Der Rosenkavalier at the Met

Sublime, thy name is the last 20 minutes of Act III of Der Rosenkavalier. I will also grant you the last 20 minutes of Act I and the 20 minutes that fall somewhere round the end of the first third of Act II, but the rest is a Thanksgiving turkey that's been stuffed with everything inside the refrigerator: pretty on the outside but too too too, too much. (Too much retinue bumbling, for example, too much bellowing from the odious Baron Ochs, and too much laughter had from the forced betrothal of an innocent young woman to the same odious man. So thanks for that, America! j/k, it's obviously German.)

Time, it is a curious thing.

This from the Marschallin, our melancholy heroine, in an opera about love and youth and beauty and everything passing by.

She is feeling old (at 32!); her husband is off shooting things in Croatia and she knows her young lover Octavian (17!) will soon grow tired of her. Rebuffing his efforts to cheer her (Act I), she must then apologize when he begins to cry: “Now I even have to console the boy for his leaving me sooner or later,” she sings, O sadder but wise girl, knowingly sending him off to deliver a silver rose to the one who will unwittingly become his next love. But first she tries to explain her mood to him, a thing he cannot understand because he's 17, and only a boy after all: “At times I get up in the middle of the night and stop all the clocks,” she tells him. “All of them.”

It hurts, this scene, how badly she wants to hold on, and how fiercely she resists. Time is sand. Life is water. We would value nothing if it lasted forever. And we shed a tear for her (well okay, I do), because while he swears his fidelity with all the passionate sincerity a 17-year-old boy can muster, he also up and falls in love—at first sight—with the poor girl to whom he delivers the rose at the top of the very next act.*

*This I know, having seen the opera many times before. Last night, however, we skipped all of Act II and both intermissions (~100 minutes, give or take) and hopped across the street to the Empire Hotel to unwind with a couple of biers. "Life is too short for Act II of Rosenkavalier" is something you can tattoo on my forehead. Feel free to share with others.

Ahem: but all of this, ultimately, is not why one sits through 4+ long hours in the balcony of the Metropolitan Opera surrounded by the Upper West Side's finest. Alas, one goes for three soprano roles: the famed Marschallin (Renée Fleming, all languorous good humor and noblesse oblige), Octavian (a believably pouty and proud Elīna Garanča), and Sophie (Erin Morley, pretty and bright). And, more specifically, one goes for those last 20 minutes, which include the loveliest trio in all opera—what is for two a beginning and one a goodbye.

I chose to love him
in the right way,
so that I would love even
his love for another! I truly didn't believe
that I would have to bear it so soon!

Twenty minutes of music that is the pure heart of longing, so sublime (see?) that I wept and wept, then wept some more. (Newsflash: Sally cried, too.) Not because it’s sad (although of course it’s sad), but because it is glorious. Three voices spinning and weaving and rising so clearly and so high it’s almost impossible to believe—even as you're watching with your own eyes—that their feet do not leave the ground.

I mean, just listen to this goddamn jingle (from the 2009 production):

As every fairy tale comes real

1
I stayed home on New Year's Eve, alone, like a nerd. Or a loser. I'm okay with either/both. Not everything can be an interaction 24/7/365. It was quiet, but I like quiet, especially since my new downstairs neighbor is not quiet. She is a slammer. Slam! slam! all hours of the night. I watched movies and cooked up finger foods and drank cheap wine and stayed awake until almost midnight and then said sayonara, sailors. A part of me feels I shouldn't admit to any of this, because it sounds sad, but A) my blog, my rules, and B) there are worse things in life than being alone (says me & Charles Bukowski). Millions of lives could be saved every day if people admitted this more often.

2
I've been searching for a bathrobe for years now—most are too heavy or too expensive or made for bears or monkeys—and last week I found this one at Lands' End, in a petite small. It fits. The color is advertised as "cherry jam ribbon," although in actual life the cherries resemble hearts and there is no ribbon, nor any accoutrements bearing any relation to anything that might be called jam. Unless I am supposed to "jam" while wearing it? In which case have they got the right girl!

3
People don't usually talk to me at the bus stop but this morning some kid must have missed the memo. He was waiting in the rain with his dad for the M11 and holding Charlie, a stuffed chicken. He was wearing a hooded Batman sweatshirt under his jacket and has a new sister at home named Lennox. He volunteered all of this to me, unbidden, with such sweet and guileless enthusiasm, and for a couple minutes after I boarded my bus (the M7), it did occur to me that maybe I've made all the wrong choices in my life. 

4
A famous story: years ago, a very short run of Company at the NY Philharmonic coincided with a run of Capriccio at the Met. The first featured Patti LuPone, among other notables (Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Colbert, Christina Hendricks, etc.), while the latter starred RenĂ©e Fleming. It was a very good time to be in New York City, and an even better time to have a late dinner after one of these performances at CafĂ© Fiorello, which is located directly across the street from Lincoln Center. At this restaurant on this particular night, we dined in the back at a small table right next to a larger table occupied by most of the cast of Company, including Patti LuPone. On our way out the door later, near the front, we passed RenĂ©e Fleming sitting at another small table, finishing her dinner. We waved hello and then collected ourselves in the foyer, where a waiter walked up and tossed RenĂ©e Fleming's floor-length fur coat into SarahB's arms and handed RenĂ©e Fleming's flowers to Sarah's friend Beth, imagining, I guess, that because we had waved hello to RenĂ©e Fleming on our way out the door, we were employed by her. Of course this was a weird but very exciting development on top of an already very exciting evening, although when RenĂ©e Fleming finally approached us, looking confused, to collect her coat and flowers, the only thing I could think of to say was "RenĂ©e! We got to sit next to Patti LuPone!"

5
Not all the choices I've made in my life have been wrong.

ThaĂŻs @ the Met

I went to the opera last night. And you know what? ThaĂŻs was fine being a rich, giggly, golden courtesan until some dreadlocked, hairshirt-wearing religious dandy decided she needed to become a nun, so he dragged her halfway across the desert, ruined her feet, cried on her a little (while chiming in on an oh-so-exquisite duet about fruits and water), and then dropped her at a convent to die. And guess what happened when he found out she was dying? He dragged himself back across the desert to say "Just kidding!" and "LMAO" about the whole thing, and to tell her she should live because "I love you now!" What an asshole! So of course she died.

God, I love the opera. It's the one place people can still be legitimately bananas and over-the-top these days, and get applause for it, and there are always Germans sitting behind you who shout "That was beautiful" real loud to each other just as the curtain is falling and you're wiping away an inevitable tear, thereby wrenching you back into the real world way before you're ready. But these are the same people you plow right over on your way back up the steps, which is the universe's way of righting itself.

Spectacle: Elvis Costello with Renée Fleming & Rufus Wainwright @ the Apollo

What an evening! Elvis Costello, Renee Fleming, Rufus Wainwright, Kate McGarrigle, and Bill Frisell on one stage. One of the most magical nights I can remember, a broad mixture of opera and jazz and pop and folk, with interviews and conversations interspersed with the music, and Elvis a smart and merry host.

The crowd was small and they had to fill in the front, so Sarah and I were bumped up into the second row, where we could watch it all play out in fits and starts for TV. (Where you can see it edited neatly together on the Sundance Channel in December.) We didn't even mind leaving Khaleem behind, in Row L of all places; it's nice for once to have a better seat than Khaleem, which is something that never ever happens.

And since it was being recorded for TV, we were treated to more than one performance of "Willie Moore" by Rufus, Elvis, and Kate, and a haunting rendition of "The Scarlet Tide" performed by all. Was anything else repeated? Who can remember, I only got five hours of sleep, preceded by something called "Mucho Nachos" at the Manhattan Diner.

And what can I say? I loved it all. I've long been a fan of the main three, and have seen both Rufus and Renee perform live before, but what a treat to be introduced to McGarrigle and Frisell, as well. Of course the real treasure was being able to see all of these artists up close—casual, relaxed, intimate—in such a gorgeous theater, world-class artists who are at the top of their respective talents and uncompromising in their visions, yet so open and curious and engaged, and truly, genuinely excited to share their love of music—with each other and with the audience. The depth and breadth of knowledge was extraordinary, and it was inspiring to see how many levels they could all connect on simply because they speak this common language. And all you need to do to understand it is to listen. Amazing!

Did I mention the tickets were free?

ELVIS COSTELLO

  • All This Useless Beauty
  • If I Only Had a Brain (with Bill Frisell)

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT

  • Memphis Skyline (partial)
  • My Phone's On Vibrate for You
  • L'Absence (Berlioz)

RENÉE FLEMING

  • Vissi d'arte (from Tosca)
  • Answer Me (with Bill Frisell) — My favorite number of the night; so, so lovely, I was brushing away tears. And although I will be crucified for saying it, I do hope she moves back into jazz when she's no longer singing opera full-time. Why would you limit such a voice to one style or genre? I think that would be a crime. One of the reasons I admire her—why she's not only my favorite soprano but one of my favorite singers—is because she takes risks, and never settles. I think that's something to celebrate, not discourage.

ALL

  • In the Pines
  • The Scarlet Tide

Interview: Renee Fleming at Kaplan Penthouse

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Q: And what is La Scala like to sing in?

A: Fabulous. Fabulous. If the house is empty, it's even better.

Renee Fleming interview at the Kaplan Penthouse (Lincoln Center) tonight. If you ever have the chance to see her in person—singing, speaking—don't think twice, just go. She's charming, ambitious, determined, hard working, modest, funny, and smart. You don't even have to love opera to love that. (Just be on the alert for ancient cranks with canes and fur coats: those people are pushy, and they would eat their own children before they'd give up a seat.)

Eugene Onegin @ the Met

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Eugene Onegin at The Metropolitan Opera

Sung in Russian with Met Titles in English
Eugene Onegin: Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Tatiana: Renée Fleming
Lenski: Ramon Vargas

Act I.

Tatiana, a naive young country girl, meets her neighbor Onegin, the worldly White Russian (a smooth mixture of vodka, Kahlua, and cream). She is in love at first stroll: that night she composes a long, lovely letter on a stage blanketed with bright autumn leaves. She is passionate, exhilarated, filled with joy...until the letter is delivered. Both proud and prejudiced, he spurns her: what does he want of domesticity, a home in the country, a little wife? (Note: He will rue the day.)

Act II.

Later. At a candy-colored celebration, he flirts with his best friend's girl and is challenged to a duel. A bare stage, two manly men, a single gunshot breaks the air: the friend (a poet, dark and swarthy) falls to the ground beneath an ice blue sky.

Transition: To the grand strains of Tchaikovsky's Polonaise (you would know it), he changes his shirt onstage. A grateful audience—straight, gay, confused, curious, and everything in between—swoons. Thus is the power of a collective experience. 

Act III.

Later yet: He rues the day! They meet again at a party; she is serene, composed, married. He loves her now, she loves him still. Much clutching ensues, much rending of garments, declarations, promises, tearful beseeching...but alas, she will not leave her husband.

Regret!

Misery!

And...curtain.