Editor's Desk

Elina Garanča's New Music Video

(Recordings, Observations, Oussama Zahr, Crossover) Permanent link

Reports of the death of the music video, much like that of print media, are greatly exaggerated. Lady Gaga proved as much earlier this month at the MTV Video Music Awards, where she nabbed eight "moonmen" (MTV’s equivalent to the Oscar statuette) in recognition of her revitalization of the genre.

Classical-music marketers never met a pop trend they didn't like, so Deutsche Grammophon gives us "El Vito," a music video of mezzo-soprano Elina Garanča singing Obradors' song in support of her latest album, Habanera.

The video seems singularly designed to convince us that Garanča is a sexy minx in her role as a hard, bewitching, capricious Gypsy — but is that enough of a concept to sustain its three-and-a-half minutes? Music videos were created to visualize pop music, and over the past thirty years, the style of their presentation has evolved in tandem with the style of that particular genre. Does Garanča's video embrace the idea of a cinematography of classical music? No. Could one be created? Maybe. spacer 

OUSSAMA ZAHR

Bootlegger's Blues

(Observations, Tristan Kraft, Cinema, Soundtracks) Permanent link
Blogs Boardwalk Empire LG 10110
Paz de la Huerta and Anthony Laciura in Martin Scorsese's
Boardwalk Empire
Abbot Genser/HBO

Many opera fans probably first took note of director Martin Scorsese's taste in opera with Raging Bull, which employed Cavalleria Rusticana's Intermezzo as the soundtrack to its opening credits. Likewise, his 1993 period piece, The Age of Innocence — based on the novel by Edith Wharton — opened on a tableau of Gounod's Faust playing at the New York Academy of Music. In 2006, Scorsese had Jack Nicholson — portraying Irish-American mob boss Frank Costello in The Departed — throw a handful of cocaine at a prostitute, while the sextet from Lucia, "Chi mi frena in tal momento?" played in the background. (The tune is heard later in the movie as Costello's ringtone.)

Scorsese yet again demonstrated his interest in opera with Monday night's premiere of Boardwalk Empire, HBO's new drama about the woes of Prohibition in Atlantic City. Scorsese and Sopranos writer Terence Winter have assembled a fairly huge cast for the twelve-episode show, including Metropolitan Opera character-tenor Anthony Laciura. One thing is already apparent: the breadth of talent on the show ranges widely. Laciura, all opera-industry bias aside, is one of the most capable actors, and Paz de la Huerta is one of the least.

In a sequence at the end of the episode, two characters are knocked-off while Cavalleria Rusticana's "O Lola, ch'ai di latti"   plays in the background. One actor stands at the gramophone when the hit comes, and moments later his blood decorates the famous picture of Caruso, mid-drum-strike, dressed as Pagliaccio. Indeed, la commedia è finita. spacer 

TRISTAN KRAFT

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Book Report

(Observations, F. Paul Driscoll, Books) Permanent link
Blogs Patti LuPone Memoir 91710  

For those of you who were riding the Number 1 uptown local this morning, I'm the fellow who was laughing out loud at the book I was reading. Patti LuPone: A Memoir — the brand-new autobiography by the star of Broadway's upcoming Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown — is one of the best theater memoirs I have read in years. LuPone pulls no punches and takes no prisoners; her stories about Andrew Lloyd Webber, for example, are sharp enough to cut glass. She tells plenty of stories on herself, not afraid to own up to her mistakes or confess to her own occasionally wild behavior. But this lady is an artist to her core, and her passion for acting and for the theater registers on every page. The last actor who wrote about the theater and about herself with such candor was the late Ruth Gordon — like LuPone, a complete American original.

LuPone became a star in 1979, when Evita opened on Broadway, and has stayed a star ever since. Within the past ten years I've met LuPone several times in connection with OPERA NEWS — she's been on the cover twice — and been completely charmed by her professionalism and her wit. But I date my time as a LuPone fan from the winter of 1973–74, when I saw her and her fellow members of The Acting Company in New York at the Billy Rose Theater on Broadway and on tour at the Spingold Theater at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. I admired her ripely bitchy Lucy Lockit in The Beggar's Opera, but I loved her as Irina in The Three Sisters. It's my favorite Chekhov play, and more than thirty years later, that Acting Company staging by Boris Tumarin is still at the top of my list. In the last act, Irina has a heartwrenching scene with Baron Tuzenbach, a man whom she does not love, but who is about to die in a duel. I've never forgotten the way LuPone looked at Norman Snow, her Tuzenbach: with a small, tight lift of her chin, LuPone's Irina swallowed her pity for the Baron but seemed to increase the distance between them by miles. You knew that both of them were doomed, and that neither of them deserved it. It was a great moment — and LuPone's book brought back memories of many more of them. spacer 

F. PAUL DRISCOLL

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Rediscoveries

(Recordings, Observations, Louise Guinther, Listening) Permanent link

When I was little, Renata Tebaldi was "it." In my household, the Verdi recordings on the shelf all featured Tebaldi, my mother's favorite, and it didn't much occur to me that a Verdi soprano could sound any other way. Of course I occasionally heard other divas of the current generation, in passing, when some grownup turned the Saturday Texaco radio broadcasts on, but the essential sound that was stuck in my head was La Tebaldi's, and hers was the image I associated with the great heroines of opera-land. (To my eyes, the Tebaldi Traviata cover and the cover of Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream and Other Delights had a similar glamour and sex appeal and were, in fact, not all that easy to tell apart.)

It wasn't until the opera bug bit me as a young teenager that I started branching out and discovering that all those great melodies could be sung in many idiosyncratic ways, and to very different effect. Via television and radio, I became a devotee of "little Renata" (Scotto), a great Met favorite at that time, whose lean, metallic sound struck my ears as particularly youthful and clean. As I began attending live performances more and more regularly, I gradually came to recognize and appreciate the vast variety of timbres, personalities and styles offered by the artists of the day and no longer expected that archetypal Tebaldi sound — a good thing, as no other soprano has ever reproduced it.

The danger of such early familiarity with a great singer is that one often comes to take her charms for granted. Tebaldi always sounded exactly right to me, but because she was the first and, for a time, only example I had of how certain roles should be sung, I did not understand quite what a special thing her artistry was. My loyalty to Tebaldi was such a foregone conclusion that as time went on I did not listen as closely to her as I might to other less familiar artists, because I already knew what I was going to hear.

The beauty of it, of course, is that later in life one has a chance to "discover" a beloved singer all over again in the context of many years of exposure to different interpretations, both live and on recording. The advent of podcasts and YouTube and the release of archival materials on CD and video has brought easy access to historic performances I had not encountered before, and in poring over them, I have relished the chance to listen old favorites with fresh ears. It's nice to know, in retrospect, that it was not ignorance that made Tebaldi seem so perfect: the warm, luminous tone, the unbroken legato, the infallible evenness from top to bottom of the register, the breath control and command of dynamics, and above all else, that rich, creamy, enveloping wave of sound, utterly devoid of shrillness, are sui generis. For vocal beauty and Italianate line, Tebaldi is still "it." spacer 

LOUISE T. GUINTHER

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Small World

(News, Louise Guinther, Cinema, Live in HD) Permanent link

This week, the "Arts, Briefly" section of The New York Times included the rather offhand announcement that the Met "recently reached an agreement with the authorities at the Cairo Opera House to show productions there this season." Audiences in distant Cairo will now be privy (via the company's series of Live in HD transmissions) to a whole slew of performances taking place on the Met stage even as they watch.

We take such technological marvels in stride nowadays, but what, one wonders, would Verdi have made of this development? Back in 1871, it took endless, painstaking negotiations to arrange for the world premiere of his Aida at Cairo's Khedivial Opera House, and in the event the proposed January opening fell victim to the Franco–Prussian War, which trapped the sets and costumes (not to mention the scenarist, Auguste Mariette) in Paris. Verdi had to wait another eleven months before the project came to fruition, and it took place without the composer in attendance, as he had decided the trip was too arduous to be worthwhile.

Could any of the participants in that cultural milestone for Cairo have imagined that one day whole seasons of opera from another continent could be wafted over the airwaves to Egyptian shores? spacer 

LOUISE T. GUINTHER

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Current Issue: January 2015 — VOL. 79, NO. 6