One Thousand Scents

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Filth, you should know, is an opera lover's term for something that is shockingly bad: shamefully ill-conceived, dreadfully executed, wrong-headed and indefensible in every aspect.

On November 7th, we were in New York and got to see the Metropolitan Opera production of Puccini's Turandot. I am not exactly a neophyte, but I guess I haven't seen more than a dozen or so operas performed live, and this particular Turandot has received its share of derision--big, overblown, stuffed with faux Chinoiserie--but when it was all over I turned to Jim and said, "That is the best thing I have ever seen in my entire life," and I wasn't kidding, either. The sets were enormous and thrilling, the opera house itself was magnificent, the singing was terrific*, the acting and music brought me to tears (in a good way) at one point; it was crazily expensive and worth every penny.

The opera was assuredly not filth. But La Voce, a recent fragrance fronted by opera singer Renee Fleming, assuredly is.

The whole scent, of course, is a gimmick, best exemplified by that bottle. The spiky ring is a visual allusion to the chandeliers inside the Metropolitan Opera house

which hang fairly low and are raised into the rafters seconds before the performance begins. You can pop that ring off and wear it as a brooch, affixing it to a be-pinned jewel which is hidden in a little drawer at the bottom of the box

which I guess is meant to suggest a stage.

It's all very kitsch, and the bottle, once you've removed that brooch piece, is dull, the sort of thing you've seen the likes of a hundred times, not a glimmer of imagination to it. The same can be said of the scent, which is a cheap, vulgar fruity floral gourmand oriental in the modern department-store Britney Spears mode. The official list of notes sounds reasonably tempting: "passion fruit, white truffle, jasmine, lily of the valley, chocolate mousse and ebony." I think not. "Cheap artificial fruit candy garnishing a limp floral bouquet atop an inescapable gourmand note and that vague wood you smell in everything these days" is more like it.

How much do you suppose it costs? Go on, guess. A 50-ml EDP spray is $200. Yes, it really is. I bet they've sold tons of it, too. A portion of the proceeds go to the Met, which is nice (in proportion to the amount of money they're getting), but for that price, honestly, couldn't they have put a little effort into it, made it into something befitting the image of the house? The Met shop--the only place you can buy the scent for now--is not exactly overrun with gum-chewing teenagers.

You can read more about this travesty of perfumery at the very English opera blog Intermezzo.

*The production was broadcast in movie theatres, and it will be re-run on December 5th. If you should happen to go, you will hear an extraordinarily affecting singer named Maria Poplovskaya in the role of Liu--it was her death that made me cry, softy that I am--and at the end when she comes out to take her bows, you will hear people shouting "Brava!" One of them is me. I don't usually make a spectacle of myself in public, but she deserved it.


  • I attend the HD broadcasts, she made me cry too!
    Thank you for warning me off La Voce, it has been tempting me...

    By Blogger Datura5750, at 10:54 AM  

  • For all I know, you may love La Voce. I mean, someone must. But for what it is, and for that price, it's completely insane. You could find something just like for a quarter of the price. If you want to own something with Renee Fleming's name on it, buy a CD. If you want to support the Met, give them some money.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 9:08 PM  

  • The wanting it is irrational, I do not need a nasty fruity to your other suggestions, I have and I do!

    By Blogger Datura5750, at 1:44 PM  

  • I saw Turandot in the theatre (God bless the Met for those simulcasts!) and loved it.

    A shame about La Voce. Especially since I'm a fan of Renee Fleming.

    By Anonymous Aparatchick, at 7:53 PM  

  • I love the simulcasts, too; I go to see every one, even those I can't work up a whole lot of enthusiasm for (don't really love French opera), and though they can't match the experience of being in the actual Met, they're a good second.

    I'm not surprised that La Voce is pretty much just like everything else on the market, because they want to sell a lot of it (at that price!), so they have to make sure it appeals to the widest possible user base, and that means not ruffling any feathers. I wanted it to be good, too (it's my wish for all fragrances, even the most commercial--I'd like them to be art), but it's very blah.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 8:35 PM  

  • i love this review. too bad the scent isn't worthy of the met. nice staging, though.

    By Blogger stellaglo, at 11:28 AM  

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