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Editor's Desk

Elina Garanča’s Body Language

(Observations, Oussama Zahr, Performances) Permanent link

Some of the Met's revivals this season have been somewhat dispiriting for audiences and critics, so I am particularly grateful for Elina Garanča. Her interpretation of the Gypsy in Richard Eyre's production of Carmen, which I saw again last Tuesday night, has only improved with further outings. She has been criticized for "under-acting," but I find her calculating, fatalistic Carmen gripping. Garanča is at her best in Act IV: I have never seen a Carmen who physicalizes the final confrontation so breathtakingly. The way she works the train on her dress, whipping it through the rose petals strewn for the toreadors or collapsing into it when Don José tackles her to the ground — it’s an achievement in itself. spacer
OUSSAMA ZAHR

Patricia Racette’s It Gets Better Video

(Observations, Oussama Zahr, Advice, It Gets Better) Permanent link

Soprano Patricia Racette, who appears this month and next in Il Trovatore at the Met, has contributed a video to the It Gets Better Project, which was launched in response to the rash of gay teen suicides that have appeared in the news.

In the video, Racette and her partner, mezzo Beth Clayton, speak touchingly about the personal significance of Racette's "coming out" cover story in OPERA NEWS in 2002.

The video is available on the Metropolitan Opera's YouTube channel. spacer 

OUSSAMA ZAHR

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

Sounds of Love

(Observations, Oussama Zahr, Cinema, Listening, John Adams, Soundtracks) Permanent link

Luca Guadagnino's film Io Sono l’Amore, which is being billed in the U.S. as I Am Love, is an enchanting consideration of love in a modern Italian world.

The movie is a delight for the senses, and not just because of the shots of the ancient-seeming, lavishly appointed villas. The director cobbled together preexisting music composed by John Adams to create the film score. The results are anything but your typical, sentimental movie-music. The selections, including "The Chairman Dances" and excerpts from Harmonielehre, have the clear, ringing and invigorating sounds that mark Adams's early-career minimalist compositions — music that seems to awaken the movie's heroine, played by the magnificent Tilda Swinton, to the life-affirming power of love.

Below, Swinton calls it Adams's "unedited" sound, which is a nice way to put it. spacer 

—OUSSAMA ZAHR

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E tu, Renée?

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

I feel ever so slightly betrayed by Renée Fleming. After the 2005 release of her jazz CD Haunted Heart, which I liked none too much, she really went out of her way to regain my trust. She turned in one splendid performance after another (from Violetta and Desdemona to Tatiana and Rusalka) and recorded a handful of intriguing CD projects. And then — with a regularity that rivals the phases of the moon — she dropped another crossover album.

That is not to say that Dark Hope, her new indie-rock effort, is nearly so heinous as Haunted Heart, which left me demanding concrete, recorded evidence that Fleming actually spent any of her college days touring as a jazz singer.

At the end of the day, Dark Hope is simply impressive in its genre impersonation (more the music than the video for the first single; see below). You can catch Joanne Sydney Lessner’s delicious yet fair review of the album in the October issue of OPERA NEWS. spacer 

— Oussama Zahr

Sound Check

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

 

Blogs Verdi Arias CD Cover 62510  

Recorded sound is not necessarily accurate or fair. Like a photograph, it carries the promise of realism, deceiving us into believing that what we're hearing (or seeing) is 100% representational — a duplication of a live experience — when in fact it isn't at all.

Sondra Radvanovsky is an estimable artist, a soprano capable of delivering thundering fortissimos and a keening line in the Verdi repertory. But in my opinion, her latest CD, entitled Verdi Arias and reviewed in our upcoming August issue, shows off the singer's power but not her strengths. Now, Delos is what we might call a boutique record label. But even so, the engineer could have given us something better than a big, fuzzy soprano sound drowning in reverb.

Having seen Radvanovsky live at the Met as Elvira in Ernani and Leonora in Trovatore (selections from both operas appear on the CD, and excerpts can be heard below), I can testify to her distinctive timbre, dynamic range and, above all, tonal clarity — to say nothing of intangibles like her warmth and dramatic alertness.

The disc puts me in mind of Dolora Zajick, a colossus of the dramatic mezzo repertory, who also recorded an album of Verdi arias that seemed to miss the point of her art. Let's hope that Radvanovsky finds a sound engineer as loving and solicitous as the ones Renée Fleming enjoys over at Decca, the kind of collaborator who can lavish attention upon her voice so that we might better enjoy it. spacer 

— Oussama Zahr

"D'amor sull'ali rosee" from Il Trovatore   

"Tutto sprezzo che d'Ernani" from Ernani   

 

LuAnn Foster Jenkins

(Recordings, Observations, Oussama Zahr, Performances, The Real Housewives of New York City) Permanent link

Florence Foster Jenkins is so infamous nowadays for being spectacularly untalented (and deluded about her untalented-ness) that the mere mention of her name has become shorthand for an inept singer of means and daring who would inflict her peculiar brand of art upon the world.  

Jenkins’s latest heir apparent is Countess LuAnn de Lesseps, from the Bravo TV show The Real Housewives of New York City, who decided one day to record and release a dance-diva, spoken-word track called "Money Can’t Buy You Class." (We can count our lucky stars that Jenkins’s brilliance was untouched by Auto-Tune, which La Contessa uses quite liberally.) 

The comparison begins with their shared trouble in tackling ascending intervals, but really, do we need a point-by-point? Enjoy!

– Oussama Zahr

 

Debussy Sightings

(Recordings, Observations, Oussama Zahr) Permanent link

Debussy’s "Clair de Lune" has been popping up a lot in my life lately. I first noticed it last week in the 1995 documentary Unzipped, which I was watching as research for my interview with Isaac Mizrahi. The film shows the designer at his grand piano, retreating from the noise and intensity of the fashion world, seeking solace in quiet moments of music-making as he plays through Debussy’s gossamer composition (rather well, I might add).

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As if a piano-playing fashion designer weren’t enough of a surprise, "Clair de Lune" reared its lovely head again a few days later, this time in a pop song called "Say You’ll Go," from Janelle Monáe’s new album The ArchAndroid (released May 18). Monáe is a tiny sensation, making small waves in the music industry for the high-concept sonic landscape of her music, drawing on influences from hip-hop and Cab Calloway to disco, David Bowie and movie music. She is fascinated by futuristic film dystopias, with album titles that reference Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The ArchAndroid creates its own alternate universe, filled with a riot of musical ideas. It’s nice to think that amid the general cataclysm, Monáe finds comfort in the wistful strains of "Clair de Lune," just as Mizrahi does. spacer 

Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays "Clair de Lune" from Debussy's Suite Bergamasque .  
[Decca]

Janelle Monáe sings "Say You'll Go" from ArchAndroid .
[Bad Boy Entertainment]

– Oussama Zahr


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