Tomorrow evening Lorin Maazel bears witness to the traumatic events of September 11, 2001 in a gala concert at Rome's Auditorium Parco della Musica. He'll be conducting a performance of the massive, achingly spiritual, gorgeously sustained Brahms' German Requiem with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana and the chorus of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (and soloists soprano Jeanine De Bique and bariton Paul LaRosa). The concert can be heard live on Rai Radio 3 on September 11 at 8:30pm (Italian time).
More evidence for the "Stockhausen was a big huge bag of douche" case in a Lorin Maazel profile in the NYT, where the maestro also explains he could -- or could not -- take early retirement at 95.
Stockhausen referred to the “sentimental weakness of German Jewish
immigrants” who kept alive an “obscene love” for Romantic music, Mr.
Maazel said, then suggested that Mr. Maazel come close to a speaker to
hear a piece of his. “A tremendous blast came out of it which almost
destroyed my eardrum, which he knew perfectly well would happen,” Mr.
Maazel said. “Total monster.”
"Quick! Grab 40 to 50 of your closest friends and pool your money for this once-in-a-lifetime experience: The New York Philharmonic’s music director Lorin Maazel and his wife, Dietlinde Turban-Maazel, are offering their Castleton, Virginia, estate for $50,000 a night during the inauguration. The money will be donated to the Maazels’ nonprofit, the Châteauville Foundation, an organization that helps train young performance artists."
The estate boasts heated pools scattered among various guest houses, as well as, "commercial-size movie screen, a bowling alley, and a petting zoo". Full flickr set here of estate photos.
The most dangerous hitman, as we all know, is the ninja.
Invisible, he sneaks up behind you and presses that special nerve ending at the base of your neck and you drop dead in an instant -- and you never knew what hit you.
This is the Robert Carsen way, when he has to dispatch an enemy of his.
Graham Vick, Denis Krief, Giorgio Battistelli reacted to Maazel's and Zeffirelli's accusations of vulgarity and incompetence with counterarguments -- Lorin & Franco are "provincial", "ungenerous", "old", "pitiful", "pathetic".
Carsen instead, in today's Corriere della Sera, in the fourth episode of the Old Skool vs New Skool debate, chooses a different way. The way of the ninja.
Carsen spoke out in defense of the arts, "in this era of deep cuts to public funding", explained how in his own work he tries to mix thought and emotion just like the composers creates an union between text and music, and then he silently went for the kill:
"Artists should support their fellow artists because if they attack them, in a way they attack themselves, too, cheapening their own contribution to the art. I hope that, if I'm lucky enough to live and work as long as my distinguished colleagues Zeffirelli and Maazel have, I will not look back in anger, but I'll have the generosity of spirit to try to understand, and offer guidance, and help".
Those sneaky ninjas, as we said above, can be more deadly than Godzilla, can they.
After Lorin Maazel and then Franco Zeffirelli slammed, in Corriere della Sera, a long list of the directors they don't like (and the Salzburg Festival guilty of hiring them), the directors today strike back in the same paper (online today for subsribers only; for free starting tomorrow, in the paper's digital archives).
Today, an entire page is devoted to their response.
Graham Vick says:
"I am deeply saddened by this pathetic inability to accept that art is inextricably linked to change. Unfortunately one of Italy's problems is that power -- in politics, music and otherwise -- is always firmly in the hands of old people. Who ignore everything that has been accomplished by younger talents. I find this gross lack of generosity and humanity simply pitiful: these artists have received everything from music but I want to reassure them: we'll go ahead, following our path, knowing very well that after us new people will come with ideas thatwill innovate even more".
Giorgio Battistelli, composer and former artistic director of Verona's Arena:
"I'm appalled. Their ideas aren't even conservative, they're reactionary and provincial".
Jurgen Flimm, Intendant of Salzburg's Festival is laconic:
"Maestro Maazel says he's escaping from Salzburg? He hasn't been invited to conduct here since 2001".
Director Denis Krief:
"Apparently Zeffirelli and Maazel are confused: the fact that they don't like certain things doesn't change the fact that the resume of the directors they don't like is unimpeachable. It's not wise to innovate at all cost, for the sake of innovation: but the theater, to survive, needs to be open to new ideas and experimentation and freedom, it can't become a cult".
Opera Chic's suggestion for a peaceful resolution of the conflict: what about a nice game of Army of 2?
Zeffirelli calls Maazel's rant "a manifesto" and slams "laughable operas in Salzburg", "the handful of bums who run Europe's opera houses", savaging productions "that are ridiculous but don't even make you laugh", saying that "it's gettingworse and worse".
Zeffirelli's sh^tlist is long: and it even includes Opera Chic's beloved Graham Vick, one of Zeffirelli's favorite targets (the old Tuscan maestro doesn't seem to have taken lightly the fact that Arena di Verona a few years ago asked Vick to update Traviata instead of going with Zeffirelli's own decades-old staging).
Anyway here's the list of Zeffirelli's opera enemies as per today's interview:
"Guth and his junkie Don Giovanni"
Vick's Traviata: "Violetta as Princess Di... what would Verdi say?"
Martin Kusej's Don Giovanni and Willy Decker's Traviata, both in Salzburg: "what a joke"
Stephen Barlow's Tosca: "laugahble... obscene"
"Wilson's Aida fiasco"
"Carsen's ghoulish Tannhauser"
"Henning Brockhaus's Macbeth, Eurotrash"
Now, we like Frengo because he is a man of great culture, a maestro who still works hard and his love for the opera is real and his commitment to what he perceives to be the composer's and libretto writer's intent is sincere, and his Bohème still awes us and yes, he does get Tosca and yes, he did work with everybody in an era of truly legendary singers and conductors. He's right that some "iconoclastic" directors don't really have much sense of drama, they're not really people of the theater to begin with, and really want to simply épater by rewriting stuff written by giants like Da Ponte and Piave and even Herr Wagner, and that's just not right. He's correct that some new directors are indeed charlatans. They key word here, though, is "some".
His mistake -- nevermind that his ferocity toward strikes the people guilty of updating the operas Zeffirelli sees as being "his", and hence leading many of Zeffirelli's stagings into retirement, so yes, some of his rage is indeed personal, and this is a factor, it's like a big name writer seeing many of his novels go out of print forever, this is the sad nature of the theater business though, he should know this -- his mistake is that he refuses to accept the fact that opera is for the living, not for the dead, and that some of his "enemies" are indeed men of the theater who understand drama and work hard -- as hard as Zeffirelli -- at trying to do a good job.
People like Vick, Carsen, McVicar, many others -- you can like their work or not, you can have problems with some of their choices, but they are simply not charlatans, and they're not in bad faith -- they correctly refuse to do the same old thing, over and over, and sometimes updating an opera by setting it in a different era actually illuminates it; sometimes it cheapens it. No one hits the nail on the head 100% of the time, nobody, not even Zeffirelli's idol, Luchino Visconti, giant that he was. But this is an entirely different topic.
To slam everyone who ever strayed away from Franco's own way of doing things -- as if Callas were still here to get mad about it: she's not, her records and videos are, thankfully, but she's not here anymore -- means that we should essentially retire the business of staging operas, keeping Zeffirelli's and Visconti's and a few others work in a big refrigerated hangar, use them all the time and then take them back to the icebox until next time. It's simply not possible, maestro. It's boring. OC is as appalled as Zeffirelli's at some of the more egregious excesses -- indeed fisting and mutilation probably don't belong to the Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Zeffirelli didn't mention Bieito in the interview probably because his blood pressure would jump up too much and his doctors have forbidden him to) and we could do happily without people goint to the toilet on Don Giovanni's stage -- but even people like Bieito (just check out his Rake's Progress) have something good and interesting and, hey, illuminating to bring to this most volatile of arts.
Maazel and Zeffirelli are smart enough to understand the difference between an incompetent charlatan (there are many out there, even working in big venues, yes, it's true) and the many directors who are trying to do good work in a different manner.
Just the other night, Opera Chic felt like basking in the glory of Pavarotti's and Battle's singing -- she watched their Elisir DVD. As wondrous as the singing is, the visuals are just static, and dusty, and lame. Singers nailed to the floor look like singing mannequins, and a cartoonish 1950s idea of old Italy is simply useless as old cardboard -- and it's quite devoid of dramatic truth.
Therefore the wish to restore to music its earlier framework means
the same as wanting to dress an adult in adolescent attire. This
act might have some charm if one proposes a historical reconstruction,
otherwise it is of no interest to those other than lovers of dead
leaves and old drivel.
Dead leaves and old drivel sometimes appear in a director's work as well.
Our main man Graham Vick once said that, to him, Eurotrash is Zeffirelli.
As much as we feel for Franco and happy as we often are to speak up and defend Maazel, if their battle ends up defending stuff like that Elisir, sometimes we feel like we know what Graham's talking about.
In today's Corriere della Sera Lorin Maazel goes nuclear, in a huge interview (not online), on the Salzburg Festival and, in general, on "provocative" directors.
Let's read a few choice bits from what the august Milanese paper calls "Maazel's Wrath".
The Maestro is currently conducting a Beethoven cycle in beautiful Taormina and he calls that Sicilian festival "a serene oasis" where many young people attend the concerts:
"I spent a lifetime in Salzburg, my debut there was in 1963 and I conducted there 109 times in all, between operas and concerts. Now I've had enough: enough with weirdly provocative stagings of arrogant directors who think innovation means boring the audience using public funds".
"I feel like speaking up for the people who buy tickets and go to the opera and are subjected to the wrongheaded reinterpretations of great operas; that's what I told Gerard Mortier when he ran the festival"
"Often those directors are simply uneducated. Like that guy, I don't even remember his name, who was directing A Midsummer Night's Dream in Salzburg while bragging that he despised Shakespeare. They only care about scandals. But the audience do not get offended, they're simply bored. At that premiere, this big wealthy Swiss man stood up and told his wife, 'Elisabetta this is so boring! Let's go have some dinner instaed'"
"I get things done the way I want them because I have a name, and a history. Other conductors simply adapt themselves. Until one day I blew up, disgusted, nothing in Salzburg was about the music anymore, but we should always respect the great composers"
Maazel also slams La Fenice and Hamburg, "where the great texts get defaced".
And attacks Robert Carsen:
"During Traviata's preludio, he wanted to see a bunch of men approach Violetta's bed throwing a lot of money around. 'Traviata is sex and money', he told me. He reduced Verdi to trash. I had to work a lot to reach a compromise. The men left quickly and Violetta threw the money away, spitefully. I wanted to save her sensibility, La Dame Aux Camelias has a pure heart. All the opposite of the picture of depravity they wanted to force upon the opera. It was as depraved as that Otello directed by Peter Zadek in Hamburg where a naked Ophelia was hung out to dry on a rope like laundry, her ass in the air. I have nothing against nudity. At the Lido or the Moulin Rouge beautiful girls look great with their t*ts hanging out. But the only thing a lady with her vocal folds in order needs to expose is her voice. People go to the opera for that".
The awesome Sarah B., the world's foremost authority on everything theatrical -- knows everything you need to know -- if you really have to -- about cla$$ical mu$ic arti$t$ appearing at the Beijing Olympics.
OC just took in the Milan premiere of Lorin Maazel’s 3 & 1/2 hour opera, 1984, at la Scala so you don’t have to. Actually, if you happened to have not been there, there are still p l e n t y of tickets left for the next six performances…discarded by a desperately provincial Milan audience with a proven track record of not being keen on contemporary opera (not to mention, it's in English omg teh horror). There are like thousands of operas out there, but I’m sure as hell not going to see a couple hundred because they happen to be written in the wrong language.
Earlier tonight, Maestro Maazel shot magic spider webs from his enchanted +8 orchestra-slaying baton and cold killed it. Every nuance of the orchestra was inextricably tied to the tip of his magic wand. It was almost as interesting watching the flick of his baton and sweep of his hands as watching the opera. A L M O S T. Maazel should get down from the podium right now and kiss the golden rose petals that director Robert Lepage walks on, the gold leaf toilet paper that he wipes himself with, and the gold-thread monogrammed towels that he dries his car with. The direction was slammin off the hook. The super-triplet trifecta of Carl Fillion’s scenery, Yasmina Giguere’s costumes, and Michel Beaulieu’s lights vividly pushed along Maazel’s patchwork (but thrilling) composition, bathing the production in perfect idiosyncrasy, chiaroscuro, motivation, and milieu.
The cast was, well, not the same one from the 2005 Royal Opera House, which was notably rounded-out by a bare-chested Simon Keenlyside. We had instead Julian Tovey as star Big Brother devotee Winston Smith, who gave everything he had and poured himself into the demanding role, but failed to draw much visceral empathy from yours truly. And yay for La Scala’s editors/checkers (there must be someone with that job description in the famously bloated, constantly cash-starved Scala personnel, 4 times larger than the Met's) for screwing-up the spelling of his name on their in-house playbill as “Julian Tovaj”. omg bootleg as heyll that’s what.
Full review + much moar tomorrow, included all the yummy things Lorin Maazel said to the Italian press in the last week to prepare the audience for his Orwellian thunder. While you're waiting for OC's recap, Rai3 transmitted it live, so you can go look for it on the intertubes if you're so inclined. Cause OC was there and you weren't.
Earlier today in Milan, Lorin Maazel has spoken (in his truly excellent, basically perfect Italian that always embarasses this American expat) warmly of his experience conducting (the "Symphony for the Devil", per the New York Post's memorable turn of phrase) the NYPhil in North Korea two months ago (despite the heavy artillery fire of bad press the decision got him in the US press, aka "the liberal media"): "I am a musician, not a politician; but that experience taught me once again how art and music can aloow us to transced our differences. Two hours of music did accomplish more than 30 years of diplomacy to bring two different cultures together".
Maazel will conduct his own work, the Orwellian opera 1984, next month at la Scala (premiere on May 2).
Two performers from North Korea's Sea of BloodOpera Company rehearse for the opera "The Flower Girl" at the National Grand Theatre in Beijing. The opera is touring China, as we learn from the Chinese media:
years have passed since the premiere of the revolutionary opera "The
Flower Girl" adapted from the immortal classic "The Flower Girl." It
has been staged more than 1,300 times before workers, peasants, youth
and students and working people from all other walks of life and
foreigners and overseas compatriots and millions of people have enjoyed
it teaches the truth that the exploited and oppressed should turn out
on the road of struggle and revolution in order to carve out their
destiny, the revolutionary opera has gripped the hearts of the people
for its ever-increasing attraction and vitality.
(above: Maestro Lorin Maazel and the soloists from the Saturday, March 8, 2008 Beethoven Cycle)
Just back in after a night of Beethoven's Ninth courtesy of Maestro Kim-Jong Maazel @ Milan's Teatro degli Arcimboldi with Symphonica Toscanini and the chorus of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (Piero Monti, maestro del Coro). Here are just a few impressions before the full review coming hopefully tomorrow.
(above: the exterior of Teatro degli Arcimboldi)
OC had been sorely disappointed by Maazel's Traviata last summer at la Scala, an unfortunate event plagued by shoddy conducting and by Angela Gheorghiu. But OC, even if it's very fashionable back in NYC, has never really chugged the Maazel Haterade; certainly not the warmest of conductors, Maazel nevertheless has very deep knowledge, the clarity and economy of his gesture is so elegant that he always leaves us speechless, and, to quote ourselves because it's late at night here and we're tipsy on post-performance Château d'Yquem, "a good 90 percent of people put in charge of orchestras nowadays would be well served by watching a few DVDs of Maazel in the quiet of their home and just, you know, pay attention to all the things that Maazel knows and they don't".
Anyway, to get immediately rid of the stuff we didn't like:
--> Maazel, unlike his orchestra -- everybody impeccable in white tie and tails -- showed up in a weirdy double-breasted tuxedo -- no tails, obviously -- and no tie at all and, especially, a pair of icky black shoes with thick rubber soles, the kind of shoes you see midlevel managers of second rate insurance companies wear on the LIRR when the weather's bad. We know the man is in his golden years, but if we can manage to strap on a pair of Gucci 7" velvet-printed platforms for the evening, he can equally compromise. The good news is that he at least got rid of the inexplicable mullet he sometimes favors.
--> Soprano Maria Luigia Borsi chose an unflattering cappuccino-colored dress with a downright bizarre fur stole (raccoon? Lordy, lordy). Her hair, greasy and unwashed, looked even worse than that shameless Spears girl who runs around Hollywood without panties. For somebody who already sang at la Scala, la Fenice, Torre del Lago, and the Opernhaus in Zurich, she should know better than look like Britney's older [opera-singing] sister.
--> Young Russian mezzo Anna Smirnova -- she'll be Princess Eboli this December 7th @ la Scala in Don Carlos under Daniele Gatti's baton so more than a few eyes were on her tonight -- showed up in a very tight (frankly, too tight for her) rubbery black dress with a dominatrix theme, and with an impossibly cantilevered (already quite massive) decolletage that made most people in the audience -- we could read it on their faces -- think "OMG b00bs!".
What about the performance itself, you ask? It'll be mostly the subject of our full review, coming soon, but suffice to say that Maazel chose deliberate tempi and very cool -- and, yes, somewhat restrained -- phrasing (one does not listen to Maazel for the big Lenny moments of unabashed emotion, right?). The only exception came in the 4th movement during the Turkish March, when he picked up pulse very fast, and kind of left poor Robert Dean Smith, the American tenor for the night, trying to chase the orchestra as Maazel mercilessly glanced at the poor man who, by the end of his part (sang quite well despite all) looked positively pink-faced (but gleefully giddy) with exertion.
Lorin Maazel speaks spake today (in Italian) at 530PM Milan time @ the Sala Buzzati of Milan's Corriere della Sera: watch the conference live here
Maazel is back in the civilized West (i.e. Europe) after his controversial North Korea concert with the NY Philharmonic, and, between performances of his Beethoven cycle this week in Milan at Teatro degli Arcimboldi, is talking to the Italian media.
He shared impressions from his NY-Philharmonic-Does-Asia-Tour, and told Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera, in an article printed today, that he believes Steven Spielberg made a mistake by renouncing his involvement in the Beijing Olympics. Spielberg’s mid-February snub to the Beijing Olympics made the news when he withdrew as Artistic Adviser for the opening and closing ceremonies. He slammed China for aiding the Sudanese government via weapons deals, thus perpetuating genocide in Darfur, and dropping the ball in their humanitarian obligations within the international community.
Everyone on the side of Sudan applauded Spielberg’s boycott widely, but Maazel wasn't so quick to praise the Hollywood director. Specifically, he said of Spielberg, "It was a mistake for him to renounce the Olympics, as art can open passages in the fortresses". He went on to say, "I understand his position, but I think he made a mistake. Had I been in his shoes, once China's commitment to support the UN resolution for Darfur had been secured, I'd have taken that chance. Also to once again prove wrong that part of America that is constantly hunting for an 'enemy', whether it's Iraq, North Korea, Iran, to be able to justify military budgets and arms sales profits". Better to use musical diplomacy, the interviewer asks? The answer: "They say classical music has no place in contemporary society. This proves them wrong".
Gloves off! Maazel, you'll never work in Hollywood again! Hear me?! Curtains! We don't serve your kind!
Maazel restates that he has no regrets from accepting the invitation from the North Korean government to represent the first American orchestra to play in the "kafkaesque" country, adding that, "when you have an opportunity in a fortress to open a little door and let enter a gust of fresh air, I will accept it". He had an epiphany after the performance after he saw the reaction of the North Koreans, saying, "They were completely moved, the orchestra patrons were on their feet, and their eyes were glowing. Theirs and ours. In that moment I understood: It had happened like that because they had waited for 50 years. An appointment that the entire country wanted, and like this, the poor of the country had to reduce their intake of electricity for four days to guarantee that there would be sufficient power for us." omg the ny phil prolly couldn't take n e ipods, gameboys, hairdryers, electric toothbrushes, electric razors, cameras, cell phones, laptops...that was prolly the most b00tleg trip ev4r! it's like they went camping!
"They scraped the bottom of the barrel and they paid us"
Interestingly, Lorin Maazel went from Pyongyang straight to Colbert's hungry maw and then on to Milan, where he is conducting Symphonica Toscanini in the Beethoven symphonies cycle at Teatro degli Arcimboldi (Opera Chic will obviously be there and you won't)
Opera Chic, thank you very much, is not going to la Scala tonight because Tuesday night's trainwreck was more than enough and she is not into the Marquis De Sade anyway. Angela's resting and Irina Lungu is on as Violetta, but Lorin Maazel will be on the podium, and Opera Chic hears that more than a few Scalagoers tonight will not be willing to remain silent if Maestro Maazel conducts Traviata the way he did conduct it the other night.
And they may, like, make some noize like their fellow loggionisti did the other night.
Except Leo Nucci is on as Germont sr., and we think he'll get the cheering he so richly deserves /fangirl.
But not even the greatest Verdi baritone alive can drag us there tonight, sorry.
We're so not going because it's a nice, surprisingly not-clammy evening (for Milan's standards) and we have better options than watching all over again poor Violetta die on stage in that underwhelming tenor's chubby arms. But later on we'll keep our dear readers pawsted on what's shakin' in the craziest opera house in the world. Stay Tuned for more -- possibly breaking -- news around 11PM Milan time, or 5PM New York time.
Anyway. Full disclosure: Opera Chic is a known Nucci fangirl. Ok thx.
Having said that, Maestro Nucci is scheduled to appear at la Scala tomorrow night (alongside Vargas and Lungu) and on the 17. On the 17 Alfredo will be that hottie Jonas Kaufmann; Violetta will be la Gheorghiu.
What does it mean? The consensus here -- oh the txt messages & emails we've received today from our well-informed friends and neighbors -- is that putting la Gheorghiu on the same night as Nucci (beloved by so many here at la Scala) is very likely a recipe for disaster.
a) it's realistic to assume that Maestro Maazel will from now on concentrate more on the job at hand, thus avoiding more unpleasant reactions from the loggione (he's not their favorite but he had a pretty civil relationship with them until last night, and he had even received from the loggionisti WILD cheering for his conducting a beautifully fierce and elegantly tense Tosca last year -- ed. Opera Chic was also mightily impressed by Tosca/Dessì's beWbs)
b) Kaufmann has recently sung here in a recital and has left a very good impression. And frankly, he's sexier and more confident than his colleague Vargas.
But why would Angela's Violetta risk being upstaged by Giorgio Germont? Why would a global secksystar risk having a 65-year-old gentleman steal the show, and maybe get the boos while Nucci gets flowers and bunnies and standing ovations and jus primae noctis over nubile young women?
We've seen Nucci drive la Scala insane with joy -- we've heard the wild cheering, the screams of "Sei come Cappuccilli" -- la Scala's greatest compliment for a baritone --, we've seen the usually stern gentlemen in bespoke suits all misty-eyed after Nucci's "Il Balen del Suo Sorriso". We've heard the thundering noise of the happy feet of the overjoyed gallerie audiences going all thudthudthudthud on the gallerie's glorious wooden floors, sending little echoes all around the hall for Nucci.
Now, Angela has given the cameras here already enough material between the prova generale and last night's show to compose a decent DVD that will come out next year. Why would anyone -- any soprano, not just Angela -- risk being a spectator of somebody else's success like that? Why should she be there getting the occasional boo while impotently watching Nucci bring teh haus down?
That's why so many of the good ones here are betting against Gheorghiu being still here on the 17th. Fool me once (in Rome), OK.
Tired of trying to project enough power to reach the deeper regions of the cavernous opera house last night, Angela Gheorghiu will rest her tonsils tomorrow night and Violetta, as scheduled, will be Irina Lungu. La Gheorghiu -- who, as we have already written, has to thank the heavens that Maestro Maazel sucked so bad that he distracted the loggionisti from Angela's limitations and took by far the most part of the boos -- la Gheorghiu is supposed to be back on stage Saturday night, at 8PM sharp, hair and makeup and costume ready. Possibly. But more of that later.
Anyway: Angela's understudy (the third soprano booked for this already unfortunate production is Elena Mosuc) has already appeared at la Scala in 2004 and she rawked Rome this past April with her Violetta. She's been apparently so good during rehersals that Irina really surprised many people around Scala, we have been told, with fine acting, clear diction, good power and a beautiful intonazione -- a tasty 27-year old brunette from Moldova, she is 15 years younger than Angela (or even 17, if you listen to the gossip that indicates a little of creative PR tinkering with Gheorghiu's actual birthdate.
She is scheduled to appear alongside Ramon Vargas (again) and Germont pére will be the awesome Leo Nucci, replacing last night's Roberto Frontali, a seasoned pro who has all of Opera Chic rezpect but whose baritone, last night, came across as simply too flat -- on the stony side especially when more warmth was needed, for example in "Di Provenza" -- and we really hope it was simply a bit of fatigue.
OK, Italy's leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera, goes nuclear in so many ways on the Scala production of Traviata that Opera Chic had the misfortune to attend last night (and she missed a very nice Southampton 4th of July barbecue for this!).
Among the praise for Sills, "queen of technique and of pathos", kudos to her "unique vibrato technique", "a musicality of the highest order", her chilling death scenes, and she "will forever have a unique place in music history". Then the critic admits that in her arias of deepest sorrow, she had the power to literally move to tears.
What a beautiful hommage.
And the duty to review the Traviata fell on the shoulders of the other Corriere critic, a urbane scholar who's usually polite and moderate in his pans. But he made an exception last night.
Let's see, and remember that we're talking about the review of a usually quiet musicologist and college professor who's on the record as being that rare creature, a critic who usually likes Maazel:
... Angela Gheorghiu, Romanian soprano who has the habit of acting as a ridiculous diva in an era that does not allow such behavior anymore...
... to see today this 1990 staging means to see all the dust, all the wear and tear, all the problems that make it much weaker than its actual age suggests. It's a Traviata completely without ideas, a staging that does not say anything on the mystery of this woman, one of the most fascinating creatures ever imagined by an artist's mind...
(Maazel), formidable French-American musician, is a capricious man: can conduct divinely, as in the recent Rachmaninov concert here at la Scala and can give useless and lazy performances such as this one... the music sticks to the skin like humidity in these clammy Milan days, heavy, dead, unless Maazel occasionally remembers to be the artist he is... slow tempi, washed-out sound...
(Gheorghiu) the "diva" is truly an average soprano, small-voiced, wrong diction, but she does have colors, intonazione, and even beautiful expressive moments. The problem? She acts on stage like the diva she believes herself to be, with hysteria... not even young Pavarotti could get away with this stuff...
The critic for il Giornale goes nuclear as well. Just read his first two words:
"Ouch. Ouch." ("Ahi. Ahi" in Italian).
And then the barrage begins, mentioning how "Gheorghiu sings the way they used to sing in provincial opera houses a long time ago... irregular emissione... the shabby vowels of her Italian diction... the speed changes meant to create cheap effects. If she hadn't announced her presence here as some sort of Messiah the audience would have greeted her cordially, because she's a singer who deserves respect in her repertoire... Maazel's inertia is very different from his great days on the podium... the booing upset him in the finale... only rarely a conductor abandons his singer they way Maazel did by refusing the curtain calls".
Whenever Opera Chic sees a conductor go crazy on the podium, flailing his arms around like a windmill in a desperate search for that elusive note, beating the tempo like a heavy metal drummer, she thinks of Lorin Maazel and his priceless style. The economy of his gesture, his gesto direttoriale, really brings her back to a different era.
Now, one can take issue with some of his performances, obviously, even it's kind of too easy to repeat the usual (lazy, sorry!) cliché of Maazel as high-class hack, a globe-trotting old master who more or less phones in his performances -- because frankly from what she hears on the radio and on TV and through teh internets, a good 90 percent of people put in charge of orchestras nowadays would be well served by watching a few DVDs of Maazel in the quiet of their home and just, you know, pay attention to all the things that Maazel knows and they don't.
That, and the fluent beauty of Maazel's spotless Italian -- how can he master those crazily irregular verbs so seamlessly, dang him! -- are among the reasons why Opera Chic keeps Maestro Maazel in a very cozy place in her BEST CONDUCTORS LIKE EVAR hall of fame.
Having said that, this morning, while having a healthy breakfast of Gilli composta di mirtilli rossi, a freshly baked muffin (yes you can find them here if you look hard enough) and a decent caffè Illy, Opera Chic could not avoid to wonder, who put sand in the great maestro's underpants?
(I carry Brahms in my heart) but also Britten, Sibelius. And Bernstein to whom I'll soon dedicate a concert. When he was the director of the NY Philharmonic, critics attacked him in a shameful manner, asking him to resign. But American critics are ignorant. If they wrote about sports they'd have gotten fired a thousand times already, but classical music is a niche field and the newspaper editors don't know anything about music anyway. ... Great music, music beloved by all, that's what critics hate the most: mediocrities cannot stand those who are talented. Puccini, Bizet, Tchaikovsky get panned while some 20th century composers who are impossible to listen to get all the praise. Even a hardliner like Maderna, close to death, realised that the only opera he really wanted to conduct was Don Giovanni".
No, maestro, please, don't be so diplomatic: tell us what you really think.
In recognition of fifty years departure of the Italian conductor's death, the Rome-based orchestra (comprised of a revolving organization of about two hundred musicians) will spend almost three weeks at the beginning of their tour by playing fourteen dates across the United States: beginning on Thursday, January 11 with a concert at the Italian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and ending Sunday, January 28 in San Francisco at U of C's Zellerbach Hall.
Conductor Lorin Maazel will lead the orchestra on the same routes that Toscanini himself took (in 1920 with the Orchestra Arturo Toscanini and again in 1950 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra), bearing witness to similar trials that marked his long career. The repertoire has been chosen to reflect some of the more favorite works that Arturo Toscanini preferred.
Music Director Maazel describes his honor in leading the symphony, and his excitement of the upcoming tour:
“When I was asked to lead an ensemble whose ranks are drawn from some of the most awesomely gifted young soloists of our day, first as guest conductor and eventually as Music Director, I felt it incumbent upon me to accept the challenge. I'm glad I did.”
“In recent tours in Europe and Asia these young people have realized their musical potential in an orchestral frame so stunningly as to bring audiences to their feet at the end of each concert cheering and lauding these sterling virtuosi and roaring for more. In presenting the Symphonica Toscanini in their first major U.S. tour, I revel in anticipation of the acclaim they will surely be accorded.”
The most prominent of these US concerts, "A Tribute to Toscanini," scheduled on Tuesday, January 16 in NYC’s Avery Fisher Hall, is significant for two reasons. First, it is the actual date that Toscanini passed away fifty years ago. Second, the concert will feature Renée Fleming singing with both the New York Philharmonic and the Symphonica Toscanini (whereas every other US concert comprises of only symphony performances). La Renée will sing a small selection of songs from Cilea to Respighi. There will also be a gala dinner, catered by prominent Italian chefs, and Avery Fisher Hall will also be displaying about sixty pieces from Arturo Toscanini's art collection (from January 16 - March 31), which includes works by Boccioni and Innes, along with media such as home movies.
Before hitting the United States, the tour of Symphonica Toscanini will begin officially on January 9, 2007 at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, with the orchestra playing a selection of Bizet, Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini, under the direction of Gianluigi Gelmetti (btw, the best/freshest pescheria in all of Milan is at Pescheria Gelmetti on via Vitruvio). They will then continue through Israel, Japan, and South America to perform more than forty concerts.
The orchestra dedicates themselves to the musical ideals that were embodied by Toscanini. Maestro Toscanini was able to penetrate mainstream conceptions of classical music with high-profile achievements, including directorship roles at Teatro alla Scala, NYC Met Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the NBC Symphony Orchestra.
So what will we be doing in Milan for the fiftieth anniversary of la scomparsa on January 16? Some will head over to Cimitero Monumentale di Milano with flowers and/or yartzeit, where Toscanini is buried with Horowitz.
The catch? The tickets have already been given out to "i nove Consigli di Zona e i Centri Comunali per la terza Età". Translation: SENIOR CITIZENS NEED ONLY APPLY. Oh Furies! How this nubile skin betrays me!