Buzz from the hive

In La Cieca’s inbox this AM:

“I work at the Met and am so pleased to see clarified the entire Erika Sunnegardh mystery. It had actually never occurred to me that the Godfather Himself was behind this, but it makes perfect horrible sense. We (the worker bees) cannot WAIT for him to be history (lower-case ‘h’), but have ambiguous feelings about the future as we belatedly rocket into the 20th Century.”


39 Responses to “Buzz from the hive”

  1. paddypig Says:

    rumor has it that opera in the park has been postphoned to the end of August. The traditional mid-June dates seem to conflict with the tour to Japan. Say it isn’t so. This has always been a very special way to welcome summer into New York

  2. julienned Says:

    I wonder about the future of the Met as well. I read that ticket sales are down, the house is at around 80%, and that the tickets that are sold are discounted. When I’m at the house, if I’m not sitting in the very top balcony, I’m surrounded by comb-overs. Granted, some of New York’s most distinguished comb-overs. But, it is obviously an aging audience.

    In addition, as many of La Cieca’s posts demonstrate, the level of performers isn’t nearly what it was even thirty years ago. And, it’s not just a matter of voices.

    So, I’m hoping that the change of guard will bring a vision that can inspire the artistic community and intrique the public. There’s no point longing for another era’s treasures, but this administration has never had a vision. (I’m not including Levine here, who I think has made a marvelous, lasting contirbution to the Met, New York, and music in general.)

    I would be interested in hearing from an insider what the feelings/hopes/fears about the new Met are.

    I don’t mean to sound so negative, but I feel about this the way a person does who owns a fine old Victorian house and checks every morning to see how many shingles have fallen off the roof.

  3. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    There’s no doubt the audience at the Met and at other opera houses has aged. Of course, I’ve aged too but I remember quite well when the sights during the intermissions often rivaled those onstage. No longer. A young couple here and there but otherwise most intermissions are a let down. (Pun intended.) Pehaps that is why the Met has fewer intermissions these days.

  4. rysanekfreak Says:

    Intermissions at the San Francisco Opera used to be an amazing experience back in the 1970s and 1980s. Leather… nuscle shirts…
    jeans… distressed jeans with dramatic rips in the back… tuxes. The posing and cruising were simply FIERCE! Especially on Caballe Nights, or Rysanek nights, or Scotto nights. But age and AIDS all but wiped out two generations of male opera-goers, and now you have tourists and college girls filling the seats. And both of these groups talk nonstop during performances. I’ve stopped flying out to San Francisco because it’s just not the same. No more Good Old Days. I feel like the last remaining dinosaur who remembers what it was like “back in the day.”

  5. Ah yes, rysanek freak, I remember it well (which I guess makes me an extinct species as well). I started attending SFO regularly in 1972 and can attest to the accuracy of your descriptions! Standing room in the top balcony in those days could be thrilling in many ways. BTW, my single most favorite night at the opera was the 1976 Frau with Rysanek and Bohm conducting. I still get goose bumps thinking of her cry of “Ich..will…nicht” in Act 3, or the beauty and majesty of the orchestral interludes. I had never heard such music before. An older friend who accompanied me and who was familiar with Frau kept saying at each intermission (while ogling the scene, of course) how the next act was going to be even better than what we had just heard. I didn’t think it possible, but he was right. The cumulative effect was overwhelming. How did Bohm coax such monumental sounds out of the orchestra with such tiny beats? Incredible. And whatever happened to Ursula Schroeder Feinen? She was a magnificent Dyer’s Wife and I never heard of her again.

    You are right, of course, about the devastating impacts of age and AIDS. But I think the lack of singers of the calibre you mention, and a succession of less-than-stellar general directors have also taken their toll. You could always count on Kurt Herbert Adler for at least one thrilling production, usually more, each season (although he served up his dregs as well). I, for one, thought Pamela Rosenberg was a disaster and am glad to see her gone. I am optimistic though about David Gockley. I hope you will come check us out when he gets going full steam in a couple years.

    There are still occasional evenings when the onstage performance and the audience eye candy still come together. Tends to be on bare chest nights — most recently with Nathan Gunn in Billy Budd, or Charles Castronovo in Pearl Fishers. The latter was superb, both vocally and visually. Yum.


    No, I’m a dinosaur too that somehow (no fault of my own) survived the 70’s. God, I miss those days!! Opera and fierce crusing!!


    I also must inject that during the 70’s I also would hear opera fans nostalgic for the “good old days” of the 20;s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. So things have not changed, I guess, too much!

  8. You are so right, callasorphan. At the Frau performance I mentioned, my friend kept talking about how wonderful Hilde Konetzni was in Vienna when he lived there in the 50s. I just looked at him blankly. Now I am on the receiving end of those looks. Older and wiser, I guess.


    I thought that these nostalgic days would never come for me. But, guess what? there heeeeeere! I too get the blank stares when I talk of days gone by. Oh what the hell! I’m still here and still qu… but hopefully a little wiser!

  10. scifisci Says:

    those “good ole days” aren’t completely gone…yet…but i agree the audience for opera, especially at the MET is full of people who simply go to the opera to say they go, or have decided to see the “other” version of Rent. As for the age…i’m afraid i’ll be all alone in that big opera house in 20 years!

    As a student, i love the cheap student tickets, however it is sad that I am able to get prime orchestra seats to performances of traviata with gheorghiu, manon with fleming, etc. which i would hope would be worth more than $25!!!


    scifisci DON’T despair! I too, in my youth, thought I’d be the sole surviving opera lover. LOOK on this blog. Opera Is ALIVE!!!!!
    I was told very recently, by an old fart like me that opera is dead! After I called the old fart a few not so nice names, I told him that as long as I was alive it ain’t dead–that’s when I HAD to return to this blog and it indeed restores my faith. YOU scifisci and those like you give me much hope–hang in there!

  12. Chalkenteros Says:

    It is strange how OLD the average Met-goer is, both physically and culturally.

    At the final Mazeppa a couple of weeks ago, I was phoning my boyfriend during intermission, and I ended our brief conversaion with “I love you.” No sooner had I snapped my cell phone shut than this old bat with a mess of ancient blonde hair piled on top of her head butted in, asking me “Was that your wife?” When I informed her that, no, it was my male parter, she looked absolutely scandalized. “Are you that way?” she asked, with a look of sheer horror on her face.

    Fuckin-a’, lady! I hardly think that this woman’s attitude was typical of Met-goers of a certain age, but I was vividly reminded of how archaic the whole operatic context is.

    Blast into the 20th century indeed!

  13. celticpriestess Says:

    Thanks very much, Callasorphan! I hoped you’d be back. And you folks are not the “sole surviving opera lovers,” believe me! I know, since I hear from younger opera fans at both radio stations I work for and among my radio friends. Not long ago, I got an e-mail from a younger friend asking me about opera, and she said of her favorite soprano, “She ROCKS!” There are others like this youngster with that kind of enthusiasm, thank goodness. Back in my teens in the 1970s, supposedly hip people were telling me that jazz was dead, too; 30 years later I work for a jazz station with a loyal audience AND plenty of music from young, living artists along with the classics. Opera is also very much alive, and it will certainly be with us as long as there are people like the ones here who care about it so much!


    Dear chalkenteros, I’ve been through the samething–years ago My partner and I had checks with both our names on them so circa 1968, the grocery store clerk inquired in a loud (Wagnerian) voice so the whole store could hear ‘WHY THE HELL ARE THERE TWO MEN’S NAME ON THIS CHECK”? I mumbled some fake explanation. At least now you were a little more comfortable about saying that it was your male partner. In circa 1968 I woulkd have been lynched!
    Just keep on going to opera and STAY PROUD!!

  15. i’m sure this question has some obvious answer which i just haven’t come across yet….but why are so many of us die hard opera fans gay and so in love with the female voice especially?

  16. Chalkenteros Says:

    This question has been tackled most eloquently by Wayne Koestenbaum in his early 90s book, The Queen’s Throat.

    Koestenbaum visited my central NY State college after the publication of his book. He was fabulous and caused a sensation. I think he wore red leather pants.

    For me, your question can be answered in one word: Zerbinetta.

  17. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    The cost of tickets to the opera must also be a major factor. If you’re not a student or rather affluent, prices to the theatre these days are rather prohibitive.

    Worse if you have to buy subscriptions. For performances of interest, often buying individual tickets on short notice can be quite difficult. (Unless they are the multi hundred dollar seats in the boxes or orchestra.)

  18. I loved Koestenbaum’s book. When I read it, I SO related to his love of Anna Moffo and how he described her voice. I spent a good deal of time in my teens listening to her recording of Gilda (with Kraus and Merrill), and other things like the Italian Street Song, and when I read The Queen’s Throat, I thought he must be my twin in some parallel universe.

  19. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    I have to say, when I go to an opera – I like to sit in one of two places…toward the front and middle of the top balcony or about 7-15 rows from the pit…alas, I cannot ever afford THOSE seats unless they are complimentary tickets (which thankfully they often are)…but honestly, one gets the BEST sound from the top balcony – at least in a house as well-disposed to acoustics as the Met is…I can’t say the same for the NYCO Theatre…it’s like a giant pillow – especially when singing there. Up there (in the Family or Dress Circle) one can get the sensation of being at the point where all the sound reaches and resonates…You can see just enough to know what’s going on…I personally don’t care so much about what I am seeing…I’d much rather have my nose buried in the score for that matter (that’s the academic in me) while listening. I hate sitting in the box seats or in the back orchestra because then you have a ceiling directly above you and the sound does not travel there as easily – thus one doesn’t get the full effect of what one is listening to. It is a shame that opera tickets are so highly priced…but I guess I don’t run into too many problems since my favorite seats only cost on average $26!!!


    Celticpriestess, Thank you! It is great to be back! This blog gives a surge to my spirit (to quote Aprile Millo)

  21. julienned Says:

    I can relate to winpal. I really related to Koestenbaum’s book. I too really liked Anna Moffo. I never viewed her as the kind of singer that Caballe or Callas (or many others) are/were, although I imagine she viewed herself that way.
    I found the timbre of her voice completely alluring, but most of all I really enjoyed her as a musician. She had such a sense of style, phrasing, and articulation—things that just can’t be taught. Her approach to vocal lines always reminded me of the way an instrumentalist would approach music. And, in ensembles, she always seemed to be so aware of where her part fit in with the other singers and the orchestra.

    I never heard her live, which is probably a good thing. By the time I came to New York, her singing had turned like a carton of milk that’s been in the frig too long. And, I never met her personally, althought I suspected that there must be something really strange about a person with her musical gifts who didn’t realize how much damage she was doing ot her legacy….Who knows about such things.

    She (and many others) often talked about how much she took on so early (too early), but when you are offered the world, how do you turn it down?

    I hardly ever mention her to anyone who is really into opera because many times people would look at me like I must be deaf….I feel safer in a blog…


    Here in Denver, our radio station programers at KVOD LOVED her during the mid 1970s and played Anna endlessly to the exclusion of other singers. At the time, i thought that I’d scream if I heard once again Anna sing the Vocalise!! Now, I would most certainly enjoy it!! Time does change things!

  23. julienned Says:

    You’re sure right about that, callasorphan. I suspect that after a few years and memory of her miserable live performances fade, she’ll be remembered well. I hope so anyway.

    Speaking of repetition…
    Years ago, in college, I had a roomate who was in love with Judy Garland. He would come home every evening, drink half a bottle of Scotch and then put on the Carnegie Hall concert. I happen to love Judy, but I got to the point that I was ready to put some blotter acid in his bottle and push him out the window.


    I had a friend that roomed with my partner and me in the early 70’s that LOVED Janis Joplin and would play HER at 2 in the morning. He’d sing along and drink Vodka. My partner and I were rudley wakened many mornings with Janis singing LOUDLY “Me and Bobby McGee”!! I would have loved Judy! OR better yet quiet!

  25. FYI, I just saw in The Advocate that Rufus Wainwright is doing two shows at Carnegie Hall on June 14/15. Believe it or not, he is singing Judy’s complete Carnegie Hall concert, with 40 piece orchestra. I’ve seen him twice in SF doing his own stuff — he is a fantastic singer, pianist, and song writer (and a self-confessed opera queen). I would even consider flying to NY to see it, but it looks to be sold out. If you’ve never heard him, I highly recommend checking him out.


    winpal–WOW. I’ve heard people say that he is phenomenal; however, aren’t all of us OQs phenomenal?

  27. papagenodz Says:

    if you haven’t been listening to the frances gumm entertainment beat, she had a comment about RW doing her concert:

    “judy, what are you doing down there on the floor?”
    “looking for rufus’ marbles. he’s lost them.”

    it’s a horrible idea. he has shown no affinity for that kind of music, and his croony, strained voice (i am apparently the only younger gay man who is not a fan) will be revealed in this great material.


  28. rysanekfreak Says:

    I love the sound of prolonged ovations during operas, during curtain calls, and after certain pop concerts. When I was younger, I used to play the end of that Judy Garland Carnegie Hall concert over and over.

    “Don’t you people wanna go home? OK! We’ll stay all night and sing ’em all!!!”

    Garland, Callas, Dietrich, Rysanek, Piaf….

    The list is too long to continue. But one thing remains constant: they knew how to work an audience, and the audience loved them (worshipped them) for it.

    I saw both Joplin and Dietrich live. And Melanie (Safka)!! I’ll throw in Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen just to give the guys their due. I have been to their concerts when the audience roaring after the encore numbers was almost tribal.

    Have you heard the Callas “Poliuto” lately? The audience response when she makes her first entrance? Even if it is the claque at work, it’s great to hear it and to hope that maybe again some Diva can elicit that kind of excitement just by making an entrance.

    And if you want to hear real audience hysteria, get the recording of the Opera Orchestra of New York “Jenufa” with Rysanek, and just marvel at what happens after Acts Two and Three.

    Let’s not despair. The time may come again when this sort of thing recurs.


    I just love to hear those kinds of ovations, Rysanekfreak, even if I’m not in the audience, I’m moved to tears!

  30. Sorry papagenodz you don’t connect with RW, but please don’t get all marschallinny about it (and you’re usually so kind!). I agree the Judy material doesn’t seem a fit for him, but sometimes strange pairings work (I love Aretha’s Nessun Dorma). It may well be a colossal failure, but I enjoy people taking big artistic risks. I give him kudos for courage and following his muse, even if he crashes and burns. In any event, I think his own stuff is great.

    Yes, callasorphan, we are all FAB even when we don’t agree. 🙂


    Different tastes (and desires) is what makes this old planet go around!!


    Ah yes, the fire curtain. When that thing came down, you knew you had been to a life changing performance!

  33. rysanekfreak Says:

    AND the fire curtain would start to come down and people would moan in disappointment, so the fire curtain would stop, halfway down, and there would be at least one more series of bows.

    Saw that at an “Elektra.” The whole point of “Elektra” is that it is so short (especially when the two cuts are taken) that you can fully expect 20 minutes of bows afterwards, and everyone still gets out early.

  34. Baritenor Says:

    What are the two cuts in Elektra again? I’ve never seen a cut performance.

  35. Baritenor Says:

    What are the two cuts in Elektra again? I’ve never seen a cut performance.

  36. papagenodz Says:

    how about the end of the glorious lyric opera david daniels orfeo, where DURING THE FINAL CHORUS leaving patrons said “see you next season” at the top of their lungs … stay and applaud. besides the fact that so many memorable and notable things can happen during a curtain call … in that orfeo, daniels got the conductor, which was very diva of him. who could forget hanna schwarz falling at her klytamnestra bow in new york? PS: where is SHE now? still singing?

    my favorite ovations: after price’s final met “o patria mia” … after birgit’s salome final scene at the bing gala … callas “ah non giunge” …

    and … from my own artistic life … i was performing a “boy-girl-boy” medley in a brill building review … we did “go away little girl,” which was great … when it segued into “where the boys are” the queens in the audience just about lost it with the recognition applause on the second word … made me feel like barbra for a brief moment.

    and ps: i get a kick out of aretha’s nessun dorma, too. did anyone see her on martha a few weeks ago? she sang “you make me feel like a number one hussy” and then intoned “i’ve got a terrible cold” in her pseudo-cadenza before the final words.

  37. Hanna Schwarz was the old Countess in Queen of Spades last summer at SFO. She was wonderful.

  38. Michael Farris Says:

    “What are the two cuts in Elektra again? I’ve never seen a cut performance.”

    I think one of them is at the end of the Klytamnestra scene, where Elektra has a very wordy drawnout description of how she wants to hunt down her mother and kill her. I think it’s usually cut to about a third (or less) of its full length. (I think just after Elektra sing/screams “Ich! Ich! Ich! ..” is where it’s cut the full version goes on for several tiresome minutes.

    I don’t know where the other cut is.


    I think the “cut” scene also contains a few full-Throttled ” high Cs that the soprano just would rather not sing!

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