Category Archives: random thoughts

Cosa fan tutta, tutu, tut… vs the cool crowd

Have you noticed how nobody can pronounce this one?

DaPonte: … and the biggest joke of all shall be its title!

One of my colleagues likes to listen to ClassicFM and although the playlist is mostly waltzes, 19th century stuff with cymbals, Mozart piano music, waltzes, film music, Elgar, more waltzes or arias recorded at least 30 years ago, the posh sounding DJs have somehow not managed to learn how to say the opera titles/aria names the composer failed to provide in English for our convenience. I haven’t felt so proud of my Italian opera title proficiency in a good while.

Conclusion: the music selection might be mostly boring, but listening to ClassicFM DJs’ mangled Italian will make you feel good about yourself.

PS: the prize of the current ClassicFM competition is a trip to Maastricht to visit Andre Rieu’s fairy castle. I mean, come on! Who would refuse that?! I did. I went to Maastricht last month, spent more time than strictly necessary and I still failed to visit that wonder of the classical world ūüė¶

Feeling alienated? Stab Carmen.

I know this is oooold news, but it’s just now that I’ve made time to think about Tcherniakov’s Aix Carmen¬†(2017) and it’s holiday downtime.

Baranello’s (of Likely Impossibities) review is very evocative for those who have not seen this production for themselves. I feel both intrigued and a bit disoriented. It sounds like a cool idea for a production but somehow also rather fanciful. Usually I bitch about productions being underdeveloped but in this case it might be too well thought out, to the point where it leaves opera as musical entertainment in the dust and turns into a film that uses a very popular opera libretto as pop psychology prop (narrowly before MeToo).

It’s an unusual feeling, maybe somewhat similar to the recent Martina Franca extended-play Rinaldo¬†(just found out Armida = Cher1). I want the action on stage to keep my attention focused by being novel and interesting but I also want to retain the feeling that I’m at the opera rather than in a play in play in play.

If it were a film I think I’d really enjoy it2 – I’m already in the frame of mind where the opera is called Don Jose, Incel extraordinaire.


The clinic’s staff is too excited to notice that the treatment didn’t work: The man they think they have cured is still locked in his own head, seemingly unable even to hear their praise, still believing he killed Carmen. (from the above mentioned review)

Don’t directors always like the trope of the self satisfied psychiatric staff? Heh.

  1. In the end it’s a gimmick, as the chosen pop stars didn’t have relationships that could translate to Rinaldo‘s plot. 
  2. Though Michael Fabiano looks too much like an operatic version of Wayne Rooney for me to get into his acting properly. 

The greatest love of all (corporate clich√©s in opera)

You know when you read a press release and just go blah blah blah but then you feel strangely compelled to disect the blah?

Last month, the Met announced its new season and today I had some time to devote to shredding the announcement before launching into the proper discussion at parterre, as signalled by Regie, or Not Regie?

Referring to the gift from the Neubauer Family Foundation, Gelb said, ‚ÄúThe Met is so fortunate to be the recipient of such enlightened and generous philanthropy from two of our most loyal supporters, who believe in the power of transformative gifts.‚ÄĚ

The power of transformative gifts… what does that even mean? If I were a horrible human being I’d’ve latched on to the enlightened and generous philanthropy but this is just gold so I’ll pass ūüėČ

In response to Neubauer Family’s Foundation naming his position,

Yannick Nézet-Séguin said, “The Metropolitan Opera is the greatest opera company in the world

And the US is the most enlightened democracy in the history of said world. I guess YNS lucked out in the current situation and they must’ve upped his salary if he could please bail them out two seasons early but subtlety is a nice trait if you can get the hang of it (don’t look at me!). Then again, I bet Gelb jumped at the chance of talking about a different Met conductor these days. So the ping-pong goes on with his equally smooth return:

“The orchestra loves him, the chorus loves him, everyone in the building loves him.

Don’t they always? Just hopefully not as much as they loved… others.

For his part, YNS doesn’t shy away from a challenge:

I’m eager to continue to collaborate with the Met Orchestra, Chorus, and administration to keep the Met’s artistic standards at the highest level, and to amplify the great work the company already does to reach new audiences and ensure the future of the art form.

Weren’t they lucky to retain the services of Captain American Opera, always ready to ensure the artform is safe from evil doers?! Whew, just in the nick of time, too.

In YNS they trust:

But he also adds a new kind of energy, making opera a compelling choice for broader and younger audiences.

a compelling choice, heh heh. Just how compelling? Are youngsters going to cope with mobile phones in airplane mode in exchange for the transformative gift of 6 hours of LOTR musicals?

Wagner’s epic four-opera masterwork, Der Ring des Nibelungen, returns to the Met this season for the first time since 2013.

For the first time in 5 years! How did the Met audience cope?! And I thought 5 years was the minimum amount of time one needed to get their battery life back after sitting through an entire Ring.

Because of the significant production demands and rehearsal time required by the revival of the Lepage Ring cycle, the Met is presenting only four new productions this season.

I was re-reading Sestissimo’s blog the other day and I remember her writing

Today was our second day of rehearsal on the stage. As I mentioned yesterday, I am totally amazed that we have as much stage time as we do, because in the states, this would be unheard of.

So I take it this Ring will be given a monstrous extra week of rehearsal? I mean one day for each opera in the cycle and one for the chorus.

We believe his enthusiasm, energy, and inspired music-making will continue to be a major asset for the Met and will push the boundaries even further for what great opera can achieve.‚ÄĚ

Towards the further reaches of the galaxy, presumably. Or was she simply talking about a humble cure for cancer? I mean what can opera achive in the 21st century that wasn’t already achieved in the 17th century? But here’s a spellbindingly new step towards that goal, just in time for the New Year’s Eve Gala:

For the first time at the Met, Anna Netrebko sings the title role of Adriana Lecouvreur, the great 18th-century actress in love with the military hero Maurizio, sung by Piotr Beczala. Gianandrea Noseda conducts Cilea’s tragedy, directed by Sir David McVicar, with the action partially set in a working replica of a Baroque theater.

You mean the 10 year old ROH production? I guess there is still a thing or two the colonies need to learn before they master peak sophistication. Post-Brexit exports count on you, Sir David McVicar. Bonus: Baroque nod from the Met! We’re not worthy, take it back.

My favourite paragraph, though, is this one:

It was also announced that the Neubauer Family Foundation, founding sponsors of the Met’s successful Live in HD transmissions to movie theaters, now in its 12th season, has made a $15 million gift to name the Music Director position in honor of Nézet-Séguin’s appointment. In recognition of this gift, the position will be called the Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer Music Director, the first time in the history of the Met that the position has been named.

a gift to the name of the Music Director position: maybe it’s because of my unsophisticated origins but I find this charade very amusing. Introductions are going to be quite the double-barelled name bonanza. I don’t think it can get posher than that. Take that, ROH. The colonies have finally won. Btw, would the position be renamed if anyone has a $20 million gift to spare?

As far as revivals, yours truly only has eyes and ears for one thing:

In the spring, Lothar Koenigs conducts La Clemenza di Tito, with Matthew Polenzani adding a new Mozart role to his repertoire as the noble title character

Err, I know ‚ÄúThe Metropolitan Opera is the greatest opera company in the world” but there’s evidence that Polenzani has already sung Tito – and on US soil at that. That being said, aww, they’re running it again. It’s also kinda funny that this is the first time JDD will be singing Sesto at the Met, considering she’s sung him all over the place already.

Should/could women sing the tenor parts in operas?

There is not one but two articles in the Guardian and Observer on this subject, no doubt given the times we live in. I personally am intrigued by the relaxing of gender divisions but I don’t know that the result should be a female Rodolfo (then again, I don’t care about Rodolfo enough to have an opinion on who should sing him).

As someone who doesn’t sing, further exploring the possibilities of the voice sounds interesting in theory, however I do trust that composers write certain parts for good reasons. Then again, if you have a singer with out of the norm vocal capabilities there shouldn’t be gender restrictions on what they sing, nor should they be restricted by lack of rep per se (like contraltos and CTs have for so long).

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Audiology department at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital and had a short convo with the doc on how we all hear differently. He highlighted the psychological side of things: maybe I’d like a contralto to sing Che gelida manina¬†(…never actually considered it before today, need to ponder a bit) but then I like contraltos more than most fachs, yet there is a reason everybody knows about Pavarotti and not… well, exactly. Who is the contralto equivalent to Pavarotti? Is there a market for women who can sing in the tenor range? Will there be a market if more push through? Will they be seen as novelty acts? – kinda like how it felt with Fagioli as Idamante at ROH? – and for the same reasons. (Will we continue performing opera in very large halls? Is it necessary it do so? Is it efficient?)

You can’t usually find a dramatic contralto but perhaps you can’t because there is nothing much for them to sing in the regular rep, so these singers migrate to other genres. Back in the day composers favoured high voices, then what with Romanticism things moved lower and bases and tenors got meatiers roles – so who is to say that at some point there won’t be a large demand for very low voiced female singers? Especially, I would argue, after pop music has permeated our psyche in the past 100 years. There are a lot of iconic low female voices in that rep (perhaps because our attitude towards women and femininity has changed), so the public may be more open to it than some may think.

Anyway, I’m curious what everybody thinks, I’m after a couple of sleep deprived nights so though I’d like to say more on the subject, I’ll leave it at that.

New search items: “donald trump spam”

Sign of the times, eh? Someone landed on opera, innit? using this search term. Most curious, as I am 100% I never used it anywhere in this blog up to now and upon doing a bit or research I didn’t quite get it. But because it’s such a curious thing when it comes to a niche blog, I’ll indulge the world at large.

the one labelled “serious beard” is the spitting image of my cousin!

If you’re now thinking hang on a minute, this has nothing whatsoever to do with trump…!

you’re right ūüėÄ fighting absurdity with absurdity is one of my mottos. So I thought I’d share a picture related to contemporary grooming and snacking habits of¬†those now bitterly crying in their cornflakes jam jar cocktails.

We live in a world where both lefties and traditonalists wear Father Xmas beards, where experts (especially foreign) are out and the take back our country/make America great again¬†brigade is in and saving the world from the overly educated (the great plague of 2016). Also, far as I know, sharing pictures of food on blogs is still going strong. So as not to appear too snobbish/sneering (also out of style), I thought I’d¬†use this filler post to toast all the great trends of 2016 (or thereabouts).

(as usual) I’ll leave you with this month’s contralto and a message that expresses my feelings regarding the spectacular mess we in the West currently see ourselves in:

Ferri, ceppi, sangue, morte
che vien meco il mio furor.
e che fui meno spietata,
è mia pena, e mio dolor

Google translate illuminates us thus:

Irons, shackles, blood, death (irons = swords)
no serious concerns regarding the strong soul (don’t scare a courageous heart)
who cometh with me my fury. (when it’s pissed off)
I know that I am unavenged,
and that I was less ruthless, (I was too soft)
is my pain, and my pain (so that’s my punishment and pain)

Marguerite (Florence Foster Jenkins, the French version)

Now that there are two films on the market on the subject of FFJ I caved in and attempted to watch the French one because I’m trying to be sophisticated and go for the non-Hollywood option whenever possible ūüėČ

The film gave me pause in that I realised to my astonishment that my threshhold for snark is a lot lower than I thought. I’ve laughed at opera bloopers with the best of them, I sometimes read in mild desbelief about child cross-over singers¬†and I occasionally leave mean comments on Katherine Jenkins’ youtube videos. That, I thought, qualifies me to watch this carwreck of a story with ease.

Well, no.

Maybe the fact that FFJ hasn’t¬†so far¬†interested me (for snark or otherwise) should’ve tipped me off that there are limits to my schadenfreude. It turned out that worse even than some privileged woman who wants to live the music a bit too ardently was the arseholish Jean Cocteau wannabe who thinks making fun of her in the media means¬†sticking it to the man.¬†Ok, Guy Fawkes.

Before he gets in on the action and writes a ” “glowing” ” article about the yearly private performance she gives at her property, Marguerite seems like the kind of woman who’d have thrived on karaoke nights. It’s after¬†that she takes delusion to another – fabulous – level.

I stopped watching when (the evening after the show) she lay down on the sofa in her studio/opera shrine and listened to Addio del passato. Maybe it was supposed¬†to mean that she was still riding the high of her (wretched) performance so she imagined herself on stage as Violetta. I don’t know. What I got from that scene was a deep love for the artform. Hell, I have imagined myself on stage as Sesto or Morgana or Argante (oh, yea) – so maybe there’s kindship? Of course, I don’t have pictures of myself dressed as any of them (there’s a funny thought!) nor would I ever entertain anyone with my opera “skills” (Vietnamese cat and fish aside ūüėČ ). But I get the love for the medium. How can you not want to identify with the one who sings when you hear those fat sounds? I have a suspicion that when we’re in the hall we’re all singing along¬†in spirit.

So here’s where my schadenfreude stops. By contrast, tsk-ing at people who should know better – have studied voice or are actually paid for their singing skills – seems like a different thing altogether. This is more like kicking a sick puppy.

Revisiting the Bechdel test for opera

A while ago I put some of my favourite operas to this test, with various results. But on re-reading it today, an idea about how perception complicates matters came to me. Let’s first see what happened when¬†I Capuleti e i Montecchi’s¬†turn came:

  1. There are two women in it, whose names are known; ooops, not enough women in this, fail
  2. they talk to each other; N/A, fail
  3. they talk about something other than a man: ok, given that Giulietta has a long monologue, she ends up talking about how much she hates her life and would rather die than marry the man imposed on her by her father. Not really check but at least something. Still fail.

It’s a 19th century opera, what did you expect? The libretto is textbook woman oppressed by the patriarchy. You do want to cry during her first duet (or first part of the long duet) with Romeo and not just because the music is so damn beautiful (snif, snif).

Right, it fails spectacularly, in grand Victorian tradition, which is unsurprising. But there is one interesting thing about it: namely that Romeo is specifically written for a woman1.¬†So in a sense, there are two women in it and they do talk about quite a few things. They are also trying – with tragic results – to get away from “patriarchy”. It’s almost like a classic lesbian twist, which needs to end badly for all involved. I think nowadays that subtext is there even though¬†it wasn’t always so.

The case of Der Rosenkavalier is somewhat similar, for the same reason. Octavian is supposed to be sung/played by a woman. You know that point where Octavian says “the Field Marshall is hunting in the Croatian¬†forest and I’m here… hunting for… hehe…” – that always makes me imagine the Field Marshall as this big, forged in the heat of battle chap with large, black whiskers; and his wife prefers this giggly kid after all. I know it’s Strauss’s version of Le nozze but still2, the Field Marshall hunts for bears and boars for a reason. And we know they’ve been married since she came out of the convent – which was probably around age 16-18 – and they still don’t have any children. Maybe they couldn’t conceive but maybe she’s just not into black-whiskered boar hunters. Maybe he isn’t into women. Hofmannsthal was gay after all, can’t put this thought beyond him.

How Mozart/Bellini/Strauss intended it is one thing but how we see it today is almost always different.

  1. I know there are musical reasons why that is so – Bellini wanted the lovers to sound more alike so as to make a strong contrast to those who are opposing them. 
  2. I guess we could discuss Le nozze as well. Beaumarchais himself wanted Cherubino to be played by a girl and he still went on with the third part of the trilogy. You could say the kid had to be very pretty, that’s the point. You could also say, with the third part in place you know he meant for the Countess and Cherubino to really be getting it on, no ifs and buts there. What I’m getting at is you can’t get away from subtext, it’s just not possible, the way we think these days.