The Met's week: a stupid review

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John F
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The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by John F » Sat Nov 04, 2017 4:04 am

Zachary Woolfe complains that in addition to "The Exterminating Angel," the Met offered three highly popular operas by Puccini, affecting to find deep significance in the juxtaposition. Come off it, Zachary. Puccini revivals have been business as usual at the world's opera companies since time immemorial, both because the public wants them and because the companies need the ticket sales. Scheduling three Puccini operas back to back is unusual and not ideal, but it isn't scandalous either. What's striking about the past week was the premiere of a new opera which Woolfe himself praises.

Woolfe also complains that the Puccini casts, though unobjectionable even to him, were not top-flight. Again, come off it. Mid-season revivals of standard repertoire are seldom all-star nights at the opera; the past week was no different. In fact, Woolfe's review is essentially positive about the singing and conducting, though obviously he would rather not say so.

And to dismiss these particular operas as sugary, when all three involve the tragic deaths of one or more leading characters, is perverse, while to complain about Puccini's style at this late date is naïve. What is Woolfe trying to prove?

If, as I understand, he is to be Anthony Tommasini's successor as the Times's chief music reviewer, or has already been appointed, this will continue the declining quality as well as quantity of that paper's coverage of classical music, which began with the retirement of Harold C. Schonberg in 1980. Their best writers - Will Crutchfield, Jeremy Eisler, and others - have left, and their successors such as Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim have been no better than competent and sometimes worse. The only positive note I can end on is that with many of America's major newspapers dropping classical music reviews and news altogether, at least the Times hasn't gone that far.

Review: A Puccini Suite at the Met Strikes a Note of Desperation
By ZACHARY WOOLFE
NOV. 3, 2017

This has been a “Mary Poppins” kind of week at the Metropolitan Opera. Monday and Friday? Modernist medicine, in the form of Thomas Adès’s virtuosically caustic new opera, “The Exterminating Angel.” And nestled between those performances was the pure sugar to help “Angel” go down, three of the most standard standards: Puccini’s “Turandot,” Puccini’s “La Bohème” and Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.”

Do you sense a pattern?

It was as if the Met were sending a slightly desperate signal to cautious subscriber base, tourists and date-night newcomers: We know “The Exterminating Angel” seems scary, so here’s a Puccinian pacifier. (All three operas loiter, with some gaps and many cast changes, into March and April.)

I attended this melodramatic triptych for a glimpse of how the central repertory is faring at the Met this fall. And while each of these Puccini operas is a brilliant machine of plot and emotion — tighter and more polished, in their way, than Mr. Adès’s work — none of them this week offered a particularly strong or memorable experience.
“Angel,” which I saw at its premiere last week, felt urgent, passionate. “Turandot,” “Bohème” and “Butterfly,” by contrast, were the Met at its most facelessly professional, fielding casts that were competent but hardly individual or noteworthy.

Looking back on the week, I was never really able to distinguish between Maria Agresta’s pathetic Liù (in “Turandot”), Anita Hartig’s pathetic Mimì (in “Bohème”) and Hui He’s pathetic Cio-Cio-San (in “Butterfly”): Three portrayals that all offered firm, fluent, articulate voices, some wavering or weakening troubles up high, and a sense of responsibility rather than revelation.
The Met this week was no country for tenors, either. As Turandot, Oksana Dyka’s steely, occasionally strident soprano swamped the Calàf of Arnold Rawls, a sweetly modest understudy singing his first full Met performance. Russell Thomas showed some characteristically burnished tone but not a little weariness as Rodolfo in “Bohème,” while Roberto Aronica was a merely sour Pinkerton in “Butterfly.”
Whatever their level of quality, all generally hit their spots and elicited some sad faces, if not many real tears. And Carlo Rizzi (“Turandot”) and two youngsters, Alexander Soddy (“Bohème”) and Jader Bignamini (“Butterfly,” in his company debut) conducted with properly Puccinian balances of lushness and forward motion.

The steroidal “Turandot” staging, one of the Met’s two remaining Franco Zeffirelli productions, looks ever trashier and more unhelpfully, unevocatively excessive. “Bohème,” the other Zeffirelli, comes into intimate focus when the singers are strong and specific; on Wednesday it seemed looming and drafty. Anthony Minghella’s “Butterfly” production, which opened the Met’s 2006-07 season, is still a sleekly stylish, often elegant and moving show, a revealingly spare canvas for Cio-Cio-Sans more varied than Ms. Hui. But it’s starting to show its age — looking not sluggish, exactly, but a little scuffed.

Some vividness came in smaller roles: Lucas Meachem as a rueful, witty Marcello and Matthew Rose as a rueful, witty Colline in “Bohème”; Alexey Lavrov and Eduardo Valdes as a sonorous Ping and Pong in “Turandot”; Avery Amereau, a rising contralto, packing a great deal of chocolaty tone and restrained emotion into her few lines as Kate Pinkerton near the end of “Butterfly.”

Nothing was disastrous on any of these evenings, but nothing lingered in the mind or heart. For something that does, go see “The Exterminating Angel.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/03/arts ... erfly.html
John Francis

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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by lennygoran » Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:46 am

Sure sounds stupid to me-I trust no one for reviews-if I want to see it I go see it and make my own judgement-I don't trust Tommasini or Woolfe. And unless I've missed it no review from the NYTimes on the rather wonderful NYCO Dolores Claiborne 59E59th St theater-too much of what satisfies these critics is stupid productions of operas the Met hasn't done in years that they update-phooey on them-as it turns out we'll be in NYC this week for Exterminating Angel and Turandot. Regards, Len :x

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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by John F » Sat Nov 04, 2017 11:08 am

Eurotrash productions aren't stupid, they're smart in a perverse way. So, I think, are those who like and justify them.
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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Nov 04, 2017 11:29 am

I have a Puccini story. Don't know if I ever told it here. When I was in Germany, I visited a friend in Munich. Incredibly, she had taught at the same high school as I did in Maryland, and then moved back home. I wanted to go to a concert with her in this very musical city (she was very musical herself), so she took me to some fancy place whose name I cannot recall, and out marched a full orchestra and chorus in evening dress to perform--now get this--Puccini's Missa di Gloria, a perfectly awful work. Don't even bother with the YouTube unless you want to die from boredom.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by John F » Sat Nov 04, 2017 1:44 pm

Was that in the open air? It may have been the same square where I saw a staged "Simon Boccanegra" ca. 1967 (which too was boring, not the opera but the performance).
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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by Lance » Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:53 pm

Hmm, upon first listening to the Puccini Messa di Gloria, I was entranced with some of the vocal numbers and, of course, had to have it on records immediately. I was much younger then and taken with works by major composers that were a bit off their norm. One performance featured a soloist who had a remarkable voice -- pure golden tones -- however, he had the worst stage fright I've ever seen from a singer. Only a few notes came out in the first tenor selection and he stopped dead. The orchestra continued and it went on with the soloist just standing there looking hugely embarrassed (as I would).
jbuck919 wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 11:29 am
I have a Puccini story. Don't know if I ever told it here. When I was in Germany, I visited a friend in Munich. Incredibly, she had taught at the same high school as I did in Maryland, and then moved back home. I wanted to go to a concert with her in this very musical city (she was very musical herself), so she took me to some fancy place whose name I cannot recall, and out marched a full orchestra and chorus in evening dress to perform--now get this--Puccini's Missa di Gloria, a perfectly awful work. Don't even bother with the YouTube unless you want to die from boredom.
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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Nov 04, 2017 7:29 pm

Lance wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 5:53 pm
Hmm, upon first listening to the Puccini Messa di Gloria, I was entranced with some of the vocal numbers and, of course, had to have it on records immediately. I was much younger then and taken with works by major composers that were a bit off their norm. One performance featured a soloist who had a remarkable voice -- pure golden tones -- however, he had the worst stage fright I've ever seen from a singer. Only a few notes came out in the first tenor selection and he stopped dead. The orchestra continued and it went on with the soloist just standing there looking hugely embarrassed (as I would).
jbuck919 wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 11:29 am
I have a Puccini story. Don't know if I ever told it here. When I was in Germany, I visited a friend in Munich. Incredibly, she had taught at the same high school as I did in Maryland, and then moved back home. I wanted to go to a concert with her in this very musical city (she was very musical herself), so she took me to some fancy place whose name I cannot recall, and out marched a full orchestra and chorus in evening dress to perform--now get this--Puccini's Missa di Gloria, a perfectly awful work. Don't even bother with the YouTube unless you want to die from boredom.
You mean the Agnus Dei movement, which was actually encored in the performance I heard, as if any sensible listener would want to hear that twice. The Germans take their music very seriously, but a force like that would have been perfectly capable of performing the Mozart Mass in C Minor. Go figure.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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lennygoran
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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by lennygoran » Sat Nov 04, 2017 8:00 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 11:29 am
Puccini's Missa di Gloria, a perfectly awful work. Don't even bother with the YouTube unless you want to die from boredom.
Thanks, I wasn't familiar with this work-started listening-wonderful-I'll be back to listen to the whole thing! Regards, Len

A complaint occasionally voiced about Puccini’s Mass is that it is too "operatic". So what? Many of the most admired sacred works of the early baroque period are operatic: Monteverdi and Cavalli were shining examples of how great composers can serve two masters, the church and opera, equally well. Whether the young Puccini had then mastered the necessary skills for doing so is, however, open to question. The Messa di Gloria was completed in 1880 while he was still a student, but did not come to light again until 1950. It has all the suave melodic qualities of Puccini’s stage works, and receives a committed performance on this disc.

Puccini constantly underlays the texts with colourful orchestral writing, and in a few places the choir is all but upstaged by instrumental passages. The effect, though often impressive, is strangely uneven, as though the composer has casually drawn on secular sources for a sacred work. The Gloria has an unexpectedly dancing step. The four-part choral singing is accomplished throughout, but the high tessitura of Gratias animus tibi does Palombi’s voice no favours. The Mass is full of jolly tunes (including one in a decidedly waltz-like tempo) and clearly this is the work of a young composer determined to sweep away the cobwebs from conventional liturgical settings. The gentle Kyrie and Benedictus are, perhaps, the most overtly devotional sections, and Lundberg’s fine bass makes an impressive contribution to the latter. Considering the inspired way Puccini uses the soprano voice in his operas it is surprising that he did not find a place for it in the Mass.

After the Mass the two purely orchestral pieces on this disc, Preludio Sinfonico and Crisantemi (chrysanthemums), sound like makeweights. The former is short at 9:52, and gives the impression of an intermezzo looking for an opera. The latter, a brief elegy for Amedio de Savoy, Duke of Aosta, has a genuinely felt poignancy in contrast to the sketchy treatment of the Prelude. Recording quality is high, using 30-bit technology to improve definition and sound reproduction.

Roy D.Brewer

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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by barney » Sat Nov 04, 2017 8:16 pm

I'm ashamed to say that I don't know this work, though I know of it.
But it doesn't worry me if it comes across as operatic.
I really love the Rossini Stabat Mater, and that is certainly operatic, really dramatic and gorgeous.
If you don't already know that one, Len, then I have just done you an enormous favour. :D

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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Nov 04, 2017 9:53 pm

lennygoran wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 8:00 pm
jbuck919 wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 11:29 am
Puccini's Missa di Gloria, a perfectly awful work. Don't even bother with the YouTube unless you want to die from boredom.
Thanks, I wasn't familiar with this work-started listening-wonderful-I'll be back to listen to the whole thing! Regards, Len

I think you are missing my point, Len. By all means enjoy it if that's what you enjoy, and I have admitted that I like Puccini's operas (very much in fact), but this was not a high point in his compositional career. Operatic aspects are irrelevant, as they also characterize the masses of composers such as Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and were always frowned upon by official Catholicity no matter how great they might have been. For example, there has always been a rule, still in existence if little observed, that the Gloria and Credo must be intoned by the celebrant (priest or bishop) without a repeat from the choir. That is why Renaissance masses always start with the words after the intonation.

As for the Stabat Mater, it is a better concert piece than the Mass, but my main memory of it is that when Carl Weinrich was about to retire (mandatory at age 68 in those days), he had the Princeton Chapel Choir sing the Inflammatus movement as the anthem in his last appearance. Everyone in the choir realized that this was a ridiculous choice and unworthy of him, but we went along with it.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by barney » Sun Nov 05, 2017 2:40 am

That's really interesting, John. I knew none of that. So what of the great Masses by the great composers - were the relevant sections also to be intoned? Obviously they were also to be sung? You remind me of how little I know of Catholic practice as it is actually performed - I'm an adult convert to Protestantism.
Can I ask your own religious disposition? Feel free not to answer if I am intruding.

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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by lennygoran » Sun Nov 05, 2017 7:09 am

barney wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 8:16 pm
Rossini Stabat Mater, and that is certainly operatic, really dramatic and gorgeous.
If you don't already know that one, Len, then I have just done you an enormous favour. :D
Barney thanks-I know that work-I adore it and play it frequently-maybe even more than his operas! Regards, Len :D

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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by lennygoran » Sun Nov 05, 2017 7:17 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 9:53 pm

I think you are missing my point, Len. By all means enjoy it if that's what you enjoy, and I have admitted that I like Puccini's operas (very much in fact), but this was not a high point in his compositional career.
It may not have been his high point but as you say I can still derive much pleasure from it. Puccini's Edgar may not be his best opera but when we saw it at Dicapo many years ago we enjoyed it alot. You go to see a major artist's retrospective-not every painting may be his high point-for example the retropspectives on Edward Hopper over the years-while for me his early works pale by later achievements the earlier works can give much pleasure. Regards, Len

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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Nov 05, 2017 1:34 pm

lennygoran wrote:
Sun Nov 05, 2017 7:17 am
jbuck919 wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 9:53 pm

I think you are missing my point, Len. By all means enjoy it if that's what you enjoy, and I have admitted that I like Puccini's operas (very much in fact), but this was not a high point in his compositional career.
It may not have been his high point but as you say I can still derive much pleasure from it. Puccini's Edgar may not be his best opera but when we saw it at Dicapo many years ago we enjoyed it alot. You go to see a major artist's retrospective-not every painting may be his high point-for example the retropspectives on Edward Hopper over the years-while for me his early works pale by later achievements the earlier works can give much pleasure. Regards, Len
Very good. As a matter of fact, some years ago I saw a Hopper exhibit at the Boston Museum with our own Karl Henning. I have to admit that I only pretended to like his work. I appreciate a lot of art, but his escapes me. It is good to know that you can truly appreciate him.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Nov 05, 2017 1:57 pm

barney wrote:
Sun Nov 05, 2017 2:40 am
That's really interesting, John. I knew none of that. So what of the great Masses by the great composers - were the relevant sections also to be intoned? Obviously they were also to be sung? You remind me of how little I know of Catholic practice as it is actually performed - I'm an adult convert to Protestantism.
Can I ask your own religious disposition? Feel free not to answer if I am intruding.
I'm an atheistic fellow traveler, as I must be if I am to be a church organist and accept the parish as like a family, which is the norm in the US. I dissemble. This is not unusual for church musicians. John Rutter openly professes his own lack of belief. Nevertheless, I grew up an educated Roman Catholic and probably know more about that church than I will ever know about anything else.

The Missa Solemnis was never used as a real Mass, thought that was the original intent. As for the masses of Haydn, I don't know for sure, but they were probably (and probably still are) intoned with a repetition of the opening words, even if it is against the rules. How, you might ask, did a celebrant know what key to start in? That's a complicated issue as well. Musical priests very discretely heard the sound of a pitch pipe. Others just ran off out of key and the choirmaster had to supply the correct starting note. (If you've ever heard a service from St. Peter's Basilica, you would think that the pope has absolute pitch. In fact, he can intone in any old key he wants. It is the organist who has absolute pitch and will just follow up appropriately.) Even today, in my Anglican parish, I give the opening line of the Gloria (in English, to the setting by Healey Willan) to the priest, and he invariably repeats it with a tin ear, so that I have to bring the congregation in on the correct note.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by John F » Sun Nov 05, 2017 3:00 pm

barney wrote:
Sun Nov 05, 2017 2:40 am
That's really interesting, John. I knew none of that. So what of the great Masses by the great composers - were the relevant sections also to be intoned? Obviously they were also to be sung?
From my study of Mozart and his times, I can say that in those times practices varied locally, according not only to tradition but to the preference of the local archbishop. In Mozart's short masses (called missa brevis) for the Salzburg cathedral he did not set the opening words of the Credo, which were to be sung in plainchant by the celebrant, the chorus and orchestra entering with "patrem omnipotentem." Later, as in the great mass in C minor, he set those words too. That mass was not composed for use in a particular church but the earlier ones were, and in some of them too Mozart set those words, for example (obviously) in the Credo Mass K.257.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaxhxu05XxM
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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by lennygoran » Sun Nov 05, 2017 4:24 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Sun Nov 05, 2017 1:34 pm
It is good to know that you can truly appreciate him.
I would have to say he's one of our favorite American painters. Regards, Len

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Re: The Met's week: a stupid review

Post by barney » Sun Nov 05, 2017 4:43 pm

Thank you to both Johns for informative replies.
Tin ears, alas, are a problem inside and outside church services. But people want to sing, and it's a lot better than some other things they might do.

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