La Divina sings Cinderella’s final scene. Is there anything she couldn’t sing? I once came across a video of her singing the “Liebestod” in Italian, and it was one of the most beautiful accounts of that piece of music I’ve ever heard.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to report that Baz Luhrmann’s new film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” is simply divine! This comes as quite a shock as I was expecting this movie to be a big garish disaster ever since the project was announced. Luhrmann is a very talented, very wildly unpredictable director. Things tend to be hit and miss with him. The jury is still out on whether “Moulin Rouge” is actually a good film, and his last film, “Australia,” was just god awful. Then again, there is his highly personal take on “Romeo & Juliet” and the charmer “Strictly Ballroom.”
But how confounded my expectations were. Members of the literati, get ready to hurl hardcovers my way: I have never been much of a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of love, self-invention and class conflict. Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Luhrmann’s film is no profound cinematic masterpiece. Rather, it is a classic summer movie disguised as prestige drama. It is a loud, gaudy, operatic spectacle that frames an intimate love story. What’s most impressive here is how Luhrmann deftly balances his signature styles as a director to achieve the right tone. His famously overripe romanticism is evident early in the film during the hedonistic party scenes and in moments that require sweep and old-school hollywood grandeur. But I was amazed at how easily and willingly Mr. Luhrmann is able to tone things down and film intimate, emotionally honest, straight-forward scenes between his characters. He’s a showman, yes, but he’s also, first and foremost, a storyteller.
So go! Get a ticket now and see this amazing movie. It’s probably the only movie this summer with a title that isn’t followed by a number. (see: Iron Man 3)
I take no pleasure in tearing down singers (I really don’t). But so much has been made of the soprano Danielle de Niese, and what a prodigy she is. Article after article mentions how she became the youngest singer ever accepted into the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, her professional operatic debut at the age of 15 with the Los Angeles Opera, her Metropolitan Opera debut at 19 as Barbarina in Mozart’s “Nozze di Figaro” alongside Renée Fleming, Bryn Terfel and Cecilia Bartoli. These accomplishments are nothing to scoff at. They are mighty and considerable. But, oh, the glorification…spare me! It strikes me as just another example of the toxic fetishization of prodigies in our society and, to a larger extent, a product of America’s youth obsession which seems to be manifesting itself more and more in the opera world. The younger and faster a singer gets to the “finish line” (an international career), the better.
As a young singer, I can’t help but feel a bit bad about myself when I read articles (and there are plenty) about singers like Ms. de Niese, and I suspect others feels the same way. Never mind that, as a young tenor, my voice won’t really emerge until the age of 25, if then. Young singers everywhere are feeling the pressure to reach the Met by the age of 19 (an absurd notion for 90% of most singers out there). Ms. de Niese is the exception, not the rule, but the exceptions receive the majority of the press, creating a skewed perspective as to what it actually takes to build a successful international career, to say nothing of developing a young voice.
But back to the subject of Ms. de Niese. At 34, still very young, but at an age when her voice should be in full bloom, her sound is shrill, thin, metallic and deeply manufactured. Perhaps making your Met debut at 19 doesn’t mean you’ll be a great singer? Everything is subjective, and if comments on YouTube are any indication, Ms. de Niese clearly has her loyal band of followers. But I simply can’t listen to her. Even some singers with technical shortcomings can compensate with sounds that are intriguing and beguiling in ways that keep listeners coming back for more (Marina Poplavskaya comes to mind). But Ms. de Niese’s sound isn’t just pallid, it is thoroughly and consistently monochromatic, making it both boring and unpleasant to listen to. She is also one of the first singers I’ve ever had trouble hearing at the Met. While attending a performance of the odious “The Enchanted Island,” sitting in the mid-orchestra section, I could barely make out Ms. de Neise’s singing. Her voice was so thoroughly devoid of resonance and squillo (ping), that she was practically inaudible - a troubling notion when one considers that “The Enchanted Island” was a Baroque pastiche with a reduced orchestra and I wasn’t that far from the stage.
This is all such a shame because Ms. de Niese clearly has the makings of an enthralling actress (if she’d ever find an intention to play other than “cute”), and she is an insanely beautiful woman. “Giulio Cesare’s” Cleopatra has become one of her signature roles, largely due to a notorious Bollywood style dance she performs in David McVicar’s Glyndebourne production. If she could sing properly, it would be the perfect melding of a role, actress and singer. I don’t begrudge the fact that she is an attractive young woman, though many do, and it is understandable. I really begrudge the media’s glorification of her status as a prodigy. I feel the emphasis on that is sending a far more dangerous message than anything else. As I said before, a young voice needs time, lots of time, to develop. When discussing her career in The New York Times, the wonderful mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato said, “It was a slow birth.” I hate to say this, but whenever Ms. de Niese was on stage during “The Enchanted Island,” my thoughts repeatedly drifted to Ms. DiDonato’s previous scene or aria. She was far more interesting to watch and listen to. Last weekend, the Met broadcasted the McVicar production of “Cesare,” that Ms. de Niese had originally starred in, with Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra. Singing with shimmering sound, bringing new shades and nuances to the role of the crafty queen with her prodigious acting skills, I couldn’t help but feel as though the much older Ms. Dessay was eons more compelling and effective than Ms. de Niese could ever be. Being a prodigy may make for good copy, but it doesn’t make for good opera.
Pop Culture Opera Moments
Donna Meagle gets her Lakmé on at Leslie’s Wedding on “Parks & Recreation”
Super exciting news! I’ll be the lead tenor in “The Producers!” So…yea I just basically show up in one scene, look aryan and belt “Springtime for Hitler.” but still…
I’ve got my ice blue contacts ready, and my hairdresser is making me a blonde next week. I’m excited…I have NO IDEA how it’s gonna look.
Natalie Dessay “Non disperar”
I have a confession to make. I’m not really interested in Baroque opera at all. (Yes, opera buffs begin stoning me to death.) The genre has always struck me as an overly long form of musical theater with fantastic, but far too many musical numbers.
However, as we all know, once in a blue moon a production or performer can come along and change your preconceived notions. For a long time I thought “Traviata” was a soppy, musty bore until I saw Willy Decker’s spare, erotically charged production with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon. Now I’m convinced it’s an incredible piece of theater.
The stars seem rightly aligned for the Met’s “Giulio Cesare”. David McVicar is a director of endless ingenuity, and Natalie Dessay is performer who continues to evolve and astound in surprising ways. This pint-sized soprano continues to challenge what is possible for an opera singer to achieve on stage.
If I can get over my hang-ups on Baroque opera, and my phobia of countertenors (the first time I saw a countertenor I lost my sex drive for a whole month) this “Giulio Cesare” ought to be a rollicking good time!
And this is not great. In fact, it’s pretty bizarre. What a weird choice! Doing a lap around the stage before collapsing. I get where she’s going with it, but it’s campy, a bit silly and very insincere.
Disclaimer:To all the users who are about to send me anonymous insults, calling me nasty names and suggesting that I die for criticizing Renne Fleming, I need to mention that I am a worshiper in the house of Renee. I just tend to be baffled by her weird interpretive strokes occasionally.
This wonderful! When she’s good, she’s good! I don’t care what people say about her. Her performance in “Der Rosenkavalier” was one of the most magical nights at the opera I’ve ever had.
My favorite part of “Ann Nicole: The Opera” which, by the way, is one f%$#ing awesome opera. I know some operagoers were incensed or turned off by the subject matter, but opera has a long history of trashy dizzy dames. For god sakes, has anyone heard of “Lulu” or “Manon?” And, if something artful and intelligent like this opera attracts loads of people (tickets were apparently impossible to come by), isn’t it worth considering? I say yes!
Another classic scene from “Valley of the Dolls”
I wish I had a mother who was kind enough to remind me to do my bust exercises every night! I also find it odd that my mother doesn’t borrow $50 from me every week. She’s also never told me that all I have is a body. I’m practically abused if you think about it…
It is well known that Strauss loved the soprano voice. He composed some of the most beautiful music in all of opera for sopranos. But he also saved some of his best work for basses and baritones. Barak’s aria from “Die Frau ohne Schatten” is one of the most beautiful passages Strauss ever composed. The character Mandryka from “Arabella” has some top-tier Strauss, but no one seems to notice this. In “Daphne,” Strauss showers Peneios, Daphne’s father, with music that you simply want to bathe in. And the music for Jupiter’s renunciation of love in the last act of “Die Liebe der Danae” is just as good as the Marschallin’s music in “Der Rosenkavalier.”
So what gives? Why aren’t their more baritones championing these superb pieces of music. Every time a baritone comes out with a recording, you can pretty much guess what you’ll be hearing: some “Don Giovanni,” that Verdi aria from “Don Carlo,” perhaps a little “Onegin” thrown in and the most tired, boring Donizetti arias you’ve heard a million times.
Fellow baritone’s, there is so much great music out there, it’s just a matter of studying rarer works in opera…
Watched “Rosenkavalier” for the billionth time and I teared up, as usual, during the Marschallin’s monologue. Her commentary on the inexorability of time feels more relevant to me than ever. I love the moment where she talks about waking up in the middle of the night to stop the all the clocks.
No matter how many times I see this opera, I am always moved by it. The characters just feel so real and profoundly human. Despite the drubbing Renee Fleming took for “Armida” and “Traviata,” her Marschallin is the stuff of legend. She moves me to tears and touches my soul. Isn’t that why we go to the opera in the first place”?