Saturday, April 29, 2006

Orfeo

Monteverdi’s Orfeo (1607--about a decade after the first opera) is a work that is studied in school. There is a cursory list of 6-8 instruments at the start of the score, all strings of one kind or another. Monteverdi was still in Cremona at that time while the infancy of orchestration was going on in Venice. The specific orchestration of the opera is done by modern arrangers even when the instruments themselves are old. This editor has added a lot of brasses to the mix.

The performance of Orfeo, in English, presented by the English National Opera was an odd mixture. The musical elements were self-consciously antique, including the restringing of the violins with gut. The singers performed their trillos and other ornaments correctly but without enthusiasm.

The production looked more like a trip to Bali than a trip to ancient Greece. Oriental dancers were given a substantial responsibility for dramatic continuity. It gave the producers the opportunity to have a lot more activity on the stage than would otherwise have been the case, but my rule that the production exists to explain the action was not generally in evidence. We know the story, and still we don’t get it. The drama of Orfeo not looking at Euridice was well done. The rest was busy and disorganized. The celebration of Orfeo’s wedding was a drunken orgy. The deus ex machina was like a man being rescued by a helicopter instead of Apollo elevating Orfeo to demigod status.

The main thing not explained is the fundamental idea of the Orfeo myth—that music has the power to seduce the gods, that it transcends even death itself.

The antique instruments don’t make very much noise. Perhaps the problem is that this intimate music is just too soothing. It soothed me right to sleep.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Opera Recital

I'm sorry, Rolando, but it is still the French music that is best. In the recent Opera Recital album it is "La fleur" from Carmen that most impresses. This is simply perfectly exquisite. I think the French are writing specifically for a lyric tenor and the Italians are not. Je t'adore.

Turandot rewritten

A friend tells me that someone has done a new completion of Puccini’s Turandot. Someone, it turns out, is the composer Luciano Berio. Why is it felt necessary to redo Alfano's work?

It could easily be argued that I should have known all about Franco Alfano since he has been in the news lately, but the fact is that the bell simply didn't ring. When I bought the ticket in Rome I was under the impression that this was a new opera, and instead it turned out to be a new production of an old opera. All the information I was able to glean was from the program notes and based on my somewhat primitive Italian. It explained the source of the plot in great detail, and talked about Alfano's work in the movies, where he is called Frank.

When I read articles about this composer and his work on Turandot, I cannot connect what I read to my own experience of performances of both Turandot and Sakùntala. While in a state of almost complete ignorance--though I could remember the approximate date of Puccini's death--I connected Puccini’s Turandot (1924) with Alfano’s La Leggenda di Sakùntala (1921).

Now that I know that Sakùntala preceded Turandot and read the claim that Puccini had orchestrated most of Turandot himself before his death, if I assume these facts are correct, I must conclude that Puccini was influenced by Alfano. For Puccini to write an oriental opera on a mythical theme so soon after Alfano's oriental opera on a mythical theme cannot be a coincidence.

Before I heard Sakùntala I had no idea how much of Turandot was not Puccini. Obviously the arias are. This was Puccini's great gift--the ability to write such deeply personal music for the voice, in particular the soprano and tenor voices. He did not pass this gift to Alfano.

But the sound, the orchestration is very much like Alfano. He was a very talented orchestrator, but much more focused on technique and style than Puccini who never allowed his focus to drift very far from the characters of the opera. Compare with the instrumental parts of Butterfly.

Alfano's vocal writing in Sakùntala seemed closer to Wagner than Puccini. His very heavy orchestra was more Italian than Wagnerian. Wagner likes a lot of thickening in the lower pitches, even going so far as to invent instruments to achieve this effect, which Alfano does not do. Wagner would also never write melodramatic humming chorus into an opera. But the vocal lines of Sakùntala are static with lots of long notes, somewhat reminiscent of Wagner. No melody stayed with me.

I am going to propose an alternative fantasy history: Puccini became acquainted with Alfano’s opera La Leggenda di Sakùntala and was attracted to its oriental subject matter and somewhat more modern neo-Romantic orchestral writing and decided that he would write an oriental opera of his own. He incorporated elements of Alfano’s orchestral style while fully retaining his own style of writing for the voice.

It may even be possible that the Puccini estate knew of this artistic connection and deliberately chose Alfano to complete the score for this reason. If there is this musical connection between the two men, Alfano is the perfect person to complete Turandot.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

La Leggenda di Sakùntala

I attended on Friday night a performance at the Rome opera of La Leggenda di Sakùntala by Franco Alfano. I had never heard of this opera but was looking for a new experience. It was the opening performance, and there were a lot of empty seats.

The legend of Sakuntala is of Indian origin. A young woman descended from the gods but brought up by the leader of a Buddhist monastery is encountered by a king out hunting. After a brief seduction, he calls her his wife, gives her a ring and returns to his palace.

In an extremely trivial incident an unidentified person becomes angry and curses Sakuntala. Her father returns home and declares that Sakuntala is pregnant. He urges her to go tell the king, since he must be the father.

Sakuntala confronts the king in his palace, and he tells her that she is mad, that he has never seen her before. Apparently the curse affects him, too. She goes out and throws herself into a nearby river. A miraculous event occurs, she is consumed in fire, but her child is saved to become lord of the world.

This is obviously a perfect plot for an opera. The one that has been made of it is contemporary with Puccini's Turandot, and the music resembles the part of Turandot just before Calaf's aria "Nessun dorma." The difference between the two operas is that Puccini goes on to write a great aria and Alfano can only write a symphony with incidental singing.

The singers in Sakùntala are big voices of the verismo period, large enough to be heard over the huge orchestra with added humming chorus assembled around the sides of the stage. But alas, in opera it is the orchestra that is superfluous. Opera is about singing. It seemed a suitable piece to accompany a movie by Cecil B. DeMille, perhaps even a movie called The Legend of Sakuntala. Of the post-romantic genre I would have to say the music is quite good, but the voices are merely orchestrated into the texture and are not the center of attention they should be in an opera.

I am trying to explain the failure of this opera whose complete performance history since 1921 is included in the program. First in Bologna, once at La Scala, twice in Naples, three times in Rome and only once in Wexford, England, the only production noted outside Italy. The composer apparently transformed it into a symphony in the forties, but even the great Magda Olivera could not save it from obscurity.

The Rome opera did it good service. There was quite a lot of ballet which I thought was well woven into the drama, for a rare change. There was a lot of cute business with long bows without arrows. Before each act a man came out with a stand, followed by an actress who spoke, followed by the same man who took the stand back off the stage. She was not particularly popular. I have not been much to the opera in Italy, and this was my first experience of shouting and booing from the audience. They were telling her to get on with it. I had no idea what she was saying but sat patiently, yet another indication that I am not Italian. The singing was fine, especially Francesca Patane as Sakuntala and Elena Cassian.

Footnote. The resemblance to Turandot is apparently not coincidental--Franco Alfano is the guy who completed Turandot after Puccini's death. I was just doing my usual "what is this like" and hit right on it. Even I am amazed. He is also the composer of Cyrano de Bergerac.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Caravaggio

It is the most like looking at photographs by Richard Avedon. As with Avedon, the people chosen for immortality are not rich or famous. Avedon simply lined up ordinary people in a makeshift tent with carefully positioned lights and took pictures. Caravaggio is like that.

There are books about Piero where the authors speculate over which famous persons are portrayed on the right side of the flagellation, but we know that the faces in Caravaggio paintings were not famous. I am curious that several faces are identified as self-portraits. The green-faced Bacchus is one of these. But usually the people in the pictures--one almost says photographs--are just his friends and acquaintances. One madonna was known to have been a prostitute. I think it's the one I saw yesterday at Sant'Agostino. I wonder how they know which ones are self-portraits.

It is speculated that Caravaggio used the camera obscura, mainly because the pictures so closely resemble photographs. There is no struggling with perspective--it's perfect every time. And everyone seems to be left handed. And they don't seem to be occupying the space together, but seem painted individually. It's possible, but even with the camera obscura he still had to paint the picture. The secret must be in the gift of seeing.


He seems to have painted almost exclusively at night with carefully positioned lighting, like Richard Avedon. Nothing looks like a painting or like anything painted before. Except the "Rest on the flight into Egypt" which could have been painted out of doors. I think I love it best. Was there ever a more beautiful madonna? Or a sexier angel? The angel has not bothered to memorize the music, perhaps has never played the violin before, but the music is sublime.

In the earliest pictures he seems to have taken a friend, given him a glass of wine, strung vines around him and painted a Bacchus. Just because he could, because he had nothing else to do except get drunk and fight.

So why do we love him, this drunken bastard, so much more than the sensible ones--because they look and feel like people we have met before.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Sono in vacanza

I have hopped down to Italy where it is only a bit warmer. I arrived coincidentally in front of the church San Paolo Entro le Mura on the Via Nazionale just as the Nova Amadeus Chamber Orchestra was beginning a concert of Bach and Vivaldi concertos with solo violin by Luca Blasio. They played the Quattro Staggione of Vivaldi as though they were a single piece. There were about 10 people in this orchestra. It's wonderful how full a small ensemble sounds inside a church.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Musical Diary

To counteract the constant barrage of music it has been suggested to keep a musical diary. Today I began my day in Caffe Nero with Maria Callas singing Angelina's aria from La Cenerentola, something I didn't know she sang. She was amazing, as always.

Next I listened to the free cd from Classic FM, an entire set of adagios.

After that came a man playing "Over the rainbow" on a baby grand in the McDonalds opposite the High Street Kensington Tube station.

La Belle Hélène

Forget all this boring stuff you've been reading in the newspaper and go see Offenbach's La Belle Hélène at the English National Opera.

The premise of the production is that a middle aged woman, such as the charming Felicity Lott, turns off the television, gets into bed for the night, smiles alluringly at her already asleep and uninterested husband, and dreams that she is Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. I bought it completely. She dreams of a hunky blond gentleman perhaps half her age who pursues her relentlessly, until at last she gives in.

Why not? After all, ones dreams are always in the prime of life, are they not? Though I think if I were fantasizing Greeks, I would not have imagined quite so much hair.

Would the French always have loved Josephine Baker and Jerry Lewis? It is easy to give oneself over to the passion of the Italians or the earnestness of the Germans, but it may be harder to allow oneself to feel the love of the absurd that is so French. Jacques Offenbach's works are more burlesques than operettas, though I did detect a bit of homage a Rossini.

PS. I had the ENO patented ginger ice cream in the interval. Very unusual.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1850-70]

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Susan Bullock recital

The Dr. B. does London tour would not be complete without a trip to Wigmore Hall, London's premier recital venue, and for this I chose a recital with Susan Bullock, accompanied by Louis Lortie on the piano. I went for the programming alone, which included Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, one of my personal favorites. For Wagner they're terse and get right to the point.

Before the interval it was all Franz Liszt, including a song group in German, a piano piece called "Nuages gris" and a final group in French. Surprisingly, I cannot recall ever hearing anyone sing Liszt before.

Liszt cannot do without the big finish. In German or French he needs things going on after the poem is over, and produces a little summary for us. By the third time he does this we are bored with it. I don't know how far this goes to explain how seldom his songs are performed. The program provides translations, but it is curious that it is the poems that are translated and not the songs made from them. Liszt's summaries and omissions are not accounted for. This was easy to follow because of Ms Bullock's excellent diction.

Susan Bullock has the big voice and the big style of a true Wagnerian soprano, and brings this big style into her interpretations. Liszt was the original big stylist, and I felt this approach worked well for his music. "Oh quand je dors" is actually quite a nice song.

We in America do not associate the interval with ice cream as they do here. At Saturday Night Fever there is ice cream. At Wigmore Hall there is ice cream. Every possible venue and style of performance has small containers of ice cream with little spoons inside. Some places will even sell you ice cream at your seat.

The second half began with Liszt's transcription of the "Liebestod", for him a relatively sublimated piece. It is always clear when listening to any of Liszt's piano pieces that he had reach and technique to burn, and wasted it in flashiness. Lortie's flash is not quite up to Liszt's standards, though he did choose some not that flashy pieces.

Liszt was the inventor of the kind of unstructured development and complete dissolution of symphonic form that is the basis for Wagner's through composed operas, especially Tristan und Isolde. There is more than a family relationship between the two men. It is interesting to realize that Liszt's most significant contribution to the history of music lies not in the piano at all, but in the tone poem.

My recent immersion in Tristan was just the right preparation for this concert. Two of the Wesendonck Lieder were studies for Tristan. Susan Bullock has sung Isolde at the ENO and her interpretation of Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder emphasized the connection between the two works. She sang the pieces as though they were an extension of the opera, in the big style of a Wagnerian soprano. The complete conviction she brought to her interpretation carried me with it. I felt that she successfully made me hear the pieces again, that she transformed them in a way that I could not have imagined.

Wigmore Hall isn't quite big enough to contain her encore rendition of "Dich teure Halle." Obviously this is her true calling.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Question

Is Pavarotti the last Italian tenor? I'm starting to worry. I liked Licitra because he seemed to be carrying on the tradition, but he needs a bit of polishing.

The Matthew Passion

Forgive the seriousness of what follows. It is not possible to fully experience the St. Matthew Passion without entering into the spirit of the work.

Yesterday I attended the annual presentation of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (complete, in English) by The Bach Choir and Florilegium, David Hill conducting, this year presented in the Royal Albert Hall. This is a religious occasion as The Messiah is at Christmas in honor of passion-week, and the work was presented with no applause until the end after the music had died away.

The ending is not well translated. In English it says “We bow our heads in tears and sorrow. Hearts cry to Thee, O Savior blest. Rest thou softly, softly rest. But in German we are there beside the grave: “Here we sit down and weep, and call to you in the grave, rest softly, softly rest.”

The meaning of the passion is that we are following the savior as he prepares for his death, as he is betrayed, as he is scourged, as he is denied and finally as he dies. The added texts are our words. The difference in the two languages is stark. “Make thee clean from sin, my heart, giving welcome unto Jesus,” says the English score. “Make yourself pure, my heart. I want to bury Jesus myself,” is the literal translation. It is the Lutheran equivalent of the stations of the cross. We follow Jesus on his spiritual journey, and experience it ourselves.

For me Bach’s St. Matthew Passion is the most deeply Christian and profoundly spiritual of all musical works. It is intended for Good Friday worship. Perhaps the personal nature of the work would be emphasized if we sang the chorales ourselves instead of merely observing others sing them.

All of Bach’s art is there. I remember analyzing the “Erbarme dich” and happily finding 9th and 11th chords. Bach’s intentions are spiritual. He sees the tools of his era—the complex harmony and counterpoint, the use of one emotion per movement, the polarized bass and treble texture, the use of continuo, the solo instruments that perform with the singers—as tools of the spirituality he wants to impart.

It was artfully performed. Noteworthy were the expressive and well-trained chorus, Matthew Best as Christ, Roderick Williams baritone and Catherine Wyn-Rogers, mezzo.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Found object

I found a sign lying in the street this morning, covered with mud. I took out my kleenix and wiped it off. This was possible because it was carefully laminated with plastic. It said:

VERY
VERY
VERY
WRONG
INDEED

This seemed somehow very English. It is a sign to carry in a protest about something. What is not known. What more could possibly be said?

I love London.

Pronouncing Golijov

I have tried in vain to find any hints on how to pronounce Golijov. I have been saying "go-ledge-off" which simply can't be right. Even "hawl-yoff" seems more likely. Everyone seems to think we should learn how to pronounce it since he's going to be around, but no one gives any clues.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Solomon

I've discussed before (and also here) my difficulties with the movement to revive the use of early musical instruments, but at that time I hadn't heard the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the best of this type of group that I've heard, play Handel's Solomon at the Barbican. They included two natural horns, one with a lot of extra curlicues, and two very long, ostentatious, completely uncurled trumpets. Not a bloop was heard. I ask for the same performance standards you would expect from any professional orchestra. I got them here. I liked especially the fiery leadership from the concertmistress, Alison Bury.

I've always thought of Handel as annoyingly pompous, and I begin to see how this approach changes all that. A light textured and light spirited Handel is very attractive indeed. This spirit of lightness was shared by the thirty voice chorus called merely English Voices. This small group could be both nimble and large when necessary. They even split into two antiphonal groups and still managed to sound forceful. Bravo.

I was not even annoyed with the falsettist (David Hansen) for a change. A young man does help us imagine a young king. I especially liked the tenor, Jeremy Overdon, a lyric, Mozart, almost I would say English tenor with a beautiful sound.

René Jacobs' batonless baton technique was disturbing to me, but since the performers themselves were not bothered by it, what difference does that make?

There was only one aspect of the performance that seemed somewhat out of step with current trends--the soloists didn't ornament. Perhaps that is felt to be too Italian for an English oratorio. I find that I like the current trend to ornamentation, but it might be out of the English tradition.

In the program notes the audience of the day is criticized for not appreciating Handel, but I imagine in England as everywhere else the Baroque was over by 1747. The piece itself is interesting and varied, perhaps even struggling a little toward the rococo.

Friday, April 07, 2006

We had them first

It doesn't help that we had Valery Gergiev and Anna Netrebko first in San Francisco (Ruslan and Ludmilla). We still can't get tickets to anything they're in now. I could go camp in Vienna, I suppose, and see if anything developed for Romeo et Juliet, but I would have to retire first.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Eugene Onegin

I know I’ve seen Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin before, in fact, I know I’ve seen it with Mirela Freni as Tatiana, but I felt last night that this was the first time. Perhaps it was sitting in the “stalls circle,” the raised area that surrounds the floor of the Royal Opera House, which creates an unusual feeling of intimacy with the players and orchestra.

Perhaps it was the beautiful conducting of Philippe Jordan, the most romantic and gorgeous playing of this piece that I’ve heard. This is the first time I have thought that an opera by Tchaikovsky was truly by the same composer as his other works.

Perhaps it was the simple, architectural stage setting that clarified the action so well.

Perhaps it was our guys, Rolando and Dmitri. I must confess I can’t resist either one of them. Rolando Villazon is the reason this opera is sold out, as is just about everything he does these days. I understand that he was ill on Monday, but my luck held. My earlier conclusion that he is a lyric tenor, even a somewhat light lyric tenor, held here. One loves him for his dark tone, passionate intensity and musicality. He’s really quite wonderful to see, and died fabulously. Let’s hope he doesn’t hurt anything falling down like that.

I would call Dmitri Hvorostovsky a lyric baritone, with a beautiful tone and complete comfort in Russian repertoire. He began stiffly. Was this intentional? Onegin tells Lensky that he finds Tatiana beautiful, but when she falls wildly for him we are somewhat puzzled. He hasn’t exactly made that much of an impression on us. Perhaps the moment was just right for her.

Perhaps it was the staging which worked particularly well. Perhaps it was the charming couplet in honor of Tatiana’s name day, sung by Ryland Davies.

It wasn’t Amanda Roocroft, who looked good but wasn’t up to Tatiana. She was dramatically but not vocally effective.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1870-90]

Pictures


I think it's not too soon to start this year's pictures. This is Dmitri.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Queuing

My son was young in the time of Star Wars, and I allowed him to go stand in line for tickets to see these films when they were first released. It's too late to arrest me for this. He became a devotee of queuing, though he wouldn't have called it that, of course. I was unconvinced.

So this morning I queued for Eugene Onegin, since I was sure this was the only way I would get in. I was anxious to see Rolando Villazon in the flesh. I saw someone in my hotel that I thought looked like him, but we will count tonight's performance as the first time I will have actually seen him.

I had a very nice chat with two women from the UK. One is a realtor, originally from Scotland, who now lives in the south of Spain. She says the properties are very reasonable there, but did not give me her card. The other woman is a former employee of the British Museum, now retired. We reminisced about great singers we had seen in performance. I, of course, always have my Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in Der Rosenkavalier story to tell, which always receives appreciative moans. I felt that the museum woman won the contest by saying that she had seen Victoria de los Angeles in La Boheme.

We do love it so.

Monday, April 03, 2006

City of London Sinfonia

I went to hear a concert of the City of London Sinfonia because it advertized that it featured the "Holland Park Prima Donna," a French soprano named Anne-Sophie Duprels. She is a big star in the small pond of Opera Holland Park which I presume is the summer gig of the City of London Sinfonia.

She is a very romantic and emotional singer whose talents perfectly suited Catalani's "Ebben? ne andro lontana" from La Wally, the aria made famous in the movie Diva. She gestures romantically and charms us. I was left wanting more of this style of aria. The program tells us she will be singing Marguerite in Faust for Opera New Zealand in the future, so perhaps Sarah will give us a report.

Her voice and style did not precisely suit Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs, but a perfect performance of these pieces is seldom achieved. Would we want to wait for the perfect performance? No, we would not. She was excellent in the ecstatic elements, in the soaring, ecstatic phrases that make these pieces the glorious things that they are. Can they even be compared to other pieces by Strauss? The irrational soaring phrases are unique in vocal literature. But the same singer must achieve a more somber effect with the middle of her voice in the final "Im Abendrot", and it was here that she fell short. That's short of absolute perfection. She brought many pleasures to her performance, a French outpouring lacking only a bit of German inwardness.

I was set to pondering Strauss' old age. What if he had been shot in the war as Anton Webern was? Then these songs would never have existed. When the words speak of "wandermuede" [travel weary], we know that it is Strauss himself speaking. These songs are for the joy of composing, for the pure unadulterated passion for the female singing voice. If you don't know them, find out. Elisabeth. Kiri.

It was otherwise an interesting concert with several pieces from operas: Fedora, Manon Lescaut, Der Freischuetz. Peter Robinson, the conductor, went with his strengths.

The end

What really happens at the end of Figaro?

The actions on the stage are generally pretty clear. The count mistakes his wife for Susanna and gives her a ring. In contrast Figaro guesses pretty quickly that Susanna is not really the countess.

I believe that the ending only makes sense if the count and countess enter the summer house together where they stay for a sufficient time to allow for some serious love making. And then when the countess emerges for the count's ultimate humiliation it must be from the summer house still dressed as Susanna. The count feels as he does because he realizes he has just happily made love to his own wife.

Instead it's garbled. Yes, she shows him the ring, but those kinds of things are hard to see on stage. She changes her clothes, making it clear that she's been in the palace and not in the summer house.

"Contessa, perdono."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Blogging

I notice that I have used the word "nice" at least once every month since I started. Is this a lack of imagination or a case of damning with faint praise?

I was getting ready to go out when I noticed that the recent Figaro from the Royal Opera was on television. It was very nice--there I go again--the second time, too, except the filming for television virtually edited out the comprimario servants who had made the production so interesting. In closeup Gerald Finley frowned a lot.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Fuddy-duddies all

I could not believe myself to be reading in the last chapter of Divas and Scholars:

"An important part of the audience for Italian opera in the United States and Italy tends to be exceptionally conservative when it comes to the staging of works they know and love. There are others in attendance with an appetite for more adventurous productions, to be sure, of the kind readily accepted in stagings of Wagner or Handel operas, not to mention the plays of Shakespeare or Goldoni. But a hard-core constituency wants nothing to interfere with the pleasures--musical, dramaturgical, and emotional--it associates with the works, pleasures reinforced by listening to the same recordings over and over. For this constituency, stage directors are an unfortunate necessity, and should limit their interventions to directing traffic, as they largely did in the nineteenth century. The emotion and the drama are in the music, and anything that seeks to provide another perspective on the work is a distraction. There are many music critics and scholars who agree. Writing in the New Yorker during the Verdi centennial, Alex Ross suggested that Verdi operas resist radical staging:

"'The greatness of verdi is a simple thing. A solitary man, he found a way of speaking to limitless crowds, and his method was to sink himself completely into his characters. He never composed music for music's sake; every note has a precise dramatic function. The most astounding scenes in his work are those in which all the voices come together in a visceral mass--like a human wave that could carry anything before it.'"

There's more. Before I saw the film of the Salzburg La Traviata, I would have at least been prepared to entertain the idea. After all, one reason for all the bad Verdi I have seen has been bad productions.

I always feel that there is a place for production design. Ask those same people if they would prefer to just see the same production over and over. I always feel the problem is that people are hired to do productions of Verdi who don't actually like Verdi. They find his operas boring and incongruous and try to make them more interesting.

The purpose of the production is to explain the opera. Who are these people and what is going on between them? What the Salzburg La Traviata proves is that less is more. In this production we didn't merely hear who Violetta is, we saw her plying her trade. We didn't just hear about the love affair, we saw it in action. The humiliation was visibly complete and disgusting. It was a creative, modern production far divorced from tradition, and it worked.

They may be correct in saying that the modern opera goer has spent hours listening to the operas on recordings, but we must also remember that when we look around us these days, we see a lot of empty chairs. If opera is to survive, it must attract new audiences, audiences who don't own any recordings of Renata Tebaldi or even of Placido Domingo.

Verdi is a problem, but for me the problem isn't bad stagings, it's bad singing. Fabulous singers will carry any production. Well, maybe not the Planet of the Apes Rigoletto, but .... Leontyne Price can sing "O patria mia" in any outfit with any set, and we promise not to complain, as long as we can hear that fabulous phrasing again.

In San Francisco the staging most complained about was Handel's Alcina. I liked it.