Friday, January 27, 2006


I must say I really love it here. London is such a great city. Maybe they will keep me on.

I'm not the person to review musicals. My taste is too sophisticated. It's all good, but I always want more. More, please. I would prefer Lion King as an opera. This is completely doable.

Since I have only one CD with me, I went to Piccadilly Circus to shop for records and came out with a marvelous assortment:

Susan Graham singing the Songs of Ned Rorem. I have trouble taking Ned Rorem seriously, but Susan may be just the woman for him. He's the guy that wrote the famous diary. Maybe my problem has to do with how Alice B. Toklas always wrote about him. To her he was just an annoying nobody.

The complete operas of Rachmaninov, which turns out to include Maria Guleghina, Anne Sofie von Otter, Sergei Leiferkus and Sergei Larin.

Duets and Arias with Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu. I need to see if they are as hot as they think they are.

I looked at what was available for Yvonne Kenny (Sarah, try not to get too excited), and it was all in English. I decided to pick something that actually is in English and am listening now to Make Believe, Classic Songs of Broadway. This is all songs from the Golden Age of Broadway. I'm from the golden age, too, so it's just the recording for me. Her vibrato is a tad too operatic, but her English is perfect, and emotionally she completely gets this style. I could picture this woman singing these songs, the greatest possible compliment as far as I am concerned. What is this style? American elegance, too good for Sarah Brightman, but naive and simple at the same time. I could listen to this.

I have nothing to play them on but this computer, so I went back to the office.

I almost flew to Salzburg because Cecilia is singing there, but there were no tickets and how silly do I really want to get? (Pretty silly, if the truth were told.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Lion King

You should definitely see this. It is based on a movie, but you know its transformation to the stage is magical. It isn't like anything I've ever seen before.

The key element is the imagining of the spirit of an animal. How does it look? How does it move? How does its voice sound? They never announce that the animals hovering around the lions are hyenas, but nevertheless, you know.

The only real problem with The Lion King is that it starts at the top and goes down from there. This is not the expected arc of a musical. In the beginning we experience the full array of animals crossing the stage. The grass is also a character in the drama. I mean that. There are actors playing grass. And in the opening is singing. The best number in the show is the opening song, sung by the best singer in the cast, a woman named Brown Lindiwe Mkhize from South Africa.

Elton John is channelling Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

It is the originality of vision, due primarily to the work of the designer and director, Julie Taymor, that makes this a real joy. The plot is silly.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


It's time for a fantasy opera production. Why have I never seen or read about an opera produced like a Madonna or a Cher extravaganza? Aren't we long overdue for this?

It would have to be a full-blown Neapolitan Opera Seria. We need the heroine to appear on stage machinery descending from the ceiling or a long staircase ala Busby Berkeley, each time in a different outrageous outfit. If this sounds like Pamela's Alcina to you, I can only say she didn't go nearly far enough.

Alcina is the best choice for this concept, though. The enchanted men would be the hunky dancers that always dance with the star. The star would definitely need to attempt a few cursory dance moves. Cher and Madonna aren't really dancing either.

We need strobe lights. We need amplification, including a very loud amplified orchestra. Would we need electric oboes? I think so.

Ruggiero could possibly rival the heroine in outrageousness. Sort of a Mick Jagger type would be best. The other characters would be much less spectacular, of course. And at the end when all are liberated we would need a spectacular light show, with maybe Alcina seen floating off to heaven. Or wherever. If she's floating off, I guess it has to be to heaven.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Saturday Night

I promised to see shows and write about them here, to review the London theater scene. It's not clear yet that I am the person for this task.

They have made a musical out of the movie Saturday Night Fever. The music is by the Bee Gees who rescued their fading careers by writing music for this movie. The plus is that it is nice to go to a musical with so many familiar songs, including "Stayin' Alive," "You should be Dancing," "How deep is your love?" etc. The minus is that this stuff is all disco. In fact the whole show is simply about disco. How much interest can a person work up for disco?

The band appear to imagine themselves to be the most important part of the show and blast away as loud as they can. I told you I might not be the right person for this task. Really loud music makes me nauseous. The very miked and amplified singers didn't really manage to blast over the band.

This show is a vehicle for the leading man, in this case played by Adam Jon Fiorentino. It's a back breaker with almost non-stop singing and dancing. In a movie you get to rest between takes. Now John Travolta wasn't 19 either, but he managed to pass. This guy may have looked 19 when he started, but not any more. He looks at least 25 to me.

Is that important? Nah. If you love the Bee Gees and loud disco, you'll love this. It totally works as a musical.

Collecting Piero

One of my hobbies is collecting viewings of the paintings of Piero della Francesca. I have been on the Piero trail which starts in Arezzo and goes across the mountains to Urbino. It goes on to Rimini, but I have not made this part of the trip yet. Collecting is more fun when something is left undone.

In Arezzo is the cycle The Legend of the True Cross which follows the history of the cross from its birth as a tree onward. The first time I went to Arezzo the cycle was in restauro, with scaffolding filling the entire nave. To my great surprise it was possible to view the paintings while the work was going on. We climbed the scaffolding and stuck our noses within a foot of the paintings. It was very exciting, much more exciting than the next time I came and had to view from the floor with everyone else. Further up the hill in Arezzo in another church is Piero's painting of Mary Magdalene.

Then I drove on to San Sapulcro and Urbino. The Pregnant Madonna and the Resurrection are the most interesting in route paintings.

In Urbino are two paintings: a Madonna and the Flagellation, a small painting kept behind glass. They don't let you stay alone in the room with the paintings. I let my nose cross a hidden beam and set off an alarm. The man next to me said "Mani in alto" with mock seriousness. That's "hands up" in Italian.

In London at the National Gallery are three Pieros all in one room. The Baptism, the Nativity and a Saint Michael. I particularly like the nativity and was surprised to see that it gives a three dimensional effect when viewed in real life that you simply don't see in the books. A framed photo of the group of singing angels hangs on the wall in my house.

Piero has evidently only recently been considered interesting by the art world. The coolness of expression on the faces of the people in the paintings suits us very well, we like especially the idea of a cool, all-knowing angel, but was not at all to the taste of the Romantics.

I love it that people obsess over the Flagellation, a very odd painting with a flagellation scene on the left and three men in a circle on the right. There are two whole books, both of which I now own, where the authors obsess over who the people on the right of the picture are. Both provide supporting photographs of paintings of their choices, which are completely different. I love it when people are so fanatical about art.

There is also an excellent book in Italian called Alla ricerca di Piero della Francesca, In search of Piero, which describes what the cities along the Piero della Francesca trail looked like in Piero's time. If you can't read Italian, which is surprisingly easy, then look at the pictures.

Friday, January 20, 2006


I bought a very cool book at the shop of the Royal Opera called The Art of Auditioning. The author is English, but UK, US and continental competitions are listed, together with the upper age limits. The German and Swiss agents are listed. The author is Anthony Legge, Head of music at the English National Opera.

It's all here: what to bring, how to act, what to sing and how to prepare. There is interesting advice about checking the edition of the arias you are singing to make sure they are the same as the score. How would you ever think of that?

I totally had a 'tude about this sort of thing. I adored to perform in front of an audience and hated, loathed, despised, detested any kind of auditioning. I was wildly furious the entire time, ready to strangle the lot. I needed attitude adjustment training.

He talks about the cadenza books and says to use them. I'll explain. There are books with written out ornaments you can perform with the arias. He recommnds Ricci. Sometimes there are several versions for the same aria so you can choose cadenzas that suit your voice.

He has a Fach list of his own with roles. He says to be a "dramatic mezzo", as I now claim to have been, you need "striking physical beauty", so I guess I didn't really qualify.

If you feel absolutely clueless about this subject, this book might help.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Bartered Bride

The Royal Opera has made the most that can be made of The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetana, even going so far as to hire Charles Mackerras to conduct it. It was a treat.

Bride is hard to place in the various currents of popular opera. I suppose you could call it a Spieloper, a semi-serious real opera of the type that succeeded the Singspiel. They are entirely sung with songs rather than arias for the soloists. Except Bride is Czech, here sung in English with the supertitles still showing. This means you can mumble your words. Some did. Some didn’t.

I see in Opera Now that there is a recording of this opera with Sir Charles conducting in the opera in English series.

While I was watching it, though, I thought it was most like Oklahoma of any show I have seen. All are family and friends, people you know.

The production took place in a single set, erected in the first act as a kind of communal barn raising. All are in their working clothes and project real happiness. I especially liked the presence of children on the stage. How can it really be a community without children?

The plot of Bride is devious. Mashenka’s parents have arranged through a marriage broker for her to marry Vasek, the son of Toby Micha, while she is in love with Jenik and has promised to marry only him. And besides, Vasek is an idiot.

There is an extended scene where the marriage broker persuades Jenik to give up Machenka in exchange for 10,000 crowns so she can marry “Toby Micha’s son.” I guess I can give away the ending—boy friend is also “Toby Micha’s son” and they all live happily ever after.

There is a not too shabby circus in the third act—maybe not on a par with Cirque de Soliel but fun, with a stilt walker who juggles fire sticks, a contortionist and Esmeralda, a tight rope walker. Vasek runs off with her. I don’t know if a soprano tight rope walker is ever anyone’s break-through role, but you never know.

This is as much as The Bartered Bride can ever be. I didn’t see any children in the audience.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1850-70]

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Why Mozart

Mozart was in at the beginning. He was born just after the sudden death of counterpoint, into the world of the sons of Bach who were busy creating a new, much simpler musical world. These were the original minimalists.

Mozart’s childhood pieces were based on composers like Domenico Alberti (around 1710 – 1740), a long forgotten composer of pieces using the Alberti bass, made up of broken triads.

The horizontal movement of voices had completely lost its attraction, to be replaced by a complete preoccupation with the chordal aspects of tonality. I wrote in a previous blog that in the early Baroque there were no chord progressions. Well, in Mozart’s childhood there were chord progressions and very little else. Tonality was everything.

Mozart’s childhood offered other advantages as well. As a touring prodigy, he was exposed to all the musical styles of the cities he visited. In Paris he wrote Parisian symphonies. In Mannheim he absorbed the Mannheim style. And in Italy he composed true Italian opera exactly as dictated by the style of the time. Have you noticed how much this goes with the concepts in the book Music, the Brain and Ecstasy? That book says everyone's musical tastes are formed by mid-adolescence. By mid-adolescence Mozart had seen, heard and composed samples of all the music of his time.

What makes him Mozart is that he took these miscellaneous varied styles and molded them into his own individual style. When you hear Mozart, you know immediately that it isn’t Italian or one of the Bachs or even Haydn. Mozart’s mature music can only have been written by Mozart himself. He adds up all this knowledge and creates music which contains it all and more. He is definitely more than the sum of the parts.

In most of his mature style there is no equivalent composer. You can never say “Mozart wrote this, and so did X,” except perhaps Haydn in the symphonic area. In particular his operas are completely unique, combining the vocal style of the Italians with the symphonic style of the Vienese.

Beethoven sneered at Haydn and refused to study with him after Mozart died. In Wikipedia there is a portrait of Mozart at 35 that I have never seen before. He looks much older and in bad health. He lived his life very fast.

Today our lives are completely different. Mozart was able to absorb many different but similar styles while we can simply not avoid being overwhelmed by the much more diverse and constantly intruding music of our time.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Voigt as Salome

We are keeping track of the thinner, sexier Deborah Voigt and want to take notice of the fact that she will sing her first Salome in Chicago next season. I have yet to see a Salome that is both well sung and well acted. Go for it.


The ride over was amazing. The project paid for business class, so I got to experience the British Airways sleeping arrangements. You get into an area that is about the size of a bath tub with paper walls to shield you from the other passengers. There are buttons. Lots of buttons. Large modern automobiles have these kinds of buttons which make the seat go up and down and change shapes. You just keep pushing them until you are comfortable. I fell asleep immediately.

Then there was a lovely breakfast with grapefruit juice, fruit, coffee and hot croissants. I must remember to heat my croissants at home. There was a little more hiking through airports than I was prepared for, but at the end was someone with my name on a card to drive me to my hotel. This was a first. We discussed shows, what is good, how far away they are, how easy they are to get tickets to.

I don't usually write about my work, but I am here to design and implement a computer interface between my purchasing system and SAP accounting. On the SAP side is a cast of thousands who will all attack me simultaneously. On my side there is me. The major goal will be to keep my blood pressure from getting too high.

I have already found a very nice coffee shop called Nero. They don't make the cappuccino right either. I think Cecilia is doomed. Perhaps she should open a competing chain that makes it correctly. It could be called "real cappuccino." Or "cappuccino the way it should be." Or something more Italian: "cappuccino puro." My Italian is not good enough to make up names in it. If you wanted to be openly provocative, call it "Cappuccino Italiano."


Cecilia came up with a couple of names I hadn't heard of in a recent interview:

Alessandro Striggio Now this guy is in wikipedia (c.1540 - 1592) as the inventor of the madrigal comedy, which is the precursor of opera. If I recall correctly, this is a dramatic piece in madrigal style which might even be staged, but contains no monody, the speech-like solo with continuo singing that was invented by the camarata and marks the beginning of true opera.

Giulio Strozzi says: "(b Venice, 1583; d there, 31 March 1652). Italian librettist. He was one of the poets involved in the creation of Venetian opera. Among his librettos are La finta puzza Licori (set by Monteverdi,1627), La finta pazza (Sacrati,1641) and Veremonda (Cavalli,1652). A number of his smaller-scale texts were also set by Venetian composers. Barbara Strozzi was his adopted daughter; the composer and Camerata member Piero Strozzi (c 1550-1610), an amateur musician who fostered new music through the Camerata, was a relative of his."

If I make a list of 20 or 30 Italian composers, she makes a list with people not in my list. This is just to aggravate me.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

New Years Resolutions

Now that I am living past my near death experience yesterday, I resolve to have more fun, to go out more, see life more. I will try to go to every London musical show. I set this goal just because it will be fun to try to reach.

I will make an attempt to find at least one falsettist I like. I won't work too hard at this.

I will try to weigh less at the end of the year than I do now. I should try to find out how much that is.

I will retire from my job. As soon as I stop enjoying it. Honestly. I've been resolving to do this for quite a while, and some people are tired of hearing about it. Being sent to London is making this harder.

I will decide where I am going to live after I am retired. This is also difficult.

I will go to at least five opera houses I have never been to before. There are two in London, so that should make a nice start. I will also try to get to Munich this year. There are at least three there.

I will try to change my opinion about at least three things.

I will spend more money than I make. This is not a goal you have to set for yourself, but in my case I am a terrible cheapskate.

I will have a new favorite opera.

I will try to fall in love. This gets harder to do as you get older. I think it's hormones. I will assume that opera infatuations also count.

Two Schools of Thought

I am searching for an understanding, and this is what I have concluded: there are two schools of thought about what opera should be. One is religiously maintained by the Metropolitan Opera and I have to assume other companies, but I imagine none so much as the Met. In this school we set standards and we maintain them. We never do silly productions no matter how provoked. In this rule they may be the only ones maintaining it. Voices must be of the best quality. Their arms would open wide for Leontyne Price, a singer with a large beautiful voice, wonderful technique and phrasing, but not one single clue about acting. They would adore Roberta Peters with her strong voice and fabulous technique while snubbing the far more interesting Beverly Sills. Vocal and technical quality are their criteria. These are not inherently bad criteria, but there are other possible approaches. 

The other perspective is the one that says opera is show business, that what is wanted is interesting all-around performances, fascinating theater. This is the perspective of most of the rest of the opera world. I'm starting to sound like an apologist for Lotfi Mansouri. Kurt Herbert Adler kept his feet firmly in both camps, searching for the best of both worlds. 

My idols are Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Cecilia Bartoli, so you should not have to puzzle long over which side of the argument I am on. There are many paths to art. To those with the great voice and technique I say that you should not consider your work done. Continue to seek the complete performance. Continue to seek the greater truth behind each role. To the lesser talents I say not to abandon hope, but you will have to invent yourself with a lot more creativity than the natural talents. Cecilia is going to be 40 soon, and still she has only sung three times at the Met and those in performances of roles not her standard repertoire. They wanted her for her fame but do not believe that she meets their standards. They snubbed Elisabeth in the same way. In 1962 she was 46, and still it was two years before she made her Met debut. Beverly Sills is the third person to be treated in this way, but she was only just across the patio at City Opera.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Elisabeth's Marschallin

I try to see or hear the controversy, but I cannot. This film of Der Rosenkavalier is from 1962, the same year I sat in the right aisle of the balcony circle of the San Francisco Opera and transformed into an opera fan. She inhabited the role so completely that there is no way to distinguish between them.

I see for the first time how she orders Octavian around like a child, tells him what to do, where to put his stuff, when his heart will wander from her, and finally when to leave.

Perhaps they mind the fact that she sings the whole thing in a kind of sotto voce. She cared more about controlling the contour of the phrase than she cared about consistency or breadth of tone. I hear it, but I do not mind it. There are no subtitles with this film, but every word is completely understandable, a kind of sung speech that feels as natural as conversation. There is so much to her performance, so much detail, so much truth, so much love, that she becomes that woman.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

CD from the Met

I have received yet another CD from the Metropolitan Opera, this time the 2005-06 repertory. They just pick one number from each opera in the schedule from the EMI and Virgin catalogs. This particular selection seems to reflect a specific, personal viewpoint. Many are from current singers while others are older.

People you might hear at the Met this season are represented:

There is the gorgeous "Una furtiva lagrima" of Rolando Villazon. Why do we like him so much? Because his dark tenor sound is absolutely gorgeous, and he shows intelligence in his phrasing. For me he doesn't scoop and slide enough in Italian repertoire, but he knows how to do it. He can learn.

Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu sing "N'est-ce plus ma main" from Manon. They are very smooth and stylish together. I could become a fan of Angela. Her French is very nice. These people all sing French very well. She aims very high, a quality to be admired. I hope you reach it, dear.

Natalie Dessay does "Ah!Je veux vivre" from Romeo et Juliette. Her voice is a little fluttery for me, but her style is lovely.

Denyce Graves is very beautiful in "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix". Am I detecting a French revival?

And Placido Domingo singing "E lucevan le stelle". Is he current or older, or both? I'm starting to wish he would ever mess up something.

Mirella Freni is gradually passing into the older category. She is represented here with something from Don Pasquale.

The older singers include Maria Callas, Victoria de los Angeles and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. The most curious things on this disk are the Wagner cuts. Elisabeth Gruemmer and Regine Crespin are not singers who make me think of Wagner.

Jon Vickers is represented with a very sweet aria from Carmen. The selections reflect a taste for a sweet style of singing. Jon Vickers' performance is so delicate. I did not expect that from him who I knew previously mainly from Otello. A big voice singing an aria for a lyric tenor is not often this wonderful.

It reminds me of ARTS. I wonder what they have in London.

Rolando Villazon only gets better with repeated hearings.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Birgit Nilsson (17 May 1918 – 25 December 2005)

Birgit Nilsson has died.

I saw her live only in Die Frau Ohne Schatten where she played the Dyer's wife, brilliantly. I have been listening to her two CD recording of Wagner and Strauss arias. The entire set is incredible. She has been called the greatest Wagnerian soprano ever, and in terms of her ability to dominate the material this is true. There is no category Heldinsopran, but if there were, her voice would be the model.

Amazon has a dvd of her doing Tristan und Isolde. I could buy it and then I'd have three.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


There are a variety of ways to look at opera:

1. As an entertainment medium like movies, television and Broadway shows.
2. As a social environment for the upper classes--both financial and intellectual
3. As an art form
4. As a place to go hear great singing.
5. As theater with singing.
6, I'm sure the list could be longer.

My son puts item 2 at the top. He thinks a lot that goes on at the opera is strictly to separate you from the ruling class.

I just go there for fun, so I like a lot going on. Item four is always tops with me, followed closely by item 1. The Ghosts of Versailles is more fun than Tristan and Isolde. Though I find myself suddenly entertained.


Because we shared the same last name my German colleagues called me Josephine, after Josephine Baker, a woman I had never heard of. Her fame did not spread to the parts of America where I lived.

Over the years I have found out who she was. I am pleased to read that she also married into the name. If you still haven't heard of her, she was an American who created a huge sensation at the Folies-Berg├Ęre in 1926 when she was only 20. There is a film of the banana dance that was the basis for her incredible fame. The French adored her.

This morning Josephine is on ARTS singing “Princess Tam Tam” while riding in a small boat. Her French is gorgeous, her dress elegant and her eyebrows razor thin in the style of the 1930’s. She led the life of a princess in France, not the life of an African-American woman in the US in the 20’s and 30’s. Her high fluttery voice wasn’t to our taste. We expect our pop singers to have a throaty, robust sound more like Edith Piaf than this more Lily Pons-like tone. Could she break suddenly into coloratura? We would not be surprised.

She was an entertainer and a war hero, a thoroughly extraordinary person, someone I feel proud to have been compared to. I should aspire to be so amusing.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Tristan und Isolde

Rats! I've gone and gotten curious and am watching the Heppner/Eaglen Tristan und Isolde. It's on an old tape right after Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. You know there's a T&I movie opening this week just as I am flying off to another continent.

Ben Heppner is a very fine singer, but the Heldentenor knife-like edge of his tone is not as sharp as Jon Frederic West's. Ben is not entirely without squillo, but it only cuts a little, I'm afraid. This means he has to work harder, not necessarily a bad thing. His understanding of Wagnerian phrasing is infinitely larger, and that takes work. Jon's voice cuts easily through the mush of sound coming from the orchestra, and he doesn't actually have to work hard any of the time. And doesn't. He should regard this as a barrier to achievement and not an aid. The appropriate Wagnerian line will be hard work no matter what your voice sounds like.

Jane Eaglen isn't nearly as significant an improvement over Meier. Waltraud Meier is giving you a complete performance, and it's very effective, in my opinion. Few if any singers could withstand such a lengthy close-up as she does. She just needs a tenor who shares her gifts. There used to be a hunky German rock singer who sang Siegmund--he would be perfect.

It isn't easy to watch the Ben and Jane show. A CD would be fine. Levine is also a better conductor, brings more character into the playing. However, he doesn't exercise enough control of the loudness of the orchestra and allows them to cover way too often.

It would be truly annoying if I became interested in this opera.


Friday, January 06, 2006

Dido and Aeneas

When I was a sophomore in college, I played the spirit in a production of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. We used the same Thurston Dart edition of the score as they are using in this "Legends" edition with Janet Baker. Every note is familiar. All goes exactly as it should.

Janet Baker is wonderfully serious. It is the deep character of the heroine that keeps this unique short opera in the repertoire. The charm of each number is simply irresistable, and the entire recording is excellent. The style of performance seems exactly right, something I have not thought about other recordings of this piece.


There is a place in Tristan and Isolde where Kurt Moll must go from a lower area of the stage to a higher place up a few stairs, and the two lovers stand on either side to hold his arms. We know this is not part of the plot.

Everything starts to go and becomes harder and harder to maintain. I haven't been doing enough maintenance lately. The other part is that one comes to love it more and more. Starting this blog has been a blessing. it helps me to realize how much there is still to learn about life, how much there is still to love about it.

To all those now laboring in the world of music: stop for a moment to feel its blessing in your life.


There are a small number of artist agencies in the US (Columbia Artists Management) and in Europe who do the basic decision making about who gets work, who gets promoted and who doesn't. I remember that there was a book in the IU library with the German and Austrian agents' names and addresses. When you go to audition, it's for them and not for anyone actually hiring. When you listen to recordings and go to performances, you are hearing this screened set of performers.

In their minds Tristan has a certain sound, as does Isolde, Contessa Almaviva, Tosca, Mimi, Octavian, Don Giovanni, etc. They are comparing the auditioner with these preconceived voice types. What this means is that they all end up sounding the same. Then they go on to work with the same coaches and conductors who also have their preconceived ideas.

To break through this standardization process and achieve a truly creative, individual performance is practically a miracle. Only the recording companies provide an alternate path. Don't give up the struggle. Art is in the individual vision.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Tristan and Isolde

It is too soon to declare victory, but my Tristan and Isolde DVD from the Munich state opera came today, and I have successfully made it through the first two acts. The best thing about this DVD is the presence of Waltraud Meier in the role of Isolde. With her long flowing red hair and her great beauty she seems actually to be an Irish princess. She also brings a lot of passionate emotion to the role. When King Mark calls her a miraculous woman, we can believe him.

The production is fun. The first act looks like a cruise ship with deck chairs and odd looking wispy clouds that float past. The fatal drinks are in colored plastic glasses with decorated bent straws. Fun. Why not fall in love on a cruise ship? The business about Tristan shaving seems a little forced. He wears shaving cream through the first act. He can't come to talk to Isolde because he's busy shaving.

The tenor on this video is Jon Fredric West, the same tenor who sang Apollo in Daphne at Kennedy Center last year. He is a heldentenor and was the only one of the cast of Daphne capable of blasting over the orchestra in the bad acoustics of the Kennedy Center concert hall. Maybe it's "squillo", but the heldentenor must have a knife-like edge to his voice to cut through the rumble of the orchestra and properly resonate the narrow German vowels.

The second act opens in a red and blue forest, and when Tristan enters, he brings a yellow sofa with pink flowers that looks like it came from Cost Plus or Viking Trader. It would help if they looked like they were in love.

I think I will make it all the way to the end, and may acquire enough curiosity about the music to want to hear parts of it with other voices, but I don't think I will ever overcome the fact that I don't really care for this lugubrious music with its complete lack of any square corners. I tried to think of a way to say this, and that's all I came up with. I don't experience the unresolved tension; for me it's simply shapeless.

Part II

Now suddenly it's the third act and the set is tan and barren with a slide show of unknown people playing on the back wall. How annoying. We're doing two operas, apparently: Deck chairs and bright colors for falling in love, black and tan for tragedy and death.

Would I recommend this to anyone? Not really. It is lovely to see Waltraud Meier, and she also sings well. But I don't think I enjoy listening to Jon Fredric West. As the opera goes on, his part gets bigger and bigger. Maybe that's why I never make it to the end.

Victory! Isolde when she comes is worth the wait. The Liebestod, filmed entirely in close-up, is marvelous, and she is truly gorgeous. Kurt Moll as the King is also very moving and intense. Maybe you could rent it from Netflix.

In the bows at the end of this opera the entire orchestra came up onto the stage together with the conductor, Zubin Mehta, to take a bow. I cannot recall ever seeing this before.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Interview with Cecilia II

I found this entire interview so fascinating, so charming that I have attempted to translate the entire thing. Forgive me If I have missed something. My translations are not of United Nations quality, so I leave in the original in case I got it wrong.

Interview: Christine Lemke-Matwey, Berlin Tagesspiegel

Eine Hotellobby, die ├╝berall auf der Welt sein k├Ânnte. Ein Ober naht. Cecilia Bartoli bestellt einen Cappuccino.
[A hotel lobby, that could be anywhere in the world. A waiter comes and Cecilia Bartoli orders a cappuccino.]

Frau Bartoli, Ihr j├╝ngstes CD-Cover zeigt Sie plantschend im Trevi-Brunnen wie einst Anita Ekberg. Haben Sie Sehnsucht nach gro├čem Kino? [Frau Bartoli, your latest cd cover shows you splashing in the Trevi Fountain, like Anita Ekberg once did. Do you long for the great cinema?]

Ich glaube, es ist ziemlich deutlich, dass ich nicht Anita Ekberg bin. Erstens: die schwarzen Haare. Zweitens bin ich mindestens einen Meter k├╝rzer als sie! Ekberg aber, und wie Fellini sie in „La dolce vita“ inszeniert hat, das ist f├╝r mich der Inbegriff von barocker Sinnlichkeit. Diese Frau ist eine Bernini-Figur, sie verk├Ârpert die ganze Sch├Ânheit Roms. Ich wollte mit diesem Foto ein Zeichen setzen. Der Brunnen, das sprudelnde Wasser, diese Lebensfreude, die alle gesellschaftlichen Fesseln sprengt: Musik ist stark. Und wird es bleiben.
[I think that it’s clear that I’m not Anita Ekberg. First, the black hair. Second, I am at least one meter shorter than she. (I exclaim: Nein. Dass kann nicht!) Ekberg, however, and as Fellini staged her in “La dolce vita”, is for me a sign of Baroque sensibilities. This woman has a Bernini figure, she embodies the whole beauty of Rome. I wanted with this picture to set a sign. The fountain that spouts water, this love of life, that breaks all the social boundaries: Music is strong and will stay strong.

Was macht die Musik stark?
[What makes music so strong?]

Wissen Sie, ich konzertiere oft ohne Dirigenten. Ich stehe dann vorne, habe das Orchester hinter mir. Das hei├čt: Jeder einzelne Musiker ist verantwortlich, jeder Einzelne muss h├Âren, schauen, f├╝hlen, z├Ąhlen, atmen. Gemeinsam atmen, ja, das trifft es vielleicht am besten. Musik ist nichts f├╝r Autisten. Musik ist Gespr├Ąch, Austausch, Kommunikation. In der Musik bist du nie allein oder einsam oder nackt, das macht sie und uns stark.
[You know, I often concertize without a conductor. I stand in front and have the orchestra behind me. That means every single musician is answerable, every one must hear, show, feel, count, breathe. Breathe together, yes, then everything goes for the best. Music is not for people with autism (?), Music is speech, exchange, communication. In the music you are never alone or lonely or naked. That makes it and us strong.] [BB editorial comment. Wow. This is heavy stuff.]

Haben Sie je mit dem Gedanken gespielt, professionell zu dirigieren?[Have you ever played with the idea of professional conducting?]

Nein, mein Instrument ist die Stimme. Au├čerdem genie├če ich das Gef├╝hl, dass die Musiker buchst├Ąblich meinen R├╝cken „lesen“. Das ist sehr erotisch.
[No, my instrument is the voice. Outside of that I enjoy the feeling that the musicians can read my back. This is very erotic.]

Zu wem sprechen Sie, wenn Sie singen?
[To whom do you speak when you sing?]

Zum Konzertmeister, mit dem Publikum, dem Komponisten, mit dem lieben Gott, zu mir selbst – das kommt darauf an.
[To the concertmaster, with the public, the composer, with the dear God, to myself—it comes to that.]

Und wie fallen die Antworten aus?
[And how do the answers come?]

Nun, der liebe Gott ist eher schweigsam, ich selbst bin sehr kritisch – und ansonsten gibt es gute und nicht so gute Abende. Noten ├╝brigens sprechen auch.
[Now the dear God is usually silent, I myself am very critical – and generally there are good and not so good evenings. The notes also speak.]

Sie sind bekannt daf├╝r, dass Sie tagelang in Bibliotheken sitzen und sich durch Handschriften w├╝hlen.
[You are known for, that you sit for days at a time in libraries and write things out.]

Der Ober serviert den Cappuccino. Cecilia Bartoli wirft einen kurzen Blick darauf.
[The waiter comes and serves the cappuccino. Cecilia Bartoli throws a short glance there.]

Kennen Sie die Geschichte von Pauline Viardot, der S├Ąngerin, die in Paris ihre gesamten Juwelen versetzte, um das Autograf von Mozarts „Don Giovanni“ zu erstehen? Stellen Sie sich vor, eine Frau, im 19. Jahrhundert!
[Do you know the story of Pauline Viardot, the singer, who in Paris sold all her jewelry to have an autograph score of Don Giovanni? Imagine a woman of the nineteenth century!]

Was w├╝rden Sie f├╝r eine Mozart-Handschrift geben?
[What would you give for a Mozart autograph?

Von Mozart gibt es heute leider so gut wie nichts mehr zu kaufen. Aber ich besitze Noten und Briefe anderer Komponisten. Ich finde Originale einfach faszinierend! Als ich mit Simon Rattle vor zwei Jahren f├╝r die Salzburger Osterfestspiele die Fiordiligi in Mozarts „Cos├Č fan tutte“ gesungen habe, habe ich vorher das Autograf in der Berliner Staatsbibliothek Unter den Linden studiert …
[Of Mozart today there is unfortunately almost nothing to buy. However I own scores and letters of other composers. I find original scores simply fascinating. When I sang Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte with Simon Rattle two years ago in the Salzburg Easter festival, I studied the autograph score beforehand in the Berlin State library Under den Linden.

… die Staatsbibliothek besitzt die gr├Â├čte Mozart- Sammlung weltweit, wussten Sie das?
[Did you know the State Library owns the largest Mozart collection in the world?]

Nicht Wien? Nicht Salzburg oder Prag? Nein, das wusste ich nicht, aber vielleicht war es deshalb so aufregend, unter all diesen Kostbarkeiten zu sitzen! In einer Handschrift zu lesen, ist, als begegnete man der Seele des Komponisten. Und was Mozart betrifft: Einerseits hat er unerh├Ârt klar und sauber geschrieben, andererseits bleibt immer ein Rest, ein Spielraum. Man ist sich bei ihm nie hundertprozentig sicher. Das Autograf l├Ąsst einen zwischen den Zeilen lesen, es bietet Nuancen, Schattierungen, auch Fl├╝chtigkeiten und Fehler, die eine moderne Ausgabe nicht ber├╝cksichtigen kann und darf. Da steht alles schwarz auf wei├č.
[Not Vienna? Not Salzburg or Prague? No, I didn’t know that, but perhaps that’s why it’s so exciting to sit under all these treasures. To read a hand-written score, is as if one met the composer’s soul. And when it comes to Mozart, on one side he has written outrageously clearly and cleanly, and on the other side there is always a space left. By him one is never 100 percent certain. The score leaves room to read between the lines, it begs for nuances, shadows, vapors and feelings, that a modern edition cannot and may not see. There everything stands in black and white.

H├Ątten Sie ohne diese Einblicke eine andere Fiordiligi gesungen?
[Without this insight, would you have sung another Fiordiligi?]

Sagen wir so: Es gab f├╝r mich ein paar wichtige Fragezeichen mehr. Mein Bild von der Figur war nicht mehr so fest gef├╝gt. Die ganze „Cos├Č“ stellt ja Fragen: Wer l├╝gt und wer sagt wann die Wahrheit? Wer liebt wen und wer betr├╝gt wen warum?
[We’ll say this: There were for me a few important questions left. My picture of the role was not anymore so certain. The whole Cosi poses a question: who lies and who says the truth? Who loves whom and who reprimands whom and why?

… die Oper handelt, kurz gesagt, von einer Liebesprobe, einem Partnertausch …
[The opera, briefly, is about a love test, a partner exchange….]

Ich finde das St├╝ck absolut grausam – und sehr menschlich, sehr aktuell. Es ist die Kulturgeschichte unseres F├╝hlens in einem ├Ąsthetischen Brennglas. Am Ende gibt es keine Hoffnung, keine Vision. Alle sind betrogen. Sie haben mit dem Feuer gespielt und wollen nur noch sterben. Mozart aber richtet nicht, er zeigt, wie es ist.
[I find the piece absolutely cruel—and very human, very real. It is a cultural history of our feelings in an aesthetic burning-glass (?). At the end there is no hope, no vision. All are betrayed. They have played with fire and only want to die. Mozart fixes nothing, he shows it as it is.]

Viele, die heute keine Kinder bekommen, sagen, dass ihnen ein verl├Ąsslicher Partner fehlt. Sie haben in „Cos├Č fan tutte“ alle Frauenrollen gesungen, auch Despina, die Zofe, und Dorabella. Glauben Sie noch an die Liebe, glaubt Mozart daran?
[Many who today have no children say that they are missing a reliable partner. You have played all the parts in Cosi, also Despina and Dorabella. Do you think Mozart still believed in love?]

Das hoffe ich doch sehr, f├╝r uns beide! Aber Mozart, pardon, ist nicht an unserem Kindermangel schuld. Er ist nie destruktiv. Das Geheimnis seiner Musik besteht darin, dass sie in jedem Augenblick komplett ist. Sie zeigt uns die Euphorie und die Verzweiflung. Sie sagt, das Gl├╝ck der Liebe ist ohne Schmerzen nicht zu haben. Diese Musik ist so ergreifend, f├╝r mich einzigartig.
[I very much hope so, for us both! Pardon me, but Mozart is not responsible for how we mangle our children. He is never distructive. The secret of his music is that in each moment it is complete. It shows us the euphoria and the doubt. It says that the luck of love cannot be had without pain. This music is so moving, for me uniquely.]

Mozart als Mythos?
[Mozart as myth?]

Nun ja, da gibt es diese Geschichten um seinen Tod. Dass es Constanze gewesen sein soll, seine Frau, die in Wien als Erste das Ger├╝cht verbreitete, er sei vergiftet worden. Dass Salieri seine Finger mit im Spiel gehabt habe. Heute wissen wir, das ist alles blanker Unsinn.
[Yes. There are these stories about his death. That it was Constanze, his wife, that first in Vienna spread the rumor that he was poisoned. That Salieri had his finger in the event. Today we know that this is all pure nonsense.]

Man hat 1984 herausgefunden, dass Mozart an einer Streptokokken-Infektion gestorben ist, verbunden mit Nierenversagen, Bluthochdruck, einem Schlaganfall durch Gehirnblutung und einer Lungenentz├╝ndung. Das reicht f├╝r mehrere Tode.
[In 1984 we found out that Mozart died of a streptococcus infection, together with kidney, bloodpressure, bleeding in the brain and pneumonia. That is enough for several deaths.

Er hat ja auch mehrere Leben gef├╝hrt! Aber das mit dem Legendenhaften, Mythischen ist nicht so einfach. Salieri war kein Neider und Nichtsk├Ânner und Constanze nicht dumm und raffgierig. Sie hat beispielsweise ├Ąu├čerst tatkr├Ąftig daf├╝r gesorgt, dass Mozarts Nachlass nicht in alle Winde zerstreut wurde, die hervorragende Quellenlage haben wir also ihr zu verdanken, bis heute.
[He has also led several lives. However the myth is not so simple. Salieri was not an envious person, and Constanze wasn’t stupid. For example, she energetically made sure that Mozart’s legacy wasn’t spread to the winds, the outstanding condition of the source materials is thanks to her. ]

Mochten Sie den „Amadeus“-Film?
[Do you like the movie Amadeus?]

Salieri ist mir hinterher viel sympathischer gewesen als Mozart! Tom Hulce …
[Salieri was after that much more sympathetic for me than Mozart! Tom Hulce..]

… der Darsteller des Mozart …
[The actor who played Mozart]

… hat einen Verr├╝ckten gespielt, okay. Aber F. Murray Abraham’s Salieri war ein echter Charakter. Schade, dass der Film damals nicht zu einer Renaissance der Musik gef├╝hrt hat. Salieri ist ein au├čerordentlich interessanter, wichtiger Komponist im Wien des 18. Jahrhunderts. Wer ihn kennt, versteht Mozart viel besser.
[played him as crazy. F. Murray Abraham’s Salieri was a truer character. It’s a shame that the movie didn’t lead to a musical Renaissance. Salieri is an extraordinarily interesting, important composer in Vienna of the eighteenth century. Those who know him, understand Mozart much better.]

Wie schwer ist es, Mozart zu singen?
[How hard is it to sing Mozart?]

Es hei├čt ja, Mozart sei etwas f├╝r Kinder und f├╝r Weise. Technisch ist seine Musik nicht wirklich schwer, da gibt es andere, die haben sehr viel mehr schwarze Noten produziert. Aber emotional ist er ungeheuer anspruchsvoll! Mozart trifft mich oft so tief, er l├Ąsst mich so unmittelbar begreifen, dass ich versucht bin, die Kontrolle ├╝ber mein Singen zu verlieren. Mozart ist richtig gef├Ąhrlich. Wobei ich das Emotionale vom Virtuosen niemals trennen w├╝rde. Das habe ich als S├Ąngerin gelernt: Je perfekter ich mein Instrument beherrsche, technisch, desto freier bin ich, desto h├Âher und weiter kann ich fliegen. Nur wenn ich in der Lage bin, all das, was ich jahrelang ge├╝bt habe, zu vergessen, mein ganzes m├╝hsam erworbenes Handwerk, nur dann kann ich im entscheidenden Moment auch loslassen. Das gilt f├╝r die Musik, das gilt f├╝rs Leben.
[Yes. Mozart is somewhat for children and for the wise. Technically his music is not really difficult. There are others who have produced a lot more black notes. But emotionally he is tremendously deep. Mozart often affects me so deeply, leaves me so moved that I have to work hard to keep my singing under control. Mozart is truly dangerous. I can never separate the emotions and the virtuosity. I have learned this as a singer: the more perfectly I train my instrument, technically, the freer I am and the higher and further I can fly. Only when I am in the situation where everything that I have practiced all year long can be forgotten, my whole laborious handwork, only then can I in the right moment let go. That goes for the music, for life.]

Singen Sie 2006 eigentlich nur Mozart?
[Are you singing only Mozart in 2006?]

Um Himmels willen! Nach den vielen Mozartkugeln und den Mozartschinken und dem Mozartbier und was es noch alles gibt, wird es unserer kollektiven Mozart-Leber Ende des Jahres sehr schlecht gehen. Das Problem mit der Kommerzialisierung ist ja, dass sie selten der Musik wirklich nutzt. Man will Mozart verkaufen. Und das gilt auch f├╝r die Kunst. Wenn die Salzburger Festspiele n├Ąchsten Sommer alle 22 Mozart-Opern aufs Programm setzen, dann ist das eine enzyklop├Ądische Leistung. ├ťber die k├╝nstlerische Qualit├Ąt der einzelnen Auff├╝hrungen aber sagt das nichts, und eigentlich geht es in Salzburg doch um Qualit├Ąt …
[For heaven’s sake! After many Mozartkugeln (round chocolate candies) and Mozart ham and Mozart beer and everything else, our collective Mozart life at the year’s end will go very badly. The problem with commercialization is that it seldom really uses the music. One wants to sell Mozart. And that goes also for art. When the Salzburg festival next summer puts all 22 Mozart operas on the schedule, that will be an encyclopedic achievement. About the artistic quality of each single production, that says nothing, and really, in Salzburg it’s about quality. ]

Ich glaube, Ihr Cappuccino wird langsam kalt.
[I think your cappuccino is getting cold.]

Cecilia Bartoli l├Ąsst sich nicht beirren.
[She didn’t drink it.]

… also ich halte von Massenaufl├Ąufen dieser Art ziemlich wenig. Au├čerdem feiern wir 300 Jahre H├Ąndel in Rom n├Ąchstes Jahr. Auch kein schlechter Komponist, glauben Sie mir. Und Robert Schumann wird 150 Jahre tot sein.
[I don’t think much of mass offerings of art. Next year we are celebrating 300 years of Handel in Rome. Also not a bad composer, believe me. And Robert Schumann will be dead 150 years.

Die Italiener k├Ânnen, wie man wei├č, mit Mozart nicht so viel anfangen. Schmerzt Sie das?
[The Italians, as we know, don’t make much of Mozart. Does this hurt you?]

Ein bisschen schon. Ich selbst bin mit Rossini und Bellini aufgewachsen, mit dem klassischen Belcanto-Repertoire also. Meine Eltern waren beide Operns├Ąnger, ich kann diese Vorliebe f├╝r das ausufernde Gef├╝hl, die gro├če Geste, das Espressivo sehr gut verstehen. Das ist gewisserma├čen meine Muttermilch. Und dann habe ich viel Barockmusik gesungen. Wissen Sie, wer mich zu Mozart verf├╝hrt hat? Daniel Barenboim. Der kam und sagte: Cecilia, du hast die Stimme und den Charakter f├╝r Mozart, bitte tu’s, setz dich hin und lerne, ich werde dir helfen. Und ich hab’s getan. Da war ich immerhin schon 20!
[A little. I grew up with Rossini and Bellini, with the classical bel canto repertoire. My parents were both opera singers, I can understand this preference for the big gesture, for the espressivo. It is in a certain sense my mother’s milk. And then I have sung a lot of Baroque music. Do you know who led me to Mozart? Daniel Barenboim. He came and said: Cecilia, you have the voice and the character for Mozart. Please do it, sit down and learn, I will help you. And I did it. Then I was only twenty.]

Vielleicht liegt es daran, dass man in Italien Mozart f├╝r einen deutschen Komponisten h├Ąlt, w├Ąhrend die Deutschen in ihm gerne den Italiener sehen. [Perhaps Italians hold Mozart to be a German composer, while the Germans see in him an Italian.]

Und wissen Sie was: Er ist keins von beidem. Das ist das Faszinierende, vielleicht auch das Verwirrende. Mozart war Europ├Ąer, wie vor ihm H├Ąndel, wie ├╝berhaupt sehr viele Barockkomponisten.
[Do you know what: He is not either one. That is the fascinating, perhaps also the confusing thing. Mozart was a European, as before him Handel, like many Baroque composers.]

Hei├čt das, den Italienern ist das Europ├Ąische fremd? In England, in Frankreich, in Holland, in Deutschland ist gerade die Barockmusik heute irrsinnig popul├Ąr. Nur in Italien nicht.
[Does that mean that for Italians the European is strange? In England, in France, in Holland, in Germany is Baroque music extremely popular. Only not in Italy.]

Ich denke, Italien hat gerade so viele so ernste Schwierigkeiten, nicht nur mit Europa, da steht die Barockmusik nicht an erster Stelle, also wirklich nicht. Nat├╝rlich bin ich manchmal traurig, dass so wenige die Musik eines Vivaldi, eines Monteverdi kennen. Trotzdem: Italien ist und bleibt „la patria della musica“!
[I think Italy has now so many, so serious difficulties, not only with Europe, that Baroque music doesn’t take first place there, really not. Naturally, I am a little sad that so few know the music of Vivaldi, of Monteverdi. In spite of that, Italy is and remains la patria della musica. (the homeland of music.)]

Selbst wenn Berlusconis Finanzminister Giulio Tremonti gerade 40 Prozent des staatlichen Kulturetats streichen will und viele Theater und Opernh├Ąuser sich akut von der Schlie├čung bedroht sehen?
[If Berlusconi’s finance minister G.T. cuts 40 percent of the state culture subsidy, will many theaters and opera houses be forced to close?]

Was erwarten wir von der Gesellschaft? Zu Hause kommt heutzutage kaum ein Kind noch mit Musik in Ber├╝hrung, in den Schulen findet kein vern├╝nftiger Unterricht mehr statt. Wie k├Ânnen wir dann davon ausgehen, dass sich irgendjemand mit 20 oder 25 pl├Âtzlich f├╝r Musik interessiert? Und warum sind wir so entsetzt, wenn keiner mehr da ist und die Politik alles kaputtspart? Musik ist eine Sprache, die auf sehr direkte Weise zu den Menschen spricht. Musik greift Menschen ans Herz, anders und tiefer als Geografie oder Geschichte oder Mathematik. Ich finde es grausam, einem Kind ausgerechnet diese Sprache vorzuenthalten. Es geht darum, Angebote zu machen, und zwar fr├╝hzeitig.
[What do we expect from business? At home today scarcely a child comes into contact with music, in the schools there is no longer any serious study. How can we say that at 20 or 25 suddenly someone will have an interest in music? And why are we so angry if no one is there and everything goes kaput? Music is a language that by very direct means speaks to people. Music touches people in the heart differently and more deeply than geography or history or mathematics. I find it cruel to keep especially this language from a child.  It's necessary to make requests, and as soon as possible.]

K├Ânnen Sie sich vorstellen, dass Sie sich in dieser Frage eines Tages politisch engagieren?
[Can you imagine yourself someday engaging in politics over these questions?]

Ich denke, dazu br├Ąuchte es ein anderes gesellschaftspolitisches Klima. Nicht wir K├╝nstler m├╝ssen von der existenziellen Wichtigkeit der Musik ├╝berzeugt sein, sondern die Politiker. Ein Finanz- oder Wirtschaftsminister, den Musik nie ber├╝hrt hat, wird sich nie daf├╝r stark machen. Da k├Ânnen Sie als Bittstellerin so ber├╝hmt sein, wie Sie wollen. Und ich bin in Italien nicht ber├╝hmt.
[I think it needs another political climate. We artists don’t need to be certain of the importance of music, but the politicians do.  A Finance or Economics Minister, whom the music has never touched, will never be strong for it. Because you as petitioner can be as famous as you want. In Italy I am not famous.]

Cecilia Bartoli lupft vorsichtig die Milchschaumhaube ihres Cappuccinos.
[She carefully lifts the foam from her cappuccino.]

Ihr j├╝ngstes Album nennt sich „Opera proibita“, verbotene Opern. Das meint die r├Âmische Prohibition im 18. Jahrhundert. Gibt es etwas, das in der heutigen Kunst verboten ist oder verboten sein sollte?
[Your most recent album is called “Opera proibita,” forbidden opera. That refers to the Roman prohibition in the seventeenth century. Is there something in today’s art that is forbidden or should be forbidden?]

Aus dem Bauch heraus sage ich jetzt sofort: nein, nat├╝rlich nicht. Schlie├člich leben wir in einer Zeit des Anything Goes. Aber schlechte Qualit├Ąt geh├Ârt eigentlich immer verboten. Andererseits gibt es sehr wohl eine Verbindung zwischen Prohibition und Kreativit├Ąt. Das klingt jetzt vielleicht paradox, aber in Zeiten der Unterdr├╝ckung, der Diktatur, der Repression wird dem K├╝nstler oft mehr Erfindungsgeist abverlangt als in Zeiten der Freiheit.
[From my guts I say immediately: no, naturally not. Finally we live in a time when anything goes. However, bad quality should always be forbidden. On the other side there is a connection between prohibition and creativity. That sounds like a paradox, but in times of repression, the dictator, the repression often calls for more creative spirit than in times of freedom.]

Es geht uns zu gut f├╝r wirklich gro├če Kunst?
[It’s going too well for us to have truly great art?]

Ach, das klingt mir jetzt zu weltanschaulich. Die Prohibition in Rom zum Beispiel hatte auch eine heitere Seite. Man stelle sich vor: Der Vatikan verbietet die Oper aus Gr├╝nden der Sittlichkeit, und es sind kunstsinnige Kardin├Ąle wie Ottoboni, die auf der Musik beharren. Was tun sie? Sie lassen H├Ąndel, Scarlatti und Caldara allegorische Libretti und biblische Texte vertonen, schon sind sie aus dem Schneider. Das Ganze hei├čt jetzt zwar nicht mehr Oper, aber die Musik selbst ist kaum weniger dramatisch, leidenschaftlich und sinnlich. Die perfekte Verpackung. Ganz modern.
[Ach! That sounds to me too universal-world-viewish. (?) The prohibition in Rome, for example, had also a cheerful side. Imagine: the Vatican forbade opera for reasons of morality, and it was artistic cardinals like Ottoboni, that wanted music. What did they do? They let Handel, Scarlatti, and Caldara compose allegorical libretti and biblical texts, that have already been censored. The result was not anymore opera, but the music itself is scarcely less dramatic, less passionate and sensitive. The perfect packaging. Completely modern.]

Frauen auf der B├╝hne waren damals auch verboten.
[Women were also forbidden on the stage at that time.]

Deshalb bin ich ja so froh, dass ich im 21. Jahrhundert lebe!
[That’s why I’m so glad that I live in the twenty-first century.]

… das sich auch in Ph├Ąnomenen wie Anna Netrebko spiegelt. W├Ąhlen Sie: W├╝rden Sie lieber Netrebkos Stimme haben wollen oder ihre Beine?
[...this is also reflected in a phenomenon like Anna Netrebko. Choose: would you rather have Netrebko's voice or her legs?]

Oh, das kann man doch nicht trennen! Anna ist der lebendige Beweis daf├╝r, dass der liebe Gott, wenn er in Stimmung ist, unerh├Ârt sch├Âne Frauen erschaffen kann. Wobei die Sch├Ânheit f├╝r den Gesang immer wichtig war, das ist keine Erfindung unserer Zeit und keine Frage eines blo├č oberfl├Ąchlich guten Aussehens. Kennen Sie Anna Moffo? Sie wurde in den 60er Jahren zu einer der zehn sch├Ânsten Frauen Italiens gew├Ąhlt und war eine gro├čartige S├Ąngerin. Haben Sie je von der Sopranistin Lina Cavalieri geh├Ârt, Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts? Atemberaubend! Nat├╝rlich wird weibliche Sch├Ânheit heute permanent missbraucht, in der Werbung, in den Medien. Da finde ich es letztlich viel ehrlicher, Musik zu vermarkten als Waschmaschinen.
[Oh, one cannot separate them! Anna is the living proof that the dear God, when he is in the mood, can create unimaginably beautiful women. That beauty is important for singing is not the discovery of our time, and not a question only of superficially good appearance. Do you know Anna Moffo? She was in the sixties voted one of the 10 most beautiful Italian women, and was a wonderful singer. Have you ever heard of the soprano Lina Cavalieri? At the beginning of the twentieth century? Breathtaking! Naturally today female beauty is misused in advertising and the media. I think it is more honorable to market music that way than washing machines.]

Wen w├╝rden Sie im Himmel noch gerne treffen?
[Who would you like to meet in heaven?]

Ich glaube, bei mir l├Ąuft es eher auf die H├Âlle hinaus … Ich hoffe jedenfalls, ich werde in guter Gesellschaft sein, lauter arme Seelen, die viel zu lachen haben – und die wissen, was ein echter Cappuccino ist. Wenig starker Espresso, viel gesch├Ąumte Milch. Und: Es darf sich nicht mischen. Auf den Kontrast kommt es an. Wie in der Musik.
[I think, I am more likely destined for hell. I hope in any case, I will be in good company, poor souls that have a lot to laugh about—and know what a real cappuccino is. Less strong espresso, more foamed milk. And they should not be mixed. It is the contrast that makes it work. Like in music.]

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

Spelled with an S, apparently. She is 90 now and living in Zurich. She was a Nazi, perhaps even an enthusiastic one, but all is forgiven. She sang perhaps a half dozen roles, and in spite of this is one of the immortals. I was surprised to see in the annals of the San Francisco Opera that she sang the Marschallin in at least three different seasons there. They weren't afraid to repeat a success. Adler brought her to San Francisco long before the Met. She was one of his great achievements.

Monday, January 02, 2006


I can't think when I have had a more successful trip to a record store than yesterday. I like all of it very much, including:

Rosa Ponselle arias and songs. The digital remastering of old 78's is really good now. It is fascinating to hear her "Casta Diva." We lose awareness of the icons in our past, but this version does not know of Maria Callas, and rushes forward where Maria would have held back, achieves an equally interesting but completely different interpretion. No contemporary singer would think of doing anything this different.

Ewa Podle┼Ť. Ach! A true contralto, that rarest of all voices. The recording is just called "Ewa Podle┼Ť, Garrick Ohlsson, Live." You have to hear this to believe it, especially the Mussorgsky "Songs and Dances of Death," done in Russian. Ewa is Polish, and the recording was made in Poland. If you haven't heard her, I guarantee you have never heard anything like the sound of her voice. Her style is also quite interesting, somewhat rough, like her voice.

Dawn Upshaw singing Ayre, a song cycle with a sound that isn't at all like classical music. Klesmer is what I would have called it. It is ethnic in language and style, and Dawn Upshaw achieves this. I have read on the internet people complaining about Dawn Upshaw, wondering why she is there when others have more beautiful voices. There are two things: voice and style. There is nothing wrong with her voice, but that isn't why she's here. Apparently nothing is too hard for her. She achieved cult status with her performance of Gorecki's Third symphony, a musically awesome performance. She was unbelievable in L'Amour de loin, a work with virtually no toe holds, no musical landmarks to orient yourself to, nothing but the ever flowing ocean below you. Everything turns to music in her hands.

Gramophone Issue 1000. Their list of the 100 greatest recordings of all time includes a few of my favorites, including the Bjoerling and de los Angeles La Boheme I recommended everyone should buy. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is in the list for Der Rosenkavalier and the Four Last Songs of Strauss. These choices are called controversial. The author says yes, I know this is controversial, but I still like it. It isn't told why they are controversial. Somebody somewhere doesn't like Schwarzkopf. I wouldn't doubt that you could find fuller voices to sing these notes, but she is the point of departure, the standard for performance of these works for her grace, for her emotional presence in the moment.

The list hasn't nearly enough opera, contains nothing by Bellini or Donizetti. I grew up on De Los Angeles' "Les Nuits d'├ët├ę" and not Regine Crespin's. I have always preferred Janet Baker's Das Lied von der Erde and not the more historical version by Bruno Walter, considered the definitive interpreter of Mahler. If you learn to love a particular recording, you are not likely ever to change.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


I notice that the New York Times has a long article today about the effects of microphones in the opera house. They got this idea from me, you know. There is a nice bit about Thomas Glenn, an Adler Fellow, who wore a body mike in Doctor Atomic, and no, that didn't come from me. When I heard Glenn in his Schwabacher Debut Recital, I recommended that he take up coloratura singing, since that was the only use I knew for such a light tenor voice. I didn't think of amplified opera. That's the problem, you see. If you can just crank up the volume as high as you want, there is no need to develop the proper heavy technique, the true operatic technique.

The same newspaper has a short list of the hits of crossover, starting with the Three Tenors. This list also includes Dawn Upshaw's recording of Gorecki's Third Symphony.

I hope everyone has a happy new year.

New Years Eve

Just when I thought there was no more classical music on television, there was Angela Gheorghiu, Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic.

Matt Dobkin has written about Angela in his book, saying she is a real pain in the ass. Well, I don't know anything about that. She had a very nice interview with Beverly Sills in the intermission. Sills got Angela in the mood by saying that her father was from Romania, and he always said the most beautiful women in the world come from Romania, and then Sills gave a little nod toward Angela.

If Angela wants to be the diva of her era, and she would appear to have the voice and looks to aspire to this title, she will have to deliver the goods. This program included all the showpiece arias of the post romantic:

Catalani: “Ebben? Ne andr├▓ lontana” from La Wally
Cilea: “lo son l’umile ancella” from Adriana Lecouvreur
Verdi: “Pace, pace, mio Dio” from La forza del destino
Puccini: “Un bel di” from Madama Butterfly
Puccini: “Chi il bel songo di Doretta” from La Rondine
Puccini: “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi

It was lovely. She is a lyric soprano with spinto possibilities, exactly the right voice for these arias. How refreshing to hear someone who is actually too schmaltzy, too outward, too expressive. She sang a Romanian song as an encore. Brava. More, please.