Saturday, May 31, 2008
All I have been able to do is to lie down on a living room couch, staring quite blankly outside or at the TV screen. I have also managed to effectively combine that activity with coughing, sneezing, blowing my nose and clearing my throat. Trust me, Reader, not a whole lot of music there, even though quite a lot of noise.
However, this afternoon I did manage to accomplish something music-related - I watched a free on demand movie "Immortal Beloved". It is about Beethoven and the mystery of his love life. The movie lasts over two hours, gets off the line at times, but does keep you in suspense like a good mystery movie should. In other words, it is not predictable and thus, even more shocking at the end.
All the actors are great, especially Isabella Rosselini.
What is to be drawn from the story?
If you are a genious composer and a ladies' man, thinking about writing a will...PLEASE, do not forget to provide the name of your intended heir/heiress in it, or you will be bringing a lot of trouble to those who hardly deserve it.
Now, another good thought - because I doubt that this movie is based on a true story - rather it was a fruit of someone's imagination (or not quite?), I am thinking about reading a book about Beethoven, preferrably a biography, and will welcome any suggestions and recommendations.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
This year ,however, I decided to actually do something on my birthday. Sitting down, eating and feeling guilty afterwards is certainly great, but then it is so boring, isn't it?
This year I told myself - this is your day, so you have to do what you like to do, not what they usually do on occasions like that. What do I like to do better than anything else? I am sure, you, my Reader, have already guessed the answer - More than anything else in the world I like to go to the opera!
Luckily, WNO presented a matinee opera in concert - Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, featuring Dolora Zajik and Salvatore Licitra ( both very famous Met usuals).
Another great thing was that a while ago I subscribed to a WNO program called "Generation O". Anybody between ages 18-35 can subscribe to it, and then get the nicest special offers - great orchestra seats for just $25.00 each. I never had a chance to use the program, but this was it! This time the special offer also said that for this particular show one does not have to present an ID and can bring up to ... several guests (no IDs asked). So I ordered tickets and considered it my birthday gift from Placido Domingo himself!
Cavalleria Rusticana is a one-act opera, which is most frequently performed in a double bill with another one-act opera, Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.
This time, however, in Act 1 a selection of four orchestral works was performed by the orchestra. They were Overture to Verdi's Aida, Overture to Mascagni's Le Maschere, Puccini's Crisantemi and Puccini's Prelude and "La Tregenda" from Le Villi.
I have to admit that neither of Puccini's pieces actually sounded like typical Puccini in the best sense of the word. I loved Crisantemi. This piece was written as an elegy for strings upon the death of Amedeo de Savoy, the Duke of Aosta, who briefly reigned as king of Spain. Puccini later included this piece in the final act of Manon Lescaut.
This work is sad and beautiful - I was impressed.
The story of Cavalleria is a typical love triangle. A Sicilian village. A couple of years ago Lola loved Turridu. When Turiddu enlisted in the military and left, she married another village charmer Alfio. When Turiddu came back, the only thing he thought of doing was to cheer himself up in the arms of a village girl, Santuzza. As soon as Lola saw that, she decided to get Turiddu back - and did not have to work hard for that to happen. Poor pregnant Santuzza is jealous and implores her unfaithful lover to come back - but he does not even want to hear about it. Then she thinks about revenge, and informs naive Alfio of his wife's behavior. As a result, Alfio kills Turiddu. It is up to our imagination to deliberate about the consequences.
The opera is short, but the music is powerful and very intense. There is not one single moment in the whole opera when it is just some notes being played, like we very often hear in Puccini's operas. It is all rich, intense, beautiful, very melodious, very overpowering music.
You could drink that music - it was flowing and pouring in cascades.
Sometimes it seems like all the great music has already been written - for the music to be great it has to have been written by a composer who lived centuries ago. However, Mascagni's music is a wonderful example of true classical music, and he just died in the middle of the 20th century!!!
Before I talk about the artists, I would like to mention that it was my first time to see an opera in concert (no sets, no costumes). I have to say I was not disappointed. When the artists are given very little or nothing, they step in much stronger as actors. They act so that the public can still see everything that the sets and the costumes would show.
A memory flashback...
I am 23, just graduated from college. I am working as an interpreter in a major Moscow theater, translating for American college exchange students, the future actors, who came to Russia to study the famous System of Stanislavsky.
One of the leading stage directors is teaching the course. He asks a pair of students to act out some Chehov's garden scene. One student grabs a standing lamp from the corner, the other pulls a chair onto the stage. They explain that a standing lamp would represent a tree, and the chair - a bench. The stage director looks surprised.
Then he says : "You don't need the lamp. You are actors. If you are a good actor, you will act so that I will understand you are sitting in the garden, under a tree - take the lamp back!"
That was a revelation for me - the more limited the means of the artists are, the stronger inner potential they demonstrate to play the part.
You experience much deeper emotions, because the artists really go out of their way to get the message to you and if they do a good job - the whole performance just knocks you off your feet. Even though there are no sets and everyone is dressed in black - it does not take away a bit from the opera.
Dolora Zajik, whom Mom and I saw as Adalgisa at the Met this season, was amazing! What a strong, powerful mezzo! Her voice is like a volcano lava - strong, fiery, flammable, dangerous, unstoppable. There were a couple of moments when she seemed to have slightly lost control over that lava, but overall she was just great, and it was her that the audience rose for at the curtain call and went completely crazy, screaming "Brava Dolora!"
This is what my favorite Washington Post staff writer Anne Midgette said about Zajik's performance:
Her performance as Santuzza on Sunday was the best singing I have heard not only in Washington but anywhere in a long, long time. This was an old-school Santuzza: gorgeously sung and deeply felt, showing that the one is not possible without the other".
Salvatore Licitra is quite a famous tenor. He will be singing Manrico at the Met this fall. He certainly has a strong voice which sometimes sounds beautiful, but unfortunately, he makes too many vocal errors, which prevents you from enjoying his singing. Listening to him, you sort of get an impression that he has a good vocal potential, but does not care to work enough on his voice. At times, he sounds rough -his voice definitely needs some faceting.
You, my Reader, must be thinking, as you read these lines, that I am crazy to criticize Licitra himself. Just to support my criticism I am posting Anne's opinion about his performance:
Salvatore Licitra is the most maddening of today's maddening crop of almost-but-not-quite-there tenors taking the lead roles around the opera world. He's maddening because he has a glorious voice and is all over the place in the way he uses it. He is sometimes careless about details (like the correct pitch). In past years he has reportedly worked assiduously on his vocal technique, with the results that his problem areas seem to shift from one performance to another: on Sunday the upper middle again sounded smaller than the rest of the voice.
Overall, it was a great high-quality performance and I was very grateful for the opportunity to see a beautiful opera, completely new to me which is a very, very rare thing in my case.
In the intermission, I visited the gift shop and bought myself a sterling silver band which actually consists of two bands, one rotating inside the other, with "All the World's a Stage" engraved on the inner one. It looks really nice - I just love those opera-theater-themed souvenirs that you can wear!
After the opera , we went to one of my favorite French DC restaurants Le Chat Noir. It is a cozy place on Wisconsin Avenue, which boasts just a small dining room and a veranda. The windows are always open (unless it is really chilly outside), and you can actually walk in through a window. To this description, I have to add classy servers with heavy French accents, crispy white table linens, fresh baguette bread, escargot, crepes, a huge wine list and a rich selection of entrees.
If you click on it in my blog, you will get to enjoy their great website, listen to Edit Piaf, compare and contrast panoramas of Washington and Paris and so much more!
If you are ever in DC, you know where to stop by for lunch or dinner or just a glass of Chablis.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Saturday, May 24, 2008
John Osborn was replacing Juan Diego Florez in the whole run of Il Barbiere, or should I say "substituting", for you can't replace anybody, especially not Juan Diego as Count Almaviva.
This said, John did a great job singing "Ecco" in Act 1. I did not hear his "Cessa", but he definitely has a good voice. I heard him live as Prince Tamino a couple of years ago at Baltimore Lyric, so it was not my first time listening to him.
Unfortunately, I missed "Una voce poco fa", but I heard an interview with Joyce and - believe it or not - recognized her voice just from the manner of speaking and the way to emphasize certain words! I really liked how she mentioned that no matter how mezzos before her portrayed Rosina, she is trying to portray her in her own personal way using her own perception of the character.
In my opinion, Rosina (my favorite opera character since age 5) is such a tabula rasa, that every mezzo has a chance to bring in a little bit of her own personality into the character. Rosina is a woman in the biggest sense of the world, and doesn't each of us recognize herself at least a little bit, looking at her?
Tomorrow is my birthday - I am turning 34!
Funny as it is, I just checked my personal page on a Russian website "Classmates", and my age has been already updated to 34. Because of an 8-hour time difference, my birthday is already there.
Happy Birthday, me!
Monday, May 19, 2008
Before I share my impressions, I have to say, with all due respect to Puccini and his brilliant operas, that this particular opera has never had any place in my heart.
Too intense, almost hysterically intense for me?...Too much pathos?... Don't take me wrong, Reader, I do love tragedy and drama on the stage, I like to have tears in my eyes after a good aria. I love the sad,dramatic, purifyingly tragic opera. Maybe I am just too far from the Japanese theme... or maybe I am too cynical to overlook the word "geisha" and its meaning...
Anyway, you can see that on my way to the Lyric, I was almost determined not to like it. The only reason why I did go, was that I knew that the title role would be sung by Shu Ying Li, a young Chinese soprano, whom I saw in the live MPT broadcast from New York City Opera in the same role a couple of months ago. I remember being impressed with both her beautiful voice and her artistic capacity. It's hard to say which of the two was stronger, but she was a show stopper.
All right, back to yesterday now.
It was a 3 p.m. matinee, so I arrived at the Lyric 1.5 hours prior to the performance. I never get tickets to the Lyric in advance - it's a total waste of money. At the Lyric it usually works out easy - unless it is one of the three nation's favorites: Madama Butterfly, La Boheme, or La Traviata, you can buy tickets to Row A or B in the Orchestra for just $25.00 each, an hour before the performance. I was well aware though that there was no chance to get one of those yesterday, so I came prepared - binoculars in my purse.
It was the last of the 5 performances, but it was completely sold out. There were just a couple of Balcony tickets left, and I was even lucky to get one of those - the very last row of the Balcony, Row X, Seat 19. Well, at least I was in - and how far I was sitting was not something to be upset about. It was just Madama Butterfly. My seat was good enough to see it.
The whole point of writing this entry is to say that yesterday I discovered Madama Butterfly!
The performance was amazing. It was a new Paolo Micciche production based on his 1999 Arena di Verona production. Everything about the opera that had not seemed to be harmonious before, somehow fell into place and revealed itself.
Paolo Micciche, the stage and visual director, did make the most of the music.
He created magic!
There was no conventional scenery in this production. Instead, numerous computer-designed breathtaking, eye misleading and multidimensional images, always changing, always moving were projected onto the stage, making you feel dizzy and wondering what is going on there. The whole set made you lose the sense of reality. You had no idea where the stage ended and imagination started taking over. It was just beyond the limits of anyone's imagination.
I have to admit, I am kind of conservative when it comes to scenery. To me, scenery does not necessarily have to look exactly like it looked 100 years ago. It may be modern, but it has to be there. I saw projected images once in Baltimore Lyric and hated it.
However, this was different. This was not only taking you to different places, but most importantly, it was taking you to different places of the characters' hearts. It showed all the inner emotions and feelings that the characters had and allowed you to be part of what they were experiencing.
One of my favorite moments was when Sharpless came to Cio Cio San, carefully suggested that Pinkerton might not be coming back and asked her what she might do then. Before those words, the background had been greyish, which was probably supposed to illustrate the 3 endless years of hope and loneliness of an abandoned woman. However, as soon as he uttered those words, a neon-white light flashed through the stage, like a lightning, and the music sounded just like thunder. The next instant the whole stage became bloody red. As soon as those words flashed through her mind, they stabbed her, and her aching heart started bleeding, and she thought about the only solution known to her - death.
Another unbelievable scene that really impressed me was the Love Duet (Viene la sera) from Act 1, when Cio Cio San and Pinkerton sing about the fragrant starry night awaiting them. The stage looked completely out of this world. Millions of stars were just pouring around them, above them and under them in all directions - spinning, rotating, making you lose the sense of the stage. You had the feeling that they both had been taken away by some divine force into the space, into the night sky, and were just floating out there surrounded by millions of stars. It was beautiful, romantic, even sensual.
Shu Ying Li was amazing. She owns the part!
With her on the stage, I had an impression that I was listening to this opera for the first time in my life. Suddenly, it all became perfectly harmonious - even those jumpy trotting rhythms that I always disliked! Her Un bel di was incredibly powerful! I am sure it brought tears to many eyes. Her voice was an endless powerful voice filled with dramatic intensity which was drawing you into the tragedy of the character. She did make you live Cio Cio San's fate and suffer together with her - first,the loss of her beloved, then, the perspective of losing her child and finally, the very loss of her life.
Shu Ying Li brought out every little trait of Cio Cio San's character : honesty, major human decency, a brave noble heart, loyalty and an ability to trust and to sacrifise.
Her performance was deep, and the audience was going crazy and screaming "Brava!" both after Un bel di and at the curtain call.
Gosh, she made me - me, a hopeless cynic, forget all my assumptions about Puccini's dubious female characters and the moral side of their dark stories. Nothing existed any more, just that voice and that incredible acting! Shu Ying Li purified both her character and the audience through the suffering and deep compassion that we all felt together with her.
The Humming Chorus scene was really interesting. Figures clad in white tule from head to toe, were slowly moving across the stage,casting huge dark shadows, and merging eventually with the waves projected onto the stage, which were rolling in all possible directions. Here is what our very own Baltimore Sun music critic Tim Smith had to say about it:
Micciche directed the action in a straightforward, basically convincing manner. One odd idea though - having heavily veiled women appear during the Humming Chorus, crowding up the stage. I assumed they represented other unfortunate Japanese "brides" abandoned by the western "spouses", but I can't be sure. In the end, it was more of a distraction than an insight.
All right, one of the signs of getting wiser is being able to admit that everyone is entitled to their own vision of things.
I admit that Tim Smith is. So am I, and the fact that I disagree with him about this particular scene is perfectly normal. I do agree that the action was mostly straightforward, so that most of the audience could understand what was going on, especially, opera first-timers. One has to always take them into consideration - the goal of every director is to convert those first-timers into ardent opera lovers! However, in my opinion, some parts of direction definitely left room for imagination and associations, which only made the whole production more complex and exquisite. It is like perfume - the better the fragrance, the harder to tell what the ingredients are and what exactly it reminds you of.
Anyway, Tim's idea is interesting, and he actually might have guessed it right, but it does not have to be just about "the brides" and "the spouses". Those veiled figures could have symbolized anything from Female Loneliness to the voices of nature, the waves, the mountain peeks... The veils might have been used not to focus the audience's attention on the faces. However, whatever the director meant by it, it was not a distraction, not for me at least. I thought it was a great asset to the whole poetic scene of the Humming Chorus.
Before I completely forget, the visibility was suprisingly good - with the help of my binoculars, of course. First, I considered scooting down and even started looking for options (like I usually do when my seat is not in the Orchestra), but after the opera started, I decided - for once - to stick to my respective last-row-balcony seat.
On a still relevant, but more of a fashion note, I got myself a very nice Madama Butterfly -themed georgette scarf. It is long, black and white, and it has butterflies and Japanese women wearing kimonos printed on it.
I wish there were more opera-themed scarves like that. I would definitely start a collection. Just think about it - a Tosca scarf, an Aida scarf, a Traviata scarf... And how about a tie collection for men?! A Rigoletto tie, an Otello tie... (that one would have to be the tightest - ha-ha!)
Oh, that would be so much fun! If you are a fashion designer and you are reading this entry (what are the chances?) - think about it, but do not forget to make those scarves n' ties affordable!
On a fun, but a much less relevant note, after the opera I stopped by at one of my favorite Downtown restaurants Robert Oliver for a light dinner. My soul was asking for some exquisite continuation of the opera blast! It would be just too boring to hop into the car and go straight home. No, it would not be like me at all. I could have posted some pictures that I took while waiting for my dinner to arrive, but they did not come out that great. If you want to see what the place looks like (and it is ceratinly worth seeing), go to MY FAVORITE DINING in my blog and just click on ROBERT OLIVER. Don't forget to browse the menu!
Ah, their Robert Oliver Seafood Bisque is a truly divine creation!
Monday, May 12, 2008
with lemon, capers, and fresh oregano
served with a roasted tomato sauce
Creamy Asparagus Soup
with osetra caviar and goat cheese crouton
Spring Pea Risotto
served with seared duck breast and blood orange reduction
Sour Cherry Sorbetto
Marinated Filet Mignon
served with gruyere potato Napoleon
and baby arugula with a lemon-caper oregano oil
Seasonal Fruit Tart
served with pastry cream and raspberry coulis
Thursday, May 8, 2008
How do you turn a Bronx-flavored day into the day to remember? Nothing easier - just add a little music to it!
There is one place in the heart of Manhattan, where you can both see your all-time favorites and make new amazing discoveries. You guessed it right - it is the Metropolitan Museum of Art!
This amazing place has hundreds of treasures, both hidden and obvious. One of my favorite obvious Met treasures is Dinner & Concert at the Balcony Cafe.
Here is how it works: every Friday and Saturday night the museum balcony is turned into a cafe with burgundy table linens and candleholders. A quartet consisting of violin, viola, cello and piano has been playing there religiously for years, every Friday and Saturday from 5-8 p.m.
The concert is free of charge, but the dinner prices do make up for it.
Even though the menu choice is limited to but a few dishes, the museum visitors LOVE it, and usually there is a line to be seated at the Balcony Cafe.
We were lucky to get literally the best table in the whole cafe - it was right in front of the artists!
The music was beautiful. They played Mozart, Vivaldi, Haydn, Brahms, and even though they were just good artists (not Rostropoviches or Richters), we really enjoyed the concert. We felt like all the music was played just for us, and that made it even more special.
As we were about to leave, the artists took a break and walked towards the exit. On our way out, we thanked them for the beautiful concert (which made up for the whole lack of harmony in Bronx!)
Our evening continued at the most incredible exhibit of Nicholas Poussin, where we had a chance to see his famous Sleeping Venus in the original!!! Another encounter with a great masterpiece!
I love ancient Greek and Roman sculpture - it is a whole huge world of beauty, harmony, mystery and mythology. I was very happy to see the newly opened Greek and Roman Galleries with so many great pieces. I am posting a couple of pictures representing the famous "Roman psychological portrait". Aren't they gorgeous?
Then we took some time to wander through the French Baroque Period Rooms, which have a very special place in my heart. I used to go there every time I came to the Met and day dream about being a marquise and living in those amazing rooms.
My husband loves contemporary art, so he went all the way to the museum's roof and took some great pictures of the special exhibit.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
- Why does classic art depict nudity and modern art - nakedness?
- Where is the line that separates art from daily routine?
- And most importantly - when does art stop being art?
Monday, May 5, 2008
There are days when everything that comes your way is the best. Those are days worth living for. To me May 2nd was one of those incredible days.
The City that never sleeps welcomed us with a nasty wind and low, dark rain-promising skies. As soon as we got out of Madison Square Penn Station exit, we were pushed into a different dimension full of sounds, smells, dust and light.
I love the feel of a big loud city. I love to dive in and get lost in it. I enjoy being invisible and impersonal with nobody to know me, nobody to care who I am or what I am up to.
The Lincoln Center Square was completely empty with only the wind gusting through it and the heavy clouds rushing across the darkening sky.
We decided to have dinner at the Center for Performing Arts Restaurant firstly because we were short of time, and secondly because the lean jumpy male host promised that any dish on the menu would be served within the next five minutes. As soon as we were seated at a tiny table for two, hot coffee was poured into our cups and we felt warm and cozy right away. There were a lot of elegant richly-dressed men and women around us, but there was only one name on everybody's lips - Juan Diego Florez! People were discussing his previous performances and sharing their expectations of the upcoming opera. My husband and I were probably the only ones there who would be seeing Juan Diego live for the first time.
Needless to say, I was too excited to have a normal sensible meal - not on a night like that! That was the night when I could do whatever I wanted and eat unreasonably. So I ended up ordering Chocolate-Nutella filled Crepes with whipped cream on top!
Part 2 - La Fille du Regiment
Our seats were in the middle of Row DD ( 2nd but last row in the Rear Orchestra), and as great and close as we were to the stage, the fact that we were sitting "under the roof" did affect the quality of sound. We could certainly hear everything, but the sound was somewhat more quiet. In spite of that, the performance was amazing - 10 out of 10, the best of the very best!
It was enormously funny, and the audience kept laughing and laughing. The funniest part of the performance was not the intentional jokes, but rather how silly, clumsy and goofy the artists were acting. They were trotting, kicking and pushing each other, playing dead and jumping up and hopping, but at the same time, singing with the most beautiful steady voices, which for me signifies the highest operatic professionalism. The major part of the audience that knew both Juan Diego and Natalie as serious or at least more serious artists was greatly entertained by such a contrast!
The whole production was amazing- it was bold, fresh, new - in other words, European!
Juan Diego Florez
Juan Diego created a wonderful character. His Tonio was honest and open-hearted, clumsy, amorous and ready for anything for the one he loved. He created a very youthful character, almost a boy, with shy and clumsy boyish gestures and with a boyish ability to love and to be both happy and unhappy within one minute. The audience greeted him with a round of applause as soon as he appeared on the stage...and then came the glorious "Ah mes amis".
Juan Diego flipped through it in a light, playful, dancing way in every meaning of this word, for he was dancing just a little in between those 9 High C-s. He sang with so much ease and grace( perhaps just a little more legato than I expected), and nothing about his performance indicated that he was singing one of the most difficult opera pieces. He was SINGING it, not working it.
The flawless. The perfect. The best. The most incredible tenor of our time!
The audience acknowledged that by giving him an incredibly long ovation. Some people were standing up, some were screaming "bis". For a minute a shadow of triumph slipped through his handsome face, but faded away as soon as the ovation ended, and there he was, back to his character, the brave and fearless Tonio.
He did not do an encore - oh well, it was great anyway, just the way it was.
"Pour me rapprocher de Marie" was absolutely beautiful. You could listen and listen and never get enough of it. And there it was - the special silence of the grand opera house, when the knowing and knowledgeable audience holds its breath, expecting, searching, waiting for and savoring every incredible note.
Natalie is an amazing soprano and deserves no less praise than Juan Diego, but somehow gets lost, perhaps just a little, in the shadow of his fame.
My husband said she owned the part and that it would be hard to imagine anybody better for it.
Natalie was amazing - the Singer, the Comedian, the Actress, the Acrobat. Every time she would do something hilarious, I remembered her interview in which she said that had she not had an operatic voice, she would become a comedian. And she would definitely make a superb one! What a character she created! She materialized Marie! She made her real!
In the intermission the excited orchestra crowd , all furs, diamonds and bow ties, "carried "us out into the lobby. Everyone was excited - voices were rumbling, faces were burning, eyes were lightened up and there was champagne in every glass.
We were hot and excited. We kept talking about the artists, the music,and the artists again, interrupting each other and repeating same things over and over again.
My husband kept saying how much he loved "Ah mes amis", how catchy it was and how it still sounded in his ears.
The city that never sleeps was alive and gorgeous with its always busy, blurry, impersonal fuss. Our cab dove into the night mist, lighted up with lots of flashing neon.
My high heels were killing me, and when we were walking through Penn Station, I was sure I much resembled Marie in Act 2, who was learning how to walk in her elegant shoes, except that Natalie Dessay was acting and I was not. But who cares about little things like that? It was a gorgeous night, and wearing a gorgeous outfit was a must!
Back at the hotel, we stopped by at the bar for another glass of champagne and toasted our beautiful time and the great opera we had just seen.
Back in the room, I changed into an oversized T-shirt, cuddled in a chair and briefly wrote up my impressions of the glorious day.
We had big plans for the next day - a baseball game in Bronx and then - back to Manhattan, the city that never sleeps.