Sunday, December 31, 2006

Favorites by Year 2006 👍🏻

This is the year of my four month stay in London where I saw a lot of live performances. After that I retired from my job.  I traveled to LA to see Netrebko in Manon.  My experiences of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Sondra Radvanovsky begin here.  This year I reviewed 41 performances, including 18 DVDs, 22 live performances (in London, Rome, Zurich, New York, LA, DC, Baltimore and San Francisco),  and 1 movie.

Favorite Performances

  • Rome:  Franco Alfano's La Leggenda di Sakùntala in Rome [I just found out this was the first performance of the original version of this opera after the score was found in 2005.]   I briefly popped down to Rome from London.  Rome Opera is stagione, which means at any given time only one opera is playing.  Strange as this may sound, I also saw another opera by Alfano in London that year-- Cyrano de Bergerac.  This may have been my first encounter with Sondra Radvanovsky and included a conversation with her husband Travel **

  • (AN) The Salzburg La Traviata with Netrebko and Villazon
  • This production hasn't worked for the other sopranos like it worked for Netrebko.  See this one, skip the others.  It is simply spectacularly good.  This was not my first Netrebko.  I was already a huge fan long before I started blogging.  As a long time subscriber to the San Francisco Opera, I first saw her in Ruslan and Lyudmila in 1995.  I vividly remember her bursting on the stage as Musetta in La Boheme, probably in 2004.  She was very memorable from the  beginning. DVD

  • (AN) Anna Netrebko in Massenet's Manon in LA   After seeing her in San Francisco and on DVD for years, I flew to Los Angeles to see her Manon.  I wasn't sure she could do this, but she very much exceeded my expectations.  Netrebko is so insanely famous now because of her work in this period.  This production with the same cast appears on DVD from Berlin, highly recommended. Travel  ** ##20
  • (AN) Netrebko's Russian Album CD If you haven't heard this, you simply have no idea.  It is great Russian music by great Russian artists.  CD

Singer of the year 

Anna Netrebko creates her spectacular La Traviata, Manon and The Russian Album in a single year.  Few artists can point to such an achievement.

Didn't Like

I didn't care for the L'Orfeo from the ENO because the staging was incoherent, or for Sophie's Choice for bad vocal writing and just bad music.  I didn't feel the DVD production for El Niño worked at all.

New to Me Opera

There was a long list of new operas this year, including a lot of musicals seen in London.  I was researching unknown Rossini as well:

  1. Adams El Niño (2000) was a DVD.
  2. Alfano's Cyrano de Bergerac (1936) (live in London) **
  3. Alfano's La Leggenda di Sakùntala (1921)(live in Rome) **
  4. Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever, musical was live in London.  **
  5. Handel's Semele (1744)(live in New York) **
  6. Janáček's Jenufa (1904) was a DVD  
  7. Elton John's The Lion King, musical, was live in London. **
  8. Krieger's Dreamgirls musical was a movie.
  9. Maw's Sophie's Choice (2002)(live in Washington) No thank you.  ** 
  10. Monteverdi's Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria (1640) was a DVD.
  11. Monteverdi's L'Orfeo (1607) was live in London. **
  12. Offenbach's La Belle Hélène (1864) (live in London) **
  13. Prokofiev's Betrothal in a Monastery (1946) was a DVD with Netrebko.
  14. Rossini's Ermione (1819) was a DVD.
  15. Rossini's Bianca e Falliero (1819) was a DVD.
  16. Rossini's Tancredi (1813) was a DVD
  17. Rossini's The Siege of Corinth (1826) (live in Baltimore) **
  18. Shaiman's Hairspray musical was live in New York. **
  19. Sondheim's Into the Woods (1987) was a DVD.
  20. Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans (1881) (live at SFO). ** ++
  21. Webber's The Woman in White, musical was live in London. **
  22. Weir's A Night at the Chinese Opera  (1987)(live in London) **
  23. Williams' Sir John in Love (1929) (live in London) **

##20 top 20 all time
** live, live stream or live in HD

Things Recommended to Buy



My life has fallen into chaos. I moved all my possessions to Ohio, and then the sale of my house fell through. I am going on as if nothing is wrong, but I have a house I can't use.

I was going to Portland, Oregon, and then found the movie broadcasts from the Met were not showing anywhere in Portland. So I went to Sacramento instead.

So then I found the Magic Flute was completely sold out. Who would have thought? It is hard to think of this as a bad thing. I heard some of it on the radio and really liked the Queen of the Night, sung by Erika Miklósa. Her legato and sense of ease was very fine in this difficult music.

I had no trouble getting tickets to the other two and look forward to seeing them. A friend reminds me that while I am watching I Puritani in a movie theater, she will be in the orchestra at the Met. (Insert raspberry here.)

I was showing the Figaro from Salzburg 2006 to a friend and was struck again by how really unpleasant it is. The tempos are all very somber and draggy in addition to the dismally serious production. The kissing scene with Cherubino is amusing. Roeschmann and Schaefer in particular really get into it. Everything is Cupid's fault. He is spreading chaos.

In several places the players do synchronized movements. Why? Who knows? Except when Anna Netrebko does them they look like dance movements while everyone elses look crude. I'm sure part of Anna's attraction is how she moves. Like a dancer or a gymnast.

So now I find that I have lost my ticket to Semele in Zurich. I remembered my passport, but can't remember where I put the ticket. I am hoping to talk the opera there into issuing me another ticket. Otherwise I will stay home.

Chaos. Perhaps I am not cut out to be a gypsy.

Monday, December 25, 2006


The movie Dreamgirls opened today. It is an amalgam of so many things it's hard to get them all in. The basic story is modelled on The Supremes, a Motown group from the sixties, and in the movie Beyonce plays the Diana Ross character, and Jennifer Hudson, a newcomer to the films, is the ousted Effie. The casting is particularly fabulous. Eddie Murphy plays the male singer the girls first work as backup singers for, and Jamie Foxx is the manager, Curtis.

Three different periods are represented: the early sixties when The Supremes were in their heyday, 1981 when the musical opened on Broadway and the present. My ears heard 1981 Broadway and not 1961 Motown in the music. The plot is still a viable plot today. There still is a soul style and a white style of American pop music, though soul singing has crossed over into mainstream as it certainly had not done in the sixties. American Idol still does its best to surpress the soul stylists. The role of the present when viewing this movie is that more than just black people can appreciate the soul singing.

Curtis insists that the singers cultivate a more white sound without ornamentation. Some do this more willingly than others, and Curtis gradually weeds the reluctant ones out. Effie is the first to go. He was right, of course. The Supremes made a lot more money with a whiter style than they ever would have made as soul singers.

Beyonce is perfect for singing in the mainstream, and Jennifer Hudson is fabulous as the soulful Effie. Hudson is the star. The plot continues to include her character, to give her songs and screen time, after she is expelled from the group because otherwise all the energy would go out of the show. She deserves the Oscar buzz she is getting. It is a breakout part. She pops like Judy Garland.

Recommended. It's great fun!

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Very rough translation of notice about Cecilia Bartoli's next CD:

"The next CD of Cecilia or her return to Rossini... or rather to his contemporaries since the next recording of Bartoli will be dedicated to the musical universe of the contemporaries of Rossini. Ask me the names neither of the type-setters nor of works, nobody knows them apart from the Lady (the orchestra even had parts where their names did not appear to avoid any escape or any plagiarism...). Publication in the autumn 2007 at Decca, obviously."

Who? Spontini, Mehul, Cimarosa, Cherubini, Piccinni, more Salieri, who? Those are my guesses.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Neruda Songs

I enjoy Peter Lieberson's Neruda Songs on texts by Pablo Neruda without feeling that they tread any new paths. It seems like a soundtrack, if you know what I mean. If this is a soundtrack, what is the movie?

It is a great love story. Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the beach, perhaps, with the waves rushing over them as they kiss. There is great poignancy here.

My love, if I die and you don't,
My love, if you die and I don't,
Let's not give grief an even greater field.
No expanse is greater than where we live.

...We might not have found each other in time.

just as it never had a birth, it has
no death: it is a long river,
only changing lands, and changing lips.

These are the songs of a great love story, for the composer has written then both to and for his beloved wife Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, for her voice and for her soul, and the result is very beautiful indeed. He knows his wife's voice very well and shows it to wonderful advantage. He knows her sweet notes, knows how to show off the lushness of her middle register, the beauty of her glissando, the darkness of her low notes. Are you other guys paying attention? This is how it's done.

It is even more poignant that these songs appear posthumously. "If I die and you don't...."

Anna and Cecilia

The Marriage of Figaro with Cecilia Bartoli and Bryn Terfel has long been my favorite. I loved the emotional rapport between them as a couple, and I felt very much a compatibility between the open earthiness of Bartoli, indeed of both of them and the roles they were portraying. I felt the vividness of the duke's assault as I had not done before. I felt love, jealousy, enjoyment as I had not done before.

So this Figaro with Anna Netrebko is rather a shock. I think Anna projects an entirely different kind of sexual energy than Cecilia. Behind Anna's dark smile anything could be lurking. She seems capable of any treachery or passion. Where Cecilia is loving and sensual, Anna is truly ambiguous. Is she betraying Figaro or not? Does she kiss the duke with love or loathing? Is she teasing Figaro in "Deh vieni" or not?

Anna may well be the better actress. Cecilia projects her own warmth to a truly remarkable degree. Anna reflects her vision. She is projecting the darkness and ambiguity of the production.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. I have no excuse. We are deep into minimalism, right? I have identified a minimalist period beginning in 1975 with Glass’ Einstein on the Beach.

So German opera is deep into minimalist productions. The setting is always an unspecified present--vaguely contemporary costumes of no particular fashion. This style of production is everywhere--I almost wrote ueberall--though other types of productions are still around. Semele in New York City and Manon in Los Angeles are too specific to qualify.

In the Salzburg La Traviata it is done with a huge white band and sofas from Ikea.

In Freischuetz a large black object with steps and a doorway is the only set.

La Juive is done in two levels to symbolize the two worlds of jews and catholics.

I suppose Pamela Rosenberg’s productions were mostly in this style as well. Certainly the infamous Alcina where the heroine constantly changes her always black outfits was.

And of course the costumes are mostly black and white. The red dress in Traviata seems the only exception.

And in this Figaros Hochzeit from Salzburg there are stairs, doors, windows, but no furniture and no color.

Early in Act I Figaro finds a dead crow and throws it out the window. Oh, and there’s a cupid, a character dressed exactly like Cherubino (Cherubin d’amore) except with a pair of dainty wings. Cupid, called Cherubim in the credits, is an actual boy who bounds up the stairs two and three at a time, showing us why Cherubino never quite seems like a real boy. I’ve never seen a girl singer who could get that much into her body. It is cupid who keeps the emotions always in turmoil. He flings the characters around like rag dolls and seems to be controlling the action.

Cupid’s work is more blatant here by far than what I am used to. (In fact I went to an amateur production of Figaro in the Austrian embassy last night, and they presented it in a much more traditional style. Maybe more later.) There is quite a lot of kissing. The count kisses Susanna, and his wife sees him, perhaps explaining her feelings in “Porgi amor”.

Most transformed is the scene in the Countess‘ bedroom with the Countess, Susanna and Cherubino rolling around on the floor together. They don’t make it to the dressing up part and only manage the undressing, though not going all the way to nudity. Cherubino enthusiastically kisses both Susanna and the Countess, and is given mini love-making lessons. This changes completely the following scene and explains much more vividly the Countess’ guilt. Making the sexuality more overt certainly helps to explain the plot.

Cupid rises to the level of a concept, but the rest is just generic minimalism. Minimalist productions serve to make vivid the true meaning of the emotions deep in the opera. They are clarified in broad simple gestures.

However, it must be said that this Figaro is not at all funny.

Anna Netrebko is a very inward Susanna, and Dorotea Röschmann is a more interesting Countess than the last time I saw her in London. Christine Schäfer played Cherubino. I didn’t recognize any of the other names but thought that the mix of voices in the ensembles was especially good. In particular, Netrebko and Röschmann go well together. Harnoncourt, the conductor, is heavily booed at the end.

Friday, December 15, 2006


A friend has sent me a Christmas present: Eileen Farrell does Puccini and more. This is something I have never heard before. I have a very nice recital recording I've always loved where she sings Schubert, Debussey and Poulenc, setting the standard for my ears ever since.

When I was very pregnant, I sat in the pit to hear her sing with the Sacramento Symphony. She sang Abscheulischer, Leise leise, and the Liebestod. She just stood there like a stick, but it was glorious.

Puccini from her I had not heard before. It must be a young recording. I mean she must have been relatively young. She had one of the great voices of all time, with a kind of mystical lightness. It did exactly whatever she wanted it to. How can a dramatic soprano sound light? You tell me. Her Puccini is eye opening.

Thank you.

Ben Heppner

From Playbill: If you think it takes hard work to be an opera singer, Ben Heppner says think again. The star tenor insists that the key to his success is his "laziness." Tongue planted firmly in cheek, the man considered one of today's greatest Wagnerians tells the Paris newspaper Le Figaro that "it requires too much work to sing with power." He continues: "I am convinced that it is easier to sing well than to sing badly." Heppner — who was in the French capital early this month to perform chunks from Lohengrin, Tristan and Parsifal at the Salle Pleyel — goes on to explain that he tries to sing in his voice's most natural lyrical range rather than attempt to force out a big, stereotypical Heldentenor sound. It seems to be working: Heppner has shown no signs lately of the vocal difficulties that forced him to stop singing completely for six months back in 2002. Incidentally, Heppner is one of the few opera singers who talks openly about his vocal difficulties (Karita Mattila is another). The subject is still taboo among many opera singers. Right after the New Year, Heppner returns to Canada to perform a series of recitals around British Columbia. Then he's off to Philadelphia at the end of January to sing with Deborah Voigt at the 150th anniversary gala for Philadelphia's Academy of Music, the oldest opera house in the United States. [What did I say? Sing like James Morris. I assure you, he never breaks into a sweat.]

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I just bought a copy of Eyewitness Companions--Opera. This is quite a nice book with a strong emphasis on contemporary singers, repertoire and productions, with a very glamorous picture of the girl of the moment on page 46.

However, turn to page 106 where we see a shot illustrating Mitridate, Re di Ponto. It says the people in the photograph are Sally Matthews as Sifare and Aleksandra Kurzak as Aspasia, when we know perfectly well that they are Ann Murray and Yvonne Kenny.

And on page 193 the woman with Luciano is certainly not Mirela Freni.

Christmas gifts

Amazon has this now.

I seem to have enjoyed Renée Fleming’s Homage quite a lot.

For the serious minded I can definitely recommend Harnoncourt’s Bach Matthew Passion.

I was very excited by the film of Porgy and Bess with Willard White.

Oh. And of course, the DVD of the Salzburg La Traviata. Give this to everyone.

For the Wagner fan I recommend the Tristan und Isolde with Waltraud Meier. If they are truly a fan, they will already own the DVD of Tristan with Birgit Nilsson.

This older Idomeneo with Placido Domingo is quite beautiful.

Happy turkey day!

Monday, December 11, 2006


Martha Lipton has died at 93. She was on the faculty at Indiana when I was there and lived on a houseboat in Lake Monroe. I've always thought it would be cool to live on a houseboat. When you get tired of the scenery, you just go out for a cruise.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


At the risk of beginning to look like a fan-zine, I would like to pass on a summary of an interview with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon broadcast on the Oesterreichische Rundfunk in November. The interview took place before the Friends of the Wiener Staatsoper. Anna spoke in English, Rolando in German.

The interview begins and ends with excerpts from the Salzburg La Traviata. There are other excerpts throughout the interview, including an excellent aria by Rolando from Don Carlo. He is showing me that I have underestimated him. Many of the excerpts are from not yet released recordings.

The announcer explains that before this she was just Anna Netrebko--now after La Traviata she has become The Netrebko. He tells her of how proud they are to have her as a citizen. She explains that she is learning German and loves Austria.

Rolando explains that his real name is Rot--Rolando Rot--and that he speaks such good German because his ancestors were German, and he attended a German school for over 10 years in Mexico. His German Ur-gross mutter is still alive.

[They are both so totally charming that my summary is rather a waste. I can translate printed text, but to translate from spoken words an interview that lasts over an hour is too hard for me.]

Anna explained that in Russia operetta is the favorite form of musical. She was always compelled to the stage from a very young age and preferred to play a princess. Rolando denied that he also wished to be a princess. His half of the interview is very silly. He also loved the theater from a young age, and his favorite was Don Quixote, that he learned all the songs from Man of La Mancha. He once played as part of a clown duo that included an intelligent clown and a stupid clown. Naturally, he played the stupid clown. He explains that Placido Domingo was his hero, that he listened to all of Placido’s crossover albums. He then proceeded to do an imitation of a duet between John Denver and Placido Domingo, switching voices back and forth. So now we know why he seems to sound like Placido.

At 15-17 she started to see operas at the Marinsky Theater, including Otello. She thought, “That is something for me. I want to be able to perform like that.” She is bored with her cleaning lady story, but points out this was in 1991, a terrible time for people in Russia. The singers she listened to were Callas, Sutherland and Freni.

Rolando tells that Anna helped him with his Russian in Eugene Onegin. He admits he doesn’t know what he’s singing, but she says he’s very talented. He in turn has “helped” her with Spanish. She calls him a bastard and explains that she would say things he told her to say, and people’s eyes would grow large.

Anna tells of studying 15 lessons with Renata Scotto who taught her bel canto technique. She says that learning is an endless process. She was taught always to sing with a full voice.

Rolando feels that after achieving maturity, it has been important to make his way alone. “I must take responsibility in my own hands. Then comes the individuality.” From 12-18 Placido was his idol, but “I don’t try to be a second Domingo.”

They ask her about Lulu [this refers to the role of Lulu from Berg's opera Lulu]. She says she hopes one day she will do it. She also aspires to sing Puccini’s Manon Lescaut.

For Rolando the dream role is the one he sings now. At 14 he dreamed of Tales of Hoffmann. Then his dream came true and he sang Hoffmann at Covent Garden.

Anna speaks about her Russian soul. "We like to swim in the sad mood. Anyone likes this." Rolando makes her as crazy as him. She thanks her musical godfather, Valery Gergiev. To show her Russian soul they play a track from the Russian Album.

They are unbelievably charming. I am imagining my eyes growing large. And laughing.

Friday, December 08, 2006


I will never get the hang of opera blogging. I can't rant on endlessly comparing Kiri to Renée or Anna and Maria.

I spent a lot of time in the 80's making music on computers in conjunction with synthesizers and know exactly how easy it is to achieve the perfect trill. I would make the trill in Cakewalk and then copy it around wherever I wanted that effect, transposing it up and down. All my trills were perfect. So what? Perfection is boring.

Any singer you can name is sometimes bad, sometimes boring. Well, maybe Maria was never boring. You might wince at her wobble, but you would not be bored. Kiri was capable of the sublime and the pedestrian. Cecilia does not discipline her legato. Anna is capable of just blasting meaninglessly away and doesn't try for subtlety in her more intense singing. Renée is a crossover and can't help it. All have feet of clay or are not worth listening to. You pick.

Princess Tam Tam

My friendly neighborhood library has a copy of the great Josephine Baker movie Princess Tam Tam. The plot is Pygmalion. A young shepherdess from Tunisia becomes the object of fascination by a famous French novelist who has traveled there to write in seclusion. To make his wife jealous the Frenchman plucks her eyebrows, manicures her hands, dresses her in elegant clothing, teaches her piano and ballroom dancing, and brings her to Paris where she triumphs. It is a musical comedy in the Busby Berkeley style.

What is the fascination of Josephine Baker? To feel it as the French did you must first feel the magnet of society, the pull of elegance and propriety; you must feel it dominate your whole life and know you will never escape. Josephine was this. When she dressed in couture, she was the most elegant and gorgeous woman in the room. Then she could turn this elegance on its head. In her dancing shoes, or more often bare feet, she was exciting and primitive, simultaneously elegant and crude, an object of deep fascination, especially for those who knew they could never do this themselves.

For Americans elegance is an aspiration, not a requirement; the contrast of the elegant and natural plays differently for us. We come close only in Calamity Jane, I suppose, but the crudeness there is merely laughed at, not envied and fantasized about as it is with Josephine. When she speaks French, they would hear an exotic foreigner of unknown origin. We hear a black woman from St. Louis.

She was perhaps the most fascinating woman of her era and one of the main inspirations for art deco. She was painted by many famous painters. In fact, I recently saw a painting of her hanging in the Phillips Collection in Washington, though it was not identified that way. Women tried to increase their tans, to look black. It is a world we cannot imagine.

Monday, December 04, 2006


I am so pleased with myself. I recognized the beginning of "Caro nome" from just two arpeggios by Victor Borge. He was a favorite of my mama, probably the only classical musician she paid any attention to. He still lives on at pledge time on pbs, as near as we get to classical music these days. A more ghastly rendition of "Caro nome" by his comic soprano could not be imagined.

I was driving along the highway to Ohio when the words "Luther Vandross" came into my head. It turned out to be who was singing on the radio, a name I have only recently learned. Something odd is going on with my brain. I seem to know things I didn't know I knew. While not remembering my phone number. It's all very odd.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Attempts to answer the question "what if Anna Netrebko were a vampire?" Forgive me, Gert, it's cropped from one of your pictures.