EVERY RECORD EVER RECORDED!!! A Field Guide to the Music of Earth


 

#6: AN INTRODUCTION TO OPERA with Greg Freed
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In which we discuss music as math homework, the excitement of "wrong" singing, Lawrence Tibbett's forehead, and the proper way to insult one's seatmates at the Met.
 

True Crime · ERER006: Opera with Greg Freed

 

COVER STARS:

Marie and Lilli Lehmann, sister powerhouses


FURTHER EXPLORATION:


* Greg's writing at The Parterre Box! This publication "basically invented the way that modern opera queens talk" - it was a zine before it was a blog, which gives you an idea of its critical stance and aesthetic, which is all very exciting.


* Official ERER006 Youtube playlist with everything we heard in the show, plus more!


* The rather magisterial A History of Opera, by Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker (at indie bookseller/giantkiller bookshop.org, or a library near you!)


* a recording of castrato singer Alessandro Moreschi


* More on castrati: a physician's historical, cultural, artistic, theological and medical look at castrati (part one and part two), Naomi Andre's Voicing Gender (buy it / library it) a book focusing on castrati in early 19th-century opera. (And not to be a downer but of course we do still castrate children in 2020, just not for artistic reasons.)


* Amadeus, the movie - an enjoyable confection which gave us all many misconceptions about poor Salieri, and the song Rock Me, Amadeus


* The Queen of the Night aria! This delightful youtube "who sang it best?" roundup may be the opposite of the Voyager Golden Record: the cultural document which will convince the aliens to give Earth a wide berth, just in case. There are some tremendous feats of singing and costuming here, and it's a great demonstration of the range of different ways to sing the same music - if you don't think you have opinions about opera singing, this is a fun place to discover that you do. Also by the end of nearly seven minutes you may feel like taking some slow deep breaths and lying down for awhile.


* "Salammbo" in situ in Citizen Kane


* Sing Faster!: documentary about The Ring, from the stagehands' perspective


* Leonie Rysanek's 1996 farewell to the Met, just the curtain calls: heart-clutching, flower-flinging, nine minutes of howling applause, and a sports-fan bedsheet banner dangled out of a parterre box by someone in a suit and tie. Le-o-nie! Le-o-nie! I watched the entire thing and I triple dog dare you not to cry.


* Robert Wilson's Lohengrin is not currently on youtube, but here are some illustrative samples of his aesthetic:
* a trailer for Mozart's oratorio Der Messias: floating trees, a soprano pouring water on her own head, a dancer in an astronaut suit
* a trailer for La Traviata: horned heads, Dan-Flavin-eque hovering fluorescents, pallid ball gowns glinting in the high-contrast lighting
* a full recording of Einstein on the Beach - suspenders, school desks, gantries... Wilson collaborated with composer Philip Glass on the libretto, and in performance it runs about five hours without intermission, so per Wikipedia "the audience is permitted to enter and leave as desired."


* Bilingual Madama Butterfly (in English and Japanese, starring a Chinese-Australian soprano, performed in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo neighborhood)


* Tokyo's Nikikai Opera production of Madama Butterfly 2017, with (delightfully) an all-Japanese cast, including the white characters


* In April the Met put on a Gala-At-Home - as Greg described it, that performing arts thing of "we're going to put on a brave face and put on a show no matter what." High-level musicianship, endearing informality, can't beat the poignancy of the moment. The Times liked it.


* About the physics conundrum of remote music-making


* everybody's classical-music-critic crush Alex Ross! His writing itself is such a pleasure that I don't always even listen to the music that he's talking about... which might not sound like an endorsement, but it absolutely is. If you're going to dance about archi- I mean, read about opera, there is no better place to start. He's a staff writer at the New Yorker, and you can read much of his work for free on his excellent blog. Here he is on an unjustly forgotten Black Wagnerian (and her father, a Black Shakespearean), and on opera queens and gay operas. His first two books, The Rest Is Noise (library link) and Listen To This (library link), both dip into opera, and his forthcoming third book is all about Wagner, sort of - due in September 2020. This is my favorite single piece of his, a vivid, sprawling virtuoso essay which takes in classism and racism and the fetishization of the past, Missy Elliott and Timbaland and Steve Reich, and his own years in the wilderness going to punk rock shows at 924 Gilman (!!!) - among many other things. It first came out in 2004 and I still find it both relevant and thrilling.


HEARD ON THE SHOW:


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