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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14 January 2008

Lucia di DVD

Guest critic Niel Rishoi reviews the VAI DVD release of Lucia di Lammermoor.

OK, this is IT. Barring the cuts, this is the Lucia of Gaetano Donizetti. Not that misguided travesty at the Met, not Natalie Dessay's vocally juddery overwoughtness. No schtick, no Carol Burnetting around. Just Donizetti and Cammarano's Romantic drama, pure and simple. Real artists, real singers. Performing it straight, as if their lives depended on it. No gimmicks. No BS. You watch this 40 year old performance, and you see and hear a kind of authority and rightness of approach that just doesn't happen often nowadays Here we have music. Here is all the garlic, red wine, passion and organic Italian musical DRAMA. The action contained within the singing. It's a miracle, nothing less.

The picture is a bit grainy, the sets standard issue. Does it matter? Give me a break (NO).

We start with Bergonzi. Tenore supremo. Short, stumpy (yet handsome here), gestures of stock vintage. Yet, he creates drama through voice alone;"Vi disperda!" cuts right to the bone. Debonair in the old-fashioned manner. Ardent, the ultimate tenor hero. Perfect. Voice, voice voice - in awesome form here. "Fra poco a me ricovero" just splendid: it's met with a roaring ovation. Bergonzi and Scotto do not have the sensual interplay of Ricciarelli and Carreras - they don't make a lot of eye contact and are sometimes hilariously buried in their own "work" - but they are together all the way vocally and musically.

Zanasi. "Another" Italian baritone of his time, extinct today. A darkly handsome man, he has a commanding presence. He sings a solid "Cruda, funesta smania," beginning with a slightly muscular overemphasis, yet it suits the piece; but the line, upper extensions of ease, and expression is just right.

Plinio Clabassi. A Raimondo of unusually fine caliber, with a mellow, steady, consummately produced tone - he evinces a genuine control over it, and uses it flexibly - no park and bark approach here. Moreover, he makes the character figure prominently: he really delivers a tale in his "Dalle stanze, ove Lucia," setting up the mad scene fittingly.

Whoever said Scotto was a second-stringer should be thumped on the head, then made to hasten and acquire this release. She is spectacular, nothing short of miraculous here. What may have been accepted as standard then registers as something extraordinary now. Scotto is in marvelous voice: that brisk, tangy sound, slightly piercing on high, is bracingly clear, pure and perfectly steady throughout. She has never sounded more appealing, nor so classically Italianate in tone and manner. Her coloratura, while not of Sutherlandian velocity, is neat, in place, and confidently deployed. Trills are not a prominent thing of disctict articulation, yet they are discerned - and importantly, uses them effectively in the line where called for. High notes pop out quite strongly. What's most important here is she does that all-important shaping and binding of lines into an expressive whole; she has a way of magically "dropping in" and connecting phrases, with a wide range of dynamics, and her diction is an absolute joy - no alteration of vowels or slushing over of them. She makes every word clear, and meaningful. The line in "Regnava nel silenzio" is ideal, true, unfussed, yet so very sustained on a level of gripping narrative. "Verranno a te sull'are" is pristinely, gorgeously sung, as is "Soffriva nel pianto." This kind of cantabile singing should be taken heed by any budding Lucia today.

But what is most especially distinctive is that in each isolated number, she tells a story. You see in her face, the spontaneity of her delivery of the words and expressions, how they register upon the listener as internal thoughts, given out to the audience. What's most important here, though, is that she is so not trying to force external gimmicks onto the characterization. The question never forms in the mind, what kind of a character is Lucia? A spineless wimp? Sick from the start? A mad hatter? No, the Lucia here is one that uninformed individuals will never understand: she is a 19th century Romantic heroine, a girl in love with Edgardo. Scotto reacts in each episode as if the character were hearing the statements of the others in the story for the first time. It has a uniquely-alive spontaneity, unusually free of calculation. I'm sick of the discussion of whether Lucia is mentally ill from the start, based on her occult meanderings in "Regnava nel silenzio;" if anyone knew of literature, religious superstitions and so forth of that time, these were conventional devices in Romantic melodramas. Ghosts and apparitions are commonplace. So, then, Scotto just accepts Cammarano's text, and tells it without any manipulation or presumption. She or we do not think Lucia mentally ill from the get-go.

Scotto's emotional honesty never falters, not once. She is convincing in the scene with Enrico, bringing just the right amount of anguish, her reactions often touching; in "Se tradirmi," you see her pleading to God most plausibly. In the wedding scene, Scotto is riveting, and does what Mariella Devia had a hard time establishing in her La Scala 1992 video: show the abject despair and desolation of Lucia, as the hope drains out of her. Devia has the astounding vocal technique that kept her singing better longer, but she does not have, by a considerable margin, Scotto's all-abiding charisma and out-there personality. Back to the Wedding Scene: the sextet, onto the end of the act, just sizzles and explodes with drama - those voices just pour out with thrilling abandon. Exciting stuff, this.

After all my extravagance of description, I'll have to think of ways to go further concerning the Mad Scene: it's a revelation. One of the best, hands down, I have ever seen performed. Every American soprano and all directors should watch this. This is how it should be done. In the service of the music, no gimmicks.

Scotto is in her element. Intensely musical, letting the scene flow with astonishing naturalness. Again, she's telling a story. The audience doesn't see this, but the TV viewer does: close-ups reveal the soprano absolutely into her music/storymaking. Scotto has the audience confidently in the palm of her hand, but not for a moment is she calculating or manipulative: it is, rather, an artist in full sureness and specific aim in what she is doing - she's fascinating to watch at every point, you can't take your eyes off her. She's living the situation moment by moment. We get no hysterics, no forced "mad acting" or cheap effects (which I despise). Lucia is totally removed from reality, in her childlike state, moving around like a little ghost in her own little but all-consuming world. Apart from a few moments of fright (the "il fantasma" sequence is powerful), she's deliriously happy, living out her bliss with Edgardo. Most of all, though, finally, you get the full power and pathos of what Donizetti intended. Scotto weds the text with the music so skillfully so that you get the full effect how how beautifully they complement each other. She does not allow the music to be compromised, so she takes care to make all the actions fit in, rather than standing out, as is the wont of too many a soprano. Scotto's bravura accomplishment is a triumph, and what a fortuitous circumstance that these documents exist, and that we have privy to them.

The bows and biz in the lengthy applause after the flute with cadenza, is however, pure Scotto. She steps out of character to acknowledge the ovation. No objections at all; it is decidedly part of the show. Very much like Cossotto, oh thank thank you, oh so humble me but I deserve it. I'm beginning to think these kinds of self-possessed artists, who don't display false modesty very well, are the lastingly memorable artists. Infinite self-belief, a healthy dose of the imperious ego, wanting to please, absolutely certain of their merit, and a kind of inborn dementedness: it translates into a very personal charisma, which defines who they are. They're to be preferred. We want personalities, a personal statement, an individual MO. Wallflowers, generic, unidentifiable, pedantic, please go home.

Without a doubt, this is the video Lucia of choice. Even though it's cut, it retains and fleshes out the truest spirit of the piece. -- Niel Rishoi

VAI DVD 4418 Lucia: Renata Scotto; Edgardo: Carlo Bergonzi; Enrico: Mario Zanasi; Raimondo: Plinio Clabassi; Arturo: Angelo Marchiandi; Alisa: Mirella Fiorentini; Normanno: Giuseppe Baratti. NHK Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Bartoletti. Japan, 1967.

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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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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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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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18 December 2007

San Francisco hits the big screen

San Francisco Opera is about to hop on the HD bandwagon, promising theater transmissions of six operas a year beginning in March 2008.

Unlike the Met's simulcasts, though, San Francisco's appear likely to turn a profit almost immediately. The company can produce their telecasts for only about $75,000 per production since earlier this year they installed a $3.5 million Taube-Koret Media Suite. The Media Suite is the first permanent high definition, broadcast-standard production facility in an opera house.

"This is the big kahuna," said David Gockley, general director of San Francisco Opera. "It's the most effective revenue generating use of the suite."

The company aims for 150-200 screens the first season, which will feature La Rondine, Madama Butterfly, Samson et Dalila, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, Lucia di Lammermoor and Appomattox, the new opera by Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton that premiered at San Francisco Opera in October 2007.

More details on the technology and SFO's plans can be found in an article from San Francisco Business Times.

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17 December 2007

Don't cry for me, Pensacola

Leocadia Begbick (in the person of Patti Lupone, no less) issues small craft warnings for the Gulf coast. (Just a quick clip from the Mahagonny telecast scheduled for tonight at 9 PM on PBS. Check your local listings, obviously.)

And, of course it's old news by now, but la Lupone will be back on Broadway this March reprising her already classic Mama Rose.

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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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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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Back to the futur

This is what tomorrow looks like: a live opera telecast over the web. It's France 3's transmission of a performance of Il Sant'Alessio performed by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, starring "le contre-ténor à la voix d'ange Philippe Jaroussky, tout auréolé de sa Victoire de la musique d'Artiste lyrique de l'année 2007." Watch it live!

Note, too, that the webcast will be available for on-demand play for the next 24 hours. More information on how that works may be found on France 3's Sant'Alessio mini-site.

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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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11 September 2007

Anything I can do, she can do better

Multifaceted Aprile Millo has branched out into blogging, and her site, operavision, includes some of the smartest online opera commentary La Cieca has seen. Currently she's expounding on Opera in 3D, a fascinating article if you can tear yourself away from the image of Renata Tebaldi shaking hands with an astronaut! La Millo naturally has penned a most moving tribute to her late colleague Luciano Pavarotti and includes some rare video of the legendary tenor (and other great performers, including herself!) on the site. Explore!

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08 August 2007


La Cieca hears that Rolando Villazón, who recently canceled his Salzburg Festival appearances citing "long-term illness" ("einer längerfristigen Erkrankung"), may pull out of the Met's fall revival of Roméo et Juliette as well. The tenor is scheduled for five performances of the Gounod opera between September 25 and October 11, followed by another four in December. Matthew Polenzani has already been announced for the final two performances of the run including the New Year's Eve gala. The matinee performance of Saturday, December 15 is scheduled for HD simulcast with Villazón and Anna Netrebko.

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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 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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26 March 2007

Met Barbiere on YouTube

... though not the one from last weekend!

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23 January 2007

Pyramid power

The HD video of the Met's "special 100-minute version" of The Magic Flute makes its network television debut tomorrow night on PBS. Julie Taymor's production of Mozart's opera can be seen on Wednesday, January 24 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS; as usual, check local listings and your mileage may vary.

Headlining the telecast are Ying Huang (Pamina), Matthew Polenzani (Tamino), Nathan Gunn as Papageno, Erika Miklósa as the Queen of the Night, and René Pape as Sarastro.

This Flute is the first of six PBS/Met telecasts skedded for 2007. Yes, that's right, six -- "the most complete Met operas ever presented by PBS in one season" per the Met's press release. Further presentations will include I puritani, The First Emperor, Eugene Onegin, Il barbiere di Siviglia and Il trittico.

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