Tuesday, September 18, 2018

American Bach Soloists 2018-19

22-Oct-18 D 7:00 Bach Brandenburgs ABS Davis Community Church
18-Feb-19 D 7:00 Favorite Bach Camtatas ABS Davis Community Church
25-Mar-19 D 7:00 Matthew Passion ABS Davis Community Church
6-May-19 D 7:00 Bach Brandenburgs ABS Davis Community Church

These are the American Bach Soloists concerts in Davis.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

We were discussing the current queen of opera Sondra Radvanovsky, and I suggested we sing "God Save the Queen" when she came out for her bow, forgetting entirely that the opera starts with that same tune.  I am speaking of the current production of Roberto Devereux from the San Francisco Opera, a wonderful performance of a less than entirely wonderful opera. 

Conductor: Riccardo Frizza
Director: Stephen Lawless

Elisabetta (Elizabeth I): Sondra Radvanovsky
Roberto Devereux, Earl of Essex: Russell Thomas
Sara: Jamie Barton
Duke of Nottingham: Andrew Manea [Adler]
Lord Cecil: Amitai Pati [Adler]
Walter Raleigh: Christian Pursell [Adler]

This opera is questionable from a plot perspective.  The above listed characters are all members of the British upper class.  It is fairly easy to describe the relationship aspects of the story.

Elizabeth and Roberto have a secret relationship.  Since Nottingham knows nothing about it, we may assume that this is truly secret.  Then before leaving England to lead a war in Ireland, Robert starts a love relationship with Sara, a young woman in the court.  Robert goes off to war, and while he is away, Sara's father dies.  An upper class woman cannot be left free in the world, so Elizabeth arranges a marriage for her with the Duke of Nottingham.  No one is aware that she is in love with Essex.

Essex returns from war where he has been unsuccessful to find that Sara is married.  Meanwhile Elizabeth hopes that he still loves her.  An emotional mess ensues, the kind of emotional mess that can only happen in an Italian opera.  Long ago Elizabeth gave Robert a ring which he was to send to her if he was ever in danger.

Robert goes to see Sara.  So why isn't he locked up in the Tower of London?  She gives him a love token which her husband recognizes.  

The part of the plot that makes no sense is the political part.  In real life Essex is supposed to have tried to overthrow the queen, which would make nonsense of her part in the emotional, operatic plot.  So the charges are trivial and relate to him being overly merciful toward the Irish.  So he is executed for no apparent reason.  The ring doesn't arrive in time. It's even more complicated that what I have described.

This is Queen Elizabeth's most vulnerable moment, and it happens in her old age.  She died in her 69th year.  It is mysteriously wonderful how Sondra Radvanovsky fits this role.  She is tall and regal, and has a large, commanding voice.  You believe that she is the absolute monarch who has fallen in love in her old age.  It is difficult to imagine any other soprano bring this role to such spectacular heights.  She should sing it in your city, too.

The production which comes from Canada made the complex plot very clear, clearer than the recent Met production.  Sondra's supporting singers, primarily Russell Thomas, Jamie Barton and Andrew Manea rose almost to her magnificence.  I don't think this is a great opera, though it is leading the path to Verdi, but it is a great opera for Sondra Radvanovsky.  Brava.

Thursday, August 23, 2018


I know from German sources that Jonas Kaufmann has broken his toe.  I know that he has appeared in a concert performance of Die Walkuere, sitting when he was not singing.  How bad this is and how long it will last I don't know.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Poppea from Salzburg

William Christie (conductor) with his ensemble Les Arts Florissants
Jan Lauwers (stage director)

Sonya Yoncheva | Soprano (Poppea)
Kate Lindsey | Mezzo-soprano (Nerone)
Stéphanie d'Oustrac | Mezzo-soprano (Ottavia)
Carlo Vistoli | Countertenor (Ottone)
Renato Dolcini | Baritone (Seneca)
Ana Quintans | Soprano (Virtù / Drusilla)
Marcel Beekman | Tenor (Nutrice / Famigliare I)
Dominique Visse | Countertenor (Arnalta, nurse)
Lea Desandre | Mezzo-soprano (Amore / Valletto)
Tamara Banješević | Soprano (Fortuna / Damigella)
Claire Debono | Soprano (Pallade / Venere)

Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea (1643) comes early in the era of Venetian opera, which included women, normal men and castrati in the cast.  It was commercial theater, so the casts were kept small to save money.  I guess 11 people were all, a much smaller bunch than our cast.  They handled this by casting everyone in many roles.  I deliberately stopped the list at 11.  I am here to see the first three ladies:  Sonya Yoncheva, Kate Lindsey and Stéphanie d'Oustrac, all people I like.  Our girls sang pretty much in their standard operatic voices.  I have only seen Yoncheva in Verdi and Puccini, so I was surprised this worked so well.

This opens with a prologue by the gods Virtue, Fortune and Love arguing who is more important.  Part of the orchestra is on the stage in this scene.  Then they move to in front, though the space could hardly be called a pit.  Throughout the entire opera the stage is cluttered with dancers in unidentifiable costumes.  They seem intended to represent something, but we are not told what.

There is partial nudity and foreplay, which I consider progress in the subject of sex in opera.  Yoncheva can do anything, but by the end of the opera the music began to sound repetitive and uninteresting.  3 hours is too long.  It did not lure me from the version with Alice Coote and Danielle de Niese.  There are lots of DVDs to choose from, and I have not seen all of them.

Sunday, August 19, 2018


Perhaps my perspective on this subject is different from other people’s because when I was young we owned a turntable that played 33 rpm, 45 rpm and 78 rpm records.  I thought this was cool and tried playing records at the wrong speeds.  The most revealing experiment came when playing 45s at 33 rpm.  We had quite a few of these.

At 45 rpm every singer sounded mostly the same as the others.  At 33 rpm all had slow, very annoying vibratos except Patti Page—Tennessee Waltz—who it seems had no vibrato.  At the slower speed she sounded like a normal baritone.  I concluded from this experiment that singers all have vibratos, with certain exceptions, and that a well-produced vibrato wasn’t actually heard by the listener.  If you’re hearing it, something is wrong.  These were not opera singers.

It turned out when I arrived at vocal pedagogy school that there existed a whole book on this subject which I cannot find on Amazon.  There is a different one if you're interested.  Scientific instruments were applied to a large repertoire of opera recordings and the results displayed on graphs.  These are called sonograms.  The unavoidable conclusion was that all famous opera singers have a vibrato, that it is present all of the time on virtually every note they sing, even when they are sliding or moving from one pitch to another.  The human brain integrates this into a single note.  The vast majority of people do not hear this pitch fluctuation.  This vibrato is about a half step wide and very regular in its pulse.  You don’t have to wonder—you can see it on the chart.  

Here is an article from 1929:   By adding the component of modern technology they verified this conclusion at 95% of all opera singer notes.  The public likes a vibrato.  “It can not be just happenstance that vibratos are not only admitted, but required, in opera.”

To sound like a trill the vibrato needs to extend to about a whole step when the brain no longer integrates it into a single pitch.  Trills must be carefully and painstakingly taught because it is not natural.

Things can go wrong with this process.  A vibrato can be too slow which translates into a wobble.  It can also be too fast or irregular.  You will not get famous in opera if there is something wrong with your vibrato.

People seem to imagine that what they are hearing is what they are getting.  It isn't.

In my time in pedagogy school I observed quite a number of famous voice teachers at IU, and I don't remember any of them referring directly to vibrato.  I think an adult singer naturally develops a vibrato without being taught it.  They are taught to support the breath from low in the abdomen, and perhaps this is the feature of a skilled singer that creates the natural, even vibrato.

In the past I said:

In case you didn't know, the average opera singer has a vibrato that causes the pitch to waver for about a half step, or the distance between c and c# if you don't know what a half step is.  It wavers half of this pitch above and the other half below the intended pitch.  Listeners generally imagine the pitch to be somewhere in the middle of the wavering sound.  It is only your imagination that makes this a precise pitch.  So making comments about the singer being sharp for the whole aria may only indicate that your ear is interpreting the vibrato sharp.  Is she sharp?  Yes.  Is the exact same note also flat?  Yes.  Some singers push energy to the upper part of the vibrato or the lower part.  Pitch wavering is the same but energy is unbalanced.  Maybe your ear hears this as sharp or flat.  They aren't giving up their vibratos.  10/8/17

P.S.  Here is an excellent illustration.

The term tremolo can also refer to an ornament that is unrelated to vibrato.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Gondoliers

Conductor:  Anne-Marie Endres
Director:  Robert Vann

Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers, presented last night in Sacramento, is a new one for me.  Robert Vann, the director and portrayer of Luiz, pointed out that it is produced less often than other G&S works because it is a big show with a large cast.  The ladies announce that they are four and twenty when obviously there are only twelve of them.  No one minds this.

The plot is also complex.

From Spain

Duke:  Mike Baad
Duchess:  Kathryn Peperkorn
Casilda, their daughter:  Tiffany Patterson
Luiz, attendant (or where is he from?):  Robert Vann

From Venice

The Grand Inquisitor:  Tim Power
Marco Palmieri, Venetian Gondolier (tenor):  Anthony Tavianini
Gianetta, Contadina, his girl friend/wife (soprano):  Carley Neill
Giuseppe Palmieri, Venetian Gondolier (baritone):  Charlie Baad
Tessa, Contadina, his girl friend/wife (mezzo-soprano):  Paige Kelly
Misc. girls and gondoliers

From Barataria

Inez, the King's Foster-mother (contralto):  Karen Lyman

Here is an actual gondolier posing for this picture.  Isn't he dreamy?

Our gondoliers wore shirts very much like this.  The red and white striped shirts are to distinguish the two gondoliers the girls are fussing over.  Our opera did not include any gondolas.

Plot:  There are gondoliers and there are girls chasing after them.  However, only two of the gondoliers seem to hold interest--the Palmieri brothers.  It is fascinating how much they resemble the gondolier in the photograph.  The Palmieri brothers tell us they are only honorary gondoliers.

They are blindfolded and select.  The other girls pair up with the remaining gondoliers and everyone gets married.

The Duke, Duchess and their daughter Casilda from Spain show up looking for the Prince of Barataria, the man Casilda married when she was very young.  A young man named Luiz accompanies them carrying a snare drum, presumably to announce the arrival of the Duke and Duchess.  Luiz and Casilda have fallen in love.  The King of Barataria has died, and the new king must be found.  The Grand Inquisitor tells them the new king is one of the Palmieri brothers, but he doesn't know which.  The brothers decide to rule jointly.

Inez is found and tells who is the new King.  To produce the required happy ending only one of the characters can be the King of Barataria.  You must guess.

This was lively and entertaining and included no hit tunes whatsoever, unusual for a G&S opera.  It was well attended.

I want to thank Debbie Baad for the correct cast member names for the performance I saw on Friday.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Queen of Spades from Salzburg

Mariss Jansons, Conductor
Hans Nenfels, Director

Brandon Jovanovich, Hermann
Vladislav Sulimsky, Count Tomski / Plutus
Igor Golovatenko, Prince Jelezki
Evgenia Muraveva, Liza
Oksana Volkova, Polina / Daphnis
Hanna Schwarz, Countess
Stanislav Trofimov, Surin
Gleb Peryazev, Narumov
Margarita Nekrasova, Gouverness
Julia Suleymanova, Chloe

We called it Pique Dame.  This version of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades on Medici.tv from Salzburg was conducted by Mariss Jansons, the same man who brought us the version from the Netherlands here.

The period is set in the libretto because it says Catherine the Great makes an entrance in the party scene.  Here she is a giant skeleton, so make up your own mind.  For me this production is standard minimalism.  It works like no minimalism I have seen before.  The giant skeleton is the only thing that could be called an inexplicable nonsense, a feature of many modern productions, but it gets over quickly and goes back to the standard plot.  There's no minor character dressed up like Tchaikovsky to distract you from the opera.  There's just the opera.  What a concept.

We watch with no translation and don't mind at all.  Instead of the usual Hermann who stands around like a stick of wood, we have the brilliant physicality of Brandon Jovanovich in this role.  His costume makes him stand out from the crowd and his passion dominates the action.  I realized that I have been waiting for him.

It was lovely to see Hanna Schwarz as the old Countess.  Hermann points a gun at her, and she dies of fright before she can tell him the three cards.  Later she returns as a ghost and tells him the cards:  three, seven, ace.  He plays them and loses on the third card.  Just now I realized for the first time that the ghost of the Countess lies.  The third card was the Queen of Spades.  Well.  I guess I'm slow.

This played without any intermissions and for me without any warning.  Musically it was very beautiful.  Thank you.  I can recommend this version with added translation.  Without translation listen for "dri karti," three cards in Russian.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Bartoli Rossini box

This is the cover of the Cecilia Bartoli Rossini box recently announced from Decca.  It contains everything Rossini she has released, including both CDs and DVDs, plus a few unreleased items. Navigate to Amazon for the complete contents.  It's available for pre-order and will be available on October 5.  I was wishing for a new DVD because I already have everything in the box.  As you know, these are all excellent recordings.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Vanessa from Glyndebourne

Conductor:  Jakub Hrůša
Director:  Keith Warner

Erika:  Virginie Verrez
Vanessa:  Emma Bell
Anatol: Edgaras Montvidas
The Old Baroness:  Rosalind Plowright
The Old Doctor:  Donnie Ray Albert

Samuel Barber's Vanessa comes to us from Glyndebourne.  So why is it never produced here?  I saw live in Berkeley a semi-staged version, but have never seen it live fully staged.  The libretto says 1905 in a "northern country," but the presence of short skirts means we must be later than that.  One of the choices for staging an opera is to choose the era of composition, 1958, which seems to be what we have here.  Cardigans.  In this scenario Vanessa began waiting in 1938.  When Anatol appears, he is wearing a WWII style army uniform.  The northern country is suggested through the presence of many blond women.  Constant smoking also suggests a certain era.

The production cannot exactly be explained.  There are giant mirrors which are moved about, but one is never quite sure if the things behind the mirror are reflections, imaginary events or views into another room.  It creates an atmosphere of mystery and perhaps dread.
At the beginning all three women--Vanessa, Erika and the Baroness--are impatiently awaiting the arrival of Anatol who has sent a letter telling of his arrival.  He is late, but there is a snow storm. Erika sings "Must the winter come so soon," the only known piece from this work.  He arrives, and Vanessa pours out her heart to him, thinking he is her old lover of 20 years ago.  She turns and sees that it isn't he at all.  She is mortified and escapes.

Our Anatol is something of a cad.  He is here because all his life he has heard of the beautiful Vanessa and wants to see her for himself.  But if left alone with another woman, he flirts with her.  He flirts with Erika and says, “I am Dmitri the pretender. Be my Marina.”  These two names represent characters from Boris Godunov.  She falls for this, and they spend the night together.  In the complex blocking an additional flirtation with one of the maids is added.

It is important to note that he first asks Erika to marry him, and only when she refuses does he ask Vanessa.  The singing is heavy and intensely operatic.

The production adds detail and atmosphere without obscuring the plot.  It ends with a beautiful ensemble.  Thank you.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Emerging Stars 2018 Winner

We have a winner for the emerging star from the 2017-18 season at the San Francisco Opera.  I have arranged them in alphabetical order by last name and have included a credit from last season.

Paul Appleby Girls of the Golden West Met debut yes

Atalla Ayan La Traviata, Alfredo Germont Met debut yes  *Winner

J'Nai Bridges Girls of the Golden West no Met

Julia Bullock: Girls of the Golden West no Met

Ellie Dehn Met debut yes Here are her SFO credits:

  •  Le Nozze di Figaro Countess Almaviva 
  •  Don Giovanni Donna Anna 
  •  Così fan tutte Fiordiligi 
  •  La Bohème Musetta 
  •  Carmen Micaëla 
  •  Manon Manon Lescaut 17-18 

Aurelia Florian no Met La Traviata Violetta

Soloman Howard Turandot Met debut yes

Hye Jung Lee: Girls of the Golden West, Nixon in China

Elliot Madore Girls of the Golden West Met debut yes

Ryan McKinny Girls of the Golden West Met debut yes

Ronnita Miller The Ring 

David Pershall Met debut yes Manon

Davóne Tines Girls of the Golden West no Met