Thank You, Massage Gods

The Massage Gods did me a mitzvah today and knocked out my last client with a cold. That left me on the loose just as the boys started to mix it up in the second act of Rosenkavalier.

I sorta, kinda, believe there are really Massage Gods who take care of people like me — maybe on the condition that we work hard and responsibly, I never checked — because of the way that just when I think I am going to fall on my face someone will cancel or the schedule will rearrange itself. This was an unexpected favor though. I adulate three Strauss operas and will listen to the rest with at least pleasure and occasional rapture; Rosenkavalier is one of those things before which you can only fall to your knees (or, in the opera house, rise to your feet). It’s four hours long and then some, hard on the hiney, but you only notice when it’s over.

If opera isn’t your strong suit, well, Strauss opened it with the most graphic musical houghmagandy ever written before or since — you can even tell that he comes too soon, being seventeen, and she, being an old tart of thirty-six, knows how to keep things going till she’s done.  The distant cousins, Viennese titled gentry, whom we discover in bed as the curtain rises are portrayed by two women, and before everything’s done the mezzo will have impersonated a young boy pretending to be a woman, pinked another old loutish relation in a duel over the proper courtesies to a young lady they both want to marry, lured Old Lout into a compromising assignation in his — her? — his-her? — female persona (“Mariandel, the princess’s maid, sir, and love-lorn”), and sung a trio with the (other?) two women that would bring tears to the eyes of a statue.

But I have a recreant fondness for Old Lout, that is, Baron Ochs. In fact, one gathers that the opera’s working title was “Ochs,” but the other characters kind of got into the librettist’s vest pocket and took over. Moliere is back in the woodpile somewhere — you can whiff him in the lampooning of the nobility’s amour-propre and the ambition of the upper-middle-class — and Baron Ochs is as disarmingly convinced of his own deserving magnificence as any bewigged buffoon Moliere ever wrote. He is a paunchy, sausage-fingered yob in a powdered wig whom no tender teenager should ever have to marry, and you cheer the conspiracy that thwarts him, but all the same, I rejoice along with the self-satisfied waltz he sings when, laid up with a dueling-scratch, he receives the fake love note from the fake maid (exultant at the thought he’s going to get some, he neglects to tip the messenger, and you can see her thinking: “Later for you.”). How many of us have a minute in our lives when we are so giddily sure of ourselves?

With me, no night is too long –
Without me, your every day such a weariness!

Kristin Sigmundsson was okay in today’s Met broadcast, but it is a virtuoso turn when a bass can give the lowest notes the resonance they beg for. Here is Kurt Moll.

If you are not an opera nut and just want to hear him punch that last hole in the low register you can just fast forward the cue slider to about 8:00, but this (though conspicuously lip-synced) is one of the most delicious pieces of singing acting out there. You don’t have to understand German.

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6 thoughts on “Thank You, Massage Gods

  1. Kurt Moll really had one of the greatest voices ever heard — a true basso profundo, but with no wooliness or growliness at all … perfect forward placement, and amazing agility for the size of the sound.

    I thought about going to see the broadcast today, but I just don’t like Renee Fleming well enough to endure her.

    • Without feeling quite so strongly about it, I am glad there’s one other person who at least shares my perplexity at the wall to wall Renee Fleming that seems to have covered the repertory since her debut.

  2. She’s popular because she’s beautiful — that’s at least 2/3 of it. The voice is a good instrument, but I always find it extremely bland … no ability to color the sound based on the repertoire. I also feel she doesn’t have enough “metal” in her voice to sing Strauss, or really any of the German or French rep; it’s a very opulent, soft-edged voice, better-suited to Italian repertoire.

    • See, if I’d said that part about the beautiful and all, people would have just thought I was being bitchy. But yeah. There has been a little too much of that in the music world lately.

      I have a wonderful old LP album of Zino Francescatti performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto, just wringing the bejeezus out of it, and his photo is on the album sleeve, balding head vaguely festooned with a dampened combover, nose like a clenched mushroom, sprouting hairs in all directions inside and out, and his violin is like the soul of an angel vibrating in resonance with the mercy of God, so there.

      • Nah, not bitchy — ‘strewth. The Met is favoring being photogenic over being able to sing. Music is falling victim to the twin demons of Marketing and Everyman’s Taste.

        Which is not to say that Fleming really can’t sing; she can. But it is so rare to find a decent voice and a decent technique, these days, that when it appears, in the guise of a beautiful woman, then all notions of fach fly out the window. She’s a lot like Te Kanawa, vocally … great instrument, but phenomenally placid.

        • I mean, does anyone remember Callas? She ended up with a vibrato you could drive a truck through but she gave at least one Met patron a heart attack when she hit the line “Assasino!” in the second act of Tosca. And I think that was sprechstimme.

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