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Don’t mess with Puccini fans BI-YOCH!!!
I don't give a fach: opera under the influence with a dash of non sequiturs...
La Divina (December 2, 1923 – September 16, 1977)
There’s a beautiful oil painting of her in the foyer of the Teatro La Finice. When I saw it I felt such reverence. This is the opera house that launched her career! This is where she famously learned the part of Elvira in I Puritani in a single day while completing a run as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre. Talk about a total 180 in terms of repertoire!!!
I remember not being able to buy coffee from a machine because I didn’t have the 30 cents. I performed in every hospital, every nursing home. Once a lady was crying. She said, ‘I have really strong pain, but when you sang, it disappeared.’ And from then, I took what I am doing seriously.
The new Blu-ray/DVD release of “Ariadne aug Naxos” contains two major selling points. The first is opera superstar-hunk Jonas Kaufmann singing the notoriously punishing role of Bacchus. The second is the fact that this is NOT the oft performed 1916 “Ariadne” that audiences have come to regard as the “definitive” version. Rather, it is a sort of restoration of the original 1912 1 act “Ariadne” that is preceded by Molière’s “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.” (Sort of.) The director, Sven-Eric Bechtolf, has constructed a clever framing device that takes great liberties with Molière’s original play by opening the events of the evening with a poet who tries to cheer up a recently widowed countess by telling her a story which, just happens to be, “Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.”
The production is fanciful and creative (if not exactly groundbreaking), and Mr. Bechtolf throws in some inspired bits of staging that yield dividends in terms of pure entertainment value. But the concept feels a tad overwrought.
Musically speaking, it’s a fascinating listen. Yes, the wonderfully lush overture is now gone, but in return we get to hear some of the beautiful incidental music that Strauss composed to accompany “Gentillome.” Those who are familiar with “Ariadne,” will enjoy hearing the small musical differences in act 2 as well.
In some ways, Molière’s play is a better set up for the opera proper. Though we are denied some of Strauss’ best music from the prologue, the play provides more of a context. The richest man in Vienna, a philistine with pretensions that lean toward the upper crust, decides to throw an extravagant party. For his guests, he commissions an opera-seria based on the legend of “Ariadne,” which he finds too dreary, so he decides to throw in a Commedia Dell’arte troupe and a flashy fireworks show.
One of the major complaints about “Ariadne” is that the mix of tragedy and comedy feels incongruent (I disagree). But the play provides an excellent reason to mix Commedia Dell’arte with grand opera. In addition, the play provides a fascinating insight into what it meant to be bourgeois in the eyes of the society around the time Strauss’ opera takes place.
Sven-Erik Bechtolf keeps the drama moving at a lithe, buoyant pace. Rolf Glittenburg’s arid, imposing drawing room set is comely, if not ravishing. There are touches of surreal imagery, the costumes are surreal, exaggerated rococo mixed with some modern dress. (The period is never really specified, but that’s not really an issue.)
The real news her is Mr. Kaufmann’s Bacchus. Singing with his famous tenor (which continues to darken with baritonal depths) this was a Bacchus worth celebrating. The role is typically a mere test of endurance. For a tenor to simply get through this tessitura-taxing part is an accomplishment in and of itself. Mr. Kaufmann more than rises to the challenge, he actually manages to bring nuance and artistry to Strauss’ lyrical outpourings in the final moments of the opera.
Alas, the same cannot be said for the rest of the cast. Emily Magee’s rich, dramatic soprano is ideally suited to the part of Ariadne, but her expressively barren performance undercuts her luscious singing. Elena Mosuc’s shrill, metallic sound banishes all hopes for a winning Zerbinetta. Still, this is Mr. Kaufmann’s show, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Attempting to watch “Les Misérables.” This will be the first time I’ve seen the film since I saw it in theaters and swore I would never watch it again. (Oh, the promises we make.) So far it’s a big list of “stills.” Hugh Jackman still can’t sing, Anne Hathaway is still cloying, Russell Crowe still doesn’t seem to know what film he’s in, the direction is still a hodgepodge of uncomfortable cross-cuts and closeups and the musical is still the same, loud, heaving pile of saccharine that landed on Broadway so many years ago. The difference is the film doesn’t have Trevor Nunn’s ingenious staging to mask it’s shabbier bits.
I LOVE Meryl Streep. (I really do!) She’s my favorite actress and I worship the ground she walks on. But was it really necessary to cast her as the witch in the upcoming film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods?” Hollywood is not a kind place for women (as we all know), and whenever a great play is adapted into a film, Ms. Streep is guaranteed to get the part. This has more to do with the fact that there are more plum roles for women (of all ages) in the theater than there are in movies, but it also speaks to how literal minded Hollywood tends to be.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that Ms. Streep is going to blow us all away as she so consistently does, but there should be more roles for women in movies because there are a variety of wonderful stage actresses who would have been splendid as the witch. I deeply wish the producers of “Into the Woods” had cast a great musical theater actress (Bernadette Peters comes to mind). Veteran musical theater actors can bring more to a movie musical than those of film and straight-theater.
I enjoyed Tim Burton’s controversial adaptation of “Sweeney Tood.” I thought it retained the luster and macabre spirit of the stage musical and clarified the story. However, I was very disappointed with the casting of Johnny Depp, another actor I absolutely love. There was nothing wrong with Mr. Depp’s acting and singing per se, the problem was in the details. Like Russell Crowe in “Les Miserables,” Mr. Depp’s singing was pleasant, sonorous, and colorless. Rather than shape Sondheim’s phrases with vocal expressivity, Mr. Depp sang (with what seemed like a lot of help from AutoTune) as though he were the frontman of an emo rock band.
I’m sure Ms. Streep will be great. But there are other actresses who would also have been great.
“As a producer of new musicals, I have become increasingly concerned that lyric writing is not getting the attention it deserves. The lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein have stood the test of time and show us how metaphor, poetry and simplicity have been lost in the age of Twitter and texting.” - Robyn Goodman (executive producer of The Bucks County Playhouse)
Olga Peretyatko in “I Puritani”…YUM! She may not be have the prim, pristine sound of Angela Meade, but she sings with expressively and has a personal vocal message unlike Ms. Meade’s bland, guileless stage persona…