Sunday, March 31, 2019

Gaetano Donizetti, Don Pasquale (1843)

Sheer nonsense! But such sublime nonsense. It's the third Donizetti comedy I've seen, after L'elisir d'amore and La fille du régiment, which I think alas are the only ones that are widely performed these days.
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Friday, March 29, 2019

John Adams, Nixon in China (1987)

The only opera featuring the line "we'll teach these motherfuckers how to dance." I mean, probably. If you know any others, tell me in comments.
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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Richard Wagner, Siegfried (1876)

Oh my goodness. Is it even possible to summarize this? I guess we'll find out. Let's try to do it as quickly as possible. Mime, Alberich's brother, has raised Siegfried, but not because he loves him, just because he wants access to dragon-Fafner's treasure. Siegfried also hates his foster-dad, he just sticks around because he wants to learn about his parents. Wotan shows up in disguise as "the Wanderer," and he makes Mime play a riddle game, apparently for exposition purposes. Mime can't craft the sword, Nothung, from the fragments, so Siegfried does it himself. He doesn't know fear, so Mime is going to take him to see Fafner to teach him. Wotan meets Alberich--keeping watch on Fafner's cave--in the woods. They have a conversation for seemingly no particular reason. Then Siegfried and Mime arrive at the cave. Mime retreats and after a bit of dicking around, Fafner comes out and Siegfried kills him. Having consumed some dragon blood, he gains the ability to understand birds, and a bird tells him to take the ring and helmet, which he does. Alberich and Mime argue for a bit. Mime comes back and offers Siegfried a poisoned drink, but the blood also allows Siegfried to read Mime's thoughts, so he kills him. The bird them tells him about the sleeping Brünnhilde, so he's off to find her. Wotan summons Erda and has a conversation about whether the events in motion can be stopped (spoiler: no). Siegfried meets Wotan, who tries to stop him, but he breaks Wotan's spear and Wotan is apparently fully resigned to there being nothing he can do. Siegfried wakes up Brünnhilde with a kiss, and they're in love. The last words of the opera are "hail jubilant death," which seems ominous.
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Monday, March 25, 2019

Gaetano Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor (1835)

What, giving up on Wagner? Of course not. I just had a limited amount of time, so I wanted a shortish opera that I could watch in its entirety. And that turned out to be this.
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Saturday, March 23, 2019

Richard Wagner, Die Walküre (1870)

So the problem with Die Walküre, if you think it's a problem, is that although it's something like an hour and a half longer than Rheingold, very little actually happens. Rheingold is full of incident, but the follow-up is not, so much. For the record, I don't think it's a problem; I think Walküre is spectacular; easily better than its predecessor. What it lacks in stuff happening, it makes up for with high emotional content that wasn't really present in the first installment.
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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Richard Wagner, Das Rheingold (1869)

Does anybody need to hear the plot of Das Rheingold reiterated? I feel like I knew the exact plot going in, but I suppose that's just because as a child I was avidly interested in the Norse mythology on which this was based, and also--not to brag or anything--I've read the duck comic based on the Ring Cycle. So anyway: the Rheinmaidens are frolicking in the water, not guarding the rheingold as well as they probably should be; the dwarf Alberich tries to woo them, but they laugh him off; in frustration, he steals the gold because he can forge it into a ring that will make him rich, even though it requires the forger to renounce love. Elsewhere, Wotan has commissioned two giants, Fasolt and Fafnir, to build Valhalla for him, with his sister-in-law Freia as payment. He reneges on the deal and asks them to request something else. Loge shows up, having been supposed to be working on an alternative payment, but he's come up blank. He does, however, bring news of Alberich's doings, and the giants decided to accept his treasure in lieu of Freia, taking her hostage in the meantime. The gods are weakened because they need more of Freia's golden apples, but Wotan summons the wherewithal to accompany Loge down to Nibelheim, where Alberich is ruling with an iron fist, having forced his brother Mime to forge a magical helmet allowing him to change shape. Loge tricks him into allowing himself to be captured, and they take him back to the surface, demanding all his treasure including helmet and ring as ransom. Before Alberich leaves, he curses the ring, saying that no one who wears it will be safe and eventually will be killed. I'm sure he's just all talk! The giants return with Freia; the gods give them the treasure, reluctantly including the helmet and, after a good talking-to from the all-knowing earth mother Erda, the ring. The giants fight over the distribution of the treasure, and Fafnir kills Fasolt, though he does not at this time turn into a dragon; he just sort of disappears with the treasure. Loge is filled with premonitions of doom, but the other gods go off to Valhalla, and we can assume that everything is going to be PRETTY great for them from now on! The rheinmaidens are sad, but eh, whatareyagonnado?
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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Anthony Trollope, The Eustace Diamonds (1871)

You might have the impression that I'm not reading anymore, given that all the recent posts are about operas. No...I'm reading as usual. This one just took longer than normal, for what are probably fairly obvious reasons.

Don't take this the wrong way, but I think there's actually something to be said for boredom in a Trollope novel. That doesn't mean I go out of my way looking to be bored, or that I'd ever say something like "you know what the problem with this book is? It's not boring enough." But all the same...there is something kind of soothing about the inevitable boring bits you come upon--with the signal exception, of course, of the fox-hunting bits, which are both boring and repulsive, and yup, there's one here. Bah.
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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Richard Wagner, Lohengrin (1850)

I honestly had no idea that the tune commonly known as "Here Comes the Bride" originally came from this opera. A good thing to know to trick people into thinking you're smart, and/or to win money.
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Friday, March 15, 2019

Richard Wagner, Der fliegende Holländer (1843)

Damn, man, how 'bout that overture? Nothing could shout "Damned Pirate Ghostship" more plainly. I am extremely impressed. I mean, not that the rest of the score is any slouch, but that overture.
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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Richard Wagner, Tannhäuser (1845)

So Treemonisha was my fiftieth opera. Maybe not the best choice, but I'd thought it was going to be The Haunted Manor until I realized I'd screwed up the count. So. Anyway, my only point being, it seemed odd to have watched so many and have no Wagner in there. I am going to watch the Ring Cycle in due course, but somehow, I felt like it was something I should build up to a little. You don't read Finnegans Wake before Portrait of the Artist and Ulysses. You'll notice that that analogy really doesn't work at all, since there's no reason that the Ring operas should be more "difficult" to watch than any other Wagner, but doesn't it sound superficially plausible if you don't think about it at all? Superficial plausibility is what we are going for!
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Saturday, March 09, 2019

Scott Joplin, Treemonisha (1911)

I wanted to see this in February, for black history month, but somehow, that got by me. I know there ARE other operas by black composers, but this was the only one I could find. And only barely: a production was released on an old, long-out-of-print VHS tape way back in 1991, but, you know, old, long-out-of-print. Fortunately, some good samaritan uploaded the whole thing to youtube! With burnt-in Portuguese subtitles. Well, the lord giveth, the lord taketh away. It's not that big a deal, but it really would be nice to have English subs: even if you know the language, operatic singing is not always easy to understand, and there are some parts of this that were simply indecipherable to me.
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Friday, March 08, 2019

Stanisław Moniuszko, The Haunted Manor (1865)

Hey, guess what I saw! Big thanks to my brother for twigging me to this production on youtube, with English subs (well, English and Polish simultaneously--slightly awkward but ultimately perfectly watchable)--I hadn't been able to find it, possibly because the video misspells the title. BUT OH WELL! Of course, this is the other well-known (relatively speaking) opera by the author of Halka. It's very tonally different, though--that was a fairly typical tragedy, whereas this is a goofy comedy with strong lashings of Polish patriotism.
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Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Manru (1901)

Hey look, it's another Polish opera, this one by a one-time Prime Minister of Poland. How about that? It's also to date the only Polish opera ever to be performed at the Met, albeit in English translation.
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