Category Archives: freeform weekend

Benevolent dictator vs Megastar

I don’t know if anyone who reads this blog is into true crime documentaries, but I was watching Leaving Neverland earlier this week. For whoever doesn’t know, it’s a recent documentary regarding sexual misconduct allegations against the late Michael Jackson.

I found it clearly told and the testimonials from the protagonists were compelling to watch. I doubt it’s my place to judge if this all is true or not; it’s not why I’m writing about it. I don’t know that I would recommend it to parents either but I think it’s well worth watching for anyone interested in pshychology, especially manipulative behaviour and the complex perspective of the manipulated, both of which are grippingly described. You will learn something about people’s interactions by watching this.

You will wonder what this has to do with anything. You won’t be surprised to hear that I found a Tito connection. You might be rolling your eyes but if you’re around my age or possibly older than me, cast your mind back to the ’80s and ’90s. Read the rest of this entry

Let’s put a Ring on it

You know how I like the piss taken out of Wagner and I haven’t indulged in a good while. But a Ring is being forged at ROH, so I must pay my homage. This time I’ve modestly just “curated” a few quips and occasional back and forths from Le Guardian, the beacon brightening up boring afternoons at work.

Shakespeare, perhaps the world’s first psychic opera critic, summed up The Ring Cycle perfectly: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing” (bergisman)

Just stupid. (Markus6974)

Anyone who is able to respond with an open heart to music and drama loves the Ring. (Shrimpandgrits)

Wagnerians are nut jobs. (rouputuan)

As I have said, I am tone-deaf. (Shrimpandgrits)

I’ll give this one a miss. Seen the Ring Cycle twice, tried my best, but far too long, tho with some nice tunes. (tatterdemelon)

Wagner? No! Utter dross. Mozart, Rossini, Bizet, even Verdi or Puccini on a good day. But Wagner? He should have been writing musicals, Cats or Phantom of the Opera. Fine, if you like that sort of thing, but it isn’t opera. (Linda Roberts)

You don’t really know much about music, do you?1 (LevNikolayevich)

Linda, I’ve marked your comment:

‘Wagner?’ Yes. 19th century composer, musically speaking not that controversial in the 21st.
‘Utter dross’ If you mean worthless then no it’s not dross, I encourage you to look up how much tickets cost for this production. If you mean artistic dross then I would like you to explain further.
‘He should have been writing musicals, Cats or Phantom of the Opera’ Ah, a good stab at humour there.
‘Fine, if you like that sort of thing’ A little condescending perhaps but thanks!
‘but it isn’t opera’ well, you can label it whatever you like of course but as it generally has to be performed in an opera house with operatic singers then you’ll forgive people for calling an opera from time to time.

Your score:

Engaging with the subject: C
Encouraging people to listen to classical music: D
Ensuring people don’t think of classical music lovers as Snobs, Elitist, Close Minded: F2 (Henry Melbourne)

“Wagner – utter dross”

Doesn’t say anything at all other than you don’t like Wagner.

“….even Verdi or Puccini on a good day”

So not really a fan of Verdi either, not even Otello? I don’t know why you bothered coming here.3 (dwhitley)

This is such a poorly written article. It’s in desperate need of a decent sub editor. (Campagnolo)

They said the same to Wagner. (chris1958)

Some of my friends have sat through the Ring at Bayreuth, giddy from heat and discomfort. (Shrimpandgrits)

I had the ambition to try and ‘do the Ring’ for years and persuaded my spouse that we should give it a go…and it has turned out to be the greatest cultural experience of my life – no exaggeration! (PandaMonium13)

“You’d be surprised how calm and business-like it is”

I’m not surprised at all. Wagner’s Ring, is a huge, technical tour-de-force, a gargantuan gorging on one trumpet-blast after another mechanically melded into some pretty twittering and rustling cleverly connected to a dramatic dirge dovetailed into a bombastic blast of brother-sister incest and so on. Schubert’s Winterreise has more drama, musicality and artistic sincerity in an hour and a half, than the Ring’s sixteen hours of precision engineering. You have to be matter-of-fact to deal with it as a singer. People go to see the Ring like punters flock to motor shows. To be impressed and wowed. Not moved. (routputuan)


  1. knowing something about music won’t have an effect on one’s love or lack thereof of Wagner. 
  2. I have a special dislike for people who mark somebody’s comment like this. Talk about snobs, elitists etc. 
  3. I would say for someone who doesn’t like Wagner, Verdi’s Othello would be especially problematic. Why not say “don’t you even like La traviata?” After all, she said she could sit through Verdi “on a good day”. 

Those who don’t agree with us… write their own blog posts

Venice will vanish into the sea and Salzburg will slide into Salzach 😉 until then, enjoy another shot of the festival area, now from the other side.

After a 3 week honeymoon with like-minded thoughts and the work itself, the time has come to read other opinions on Poppea (yes, I know, the world has moved on by I have not. It’s Tito month and I’m still stuck in Rome one generation before that story).

For kicks I also listened to Karajan’s trainwreck in the meanwhile and came out with further thoughts: the chap singing Seneca survived best, mostly because his voice was the most suited to the role and because he either made the most effort to sound Monteverdian or he actually had an idea about what that enticed. A contralto Arnalta is usually not a good idea; neither is a tenor Valletto (same thing with the Enescu Festival Poppea; it’s a Cherubino character, leave it to women; never heard a CT in it but worse comes to worst I’d rather hear one than a tenor).

But back to 2018:

Jan Lauwers’s first opera production may be accounted a significant success: alive to theatre, its possibilities and impossibilities, its illusions and delusions. (from A Highly Successful Production of L’incoronazione di Poppea in Salzburg)

If a spinning marathon = alive to theatre then yes.

I heard a good few objections – nothing wrong with that in itself, of course – which, sadly and revealingly, seemed to boil down to that perennial bugbear of ‘too much going on’. By definition, ‘too much’ of something will be a bad thing – although sometimes, perhaps, bad things are required. (from same as above)

When it comes to entertainment too much of boring and illogical isn’t something I want. Bad things can be interesting, not the case here.

Few of the characters in L’incoronazione di Poppea, even Seneca, a somewhat compromised and therefore all the more credible exception, evince scruples in that or any other respect. Sometimes we, sometimes they too, need to ask why, or at least seem to need to do so. It does not, then, seem entirely unreasonable, nor out of keeping with the spirit of this extraordinary work, to attempt something similar. (from same as above)

I’m in agreement with this (though it’s wooly written, so I cleared it up for the reader). Yet I’m not interested in any production telling me why. That’s for each of us to draw from our own experiences with “horrible people”. I’m interested in a production not making things busy for the hell of it. The author seems to imply that simply busy = making us think. On the contrary.

I’m adding a nighttime picture of Salzburg just to make you think (about the smoothness of my new camera)

It is, at any rate, likely to prove more enlightening than simply complaining that ‘too much is going on’. ‘Have you ever seen a Frank Castorf production?’ I was tempted to ask. (from same as above)

What’s that got to do with anything? I have seen this production and it messed with my head for no discernable reason. (Visual) art should speak for itself, not need booklets explaining it1. (Incidentally that Castorf production looks a lot more coherent but I didn’t see it so I won’t be commenting)

The next paragraph is bad writing on the subject of whether or not there is any parallel between Busenello’s libretto and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, psychology (or lack thereof) and whether whatever Accademia deli Incogniti stood for had any bearing on the apparently amoral tone of the libretto. None of it has anything to do with this production so I’ll skip it.

Like staging itself, sometimes they [the dancers] mirror the action, but more often they offer related, alternative paths: a ‘why’, a ‘what if…’, (from same as above)

They do, I guess, but always as a not particularly original or coherent afterthought. First draft?

Throughout history, what has been more pornographic, in any number of senses, than the desire not only to watch but also to write such ‘stories’? Is that not part of what Poppea is? All the while, even whilst we are caught up in its detail, in enjoyment thereof, we, like the selected dancer-in-rotation as focal wheel of fate (Fortuna), know how things will turn out – even if we have forgotten. (from same as above)

Yes to the first part – and I certainly would’ve traded the incessant spinning for more of the reality TV backstage stuff being projected – but can we for once live in the now instead of always thinking about how things turn out? Isn’t that why we indulge in entertainment?

If you’ve ever wondered what’s behind that cliff I kept yapping about.


  1. I’m aware that’s usually what is going on in contemporary art museumes these days but I don’t consider it a good thing. 

Drop the bass

How cool – the ETO blog isn’t half bad. Check out their entry about ground bass in Monteverdi, before and thereafter. For those (like me) non-musically trained I’m not going to explain the term because the blog does it really well and gives cool examples.

Interesting things ETO does this Autumn around the UK:

Radamisto

Dido and Aeneas + more (Purcell, Carissimi and Gesualdo)

and others.

No free advertisement for opera, please

I noticed that Prina’s Se l’inganno from the Aix production is currently unavailable on YT.

Well! I know you expose a video when you air it on yout blog – given how much time has elapsed since I posted it I guess I wasn’t the worst offender, though obviously I didn’t help – but I honestly don’t get this policing. I shared it years after the production happened, an official DVD doesn’t seem to have surfaced and most people who read this blog and have access to last year’s Ariodante tour have purchased tickets to at least one show (as shown by the conversations had on the blog).

So what is your problem, copyright enforcer? Enforcement will argue this video wasn’t the thing that broke the camel’s back, that channel did worse deeds (I shudder to think what else they might have shared!) and the video went down along with everything else.

But, really, why exactly is it a crime to share a video of an (otherwise unavailable) work and performers who might get fans out of this free advertising? I’m not going to go on a long rant on this subject because many others have done it before. It’s 2018, you get exposure but you don’t want it. You want to control said exposure confident that you know better how to get to the people who will take the bait. You clearly don’t.

The return of contralto duels

Haydn, right? The cheerful composer wrote vocal music among other things, and one of those pieces was the promisingly titled oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia. The biblically challenged me immediately wanted to know where Tobia went in the first place (answer: to Persia, on a money (owed to his father) collecting errand; (post)Baroque-bargain moment: he also found a wife; on the way he ran into the Angel Raphael (as you do), who wisely advised him to pick up certain items that came in very handy later, such as when he needed to cure his father’s blindness and get married – though not at the same time.

Anyway, a weekend Bible lesson isn’t the reason for this post, but a brass-happy aria, Sudò il guerriero (tl;dr: your efforts aren’t always justly rewarded but keep fighting and eventually you will prevail) sung by many (not just contraltos) but new to me. Our duellers today are Ewa Podles and Marie-Nicole Lemieux:

I like the Classicism of it all, with its post-Baroque flashes of virtuosity and construction and the more modern (for its time) development of the phrase. It reminds me of both Mozart’s Mitridate and Entfuhrung, which is of course a good thing.

ROH (quick) seating guide

  • Right and Left = from the audience’s viewpoint.
  • Low to moderate prices = between £13 and £50

This is all based on my experience but I thought it might give a ROH newbie a bit of an idea about what to expect. I’ve sampled the following:

Parterre

(right; JPYA 2014)

  • lots of leg room
  • excellent view of the action, possibly obstructed by taller people

Stalls Circle

(Figaro, Semiramide (left) and Ariadne (right))

  • some sound muffling
  • excellent view near the action, minus the blocked corner
  • if you sit on the sides, you have your own surtitle board (or you can sneak a peak at the front row’s), as you can’t see the main one

Balcony

(right, Nabucco)

  • folding chair for a steep price
  • good view

Lower Slips

(right; many times)

  • good to very good sound
  • good view of the stage and orchestra, close to action
  • leaning a must but the entire row does it (your arms will start hurting sooner or later)
  • directors love that corner so you might miss some of the action

Upper Slips

(left, Gloriana)

  • very cheap (£9-£10 – perhaps not so cheap anymore, still under £20)
  • high view point but good view, you can also peep behind the stage design
  • bench with thin cushion
  • very hot in the Summer, I couldn’t cope and had to leave

Amphitheatre

(many times)

  • good to excellent sound
  • cheap to moderate prices (except for star studded productions)
  • good to excellent view the higher you go (the highest I’ve been was row L); first row has view partially blocked by the railing unless you’re tall; second row has view partially blocked by people leaning in the front row; opera glasses recommended for catching facial expressions
  • no leg room
  • limited buttroom (you will end up very well acquainted with your neighbours on all sides but they tend to be a congenial bunch)
  • can be hot in the Summer but not terribly so

What is Der Rosenkavalier?

(via Richard Jones’ Glyndebourne production from 2014 1, thoughts written in 2014 and, for whatever reason, never published)

Rosenkavalier is a pretty grubby little story of infidelity. To bring it off the characters must come over as sympathetic.

The text makes the characters sympathetic. A grubby little indiscretion only for the terminally uptight. I’m not advocating cheating on your partner but it’s pretty clear from the libretto that Die Marschallin was married off to the Marschal (as that it was the practice of the day, what with Sophie facing the same fate). Choices, eh.

Der Rosenkavalier is rooted in a painstakingly stylised version of Rococo Vienna that, paradoxically, is further fixed in a web of cannily juxtaposed anachronisms.

The problem is by throwing that out, Jones tended to make it a rather crude satire on a satire. The garish sets seemed totally at odds with what Strauss was trying to say and the costumes lacked any reality base in the period that was supposed to be satirised. They looked as if they’d wandered in from Alice in Wonderland.

A verbose way of saying you wanted a traditional production. It’s a show, fiction, make-believe of an opera that is very much about not taking yourself seriously.

The central character is the Marschallin but in trying to make her a ‘strong woman’ Royal only succeeded in making her more like the dirty duchess than the somewhat dignified and tragic figure Strauss intended her to be.

The Marschallin was not intended as a tragic figure. She’s a strong woman in the modern sense of the word. She faces reality and appears to move on with minimal distress. She’s kind, generous and playful. She’s intelligent but also tactful. She’s “in touch” with her emotions and her sexuality, as we’d say today. She’s pretty much the ideal woman 😉

Her relationship with Octavian was therefore distanced, voyeuristic and lacking in intimacy. In fact, the whole thing lacked intimacy and warmth.

More or less, that’s actually their relationship. I don’t know that’s a bad thing. It just is. How deep can a fling with a teenager be? It’s not meant to be a desperately intense Violetta and Alfredo type relationship. Here we have two people in no danger of poverty/illness or loss of social position due to their tryst2. There’s supposed to be a lightness about it, only just touched by the Marschallin’s emerging awareness of her own mortality. She’s still a young woman, there are reasons to believe this is the first time she’s imagined herself old. So just like Octavian is growing up from teenager to adult she’s moving into the next age. They are on different pages so a certain distance is perfectly normal but it’s not as if they don’t care about each other. The reviewer’s opinion is steeped in the Romantic view of opera. But this isn’t about the 18th century from the 18th century – or, worse even, from the 19th century of much judgment and prudishness. It’s from the point of view of the 20th century.


  1. At that time I was active on talkclassical and I asked a fellow poster about his impressions on this production under the assumption that I won’t bicker with him over diverging tastes. His comments (in italics) became a springboard for some musings on my part about DR in general which I thought I’d share here instead. 
  2. Would the Feldmarschall divorce Die Marschallin if he found out? I actually don’t know. But she’s a rich woman in her own right. 

Baroque opera at the Met (try harder)

The excuse I hear for why the Met and other big American companies don’t do more Handel is that their stages and auditoriums are too big. In fact, “large” operas do not have to be in big theaters and “small” operas (whatever that means) do not have to be in small ones. London’s Queen’s (later King’s) Theatre, with a seating capacity of about 1200, saw the premieres of more than 25 Handel operas. In contrast, Venice’s Teatro La Fenice, which has 700 seats, hosted the premieres of Verdi’s Ernani, Rigoletto, La Traviata and Simon Boccanegra, all of which we now associate with large opera houses. (from In Opera, Artistry Matters More Than Size)

Too often we think in terms of received size and too little in how things could be or were done. For practical purposes we might want to refurbish opera houses rather than have Handelians shout in hangar halls. After Rodelinda at ENO, nah, just make sure you have a sensitive conductor and an orchestra who knows what they’re doing.

Plotkin also muses:

I love modern and new opera but wonder whether we are missing a lot by not having masterpieces from the first 150 years of opera, which was born in 1597.

What’s more important, keeping to large halls or hearing good music? So perhaps the Met needs a local stage for its Handel, which can go up to 1500 capacity or so. That’s ideal but failing that conductor -> orchestra -> singers who can sing the music.

That’s probably the easy part; the most difficult thing must be the perception of how opera sounds and to some extent, its heroes/heroines. If the usual Met public is coming for high Cs and sopranos dying of TB and other patriarchy induced issues, the transition to Baroque voices and heroines like Alcina, Agrippina and Poppea might take a while. That being said, if Boston has been doing its Baroque thing for so long, there is clearly a public hungry for this kind of thing.

Productions even sinks can’t save

Operaramblings has recently at the time of my rant hit on a subject that still (STILL) gets my goat. Naturally I ran to my 6 many months old ranty draft and stroked it a few times. Then I thought I should vent my anger (for it makes me foamy (oh, so foamy…)).

Eagerly awaited by yours truly, the 2011/2012 Munich I Capuleti e i Montecchi turned out to be a spectacularly inept production1. There are only two good things about it: Bellini’s music and Romeo. The rest is like a wisdom tooth ache: dull, painful and the mere thought of it almost as uncomfortable as the thing itself. Shame on you, Bayerische Staatstoper!

To those few who don’t know, in 2012 this production had VK as Romeo, Anna Netrebko as Giulietta and some guys in the other roles, plus Maestro Yves Abel running the shoddy ship into every rock on the way. To add insult to injury, midway through the run AN decided she’d had enough of her sink and unceremoniously boarded the nearest lifeboat. Bayerische shipped the 2011 Giulietta (Nakamura) back and refunded 1/2 of the (ridiculously high) ticket price to the angry Netrebkites.

Back in 2012 I watched the livestream (on mum’s ancient desktop) and then I re-watched it on youtube on a brand new laptop, which mum thoughtfully bought the day after. I read others’ comments on it, some of which made for very good reading though they appeared to be about something else than what I had seen. I didn’t make an effort to snap it before the cerbers at Bayerische mauled it off youtube. I eventually acquired it in hopes that time brings perspective. I’ve watched it a couple more times and my disappointment has turned to anger. There are just too many things that irk me:

Giulietta – NO. NO. NO. NO. Also: no.
fussy/inept costumes – epitome of fashion hype: unflattering and completely impractical
harsh lighting that made them all look like zombies – it’s set in a morgue, then
all-over-the-shop choir – perhaps coached by some fashion hanger-on
incomprehensible staging:

  • overly precious ending – just look behind you already, Romeo!
  • saddlesobviously!
  • sink – the sink is to regie what stairs are to trad productions = a bold statement of lack of imagination; this is a
  • wedding party on bleachers – fashion shoot on stairs, duh
  • reflective and uneven walls – the stage designer and the light designer meet after a successful double lobotomy

To be fair to the end, VK too seemed a day or two past the sell-by date. Major meh. It’s beyond annoying that posterity will be left with this video version of her Romeo, when she’s done such an exceptional job with this role over the years. At the time I was very upset that I couldn’t see it live but in the very long run it looks like I saved myself further frustration not to mention money and fuss.


  1. I don’t truly like any Capuleti production I’ve seen so far. Very frustrating.