest tickets of the fall 2007 season. The complete results of the utterly unscientific poll:

Which opera event in New York this fall is the most promising?
Vanessa (NYCO) 24% 214
Lucia di Lammermoor (Met) 24% 213
Agrippina revival (NYCO) 12% 107
Iphigenie en Tauride (Met) 12% 106
Macbeth (Met) 9% 82
I due Foscari (OONY) 6% 51
Margaret Garner (NYCO) 4% 37
Romeo et Juliette revival (Met) 4% 32
Madama Butterfly revival (Met) 3% 28
L’oracolo/L’incantesimo (Teatro Grattacielo) 2% 15
total votes: 885

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07 September 2007

Not a comeback, a return!

Fans of red-haired three-named sopranos d'un certain âge will rejoice to hear that at least a couple of the mainstays of the Volpe Era have been asked back to the Met under the Gelb Aegis. (And after all that naughty gossip about firings and buyings-out! Who ever heard of such a thing?) Anyway, not to delay the gratification any longer, La Cieca can reveal that the Titian-tressed trinominates in question are Hei-Kyung Hong and Ruth Ann Swenson.

La Hong was announced only a couple of days ago as a substitute for the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro on October 2, 6, 10, 13 and 18, replacing Dorothea Röschmann "who has cancelled all engagements for three months for health reasons," per the Met's press office. Less officially, Ms. Swenson is rumored for the 2008-09 season as Musetta in La bohème as a followup to next spring's Violettas, which were at one point assumed to be her farewell to the company.

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22 August 2007

Kaiser's role

La Cieca has just learned that tenor Joseph Kaiser will make a "surprise" Met debut October 3, singing the role of Roméo in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. He will also sing performances on October 6 and 11, replacing the ailing Rolando Villazón.

Kaiser stars as Tamino in Kenneth Branagh's film of The Magic Flute and will reprise this Mozart role later in the Met season. He appeared as Narraboth in Lyric Opera of Chicago's Salome last season, a performance about which the always reliable David Shengold wrote, "The most consistently satisfying vocalism came from Joseph Kaiser, a young tenor on the brink of stardom . . . he sang the challenging high phrases with clarity and shine."

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14 August 2007

Bobby, come on over for dinner

Roberto Alagna will jump -- no, not into the swimming pool, but rather into the first two performances (September 25 and 29) of the Met's fall revival of Roméo et Juliette, replacing Rolando Villazón who has withdrawn due to illness. The Met's press office officially announced Villazón's cancellation today, though regular parterre.com readers knew all about it last week. The role of Roméo remains TBA for the performances on October 3, 6 and 11; Villazón remains on the roster for the winter stint of performances including the HD simulcast.

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19 July 2007

Melons! Coupons!

La Cieca just received a press release from the Met detailing some of the cast changes and reshufflings already afoot for next season. She is pretty sure than none of this has anything to do with last night's steam pipe explosion in Midtown.

Angela M. Brown will sing the title role in Aida replacing Maria Guleghina on September 29, October 4 and 16. La Brown will sing the role of Aida on November 2, 5 and 8 as previously scheduled; Micaela Carosi will replace her on October 30.

Maija Kovalevska replaces Krassimira Stoyanova as Micaëla on February 4, 8, 13 and 16. Stoyanova will go on as scheduled at all other performances of Carmen. Lucio Gallo will sing the role of Escamillo (role debut) in all performances of the opera this season.

Ekaterina Siurina replaces Isabel Bayrakdarian as Susanna in Nozze on November 10, 14, 17, 21, 24, 28 and December 1. La Bayrakdarian retains her October 2, 6, 10, 13 and 18 performances.

Matthew Polenzani will sing Roméo opposite Anna Netrebko replacing Rolando Villazón on December 27 and 31. Villazón is still scheduled at all other performances of the opera.

Anthony Dean Griffey now sings the entire run of Peter Grimes; to no one's surprise, Neil Shicoff is a no-show.

Now, here's where it get complicated. Do listen carefully, because La Cieca is only going to say this once. Maria Guleghina gets the prima and the fall run of Macbeth (replacing Andrea Gruber) on October 22, 26, 31 and November 3. Gruber is still scheduled for the May 9, 13, and 17 performances. Meanwhile, Guleghina is out of the November 12, 16, 19 and 23 performances of Norma, with Hasmik Papian leaping into the breach. Guleghina tries her hand at the Bellini on November 26, 30, December 4, and 7. Oh, and on January 5, 9, 12 and 15, our old, old, old friend TBA returns triumphantly to the Met... as Lady Macbeth.

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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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14 June 2007


La Cieca is delighted to announce the return of the online opera chat, this Thursday June 14 on the subject of Il trittico, as telecast on Channel 13 here in New York. The chat room will open at 7:45 for the 8:00 beginning of the telecast.

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09 June 2007

Stella for star

Just a few quick words about the magnificent soprano Antonietta Stella, the "tie-breaker" in our recent quiz. She is perhaps not quite so familiar to some of La Cieca's readers as the more celebrated divas also heard on the track such as Tebaldi and Price. La Cieca will quote her dear colleague Enzo Bordello, who wrote eloquently about this singer in 1998:

". . . her 1957 broadcast performance [of Tosca] with Tucker and Warren is sensational. The voice is confidently produced, with plenty of healthy, glowing tone. She tosses off the role's many high B's and C's like they were child's play....

"The long and the short of the matter is that I simply adore Antonietta Stella. What did she do well, you ask? Well, I would reframe the question this way: what did she NOT do well? Although I never saw Stella in the theater, I can honestly say that few singers have thrilled me as much as she on records and video. At its best, the voice represents the highest standard of Italian lirico-spinto singing. There is a morbidezza in the sound that is ravishing. In addition to producing focused high notes, Stella sang with unforced resonance in the lower register. The legato is melting and her pianiszimo singing ranks with the best of anyone."

Antonietta Stella sings "Vissi d'arte"

Stella on YouTube

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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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Crones on notice

A Met insider whispers that new chorus director Donald Palumbo, recently praised to the skies for his "tireless" efforts on Orfeo, may not want to stay tired for long. According to our source, “warning of vocal deterioration” letters have already been drafted to be sent to several members of the Met regular chorus, especially in the notoriously wobbly soprano section. Apparently, this warning letter is the first step in a lengthy contractural process of weeding out unacceptable voices. (Ironically, by the time arrives for Palumbo to rehearse the witches' choruses in Macbeth next season, he may already have fired at least some of the Met's worst crones.)

Continues our spy, "Not a surprising move, but one taken earlier than I would have thought in his tenure, since [Palumbo's] tenure really hasn’t started yet. But thank Goddess for it – the soprano section has been a mess for quite a while."

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09 May 2007

Which Puritani: discuss.

La Cieca has finally found a way to harness the massive intellectual prowess of her commenters for what she hopes is a good and peaceful purpose. From time to time she is asked for recommendations on, well, this and that, and she's realized that you, cher public represent an paralleled resource for advising, counselling and general kibitzing. Our first question for the group: what's your recommendation for a recording of I puritani? "A.R." writes:
The frisson that Anna Netrebko created at Met recently piqued my interest in the work again- but I find myself dissatisfied with the array of recordings available. Joan I’d have to quickly count out- a lot of the time it sounds like she’s singing the phone book. Not a Bonynge fan either. Ditto La Sills- I just don’t like the timbre of her voice. I own the Caballe/Kraus recording and enjoy it- even without most of the high notes and no trill from Montsy. Despite that she always wins me over and Kraus makes a good fist of Arturo- I don’t understand the negative crits he got for this recording. When are people going to realise that the high D’s and high F were not meant to be sung full voice- I feel sure they were supposed to be sung in head voice- esp as Arturo is at his most miserable when these notes pop up.

Devia is good, albeit a little colourless. Mateuzzi has the high notes- shame everything under a G is flat, flat, flat. Have you heard the Freni/Pav recordings? I’m interested to hear them. I also have the Callas recording- but I can’t BEAR Di Stefano- too much scooping and painful open high notes. Is there a fabulous recording I’ve missed? If only La Scotto had done it- she would have been ideal. (I too am a Scotto worshipper!)

Any suggestions greatly appreciated!

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08 May 2007

Wie alles war, weiss ich; wie alles wird, wie alles sein wird

The Met's press office just sent this out:

New York, NY (May 8, 2007) - Bizet's Carmen with Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina in the title role will be revived during the Met's 2007-08 season, replacing the previously announced performances of Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann. The change in repertory is due to the decision by Argentine tenor Marcelo Álvarez to retire the title role of Hoffmann from his repertory. Mr. Álvarez will instead make his Met role debut singing Don José in Carmen opposite Ms. Borodina. Nancy Fabiola Herrera will sing the title role in one performance. Krassimira Stoyanova sings the role of Micaëla at the Met for the first time. Emmanuel Villaume conducts all eight performances from February 4 to March 1, 2008.
Told you so.

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03 May 2007

"Tales" untold

La Cieca hears that the Met will scrap next season's revival of Les Contes d'Hoffman (scheduled for February-March 2008) in favor of Carmen. A well-informed source suggests that the switch will be done at the behest of tenor Marcelo Álvarez, who would have sung the title role in the Offenbach but will now perform his first local Don Jose. Opposite Álvarez will be the familiar but always welcome Carmencita of Olga Borodina.

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02 May 2007

News from the underworld

A Happy Shade whispers to La Cieca about the Met's Orfeo (opening tonight):
"This show is awesome. The dancing is really interesting and fits the music very well. Donald Palumbo has really worked tirelessly to make the chorus sound as good as possible, giving notes and comments all through rehearsals. I’m told from long-time members that note sessions during dress rehearsals were quite rare. David Daniels is great in this part, and he sings it so well. Maija Kovalevska is a hottie, and has a beautiful voice. She is tall and striking and pairs physically very well with David. And Heidi Grant Murphy has perhaps the entrance of the season. I won’t give it away, but your jaw will drop. Mine did .... Bring your spyglasses to try and figure out as many of the 'dead characters' in the chorus as you can!"

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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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23 April 2007

Take that, Eurotrash!

The doyen of operatic stage direction has done it again! (Or, to be strictly accurate, he has done it for about the twentieth time, but who's counting?) Thrill to the brilliantly innovative new production of La traviata Franco Zeffirelli just unveiled at the Rome Opera!

Oh, if only we could have a production of Traviata just like this here in New York! Or, even better, if only we could have two productions just like this!

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21 April 2007

Third base

La Cieca hears that the Met's new production of Il trittico will return in 2010, starring Patricia Racette as the three heroines.

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18 April 2007

Kitty Carlisle Hart, 1910-2007

Actress, singer, arts advocate, socialite, TV personality (and New Orleans native) Kitty Carlisle Hart has died at the age of 96. La Carlisle made her Broadway debut in 1933 in the musical Champagne Sec (a version of Die Fledermaus), then went to Hollywood for a brief stay highlighted by her turn as "Rosa Castaldi" in A Night at the Opera. (To die-hard opera queens, no performance of the "Miserere" from Il trovatore is complete without the interpolation of "the Kitty Carlisle high C.") In 1948 the mezzo-soprano starred in the New York premiere of Britten's The Rape of Lucretia; later she appeared on the "Straw Hat Circuit" in Carmen and The Merry Widow as well as classic American musicals. On New Year's Eve 1966, Ms. Hart made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Prince Orlovsky in Fledermaus, a role she reprised for the company's Parks performances in 1973, and again in 1980 at the New York City Opera for Beverly Sills' farewell gala.

A more detailed obituary may be found at broadwayworld.com.

Here's Kitty Carlisle Hart in a scene from A Night at the Opera, with Allan Jones (and, of course, the Marx Brothers!)

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17 April 2007

Great minds

La Cieca has heard from two independent sources who attended today's dress rehearsal of Il trittico at the Met, and the word they both use to describe the show is "wonderful." Production values are lavish yet true to the works, the singing is never less than "very fine" and the orchestra under Maestro Levine sounds "superb." Highest praise went to Maria Guleghina (Giorgietta) and Stephanie Blythe (all three leading mezzo roles, but especially La Zia Principessa). Friday night will likely be a long evening (the rehearsal ran four hours), but the buzz so far is that Il trittico will be "the highlight of the season."

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16 April 2007

Avant le deluge

La Cieca is no big believer in omens, but she must say that within a hour of Aprile Millo's final curtain call on the Met stage Saturday night, all hell broke loose over New York. Not exactly "stars with trains of fire and dews of blood/Disasters in the sun" but certainly a messy and unseasonable Nor'easter. Time will tell whether this downpour foretells the end of an era. Meanwhile, La Cieca will do her job and report that among La Millo's public she glimpsed Elaine Stritch, Rufus Wainwright and Patti Smith, all of whom made the pilgrimage backstage to meet and greet the diva. Also in evidence were Violeta Urmana and Salvatore Licitra, plus of course every opera queen you might care to mention. A few fans attempted to serenade Millo with "Happy Birthday" during her solo bow, but were inaudible over the applause and cheers.

Curiously, the great moment in Millo's performance wasn't "La mamma morta," (which was very good if a little hectic) but rather the phrase "Benedico il destino! Benedico la morte!" just before the final duet. If you need a definition of what Milanov called "vocal message," that's what Millo demonstrated in this handful of notes. And need I say she communicated more in those few seconds than many other artists do in a whole season.

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09 April 2007

Optional cuts

Which Metropolitan Opera diva has eased her transition into the visual-intensive Gelb era with the assistance of a plastic surgeon recently featured in W magazine and the New York Post? This Park Avenue doctor's "short scar" facelifts promise a dramatically rejuvenated jawline with shorter recovery time and minimal scarring -- just the thing for those high-definition closeups!

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05 April 2007

The Swenson solution

The Met isn't interested in you any more as a lyric-coloratura? Well, in that case, why not try transforming yourself into Marilyn Horne?

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Ruth's no stranger to friction

DRAMA on the front page of today's NYT Arts section! Ruth Ann Swenson comes out swinging at the Met for "snubbing" her in favor of younger and less zaftig artists. Her current run of Cleopatras in Giulio Cesare is her final contact with the Met*, apparently the end to a 20-season career there spanning over 225 performances.

And now La Cieca is going to throw this one open to discussion from the floor!

CORRECTION: Swenson is also contracted to sing Violetta during the Met's 2007-2008 season.

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03 April 2007

Sing a little, chat a little

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

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

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30 March 2007

Dignity returns to the NYC opera scene

Who the hell is Margie HartOn April 17, Dame Kiri te Kanawa returns to the scene of... well, not a crime, actually, more like a triumph: that is, her surprise Met debut in Otello way back in 1974. No, she's not singing, but on April 17 she will make a personal appearance at the Metropolitan Opera Shop, to greet her fans and sign CDs from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm.

The following day, the controversial Kiwi canary will grace this year's Metropolitan Opera Guild Luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria. The alphabetical list of singers and other colleagues who are scheduled to honor the diva includes Licia Albanese, Martina Arroyo, Harry Bicket, Stephanie Blythe, Russell Braun, Lawrence Brownlee, Barbara Cook, Mignon Dunn, Barbara Frittoli, Massimo Giordano, Maria Guleghina, Marilyn Horne, James Morris, Regina Resnik, Julius Rudel, Beverly Sills, Risë Stevens, Ruth Ann Swenson, and Benita Valente. (Apparently Joann Yockey and Linda Zoghby had prior commitments.)

Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade will do the vocal honors and the program will also include "rare" video clips of the honoree. Tickets to the Luncheon are $250 and $400.

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28 March 2007

Balcony box

Something new and interesting (La Cieca hopes) on Unnatural Acts of Opera: a 2004 concert performance of Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, starring Anna Netrebko (Giulietta), Daniela Barcellona (Romeo) and Joseph Calleja (Tebaldo). Act One is the current podcast, with the second to follow on Friday.

Speaking of the lovely Miss Netrebko, she and Rolando Villazon will headline a gala celebrating 40th Anniversary of The Met at Lincoln Center next Tuesday. The concert will be webcast over the Met's RealNetworks (and of course Sirius) beginning at 7:00 PM. Unfortunately, La Cieca has a prior commitment that night, but she is sure that you, her cher public, will want to chat about the gala here at parterre.com. As such, La Cieca is sending out request to you parterre.com regulars for volunteers to host the web chat. (Quite simple, really: you'll need only to be online and on the chat site beginning at 6:45 and continuing until the finish of the broadcast.) If you're interested in helping out, email La Cieca at [email protected].

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26 March 2007

Met Barbiere on YouTube

... though not the one from last weekend!

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24 March 2007


Our editor JJ's busy week included a review of the Met's Aegyptische Helena in Gay City News, and that panel La Cieca has been yammering about all week. As his presentation on the topic "Opera and Technology," JJ introduced this little documentary about your own La Cieca.

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23 March 2007

Mary Dunleavy joins in the fun

La Cieca has just been informed that soprano Mary Dunleavy will participate in tonight's panel discussion "Opera and Technology" at The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University. No word on whether La Dunleavy replaces or supplements the previously announced Lucy Shelton. Our own JJ will be there of course, along with a veritable constellation of opera pundits: Elena Park, Editorial and Creative Content, The Metropolitan Opera; Beth Greenberg, stage director, New York City Opera; Wayne Koestenbaum, poet and writer; and Anne Midgette, critic, The New York Times. That's tonight at 7:30 PM, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue (between 116th and 118th Streets), second floor.

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21 March 2007

Annals of g-string jurisprudence: an update

Operatic trailblazer Kiri te Kanawa has won yet another victory for every soprano who doesn't really feel all that much like singing anyway.

The Kiwi canary testified that it was only after agreeing to appear on a concert program with veteran pop icon John Farnham that she discovered that some of his fans expressed their enthusiasm by throwing their panties onstage.

The diva, noting that Farnham collected the frilly underthings "as a sort of trophy," sniffed that she would find performing in such a milieu "disrespectful."

Dame Kiri is pictured at right performing a scene from Mozart's Don Giovanni with a fellow paragon of operatic decorum, Bryn Terfel.

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16 March 2007

Le mot du jour

On Torsten Kerl in Die Aegyptische Helena: "The role, as we all know, is unsingable, and so unsing it he did." -- Maury D'Annato, My Favorite Intermissions.

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13 March 2007

At a glance

The 2007-2008 Met season, with casting, all in one place. (Though the Met's own site is very nearly as handy -- by far the earliest the company has ever presented repertoire and casting information.) La Cieca would also venture an opinion that next season threatens a rather lower percentage of "why bother" nights, and certainly a steep increase in dementia opportunities.

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11 March 2007

Tech talk

Here are more details on the panel discussion "On Opera and Technology," to be held at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue (between 116th and 118th Streets) on March 23. The exact location is the teatro of the Academy (2nd floor,) from 7.30-9.30pm, and the participants, besides our own JJ, will include Lucy Shelton, soprano; Elena Park, Editorial and Creative Content, The Metropolitan Opera; Beth Greenberg, stage director, New York City Opera; Wayne Koestenbaum, poet and writer; and Anne Midgette, critic, The New York Times.

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05 March 2007

Event horizon

Now that we all know what's what for the Met's 2007-2008 season, surely it's time to start speculating about what comes after, right? Well, La Cieca has been in touch with her stable of reliable sources, and what she has heard is more than a little intriguing. N.B. All this is as heard, of course, not an official announcement...

Opening night 2008 will be a Renee Fleming gala showcasing The Beautiful Voice in acts from La traviata, Manon and Il pirata. Also in the season's opening weeks: Karita Mattila returns in Salome, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon team for Lucia (HD simulcast for sure!), La Gioconda with the triple-diva goodness of Deborah Voigt, Olga Borodina and Ewa Podles, plus, for a little 21st century flava, the Met premiere of John Adams' Doctor Atomic featuring Audra MacDonald.

At the other end of the season, late spring 2009, the last revival of the rocks-n-rags Ring with James Levine conducting (start queuing for that one now) and the debut of DGG "It Girl" Elina Garanca in Cenerentola. In between, some hot tickets and some Sternstunden:
  • La sonnambula (Natalie Dessay/Juan Diego Florez)
  • Thais (Fleming/Thomas Hampson)
  • Rusalka (also Fleming)
  • La rondine (Angela Gheorghiu/Roberto Alagna)
  • Tristan und Isolde (Daniel Barenboim)
  • Eugene Onegin (Mattila/Hampson)
  • Cav/Pag (Alagna in both operas)
There's more (a lot more) of course, but La Cieca hopes this is enough to get the conversational ball rolling.

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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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26 February 2007

Hello, Mister Wilson!

The most startling news from tomorrow's press conference at the Met (as released early to the New York Times) -- in 2011, a new production of Bellini's Norma, starring Renee Fleming and directed by Robert Wilson. The casting of Cecilia Bartoli as Adaligisa is La Cieca's own whimsy, but, hey, stranger things have happened. (For example, a Wilson/Fleming Norma...)

UPDATE: The role of Adalgisa in the Fleming/Wilson Norma scheduled for 2011 will not, as La Cieca puckishly suggested, be sung by Cecilia Bartoli. In fact she has just been informed by one of her most impeccable sources that the part will go to Elīna Garanča.

And in other exclusive Decca recording artist/avant-garde legend related news, the Schwartz gallery at the Met is awaiting installation of a Robert Wilson "video portrait" of La Fleming. La Cieca will inform you when the Wilson film makes it on to YouTube.

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Vilar to "Post"

Holding cell for Alberto Vilar
Ah, dear Alberto Vilar -- remember when he was going to swoop down from the skies and rescue the Metropolitan Opera and The Royal Opera at Covent Garden and, well, just opera, in general? And, more to the point, remember how he never tired of bragging about his munificence, and demanding lavish expressions of gratitude? Well, he's in the news again. To be more specific, Vilar has turned up in the pages of the New York Post. The tab rag reports that the "former philanthopist" is complaining about how cruel and unusual it is to be confined to an 11,000 square foot duplex at United Nations Plaza, with time out only for visits to doctors and lawyers, church services, errands, and of course his daily 90 minute stroll. Vilar wants to spend more quality time with his his "significant other," Maria Muñoz, or, as the Post so vividly puts it, to "play daddy to his gal pal's son while she wages a battle against life-threatening cancer."

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25 February 2007

It's not a comeback

The final act of Loreley is hardly the only attraction on the current episode of Unnatural Acts of Opera. La Cieca also salutes the birthdays of three of the greatest sopranos of all time, and, can you believe it, presides over the return of one of your all-time favorite features, "The Enigmas of La Cieca." Once more, cher public, you can play "opera quiz" from the comfort and safety of your own lovely homes, without the difficultly of slogging through the snow to List Hall, or, for that matter, the difficulty of slugging Anthony Laciura once you get there. (Who knew it was possible to channel Eddie Cantor? Who knew anyone wanted to?) But anyway, as La Cieca was saying, do lend an ear to the new Unnatural Acts of Opera, listen to La Cieca's enigma, and (if you dare) send you answer to the question to [email protected]. The first correct response received will win a tantalizing gift from handelmania.com.

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21 February 2007

Comeback kid

The Metropolitan Opera has just announced that Lorin Maazel will return to the Metropolitan Opera for the first time in 45 years to conduct six performances of Wagner's Die Walküre beginning January 7, 2008. These performances will be Maazel's first with the company since the 1962-63 season. (To give you some concept of how long ago that was, Maazel's assignments that season included Der Rosenkavalier with Regine Crespin making her Met debut, directed by Lotte Lehmann.)

The Walküre performances run through February 9, 2008, with a cast that includes Lisa Gasteen (Brünnhilde), Adrianne Pieczonka/Deborah Voigt (Sieglinde), Stephanie Blythe/Michelle DeYoung (Fricka), Clifton Forbis/Simon Dennis O'Neill (Siegmund), James Morris (Wotan) and Mikhail Petrenko (Hunding).

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20 February 2007

No time for "Tragedy"

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

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15 February 2007

Blonde Item

Compare and contrast the bel canto stylings of Elizabeth Futral and Anna Netrebko tonight when La Cieca hosts yet another of her live chats here on parterre.com.

The live Met/Sirius broadcast of Bellini's I puritani featuring Futral begins at 7:30 Eastern and the taped PBS telecast with Netrebko begins at 9:00. That's here in New York on good old Channel 13. Don't forget to check your local listings.

Anyway, La Cieca will open up the Duelling Elviras Chat Room at 7:15 for the frenzied festivities.

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11 February 2007

Fan club

In observance of the 100th anniversary of the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Madama Butterfly, La Cieca presents a podcast featuring the original cast of that production: Geraldine Farrar, Enrico Caruso and Antonio Scotti. The three superstars are heard in ten selections from Puccini's score.

Unnatural Acts of Opera

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09 February 2007

Not only connect...

"At 'Connect at the Met for Gay and Lesbian Singles,' a social mixer at the Metropolitan Opera on February 2, prospective hookups sipped Champagne in between acts of Leos Janácek's 'Jenufa.' This grim tragedy might seem unlikely to kindle thoughts of romance, but even those participants who failed to launch a relationship had the satisfaction of witnessing one of the company's most powerful artistic triumphs in years."

Our publisher JJ's first opera of 2007, reviewed in Gay City News.

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Voce di primavera

La Cieca has just heard the delightful news that her #1 favorite singer of all time, Renata Scotto, will grace the airwaves as Quizmistress during the Met broadcast of Il trittico on April 28.

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06 February 2007

I want to dish a prima donna, donna, donna

Which diva has been secretly married for over a year to a male model barely half her age?

Which diva (not the same one) is in talks to return to the Met in the same fach she "abandoned" over a decade ago?

Which diva (neither of the above) seems to be inching her way out of the closet, if her most recent biographical information is to be believed?

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31 January 2007


Don't forget that this Friday, February 2 is "Gay Hookup Night at the Met," or as it is more formally titled, "Connect at the Met for Gay and Lesbian Singles." Whether your goal is serious husband-hunting, a casual encounter to share Champagne and dessert, or just to demonstrate that there are some queens out there even more desperate than you are, the Met's the place to be on Friday night. And let it not be forgotten that the opera itself is one of the Met's most artistic offerings this season, a revival of Janacek's Jenufa starring top-flight divas Karita Mattila and Anja Silja.

The all-inclusive $95 ticket includes an orchestra seat with a chance to mingle with other opera lovers, a pre-performance hors d’oeuvres reception and a champagne-dessert reception at intermission during which time you can sneak a peek at the exhibition of Callas's stage jewelry. (And with all that gaiety going on, La Cieca wouldn't be surprised to if she saw go-go boys in skimpy gold shorts giving lap dances in Grand Tier boxes.) More details and ordering instructions are on the new improved metopera.org.

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30 January 2007

Amazing Anja SIlja

In honor of the soprano's return to the Met in Jenufa, a selection of performances from 1959 - 2004.

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