Friday, July 31, 2009


It's July and time for my sexiest opera singers list.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Renée Fleming

Angela Gheorghiu

Roberto Alagna. I think he's cute.

Anna Netrebko

Cecilia Bartoli

Juan Diego Florez

Jonas Kaufmann

Elina Garanča. Will anyone wonder why this picture is supposed to be sexy?

Maria Guleghina. Or this one?

Erwin Schrott

The last one is Liliana Nikiteanu who always seems very sexy to me. Sexiness like beauty is all in the eye of the beholder.

I'm much happier with these pictures now. For the sexiest in drag category please consult Eye Bags.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Maria Ewing

I cannot explain my taste for this "picture" of Maria Ewing, found by accident on the internet. There's a whole website full of these here. I think the part above the forehead is not so pointy, but the picture is clearly her.

Maria is the only opera singer included in this set. I am assuming that if you wanted to do 3d animation, you could choose these heads as the faces for your characters, attach them to suitable stock bodies, add hair and outfits, and off you go.

Here's something a little more conventional.

Maria is an artist who specialized in very theatrical opera, may be regarded as a founder of the genre. She was most famous for two roles, both entirely outside her natural lyric soprano Fach: Carmen and Salome. She allowed nothing to stand in her way, even nudity.


Dear Metropolitan Opera, Washington National Opera, LA Opera, Santa Fe Opera, San Francisco Opera, etc.

I know I've visited you in the last few years. I know the current financial crisis is affecting your endowments. I cannot save you. My "endowment" is also smaller, and it is what allows me to visit you at all.

I cannot save you, but I can wish you good luck.

New Blog

I found a new blog called Hot Opera Singers here. She actually searches for this stuff. Instead of Googling them like I do. The overall theme is shirtless men.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gerald Finley

New blogger has reminded me that Gerald Finley is also cute.

On the Death of Merce Cunningham

Picture is John Cage and Merce Cunningham.

When I was an undergraduate in Sacramento, Merce Cunningham came to our school with his group and performed. There was a play running in the Little Theater that used a steeply raked stage, and the dancers were required to dance on it. They did the best they could not picking up speed when running down the stage.

Things happened for no apparent reason. In one section one of the male dancers appeared in thick furry leg warmers. We puzzled. What could it mean?

In the pit were two grand pianos and two young men who “played” them. Every once in a while one would lay his arm down on the keyboard or reach inside the piano and pluck the strings. I think it was only later I realized these were John Cage and David Tudor.

One of our professors condescendingly informed us that we simply didn’t understand. As though he did. We did Stravinsky and were at least aware of Webern, but this was something different.

Of course, it was intended to be meaningless. Is that what the professor meant?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Very Unusual

Cecilia Bartoli is not at all like anyone else. For one thing she is musically fearless. She does not hesitate to mold anything to herself, and this number is a fabulous example. It's a cut from her La Sonnambula recording which I listen to quite a bit.

Has any singer ever appeared with the Vienna Philharmonic without a conductor besides her? Pavarotti and Netrebko may sit around listening to singers they admire for the source of their interpretations, a practice that is vastly superior to the mechanical correctness that is so popular today, but you may be sure that La Bartoli is consulting her own musical imagination.

This particular rendition is utterly astounding. The duets with Juan Diego Florez are gorgeous.

Maybe I'll go on a binge and review everything she's ever done that I haven't reviewed before. Maybe I'm ready.

Kaija Saariaho

If you've never heard Saariaho's music, you have to try this: "Parfume de l'instant" (Perfume of the moment). The conductor is Esa-Pekka Salonen, thus rounding out the trio of famous Finns of today.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Kaija Saariaho Interview

[This is also from Opernglas.]


Her newest projects lead the composer to Hamburg, Berlin and Luzern. In the discussion with our coworker Johannes Schmitz she revealed the first details of her third opera "Emilie" - written for a Star soprano - which will be given its first performance in the spring 2010. Selections from the interview.

JS: Frau Saariaho, your music seems to want to advance often into other dimensions of the perception, it can have something fantastic, a metaphysical, perhaps even religious level.

KS: Religious I would not say. Each art must have a mental level and music is for me the art form with the richest possibilities of communication. In music lies a very large secret, it can affect us deeply. In music are so many emotions, that we cannot control.

JS: In August at the season opening of the Berlin Philharmonic your new composition "Laterna Magica" will have its premiere. This composition has to do with Ingmar Bergman and also with the cinema?

KS: It is a metaphor. You know what a Laterna Magica is: the faster the pictures follow one another, the more constant is the movement. This idea was my starting point in order for me to make one think about the tempo in music and its perception. For me it was about the question of how the musical material behaves in different speeds. I came to this by the reading of the autobiography "Laterna Magica" by Ingmar Bergman, which I read in the summer two years ago, when he died. I had already written a lot of "Laterna Magica" before his death. It all came together: his way of describing the light, the way he used light and color in his work as a film director - and my work as a composer. In my thinking music has to do very much with light, and when orchestrating I think very strongly about the concept of colors.

JS: You have also written a new opera, your third after "L'amour de loin" and "Adriana mater." In March of the coming year is the premiere. Is the composition in the meantime complete?

KS: The score is present already, because I finished the work on it recently. It is a work for a single voice and carries the name "Emilie." I wrote this opera for Karita Mattila. But I would not like yet to actually tell much about it, because the team, which will produce the opera is naturally not yet so far.

JS: This Emilie du Chatelet, for many years the unmarried life partner of Voltaire, obviously led an unusually free life. She was well known as a female scientist and had also as a woman a very self-determined life, even to her sexuality. [?]

KS: She was a very passionate person. Her personality appears to me very rich - also with contradictions. That led to some very rich musical material. The personality of Emilie in my opera had to carry already alone, therefore, many contrasts in itself, since the piece is written for one voice only.

JS: The piece is not written for orchestra alone, but you return again to the use of electronic sounds as with "L'amour de loin."

KS: I work in "Emilie" with live electronics. But electronic is not for me an end in itself, it is simply a component of my art. The orchestra for ”Emilie“ is not fully realized: Initially I had a small chamber setting, that should reflect also a little the epoch in which Emilie lived. The harpsichord plays an important role in the instrumentation. But during the composition process I added the sound of more strings, also in order to carry over the power of Karita’s voice. Now the orchestra is approximately 35 persons strong.

JS: Let us again return to the historical person around whom your new opera turns. Is Emilie du Chatelet a kind of model for you personally, possibly for our time? Or are you interested less in the social, perhaps even sociopolitical dimension of the figure?

KS: Naturally I am also interested in this layer of Emilie as part of our life reality - and as part of my life reality, finally I am a woman. But it would reduce the figure very much, if I had pursued only such an intention. The social role of a woman is only one aspect of many. But in the long run my figures interest me more as human beings than as woman or man

Sunday, July 26, 2009


For the Website of the Day Award I nominate Nina Stemme. Have a look.

And now if you need an antidote to all that Wagner try this.

Liebestod, YouTube and other places

I moved this blog entry up because I found the Jessye Norman/Herbert von Karajon version at the bottom of the list. I was completely blown away by this. If you want Wagner to shake you down to your shoes, this is the one to hear. The films for this come and go from YouTube, so get them while they're there.

Shirley Verrett, 1977

Zubin Mehta is conducting. She is really a mezzo, but Wagner lies like a high, heavy mezzo. Surprising is the lightness of her voice and how in spite of that she makes the music work. I don’t recommend mezzos try this as a rule, but for her it seems quite beautiful. The very beginning is clipped off. She isn't a soprano at all and therefore doesn't make the list of 20 greatest sopranos.

Birgit Nilsson

This is in the 60’s, I don’t know who is conducting. It is important to contrast this film with the above, and maybe anything else on the planet. She is showing you how it’s done. Verrett shows a lot of tension in her neck, but Nilsson nothing. She could be lip syncing for all you can see of tension in her voice and body. Watch. This is important. She is controlling her voice from below exactly as it is always supposed to be done!!! This is why she is the greatest. Technique is never an impediment. It's also why years of singing such heavy music do not wear on her voice. When her voice rises to a crescendo, you see nothing. You hear everything. No element of expression is missing. It is magnificent beyond imagining. In the 20 greatest sopranos list she is number 5.

Maria Callas, 1957

There is no indication of who is conducting, audio only and in Italian. It is always interesting to read the comments about Callas. There was a shrillness in her voice that is distasteful to many. Perhaps she doesn’t achieve the total control from the diaphragm that Nilsson does. This is probably the explanation for Callas. The attraction of Callas lies in the expression. She may never have been a Wagnerian, but she gets it. It is a musically compelling performance. Her understanding here is as complete as in her more famous Italian performances. In the 20 greatest sopranos list she is number 1.

Kirsten Flagstad, 1936

Fritz Reiner is conducting, audio only. The delicacy of phrasing is astounding. No one else does it this way. She builds the entire piece to a clear, specific climax. It would be wonderful to have a film of this. In the 20 greatest sopranos list she is number 9.

Kirsten Flagstad, 1954

Wilhelm Furtwaengler is conducting, audio only, playing over a film. The delicacy of the earlier performance is gone. Her youth as a coloratura is gone completely. The performance retains its sense of growth over the length of the entire aria, but the effect is now monumental, grandiose as seldom heard in the work of any artist. It was her reading that made her the all time great. I take nothing away from Nilsson, but Flagstad makes it feel so much larger, so much more significant than anyone else. She was the greatest interpreter of Wagner.

Waltraud Meier, 1999

Zubin Mehta is conducting. Virtually worshiped in her home house in Munich, Meier is a unique performer of Wagner. She hasn’t the enormous physical equipment of Nilsson or Flagstad, and you see the tension in her neck. What she has is beauty and passion. She sings the whole damn thing in close-up. Who else would even try it? Hers is by far the most detailed reading. She does not even try to compete with her more famous counterparts, but creates her own original ecstatic performance. She does not make the list. The film linked here is from a performance at Bayreuth in 1995.

Donald Runnicles conducting, audio only.   The beauty of her voice is unsurpassed. The style is there. But she does not dominate the material like Nilsson, and she does not feel the monumental structures like Flagstad. Good Isoldes are very rare so we should treasure her. In the 20 greatest sopranos list she is number 17.

Eileen Farrell

And how did I miss this the first time around? The fabulous Eileen Farrell, a very great singer missing from the great singers list, sings the Liebestod. She had a big beautiful voice she could do virtually anything with. I don't know Christine Brewer well enough to even consider placing her above Farrell.

Nina Stemme

The goosebumps are working. If you want someone to listen to now, she is the one. I wonder if she is doing this anywhere.

Jessye Norman, 1987

This film is posted as a memorial to Herbert von Karajan who is conducting his last performance. This is giving me shivers. This version is beautiful almost beyond belief. Notice the slow tempo. I think I'm going to declare a winner. No one tops Jessye at her very best. Please note: the great and fabulous Herbert von Karajan carefully and obsessively WATCHES THE SINGER throughout this piece.

Nilsson is voice, Flagstad is phrasing!, Norman is emotion, Meier may possibly be acting, Stemme is soul.

OMG. Could I be becoming a connoisseur of Wagner?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bayreuth Interview

[Dr. B This interview is from the online version of Das Opernglas for July. I've done the best I can with the translation. These two women are now the head of the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. I have left the title Frau since it does not really mean Mrs. A Frau is a grown up woman, a Fraeulein a young one.]


How does the new double head on the green hill function? Ralf Tiedemann visited the festival chiefs Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner immediately after the signing of the agreement in May 2009 in their new offices. Selected bits from the discussion.

RT: To you both first of all congratulations on the assumption of the leadership of the Bayreuth festivals. The contracts were signed at the beginning of May, approximately eight months after you were officially designated as successors of your father. What was the reason in the end that it took so long?

KW: The large time interval is relatively easy to explain. Contract stories of this kind last always somewhat longer. In our specific case one must also consider that we have instead of as before one, now we have four partners. That is a new legal construction, with which all must be in agreement.

RT: Frau Wagner-Pasquier, since October 2007 you have radically opposed a double head with your half sister. In April 2008 it looked completely different. What has moved you to this to some extent spectacular 180-degree turn around?

EWP: The fact that I did not want to co-operate with Katharina appeared in the press. However, I cannot remember that I ever said that publicly in such a way. Through various circumstances, which developed in the past years, we were given the first chance to become acquainted with each other, leading to the development of this new constellation. That has to do with a great many private things, which do not turn on public events. There one quickly interprets somewhat wrong. We stated in the first months of our co-operation that we both are on a very good common path. That is the most important thing, and what one also expects from us.

RT: You have formulated a high requirement in your common concept: Until 2013 Bayreuth should be again the center of the Wagner attention. That will succeed only with a purposeful strategy in the quality assurance and - improvement of the two artistic main components - music and scene -. We begin with the musical one: Where do you see, Frau Wagner, specific needs for action within this area?

KW: As in every other opera house, as with us, many artists are already committed for the coming years. However, we see a need for improvement. Everything was not wrong that was made here, but there was certainly also some unfavorable things. We discuss at present, whom we want to engage in the future. Also with the conductors we want to achieve larger variety, so that we can experience a broad pallet interpretative meaning. But that is not under any circumstances a negative valuation of the conductors who have worked here!

I think, in musical regard one will notice the improvements relatively soon. Of the already contracted stage directors, there is no one that one would have to be ashamed of. Right now, while we speak, Hans Neuenfels is rehearsing below, and I can promise you that ”Lohengrin“ will be very exciting. Also Sebastian Baumgarten, who stages “Tannhäuser” in the following year, I am very excited about, because his work is always very much differentiated.

RT: You, Frau Wagner-Pasquier, are considered a proven judge of voices [Stimmenkennerin]. How do you estimate the current situation in the Wagner singing?

EWP: I must say completely honestly that I do not see so much difference between today and the time, when Wolfgang Windgassen or Astrid Varnay sang. Nowadays there are just as few Siegfrieds or Brünnhildes, as there were always few. On the other side today far more young singers have the chance to develop better - supports by many world-wide advancement programs. And we as organizers will find it far simpler to be attentive to talent, than thirty, forty years ago was the case. From here it I do not see larger doubts for the next years.

RT: Does Bayreuth need stars?

EWP: Who in former times was a star? Wagner careers run usually differently. Forest stage appearances [Waldbühnen-Auftritte] and promotional tours do not usually go together. One does not go to a ”Ring“ because a certain star sings.

RT: Suppose the Siegmund is called Plácido Domingo…

EWP: Right. But that is an exception. Also a Waltraud Meier has surely her own fan club, which travels particularly for her appearances - including the husband of our chancellor. But in Bayreuth no more tickets were asked for when Domingo sang Parsifal here. On the other hand naturally also the Wagnerian looks up the stagings world-wide and notices if good, interesting singers are engaged.

RT: What does a production have to achieve in order to bring progress to Bayreuth?

KW: A production must be reference the piece and may not be popular. Otherwise in Bayreuth in principle the artistic freedom must also be protected. With the “Ring” the production question in the meantime has become very difficult, because interpretively already so insanely much has been made. The challenge does not become smaller for us by “the Wagner year” 2013. We are clear about the fact that Bayreuth must set an indication there and contribute something historical [?]. We have this requirement. We are in our considerations in addition, already a step further, and I hope that we will in the positive sense come to a surprising solution.

EWP: After world-wide everywhere so many good stagings have been produced, we have a rather far way in Bayreuth perhaps in some things. I won’t name any names. On the other side in the past productions here were criticized in a way which was not at all justified. Look at the excitement around the “Ring” in 1976. At that time also nobody knew Patrice Chéreau.EWP: After world-wide everywhere so many good stagings have been produced, we have a rather far way in Bayreuth perhaps in some things. I won’t name any names. On the other side in the past productions here were criticized in a way which was not at all justified. Look at the excitement around the “Ring” in 1976. At that time also nobody knew Patrice Chéreau.

[Opera Chic has pictures of these ladies here.]

Friday, July 24, 2009


I always like it when two of my obsessions appear together: Jonas Kaufmann and Dmitri Hvorostovsky do the duet from Pearl Fishers. When was it ever this gorgeous?

Almost Like Being There

"Gralserzählung" Jonas Kaufmann as Lohengrin in Munich projected on a screen in front of the opera house.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Music, Emotion and the Brain

I think we are still in the infancy phase of understanding the brain and how it functions in relationship to music. In some respects it is simply a matter of correctly conceiving the problem. Is music the child of language, or is music the precursor? It will be a while before this is understood. Might it be more fruitful to explore "which came first: the music or the musical brain."

Scientific American Mind has an interesting article in the July/August issue called "Why Music Moves Us" by Karen Schrock. The article is full of speculation about the connection between emotion and music without any real conclusion. But what is interesting is the studies that point to remarkable consistency across cultures when it comes to which qualities of music connect to which emotions.

Some sentences of interest:

"In the late 1990s neuroscientist Isabelle Peretz and her colleagues at the University of Montreal found that Western listeners universally agreed on whether a song using Western tonal elements is happy, sad, scary or peaceful."

"This past April neuroscientist Tom Fritz [...] exposed members of the Mafa ethnic group in Cameroon who had never heard Western music to excerpts of classical piano music. The researchers found that the adults who listened to the excerpts consistently identified them as happy, sad or scary just as Western listeners would."

Similar results were found with autistic children. Infants are more interested in music than in speech. Could it be that music describes to us, abstracts for us the physical characteristics our bodies feel during these emotions?

I've always been of the opinion that music is the beginning of abstraction.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Liliana Nikiteanu

In videos and on visits to Zurich I have heard the very fine mezzo soprano Liliana Nikiteanu. Here she is in Figaro. She has the fortune / misfortune to work in the same house as Cecilia. It would be nice to see her step out of Bartoli's shadow.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Artist Fund

The San Francisco Opera has a great singers fund. I will donate $1000 to this fund if you bring Jonas Kaufmann here. Not Carmen. I've seen that. Meistersinger would be fun.

Met Player

I have begun to look into the Met Player, found on the Metropolitan Opera web site. I realize that this puts me way behind the curve.

It's cheaper than buying a lot of DVDs and cheaper than attending the HD broadcasts which generally run about $20.00. For 1 week it is free, so you need to plan ahead to watch a lot of stuff. After that it's $4 to $5 a pop. You would launch these and watch them on your computer.

I have been told that it is possible to download from this site. Then you could watch them over and over, making this a real bargain.  You will need to have sufficient bandwidth.

The currently available repertoire is 68 operas. (I am ignoring the audio.) The choices are mainstream so far, and include all the HD broadcasts to date, including the ones I missed the first time they played. I don't notice Elīna Garanča's Cenerentola. They are showing the Bartoli version instead.

Eugene Onegin, Fidelio, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, I Puritani and Francesca da Rimini I own on DVD. I like all five of them and love Fidelio, Onegin and Francesca da Rimini.

I'm pretty sure without conducting extensive research that I also have 18 more of these performances on VHS. Or maybe more. I have Aidas by both Price and Millo. I have Susannas with both Battle and Bartoli. I have The Ring cycle with James Morris and Tristan with Ben Heppner. I have some of Pavarotti's best work ever in Trovatore and Ernani. I have Freni's Fedora and Ramey's Don Giovanni. Don't miss Les Troyens with Domingo, Troyanos and Norman. These are all wonderful. They are selecting the cream.

Does that leave much of interest? Now that I no longer hate Simon Boccanegra I would be interested to see the Milnes version. In 1984 he would have been at his peak.

It is somewhat surprising to see 5 performances by Renata Scotto in this list, but only one Freni, I think. If I'm wrong then kick me. Perhaps Scotto is viewed more strongly in retrospect. Her performances are some of the oldest included here. She does both Mimi and Musetta as well as Francesca, Manon Lescaut and Louisa Miller. I suspect that Gelb likes her. I like her, too, but not more than Freni. I might like to see some of these.

I would love to see Tatiana Troyanos as Santuza and Pavarotti as Nemorino. I would certainly like to see Taymor's Magic Flute. Domingo's Queen of Spades might also be interesting.

To really arouse my imagination they will have to dig a little deeper into their catalog. I apologize for being a philistine and not being interested in the audio.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Gert linked to something rather amusing--fans of Katherine Jenkins purport to think that Joyce DeDonato's broken leg is a publicity stunt. We here in America are not required to worry about Katherine Jenkins.

On her website Joyce shows other people performing in wheel chairs in addition to herself.

In October Cecilia Bartoli will be releasing something named SACRIFICIUM. I have no idea what this might be. In the fall she is appearing in Spain with Il Giardino Armonico, the group she performed with on her Vivaldi recording. My son likes them quite a lot. I like them, too. They are far more idiosyncratic than the average original instruments group. For me idiosyncratic is good.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

French Connection

I have been to Ohio to visit my son, and while driving around we listened to a little Pierre Boulez--someone I'm not that familiar with. It was fun to get home and watch the movie The French Connection (1971). The score is by Don Ellis (1934-1978) and bore a lot of resemblance to Boulez. This is the late period of modernism, soon to be swept away by minimalism. I was surprised to find that it actually sounded very old fashioned.

Music in airplanes

I brought along my iPod on a recent trip east and listened to a lot of music with the roar of the airplane in the background. I was shocked to hear grossly out of tune notes I had never heard before. Hmmm. Is this related to Glenn Gould's comment about practicing with the vacuum going?

We will not name names. Partly because we cannot remember what they were and don't have an airplane handy.