Sunday, March 25, 2007

Rossini's big aria

I like the big aria from La Cenerentola, and I liked hearing Juan Diego Florez sing it, but it isn't very suitable in Barber. When Rossini wrote it, it was for an opera called Almaviva. Same opera, different name. There it would make sense. Figaro is almost a bit player in this version.

In La Cenerentola Angiolina has just become a Princess and has more than enough reasons to celebrate. The opera would seem unbalanced without it.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Barber of Seville in HD

I saw the simulcast of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia from the Metropolitan Opera in Albuquerque. It was very fine. The sound was a little loud, but the quality was excellent.

Figaro..................Peter Mattei
Rosina..................Joyce DiDonato
Count Almaviva....Juan Diego Flórez
Dr. Bartolo.............John Del Carlo
Don Basilio.............John Relyea

Conductor...............Maurizio Benini
Production..............Bartlett Sher

 I hardly know where to start. The acting and general theatrical business was especially well done. Maurizio Benini, the conductor, understood the special qualities of Rossini and got his tempos right.

So I'll start where I want to start. I know John Del Carlo. We were in the same Julius Caesar at Pocket Opera many years ago. He decided on a career as a buffo bass, and has appeared in these types of parts in San Francisco, parts like Don Pasquale and the man in the Marschallin's morning visits. I thought he was good, maybe just OK. For a buffo he has grown in his Fach beyond what I would have imagined. His Dr. Bartolo was very fine indeed. It helped that he actually is the age for a Bartolo. He kept pace in the coloratura with the greatest coloratura tenor I have certainly ever seen. He was wonderfully funny. Adorable even. Bravo.

What could one think to say about Juan Diego Florez? He is king. At the end of the opera they revived the aria "Cessa di piu resistere" just for him. This aria is familiar as the finale of La Cenerentola, but sounds wonderfully different in his voice. He was funny, beautiful, stunning.

Joyce DiDonato, a girl from Kansas, had her hands full competing with the men. My heart did not beat for her. Perhaps I am not destined to love another coloratura mezzo. Don't get the wrong idea. I liked her.

Peter Mattei was good. Juan Diego upstaged him too often.

The big aria brought into Barber for Florez was created for this opera and later cut because the soprano didn't want it, didn't want the tenor competing with her. Later it was inserted into La Cenerentola. Perhaps this is why Angiolina is a mezzo.

Opera, beautiful opera, heart stopping, thrilling, wonderful opera. Gelb is starting at the top.

Opera SW

Last night I attended an Opera Southwest presentation of Puccini's La Bohème. I notice they have borrowed their costumes--or at least the designs--from the Santa Fe Opera, and the titles from Nevada Opera. The conductor, Michael Borowitz, was also borrowed from the Nevada Opera. The orchestra pit in the Kimo Theater is the style associated with musicals, with a narrow opening and not much space inside. The relatively small orchestra was fine and never drowned out the singers.

Suzanne Woods as Mimi and John Pickle as Rodolfo are both from New York City. My biggest criticism of them is how much better they got as they went along. His high notes started to open up and she began to relax into the phrases. What could this mean besides inadequate warm up? The third act is too late! They're both very talented but should know better--the best part of La Bohème is in Act I. Ron Loyd as Marcello is also from NYC. Perhaps they all know one another.

Suzanne Woods seemed the only one who truly grasped Puccini. There is something wrong when people are singing in Italian, and I can understand them. My Italian isn't that good. Believe me, this never happens in the big houses. Everything needs to be about 100 times more legato. If you are connecting the notes the way you should be, I won't be able to tell what you're saying.

Enough. I am being way too bitchy. They are all lovely, enthusiastic young people. Leslie Umphrey, a local girl, was fabulous as Musetta.


Placido Domingo conducting and Rolando Villazon singing zarzuela in the new recording Gitano--this is a little bit weird. Is it a criticism that I am detecting a bit of cloning going on? No offense, Rolando, but you have disappeared into him. I know he's your hero and all, but it would be nice if we could tell which one of you is singing.

P.S. Am I allowed to change my mind? Naturally I'm allowed to do anything I want. That's the beauty of blogging. Rolando for me has that extra edge of passion. For emotion he wins over Domingo for me. Still. Sometimes they sound exactly the same.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


It occurs to me that the Art of Practicing may be wasted on a lot of classical singers. It is possible to be an opera singer and never practice by yourself. Ever. Coaches and accompanists can be relied on to pound it into us even if we come totally unprepared. Perhaps this is the problem. Why is it that the most expressive of all musical media, the human voice, is often the most monotonous in performance?

I couldn't play the piano worth shit, but I still worked out my performances alone at the keyboard. I sat alone with myself trying to figure out what made this piece tick. It is rather pathetic thinking about it. This included hours spent fracturing Das Lied von der Erde, among other things, a piece that I loved and wanted to feel in my fingers, to make my own, even though I never performed it. "O sieh wie ...." I wanted to feel those arching phrases in my own body.

If you are never alone with the music, how can you possibly find where it intersects your own soul?


One of my talents is the ability to walk into a room or really any commercial space and like iron drawn to a magnet pick out the most expensive thing. Today it was Albuquerque's Old Town. I went around the various shops looking at what was for sale, and I lingered a little longer in a shop called Andrews Pueblo Pottery. I walked up to a particular display case filled with black pots and said, "This looks like the real thing."

It was about half a dozen pots by Maria Martinez, the greatest of all Indian potters, each pot worth thousands.

It's not a talent that's good for anything, especially when you don't have a lot of money.

The Art of Practicing

The Art of Practicing by Madeline Bruser: the copyright date for this book is 1997 so I won’t claim it is new. It’s new to me. Subtitle: “A Guide to Making Music from the Heart.” It is written by a pianist and focuses primarily on pianists and other instrumental musicians. I am reading it to see how much applies to singers.

We continue to promote the idea that the difference between good and great singing (or good and great piano playing) lies in expression. Music cannot be great without great emotion. This is my advice to singers: try to find the expressive heights in your singing. I would have advised increasing coaching opportunities, but Madeline wants us to find expression in our practice hours, to find emotion while working alone. Perhaps this book will give us some clues.

It occurs to me that this may be wasted on a lot of opera singers. It is possible to be an opera singer and never practice by yourself. Ever. Coaches and accompanists can be relied on to pound it into us even if we come totally unprepared. Perhaps this is the problem. Why is it that the most expressive of all musical media, the human voice, is often the most monotonous in performance?

“This book is about how to free ourselves from physical and emotional tension as we practice so that we can unleash our innate musical talent.” Singers are always advised to get involved with the text, to learn all the nuances of the original language to increase meaning and expression. I insist that this is good, but it isn’t enough. There are in all types of music purely musical meanings which must also be sought out. Don’t leave it to the pianist or conductor.

Her first piece of advice is meditation. This is seen as an approach to conquering stage fright and to increase awareness of the here and now. The goal is to increase relaxation and awareness. I see no reason why this doesn’t apply to singers, too. She found that this made her more aware of both her body and the sound she was producing and allowed for greater attention to detail.

She begins with “The Starting Point,” and right at the start she is speaking to me. In the crime novel I started with the first-lesson, but she begins earlier with the student's relationship to the teacher. The student must achieve a mystical balance between vulnerability and respect. That is the student must feel vulnerable to the teacher (or no learning will take place) while continuing to feel that the teacher respects him. The student must feel that the teacher respects him. This was always a sore spot for me. In the crime novel I discussed at length my relationships with teachers, none of which was ideal. I like it that she talks about this. "Passion, confidence and vulnerability are evidence of musical talent." If a teacher criticizes and attacks your confidence, dump them. I see now how I was broken down by criticism.

In her chapter on Struggle and Freedom she advises us to try to take in the music we are producing, to hear ourselves performing, instead of constantly comparing ourselves to the ideal in our minds. This is hard for a singer because we cannot actually hear ourselves as we really are. We hear our voices minus some of the resonators, I think, but the advice can still apply if we assume it is the performance, the expression we are listening to and not the tone.

I want to discuss everything, if I can, and will cover the chapters as I read them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


We will start the list of sexiest opera singers a little early this year with a picture of Jonas Kaufmann.

And this is certainly the sexiest picture of Karita Mattila I've ever seen, here as Salome.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Arias for Farinelli

Vivica Genaux has a new album called Arias for Farinelli, a castrato who sang in the period most represented these days by George Frederick Handel. It was, however, the competition who hired him while he was in London from 1734-37. This album gives a picture of Italian opera in the time of Handel, a repertoire we seldom hear.

Represented are Nicola Porpora, Geminiano Giacomelli, Riccardo Broschi (Farinelli’s brother), Johann Adolf Hasse, and Baldassari Galuppi, listed here chronologically in the order of their birth dates. René Jacobs, the conductor, says in his notes, “The composers of our arias were themselves trained singers, and understood the human vocal instrument so well that they occasionally gave singing lessons; Porpora even made it his profession.” I didn’t think of that when giving advice to composers, but why not? Find out what Fach suits your own voice. Learn a few arias and perform them for your friends, preferably your singer friends. I would remove my prohibition that they compose for themselves if composers actually were trained as opera singers. Forgive me, as usual I have digressed.

Jacobs also speaks of “hermaphroditic dreams,” satisfied both by castrati in female roles and contraltos in trouser parts, sometimes together in the same opera. Gender confusion as a method for increasing pleasure is what we are talking about here. We have suspected as much.

Jacobs discusses at length the suitability of falsettists in replacing castrati and makes the statement, “…when it comes to replacing soprano castratos like Farinelli, unfortunately no falsettist in existence today fulfils [the] desire for full and rounded lower notes, combined with high notes that must be gently placed, unforced and capable of modulation.” Senisino yes, Farinelli no. How fascinating! He says in this period “…the voice should sound ‘large and powerful in the low register, of moderate volume in the middle register, and increasingly softer in the higher reaches,’” (a quote from a treatise written in 1474.) This is, of course, the opposite of modern practice where practically all high notes are blasted out as loudly as possible. You will have to read the whole liner note for yourself. As castrati gradually died out, they were replaced by women, not falsettists.

Farinelli’s range extended from a to d’’’. For Sarah I quote: “Farinelli’s public expected him to sing his arias in a new way, that is with new ‘graces’, each time he sang them: many opera fans attended every performance of a production!” There are still those who do it now.

I am supposed to be writing about Vivica Genaux’s performance of the selected arias. I like her voice a great deal. In the past I compared her to Marilyn Horne. I think Vivica is a true mezzo and would not have contracted as a soprano in her youth as Marilyn is known to have done. Her voice is placed ideally for the extravagant ornamentation beautifully performed here.

She misses only the miraculous flow of the phrase attained in my lifetime only by one singer. Whom I will not name. You know who I mean.

“Quell’ usignolo” by Giacomelli goes on for over 14 minutes on six lines of text about a nightingale. What fun this is. The cadenzas are wonderful. Vivica Genaux is one of the best people around today, and this is a great way to hear her.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Charles Ives

I once sang a lot of songs by Charles Ives. He was someone I felt close to. Some of these songs are on this recording of Ives Songs with Susan Graham and Pierre Laurent Aimard which also includes the Concord Sonata. “Ann Street,” a place in New York City, I think, and “From the Swimmers.” I didn’t attempt “Like a sick eagle,” though I would have if I’d known that no one would actually do the glissandi. The song is written with the clear instruction that the singer is to gliss between every note in a phrase. Big ones. But no one does it. It will have to go on existing only in my imagination. She puts in one tiny one. Perhaps it’s too frightening.

Ives is peculiarly American. Spare and dense simultaneously. Cooly modern and sentimental at once. “Memories (A-Very Pleasant, B-Somewhat sad) exactly captures this duality in his character. I felt exactly like that. He is perhaps closest to Satie in spirit.

Susan Graham captures it very nicely.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Anna Netrebko is bonkers

These are not personal pictures so I am posting them. I don't actually know where they come from. Should I research it?

Well, maybe silly is a better word.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Natalie Dessay

Natalie Dessay: Le miracle d'une voix. The DVD, of course. This is a curious DVD because it includes two versions of "Grossmaechtige Prinzessin" from Ariadne auf Naxos and three of "Les oiseaux" from Tales of Hoffmann.

It includes the mad scene from Lucie de Lammermoor, Lucia in French, though only in one version. Obviously the woman is completely mad because her clothes are falling off, even showing her boobs at one point.

I was most impressed with her "O Zittre nicht" where the Queen of the Night persuades Tamino that Pamina will be his forever if only he will rescue her from Sarastro. This is well sung and very sweet, and in total contrast to the subsequent aria "Der Hoelle Rache", done with great precision and power.

The DVD comes with commentaries by Natalie in French. With the subtitles on you don't need to know how to speak French.

She is the epitome of the change from the diva who just stood and sang, like Sutherland and Sills, to the modern singer who spends almost as much time on the floor as standing up. She is the theatrical diva par excellence.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Headline: "Juan Diego Flórez Sings First Encore Heard at La Scala in 74 Years." I guess we can say the encore is back.

Friday, March 09, 2007

On the radio

I was driving around on a Saturday and heard Angela Gheorghiu and Thomas Hampson on the radio in Simon Boccanegra. I like him better in his heavier, more middle-aged voice. Simon may suit his personality, with his basic sweetness. Angela I have to say I like more and more.

I also heard the Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, played by Gideon Kremer and the Vienna Philharmonic, with Leonard Bernstein conducting in a recently rereleased recording. It was marvelous. I have been accustomed to the version with Haifitz and found this a revelation. Brahms' soul was in German folk style, something that is not easy for sophisticated modern musicians to grasp, but Bernstein and Kremer exactly caught it. It was very emotional and quite beautiful.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Test your knowledge and your German--item from a German puzzle book.

Keine Opernsaengerin ist so bekannt wie sie: Wo Anna Netrebko (35) auftritt, sorgt sie fuer Furore. Begonnen hat ihre einzigartige Karriere in St. Petersburg. Dort absolvierte die schoene Russin eine Ausbildung als ....


[Same number = same letter. Underline forms part of answer.]

1993 gewann sie den ersten Preis bei einem Gesangwettbewerb in Moscau. Dort debuetierte sie bei einem Benefizkonzert im beruehmten .....-Theater.


Ein Jahr spaeter erhielt sie in St Petersburg ihr erstes Engagement in Mozarts "Die Hochzeit des Figaro". Im Mariinsky Theater hatte sie schon als Studentin ihr erstes Geld verdient. Womit?


USA-Debut: In welcher Stadt wurde die "schoene Miss Oper" 1995 mit Glinkas "Ruslan and Lydmila" ueber Nacht zum Star?

__-5-4 11-14-5-4-15-9-13-15-1

Bei den Salzburger Festspielen 2002 schaffte sie den Durchbruch zum Weltstar. 2005 gelang der impulsiven Russin der Triumph des Opernsommers als "Violetta" in Verdis ....?

17-5 __-14-5-16-9-3-5

Kritiker vergleichen sie mit Maria Callas. Sie selbst will lieber "unverwechselbar wie Anna Netrebko" klingen. Fuer ihre "Jahrhundertstimme" erhielt sie im November 2006 den Medienpreis ............?


In St. Petersburg - wo ihre Karriere begann, wo sie mit 20 die Eremitage kannte "wie ihre fuenf Fingern" - namm sie mit dem Orchester des Mariinsky Theaters und ihrem Mentor Valery Gergiev ihre neue CD auf: "... Album."


It reads like PR copy, don't you think?

Friday, March 02, 2007


I keep remembering the optimism with which the San Francisco Opera imported Pamela Rosenberg from the Stuttgart Opera. And then I remember how much the San Francisco opera public hated the idea of opera she brought them. She virtually transplanted the Stuttgart Opera to San Francisco, with its European sensibilities, its German perspective on the opera, its production designers and even its singers. Our beloved Americans disappeared.

So what if Gerard Mortier does the same thing and imports the Paris opera virtually as is to New York? When the Paris Opera makes the news it is usually because of some outrageous sexual element. Is New York ready? Americans are very much behind the Europeans in their taste in opera productions. At the same time the Europeans are simplifying their concepts, making them more abstract.

Is New York ready? We shall see.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


There is so much news I can hardly digest it all.

People are still having technical issues with the Met simulcasts, though I must confess the Portland experience seemed perfect. The picture was bright enough to please Jean who now has difficulty seeing. She complained bitterly about I Puritani in particular, that it was too dim and barely visible. I've seen broadcasts in Sacramento, Emeryville and Portland and the results have been varied. The worst was a 10 minute period of no sound at all for The First Emperor. It is all very well to suggest that they leave it alone on the receiving end, but I get the impression it simply doesn't work like that. Testing and tuning the theater system seems essential. There is never a substitute for knowing what you're doing. Even the simple task of turning up the lights when the opera was over seemed impossible.

The guy from the Paris Opera, Gerard Mortier, is coming to New York. Is he the guy who produced the Alcina with nude men? (Available from House of Opera.) This has become a personal favorite since it also includes high quality performances by Susan Graham, Renée Fleming and Natalie Dessay. Are these examples of his poor taste in singers? It all sounds like fun with dueling egos across the plaza at Lincoln center.

Perhaps I should go to Paris and check him out. What else have I got to do?

And it has been recommended that I stay alive until 2011 to see Renée do Norma. My imagination is not making this connection. I want to see Angela do it. This connection I can make. But I already commented on this here.