Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Romanian Train Wreck



I have not yet read the book, but I do love me a good tale of delusion by an old-fashioned diva the likes of which we just don't get in the "real" world of music where diva defined the art: Opera.

In the October issue of "Opera News' Matthew Sigman reviews Angela Gheorghiu's memoirs: "A Life for Art," and I nearly fell off of my seat, as he tears into it - and the singer - with a delicious, devilish delight.

"After reading 'A Life for Art,' it will become painfully difficult to hear Gheorghiu's rapturous voice without hearing the human being behind it. Vain, trite, repetitive,, opportunistic, lacking insight and empathy . . .a self-indulgent tour de force that shatters any illusion of frailty, bravery or sensuality this gifted artist might hope to convey onstage. . . . deeply selfish . . . Solti weeps upon hearing her voice! Meryl Streep drops to her knees! Insults . . . meddles . . . loves seeing herself on film and shows gratitude to one one. So comically over-the-top . . . it borders on masterpiece. (it) could well be the standard by which narcissistic diva memoirs will be judged. Sadly, its author might consider that a compliment"

I generally steer clear from poison pen style posts, but this soprano - as much as I've loved her voice - has irked me almost from the beginning of her international career. Her self-indulgence is legendary. A critic friend (who adores her) was in Paris to interview her and she kept him waiting for hours in the hotel lobby. A maid or one of her assistants finally appearing to alert him that madame would be there shortly, but "in make-up." He couldn't resist adding the punch line, "all for a radio interview."

I can't wait to read this!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

At the Opera: Reflections on Booing and Audience Behavior



Opera singers, composers, designers, & directors, etc. are well aware of the "boo factor" before they enter their chosen careers. The tradition of booing has, for good or bad, been a part of opera for, well, long enough for it to become a tradition. Puccini, Rossini, Beethoven, Tebaldi, & Callas all knew this. So do Corgliano, Menotti, Ricciarelli & Pavarotti . . .

The knowledge that one might possibly be booed, has also serve to push some artists towards giving a "booless" performance -- i.e., putting forth their best effort for those whom they hope will continue to pay their salaries.

Opera is the most passionate (and insane) of arts and whether we want to believe it or not, has been known to, in the heat of the moment, cause people to do things they would not ordinarily do. Things like throwing rotten fruit and dead animals at a fellow human being. It can turn a normally gracious, well mannered woman like Ms. Ricciarelli into a raging harpy, screaming words which, I am certain, for the rest of her life will make her blood run cold each time she remembers.

In our "modern" world, we like to pretend that the "savage" has been tamed out of us, or indeed, never even existed. We like to pretend, sitting in our 3000 seat, air-conditioned Temples of Art that we have no relation to the sweaty, dusty, belching, smelly Punch & Judy watching audiences of the past. In this regard we have exhibited little progress from our perfumed-hanky sniffing ancestors who pretended that everything around them didn't smell like excrement.

I have not yet been given cause to boo ... most of the awful performances I've sat through were ones , I knew were going to be awful. If a normally solid singer was truly ill & tried to go on with the show, (even though he/she should not be onstage anyway), I would not boo. I don't really like the idea of it, yet somehow I don't want anyone dictating to me that I may not do so if the "need" arises.

Incidents of booing are probably rarer than they once were in the "Golden Age," but it is still part of the operatic tradition and not likely to change. At least I hope not.

There is no such thing as one type of opera attendee and we need to realize that we all must share the same houses.

Some years back, Fran Liebowitz wrote about persons whose individual sensitivities are offended by the behavior and habits of others whenever they go out. Essentially, she was of the opinion that if one is going to allow things extraneous to the actual event ruin one's good time, one should simply just stay home, adding there's a reason it's called "being out in public." I agree, and while this may be tough for some to accept, but the reality is that once beyond the confines and comfort of one's own personal space, life is pretty much a production of "Anything Goes!"

So, argue til your blue in the face, rebel with a cause, raise a stink, write management and do all you can to effect change but realize it will mostly be in vain as the kind of change you’re seeking is slow (if ever) in the coming.

There are those who talk during overtures and those who will ssshhh them; there’s the scenery applauders (and those who ssshh THEM); there are those who seem to have microphones on attached to their sneezes, coughs and candy wrappers, the bravoers; the booers, the chronic talkers (and those who ssshhh them); the stink bombs (both natural body odor and/or the bathed in perfume type); the ill-prepared matrons ("Harold, what IS she singing about?); those who will bravo a sustained high note concluding an otherwise wretchedly sung aria; those who snore through it all; those who applaud (and cheer) during a final note or during an orchestral postlude (and those who would forever ssshhhh them). Then there is of course, my favorite of all the "revitalized zombie." We all know the type: folk who, during a performance, exhibit no sign of life whatsoever . . . no applause, no bravi, not even a change of facial expression. Don't let them fool you as they are conserving every last bit of energy they may possess in order to leap over seats and/or the backs of others the minute the final curtain begins to descend to be the first out the doors.

If there ever was an era when "genuine, correct theatre etiquette" existed, I'm certain it must have been the briefest one in history.

Most people are wretched, uneducated, excessive, ill-tempered, uncultured slobs who are forever getting in my way. Short of execution however, or banishing them to some cultural Siberia, I've accepted the fact they forever will be among us, and I'm not going to let that interfere with my having a good time, not even if they're seated in the red velvet seat next to mine.

In our oh so modern, civilized world, we like to pretend the savage has been tamed or beaten out of us, in some futile attempt to believe it never existed at all. We may even convince ourselves that, seated in the plush velvet of our 3000 seat, air-conditioned temples of art, that we bear no resemblance whatsoever to the sweaty, dusty, belching, smelly Punch & Judy watching, knuckle dragging neanderthals who fell from our family trees. Sadly, in this regard, we've exhibited precious little progress and really no different from our perfumed-hankie sniffing ancestors who pretended everything around them didn't smell like excrement.

G. Paul Padillo August 17, 1997

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Testing

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Opera Maine's Memorable Three Decembers



Just returned from OperaMaine's production of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's chamber opera, "Three Decembers." As I wrote ten years ago of the broadcast premiere of the 2008 revision, the negative reviews of that event made little sense to me:

". . . ungrateful music that lies awkwardly" for the voice” . . . “a score that while threatening to break into melody - never really does."

The music sits in the "sweet spot" for many singers, so “ungrateful” and "awkward" seems odd word choices to describe it. As to melody(ies), the score is virtually bursting with so many lending more of a musical theatre feel to it than an opera. There are (intentional or not) moments that, while not derivative, recall Menotti's early efforts, Bernstein and Sondheim. This is a good thing.

As with the Houston premiere, Portland’ audience was engaged and responsive throughout.

Scheer’s libretto – drawn from an unpublished play, tells the story of a mother and her difficult relationship with her two adult children from 1986 through 2006. A daughter, trapped in a miserable marriage she’s emotionally unequipped to exit; and a gay son, whose partner is dying from complications from AIDS. While these three wrestle with enormous emotions and guilt, there is never any doubt of the love that exists between them, and that they yearn for throughout those years. What on paper sounds like a Lifetime movie, onstage transforms into a compelling, powerful and sometimes funny tale.

Set in intimacy of the St. Lawrence Arts Center, John Sundling's bare bones production – a few props and enormous marquee-style lit up numerals: "1986" "1996" and "2006" identifying and effectively shrinking the stage each scene was a terrific effect, pulling the audience right into the performance. There were moments I couldn’t help thinking of Sondheim’s “Follies.” Likewise, Richard Gammon's direction elicited direct, no-nonsense acting from his cast that breathed theatrical life into this small, high strung and emotionally damaged family making them, for 90 some minutes, real in every sense. It didn’t hurt that Gammon was blessed with a cast that made absolute magic with Heggie’s Broadway-esque score.

As acclaimed actress, Madeline Mitchell, mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis gave a genuine, larger-than-life tour-de-force, her beautiful, expressive face lighting up with stage smiles belying the frightened, hard-as-nails mother, desperate for attention and torn apart by hiding a damaging secret from her children throughout their lives. Vocally, Bryce-Davis has a rich, warm, expressive voice, even throughout all registers top-to-bottom. This is a beautiful singer well on her way to an international career. (Note: following this run, Ms. Bryce-Davis jets back to Antwerp where she is a member of the Opera Vlaanderen, for role debuts in Glass's "Satyagraha" and Eboli in "Don Carlos"). She's also one hell of an actress.

Soprano Symone Harcum was daughter Beatrice, and soared through Heggie's higher-lying music with ease and beautiful, lustrous tone. She softened what I felt was (in the original performances) a difficult-to-love, emotionally character and had the audience's sympathies early on.

As son and brother Charlie, Yazid Gray was every bit the equal of his mom and sister. A beautifully produced baritone and touchingly effective actor, Gray brought Charlie's grief and resentment to life without presenting a character that could easily morph into the maudlin. That line was never crossed and Gray’s Charlie seemed to be both balance and anchor of the family.

Music Director Timothy Steele had the difficult task of playing a single piano reduction of the score which did not allow always for nuances that a full ensemble would have provided. But jeez, did he play it brilliantly, and held the entire work together in a most admirable performance.

Interestingly, surtitles were provided for the performance, but they were never needed because of the amazing clarity of diction from the cast, I'm not certain a single pair of eyes ever looked up. How could we? We couldn't take our eyes off the stage.

We don't get a lot of contemporary opera in Maine, so "Three Decembers" was a most welcome gift from Opera Maine. More please!

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