DON CARLO, Metropolitan Opera (Review)

Eddie Pensier* writes:

NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!

I’ve always had big problems with Verdi’s Don Carlo. It always struck me less as a cohesive music-theatre piece and more of a collection of scenes and arias, rather like a concert program. It never really juggles the political drama, family drama, and romance aspects to my satisfaction. The title character is rarely done justice. The million different editions provoke infuriatingly pedantic arguments among opera nerds over which is best and Most Authentic™. And it features possibly the lamest, most pathetic cop-out of an ending to soil a major opera by a genius composer with (usually) unerring theatrical instincts.

Shame then, that the music is so damn good. Pretty much the perfect mix of arias, duets, and ensembles. Just the right amount of mid-period Verdi grandeur balanced with hushed moments of introspection. I love hearing all the parts of Don Carlo, but I hate sitting through Don Carlo, if that makes sense.

I did though, on the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera’s revival of Nicholas Hytner’s production on March 31. It’s described on the Met website as “handsome”, and I guess that’s true in the way you tell an 8-year old “My, aren’t you a handsome boy!” Nothing particularly pretty or striking about it, but nothing hideously ugly either, and it mostly allows the action to hew closely to the text, for which one ought to be grateful in this day and age. There wasn’t a whole lot of stage direction, and the singers engaged in more than a little “park and bark” without a theatrical hand to guide them.

The exception was Ferruccio Furlanetto, who is justly famous for his portrayal of King Philip. Furlanetto’s coal-black bass has the right authoritative weight to deliver Hardass Philip, but manages to soften with the sadness/humiliation/old-man exhaustion necessary to make Romantic Philip genuinely empathetic.

Barbara Frittoli is the real deal: a serious Verdi lyric soprano with a glittering voice and a lovely, regal bearing. Is her voice a teensy bit more tattered than it was a decade ago? Sure. But she sang with such exquisite attention to detail that I was willing to forgive the occasional pinch in tone.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky is a known quantity, he of the flowing white hair and  velvety chocolate-brown baritone and sadomasochistic music videos and inhumanly long phrasing. The thing about that last one though: you get so seduced by the entire paragraphs sung in one breath, that you don’t notice the hilariously loud, labored gasps for breath in between them, until you purposely listen for them. And once you do, you can never un-hear them. Even so, there’s probably nobody on earth singing Posa this well, and he was a credit to the cast.

The Eboli of Ekaterina Gubanova was well-sung but a bit cold: she lacked the vengeful, bitchy touch that elevates the best Ebolis. Yonghoon Lee cut a dashing figure as Carlo and has a real, proper Italianate voice (if only mediocre Italian pronunciation) but he was the one most handcuffed by the lack of effective direction and often looked adrift.

Veteran basso James Morris was a great if not hugely elegant Philip in the prime of his career. Here he took the role of the Grand Inquisitor and made a growly, menacing meal of every line.

At this point I could easily churn out more words about how impeccable, stylistically correct, and sympathetic the conducting of Yannick Nézet-Séguin was. But I’ll simply quote my seatmate, who got it in a nutshell:

He did everything he was supposed to do, and nothing he wasn’t supposed to do.


*A few readers have been kind enough to enquire about my absence from these pages for the last several months. I have been caring for a bedridden parent for much of that time, and my writing muse took the opportunity to go on an extended vacation. Can’t guarantee that she’ll stick around, but I’ll do my best to keep her nearby and well-fed.
Posted in Music, Performers, Personal reflections, The Good Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Art Du Jour (Anzac Day 2015 Edition)

Eddie Pensier writes:

Peter Wegner, Dog With Gas Mask, 2013


  • Previous ANZAC-themed ADJ here and here.
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Naked Lady of the Week: Adriana Morriss

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:


I know shit about Latvia, and one of the drawbacks of modern Encyclopedias (by which I guess I mean Wikipedia) is that, in an effort to avoid being Hitler, they never get into the physical traits of the people who live in the countries on which they provide information. So I don’t know if Adriana’s green eyes, olive-ish skin, and fine, vaguely Eastern features are at all representative of Latvian women.

Fortunately, we have Roosh, who takes a look at Baltic women here and Latvian women in particular here. Informative though his write-ups are, I still don’t feel like I have a grasp on this topic. More research is needed.

Idea for a website sure to piss everyone off: A man’s guide to global girl-watching. Users submit data and photos of women from around the world, and the website’s proprietors collate it into regional guides. Sort of like Audubon’s “Birds of America,” but with sex appeal. I would visit regularly, not because I’m Hitler (maybe Goebbels), but because I am really that intensely interested in women.

Looks like these photos come from MetArt, Femjoy, and Karups.

Buck-naked, beauteous Baltic girl below the fold. Enjoy your weekend.

Continue reading

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Mad Men Notes: S7, Ep10 — “The Forecast”

Blowhard, Esq. writes:


1. Don has sold his penthouse — for $85k, or $492k in 2015 dollars — and is now homeless. “This place reeks of failure,” his real estate agent says. Pardon me, but I’ll take a half mil “failure” any time.

2. California geography shout-outs this episode: Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Palos Verdes, and Biltmore in Santa Barbara. I’ve been to a couple of hoity-toity lawyer events at the Beverly Wilshire and it is indeed a swanky place. We also get accurate directions to Hanna-Barbera studios, right off the 101 in Universal City — “Sunset to Highland to Cahuenga”.


3. Traveler’s cheques have pretty much disappeared, right? I remember my family getting some for a trip to Canada in 1986. I’m guessing we were the last people to use them.


4. Happy to see Captain Pike (aka Bruce Greenwood) show up to woo Joan. Now how soon before some geek argues that MAD MEN and STAR TREK take place in the same universe?


5. Joan in that blue dress.


6. It’s probably unlikely, but I’m hoping we get more from Ted Chaough before the season is out. I liked when he was the cocky pissant challenging Don.


7. New York geography: The Oak Room at The Plaza and we find out that Joan lives on 12th St.

8. I don’t have a screenshot, but we get brief glimpses of The New Yorker and Newsweek magazines in this episode. Some of my UR comrades have worked for both of those publications.


9. My favorite line of the episode goes to Mathis who yells at Don, “You don’t have any character, you’re just handsome. Stop kidding yourself!” Take it from me, someone who has quit two jobs in the past year — there are few things more satisfying than telling off a shithead boss as you walk out the door.


10. My second favorite scene was watching Sally’s teenaged friend throw herself at Don and Don being only too happy to flirt back. Jesus, Sally is gonna be one fucked up teenager, isn’t she?

Posted in Television | Tagged , | 2 Comments

“The Last Artist in New York City”

Paleo Retiree writes:

Despite all the bitching and carping we here at UR like to indulge in, we aren’t just a bunch of negativity-mongers. (Critics, patooie.) Many of us make our own creative contributions too. Try this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this. In fact, please give ’em a try. Expressing yourself may be easier than ever these days, but audiences are getting harder and harder to scare up.

Recently my wife and I were delighted to see a video pop up on YouTube of a performance of a short play of ours. The actress is Karen Grenke, a souful/funny genius who always makes our material look its best, and the director was Jason Jacobs, a miracle maker who we’ve worked with many times and who we look forward to working with again. The event where the performance took place was a celebration at the Nuyuorican Poets Café of the launch of “Best Monologues from Best American Short Plays.” (Our piece was also selected for “Best American Short Plays, 2008-2009.”) Hey, we’re award-winners, doncha know. Hope you enjoy. And if you don’t: for God’s sake either don’t tell me about it or lie. Honesty isn’t always a virtue.

Posted in Books Publishing and Writing, Performers, Theater | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Architecture Du Jour

Blowhard, Esq. writes:


Palacio de Cibeles, Madrid. More here.

Click on the image to enlarge.

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Moi on Book Publishing

Paleo Retiree writes:

Steve Sailer was kind enough to highlight a comment I made on his blog about the demographics of the American book publishing world from 1985ish to 2001ish, a stretch when I was professionally covering the field. (I dropped about a half a dozen comments on Steve’s posting, so if you’re in that kind of mood, scrawl down and give those a look too.) Ah, the memories … Especially of the hundreds of fancy lunches I enjoyed, paid for by money that in a just world would have been going to authors instead of into my belly. Although I couldn’t be more happy about being retired, I do miss those fabulous meals — Manhattan’s great restaurants are really something to experience. In any case: many thanks to Steve, who these days always seems to be on an inspired tear of one sort or another. If you value his work as much as I do, why not make a donation?


  • You can access some of my other thoughts about publishing and literature at my old blog via this link.
Posted in Books Publishing and Writing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment