Troyens

Troyens

Monday, September 16, 2013

Zerbinetta Reveals Her Secret Identity

She is Princeton musicology grad student Micaela Baranello. Her CV is here. (That's Bohemian soprano Mizzi Gunther, who created the title role in The Merry Widow, posing prettily.)

I guessed that she was a musicologist some time in 2011 and emailed her about it in January, 2012, noting that she simply knew a whole lot more about opera history than other opera bloggers.

And I'm looking forward to reading her dissertation!

41 comments:

Genevieve Castle Room said...

Lisa,

”Not exactly new, but Zerbinetta is highly opinionated, knows more about opera and operetta than just about anyone”

Well, Zerbinetta writes very well but I do know two people in their late twenties who are just as passionate and knowledgeable and with wider tastes. But more importantly they don’t say silly things like:

1. ”I believe that intelligent and creative stagings are vital to keep a repertoire of centuries-old works alive and relevant”

2. ”If opera wants to be anything more than a problematic curio cabinet, it has to be willing to confront the implications of its own texts. That’s why I love it when an enterprising director decides to stage an opera in a way that takes the problem bits head-on and challenges them

How many times do we have to repeat the basic fact that the meaning of opera is at bottom musical. The essential argument is posed in musical language.

Ms. Baranello has also said:

* ”You couldn’t pay me to see Pfitzner’s Palestrina”

* ”I’ve never warmed to Hindemith’s music, and Cardillac isn’t really to my taste. It is intentionally lacking in sympathetic characters, unsubtle”

* ”I strongly dislike Bruckner, and if I hadn’t already bought a ticket to this gig back when it was a Salonen/Mahler concert, I would never have gone to hear his Symphony No. 9, which sounds to me like an endless chain of foursquare antecedent-consequent phrases connected by melodic sequences”

And the predictable:

* ”Actually I LOVE catchy tunes and showy writing for women, really”

I absolutely love Cardillac and Palestrina to bits. Yes, my twitter name is Christoph Madruscht. Of course Palestrina makes no concessions to people who want quick thrills or “showy writing”. It requires patience and careful listening. But I am resigned to the fact it will remain a true connoisseur’s opera for a relatively small number of enthusiasts.

Also, why would someone choose “Zerbinetta” as a nom de plume? I mean Ariadne auf Naxos definitely is NOT Strauss’s finest opera.

Oh and she happens to be a fan of the postmodern nonsense of Susan McClary... Ugh.

Anyway, last month a prominent blogger wrote:

”There is today a growing number of operagoers who positively revel in the challenge of "unpacking" (to use their oft-used term) the meaning of Konzept Regietheater stagings of canonical operas as they might revel in the challenge of solving a clever rebus or acrostic; stagings which today have become a pervasive practice worldwide. It never occurs to these perverse souls (or perhaps it's the very thing that does occur to them) that any staging of an opera — any opera — that requires unpacking in order to be understood is the very definition of what it means to be perverse as it reduces the music to the level of a mere (mostly inappropriate) soundtrack to the drama”

Unfortunately, this is a perfect description of Ms. Baranello and her ilk (Zachary Woolfe, Mark Berry, Doundou Tchil et.)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh hahahahaha who gives a shit what "prominent blogger" AC Douglas has to say? Does anybody other than you read him?

And who gives a shit about the rest of what you say? You're entitled to love whatever music you love, and Zerbinetta is entitled to love or hate whatever she loves or hates.

Genevieve Castle Room said...

Lisa,

"Oh hahahahaha who gives a shit what "prominent blogger" AC Douglas has to say? Does anybody other than you read him?"

I certainly don't agree with everything ACD says but on this topic he is absolutely right.

"Does anybody other than you read him?"

Actually, he has many loyal readers.

"And who gives a shit about the rest of what you say? You're entitled to love whatever music you love, and Zerbinetta is entitled to love or hate whatever she loves or hates.

That wasn't my main point but I will say that anyone who is so dismissive of Palestrina has not done her homework.

To reiterate my main point:

I am a fierce defender of the primacy of music in the operatic art form. No, it is not the only valid aspect for me but it is the principal part.... Zerbinetta seems to be saying that unless we focus on ‘updating’ the visuals/drama we will lose a lot newcomers. This is utter nonsense.

If one isn’t drawn in to opera first and foremost by the musical architecture of a piece and all of the intricacies, then almost certainly opera is not for that person.

Lisa Hirsch said...

How do you know that ACD has "many loyal readers"? Has he posted his blogstats?

As for the primacy of music and musical architecture, I have said this before and I will say it again, over and over: people attend the opera for a multitude of reasons.

They love the music; they love the drama; they love the singing; they love the spectacle. It's not up to you or me to judge anyone else's motives for attending, and if "drawn by the musical architecture of a piece" were a requirement, you might be surprised how much attendance would drop.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Genevieve on this one.

The basis of an opera is musical, not visual. That’s why we can revelatory experiences in records or concert performances. It is dramaturgy, but primarily conveyed in the music. Yes, the libretto will determine the structure of the music, but it’s the music that makes the story what it is, not the text, and certainly not the staging

Lisa Hirsch said...

You and I and Genevieve might go to the opera primarily for the musical experience, but not everybody does.

kalimac said...

I go to all classical musical performances primarily for the musical experience, specifically the architecture, which is why I don't go to the opera very much. Opera is not primarily about the musical experience, which makes it frustrating when that's what you want.

I detect a logical gap in one of your arguments: If nobody other than Genevieve is reading AC Douglas, then, since she didn't actually name him, how did you know who the quote was from without reading him?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Google search.

Genevieve Castle Room said...

Lisa,

"They love the music; they love the drama; they love the singing"

Why do you separate music and singing? When I say ‘musical architecture’ obviously I am referring to the entire score, every detail of the instrumental and vocal lines.

"It's not up to you or me to judge anyone else's motives for attending, and if "drawn by the musical architecture of a piece" were a requirement, you might be surprised how much attendance would drop"

And that is my point. Those people are NOT genuine opera lovers.

If that person at some early point doesn’t have the strong desire to engage in contemplative listening of recordings in private and let it all transpire in their own head and imagination, then he or she is NOT an opera lover. This is an essential component of the process.

Michael Strickland said...

"I mean Ariadne auf Naxos definitely is NOT Strauss’s finest opera." Says who besides you? I happen to disagree completely.

Genevieve Castle Room said...

@ Michael Strickland,

"I mean Ariadne auf Naxos definitely is NOT Strauss’s finest opera."

Says who besides you? I happen to disagree completely.


*******

In my book the nominations for the finest Strauss operas are Elektra, Die Frau ohne Schatten and Capriccio.

But if someone put a gun to my head and told me to pick just one I'd say Capriccio.

Lisa Hirsch said...

GCR, you can repeat yourself until you are blue in the face about what makes a "genuine opera lover," but I'm not buying it.

As far as singing goes, gosh, stop the presses: some people go to the opera primarily to hear great singing. This has been true since at least the 18th c.

Genevieve Castle Room said...

Lisa,

"As far as singing goes, gosh, stop the presses: some people go to the opera primarily to hear great singing. This has been true since at least the 18th century"

Exactly right... And there is a special term for this kind of operagoer: canary fanciers, not genuine opera lovers.

Anonymous said...

Honestly when it comes to subjects like opera and classical music I really couldn’t care less what the academics have to say.

Generally speaking, academics commenting on opera - or on anything having to do with matters aesthetic - are pretty much a horror show and to be avoided whenever possible.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Chacun a son gout: there's an awful lot of interesting stuff out there about opera and classical music that I would never have learned were it not for academics.

Sibyl said...

Who the heck cares whether the person sitting next to you in the house meets your personal criteria of what makes a fan a genuine opera lover? Seriously, who the heck cares? If that person has paid for his/her ticket (thus supporting the art-form we love and helping to insure its survival) and has decent manners (thus insuring that she/he is not impinging upon the experience of any other audience member), just be grateful there are other people besides you in the house at all. Only one way to love opera genuinely? That's like saying there's only one way to love food.

Aleksei said...

Sticking to facts:

1. There are a lot of CDs (and other formats before them) sold.

2. There are many radio broadcasts

3. There are, in traditional U-shaped theaters, seats without visibility that are being actually sold.

4. There are recitals of arias, set pieces, etc. separated from the opera they are part of.

5. There are concert opera performances...

So the evidence is overwhelming that for the majority of opera fans, staging comes a distinct second. The visual component of the genre is not perceived as being nearly as important as the musical architecture or the text.

On the other hand, there are other opera fans that think the genre is, first and foremost, about live theater. You can watch live, on TV, on the cinema, on a DVD... And there is nothing wrong with that either.

But I fall into the first group. I quite prefer to listen to CD's and read the libretto, and let my imagination fill in the details. Not unlike reading a book versus watching a movie based on a book - I would almost always choose the former.

Michael Walsh said...

Re: Ms. Castle Room's declarations about the nature of "genuine" opera lovers:

Q: How many elitists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two, but the bulb is never changed, because no matter how many, they all think only one elitist is currently in the room.

I think opera is the world's best example of multimedia, and the best operas succeed in all of their artistic directions. Overly restrictive declarations such as GCR's usually come from willful ignorance or a desire to elevate minor works over the masterpieces because, duh, the music is better. I don't find these opinions terribly helpful.

Anonymous said...

"There is today a growing number of operagoers who positively revel in the challenge of "unpacking" (to use their oft-used term) the meaning of Konzept Regietheater stagings of canonical operas as they might revel in the challenge of solving a clever rebus or acrostic"

A most annoying breed to be sure.

The undue regard these people have for theatrical conventions, dramaturgical effects, and histrionic excesses which tend to draw attention away from the ideal performance of music and libretto is getting very tiresome.

Most operas CAN be experienced and fully enjoyed without ‘theatrical contingencies’. A fully staged, action packed performance of your typical libretto without music, on the other hand, is just about unthinkable, except as a mild curiosity.

Will said...

I love the idea of a musicology graduate student, who is writing a dissertation on opera, somehow not having done her "homework." Maybe she's done it, and knows more than you.

SaneandReasonable said...

Genevieve has been banned from Parterre and has to get her ya-yas out somehow. She posts the same exact drivel there and on Opera-L but doesn't receive enough validation for her precious little ideas cut and pasted from the blogosphere, so here she is, singing her stale repertoire.

No one possesses the "sophistication" of Genevieve and her arcane tastes, and never will, so reasoning with her is futile. So sad. To engage is to encourage this madness.

Lisa Hirsch said...

S&R - Yes, I saw that GCR was banned, at least temporarily, from Parterre Box. I have never banned anyone, and have to think about whether drivel is a good enough reason for a ban.

Mark Berry said...

Whether in person, or as an 'academic', I do not seem to be many people's flavour of the month here (save for Lisa herself!) However, I am delighted to be considered one of Micaela's 'ilk'. For what it is worth, I am very fond of Cardillac, less so of Palestrina (though it is clearly an interesting case), and adore Ariadne. Whether it or Capriccio is my favourite Strauss opera I can no more decide than the Countess Madeleine can between Wort and Ton.

Enough of that, which need be of little interest to anyone other than me. I cannot help but wonder, though, whether Mr/Ms Room (or should that be a double-barrelled Castle Room?) has taken the slightest notice of his/her beloved Capriccio? Much of the work's raison d'ĂȘtre is the seemingly eternal debate between the rival claims of music, words, and staging. If Strauss, like most but not all of us, ultimately signals ambiguous priority to 'music' - a word, which, itself covers a multitude of sins - then it is certainly not at the expense of other elements.

As for the claim, 'If that person at some early point doesn’t have the strong desire to engage in contemplative listening of recordings in private and let it all transpire in their own head and imagination, then he or she is NOT an opera lover,' I think one might well retort that reading and questioning the score would ultimately be more important, whether that be accomplished 'in private' or on top of the Eiffel Tower. Except that it would be ill-mannered and unkind to draw attention to the failings of others, not to mention arrogant to presume that only one road leads to Rome. (As Schoenberg wisely and amusingly observed, it is only the middle road that does not.)

For my part, I think Wagner's often misunderstood (largely because unread) idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk comes close to an ideal, not because of its agglomerative possibilities - in that case, a Beethoven sonata would somehow necessarily be inferior to a Donizetti 'comedy' - but because, when dealing with the specific form or forms of opera, each element, insofar as it may be isolated, is heightened, not lessened, by its interplay with the other elements. Just as the harmony and extraordinary coloration of the Tarnhelm gain dramatic meaning and impetus by Wagner's poem, so will they gain further meaning when treated with by an intelligent and, yes, musical stage director. If that is all too much hard work for some people, then the loss is theirs, and that of the world at large, but certainly not Wagner's.

Genevieve Castle Room said...

@ S&R

”Genevieve has been banned from Parterre and has to get her ya-yas out somehow”

I was put on moderation for a month at Parterre Box simply for quoting a line from this entry.

http://www.soundsandfury.com/soundsandfury/2013/08/the-death-of-opera.html

I thought it was ridiculously unfair when you consider all of the ugly/nasty comments by other members directed at singers, administrators, (i.e. the thread about the wedding of Michael Kaiser)

”No one possesses the "sophistication" of Genevieve and her arcane tastes”

Arcane tastes? What are you talking about? The only ‘esoteric piece’ on my favorites list from last week is De Temporum Fine Comoedia

”She posts the same exact drivel there and on Opera-L”

What drivel are you referring to? There is no drivel here. I am very passionate about this one issue of opera appreciation. Trust me, if the majority of young bloggers today weren’t so enamored of production values and trendy directors you would rarely hear from me.

Genevieve Castle Room said...

Professor Berry,

Thanks for the note and thanks for the follow on Twitter last January.

”I cannot help but wonder, though, whether Mr/Ms Room (or should that be a double-barrelled Castle Room?) has taken the slightest notice of his/her beloved Capriccio?"

Of course I know all about the subject matter -- the balance between words and music and which is most important. But the intentions of the composer are irrelevant once the piece is out there. We have to assess it primarily for its musical value and impact. And I honestly don’t see any major weaknesses. I even love the sections of... “flavorless recitative”.

At any rate, what Harold Schonberg said it best:

”Music succeeds or fails on purely musical terms, and this is true even in opera, where extramusical associations necessarily play a part. No opera has ever remained in the repertory because it has a great libretto. It remains because the music is great”

Exactly. In the long run operas survive not so much because of the drama or scenery or spectacle but because musicians and vocalists are impressed by the music. And so I repeat: the most genuine opera lover will focus most of his or her attention first and foremost on the careful study of the musical architecture.

Genevieve Castle Room said...

@ Will

”I love the idea of a musicology graduate student, who is writing a dissertation on opera, somehow not having done her "homework." Maybe she's done it, and knows more than you”

This makes no sense for 2 reasons.

1. We ALL have repertory gaps. (And in this case I don’t believe Ms. Baranello or Michael Walsh have made a good faith effort to get to know it)

2. Musicologists can be as just as biased and short-sighted as ‘lay-listeners’

”and knows more than you”

She does NOT know more about Pfitzner’s Palestrina than me.... I assure you it is one of my maniacal obsessions. And the Council of Trent (Act II) is one of my favorite acts in all opera.

Genevieve Castle Room said...

@ Michael Walsh

"Overly restrictive declarations such as GCR's usually come from willful ignorance or a desire to elevate minor works over the masterpieces because, duh, the music is better"

Yes, Cardillac is a minor piece but Palestrina is a major work.... It is one of the most beautiful of all post Wagnerian German operas. No, it is NOT a perfect piece. It definitely has its weaknesses/longueurs. But a sensitive listener would have admired the pure craft, the moments AND LONG STRETCHES of astonishing beauty, the brilliant successes of its best portions.

And for those who don’t care that much for opera, the 3 fantastic preludes alone are worth anyone’s time.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/513OpqLuBmL._SS500_.jpg

Lisa Hirsch said...

GCR, suggest you start your own blog for this stuff, seriously. You're risking a vacation from posting here, a match to the temporary ban at Parterre Box.

Michael Walsh said...

@GCR

I doubt we're going to find any common ground here. Even before this particular conversation, my primary example of a bad opera would have been Strauss' _Capriccio_, a work I do know (far too) well and is no more a great opera than "Cats" is a great musical.

Yes, the music is pretty good, but it was the product of a composer decades past his prime. And the story, such as it is, is facile and exasperatingly meta. Not unlike "Cats".

John Marcher said...

Fascinating.

I wonder if GCR would be interested in attending a production of Palestrina staged by Bieito? I know I would be. ;)

Anonymous said...

Mark Berry said:

"And in my experience, the greater number of the ultra-defensive cannot read a score"

So what?

Is the opera to be identified as the written text or its performance? Is an opera by Verdi the printed score or the sound in the opera house when it is played?

Mark Berry said...

Clearly neither, in a straightforward sense, though the latter could hardly exist without the former, whereas the converse is certainly not the case. But how would someone be able to assess the relationship between them without being able to read music? It would be akin to my claiming textual expertise on Pushkin without having a word of Russian. (Alas, I cannot read Russian, and therefore have to take others' word for his greatness as a poet: a great pity, I do not doubt, and something I should dearly like to rectify. In the meantime, however...)

Nedezda Schaer said...

To the anonymous commenter above:

This is a difficulty that has irritated philosophers of aesthetics and their readers for a very long time and I agree with you that being able to read a score does not automatically translate into loving something more deeply.

Is the sensitive listener (non-musician) missing out on a whole lot? Does studying the score really make a huge contribution to one's aesthetic experience?

Lisa Hirsch said...

If you think that sitting alone and listening to a recording - no sets, no audience, no live singers who might make mistakes - is the highest form of loving opera (and GCR claims to believe this), why, what's purer or more opera-loving than reading the score and dispensing with the audio portion entirely, except for what you yourself conjure up?

Anonymous said...

"If you think that sitting alone and listening to a recording - no sets, no audience, no live singers who might make mistakes"

"no sets"

If you take the stage performance away, do we still have a great work? Of course. If you take the music away, do we still have a great work? Of course not. I have many recordings of operas I haven't seen... And I LOVE them.

"no audience"

At its best, opera and classical music are solitary and personal experiences. It's between just you and the sound coming from the orchestra, vocalists etc. The fact that there are a few hundred people sitting in the same room with me doesn't add anything to the experience.

"No live singers who might make mistakes"

But how often does that happen? Is it that important?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Just to be clear, I love staged opera. My previous point is directed toward people who think there's something particularly pure about divorcing the music of opera from its theatrical side.

You can have a great performance of a mediocre work (really)

As for whether an audience adds to the experience, talk to actors some time, and they'll tell you all about good and bad audiences. Yes, actually, the audience and its spirit do add (or in some cases, subtract) something to the experience.

Singers screw up a lot. Why do you think there are prompters?

Anonymous said...

I was reading Micaela Baranello’s blog for the first time this morning and came across this bit of snobbery. She posted it a few years ago:

“I think Americans, due to our usually pathetic language skills, concentrate mostly on the music because the drama is easier to ignore when you can't understand what anyone is saying. I don't know your background, but that's what I've picked up from talking to older (than me) opera fans, mostly of the LP era and didn't grow up with titles in the opera house”

Lisa Hirsch said...

You think there's something "snobbish" about noting the well-established fact that Americans have poor foreign language skills and speculating that this influences how Americans view opera?

Anonymous said...

Micaela is implying that opera becomes more pure / accessible if we give the drama equal attention. This is patronizing nonsense.

Never mind the fact that most opera as a piece of theatre hardly ever stands on its own (no need to dig up examples, the reverse is more difficult), the lines are often not comprehensible even in one's native language. Vocalists (rightly) concentrate on musical delivery.

The programme notes and reading beforehand are always the best way of finding out what the opera is about.

Lisa Hirsch said...

It's not patronizing nonsense at all to suggest that one might understand the stage action better, and its relationship to the music better, if one actually understood the language in which a work is being performed. Because....you would have more direct access to the text.

Think of it as the difference between seeing (or reading) a Shakespeare play in English and seeing it in French, or with highly truncated Supertitles.

Not sure who you are, Mr./Ms. Anonymous, but you have a huge chip on your shoulder about this if you're so unable to think clearly about what Zerbinetta says.

Lisa Hirsch said...

And to all a good night. I'm closing comments on this posting now; I'm not really interested in hosting anti-intellectual attacks on Zerbinetta.