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so I was "camping" yesterday. In a cabin with a/c and electric lights. The less said about that, the better. And my mac is out of commission, having had limeade and cheerios spilled on it. Yes, I was eating the cheerios with the limeade. We had no milk. So I'm on my Dell, which will give me eyestrain, since half of the screen is very dim. Anyway,

Day IV- A Book that reminds you of home.

I have certainly done a lot of reading at home, and there are certainly books that I associate with certain places or times. Unfortunately, these two statements don't coincide. Home is my default, and after a while you don't really notice the default. However, Lord of the Rings makes me feel that I've come home. The first time I read it, or rather had it read to me, was when I was four and five*. Since then I've read the whole trilogy at least ten times. The places and history are as familiar to me as the history of, say, Byzantium or Rome. Every time I read it, I feel happy (and then I cry buckets at the end, whatever). In fact, I'd be reading it now, if re-reads weren't lowest priority in the long tale of the forty-six books I have acquired and not yet read*.

And Day V- A Non-fiction book that you actually enjoyed.

Well, I take exception to the "actually!" I've been reading quite a bit of non-fiction lately*. In any case, The Castrati in Opera was pretty entertaining, although totally trashy. Much of it was essentially an 18th century gossip rag, though there's nothing wrong with that. Along with Opera and Sovereignty, it decided where I'd go first with my time machine - man-on-the-street interviews about Zeus with Athenians can wait, I'm going to the opera! Half for the baroque no one's recorded (yet, I hope!*) and half for the singer-drama. Farinelli refused to sing an aria because it was written for Caffarelli, and singing it would make it look as though Caffarelli were the better singer! One castrato said he wasn't going to sing, for the audience effect when he did show up! Two singers got into a physical fight onstage! However, while the music would probably be great (well, some of it at least. I admit, some baroque can be dull), I have a feeling that today's singers would be better - probably better trained, probably bigger voices. Nonetheless, going to an 18th century opera house would be an Experience that I would totally love, and maybe I'd get to see/hear Adriano in Siria without paying seventy dollars*.

Anyway, Opera and Sovereignty was much deeper, and while I was hoping it would put more focus on libretti, it was still very interesting. While seria libretti clearly uphold the picture of the world as governed by a just king (Clemenza di Tito is quite explicit), the very fact of opera's existence also supported the world order - in fact, the nobles were quite unhappy when the burghers opened their own opera house. Also, anything you may have heard about silence in the opera house being a Wagnerian thing is not exactly true: the Duke of Naples also had a list of rules and regulations for opera-goers in his house. Like you couldn't wear your sword.

*Dad read it to me as bedtime stories, and of course had to stop every so often. After beginning one night after a cliff-hanger, he asked me if I was worried, and I replied that no, I had read ahead.
*If I keep going at a book a day, I'll have seven left when school starts. Alas, at least two of them are over 1000 pages.
*The History of Byzantium I'm reading right now so does not count, as it reads like the back-story to a trashy fantasy novel.
*Someone has recorded Pergolesi's Olimpiade, but it's not available on Amazon. GOD I AM SO BITTER.
*Man, I would kill for that Adriano in Siria on Amazon. Bitter Pergolesi fan right here.
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So because obscure bel canto operas are sort of What I Do, I saw Mayr's Medea in Corintho today.

Three Main Impressions: 1. This opera house is gorgeous. 2. Medea is amazing, I must google her. 3. WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST WATCH

Because in the first act at least, this was Regietheater at its dubious finest. Which means: lots of supernumeraries, ridiculous costumes, and in this case, a bit of blackface. No, really. I have no idea why, but there were a bunch of captives in really embarrassing blackface. There was also a good deal of killing supernumeraries for no particular reason, during an aria about being happy - my best guess is that it was supposed to invoke the dark underside of Creusa and Jason's love, because it is after all founded upon Medea's betrayals.

There were also two young men running around the stage, who were supposed to represent love and hate, I'm pretty sure. Hate was dressed in pale blue and lichen green, because, well, I have no idea.

It wasn't all bad, though: during the second act, the stage was much less cluttered by unnecessary people and killing thereof, and was thus the more dramatic. Medea's costumes were interesting: she wore variations on black dresses for most of the opera, then at the end, after killing her children, she wore white and held her son's red ball.

Musically and dramatically, the opera is very uneven. Arias and duets tend to happen with no particular cause or transition, and the usurpation by Egeo is a mere distraction - it happens at the end of the first act and is dealt with during the intermission. The music is very rich, from that transitional period between classical and bel canto; and yet, it often feels flat and earthbound, without the transcendence of Donizetti or Bellini. Nonetheless, there are glorious moments, mainly when Medea sings.

All in all, a quite enjoyable night, if you ignore the staging.

The trailer of the opera (yeah, operas have trailers now I guess)

And Nadja Michael (Medea) singing "Glück, das mir verblieb," by Korngold
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So I saw Attila last night. And oh man, it has cemented my love for Violeta Urmana. Her "Santa di patria" was amazing.

Anyway, I'm trying to write about the reasons the production was kind of ok, I guess, but not really effective in German, so I'm doing it here first because it's easier (and will probably make more sense in general.)

So, it's no secret that I prefer traditional settings. Mainly because I like the pretty clothes and sets, but also because modern settings tend to try to Say Things, because Opera is a Thing now, and not the pure entertainment it was created to be. Attila in particular. It's a very simple revenge plot; there's no reason to place the chorus under the action, or have Attila's tent/sleeping quarters be a circle in a leafy green scrim.

What I mean is that both of those things emphasize the distance of opera from life. Clearly the Hunnish horde wouldn't have broken into song at dramatic moments, nor would Attila; but as long as the chorus is fully integrated into the scene, or Attila sings in a space that mimics normal human space - a building, or a tent, it doesn't really matter, you can almost forget. As soon as the production is abstract, it's more about the decor than the music; the question "why" arises.

"Why," in this production, did they choose to set the prologue on what seemed like bombed concrete? Why, having done that, did they choose to keep the characters in something like ancient dress? and the bigger question of why they chose to have the chorus of Huns in shirts and pants or shorts. It creates distance from the music; in an ideal production the decor would work with the music to create a single unified whole.

Let it be noted that I'm not arguing against modern productions in general. If you really feel the need to do that, I can't stop you. However, one can have a modern production without making the staging isolating. It simply doesn't make sense for Attila to be about isolation; if you want that, put on Die Frau ohne Schatten or something that has any indication in the libretto that it's not a simple thriller.

Appropriateness is, I think, the biggest problem. Attila is, as I have said, a thriller. It makes as much sense to make it thinky as it would to produce The da Vinci Code a hundred years from now as a deep study of man's inhumanity to man.
polutrope: (ET TU PENIS)
Is it bad that what bothers me most about this ridiculousness is the fact that he's singing "La donna è mobile" to a bunch of 18th century aristocrats, when the aria is painfully clearly 19th century?

Oh also it reminds me of the part in Farinelli: Il castrato when he makes an English Lady orgasm with the power of his high notes.
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Wow so I knew I had a certain inclination to obscure operas, but The Chessboard Fugitives is really the farthest I've gone. No google hits, or at least not descriptive of the opera; at most one hit for the composer (George Courouros, b. 1942). But it's really pretty:
and so is Mata Katsuli's voice.

This has a very strange tonality, and again Irini Karaianni's voice is lovely:

So yeah. And it really makes me sad that I'll never find a recording.

ETA, two minutes later: Τιμή means literal "price" now. Achilles is ROLLING IN HIS GRAVE.

ETA AGAIN: yeah yeah yeah I am Mata Katsuli's biggest fan, whatever. More importantly, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE:

ETA son of ETA: well, the people at the bottom are really animals, and not wearing gas masks, as I first thought. That part actually does makes sense, since Alcina, as a descendant of Circe, turns people into animals, although it's not exactly how I would have done it.
polutrope: (fooood)
So yeah I'm kind of miserable, and Sonnambula didn't do much to beguile my cares - but then it's Sonnambula, and really I doubt that if one were picking operas to soothe one's troubled spirits, Sonnambula would be at the top of one's list. In any case I was there for Dessay, and to a lesser extent Florez; I didn't expect all that much, since I knew about the production. Maury's thoughts are most likely more coherent than mine will be, filtered as they are though the lateness of the night and the depth of my sorrow, but here goes.

As has been discussed before, I sort of hate the idea of modern productions in general; I feel that they insult both the audience and the work. This one put emphasis, pace d'Annato, on insulting the work. Certainly it has a terrible libretto, both in terms of plot and words; but I feel that if one is willing to take the trouble of putting a work on, one should have at least some affection for it.

All questions of theory aside, the concept made no sense. Alright, it's set during a rehearsal of Sonnambula; it's at once silly and over-done, but I suppose you could make something of it. Of course, it then asks the viewer to suspend disbelief from a far thinner thread than the original opera does; I'd believe that Amina can sleepwalk over a mill far sooner than a. the lead singers of the production are named Amina and Elvino; b. either everyone lives in the theater itself or in walking distance; and c. that modern people would behave like 19th century peasants. I suppose there are places where being alone in a man's room would be enough to break off a wedding, but not...wherever this was set.

Right, because the events of the opera spill out into "real life," and the performance of the opera is somehow equated with the "real" marriage of the leads. Which, I would like to note, makes no goddamned sense. Dessay's, or Dessay's character's entrance is during a "rehearsal" of the chorus the townspeople sing to Amina, but Dessay acts as though it's to her, which makes sense if she's related that much to her character, or if she's just that much of a diva. Everything's ¹ like that - you can make it make sense if you try hard enough, but it's really not worth it.

Sonnambula's a sweet piece of fluff; it doesn't make all that much sense, and it doesn't have to - but doing something like this doesn't make it deeper or more interesting.

(a couple of quick notes: writing on a blackboard in front of a couple of thousand people, as a poor man has to in the first act, will now be included in the tissue of my nightmares; Florez seems to have fixed that nasal thing he'd picked up; Alessio was very cute.)
¹Everything, that is, except the last scene, where they're in full Tyrolean dress. And I suppose that makes sense, it's just dumb.
polutrope: (rousseau)
So yeah. Obscure opera. Has ridiculous plots sometimes, like people jumping into Vesuvius when it's erupting. But nothing like This (and dammit, [livejournal.com profile] dolique, before you say anything, it was free):
The story is set in sixteenth-century Brazil and deals with the love of Cecilia, daughter of the Portuguese nobleman Don Antonio, and the ‘noble savage’ Pery, chieftain of the Indian tribe of Guarany (who eventually accepts baptism). They are threatened both by the hostility of the cannibal Aimore tribe and by Spanish adventurers led by Gonzales, who has designs on the silver mine owned by Antonio and on Cecilia. The opera ends spectacularly a la Meyerbeer when Antonio, to save his daughter, blows up his castle with himself and his enemies in it.

ETA: Holy cow, this was a common plot device! From the Wikipedia article on Meyerbeer's Le prophète: during the celebrations of his coronation, Jean sets off an explosion which brings the palace down on all who remain of the principal characters.
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Seriously internets, why is it so hard to find a recording of Pikovaya Dama or whatever you want to call it that a. doesn't cost an arm and a leg and b. has decent recording quality? See, this is why I argued with my Russian teacher about which of Tchaikovsky's operas what the most popular.

(hint: people actually record Eugene Onegin)
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I totally love this production of Serse. I'm not even kidding, and it's only partly for the WTF effect. (Which, it must be said, is very strong. As in, WTF is going on in "Io le diro"? A carrying chair, awesome long coats... no idea. Ditto for "Si, la voglio" - Sword fighting, with a guy in an awesome coat? Girls in sequined hats laughing at this? We're in some odd dictatorship? Indoor tree in "Ombra mai fu"? What?)

In any case, I do like it. It's odd, but it has an aesthetic of its own - it's not just throwing random elements together, and there's a nice stylization of sorts. It's also helpful that the singing is very strong.

(also everyone has awesome coats.)

(what, I like coats, OK?)
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I saw La damnation de Faust last night at the Met. As one would know if one read the Times arts section all the time, they have a new production, with video screens. Unsurprisingly enough, I was against this idea when I first heard about it.
Hurrah! )
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This is not a major post. Just mentioning that Sondra Radvanovsky's face when she's describing the plot of I vespri siciliani is totally amazing, even if I think her voice is slightly too heavy for Elena's bolero. You can hear her say, under the Italian dubbing, "And they're going to kill all the French in Sicily! At my wedding!"

(I also like the production; I think the stylization is very nice -clean and attractive - though I'm not sure how it would work for the rest of the opera.)

And Radvanovsky's d'amor sull'ali rosee is really very good.
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I really don't understand why no one loves Bánk Bán the way I do. It's a Hungarian opera from 1861, by Ferenc Erkel, and, well, Wikipedia says it better than I do.

In any case, the parts I've found on YouTube are very pretty, and very distinctive: Hard to describe, but somehow entirely not Western European, but not Russian either.

This aria, specifically, is amazing, and I love the tenor.

And there's a mad scene, too! What's not to love?

(Um, in case anyone asks, I don't go looking for obscure stuff. I was trying to rectify my woeful lack of Niun mi tema, from a perfectly respectable opera, and I liked József Simándy enough to look for more of him)
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My grand plan to fuck with people's heads:

1. Become a director well known for outré productions (Giulio Cesare in an ice-cream shop, with Tolomeo dressed as a giant ice-cream cone. Cleopatra is clearly the manager, and Cesare works at a rival shop. Ballo in maschera at a high school prom. Or maybe just everything at a high school prom, 'cause I can make almost anything work.)

2. All of a sudden, go hyper-traditional. Either study costumes from the first productions or make the (somewhat unreasonable, much as I love it) decision to use correct historical dress.

3a. Laugh at everyone.

3b. (Probably) Get really really fired.
polutrope: (Default)
So I'm in Russia.

Anyway, I saw Benvenuto Cellini at the Mariinsky Concert Hall. It was - well, the best word to describe it is "interesting." On the plus side, I thought that they used their tiny stage very well. On the minus side, Cellini and Fieramosca wore bunny suits instead of monk's robes during the first finale.

It was, of course, updated to this century, and set in a jewellery store. Teresa wore a pantsuit for the first act - which I do not approve of. Interestingly enough, the production used the non-revised version of the first act, so "entre l'amour et le devoir" was replaced by something else that wasn't as good. This was particularly disappointing because I liked the soprano very much.

All the singers were very good, in fact, although Cellini was singing for the Met and not for this stage, so his voice was rather overpowering. Nonetheless, I'll take his "seul pour lutter" over Ben Heppner's any day.

(Ascanio was called Ascania, I think. An interesting way to deal with pants roles in modern productions - she was wearing a dress and all. It was confusing.)

Speaking of confusing, there were no subtitles and the dialogs were in Russian, so I was on my memory and the scraps of French I could pick up for understanding what was going on. I didn't really.
polutrope: (work habits)
Oh, Danielle de Niese loving mouse, defend this. Please. It is seriously terrible. She's harsh all the time and she thinks that moving her shoulders a lot is acting. I mean, I like Cecelia Bartoli's Deh vieni better than hers; at least Bartoli got rid of her customary breathyness for once. This make me sure that de Niese can't get rid of the harshness in her voice - it's intrinsic, i.e. she does not have a good voice.

Also the production sucks, as is made doubly clear by their terrible Venite, inginocchiatevi (which de Niese doesn't do very well either, by the way). For one thing, what constitutes dressing Cherubino as a girl when everyone's wearing odd formless jumpsuits? For another thing, that aria has the most obvious implicit stage directions I've ever heard - so it doesn't make all that much sense for Susanna to say "Guardatemi" when Cherubino is already looking at her, or again, for her to tell him to keep his eyes on her and not on the countess when HE IS ALREADY LOOKING AT HER.

On the bright side, their Cherubino is adorable x infinity

EDIT: NO SERIOUSLY I FUCKING HATE THIS PRODUCTION.  I hate modern productions in general, it's true - either a work is relevant to our times or it's not, or it doesn't matter (which is my view), but putting everyone in jeans won't make it more relevant - but they can work, if they have a. an organizing principal and b. something to do with what's going on in the opera.  I mean, in the first duet, Figaro isn't measuring the room that the count gave them, because they are in a car factory, or something.    In "Via, resta servita," Susanna and Marcellina have to be trying to get past each other, because otherwise their exchange of insults makes no sense.  In this production, they're just sort of sitting there. 

Also, have I mentioned that de Niese can't act or sing?  I'd much rather listen to Marcellina - and when your Marcellina's better than your Susanna, you have a problem.
polutrope: (work habits)
I will be spending all of next year in New York. Seriously, classes are not important when confronted with next season.

My count is eleven that I want to see, at least four that I will die if I do not see.

(The eleven, if anyone wants to know, are Trovatore, Sonnambula, Damnation de Faust, Rondine [for some reason], Rusalka, Orfeo [if Stephanie Blythe actually sings Orfeo - otherwise, it has Danielle de Niese in it and who cares], Don Giovanni, Queen of Spades[Pikovaya Dama, if you know Russian], Cenerentola, Elisir d'amore, and Manon. Maybe Adriana Lecouvreur, but I don't like it all that much.)

Zimmerman describes her “play within a play” construct for La Sonnambula: “Nowhere in the world is reality rendered so tenuous, so provisional—so much like a dream—as in a rehearsal room where a company of singers, like dreamers in their sleep, move through an invisible world as though it were real. Our production will be staged in a rehearsal hall, during a rehearsal for a traditional production of La Sonnambula, where the opera gradually asserts its authority over all the players, the room, and time itself.”

This seems like the worst idea ever and I can see why Dessay has said that she will never work with Zimmerman ever again.

PS this is from our official confirmation.
polutrope: (academia)
When I saw Eugene Onegin at the Met last year, the nice old lady with whom I was sharing a box said "What a bastard," in reference to Onegin. Well, he is, of course he is, it's 99% of the point of the opera (this is not exactly true; it's 99% of the novel, but only ~70% of the opera, the other 30% being "Tatiana is Noble and Incorruptible"). So, it wasn't her saying that that struck me, but rather the point at which she said it.

It was during "Vi mne pisali," which, thanks to my second semester Russian skills, I know means "You (formal) wrote to me," which Tanya, amid much melodrama, did. He tells her that he can't take advantage of her, and that he was not meant to be someone's husband, sitting with children on his knee, but if his fate had been different, he could have loved her. It's a bit patronizing, of course - but then, he is practically old enough to be her father. (I don't know if their ages are specified, but she can't be older than twenty, or maybe even eighteen, and I put him in his early thirties.) So, overall, not that bad, on the bastard front. Mantova or Don Giovanni would have taken advantage of her in a second.

And this is why he's, to some extent, worse than either of them to me. He waits until Tatiana has a husband and a reputation before she's interesting, worth pursuing. Both of the above womanizers are certainly despicable, but neither of them delights in ruining a woman more than her physical charms.

of course it doesn't stop me from having a crush on him.
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As a disclaimer: because La Rondine is the only opera that has more than one recording and no libretto online, I haven't read it, but I know what happens. It is entirely possible that the librettists screwed it up entirely.

Anyway, when summarizing Rondine, the first thing everyone says is that it's a "watered-down Traviata. Magda, like Violetta, is a courtesan with a heart of gold, but at the end, instead of dying, she turns and walks away from her lover. Now, OperaChic says that that's "terrible anti-climactic."

I suppose it is - but it resonates for me, perhaps because renunciation and sacrifice are the Themes that practically guarantee that I will dissolve in tears, unless (and sometimes even if) it's done really badly.

Further, Violetta dies. She doesn't have to deal with the consequences of her noble sacrifice. She doesn't have to grow old and realize that M. Germont was wrong, she hasn't found anyone else; that she's alone and misses Alfredo. She doesn't have the time to reconsider her choice - is some strange girl's marriage worth the love of her life? She dies, which solves problems both for her and Alfredo (although not in the Dumas - we meet the Alfredo-character when he digs up Marguerite's body so he can see her one last time).

So, I think that Magda's choice, without death, is possible more heart-wrenching, at least for me, and it's an ending without the high melodrama of a Traviata.

(This is not to say, of course, that La Rondine is a better opera. It's not at all, but I don't think it's fair to dismiss the ending as anti-climactic.)
polutrope: (work habits)
Well, it's reading period, and I don't actually have any sit down final exams, Athena or whoever arranged that be praised, but there's gotta be something to procrastinate about - my paper, which really should be easier to write, considering that I've breathed Indo-European mythology for the last four months, and my take-home final.

So, to that end, I've compiled a list of operas that FOR SERIOUS need to be brought back, regardless of musically quality:
And here it is )
polutrope: (work habits)
Because evidently it's the cool thing to do: My Thoughts on Vanessa:

De Vanessa (and pretend there's a macron) )


polutrope: (Default)

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