Monday, May 31, 2010


I think every once in a while about Kathleen Battle being fired from the Met. What I think is that after we have forgotten all the others in the story, we will remember her.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


I have just finished reading Steven Saylor's historical novel Roma. If your loves include Rome as mine do, you might consider reading it. It's very pleasing.

Programming Music

I was depressed to hear on the radio -- Fresh Air or something --that people learning to write music are advised to learn to program. That's because some huge percentage of contemporary music is written by computers. This is just so wrong -- if for no other reason because a computer doesn't sing. It explains everything.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Interview with Deborah Voigt


Deborah Voigt has expanded her repertoire to highly dramatic parts. She spoke with Dr. Thomas Baltensweiler in Zurich about the planning of her debuts and ways to get through the roles. Excerpts from the interview.

You are faced with important role debuts. In June you sing your first "Fanciulla" in San Francisco. Minnie is a killer role. With what feelings do you approach the challenge?

I don’t see Minnie as a killer role - and I say this in a moment when I have just returned from working on the part with a coach of the Zurich Opera. Perhaps my impression is because I also sing Salome and Isolde. "Fanciulla" offers gorgeous music that contains a lot of lyricism. Of course there are terrifying high notes to attack from out of nowhere.

More difficult than singing is portraying the character: Minnie runs a saloon, can deal with weapons and give the miners Bible studies. One can only imagine: a shooting religion teacher! In addition, you will find in her, as far as the choice of a man is concerned, lots of strict ideas, lots of tenderness and the longing for the right man after waiting a long time for him.

You should have sung Brünnhilde in the recently completed "Ring" at the Vienna State Opera, but you then withdrew. Now a production is planned at the Met. What has changed in the meantime for you?

Brünnhilde had been planned in addition even in the old "Ring" at the Met and San Francisco. I felt that the role would have come too early, because there was something else I wanted to sing. I had lost a lot of weight and I wanted to play roles which had previously not necessarily been open to me. And she who sings Brünnhilde only gets offered the highly dramatic Fach. The world needs Brünnhildes; to find a Tosca is not that difficult.

But the world has not changed in recent years, it still throws itself on singers who embody Brünnhilde ...

But in recent years I have become more secure in it to fill my agenda with dramatic roles. Today I would no longer accept Aida, as it would turn my hair gray. A "Forza"-Leonora would still work, but I would probably offer no more.

After Brünnhilde you will have almost all highly dramatic specialist roles in your repertoire, you sing so well Isolde and Salome. Will life be boring, or are journeys of discovery into rarities planned?

Then there is Elektra, which is definitely planned for 2013/2014. The plan is also for Kundry, and I’m thinking about Ortrud. For roles outside of my core repertoire - Lisa in "Pique Dame" I find wonderful – there’s not enough time. "Die tote Stadt" would appeal to me on stage, but it can scarcely come after Brünnhilde. Also I would be interested if a composer would write a new opera for me. But the majority compose for the lyric soprano voice.

"Elektra," which you mentioned, plays an important role in your career ...

My ambition is one day to have embodied on stage all three major roles in "Elektra", including Clytemnestra. At the beginning of my career I sang the fifth girl, who was my first role in Europe. Chrysothemis was something like the breakthrough for me. I was contracted in Boston as Ariadne, and a critic of the New York Times wrote such an enthusiastic review that the Met, which sought a Chrysothemis, was attentive.

How do you face the trend to market singers ever more about their appearance?

We must accept that the appearance plays a big role, and I think that will not change that fast. How I looked at the beginning of my career would be a problem today. Soprano and tenor in the opera must make a credible pair. Many young singers with weight problems contact me because they think that I might encourage them because I have shared their problem. But I can only say to them: your weight is a problem. On the other hand good looks is relative, and one should not forget that in our profession it is primarily about opera and not the color of a singer eyes.

You sing Italian and German parts. Is there a preference for one of the two?

For the German. My voice sits far forward and is pervasive. In the Italian repertory I never had the same success as in German. If my name were Voigtini, perhaps it would be different. But Voigt - in German-speaking areas people pronounce my name "Vogt” - not quite right for a Tosca. Also in the German Fach there is a lot of lyricism, as in Wagner, since you do not need to shout. Although - sometimes yes.

[As usual, this is translated from the online version of Opernglas. To get the Germans to pronounce her name properly it would have to be spelled Weut.]

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gramophone for May

Joyce DiDonato is the cover girl for May of Gramophone magazine. Her DVD of Barber is coming out. Favorite part of article:

"I asked her if she listens to her recordings. 'I once put that question to the great soprano Leontyne Price. She said, "Oh, darling, sometimes I pop open a bottle of champagne and listen to my records all afternoon."'"

Picturing this.

Nested quotes are "interviewer 'Joyce "Leontyne"'".

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


There are a lot of news items floating around.

According to Carlos, Anna Netrebko and her consort will open La Scala with Don Giovanni instead of the previously announced Lucia di Lammermoor.

Consort, otherwise known as Erwin Schrott, is said to be releasing a tango album in the near feature.  Viva tango.

According to the Cecilia Bartoli Forum, there will be a recording of Handel's Giulio Cesare with Scholl some time this year. It will not be based on the performance at Salle Pleyel but, according to the Forum, will be recorded this fall.

There will be a DVD of Clari. This keeps alive my rule that if I didn't travel to Zurich to see something Cecilia was in, then it will appear later on DVD. Semele breaks the rule that if I went it won't. Clari sounds like fun.

Went to: Cenerentola, L'Anima del Filosofo, Semele, Giulio Cesare.
Missed: Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte, Il Turco in Italia, Nina, Clari.

According to Gramophone, Joyce DiDonato has completed a recording of Ariodante with Alan Curtis conducting, and in the near future is scheduled to record Rossini's Stabat Mater.

Elina Garanča has recovered from her surgery and will sing in Göttweig Abbey in Austria in July. She says, "Blond women with blue eyes also have temperament."

There will be a DVD of the Munich Lohengrin, and it will be available in June. They misspelled Jonas's name.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Liking / not Liking

Can I prefer one without disliking the other? Jonas is telling me the story. He tells of green's Shadenfreud. I'd go out into the world if only everything weren't so green. I don't mind Goerne. I just don't feel it so heavy. I want the naivite. It probably helps that I understand the words.

We're still doing Schubert. Der Mai ist gekommen. Der Winter ist aus.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Best of the new opera


There is something truly wonderful about this production of La Fille du Regiment and it successfully transfers to Diana. I was lucky to get to see it.

I apologize for getting so much into YouTube. I used to be mostly talk.


I heard bits of Heggie's Moby Dick on the radio and thought it sounded quite beautiful. I guess I could take an all male opera if they actually tried to make it sound good. Eventually it will come to San Francisco.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cameron Carpenter

We've decided that Diane Bish has had the organ spotlight long enough, and we are passing the torch to a new star: Cameron Carpenter.

He can be seen in at least two different personae. In one he plays the organ dressed in outfits covered with sequins.

He started out with a much nerdier look. In this next bit he demonstrates something called the virtual organ, an electronic organ that does pretty much everything, including change tuning.

Now you are up to speed.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Not all the passionate ones are American

There is much of Janet Baker that I have loved. There is her wonderful performance of Das Lied von der Erde that in my opinion is the greatest of all. And there is her Bach Matthew Passion, which I have never seen on CD. She blends the intellectual and the passionate in a style that is unique and marvelous.

Sunday, May 09, 2010


From the perspective of almost 70 I want to tell you that change will come. I want to encourage you to keep listening.

Music and art are not so different. I often go to museums and just walk through them looking at the art. The idea is that by looking at the art, just by looking, my eyes will learn about the art. I try to guess the painters, and gradually I get better at this. If I like something, I stop to see who the painter is and when he painted.

It can be the same with music. Listen to the music and let your ears absorb it. I remember the first Philip Glass large piece I ever heard -- Satyagraha -- and what complete gibberish it seemed to me. And now the years have passed and other works have come into my awareness -- Koyaanisqatsi, Orphée, Appomattox -- and returning again to Satyagraha it had transformed into something meaningful.

By listening I have learned to love the serious operas of Rossini.

I begin to wonder to myself was the recent Porgy and Bess really so much better than other previous performances of it, or is it just that my ears have changed.

Step out of your comfort zone. Listen to things you don't think you like. Your perception could change.

My perception of pieces and performers changes almost every day. I was not interested in Cecilia's Vivaldi album at the time of its release. It was too different from my expectations for her. But now after the incredible pleasure I have found in Sacrificium I have gone back to hear it again, and find it a joy. I remember how much I always liked Il Giardino Armonico, the instrumental group on both albums, how much they mesh with her spirit. I'm glad she has returned to them.

I have never been one to attend multiple performances of a single work in a series, but now I wonder if this might be a mistake. I should try it and see. Maybe after 10 performances of The Tempest, I would learn to like it.

With art and music it helps to place a work in its context. Where and when is this? What other things is it like? If you want to pour over things and study them, learn to identify chord progressions or understand languages, I won't discourage you, but try to remember you can learn a lot just by listening.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A Russian Affair

The Sacramento Opera has fallen on hard times and has taken to inventing programs of a fanciful sort. The evening titled A Russian Affair consisted of first a one hour shortened version of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, followed by intermission, followed by a one hour shortened version of Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades. Does this sound at all plausible?

Mayor Kevin Johnson showed up to make things appear more serious and expressed his appreciation for the arts.

So did the idea work? The orchestra and conductor appeared at the back of the stage with TV monitors facing the singers to keep them coordinated with conductor Timm Rolek. Bits of set, like doors, tables, chairs and a long sofa, littered the stage.

There was a narrator, identified as Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin and played by Andrei Codrescu, who filled in the gaps in the story. He filled them in a bit differently from how I remember them, but never mind.

  • There was a soprano, Emily Pulley, who sang Tatyana and Liza.
  • There was a mezzo, Dana Beth Miller, who sang Tatyana's sister Olga and played the Countess.
  • There was a tenor, Richard Crawley, who sang Lensky and Herman.
  • There was a baritone, Malcolm MacKenzie, who sang Onegin and Tomsky.
  • All the other parts were cut.
This saves the expense of sets, chorus and minor players while giving you the one CD highlights version of things.

Emily Pulley is a talented singing actress who was seen here two years ago in The Turn of the Screw. She carried the piece theatrically. Malcolm MacKenzie has a wonderful voice but is quite wooden as an actor.

Do I want to go into detail about each one of them? A highlights version actually ended up making more sense. Onegin is a jerk and as a grown-up married woman Tatyana sees that. Herman is not just a jerk but a lunatic as well, who ends up killing everyone including himself. I missed the Countess's wonderful scene which was inadequately substituted with narration.

I would like to hear more of Dana Beth Miller.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1870-90]


My iPod has quite a bit of Matthias Goerne by now. Besides Die Schöne Müllerin, there is an album of Dichterliebe and Liederkreis reviewed elsewhere, and an album of Bach arias with Christine Schäfer and Hilary Hahn called Bach: Violin & Voice.

The singers in the Bach album simply don't rise to the level of the divine Hilary Hahn. What is she doing that they are not? Again it comes down to phrasing. Bach's music comes with a regular harpsichord beat underlying everything. So do you just fall in with it and emphasize every beat with the harpsichord and eventually become plodding, as I feel Goerne does here? Or do you phrase across and occasionally against the beat as Hahn does? Schäfer falls somewhere between the two.

I enjoy all of them in various ways, but only Hahn attains the truly divine. I want them to soar higher.

How one reacts to a singer will depend very much on the timbre of the voice. Goerne is the sort of singer who will appeal or not. He has cut a niche for himself in Lieder singing which is very appealing. I personally prefer his tone to that of the sainted Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, but I know this is strictly a matter of personal taste.

In Lieder Goerne masterfully manipulates his tone to enhance expression. He can diminuendo without falling into sotto voce, as so many do nowadays.

At this point I refer to Anna Netrebko saying that she was taught to sing always with a full tone. When conductors and coaches want a softer tone than she can produce without switching to sotto voce, she simply refuses to do it. For me this is wisdom.

For Goerne his tone stays full to very low dynamic levels. He also can manipulate the color of his voice to great effect. This can be wonderful to hear in Schumann. My problem here is that his overall color is too dark for Die Schöne Müllerin, a work of extreme naivete. Perhaps Wunderlich could manage it. I still refuse to buy his version.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Dueling Müllerinen

I mentioned that both Jonas Kaufmann and Matthias Goerne had recently produced recordings of Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin. Sarah piped right up and said that Goerne's was better. So what could I do? I bought both of them and put them on my iPod.

The result is certainly curious. If I select one of these albums, I get all the tracks from both, alternating Kaufmann and Goerne. This is certainly a good way of deciding whether or not Kaufmann is a baritone. After he does a track, you hear an actual baritone doing the same thing. I suspect Sarah prefers Goerne because he is a baritone.

Goerne has developed a style for Lieder that is quite attractive. He emphasizes his gorgeous legato and expresses the text primarily through darkening his tone to a deep, cave-like sound. I feel his style is more suitable for Schumann.

Kaufmann is lighter and piu leggiero. For me this is more suitable for this the most gemütlich of Schubert's song cycles.

I see Wunderlich has also recorded this with a far more tenor-like sound, but I refuse to buy it.

Thinking about Mezzos

This is Tatiana Troyanos singing an aria from Ariade auf Naxos.

She also fits into the passionate Americans category. I loved her. I attended her last performance: Capriccio at the San Francisco Opera.

Ranking the Simulcasts 2009-10

For this year's Metropolitan Opera simulcasts I'm giving first place to the stunning Carmen with Elina Garanča and Roberto Alagna for intense emotion throughout. It was the best Carmen of my lifetime.

Second place goes to Der Rosenkavalier with Renée Fleming and Susan Graham. I did see it twice.

I had never heard of Rossini's Armida before this but absolutely loved it. Kudos to Renée Fleming, Lawrence Brownlee and all the other tenors.

Turandot is next. I'm still a big Maria Guleghina fan.

I liked Hamlet starring Simon Keenlyside but missed seeing Natalie Dessay do yet another mad scene. Special mention goes to Jennifer Larmore.

Les Contes d’Hoffmann was reasonably fun but needed Rolando Villazon.

It's always nice to see Domingo, even as a baritone Simon Boccanegra, but that's about all I liked about it. Dmitri in San Francisco was far better.

Aida didn't rise above OK for me. I was surprised at Verona by how much I enjoyed a lighter soprano in this.

Tosca was dark and unmoving.

The stuff I liked I liked a lot, but 4 failures does seem like too many.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

In the Still of Night

In the Still of Night, in case you have been on the moon, is an album of Russian songs by Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky with Anna Netrebko and Daniel Barenboim. It is from a live performance at last year's Salzburg Festival.

Anna's Russian work cannot be excelled. It is a voice from heaven. If you listen carefully you can hear Pushkin and Dostoevsky whispering in your ear. Perhaps you will long to read The Brothers Karamazov.

20 Mezzos

Gramophone hasn't done one, but so what? This list in chronological order comes mostly from my iPod.

Giulietta Simionato Italian (1910-2010)
Kathleen Ferrier English (1912-1953)
Christa Ludwig German (1928-2021)
Janet Baker English (1933-)
Marilyn Horne American (1934-)
Fiorenza Cossotto Italian (1935-)
Teresa Berganza Spanish (1935-)
Tatiana Troyanos American (1938-1993)
Brigitte Fassbaender German (1939-)
Agnes Baltsa Greek (1944-)
Frederica von Stade American (1945-)
Eva Podleś Polish (1952-)
Dolora Zajick American (1952-)
Lorraine Hunt Lieberson American (1954-2006)
Susan Graham American (1960-)
Olga Borodina Russian (1963-)
Denyce Graves American (1964-)
Cecilia Bartoli Italian (1966-)
Joyce DiDonato American (1969-)
Vivica Genaux American (1970-)
Magdalena Kožená Czech (1973-)
Elīna Garanča Latvian (1976-)

I just posted this and now see that Giulietta Simionato has died. I added 2 more to make the list 22. I am going to annotate and rank the list. There are a lot of American mezzos here, but that is due to my own personal bias.

Shirley Verrett
Elena Obraztsova

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Yes, I actually do exist

I found my name on the internet. I was in the world premier production of Vivian Fine's opera The Women in the Garden. It says so right here. It was enormously fun to play Gertrude Stein.

I was compiling a personal list of operas and had completely forgotten this one. It puts my list of performed operas up to 22 and seen to 217.

Sunday, May 02, 2010


I came to Rossini late in life. I had seen Barbiere and Cenerentola, of course, and even The Italian Girl in Algiers, but they made no great impression. It seemed like singing just to show off, something that has never moved me.

I was most impressed when Caballé and Horne came to San Francisco to present Semiramide. Only the absurd costumes blunted the full effect.

Then came the passionate explosion of Bartoli's Rossini Heroines. My enthusiasm knew no bounds. She was 26 and had already recorded two Rossini albums. What sets this album apart is the stylistic perfection and maturity in one so young. I wondered how to account for this, and found the answer in the book Divas and Scholars. The album represents the joining of two musical minds: Cecilia Bartoli and Philip Gossett.

His influence can also be heard in Joyce DiDonato's recent Colbran album. I know that he also advises Juan Diego Florez.

Now this glorious Armida traces its stylistic sophistication back to him. All who would be Rossini singers make the pilgrimage to Chicago. Or perhaps to Rome, since he teaches there, too.

These singers, young and more established, come to the music with such incredible self-confidence. They come to the music with their individual personalities not only intact but enhanced and established through the individuality of their ornamentation. Each is true to himself and to Rossini.

I am starting to wonder what more wonderful thing could happen than the revival of interest in Rossini, especially serious Rossini. There can never be too much Rossini.

Dr. Gossett's life in music is an extraordinary one and certainly extends beyond notes on the page to living music. I want to express my gratitude.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Cats meets Queen of the Night

Armida..................Renée Fleming
Rinaldo.................Lawrence Brownlee
Goffredo...............John Osborn
Gernando..............Barry Banks*
Ubaldo..................Kobie van Rensburg
Carlo.....................Barry Banks
Eustazio................Yeghishe Manucharyan
Astarotte...............Keith Miller
Idraote..................Peter Volpe
Love.....................Teele Ude
Revenge................Isaac Scranton

Conductor..............Riccardo Frizza
Production.............Mary Zimmerman

We are referring, of course, to Rossini's Armida presented in HD from the Metropolitan Opera today. I saw this while still reeling from the hideous noises being made by otherwise perfectly good singers in Ades' The Tempest. We have in Rossini someone actually capable of composing for the extreme ends of people's ranges.

Factoid: Renée Fleming has sung Armida before -- in 1993 in Pesaro, Italy.

My only disappointment was that the mime role of Amor did not receive a solo bow. There was a lot to like.

The sets with their giant insects were enchanting. The diminutive Amor made her entrance a la Cirque du Soliel by a curtain hanging from above. She set the atmosphere of enchantment right from the beginning.

Armida requires 6 Rossini tenors. Deborah Voigt had them lined up -- actually only 5 because Barry Banks played two parts -- and asked if anyone in the world could be doing Rossini today. This left an opportunity to plug Joyce DiDonato doing La Donna del Lago in Geneva.

One of my favorite things about this production was the successful integration of soloists, chorus and ballet into a seamless ensemble. Best example was the character Astarotte in the second act singing while standing on the backs of members of the ballet who steadied him and carried him around the stage. It was these demons of the ballet who slunk around like characters from Cats.

The singing was a joy. I actually cried during the tenor trio in Act III. [Odd whooping sounds were heard in the movie theater.] Lawrence Brownlee both looked and sounded heroic. Bravo.

And Renée Fleming was outstanding. I've already seen her walk on water -- Rusalka at SFO -- so nothing really surprises me.

I forgot to mention the exquisite love duets. It was darkness and light, love and revenge, enchantment and desire. Who could ask for more?

See more discussion of this performance here.