Monday, December 31, 2007

Selections


The program of selections from the Met broadcasts over the last 30 years finally played on my local PBS station. I didn't know this was coming--I had expected to see it before I went to London (so have they been pledging the entire time I was gone?)-- and caught only the last sections. The honored selection was Leontyne Price singing "O patria mia" in her farewell performance at the Met. She not only sang Aida, she occupied and personified her. The role, and especially this aria, lives in our hearts in her voice. Renée Fleming hosted and said she whole heartedly agreed with this selection. To hear Leontyne sing this in her prime you will need the Blue Album. The late performance is more poignant. "Never again" takes on a whole new meaning here.

Renée has identified a career for herself should she decide to retire from singing. She is a terrific interviewer and announcer and a great promoter for opera.

Anna Netrebko's mad scene from I Puritani was in the list of selections. I liked it again. I like this kind of phrased coloratura more than the extremely precise versions. Even Cecilia slurs more in this style.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Merry Christmas

My Christmas letter was such a hit I am including it here:

This is my first full year of retirement, and it’s been rough. Month by month:

January: I saw the Met simulcasts of I Puritani and The First Emperor in Sacramento. Went to Europe, and had a panic attack in the autograph line of famous opera singer, thereby topping my already pitiful record in that regard. Went to Venice and Rome, places I love, to recover.

February: I went to Vienna and saw a few operas. Vienna is looking pretty nice these days. I went on an art tour of Los Angeles with Elderhostel where I also saw Mahagonny at the LA opera. I saw the simulcast of Eugene Onegin in Portland. I finally sold my house.

March: I drove across the US from coast to coast, spending four days in Albuquerque in order to see the simulcast of Barber of Seville. I don’t think I’ve done this since I was in my twenties.

April: I moved into an apartment in Sacramento and had my furniture moved here. Felt like shit and went into a funk that lasted for months.

May: Summer opera started.

June: Paris Hilton was in jail.

July: I went on my second Elderhostel to the Santa Fe opera. Visited the Ds in Albuquerque. I like New Mexico a lot. Maybe I’ll move there.

August: Went to Glimmerglass opera in upstate New York and had a lot of fun. Nobody famous sings there, but it was great anyway. I was interviewed by a reporter in Portugal about my series on sexiest opera singers. This was a big ego boost. Visited D in DC. It was wonderful to see the babies.

September: I started doing diabetes testing and found out what a bad job I was doing.

October: Changed diet and began losing weight. Bought ipod.

November: Watch Jag, Matlock and Star Trek Voyager all day and eat salad. Am acquiring a taste for Hotel Babylon. Know exactly who the iron chefs are and what they cook, though none of it is anything I can eat. I had Thanksgiving with J in Portland and lost a pound and a half. When you only eat salad it doesn’t matter what season it is. Bought digital camera.

December: Going to London for 2 weeks. This will cost a ton of money since the dollar is now incredibly low. It’s only money. I love London, but will not be able to eat any French fries. P.S. French fries weren't so good in the hotel so this was not that hard.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bitching


I didn't really explain why I was giving singing lessons to Roberto Alagna in my review of Romeo. He sang one of his high notes a half tone sharp just like he did at La Scala where the Italians booed him off the stage. New Yorkers gave him a big ovation. I just thought it might help if he paid more attention to what note the orchestra was playing. The film of him singing at La Scala is available on YouTube.

Except for that he was fabulous.

Article

Here is an article by Heather MacDonald raging against Regietheater, the new wave of German opera productions.

The article is a riff on a single production of The Abduction from the Seraglio in Berlin but generalizes the idea out to all European opera. I've been to a few European operas in the last few years and haven't seen anything even remotely that bad. The fashion show instead of a production for Manon Lescaut in Vienna was just silly. The singers went on with the opera even though they were irrelevant to the action.

Giant headed natives in L'Anima del Filisofo in Zurich was the worst, I guess.

The term Regietheater is German because the phenomenon is primarily German. In the mid seventies when I worked in Germany this style of opera production was already well under way. When Pamela Rosenberg brought it with her from Stuttgart, all hell broke loose.

Mortier from Paris has been hired to take over the New York City Opera, and it is reasonable to expect some outrageous productions, but he is also proposing to present a lot of twentieth century opera, a medium that may reasonably expect to include modern productions without doing any damage to the works themselves. Would we stay awake longer for an outrageous production of Einstein on the Beach? Will we love Nixon after an outrageous production of Nixon in China? Will we boycott Saint Francis if it is insufficiently pious?

The problem with avant garde is that eventually there is no more barrier to overturn. Like the art show on sexuality that must fall back on films from sex clinics to achieve the ultimate outrage, the limit is eventually reached and people get bored. On the other hand, people don't really get bored with sex, do they?

The Europeans coming to American may need to be reminded that we're a lot more prudish here. We still beep Gordon Ramsey, whose every third word starts with "f", when his show runs on American television.

This is excellent

This is a film of Cecilia Bartoli and her Opera Proibita from Spanish television (or at least that looks like Spanish to me).

Part I:


Part II:


Part III:


It's lovely, the best I've seen since her original promo. It's divided into sections due to the 10 minute limit of YouTube.

I agree with all they say about her as an artist--she is my rock star, too--but I have still never met the person they are describing.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Buckingham Palace

This was my first time to visit Buckingham Palace which has a small shop next to the art space. There are postcards of the art exhibition. And there are gift items. I was attracted to the gifts and bought a few. They are the sort of items that one might be expected to steal from a very high class hotel. Slippers. Towels. Ball point pens. Containers of toiletries. All are decorated with the Queen's crest. Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been? I've been to London to visit the Queen. Pussycat, pussycat, what did you there? Why I made off with a lovely pair of slippers which fit very nicely into my luggage.

The airport people confiscated my shampoo because I had put it in my carry on luggage. They also opened my cranberry sauce from Harrods thinking it might be an explosive. I imagine someone putting their finger in. They left the jar of marmalade alone.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Billy Elliot, the musical

The musical Billy Elliot, Music by Elton John, book and lyrics by Lee Hall, is f...in fabulous.

Sorry. I'm trying to get into this London thing. They do swear a lot here.

I'm glad I bought the program for Billy Elliot because it includes the charming story of the finding of Billy. For a movie one needs only one boy and one or two stunt doubles, but for a musical that runs every night and sometimes in the afternoon you need three boys who must each dance like gods to play the role in rotation. Each has to seem like an ordinary boy from the north, be able to act, do tap dancing and ballet when required, and carry a full length musical. They went out into the countryside auditioning and training children. It's fascinating to read.

Billy pretends to study boxing when in reality he is in a class of all girls learning ballet. To make a long story short, he is admitted to the royal ballet school and goes off to live in London, leaving his old life behind.

The life he is leaving forms the other half of the story. The miners, including his father and brother, are on strike. This brings a lot of rough, masculine music into the piece to balance the dance music. Margaret Thatcher is a popular target.

There is a gay character named Michael, and there has been some complaining. It is Elton John, you know. It was something silly to do and made me laugh.

It ends down. Billy goes off to London and the strike is lost. They solve this with a coda where everyone dances, and eventually everyone is wearing a tutu, including Billy.

The songs are really pretty good. It's very British and bloody marvelous. Maybe it will hop the pond one of these days.

Blogging



The good part about flying on Christmas is that the tickets are really cheap. The bad part is that absolutely nothing is going on, the trains shut down, everything. I have to take a taxi to the airport.

The girl in the Caffe Nero gave me a chocolate mocha today as a Christmas present. It was delicious. I'm not doing very well with my diet here. I ordered the fish and chips for dinner and didn't eat most of the chips.

I think there is nowhere on earth that is like London.


This is the interior of the Covent Garden market with Christmas decorations.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Blogging


Of course, I toured the Malibran museum. The subject of Malibran's sister Pauline Viardot came up and I remembered that a role in Meyerbeer's Les Hugenots was written for her. The woman in the museum said that in Baden Baden they knew only Viardot, but in Paris it was the opposite: they knew Malibran but not Viardot.

It was useful to see the death mask in 3D because it gave a better idea of what she actually looked like. In the Maria booklet Cecilia holds the death mask up to the bronze bust to show what a good likeness it is.

Cecilia at the Barbican


Cecilia Bartoli's concert Friday evening at the Barbican was a rousing success. The intention is to revive at least the flavor of the career of Maria Malibran, possibly the most wildly popular opera singer of all time.


I'm sure Cecilia's outfit is intended as part of the reminiscence, a suggestion of the nineteenth century. She wore a pink strapless gown with a long train and silver decorations. Her hair was beautifully done as well, like someone from another era. Cecilia's particular beauty fits comfortably into a romantic world.

So why do we love her so? Cecilia scrupulously researches her concerts and makes sure every detail is authentic. She prepares. And then she comes before the public and plays with each piece like this was the most fun thing she could imagine doing. It is her pleasure that we adore.


The concert was accompanied by La Scintilla, the original instruments group affiliated with the Zurich Opera. They are improving over time. Between Cecilia's numbers they played a varied repertoire that included overtures from Garcia's La figlia dell'aria and Rossini's Il Signor Bruschino. The latter was especially well done. They also played movements from Mendelssohn's Octet Op. 20, a clarinet concertino by Donizetti, and a violin concerto by Malibran's husband Beriot.

There is evidence of increased self-confidence by Ada Pesch who worked as soloist in Mendelssohn's Infelice and the Beriot concerto, as well as conductor/concert mistress throughout the concert. Usually she stood at her concert mistress chair and gave downbeats. Nevertheless there was still evidence of Cecilia conducting in a few numbers, especially the instrumental recitatives. My previous complaints were nowhere in evidence.

The balance of the concert was different from the recording. Cecilia has already recorded just about everything by Rossini. The Willow Song and Prayer from Rossini's Otello was on Cecilia's early Rossini album--it is a piece I very much enjoy in her voice and was glad to hear. The absence of Rossini makes the "Maria" album not quite reflective of the career of Maria Malibran.




Cecilia has recorded the big aria from La Cenerentola twice and sung it in concerts throughout her career, sometimes in very matter of fact performances. She has reinvigorated it with flash, and repeated it as her last encore, this time with added flourish at the end.

The La Sonnambula aria was the only Bellini from the album that appeared on the program. Cecilia performed the Hummel variations as comedy, virtuosic comedy to be sure. She doesn't see herself as a yodeler, I guess. When you hear her talking so seriously about this repertoire, you don't really see this coming.

"Ratt-a-plan" was done with a snare drum as the first encore. Viva.

My pictures came out surprisingly well. If you click the pictures, they will blow up for you.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Blogging

I spend a lot of time going to art exhibits. In London now are shows about King Tut at the O2 arena, a nice collection of pictures from Siena at the National Gallery, Millais at the Tate Britain, and some Italians from the Queen's collection.


The Queen has a terrific collection, including two Caravaggios which I picked out. This is the guard at Buckingham Palace.

I'm going to see men from China on Saturday.

I am taking lots of pictures, mainly of things I'm not allowed to eat.


This is a booth at Covent Garden. I especially like this picture.


This picture was taken while the woman in M&S explained that pictures were not allowed.


This is a shop near St. Paul's.

These are waffles at the Covent Garden Market.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sex

Caution: vivid writing.

When I married, my husband had an extensive collection of erotica, including Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations for Lysistrata and a curiously large book which classified women's breasts by, as I recall, the angle at which they pointed, how much they hung down, etc. So there wasn't much new for me in the Barbican's Seduced: Art and Sex exhibition.

Items of interest included a 54 minute film by Andy Warhol of a man and a woman kissing. I did not wait through the entire film; nor did I wait through Warhol's 41 minute film of a young man getting a blow job. The part I watched showed only his admittedly handsome face grimacing. Ho hum.

Hermaphrodite was positioned so you could walk all the way around him / her instead of pushing it against the wall as I have seen elsewhere. What would be the point of exhibiting this statue and hiding the relevant parts? Make up your mind.

I now know what the fuss over photographer Robert Mapplethorpe is about. I don't know where the boundaries could be extended beyond this. You have to see the pictures to know why people would complain. That the offense is due to homoerotica is simply not true.

Lots of people did dirty pictures: ancient Greeks and Romans, Picasso, Rodin, Rembrandt, Fragonard. Sex is interesting to everyone.

One erotic film was accompanied by a playing of the Faure Requiem, and this music was heard throughout the exhibition. I deliberately avoided looking at the film because I didn't want the music to associate to these pictures in my mind. This piece has deep emotional associations for me. Perhaps in this context it serves to remind us of our mortality.

It isn't conceived as an art exhibit--it's just a collection of dirty pictures. Why else include films from the Kinsey Institute which is doing things simply for the sake of doing them, and certainly can't be considered art? If there is a minimum requirement for art, it has to be that it's intended that it be art. I wish I hadn't seen Mapplethorpe's pictures, but I guess they are intended to be art. Kinsey is just recording human perversion to be doing it.

There is a particularly lovely Chinese portrait that is worth seeing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

La Cenerentola


La Cenerentola at the Royal Opera looks a little like the kitchen in Leave it to Beaver gone to seed. The only thing this Angiolina seems to really mind is that everyone is always so crabby. She doesn't mind cooking and cleaning all the time, if only she got to have a little fun once in a while. She tries to be pleasant, but they are such bitches. Her family are the nastiest, roughest, cruelest bunch I've seen in this opera. There was quite a lot of pushing around.

Magdalena Kožená in the title role projects as a very modern girl, attractive and together. I didn't warm to her unsentimental portrayal. To accomplish the coloratura she shakes her whole body from side to side in a not unattractive dance. This Angiolina is likable and steely, and will get along fine in her new life. She does the aria still in her serving clothes, something I've never seen before.

I've long thought the opera should be titled Don Magnifico, sung masterfully by Alessandro Corbelli, since he gets all the arias. When I was listening to this opera for hours on end, I usually skipped his stuff. I think this is the same guy. The tenor, Toby Spence, was appealing to me until he blooped too many high notes. I think the tenor for Cenerentola has to have high notes that float.

I love this opera, and loved it once again.

I didn't quite buy the paparazzi idea. In a world of paparazzi one would know which one was the real prince. Could Prince William swap with his valet? Not really.

The carriage is a gorgeous blue Rolls Royce, the star of the evening. The conducting was excellent with lots of fluidity and subtlety. Evelino Pido got that part right, but the other part of conducting opera, the part where you coordinate with the singers who are busy doing other things, was not so good. He lost them a few times.

Monday, December 17, 2007

News

The news from London is Ronnie O'Sullivan won the snooker championship.

Natalie Dessay cancelled her performance at Barbican, so I went to the opera to see La Cenerentola instead. The Chailly/Bartoli version of this opera is probably the opera CD I have listened to most in my life.

Messiaen


I went Sunday evening to St. Paul's Cathedral to hear a performance of Olivier Messiaen's La Nativité du Seigneur, a Christmas work for organ played by Huw Williams. When I go to hear Messiaen's organ works, it seems always to be in a large drafty cathedral. I wasn't too cold to make it to the end this time.

Two women priests read the scripture that accompanies each section of the nine movement work. Where the organ is and where the organist sits are all unknown. The sound simply echoes and swirls from all directions, around the dome and through the candle smoke.

This work is very early--1935, only four years after Messiaen was appointed organist at La Sainte-Trinité in Paris. A lot of words have been expended trying to explain the musical style of Messiaen. It isn't counterpoint or harmony, but progresses by extemporizing organist logic from one block of sound to another. Some movements are illustrative--the wise men are heard plodding through the desert.

The final movement, God among us, is unusually powerful. I am a fan.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Romeo et Juliette in HD

Roméo...................Roberto Alagna
Juliette................Anna Netrebko
Frère Laurent...........Robert Lloyd
Stéphano................Isabel Leonard
Mercutio................Nathan Gunn
Benvolio................Tony Stevenson
Gertrude................Jane Bunnell
Capulet.................Charles Taylor
Tybalt..................Marc Heller
Pâris...................Louis Otey
Grégorio................David Won
Duke of Verona..........Dean Peterson

Conductor...............Plácido Domingo
Production..............Guy Joosten

That was just swell. I couldn't get into the Notting Hill showing so I went to the Clapham Picture House to see the HD simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. Who knew that was such a good opera?

Welcome to the age of Netrebko. She completely epitomizes what is great about opera in the 21st century--beauty and theatricality. Her emotional range is stunning. She dances like a child at a birthday party, falls charmingly in love, even throwing in her trademark funny faces, makes love without fear of falling and dies with conviction.

The production and direction were helpful. Anna does best when everyone around her contributes to her vision. The falling in love with masks was utterly irresistible.

The bed floating in the stars worked very well on closed circuit television. We couldn't see them floating back down to earth and worried they would fall off.

To make a DVD of it will require a couple of patches, but the overall impression was wonderful, intense, passionate and just plain nice. My favorite adjective. This is a great opera for Alagna and Netrebko both, separately and together. the rapport between the two stars was good, as it absolutely must be in this opera, but was not as intense as it would have been with Rolando. Alagna's voice is beautiful in the light tone the role requires. He is sweet and very attractive. I have the film with his wife, but I liked him better here. Advice: prepare for your high notes more completely, and add to you preparation listening carefully to the orchestra.

Nathan Gunn was an excellent Mercutio. The page, whoever she was, seemed extraneous, but sang well. She covers a set change, or something like that.

Here are some pictures taken in the intermission.






And this is Renée with Placido.


Around the turn of the 20th century this was a very popular opera. Perhaps it will be again. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1850-70]

Friday, December 14, 2007

Wicked

Wicked is the back story for the Wizard of Oz, Hollywood's greatest children's musical. Where did the scarecrow and the tin man come from? Who was the witch that the house fell on? Why was Glinda so good? And most pressing question of all, why is one of the characters green? Wicked answers all these questions.

Notable about this performance was that the sound was not too loud!!!! This is worthy of major celebration. The singers' problems were their own and not those of the usual modern musical sound system distortion.

The story should probably be called Good, not a good title. The end is so unrelentingly happy it could be a Baroque opera.

In their photos the blond character has dark hair in real life, and the green/dark one is a (badabum) blond (crash). Dianne Pilkington who played Glinda has a fluttery voice suitable for the Billie Burke role while Kerry Ellis as Elphaba, the Margaret Hamilton role, is a belter. The type casting switch seemed to work well.

There were a lot of children in the audience who shouted instead of clapping. The broomstick broke, causing much laughter and breaking of character by the actors. It was fun. I've wanted to see it for years, and now I have.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Mortier

La Cieca continues to provide news/speculation about the future reign of Gérard Mortier at the New York City Opera. I am excited about the list of operas he wants to produce: The Rake's Progress, Einstein on the Beach, Nixon in China, Věc Makropulos, Pelléas et Mélisande, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny, Saint François d'Assise and Death in Venice, according to La Cieca.

I would love to see Saint Francis again, and Nixon is ready for a comeback. I've never seen The Makropulos Case and know people who love it. Once through Einstein is a requirement for everyone. Take a lot of No Doze. My only question is what does he intend to do in his second season? Maybe I should get an apartment in NYC for this.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Stars and Ensembles

I find that I am still interested in the subject discussed in my previous blog entry. I can only speak from the perspective I know, which is the German system vs the American system.

In Germany a singer has a house with which they are affiliated. If she is sufficiently valued by the agents and with her house's permission, a singer will occasionally contract for roles elsewhere. The houses fill as many roles as possible with the singers contracted to them. The most efficient method is to double cast each role to account for emergencies. Both casts perform the roles--one is not understudy for the other. Unusual gifts such as the ability to sing Salome are filled from outside the ensemble. There are tiers of houses based on salary level and talent of the ensemble. Singing is an ordinary profession with regular hours and benefits, though holidays seem to be unknown.

Agents visit the lower tier houses to see performers at work and evaluate them for jobs in the better houses.

In America there are two tiers: stars and flunkies. I don't know how to put it more gracefully. Some people have ordinary jobs affiliated with the larger houses. San Francisco has the Adler Fellows. The Met has singers contracted to it. These people draw salaries, play minor parts, appear in community based concerts, give Schwabacher Debut recitals, and otherwise do nothing. They never play major roles in the main house. The major parts are all filled by people brought in from outside. At the Met under the management of Peter Gelb they don't even fill in in emergencies.

Appomattox used Adler Fellows in significant parts. This is unusual and can be explained by the fact that Appomattox is a modern opera.

Below the major houses in America is a rich layer of semiprofessional and amateur opera companies, none of whom have enough money to provide regular jobs for singers. Thus the division into

--stars--those who sing all the main parts in the professional companies and

--flunkies--people who sing major roles as amateurs and those who provide emergency backup for major houses.

How one crosses from flunky to star is one issue. I outlined my recommended path to success here. Joyce DiDonato seems to have found a way. Perhaps we should ask her.

On the whole either you are already established as a star, or an agent has to see you perform the role in question before you will be cast to sing a major role in a major house in America. That means getting jobs in places where the agents are looking. Elaine Alvarez made her way onto the main stage of the Chicago Lyric because Angela Gheorghiu skipped the rehearsals and Elaine could show off her skills.

The article about the future of opera is right about one thing: the German system produces the superior product. People benefit from working together on a sustained basis. Young singers improve much more rapidly when they are given real work to do. Germany today is the center of the opera world.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Non-news

My son has pointed out this article from a web site called On an Overgrown Path claiming to know the future of opera. He thinks the stars will all pass away and lose their glitter--based on Valery Gergiev having missed his plane, apparently--and be replaced by ensemble companies.

This is wishful thinking. There are successful ensemble companies in the top rung and there always have been. The Zurich Opera is a prime example, but then their ensemble includes Cecilia Bartoli, Jonas Kaufmann, Matti Salminen and Vesselina Kasarova. Is that what you were talking about? Somehow I doubt it.

The ensemble company has always been the norm in Germany. I say always, but I mean as long as I've been observing it. Star appearances don't happen at the Ulmer Theater.

Pamela Rosenberg was trying to run a German style ensemble company in San Francisco, and we know how that turned out. Now Pamela is gone and the stars are back.

Anna Netrebko sells out virtually instantly, as does Cecilia. I can't even get into the movie theater in London to see Romeo and Juliet. This is so far from happening that it's ludicrous.

The stars are not created by the opera companies. It's the record companies that do that. And the public. Most of the fanatical opera goers I know are devoted to particular singers and fly to wherever they are singing. Stars sell tickets. Producers talk big, but when the tickets don't sell, the stars come back.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Myself I shall adore


I saw this in Zurich and wrote about it here. It is Cecilia Bartoli in Semele from the Zurich Opera. The giant woman is Birgit Memmert in the role of Juno disguised as Ino. Cecilia is normal sized, but Birgit looms over mere mortals. She walked through the crowd of people waiting to see Cecilia and seemed a foot taller than everyone else. Semele is so self besotted that she fails to notice this.

In the performance that I saw Cecilia bounced on the bed during the cadenza. This did make her go off key a tad, but I am disappointed to see that piece of business has been cut. It was my favorite part. It was basically the funniest thing I've ever seen in an opera house. Is it my imagination, or is she laughing at the end?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas Presents


No one should be without Maria with Cecilia Bartoli. I keep listening, and I like it more and more. And I liked it a lot to start with.


I highly recommend this recording of Strauss Lieder with Jonas Kaufmann.


Williard White's Porgy and Bess is now on DVD and in the stores. This is a great performance by everyone involved.


And this is the only Tristan und Isolde I have ever liked, with two spectacular performances. Ignore the dumb set.



And don't forget to give this spectacular Eugene Onegin with Fleming and Hvorostovsky. I'm buying this one myself. It's coming out on DVD December 17th. Have it sent directly for Christmas.


This may be controversial, but I liked Anna Netrebko's I Puritani quite a lot. This one is also coming out on DVD December 17th.


If you must have your Anna Netrebko with Rolando Villazon, you must have this one. It's available now.


Surprise someone with Christine Schaefer's Pierrot Lunaire. Tell them you were thinking of giving them a trip to New York City when you came across this film and decided to send it instead.

Happy holidays.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Interview

This interview happened in August:

Someone wants to interview me. And here it is:

My name is Gonçalo Frota and I'm a Portuguese journalist with weekly newspaper Sol (www.sol.pt ). I'm writing an article on how the world of classical music has changed in the more recent years and has gotten closer to that of pop music.

While doing some research in the Internet, I found your blog and took an interest in the way you praise the singers bodies and the role being sexy plays in any sort of music nowadays.

Therefore, I'd appreciate if you could tell in your own words what do you think of all this and if you allow me to quote you in this article of mine... I've already spoken to some director of classical record companies, but I also wanted to present the view of someone less interested to sell their products.

What I'd like to know is:

--- How do you think the image of classical artists has changed in the last years?

DrB: Maria Callas was a media icon to top all other opera singers. She wanted to be this and made a deliberate plan.

That said, singers these days are being promoted for their sex appeal to keep the general public interested in opera.

--- You were also connected to this world? Were you also a singer? How were things then?

DrB: I was a singer long ago. This was the day of Nilsson, Tibaldi, Price, a time when singers stood around and sang. Recordings were the media of choice, and the classical recording industry was much more active. This contrasts with today when there is increased interest in DVDs of live performances. Now people become known by the excitement they generate on the screen.

--- Do you agree classical and opera is getting sexier by the minute?

DrB: So what's wrong with sexiness? Opera is the sexiest, most happening medium around today. One of the reasons I am blogging is to try to make people aware of this. If you want to know what's happening in the arts in the 21st century, opera is the place to start. It isn't just sexiness. It's immediacy, topicality and theatricality.

The virtual disintegration of the classical recording industry requires opera companies to find other ways to create fame for their artists. I think YouTube often fills this role. I would like to see YouTube create search methods that bring new postings to the front. I see YouTube as a promotional medium.

--- What moved you to create a top of sexy artists?

DrB: Nobody was doing it. I was trying to counteract the snobbery that people imagine goes with the opera. The real fans of opera are often interested in specific artists, and this interest often manifests itself in the same way as fans of movie personalities. Right now I am thinking I have neglected Natalie Dessay. Of all the singers out there, Natalie is the most up front with her sexuality.

I was surprised to find that it's much easier to find sexy pictures of men in opera than women. The women still seem to want to be considered significant rather than sexy.

--- Is classical music getting closer to pop?

DrB: Pop is dead. People keep claiming opera is dead, but if you are paying attention it is obvious that the current period of pop music is dreadful--monotonous, uncreative, bordering on white sound. Opera is jumping in to fill the gap.

I try to avoid the pop/opera performers like Bocelli and Jenkins. I think there are plenty of sexy legitimate opera singers to promote.

Opera and indeed all of classical music is based in musical genres of the past, a repertoire that requires great musical devotion to make its best effects. I hope this aspect of classical music isn't moving toward pop.

--- Do you think the audience of classical may change as a result of this sexier appeal?

DrB: The hope of everyone involved in the classical music business is that younger people will become interested in it. They are the future. One of the topics being discussed around the internet is the ultimate effect of all these cheap opera broadcasts. Will these new fans stick with opera? I see it differently. Will opera be able to hold them? The new opera producers are interested in attracting a broader audience.

--- Is it crucial for a soprano to be incredibly good looking?

DrB: She must be either incredibly good looking or incredibly good. I think some of the most beautiful singers coincidentally turn out to be the best singers. Look at Elīna Garanča. She is a terrific singer and a gorgeous woman.

Thanks a lot for your help in advance.

DrB: This was fun.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Interview with Netrebko

I went out for a latte this morning, and on my way I ran into a marathon running on Fair Oaks Blvd, blocking my route to Borders. That's right, I'm still in Sacramento. It turned out to be lunch time, so I went on to Starbucks, bought a salad--about all I'm allowed to eat these days--and sat down to read the New York Times.

This interview with Anna Netrebko in the magazine is excellent. He talks about nasty bloggers, but I want to go on record that I am not one of them. I loved going to LA to see Manon, which I reported on here. The interview quotes Anna on the subject of Manon: "She's not a deep character. So it has to be funny, silly, charming, erotical -- not dark. She's not evil. She's like, I screw up my life, but, well, too bad!" I laughed out loud in the Starbucks. I loved this production of Manon, too. This is my current favorite.

I even stuck up for Anna when she canceled. I am a big Netrebko fan. I am the person who knows secrets and does not tell them. I even know someone who.... No. Can't tell that either. Right now I am trying to find my way into the movie theater in London that is showing R&J on December 15, so far with no luck. If you know of an extra ticket, could you let me know? I will tell you one of my secrets.

I especially like this quote about Gergiev: "There are so many young singers he's given opportunities to -- big roles at a young age, which never happens in America. They have what they call the young artists' programs, but what they're really doing is putting singers in their graves. They're sitting there in the big theaters wasting their best years, studying, covering, looking at the big stars. It's so wrong. You can never learn to sing if you are just watching." I agree. Do this for one year tops. Rule in hell rather than serve in heaven.

She is charming. After my colossal bad luck at meeting the Italian, I am reluctant to try to meet Netrebko. Cats and dogs love me.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gershwin on YouTube

I generally hesitate to put up things from YouTube because they go away so quickly. I found these, and I hope they stay up long enough for you to hear them.


This is Leontyne Price singing "My Man's Gone Now." She is the point where I come to this. It's Gershwin as Verdi, if you know what I mean. She wails like no one else, and this is an excellent example of Leontyne at her best.


But does that spoil me for Nina Simone singing the same song? This is Gershwin as blues, a different kind of wailing. It works, too.  Singing starts around 3'.


And so does this Audra McDonald version, Gershwin on Broadway, a place where he was most at home.

Three more different versions could hardly be imagined from three more different voices. All three are a treat. It is interesting to ponder how well this piece fits all three styles. It is at once blues, Broadway and opera, convincing in all three genres. In particular it is stunning how well he composed for the operatic voice.

Enjoy.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Huh?


I was in Barnes & Noble looking at the awards issue of Gramophone magazine and decided to look for Jonas Kaufmann's award, best vocal, or something like that. I found it along with a short interview on singing Strauss Lieder. Nice. But who is that picture next to the award? I thought maybe I was suddenly becoming senile. Are they trying to hide the fact that Jonas is the cutest thing in classical music by putting in someone else's picture? This is a serious magazine, I guess, so the pictures have to be serious. The interview sounds genuine.



Our boy looks like this.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Arias for Rubini

So when do we get it? This is starting to piss me off. I am referring to the new Juan Diego Florez album that is out in England. Maybe I'll pick one up when I'm there.

See here for Juan talking about the album. With the dollar plummeting to earth the Europeans may not feel it's worth releasing albums here at all.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Blogging

My interest in music, my Urmotif, was in making it, in taking rows of dots and turning them into expression. My quest didn't start young enough to be as effective as necessary in the highly competitive world of classical music, but this is still my personal bias. I had no inclinations to musicology, and my brain does not easily accumulate trivia.

This interest widened into vocal technique and acting. I learned about music history because I was required to. I read Constantin Stanislavsky and William Vennard for fun.

I also studied choral conducting and tried to apply this to chorus. This is the conductor's main job, but you'd be amazed by how many don't realize this. I scored a lot of points in my final by pointing out that in the repeating two note figure in a Bach cantata the first note should always be emphasized.

My interest in the Italian singer comes from this bias. [If I put her name here, it will go out as a Google Alert.] No one makes more of a piece of music, apparently any piece of music, than she. I know from my own work that I could do this in certain repertoire but not others. She knows this about herself, too. I was especially interested in her expressive treatment of coloratura, something I would never have imagined on my own.

It is hard to write about this subject. Making music is very specific. I'm sure that Charles Rosen uses all the analytic information he writes about to create his own performances. These are the bits that make up interpretation. I remember finding the tension in the four note rising figure of the second song in the Kindertotenlieder, and how this discovery made for the most successful interpretation in the cycle.

Each performer must find each piece himself. Though Pavarotti listened to other Italian tenors. He was very particular about who he listened to. As a child, the Italian woman played among the stones at the Baths of Caracalla while the rehearsals were going on. Nothing done later in life can make up for this.

Twenty-five years away from the business have meant a certain amount of dropping away of information. The things I truly loved remain.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Baroque texture

Note from J.Vaughan.

"Yet, if I am not mistaken, he uses an organ as harmonizing instrument [in Handel] for some of that recital disc, something for which, as I mentioned last time, I do not care."

This leads me to want to talk about Baroque texture. The point of departure for the Baroque is supposed to be the trio sonata. The texture consisted of a bass line to support the harmonies and two equal treble voices. These three voices were emphasized and composed according to the rules of counterpoint. This texture left a hole in the middle and might well result in empty chords every now and then, especially at the cadences. So a harpsichord filled in the harmonies based on the composed bass line and numbers appearing below the notes called a figured bass. Nowadays these parts are often composed (the composed notes are printed smaller), but in those days the harpsichordist extemporized, and the resulting part probably varied a lot according to the skill of the player. The revival of antique practice that occurred in the second half of the twentieth century probably means a return to extemporization.

The sound coming from the harpsichord drops off sharply immediately after the string is plucked. The harpsichord part in the trio sonata texture doesn't rise to the level of an actual voice, so it is possible to see how this balance might be affected if the part were played on an organ. The notes would sustain like the real voices and might come to rival them, changing and thickening the texture.

I am assuming that the quoted sentence refers to the organ used as the instrument for realizing the continuo [as the process of filling in the notes above the bass is called], something he doesn't say. I've seen this. Usually a portatif is used--a portable organ about the size of a large upright piano. It is difficult to picture a portatif in an opera orchestra pit. It would stick up and block the view. Theodora, the work in question, is an oratorio where realization with a portatif is frequently seen. No one cares if it sticks up.

The ideal texture of the classical era fills in the middle voices with composed parts, except in secco recitative which continues on as before. Mozart's arrangement for Messiah provides a full classical texture in the orchestra with extensive parts for French horn, both replacing the clarino trumpet and in the style of classical French horn parts. A natural horn player could still play high fast notes. The sound ideal had changed. A classical trio includes a piano, cello and violin. The keyboard is an equal voice.

Professor Gossett points out that the figured bass continued on into his era (Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi) where it was realized on a piano. After a period, it would have become difficult to find a harpsichord. When I was a young person, the harpsichord was just beginning its comeback.

I don't think I have such strong opinions about it one way or the other. Handel was an organist.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Turandot ending

My friend Jean keeps a tape in her VCR so she can jump up and tape something interesting on the ARTS channel. There's some pretty interesting stuff on these tapes, including two films of Rodolph Nureyev in his prime. He is simply amazing.

Irmgard Seefried and Christa Ludwig both sing "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen."

So here on Jean's tape is a film of the new ending to Turandot composed by Luciano Berio. I ranted about this here without having heard it. It still includes the chorus honoring the emperor but in a more fragmented form.

I'm trying to evaluate this without thinking about focusing on the visuals, a difficult feat in this case. The production is drab in the extreme, when this scene is usually staged elaborately. Liu's body is seen lying on a gurney. The phrase "his name is love" in the new version sounds mysteriously like it's composed by Berio rather than Puccini. That is the main problem with the entire section--it alternately sounds like Puccini and Berio. Familiar melodies from other parts of the opera appear and disappear into a more modern context.

The opera clashes and wimps to its end, in startling contrast to the pomp and glory of the Alfano version. I guess I'm biased. I love the other version and always cry when she sings "Suo nome e amore." For me that is the test for a good ending to Turandot--does it make you cry?

This is on YouTube so you can judge for yourself.





Quote

This is a quote from Lang Lang.

"It's important for me to work with singers," he says. "The problem with the piano is that it's easy to forget that you have to breathe in and out. Your hands don't need to breathe. When you play with singers, they show you how to create the phrase."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sprechstimme

I have heard a bit of Sprechstimme by now--that's Schoenberg's invention of speaking set to music. I think if memory serves that it first appears in Gurrelieder (1901/11 [I think written around 1901 and orchestrated closer to 1911--He's supposed to have forgotten how to orchestrate in Mahler's style by then and had to revive a long abandoned technique.]), the orchestrated song cycle that Schoenberg wrote while he was still in his Mahler phase. In the performance of Gurrelieder I heard at the San Francisco Symphony Hans Hotter performed the Sprechstimme. His was very speech-like.

Sprechstimme is notated like normal vocal music, except where the note heads would normally appear are X's. This leaves the performer with a wide range of options, extending from normal speech set to music, sometimes called melodrama, to something that sounds a lot like singing. Hotter was like a magnificent old actor. His motivation in performing the part seemed rather like mine--voice is shot, but I can still do Sprechstimme. He was the best I've heard.

The main later examples are Pierrot Lunaire (1912) and Moses und Aron (1930/32). My theory is that Schoenberg was as bored by Moses as we are listening to it, and this is why it was never finished. He turned out to be not as high minded as he thought he was. According to this article in Wikipedia there is Sprechstimme in Wozzeck and Lulu. So I missed that as a texture.

I think Pierrot Lunaire is the only one that is regularly performed by sopranos who seem to want to sing. The Christine Schaefer Pierrot Lunaire quite often sounds like out of tune singing. Deliberately out of tune--it's clear this isn't an accident. I would be curious to hear a female perform this in a more talky style. Maybe they are trying too hard to come close to the notated pitches. I think only the general contour is required.

-----------

I have decided this article would be far better with a few examples.  First we have Hans Hotter's wonderful example from Gurrelieder.



Here is a very nice clip from Moses und Aron.  One sings, the other doesn't.  The two brothers alternate, thus giving a very clear idea of the difference between Sprechstimme and singing.



I openly admit to a mania for this film of Pierrot Lunaire with Christine Schaefer.

Anyway, that should give you the idea.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Toys

I have new toys: an iPod and a digital camera. So I can wander around photographing and listening to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sing "As with rosy steps of morning" at the same time, producing a puzzling spiritual experience. This tiny camera will make up to 30 minutes of film. I should try to do a pirate film somewhere so I can upload it to YouTube.

I am getting reacquainted with my CD collection, and there is some interesting stuff in here. Lorraine is constantly connecting to the other side, telling us that she will soon leave us. "Deep River," "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen." She speaks to me.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Kaufmann

Maybe I'll become a fanzine for Jonas Kaufmann. There isn't a lot of him on YouTube, but the wave of opinion is that he's as fabulous as I think he is. Someone else also said they think he sounds most like Vickers, but I'm already feeling he sounds like himself. I can't actually think when I have heard a more beautiful tenor voice. More, please. I agree with the comments that say weight is gradually coming into his voice, rather than that he is forcing it to be heavier. His production seems very natural to me.

He's also adorable. Sigh.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Lynn Job

I was introduced today to the work of Lynn Job, a composer who uses electronic media in an unusual way. I wondered if she is a follower of Tan Dun, but her unusual sounds are recordings rather than live performances. Here is information about her.

I was attending a morning club meeting when one of the members performed Job's Serengeti Supper for alto saxophone and sound track. Among other sounds were lions roaring, bird calls, water flowing, native singers, percussion, string orchestra, etc. and a live alto saxophonist. I can't help wondering if this is the wave of the future and asked the performer. He says yes. The composer works somewhere in Texas. It was fun and did not involve any forms from the classical period.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Philistine

Berg's operas are composed on classical forms as though they were Mozart. Mozart, of course, would not have composed sections of his operas on the sonata form or any other forms besides those of Neapolitan opera, Singspiel, or those of his own invention. If you are into this sort of thing, you can buy the score and analyze away. It's like doing sudoku--completely irrelevant to any practical use. It helped him decide what to do, and in a style as conceptual as serialism any help you can find is good.

Sometimes the program for Wozzeck will list the forms being played rather than the scenes. You can analyze aurally that way.

The music that results from this abstraction seems to fit the content which is not at all abstract. Lulu is fascinating rather than precisely attractive. Compare her to Manon: Manon is enjoying herself, but can the same be said of Lulu?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Christine Schaefer


I have a relationship to Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. I decided years ago in my synthesizer phase that if my voice was gone I could still do Sprechstimme. I would record midi files of the songs and perform them to my own accompaniment. I got pretty far along with this project and thought they sounded good. I couldn't get the waltz to sound like a waltz, but I notice they don't either. This project was fun. Pierrot Lunaire sounded good on synthesizer.

This DVD is a film with Pierrot Lunaire as the sound track. The visuals are of New York City around Times Square. Christine walks down a hall in a seedy building; she shakes a doorknob and a lion roars; she goes to her apartment, and it's filled with giant cockroaches. I've been in New York apartments and this is not unrealistic. The real cockroaches are maybe not quite this big. She brushes one off her neck.

Christine is both subject and object in this film. She has a life and observes it at the same time. At one point she repeatedly pushes herself off the top of one of the tall buildings. This is completely wacko and I love it. Her rendition of the piece is fabulous. I am beginning to understand Christine. It's conducted by Pierre Boulez.

Here is the bit I saw on TV that led me to buy this.

I suppose a girl baritone would not be right in the part. Girls, if you are a lyric soprano with good German diction, it would not hurt your career prospects to try your hand at Pierrot Lunaire or Lulu.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lulu

Lulu:  Christine Schaefer (soprano)
Alwa, Dr. Schön’s Son, a composer:  David Kuebler (tenor)
Dr. Schön / Jack the Ripper:  Wolfgang Schone (baritone)


This is my third Lulu, the opera by Berg.

The first was in 1965 in two acts and starred Evelyn Lear. She was a voracious tiger who ate men for lunch, and the ovation for her performance was as nothing I have ever seen--not applause but a sustained roar. I was away in 1971 when Anja Silja played her.

The second in 1989, San Francisco's first since the completion of the three act score in 1979, starred Ann Panagulias, a dark young woman barely out of Merola. Ann was passive in the extreme, and the whole action just washed over her. Ann was cast for her looks, but projected no emotions at all. It is curious to notice that in this production Evelyn Lear played the Countess.

My third is this DVD starring Christine Schaefer from Glyndebourne. She is somewhere between these extremes.

There are women who attract others like a magnet. We have all known one of them at one time or another. Lulu is such a woman. What is the secret? Pheromones? Body language? Looks?

That is the question: is Lulu doing it on purpose, or is she merely the object of the desires of others? Is she arranging signals for others to respond to? Or is she just following the wishes of others? Is she a leader or merely a follower? Men of all social classes swarm around her. Dr. Schoen's son Alwa, well played here by David Kuebler, says she might be a cunning whore, and she says she wishes she were. Is it to her credit that she constantly reminds him that she poisoned his mother and shot his father, or is this part of her attraction?

Christine hasn't the strength of voice to project the voraciousness of Evelyn Lear. Hers is a sweet lyric soprano, and her Lulu is a sweet woman who enjoys being loved. She accepts all gifts as though they were her due, including the Countess' gift of her own health, and does not question the source. Dr. Schoen whom she kills is the only one she loves in return. This Lulu is a woman who is enjoying her outfits, which change frequently. Alwa calls her "little Lulu" and Christine is small enough to fit this. Her natural hair color darkens as the opera goes along. (Behind the scenes there will be a lot of frantic dying and drying.)

In a slut plot, one of the mainstays of opera, the slut must get what she deserves. Carmen is stabbed. Semele is burned alive. Violetta dies of consumption. Lulu is killed by Jack the Ripper.

There are basically four textures: orchestra alone (including the accompaniment for the film in act ii), unaccompanied speaking, melodrama (speech with orchestra--I don't think it can be considered Sprechstimme) and singing with orchestra. The artists move smoothly from one texture to another. Christine's singing is quite pretty, but I'm not sure I can say that for the others.

In this production the music is made to seem not difficult, a spectacular achievement. The music is merely there like background music for a movie (which some of the time it is.) The transition from talking to singing is transparent and natural. It is by far the best of my three. For this movie would we have chosen this music? Definitely.

The same man, Wolfgang Schone here, must sing both Dr. Schoen and Jack the Ripper because of the dialog at the end. He is only her third trick, but she wants him to spend the night with her because she likes him. He reminds her of the only man she ever loved. Jack kills the Countess, too, who gets to declare her love for Lulu as she dies. The Countess is beautifully played by Kathryn Harries.

This is the first time I have been swept up in the drama. It is played for reality rather than intensity. I think you could see a more melodramatic Lulu, a more evil Lulu, but hardly a more sympathetic one. It is pathetic to see that three of her lovers--Alwa, the Countess and Schigolch, the father that isn't a father--make it all the way with her to complete degradation at the end.

Lulu is the ultimate slut plot, and I am not the first to wish to see Anna Netrebko sing it. Her portrayal would be closer to Evelyn Lear's, I think. Don't get me wrong--Christine is pretty fabulous.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Blogging

I really enjoyed seeing Angela Gheorghiu in La Rondine. For me I can't imagine why a company would stage La Rondine without someone like Angela to do it. If they had fired her for missing rehearsals, I would have been forced to throw a tantrum, something I should just not do.

I heard a lot of people say that she was flat, and I listened carefully to see if this was true. Angela sings Puccini in a very broad way, and her scooping technique is quite broad. I discussed this ad nauseum with my friends. It really is amazing how they put up with me. I talked about scooping and explained how it is only necessary to come to the note eventually. Of the 100 pitches she hits on her way up to the note, exactly which one is supposed to be flat? Eventually she gets there. It is only not permitted to overshoot. It is completely not permitted to lose track of the note you were aiming for and go past it. Angela is an expert scooper. See tools.

The collapsing dollar is putting a crimp in my travel plans. There's so much going on in Europe now that I very much want to travel there. I would go and stay if that were possible.

Over the years I have written another book. It's a study guide--everything you should memorize for your doctoral orals. Unless you're a musicologist in which case you must memorize much more.

It is an idea I very much admired. Each chronological period represents a relatively coherent musical style. The idea begins to fall apart in the twentieth century when there are too many styles to keep track of. You have to understand the concept to get anything out of it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Borrowed writing

I have posted this article because it says some things that are contrary to things I said in a previous post. Things have to be copied from the New York Times because they disappear very quickly.

Welsh Bass-Baritone Hears the Call of Home

By VIVIEN SCHWEITZER
Published: November 10, 2007

During a recent rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera for Mozart’s “Nozze di Figaro” the marvelous Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel exuded charisma, pretending to answer his cellphone mid-aria. Mr. Terfel’s Met performances as Figaro, a signature role and the one with which he made his Met debut in 1994, start this afternoon, and this will be his swan song in the part.

Mr. Terfel will also lend his dramatic intensity, fine diction and instantly recognizable, richly expressive voice to Mendelssohn’s majestic oratorio “Elijah,” with the Collegiate Chorale at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 19.

While reminiscing fondly about the 1998 opening of Jonathan Miller’s production of “Le Nozze di Figaro,” Mr. Terfel, who is married with three young sons, said, “There was a twinge of sadness within that period as well, as I missed the birth of my second child.”

“When you’re a young singer,” he added, “the words are always ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ as you’re afraid you’ll never get the same contract again. But I should have been home, really. I should have canceled the whole thing.”

The problems Mr. Terfel, who turned 42 yesterday, has always faced juggling family life and career came to a peak in September. He withdrew from eagerly anticipated appearances as Wotan in Wagner’s “Ring” cycle at the Royal Opera House in London because his 6-year-old son had broken a finger and required three operations.

Mr. Terfel’s decision prompted a terse, angry statement from the Royal Opera House and a collective roar from irate fans, columnists and bloggers. But Mr. Terfel also received “stunning letters” of support, he said, and he remains unrepentant.

“I missed two of my children’s births,” he said. “I’ll never get over the fact that people didn’t turn round to me and say: ‘Look, you should be at home now. You shouldn’t be here rehearsing.’

“Wotan can wait. Being a father cannot wait. If something happens to my children again, I’ll do the same thing. I’ll be home, and people should recognize that fact. If there’s something on your mind, and you’re not 100 percent, it will be detrimental to you as an artist. It’s much better that I stayed at home than sang six very terrible performances of Wotan.”

Mr. Terfel said that his wife, Lesley, was initially adamant that he go ahead with the “Ring” performances, contrary to reports in the British news media, but he didn’t even unpack his suitcase during rehearsals.

“I’ve never been so uncomfortable at going into an opera house,” he said. “As you can see, I’m usually very comfortable.”

He certainly appears comfortable at the Met, striding around the maze of corridors backstage in jeans and sneakers and warmly greeting colleagues with a lilting Welsh accent as lyrical as his singing. Mr. Terfel’s first complete “Ring “ will be Robert Lepage’s new production, which begins in the 2010-11 season at the Met.

Other Wagnerian milestones ahead include his Hans Sachs in “Die Meistersinger” at the Welsh National Opera in 2009-10. “Wagner can enchant you, carry you off into a different world,” he said. “With Mozart you can have a social life, but when you’re singing Wagner, it’s a different animal. I’ll never forget reaching the end of ‘Walküre’ for the first time. I was a blubbering wreck, crying away in the corner of the opera house by myself.”

Mr. Terfel will take something of a sabbatical next year, to focus on recitals and record a disc of Celtic songs. His only operatic performance will be in Verdi’s “Falstaff” with the Welsh National Opera. He hopes the break will provide insights into his career trajectory. “Do I want to give more time to my home opera company?” he muses. “I think it’s going towards that direction.”

Mr. Terfel could then spend more time with his family in northwest Wales, near Caernarfon. He grew up on a sheep farm in Pantglas, speaking Welsh, and regularly participated in the Welsh singing competitions known as the eisteddfodau. A recording of the prepubescent Terfel singing at an eisteddfod reveals his precocious musicality.

His schoolmates ridiculed his love of singing, “but I had the height to take care of myself,” said Mr. Terfel, who at 6 foot 3 has the bearish build of a rugby player. He attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and his career took off after he won the lieder prize in the 1989 BBC Singer of the World competition in Cardiff, back in Wales.

Since then, Mr. Terfel has tackled a dizzying array of music, including Broadway and popular songs. “I did a lot of concerts with male-voice choirs in Wales, and the last thing you’d sing would be a Wagner aria,” he said. “They’d much rather hear ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’” Mr. Terfel sang the title role in Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” in London and Chicago and said he would love to have Mr. Sondheim write an opera for him.

Mr. Terfel’s Deutsche Grammophon catalog, though impressive, includes a few crossover discs featuring saccharine orchestrations and collaborations of dubious artistic merit. One crossover album sold in excess of 800,000 copies, he said.

“Perhaps the businessman kicks in as well then,” he added. “So come on, there’s a bandwagon, and am I to miss out on the sales of 800,000 compared to selling 60,000 of a Schubert record? No, I’m not.”

Along with the Schubert lieder disc, there are notable recordings of English and Welsh songs, Wagner and Handel arias, Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” (He has given acclaimed performances of both the title role and Leporello in “Don Giovanni.”) A recent disc, “Tutto Mozart!,” features arias by Papageno in “Die Zauberflöte” and Count Almaviva in “Figaro,” roles Mr. Terfel has never sung onstage, but might.

What’s on his iPod? Wagner, the Beatles and Elvis Presley. Mr. Terfel describes Presley as “very classically orientated with his voice and diction and very sincere and wanting to get everything perfect.” He could be describing himself.

Bryn Terfel sings Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera until Dec 1; (212) 362-6000, metopera.org. He sings “Elijah” at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 19; (212) 247-7800, carnegiehall.org.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

La Rondine


La Rondine means the swallow, a small bird of graceful flight that travels long distances each year between its summer quarters in the northern hemisphere and the southern regions where it winters. It swoops and dives to catch insects in flight.

The opera that carries its name, Puccini's La Rondine, performed last night at the San Francisco Opera, is similarly graceful and fragile, rather like feathers falling to earth. It seems to have been waiting for a suitably graceful and equally fragile soprano to bring it to full flower. Angela Gheorghiu is that soprano.

Her character, Magda de Civry, has chosen the life of the mistress of a rich banker while continuing to fantasize about true love. She remembers an incident in her youth when she met a young man in a dance hall, danced with him, fell in love with him and left him all in the course of an evening, and she longs to bring this moment back to life. She wants to fly free like the swallow. It is a plot much like La Traviata but infinitely lighter. To succeed the opera must make you believe that she is romantic enough to entice a young man, noble hearted enough to give him up when he asks to marry her, and beautiful enough for her banker to take her back. In 1917, the date of La Rondine, we still believe in the woman as slut or angel, and cannot allow her to be both.

Angela owns the famous aria "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta," which is sung as an entertainment at a salon. She is suitably youthful looking and waltzes like a dream. Her voice is a bit small for the San Francisco Opera house, at least from the balcony perspective. I think the acoustics are different in different parts of the house.

The opera is full of waltzes and dancing, a surprise for Puccini. The maid Lisette was amusingly played by Anna Christy, a coloratura soprano. The poet, sung by Gerard Powers, sneers at romantic love and declares his love must compare to Galatea or Berenice. In reality he is interested in Lisette. When Magda, her young man, the poet and Lisette are together at the dance club in Act II, Magda pretends to be someone else, and all appear to go along with this. Then when Lisette and Magda's young man are away from the table, Magda whispers teasingly to the poet "Galatea, Berenice," giving her disguise completely away. He tries to make excuses but has revealed his own romantic tendencies.

The tenor, Magda's young man, is sung by Misha Didyk. His voice is unusual but suitably romantic.

It is an opera about romantic love in the midst of the more sophisticated and cynical classes, a feat difficult to bring off successfully, but definitely managed here, thanks largely to Angela.

The production was art nouveau and very beautiful. Ion Marin, the conductor, sounded familiar. It turns out he conducted the Rossini Heroines album.

 [See Kinderkuchen History 1890-1910]

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

View

There's a review of The Washington National Opera production of Bolcom's A View from the Bridge here. I was considering going, and perhaps I still will.

Musician of the Year


Musical America has named Anna Netrebko musician of the year. She's winning everything these days.










Charles Rosen was named instrumentalist of the year. It might be interesting to hear him play some of the pieces he discusses in the book.

The Romantic Generation

I have finished The Romantic Generation by Charles Rosen. It derives from a lecture series, and probably made more sense in that context where the examples could be played and then discussed. He is a pianist, and his insights are directed toward pianists. He is familiar with large portions of this repertoire and writes in great detail about it. But if you don't have a piano, or couldn't play the examples even if you did, there is not going to be a lot for you here.

If I wrote a book about the same period, which I am not proposing to do, it would be much different. Such a book would talk about vocal repertoire, possibly the same song cycles, but very little other overlap. I would be equally biased and lopsided in my presentation. I might choose Berlioz as the leader.

Rosen places Robert Schumann at the top of his hierarchy, a choice which I wouldn't dream of arguing with. It is sad to read how Schumann went over his youthful compositions toward the end of his life and removed anything unorthodox. Times had changed away from the adventuresome romantics.

Cecilia Bartoli's Maria album is possibly a better thing to compare it to than my hypothetical book. Hers is also a lecture series with only the examples left in. Play it juxtaposed to Opera Proibita or one of her Mozart CDs, and the changes brought by romanticism will stand out in vivid detail. Principle would be the rhythmic freedom and flexibility. I find it interesting that the two things--book and album--have come into my life together.

Rosen tries to be interested in Bellini, but otherwise dismisses the entire opera genre as trash, a position we opera fans are not likely to sympathize with.

It is a forest and trees situation. There are an overwhelming number of trees (analyses of specific examples) with only an occasional hint at a forest (identification of a general stylistic trend.) If you are a pianist, this will help you understand the pieces you are playing. For others the usefulness is limited.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Conversation

I wrote to Philip Gossett:
I have finally made it to the chapter on opera in The Romantic Generation and see your name. Why is it that opera both is and isn't silly, is and isn't trivial? The answer is singing. The best opera is the kind that makes a situation, makes a musical framework for singing and stands back out of the way and allows it to happen. Less is much much more.

There is no correlation between how long an analysis you can write about something and its intrinsic value. At least that's how I felt after listening to Moses und Aron.

Dr. Gossett responded:
You know, I don't really think that opera is silly or trivial. I believe in these works for their content, NOT just for their singing (that isn't to deny the importance of the singing). We tend to judge them on the basis of a theatrical tradition that isn't theirs, a theatrical tradition that stops with Restoration comedy and picks up again with Ibsen and Shaw. But what about the whole history of drama between the eighteenth century and the end of the nineteenth? We know NOTHING, truly NOTHING. Most people know the Voltaire dramas exclusively through Rossini; they know the Hugo dramas exclusively through Donizetti and Verdi; and don't even think about Spanish Romantic drama. Once you see the operatic literature of the first sixty years of the nineteenth century in the CONTEXT of the dramatic conventions of the time, there is nothing either silly or trivial in the works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, or Verdi.

As for "analysis," well you are perfectly right that the number of words spilled over an opera because it is great to analyze has little to do with its effectiveness in the theater. There are a FEW works where the analysts can have a great time and the effectivness is magnificent. I think particularly of Tristan or Wozzeck. As for Moses und Aron, sigh! I like it better each time I see or hear it, but I don't ever expect it to be a crowd-pleaser!

Me again:
I think the history of drama and its relationship to the opera libretto is a subject I could get interested in. I'll look into it.