Schleppy Nabucco’s Shawn and Elizabeth review Shostakovich’s surreal opera at the Met.
I wish I could have seen it. I am only familiar with one of Shostakovich’s operas: the tremendous Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which has quickly grown to be one of my favorite works. I saw it for the first time from the stage side, in Graham Vick’s infamous postmodern Met production.
Any opera personally denounced by Joseph Stalin can’t be all bad.
And as for the sexual implications of the proboscis in question, I can do no better than to direct my readers to the “Spanish Fry” episode of Futurama.
- We’re running to The Nose (artsjournal.com)
On 11 September (yes, really), 1980. I made my professional stage debut in the mute and uncredited role of Elizabeth in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, at the New York City Opera. I was six, and on stage with me were Olivia Stapp, Samuel Ramey, and Rockwell Blake. For the entire run of performances and rehearsals, I earned a princely fee of $ 39.45, after taxes. It was to alter the course of my life in ways I couldn’t even comprehend back then.
Kinda depressed about this right now. If my thoughts coalesce into anything rational I’ll write them down. I might also try and get my scanner working so I can share a bit of NYCO memories and ephemera.
Going to stalk YouTube for a while. See ya’s.
It rises and opens its wings on the infinite black humanity.
The whole world invokes it and the whole world implores it.
But the ghost disappears with the dawn, to be reborn in the heart.
And every night it is born, and every day it dies!
Giacomo Puccini, Turandot
as quoted by Pope Francis, a fan
A petition has been circulating among the opera crowd: it wants the Metropolitan Opera to dedicate its opening night new production première of Eugene Onegin to LGBT people suffering under Russian president Vladimir Putin’s repressive laws. The rationales:
*Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was secretly gay and suffered for it.
*The production’s conductor Valery Gergiev, and star Anna Netrebko, are on record as being Putin supporters in the past.
*The singer playing the title role, Mariusz Kwieceń, is gay.
The Met, however, via general manager Peter Gelb, has declined to submit to the petition’s demands.
As well he 10000% should.
Politicizing the arts is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Once you take that step for causes you believe in, you have implicitly consented to it for all causes. If someone has saved up their dollars to attend their first opera at the Met, are we now going to tell them not to go because of the boycott? And if they decide to go anyway, and cross a picket line to do so, are they now homophobes ? Maybe they just want to go to the goddamned opera, hear some beautiful music, be moved, and go home.
The arrogance of the petitioners is breathtaking: if you don’t sign the petition, you support Putin’s crackdowns. Attending opening night is as if you’re personally arresting gay people and removing their children from their custody. Who are they to make operagoers take sides in a fight they may not want? Who appointed them the arbiters of what is correct?
(There is also the not inconsiderable fact that people who publicly oppose Putin have a nasty habit of getting arrested, maimed, or killed. Think Alexander Litvinenko. Or Anna Politkovskaya. Or Viktor Yushchenko. Or Alexei Navalny. Maybe the reason Netrebko and Gergiev haven’t spoken publicly about this issue is because they don’t want to, you know, DIE.)
If this boycott seems justified to you, then surely you will have no problem with these:
- Anti-smokers protesting Carmen
- Sex worker opponents blacklisting La Traviata and Lulu
- Advocates for the disabled objecting to Rigoletto and Das Rheingold
- Animal rights activists offended by The Cunning Little Vixen
- Planned Parenthood picketing Die Frau ohne Schatten
- Coulrophobics united against Pagliacci
- Satanists complaining about Faust
- Masonic/Illuminati conspiracy theorists up in arms about Die Zauberflöte
Figure out other ways to fight for LGBT rights in Russia, as we should. But leave the performing arts alone.
The unbelievable Joan Sutherland singing Olympia’s aria from Les Contes d’Hoffmann.
Also featuring a couple of second-stringers named Plácido Domingo and Huguette Tourangeau.
And in the role of Spalanzani, Pollution Papa himself, Nico Castel.
The thrice-great American opera star, once a soprano and later a mezzo, has passed on.
I think she might be in the running with Richard Tucker for the greatest opera singer that New York has ever produced.
Watch her demolishing “O don fatale” from Don Carlo. A great loss.
In the most delightfully unexpected surprise, Ken (Popehat) White is becoming an opera blogger! And he has a synopsis of Tannhäuser that will have you rolling.
Regarding the Venusberg scene:
Tannhauser and Venus are lounging in bed. They’re watching a dance/orgy/cage match among Naiads, Sirens, the Three Graces, fauns, satyrs, nymphs, Baccchantes, and cupids. No, really.
That’s the ballet. There’s no dialogue, and it’s not Wagner’s best music, though it’s not terrible. It does…answer the question “can an orgy be tedious?”
Ken’s in good company: Mark Twain also adored Tannhäuser, as he wrote in his classic essay “At The Shrine of St. Wagner”:
Yesterday they played the only operatic favorite I have ever had — an opera which has always driven me mad with ignorant delight whenever I have heard it — “Tannhäuser.” I heard it first when I was a youth; I heard it last in the last German season in New York.
Twain’s also describes the first act of Parsifal as well as anyone ever has:
I trust that I know as well as anybody that singing is one of the most entrancing and bewitching and moving and eloquent of all the vehicles invented by man for the conveying of feeling; but it seems to me that the chief virtue in song is melody, air, tune, rhythm, or what you please to call it, and that when this feature is absent what remains is a picture with the color left out. I was not able to detect in the vocal parts of “Parsifal” anything that might with confidence be called rhythm or tune or melody; one person performed at a time — and a long time, too — often in a noble, and always in a high-toned, voice; but he only pulled out long notes, then some short ones, then another long one, then a sharp, quick, peremptory bark or two — and so on and so on; and when he was done you saw that the information which he had conveyed had not compensated for the disturbance. Not always, but pretty often. If two of them would but put in a duet occasionally and blend the voices; but no, they don’t do that. The great master, who knew so well how to make a hundred instruments rejoice in unison and pour out their souls in mingled and melodious tides of delicious sound, deals only in barren solos when he puts in the vocal parts. It may be that he was deep, and only added the singing to his operas for the sake of the contrast it would make with the music. Singing! It does seem the wrong name to apply to it. Strictly described, it is a practicing of difficult and unpleasant intervals, mainly. An ignorant person gets tired of listening to gymnastic intervals in the long run, no matter how pleasant they may be. In “Parsifal” there is a hermit named Gurnemanz who stands on the stage in one spot and practices by the hour, while first one and then another character of the cast endures what he can of it and then retires to die.
My last Tannhäuser in New York featured the sublime Bernd Weikl as Wolfram. His Evening Star was the highlight of the evening without doubt.
Oh, and I do use umlauts, because language pedant.