Happy New Year!
I finally saw the Met's popular and famed Zeffirelli production of Puccini's La Boheme yesterday. I was not disappointed at all!
Ailyn Perez was a lovely Mimi and sung with a gentle, sure voice. Her Rodolfo was Michael Fabiano who handled this tough tenor role very well and had great acting skill. The rest of the cast was very good which included Alessio Arduini, Alexey Lavrov and Susanna Phillips. I think the only complaint I had about the production was Musetta's dress worn during her famous aria. It made Phillips look like a dancing red velvet cupcake. But considering the nature of Musetta, I guess I have to say it fits her.
What really fascinated me was how this dour little tale became the most famous of all operas. And not only famous but considered the most romantic. Why? Well the music, dressed with lovely singing, has to be the most beautiful opera ever written. But the story, I see it as not only about abandoned people living in poverty but as the seeds of 20th century destruction. The subtext is societal collapse. The carefree, free floating and nihilistic lifestyle of Marcello, Rodolfo and Schaunard came to be celebrated and romanticized. Their whole "Me, Me, Me, I do what I want in life and no one can tell me otherwise" has led to an uncivil, irresponsible society we have now. What is even more fascinating is that I believe Puccini understood this very well. He makes it quite clear that Musetta and Mimi resort to working as demimondaines due to their loves not wanting to grow up, marry, and really create a loving family. Marcello and Rodolfo create nothing, nothing ever comes of their "art". Instead they loaf around, engage in petty theft and wallow in self deception.
The love story is merely some kind of whim on Rodolfo's part. But when the going gets tough, when Mimi needs a partner most, someone who can help her keep what little health she has left...Rodolfo abandons her. This needs to be understood and Puccini does not gloss this over. He has leading male admit fully to not wanting to be present when Mimi finally falls deathly ill. Mimi only returns to him when she is on her last tether. Even then Rodolfo is a failure for her. If his love was really as majestic as he claimed, why did he throw her away? Mimi even says that she was afraid he would not want her or let her into his apartment again.
The story strikes me as horribly pathetic and needlessly cruel. However we have to keep in mind that the characters are in their late teens, early twenties and not more than 26. This kind of crazy behavior is in character for people so young. Still, the absolute refusal of either leading male characters to step up and be adults is why we have such tragedy.
I love how Puccini kept it all so basic, so simple. The music doesn't get in the way of the acting or the singing. It creates very clear pictures in the audience's mind of how these people live and act. When in Act 3 Mimi tells Marcello how Rodolfo yells at her and then Rodolfo states he wants to abandon Mimi before she really gets ill...I saw into their life. I saw the poor, squalid little room they lived in. I saw a man who didn't want to be responsible or extend effort into caring for another human being. I saw a woman clinging to what little comfort she had in love. I saw a man yelling at an extremely ill woman, causing her stress and giving her worse tubercular coughing fits. And I saw him leaving the house as she tried to gasp for breath. That isn't romance, dear readers, that is sheer misery, sheer torture. This story left me stunned and heartbroken.
The sets are still gorgeous even though this production is now over 40 years old. The scene stopper is the town square where Cafe Momus is located. Two tiers of stage designed with canny forced perspective to give the impression of a huge Paris that just keeps expanding. Zeffirelli really melds stagecraft with a cinematic look that amazes the eye. This isn't an opera to be missed and should be seen at least once in a lifetime.
I just realized, after so many years, that when I posted this half joking, loving, snarky memory of childhood dinners long past:
I neglected to post recipes or at the very least cookbooks to get insight into those old fashioned meals long gone.
Well family recipes are not possible. My WASP grandfather cooked family meals completely by memory. He wrote nothing down, he would just take ingredients, throw them onto the stovetop or in the oven. In time, out would come a meal. Unfortunately he was very proprietary about his tricks of the trade. Being very young, my contribution to the meal would be setting the table.
We only owned one cookbook in those days. But if I recall my baby memories properly, my grandfather hardly touched it. It was really owned by my grandmother. My sister took it for her home and I missed it so much I ordered a used copy on Amazon since it is now out of print.
The Family Circle cookbook has all the oldies plus very frugal hints/recipes for leftovers. Despite the jokes about WASPS only making just enough food or just short the right amount of food, that was never my personal experience. Grandfather was more about making the meal and eating left overs for the rest of the week.
There are other cookbooks I have in my collection that also have recipes from my childhood. Gramps would frown at my collection. Oh well.
A book popular at the time of my youth, also filled with recipes from my memories. One of them being Creamed Chicken that Grandfather made from leftover roast chicken.
James Beard's landmark cookbook has all the old timers, giving them the dignity they deserve and able to take their place against any Julia Child French dish.
My Grandfather's family had German ancestry so it was no surprise that we often ate meals that were somewhat Germanic. I was surprised to see a recipe that mimicked my memories of lamb, potatoes and applesauce. It was called Heaven and Earth in the following famous cookbook.
Sheraton's book is a fantastic resource for WASP food of the Lutheran persuasion. Also helpful for the same type of dishes is this cookbook that was a recent bestseller.
I made many copies of recipes from a library copy. But I think I'm going to splurge and buy one for myself.
We were a working class family and never turned up our noses against other cuisines. I can't really post cookbooks for Italian food since Pizza delivery and the occasional spaghetti and meatballs were about as Italian as we got. However we had a large influx of Jewish meals which confused me as a child. But now I think my Grandfather gravitated to them because there were Germanic/Eastern European rooted. We often had chicken matzoh ball soup (noodles only for me).
This book is a mixture of contemporary food and updated traditional favorites. More tradtional books are "The Art of Jewish Cooking" and "The New York Times Jewish Cookbook".
The last two books gently poke fun at the stereotypes. But also a bit serious.
We weren't Preppy. But we ate the same food. Its ALL HERE! The book has Creamed Chipped Beef, Split Pea Soup, Harvard beets, odes to soup can gods such as Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, Ham with Pineapple mixed more contemporary dishes.
There were no Bermuda races and prep school send-offs in my memories. But I sure do remember the frightening peas and onions.
Alexandra Worthington's comical and loving memoir shares the same problem that I wrote about earlier. None of these recipes were ever written down. They were solely in the memories of the ones who cooked. It was only in recent years that cookbooks captured them. Before the 1960s/70s, you just had to know.
So go out there and cook up some Cream of Chicken!
This is so geeky but I had to share it. Blizzard entertainment made their own hour long version of the yule log but with all the Christmas carols sung by Murlocs. So funny.
So as the few people who read my blog know by now, I'm a horror fan. So, naturally, I've been a fan of Richard Strauss' Salome since I was a teenage music student. There is nothing like it in the opera world, seriously creepy, gorgeous, lush, and rotten. It is a production sure to invoke discussion. Mainly on how far Opera houses will wade into the muck and emphasize the Grand Guignol. Will the opera diva playing Salome dance the "Dance of the 7 Veils" herself or will they pull in a body double?
Despite being a lifelong fan of the work, I never saw it on stage until today. Did I like it? Yes! It appealed to my inner teenager very much. However, this production did suffer from small voices. Now, to be fair...Strauss is a hard nut to crack. He is up there with Wagner pushing huge orchestral sound. In fact many times, I couldn't help thinking that the orchestral score was the main attraction and the singers were there as superfluous sweetness sprinkled on top of an already too rich ice cream sundae. Still, it struck me as a sad that the MET couldn't pull in Wagner level vocalists to perform this opera justly.
The singers who held up well were Kang Wang as Narraboth and Gerhard Siegel as Herod. Kang is still young, I think his voice has a few years to mature. But he filled the house with a good amount of voice. Siegel, being German, used his native language to great effect, shading his voice with a lot of intonation which cut through the orchestra. Everyone else was lost at sea in a huge, stormy and dramatic orchestral wave. Patricia Racette was an extremely beautiful and madly entitled Salome. It was just unfortunate that she doesn't have the voice to power through the orchestra. She acted up a storm and made the character real not a cartoon villain. I think the part of her performance that was the most frightening was not when she was singing to John the Baptist's head but when she kicked the hand of Narraboth from her leg as he was dying. Her dance scene was deceivingly tame until at the end it turned into a true strip tease with full nudity. The audience was silently shocked with the exception of a few nervous laughs.
The stage set was a bit odd. The time period was more "modern", set some time in the 1930s or 1940s. The MET gave its spareness its own brand of lushness with opulent period clothing for the cast and lovely stage lighting.
The star of this performance was truly conductor Johannes Debus. He understood the score, its fallen romance, madness, bombast, and debauched evil. The Met orchestra responded wonderfully to his direction pushing itself to virtuosity and hitting all the right highs and lows in the score.
A good production all things considered, but it would have been better with bigger voices involved.