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Opera Conductor Carlo Rizzi Triumphantly Returns to the Met Opera

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Opera Conductor Carlo Rizzi Triumphantly Returns to the Met Opera
(GERMANY OUT) Carlo Rizzi (* 1960, Italienischer Dirigent) leitet das Gürzenich-Orchester Köln in Begeitung des schweizer Flötisten Emmanuel Pahud (* 27. Januar 1970 in Genf) in der Philharmonie Köln. (Photo by Brill/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

On Saturday, January 8, conductor Carlo Rizzi made his post-pandemic debut at The Metropolitan Opera, conducting a focused and energetic performance of Tosca. The experience of seeing David McVicar’s sensual feast of a production on opening night was to be reminded of why institutions like the Met exist. Tosca includes two intermissions, during which Met carpenters build giant edifices between acts, the ringing of their hammers filling the hall. In Act I there is a religious processional on the street outside the basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle, for no particular reason, except to show that life goes on in Rome, even as the drama of Tosca unfolds. This is grand opera in the old style, the genuine article, pure and undiluted. Who better to conduct than Met veteran, Carlo Rizzi? He is as much at home in that hall as Tosca and Cavaradossi are at home duetting in the basilica, and the Met carpenters are at home whacking this world into shape with their hammers. That the creation of grand opera is itself a grand opera was fully on display in this production: conductor Carlo Rizzi the nerve center pulsating at its core.

Opera is one of the world’s most complex art forms. To the skill required to turn your body into an instrument capable of filling a grand hall is added the staged component. Then there is the orchestra and sometimes dancing or even juggling in the case of Phelim McDermott’s production of Akhnaten. From a layperson’s perspective, conducting, being the ringmaster keeping this circus of activity in sync, can seem like sorcery.

Carlo Rizzi has conducted at the Met hundreds of times since he began working there in 1993. He was about to get on a plane to New York in March of 2020 to conduct at the Met when the pandemic canceled all operas everywhere for the foreseeable future. Conducting this season’s Tosca and La Bohème, Rizzi told Observer that as he descended into the pit that Saturday, he thought their ability to perform was a good omen, a sign that the worst days are behind us. He is cautiously optimistic about opera’s future under our much-changed circumstances.

“Every time that I give a downbeat now, I don’t take it for granted,” Rizzi told Observer. “Something I realized in this 15 months of inactivity is that it’s a privilege to be able to conduct, to make music, and to be able to work with others.”

Born to a family of non-musicians in Milan, Rizzi discovered opera as a teenager by going to see performances at La Scala. He later received a scholarship that allowed him to study at Milan’s conservatory. After finishing school he worked as a repetiteur at the same theatre where he had seen his first operas. Today he conducts at grand opera houses around the world, including the Maggio Musicale in Florence and the Opéra National de Paris.  

Rizzi said that his approach to music now, following the pandemic, is one of increased humility, respect, and joy.

“During the pandemic I started to play the piano much more because I was missing the technicality of producing the sound, not having an orchestra that is my usual instrument,” Rizzi told Observer. “I think if there is a silver lining in all this disaster for our profession and for our work of performing arts, it is that we are much more humble in the way that we look at what we do. Not humble in a diminutive sense, but humble because we are much more grateful that we can do it again.”

The audience at Tosca that Saturday night also seemed grateful. The conversation at intermission was breathless, the smiles giddy as people lifted their masks to sip the pricy prosecco. There was an unusual warmth and connectivity at the Met that night. The audience in the not-quite-full hall was joyful: grateful to be making their own post-pandemic debuts.

Carlo Rizzi’s approach to music and to conducting in general is one of respect and gratefulness. The idea that the classical music world is small and restrictive and overly beholden to the dead seems absurd when speaking to him. For Rizzi, the musical scores he returns to over and over have a bottomless abundance.   

1642837954 529 Opera Conductor Carlo Rizzi Triumphantly Returns to the Met Opera
(GERMANY OUT) Carlo Rizzi (* 1960, Italienischer Dirigent) leitet das Gürzenich-Orchester Köln in Begeitung des schweizer Flötisten Emmanuel Pahud (* 27. Januar 1970 in Genf) in der Philharmonie Köln. (Photo by Brill/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

“We’re getting older, with more experiences, with different emotions,” Rizzi conveyed. “All this gets reflected in the music, because at the end of the story the music is about shaping, about breathing, about emotions, so every time it is a new thing.”

Paying close attention to scores, reading them deeply, and reading them anew each time as he returns to them with age and a different set of life experiences, Rizzi works from a place of renewal. Going back to familiar music with a changed perspective, he tries to gain new insight into composers’ intentions.

“Now I am not saying that I go into the pit and I say, ha ha, today I will try something new,” Rizzi told Observer. “But I think it is important in the preparation and in the personal time that I have with the score—not necessarily in front of the orchestra, in front of the singer—to really be very honest about what the score tells me. I think this is a vital part of our job because otherwise, as you say, it can become, oh yes, this is another performance, because in the moment that you do that as an artist you are dead.” 

There are certain professions—historian, translator, archeologist, conductor—in which one converses with the dead. These are professions that are in dialogue with the past through the medium of a text, of music, or a potshard. Part of the art here is to ensure that you are beholding what is bare before your eyes, and not imposing something that isn’t there. The great interlocutors of classical music have an important job to do in keeping music alive and relevant, especially now that we know that live performance can be ripped away from us at any moment. Preserving a tradition by treating it as living instead of dead, by working from a place of discovery and abundance instead of mere conservation, allows opera to be safeguarded for future generations. 

“Tradition,” Carlo Rizzi told Observer, “Is a very ambivalent word because it can be a very wonderful thing, a thread that connects you with the past, but tradition can also be a thread that doesn’t allow you to go forward. So I think it is important to be always thinking or trying to think what the composer wanted. The fact that certain singers maybe in the past did a role in a certain way is a tradition. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good or a bad tradition…My approach is the one to first look at the score, try to understand why the composer wrote certain things in a certain way.”

The suspended time of the pandemic, and the sudden return to live performances this fall and winter, has made a very old art form feel new again. That we get to be at the Met with this music seems a privilege. Carlo Rizzi’s respectful and sensitive approach to opera, his reverent shaping of Puccini’s phrases, feels appropriate to our current context. “The beautiful thing when I come back to work with these people is we start like we never left,” Rizzi said of returning to work at the Met. Hopefully global pandemic conditions will allow him to continue picking up where he left off for many years to come.  

Opera Conductor Carlo Rizzi Triumphantly Returns to the Met Opera

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Orioles ace John Means ‘looking forward to the grind’ of recovery from Tommy John surgery

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Orioles ace John Means ‘looking forward to the grind’ of recovery from Tommy John surgery

John Means is in the early stages of his recovery from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, but the mustache he sported Wednesday in the Orioles’ clubhouse was in vintage form.

“Gotta keep it interesting, you know?” Baltimore’s left-handed ace said. “I was losing my mind.”

Without baseball as he recovers from his season-ending procedure, Means has turned to facial hair. He’s only three weeks into a recovery and rehabilitation process that will take at least a year, but he said he and doctors are pleased thus far.

“Honestly, it’s going better than it’s supposed to be,” Means said. “My range [of motion], they said we’re ahead of schedule, so I don’t know, three weeks, and we got 12 months to go. Little victories here and there.”

Means unexpectedly exited his second start after only four innings, with testing eventually revealing the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow was “about 90% torn,” he said. Dr. Keith Meister performed the surgery in Arlington, Texas, on April 27, three day after Means’ 29th birthday.

Means spent his offseason training at Meister’s Texas Metroplex Institute, hoping to strengthen a left shoulder that has landed him on the injured list in two of his first three major league seasons. In 2021, Means had a 2.05 ERA through 11 starts before exiting his 12th outing in the first inning with a left shoulder strain. He missed nearly two months, then had a 4.88 ERA after returning.

He had no previous elbow injuries before this one. He’s back at TMI to rehab.

“I’m definitely going to be working out like crazy to try and keep that competitive edge and all that,” Means said. “I’m looking forward to coming back. I’m looking forward to the grind of this.”

He’s also getting more time around his family, watching his 1-year-old son, McCoy.

“That’s been the best part, let me tell you,” Means said. “He’s swinging off the tee now, and he’s running around constantly. I’m getting my workout in just chasing him around the living room and kitchen to try to keep his hands off the oven and microwave.”

Means said he hopes to visit the Orioles at least once a month and will be traveling with them for their upcoming road series in New York. The day after, he’ll have his arbitration hearing to determine his salary for this season.

“It’s tough watching games and that sort of thing,” Means said. “You just want to be there — good, bad, whatever it is, you want to be there for your team and be a part of it. That part’s been hard, but I’m getting used to it. I’m going to come back as much as I possibly can to be around the guys.”

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has been pleased with how Baltimore’s pitching staff has handled losing Means, who served as their opening day starter for the second straight season. Having him around on occasion will benefit the other pitchers, Hyde said.

“He’s still a big part of our team,” Hyde said, “and it’s great to have him in the building.”

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Twins power way to series victory in Oakland with 14-4 rout in finale

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Twins power way to series victory in Oakland with 14-4 rout in finale

OAKLAND, Calif. — Before Sonny Gray threw his first pitch on Wednesday, the veteran starter was sitting on a three-run lead. It was that kind of day for the Twins, who put on a show on offense and rode a quality start from Gray to a 14-4 victory and a series win over the Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum.

The Twins opened up the game in the first inning, using four hits and a walk to produce their three runs. Gary Sánchez, who has started to heat up as of late, dropped a broken-bat single into left field to give the Twins a two-run lead. Gio Urshela followed with an RBI single of his own.

The Twins tacked on runs throughout the game, including a five-run sixth inning in which they broke the game wide open.

Carlos Correa, activated off the injured list earlier in the day, finished with two hits and a walk. He drove in a run on a double to center in the fourth, part of a two-run inning that included a Luis Arraez RBI double. Arraez finished the day with a team-leading three hits.

That was more than enough support for Gray, who threw six innings in his longest start of the season. While he ran into some trouble in the earlier innings, he seemed to settle in later, retiring the final 10 batters he faced.

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What’s behind Gleyber Torres’ early season resurgence?

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What’s behind Gleyber Torres’ early season resurgence?

Gleyber Torres, at just 25 years old, has already lived several lives in pinstripes.

He was the anointed one, the heir apparent to Alfonso Soriano, a two-time All-Star and a playoff hero, all before his 23rd birthday.

Then the pitfalls that many people face in their early-to-mid-20s began to rear their ugly heads. The pandemic certainly didn’t help, but even in 2021 as things returned to normalcy, Torres was dreadful at his job. The former top prospect who looked like a pillar of the Yankees’ next great team instead lost his starting shortstop gig. When he was in the starting lineup, he was often buried in the seventh spot.

When Torres was officially moved off of shortstop at the end of last season, his manager said of his defensive issues at the high-pressure position, “I feel like it’s been a weight on him.” Trade talks swirled, as the combination of poor play and the impending free agency of Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and others made Torres seem like the odd man out.

Instead, the Yankees stood pat on free agent shortstops, kept Torres, and traded for a defensive maestro in Isiah Kiner-Falefa. With the stability of knowing that he’d still be a Yankee, plus not having to worry about playing shortstop anymore, Torres has started 2022 with a bang.

As of Wednesday morning, Torres has a 117 wRC+ and .741 OPS, both his highest since 2019, the last time he consistently punished the baseball. After five straight hitless games in mid-April, Torres turned things around with a pinch-hit single in Detroit. Though his eighth-inning knock ended up being mostly meaningless — he was stranded on the bases and the Yankees lost 3-0 — that plate appearance did something to get him back on track.

Starting with that game, Torres has slashed .301/.342/.521. Seven of his 22 hits in that span have gone for extra bases, including four home runs. As a result, his numbers on the young season show a completely different player than the one who sulked through two straight soul crumbling campaigns.

“Last year was a very [hard] struggle for me,” Torres said after driving in five runs in a win over Toronto on May 11. “All the work I put in the offseason, I can show that every time I go to home plate. I mean I can still learn the game.”

Glancing at his numbers, the things that Torres has seemed to learn this year are fairly simple, and also a very common school of thought across Major League Baseball right now. He’s mashing fastballs, putting the ball in the air more often, and as a result, he’s making a lot more hard contact.

In 2021, as Torres’ overall slugging percentage sagged to a career-low .366, fastballs were one of the main culprits. He slugged a not-ideal .352 on heaters, and with two strikes, fastballs resulted in a strikeout 19.6% of the time. This year, though things could still change as he gets more at-bats, Torres is slugging .536 on fastballs. They’re only putting him away 12.9% of the time he gets in a two-strike hole.

Hunting fastballs is an effective strategy for most hitters, but on an even more simplistic level, so is hitting pitches that are meant to be hit. First-year hitting coach Dillon Lawson showed up to his new job with the catchphrase “Hit strikes hard”. Torres appears to have taken that to heart. According to Baseball-Savant, in three key areas of the strike zone — middle-up, middle-down and up-and-in — Torres is hitting the ball hard at a significantly higher rate than he was last year.

Hard contact is particularly damaging when it’s in the air. Every stadium can hold a well-struck grounder, very few will contain an airborne missile. For the last two seasons — the ones Torres would like to forget — he ran a ground ball rate north of 40%. This year, it’s down to 35.2% so far, with fly balls getting above 40% for the first time since 2019. As Rangers’ salty manager Chris Woodward can attest to, sometimes getting the ball in the air at Yankee Stadium leads to “Little League home runs.” Whether they go 320 or 420 feet, a home run is a home run, and Torres is already more than halfway to his home run total from last year.

The other adjustment Torres has made in the season’s first month is swinging more often. His swing percentage has shot up to 76.2%, nearly identical to the 76.3% he had when swatting 38 homers in 2019. This could be a sign that Torres isn’t overthinking things at the plate, a welcome sign for someone who has spoken openly about the mental strife he’s endured.

“First of all, I feel really good,” Torres told reporters last week. “I mean, my swing has gotten better and better. And I’m working hard every day to be the way I want to be. But so far, so good. I think confidence is back and that is the most important thing for me.”

That renewed confidence could also wind up being one of the most important things for the Yankees, a team that, at 27-9, has absolutely been the way they want to be.

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