Michael Sokol, baritone, is a relatively recent addition to the faculty at California State University, Sacramento, and last night he gave a faculty recital with Richard Cionco at the piano. I didn't know he existed when a friend suggested we check him out. My apologies to Mr Cionco--the picture above shows a different pianist. Also a different piano. Also microphone. Actually only the baritone is the same.
His program consisted of Schubert's Schwanengesang, a song cycle that is actually a pastiche published posthumously. Maybe some of the songs were intended to be sung together, maybe not. The subject matter is the usual thing for this period--unhappy love affairs. It includes "Ständchen" (Serenade), one of Schubert's most famous Lieder. The heaviest of the set is probably "Der Doppelgänger" (the lookalike).
An English translation was provided, but it didn't correspond at all to the clearly understandable German he was singing. I asked him after if he spoke German, and when he said no, I congratulated him on some of the clearest German diction I had heard outside Germany. It was very impressive.
The songs cover a very wide vocal range which he handled easily. His voice is exactly the kind of bright baritone you would want for Lieder, and his expression was very nice, just right for Lieder.
Richard Cionco was an excellent, very musical accompanist. Lieder recitals by Americans are seldom this good.
I begin to feel deprived that I have never seen Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach. There are a number of audio versions, but clearly the visuals are essential. This is THE modern opera. The no intermission part would be a problem.
On Sunday afternoon in the Crocker Art Museum our Mu Phi Epsilon International Competition winner, pianist Yukiko Sekino, gave a recital. Her program, limited by the Crocker to 1 hour, was spectacular.
Piano Sonata, Op. 1, by Alban Berg.
Variations on "Salve tu, Domine" in F major, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante, in E-flat major, Op. 22, by Frédéric Chopin.
Etude No. 53: Cell Division and Etude No. 30: A Gliss is Just a Gliss, by David Rakowski, 2 pieces from the 21st century.
Dante Sonata (this is the short name), by Franz Liszt.
It starts slowly with the cerebral Berg, moves to the lyrical Mozart, and then bursts into flame in the Chopin polonaise. And if that isn't enough flash for you, we have a small modern piece with lots of glissandi up and down the keyboard. And if that still isn't enough flash for you, we end with one of Liszt's more outrageous and dynamic pieces. Everything was played brilliantly.
The museum asked for a piece by someone Italian to go with the current exhibition of paintings from Florence. We will assume the Dante Sonata will serve. There isn't that much Italian piano repertoire.
Completely unexpectedly, Il Postino (the postman), the opera by Daniel Catán, produced last fall in LA, was on television last night.
And how beautifully it fits into our currently developing tenor theme. The two main roles are both tenors. The poet Pablo Neruda, sung by tenor Placido Domingo (called Don Placido in Linda Ronstadt's introduction), is a character in the drama, and
Mario Ruoppolo, sung by tenor Charles Castronovo is the title character. Getting the rest of the cast out of the way:
Beatrice Russo (pronounced Italian), Mario's love, Amanda Squitieri
Neruda's wife, Cristina Gallardo-Domâs
Giorgio, communist postmaster, Vladimir Chernov
Donna Rosa, Beatrice’s aunt, Nancy Fabiola Herrera
Grant Gershon conducted.
There are a number of positive things about this opera. The composer, Daniel Catán, who has since died, actually seems to like to compose for singers. His style is neo-Romantic, possibly even neo-verismo. The plot is not only about love, it's about poetry, a marvelous subject to sing about. I don't know if it is a problem that the opera is in Spanish. Does this present casting difficulties?
The plot is handled in a manner reminiscent of Hector Berlioz: I compose the parts I like and skip the parts I don't like. This left the story presented in a choppy, disjointed way. Perhaps librettist is a skill that has not lasted into the 21st century.
It was enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the romantic portrayal of Charles Castronovo as the young man learning to love the metaphor and how to seduce a young woman with words. He was charming.
I was asked to post Cecilia Bartoli singing Balfe's "Yon moon o'er the mountains", and this was all I could find. This song is from The Maid of Artois which was written for Maria Malibran. She died before performing it.
It is fun to see him coaching her to sing with an English accent. She also talks about an ornamented version but sings it straight.
The great mezzo Sena Jurinac has died. She is perhaps best remembered for singing Octavian in the wonderful video of Der Rosenkavalier with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. I praised her most in my review of Ariadne auf Naxos with Reri Grist here. YouTube provides us with an excerpt from that performance.
Here is another.
P.S. I knew her only for her mezzo repertoire, and have since educated myself. I find that I like best this video from Forza.
I apologize for saying that Sena Jurinac never sang at the San Francisco Opera. Her career there began in 1959 when she sang the composer to Eileen Farrell's Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos, Eva in Die Meistersinger, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni and Cio Cio San in Madama Butterfly. Wow. People used to do this sort of thing under Adler. After that she appeared only in 1971 as the Marschallin to Christa Ludwig's Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier and in 1980 as Kostelnicka in Jenufa. In 1959 I had just started college. In 1971 I lived in Indiana. I probably did not see her.
Apparently there is an entire blog that obsesses over the vocal technique of tenors here. I'm not prepared to get this carried away with it. The operatic tenor sound is not exactly natural, so they have to get very heavily into technique. There is stuff about squillo, e.g.
The Sacramento Opera succeeds best when it eschews subtlety. Leoncavallo's Pagliacci is a prime example of verismo, opera based in the rough lives of the lower classes.
I don't like the orchestra at the back of the stage with acting in front, but since the first half of the program was a concert by the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Michael Morgan, I suppose it was necessary. For their portion the orchestra was imprecise, both in pitch and rhythm, and the music was spiritually bland.
The contrast with the opera could not have been greater. The set effectively made the orchastra's presence hidden. TV screens made the conductor visible to the actors.
It was crude and wild and spectacular. Special kudos must go to the stage director, David Bartholomew.
The tenor who sang Canio, Eduardo Villa, was a last minute replacement, and he made the production. Canio should be a middle aged man with a beautiful, too young wife, a scruffy Italian looking man with violent passions lurking just beneath the surface. Then these violent passions must break forth. Villa was all those things. And he has just the right heavy, powerful dramatic tenor voice that kept all this passion well within his grasp. It was a privilege to see him.
Shana Blake Hills was good and very slutty as Nedda. Igor Vieira's Tonio was downright creepy. Zachary Gordin was a good but not great Silvio.
Gramophone Magazine has issued their Classical Music Awards for 2011, and among them is a Lifetime Achievement Award for Dame Janet Baker. Nothing I am about to write should be misconstrued as a criticism of Dame Janet.
There are three things: voice, technique and style. Dame Janet is a British singer not only by birth but also by style. There is a distinctly British style of singing with a quality of cleanness. British singing is spare, relatively unslurred and unornamented, like a great British folk song. In addition to her Britishness, Dame Janet also sang with a personal discursive style, rather like a magnificent British orator. To achieve the truly personal is for me the highest praise of a performer.
In the Gramophone article they discuss how instantly identifiable her voice is. And I insist--so is her style. She is her fascinating creative self in all her repertoire. My particular favorites are the Bach Matthew Passion and Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde.
The article goes on to say how clearly she observed the composer's wishes. I propose that this is only possible if all the composers whom she has performed wished their music to sound British.
No offense. They are British writers and have British ears. The composer's wishes have nothing to do with it.
None of this is a criticism of the great Dame Janet who was a very great singer and well worthy of this honor.
I'm struggling with what to say about the San Francisco Opera's production of Handel's Serse, or Xerxes, as it is billed here.
There are a number of pretty funny things about the production from the ENO in London. Apparently it has made the rounds. The main characters are dressed more or less as Handel's period. And then there are the gray people. I thought they might be garden statues, or anonymous chorus. My favorite bit was the green folding lawn chairs, shown above. They began their life folded flat on the floor.
At one point the back of the stage opens up on a desert landscape, and I thought I was back in Santa Fe. On the floor of the desert are the ruins of the ancient Persian city of Persepolis.
I think it might be important to understand that Serse was a failure when it first appeared in 1738. The music, if we choose not to blame the conductor, Patrick Summers, is a bit draggy and pompous.
Another problem is that four of the characters all have names that start with A:
Arsamenes, Xerxes' brother, sung by David Daniels,
Ariodates, Xerxes' general, sung by Wayne Tigges,
Atalanta, Ariodates' daughter, sung by Heidi Stober,
Amastris, Xerxes' betrothed, sung by Sonia Prina, seen also in Ariodante.
The production helped with this situation by introducing the characters during the overture. And not to forget Xerxes himself, sung by Susan Graham, and the other daughter of Ariodates, Romilda, sung by Lisette Oropesa.
Do we have to talk about the plot? Everything gets straightened out in the end.
Making it all worthwhile was the marvelous Susan Graham, who gets all the really good bits. She starts the opera with that great Handel aria "Ombra mai fu." Did you know it was about a tree? I should have known that. The other hit tune comes at the end where Xerxes knocks over a bunch of statues singing "Crude furie." This is only a hit tune because it's on Joyce DiDonato's Handel Mad Scenes album.
AUSTRIA reported the good news in May: "Pregnant! Opera star Elina Garanca is having a baby. "
A message that would be even more gratifying, currently making the rounds in the circle of friends of Garanca's Viennese gynecologist: The baby was already one and a half weeks ago well, "landed." The daughter of Garanca and her husband, the from Gibraltar star conductor Karel Mark Chichon, in southern Spain, where the artists live, was born healthy. [They write sentences like that in German.]
The world wide in demand mezzo-soprano and the best Carmen on the opera stage was before confinement rather taciturn when it comes to family planning: "We Latvians are superstitious," she used to deny in interviews.
And even now no details penetrate to the public about the private happiness – there are zero entries about this on her international website.
What you want and never get with your Siegfried (live from the Metropolitan Opera in HD) is a sexy Siegfried. We have him in the sexy Heldentenor from Texas, Jay Hunter Morris. In her interview Deborah Voigt mentioned there was more electricity opposite Jay than the tenor he replaced. Those of us who have experienced the male teenager at home recognized him in Jay's portrayal of the 17 year old Siegfried. All teenagers think they know everything, but this one actually might.
In his interview Morris mentioned that he no longer sang as loud as he could. He gets through the very taxing role in fine form by allowing the natural ping in his voice to carry the day. I loved it. Jay, you need to hire a good photographer. I have undoubtedly seen him in San Francisco, but I scour my memory without success.
I liked the log machine a lot more this time than I have in the previous two operas. The technical gimmick of the forest bird was masterful. A yellow bird appeared to flit around the stage from tree to tree while Mojca Erdmann sang off stage. The projections grow ever more complicated.
Another thing that I liked much more this time was Bryn Terfel's Wotan the Wanderer. He seemed to handle the character better as someone who has tried everything and failed. He is bitter and seems to be fully prepared for the ultimate humiliation when Siegfried breaks his spear. He roles up his runes and leaves.
The dragon, shown above, is quite handsome.
And here is Deborah Voigt in the final scene. She tries to convince Siegfried to admire from a distance, but her heart just isn't in it.
Renée Fleming was her usual professional self in the interviews. It was an excellent Siegfried. I don't know if Levine would have been an improvement over Luisi. Everyone seemed well coordinated and dynamic.
P.S. It occurred to me after posting this that this installment in the Log Machine Ring included no wire walking. Perhaps it has started to occur to the producers of this mess that scaring the wits out of your performers is not the path to great acting achievements. Good riddance.
The Metropolitan Opera Guild is honoring Marilyn Horne this week. Here is a short interview with her.
I hope she is referring to the performance of the German Requiem with Kathleen Battle as the soprano soloist and Robert Shaw conducting the San Francisco Symphony and chorus. I sang in the chorus and it was one of the more wonderful musical events of my lifetime. This is as close as we can come.
I wanted to see Anna Bolena again so I could catch Anna Netrebko clowning around behind Renée Fleming. Her countryman Ildar Abdrazakov started it and egged Anna on. In an opera that is so strenuous it is nice to see them able to relax in the intermission. Tristan is maybe harder than this. Only just maybe.
In her interview before the opera Anna said she based her portrayal on "Tudors." I assume this means the TV series The Tudors. "Don't tell the director."
I enjoyed it again the second time and stayed awake all the way to the end. I like popcorn at the opera.
This is embarrassing. In my youth we had only one countertenor--Alfred Deller--and he was strictly take it or leave it. Now there are countertenors everywhere. I've always hated them, both for the odd sound of their voices and for the fact that they were taking parts from my beloved mezzos. So how should I confess that I really love Philippe Jaroussky? It's so embarrassing.
He appeared at Hertz Hall in Berkeley on Sunday afternoon, the same time as the opening of Xerxes at War Memorial across the bay. I've seen him before, though only from the back, at Salle Pleyel as Sesto in Giulio Cesare.
He shared the stage with a group called Apollo's Fire, conducted by Jeannette Sorrell. There was an interesting story told between arias about Jaroussky and Sorrell exchanging letters of mutual admiration. Apollo's Fire would be a difficult name to live up to.
Apollo's Fire play standing. Except for the cellos. I don't know if you can play a cello standing. The theorbo player also sits, but Ms Sorrell stands at the harpsichord. When they stand, their bodies become involved in the emotion of the music. This is some of the most passionate playing by a Baroque ensemble I have ever heard.
I added this picture because it's the only one I have that shows the theorbo player on the right end. These are everywhere now. In Baroque music theorbo is now as common as the harpsichord and cello for realizing the figured bass.
This is an Italian style ensemble with no winds. Many of the instrumental numbers are arranged by Jeanette Sorrell, the conductor. I am going to guess that this is due to the sketchy nature of the orchestration in the original scores. It is hard to picture this, but the original purpose of the figured bass was much like a modern fake book, to provide a basis for extemporizing. Not many can do this today. Instead of carefully planned orchestration such as we have today, a piece might be played by whoever was available, and they would extemporize their parts.
The entire concert was Handel and Vivaldi, so the period of the music was basically identical to Saturday night's program, and similarly it alternated instrumental with vocal numbers. The violinist Olivier Brault played a Vivaldi concerto and shared another Vivaldi concerto with Johanna Novom. It was all very dynamic and exciting.
So why Philippe Jaroussky? He sang Handel in the first half of the program, including an aria from Ariodante, and Vivaldi in the second half. His voice is actually beautiful and shows a lovely vibrato, a rarity among countertenors. And he phrases the dickens out of everything. Both slow tempo and up tempo showpiece arias were wonderful. He sang three encores including a final glorious "Ombra mai fu."
How can this be happening? At the end we waved at each other. In Berkeley this is the sign that the concert is over.