Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Eschenbach in Philadelphia

Read here about Christoph Eschenbach's troubles in Philadelphia. They don't like his taste for modern music, among other things. Mainly I think they don't like the fact that they were not consulted in his hiring. Musicians are funny about things like that. They play very well for him. His taste for modern cannot possibly exceed Michael Tilson Thomas', and San Francisco absolutely adores him.

There was a minnesinger called Wolfram von Eschenbach (c. 1160–1220), and this piece of trivia has probably been cluttering up my brain whenever I hear the name. Still, Christoph von Eschenbach does sound nice, don't you think?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Secrets

I know things. Things I am not supposed to tell. I know people who know other people. I’m not sure if they are secrets or just things I’m not supposed to tell. A friend says that a secret is something you tell one person at a time. I’m allowed to do that. It’s just you I’m not allowed to tell. Some are professional. Some are personal. So and so is doing such and such, or not doing it. Some are lovely bits I’m sure you would want to know. This is so annoying.

Freezing in Dolores Park

I attended Opera in Dolores Park in San Francisco yesterday afternoon. The general director, David Gockley, appeared with his dog Foxy, who was exactly the size, color, shape and degree of shagginess of a red fox. His personality is distinctly dog-like. He [DG, not Foxy] assured us that he had gone to much difficulty to ascertain that Dolores Park would be warm and toasty even when everywhere else was freezing. This was meant as an apology, I’m sure, since it was windy and drizzling, a typical San Francisco summer day.

I told my story about doing Martha outdoors on a considerably warmer and less windy day than yesterday, and how all the cast became sick for the rest of the week. The audience can take it, but singing outdoors is always risky.

Susan Graham, who flew in from LA that morning after the end of her fantastic run in Lustige Witwe, sang “Non so piu cosa son,” apparently without rehearsal. I found this fascinating. Please don’t think I’m telling it to put anyone down. In the middle of the aria she forgot what came next, and more quickly and efficiently than you would have imagined, she and Donald Runnicles looked at one another, and he fed her the cue. All went on smoothly to the end. Runnicles did not shout out like the Met prompter—he just mouthed the words. God, I love show business.

I wimped out and didn’t last through the second half, but I was there long enough to hear Hope Briggs as Donna Anna, a woman with a gorgeous voice and beautiful phrasing.

Wayne Tigges and Claudia Mahnke sang “La ci darem la mano.” “Look at his shoes!” I whispered. He was wearing black and white wingtips. He also would sing a phrase and then hold his lips in the same position long after the phrase had ended. Perhaps he feels that Don Giovanni is a comedy, as I do. Now I am going to bitch. Imagine that this is Anna Netrebko and Dmitri Hvorostovsky singing this seduction duet. Would they stand there never looking at one another? No. They would not. You would see the seduction happening, and when she sang “Andiam,” you would know exactly where they were going. This is not trivial. I don’t care if it is a concert, I want to see it.

They are all lovely young people.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Goerne

I went last night to see the Philadelphia Orchestra at Davies Hall in San Francisco, the same concert I tried to see a week ago in Davis. This time Matthias Goerne was there. The conductor was Christoph Eschenbach, or as I always think of him, Christoph von Eschenbach. As my concert neighbor said, the von is silent.

Goerne sang orchestrated Lieder by Schubert. The orchestrations were done by different people--Brahms, Reger and Webern--with varying amounts of success. I think I was least impressed by Webern's efforts. Too choppy and still idiomatically piano.

Goerne is a Lieder specialist and has brought a unique perspective to the genre. He has a growly, not particularly pretty baritone and a mysterious cello-like legato. He expresses with this legato, swooping and arching over the music. I had a completely different reaction to Goerne singing orchestrated Lieder than I had to Quastoff and von Otter. Here it seemed the right accompaniment for him, a more legato accompaniment to such a completely legato performance. He remains a miniaturist, not quite grasping the melodramatic requirements of an orchestra concert, blunting the climax of "Erlkoenig" when he most needed it. He's not doing drama. He's doing phrase. No one does it better. He did "Staendchen" as an encore. For me the tempo was too fast.

The Philadelphia played Brahms' Symphony #1 in the second half. It seemed a concerto for timpani to me for no reason I could explain. It starts with that fabulous timpani theme. I was fascinated watching the timpanist selecting and replacing his sticks as he stood high over the others. It was brilliantly played with especially beautiful shimmering strings.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Current Events

I was amazed to see in the BBC Music magazine for April the name of Christine Brewer in the list of The 20 Greatest Sopranos of all Time. Where was I when that happened? Naturally, Fleming, Netrebko and Gheorghiu didn't make the list. Brewer is number 17, thankfully below Nilsson (5) and Flagstad (9). Jane Eaglen does not appear. If you listen to clips of Brewer on Amazon, her style is sometimes a bit quirky. YouTube has nothing. I had seen her in DC last year in Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand.

I think this is a one event ranking: she makes the top 20 for her recording with Donald Runnicles of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. I thought I should become better informed, so I immediately hopped in my car [my horoscope said I should obey any whims I had that day] and drove to Berkeley [the closest place to buy anything interesting in the classical CD department] to see what I could find. I found it.

Her voice is big, full and beautiful, possibly more beautiful than her higher ranking competitors.

In a way Schwarzkopf (11) is also a one event star--without her Der Rosenkavalier performance would we idolize her the way we do?

In the same magazine is an article about the Joyce Hatto scandal. Wikipedia has the complete story uncovered by Gramophone magazine. It is bizarre. She was born, played the piano, was reviewed, even made recordings which were not incredible. She stopped playing in public 1976 but lived on to 2006. Then after her death, her husband released a bunch of recordings, claiming they were her playing. She instantly became famous. The only problem is they exactly match certain other well-known recordings. I would think an exact rhythmic match alone would prove plagiarism.

On Saturday I drove to Davis to see if I could get a ticket to see the Philadelphia Orchestra with Matthias Goerne. It was sold out, and I drove back home without attending. Now I read in Playbill that he flew back to Germany for family reasons and did not appear. He is scheduled for San Francisco this weekend.

All this driving around can mean only one thing: intense boredom.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

THIRD TENOR BECOMES SOPRANO!!

No, we're not talking about a transgender operation, we're at the Waldbuehne in Berlin in 2006 for the current version of the three tenors World Cup Concert. I hope Placido Domingo, Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko all made a lot of money out of this because it's at least as much fun as when all three were tenors.

Placido is a tenor in this concert. The love duet from Otello is lovely. I will have to lay off of him, I guess. For a man my age he sounds damn good. Who can resist this duet from Les pêcheurs de perles with Rolando? It's ravishing.

Tip for other sopranos: Anna always looks like she loves every man she sings to. This is a tremendous gift. So work on it. Learn to love them or learn to fake it a lot better. Anna may not be faking it, you know.

Can I ever get enough of "Meine Lippen, sie kuessen so heiss" [my lips they kiss so hot] when Anna sings it? Unlike those in the audience, I can hear it again, and do. She sings it as if it were her own life she were describing, and perhaps it is.

The encores are fabulous. In the concert our Mexican tenors can't resist doing a lot of semi-popular Spanish songs, but as an encore Rolando sings Rossini's "La danza." Viva!

Anna's encore is Musetta's Waltz. The first verse she sings clutching the microphone like a pop singer, but in the second verse she walks away from the mike and belts it out unamplified. She has a big voice--she should flaunt it.

I confess it can't be too corny for me. At the end all are standing and shouting, including the orchestra. It is what it is to the absolute nth degree. If you were there, you would tell your grandchildren. If you weren't there, you can buy the DVD which is finally available in America.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Smoking


Yes, I know, smoking is bad, but I always have a nostalgic feeling about it. When I sang in Germany, we had a cantina inside the theater where food and drink were served to the members of the company. The Zurich opera house has a similar facility. Some days, I am not at all sure looking back what caused this to happen, we would sit late in the cantina after a performance drinking and having fun. And occasionally when I was very drunk, I would smoke. Cigarettes and cigars. Since I didn't smoke, it didn't matter which one. I decided cigars were actually much more interesting tasting.

I didn't like the feeling in my throat when I woke up the next morning.

Germany is still resisting the world-wide trend against smoking. In Italy there are groups of people standing around outside buildings smoking, just like here.

We are supposed to feel scandalized by the glamorous look of Scarlett smoking. I have often suspected that smokers were having more fun. I can't justify this opinion.

Cecilia in Sweden

To see an interview with Cecilia Bartoli in English click here, and when the page comes up click where it says "Se Video" under the red spot.

It is important to notice that her eyes flash like that all the time. Well, maybe it's not important for you to notice it.

She discusses her work and her perspective on music. Her career represents her musical interests, a rarity of profound dimensions. There is simply no one to compare her to. She follows her curiosity wherever it takes her and makes us believe in it, too.

Her musicological ventures are a group activity. She has people she sends to the library. She dodges questions about which composers are on her next album, saying merely that they will be Romantics played on early instruments. This will make them sound unusual, but is probably authentic.

Cecilia mentions an Italian pop singer named Pausini. This refers to Laura Pausini who can be heard here on YouTube.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Janis Martin


2006 was the 50th anniversary of the Sac State Little Theater, called little because a big theater was planned to go next to it that never came to be. They added an orchestra pit to the little theater and called it a day. It's called something else now.

My own career at Sac State was very close to the beginning of these 50 years. What a rude awakening. My first year there was also the year of Janis Martin. The next year she decided that the academic route was not the path for her and went on to other things. Even then she was an out-sized individual, someone whose talents far exceeded the ordinary.

The college produced The King and I that year, and Janis played Lady Thiang, the head wife who sings "Something Wonderful." There was a crisis in the performances I attended--the woman who played Anna had severe laryngitis. The show went on with Mrs. Larson, the director's wife, reading the dialog from the pit, and Janis singing her songs while continuing to play her own part.

Anna in the spotlight lip-synched her role, and only if you thought to look would you see Janis kneeling at the back of the stage and singing. How they managed Anna's extended "your servant" monologue, part sung, part spoken, I cannot even imagine. The entire performance was seamless and completely believable.

This was a predictor of things to come for Janis who was always very self-assured and aware. In her Adler Fellow (of course they were not called that since Adler himself was still the Impresario) years at San Francisco she notably filled in as Abigaille in Verdi's Nabucco on about 24 hour's notice.

Later that year at Sac State we appeared together in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Janis as Dido and myself as the spirit who appears to Aeneas to tell him he must leave Carthage. She performed the role of prompter when the baritone forgot his "Tonight," all to no avail since he still didn't sing it. Oh well. I went on without him.

She was a heavy mezzo then with a beautiful heavy tone. Later when she lived in Germany she became a dramatic soprano and sang Tosca, the Countess, Sieglinde and those types of roles. For me her radio broadcast from the Met as Sieglinde was her most beautiful performance. Janis missed only the emotional / musical spark of genius to become a truly great singer. You may count this as bitchy if you want.

While she was part of the company in Berlin in the 70's, I went to visit Janis in her dressing room. I was making the audition rounds, and she advised me that I should have come sooner, that the really good times for foreign singers had passed. Still, it was fun seeing her. Next to her on the dressing table she had a stack of 20DM notes to hand out to the dressers. She enjoyed the attention from the backstage staff in German theaters and let them know.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Flagstad

The most wonderful things I have ever found on YouTube are just audio: two versions of Kirsten Flagstad singing the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde.

One is a recording of her Covent Garden debut in the role of Isolde in 1936, Reiner conducting.


The other is a studio recording also at Covent Garden in 1952, Furtwaengler conducting.


Both are obviously Flagstad. No one sounds like Flagstad. No one does that wonderful Flagstad slide.

I have always loved the story, retrieved from the Met archives if I recall correctly, that when the Met had contracted her to sing Wagner, she had never sung him. They sent her off to Hungary (?) to coach with the young Solti. He said she would do fine. This is my all time favorite understatement.

The extreme delicacy of the early recording is fascinating. She is fully halfway into it before she begins to bring any power into it.

The Flagstad I have known and adored is the woman in her fifties. Her voice sounds fine to me, though I do recall hearing that the recorded high notes were by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf.

Why is Flagstad the most respected of all the Wagnerian sopranos? She captures the long phrase. Her interpretive eyes remain on the horizon. She can crescendo a phrase longer than you thought possible. In her voice Wagner grows into the giant we know. She lives in the realm of forever.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Reading blogs

Angela Gheorghiu reads the blogs. She was probably tired of people linking to that damn "La vie en rose" and had it removed. I am determined to find something she will like.


How about this "Habanera?" Very chesty and adorable.


I even rather like this "Casta Diva," though it seems rather oddly romantic.


And what's not to like about this "Pace, pace"? I think she wishes her voice was heavier than it is, but I enjoy the results anyway.

The comments are fun to read. Actually in the opera house Leontyne Price was not that loud either.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Adler fellows do Carmen in Davis

Names to watch out for:

Noah Stewart, a tall, gorgeous black man with a beautiful lyric tenor voice. He sang Don Jose.

Kendall Gladen has a dark, rich mezzo-soprano sound you may encounter again. She was Carmen.

Jeremy Galyon was sometimes fabulous, sometime not. He sang Escamillo.

Lorraine at Wigmore

I wasn't a fan of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, but this was due to ignorance rather than hostility.

In the liner notes for this Wigmore Hall recital recording from 1998 is this brief conversation:

"You have one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard. Who are you?"
"I'm a violist."

One hears the violist in her voice and her music. What one wishes from a singer is to feel that if one merely reached out, one would touch her soul. Lorraine does this on virtually every note.

There is a way she draws back on the tempo, relaxes into that dark mysterious pool that is her voice and reaches heaven.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Who can sing what

Unabashedly stolen from the New York Times.

By ANNE MIDGETTE
Published: May 6, 2007
IN 1998 Luciano Pavarotti canceled an appearance at the Grammy Awards at the last minute, and Aretha Franklin stepped in to perform the famous tenor aria “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s “Turandot.” A friend of mine, a pop music writer, was agog at the feat. “Isn’t this a very difficult aria to sing?” he asked. “Isn’t it amazing that she could do it?”

I didn’t know how to answer. What does it mean for a tune to be “difficult”? If you know how it goes, you can hum “Nessun dorma” on the street without special training, provided you find a key that is comfortable for you. (Ms. Franklin took it in Mr. Pavarotti’s tenor range, which carried her into the depths of the female voice.) What’s hard is to sing it the way Mr. Pavarotti does, with the support, the flow of sound, the ability to hit the high notes. Or for that matter, the way Ms. Franklin did; she has kept the aria in her repertory.

The question raised the whole vexing issue of voice type in opera: Who can and should sing which roles? It’s known in the business as “Fach.”

The German word Fach covers a range of meanings, including “specialty” and “compartment.” In opera it denotes a system of accepted ideas, now codified, about what kinds of voices should sing which parts. The German opera system distinguishes among some 25 voice types, from lyric coloratura soprano to basso profundo.

This kind of compartmentalization never fully works. Not all voices lie squarely in one realm or another. The soprano Anna Netrebko said in an interview in December that from the time she had started to study, her voice had always lain between two Fachs, coloratura and lyric soprano. “My teacher couldn’t understand who I am,” she said. At the Metropolitan Opera this season she sang both Mimi in Puccini’s “Bohème,” a lyric role, and the coloratura showpiece Elvira in Bellini’s “Puritani.”

Because compartmentalization can be seen as limiting and restrictive, an idea seems to have formed that it is narrow-minded and that one should do one’s best to subvert it. Why should the plums of the repertory be restricted to certain singers? Maria Callas, after all, laid claim to the title of “soprano assoluta,” one who can sing any role, from coloratura to Wagner, ignoring limitations of Fach. Herbert von Karajan was well known for recording operas with voices that were traditionally held to be too light for given roles.

The horror-stricken warnings of opera purists about the perils of singing roles too large for one’s voice may make nonaficionados only more eager to stir things up. To them it may appear that purists are saying there is only one right way to sing a role. Why not try a different interpretation?

And there is nothing wrong with Ms. Franklin singing “Nessun dorma.” Rules exist to be broken. But the urge to bend, rather than break, them can start to undermine something important about singing. However often Ms. Franklin sings “Nessun dorma,” nobody will cast her as Calaf in “Turandot.” But the desire of singers to be all things to all people and the tendency to view some operatic roles as benchmarks to be reached can lead to subtler forms of miscasting.

If you are a wonderful lyric Mozart tenor like Francisco Araiza, you may run into difficulties singing Walther in Wagner’s “Meistersinger,” a role requiring a lot more power (as Mr. Araiza learned the hard way). If you are a lyric soprano like Mirella Freni, your voice may not bloom as Aida.

Note that Fach is not about straitjacketing a singer; it’s more like finding the right clothing size. Within it there is plenty of room for individual variation. Olga Borodina and Dolora Zajick are both dramatic mezzo-sopranos who sing Verdi roles, but Ms. Zajick has said she will never again sing Saint-Saëns’s Dalila, a role that fits Ms. Borodina like a glove. Ms. Zajick can undoubtedly hit all the notes; she just doesn’t feel that the role flatters her.

The question of whether it is difficult to sing something not in your Fach is almost beside the point. Certainly it is difficult to pump out enough sound to get through a role that is too big for you or doesn’t quite fit, but if the corollary is to see the whole exercise merely as an athletic feat and praise a singer for limping across the finish line, something has been lost in the endeavor. For at bottom the Fach system, rigid though it may seem, is predicated on something right: the attempt to find and cultivate a distinctive musical identity.

Ms. Franklin gets that. Whatever it is that she does with “Nessun dorma,” it’s real. (Check it out on YouTube if you dare.) Finding that realness is the part that’s difficult. The rest is, far too often, only notes.

[I must admit I kind of liked it. I'd give soul opera a try. However, this is still the point of departure. What the hell. For just about anything.]

Romeo / Juliet

Saturday I attended a fascinating theatrical experiment in Berkeley at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts. Berkeley Opera has attempted a complete integration of William Shakespeare's play and Charles Gounod's opera into a single Romeo and Juliet drama. How does one think of these things?

No attempt was made to preserve the meaning of Gounod's libretto. It was like watching R&J, the musical. Shakespeare's familiar play would start and then the characters would burst into song. An effort was made, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to fit the words of Shakespeare into the music of Gounod. The credits say "Lyrics by Amanda Moody." I think that's not the same as saying you are translating Gounod's opera into English. Gounod is doing an opera and wants arias and duets that Shakespeare knows nothing about. Thus the requirement for a lyricist.

During the overture the characters came out one by one and posed in the spotlight while their names appeared on the supertitles. It is a large cast. In general throughout the play/opera they kept the Montagues on the left side of the stage and the Capulets on the right. Shakespeare's moral at the end was omitted.

So how did this work? It was fun. The biggest problem was that no attempt was made to preserve the phrasing of the music created by the original text. I didn't feel Gounod in this result. Does a choppy, fragmented English style still feel like a high Romantic French opera? Or for that matter, does it feel like Shakespeare? For me it didn't. If you find Gounod corny, this might just be the thing for you. I'm fine with jettisoning the meaning, but I would like the musical style to stay.

Can the cod pieces. Our hero was strangely emasculated by the loss of his toward the end. Juliet also had a wardrobe malfunction in the death scene. There's no business like show business.

The orchestra was placed behind the set with monitors placed in the audience to stand in for Jonathan Khuner, the able conductor. Elena Krell played/sang Juliet. She is a good singer and actress with a somewhat fluttery vibrato. Jimmy Kansau will never sing at the Metropolitan, but he did project a vigorous romantic hero and did an excellent job of crooning Gounod. They were sexy together, and isn't that the main thing?

No one believed Richard Mix--an excellent singer--with his look of an aging wild man was the Prince of Verona.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Time 100


Anna Netrebko is one of the Time 100 this year. These are the 100 most influential people in the world today. She is the new face of opera. Anna is in. Bushie is out. All is right with the world.

The same list includes America Ferrera, Rosie O'Donnell and the Queen. The real Queen, not the actress playing her. And Simon Fuller, the producer of Idol, of course, who is in charge.

Please forgive the political comment.

What’s going on with Cecilia

In the fall Cecilia Bartoli will return as the early nineteenth century artist some of us were hoping for. Her new concert series is called “La Rivoluzione romantica” and will start on October 22 in Zurich.

Then in April of 2008 she will sing La Sonnambula in Baden-Baden.

And in May she is singing Clari, an opera in three acts by Jacques François Élie Fromental Halévy in Zurich. She is credited with discovering the autograph score for this opera which hasn’t been seen since 1828. The part was written for Malibran. Did I guess Halévy? No, I did not!!

She likes to keep us guessing.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Equal Temperament

I bought a book called How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care) by Ross W. Duffin. This is some sort of joke, right? In the 21st century I am supposed to believe equal temperament is controversial. Boy am I going to trash this, I thought.

So maybe a singer isn't the right person for this task. The average operatic voice has a substantial vibrato that fluctuates in pitch by as much as a semitone or more. An opera singer will sound in tune as long as the listener's imagined pitch is near the middle point of the vibrato. The pitch you hear is all in your mind. So we are not really caring about this temperament business.

Equal temperament just means that the distance between any two semitones is exactly the same throughout the octave. Before equal temperament there were just intonation and meantone and other stuff. Perish the thought you should actually read the book.

If you go around the circle of fifths, when you get to the original note it will be off, too high. Now right there he is being illogical. To get the circle of fifths to come out even with the octave, I need to adjust the top note of the fifth down slightly. A circle of these slightly diminished fifths will come out even with the octave. By doing a circle of fifths I will have generated all 12 notes of the scale, n'est pas? Why aren't I done now? This is the process that creates equal temperament.

He wants a lot more than 12 notes because he says the equal temperament major third is too big and sounds bad. This is really his whole argument.

Almost any tuning system has the purpose of limiting the number of keys, notes, finger combinations to 12 distinct notes for each octave. No effort is made to distinguish F# from Gb. The piano is hard enough to play without adding another set of sharp/flat notes. I for one would have to throw in the towel.

There needs to be some serious thought here. A pipe organ will require stable tuning more than any other instrument. It's a lot of work to tune a pipe organ, and once it's tuned, it will stay that way for months or years. Pianos are probably next in terms of permanence of tuning. But a touring professional pianist will want his piano tuned prior to performance. And as we saw recently, the harpsichordist will need to be able to tune the harpsichord before a concert. A harp is tuned for each performance, but the pitch of a harp is very much a special case involving pedals that change the pitch for different keys. Let's leave the harp out.

Keyboards are really the only instruments that require equal temperament. The other instruments can all manipulate the pitch in performance. Horns can lower the pitch by stopping with their hands. Trombones slide. Woodwinds move their fingers slightly off of the holes to get pitch changes. All of them can manipulate the pitch with their mouths. On strings only the open notes are fixed pitches. Everything else can be changed in context.

Tuning systems and the music played with them have influenced each other throughout history. A natural, valveless horn tunes its notes according to the overtone series and not according to any tuning system whatsoever. The only thing you can mechanically tune is the bottom note. When we had natural horns and trumpets, we made them in different pitches or chose the key of a composition based on the notes available in the lower part of the overtones of those instruments. The presence of these natural instruments in the orchestration limited the keys available to the composer. If I add valves, something that happened in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, then I have a lot more keys I can use.

The availability of all the keys led to increased freedom of modulation. Wagner is not possible without the valved horn. All the other wind instruments of a modern orchestra were similarly redesigned in the nineteenth century in order to get a louder, more tonally flexible orchestra. They were going for loud, not pretty. If you have attended an indoor performance of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, you will understand what I am talking about. Amplification is just not necessary.

If I have so carefully constructed the instruments of the orchestra to allow for modulation to any key, equal temperament seems the logical tuning system for their construction. With earlier tuning systems the farther away you are from C, the more out of tune the scale becomes.

My son the horn player says that he once discussed this with Dave Krebel, the former first horn of the San Francisco Symphony. How does a first rank professional orchestra address the complex issues of tuning? Does a symphony orchestra actually play in equal temperament? Remember the whole point of the book we are discussing is to tell us we are playing in equal temperament and shouldn't be.

According to Dave, the orchestra would match against specific instruments and players to achieve its tuning. If the ensemble includes a keyboard, the orchestra will tune with that instrument. This will be in equal temperament. Perhaps in a piece with brasses, the orchestra would tune with them, emphasizing the pitches from the overtone series. Other times they would tune with the woodwinds. The actual intonation of the orchestra is a fluid, flexible phenomenon probably not reflecting any particular tuning system. It is part of what makes them professionals.

Chris said that it is easier to get classical pieces to sound in tune if you leave out the continuo. The keyboard with its rigidly fixed pitches is seen as an obstacle to proper sound. How fascinating.

Duffin starts his book with a description of the Cleveland Orchestra playing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. When they modulated from d minor to Bb major, the conductor wasn't satisfied with the sound of the major chord. Maybe Cleveland isn't as good as San Francisco.

I am ready to concede one point: all these new early instrument ensembles might be well advised not to tune their harpsichords in equal temperament. They don't have to concern themselves with free modulation to all 24 keys like a symphony orchestra or a solo pianist would. I suppose a harpsichordist might tune the harpsichord any way he wants.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ranking the Simulcasts 2007

I'm going to rank the simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera that I saw:

Eugene Onegin was the best. It worked on every level. Its stars, Renée Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, were beautiful and intense, at the peak of their careers. The music was breathtaking and the ending touching. There are two operas where a man walks into the scene and the woman immediately falls madly in love with him. In those cases he should look as gorgeous as Dmitri did here. Guess the other.

Barber of Seville would win if it weren't comedy. It was very funny and the singing was absolutely fabulous.

I Puritani is third, but you may feel free to attack this choice. I enjoyed watching and hearing Anna Netrebko in this role, but I don't think it will ever be one of her favorites or ours. Except for Norma, it is the best Bellini I've ever seen.

Il Trittico ranks so low because it just isn't that interesting. The Met put out for this production and got the most possible out of it. I wish I liked it more.

The First Emperor comes last by default. Every single production was about as good as it gets. This was fabulous for the fascinating elements of plot and orchestration.

I didn't hate anything. I thought Onegin was one of my best opera experiences ever. Our lives are better because of this.

Auditioning

I always loathed auditioning and found it painful to watch the San Antonio regionals for the Metropolitan Opera auditions which were shown between Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi on Saturday. I'm not sure why we wanted to see this. They only showed fragments of arias from both the first and second rounds of the auditions, with brief clips of the judges conferring.

To enter auditions normally requires only a specific age range (at the Met this is 20 to 30) and a list of about half a dozen arias. A stranger will play your accompaniment.

Singing out of tune will get you canned. That is the same here as it is on American Idol. Learn to sing in tune. This fault eliminated over half the contestants.

After that it's all VOICE, VOICE, VOICE. You pick what you will sing first, so be sure it really shows off your voice. Don't pick something just because you like to sing it. A tenor has to have high notes. Don't even think about cruising through on arias with no high notes. They'll just assume you don't have any.

They picked the person with the best voice and technique, a baritone named Ryan something, who didn't come close to winning the finals. I was more interested in the only black singer, whose name I cannot remember, because she was the only one there who did anything with the music. I found her phrasing fascinating and wished I could have heard a lot more of her. They said she let her voice spread when she sang forte, something she could work on.

Which brings us to the best thing about these auditions. I never remember ever getting any feedback from any audition I did. Sometimes you could overhear them talking about you, but they never told you anything. They might tell you never to come back, but they never told you why. At these auditions, everyone got a feedback session. I thought this was incredible, very helpful and respectful.