As some of you may know I love watching the Tour de France. I have been doing so in my summer vacations since I was a child. I have pleasant memories of sitting indoors on sunny afternoons with my family yelling at riders trying not only to reach the fourth peak of the day but also to do it faster than their closest enemies.
And then there is the doping.
I was happily unaware of the extensive doping programmes until 1998 when the Festina scandal exploded. I believed in Miguel Indurain, Bjarne Riis and Jan Ullrich when they won the race and I believed in them for quite some time after the Festina scandal. I cheered for Bugno, Chiappucci, Virenque and Zülle and was sorely disappointed when the two latter turned out to have been doped.
My disappointment in doped riders have changed since. If I get disappointed it has more to do with my favourite riders not being allowed to race. It doesn’t relate to the doping itself anymore. What I want is not a clean race…I want drama.
This also means that I find Bjarne Riis’s confessions last week uninteresting. Of course he was doped when he won in 1996. I have known that since he said in an interview: “I have never been tested positive”. That was so pathetic – but the confession? Nah – I don’t care. I have found a short clip of his very long confession (in which he also says that he only admits because he has been forced to by fellow riders’ confessions). And it has subtitles.
Riis was doped as the rest of the riders, and he gave us one of the most interesting Tour de Frances ever with his continuos attacks on the summits of the Alps and the Pyrenees. Doped or not – this was epic.
Of course cycling is an unhealthy sport and of course doping is awful. But the fact is that I love the race because these men have sacrificed their health for my entertainment. It looks grim on paper (screen…), but there you have it. And now all there’s left for me is to dream about the happy years when the riders were doped and we didn’t know! I will never enjoy the race as much again since the clean race leaves us with two options:
1. A truly clean race with one slow, boring stage after the other
2. A fake clean race with drama and speed but with our knowledge that they are doped.
My weakness is that I prefer the latter.
And since I am already surfing immoral waters of double standards I have to admit that seeing Lance Armstrong admit an extensive use of drugs would be a great pleasure. What makes the Tour de France interesting is also to see the kings dethroned. Armstrong never allowed to be dethroned and his arrogance left me completely cold.
Just to close with a smile here is part one of a press conference of the Danish Team Easy On. For non-Danish speakers I can recommend to go to 4:45 to hear the list of drugs read out loud in English.
Just as I’m thinking I couldn’t possibly love Family Guy any more than I already did, they go and make an Amadeus-reference…! Wonderful! I love how “Heart & Soul” is the tune that Stewie plays when impersonating Peter. Mozart would totally have mocked Salieri with “Heart & Soul”, had he known that piece.
Em yrram, Seth MacFarlane!
My local library is really good when it comes to buying opera dvds. I often go there and leaf through the selection and find stuff I never knew I craved – but then there it is. Many I just pass visit after visit and then perhaps one day I decide to pick it up. One such dvd was this:
I first saw it some months ago and left it because the cover is plain ugly and because concert performances on dvd are just one more nail to the coffin of opera as an art form. But then later that day it returned to me. Because – what would the barytone Thomas Hampson be doing in an opera with a tenor hero? And embracing the heroine on the cover?
So when I stumbled upon it again last week I decided to bring it home with me.
It turned out to be musically stunning and acting-wise not bad at all.
The conductor Michel Plasson and I are not the best of friends…not that he knows. But I once witnessed him furiously screaming the text at a poor mezzo-soprano who couldn’t remember her part but who had also just been flown in to rescue the performance from cancellation. Not nice Monsieur P.
But I have to admit that with this Werther he does a remarkable job.
And then what I really wanted to share with you: the best love scene I can think of just now. And here performed by two singers, Thomas Hampson and Susan Graham, who are everything but 20-year-olds but who manage to put all the pain, vulnerability, and love into this encounter and make it one of the most touching scenes I have seen.
Have a look and try to ignore the impossible filming:
If you want to see what it all ends with then look here for Werther’s death.
The cast also includes delectable singers as Stéphane Degout as Albert and Sandrine Piau as Sophie.
And the barytone thing? It turns out Massenet revised his opera and turned Werther into a barytone in order to make him more brooding. Not sure I think that is the right thing to do – but Thomas Hampson is always welcome to do any of my favourite opera heroes!
Marie and I were at an Andreas Scholl concert today. A review will follow, but the big surprise of the day was our realisation that Andreas Scholl has multiple voice talents. Not only is he a marvellous countertenor and an ok barytone – he is also behind the voices of Stewie and Peter Griffin (e.a.) of Family Guy. He masters the American accent to perfection – and the British accent of Stewie. Don’t get confused about the woman, just press play.
Just kidding of course. But the resemblance between Seth Macfarlane, creator of Family Guy and Andreas Scholl is in some instances striking. Just a reminder:
And while we’re at it, I have to post this clip from Family Guy. I love Stewie.
We’re rude to the…the other people. 😀
To see more of Stewie drunk go here.
You know what we’ve been saying about hammerhead people? About how they are people whose eyes are really far apart? And you know how you’ve read our posts on the subject and thought to yourself ‘Oh, those crazy attachées. They do have some bizarre ideas and they really ought to get out more.’ (don’t try to deny it. You know you’ve had that thought.) Well, it looks like Seth MacFarland is with us! He understands! So there! Ha!
Genius! Uma Thurman is totally a hammerhead person. And there should totally be such a thing as an eye wrangler.
In fact, maybe that is what Ruggerone is really crying out for in this picture?
In any case, this is further proof that Seth MacFarlane needs to marry me ASAP. Marry me, Seth.
Let’s start the day with some nonsense!
I love this rhyme by Lewis Carroll:
Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you’re at!
Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea-tray in the sky.
In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland it is recited by The Mad Hatter at his and The March Hare’s Tea Party.
You can see one version of that in a film from 1972. Robert Helpmann sings the song to Fiona Fullerton as Alice while the March Hare (Peter Sellers is behind all that fur) tries hard not to hear anything. The Dormouse is Dudley More.
Having stepped into the world of nonsense I will allow myself to show you this little clip too since it is also about a bat:
It is from a Danish comedy show that ran a couple of years ago. Not all the jokes have survived the harsh treatment of Time (far from it) but I love this scene where the permanently stoned Dutch cyclist Pim de Keysergracht envisions his shirt as a bat – be careful to note the sound the bat makes. Should I explain more? Probably, but let’s just leave it at that…
Yesterday Marie and I, not being in New York, went to the cinema to see the recent production from The Met of Tchaikovsky’s Eugen Onegin with Renée Fleming, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Ramon Vargas. But since it’s Sunday night and I’m just not going to do anything serious the review will have to wait and instead I bring you this:
Sheep with accordeons? And what is it with American kids and their learning to count? Look here too.
Well, I think it’s hilarious and it just makes me adore Renée Fleming. Even more. She sang with the Muppets…what’s more to say?
I just saw three pieces of interesting news on the internet. At least they were new to me: Andreas Scholl has left Decca and signed with Harmonia Mundi; he has recorded a new album with Händel pieces; the Giulio Cesare of The Royal Danish Opera is to be released this spring.
The Händel album includes one of my favourite pieces: Il Duello Amoroso in which Andreas Scholl and the soprano Hélène Guilmette sing the lovesick shepherd Daliso and the proud and rejecting shepherdess Amarilli. I heard it a couple of years ago with Scholl and his ex Camilla Tilling. Wonderful even with Scholl having a slight cold. Even though conducted by the baroque specialist and harpsichord player Lars Ulrik Mortensen the (modern) ensemble pieced together by musicians from the Danish Radio Orchestra had a hard time sounding like an improvising bunch of baroque enthusiasts. So I’m glad that this recording is with exactly such an ensemble: Accademia Bizantina and Ottavio Dantone.
You can read more and listen to a couple of samples here. I especially recommend the second sample which is from the Duello Amoroso.
I can hardly wait to get my hands on it!
It has long been rumoured that Harmonia Mundi would release a dvd of Francisco Negrin’s production of Händel’s Giulio Cesare. And now it seems it is about to happen. I can’t find an exact date but spring…spring is here! This is one of the best stagings I have seen of any opera so it’s definitely worth releasing. Marie wrote a review of the performance which you can read here.
And here’s a little snatch of the opera. Cleopatra’s aria Piangerò la sorte mia performed by Inger Dam-Jensen who just happens to be one of my favourite singers and the Concerto Copenhagen conducted by Lars Ulrik Mortensen. Cleopatra thinks all is lost – Giulio dead and kingdom taken by bad, bad brother who in this production seems to be ready to rape her on their next encounter – and he took her wig! The aria changes between complete sorrow and a furious vendetta feeling, between “I will weep for my fate” and “I will haunt him as a ghost”. It is one of those arias that pretty surely brings tears to my eyes.
I hope the dvd will be out soon – hereby recommended.
In the meantime I have been watching another production of Giulio Cesare: David McVicar’s staging from Glyndebourne 2005. I don’t think it is as marvellous as Negrin’s but it is still very good. I’m completely taken by Sarah Connolly who portrays Giulio with a manliness many men could learn from. I’m close on having a girl crush on her or…should that just be crush? I listened to a radio interview with her where she says you just have to keep your bum in in order to look like a man! You can listen to that here. Besides from the bum part she seems very nice and interesting.
Danielle De Niese as Cleopatra is wondrous both as singer and actor/performer. She doesn’t touch me so very much though and I think it’s because she misses one thing I love about the Cleopatra character: that she changes from thoughtless child to full grown woman during the opera. But hey – she is very good and very funny.
William Christie and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment work miracles in the pit.
Below is a clip from the end of the opera. Nice “in-love-interaction” between Cleo and Jules. And his costume is very Louis XIV…
The guys who enter towards the end are the dead Tolomeo and Achilla! Seems like they will be haunting poor Sesto.
Les Contes d’Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach is one of my guilty pleasures and discovering that one of my favourite directors, Robert Carsen, had staged it made me run to the music library to pick up the dvd.
I say guilty pleasure since this opera is written by one of the big operetta composers and I as a rule dislike operetta. Or maybe I just HATE Johann Strauß!
The first time I saw Hoffmann was in Rome five years ago and I went solely to see one of my heroes, Ruggero Raimondi, in the four baddie parts. The staging and the other singers turned out to be pretty marvellous so it was one of those evenings you don’t forget easily. I own a dvd version with Raimondi. Not the same and not as good, but ok. I mean a staging putting the über hammershark Raimondi in this position has to have some advantages:
Heh…it just never gets old.
Robert Carsen lets the stories take place in a theatre during and after a performance of Don Giovanni (it is in the libretto that Stella is singing in that particular opera..). The Prologue takes place in the bar of the opera house, the story of Olympia is on stage just after curtain fall with all the singers as chorus, Antonia walks the orchestra pit (not the actual pit…) and her ghost mother appears up on stage, Giulietta is seated in the auditorium (not the actual auditorium…) on rows that move like old fashioned theatre waves from side to side. I think it works pretty well with this intricate system of chinese boxes and I like the ever changing reflections and view points. Hoffmann keeps talking about himself and the same love story from different angles and I agree that it is all so colourful and perverse that a theatre is no bad backdrop. Besides it allows Carsen and his stage designer Michael Levine do some wonderfully lavish interiors and costumes. But I’m actually more concerned with the acting which is superb. Neil Shicoff successfully portrays the tormented Hoffmann and manages to change from broken alcoholic into young fool, mature fiancé, depraved lover and back into alcoholic. I am quite amazed by his talent as an actor. As a singer his does very well too in this large part.
Here is a clip in which Shicoff shows he has a comical talent too. It is only part of the song about the dwarf Kleinzach just to let you get an idea. If you want to see the whole aria the Paris Opera has it on their home page with Rolando Villazón. Not bad either but very different.
I love his expression when he reaches for the cigarette with his mouth.
Bryn Terfel plays the villains. It is strange but even though I have been loving this singer for years I have never seen him on stage (not in real life nor on dvd). My only experience with his stage appearance is a concert with him and Cecilia Bartoli from Glyndebourne in which he is either sweet or humorous. So to see him as the bad guys the first time I see him in costume was if not surprising then at least interesting. Of course he does very well both music and acting wise. Oh, how I would love to see him do Mephisto in Gounod’s Faust!
Here is a clip from the beginning of the opera where Lindorf sings about his own ugly personality. I love what they did with the lighting. Just as he sings about his eyes the light penetrates one of his eyeballs from an oblique angle so that it lights up uncannily in the dark. Eyes and gazing are main themes of the opera so this is an extremely elegant feature. I think it is a bit hard to see it on this low quality clip – just another reason for getting the dvd. Then you can also enjoy the light catched by the smoke.
The other singers (most important: Susanne Mentzner, Nicklausse/La Muse; Desirée Rancatore, Olympia; Ruth Ann Swenson, Antonia; Béatrice Uria-Monzon, Giulietta) do fantastically too. The Muse/Nicklausse gets much more music than I’m used to, but this is an opera that comes in different versions as Offenbach died before he could finish it. I don’t think the extra music added much to the story since I prefer a firm focus on Hoffmann and the villains, but never mind, Susanne Mentzner did a great job.
This is one of the best stagings I have seen of the opera, but it loses some energy towards the end. The whole Giulietta act lacks force and the famous Barcarolle was actually quite dull. But watch it for Shicoff alone and then add Terfel and you’re more than all right. This is pie, and Carsen still stands very high in my favour.
It’s back! Praise the Lord! I found the following clip on youtube about six months ago, but then it was removed, and I have missed it terribly. But now it’s back! Take a look, everybody!
Absolutely sublime, isn’t it? Villazon is the best Werther I have ever seen or heard, and the clip has the ability to move me to tears every time I watch it. I love the way he starts off so tenderly, almost introspectively, and then builds up frustration and sorrow in both his acting and his vocals until the climax in each verse. His delivery of the desperate outcry “Helas!” in the second stanza is nothing short of brilliant. He seems almost violent in this instance, one can understand if Charlotte feels his presence as something menacing (as I believe she does), and to me it’s crucial that a portrayer of Werther manages to capture this side of the character, too, and not just his sensitive side. This is the man, after all, who is destructive enough to press a gun to his temple and kill himself. And at Christmas, at that!
I am, however, not here just to praise Villazon’s performance. I’m here to make a plea. You see, the last time the clip was removed from youtube, it said on the page that it was due to violations of rights. And I understand that. I really do. There is such a thing as copyright, and I fully respect that. But then would whoever produced the filming of this staging please arrange for the production to be released on DVD so that I may purchase it and watch it numerous times and cathartically sob my little eyes out? Please? I want so badly to see this Werther in its entirety. And I would tell all my friends to buy it, too. And I would review it here on this blog. And it would be a good review.