Friday, June 20, 2008
On Thursday afternoon, the Iceman cometh—and fixeth. The last major obstacle to our being fully functional was overcome with the repair, finally, of the refrigerator. Tom from Sears—tall, rangy, cute Tom—spent an hour replacing various parts that had deteriorated during storage in the barn all winter, and when he left, the fridge was pumping cold air. Hallefrickin’lulia!-- the wine’s chilling and we’re fully in business!
With Paolo Szot getting the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical and our old friend, shirtless Nathan Gunn scoring raves for two recent classic Broadway revivals, the NY Times opera critic muses on how musicals used to be performed:
Out of Opera’s Cradle, Hunky Broadway Babies
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
Published: June 19, 2008
Opera buffs who admire the American baritone Nathan Gunn should perhaps be concerned about his recent forays into musical theater. After stealing the show as Lancelot in the New York Philharmonic’s presentation of Lerner and Loewe’s “Camelot” in May, he scored another triumph as Gaylord Ravenal in the concert adaptation of “Show Boat,” the landmark Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical, at Carnegie Hall on June 10.
Could the opera world be losing Mr. Gunn to Broadway? With his suave singing, handsome looks and natural acting skills, he made the transition to these classic musicals look easy.
For the baritone Paulo Szot, who on Sunday picked up the Tony Award for his portrayal of Emile de Becque in the Lincoln Center Theater’s fresh, respectful and affecting revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” it may already be too late. Though he has commitments in opera through 2011, Broadway producers surely have other temptations in mind.
Just a few years ago the Brazilian-born Mr. Szot was singing roles like Mozart’s Count Almaviva and Donizetti’s Belcore at New York City Opera to merely respectful reviews. Credit the casting team of “South Pacific” for recognizing his potential and Bartlett Sher, the production’s Tony Award-winning director, with helping him develop his debonair portrayal of de Becque. Singing “Some Enchanted Evening” to Kelli O’Hara’s irrepressible Nellie Forbush, Mr. Szot brings an affecting blend of dramatic urgency and melting lyricism to the timeless melody.
Both baritones are probably safe bets for long careers in opera, especially Mr. Gunn, who has had major successes in the field. Besides, “South Pacific,” “Show Boat” and “Camelot” are musicals of another era. The rappin’, rockin’, pop-infused scores that dominate Broadway today do not require singers able to bend the phrases of “Make Believe” or “If Ever I Would Leave You.”
These three shows have taken us back to a time when the worlds of opera and musical theater were fairly closely aligned, at least in the cultivation of the singing voice. In 1949, when the great Italian bass Ezio Pinza, at 56, created the role of de Becque in “South Pacific,” having retired from the Metropolitan Opera the previous year, critics were enthralled.
“Mr. Pinza’s bass voice is the most beautiful that has been heard on a Broadway stage for an eon or two,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in his New York Times review.
Today that comment seems a slight to singers who came before Pinza, especially the dynamic baritone John Raitt, who originated Billy Bigelow in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 “Carousel.” Raitt could easily have thrived in opera.
To understand how close the vocal traditions of opera and musical theater used to be, listen to the free, flexible and rich singing of Pinza’s co-star, Mary Martin, on the original cast album of “South Pacific.” Her phrasing is elegant, her diction articulate and unmannered. She was a natural vocal talent who had taken a wayward path into show business. Somehow she learned to project her voice and sing with shimmering richness.
On the 1954 cast recording of “Peter Pan” there is a revealing duet, “Oh, My Mysterious Lady,” when Martin, as Peter, pretending to be a beautiful woman bedecked in scarves, tries to ensnare Captain Hook (Cyril Ritchard). At one point Martin breaks into a flourish of fancy operatic runs, complete with leaps, trills and daring top notes.
She was no brassy belter, like the awesome Ethel Merman. Yet in Atkinson’s review of “South Pacific,” he describes her as “blowing out the walls of the theater with the rapture of ‘I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy.’ ”
Which brings up the major difference between the Broadway of 50 years ago and today: amplification. Until the 1960s Broadway theaters, like opera houses, were havens of natural sound. This did not mean that only powerhouse singers could thrive there. Think of Fred Astaire, with his small, sweet-toned voice. During the 1920s and ’30s, he starred in Gershwin and Porter musicals, and you never read in reviews that he could not be heard. Composers wrote songs with Astaire’s literate delivery style in mind and kept the orchestrations light. Back then, audiences were willing to lean forward and pay attention.
Amplification changed not just the nature of singing in musical theater but also the expectations of patrons, who grew reliant on beefed-up sound systems. The amplification for the Lincoln Center Theater’s “South Pacific” is subtle compared with the typically blaring Broadway show these days. Still, as much as I loved the production, I kept fantasizing about hearing the cast and orchestra perform without electronic assistance.
Surprisingly for a singer trained in opera, Mr. Szot has called the body microphone a “wonderful thing” that enables him to deliver spoken dialogue with conversational naturalness. It’s true that Martin and Pinza had to project their spoken lines in the 1,600-seat Majestic Theater, and for Pinza this was the toughest part of the transition from opera.
Just one week after opening night, he was afflicted with a throat ailment and had to miss several performances. In interviews he said the strain of speaking his lines, something he was not used to, was the cause of his troubles. Yet hearing trained musical theater artists speaking dialogue in strong, clear voices, without the processing of amplification, surely created another kind of intimacy with the audience.
Mr. Gunn, especially in “Camelot,” seemed not completely adjusted to his body microphone. He has a rich and resonant but not enormous voice. He is not one of those bellowing “tree-trunk Verdi baritones,” as he has put it. In opera he tries to sing full out, while being careful not to push his voice. Having to hold back because he was hooked up to a microphone seemed to throw him a little.
As usual, Mr. Gunn was a physically nimble and compelling actor, both as Lancelot and Ravenal. The assumption that opera singers are acting stiffs is outmoded and unfair. For the most part singers of the new generation pay attention to looking good and staying in shape, and welcome working with challenging directors, provided that the production is not loaded down with some incongruous concept.
But there have always been riveting actors in opera capable of great dramatic subtlety. The problem is that they perform in big houses in which nuances can be hard to discern. Opera on video and, now, streamed live to movie houses, has been changing the perception on this score.
Opera singers have been less skilled, over all, than their musical theater colleagues at projecting words. At its finest, musical theater is an art form that magically blends snappy, stylish lyrics with complementary music. Too many opera singers, juggling dozens of roles in several languages, become careless about enunciating clearly.
Mr. Gunn’s crisp, clear English diction eased his transition to musical theater. And for all his burnished singing, Mr. Szot does not fudge a single word of Hammerstein’s lyrics.
For now, among other roles, Mr. Szot has Escamillo in “Carmen” awaiting him next spring in Toulouse, France. But he is also thinking about “Man of La Mancha.” At 38, he has reached a crucial crossroad. Meanwhile, even if Mr. Gunn, 37, wanted a career in musical theater, he too would have to become a revival king. And there are not enough revivals around to keep him fully employed, thank goodness. Still, it’s been fascinating to accompany him on his fleeting visit to a neighborly genre.
We're getting things the way we want them gradually, room by room. There won't be any pictures of the great room for a while because we're going to live in it and change things around until we get them where we want them. But here are some shots of rooms that are getting close to--or have arrived at--how we're going to be living in them:
The Exercise/Dressing room. The IKEA hanging clothing rack system is on the right. My weight bench is in the left foreground and the exercise bike in the background. I attached the top of a music stand to it so I can read a book while pedaling.
Nothing too interesting, just the new storage shelves in the mechanical room. The heavy steel shelves were given to me by the boys who run the MIT Press Bookstore. The wood uprights are salvaged from the tremendous stock of scrap wood from the house's construction.
The house at twilight with interior and exterior lights on. Through the windows you can see the chandelier lights int he middle and the line of little beam lights that give a gentle wash of light to the pine sheathing of the great room cathedral ceiling.
The base for the hot tub on its bed of crushed rock. The big flat boulder will act as a step for getting into the tub. It's about eight feet wide and must weigh a ton at least, if not more.
The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush
People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history.
Glad you got your refrigerator fixed -- nice that the fixer guy was cute too! :)
I never realized how many hot Opera singers there were in the world.
The house is looking gorgeous!
The house is joyous with light. Also, since we're on the hillside in the woods with no other houses around, we need no shades or curtains and light is always with us.
romach--we're incredibly happy with it. Our general contractor finally "got it" when he said that he was used to building houses, but this was art.
Mike--I've seen Szot on stage at the New York City Opera and liked him a lot. Fine voice, good acting skills--particularly comedy. And very pleasant to look at!
I'm anxious to see more.
Well, I know little of Broadway and less of opera. Besides my one visit to Broadway and 3 plays and one musical starring Hugh Jackman that I saw, PBS is where I see most of the musical fare. I'd never heard of Paulo Szot before the Tony's and admit I was disappointed someone that I recognized did not win.lol Although, I enjoyed his on air performance. As a novice of theatre I kind of favored Brian Stokes Mitchell's performance that I enjoy on dvd of SP from a Carnegie Hall concert. I enjoyed the article though. Thanks
And I love your Bush quotes!
it is the sort of home i have always longed to have.