Friday, September 24, 2021

For the Love of Opera


I wrote this in February of 2020, before the pandemic:

"One of the reasons I began blogging was to spend time praising my beloved favorites.  At the time these were Cecilia Bartoli, Anna Netrebko, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.  I quickly added Jonas Kaufmann after a trip to see Cecilia in Zurich.  Dmitri has died, but the other three are still singing, and I still follow their careers.

"All of these lists will be limited to singers active during the life of this blog.  I can also be said to love from early in the blog René Pape, Karita Mattila, Nina Stemme, Maria Guleghina, Susan Graham, Angela Gheorghiu, Elina Garanča, Piotr Beczala, Renée Fleming, Natalie Dessay, and Juan Diego Florez.  This should not be regarded as a complete list.  Forgive me if I have omitted your favorite.  Dessay has retired.

"Newer enthusiasms include Lisette Oropesa, Sondra Radvanovsky, Isabel Leonard,  Christine Goerke, Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena, Anja Harteros, Erin Morley, Lawrence Brownlee, Anita Rachvelishvili, Ludovic Tezier, Luca Pisaroni,and Matthew Polenzani.  It is interesting to me that none of these newer artists have aroused the level of passion experienced from the earlier discoveries. Lisette might manage it, though.  Part of this lessening of passion can be attributed to my advancing age."

One name will be conspicuously missing from this rather too long list.  Only the singers in the first paragraph count as true loves.  So I thought I was too old to experience the true passion for a singer.  None of them have topped this sudden love for the Norwegian soprano, Lise Davidsen.  I was sincere in thinking this was simply not any longer possible.  

It seems to have a personal aspect which the others do not have.  Before appearing on the international opera stage, Lise sang Bach and Lieder, things I also sang.  I feel sympathy for her musical mind.  With Cecilia it was the strangeness and shock of her very individual interpretations which always surprised me.  With Lise it is the familiarity.   

Lise is "an amazing human being" to quote the Screaming Divas.  Love comes to me not from surprise, but from comfort and familiarity.  She reaches the deep corners of my musical soul.   Thank you, dear.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Der fliegende Holländer from Bayreuth


Mary, Erik, Senta

Conductor Oksana Lyniv
Director Dmitri Tcherniakov
Daland Georg Zeppenfeld
Senta Asmik Grigorian
Erik Eric Cutler
Mary Marina Prudenskaya
Der Steuermann Attilio Glaser
Der Holländer John Lundgren

Richard Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer streamed from Bayreuth this summer on July 25.  It's regie, of course.  That means that the staging is modernized.  During the overture a mother hangs herself.  It's rather wildly realistic looking.  This doesn't seem to be the traditional plot about a sailor.  I'm here for Asmik Geigorian.

The sailors sit around drinking in a bar and never go to sea.  The girls don't spin, but instead practice the spinning chorus.  Senta smokes.  Erik comes in and chases the other girls away.  He warns Senta that her father wants to find her a husband.  Erik and Senta are exes and fight like it.  

Asmik is 40 but here passes for younger.  She is good looking, her voice is strong and her acting good.  The sound of her voice does not particularly appeal to me.  For me it is the feeling in the music.

Daland brings the Dutchman home and introduces him to his daughter as her bridegroom.  She swears to be faithful until death.  This takes place around the dining room table.  She gets excited over him for no apparent reason.  The ho hum everydayness of the staging takes all the fizz out of it.  Asmik tries to make up for it, but it's too much to ask.

In Act III everyone is outside eating and drinking except the sailors who sit glumly.  The townspeople ridicule them until the Dutchman takes out his gun and shoots a few.  Ugh.  Everyone but Senta runs off.  Erik complains to Senta who sits staring.  They sing about eternity on the sea, but there is no sea.  The Dutchman throws Senta on the floor.  Mom comes in and shoots him.  Senta laughs and tries to comfort her.  That's it.  I'll probably never watch this again.  The chorus is excellent.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Keith Bohm in Recital



Faculty Recital: Keith Bohm, saxophone

Capistrano Hall - Room 151
Accompanied on the piano by John Cozza.
The earliest piece in this recital was written in 1959:  Printemps by Pierre Gabaye, with piano accompaniment.

Arabesque on a theme by Debussy (2018) by Jenni Watson was accompanied by an electronic sound track.  This was fun.

Suite en duo (1971) Aria, Allegro, by Guy Lacour came in 2 movements and was played on two saxophones with no accompaniment:  Keith on tenor sax and Russell Veirs on alto sax.  There was much talking about the fact that originally the slow movement Aria followed the fast movement Allegro, but Keith likes it better this way.

Soar (2016) by Alastair Penman brings us back to piano accompaniment.

Ray (2017) brings us back to Jenni Watson.

All of these pieces have at least a hint of jazz.  Keith seems not to care for ugly modernity.

Fuzzette, the Tarangula (1962) by Robert Muczynski is in 9 movements and has a narrator and a flute player.

The program ended with Tango Suave (2012) by Jean Matitia.  

A whole program of saxophone is not unpleasant.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony in Sacramento

Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera opened their 2021-2022 season last night in the Memorial Auditorium.  This venue was chosen because it is one of the few places with a built in pipe organ, and they wanted to feature the Organ Symphony by Camille Saint-Saëns.  The rest of the program also included organ. 

The conductor for the performance was Robert Moody,

and the organist was James Jones. 

Originally the program was set to include Barber's Adagio for Strings in an arrangement for organ, but the organ itself is being repaired and would not play the piece.  Short pieces for organ were substituted.

Next was Edward Elgar's (1857-1934) Enigma Variations (1899). One source says there are 14 variations.  This information would have made sense to include in the program.  Some but not all of the variations included organ for a different sound.

To end the program we enjoyed the Organ Symphony by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921).  I liked the sound of this piece much better than the previous one.  Memorial Auditorium is not an ideal space for classical concerts due to the acoustics.  Towards the end of this piece the organ began to boom in.  I was disappointed that we had to wait so long for this loud booming sound.  All in all it was enjoyable.  Welcome back.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges Premier

The project I mentioned here will have its first showing on August 27.

I attended this first showing, and my friend Omari Tau turned out to be the star.  The life of the Chevalier was dramatized with all the other characters portrayed in silhouette.  This film was created for educational purposes and should not be confused with the movie Chevalier de Saint-Georges starring Kelvin Harrison Jr. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Pagliacci from Chicago

Conductor: Enrique Mazzola 
Director: Peter McClintock 
Canio: Russell Thomas 
Nedda: Ailyn Pérez 
Silvio: Lucas Meachem 
Tonio: Quinn Kelsey 
Beppe: Eric Ferring

You can see this cast of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci from the Lyric Opera of Chicago is impressive.  This copy has no subtitles in any language, so I have to rely on memory.

My memory, such as it is, tells me that this is the opera where they say "a venti-tre ore." Venti-tre is 23, so that means all are invited to a circus performance that begins at 11 pm. In Italy they might actually do this. They have dinner at 8 or 9 pm and go on from there. The American translations usually pretend it's earlier.

However, this is regie and the things going on have little to do with the original plot.  Here our theatrical troop is the cast of the TV show The Honeymooners.  It might very well be playing at 11 pm. They give out Pagliacci t-shirts to the chorus/audience.

Nedda, wife of Canio in both show and life, is tired of her husband and has become interested in Silvio, apparently a stagehand. She sings about this. The beautifull sung prologue is outside the Lyric Opera, and subsequent scenes are inside. Nedda sings in the wings next to the cables to draw the scenery. It's show business. Tonio wants her too. He goes after her and she hits him with her purse.

The second act is the comedy.  This is the Kramdens from the Honeymooners, apparently.  Forties/fifties furniture and clothing.  It's also in black and white like the TV show.  Adorable.  I believe Ralph was also a bus driver.  I have to say this concept completely works.  When the camera shows the stage and the wings, the color comes back.

These are all wonderful singing actors who bring this all to life.  I'm a Quinn fan and enjoy his work here, but his part is not large.  There is an argument on the internet over who gets to say the final line.  Apparently, in the score it is Canio who has just stabbed two people.  But here it is Tonio who plays Ed Norton.  "La comedia e finita.?  

If you can find it, watch it.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Tristan und Isolde from Munich 👍🏻


Conductor -  Kirill Petrenko 
Production - Krzysztof Warlikowski 

Tristan - Jonas Kaufmann 
Isolde - Anja Harteros 
King Mark - Mika Kares 
Kurwenal - Wolfgang Koch 
Brangäne - Okka on der Damerau

This is Wagner's Tristan und Isolde from the Bayerische Staatsoper.  It's a regie production, naturally.  Almost everything from there is.  I'm not sure it provides a context.  They all wear modern clothing, and we don't seem to be on a ship.

Act I.

Tristan has traveled to Ireland to bring back the future bride of King Mark of Cornwall.  He is there in his official capacity as representative of Cornwall.  Actually Tristan and Princess Isolde have an already existing relationship.  In a war between the two kingdoms, Tristan has killed Isolde's fiance and been seriously wounded in the process.  Isolde with the help of Brangäne nursed him back to health.  

On the journey she tries to order him around.  He remains distant and sends his assistant, Kurwenal.  This bit is not precisely clear.  Brangäne prepares a potion that Tristan and Isolde are to share.  Tristan drinks half, and then Isolde drinks the rest.  They seem to think it will kill them, but instead they fall hopelessly in love.  I thought the sudden falling in love was well handled.  We appear to be doing social distancing in this production.  No one touches in this part.

Act II

Isolde keeps turning the lights on and off.  I'm not sure what that's about.  I've never seen this character portrayed as perverse.  A feature of this production is that we see the characters live on the stage and projected on the wall in the form of a film at the same time.  Brangäne blames herself for administering the potion, but Isolde blames the Love Spirit who spreads love all around.  Isolde sees herself without love as destined for death.

I am an hour and a half in and did not ever before realize what a bear of a part Isolde is.  Other characters make brief appearances.  Finally Tristan enters and they talk about their time traveling to Cornwall.  She feels that she loved him then, but he was there in the role of foe.  Now they cannot simply forget that they love one another.  There is much discussion of which is better:  day or night?  Night is chosen.  Tristan wants to die.  The picture above comes from this section.

In the real world they sit in chairs and sing, but in the film behind they meet in the bedroom.  I don't know why I like this, but I do.

They sing for a long time about death, then suddenly they take needles from a bowl on the table and give themselves shots.  Death?  The bed in the background is suddenly surrounded by water.  Then people begin to enter.  They are discovered.  King Mark tells his story, that it was Tristan who thought he should marry.  Isolde is hearing this story for the first time.

This hardly seems like the same opera.  We want these two singers together in this opera because they are together emotionally.

Isolde says that she will follow Tristan to his home.  Melot, the betrayer, complains and the two men draw swords.  The bald person reappears.  Melot stabs Tristan.


Bald people in uniforms drinking coffee?  This part of the production I don't get.  Tristan sits with them and drinks coffee.  Next to him they look like children.  All but one appear to be puppets. A return to childhood?  An English horn plays on the stage.  

Kurvenal sings to the puppet Tristan while Jonas sings.  Then they exchange places. The puppet in the yellow blouse is Isolde herself.  I don't think I realized before how little time Tristan and Isolde spend on stage together.  I feel like I have never seen this opera before.  Opera's greatest singing actors have brought it to life as never before.  Absolutely stunning.

Old age advice.  Do not mourn that your love cannot be fulfilled.  Rejoice that passion can come to you.

Monday, August 02, 2021

Katya Kabanova at West Edge


Jonathan Khuner - Conductor / Music Director 
Indre Viskontas - Production Director 

Carrie Hennessey - Katya
Kristin Clayton - Kabanicha, mother in law
Christopher Oglesby - Boris, boy friend
Alex Boyer - Tichon, Katya's husband
Chad Somers - Kudrjaš
Sarah Coit - Varvara, Tichon's sister
Philip Skinner - Dikój, Boris's uncle 

Leoš Janáček's Káťa Kabanová (1921) played at the Bruns Amphitheater in the East Bay hills as part of the season for West Edge Opera.  It's sunny and hot when the sun is shining on you, and cold when it isn't.  You may rent yourself a blanket.  Luckily I brought a hat and a jacket.  This is normally the venue for what is lovingly called Cal Shakes, meaning UC Shakespeare, I assume.  Adjustments were made to accommodate the orchestra who played from under the stage.  In the current era where performing before an audience is difficult, I suppose they were lucky to get it.  I felt that the heat/cold situation was extreme and the acoustics, particularly for the singers, were bad.

I have seen this opera before at the San Francisco Opera before I began blogging.  I remember only the part where Katya throws herself into the Volga.  I felt that this staging introduced the characters and their relationships more successfully.  The stage didn't become cluttered with irrelevant people, because the tiny chorus seemed always to be offstage.  Everyone dresses in modern clothing.  The singers for Tichon and Boris look similar, but were clearly distinguished through their costumes.

This opera would probably best be described as verismo, concerned with the hum drum problems of ordinary people.  Katya and Tichon love one another, but then there is the boss/mother in law who expects to be always the center of attention.  She runs a business and Tichon works for her.  Katya seems to want to be a good girl, and when it transpires that she cannot manage this, she wants to be punished.  She goes around asking everyone to accommodate this desire, and when they don't, she kills herself.

I am a fan of Carrie Hennessey whose character pretty much carries this opera.  (Pun?)  I enjoy her work, and felt that the cast did a fine job.  This is not in line to become a favorite opera.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Tannhäuser from Bayreuth 👍🏻

Conductor: Valery Gergiev 
Director: Tobias Kratzer

Tannhäuser: Stephen Gould
Landgraf Hermann: Stephen Milleing
Elisabeth: Lise Davidsen
Wolfram von Eschenbach: Markus Eiche
Walther von der Vogelweide: Daniel Behle
Venus:  Elena Zhidkova
Shepard:  Katharina Konradi

Tannhäuser from Bayreuth from 2019, which can be found in Opera on Video, is a confusing mix of images.  The first scene suggests that we add it to the caravan series, since we see Tannhäuser, Venus and her troop wandering around in an RV in the guise of a carnival.  Venus drives.  They live outside the law.  When the vehicle runs out of gas, they siphon some from a nearby vehicle.  They go through the Burger King drive through and steal their food.  This is not realistic since you always have to pay before they give you anything.  A policeman tries to stop them and Venus runs him down, making Tannhäuser uninterested in going on with her.

In the second scene the curtain opens on an exterior shot of the Bayreuther Festspielhaus.  He is met by a bunch of guys in black outfits drinking beer out of the bottle.  They recognize him in his clown outfit and welcome him back.  At the end of the scene Venus arrives in her RV.

Lise Davidsen is utterly magnificent.  I adore her "Dich teure Halle."  Our boy is back in normal clothes.  Or at least the clothes suitable for the singing contest that is to come.  People begin to enter.  Outside Venus and her gang are trying to get inside.  This must play like a film inside the hall.  Venus steals a suitable outfit from one of the dressing rooms and participates in the ceremony.  This whole thing is like a movie with cameras behind the scenes.  Is that the trend of the future?

The contestants sing about love back and forth until Tannhäuser tells the crowd that he has been in Venusberg.  The women in the crowd all escape except for Elisabeth, Venus removes her disguise, and her group all appear together with Tannhäuser.  Elisabeth prevents the men from killing him, and he thanks her.  The scene is strange.  While Tannhäuser thanks Elisabeth, he is also happy to see Venus.  Someone calls the police.  The Landgraf curses Tannhäuser for admitting he was with Venus.

I am enjoying the idea that the teure Halle is the Festspieshaus itself.  A song contest with pieces that are more like songs would have been nice.  The story is concerned with salvation, and the music is a bit droning.   Tannhäuser chooses to go to Rome with the pilgrims and the giant black man in drag drapes a rainbow flag over the harp that accompanied the singers.

This is almost the Tannhäuser as comedy version. Frei im Wollen! Frei im Thun! Frei im Geniessen!  R.W. [Free in the wanting! Free in the doing! Free to enjoy!]  This seems to be the opposing of two life views that make up the struggle of modern life:  The path of individual freedom represented by Venus and the path of adhering to social norms represented by Elisabeth.  The sign outside the Festspielhaus seems to place Wagner on the side of freedom.  Our hero vacillates back and forth between them.  One gives him a life of earthly pleasure and the other brings salvation to his soul.  He seems to want both.

It ends horribly.  In the libretto first Elisabeth dies, and then he sees her body borne past him, and Tannhäuser dies.  In this version Tannhäuser goes off with Venus, Wolfram sees his opportunity and dresses up in Tannhäuser's clown outfit so Elisabeth will think he is the man she loves.  He seduces her in this disguise, and later we see her covered in blood.  She seems to have killed herself.  This is truly hideous.  



I watched the film of Tannhäuser from Bayreuth in 2019 again because it is now playing again in Bayreuth in 2021 and I cannot go. Ekaterina Gubanova is Venus in the current version, and this may be an improvement.  I had already seen all the shocking parts, and was content to watch the whole opera.

I noticed the part where it is indeed Katarina Wagner who calls the cops, as a joke, I assume.  I saw that Wolfram puts on Heinrich's clown outfit, but isn't actually trying to fool Elisabeth.  She laughs and draws him into the van.  That puts a completely different spin on it.  It's too bad she doesn't love Wolfram who is quite charming.

The more I see and hear of Lise Davidsen, the more I admire, enjoy, respect and indeed love her.  She is very well suited to this role.  I am a long distance from having too much of her.  Es lebe die Lise.


Friday, July 23, 2021

Saariaho's Innocence

Conductor: Susanna Mälkki 
Production:  Simon Stone

Waitress:  Magdalena Kožená, 
Mother-in-law: Sandrine Piau,  \   Groom's parents
Father-in-law: Tuomas Pursio,  /
Bride: Lilian Farahani, 
Groom:  Markus Nykänen, 
Priest:  Jukka Rasilainen, 
Teacher:  Lucy Shelton

Kaaija Saariaho's new opera in 5 acts without intermission is called Innocence.  There is a film available from Aix en Provence which runs under 2 hours.  

Something terrible has happened before the start of the opera.  Research tells me that there are two groups:  The wedding party, and the teacher and her students who were present at a shooting that took place at their school 10 years before.  [It is strange to me that I am watching this on the 10th anniversary of a shooting in Oslo--irrelevant, or perhaps not.]  I found this in a review, and without it I would have had a hard time figuring out what was going on.

The father talks about another son he had and how he taught him how to shoot. This is dense and very complicated.  I think that they are reliving the tragedy.  This would be more possible with English subtitles. 

Attempt at a plot summary:  ten years ago at the International School in Helsinki one of the students stole his father's gun and shot a number of his fellow students.  Quite by accident the Waitress is serving a wedding in modern times.  Her daughter was one of the victims, and she recognizes the family.  The Groom is the brother of the boy who killed the others, including her daughter.  We learn that the murderer is out of jail and has been given another identity because he was a child at the time of the incident.  The Groom has not told his bride, whom he met in Bucharest.

The subtitles are in French, but I am hearing English occasionally.  One character speaks German. Some speak French.  Some characters change languages.  I hear other languages which I do not speak.

Some are wearing microphones:  the ones who only speak and the teacher.  The wedding party have no microphones.  I guess and suggest that this distinguishes people from the present from people from the past.

This is a story of modern times, a story where people think of shooting others around them.  Perhaps it is a suitable subject for an opera.  The thing I have seen recently which most resembles this is the recent production of Die Tote Stadt.  We seem to change from one reality to another with no transitions.  At the end everyone goes off on their own.

It's deeply gripping and very relevant.  I was drawn to it, but I would need more explanation and English subtitles.

Read more here.


It turns out it is more than a coincidence that I was reminded of the recent Korngold Die tote Stadt. The same guy directed both. Since I assign to the director the task of explaining the story, he is not focusing on that.