To the Big Apple

Well-meaning plans to crack open the dreaded CFA book fell through tonight, after I’d stayed back late at work to clear up some work before my trip to New York city this weekend.

Consequently, instead of whipping up something on the stove, I elected to grab something from the Mexican restaurant across the street for dinner. But while perusing the menu, I had this sudden, overwhelming urge to have a glass of margarita. Perhaps it was those inviting glasses on the other diners’ tables, but I went ahead and asked the lady at the counter if I could kindly take my margarita out the front door with my take out. Alas – and not surprisingly – I could not. Faced with the lonely idea of wolfing down my dinner alone at home, and without an accompaniment (I’m loathe to open a bottle of wine when I know I won’t be home at least two days in a row to finish it), I decided, on the spur of the moment, to just sup at the restaurant instead. Ahh, what a delightful punch in the stomach that was, that margarita.

I quite enjoy eating dinner alone actually, especially when I have a good book to read with at any rate (was reading a book on Women and Wine, a really thoughtful gift from Jeff – ah to be like Heidi Peterson Barrett!). It’s a perfect way to unwind at the end of a long day; no need to strain yourself trying to make small talk with another person. In the same vein, that’s also why I take a lot of pleasure in going to the movies alone. Oddly enough, it’s a pastime many people cannot understand, but I love the freedom of being able to choose the movies I know I’d like, without worrying whether my companion would have as much fun.

Anyway, so it’s to the big apple tomorrow. Ostensibly, I’m there for a conference on Monday and Tuesday, but I’ve got a whole agenda lined up for the weekend – awesome restaurants, wine bars, and a couple of operas (Bizet’s Carmen and Bartok’s Bluebeard).

Here’s NYTime’s review of Carmen:

That Gypsy Girl: She Is and Always Will Be Trouble
By STEVE SMITH
Published: February 6, 2008

Tension is the central characteristic of any production of Bizet’s “Carmen,” because it is the central characteristic of the work itself. On the one hand, Bizet’s miraculous score offers a parade of seemingly effortless, showstopping arias and ensembles. On the other, its main characters are at an increasing simmer that breaks into a full boil by the end.

The Metropolitan Opera’s current production of “Carmen,” which was revived on Monday night, offers another kind of tension: between the essential actions of the story, mostly intimate and frequently disturbing, and the gaily bustling pageantry of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1996 staging.

There is an element of truth in this opposition. One of Bizet’s goals was to inject dramatic depth into the frothy entertainment of the opéra-comique genre. In the Zeffirelli staging principal performers are called on to convey turbulent inner passions against a backdrop of Disneyesque constructions, while competing with milling crowds, cavorting children, flamenco dancers and a mobile menagerie of horses, donkeys and dogs.

The mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina is a seasoned hand at playing the title role in this production, having done it in 2000 and 2004. Her experience showed. Physically Ms. Borodina seemed to inhabit the entire stage, projecting an oversize allure that fully accounted for her character’s seductive pull on everyone around her. [*Wince*, what a subtle insult!] Smaller gestures were just as compelling; each arched eyebrow and come-hither smile spoke volumes. Vocally, she produced a rich, dark sound that encompassed sensuality, toughness and eventually a convincing fatalism.

Portraying Don José at the Met for the first time, the tenor Marcelo Álvarez was robust and ardent. Now and then his singing seemed slightly effortful, but his insightful interpretation and passionate delivery more than compensated. His was a Don José whose deterioration from upright decorum to murderous jealousy convinced the eye and ear alike.

As Micaëla, the soprano Maija Kovalevska confirmed the promise she showed in Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” last season. She had the requisite sweetness of voice and manner for the role, but demonstrated plenty of backbone in her Act III confrontation with Don José. (Her first few lines of the evening, alas, were covered by audience laughter after a donkey heeded nature’s call onstage — an occupational hazard in a Zeffirelli production.) The baritone Lucio Gallo looked suitably suave but sounded coarse as the toreador Escamillo.

Rachelle Durkin as Frasquita and Edyta Kulczak as Mercédès sang brightly and moved lithely , while the towering John Hancock as Dancaïre and the diminutive Jean-Paul Fouchécourt as Remendado provided welcome comic relief. Those four joined Ms. Borodina in a brilliantly coordinated account of the second-act quintet, “Nous avons en tête une affaire.”

Emmanuel Villaume, the music director of the Spoleto Festival USA, spurred the Met orchestra hard in the overture, but led a deftly balanced, flexible account thereafter. The role these musicians played cannot be overstated. Eloquent as Mr. Álvarez was in the “Flower Song,” to name but one example, his effort was enhanced by the sensitive English horn playing of Pedro R. Díaz.

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