Wednesday, July 30, 2008


They saved Michaelangelo's statue of David for last. I have a refrigerator magnet for him at home and always felt that clothed he looked 14-16 years old.

Rocky said that Italians always think the statue is after David has killed Goliath while Americans always say before. I said this was because Italians don't play baseball. Clearly he has just begun his windup and is just to the spot where the pitcher looks to see the sign from the catcher.

After he might jump up and down and run around wildly.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bella Italia

I have long had the fantasy that as an old woman I would live in a tiny apartment near the Giardino Borghese in Rome, that every day I would walk there and sit on the benches to watch the people walk by. Then I would have coffee in the cafe in the park.

I don't know if it is necessary to actually live out this fantasy, but I practice having an Italian breakfast with brioche and cappuccino standing up at a bar.

I have taken lessons in how to make coffee at home in the aluminum gadget and what kind of coffee to buy: Lavazza crema e gusto. My Italian doesn't improve. I think there is too long between times and I am too old.

I eat out in restaurants more than the others. Samples:

Octapus with celery salad
Calzone with ricotta and prosciuto
Steak medium-rare with truffle sauce
Arugula salad with avocato, cheese and arugula pesto
Risotto del mare

All amazingly good.

Rome has an unusual beauty that seeps into the soul. This trip I think I will not go there. Perhaps next year.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

San Marco

The basilica of San Marco in Venice is the location of a significant period of music history, starting with the polychoral music of Willaert. Orchestration started there. Heinrich Schuetz studied here and brought the Baroque to Germany.

So I was interested in hearing music in the space and attended the high mass for the Festa di Santissimo Redemptore. In the sixteenth century a second organ was built within the space, suggesting the multiple choirs of voices and instruments that were the main feature of music there.

The acoustics are marvelous for such a large church. There is a lovely decay and no echo. Perhaps it is the preference for curves over flat surfaces that makes the difference. There is a kind of mezzanine that encircles the entire basilica, providing locations for as many choirs as desired.

There is only one organ now, and only one choir sang for the service. My imagination supplied the rest.


When the young ones say our schedule is too hard, you know it isn't just me. If there is any renaissance art at a venue in Florence, we have been to it. Did you know that if the halo is a circle, it's gothic, but if the halo is oval, it's renaissance? If the artist obsessed about perspective, he was renaissance. I don't think Pontormo's madonna has any perspective or even any kind of halo, so we didn't go there. We saw some excellent Donatello the other day, including a fully clothed early David.

Some things I want to wait until I can post the photos to write about them. In a week I will be home. It's hot here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Orchestra da Camera Fiorentina

We went together to hear the Orchestra da Camera Fiorentina in the Bargello, a smaller venue than the Palazzo Pitti but still open air. They played Le quattro stagioni by Vivaldi and Concerto No. 1 per Marimba e archi by N. Rosauro, a Brazilian composer.

The Marimba concerto was only interesting in the marimba part. The orchestral part was weak and unidiomatically conceived. He clearly likes the marimba, but doesn't understand the idea of a concerto as a duel between two equals.

I found out that Vivaldi wrote a program for the four seasons into the score. I didn't know that. This group played Vivaldi with passion and understanding. The conductor, Giuseppe Lanzetta, was quite reserved and left the passion and drama to his players. I liked him very much.

Tenor Advice

A few months ago I received an email asking me to give advice about the career of an Italian tenor. This left me a bit speechless. Now I have a small amount to say.

If you are acquainted with a not too young tenor in Italy whom you like but who is not being particularly successful, then this is probably because his voice or technique does not approach the imagined Italian ideal for a tenor. Perhaps it is a lyric tenor voice that does not successfully push to dramatic. I was not told any of these things.

In this case I would advise to try elsewhere. Audition in Germany and Austria. The French like a lighter sound. Know thyself and match ones efforts to ones talents.

It is difficult to impossible to give generic advice of this kind. Perhaps there is a reason for the difficulty the individual is having.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


The Arena di Verona is a colosseum from Roman times, supposedly the second largest in existence, and it continues to be in excellent condition. Opera performances in the Arena di Verona began in 1913 with this production of Aida. Since they are nearing the centennial, we were surprised they didn't save the revival until then.

For years people sat on the stone stairs, but now there are metal bleachers with somewhat uncomfortable but manageable seats that fit about 3 rows of tiers to the original Roman 2 rows. These seats are more expensive and reserved and reach about halfway up the side. Above on the original Roman seats it is first come first served. The expensive seats are on the floor of the arena. We were about 1/3 back on the right -- just about the perfect spot.

About a third of the arena is occupied by the enormous stage. A successful production in the arena requires that the massive arena itself provides the spectacle. It is the enormity of it all that impresses, and this enormity makes Aida truly come alive.

The trumpet bands for the procession can be positioned high in the bleachers. Coordination with the far away conductor was excellent. We hoped for elephants but were happy to get six horses. The sense of increased realism is wonderful.

And then there is our celestial Aida, sung by Isabelle Kabatu. She looked and sang to perfection, making the whole thing seem easy, as though she arose in the morning and thought, "I think I'll sing Aida today." Arena di Verona relies on its natural acoustics which vary but never fail. We noticed that when a singer faced the other way her voice became louder.

I liked the tenor Piero Giuliacci, a large man with a full voice and a nice ping in his high notes. He seemed to be able to carry the necessary strength in his voice without oversinging. Our fabulous Amneris was Marianne Cornetti, and our even more fabulous Amonasro was Ambrogio Maestri. The consistent quality of the whole production was very impressive.

The set units come from an entry in the middle and must fit in it. Then they are moved around the stage into different formations. In the final tableau Amneris stands above the entombed lovers while the chorus sings from high in the tiers. Supers with torches line the rim of the arena. Aida will never be the same.

Monday, July 21, 2008


I intended to blog a lot more from Italy, but life is turning out to be too dense for such a leisurely activity. Proposed topics:

Singing in gondolas
High mass at the Basilica San Marco in Venice
Aida at the Arena di Verona
la Festa del Redentore

One thing I have to write about now.

We took our seats very early in the Arena di Verona because we were exhausted from climbing steep stairs in Venice, and just after we sat down dark clouds appeared overhead. I came prepared for rain and put on my outfit. Someone announced that the performance of Aida might be delayed.

In the unreserved seats behind us someone started a wave which went clockwise around the arena about five times. It would reach the stage and immediately jump to the other side until the gong lady came out to announce that the opera would soon begin. We prefer to believe that the wave helped clear the weather.

I am pleased to say that my first participation in a wave took place at an opera. Or a spettacolo, as they say. Not sure about the spelling.

I am taking hundreds of photographs, some of which are actually good.


I am taking a class that covers art in Florence, and I am extremely surprised by how much I already know about this subject. I studied music, but I have never taken a class in art history before. I approach art in this way--

1. I go to places where there is art.

2. I walk around and look at the art. I don't do audio tours or guides unless I am forced to. Only occasionally do I read the placards and then mainly to see the dates and names of the artists.

3. I look until I see something I like and I buy a postcard of it. Often the one I like doesn't have a postcard.

4. I go home and learn about the stuff I liked. I go to exhibits of stuff I like. Eventually I like more things.

That's it. This approach can be used for music, too, just not for professionals.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I Filarmonici di Firenze

Last night was fun. We went to the Pitti Palace to hear I Filarmonici di Firenze. According to R the space holds the location of the first performance of Peri's Euridice for the proxy marriage of Maria de Medici to the king of France. I took pictures, and when I am home I will post a few. The open air space has pretty good acoustics, but you can't see anything.

The free concert seemed to be sponsored by the Associazione Mozart Italia - Sede in Firenze and there was a lot of talking in Italian, which we didn't understand. Certain nameless members of our group began making up things that they might be saying, with a resulting excess of merriment.

The program:

Mozart Don Giovanni Overture
Rossini L'Italiana in Algeri Overture
Beethoven Egmont Overture
Rossini Barbiere Overture
Burbi (the conductor) Preludio Concertante
Handel Fireworks Music
Elgar Pomp and Circumstance
Encore of Elgar

The Elgar piece is done in the US at every high school graduation, including mine, so we were definitely not happy with the encore and left.

Stefano Burbi conducted. He has lots of hair and flails around a lot with his hair flapping everywhere. He was flailing away, and they were quite draggy and stolid. This was curious. They were an excellent orchestra, but rather placid.

The unresponsive orchestra reminded me of my triangle player story. I went to a concert in London where the orchestra seemed to be playing so far behind the conductor that it was completely unrelated -- except for the female triangle player who played on the conductor's beat. Another percussion player rushed over to straighten her out.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


You knew about this. This is a link to an announcement that Renée Fleming will have her own perfume, called La Voce, the voice in Italian. Is that her official title?

I bought perfume for a friend at Officina Profumo-farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. She likes it because it is hyperalergenic, made only of natural ingredients. The flavor is tuberosa. I hope she likes it. They didn't have any La Voce.

Monday, July 14, 2008


It is nice to know that real Italians at the opera shout the same things we do: bravo, brava. We are attempting to imitate them, after all.

I was explaining to the non opera people on our tour that real Italians are known to shout a lot of other things not quite so complementary at the opera. When I was in Rome in La Legenda da Sekuntala, there was a long bit where a woman stood on the stage and read aloud. I have no idea what she was saying, but after a while the Italians began shouting at her to get off the stage and let the opera begin.

Then there's the Roberto Alagna at La Scala example. We're just too polite sometimes.

At the end of a concert they often shout "bis!" -- again. There are a lot of encores at Italian concerts.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Italian tenors

My friend R says that Americans prefer Pavarotti, but Italians very much prefer Domingo. I speculated that this was because Domingo is a dramatic tenor and Pavarotti was a lyric tenor.

In Italy the ideal is still for the heavy, dramatic tenor. The artistic ideal seems to be Mario del Monaco. They want plenty of squillo. I hear this preference in the singing of Giuseppe Filianoti, the Edgardo in Lucia, and Luca Canoncici, the tenor in Traviata on Tuesday. Now I have nothing against a little squillo, but neither one of these guys has a voice that could be called a dramatic tenor.

I want more than squillo. I want the tenor to be able to sing a long phrase without running out of breath or going off pitch as they get toward the end. I want music, not just sound. Is this too much to ask?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

La Traviata

On Tuesday evening we walked all the way down to the Porta Romana in Florence to hear La Traviata in the Giardino di Boboli. They have built a stage and a set of large metal bleachers in the park.

The performance took a long time and didn't start until 9:20 in the evening. There was no stage curtain, so we could watch the scenery being changed throughout the three long intermissions. It was 12:30 and very cold before we were finished.

I enjoyed the Violetta, sung by Luz del Alba. She did not cough. Now that Renée and Angela have hashed the coughing thing out, one can't help wondering who coughs and who doesn't. The coughing roles are Mimi and Violetta. Our Violetta moved dramatically through her scenes very well. She died with grace.

The star of the evening was maestro Bruno Rigacci. We sat where we could see him work, and I thought he controlled the performance very skillfully. By our professional standards the orchestra was a bit rag tag and out of tune, but the maestro knew his Verdi and how to coordinate the often fragmented orchestral bits with the singers. An usher led the maestro to the pit and back in the dark. The chorus was also excellent -- both as singers and as actors.

More about the tenor, Luca Canoncici, later.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1850-70]


Yesterday was a very long day. At 6 pm was a mixer where they put names on our backs and we tried to guess them. I was pleased to be Joan of Arc, if for only a minute.

At seven some of us went to a concert in a small church that isn't on my map. A choir of young people from 15 - 18 from Cardiff sang. Most of the time they sang in Welsh, including a duet arrangement of "Still wie die Nacht." It was rather too consistent in style but otherwise quite nice.

Then my friend and I walked to the bottom of the Giardino di Boboli to see La Traviata.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


As in it's back. I went to mass in the duomo this morning and it was in Latin! I haven't heard that in a few years. Benedict has allowed it. It makes sense in a place with an international audience.

I had a minor electrical crisis today while trying to do my laundry. I don't know any Italian curses. I am getting the full Italian experience.

Friday, July 04, 2008


I am staying in a large apartment in Florence with three girls all less than half my age. They are extremely tolerant. The apartment is very pleasing, with mysterious stairways to nowhere. There are warnings not to tape things on the walls and not to run the clothes washer without turning off the air conditioner. How Italian!

The center takes for granted that we are young and inexperienced in the mysteries of Italy, even going so far as to forbid riding the elevator since it is assumed we know nothing of Italian elevators.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Photo caption left to right: Ruben Drole, Liliana Nikiteanu, Malin Hartelius, Juliette Galstian and Ann Helen Moen.

How I love this Eurotrash Handel--especially the kind they do at the Zurich Opera! Our war isn't between Christians and Saracens--it's between two large corporations, one headed by the heroic CEO Rinaldo and the other by the evil sorceress Armida.

One especially nice thing is the fact that there are no countertenors--just lovely girls having fun in their drag outfits--sometimes in business suits and sometimes in urban guerilla outfits.

There is ballet work but no dancing. It's amazing how much more I like ballet without the dancing. There is an escalator which doesn't move, but the ballet go up and down on it like it did, creating the illusion of an escalator. There is kissing--anyone kisses anyone. There is pantomime kicking in usually imaginary balls.

Ruben Drole, baritone, the one lone male, is Argante, Armida's lover / flunky--we're not sure which. Or perhaps both.

All of this works because of the fabulous, gorgeous, bitchy, glorious Malin Hartelius as Armida. The singing was incredible, starting from the top with Juliette Galstian as Rinaldo and Ann Helen Moen as his girlfriend Almireno. I also like Liliana Nikiteanu who was having a lot of fun with her part.

I loved it.

Here is the official trailer.

In the past I have bitched about La Scintilla, the natural instruments orchestra at the Zurich Opera. The first time I heard them was in Giulio Cesare a few years ago, and I found them seriously out of tune and inaccurate. Things have improved a lot. I noticed Ada Pesch went twice around the orchestra helping some players tune their instruments.

In Rinaldo there was a lovely aria where a flute imitates a bird that was quite charming on the soprano recorder.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


I walked up Tritligasse in Zurich and thought of my friend Ursula who loves it. When we were young she was the queen of the Ulmer Theater.

Ursula and I found each other and spent two nice hours talking about opera. She thought Jonas Kaufmann was wonderful but VK had no heart. She said he is a true artist. I agree.

I was talking about how Natalie Dessay talks only about her acting and takes the singing for granted. She said she was the same way. If you feel the role the music just comes. I think this is true only if you have the gift. And if you don't? No amount of work will bring it. Ursula was a marvelous singer, too. I've had the feeling that Anna Netrebko works at it. This would be to find out.

Ursula is worried about the new Intendant, Andreas Homoki, who will replace Alexander Pereia in 2012. The present Intendant is very skilled at talking big donors out of their money, and she wonders if someone from Berlin will be able to do this. The private donors are one of the big reasons for the success of the Zurich Opera.


This production of Carmen at the Zurich Opera asks the question "What if Carmen were Joan Crawford? What if she slunk about the stage with her giant shoulders and her ankle strap high heels like a lioness in heat? Would we love her?" The answer is a resounding yes! I believed in Vesselina Kasarova`s Carmen as I have never before. This is one tough bitch. She dies slowly with a surprised but resigned look on her face. There is no regret. Don Jose regrets everything.

Jonas Kaufmann was lovely, sang and acted beautifully. His were the loudest cheers. But without Carmen it is nothing. Their portrayals created the perfect balance of weakness and strength.

In this picture she has just thrown down the enchanted flower.

The stage is a bare circle with very few props or features--minimalism--except in each scene something is placed over the prompter`s hole in the floor. In the first act it is a sleeping dog that at one point wags its tail. A lot of energy went into planning this joke. In the third scene Carmen herself brings out the large rock and places it over the hole. It is difficult to imagine what a huge percent of the staging this represents.

They were filming for television.

Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst
Director:  Matthias Hartmann

Carmen:  Vesselina Kasarova
Micaela:  Isabel Rey
Don Jose:  Jonas Kaufmann
Escamillo:  Michele Pertusi
Le Remendado:  Javier Camarena


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

László Polgár in Recital

László Polgár, bass, is a man with an aura. If he is there, you know something tragic is going to happen. One of his roles is Bartók`s Bluebeard. With him singing the part you would know the ending was not happy. All ambiguity would be gone.

He was a replacement at the Zurich Opera House for someone else which probably explains the fact that he used a score in the first half, and that the program seemed to change from what was advertised. In order of presentation things seemed to improve as we went along.

Schumann`s Liederkreis was done rather matter-of-factly. Admitedly all song cycles have the same subject--poet has lost his one true love--and this makes them seem a bit alike.

Then came sections from Schubert`s Schwanengesang. The ones that worked well are the ones that best fit his aura of gloom: Der Atlas and Still ist die Nacht.

As we go from section to section the level of gloom deepens and the quality of the performance increases. What Lieder are glomier than Hugo Wolf`s Drei Gesänge nach Sonatten von Michelangelo?

Herr Polgár is Hungarian and therefore not an obvious choice for a Liederabend. He ended his program with something more suitable: Mussorgsky`s Songs and Dances of Death, sung in Russian. In this cycle the singer represents death himself, and who better than gaunt Lazlo in his black silk pajamas and snow white hair? Perhaps when death appears he will look like this. In these songs he was magnificent. He relaxed into the expression, leaned back on the piano and was quite beautiful.