from parterre box #21:

The Met's 1997-98 season revealed!

The Artist Formerly Known as Maria Ewing!

New York City Opera's Dunn Deal!

Thomas Hampson: Bleating Man!

Queer Opera Theory!

. . . and quite a bit more!

questo e quello
by La Cieca

The all-seeing, all-knowing, all-dancing La Cieca will now share with you the mysterious "Vec Metropolitus"in which the secrets of the Met's 1997-98 season are unveiled.

Opening night is PLACIDO DOMINGO in "Carmen."
Also that week: DEBORAH VOIGT in "Ariadne", RENEE FLEMING in "Manon", and LUCIANO PAVAROTTI in "Turandot" opposite SHARON SWEET. (There's something wrong with this phone, Lucy-- I could have sworn I heard you say Sharon Sweet is going to sing Turandot!)
October 16 we'll see a new "Cenerentola" with CECILIA BARTOLI and FRANCISCO ARAIZA (?), "Tannhauser" (with Domingo????) and "Barbiere" are also in the rep.
November brings a new "Rake's Progress" with JERRY HADLEY , DAWN UPSHAW, SAM RAMEY and--maybe-- the long-awaited return of GRACE BUMBRY. Meanwhile, "Clemenza" with CAROL VANESS and "Don G" with nobody in particular.
Revivals of "Peter Grimes", "Boris" (SAM RAMEY, OLGA BORODINA) and "Don Carlos" (Mr. and Mrs. Alagna) in December.
Into the new year-- the Met's first-ever "Capriccio" with DAME KIRI (1/12), a "Hoffman" revival for BRYN TERFEL (1/30). You can rest assured that the scheduled Pavarotti/JUNE ANDERSON "Trovatore" ain't happening. Meanwhile, "L'elisir" and "Flute" will be be offered instead of leaving the house dark twice a week.
Domingo and Borodina are the new Samson and Dalila (2/13); GALINA GORCHAKOVA and CATHERINE MALFITANO share Butterfly starting the 19th.
BEN HEPPNER will be back for a new "Lohengrin" opposite La Voigt March 9. Meanwhile, Placido reprises Stiffelio, and "Romeo et Juliette" offers more Alagneria.
Fraulein Fleming's first local Eva highlights "Meistersinger", opening April 6. But you'll have to wait til the closing week for the event of the season-- La Malfitano takes on "Makropulos Case" four times only April 11, 13, 16 and 18.
(Our thanks to intrepid parterre box reporter RAY DI LUNA, who broke into the file room at Sybil's Barn and courageously scaled a rickety and unsecured 40-foot ladder to obtain for us-- and you-- the Vec Metropolitus.)

A spokesman for SIR ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER's Really Useful Company has categorically denied the rumor that MARIA ("My Voice Gone Now") EWING will be replacing PETULA CLARK in the London company of "Sunset Blvd." It was not revealed if this is the same spokesman who announced the weekly grosses when GLENN CLOSE was out of town.

Mean, moody, magnificent MIGNON DUNN has joined the already tantalizing ("Can they really make SHERRILL MILNES look fat?") cast of New York City Opera's fall opener "Falstaff." La Cieca and Mignon go way back, you know. Just at the time Cieca was beginning to spread her operatic wings in New Orleans, La Dunn was regaling her Big Easy public (and were they EVER! But that's another story . . ) with such rarities as "La Favorite" (yes, in French!), Massenet's "Herodiade" opposite MARISA GALVANY and the aptly-named JEAN BONHOMME, as well as the sexiest Carmen this side of REGINE CRESPIN. A couple of years later I hitchhiked to Dallas to see the Met on tour and caught Ms. Dunn's overwhelmingly demonic Ortrud and Amneris, performances that for our generation defined the dying art of epaulage. But is she funny, you ask. My dear, you obviously never saw Mignon's Herodias-- remember how she used to upstage Herod by using the silberschussel as a hand mirror? Suffice it to say Mignon gets more laughs in "Salome" than most mezzos get in "L'italiana in Algeri."
Filling a gap in the the absurdly scanty body of work on the relationship between homosexuality and opera is SAM ABEL's new study Opera in the Flesh (from Westview Press. I bought a copy at Barnes & Noble for about $20). This is a more "serious" work than that surprise bestseller "The Queen's Throat" by Wayne Koestenbaum, and in fact, Abel positions his book as an "answer" to Koestenbaum's work. I will say in Abel's favor that he is most enthusiastic about his subject: this guy really loves opera, and he has done extensive research (funded in part by Dartmouth College, where he is assistant professor of drama-- gee, I wish I could get a study grant to go to Europe for a year and go to the opera. I mean, he even met his lover along the way while he was writing this book. Some people have all the luck. But anyway.) A number of Abel's ideas are, if not absolutely original (stage directors have left so few stones unturned!), certainly well thought-out and stated in exciting and vivid language:
"In questa reggia" starts out as the opposite of a seductive aria. Turandot wants to make it a sexual climax for one, an exhausting masturbation fantasy in the musical stratosphere. By singing in an impossibly high range and at great length, she tries to keep Calaf out of the musical picture. But Calaf will have none of this self-indulgence. At the aria's deafening climax, at an astoundingly high pitch, Turandot attempts to finish to aria alone: "Gli enigmi sono tre, la morte e una!" But Calaf bursts into the music, topping Turandot's orgasm with an even higher one of is own: "No, no, gli enigmi sono tre, una e la vita!" Finally the passage turns into an "anything you can sing, I can sing higher" contest in unison, as both singers scrape the tops of their ranges in a violent simultaneous musical climax. . . .The end of Act II looks like a draw, but only because Calaf takes a temporary fall. In reality, in the music, he has already won.

Turandot is fated to become one half of a duet.

Abel also has some interesting things to say about two important manifestations of gender confusion (the castrato, the trouser role) that show up in so supposedly staid an art form as opera. His discussion of trouser roles is more convincing to me, perhaps because he is talking about a phenomenon all modern operagoers have experienced first-hand. We all know about the tease set up in a performance of Figaro when we have a young and (one hopes) sexy girl playing that walking boner Cherubino. He is perhaps less successful in explicating the sexual allure of the castrato, perhaps because he is forced to depend on secondary sources instead of personal experience. (It surely doesn't help that he uses Anne Rice's fanciful "Cry to Heaven" as a reference. Ms. Rice's castrati have about as much verisimilitude as her vampires.) We really can't know why castrati were so hot, any more than we can understand why educated people used to flock to public executions-- it's just a different mindset, that's all. (I suspect that one reason the castrati were considered sexy was that they were so incredibly famous. Even serial killers have fan clubs.)

My big problem with this book is that Abel gets sucked into that critic's circle-jerk that makes so much modern criticism such a bore to plod through. He rarely just states his case without bolstering every argument with voluminous allusions to other critics (using that slippery criticspeak that makes me want to scream "Define your terms!" or, better, "What the fuck are you talking about?")--It's not enough just to note that a given idea shows up as well in, say, Lacan. Abel seems to feel that he has to validate everything he says by showing that Lacan (or Foucault or Clement) said it first. To me, that suggests Abel lacks faith in his conclusions, and that's a pity, because I think he's on the mark most of the time. I say, if it's a good idea, it doesn't matter whose idea it is.

But that's a quibble. "Opera in the Flesh" is a cool book, especially the last section, an appreciation and defense of live opera- in-performance. It's chewy but nutritious-- enjoy it in small bites.

Way less formal but, oddly, equally self-conscious, is Opera for Beginners, a "comic-book" intro from RON DAVID, with fun illustrations from PAUL GORDON. It's one of the few opera books I've ever read with such an openly straight-guy mentality: that's weird enough to make Mr. David an honorary queer. Now, keep in mind that Mr. D is a voice-fancier (and, as such, a major Pav fan) and that his favorite genre is bel canto, and that he takes what STEFAN ZUCKER says at face value. And Ron makes it clear he hates Gigli and Mozart. I say you've gotta admire anyone who's that unafraid of making enemies.

Maybe Ron tries a little too hard to be hip, with references to too many jazz and R&B; musicians (pretty obscure to me, though I am trying to track down DELLA REESE 's version of "Quando m'en vo...") But his survey of the prehistory of opera is fascinating if necessarily sketchy, and he has a way of making you want to hear every composer he discusses (except Berlioz, another entry on his shit list). He also is strikingly eloquent about the thunk-on-the-head you get the first time you hear Callas. He's very pro-Maria (unlike so many straight guys) so he's OK in my book.

And the cartoons can get pretty campy. Like, for example, Ron tells the story of Ghiringhelli swearing Callas will never sing at La Scala. Gordon's illustration depicts the impresario seated in a restuarant, screaming to his companion, "Never, not while I run this opera house, will that woman sing here!" And the waiter says to Ghiringhelli, "Fresh pepper with your words?" A fab gift (only 11 bucks) for an operatic virgin, especially a kid.

La Cieca strongly recommends the CD "Gay American Composers" from CRI. Not only does is this generous compilation a welcome introduction to the work of many of America's finest composers of the present and the recent past, it's an important artistic/political document. The gentlemen (all of them most bravely out) have engaged in a fascinating debate on the influence of their sexuality on their work, as transcribed in the copious liner notes. La Cieca was a guest at the launch of this disc last month, when she particularly enjoyed the liquid pianism of ROBERT HELPS playing his own "Reminiscences." (And the cute gogomeat featured on the album cover, politically incorrect as he may be, sure is scrummy! More CD reviews.

The lazy days of summer provided La Cieca a few (well, more than a few) moments to reflect, meditate, and get in touch with her inner impresario. As a result, she is ready to offer to you, her faithful readers . . .

La Cieca's Predictions for the 1996-1997 Season

(These prognostications are for entertainment purposes only-- no wagering please!)
  • Taking a leaf from ROBIN GIVENS' book, erstwhile ingenue KATHLEEN BATTLE (remember her?) will make a dazzling comeback as a sexy "bad girl", taking on such roles as Manon, Lulu, Violetta and Rizzo in "Grease".
  • THOMAS HAMPSON's stagnant career will take off after the unveiling in Times Square of a billboard featuring the baritone clad in a CALVIN KLEIN jockstrap. Meanwhile, release of his new all-Grieg CD "Ich liebe mich" will coincide with the debut of Hampson's Saturday morning cartoon show (which also features JERRY HADLEY).
  • HILDEGARD BEHRENS, BRIGITTE FASSBAENDER and JESSYE NORMAN will join what is left of their forces to form a grrrlz band called "The Voluptuous Horror of JUNE ANDERSON."
  • Soi-disant Wunderkind PETER SELLARS will commission QUENTIN TARANTINO to create an updated text for Humperdinck's "Hansel und Gretel". Look for GRAHAM CLARK to star as "Jeffrey Dahmermouth."
  • Expect a gala at Alice Tully Hall to launch the new designer fragrance from MARIA EWING, "Lady Macbeth of Musk." SIR PETER HALL himself created the slogan: "Most of the time you can't smell it. And even when you can, it's like a bad imitation of a cat in heat. But what an actress!"
  • PHILIP GLASS will demand the resignation of RENEE FLEMING from the leading role of his new opera "The Life and Times of Sunny von Bulow", claiming the soprano's performance is "dull."
  • DAME JOAN SUTHERLAND will make a rare U.S. television appearance when she guests on the popular political chat show "Crossfire", subbing for an ailing PAT BUCHANAN.
  • Francesco Cilea's "lost" opera "Mamma carissima" will be heard after decades of justified neglect. A lavish revival at the Bastille Opera will feature SHIRLEY VERRETT as "Joan Crawford" and CONSTANCE HAUMAN as "Christina." Further casting is not set, but rumor has it the cameo role of "Bette Davis" has been offered to DAME GWYNETH JONES.
  • JOHN CORIGLIANO's success at second-guessing Mozart ("Ghosts at Versailles") will lead to his attempt at a sequel to "Madama Butterfly". The new opera will be set on a lush Pacific island where Cio-Cio-San's son becomes the protege of a bisexual American composer-conductor. Working title: "Trouble in Tahiti". (You saw that one coming, didn't you?)
  • EVE QUELER will conduct the New York premiere of the recently-rediscovered Donizetti opera buffa "Maria di Minneapolis". FREDERICA VON STADE will sing the title role, joined by CECILIA BARTOLI (Rhoda), PAUL PLISHKA (Lou), THOMAS HAMPSON (Ted), DAWN UPSHAW (Georgette), SANFORD SYLVAN (Murray) and EVELYN LEAR (Sue Ann Nivens). Special guest star JESSYE NORMAN will sing the role of "Phyllis."
  • After being named People's "Sexiest Man in the World," it's downhill all the way for DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY who will be arrested for for beating up a sailor in a bar in San Francisco. In return for charges being dropped, the baritone will agree to perform community service, including being auctioned off for charity at the International Mr. Drummer '97 competion.
  • "Marilyn" composer EZRA LADERMAN will take his shot at the Met with his opera buffa "Absolutely Fabulous" in a lavish COLIN GRAHAM production set to feature CAROL VANESS (Patsy) and CHERYL STUDER (Edina). After they cancel, the roles will be taken by PATRICIA SCHUMAN and LAUREN FLANIGAN, dooming the opera to instant oblivion.
  • Fans of MARIA CALLAS will rejoice to hear that the ghouls at EMI will exhume yet another CD's worth of material La Divina refused to okay while she was alive. The disc, tentatively entitled "Over Her Dead Body", will include such collector's items as "Hernando's Hideaway" (duet with PIER-PAOLO PASOLINI) and several Verdi rarities (performed live in JOHN ARDOIN's shower.) The cover of the album will feature an original TOM OF FINLAND drawing of leather-clad opera queens grovelling at the foot of a Greek Orthodox cross on which La Callas is impaled.

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