Category Archives: Hot Mezzos in Pants

Milano impressions II

Today it’s buildings and an amazing woman: Photos of churches, gallery, stations, castello, theater, statues, and Joyce DiDonato in Milano last October. The full photo album is available here. here or via the not-sooo-fancy slide show below.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

On youtube I found a recording of the Der Rosenkavalier production we went to see in La Scala. This is the moment when I could’t help but cry…

Looking at the production photos, I will keep dreaming of being invited to Der Rosenkavalier on day..

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Mit der Axt

Schrati on Stage!

Bodo Wartkes “Ja, Schatz!” bei der Langen Theaternacht. Das war – Dank Peter!! – mal ne richtig geile Sache!!

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“Everyone knows that opera is about sex.”

The idea for this post came in April, and once again, it is based on a citation of my favorite article: „Ruggiero’s Deceptions, Cherubino’s Distractions” by Margaret Reynolds.
In the beginning, Reynolds argues that opera is about sex. She writes “Everyone knows that opera is about sex. It is no accident that the opera house is furnished with velvet plush, gilded mirrors, naked cherubs, and powdered footmen, for these are the trappings of the brothel, and we go to the opera house for sex.
(“Jeder weiß, dass es in der Oper um Sex geht. Es ist kein Zufall, dass Opernhäuser mit Samtplüsch möbliert sind, mit vergoldeten Spiegeln, nackten Engelchen und gepuderten Lakaien – den Insignien des Bordells – und wir gehen wegen des Sex in die Oper.”)

The architecture of the Giessen opera house is rather a simple one, but when I was in Wiesbaden in April, I thought – alright, let’s examine the evidence:

Naked cherubs and gilded stuff:

Red velvet plush (basically everywhere):

Then, Reynolds goes on: “Heterosexuals go [to the opera house], I suppose, for the large passions. You can see them on Saturday nights at La Bohème. Middle-aged businessmen in suits, who never lived in garrets or wrote a line of poetry, weep for the imagined romance of their lost youth. Their wives, all red fingernails and tight little dresses, regret the passing of their day as Mimi but comfort themselves by identifying with the full bloom of Musetta. […]
And lesbians? Why do they go to the opera? Because where else can you see two women making love in a public place?
(“Heterosexuelle gehen, so nehme ich an, wegen der großen Leidenschaften [in die Oper]. Man kann sie am Samstagabend in La Bohème sehen. Männer mittleren Alters im Anzug, die nie in einer Mansarde lebten oder eine Zeile Poesie geschrieben haben, weinen der erträumten Liebe ihrer verlorenen Jugend nach. Ihre Ehefrauen, alle mit roten Fingernägeln und kurzen, engen Kleidern, bedauern wie Mimi die Vergänglichkeit ihres Lebens, finden aber Trost in der Identifikation mit der vollen Blüte Musettas.[…] Und Lesben? Warum gehen sie in die Oper? Weil – wo sonst kann man sehen, wie zwei Frauen in der Öffentlichkeit Liebe machen?”)

As for the women making love in a public place: we had gone to Wiesbaden to see Der Rosenkavalier, so I guess Reynolds made a point here.

As for the heterosexuals: Well, I never actually saw La Bohème, but when I look to the audience, the term “middle-aged” could fit well.
But “middle-aged” didn’t really fit to the Wiesbaden audience. When I looked down to the orchestra seats, I saw what we call “grey helmet brigade” in church. I wondered if they had come for the sex.
Well, you never know…

Citations: Reynolds, M (1995): Ruggiero’s Deceptions, Cherubino’s Distractions. In: Blackmer, C. E. and Smith, P. J. (Ed.): En travesti: Women, gender subversion, opera. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 132–151.

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Ode to Joyce

In German, we can use the same word for tall and great – groß.
I once sat at a table with a tall priest. There wasn’t a lot of space and when he tried to get up someone said “yeah, it’s a bit uncomfortable for someone who is groß”. He answered: “I am not a große person, I am only tall”.

Yesterday, I stood next to Joyce DiDonato and I was surprised that she is by far not as tall as she appears on stage. Still, she is groß, a truly great person!

It seems quite odd: going to Italy to see a German opera. Going to see an American walking through the jungle of German s, sch, ch, and ig sounds. But I didn’t choose by language. I chose by heart.

I was thrilled by Der Rosenkavalier (or enflammiert, as Baron Ochs would say) and I admire Joyce DiDonato, so I could either wait for her to come to Giessen (well… Gwyneth Jones cancelled Der Besuch der Alten Dame only six weeks before opening night this year…) or go where I can see the great lady disguised as the young boy.

Fate dictated we had to go to La Scala.

I would say that even our cute little theater here looks more spectacular from the outside than La Scala. Plain stone walls from the outside, small, no foyer full of pomp, narrow corridors. As we still wondered about the underwhelming simplicity of the place, we entered the auditorium. First thought: there cannot be this much space in this building! But ultimately, all the red velvet plush seats, the big circle of boxes and galleries on six floors, the huge curtain, all the gold and red, all this space that would be occupied by sonar waves where ostentatious enough to be overwhelming.

The stage design worked with a lot of mirrors, creating a brilliant palais (and bedroom and park) full of genuine little optical surprises. [Production Photos]

Joyce DiDonato as Octavian, could there been anything more delightful? Her Octavian wasn’t as “dual” as one might expect a pant role to be (as for the gender aspect – but I think that was solely due to too tight pants!), but she played it no less convincing, no less beautiful, no less heart-melting. It felt like I had to drown in Octavian’s emotions. And could there have been a cuter Mariandel? Thumbs up for the “Wiener Schmäh”, I loved it!

For the presentation of the rose, dressed in a white tail-code, Octavian descended a staircase, full of dignity and magic. One of the most beautiful moments of the whole opera, I almost cried. I did cry in the end, Octavian and Sophie finally dared to follow their heart and no one else stopped them (I mean, what are the odds of that happening in opera?). I love the gender play in this opera, but ultimately I didn’t care – there is a higher truth in a soprano and a mezzo (ahh… and this mezzo!!!!) singing this duet:

Spür’ nur dich, spür’ nur dich allein und dass wir beieinander sein! Geht all’s sonst wie ein Traum dahin vor meinem Sinn!
Ist ein Traum, kann nicht wirklich sein, dass wir zwei beieinander sein, beieinand’ für alle Zeit und Ewigkeit!

It is about a feeling that goes beyond gender constructions right into the heart. Again, no words.

So, the evening was great, “great and strange”. Strange, because as soon as the curtain had fallen, people started running out of the theater. In general, the audience didn’t seem very emotional, but leaving before the curtain call? Yeah, there we felt special again – young, enchanted, trying to absorb the magic of every second in this theater with some of the world’s greatest artist on stage who deserved credit for their fantastic show.

Next post more on why people go to the opera – or don’t.As for absorbing the magic: Of course we had inspected the building for the stage entrance and concluded our La Scala experience with a most cordial meeting with a not tall but great person.Finally someone who understands the protocol of test shots! (Auto-focus was in celebrity shock)

Ah, thanks to modern technical appliances, this can be the work of a one-handed, confused photographer shivering in excitement.


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White shirts

A break cannot be caught. Yesterday, I had a look at my rss feed reader and in the first article displayed, a question was proposed: What’s the No. 1 opera that allows a White Shirt mezzo to have their hands all over generally not just one, but two sopranos?

The Giessen production of Figaro provides a similar scene: Cherubino in a white shirt with rolled-up sleves.

The same we had with Ariodante in Baden-Baden:

What is it about the white shirts and rolled up sleeves? I’m curious about how they will dress Joyce as Octavian. And I will find out in less than two weeks!!

(@Aniklachev: feel free to post this picture if you like!)

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Between the ears

My blog post on Octavian and Susanna, written pretty much six months ago, came to my mind yesterday evening – it was the re-opening of Le Nozze di Figaro in Giessen. A whole (!) different experience than in March, I must say.
A large part of the cast had changed, including Marcellina – her part was now sung by Merit Ostermann,who had rendered me speachless as Octavian – what a coincidence. But even though Marcellina appears as this grumpy old lady in that corded-up black dress, grey wig, everything far from an attractive appearance, there was still this clear, shining light in her voice. I’m starting to see voices in colors – a short, but beautiful view.
Also, Cherubino’s hairdo had changed. Revoco! I withdraw my previous statement on the compliance with Beaumarchais demands on this role (which is the Cherubino is to be sung by a very beautiful woman). This time he really got me! And most of all, he got me lamenting the duality of the world. This lead me to Professor Boerne…

Having written a seminar paper on the social construction of gender, I need to quote Karl-Friedrich Boerne, the nation’s greatest forensic pathologist on TV: Gender is not being constructed between the legs, it is constructed between the ears. One of the greatest phrases of the last Tatort, which was about a murder case related to intersexuality. Interestingly, as part of the storyline, the professor, along with all the suspects, went to see a heteronormative Verdi opera. A very subtile thought, but I like it!

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Lord, how lovely are your apartments

very (!!) green EMSOC T-shirts, but it's great that they are everywhere!

Today was day six (rehearsal day five!) of EMSOC 2011. The European Medical Students Orchestra and Choir are in Giessen to perform Brahm’s A German Requiem and Mahler’s 10th Symphony. The newspaper reports about the project daily. They write about EMSOC visiting the brewery, the international dinner, the day trip to Cologne – and, by the way, that the concerts will be on Sunday evening (20h, Stadttheater Gießen!!!). Somehow the missed what we are all here for in the first place: doing music.

Yeah, everyone has too meet the famous places in our beautiful city.

The choir first came together on Saturday with many of us having never sung the piece before. And we didn’t have the best start – the répétiteur turned out not to be able to really play the score. But we could fix that pretty soon. Monday, we didn’t have the key to the hall, so our beloved chorus master Anna-Katharina Kalmbach (Stimmfach?^^) did her vitalizing warm up on the parking lot in the sun. Some people might have wondered… But apart from that everything went really fine. With lots of enthusiasm and great talent Anna-Katharina did a marvelous job preparing us for the huge orchestra conducted by UMD Stefan Ottersbach. I can still hardly believe how we (or at least me) came from zero to orchestra rehearsal in six days. Now there’s more sound in the hall than it can take, it’s getting loud, really loud, and then there is this feeling again – no words, just big eyes and an open mouth…

Since we are an international group, there were some efforts to translate the text of the requiem. The nicest one I found is: Lord, how lovely are your apartments. (Herr, wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen).

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Unlimited joy and Joyce!

Vibre, mon âme, chante et proclame, chante ta joie!

Yet again, I had the pleasure of spending an unforgettable opera evening. When we did Otello last season I wondered what would make someone go to see a concertante performance of opera. Well, there’s at least one answer I can give now: a most ravishing Joyce DiDonato!

Donna Leon presented Handel’s Ariodante in Baden-Baden on Friday, introducing to the performance of Joyce DiDonato singing the title role, accompanied by Alan Curtis’ Il Complesso Barocco. A slip of the tongue of Donna Leon became my program for the evening: she talked of “unlimited Joyce” instead of “unlimited joy”.
Interestingly, she compared the plot of Ariodante with that of Othello: the bad guy plays a trick on the good guy to make him believe his fiancé was unfaithful in order to gain the fiancé and the good guy’s all other comforts. Without examining the evidence, Othello decides to act: in an endless shouting of “Il fazzoletto!” he stabs the unfaithful. Ariodante doesn’t care about evidence either. But he chooses his own death, even though not successfully. Thus, the audience is sent home with a reconciling happy ending.

It takes Handel a lot of music to work out this plot, thereby giving a lot of room to discover the beauty of his music, if one had been skeptical about it before. And the musicians took their chance to enchant the audience.

I could not let my ears and eyes from the evening’s “hot mezzo in pants” Joyce DiDonato, whose portrayal of Ariodante went right into the heart. I wanted to stop the course of time when I saw this beyond-my-mind-voice unfolding its warm magic ten meters in front of me (and not in some technical appliance). And I now know: a concertante performance doesn’t have to be any less credible, after not only hearing Ariodante’s unlimited joy, his despair, and his relieve, but also seeing it in DiDonato face and body.

After the performance I followed DiDonato’s advice to catch her at the stage door for an autograph and I met a most cordial person who didn’t stop to share her gorgeous smile. In full excitement and gratitude I tried to control the shutter release of my camera and even though I didn’t use that feature I am sure: the automatic-release-when-detecting-a-smile-function of my camera was developed for persons like Joyce!

Look at the hair! 😀

Maybe it’s worth to re-explore the thought of Der Rosenkavalier in Milano in October… Donations very welcome! 😉


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Couldn’t Octavian get Susanna?

April 2010 brought a lot of changes to my life and once in a while I am very curious to examine in which way I regard certain things different back then and now a year later.

One of these things are pant roles. First of all – no fascination lost there! Last year I scraped together every piece of literature I could find on Cherubino (Le Nozze di Figaro, Mozart), having rare library experiences full of excitement. One of the most obvious discoveries was that there’s no way around Octavian (Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss) in the matter on pants. But since I sometimes tend to be rejective of unknown things, I stuck to what was familiar, thereby sensing what Beauchmarchais who wrote the play upon which Le nozze is based had already noted hundreds of years before: That Cherubino must be played by a very beautiful woman.

Realizing that there is an extremely high theatre concentration in this region (six (!) houses within 150 km), I decided to exploit the last 12 months of student reductions on tickets. And the decision was easily taken, for they play Der Rosenkavalier in Wiesbaden. After one year of pant role fascination, finally the chance to meet the character of Octavian.
Coincidentally, Le Nozze di Figaro had opened the week before in Giessen – a fabulous production. Solely Cherubino, my all time favorite role, could not fully convince me. Maybe Beaumarchais’ demand could not fully be complied with? (Good Lord, a different hairdo would have done stunning wonders and rendered me speachless as I found out a couple of weeks later.) But I was compensated: It was Susanna (Odilia Vandercruysse) who caught my all-positive attention this evening – with her singing, her acting, her smiling – contagiously cheerful, cordial, ravishing. (For completeness’ sake: Stephan Bootz did a marvellous Figaro!) And of course, Mozart did the rest.

After my very personal Cherubino disappointment (which is not to say that there was a bad performance! To exculpate her, she couldn’t have done anything to prevent this!) I took a look at the Rosenkavalier cast, Merit Ostermann as Octavian, and commented with “alright, I once met her, remember her pretty, she may sing him”. And so she did. Four hours later I walked out of that theater with an indescribable inner enchantment, unable to properly express my emotional state. The great amount of disgust I had felt for Baron Ochs (intentionally emetic I guess) was hundredfold surpassed by my sympathy for Octavian. Ostermann played a most convincing 17-year-old boy when looking serious, but every smile made her male disguise transparent. A wonderful combination. What my eyes saw made goosebumps spread all over my skin, what my ears heard, this soul-touching voice on a lovely composition, made me hold my breath. And talking about not breathing – when it shall all end, then please with this terzett… but since the whole death theme was spared out here, I want to stick to the great sense of vividness that this opera performance conveyed.  Even though in a somewhat different, less personally compelling way, also the gorgeous Feldmarschallin indulged the senses, thereby being indispensible for completing my Ocatavian experience.
Only Sophie, I felt, got a little bit lost in strange shoes and hairdo (I will take it symbolically). But as I tried to imply before: in the end, nothing mattered at the beauty of these three voices revealing the magic of this wonderful music.

So, summing up my last two Saturday evenings, sitting for hours (!!) in red velvet plush seats: Susanna should enter the rose garden.


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This afternoon I was amused by a question stated in a blog post (“Intermezzo” – what a lovely pun!):

What’s the difference between Joyce DiDonato and Katherine Jenkins? Apart from obvious stuff like one can sing Una voce poco fa and one can’t, that is?

After seeing the videos, this was even obvious to me… (and yes, I know, I couldn’t do any better, but that’s why I go to the cellar for Una voce and not on youtube…)

Just like DiDonato singing Una voce, I love the title of her latest recording – Diva~Divo. While googling Ruggiero and Cherubino I came across another blog where the Diva~Divo theme is put into lovely category titles (and I admit my plagiarism on that):

Hot mezzos in pants  |  Hot mezzos in skirts

And Anik LaChev, the blogger, proves that dispite all privacy concerns, there are good reasons to enable google search for blogs – great examination of the “gay google treatment” for opera singers! More of this you can find in episode 2 and the latest analysis.

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