20 February 2008

Postcards from the Opera

Though you might not realize it from the pages of magazines and newspapers, critics and editors aren’t the only ones who write reviews. When I worked at Opera News, I often heard from readers about the exciting productions they attended. Here are a few samples recovered from my personal files.

We heard the most exciting contemporary opera last night! It is called La Traviata, and it was written by the stage director, Udo Tischbein, who according to the program is twenty-seven years old and has thirteen body piercings, only six of which could I see from where I sat. According to Mr. Tischbein, La Traviata is about decadent Western imperialism, but honestly, all I saw was a big fish. At first, I thought it was going to be like The Little Mermaid — but no, just a fish. She sang relevantly, however. The orchestra performed on a variety of tin cans and kitchen appliances while Verdi’s score was played backwards on a reel-to-reel tape, then kicked around the stage by a man in a George Bush mask. At the end of the first act, Mr. Tischbein came out and urinated on the conductor, and the stage manager called the police and we all had to leave the theater.

We saw the Anna Netrebko show last night. I find classical music very relaxing, but every time the chorus joined in, I kept waking up. With those looks, Netrebko has boffo box-office potential. Why doesn’t she make movies? We could always dub her dialogue. We’ll package her with that Josh Groban, some kind of romcom but with car chases, maybe a terrorist threat, where they sing to stop the bomb from going off. Start out with limited distribution, get good groundswell of word-of-mouth, then expand to nationwide release. International sales are guaranteed. That’s what Netrebko needs: really proactive marketing strategy. She could be the next Nicole Kidman. Now I’m just waiting to get the hell out of this damned parking lot. [Sent via Blackberry]

Netrebko: Boffo

We took the train in to the city to hear that one that always makes me cry. No, not that one, the other one. Harry, what was the name of the opera? The one with the Rice Krispies song in it. Anyway, the sets were very pretty. We all clapped and clapped like mad. And there were lots of horses and doggies in it. There was even a donkey! We clapped for him, too. But there were no kitties. That’s too bad. I really like kitties. But you know, New York smells funny. I don’t think we’ll be going back. Well, maybe to see Wicked again. Mittens says to tell oo she wuvs oo.

The early-music festival here is in full swing. Last night we joined a capacity audience of six for the first performance in three hundred years and four months of Ottodidactico, by Handel’s long-lost uncle, Bob Handelman, a dry-goods salesman and amateur composer of great skill, sadly neglected in his own time, and indeed in every time since. Only great experts can appreciate his work as completely as I do. Thus you can imagine my outrage when I learned that the key role of Gottobertaldo had been assigned to a bass-baritone! In this day and age! And at a festival, no less!

The result was unquestionably the greatest catastrophe in the history of music. From his entrance aria, it was obvious that Dmitri Tchopitoff was sorely overparted. However, at intermission, the conductor took him into an alley behind the theater and dealt with him appropriately: with period surgical instruments and strict adherence to the traditional methods of Handelman’s time, immersing Tchopitoff in a vat of unpasteurized milk, with no anesthesia. At last we heard the notes as Handelman intended!

Fleming: Faaaaabulous

Renée — I call her Renée — sang here last night. Her new hairdo is so flattering, and it frames her new face just beautifully, especially in the third gown she wore, an original creation by Pincochon designed just for her, exclusively. I didn’t like the first two gowns — they made her look like a frumpy middle-aged housewife! It was all I could do to keep from laughing. I sent a note backstage at intermission: “Honestly, girl, don’t you have any gay friends? I wouldn’t be caught dead in that rag! Do yourself a favor and burn it now!!!” I didn’t sign it, because of the restraining order, but I took it to a security guard at the stage door and said, “Look, I’m a close personal friend of Renée’s, and this is a matter of life and death — she must get this message right away!”

And I could tell she got it, too, because she was kind of squinting and looking around the auditorium in the next scene — looking for me, of course. She is such a wonderful, giving artist, to create that kind of connection with her public. And when she took her bow at the end, she put her hand over her heart and mouthed the words “Thank you,” and I said to all the people around me, “That’s for me — we’re old friends,” just in case they couldn’t tell.

And we are old friends. I’ve seen every performance she’s given in the Bay Area since 1987, and I quit my job so that I could travel to other cities to hear her. I think she knows now that, if she’s ever having a bad day, she can pick up the phone, anywhere in the world, and call me, any time of day or night, and I’ll listen to her, and I’ll understand. I think she knows that. And no matter how sordid her emotional crisis is, no matter how many other opera celebrities are involved, I’ll carry her innermost secrets to my grave.

(As you know, I’ve left special instructions for what Renée will sing at my funeral. I’ll go first, of course — I couldn’t live without her.)

They didn’t put my name on the guest list, so I had to wait for her at the stage door. I wore a fake moustache, so that manager of hers wouldn’t recognize me — but Renée saw right through it! “Oh, it’s you,” she said. “I had a feeling you might be here.” What an angel.

I’ve run out of stuff for her to sign — programs, photos, books, record albums, other people’s photos, books and record albums, an empty Rolex box, blank checks, old newspapers, a Chinese take-out menu, the San José phone directory, my arm, my leg, my chest. I’ll show you some time. This time I asked her to sign the back of my neck.

“You need to sing more Strauss,” I said. “You are ten times better than that slut Debbie Voigt. Why don’t you sing Ariadne for us?” She said, “Actually, I’m scheduled to sing that in Chicago in five years, but it’s not official, and we haven’t announced it yet.”

“I meant sing right now,” I said. “Here. Now.” Oh, how we laughed together.

(But naturally I went straight to Opera-L when I got home. I was the first person to break the news. And I’ve already booked my flight to Chicago!)