Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fantasy cast for Werther

Werther:  Jonas Kaufmann
Charlotte:  Elīna Garanča
Sophie:  Lisette Oropesa
Albert:  Ludovic Tézier

This is a reaction to seeing a film from Vienna with Garanča and Matthew Polenzani.  Matthew is very romantic but occasionally loses control of the phrase.

The production is very dark, too dark for a computer screen.  The costumes are 50s and there are beds in most of the scenes.  The Albert is nasty and mean.  The final scene begins with Werther already shot.  Albert looms in the background, leaving the impression that he may have shot Werther.

Elina is incredible.  I think I begin to love this opera.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


I watched about half of Boito's Mefistofele streamed from the Bayerische Staatsoper with René Pape as the devil, Joseph Calleja as Faust, Kristine Opolais as Marguerita.  This work has been performed a number of times in San Francisco, and I enjoyed very much the stark, brutal sets from Munich after years of the cute production we have here.  They provided a real witches sabbath.  Incidentally, this part of the Faust story has always confused me.  Faust is supposed to be lured away from heaven by a bunch of witches gathering.  Huh.  I don't get it.  The cast is fantastic.

I went to the movies for The Importance of being Earnest with David Suchet as Lady Bracknell.  It wasn't very funny.  He played her sour which I didn't enjoy.

I may have hated the production, but how can you not love him?


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Lulu in HD

Conductor:  Lothar Koenigs
PRODUCTION:  William Kentridge

Lulu:  Marlis Petersen
Countess Geschwitz:  Susan Graham
Alwa, Dr. Schön’s Son, a composer:  Daniel Brenna
The Painter / The African Prince:  Paul Groves
Dr. Schön / Jack the Ripper:  Johan Reuter
Schigolch:  Franz Grundheber

Today we were treated to Berg's Lulu live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera.  I have taken the liberty of correcting the Met cast list which said:  Alwa / Dr. Schön’s Son / A Composer Daniel Brenna.  This gives the impression that Daniel Brenna played three different characters when Alwa is Dr. Schön’s Son and a composer.

It is hard to know where to begin.  So let's try the beginning.  Most Lulu productions begin with animal cages, and it is only clear that Lulu is the snake.  In this production when the lion tamer announces the animals, we see each animal followed with a line drawing portrait of one of the men in the drama whom we assume is assigned to that animal.  I liked this.  Here is Lulu wrapping her snake-like arms around Dr. Schön.

The black and white drawings that fill the stage are intensely erotic even when the costumes are not. The drama exists on three levels:  the singing actors, the vivid, always moving projections mainly at the back of the stage, and two mime figures dressed mostly in black who had only a symbolic meaning.

Joanna Dudley (Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

Deborah Voigt assured us that the production is far more interesting in house, but I couldn't help wondering if it wasn't clearer and less distracting as filmed for transmission.  We could focus on the actors and only have the ever changing pictures shown when we needed them.  The characters would kiss, but the most erotic intensity came from the drawings.

There is a level of professionalism in this cast that I have not seen before.  All were comfortable in their roles and at ease in the difficult music.  I have seen Lulu performed from the intensely sexual of Evelyn Lear at one extreme to the complete passivity of Ann Panagulias at the other.  Barbara Hannigan's mind always seems elsewhere.  Marlis Peterson is on the aggressive end of the spectrum.

Susan Graham was my favorite Geschwitz.

We never see the portrait of Lulu which the characters hold up and describe to us.  I have seen this opera often enough now to feel that I understand.  Certain women become the object of obsession of many men.  It's like being a movie star or perhaps an opera singer.  This work balances these many obsessions with the obsession of Lulu for Dr. Schön.  At the end she meets a man who looks just like him, in this production he dressed like him, and he murders her.

The result of my research on this opera has resulted in the conclusion that if you want high level professional performers and a fascinating production, you cannot beat this Lulu, but if you want to feel it as though it were life itself, you will need West Edge.

Read about Christine Schaefer's Lulu here;  read about Barbara Hannigan's Lulu here; read about West Edge Lulu here and here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Die Meistersinger

Hans Sachs: James Rutherford
Walther von Stolzing: Brandon Jovanovich
Eva: Rachel Willis - Sørensen*
Magdalene: Sasha Cooke
David: Alek Shrader
Sixtus Beckmesser: Martin Gantner*
Veit Pogner: Ain Anger *

Conductor Sir Mark Elder*
Production Sir David McVicar

Last night the San Francisco Opera opened its new production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by David McVicar.  The plot is a bit similar to Tannhäuser.  The production comes from Glyndebourne.  I watched Katarina Wagner's Meistersinger in 2012, and then the Salzburg version in 2013.  Both of these were in sharp contrast to this very conservative production.   

Historical footnote:  the last Meistersinger guild disbanded in Memmingen in Bavaria in 1875, which means that there were still active Meistersingers when Wagner completed his opera in 1868.

This is Meistersinger as Wagner imagined it.  Each scene moves through the story carefully.  Pogner offers his eldest daughter to the winner of a Meistersinger contest.  Hans Sachs ponders this situation and decided that he must rescue her.  Her must find a suitable mate who can win the singing contest, and once the potential husband is identified, Sachs must see that Walther wins.  It takes forever.

This performance often seemed more like conversation than singing.  All the singers were very good, with Brandon Jovanovich at the top of the heap, but they chatted their way through most of the scenes.  Even German can be sung legato.  It was announced before the third act that Jovanovich had a cold, but he did fine.  James Rutherford seemed an excellent Hans Sachs, but a bit young for the part.  Perhaps they were saving their voices.

It was comforting but not very exciting to be able to follow the story so easily.

Paolo Fanale

This guy is proposed for the title of sexiest tenor today.  I must say I like his singing.  Here's another.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sexiest Today

Philippe Jaroussky

Kristīne Opolais

Danielle de Niese

Elīna Garanča

Vittorio Grigolo

Ailyn Perez

Rene Pape

Isabel Leonard

Paolo Szot

Lisette Oropesa

Luca Pisaroni
Noah Stewart

Oh what the heck.  Jonas Kaufmann

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Having completed my discussion of operatic singer types, I have begun to wonder if there is anything I left out.  Coloratura bass, not unknown in the Baroque era, is one.  Baroque coloratura was applied indiscriminately to virtually everything.

And there is this mysterious German term:  Zwischenfach.  It translates "between category."  This is hard to describe.  People write dissertations on this.  I notice in the German language version of Wikipedia that it has no entry of its own but comes up in entries for both individual male and female singers.

In German there is a very detailed and specific set of categories, and then everything is squeezed into it.  Anything that crosses into two categories is a Zwischenfach.  Two examples are Kundry in Parsifal and Venus in Tannhäuser.  These roles are basically mezzos with high extensions.   It's possible that the category bass-baritone is itself a Zwischenfach.

I'm going to tell my opinion now.  It is nice to imagine that things fall into tidy discreet categories the way they do in the German Fach system.  In reality they don't.  I like, for instance, to claim that Maria Callas is a mezzo, and this is the explanation for her preeminence in the role of Norma.  You see, Norma is also a mezzo.  She destroyed her voice by pushing it too high with too much weight.  I said.  But perhaps she was just a Zwischenfach.

Life is not tidy.  Some composers may have been aware of these categories.  Verdi seems to have started out with only a vague idea of what was physically possible for a singer, but then developed into a wise and very skillful composer for different types of voices.  Wagner seems simply not to have cared.  He composed whatever he wanted, and left it to management to find someone suitable.  His dramatic tenor was phenomenal.  Pity subsequent generations who try to follow in his footsteps.

From the point of view of the individual singer it is most important to understand the weight of the voice required for a role and how ones own voice might manage it.  You cannot make your voice heavier than it is.

It's ok if you ignore Zwischenfach.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Conversation on Twitter

If I worked at IKEA my tagline would be "Ist das noch der Diwan, auf dem sich dein Vater verblutet hat?”

  1. And if you were a pharmacist: "Ich habe deine Mutter vergiftet"
  2. And if you were a teacher: "Ich weiss es nicht.. . Ich weiss es nicht.. . Ich weiss es nicht.. . "
Is this too hard?  Lines from Lulu translated:

If I worked at IKEA my tagline would be "Is that the sofa your father bled to death on?

And if you were a pharmacist "I poisoned your mother."

And if you were a teacher "I don't know.  I don't know.  I don't know."

It can't get too geeky for me.  I only wish I could think of one.

Sunday, November 08, 2015


I am ready to finish this off.

This is here to help you learn about the countertenor. It's intended to educate listeners rather than singers.

A countertenor is natural male voice that sings falsetto to allow him to sing music that was originally written for a woman or a castrato (a man castrated in childhood to retain his high voice).  In opera their use allows male roles to be sung by male singers, a feature that means nothing to me but seems to matter to others.  Most countertenors are actually baritones. The voice range for a countertenor usually is the equivalent to a mezzo-soprano or contralto.

These are examples of roles written for the countertenor voice:   Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Britten), Annas in Jesus Christ Superstar (Lloyd Webber), Akhnaten in Akhnaten (Glass), Trinculo in The Tempest (Adès), etc.  Please notice that all these examples are modern, three out of four are British, and none of them are written by Italians.

This is David Daniels singing "I know a Bank" from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

David Walker sings Akhnaten's aria from Akhnaten.

Roles performed by countertenors but originally written for castrati include:  Ariodante in Ariodante (Handel), Nerone in Agrippina (Handel), Ruggiero in Alcina (Handel), Giulio Cesare in Giulio Cesare (Handel), Artaserse in Artaserse (Vinci), etc. All of these roles are also sung by women.

Franco Fagioli sings "Vo solcando un mar crudele" from Artaserse.

Philippe Jaroussky sings "Come Nube Che Fugge Dal Vento" from Agrippina.

A third category is roles composed for women which are then sung by countertenors. Sesto in Giulio Cesare is an example.  This is uncommon.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Active American Singers

name type operas reviewed Richard Tucker seen live
Ailyn Pérez 1 5 2012 Santa Fe, San Francisco
Angel Blue 1
Angela Brown  1
Angela Meade 1 2 2011
Anna Christy 1 3 Santa Fe, San Francisco
Catherine Naglestad 1 San Francisco
Christine Brewer 1 2 Santa Fe, St. Louis
Christine Goerke 1 2001
Daniela Mack 1 2 San Francisco
Deborah Voigt 1 6 1992 San Francisco
Elizabeth Futral 1 6 City Opera NY, San Francisco, DC
Erin Morley 1 3 Santa Fe
Heidi Melton 1 2 San Francisco
Heidi Stober 1 8 Santa Fe, San Francisco
Janai Brugger 1 1
Karen Slack 1 3
Kelly Kaduce 1 2 Santa Fe, St. Louis
Laquita Mitchell  1 1
Leah Crocetto 1 3 Santa Fe, San Francisco
Lise Lindstrom 1 1 San Francisco
Lisette Oropesa 1 9 San Francisco
Nadine Sierra 1 2 San Francisco
Nicole Cabell 1 3 Santa Fe, San Francisco
Patricia Racette 1 10 1998 San Francisco
Renée Fleming 1 17 1990 San Francisco
Sondra Radvanovsky 1 8 San Francisco, London
Angela Brower 2 2 San Francisco, Munich
Denyce Graves 2 2 DC
Dolora Zajick  2 8 1986 San Francisco
Isabel Leonard 2 7 2013 Santa Fe, San Francisco
Jamie Barton 2 1 2015 San Francisco
Jennifer Larmore 2 2 1994
Joyce DiDonato 2 10 2002 San Francisco
Meredith Arwady 2 6 Santa Fe, San Francisco
Michelle De Young 2 3
Stephanie Blythe 2 9 1999 San Francisco, Berkeley
Susan Graham 2 11 San Francisco
Alek Shrader 3 4 San Francisco
Brandon Jovanovich 3 3 2007 Munich, San Francisco
Brian Jagde 3 1 Santa Fe
Bryan Hymel 3 4 Santa Fe, San Francisco
Charles Castronovo 3 3 San Francisco
Eric Cutler 3 3 2005 Santa Fe
James Valenti 3 2010
Lawrence Brownlee 3 3 2006
Matthew Polenzani 3 10 2004 San Francisco
Michael Fabiano 3 4 2014 San Francisco
Noah Stewart 3 1 San Francisco
Paul Groves 3 5 1995 Santa Fe
Russell Thomas 3 2 San Francisco
Stephen Costello 3 5 2009 San Francisco
Dwayne Croft 4 4 1996 San Francisco
Eric Owens 4 5 Santa Fe
Greer Grimsley 4 2 San Francisco
John Relyea 4 7 2003 San Francisco
Morris Robinson 4 1 San Francisco
Nathan Gunn 4 5 San Francisco
Quinn Kelsey 4 3 San Francisco
Thomas Hampson 4 12 Santa Fe, San Francisco
David Daniels 5 5 1997 Santa Fe, San Francisco

This is a list of currently active American singers.  Please let me know if I have missed anyone.  I used numbers to designate soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, countertenor.  The third column is how many opera performances I have reviewed for that singer.  Renée Fleming (17), Patricia Racette (10), Susan Graham (11) and Joyce DiDonato (10) are not surprises, but I didn't realize I'd reviewed Thomas Hampson 12 times.  I have included a couple of singers whose careers are primarily in Europe.

The next column is the year in which this singer won the Richard Tucker Prize which is restricted to Americans.