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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cell phones

Some places are quite rude about telling the audience to shut off their phones. In London they play a very loud recording of a phone ringing just before the performance starts. At the San Francisco Opera Gockley himself makes the announcement.

Politeness is just not working. The low key approach at Santa Fe resulted in the worst offense I have experienced. A very loud phone rang and rang with no attempt to stop it until voice mail kicked in. Bitch! Bitch loud and long! In this case I don't know if it could be heard on stage.

Second place goes to the Sacrificium concert in Munich: a phone rang in the middle of one of the arias. Cecilia reacted like she had been punched in the stomach and waited--certainly not calmly--until it had stopped before resuming. Her orchestra were completely with her all the way. She looked physically hurt.

You can't count on people to do the right thing. An audible announcement seems to work best. Or how about a large banner run across the stage that says, "shut off your damn phone."

I volunteer to perform this function. I'll come out in my plaid pants and say it in whatever language is required.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Genius

I turned on Genius in my iTunes and am currently enjoying the results. There's a piano mix, a Cecilia Bartoli mix, a jazz mix (yes, I have enough jazz for this), etc. It's sort of like random only better. It's like having your own radio station, only it plays things you actually like. Try it.

If you don't have iTunes, I can't explain where I got mine. It appeared magically in my desktop. I thought, well there it is. I should put something in it. This was while I was working and didn't need an iPod. Then one thing led to another, and I'm now fully Appled up. That alone is Genius.

Heidi Melton


I can only apologize for the quality of the sound, but it's still worth listening to. There are a lot of big dreams for this girl.

At Santa Fe they reported that "someone from the Adler Fellows in San Francisco" had substituted for Christine Brewer. I immediately said, that would be Heidi Melton. This impressed whoever it was. It could have been no one else.

Sacrificium Album





The idea of the castrati is that these unnatural beasts could perform impossible feats with their high voices. The best of them could do what mere mortals, and certainly mere women, could not. Others have recorded albums honoring castrati, such as Vivica Genaux - Arias for Farinelli and Andreas Scholl - Arias for Senesino, but none have actually tried to rival the castrati by seeming to achieve the truly impossible as Cecilia Bartoli is attempting with her album Sacrificium.

Cecilia seems to understand the goal of castrato singing which is to stun the audience into complete disbelief. This happens in “Cadrò, ma qual si mira” by Araia and ”Son qual nave” by Broschi. The breath control exceeds the humanly possible and the range is astounding.

I was wowed by Opera Proibita but didn’t really enjoy listening to it. That kind of beating the listener over the head is missing here. At this point in her career perhaps Cecilia is willing to show her natural sweetness, both emotionally and vocally.

The song about birds with flute accompaniment, “Usignolo sventurato” by Porpora, is very pleasing.

The sweetness of the original instrument orchestra pairs beautifully with the sweetness of the soloist’s performances. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to be this technically stunning and emotionally moving all at the same time. I like it very much.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Aida in HD

Unfortunately for today's Aida simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera, I have tucked away a VHS tape of the original broadcast of this production when it was new in 1988. In those days James Levine conducted everything that made it onto TV and Placido Domingo played all the tenor roles.

And in those days Dolora Zajick sang Amneris. Zajick's voice now shows more intensity throughout its range. It was a joy to hear her today.


Johann Botha played it for beautiful legato while Placido was going for youthful enthusiasm. Contrary to popular trends, all the singers were thinner twenty years ago.


They weren't afraid of black face in those days--Aprile Millo is quite dark. Violetta Urmana was as white as I am. I liked her very much as a soprano, more than I had as a mezzo. Her voice is completely rebalanced for this new Fach.

I kept wishing they were broadcasting From the House of the Dead instead. Maybe I've done enough Aidas.

Interview with Botha

During the broadcast of Aida, Renée Fleming was interviewing Johann Botha, and he quoted Verdi saying that he wanted bel canto singers for his operas. Renée replied, "It's like bel canto on steroids." Excellent.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sehnsucht




It is hard to think that he could ever sing any better than he is right now. This is all so gorgeous.

The arias from Lohengrin, here in the album Sehnsucht and posted on YouTube, show Jonas Kaufmann singing sotto voce quite a lot of the time. This doesn't really give you an idea of his suitability as a Heldentenor, a Fach that sings big most of the time. Not to worry, he sings big very nicely. I can't wait to hear more.

There's just so much there when he sings. Such a beautiful, intelligent man.

Footnote: I notice the word "Sehnsucht" is missing from the US version. The album has no title.

Mucha

In Munich there was an exhibition of works by Alphonse Maria Mucha [pronounced Mook-ha], a native of Moravia whose fame stems from a six year association advertising the performances of Sarah Bernhardt in Paris. The above poster of Gismonda, 1 January 1895, was the first in the series. I have long been an admirer.

Damaged murals from the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris, also shown, were new for me. Art Nouveau was originally called Mucha Style. This should clarify his relationship to the style. In German speaking countries this is called Jugendstil.

The posters are bigger than I thought--more the size of a door than a window.

Miscellaneous

Gasteig

Gasteig where Cecilia performed, has to be the most poorly designed performance space I've ever seen. The garterobe where everyone checks their coats and the ONLY BATHROOMS are right next to each other on the ground floor. There's a bathroom up the stairs but the door to it is locked. The check numbers are sort of random so the attendants search for hours for each coat. It's a nightmare, a nightmare that they charge you for.

In contrast the opera house has ample bathrooms and checkrooms on every floor. The bathrooms have discreet "D" and "H" letters on the doors, which works fine as long as you know what that means. The check numbers are fixed to the hooks, and everything goes quickly and smoothly. And it's free.

Whoever designed Gasteig didn't try to find out what works. Inside the space looks sort of like the Barbican.

German

After a week and after visiting with friends who only speak German, I apparently awakened the part of my brain where German lives and started thinking in German. This was surprising and very strange. Working sudoku I would say the German numbers in my head. My accent (but not my Grammar) is very impressive. I don't sound exactly German, but no one knows where I come from. One woman said, "And you have no trace of German accent when you speak English?" "Nein. Ich klinge wie eine echte Oklahomarin."

Food

When I lived there, the food was very limited. There was German, Italian and Turkish food, and that was it. I think this must have been because most of the guest workers came from Italy and Turkey. The McDonalds that's opposite the train station in Ulm moved in during my second year there, and we felt saved.

Now there is a lot of panini and pizza everywhere you look. There is Chinese and Thai food. There are Burger King and McDonalds. There is lamb on a stick. The hardest thing to find is German food. I saw no goulash and only one Kurriwurst. The traditional beer parlors in Munich serve German food.

Modern life changes everyone.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rumor

At dinner in a Greek restaurant, after too much ouzo, a rumor went around that CB had married Peter Seiffert, the Heldentenor. "Aber er hat schon eine Frau," sagte ich. I didn't believe it for a minute.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Recital in Ulm

When I said I was going to Germany for no reason, it wasn't exactly true. I came to hear my friend Dolores Blumenstock in recital in Ulm. The recital took place in the Haus der Begegnung in a room that began its life as a Greek church.


I was impressed with her program and with the fact that she still sings. She did:
  • "Lamento d'Arianna" by Claudio Monteverdi
  • "Arianna a Naxos" by Joseph Haydn
  • "Frauen Liebe und Leben" by Robert Schumann
  • Two extra songs by Schubert not on the program.

The recital is a remembrance of her husband who died a year ago. Unrelenting sadness can work for some people, and it did for Dolores.

Normally she is cheerful. Ulm has changed a lot, but Dolores seems ever the same.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jenůfa

Die alte Buryja:  Helga Dernesch
Laca Klemen:  Jorma Silvasti
Števa Buryja:  Brandon Jovanovich
Die Küsterin Buryja:  Deborah Polaski
Jenůfa:  Eva-Maria Westbroek
Altgesell:  Christian Rieger
Dorfrichter: Christoph Stephinger
Frau des Dorfrichters:  Heike Grötzinger
Karolka:  Laura Tatulescu
Schäferin:  Angela Brower
Barena: Tara Erraught
Jano:  Laura Nicoresc

Conductor: Tomáš Hanus
Production: Barbara Frey

Went to Jenůfa at the Bayerische Staatsoper last night. It stopped raining for a few seconds. The opera was sung in Czech with German supertitles.

If you have been wondering what happened to Deborah Polaski, wonder no longer. She sang Kostelnička Buryjovka. Very nice. Another surprise name is Helga Dernesch as Grandmother Buryjovka. So she has gone from soprano to mezzo to contralto. Love her.

I didn't know Eva-Maria Westbroek who sang Jenůfa, but she was very good. They do quality opera, though everything is reset into a roughly contemporary time period. There is nothing period related about Jenůfa, so why not?

The evening's biggest curiosity came in the interlude. I was in the 1 Rang where there are several rooms facing the front of the opera house. These six rooms form into a circle, and everyone made a parade going counter-clockwise around the rooms. I thought why not and circled with everyone else holding my glass of Sekt.

People still studying in America sing roles here. The youthfulness of the casts is a big plus. They clap a lot louder and longer than we do.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Musicology

I think musicology must have been invented by the Germans. And for a long time it was completely dominated by Germans.

We had a pretty good music library in my college, and it was filled with shelves of very large books. These included the complete works of J.S. Bach and Telemann. I remember that Telemann had more books on his shelf than Bach, but Bach made up for this with the beginnings of a new set. German musicologists had run out of German composers to study and were starting over with an old one.

In school we studied and performed all manner of pieces by J.S. Bach, but I had at that time never heard anything by Telemann.

If an Italian had performed an opera in a German city, it would appear in one of the miscellaneous collections called Denkmäler. The aim was to create a performable score for all possible German repertoire.

I remember on one of my recitals I performed "Vernügte Ruh," a solo cantata by Bach. To make the parts for the players I made Xerox copies of the score and cut and pasted this into parts. It was possinble to buy a piano vocal score, but not parts. It worked fine.

Scores from Ricordi or Schirmer made do for the Italians.

Our time is the age of Italian musicology, undertaken by scholars from many nations. Professor Gosset in Chicago oversees the publication of the complete works of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi.

Claudio Osele continues his own castrato project.



The musical scores for all the arias on the Sacrificium concert and even some of the instrumental numbers were prepared by Martin Heimgartner. The program even lists the documentary sources which come from all over Europe.

It is wonderful to see this. Perhaps the unknown Italians will become familiar. For most of my life Porpora was a character in a novel by George Sand (Consuelo). Now at last he is a composer.

Phlegming

This is probably an old joke, but I just saw someone refer to Renée as Phlegming. This is actually pretty funny.

Lohengrin



Heinrich der Vogler, deutscher König: Hans-Peter König
Lohengrin: Jonas Kaufmann
Elsa von Brabant: Emily Magee
Friedrich von Telramund, brabantischer Graf: Eike Wilm Schulte
Ortrud, seine Gemahlin: Michaela Schuster
Der Heerrufer des Königs: Evgeny Nikitin

Conductor:   Kent Nagano
Production: Richard Jones

The production of Lohengrin at the Bayerische Staatsoper in München is about construction. As an ex Bechtel employee, I felt right at home with house plans and construction equipment. Elsa and Lohengrin build together and then move into the house together once they are married.

This production must have been invented with Jonas Kaufmann in mind. Remember he is the opera singer who travels around with his box of tools. In this production he gets to lay bricks, plane wood, paint and set windows into frames. It is the perfect production for the handyman tenor.

The fight in the first act is played for laughs. Lohengrin fights with his back turned and wins by stealing his elderly enemy's sword. No wonder they are pissed. In the third act he kills by merely raising his hand, thus giving the thing away.

I totally bought the house metaphor and cried like a baby. What a dolt that Elsa is.

Now picture a glove. It is not an old glove, but it is exactly the right size. Picture hand sliding effortlessly into glove. Jonas is a Heldentenor. They always sound like baritones. He was better than even I had anticipated. The audience stamped the floor for him.

Kent Nagano conducted. He is someone my son knew when, in his early days in Berkeley. Bravo maestro.


It was nice to hear German sung in Germany. You can actually make out what they are saying most of the time. We don't get that at home.

It is hard work to travel alone at my age, but the last two days have been a joy. My heart is full.

I apologize for not having any pictures of Jonas.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sacrificium Tournee


I sat on the side where I could see everything, and I swear some time during the encores of the Sacrificium concert Cecilia Bartoli turned toward the orchestra La Scintilla and said "Wow!"

I had a deeply emotional reaction to this concert which may prove difficult to express in writing. I am getting a bit old for this and don't know how much longer I can keep chasing Cecilia, but I can honestly say I smiled all the way through.

The idea here is that Cecilia isn't just singing the music of the castrati, she is embodying one of them. She wore a very nicely designed outfit of men's clothing, including knee high boots, ruffled shirt, vest, jacket and hat, which she proceeded to strip out of as the concert progressed. The hat was first to go. I thought she looked fabulous. Strip stopped after jacket and vest, so not to worry.

All of the music was unfamiliar except "Lascia la spina," done as the first encore. The program did not precisely coincide with the album contents, but it came close. The concert had less Graun and more Vinci, but since you never heard of either one of them, this will not matter to you.

La Scintilla played well, in my opinion better than I have heard them. Cecilia kept turning to express her approval of what she was hearing. Ada Pesch, their leader, is getting more adept at her conductor role, and things went smoothly.


Cecilia Bartoli is an artist who is inspired by challenges. She needs difficulties to rise to. The challenge of the castrati is very high. The reason for their existence is a level of virtuosity not seen in singing before or since. I felt that she rose to meet it. The breath control alone was astounding.

But I do not follow her around the world to hear her breath control. It is her musical heart that I love, and it was heard in abundance.

The castrati generally performed male roles with their high voices, but occasionally they were cast as the female lead, as in the last two arias on the program. For this Cecilia added an elaborate red skirt and did her best drag queen imitation for some small laughs.

I'm still smiling.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bel Canto


The new album Bel Canto with Elina Garanča has the quality of perfection.

Elina is a very beautiful woman with an equally beautiful voice and flawless technique. If your musical tastes run to the serenity of perfection you will love this.

My own heart seeks the imperfection of passion.

Monday, October 12, 2009

General Bitching

I recently stopped linking to La Cieca because he wouldn't let me comment any more, something I did on only rare occasions. Yesterday I stopped linking to OC (not Opera Chic--that OC is still probably the best of all the opera blogs) because it trashed Renée Fleming one time too many for me. If Renée says she's now singing better than ever, it's because it's true.

As a cranky old lady, I am as self indulgent as I feel like being, but I try not to trash great artists.

I recall from the days when I was young groups of singers sitting around trashing their betters because they failed some technical ideal or other. This still goes on on YouTube in the comments of practically everyone. Even then I realized that these singers we were trashing were rich and famous, and I was not. It was for me to try to discover what fact of life made this true. In my particular case the discovery was that they had high notes, and I didn't, but never mind.

Your teacher is trying to make your singing conform to some inner ideal. Greatness consists in creating an original identity, one that has never been heard before.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Travel

Suddenly for no reason I am going to Munich where I will see Cecilia and Jonas on successive nights. Whee. I figure I should travel while I still can.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Il Trovatore

Last night was the final performance of Verdi's Il Trovatore at the San Francisco Opera. I seem to have messed up. Instead of this cast:

* Manrico: Marco Berti
* Leonora: Sondra Radvanovsky
* Azucena: Stephanie Blythe
* Count di Luna: Dmitri Hvorostovsky

We got this cast:

* Manrico: Marco Berti
* Leonora: Sondra Radvanovsky
* Azucena: Malgorzata Walewska
* Count di Luna: Quinn Kelsey

D. swears she told me, but I guess I wasn't listening.

I was stunned to see that this was Sondra Radvanovsky's debut at the San Francisco Opera. The rumor mill says she is not scheduled to sing here any time soon. This is hard to understand. She is one of the best Verdi singer's around and was excellent in this hard to cast opera. Luisotti could be seen waving his baton for her in the applause. She performed the entire role in her bare feet, something that may account for the fact that she had turned her ankle and had to reblock her movements. You could see the brace on her leg. I thought she still moved well, and sang impressively.

I liked Quinn Kelsey, though I missed Dmitri. I would have preferred to see Stephanie Blythe as Azucena.

The aura of excitement that filled the opera from beginning to end is due to our new maestro Nicola Luisotti. Bravo maestro! Welcome to San Francisco.

My favorite thing to do in blogging is to give advice, so here goes. Marco Berti has a fine Verdi tenor voice, but exhibits a lot of the idiosyncrasies that seem to come with every Italian singer these days [excluding obvious exception]. If you go to hear opera excerpts along the Via Nazionale in Rome, you will hear some of these same problems. Too much punching and not enough phrasing. The punching is easy. The phrasing is hard. Piu legato. Sempre legato. Per favore. Pavarotti became the greatest singer of the twentieth century because Joan Sutherland taught him how to breathe. Get her to teach you.

People hate this, I know. It won't help you to hate me.

I'm comforting myself with this:


[See Kinderkuchen History 1850-70]

Second on Lotte Lehmann's list



This is the trailer for Jonas Kaufmann's new recording of Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin. In the book Eighteen Song Cycles it is second. Sooner or later this recording will be available here.

Conversation

Walking back to the car after Il Trovatore:
What's the name of your blog?
Kinderkuchen for the FBI.
Oh, I've read that. It's pretty weird.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Du meine Gute


I kneel down.

"Cadrò, ma qual si mira" from Cecilia Bartoli's Sacrificium. The comments use words like "miracle." I can honestly say I have never heard anything like it.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

La Boheme the Movie


The La Boheme movie was worth the long drive from Sacramento to the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, though the parking situation was ghastly. I parked in a "we will tow you 24 hours a day" lot with no dire consequences. I have been pushing my luck lately.

This showing was not well advertised. I receive all kinds of notifications by way of Google Alerts and Facebook fan page postings, but not many people seem to have known about this.

Besides Anna Netrebko as Mimi and Rolando Villazon as Rodolfo, only Nicole Cabell as Musetta seems to both act and sing her role. She is a very flashy looking woman with a nice voice who provided great contrast to Netrebko.

There was a lot of overlap in effect between this movie and the Zeffirelli production in HD from the Met. One big difference is the shots of Mimi alone in her room listening to the rowdy boys on the next floor. She waits to hear that all but Rodolfo have left before ascending with her candle. It is clearer than ever that she has quietly planned it all.

We love them together: Rolando's Mexican heat and Anna's Russian cool. Let's hope we will get more chances in the future. Anna's Mimi is dying from the beginning and never loses her tragic weakness. In her death scene some of her singing is done in voice over, eliminating the effect of curious energy just before death.

I cried.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1890-1910]

Nickname

The official nickname of Cecilia Bartoli seems to be "La Gioiosa," she who brings joy. Various others have been floated, but I like this one.

I thought about translating another interview from Bild am Sonntag, but found only this quote from Cecilia to be of interest:

"And what was with Michael Jackson? Didn't he likewise sacrifice his body for art? His nose, his chin, his skin color, his voice. Everything! Humans love the monster. And we exceed still the boundries of the human for art. Also in the case of Michael Jackson a unique artist came out who fascinated his fellow men. A hermaphrodite, with whom one could no more differentiate between black or white, man or woman. For me it was the continuation of the castrati in the 21st century."

Cool. Truth is I'm always looking for items about MJ's nose. A CB item about MJ's nose cannot be topped.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Talk

I talk about the others, but this is the one I listen to.

I'll probably never like Lucia Popp's Rosalinda, but her Vier Letzte Lieder are very special, lyrical and passionate in a more inward way than the others. I can see that one would love this.

Watch it again. Notice when she sings "es ist etwa der Tod" that she kind of fades out. A double image appears over her face. Did she know?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Women and Bach

I can't explain this, but I am shocked to read here that women did not sing in the Lutheran church of Bach's time. I think I was basing my opinion on how it felt to sing it. It is far more comfortable and easy to sing alto in a Bach chorus than a Handel one, for example. Paul has a lot to answer for.