Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy Leap Day

Also known as Rossini's birthday.

Jonas

Jonas Kaufmann's new album is out in the UK and the reviews are good. And how could they not be? He is a German singer with a distinctively German style and naturally excels in the German repertoire, but the other stuff sounds pretty good, too. I am not the only one who finds this a fabulous Prize Song.

Here's a nice quote from the internet: Er ist sexy wie Brad, hat Locken wie Antonio, kann spielen wie George und singen - wie sonst keiner: Wenn der Münchner Jonas Kaufmann den Mund aufmacht, liegt ihm das Opernpublikum zu Füßen. [He is sexy like Brad (Pitt), has hair like Antonio (Banderas), can act like George (Clooney?) and sings like no one else: when Municher Jonas Kauffman opens his mouth, the opera public is at his feet.]

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Turn of the Screw

If we only watch the action unfolding and don't read all that has been written about Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw, presented by the Sacramento Opera, we can't be sure what has happened. A new governess has been hired to care for Miles and Flora, two children who now live in the country with a housekeeper. Their parents are dead and they are left in the charge of an indifferent uncle.

We see that others are there, too. The governess describes seeing a man with curly red hair, and the housekeeper recognizes that this is Peter Quint come back from the dead. Peter Quint is said to have "had his way" with the children and their former governess, also now dead. This is all that is said about sex. The rest is left to our imaginations and the actions of the actors on stage. Is the new governess merely being hysterical, or has Peter Quint come back from the dead to seduce the children?

The atmosphere of creepiness and hysteria is vividly created in the fascinating score. Whatever is actually happening, we feel the same dread the governess feels.

There is reason to believe that Britten identified with the boy Miles, sung well by the boy soprano Brooks Fisher. Miles is portrayed in a virtuosic performance on the piano such as Britten himself might have shown as a child. Brooks Fisher did an excellent job of seeming to play the piano. Bravo.

The production, adapted from the New York City Opera, showed bare branches extending into the sky to create the feeling of rural isolation. There is a tower where Peter Quint ascends and descends. Pieces of furniture appear to create the scene.

It is the creepiest opera I've ever seen. The production, directed by Chuck Hudson, emphasizes the pervasive sexuality of the story.

Emily Pulley sang the governess with style and intensity. Her credits include Mimi at Covent Garden. This character carries the drama both vocally and physically, and she was well up to the task.

I have a relationship with Thomas Glenn, the lyric tenor who sang the Prologue and Peter Quint. I reviewed his Schwabacher Debut Recital for San Francisco Classical Voice. I recall comparing his voice to Peter Pears, the creator of the Peter Quint role. Glenn has acquired a bit of weight in his voice since then. I also advised him to work on his coloratura technique, and am pleased to see he has some Mozart, Bellini and Donizetti in his credits now. He is a fine singer and actor. I like him even more than I did before and hope he has much success.

My friends and I discussed the use of microphones in this production. The boy soprano needed help and cannot be faulted for getting it. There was some amplification of the off stage voices to enhance the eeriness. Is that all? We all worry that opera is going to turn into Broadway where any means possible is used to provide us with blaring orchestras and distorted voices. This group managed to keep any possible distortion well under control.

I found the general quality of this performance to be very high and definitely deserving of more attention than the half house it received.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Oscar

That has to be the worst Oscar show ever. The jokes were bad and the movies were worse. This is the second year in a row they have awarded the Oscar to one of those men's movies where they kill everyone off. The impression I am getting is that they are trying to kill the Oscar awards completely. Everything was rushed. Nothing really embarrassing happened. What a dud.

The only other explanation I can think of is that they are trying to kill the movies. I am so old I can remember when movies like "The Greatest Show on Earth" won. What a concept! A movie is good because people like it.

I was glad to see the woman from "La vie en rose" win. She is nothing like Piaf, so she must be a great actress.

There was one good bit when Daniel Day-Lewis receiving his Oscar from Helen Mirren, last year's winner for The Queen, knelt down in front of her and was knighted with his Oscar.

But that's it. I guess it's a man's industry now, and men can have it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Shock and Awe

It is more fun to watch ARTS without seeing the credits at the start and then trying to guess what you are seeing. So who is this woman in the medieval hood singing "Sei mir gegruesst" from Tannhaeuser? I was completely mystified until I caught a glimpse of the famous gap teeth. Ach! So the rumor is true: Victoria de los Angeles did sing Wagner. The style isn't exactly right--there's just a tad too much sliding. She doesn't boom it out like Deborah Voigt, so I guess there is no cause for concern. But why?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Die Frau ohne Schatten


I think we all need help understanding Richard Strauss' The Woman without a Shadow, libretto by Hugo von  Hofmannsthal. We're clear that there are going to be lighting tricks, first showing that the magical Empress casts no shadow, then that the Dyer's Wife has sold hers. It needs to disappear, then reappear. It's an opera about lighting.

There are gods (Emperor and Empress) and mortals (Dyer and Wife). There is a magical falcon and miscellaneous mysterious summonings by the sorceress Nurse. The Empress and her beloved Emperor are doomed if she does not acquire a shadow, symbol of her missing fertility. The Nurse proposes that she bribe the Dyer's Wife to part with hers. She doesn't seem too happy with the idea of marriage and might make an easy target.

Hitler needed women to reproduce to replace all the Germans dying at the front. The way it worked here was as soon as the war was over everyone went out and had babies in celebration of life. I think it works best to first stop having war before having babies. I digress.

This is an unusual opera for both Strauss and  Hofmannsthal. The poetic style is formal and symbolic instead of romantic and sweet, as is usually the case with these two. The music is also quite unusual. There are two heavy sopranos, two dramatic though not quite screamer roles: Empress and Dyer's Wife. The Empress is the more lyrical of the two. It is possibly Strauss's most Wagnerian score, heavy and at times pompous.

So the Bayerischen Staatsoper has created a Kabuki production in conjunction with the Japanese director Ennosuke Ichikawa. It clarifies the status of the characters and the meaning of the drama beautifully. The formality of Kabuki is very suitable to both the drama and the music. The falcon in particular is lovely. The simplicity and formality of Kubuki offset the pomposity of the ending without lessening the effect.

It all boils down to a complex drama about a pissed young woman (Dyer's Wife) who does not care for the way her new husband takes her for granted. She is determined to get back at him one way or another. I think when he threatens to kill her because she can't have children, this turns her on a bit, and she relents. If he's willing to murder her, perhaps he loves her after all. It's probably the best role, sung here beautifully by Janis Martin. The Empress takes a higher road and earns her shadow because she refuses to take someone else's.

The Emperor is Peter Seiffert, recently seen in Tannhaeuser. Luana DeVol is the Empress. Both DeVol and Martin are California girls.

On my small TV the picture is hard to see and there are no closeups. Maybe your TV is bigger.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Birthdays

When it was your birthday at the Ulmer Theater, you were expected to provide champagne for the performance. We were a Volkstheater with almost nightly operettas with almost nightly drinking scenes. You would come early and ask the house manager to sell you two bottles of champagne and take them up to the property manager.

Then during the performance when it came time to drink, everyone would taste their drink, smile to see that this was real champagne and ask discreetly whose birthday it was. When it was me, they would each smile and raise their glasses to me. I doubt that the audience ever noticed this small drama being acted out.

When I think of birthdays now, I think of them. This is not a meme.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chick flicks revisited

I'm sure you remember vividly when I said opera is a chick flick. This is back when I was still giving advice to composers. Well, in the March issue of Vanity Fair there is an article by James Wolcott giving a man's perspective on chick flicks. He quotes the Playboy list of the 10 worst chick flicks of all time:

10. The Notebook (haven't seen it)
9. Sleepless in Seattle
8. Fried Green Tomatoes
7. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (haven't seen it)
6. Dirty Dancing
5. The Bridges of Madison County
4. Bridget Jones's Diary (laughed)
3. Steel Magnolias (hated it, hate movies with fatal diseases except Dark Victory)
2. Ghost (haven't seen it)
1. Beaches (I've always heard it was bad so didn't go see it)

I notice none of these are in my top 25 chick flicks list.

Bridget Jones's Diary with its Jane Austen plot would definitely make an opera. Dirty Dancing? Maybe. Opera singers would have to dance.

He distinguishes two distinct genres: the women's movie usually starring Bette Davis and the chick flick with modern (Sex and the City) women. Legally Blonde, which might make a good opera, is the latter. Now Voyager is the former.

The transition between the two styles came with a series of movies starring Barbra Streisand, principally The Way We Were. Now this could make a great opera. The others so far have been comedies, and composers today don't seem to want to write comic operas. I think this is misguided.

The desirable thing about either one of these genres is that they include strong roles for women. A chick flick isn't going to be about a prostitute who sacrifices herself. It's more likely to be about a prostitute who gets the guy. Or throws over the guy and goes to law school.

Philip Glass worked very hard getting women into his Appomattox opera, but the result was forced and confused.

Think chick flick.

Plaisir d'amour

There are a couple of nice versions on YouTube of "Plaisir d'amour," the most famous French melodie. It established an entire genre in the nineteenth century.

Janet Baker's version is back.


Judi Dench sang it on stage in Hay Fever. Angela Gheorghiu sang it in Italian in a souped up version in her La Scala recital, but the simple version is best.

"The pleasures of love are for a moment. The pain of love lasts a lifetime."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Blogging

I went into R5 yesterday and bought DVDs of Pique Dame and Mahagonny and a CD of Kathleen Farrier doing Bach and Handel. I didn't like her Bach, haven't heard her Handel yet. I was given a sample CD of four tracks by Kate Royal, the latest thing in Great Britain. She is lovely. I look forward to hearing more of her. I am seldom offered free things.

I am shocked by not liking Ferrier's Bach. I'm very fussy about Bach. When I was in school all those years ago, he and the Baroque were practically synonyms. Now he has taken a back seat to Handel and Vivaldi, a situation that reflects the tastes of his era.

Suddenly Jonas Kaufmann is all over YouTube. He declares himself to be happy with his sexy image.



He is pictured walking through Covent Garden, dancing with Netrebko and saying how lucky he is to have turned his hobby into a profession.



In this one he does exercises. This is a very recent phenomenon. A few short months ago I had trouble finding any films of him. The beauty of his voice is very exciting. I declared him a Florestan to die for two years ago. He's been on my sexiest list for almost a year. I think he has just now exploded in Germany, though he is from there. Sorry, these films are all in German. I couldn't find the one where he says he doesn't mind his sexy image. I regret to report that he's married and has three children.

Kate Royal on my iPod went on to A Little Night Music by Sondheim. Glynis Johns and Hermione Gingold are both in it. There is much nostalgia. It begins with a burst of energy that is quite interesting for Sondheim. Perhaps I should look into it.

Footnote. This is definitely the most I have liked Sondheim.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Telemann

I went today to hear a chamber music concert made up entirely of the music of Georg Philipp Telemann, a contemporary of Bach and Handel. I can't recall that I ever performed anything by him, but I can remember seeing his shelf of books in the library. It's bigger than Bach's.

The performers were a harpsichordist, a cellist, two violinists, a flautist and a soprano in various combinations. The flute, a violinist and the harpsichordist each played alone. All played together in a German language cantata on the Magnificat which began the program.

Telemann was quite the comic, apparently. The concert included Trauermusik on the death of a canary. The canary would be missed and the cat would be beaten. There is deep sadness and melodrama.

More comedy could be found in the Gulliver Suite for 2 violins. The movements are:

Intrada
Lilliputsche Chaconne (all 32nd notes)
Brogdingnagische Gigue (all whole notes)
Gulliver Suite for two violins: Reverie der Laputier, nebst ihren Aufweckern
Loure der gesitten Houyhnhnms & Furie der unartigen Yahoos

These are inside jokes since it sounded like a suite.

The concert ended with something called a quartet played by four instruments, flute, violin, cello and harpsichord. As anyone knows, four instruments in the Baroque is a trio. The two instruments of the continuo count as only one. In this piece the cello and harpsichord are composed as legitimate separate parts, entering and dropping out separately with no hints of doubling. It was written in Paris and may have reflected the advancement of the rococo found in Paris at that time. It was said that he was the first German composer to travel to Paris. They would naturally have preferred Italy.

Times are changing. Perhaps Telemann will have a comeback.

Lotte

I have no excuse. I write nothing about Lotte Lenya's Kurt Weill. She is definitive, after all. It's not like I don't have it. I have no excuse.

She is best in German. It is amusing to hear her pronounce the American place names in “Die Sieben Todsuenden” or Seven Deadly Sins. Sometimes it approaches Sprechstimme. Her German is impeccable. I hear clearly when she tells us that Anna I and Anna II share the same savings account book.

I've never cared for her voice. Listening now I completely don't remember why. This is simply how Weill is supposed to sound. The others are imitations.

Another Meme

Yes, this is a sign of extreme boredom. I have decided to do the iPod shuffle meme now that I actually own an iPod. I cannot explain this selection--I swear, it's exactly what came up.

1. "Sheep may safely graze" by Bach sung in German by Kathleen Battle. This is an aria for 2 flutes, soprano and baroque orchestra from Grace. It's just another example of Kathleen's exquisite phrasing. This is one of Bach's more famous arias.

2. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sings a song called "Intermezzo" by Robert Schumann. It's a piano vocal in the tight, exaggerated style she sometimes gets into. Don't get me wrong--I love her madly, but she can overdo it by pinching off the phrases and does here. Too much of this will drive you mad.

3. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sings an aria from Handel's La Lucrezia, "Il suol che preme." It is with orchestra from her Handel album. There are other numbers on this album I prefer, but here you get to hear a bit of graceful coloratura.

4. A cut from Golijov's Oceana. "Second Call" to be precise. This is a soprano singing in Spanish with guitar, flute and maybe a little bass accompaniment. At the end a chorus comes in. It's oddly, characteristically rhythmical. I like this.

5. Me singing the first of the Zwei Gesaenge for alto and viola by Johannes Brahms. If it was going to pick me, this is one of my favorites. The violist is excellent, and so am I. It has a wonderful flow. This is definitely my preferred version of this Lied. So far this is a weird selection.

6. Magdalena Kožená sings "Bekennen will ich seinen Namen" by Bach from her album Lamento. This shuffle is quite austere and German for some reason. I wish I could describe Kozena. She is crisp, cool, intellectual and formal, but has a full tone. Her Bach does not blaze. I prefer Bach where everything goes down in flames. Minkowski can sometimes manage it, but that's the other album.

7. The Madrigal from Puccini's Manon Lescaut. I bought the complete version of the opera just for this one cut because it's Cecilia Bartoli. I think it's the only thing by Puccini I've heard her do. I played it over and over dozens of times. "Susurrando," she sings. The other singers on the other tracks are Mirela Freni and Luciano Pavarotti with Jimmy Levine conducting. I listened to them later and gradually acquired an enormous respect for this recording.

8. Kathleen Battle sings Rachmaninov's "How fair this spot"--the same song that I liked so much on Anna Netrebko's Russian Album. Kathleen's version is different and also beautiful, but I've never heard it before. This must be from the album I got at the library. At the end of the track she introduces Marion Anderson.

9. Jessye Norman sings Schubert's "Auf dem See." I cannot explain the extreme severity of this selection. We haven't gotten any opera arias at all. This is Jessye singing small. I prefer Jessye singing big.

10. "Pensa, che questo istante" by Schubert. There is a lot of Cecilia Bartoli on this iPod. After all, I own almost everything she's ever recorded. This is from the German recital with Andras Schiff, and as usual, she is stylistically dead on. I don't know how she does it. She seems never to miss.

11. Overture to The Barber of Seville. It must be time to stop.

Six of the ten are Lieder. Very strange indeed. At least it didn't pick any Linda Ronstadt. How could I possibly explain that?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Rumors


Note tan acquired in the Canary Islands.

Rumors are flying on the Cecilia Bartoli Forum about her future plans.

In March there is to be a 2 disc Maria DVD from a concert in Barcelona.

I know that La Sonnambula has been recorded for a Decca CD release with Juan Diego Florez. One day it will suddenly pop out of hiding.

There is off and on talk about releasing a DVD of Semele from the Zurich Opera. This will probably be the version without bouncing on the bed. Schade. There is no rumor of a release date.

She is rumored to be repeating Il Turco in Italia at the ROH, something I would definitely travel to see. There is no date attached to this rumor.

She has expressed an interest in a Spanish guitarist, Daniel Casares, and seems interested in touring and maybe even recording with him. See more here. Maybe I will get my Flamenco album.

"Cecilia Bartoli muestra su disposición a cantar la ópera ‘Carmen’ en el Teatro de la Maestranza" seems to mean she is interested in doing Carmen in Sevilla. My. It would be irresistible to make this trip.

We are not done. Sometime, somewhere she will sing Desdemona in Rossini's Otello.

Something has come over her. Perhaps her infatuation with La Malibran stimulates her to take more risks. Malibran was a notorious daredevil.

And while we are on the subject of Bartoli, I have found these films of her North American debut in Quebec in 1990: one "Non so piu" and "Parto, parto", two is an interview in French, three "
is Tanti affetti", and four is "Una voce poco fa". Oh my God! She started at the top. This is to remind me how I got here in the first place.

If I had seen this then, would I have still written a book? Probably not. It's hard to imagine.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Meme

The day I was born the Metropolitan Opera was performing Un Ballo in Maschera. I was hoping for Der Rosenkavalier which was done the previous week. The San Francisco Opera always shifts to ballet at that time of year.

Sexiest in Drag


I was scanning for pictures of Elīna Garanča in drag and came upon this nice picture. We would nominate the other woman, too, but we don't know who she is.

In the same search we found this:

My own picture, shown on the right, also appeared in this search. I am happy to be mistaken for the gorgeous Elina.

Lately every opera picture looks like a candidate for the Regie game. What opera includes a satyr?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Anna News

Well, it's not a secret any more. Anna Netrebko is pregnant. Here is the whole story, and yes, it is Erwin Schrott, as everyone suspected. Congratulations and happiness to both of them. Let's hope she is back to singing by summer of 2009.

They should make cute babies, don't you think?



I stole this picture from La Cieca because I like it a lot.

Brain Overdose

Brain science is one of the more fascinating areas of current scientific research, and This is Your Brain on Music is an interesting window into current work. I was interested to read about the role of personal taste--if you love the music you are hearing, more of your brain becomes active.

I think that if one is purporting to study "music," more cultures are necessary. How about testing a few Indonesians? Or have societies not exposed to the commercial product disappeared from the earth? I read today in The Economist that the music industry is in free fall with no bottom in sight, so perhaps this state of affairs is about to change.

I agree completely with his general attitude that it is departure from expectations that produce the most sublime expression. Did I not say so here (one of my favorite postings)? However, a fully quantized (completely rhythmically regularized) midi file--the state of most midi files you will find on line--is not completely unmusical. Some may even imagine midi files are inherently this way. Rhythmical variation doesn't explain as much as Levitin wishes it did.

The most emotionally expressive musicians in any genre are the ones that sell. According to Levitin, expertise in anything requires 10k hours of practice. I liked it that he points out that music schools don't cover emotional expression. It is vital for an aspiring performer to get through his 10k hours as quickly and meaningfully as possible. You can't just add expression on later. Try to find a teacher who wants expression because it is in the individual lessons that true music is made.

Levitin is trying to have fun and doesn't try to be a textbook. He gives you the idea of it but not the true understanding. If you're not wanting to work too hard, this may be the book for you. I am not the target audience.

Toward the end he talks about how many times rock stars get laid, another of his 10k figures. I don't need to know this.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Rock



This is great.




I think one of the problems I am having with This is Your Brain on Music is the fact that his musical world is so different from mine. He is almost always talking about the commercial product and calling that music. It's a world in which Kelly Clarkson is insulted because her producer asked her to record something already recorded by someone else.

In the classical world the performers have to redo pieces that have already been done hundreds of times before and still make them sound fresh. It is a world in which the abstract concept of the written notes is valued infinitely more than the specific performance. It's a different point of view.

Minkowski and Kožená


I am this minute listening to Handel Italian Cantatas with Magdalena Kožená and Marc Minkowski, and I am reminded that he also conducted Cecilia's Opera Proibita. My ears hear a greater natural sympathy between these two artists than the previous pairing. Minkowski and Kozena are on the same page, a page characterized by Bach-like phrasing. Every note makes me think of Bach, and I'm trying to discover why. Minkowski is French and Kožená is Czech, so that can't be the reason.

Perhaps it is the cerebral crispness of the phrasing. I have generally thought that Handel was successful in his incorporation of Italian style, that he became more fluid and flexible in his phrasing than his purely German contemporary. I think I prefer the legato styles of Kathleen Battle and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in Handel, but this recording is very lively and attractive.

Minkowski is a musician with a vision. If you are attracted to his vision, you will enjoy this.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Test Results

I tried my experiment suggested here to look for something with no assigned category. I was driving along Arden Way happily categorizing everything when I came upon a group of useless green columns. ?? My mind immediately set to work processing the surroundings and quickly came up with: commercial art objects. That's all I've been able to find so far that caused even a split second hesitation in the constant process of classifying everything.

Computers don't do this. They successfully categorize precisely those things you tell them to and not one damn other thing. Believe me, I know.

Aria Cantilena


Elīna Garanča is featured on this recording called "Aria Cantilena", after a track by Heitor Villa-Lobos. This is DG who seem to spare no expense producing really high class recordings.

The penultimate track is perhaps one of the best performances of the Trio from Der Rosenkavalier that I have ever heard. Real reviewers would be able to tell you why. Everyone is in tune for one thing. This isn't the sort of thing one is supposed to say. It is beautifully clean and arches through the phrases throughout, instead plodding in a confused way through the middle and pulling itself together at the end, as is usually the case.

The variety of music here is impressive. Massenet, Mozart, Rossini, Villa-Lobos, Offenbach, etc. Her Rossini is quite good. She has the kind of lush voice that will almost guarantee you a career and is obviously a good musician. If she is to be criticized, it is for her northern, somewhat introverted personality. You're a success. Relax and enjoy it.

I think she is one of the best mezzos around, with a round but not excessively heavy tone. I have also listened to quite a lot of the Baden Baden Gala with Anna Netrebko and think their voices blend remarkably well. They should do a duets album. I know Elina does not want to be caught up in the Netrebko publicity mill, but she should not use this as an excuse to avoid the obvious.

This recording is recommended.