Friday, October 24, 2008


I'm out of date. Yesterday I picked up a copy of BBC Music for September in a Borders in Albuquerque. I'm in Albuquerque. There's an interview with Renée Fleming about her at that time up coming recording of the Four Last Songs.

She talks about aging and retirement, though I would like to say I am hearing nothing that would indicate this is eminent. There are theories about each singer having a million notes. Placido must have passed his million long ago, I would think. I think Renée is singing better than ever now.

In her retirement she would think about teaching people the art of recitals, something she thinks is dying. I think what has died is the art of programming. The academic model for a recital has taken over. A recital used to be like a pop concert, and still is when the performer is Cecilia Bartoli. You pick out interesting songs and you string them together. You try to cover a lot of emotional extremes and be sure there is plenty of variety.

The academic model says you must start with early music--classic Italian, Gluck, something like that--and move on gradually through later periods. As much as possible, larger works such as song cycles should be presented instead of individual unrelated songs. I say perform something people will like hearing, something you love. Have fun. If you love it, they will, too.

Next to the interview with Renée Fleming was a list of recommended recordings of the Four Last Songs of R. Strauss. The reviewer doesn't like the second of Schwarzkopf's recordings. He complains if the high notes are not perfect. He complains constantly abut every conceivable detail. He bitches if their German isn't right. He complains about the tempo. (I know--it might be a she.)

My opinions hardly ever reach to that level of detail. I know that when I was performing, I worked over all the details repeatedly until I was satisfied, but I wasn't trying to reach technical perfection--I was trying to achieve a certain emotion. I remember in a class in college a student sang Brahms' "Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer" and managed a feeling of intense nostalgia and quiet longing. I wished in that moment to try to achieve the emotion she had achieved, though our voices were completely different. I like to feel that I did.

But the writers aren't talking about the feelings of each performance. They think there is only one way to sing it, and they criticize if anything is off from that perfection. My own opinions are almost the opposite. If I feel nothing, then I criticize. I want each performer to find her own joy. More than anything else I think the four songs are about singing, and I want to hear the passion for singing. When the lines soar, your heart must also soar.

There is a deep sadness in this music, a sense of resignation, and I want to feel this, too.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Katherine Jenkins

Norman Lebrecht said today that he could see Katherine Jenkins becoming becoming the next Barbra Streisand. I beg your pardon! By 28 Barbra was already Barbra.

Katherine has contracted herself out of the classical music world. She may feel free to become the next Celine Dion, but we in the classical world are just happy to see her go.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ombra mai fu

How about everyone singing "Ombra mai fu" from Handel's Xerxes.

In response to a complaint is this miraculously beautiful rendition by my favorite baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

It transforms into something completely different when he sings it.  He doesn't ornament.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mezzos doing Handel

Mezzo-sopranos singing Handel arias on YouTube. Most of them don't seem to have pictures. These are arranged in a not precise order of ascending weight.

Cecilia Bartoli singing "Da tempeste" from Giulio Cesare. I don't know if this counts since she's singing Cleopatra. In a proper comparison she would have to be singing a castrato part. This is a pirate recording from Zurich.

Vivica Genaux singing "Spero per voi, si, si" from Ariodante.

Anna Bonitatibus singing "Un pensiero nemico di pace".  I've seen her in Zurich and like her a lot. 

I have added Susan Graham just ahead of Joyce singing "Verdi Prati" from Alcina. She has one of the most beautiful mezzo voices around.

Joyce Di Donato singing "Where shall I fly?" from Hercules. Joyce is definitely growing on me. This is awesome.

Vesselina Kasarova singing "Mi lusinga il dolce affetto" from Alcina. **This is now a different aria also from Alcina. The closeups are priceless.

Alice Coote singing Sesto's "Cara speme, questo core" from Giulio Cesare.

Ewa Podleś singing "Dover, giustizia, amor" from Ariodante. This is what we missed when she didn't come to San Francisco.

Does this tell you anything about technique in the time of Handel? I always feel Handel in the mezzo Fach is pitched all wrong for women, but these particular women seem to be handling it well. Pun intended.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dr. A.

At last!! Someone besides me who doesn't like Doctor Atomic.


Robert Berger from the horn tells me I had it right the first time. "It should be KAR-i-ta. In Finnish, as well as in Hungarian and Czech, the accent is always on the first syllable." "Saying Zsa Zsa ga- BOR is as wrong as saying Ronald rea- GAN." So it's dactyls. KAR-i-ta MA-ti-la. So does that make it KIGH-uh SA-ree-a-ho for Kaija Saariaho, who is also Finnish? Maybe trochees would work: KIGH-uh SA-ree-AH-ho.

He recommends for this type of thing.

He goes on to say, "Kirsten Flagstad should never be pronounced Flagshtad, as in German. The great lady used to go ballistic when people used the German pronunciation." Wow. This would really be hard to change. It's not really our fault. She is inextricably linked to German repertoire, and by extension German pronunciation. I remember how I laughed the first time I heard shpagetti, but I soon got over it.

"With Russian, the accentuation is so unpredictable it's enough to drive you to distraction. It often falls where you least expect it. It should be vla-DI-mir, ser-GEI, an-DREY, kir-IL, and gen-NA-di rozh-DEST-vensky, mi-kha-IL, Kh is as in Chutzpah, etc. In Polish, the stress is on the next to last syllable." I know the tennis player is actually called Sha-RAP-o-va from watching Russian news.

In French there is no accent to speak of. Just accent everything. DE-BEW-SI. NA-TE-LEE DE-SAY. I never got past French, German and Italian.


Quote from Natalie Dessay, "I want to act. I don't care about singing." This is from an interview in Chicago.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


According to, Kaija Saariaho is pronounced KIGH-uh Sa-ree-AH-ho. I think I had the Saariaho part right. At Salome they were saying Kar-EE-tuh MA-til-ah. I don't think I got the Karita right. It is easy to find anything on the internet.


There are reports of rioting at the opera in Leipzig--see here. I will definitely have to look into this. It's been almost a century since anyone has reported this. It would appear that German audiences have limits after all.

According to various sources there was rioting at the opera:

25 August 1830, at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, an uprising followed a performance of Daniel Auber's La Muette de Portici.

September 10, 1838, in Paris at a performance of Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini with Gilbert Duprez in the title-role.

May 30 1913, in Paris, the premier performance, by the Ballets Russes, of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

"To my knowledge, there hasn't been a significant classical music riot since 1973, when New Yorkers inside the beautiful Carnegie Hall booed so loudly at the US premier of Steve Reich's Four Organs that conductor Michael Tilson Thomas had to abandon the performance halfway through." See here Stretching the definition.

I think I was referring to the Ballets Russes riot. I haven't witnessed any riots at the opera.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I bought a New York Times this morning and was annoyed to read Tommasini’s article on new operas. I couldn’t disagree more.

I thought that Doctor Atomic had not one minute of interesting vocal writing and even less of theatrical viability. Musically it was quite nice, though I might hear it differently today. I notice increasingly Adams’ minimalist tendencies, something I have no problem with. It’s the lack of a real libretto that I don’t like.

So why has Satyagraha not the same effect on me? It has a similar lack of theatrical viability and yet does not bother me at all. With Glass there is the expectation of boredom. One anticipates being numbed into submission. Adams has not created the same expectation. He began his operatic career with a highly viable theatrical vehicle--Nixon in China—with real dramatic tension and at least one real opera aria. Expectation undoubtedly plays a role. I was glad when he made a symphony of Doctor Atomic. Much more suitable.

So now Tommasini wants to attack my favorite thing about Bonesetter—the writing for female trio. He does this by pointing out how critical the trio in Rosenkavalier is to the plot. No it isn’t. It’s critical to the need for a big vocal moment. Strauss understood precisely what an opera was, how one worked dramatically, and most important of all how one worked musically. He understood the purpose of singing in the drama, where the arias went and why. The climax of Rosenkavalier involves 3 people, so all three have to sing.

I didn’t read Tam’s novel and am not sorry. I came to Bonesetter with no preconceived ideas. Do I think it’s as good as Rosenkavalier? Hell, no. Do I think anything is as good as Rosenkavalier? Hell, no. I thought the trios made the story about three characters, and that it needed that. I bought the theatrical solutions to the staging of the novel. For me it worked.

I don’t think Wallace is as good a composer as Adams. Tommasini was right in pointing out the flaw in Wallace not being able to imagine the sound for Bonesetter. Verdi didn’t sit around thinking of a sound. Wagner didn’t either—or if he did, he seems to have done it only once for his whole career. Strauss didn’t either. Mozart didn’t either. Any composer worth shit looks to their own sound for the musical materials, and they know what that sound is. The problem with most modern composers is that they have technique to burn but absolutely no characteristic sound. This is one of the reasons for the popularity of Philip Glass. He makes you crazy on occasion—though I seem to be getting over this reaction—but you always know who he is.

I think all three have to sing together in Bonesetter. It doesn’t work without it. For me it was vastly superior theatrically to Atomic, an opera about a bomb hanging in the air. Maybe the new production will help me change my mind, but for me Atomic lacked theatrical viability. At no time do any two characters actually talk to each other. The countdown that lasts through the whole last act completely did not work. I could go on and on.

Mrs Atomic asks over and over “Am I in your light?” Could he just turn around and say, “No, for god’s sake. The light is coming from the other side, as anyone can plainly see.”

Singing in the Bel Canto II

In the decades from 1830 to 1850 opera as we know it was born. And yet very little of this music is heard today.

It was primarily the era of Grand Opera, the era of Meyerbeer and Halévy, the one period in operatic history when French opera dominated the scene. The French had never liked the castrati or their Italian successors the heroic mezzo-sopranos, and embraced the appearance of Duprez and the heavy tenor with great enthusiasm. Plots became melodramatic and tragic. It wasn’t serious opera unless someone died.

Rossini had moved to Paris and made a serious effort to adapt to French fashion, only to see a new style arise which he didn’t want to participate in. The other Italians made similar efforts to succeed in Paris, especially Donizetti who had the most success there.

I’m not trying to write a history of opera, only of singing technique. Someone else will have to discuss the disappearance of secco recitative, the breakdown of the alternating recitative and aria structure, etc. We’re here just for technique.

Important in the history of Grand Opera is the appearance of modern musical instruments, especially valved horns and trumpets which first appeared in La Juive by Fromental Halévy, 1835. This resulted in a heavier, thicker, brassier orchestration used to increase the dramatic intensity, and as a result requiring a heavier vocal technique to sing over the heavier orchestra.

I would like to suggest that the transformation of opera from light to heavy singing was the result of these things: Gilbert Duprez, the dominance of French over Italian opera, the appearance of a louder, more tonally flexible orchestra, and the French fashion for heavy tragedy. My impression is that the transition in Paris was sudden, but in Italy was much slower.

In Italy Giovanni Battista Rubini, a light tenor with a very high leggiero voice, was still the dominant tenor. Vicenzo Bellini still wrote operas for him: Il Pirata, La Sonnambula and I Purtani. Bellini also followed Rossini and wrote an opera with a mezzo-soprano hero: I Capuleti e i Montecchi.

When performed in Paris, the Italian operas had to be adapted to Parisian fashion, in many cases practically rewritten. It is an era of great turmoil. The Italians adapted reluctantly, but by 1848 Bellini and Donizetti were both dead, leaving the field open to a new Italian master: Giuseppe Verdi. Singing in Verdi will be discussed separately.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Salome in HD

Salome..................Karita Mattila
Herod...................Kim Begley
Herodias................Ildikó Komlósi
Jochanaan...............Juha Uusitalo
Narraboth...............Joseph Kaiser
Page....................Lucy Schaufer

Conductor...............Patrick Summers
Production..............Jürgen Flimm

I was just writing about perversity and the twentieth century, and here from the Metropolitan Opera comes Richard Strauss’ Salome, 1905, the defining moment for the arrival of perversity in twentieth century opera. A successful production should point up how perverse it all is, I suppose.

So is it more or less perverse when she sings, “Nothing is so white as your body,” “Nothing is so black as your hair,” and “Nothing is so red as your mouth,” and the object of all this passion, Juha Uusitalo, is fat, fully clothed and quite ugly? As she says, “The mystery of love is deeper than the mystery of death.”

Admit it, we love it. Would we go to Salome if we didn’t? I especially liked the shot of Karita Mattila after the curtain hugging a colleague and saying how much fun it was. If there is anything more fun than going to the opera, it is singing in opera. You can’t beat it. Mattila was spectacularly fascinating. The production provided her with lots of places to hold on to, climb on and lean on, as she played Salome very young, unselfconscious and childlike.

My only complaint was in the choice of shots we got to see in the theater. Barbara Sweete was the director, so I assume we may blame her. I like to see more of the stage. The no nudity decision was laughable. The production played Oscar Wilde's v ery perverse play to its most perverse in my experience--if it didn't have to be a close up, who would notice?

I was quite curious about the appearance of angels in this production. First there were imitations of Giotto's lovely angels on the curtain. Giotto and Salome don't make a connection for me. Then there were black angels with white wings on the upper stage left. It's difficult to see a connection.

Photo from screen.

Giotto detail.


I ran into an old friend coming out of Salome (that's zalome with a z, not Salome with an s) and we agreed that opera is where it's happening, that we love the new opera better than anything we have previously experienced. Fully acted opera is the best thing there is. We even kind of like it better in the movie theater.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


I have been compiling a list of operas that I have seen based on materials around the house, and I am surprised to see that I have so many old programs, including the Wozzeck and Der Rosenkavalier programs from 1962. It was, indeed, Marilyn Horne in Wozzeck.

I am up to 164 which can't possibly be all.

Yes, you were right. I could not possibly never have seen Lucia before. It says right here I saw Ruth Ann Swenson sing it in 1999 at the San Francisco Opera. This probably explains why I couldn't remember it. I still can't.

Monday, October 06, 2008

I am happily a tourist

[Dr.B. I'm trying my hand at translation from German without Babelfish. This is an interview with Renée Fleming from the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus magazine.]

The charismatic US singer Renée Fleming sings in January under Christian Thielemann the Marschallin in Rosenkavalier.

BB. You have had great success with Thielemann and the Marschallin. That was in London almost 9 years ago. How did this work out for you?

RF. That was a huge success. It is such a shame this production has not been revived. But we will now make a beautiful performance here in Baden-Baden.

BB. Does that mean no more stress if one knows an opera performance will be so fantastic?

RF. That's like every CD. One knows that here is something that will last and that it must be very good. But today everything is fantastic. Almost all of my concerts are on YouTube the next day. This is bad, that one can't try something out any more.

BB. At the very least one sees you more frequently...

RF. This is seldom not the case, naturally for my appearances there are no borders. A year ago I was in Asia. This year I'm traveling to Jordan, after Russia, after Dubai and after Oberammergau. I sing all over the world. I am very gladly a tourist. But in the US I am at home. And as mother of two daughters it is often difficult if one travels a lot.

BB. How old are your daughters?

RF. Twelve and fifteen.

BB. How do you manage your career and the children? Do you set boundaries on how much you perform?

RF. The balance is very hard to find. I try to be at home a lot. However, I lead a completely different life from my colleagues. Many need two months vacation. I have already taken concert tours where I perform every second day. But this was too much for me, too. Today I would not do that any more.

BB. Doesn't one often feel very lonely on such trips?

RF. Unfortunately, I have no life partner. One already feels very isolated. Sometimes it's very difficult, but this is how it is for many working women who are alone and have children. But I am also happy--one can't have everything. And what I have is so wonderful.

BB. How does an American woman experience Europe?

RF. I am at home at the Met, but I love Vienna. It makes me nervous to sing Strauss in German speaking countries. German is not my mother tongue. My first and only Wagner at Bayreuth was very bad for me. Not enough time spent with the foreign language, so one asks oneself if an American could ever be accepted in these roles.

BB. Did you also feel something like fear before Capriccio in Vienna and now before Rosenkavalier?

RF. At the beginning of my career I had a wonderful teacher. If I had serious stage fright, she stayed with me and sent me out on the stage. Now this is gradually better because in the time between I am assured that I'll accomplish it. And if the fear comes, I say to myself--in your life you have already had lots of fear--now do your work and go home.

BB. Your German is outstanding....

RF. As a student I came to Frankfurt. That was very hard. I learned German at the Goethe Institute and at the university. My colleagues there thought that if I didn't make it as a singer I could always teach German. I started very late. However, German is my favorite language. It's so expressive, has so many colors.

BB. Do you think about what will happen when you don't sing any more?

RF. Naturally. However, I hope I will still have a lot of time. I will gladly share my knowledge of singing. However, maybe I will just sit in the garden. (laughs) As it says in Rosenkavalier "Die Zeit ist ein sonderbar Ding." Time is a strange thing. That is my favorite place. This end of the first act always gets to me. The last time I sang it was 8 years ago. Now I will find it completely different.

BB. What do you feel now?

RF. Let me explain: I had lunch with Christa Ludwig in Vienna. And Ludwig explained to me "The most important thing the Marschallin says is, one must everything with light hands grasp and let go." (mit leichten Haenden nehmen und lassen.) One must also do this in life. I almost cried. And that is the wonder of our profession.

[Dr. B. I shouted yes! at the end. When I was working, I had written on my white board "Halten und nehmen, halten und lassen." Do everything with a light heart and a light hand. Take love when it comes, and let it go when it leaves. For me the Marschallin is the greatest operatic character ever created because she speaks these words.]

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Isabel Bayrakdarian

Isabel Bayrakdarian's Website says

"On October 4, Isabel embarks on a North American "Remembrance Concert Tour" featuring the music of Armenian composer Gomidas, and dedicated to victims of all genocide. This tour is generously sponsored by the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies."

This tour began at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco on Saturday night and is timed to follow the release of Isabel's album of songs by Gomidas Vartabed. Isabel was born in Lebanon of Armenian heritage and moved to Canada as a teenager. She has one foot in each world: the world of Armenian music and the world of Western classical music.

Gomidas Vartabed was an ethno-musicologist much like Bartok and traveled throughout his country gathering music among the people. It is not clear to me if I am hearing almost but not quite classical arrangements of Armenian pieces or compositions. Armenia is a Christian enclave surrounded by Moslem countries.

Isabel is accompanied by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Anne Manson. Apparently I saw her conduct at Glimmerglass, though I don't seem to have mentioned it in my review of Orphée. This group consists entirely of strings, in this concert augmented occasionally by Isabel's husband, Serouj Kradjian on piano and Hampic Djabourian on duduk.

Duduk (pronounced like someone from the Bronx saying "the duck") is a double reed instrument about the size of an oboe but with much wider reeds, producing an unexpectedly soft, sweet sound.

To make a full program it was filled out with Bartok from Hungary, Gideon Klein from Czechoslovakia and Nikos Skalkottas from Greece and with "Deux mélodies hébraïques" by Maurice Ravel, all classical settings of music from various eastern European or middle eastern ethnicities. The concert began with a string arrangement of Romanian Folk Dances by Bartok. Of the sections for orchestra alone only Greek Dances by Nikos Skalkottas was not arranged.

I liked Anne Manson and her ensemble a lot. All of Ms Manson's movements on the podium are large and dynamic, though she did not seem to distract from the deeply serene Isabel. Isabel is aiming for authenticity and with her orchestra she generally achieves it. All this music is ornamented in a style that is beautiful but not at all Italian.

Isabel Bayrakdarian has her own sound and her own style, somewhere between soprano and mezzo-soprano, and is generally a fascinating singer. If her tour comes to your city, be sure to attend.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


I am reading Madame Violanska's Journal and found this quote, "Alan Darling says he'd like to spread Kaufmann on a cracker...I'm inclined to agree." Very cute. This is in regard to his present run in Manon in Chicago with Natalie Dessay.


For me blogging is something I do for my own self-education. There have to be activities before I actually learn anything. I am surprised to see that in the just less than 4 years I have been blogging, I have seen 58 operas, either live or on DVD, I had never seen before.

Some are relatively new operas not frequently performed or premiers.

# = live (64 so far)

The Ghosts of Versailles, Corigliano (DVD-4/18/2005)
The Dangerous Liaisons, Susa (VHS-9/12/2005)
Doctor Atomic, Adams (premier series) (SFO-10/7/2005) #
L'Amour de Loin, Saariaho (DVD-10/28/2005)
Rent, Larson (DVD-12/12/2005)
A Night at the Chinese Opera, Weir (London-3/28/2006) #
El Niño, Adams (not sure I should count this) (DVD-4/16/2006)
Sophie's Choice, Maw (WNO-10/6/2006) #
The First Emperor, Dun (HD-1/13/2007)
Tea: A Mirror of Soul, Dun (Santa Fe-4/27/2007) #
The Devils of Loudun, Penderecki (DVD-6/25/2007)
Orphée, Glass (Glimmerglass-8/30/2007) #
Appomattox, Glass (premier series) (SFO-10/12/2007) #
Moses und Aron, Schoenberg (DVD-10/29/2007)
The Bonesetter's Daughter, Wallace (premier series) (SFO-9/26/2008) #
The Letter, Moravec (premier series) (Santa Fe-8/8/2009) #
Heart of a Soldier,  Theofanidis (SFO-9/22/11) #
Il Postino, Catán  (TV-11/26/11)
Anna Nicole, Turnage (DVD-10/8/11)
Four Saints in Three Acts, Thomson (SF-8/22/11) #
The Last Savage, Menotti (Santa Fe-8/7/11) #
The Great Gatsby, Harbison  (SF-2/11/12) #
The Secret Garden by Nolan Gasser  (SF-3/11/13) #
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene by Mark Adamo  (SF-6/20/13) #
Dolores Claiborne by Tobias Picker  (SF-9/19/13) #
Ainadamar by Golijov  (SF-2/17/13) #
The Minotaur by Birtwistle  (DVD  1/25/2014)  
Hydrogen Jukebox by Glass (SF 8/10/2014)  #
The End of the Affair by Heggie (SF 8/10/2014) #
Death and the Powers by Machover (simulcast from Dallas 2/17/2014)  
Anya17 by Gorb (SF 6/24/2014) # 
27 by Gordon (StL  6/18/2014) #
Brokeback Mountain by Wuorinen (streamed 2/7/2014) 
Les mamelles de Tirésias by Poulenc (SF 4/26/2014)  #
Susanah by Floyd (SF  9/10/2014)  #
Written on Skin by Benjamin (DVD  3/23/2015)
La Ciociara by Tutino (SF 6/15/2015)  #
As One by Kaminsky (SF 7/27/2015)  #
Usher House by Getty (SFO 12/11/2015)  #
Champion by Blanchard  (SF 2/20/2016)   #
Powder her Face by Ades (SF 8/7/2016)  #
Bon Appétit! by Hoiby (Stream 7/18/2019)
If I Were You, Heggie (SFO 8/5/2019) #
Breaking the Waves, Mazzoli (SF 8/11/2019) #
Florencia en el Amazonas, Catán (Stream 8/26/2019)
Ice, Kuusisto (Stream 8/31/2019)
Akhnaten, Glass (Met HD 11/23/2019)
The Snow Queen, Abrahamsen (Stream 12/29/2019)
Bones of Girls, Suleiman (Sacramento 1/26/2020) #
Three Decembers, Heggie (Stream 1/1/2021)

I deliberately sought out operas by Rossini and Handel that I hadn't seen, including:

Il Viaggio a Reims, Rossini
Semele, Handel (City-9/14/2006) #
L'Assedio di Corinto, Rossini (Baltimore-10/23/2006) #
Tancredi, Rossini (DVD-11/14/2006)
Bianca e Falliero, Rossini (DVD-11/16/2006)
Ermione, Rossini (DVD=11/17/2006)
Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, Handel (Zurich-1/19/2007) # 
Ariodante, Handel (SFO-6/25/2008) #
Rinaldo, Handel (Zurich-7/3/2008) #
Armida, Rossini (HD-5/1/2010)
Le Comte Ory, Rossini (HD-4/9/2011)
Rodelinda, Handel (HD-12/3/11)
Serse, Handel (SFO-11/17/11) #
Maometto II, Rossini (Santa Fe-8/17/2012) #
Matilde di Shabran by Rossini (DVD  5/9/2014)
Partenope by Handel  (SF  5/9/2014) #
La Donna del Lago by Rossini (HD-3/15/2015)
Agrippina by Handel    (SF  8/7/2016) #

That still leaves a lot. You could go to the opera a long time and never see:

Francesca da Rimini, Zandonai (DVD-9/15/2005)
I Lombardi, Verdi (DVD-8/25/2005)
La Juive, Halévy (DVD-4/26/2005)
La Leggenda di Sakùntala, Alfano (Rome-4/22/2006) #
Cyrano de Bergerac, Alfano (ROH-5/14/2006) #
Betrothal in a Monastery, Prokofiev (DVD-4/11/2006)
La Calisto, Cavalli (DVD-4/5/2007)
L'enfant et les sortilèges, Ravel (Berkeley-5/8/2008) #
Clari, Halévy (DVD-12/10/2010)
Lucrezia Borgia, Donizetti (SFO-10/3/11) #
The Fairy Queen, Purcell (DVD-7/10/2011)
Fierrabras, Schubert (DVD-1/7/2008)
From the House of the Dead, Janáček (DVD-11/12/2009)
Alceste, Gluck (Santa Fe-8/6/2009) #
Griselda, Vivaldi (Santa Fe-8/6/11) #
The Gambler, Prokofiev (Met-4/9/2008 not sure I should count this.) #
Benvenuto Cellini, Berlioz (DVD-7/7/12)
Médée, Charpentier* (DVD-7/2/2007)
Mitridate, Re di Ponto, Mozart (DVD-5/1/2006)
Platée, Rameau (Santa Fe-7/29/2007) #
The Rape of Lucretia, Britten (SF-8/31/2005) #
Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, Monteverdi* (DVD-7/19/2006)
Roberto Devereaux, Donizetti (DVD-12/4/2005)
Sir John in Love, Williams (ENO-3/5/2006) #
Stiffelio, Verdi (DVD-9/20/2005)
Thais, Massanet (HD-12/21/2008)
Vanessa, Barber* (DVD-7/15/2005)
Hamlet, Massenet (HD-3/27/2010)
La Vestale, Spontini's  (Stream-10/23/2013)
The Nose, Shostakovich (HD-10/26/2013)
The Perfect American,  Glass  (Stream-2/6/2013)
Königskinder, Humperdinck (DVD-2/9/2013)
A Hand of Bridge, Barber (Sac-5/5/2013) #
Hippolyte et Aricie, Rameau   (Stream-7/26/2013)
Sweet Betsy From Pike, Bucci  (Sac-5/5/2013) #
A Game of Chance, Barab (Sac-5/5/2013) #
Antony and Cleopatra. Barber   (Stream-7/21/2013)
Die schweigsame Frau by Strauss  (streamed  10/5/2014)
Ercole Amante by Cavalli  (DVD  1/15/2014)  
I due Foscari by Verdi from ROH,   (HD  12/3/2014) 
Rita by Donizetti (SF  2/16/2014) #
Iolanta by Tchaikovsky (HD 2/14/2015)
Giovana d’Arco by Verdi (Stream-12/6/15)
Der Vampyr by Marschner (Berlin-4/4/16) #
Die ägyptische Helena by Strauss  (Berlin-4/9/16) #
Die Liebe der Danae by Strauss (Berlin-4/10/16) #
Rienzi, Wagner (Stream-5/27/19)
Das Wunder der Heliane, Korngold (Stream-3/20/20)
Euryanthe, Weber (Stream-9/30/20)
Die Vögel, Braunfels (Stream-11/17/20)

Or at least that's the excuse I'm using. What is my excuse for:

La Belle Hélène, Offenbach (ENO-4/14/2006) #
Fedora, Giordano (DVD-8/28/2005)
L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Monteverdi (DVD-9/28/2005)
Iphigénie en Tauride, Gluck (SFO-6/21/2007) #
The Maid of Orleans, Tchaikovsky (SFO-6/19/2006) #
Nabucco, Verdi (DVD-6/3/2010)
Orfeo ed Euridice, Gluck (HD-1/24/2009)
Orpheus in the Underworld, Offenbach (Glimmerglass-8/30/2007) #
La Rondine, Puccini (SFO-11/8/2007) #
La Sonnambula, Bellini (HD-4/2/2009) (Paris-2/15/2010) #
Street Scene, Weill (DVD-4/13/2007)
Die tote Stadt, Korngold (SFO-10/2/2008) #
Il Trittico, Puccini (already seen Gianni Schicchi) (HD-4/28/2007) (SFO-9/19/2009) #
I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Bellini (Stream-5/19/12)
Maria Stuarda, Donizetti  (HD-1/19/2013)

And should I count?

The Enchanted Island (HD-1/21/12)

Some of the entries in this list may be bogus--I may simply have forgotten. I hear things differently than I did when I started. You can never go back. In the future I will not be able to keep up this tempo of newness.  Or?

Footnote. Marilyn Horne sang Marie in Wozzeck in 1962, so it was her I saw. It was amazing. I may have seen her in Tancredi in 1979 but also maybe not. I absolutely saw her in Semiramide in 1981 and as Adalgisa in Norma in 1982. I probably saw Orlando in 1985 and I certainly saw Orlando Furioso in 1989. So I still don't know if I already had seen Tancredi.

I must have told this before. As a student at San Francisco State in 1962, I was allowed to sign up to usher in 2 operas. I chose Der Rosenkavalier with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Wozzeck with Marilyn Horne.

I am maintaining this list as I go along, adding any new operas I have seen since the original posting.

Die Tote Stadt

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897 – 1957) wrote Die Tote Stadt (1920) when he was very young. For my ears it is very neo-Wagnerian. I hear a lot more Wagner than Strauss. I saw it last night at the San Francisco Opera for the first time.

I was explaining to a friend while on the way to tote Stadt my "opera is a chick flick" theory (Bonesetter yes, Traviata yes, Manon definitely, there's even a bit of the chick flick in Simon Boccanegra), and he objected to the idea that Wagner operas were chick flicks. So the question is is Tote Stadt a chick flick? It's sort of a neo-Wagnerian horror movie chick flick. The music is a throwback but the plot is very twentieth century.

Man meets woman who looks just like dead spouse. Man dreams she is a low life theater person who sleeps around, including with him, and strangles her with dead wife's hair which he keeps in a box. Which appears in dream as a religious icon--perverse. The dream sequence is filled with religious imagery. In real life she is an ordinary woman, probably quite nice, who sings a song with him.

It's weird but has a sensible ending--he leaves Bruges, the city of the dead (In the Bay Area the city of the dead is Colma. All San Franciscans are buried there. They probably don't mean that, but what do they mean?) and goes back to wherever he came from. The production was from Vienna and was quite nice, though not always entirely visible from the balcony. Willi Decker directed--same guy who did Netrebko's Salzburg Traviata. The new screens in the balcony area help with visibility.

The orchestra with Donald Runnicles conducting played this music beautifully. They were the stars.

Paul: Torsten Kerl
Marie/Marietta: Emily Magee
Fritz, Frank: Lucas Meachem
Brigitta: Katharine Tier

All of these people were quite good. Torsten Kerl is a German Heldentenor and has recorded this work with Runnicles. Emily Magee trained in the United States and sings Wagner in the European houses. She has a big voice with excellent dynamic range.

Special mention must go to Katharine Tier, an Adler Fellow, as Brigitta. She sang very well and gets to be crucified in the second act.


I am finding this article about Die tote Stadt interesting. Not the stuff about the parallel to the Pre-Rafaelites which may or may not be valid. The period is sort of right, and it's true, the hair of the lady in the painting and the hair in the production go together. Is that hugely significant? No, my interest was in the idea that the happy ending weakens the opera. It isn't exactly happy, after all. He just decides he would rather not be an obsessed idiot. I have reached the age when I wish I had not been an obsessed idiot, and had paid more attention to what was going on around me. 

The idea is that our hero Paul needed a Liebestod to give the opera its proper force. He could still decide not to be an obsessed idiot, but he could do it with a lot more dramatic significance and operatic style. Such a Liebestod would have to be to the dead wife, not the living woman who looks like her. It would be sort of a "bye, sweetie--I loved you, but I have to go on living now" sort of thing. Not very significant or dignified or acceptably masculine. 

I think Korngold was attracted to the perverse parts of the story and deliberately emphasized them, particularly the anti-religious religious symbolism. In the twentieth century it is perversion that attracts us. Schoenberg had a grandiose scheme about the character of God in mind for Moses und Aron, but quickly lost interest once the perverse parts were over. Berg's widow tried to protect her dead husband's reputation by suppressing the more perverse parts of Lulu. These were the things people thought of as opera at that time. 

I think Korngold was a child of his era--the era of the early twentieth century, not the era of the Pre-Rafaelites--even if his music goes all the way back to the 1870's for its style. Once the hero realizes it was all a dream, he wants the end to come quickly. 

Would I travel out of town to see this opera? Probably not.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Likes and dislikes

The horn has a list of his dislikes. He lists Vivaldi, Gounod and Poulenc.

Vivaldi's 10,000 concertos were mostly written for his orphans to play. He didn't spend a lot of time with them. Picture an orchestra of young girls. Mostly it's the same four concertos that get played over and over--often as though they were one piece.

My own personal dislike is for anything that usually plays on classical music radio stations, including Vivaldi. The objective seems to be to bore you to death.

The fact that our concept of Vivaldi is of such boring music was the reason I was so shocked when I attended Cecilia Bartoli's Vivaldi concert. The variety was astounding. Who knew? I blame the programming choices of orchestras and radio stations for this perception of Vivaldi.

As for the other two, it is not unusual for people to dislike the French. I doubt if he likes Josephine Baker either. (Who is enjoying a revival. I saw two records of her at R2 the other day.) I have always adored Poulenc's songs which are completely French. If you were brought up on the three B's, your head may never get around French music.

Post Script
I have decided that it isn't fair for me to leave out my own likes and dislikes. I generally assume that if I don't like someone it is probably my fault. Or the performer's.

When I lived in Bloomington, Indiana, they had a fabulous classical music radio station affiliated with the university that played lots of interesting music. I particularly liked the Ether Game program where they played obscure pieces and people phoned in the answers. Someone always knew the answer. I remember recognizing a Haydn piece for baryton--you simply knew that had to be what a baryton sounded like--but they wanted to know the exact piece. That level of trivia I simply cannot manage.

I would be listening, and I would say to myself, "Whoever wrote it, that is really trash." It always turned out to be Sibelius.