Saturday, December 31, 2011

Music and Feeling it: Patricia Petibon's Melancolia

  When one thinks of Spanish music, the mind is instantly overrun with a variety of textures, thoughts, and words to describe the flair and tradition of Spanish music. What makes music identifiable as Spanish, French Italian, or anything else? In the case of the music from the Iberian peninsula or inspired by that genre, it is filled with passion. We feel intense amounts of emotion when we perform this music, but it is a rare, extraordinary discovery to feel these rapturous feelings when we hear this music, and I am pleased to announce that soprano Patricia Petibon delivers this often neglected aspect with her various interpretations. Her new release from last November 2011 is titled Melancolia, and she is joined by the Orquestra Nacional de Espana under the baton of conductor Josep Pons.

  I think of Spanish music as more exotic than most western music I hear, and I imagine that my association with the mysterious parts of life that we as humans label as unknown and all at once beckoning to us comes from the influences that helped to shape this form of music as we see it in its current state of evolution today. In precisely the same context as Spanish cuisine, art, and architecture have been influenced by the Moors of northern Africa, their music was not immune to such an injection of ideas from their southern neighbors and enemies. Until the time of the Renaissance and the Crusades, music in Europe was written for a cappella arrangements. However, after the Crusades, soldiers returned to their native lands with stringed instruments which were precursors to the lute and the guitar, two prominent makers of music in Spain.

  In the flow of years that came afterward to Europe, a new variety of music exploded on the continent. Spain, being the gateway into the east from the west, attracted some of the most diverse styles in music. In those early days of music's largest achievement in Europe, I cannot think that there must have been much difference or variation between the music of Europe and the music of the Easterners, for the former was in it's infancy, but it has developed into what we have today from those humble beginnings. As we consider Spanish music, we conjure thoughts of spice, warmth, and emotion. It is with the final category that soprano Petibon has sought to identify herself with this release, but she endeavors to open our senses to the area of <i>melancolia</i>, the melancholy, that inhabits much of the musical language of Spain.

  For much of this refreshing album, she achieves her goal. The repertoire she has chosen might easily be classified as mere Spanish art songs, which does not adequately describe the material for my want of precise categorization of the work. To settle for that summation alone, one would be guilty of an inferior classification for a grouping of songs that display many unique qualities that make each of them memorable. In the album's booklet, which is published in four different languages for the benefit of an international audience, Petibon informs how she approached the material to include on this disc.

  "I spent a long time thinking about the programme for this disc, creating a mixture of music, and finally I settled on one unifying idea: the feeling of melancholy, which is a reflection of Spain itself," she says. "The disc is a journey through different styles, but through folk music as well, which has a strong presence on the disc. The theatrical element is very important, too, and at the centre is the character of Salud in Falla's La vida breve. She embodies the melancholy of the title,  the loss of hope. Melancholy is a balance in life, a sadness that binds us to death. Salud represents the darkest side of melancholy that tends toward tragedy. But this sort of melancholy can also depict the radiance of childhood, of joy and laughter. What I wanted to explore through this disc was the journey between these two poles."

  Indeed, as she iterates, melancholy can be used to illustrate a current situation, or the feeling may serve to recall a time of illumination when life was more enjoyable or simpler to our minds. I think the selection that best illustrates the latter definition of melancholy on this disc is Heitor Villa-Lobos' famous Aria (Cantilena).  It has often been recorded by many a popular music artist, Hayley Westenra being a more recent notable one, but Petibon breathes new life into this song. No longer is it simply a progression of notes in her voice's ample range; with her interpretative gifts that I admire so much, she transforms this otherwise common piece that might otherwise suffer from too much exposure at the hands of others into a mournful ballad in which one can find a reference to a time of previous joy that was known. One of the distinct qualities of her voice that I find almost unique to her is her ability to take a piece of music and to convey any sort of emotion in it. I like it best when she throws caution and what many musicologists and musicians might call rigid structure to the wind and sings with an almost reckless abandon. It is then that she shines tremendously, for she places the music and herself in such a vulnerable state. In those instances when she feels the music demands it, she lets every typical convention depart, and she simply lets the music and its sentiments carry her with them. It is a brilliant device, and I wish more singers would take these sorts of urgent chances.

  Our first glimpse of this bold, delicious flavoring from her voice comes from the melodies of Joaquin Nin y Castellanos. In El Vito's musical orchestration and the intuitive flair with which she creates her phrases, we catch a promising view of the folk elements of this disc. While it is certainly not a cause for operatic purists to lament, for Petibon does not fully remove herself from her instinct as a classical vocalist quite yet, as the piece progresses through the solo interlude of the guitar, and the percussion is added, the soprano allows the music to envelop her voice, and we gleefully notice that the ingredients of a truly scintillating performance are evident. The dance that the title indicates slowly forms beyond our broad expectation for such a title devoid of any real description, and the colors we hope to find in the experience of listening to this song initiate their definitions of themselves to our attentions. She never truly loses her classical style here, but we are given a pleasant preview of what is to come in later tracks.

Petibon addresses this facet of the recording in the booklet accompanying the release. She says, "...In terms of sound, I was just as keen to find different vocal colours as instrumental ones. I didn't want to use an operatic voice all the time - sometimes you must forget your training to be able to return to the roots and use your instinct as an interpreter. [...]" She certainly accomplishes this goal admirably on this release, and Spanish music lends itself quite well to this endeavor. Cantares, which is composed by Joaquin Turina, reveals more clearly these intentions and takes the reckless abandon that we hope to find to an almost complete culmination in Petibon's exclamations of "Ay!" They are produced with little attention to classical training beyond the necessary support from the abdominal area of the body, and they contain the desired effect of sufficiently pulling us into the music. Even if a listener does not comprehend the Spanish lyrics, it is impossible to be ignorant of the fact that this is an exuberant, rousing, joyous song. Indeed, if you heard this song without any context from the album, you might be tempted to wonder how it deals with the theme of melancholy. The subject of the song is dealing with the sadness that comes from leaving a happy relationship.

  For all of this disc's merit, which is considerable and quite a nice departure from the standard classical vocal fare, there are two tracks that immediately dampen the tone of the album for my liking. Xavier Montsalvatage's two contributions to the music both sound like pieces from the Romantic era, and one could well mistake the Cancion de cuna for a composition by a contemporary of Puccini's. The Canto negra that is featured in this programme shows some of his predilection for the avant-garde in music at the time, but it generally sounds like it comes from the middle of the previous century, which is not a particularly innovative time in music. Much of it sounds very similar to everything else, and most of the composers outside of Germany and England seemed content to refrain from much experimentation in their creations. These two selections almost seem out of place on this album; indeed, one might expect to find them from a Spanish film of the lately aforementioned period.

  For my review of this disc, I have elected to save one of the most exciting elements of this project for the latter portion of my excursion into the musical landscape of this territory. The final four tracks on the release are a world premiere recording of four songs written for Patricia Petibon. New commissions of music do not usually capture my adoration, nor am I altogether certain that this one shall do so entirely, but composer Nicolas Bacri gives Petibon a cycle of songs entitled Melodias de la melancolia. These songs begin with A la mar. It deals with a person who goes to the sea to sing her sad song so that she does not have to endure the tears that would otherwise reveal themselves if she were forced to confront her sadness alone. Petibon does not allow the opportunity for dramatic or emotional effect to pass her with this inception that is shrouded in mystery. Her voice perfectly connotes the unknown cause of sadness that plagues the protagonist of this episode, and we are left to only imagine what misfortune has befallen this woman. The chords that are formed by the orchestra produce an eerie, anxious atmosphere that only serves to heighten our agitation for this character. What is to become of her? Will this be the final time she visits the sea because she decides that she may find more comfort in allowing it to swallow her than to return to her existence? We are left to ponder this as the agony is slightly revealed in the vocal line.

  The second song is called Silencio mi nino. In this lyrical episode, a mother implores her child to sleep and forget the wrongs of the day as the night visits them. She assures her son that she will not leave him and that she will comfort him in his sorrow. The swells in the orchestra paint a scene of a peaceful night beginning to show itself to the world and help to urge the child to do as his mother bids him and go to sleep.

  Musically, the third piece takes quite a departure from our previous two. The score here sounds much more agitated and discontent than it has previously done, which is the perfect pairing for the text it ushers. In this piece, which has quite a high sustained range that Petibon delivers exquisitely, the narrator expresses disappointment and perhaps even disdain for love. It is clear that love has become a meaningless part of life that is bereft of happiness. This song seems to adopt a true melancholy for its driving force, for sadness is not an appropriate attribution of what this person is feeling.

  The final piece of music is entitled simply Solo, and it is a lonely expression of what qualities a state of melancholy lacks. The music accompanying the voice here betrays no sense of hope for a future improvement of life to a more jovial state. Instead of any wish for happiness in the coming days, it exhibits only the sorrow of life in a state of melancholy, and all that remains is "the sweet and secret melody of my melancholy."

  Throughout this recording's endearing aural pleasures, we are consistently reminded of Petibon's emotional connection to this music through her voice. She intones every phrase with some purpose to illustrate the song with some sense of the theme of melancholy, and it serves to unify the entire disc's material. I am immensely proud of this effort from this soprano, and I think she is often underrated. I maintain every hope that she will be engaged for a recital tour of the United States in the near future, and I would dare to add to that hope that I might attend one of those performances. My immense ingratiation is proffered to Decca Classics and Deutsche Grammophon for sending me this new release, and I privileged to be able to hear such wonderful artists as this one certainly is.

  I hope that all of you shall enjoy this remarkable new release to the fullest extent, for I certainly think it to be one of the most promising I have heard from this year, and I hope that God continues to bless all of you as this present year vanishes from our lives, and we are greeted with the numerous pleasures that the new year shall bestow upon us. Please accept my humble gratitude for enduring my post, and I hasten to remind everyone of The Metropolitan Opera's pastiche of Baroque works, The Enchanted Island, starring Danielle de Niese, Joyce DiDonato, Placido Domingo, and David Daniels among others. It is being streamed from the Met's website on New Year's Eve!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lucia di Lammermoor at Washington National Opera

In the examination of my traffic statistics for my blog, I notice that my most popular post lately is one that describes a small portion of Sarah Coburn's career. If the events of the world of opera have any bearing upon the amount of visitors that are brought to my individual posts, it might well be stated that the present production of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor at the Washington National Opera. Soprano Sarah Coburn is Donizetti's mad heroine, and the remainder of the cast includes Michael Chioldi, and Saimir Pirgu.  I have heard many praises of this production on Twitter from many sources, and it appears that Coburn is making quite an impression on the audiences who attend.

Philip Kennicot gives us a review of the production. Since I have not seen the production, I must rely on the written narration of another to clarify the production's idiosyncrasies and nuances that are exclusive to it. He mentions the shortcomings of the set design, which reveals itself probably most prominently in the fact that there are no doors within the walls of the flats, and this impedes the action onstage, for the chorus is rumored to find it necessary to climb through the windows. Obviously, there is some dramatic effect that is sought to be obtained in this direction and design, but Kennicot finds it more distracting than thought provoking, which seems only natural to me. While there may be some missed interpretation to be considered in that particular scene change, it is completely wasted on one who cannot focus on the important actions of the principals that inhabit the stage while they fear for safety of chorus members who might suddenly tumble through a window or who is unsuccessful in blocking the exiguous noise from the vital music that is being heard. Though the production has its flaws, this critic still appropriates acceptable marks to it for the effectiveness of its lighting and the difference of interpretation that it may inspire in opposition or dissidence to another production that a viewer may have previously witnessed. This mounting of Lucia di Lammermoor puts Lucia in a far more innocent state of being than we usually encounter in the operatic world, and it is becoming far more popular for the heroines of new productions to be envisioned as teen-aged adolescents. I have some qualms with this approach, one of which is that I think it leads to a sweeping generalization of the diverse characters that are present in opera, but this seems to create a more validated and acceptable transition for an audience into Lucia's insanity that she eventually acquires.

As for the cast's abilities, Kennicot calls the cast he saw, which featured Sarah Coburn, "compelling." He further elucidates regarding her that her voice has genuine character and all of the clarity and speed for which one could hope. I am most elated to hear such praise for this soprano, for she used to attend my university, and she was the first opera singer that I have ever seen perform. The tenor Saimir Pirgu received words of praise from our critic, as well, and he was reported to complement Coburn quite well. It would appear that there is no flaw in the vocal aspect of this piece. One piece of information that was not conveyed, which I should have been very glad to know, was whether or not the original glass harmonica orchestration was employed for the mad scene. One of the opera companies whom I follow on Twitter mentioned that they were running the production with the original orchestration, but I cannot recall if it was the Washington National Opera or otherwise. I much prefer the glass harmonica to be included by the orchestra, for it adds a new dimension to the haunting, eerie quality of the madness that we discover in Lucia.

I express my immense ingratiation to all of you for continuing to peruse my posts, and I hope that all of you are extraordinarily blessed in life. I wish everyone an Happy Thanksgiving despite your nationality, for a day of feasting in honor of giving thanks for God's providence is a commendable course no matter what nation claims your heritage.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An Exciting New Release

Deutsche Grammophon announced via Twitter this evening that soprano Patricia Petibon's new album of Spanish songs and arias, which is entitled Melancolia: Spanish Arias and Songs, is to be released in the United States on November 21, 2011. I have high hopes for this album after becoming enthralled by Petibon's previous release of Rosso: Italian Baroque Arias. Though this recording is not quite so specialized as Rosso was, I expect all of the flavor that Spanish music would immediately conjure in the minds of anyone who is remotely familiar with music would hope to find. Indeed, that was one of the main reasons for my infatuation with Rosso, for her performances were breathed with fresh, vivacious life, and they did not sound like a plain reading of text in the least amount. Every track from that album was imbued with a passion that I have rarely found matched in other performances of Baroque music, in which many artists are concerned with what is thought to be the most strict of styles. Her renditions almost left caution to the wind, and the effect was rapturous for my ears. Without any question Baroque music should be performed to that degree of expression every time it is proffered in a program.

The track list for this new disc is as follows.

           Enrique Granados

  1. La maja dolorosa II: Ay majo de mi vida
    Tornadillas No.2
  2. Cancion de Cuna
    Cinco canciones negras No. 4
  3. Canto negro
    Cinco Canciones negras No. 5

    Joaquin Nin y Castellanos
  4. El vito
    Veinte cantos populares espanoles II No. 8

    Heitor Villa-Lobos
  5. Aria (Cantilena)
    Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5

    Joaquin Turina
  6. Cantares
    Poema en forma de canciones No. 3

    Geronimo Gimenez
  7. La tarantula e un bicho mu malo (Zapateado)
    from La tempranica

    Rafael Calleja Gomez/ Tomas Barrera Saavedra
  8. Adios, Granada
    from Emigrantes

    Manuel de Falla
  9. Vivan los que rien!
    from La Vida breve, Act 1

    Federico Moreno Torroba
  10. Petenera
    from La Marchenera

    Enrique Granados
  11. El mirar de la mija
    Tornadillas No. 7

    Jose Serrano Simeon
  12. Marinela, Marinela
    from La cancion del olvido
  13. Ogunde uarere

    Nicolas Bacri

    Melodias de la melancolia, Op. 119
    for Patricia Petibon, World Premiere Recording
  14. 1. A la mar
  15. 2. Silencio mi nino
  16. 3. Hay quien dice
  17. 4. Solo
As my readers can easily gather from this diverse choice of material, this promises to be replete with life and fervor for the music. Most of these compositions are plucked from the Romantic era of music, which lasts approximately between 1850 to 1900, which indicates lush orchestrations and greater emphasis on the music over the voice, but I am anxious to discover how Petibon shall make these selections entirely her own.

For those who are unfamiliar with Patricia Petibon, she is best known as a skilled interpreter of the baroque repertoire, but last season brought a bold departure from that music with her run of performances as Berg's Lulu in Salzburg over the summer. Opera News also had a review of this new territory for Petibon, and she was the cover subject for the August 2010 issue.

On this newest release under Deutsche Grammophon label, the soprano is joined in collaboration by the Orquestra Nacional de Espana under the baton of Josep Pons, and, if Petibon's previous artistry is to be of any indication to our minds is hope for this recording, we can safely dare to hope for superlative results from this latest offering. I look forward to hearing this recording with excellent anticipation of exquisite musicology and interpretation.

Please accept my ingratiation for reading my continued blog posts, and I hope that all of my readers are immensely blessed of late. I pray God's continued providence upon all of you.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Does Artistic License End in Artistic Difference?

It was this morning that I opened my complimentary copy of the New York Times to the section of the serial publication that is devoted to the arts, and I found more than enough of a story in the classical music sphere to sate my thirst for a compelling story. As many of my readers may be aware, pianist Hélène Grimaud released a new recording today internationally, and it contains Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K. 459, Ch'io mi scordi di te?, Non temer amato bene, K 505, which are sung by soprano Mojca Erdmann, and his Piano Concerto in A major, K. 488. This recording is being billed as two firsts for Grimaud, which are her first live recording for her label Deutsche Grammophon and her first recording of Mozart concerti. As the New York Times showed us, this was not originally slated to be a live recording. That was almost purely accidental, which is quite surprising.

According to Daniel J. Wakin, who wrote the article for the day of the scheduled international release, Maestro Claudio Abbado was originally scheduled to conduct Grimaud and his Orchestra Mozart in May for the release of these concerti and the two arias. Based upon the scholastic musicality of previous interpreters, one of which was Vladimir Horowitz, Grimaud wanted to employ a cadenza that was composed by Ferruccio Busoni over the original one that Mozart composed for the Concerto in A major.  Mozart's cadenza for the piece is considered inferior to Busoni's by many erudite musicians, but Abbado wanted to include it over the Busoni inclusion. Though Grimaud was reluctant, and she had not looked at Mozart's cadenza, she, nevertheless, included it for the original recording at Abbado's behest after they had recorded Busoni's piece in context of the concerto. Therefore, the option seemed to be left that either one could be chosen for the recording. Hélène was adamant that she would not consider Mozart's ornamentation for the actual recording, but Abbado continued to push for the inclusion of it on the release.

There was then an impasse between them, for Maestro Abbado, who, at 78 years of age, is considered one of the foremost conductors of the world, continued to lobby for the inclusion of the Mozart cadenza to complement the composer's concerto, and he hinted that he would decide that the piece be played with it in their scheduled performances of the work in Lucerne, Switzerland, and elsewhere in Europe. However, Grimaud would have none of it, so, after the initial recording was made, she ordered the production of it to be stalled and withheld from public release. Because of this Claudio Abbado canceled several performances together, and replacements had to be found in both London and Lucerne  for them. According to Michael Haefliger, the Lucerne Festival's Artistic and Executive Director, Ms. Grimaud was paid her fees though her concerts were cancelled with them and substitutes found. It is reported by those who were close to the matter that Abbado, who declined to be interviewed for the feature, has said that he would not continue to make music with someone whom he felt was not being a good partner in reference to Ms. Grimaud.

All of this comes to the ultimate conclusion that there is an album released, but one might ask how this could be if the conductor withdrew his name from the affair and if Grimaud would not release the recording as he desired it. As it turns out, there was a live recording of the concerti from a couple of months earlier with which Grimaud felt deeply satisfied. She conducted the Bavarian Radio Symphony from the bench of her instrument, and it is this live performance that finds its way to the actual release of the recording. 

This begs the question of who holds the final authority when deciding the artistic direction of a recording. Is it the conductor, or does a solo artist hold the decision in their hands? In my limited experience with these sort of episodes, it has mostly been the responsibility of the conductor to make the final decision because it is more often than not that they are better informed to make such a choice in the context of a performance or recording. It has only been in recent times that artists would dare openly dissent with a conductor. If these were the days of Herbert von Karajan or Georg Solti, it would be unthinkable to hear of such a thing. Any disagreement with a conductor or the artistic management usually resulted in an artist departing in disgrace or at odds with the remainder of the classical music world. As recent as the fiasco with Kathleen Battle and Joseph Volpe, artists would be grateful if they could find work again. Battle certainly never did to any sort of consequence thereafter, and there are many cases of artists finding a reduced state of popularity after a disagreement with a conductor.

I ask my readers who should hold the final authority?

Thank you all for reading, and I hope that everyone is blessed lately. I hope that you have all found this subject to be interesting!

My Favorite Productions of the 2011-2012 Metropolitan Opera Season

It has been a couple of weeks since that I was rewarded with receiving the Metropolitan Opera's 2011-2012 Radio Broadcast and Live in HD guide for the upcoming season, and I was elated to find it among the items in my mailbox. Naturally, I immediately began to scan the pages that were contained between the covers, and the front of the brochure was clearly designed and utilized to cater to the widest possible audience, for it featured soprano Anna Netrebko in a production photograph for the season's new production of Jules Massenet's Manon. I could spend some appreciable time on why I think it is an odd move for Netrebko to add the role of Manon to her repertory at this precise moment, but I shall abstain for the nonce.

My favorite production for which I possess the most excitement in the current season has to be Handel's Rodelinda, which stars Renee Fleming and Andreas Scholl, the latter of whom recently gave a critically lauded recital at Carnegie Hall. This was the opera that was my maiden voyage into this beautiful art form, and Renee Fleming had portrayed the heroine in that Metropolitan Opera broadcast responsible for my new passion. This sort of brings my journey in the world of opera to the point of its origin. In that light one could make the case that I am embarking on a new stage of my journey in opera, which is certainly veritable as I begin to make this my career. The production is by director Stephen Wadsworth, and it is a safe, traditional one, which keeps me glad. I cannot wait to at least hear this glorious performance.

My second-- That is to say, my other production for which I am elated is the new baroque pastiche with music from Vivaldi, Handel, and Rameau among others and featuring a new libretto by Jeremy Sams that is entitled The Enchanted Island. The plot of this new work is centered around the characters from William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, but this episode has them shipwrecked on the island from another of Shakespeare's plays, The Tempest. The cast is exciting, for it includes a star-studded roster of excellent vocalists, some of whom you would expect in baroque repertoire, and there are others whom you would not. The cast comprises the talents of Placido Domingo, whom I should not expect to find singing baroque music, Lisette Oropesa, whom I shall be glad to have the pleasure of hearing again, Joyce DiDonato, who has become the premier mezzo-soprano in the Rossini and baroque repertoire outside of the renowned Cecilia Bartoli, David Daniels, Luca Pisaroni, and Danielle de Niese, who is one of my favorite sopranos to hear.

I am certain that my readers will notice the emphasis I took to say that The Enchanted Island is my other favorite production of the season, and there is due cause for this. Twitter is responsible for this wording, and there is a rather humorous anecdote involved with the fact. When I am not writing blog posts or studying, I can often be found scanning the tweets of my hallowed list of people that I follow on Twitter to obtain more news of the happenings in the operatic and theatrical worlds, and I also am given the liberty of mentioning things that I am anxious to do or see. It is in this part of the story that it would be nice to say that Danielle (yes, this Danielle) and I "go way back" as the expression is, but, unfortunately, we do not. However, we mutually and reciprocally follow each other on Twitter, and she responds to things I post considerably often when one thinks of who she is and what she does. Well, as it happened, I casually mentioned that my favorite production in anticipation of the Met's current season was Rodelinda as I have mentioned here, and, having more than one, I followed that remark with,

My second choice of a production to witness at  would have to be 'The Enchanted Island' with  and .
 Much to my surprise, I received this reply from Ms. de Niese in good humor:

   second? ..... <louder and with longer vowels> SEEECOOOND? :-)

Thus, my later choice of wording for all of eternity became "other" at her direction, for she replied when I said that I could have used a different word,

    yes.... "Other" or...... "first" :-)))))))))

Well, it did not go quite so high as first, though it could well tie for that title, but I have employed greater discretion thereafter using the alternate wording, and divas the world over are the happier for it, I am pleased to announce.

Returning to my other productions for which I am excited, one of them has revealed itself to me on short notice, and it is to be streamed live this Halloween evening. Mozart's Don Giovanni, which is a perennial favorite at the Met as a showcase for both established stars and the new talent that presents itself to the world of opera. I am most anxious to hear soprano Mojca Erdmann , who had a feature in Opera News' October issue, and Mariusz Kwiecien after his surgery on his back. Barbara Fritolli and Ramon Vargas complement these artists in the production, and I am certain that they shall be in excellent vocal form this evening. This may well be my activity for the evening, so it would be nice if some kind patron would leave a container of chocolates upon my doorstep since I shall be unable to go begging for it from other houses in my neighborhood.

We also have exciting new heirs to the La Fille du Regiment star vehicle this year in tenor Lawrence Brownlee and Nino Machaidze. Kiri Te Kanawa returns as the Duchess of Krakenthorp. Having witnessed Brownlee perform in person, his ability is solid, but his acting leaves a void with the audience. He is more of the "stand in one place and sing" type of singer presently, but I expect that will change with time. Of course, with his voice, who would complain about that fact?

Another Donizetti opera receives a stellar cast pairing this season, and it is quite unexpected for me. Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Florez are the two lovers in L'Elisir d'Amore, and they join forces with Kwiecien and Alessandro Corbelli. This promises to be a memorable run of performances, and, from the standpoint of the singers alone, it may well raise the performance standard for this opera to an exponential degree. I am excited for this!

A new thing that I want to hear is Leos Janacek's The Makropulos Case starring skilled Janacek interpreter Karita Mattila. Janacek's music has intrigued me ever since I heard Renee Fleming's recording of selections from Jenufa, and I was impressed by the melodies in From the House of the Dead when it made its premiere at the Met a few years since. Janacek is composer that I would feel ready to hear in a new, untried context, so I look forward to this outing to have the chance.

Natalie Dessay brings the Met her interpretation of Verdi's doomed heroine in  La Traviata after her touring  of the role in Europe over the summer festival season. The best story of one of these runs came from the Aix en Provence festival with Dessay in the role of Violetta under the baton of Louis Langree with the assistance of the London Symphony Orchestra. Maxine Kwok-Adams, who is one of the principle violinists with that revered ensemble, and who is another person I follow on Twitter, tweeted that she screamed in the orchestra pit as a fox ran amongst the musicians during a performance! The festival is an outdoor one, so I suppose occurrences such as that one will happen occasionally. Nevertheless, the New York Times did not give it a very nice review, and they did mention that Langree could not seem to keep absolute hold of the orchestra. One now wonders why... As for her Alfredo, I am most dissatisfied, for they have chosen Matthew Polenzani. His Alfredo from 2007 opposite Renee Fleming was a weak one in my opinion, but I shall listen again to see if he has improved since then.

Patricia Racette returns to us in Puccini's Tosca, and Roberto Alagna and Aleksandrs Antonenko share the role of Cavaradossi while James Morris and George Gagnidze alternate as Scarpia this season.

Of course, there are also the two new installments of Wagner's Ring cycle for us to herald with Deborah Voigt and Bryn Terfel. James Hunter Morris debuted as Seigfried recently replacing the indisposed tenor who preceded him, and he was phenomenal by all accounts. I cannot wait to hear him continue in the role.

That list completes my greatest anxieties for expectation for the Metropolitan Opera's 2011-2012 season, and it promises to be an exquisite one. The broadcast season will soon be upon us, and my Saturdays shall be claimed by being employed in the practice of listening to the world's best opera house delivering us the grandest performances in the present world.

I pray that my readers are all exceptionally blessed in their lives currently, and I intimate my utmost ingratiation to all of you for allowing me this pleasure of including myself in your lives. I pray that God continues to bless all of you immensely!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Result of My Contribution to Literature on the Arts

   For any of you who were interested, I was given my grade for my profile of conductor James Levine this morning, and I am pleased to report that I received a 92% A- for The Wave of the Wand. For the most part I was pleased with my marks, but I did exert a good deal of effort, and I think that my original draft, had I completed it as I intended to do, should have received a better overall grade. After I claimed my essay, I was given my English Composition midterm examination, and I was completely unprepared for what I saw. Our professor had told all of us students that there would be ten or twelve multiple choice questions combined with an essay question on the test, and we discovered that we should translate this in the future to mean that there shall be eighteen questions requiring a definition with the multiple choices residing in one's brain for extraction and utilization in the specific answer.

   As for the essay portion of the exam, I felt that it was a reasonable thing to find, but I have never known an excellent essay to be born of an author's abilities in half an hour or less. It is, therefore, needless to say that my essay was not my best. Indeed, it was unfinished when our allotted time was expended. I can only hope that I make a C on this midterm exam. I think my essays will give me a low A or a high B for the course itself if I continue to receive A's for my required essays in the class.

   If I may depart from the subject of academia, I should like to focus on the operatic world at present. The Metropolitan Opera's season recently began with Anna Bolena. I have yet to hear the work and how the performers interpreted it, but there have been critical reviews of the production's opening by several arts journalists. However, though I take ample license in saying so without having experienced the quality of it prior to perusing her article, Anne Midgette's telling of events seems rather harsh. To begin the article, she compares Anna Netrebko, who plays our heroine in the production, to Maria Callas. She notes,

"This year, the star soprano Anna Netrebko has taken on the role herself, first in Vienna in April and now at the Metropolitan Opera, where she opened the season in the company’s first-ever production of the work on Monday night. Yet Netrebko’s “Anna Bolena” showed little of the care that made Callas’s so memorable. Monday’s performance was littered with missed intonations, smeared runs and a good deal of running about the stage with clasped hands, which evidently qualifies as operatic acting."
    Of course, I am quite prepared to concede that the acting may have been less than desirable from Netrebko, but Callas's acting was rarely something of praise, especially as her vocal talent began to decline. Later, Midgette mentions that Netrebko breaks character to acknowledge the adoration of an audience, but it is also necessary to intimate that Callas was known to do the exact same thing, and this is evidenced by a recent Opera News feature by Eric Myers.

"Ira Siff, stage director, Met broadcast commentator and creator of drag diva Mme. Vera Galupe-Borszkh, singles out a moment in Act III of that performance that was formative for him. It was the high-lying phrase "Io quella lama" that ends Tosca's narrative of how she killed Scarpia. "By 1965, Callas's high C was not a thing of beauty," he says, "and when she lunged at it in that phrase, the sound elicited a loud gasp from the audience. Callas, entirely in character and a brilliant Tosca all evening, broke it for a split second to glare in the direction of the public, those huge eyes darting toward us for just one terrifying moment. After that, we behaved.'"

  It also bears to be mentioned that Midgette seems to have become rather hostile towards performances lately, especially the high profile ones. My specific reference is to an episode that occurred recently in which she accused Placido Domingo of "sabotage" during a performance of Tosca that he conducted at Washington National Opera. She claimed that the performance was so ill at times that Domingo must have been the culprit, and then she used the word sabotage to describe his action. Now, it begs to be said that Domingo is a world renowned musician of appreciable ability in conducting, and there are times in which he is not his best, which usually come when he has had little time to rehearse, but for Midgette to employ such a remark in all of its scathing connotation is rather much for my taste.

  In the light of all of this, I begin to wonder what credibility arts journalists possess. If they are so expertly knowledgeable about music and how it should be performed, why are they not performing it? Are they more erudite than those on whose livelihood this is based? The question of whether the critic uses their publication as a means to print exaggerated reviews against someone or a production for their gain of notoriety yet remains, and I am curious to know what others think on the subject. As for myself, I try not to judge a performance or a piece until I have heard it. I can honestly admit that I can only think of one piece of music for which I could write a review of its reprehensible vices, and that would be Saariajo's L'amour de Loin. Even though Dawn Upshaw, who is one of my favorite sopranos, is the star of the production, I do not appreciate the monotonous music to any degree. I may elucidate further on this in the future, but I shall leave it at that.

  Finally, thank you for your kind perusal of my post, and I pray that God continues to bless your existence. -Tyler.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

An Essay on the Magic of Conducting an Orchestra Revisited

   When I submitted my rough draft of my previously mentioned essay, I was confident in its merits as an astute contribution to the world of literature. Moreover, I was certain that it would be well received by my professor, but, when I received it with his critique of my profile of the subject, it carried the simple, but potent instruction of 'Simplify' emblazoned across the top of my title page.

   Reading this piece of advice from my professor, I decided it would be prudent to inquire of him what course of action I might pursue to better my essay in his opinion, and he promptly rewarded my curiosity with the following statement. I paraphrase, of course, but the expressed sentiments are the same.

   "You are at least two years ahead of this class," he assured me, "But, you need to bring your ability down to the level of the rest of the class so that we do not get ahead, or I will have to adjust your grade."
  I translated that to mean that I would have to rewrite my essay in sixth-grade language, or my alternative was that my grade on the piece would suffer. When I completed it, I did not feel that it was quite as eloquent or insightful as my previous telling of the events and facts, but we shall have to see what my actual grade shall depict. Nevertheless, for the consideration of my readers, I present my revised essay, and all of you are at liberty to submit your opinions on which you enjoy better and which is better suited to the subject I have elected to illustrate.

The Wave of the Wand
As you sit confined to your seat, your gaze is transfixed upon the woman before you. She is an object of captivating beauty, and she is clothed in a red gown of costly fabric and elegant design. If the scene before you were not so tense, you could notice all of these things, but the only visible thing to your mind is the dagger that this woman holds. Her weapon is a delicate one. It has a slender blade of steel coupled with a hilt of gold, which is crowned with small rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. She carries it with an exact intent. There can be no denying her motive as she stares unflinchingly at the large man who is merely a yard away from her. As she lunges for him, any defense that this muscular man may make in the face of this attack is powerless. Our heroine buries the double-edged blade into the villain’s throat, and blood oozes from the wound. He sinks to his knees as the life escapes his veins, and the woman slowly withdraws the weapon from his neck. A moment of silence ensues, and, for a brief space of time, one is left to ponder the grotesque image.
The woman glares at the man even still, and we begin to glimpse a transformation of her character. She is no longer desperately hopeful for another end to this episode; indeed, her demeanor has been replaced with a commanding persona that people often assume when they
gain mastery of a situation. The silence lingers just long enough for the spectator to ponder all of these things, and then it is suddenly broken by a collection of instruments, an orchestra. Ordering this interruption to our contemplation of the affair, there is a man dressed in formal attire standing in a dimly lit space that is just below our vision. In reality there is a massive, capacious stage before an audience, and the scene that I have described is from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca. With a deliberate motion, this imposing figure compels the members of the orchestra to play the music that underscores the mood, and we are reminded that we are watching a performance. This man’s name is James Levine, and he is the conductor for the evening, the one responsible for controlling the sounds of the orchestra. Under his precise direction of them, the orchestra players must combine to form a cohesive unit, and every tone must be synchronized. He adeptly ensures that such is the case.
Levine holds a baton in his hand. Based upon the movement of this small, carved piece of wood, he can create luscious melodies to inspire any sort of emotion known to human beings. In a sense, then, it is almost believable that he possesses a magic wand. If he wills it, music is created, and he can mute any sound with the slightest gesture of the wispy rod. I ask the reader: is this not a power that is most surreal? I would adore such ability!
James Levine is the Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera House of New York. According to Martin Mayer, author of The Met: One Hundred Years of Grand Opera, Levine was engaged as principal conductor for the 1972-1973 season in 1971 by the General Manager elect of the Metropolitan Opera for the 1972 season, Gorean Gentele, after a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller. He had been a mere spectator at Lincoln Center that Saturday afternoon, and he was amazed at the brilliance of the young conductor in the orchestra pit, for
Levine was a mere twenty-eight at the time. Gentele thought it would be a sound move to hire an American as the principal conductor for America’s leading opera company (Mayer). As we learn from Paul Jackson, PhD., in his volume Start-Up at the New Met: The Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts 1966-1976, Levine’s substitution for the deceased Fausto Cleva was nothing short of superb.
“Levine’s shepherding of the early Verdi work is both masterly and masterful,” Jackson praises in regards to the performance given on October 15, 1971 (Jackson).
To illustrate the magic that he possesses, Jackson continues, “And what an invigorating ride it is. The first measures of the overture put us on alert. The reading is notable both for its structural coherence and pointing of detail. Verdi’s little chords, nestled under the opening theme, are rhythmically alive and propel the thematic line onward; integration between melody and accompaniment is complete. When the clarinet takes over the theme, Levine allows it to sing – the change is slight, but the intent is clear.” (Jackson)
From this vivid description of Levine’s marshaling of his orchestral forces, we can see that his ability to work magic from the pages of orchestral scores is a trait that he has never lacked from his beginning as a conductor. Because he worked as an assistant to maestro George Szell, he learned his trade well, and his attention to detail is evident. Jackson writes of this, as well.
“The Met had long lacked a conductor of the Italian repertory who combined an impeccable ear for detail with the ability to shape formal structures, small and large, for maximum musical and dramaturgical effect. Mr. [Rudolph] Bing had found one in Levine,” Jackson assures us. (Jackson)
What ensued after Gentele’s appointment of Levine was a thirty-nine year career as the ultimate musical figure at the Metropolitan Opera. He began as the principal conductor. Previously, it was the custom of general managers to hire conductors who had worked with them before since they knew that those conductors would deliver excellent results. Giulio Gatti-Casazza, another general manager of the Metropolitan Opera during the 1930’s, is a prime example of this when he imported the famous Arturo Toscanini to New York as he was scheduled to take over the company. Throughout his ongoing career, Levine has seen the succession of five General Managers, and his contract is set to last through the 2011-2012 season. Over the years he has risen in the ranks of the company. While he certainly began with a prestigious position, be became the de facto Music director of the Met in 1974 after the unexpected departure of Rafael Kubelik early in the year, but he gained that title officially in 1976. Ten years later, in 1986, he became the Artistic Director of the organization, which was a title he was the first to acquire in the company’s history. (Mayer)
In the spring of 2004, his health became a concern for the management of the house because of tremors in his left arm that sometimes impaired his abilities on the podium; nevertheless, the Met extended his contract, but these past few years have been marked with uncertainty for the future of the Met’s Music Director.
Recently, in a story for The New York Times, Daniel J. Wakin reported, “Mr. Levine, who has suffered a series of physical ailments, needed emergency surgery after falling while on vacation in Vermont and will be out until at least January, the Met said.” (Wakin) This posed a question in my mind.
“What happens when a conductor finds it necessary to take an absence? Does a performance get cancelled, or do they find a replacement for him,” I wondered.
In Mr. Levine’s case a replacement has been found, and this new conductor is Fabio Luisi, who had already been the principal guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera this season. However, there have also been several cancellations that Luisi has had to make in the light of this promotion. Several performances in Europe have either been cancelled, or they have found alternative conductors to fulfill the maestro’s former engagements. Many of these were scheduled with his orchestra, the Vienna Symphony, where he holds the title of chief conductor. Luisi’s absence strikes a chord of dissonance between him, the Met, and Mr. Thomas Angyan. Angyan is the artistic and executive director of the Musikverein, which is often the orchestra’s home for performances. Regarding Luisi’s appointment at the Met, Angyan says that the cancellation was not done quite professionally. He maintains that Luisi did not even contact him about his required cancellations directly. (Wakin)
“I’m astonished that he forgot my e-mail address or telephone number,” Mr. Angyan said. Though he asserts that he has immense respect for Peter Gelb, the Metropolitan Opera’s current General Manager, he was rather displeased at Gelb’s alleged treatment of him during a telephone conversation with him discussing the situation.
“Saying ‘I have to have your approval in ten seconds’ is not the nicest way,” he said. I would agree with Mr. Angyan, but the magic that a specific conductor’s wand can weave is priceless, and I can hardly blame one of the world’s foremost opera companies for wanting it. I believe that it should be an exquisite season for the Metropolitan Opera House of New York this year, and I am excited to hear how Fabio Luisi compares to James Levine while Luisi
substitutes for him. Let us hope that we may describe his ability in such superlative terms as we depict Levine’s.
Works Cited:
Jackson, Paul. "Start-Up at the New Met: The Metropoilitan Opera Broadcasts, 1966-1976." Newark: Amadeus Press, 2006. 262.
Mayer, Martin. "The Met: One Hundred Years of Grand Opera." New York: Simon and Schuster; The Metropolitan Opera Guild, 1983. 324.
Wakin, Daniel J. "Maestro's Injury Ignites Game of Musical Chairs." The New York Times 22 September 2011: 1;5.

   I am most ingratiated to all of my readers, and I hope that God continues to bless you in your lives. As a reminder to anyone who is interested, the commencement of the Metropolitan Opera's Live in HD season comes this Saturday, October 15, 2011, with Gaetano Donizetti's Anna Bolena, and it stars Anna Netrebko, Ekaterina Gubanova, Stephen Costello, Tamara Mumford, and Ildar Abdrazakov. I may attend my local cinema's showing of it, but I am not yet sure. Thank you for perusing my humble musings.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Wave of the Wand

   In order to marry a little portion of my life in university to my passion for opera, I elected to write an essay on conductors and their often overlooked role in the production of an opera. Many people I have come to know, especially fellow aficionados of opera who are local to me, are rather ignorant of the masters of the performances. It has been my finding that some of my colleagues concern themselves with merely the principal singers of a production, and it is in this that they greatly neglect the most important facet of the performance, for it is the conductor who commands the evening's entertainment. He is the one who creates every melodic line and delivers every nuance in the score to a superb climax. It is his further duty to develop such rapport with the singer that he may alter his reading ever so slightly without disrupting the delicate balance between the orchestral and vocal music. Without his involvement the performance would shortly crumble, yet too few of my acquaintances with whom I study or converse realize the importance of having any specific conductor; indeed, in their eyes, once a certain quality is attained, there can be no greater degree of mastery achieved. To them it does not matter if Riccardo Muti conducts Verdi or if Marco Armiliato does it, nor do they make a distinction.

   Therefore, when I was requested to compose a profile essay for my English Composition class, I elected to juxtapose two of my great passions, which are opera and writing. Our profiles were encouraged to be comprised of gory, grotesque images to make them all the more enthralling to the reader, who is none other than our professor, and this gave me some trouble for a considerable length of time. However, I finally had an idea of how to make my profile fall within the parameters of my professor's desires, so I chose James Levine as my specific subject, and I opened my essay with the scene from Puccini's Tosca in which the heroine plunges her knife into Baron Scarpia's throat. If I do not bore my readers too much with such an offering, I hereby present my unfinished, initial draft of my essay as I confided it to the eye of my professor this morning. He specified that they should be at least three to five pages, but I am inclined to think that my essay will encompass at least seven pages to say all that I wish it to intimate. As it was this morning, it was just longer than four pages.

The Wave of the Wand
As one sits confined to their seat, their gaze is transfixed upon the woman before them, who is an object of captivating beauty. She is clothed in a red gown that is made of costly fabric and is of an elegant design. If the scene before their eyes was not so tense, one could notice all of these things, but the sole feature that is obvious to the eyes is the dagger that this woman holds. Her weapon is a delicate one, for it is comprised of a slender blade of steel that is coupled with a hilt of gold, which is crowned with various small jewels, and she carries it with an exact intent. There can be no denying her motive as she stares unflinchingly at the large man who is a mere yard away from her present stance, and she lunges for him. As she does so, any defense that this muscular man may contrive is powerless in the face of this attack, and our heroine buries the double-edged blade into the man’s throat, which issues forth blood from the wound that is now inflicted. This powerful man sinks to his knees as the life escapes his veins, and the woman slowly withdraws the weapon from his neck. A moment of silence ensues, and one is left to ponder the grotesque image for a brief space of time.
The woman glares at the man even still, and we begin to glimpse a transformation of her character. It is no longer that she is desperately hopeful for another end to this episode, for this countenance has been replaced with a commanding presence that is often assumed when
one gains mastery over a situation. The silence lingers just long enough for the spectator to ponder all of these things, but it is suddenly broken by a collection of instruments, an orchestra. Ordering this interruption to a chain of thought and the consideration born of it, there is a man dressed in formal attire standing in a dimly lit space that is just below our field of vision. Indeed, there is a massive, capacious stage before an audience, and this scene that I have just depicted is the catalyst of the action in Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca. With a wave of his baton, this imposing figure, who is just obscured from our view, compels the members of his orchestra to play the music that underscores the mood, and we are reminded that we witness a performance. This man’s name is James Levine, and he is the conductor for the evening. It is he who is responsible for making the group of individual musicians to deliver sounds as a cohesive unit. Every tone must be precisely synchronized with the other members of the orchestra, and he ensures that such is the case.
In his hand he holds a baton. Based upon the movement of this small, carved piece of wood, he can create luscious melodies and inspire any sort of emotion known to human beings; therefore, if one exercises his imagination, it is almost believable that he possesses a magic wand. If he wills it, music is created, and he can mute any sound with the slightest gesture of the wispy rod. I ask the reader: is this not a power that is most surreal? I would adore such ability!
James Levine is the Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera House of New York. According to Martin Mayer, author of The Met, Levine was engaged as principal conductor for the 1972-1973 season in 1971 by the General Manager elect of the Metropolitan Opera for the
1972 season, Goeran Gentele, after a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller. He had been a mere spectator in the house at Lincoln Center that afternoon, but the brilliance of the conductor, who was a mere twenty-eight years of age then, arrested his interest, and he thought it would be a sound move to hire an American as the principal conductor of America’s leading opera company (1). As we learn from the telling of Paul Jackson in his volume Start-Up at the New Met: The Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts 1966-1976, Levine’s substitution for the deceased Fausto Cleva was nothing short of superb.
“Levine’s shepherding of the early Verdi work is both masterly and masterful,” Jackson praises in regards to the performance given on October 15, 1971.
To illustrate the magic that he possesses, Jackson continues, “And what an invigorating ride it is. The first measures of the overture put us on alert. The reading is notable both for its structural coherence and pointing of detail. Verdi’s little chords, nestled under the opening theme, are rhythmically alive and propel the thematic line onward; integration between melody and accompaniment is complete. When the clarinet takes over the theme, Levine allows it to sing – the change is slight, but the intent is clear.”
From this vivid description of Levine’s marshaling of his orchestral components, we can see that his ability to work magic from the pages of musical scores has been a trait that he has never lacked from his beginning as a conductor. Having worked as an assistant conductor to maestro George Szell, he learned his trade well, and his attention to detail became evident. Jackson writes of this, as well.
“The Met had long lacked a conductor of the Italian repertory who combined an impeccable ear for detail with the ability to shape formal structures, small and large, for maximum musical and dramaturgical effect. Mr. [Rudolph] Bing had found one in Levine,” Jackson assures us.
What ensued after Gentele’s appointment of Levine was a thirty-nine year career as the ultimate music figure at the Metropolitan Opera. He began as the principal conductor. Previously, it was the custom to engage whatever high profile conductor a manager could locate, and they were prone to hire conductors with whom they had worked in years past whom they knew would deliver excellent results. Giulio Gatti-Casazza, another General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera during the 1930’s, is a prime example when he imported the famous Arturo Toscanini when he was scheduled to assume authority of the company. Levine has seen the succession of five General Managers over the course of his tenure, and his contract is set to last for the 2011-2012 season. Over the course of the years, he has risen through the ranks of the company. While he did begin with a prestigious position, he was promoted to the de facto appointment of Music Director in 1974 after the unexpected departure of Rafael Kubelik early in the year, but he did not gain that title officially until 1976, and he became the Artistic Director, which was a title that he was the first to bear with the company, in 1986.
In the spring of 2004, his health became a concern to the management of the house, for there were tremors in his left arm that sometimes impaired his abilities on the podium;
nevertheless, the Met extended his contract, but these past few years have been marked by worry for the future of the Met’s Music Director.

   As my readers can apparently observe, there is some discrepancy in the format of my essay as it is transcribed here as opposed to its original structure. It is supposed to be perfectly double spaced and indented, but, alas, it has not shown itself that way in this medium, and I am too lethargic presently to alter it, so you must bear this ghastly sight for the present. When I complete the essay, I shall include that portion here as well, and, finally, I shall record my grade that I receive on it for any who are inquisitive enough to want to know such a thing.

   Finally, I hope that you have found this article and a glimpse into my life engaged in the university to be most entertaining and pleasant to read, and I pray that you are all exceptionally blessed. I am ingratiated that you have chosen to read my humble musings, and I wish every blessing from God upon all of you.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

News of the Welcome and Ecstatic Variety

I am well aware that I have grossly neglected my blog posts over the course of much of this year, and for this I must make every apology to my dear readers who have patiently waited to hear of the next chapter of my sojourn earlier in the year in New York City or who expected me to enlighten them concerning happenings in opera or musical theatre or to those who merely wished to hear of the circumstances that comprise my life. Therefore, I promise that I am making a return to this medium of communication to endeavor to revisit the community that I have formerly known from my love of the arts and literary composition.

Though I maintain that I shall post more often shortly, it is something of a necessity to make my readers aware of the development that I am finally an university student. My alma mater is Oklahoma City University, and I am an undeclared major until I audition for the music department here. With this transition in life, I am no longer adjoined to the world of the arts in any professional sense, which makes me rather sad for more than a few reasons, and I have bidden farewell to many close friends in that process, but I am returning to those things in life that once brought me personal enjoyment beyond anything else, one of which has been to write and give voice to thoughts or sentiments that other people wish to read.

As I adjust to this schedule, I leave you by intimating that I hope that you enjoy what you read, and I am grateful that anyone should extend me the courtesy to read what I should like to say. may God continue to bless all of you as He has consistently done for me.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Perfect Respite from Ordinary Life

This post is the first in a series that shall encompass my sojourn in New York City that took place between February 16-21, 2011. To be quite honest, it proved to be even more enjoyable and surreal than I could have ever imagined, and I learned an immense amount of things about myself and who I aspire to become. My gratitude to Jay Prock is without end for accompanying me on this vacation.

Having been devoted to opera in varying degrees for the past six years, I had naturally developed a great longing to visit the Metropolitan Opera in all of its splendor where it is situated in Lincoln Center Plaza. After a few years ago, I vowed that I would never visit New York City during a time in which the Met was dark, and I waited most patiently for an opportunity to present itself to afford me such a pleasure. As the years progressed, I began to think that I should never get my chance to see the Metropolitan Opera at all, but SarahB never let me accept that as an answer. Finally, there came a time about a year since when I thought a pilgrimage to that shrine of hallowed opera might be feasible. As I began to think about how this all might be executed, I called in a favor from a dear friend of mine, who is none other than the esteemed Jay Prock, and asked him to accompany me there. He is ever searching for an excuse to return to this city where he once made his residence, and it does not have to be a good one to make him go there. At the risk of releasing my dramatic effect from this tale, it is actually the case that Jay told me that I could not go there upon my first time without him, for he wanted to see my face when I arrived at Lincoln Center, and he received his wish, but I proceed before it is appropriate.

There were quite a few factors that were considered as I scheduled a time for our vacation. Jay wanted to remain there for a considerable amount of time so that we could have enough time to experience the city in various capacities. We knew from that piece of criteria that we would stay there for almost a week, and it was left to me to decide a possible block of time to visit to coordinate with a production at the Met. I had naturally elected that I should most wish to see Renee Fleming perform there first, so I proposed dates that would accommodate her run in either Armida or Richard Strauss's Capriccio. The latter proved to be out of the question for us for the problem that it conflicted with the production schedule of another production at the community theatre for which I am employed, and the first week I recommended for Armida could not be accepted for much the same reason. Therefore, we settled for the dates I have previously mentioned.

We booked our tickets some time in advance, and I put the thought of it out of my mind for a good while. The time passed, and it came to the day that was a week away from our date of departure, which was when I began to become enthusiastically excited about the next week's prospects. At that stage of the proceedings, I knew we had tickets to Armida and The Importance of Being Earnest at the American Airlines Theatre, but the rest of my stay there was completely free to living in the city in whatever fashion we might contrive. I was quite content with this arrangement, but my journey and stay in New York City proved to be so much more enjoyable than I expected it to be with all of the additional things that occurred there that I was afforded the opportunity of witnessing.

The inception of our journey required us to wake at four o'clock in the morning to catch our flight out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Memphis, Tennessee, which was our first stop on the trip. This was my first time to utilize transportation by means of an airplane, so I was naturally nervous, for I did not know what to expect. However, I found that flying does not bother me in the least inconvenient manner, but the security measures are most incommodious to us. With my belt, watch, iPod, and shoes removed from my person, and my laptop taken from its case, I walked through the scanner, and it took me a fair amount of time to clothe myself and replace my items again. Reviewing the event in my mind, it seems it would be more efficient if people would merely arrive at the airport ready to shower and let the TSA agents watch you attire yourself. Then, they could still check your bags while you were occuppied with preparing for the day.

We finally boarded the airplane, and we were on our way. After a relatively brief stop in Memphis, Tennessee, it finally became real to me that I was actually going to live in New York City for almost a week. I was intrigued at flying over the clouds. I have never seen clouds from such a perspective. To anyone who has never flown to travel anywhere, it is, indeed, a beautiful sight to behold. It reminded me of a rolling sea, but the sea that it depicted was a calm one. It did not seem a teribly long time to get there, but in reality we were flying for nearly eight hours. I was far too ecstatic to sleep on the flight, so I listened to music on my iPod while I looked out of the window at many peaceful images of the earth below us, and I edited a devotional document for Jay. That was my first experience with the iPad, and I have determined that I do not like tablet devices in general. The only device of its class that I would consider would be the ASUS Eee Slate, for it is more of a computer than merely a tablet.

Just when I thought the flight was seeming rather long, and that we must surely be over Pennsylvania by that time, I learned that we were flying over New York, and I saw the Statue of Liberty from the air shortly thereafter. I knew that I had embarked upon the adventure of a lifetime at that moment.

A friend of Jay's retrived us from LaGuardia airport, and we were treated to an afternoon of amiable conversation in their apartment in Harlem. Their building was nice, but it was, as most buildings in the city later proved to appear, old. This, of course, also meant that it was filled with character, but one could tell that it had known better years. If I were a better student of the history of this revered and entertaining city, I might know more about the transformation of some of these apartment buildings. I may be gravely mistaken, but this particular one appears to have been a grand place at one time, for the floor in the foyer is covered in marble, and their is a marble fireplace in the wall. That suggests to me that this entrance was once a room of some kind that entertained visitors in a more auspicious manner than to see them onto the elevator or up the stairs to their floor.

Their apartment is a considerable size, but it was cramped for my taste. We waited and talked until the children arrived from school. After we made our presence known to them, we visited for a brief while, and we left to visit Times Square and see the spectacle that is kept in that most famous district. It should here be mentioned that our itenerary called for us to reside in two places over the duration of our stay. First, we took lodgings in Astoria with Jay's brother and sister-in-law for two days, and we remained with our family of friends who had been so kind to remove us from the airport for the remainder of our vacation there.

We went to that central tourist location, and, in order for us to arrive there, we were required to take the subway. Oklahoma City's method of public transportation would lie either in the bus or a taxi cab, and such conveniences are almost nonexistent here because of such little demand for them in comparison to that teeming metropolis. After some difficulty in mastering the art of swiping the Metro card, I made my way onto the train, and gripped the pole with white knuckles. The jolt at the onset was still foreign to me, but I stayed standing.

As we emerged from our exit, I was awed by the sight. I had seen Times Square on television and in pictures, but those images did not compare to actually being there. It was rather strange of me, but I never felt out of place there, nor was I scared of becoming lost or separated from Jay, who was leading this excursion for the present. After we ambled about aimlessly for some time so that I could see those famous sights in the square, which to my surprise was a group of blocks rather than merely a square, we located the building in which one of Jay's relatives worked so that we could leave our bags with them and explore with more freedom than that which our luggage allowed. His sister-in-law worked in an office complex that was in one of the adjoining thoroughfares to Times Square, and it was most conveninet for us to find.

After we wandered for a while, the question was put to me as to how I should like to spend my first evening in this new and exciting place, and I did not quite know how to respond. Could it be that I was given a choice to freely spend an evening in this place that had inhabited my dreams in any way that I wished? I had little to consider, for I knew that I wanted to see opera performed at the Met most of all, and this had been my precise reason for visiting. I knew that Iphigenie en Tauride, starring Susan Graham, Placido Domingo, and Paul Groves, was being performed that evening, so I asked if that might be agreeable to everyone, and Jay said that such an arrangement would be fine. We met with Jay's sister-in-law again after she was finished working for the day, and we made our way to Lincoln Center with the aid of the subway.

We emerged from our exit, and we were right outside the limits of Lincoln Center. As we walked down the block, we saw all of the posters for the new productions and engagements for the group of performance companies that inhabit Lincoln Center Plaza, and we were walking right past Juilliard! When we rounded the corner of that building, I stopped and just gazed in astonishment. I was standing in front of the world's greatest opera house, and I just wanted to look at it from that distance. It was close enough to be real, but it was removed from me enough to still be picturesque. I could not say anything, but I was overjoyed. I had called the box office earlier that afternoon, and I even knew their number without having to search for it, so I knew that tickets for the evening's performance were still available. We went to the box office, and I asked for a Family Circle seat, but I was met with the pleasant fact that some of Agnes Varis's Rush Tickets yet remained, so I upgraded my point of vantage for less of a cost. We went to the Opera Shop from there, which I thought lacked a little from the expectations I had made in my mind for it, but I was delighted to find their selection of recordings to be very thorough for any aficionado of opera to peruse. Placido Domingo selesctions were playing in the store, and I had a look about the place to think about something to buy on my next visit. Having some time before the performance was to begin, and since I had not yet eaten dinner, my companions and I walked in the vicinity to locate a restaurant that would lend itself to the healthy balance of delectable food and a reasonable price, and, after traveling a few blocks, we found a small eatery on a corner that met both criteria, but I unfortunately cannot recall the name of it, nor could I locate it on Google Maps. My meal which consisted of a hamburger and French fries with pink lemonade for the accompanying beverage, and it only cost twelve dollars and ninety-five cents, which is comparable to prices in my native city.

After my dinner, which was most pleasant, I walked back to the Met alone, for my friends had left me once I had been seated in the restaurant, and I entered and once again soaked in the ambient elegance of the inside of the building. I made my way to the orchestra section, and I was greeted by a kind usher who directed me to my seat, and I entered the auditorium. This storied venue was every bit of palacial in its decoration and the accommodations that it provides for its audiences, and I soon became lost in glancing at every minute detail of the hall.The orchestra section was relatively full, and I had arrived about half an hour prior to the curtain, so I devoted myself to reading my Playbill for the evening's performance. While I was thus engaged, I began to hear murmurs from audience members in close proximity, and they were whispering that Susan Graham was not going to perform this evening. I looked in my program for some insert that would inform me of this and the name of her replacement, but I did not find one. These rumors did prove to be correct, however, for a man came on the stage to announce that Graham had canceled her appearance that evening due to not feeling well, and he also said that Mr. Domingo was not feeling his best that evening either, at which half of the patrons voiced an audible sigh of disappointment, and I was sure that we should lose half of our company in the audience, but, after the sigh and what must have been the rush of at least 1,500 people standing in their rows, the announcer informed us that Domingo would yet perform, and they all resumed their seats.

Patrick Summers entered the orchestra pit, and we all clapped modestly. Summers does not exactly maintain the best of control over an orchestra, and this night would not prove to be anything spectacular in his career, but the overture came and set the mood, and the curtain rose on a scene that looked appreciably like a scene from the days of Ancient Greece. The costumes appeared rather generic to me, but my eye is one of the amateur, so I am not qualified to say. Though I would not learn it until later in the performance, the role of Iphigenie was portrayed by Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop's interpretation was well done musically, but the character was wanting considerably in its display.

This story happens without any changes in the set at all. There are but two rooms on the stage, one of which is the great hall, and the other is the dungeon. It seemed sometimes as if the performers moved between them as one might the living room and the kitchen, but this is not the most simple piece to stage.The few effects were done well, and the singing was excellent. If you did not previously know the story, I can imagine that it would be difficult to follow, but the Met Titles revealed enough of the action. Domingo sang well, and I could not discern that he was ill in any way. I was overjoyed that my first performance to see at the Metropolitan Opera had starred Placido Domingo. There are obvious signs of wear in his voice, but the sheer fact that he is still singing so well is phenomenal to me. Paul Groves was in resplendent voice as well, and one could assuredly feel the generations of tenor on the stage. Overall, the production was an excellent maiden experience for me, and the only other thing for which I could have hoped was for Susan Graham to have performed that evening.

The opera ended at about 10:40 P.M., and I stood outside in the Licoln Center Plaza, and I turned to view the facade of the Met. There was a banner hanging in the window for the new production of Rossini's Le Comte Ory, and I suddenly knew that I was here. I had just been afforded an opportunity that would change my life. This is where I want to be. It is my desire to have the chance to sing on that stage, and I have now been thoroughly introduced to that piece of life. I waited for my friends to come retrieve me, and, as we rode the subway to return to their apartment, life instantly seemed magical and surreal.

Those were the events of my first day in New York City, and I hope that I have not bored all of you in the telling of this tale. Indeed, there shall be a continuation of it soon, but let this first chapter of the chronicle sufficiently whet your curiosity to learn of the most entertaining vacation I had while in this famous locale. I thank all of you for reading, and I pray that God blesses all of you amply.