Tuesday, August 20, 2013


(Henry Holland)

There is a huge international cabal to WILL Anna Netrebko a legend. I’ve seen it on social media. I have seen the whores do what they are bid; and as for the ‘Net flacks!!!!! We will read, “how gorgeous she is.” Yup. Why not just bring back silent films, or have her lip sync while a professional does the singing? (They did that often enough in the “old days”. Sofia Loren IS Aida while Renata Tebaldi sings on the sound track.)

It doesn’t matter. On a gay gossip board a thread about Maria Callas just this week brought out enormous ignorance. Once, many people of culture (certainly gay men) would at least have known that her name isn’t spelt Callous and they would have read a few reports about her gifts or problems. Now, it’s mostly morons and the one nasty flamer who is both defensive and a gross ignoramus named Henry Holland, hiding behind anonymity but recognizable. Well, he did have a web site up about sucking used athletic equipment so I assume drying all those sweaty socks in your mouth is an achievement. He is one of the star creeps at Parterre Box. You should look him up.

DG is obviously counting on forcing Netrebko Sings Verdi to become a great seller. 

To have such a grandiose presentation, the actual performances are trivial things. A problem with the same old same old in anything is that so many people have recorded this material, even the once rarely encountered Lady Macbeth arias, that it’s easy to find better, in great sound, at a discount! There is a difference between someone who is not that bad and what true stars were once expected to deliver.

Netrebko will actually sing Lady Macbeth. She has also done the lighter Giovanna d’arco. In the aria she has some trouble tuning the unaccompanied material that starts the scene but it’s an appropriate sound. She doesn’t quite get the marking “semplice” (simply) when the aria starts, and her phrasing is wooden; the triplets on “semplice” and “sua vesta” are not precise or in time. It doesn’t sound as though she understands why they are there. She also has a habit of sliding upwards, why does she scoop upwards the fifth from E flat to A flat that ends the word “giovanna”? There is a larger point here. That fifth punctuates an implied endless phrase, but Netrebko doesn’t sound as though she feels the need to sculpt the entire line and is phrasing with that as the point. There are no niceties in the reading. And, while it’s a decent performance in this dreary context, there is no sense of Giovanna’s circumstances or personality.

Arrigo ah parli a un cor from I Vespri Siciliani is taken rather quickly and the tenderness of accent even a distressed Callas (in her “Callas Rarities” release) brought to it is totally absent. This was a strong part of the Scotto, Cerquetti and Caballė
live performances (I saw first and third, second is thrilling on a pirate conducted by Mario Rossi). There is again a lack of firmness and point in the line. Netrebko does not spin out the span of B to G to F sharp on “io t’amo” in the first verse, “io muoio” in the second, a magical part of every good performance I’ve heard including Maralin Niska and Christina Deutekom neither of whom made history in the role but both of whom were better than this. Nor does she sing the repeat of each of those phrases as an echo, an obvious but lovely touch that everyone does. Netrebko is not very precise in differentiating pitches that are close; the G moving down to the F sharp is blurred. She doesn’t alter dynamics much either; the ability to convey sorrowing inwardness, so striking in Scotto or Callas or Cerquetti didn’t occur to her or she can’t do it. The slow descending chromatic scales toward the end are not well tuned. She sings the written cadenza up to the high C, a good note, but that version takes the line lower in her voice than she can sound. It’s competent. And that is greatness, I guess. (Except that there are many potentially greater singers without these problems, I’d nominate Christine Goerke, Sondra Radvanovsky and, given a bit of luck, Angela Meade).

As a performance from a great star in her prime, the Bolero (slow!) from Vespri is a clumsy joke

No Ruiz in Trovatore act four, means she must herself summon the desolate, hopeless scene in “Timor di me?” She doesn’t. The recitative is lifeless; she can’t infuse the words with urgency or color. She vocalizes the high B flat rather than singing the whole word “[pie] TOSA” then fails to shape the descending line, doing nothing with the final word “sospiri” (sighs). The aria is marked adagio but is rather fast, the quickish tempo lets her blur the trills, they’re there, not wonderful. She changes some words in the aria but more importantly doesn’t feel anything – either the rhythm, or the melodic shape or the situation. She sounds like a graduate student with some ability taking a test. The long cadenza is notable for extra breaths; some vague tuning and a lack of the sense that right here in these notes are Leonora’s thoughts of love soaring softly up to Manrico. The entire aria wonderfully dramatizes its poetic conceit and Netrebko gives no indication of understanding that (or of being able to do it).

Verdi makes the Miserere inevitable that way; the answer to Leonora’s sounds of love in the night is a chorus of death. The monks, offstage, sing a cappella with just a bell forlornly playing an E flat, but when Leonora enters the entire orchestra shudders, these are the wings of death. More than anything Leonora must mirror the rhythm, giving her words a hard or frightened point – Netrebko has no real rhythm, in fact she’s a bit behind. She artificially darkens her vocal color but that actually obscures the words. Moreover, she’s isn’t precisely in tune, she’s not able to sound clearly the crucial phrase E flat F flat G flat down to D flat on contende ambascia. And the cry, sento mancarmi, which others have infused with terror, is entirely bland. The great phrases where she cries, “how could I forget you?” in response to the tenor, “di te, di te scordarvi” are not inflected with anguish, they are dead. Poor Rolando Villazon in a far off echo chamber bleats Manrico.

She shakes a fist a “tu vedrai” but lacks rhythmic point and in fact, is anonymous – allegro agitato is the marking, reflected neither in the orchestra nor in her attack. Verdi marks dynamics, a crescendo on the fourth, C to F (o con [te]), and then again on nella [tomba] and then places accents on strong beats leading to a big crescendo for the cadenza, where she sounds like a babushka in thick boots stomping out the cold. Comical. There’s only one verse. Just as well. Lack of a really thrusting attack in Tu vedrai is a problem in conveying Leonora’s sudden resolve, which must contrast with her dream sorrow in D’amor sul ali errante, and her terror in the Miserere.

In exposed vocal material of this kind the singer’s ability to use cues from the score, from the composer’s own timing of effects and sense of form is crucial. And it’s interesting that Caballė, not always inspired and apt to drop consonants and change vowels, in two live performances (from Florence and Dallas) makes so much more of this scene. That’s a glorious sound but the timbre is by no means all. Within her means, Caballė (who doesn’t sing “tu vedrai”), makes most of the expressive points strongly – without the chance of retakes.

What is there to say about the Macbeth arias, as recorded here? I saw in at least two European on line sites about the bit of Macbeth’s letter to his wife, which are written to be spoken: “Oh!!!! She speaks the opening lines!!!! Amazing!!!” You read them or you skip them. And, dear reader, if you or I whispered them into a mike with a Russian accent we’d sound spooky too, except I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t run out of breath before the short lines were finished.

“Ambizioso spirto tu sei Macbetto” lies over an octave but her attack is rough on the E that starts it, the color of tone changes (for no reason) on the E below and it sounds like she is going to break on the D sharp F sharp E on the word “malvaggio”. Even on a recording she needs to take a gulping breath to manage the big run up to the high C, though none is indicated and it breaks the line. The marking of the aria is “grandioso”. Clearly, Lady Macbeth is to make something striding of the line, to seize it forcefully. Netrebko can’t, she’s working just to get through. The first trill is a blur, she omits subsequent trills and doesn’t feel the rhythm when she cries “io ti daró valore” – (“I’ll give you the courage!”) -- the point of the aria is missed. She can’t make the slow crescendo that is marked to start with “accetta” and to grow to a very loud B flat followed immediately by a drop to pian pianissimo (ppp) – what she does is sloppy and irrelevant.

One is always struck by how much Verdi makes of melodic inflection. In just these few lines all this character’s steely cunning is made to sound by the simplest means. But Netrebko is hit or miss – in all three arias. She shows neither special mastery of the vocal line nor any great imagination. If one turns to another Russian, Galina Vishnevskaya in 1976, singing the role far past her vocal best and working hard to manage, she still understands how to make the rhythms work, how this music must be seized and colored. There, extra breaths and some unpleasant sounds are forgivable because the character is so vividly understood. I end this post with Vishnevskaya in this aria, not because it’s a great performance vocally, because it shows what sheer understanding and an imagination that meets the composer’s intention can do.

In the other Macbeth arias some phrases are easier for Netrebko than others, but she really isn’t able to manage a compelling complete performance of any, and again, for a great singer in her prime the small saves and lazy compromises are a lot to accept. Neither her timbre nor her manner is arresting. She only does one verse (thankfully) of “Or tutti, sorgete!” and doesn’t get a doctor or serving woman to help set the Sleepwalking Scene. She certainly doesn’t set the scene by herself.

La luce langue is about as dead a reading of the aria as I’ve ever heard. Leonie Rysanek couldn’t pitch it but was electrifying live and is rather exciting on the RCA record, Olivia Stapp was not thought a great diva but one wonders, after this. It would take nine Netrebkos to make one Rita Hunter, who being English, one would expect to be awkward in Italian style, but one Rita Hunter makes the impact of about forty Anna Netrebkos and is infinitely more accomplished in florid music.

And now, one even wonders about Netrebko’s usefulness in this rep. At Covent Garden Liudmyla Monastyrska buried her, given what she does here (that telecast is very easy to find). True, she wasn’t subtle or Italian but that was one wallop through these arias. In comparison to all these ladies, Netrebko sounds like an amateur, and the spectacular Christine Goerke, who in different killer parts, has demonstrated all the skills La Lady needs is looking at the role.

Is it possible that Netrebko, 42, and now rather thick set, missed her moment? 

That when she should have been doing Tosca and Manon Lescaut, Desdemona, Trovatore Leonora, say ten years ago, she was taking the easy way out – being a beauty with a good voice? Well, that made her rich and a darling of the Manuella Hoelterhoff school of music criticism: “she’s thin, she’s hot, she’s GREAT!!!” It made her neither an artist nor a virtuoso and these arias (the album extends to an improbably bland “Tu che le vanità”) expose someone who will need all the hype, all the empty queen worship, all the ignorance she can get to seem important in a decade. Henry Holland, calling Henry Holland!!! But then she has the great whorehouse DG behind her. Who can fail?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


(picture AP)

I wrote something on Opera-L and surprisingly the three people on Mrs. John Claggart’s face book page urged her to republish it here. I dedicate this to Leslie Barcza. He has a blog (don’t we all, dears?) and it’s worth visiting: http://barczablog.com/ . He suggested I republish something I called portentously enough The Trial of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. So I thought, before the season starts and one gets distracted, perhaps one should give way to one’s pretension.

It’s all brought about by the awful situation for LBGT people in Russia. Putin, dictator there, is looking to exterminate us deviants and inverts. This is an issue taken up on an Opera list ONLY because the Metropolitan Opera, probably the most boring and useless pile of crap among big opera companies, is opening its season with an opera by a homosexual composer named Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin. I suppose he would have been done away with and his opera banned if he had lived long enough to write it.

But the Met is offering a gala to start the season with two Putin collaborators, Anna Netrebko, soprano opportunistisco d’agilità nel letto, and Valery Gergiev, the lousy conductor. Both of these people joined with Putin in 2012 to extol his virtues essential for Mother Russia, and both owe their careers to enormous hype. Anna has made an album of Verdi arias, which my twin will get to very soon.

Gergiev could have gotten nowhere without the amazing support of the government, and he is looking to shore that up by acting the samovar from which Putin can sip. Gergiev got enormous hype (we can’t blame Putin for that since it goes back a ways to the fogs of the 1990s) but he hasn’t got enormous talent. He does have qualities. The Met orchestra drew up a petition about his body odor. That didn’t happen to Toscanini or Mahler when they led the Met. Maybe Gergiev has one upped two legends?

A good summery of Putin’s position, including the promise to jail gay and lesbian tourists is here:

Here is another summary.

The kidnapping, torture and killing of an “effeminate” boy by Russian hoodlums is recounted here:

The English Intellectual, Stephen Fry, has compared Putin to Hitler, and urged the moving of something else coming up of far greater moment than opera, The Olympics. His pleading with The British government is here:

A high official in the Russian government has demanded that the “hearts of gay people be burned”.

Now, suddenly, we have the specter of the Olympics held in Berlin in 1936 in front of Hitler, glorifying him, and his “graciously” allowing the black, Jesse Owens, to compete.

 (Alan Goldhammer who honored the widder and her twin by joining up here, wrote “the US Track and Field team did not permit two Jewish sprinters to run on the relay team with Jesse Owens because of the Nazi policies and fear of offending the Fürher. Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller were the sprinters in question”.)

Netrebko and Gergiev were among the 499 trustees of the Russian presidential candidate, the Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin In 2012.

The great Latvian violinist Gidon Kramer will join one of the greatest pianists in the world, Martha Argerich, and Daniel Barenboim in a concert condemning Putin’s shocking record on human rights, which has extended to assassination. Kremer singled Netrebko and Gergiev out for their pro Putin activism: 


Gergiev made an ad for Putin. The You Tube version and a translation can be found here.


Netrebko (who has double citizenship through marriage, she also holds an Austrian passport) and Gergiev, remarkable for their greed, are supporting a kind of Hitler and that brings up the famous Nazi opera singers and conductors who joined the party, or if they didn’t, happily gave the salute and cooperated in a national frenzy to annihilate Jews, Roma and yes, homosexuals. Only one of these singing monsters went to jail. The Russians, who raped their way across Eastern Germany while “liberating” it, put the famous tenor, Helge Roswaenge in a POW camp for a spell, until his friends could bribe the Swiss to give him refuge (Roswaenge’s home country, Denmark, refused.)

Many of the famous singers under Hitler were older by the time the war ended; those who could, after their “denazification”, usually a year or two of enforced inactivity, continued careers in Germany and Austria, and some visited South America, but were heavily circumscribed about where they could sing. Conductors were different. One of the most gifted judging from records and broadcasts, Oswald Kabasta, committed suicide when the Nazi defeat was absolutely certain. Nazis such as Karajan and sympathizers such as Karl Böhm went on to be worshipped. Clemens Krauss died in 1954 but he and his mistress Viorica Ursuleac, went on despite their many dinners with Hitler (however they are known to have helped some Jews, and Krauss, while running the Munich Opera, hired a few people who didn’t have work papers). Karajan and Böhm were not known to have helped anybody. Karajan got into trouble with the Nazis for mysterious reasons and had to flee to a sweet male poet’s castle in Italy when allies inside the party whispered to him that “they” were planning to send him to the Russian front.

There were many injustices of course. The US and the USSR both recruited (thus saved) SS men and Gestapo officials to be spies, political prison guards and torturers. They also hired scientists such as Werner von Braun who ran a concentration camp. Many monsters just faded back into civilian life. Wieland Wagner also helped run a concentration camp and was Hitler’s favorite of the Wagner family; he was intrustred with “rescuing” The Bayreuth Festival from it strong Nazi associations. The Americans were the easiest to fool, the British tended to be easy going; only the Russians were tough with punishments, unless they thought someone would be useful. But younger people, those in their early thirties at war’s end, could go on to make substantial careers and even become stars.

Was Dame (yes the English damed her) Elizabeth Schwarzkopf DBE the most flagrant example of someone who got away with murder, figurative if not actual (I think all bets are off, but fairness compels me to admit she was never convicted of killing anyone – directly)? Recent information about Karajan has incriminated him more than what many believed, but it’s probably fair to say that his relationship to the regime was complicated and twisted. That was not true of Schwarzkopf.

In any case this is what my twin, Albert, wrote about her, Netrebko and Gergiev on Opera-L:

The Trial of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf:

We are unable to have one here. Therefore it is easy to make statements in either direction that are at best questionable and at worst untrue. But I am astounded by what I read [from FANS]. The two books by Michael Kater are easily available. They are thoroughly documented, and notably evenhanded (he is very careful to distinguish nasty gossip and envious defamation from facts, even about known "villains" as established by his documents).

There are a number of other carefully researched and well documented books about the period and its major players. One can read letters written at the time by many of these people, including Hans Pfitzner who hated Jews, but hated Nazis more, and identified Schwarzkopf as a hateful Nazi. She did indeed join the party. That was not necessary even to ensure a career (though it helped someone who wasn't making quick headway by the normal avenues). It cost a great deal of money, and in fact, by the mid thirties it got harder to do, as the Nazi party was more interested in zealots than opportunists. It also cost a small fortune. That is something she did not have. No one knows how she got the money but it wasn't easy -- and she did get it.

SHE WAS A MEMBER OF THE GESTAPO. She was the information officer at the Berlin State Opera, charged with reporting confidentially on the activities of ALL of her colleagues. THIS IS A FACT. I have known people who thought she was a silly slut who then became quite frightened of her. Two thousand pages of her record with the Gestapo were released right before she died. The papers have not circulated widely and I wonder why. Did she mainly stick with tattling about trivial infractions and thus avoid being taken seriously by her superiors (some of those men were far more interested in other aspects of her body -- of work -- than her spying)? Or did she do real damage to those she disliked?

Let me be clear again. We may eventually know all that can be known and find her better or worse than various people think. We are talking about someone who sold herself to the highest bidders in an organization of horrific evil. And what is this I read? That she never said anything about her Nazi past and that exonerates her? Is that person so utterly an idiot that they think she WOULD? When, helped by the British Nazi sympathizer, Walter Legge, she began to make an international career (many thought he was Jewish, which suited their plan, but he denied it, to me personally on one occasion. He began as one of her lovers, became her “master” as she called him, then her husband) do you think she was going to EXTOL NAZISM AND CONDEMN JEWS? No one EVER thought she was stupid, or lacking in a quick, shrewd, smart opportunism.

We are not talking about everyone who stayed in Nazi Germany and did what they had to in order to achieve some security in their careers. Yes, they all had to make up to the Nazis. As Kater finds in his documents, thus did Hotter and Knappertsbusch, two people thought to be "anti-Nazi" (but both, especially Hotter, fawned on Hitler). Neither was popular with the Nazi toughs in Munich and it appears unlikely that either had Nazi ideals. Neither joined the party.

We know that after a burst of enthusiasm Richard Strauss went into internal exile as far as he could, negotiating a tight rope walk between continuing to collect royalties and conducting (he needed both to survive) and most important to him, saving his Jewish daughter in law (who had relatives who died in the camps) and his two adored grandsons who were counted as Jews. It is said that a Nazi lynch mob was about to attack his villa when the Americans surrounded it, and after he proved his identity to a musical member of the unit, saved him and his family.

Strauss and the far more mysterious Furtwangler were unpopular with many powerful Nazis (the conductor more so) but Furtwangler's case will always be equivocal, as his letters to Albert Speer who played both sides, indicate.

And yes, many, many of the people who had to escape the Nazis and got into America suffered horribly. Bartok (who was not Jewish but anti-Fascist) suffered with fatal illness he couldn't afford to treat and was evicted from the apartment he shared with his wife and son ON HIS DEATH BED. Zemlinsky, a greatly gifted composer and conductor, nearly starved to death and died elderly and alone in terrible poverty. That could easily have been the fate of Schoenberg who had a younger wife and two young children to support. He landed the teaching jobs in LA at the last second, was badly paid and horribly treated at both universities and was forced to retire, but was able to survive.

So it's entirely understandable that those who faced no immediate threat from the Nazi racial laws and had families to support stayed, did what they had to at galas and parties, and hoped for the best (but there were hold outs, Marta Fuchs refused to give the salute and vocally condemned the Nazis. Somehow she escaped. The entire family of the great composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann went into internal exile in a very rural area and coped with severe discomfort rather than compromise with the regime. The famous composer, Stockhausen, kept his head down; his father was in the army and died in battle, his mother had a nervous break down, went to the hospital for help and was shot. When he went to get her body and asked why, he was told "we can't waste food on the worthless".)

But Fraulein Schwarzkopf lived well, in safety, was celebrated until the very end of the war, where after a very bad few months she seduced an American officer who gave her a pass. It is not for me to say she was a bad person, nor dare I suggest I would have behaved heroically under the same circumstances (though as a queer I would have very likely been killed or sent to a camp). But I strongly condemn those who either out of sick idolatry and sheer stupidity lie about what she did. Whatever her talents and later fame, they don't answer very disturbing questions about her.

Meanwhile, with Netrebko: I assume she has received, and, despite her dual citizenship, continues to receive benefits in Russia (which has created a super rich class of amazing resources none of whom are going to battle Putin). She supported a monster, as did the far more corrupt and vicious Gergiev (why don't our Schwarzkopf defenders track down the fifty or so gifted Russian artists he destroyed?). It's abundantly clear how this mediocrity has benefited from the patronage of Putin. But the Met is a business; canceling (buying out) the contracts of all Russian citizens none of whom would find it wise to defy Putin, whatever their personal beliefs (or proclivities) is probably prohibitive in the conservative and frightened eyes of Peter Gelb, who in any case would have to get board approval for any extensive and expensive action (hell, most of those people are sorry there aren't concentration camps here). The Met's statement will probably have to do; perhaps there will be a demonstration. I could fantasize simply replacing all Russians with gifted Americans (there are very many) but were I in his position would I really do it? Meanwhile, Vancouver is willing and able to host the Olympic games. The world should face down vicious tyranny. But the world is a dunghill of interconnected multinational corporations. We can expect worse; Madame Netrebko is a star because of it but not the worst result of it. 

Here are some reactions to on line discussion of this by opera lovers!!

I care more about voice, not sexual orientation of the singers and their politics.

Art in the US needs to transcend politics.  Many, many people in the US still discriminate against the gay community so it doesn't seem that we are totally on the right side of this issue anyway.  

Yeah !!  Let's ruin the Met.

The opening night of the Met's season is NOT the place for a protest about human rights abuses in Russia.

Netrebko is not a political figure. She is the best soprano we have today.

..these suggestions of some...about boycotting the Met's opening "Onegin" ...is just another example of "mid-summer silliness"

Netrebko is my favorite!

Maybe it’s not the new Russian Fascists alone that should be banned but opera lovers, and hell, even opera?

Hitler and Winifred Wagner greet one another at Bayreuth.