10 January 2007

Votes of Confidence; or, La Forza de Something

Cal Ripken was voted into the Hall of Fame with 98.5 percent of the vote, which raises the question in my mind: huh? If you don’t vote for Cal Ripken, why are you even in the Baseball Writers Association? I liked him a lot as a player and started following the Orioles when he and Brady Anderson and Mike Mussina were on the team (now – not so much). He always struck me as pretty admirable as a player and as a man, though of course there were those who claimed to find him “boring,” apparently because they feel straining for perversity makes them interesting. I enjoyed The Streak, though to be honest I always figured: (1) his job was playing baseball and (2) he got paid a lot for it. Anyway I always liked him and even went to Baltimore in 2001 just so I could see him play in his home park, because I suspected he was going to retire that year. Sure enough, he announced his retirement. I soon realized why I would never be rich: it did not occur to me to buy tickets to the last Orioles home game of the season as a speculative investment and then sell them for big bucks on eBay. Apparently it did occur to a lot of people, but then I suspect they’re not really rich either. Anyway, a three-month drought ended as soon as I stepped off the plane and the first game was rained out, though I was still in town for the rescheduled match and so I did get to see Ripken at Camden. It’s a nice park; it was the first in the new wave of well-designed parks and there were interesting touches (arm garters on the vendors’ striped shirts, a curlicued font for the lettering) that were meant to evoke “olde timey” baseball; Camden Yards was such a hit (of course, the O’s were also good then) that the later ballparks it inspired did not need such faux aging to establish credibility. Lots of people out here talk about Bonds dominating the Giants, but Ripken dominated Camden the way Lenin used to dominate Red Square, and that was on a team with other very popular and well-known players. (And Baltimore -- great city! Matisse at the art museum, crab cakes at the wharf, and a fantastic museum of outsider art.)

Anyway – why would you vote against Ripken? I wonder if someone is going to hunt down all of them and ask. I read there were two total abstentions as a protest against the “steroid era” which seems a little silly to me. Not to underestimate the problem, but what about the amphetamine era, and the beer and martini era, and before that the cocaine and morphine era? Not to mention the separate and unequal era. Why snub Gwynn and Ripken? But that’s what happens when baseball sells itself as the nostalgic game of America’s innocence: there’s an over-reaction when people realize that there is no innocence involved. And one writer didn’t vote for Ripken and Gwynn because he figured they were shoe-ins and he wanted to give his votes to others – fair enough, I can see the logic there. But if there’s someone who did it for some elaborate reason that will prove how special he is and different from everyone else, I hope he will keep that reason to himself.

The other big appointment is Nicola Luisotti to replace Donald Runnicles as the SF Opera’s music director. I enjoyed his Forza last year but I have to say it is one of my all-time favorite operas so any performance both pleases and displeases me. Gruber was fine, I thought, as Leonora, though she was not going to drive the memory of Leontyne Price’s voice out of my head. The tenor was loud. I’m not discounting that as a value, but I found no beauty of tone or depth of expression to go with the volume. And he kept his eyes on the conductor the entire time he sang. Even when the woman whose love changed his life had re-appeared as a hermit and is dying in his arms, he was looking not at her but at the man with the little stick. Couple that with a short stout build, and I just found him completely unsatisfying. (The scene in which Leonora tells the abbot that she will not go into a convent, but will wander aimlessly until wild beasts tear her apart if she can’t move into the hermit’s cave – it gets me every time. I know exactly how she felt.)

Luisotti seems like a good choice, but I have to echo the concern that this means the opera is moving back to a repertory of about ten operas, all by Verdi and Puccini. I love them, but even Tristan and Isolde needed some time apart. And I haven’t really been particularly impressed by many of the SF Opera's Verdi and Puccini performances through the years. I guess Gockley’s first season will be announced soon and will be eagerly scanned for significant moves, and I’m hoping for the best, but if either Boheme or Traviata is on the list I want subscribers to have an individual opera "I can't take it anymore" opt-out clause.

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