Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Bayerische Staatsoper 2018-19

The only one of these operas that I have never seen before is Krenek's Karl V.  The first list is those that have already been live streamed.

2013 Verdi: Il trovatore
2015 Strauss, R.: Arabella
2015 Donizetti: L'Elisir d'amore
2015 Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
2016 Verdi: Un ballo in maschera
2017 Wagner: Tannhäuser
2017 Giordano: Andrea Chénier
2017 Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro
2018 Verdi: Les Vêpres siciliennes
2018 Wagner: Parsifal


pre Verdi: Otello   Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Harteros, Gerald Finley
pre Smetana: Die verkaufte Braut Günther Groissböck, Pavol Breslik
pre Krenek: Karl V. Bo Skovhus, Anne Schwanewilms
pre Puccini: La fanciulla del West Anja Kampe, John Lundgren, Brandon Jovanovich
pre Gluck: Alceste Charles Castronovo, Dorothea Röschmann
pre R. Strauss: Salome Marlis Petersen, Wolfgang Koch, Pavol Breslik
pre Handel:  Agrippina Alice Coote

This is the rest of the season with some cast listings.

Beethoven: Fidelio Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Kampe, Günther Groissböck

Bellini: Norma

Bizet: Carmen Gaëlle Arquez, Joseph Calleja 

Donizetti: Roberto Devereux Sondra Radvanovsky, Charles Castronovo

Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel Tara Erraught

Janáček: Aus einem Totenhaus

Janáček: Jenůfa Karita Mattila, Hanna Schwarz

Mozart: Così fan tutte Despina: Tara Erraught

Mozart: Don Giovanni Simon Keenlyside

Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte Golda Schultz

Puccini: La bohème

Puccini: Madama Butterfly Ermonela Jaho

Puccini: Tosca Anja Harteros 

Puccini: Il trittico

Puccini: Turandot Golda Schultz

Tschaikowski: Eugen Onegin

Verdi: Nabucco

Verdi: Rigoletto Simon Keenlyside

Verdi: La traviata

Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer Anja Kampe, Bryn Terfel

Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Jonas Kaufmann

Sunday, March 18, 2018


When I finally review Cosi fan Tutte from the Met, I will probably not have much to add to Anthony Tommasini's review in the New York Times Saturday.  He even talks about Kelly O'Hara's Italian diction.  I often feel a longing for Broadway diction at the opera.  What's the purpose for operatic diction?  The purpose, believe it or not, is not correctness but rather to achieve understanding by someone who speaks the language.  Tone is the other consideration.

He talks about the lame disguises that appear in every production which we are supposed to think fool the girls, a pet peeve of mine.

There's nothing to be done about the fact that the premise is simply disgusting.  It plays for the music.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Dawn Upshaw in Sacramento

Dawn Upshaw came to Sacramento for a recital at CSUS as part of the New Millennium concert series.  Her accompanist was Gilbert Kalish.  I last saw her in San Francisco in 2010.  After a rather spectacular career, this lyric soprano seems more like the single mom she is.  Die Zeit, sie ist ein sonderbar Ding.

The theme of the recital was love.

She performed two groups by female composers.  The first was "On Loving," three songs by Sheila Silver.  These songs can be found on YouTube.  I believe these songs were composed in memory of Gilbert Kalish's wife.

The second group by a female composer was four songs by Rebecca Clarke who mostly composed for her instrument, the viola.  From this group I most enjoyed "Infant Joy."  It also can be found on YouTube.

The rest of the program was wide ranging and began with familiar songs by Franz Schubert.  "Gretchen am Spinnrade" was my favorite.  I do also love "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt."

Mr Kalish played a movement from Charles Ives' Piano Sonata No.2, which was followed by three of Ives' songs.

My favorite group of the concert was five songs by Béla Bartók.  In school one is taught that Bartók was an ethnomusicologist.  This means he went around his native Hungary with a recorder taping every song he heard.  There are supposed to be hundreds of these, but this is the first time I have heard them on a concert.  They were fascinating.

The program ended with three songs by William Bolcom.  There are also YouTube films of these.

There was an encore:  Ives' "Two little flowers", a song I love madly which I must surely have sung at one time or another.

Curiously, Gilbert Kalish can be found accompanying many of these songs on YouTube.

Highlights of the career of Dawn Upshaw as seen from this blog.

  • CDs of works by Oswaldo Golijov including Ayre and Oceana.
  • A live performance of Ayre in Berkeley.  This did not seem possible since so much of it is electronic.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Semiramide in HD

Camarena - DeShong - Meade - Abdrazakov
Conductor...........Maurizio Benini
Production..........John Copley

Semiramide, Queen of Babylon, widow of King Nino, soprano:  Angela Meade
Assur, a prince, descendant of Baal, bass:  Ildar Abdrazakov
Arsace, Commander of the Assyrian army, contralto:   Elizabeth DeShong
Idreno, an Indian king, tenor:   Javier Camarena
Oroe, high priest of the Magi, bass:   Ryan Speedo Green
Azema, a princess, descendant of Baal, soprano:   Sarah Shafer
Mitrane, Captain of the Guard, tenor:  Kang Wang
Nino's Ghost, bass:  Jeremy Galyon

This wasn't my first time with Rossini's Semiramide.  My first time was probably the only time it played at the San Francisco Opera in 1981 with Montserrat Caballé, Marilyn Horne and James Morris.  I sat next to a woman who was a Caballé fan, and we alternated sighing for the two female stars.  This in spite of the weirdness of the costumes.  Richard Bonynge conducted.

I bought a film from the Bel Canto Society filmed in 1980 with a very similar cast which included Sam Ramey.  The singing is amazing if you'd like to hear it.

And then a year ago I watched a stream from Munich starring Joyce DiDonato and Daniela Barcellona which I enjoyed very much for the singing but which was modernized.

Let's just say I had certain expectations today.  For one thing I expected not to like it.  Instead I got surprises.

Semiramide is Rossini's last opera seria.  It may in fact be the last opera seria at all.  This form of opera means serious opera, has serious subject matter, consists of endless rows of da capo arias and ensembles, and usually has a happy ending.  The singing is the point.  You can see from the pictures that this is the first time in my experience that any effort was made to make the costumes look Assyrian.  In Marilyn's version the soldiers looked a bit like playing cards.  In Joyce's everyone seems like modern middle-eastern.  Today's costumes may not be pretty, but they are trying to be period.

I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed Angela Meade in this role.  She has a steelier voice than either Caballé or DiDonato.  In fact that could be said of the other singers as well.  DeShong is steelier and heavier than Horne or Barcellona.  Camarena is heavier than Brownlee or Ariaza.  The result is a shift to a much more intense and dramatic work altogether.  All are working together to set a tone of intense tragedy.

There's only one problem with that:  all that intensity can become tedious.  Sometimes I appreciated it, and sometimes I didn't.  Bonynge and company focused on beautiful singing above all else.  This is pleasing in an entirely different way.

I was surprised by Ryan Speedo Green.  What a voice.  I was surprised by the clarity of the plot.  I saw the Commendatore from Don Giovanni in Nino's Ghost.  I liked it in a surprising way.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Beethoven and Mozart in Sacramento

Dmitri Sitkovetsky came to Sacramento to conduct and play solo violin for the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera.  I found this to be a particularly well constructed concert program and assigned this success to Dmitri.  Thank you for coming.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Suite No. 4 "Mozartiana", Op. 61 (1887)  

These movements are all based on music by Mozart. (Notes from Wikipedia)

  1. Gigue. Allegro (G major) After the Little Gigue for piano, K. 574. 
  2. Menuet. Moderato (D major) After the Minuet for piano, K. 355. 
  3. Preghiera. Andante ma non tanto (B♭ major) After Franz Liszt's piano transcription of the Ave verum corpus, K. 618. (In 1862 Liszt wrote a piano transcription combining Gregorio Allegri's Miserere and Mozart's Ave verum corpus, published as "À la Chapelle Sixtine" (S.461). Tchaikovsky orchestrated only the part of this work that had been based on Mozart.) 
  4. Thème et variations. Allegro giusto (G major) After the piano Variations on a Theme by Gluck, K. 455. (The theme was the aria "Unser dummer Pöbel meint", from Gluck's opera La Rencontre imprévue, or Les Pèlerins de la Mecque). 

I admit I'm not a huge Tchaikovsky fan.  Sitkovetsky conducted.

Wolfgang Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major (1775)

This is a lovely violin concerto, Mozart's last, from the time when part of his income source was playing violin solos.  He was 19.  Sources point out that his violin concertos don't show off all the possibilities of the violin as Beethoven and Brahms do.  Ok.  Mozart would have played these pieces himself, while Beethoven and Brahms would have relied on professional violin soloists active at their time.  Mozart's concerto is characterized by beautiful melodies and typical Mozart style.  For me it was very beautifully played.  Sitkovetsky was conductor and soloist.  The orchestra played well without constant attention from the maestro.

Arvo Pärt, Fratres (Brothers) (1977)  

The title refers to religious brothers.  This was the first time I have heard Arvo Pärt played live on a concert.  He is a living composer from Estonia.  This piece was undoubtedly chosen because it is also a violin concerto of sorts.  It begins with a series of jarring violin arpeggios and goes on to repetitive chords and arpeggios.  You will note that this piece dates one year after Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass.  Both Pärt and Glass are pioneers of the minimalist school.  We went to the lecture before where this was mentioned.  Sitkovetsky was the violin soloist and occasionally had opportunity to conduct.

Ludwig Beethoven Symphony No. 8 (1814)

Sitkovetsky returned to conducting for this.  This is a somewhat small symphony which could have come from an earlier period.  Again it was well played.

I enjoyed the way this concert was constructed with works from many styles which all related back to the influence of Mozart.  I especially liked hearing the Mozart concerto, a favorite.  Now that I understand that Arvo Pärt is a minimalist, I hope he will appear again for me.  Otherwise I only know about him from recordings.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

St. John Passion in Davis

Jeffrey Thomas conductor

Remember when I said about the motets concert by American Bach Soloists last April, "Choosing to play all of them on one program would have to do with generating a CD, probably." You probably don't remember it. Well now there is a CD called Bach's Motets for Double Chorus from American Bach Soloists based on the this concert.  It was an easy prediction.

Last night they performed Bach's St John Passion.  This is a repeat from 5 years ago but is probably a different version of the work.   Apparently Bach performed his Saint John Passion four different times over the years in four different arrangements.

I want to be sure to mention the soloists.  The first four form the narrative from the gospel. Several also are from the chorus.

Aaron Sheehan, tenor, Evangelista
Jesse Blumberg, baritone, Christus
Bryan Jolly, baritone, Pilatus, chorus
Jefferson Packer, bass, Petrus, chorus
Robin Bier, contralto, chorus
Hélène Brunet, soprano, chorus
Stephen Brennfleck, tenor, chorus

All did a fine job, with very minor suggestions about the German diction.  I especially liked Robin Bier, contralto.  Her voice and style are very beautiful.

The work was performed in German with a translation provided.  I was curious to read that in English Barrabam is a thief while in German he is a murderer.  One might wish to have a theological discussion concerning the Bible in German.

The chorus is very strong for such a small group.  The maestro kept the pacing quick without seeming rushed.

I never get the final chorus I want so I'll just put it here.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Kinderkuchen most Frequently Reviewed

This is the top 10 list of my most frequently reviewed operas:

La Bohème #4 Puccini
Der Rosenkavalier #37 Strauss R
La Traviata #2 Verdi
Tosca #6 Puccini
Le Nozze di Figaro #5 Mozart
Aida #13 Verdi
Don Carlo #41 Verdi
Il Trovatore #23 Verdi
Carmen #3 Bizet
Rigoletto #10 Verdi

Half are Verdi, two are Puccini, none are Wagner.  This is all as should be expected.  Here's another list of operas from the twentieth century that have been reviewed 3 or more times.  There's nothing surprising here either as long as you remember I prefer Lulu to Wozzeck.

Der Rosenkavalier #37 Strauss R
Bluebeard's Castle Bartók
Lulu Berg
Turandot #15 Puccini
Arabella Strauss R
Ariadne auf Naxos #46 Strauss R
Elektra #49 Strauss R
Jenůfa #61 Janáček
La Fanciulla del West #100 Puccini
Porgy and Bess #68 Gershwin
Rusalka #56 Dvorák
Salome #32 Strauss R

Saturday, February 24, 2018

La Bohème in HD

Conductor:  Marco Armiliato
Production:  Franco Zeffirelli

Mimi:  Sonya Yoncheva
Rodolfo:  Michael Fabiano
Musetta:  Susanna Phillips
Marcello:  Lucas Meachem
Schaunard:  Alexey Lavrov
Colline:  Matthew Rose
Benoit/Alcindoro:  Paul Plishka

Today was the HD for Puccini's La Bohème from the Metropolitan Opera.  Michael explained that they don't really get to rehearse.  Nevertheless it was a beautiful ensemble performance with excellent conducting.

Between scenes was a lot of hammering.  My impression was that the workers were repairing the ancient and well used sets.  Each set slides in on the stage machinery.  Garret stage left, Momus stage right and snow scene from the back.  There was a film of this happening.  So why all the hammering?

Sonya and Michael are both wonderful singing actors who play well with one another.  They both have beautiful emotional range which is the secret to great opera.  Or maybe opera has a lot of secrets and this is just one.

She died a couple of seconds before her chord, but I have decided to forgive everyone.  Look.  There is scene painting in the orchestration in this opera.  First you hear the flames going up in Act I when Rodolfo throws his play into the fire.  And there is a chord at the end that signals Mimi dying.  Am I the only one who knows this?

It was lovely to see Paul Plishka who once appeared frequently in San Francisco.  The magic worked once again.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Quinn Kelsey in Rigoletto

For me when it comes to Rigoletto this is the make or break aria.

I'm sorry we don't get the whole aria.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Convergence II Episode I

Maquette Kuper, Deborah Pittman, Omari Tau

MôD Artists are difficult to classify.  They are all classically trained and play a wide variety of other styles.  One of the things they do is celebrate the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento, which, it turns out, has its own Wikipedia page.  We had Convergence I which also celebrated Oak Park here, and now we move into Convergence II Episode I which covers 1860 - 1950.

The period celebrated included an amusement park called Joyland which existed from 1895 - 1920.  We were treated to a film about this era which showed a spectacular looking roller coaster.  The program included a song devoted to Joyland composed by tuba player Portia Njoku.  I am not old enough to remember Joyland.

However, I am old enough to remember the old state fair which was on the south side of Stockton Blvd.  The display space was much bigger than the current state fair, making the exhibits much more interesting.  The film shown in this concert seemed to think it was closed due to a lack of parking.  At a certain point driving automobiles everywhere was encouraged and street cars disappeared.  I remember streetcars in San Francisco but not in Sacramento.

Is this supposed to be sounding like a review?  The group performed a couple of old time songs:
  • When the Harvest Days are over (1901) by Harry von Tilzer.
  • In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree (1905) by Harry Williams.
The program ended with what is now their signature piece:
  • Bach/Gounod Ave Maria arranged by Deborah Pittman with dancer Diego Campos.  At first he is carrying a bag which eventually he leaves behind.  Perhaps he has arrived in heaven.  Omari sings Bach's arpeggios while the others play.  This time he sang some of the melody.
I am by now a devoted follower.  This series will have two more segments:
  • Episode II The Spirit (60s - 80s)  Sunday, April 8
  • Episode III Convergence/Hello (1980  - present) Sunday, June 3