Thursday, 23 April 2009

Little Bo Peep loses, files for grounds*

Half eleven (although my body clock would tell you that it's quarter past four, or perhaps ten to seven) and I'm back at my nice brown desk in my nice brown room at the hotel. I have no doubt that there's a clamour- a clamour, I tell you- for me to provide the second instalment of my epic, two-instalment, adventures in Manhattan.

Tuesday was work day, so I went there and did that. Afterwards there was just about enough time to head back, get changed, iron a shirt (yes! I ironed! I am beyond proud of myself) before heading uptown to the Met. I'll share my opinions about the opera itself later on in this post, so as to give those of you who don't give a flying fuck about it the chance to avoid them, but in all conscience I have to say a little about the experience of the Met itself.

I get the same frisson of excitement approaching the place as I did going to Wembley Stadium as a kid, before they knocked it down and replaced it with a high-tech garden centre. The design of the Met is so daring and so (duh) theatrical that approaching the building is as exciting as anything that goes on inside it. It rises out of the plaza, all square and seemingly two-dimensional; you wouldn't be surprised to find that it was a massive piece of flattage being held up by a couple of french braces. Well, you would, but you know what I mean. Four gigantic arched windows stretch from pavement to roof, meaning that the Chagall murals and the ludicrously lush, camp staircase are on plain view as you approach it. And- Covent Garden take note- decent seats are affordable. I paid more than I'd planned to- 80 dollars- but I was in the Orchestra Stalls, which will usually set you back a good 200 notes on Bow Street. Then there was the opera, which although not a performance for the ages had some pretty wonderful stuff in it. More, as I said, later. One thing I must mention before I move on to other things- as I walked onto the subway platform with the rest of the crowd after the show, the saxophonist busker launched into a jazzed-up version of the most famous aria from the opera and that, kids, is fucking classy.

I got off the subway at 14th Street and walked 'home' down 6th, because I was determined that it would not defeat me with its sneakiness. I took a brief detour into the Village- heading down Christopher Street and returning to 6th via Gay St (snigger) and Waverly Place, just because it has a reputation for being gayish and I wanted to, oh, I don't know, be in a gay bit. My dinner companion of this evening, being somewhat on the gay side himself, informs me that I was walking through OldGay; it's more about gyms in Chelsea and hairless plastic people these days, depressingly predictably enough. But I didn't know that then so I smiled benevolently at the tribe as I passed and ambled back to the hotel.

I was woken up this morning by my conviction that it was either lunchtime or midnight, and before too long was pounding the streets, touristly. Well, I say before too long- a couple of hours and some room service Eggs Benedict had passed before I actually made it out of the room. I went to Century 21, I bought shoes, and then suddenly realised that if I didn't sleep more or less instantly I would probably die or something. So I had a two hour nap on a Wednesday afternoon, in the city that doesn't sleep. I am either an iconoclast, or old. By the time I had surfaced it was time to meet up with G, whose name I am censoring because he writes a quite widely-read blog and people on the internet are weird. He was every bit as charming and funny in person as his writing would lead one to believe. We went to a nice relaxed gay bar in the East Village, where he drank beer Americanly and I did so Britishly, and we talked about opera and plays and politics and tried to watch/ignore the couple at the table opposite who were competing in the annual Manhattan 'Get A Room' contest. There was straddling. Then we headed back west and I stuffed myself full of lovely lovely carbs and fat, in the guise of Italian food. A smashing evening.

People who aren't interested in opera stop reading now; move along, move along, nothing to see here.


How lovely of you both to have stayed. So, Trovatore at the Met...

I have to start- and will probably finish- with Dolora Zajick. She wasn't initially down to be singing Azucena last night but my god I'm glad she was. A huge voice, stupidly big and secure with it, and chest tones you could cook ribs on or slaughter kittens with or whatever ridiculous simile does it for you. I was expecting some heavy-duty vocalism, but nothing like that. I was also expecting her to be a big blank as an actor, which in a way she is; she's never going to glue you to the seat with a sudden emotional insight- but she is undeniably a stage animal. She possesses that intangible charisma that forces you to watch her. Even on her first entrance, in the crowd scene that segues into the Anvil Chorus, I spotted her at once. It was fitting that her character should end the opera. She owned it.

Now, I've got this far without mentioning that old Caruso thing about Trovatore needing the four best singers in the world, but really it's impossible to write about this opera without even glancing at it. Firstly- has it ever really happened? Maybe a 1970s night with Price or Caballe, Cossotto or Verrett, Domingo, and Milnes or Cappuccilli. Well, actually, looking at that list, definitely one of those nights. But at that time you'd have been happy with, oh I don't know, Tucci, Quivar, Bonisolli and McNeil, wouldn't you? (Maybe you wouldn't. When did you get so fucking fussy, huh?)

The point is, it rarely if ever happens. Last night it's arguable that one singer, Zajick, was the gold standard in her part. And we maybe had the best 1.5 singers in the world, because I thought Zelko Lucic was pretty special, too. A proper Verdi baritone. I love Hampson and Hvoro and Mattei and all the lyric baritones who do a good job of pretending, but it's a long time since I heard a singer with such vocal qualification to sing a part like Di Luna. Apparently he's variable and the top of his voice is unreliable. I'm glad to have heard him on one of his good nights.

Ok, so now for the moaning. A performance of Trovatore isn't going to blow you away if, in the second scene, you find yourself struck by how much nicer Inez's voice is than Leonora's. I'd heard of but never heard last night's Leonora, Hasmik Papian, and I can't say I'll be rushing to hear her again. Now look, it's good that there are committed, decent, honest professionals, and bar the odd unfortunate note she didn't do much that was actually wrong... but her voice doesn't make a very nice noise- at all- which I reckon is a bit of a drawback for, y'know, an opera singer.

As I write this, my itunes shuffle has thrown up Jussi Bjorling singing 'Di Quella Pira'. Bad luck, Marco Berti. He's sort of tubby and doesn't act much, but you come to expect that of tenors, no? By the end of the evening he was coming up with some singing which came close to being thrilling. But at the start he sounded uncommitted, and with the best will in the world his voice is just too ungainly for some of the more lyric moments in the role. The lead into 'Ah si ben mio' put me in mind (literally put me in mind, this isn't phrasemaking) of those ballet-dancing hippos in Fantasia. And if you ain't lyric enough, you'd better blow me away with 'Di Quella Pira', which he didn't do, meaty though it was. I don't have perfect pitch, but I'm pretty sure he took a B not a C, if it matters. It was high and it was exciting but it didn't have that top C ping. That's a technical term.

I'm not going to talk about the conducting, because it was bollocks and I don't like to be cruel. The production was decent, but without the sudden special touches of insight that make McVicar such a special director, although maybe you just can't do that in Trov. When I expounded my new-minted theory that Manrico is a dick (he really IS a dick, going on about how heroic he is and then cursing Leonora for, um, saving his life) it was pointed out to me that they're all pretty unpleasant people who behave in bizarre ways. There's nobody in there you'd want a pint with. Except maybe Inez. Anyway, McVicar didn't manage to negotiate some of the idiocies of the libretto (the Count asking Manrico who he is when he already knows, for example, or the moment when Leonora takes the poison 'I HAVE TAKEN POISON BECAUSE I HAVE TRICKED THE COUNT AND HE IS GOING TO SPARE MY LOVER BUT I'LL BE DEAD SO WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?' I think he's standing right next to you, you silly cow, so stop singing so loud) and added one of his own- for the entire scene where Zajick constantly sings about how she longs only for death, she was standing up and wandering about. Try lying down love, it'll be easier. But there were some nice details, some good stage pictures, and the usual and welcome McVicar shirtless types, so I shouldn't moan too much.

In fact, I shouldn't moan too much just generally. It was a treat, more than a treat, to hear Zajick, I'm going to look out for Lucic, Berti had his moments and even Papian perked up towards the end. Plus, did I mention how much I love that building?

In summary then- I went to the Met and it was nice.

*if you don't get this reference there is an ace song you don't know, which like the last such reference, is a song named after a Manhattan street. You have to remember I am HUGELY intelligent and cultured.

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