nohway

OPERA NIGHTS

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2009 at 8:07 pm
I was really looking forward to seeing Angela Gheorghiu in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Puccini’s LA RONDINE, that romantically evanescent pastiche of TRAVIATA, BOHEME and FLEDERMAUS. I’d heard good things about the production when it was at Covent Garden, especially about its appealing Deco design. And, of course, there was Angie who, with her over the top glamour, diva tantrums and chronic cancellations have made her the most avidly dished about diva since Kathleen Battle took to the hills. Some call this Romanian soprano “goddess,” others refer to her as Vampira. I saw her once en famille in the afternoon on Madison Avenue and she indeed looked more than a little anemic. And I will never forget her showing up at the Met to watch her husband Roberto Alagna assume the role of Don Jose in CARMEN, sweeping down the aisle in a Nile-green ball gown, her exposed decolletage smeared with glitter creme, bling hanging off every appendage (including her purse) and dragging a protective duenna and sable coat behind her. There was her blow-up with Metropolitan Opera General Manager Joe Volpe in 1996 when she refused to wear a blonde wig as Micaela in Carmen (Volpe said “The wig goes on, with or without you”), followed by more bust-ups in 1998 with Volpe when she demanded director and design approval of an aborted LA TRAVIATA appearance, and a 2007 firing by Chicago Opera for missing LA BOHEME rehearsals and a “total disregard for Lyric Opera’s dedicated personnel and for her fellow artists,” according to GM William Mason. 
I could go on and on…shall I? She and her husband, tenor Roberto Alagna, have registered their names as trademarks to stave off independent websites. They’ve been alternately referred to as “The Ceausescus” or, as Director Jonathan Miller’s would have it, “Bonnie and Clyde.” When he directed her in a 1997 Bastille Opera TRAVIATA, she reacted to the news that she would die in a hispital ward with “Impossible! I die alone!”  Her manager Leon Savan quit in 2002, stating “I can only work with normal people. My personal favorite: during a 2001 performance of Verdi’s REQUIEM she glossed her lips with lipstick concealed in her cleavage. An Opera News cover story last month, filled with strange mea culpas from the diva regarding her dedication to not disappointing her faithful fans, seemed hard-pressed to find anyone with anything positive to say about her (including the writer).
Covent Garden alone is a veritable treasure trove of Gheorgh-lore.  She missed rehearsals for TOSCA because she was at Van Cleef & Arpels picking out the gems she was to wear in it. When frustrated Conductor Antonio Pappano reminded her that he desperately needed to set the tempi with her, she told him to just watch the DVD of her TOSCA. 
Evidently, the music of some buskers outside her Covent Garden dressing room bothered her so much she asked management if they could get the street musicians to stop. When told that they had no control over what went on outside the opera house, Gheorghiu threw a bucket of water on the annoyances from her window. The news made British press, she denied the story saying she loved street musicians, “especially when they play the music of Bob Marley.”
A fellow singer who appeared in LA BOHEME with her remembered a night when she cancelled, citing illness. She was therefore surprised to see Georghiu backstage sitting in the spare dressing room on the night of the performance. “Why are you here?” she asked. “Oh,” Gheorghiu replied, “I am just a leetle bit sick – I never sing when I am – and I wanted to check out the competition (meaning her cover).” After hearing the soprano aria “Mi chiamano Mimi,” Gheorghiu left, saying, “I hear enough. I don’t worry…”
Well, at Lincoln Center on January 13, I guess you could therefore say that Gheorghiu did not disappoint. Sure enough, she cancelled! (I should have known better than to expect her to show for the final performances of a run, as she’s also absented herself from TRAVIATA in the past). Illness was cited, but there were those bitchy types who said that she was disappointed by her unenthusiastic reception at the broadcast performance the Saturday before. Someone who caught the dress rehersal said that he couldn’t hear her middle voice and it’s been rumored (and published) that she has completely lost it.
It all turned out to be no biggie, actually, as her cover, the ever-reliable Maureen Flynn (who did the same for Gheorghiu’s no-show TRAVIATA) acquitted herself exquisitely, delivering a performance filled with an appealingly serene womanliness and fecund musicality. To really work, the central role of Magda, the emotionally flitting rondine (swallow), a high-priced courtesan who gives up all for true love, has to quiver with vulnerability, a quality the diamond-hard Giorghiu would seem hard-pressed to invoke. This quality Flynn delivered in spades, although nearly undone by a first act dress which looked like something Margaret Dumont would have rejected for A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and a third act frock in which I thought she’d transformed herself into IL TROVATORE’s baby-addled gypsy, Azucena. Her second act dress – a Poiret-esque white lawn garden party fabrication with hat was at least flattering. Roberto Alagna as her lover performed with his usual ardor but there’s no escaping the fact that his voice has acquired an unmistakable dryness that’s robbed it of its youthful juiciness. His singing, though, was a lush oasis compared to the secco barking of Marius Brenciu (unaccountably winner of the 2001 Cardiff Singer of the World prize). His onstage inamorata, Lisette Oropesa in the coincidentally named role of Lisette, gave a delightfully coquettish, very Italianate performance, the stylized, hyper antics of which reminded me of the delicious screen comedienne Stefania Sandrelli. The sets were indeed glamorously impressive, filled with futurist Mussolini-era visual niceties, although more evocative of Milan or Barcelona than Paris, but that‘s close enough for me, and Franca Squarciapino’s costumes had her work’s usual lovely period detail and delicate coloring.
Backstage, Met benefactress Mercedes Bass swept pass us, in a fur collar which made her look a Goya come to life, to congratulate Alagna, happily signing autographs for his fans. A flushed, exhilarated O’Flynn also received her admirers, including her husband, bass Claude Corbeil, and I had to ask her about her costumes and she told me, “The only one that was built for me was for the second act. Wasn’t it pretty? But the hat was driving me crazy. I couldn’t hear anything!”
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MAUREEN O’FLYNN
Postscript: One really can’t help wondering how a cancellation like Gheorghiu’s affects things, like when her husband is supposed to be sharing the stage with her. Oh well, the sorrows of art may be the joys of life, for I was told of a singer who once sat in back of Alagna during a rehearsal of ROMEO ET JULIETTE, as he watched Gheorghiu onstage, and overheard him telling a friend in Italian, “She can suck the chrome off a fender!”
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VAMPIRA (AKA MAILA NURMI)
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ANGELA GEORGHIU  (PHOTO BY ALEX GALMEANU)
On January 9, I caught the Met’s production of Gluck’s masterpiece, ORFEO ED EURYDICE, an opera dear to me, for the aria “Che faro senza Eurydice” was the first one I really personally discovered – after your typical childhood hearings of CARMEN and BARBER OF SEVILLE‘s “Largo al factotum” – on a Rise Stevens recording. This celestial theme was also utilized by Max Ophuls in the devastating opera sequence in his superb tragic romance, LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, underlining Joan Fontaine‘s irrevocable decision to throw her life away for a hopeless love.
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JOAN FONTAINE (SEEN HERE WITH LOUIS JOURDAN) GAVE HER GREATEST PERFORMANCE IN MAX OPHUL’S “LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN” (1948), WRITTEN BY STEFAN ZWEIG
These elevated reference points kept me going through the Met production, directed with wise-ass trendiness and chaotic clutter by Mark Morris. The underworld is presented as one huge medical operating theater, with rows of historically garbed onlookers (the Met chorus) peering down on the deadly action below. One could spot Tosca, Ghandi, Queens Elizabeth I, II and Mary of Scotland, and Lord knows who else if you cared to. (I didn’t.) The other underworld set was a better, if highly conventional conglomeration of glittery lava rock with cut-out passageway. Most of the dancing had that spare, arbitrary, instantly made-up feeling typical of Morris’ work these days, save one lovely moment when the stage was filled with couples endlessly entwining and re-entwining themselves to Gluck’s gleefully galloping celebratory theme of Eurydice‘s resurrection from the dead
This must be said: Stephanie Blythe as Orfeo looked like Fatty Arbuckle, dressed all in black as Elvis, or was it Johnny Cash?
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FATTY ARBUCKLE (WITH MABEL NORMAND IN “HE DID AND HE DIDN’T,” 1916)
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DANIELLE DE NIESE AND STEPHANIE BLYTHE IN ‘ORFEO ED EURYDICE’ (2009)
She did not so much resemble a man as a sizable butch dyke and, although the physicality of opera singers is not supposed to matter, here it most definitely did. She was “hiply” given a guitar to play (which she didn’t even attempt to give the illusion of), instead of a lyre, and I was shocked to see, when she handed it to a chorister, that it was indeed a guitar and not a ukulele as I’d first surmised. Her singing might have redeemed all of this, but it, like her acting, was full throttle, unnuanced and just plain loud, however impressive the sound might have been. James Levine unsubtly conducted the yearningly plaintive “Che faro” like it was “76 Trombones” from THE MUSIC MAN, perhaps for his orchestra to be heard over Blythe’s lungs, a real 11 o‘clock showstopper. It was left to Danielle de Niese to provide the evening’s only literal grace notes and, as Eurydice, she seemed truly otherworldly here, which, given her surroundings, seemed a preferable state of being. The polar opposite to Blythe in terms of physical allure, this gorgeously exotic soprano, who could just as soon be a supermodel if she wished, moved like a dream and sang with affecting lyricism and poignancy. Indeed, the stars’ physical discrepancy was such that, when Orfeo finally does turn to take a verboten look at his wife (despite warnings from the gods, themselves) it seemed small wonder that the full sight of him kills the poor thing outright all over again. (See my interview with de Niese:
De Niese also got the evening’s only decent costume from Isaac Mizraahi, a heavenly concoction of gauzy white, which ethereally fit her perfect form. I frankly hated the glittery Gap-wear with which he dressed the dancers and poor (squawking) Heidi Grant Murphy as Amor looked like a suspended-in-mid-air frat boy.
After the performance, O’Neal’s was the place to be, with Blythe enjoying a well-earned supper, and the Mark Morris dance troupe regaling themselves at a nearby table. On the way out, I ran into a bubbling- over Mark Morris who, when someone mentioned a mutual acquaintance, shrieked, “Cunt!” (Diagheliv himself couldn’t have expressed himself any better.) Accompanying Morris was gifted costume designer Martin Pakledinaz, who described working on a wondrous production out in Pasadena, STORMY WEATHER, with the ageless Leslie Uggams playing the older Lena Horne. She was evidently given only one song, the title number, to sing at the show’s end, but knocked everyone’s socks off so much that she’s been given more songs. Pakledinaz said, “And now I go directly into BLITHE SPIRIT, with Rupert Everett making his Broadway debut, Christine Ebersole and Angela Lansbury as Mme. Arcati, you know, just a little community theater effort…” The show has been reset in the period 1938 and I am definitely looking forward to what Pakledinaz does for that era in which giantesses like Chanel, Schiaparelli, Gres and Vionnet roamed the couture earth. 

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LESLIE UGGAMS AS LENA HORNE IN “STORMY WEATHER” (Photo by Mark Garvin)

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