Monday, December 28, 2009

Top for 2009

I saw 25 live opera performances this year, including the Santa Fe Opera, the San Francisco Opera and the Met simulcasts, and this is what impressed me.

1. The peak operatic experience this year for me was undoubtedly the San Francisco Opera's production of Porgy and Bess. I had not known until this moment how absolutely exciting and moving this work could be. Congratulations to everyone involved.

2. Second place for me has to be Jonas Kaufmann's wonderful Lohengrin in Munich. If he came to rescue me, I would not care who he "really" was.

3. The semi-staged Dido and Aeneas at the Mondavi Center with Philharmonia Baroque was simply wonderful.

4. Patricia Racette's Il Trittico at the San Francisco Opera was a tour de force. And the production in San Francisco is far better than the Met's, entirely removing the revulsion against excess corniness that every Suor Angelica except this one seems to have. Seeing the great Ewa Podleś was a bonus.

5. This is a personal list. It is rare that a work and its artists so completely mesh as in the Metropolitan Opera's simulcast of La Rondine with Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna. The Met version was virtually a replay of the San Francisco production last year, but it was equally great the second time.

6-10. The entire season at the Santa Fe Opera. 5 operas in 5 days is a little overwhelming, but every work was interesting, well sung and well presented. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Opera repertoire is too small. This single year included 2 Elixirs (Santa Fe and Sacramento), 2 La Traviatas (San Francisco and Santa Fe) and 2 Hoffmanns (Berkeley and the Metropolitan.) A little digging would please me, but in these financial times I understand the need for conservative repertoire.

Maybe you could do La Bohème every year. Oops. I forgot the La Bohème movie with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon, seen in the theater and again at home on TV at Christmas. Anna is such a great actress. She sets the standard for operatic acting.

Worst? Abduction in San Francisco, followed closely by Aida. Apologies to Dolora Zajick.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tales of Hoffmann in HD


Here is the cast for the simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera of Les Contes d'Hoffmann broadcast live on Saturday:


Olympia Kathleen Kim
Antonia /Stella Anna Netrebko
Giulietta Ekaterina Gubanova
Nicklausse/ The Muse Kate Lindsey
Hoffmann Joseph Calleja
Four Villains Alan Held
Conductor James Levine

The director, Bartlett Sher, has obviously read my idea of staging an opera as Austin Powers. Olympia's father, Coppélius, was dressed as Dr. Evil. I waited in vain for him to raise his pinkie.

The production was fun and didn't quite know what it was doing. Kathleen Kim was exactly what she was supposed to be.

In this production Nicklausse hovers in all the scenes, controlling and ultimately destroying all of Hoffmann's relationships. Why didn't I notice this before? Nicklausse wants Hoffmann to have bad relationships so he will be a better poet. Did Goethe have a lot of unhappy relationships? (I always compare any poet to Goethe, the man who makes German sound good.) Kate Lindsay was charming and pleasingly androgynous.

I see now why Anna Netrebko wanted to sing Antonia. In her version the character is wonderfully intense and dramatic. On the HD screen she lies dead with a tear running down her cheek. I thought Anna looked good and sang well.

The three villains are always James Morris for me. Alan Held was ok I guess.

I can't make up my mind about Joseph Calleja. His voice has an odd flutter, but I thought his characterization of Hoffmann was perfect.

The order of Giulietta and Antonia is sometimes reversed. The Giulietta scene was very close to an orgy.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1870-90]

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Maestro


I want to say after seeing the HD simulcast of Hoffmann today how wonderfully lucky we are to be living in the time of James Levine. He may just be the greatest opera conductor that ever lived. He brings his intelligence, his heart and his soul to every performance. Bravo.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tosca at last

At this point my opinions about the Metropolitan Opera's Tosca are irrelevant.

Production: Why all the fuss? The lighting is so dark you can't see anything anyway. It was hard to see on my tiny tv but the virgin seemed to have a boob hanging out. There was some silliness at the end, but I was falling asleep. Maybe a cooler Tosca would work better.

Alvarez and Mattila are not well matched vocally. He is light and bright while she is dark and heavy. I haven't been liking Mattila lately. She is cast in repertoire that she has no particular sympathy for.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

No Divorce

According to this blog devoted to Angela Gheorghiu, there will be no divorce. For now. Ah love.



If she gets tired of Roberto, there's always Jack Black.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Passionate Americans

The center of classical music may lie elsewhere, but we Americans bring our own particular passion to the field. This list is not inclusive but reflects my own taste.

There is Lorraine Hunt Lieberson whose Bach I wish to specially honor.



I hear so much more here than with the other mezzo who sings Bach. I like and occasionally love Lorraine's Handel, but nothing surpasses her Bach. In YouTube there is a recording of Ich Habe Genug, her last appearance, where she sings in her hospital gown. "I have enough. I am ready to depart." But I simply could not bear it. And besides this is perfection.

We are apparently into Bach this morning, so here are two more passionate Americans: Kathleen Battle and Wynton Marsalis doing an aria from Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen.



No one brings more of her heart to music than Kathleen.

This list would not be complete without the very passionate Jessye Norman, here in Ariadne auf Naxos.



No one soared higher than Jessye.

New to my list is the very passionate Joyce DiDonato, here in Handel.



You can absolutely not beat this. She joins the long list of passionate American singers. If I have omitted your favorite, then make your own list.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More than you wanted to know about harpsichord technique

I decided to review Harpsichord Technique -- a guide to expressivity by Nancy Metzger. She quotes all the masters who have previously written on the subject--François Couperin, Arnolt Schlick, Girolamo Diruta, Jean-Philippe Rameau, etc.

She recommends something she calls the super legato. From my days as a recorder of midi music I know that the legato is achieved by allowing a note to extend the entire time until the next note starts. With a super legato there is an additional bit of overlap. The two styles produce different effects. To get two of the same note you must release the first before the second begins, so super legato is not possible. In midi this is simple to achieve, but by a live player it takes practice holding the fingers down.

How interesting. More so than organs or pianos there is a lot of difference between one harpsichord and another. It can vary how far the key goes down before the plucker encounters the string. It can vary how hard you push to get the string to pluck. It takes practice with the particular harpsichord to achieve perfection here. I have also been told you should replace all the pluckers at once so there will be consistency in how hard you push from one key to another.

She explains how to get the super legato and provides exercises.

Since the volume doesn't vary on a harpsichord, you are stuck varying the length of the notes relative to one another to get any kind of expression.

She discusses style brisé -- broken chord arpeggiation. This should involve some holding down of the keys -- rather like imitating a sustain pedal, which doesn't exist on the harpsichord.

The short version of this long book is that expression on the harpsichord derives primarily through manipulation of the spaces between the notes. You will be playing primarily music written for the harpsichord, and the composer will have been aware of how this was done.

A modern professional harpsichordist will be required to realize from a figured bass where these expressivity principles will be used in notes of the keyboardist's own invention.

It's a clear and fascinating book.

Why am I writing about this? I believe articulation to be a vital part of expressivity in singing, too, but in a far more complex and subtle way than for a keyboardist. Few singers have any awareness at all of how this features in their own singing. The widest variety in the use of articulation in singing by a wide margin is, of course, to be found in the singing of Cecilia Bartoli. I get the feeling she isn't hanging out with us.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The rise of Jonas Kaufmann


I feel proud to have witnessed the rise of the career of Jonas Kaufmann. When I first began writing about him there were only about 3 videos of him on YouTube. Now there are over 600 without duplicates.

On 1/23/2007, almost three years ago, I wandered quite by accident into a performance of Fidelio at the Zurich opera. I described him as "a Florestan to die for." I was going for the opera rather than the performers. I immediately pegged him as a Heldentenor. And here.

By March he had made my sexiest list. A year later I was calling him "my boy."

Well, I guess he isn't mine any more. Everyone is flying to Milan to hear him in Carmen. They love him all around the world. Congratulations, Jonas. You deserve it.

The woman in the picture is his wife.

P.S. I feel I must add a footnote. I knew Jonas existed long before this because I saw him in Nina, La Pazza per Amore, the Paisiello opera filmed in Zurich with Cecilia Bartoli. What changed in the Fidelio performance was the idea that he might be significant for something besides his looks.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Google Alerts for Jonas

These are the Google Alerts I have gotten for Jonas Kaufmann over the last three days. He's hot right now because he is singing Don Jose at La Scala. Of course, I have seen his Don Jose in Zurich. It was gorgeous.



Google News Alert for: Jonas Kaufmann
The Associated Press
Critics applaud women in La Scala's 'Carmen'
The Associated Press
German tenor "Jonas Kaufmann sang Don Jose with a sweetness and passionate abandon," wrote Pestelli. Baritone Erwin Schrott as Escamillo has "a beautiful ...
See all stories on this topic
guardian.co.uk
Review of the decade: Classical
guardian.co.uk
... have maintained the Royal Opera as a place where the best singers – Plácido Domingo, Anna Netrebko, Bryn Terfel, Jonas Kaufmann – still want to be seen. ...
See all stories on this topic

Monday, December 07, 2009

DiDonato


I want to say that I agree this time with Alex Ross in his praise of Joyce DiDonato. I wouldn't want anyone to think that because I gave her advice I don't like her. With me it might be possible to say that the size of my passion may be gauged by the extent of my advice. She is coming into her prime. I think she is the sort of person that grows on you. Viva.

Camerata

Here in Sacramento everything is a Camerata. Yesterday I went to the Camerata California Christmas concert at Trinity Cathedral, the same church where I sang in my twenties.

Camerata California is noted for their interesting programming. They featured Beverly Wesner Hoehn on harp and managed to find two extended works for chorus and harp: With this Child by Michael Mauldin and A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten. "There is no rose of such virtu as is the rose that bare Jesu." This is my favorite Britten, and I sang it here in this place.

The harpist also played a solo: Fantasie on Stille Nacht by Marcel Grandjany. And Trois noel Des Oiseaux? How did they manage that? Fascinating.  Enjoy it for yourself.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Age of Netrebko

It is the end of the decade in less than a month, and before anyone else can say it I want to declare the 00 decade as the decade of Anna Netrebko. For more reasons than I could possibly count.

Breaking the Verdi Curse

We the audience of the San Francisco Opera are very pleased with our new Italian conductor, Nicola Luisotti. This season he has done Otello, Il Trovatore and Salome, the last the only German language opera I see in his credits. He knows his Italian repertoire and occasionally can be seen smooching with the female members of the orchestra. Everyone is very pleased. Is it too soon to declare the end of the Verdi curse?

Otello is an opera about a successful man honored above his expectations and married to the girl of his dreams, who cannot quite believe his luck. In his deepest heart he knows Desdemona is too good for him.


Johan Botha as Otello and Zvetelina Vassileva as Desdemona were very believable in this pairing. She is small, ethereal and devoted; he is large, dark and imposing. In short a mismatch. His enormous size emphasizes this dissonance.


Marco Vratogna as Iago was suitably diabolical and deceptive. For my taste his voice is not quite large enough for Verdi villains, but he successfully compensates with acting, phrasing and the other aspects of his performance.

Note to the San Francisco Opera: could you add a bit of information about nationality and training to the bios, please? It would be nice to have an idea of them as people and not just as roles and companies.

And now I am going to annoy everyone by discussing Johan Botha whom I have now seen in 2 Verdi roles in a one month period.

His big voice is beautiful and his legato is well developed. For me the beauty of his singing--the reason you are seeing him in opera at all--would be enhanced with better physical conditioning. Control of the phrase and control of the body are one.

I liked the one set production.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1870-90]

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Working Girls

This is a bit like reality TV. The Gala in Baden Baden 2007.














Question: Are Elina and Anna speaking to each other in Russian anywhere in this?

I have the DVD of this gala but this is all I said about it. It's fun. Fabulous Quartet form Rigoletto.

All this talk about babies is pretty annoying.

Monday, November 30, 2009

News from Facebook

"Jonas Kaufmann and Cecilia Bartoli named joint Artist-of-the-Year Diapason d'Or 2009 For the first time France Musique listeners and Diapason readers were able to vote on the Artist of the Year award and jointly selected Jonas Kaufmann and Cecilia Bartoli from 15 contenders for the title. The prize was awarded last night in recognition of Jonas' Romantic Arias and Cecilia's Sacrificium recording and album."

Cool. I am in tune with the universe.

Despite the fact that the news was put out by Jonas' fan page, it has to mean the Sehnsucht album and not the Romantic Arias album. Or if it isn't a mistake then they awarded to an album from last year.

This is the most GQ of Jonas' pictures.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas Presents


Everyone is right in thinking that Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann in Puccini's Madama Butterfly is the recording to give for Christmas. Angela is the most stylish verismo singer around, and Jonas is a wonderful partner for her.


I very much enjoyed Bellini's La Sonnambula as recorded by Cecilia Bartoli and Juan Diego Florez. Cecilia's bel canto is more fluid than anyone else's. By all means consider this.


But then how could you possibly skip this recording of Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi with Elina Garanča and Anna Netrebko. There voices blend in a way that is magical. It's hard to choose.

I can't believe how badly I've fallen behind in reviewing opera videos. This year the complete opera CD's seem to overshadow most things.


This video with Natalie Dessay should satisfy almost anyone. It may be the funniest opera video ever made.


And the La Boheme film with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon is finally out on DVD. If you don't want to give it, you should find a way to see it.


Joyce DiDonato makes my list this year for the best Handel album. Forget Rolando's.


Jonas and Cecilia tied for the Diapason d'Or artist of the year. Sehnsucht is all German repertoire with an emphasis on Wagner.


Cecilia Bartoli continues her interest in the Baroque with Sacrificium. She attempts to rival the gods, and may just possibly succeed.

Hmm.

Or follow my lead and forget about opera. Try a little Bach with Murray Perahia.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Blogging

People want me to write about them. This may be difficult to explain, but I am not trying to succeed at this. I never pay any attention to how many people are reading me, and prefer to assume that no one is. Paul, Chris, Sarah, and four other people. People who are googled about someone in particular that I have written about. I was sort of shocked when my visit to see Jonas in Lohengrin did not google.

I get email. While I was at jury duty, I got a phone call--that was a first.

I just go to things because I want to and think I might enjoy them. Lately I have been remarkably successful at selecting events that I will enjoy. I don't write about everything I go to. I am very susceptible to stress and don't want to add any to my life. I am just trying to have fun.

However, my funds are limited, so if you have FREE TICKETS, by all means let me know.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Too soon for another Interview

I have translated this interview from the Financial Times Deutschland with Cecilia Bartoli [I think. I can't find it now,] which has only a bit of repeat material from the previous translation:

Classical music star Cecilia Bartoli hates the dictates of beauty

Essen. She is so popular that she even guests on "Wetten, dass…" Now classical music star Cecilia Bartoli with her CD "Sacrificium" appreciates the suffering of the castrati and, naturally, their angelic singing. On 13 November she appeared in Cologne. Jürgen Overkott spoke with the merry Diva.

JO: You speak Spanish, French, English and German apart from your native language Italian still…

Cecilia Bartoli: … German however only in the restaurant. It is enough in order to order a menu.

JO: Her modesty honours her. And nevertheless I ask the question: Do you collect languages?

Cecilia Bartoli: No, no. I collect no language, I collect music. That is a language, which is everywhere understood. Everyone can hear music, and everyone can make music. Music is a language which goes directly in the heart.

JO: And it is the only language, which does not need words…

Cecilia Bartoli: … naturally, but music is suitable and also outstanding to strengthen the effect of poetry.

JO: You love to rediscover lost music pieces. Are you the hunter of lost treasures?

Cecilia Bartoli: Yes, actually I love to rescue musical treasures from archives. There still lie many other jewels, worth digging up. I believe that they still have a lot to say to us. But I love also the popular repertoire beyond that. You know, I admire Mozart. And if one loves Mozart, one must be occupied also with Haydn. Because Haydn affected Mozart strongly. Actually one would have to always sing pieces of both.

JO: Now you let the art of the castrati revive again. In what relationship did the singing stars of the 18th century stand to Mozart?

Cecilia Bartoli: There is a direct relationship. Mozart wrote much music for castrati, many pieces for mezzosoprano actually were for castrati. The high men’s voices were in the 18th Century very much in vogue, and even Rossini in the 19th Century still wrote for castrati.

JO: How did you discover the charm of the castrato music for yourself?

Cecilia Bartoli: That has something to do with Naples. There was there, just like in Bologna, a school for castrati, and their teacher was Porpora, a teacher and a composer. And the music of Porpora for stars such as Farinelli impressed me very much - it is music full of feeling. Porporas arias are very dramatic, very pathetic, they shimmer in many colors.

JO: Farinelli was the superstar of the castrati. He could even ensure that the depressive king of Spain felt better. Is music medicine?

Cecilia Bartoli: Oh yes! It’s good that you mention that. Farinelli could not heal the king, but nevertheless alleviated his condition. He had to sing the same six songs after midnight until in the morning around four, always. But: Farinelli became with time a trusted friend of the king and finally prime minister.

JO: But Farinelli paid a high price: He had always to sing the same pieces.

Cecilia Bartoli: (laughs) Yes, correct. That is about the same as if Elton John would have to play "Candle in The wind" for the Queen each night. Well, but Farinelli has done it nevertheless for the king…

JO: Now castrati are men, but no longer male. Doesn’t eroticism go? [Geht da nicht die Erotik flöten?]

Cecilia Bartoli: No, no. Directly with Farinelli there is an abundance of fine psychological shades, of gentle melancholy. The castrati were not men, were not women. Perhaps they were in a position to be able to mediate between the two sexes.

JO: For their heavenly voices the castrati opened the gate to hell. Is it permitted for maintenance in Top quality to pay every price?

Cecilia Bartoli: Ha! Good question! The castrati have, like the title of my album suggests, actually made a sacrifice for their art. In former times annually 4000 boys were castrated. Poor families saw therein a possibility to escape from their fate. And only two or three castrati actually made a career. But is it nowadays really different? Many artists cut away at their bodies. Think only of Michael Jackson! That was nevertheless indescribable: Finally was not his nose more genuine. We can be terrorized by the dictates of beauty.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Elixir in Sacramento

Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, now playing at the Sacramento Opera, makes widely varying impressions, depending much on how Adina is portrayed.

On the video with Rolando Villazon she is a serious woman who sits at home in her large house and reads. At Santa Fe she was a school teacher. In Sacramento she is clearly a fast girl who is completely in character when she decides to marry Sergeant Belcore. I think it's more emotionally satisfying when she is a woman of substance.

The production places us in the Napa Valley in the 40s. It doesn't really matter where it takes place.

The cast is good. Katrina Thurman's Adina is a light-voiced coloratura. Dinyar Vania is excellent as the countrified hero Nemorino with interesting Italian phrasing.

We clearly cannot blame Verdi for the Italian opera Oom-pah-pah style he is so often criticized for. He obviously got it from Donizetti. The most prominent player in the orchestra was the bass drum and cymbals. I don't remember noticing this so much before.

If you like your comedy painted with broad strokes, you will love this.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blogging

I went to the Sacramento Opera last night. Perhaps I will blog about the opera, perhaps not. There was a booth selling jewelry, and I bought a pale blue brooch that went with my outfit. I pinned it on, but was unhappy with where I had pinned it. "I should pin it higher, like that woman," pointing to someone standing facing me with a silver brooch pinned much higher.

"Hello, Barbara, I'm DA," she said. Conversation. She recognized my laugh from 50 years ago. Some things never change. I said, "I sit and watch TV all day, and then I fly to somewhere to see opera." She said she did this, too, and her heart throb was Marcello Alvarez. Pronounced Marsello. She goes out to eat with him.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bernarda Fink Schubert Lieder


For my ears Bernarda Fink is obviously not German, though her diction is excellent. This is hard to explain. The phrasing is beautiful but not exactly German. I'm told she is from Argentina.

I love Schubert, and find these easy to listen to. Two criticisms of the album:
  • If I turn the sound down to the point where it doesn't hurt my ears, I can hardly hear the piano. This is an engineering issue.
  • Engineer also must insert a bit of dead space at the end of each song so you can tell when one stops and the next one begins. This problem is worse because of the first item.
Her voice is very sweet, but the tone does not vary much. There are songs here I haven't heard in years: "Ganymed," "Die junge Nonne," "An Silvia." She never gets really carried away.

I apologize for not buying something more current, but I really love Schubert.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Advice

I remember distinctly saying I would never give advice to JD whom I saw in recital the other night. Well, I lied.

This is sort of weird advice. It's sort of recital as theater rather than recital as singing. I liked very much the musical interpretations of the songs, and I definitely don't think--deeply as I love her--that everyone has to turn into Cecilia every time they perform, as one reviewer declared.

It is, however, important to communicate, both to yourself and to the audience....
here is the start of the song....
here is a transition to the second section....
now I am at the emotional climax...
and this, ahem, THIS is the end.

I told you it would be weird. Way too many songs got over without anyone being able to tell. Give us a signal. Relax something.

This reminds me of the conducting class exercise where we were to get everyone to come in together without actually moving. This turned out to be easy. One changes the expression on ones face.

Tell us every second of the way what we are expected to do without actually doing anything. Tell us that the song has finished, but we are not to clap. Tell us exactly when to start clapping. Remember, you are in charge.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

DiDonato recital


I don't think I've ever done this before, but here is the entire program for the Joyce DiDonato recital in San Francisco Monday night.

I. Arie Antiche

“Danza, danza, fanciulla gentile” Francesco Durante
“Se tu m’ami” Giovanni Pergolesi
“Amarilli mia bella” Giulio Caccini
“Mio ben” Luigi Rossi
“Nel cor piu non mi sento” Giovanni Paisiello
“Or ch’io non sequo piu” Raffaello Rontani (?-1622)

II. “Willow Song” from Otello by Gioacchino Rossini

III. I Canti Della Sera by Francesco Santoliquido (1883-1971)

“L’assiolo canta”
“Alba di luna sul bosco”
“Tristezza crepuscolare”
“L’incontro”

[Everything before the intermission was in Italian. I have put in dates for anyone I am not familiar with. I always think it is important to put things in a context. Santoliquido was completely unfamiliar, intimate and sexy. Perhaps she will record them. She promised Italian love songs some time in the future.]

INTERMISSION

[Everything after the intermission was in Spanish or Catalan. I can't tell the difference.]

IV. Canciones Classica by Frenando Obradors (1897-1945)

“La mi sola, Laureola”
“Al Amor”
“Corazon, porque pasais?”
“The jealous lad”
“Dreaming of love, dear mother”
“From the finest hair”
“Tiny the Bride” “Tiny the bride, tiny the groom, tiny the parlor, and the bedroom, which is why I want a tiny bed with a mosquito net.”

[I had a teacher long ago who was especially fond of Obradors, but this may be the first time I have heard these songs. They're all love songs, I believe. They aren't in my iTunes.]

V. “La Maja Dolorosa No.1. No. 2, No. 3” by Enrique Granados
[This group was dedicated to the memory of James Schwabacher who died this past year.]

VI. Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002)

“Cuba dentro de un piano”
“Punto de Habanera”
“Nighe, nighe”
“Canto Negro”

Encores

“Tanti affetti” Rossini
[Everyone stood up and shouted after this one. She sang a very ornamented version.]

“Over the rainbow” by Harold Arlen

She likes to talk. It all began here for her and she was excited to be in San Francisco again. She spoke of memories of Jimmy Schwabacher, and made it clear that for her there has truly been an over the rainbow.

Her singing was warm and emotional. She made a personal connection with each piece. She gets it. Viva.

I will have to begin paying more attention to her.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dido


My friend J, who is 88, and I were thinking this was the first time we had ever been to a concert devoted entirely to Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Coming into the Mondavi Center to hear Philharmonia Baroque last night, the usher asked, “What’s his first name?” I said Henry, and another usher said, “That’s spelled ‘H-E-N-R-I.'” Oh heavens no. He’s English, not French.

How can this great composer be so little known? I have always been especially fond of the middle Baroque, that most neglected of all style periods. But thinking about it now, perhaps it is only the great Purcell I am especially fond of.

Nicholas McGegan, the conductor of Philharmonia Baroque, talked before the concert and spoke about the French influence on Purcell – King Charles II was raised in France – and the roughness of English harmony compared to the French. I think it is this roughness that I love, the way the lines bounce against one another, the liveliness of the rhythms, the astounding beauty of the English text setting, never heard before or since.

Purcell is my man. Let’s have an All-Purcell-All-The-Time festival. We would probably be criticized for performing inferior repertoire. [Sorry. This is currently a sore point for me.]

There were questions after the talk, and I wanted to ask, “Why aren’t you famous?” This would have been unfortunate because McGegan probably already regards himself as famous.

I asked about Elizabeth Blumenstock, the concertmistress of the Philharmonia Baroque and was told she was in Italy this month. She has a life that is larger than her orchestra. Philharmonia Baroque is an early instruments orchestra, but the orchestra listing was missing from the program.

The first half of the program was devoted to an instrumental piece called Chacony, a couple of anthems and a fascinating Suite from Abdelazer, or The Moor’s Revenge. These are isolated movements to be played between scenes of a play. In the center is the text:

Lucinda is bewitching fair.
All o’er engaging is her Air.

In ev’ry Song Lucinda’s Fam’d.
She is the Queen of Love proclaimed.
To all she does a Flame impart
Expiring Victims feel her Dart.

Strephon for her has Love expressed,
Philander sighs too with the rest;
Wracked with Despair each one complains,
Unmov’d, untouch’t She all disdains.

This small aria was performed sweetly by Celine Ricci--all with the wonderful Purcellian expressive ornamentation.

The second half of the program was devoted to the most perfect piece of music ever composed, the small opera Dido and Aeneas.

As is the case with all music from the Baroque, these modern performers ornamented beyond the written score, especially in the repeats. My old-fashioned ears enjoyed it very much.

There is simply too much to write. The excellent chorus transformed into a group of hags for the witches choruses. Cynthia Sieden transformed magically from Belinda to first witch and back again. Celine Ricci sang both the second woman with her amazing aria “Oft she visits this lone mountain,” taken at a very fast clip, and the second witch. “She” in this aria refers to the goddess Diana. Jill Grove was an excellent, evil sorceress. William Berger was the most intense Aeneas I’ve ever heard.

This performance was semi-staged. A throne was provided for Dido, and people moved about, good guys stage right, bad guys stage left.

Susan Graham brought us Dido. I found her voice to be just right for the role, enough weight for the deep sadness of the character, enough lightness for the ornaments. The entire performance was a joy--lively, dramatic and fun.

[My protestations that I did not wish to be famous may be in vain. McGegan kept looking at me and smiling. He does seem to smile all the time, so maybe I imagined this. Or maybe he was just happy we stopped coughing.]

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Singing in the Italian Baroque

It's all very well to write about singing in various periods, but it's fun to hear examples.


Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda 1624

Misc

The commenters to Jonas Kaufmann on YouTube always compare him unfavorably with Fritz Wunderlich. Well, they're both German and they're both tenors, but as far as I can see that's all they have in common. They're sort of at opposite ends of the Fach. What is the point of comparing them?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

From the House of the Dead


From the House of the Dead by Leoš Janáček was virtually completed in 1928 when the composer died. It turns out I don't have to go to New York. I think this film from 2007 from Aix-en-Provence is the same production. Yes.

The film reunites Patrice Chereau and Pierre Boulez who did the centennial Ring together in 1976. At the Met it is Salonen conducting. New for the Met are Peter Mattei as Shishkov and Willard White as Gorianchikov. Many of the rest of the cast are the same as the DVD. It uses the edition prepared by Sir Charles Mackerras, the father of all modern Janáček, and John Tyrrell.

Enough journalism. No one tops Dostoevsky, the source of the plot, for unrelenting grimness. I used to read a lot of Russian literature when I was much younger, and loved it. Now this opera is simply too dark, though there is a brief turn toward the light at the end.

We are in a men's prison, and the opera consists almost entirely of prisoners telling their grim stories of violence.

The music is wonderful, just the right balance of dissonance and consonance to please. But there are no sopranos to thrill us and charm us as there are in Jenufa.

It definitely violates the three baritones rule. [Never go to an opera where three of the characters are baritones.] In fact they all seem like baritones, even when they're not.

The captured eagle is freed and flies away. Thank God.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

About Turandot

According to Concert Opera Boston:

"A question that has followed Turandot around for decades concerns the proper pronunciation of the title character’s name. The name Turandot apparently is derived from the Persian “Turandokht,” meaning “daughter of Turan,” Turan being a region of what was then Persia, later called Turkestan. The name Turandokht and the fact that Gozzi’s play was entitled Turandotte imply that the final t should be pronounced. However, according to Rosa Raisa, who created the title role, Puccini pronounced it without the final t." The stuff you read.

There's lots of information on the internet about the ending of Turandot.

From the Metropolitan Opera is this:

"Alfano was given a year to write Turandot’s final act, as Toscanini wanted the piece to premiere on the anniversary of Puccini’s death. Alfano hastily completed what he could, using Puccini’s drafts and incorporating his own style when the drafts were unclear or when no music existed at all. Alfano heard the complete orchestrations of the first two acts just twenty days before his own draft was due; there simply was no time for him to completely familiarize himself with Puccini’s orchestral intentions for the work.

"Alfano’s final act was famously rejected by Toscanini, who cut large parts of his work. At the 1926 premiere of Turandot at La Scala, Toscanini conducted the opera until the moment of Liù’s death, then set down his baton and announced, “Here is where the opera ends, because at this point the Maestro died.” Although Toscanini and others did later conduct most of Alfano’s ending, it was not until 1982 that the piece was performed in its entirety. The complete version has since become quite popular."

Apparently we normally hear the shortened version composed by Alfano and severely cut by Toscanini.

I am researching all this because I had such a different take on the opera from the performance in the simulcast than I have ever had before, and because I realize the part that was different for me was the parts composed by Alfano. Was I hearing something different, or was the performance just that different?

Footnote:

I asked the Met and received this answer: "The short of it is that Alfano was forced to edit and cut his original ending by Puccini's publisher, Tito Ricordi, and conductor Arturo Toscanini. This second version became the standard and is the one performed at the Met and virtually everywhere else."

What this means is that my reaction was to the performance.

Everything is on YouTube, including a recording of Alfano's original ending.





The lengthy footnote on the film includes this interesting paragraph:

Puccini died without completing Turandot. He left behind 36 pages of sketches on 23 sheets for the end of Turandot, together with instructions that Riccardo Zandonai should finish the opera. Puccini's son Tonio objected, and eventually Franco Alfano was chosen to flesh out the sketches. Alfano was chosen because his opera "La leggenda di Sakùntala" resembled Turandot in its setting and heavy orchestration.

Plea

Anna, come back to us. We miss you.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Met Turandot



Turandot.............Maria Guleghina
Calàf...................Marcello Giordani
Liù.....................Marina Poplavskaya
Timur.................Samuel Ramey

I have seen the Zeffirelli production of Puccini's Turandot from the Metropolitan Opera before: once with Placido Domingo on television and once in the house with Andrea Gruber. It's very beautiful and worth seeing again. I admit to being a little freaked out by the men creeping around the stage, but the rest is gorgeous.

Marina Poplavskaya was a wonderful Liu, but I've seen equally wonderful singers in this role. Marcello Giordani was a powerful Calaf, but I have witnessed other wonderful tenors in this role.

But this is the first time the ice princess has come to life for me. She is terrified of this stranger as she has never been before. When Liu kills herself in order not to reveal the name, Turandot feels this as she has not felt anything before. She feels herself fall in love and the loss of her power with genuine terror. We hear the words "my first tears" as we have never heard them before. This is a deeply emotional Turandot who sees her life crumbling before her eyes. We feel her fall in love. And we see him see her fall. We know as he does that it is safe for him to tell his name, that with this word his triumph is complete.

The Turandot of Maria Guleghina is acted like nothing I have ever seen before. Brava. And the singing was also good.

HD

In the theater often the sound came and went, though not during "Nessun dorma" as I had bet someone, and occasionally the picture went with it. Boo. Pull yourselves together, gang.

The HD surprise, who will host, was really a surprise: Patricia Racette. She has moved up a rung, hopefully due to her fabulous Trittico in San Francisco. She was excellent.

She interviewed Charles Anthony who sang the Emperor. He's been at the Met for over 50 years.

She interviewed members of the brass section because of their recently released CD.

She interviewed Marcello and Maria together and brought out the wonderful rapport between them, part of the explanation for the beauty of this performance.

Let's hope we see her again in this role.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

General Horne



No offense to Bartoli, but we older folks had our own pseudo castrato in the magnificent Marilyn Horne. She performed Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso in San Francisco, too, where this film is from.  I was there.

She balanced her voice in her throat with such precision that she could do virtually anything with it.

GQ


Jonas Kaufmann won the GQ classical music man of the year 2009 award on November 3. Picture was stolen from Parsifal's who probably stole it from somewhere else. Apologies. Classical music isn't even a category in GQ Brittain, as near as I can tell.

The men of the GQ awards all have a certain look to them which fits Jonas very well. Thin. Wild hair. Wait a minute! They gave an award to Mickey Rourke.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Did not see this coming



Picture stolen from Eye Bags. I decided to post this because of the clearly visible wedding ring on the third finger left hand. Now I'm starting to wonder.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Salome as Dracula


There was actual blood on the floor for the Salome at the San Francisco Opera. All we needed was for Salome to kneel down and take a lick and we were in a Warhol Dracula movie. Very creepy.

This woman, Nadja Michael, has already two videos you can buy of her performance as Salome. She was sick on Friday, but Gockley persuaded her to perform for the matinee on Sunday. I got the impression that she was struggling with her voice a little, but the over all effect was intense and stunning. If you want visible nudity, you will have to stick with the divinely fearless Maria Ewing, but for serious creepiness Nadja is your girl.

She is my second pushed up mezzo in a week, and this seems to be a workable trend. Remember Violetta Urmana was the first. Pushed up mezzo is far better that pushed down lyric soprano.

The production took a slightly different perspective from others. We are in a space away from Herod's banquet with Jokanaan's prison chamber at the rear instead of its usual position below the stage. The stage was filled with a large circle of light. The movement of the drama depends entirely on the singing actors to bring it too life. This is in sharp contrast to the busy, cluttered art deco stage used at the Met recently, which for me didn't work at all.

Big voices dominated: Nadja Michael has reserves of power. The Jokanaan of Greer Grimsley was a stunning blast of force, with just the right pomposity in the tone to create the feeling of a Biblical prophet. Irina Mishura as Herodias has a huge voice.

Kim Begley as Herod was just a senile old man infatuated with his step-daughter. Excellent.

This is a character drama, and it is the interplay of all these obsessed characters that makes it work as theater. Salome is obsessed with Jokanaan. Jokanaan is obsessed with God and the new messiah. Herod is obsessed with Salome. Herodias is obsessed with getting rid of Jokanaan. Naraboth is obsessed with Salome. All must make their impression to get the greatest effect.

It was all quite astounding and made my heart palpitate. Maestro Nicola Luisotti was our conductor.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1890-1910]

Pushing

Speaking of pushed down voices, as I was in the Salome review, we have nowadays the tenor problem. To whom it may concern: the search for dramatic tenors should begin in the baritone Fach and not start with lyric tenors whose careers you then destroy.

Rolando Villazon is definitely pushing his voice down to get a thick tone in his recent Handel album. This is sad because it could have been just his thing.

Paul Groves was doing this at Santa Fe, and I thought maybe a couple of the apprentice tenors, too. This is to be on the alert for. If the Santa Fe apprentice program is messing with the technique of their charges, then best to steer clear.

I never hear even a hint of that at Merola.

Being a pushed down tenor worked for Mario del Monaco, but think how much better pushed up baritone worked for Placido Domingo.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Angela in Jakarta

Read here an interview with Angela Gheorghiu.

And of course Opera Chic has all the dirt here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tosca

I was off somewhere when Tosca was simulcast and am feeling left out of the discussion.

People are raving about the San Francisco Salome (Zalomay), so I bought a ticket for Sunday.

Daughter


The San Francisco Opera presented the Natalie Dessay version of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment without Natalie. Diana Damrau who sang Marie maintained the high level of slapstick comedy established by Natalie. It is simply a very pleasing concept. I think I could support slapstick opera wherever it might appear.

Special kudos must go to Meredith Arwady as the The Marquise of Berkenfeld. This is already my fourth encounter with Ms. Arwady, who I first heard as Gaea in Daphne at Santa Fe. She bills herself as a contralto, that rarest of operatic birds, nowadays rarer than countertenors. She was the other contralto in Il Trittico earlier this season. She was also Pasqualita in the Met simulcast of Doctor Atomic. Her voice sounds like a pleasingly feminine foghorn, and her comic acting for Daughter was outstanding. She ad libbed a bit of "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" that left me wanting more.

Diana Damrau isn't French, but neither is anyone else in the cast, so there was a consistent mangling of French across the cast. Juan Diego Florez was adorable as Tonio and hit all 9 of his Cs.

My favorite bit in this production is when Marie in exile pulls out her souvenirs from the regimental days and produces a sprouted potato. Love it. Love the opera done this way.