Tag Archives: Ben Heppner

The Queen of Spades

Sandwiched in between 13-hour shifts at the hospital on Saturday and Sunday this weekend, I made it once again to the Metropolitan Opera to hear Tchaikowsky’s The Queen of Spades.  This was my first opera to hear by Tchaikowsky.  Turns out, of his ~10 operas, only two are performed regularly outside of Russia.

The thing I was most looking forward to was hearing Ben Heppner on stage.  I was a little disappointed.  Although his artistry was evident in his role of Ghermann, his voice seemed a bit small, at times swallowed by the orchestra.  It also had a slight nasal character without the open resonance I’ve heard on a number of his recordings. Yeletsky sang a fine aria in Act II.  Maria Guleghina, as one of the leading sopranos, had a powerful voice that filled the hall, but her singing was unrefined, even clunky.

queen-1

The set was impressive.  With seven scenes spanning three acts, the director creatively explored the picture-framed stage with a sloping floor.  The first scene featured a Russian street scene with a simple but beautiful backdrop of winter trees against a turquoise blue sky.  Lisa’s room was feminine yet impressive with twenty-five foot French doors.  Everything in the ball scene in Act II wowed the audience, from the three enormous Corninthian columns to the elaborate costumes of the Russian nobility.  There was even a rather confusing appearance by the Empress, Catherine; although it had nothing to do with the plot, it captured the grandeur that only the Met can do when it pulls out all the stops.  In contrast, the second scene of Act II was much simpler, having only a chair and an enormous painting of the Countess, which Ghermann revealed by flinging open a series of gigantic sliding doors.  The first two scenes of the third act were stark as well, with minimal set, making for a contrast with the elaborate gambling house and huge male chorus in the final scene.  Throughout, the director/designer made an effective use of light and dominating shadows.

queen-2

The music very enjoyable.  Tchaikowsky accomplishes a score that’s at once rich and graceful, at times even Beethovenian, like the opening of the second act.  He provides a couple impressive piano and cello solos.

In the end, however, the opera failed on the psychological level.  Even if personalities aren’t entirely believable in opera (are they ever?), a successful connection requires that the audience care about the characters.  This didn’t happen for me.  I found the double suicide more tiresome than distressing.  The Countess’ character was as one-dimensional as the shepherd’s staff.  I can only hope that Tchaikowsky found better librettos for his other operas.

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Ban Ki-moon likes my tie

My roommate Jordan recently sang the German national anthem for the German Consulate’s party at Central Park’s boathouse.  I think it may have been for  German Unity Day, October 3.

As a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Development Program (and, like Renee Fleming, Susan Graham, and Ben Heppner, a winner of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions), Jordan seems to get more singing engagements around town than I, with my two years’ experience in church choir during high school.

In any case, Jordan nearly left the apartment that evening wearing a brown tie with a navy suit.  Doing the only compassionate and reasonable thing, I stopped him.  He seemed to be under the impression his suit was brown, and after a confirmatory call to his girlfriend, realized I was, indeed, correct.

While Jordan searched for an appropriate tie, I realized that most of his ties were brown, so I pulled out a few of mine to show him.  There was the conservative red-and-navy striped tie, the rather loud orange tie with light blue stripes, and the demure blue tie.  He selected the last one.

The singing went well.  Jordan’s fairly comfortable with German, so while waiting for food afterward, he struck up a conversation with some German girls.  They seemed friendly, even flirtatious, perhaps not realizing Jordan’s girlfriend was waiting back at the table.  One of them told Jordan she’d written a song with the English title, “Why I like German boys.”  Jordan, thinking the conversation was taking an odd turn, smiled politely until they asked what part of Germany he was from.  “I’m not from Germany.  I’m American.”  The girls were surprised.

Only later did Jordan realize that the girl’s telling him about the song, “Why I like German boys,” was a rather robust failure of an attempt to flirt.  Not only did she not realize he has a girlfriend, the song’s title only confused him rather than clued him in to her interest.

The highlight of the evening for me (who wasn’t there) came when Ban Ki-moon himself complimented Jordan on his singing.  My tie came within inches of the Secretary-General of the United Nations!  I think Ban Ki-moon really wanted to compliment the tie too, but was too shy.

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Filed under Around town, Awkward moments