Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lohengrin stream

Conductor...............James Levine
Production..............August Everding

Lohengrin..........Peter Hofmann
Elsa....................Eva Marton
Ortrud................Leonie Rysanek
Telramund..........Leif Roar
King Heinrich....John Macurdy
Herald.................Anthony Raffell 

This nightly stream from the Metropolitan Opera is Wagner's Lohengrin from 1985.  This Lohengrin is not pretty, unless you count Peter Hofmann, who is really quite gorgeous.  But prettiness isn't everything.  I don't think I've seen this version before.

If you know only his recent outings, you may have forgotten or never have known how great James Levine was in his prime.  Musically this is a triumph.

What can one say of the production?  The sets are consistently dark with only occasional dark brown to contrast with the black.  The men wear dark military outfits, but are surprised when Lohengrin says he will lead them into battle.  Against whom is not said.  Only Lohengrin and Elsa, sung beautifully if calmly by Eva Marton, wear relatively light colors.  Lohengrin is always dressed in white.  For my requirement that it explain the plot, I find it very successful.

The flashiest character in the opera is Ortrud who is as flashy as can be imagined played by Leonie Rysanek.  She is intense.

Lohengrin himself is kind of a rat.  He marries her knowing full well that the longest he will be allowed to stay with her is one year even if she never asks who he is.  He doesn't mention this until after she asks the forbidden question.  His excuse is that you can have a lot of fun in a year.  Ortrud admits that it was she who transformed Heinrich into a swan.  Lohengrin's last deed is to change him back.  I like the careful detail explaining the plot.

Hofmann retired from opera not long after this, but he sounds ok to me.  Rysanek sort of upstages Marton.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sure on this shining night

This is Samuel Barber's "Sure on this shining night."  Our Lisette Oropesa, she does it all.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020


Conductor...............James Levine
Production..............Bodo Igesz

Ariadne.................Jessye Norman
Bacchus.................James King
Zerbinetta..............Kathleen Battle
The Composer.......Tatiana Troyanos
Music Master.........Franz Ferdinand Nentwig
Harlekin................Stephen Dickson
Scaramuccio..........Allan Glassman
Truffaldin..............Artur Korn
Brighella...............Anthony Laciura
Najade..................Barbara Bonney
Dryade..................Gweneth Bean
Echo....................Dawn Upshaw

For today's Metropolitan Opera stream we are treated to Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, 3/12/1988.  It is unbelievably wonderful.  My all time favorite mezzo is Tatiana Troyanos who sings an outstanding, over the top Composer.  She alone is worth the time.  But look at the complete excess of riches.  Zerbinetta is Kathleen Battle herself, here lively and young.  Ariadne is probably Jessye Norman's greatest role, and here we have her at her peak.  And if that isn't enough, there is James King to sing Bacchus.

In the prologue they all appear as themselves in a peek at backstage life.  Originally the play followed a play by Molière, see here.  They are all wonderfully lively. 

Jessye is beyond wonderful, but they have decided to focus on her face in endless closeups, and she makes faces when she sings.  One might prefer the camera a bit further back.  The singing of "Es gibt ein Reich" is absolutely glorious.  Is this the greatest opera performance every recorded?  I'm tempted to say yes.

Then Kathleen does her wonderful "Großmächtige Prinzessin".  We have one delight after another.  I loved Kathleen Battle and would have fired the conductor. 

Ariadne's three ladies sing what seems to be Schubert's "Schlafe, schlafe."  We transition to the entrance of Bacchus.  "Are you the queen of this island?"  He persuades her.  King isn't quite up to the ladies, but Jessye is fabulous all the way to the end.  They go off to be happy.

Thank you.  This is one of the great things.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020


Conductor: Alain Altinoglu
Production: Richard Eyre
Set and Costume Designer: Rob Howell

Werther:  Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Charlotte:  Sophie Koch (mezzo-soprano)
Sophie:  Lisette Oropesa (soprano)
Albert:  David Bizic (baritone)

Goethe was 24 when he wrote his novel Die Leiden des Jungen Werther, 1774.  Thus he was virtually a child himself.  It was a raging success which made him very famous for the rest of his life.  For us Goethe is Faust, written later.  For that era he was Werther.

So what is Jules Massenet's excuse?  He was 50 when he wrote his opera Werther, 1893.  This Werther when seen from the view of 2020 is simply a sexual harasser.  We know that unrequited love is painful, but do we need to spread the pain to everyone else?  So the question arises:  is he a cad?

Part of our problem with this opera is what a wonderful job Jonas is doing arousing our sympathy.  This is indeed a beautiful version of the opera.  Now that I know who she is, I especially enjoy Lisette Oropesa as Sophie.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Mother Plots

  • Handel Giulio Cesare  Cornelia is the step-mother of Sesto who has just lost his father Pompey.
  • Handel Agrippina   Agrippina is the mother of Nero
  • Mozart Die Zauberflöte  The Queen of the Night is the mother of Pamina.
  • Verdi Il trovatore  Azucena is the mother of Manrico (or not).  She also has mother issues of her own.  Her mother haunts the story.
  • Smetana The Bartered Bride Both of the main characters have mothers in the cast.
  • Mascagni Cavalleria rusticana Turiddu's mother is prominent.
  • Strauss Elektra  Elektra's mother Klytemnestra has killed her father. 
  • Humperdinck Hänsel und Gretel The mother sends the children out alone into the woods. 
  • Janáček Jenůfa Jenůfa's step-mother kills Jenůfa's child.
  • Strauss Salome Salome's mother starts this whole mess.
  • Puccini Madama Butterfly  The main character becomes a mother during the opera.
  • Wagner The Ring This features Erda, mother of the Earth.  Her children include the Valkyries and the Norms.
  • Massenet Werther.  Charlotte's dead mother haunts the story and persuades Charlotte to marry Albert.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Le Nozze di Figaro from the Met

Conductor...............James Levine
Production..............Jonathan Miller

Figaro..................Bryn Terfel
Susanna.................Cecilia Bartoli
Count Almaviva..........Dwayne Croft
Countess Almaviva.......Renée Fleming
Cherubino...............Susanne Mentzer
Dr. Bartolo.............Paul Plishka
Marcellina..............Wendy White
Don Basilio.............Heinz Zednik
Antonio.................Thomas Hammons
Barbarina...............Danielle de Niese

The Metropolitan Opera has rerun free of charge the 1998 telecast of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro.  I would have seen the original, of course.  It was in the center of my infatuation with Cecilia Bartoli. Watching it again I find that it is a Figaro for the ages.  There is not even the tiniest hole in this cast.  Even Barbarina features Danielle de Niese making her Met debut at 19.

This opera features the Countess in two glorious arias-- Porgi Amor and Dove sono--sung gloriously by Renée Fleming.

This film still has the most hits for Cecilia Bartoli on YouTube and the second most for Fleming.

The Met cast Bartoli into more or less the same Fach as Kathleen Battle only with a comic slant. In her career she was known for her very successful coloratura singing, and this provides the explanation for the replacement of Deh vieni non tardar, an entirely legato aria, with something with at least some coloratura.

Bryn is perhaps my all time favorite Figaro, and Cecilia and Bryn's flirting is the best ever seen in this opera.

The last time I watched it I wrote this:

It was a surprise when it was announced that Cecilia would sing the role of Susanna, a role I don’t think she has sung since. There was a huge scandal because she insisted on performing different arias. I know “Un moto di gioia” is one of her favorites. Her choices, especially the final aria, are very successful, but she does not sing “Deh vieni non tardar.”

I have felt since I first saw this film that I never really understood this opera before. In a world where everything had to be about status and privilege, where the operas were clearly divided between elevated moral dramas about the upper classes and comedies in dialect from the lower classes, Mozart has brought us real people from all the various classes of his era, people with serious problems, people like us. I don’t think I really understood how deeply serious Figaro really is.

Cecilia is key in the success of this entire performance because she makes you feel how much Susanna loves Figaro and how much she hates the idea of sex with the count, how much she loathes his attentions while successfully masking her emotions from him. This is the content of the Marriage of Figaro, not just the jokes. I have read the book this is based on, but it is Mozart and da Ponte who give true life to these people.

There is a wonderful rapport between Cecilia and Bryn which they exploited in a duet album and dvd. This rapport is at its best here. They are exciting and very charismatic together.

As if this were not wonderful enough, there is also the fabulous countess of Renée Fleming, who needs only to sit around being miserably regal while singing two of the most gorgeous arias ever written. Gorgeously. She is in top form.

It is a succession of perfectly executed scenes by ideally cast singing actors. When was Figaro’s discovery of his parents ever so perfect? The count and countess are effectively upper class while Susanna and Figaro are common, as it should be. The entire production is pure perfection in singing, conducting and ensemble acting, and never becomes stale.

As one who has long adored Cecilia and has seen a lot of her stage work, this is her masterpiece.

Monday, May 04, 2020


I collect renditions of Over the Rainbow (see here), but this one cannot be overlooked. The singer is Christine Brewer.

Contrast with her Liebestod here.


The Performance Calendar page now includes the streaming schedule for the Metropolitan Opera and the San Francisco Opera.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Met nightly streams

This is the list of operas streamed from the Metropolitan Opera on Demand.  The collection on line goes back many years before the start of the HD in movie theaters series, but only this series has been streamed for the pandemic.  On the left is the stream date and on the right is the date when I first reviewed this.  I missed Die Meistersinger and Madama Butterfly which I deliberately avoid.

And for week 8 we have added operas from before HD, including one for Pavarotti and another for Cecilia Bartoli.

Carmen -EG and RA 1/16/2010
La Boheme -AG and Ramon 4/5/2008
Il Trovatore -Dima and AN 10/3/2015
La Traviata -DD and JDF 12/15/2018
La Fille du Régiment -ND and JDF 4/26/2008
Lucia di Lammermoor -AN and PB 2/7/2009
Eugene Onegin -RF and Dima 2/24/2007
Tristan and Isolde -Nina and Stuart 10/8/2016
Das Reingold -Lepage 10/10/2010
Die Walküre -DV, JK, BT 5/10/2011
Siegfried -Jay 11/5/2011
Götterdämmerung -DV, Jay 2/12/2012
Die Meistersinger - JB
Tannhäuser -JB 10/31/2015
Dialogues des Carmélites  IL 5/11/2019

Il Barbiere di Siviglia -JD, PM, JDF 3/24/2007
Nixon in China 2/12/2011
Don Carlo  -Marina and RA 12/11/2010
Les Pêcheurs de Perles  MP, MK 1/16/ 2016
Macbeth -ZL and AN 10/11/2014
Norma -SR and JD 10/8/2017
Aida -AN and AR 10/6/2018
La Fanciulla del West -DV and Giordani 1/8/2011
Falstaff -Maestri 12/14/2013
Parsifal -JK and PM 3/2/2013
Roméo et Juliette -DD and Grigolo 1/21/2017
Don Pasquale -AN and MP 11/13/2010
Cosi fan tutte 3/31/2018
Rusalka -RF and PB 2/8/2014
Boris Godunov -Pape 10/23/2010
La Rondine -AG and RA 1/10/2009
Le Comte Ory  DD, JD, JDF 4/9/2011
Madama Butterfly -Racette
Andriana Lecouvreur -AN and AR 1/12/2018
Der Rosenkavalier -RF, MP, EG 5/13/2017
Elektra 4/30/2016
Tosca ZL 1/27/2018
Les Contes d'Hoffmann  AN, 12/20/2009
The Merry Widow  RF 1/17/2015
La Traviata  ND, MP, Dima 4/14/2012
At Home Gala (liive)
La Cenerentola JD, JDF 5/10/2014
Anna Bolena AN 10/15/2011
Maria Stuarda  JD 1/19/2013
Roberto Devereux SR 4/16/2016
Marnie IL 11/10/2018
Aida  Price [before HD]
Luisa Miller  SY 4/15/2018
Prince Igor 3/2/2014
Le Nozze di Figaro [before HD] CB, BT, RF 7/6/2005
Hamlet 3/7/2010
L'Amour de Loin 12/10/2016
Capriccio RF 4/23/2011
La Boheme [before HD] Pavarotti
The Opera House 1/17/2018
Cav/Pag 4/25/2015
Werther JK 3/15/2014
Ades  The Tempest 11/10/12 11/10/2012
Ariadne auf Naxos  [before HD] 3/12/1988
Peter Grimes  3/15/8 3/15/2008
Lucia di Lammermoor [before HD] 11/13/1982
Rigoletto  2/16/13  DD PB ZL
Nabucco  1/7/17 
Idomeneo 3/25/17  MP
Lohengrin [before HD] 1/10/1986
Un Ballo in Maschera  12/8/12  SR
Turandot  10/12/19 10/12/2019
Don Giovanni [before HD] 3/16/1978
Faust  12/10/11  JK
Manon  4/7/12  AN PB
La Damnation de Faust 11/22/2008
Ernani 2/25/2012 2/25/2012
Manon Lescaut  [before HD] 3/29/1980

Les Troyens  1/5/13 1/5/2013
La Sonnambula 3/21/09 4/2/2009
L'Elisir d'Amore  2/10/18  MP
Salome  10/11/08 
I Puritani 1/6/07  AN
Lulu  11/21/15 11/21/2015
Orfeo ed Euridice  1/24/09 
Tosca  [before HD] 12/19/1978 LP

The Exterminating Angel 11/18/17 11/18/2017
Otello  10/17/15 
Thais  12/20/08  RF

Featured Artists
AG Angela Gheorghiu
AN  Anna Netrebko
AR  Anita Rachvelishvili
BT  Bryn Terfel
CB  Cecilia Bartoli
DD  Diana Damrau
DV  Deborah Voigt
EG  Elīna Garanča
IL   Isabel Leonard
JK  Jonas Kaufmann
JB  Johann Botha
JD  Joyce DiDonato
JDF  Juan Diego Florez
LP  Luciano Pavarotti
MK  Mariusz Kwiecien
MP  Matthew Polenzani
ND  Natalie Dessay
PB  Piotr Beczala
PM  Peter Mattei
RA  Roberto Alagna
RF  Renée Fleming
SR  Sondra Radvanovsky
SY  Sonya Yoncheva
ZL  Željko Lučić

Saturday, May 02, 2020

The Only Aida

Conductor...............James Levine
Production..............John Dexter

Aida....................Leontyne Price [Last performance]
Radamès.................James McCracken
Amneris.................Fiorenza Cossotto
Amonasro................Simon Estes
Ramfis..................John Macurdy

I'm going to cut everyone some slack in the replay of Aida, 1985, from Leontyne Price's last performance anywhere in a staged opera.  The previous season she presented at the Met the last performance of her other signature role from La Forza del Destino.  It starts slow and warms to an intensity seldom seen today.

"Celeste Aida" is tough.  I always remember that when Pavarotti did his first Aida in San Francisco that the papers panned him.  It's tough.  But McCracken carries his weight after that.  Cossotto comes out of the box roaring and carries this to the end.  Perhaps she knows that she will be remembered for this performance.

But this performance is about Leontyne Price.  I cannot top what I said years ago about the Blue Album which I used to play in my dorm room at college:

"To begin here tends to set ones standards absurdly, artificially high. Forever after I thought anyone should be able to do that gorgeous open, almost raw sound, that unbelievably fat middle tone, those awesome high notes. Anyone should be able to hit a high C and spin it back to a pianissimo. Right? How hard can it be?

"And that perfect, fluid phrasing, that perfection of ornamentation, that flawless instinct for scooping and sliding in Verdi, that must be a dime a dozen. Must be.

"And that reckless intensity, that daring passion, there must be hundreds of those.

"But no one who could approach this ever came again. For Bellini it's Callas, but for Verdi there is no one who ever could touch the one and only, never to be seen again Leontyne Price. Herbert von Karajan said that her singing gave him goose bumps. Yes."

And our Aida rerun from the Met captured my attention as seldom happens these days.  Our hearts are with them to the end.