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.
I was driving home last night listening to the end of Tristan und Isolde. The Liebestod is useful if you need to have a good cry. I didn’t, but I got one anyway, and it led to one of those moments where most of my brain is listening to Wagner and coordinating the waterworks, but another part of it was pointing out to me that I was driving down an unlit country road in the dark with tears streaming down my cheeks, and this exactly how people end up hitting deer and getting in a wreck. (It was later pointed out to me that this particular combination of circumstances is actually probably not, as a rule, how people hit deer, but you know what I mean.)
I did not hit any deer, but I may stick to string quartets and Handel recitals for driving in the future.
This past week has been kind of a bust, culminating this past evening in mildly burned curry, spilled beer, an Andrew Manze CD with a scratch on it, and my landline not working. And there is a massive spider (about 3″ with legs) lurking on my porch. It’s the sort that hides under things.
On the other hand, my landlord sold the subdivided house I live in to someone who is now living next door, and who mowed the entire lawn today, including my half, and didn’t mention anything about extra money when I mentioned getting a dog. (I think the bar for domestic animals around here is fairly low – he said as long as it’s not vicious, it’s fine. I am going to try to find a healthy mutt sort of puppy that I can train to be 1. housebroken 2. tolerant of opera 3. not vicious. I am also going to find a healthy responsible sort of graduate student who can dog-sit every so often in return for prompt and generous remuneration.)
And also, I got this optical cable for use in playing DVDs on my computer. My stereo plays DVDs and can be hooked to a TV, but I don’t have one of those, which means that when I watch a DVD, it’s on my laptop with the audio plugged into the stereo. My stereo also has an optical line-in, and my Macbook an optical line-out, which I am told provides better audio quality. So, I have been re-watching some DVDs with the audio going out via optical rather then 3.5mm cable. It’s probably an illusion, but part of me thinks it does sound better. (But perhaps this is just my brain attempting to compensate for the knowledge that I just spent $20 on a cable.)
There is a video up on Slate about how villains in popular culture like classical music. I watched the whole thing, hoping for an argument as to, you know, why this might be so, but the makers of the video got lazy and didn’t bother.
My theory is that for a lot of people, classical music is appropriate for villains because it evokes both power held by means of exclusion (intellectuals, WASPS, aristocrats) and a sort of sinister “here is this strange, stylized thing that you don’t get and this other person does, and doesn’t that make you distrust them a little – what other strange information or dangerous tastes might they have?” In the clips in the video, villains are often shown enjoying it while cooly doing or being responsible for horrible things. It’s the music of people who believe they are above the rules. Or who are somehow false, many-layered in a dark way, disconnected or wrongly connected within, etc.
But a taste for this sort thing can also be used to code a character as weird in a pitiable way – I remember a show about a Boston public school that used to be on when I was in college, which was often strangely anti-intellectual given what it was about; the cool teachers got together after hours and played bad jazz, while the teacher who blasted Dvořák in his car was condescended to by both the storylines and the other characters.
Classical music: the sign of an inherently disordered relationship to other people and/or the world?
As noted earlier, I opened this CD to find that it was signed, which was a most pleasant surprise. Given my luck this past week, I am tempted to purchase another copy of one or the other of my favorite recordings, just to see what would happen . . . though of course it doesn’t work that way.
But the real draw here is of course in what is on the recording itself. My neighbors (my apartment is a subdivided house) have moved away, leaving behind a grill and a potted plant that I intend to appropriate once I am sure they are well and truly gone, but more to the point, I can cause the walls of this building to vibrate with opera and no one is going to be bothered. And this is quite a good recording for wall-vibration purposes. I bought it because I enjoyed Mattila’s Elisabeth in the Théatre du Châtelet performance of Don Carlos that I listened to a while back, and I like this for many of the same reasons that I enjoyed that.
Some of the selections on this recording are familiar in the sense that I have heard the opera in question before (e.g. the sections of Wagner and Strauss) but the recital on the whole made me realize what a Handel-thru-Mozart-and-sometimes-Verdi rut I tend to run in most of the time. There is something to be said for listening to operas in languages that you understand not a word of, in my case, Russian or Czech. The scene from Janáček’s Jenufa was one of my favorite parts of this – and she’s recorded the whole thing, which may be next on my list. But I am obliged to admit, I enjoyed the Puccini (“in quelle trine morbide” from Manon Lescaut) too. This recording is one of those that puts me in a ‘who cares what the text says’ mood; you can figure out the general drift of the selection from how it sounds and how it’s sung, and as with Don Carlos I found myself simply enjoying the sound of Mattila’s voice.
Check out this one of that 1990s production of Handel’s Alcina (you know the one, with all the wallpaper). Highlights include “dramatic windowless monads” AND “embarrassing confusion of bare-chested hostility radiating in all directions.”
So I got a used recording of Dvořák’s Rusalka that turns out to have some writing in it. A deep discussion with a friend and much googling for pictures of Renée Fleming’s autograph followed. I was initially skeptical because I couldn’t find the accent mark over the e, but it was pointed out to me that it’s half hidden in the word above it. I remain skeptical, though, partly due to my ambivalence about autographs. On the one hand, why is it important that someone signs a booklet, or a concert program? On the other, in certain cases if I had the opportunity to ask and could be assured that I would not say something really embarrassingly stupid in the process, there would totally be some framed concert programs on my wall.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Mel Gibson directed Don Carlos? I raise the question because in this version, directed for the Theatre du Chatelet by Luc Bondy, there is a moment in Posa’s death scene where I’m pretty sure I heard drops of the fake blood, of which there is plenty, land on the floor. But I am going to assume that this was just an accident of microphone placement. (To answer my initial question: I suspect that the auto-da-fe scene would somehow become much longer than it normally is and they would kill Posa with a spiked mace rather than a gun. This would also take much longer than is customary.)
. . . with the result that it unfollowed some blogs without telling me, for some reason. Gah. And here I was wondering why no one seemed to be posting anything!
I ended up with this by accident, in the way that sometimes you go to a used record/CD store in New Jersey and you end up with things because, well, they are there and they are cheap and you have money.
Apparently this phenomenon has a name, as noted in this New York Times article about a slightly different brain thing called autonomous sensory meridian response or ASMR, a rare neurological disorder most often diagnosed in people who make maps for a living.
Have you ever read John Barth’s novel The Sot-Weed Factor? I mention this because there is a bit in it where the main character, poet-laureate of colonial Maryland Ebenezer Cooke, finds that he cannot find a rhyme to the phrase “a-coloneling”, spelled “a-kernalling” (I think this is the spelling – I am away from my books at the moment, so I can’t look it up). His friend Henry Burlingame ponders this, and then replies, with an evil gleam in his eye, that he too “cannot rhyme the infernal thing.” Ebenezer is just starting to get even grumpier when Henry starts spouting paragraph after paragraph of couplets that rhyme with “kernalling”, “infernal thing” “vernallings” “sempiternal things” and so on – at one point, he gets stuck, and then suddenly explodes with “Ha! ha! I have hatched more!” and then goes on for another page. It’s quite funny.
I bring this up because it seems to me that obscure non-Mozart Baroque versions of La Clemenza di Tito are a bit like English rhymes for “kernalling.” Just when you think you have found them all, someone hatches another one.
This production of Handel’s Ariodante has a little twist at the end that I rather liked – it was particularly effective in that the production itself on average does not scream “weird!” or “we’re going to mess with this opera!” It’s set in what looks like a farmhouse in Scotland in the 1940s. (Or, based on the amount of hair and mild griminess and puppets and lots of chunky sweaters, possibly in the vicinity of the Evergreen State College in the 1990s.) During the overture, we see a minister, who turns out to be Polinesso (Sonia Prina) leading a religious service around the table – Polinesso reminds everyone of the evil of women and so on and so forth.
I suspect that this is one of those recordings that I would have liked more ten years ago than I do now. At that point, the sort of pyrotechnics Kermes engages in here were newer to me and more exciting.
One might look at the program for this recital and be forgiven for thinking that it is insane. Goodyear is performing a series of concerts at Bargemusic that will eventually include all of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas; this is concert number three of four. So, seven piano sonatas in slightly more than two hours. I admit, by the end, my attention was wavering.
Some reports of technical problems with comments and other buttons on this blog. I think it may be an issue with the WordPress theme – still working on it. If you have encountered this problem, let me know, either with a comment (if it works!) or via twitter, @earwormopera.
I spent some of yesterday watching a DVD of Verdi’s Aida, the one from Zurich with Nina Stemme in the title role. I’ve seen this one before, ages ago, and I remembered the split screen video direction (for example, in several scenes, you see say, Amneris in one part of the screen, Aida in another, and a long shot showing the entire stage at the bottom) and the general concept, which places the story in late nineteenth-century Egypt, when the country was occupied by the British.