Friday, May 30, 2008

Gossip

While talking to another voice teacher, I found out some nice gossip.

Dolora Zajick has a learning disability. This limits her repertoire but not the wonderful quality of her performances.

Jonas was ready to give up singing until he was rescued by an American voice teacher who said he was a Heldentenor. I gave my back a little pat on that one. I said he was a Heldentenor, too.

We shared a lack of enthusiasm for Thomas Hampson. He has no passion.

When listening to the CSUS opera workshop performance earlier this month, I guessed correctly which local voice teacher one of the singers studied with. This is in a town where I haven't lived for 40 years.

But no job. They are having budget cuts. Some suggestions were made of things I could do. It was fun dropping names with someone who actually knows who the names are.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Washington Post

This is a long quote from a review of Cavalleria in the Washington Post. Dolora Zajick was the Santuza.

"Salvatore Licitra is the most maddening of today's maddening crop of almost-but-not-quite-there tenors taking the lead roles around the opera world. He's maddening because he has a glorious voice and is all over the place in the way he uses it. If a singer onstage Sunday could be criticized for pumping out sound without inflection, it was he; he almost came to grief in the opening offstage aubade, which should be anything but difficult and anything but shouted. He also sometimes is careless about details (like the correct pitch). In past years he has reportedly worked assiduously on his vocal technique, with the result that his problem areas seem to shift from one performance to another: On Sunday, the upper middle again sounded smaller than the rest of the voice.

"This is a lot of quibbling to heap on a voice as fine as Licitra's. I offer it because his duet with Zajick was about as good as it's possible for opera to get. It demonstrated that Licitra should be the unrivaled star opera tenor of our day. If he is not, it is for reasons that all appear to be fixable, and therefore all the more frustrating to a listener. "

It was the almost-but-not-quite-there bit that caught my eye. I find the situation to be more a case of sometimes all the way there and other times not. The same person isn't perfect all the time, and that's certainly the case with Licitra.

Clari again

The Zurich production of Clari seems to have been quite silly, virtually Monty Python-like in its silliness. There were not enough arias for Cecilia Bartoli as the title character, so more were interpolated, including the Willow song from Rossini's very serious Otello. One critic called it a failure. Others found it much ado about nothing.

One thing we can be sure of: we will never hear it again. Except if it comes out on DVD. This entire style of opera is very seldom revived. We prefer that an opera clearly make up its mind--comedy or drama.

This blogger has an audio clip.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Paraphrasing Waltraud Meier

I watched on ARTS a short selection from an interview of Waltraud Meier talking about her career as the perpetual Kundry at Bayreuth. She spoke of working the role with James Levine, Riccardo Muti and Daniel Barenboim. "These are three different worlds." Then she asks "what is music?" It is nothing definite. It is life. It is something that changes as life changes. It is personal, individual expression.

That's as close as I can get.

It is vitally important to note that she got this gig by simply calling them up herself and auditioning. She had just finished doing Kundry at another house where she worked with Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, the director and designer.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Clari


I am more than happy to advertise opera chic by showing this picture from Clari. I once knew a guy who had a giant oil painting of a cow in his living room, so this seems quite plausible to me. We are asked to believe that Cecilia Bartoli is milking a cow.

Is that a wig, or has Cecilia lightened and cut her hair? If so, that is a first. Would it work for her to be a blond?

Sigh. If I hadn't spent so much money last month, I would have gone.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Autobiographical Material


Among the uncovered pictures in my collection is this one from my only outing as an ingenue in Chu Chin Chow. I was 21.


It played all summer at this tiny theater in Sutter Creek. I didn't take these pictures, so they don't really go on the photo blog.


And this is me as Maddalena in Rigoletto. I was 23.


Here I am the mother in Vaughan-Williams' Rides to the Sea. I was 19.


Here I am the old maid in The Old Maid and the Thief. I was 21. I look like I'm giving him the finger.


And here I am in my outfit for Mendelssohn's Elijah with the Sacramento Symphony. I was 19.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cecilia

There is nothing I could possibly say about this. E perfetto.

So I will write anyway....

Her voice is at its most beautiful, with that gorgeous roundness that I love above all other sounds. I like the slowness of the tempo at the start because it encourages her to play with the rhythm against the constant beat of the piano. Because that is what I love most. How does she do that? How can she go so far off the beat, both ahead and behind, and never lose the sense of it? It draws my heart in.

I hope the date of 2003 is right.

I went off my head completely for exactly this. And she is at her very best here. The trill and high note at the end are amazing. I was an insane fan for several years. Eventually one simply cannot tolerate so much insanity and pulls oneself together.

I don’t know why I wanted to meet her. I imagined it to be different than it turned out to be. But I never wonder why I loved her so much. I only have to listen to this.

Monty Python

Someone has sent me an email saying that the Macbeth production from the Met reminded him of Monty Python.

"You mentioned the Met's Macbeth production and its modern sets and costumes. I saw the PBS telecast, and thought it worked on its own terms.
But one thing struck me as unintentionally funny(or was it?). The witches reminded me of those deliciously wacky Monty Python sketches in which the fellows dressed as dowdy middle aged women and acted very silly. It wasn't scary; I couldn't keep myself from laughing."

I would like to suggest that the appropriate Monty Python opera would be Peter Grimes. All the female parts would be done in drag. Peter would be Eric Idle. There would need to be silly walks.

My favorite Monty Python is the one where a dessert turns into a tennis star, and at the end into a Scotsman. They called it a blancmange, (pronounced /bləˈmɒnʒ/). I recall in those pre-internet days doing extensive research to figure out what the hell they were talking about, what this amorphous blob holding a tennis racket could possibly be, I myself never having heard of a blancmange. I began to laugh and could not control myself for the entire half hour. You had to be there.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ranking the Simulcasts 2008

Compared to last year we see a trend toward more progressive, up to date productions at the Metropolitan Opera. We will try to assess whether this is a good or a bad thing while ranking the simulcasts. In my opinion nothing this year achieved the perfection of last season's Eugene Onegin.

I'm going to rank a comedy first this year, after saying I wouldn't last year. La Fille du Regiment with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez was simply a treat. The production is sweet, but could not be imagined with anyone other than Natalie. Juan Diego is beautiful, but it is Natalie's acting that puts this one over the top.

Romeo et Juliette. was utterly charming, but a couple of flubs kept it out of first place. The mask flirtation was a wonderful touch. The production must be criticized for its mystical symbolism. I never want the production to distract me from the action. I never want to be sitting there wondering what the hell all that meant while the opera is going by unnoticed. I ranked this second for Netrebko. Alagna was cute, but I couldn't help wishing for Villazon.

For me Maria Guleghina as Lady Macbeth brought Macbeth into third place. This was Verdi's favorite opera, and she is the first soprano to make me realize why. The modern production didn't bother me.

Fourth is Peter Grimes. I think it was as good as Peter Grimes could possibly be.

Franco Zeffirelli'a La Boheme is a blast from the past. There's nothing exactly wrong with it, but its fussiness and excessive detail make it out of date. It was wonderful to finally see Angela Gheorghiu's Mimi.

I rank Tristan und Isolde next. I'd already seen the production with Heppner and Eaglen and hated it then, too. I especially hated the little hut in the middle of the stage that looks like an elevator cage. Here's an idea--perhaps it is an elevator cage! Deborah Voigt was fabulous, but it wasn't a great Tristan.

For me the food obsessed Hansel and Gretel is pure Regietheater, and Christine Schaefer as Gretel and Alice Coote as Hansel were not able to redeem it. It's dead last.

The quality of opera from the Metropolitan Opera is very high. The big news of the season was casting problems: Ben Heppner, Rolando Villazon, and whoever it was who was supposed to sing Macbeth. The substitutes were all fine if not exactly great.

I did not see Manon Lascaut and cannot rate it. I apologize.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Timbre

Timbre. It's all about timbre these days. That was the one thing I took away from D. Levitin's This is your Brain on Music. I have been missing my synthesizer which was stolen a few years ago. You push some buttons and different sounds come out. There is software that will randomly generate a sound--you listen to it and see how you like it, then keep it or throw it away. It's an attractive idea.

On the Classical Brits red carpet Anna Netrebko (Did you catch the outfit? She's trying to cope creatively with pregnancy, I guess.) was asked who she is listening to on her ipod right now, and she said Duffy. Duffy is all about timbre. Most of these sounds are computer generated.

I was attracted to doing classical pieces in different timbres just to see how timbre changed the idea of the piece.

On my ipod I am listening to old Bartoli now. She is all about timbre, too. Rhythm and timbre. There is an amusing bit of film on YouTube where Marc Minkowski complains about recording with Cecilia, saying he hates working in the studio, prefers live audiences. He points out what a fanatical perfectionist La Bartoli is. There has to be some explanation for how often she achieves it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Opera Theater

I went last night to see a double bill at CSUS of the finale to Act II of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (1786) and Stephen Paulus's The Village Singer (1979), something I had never heard of before this.

The evening was conducted by Timm Rolek of the Sacramento Opera, the same guy that conducted Tosca earlier this month. I wasn't sure about the selection of the Mozart scene which started at the point where the Count opens the dressing room door and Susanna comes out instead of the expected Cherubino and proceeds to the end. There are a lot of parts, giving lots of students time to take part but no solos or opportunities to shine.

I notice that Rolek is doing Le Nozze di Figaro at the Sacramento Opera next year. Let's hope he gives the professional singers more musical attention and expressive space than he did the students. He seemed to be completely preoccupied with the small orchestra.

The singers were on their own but generally did fine. I especially liked the voice and presentation of Kathrine Bamfield as Susanna. Her voice has both the focused beauty and penetrating qualities that could take her as far as she wants to go. She's also cute. Buona fortuna.

The Village Singer is traditional modernism. The world has changed a lot since 1979.

A spinster, Candace Whitcomb, has been the paid soloist at her village church for 40 years, and her choir members are throwing her a surprise party. At the beginning they are playing musical chairs. When the party is over, Miss Whitcomb finds a photo album on the table with pictures of her 40 year tenure with the church. In the album she finds a letter telling her she has been fired and replaced by a much younger woman. Candace does not go gently. When the new soloist does her solo, Candace sings a solo of her own from next door, and Candace has a loud and penetrating voice.

The story ends tragically. Temper tantrums are not a good idea for the old. As she is dying, her replacement sings for her, and Candace's last words are that she is flat.

This small opera is an opportunity to star for the person who sings Candace Whitcomb, in our case Ariana Uriz. She was brilliant, even going so far as to fake the natural wobble of a woman in her sixties during her solo at the party. She has learned a big technique and showed it off to good effect. I also liked her acting. I loved her Candace Whitcomb.

Regietheater

La Cieca was doing his usual funny pictures from weird opera productions here when fromthepit hissed:

"It is of course Gerald Barry’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, from the original ENO production. I dare to reveal the answer even though to do so is against the rules, because La Cieca herself broke the rules by presenting these photos as an example of Regietheater. Presumably that term refers to a radical reinterpretation of the composer’s conception by a director. This production, a direct collaboration between composer and director on a world premiere, by definition cannot be Regietheater. An illustration of the excesses of the European stage, perhaps, or a radical reinterpretation of Fassbinder’s film, maybe, but Regietheater, no."

This refers to Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982), the great German movie director. This reminds me of a person in my past who forced me to watch all fourteen episodes of Berlin Alexanderplatz which was available at Captain Video. If you don't know what that is, please stop reading here. Die Ehe der Maria Braun was one of his more popular movies. I'm having an attack of nostalgia.

I would like to suggest that Herr Fassbinder is the godfather of the entire Regietheater phenomenon. His spirit pervades modern Germany even now, 25 years after his death. I must rent Petra.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Blogging

After all these years I'm starting to catch on to how blogging works. It's difficult, maybe impossible to change your mind and take something back. For better or worse it goes out there into the air.

Classical music and I have a history. I blog to exorcise my musical demons, and sometimes the emotional cracks show. It does seem to be working though.

Survivor is life. It's all about alliances. Find someone who can carry you to the end, and then see that they do. I did this pretty well at Bechtel, but in music I completely failed.

Something funny happened the other day. I go to the simulcast viewings with two sisters I knew in college. Out of the blue one of them looked at the other, pointed at me and declared my life in music to have been a success. Go figure. Everything is how you frame it. Frame it so you come out ahead.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

I love this


There used to be a photographer who photographed people jumping in the air like this.


My favorite is this one of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Computer Opera


You've all seen pictures projected on scrim at the opera house. This has been going on since Edison invented the light bulb and maybe longer. Now I have seen an opera where the entire set is a giant computer screen, like something Steve Jobs would use for a presentation. It was beyond my wildest imagination.

The opera is Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle, sung in Hungarian and presented by the Berkeley Opera. Wow! There's no pit in the Julia Morgan Theater, so the orchestra sat behind the computer screen and the two singers -- Paul Murray as Bluebeard and Kathleen Moss as Judith -- worked in front. They kept contact with the invisible conductor through video monitors.

I'm actually getting to love this opera, sort of Bartók's own Pictures at an Exhibition. The seven doors open one by one and Bartók's music aurally portrays each scene. The drama lay primarily in the computer art playing on the screen behind the singers. From the outside the castle presents as giant ice blocks. Inside we see the damp stone walls Judith describes. Then fabulous half realistic / half abstract pictures show us what is behind each door as the music progresses from torture chamber, to armory, to treasury, to garden, to sweepingly vast and deserted kingdom, to an ocean of tears, and finally to Bluebeard's past three wives. Created by Naomie Kremer from photographs and computer manipulation of images that bleed and transform before our eyes, rather like a kaleidescope, it was a film to match Bartók's wonderful music, a visual treat.

What does it all mean? Does Bluebeard kill her? Are the other three wives dead? Does the presence of blood everywhere indicate death? Is Judith just there out of curiosity, or does she really love him? Or is it merely a ménage à cinque. The ambiguity is not resolved.

I was less satisfied with the performance of Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells: A Lyric Fantasy in Two Parts) which came after. The boy, sung by Misha Brooks, seemed to be having trouble controlling his voice. It may be starting to change.

The production is very complicated and didn't always hang together. It involved ballet, puppets, and singers who stood along the side of the theater while the dancers created the visual aspect. There were frogs, a squirrel, cats, a bat, a dragonfly and a giant mama. Mama scolds the boy who then throws a tantrum and tears up everything in sight. I suppose the two parts are the scene inside the playroom where boy makes mayhem and the later scene out of doors where the animals get their revenge.

Behind the dancers and puppets is the same computer screen where some of the action is played out and atmospheres are created. I felt the artistic vision was less complete and less satisfying than Bluebeard.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Camerata Capistrano


Camerata Capistrano is a student group at California State University, Sacramento led by Lorna Peters. I say led because she never conducts, apparently, though she did play harpsichord on one number. The students just gather and play. I heard her last year at Crocker Art Gallery where she played an entire concert of French harpsichord music without including Francois Couperin.

This reminded me a little of Giardino Armonico where they stand around while they play instead of sitting. In the first half Holly Harrison played a viola concerto by Telemann--no jokes this time--and Bill Damian played a piccolo concerto by Vivaldi. This was a fun piece, and Bill is an excellent piccolo player.

At the end of intermission Dr. Peters said that when she was an undergraduate she was involved in a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, and ever since she had wanted the opportunity to create this music. It's the kind of music that sticks with you.

I also took part in a performance of the Matthew Passion when I was a senior in college. It was life changing. Only a brief selection was presented here, but it was quite beautiful. They did the closing chorus, one of Bach's most beautiful.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Muti to Chicago

Riccardo Muti is going to Chicago--see this article in the New York Times. The person responsible for this is someone named Deborah Card who has managed the Chicago Symphony since 2004. I am told that she wanted Muti. This is major coup for her.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Tosca

I was fascinated by this production of Tosca in Sacramento and spent the third act obsessing over the lighting. In the program we are told that the action takes place close to midsummer on June 17, 1800. If it is dawn at the Castel Sant'Angelo and I am facing St. Peters which could be seen in the background, the sun will rise behind me and somewhat to the left, and not from the left front as seen here. Never mind. Non e importante.

The director created business for the minor characters that I've never seen before. The flunky who carries out Scarpia's orders appears at the execution, telegraphing that Tosca will be betrayed. The Marchessa Attavanti becomes a character in the drama. We see her planting the key under the statue, we see her slapped by Scarpia at the beginning of Act II, and we see her executed atop the Castel Sant'Angelo where she sings the shepherd music just before being strangled. This last bit isn't exactly obvious, but there is no credit for the shepherd role in the program, and there is one for the Marchessa Attavanti, someone usually only talked about. She was sung by Rebecca Plack.

The director, Mark Streshinsky, is the husband of our Tosca, Marie Plette. They live in the Bay Area. The program is full of information telling us that she prefers the role of Butterfly. Nevertheless, she is a fine full-voiced, appropriately melodramatic Tosca. I personally admire Tosca much more than Butterfly. Tosca loves, she believes, she acts, and fate brings her down.

Have I ever seen a better Scarpia, a more completely loathsome Scarpia than the Scarpia of Rod Nelman? His edgy, unpretty baritone is just right for this slimy portrayal. The audience enthusiastically booed him in the bows.

Dinyar Vania was our Mario. I believed him as a romantic hero and admired his beautiful voice. He should work on his legato. His voice slips out of the phrase often enough to be annoying. If he stopped doing this, he would be fabulous. He fell marvelously, as though he had taken Tosca's advice to heart.

Tosca jumped off the parapet downstage, something I've never seen.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Madness

[Dr.B. revived entry from defunct confessions blog.]
Modern life is quite mad. It isn't me. Really.

I just found out I can get Google alerts for celebrity suicides. For me this produced a rolling belly laugh. A friend told me that while I was in London a minor television personality, whose name my friend could not remember, had committed suicide, and I was trying to find out who it was. Names are the first to go. I remembered the "O" of Owen Wilson, but she was sure it wasn't he. She will call me if she remembers.

A fellow blogger has decided that Cecilia is insane. I think this is due to Cecilia's obsession with Maria Malibran and the very funny photographs of herself in the same poses as Malibran. I just laugh. Perhaps Cecilia wishes her celebrity were even bigger than it is, that people would sell souvenirs that feature her face and envies Malibran, the most wildly popular artist of her era. I recall once offering to run Cecilia's T-shirt concession. Perhaps she would like that.

Cecilia would have to do something truly insane to get her name in the papers more, and that seems unlikely. I'm willing to entertain the possibility that her obvious dislike for me is perhaps a sensible thing. She seems a sensible woman to me. She also seems to have a sense of humor. I've always thought the correct reaction to me should be laughter, but there is a cultural barrier.

I've always considered myself more sensible than is strictly desirable. I never purchased a motorcycle, and now it's definitely too late. I never learned to ski, and now that is also too late. No matter how hard I try, I never manage to spend more than I earn. I never took up smoking, though I tried it. In the Ulmer Theater the others liked to see me smoke (I preferred cigars), but it stayed in my throat the next morning, something I didn't like at all. My alcohol tolerance stops after two drinks, recently reduced to one. Mary Jane had no effect on me.

[Dr.B. I swept my spending problem completely away last month by spending a good $10,000 more than I made. Perhaps I need to consider myself no longer sensible in this area. I refrain from flying suddenly to see Clari. Is that enough?]

Mozart

My friend Jean hates Mozart. She hated playing him on the piano and hated singing him. In particular she hated "Deh vieni non tardar," the great aria from Nozze di Figaro, the one that Cecilia refused to sing when she sang Susanna at the Met. Maybe Cecilia hates it, too.

So Jean watches the ARTS channel all day, and one day someone came on singing "Deh vieni non tardar," and she actually liked it. Who can have achieved this miracle? It turned out to be Anna Netrebko.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Plans

I have bought myself into a month long class in Florence. A friend is teaching it, and it lasts from July 3 to Aug 1. Italy is hot in July. I am flying to Zurich where I will drop in to a performance of Carmen with Kasarova and Kaufmann. This was irresistible. Rinaldo is also on the schedule. Flights to Zurich are cheaper than anything to Italy.

A flyer for Clari in May dropped mysteriously into my in box. I have been spending money like there was no tomorrow, so maybe I should drop in to see that, too. If you get into the habit of spending money, is it possible to get back out again?

A friend reminds me that if I spend too much money, I will just have to get a job.