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Opera: Tosca [Oct. 10th, 2009|11:23 pm]
[Current Mood |enthralled]

Today was Opera Day on the trip:  with two friends, I attended the Metropolitan Opera's new production of Tosca.  I agree with those who said the music is gorgeous and the production isn't.  To be Texas blunt, the set in the second act is butt-ugly, the courtesans weren't in the libretto and aren't needed to show Scarpia's nasty character, the lighting design lacks (overall, not just in the second act) and the blocking isn't that great either.  The sets in one and three are sort of OK except the trapdoor thing that the firing squad disappears into.  (It evoked a chuckle from the audience.)

But the singing.  O.M.G. it was stunning.  Karita Mattila (Finnish) sang a ferocious Tosca--all passion, all brilliance.  Breathtaking, literally.  Marcelo Alvarez (Argentinian) sang a Cavaradossi to rip your heart out as well...a thoroughly masculine tenor, rich and powerful and still capable of ringing high notes.   George Gagnidze (Republic of Georgia) made a superb slimy and disgusting Scarpia.

I knew attending an opera at a great opera house with a great company would be different/better, but this...this was incredible.



[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-10-11 12:35 pm (UTC)
I should add that there's a difference between minimalist sets and butt-ugly sets, and between unusual but interesting lighting and inept lighting. I did the eight one-act plays I wrote with minimalist sets, using what we could find and contrive on the loading dock of a yellow brick wool warehouse (that was the stage. And the budget was nil.) None of our minimalist sets was as ugly as the act two set, which actually works against the story rather than with it.
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-10-11 01:15 pm (UTC)

I am glad I found you.

My name is Regina Holliday. My eldest son 11 Freddie is on the autism spectrum. My husband Fred died this past summer from kidney cancer at 39. When I was taking care of him in the hospital ,your book The Deed of Paksenarrion keep running through my mind. Sometimes we must suffer in life. I wanted to thank you for writing the book.
-Regina Holliday
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-10-11 03:42 pm (UTC)

Re: I am glad I found you.

Thank you! One of the greatest joys a writer can know is that a book helped someone through a difficult time. And you have certainly had a very difficult time...I'm so sorry about your husband's untimely death.

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[User Picture]From: deliasherman
2009-10-11 03:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the review. You, I believe. I may even go see it now.

I know you're far too busy on your quick trip to see us, but I'm glad we're sharing a city, if only for a couple of days. Next time, let me know ahead of time, and I'll feed you a New York meal.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-10-11 03:51 pm (UTC)
A surfeit of NY meals has me staying close this morning...wow, the food here! But equally, the stomach used to one regimen has now coped (and not entirely successfully) with train food, St. Louis food, train food, Chicago food, train food, expert Italian cooking from a friend in upstate NY, train food, and then...yesterday was WAY too much. Gluttony deserves its punishment, I guess, but...darn.

Anyway, I'm sorry to miss out on seeing you, and will certainly try to contact more people before the next visit. I know I'm coming back in a year or two. (Well, as much as anyone knows anything in the future.)

It would be interesting to have your reaction to the sets and staging decisions. My friend Karen, who has a strong theater background (including in NYC) felt that some of the directorial decisions on blocking, etc., were bad, and the lighting really not good. Her husband did professional lighting design and installation for multiple productions (more musical theater than opera.)
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[User Picture]From: carbonel
2009-10-11 06:03 pm (UTC)
It was interesting reading your review just before talking to my father, who went to see the Lyric Opera's production of Tosca yesterday. The Chicago production used the Met's hand-me-down sets from a previous production. He said that one was great, and he preferred the old sets to what he's seen of the new ones.
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[User Picture]From: witchcraft_shop
2009-10-11 09:50 pm (UTC)
One that my aunt Monica Sinclair sang a few times at Covent Garden in the 60's & 70's.

Mattila is a superb vocalist.

That is one thing I miss being so far away from London now, and my uncle long since retired (first horn for 37 years).

We used to get free dress rehearsal access and occasionally full show passes as well.

Now the tickets are only marginally more expensive than the train fair - and both in 3 figures.....

I delight in the Radio 3 coverage when I can get it.....

When we make it back to NYC I intend to take certain friends up on their offer of a night at the Opera, although I'm not sure how well that might be received by mevennen.....

Edited at 2009-10-11 09:53 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-10-12 09:48 pm (UTC)
I was SO impressed by Mattila's range and expressiveness at all parts of her range...she could do every shade of emotion anywhere on the chart, and that's not all that common.

I had no idea that your aunt was in opera (but my interest in opera is recent and doesn't extend that far back. Having only inept regional/touring performances to judge by had convinced me that it wasn't nearly the great fun it was Saturday. The scales have fallen from my eyes and I'm in danger of becoming an Enthusiast.)
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[User Picture]From: greeneyedkzin
2009-10-18 04:15 pm (UTC)
We'll figure something out:) Maybe NORMA, and you can say it's a professional expense.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-10-12 09:45 pm (UTC)
Chicago got the Zeffirelli sets? Susan loved those and so did most of the NYC opera viewers, though the critics (who I think love only snark) did not.
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[User Picture]From: greeneyedkzin
2009-10-18 04:20 pm (UTC)
Director, set designer and lighting designer ought to stay on their own side of the damn Alps.

And if they don't like our tastes, they can pay Peter Gelb back the money.

Calling Zeffirelli senile and gaga...well, it's a GREAT feud.

I think this is the first TOSCA I've heard without Domingo. Alvarez did just FINE.

The one good thing I can say about the sets for Acts I and III is that they made you focus on the music, not gasp in amazement. This has its advantages.

I liked the window in Act II because there was a neat foreshadowing.

Uh oh. Run-on alert. Gonna shut up.
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From: miss_ion
2009-10-12 06:44 am (UTC)


It's frustrating to see a production that visually does not live up to the wonderful music being sung. Thank you for the review. I sang in the chorus of a small community opera when I lived in Brooklyn, and the sets were very minimal, and we had to iron our dresses ourselves. But the blocking worked, and most of the musicians and the orchestra were worth more than the ticket price. I don't know what is worse: a community group with a perfect orchestra, excellent soloists, sets, and costumes but a few terrible clunkers; or professional group with a constant parade of mis-matched sets in dissonance with almost perfect singing.

What these designers don't get is something I ran across in studying avant-garde music: that music itself paints pictures. Audible sound waves at room temperature have shapes that are of various sizes; each octave higher, the waves will be half the size. But anything singable creates sound waves that are anything from a body length to a hand-width. If sound is in tune, it will generate overtones based on ratios between notes. Any European music is "equal tempered," so it is slightly dissonant, but the sound within one singer's voice will produce those overtones, which help that voice to have a louder volume. Puccini tried very hard to compose music that would imitate the intonation of talking, and give an emotional feel for the place and action. He was nearly an avant-garde composer, adding beautiful melodies, but never with any boring moments. It would seem only fair and right to match that composer's music with that composer's vision; if starting in a church, it should have the feelings and echos of that kind of space. Set designers simply do not think of these things. In the past, it wasn't as much of an issue, because any art composition at least followed the rules of geometry (golden rectangles, etc.), and complemented the perfect ratios in the music. But now? Often it seems as though the set fights the music.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-10-12 09:49 pm (UTC)

Re: Set-dissonance

The set of Act II was definitely fighting the music. Unless you closed your eyes you simply could not ignore its fundamental ughness.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-10-14 10:36 am (UTC)
From where I saw (row ZZ of the orchestra, same side as the boom of one camera, the one like a Shuttle arm) I couldn't see that the rug lined up with the torture chamber door (and the blood spatter didn't show from my angle either, though I didn't focus my binocs on it...it was a *door*.

Lighting...well, the lighting expert among us really dumped on that and I'm inclined to think she's expert enough to know for sure it sucked granite boulders.

Gotta go get ready to hit the day and hope it doesn't hit back...
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-10-15 01:55 am (UTC)
As they were setting up, it was visually distracting, but once the lights went down (or the chandeliers went up, whichever way you look at it, I barely noticed it...except, knowing it was there, I looked for it from time to time, quick glances. I did notice, off and on, its monitor--there was a largish monitor up on that balcony so the man operating the camera could see what it was pointing at. It was bright and colored and things moved on it, and moving things catch the eye.

If we had been to the left of the left aisle, as some folks were, then I think it would have been annoying. But I didn't find it so.
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