Sunday, March 29, 2020

Hans Sachs in quarantine

After watching and loving "Meistersinger" free from the Met's archives, I took a break to Google the singers. And I found that Michael Volle, our Hans Sachs, was in quarantine.

He does not have Coronavirus, or the Wuhan flu, or Covid-19, or whatever its name is. However he has been in quarantine because he was singing at La Scala and someone there had it. He discusses it here.

Opera singers in the spotlight! That is as it should be. Volle addresses us from a laptop. It is a funny feeling hearing him talking about this now having just finished having watched him as Hans Sachs in this magnificent performance. It is kind of intimate because in his performance, you really get to know Sachs. You feel this character exists somewhere. His portrayal is that vivid. It is really touching, too. I will explain more about that tomorrow, but it gets to you. Someone online wrote somewhere -- I have to find it -- "You want to hug him."

I am still listening to Volle talking about his quarantine. He is giving us the news! He says the latest update is that all cultural events are canceled in Italy until April 3. Volle actually was giving this report back on March 9. He is speaking in English.

I am sorry he has had to go through this but he seems to be dealing with OK. Just as Hans Sachs would.

Stay well, Hans Sachs.

I mean Maestro Volle!

Just now I am listening to President Trump saying our guidelines are being extended until April 30. That means a lot more opera coming our way.

We're going through this together -- literally!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Met's "Die Meistersinger"

Tonight the Met's Nightly Opera Stream is "Die Meistersinger" and I am tuned in.

It is kind of emotional watching these Met broadcasts because of the current situation, I mean with this virus. Wagner's "Die Meistersinger" shores me up and gives me courage. Last fall when I had my first art show, I was playing "Meistersinger" as I framed up my pictures and got them ready to show. This music got me through it.

What I have seen so far ... and I am not through the first act ... this production looks fine. Not like "Goetterdaemmerung" yesterday, I have to say that. I had to stop watching "Goetterdaemmerung" because the production was just so Goetterdaemmerung awful.

Just get out of Wagner's way, you know?

Just stage the darned opera!

That guy, whoever did "Goetterdaemmerung," he had how much money to work with? I am guessing a lot. I am also guessing that I could have done a better job. The costumes were a mess. The mechanics ... you never lost sight of that you were seeing machines. Maybe it looked different from the seats but I doubt it. Everything was a mess. And Siegfried looked like a slug. I could not stand it.

OK, you cannot look a gift horse in the mouth so, whatever. On to this one.

I do not often take the opportunity to watch the entire "Meistersinger" and whenever I do, new things jump out at me. The way in the first act David, Sachs' apprentice, has such a prominent part. All his musings about music, and what he is learning from Sachs. Wagner must have enjoyed that.

The Master Singers ... I still cannot get over that one of them is named Kunz. I love that! I watch for Kunz Vogelgesang. He is a tenor. The one in this production looks young and he throws himself into the part -- I mean, he establishes a character for Kunz. I like that. They have little name plates in front of their seats and I love that. Kunz Vogelgesang.

In high school one of my best friends was Anne Conrad and she pointed out to me that my name meant hers. Kunz is short for Konrad.

There is a Konrad also among the Master Singers.

And there is also Erich Kunz, the late great Viennese baritone, who was the ultimate Beckmesser. I mean Sixtus Beckmesser, the baddie in "Die Meistersinger."

At left is a signed photo of Erich Kunz as Beckmesser in the Bayreuth production of 1943. I love what a ham he was. From other pictures I have seen he was actually a very good-looking man. Very Viennese, very urbane. You have to admire a guy who sacrifices good looks to look the part he is playing. Erich Kunz, God love him, he did that!

The picture is for sale on eBay only unfortunately I am too cheap to buy it. It is $90! I am glad a photo of my Uncle Erich is commanding so high a price but still.

Well, just looking at the picture makes me proud.

My name is all about "Meistersinger"!

Now I have to go ahead and watch the rest of the opera.

I will report!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

My 'Onegin' experience

The duel in "Eugene Onegin" as imagined in 1901 by the great Russian painter Ilya Repin.

My relationship with the Met and its free opera streaming continues rocky. Like an opera itself, it is!

It is complicated. The opera streams until a certain time the next day, but at some point you lose the subtitles, is my experirence. That is why Howard and I had to watch a different "La Boheme."

And I watched "Eugene Onegin" half and half. Half was the Met production, and half was another.

"Eugene Onegin" took me by surprise. I had not actually intended to watch it. But when they aired it I peeked at it, and then to my surprise something happened. I could not look away.

Howard was laughing at me because I was toting my tablet around and he found me in the bathroom brushing my teeth and watching it!

Then I had to put it away for a bit. I may be in lockdown but I am still busy. I work from home anyway and I have a ton of work to do. When I went back to it later, it pulled the subtitle thing on me, and then it froze up completely.

By that time I was totally hooked. I knew more or less how things worked out because I did see the opera live once.. But I think when I saw it some years ago my mind was addled up over something or other and I could not give Tchaikovsky the attention he deserved. I had to see this drama play out. So I found a different one on YouTube, from Glyndebourne.

I missed Dmitri Hvorovstovsky who had been starring in the Met production. He is so handsome and icy! But this new Onegin grew on me. He is a Polish singer and I cannot begin to spell his name (I can however spell Hvorovstovsky off the top of my head). Let me cut and paste: Wojtek Drabowicz. He is very good too -- he projects the look of a misfit, a definite plus in this situation.

The duel scene got to me. Lensky in the Glyndebourne production is a beautiful man and you just cannot stand it. I actually had not recalled the duel even happening. This seems a good time to admit, I do not like prepping for operas by reading the synopsis. I like being surprised. Before you know it, you will know the opera inside out, and there is a different joy to that. But the first couple times you see an opera, I do not see any reason to read up on it. Enjoy the suspense!

That gets me to one more point: Everyone thinks opera is an acquired taste and they cannot possibly appreciate it. Just sit down and watch "Onegin." Find one with subtitles and sit down with it. Easy.


Tatiana in the Glyndebourne production is not as human as Renee Fleming, who can be wrenching as no one else can. That scene where Tatiana is scorned, Fleming just breaks your heart. She is very bold when it comes to this kind of thing, I mean putting herself into a part.

Tchaikovsky has a kind of Wagnerian thing going on in "Onegin," at least from where I sit, in that the opera is about you. I identify strongly with Tatiana. I was very naive and romantic and sheltered the way she is. So the famous letter scene gets me and so does that terrible scene where Onegin scorns her and lectures her. "I had to listen meekly to your sermon," she tells him later.

That scene later is very satisfying to me, coming from where I am coming from. Tatiana has married a handsome older man, a military hero, and she is a princess. And she has the mental fortitude to stick with her husband. To tell Onegin no.

I found myself talking to the screen. "Tell him to get lost." "Walk away."


When the opera was over I found myself dipping into different productions of "Onegin." Such as this excellent one, in German, starring Hermann Prey. Prey is terrific in this part, which is high praise. He is handsome and has that bedeviled look and that intensity. Speaking of intensity, a young Brigitte Fassbaender is Olga. And ... get this ... Fritz Wunderlich is Lensky.

Let me say that again: Fritz Wunderlich!!


Interesting thing about this production, the ending is different. After Onegin exits in anguish, Tatiana has a bittersweet interlude to herself. She pulls out the letter she wrote to Onegin, and she reflects on what has happened.

All this has been a great learning experience for me. On the minus side, I have not gotten around to much of the Wagner. Here I was looking forward to the Met's Wagner week and all I have watched is the first act of "Tristan und Isolde" which, now it is too late to finish that. I do have some comments but they can wait.

This Coronavirus lockdown different-opera-every-night thing is great but it is like traveling on a whirlwind tour -- you know, 10 cities in 10 days.

Sometimes it is better to spend a week in a city and get to know it! That is my situation with "Eugene Onegin." I fell behind. I could not help it.  I do know the Wagner operas much better but this was new territory for me, and I had to linger a little longer.

Plus, "Tristan," I just could not clear the time in my life. These Wagner operas mean a lot to me and you cannot watch them just anytime. You have to have time when you can concentrate, when you can give them space and attention. You have to treat them with respect.

It is like when you turn on the car radio as you are running errands and they are playing Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony or Beethoven's Ninth, you have to change the station. Masterpieces need space and attention.

I am glad I did right by "Eugene Onegin."

It is a masterpiece!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Pre-judging the Met's "Eugene Onegin"

Eugene Onegin, screening tonight free from the Metropolitan Opera, starts out with great promise. The intro is by Mikhail Baryshnikov!

It is good to see him again! He stands there in the middle of the screen and tells you how you are going to fall in love with the opera.

He pronounces it "Ev-gen Onegin."

And it occurs to me for the first time, that the pianist Evgeny Kissin is Eugene Kissin. Or shall we say, Gene Kissin. Like Manny Ax.

Back to Onegin, my one gripe with it so far is that before the overture, you do not get to hear: "Maestro to the pit. Maestro to the pit."

That is one of my favorite moments!

However we still have the entire opera to go so I will forgive this otherwise fatal error. The maestro who should have been audibly called to the pit is Valery Gergiev. The opera stars Renee Fleming as Tatiana and the late Dimitri Hvorostovsky as Onegin. That is sad that we lost him. What a marvelous Russian baritone and so beautiful to look at.

The production's staging looks kind of wacky so far -- a big box of fallen leaves. But as the picture above illustrates, the costumes are lovely. That picture must be from near the end, when Onegin comes crawling back. Cry me a river! Odds are this Russian roulette will turn out well.

I like Tchaikovsky operas the way I prefer most operas, on the traditional side. I once saw "Onegin" live and it struck me like a Chekhov play, hours of an absorbing psychological drama, Russians explaining what is in their hearts. I do not remember being bored. I love this kind of stuff.

You know what, when you play those games of who is overrated and who is underrated, I would say Tchaikovsky is underrated.

Once when I saw "The Queen of Spades" I screamed! It was one of the most terrifying moments. My sister-in-law, Natalie, was with me. We grabbed each other and screamed. The whole audience did likewise.

Bravo, Tchaikovsky!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Losing it with "La Boheme"

So the other night -- Wednesday, this was -- I watched "La Boheme." Howard watched it with me -- I said something about Date Night and guilted him into it.

End result as we say in Buffalo ... I cried buckets.

I was astonished at myself. I did not think "La Boheme" would get me like that. I mean, I knew it was sad, but not in the way some other operas are sad, operas that hold a higher place in my lexicon. You forget how good this opera is, how good Puccini was.

That last scene!

I should mention this was not the Met production. I am having a rocky relationship with these Met free streams. I want to watch them but my timing is off. I end up looking for them too late and in this situation what happened was, I had it ready to go, and I could watch it, but there were no subtitles. I think after the allotted time they cut out the subtitles.

Which, maybe I could deal with that, but Howard could not. So I worked fast and said prayers to St. Anthony -- please, St. Anthony, find me a good "La Boheme" -- and I found this.

It stars Anna Netrebko. I  believe it was a little abridged, but that was fine for my purposes.

It was more than fine actually. Peeking at the Met production earlier that day, when it had subtitles, I was a little dismayed at how slowly the first act moved, with Rudolfo burning his play. I had no problems with it, but I worried Howard would.

You have to watch out for opera newbies! They are fragile creatures.

And so we watched this. At first I worried it was kind of broad, kind of jerky. But as the opera went on we both fell into it. That winter scene was beautifully filmed. My brother George, I always think of him when I see this, I have to tell him that. Once we were watching "La Boheme" at the Canadian Opera Company he said he loved how that part rang true to him, about how the couple is about to break up but they decide to stick together until the spring.

That is true to life! George is right.

Put it off! Kick that can down the road.

Anyway. That scene is beautiful, with the snow drifting down, and Anna Netrebko and Rollando Villazon, they're both so beautiful, you can't stand it. The snow is in their hair. That music. It's all so glorious.

Then you get the last act. I was broadsided by it. What gets me isn't really that Mimi is dying. It's how the other bohemians behave, standing around helplessly, doing what they can The one sells his coat, and Musetta sells her jewels -- I started getting tears in my eyes and I was desperately trying to blink them back. I totally lost it when Musetta began praying to Our Lady. Dear Musetta is such a toughie, and to see her humbling herself like that -- I was trying so hard not to cry I was gasping.

Finally I said something to Howard to try to explain myself and then I was actually sobbing. I could not stop.

Howard tried to reassure me. He said: "The software --"

Meaning that the software Puccini put in place still works.

The word "the software" is code with us for that. I have probably written about it. In this case it did not make me laugh. I only cried harder. But that only proved Howard was right.

This software, it still works!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Our Wagnerian quarantine

Such dramatic times we are living in! And next week, the Metropolitan Opera is celebrating that. That is all I can think.

It is Wagner week!

There are different Wagner operas being streamed every night. Or every afternoon, or whenever you feel like watching them. I watched "Carmen" a few days ago mostly in the morning. Opera in the morning, it's weird, but nobody knows what day it is any more, and things like this have less and less relevance. Opera goes with morning coffee as well as it goes with evening wine, as long as you do not have any other commitments that you cannot ignore, cancel, or postpone.

The Wagner schedule is this (click on the link above for more info):

Monday: Tristan
Tuesday: Rheingold
Wednesday: Walkure
Thursday: Siegfried
Friday: Gotterdaemmerung
Saturday: Meistersinger
Sunday: Tannhauser

Can you beat that? I had been looking forward to The Flying Dutchman, which unfortunately had to be scrubbed because of the Coronavirus, the Wuhan Virus, the China Virus, COVID-19 ... never has a virus had so many names, you know?

But much as I was looking forward to the Dutchman this little schedule is a dandy consolation prize. I am especially anticipating "Die Meistersinger." That is a picture of it up above, complete with a hefty Walther von Stolzing. If Walther does not look like a biker something is wrong!

I wonder if anyone is planning on watching every single Wagner opera next week. Including the "Ring" cycle, right in the middle.

I think I will!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

5 operas with English subtitles you can watch free on YouTube

Opera in the time of Coronavirus! I love that the Metropolitan Opera has its free stream going on, a different opera every night. Imagine if you watched all of them. I just might.

I respect the Met for the idea, which I share, that we cannot get through a crisis like this without opera. We need it as much as we need hand sanitizer and toilet paper. We require it.

All this being said, my initial attempts to access "Carmen," the opera promised to start off the series, were unsuccessful. I was having trouble accessing the site. Opera fans across the country must be mobbing it. With which, as a public service, I thought I would list a few operas you can watch free on YouTube, operas that have English subtitles.

Here is the "Carmen" the Met promised us but the video keeps stopping. I will look for another one. But I am not going to forget about this one. The Carmen is Elina Garanca who seems to me to strike just the right tone. She looks perfect, too. There she is in the picture up above.

Onward, damn the torpedoes! Here is an old survivor, a '60s production of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger" starring Wolfgang Windgassen and conducted by Thomas Schippers. Unfortunately it is only Act III, Scene 1, which is all that exists. But... better than nothing! And... it has subtitles!!
Here is Wagner's "Lohengrin" with subtitles. From Bayreuth. This looks like a must-watch to me.

This looks like a pretty decent "La Boheme," and it has subtitles as well. Just from the couple of minutes I have watched the voices sound wonderful.

Here is a hipster "La Boheme," also with subtitles.

Karajan conducts Wagner's "Das Rheingold"! This fine vintage cast includes Thomas Stewart as Wotan. He is a terrific actor as well as a great singer.

Here is Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier starring Renee Fleming. I have already watched this in its entirety a couple of times. It is from Baden Baden in Germany. My father's family came from Baden Baden. Watch this one if you watch nothing else. It can occupy you for a few evenings.

So many operas.

So little time.