Oh, Met. You failed me. The last opera that I got to watch via PBS during my extended vacation way down south was Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor. After an hour, I gave up, turned off the telly, and walked away to do something else more productive with my time.
Prince Igor was absolutely impossible to watch. As a spectator—part of the audience—I was completely confused. The visuals, stunning as they were, did not help the plot of the opera (from my vantage point).
I find this visual confusion most interesting because I listened to the Saturday broadcast of Prince Igor during the spring and enjoyed it very much. I’m afraid it was the production that ruined the opera for me. Obviously, either I lack the depth to appreciate the production; or the director is indulging in Regietheater that makes only a handful happy.
For more on Prince Igor, follow the link.
As a side note, I would be remiss if I did not address the Met’s recent labor dispute between management and the craft unions and the threat of a lock-out. Without the unions, we are lost. All of us. Unions, whether or not we belong to one, protect all of us who work. They fight for fair wages and fair work-place practices; and anyone who works benefits from the work that unions do.
The summer has morphed into a running total of Sundays of opera. Down here, where I am, our local PBS station is broadcasting the Met’s just-ended season, and I’m gobbling up the opera broadcasts like candy on Easter morning. So far, we’ve enjoyed Aida, Tosca, Falstaff, and La bohème. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Werther will appear in the summer Sunday evening line-up eventually!!!!!
These Sunday evening broadcasts have been brilliant, enjoyable, blissful. It’s my favorite art form, and it’s also summer—what’s not to love about this formula? Opera + Summer = Bliss!
If you really start to examine the operas, though, the one common theme that runs through all of them is “absurd situation.” Each opera that’s been broadcast so far this summer has, as its base, an absurd situation. The absurdity of the opera usually makes it all the more enjoyable. Life, at its most absurd, seems to be the only way we see the truth (sometimes).
Recently, I found myself in an utterly absurd situation. Too absurd to describe. During the evening of absurdity as I am now describing it, all I could think was “this is as good as an opera or better” and “right now, my life is an opera.” While I’m glad that absurdity lasted only an hour or so, opera’s absurdity may last as long as it wishes. I’ll watch and listen and thoroughly enjoy myself. After all, it’s opera; and opera is supposed to be absurd and big and over the top.
Today was not my best day. Although I’m sure it wasn’t my worst day, I know I’ve had much better days. Today seemed to be one disaster following in the wake of another disaster; so, basically, it was a plenitude of disasters. At one point, I took solace in a salted caramel latte, but the solace lasted only as long as the latte. I tried my tried-and-true Richard Croft Spotify playlist, and even that failed to redeem the day.
So, tonight, instead of waxing poetical about opera (because frankly, I haven’t had a spare moment in the past month and a half to sit still on Saturdays to listen to the Met broadcasts—oh, woe is me), I thought I would list the fun vlogs I’m watching on Youtube these days.
To do vlogs right, you really have to dedicate time and energy to them and the whole transmedia storytelling process (as if I have that kind of time).
These days, I’m totes in love with
Emma Approved (playlist); Emma Approved is developed by Bernie Su and is a project of Su and Hank Green.
Kissing in the Rain (playlist)—created by Yulin Yuang
Classic Alice (channel)—created by Alice Hackett
Bo Skovhus, baritone, talks about the the voice, the soul, the physicality of singing. Brilliant peek into a singer’s head.
Yeah, about this opera. I should clarify for everyone reading that I am not a fan of Richard Strauss’ operas. Not at all. I don’t understand them musically, can’t seem to find an entry point into them; in other words, what he was trying to do with opera, trying to say, the point he was trying to make, simply eludes me.
Last weekend, the Met’s Saturday broadcast was a recording of a Fall 2013 (I believe) performance of Die Frau ohne Schatten. I tried to like it. Really, I did. The singing was expertly done. The Met Orchestra was alert and alive. The problem was me. Or, I should say, the problem was R. Strauss and me.
From Der Rosenkavalier to Ariadne auf Naxos to Capriccio to Elektra to Die Frau, R. Strauss and I don’t speak each other’s musical language.
I really felt frustrated by my lack of musical understanding of Die Frau last Saturday, so I undertook to listen to another recording of Die Frau this week, while recovering,at home, from the flu. I will admit that this recording of Die Frau, conducted by Solti, was more to my taste. Then again, I’m of the opinion that Solti could have conducted an orchestral arrangement of the phone book, and I would be happy to listen. So, it may have something to do with interpretation and my ears. Still, the opera’s core essence escapes me; and I find this frustrating.
Usually … typically … opera’s meaning comes easily to me. I get it. R. Strauss, not so much. I can’t get past the noise he wrote (forgive me, R. Strauss enthusiasts) to discover where he was going with the noise.
What opera(s) frustrates you?
At the moment, it looks as if I live in a wonderland of ice. No, really. Everything that can be covered in ice is covered in ice. The trees are wearing their best icy dresses; the houses look like they’ve been attacked by a toddler with a bedazzler; and we won’t even start to discuss the automobiles. Yowzers.
However, I’m trying to not contemplate the ice. Instead I’m contemplating this AND this AND this.
So, the first contemplation: LA Opera’s Billy Budd, happening this month. I really want to be there, listening to Liam Bonner, Richard Croft, and Greer Grimsley as Budd, Vere, and Claggert, respectively. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but a girl can dream.
And the second contemplation I owe to my local classical radio station. Yesterday, I heard the most delightful piece of music, and I chased it down today. Catrin Finch’s Celtic Concerto, as found on the recording, Blessing, with John Rutter and Finch. I listened to the entire album today, thanks to Spotify; and nothing disappoints. It is a stellar album, but Celtic Concerto is something extra special.
The third contemplation: Debussy’s Trois Nocturnes. The link above takes you to “Nuages,”but there are two more, should you be interested enough to seek them out. I also have to thank the radio station for the Nocturnes. Both Finch’s and Debussy’s music were in yesterday’s superb line-up.
The contrast between the Celtic Concerto and Debussy’s Nocturnes yesterday seemed quite ideal for the winter day that it was. And the music suited my mood to perfection.
What has you in a contemplative mood during these oh, so chilly winter days?
Last Saturday, the Met’s broadcast was Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in English. It was truly The Magic Flute, not Die Zauberflöte.
Granted, the Met did this for a reason. The Magic Flute was produced particularly for families, to give children an introduction to the world of opera, in a venue that is very much an adult space. I can’t fault the plan. I love the idea of introducing children to opera, classical music, etc.
I can’t fault the production, either. The broadcast was very good, with excellent singing and diction! I understood the English text via radio, and THAT is an accomplishment!!!!
Last Saturday’s broadcast was pleasant—the opera clocked in right at 2 hours; and the live audience really seemed to enjoy themselves. I could hear laughter coming over the speakers. Live audience participation is always something I enjoy hearing as an auditory-only participant in the Met’s Saturday operas.
Well done, Met. Well done!
The Met radio broadcast season is well underway, and we all shout, “hurrah!” In the midst of a bleak and cold late autumn and what promises to be a very cold winter, the Met’s radio broadcasts brighten my Saturdays immensely.
In other news, I’ve got an amazing friend who blesses me with the gift of connections and opportunities to do what I love—write about opera. A few months back, he made an introduction; and I ended up writing an article about a local opera singer making good in Europe right now.
And now, he’s pointed me in another direction, with another introduction. I have no idea how this opportunity will work out, but the sample has been submitted.
In one’s life, there are friends, and then there are friends. He is one of those friends who really makes me believe in my own abilities and prompts me to stretch wings I wasn’t sure I had. Friends like him are priceless. He blesses me. How can I ever return the blessing?
The Met’s radio broadcast season began last Saturday, and we all say, “hooray!” If you have no idea to what I’m referring, look here.
As much as I love the HD transmissions from the Met, I love the radio broadcasts! The winter is a much happier time because of the Saturday broadcasts.
This past Saturday, the Met was broadcasting the new production of Rigoletto with Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the title character and Matthew Polenzani as the Duke.
Rigoletto at the Met is NOT Hvorostovsky’s first outing in this role; he has sung Rigoletto around the world. To be perfectly honest, I heard the other voices, but I focused mostly on Hvorostovsky. The man sings Verdi brilliantly. He is one of the true, modern-day “bosses” of Verdi, and for me, this broadcast was all about him. Hvorostovsky does such an admirable job of straddling that vocal line between baritone fullness and basso profundity. I’m always in awe of not only the depth of his voice, but also its breadth. As a baritone, he sings with remarkable fluidity and beauty; and his breath control is world-renowned. Supposedly, he can hold his breath like an Olympic swimmer …
Hvorostovksy made me believe in Rigoletto as a character. I felt his pain and his anguish, through the radio. That’s not easily done! A singing actor in complete control of his voice’s coloring and inflection can break my heart through the radio, and Hvorostovsky is a masterful technician.
Polenzani was an admirable Duke. Then again, Polenzani is an admirable tenor, who is completely capable in every role he inhabits. Unfortunately for him, and for me, the Duke is not a character that is easy to like, and Polenzani did not particularly move me vocally; but he tried. He did try.
I have a grand confession to make … I didn’t even pay attention to the singing actor playing the role of Gilda. That’s how engrossing Hvorostovsky was.
I remember watching this particular production on PBS earlier this year. The sets and costumes—all with a Las Vegas flair to them—helped me approach Rigoletto very differently. To read my reaction, look here.
I’m looking forward to this Saturday’s broadcast—Falstaff!
I seem to be mourning a loss of elegance tonight. No, I’m not talking about fine china or perfectly polished silverware. I’m not even referring to a cultured whisper or polite conversation.
I simply miss the elegance of certain processes. The way things are done, should be done, are supposed to be done. It’s the difference between hearing a lyric soprano attempt Wagner when there is a true dramatic soprano lurking off-stage who could do a fabulous job of it if someone would just let her come out on stage and sing.
It’s that moment of watching a server crumb a table, simply because it’s the elegant thing to do. Elegance can be something as simple as brewing a pot of tea using leaf tea, not tea bags. I’m not referring to the fancy things of life. I’m just longing for the process of elegance. The pleasure of performing a task well for the sake of well-doing.
I miss elegance.