Thursday, May 30, 2019

Giuseppe Verdi, Stiffelio (1850)

This is an interesting one: Verdi, as was often the case, ran afoul of the censors, even more than usual with this one. This may perhaps have been inevitable given the subject matter--it's about a minister and his unfaithful wife--but good lord, people. To contemporary eyes, the idea that there could even theoretically have been anything offensive about this is just baffling. It's a story about sin and redemption. Isn't that what your religion is all about? Crikey. But in any event, he was so irritated by all this idiocy that he ended up withdrawing it from circulation, replacing it with Aroldo, a substantially reworked version in a different milieu that apparently was considered less offensive. The original Stiffelio was thought to be lost until it was rediscovered in the Verdi estate's archives in the 1960s. So here it is! How do you like that?
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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Hell freezes over

Here's a Mallard Fillmore that's funny, and that's funny in exactly the way that Tinsley intended:

I mean, granted, that's because the joke is how everyone hates Mallard Fillmore, but take what you can get.  He should change the strip's concept so it's about nothing but people recoiling in horror at his lead character.  Wait...does this strip even have a concept?  Well, if it did, this would be a good one.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Charles Robert Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)

Hey, I read a book! Whoa! It's a gothic novel, or novel-like thing. Really, it consists of a series of stories. Our frame narrative consists of young Melmoth--not the Melmoth of the title; a descendent of the line--being told stories that in some way involve the big Melmoth, a damned soul trying to seduce others into Hell. The first story is about a guy named Stanton who gets unjustly condemned to an insane asylum; then, he hears from a Spaniard named Monçada whom he'd saved from a shipwreck, and that takes up the rest of the book. Monçada tells a LONG story about how he was made to be a monk and confined to a monastery against his will; after escaping, he takes refuge with some Jews who are pretending to have converted to avoid the inquisition, and one of them shows him a manuscript containing another story, about a woman named Immalee who grows up alone on an island off India in a total state of nature, and is visited by Melmoth who tries to corrupt her; eventually, it transpires that she's part of a Spanish family, and had been lost there during a voyage, and is taken back to Spain where Melmoth continues to do his best. Over the course of this, we also hear two MORE stories, recited to her father: one where a family whose understanding was that they'd inherit a lot of money and have been living comfortably only to be reduced to grinding poverty, and one about a woman from English nobility whose would-be fiancée no longer wants to marry her, making her sad.
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Sunday, May 26, 2019

Vincenzo Bellini, I puritani (1835)

Bellini is the third big Bel Canto name, along with Donizetti and Rossini. I'd never seen anything of his before, so I decided to start here with his last (and therefore best?) opera before his early death at the age of thirty-three.

When Americans think about Puritans, we mainly think about witch trials, Hester Prynne, and funny hats. Maybe if we expand that to include "Pilgrims," a few more things, but we don't usually learn about British history in school, so I don't think most of us are really clear about what they were doing before some of them came to the Americas. I'm certainly not, so a little bit of wikipedia-ing was necessary to understand the context here.
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Friday, May 24, 2019

Fromental Halévy, La Juive (1835)

So here's this. In some unspecified city, there are constant threats, tamped down to a greater or lesser degree, of anti-Jewish violence. There's a Jewish goldsmith, Éléazar, living with his daughter, Rachel, la Juive herself. In the past, his sons were burned as heretics by the local cardinal, Brogni. Rachel is being courted by "Samuel," a young Jew who happens to actually be Prince Léopold in disguise. Even beyond the fact that he's married, their differing religious affiliations would subject them to execution if known, but she doesn't know any of this. She goes to try to get a job as a maid for the Princess, sees Léopold and realizes his duplicity, and is PISSED OFF. She publicly accuses him of seducing her, and the two of them, along with Éléazar (who is just collateral damage, I guess) are arrested. She later withdraws her allegations to spare Léopold (so why are the two of THEM still in trouble? Just generalized anti-Semitism, pretty clearly). Éléazar, likewise PISSED OFF, tells Brogni that his infant daughter from before he was a priest? The one he thought was dead? Well, some Jew saved him, but he'll never tell. Alas for Brogni, he is unaware that he is a character in an opera, or he'd immediately leap to the right conclusion. But he's not, so he's tormented. It dawns on Éléazar that his intransigence is likewise condemning Rachel, so he decides to tell the truth, but his resolution is hardened when he hears a mob going by baying for Jewish blood. So...what you'd think would happen pretty much happens. Yikes.
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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Alban Berg, Wozzeck (1925)

So Georg Büchner's original play only existed in fragmentary form on his death in 1837, and it wasn't published until years later. Due to Büchner's bad handwriting, the editors chose "Wozzeck" as their best guess for the character's name, not knowing that it was loosely based on the life of an actual guy, Woyzeck. So Woyzeck is now recognized as the play's name, but this opera, written before that realization, remains Wozzeck. And that is that story.
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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Leoš Janáček, Jenůfa (1902)

That title there confuses me. Because wikipedia says (and has a poster from the premiere proving this) that the Czech title is Její pastorkyňa ("her stepdaughter"), but the English title is the main character's name? Why? Who decided that? Pretty weird.
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Monday, May 20, 2019

Sergei Prokofiev, L'amour des trois oranges (1921)

Yup, the libretto is in French (wikipedia claims "because Russian would have been unacceptable to American audiences"--da fuq?), and yes, it's called "The love for three oranges." It's based on a faerie tale, but I gather it has its own weirdness to it, and it's a little difficult to describe the plot without sounding like you're having a stroke: first, there's an audience arguing over whether they want to see a tragedy or comedy or what. Then the action starts, and there's a hypochondriac prince, the son of the King of Clubs. He has to be made to laugh or he'll die, but there are schemers trying to stop this from happening, at least in part by reciting bad poetry to him, so they can take the throne, supported by a sorceress, Fata Morgana. The king decides to have a carnival to make the prince laugh, with the help of a clown, Truffaldino. It seems like it's not going well, but then Fata Morgana has a pratfall and the prince laughs at her, so she curses him by making him obsessed with a love for three oranges. This works immediately, and he drags Truffaldino off with him to look for the oranges, which are in a witch's lair. So they outwit the witch's cook (a woman played by a baritone--a reverse trouser role?) and get the oranges and escape. The oranges keep getting bigger until they hatch one by one into faerie princesses, the first two of which die of thirst, it being a desert (surprisingly morbid). But the audience gives the prince water to save the third one, and in spite of some scheming, the day is saved. The conspirators are going to be executed, but Fata Morgana spirits them away. That is all.
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Sunday, May 19, 2019

Richard Wagner, Das liebesverbot (1836)

This is Wagner's second completed opera. It was a failure at the time, and disavowed by the composer; the account on wikipedia of that premiere is pretty funny:

Poorly attended and with a lead singer who forgot the words and had to improvise, it was a resounding flop and its second performance had to be cancelled after a fist-fight between the prima donna's husband and the lead tenor broke out backstage before the curtain had even risen; only three people were in the audience. It was never performed again in Wagner's lifetime.

Fun! It's certainly not commonly performed nowadays, and I certainly wouldn't have gone out of my way to see it, but I found a production on youtube, so what the hell? It's his only comedy other than Meistersinger, so...bam.

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Saturday, May 18, 2019

Arrigo Boito, Mefistofele (1868/75)

Yes! it's another Faust opera, this time by a man best-known as the librettist for Verdi's Otello and Falstaff. ARE YOU EXCITED?!? Well, you should be. I'd been wanting to see this one for a long time, so when someone on the Met in HD facebook group linked to this production, I was THERE, baby!  I'm not clear how long it'll be up, and I couldn't figure out how to download it, so better see it now rather than later.
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Friday, May 17, 2019

Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde (1865)

So at the beginning of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, the heroine Adina is reading from a book about Tristan and Iseult and the basic gist of it is "wow! Look at this delightful story! At first Iseult didn't like Tristan, but then she drank the potion, and she fell in love with him! How fantastic! If only we could have a potion like that!" If she had read on, she might find that the story became somewhat less cheerful. Though actually, at least here, that set-up isn't even right: it's not that he's in love with her first; neither of them is until the potion comes up.  Donizetti just presents it that way to set the plot in motion.  Anyway. Here's this.
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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Gioachino Rossini, La Cenerentola (1817)

Yup, I was right.
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Monday, May 13, 2019

Jules Massenet, Cendrillon (1899)

Well, I saw this one. It's a Cinderella story, as you might have gathered. It includes most of the usual story beats, though not necessarily with the levels of emphasis you'd expect. It does not, however, feature anyone getting their feet mutilated, which is probably for the best.  No anthropomorphic mice either, thank goodness.
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Friday, May 10, 2019

Domenico Cimarosa, Il matrimonio segreto (1792)

From an opera buffa throwback to the real thing. This was apparently a big hit back in the day, and it's certainly the only Cimarosa opera you're likely to see these days. Well, maybe "likely" is pushing it. Whatevz.
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Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Sergei Prokofiev, Betrothal in a Monastery (1946)

This is interesting, because it's clearly an intentional effort on Prokofiev's part to write in the classic opera buffa mode, like Mozart's Da Ponte collabs. The fact that it takes place in Seville (although it still feels distinctly Russian, at least in this production) seems to be a none-too-subtle nod in this direction.
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Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Carlisle Floyd, Susannah (1955)

Speaking of American operas...well, here's one. One of the most famous, I'd say. It's loosely based on an apocryphal Bible story, transplanted to small-town Appalachia, but that's very loosely. The story goes and turns out entirely differently.
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Monday, May 06, 2019

John Adams, Doctor Atomic (2005)

BOY it's hard to know what to make of this one. I don't think I've ever seen an opera of which it was so hard to know what to make. It takes place in Los Alamos in the days leading up to the Trinity atomic bomb test, mainly centering around J Robert Oppenheimer. The libretto consists mainly, or possibly entirely, of found texts: communiques among scientists, declassified documents, and bits of poetry.
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Sunday, May 05, 2019

Georges Bizet, Les pêcheurs de perles (1863)

Bizet may be the sixth-most-performed opera composer, but that's almost exclusively on the basis of Carmen. Per that list, that's what eighty-six percent of the Bizet performances in 2017-18 were. But probably eighty-six percent of the others were this, with his other seven making up the balance. Anyway, the Met did a production, their first in a century, in 2016.
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Friday, May 03, 2019

Richard Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868)

Any five-hour opera is gonna be a bit of a hard-sell, but making your comedy that long? That takes...well, it takes Richard Wagner, obviously. I really didn't know what to expect from this going in. Wagner has never struck me as a particularly jocose guy, so, I mean, is this going to work? At all?
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Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Giacomo Puccini, La Rondine (1917)

Here is a Puccini opera that you never hear about. That's my impression, at any rate, and one piece of evidence is that this 2008 production was the first time it was done at the Met since 1936. That's nuts. This isn't some sort of dubious bit of juvenilia; this is mature Puccini. It comes immediately after La fanciulla del West and before Il trittico, which means that in addition to whatever else, it's also Puccini's last completed multi-act opera. That's...something, isn't it? So let's have a look.
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