Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rolando in Classic fm

It says here on page 44 of Classic fm concerning Rolando Villazon, "Who'd have thought this brilliant, charismatic Mexican would have developed problems with his vocal cords that required two operations and a lengthy recuperation? Some claimed they saw it coming...."

Well. I wrote here on October 30, 2005, "It was Alex Ross (09/26/05) who called Rolando Villazon 'Domingo's heir apparent in the Italian tenor repertory....' That's where I read it. Why would he want to curse him in this way? I went to the New Yorker website and printed out a few of Ross' columns so I could get a feeling for his writing, and right away I'm annoyed. Villazon is a real lyric tenor with a dark color. Domingo is a pushed up baritone. You leave my boy alone!!"

And here on December 17, 2005, "Rolando and Anna...were on the radio today in Verdi's Rigoletto. I thought the role a bit heavy for Villazon, but exactly right for Netrebko."

And here on March 2, 2006, "Rolando is all over the magazines, including the cover stories of Opera Now and Gramophone, where he is constantly being compared to Domingo. Rolando is a lyric tenor. I said this before. Maybe in his forties he can take on heavier repertoire."

And here on March 3, 2006, I said, "Ok, now I get it. Rolando Villazon actually sounds like Placido Domingo sometimes. In certain heavy Italian repertoire their voices sound very similar. This is a trap he must not fall into."

I don't know how I could possibly have been more clear.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


No one was Domingo before Domingo, and no one will be Domingo after Domingo. So knock off calling people the new Domingo.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Score of the future

I sat on the tenor side in the Jonas Kaufmann recital, but my friend sat on the keyboard side and she swears Helmut Deutsch was playing from an iPad at one point. Maybe that's why there was suddenly a page turner. How would you turn pages while playing from an iPad? I am imagining something held between the teeth. When it's time to go on, you bite down.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Beau soir

And this Debussy song is a track from the greatest piano-vocal recital album ever made, with soprano Eileen Farrell. It's on Amazon but "unavailable."


I don't post enough coloratura examples, so here is Marilyn Horne at her absolute best with something from Semiramide.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


In my email:

Renée Fleming's next aria: "I do!"
The Buffalo News Blogs Wed, 09 Mar 2011 11:34 AM PST
Opera diva Renée Fleming is engaged. The Rochester-born diva is planning on tying the knot with corporate lawyer Tim Jessell. The two have been dating two years, and it has been a long-distance relationship, with Fleming in New York and Jessell in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Diva / Divo

The title for this new album by Joyce DiDonato means that a mezzo will sometimes play a female character and sometimes a male. The album tells which tracks are which. I can't seem to find this info anywhere else.

1. Divo: the character Chérubin from the opera Chérubin by Massenet, "Je suis gris! Je suis ivre!"

2-3. Diva: Susanna from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, "Deh, vieni, non tardar" plus recitative.

4. Divo: Sesto from Gluck's La Clemenza di Tito, "Se mai senti spirarti sul volto." I notice this is the same aria as "O malheuruese Iphigénie" from Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride. I don't know why I never noticed this before. He wasn't above self borrowing either, apparently. Clemenza is 1752, Iphigénie is 1779. Interesting.

5-6. Diva: Vitellia from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, "Non più di fiori" plus recitative.

7. Divo: Cherubino from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, "Voi che sapete."

8. Diva: Rosina from Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini, "Contro un cor."

9. Divo: Siébel from Gounod's Faust, "Faites-lui mes aveux."

10. Diva: Marguerite from La Damnation de Faust by Berlioz, "D'amour l'ardente flamme." Actually this is also a symphony, but all the singing represents characters in the Faust drama. Berlioz was not on good terms with the Opera management.

11. ??: Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette, Premiers transports "que nul n'oublie." This work is a symphony, and the singers do not represent characters in the drama. To fit with the overall scheme this would need to represent Juliet.

12. Divo: Romeo in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, "Ascolta! Se Romeo t'uccise un figlio.... - La tremenda ultrice spada."

13. Divo: Le Prince Charmant in Massenet's Cendrillon, "Allez, laissez-moi seul.... Coeur sans amour, printemps sans roses."

14. Diva: Cenerentola in Rossini's La Cenerentola, "Nacqui all'affanno." In one opera the mezzo is the prince, in the other she's the new princess.

15. Diva: Ariane in Massenet's Ariane, "Ô frêle corps.... Chère Cypris."

16. Divo: Komponist from Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos, "Seien wir wieder gut!"   This is something Joyce is singing this spring at the Met.

You will notice that often the same story has the mezzo as one character in one opera and as another character entirely in another setting of the same story.  This is a fun idea for an album, and takes Joyce out of the coloratura repertoire we have become accustomed to hearing her sing.

I like this trend.  One of the first essays I wrote on this blog is called The Cecilia Bartoli Effect. Don't we all love these new lighter mezzos and the gorgeous new repertoire they are bringing us.

I like this album, too.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sexiest Man

According to the Orange County Register, Nathan Gunn is opera's sexiest star. We could add this to our list of things to research.


Needing a little stimulation after being bored to death by Bach--I assure you the least boring of all composers--, I decided to go to Mondavi Center once again, this time to hear the Verdi Requiem. Admittedly Runnicles did go for a cerebral VR, but that's not generally the case. This was the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra, and they had the good sense to hire Karen Slack as their soprano soloist. How bad could it be?

They rocked. That's what you want in a great Verdi Requiem. If you can't get down, go with Mozart. Karen was great, and so were all the soloists: mezzo Julie Simson, tenor Bjorn Arvidsson, [a man sitting behind me said he wanted to change his name to Bjorn], and bass Kevin Thompson a last minute replacement.

I'm feeling much better now.  My hair stood on end in all the right places.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Viva Natalie

Lucia...................Natalie Dessay (coloratura soprano)
Edgardo.................Joseph Calleja (tenor)
Enrico..................Ludovic Tézier (baritone)
Raimondo................Kwangchul Youn (bass)
Normanno................Philip Webb (tenor)
Alisa...................Theodora Hanslowe (mezzo-soprano)
Arturo..................Matthew Plenk (tenor)

Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in the Zimmerman production was the first do-over in the Metropolitan Opera in HD series. We knew when they asked Natalie Dessay to host Anna Netrebko's version that she was pissed. Well, it was pretty nervy of them.

Today Renée Fleming was the hostess. She interviewed everyone in sight, including the two dogs who appear at the beginning of the opera. The owners explained that they were so well behaved because they were show dogs. They're trained to be well behaved with strangers.

I'm getting in all the nonsense before talking about the opera. Renée interviewed Natalie in the second intermission and asked her how she got in the right mood for the mad scene. Among other things she said she thought about how this might be her last Lucia at the Met and how she wanted to create a memory for everyone. One can only wonder. Renée also asked her about what she thought about while she performed. Renée asked all the right questions. Natalie said that she no longer thought only about the acting--she thought about her breath, about the music. She is thinking more about the music these days. There was also quite a lot of talk from multiple sources about how Natalie ad libs ornaments. I'm pretty sure I noticed this.

It was a wonderful mad scene and the most I have cried at Lucia. With Natalie you feel the madness. It is curious that at the end where she appears as the ghost, she no longer seems mad, just certain that Edgardo should pass over. I love the ghost and Natalie's reaction to her. Thank you, Mary. There was no glass harmonica.

Which brings us to Joseph Calleja, today's Edgardo. If I have used his name in vain, a thousand pardons. The problem between me and Joseph has been that I have not heard him in the right thing. The right thing, apparently, is Edgardo in Lucia. The sweet spots in his voice precisely mesh with the sweet spots in this role to glorious effect.

I liked the whole cast here better than the last time. We all liked Ludovic Tézier as Enrico.

If it is Natalie's last Lucia, and I'm not saying it is, it was wonderful.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bach I like

This is the first thing I clicked on: the messe in ha moll with Gundula Janowitz and Hertha Topper.

And this is David Daniels. This may be a fairly accurate representation of how it would have sounded in Bach's time, since we know women didn't sing in church there either.

I'm trying very hard to remember how much I love this piece, though not as much as the Mattheus Passion.

Oh well.

Ho Hum

I went last night to Mondavi Center to hear Bach's B Minor Mass by the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus under the baton of Ragnar Bohlin, the new choral director at the symphony.

About 15 minutes in I began to wish I was listening to Nicholas McGegan. It never rose above the level of OK. The chorus was seriously unbalanced toward the treble with no discernible bass.

Tempos were brisk, like the singers and the orchestra were racing each other to see who could get to the end faster. Thank you for that.

They all used German style pronunciation for their Latin instead of the traditional Italian: qui was kvi instead of kwi, agnus instead of anyus, that sort of thing. I suppose the traditional Italian pronunciation has vanished from memory to be replaced by correctness.

Justify your correctness with passion. It was all abysmally BORING. Robert Shaw is rolling over in his grave. Look. Bach is a very exciting composer. This was about as exciting as a dish of Swedish meatballs.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I found this picture on the Huffington Post from a review of Jonas' appearance at the LA Opera.

Photo by Robert Millard, from left: soprano Nino Machaidze, James Conlon, mezzo soprano Marilyn Horne, Kaufmann and Deutsch.

It's nice to see Marilyn looking so well.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I surveyed a number of women in the audience at Jonas Kaufmann's recital, and we decided that if he really didn't want to be a sex symbol, he would cut his hair differently.

I am not new to the Jonas Kaufmann phenomenon.  See Fidelio and Carmen in Zurich, Lohengrin in Munich and Werther in Paris.

Jonas Kaufmann in Berkeley

By the end of the concert it was clear that Jonas Kaufmann had never played Berkeley before. All those people standing and shouting at him made him feel like he was required to keep doing encore after encore. I kept waving at him as he passed by, and finally he turned and waved good-bye to the audience and was gone.

My take on the five encores was three Strauss Lieder, "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Das Land des Lächelns by Lehar, and Schumann's "Mondnacht." The last, I'm sure, was just for me.

Jonas in white tie and tails and his accompanist Helmut Deutsch are such serious artists, I feel inadequate. It was a very serious concert, the first half all Schumann, the second all Strauss. They worked together with great sensitivity, both to the music and to each other.

What separates a Lied from a mere song is the piano part. The text is painted in the accompaniment. In Schumann the singer is often required to wait patiently while the musical idea finishes in the piano. Jonas is intensely restrained and dignified in his recital manner while finding the expressive core of each piece.

The beauty of his tone and the intelligence of his interpretations make Jonas Kaufmann the German singer of his generation, and maybe a couple of previous ones.  Anyway you look at it it was a very fine concert.  They are going for class all the way.

CDs and DVDs were on sale in the lobby: Carmen, Werther, Lohengrin and his last two aria albums, but my favorite, the Strauss album, was not on display.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Business

Opera is a complex business.

It is a basic fact of the business that some singers sell more tickets than others. This is the explanation for Placido Domingo’s amazing extended career. If people want to hear him and he can still do it, why shouldn’t he sing?

The reason someone makes news for canceling a performance is generally because one would have purchased the tickets specifically to hear that person. If Rolando Villazon cancels, it’s news. If Joseph Calleja cancels, it’s not news. No offense, Joseph.

If the opera is booked and advertised as Deborah Voigt and Ben Heppner together in Tristan und Isolde, it is news when Ben Heppner does not appear.

The higher the demand for the singer, the greater the regret when they cancel.

This brings us to the singers themselves. Some singers have sturdy, robust voices that will take them through virtually anything, but even these people can get laryngitis. Domingo falls into this category. He successfully completed Iphigénie while ill. He still cancels when it’s necessary. Another very famous singer with a robust voice is Anna Netrebko. She still gets laryngitis.

It is a curious phenomenon that if the performance is being filmed, the singer is more likely to appear. That is how I managed to see Pavarotti and Freni in La Boheme.

Every opera singer who becomes famous and in demand doesn’t have this kind of robust voice. We may love them because they are interesting as all hell, because they bring something interesting to the stage that no one else does. Because they create magic.

It is the magic combination of fragility and insane demand that creates the problems. When Cecilia Bartoli was younger, she would generate headlines due to cancelations, but no more. Now she knows herself, knows where the problems arise, and carefully avoids them. She tightly controls her repertoire and her schedule to reflect her physical limitations. She still can get laryngitis just like anyone else.

I think the trick is to know thyself.

People cancel for pregnancy, surgery, a death in the family, and sometimes because someone made them a better offer. Poplovskaya was probably booked somewhere else when she stepped in at the Met.

In their desperation to sell tickets and make money opera managers and apparently also agents try to drag all the blood they can out of the singer while they are hot. Let’s make money while the sun shines. Not everyone has the fortitude to resist.

Singers are overbooked. They are also outrageously booked into major roles they have never sung, and never even practiced. Then the opera manager inflates himself into a puffer fish and howls when the singer tries out the role in private and discovers, “Wow. I can’t sing this.” No one is obligated to humiliate himself.

The opera world always has a desperate need for the robust voice, the one that can sing Wagner and Verdi, and perhaps a little heavy verismo, for endless performances with no ill effects. Such people do exist, but they are not the majority. I never got the impression that Birgit Nilsson was overextending herself. If you overbook anyone into heavy repertoire, he will wear down.

My only problem with this whole scenario is that the attention is always focused on the singers. Everyone gets pissed off at them and rants about their egos, etc. No one ever turns to the manager or agent and says, “Why did you let this happen?”  I would have thought it was part of the qualifications for the job that you were at least minimally aware of what was possible for the particular singers in your charge.

Friday, March 11, 2011


It turns out there is a "Faust contest" on YouTube with various singers doing the Jewel Song. I kind of like this lady: Soile Isokoski from Finland.

You can go to YouTube and play the rest of them. This is more fun than fussing over Angela. I know, the Met is going with Poplavskaya, and she'll do fine. Here's her version:

You can bet that she isn't complaining about Angela's cancellations. Of course, Victoria de Los Angeles has always been my favorite.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The original passionate American

Rosa Ponselle singing "Senza mamma" from Suor Angelica.

One wasn't enough. "Pace, pace" from La Forza del Destino, a work that isn't done often enough.

Maria Callas thought Rosa was the greatest soprano.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


It should be noted that the cast lists for 2011-12 Faust on the Metroplitan Opera website now show Poplavskaya instead of Gheorghiu. According to the New York Times, this was due to artistic reasons.

I have decided I stuck my neck out too far. I don't understand what is going on with Angela, and I can see why people would get tired of being messed with.

I still don't think she should ever have been cast in Carmen or Don Carlo, but I don't know if this is considered significant.

If I read my calendar correctly, she canceled the run of Romeo at the Met because of illness while continuing to sing Adriana in London. That does seem a bit weird. I can't claim she shouldn't sing Juliette. This is one of her specialties.

I really wanted to see her in Faust and am disappointed.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

LA Turco

They run a class operation here at the LA Opera. The before opera lecture is given by music director James Conlon himself. And the liner notes for Rossini's Il Turco in Italia are by Philip Gossett.

James Conlon likes Turco. I'm not sure I do. Dr. Gossett assures us that none of the music is borrowed from other operas. The problem is that it seems like it is. Don Geronio's shtick is pretty much the same as Don Magnifico's in Cenerentola. Does it really matter that the notes aren't the same? A buffo patter song is a buffo patter song. Only Figaro truly transcends his category. Paolo Gavanelli is a perfect Don Geronio.

The poet character, sung by Thomas Allen, is constantly wondering if this particular bit will work for his finale. So we get finale-like music throughout the first half. Except when we get to the actual finale, they are careful to point out to us that this was written by someone else. The opera just peters out.

The production is fun. The opera starts with an empty stage with a small travel trailer in the center. Then one by one 30 gypsies come out of it. This is an opera that absolutely screams for a modern production. There are probably just as many gypsies in Naples today as there were in Rossini's time.

Selim arrives on a flying carpet. Cute.

Thomas Allen's poet is a basket case. Each appearance adds a new bandage, cast, eye patch, arm sling, something.

"In Italia certamente non si fa l'amor cosi." In Italy we don't make love like this. My favorite line.

If there is something really attractive about Turco, it is the fabulous slut character Fiorilla. I don't wish to offend any Italians, but in our hearts Fiorilla is the essential Italian woman. She flirts outrageously with every man and owns far too many Ferragamo shoes.

In fact this whole opera is about stereotypes: gypsies, Italian women, cuckolded husbands, Turks, Naples, poets.

I'm here for Nino Machaidze who sings Fiorilla. She is a beautiful young woman with a bright, penetrating and highly serviceable voice. I wish I liked her more. She was convincing and charming as the sexpot, and improved in the finding the music category. But you know, for me it is the music. I get the idea that she is improving. Opera singing is very hard work, and it is exactly this that is the hard part.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1803-1830]

Thursday, March 03, 2011


I’ve been blogging for over six years. When I began, I think the main purpose of my writing was to exorcise my musical demons, of which I have many. I flung advice around left and right to anyone lying in my path.

It couldn’t be helped. I feel reading these entries only slightly embarrassed. The worst was my repeated cracks about Susan Graham’s French. I learn things every day as a result of this new musical obsession, and one result of this learning is that I can no longer hear what I was worrying about with Susan. So I was a jerk. As I said, it can’t be helped.

I really do try to give only good advice. I feel the appearance of the opera Anna Nicole was a direct result of my advice that opera is a chick flick.

Blogging appears to be working. Insecurities and resentments are replaced by a passion to consume everything musical. I passionately try to find the next big thing, for instance. My track record is pretty good in that regard.

My demons are at least at bay. As I become more familiar with the lives of professional singers, I realize more than just my physical inadequacies as a singer. I see more vividly every day how little I could have stood such a life. For one thing you have to stand quietly while everyone tells you what to do. If there is one single thing I could never do, this has to be it. I was far better suited to an environment where I threw tantrums until I got what I wanted. And no, I don't know why I wasn't fired. I attribute this to the fact that I made decisions when no one else wanted to.

I’m doing better at sticking to things I actually know about instead of giving advice to composers. I only got off onto that track because there seems to be no one else doing it. I’ll use this opportunity to summarize: opera should be fun. Write an opera that’s fun. That’s why people like Nixon. It’s a lot of fun.

I argue a lot for phrasing the music. That was my problem with the recent Bach concert. It was plainly obvious that far more time was spent in rehearsal making sure the singers used proper German pronunciation of Latin--in a piece that was probably never performed in Bach's lifetime and therefore included no pronouncing of Latin whatsoever--than was spent finding the musical phrasing of the pieces. In fact to all appearances no time was spent on phrasing at all.

But I'm not going to decide for you how to do it. You won't get from me that this way is right and this other one is not. Find it in your own heart and soul, but find it.

So the demons are conquered through the knowledge that writing about music is probably where I fit best in the scheme of things, and in particular writing about music in a context where no editor comes along to fix me up, round off my rough edges and make me like everyone else. I remember when I was a freshman in college, an English teacher advised me to become a writer about music. And so I have.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Oh My

Oh. I missed this. Saariaho's L'amour de lion plus Cirque du Soleil. My mind is completely blown. They should open this in Las Vegas.