Lorenzo Da Ponte, one half of
arguably the greatest artistic duo to grace this planet, is buried in Queens. For those who only know Da Ponte as Mozart’s most famous librettist, this usually comes as a surprise. When one thinks of the Mozart/Da Ponte collaborations – the intelligence, the humor, the appreciation and acceptance of the absurd, the love of language, the insight into humanity, the battles between idealism (love, forgiveness) and the darkness/cynicism of human nature – one might think that these libretti were the product of a remarkable mind. Befitting that mind, Da Ponte led a remarkable life and ended up in a remarkable city.
As a warning, you really have to be an opera degenerate to make this trip. Continue reading
“As to the spiritual qualities of Mozart’s music, the tempest-wind of his impetuous genius will never lack the power to sweep away the dreaming, contemplative spirits of this world, nor to fill their souls with sad and haunting visions. Sometimes the impact of this music is so immediate, that the vision in the mind reminds blurred and incomplete, while the soul seems to be directly invaded, drenched, as it were, in wave upon wave of melancholy. Rossini is always amusing; Mozart never; Mozart is like a mistress who is always serious and often sad, but whose sadness is a fascination, discovering even deeper springs of love; such women either create no impression at all, in which case they are called prudes; or else, if they leave their mark but once only, the scar bites deep, and heart and soul are lost to them completely and for ever.”
-from “The Life of Rossini”
New York in the 1970s was suffering from a decline from which many thought it would never recover. The peep shows and “adult” shops in Times Square served as backdrops for the pimps and prostitutes inhabiting it. Riding the graffiti covered subways after midnight was to knowingly risk one’s life. Verdi Square (just north of 72nd and Broadway) was known as “Needle Park”. Central Park was avoided for fear of being mugged – or worse. The lawlessness and out-of-control nature permeated the entire city. It even extended to institutions patronized by members of high society.
The Metropolitan Opera, now practically considered respectable and dignified, was not immune from intrusions of unruly behavior. While stories of the brawls between opera factions have long been whispered about, witnesses to that era have decided to speak anonymously about the events opera cognoscenti refer to as “The Family Circle Riots”. Continue reading
The singer. Floor length dress, gold in color – elegant, sophisticated, glamorous, beautiful. One initially suspected the latter words could be used to describe its inhabitant. By the end of the evening, there would be no doubts. Hair falling past her shoulders, eyes looking at/searching the crowd, not with nervousness, but with a mixture of curiosity and energy. She was ready.
The pianist. Deep black hair. A dress in a luxurious, rich dark blue. Eyes that sparkled with warmth, intelligence, and assurance.
The room. Weill Recital Hall – the smallest of the three halls at Carnegie. An intimate space, seating 268, great acoustics – perfect for a vocal recital. It wasn’t packed, but those there that weren’t friends or family of the performer were there as fans of vocalists. They were not to leave disappointed. One audience member eavesdropped pre-show as two gentlemen discussed singers they loved. A mention of having seen Eleanor Steber performing live got the attention of another occupant sitting nearby. The lighting was soft, well-executed. It would accentuate the warmth emanating from the two performers. The piano, a Steinway – sleek, black, shining. It would sound excellent. Continue reading
At one performance – not a recent one – I would occasionally glance over to see what a particular usher was doing. This one wasn’t doing anything at all – seated comfortably on a portable chair, head leaning back against the rear wall of the house in a position that could charitably be described as one of deep relaxation.
When one of the big arias of the performance was to start, movement in my periphery caught my attention. The usher had grabbed the chair and moved forward – standing with forearms on the wall behind the last row of seats, face with an attentive/expectant look, body language expressing the same anticipation. I thought, “This should be good…”
The singer began the aria - gorgeous, perilous, and one of the most famous in the repertoire. About forty-five seconds in I looked over to judge the usher’s reaction. The usher was gone – no longer leaning attentively or even standing there at all. I turned some more. The chair was already back to its starting point, the head once again resting on the back wall, deep relaxation resuming.
I didn’t see this program listed online anywhere so making a note of it here. It was a great night. Brilliant songs, beautifully performed. Wish it had been recorded.
Steven Blier, besides being a wonderful pianist, is incredibly charismatic. Had the crowd cracking up many times with his comments and background info between pieces.
Wish I could type up all the program notes. Lots of good stuff. Continue reading
During her debut, Elena Mosuc sang Olympia’s “Les oiseaux dans la charmille” straight, the way most of us are familiar with it. Some debut nerves made an appearance but she made it through in one piece.
The next night she sings the aria in a much more confident fashion. It’s a great performance – she’s nailing it – and by the end she’s confident enough to do something that I’ve never seen before. As the aria nears the end, she pauses and turns to Hoffmann waiting for a sign of encouragement to continue. Judging by Giuseppe Filianoti’s surprised and delayed reaction, I’m not sure he’s ever seen that done before either. A bit flustered, he gestures “Go on, go on” which Mosuc does. She pauses again, and Filianoti, still looking a little shell-shocked and somewhat unsure of himself gives another “go on” gesture.
The third night (tonight) Mosuc again sings through most of the aria nicely. When she gets to the part where she turns to expectantly wait for Hoffman, Filianoti is ready. Hand raised to his mouth – ready to blow her a kiss. Which he lovingly does. And she continues.
Two professionals at the top of their game, having a little fun with each other. Beautiful.
A beautifully modern production where the focus remains the singers and the music – as it should be. Imperfect. Still thrilling.
Despite all the hype about “The Machine” and the high-tech wizardry, it was still the singers and the music that ruled the theater. Lepage’s sets were at times beautiful, intelligent, wonderful, elegant, and daring. Less charitably one could say they were also occasionally simple and crude. Nobody can say it wasn’t a show.
Whether those sets worked as good theater is something that will be argued about for some time. Judging by the boos coming from the upper reaches of the Met, a sizable portion didn’t approve of what they had witnessed. While the technical (i.e. machinery) and visual aspects of the performance were often strong, the theatrical aspects perhaps weren’t as well thought-out as they may have been had more rehearsal time been alloted. The production didn’t always have a great sense of flow, of movement, of an overarching unity in the ways that great productions do. There were moments when the action became almost painfully static. Continue reading