Since she was by far the best singer at Santa Fe, (Daphne in Daphne) I thought it would be nice to know more about Erin Wall. She's from Alberta, Canada, and has competed in the Singer of the World in Cardiff.
She is coming to Washington National Opera in the fall to sing Donna Anna in Don Giovanni.
I predict that Daphne will be a breakout role for her.
I enjoyed my Santa Fe Opera experience. The house is marvelous, with good sight lines and excellent acoustics. The view of the country side on each side, and sometimes at the back, is pretty wonderful. I was disappointed that there were no storms during the performances I attended. July and August are the monsoon season in New Mexico, and it is pretty normal for it to rain in the evening.
New Mexico is a right to work state, which means that labor unions are always optional. The opera has a large number of apprentices who receive room and board and a tiny amount of money for their stay at SFO. I don't think this would be possible in California where opera is unionized. Maybe I should try to find out. I was told that the apprentices put on some kind of outfits and change the sets between acts, also something which would not be allowed in a union house.
All the singers seem to be young, which makes for a lively and attractive operatic experience. It also means that unusually demanding parts are not always filled to the level one might desire.
They make all of their own productions--sets, costumes, wigs--or so we were told. The tech people also seemed to be quite young. Money is being saved here and spent on the creative people. The quality of musical coaching is very high.
It is astounding to think how little changed in France between the 1745 of Rameau's Comédies lyriquesPlatée, the Swamp Queen, and the banana dance of Josephine Baker. The mind boggles. The taste for absurdity and low comedy is exactly the same.
The work is more a ballet than an opera. At its premiere it was called a ballet bouffon. In the San Francisco Bay Area it was presented by the Mark Morris dance company. Folly, a coloratura soprano here sung by Heidi Stober, presents some spectacular singing, but hers is the only truly operatic role.
The set begins looking like a section of portable bleachers borrowed from the neighborhood high school and gradually disintegrates into the swamp.
The chorus enters in couples led by suspiciously thin ushers and is seated in the bleachers in a way that mirrors the audience it is facing. Then the ushers go berserk and start forcing everyone to change seats, sometimes crawling on the floor, sometimes climbing over the rows.
The plot is an attempt to reconcile Jupiter and Juno by making it seem that Jupiter is marrying a hideous monster. To avoid offending women by presenting an ugly woman as a character, the role of Platée is composed for a tenor and always played by a man. At the Santa Fe Opera the role is sung by Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, the current master of this role wherever it is presented. He is what I would incorrectly call a Spieltenor. (I would call him that because I am ignorant of French opera and don't know what they call anything. This blog is subtitled the education of DrB.) He was very funny and quite unselfconscious.
The jokes came thick and fast, and the ballet numbers were very creative. Gods descended from the ceiling. Scum gradually grew until it covered everything. When she was rejected by Jupiter and ridiculed by everyone, Platée vowed to get her revenge.
And the music? Varied and amusing in a late Baroque, early Rococo way, very suitable for dancing.
In our class for elderhostel we viewed a film from Japan of the original production of Tea. It was all done in a very abstract style with white on white, one of the alternatives of minimalism. Tea is as much about philosophy and the meaning of life as it is about the plot. A very busy, naturalistic production smothers this abstraction.
What is the meaning of drinking from an empty bowl? Is it to take in emptiness? The spareness of the music would be better wedded to spareness in production values. Time could be left to contemplate the universe. Perhaps just listening would be enough.
Richard Strauss' Daphne at the Santa Fe Opera is a unique experience. The shepherds are coming in from the fields with their (live) sheep celebrating the end of day, and all around you the sun is setting. Daphne cries out for the day to stay just as the last streaks of light are seen on the horizon which spreads out around you. It's like nothing else.
Erin Wall is glorious as Daphne. It is a soaring, ecstatic performance.
The problem with this opera is that it requires two German tenors. Anyone who could sing Apollo well would already be rich and famous, and no one at Santa Fe seems to fall into that category. Scott MacAllister was out of his depth.
Following in Wagner's footsteps, Strauss has cast the earth goddess Gaea as a true contralto with some pretty astounding low notes. Meredith Arwady was very deep and rich.
The plot is not the same as the one I am used to. In Ovid the story has to do with a quarrel between Eros and Apollo. Apollo has insulted Eros' archery skills, so Eros shoots Apollo with one of his love arrows. Apollo falls for Daphne and a river god turns her into a laurel tree. There is no boy friend. It's not complicated enough for an opera plot.
In the opera boy friend loves Daphne. Daphne doesn't like his love making techniques and rejects him. Apollo comes along to attend the bacchanal as a replacement for Dionysus and falls for Daphne. His love making technique is much better and she seems to be going for it. Boy friend is pissed and keeps wooing. Then Apollo is pissed and kills boy friend. Daphne now misses boy friend and Apollo turns her into a tree. Very different.
The bacchanal was staged as one might have imagined a true bacchanal, with choreographed sexual activity. This was pretty silly. Religion used to be so much more fun.
We couldn't help wondering. The set for Daphne consists of a small slanted stage with a tree in the middle, a laurel tree, I presume. It stood open to the public for an hour before the performance began. The music started, the shepherds did their scene, and Daphne appeared from behind the tree. How did she get there? She can't have been there all along. She similarly disappeared at the end. It seemed to be magic.
I am pretty much a Straussie and had a wonderful time.
I have had the full Santa Fe Opera experience now. My friends drove up from Albuquerque with a picnic dinner prepared. We parked early and opened up the folding chairs for our tailgate dinner. Down the row of cars were all the other tailgaters. In the car next to ours were a couple of Santa Fe old timers: a theatrical person and an art appraiser, the perfect combination for Santa Fe. Their picnic included two kinds of wine. We loaned them matches to light their dinner candle and explored possibilities of ways I could go and live for a while in Rome. Their idea was quite plausible. I rattled on like a lunatic about John Adams' librettos. We all approved of Nixon in China.
We had Caesar salad, roast beef sandwiches and Sekt, the German version of champagne. Then, of course, there was Daphne. They were all out of t-shirts for Tea.
Tea: A Mirror of Soul by Tan Dun, presented at the Santa Fe Opera, is rather like Tristan seen in flashback. In this opera it is the man who survives. In the prologue the hero sits and drinks from an empty bowl, and when he is asked why he does this, he recalls that once he was a prince.
The musical elements tell the three great acts whose texts come from the Book of Tea. In the act of water and fire Prince Seikyo travels into a new land and meets Princess Lan, her brother and her father, the Emperor. He pays suit by extemporizing poetry and is found to be worthy to marry Lan. The source of conflict comes from the brother who claims to have The Book of Tea in his pocket. Seikyo claims it is fake, that the true Book of Tea is owned by Lu Yu who lives in a land far away.
Fire is carried in lights. The opera begins with wands of light, symbolizing carried fire, which seem to be bowed. How does one make music from water? Three players splash in three bowls of water at the sides of the stage. The water trickles, splashes or flows through sieves. These are not sounds we associate with music.
The act of paper is a giant love duet, just as it is in Tristan. Lan and Seikyo are traveling to see Lu Yu to find The Book of Tea. They continue their courtship and consummate their relationship under a blanket in the middle of the stage.
The sound of paper is sometimes the sound you could make by blowing against the edge of a sheet of paper. Or it is the sound of paper crumpling. Or it is the sound of scrolls rattling.
The act of ceramic and stone comes at the arrival to visit Lu Yu who has recently died. It is known that Siekyo and Lan are coming. They find the true Book of Tea, but the brother arrives and insists on fighting the prince. Lan works very hard to intervene to save the two people she loves most from killing each other and is killed in the process by her brother.
Two sets of tuned ceramic pots were created for this scene and placed on each side of the stage. They are played like percussion and produce a rich, evocative sound. When the scene turns to violence, stones are clashed together by players who surround the action.
There is Mongolian throat singing. There is humming by the orchestra. The texture is quite delicate. (Remember, the piano vocal score is only 70 pages.)
Tan Dun's vocal writing is closest to Berg, with lots of leaps and jerks and extremely high notes. The brother part, ably sung by Roger Honeywell, is full of very high notes. The biggest problem with Tan Dun's musical style is this disconnect between the pointillistic expressionist style in the vocal parts and his very original, very sparse, very liquid orchestral style.
I liked very much how it was sung here. The singers did a much better job of completely embracing and phrasing the music than their more famous counterparts in The First Emperor. It was excellent. Haijing Fu as Seikyo and Kelly Kaduce as Lan were especially fine.
This very original musical conception was given a fairly standard operatic mounting. See pictures here. The Santa Fe Opera house is itself spectacularly original, with gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside which integrate into the production. At the end of the opera the back of the stage opens up to show the lights of Santa Fe.
The setting is complex, especially because the fire, water, paper, ceramic and stone players occupy the stage with the actors. The costumes are traditional oriental, and the sets are evocative of oriental decoration.
The visual elements helped to clarify the action, always a big item for me. Lan and Seikyo and the brother are all easily distinguished from the other people occupying the sometimes very crowded, shall we say occasionally too crowded, stage.
In all I thought it was very successful, as an opera, as a production and as a performance. Tan Dun's style seemed purer here than in The Last Emperor, and I liked it better. I liked the additional layer of abstraction in the element of tea.
Elderhostels come with lectures, including the almost miraculous work of Mireya Cirici from Barcelona on New Mexican art. I always have to brag. She put up a picture of a Santa Fe scene and said it was a painting by a famous painter who visited New Mexico only briefly, not finding it particularly inspiring. I said it was Hopper. It was.
I am having a wonderful time harassing Ron Grinage who is lecturing on Tea and Daphne. I behaved for Tea, but his list of recommended recordings of Strauss is definitely lacking. There is no Kiri Te Kanawa, no Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, no Renée Fleming and virtually no Jessye Norman who is represented only by Ariadne auf Naxos. No Lieder. Jessye Norman virtually owns Strauss Lieder. These singers define a style of ecstatic singing of Strauss that is simply not to be missed.
I am in Santa Fe on an elderhostel, and when I found that one of my fellow hostelers was from San Francisco, I prodded her into talking about the San Francisco Opera, always a popular topic for me. To my great surprise she came out on the Pamela Rosenberg side of the argument. She loved Pamela and is very angry about David Gockley, the new general director. She blames him for driving out Donald Runnicles whom she is very fond of.
It's true that Gockley is very much the tyrannical intendant style of manager, the first we've had since Kurt Herbert Adler who ran the opera with an iron hand. The last minute firing of Hope Briggs before the opening of Don Giovanni is an example of what is to come. My fellow hosteler said she attended the dress rehearsal and thought Hope Briggs was lovely.
I continued to question her until she told me to shut up or she would sit somewhere else. She is very angry about Gockley.
I came down pretty hard on Gockley's Rosenkavalier, mainly because I disliked the casting of Miah Persson as Sophie. Sophie must project as a child and Miah comes across as a fully adult woman, both in her voice and her appearance. This is not a generic criticism--she appears to be an excellent singer.
We are attending lectures on New Mexican pottery and archeology, and on Tan Dun's Tea. The lecturer pointed out that the piano vocal for the opera is only 70 pages. Tan Dun does not compose nearly so many notes as Mozart. He also said that no matter how rhythmically complex it sounds, it's all composed in 4/4 time. My preliminary impression is of something quite fragile and delicate.
Today we took a guided tour of the backstage area of the Santa Fe Opera. Except we didn't see the dressing rooms or any of the places where people were practicing. They are in the last stages of preparation for Platée on Saturday. We saw the costume shop and wig making area, and we saw places where sets were being stored, but that's about it. The highlight of the tour was seeing Joyce DiDonato's wig form. Big thrill. I miss show business.
Old but interesting about Anna's Austrian citizenship. I was interested in this:
In 2004, Salzburg’s Festspiele placed Netrebko second in a list of divas with prima donna criteria, like charm, style, manners, social habits, appearance and dress, after Angela Georgiu [sic]. Renée Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Karita Mattila and Deborah Voigt were placed lower down in the ranking.
The glamour rating may have been flattering but with public appetite for details about her life both on stage and behind the scenes becoming voracious, Netrebko feels she needs to assert her independence.
“It is not only that everyone discusses what I do, people start making their own — questionable and speculative — conclusions, and spread them around,” she said.
DrB: And here is a film of Manon as Marilyn Monroe.
Nice movie. Sometimes the actress, Marion Cotillard, sings and sometimes she lip synchs Piaf. She lip synchs the famous songs in French. It actually works pretty well. That way the early Piaf doesn't sound exactly like the famous singer, and the voice is authentic. No one can actually be Piaf.
Her 20 years younger second husband, Théo Sarapo, was strangely missing from the story. In the documentary he was everywhere.
The actress is extremely intense, over the top even, which seems very suitable. The movie ends with the famous song "Non, je ne regrette rien" in Piaf's own voice, one of the great song performances ever.
Measha Brueggergosman, the barefoot soprano, is now sporting a nose ring, though no picture is provided.
Anna Netrebko has a new secret boy friend. She said this in an interview here.
Jerry Hadley has shot himself in the head and is considered gone. This is a very sad business.
Nicola Luisotti, the guy who is slated to replace Donald Runnicles at the San Francisco Opera, is the same guy who conducted the duets album with Anna and Rolando. Oh, pardon me, that's real news. L'Italo Americano, the Italian-American newspaper, is excited about this. He looks to be pretty cute.
And this picture of the Queen--doesn't she look adorable? I'm pretty sure Katherine Jenkins is the one in the center and Charlotte Church is on the right. And not the reverse as reported elsewhere on the internet. In the back are blue men. The British musical scene is pretty puzzling from our view across the pond.
I have recently bought a couple of CD sets of Mozart operas: Lucio Silla, recorded in 1989, and Mitridate, recorded in 1998. The common thread, of course, is Cecilia Bartoli, who sings Cecilio in Lucio Silla and Sifare in Mitridate. I was surprised to see that Mitridate was recorded so long ago, but that would explain Cecilia's contralto sound here.
Cecilia's arias from Lucio Silla were released on Erato years ago, so it seemed unnecessarry to buy the complete recording. Wrong. All this time I have been missing the spectacular duet "D'elisio in sen mi'attendi" between Cecilio and Giunia, sung by Edita Gruberova.
I am more familiar with Mitridate from watching videos of it here and here. Cecilia produces her usual miracles, but the surprise here is Natalie Dessay who catches the flame of expression.
I am closing in on owning all of Cecilia's recordings. There are a large number of collections where she is included, but I am not counting these, since they should be made up of items from things I already own. I am missing her performance of Dorabella and maybe something else.
In my exploration of Kurt Weill I have happened on Ute Lemper and her album “Ute Lemper sings Kurt Weill.” She has all the qualifications for a great Weill singer. First she is proficient at uvular R’s, something we learned here from watching a film of Giesele May. She has also that cool cynicism that Weill exudes. She is irresistible.
The difference between the American and the German Weill probably lies in the different nationalities of the singers and not in Weill himself. Ute ist natuerlich deutsch.
Juan Diego Florez, opera's greatest vocal star, returns to Covent Garden tonight. He talks to Rupert Christiansen about the risks of fame - and what he thinks of Alagna
Inevitably, the first thing to be discussed with Juan Diego Florez is the much-publicised scandal surrounding his fellow tenor Roberto Alagna, who recently stormed off the sacred stage of La Scala, Milan, after being booed during a performance of Verdi's Aida, and never returned.
Florez expresses polite admiration for Alagna the artist, but it is clear that the 33-year-old Peruvian is a much cooler customer who would not have reacted in the same way. "I've never been booed, though I've been in productions where everyone else was, so I can imagine the pain. Perhaps one day it will happen to me, but so far I've had luck. I think it is something I could handle OK."
He certainly seems to handle everything else OK. Since the summer of 1996, when he made a sensational debut in Rossini's Matilde di Shabran at the Pesaro Festival, he has enjoyed the virtually unanimous and often hysterical acclaim of audiences in all the major opera houses of the world (not least the supremely exigent La Scala).
The bravos will doubtless ring out again when he returns to Covent Garden tonight to sing the show-stopping role of the naive recruit Tonio – last sung here by Pavarotti more than 40 years ago – in Donizetti's deliciously silly comedy La Fille du regiment, with Natalie Dessay as his beloved Marie.
Florez currently ranks as opera's greatest vocal phenomenon. For sheer technical virtuosity – acrobatic flexibility, speed and clarity, stunning top Cs, security of pitch and breath control, there isn't a tenor like him on record, and the history books will surely rank him alongside Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne and Cecilia Bartoli as one of the legendary exponents of the Italian bel canto style. For an industry hungry for more vulgar levels of publicity, he presents other significant qualities, too, his slim and handsome appearance providing the heart-throb factor that can fill big concert halls and send CD sales rocketing.
His fame – which in some European countries reaches rock-star proportions – has not yet floored him: Florez seems very self-aware, self-contained and emotionally balanced. At home in Pesaro, close to Rossini's birthplace and the mansion of his friend and admirer Pavarotti, he chills out, listening to Latin American music, playing a bit of football, catching up with email and spending time with his girlfriend, a German-Australian who has given up her own operatic career to travel with him.
He has little time for anything else, he says, though he does enjoy composition – he writes all his own ornaments for florid arias, and this Christmas, his first choral and orchestral composition was given its première in Vienna.
He doesn't have the easy warmth or charm of the other new tenor marvel Rolando Villazon, but he gives a pleasant, polished interview, leaving one feeling that he is someone determined to make a success of his big chance, bolstered by the good sense not to turn himself into a monster of ego.
"Red lights flash sometimes," he admits, when asked how success has changed him. "There are moments of stress when you think, 'Oh my God, I could become this horrible person.' I am lucky to have people around me whom I trust, people who keep my feet on the ground." Foremost among his court is Ernesto Palacio, his guide and mentor as well as his agent, with whom he has an unusually close professional relationship.
What makes Palacio so valuable to Florez is that he too was a bel canto tenor – one with a considerable reputation in the '70s and '80s. He can therefore not only make bookings and negotiate fees, but also advise sensitively on vocal and artistic matters.
Palacio's counsel seems very wise. One common tenor disease is the vain longing to push the voice beyond its natural capacity in order to sing more dramatic and romantic roles. This is at the heart of Alagna's problems with Aida. But Florez seems very content to continue singing what he is naturally good at – Donizetti, Bellini and, in particular, Rossini.
Others might get bored with their rather two-dimensional characterisations, frequent resort to cliché and tendency to give the prima donna the best tunes, but Florez knows that their music shows his vocal endowment to its best advantage, and he's in no hurry to move on to the richer musical pastures of Verdi and Puccini, Gounod and Massenet.
The irony is that for someone whose singing seems so fabulously daring, Florez is actually very cautious and calculating about displaying it.
"It's not as though I am singing these operas the whole time," he explains. "I space them out with concerts and recitals, and I take on one new role each year: next come Les Pecheurs de Perles, Così fan tutte and Orfeo e Euridice. But my voice is not changing yet, it is not getting darker or heavier. So, while I have the high notes and flexibility, I want to use them, and operas like Il Barbiere di Siviglia, La Sonnambula and La Fille du regiment are the best way to do that.
"Bellini's melodies give me spiritual pleasure, they're so beautiful that they make the hairs on my arm stand up; Rossini is more physical – singing his music makes me feel like a sports guy going for the gold medal.
"So why should I worry? I am still at the beginning of my career, and I am booked up until 2012. I am lucky, I am not forced to do things just to make money.
"My big ambition is to sing as well as I do in my ideal. I come off stage every night, and compared with the way I sang the aria inside my head, I give myself low marks. People say I am too hard, but I know it could always have been better."
They were cheap, so I bought a lot of DVDs from House of Opera, including Francesco Cavalli's La Calisto, a work from 1651 Venice. This is the version from Unter den Linden in Berlin, 2002, and is taped from Belgian television. This production is also mentioned in Eyewitness Companions: Opera .
These people are up to no good. I have a very deep feeling that this production will tell you more about Venetian opera than anything I could possibly write, or anything you will read in textbooks. Gods and goddesses come and go on bizarre stage machinery. Many claims of chastity are proclaimed, but none are actually maintained. Giove starts out as a baritone, and then makes a fabulous change over to falsetto in his disguise as Diana. There is wonderful coloratura throughout and a complete utter lack of pomposity.
I thought about listing off the cast, but they are no one you know. If you buy the DVD, it will list them at the beginning. The picture is good and the sound is adequate.
I have reason to believe people are actually reading this. Hmmm. I frequently write things because they are the opposite of what you learn in school. Without knowing the standard wisdom you might think I was giving it. This is a blog. What would be the fun in just repeating what's in books?
This has reminded me of my classes at IU with Dr. Hans Tischler, the eminent musicologist. He would stand and lecture from small cards. He would give facts with some accompanying narrative which we would all carefully write down. We were going to be tested on this. The problem was that his facts frequently didn't agree with the facts in standard sources. Most often his dates were different. So is one to believe that the eminent doctor knows this? Or not? When examined, which date should one cite? Or would both be best with a footnote? Tis a puzzlement.
Gluck was actually influential in France where operas were always structurally looser and not rigidly tied to happy endings. He was of minimal influence in Vienna and of absolutely no influence in Italy. I was just having fun.
I bought this DVD of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Médée from House of Opera because it listed Lorraine Hunt in the cast. When I started to play it, I noticed a couple of things. This isn't a television copy--it's a hidden camera in a nice seat, maybe the front of the boxes or a dark corner in the back of a box. In short illegal. Never mind. One of my favorites, the nude men Alcina, is one of these. This also means there are no subtitles in any language.
I noticed that I was not able to figure out what was going on and tried to find a plot summary somewhere. And I found it in Eyewitness Companions: Opera which tells me this film is of an historic production in Caen, France, in 1993. There is a CD set you can buy from Amazon. Who knew? Besides Lorraine, other members of the cast include Mark Padmore (a very nice high tenor) as Jason, Monique Zanetti, Bernard Delétré, Jean-Marc Salzmann, Noémi Rime and Isabelle Desrochers.
This Charpentier is a contemporary of Lully who was allowed to produce operas only after Lully had died in 1685. Médée is 1693. Modern productions of operas from the middle Baroque are rare.
The production is in Louis XIV costumes, and they all unite to praise the King in the extensive prologue. This scene is staged as a religious ceremony--the first communion of the children, perhaps.
Seventeenth century opera is primarily an entertainment. In France this environment was dominated by Louis XIV who was himself a dancer in his youth. There is a lot of dancing, and it doesn't particularly move the plot forward. There are crowds of dancers and secondary characters that can lead to confusion, as it did in Orfeo in London last year.
Into this mix comes Lorraine Hunt with the wonderful gravity she brings to any music. There can be no question who is most important here. She transforms this entertainment into drama in a performance that made her a star.
You can't help asking yourself: Jason knows Medea is a sorceress with a bad temper. So why is he messing with her? Masculine ego, probably.
Don't run right out and buy this unless you're into middle baroque, or Lorraine. It's awfully long, and the filming is rather bad. I think these operas were intended to end in a blaze of glory, rather like the finale to a Cher show, and modern productions just seem to peter out. It's disappointing.