Under the Wire

Metropolitan Opera House
6 March 2020

Der fliegende Hollände

Music: Richard Wagner; Libretto:Richard-Wagner/Heinrich Heine

Dutchman, Evgeny Nikitin; Senta, Anja Kampe ; Erik, Sergey Skorokhodov; Daland, Franz-Josef Selig; Mary, Mihoko Fujimura; Steersman, David Portillo; Senta Dancer, Alison Clancy;

Conductor, Valery Gergiev; Production, François Girard; Set designer, John Macfarlane; Costume designer, Moritz Junge; Lighting designer, David Finn; Projection Designer, Peter Flaherty; Choreographer, Carolyn Choa; Dramaturg, Serge Lamothe

Friday night performance of Der Fliegender Hollander at the Met, 6 March 2020. A delightful trip to NYC with sister Mattie and we visited with Fran, who lives in Manhattan. This was our last major activity before Covid shut the world down.

I had been looking forward to this new production of Dutchman for over a year. Considered going to Quebec to see it summer 2019, but decided not to. This was a production designed by François Girard, who created the Parsifal from 2013 — which I loved (see Wagner Winter Weekend — we saw it live in the theatre in 2018), so expectations were high.

Truth be told, we were disappointed. How could anything measure up to the sublime Parsifal, that made all the previous productions seem anachronistic?

We blamed a lot of it on the conductor. In many parts the orchestra overpowered the singers, and I even heard what sounded, to my untrained ear, like some flubs in some of the sections. Thing about some of the out-there productions of Wagner is that the music shines through anyway. And there was nothing hideously wrong with this production — not a circus or a freak show. Just not as entrancing as I was hoping. Didn’t come up to the standard of Girard’s Parsifal. He’s scheduled to create Lohengrin at the Met next season. Fingers crossed.

Flying Dutchman showing the Dutchman with the ship.
See what i mean about dark?

We were looking forward to seeing the production in the HD format the next Saturday, but of course, everything was shuttered by then.

So, another Covid explanation ¾ The HD performance was cancelled but they had filmed a practice run of it so that’s what’s on the Met on Demand site now. Here’s what they say about it as an introduction

In March 2020, the Met made the difficult choice to cancel the remainder of the 2019–20 season in an effort to keep audiences, performers, and staff members safe from the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision also meant ending the Live in HD season early, only days before a scheduled transmission of François Girard’s stirring new production of Der Fliegende Holländer. Fortunately, as part of regular preparations for an HD broadcast, a prior performance of the opera was recorded as a camera rehearsal . . .

So this is based on the in-house experience and a few viewings on TV. As we thought, the projected performance came off better — better sound and not as dark because of the backlighting. But still really dark. Such that the final act party looked more like a funeral. OK, that could be intentional but no festivity, no cheer. Just saying . . .

The overture sounds over a big eye in the background with a dancing figure, presumably Senta (based on the red dress — she’s the only character who wears a color) gyrating to the music. I’m not sure if directors think we all don’t have the attention span for just music so they add these dance figures. Sometimes it adds something, sometimes it just distracts. This one wasn’t so bad, although not necessary, IMO.

Green bean salad

This is one we had at a totally hip resaturant in the South Channel area of Boston, named after 2 trees.


We had it at the restaurant and it was really good. I looked it up on the menu the next day and it said, “summer beans in a buttermilk-dill dressing with cherry tomatoes and almonds.’
So here’s how I made it


Jackie said to trim the beans and put them in boiling salted water for 4 minutes, which is what I did. Ok, maybe 5 minutes.

The dressing was

  • buttermilk
  • snipped fresh dill
  • finely chopped scallions
  • some mayonnaise
  • some lime juice
  • sprouts

Cook the beans, drain and add the tomatoes and scallions to the hot beans to cook a little
Saute sliced almonds (I might also try to use pepitas) in a little olive oil with a touch of sugar
Toss it all together with the sprouts — I used the spicy mix that they have at WFM — and the nuts.
Delish!

Chicken Noodle Soup

Another not bad chicken soup. Basic noodle-vegetable and again made from the leftover rotisserie chick from the supermarket. To make the broth this time I put in a couple of parsnips and didn’t have any leek. Other than that, the same.

Chicken broth

That is, saute in olive oil some chopped up carrots — I use the organic carrots that come with greens on top — they just seem more flavorful; this time I had some spring onions — they look like overgrown scallions; a few stalks of celery with some leaves; an unpeeled potato; a couple of chunked; unpeeled parsnips; a couple of thyme sprigs. Saute all that for a while, with some salt, and add in the rest of the roast chicken and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and let it cook gently for a couple of hours. Strain into a container and refreigerate

Chicken noodle soup

To make the soup

Much more care with this part of it. Chop small and saute carrot, celery, more of the spring onions. To which add the chicken broth and a few handfuls of mini pasta shells. And another sprig of thyme.

Seerve with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream.

Back to the Future

Akhnaten

I saw the 2000 Boston Lyric Opera production of Akhnaten and loved it. So we eagerly anticipated this opera at the Met. In view of some recent new stagings — Traviata, Samson, to name a couple, underwhelming to say the least — we didn’t know what to expect.

We attended the HD transmission on Saturday, Nov. 23. (I also went to to the encore on Dec. 4. I even looked into taking a quick trip to NYC for a live performance but they were all sold out.)

The visuals, the stage action, the sets, the costumes, and of course the voices and orchestra, all blended into a kind of lavish extravaganza of constant motion. We were skeptical about the jugglers — seriously? But they were perfect. The “skills ensemble” as they are listed on the program, propelled the opera through the acts making the whole …… The music is so driving, the repetitive actions of the juggling figures complemented the flow. Now I’m thinking more operas should have jugglers, or maybe just the Egyptian ones — Aida, Thais??

Akhnaten ascends the stairway to heaven

The sets were fairly simple: a staircase (that looks to make a repeat appearance in Agrippina), a huge hanging disk that shifts color throughout.

Costumes were another matter — some way over the top, like the doll’s head gown that Akhnaten wears, some were downright austere, like the flowy robes worn by the emperor and his consort, devoid of any accessories, manage to fill the stage with red.

Queen Nefertiti, Akhnaten, and Queen Tye

The central figure of Akhnaten is a man overcome with religious zeal, a down-home family guy, who is however clueless about his people. As a countertenor, the male role is in a higher range than his mezzo-soprano wife, Nefertiti. The other main characters are Queen Tye, Ahknaten’s mother and Akhnaten’s dead father who acts a a sort of stage manager, à la Our Town, telling us what’s happening.

Glass is described at “minimalist.” I don’t know how that translates to what we saw on the screen, but Akhnaten doesn’t sound like any other opera I’m familiar with. Tosca it is not. On the other hand, I’m not sure this is the future of opera. I’d read somewhere that Akh is already out-of-date. As a music drama, I can’t see many others following this example. The repetitive music, the abstract characterizations set up a distance, from the audience so that there was a lack of emotion throughout. The set of daughters wore identical blue wigs and white gowns, and they are just tha, a set, no individual personalities.

Notes

  • Zachary James is our new bass-barihiunk.
  • We knew that the nudie tableau of the emperor descending the staircase was going to be sanitized for the HD audience. If they hadn’t dressed him in tidy-whities it might have been more effective as a scene rather than a protest.
  • Joyce DiDonato hosted for the HD movie. She was wonderful and we all love her.
  • Backstage at intermission, we watched jugglers hanging around, tossing multiple balls in the air as you and I would fiddle with our coat buttons.
  • Akhnaten: Anthony Roth Costanzo
  • Queen Tye: Akhnaten’s mother: Dísella Lárusdóttir
  • Nefertiti, Akhnaten’s wife: J’Nai Bridges
  • Amenhotep III: Zachary James DEBUT
  • Conductor: Karen Kamensek DEBUT
  • Production: Phelim McDermott
  • Set and Projection Designer: Tom Pye
  • Costume Designer: Kevin Pollard
  • Lighting Designer: Bruno Poet
  • Choreographer: Sean Gandini

Afterword

Might I add here how disgusted I am at our local PBS station WGBH for not broadcasting the Great Performances show of this opera. To date (29 April 2020) I have seen no notice of its being shown on WGBH or WGBX.

Quarantine Black Bean

So we are making soup to while away the indoor hours (don’t get me started . . .).

This is the “Best Black Bean Soup” from the New York Times recipe collection. I had a broth made from prosciutto ends and vegetables (leek, potato, carrot, bay leaf, celery).

Note: I use it for making soup, but otherwise I really don’t like celery. So I throw a lot of it away (in the trash, not down the disposal, of course). As an experiment, I froze the last leftover fresh celery I had — chunked it and put into a plastic bag and into the freezer. Seemed to work fine for soup, as it just gets all wilty anyway.

black bean soupI halved the recipe and followed it mostly. The chipotle in adobo was very hot so I was judicious in including it — just a few pieces and some of the adobo juice. I did not process it so just chopped/mashed it on the cutting board. Added a bit more as it was cooking.

I did make the garnishes they suggested — red onion laced with lemon juice (no lime on hand) and salt, chopped cilantro, sliced avocado, sour cream. They all added a nice zest to it all. And I processed the soup a little with the immersion blender, to get a mix of bean pieces and bean slurry.

The soup is filling; I made a cornbread from a mix (did I mention I have a lot of time at home) as an accompaniment. It was good, but I wouldn’t say it’s the best black bean soup I’ve made.

Opera Manqué, 2020 Edition

Week 2

From Opera Wire, 3 April 2020

A Comprehensive List of All Opera Companies Offering Free Streaming Services Right Now


Some of the opera venues that are now closed (indefinitely — how is this all going to end?) are now providing streaming productions on their websites. (You might have to register.) I bought a HDM1 cable to connect my computer to the TV.

Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro, Italyrossini-opera-festival-logo

The Rossini Opera Festival Launches Daily Live Streams From Its Opera Archives

In questi giorni in cui è fortemente consigliabile restare a casa, il Rossini Opera Festival vuole tenere compagnia ai propri fan.

Link to the list

Be sure to ACCETO the cookies.

Metropolitan Opera, NYC

Met to Launch “Nightly Met Opera Streams”

Leaving the Met

Leaving the Met after Dutchman, 6 March 2020

A free series of encore Live in HD presentations streamed on the company website during the coronavirus closure

Link to the list

Berlin Philharmonic

The Digital Concert Hall now free for everyone

The [Berlin] Philharmonie is closed – so we will come to you!

The Digital Concert Hall now free for everyone
The Philharmonie is closed – so we will come to you!

Redeem the voucher code BERLINPHIL by 31 March and receive free access to all concerts and films in the Digital Concert Hall.

Link to the list

Wiener Staatsoper

Live at home

Link to the list

A few others just in from Opera Wire

Teatro Regio di Torino Streams 

Teatro Massimo di Palermo Daily Streams

Bayerische Staatsoper Streams

Staatsoper unter den Linden

And here’s a site that lists them all

Your Guide to Free Opera Streaming This Month

The Trip to Glimmerglass

From the Archive
August 2016

Sweeney Todd and The Crucible

Anticipation . . .

One of the continuing attractions of Glimmerglass is that we get to look forward to it for months and months. Tickets to the operas are easy enough to get, but accommodations in Cooperstown are another matter. Must be the baseball connection.

This time we opted for a hotel right in town with a plush lobby and a veranda overlooking the lake where we could hang out. This proved to be a lifesaver because it was, like, 110 degrees, with about 2000% humidity the whole time we were there. So I hung out in the AC most of the time.

Sweeney Todd

The first performance was Sweeney Todd. I would never have chosen to attend Sweeney Todd . . .

[Not crazy about Sondheim — I thought he should have stopped after West Side Story.

I’ve read critics rhapsodizing about him. I read that the song in Sweeney, “She Was Beautiful,” is sublime beyond belief, and I just don’t get it. I am prepared to admit that I’m not sophisticated enough to appreciate the music.]

. . . but for Greer Grimsley in the title role. And he did not disappoint.

With no familiarity with previous productions, all I knew was the premise — the demon barber of Fleet Street. Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou (currently in Blue Bloods) in the Broadway production, and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter  in the Tim Burton movie. [HBC has played great characters in some of my favorite movies — Lady Jane Gray, Queen Elizabeth, the innkeeper in Les Miz, and could there have been a better Bellatrix??] But hadn’t seen either of these

Chatting in the elevator after the show, some of our fellow hotel guests didn’t get the point at all, and I could understand that. If you were expecting My Fair Lady you might have been unhappy.

They modernized the settings and that was OK with me. But it seemed the production sanitized the action somewhat. After the financial boon afforded by her newfound prosperity, the Mrs. Lovett character (played, I later learned, by Grimsley’s wife, Luretta Bybee) looked positively respectable.

About the experience

That was the night of the killer thunderstorms. New York state wasn’t experiencing the drought that Boston had that summer (2016) and there were some exciting thunderstorms most days we were there — late afternoon and evenings. We could watch the heavy thunderclouds and the rain as they swept down the lake.

At the evening performance, the hall lost power for a while before the start. It did come back on and the show wasn’t affected. But the rain had started up again by the time it was over, and was coming down pretty heavily as we all moved to the parking lot, which was basically a mud pit. I recalled my recurrent nightmare of not being able to find my car.

On the drive back — a long line of cars snaking along a 2-lane road back to town  — at times all I could see was the car in front of us. So we followed, slowly but surely.

The Crucible

This one was intense. Lots of sound and fury.

Based on the Arthur Miller play that in turn allegorizes the McCarthy hearings that were happening at the time, the 1960s.

The Proctors were sung by Jamie Barton as Elizabeth and Brian Mulligan as John. Although our draw was Jay Hunter Morris as the Judge, that was a small role. Barton and Mulligan were brilliant.

According to Wikipedia, The Crucible is an English language opera written by Robert Ward based on the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller. It won both the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the New York Music Critics Circle Citation. The libretto was lightly adapted from Miller’s text by Bernard Stambler.

We had listened to a CD of Crucible it in the car on the trip out — very dramatic with a high level of drama which translates as lots of loud music. Just as the original play had nothing to do with the reality of the Salem witch trials, so this opera isn’t a historic document. It mostly tugs at the human element of people caught up in events.

When Proctor is hanged in the final scene, it was chilling.

Odyssey Opera, 2019-2020

We are thrilled to see that this season’s theme is the Tudors — Henry VIII, Lady Jane Gray, Elizabeth I, and the like — with the tagline “Lose your head over great opera!”

The whole schedule is on the OO website. The 6 operas range from fully staged, semi-staged, and 2 concert performances. These are not the Donizetti trio [Maria Stuarda, Anna Bolena, Roberto Devereux] but less-well known works albeit by some composers we know.

I’m listening to Henry VIII right now on YouTube by Camille Saint Saens. OK, Samson et Dalila it’s not — doesn’t have the dripping sensuousness or even the pretty tunes — but I’m dying to see it all the same.

The rest of the season is just as enticing, including a world premier co-production with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project — The Chronicle of Nine by Arnold Rosner about the 9-day reign of Lady Jane Gray , and a concert performance of Britten’s Gloriana.

Il Trittico

December 2018

We had to travel to NYC as Trittico wasn’t on the HD schedule. Suor Angelica is one of my favorites and not often performed. We were all excited because we’d be there on about the 100th anniversary of its premier, December 1918 (time and place, because it opened at the Met).

After we had bought the tickets we learned that Placido Domingo was cast as Gianni Schicchi, like a bonus track. Evidently there was a big to-do about his 50th anniversary at the Met with a celebration on stage opening night. By the time of this performance some of the hoopla had died down. So imagine the collective gasp in the audience when a woman in civvies comes onto the stage at the beginning of Schicchi. We all held our breath as she announced that Mr. Domingo had a slight cold, but would be singing anyway. Hooray!!

We listened to the Met Opera Guild podcast about the trilogy on the drive down. The presenters stated that Trittico is 3 seemingly unrelated operas that Puccini composed as one and intended to be performed as a unit. Apparently the impetus was for each to have a different ambience — dramatic, spiritual, and comic. (I think they’re all in real time too, like Tosca.) Even better, 3 totally different settings — tugboats on the Seine, a sequestered religious community, and a medieval comedy/drama.

But they are related by desire in different manifestations — people in these operas all want something they don’t have. The duet in Tabarro drips with longing; the relatives in Schicci give new meaning to avarice; the nuns even have a discussion about it.

The Monitor: We’re not allowed Even in life, to nurture vain desires.
Sister Genevieve: Even though light, and candid and unselfish? Do you not ever wish for things?
The Monitor: Not I.
Another Sister: The same with me. Nor I.
A Novice (Timidly): Nor I.
Sister Genevieve: I do. I will confess it now….

True Grit

Il Tabarro

Question: In what opera does the mezzo-soprano sing a song about her cat?

Li merita! Vedessi!
He truly is deserving.
È il più bel gatto e il mio più bel romanzo
The dearest cat and my most fond romance;
Quando il mio Talpa è fuori,
When my husband is out
il soriano mi tiene compagnia.
Caporale, good boy, stays home with me.

If I were casting this I’d put the strongest singers in Tabarro, as it seems to be the least popular. And what I love about this opera is it’s soaring melodies contrasted with the coarseness of the setting. This production dates from 2007 by Tony Award–winning director Jack O’Brien. After the totally overwrought new productions of Samson et Dalilia and La Traviata (IMO) this was a breath of fresh air.

This picture from Tabarro is off the Met’s website. It’s odd because that’s not the view I had of the set. We were way up in the cheap seats and the view was decidedly from above, looking down on the boat and its characters.

tabarro

For this Wednesday night performance, Amber Wagner, whom we saw in Der Fliegende Holländer in 2017, did not sing Giorgetta. Instead we heard Tatiana Melnychenko.

Sister Act

Suor Angelica

Then there’s Suor Angelica, a totally BTFL opera with all female voices. Spiritual melodrama, with lovely tunes. Other audiences of this Suor run heard Kristine Opolais in the title role, but the Wednesday evening featured Elena Stikhina. We all thought she was wonderful. And now I look forward to her Norma next season with the BLO.

OTOH, Stephanie Blythe commands the stage when she’s on it. As la Princess, she swoops in, breaks Angelica’s heart, then strides out without so much as a look back.

Family Plot

Gianni Schicchi

In case we all didn’t know, Gianni Schicchi was a character in Canto XXX of Dante’s Divine Comedy. He was a real Florentine who shows up among the prevaricators in Inferno for impersonating the dying Busoni and dictating a false will.

ZITA
Who would ever have said
that when Buoso went to the grave
we would be weeping in earnest!

In the opera GS does the same as in Inferno — impersonate the dying man in order to falsify his will and leave the goods to his scheming relatives. But he tricks the rapacious relations and grabs most of the treasure for himself. Happy end is that the young couple, Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta and her babbino Rinuccio, can now marry on Mayday, as planned.

Beef Bone Broth

I have to say, my mother made the best beef broth. We all loved it and we had beef soup with little bits of meat, vegetables, and she used ditalini. Yum!

So we made the beef bone broth from the New York Times with a couple of variations. Whole Foods didn’t have beef knuckle, shank, oxtail, or even shin bones, so I used all bone-in short ribs. The trick was to smear the beef with tomato paste and olive oil and roast it for half hour or so.

Then make the broth with the roasted meat, adding the usual carrots, celery, onion. I added a leek. This recipe also calls for parsley, garlic — I put in a handful of peeled garlic— peppercorns, and cider vinegar. I did not put in the vinegar. It asked for dried shitake mushrooms, but I used some porcini.

The recipe also does not call for salt, but I added some.

This soup has been cooking off and on over the past week. In the off times it’s been frozen on the back porch (we’ve been below 20ºF all week).

I’ve finally strained it and I have one big container of broth to freeze.

So here’s the recipe. [The New York Times recipe]