Semiramide Problems

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#SemiramideProblems: When the core question of the evening is ‘Mustard or Mezzo?’ and all options sound great.

[Josef Wagner (Assur) and Ann Hallenberg (Arsace) in Rossini’s “Semiramide”, Ghent 2011]

I know I posted these on Twitter already, but since they were so much fun, here’s an extended version while we wait for more Rossini tonight.

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#SemiramideProblems: the exact moment the OperaCougars at #ShadyBelcantoPines offer you a slice of cheesecake in commiseration.

[Ann Hallenberg (Arsace) and Myrtò Papatanasiu (Semiramide) in Rossini’s “Semiramide”, Ghent 2011 – we are all old enough to remember the Golden Girls and “Shady Pines, Ma!”, right?]

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#SemiramideProblems: Frustration with your architect because the  design of your palace makes it difficult to convey your intentions, which you could express much better at a much closer distance.

[Myrtò Papatanasiu (Semiramide) and Ann Hallenberg (Arsace) in Rossini’s “Semiramide”, Ghent 2011]

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#SemiramideProblems: Continued frustration when even at a much closer distance, the swashbuckling mezzo does not get that swords do not really matter in this situation.

[Myrtò Papatanasiu (Semiramide) and Ann Hallenberg (Arsace) in Rossini’s “Semiramide”, Ghent 2011]

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#SemiramideProblems: When you have no clutch to go with your fabulous dress. #LetterScene

[Myrtò Papatanasiu (Semiramide) in Rossini’s “Semiramide”, Ghent 2011]

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#SemiramideProblems: When your White Shirt Fandom simply won’t shut up about you.

[Myrtò Papatanasiu (Semiramide) and the women’s choir of Vlaamse Opera in Rossini’s “Semiramide”, Ghent 2011 – Second row, far left: possibly an accurate depiction of Anik and Dr. T. fangirling from the Staatsoper balcony next week]

91 thoughts on “Semiramide Problems”

      1. i have gone back to it 4 times last week.. and it’s actually a good “pick up” point because if you forget to switch off.. it goes on, and immediately after the tenor you’re back and the waaarm mezzo’s voice again, happy place. the music is growing on me.

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          1. oh! clearly you know something i don’t! (her outfit in the Solomon got extra grass jelly from me <– low in calories😀 . and the lovely look exchanges, meloves. )

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          2. Easy to imagine her as Octavian! And Frankfurt ensemble in general is soo good these days!
            Her Solomon is extremely pleasant to listen to I think, somehow a very relaxed interpretation (and yes, visuals are definitely a bonus!). (And I always have to grin at the soprano aria before, sorry, childish, I know)

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          3. 😀
            But representation matters! So it is not childish at all. At least not entirely.

            And you are so right on Frankfurt, it has been consistently very, very good for quite a few years now, in cast and also in programming and directors. (I’ll be there later this year, but no Strauss on the calendar that week…)

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          4. now I think i should go back and check out LaBelle’s expression in the previous aria… i once sat in a church in Harvard Square only 1 meter from her, a very rewarding experience, she sang the soprano line in Händel’s Messiah and that was my intro to the work.

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    1. though on a more sober note – and I do not want to pass judgment on another woman’s body – I find her to be starkly slim in this filming. Body types and preferences aside, I do reject the general trend to import movie aesthetics to opera in that regard.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. GSS Alert:
    The Usual Suspect, on the outlet that will disappear any day now, has just made available the 2013 Rennes “Traviata” with Papatanasiu in the lead. Save away while you can, if you are interested!

    (I am in the process of that and cannot believe what I will say now, but: I would be open to a Traviata liveblog to look at the intersection of individual acting choices and overall sexist narrative, also against the backdrop of last night’s Ory – how does one frame the sexism of a source text? Is it possible to escape that?)

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    1. oh, let me go search.. not sure if i have one of the places bookmarked.. while contemplating live-blogging traviata (it’s not a bad idea! i know the music well enough such that i still can rely on that when all else fails.. i mean it can not be worse than that Macerata Opera festival DonG right? (oh, i found it, currently downloading..)

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          1. Is that linked to ocean sizes? Would be appropriate? (Every time, I would LOVE to give them credit and thanks, but we have to keep quiet to keep them around)

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        1. initial investigation done.
          opera haus: very small and intimate!!
          sound: very good! (everyone wears mics as it was broadcast)
          staging: very simple, i like very much these types of stagings. (the opera haus is soooo small, they wouldn’t be able to fit much.., perhaps a bed + a table, which I haven’t seen)
          conducting: quite sensitive to singers.
          MP’s singing: very sensitive (i sat through the first aria (not the toast), i haven’t looked, i thought it’s a much better assessment if i don’t get distracted too much with visuals😉 ).

          Also, i might be clueless re. Traviata (though i hope not), but it’s in no way as sexist as DonG or Comte Ory (?). At least the woman has a voice, and depending on how she is portrayed (characterization) we can get more/less glimpse of whether she has more/less control… of course there’s still the father crap, blah blah.. in any case, am good for scheduling.. otherwise i’d sit through all of this🙂 ).

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          1. the newest? made available today?

            The Usual Source mentioned that everything would be available for the weekend to then be locked down again.

            (if it already disappeared again, thadieu and I have you covered😉 )

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          2. i found out why it’s suddenly available: French culturebox is broadcasting it this week! (but only avail in France, at least i’m blocked, so many thanks to the usual source. i did end up reading the review of the event: it was a spontaneous event and part of a huge culture festival, hence the incredible amount of people gathering outside watching. That’s great. Now we’d like a spontaneous gathering and broadcast of Alcina please🙂.

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          3. Thanks!, but it seems to be blocked here. Probably that’s why I couldn’t see it on the channel as well. But if you want to blog about that next weekend I’m not free anyway. Or are you already Alcinaing then?
            And what about Orfeo?

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          4. This upcoming weekend, thadieu and I will actually be on the same continent, and we will be “Alcinaing”, so now virtula liveblog this week (fits, if you’re busy as well, anyway).
            No hurry on the Traviata, we can do Orfeo first, and whatever else we had on the list. And we will DB you the Traviata then (I don’t think there’s a commercial release of it?); it’s true that Germany has some strict YT geoblocking.

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    2. “…how does one frame the sexism of a source text” is something I would love to get people’s perspectives on. I have my own thoughts about the performance of historical works, but my experience is limited (and from what I’ve seen of live opera in Vancouver, the trend seems to be to do historical work in a traditional manner, or perform new works, rather than take the combined approach and do an old text with a new spin). I remember seeing Don Giovanni for the first time, and adoring the music but having this very question about the plot. With a lot of historical literature, there’s the approach of “taking a grain of salt” and having it be incumbent on the audience to realized the work is a product of it’s time, but it would be great to get people’s takes on other approaches. With sensitive and complex character portrayal can we have both a historical portrayal and an answer to the sexism of the source text? I feel like a lot of stagings don’t think about it at all, which to me, just unwittingly rolls a lot of bad attitudes forward under the guise of the piece being a “classic” (Don Giovanni being a worse offender than other works, for sure). I’m a huge nerd with a lot of unexpressed feelings on this topic, so it would be really great to nerd out if other people feel similarly.

      Also, I’ve never seen Traviata, and would love an excuse to watch it! Let me know when. Hope you and thadieu have a fantastic time “Alcinaing” this weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. AND as fun and pink and DiDonato-in-red-leather as it can be, Ory is totally Don G lite, with a happy ending and a “boys will be boys” feel. I’ll have to check out the liveblog I missed to see what discussions you all got up to on the topic.

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        1. pretty much what you just said, Ed.

          Leave it to the white shirts to start an evening with pink sparkle and fun in mind and come out dead-serious while discussing casual sexism. Please feel free to add to the discussiom!

          Liked by 1 person

      2. oh, let’s absolutely schedule that when you have the time, toom then! (in which case we should probably hurry after next weekend…?)

        thadieu and I will probably be in withdrawals following out Handelian/Gluckian spree in the upcoming days, so we probably would not object to some GSS exposure (though Agathe is right, we mentioned Orfeo first).

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        1. The 29th is the last Saturday I can monopolize the TV (and the speakers) for 3 hours before my wife is off work, so that would be awesome if it works for people. I’m down for Traviata or Orfeo!

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          1. Would work for me. I’d probably vote Orfeo for that date, since that’s the day before the last “Alcina” and my brain would probably get whiplash between Verdi and Handel, but I’m up for both or something else entirely.

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          2. I can’t do the 29th because of Agrippina, but please go ahead if that’s the best date for most and I will read along afterwards (although my vote goes to do Orfeo on a different date, would love to watch Galou in that frock and the Carssen staging together).

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          3. Ok, will take that into consideration! We might have to skip the 29th either way (sorry, Ed) due to prolonged travel plans. And Alcinaing. Depends a bit on thadieu!

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  2. Er, don’t know the proper place for my comments but: 1) I don’t know where to look for the usual suspect, aid appreciated, ahem, both MP and Harteros thankyouverymuch. 2) would love an MP Traviata liveblog assuming I can make it. 3) I don’t much buy the “product of its time” argument about things (art and activism both) as it erases the resistance that is also very much present at its own time.

    Finally, apropos of lime, I keep looking at those pics and thinking, why does this feel familiar (aka why do I like women in this color so much)? and then I remembered:

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      1. “Core values” Though again, very trick with the gaze/being staged for a male gaze/being staged as eluding that gaze to further eroticize that gaze.

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    1. Oh. Well, that is one very convincing argument for the color lime.

      I can see thwt we need to schedule Traviata for when both you and Ed are available, am very interested in exploring that area of historical resistance to dynamics depicted in artworks. I was at the other end of that line just last week with. Lecture group on a question whether we can judge the actions of human beings past (whether we have the right to do so) who lived in a different order of society and that we cannot take our own stance to be absolute or a priori superior. And yet not to enter in a relativism of excusing everything, but is it even up to us to ‘excuse’?

      Will send you an email about the Traviata unless the nightcrew has Handeled that already (the nightcrew has a plane to catch, so…), Harteros depends on the night crew.

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      1. towanda, I totally agree – I first was introduced to Mozart operas by The Magic Flute, which while I love a fantastical story filled with magic and allegory, left me feeling sorry for the Evil Quee…I mean Queen of the Night and thinking “wow this is SO sexist!” Two years later I finally see The Marriage of Figaro and find it full of resistance (against class and patriarchal structures), much to my delight. Differing attitudes are totally there in the context of the time, and contemporary audiences can’t just be lazy and use “product of it’s time” as a blanket excuse not to be critical.

        I think simultaneously, the modern construct of artistic genius and veneration of the cannon clouds the way contemporary audiences perceive historical works. When operas were written for patrons or to fill a theatre with the flashy story of the moment composers and librettists were writing to the dominant cultural climate, and the stories don’t always make sense out of temporal (or geographical) context. Don G is a prime example (I am totally obsessed with it – I love the music so much, and find myself returning to it again and again despite it seeming like the opposite of everything I believe, plot-wise), as it’s a reaction to things that were actually happening at the time, allowing an audience to indulge in both voyeurism and moral superiority while giving them a peek into what people like Casanova and The Marquis de Sade were doing while they were running around trying to turn being an aristocratic a**hole into a philosophy. Taking it out of context of the rise of Libertinism and perform it a post-sexual-revolution world where people have access to reproductive control and feminism makes the plot even more alien. I think there’s so much about class in Don G that get’s ignored by contemporary “historical” performances. One of the main points – that libertinism really only works for rich dudes who have the money to get away with anything – could really be intentionalized in contemporary performances as a point that is still relevant (as we are all so unfortunately familiar with in recent US politics). My major objection is that the marketing of modern historical performances still banks on this romanticizing of the idea of “seduction” when the plot begins with an attempted rape and a murder, and rolls all of this up into highly euphemistic language instead of acknowledging it as dark and complex. That even tricking women into sex (as is attempted in both Don G and Ory) is considered “seduction” today is a huge problem with doing conventional this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it productions with no analysis.

        There’s this perception out there that “historical” performances as somehow being more “authentic” or “what the composer would have wanted” but people forget that we view historical performances through our contemporary lenses – and that any performance or marketing choice brings contemporary assumptions (often sexist, etc. in their own right). There are other ways of getting to the truth (and potentially other truths to be brought to light if the composer/librettist did a good job of turning a flashy story into a meditation on human nature).

        I think there’s a way to use these pieces to deepen our understanding of the period in which they were created, not discarding the work because of the sexism, and not glossing over the sexism because of the work. Live presentations of historical works are like living artefacts that both allow us to understand the past and hold a mirror up to the present to show the work that still needs to be done.

        You all know this already.🙂 I just never get a chance to be a literature nerd turned history nerd turned opera nerd. And OMG I think this discussion just helped me articulate things that have been on the tip of my brain for a while! #NerdAlert #INeedAWordLimit #NevermindLetsTalkAboutThisAllDay

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        1. Thank you, Ed. There is no word limit. The whole point of this is having no word limit, thank God, otherwise we’d might have missed out on this!

          Also, where have you been during our DonG discussion this summer, and our snarktastic Don G Vienna 1999 liveblog??

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          1. OMG. I need to look that 1999 Vienna liveblog up – I can’t imagine what made the production extra bad. I feel like Don G is set up to make you hate him, so there’s actually room for a reflection of the pitfalls of patriarchy (if not an actual feminist interpretation, since while there’s lots of ladies trying to take him down only a dead guy succeeds – I’d like to see one, though, if it’s been tried!), where Ory is just candy-coated normalizing of a similarly awful premise (I have to put my cognitive-dissonance glasses on to enjoy it; the lenses aren’t quite accurate so they give me a headache, but Damrau, DiDonato and Rossini can be so charming).

            I’m going to have to read up on Traviata before taking it on, so I can keep up with you all in discussioning! With the levels of source material/librettist/composer influences, it sounds like there’s a lot to talk about!

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          2. extra bad – well, in a way of extra hilarious. Spaniels, snark, and candyfloss or “you really can’t take those white shirts anywhere these days”. It’s linked in the liveblog menu point above.😉

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          1. which (since the iron goes cold really fast around here) was just something about whether or not the composer is always writing the same opera as the librettist.

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          2. Good question, even in tight collaborations – look at Hofmannsthal moaning that Strauss was such a brute. Can you spilt a work cleanly into libretto and composer…?

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          3. Also in between the novel, the libretto adaption, and the opera? “Levels of privileged manpain” oh, I please want to write a paper by that title.

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        2. Very interesting thoughts and discussion, thank you, also the libretto question! I see a further important layer of this discussion in the in the audience itself, or rather the individuals in an audience, because their personal attitudes/beliefs/stances also crucially influence the final impression a work has on a person. Even within an extremely reflective, feminist crowd as here in this blog, the perception of a staging may vary, based on may factors, including personal experiences, and, while each perception of course I valid, when people feel exposed to a display of gratifying sexism something has gone wrong, even if others do not feel offended. And I suspect, quite often stagings try to address and point out problematic issues, but in a way that can just as easily be perceived as a “display” or even indulging in such issues (like in the Aix Cosi).
          In this context, the Magic flute is actually particularly problematic because this is a work, maybe not created for, but often shown to children, and, like in your situation with the advert, Anik, I found myself out of words to answer my 5 year olds’ questions on the storyline of the Magic flute. I did not want to ruin the magic for him, and luckily my kids don’t get the text by themselves yet, so I got away just saying it was all a game/contest, but it is a very problematic issue and I certainly do not want my kids to be exposed to messages of women being inferior and unworthy to talk to, so I will need to think very carefully about how to best explain that in the future.

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          1. Totally!! A good reminder for me re the magic flute. I have to work on not getting to heavy for kids while still teaching feminism soon. 😀

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          2. Welcome to the wonderful world of queer-feminist parenting.

            (“Did your child say to my child that ‘Princess’ is not a proper career?!”)

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          3. Opera houses in the English-speaking world have discovered the real advantage of supertitles is you can use them to deliberately mistranslate the Magic Flute libretto.

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          4. I’m all for mistranslation if it works to get the worst sexism out! Anyway, wasn’t the storyline originally meant to be different, with the QotN being the good one and they had to change it to meet the patriarchal taste of the time? I think I read that somewhere.

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          5. Meanwhile, the Met alters the recits to make them less racist.

            And can I just say that this whole topic was the subject of my first international flaming (as we used to call it back in the days of rmo). It’s nice to be able to revisit it without the need for asbestos underwear.🙂

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  3. I love the convos here and am just throwing my power fist of solidarity up in the air with the whole thing.

    (i’ll watch for an email, anik the night shift has not yet awoken fwiw🙂 )

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    1. the night crew is on the road, and The Usual Suspect has preemptively emptied the shelves, so it’ll be upping it for you via DB, I think – it’ll be a few days, though. Sorry. With the Alcinaing about to commence and classes and logistics…

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    1. Oh, this is giving me an idea for White Shirt Monday that I still have saved away.
      (And thank you, writing these was SO much fun)

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