Monday, December 31, 2007

Selections


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

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

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

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Merry Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

May: Summer opera started.

June: Paris Hilton was in jail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bitching


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

Except for that he was fabulous.

Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is excellent

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

Part I:


Part II:


Part III:


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

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Buckingham Palace

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

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

Monday, December 24, 2007

Billy Elliot, the musical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging



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

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

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


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

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Blogging


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

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

Cecilia at the Barbican


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


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

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


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

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

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




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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Blogging

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


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

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

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


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


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


This is a shop near St. Paul's.

These are waffles at the Covent Garden Market.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sex

Caution: vivid writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

La Cenerentola


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

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

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

I love this opera, and loved it once again.

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

News

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

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

Messiaen


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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Romeo et Juliette in HD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some pictures taken in the intermission.






And this is Renée with Placido.


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

[See Kinderkuchen History 1850-70]

Friday, December 14, 2007

Wicked

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Mortier

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

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

Friday, December 07, 2007

Stars and Ensembles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Non-news

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Myself I shall adore


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

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

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas Presents


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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

Happy holidays.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Interview

This interview happened in August:

Someone wants to interview me. And here it is:

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

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

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

What I'd like to know is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--- Is classical music getting closer to pop?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks a lot for your help in advance.

DrB: This was fun.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Interview with Netrebko

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gershwin on YouTube

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


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


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


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

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

Enjoy.