Missing Haendel

You know, I just opened a PDF of that old sheet I was working up of “Son nata a lagrimar” for piano, viola, and violin. It’s such a beautiful piece of music, and I really do miss doing these arrangements. I know that I prioritized my own work ahead of arrangements of anything else (be it Haendel, Keating, or Schmidt), and that is the best thing to do right now because getting my own stuff out is absolutely top priority.

But once that’s done, and I feel that I can relax a bit, I really can’t wait to get back to the Haendel stuff. Themes and variations, arrangements for strings, that sort of thing. I might ask my old viola teacher whether or not he and his wife would be willing to read things with me and add in various markings for bowings and stuff that would make the music easier for a string player. I don’t know enough of that sort of thing, what a good player would expect to see on the page and what they could or would rather do without.

Basically, I’m just homesick for Haendel.

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Watched the first two acts of the Met’s Fleming/Scholl “Rodelinda” last night

The third act will start in a second once my coffeemaker finishes.

God, I love this opera. The music is fabulous, the costuming, the singing, everything. And the story! No more “then the chick dies, the end!” Ooh, I looooove it! That’s the best part!

No. It’s not the best part. It sucks. Watching most operas is like being a gay guy and watching “Brokeback Mountain” sixteen times in a row. No, it’s not the “best part” when the gay dude dies. It’s the sickest, saddest part. I’m reminded of one of the characters in the stage play “The Boys in the Band” who cynically remarked to a friend, “You know, the fag doesn’t always die at the end.”

Well, the chick doesn’t always die, either. Sometimes she kicks all kinds of ass and sings like a bird in the process. No wonder this is, as stated in the intermission interviews that took place during the HD broadcast that made this DVD, Renee Fleming’s teenaged daughter’s favorite opera. The chick kicks ass, wears fantastic gowns in the process, and gets to land Andreas Scholl at the end. (Who by the way has long hair in this. And thigh-length leather boots. He’s about nine feet tall. Those boots go on for a while.)

Go buy it. Now.

This is the kind of thing that will keep me from ever buying another viola.

Insanity comes in many shapes and sizes

I absolutely cannot afford it — he’s asking for a house down payment, which I do not have — but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep an eye on the thing, and on other classical-style organs on Craigslist. Oh, to be able to score an entire opera with different stops and sounds and things …

Just looking at that Rodgers is enough to make me explode, but it would be like handing a Kalashnikov to an 8-month old baby. The second looks wonderful, but I don’t know if that model is good for classical music. I’m not looking for siss-boom-bah.

ETA: You know, I think that there is something about making gobs and gobs of notes at once that’s appealing to certain types, much more so than playing something that’s for all intents and purposes, one note at a time. Sure, string players can play two- or three-note chords, but it really is a single-note instrument at bottom. It’s more about the quality of the sound than about the structure that’s created, I think. And the more I think about it, the more I really am on the side of wanting to just play more notes at once.

The first time I looked ahead in the second Suzuki viola book, I remember seeing “Minuet in G” there. Like thousands of young piano students, I had played it as a kid. I never got over the general feeling of thinness and insubstantiality that I had while looking at the sheet music. I’ve said before that strings are an inch wide and a mile deep, where as piano are an inch deep and a mile wide. (Organs are miles in both directions, which I suppose is why most organist are a little cracked upstairs. You’d have to be.) String players seem naturally to be able to find joy and fascination in that drilling down process, whereas maybe keyboard players (and certainly this keyboard player) take more pleasure in getting high up and seeing outward.

It’s not hard and fast, of course. Keyboard players have to be able to drill down, and a good string player has to look outward, if only to blend themselves properly with the others around them. But I think our first instincts are to either drill down as a string player, or look outward as a keyboard player. I don’t know. It would be interesting to observe people and see how true this is.

I also keep thinking of me as a kid and how I nagged my parents for piano lessons for years starting at roughly kindergarten age. I don’t really recall when I started nagging them. I often assume it was age 5 plus or minus 1 year. But I never nagged for anything else, and it’s not like I hadn’t seen other instruments. It was that big one with all the notes that I wanted to play! You could play the whole piece of music on that one thing! With both hands! (I do know that had I picked up a violin and been made to hold the bow in my right hand, I would have instantly put it down and walked away anyhow.)

Damn. It’s good.

My arrangement of the opening of “Pompe vane di morte” and the recitatif acompagnato afterwards. I managed to record it without freaking, stonewalling, or choking for once. I’m listening to it now … and it’s good. It’s really good.

It makes me want to be a complete idiot and score the entire opera. At the moment, I have other things to do (like oh, breathe and shower) but after I put a few more pieces of my own in the can, and … um … retire? I might do this. I do know that I want to end up arranging Haendel stuff formally at some point. As in, making a list and working through it after I’ve got about an hour of my own music written and shedded.

And yes, I’m still thinking about arranging the “Eruption” solo for piano in some sort of crazy Rach style, but I haven’t got the chopses. 🙂 We’ll see what happens. This could be some sort of chops-acquisition thing.

I don’t know. I’m just really pleased with how this sounds. 🙂 There’s a lot to be said about putting recitatif on a piano.

More Met Live in HD — Mozart and Haendel!

The 2012-13 Met Live in HD Season

Clemenza de Tito (Dec1) and Giulio Cesare (Apr27)! With David Daniels! Bicket doing both, too.

So let’s see here. I live near enough to LA to drive up and see the LA Opera, and so far I’ve seen one of theirs. This HD season will make four times I’ve gone to the Met from way over on the west coast. The Met really just seems to do way more than I like, especially Baroque stuff. Rodelinda, plus the mash-up Enchanted Island, and now Mozart and more Haendel. Even the Haendel that the LA Opera did (“Tamerlano”) wasn’t that good in terms of thematic framing; the voices were great, but they just couldn’t seem to handle the idea of a coloratura soprano who didn’t mince or die.

I love the philosophical implications of these operas coming back from the dead and taking over the world, too. Between (I think) 1756 and 1920 or thereabouts, no one performed a single Haendel opera start to finish. Not once. That’s nearly 200 years of obscurity, and here they are back again. It’s inspiring.

“The Enchanted Island” — the live audio stream, Dec 31, 2011

I’m sheepish to say that I didn’t listen to the entire thing. Wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear it for the first time like this or at the HD broadcast that I have a ticket for. Ultimately, I did tune in at the very end of Act I though, coming in on the beginning of the beautiful “Chaos, Confusion,” and heard all of Act II, which concluded with a chorus number immediately after one hell of a cadenza by Danielle DeNiese. She sang a modest, fairly typical little cadenza, then paused. The audience started to applaud … and she kept going! It was great! It’s such a thrill to hear these things in a new way, when you aren’t sure what you’re going to hear. And using familiar music counterbalances that, so that you’re sure you’re going to like what you hear, whatever it may be.

It was fantastic. One of the arias they used was a favorite of mine — “Ch’io parta?” from “Partenope.” It was fantastic when I heard the opening of that from the orchestra, and Daniels sang it to bits.

They wasted no time whatsoever in getting some videos up, as well as the short doco about it on the Met’s website. Wonderful, all around. I can’t wait to see it in HD.

I hope we see more of these sorts of things in the future. And I would love to get this on DVD.

BTW, the “Rodelinda” in HD …

I didn’t write a review of it but I should have. Short: it was really good.

  1. The translation of the libretto was a little fast and loose, but I think they were trying to avoid that inevitable o_O that the audience suffers at the end when Grimoaldo and Eduige pair off and the entire audience wonders how much of her jewelry they’ll have to pawn for couples therapy.
  2. Which brings me to the fact that they changed the way Grimoaldo and Eduige were interpreted from the Glyndebourne version, which is the other version I’m most aware of. Eduige was much more sympathetically drawn here — reminding Grimoaldo that she couldn’t accept his proposals because she was in mourning (as was the case, at least in the 7th century history this is taken from, which was probably about as truthful as your average newspaper). However, there was a sort of strange compensatory adjustment that had to be made to Grimoaldo, making him more manic and a bit out of control until the very end, where he was outright penitent and apologetic to Eduige. It required a huge change to the “Prigioniera ho l’alma in pena” aria, which is a favorite of mine whereby he sung it somewhat snarkily … until he found a letter written to him by Eduige, upon which point he read it and then did the A section reprise in a very melancholy way, clearly still in love with her. (And at no point in love with Rodelinda at all.) Initially, I wasn’t well disposed to the sneery way he was singing it, but when he opened the letter and changed his tone for the reprise, I realized what they had been after, and I liked it much more.
  3. Scholl had trouble filling the Met, celestial as he is. He was beyond spectacular in the smaller Disney Hall, one of the best performances I’ve ever been to. But … he had trouble filling the Met. Of course, he was still a good actor, and a big, strapping, good-looking guy can always fill a hero’s shoes with aplomb. His duet with Fleming (who was tremendous) at the end of Act II was really incredibly good. But he’s a recitalist singing opera as opposed to someone more like Daniels, who struck me in Disney Hall as an opera singer doing a recital.
  4. This was definitely a star vehicle for Fleming, and she was incredible. She really was. I hadn’t heard her prior to this and only knew that she was extremely popular. I can see why. Wow. She’s supposedly known for tics and vocal quirks, and I was practically expecting her to hiccough and belch on stage while singing. Nothing. Clean as a whistle, rich, with a nice rounded warble in the low end, and a really good handle on how to embellish this stuff for someone who claims that it’s not her strong suit. Sure sounded like it was to me.
  5. There’s always a voice that surprises me in every new performance, one person I hadn’t heard of before who shoots out above and beyond everyone else. This time, it was Iestyn Davies who absolutely must speak Welsh with a name like that. He had an extremely light, penetrating, and sparkly voice that, while not having the smoothness and darkness of Scholl’s, had a much easier time in the hall. And let’s face it, he played one of the sweetest dramatic characters ever written in any medium, except for possibly Bob Cratchit. He was so, so good.
  6. The broadcast was hosted by the world’s reigning Wagnerian Diva Deborah Voigt, who is so comfy in front of a camera that it’s almost spooky. She looked wonderful as always, and escorted the camera around backstage to where we could see all sorts of interesting things happening regards massive stage sets rolling around in slow motion, carpenters milling about, little interviews with the performers (I was in the damned bathroom for Fleming’s but saw Scholl and Davies’s interview — both men came across as very nice), etc. I actually enjoy this way of seeing an opera. I can sip coffee or eat a pretzel, plus get all the great backstage information and chats with performers and backstage crew.
  7. And speaking of the massive sets … this thing was immense. The whole set slid back and forth as we went from library to garden to stables, then the entire damned stage lifted out of the floor to reveal Bertarido in prison after Grimoaldo’s fabulous “Sospetti, affetti, e timori” aria. Talk about a huge undertaking. It went beautifully, and it looked fantastic.
  8. It’s hard for me to make a single declaration on the way it was done. Making Eduige a more sympathetic character definitely got the production on my good side, even if it did mean that I didn’t get my food pellet of a sincere and glowing “Prigioniera” nor a penitent, exhausted, “Pastorello,” a la Kurt Streit. So although I missed those two arias done the way I prefer (though they were done beautifully), it was a good trade to get a realistic Eduige out of the deal. And in general, it was a great combination of romance-novel style melodrama without insulting the living daylights out of me. Rodelinda was and remained a very strong, appealing character. Bertarido was still his generally sweet (if dim) self, and Unulfo was a sweetheart as always. Garibaldo was … well, I need to keep an eye on this Shenyang dude because he can rattle the timbers when he sets his mind to it. Helluva voice on him. (You know how contraltos are said to always play “witches, bitches, and britches?” For a basso, it should be “gods, clods, and cads.”)
  9. Hey, onstage meatball surgery, complete with yelps of pain. Unulfo got doctored up during the finale — literally during “Oh caro bene” — after having had his best friend and boss try to kill him while he was setting him free. He was on his feet and smiling by the end, so props to the surgeon. 🙂

Anyhow, it was really good. And there is one reviewer out there who wrote this up in 2006 or thereabouts who apparently wasn’t aware that Scholl even did that magnificent little bungee jump into baritone during “Infida consorte” and thought he’d slipped into chest voice by mistake and caught himself. As I’ve said previously in this blog, o_O. Oh, well.

So, “The Enchanted Island” is up next! Should be fun!

Update: Can’t believe I forgot this, but there was one more good addition to the production that nagged at me during the Glyndebourne. Before the opening scene for “Spietati,” during which Rodelinda dares Grimoaldo to kill her son before her eyes, she looked over at her son and nodded, and he nodded back, implying that they had conferred beforehand. That scene had seemed so implausible to me the first time I saw it, but just that one little signal between the two of them, and the bold way the little boy playing Flavio walked forward and put his arms out, made it clear that she had warned him ahead of time. Operas in general are not known for their realism, but that really snagged me as particularly bad characterization when I first saw the Glyndebourne. Here, it was still implausible, but much less so, and much less of a grotesque mischaracterization on the part of the librettist.

I have to wonder how much decision-making was done by Fleming to make these various changes; if they were indeed made on her suggestion, then she’s quite good and should be allowed more editorial control over her work in the future. (And possibly over others.) It’s just that many of the interpretations for this particular production all seem to head in the same direction of making it a little bit less … stupid and flimsy in general, which too many operas tend to be, and a bit more level-headed.

To be fair, Baroque operas already have less of that nonsense going on, and that’s a big selling point for them already. Even then, this particular version of an already good opera had a further huge advantage in not taking my money, insulting the shit out of me, and simultaneously expecting me to suspend my disbelief so high that my arms started to go numb. I wish they had put it out on DVD. I’d pay real money for the stream.

Three time zones, two tickets

That’s how many time zones I am from the New York Met, and how many tickets I’ve bought to different performances there. At this rate, that’s more than I’ve seen by the LA Opera (where I saw “Tamerlano”).

This weekend, I’ll be watching “Rodelinda,” and on January 21, I’ll be enjoying “The Enchanted Island.” Both performances that I otherwise wouldn’t have a prayer in hell of seeing, thanks to the Met’s HD broadcasts.