Tuesday, February 22, 2005
The delightful Prima la musica, who from the wilds of New Zealand seems to be a better fan than I, &
New Yorker critic Alex Ross, who amusingly puts me among "I Puritani".
I've enjoyed the minimalism of my previous sidebar, but that's no excuse for poor etiquette. Suggestions for a category name for these and other new entries are however welcome.
UPDATE (2/27/05): More incoming links -- photoblogger and confetti-thrower Leon Dominguez and vilaine fille Marion Lignana Rosenberg, whose Opera-L contributions I admired long before she had a blog.
UPDATE (3/7/05): Now Trrill, who provided a soundtrack for today's post. Also added Alaa (The Mesopotamian) to the "Pajamas" category -- somehow I find bloggers who don't post often rather sympathetic.
(Incidentally, has Captain Cohn really fallen for the Baghdad museum looting myth, or is it sloppy snark journalism?)
Saturday, February 19, 2005
In New York, at least, opera coverage in the regular press may be better than it's been in decades. The Gray Lady has reviewers who may actually like opera (previous chief critics seem to have been shocked at how much disreputable singing their worthy job required them to hear); the upstart Sun covers most everything, often featuring the new (to me) and excellent Fred Kirshnit; meanwhile Peter Davis and others are happily still active. So why blogs, now?
This article set me to thinking about what, ultimately, this enterprise is getting at. It rambles a bit and is too long to excerpt, but is certainly interesting in this context. The author contrasts the journalistic mindset -- which is, of course, his own -- with that appropriate for scholarship or religious faith. Blogs, in this split between engaging what is now and unearthing slower, more lasting truths, are by format pretty much with the former. What's made their name on the wider stage is just that: blogging as a jumped-up, perhaps even ideal form of journalism -- an instrument of unlimited responsiveness and minimally encrusted convention.
In the wider world, part of the recent blog explosion was surely people's sense that eternal truths are now turning on their heads -- or indeed are dead, while others are being born from the previously-humdrum patter of daily news. Did that day change everything? I'm sure of it; but the question here is -- did it change opera? Not visibly, not yet.
Still other currents are afoot. That Atlanta Journal-Constitution article on operablogging suggests one:
The second factor here is the perception that monolithic American commercial culture is breaking apart.I think this is on the right track. The transition of our classical music/opera infrastructure* -- with pretty much every other cultural business -- from a broadcasting to a narrowcasting model seems to me the background story of the age, with eventual repercussions far beyond how we do or don't listen to remote (in time or place) performances. Will it drive arts blogging? Could be.
"For the past 50 years, mass culture" -- as consolidated by network TV, Top 40 radio, Hollywood, major trade publishing and the like -- "has permeated everything else," says McLennon. "But those rules don't apply anymore. Niches are much smaller for everything. Even the top-rated TV show will only be 20 percent of the total population, and the best-selling song in a given week might be Christian rock. Everything's become a niche."
[* Made more difficult, of course, by its attachment to what was just before "the past 50 years [of] mass culture": that myth-laden age of art's broadcast eminence.]
But I've little more to say about this, really. My main experience is different: while there may (soon) be no scarcity of bandwidth, live performance -- unlike an audio/video stream thereof -- isn't infinitely reproducible. That raw thrill of the unamplified human voice, the dramatic charge of simple presence onstage -- that these may survive or thrive as authenticity-bearing luxuries in complement to a generally more-diffused culture (as, e.g., this sort of marvel now) isn't interesting to me except that they do survive. Then, as now, the elements of opera will carry their own truths, which if eternal are nonetheless most strongly bound up by the irreplacable "is now" of present human performance.
I'd like to blog that -- with a dash of everything else.
UPDATE (2/22/05): More paper media scrutiny.
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Leaving aside any "they're all gay" or "they want younger women" sniggering, is this sort of one-off event really the best way to go about this? Presumably the Met isn't going to this trouble just from sympathy for the matrimonially-challenged of their audience. They do sell tickets (at a pretty good discount, though) and generate buzz for an otherwise uneventful performance, but that seems hardly worth this trouble.
More important, I'm sure, is the long-term benefit in goodwill from those for whom the house will have facilitated, if not a love match, at least a memorable evening of hope and nice clothing. But I wonder if those who think fondly of the Met for the overtly, unabashedly social side displayed tonight will really return -- and donate -- more regularly after. Every night at the opera has, as I've said, some social element, but most of it's pretty circumscribed. (Personally, I've had many great evenings with friends and relatives at the opera, and talked to many nice old ladies while alone, but never first met a friend or girlfriend there.) Will tonight's acquaintances bloom into new lasting network connections for operagoing at least? That would change the future dynamic a bit.
Might not a more regularly scheduled singles' space be more effective all around? It could improve one aspect of operagoing fairly permanently for many. True, if improperly done it could also tarnish the brand, but that's not a given.
Of course, maybe Mama Matchmaker Met is mostly trying to sell the notion that it cares, to seal an emotional bond with champagne and attractive company. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
"Everything else" varies, but it's an entirely different experience for a Met-goer. Singers and production, of course, but these can often be surprisingly effective. More interesting is that the audience in "regional" venues isn't so self-evident; that monster "the public" isn't omnipresent as it is in New York. So it's a more private communion.
Until recently I enjoyed a very good local company in nearby Princeton, the "Opera Festival of New Jersey". It went defunct in November 2003, but the last (summer) season provided a memorably produced and brilliantly characterized Onegin. I saw the visting Mariinsky production in the city a week or so later; it was also successful, with better singing (an excellent Tatyana, IIRC), but somehow less affecting. Intimacy helps.
Other people seem to have missed OFNJ as well. Already two would-be successors have sprung up: NJ Opera Theater and The Princeton Festival. The former looks to be a vocal-arts potpourri with peripatetic tendencies, while the latter is, like OFNJ, at one venue (the Lawrenceville location at which OFNJ started before moving to Princeton) and promises "to expand its offerings in future years to attract a wider audience of lovers of the performing arts with operetta, musical theater, ballet, oratorio and orchestral and chamber concerts." The first Princeton Festival program is "Sweeney Todd" -- targeting, I suppose, the more middlebrow "performing arts center" crowd, while leaving the canary-fancier-programming to NJOT. (An interesting article on the two organizations is here; it seems to me that between the two, the Princeton Festival is developing the more marketable and focused brand identity, but survival may come down to fundraising skills anyway.)
Anyway, FGO. Vic, I don't know if Magic Flute (opening Saturday) will be worth seeing -- I found even the Met's acclaimed new production somewhat rough going beyond Röschmann -- but I do suggest seeing Lucia in March. Like many regional companies, FGO seems to rely heavily on young as-yet-unknown singers, which at least looks good but sounds variable. (Mind you, I have enormous respect for those pursuing the rough life of an unestablished opera singer, so no knocks are intended.) But they seem to get a pretty good pick of the crop; many of the leads have won various young singer competitions.* One of these -- the tenor lead in Lucia, James Valenti** -- made a huge impression on the audience as one of the winners of the 2002 Met Council Finals.*** A tenor star-in-the-making, with power and clarity -- surely that's worth catching.****
* The female lead in Magic Flute, Christina Pier, was also a Met Council Final winner. I can't remember what I thought of her, though, and if one of my friends out there has my report of the event's 2003 edition I'd be glad for a copy.
** I also saw him in a bit part at OFNJ.
*** Nevertheless, he was only the second-most impressive singer at the event. Soprano Twyla Robinson -- actually now an FGO alum! -- brought down the house that memorable day.
**** Caveat: you never can tell with young singers.