Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Brewer at the Met (and Everywhere Else)

Sieglinde notes:
[Christine] Brewer travels all over Earth as the world's stopgap dramatic soprano, yet she hardly stops by the Met to show off. Finally we get her, but only for one Ring cycle (the early bird special on Saturday matinee) and one extra Walküre. Why such limited exposure? Deborah Voigt's people must play real hardball, Sieglinde's telling you.
Why such limited exposure? Because Brewer is big and makes no bones or apologies about it. In this HD broadcast universe, the world's greatest living Wagner soprano isn't going to get much exposure at Peter Gelb's Met.

Or, I fear, at David Gockley's San Francisco Opera. Keep your eye on the casting for our Ring cycle.

18 comments:

A.C. Douglas said...
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Lisa Hirsch said...

Well, you agree with Peter Gelb! But I have to ask whether you've heard/seen her sing in person? She was glorious as Isolde, much more believable than the thin, voiceless Thomas Moser, her Tristan.

A.C. Douglas said...

Christine Brewer is not "big." Christine Brewer is grotesquely fat and therefore has no place in a staged Wagner music-drama (as opposed to an Italian soap opera where, with few exceptions, fat makes little difference as the singing, not the drama, is what it's all about) as her very appearance makes the whole thing instantly unbelievable. If Ms. Brewer wants to sing in Wagnerian music-dramas, let her participation be limited to concert or recorded audio (CD)versions.

ACD

A.C. Douglas said...

Oh jeez! You're quick on the trigger, you are. I think I messed up your blog's order of comments by deleting my original and reposting it in corrected form which now appears below your response.

Sorry about that.

ACD

Lisa Hirsch said...

Ah, well!

A.C. Douglas said...

But I have to ask whether you've heard/seen her sing in person?

No, not live. But I've heard her sing Wagner, and she has a big, lyric Wagnerian instrument which is quite lovely, and she's not bad on the dramatic end either. Why oh why does God in his infinite wisdom place such instruments in such dramatically inappropriate cases? Must be because he has a seriously perverse sense of humor.

ACD

Brian said...

I have seen Brewer perform many times. Isolde four times (three of those concert versions), Beethoven's Leonore, Barak's wife and a handful of concert performances (including a Brunnhilde). To my taste, she is the best Wagnerian soprano performing today. However, it is true that here acting is limited and as much as I would like to blame that on the various and sundry directors she has worked with, in reality, her size limits what she is able to do on stage - significantly at times. It's not just my assessment, but an opinion shared by one of the director's of the aforementioned productions shared with me based on his own first hand experience.

I'm not sure how much Mr. Gelb's grand plans do or don't have to do with her lack of casting as much as the Met audience's rigidity about paying to see unfamiliar faces. One cycle may be all the management is willing to risk on a new-to-them Brunnhilde regardless of her size or talent. Brewer can be quite effective in a staged production, but not everything is going to work for her, it's true.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Lisa Gasteen, the other Bruennhilde in the upcoming Met season, has sung a grand total of 10 performances there: a couple of Aidas in 1997, two Walkuere Bruennildes in 2004, and six this past year. She's not exactly familiar.

I've seen first-hand what good direction can do for a singer, to wit, Zambello and Wadsworth working with Jane Eaglen, in Seattle, a singer who almost never looked physically comfortable on stage. Under their direction, she did.

ACD, you're just wrong that only singing matters in Italian opera. I mean, how much of it have you seen, that you're making this judgment? You may not like Italian, but that doesn't mean the drama is unimportant. I'd suggest you take a look at the Boito-Verdi correspondence, or any books that discuss Verdi's relationship with his librettists, or, for that matter, Puccini and how he dealt with his librettists.

A.C. Douglas said...
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A.C. Douglas said...

ACD, you're just wrong that only singing matters in Italian opera. I mean, how much of it have you seen, that you're making this judgment?

Lots for a non-opera-freak. The Met's stagings of most of the mainstream canonical Italian rep.

But that's totally beside the point. One doesn't have to see these things staged to make the judgment I have. And given the ubiquitous presence of Regietheater today, one is better off not seeing them staged. One need not even have studied the scores (which I've also done for a select few). One has only to listen to know that, for most of the rep, and for all the bel canto rep, the "drama" — or more accurately, soap opera melodrama — in that rep is there, along with the staging, merely as pretext and platform, as I've elsewhere called it, for showcasing songbirds. That's how corrupt Italian opera became — and became very quickly in order to play to the tastes and appetites of the opera-going proles — from its noble beginnings in Italy as dramma per musica. There are exceptions, of course (Don Carlo(s), Otello, and Falstaff spring immediately to mind). But in the large, Italian opera is precisely as I've judged it to be, and the mawkish operas of Puccini the very worst non-bel-canto offenders.

ACD

Lisa Hirsch said...

The Regie comment is entirely beside the point. In the US, and even in Europe, the vast majority of stagings are either traditional or no more radical than Wieland Wagner's postwar Bayreuth productions.

You're still wrong in your judgment, and the Puccini comment only reinforces that. If you weren't fooled by the surface, you'd hear that he uses melodic fragments and harmonic tensions in a highly Wagnerian way.

I repeat, if you doubt the importance of drama to Italian opera composers, take a look at any surviving composer/librettist correspondence.

A.C. Douglas said...

I repeat, if you doubt the importance of drama to Italian opera composers, take a look at any surviving composer/librettist correspondence.

Don't change the subject. I never commented on nor do I give a rat's ass about "the importance of drama to Italian opera composers." My comments had to do with the operas themselves, and they're precisely what I characterized them as being. And the well-known fact that Puccini was a devotee of Wagnerian music-drama and attempted to apply what he learned there to his own operas is beside the point. What he came up with had the same central defect that sullies all Italian opera; viz., it's at bottom not dramma per musica, but a showcase for songbirds.

ACD

Lisa Hirsch said...

Those points are central to this discussion; they are not in any way a change of subject. You are about the only person left who thinks that Italian opera is "about songbirds" and not about drama. We'll just let your comments speak for themselves at this point, however.

A.C. Douglas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A.C. Douglas said...

You are about the only person left who thinks that Italian opera is "about songbirds" and not about drama. We'll just let your comments speak for themselves at this point, however.

Excellent idea. And to further make my point vis-à-vis Puccini and touch on your, "if you doubt the importance of drama to Italian opera composers, take a look at any surviving composer/librettist correspondence," here's a script fragment from Mel Brooks's film, The Producers. In place of MAX BIALYSTOCK, think of a serious-minded librettist, and in place of ROGER DE BRIS, think of Puccini, and adjust the rest mutatis mutandis.

BIALYSTOCK
I think this would be a marvelous
opportunity for you, Roger. Up to
now, you've always been associated
with Broadway musicals, and...

DE BRIS
Yes. Dopey show-girls in gooey
gowns. Two-three-kick-turn! Turn-
turn-kick-turn! It's enough to
make you throw up! At last a
chance to do real drama! To
deal with conflict, with inner
truth. Roger De Bris presents
history. Of course, I think we
should add a little music. That
whole third act has got to go.
They're losing the war. It's too
depressing. We'll have to put
something in there.
(gripped by his vision)
Aaahghhh! I see it! A line of
beautiful girls, dressed as Storm
Troopers, black patent leather
boots, all marching together...
Two-three-kick-turn! Turn-turn-
kick-turn!

ACD

Henry Holland said...

ACDC, biggest idiot on the Internet or merely in the opera blogosphere? Hmmmmmm.....

So, what was the name of the composer/teacher/whatever he was that sent you scurrying from his apartment because you'd made one of your typically pompous, uniformed pronouncements? He had you pegged years ago.

Duncan said...

Brewer is also the finest living Ariadne (in English or German) and a scrupulous and witty recitalist who found those gorgeous Marx lieder well before Renee F.
She'll be just fine so long as she doesn't have to mount Grane.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Lol, yeah, and that's true of plenty of thin Wagnerian singers too!