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Senta is sort of a geek who experiences the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy, isn’t she? She’s this strange young woman who is obsessed with something all her peers find weird and silly – and then it comes true!
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When Daland’s crew first encounter the Dutchman and his sailors, the latter – after the light in the back has turned a strange yellow – come through those doors. In Act II, as Senta sings her ballad, it’s as if the music invokes whatever is on the other side of the doors. Members of the Dutchman’s crew appears and vanish on the other side of the glass, and eventually reappear again, trailing blood. When the Dutchman arrives, he and Senta initially see one another through the doors. She wants out, and he wants in. The boundary is intensified during the revelry that begins Act III. Here, the partiers are all at the rear of the stage, and there is an additional metal screen between them and the Dutchman’s crew, who are seated in the front. As they call to the ghostly crew it’s fairly clear that they are doing something rather dangerous: attempting to penetrate the boundary between the living and the dead.
I think Richard Wagner must have been a difficult man to live with. Have you ever noticed that his solution to most relationship problems is the death of both parties? (Wouldn’t it be fun to have an “Ask Richard Wagner” advice column? People could write in about their personal problems and . . .actually never mind; this would be a terrible idea.)
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Belmonte and Konstanze are a little more troubled than their servants. While Pedrillo and Blonde worry mainly about not getting killed, the hero and the heroine suffer agonies of doubt, suspicion and temptation. In Act I, when Pedrillo tells Belmonte that Konstanze is alive he warns him that he (Belmonte) must control himself. B1 becomes agitated at the thought of seeing her, and B2 presses him to calm himself, for which efforts B1 shakes his hand and thanks him. But B2‘s efforts do not suffice – B1 turns to the conductor and cries “bitte, Herr Kapellmeister, bitte!” and the conductor, seeing his distress, begins the music for “Konstanze, dich wieder zu sehen!”
I enjoyed listening to this. Although I will admit, after what I’ve been up to during the last two weeks I can think of one and only one instance in which I would be willing to listen to any part of Alcina again for at least three months.
There is a term that I hear every so often, mostly from other American opera fans. It is ‘Eurotrash.’
I don’t like this term myself. I think it’s unfair and a little silly. Now, I am not saying that there are not bizarre, ill-conceived and sometimes even pointlessly ‘shocking’ productions of operas in Europe. There are. I think that the problem with the term ‘Eurotrash’ is that it has become a kind of shorthand for ‘that was not what I expected and I didn’t like it.’ It is possible to not like something for good reasons; it is also possible to not like something for fairly stupid reasons.
This Alcina from the Stuttgart Opera has been described as ‘Eurotrash,’ mostly (I suspect) because there is a lot of groping and also because one is left in no doubt as to the shapeliness of Catherine Naglestad’s breasts. There is nothing wrong, of course, with either shapeliness or breasts. But it is fair to ask in this instance whether the fact that we get quite an eyeful of Alcina’s is serving any useful artistic purpose.
I watched this again mainly because it was available on the internet and I could. I saw the DVD once before (for a while it was the only DVD of Alcina out there) and although I was not bowled over then I figured, hey — what the hell. Why not? Besides, I have had Alcina on the brain lately.
I watched a slightly old (1991) and somewhat bizarre production of La Clemenza di Tito a while back. It’s one of those ones where I’m not sure it’s odd because it’s twenty years old or odd because it’s odd. Probably a combination of the two. Anyway, I watched it because I was told that Ashley Putnam’s Vitellia was worth hearing, and this turns out to be true.
There are different flavors of Vitellia, if you will. There is the vamping, stalking, dress-tearing and ultimately having-a-meltdown sort of Vitellia, of which I am a great fan, and then there is the snarky, bitchy, ironic-detachment sort of Vitellia, which I also like, although not as much. Putnam’s is of the second variety. I figured apples to apples is better than apples to oranges, so Vitellia number one is Putnam, and Vitellia number two is Catherine Naglestad, who plays it in a similar style, but not identically. “Ecco il punto . . . . non piu di fiori” in both cases. (For anyone who 1) cares but 2) doesn’t know the story, which I imagine is approximately zero people, this is the part of the opera where Vitellia is betrothed to the emperor Tito who her lover Sesto, at her instigation, tried to depose; she believes that Sesto is going to go to his death for her, without revealing her complicity, and, well, the lady is not made of stone, after all . . . )
Putnam’s Vitellia is excruciatingly self-conscious. Vitellia is, I mean, not Putnam. The constant shifting eyes and self-enclosing gestures emphasize it, and the part to watch is “chi vedesse il mio dolore” / “anyone who saw my sorrow” – Vitellia gives the impression that she thinks she is being watched, or she has grown so used to watching herself that she can’t tell the difference. The tempo is quite slow throughout – this is Vitellia looking at herself in the mirror, as it were, and seeing death. Putnam has a voice of marginally better quality than Naglestad’s, and she’s definitely got those low notes, even the G (I think it’s a G, anyway), towards the end.
Naglestad’s voice has at times what I would call a kind of clarinetty-type nasal sound, particularly at the bottom. (That G below middle C is just. barely. there.) However. That is not the end of the story here. The first section of ‘non piu di fiore’ is wonderfully phrased. It lilts and floats and touches down right where it should (see “discenda Imene ad intrecciar” at 4.38) – this is Vitellia’s own detachment in musical form, and it’s perfect. The drops to piano are really pretty exquisite, e.g. at 7.59. This is Vitellia performing her own regret, and being aware of performing it, and yet feeling it anyhow, with a certain amount of self-indulgent self-pity (“chi vedesse” at 7.30) that is entirely appropriate to the character. The guy in the audience who yells “brava!” at the end? Yes.