March 17, 2015

Shadows is here!

I finally got to a Live at the Met this Saturday*


This one:  [If the link dies at the end of the season:  LA DONNA DEL LAGO by Rossini]

In the first place it was fabulous.  I’m enormously glad I went.  The singing from the four principals was AMAZING.**

In the second place, however, it’s way up there on the silly scale—not quite ERNANI but close.   REALLY SILLY PLOT.  REALLY REALLY SILLY.  REALLYSILLY.  I also felt the translation was more cack-handed than was strictly required.***  We want to know what’s going on, we don’t necessarily want the exquisitely precise rendering of the Italian, which word choice may have more to do with how it sings rather than whether it makes any sense at all as something anyone might ever say, even two hundred years ago in a Walter Scott novel. †

In the third place, it’s all about Joyce Di Donato’s breasts.

I admit I wasn’t expecting this last.  I’m fine with the fact that she has breasts, but I wasn’t expecting them to be Triumphant Before Everything, aka Beware the Bustier.††   I suppose the designer/costumer might be trying to make sure we know that Di Donato is the girl, since her boyfriend is played by another mezzo soprano†††, and the boyfriend is, furthermore, in a kilt, which is perhaps not the best choice for a girl playing a trouser role.  I mean a kilt role.  It turns out that the entire Highland army—you got it that this is Sir Walter Scott, yes?—is in kilts, but you haven’t taken this in yet when Malcolm first strides on stage/screen and starts mooning over Elena.  Even knowing that Malcolm is going to be a mezzo the urge to giggle is powerful when she appears in a kilt.  It took me about four bars into her, um, his, um, her first aria however to become her drooling slave and beyond that I couldn’t care less. ‡

But I get ahead of myself.  The first bloke we see on stage is Juan Diego Florez ‡ in really icky plastic leather.‡‡  He’s the king, who has allowed himself to be distracted from stamping the crap out of the Highland rebels by tales of a mysterious beauty, whom he has disguised himself to get a glimpse of.  I mean, you don’t expect to see your king in plastic leathers, do you?  Elena is picking plastic‡‡‡ heather in another one of production/design’s curious choices for stage business.  She, for some reason, thinks he needs help§ and offers to take him home with her.  That loud bang you just heard was plot credibility exploding.  HONEY.  YOU’RE OUT IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE WITH A MAN YOU’VE NEVER MET BEFORE§§ WHO IS, FURTHERMORE, SHOWING SIGNS OF FINDING YOU HOT §§§.  I THINK YOU MIGHT AT LEAST MENTION THAT YOU LIVE WITH YOUR DAD, AND THAT A CHORUS’ WORTH OF HENCHPERSONS IS JUST OVER THAT PAPIER MACHE HILL.  I think.  The operatic geography remains a trifle underexplained.  Because the show is called The Lady of the Lake~ there has to be a lake, which our heroine rows across every day, apparently, to gather plastic heather and have random encounters with gleaming-eyed strangers.  After that, beyond a throwaway reference to taking the current random stranger back to the shore~~ the characters just hop around from set piece to set piece.  Special non-points are awarded for Elena’s cottage, which is a small roof on two walls, like a capital letter ‘E’ stood on its front with the central bar removed, plonked down in the middle of the stage, and through which the henchpersons/chorus eventually swirl, and to give themselves something to do, set up some banqueting tables out back.  Hope it doesn’t rain.~~~

I was regularly distracted from all the nonsense by the sheer glory of the music.  I like Rossini, I like bel canto, and I’m now passionately in love with not one but two mezzos.=  But this is one of those evenings when I came away thinking, It does not have to be this daft.  It does not have to be this daft.  It’s hard to do a lot of acting when you’re a girl in a trouser role dressed in a kilt, the king is mainly required to flounce variously, which is fortunately one of Florez’ skills, the superfluous tenor has nothing to do, poor man, but stomp about looking heroic== and be spurned by his affianced bride, who wants to marry the other mezzo.  But Di Donato is a really effective actress, and watching her creating small shining bits of sense within all the doolally is almost worse than if she’d been a student of the Leontyne Price school.&

Let’s also just take a moment to contemplate the character of the king.  Okay, he falls for Elena big time in that insta-whammy way popular in both opera and Hollywood romcom.  He’s the king.  What is he planning to offer this small-time laird’s daughter, before or after he finds out she’s one of the revolting scum raising arms against him?  I kinda doubt it’s anything her dad would recognise as honourable, even if her dad weren’t a member of the revolting scum.  And this is an era when the male relatives get to dispose of the bodies of the females, you know?  And when the short hero she doesn’t want to marry objects to her clear loathing of him, her dad tries to play it off as virginal modesty.  Uh huh.

But the king is supposed to be a good guy.  Well, I think.  I think he’s supposed to be being a good guy when he leaves the battle to go hunt up Elena and give her a ring that he says, rolling his eyes theatrically, if she shows to the king he will be merciful and give her safe passage to somewhere or other.  Tahiti.  Guam.  But there’s this hilarious exchange between them when he’s trying to go for her again&& and she says No no no!  I’m in love with the other mezzo!  And he replies, in what I feel is not wholly inexplicable bewilderment, Well, why didn’t you discourage my ardour when you took me HOME WITH YOU the other day?  Well, yes.  Although possibly because she’d only set eyes on him half an hour ago and she was wrapped in a sweet naïve mist of Scottish hospitality and concentrating on her rowing.  Oh, and she’s already in love with the mezzo named Malcolm.  But I repeat . . . what exactly is the king of Scotland OFFERING her?  A big fat dowry to cover up the fact that she may be pregnant when he pats her on the . . . head and sends her on her way again?

I’d forgive either the story or the staging a lot if the last scene weren’t quite so determinedly demented.  So, the rebels have been crushed absolutely, the (short) heroic rebel tenor has been conveniently killed, and Elena, with the safe-passage ring&&& has gone up to the palace to try begging for the life of her dad and her beloved.  And she meets the bloke she last saw in plastic leathers now all decked out in white and gilt and she says, oh, hi, I’m here to see the king, um, I have this ring that this random guy gave me . . .  um, you gave me.  You’ll see the king, the random guy says.  Grandly.%  So now we have languours of daftitude while the court all processes in and does galliard-y type things around Florez, who stands there looking like a stuffed prat, while poor Di Donato has to go on and on and on and on and on NOT GETTING IT.  She doesn’t get to get it till one of the courtiers plonks a frelling crown on Florez’ head.

Okay, whatever.  Cue general rejoicing.  The king pardons both dad and Malcolm and is apparently not requiring them to emigrate to Tahiti or Guam, which is very nice of him, and proves that he is supposed to be a good guy.  And if he draws Malcom aside later and mutters something about droit de seigneur, it doesn’t happen till after the curtain comes down.

I’m glad I went!  The music was spectacular and my head is still full of it!%%  I just wish—um—I just wish—um!

. . . And if not writing regular blogs causes me to write three thousand words when I finally get around to it again, even under the extreme provocation of an opera to rant about, I’d better rethink.  Um.  Again.

* * *

* How Christianity Ruins Your Life.  My Saturday evenings are now dedicated to sitting in the dark with monks.  The thing is that I want to sit in the dark with monks, but I miss my Live at the Mets.^  I have not figured this out yet. ^^  There are slowly more live opera broadcasts at your friendly neighbourhood cinemas but the New York City Met is my opera company and they broadcast to the distant punters on Saturday afternoons in New York, which is Saturday evening sitting in the dark with monks time in Hampshire, England.  Also, most cinema web sites are possessed by demons.  For example, apparently the ROH^^^ is streaming a Guillaume Tell which I would love to attend and THEORETICALLY it’s coming to my cinema but my cinema’s web site won’t discuss it.  ARRRRRRGH.  And since it’s a chain, you can’t get a local on the phone—and because something is coming to the chain, that does not mean it is coming to all the individual theatres belonging to that chain.  ARRRRRRRRRGH.

^ Including the prosecco and knitting in the interval.  There’s no reason I couldn’t do prosecco and knitting at home, I just don’t.  Way too self-indulgent somehow.  Because of course I am never self indulgent.  Ever.  About anything.+

+ Choooooooocolate.  Also how many books in the TBR pile(s)?  And we’re not even going to mention yarn. #  Or All Stars. ##

# Or for that matter furry four-legged creatures of the night.~  Some people would consider three of these somewhat self-indulgent.  Personally I just call it dangerously insane.

~ Although the ‘of the night’ part is kind of my fault.  I go to bed late.

## I had to THROW OUT A PAIR OF PINK ONES recently.  I’m still in mourning.  But the amount of water they were letting through the holes in the soles was getting kind of extreme.

^^ I have told Alfrick that they should lay on more silent sitting-in-the-dark contemplative services.  Only one a week seems, you know, careless.  Unprofessional.  For a bunch of monks.

^^^ Royal Opera House.  Which is one of my problems.  The ROH tend to be up-themselves scum-sucking banderglizzards.  When I first moved over here a quarter century ago and was bouncing all over the landscape with JOY at the prospect of two, count  ’em, TWO, world-class opera houses only a little over an hour away+, my heart was quickly won by the English National Opera, which was the other one, both because it was CHEAPER++ and because they hired real human beings who answered phones and personned the front of house if you wandered in off the street and who were nice.  The ROH hired scum-sucking banderglizzards.  And, guys, in today’s economy, including twenty-five years’ ago economy, you can’t afford not to take the money of vulgar Americans who want to buy full-price+++ seats and you should behave accordingly.  Vulgar Americans don’t necessarily think brass-balled rudeness in a British accent is charming.  Some of those memories linger.  Although the memory of going to The Huguenots at the ROH on what I think was my first birthday in England, with Peter in a dinner jacket and me in green velvet, also rather lingers.   I’m not sure what Peter has done with his dinner jacket but I still have the green velvet.

Anyway.  The ROH does beam some of its screenings down here to the one cinema within my driving range, but the ENO does not.  Yet.  I hope they’re planning to cast their webby net wider soon.

+ Especially the way Peter used to thunder up the motorway when he and Wolfgang were a lot younger.

++ And before any ROH supporters tell me, with lashings of dudgeon, that the ROH offers cheap seats too, it didn’t use to.  And I’m only taking it on faith that you can actually hear and/or see anything from the cheap seats.


** I admit I didn’t think the supporting-role baritone was quite up to the standard set by the two tenors and two mezzo-sopranos, but that may be the sheer physical facts of a low voice emerging from a human voice box.  Are there coloratura baritones?  I don’t know.

*** But I think I’m losing my grip on the whole translation question as a result of struggling with the Bible.  There are a lot of WHAT? moments about the Bible anyway and groping hastily for some other translation usually only makes it worse.

† What is it with opera composers and Sir Walter Scott?  Surely they could have got their silly from a wider range of sources?

†† That’s bust-ee-ay as in corset, not bust-ee-er as in possessing more bust.

††† And as the off-duty operatic soprano doing the backstage introduction to us nonpresent audience drones finished her plot synopsis by saying:  and so the mezzo gets the mezzo, and tough luck to the two tenors.^

^ Note that this opera has a HAPPY ENDING.  YAAAAAAAAY.   Mind you this happy ending requires the killing-off of the awkward superfluous tenor, but hey.  He starts breathing again in time for the curtain calls.

‡ Her name is Daniela Barcellona.  And it’s just as well she doesn’t have an enormous back catalogue or I’d be taking out a bank loan.

Just for the record, they kiss.  Which I like to think is another blow for irrelevant-detail-blind staging.^  Like the Oscar Wilde play—I can’t even remember which one—I saw in London about twenty years ago where the actor playing the female lead was black:  which I’m afraid is the first time I’d seen historical-drama colour-blind anywhere but Shakespeare.  Yessssss.  But while Wilde plays don’t call for black actors and Malcolm in DONNA DEL LAGO is written for a mezzo,  Di Donato and Barcellona’s duet that the kiss is at the end of is so frelling ravishing you’ve probably forgotten everything but ohmygodohmygodohmygod, and also, Barcellona is TALL, so she can do the male-swagger thing, including the looming protectively over the girl, pretty well.  Better, in fact, than most tenors, who tend to be bandy-legged midgets.  Barcellona towered over both of last night’s tenors.  Just by the way.

^ Maybe Rossini was thinking about gay sex really.  But the story on stage is het.

‡ Who is a SHORT TENOR.  Di Donato, who doesn’t look very tall herself, was in flats.  Florez’ boots had substantial heels on them.  But he is a bloke.

‡‡ Or if it was real leather, the Met needs a new buyer.

‡‡‡ I perceive a pattern.  Not in a good way.



§§§ I know you’re a legendary beauty and all, but the bustier is not really supportive^ of the modest Scottish virgin thing. And while Florez does the overheated Latin^^ lover persona very well the character he’s playing in this case would be forgiven for the thought bubble appearing over his head saying NOBODY TOLD ME THE LEGENDARY BEAUTY IS FAST.

^ hahahahahaha

^^ He looks about as Scottish as Barcellona looks like a bloke.  I can deal with this.  The plastic leathers must go.

~ Um, why?  The Lady of the Lake as an Arthurian trope has been around a long time, and Scott must have known Malory’s Arthur?  Surely?  Or is there some Arthurian resonance in the Scott novel that I’ve forgotten?^  And if Rossini’s librettist cut it out why didn’t they CHANGE THE TITLE?

^ I read shedloads of frelling Scott at various times in my misspent youth, but in my memory, never my best feature, the stories have all mooshed together in one gargantuan wodge of forsoothly, studded with hopelessly wet, floppy heroines.  Don’t Rebecca me.  She only looks good in comparison.

~~ And leaving him there?  What?

~~~ It’s the Scottish Highlands.  IT NEVER RAINS THERE.  NOOOOOOO.

= The tenors are fine.  And I’ve been a fan of Florez for a long time.  But . . . give me one of those mezzos.  Please.^

^ I am of course Giving Up Singing Forever again.  Had a voice lesson today. . . .  No, no, this blog post is already reader-numbingly too long.

== which is harder still when you’re the shortest person on the stage.  Pav is taller than this bloke.

& Stand Like Fence Post, Wave Arms and Sing.  I adored Price and have a lot of her recordings but she was not an actress.

&& Nothing like a little rumpy-pumpy to soothe those battlefield nerves.

&&& I mean, how much can you trust someone wearing plastic leathers?

% Trying not to take a cheap shot here.  But grandly is not Florez’ metier.

%% To the extreme detriment of my own singing.  Sigh.  Why didn’t I take up the xylophone?



I think I haven’t been to any of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s live-streaming cinema broadcasts this season, for a variety of reasons, including being fired by my dog minder, but also . . . and I realise how pathetic and lame this sounds . . . because Saturday night is my favourite frelling church service, sitting silently in the dark with monks.  Saturday night is the only service all week that has the silent-sitting thing.  I’ll try to catch an extra service at the abbey, I hope tomorrow night**, but if I want to sit silently in the dark I’ll have to do it by myself.  Whiiiiiiine.

But this run at the Met is probably Joyce DiDonato’s last performance of La Cenerentola, and last night was the broadcast.  And Radio 3, which would be airing it only without the eye-candy part, has been advertising it pretty hard.  And there are, in fact, limits to my dedication to God (and monks).***  Joyce DiDonato, you know?†  Not to mention Juan Diego Florez, who is adorable aside from the high Cs††.

Because I bought my ticket at the last minute I had a choice between being at the extreme end of one of the back rows and thus seeing the screen as if reflected in an unfunhouse mirror . . . or the aisle of the second row and thus needing a neck like a giraffe to tip my head far enough back to see the screen at all.  I went for the second row.  And brought a large tote bag with two big fat pillows in it—much to the hilarity of the guy behind me in row three†††—and lay down for the show.‡  Worked a treat, thanks.

AND THE OPERA WAS FABULOUS.  STAGGERINGLY, GORGEOUSLY, JAW-DROPPINGLY FABULOUS.  If they rerun it—which they sometimes do, and I would expect DiDonato’s final go at one of her signature roles would be a good candidate—and you have the FAINTEST interest in opera or classical singing or music—GO.  GOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGO.

And . . . just by the way . . . not that this has anything to do with anything . . . but there are three cute guys in it.  This doesn’t happen in opera.  You’re lucky if you have one who, compared with a dead fish, comes out slightly ahead.  Florez, as previously observed, is darling.‡‡  Dandini is also pretty frelling cute.‡‡‡  And Alidoro . . . ::fans self::§  I mean, gleep.§§

. . . . Anyway.  I have now spent over an hour sifting through YouTube clips§§§ because I am so devoted to the welfare of my blog readers, and I HAVE TO GO TO BED.  Maybe I’ll get back to CENERENTOLA in a footnote sometime. . . .

* * *

* The etc is chiefly that we went to a National Garden Scheme garden today . . . and took Pav.  I’ve been wanting to take her to an open garden but there aren’t that many that allow dogs—fewer than there used to be, I would have said, but maybe it’s just around here, or we want to go to the wrong gardens.^

This one was gorgeous, mellow old stone house on the bank^^ of one of England’s pencil-thick so-called rivers, but winding romantically, with waterfowl and reeds.^^^  The garden then extended back across fields with vistas and benches and the occasional outburst of perennial border.  And the weather, which was forecast to be grouchy and streaming by turns, was glorious, bright blue sky and big fat scudding clouds.#  I barely saw any of it, since Pav was trying to see, respond, engage, EAT all of it simultaneously and you couldn’t see those little short legs, they were churning so fast.  ADVENTURE!  WE’RE HAVING AN ADVENTURE!  Pantpantpantpantpantpantpant.  She did not seem to be sorry to sit in my lap for tea, however, where she was more easily suppressed than if I tried to make her lie down under my chair##, although I did have to keep a sharp eye on the cakes.  NO.  NOT FOR DOGS.  NOT EVEN FOR HELLTERRORS.  Cute is not enough.  —She was much admired by several aficionados of the breed, however, as well as cringed away from by several people who think they know that all bull terriers are evil biting machines.  Sigh.  We saw Labs (of frelling course), Goldens, poodles, gazillions of ordinary boring hairy terrier terriers . . . but we were the Supreme Only Bull Terrier present.

^ We used to allow dogs when we opened our garden at the old house.  Just by the way.  We also offered free plastic bags.  Ahem.  Today this aspect of the presence of dogs was pretty funny.  Pav in the heat of excitement had an unscheduled defecatory moment which—since I always have plastic bags secreted about my person in several places in case I forget and run out in the standard coat pocket location—I recovered.  But there wasn’t anything like a bin to deposit the securely wrapped morsel in.  I can’t now remember what we did when we had our garden open;  did we expect people to carry canine excreta home with them?  Surely not.  Anyway.  No bin.  So Pav and I went back to the gate while Peter bought tea+, and inquired there if there was a public bin nearby?  The car park this private garden was using for their open day was attached to some public wildlife preserve, you’d frelling expect there’d be a bin.

You’d’ve thought I’d made an improper suggestion++.  Both ladies looked alarmed and revolted and the nearer one edged her chair away from Pav doing her I-am-a-lunatic-and-I-have-no-manners shtick but clearly secured by a thick+++, heavy, short lead.  No-no-no-no-no, quavered one of them, clutching her twinset to her bosom.

I was tempted to make little dashes at them—like the bully in the playground waving a poor confused harmless snake at the wusses, although I would not describe Pav as poor or confused, or harmless if you’re wearing clean jeans—but I didn’t want to be told to go away before I’d had my tea.  So I restrained myself (and Pav).

And took our parcel back to the car.  Which was kind of a frelling walk.  Next year the owner, whom I heard saying jollily that they’d had a lot of dogs today, should consider both the suitability of the volunteers on the gate and the provision of a small bin with a lid.

+ Including the all-important Cake Selection process

++ Live in a yurt!  Buy an armadillo!  Get legless on a night you’re wearing stacked stilettos and make the Street Pastors give you a pair of flipflops!

+++ and spectacularly gaudy.  So gaudy I had a pair of meek little English men creep up to me and ask softly where I’d bought it.  Oh, the States somewhere, I said loudly in my rich American accent.  I forget.

So maybe it was the (pink) harness and rainbow-dazzle lead that the ladies on the gate were disturbed by, and the drooling hellterror exhibiting them was incidental.

^^ High enough, I guess, that they did not have water in their cellar this winter.

^^^ Rushes?  Tall strappy-leaved edge-of-river plants.

# The best thing of all was how easy it was to find.  It looked in the directions like it should be easy.  But that doesn’t mean anything.

## HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  But she lies down very well if there’s cheese or chicken involved.  And I did have chicken jerky in my pocket in case of emergencies.

** As I wrote to Alfrick, emailing to warn him I wasn’t coming last night, I start jonesing for monks if I go much over a week without a hit.

*** I’m a Street Pastor!  I’m about to become a frelling (nonreligious, but God still told me to) Samaritan!  Cut me some slack here!

† wowzah

†† gonzo

††† And I wager my neck was in better shape than his at the end of the four hours

‡ Leg stowage I admit can be a problem in these situations, but as it happens there was no one in the front row, so I could rest my raised knees against the seat without anyone objecting.

‡‡ In the interviews I’ve heard with him he sounds like a decent human being too.  I refuse to find darling people who are clearly major creepazoids.^

^ I’m old.  My hormones are under control.+

+ Except for the ones involved in hot flushes.  I thought you STOPPED HAVING hot flushes/flashes after a few years.  I’m waiting. . . .


§ Hot flush.  No, really.

§§ Gah.  I have wasted a lot of time trying to find a clip where you can not merely hear but see him.  There’s also quite a good one of him singing poor Cherubino off to battle but you don’t get a close up.  This one is fairly explicit.  He’s the one doing most of the singing, making up to the girl in the grey dress.  ::fans self more::  Oh, Dmitri [Hvoroskovsky], you may have a rival.^


§§§ Okay.  Some knitting also occurred.

Opera. Yes.


I lay in bed last night listening* to Aethelstan playing chimney-pot rugby with his buds.  And today pretty much the entire Soggy Bottom road is under water, not just the bridge over the ford—and the lake at the Gormless Pettifogger** crossroads is back.  You can just turn around and go the other way, as some people do, and in another couple of inches I will too, but at the moment the small sea still passable by anyone who isn’t glamorously low-slung.  Wolfgang is neither glamorous nor low-slung.  So having ascertained there’s no one in the immediate vicinity who is going to plunge in before you, you take a deep breath, aim for the centre of the ominously shimmering water***, put your foot down and hold your nerve because your bow wave will briefly wipe out the view through your windscreen and if you stop you’ll stall.

Diane in MN

. . . Years ago, I took someone who didn’t have any experience of opera to see Butterfly, and it just about knocked her over. . . .

The first Butterfly I ever saw live, which was well into my opera-going career—largely because it wasn’t a favourite and so I wasn’t in any hurry to spend opera-ticket prices on it—included a Butterfly tittuping briskly onto the stage just before she sings Un bel di, wearing some kind of faux-Japanese footgear and . . . taking a spectacular header full length on the floor.  WHAMOw.  Suzuki, who didn’t have a stage direction for this, just stood there with her mouth open†.  Butterfly, poor thing, pulled herself together, staggered to her feet . . . and sang.  In her defense, this was a touring company—I think it may have been the Met, back in the days when the Met still toured—so this was an unfamiliar stage with unknown hazards.   This sort of thing must happen to touring companies kind of a lot.  But I remember almost nothing else of the production—haven’t a clue who was singing, for example.

But opera doesn’t lend itself to realism (say I), it’s not what it’s for.

I think this is quite right. . . . I’ve always felt that the plots are secondary to the music anyway: the texts chosen by a composer might not hold up for a century or more, but the music is about emotional truth and that stays relevant and keeps us coming back.

Boldface mine.  TAKE THAT, RICHARD STRAUSS.  Yes.  Absolutely.  You can’t worship at—say—the Verdian shrine, which I do, faithfully, and maintain any dignity arguing in favour of equal textual validity.††  But the music is about emotional truthYes.


. . . About ugly Americans and Kate showing up completely inappropriately off a US Navy warship… it’s an exotic opera, right? 19th (and early 20th) century Europe was obsessed with the Exotic Other… anyone outside the pale of “civilized” Europe. There are so many exotic tropes: childlike, naive (Butterfly) cruel, barbarian (Turandot), controlled by feelings more than reason (Butterfly and Turandot both), and over-sexualized (Pinkerton). The thing that’s hard to remember (at least if you’re American alive during US-as-world-superpower era) is that Pinkerton is every bit as exotic as Butterfly in that opera. It’s an Italian opera… Americans were exotic to Italians. So I don’t find it at all surprising that the librettist wouldn’t’ve checked his facts about who would’ve been allowed on a Navy warship: facts don’t matter when you’re writing about exotic peoples. They are the Other—we get to project on them whatever we want. . . .

I know you’re the professional musician with the PhD in music history and I’m not but . . . I don’t agree.  Or don’t accept this argument as adequate.  Chiefly for two reasons:  first.  Butterfly was written after the turn of the last century, and Puccini lived till the ‘20s.  I know they didn’t have the internet yet (!) but sheer bloody parochialism is always with us and is no excuse—just by the way, Americans are still exotic in, let’s say, rural Hampshire, England, in 2014, which blows my mind.  But a hundred years ago is not the Palaeolithic.  By 1900 you had precious little excuse for officially having no clue about the reality of other nations—or for not bothering to check big fat crude factoids like whether or not wives are permitted on US Navy warships.  Second.  These verismo bozos don’t get to have it both ways:  either there’s a veneer of genuine realism on their work or there isn’t.  I still call it a melodrama, not verismo†††, but part of what makes Butterfly both so effective and so infuriatingly manipulative is the gloss of ‘reality’.  The reason Butterfly works for me is because her role is so devastatingly magnificent:  her last aria, as she’s about to kill herself, is shattering.  And it carries me over seeing Kate trailing up the hill behind Pinkerton calling Butterfly!  Butterfly!  A lesser piece of work and Kate would throw me out of the story—and the agony—altogether.‡

I love Un Ballo in Maschera—which premiered the year after Puccini was born, in the mid-1800s—and that it’s supposedly laid in Puritan Boston doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  But, as I said about La Trav the other night, Verdi never wrote anything close to verismo as it’s usually defined:  he gets into people’s hearts amazingly‡‡ but most of his librettos are trash.  I’m also aware that Un Ballo got moved to a Boston locale for tricky European political reasons—speaking of exotic:  oh, the barbaric North Americans won’t care—but my point is it doesn’t matter.  It’s backdrop.  That’s all it is.  Fifty years later operas are beginning to be integrated into their storylines.  I know the march of progress isn’t a united front, but for example Jenufa was pretty much contemporary with Butterfly!!

And I’d better shut up before you get your PhD off the mantelpiece and wallop me with it. . . .


. . . my most common stabby thought while playing opera was always along the lines of “Can we PLEEEEASE stab the soprano now (maybe even by the end of the first act!) so we don’t have to play for her dying for the next 15 pages (exaggeration but not by all that much!)??” My biggest frustration with playing opera in general is that, yes, there are some absolutely ravishing parts of operas, but there is so much else that is just plain endurance on the part of the orchestra! At least the audience has the floor show (so to speak) to watch while the tenor or soprano repeats things over and over. . . .


Hey, that’s a thought.  It’s still (comparatively) early.  I could sing.

* * *

* ‘Sleeping’?  What would that be?

** Not my favourite pub.

*** Maybe it already is that extra couple of inches deep and I’m about to be very embarrassed and have to ring the RAC to send someone with chains and very high tailpipe clearance to rescue me.

† Not very living the role of her.

†† Ernani?  HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  Il Trovatore?  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. La Forza del Destino?  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. . . . Stop, stop, you’re killing me. . . .

††† Il Tabarro?  Verismo?  Oh, right, wrapping your wife’s lover, whom you’ve just murdered, up in your cloak, so you can have the big reveal and spook her the frell out^, YES.  VERY REALISTIC.  VERY, VERY REALISTIC.  Melodrama.  One of the things that bites me about this story is that you have that sad and touching (in that manipulative way Puccini is so good at) scene earlier where the jerk of a husband turns all wistful and says they used to be happy together before the baby died and you think, oh, poor them, no wonder they’re having problems . . . and I’d even go with the murder.  Unhappy husband presented with worst fear:  his wife’s much-younger lover.  I DO NOT GO WITH THE WRAPPING THE CORPSE IN HIS CLOAK.  Husband is still wearing the cloak, you understand.  GROSS ME THE FRELL OUT.  Melodrama.

^ How to ruin someone’s day big time

‡ I may also be a trifle preoccupied with what a thankless role Kate’s is as it’s usually presented.

‡‡ I will take one Verdi to seventeen Puccinis any day.  Just by the way.


Singing and a ’cello


I had FOUR new songs to learn, or to try on for size and choose from, the last fortnight, since Nadia, the lazy slut, was taking Easter Monday off,* they just don’t make voice teachers like they used to.**  And then I had flu.***  I’ve only been really singing for about the last three days.†  So, at rather a pelt, I learnt a song and a half:  Long Time Ago arranged by Aaron Copland†† and half of When Daisies Pied by Thomas Arne†††. 

            In some ways the increasing gap between what I do or can do at home and what I do or can do for Nadia is INCREASINGLY FRUSTRATING.  I do my most emotive singing . . . mostly over the washing-up.  Please.  But there’s something about having something that is just slightly distracting‡ to do with your hands and about one-tenth of your brain, as well as no audience‡‡, that enables all kinds of freedom.  I caught myself breaking my heart over the dead Eurydice some time this weekend . . . and of course the moment I noticed it went away and I couldn’t get it back.  Arrrrgh.  But in terms of sheer howling frustration at the perversity of self-consciousness . . . I was doing scales at the sink.  It was, again, some time this weekend.  I’d been singing for a day or two at that point but this was my first attempt to get back into my top end.  Oh dear, I thought, that A is still very squeaky.  So I went to the piano because sometimes having the piano to lean on is comforting.  And it wasn’t the A.  It was the BI don’t have a B—yet—but I’ve thought I probably will because I have the A# most of the time at home and an occasional chalkboard squeal above that.  This was definitely a B, and while it was far from a thing of beauty, it was real enough that if I could make it on demand it would be useful in a choir where I’m being covered up by a lot of better Bs.‡‡‡

            Of course it only lasted long enough for me to go, glibberglingglang, that’s a B!  That’s a real, live B!  Whereupon it went away so emphatically I could barely hack my way to the A.  Siiiiiiiigh. 

            When I went in today the first thing Nadia did was make me do a lot of physical stretches to get the bits reconnected since, post-flu, they’ve all shut down in postures of rigid defense.  The point being that I was even singing badly . . . but I had still managed to produce that top B I don’t have (yet) simply because I knew I had had flu and wasn’t expecting much.   ARRRRRRGH.

            She then asked me what, of whatever I was singing, I’d most like her input on, and I pulled out Long Time Ago.  And here’s the thing . . . she didn’t say anything about the notes and all that basic stuff (despite the fact that they are not perfect).  She went immediately into phrasing and interpretation. 

            You know this improvement scam is kind of intimidating. . . . 


cicatricella wrote on Fri, 13 April 2012 22:02

Re: the violoncello thing. I know not how it might apply to voice, and why there would be both a ‘cello’ and a ‘violoncelle’, but ‘cello’ is actually an abbreviation (or was originally anyway). ‘Cello’ is a diminutive in Italian and a ‘violoncello’ is a ‘little (contra)bass’. That’s why some books (especially older ones) write it ” ‘cello”


Yep. So the performer who listed it as “cello” was probably a nice enough person, and the performer who listed it as “violoncelle” was full of themselves.  

I did wonder.  It’s the ‘violoncelle’ performer that we missed.  The cello player was a nice young man—and I think I remember he placed in the instrumental category.  I did know about the “ ’cello” from reading lots of old books, but I assumed that since this was in some other language it must be some other instrument. 

Diane in MN

Unfortunately he’s not the least interested in opera and unless he has a voice teacher at some point who wakes him up to the glories of the operatic repertoire I think we’ll lose him to the West End. Feh.

How good are you at subverting voice teachers? 

SNORK.  That approach hadn’t occurred to me.  Well, the family have been threatening to move south, to be nearer the rest of the clan. . . . 
I didn’t hear Traviata this afternoon and from your description, I would have disliked the production a whole lot. As when:
[. . .] she realises he’s asking her to give up Alfredo forever SHE TAKES HER DRESSING-GOWN OFF and trails around in her slip. Oh gods how I hate the wandering around in your underwear to indicate vulnerability and innocence thing. (She does it again later at the party. [. . .])
This would have taken me right outside the performance, 

YES.   THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT IT DOES.  ‘Surreal’ has rules (even if I’m not sure what they are) just like ‘fantasy’ does, and if you break them, you ruin the story, and the spell.  The end of the first act, when she’s singing about how she has to be free, and then she hears Alfredo off stage singing about the power of love, in his wet way, and it stops her . . . in this staging, he comes on stage and confronts her, although I think you don’t have to know the standard set-up to recognise the dream-like quality of it here:  she is confronting herself really.  And it works.  That’s one of the things that works a treat.  It’s hard to believe that someone who came up with this would also come up with trailing around in your slip. 

even if other elements (like Alfredo in his underwear) had failed to do so.  

Indeed.  I was having a little trouble, although I would have coped, with the cabbage roses.  The boxer shorts broke my suspension of disbelief snap.  Reasons Never to Be A Stage Actor:  your director can make a fool of you and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

I dislike and am distracted by staging that wants to trump the music or libretto or both.  Aaargh. It’s too bad that on top of that, the singers were not at their best. 

Yes.  And part of the frustration is that a good deal of this staging was really interesting.  But . . . I was talking to someone else who saw it, who agreed that Dmitri sang like a stick.  It may have been characterisation—Papa Germont is a stick—but it was not a good choice. 


I haven’t seen many productions of La Trav, but I’ve yet to see one in which the 2nd act didn’t bore me. (Well, except for Papa Germond’s aria. He’s being a jerk, but oh! is it gorgeous music.) This includes two of Zeffirelli’s stagings. Maybe the act is simply hard to stage effectively. 

We-ell. . . . I wouldn’t say boring, myself, but then I love the opera too much.  I do absolutely know what you mean.  For me the music, well sung, can deal with anything (and Dessay, even not in top voice, was well worth watching, and I’d see her in it again without hesitation).  What I guess happens with me is that I look forward to all three scenes, and I would have said that it’s pretty hard to get both Germont and Violetta and the party scene wrong, they’re both oozy with easy drama.  All right, it’s not hard:  put Violetta in her dressing gown, and then make her take it off, and then wander brokenly around the rest of the stage pulling all the cabbage roses off the furniture.  ARRRRGH.  Anyway.  It shouldn’t be hard to stage both those scenes.  The rough one is the one between Papa the Thug and Alfredo the Wet Brat. 

              And yes, since you ask, I’m insane, we knew that, I’d love a chance to try. . . . 

* * * 

* I think this was a toddler-minding problem rather than a desire to loll around at home in her dressing-gown all day eating bonbons and watching soap operas.  


^ Drama queen?  What?  Clearly you don’t take music lessons from a Nadia. 

*** I know.  I still owe you a what? blog about how the New Thing came to be.  It may be some help if I mention now that ‘raving with fever’ had something to do with it.

 † And I still have one spectacularly blocked ear which is very, very boring.  

††  So I have a thing for baritones.  Sue me.  Of the half dozen that come up immediately on YouTube this is my favourite.  And having listened to all of the ones I liked twice (and this one three times) I have STOPPED because Nadia doesn’t like me listening to YouTube—I told you this, that she believes that you pick up interpretations without meaning to and she wants her students making their own mistakes.  And their own not-mistakes.  As recently as when I was first learning Dove Sei I thought she was straining at gnats with me—I could certainly see why she’d be thinking about this with a student who, you know, had a real voice and was really singing—but . . .

               Um.  Okay.  Yes.  I’ve crossed that line too.^  Granted that Long Time Ago (or When Daisies Pied) is a simple song, but my excuse for heading for YouTube was to learn the actual line as quickly as possible without worrying about my eccentric piano-playing.  But I was pretty much ignoring the melody because I knew I could pick it up, and listening to the phrasing.  How does he do that—oh.  Oops. 

It is amazing, as I take more lessons and crawl slowly forward in the singing, how much more I can hear in others’ singing. 

Yes.  Exactly.  I’ve been aware of it increasingly—as I mentioned again on Friday after the Pan-galactic finals, that your listening is different in kind if you’re having even a feeble and talent-free stab at doing whatever-it-is yourself.  But I don’t think I had realised till I started listening to good professional singers singing Long Time Ago the other night just how far down this road I’ve come.  Oh wow.  Look.  Elephants.  Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.  

All I need is more work, more work, more work, and no other things interrupting it. (Bwah-ha-ha-ha! she sings, with expression and only the right amount of vibrato. . . .

Well . . . that might be true with you people with voices.  It’s certainly true that I could use more practise time to good effect but . . . I’m still going to hit the wall with this voice-equivalent sooner rather than later.  Good reasons to keep singing off the McKinley Obsession List. 

My friend Susan . . . mentioned today that a great contralto died a few days ago at age 90, Lili Chookasian. I knew nothing about her, but Susan gave a link to one of her recordings and I was completely wiped out by it, tears and all. Well below both our ranges, on the low end, but in case you’re interested, here’s a link: ed 

Oh my.  Yes.  (Which is why I’m sticking it in here, for musical blog-readers who don’t look at the forum.)  I would love Kathleen Ferrier anyway, but I also love her because she’s the only true contralto I’ve pretty much ever frelling heard of. 

              I also sing Blow the Wind Southerly and even though I love the song and there’s no reason I shouldn’t, still . . . why? ^^  

^ For better and worse.  Generally speaking I’m fine with the fact that I’m not going to be a (very) late-flowering Beverly Sills.  But I do kind of catch myself wishing that I had the chops+ to be a big frog in even a very small pond.   Some of this is worrying about the future of the Muddles:  I’ve told you we’re going to be getting a new director and Who Knows.  And thanks to having more throat trouble this last year than I have had since I was a bronchitis-prone preteen and that the Muddles have lots of long breaks from rehearsal, I’ve never quite fully committed to them.  If our new leader wants us singing medleys of old Beatles hits I’ll be out of there so fast I’ll give myself road burn.  

+ Er . . . croaks? 

^^ And Che Faro.  And He Was Despised.  And O Waly Waly.  She sang a lot of my favourite repertoire.  And I am a glutton for self-punishment.  


‡ There are good musical moments out with hellhounds too.^  But you can never afford to be too distracted from continuously scanning your surroundings for sudden perils.  And I’ve never had a spoon or a tea mug leap out of my hands and go scalding off after a rabbit. 

^ Even if Chaos will not stop looking up at me earnestly when I sing.  When we’re out hurtling he trots at my side.  At home he gets out of the nice comfy dog bed to stand near me and stare.   No, I’m not in pain.  Go away.   

‡‡ Other than a deranged hellhound.  

‡‡‡ Or at least Griselda.  You really only need Griselda.

La Trav and other less salubrious topics


The delicate, easily disturbed and faint-hearted should look away NOW.  (You can skip down to the opera review.)  


So, what is the worst thing?  The very, very worst thing?

            Think about it a minute.  I can wait.

            Hint:  It has to do with dogs

            Do I see a certain dawning horror in your eyes?

            Yes.  That’s right.  It’s when your plastic bag breaks and you find yourself holding a NAKED HANDFUL OF DOG SHIT.*  And have I mentioned lately that hellhounds, due to their little digestive issues, tend to produce squishy excreta? 

            I was also wearing fingerless gloves at the time.  So maximum vileness, disgustingness and destruction of personal property.**

            I WILL NEVER USE THIS BRAND OF PICK UP BAGS AGAIN.  Part of the complete scenario here is that I know these bags are, ahem, crap, but I was loath to throw out the rest of the packet not because it was a waste of my money—pick up bags are cheap—but because I worry about all that additional plastic in the environment that town-dwelling dog-owners produce and so I’ve gone on using them checking them carefully first.  HITHERTO the breakages have been visible as soon as you drag the thing open to use it.  Not today.

            And no, we weren’t even on the river walk at the time, with nice easily available water.

            I will spare you the details of the rest of the walk home.  In this case hurtle is an understatement.


* * *

I wasn’t sure even La Traviata, my favourite opera, could save this day.  When I was failing to get to Manon last week due to the remains of the lurgy I was telling myself that NOTHING was going to stop me going to La Trav this week.  NOTHING.  And in fact nothing did.  Not even the need to keep washing my hands every five minutes. 

            It was Natalie Dessay’s first Violetta† and I’m a big fan of Dessay—she’s an actor as well as a singer, so you don’t have to close your eyes and concentrate on the music.  And she had Matthew Polenzani as her Alfredo—and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as her Papa Germont.  What could go wrong? 

            Well, the first thing is the production—it’s the famous Willy Decker Red Dress, Big Clock and Doctor Death production.  I’m embarrassed to say I’m not sure if I’ve seen it before or not.  I don’t like surreal††, so it’s not naturally going to, ahem, sing to me.  And there was a lot of it I didn’t remember—but there was quite a bit I seemed to remember so . . . whatever.  Maybe that’s all part of the surreality.  At least with this team a lot of it did work.  One of the built-in problems with La Trav is that Alfredo, the romantic hero, is a nasty, spoilt, self-centred little wet.  I don’t know how he does it, but Polenzani is good at making wet-tenor characters you badly want to slap understandable and appealing.  He managed it here, but this is also one of the things the production (I think) gets right:  he is really persecuted by the dissolute crowd Violetta hangs out with and you can sympathize with him going a little off the rails. 

            Another inherent problem is that the only reason you know Violetta is dying of consumption is because the plot says so.†††  What you see is some singer strong enough to carry an extremely demanding role.  In this production Violetta totters onto the stage during the overture, spends some time bent over coughing (silently) and has her first encounter with Doctor Death.  So you’re set up for the situation.  And you see her pull herself together and morph into the heartless courtesan as the party starts.  (This is the sort of thing Dessay is really good at too.)  And she periodically addresses herself to the doctor during the action, which reminds you that she’s under a death sentence.   I thought this worked really well.

            The things that didn’t work so well . . . in the first place, poor Dessay was having an off night.  You could hear it, and during the intermission interview she said as much—and you could see her dismay in her face.  I’d guess her to be a perfectionist, possibly beyond the perfectionism any Met singer needs, and here she is in her first Violetta, which is one of the plum soprano roles, at the Met, and on the Live in HD night broadcast across the globe. . . she’s having to nurse her voice along and still isn’t quite succeeding.  Her speaking voice sounds like she has a head cold, but that wouldn’t necessary screw up her singing voice.  Except that it did.

            After a killer first act—Alfredo’s wooing and her response is especially effective—I thought most of the second act sucked pond scum.  The basic stage set is very stark, which is fine, and the beginning of the second act, when Violetta and Alfredo are tucked up in their jolly country love-nest, everything is draped with great swathes of fabric covered in big fat pink and red cabbage roses.  Duh.  Okay.  Got it.  They’re wearing dressing-gowns of the same stuff and—first mistake—our hero, under his dressing-gown, is wearing an ordinary business shirt and boxer shorts.  This is not a look even a major heart-throb could bring off, and the pudgy Polenzani does not succeed.  The business of Alfredo finding out that Violetta is bankrupting herself to keep him in the style to which he has become accustomed is bungled . . . and then Papa Germont shows up.  Violetta is  still in her dressing-gown.  What?  She’s an effing courtesan and this is the seriously bourgeois dad of her lover.  She would be rupturing herself to be as proper as possible—and when he starts out being rude and she says that she’s a lady in her own house—done well this is terrific putdown but SHE’S IN HER DRESSING-GOWN.  And . . . the awful truth is that I was not convinced by my hero Dmitri.  He sang well but . . . but . . .

            And then when she realises he’s asking her to give up Alfredo forever SHE TAKES HER DRESSING-GOWN OFF and trails around in her slip.  Oh gods how I hate the wandering around in your underwear to indicate vulnerability and innocence thing.  (She does it again later at the party.  OH STOP IT.)  The face-off between dad and son is no better.  This is an inherent problem that this production did not solve.  Dad starts the ‘come home to your loving family’ routine just as Alfredo has read the letter from Violetta saying she’s leaving him, so he’s not at his most relaxed and persuadable.  And the poor actor playing Alfredo doesn’t really have anything to DO except fulminate for several minutes while dad sings.  I’ve never seen this done persuasively.  In this case they made it worse by Papa slugging his son . . . and then instantly dropping back into his ‘all is forgiven’ refrain.  What?  Who needs to forgive whom here?  Papa Germont is the most awful thug to begin with.  He doesn’t need any help.

            The third act was a mixed bag.  I was smarting from the second act—and there’s no way to get around the fact that the reason the Germonts come to see her is because they know she’s dying and won’t mess up Papa’s snug little middle-class life much longer.  Although the surrealism does mean that they get away with the doctor saying authoritatively ‘she has only hours to live’ which kind of whacks your suspension of disbelief in most stagings;  and that there isn’t a bed solves the problem of whether Violetta, with only hours to live, gets out of it and runs around or not.  And Dessay is a very, very good actor.  I usually do burst into tears at the end—indeed I feel all coitus interruptus if I don’t—but I didn’t have to think about it this time.  I was totally heartbroken. 

            Oh, and that second leg-warmer is almost done.

 * * *

* I admit this may tie for first place with projectile diarrhoea indoors, which I also have some direct experience of, but despite the sheer grossness factor the really distressing part of that isn’t the clean up but the throat-closing, heart-squeezing worry about your critter.  

** Can These Gloves Be Saved?  Probably not.  I’ll boil the right one a few times, but . . . probably not. 

*** I’ve washed my hands so often the skin is coming off.^ 

^ Will I Ever Use My Right Hand Again.+ 

+ Probably.  Typing one-handed is a ratbag.  And while I can use chopsticks with my left hand, it’s not a fun time. 

† At the Met, anyway.  I think she said in the intermission interview it was her first ever. 

†† I like practical fantasy.  I like the magic to have rules, and I want to know where the latrines are and if they’ve got good drainage. 

††† And whoever wrote this year’s synopsis is a moron.  It begins:  ‘Violetta Valery knows that she will die soon, exhausted by her restless life as a courtesan.’  SHE’S DYING OF TUBERCULOSIS, YOU CRETIN.  Her lifestyle is certainly contributing to the speed of her decline, but if that were all that was wrong with her she’d last a good while yet.

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