Category Archives: Idiots at the Opera

Idiots Return to the Opera: Romeo et Juliette

Tromeo playbillhis idiot apologizes for there being gap of over a year since her last opera review. Why the long pause?

The problem started when we saw Lulu, which just about killed opera for us. We enjoyed William Kentridge’s production of The Nose, so we thought, “Why not go to see another off-beat well-reviewed production of a modern opera?” Besides I’m a fan of Pandora’s Box. (I even managed a reference or two to Louise Brooks in my novel Blood Diva, the erotic-satiric-vampire extravaganza based on the life of Marie Duplessis the inspiration for La Traviata.)

I expected some campy-fun from Kentridge, with nods towards Brooks’ iconic performance, but his Lulu was one of the most somber earnest productions imaginable, and the music was god-awful. I’m a philistine and probably just didn’t understand it, but it was so unpleasant the better-half left at intermission. I stayed for you dear readers, or reader, as the case may be, but then I couldn’t bear to relive it even as a post.

Prior to that in the 2015-2016 season, we’d seen Il Trovotore, which I posted about. After that we only made it to the Met two other times. Once to see Swedish soprano Nina Stemme as Turandot, in the Zefferelli production. We’d seen the production before, but we wanted to see Stemme and we figured the Met would probably replace Zefferelli’s sets with something terrible. We saw Le Percheurs de Perles  but that almost doesn’t count because we were in Edgewater, NJ at the live in HD. Why did we go to New Jersey given that we are able-bodied and live about three miles from Lincoln Center? Long story, but maybe worth a post someday. We also saw Otello, with a notable cast including Željko Lu?i? as Iago, and Hibla Gerzmava as Desdemona.

We finally made it to the Met again on Tuesday to see Gonaud’s Romeo et Juliette. The lovers were sung by tenor Vittorio Grigolo and soprano Diana Damrau. We’d seen them together a couple of seasons ago in Manon where I’d written that they “sizzled”. I didn’t get that lusty vibe this time strangely enough although they sold the idea of themselves as teenagers in love and lust at first sight. I’d describe their chemistry as easy. They sang together as though they’d always sung together. They seemed to be having fun. Opera is sometimes a competitive sport, but Tuesday night it sounded as though the leads, the orchestra, and everyone else were all on the same team.

This passes my test of operas you could go to your first time at the opera. You’ve probably heard bits of the music used in various soundtracks. It’s by turns melodic, emotional, and as grand as grand opera should be, but it’s also a pleasure to listen to and it’s easy to follow the story, since we all know it. Plus it’s fun to watch. The fight scenes were especially well choreographed, and it doesn’t hurt that Grigolo is pretty enough to be a movie star-leading man. The Met chorus did their usual stellar job as well.

Romeo y Juliette  has performances through March, but it looks like there’s only a couple more with Damrau.  They’ll both be in the “live in HD” on Saturday, so if you can’t get to the Met, you can always go to  your local cinema.

We were sitting, by the way, in the back of the balcony. We’d gotten the tickets only a few days before, and would’ve splurged for the front of that section if anything had been available.  I love the way you can see the musicians and the conductor from the balcony. The sound is clearer then anyway else in the house. (For the skinny on scoring last minute cheap tickets, see this old post.) At intermission, I noticed the usual ridiculously long line for the ladies room. I tried to tell a couple of the more able-bodied women on the line about the secret women’s bathroom at the top of the family circle on the right-hand side, but nobody believed me. They probably thought I was some kind of grifter trying to cut the line. But honestly, there really is a secret women’s room up there. It’s the best kept secret in town, so don’t tell anyone!

Idiots at the Opera: Il Trovatore

Just wanted to quickly RAVE about Il Trovatore at the Met. We went to see it Tuesday night, a very last minute decision. I read this great review in the Times, which mentioned that bass baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky would be leaving after Saturday’s performance to get treatment in London for a brain tumor.

I hadn’t heard about his illness before – which he went public with in June after cancelling some recitals. It’s shocking news. Hvorostovsky is one of the reasons I became a late-in-life opera fan.

It was only a few years ago that the better half surprised me with opera tickets (not exactly on my birthday, but close to it.) It was a production of La Traviata with Natalie Desay singing Violetta, and Hvorostovsky as Germont. Who was the tenor? Who even cares?

Desay was of course great – which she usually is when she shows up. But Hvorostovsky was a revelation. He not only had a beautiful voice, but he managed to make Germont a surprisingly sympathetic character. Surprising, because anyone familiar with the opera can mentally reference those first very dark notes that herald the character’s arrival before he even sings.

Sure he manipulates Violetta, plays on her soft heartedness and gets her to give up the love of her life – even though it may cost her her life, but somehow we feel sympathy for him, and when the character comes to realize his mistake, Hvorostovsky sang his pain.

The next season we saw him as Rodrigo in Don Carlo. We disliked the production which was slow and drab, but Hvorostovsky again was a stand out. Last year, we caught him in Un Ballo En Mascara. I wish I’d seen him live in Eugene Onegrin, but I only caught that one on video.

He is not only an absolutely beautiful man with gorgeous head of snowy white hair (prematurely gray is not a description that does it justice), he is just the epitome of barrihunkdom – with a unique deep velvet voice. I had been planning on seeing Il Trovatore, but when I read that it would be the last chance to see him until February, and that given the uncertainty of his diagnosis, maybe the last chance to see him, I immediately decided to get standing room for that evening.

People who follow my cheap seats advice might wonder: “Why standing room?” My logic was as follows: There were very few seats left in the house. Most were way above my pay grade. It was almost 10 am. I could have waited and tried for rush-tickets at 12:00, but I knew I wouldn’t be the only one reading the Times rave, or finding out that Hvorostovsky would be leaving the production earlier than expected. With a cast that also included Anna Netrebko and Younghoon Lee, I knew the chances of successfully getting rush tickets – which are sold online on a “first come, first served” basis with everyone trying to “click” on at noon, would be slight. But I figured if I clicked onto standing room at 10, I’d have a good chance of getting the front row of standing, where you can actually see the stage and not the back of someone’s head. And yes, I did manage to snag front row “places” including one by the aisle which the somewhat claustrophobic better half appreciated.

How was it? Magnificent. Like Carmen, or La Traviata, there are enough familiar tunes in Il Trovatore and a lively enough plot to keep even a novice opera-goer entertained. Per the Times review, Hvorostovsky has lost nothing to his illness. He managed to make Di Luna, a flawed man whose pride and actions make him a villain, nevertheless sympathetic and tragic.

Netrebko was also at her best as Lenora. We’d heard Younghoon Lee before, as Don Jose in Carmen. I hadn’t been overly impressed then. It might have been a lack of chemistry with his co-star, but his performance seemed to lack passion, or rather his Don Jose had more passion writing to his mother than pursuing Carmen. However, Tuesday night Lee’s Manrico changed my mind about him. What a voice! And perfect for Verdi! Lyrical, romantic, valiant. Everything you could ask for in a tenor. We’d never heard mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick before. She was outstanding as Azucena.

There was certainly an added excitement, the knowledge that though we should all be optimistic about Hvorostovsky’s prognosis, we must cherish him all the more, and there was great applause when he first appeared, as well as a much deserved standing ovation for his aria, Un Balen del Suo Sorrisa. (Even conductor Marco Armiliato put down his baton to clap.)

I can’t say enough good things about the production. I am absolutely snarkless – a rare event as anyone who follows my blogs can attest.

So what should you do if you don’t have tickets for the Saturday matinee performance? There are still a few left but only at $228 and up as of this writing. There will be a very limited number of rush seats available, so your chances of getting one, let alone two is low. You could try standing room, which you can’t buy on line for Saturday matinees. You might take your chances over the phone or at at the box office (but there’ll probably be a line). However, here’s some good news – even for people who don’t live anywhere near New York City: Saturday’s performance will be LIVE in HD. So you can see it (if it isn’t sold out) at a theater near you (maybe). And you should!

Taking you out is a clip of Hvorostovsky singing his aria (from the 2011 live in HD):

(If anyone wants to thank me for giving you great cheap tix tips and the rest of these amusing posts, please go to my Amazon page and buy a book. Your contribution will help feed a formerly feral cat who now lives better than most humans on the planet.)

The 19th Century’s Most Infamous Party Girl is Having a Birthday, and You’re Invited to the Celebration!

(This is a review for the fantastic musical “cabaret” Songs of the Fallen, which will be in town for one week only, so get yer tickets NOW.)

Are you a tourist in New York who’s about to wait on line at TKTS? Are you having doubts about whether standing around for two hours in order to buy tickets that at 50% off will still be over your limited budget is the best way to spend your limited time in New York?

Continue reading The 19th Century’s Most Infamous Party Girl is Having a Birthday, and You’re Invited to the Celebration!

Un Ballo In Maschera — Saving the Best for Last

We made it to the first performance this season of Verdi’s Un Ballo In Maschera. It will probably be the last opera we see live till the fall, and what a great way to end our Met year.

As those of you who have followed “idiots at the opera” know, the better-half and I are musical ignoramuses who came late to opera (but NEVER come late to the opera.) So don’t expect any fancy-dancy (or technically correct) descriptions of the music.

Dmitri & Piotr together at last!

First, we were unfamiliar with the opera – musically, the story, the history, etc. But we mostly love Italian opera and we love Verdi. The main reason why we actually got tickets in advance and shelled out for good seats was because of the singers. I went to hear Dmitri Hvorostvsky – my favorite baritone, and tenor Piotr Beczala, who is so good that even when the production is misconceived (Atomic Faust, Rat Pack Rigoletto) or just plain drab (Eugene Onegin, Iolanta) he makes it worth going. He also seems to get character nuances that other “singing actors” miss – body language, posture, gestures etc. He never seems stiff on stage, and manages to differentiate his characters. As for Sondra Radvanovsky, I am such an ignoramus I hadn’t heard her before and had barely heard of her. What a complete treat it was to be introduced to her in role she seemed born to sing.

Continue reading Un Ballo In Maschera — Saving the Best for Last

Aida at the Met — A First for Us Idiots

So we idiots went to see Aida, Monday night at the Met. It’s not a revival that’s getting a lot of reviews because the Met revived it earlier in the season then that ended, and then they recently brought it out for a few more performances with a new cast and conductor. The one review of the new cast that I did see, which was written by someone who knows a hell of a lot more about music than I do was meh and not gentle on many of the singers or on the conductor, but we idiots loved it and there must have been a lot of idiots like us in the house that night because there sure was a lot of applause.

Without going into too much detail because I’m trying to get this up by the 12:00 rush tickets deadline, here are some highlights:

This is the Sonja Frisell production, which while not as elaborate as a Zeffirelli production (and seeing the Zeffirelli version is definitely on our bucket lists) is still pretty awesome. Given the “ancient Egyptian” setting, the costumes, murals, etc, one can’t help but mentally reference Edward Said, but that’s part of the fun and so goofily mythical that it’s not offensive (unlike say writing an Arab sheik into a revival of Rigoletto and setting the whole thing in Vegas.) Continue reading Aida at the Met — A First for Us Idiots