Thursday, November 27, 2014

Warning! Modern Music!

Barbara Hannigan is a name that is new to me.  Let's introduce her.


'Burnt Toast':

Soap operas by Alexina Louie and Dan Redican.

Barbara Hannigan is not the sort of voice I would normally be interested in, but her work is fascinating. I'd never heard of her, but apparently she's all over, mainly on  She's in Written on Skin.

And then there's this--György Ligeti Mysteries of the Macabre.  It is in some way related to Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre. She's singing in English, I think.  There are no Wagner references in this.

I started down this road because of a comment on my post titled "Singing en pointe." Apparently Ms Hannigan sings most of the role of Lulu en pointe. It is easier to see the connection of ballet to Clorinda than to Lulu.  We will close with this trailer for Lulu.  I will have to buy it now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Christmas Presents

This Kaufmann album of songs from German operettas would probably make good presents.  I very much prefer the far more serious Winterreise, but I am not really an average person.

This Netrebko album will be out in time for Christmas.  You can preorder now.

If your friends love Baroque, this Jaroussky album is the one.

For the lover of bel canto you will need Joyce DiDonato.

The Met didn't produce much this year so I recommend this Rossini albums.  I even liked the productions.  One is comedy and the other tragedy.

If your heart is only for Kaufmann, this is the best of the Verdi year.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Sometimes the genius of a performance is all in the casting.  Who knew that together they would be magic?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Il Barbiere di Siviglia in HD

Rosina: Isabel Leonard
Count Almaviva: Lawrence Brownlee
Figaro: Christopher Maltman
Dr. Bartolo: Maurizio Muraro
Don Basilio: Paata Burchuladze

Conductor: Michele Mariotti
Production: Bartlett Sher

While watching the simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera today, I noticed for the first time that in the storm scene where Figaro and Almaviva attempt to abduct Rosina that Rossini uses the same orchestral figure to depict lightning that Verdi uses in Rigoletto.  In Il Barbiere di Siviglia it's just a brief fragment of flute arpeggio that turns into a louder, more stereotypical orchestral storm as the scene progresses.  Verdi expands it into a long scene, but it's the same figure.  I expected to see flashing neon, but alas I did not.  If the storm scene in Rigoletto does not remind you of neon flashing, you do not attend enough Met simulcasts.

My seatmate pointed out that the staging is now less busy.  Perhaps there are fewer stagehands.  I have often pointed out that reducing the number of stagehands would save a lot of money.  I noticed that in one scene the girls surrounding Figaro's movable business pushed it off the stage.  In another there is a donkey, Sir Gabriel, who was interviewed during the intermission.  Debbie Voigt seemed quite fond of him.

The trimming down did not seem to negatively impact the clarity of the production.  Remember, the purpose of the production is to explain the plot.

It also seemed to me that previously John del Carlo and his silent shadow carried the burden of the comedy while here it was more evenly distributed around the cast.  Maurizio Muraro is a fine singer, but he is no comic.  Christopher Maltman was an appealingly lively Figaro.  There needs to be a reason the opera is called The Barber of Seville.  Figaro must seem to plot every move.  I have seen this idea more effectively carried out elsewhere.

I need the lovely singers Isabel Leonard and Lawrence Brownlee to pay more attention to each other.  This is not a criticism of the amazing Mr. Brownlee, but the Met's inclusion of the great tenor aria at the end completely overbalances the opera away from Figaro and Rosina.  Isabel Leonard is charming and effective.

I enjoyed it.  I've been enjoying a lot of things lately.

Friday, November 21, 2014

La Bohemes I have Known


Mimì, seamstress:  Leah Crocetto
Rodolfo, poet:  Giorgio Berrugi *
Musetta, singer:  Ellie Dehn
Marcello, painter:  Brian Mulligan
Colline, philosopher: Christian Van Horn
Schaunard, musician: Hadleigh Adams
Benoit, Alcindoro: Dale Travis

Conductor: Giuseppe Finzi
Director: John Caird *
Production Designer:  David Farley

I certainly don't mind seeing Puccini's La Bohème over and over, but I don't have anything new to say about it.  Leah Crocetto has a bigger voice than the average Mimi, and as a result I heard her in the Cafe Momus scene.  I don't think I even noticed Mimi there before.

I liked the production, especially the fast scene changes.  If you've ever been to Paris in the winter, you know that it's rather dark and drab.  The drabness improved the atmosphere of this piece about intense poverty.

Opinions about the conducting were all over the place.  It was ok, but I've heard better, though not from most of the list below.  I don't suppose Beecham will come back.  I would prefer that conductors took this piece more seriously and raised their expectations.

The singing was very nice indeed.

Since I began blogging, I have reviewed versions of Puccini's La Bohème listed below.  Only the Zeffirelli production is a repeat.  None of these were my first La Bohème which may possibly have been Pavarotti and Freni in San Francisco.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005La Bohème -- the glorious recording with Björling and de los Angeles.

Saturday, March 24, 2007Opera SW

Saturday, April 05, 2008Surprise in HD with Gheorghiu and Vargas in the Zeffirelli production.

Sunday, October 04, 2009La Bohème the Movie with Netrebko and Villazon.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011La Bohème at Santa Fe.

Thursday, May 24, 2012La Bohème in Los Angeles.

Saturday, April 05, 2014La Bohème in HD Zeffirelli again.

Thursday, November 20, 2014 La Bohème at the San Francisco Opera last night.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Singing en pointe

I'm more impressed with Maria Valdes now than before I saw this film.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Festival of New American Music

Every year for 37 years my alma mater Sac State hosts the Festival of New American Music.  I attended all or part of 3 concerts.

November 10

Michael Norsworthy, clarinet
David Gompper, piano

I attended performances of:

SchiZm (1993-94) in two movements for piano and clarinet by Derek Bermel
It goes without Saying for recording and clarinet by Nico Muhly
Traceur for piano and clarinet by David Gompper, the pianist here.

Nico Muhly is famous by now since his opera Two Boys played at the Metropolitan Opera last season.  The important thing about his piece is that the recorded sounds were all made in his kitchen.  I assume that means his synthesizer was in the kitchen.

It's nice to hear what's going on, but for me the loud, harsh sounds produced on the clarinet were just a bit too ugly for me.

November 12

Fidelio Trio
Darragh Morgan, violin
Deirdre Cooper, cello
Mary Dullea, piano

This is an Irish piano trio with their own web page who play a wide variety of repertoire.  I stayed for the entire concert.

Piano Trio (1985) by Charles Wuorinen
Trio II (2003) in four movements by John Harbison
Blackberries (2007) by Elena Ruehr
Typical Music (2000) by Evan Ziporyn

Harbison is the composer of the opera The Great Gatsby. Wuorinen composed the recently streamed Brokeback Mountain

The last two composers were at the concert.  I felt that only Elena Ruehr achieved the sonority associated with a piano trio.  Many of the composers didn't seem to understand that all three players should play at once most of the time.  Why call it a piano trio if it's just three people playing solos in turn?

Evan Ziporyn has composed for gamelan and only recently returned to western music.  The Asian influence was apparent.

November 16

Glass & Blood
Chase Spruill, violin
Michael Riesman, piano

Michael Riesman is a Philip Glass enthusiast who has arranged this music from movie sound tracks for violin and piano.

I stayed for

Suite from The Hours for violin and piano (2002/2014)
Suite from Candyman for violin and piano (1992/2014)

The Hours is not a horror movie, and the music was standard serene Glass noodle music.  You know what I mean--noodle noodle noodle noodle....

Candyman is serious horror, and the music expresses it.

I discussed briefly with a friend at intermission.  It is always surprising to me that the music of Glass expresses so much more than the actual notes would lead you to believe.  I remember that he studied with Nadia Boulanger and cannot at all imagine what the conversations would have consisted of.

I should have stayed for Suite from Dracula.

I sometimes ask myself what this music is for, and then I remember the requirement for sound tracks.  Glass does a great deal of this kind of work.

There was no singing in any of these concerts.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Perhaps I could also use a logo.  I kind of like this.  It might even be singing.

The meaning of the title of this blog refers to the fact that I once played the role of a child who had been turned into a cookie in Hansel and Gretel.  So this isn't exactly German.  In German it means cookies for children and not children who are cookies.  A cop is as close to FBI as I could find.

IMDB reports these movie titles:  I was a Communist for the FBI, I was a Zombie for the FBI.  No movie titled I was a Cookie for the FBI.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Diction Police

Did you know there's a blog called dictioncorner?  Neither did I.  The subtitle is "The musings of a French vocal coach in America".  There's even this lovely logo.


Singing is really hard.  You have to do all the things an instrumental player does and this diction thing, too.  Not only that but diction functions in various ways.

1.  Correctness.  Each singer must pronounce the language as a native speaker would.  Some languages are a lot fussier than others.  The French are very fussy.  In German there is a whole language to represent correctness:  Hoch Deutsch.  When I lived in Germany, all stage actors and television personalities spoke hoch Deutsch.  Except in Switzerland.  Living in Ulm allowed me to view TV from Austria, Germany and Switzerland from the comfort of my living room.    This all leads to the idea of diction police who only worry about this part.

2.  Understandability.  One should never allow oneself to mistake these two things.  Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was always a target of the diction police, but when I hear her singing, for me every word is easily understandable.  For me this is far more important than item 1.  One of the reasons I love Jonas Kaufmann's Winterreise so much is because it is so easy to understand.

3.  Vocal technique.  The sound and placement of the vowels and ones ability to move smoothly and easily through the consonants is a powerful force in developing proper technique.  This is too hard to explain in a blog post.

4.  Phrasing.  Diction is also a tool in the phrasing tool box.

The objective is to achieve all four at the same time, not an easy task.

When you make vowels in any language, your tongue mounds up to separate the lips from the pharynx and separate your throat into two chambers front and back.  Where the tongue makes its mound determines which vowel it is.  Other things happen.  You might open the throat into the nasal cavity in back to make a French nasal vowel.  You might do different things with the tip of your tongue and your lips.  All these things can change the vowel.

As a gross generalization I would say that the back chamber controls the color of the voice and the front chamber controls the clarity of the language you are singing.  You can do both at the same time, but it isn't easy to learn.

In 2005 I wrote:

"Sometimes when you see photographs of recording sessions, there is a language coach sitting there with the singers. In the conflict between tone and correct pronunciation, tone should win. There is a school of vocal technique that bases its methods on vowel modification. So having someone there correcting your vowels could actually throw the whole thing off. So where is the vocal coach who is correcting the correcting of the language coach?"

Opera companies can have language coaches.  I think this is possibly the explanation for why the singers at the Bayerische Staatsoper are the easiest to understand in German.

The article about Jonas Kaufmann on the diction police blog is fun to read.  He actually seems to conclude that music perhaps on occasion tops diction. Here is my explanation of the article:

[ɛ]/[e] EH/AY without the diphthong; [œ]/[ø] UH slightly rounded lips/UH much more rounded French sound; [ɔ]/[o] AW/OH. Closed is narrower lips. He discusses only the first pair of sounds in the word “réveiller” [re vɛ je] RAY VEH YAY again all without diphthongs. In the second performance he sings RAY VAY YAY. The guy likes the second version, thus screwing up all his previous opinions. I always remember my conversation with the French people on Twitter and how in French they like Jonas Kaufmann better than anyone. Better than Sophie Koch. This problem is created because it's Jonas. Which makes it funny.

I notice listening to the second version [this refers to films embedded in the article] that the aria has “réveiller” two times in succession. He sings the first one as described and the second one is like the other film. Curious. He gets to the end of his argument and concludes that music wins. Music does win.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Gian Carlo Menotti

Someone posted a hot composers list, so I decided to do one myself.   I've tried not to duplicate any pictures.

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Leonard Bernstein

Johannes Brahms

Franz Liszt

Richard Strauss

Robert Schumann

Antonio Vivaldi

Frederic Chopin

Vicenzo Bellini

Richard Wagner

Kaija Saariaho

Computer generated Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Gustav Mahler