Monday, August 30, 2010

Roberto Alagna

I'm starting a series (if I am undisciplined in the pursuit of this series, it will just have to be forgiven) about singers who did not make the 14, and first is Roberto Alagna.

Roberto is really strictly an opera singer and never ventures out into other repertoire. He is that rare thing, a French tenor very much immersed in the Italian style. His career is enjoying a resurgence because he appears to be exactly what Peter Gelb is looking for as his leading man for French operas such as Carmen and Romeo et Juliette.

I adore Roberto and have chosen this example of him because it is completely over the top. If you occasionally feel constricted by the passionate but nevertheless controlled Germanness of Herr Kaufmann, then Roberto is the perfect antidote.

He looks good in closeups but falls out of the top group because he occasionally sings out of tune. We are torn. More discipline will mean less passion. Oh dear.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Life is Good

You might be curious to know that Balfe's The Bohemian Girl is roughly contemporary with Verdi's Nabucco.
It's back.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I remain the same singer

[This is an interview with Rolando Villazon from]

Also at his Liederabend at the Salzburger festival yesterday on Sunday evening he left the impression not yet to have found the way back to his old class. The APA met the 38 year old Mexican on Monday for an interview.

APA: Mr. Villazon, you want particularly to talk about "Red Nosed Clown Doctors". Very well. Why do you support this institution?

Villazon: Because I consider it particularly important. When the Clown Doctors came to me, I was immediately enthusiastic. I worked as a clown when I was 18 years old. What the clown doctors do is more than maintenance. There are already 230 artistically and psychologically trained clowns, who in eight countries go into the hospitals, and the ill, partially very seriously ill children to give them strength and perspective. Thus healing is substantially accelerated. My role therein is not more and not less than helping to make this singular institution more well-known.

APA: To music: you have released an album with the title “Mexico." On listening it has comparatively popular, not to say commercial songs in orchestral arrangements. How does this fit your opera career?

Villazon: Everything that I do, is an affair of the heart. This music is a part of me. I grew up with it. I heard these songs from my grandmother and then from my mother. The first concerts of my life covered this music. I have released CDs with music of Verdi, Donizetti or Händel - why not sing something else? In addition the year 2010 is a completely special year for Mexico, where the country celebrates 100 years since the revolution. The CD and DVD will appear in this coming September and are my contribution to this great celebration.

APA: How did you feel yesterday at your Liederabend in Salzburg?

Villazon: It was a very beautiful evening. A Liederabend at the Salzburg festival is always a special challenge. The appearances in Salzburg are among the most important in my life.

APA: Did you survive your vocal cord operation well, do you feel completely fit again? Do you feel again like the old person?

Villazon: Absolutely. I am happy that the problems of the previous year are past. If there is still any problem, then it is a problem like every singer has. So I had problems with Reflux (return flow of gastric acid into the esophagus, note) in the last weeks that I had to deal with. But otherwise I am good.

APA: Well one week ago you had to break a concert off in Copenhagen after a few minutes. Do you want to describe what was going on?

Villazon: There I was unfortunately not yet recovered. I do not want to say more about it.

APA: By your career break of the yearly 2007 as well as your vocal cord operation 2009, has this changed your voice and career?

Villazon: Essentially not. I remain the same singer. The body, the muscles and the whole life change, and just like every singer lives through different periods of his career. There is great pressure again and again, and it must be like that.

APA: So you will continue on completely normally.

Villazon: Naturally. 2011 I will particularly concentrate on Mozart and Ottavio in “Don Giovanni," as well as sing "Re pastore." In addition, "Tales of Hoffmann," a Massenet production and also sometime a “Tosca" stand on my plan. What makes me less happy, however, is that contracts in the opera must be locked in up to four, five years in advance. That is as if one asks a painter what he wants to paint in five years. That would be absurd.

[Clearly the interviewer is trying to communicate that things are not as they should be while Rolando is working equally hard to communicate that they are.]

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Trying to keep up


Dream start: After his brilliant debut in London in June, he’s following with his first solo CD, a TV production, other debuts. Ursula Ehrensberger spoke with the charming over-flyer. (Excerpts from the interview)

Mr. Grigolo, we meet here in London during an acclaimed series of performances of "Manon" with you and Anna Netrebko. Is the impression deceptive, or do you actually feel in the French music and language particularly well?

That is absolutely correct. Just yesterday, Maestro Pappano said: "Vittorio is half French," This is also true to some extent, because I have attended a French school as a child. I have learned to read and write in French, so I sometimes have the feeling that my French is better than my Italian.

This part seems to be optimal to not only your voice but also your personality...

Yes, I think it is also important to have the "physique du role." This helps not only the singer who sings the role, but also the person who is watching him. The emotions, which one gives to the person embodied on the stage in this way, are reflected again in the enthusiasm of the public.

For you is Des Grieux a weak or very much in love man.

For me he is a diplomatic man. He succeeds - perhaps as he lies to himself - to escape from reality by using extreme situations which lead him to behave diplomatically to the outside world. In the sense that he if he cannot have the woman he loves, he wants to become a priest, rather than be with other women. On the outside he appears very strong and diplomatic, but it is a very big lie. Inwardly, he still always thinks of this woman, sees her picture in front of him, although he is a priest. Therefore, he succumbs immediately to the temptation when he sees her again.

How did you feel about it, to stand together with Anna Netrebko on the stage, who is considered "the" Manon of our day?

I very much enjoyed it! Between us is the right "feeling", we breathe together. It is the first time that we sing together, and yet it feels as if our voices would be married for life. It was a kind of engagement during the rehearsal and a wedding at the premiere. What is particularly important for me is that she is very happy. She has not in all the years of hard work lost the joy of singing, but also to be emotional and to arouse emotions in others.

In your last interview for "The Opera Glass," about a year ago, you still had regrets that a classical CD recording had not worked out yet. The call was not heard: Soon after you signed a record contract, now your first CD appears ...

Yes, I have worked very much for this CD. It is a recording for Sony, which will be released in September. It's called "The Italian tenor," because I have chosen exclusively Italian arias. It should be something like my business card because I have not yet recorded my classical repertoire. So when I see an opera lover somewhere and he is enthusiastic about my performance, he will perhaps on the way want to see what there is to buy from me on record. Now he will find this CD on the shelf. In the future I will also include other things, for example, from the French repertoire. But I was born in Italy, so my voice has the Italian cantabile, this easy phrasing, light and simplicity, as is typical of Italian voices. Therefore, it was almost like an obligation, with my first CD to show where I come to prove my "italitanità.

[As usual, this is translated from Opernglas. We are trying to keep current. I especially like his comments about Netrebko.  He already has crossover CDs.]

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Vittorio Grigolo

Vittorio Grigolo also has a CD coming out. It's flamboyantly called "The Italian Tenor". He'll have to live up to this.

Included are ‘Una furtiva lagrima’  from L'Elisir d'Amore, ‘Quando le sere al placido’ from Luisa Miller, ‘Ella mi fu rapita’ and ‘Possente amore’ from Rigoletto, ‘Tutto parea sorridere’ and ‘Si de’ Corsari il fulmine’ from Il Corsaro, ‘Forse le soglia se m'e forza perderti’ from Un Ballo in Maschera, ‘Di quella pira’ from Il Trovatore, ‘Donna non vidi mai’ from Manon Lescaut, ‘E lucevan le stelle’ from Tosca, ‘Firenze è come un albero fiorito’ from Gianni Schicchi, and‘Che gelida manina’ from La Bohème.  I think this isn't a complete list.

 This is not his first recording, and I listed the contents so you could see it's a serious operatic album and not pop songs.  I think he's worth giving a chance.

South Pacific

The New York revival of South Pacific was on television last night.  This is still the best American musical, and it's in an excellent version.  It was interesting to hear that this is the first revival since the original production.

Merola Finale

One of the purposes of Merola training at the San Francisco Opera Center seems to be acquainting the young people with the nooks and crannies of operatic repertoire.  Thus at last night's Merola Grand Finale 2010 we were treated to...

A Handel Aria (Kevin Ray, tenor)

A substantial amount of Romantic French, including
·         an aria from Mignon (Robin Flynn, mezzo)
·         an aria from Thais (Rebecca Davis, soprano)
·         a duet from Hamlet (Abigail Santos Villalobos, soprano & Dan Kempson, baritone) and
·         a duet from Romeo et Juliette (Nadine Sierra, soprano & Daniel Montenegro, tenor).

An even richer selection from the bel canto, including
·         an aria from I Puritani (Ao Li, baritone)
·         a duet from La Fille du Regiment (Abigail Santos Villalobos, soprano & Eleazar Rodriguez, tenor)
·         a duet from Lucia di Lammermoor (Valentina Fleer, soprano & Sidney Outlaw, baritone)
·         an aria from Norma (Renee Rapier, mezzo) and
·         a duet from Don Pasquale (Janai Brugger-Orman, soprano & Benjamin Covey, baritone).

 “O du mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhauser (Ryan Kuster, baritone).

Two bits from R. Strauss that included
·         bit from Die schweigsame Frau, something I’ve never seen but now am curious (Kevin Thompson, bass)
·         duet from Ariadne auf Naxos (Hye Jung Lee, soprano & Colleen Brooks, mezzo).

Scene from The Rake’s Progress (Janai Brugger-Orman, soprano, Alexander Lewis, tenor, Kevin Thompson, bass).

Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Hye Jung Lee, soprano, Thomas Florio, baritone and others).

The Finale from Nozze di Figaro.

Not one thing from Verdi or any verismo composer.

Now I know that opera singing is hard.  The lesson of my own extensive education was that it was far easier to learn music as music instead of as rows of notes with words attached.  In other words, learn the notes and the phrasing together.  Never fall prey to the idea that I'll save the phrasing for later.  I'll learn how to phrase music when I'm getting gray hair.  No.  If necessary, learn the phrasing first and save the notes for later.  I'd 100 times prefer a few mistakes in phrased music than endless robotic performances with absolutely no musical clue.

Who knew, e.g., that the finale to Figaro was so repetitious and monotonous?

Giving credit where it is due:  the duet from Romeo et Juliette was charming and very moving.  This opera is growing on me.  The duet from Don Pasquale wasn't too bad.  That's about it.  Even the obscure corners of opera have something musical to say.  The scene between Zerbinetta and the Composer, for instance, is utterly charming.  Normally.  Not here.  You won't fool me with acting.  In other words, the presence of acting will not distract me into not noticing the absence of phrasing.

Post Script:  Obviously if they are all doing it, it isn't the singers who are at fault.

PPS:  When I pointed out that the Merola final concert included no Verdi or verismo, I meant this as no criticism. And "O du mein holder Abendstern" cannot be considered killer Wagner. In a comment about the Santa Fe opera I said I did not think Merola tried to push young singers into heavy repertoire or vocal production, something that might be happening in Santa Fe. Selection of lighter repertoire is a factor in this process. The aim is to work very hard, learn a lot about repertoire, languages, acting, etc., but leave the technique pretty much in tact. They should be praised for this.  

Friday, August 20, 2010

Dark Hope

One of the first things I said when I first started this blog was, "I would like to see more risk taking by Renée and all the classical singers."

So what has happened with Renée Fleming in the meanwhile? Handel's Rodelinda at the Met, the jazz album Haunted Heart, a recording of Strauss' Daphne, a cheesy Christmas album, an album of late nineteenth century arias called Homage, a spectacular and remarkably unaffected performance of Tatania from Eugene Onegin at the Met, a perfume called La Voce, the first ever gala for a woman at the Met, a new rather over the top recording of the Strauss Four Last Songs, a spectacular Rosenkavalier also at the Met, a hilarious performance of Thais(Met), her 50th birthday, a Grammy for the new album Verismo, and a wonderful Met Rossini Armida. (I at least loved it.)

And now something being referred to in the press as rock called Dark Hope. This for my ears is closer to a baritonal Enya than to any rock I've heard. Perhaps when other people perform the same pieces they are rock-like, ish. You can only occasionally tell that it's Fleming.

Why? I have no idea. The pop press appears to be buying it. Maybe less risk taking might be in order. Or something more classical on the order of Cecilia doing Norma. Let somebody else do the risk taking for while.



Fascinating.  From the current issue of the New Yorker.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


In a review of Sacrificium in Opera News by Stephen Francis Vasta I read "One might point out that metered 'shakes,' and the faster bits of trills, sound more like flutters on a single tone, rather than two distinct notes."

Now I admit I can't tell if this is a simple statement of fact rather than a criticism. Nevertheless I feel obligated to explain.

When a pianist or a violinist plays a trill it's two different notes. When I write one for my midi player, it's two different notes. There are these insane arguments over whether the triller should start on the upper or the lower note which I will not pretend interests me. I know on my midi player it made no difference.

This has nothing to do with singing. All opera singing is a flutter. This is called vibrato, and consists of a consistent fluctuation in pitch generally about a half tone wide. Patty Page had absolutely no vibrato [play a 45 record at 33 speed]. Violinists imitate this by wiggling their wrists. The brain hears this as a pulsing single note. One achieves a trill by widening the vibrato until the brain no longer integrates the flutter into one note. A trill is a fast very wide vibrato. A wobble is a very slow, wide vibrato.

Or yes. So?

Don't tell Cecilia she's supposed to sing two separate notes, or she might start trying to do it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


This new album by Cecilia Bartoli is also announced for October but not available from Amazon yet. "Sospiri" translates as "sighs." It is a compilation from many sources, virtually all of which I already own, and is being released in 1 CD and 2 CD versions.

If you immediately buy everything she produces, this will seem superfluous. There are tracks from the Fauré/Duruflé Requiems CD, tracks from the choral albums with Chung, opera recordings, etc. If you'd like them all in one place, this is your opportunity.

It ranges rather further than anything seen to date and covers virtually all the corners of her repertoire. There's some nice stuff here.

Missing is the Madrigal from Manon Lescaut, still never heard outside the complete opera recording.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I must

Please forgive me for I must post this. It is a more modern sensibility for the "Urlicht." It is the divine and immortal Lorraine Hunt Lieberson with MTT and the San Francisco Symphony. There are performances one wishes one had attended.

"O red rose! Here we are in greatest need! Here we are in greatest pain! O were I better in heaven! There I came upon a broad, fair path, then there came a little angel who would turn me away. Ah, no, I would not be turned away. I am of God, and will return to God, for our loving God will give me light for seeing, which will light me into that eternal, blissful life!"

No offense to Maureen.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Night and Dreams

I’m glad I decided to buy Night and Dreams instead of the more typical Wesendonck album. 

Measha Brueggergosman is an artist who has self-consciously eschewed opera in favor of the concert stage.  I have wondered what would become of this singer, seemingly so obviously destined for Strauss operas, or perhaps even Wagner.

There are, of course, lots of people who only want to hear lyric sopranos in virtually all repertoire, and some of them even read this blog.  Measha is a spinto with a lovely full tone who can color her voice light or heavy, dark or bright.  She can also find the line with these colors.  Without the line there is nothing. 

There are language coaches listed for French, German, Brazilian and Spanish.  French repertoire is represented by Fauré, Chausson, Poulenc, Liszt, Debussy, Duparc and Hahn.  For German we have Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Wolf and Strauss.  Spanish is Montsalvatge and Falla.  That must mean that the song by Francis Hime is in Brazilian.  Is that enough?  No?  Then there is Sleep by Peter Warlock in English.

I prefer the late romantics of any language in her voice.  Every song selected for this album does not successfully go spinto, but enough do.  More passionate renditions you will not hear.

Justus Zeyen is the piano accompanist, transparent and gorgeous in every style.

Learn to love big.  You won’t regret it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Maureen Forrester (25 July 1930 – 16 June 2010)

Maureen Forrester 1930-2010. In my youth she was the voice of Mahler. This is "Urlicht," the fourth movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony no 2.

One song does not seem like enough.

Monday, August 09, 2010


I am irresistibly drawn to intelligent singers. How is it possible that such a gorgeous man could be so smart? I am pleased to have seen him before the rush, to have said that he was a Florestan to die for when there were only two films of him on YouTube. He not only thinks but can express what he thinks as well.



Here it is: Jonas Kaufmann sings Lohengrin now on the Green Hill in Bayreuth. Brigitte Kempen met the charming festival star. Excerpts from the interview.

Your own Bayreuth debut: Is this the entrance to an El Dorado, a walk in the bullring or a job like anything else?

The moment in which I stand on stage and the curtain rises, it must be a normal job, like any other. When you get offered such an engagement that has certainly a special meaning, a personal priority. And in this case, of course, the overarching tradition that goes along with the works of Richard Wagner impresses, and the legacy of the many "fore-fathers", who have already embodied Lohengrin. But when you then do the production and sing the part, that may play no role. If you are trying too hard, are very excited and demand too much of ones self, then that is just not good.

Whether one has experienced you now live in Munich as Lohengrin, or in the DVD release of this production - remains your outstanding presentation of the “Gralserzählung.” What's your secret with this interpretation?

Sometime in the performance practice, we have accepted that Wagner always has to do anything with a loud, pompous and heroic song. But if you look at the scores, at least as many characters are noted Piano as Forte. There are many moments in which a "nothing" is played in accompaniment and only a single solo instrument plays. The question then arises, why not use this moment to bring other colors into a Wagner part. When I look at how the traditional singing of Wagner once was and how Wagner wanted the songs to be sung, then we have moved pretty far away from it. This does not mean that I want to turn back the wheel again, because the modern orchestral sound is unbelievably wonderful, no question. But you just have to use it in moderation and know when it is possible fully to use this sonority, and when to reduce it. Then there is the possibility to sing Wagner not only with a single dimension of sound, but make it more rich and colorful.

I have heard lately a lot of Wagner recordings in Italian. Then one thinks one is hearing a different music. Simply by changing the language immediately also the phrasing changes. There are some very long, beautiful arches in it, which can be reached with the German language and its rather hard articulation, without becoming indistinct.

In addition to these vocal technical aspects of course I am concerned with the character. In Lohengrin for me it is very clear: I sing a tragic hero and want to know what kind of person lies behind this heroic facade and what kind of feelings he has. One senses in many places, that he longs for a normal life, no longer wants to jump in as a super hero from mission to mission, and would happily stay longer than just this year with Elsa. And if he has in the few moments that he is in this world, invested so strongly in this idea, then Elsa’s question is a bitter disappointment, a personal loss - that's what makes the human element of this character. The failure of his mission, the political dimension moves then into second place. This is not very easy to establish, there are very few places where you get a look in. When “Gralserzählung” begins, Lohengrin has fallen in great disappointment into a depressed hole. The Gralserzählung is not heroic and proud, but incredibly simple and one feels faith and mysticism that have been since Lohengrin’s birth firmly rooted in him. He tells it all with a great sentimentality, as removed from the world. He is dead inside, and that bitterness is a real depression - which comes very well from the music, because the crescendo is developed from long quiet places.

You've now a very clear idea of the character of Lohengrin. But there are directors who interpret the character in a different context and make him a negative figure. Could you play along with such a concept?

At the very least I know in the Bayreuth production that Mr. Neuenfels wants to take and with its world represent the piece in such a way very seriously, how it is meant. To that extent that will not line up in this production. But basically: to be honest I very happily play bad guys, because as a tenor one doesn’t have this opportunity very often.

[This is translated from the online version of Opernglas. It is a pleasure to attempt to translate Mr. Kaufmann.]


Clearly I have fallen behind in following Measha Brueggergosman. She's had two album releases this year from Deutsche Grammophon.

In March came a piano recital called Night and Dreams. Then in July came an orchestral recital that includes Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder. I'm going to have to look into this.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

New Album for Jonas

Jonas Kaufmann has a new album coming, this time verismo arias.  It doesn't show up on Amazon yet.  Or much of anywhere else that I can find.

We wouldn't want you to think our mind had wandered too far.

Here's the actual album cover.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


I have tried to edit all the posts entered while traveling and add pictures.

Mistakes included;
Saying L'Orfeo was for Cremona when it was in Mantua.
Mistaking Michaelangelo for Michaelangelo Merisi-Caravaggio.
Mispelling Ilya Grubert.


Monday, August 02, 2010

Pop Quiz

You see on ARTS a woman in a June Cleaver dress standing in her kitchen singing. What is it?

A visit to the Arena di Verona

This is the Arena di Verona with the sets for Aida stored just outside.  We were there for Butterfly.

 While we search for out entry gate, there are these lovely policemen on horseback.  The steps on the left side are not so steep as those on the right.

The space available for the set is vast.

 When the orchestra is in and the opera is ready to start, someone in costume for the opera comes out and rings a gong.

 Members of the audience light candles.

 The conductor enters with his escort.

And the opera begins.

The artists come over to bow on our side.

Now that I'm home I'm trying to make up for the absence of photographs.