Monday, October 31, 2011

Arias for Farinelli

This was very much a Baroque weekend.  On Saturday night was Vivica Genaux with the Philharmonia Baroque in Berkeley doing her Arias for Farinelli program.

Philharmonia Baroque performs in the First Congregational Church in Berkeley, and after living in Sacramento for a while, I am feeling a bit of envy for such a spacious room with such nice acoustics.

This was sort of an anyone but Bach concert from the generation born from the decade 1678-88:

  • We begin with a concerto for six woodwinds by Johann Friedrich Fasch, who worked within 50 miles of Bach.  This was on the program as a memorial for two of their woodwind players who died last spring.
  • Then Vivica thrilled us with three arias by Antonio Vivaldi.
  • Georg Philipp Telemann's "Sinfonia Spirituosa"
  • Then we have two arias by Nicola Porpora and one by Roccardo Broschi.  Broschi is heard only because he was Farinelli's brother and wrote a number of show piece arias for him.  He is younger than the others.  These were pretty flashy.
  • The program closed with a suite by Jean -Philippe Rameau from La Guirlande.  This included some very primitive looking percussion--a tall drum and a tambourine. 
  • Vivica sang "Agitata da due venti" from Vivaldi's Griselda as an encore.  I don't think it was as funny as this film.



Don Giovanni in HD

Don Giovanni............Mariusz Kwiecien
Donna Anna..............Marina Rebeka
Don Ottavio.............Ramón Vargas
Donna Elvira............Barbara Frittoli
Leporello...............Luca Pisaroni
Zerlina.................Mojca Erdmann
Masetto.................Joshua Bloom
Commendatore............Stefan Kocán

Conductor...............Fabio Luisi
Production..............Michael Grandage

One of my long time wishes came true in the Live from the Metropolitan in HD broadcast of Don Giovanni on Saturday. I have always wished for a very sexy and aware Zerlina, one who truly meant "vorrai e non vorrai" [I want, and I don't want], where you could see it in her eyes. I wanted to feel the moment when she pauses and finally says "andiam." [we go]  I wanted the vision of her full participation in the seduction. I got her in Mojca Erdmann's Zerlina. She was perfect.

This was an excellent production for a number of reasons. Don Giovanni is hard to stage unless you just bail on the whole thing and stick with a bare stage. The scene is constantly shifting. In this production the stage pictures were pleasing and moved smoothly and easily from scene to scene. This version by Michael Grandage was very comprehensible and well thought out. And the death scene was the best ever.

The cast was well matched, but I felt that the Leperello of Luca Pisaroni stole the show from Mariusz Kwiecien [pronounced KVEE-chen, according the the New York Times, although Renée Fleming seemed to be saying something slightly different] as the Don. Mariusz has a pretty face so we forgive him the dastardly deeds. He showed no effects of his back crisis of only two weeks ago.

The rest of the cast, which included Barbara Frittoli and Ramon Vargas, was also excellent. Vargas is a wonderful singer, but I hated the fact that he sang his whole first aria sotto voce. Sotto voce is a stunt, something done only for a specific effect, and not real singing at all. More than a single phrase is too much. This is a recent phenomenon, and I refuse to just give in and ignore it. It must be weeded out.

Fabio Luisi conducted from the harpsichord where he played the secco recitatives. He explained in the intermission that it is easier for him to keep the music flowing from the harpsichord. Everything worked together to create a Don Giovanni of incredible dramatic effectiveness.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1780-1803]

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Furie terribili

It wouldn't do to show Cecilia Bartoli as a mere comedienne, so here we have her singing "Furie terribili" from Handel's Rinaldo. This aria is for Armida, while on the complete recording Cecilia sings the role of Almireno.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Copyright Law

There is currently a lot of discussion around the subject of copyright law.  The situation as I understand it is that the Disney Corporation wants everything ever created by Walt to stay under copyright no matter how long he's been dead.  They have the money to persuade people.  So the time was extended.  This put a bunch of stuff back under copyright, including music, that had already gone to public domain.  This went to the Supreme Court for a decision on October 5.

San Francisco Classical Voice has a long discussion of this whole situation and how it affects music here and here.

I say Walt and his descendants have already made enough money off of Snow White.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Complaining about Opera News

Once again I am complaining about something in Opera News which arrived in my mail yesterday.  There is a review of the recent disk featuring Aleksandra Kurzak. The reviewer goes on and on about about the expected choruses that are left out and the other singers one might have expected to hear. He talks about which versions of the ornaments are used. In short he talks about what a great genius he is and tells us nothing about whether we should buy the recording--the purpose of writing reviews. Is she any good? We won't know from anything in Opera News.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Staging Concept

I haven't done one of these in years. When I first started blogging I would invent imaginary stagings. My favorite was always Don Giovanni as Austin Powers. So why is Don Giovanni never done as a comedy?

Today I have a new one: Cosi fan Tutte as Cheers. Coach is Don Alfonso and Carla is Despina. One couple is Sam and Diane and the other couple is Frasier and Lilith.  The whole thing would take place in the Cheers bar in Boston.  We will ignore any problems with who appeared in which season.  Could we imagine Diane and Lilith as sisters?  This seems a minor difficulty.  After much puzzling, I think Lilith has to be the serious Fiordiligi, while Diane is the more frivolous Dorabella.

If you are too young to remember Cheers, it's got to be in rerun somewhere.

Friday, October 21, 2011


This is Noah Stewart. He is very wow in just too many ways. He appears places with Katherine Jenkins, but you mustn't hold it against him.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Domingo's Tristan

Someone gave me a copy of Placido Domingo's recording of Tristan und Isolde.  Nina Stemme is Isolde in this recording.  She is incredible.  One could wish to hear her with a real Heldentenor.  Placido Domingo is not one.  His voice sounds somewhat fragile, and the technicians seem to have done nothing to make him seem to balance with Stemme.

I'm not a fan of Tristan.  In my search for a Tristan I could make it all the way through, I liked only Nilsson and Vickers.  I don't hear Wagner in Domingo's voice.  People don't always make the best decisions.  Am I supposed to carry on about how old he is?  Domingo's tone is self-consciously developed to sound like a certain type of tenor, and this isn't a Heldentenor.  He does nothing here to sound like a Heldentenor.

I also own the Tristan with Christine Brewer and John Treleaven.  Brewer is very bland compared to Stemme, and Treleaven is almost a baritone compared to Domingo.  I think I prefer Runnicles conducting with Brewer to Pappano with Domingo.  Do I totally love either one of them?  Probably not.  How about Stemme and Heppner?


I was interested in the fact that Peter Gelb interviewed Anna Netrebko before the performance of Anna Bolena.  I see this as a signal to the world.  He, Peter Gelb, is conferring on this diva a never before seen honor, that she is now the number one opera singer in the world.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Anna Bolena in HD

Conductor.......................Marco Armiliato
Production......................David McVicar

Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn).......Anna Netrebko
Giovanna (Jane Seymour).........Ekaterina Gubanova
Enrico (Henry VIII).............Ildar Abdrazakov
Riccardo (Lord Richard Percy)...Stephen Costello
Mark Smeaton....................Tamara Mumford
Lord Rochefort..................Keith Miller
Sir Hervey......................Eduardo Valdes

If you look at the numbers running along the left side of the screen, you will see that the singer with the most blog entries is Anna Netrebko.  There is a reason for this.  Over the period that I have been blogging by far the most exciting singer out there has been Anna Netrebko.

I used to correspond with another fan of Cecilia Bartoli, and he was mystified that I would like both Cecilia and Anna.  To him they are apples and oranges.  Cecilia is heavily articulated in the fast notes while Anna is slurred.  Why would the same person like both of them?  This is because each sets out to define her musical universe and then works to produce the best possible examples of this universe.  Art is about individual expression.  When you go to see Anna or Cecilia, she brings it.

Today Anna brought it to Anna Bolena.  By the end of the opera I was sobbing, a first for the simulcasts.  She was magnificent.  La Cieca has designated her the prima donna assoluta.  Perish the thought that I would agree with La Cieca, but I do.  As her voice expands, so does her presence.  She dominates the stage as few opera singers ever have, and I've seen a few opera singers.  There is simply no one like her.

The production was smooth and somber.  I liked seeing Princess Elizabeth in the first scene.  For two of the four main singers, Ekaterina Gubanova as Seymour and Ildar Abdrazakov as Enrico, were new to this opera.  I don't doubt that it has been better to see them late in the run.  I thought both of them projected their characters well.  Ildar was astoundingly arrogant in his role, as the real Henry VIII must have been.

Stephen Costello was new for me.  He's not in a category with Rockwell Blake, the great Rossini singer, the other person I have seen sing this role.  Costello cranes his neck forward and then raises his chin to compensate.  This looks terrible and can't be good for his technique.  I suppose I shouldn't say stuff like this.  He's cute and has a good voice, though it's more neo-Verdi for my ears than bel canto.  Nascent-Verdi.  One of those words.

I hear more and more Verdi in Donizetti.  This is only apparent in the serious operas which aren't heard that much.  The opera was performed as though it were Verdi.  Perhaps this is current Italian practice.

You would want this for Netrebko, to see her transformation into an immortal.  I was pleased to see she has not matured so much that she forgets to clown for the camera.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1830-50]

Friday, October 14, 2011

After Callas

Maria Callas was simply incredible.  She understood the flow of the phrase more completely than anyone else.  I especially enjoy when a singer can stretch out the tempo and carry the phrase over larger and larger landscapes.

Many people don't like her, usually because of the gradual deterioration of her tone as she got older.  My current theory is that she was a pushed up mezzo, and that when she was preparing her spectacular performances, that was the last thing she worried about.  The clue is that mezzo roles fit so well into her voice.

What we look for in a modern day performer--at least this is what I think--is that each creates her own unique performance.  I look for the heart and soul of the singer who stands before me.  Believe me.  If there existed in the time since Callas anyone who could work the Callas magic, she would have done so by now.

I tried to communicate my position in my long essay on performing the mad scene from I Puritani.  If you prefer to sit home and listen to recordings of La Divina, by all means do.  Just don't come around when we're enjoying someone new and trash them because they're not as good as the long dead Callas.  We want the new singers to be the best that they are capable of.  We want to be thrilled by what they bring to the performance.

I always feel that the less I know about a performance before I hear it the better.  I want to be surprised.  The easiest way to avoid comparisons with Callas is never to have heard her.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Candidates for Sexiest

Ailyn Pérez
Ildebrando D'Arcangelo

Sarah Coburn
Noah Stewart
Danielle de Niese

Philippe Jaroussky

Eva-Maria Westbroek
Aleksandra Kurzak
Stephen Costello

Sunday, October 09, 2011


I think I stopped giving advice to opera composers far too soon.  Please try to understand.  The opera isn't about the orchestra.  The opera isn't about the plot.  The opera isn't about the significance or lack of significance of the story elements.  The opera isn't about the staging, much as we like to carry on about it.  The opera is about the singing.  If the singing stinks, the opera stinks.  Grasp the largest object near you and pound that into your brain.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Anna Nicole, the Opera

Curiosity has killed the cat.  It is completely dead.  I could not overcome my desire to see Mark-Anthony Turnage's opera Anna Nicole. I can't decide. Does it help or hinder appreciation of it that I know virtually nothing about her? For instance, I didn't know she was from Texas.  It kind of explains a lot. 

I am pondering this opera in light of things I always say composers should do.  This opera is definitely a chick flick.  In the classic plot the heroine starts high and ends low.  Then there's the Traviata plot where she begins low, goes high and then dies.  It's hard to see any highs in the life of Anna Nicole Smith.  In the opera her mother calls her an embarrassment.

I asked for interesting music.  I find the style of the music suitable to the subject matter and reasonably entertaining.  I asked for the composer to love singing and to write something that shows off the voice.  I didn't get it.  These singers are very fine, but they have not much to work with.

The whole thing would not be possible without the glorious work of Eva-Maria Westbroek. She looks disturbingly like the woman she is portraying and projects her essence. She carries the opera. She would have to. Alan Oke and Gerald Finley are wonderful.  Pappano conducts.

I don't know what to think.  It is a lot of fun through to the place where husband #2 dies.  It gets gloomier from that point until it just peters out.  This is the trajectory of her real life. It's a comedy until it isn't.  As a comedy I liked it very much.  How often do you hear the words "Yoko Ono" as a gag line?

I want to thank the librettist for making husband #2 seem lively and entertaining.  It made that part of her life seem less grotesque.  It is just as trashy as you would have imagined.


Son: I just don't get the French Baroque.

Mom: Huh?

Son: I don't understand at all Couperin the Great. [François Couperin (1668 – 1733)] I have recordings of his contemporary [Domenico] Scarlatti (1685 – 1757). Him I get. So why should the same harpsichordist playing music from the same period sound so different?

Mom: Well, there you have a misconception. Scarlatti is Baroque, but Couperin is considered Rococo. In fact he is more or less considered to have invented Rococo. With Scarlatti the music is in the notes. With Couperin the music is in the ornaments.

Son: I usually think you should just leave the ornaments out.

Mom: In the case of Scarlatti you could probably get away with that. In the case of Couperin nothing would be left. You need someone who understands the Rococo style.

Son: Why should it make any difference with a harpsichord?

Mom: I have a friend who wrote a book on expression on the harpsichord.

Footnote: We really do have conversations like this all the time. We agree that I shouldn't suppress my inner nerd. If I have to play to the masses, it isn't any fun.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Reviving the Sacramento Opera

Last night in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacramento on 11th and K was the first piece of the attempt to revive the Sacramento Opera.  Basically it was a piano vocal recital accompanied by John Cozza, president of the Saturday Club, and sung by Soprano Carrie Hennessey, Mezzo Julie Anne Miller, tenor Scott Ramsey, baritone Igor Vieira and baritone Zachary Gordin.

The repertoire was selected based on a poll of Sacramento opera fans, and Sacramentans like their war horses.  We would like to hear Mozart/Da Ponte, and maybe a little Magic Flute, followed by Rossini's Barber.  Then maybe we would like a little Verdi, including La Traviata, though the Sacramento Opera lost money when this opera was presented a couple of years ago.  Then please we would like some Carmen and all of the big three Puccini.  For variety we might go for Massanet's Werther, Samson and Dalila and a little Faust.  The appearance of Werther was a surprise.

The venue allowed for lots of listeners and low ticket prices.  It also allowed for a very lively echo.  The singers stood under the dome which probably has the most echo in the building.

It was a pleasant evening with some very pleasant young people singing.  Apparently the biggest barrier to opera in Sacramento lies in the lack of the perfect venue.  The usual place is expensive.  The size of the audience seems to indicate that at $25 a person, there is a lot of interest in opera in Sacramento.

La vie en rose

And there are lots of nice pictures of Paris.


I run around looking for something to interest me. I literally have nothing else to do. I hired someone to clean the house, so what else is there? As long as the stock market continues to go up I can do what ever I please. There's walking for health, but I can do that anywhere.

I missed Tosca from the Met, but enjoyed enormously Maria Guleghina's Turandot. The emphasis is always on the spectacle, and she managed to push through all that and give us the deeply personal. Aida did not impress me.

I'm not to get From the House of the Dead from New York, so I have watched the DVD and feel content. The New York version seems to have a gimmick--the words are projected on the walls. It wouldn't be worth it to go to New York just for that. Maybe I'll travel for The Nose, but we'll have to see.

I get only a half season in San Francisco, but keep going to everything. I got a senior rush ticket for Racette's Trittico, and it was incredible. I couldn't get excited over Abduction from the Seraglio--too much bad German. Sondra Radvanovsky made Trovatore a pleasure, and while I liked Diana Damrau in Daughter of the Regiment, she didn't make me forget Natalie Dessay.

I loved my sudden trip to Germany, and enjoyed seeing my two heart-throbs on back to back nights. But perhaps I will have a new heart-throb found closer to home: Joyce DiDonato. I'm always on the lookout for someone with talent in the song area.

Closest to home has been Dido in Davis, a constant flood of emotion in under an hour.

Such variety. Such fun.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I want to sing Elsa.

[This interview is translated from Opernwelt and is about 3 years old.]

Anna Netrebko prefers to look forward rather than backwards. Why does she sing in arenas and so gladly go to concerts, why is bel canto good for the voice, and how child and career go together, and what is the price of success, the soprano has revealed to Kai Luehrs-Kaiser.

Ms Netrebko, you are now a mother and living in Vienna. Could we talk in German? 

Maybe better not (laughs). Languages are my weak point. I'm trying what I can. And on the new album, I have maybe almost exaggerated it. There are ten languages I sing there. In reality, languages are the hardest thing there is for me.

Why is it so difficult? 

I do not keep the vocabulary. I am still desperately learning French, for example. Maybe I'm too lazy or not intelligent enough. My mother language I speak only with friends, and they are mainly in Russia. I live in New York, Vienna and St. Petersburg. Three wonderful cities. My new album is almost a reflection of the fact that I'm linguistically well basically easily uprooted.

The album is called "Souvenirs".  Do you like to look back? 

The title is not about me. The idea was rather to tie together a bouquet of blossoms and flowers. Some may find they do not quite fit together. But they sound good together. The most difficult was the Andalusian song. My favorite is the Yiddish. I wanted something very old among them. With men's choir and guitar. I love the ornaments in this music. No, I do not look back, but I try to take pleasure in what is.

On stage you sing almost nothing of these? 

Right. Six of the titles are even written for mezzo-soprano. Some are very dramatic and would have to be sung at a concert hall with a bigger voice than I can. I actually sing it softer and sweeter than one usually hears it. But you find that everything has to be sung on stage? I do not. At most on a small one.

The album marks where you hear operetta songs, a move to lighter repertoire?

No. The task was to bring the title in good order. I pleaded for the album to open with more spectacular titles. Then, I confess, there is a break. After that - with "Solveig's Song" from Grieg – comes something for the soul. Then something to wake up. Then it's over.

You are in German speaking countries today the best known and in this sense, one might say, the most important singer. How do you cope with it? 

Thank you for the compliment. I hear, of course, that you think that's not quite so unproblematical, that it’s not easy. And it is not. I feel my popularity. I feel the sympathy that I receive from the public. That's one reason why I perform so often in huge concert arenas, the artist if it’s only about art, will not necessarily make the most fun. I understand that but - apart from the fact that I live it - as part of the responsibility that follows from my success. For me personally it was always the sole important thing to sing well. The rest comes afterwards. But it's true that sometimes this “rest” is a pretty big group that I must overcome.

Whom would you yourself describe as the most important singers in the world? 

I think about it, but not often. But I adore and admire numerous singers and colleagues, whose success pleases me very much. Not only sopranos. Among the sopranos I find particularly amazing are Natalie Dessay and Diana Damrau, Renée Fleming and Angela Gheorghiu. Quite different singers who take nothing away from one another. I go passionately to their concerts - and afterwards regularly behind the stage to congratulate them. For example, recently in "Lucia di Lammermoor" with Natalie Dessay. I also share with them professionally. Natalie, for example, knows exactly what she does - and what is required of her artistically.

You do not? 

[Here appears that wonderful German word “Doch!” which translates to ‘On the contrary yes.” There is no English equivalent.] Now I also know. I am sometimes unhappy with the productions in which I sing. And will therefore become a bit difficult. You know, I have to do again and again with production revival directors who tell me to do as did my predicessors a decade ago in the same staging. However, I need nobody to tell me: "Kneel down, when you come to this place. Look up to heaven." These things I know even if they are necessary. However, I have no strong preference for overly traditional productions in which they too often must cast eyes to the sky. I do not need this.

What are the dangerous sides of fame? 

There is a disturbing side of success, that's true. It is the price one must pay sometimes. What makes me sick, are mainly made-up interviews or quotes that contain some shocking details. For example, I would like to sing naked, or similar horrors. A significant burden of success also stems from a certain responsibility to be always better than you are. This is not so simple.

What do you mean? 

We singers are live performers. So my service is subject to fluctuations, which depend on the daily constitution of biological things and also on coincidences.

For example, pregnancies? 

I had during my pregnancy suddenly quite an iron deficiency. In the evening I was to sing in Vienna a performance: Bellini's "I Capuleti ei Montecchi." Ten minutes before the performance I had lost my voice. I did not go on. It was a nightmare. What to do? If I would have canceled the performance, there would have been a scandal. Then we effectively eliminated the need for some high notes. And I was announced as indisposed. Thank God I can sing a pretty good performance. But I was shaking like anything. Why am I telling you this? Because one price of my success consists of the fact that I may give no bad performances.

Your colleague Rolando Villazón has recently fallen into a vocal crisis and had to pause a few months. What effect has this had on you? 

We are all in the same boat. Rolando is like many of us - and I also – an appearance hungry artist, who is pulled onto the stage. Add to this the constant demands, offers and enticements. For many singers of our generation, certain things, including interviews are just part of it. We do it because we believe that it must be. And then we don’t find the limit in order to protect ourselves. I must say that I've been through a corresponding crisis. It did not take quite as long. And it was with me above all psychological.

When was that? 

About four years ago. I could not cope with all the hype and was desperate. I was not clear how it would go. I did not become a singer to be famous. But to sing. It was awful to bring myself out from this crisis. It was as if someone had eaten too many sweets. I then completely withdrew for one month. And then cut drastically the number of my interviews. Initially there had been sometimes eight hours of interviews. I won’t do that anymore.

How do you perceive the public Anna Netrebko that jumps at you out of the tabloids? 

As negative only if the reports are invented. I have to play a public role to some extent, in order to survive. I must appear as strong and determined, even if I go only to a party. And now I'm even happy at parties of friends. Immediately, I'm part of something, but I do not really want. Still does everything I say about myself, agree with me. I am also proud of this. I do not like to be fake.

Your child will change your career fundamentally?

Well, that's the big question in my mind, of course. What matters is that I want to be a good mother. I don’t want the child always trusted to a nanny. My child will be happy. But I have also spoken with colleagues about it who have the same problem that I think have overcome it well. Christine Schäfer for example, whom I also honor very much as a singer, has two children and has really gotten the hang of it. She told me: you have some difficult months, but then you can get it. I am confident and certainly determined to get it.

Can the birth of your son change your voice? 

Even the pregnancy if you keep getting heavier, is not easy for the voice. But the voice remains. I've sung for a long while I was pregnant. That was not hard. My pregnant Juliette in Paris was, I believe, still quite good. True, there are bad stories about singers after the birth of a child. But I have my technique. And I think that if women have problems with the voice after the birth of their child, that this is actually due to a technical deficiency.

A few years ago when you dropped out of the recordings on your chosen Mozart album, you have described yourself as particularly a bel canto singer. Would you still look at it that way? 

I still try it. Of course, the voice has developed. I sing, for example, more French repertoire. But bel canto is and remains simply the best for the vote. One expresses oneself better with it. Mozart is also good for the voice. But bel canto remains for me the measure and the basis of things.

How about the complete recordings of opera in the future? 

I would like to sing Elsa in "Lohengrin."

No joke? 

No, I like that she wants to know everything. I myself am curious, and my curiosity has hurt me many times. But I have enough intuition to know behind which door a gaping chasm might be. Seriously, I like "Lohengrin" much better than for example "Meistersinger". Basically, I'm a Wagnerian. Pity that there are no more for me to sing.

Why have you settled in Austria and not, for example, in Switzerland? 

But this is a provocative question! Switzerland is a great country, and the Swiss are a great audience. I had just the beginning of close ties to Austria. And I love being able to go to concerts in Vienna, not only of fellow singers. I am a very happy person when I'm at a concert. Also, I'm good friends with Valery Gergiev and Daniel Barenboim. I am a lover of classical music. Recently I was at "Rape of Lucretia" by Britten with Ian Bostridge. Fantastic!

You love Britten? 

Yes, since I heard many years ago "The Turn of the Screw." That made me really electrified. I love Britten. But I am also a big fan of Shostakovich. All composers, of which I unfortunately can not sing much.

Would you like some times to exchange your fame for the ability to be easily able to give only the music? 

I don’t want to change anything in my life. Yes because I can concentrate entirely on music. When it concerns my role in the popular press, then I do not look at myself. My German is not sufficient to excite me over the contents.

And when you see pictures? 

If I suddenly see pictures of me, I think most: "My God, I'm fat!" Besides, my celebrity tabloid status in other countries is not nearly as bad. In Britain, for example, I remain largely spared. Since they already have Amy Winehouse.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Echo Klassik Singer of the Year

Echo Klassik has named Thomas Hampson singer of the year for his recording of Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn.  Having finished Heart of a Soldier, he is back in Zurich rehearsing for Verdi's Otello.

Lucrezia Borgia

The plot of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia at the San Francisco Opera is a bit odd.  There are these two war buddies (remind you of anything?) who swear to live and die together--Orsini, a mezzo pants role, sung by Elizabeth DeShong, and Gennaro, the tenor, sung by Michael Fabiano.  One of them doesn't become a Moslem, but they do chase women and get drunk a lot.  There is more than a hint of homo-eroticism here.  Why else cast Orsini as a woman?

The other two principals are Duke Alfonso of Ferrara, sung by Vitalij Kowaljow, and his wife Lucrezia, sung by Renée Fleming.  There is no romance.  The first pair connects to the second pair because Lucrezia is Gennaro's mother.  This is a secret.  Lucrezia is the only one who knows.  The passion that develops between Gennaro and Lucrezia gives us more strong hints of forbidden sexuality, the basic plot of this opera.  It seems sexual to Lucrezia's husband, too, and he tries to get rid of Gennaro.

I liked the production and the singing very much.  There are supposed to be hit tunes in this opera.  Orsini gets a nice Brindisi in the third act, and Lucrezia's first act aria is supposed to be famous.  Neither was famous to me, philistine that I am, and this was my first viewing of the opera.

In the context of this opera Lucrezia is a complex role.  She gets to express motherly love, and then later she poisons all of her son's friends for insulting her.  Accidentally she poisons him, too.  Usually Renée's roles are about outfits, but this one is about hair.

Which brings us to Renée Fleming.  We've been hearing her a lot lately on the HD simulcasts, but I have recently begun to suspect that these broadcasts include body microphones.  I spotted them on Natalie Dessay and suspected them on Joyce DiDonato in Le Comte Ory when hers briefly phased out.  This is all a carefully maintained secret.

One of the reasons I fly around to see opera is because I am aware that you can't fully evaluate a voice without hearing it live in the house.  I heard Renée sing Daphne at Kennedy Center where she was occasionally difficult to hear.  But the acoustics at the Kennedy Center concert hall are ghastly, and the conductor made no effort to tone down the giant orchestra. 

The acoustics at the War Memorial Opera House are only a bit better than Kennedy Center, but everything possible was done to make her performance work.  She was consistently blocked close to the front of the stage.  In the War Memorial this is as close to a hot spot as it gets.  Things drop off a lot as you begin to move up stage.

Our conductor Riccardo Frizza was very thoughtful in keeping the orchestra under control.  (For some unknown reason this opera sounds like Rigoletto to me.)

I love Renée Fleming.  Money was spent getting her here for this performance.  Anything I say is said with love.  The opening aria, a sweet song about Lucrezia's beautiful son, was excellent.  The style of her singing is always a joy.  But in the final aria her voice simply did not carry.

Dare I say it?  Someone should have considered a microphone.

It is important to note that I was not sitting in my normal seat.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Anne Midgette vs Placido Domingo

Though I used to live in DC, I hadn't been paying any attention to Anne Midgette, music critic for the Washington Post, until I clicked to "like" her on Facebook.  Facebook is a great way to get into all kinds of trouble.

I guess there is a long-standing quarrel between her and Domingo.  The latest exchange began with Midgette's review of the current Tosca at the Washington National Opera.  She said:

"All the performances were hampered, indeed sabotaged, by the conducting. Placido Domingo, appearing for the first time since stepping down as general director, is a wonderful singer. But rather than supporting the singers, his conducting either drowned them out or tripped them up. He got warm applause, but I’m not sure his presence sells enough tickets to make up for spoiling the evening. Surely there are other ways to include him in WNO’s future."

I admit that letting the orchestra play really really loudly is one of my peeves, too.  This is the worst I have read about Domingo's conducting, which is generally described as uninteresting rather than just plain bad. 

Well.  Domingo responded with this letter to the editor:

"In more than 50 years of my career as a singer and nearly 40 as a conductor, I have accepted critics’ reviews, positive or negative, for what they are: personal opinions and points of view. But for the first time in my life, I am sending a letter to the editor of a newspaper, because your music critic Anne Midgette has crossed the line between reasonably objective criticism and what appears to be open animosity.

"I believe that during my 15 years with Washington National Opera, my colleagues have been able to observe my integrity as an artist and my love of and consideration toward all of them.

"Midgette’s statement that my conducting actually “sabotaged” WNO’s recent performances of Puccini’s “Tosca” is offensive and defamatory.  An act of sabotage is a destructive act done on purpose. Her remark suggests not only that I “spoiled” the performances but that I did so intentionally. This is unconscionable."

My goodness.  Or maybe Holy Shit! I wasn't there so I don't know what particular things she is criticizing.  I have the film of Die Fledermaus with Kiri Te Kanawa where he is conducting, and I like it a lot.

Midgette also criticizes the part-time nature of his management of the WNO here.

But let's get back to the conducting issue.  She rebuts his letter in another column here.  In her own defense she points out that he was booed at the Met for inattentiveness to his soprano, Anna Netrebko, when she slowed the tempo in her aria.  Opera conductors do like to maintain the fiction that the singers are supposed to be following them, but the audience at the Met was not fooled.

This is very interesting.  I admit that I have often wondered about Domingo's multi-faceted career.  Because he is Placido Domingo, voted by BBC Magazine as the greatest tenor of all time (see here), he seems to get to do whatever he wants and resents it that others might want him to prove his qualifications first.

He can't be regarded as a flop as an Intendant, but he's clearly not in a category with David Gockley.  I've always wondered if it wasn't possibly Mrs. Domingo who was actually running these companies.

This is all very interesting.


Just a thought:  the only thing I can think of that would save Vivaldi's Griselda would be if the role of Griselda were sung by a man and played as comedy--maybe not the broad comedy of Platée, but something a bit gentler.  She should be performed as buffo, maybe even by a buffo bass.  Then we would love her and accept her, and it wouldn't matter that all her music is ugly.  Just a thought.