Sunday, August 31, 2008


Opera chic has all the best pics. Here are a bunch of Anna failing to hide from photographers. She looks good.

Right under the pictures is a link to Schrott's new site at Decca. I must say I like the excerpts from the new album more than I thought I would. His diction is very close to phenomenal. Sometimes he croons, a major operatic no no.

I rather like this one.


I received a twin set of CD's from the San Francisco Opera, and thinking they would be musical excerpts from the coming season, I loaded them up on my iPod. It turned out to be endless cuts of David Gockley talking. Ugh! When I used to donate to the Met, I received some lovely music from them. This seems to be more of an ego thing. No royalties have to be paid to Gockley, let's hope.


Picture is of a much younger DrB. feeding the pigeons in Venice.

I noticed this year there are no longer people selling pigeon food in the Piazza San Marco, and the pigeons that remain are looking pretty bad. Here is a blog commenting on this. Apparently as of May 1, 2008, it is illegal to feed the pigeons in Venice.

I once thought I would collect pictures of famous people feeding the pigeons in Venice. I have seen photos of Gertrude Stein and Claude Monet.

Here are Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas.

Here are Monet and his wife.

Above is Salma Hayek and her daughter.

It's fascinating how easy these were to find.

I even talked my friends into doing it too.

Another tradition is gone.

P.S. I am able to think of a logical reason for this: fear of bird flu.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Nino Machaidze

My mind wandered and I missed this new singer. I know Nino means little boy in Spanish, but nevertheless she's a soprano and is all over you tube.

Try her out with Rolando Villazon at the Salzburg Festival:

I hear a certain tonal resemblance to Netrebko who is out of commission having a baby. Am I hallucinating, or does she look like her a bit, too? Very handy. For my ears her voice is somewhat higher and lighter than Anna's.

This is Romeo et Juliette in a very fine musical performance, especially by Villazon. She is shown speaking Italian on YouTube, but she is very hard to find out about. Even the Salzburg Festival site has nothing. One announcer compared her looks to Angelina Jolie. Oy.

I am withholding judgment so far. She doesn't slide enough for me.



It's a big voice with a nice tone, but no nuance. She's supposed to be 25. Absolutely everything about her is from the recent appearance in Salzburg.

Footnote 2011: Here is her website. And this news item reports that she has been signed by Sony Classical 1.17.2011.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

On the Town

The entertainment in Portland is pretty thin, but there is this nice video of Bernstein's On the Town with Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra video taped at the Barbican in 1992.

Betty Comden and Adolph Green, creators of the book and lyrics, appear as members of the cast, speaking narration, occasionally singing and playing minor characters. The show is semi-staged behind the orchestra. Only the dancing is missing. Since the movie with Gene Kelly is mostly dancing, this is a bit hard to imagine. It starts off "New York, New York, a hell of a town," something that does not translate to a Gene Kelly movie.

The cast is a bit rag tag. Opera singers Frederica von Stade, Thomas Hampson, Samuel Ramey and Evelyn Lear play Claire de Lune, Gabey, Claire's fiance Pitkin and Madame Dilly respectively. The other characters are played by Broadway types Kurt Ollmann, David Garrison and the fabulous Tyne Daly as Chip, Ozzie and Hildy the cab driver. I watched it to see Tyne Daly sing, and she was perfect, especially in "Come up to my place."

Bernstein's music is good, as usual, but the story is a bit tenuous, an excuse for dancing. It was fun and made me wish for more of Tyne Daly.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) worked in his young life at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage for young women in Venice. He taught them to play the violin and composed hundreds of concertos for them to play. This is the church Santa Maria della Pietà where these concertos were performed.

This is the door where the babies were dropped off. It is still an active orphanage.

This is where the orphans play.

It will transform your feeling for Vivaldi if you imagine an orchestra of adolescent girls playing.


I am not particularly religious, but nevertheless I attend mass or other religious services when the music is of interest. In Portland they are currently having a festival to the English Renaissance composer William Byrd, something that has become a tradition here. They performed Byrd's mass for four voices at a high mass this evening, and it was a very beautiful experience.

Byrd composed in Latin, and the mass was in Latin except for the sermon and the scriptural readings. Several segments of the ordinary were sung in Gregorian chant by a group who stood in the front. William Byrd and Gregorian chant--who could ask for more? For me it was like voices from the past.

This is none of my business, but I'm going to say it anyway. What does the catholic church have to offer that others don't? Tradition and some of the most beautiful music in the world. William Byrd risked his life and freedom to compose masses in Latin. I have always felt that Vatican II disrespected its own tradition by forbidding Latin. They threw out the baby instead of the bath water.

The mass was called Pontifical and included repeated references to "Tu es Petrus" or you are Peter. I think this was to provide a context for two Byrd motets on that theme. The style of this music is very much high Renaissance, much like Lasso and Palestrina, with no hints of the modernism heard in keyboard works of the same period.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I change my mind a lot

I saw on ARTS a clip of Lucia Popp singing something from Mahler's Knaben Wunderhorn ("Wo die schoenen Trumpeten blasen") with Leonard Bernstein conducting that I thought was marvelous. Her German was a little Slavic, with a bit of a guttural thing going on. But nevertheless gorgeous. Maybe she just hasn't sung the right thing for me.

Festa del Redentore

My pictures of this Venetian celebration, which happened on July 19, came out pretty well, beginning with the preparations. The three large barges just behind the statue are the fireworks platforms. Behind them is the bridge to the Redentore church on Giudecca just completing its construction.

Here are people beginning a rooftop party.

The lagoon is filling with boats.

The bridge is complete, and people are walking across.

People are gathering to see the fireworks.

I have managed only a tiny example of the amazing fireworks display.

The holiday is a religious feast, feast of the holy redeemer, and the bridge provides easy access to the church of that name on the island of Giudecca. Read about it here in Wikipedia.

The close up photos of people on boats are by a friend.

And this curious picture from Zurich

There isn't exactly a rule that says that outdoor furniture isn't to look like indoor furniture, but....

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Jonas translated

Jonas Kaufmann on German TV via YouTube reveals that he began as a mathematics student. His career started in Saarbruecken. "Wenn man von Fach zu Fach springt...." This describes Jonas's career--springing from Fach to Fach--"sometimes light, sometimes heavier, sometimes with coloratura, then the voice can't really develop right. When one can't concentrate, everything comes out a little not right." Let's hope he has found his niche. [Translation is approximate.]

A native Muenchener, he lives in Zurich--a lovely city that I enjoy more each time I visit it--with his three children, all of whom gladly play instruments, the oldest flute and piano, the middle one started on violin and now plays trumpet. The youngest likes anything that makes a lot of noise.

Commentary: I still see Jonas as a Heldentenor, something I'm not sure he sees. But being a Heldentenor is basically two things: tone and learning to sing consistently large. It requires focus.

Friday, August 15, 2008

It's hard to move on

It was a dense experience which I am still processing.

It was curious to hear that over the course of building the Duomo and Santa Maria Novella they changed their minds. The churches were frescoed with paintings like the one in Assisi of similar date, and the Florentines decided for some mysterious reason that this was "northern" or gothic. Anyone who has visited Notre Dame or the Ulmer Munster knows that only Italian churches are so dense with paintings that they create the impression every square inch must be covered.

So they white washed over the frescoes and installed some curious little bays such as one saw in the Pantheon all around the sides.

Masaccio's (1401-1428) Trinity painting was moved to the back end of Santa Maria Novella and then back to the side when it was discovered part of the fresco had been left behind. This is considered the first renaissance painting with full perspective. He was big.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


a. A saucy, coquettish, intriguing maidservant in comedies or comic opera.
b. An actress or a singer taking such a part.

So some soubrettes in opera are Zerlina, Despina and Adele. Marilyn Monroe was playing a soubrette. It is a character type more than it is a voice category. Audrey Hepburn was a kind of serious soubrette. Paris Hilton is a soubrette, money notwithstanding.

There seems to be some confusion on this topic. I am acquainted with an aging soubrette who does not know what to do now. Become a lyric soprano.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Manon on the newly released DVD with Netrebko and Villazon is lovely the second time around (see here). All that is missing is Anna Netrebko jumping up and down during the bows.

The director is there to explain the production to us. Manon in the overture is reading movie magazines such as one used to find at the beauty parlor. She sees herself as an actress: first Leslie Caron [I insist], then Audrey Hepburn, then certainly Elizabeth Taylor, then Marilyn Monroe, and finally herself. The lights on poles that seem to follow Manon around the stage in the early scenes are part of her movie actress fantasy. Anna and Rolando Villazon bring the drama to life. It is difficult to imagine this particular production with other principles.

Perhaps one of the young women in my house in Florence would like to play Manon. At 16 she moved in to her boyfriend's house and is now a very mature 19. She spends all her money on shoes. She would like to learn Italian but realizes that all the designer houses in Florence are a stronger temptation than she could ever be expected to resist. She thinks perhaps Lucca would offer less temptation.

Sorry. I have digressed. But it is many years since I have been exposed to such young women and now see Manon entirely through their lives. Manon chooses in the moment, a reasonable thing for a 16 year old. Youth is to enjoy, not to pause and think seriously over. I am myself attempting to achieve an unexamined life and hope it is not too late.

The original Manon novel that forms the basis for two operas was written by an Abbé (L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost), and I’m sure was intended as a cautionary tale. The child Manon is obviously too frivolous and is sent off to a convent. On her way three men manage to fall in love with her: De Brétigny, a nobleman, Guillot, an aging rake, and the handsome, young chevalier des Grieux. She chooses the last and runs off with him. Later money seems more attractive, and Manon goes off with De Brétigny. In the end she is betrayed by Guillot and dies in prison. We are to see the ill effects of bad choices.

It is hard with our modern eyes to see the evil in Manon. Why should a 16 year old prefer the life of the convent over her handsome nobleman? How is she to resist beautiful shoes?

I love this production and think everyone should experience it. The scene at Saint-Sulpice is my favorite. But then Anna's Marilyn is also excellent. Anna mentions how much she needs and draws on Rolando's energy for her characterization. They are a dynamic pair who add to each other's performance -- the total is greater than the sum of the parts.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Interview with Erwin Schrott

[This is also translated from Opernglas. The interview in the magazine is longer, but these are the parts which concern his relationship with Netrebko.]


The career curve of Erwin Schrott points steeply upward. In addition comes for some months the bustle around his private life. He told our coworker Johannes Schmitz in Berlin how he deals with it all. Cutouts from the interview.

Since your last “Opernglas” interview one and a half years ago, much has happened in your life, vocationally as well as privately. You are one of the most asked for world-wide Don Giovannis, and Donna Anna - Anna Netrebko - expects your child. It seems that the opera and the real life have an intersection.

They will understand that I treat my private life extremely carefully and do not talk gladly about it.

Absolutely. But which consequences result for you from the fact that Anna Netrebko and you are a pair?

Now, today I cook better, and she likes what I cook…, and I now learn Russian and try to teach Anna some Spanish.

And professionally? Are there common plans?

No, not really. We hardly talk about our vocational careers.

But do you not support each other mutually, sometimes, in questions of singing technique or if it concerns interpretation?

We do that occasionally. Because I naturally admire her very much as an artist. She is very consistent in everything that she does, and she possesses a tremendous professionalism. Nevertheless we do not talk at all so much about our work. If we are together, our private life is the center of attention.

So you don't feel like the new dream pair of the opera scene?

Oh God, no. We are really, we are completely normal people. We have the luck to have common interests and have been able to share this love for music, but otherwise we are like every other pair in the world and live a completely normal life. Our life rhythm is different, is naturally faster, due to the frequent travel.

It is surely very pleasant to have a partner to which one does not have to explain what the job requirements for a singer are.

Yes. It allows us for that reason more easily to respect each other and mutually understand us. Since I am an opera singer, I know naturally, what Anna needs as a singer before an appearance. But you do not forget: She is a woman and particularly in these questions a very intelligent one in addition. She lives her own life, when it concerns her career. She has so many obligations and is under an enormous pressure. I admire her for this.

[Dr.B. One of the bloggers has made this into Schrott blowing off Netrebko. Two things: from all I know about Anna I know that she insists that her professional and private lives stay separate. She deliberately hangs out with people who would not want to discuss her work professionally. Everything he says is consistent with this. If he insisted on talking about work all the time, she would have dumped him.

And second Erwin Schrott is not at the same place in his professional career as Netrebko. I'm sure he does not want to be seen as having a coattails career. He is to be admired for this.

In the magazine he goes on to talk about music. In particular he talks about playing Leporello, and how much more complex he is than Giovanni.]

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


The musical life of Florence in the summer was surprisingly rich. I say surprisingly only because I knew nothing of it. The places that are museums by day often provide musical venues by night. Palazzo Strozzi has a lovely bar where one might buy wine to drink during the concert. San Stefano held a festival for young people's groups for all of July. Most of these concerts are free. Evening musical events begin between 9:00 and 9:30, leaving plenty of time for dinner before.

I attended vocal recitals, chamber music concerts, choir concerts and orchestral concerts which I often did not review. One of my reviews has generated a lot of comment. I write my own opinions, but others may well think differently. It's simply a matter of taste.

Starting in the middle of July all of the designer houses have sales, on which the younger women spent all their money.

Addio Firenze.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Interview with Maria Guleghina

This is translated from Opernglas. I found the interview quite charming.


A constant career without PR-machinery. How that goes and why she had to leave Germany against her will, Maria Guleghina explained to our coworker Markus Wilks. Cutouts from the interview:

Ten years ago Opernglas presented Maria Guleghina for the first time - as a singer, who was in demand world-wide already at that time and had established herself domestically in Hamburg. She spoke of the fact that only life on the French Riviera was more beautiful than Hamburg. Are you still a Hamburgerin?

No, unfortunately no more, although I hold the city dear. The Alster is as beautiful - as the whole city. But I had to leave Germany, because as a freelance singer I could no longer have a fixed contract. Even with legal assistance I could not prevent having to leave Germany practically within 24 hours. In the meantime I live happily in Luxembourg in the country and rent my Hamburg house.

Your Turandot here in Valencia in the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia was your role debut yesterday, to which I would like to congratulate you very cordially. Is one so experienced still nervous with all stage landing on water washed singer? ["mit allen Bühnenwassern gewaschene Sängerin" Hard to translate. There must have been water in the production.]

Yes, and how, because it was not only my role debut. I was allowed to appear before the eyes of the Spanish queen in an unusually beautiful production. Thus a special and particularly beautiful pressure rested on us singers.

Were you content?

There are always so many things to improve and my tenth Turandot will be surely better than my first, but I am content and happy nevertheless and sing the Turandot very, very gladly.

If you know that an unpleasant director awaits you, do you then reject the commitment?

For me professionalism means to say at the right time ones opinion and not hold everything in, but also to stand by ones word. If I have once said “Yes!“ I stand by it, even if the contract is not yet signed.

The fact that you say your opinion and try to stay grounded, sometimes one encounters contradiction and irritations in the opera scene. Are you a difficult person?

One said to me once in an interview that lady Macbeth would fit me so fabulously and asked, whether I would feel that the lady corresponds to my character. I answered. "Naturally. Each morning at breakfast and each evening at dinner I murder five people." Honestly: I am for my cats, dogs, chickens and lambs a loving, caring mummy, who watches out and does not permit that they are eaten by other animals.

So Maria Guleghina is in reality a good, nice woman.

Not good, but also not bad. I know what I want and say my opinion. I try in my occupation simply to be professional. And if colleagues or producers come unprepared to the rehearsal, that does not meet my expectations. One cannot always be only nice, if the professionalism is missing as basis. Because if I close my eyes to everything, it falls back onto me, which I would not like. I have a lot of patience and smile for a very long time and try to implement my understanding of opera with a smile, gladly subordinate myself to good directors in addition. Unfortunately some singers understand only if they get clear instructions - after the slogan “Like this and not differently.” Then it can quite come to involvement. However sometimes one must think also as singers about the ideas of the director, before one rejects them too quickly. An example for this is Phyllida Lloyd’s Macbeth, whom I sang among other things in 1999 in Paris. I should wash not only my hands after the murder scene, but get completely into a bath tub. My wish, whether we couldn’t find another picture, the director wanted to think over. In the night after this rehearsal I dreamed, and saw myself clothed, sitting in the bath tub and washing my hands. Like a dream picture of Macbeth. By the next rehearsal I only wanted to know, what we were going to do with the bath tub. Phyllida was already ready to get rid of this part, but now we arranged this strong picture together. I like it so much to work in this kind of team because I am an actress.

What will we be allowed to expect in the future in new roles?

First I play Adriana Lecouvreur at the Met in the old scenery, but with a new director. Then comes Verdi’s Il Corsaro in Bilbao, and with Maestro Gergiev I will try out in the Mariinsky theatre the St. Petersburg version of Verdi’s La forza del Destino, which is more difficult to sing.

But still no Wagner?

No, Wagner is not for me. Wagner is philosophy and not only singing. Far more important than how you sing, it seems to me, is that you know everything for example about the Grail and self devotion. It is so serious. One cannot simply play Isolde in such a way, one cannot see her as a love character, but must embody the philosophy, which stands behind the role. One must sing a whole library.

How does one hold oneself so for a long time in the business, without being supported by a CD company?

I do not know. Can you tell me? And then also still to have so many “enemies“ who know to report on ones bad character. Above all former agents. Certainly: I am already very glad that I managed to have held on for so long without the support of a CD company. There I have to thank in particular my public for their loyalty.

In this summer you appear again in the arena of Verona, where you regularly guest since 1996 and 1997 for that surprisingly successful debut in Nabucco. Also in this year the Abigaille stands in your appointment calendar in Verona.

Yes, and I am very pleased about this, because Denis Krief is one of my favorite directors. Overall the arena di Verona for me is a very special place, I sang my debut there under Maurizio Arena and also under Nello Santi. In the arena I feel like a Gladiatorin and it gives me amazing strength. It is simply impressive. When people put on their lights and when they applaud, that is completely different than in the opera house. A pleasure!

[This refers to the tradition of lighting candles in the audience at the arena. Grossartig. I have translated the text that is available on line. The version in the magazine, which I bought in Zurich, is longer. I remember her saying she fell off the chairs in one of the Met performances of Macbeth.]