Thursday, April 30, 2009

Manhattan in spring 2009.- - - - - - - - - - Wagner and cherry blossoms!

Cherry blossoms on Hudson River near Riverside Drive.
'Dakota' Building (72nd St) from Central Park near Strawberry Fields before spring had sprung.

New York blog April 2009

We hardly like to admit having so much fun since we got to NYC late Saturday night. It is already Thursday and we are just back from a magnificent "3-course" prix fixe meal at Jean-Georges. However, as an added incentive, ‘compliments of the chef’ (or perhaps another recession-buster) we were also treated to an 'amuse-bouche' and petit fours. The former consisted of a 'test tube' of asparagus soup and ‘citrus’ (a tiny but flavoursome chunk of lime) accompanied by a china spoonful of stout prosciutto, mango and herbs. The chocolate orange peel, jellied cubes of both huckleberry and mango, made 5 courses in all, and one of the best meals we have had in some time. Needless to say the chicken breast on mashed potato with lemon truffle oil on basil and tarragon vinaigrette was splendid, as was the slow cooked salmon which made up the rest of this substantial meal. The cost was less than we have paid for many an inferior repast at US$35 fixed price (plus tips and tax). Such serious discounts stop by 7pm but quality dining does not! I was sent by my internet-savvy nephew Hal Cullity from Perth, WA. This may be a little out of date from November 2008 but we found most of the specials to be still on offer although some establishments have closed down sad to say. Others have relaxed dress codes after decades of requiring ties and coats and also banning sneakers and jeans (at least in some cases for lunch - is the thin edge of the wedge for culture in North America?).

We had the pleasure of seeing that rather candy-box production of Elisir again with a fine cast including the Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja as Nemorino. He was a sensation. Other cast members received a polite and well deserved clap at the end. However, Calleja got shouts, cheers, bravos and the rest for what seemed like ten minutes. While comparisons are odious, his voice to me is reminiscent of the younger Pavarotti. A little less 'staccato' perhaps and with breath control of a rare calibre. One apparent high C (I will check) was interpolated into a duet and Una furtiva lagrima did not disappoint, either.

In the intermission we were spirited away to take dessert with some friends in the grand tier level restaurant which now seems to occupy half of the foyer. Lemon tart, chocolate soufflé, biscotti, etc were handed around and shared spoons in delightful company.

Falstaff was a student performance at Julliard for $20 on Friday 24th April 2009. Stephen Wadsworth was directing and Keri-Lynn Wilson conductor. It was highly enjoyable and MOST professional. In fact it was higher quality than much of the stuff we get from Opera Australia these days. The new Peter Jay Theater (opp Met stage door in 65th St) is most interesting – with some elements of Glyndebourne. The young singers were simply excellent, especially Jennifer Zetlan as Nanetta and Paul Appleby as Fenton.

Diary update: Monday 4th May.
We have had some glorious weather with 2 days over 90 degrees (30) but now rain showers seem to have set in. We had one magnificent almost Wagernian thunder storm which is hard to comprehend unless one has experiences it … with the narrow streets and wide avenues of Manhattan amplifying the noise many fold and almost mimicking an earthquake rather than a storm. Nothing would compare with the Lord Howe Island weather we left behind, however, according to family members who were marooned by the storm there.
The spring blossoms, daffodils, tulips etcetera have all had brief flowering seasons thanks to the warm weather. Some years they get curtailed by snow!! Spring is always the least predictable time of year in this part of the world. The 26,000 trees of Central Park were bare when we arrived but are now nearly all in full leaf.
The city was paralysed by a 5-borough bicycle marathon yesterday. Some years it is a Papal motorcade or a famous Rabbi’s funeral or a visit by Nelson Mandala, Queen Elizabeth or some other dignitary. One might think that a major city like New York would not permit such intrusions yet in fact almost every street is closed off at some stage, for local fairs, markets, Easter Bonnet Parades and the like.
The opera has been a Rhine journey in the form of Wagner’s four Ring operas. Over a five day period the Met presents the world’s last ‘realistic’ or ‘picture book’ or ‘fairy tale’ production, done by Otto Schenk, conducted by James Levine. The technology has changed so much since the mid-1980s that it is now unserviceable (some defects being quite obvious, others carefully papered over).

Apart from the Ring operas we have seen wonderful rising tenor star Joseph Calleja in Elixir of Love. The Met Don Giovanni was also excellent. Cinderella and Il Trovatore the following week were both splendid with an amateur performance of La Traviata on Sunday 11th.

More anon. Andrew Byrne ..