Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Remembering a Beloved Singer

 


He was not the one who introduced me to opera, but he was the one through whom I became enamored of the genre.  In February of 2007 my mother and I were coming home from the Tack Sale in Arlington, Wisconsin.  She decided to turn on the opera, and the broadcast that day was Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.  Dmitri Hvorostovsky sang the title role alongside soprano Renee Flemming as Tatyana.  It was the first time I had ever heard of a Russian opera, and the first time I'd heard of this baritone.  

I quickly became an avid fan of Dima and could not get enough of his suave seductive voice.  His white hair added to his appeal.  I started watching YouTube videos that featured his performances, and bought CDs and DVDs of  his pefromances

My first time seeing him live (sort of) was the Live in HD encore of Verdi's opera ErnaniHis performance of King Don Carlo was flawless.  His red brocade costume helped considerably.  A month later my sister and I saw him as M. Germont in the simulcasted performance on April 14th of La Traviata.  My sister does not like opera like I do, but she loved Dima's talent; she praised his breath control above everything else.
        I saw the simulcast of Un Ballo in Maschera twice (on the day and the encore).  I think Dima's performance of Renato Anckarström's Act 3 aria was the highlight of his performance there.  He communicated very well the grief of a betrayed husband who wonders why his wife would cheat on him with his best friend.  Although in that aria Renato  is more angry at his friend for breaking their bond of trust.  

And I always looked forward to hearing Dima over the radio.  My most favorite of all the radio broadcasts that the Met has ever done was the broadcast of Verdi's Don Carlo on my birthday in April of 2015.  Dima sang the role of Rodrigo in that performance.  Fun fact, he sang Rodrigo's Act 3 aria when he won at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 1989. 

I loved his performance in October of 2015 of the role of Count di Luna in Il Trovatore.  That had to be the best operatic performance I had ever seen him in ever.  By then he had been diagnosed with the brain tumor.  I think most of the Met audience knew of it as well, because they gave him a massive ovation the minute he first stepped out onto the stage.  At the curtain call, the orchestra showered him with white roses.

When I heard he would doing a recital at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, my mother and I got tickets to go see him.  Seeing him live on the stage as opposed to just in simulcasts was a very unique experience for me. To heard broadcasts, recordings, or watch videos of a performer you like so much is one thing.  To see them live live as opposed to recordings is another thing.  I will never forget Dima singing the Russian folk song"Farewell happiness".  It was just him singing without accompaniment into the auditorium.  The memory of it still gives me goosebumps to this day.  


Dmitri Hvorostovksy will always be my most favorite singer of all time. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Never Seen That One Before

I would normally go into a long spiel about the performance, but these bits stuck out the most to me, so I figuredI'd discuss them here. 

Has anyone else seen a performance of Carmen that showed the Act 1 Cat fight?  Or had Don Jose's superior officers rip the insignia off his shoulders after he lets Carmen go?  Or even had Carmen pull the knife in Act 4 halfway through climactic scene?  Neither did I until last night when I saw Madison Opera's production last night. 

I've seen Carmen a thousand times before, on video and on screen.  But seeing it live onstage is a whole new ballgame.  You're in the same room as the man who's angrily demanding that the harlot who seduced him come with him or else.  So the intensity is twice what it would be on video or in the cinema (It gave my poor boyfriend the shock of his life).  

Good performance all around (I could not find fault with the singers at all), but some of the choices the director made were a trifle odd.  Having Carmen pull the knife first changes the dynamics of the entire scene.  I think it meant Carmen was saying that she'd fight Don Jose if she had to, but it gives him an excuse for killing her other than jealousy.  Maybe it was for dramatic purposes that they showed Carmen and Manuelita beating each other up.  Still, there's already the chorus of factory girls giving the report to the soldiers, so it probably Coals to Newcastle to show the two women duking it out onstage.  
       Ripping the insignia off wasn't what I was expecting, but it made sense in context.  Don Jose let Carmen escape and has failed in his duties, and as a result gets a demotion (and a prison term to boot).  Of course why he would get an instant demotion is something that I would like to know.  


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Grant Couldn't Sing

As an opera lover and history buff, I sometimes wonder what it might be like to write an opera about the American Civil War.  Now this would be very tricky, and if any of you have read my previous post on the issue, you know that I have some very strong opinions about operas based of historical characters.  Still the concept is interesting, and if treated properly you could get something amazing.  


Now one of my most favorite figures in American History (and in all of history for that matter), is Union General Ulysses S. Grant.  I've recently started wondering what if you could write him into an opera.  Would he be a tenor role or a baritone role?  Would he be the main character or a minor one?  And what would his music sound like?  Would it be martial or simple?  
       The answer to that question lies in some of Grant's own personality traits.  He was a very quiet man whom one friend described ad being "plain as an old stove".  Another thing about Grant is that he was badly tone deaf.  He once boasted that he recognized only two tunes; "One was Yankee Doodle, and the other wasn't," as he said.  Obviously you can't do much with this guy.

So then what do you do?  You make Grant a speaking role.  It's not uncommon in opera to have a character that speaks instead of sings, Njegus from The Merry Widow is one such character.  The other thing you do is make his leitmotif Yankee Doodle.  It was the only tune that Grant recognized, so there's no point in making an original leitmotif for him.  

I think that about covers it.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Fast And Furious DUNKIRK Doesn't Let You Breathe




 Suddenly Downfall feels like a kids' movie.  

That sounds strange, but Downfall at least was a typical movie.  By that I mean that it paced itself in such a way that we could explore the characters and see where they're coming from.  

Well, Dunkirk is not that kind of movie. This is a very different kind of movie, one that is insanely difficult to pull off properly.  This is not a story about characters and how they tick.  The moment the film starts it cranks up the action to eleven until about the final six minutes.  It does not allow you to digest what is happening right in front of you.  
      Christopher Nolan wanted to capture the terror and desperation that was a feature of the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940.  Does he succeed with this objective?  Yes, I would say he did.  You follow the British soldiers as they face enemy bombardment, choppy seas, and dwindling time while they await rescue from Navy-commandeered civilian boats.  You feel the terror that the men felt during those tense hours, whether it's escaping a sinking ship or dodging enemy bullets.  There is not much in the way of dialogue in this film, no speeches, or passing of photos, or anything of that nature.  It's all the soldiers trying to get out of France and get back home to regroup.  It's as if someone went back in time and installed cameras everywhere in order to capture the event in real time. 
      Unfortunately the biggest drawback to this method of storytelling is the sheer amount of nightmare fuel.  War films are going to have frightening images anyway considering the very nature of war itself.  But there are at least three instances of onscreen drownings, four cases of being killed by dive-bombers at point blank range, not to mention numerous deaths by explosions due to U-Boats and mines.  Obviously this is not a movie for the faint of heart, let alone children.  

Normally I would go on about how much of it was historically accurate, but I do not know very much about Dunkirk.  I will have to back and research it again before I can make any judgments in that regard.  

So how do I rate this film?  As a well-thought-out story depicting the frantic hours of the Rescue at Dunkirk, I'd give it a 10 out 10.  However, the sheer intensity of it means that you're at the edge of your seat virtually the whole time.  So this isn't a film that I would rent for a movie night.  In fact, I think this one is best appreciated seeing it once in the cinema.  Trying to see it over and over again will most likely diminish the potency of the story. 



 

 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

H.M.S. PINAFORE: Sailors, Class, And Seafaring Shenannigans

H.M.S. PINAFORE is the satirical opera by Gilbert and Sullivan that pokes fun at the British social system of the day.  The timeless struggle between the classes is played out in the deck of the titular ship while she is in port.  This opera is one of the three most well-known of Gilbert and Sullivan's works, and like The Pirates of Penzance, the most famous tune is the baritone's patter song.  

This being a Gilbert and Sullivan farce, I can only give the most basic of plot summaries.  

Captain Corcoran of the H.M.S. Pinafore has arranged a marriage between his daughter Josephine and the prancing Lord of the Admiralty Sir Joseph Porter.  But Josephine is in love with the lowly sailor Ralph Rackstraw, and while the crew and Sir Joseph's numerous female relatives are all in favor of the match, naturally the captain and Sir Joseph are not.  Of course in the end everything is solved with a Gilbert and Sullivan plot twist.  

I cannot name a single moment in this performance that was not pure gold.  The whole thing from the opening chorus of sailors to the triple wedding at the end.  The only complaint I do have is that the gun that Ralph tires to use on himself was given to him by the boatswain rather the obnoxious Dick Deadeye.  Then again, perhaps there were other reason for it.  

This is my shortest review because right now I cannot access YouTube on my machine.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Met Summer Encores

The various Madison movie theaters have finally gotten around to doing the Met Live in HD Summer Encores. I'm not going tonight, but I may recommend that my parents do so.  It's The Pearl Fishers tonight, but as much as I love Diana Damrau and Mariusz Kwiecien, I need to take care of some stuff at home.

The Met Live in HD Summer Encores are for the benefit of people who either couldn't make it during the regular season, or else they loved a particular performance so much that they want to see it again.  I'm not too fond of Nabucco because I feel that Verdi wasted a perfectly good plot (although the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves is certainly joy and a delight to listen to).  I think I may go to either Macbeth or Carmen.  I tried to take my mother to Macbeth but there was a malfunction in the projector that meant it couldn't be shown.  Carmen I just happen to love to death, even though I have a bee in my bonnet about the amount of sex and feminist ideas people like to put in it.  

I am so glad that the Madison cinemas are doing this.  

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

ANFSTF

A Martian goes to a car dealership.  He says to the salesman, "I want the body green, the seats green, the steering wheel green, and the windows tinted green."  "Okay," says the salesman.  The Martian takes the car home and shows his wife.  "It's lovely," she says, "But what's with the color?".  "Flesh tones," says the Martian.