Wonder bass-baritone and cheesy action hero, Baron Jose' Van Dam, after an extraordinary career bids farewell to opera live on Arte TV (and via the web) later tonight, via satellite from Brussels. Conducted by Marc Minkowski, directed by Laurent Pelly.
In the history of cinematic cool, few images can beat Gerard Philipe's sad eyed lover in Devil in the Flesh -- a rebel without a cause when James Dean was still playing basketball (and being mentored by a paedophile pastor) in Fairmount High School, Indiana. Remaking the Autant-Lara masterpiece without Gerard Philipe is a bit like remaking Casablanca without Bogart; and even worse,the director chosen for the project is, of all people, Gérard Corbiau -- the Belgian who made the 1994 film Farinelli about the famous Italian castrato. Corbiau is therefore taking a crack at turning Raymond Radiguet's 1923 novel Le Diable Au Corps into a filmed opera,this time.
Fay Weldon (ummm?) is writing both the libretto and screenplay, and the music has been
composed by Alain Jomy.
The leads haven't yet been designated, but the main character's parents will be sung by José van Dam and Frederica von Stade.
(Click here to view one photo from the night of the recital.)
This recital. just. this recital. If I had to describe it in one sentence, it would be: “Old and depressing German Lieder, accompanied by a sweaty pianist, sung by an equally old and mildly depressing baritone whose name is routinely confused with a Belgian martial artist (The Muscles from Brussels), who took about fifteen poems to get a proper warm-up.”
Thankfully I had lovely seats nel primo palco (La Scala’s equivalent of the MET’s parterre box), and at least I had dressed comfortably in a pair of pair of vintage Levi's 505s that I had bought at B-fly on Corso di Porta Ticinese, which I had tucked into my Belfiore handmade riding boots (the store is located right behind Piazza Wagner, which is two blocks from la tomba di Verdi where he is buried nella Casa di Reposo per Musicisti). On top I wore a simple, white gauze eyelet blouse from Pupi Solari, covered by my vintage brown cashmere Pringle cardigan found at Shabby Chic on via B.Cellini. I threw all my crap into a vintage Gucci hobo bag with midollino (bamboo) handles, which had been gifted from my mother.
Roberto Giordano (pianist) and José Van Dam made their entrances promptly at 8:00 pm, and although I knew that Giordano was young, I did not know that Giordano was moderately hawt (however, all of that hawtness was quickly erased by his incredibly image-heavy-loading website, and [gah] excessive use of the ‘scroll tag’ on his homepage). The poor boy either runs hot, or was extremely nervous, because he proceeded to wipe-down his hands, face, and piano keys between almost every movement with a white handkerchief. Giordano’s polished appearance in a well-fitted tuxedo with a crisp, white oxford, was contrasted by Van Dam’s dreary black dinner jacket, baggy black pants, and black silk, mock-turtleneck. Yes, you heard right: a silk blend mock-tutleneck, last seen in 1995 on stand-up comedians, and on MLB players in their ‘street gear’ for clubhouse post-game interviews.
But Van Dam just didn’t have it together for his recital. It was only after one hour into the recital – while fifteen poems had elapsed – that he was properly warmed-up. After those first fifteen Lieder, he sang adequately, and finished Winterreise with decent grace, sweetness, and care. If only he had been able to master the first hour, the recital would have been much more pleasurable.
But for those first dozen poems (save Der Lindenbaum, in rare treatment, which he sang remarkably slow and sweet, with great pronunciation and tenderness), he was rusty. He did poorly with the higher registers where he had to sing forte. In contrast, his high register with pianissimo was fair. His voice was generally flat, without much emotion. He was also erratic, and while some movements were disastrous, others were adequate and capable.
His body language was also distressing. He sang into his chest, with his head tucked towards the floor. Clutched tightly in his fist during the entire recital was a print-out (of what I’m guessing) Wilhelm Müller’s Lieder, which he would consult during the brief pauses between the poems. He barely moved, didn’t emote with his arms at all, and had his feet planted in the same spot for the entire hour-and-a-half.
Another drawback was that Van Dam didn't take an intermission. Having arrived at Teatro alla Scala after drinking four glasses of Alpi Cozie at home, and un latte macchiato at Trussardi alla Scala Café, one certainly can do so in good faith knowing that there will be an intermission no less than sixty, and no more than ninety minutes into the performance. But there was no pee-break, nor did he grant his audience much-needed repose from such a heavy pall of sadness, which I though was pretty lame. I mean, droning German Lieder (lol Winterreise lol) for almost two hours straight? He also didn’t take an encore. I’ve never seen him in recital before, so maybe this is modus operandi, and he just doesn’t “do” encores (or bis, as we call it at La Scala). But almost all singers use this in recital as a chance show personality and wit; clearly Van Dam didn’t think it was necessary. My bladder was pretty pleased, though.