Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page
Underrated. Forgotten. Neglected. Unknown.
Call them what you will. Re-discovering such divas has always been the pride of Opera Queens the world round, just like hipster punks staking their claim on discovering the coolest, unknown bands. But, back in the day it took the divining powers to wade through the sea of “pirates”! Today, we all know a quick click on youtube takes us places that it would require months of recording research to get to in the past.
So, I’m pleased to share a series of some notable, and some great “would be stars today” divas, suffering from varying degrees of neglect in posterity. No, I’m not talking about Gencer, Cerquetti, Souliotis, or Deutekom…they’re too easy, and hardly forgotten any longer. I’m focusing on dramatic and spinto sopranos (plus a bonus mezzo and baritone), billed by me as Divas With Cojones! Since they are among the rarest operatic fachs these days, and offer the most visceral thrill, they also deserve our greatest honor and sentiment. I hope these discoveries provide you the same pleasure they do me.
Why aren’t they household names?
They were either of a more eccentric type, dimmed by health problems, from smaller countries that offered less intl. exposure, or denied recording contracts of perhaps more “refined” singers. All this contributed to their lack of attention or fame, but conversely they now offer more unique pleasures. I just started to scratch the surface when I touted lesser known contemporary divas Anne Schwanewilms and Paula Almerares.
So, I now introduce (or, perhaps reintroduce) you to these fine Wagnerians, Verdians, and Mozarteans:
Anita Välkki (b. Sääksmäki, 1926)
This Finnish hochdramatische’s (heroic-dramatic) tone and tireless technique bears a resemblance to another more famous Scandinavian, although it’s even more dark and pleasing to my ears. Judging by these samples, it appears that perhaps only a lack of a leading role in the Solti Decca Ring (ie: Third Norn, instead of Brünnhilde), or the rumored onset of a short top (evidenced by later mezzo roles) kept her from becoming the household name that Nilsson did. What a crime. Amazingly, she began her career as an actress, and in operetta.
Enjoy her and the outrageously loud prompter in this “In Questa Reggia,” from Turandot (Puccini):
This “O Don Fatale,” from Don Carlos (Verdi) is an unexpected treat, outside her fach, but VERY satisfying!
And, finally, Brünnhilde’s “Ho-jo-to-ho!,” from Die Walküre. This also offers some great video clips of her offstage, and of NYC.
Expect the Unexpected
Miki Ando: When the commentators talk about Miki’s “blank” eyes, what they’re not getting at is that she just doesn’t have the same “acting” ability as someone like Yu-Na or Phaneuf (ie: compare their Cleopatras). It’s not just about “spunk,” or “personality”…these girls know how to tell a story with each glance and gesture. I think that’s a gift, but surely it can be nurtured, if there is a willingness. However, Miki doesn’t seem to tap into that deeper well, and may just not be capable of that degree of nuance. That being said, she skates a clean program, albeit sans her 3/3 (instead a 3Lz/2T), and rather emotionally dull. A respectable end of season for her, whether she medals or not!
Kim Yu-Na (2nd): It seems all the world is hanging on this performance. The moment she starts it becomes evident that Miki was largely just skating around doing elements. Even though it’s clear Yu-Na is skating “safe,” she still gives each move a purpose. She starts strong, but falls on her 3S, and gives up on her final 2A, popping it. Honestly, I like that she has a chink in her armor (pardon the pun). This does enliven the rivalry with Mao, and frankly, doesn’t allow fans and viewers to just assume she’ll skate clean (ala Kristi, or M.K. when not at the Olympics). It makes her vulnerable, and almost more interesting to me. My friend Richard jokes that “Queen” isn’t enough…she should have a planet named after her: “Yu-Na.” Her name even sounds a bit cosmic.
Cynthia Phaneuf: Again, Phaneuf’s Cleopatra makes Miki’s look emotionally junior. She skates a clean program, and lands 6 triples! How unexpected. I hope this gives her renewed confidence for next season. She competes so hot and cold, but is SO talented. She does telegraph her jumps a bit too much, but who cares, if she can skate like this!
A Fond Farewell
Navarro & Bommentre: I will miss this program, and this team. Although part of me wishes Belgosto had competed so we could finally capture our North American sweep, I’m happier that NavBomm could compete, and enjoy their presumable competitive farewell at such a high level.
The skate didn’t have as strong an emotion for me as it did at Nationals, but part of that may be that the camera work feels less personal and nuanced here, and Nationals is just a more “homey” and warm setting for skaters and fans. That being said, they gave a strong skate, with only a small lack of twizzle unison, and a blade catch for him during a transition. They get -1 deduction, presumably for a lift that was too long. If this is the end, you have given fans so much pleasure, and I can’t wait to see what you’ll do in Pros! Next up…as per their backstage interview: Italian wine, cheese, culture, art. Well deserved pleasures!
Other Early Highlights
Crone & Poirier: He has one of the best backs of the men in this competition! I love this program…gentle, lyrical, and intimate, starting with “Nocturne.” He especially is a very engaging performer, and really communicates with her throughout. I was amazed to discover that he’s a singles’ skater too (as is she), as the requirements of ice dance are so different. I love the transition into their mid-section, a lyric version of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I’m developing a skating crush on him…seems to be such a vulnerable guy in the kiss-n-cry. Great speed on their spins! I get a kick out of their Coraline-looking coach!
The Zaretskys: A dramatic, somber couple, and program. I feel their costumes are actually TOO stark, and the accent colors too subtle, and too much of a dark wall to draw me in. The tempo of the music is also largely the same throughout the program, not providing the emotional ups-and-downs that a program like Marlie’s provides. Their spins feel slower than the prior Canadians, and I was surprised they were placed ahead of the them…but, by only 1 pt.
Torino, Land of…Cars?
Ah, Torino…unromantically billed as “the Automobile Capital of Italy.” But, I love the images of Torino’s skyline, offset by the surrounding Alpine mountains, and with the Mole Antonelliana towering beautifully above. The Mole is even more striking when seen against a pastel pink and blue sky. It is considered the tallest museum in the world. Stylistically, it doesn’t have what I would consider typical Italian architecture, and almost looks more eastern in character to me. Perhaps this is the Jewish influence, as it was originally constructed as a synagogue.
Now, onto the competition. In keeping with prior scheduling gaffs, coverage begins smack dab in the middle of Kostner’s program. Perhaps I should be more forgiving, as it appears to be truly “live.” Sadly, I miss out on seeing Makarova’s moment. Thankfully, it can be found here, complete with her Johnny arms and telegraphed jumps, as well as some great spins and energy throughout.
Mao Asada (2nd): Andrea Joyce states that “She’s gotta keep this rivalry (with Yu-Na) going.” Great 3A! Her jumps are SO solid. If Yu-Na opens the door, Mao’s apparently going to run screaming through it. Next season: Giselle, or anything from classical ballet rep, please! If Yun-Na is Queen, Mao is Princess…or, better yet, Dark Queen! Very well centered and fast spins. In the slow-mo on the 3A, it looked like it was short 1/8, NOT 1/4 of rotation, so it shouldn’t be downgraded. Wow, a low score, 5 points below her personal best. Why? It looks like the 3A was downgraded after all. (I have some scoring gripes about these 3A downgrades I’ll address in a future post.)
Miki Ando: I will not miss this “Requiem” program. OMG, down on her 3Lz! This is NOT good…well, it is for Nagasu and Flatt. I can SMELL that 3rd US berth (lucky Ashley)! There’s just nothing special about her skating. She’s just going through the motions. The catch foot spin (ie: half-Biellmann, where the skate is placed and held near the head) has to be the ugliest move in skating. It should be banned! Wow, a smile from Morozov at the boards? That effectively took her out of medal contention, barring meltdowns from others.
I’m still in shock that Nobunari didn’t score high enough to even compete in the LP/FS (falling to 28th with his SP). What a tragedy, and what a bad taste that must leave in his mouth. At least this wasn’t Tokyo 2011! Redemption next year, on home ice? I hope.
Tara is really relaxing into this commentating. Nice to see.
A Stellar Senior Worlds Debut
Adam Rippon: He starts with a lot of freedom. Great 3/3. What a consistent skater…whoops, a step out of his nemesis, the 3A (he has something in common with Stéphane). Not as memorable a program as his SP, but it’s fresh. YES…he lands a perfect 3A in the bonus! Beautiful Tano and Rippon lutzes. Wow, he’s really killin’ this! In his footwork he looks a little bit tired, but starts to express a bit more with his face. Good enough for bronze? We’ll see. BUT, at least this bodes well for our 3rd berth. Now it’s all up to Jeremy.
Olympic Hangover Free Skates
Adrian Schultheiss: He reminds me of Van der Perren. Straight-jacket concept, eh? CRAZY! His jumps are looking good, including his quad. I appreciate him taking some musical risks here, including Pac-Man audio samples, but he’s skating VERY slow, and not really expressing much. The program just doesn’t hold together or have any continuity.
Van der Perren: 4/3/3 (19 pts)! That was thrilling. Clean 3A. (Those were for his ailing grandfather!) This is impressive. 2F. Argh. His footwork almost throw-away. Lots of hunched over jump landings, BUT clean! This was a damn good skate for him to end his competitive career! So sweet to see him so emotional at the end. His first combo was a great reminder of just how effective they can be for wowing the audience (a nod to Plushy).
Belgosto’s Commentating Devirginization
Tanith initially looks a bit horrified…hands clasped tightly, and rather frozen in position. Belgosto use the word “excited” 4 times in the first 20 seconds. Clearly green. However, thankfully she’s worked on lowering her Minnie-Mouse helium voice, which she has now passed down to Meryl Davis. She sounds MUCH more pleasing and mature here. I suppose when you’re not out of breath after a performance, that’s easier to pull off. I’m excited for this opportunity for Belgosto. Good for them.
However, I can’t help but feeling that dorky old “dad” (aka Peter Carruthers) has crashed the fun, groovy, hip kid’s parté up in “the loft”…led by Sparkly Boy.
OD’ing on ODs?
Crone & Poirier: They are very promising. I love that he plays so butch in this spanish number, but in the kiss-n-cry the purse falls out of his mouth. You go gurl!
The Kerrs: Hawt male kilt alert! Now, that’s worth some major points. Interestingly, it makes him as much (or more) interesting to watch than her, which is a bit unusual, as usually the ladies’ costume has more flash. I like that they are not playing it safe in that respect. Who misses Johnny Cash? Not me. I like this program. It’s very entertaining and showy, but you can tell their hearts are in it. I really want to see this team move up in the standings. I’m not sure what it’s gonna take. A clean skate! And, a little Sharon Stone in the kiss-n-cry from John…nice!
Davis & White (2nd): I must confess, despite how much I love this program, I’m a bit tired of it. I think this speaks more to how LONG this season has been, with the Olympics and all. Despite that, I’m reminded of how unique this piece is. Every arm movement is “indigenous,” and not just a stock gesture. They are SO damn consistent. No bobbles or fizzles. Twizzles of fire! They’re here to win, and get a season’s best. Overall, scores at Worlds have been even higher than in Vancouver. Perhaps they’ll stage an upset?!
To Quad, or Not to Quad
Jeremy Abbott: Calm, cool, and collected! He was methodical, but clean, not attempting his quad, but getting through all of his elements. An enormous improvement over Vancouver. I’m proud of him for reigning it in, and seemingly successfully adjusting his mindset in such a short amount of time.
Takahiko Kozuka: He displays very fast, well centered spins. Although this program is not my style, he has evolved this to a level where it all came together…the rocker vibe imbued his appropriately edgy look, carriage, costume, dynamic edging, all in a very authentic manner. I can’t wait to see more from him, in 2010-11. As per Paul Wylie: “he will wrap this up.” And, he does!
Nobunari Oda: He really is all legs and ass. Wylie’s comment: “tremendous knees on this athlete” sounded like gay code for…well, I’ll leave it up to your imagination. 3 popped single jumps, REALLY? This Kostner-scaled meltdown may be the worst I’ve ever seen from a man on this level…yes, even worse than Verner. His program music doesn’t help…like bad Russian Liberace musak. I really feel for him, and wonder what happened. A little too much saké beforehand?
Patrick Chan (2nd): Amazing attack! I love his danceability, particularly in this Tango program. He exhibits such a strong physicality, and doesn’t waste a second of the program. He’s REALLY on…nailing his 3A, and effectively erasing the Vancouver stain on his record.
Daisuke Takahashi (1st): My friend John, who I enjoyed watching this event with, bills Dice-K as The Japanese Elvis. He repeats, but even improves on his greatness from Vancouver. I REALLY want Daisuke to take the gold here…Patrick has a lot more time. If you look under “flair” in the dictionary, you will find his name. He moves like a serpent, shifting his body every which way, and using every part of it to express.
Major Universal Sports/Comcast Fail!
The Pairs LP started airing before my scheduled TiVo recording even began, discluding the entire third-to-last group, and ALL but the last two Men’s SPs were covered up by a Russian news program. WTF!? A Plushy conspiracy? Thank god this didn’t happen with my Olympics recordings, but it still has me fuming. Perhaps it’s my local cable providers’ fault. Whosever it is, off with their heads!
Berton & Hotarek: I don’t disagree with Tony Wheeler, an excellent (newish?) skating blogger (also from Ohio…must be somethin’ in the water). This italian team is very promising, delivering one of the finest short programs, and deserving notice here. Next step: upgrade to a triple twist. How lovely too to see John Zimmerman on their coaching team. (He and Shae-Lynn should have won AT LEAST the first night of “Thin Ice”!)
Evora & Ladwig (Maranda): Her expressive face really sells this couple. She also has beautiful extension, and their program has a gentle, and sincere loving quality…well, it is “Love Actually.” Their footwork and final lift feels a bit slow, but some of that could be attributable to camera angle/perception.
Denney & Barrett (Barney): Great speed and attack. This is definitely the team we’ve grown to love from the past two Nationals! Her triple toe is a bit Tara (ie: rollerskater-ey, fast but low), BUT she nails it, unlike in Vancouver. They leap to 6th, and with a personal best!!! Wow, with this performance, and Evora & Ladwig’s great showing, I have a flash of irrational hope that they might they climb high enough to regain 3 berths.
Savchenko & Szolkowy (Szolchenko – 3rd): Not inspired, but acceptable. He doubles his triple toe, and their spin unison is off, but it keeps their placement high enough to pretty much be a sure thing for the podium, and not out of reach of gold, if Pang & Tong open the door. I wonder if his botched jumps this season are a confidence issue, or more one of some apathy creeping in.
I just discovered a colleague’s very stylish blog, and was inspired by her post asking “What Defines You?,” and her subsequent personal list. As a bit of a Top 10 List addict, I was fast on my way to rounding up my own. I’ve left jcm off the list, as it’s eminently clear that this blog defines me, but that’s just too easy, eh? Here they flow, in random order:
My 7th Birthday Photo
This photo (May ’77, Cincy, OH) conjures up the warm, sentimental feelings of uncomplicated youth, and a loving connection with my family. Although my folks aren’t pictured here, their nurturing presence is all around (and on the other side of the camera). The Winnie the Pooh cake was likely by my special request. I love the retro feel of the old square prints, with rounded corners.
There is a simplicity to my memories of childhood, and of these such moments…no crowded party, or branded birthday theme (seemingly requisite these days), just closeness and joy. I’m so thankful to have the foundation that my upbringing provided me. Funnily enough, CJ has a photo that is almost exactly the same (parallel lives?). Now, just two months from my 40th bday, I suppose I’m a bona fide “adult”!?
“Peristeriona” Ceramic Vase
This vase holds all the memories of CJ’s and my beautiful around-the-world journey together…Hong Kong to Greece to Senegal. It was something I had dreamt of doing for decades, while I racked up frequent flyer miles!
We purchased this in a charming little shop on Sifnos, an authentic, less touristy Greek Island option that we both long to return to one day. The yellow and black colors call to mind the brilliant glow of the sun, and the contrasting shadows, on the traditional white structures and breezy hillsides.
CJ and I have the gift of travelling very well together, and our time on this island was one of our most special yet…divine food, a white-knuckle scooter ride through the hills, and lots of R&R by the sea.