Homer ate too much dirt and became a good singer. We cannot recommend this without further testing. However, he could only sing lying down. At this point there was a plug for Andrea Bocelli who, it was claimed, has also sung lying down. Thankfully, he did not appear in the episode. Placido Domingo appeared briefly in the locker room after a performance. He sang just one (lovely) note and asked Homer for advice. So what is his fee for one note? Homer said Placi was his third favorite tenor.
Funniest part of episode was when Homer acquired an entourage. Marge did not like them.
I rented Orphée, the 1950 film by Jean Cocteau, from Netflix to see what I had missed. The music in the film is by George Auric, one of Les Six. It was recommended to watch the film before seeing the opera, but that seemed like cheating to me. The opera should have to stand on its own.
The main thing missing from the opera is La Princess's large black Rolls Royce. The bodies being taken to hell are placed in it, and Heurtebise is its driver. The radio with which Orphée becomes obsessed is in the car. This explains the obsessive listening that goes on throughout the opera. When Euridice is looked at by Orphée and sent immediately back to hell, it is in the rear view mirror of the car. The more obscure parts of the plot are clearer in the film.
The gimmick of the film is that the mirrors are used by the figures from the afterlife to enter into our world. This mirror effect was used very imaginatively in the opera.
It is a wonderful film, and I can see its attraction for Philip Glass. All of the love parts are left in.
Angela Gheorghiu has been fired in Chicago. She is trying to keep up with her husband, I guess. She has been missing rehearsals and was spotted in the audience at the Metropolitan Opera when she was supposed to be rehearsing. This is seen as disrespecting of the Chicago Lyric Opera.
How important is rehearsing in a war horse like La Boheme? When there are people who step in at the last minute for a living, why should Angela suppose she cannot also do this?
I remember the long ago performance of Dame Joan in I Puritani where it looked like the entire staging was done so that she would not have to rehearse. Everyone circled around her while she stood in the center of the stage.
The increased emphasis on staging at the opera does make it seem necessary to rehearse at least a little. Maybe Angela was just going to do her standard version in any case. Is it a provocation, or just excessive self-confidence?
Angela has pointed out, "I have sung Bohème hundreds of times...." I think maybe I am on Angela's side this time. I have myself stood on the stage performing a role with people who had just been introduced to me an hour before. They had the blocking explained to them in the most cursory manner imaginable. The performances were always good, and occasionally they were wonderful. If I were a paying member of the audience in Chicago, I would be threatening to cancel my subscription.
I also recall an occasion when I looked down into the pit to see a complete stranger conducting. Introductions were made at intermission. That performance also went fine. These managers might want to consider loosening up a little.
My viewpoint expresses only how I would feel if I owned a ticket. I would definitely prefer an unrehearsed Angela to a fully rehearsed understudy.
There is yodeling on this recording. Apparently years of living in Switzerland have resulted in a marvelous yodeling technique. On Cecilia's web site is a series of teases. For her, it seems, anything is possible. Here she is at the wheel of her museum truck.
Here is a link to the Malibran Museum website. And this is fun.
Was it worth 10 years of waiting? The answer appears to be yes.
I am a fan of Osvaldo Golijov and enjoyed very much his St Mark's Passion when I heard it in London. The difference between the passion and Oceana, which is supposed to be a preparation for the passion, or at least a stylistically related piece, may lie in the performance. In London the players and chorus were primitives from South America who sang in a raw style that very much attracted me. Oceana is performed here by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Robert Spano, and the severe, almost monotonous classical style of the chorus is distancing. Maybe you would prefer it that way, but I didn't. It doesn't put me all the way off. Like all of his music, it's fascinating.
The pieces Tenebrae I and II, played by the Kronos Quartet, and Three Songs with his muse, Dawn Upshaw, are gorgeous and quite somber.
Golijov achieves something that not many modern composers achieve: he makes you want to hear more.
Cecilia Bartoli never does crossover. Her content is always very heavy and serious, she just does it in a way that it seems like something written last week.
However, I want to suggest that should she ever decide to do crossover, an album of authentic Flamenco singing would be fascinating. When I see Flamenco, I am naturally interested in the singing and guitar playing. It might suit her. She could save this for when she is older and has nothing else to do.
In the USA we don't get Maria for a while. We are limited to sections on Cecilia's web site. She is working her magic.
YouTube is telling me I need to see Vesselina Kasarova. She is in Zurich next year, but I can't find her when I will be there. I am most familiar with her Mozart recording, and I felt she attacked the arias in a very aggressive way that I did not like. It would be especially nice to see her in La Favorite since she is not really a Verdi Mezzo. Her "O mio Fernando" on YouTube is just what I would want to hear.
Her website doesn't show her future schedule, but I see the Paris Opera has her listed for Alcina in November and once in December. The pictures look like the nude men production, except the men shown all seem to have at least some clothes on.
The most remarkable part of Rosen's The Romantic Generation must be the chapter called Mountains and Song Cycles. It's 120 pages long and filled with examples of writing about scenery and music by Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann. He has expanded his period somewhat to include the previous generation in order to relate changes in literature and painting to the new form of the song cycle.
Earlier painters such as Giotto, Piero and Leonardo all include landscapes in their paintings, so what is so different about Constable when he comes along? The earlier painters are providing a setting for the story they are painting; they are putting their subjects into an idealized landscape to give us an environment for the action. Constable is painting the place where he is, making art out of the ordinary, creating what is called the portrait landscape.
We can see from the Leaping Horse pictures that he moves objects around for effect, but he means to create beauty from ordinary objects--and he succeeds.
Writers and poets write about the landscape in a new way--the landscape is used to evoke memories and emotions.
I confess I have always wondered why the song should suddenly become this wonderful thing that it is with Schubert and Schumann. Why is it suddenly so much more?
Rosen suggests that the Romantic turn toward natural landscape and memory permeates the music that is composed to accompany the feeling of landscape and emotion in the poetry--that the Romantic Lied requires the Romantic poem and the Romantic soul to give it life.
"The time of this song cycle is that of Romantic landscape: not the successive events of narrative but a succession of images, of lyrical reflections which recall the traces of past and future within the present."
"The song cycle is the most original musical form created in the first half of the nineteenth century. It most clearly embodies the Romantic conception of experience as a gradual unfolding and illumination of reality in place of the Classical insistence on an initial clarity."
He discusses Beethoven's An die Ferne Geliebte, Schubert's Schoene Muellerin and Winterreise, and Schumann's Dichterliebe and Liederkreis cycles at great length.
Then he talks about the song cycles without words, Schumann's unique contribution to music for piano. He places this chapter about song cycles at the heart of his book--where it belongs. -
I was not obsessed. True, I studied music beyond all sensibility and went to Europe to audition multiple times, but I was not obsessed. I never felt that I had to do this. I got married at 22 to the first person that asked me, so it was clearly not an obsession.
Other people regretted that I didn't have a career as a singer, but I didn't. I tried, but only half-heartedly. It was much too hard. If I was so wonderful, why didn't people in the know see it? What if I'm just not that great? I think I auditioned--a process that I loathe--just so I could tell people I had.
People who are obsessed study scores all day and stay by their piano a lot. I watched a lot of TV. Obsession is what carries you to triumph. I'm sure there are people who succeed and are not obsessed, but I am equally sure that they are the minority. Obsession can be a gift. Cecilia Bartoli was my first musical obsession. I was completely blind-sided. I listened to her for hours on end, driving everyone completely mad. I've written about that period before and won't repeat it here.
I have always been intensely aware that she is she and I am I. She is the queen of music and I am no one at all. How should I address her? Cecilia? Too familiar. Ma'am? Illogical if I am 25 years older and she is not actually the Queen. Ms Bartoli? Maybe. Signora Bartoli? Would this make her feel old? Dear--the name inside my head? Certainly not! What does that leave? The situation is just too complicated. Hey? I am not above this form of address.
So I stand there like an idiot, and she goes on to the next person. Or becomes upset. Or angry. Or insulted. Or frustrated. It would be good if I thought of anything else to say, but I don't. I have a feeling that autograph lines are not the milieu for me.
Cecilia is a genius. I have a feeling her gifts suit one another. She won the "Non piu mesta" contest on YouTube, as is only suitable. Cecilia clearly is obsessed with music and consumes it with great intensity. My obsession with her was at its most benign between Julius Caesar and Semele. I had officially given up my desire to meet her, and found Proibita spectacular but cold. And besides, I had become immersed in my new obsession--this blog.
Yes, this is my second musical obsession. Blogging is the perfect medium for the proto-senile person such as myself with an attention span of 20 seconds.
I do find that obsession number one interferes with the proper functioning of obsession number two. And obsession number two definitely interferes with obsession number one. Now that I know her other fans are watching, how can I even consider getting into the autograph line again? I am blogging as myself, possibly a mistake, but it's too late now.
I tried not writing about CB at all, but cannot even consider that with Maria coming out. From what I hear, she appears to have topped herself. Cecilia is never aiming for other people's performances, a fact that vastly raises her in my esteem. She goes with her idiosyncrasies and is pleased to be herself, her very original and fascinating self. She trusts her own instincts and puts it out there. I respect and love her very much.
Pictures: Dot obsession by Yayoi Kusama, Obsession II by John Kimber
Aida starts out with "Celeste Aida," one of the toughest arias in the repertoire. What could Verdi have been thinking? I remember there was a horrendous stink about this aria in the San Francisco newspapers after Pavarotti did his first Radames there in 1982, but this film of him two years later is quite fine.
McCracken is sufficiently spinto but insufficiently lyrical. Placido is by far the best of this trio. He sings an extra line at the end that doesn't appear on any of the others. Traditionally this aria stops on the high note.
On YouTube I like this version with Richard Tucker, a surprise. He is the most lyrical. Lots of guys can punch out the high notes. The trick is to get it to sound like a love song. We could declare a "Celeste Aida" contest. I can't seem to find a Bjoerling version.
I like Licitra's style, but something stands between him and perfection. I think it may be inadequate physical conditioning. More secure control of the phrase might make an enormous difference with him. His scooping is right. Is it "Celeste Aida" if they don't scoop? I read on YouTube people complaining about even the tiniest amount of scooping, scooping that I did not notice at all. I assume that means they don't really like Italian opera.
The two Met films have similar but different ancient Egyptian productions. They are trying to bring Egyptian wall paintings to life, and real people just don't look like that.
The Stemme/Licitra version is set in the nineteenth century, perhaps contemporary with the original performance of the opera in Cairo.
The march scene is fabulous in the Aprile Millo version, with live horses and elephant tusks. The whole production is the best that could be imagined, with monumental Egyptian buildings that feel real. Dolora Zajick may not be as great as Fiorenza Cossotto, but she is quite fine. In the Stemme version they wave the Union Jack to show victory.
Number two is definitely the one to buy. It has the best cast--all of the main roles are very well sung--and the production is exactly what you would want if you own only one Aida. I love Leontyne Price in this opera, but she is not at her peak in this video. Some arias from this film are available on YouTube. This is the year of her retirement from the Metropolitan, who honored her, perhaps the greatest Verdi soprano of all time, with farewell broadcasts of both Aida and La Forza del Destino, her most famous roles.
For Price at her peak you will need one of her recordings, perhaps the blue album. Don't get me wrong, not at her peak is still better than almost anything you'll hear. For Price in her prime listen to this video of "O patria mia." It simply doesn't get better than this. Just listen to how she diminuendos on the last note.
Price's retirement film is flawed by the unsatisfactory performance of James McCracken, and Licitra is only somewhat better. Both Placide Domingo and Sherrill Milnes can still hold it together, and Aprile Millo is excellent.
While I'm still on this, try this. If there were a film, we would not be bothering with these others.
[Interesting stuff about Maria Malibran from a web page called titel thesen temperamente. I have translated the German but left out the original so you can't tell how bad a job I've done.]
Simply to stand on the stage and to sing beautifully, is simply too little. Cecilia Bartoli is one of the most popular and most successful Mezzo Sopranos of our time, but she wants still more: for some years she specialized in bringing unjustly forgotten composers to the light. Now Cecilia Bartoli with Maria Malibran wants to remind us of one of the most important voices of the Romantic era.
She sees in her her model and alter-ego: "La Malibran", as she is called by her admirer, was the bel canto superstar of the 19th Century, she was Bellini and Rossini’s muse. She was the superstar for a whole generation, and the face of terror for all moralists; because the Malibran did not skirt around conventions. Wherever she went, she brought notoriety, Malibran porcelain figures were sold as souvenirs - she was the Popstar of her time.
For years Cecilia Bartoli has collected together objects of her great idol. Now she wants to make her private collection accessible to the public: in a large truck she furnished a rolling Maria Malibran-Museum, that wherever it is parked in European cities, will be accessible to visitors free of charge. With her new album "Maria" Cecilia Bartoli wants in addition on the occasion of her 200th birthday [born March 24, 1808] to remember the great prima donna.
ttt [the web site] met Cecilia Bartoli in Lucca - briefly before her rolling Malibran museum started from Italy to Germany to the exhibition premiere.
(authoress: Brigitte Kleine)
[Text of the interview: ] She is anything but a snobbish opera diva: Cecilia Bartoli, one of the most successful singers of the present. She sells CDs like a Pop star and fills the theatres like no second person - for twenty years! The Italian lives her arias, transforms on the stage, is in all roles completely absorbed.
Nevertheless as if her own fame would not be enough, she brings now another Mezzo Soprano back into the footlights, Maria Malibran, the mother of all divas: In the 19th Century she was a Popstar such as Madonna, turning the masses into ecstasy. She connects with Bartoli still more.
Cecilia Bartoli: "She was the first opera singer, who broke with conventions, that fascinates me. In addition she was a fantastic actress - with lots of charisma."
Bartoli discovers her love for Maria Malibran, who sang everywhere, in Italy, Europe and even America. Who, pregnant, died in a riding accident at only 28 years. Bartoli studied the original scores of her repertoire, collected letters, personal things of the diva. And has now built a small, fine museum - and set it on rollers. The Malibran Brummi [sorry, I can’t translate that] now criss-crosses Europe, first station: Germany.
Cecilia Bartoli: "She was a woman, who wanted to emancipate herself in every sense: She spoke many languages, negotiated her fees herself, was admired by composers and poets of the Romantic Era, such as George Sand. She was politically engaged. But above all she had... fires under her back [no idea what this means-translation is literal]- her parents were Andalusians!"
This fire has also Bartoli. She sings an aria, which Malibran's father, the composer [and great Rossini tenor] Manuel García, had written for his little daughter. When La Malibran sang it, listeners fell in a faint: Maria had the beauty of a gypsy - the first "Carmen", before there was a "Carmen" by Bizet.
Also Cecilia Bartoli as a teenager wanted already to be a small Carmen: Before she went into the opera, she danced Flamenco against the will of her parents. Also she is - like Malibran – descended from a family of musicians. Cecilia and Maria - two soul sisters...
Cecilia Bartoli: "I find it mad that Maria sang this aria of her father’s again and again. Even in Rossini's 'Barber of Seville’ Malibran sang Flamenco and infiltrated the operas of that time with Spanish folk music.”
But La Malibran jumped over still different borders: On the stage she wore jewels, in real life she wore trousers. She released scandals. Because she left her 30 years older husband, who bored her, for her true love. An illegitimate child, a lover, whom the diva did not hide: the violonist Charles de Bériot - her great passion.
Perhaps the great Mendelssohn, who admired Malibran, wrote this piece, "Infelice," only for her. Bartoli rediscovered it and for the first time took it up.
Cecilia Bartoli: "Malibran's voice will remain always a secret. If I could, I would go to her and say: 'sing something to me!' "
That sounds a little coquettish, if Bartoli said this in a calculated way... Maria and Cecilia - two great voices, two great women – now together on tour.
I try to keep up on things and found this review of Margaret Garner. It seems to be a pan. It is specifically criticized for being a number opera--an opera that divides things into individual pieces--something I have been pitching for. My imagination is tweaked.
I may like blogging because it's at least a tiny bit risky. My life is very boring right now.
More Bryn. I don't at all think that Bryn Terfel and René Pape are interchangeable. Do they even sing the same parts? I'll have to look into it. Bryn hasn't suddenly turned into someone I want to vilify. I've seen Bryn perform several times and think he is cute. I put him into my sexiest singers list once. He is merely guilty of some colossally bad PR. That's it. The world isn't going to end if someone points this out.
My principle objection was to the suggestion that he should switch from serious opera to trivial concerts in order to make more money and spend more time with the children. Yes, opera singing is lots of work and there are maybe more fun things to do. So do them. Just don't expect me to help support it with my cash. Certainly he's good enough for opera. That wasn't the issue. The issue is--is he good enough to draw crowds to pop style concerts where he is the main draw. Maybe he is. He should try it and see.
I am thinking this whole semi-pop concert thing through. I haven't been to any of them yet, but it's always a possibility. I don't think opera in the park counts. I am an opera fan, and you are just not going to convince me that this is what opera singers should be doing. Once every four years for the World Cup might be OK, though.
Expressing this opinion has earned me some personal insults. I don't see that the personal comments are necessary. There is no logical response to people who criticize your right to have opinions. We could have a discussion about the evils of the internet, but I would insist on no name calling.
I am a somewhat loony old woman. Am I the bitter, disappointed bitch I have been accused of being? It's true that for long periods in the center of my life I felt like a failure and didn't want to talk about classical music at all. From the beginning of old age I look back at my life as a whole and see that I was very successful in the things for which I was truly talented--computers and systems analysis. I had a great career for which I feel tremendous pride. Why should I feel bitter?
Writing about a performance means you have to pay more attention to it. The process of attentive listening is telling me that I was not so hot. Does this make me bitter? I find the effect is quite the opposite. My life did not come with music, and I have had to create in myself all I know by painstaking steps. This process continues now, long after my voice--which when heard in very high fidelity was quite beautiful--there is no extant evidence of this, but I can remember--has left me. This knowledge helps me appreciate all the more the achievements of others.
I see this blog as the sign of healing. What I hope is that I fully express the love I have for opera and its participants, including Bryn. I can't help it if I don't want them giving up opera for careers in entertainment.
Professor Gossett has suggested that instead of writing books I should consider reading some. Ouch. I am taking this pretty well.
One of his suggestions is Charles Rosen's The Romantic Generation. This covers the period from 1830 to 1850, the period of Schumann, Chopin, Bellini, Berlioz, Liszt and Mendelssohn.
Rosen is a pianist, and his book reflects this bias, a bias that the era may also be seen to reflect. Schubert and Beethoven give hints of what the piano might achieve, but it is Schumann, Chopin and Liszt that bring it to its full idiomatic glory.
On the down side: he picks over every damn piece for an unbelievable 710 pages.
In the first chapter he talks about "Conception and realization" as it applies to the Romantics. I'm always looking for a good generalization, and this is quite a nice one. Looking back from the present we might assume that in any given era the composer imagines a specific performance for his composition. Stravinsky insisted on this--he optimistically rejected the whole idea of interpretation. This point of view, Rosen is saying, only extends into the past as far as the Romantics. They attempted to notate the precise expected sound the piano was to make.
In previous generations composers planned for improvisation. That's what the figured bass is all about--it is a plan for improvisation. In the modern world someone composes a keyboard part for the continuo player and sticks it in the score. Baroque composers would have expected it to sound different each time, especially when played by different people, like a fake sheet.
In the Baroque the conception created a structure for a variety of possible realizations. In the Romantic era the composer tried to spell out the precise expected performance, to imagine in advance how it would sound.
There is a chapter called Fragment, a prominent feature of Romanticism. He seems to be saying that the Romantics instead of changing or attacking the classical forms focused on fragments, bits often taken out of context, or deprived of a context.
I have always loved the song "Im wunderschoenen Monat Mai" by Schumann and used to play and sing it just to try to get the right expression. Rosen explains how it begins and ends on the wrong notes, achieving proper tonal cadences only in the middle of the verse. It is a fragment, and Schumann was the master of fragments.
Journalism: Bryn Terfel cancelled his appearances as Wotan at the Royal Opera. Instead of just saying he was not prepared, he made up an excuse about his son's finger. Then his wife made certain comments to a London newspaper to the effect that a serious operatic career on Bryn's level was just too much work, the currently building sentiment among the star class. Why not just give pop concerts like Pavarotti? Bryn deserves some easy money, too.
Pavarotti's secondary career as a pop star was completely uninteresting to me. I managed to make my way through the first 3 tenors concert (when Pavarotti was 55) where he did a very respectable "Nessun Dorma", but that's it. We had the cream of Pavarotti in San Francisco--we didn't know how lucky we were.
So Bryn is going to abandon his serious career for pop. I'm not sure Anna Netrebko hasn't been trending in that direction. One of her concerts included an absolutely fabulous rendition of the quartet from Rigoletto, so one can't complain too much. The same concert included a pathetic "Casta diva." I suggest additional coaching.
He's supposed to be doing it to make his wife happy. If you're against this, you can respond by not going. And not buying the DVDs. For my money Bryn's not good enough for this. He has charisma to spare, but his tone is rather monotonous. He's not a once in a generation phenomenon like Pavarotti, but he might be able to pull it off. He could appear in concerts with Katherine Jenkins. "Katherine and Bryn." I agree with the person who said René Pape is the best in Bryn's Fach.
Bryn is 42. He is abandoning the prime of his career. Even if you think this is something he should be doing, the manner in which it was done is disgusting. It suggests cowardice. I suggest he present his first Wotan in some out of the way place like Seattle.
Elīna Garanča appears to have decided on a traditional operatic career. To quote the scarecrow, "People have been known to go both ways."
Here is someone who has researched how to get a ticket to performances at Bayreuth. Apparently tickets sold for the black market prices I showed here are not honored, so don't waste your money. It would be nice to go at least once, but I don't think I would choose Parsifal. Maybe I could talk one of my Wagner fanatic friends into joining the Wagner Society.
On the other hand my luck with queuing at the box office before performances has been pretty good. That's how I got into Orpheus in the Underworld at Glimmerglass. Maybe I could try that. It would mean hanging out in Bayreuth in the hope of getting in.
Year Opera Role Debut in role
1967 La Bohème Rodolfo
1968 Lucia di Lammermoor Sir Edgardo
1969 La Bohème Rodolfo
1969 L'Elisir d'Amore Nemorino
1971 Un Ballo in Maschera Riccardo Yes
1972 Lucia di Lammermoor Edgardo Ravenswood
1973 La Favorita Fernando Yes
1974 Luisa Miller Rodolfo Yes
1975 Il Trovatore Manrico Yes
1977 Turandot Calaf Yes
1978 Tosca Mario Cavaradossi
1979 La Gioconda Enzo Grimaldo Yes
1981 Aida Radames Yes
1982 Un Ballo in Maschera Gustavus III (Riccardo)
1988 La Bohème Rodolfo
The above list of opera performances by Luciano Pavarotti is from the archives of the San Francisco Opera. Most of these were in the days of Kurt Herbert Adler who retired in 1981, including all of the debut performances in seven roles. This was Adler's special gift--he offered European singers the opportunity to sing something they had not sung before, and lured them from across the ocean.
I know I was in the audience for the 1988 performance of La Bohème with Mirela Freni, the performance on the commercial DVD.
"Debut in role" means this is the first time he sang that role.
An opera includes other things besides recitatives and arias. It will usually have an instrumental prelude and may have other purely instrumental interludes such as ballets. There may be a chorus.
Recitative was invented by the Florentine camerata, but aria is forever for aria is song. The division into recitative and aria is the difference between action and reflection. L'Orfeo of Monteverdi is the first true opera because he instinctively understood the need to break up the action oriented recitative with other more traditional musical numbers like dances, ensembles and arias.
The balance and emphasis has changed throughout opera's 400 year history. The great Italian tradition has always emphasized the aria. The form might change--ostinato in the early phase, florid da capo throughout the long Neapolitan style, the slow section followed by fast section form of bel canto, the free form of Puccini--but the opera exists for the arias.
The balance shifts from generation to generation. In Handel's time the lyric expression of the reflective arias had expanded to virtually smother the action. Gluck was part of the generation that searched for simplicity in art, though this trend began first in France with Rousseau. Because this urge for naturalness and the romanticized rural was felt first in France, Gluck's return to the primacy of action over reflection in opera resonated much more with the French. Gluck tried to hide the distinction between recitative and aria but didn't actually succeed in doing away with it.
Wagner subsumed all to the gigantic orchestral tone poem with singing, a style that seems to create endless, formless arias with no speechlike elements.
The recitative and aria dichotomy is a part of the words and music discussion--prima la musica, etc. The purpose of the invention of recitative was to rebalance the relationship of words and music toward word dominance. Music must conform to the requirements of the text. In aria the priorities are reversed. The words guide the expression, but it is the music that determines the form and contour of the aria.
Wagner destroyed the distinction, indeed he destroyed the entire phenomenon of recitative. He eliminated the text repetitions that tell you you are in an aria. He inflated the orchestra to the point that it carries the music much more than the singers. Everything is extended. Everything is aria. Unrelenting continuity replaced alteration of action and reflection.
In modern times composers can't seem to bear the inflated orchestra of Wagner, the slowing of time that drags his operas into four and five hour performances but retain his formlessness in a much more shrunken form that is closer to constant recitative than aria. There are still no text repetitions, and nothing is extended.
Richard Strauss' through-composed operas while seeming to imitate Wagner, often include extended patter recitatives, as for example most of the role of Baron Ochs. Strauss is still distinguishing action and reflection, recitative and aria, but the transitions are extremely subtle. Strauss is one of the last composers who still knows how to compose an aria.
It is the inability of modern composers to compose true arias that dooms most modern operas.
It is curious to think of Glass' opera Orphée in this context. It's almost as if he set out to create a sound track for a beloved film, in this case Jean Cocteau's Orphée, since he is already familiar with the process of writing for the movies. The French version of the film runs 112 minutes, a length that feels very similar to the opera. Then Glass decided to set the voices to music. There are alterations in the pacing between the film and the opera, but the overall pace is constant. The text brings lyrical moments, but the expected extension of the moment into aria does not come. This is from Philip Glass of all people. The artist who most wants to alter our perception of time does not.
It is the lyrical vocal outburst that makes it opera. Modern opera fails because the moment of extension, the moment of greatest emotion where the glory of the voice takes us to another realm never comes.
Thus the rage about John Adams' lousy librettos. John Adams is one of the few who can actually write a decent aria. But what good is reflection without action?
If I were giving advice, I would say write an aria for your opera. Think of it as something that will stand on its own outside the opera. Think of it showing off the voice of your singer. Golijov's best work is written for Dawn Upshaw. Aim high.
Luciano Pavarotti died today. For the beauty of his voice, for the perfection of his style and for the greatness of his soul he may have been the greatest Italian tenor of all time.
I agree with this item about 2 Pavarottis. It is Pavarotti #1 that I choose to honor.
I was staying with a friend on Saturday, and the friend reported hearing the following quote on the radio from Cecilia Bartoli: "When I first heard Pavarotti sing, I thought God was speaking to me." I have no idea if she actually said this.
Though I was recently interviewed about my series "sexiest opera singers", I am not going to be able to keep this "opera is sexy" business to myself. Other people seem to be getting the idea. Here is a nice article about sexy opera singers.
The sexiest of all is Anna Netrebko, of course, and here is an interview from the Guardian, and this article is from the Times. She is appearing at the last night of the Proms this weekend. Both articles are peppered with the sort of outrageous quotes that only Anna can provide. For other acronym impaired such as myself DIY stands for do it yourself.
I read today in the New York Times that Tracie Luck is doing Margaret Garner at the New York City Opera this month. She has been understudying Denyce Graves in Minnesota, Cincinnati, etc. and now gets to take the stage herself. Maybe this will be a breakout part for her. I know I gave her shit, but that should really be considered flattering. It means she's worth bothering about. Margaret Garner by Richard Danielpour on a libretto by Toni Morrison has proven very popular.
And Thursday was a nice long article about Bayreuth, incuding a review of the current Maistersinger.
Since I retired in May of 2006 I have seen as many operas as I could, including a number of operas that I had not seen before. Anyone can still have things to look forward to. Maybe I should make a wish list.
In June 2006 I saw my first Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans at the San Francisco Opera. Dolora Zajick made this a fabulous experience.
Then in September 2006 I experienced Handel's Semele at the New York City Opera in a spectacular Marilyn Monroe vs Jackie Kennedy production with Elizabeth Futral and Vivica Genaux. This may be Handel's only comedy and has become a personal favorite.
In October 2006 I went to Baltimore to see Elizabeth Futral and Vivica Genaux together again in Rossini's The Siege of Corinth. This was the version created for Beverly Sills and Marilyn Horne.
Surely I must have seen Massenet's Manon before I went to Los Angeles, but none of them made any impression at all. Perhaps Netrebko's performance erased all others.
All of these new experiences were incredible. It is a lot of fun traveling around looking for operas. I have been deliberately seeking out new operas to experience, beginning with Maw's Sophie's Choice at the Washington National Opera. It was a rare instance of a new opera with what I felt to be a good libretto and bad writing for voices. The good libretto is the rare part. Bad writing for voices is not that unusual.
In January 2007 I had a new opera experience in the simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera with Tan Dun's The First Emperor . I liked the first half but felt it petered out after that.
Then I went to Europe to see Cecilia in Handel's Semele and saw also Handel's Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno in Zurich. This work was not originally intended to be staged, but seemed to be relatively successful as an opera.
There were no other new ones until April 2007 when I saw my first Suor Angelica from Puccini's Il Trittico in the Met simulcast. Stephanie Blythe made this successful for me. That same month I saw my first Handel's Flavio at Pocket Opera in San Francisco. This was not good. There are probably a lot more Handel Operas I haven't seen.
In May 2007 I saw something that was newly created: Gounod / Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet at the Berkeley Opera. Shakespeare's play and Gounod's Opera were combined in a shotgun wedding.
In June 2007 I saw my first performance of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride at the San Francisco Opera. I don't really remember seeing a Gluck opera before this. I apologize for the way I described this performance, which was really quite lovely.
In July 2007 I went to Santa Fe because of all the operas they were doing that I hadn't seen. I saw Strauss' Daphne in a concert performance at Kennedy Center but Santa Fe was my first staged version. Rameau's Platée was new, as was Dun's Tea, a Mirror of Soul.
In August 2007 I went to Glimmerglass for the same reason. Monteverdi's L'Orfeo was the only opera I had seen before--last year in London. Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice , Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld and Glass' Orphée were all new.
16 out of 31 operas in this time period were new for me. This is rather an awesome statistic. I do seek out things I haven't seen before, and I would be bored to death by endless repetitions of La Boheme. There are a couple of instances where I may have simply forgotten performances that I saw years before.
Long ago I saw Bellini's I Puritani in Sacramento at the barnlike Memorial Auditorium with Joan Sutherland, so Netrebko's version was not the first.
It has been a truly extraordinary year, and I am not suddenly poor. Of all these new operas I think these are my favorites:
Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans for the incredible power of the singing of Dolora Zajick.
Glass' Orphée for the abstraction and lyricism of a new opera.
Handel's Semele both productions for the gorgeous music, lightness of spirit and high quality performances by some great stars.
Dun's Tea, a Mirror of Soul for the depth of concept and originality of execution.
Rossini's The Siege of Corinth for Vivica Genaux.
Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride I'm not really sure why. It's sneakily engulfing.
The list does not include any videos which also included a lot of new operas. It's nice to think that after all these years of going to the opera it's still possible to see something new.
My friend Jean went to a jazz performance in Eugene that featured one of her favorites, Dick Hyman. On the way out she found herself standing next to Hyman and asked him, after many apologies, about Ralph Sutton who died in 2001. There was something about him. Hyman said he completely understood. Ralph Sutton had a special obsession with rhythm.
Jean said that in classical music she thought Daniel Barenboim also had this, and asked me if I could think of anyone else.
Yes. Cecilia Bartoli. That's why she has to be in charge of her own performances, because the rhythm must be exactly as she imagines. Jean thought this might be true.