Monday, November 30, 2009

Birds Eye View

It was a thrilling day! Diana won tickets to see Les Contes d’Hoffmann at the MET. On the way up, up, up to our seats we had a new view of the chandeliers. I expect Swarovski Crystals would not want to hear this, but they look to me like something from the set of Lost in Space, just a bit sparklier.

Our seats were in the upper most tier. It did offer a full view of the orchestra. If we ever sit up there again, I will have to invest in some opera glasses. Perhaps that way I will be able to tell who is singing.

It was fascinating to sit in on a dress rehearsal.

After the first act they announced a 30-minute intermission. Off we trotted down the 100 staircases (the nice part is that the walls and handrail are all deep red velvet!) only to find the superb coffee and snack bar closed. Unfortunately, we did not get the memo that all of those people with sandwiches wrapped in tin foil got.

I guess we were doing that German thing, getting our intermission exercise. Up we went back up to the rafters.

Another announcement: the guy playing Hoffmann had a cold and would be replaced by his understudy. 1. Wow, that’s what he sounds like WITH a cold!? 2. What a wonderful way to compare two fantastic singers. The first Hoffmann had a deep resonant voice that projected well. The second Hoffmann reminded me of Bing Crosby, a crooner with excellent diction.

During the second intermission Diana and I tried out the view from an empty box seat. We were very interested to see all the note-taking tables and computers set up on the orchestra level. I also really enjoyed listening to Conductor James Levine give orchestra notes after the performance.

The highlight for me was the scene in the brothel (third act in this production). The costumes and set were like my artwork moving around to fabulous music. Big elaborate dresses, hanging chandeliers -- all in tones of deep red.

I have some ideas!


P.S. There were some wonderfully racy -- hm, dare I even call them costumes? These girls would have fit right in at Burlesque by the Beach!

Les Contes d'Hoffmann live dress rehearsal

This morning/afternoon Meridita and I went to a full dress rehearsal of Bartlett Sher's new production of Les Contes d'Hoffmann at the Metropolitan Opera.

It was FABULOUS. The staging, costumes and sets were gorgeous and imaginative. The production included a number of ballet numbers that I absolutely loved (I need to see more ballet). The dancers were highly sexual in some numbers, such as the Venetian "palace" scene. They were dressed in skimpy, sexy lingerie and performed an exquisitely slow acrobatic number.

I really loved the music. Much of it was incredibly familiar. I think Offenbach must be used in every period piece ever made. Not to mention commercials.

Our dress rehearsal included a last minute cast change: Joseph Calleja, who sang Hoffmann in the first act, was not feeling well, and the performance was taken over my a stand-in. Although Calleja had a lovely tenor, I really liked the stand-in better. His voice was clearer, more bell-like, and he projected farther and just seemed somehow more of a person. Of course, this could be because Calleja was feeling under the weather.

The Olympia doll was played my Kathleen Kim, and she was utterly enchanting in her coloratura number. I also was very much moved by Anna Netrebko singing the Antonia character who sings herself to death.

It did occur to me that this is a rather sexist play. The women are vain, materialistic, dishonest, obsessed, or else completely objectified (the doll).

On a final note, our balcony seats kind of blew. We were pretty high up and pretty far back, and that really makes a difference in the experience.

I liked this production so much I'm considering going to the theater to see it live in HD. That would be a lot of Hoffmann in a short period of time, though.

Ways to avoid Italian Homework Torture

1. Go to see Le Nozze di Figaro at the MET!
While sitting up close, so you can see all the beautiful costumes, think about what a great idea it is to make the beautiful garments with opposite colors, notice how it makes them vibrate. Fall in love with all of the red shoes. Imagine singing like that while wearing red shoes! Throw over the red shoes in favor of the Isabel Leonard playing Cherubino. Close your eyes to avoid looking at the cockeyed set in the third act and just listen to the music. Oh, the music!

2. Finish another tote bag version of your own drawing:

3. Watch Amadeus on Netflix.
Marvel at F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri as he describes Mozart’s music:
“Extraordinary! On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse - bassoons and basset horns - like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly - high above it - an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I'd never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling.”

4. Vacuum for 3 hours listening to Le Nozze di Figaro, again.

5. Wave to all your students and former students playing football in the basketball court as you Hula Hoop in the handball court.
Repeat every day for at least an hour.

Sunday night give in to the inevitable…
Page 78. 4. Tu hai finito i compiti?

Sì, ho finito.

Love, Meridita

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Les Contes d'Hoffmann DVD

I just finished watching a Netflix DVD of Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann performed in 1981 at the Royal Opera.

The quality of the DVD is not great. I definitely see the value of the HD ones. And for this, a lot of the singing wasn't subtitled for some reason.

So, last night I had it on while I worked my puzzle, but didn't watch it; I just listened. I really enjoyed the music.

Then I woke up today at around 11 and watched the whole thing. It's kind of enchanting and moving, but not overwhelmingly so. I didn't get caught up in it like I did in La Boheme.

It's an interesting series of stories that are all about thwarted love. The costumes are wonderful, and there's a languid Venetian brothel scene that was stunning.

I'm going with Meridita to see a dress rehearsal at the Met tomorrow morning, and I'm curious what this different, probably more modern production will be like.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Le Nozze di Figaro

I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled -- thoroughly delighted by Le Nozze di Figaro which I saw last night at the Met. (Thanks to Meridita's generosity).

It was my first Mozart and I was just enchanted my the music. It was so fun and pretty. I know that sounds trivial, but that's how I felt. Completely absorbed in the pleasure and prettiness of the music.

The cast was superb. I particularly like Lisette Oropesa as Susanna. Her voice is clear, sweet soubrette (a word I learned from Plotkin) and seemed perfectly suited to the music. She was a charming actress as well. Also charming and with a beautiful voice was Isabel Leonard in the trouser role of Cherubino. Very playful and coy in her acting, but soulful and lovely in her singing. The Rossina was played beautifully by Annette Dasch, who had the more mournful songs in the otherwise very lively happy silly opera.

The male lead, Almaviva was played by Lodovic Tezier, who I saw as Marcello in the DVD version of La Boheme. Firgaro was played by Luca Pisaroni. (I don't know why Figaro gets the last bow, as it really seemed like Almaviva carried the show). Dr. Bartolo was played by John Del Carlo, who played the same part in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. It's fun seeing the same performers in different roles and becoming familiar with their voices and their style.

I had a grand time at the opera. It was a truly delightful evening.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Opera Fanatic

This movie could not be more aptly named. Fanatic Stefan Zucker interviews retired Italian Divas. The women are splendid -- regal, witty, graceful, elegant, self assured and intelligent. There is lots of old black and white footage of them belting out arias in their prime.

It is really hard to get past Zucker's speaking voice, which is to my untrained ear, a grating falsetto. He goes back and forth between Italian and New York inflected English. The interviews are all conducted in Italian. I may be projecting here, but I had the feeling the Divas were all wondering what the hell was up with the guys voice.

The subtitles seemed to be the Cliff Notes of what was actually being said and to lag behind the spoken conversation. For me this was a positive thing as I got to practice my Italian listening skills. The Divas all had lovely speaking voices and many of them broke into song at some point. Their now lowered registers were lovely and a welcome relief from the high pitched Fanatic.

During one interview, conducted at La Scala, the Fanatic proclaimed an erotic attraction to the Diva; her comebacks are priceless and had me laughing out loud. It was also the moment that I realized the Fanatic reminded me of Irving a frightening pervy clown Diana and I had to work with years ago.

If you can distract yourself from the sound of the Fanatics voice, I recommend the film.

Buona notte,

Friday, November 13, 2009

Plotkin's Opera 101

The second it arrived from Amazon I devoured Fred Plotkin's Opera 101: A complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera.

I still haven't finished the chapter on 400 years of opera, but thoroughly enjoyed the chapter on becoming a cognoscente. It provided so much useful information about terminology, and how operas work. I immediately got certain terms, such as soubrette, lyric soprano, coloratura, and basso buffo (the second I heard that term, I knew it referred to the older men in Il Barbiere), and think that having a rudimentary vocabulary is definitely going to help my ear in the future.

The second half of the book details specific operas for which he suggests specific recordings. I haven't bitten into this yet, but am certain it will be an important resource going forward. For instance, I intend to see Les Contes d'Hoffmann live in HD at BAM next month, and will definitely read his description before hand. I may even purchase the recording he recommends and listen to it before going (a practice he firmly advocates). I haven't done that yet. It will be interesting to compare my experience of an opera that I've heard prior to going.

One slight bone I have to pick with him regards supertitles. I understand his stance against them, as one's eye does flick back and forth between the titles and the action, and I can appreciate that it has diminished my attunement to the music. But I have found that following the words drew me in more deeply, and until I am much more familiar with opera in general and specific operas in particular, I think I would feel alienated from the experience without the titles. But, maybe the second time I see something I will give that a try.

Also, I think the book would benefit from a short glossary.


Audio book version

I am not done with the book either, but thought I might as well add a bit about the audio version.

I downloaded Opera 101 right about the time we went to the opera in Red Hook. In other words, early in this journey. I was a bit smug having just the purchased the version of Rigoletto (Sutherland, Pavarotti, Milnes; London Symphony Orchestra) Plotkin uses as his introductory opera!

My inspiration to listen to Rigoletto came while reading: La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language by Dianne Hales. I have been trying (rather unsuccessfully) to learn Italian and this book is a delightful look at the process of learning the language. Hales references the oh-so-hum-a-long-able La Donna e Mobile. I looked it up on itunes and recognized one singer -- Pavarotti. After that few second preview listen, I went for it. My first opera download!

The problem with the audio version of Opera 101 is that one can not read the text and listen to the opera at the same time if you are using itunes. It's also impossible to back reference. I really miss having lists and glossaries, and frankly, pictures! Well, I am assuming there must be pictures.

I had taken a hiatus from listening to the book for about a month and went back to it tonight. I love to listen to audio books while I work in the studio!

Tonight I was working on a version of my own drawing on a canvas tote bag for The Future Figure on view at Figureworks Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn through December 20, 2009.

Both are done in nib pen and ink. The full drawing is about 6" wide.

If you enjoy audio books, you might enjoy hearing Plotkin read his own work. And then you get to multi-task in the studio while you learn about opera!

I think Opera 101 is an excellent introduction for an opera novice. I recomend it!

Love, Meridita

PS: Can it really be true that in Germany at intermission the audience members walk around the lobby to get exercise? I think I would find myself much more simpatico with the wine sipping flirtatious Italians!

Joyce DiDonato, Rossini Opera Arias 2009

Meridita and I were privileged to see the wonderful mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in her signature role as Rossina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Yesterday afternoon I downloaded a new recording of her singing Rossini arias, and so far I've listened to it twice.

Her voice and the music are really delightful. I mean, delight is the word that best describes my experience. It's a pleasure to listen to.


"Music, not magic, is the cure..."
Music and the Myth of Arcadia in Renaissance Italy, Giuseppe Gerbino

I lay on the couch listening to Joyce DiDonato's Rossini: Colbran The Muse (Opera Arias) as I recovered from a raw carrot allergy. The music was almost as effective as the Benadryl.

I flitted in and out of my antihistamine driven stupor thinking how DiDonato's voice sounds to me like a soaring bird -- swooping, diving, in trills and twists and turns. Just beautiful!

xo Meridita

Opera on Tap at Freddy's Bar & Back Room

Last night was stupendous. Meridita and I went to see Opera on Tap perform at Freddy's Bar and Back Room on Dean Street in Prospect Heights.

This group of performers really blew me away. There were about 8 different singers, all with powerful and beautiful voices. Each sang twice and they all dramatically entered each of their arias, and are each uniquely talented.

One thing that was a real treat was hearing opera sung in English and German. I had been (and still was to some degree) resistant to hearing this type of music sung in those languages. Hearing the words in English is a completely different experience, a bit more "mundane" or less romantic. However, I began to get into it, and felt that I could appreciate what it must be like to understand Italian while listening to Puccini, for example. I now feel primed to listen to an English opera.

The German was less daunting, but a little strange on the ears. There were a couple of hard "Ks" in there that jarred me a bit. But, I eventually entered this world as well.

I was also pleased that after reading Plotkin on the different types of sopranos that I could distinguish between a lyric soprano and a soubrette.


Opera at Freddy's
Diana and I went to hear Opera on Tap in the back room of Freddy's.
A total dive, but the singing was superb.

This was an encore number which featured the cinder block in the air for the entire aria!!

Italian and French opera seem to be our languages of preference at this point.

The soap dispenser in the bathroom also dispenses advice:

May I suggest trying an opera or two while you are at it!?

Love, Meridita

Thursday, November 12, 2009

La Boheme

From Tuesday, October 10, 2009: I just watched a DVD of the Metropolitan Opera's production of Puccini's La Boheme from 2008 with Ramon Vargas as Rodolfo and Angela Gheorghiu as Mimi.

I had read the synopsis online and thought the story was actually pretty uninteresting. It took me a while to get into watching the DVD on my computer, but after the first twenty or so minutes, I was enthralled.

The music is so emotional that it really carried me through the whole thing on this kind of intense at the edge of my seat level. I was near tears at many points, and crying like a baby in Mimi's death scene. In fact, I was so moved that when they were doing their curtain calls it was hard for me not to applaud, here in my living room!

I loved the singing, but Gheorghiu's performance was kind of weird, particularly in the early scenes. Her attempts to be girlish just seemed kind of twitchy and manic, and the closeups did not really work for this performance. I thought Vargas was very sweet, although sometimes he looked kind of simple and goofy.

I'm really glad I watched this. I think La Boheme is one of my favorites so far. As I said, the music really moved me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Turandot at the Met

A wonderful thing yesterday afternoon: a friend had free tickets to Turandot at the Met which got passed on to me!

I can't believe it, my second Met opera in my life, in the same month a my first!

It was tremendously exciting. This was a very full, rich, lush opera. With a full chorus and dancers (and acrobats), unbelievably stunning and ornate sets, and a powerful story.

There were fewer lovely arias than in Mme. Butterfly and Il Barbiere di Seviglia, and there was just a different sound and tone to the whole piece. My favorite performance was the slave girl, who had a lovely, very emotive voice. And the famous aria, Nessum Dorma (?) was heart-renchingly beautiful.


Elixir of Love and Trick or Treat

The day began at Rush Kids with amazing performances by members of Opera on Tap of arias from Elixir of Love, Cosi fan Tutte, La Traviata and Mefistofele. Rush Kid Seth summed up our day listening to live opera, talking with the opera singers, designing sets and costumes by saying: "My life has changed."

I was at my desk during our lunch break when Diana called me to say we had been given tickets to see Turandot at the Met (tonight)!


All this and it's Halloween in NYC.

I hope you got at least half as many treats as I did!

Love, Meridith

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written at the time (Oct 9, 2009): Tonight I saw Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the Metropolitan Opera!

True, I'm not a fan of broad comedy, but this was just stunning. I've never really seen a live opera before, and I was practically transfixed the whole time. In fact, the time basically flew by.

I saw Joyce DiDonato playing Rosina, and Claudia Waite had the small role of the housekeeper. I loved her voice and would have liked more of her. The diminutive Barry Banks played Count Almaviva, and I didn't care too much for his voice actually. It just didn't transport me the way the other singers' did. Rodion Pogossov played Figaro, and he was funny and charming and had a big presence (although also, like the Almaviva, a slight man). The music teacher was played by Orlin Anastassov, who had a wonderfully rich bass voice. But he hammed up the performance in a kind of bizarre way that I found unpleasant. Everyone was basically great and I was just absolutely thrilled to be there.

It's astounding, the vocal ability of opera singers. I mean, I feel like an ass saying that, but it really does leave one in awe.

I had never been to the Met and I found the experience very uplifting and exciting. Just being in the opera crowd...

Il Barbiere Di Siviglia at the MET

The seats were excellent, the singing superb, the coffee at intermission appreciated and the audience attire far more varied than I anticipated.

There seemed to be a high percentage of very short men in the company and the mule on stage for at least three scenes was a big surprise.


The Next Excursion: Opera on Tap at the Brooklyn Museum

Written at the time (oct, 3 2009)
: Some friends and I went to the Target First Saturdays thing at the Brooklyn Museum tonight because the events were all opera-related. As it was the last time I went to one of their First Saturdays, the scene was confusing and kind of tedious. However, at 8 they started a two-hour open mic opera session and it was amazing. The people that got up were almost all really, really good, and it was such a fun and lively format. The majority of people who performed, however, were from a troupe called Opera on Tap that performs in bars throughout the city. I'm going to get on their mailing list and make sure to catch them again!

The Hungarian opera was a visual pleasure and an auditory nightmare. Once you got over the cacophony there was an absurd quality (the dancers costumed in hooded Lycra bedsheets and the gnomish short-tied long-haired narrator who repeatedly walked on stage to explain the action) that pushed it into the realm of comedy.

On the other hand, the Opera on Tap crowd at the open mike downstairs were great!!

Addio, Addio, Addio, Addio, Addio......

Official Converts: Madama Butterfly on HD at Lincoln Center, September 2009

Written at the time: Last night a couple of friends and I went to Lincoln Center to watch an outdoors High Definition screening of Madama Butterfly on a huge screen.

This was the first full opera I ever watched, and I loved it. Loved it. I was riveted. I had read the synopsis on line before, and the production included subtitles, which was very helpful. And I just got so caught up in the beautiful music and emotion. It was a wonderful evening.

Patricia Racette played "Cio-Cio San" (Madama Butterfly), and her performance was amazing. She had to carry the whole show.

I think I'm now officially an opera convert!

Addendum: Marcello Giordani was a wonderful, beautiful, arrogant Pinkerton


Great things are happening, signorina
(Also in HD at the MET the week before: Il Barbiere di Siviglia )

FIGARO Great things are happening, signorina.

Gran cose, sign
Sì, davvero?

Vado, vado, non gridate.

A year later: August 2009, The Metropolitan Opera in Coffey Park

Written at the time: Last night I went to an all too short recital in Coffey Park. Put on by the Metropolitan Opera, the performance took place on a small stage in a small park in the middle of housing projects. I was part of a small audience.

The soprano was Joyce El-Khoury, and the bass was the very handsome Keith Miller. (I found out online that they are married to each other in real life). Their singing was delightful. The repertoire included a number of light crowd-pleasers, including a few numbers in English, such as the "I Remember It Well" Maurice Chevalier song from Gigi.

I love the performance, but, alas, it was very short. Only 45 minutes!


Liberty Sunset Garden Center

The free opera in the park was pretty keen too!

Love, Meridith

THE FIRST INFECTION: June 20 2008: The Metropolitan Opera in Prospect Park

Written from at the time
: Thankfully, I also had tickets to a Metropolitan Opera summer concert in Prospect Park. They aren't doing one in Central Park this year, so it was kind of a big deal. I had VIP tickets through my mother and my friend and I were able to sit very close. I had never seen opera before, and even though this was just a concert and not a full production, it was amazing. I was riveted. Although it's weird, even though we were so close, it was hard to see and I found myself spending more than half the time looking at the giant projections. The singers were Angela Gheorghiu (soprano) and Roberto Alagna (tenor). They did about four duets and two solos each, and there were two pieces performed by the chorus. I was most enthralled by the chorus, actually, and Gheorghiu's solos were a very, very close second.

My friend and I enjoyed it so much that we are going to buy tickets to see the real opera some time soon.


Arias and Bats
I went to the opera for the first time tonight! Metropolitan opera in Prospect Park. The music was terrific. We had VIP tickets so we were way up in front. After dark we started noticing swooping birds to our left, then in front of the stage. Uh, no -- not birds, BATS!! Oh my.

I enjoyed a lovely night walk both ways -- the return in a soft rain.

Oh, the green shoes!

Love, Meridith

Precursor 2: Mark Ettinger's The Triangle (mid 2000s)

In 2005 I was privileged to be an audience member at the premiere of Mark Ettinger's The Triangle, in New York City. This opera used text from Yeats' poetry and told the story of a bittersweet love triangle. The music was beautiful and worked perfectly with the lovely words.

Precursor 1: Diva (late 80s, early 90s)

My first opera experience was the movie Diva. Apparently it came out in 1981, but I'm pretty sure I didn't see it until college or maybe a little later, so I'm guessing it was re-released in the early 90s.

I remember it as being a tense, smart French thriller, although I don't recall much of the plot.

What I do remember is that it featured Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez singing a beautiful aria from La Wally. I bought the soundtrack (in cassette form, I think) and listened to it all the time.