Tag: Netrebko

Music for Hiding from ESPN

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.)

Donizetti / Anna Bolena / Wiener Staatsoper 2011

I watched this on a whim after going through the Met’s Maria Stuarda on DVD again. I had only ever heard Anna Bolena in audio form before, an older recording with Beverly Sills and Shirley Verrett in the two main roles (Anna and Giovanna). Anna Netrebko and Beverly Sills are apples and oranges in a lot of ways. Netrebko has a sumptuous voice, but I have never really warmed to her acting – this is weird, but I find I often prefer to listen to her sing rather than watch her because often her face is so oddly immobile. Not all the time, but enough that you just want to ask her to furrow her brow, just a little, to show that she can, you know? Sills, on the other hand, could sound shrill sometimes, especially later in her career, but she inhabited those Donizetti queens. Verrett, too – the scene in Part II when Anna and Giovanna figure out what the score is and Giovanna feels awful and Anna forgives her is dynamite on that old recording. (It’s the one with the London Symphony conducted by Julius Rudel, from 1972).

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Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Salzburg 2006 (3)

(Previous section here.)

One more thing about the Cherub and Cherubino. I was reminded yesterday (thanks, Rob!) of the moment in Act I when Cherubino finds one of the Cherub’s feathers on the floor and then reaches back, startled, to feel behind his own shoulder as if to check if something is missing. As if the names didn’t make it plain enough, he has a special connection to this other character. After all, Cherubino is sort of an odd and ambiguous little thing, right? He’s a boy played by a woman; he’s neither a child nor an adult; he exercises a rather strange erotic pull on the Countess; he infuriates the count, who accidentally kisses him at one point in the story; his relationship to Susanna seems almost sisterly, but then he tries to either kiss her or grope her or some variation thereof when he meets her in the garden in Act IV; he is consistently places he should not be and causing problems others would rather not deal with. Given both the Cherub’s role in this story and Cherubino’s identification with the Cherub, it makes a certain kind of sense that the Count and Figaro basically torture the kid during “non più andrai” at the end of Act I. Figaro slices him up with a piece of glass and the count gleefully joins in the mayhem. Figaro and the Count are at odds, but the type of things that the Cherub/Cherubino pair represent are in the interest of neither of them.

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Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Salzburg 2006 (2)

(Previous section here.)

This production has an additional character, listed as ‘Cherub.’ The Cherub is a young man (the performer’s name is Uli Kirsch) who is dressed in the same clothes – navy shorts suit, gray knee socks – as Cherubino, although he has wings. He leaps in via the window during the overture. On stage at this point are three couples, all frozen still: Bartolo and Marcellina, Figaro and Susanna, and the Count and Countess. Bartolo is reading something; Marcellina’s attention is elsewhere; Figaro is mentally measuring something and Susanna is thinking; the Count is nervously mopping his face and the Countess is gazing out into space towards the audience looking as if she is going to cry. The Cherub places an apple near each of the pairs, and moves his hands over them. Everyone seems to wake up. Marcellina moves toward Figaro, Susanna wanders up the stairs toward the Count, who turns to look at his wife, who walks, as if in a trance, up the stairs. Everyone’s unadmitted and even unwanted desires, in other words, have been unlocked.

This appears to be the function of the Cherub in this production. He releases the aspects of the characters’ selves that make them uncomfortable. He literally rides around on the Count’s shoulder at one point, and in general is often to be found pushing or pulling or otherwise influencing the characters. Whenever someone does something that might cause some confusion or trouble (Figaro’s plan in Act II, or Susanna’s “deh, vieni”) the Cherub sometimes stands with his back to the person in question, so that that character is for that moment “wearing” his wings. No one can quite see him – like the touch of the feathers he blows or lets fall, he’s just barely perceptible. (Susanna writes the note in “canzonetta sull’aria” with a feather from one of his wings, and during “deh, vieni” picks up  and toys with a Cherub feather. The feathers seem to communicate how the emotions the Cherub awakens seem to the characters: sometimes just barely perceptible, sometimes blowing in gusts; these are objects that convey a physical sense of being touched by something that might not actually be there at all, and which if it is is certainly not something you want to rely on. And if you try to grab it you might end up with nothing but fuzz. Feathers might actually be a good metaphor for subtext, when you think about it.)

The Cherub appears to have quite an influence on Cherubino in particular. When Cherubino enters in Act II the Cherub draws him into the room, and the Countess stares at him as if he’s the most amazing little thing she’s ever seen in her life. He stares back. He tries to flee to avoid singing his song, but the Cherub stops him. Cherubino sings “voi che sapete” and – well, ladies and gentlemen, this is one magic pageboy. Both the Countess and Susanna rest against the wall, looking dazed. The Countess in particular has an expression on her face that suggests she is, for the moment, in a very, very happy place. The effect is more than ably assisted by the truly lovely sound of Christine Schäfer’s voice – here and elsewhere in this performance she is sheer happiness to listen to. Later, during “venite, inginocchiatevi” Susanna strips Cherubino down to his shorts and t-shirt, but does not dress him up in girl’s clothes. Rather, all three of them take turns stretching out on the count’s fur-lined coat on the floor and everyone feels up Cherubino. And the two women take turns lying down so that Cherubino can touch them. (Cherubino, once he’s gazing down, rapt, at the Countess, clearly knows where he wants to put his hands, but doesn’t quite dare; he settles for a snog instead.) The point is, Cherubino is a particular focus of the Cherub’s attention and seems to communicate it to others as well. In addition to this he is often completely overwhelmed by what is going on around him. At the very end of the opera, when all the couples have been appropriately paired up again, and the Cherub despite all his efforts cannot wrest them apart, which causes him to leave, Cherubino – after a parting caress from the Cherub – collapses onto the floor. Poor little guy.

So, the Cherub is a sort of external expression of everyone’s mixed desires. He’s a figure of disorder and temptation and desire (all those apples!). It’s worth noting that the one person he has no effect on at all is Basilio, who – as his aria in Act IV expresses; this is one of the few productions I’ve ever seen where this aria really seems to do something – has long ago settled on being duplicitous, and as such, is so thoroughly fake that he apparently has none of the sort of self-deception or ambivalence which allows the Cherub an in with the other characters. Whereas Cherubino is the opposite: he doesn’t know who he is or what he wants or what he’s doing half the time – he’s the perfect access point.

(Next section here.)

Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro / Salzburg 2006 (1)

Based on my unscientific sampling of 1. YouTube comments and 2. people I know on the internet, this production tends to elicit strong reactions. Some of us squealed with delight from the very first viewing. Others could only sit there, knees to chest, shivering and rocking back and forth and hugging a tattered program from the Metropolitan Opera for comfort. Still others of us engaged in a certain amount of snide commentary while nevertheless buying the DVD and watching bits of it over and over. I was in the third category. I have been known to squeal and jump up and down in certain opera-related situations, but I didn’t – initially – for this. And I am not a booklet-cuddler under any circumstances.

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Making faces

I was watching the Met’s I Puritani last night (of which more later). Their Elvira in this performance was Anna Netrebko, and one of the not-quite-musical aspects of the performance that I noticed was that she is one of those singers whose face never seems at all disturbed by the physical process of singing – she always looks pretty, no matter the demands of the music. Perhaps she is lucky with muscle structure or something.

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Donizetti – Lucia di Lammermoor / Metropolitan Opera 2009 (2)

(Previous section here.)

The Met’s production of Lucia moves the action from Scotland in the early 1700s to Scotland in the mid-1800s. This has the effect of causing some aspects of the story to not make a whole hell of a lot of sense. For example, Enrico forces Lucia to marry Arturo because he is afraid of getting the axe unless he politically rehabilitates himself, but the sort of political feuding that this fear comes from makes much more sense for the 1600s or very early 1700s than it does for, say, 1835. Being beheaded for political crimes was not a primary concern of Victorian-era Scottish noblemen.

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Donizetti – Lucia di Lammermoor / Metropolitan Opera 2009 (1)

I have to admit, all that Strauss last week spoiled me for Donizetti. In comparison to Der Rosenkavalier, the score of Lucia di Lammermoor feels more than a little bland. Pretty in places, but after a while it starts to feel repetitive – and at the risk of sounding mean-spirited, there is a sense in which if you have heard some of Donizetti’s operas, the rest tend not to come as much of a surprise.

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O mio babbino caro / Netrebko, Scotto

I was thinking about this aria because seeing it performed within the actual opera it’s from made me like it more than I had previously. The last time I heard it was on this recital CD of Anna Netrebko’s. This is not a CD I listen to a lot. No particular reason – I just rarely find myself thinking about it, I suppose. Also the photos in the booklet make me roll my eyes a little. They verge on parody of ‘sexy recital CD photography!’ which I do not think was the intention.

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Saturday Evening Tired Trope

I just watched a really good La Traviata (It’s Netrebko and Villazon, Vienna Philharmonic, Carlo Rizzi, Salzburg 05). Netrebko is really in her element with this kind of thing.

This is one of those productions that is obvious-weird. You know, not ‘what the fuck are those kouroi doing in the finale’ weird, but just abstract enough that none of the symbolism requires much thought.

Also, ever notice how Violetta gets Lady Dedlock’ed? Yes, there is a connection between Traviata and Dickens’s Bleak House: there is a fallen woman who everyone has realized is still really rather a good person, and the people who ought to love her still do, but, well, we can’t have this kind of thing work out so of course she dies. Fun! But great music. (Verdi, I mean, not Dickens. I imagine Dickens would have had rather awful taste in music.)


So, I was in Auburn, AL this weekend, visiting my friend R who teaches at the university there. She had actually had Dead Crow Figaro on her Netflix list (yes, we are talking about that damn DVD again) and since I own the thing, I brought it with me and we watched it together. R likes opera, but she’s not as obsessive about it as I am, and also does not have the time to be as obsessive about it as I am, because she is teaching 3/2 and has had to give up caffeine and everything carbonated b/c she ended up with an ulcer last year due to stress. Apparently pretty much everyone in that department is either ulcerous, depressed, or in therapy.

But the climate’s nice.

Anyway. Highlights of me and R watching Le Nozze di Figaro:


Always Proofread

I was reading reviews on Amazon today of a DVD of the Marriage of Figaro (if anyone cares, it’s the Harnoncourt / Guth one with Anna Netrebko and some freakish staging/directorial decisions*) and came across the statement that in act one, Figaro finds a dead cow on the floor and tosses it out of the window, which statement was followed by the observation that this did not bode well for the opera.

Well, no, probably not.

(I think the writer meant “crow”.)

*including a version of “venite, inginocciatevi” in which Susanna, the Countess and Cherubino all end up rolling around together on a rug on the floor, which, oddly enough, comes across as much less appealing than you would think.