Sunday, April 01, 2007

I came home from the opera Friday night (Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera"—The Masked Ball) and the mockingbird was at the height of his nightly serenade. He likes to get onto the highest point he can--usually the chimney of one of the taller houses--and go through his entire repertory for hours all through the night. It's so lovely to go to sleep to his singing. Mockingbird voices are big--his song carries for blocks, particularly in the still of the deep night. Just enchanting.

The opera (presented by Boston Lyric Opera) was highly variable and the leading lady was anything BUT enchanting. The two lead men were outstanding: a tall, handsome tenor completely at ease on stage with a voice to match his good looks (Julian Gavin) and the smooth-as-silk baritone Chen Ye-Yuan. But Rumanian soprano Doina Dimitriu made some of the ugliest, most ungainly sounds I've ever heard on a stage. She had no concept of how to produce high notes so she blasted them at ear-splitting volume; the wear and tear on the voice has resulted in a weird type of vocal production that resembled heavy lifting.

When the performance was over, I sought out the company's chorus master B, a colleague of mine at MIT. The first thing he asked was "well, what did you think?" in a tone that left no doubt about whom he meant. "The sad part," I replied "is that somewhere in there there's an exciting, even sumptuous voice that's literally screaming to get out".

The chorus was filled with guys who had been in our "Curlew River" cast so I waited at the stage door and as they came out a small crowd of us gathered. They told me that I now have a new title. They’ve dubbed everyone who was in our highly successful production "River Rats" and I'm delighted to be one.

Last night at Jordan Hall I went to a concert of Antonio Vivaldi’s "Juditha Triumphans", a dramatic oratorio on the biblical story of the Jewish lady who infiltrated the invading Assyrians' camp and assassinated the enemy general. "Juditha" is filled with beguiling music very lushly orchestrated and filled with exotic Baroque instruments that have ceased to be used in modern orchestras, like the chalumeau (sounds like a cross between a flute and a clarinet) or the lavishly strung theorbo, giving the score an exotic sound always filled with Vivaldi's sensuous, graceful lyricism.
In the midst of excellent singing and playing, my attention was often drawn to two young men seated on the side of the orchestra across the hall from my first row side balcony seat. Casually and completely naturally, they sat through the performance with their arms linked or resting on the other's knee. Sometimes, one would slip his arm around the other's shoulder. They held hands. As the first half ended and the house lights came up for intermission, they stood and stretched and one turned and kissed the other. They were beautiful together.

I went downstairs to use the men's room and on my way back to my seat, I saw them standing together in the lobby. Totally on impulse, I went over and said that I was sitting in a seat where I could see them clearly and was quite moved by their totally open expression of affection for one another. Then I added, "many of us weren't convinced we'd live long enough to see a time when this would be possible". They thanked me for what I'd said and one of them squeezed my arm. They were in their early 20s somewhere and I wondered if they truly understood what an incredible distance we've traveled, and what major sacrifices have been made so that they might be free to show their love in public. But of course, wasn't that one of the major goals of the struggle?--that succeeding generations might be free do exactly what they were doing, completely openly, without having to worry that there might be serious, even fatal consequences.

On Friday afternoon I got a call to let me know that my house would be shown to a prospective buyer on Saturday afternoon. The drop in asking price seems to have broken the log jam. There's an Open House scheduled here later today (I'll be in New York seeing Rossini's extravagant romantic opera "La Donna del Lago"--The Lady of the Lake--based on Sir Walter Scott's famous epic poem); tomorrow my realtor will give me a full report on how many people showed up and some idea of their reactions to the house as an indication of how difficult or (please!) easy it may be to sell. I'm hardly going to expect any offers right away--at this point I'm just happy someone wants to look at the house--but I certainly wouldn't mind if somebody made one!

Many thanks to J.P. of J.P. for Dummies for posting this. Can you imagine an American presidential candidate taking part in such a public service campaign?

The posters show three of the candidates for the French Presidential election, left to right [politically as well as graphically], Ségolène Royal, François Bayrou and Nicolas Sarkozy, with the caption:

Would you vote for me if I was HIV-positive?
It's AIDS that needs to be excluded [from France], not people with AIDS

I'm in total love with the whole post, Will. I know nothing about the musical instruments...but was fascinated. Loved the HIV/French thing.....and am passing that along to a buddy in France. And the story about the boys holding hands...amazing, true, heartwarming.
The Masked Ball is one of my favorites; There is a poster of such hanging over my piano.
Did they set it in Sweden or Massachusetts? It would be fun to set it in comtemporary Boston, no?
Just returned from the Masked ball myself. Will right about the Soprano, and that interfered with the ensemble singing and left a sort of buzzing up my ears, but there some additional good parts of the production.

I loved the transformation from court to gypsy cave in Act 1. The BLO is platform happy, but having the stage platform split and slide apart with boards hanging off the edges, the back wall go askew, and the red glow issue from traps in the stage was very exciting. The starkness of the Anckarstrom home in Act 3 was also very effective - all the same set pieces but with huge gaps that were very disturbing.

Will failed to mention that Oscar, as sung by Heidi Strober, was also a joy.

But most significantly, this was a powerful performance - raw and scary and tough - with the "pretty" parts emphasizing this by contrast. I was on the edge of my seat a lot!

Oh, and it was set in Sweden. The Boston setting is just too ridiculous for the local crowd!

- Will's Architect friend H
H--Thanks for leaving that comment. You're right about the production. My favorite set was actually the first one that repeated at the end. I've seen many of those austere/handsome Northern Neo-Classical rooms in Sweden and particularly in Denmark (where I've spent much more time).

The chorus members weren't quite so bullish about the set which is apparently something of a bear to negotiate, but having the set rip apart as you describe was a true coup de theatre and wonderfully effective. And yes, Ms Stober (who has come along very fast) is pure delight.
Thank you for reposting the French ad!! My ears went red when I saw it on your blog. I really envy your life. I wish Lexington had a little in the way of concerts (other than the pop stuff at Rupp Arena). I missed being in college for that reason. Well, that's one of MANY reasons why I miss college.
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