Tosca And The Golden Retriever Puppy

Or, I Am Never Going To See Bryn

We bought the tickets as soon as the season came out. For those who aren’t slavish followers of this blog, well, I have a giant fan crush on Bryn Terfel, the Welsh baritone who has made the province of operatic bad boys his domain. (“Bad Boys” is actually the title of a CD he cut, whose tracks range from Verdi to Sondheim.) He was the Hot Wotan of the first Ring Cycle I ever followed in toto, bringing a lower abdominal thrum to the usually soporific and didactic matter that Wagner gave to his “head god, and a crashing bore” [Dame Anna Russell]. Wotan is recycled Schopenhauer, mostly. Bryn made him romantic and, as a father sentencing his best loved daughter to common humanity, heartbreaking. (The by-play in their earlier scenes was globus hystericus to someone who once imagined she had a father’s love and learned otherwise.) The idea of him doing Scarpia — the blow-molded, double acting bastard operagoers love to hate — was slam-dunk irresistible.

And then some sort of shit hit the fan. I’m not sure in what order. Only, Bryn backed out, citing vocal fatigue, which a singer has to take seriously; then the soprano jumped ship; maybe before or after that, Jonas Kaufman, who is always and forever getting the vapors, abdicated the romantic tenor lead Mario Cavaradossi; last but not least, the Met ejected James Levine, who ferfrigsake back in the 80s my connections at the New England Conservatory and the Met knew all about him cornholing little boys and paying off their parents but somehow it took that long for the Met management to tweak on it. Whatever.

So I almost said to the Engineer, Give the tickets away. Glad I didn’t. If I couldn’t have Bryn, Željko Lučić was not at all shabby. I am doomed to see a good singing actor as Rigoletto and then see him in my very next Tosca (starting with Cornell MacNeil, who may have inaugurated the quill pen thing, of which more later).  Lučić’s Rigoletto — he testified that he had been told to play the scathing court fool as Don Rickles, but had no idea what was meant — totally did not suck. His Scarpia was dire, all too believable, full of baritone engine vibration, and imbued with the smugness of a man who has been getting his way for long enough that he takes it for granted.

I have this theory about Scarpia — the dreaded police chief of Rome whose word can send a man to the gallows and for whom, as Cavaradossi says, the confessor and the hangman are his procurers. I say he is a commoner. I speculate that, “Barone” Scarpia notwithstanding, he came from humble, even from despised peasantry — reference Anakin Skywalker for people whose fictive milieu is more modern —  and that one of the grim joys of his life is wielding the power of life and death over the nobility. The text yields tantalizing tells.  “Carnefice,” mocks the tortured but defiant Cavaradossi — repeating the word for emphasis — meaning “hangman,” a job not typically given to the upper class. Archly, earlier in the scene, Scarpia requires Cavaradossi’s attendance,  saying “Introducete il cavaliere”: “Bring in the gentleman.” Cavaradossi is a kinda witless, idealistic, well off member of a sort of creative class, working as a painter in the Church of Sant’ Andrea for sure, but also the owner of a secluded villa with all kinds of grounds, if you listen to his arias about snogging with Tosca therein. A bit young for that not to be inherited. And Scarpia: you sense him enjoying the harvest of Tosca, the fiery artiste,  only so much more because she is the favorite of the Queen. These are the passions of an arriviste, a man with something to prove.

But whatever. It was Cavaradossi who stole the show, which is a funny thing to say about a tenor lead, but I have always found the character a giant snore. He is noble, he loves Tosca, he gambles and loses his life, he should be a romantic blockbuster, but I’ve always found him a stiff, the kind of preux chevalier that we are told we ought to idealize zzzzzz. Bad-boy Scarpia always got my sidelong glance instead. Then along comes Grigolo, pawing over the soprano like the boyfriend who used to forget my parents were in the room, and most delightfully, bouncing up and down during the intermission interviews like a Golden Retriever puppy, extolling the idealism that goads Cavaradossi to tell the escaped political prisoner “I will save your ass!” and volunteering to continue the conversation after time’s-up you-have-to-prep-Act-II because “I am fine! It’s only Tosca!” At the curtain call I was half convinced he was going to leap down and possibly crowd surf his way through the orchestra pit. Watch this one.

Yoncheva was the Tosca — at long last — who really came across as a naive, sweet, vulnerable but brave kid versus a narcissistic high-maintenance diva, and the Met found its feet again after a grotesque production full of crass crap like lingerie-clad bimbos and statue-snogging. Does every opera production owe us a resurrection of the original time period? Not necessarily, but this one should be labeled “Welcome Back.”

But I still need to see Bryn before I die. There’s a Vienna Opera recording, and bits from Britain, but it’s not the Met live. Exophthalmic expressions notwithstanding, and the weird costume and signature fuck ’em Bryn hairdo: just listen to the oil and glycerine:

Oh. I said I’d get back to the quill pen. A bit of stage business. Scarpia writes a safe-conduct note for Tosca and her lover as exchange for her submission to him — all in vocal silence, over a slow orchestral vamp — and approaching her to collect his part of the bargain, runs the feather along her bare neck and shoulder, to her visible shudder. It looks like the schtick has been retired, but MacNeil did it and so did Diaz, to Renata Scotto, whose eyes widened in rivalry to Terfel’s here. Brr. Love dem bad boys.








Lost Ancestors

Film composers crib classical works all the time. Forex, I sat up with a jolt, decades ago, at the premiere of The Empire Strikes Back when I realized I was hearing a parlayed version of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto behind the action in the Cloud City of Bespin. But last night, just letting the classical station run in an access of blessed relief at the end of the annual onslaught of Christmas dreck — who wants to hear the same string trio version of “Jingle Bells” six times a day? — something hit me between the eyes.

Just the first few bars. Go on, listen. Same key, even.

I’ve been a Trekkie all my life. And not only is Mahler on my Top Ten composer list, that one is my favorite of his symphonies; it’s even “our song” of poignant memory, the one whose A-theme gave my late and ex husband an opening to speak to me for the first time (“Are you whistling Mahler’s First, or the Songs of a Wayfarer?” Trick question; the answer is “yes,” because he recycled the melody).

How did I miss this?

La Rubia

Thirty-some years ago, stuck for the weekend in the apartment of a guy who was really kind of a dud, I read from end to end a novel about the last days of Leon Trotsky.  I recall very few details now, but what made me sit up was the near postscript involving the Corrido del Leon Trotsky (probably one of several; you can find a version on YouTube), describing, as a news service to those without newspapers or radios or basic literacy, how Trotsky, something of the celebrity resident, was killed in Mexico City by a coerced assassin using “un zapatica alpinista.”

I loved the idea of the corrido, a cross of sorts between the town crier and the folklore of culture heroes, legends, and adventure tales. They are still made, even in these days of widespread literacy and the Net. We need our hard news, but sometimes you want music and poetry to tell how the news makes you feel.

I have a new hero, and she is the mayor of San Juan in Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulin Cruz. I suspect that in this case the line forms to the left. Three days ago I had not even heard her name, but Thursday night she burst onto the news clips and everyone’s volleying retweets with eloquence, anger, and poise, using every journalist willing to turn his camera or mike toward her as a megaphone to plead for her constituents and the whole Commonwealth.

If you have been living under a rock, Federal aid to Puerto Rico, an American possession, which has just missed following the island of Atlantis to the bottom of the ocean and is struggling without power, drinking water, fuel, telephone service in most places, or sufficient food, is not just a day but about a week late and a damn sight more than a dollar short.  A few leaks, as yet unconfirmed, claim that the administration went silent after receiving estimations of the aid that was needed, suggesting no plans to help the island at all. The governor of Puerto Rico, probably knowing what kind of person he was dealing with, has been kissing White House ass, the government representatives on the ground have actually been calling the situation a “good news story,” and Yulin Cruz is having none of it.

“…I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles. So, mayday, we are in trouble… I am begging. I am begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying. And you are killing us with the inefficiency and bureaucracy.”

For her trouble, she got called names by our Tweeter In Chief, who seems to think that people on the island would be fine if they just put in a few hours work and stopped asking other people to “do everything for them.” Those Tweets hit the Internet at about the same time as a photo of Yulin Cruz up to her beltline in filthy water going from door to door looking for survivors. In another clip, she thanked a religious charity for solar lanterns which she was distributing to people searching for water in the dark.

This is not a bright shining moment for the United States. I’m embarrassed as hell. A whole island is stripped and broken, people are waiting all day for gas and cities of sixty thousand are getting deliveries of two thousand meals, hospitals have no power, while the administration here in DC took eight days to lift a bureaucratic rule about foreign ships putting in at the Port of San Juan because “the shipping industry likes it.” Celebrities and bush pilots and international chefs and members of the “Alt-Gov” Twitter collective are flying in with food and out with sick, desperate people, but our own Navy’s hospital ship was only got under way on Friday.

There will be a lot of heroes when this is over. They will all deserve a corrido, if that tradition has spread to the other Spanish speaking Americas from Mexico,  but my imagination is starting with San Juan’s mayor. In my fantasy, the ballad is called La Rubia, the blonde lady, and like the best ballads, it will tell of the mayor performing supernatural feats: carrying a pallet of water on her back over a road too broken for trucks, shedding light from her bare hands, towing a boat full of survivors, or lifting up a child at the brink of death only to hear a healthy cry. And in the last verse, it will say, “No one person can do these things? No, you are right, one person cannot. It is done by you all, you are all heroes. But a single person with a big voice can breathe on the flame of courage, to be sure all these things are done.”

I can’t write it though. It has to be written in Spanish, by a Puerto Rican citizen, who’ll know how to put those sentiments into meter. But I will hum along.

Peach In Our Time (II)

Yes, again — I hope.

Incomparable narrative artist and general culture-f**ker Donna Barr has launched a campaign for the revival of the delicious comfit-box of a musical based on her signature creation, the Desert Peach. If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you must have noted or even checked out the tab on the homepage devoted to this show. I first learned that it existed in late 2007 — not long after the death of my late and ex, who would have loved the Klezmer riffs in the overture and the two-different-keys love duet between the Peach and his previously straight intended. I bought the CDs and plotzed at the quality of the composition – uneven, granted,  because the composer, Michael Seyfrit, was literally terminally ill during the creation and rehearsal of the piece. You could hear the places where he had at most sketched in the music lines and the company, largely amateur, did its best. But at its best, it was the kind of stage music that makes you stand up and twirl in the middle of your living room. And now Donna has a composer on tap to fix the sketchy spots and gloss everything up for a concert performance in 2018.

But you have to pay musicians and hire a hall and that, so there’s a Kickstarter fundraiser, 


which has about a month to go. And not nearly enough recognition. So I asked my unofficial godson, the video editor and animator, about software that an old fart could manage in a hurry, and here is what the world needs to know about the Peach:

Look, in America in 2017, anything that resists Nazis is vital. Especially if you can hum the tunes.

Next time your Nazis come they’ll have a new disguise
They won’t be wearing jackboots, they’ll have three-piece suits and ties
They’ll tell you things you want to hear, you’ll never know they’re lies.

Written in 1992. More of us should have been listening.

Damn annoying you can’t embed links in Youtube videos other than to your own website. Working on that problem. Meanwhile, I churned out another short subject (bonus: hot guys!)

I’m not vain enough to think I have a future in PR, but my heart is in this.


My Day

#1 Randy Rainbow Owns The Internet

(If you have been off the Internet radar or are, happily, a resident of a country other than the US, the last few days have been punctuated by hilarious speculations on what the hell the alleged President meant when he tweeted out something incoherent about “all the negative covfefe”. Presumably, “coverage.” But even Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary, reached a meta point of trolling himself when he answered reporters’ questions by asserting that “a small number of people know what the President meant.”

Nemmine honey. Randy has it covered.)

#2 Romania, Romania

I give money to panhandlers in the parking lot of my favorite grocery, even though I know they are probably working that spot because when you have impulse-bought a $7 bag of spiced nuts or a $9 bottle of wine that you hadn’t planned on, you feel like a fuckwad refusing a few singles to a beggar.

Honestly, I don’t know why they’re begging and I don’t care. Maybe they have a car around the corner. Maybe they are on drugs or drink a lot. Whatever, you have to have had some dispute with your own dignity to stand in a parking lot accosting people for dollar bills. My late and ex husband ended his life on the streets, as earnestly as he tried to keep from admitting it to me, and toward the end of the proceedings described to me how subway riders in nice business suits sometimes simply pressed a five dollar bill into his hand unasked (he never asked, not once). “People are so nice,” he would say from his hospital bed, this being the now-it-seems-fast-vanishing era when a destitute elderly man could end his days in clean linens.

I reckon I can afford a little in his memory. This time it was an old man of bearing, leaning but not painfully on a cane, his face marred by a large wen on his jaw, balding, olive-skinned, scythe-nosed. He looked like a man who should be sitting at the head of a table with a checked cloth, telling his children and grandchildren what it was like in his day; who ought to be taking thoughtful counsel with the government of his town or the elders of his village. Instead he had an index card attesting in crude ballpoint that he was a refugee “from Romania” and needed help paying his family’s expenses. Beside the index card he displayed a laminated ID that I am too blind to have read. I don’t know where he was from. Does Romania even have refugees, at this late date? But he could have as easily been Syrian. Maybe Syrians have figured out that other ethnic groups won’t get hated on as much. IDK. He most certainly did not look like a man who would drink it up; his eyes were clear, his skin was taut.

I gave him a couple of bills, and when he asked if I could spare more in a barely intelligible word salad, a couple more. He pointed to the place on the card that said “God Bless.”

I have no religion other than cats, but put my hand around his and said “God bless you too, Grandfather.”

It is going to get a lot more cruel out there before it gets kind again. I can spare a few bucks on what might be a hustle. Somehow it’s hard to think it was. I went home more at peace than I had been in days, which was worth the price.