Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Like most literate English-speaking people, and probably most Italians too, I've never read Torquato Tasso's unwieldy epic Gerusalemme liberata ("Jerusalem Delivered"). I've seen plenty of artworks referring to it and am familiar with Monteverdi's Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, the best known of the many operas and musical works stemming from Tasso. The Tancredi and Clorinda story was the subject of a ballet, The Duel, by William Dollar. The late, great Melissa Hayden had a personal success in it in the earlier days of New York City Ballet. It was also known by its French title, Le Combat, when presented by Roland Petit's company. Here's a relatively recent excerpt performed by New York Theatre Ballet:

Michel Fokine was inspired to create Le Pavillon d'Armide by Alexandre Benois, who was interested in a painting depicting Rinaldo and Armida. Armida herself really got around in the world of the arts.

Which brings us to Rossini's Armida, presented for the very first time in its history by our own Metropolitan Opera.The work premiered in Naples in 1817. According the program notes by the redoubtable Rossini maven Philip Gossett, the twenty-five-year-old Rossini was provided with all possible advantages: first-rate orchestra and chorus, ample rehearsal time, and the finest soloists of the day. Among these was the young composer's inamorata and, later, wife, Isabella Colbran. For Colbran, he composed the demanding title role. Hearing the beautiful and expert Renée Fleming tackle this and almost, but not quite, nail it, made me think of the conditions under which singers of the early 19th century worked. Mainly, the theaters were considerably smaller. I haven't been in Naples's San Carlo, but La Scala and London's Royal Opera House, while good-sized, are not enormous caverns like our Met. Thus the fiorature, requiring filigree delicacy and yet a certain power, could probably be delivered more easily in those theaters. Furthermore, verismo had not developed, and Wagner and Strauss were yet to come. The singers were used to employing their vocal techniques in a manner different from what would be required later.

Thus, everyone, including the six tenors in this interesting cast, was a modern singer who had indeed studied earlier techniques and in some cases, such as that of the endearing and sweet-toned Lawrence Brownlee, specialized in the Rossini rep. Nevertheless, changes in musical styles as well as the gigantic size of the Met, worked against the pinpoint accuracy required (we imagine, since we've heard very little of it) of Rossini singing. We heard an approximation of what Rossini may have had in mind.

Something unforeseen in a thoroughly Italian opera was the elaborate ballet that occupies most of the second of the opera's three acts. French theaters expected this, but I didn't think it was the case for Italy. So this was an anomaly. I did not think that the ballet, as is usually the case with opera ballets, was a success. In fact, I found it downright ugly. I'm still trying to decide what style of choreography and presentation would have worked in its place.

Richard (The Lion King) Hudson's sets and costumes were imaginative and mostly beautiful. I am a fool for imaginative bugs and birds, and Armida's enchanted garden, conjured up through her sorcery, had a delightful dragonfly, red beetle, and macaw among other captivating creatures.

The opera ends with Armida, defeated by the Crusaders, raging at her loss. I thought it might be something like Medea, also a sorceress, riding away in her chariot drawn by dragons. Not quite; Armida didn't seem furious enough. A bit of online sleuthing reveals that, following the action depicted in the opera, Armida abjures her rough magic, becomes a Christian, and marries her beloved Rinaldo.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Boredom isn't the only hazard of jury duty. On a sunny April day, lunching on a bench under some pink-flowering cherry trees near the iconic 60 Centre Street courthouse, known to all for its starring role on my favorite TV show, Law and Order, I am accosted by a neatly dressed, overweight woman who wants to confide her sad story to me. I've already heard enough sad stories while waiting to be questioned in a voir dire for a medical malpractice suit upstairs in Room 345.

To hear her tell it, she suffered a brain tumor at an early age. This prevented her from fulfilling an engagement on the old Ed Sullivan TV show, arranged for her (she says) by Broadway's fabled Jule Styne. And she used to be thin, of course. Had it not been for a twist of fate, she would have rivaled Barbra Streisand. Und so weiter....

I pleaded the necessity of returning to the courtroom, although I actually had 20 minutes left before we were required to be back. I have a friend who's a psychologist. I wish she had been with me to give the poor soul the proper answers. I guess the woman found someone else with whom she could continue her lament, as there were other people sitting around there, some of whom looked as unthreatening as I apparently do.

Regarding the case, about which I am not supposed to talk but I'm not actually on it yet, the prosecuting attorney is the same articulate Irish-American who was the prosecuting attorney on the first case where I served as a juror. This has got to be at least twenty years back. It was your basic old-lady-hit-by-car situation. We didn't get to deliberate, as it was settled out of court. I remember his repeatedly addressing the plaintiff by name: "Mrs. Lugavoy." Somehow that name, being somewhat unusual, has stuck for all these years. Wonder if he himself remembers her?

Postscript: Was let go this afternoon after being questioned. I think it was because (1) one of my late uncles was a physician; (2) I have served on three juries, though none had deliberated to verdict; and (3) I'm Internet savvy, having mentioned that I edited a Web site when I worked for Dance Magazine. Those guys are not stupid; they may have surmised (correctly) that I had probably done some research on the case. Well, now I won't have to devote the next three weeks to the stuffy courtroom, Room 345, at 60 Centre! Free at last! Whee!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Water Music

A chronic complainer I know—and I know quite a few—thinks that the new Lincoln Center fountain is badly designed and that water will shower over people on windy days. I replied that they can shut it off on windy days; just watch the weather forecasts. At the present time it's presenting different jeux d'eau, shooting streams upwards, outwards, and intertwining. I assume that its repertoire will increase as the renovation of the plaza is finally completed. It's certainly taking long enough!

Although I wasn't hearing the Water Music that evening, I was hearing Handel. His gorgeous opera Partenope (one of the Sirens or possibly an ancient princess, for whom Naples was originally named) was on at the David H. Koch (formerly the New York State) Theater, just out of the photo to the far left. The countertenors outnumber the tenor in this one, and all of the music is magnificent. A further treat was sitting in the third row and getting a good look at my favorite baroque instrument, the theorbo. I just like the name, as well as the beautiful shape. Pronounce it with the accent on the second syllable, please.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Vive la Différence!

Yes, it's almost the same shot as the one from February 13, only with a different kind of "snow" on the tree branches. These blossoms have to be captured quickly, as they last only a few days before the leaves come out. It was a lovely April 1 appearance, quite a sudden one, and no fooling!