Monday, September 15, 2014

CATO and The Metropolitan Opera's Klinghoffer Controversy

I remain amazed (though should not be) by the efforts to shut down the Met's production of "The Death of Klinghoffer."

The sheer audacity, of CATO's statements such as "the opera promoting terrorism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism." Where? Where does the opera do this.are ludicrous and border on the insane. Certainly they are not steeped in a lick of truth.

Then this:

“The Metropolitan Opera, led by its director, Peter Gelb, persists in presenting The Death Of Klinghoffer this fall, despite the fact that incontrovertible evidence exists in the libretto by Alice Goodman, and in remarks made by Gelb and the composer, John Adams, that the opera supports sympathy for terrorists and hatred for Jews and Israel,” CATO said in a statement.

Whenever a statement such as "incontrovertible evidence exists" to describe an agenda against a work of art, someone is misguided or lying, a tactic using its own indefensible reasoning and lacking sound logic. The article accuses Messrs. Gelb and Adams have made remarks the opera supports hatred for Jews and Israel? When did they do this. CATO offers no solid basis in its lies.

CATO's advertisement and call to arms, sinks includes as its sole photograph an image of the burning Twin Towers, accuses the Met of excusing a barbaric act of terrorism and asks, "What's next at the Met? An opera about the beheading of journalists by 'idealistic' Jihadists?" While I still shudder in horror at the treatment and brutal execution of Mr. Klinghoffer, what a rabble rousing manner - using the Twin Towers - CATO has taken.

Art forces us (or can, or should) to look for deeper truths, and while we all will never arrive at the same place, I find it shameful and wrong that one group would deny anyone the privilege of the ability to grow, to learn, to be moved by something. I'm particularly upset when a majority of said group is comprised of folk, who, herded like sheep, have not experienced that work themselves, who have accepted hearsay and are looking only at parts, not the entirety of a work, and judging based on words taken out-of-context of the whole.

During the Klinghoffer controversy when Julliard presented extended excerpts, the School's long-term President, Joseph Polisi, a self-proclaimed friend of Israel who and recipient of the King Solomon Award called the opera "a profoundly perceptive and human commentary on a political/religious problem that continues to find no resolution" and that cultural institutions "have to be responsible for maintaining an environment in which challenging, as well as comforting, works of art are presented to the public."

There have been a number of movies about terrorism, terrorist cells which have attempted (successfully in my opinion) to depict more than one side of the story. While I will never agree with terrorism, I believe the refusal to even look at the misguided reasons for it, is to ignore the bigger picture.

I still believe the most powerful review of the opera I've read, the one that resonated most with me, was of the film of the opera, in Jewish Film

"... the creators were denounced as unabashedly pro-Palestinian for humanizing the terrorists. In actual fact, the libretto gives voice to heartbreaking sufferings by both Israelis and Palestinians. A decade later, in the wake of unrelenting Middle East conflict, many see the opera's passionate exploration of terrorism from all viewpoints as more important than ever in stimulating dialogue about an intractable situation . . . no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, The Death of Klinghoffer will elicit heated discussion - - and quite possibly, tears."

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Magda the Magnificent. A Tribute to Magda Olivero

Like some of my favorite singers I've only heard on recordings, Magda Olivero, is one of those singers whose name alone can light up my
face. People ask where are singers like her today, and I suppose the simplest fact is that they simply don't exist. The fact is they barely existed in their own day. When someone complains "There's no Tebaldi today" they are, of course, right, but there was only ever ONE Tebaldi and she (like Callas, like Gencer, and Rysanek . . . ) are ALL sui generis. The world we live in has changed and so, necessarily, has the way we have to live in it. There was, and only ever will be, one Oliver, and how very lucky we were to have had her.

While lovers of conventionally pretty voice may not appreciate what she brought to the table, that is their great loss. Olivero was not just another singer, but an exceptional musician. For sheer diversity of the styles and types of roles she undertook I can think of few singers who can match her.

Of course, what else would one expect from a singer whose professional debut was as Mary Magdalene in Nino Cattozzo's wildly popular 'I Misteri Dolorosi" (kidding about the popular part). She was only 22, but the odd roles kept coming her way: Parodi's "Cleopatra" - Barbieri's "Alcassino e Nicoletta" - Rossellin's "La Guerra" - Carvalho's "Penelope" - the Rome premiere of Poulenc's "Dialogues of the Carmelites", an opera she would sing throughout much of her career, and in a variety of roles, - Langella's "Assunta Spina" - Gentilucci's "Don Ciccio." Quite simply just the names of these works make my ears prick up making me long for an era when there was a lot more going on in the major houses than standard rep and - hailed or failed - new works were prolific and singers such as Olivero singing as many of them as she could.

Magda was singing Monteverdi back when his works, as was most of the baroque repertoire, barely known to most opera lovers. She sang not only Poppea, but also in productions of the madrigal operas "Il Combattimento" and "Ballo delle Ingrate." In addition to her work in baroque music, Olivero frequently was singing music of her own time, by composers both known and (now, sadly) forgotten; Menotti, Wolf-Ferrari, Costagutta, Giordano, Mangiagalli, Honegger, Zandonai, to name but a few.

She clearly adored the music of often maligned Alfano appearing in four of his operas. "Cyrano Di Bergerac", "La Leggenda di Sakuntala," "Risurrezione," and "L'Ultimo Lord." "Sakuntala" found Olivero in both the title role and, nearer the end of the career, one of Sakuntala's maids. What I would have give to hear her in the title role of this beautiful (and rarely performed) opera. I think we can get some idea of it from her live recording of Katiusha in "Risurrezione," where she is simply remarkable - hair raising and heartbreaking.

Even Olivero's standard repertoire roles shows a wild diversity: Elsa, Poppea, both Manons, Gilda, Butterfly, Marguerites by Boito & Gounod, Violetta, Mimi, Zerlina, Nanetta, Liu, Maria in Mazzepa, Adriana, Minnie, all 3 Trittico heroines, La Voix Humaine . . . the list goes on. The very notion of Olivero as "That Brabant Girl" shivers me timbers.

While sung in Italian, snippets of her Manon reveals a voice most perfectly suited to Massenet's heroine, and imagining what her Manon must have been like in the theatre sends me into a swoon, which is a state I'd imagine those lucky to have experienced her in it were sent into.

Where would we be without amazing artists who gave their all, as did Madame Olivero? Or their legacies and the contribution and continuation of our beloved the lyric art? How fortunate we are to never have to find out.

Thank you, bless you and may you rest in peace, dear, great lady.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Carmen: von Otter's Raw, Visceral Take

I'll admit to huge reservations about one of my favorite mezzo's taking this role I never felt would be right for her, but Anne Sofie von Otter is the Carmen of one's dreams - or nightmares. A more gutter wenchy, ballbusting, shrewish, trash talking, vulgar Carmen I've never seen. To the critics who last summer asked "what man would ever want a woman like that?" all I can say is von Otter is so overtly sexual and raw that she makes Carmen something she has not been for me for a very long time - dangerously fascinating. This is not like any Carmen's I've seen the last last 20 years, coming more closely to Peter Brooks "Tragedie" - even outdoing it.

This Carmen is also one of the very best ensemble acted operas I've seen in ages and after one viewing is ready to be placed at the top of my DVD list.

To be sure, this will not be a Carmen to everyone's liking; it's rude, crude, violent, and emotionally dark - with an almost Dickensian quality that sends it and all its characters across the screen with a voltage that positively burns.

David McVicar's production was described as "exhilirating" and that is almost an understatement. This Carmen includes more dialogue than I ever recall hearing, making far more sense of the entire story and integrating every aspect into a taut, cohesive melodrama that I felt I was watching Carmen for the very first time.

Marcus Haddock fares far better as Jose than he did in the recent Met "Fausts" showing what, with real rehearsal time, good direction and collaboration he is capable of. It's not a voice that many would describe as beautiful, but he uses it with passion, attention to detail, text, and some exquisite shading (most notably in Jose's "Flower Song.")

This Jose and Carmen are like a bad habit for each other and Haddock reveals Jose's true violent streak letting it come out early on. The Act II fight between he and Zuniga may be the first time I literally worried someone would actually get hurt, and Zuniga getting up with blood coming out of his mouth had me, even for just a second, wondering if it was real! Haddock's later tangles with Escamillo and Carmen nearly get out of hand.

Even after he settles down to leave with Michaela, it's obvious this Jose has been pushed right over the edge and as they leave Michaela (portrayed nicely by the wonderfully fruity-voiced Lisa Milne) looks like she believes she may not make it home alive with this criminal. Frightening!

von Otter's Carmen really is so over-the-top that it nearly defies description. She smokes cigars (like a fiend) - even sings (or hums) part of the Habanera with one clenched in her teeth. Her entrance is fantastic; running down a flight of steps, hitting a fountain and washing up then plunging her head into the water to cool off. Everything she does is charged with a raw, sexual energy that is the complete obverse of refinement. Musically, she can, however, be quite refined, with amazing French and a bizarre ability to be both elegant and rude simultaneously. Her actions are never less than stunning, the way she devours an orange (biting one section out of Jose's mouth!) while singing or speaking, the smashing of a plate for her castanets, which she later tosses aside to play the rhythm on her thighs, breasts, Jose's legs, etc., all are eye popping. She's got a thousand different faces reacting to everything with . . . when Michaela shows up to rescue Jose in Act III and sings tenderly, von Otter looks like she's seeing someone from another planet, so foreign is Michaela's world from hers. Later in that same scene when her face registers, for the first time, fear, at Jose's madness, it is the stuff that chills one to the core. The characterization work she does extends far, far beyond her hip swinging, crotch grabbing obviousness - there is someone tortured in this Carmen who cries out she wants nothing more than to live "free" as she does - but she seems imprisoned in every way and her wildness almost seem like acts of desperate escapism gone wild. It is an amazing performance.

The DVD comes with some great features, photo galleries, biographies, a detailed narrated synopsis of each act with tons of production photos. Unlike most opera videos filmed over several (or more) performances, this is from one night at Glyndebourne August 17 2002 and has the energy that can only be found in a live performance. (How great that the producers saw fit to release this only months after it was taped!) I won't go overboard in describing every detail (for a change!), as I feel this really needs to be seen and I hope my obvious enthusiasm is helpful in getting folk out there to buy this thing and show the companies that we want more of this . . . lots mor

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Christine Goerke's Elektra from London: The "WOW!" Factor

I just finished listening to the live broadcast from London's Royal Albert Hall of Strauss' Elektra (my second favorite opera . . . ever) and certainly hope others got to experience this performance. It may be the single most amazing Elektra I've experienced outside of the concert hall or opera house. I didn't think she could have been better in the role than her Chicago opening night last season or her Covent Garden performances, but with more experience in the role, La Goerke really, truly sank her teeth into the meat - and the heart of Elektra.

The audience went (pardon the term) Bat-Shit-Crazy right after the final note and when the soprano came out things got even crazier. A similar roar went up for Dame Felicity Palmer. Then, when Goerke came back out the electricity went up even a notch or two higher . . . one might call it frenzied or fevered.

It's rare when your Elektra has better, lighter, yet solid high notes than her baby sister, and, as good as Gun-Brit Barkmin was as Chrysothemis, when the gals were doing their sister act, it was difficult not to notice who was more secure up there.

Johan Reuter was mighty good as Orest, and the interaction between he and Ms. Goerke led up to a Recognition Scene that was as sumptuous and gorgeous as one is likely to hear.

Maestro Bychkov shaped the score in perhaps one of the most exciting readings I've ever heard of it. The quieter moments have never sounded as intimate as he made them here. He mentioned in an earlier interview that Royal Albert Hall's acoustics - for as vast a space as it is - allows one to do things with a score one might not chance in other houses, something like "everything is possible here." He was right.

Additionally the way he handled the music following the murders was nothing short of breathtaking, the waltz beginning slow and deliberate, not the hurried madness we usually get (and love), then building and building to a positively dizzying effect that threw one (or at least me) completely off balance. It was tremendous and as overwhelming a performance overall that I have experienced of this my second favorite opera.

I think the announcer just said the broadcast will be available for 23 more days. This is happy news, indeed and one would be mad not to seize the opportunity to take advantage of this most generous gift.


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