Monday, January 26, 2015


Conductor:   Ryan Murray
Production Design: Provided by New Orleans Opera Association

Blanche DuBois: Carrie Hennessey, soprano
Stanley Kowalski: Dan Kempson, baritone
Stella Kowalski: Kiera Duffy, soprano
Harold “Mitch” Mitchell: James Callon, tenor
Eunice Hubbel: Sharmay Musacchio, contralto
Steve Hubbel: Robert Norman, tenor

A Streetcar Named Desire by Andre Previn has to be the definitive barihunk opera.  The first thing Stanley does when he enters is take off his shirt.  He believes in being comfortable.  Dan Kempson is definitely gorgeous without his shirt.  He even shouts a mean "Steeellllaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"

Previn complained that the estate of Tennessee Williams would only allow an opera to be written on this play if the text of the play was followed exactly.  He wasn't allow to drop any text or change anything.  The resulting opera is a normal length for an opera, but lacks completely the types of extensions, repetitions and insertions that become the arias.  Wagner solved this problem by extending everything, but this resulted in operas that lasted 5 hours.  His reasons weren't legal--he just liked the sound of his own voice.

Seeing it again, I sympathize with Previn.  It could have been a great opera, but it isn't his fault that it isn't.  Perhaps Monteverdi could have written it.  Perhaps not.  After seeing Orfeo, one can't help wondering.  The result is a play that is only incidentally sung and requires acting on the level of the original play.  The story is about personality clashes.

Or maybe a British director used to Downton Abbey could manage it.  What we are seeing is class warfare, and the lower class wins, as they have throughout modern history. 

I'm not sure I should keep trying with this opera.  The sets from New Orleans were very functional.  The story flowed smoothly.  All of the singing was good.

It's nice to go to Modesto.  They Townsend Opera company recommends local restaurants and allows people to meet with the singers afterward in one of them.  I liked this idea.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Conductor: Christopher Moulds
Orchestra: Early Opera Company
Production:   Michael Boyd and Tom Piper,

Orfeo: Gyula Orendt
Euridice: Mary Bevan
Proserpina: Rachel Kelly
Charon: James Platt
Pluto:  Callum Thorpe
Messenger: Susan Bickley

Today I streamed part of a performance in London by the Early Opera Company of Montreverdi's Orfeo.  I want to sing or maybe even shout its praises.

It was translated into English, and the translation was beautiful and poetic.  Subtitles were provided which doesn't always happen with a live stream.  I saw this work previously at ENO and Glimmerglass, so I have probably never seen it in Italian.

I studied all about this.  These guys got together and "invented opera."  What they actually invented was recitative since all the other parts would have already existed.  There are videos of their operas, but they do not prepare you for this incredible work.  Monteverdi's later operas, Poppea and Il Ritorno, are composed for the new commercial theater in Venice and don't create the same effect at all.

It is like nothing else.  The other all recitative operas by Peri and Caccini are never performed, so it is impossible for the style to become trite.  The music shows no hints of the contrapuntal style of the late Renaissance, nor has it progressed to the later fascination with tonality of the Baroque.  It is simply expressive melody.  Monteverdi has simply grasped in his great musical genius the infinite possibilities of this new idea of recitative.  He knows that music is first of all for the soul.

The subject is music, fate, love and death--Orfeo and his Euridice the framework.  He brings us their passion as if it came directly from their hearts.

The music was especially well done and lost absolutely nothing from translation.  The staging was effective:  a bit dark for my computer screen but very theatrical and dramatically clear. The movement was somewhat extreme, but not confusing of the drama.  The singing was beautiful and the diction very fine.

On his arrival in hell Orfeo sings a long, for our ears very unusual aria filled with the ornaments of this long ago era, accompanied mostly by what seems to be his lyre but includes at least 2 theorbos.  Why should this strange music be so deeply moving?  The extreme beauty of this performance goes greatly to Gyula Orendt, an intense singer with a beautiful presence.

I recommend finding a place in you life to contain this unique opera.  Of my three Orfeos this is by far the best.

Here is a link.

Your Chance to Vote

With or without the beard?  These pictures are both supposed to come from Andrea Chenier, rehearsal and performance.

Sort of a post script:

The only track on this recording I can say I truly love.  I can believe that Vienna was the greatest place on earth before the politicians ruined it.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Merry Widow in HD

CONDUCTOR Sir Andrew Davis
PRODUCTION Susan Stroman

LIVE IN HD HOST Joyce DiDonato

NJEGUS Carson Elrod

Today, of course, was Lehar's The Merry Widow in HD from the Metropolitan Opera.  Why would you want The Merry Widow?  For the music.  And after that the music. 

So why doesn't this one work?  Ploddy, clumsy, not the tiniest bit Viennese conducting would be reason number one.  Ugly, almost repulsive words would be number two.  Tin ears.  I only liked one line:  Hanna says to Danilo, "I never forget a snore."

The costumes were nice.  The singers were fine.  Kelli O'Hara stood out, and Alek Shrader was a good idea.  He's very presentable in HD.  The dancing was wonderful.  Njegus should have been a lot funnier.  Meh.

I still don't like it.  Who cares whether people get married or not.  Now an operetta about dirty tricks and mistaken identities, that would be for me.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pictures from the Zeiss Calendar

And no I don't have one.  You have to buy a watch for that.

Does it seem to you that she's having more fun?  It turns out they are not merely being photographed together but will perform together next December at the Barbican in London.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The 2015-16 Season of the San Francisco Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller opens the fall season in a new production

This stars three wonderful American singers:   soprano Leah Crocetto [seen most spectacularly at Santa Fe in Maometto II only a couple of years ago] as Luisa Miller, tenor Michael Fabiano as her beloved Rodolfo, and baritone Thomas Hampson as Luisa’s father.  Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducts.  Michael recently made his Met La Boheme debut after singing the same role here.  They too are finding out what a fabulous singer he is.  Leah is also a popular favorite and will appear later this season as Liu in TurandotHere is an interview.  This will be a new production by Francesca Zambello.

Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: A Musical Thriller

Am I ready for more Sondheim so soon?  The cast is marvelous:  bass-baritone Gerald Finley as Todd and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, who is known to walk on water, as his partner in crime.  If anyone can pull this off, they can.  Patrick Summers will conduct.  The production directed by Lee Blakeley and designed by Tanya McCallin is from the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris.  This will be the first time this Broadway musical will be presented at the San Francisco Opera, which means it has to be a new production

Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in a new production

Piotr Beczala (Edgardo). Photo by Ken Howard.

This is the most star-studded of this season with soprano Diana Damrau as Lucia and tenor Piotr Beczala as Edgardo with conductor Nicola Luisotti.  This will be a new production, though I wasn't tired of the old one yet, by the same team who did Susannah.

Mozart's The Magic Flute

Albina Shagimuratova (The Queen of the Night). Photo by Cory Weaver.

In the same production as last time Albina Shagimuratova will be back to sing her Queen of the Night, with soprano Nadine Sierra as Pamina and bass baritone Philippe Sly [while still an Adler Fellow, he appeared in major roles in Cosi and Partenope] as Papageno.  Lawrence Foster will conduct.  Too soon for me.   

Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in a new production

Greer Grimsley (Hans Sachs). Photo by Cory Weaver.

Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley returns to San Francisco Opera in his role debut as Hans Sachs. Tenor Brandon Jovanovich, is Walther von Stolzing. Soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen makes her San Francisco Opera debut as Eva.  Mark Elder will conduct.  The production is by David McVicar and comes from Glyndebourne.
Rossini's The Barber of Seville 

 Daniela Mack (Rosina). Photo by Cory Weaver.

This production is a repeat from a couple of years and stars Daniela Mack as Rosina, the ardent René Barbera as the count and Lucas Meachem in the title role. Giuseppe Finzi, also a repeat, will conduct.  Also too soon for me, though the cast is excellent.
A Double Bill: Getty's Usher House and Debussy's La Chute de la Maison Usher, both new

Welsh National Opera production. Photo by Stephen Cummiskey.

This is all based on the horror story by Edgar Allan Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher.   Featuring imaginative video projections, David Pountney’s production evokes the intense atmosphere of Poe’s prose. Brian Mulligan stars in this spine-tingling U.S. production premiere under the baton of renowned conductor Lawrence Foster

A new opera by Debussy you ask?  From Debussy come only sketches, but in 2004 the opera was reconstructed and orchestrated by Robert Orledge.  This reconstruction has already been performed several times.  How much is Debussy and how much is Orledge you will have to judge for yourself.

Bizet's Carmen in a new production

English National Opera production. Photo by Alastair Muir.

The production is by Calixto Bieito, a Spanish theater director who is considered somewhat outrageous.  The photos make this look fascinating.  The opera is double cast:  One stars the captivating Irene Roberts as the impassioned Gypsy, Brian Jagde as the lovesick soldier, Nadine Sierra as the innocent Micaëla and Zachary Nelson as the dashing bullfighter. The other is headed by Ginger Costa-Jackson, Riccardo Massi, Erika Grimaldi and Michael Sumuel. Carlo Montanaro conducts.  I don't know which to pick.  I'll look into this.

Verdi's Don Carlo

 Michael Fabiano (Don Carlo). Photo by Ken Howard.

Michael Fabiano is back in the title role with Verdi soprano Krassimira Stoyanova as his Elisabetta.  She was supposed to appear this season in Ballo, but had surgery instead. I'm glad to see we will finally get to see her.  I saw her sing the Feldmarschallin streamed from Salzburg.  Also starring are Mariusz Kwiecień as Rodrigo and powerful bass René Pape as King Philip.  Music Director Nicola Luisotti conducts.  That's two Verdi roles in a season for Michael who is admired by people in the know, and is the current holder of the Richard Tucker Prize. 

Janáček's Jenůfa in a new production

Metropolitan Opera production. Photo by Beatriz Schiller.  

An original production by Frank Philipp Schlössmann from Hamburgische Staatsoper, this will be conducted by Jiri Belohlavek.  Jenůfa is sung by Malin Byström, Kostelnička will be sung by the great Karita Mattila and Laca is William Burden.

The mounting of new productions is handled in a very mysterious way which I have tried to clarify.

I am excited about Michael Fabiano in two Verdi operas, about the fascinating modern version of Carmen, about Diana Damrau, Piotr Beczala and Krassimira Stoyanova, and about a new opera by Debussy which attempts to be as creepy as Poe.  If I left out your favorite, I apologize.

We are going to miss Gockley when he's gone.  We can only hope his successor continues to use the new crop of American singers with an equal amount of success.

Top Discs for 2014

Recommendations for discs are coming in at this time of year.  We start with recital discs:

Opera News:

The Year’s Top Twelve Recital Discs

  • Ildar Abdrazakov, Power Players (Delos) 
  • Cecilia Bartoli, St. Petersburg (Decca) 
  • Nicole Cabell, Chanson d’Avril (Delos) 
  • Max Emanuel Cencic, Rokoko (Decca) 
  • Alice Coote, Handel Arias (Hyperion) 
  • Sabine Devieilhe, Le Grand Théâtre de L’Amour (Erato) 
  • Vittorio Grigòlo, The Romantic Hero (Sony) 
  • Thomas Hampson, Notturno (DG) 
  • Dmitri Hvorostovsky, The Bells of Dawn (Ondine) 
  • Jonas Kaufmann, You Mean the World to Me (Sony) 
  • Olga Peretyatko, Arabesque (Sony) 
  • Anna Prohaska, Behind the Lines (DG) 

Classical Grammys:

  • Douce France Anne Sofie Von Otter; Bengt Forsberg, accompanist (Carl Bagge, Margareta Bengston, Mats Bergström, Per Ekdahl, Bengan Janson, Olle Linder & Antoine Tamestit) Label: Naïve 
  • Porpora: Arias Philippe Jaroussky; Andrea Marcon, conductor (Cecilia Bartoli; Venice Baroque Orchestra) Label: Erato 
  • Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin Florian Boesch; Malcolm Martineau, accompanist Label: Onyx 
  • Stella Di Napoli Joyce DiDonato; Riccardo Minasi, conductor (Chœur De L'Opéra National De Lyon; Orchestre De L'Opéra National De Lyon) Label: Erato/Warner Classics 
  • Virtuoso Rossini Arias Lawrence Brownlee; Constantine Orbelian, conductor (Kansas City Symphony Orchestra) Label: Delos 
BBC Music has its own awards:

  • Strauss, Fauré, Debussy, Strauss: Die erwachte Rose; Mädchenblumen Op. 22; other lieder Christiane Karg (soprano), Malcolm Martineau (piano) Wigmore Hall Live WHLive 0062 
  • An die Geliebte Songs by Beethoven, Strauss, Weber and Wolf Julian Prégardien (tenor), Christoph Schnackertz (piano) Myrios MYR012 
  • Stella di Napoli Arias by Puccini, Bellini, Donizetti, Mercadante, etc Joyce DiDonato (mezzo-soprano); Orchestre et Choeur de L’Opéra de Lyon/Riccardo Minasi Erato 2564636562

In addition are suggestions for opera DVDs

Opera News:

  • BACH: Johannes-Passion (Peter Sellars, Berliner Philharmoniker; Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings) 
  • GLUCK: Orfeo ed Euridice (Ondřej Havelka, Baroque Theatre of Český Krumlov Castle; Arthaus Musik) 
  • MOZART: Die Zauberflöte (Robert Carsen, Festspiele Baden-Baden; Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings) 
  • R. STRAUSS: Elektra (Patrice Chéreau, Aix-en-Provence; BelAir Classiques) 
  • WAGNER: Parsifal (François Girard, Metropolitan Opera; Sony) 

The Opera Awards:

  • David et Jonathas (Charpentier), c. William Christie, p. Andreas Homoki (Bel Air Classiques) 
  • The Gambler (Prokofiev), c. Valery Gergiev, p. Temur Chkheidze (Mariinsky) 
  • Médée (Cherubini), c. Christophe Rousset, p. Krzysztof Warlikowski (Bel Air Classiques) 
  • Moby-Dick (Heggie), c. Patrick Summers, p. Leonard Foglia (Euroarts) 
  • Pelléas et Mélisande (Debussy), c. Stefan Soltesz, p. Nikolaus Lehnhoff (Arthaus) 
  • The Rape of Lucretia (Britten), c. Paul Daniel, p. David McVicar (Opus Arte) 
  • The Tempest (Adès), c. Thomas Adès, p. Robert Lepage (DG) 

It is interesting the complete lack of overlap in these lists, except for Stella di Napoli.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

News from Two in Tune

A letter from Two in Tune, the umbrella organization for the Sacramento Opera and the Sacramento Philharmonic, dated December 12, 2014, has fallen into my hands.

They want us to know that, "Despite the difficulties, good news lies ahead.  Our organization is now developing an aggressive turnaround plan to finally bring long-term stability and return first-rate orchestral music and opera, to Sacramento.  The turnaround process is well underway, allowing us to look to 2015 with confidence and optimism."

They are building connections to other performing arts organizations.  Finding out what other people are doing and engaging their help seems a wise direction.  They call this "a consortium of distinguished partners from across the country - veterans who have excelled in developing and implementing recovery plans for performing arts organizations.  Members of this dream team of executives have worked successfully with clients located coast to coast:  New York to California; Detroit to Tallahassee; Winston-Salem to Phoenix."

All I can say is cheers.  There is supposed to be an announcement soon.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Into the Woods

I was going around the circle at Curves the other day, and the attendant was complaining about the new movie Into the Woods.  For her it had two endings:  the expected fairytale ending and the second dark one.  She also was surprised that there were musical numbers.  I tried to explain that this was a film adaptation of a classic musical comedy by Stephen Sondheim.  Who?

There has been a wide range of reactions to this film.  I imagine the range would depend on whether you had ever seen it as a musical.  It was done live here in Sacramento a couple of years ago, so nothing really surprised me when I saw it today.  I thought as film adaptations go, this one was excellent.

How could you want a better witch than Meryl Streep?  Or a better wolf than Johnny Depp?  I was especially impressed with the diction.  Every one of Sondheim's words could be clearly understood.  I think the movie's flaws are the musical's flaws.  I think Sondheim couldn't bear to write a fairytale ending.

Anything can happen in the woods.

P.S.  I've never really been a fan of Sondheim, except as a lyricist.  His first big project was writing the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story (1957), possibly the best of all American musicals.  These are truly great songs. Sondheim, it seems, thinks they're too poetic.

He's been very busy since then.  He's done a lot of shows that I've never seen, and people seem to like to sing his songs.  But a string of songs by Sondheim generally makes me cringe.  I can only tolerate Judi Dench singing "Bring in the Clowns," for instance.

Early in the blog I wrote:  "While I was in London, I tried to see Sunday in the Park with George, mainly because I've never seen a Stephen Sondheim musical. Unless Sweeney Todd is Sondheim."  I went on to say,  "Sondheim is short choppy phrases of three to six syllables with tunes played on the black keys. All the tunes sound exactly the same. How does he do that? Perhaps it's a minimalist musical."

But then I kind of liked Sunday in the Park with George when I saw it on Broadway.  Still no hit tunes, but I kind of liked the content.  With Sondheim it's more words over music.  Ideas over execution.

And then this year came the marvelous Sweeney Todd at Lincoln Center with Bryn Terfel and Emma Thompson, a truly great event.  Their gigantic personalities raised it above itself.

I can only shrug.  He's too significant to simply ignore, but musically he never grabs me. I'm now going to retire Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd.  Enough.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kennedy Center Honors Ten Years Later

This blog is now 10 years old.  I began it with a post about the Kennedy Center Honors, and it is therefore suitable that I mark the anniversary with a new one.

The taping ran on CBS last night, and the honorees in order were:   singer Al Green, ballerina Patricia McBride, actor Tom Hanks, Lily Tomlin, and Sting.  Jessye Norman was in the audience.  I expected her to do something, but she didn't.

  • Al Green.  Whoopie Goldberg did his intro, and Jennifer Hudson sang.  The audience sang along, including the president.  There was even a clip of Obama singing an Al Green song in a press conference.  This segment was fun and actually made Al seem significant.  I'll have to think this one over.

  • Patricia McBride danced with the New York City Ballet under Balanchine.  She was Edward Villella's partner and danced 60 roles, 30 of which were created for her.  Young people did bits from her repertoire.  How do you sandwich a ballerina between a pop artist and marching bands?

  • Tom Hanks had military choirs and bands.  Not sure why.  What really does one say about Tom Hanks's career which began with a sitcom where he appeared in drag in every episode?  I felt this segment pretty much fizzled.

  • Lily Tomlin had Jane Fonda and Reba McIntyre talk about her.  Lily Tomlin is an institution and could have been shown off better.

  • Sting was introduced by Meryl Streep and had the Boss, Esperanza Spalding and Bruno Mars sing his stuff.  Have I ever seen Bruno Mars before?  Esperanza Spalding was my favorite thing on the program, but her kind of cool jazz doesn't have the wow of other people.  The only Sting in my iTunes is by Dowland.  He's known for his range and versatility.

Jessye was as close to classical music as we got.  I felt that the show started high and went downhill.  Nevertheless the honorees were all deserving.  There was a controversy in the live performance that was edited out of the broadcast.

Happy anniversary to me.