Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (2007)

Last night I watched this, the seventh of the series being streamed by the New York Metropolitan Opera, and I cannot say that I enjoyed it that much, nowhere near any of the five previous operas that I watched the past week.

Act I clocked in at 75 minutes, almost half of the total time and I found it really dragged. It featured a long solo by Tatiana as she writes a letter to her sister Olga’s fiancé Lenski’s friend Onegin whom she had just met and fallen immediately in love with, something that commonly happens in operas. But the jaded and cynical Onegin condescendingly scorns her love, saying that he would be bored by marriage, and returns the letter to her.
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Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (2009)

I had intended to skip this opera, the sixth in the series that the New York Metropolitan Opera is streaming for free, because I had never heard of it before but commenter enkidu recommended it as one of their favorite operas so I changed my mind and watched it yesterday and I am glad I did so. (Thanks, enkidu!) This opera does not have the show-stopping rousing arias that can be heard in Carmen or La Traviata which may be why it has not percolated as much into general public consciousness but the music is worth listening to nonetheless. There is a nice harp solo that kicks off Act II.
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Verdi’s La Traviata

Continuing my foray into the world of opera, thanks to the New York Metropolitan Opera company generously providing free streaming of its past livestreams during the time they are shut down due to the pandemic, I watched the fourth in the series and it was magnificent. There is no other word for it. I was simply blown away by the performance.

Unlike the other three operas I watched, the story in La Traviata is simple, as was the set that consisted of just a bed, a piano, a writing desk, and a couple of chairs. A change of backdrop and lighting between the acts shifted that same arrangement between a ballroom in Paris and a boudoir in a country home. There were just three principal singers, the courtesan Violetta, her lover Alfredo, and his father Giorgio. They sang pretty much everything, with the others in the cast appearing mostly during two party scenes and joining in the chorus. The singing and acting of these three were powerful and so moving that it choked me up on several occasions.
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Verdi’s Il Trovatore

This third opera in the series from the New York Metropolitan Opera that I watched yesterday was of a 2015 livestream. It was a little different from the other two. For one thing, it had more set pieces where a performer sang a solo uninterrupted, allowing them to really show their virtuoso skills. The female lead playing Leonora had plenty of occasions to sing what I typically think of as occurring in opera where a soprano holds apocryphally glass-shattering high notes for a long time with a kind of rapid up and down tremolo effect (I am sure there is an operatic term for it.)
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Puccini’s La Boheme

Last night I watched the second in the series of recordings of earlier live-streamed performances of New York Metropolitan Opera productions, this one being the 2008 staging of La Boheme about the lives of poor, young, romantic artists in Paris. Apparently the recent hit Broadway musical Rent was based on this opera. Although it was moving, I did not enjoy it quite as much as I did Carmen the previous day. One thing I noticed was that in this opera, the singers took curtain calls at the end of each act, rather than only at the end of the opera. I thought this odd but maybe it is not unusual for some operas. I had also been under the impression that the audience would shower the female leads with bouquets of flowers at the end but that did not happen in either of these two operas. Maybe that is an opera cliché that is no longer operative or maybe it happens in other countries and not the US.
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Watching Bizet’s Carmen while ‘sheltering in place’

I am not a fan of opera, having seen only one live performance in my life. It was a long time ago when I was in Germany and we were taken as a group to see Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. My reaction? Kind of meh. But I decided to take advantage of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s decision, during the time when they are shut down due to the pandemic, to broadcast recordings of their past live streams of operas for free with a new one every night. (See this post for details).
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A boon for opera fans

If you are a fan of opera, New York City’s Metropolitan Opera announced that they will, starting tonight and continuing for the duration of their closure due to the pandemic, live-stream, free of charge some of the recordings they have of past performances, no doubt to keep people entertained while they are restricted to their homes.

Since 2006, the company has been transmitting live performances to movie theaters via satellite as part of a series called The Met: Live in HD; now the Met will be streaming those performances for free, one per day, for the duration of the closure.

Each opera will be available on the Met’s website beginning at 7:30 p.m. Eastern and will remain available to stream until 3:30 p.m. Eastern the next day. They’ll also be available through the Met’s Opera on Demand apps.

You can see the first week’s offerings here. Tonight will be Bizet’s Carmen.

The Monkees are touring again

The popular band from the 1960s are starting a new tour on April 3rd. Here is a live performance of their big hit Last Train to Clarksville from their 2019 tour.

The song is catchy and upbeat. What I did not realize until very recently is that “And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home”, the last line of the chorus, is an indirect reference to a soldier about to be shipped off to Vietnam, which gives it a much darker meaning

Paul Simon explains to Dick Cavett the origins of Mrs. Robinson

I consider Paul Simon one of the best rock guitarists and songwriters of his generation. I have been learning the guitar for about forty years with little progress to show but I keep trying and the Simon and Garfunkel oeuvre is what I often work on, especially the song Mrs. Robinson from the film The Graduate.

The lyrics of his songs abound in non-sequiturs and can take weird turns. In this 1970 interview with Dick Cavett, Simon explains that he writes lyrics in a stream of consciousness mode, putting down whatever comes into his head at that moment, with only a minor effort at producing a coherent narrative, hoping that some meaning will emerge later. He gives Mrs. Robinson and the cryptic line about Joe DiMaggio as an example of how he writes.
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John Denver’s Country Roads in minor key

Thanks to modern technology, one can do things that one could formerly only dream about, such as taking a pop song and changing it from a major to a minor key and vice versa. Major keys tend to be used for upbeat songs while minor keys are favored if you are trying to achieve a more melancholy sound.

Via Rob Beschizza, I came across what such a transformation sounds like when you do it to one of the best known John Denver songs, Country Roads.
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