Blog Archives

5 years of opera, innit?

Yes, it’s that time of the year again when we harvest what we sow. You may have noticed I’ve been rather quiet this month but the backstage has had some activity recently, with yours truly busy tinkering at this little gift which I hope everyone who reads the blog will enjoy 🙂 and if you don’t… well, you can skip to the 12:55 and listen to Eterni dei, in a version I’m sure you will recognise.

Ep 3: True Crime Tito

Without further ado, here’s episode 3 of the opera. innit? podcast, from which I drifted away a couple of years ago due to it taking too long to produce. But I like to hear myself talk too much to actually give up, even in the face of laziness (which I admit is one of my – very few 😉 – weaknesses) and competition from pressing “real life” activities.

So, yea, that’s where you get after years of thinking about Tito too much and talking about it too little (although, thanks to you, dear reader – and often more than once, opera buddy – I’ve talked about Tito more than I thought I ever would 5 years ago).

edit 17/10/18: sounds like Vesuvius may have erupted later than we’ve thought for hundreds of years… rather after 17 October 79AD than on 24 August 79AD…

Revealed: why other people love opera

…but might have an issue with Madamina, il catalogo e questo and possibly Mozart comedy in general. Time to unsheath the sword.

I wish this blog was still active, because it’s a very different take than the kind the readers of this blog and I have and would have liked to engage. Though I rarely agreed, I found myself reading on because it is so different. Example:

The transcending appeal of the Ring Cycle can definitely be compared to that of the The Lord of the Rings books. A big reason why the latter became more than “just fantasy” in the public imagination was because of the beautiful film adaptations that came out in the early 2000s. They were made by someone  who loved the books. He spared no detail in making the movies, and almost by default they were amazing. It was a big story, and he wanted to do it right. (from Why do we LOVE the Ring Cycle?)

As a self described “opera lover” who doesn’t care about the Ring Cycle and who’s (unsurprisingly) suffered impatiently through the neverending journey into hobbit imminent annihilation maturity, I found the post interesting. Whenever something bores me to death I want to understand why anyone puts up with that sort of thing. I think the last two phrases sum up the appeal of both: lots of details, big stories.

People go nuts over the Ring Cycle. As in Woodstock crazy. It’s the kind of event that young opera lovers like me dream of attending. It is an initiation into opera craziness like nothing else. (from the same post as above)

Heh. I have one word for you: contraltos 2017 (one word made of two words 😉 ). No need for lavish sets. Someone pass around the rainbow bandanas 😉

So that’s a short write-up on why opera freaks love the Ring. If you want to be a “true” opera fan, it pays to at least check it out. Which leaves folks like myself and the Opera Teen who haven’t yet seen it in a weird spot. But that craving for the Ring Cycle lingers within us. We want to see it and experience it with a desire uncommon to most works of art. (from same)

legit trv kvlt.

Ring fandom is difficult to comprehend because the Ring is so far removed from all negative stereotypes associated with opera. (from same)

😀 😀 😀

As an audience member at the opera, I may  get bored if some prat in an opera is whining onstage about how many women his master’s slept with. (from The Billy Connolly Problem (or, Why Opera Is Boring))

Interesting. Someone can sit through a 50 hour plot recapping opera mini series but gets bored by one of the most hilarious arias out there (though her example is from the Met production; ’nuff said). To be fair, she goes on to say:

But if he’s emphasizing the repetition with his body, using the language as an acting tool and not just a script to sing out, entertainment is achieved. (from above post)

So the conclusion is, we need a good director+actor if the music is boring. Agreed here but poor Mozart. Seriously, people think that aria is boring?! She did sit through Come scoglio on a different occasion and her comment was:

Miah Persson is excellent as the (mostly) faithful Fiordiligi, but her aria is the Billy Connolly Problem incarnate. She plants herself on stage and never only seems to alter her facial expression twice throughout the entire number. In earlier and later scenes, Persson lends a gravity to her character that few could ever conjure. But in her aria, she settles into being a diva. (from Review: The Glyndebourne Festival’s Cosi Fan Tutti)

Heh. The aria is called Come scoglio, after all. I suppose the subtitles were on? Otherwise, I have a feeling google translate will side with Persson. Also it’s a comedy. Mostly. I think it might have been more of a comedy in the 1790s than it is now. But there is only so much serious in a libretto that centrally features boyfriends disguised with only ‘staches.

It seems to me that a certain part of the opera going public might need a bit of adjustment to comedy before 1800 (wait, was there comedy in the 1800s? Oh, yea, Rossini, Offenbach 🙂 sorry!).

This is definitely a fluffy Romantic opera

(from the post quote above)

This is why it’s good to read up on your opera before commenting. I hope she meant Romantic in the “Romantic comedy” sense. Because it’s definitely not a Romantic opera in the Verdi sense. Nor is it as fluffy as it may seem.

Captain (18th-Century-Opera) Obvious’ Mini Lecture

It’s funny to hear an opera seria aria sendup like Come scoglio in the middle of a comic scene. That’s what Mozart and DaPonte are doing, making fun of the upright opera sentiments (here costanza) come down from Papa Metastasio (changing mores are a very important reoccurring theme in Mozart operas). This is one of those meta moments when if she looks like she’s doing a shit job at acting she’s actually acting well.

(end lecture)

Then there’s the issue of repetition. I don’t think anyone who’s ever hummed a contemporary pop song has a leg to stand when complaining about someone else using repetition in music. Not that repetition is necessary a fail. Repetition is not only widely used  in all art but it appears in nature and, by extension, everyday life (don’t tell me you woke up today at the usual time, had a cup of coffee/tea and then went to work? Was this what you did yesterday? And the day before? Like, wow).

But! Remember Statira’s aria with the endless repetition of birds chirping? Even back in Vivaldi’s time they knew repetition could be used to amuse not just in earnest. Ponnelle here uses that trick brilliantly for Come scoglio (and Gruberova is just wonderful).

I can see how people who enjoy through composed opera may be adverse to the concept of simple tune. I mean, it is simple. After all, we’ve established earlier that LOTR is not just fantasy. It’s… complicated fantasy (ok, ok, there might not be any other kind 😉 ). Like one of those dreams in which you’re trying to get out of a building only to have one corridor turn into another and then another.

Whilst we’re on the Glyndebourne CosĂŹ, check out Vondung’s ending to È amore un ladroncello. I did not expect her to end so well based on how she started but I found myself in love with her (repeated, ha) “cosĂŹ” at minute 2:45. Splendid sound, even aside from her dramatic commitment to a breathlessly satisfied Dorabella. Now that I think about it, “chiede” at minute 2:39-2:41 is great too. That’s how you do sexy vowel ending. She earned that cake!

Opera beats rain

michaelerkircheThese opera trips have been ridiculously exciting. This one couldn’t even be dampened by the VERY insistent rain.

If you’re wondering what’s going on with the Poppea writeup rest assured it is on its way, except there is a hell of a lot to write (information overload, thanks Guth and crew).

Yesterday was quite possibly the most opera filled day I’ve had so far, because it contained: opera per se, visits to two opera houses (is the Staatsoper humonguous or what?!), hanging out with cool people AND

possibly the most baroque thing in Vienna

seeing Metastasio’s coffin 😀 with metal feet/claws!

Does the classical pig need any more lipstick?

ffwOr should classical music programmers learn anything from Andre Rieu’s success?

There’s some truth to the tired flailing that classical music should be [presented in] more fun [ways]. I’ve thought once or twice that I’d like a venue t-shirt (not a scarf or a handbag although yes to a fabric shopping bag). I’m always bemused when I can’t buy a venue magnet or a performance poster (though it appears Bayerische sells them – but do they keep an archive?). I’ve occasionally bitched about the lack of real bar area. But I’m not sure that it’s these changes that would put bums on seats. Will a more comfortable seat or the thought of buying a t-shirt afterwards make someone sit through 4-6 hours of opera where otherwise they wouldn’t? Somehow I doubt it. What I would like is for opera houses to sell DVDs of their own productions in their shops. That wouldn’t put bums on seats but would probably go down well and it wouldn’t break their bank in any way, shape or form.

The seats in the ROH’s Upper Slips (very tight space left, right, up or down) are about as uncomfortable as the ones in the Balcony at the ENO (not enough bum space on the seat itself – considering my backside is the size of a larger stamp). Yet somehow ROH manages to fill the house time and again whereas there has been plenty of room at the ENO every time I’ve been there (lucky me!). ROH has a bar/restaurant, so does ENO. ROH has the tamer productions, which I think is the real clincher. Also the house is smaller (2256 vs. 2558).

“Rieu’s concerts are filmed with multiple cameras,” Mera-Nelson points out, “and most of them are on the audience. They then analyse the reactions in minute detail. If something doesn’t play well with the audience, they never repeat it.” (from the article linked above).

That sounds very shrewed but terribly uneducational. Even rock bands aren’t quite as slick and regularly throw in the odd song that doesn’t get the audience into an absolute frenzy. In the case of classical music that’d be a sure way to play the same old forever more. How would orchestras be any different from Rieu’s if they did that? He’s already selected the easiest listening.

I think this venue is pointless. Just get more shrewd about what you’ve already got instead of spreading resources in too many directions in hopes that something will stick. There is a public for opera and it will continue to be. Get to know it and respond to its needs.

Opera at high altitude

Opera trips tend to include a good deal of time spent flying. Eventually the sticker on the back of the seat in front of you starts looking familiar:



It sometimes reminds you of those not so fresh operatic experiences:


Speaking of the audience for early Baroque opera

Hearing Monteverdi in Venice – what a cool idea! Private performances (230 participants) of the complete works plus “a newly restored” L’Arianna1.

But they come with side dishes, all adding up to ~ÂŁ3,000. I wonder what do the “free vaporetto journeys, daily lectures, three dinners, interval drinks and much else besides” amount to, because I for one don’t particularly care about any of that? I’d love to simply see the operas within a week in Venice (because, as they say “there is a special frisson arising from hearing music in appropriate historic buildings and in the place for which it was written”). In fact, what attracted me to it was the prospect of seeing only one. But apparently you need to book the whole thing.

  1. I’m no fan of La Venexiana but I could possibly see that as a curiosity. 

Quick opera Q and A

ffwI’m very fond of the search engine terms. Even though google tries to hide them (I don’t believe for a moment that it’s for “safety” reasons – as if any of these big, faceless conglomerates care about people; it’s obviously for their own gain) some still escape.

Some are rather funny and to the point:

la finta giardiniera rubbish – pithy!

what was kate royal wearing at glyndebourne?quick answer: nothing! 😀 elaborate answer: obviously a skinsuit

glyndebourne prices stupid – sort of… not worse than ROH’s I’d say

Others make you think:

mozart la clemenza di tito finale analyse – right… taken at face value, the answer is obvious: balance is restored, the greater good prevails, characters subordinate their personal feelings to it. But the fun part is the answer varies greatly from production to production.

what exactly is opera? – 1. Opera is the audax of the classical world. Characterised by incomprehensible content and sections that are much longer than they look on the map, you’ll need endurance, a comfortable saddle, and a plentiful supply of snacks. Short naps are advisable. (funny answer found on accidento bizzaro)

Aggressively marketing the arts

Whilst on Leander‘s blog I clicked on the Grumpy Art Historian blog. You can draw a pretty close parallel between opera house practices and The National Gallery’s, which his latest post discusses. I’m not sure why this has not been clear to me until now. But I see that discussing the subject of “attracting young people to opera” is pointless so you won’t see any more of that from me. The surest way to have me run in the other direction is by talking like this:

Nicholas Penny is quoted as saying that the scheme “allows us to understand what our visitors want and to provide an exceptional visitor experience for every single person who walks through our doors.”

Identifying – or not – with characters

ffwIn Katherine Bigelow’s hugely underrated movie Strange Days, a virtual reality technology allows users to fully experience the memories and sensations of another. It is incredibly erotic and interesting. […]

We are all stuck, to some extent, in the bodies we have, in the people we are. […] The thing is, any one who is capable of compassion, imagination or identification, wonders what it is to be someone else – to be better looking, uglier, or of a different race or age or gender or species. How can you not wonder about that?

me-you vs. me-me