Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Le Nozze di Figaro

(photo: Marty Sohl/Met Opera)

Conductor: David Robertson
Countess Almaviva: Maija Kovalevska
Susanna: Mojca Erdmann
Cherubino: Christine Schäfer
Count Almaviva: Gerald Finley
Figaro: Ildar Abdrazakov
Barbarina: Ashley Emerson
Marcellina: Margaret Latimore
Don Basilio: Don Graham Hall

Work has been insanely hectic for the past few weeks and so I thought I'd take advantage of this hurricane and ensuing office closure to finally update my blog.

Last Friday I attended the season premiere of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera. I haven't seen this opera in several years and it was a nearly great performance with Robertson leading the orchestra in top form. The recitatives were accompanied by Dan Saunders on the piano which was a nice change from the traditional harpsichord.

Finley was a fine Count with the appropriately menacing but subdued hauteur that worked for him so well in the title role of Don Giovanni last season. The rest of the cast was new to me. I especially enjoyed the lovely Erdmann as Susanna and Schäfer as Cherubino. Emerson was especially charming as Barbarina. Abdrazakov was a wonderful Figaro with a robust physicality that reminded me of a young Bryn Terfel. Graham Hall as Don Basilio and Latimore as Marcellina were entertaining though a bit one dimensional but then there's not a lot of depth to their characters.

Kovalevska was the weak link in the cast. For Le Nozze to work its magic, the Countess should be a model of virtue and suffering, bringing an emotional gravitas to balance the other characters' ribald humor and silliness. Mozart's music for the Countess is full of exquisite longing but I heard none of that, with Kovaleska barreling through her arias with uneven pitch and monotonous expression. Indeed, in Porgi amor and Dove sono I was wholly unconvinced of her nobility and devotion. Instead she merely seemed like an annoyed Real Housewife whose credit card had been declined during a shopping spree.

One thing about Kovalevska though is that her comic timing was flawless. The closing ensembles in all four acts were sung beautifully in the perfect buffa style. That said, I'm tempted to see the opera again when Hei Kyung Hong takes over the role of the Countess on November 17.

As a side note, the Metropolitan Opera will resume performances tomorrow. The New York Philharmonic announced the same then cancelled a few minutes ago on Twitter and then deleted the tweet announcing the cancellation. Carnegie Hall will remain closed, presumably until that dangling crane that caused the evacuation of West 57th Street gets taken down. But I do hope that Carnegie Hall will be up and running soon. After all, they have a wonderful season ahead and of course, the show must go on.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Last month at the National Academy of Design we had three models, Brian, Betty, and Pigeon.

For the first painting I worked on a larger scale, 18 x 24 inches, but the rest were the usual size, about 9 x 12 inches. I'm still into the theme of impasto against blurred passages though I tried to get away from the vertical palette knife applications that seemed so obsessive earlier this year.

Brian recently moved to NYC and this was his first modelling assignment. I thought he did a great job. not just by being still and holding the pose, but also embodying a certain stage presence (he's a drama student at a conservatory).

Brian will be posing for us again for the next four weeks. I'm thinking of working even larger, maybe 24 x 36 inches, using acrylic. I got a gift certificate from Utrecht recently and splurged it on about fifteen tubes of Golden Artist Colors. I might as well learn a new medium. We'll see how that goes.

Betty's portrait was inspired by the glitch paintings of Andy Denzler.

And Pigeon was based on Ann Gale's technique, with a more intense palette.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Conductor: Semyon Bychkov
Desdemona: Renée Fleming
Otello: Johan Botha
Cassio: Michael Fabiano
Iago: Falk Struckmann
Roderigo: Eduardo Valdes
Emilia: Renée Tatum
Ludovico: James Morris

For me, Otello is one of those operas that's easy to admire but not so easy to love. Musically I think it's one of Verdi's most thrilling achievements with full bodied orchestration, great psychological depth, and some very memorable arias. But the malicious plot is such a downer, and the characters - what can I say - if they're not completely odious they're downright exasperating, except perhaps for Desdemona's maid, Emilia.

That said, I looked forward to last night's premiere of Otello at the Metropolitan Opera. I've been neglecting Verdi over the past several years (in favor of Wagner, mostly), though I did see La Traviata and Macbeth last season. I've also been avoiding Renée Fleming lately - her recent recordings and videos have begun to seem so mannered and artificial that sometimes I can barely recognize what she's singing.

Well, Fleming proved me wrong last night. Her voice may no longer seem as lush as it did ten years ago but her account of Desdemona was a model of integrity. She sang the part without any embellishments and undue emphasis. Her vocal line was pure and her emotional expression was honest and deeply felt. Her fourth act Willow Song and Ave Maria were completely unnerving in their simplicity. No histrionics, just a stoic resignation and acceptance of her fate that pretty much broke my heart.

Botha didn't fare was well in the title role. His voice sounded thin (because of allergies, as a spokesperson explained during the intermission) and his characterization was cartoonish.

Struckmann, on the other hand, was fantastic as Iago. Like Fleming, there was no overacting, he just sung his part with such tremendous authority that his every inflection sent chills through the audience. Fabiano likewise made a fine impression as Cassio, and so did Tatum as Emilia and Valdes as Roderigo.

Morris proved that he can still command the stage even with bit parts. It was a nice surprise to hear him as Ludovice. The chorus sounded a bit out of synch in the beginning but improved in the later acts.

Bychkov conducted with passion and conjured many wonderful effects in both the public and intimate scenes. The orchestra served Verdi well last night. I just might see the rest of the composer's offerings at the Met this season.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Adam Sheffer on Galleries and the Art World

Adam Sheffer, a partner at the Cheim & Read Gallery (whose roster includes Louise Bougeois, Robert Mapplethorpe, Joan Mitchell, and Jenny Holzer, among others) talked about the ins and outs of the big stakes gallery world at the New York Academy of Art's Professional Practice Series on September 11, 2012.

Sheffer had a lot of valuable advice for young artists who are seeking to cultivate contacts with dealers (hint: network like crazy but don't be too pushy). There were also some interesting questions from the New York Academy students, particularly on the economics of art exhibits.

Shaffer has a wonderfully engaging personality with lots of anecdotes about both struggling and famous artists. This 75 minute video was a pleasure to watch. It's essential viewing for anyone who is curious about the scene behind the gallery scene, and how dealers go about choosing contemporary works that could possibly change the course of art history.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Alex Kanevsky at the New York Academy of Art


Art exists in thie weird gray area between your competence and your incompetence. You know they kind of intersect. If you're always doing what you're competent in, then you're not terribly creative. Dentists do that. They don't need to be creative, they just need to drill teeth well. So they learn a set of skills and then they practice. On the other hand you don't want to be completely incompetent either because then the results are not very good either. But somewhere in between there is a small gray area where one wants to be. And that requires openness to experimentation and at the same time a certain ruthlessness with your own work.  

- Painter Alex Kanevsky, New York Academy of Art, September 26, 2012.

48" x 48", oil on board