You ever have one of those dreams where you’re back in high school and you have neglected to study for a test, or don’t know what your schedule is, or something like that? In my case, for whatever reason, such dreams are often orchestra-related. In this one, I was back in the orchestra, but I was trying to figure out an excuse not to play, because I haven’t actually practiced in over fifteen years, and I was pretending my wrist was sprained, but our orchestra director had figured out I was lying and was yelling at me.
I am contentedly listening to this right now, which is entirely predictable (both that I am listening to it, and that I am doing so with great contentment). I was getting worried today about my tendency to get into ruts, though, whether they are Strauss ruts or something else, like Handel or Mozart. I watched two relatively unfamiliar operas this week, Eugene Onegin and Cherubini’s Medea. I enjoyed both – there is something to be said to listening to music that I have not heard a thousand times before – but I always struggle to balance my enjoyment of the new with my non-enjoyment of being unable to formulate an opinion about it yet. Isn’t that silly?
Watched DVD of Eugene Onegin. Got polonaise stuck in head. Discovered that it is possible to whistle most of it.
From a production that seems to have a bit more bite than the one I watched:
I was not sure whether I felt like getting excited about this production or not. On the one hand 1) Veronique Gens and 2) Philippe Jaroussky in an alarming wig. On the other, this is one of those Handel operas that for whatever reason has yet to climb very far up my all time favorites list.
The production is a weird mixture of buffa and abstract. The characters all sport technicolor eighteenth-century costumes with bright pink or red or green wigs, and lots of makeup. They are a sharp contrast with the stage, which is mostly empty except for a series of gray blocks of various sizes and orientations, which serve as beds, chairs, barriers, and so on. There are also additional figures, clothed in plain beige outfits that vaguely reference the eighteenth-century costumes of the characters (e.g. they lace up the sides). These figures stand on blocks as statutes to be manipulated by Agrippina and others; they escort characters in and out; by the end, they sit around on the floor watching the action. They aren’t the Roman crowd (the closest approach we get to that is the orchestra, various members of which get a little tip during the scene where Nero, to court popularity, distributes money to the plebs) and their movements in and out of participation the action suggest a commentary on all the various attempts to lie and manipulate (and secretly observe) that form the opera’s story. It’s as if the story takes place not amid an empire but within a little interpersonal space both small and fairly empty.
Jaroussky’s Nero is worth the price of admission; there was also some nice countertenor singing from Thierry Grégoire as Ottone (though at one point, some ornaments that required wide jumps in pitch devolved into something that rather resembled yodeling). I often wish that basses would go away; I did not wish that Bernard Deletré (Pallante) would go away. That said, I was hoping to be more impressed with Gens as Agrippina than I was. There was nothing technically wrong with the singing, but I couldn’t get into it somehow. I suspect that Agrippina can be quite the character – she certainly was in real life – but whether it’s the opera or the performance, she isn’t really in this case.
Or, maybe I need to give the Handel operas a rest and move on to something else for a while.
From a DVD of the Met’s production of Eugene Onegin. (Also, I was pleasantly startled when the man introducing the broadcast began with “Hhello. I am Mikhail Barishnikov.” How would you spell the way Russians pronounce ‘h’ when speaking English? English H is breathy and in the back of the throat; the Russians render it with the same part of the mouth that one would use for a C or a K, but a fricative rather than a stop.)
(There were going to be some little clouds and rainbows mixed in with the stars, but the rainbow between clouds that I drew in the draft version looked like a turnip throwing up into a cabbage, so I decided to stick with things I can draw. Art is all about knowing your limits.)
(I really did do a double take for a moment when I read this. I didn’t know that there was a kitchen implement called a mandolin.)
I’ve been reading about music and dogs – several books, websites, and so on have suggested leaving classical music on when the dog is alone so as to relax him or her. This I certainly have the resources to do. But I did wonder why classical. And also if they meant, like, Alban Berg. Most of the references to the idea mentioned things like Vivaldi. One in particular said that dogs react to heavy metal with fear and anxiety (fair enough), pop music is like human conversation or nothing, and “classical” (loosely defined) was apparently soothing.
I did wonder, though, whether this is an artifact of the very human idea that classical music is by nature soothing. I remember being in my office once listening to one of my favorite violinists tear through a Tartini concerto and a colleague stuck his head in to ask me something and commented that I had some very relaxing music on. I remember thinking “really?” and considering whether to say “really?” but I can’t remember what I actually said. In either case, the intent of neither the concerto nor the performance was to put the listener to sleep.
My dog seems to like music (he can be seen at left, thinking deeply about Handel’s Hercules), but I’ve never tried him for extended periods on anything other than Bach, bits of Handel or Joyce DiDonato Sings Everything, so I’m not sure whether he finds Bach, Handel and Rossini more or less soothing than, say, Bikini Kill.
I fled campus on Friday afternoon without going to the library for a DVD, because The Big Game is happening this weekend (our football team is playing that of a neighboring state school and ESPN is here) so I ended up watching part of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi from the Bayerische Staatsoper in 2012. It’s a bootleg of a live broadcast, with Netrebko and Kasarova in the two main roles, and I discovered when watching it that rather than the entire opera, I have two copies of Act II. So, I watched Act II. Perhaps someday I will find Act I.
But Act II is pretty good. It begins with Juliet (Netrebko) wandering across the stage on what looks like the back of a half-pipe in a little poofy white dress, agonizing over the fate of Romeo; Lorenzo (here a doctor rather than a friar as in the play – was this a case of the Italian censors being squeamish?) arrives with the Death Roofie, which Juliet takes*, appears to die and is put in the tomb, and then Romeo shows up, etc. etc. we know how this goes. The staging is very simple, just a long set of stairs and a few other open spaces, with one large illuminated circle that evokes the moon for Romeo’s “Deserto è il loco.” At the end, the two characters, having killed themselves, are standing and wandering, dazed, forward as the lights darken. I am not always a super-fan of Anna Netrebko, but I really liked her here. And I always forget how convincing Kasarova is in these trouser roles. I don’t know how she does it, but as ever she’s proof, as if we needed more, that you don’t have to look “boyish” to nail these characters.
You’ve seen those “Sassy gay friend” commentaries on Shakespeare’s plays, right? I personally find the “straight girl’s sassy gay sidekick” trope both tired and annoying, and any series that consistently ends with the girl being referred to (to the viewer, not to the character’s face) as a “stupid bitch” even in fun rubs me the wrong way, but the line in the Romeo and Juliet one about “oh my god, you took a roofie from a priest?!” is spot on. And the bit in the one about Hamlet that’s along the lines of “you’re going to kill yourself over Hamlet? Hamlet?! He stabbed your dad through a curtain!” is also pretty good.)
This recording of Handel’s Rinaldo was reissued recently. I had a bootleg of it that I had been enjoying for some time, but it’s nice to have the discs too, especially at the relatively cheap price (no booklet, though). I occasionally found Vivica Genaux’s (Rinaldo’s) vibrato wider than I liked – I liked her singing on that recording of Vivaldi’s Bajazet, for example, more than I did here. But “liked better” is relative – this is a very minor issue.
Some little things that I either had forgotten or did not know. Eustazio’s aria “Col valor, colla virtù” towards the end of Act I sounds a great deal like Handel’s “tra le fiamme” cantata (HWV 170) and I had forgotten how nice the harp part is during Almirena’s “laschia ch’io pianga.” Ditto the extended harpsichord breakdown during the end of Almira’s “vo far guerra” at the end of Act II. (Do you think baroque teenagers did air harpsichord? I was tempted to. Then again, air guitar often depend on no one else being able to see you looking like a doofus playing air guitar, which requires recorded music – so perhaps not.)
I keep having these moments where I am superlatively late to a really good party. In this case, the Sondra Radvanovsky party. I used to feel bad about coming late to things in this way, but the thing is, with opera, you get there when you get there.
So I got here. I was listening to her Verdi CD this morning, and thinking how much I liked it, and that I had liked it before but – well, you know how it is with these things, often it takes a few listens, or a few years, before something really hits you.
Later that day, while I was playing fetch with Finn, I had this video of “casta diva” from Norma on repeat (Bellini with bouncing toy continuo plus interjections of “good dog, Finn!” and happy puppy pants: not to be missed) and then when he settled down and we had gone outside so he could pee, I heard the video still playing inside, and I developed a sonic appreciation for what opera in my house sounds like from the outside (short version: louder than I thought) and when we went in I located and watched this video below at least three times:
I am not normally a huge Puccini fan, but – well. In this case, I admit defeat. I am still listening to it.
I don’t know about you, but “how do I make my dog throw up?” is not one of those questions I had ever been much in the habit of asking myself until this past week. On Sunday Finn ate a mushroom at the park, and today he ate what I think was probably a raisin. The remedy in both cases is “make the dog puke ASAP” and the way to do this is to mix a teaspoon or two of hydrogen peroxide with something that the unsuspecting dog will eat. Puppy hurls soon follow. Except in the case of my dog, who seems to be immune to the hydrogen peroxide trick. It gives him the heaves, but nothing comes up. Fortunately, the mushroom was harmless and the solitary raisin was below the toxicity dose (about 19g for a dog of Finn’s size) but imagine me, say, literally on fire and running in little circles and shrieking and clutching my hair and you will have a good idea of how I felt.
So now we are on the couch listening to Bach, specifically BWV 831. Finn saw that I was upset and was licking my face to comfort me, which was sweet. And he has taken to following me around – I went outside to get something from the car and when I came back up the steps I saw his little face framed in the window by the front door, waiting.
Also, I have discovered that when I play Ian Bostridge singing Bach in the car, Finn doesn’t whine. Who knew? (Clarification: that is, [Ian Bostridge singing Bach] played [in the car] not [playing a recording of] [Ian Bostridge singing Bach in the car])
I have been doing my best this evening to watch a Handel DVD, but success is limited. My dog is only four months old, and as a result everything goes into his mouth. Also, we have not had very many accidents, but I still have to watch him to see whether he has that “about to pee” look. It’s added an interesting sonic element to Handel, in that some of the best bits are interrupted by me saying “oy!” gently but firmly (“oy!” is Finn’s “no” word – I want him to associate his name with being praised, so we’ve settled on “oy!” for “no!/drop that!/do not even think about taking a puppy dump on that floor!”. I am proud to say that he knows what “oy!” means. Also, we are making excellent progress on “sit”.) And then I had to put Joyce on pause for like twenty minutes while Finn and I played ball. It’s not exactly “fetch” yet, but he’s cottoned on to the fact that when I catch his eye and say “ball!” the little object my hand is going to go bouncing down the hallway so that he can chase it, and the experience is not repeated unless he brings it back.
He will be asleep soon, as per picture below, and perhaps then I can get on to the DVD.
The recent Salzburg production of Schubert’s opera Fierrabras is available for free via Medici.tv at the moment. I watched it because, well, one does. Although you can see why Schubert is known as a song writer rather than a composer of operas, it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours.
This is my dog, Finn, who has taken a liking to the couch, especially when there are humans on it. He’s tired at the moment because we had a little adventure this morning – he tried to poop on an anthill, and the ants gave him what for. Much yipping ensued.
Meanwhile, I have been watching Schubert’s Fierrabras – it’s too bad Finn already has a name (his brother, who was adopted by someone else before we got to the shelter, was named Huck), because it strikes me that Fierrabras would be a very good name for a dog.
One of my fondest opera memories is of being at the Houston Grand Opera a little over two years ago to hear Joyce DiDonato in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. It’s one of those operas that I seek out more as a chance to hear specific performers than for the opera itself. In Houston, I remember being simply mesmerized listening to the way her voice could sail through all the little twists and turns of ornamentation in a way that was both technically a thrill to listen to and dramatically compelling. There were several moments where she made the vocal line stop, hang in the air, and then in the same breath moved it on in a different direction – it was stunning. This recording reminded me of that experience, and not just because there is a selection from Maria Stuarda on it (it’s the prayer scene from the finale).
On the International Scale of Annoyance, on which 0 is “I have just had a nice drink and am floating in a warm bath listening to Mozart” and 100 is “I have Ebola” this is probably more of a 4 than a 97, but I discovered today while driving to work that several files of my recording of Igor Kipnis playing BWV 825, 826, and 828 were skipping. It sounded as though bits of the file were missing; in addition to this, my iPod and (after pursuing the matter further) iTunes did not play the last two seconds of several of the files. This is a recording that I re-ripped a few months ago for higher audio quality. I’ve had it for years, since graduate school – it’s one of my favorites.
At first I was terrified that all my old CDs had started to disintegrate, but the CD played fine in both my stereo and on my computer, which indicated that neither the disc itself nor my laptop’s optical drive were the problem. Re-ripping the CD in iTunes with error correction on fixed some of the files, but not all. I ended up re-ripping it again with XLD and this solved the problem as far as I have been able to determine. Which means that iTunes is probably the culprit.
On the other hand, in the process of getting to the bottom of this mystery I have listened to the recording at least twice now with quite close attention due to listening for skips and jumps, and I can certainly say that I still like it.
Also, I hear that Joyce DiDonato’s new recording is pretty good. Perhaps some day the US mail will deliver my copy of it.
I was watching the Martin Kušej production of The Flying Dutchman again this past weekend. At the very beginning, as the storm batters Daland’s ship, there is a shot of the empty stage. Or rather not empty. There’s a fish there, flopping. I got distracted by this for some reason and spent at least three or for seconds wondering whether I was being beaten over the head with something in a metaphorical way (there is a FISH that is OUT of the WATER. FISH. OUT OF WATER) or whether it was not also sort of funny, because it flops, and it made me wonder if the people who made the props had hacked one of those singing fish things that people put on their walls so that it would move about a little bit but not make any noise.
Yes, I do have better things to do. I just choose not to.
Wagner: worse than the Crimean, apparently. Then again, Tennyson’s taste was always questionable.
The Charge of the Leitmotif
I just remembered that I had a dream last night that I was watching a performance of Don Carlos in which the role of Posa was sung by….Elina Garanca. There was some sort of thing where Posa was disguised as a woman and the part could be taken by a mezzo.