Wednesday, April 30, 2008

News

I am irresistibly drawn to this quote:

"They knew perfectly well it would cause a storm," says cultural critic Camille Paglia. "I'm so tired of Annie Leibovitz."

Should we lose sleep because Camille Paglia is tired of Annie Leibovitz? "It" refers to the current media scandal over the photograph of Miley Cyrus in Vanity Fair. Or since we can't sleep, what should we lose sleep over? And how long ago was it that we were tired of Camille Paglia?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Daughter of the Regiment




Marie...................Natalie Dessay
Tonio...................Juan Diego Flórez
Marquise of Berkenfield.Felicity Palmer
Sergeant Sulpice........Alessandro Corbelli
Hortentius..............Donald Maxwell
Duchesse of Krakentorp..Marian Seldes
 
Conductor...............Marco Armiliato
Production..............Laurent Pelly

What separates Natalie Dessay from the pack is that you completely believe whatever she does. If she frowns, you frown. And if she smiles, you smile, too. When she smiles at Juan Diego, it is true love.

Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment may well be the most naive and joyous comic opera of them all. Or maybe it's the production from the Metropolitan Opera. One can't help wondering why she longs so heartily for a life where she does laundry and peels potatoes all day? Or where her keepsakes include a sprouted potato? Perhaps it is love.

Is it my imagination or does Juan Diego Florez get handsomer and funnier by the day? He admitted in the intermission interview that the high D in the second act aria is his own addition. I think we can expect more of this. All 9 high C's were spectacular as well, but there was no encore.

And one can certainly see why Peter Gelb is attracted to Felicity Palmer, the Marquise of Berkenfield in this production. She also appeared in Peter Grimes. Singing actors are what opera is about these days. Everyone is talking about Regietheatre, and this opera is one of the best examples. We're not completely clear about the difference between Regietheatre and Eurotrash. One is new and exciting and the other is hated and reviled. I'm not really sure they aren't just terms for the same things.

If you want real photographs of this production which came from the Royal Opera, see here. I shouted out a "brava" in the movie theater, but it felt foolish.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pictures



This one is Diana Damrau.

And so is this.


Anna Netrebko continues to keep us well supplied with sexy pictures.

And this is Jonas Kaufmann having a bad hair day. It's sort of a cave man concept.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Encores

It's been over a year since I reported Juan Diego Florez sang an encore at La Scala. This may have been because Rolando Villazon did one in Vienna for L'Elisir d'Amore which was put into the DVD. Now Florez has done one for Daughter of the Regiment at the Met. This is the aria with the 9 high C's. According to the New York Times, Pavarotti did one at the Met in 1994 in Tosca.

I have still never seen one in a live performance. Perhaps it will happen on Saturday, too. That would be fun. My only question is: why is it always tenors?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Blogging

I sat next to a man at Satyagraha who had seen Einstein on the Beach three times, "All eight hours of it." He pointed out that Glass is over in Brooklyn, so this was not a great feat. In Glass' career Einstein comes first. After my experience at Satyagraha, I would say it would be best to hear Einstein first, before you have been to any other Glass operas.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Opera News

My copy of Opera News for May has arrived, and Jonas Kaufmann is on the cover. The entire issue is about Zurich and the Zurich Opera. I have been there often and have learned to love it. I saw Jonas there for the first time, though I knew him from Cecilia's Nina video. I know I will go again.

Friday, April 18, 2008

New York



Spring in the park. California Spring is much further along.



When I first arrived, it was colder than I expected. These two seemed to be shivering just like me.



Here are children waiting to get into Carnegie Hall.



And here are children learning about art at the MOMA.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bianca e Falliero


I went to Rossini's Bianca e Falliero at the Washington Concert Opera Sunday. I now know what it's about, so maybe I should watch my DVD again. It's a standard operatic thwarted love plot, but has a few interesting features.

There was a very nice quartet toward the end where the four main characters stand and tell their personal thoughts that reminded me very much of the canon from Fidelio. There were some lovely love duets between the title characters, sung by Anna Christy and Vivica Genaux. And the whole thing ended with "Tanti affetti" with different words. It worked the first time, so why not try it again? It worked for me since it is some of my favorite Rossini.

The plot was not at all ridiculous. Bianca's father wants to marry her to a rich guy so he can have more money. Bianca is in love with a military hero who may not be particularly rich. Falliero is caught escaping from Bianca's house through the grounds of the Spanish embassy and is charged with a capital crime: consorting with foreign ambassadors. Bianca saves him, and they live happily ever after.

I went to see Vivica Genaux, who I think is perfectly marvelous. Someone came out before the performance and said she was having an allergy attack, but she was great. She had a very nice rage aria toward the end when she thinks Bianca has married the other guy. She is golden. I went back to say hi, and as usual thought of nothing very creative to say. Maybe if I practiced I could get better at it.

Anna Christy is an excellent light coloratura.

This is an interesting group, though the orchestra could have spent more time tuning. Next year they are doing Donizetti's Maria Padilla.

Philosophy

I have spent a very philosophical week in New York. How is one to choose?

Should I build a house and plant a garden, as suggested by Candide? This is an attractive choice.

Should I procreate and make art, as suggested by Sunday in the Park with George? I think I'm finished with procreation. How about an artistic house?

Should I take action without thought of consequence, as suggested by Satyagraha? I could build an artistic house without thought of consequences.

I knew a man who spent his retirement years doing exactly that, and the house he made is truly remarkable. He died before it was complete, and it had to be finished by others. I've been inside, and it's filled with light.

I can't think of three operas with so much philosophy.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Satyagraha

Philip Glass' opera Satyagraha, premiering last night at the Metropolitan Opera, is about Mahatma Gandhi's peaceful political trasformation method, called satyagraha, and the development of the method during his years in South Africa.

The work is an opera where themes and elements converge rather than exactly unite.

I. There is a printed synopsis that explains the events of Gandhi's life in South Africa that make up the six scenes plus prologue of the opera. The three acts are grouped around three figures: Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore and Martin Luther King, Jr.

II. There are words from the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient religious text, that are sung in Sanskrit and projected in translation on the walls of the set. I was well situated in the center where I could read everything. These words express the philosophy behind Gandhi's work rather than the events portrayed.

III. There is the monotonous, hypnotic and not precisely repetitious music of Philip Glass, a composer whose minimalist musical language his reached popular mythology.

IV. And finally there is the action depicted in the production.

The goal of a production will be to achieve a true spiritual experience. I feel that Glass' musical idiom is precisely suited to this story which turns out to be about the inner path of the soul of Gandhi while his outer life passes through these specific events. And perhaps it is about the spiritual path of the onlookers as well.

The approach of the production was to take each scene and attempt to express at once the earthly events and the spiritual journey through actions. Each image moved at the pace of Glass' music. We are shown the path to truth and goodness by Gandhi's actions and by the words of Krishna.

There were giant puppets and stilt walkers, people who flew into the air, choruses and soloists, and Martin Luther King preaching to crowds. If I were to criticize the production, it would only be for failing to achieve stylistic consistency from scene to scene.

I've seen Satyagraha before in San Francisco. I was a neophyte Philip Glass listener and had fairly violent reactions to it. Some of the scenes made me want to get up and scream. I resisted. Now I'm just used to him. You can't put your brain back to the place where it never heard Philip Glass for three solid hours before. You can't erase Koyanaquatsi from your experience. It didn't even seem so repetitious to me this time.

The main thing I remember from the San Francisco production is the last scene. It was staged as a picnic. They put down the blanket, laid out the plates, sat in the chairs, ate the food and put it all away. Then they repeated the whole thing twice, the second time without any props. They sat on air. What did any of that have to do with political marching and the life of King? At the Met it all seemed to be about what the story line said it was about.

At the end someone in the upper balcony shouted "Bapu." The audience was not the typical one for an opera, and included a lot of young people. Why regular patrons of the Metropolitan Opera would want to see this remains a mystery, but I'm glad I went. I felt I should stop all this larking about and get a serious job.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Courbet


I walked around the Courbet exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art trying to decide if I'd ever seen any of these pictures before, until I came to the portrait of Berlioz. This is one time when it paid to read the card on the wall. Courbet sang and performed constantly for the composer while he sat, undoubtedly bringing about the grim expression that has become our image of Berlioz. One sympathizes.

Ernani

Ernani..................Marcello Giordani
Elvira..................Sondra Radvanovsky
Don Carlo...............Thomas Hampson
Don Ruy Gomez de Silva..Ferruccio Furlanetto
Giovanna................Wendy White
Don Riccardo............Jeremy Little
Jago....................Keith Miller

Conductor...............Roberto Abbado

The bad Verdi curse we always have in San Francisco seems not to have spread to the Metropolitan Opera. The cast for Ernani was fabulous. I liked Ferruccio Furlanetto every bit as much as I did in Los Angeles. He's a marvelous singer. Thomas Hampson played the Sherrill Milnes role, and the contrast between the two baritones could not be greater. Hampson made Don Carlo seem a pretty nice guy.

I felt a certain amount of concern for Marcello Giordani. He sang beautifully, but doesn't really have Pavarotti's penetrating tone to shoot his voice over the heavy Verdi orchestration. This was my first time to see him live, and I wondered that he might be overdoing things.

I was happiest to see Sondra Radvanovsky again. I am a fan. Her role here is especially difficult. She has a couple of not too difficult arias, but as the sole solo female she must provide the top for every ensemble, something she does with ease. She has squillo to burn. She should be able to keep up this wonderful work in Verdi for many years since she never needs to push even a little bit. We should all be so lucky. Her tenor partner should be so lucky.

Such a high class ensemble cast could only happen in New York or Vienna.

The plot of Ernani is pretty ridiculous. It concerns one girl and three suitors: an old duke of something or other (Furlanetto), the king of Spain (Hampson) and an outlaw (Giordani). Being a sensible girl, she naturally picks the outlaw. Just as we are about to have a happy ending, the tenor kills himself. Bah!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Candide

Tiny conversation while going in to see Candide:
B. I should have worn something shiny.
U. Why is that?
B. You know. Glitter and be gay.
U. Not to worry. In the best of all possible worlds just wear what you want.

What a day. Sunday in the Park with George followed by Candide at the New York City Opera. Sondheim and Bernstein worked together on West Side Story, and I read in the paper that Sondheim helped with one of the revisions to Candide. Their work is not unrelated, but as artists they're very different.

For one thing Bernstein is a far better composer and has a lark going around the world with Candide doing styles of music for the different cultures he visits. The music is lively and fun, but perhaps the world is still not ready for Voltaire.

The musical Candide is based on Voltaire's novel Candide which is in turn based on the philosophy that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire goes to great lengths to ridicule the idea and completely fails. I get the feeling Bernstein understands the purpose of optimism, was himself a great optimist, and moves his characters cheerfully from one disaster to another. Perhaps it's his fault the whole thing is so unrelentingly optimistic.

I think the failure of Candide is due to its level of sophistication. Are we ready to ridicule the inquisition? I'm not sure we are. And what is one to make of a guiding philosophy where we build our house and make our garden grow?

How far from that is George Seurat's daughter who wishes us to have babies and make art? Great-grandchild George is advised not to worry about success but just to go on following his vision.

I am entertained by Bernstein, but I am genuinely challenged by Sondheim. Art lies not in the money, modern life's only preoccupation, but in the vision.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sunday in the Park with George


I wanted to see Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George because I wanted to see a musical about painting, in this case George Seurat's most famous painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." Each person in the picture becomes a character in the drama. I tried to see it in London, but couldn't get a ticket.

To be a play this requires enormous technical sophistication. My favorite bit concerned the draperies seen on the stage while the audience files in. George sees them and says, "Too many trees," and one of them immediately leaves. Later his mother complains that her accustomed tree is no more. Films of dogs replace actual dogs, a great theatrical improvement. The projector is the primary actor in a musical about lighting.

It is surprisingly not another Sister Wendy version of art. Art is about seeing. Art is about making your vision real. And this goes for when it is pictures and when it is notes. Have a vision and make it live.

Seurat invented a style of painting and this painting is his most famous example. He is following his vision of making whole pictures out of tiny dots of color. [Coincidence girl friend is called Dot?] He is following his vision. He says that what the girlfriends don't know is that even when he is with them, he is still working on the painting.


I've never been a Sondheim fan, but maybe I was looking from the wrong direction. It seems he is less words and music than he is vision.

The main actors were Daniel Evans, very lively and amusing as George, and Jenna Russell as Dot and Marie. I knew I had seen Jenna Russell before--she just felt familiar--and I have. She was in Guys and Dolls when I saw it in London. She has a very touching, emotional quality. It is a very emotional play.


Here is a sketch for the same painting--the content without the style. I am gradually coming to realize that Sondheim is bringing us ideas more than poetry and music.

The Gambler

I went to see Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev's opera The Gambler (1929, during his exile from Russia), based on the novel by Dostoevsky. Until I saw it in the Metropolitan Opera's schedule, I didn't know it existed. Valery Gergiev was conducting. I liked The Fiery Angel (1927) and Betrothal in a Monastery (1941) quite a lot and thought I might like this, too.

I didn't. Musically I remember staccato trombones and tubas, heavy annoying voices and very little else. The plot is annoying if you have no interest in gambling. I made it only about half way through.

P.S. Further research tells me that Prokofiev's The Gambler was first performed in 1929, but it was written during World War I, before the October revolution. This makes it early Prokofiev. Contemporary with Fiery Angel made no sense at all.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Blogging

I promised to stop arguing with the comments, and then I did it again. Sorry.

The daphodils are blooming in New York, something they finished with long ago in California. Travel enough and you can have spring all the time.

I didn't think of anything else to say about La Boheme. I think Angela's acting is designed for a wider view than HD closeups. I enjoy her anyway.

I keep confusing Les Hugenots with Le Prophete, something that is easy to do when you've never seen either one of them. L'Africane is maybe my only Meyerbeer.

Tonight is The Gambler.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Surprise in HD

Mimì....................Angela Gheorghiu
Rodolfo.................Ramón Vargas
Musetta.................Ainhoa Arteta
Marcello................Ludovic Tézier
Schaunard...............Quinn Kelsey
Colline.................Oren Gradus
Benoit..................Paul Plishka
Alcindoro...............Paul Plishka

Conductor...............Nicola Luisotti
Production..............Franco Zeffirelli

We knew who would sing and conduct La Boheme in the simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera: Angela Gheorghiu, Ramón Vargas and Nicola Luisotti. We knew the production was by Franco Zeffirelli. What we waited in suspense to find out was who would host. And we were not disappointed. Renée Fleming showed once again her undoubted talent as an interviewer. She is exactly goofy enough to interview the children's chorus and their conductor. She pretended to be amazed when buildings flew up into the air during the set change. (The set for Act II rolled on with people already standing on it, people who had been standing there all through Act I.)

She compared notes with Angela on how to cough when singing Mimi or Violetta without starting into a coughing jag. Angela appears to merely pretend to begin to cough, make the movement of coughing without actually coughing. She called it "acting." (I am laughing now. This is my first view of the witchy Angela.)

Renée remembered to let Ramon plug his charity work. Only the conductor seemed confused and unable to think of anything to say. No matter! Renée filled in. She is what makes the HD opera experience unique.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1890-1910]

News

I was fretting to Philip Gossett about criticism of the charming film of Juan Diego Florez singing "La donna e mobile" and received this answer:

"You will be interested to know that right now I am in Lima, Peru, for Juan Diego's matrimonio with the lovely Julia Trappe in the cathedral of Lima (later today). The night of the 3rd I heard his Duca di Mantova in Rigoletto, which I had to write up for Sole 24 Ore. It comes out tomorrow. I think what he has done is FABULOUS, insisting on the relationship of this part to the belcanto tradition!"

I want to apologize for calling Juan Diego Spanish in my 20 tenors posting. Anyone knows he's Peruvian. I think even I knew that.

Bad Verdi

The reason for so much bad Verdi is:

1. idea that voices have to be quite heavy to sing Verdi
2. fact that casts are arranged 5 years in advance
3. fact that 5 years of singing that heavy probably will give you a wobble.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Souvenir


I remember the first time I saw Marilyn Horne. She appeared in a duet as part of a long black and white program about Joan Sutherland. "Forget her. Who is that other one?" I thought. Marilyn was my kind of voice, and I have admired her for many years. People my age generally remain devoted to the musicians of their youth, so theoretically I should love Marilyn as much as ever.

I have a vinyl recording of her "Souvenir of a Golden Era" two disc CD recently re-released by Decca. She wants to get in on this Maria Malibran thing, too, I guess. I see that this recording was also produced by Christopher Raeburn, and perhaps the Garcia sisters represent a personal enthusiasm for him. Disc one is repertoire of Maria Malibran, and disc two is repertoire of her sister Pauline Viardot.

Though Marilyn began her career as a soprano, no one would suggest she was one. She has steel in her voice that makes it perfect for things like "Se Romeo t'uccise un figlio" from Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi. She was simply the perfect voice for bel canto male mezzo roles.

But if we were to imagine her as a soprano, it would surely be as Leonora in Beethoven's Fidelio. She makes a very convincing dramatic soprano here in her performance of "Abscheulicher."

Bartoli would never touch this. Nothing from the album Maria appears here. If you want to compare Horne and Bartoli, I suggest "Assisa a piè d'un salice," the Willow Song from Rossini's Otello.

Marilyn's album is enormously varied and shows off the great versatility of both herself and the sisters Garcia. She seems to be deliberately placing herself in opposition to Bartoli, inviting comparison.

I cannot put back the clock to before Bartoli. I now hear bel canto through ears filled with Bartoli's phrasing. Perhaps it would have helped Marilyn if she had chosen an Italian conductor instead of her husband Henry Lewis, an American. Marilyn is best in the heavier roles Bartoli does not attempt. In her incarnation as General Horne she is unmatched. Why is it that I never went mad for Marilyn? She inspires in me enormous enthusiasm, admiration and respect, but perhaps not love.


Here she is in an aria from Les Hugenots. The current posting in YouTube is not of very good sound quality. "Souvenir" is from 1966, and the clip from Les Hugenots is from 1986. Maybe it's time I got into Meyerbeer. Her life in music opened up her style enormously. I feel like such a cad criticizing anything about Marilyn, but she definitely got better as she went along.

More of same



There is lots of Jonas on YouTube now, including a lovely film of him singing "La fleur" from Carmen. There is the usual argument about whether he's a tenor or a baritone. His low register doesn't have the weight for a baritone. It's not color that determines classification--it's tessitura. Oh well. The way he sings this aria is gorgeous. It makes me cry.

I only feel inclined to go on and on about technique if I think there is a problem. The high note is hard because he's doing a diminuendo and not because it's too high for him. A lot of tenors get around this difficulty by singing all their high notes loud. I don't feel inclined to give him any advice at all.

The fact that he doesn't know me at all only makes him more attractive. All of these Carmen clips are fabulous.

There is a seldom seen duet from the same production with Jonas and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo. They fight. Maybe there will be a movie.

P.S. On the DVD there is a credit for the person who staged the fight.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Blogging

I bought a ticket last May for Baden Baden and now feel that I cannot afford this. The dollar has dropped like a stone and my taxes were terrible. Cecilia will have to sing without me. There's supposed to be a recording coming out soon, and I will have to settle for that.

So I'm going to New York to see some operas instead for a lot less money.