David M. Wagner Profile picture
Dante and Dostoevsky here; opera CDs there; Aquinas, Bibles, & con-law casebooks on shelf; conservative mags on floor - I must be here somewhere
29 Dec 20
1/ Pav Week continues. This TOSCA was shown only a coupla weeks ago and I commented it up then: mezzo Shirley Verrett surprisingly successful in this venture into soprano rep; Cornell MacNeil full of old-fashioned acting as Scarpia. Since opera-for-video has blossomed as a
2/ genre, the kind of acting that worked well at opera-house distances (or was thought to) has rightly been replaced by better character-on-character interaction. MacNeil’s Scarpia became a better-acted characterization once he moved into the Zeffirelli production (which this
3/ isn’t) - Zeff of course having a movie-director’s eye. Operatic acting is one field where I *don’t* think kicking-it-old-style is better. We don’t need park-n-bark, we don’t need moustache-twirling. But if you’re minded to put up with a little of those for the sake of
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29 Dec 20
1/ A good essay. Two reservations. First: there is not anti-Becket argument that was not put into the mouths of the Knights by T.S. Eliot himself, following the murder in "Murder in the Cathedral." In a glorious parody of academic-political speechifying, they go over them all.
2/ That they had gained such a purchase on the English mind by 2006 only shows, as if it needed further showing, the de-Christianization of modern England. Second: the movie "Becket" is not "ludicrous" at all. Apart from one major detail, it's highly historical. The Lord Gilbert
3/sub-plot may be invented, but it stands in for many similar cases. Also, the script gets the theology of excommunication wrong, which means (sorry) that the much-loved excomm scene is fictional and misleading. (For the right view, see Purgatorio, Canto III.)
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29 Dec 20
1/ Here is the DVD of Pizzetti's ASSASSINIO NELLA CATTEDRALE, filmed at a church in Spain that's said to bear a close resemblance to how Canterbury Cathedral looked in 12thc.

The star is Ruggiero Raimondi, somewhat lacking is bass sonority, but a decent
2/ voice and a good actor (traits said to be not unknown to the saint he's portraying!). Here

is the audio of the world premiere. Opera's first #Becket was Nicola Rossi-Lemeni: a more bass-y bass than Raimondi; not a gorgeous sound like Siepi or Tozzi, but
3/ somehow he always inhabited his roles well and put them across vividly.
Karajan attended one of these performances and vowed to conduct ASSASSINIO at Salzburg. And so he did, 2-3 years later, in German, with the great Hans Hotter as his #Becket.
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29 Dec 20
1/ This⬇️ is awesome! 15thc text (Chaucerian English, basically), composed 2029 by a guy who can really do medieval.
2/ All honor to Stephen Barker for getting his #Becket Carol performed, and so well too! I have my own Becket Carol - that is, I did the lyrics, and used “Good King Wenceslas” as my tune. See next tweet.... #Becket850 #Becket2020
3/
Good King Henry 2 got whipt
On the Feast of #Becket.
Grete his heart and eke his tongue,
Whan that he could check it.

But one day, “This priest” sed he,
“Who shall rid me of him?”
Now he’s got five Saxon monks
Swinging whips abo-O-ve him.

#Becket850 #Becket2020
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28 Dec 20
1/ It's Pavarotti Week! Yes, they showed LA BOHEME on Christmas Eve, but here it is again but with Pav instead of Carreras as Rodolfo, and Renata Scotto as Mimi instead of cameo-ing as Musetta. Pre-Zeffirelli, but that just means a smaller-scale setting for what is, after all, a
2/ small-scale opera. I love the Zeff production, no mistake, but BOHEME didn't *need* that to become the "B" in "the ABC of opera. Lots of fans think they don't need BOHEME - then they hear those opening bars & right away they're in the garret ("atelier" b4 that word got
3/ gussied up), and suddenly all they care about is whether Marcello will find a buyer for his Red Sea painting, whether Rodolfo will finish that article for The Beaver, how cold you'd have to be to use a completed play as kindling - and how long or brief will be the happiness of
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27 Dec 20
1/ The updating - from time of Henry IV to early years of Elizabeth II - works surprisingly well. Setting the 2nd scene in a restaurant, with different conversations at different tables, is genius, and @Lisette_Oropesa's Nanetta (foot up for kissy-face w. Fenton!) is adorable.
@Lisette_Oropesa 2/ Big fans of Verdi's grand style - not only in AIDA and DON CARLO but also his other Shakespearean collaboration with Boito, OTELLO - find the "chamber" style of this, his last work, to take some getting used to. This can be done, and it's worthwhile. FALSTAFF ends with
3/ a fugue ("Tutto il mondo e burla). I saw it in the house with Dad - he knew it well already, of course - and at the end he was like: "The old man ended with a fugue! He closed it out with a fugue😃"
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26 Dec 20
1/ I’ve seen two Met prodns of MW during these webcasts. Unfortunately this is the later and current one. In previous, w Domingo & vonStade, this show’s charm stood out. In this one, the translation (Viennese operetta needs 2b done in language of audience) & the stage action
2/ take a tawdry turn. Yes there’s an undercurrent of raunch to Viennese operetta -

Baron Zeta: Did you find Count Danilo?
Njegus: No-
Zeta: Did you try all his mistresses?
Njegus: I didn’t have time to try them *all*! -

but it shd be an *under*-current.
3/ Nonetheless sons gems are still here: the Vilja song, obv; also:

Danilo: Baron, are you eavesdropping? That’s not done in the best diplomatic circles!
Zeta: Ours aren’t the best.
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25 Dec 20
1/ There’s a long tradition of considering this a Christmas opera - its world premiere was on Dec 23 1893 - but to overcome my mystification as to why, I have to reach back b4 40+ yrs of religious Christmases and recover a time when children + candy was enough to do the trick.
2/ It’s actually a rather good opera. If the 1st scene is a bit twee, the interlude b4 the 2nd scene is “The Witch’s Ride,” taking the piece along a darker route. .@MetOpera’s current production eschews twee-ness and emphasizes hunger: hence the cartoon-y chefs
3/ spreading a banquet in the children’s dream. The Witch’s house is an industrial kitchen. The contralto role of the Witch is taken by a tenor- here, the late great Philip Langridge - made up to look like Julia Child. In a way this practice dates back to the 1967-68 season, in a
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25 Dec 20
@walterolson Ah, the button said Don’t Get Me Started, but he pressed it!

If it had been Napoleon or the “spenta repubblica romana” and not the Queen of Naples signing the checks, there’d have been ppl like Scarpia willing to do the work, just as the Bolsheviks relied on tsarist bureaucrats
@walterolson (those they hadn’t killed), and the early Sandinistas depended on old Somocistas. The Cheka picks up where the Okhrana leaves off.

I’m sure Cavaradossi and Angelotti have good patter about how free ppl were under their “repubblica.” Ask Bernanos’s & Poulenc’s Carmelites
@walterolson how that works out.

But what if Scarpia, from a lad, worked for the Counter-Revolution bc he wanted to? He has a story arc, tho we don’t know what we’d like to know about it. Speculatively - when you get praised for defending the Church’s external interests, and there’s so much
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24 Dec 20
1/ “B” in “the ABC of opera,” LA BOHÈME fits into Christmas Eve only bc that’s when it’s 1st 2 acts take place. And frankly if our bohemians went out to Café Momus any other night, only diff wd be, there’d be fewer kids, *maybe* no military parade, and no toy-seller Parpignol
2/ to sing that one line made famous bc James McCracken used to sing it b4 he became a star. This is in no way a Christmas opera, but it’s immortal as a tale of youthful heartbreak, such that Julius Rudel, maestro/intendant/king of the NY City Opera in its heyday, cd credibly
3/ claim, “When I no longer cry at BOHÈME, I quit.”

Remember how when the same composer’s TURANDOT was on, I said that opera isn’t “Verismo” even tho Puccini was king of Verismo? Well, this is Verismo. And tho this performance is a bit old, reaching back to the beginnings of
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23 Dec 20
1/ One of the pinnacles of Bel Canto comedy, and a contender for laurels across all comedy. And a great cast: pretty mezzo Isabel Leonard is just what Rossini wanted for Rosina, or if she’s not, shd be. Away (from the this role) with pipey coloratura sopranos, and likewise with
2/ mezzos whose chest voice comes up to their eyebrows (lookin’ at you, Jackie: sorry). I saw Lawrence Brownlee’s Rossini Almaviva @vaopera, and a year later he was singing it @MetOpera. Good: that’s what @vaopera is supposed to do. I thought Christopher Maltman was miscast as
3/ Mozart’s Don Alfonso, but he’ll be just right for Rossini’s Figaro.

Mind, I don’t know what this has to do with the season as I understand it; no doubt others understand it as as simply the “have fun” season. Well, if you’ve finished your last errand to the stores where they
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19 Dec 20
1/ They say NABUCCO was Verdi's breakout work. It was certainly the work with which he elevated the baritone from lyric to dramatic and from co-star to star. Only this time we have a late-career tenor in the part, returning to his long-ago baritone Fach. ("Fach" is German for
2/ "operatic vocal category," and all the jokes have been made so don't even try.) The title character is of course Nebuchadnezzar, so to those who've just been watching A Charlie Brown Christmas: "Sort of makes you want to treat me with more respect, doesn't it!" But this is an
3/ extra-Biblical tale of how Nebbie, having conquered Jerusalem, proclaimed himself God - and got a mentally disorienting zap for it. But gradually he recovers his wits and, against the odds, defeats the machinations of his power-hungry step-daughter Abigaille, saves the lives
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19 Dec 20
@HumphreyBohun Tbqh I cannot easily tell - at least by the supposedly most salient differences, orchestration and harmony- which one I’m hearing. My test is a line early in the Coronation Scene fanfares: the trumpets’ line goes *down* in “original,” *up* in Rimsky. But unless I hear
@HumphreyBohun representative snippets side-by-side, taste-test style, I’m not rly sure. And I put quotes around “original” bc - has anyone *really* ever heard it? In 1974 the Met made a big covfefe out of how they were at last using Mussorgsky’s original harmonies and orchestration. But
@HumphreyBohun after Maestro Thomas Schippers’s death, his BORIS score was found, and lo, he had made numerous changes in the rehearsal process. The 2010 new production (tonight’s version) has a musicologist it relies on, as the 1955 English-language production relied on Karol Rathaus.
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18 Dec 20
BORIS is on my desert-island list along with FRANCESCA. National epic, imperial whodunnit, Dostoevskian psychodrama, & soul-examination of Russian ppl - traumatized when the first non-Rurikid ruler took the throne and he may, *may*, have killed a Rurikid heir to do so.
2/ Along with same composer’s KHOVANSHCHINA and Borodin’s PRINCE IGOR, this is Russia’s operatic epic. Co-starring the People alongside the title character, it starts w the People, moves to Boris, then back to the People thru a monk-chronicler who, doing what’s possible with
3/ what’s available, gives the People their national story; then in to the unscrupulous rise of the Pretender - Самосванец, self-named - then back to Boris, to whom the Pretender’s choice of an identity is a goad to conscience and madness. Then over to Poland where the Pretender
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17 Dec 20
1/ Just re-upped my thread from when this was last shown. Not a lot to add. When ppl ask me "What's your favorite opera," this is my answer, bc, a., ppl with so little understanding of opera-fandom deserve to be stuck with an answer they almost certainly don't recognize, but b.
2/ bc it wd certainly make my top-ten list (and that's what opera fans do: "desert island" lists). I wish I understood how FRANCESCA happened: I guess, the right conjunction of composer, librettist (D'Annunzio!), period (medieval setting, composed in florescence of late
3/ romanticism), and nation (both native and expatriate literature in Italy were experiencing troubadour-fever in 1st 2 decades of 20thc). There are other Zandonai works, and collaborations by D'Annunzio w other composers, that deserve revival; but somehow their combination
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17 Dec 20
1/ Berlioz determined to set Books II-IV of The Aeneid. Book II becomes Acts 1&2 (La Prise de Troie) and Bks III & IV become Acts 3-5 (Les Troyens à Carthage). Together they are LES TROYENS. The gargantuan-ness of it provokes comparison to Wagner, esp. his GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG,
2/ which we will see later this week Thus equals in mammothosity, Berlioz may compete w Wagner on getting there first and win (1858), or on music and dramaturgy, and IMO *not* win. I’ve tried w Berlioz since I first listened to his DAMNATION DE FAUST a *long* time ago
3/ and i still don’t get what’s out of the ordinary about it, and the dramatic pace in TROYENS is, IMO, glacial. Maybe epic poetry doesn’t translate well to the stage: while there have been great plays and operas based on stories within Homer, and within Dante (yo, FRANCESCA DA
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16 Dec 20
1/ Sorry 2b late - I was out owning this opera’s villainess Ortrud by going to an evening Mass. So we’ve got LOHENGRIN: mid-career Wagner, his last opera b4 embarking in THE RING. It’s a clash of Christian and pagan forces in early 10thc Duchy of Brabant. Elsa von Brabant
2/ is accused of killing her brother, Godfrey, the rightful Duke. She asks God to send her dream-knight to defend her - and He does! What’s more, they can get married if only she’ll refrain, forever, from asking his name or origin. This is a tall order, but Elsa promises it
3/ willingly, and it’s reason has to do with the inscrutable rules of the Grail, which this knight serves: if they become known, they must return. This condition provided the perfect entry point for Ortrud to play on Elsa’s doubts. Ortrud is a proud descendant of Radbod, the
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15 Dec 20
1/ “Epics” - in opera context this means anything with a mythical, ancient, or medieval setting. SAMSON is ancient. Saint-Saëns began it as an oratorio, which accounts for some of the odd dramaturgy in 1st half of Act 1: can the disconsolate crowd of Hebrews, barely roused
2/ by Samson’s stirring rhetoric, rly bump off Abimelech *and* ravage the Philistines’ fields in the time allotted to this in the score? With the High Priest arriving on the scene immediately? It grew more operatic as the composer went on, and it became a pinnacle of 19thc
3/ French opera. Samson’s mix if leadership and weakness, Delilah’s hate-filled but sensuous manipulation, and the cruelty and blasphemy of the High Priest of Dagon, are all made compelling in the music.
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12 Dec 20
1/ The only translation in this week dedicated to opera in English. A Brecht-Weill work @MetOpera is a big occasion, esp when, tho it has been done on B’way, they cast it from the top of the deck - Stratas as Jenny, MacNeil as Trinity Moses, and former Brünnhilde Astrid Varnay
2/ coming out of retirement to sing Begbick. (And she’s as American as anyone else in the cast: sang most of her career in Germany but grew up here.) Of course it’s a big downer, as is every Brecht script that doesn’t take place in a Warsaw Pact nation. The skewering of American
3/ pioneer spirit and small-town life is dreary and shallow, esp since we had Amurrrican authors who did the same thing. But tho I’ll often complain that @MetOpera shd take a flyer on *this* and not on *that*, I’ll rarely argue they shdnt have tried *that*.
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12 Dec 20
1/ Everybody shd see PORGY & BESS. About Black Folk yet written by White Folk, it has bridged that divide since the ‘30s. Also the divide betw B’way & opera. The few White characters are spoken parts: in this show only Black folk sing. Like PETER GRIMES it’s about a community...
2/ - but not as hostile to community. Wayward Bess - wants to break free from criminal Crown and return Porgy’s unconditional love - falls victim to another, different criminal, Sportin’Life - but Porgy will *never* give up on her, even when that means leaving on his goat-cart
3/ on a quixotic journey to find New York, and once there, to find Bess. “Oh Lord, I’m on my way...!” It all leads up to that; it’s all about that.
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5 Dec 20
1/"ABC of opera" and this time it's the C, CARMEN. Whence that position? Bc the story of Don Jose's downfall - and that's the main plot - is not in itself edifying or even particularly moving. Maybe it's the mechanics of it. Once when I expressed a (momentarily) anti-CARMEN view
2/ on Opera-L someone said huh, well, maybe you just don't like sexually addictive ppl. And I thought well I like Salome and Elina Makropulos - and that's just within opera. But yes, Carmen is the OG of the genre. This excellent production by Sir Richard Eyre preserves
3/ her sexiness w/o ever resorting to kitschy stereotypes like the hands-on-hips bs. Since Rise Stevens in the '50s, no one singer has owned Carmen, but Elina Garanca could if anyone can. Alagna has French style and pathos. Speaking of stereotypes and kitsch,
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