Sunday, December 30, 2012

Les Miz

I knew when I went to the Les Miserables movie that they were all recorded singing right on the set.  What they didn't say was that they all tried to hide this from whoever else might be on the set with them, that they all whispered their way through their parts.  I hate that.  Sound as crappy as you want, but belt it out there.  I got some ugly looks when I said the only person trying to actually sing was Russell Crowe.  His voice isn't very pretty, but at least he was trying.  I kept wishing Susan Boyle would come on and do "I dreamed a dream."  [Guilty secret.]

Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen were fun.

One of my Facebook friends said she wanted to rush home and brush her teeth.  If you haven't seen the movie, you won't get this.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Best of 2012 KK Opera Awards

I usually begin my year end summary with a lot of statistics. Keeping up my pace of recent years, the year included 9 operas which were new for me, but the majority of operas this year were from the 100 most frequently performed list.  I am counting only performances, live, streamed or recorded, which took place in 2012.

I'm going to give awards this year.  I am calling them the KK Opera Awards.

Two awards, BEST BAROQUE OPERA and BEST EUROTRASH PRODUCTION this year go to the Salzburg Festival's Giulio Cesare. If you hate Eurotrash, you may count this as the worst opera of the year, but all agree that musically it was quite wonderful. For the spirit of collaborative music making it was about as good as it gets.

BEST FAKE BAROQUE OPERA AWARD goes to the Metropolitan Opera's The Enchanted Island. There are too many composers to list them all. In order to achieve this, they faked the plot, patching together Shakespeare's The Tempest along with his A Midsummer Night's Dream. They faked ensemble numbers out of baroque arias and translated everything into English. The wonderful singing from an outstanding cast was all real. This will probably not become an annual award.

BEST MOZART OPERA AWARD goes to the Met's La Clemenza di Tito which achieved the impossible: a non Eurotrash production of a true opera seria which was lively and coherent. We promise not to award to any performance with mediocre singing. Elīna Garanča and company were outstanding.  This is also some of Mozart's best music.

BEST BEL CANTO OPERA AWARD has to be a tie between Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi live from the San Francisco Opera and the same opera with the same production but a different cast streamed from Munich. Both casts were amazing, but Best Wailing Award for the year must go to Netrebko and Kasarova. If you hated the production enough, you could add this to the worst list. Honorable mention goes to Maometto II at the Santa Fe Opera.

BEST VERDI OPERA AWARD goes to the Met production of Un Ballo in Maschera. I could not resist the winged Oscar, the Ulrica who carried a skull in her purse, and the stunning Verdi singing from everyone. Honorable mention goes to Attila at the San Francisco Opera.

BEST FRENCH OPERA AWARD goes to Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande streamed from the Paris Opera. The visual imagery was transformative. For French opera you need Paris. Honorable mention goes to the Santa Fe Opera production of The Pearl Fishers.

BEST PUCCINI AWARD goes to.... This is tough. Best La Boheme has to be Netrebko and Beczala from Salzburg, but the LA live performance with Perez and Costello was also very nice. And how can you not choose Angela Gheorghiu in Tosca? Someone else will have to tough this one out.

BEST REVIVAL OF A HISTORICAL MASTERPIECE AWARD must go to Einstein on the Beach at Zellerbach in Berkeley. They gave us the full experience. Congratulations to all in the audience who made it to the end.

BEST NEW OPERA AWARD, hands down, goes to Moby Dick. I awarded it an official masterpiece status. Musically and visually it spectacularly recreated the feeling of being on the ocean.

If you want them ranked, you'll have to do it yourself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Our Italian is better than your Italian

Just thought I would mention.  I've heard enough of both of these gentlemen, Fabio Luisi and Nicola Luisotti, to know that we got the better of the deal, especially in Italian repertoire. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Absolute Privilege

Or more about booing at La Scala.  'It is an absolute privilege to be in the same list as Kleiber, Caballe, Callas, Abbado, Muti...'  This is a translated quote from Cecilia Bartoli gleaned from a Forun comment by Charlotte.  Perhaps one should strive to be important enough to be booed at La Scala.  Cecilia does frequently appear in all the best lists.  One can't help smiling.

Here's another relevant quote from Cecilia:  "I think living in Italy is difficult but living without Italy is impossible."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Alex Ross

I read Alex Ross on the staging of The Tempest and Un Ballo in Maschera, and he had some interesting points.

I was interested in the idea that the productions last year looked better in the simulcast than they did in house.  A film of an opera is often very different from the impression it makes in house.  For one thing, directors often put things on the side of the stage that are not visible in the film.  In the Munich Lohengrin the hero sleeps off camera for an extended period, visible to the in house audience but not to the film.  Filming focuses on the important details and often ignores the bigger picture.

I don't know which of last season's productions he is referring to.  I liked Flute and Enchanted Island on the screen.  I have seen Ernani, Satyagraha and Walkure both on the screen and in the house and thought they worked about equally well in both places.  Walkure is just pictures in a foreshortened space both on the screen and in the house.

If I have 9 windows arranged in three rows, such as is the case in Don Giovanni, on the screen I will see each window one at a time in close-up with occasional wide shots of the full set.  In the house I will see all 9 windows all the time.  Perhaps in the house one prefers that the sets are in motion.

Ross talks about claustrophobia when the sets are close in and shorten the depth of the stage, such as in the Lepage Ring and Ballo.  Singers tend to love this because they can feel their voices reflecting out into the audience instead of disappearing into the flies.  The illusion for the Ring worked better on the screen because you could not see the pictures projected on the actors' faces which were obvious in the house.

I thought that the production for The Tempest made for some interesting pictures but did nothing to clarify the plot.

I was fascinated by the picture that accompanied Ross' article in the New Yorker.  It showed Zajick as Ulrica in an aqua blue dress such as a relatively lower-class woman might wear while Blythe in our version was dressed in upper-middle-class black.  She also pulled different things out of her purse.  Hmm.  Perhaps the other version makes more sense.  After all, she is reading the fortunes for sailors on leave, and not just upper-class women like Amelia.

His complaints about Dmitri are the same for anything he does.  Renée Fleming in Onegin brought him out of himself, but this is a rare event.  He is a sharp contrast to Marcello.

I liked the flamboyance of the production for Ballo, the subdued palate combined with the outrageous Oscar, the sophisticated Ulrica with her skull, the king's disguises where he always still looked like Marcello Alvarez, the radical changes of mood from scene to scene.  In fact I felt these mood changes clarified the plot as never before.  This is what matters most to me in a production.

Perhaps I should go back to reading Alex Ross.

Aida in HD

This broadcast of Aida was the second opera in the 6 years of simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera that is a repeat of the same production with a new cast.  The other one was Lucia.

Renée Fleming was back as host.  She interviewed the horses who were very well behaved.  She gave them each a treat.  Their trainer explained how to select and train horses for the opera.  Apparently they recognize their musical cue and get in character.

Roberto Alagna was Radames.  I prefer him to Botha, probably because he looks heroic in his costumes.  This was the role he was booed off the stage for at La Scala 6 years ago.  This time around he took the high note sotto voce.  Perhaps it is time to forget the incident at La Scala.  Pardonez-moi. I admit, though, there was some grousing in my audience.  For some reason I always enjoy Roberto.

Amneris was sung by Olga Borodina.  I enjoyed her very much in this role.  She sings to the legato rather than to the rhythm.  She isn't nearly so sinister as Zajick.

Liudmyla Monastyrska was our Aida.  She sings big, but not so heavy as Violetta Urmana.  She is a new star on the scene, and has only recently been heard outside her native Ukraine.  This means that her voice and technique grew to maturity before she began an international career.  I am ignoring the secondary cast.

The best thing about this outing was the direction for television.  This set is imposing and magnificent, but that effect only rarely comes off in filming.  This version was excellent.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Richard Tucker Gala

This television presentation is selected from the entire concert for the Richard Tucker Gala which took place on November 11, 2012.  We saw:

Gerald Finley, baritone, "Sibilar l'angui d'Aletto", Handel Rinaldo
Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano, "Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix", Saint-Saëns Samson and Delilah
Ailyn Pérez, lyric soprano, Gavotte and Scene, Massenet Manon
Ildar Abdrazakov, bass, and Quinn Kelsey, baritone, Attila and Ezio's duet, Verdi Attila
Jamie Barton, mezzo-soprano, "O mon Fernand", Donizetti La Favorite.
Erwin Schrott, bass-baritone, "Ave, Signor", Boito Mefistofele
Giuseppe Filianoti and ensemble, Giuletta Act, Offenbach Tales of Hoffmann
Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello, tenor, cherry duet, Mascagni L'amico Fritz
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone, "O du mein holder Abendstern", Wagner Tannhaeuser
Ildar Abdrazakov, "La calunnia", Rossini, Il barbiere di Siviglia
Liudmyla Monastyrska, dramatic soprano, "Nel di della vittoria... Vieni, t'affretta", Verdi Macbeth
Marcello Giordani, tenor, "Recitar! ... Vesti la giubba", Leoncavallo Pagliacci
Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello, tenor, Act II Finale, Verdi La Traviata
Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello, tenor, "Libbiamo", Verdi La Traviata
Chorus, "Va Pensiero", Verdi Nabucco

Some of the omitted numbers can be seen as shorts on this website

As is usual with the Richard Tucker Society, there was a strong emphasis on heavy repertoire and heavy singing.  To carry the flame of Richard Tucker is to carry the flame of the old style of opera of his era.  Borodina and Barton are very heavy for the modern mezzo Fach.  Barton gave a barn burning performance that received the first shouts of the evening.

Finley is the lightest of the basses and baritones, who are quite well represented.  And Liudmyla Monastyrska is about the heaviest soprano out there today.  She emphasizes Lady Macbeth and Abigaille, indeed sang the extremely heavy letter aria from Macbeth.

Ailyn Pérez is the lightest of the singers on the list above.  She overcomes all with her lovely tone and wonderful charm.  I wish her, indeed expect from her, good things.

Between the musical numbers are short interviews with Audra McDonald and clips of various types.  The clips with Ailyn Pérez are the most interesting.  Before her first aria she is shown marking in a rehearsal.  Marking involves singing very lightly in a kind of imitation of real singing in order to practice timing and pronunciation with the other participants in the rehearsal.  I'm trying to think when I have seen a film of someone marking.  My own voice was not very loud, so the conductors would ask, "Markieren Sie sich?"  Sigh.  It is common and normal to rehearse in this half voice style of singing which is easier on the voice.  It is unusual but not unknown for a singer to mark in a rehearsal that has an audience.  The audience usually gets annoyed.

The other clip shows Ailyn singing with her dog, not the same clip as the one I posted.  What makes this interesting is her husband Stephen Costello sitting patiently next to them waiting for this embarrassing moment to pass.

P.S. More things. It's over for Marcello Giordani.

Audra says "Someday you will say 'I first saw Ailyn Perez here.'" Sorry. I will say "I first saw Ailyn Perez at the Santa Fe Opera."  Ailyn was most impressive in the excerpt from La Traviata.  This opera will feature her next season in San Francisco.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Perez, Costello and Dog

Here you go.  Her name is pronounced Eileen, like in Farrell. Who knew?

When I was young, my two younger brothers both played the trumpet.  They would take our dog into the bedroom, shut the door and play their trumpets, and he would sing loudly along with them.  My mother was sure they were torturing him and made them leave him outside the bedroom when they played.  Then he would sit outside the door howling as loudly as he ever had and scratching to get back in.

Plump Jack

I read in Opera Now that the Welsh National Opera is going to perform Gordon Getty's opera Plump Jack.  This reminded me that while I was in the San Francisco Symphony chorus, we performed this work with the orchestra and a second string conductor.  There was much merriment behind the stage about this opera, but we were told in no uncertain terms by the chorus master Vance George that we were not to be seen laughing once we got out on the stage.  This was one of several bones that I had to pick with Mr. Getty.

My Operas Seen list doesn't include this opera because this performance was not staged. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


This is Samuel Barber's "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" with Leontyne Price singing and Schippers conducting, 1959.  Maybe I could learn to like Barber.

When I hear this, it sounds American to me.  I am after all these years simply awed by her.  I cannot help wondering if this piece is really this magnificent.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Opera is like Football

I have been contemplating the writings about Jonathan Miller I posted recently. He imagines himself to be important. Perhaps in his original context he actually is important. But in opera he is quite a distance down the list of who is important.

It's like football. An owner carefully amasses a roster of outstanding players in the hope that his team will win. Then he hires a coach to train them. The opera stars are the players and Jonathan Miller is the coach. If there is a problem, no one fires the players. For one thing in the world of opera it is the players who sell the tickets.

Sunday, December 09, 2012


New Findings Subsequent to the the Mozart Effect:

LISZT EFFECT: Child speaks rapidly and extravagantly, but never really says anything important.

BRUCKNER EFFECT: Child speaks very slowly and repeats himself frequently. Gains reputation for profundity.

WAGNER EFFECT: Child becomes a megalomaniac.

MAHLER EFFECT: Child continually screams - at great length and volume - that he's dying.

SCHOENBERG EFFECT: Child never repeats a word until he's used all the other words in his vocabulary. Sometimes talks backwards. Eventually, people stop listening to him.

IVES EFFECT: The child develops a remarkable ability to carry on several separate conversations at once.

GLASS EFFECT: The child tends to repeat himself over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

STRAVINSKY EFFECT: The child is prone to savage, guttural and profane outbursts that often lead to fighting and pandemonium in the preschool.

BRAHMS EFFECT: The child is able to speak beautifully as long as his sentences contain a multiple of three words (3, 6, 9, 12, etc.) However, his sentences containing 4 or 8 words are strangely uninspired.

CAGE EFFECT: Child says nothing for 4 minutes, 33 seconds. (Preferred by 10 out of 9 classroom teachers.)
Posted by Fred Zinos

[Stolen from Facebook.  I don't recall any Ives as a child, but you never know.]

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Ballo in HD

Conductor:  Fabio Luisi
Production: David Alden

Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia Anckarstrom
Marcelo Álvarez as the king, Gustavo III (Riccardo), who loves her
Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count Anckarstrom (Renato), his most trusted adviser (and Amelia’s husband)
Stephanie Blythe as the fortuneteller Madame Arvidsson (Ulrica)
Kathleen Kim as Oscar

Today we were treated to the Metropolitan Opera's HD version of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera.  This opera is usually crudely shoehorned into a setting in Boston where it feels quite foreign.  Today all pretense is cast aside and we return to the real historical setting in Stockholm, Sweden.  For you see, these are real people and real events.  The reality is long forgotten, but in Verdi's time when the idea of monarchy was not entirely secure it was considered a scandal to portray real royalty behaving badly.  When the characters in the opera are speaking each others' names, they are neither American nor Swedish but Italian.

We are informed in the intermission that Madame Arvidsson was a real woman who accurately predicted the assassination of King Gustavo.  This ended her career as a fortune teller.  I have searched in vain for a photograph of Stephanie Blythe in her twentieth-century outfit complete with purse.  She was simply the best Ulrica ever.

It's one thing for an exotically dressed black Ulrica to summon the devil in cave-like surroundings and quite another to see her sitting at an ordinary table dressed in middle-class clothes while she first takes a swig from her flask and then takes a skull out of her purse.  This is the fascination of productions which move events closer to our own time.

The painting of Icarus partially shown above which appeared in every scene is hard to fit into a Swedish context.  Gustavo was something of a foolhardy daredevil, so perhaps that is the connection.  He leaps into a love affair with a married woman, puts himself in disguise in order to visit Ulrica, tracks down Amelia to the place of execution and goes to the ball in spite of the fact that he knows someone will try to assassinate him.

And what a cast.  It would be difficult to imagine anyone now active who could expect to improve on any of them.  Kathleen made her dance debut in this production, and perhaps she is ready for a new career.  I finally found a picture of her in her Chanel pants suit and cigarette.  This production needs more pictures.  I enjoyed very much Sondra's passionate fluidity.  This is the best I have experienced of Marcelo Alvarez.  He conquered every mood of this wide-ranging opera, from comedy to romance to death.

And Dmitri reigns over Verdi baritones today as few singers ever have.  His voice will do anything.  He looks beautiful, too.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Górecki's Birthday

In honor of the birthday of Henryk Górecki (1933 - 2010) we post the complete Symphony 3. 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Shock: Booing at La Scala

Here is something to read about the latest incident of booing at La Scala, this time for Cecilia Bartoli.  Unlike Alagna, she does not seem to have stormed out.  We rely on Italy for opera rioting.  There seems to have been an issue with the ticket prices.

P.S.  It is now my understanding that this has to do with paying off the claque.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Anna Karenina

I went to see the new movie Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley as Anna, Jude Law as Karenin, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the beautiful Count Vronsky.  The acting is outstanding.

If you go to the opera, this movie will seem pretty normal to you.  If you don't, well what can I say.  Much of the filming takes place inside an old theater.  Remind you of anything?  Like last summer's Atilla where each act was in a different falling down theater.  At least in the movie there wasn't another movie playing in the background.  And the Met's The Tempest was similarly staged inside of a theater instead of on an island.

The back of the theater would open and suddenly you would be outdoors somewhere, always a different place each time.  Like the end of Giulio Cesare in Salzburg.

There is some pretty peculiar looking waltzing, trains and horse racing that ran through the theater.  I haven't seen horse racing in an opera.  Yet.  I read somewhere that many of the images were from paintings.  I felt right at home.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Clemency of Titus

Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Production:  Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

Tito:  Giuseppe Filianoti
Vitellia:  Barbara Frittoli
Sesto:  Elina Garanca
Servilia:  Lucy Crowe
Annio:  Kate Lindsey

Today was the simulcast of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito from the Metropolitan Opera.Why isn't this opera more popular?  It has some of Mozart's most beautiful music.  The libretto is by Metastasio with additional material by the court poet Caterino Mazzolà.

The production is by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle who died in 1988 and places the opera squarely in the 18th century.  No authentic Roman while residing in his capitol city would be seen in anything but his toga.  They loved the toga simply because if you were not Roman there was no hope of you keeping it on.  The people in our opera are dressed in wigs and trousers somewhat like people in the 18th century would have worn.

The single set looks a little like Rome, but the buildings are rough and falling down like they are now rather than relatively new looking as they would have been when Titus was Emperor.  During his reign the coliseum was completed, Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompei, and Rome burned.  This opera refers to the fire and his romance with Berenice, a Jewish queen.

Giuseppe Filianoti is an Italian lyric tenor, and I liked him enormously today.  He made a point of mentioning that he studies with Alfredo Kraus.  He is in good hands.

Barbara Frittoli sang Vitalia beautifully and portrayed her at her most nuts.  One can't help wondering if any of them deserve the clemency they are receiving.  She was excellent singing the almost baritonal "Non piu di fiori."

Kate Lindsey sang a fine Annio.  Susan Graham listed off Kate's pants roles at the Met, like Siebel in Faust, Tebaldo in Don Carlo, Stéphano in Roméo et Juliette, Cherubino in Figaro and most notably Nicklausse in Tales of Hoffmann.  She makes a very handsome young man, but I was surprised to see that she is not as tall as Elina.  Lucy Crowe made her Met debut as Servilia.

Elīna Garanča as Sesto received star billing and star bows.  It was she who led out the conductor Harry Bicket at the end, though she did not stand near the center of the stage.  She received a well deserved ovation for everything about her work in this role. Though written for a castrato, the role fell beautifully into her voice, and her dramatic phrasing was inspiring.  Susan Graham who also sings this role in this production was impressed by how Elina walked down the steps without looking down.  You probably had to be Susan Graham to be impressed by this.

I loved this.  This is some of Mozart's best music, but is generally dismissed as uninspiring.   My handout doesn't name a replacement director for the long dead Ponnelle, but someone must have led them to this intensity of acting.  All the performers bring great emotional depth to their roles.

This interview with Filianoti has a lot of interesting things.

Most interesting to me is his remarks on how hard it is to sing the recitatives by Franz Xaver Süssmayr compared to the arias by Mozart.  Maybe that's why they dropped them in Zurich.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Strange Things in My Inbox

Via a Google Alert from the London Evening Standard

The Marriage of Figaro still has bitterness of a divorce

The spectacular sacking of Jonathan Miller from New York’s Metropolitan Opera may have occurred 10 years ago but In Two Minds, a biography of the prolific director, threatens to reopen old wounds. Miller left the company after disagreements with Italian diva Cecilia Bartoli in his production of The Marriage of Figaro, before launching a scathing attack on The three Tenors in a post-dispute press interview.

Miller has been restrained in discussing the incident with his biographer Kate Bassett but his former colleague, National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner, is a little less discreet about the fateful production.

“I happened to see that Figaro which was hijacked by the most disgustingly plush, scandalously self-absorbed conducting I have ever heard [from that] fat monster in the pit, James Levine.”

Levine has spent 40 years as music director of the Metropolitan but Hytner holds him in very low esteem, calling him “one of the great musical villains of our time."

[BB.  This discussion refers to the events in this article from the BBC News Monday, 20 May, 2002, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK :]

Jonathan Miller
Miller has criticised the opera star system before

Jonathan Miller has said he considers himself "fired" by the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, after a dispute with general manager Joseph Volpe four years ago. In an interview with US music magazine Opera News, the director said the falling-out followed artistic disagreements with star soprano Cecilia Bartoli.

Cecilia Bartoli
Bartoli is one of the biggest draws in opera today
Miller said that in 1998, when he was directing The Marriage of Figaro at the Metropolitan, he differed from Bartoli on the inclusion of two rare arias. The opera house manager sided with the star and, according to Miller, "kept on sort of jabbing a blunt finger in my face".
In his interview with music critic Martin Bernheimer, Miller also renewed his attack on what he called "Jurassic Park performers".

'Massively inert'
He singled out the Three Tenors, saying that Jose Carreras "just can't act" and describing Placido Domingo's work in a Miller production at La Scala as "stiff and unyielding in many ways".
And he added he would never work with Luciano Pavarotti.
Miller's remarks about working at the Met are unusual in their frankness.

Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennet

Though he returned to the opera house to direct Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande for the 1999-2000 season, he said he regards himself as "fired". Referring to the dispute with Bartoli over which arias to sing, Miller told Opera News: "I had a sort of set-to.
"I expressed my misgivings quite strongly. I found the arias almost impossible to rehearse.
"I couldn't get my head around things that had nothing do with the action."
The Met's general manager then intervened.
"It obviously got to Volpe's ears that I had been, as he would have said, uncooperative," said Miller.
"When my agent made some inquiries about what other things I might be doing in New York the response left no doubt. I'd been fired".
But Miller is returning to the US to direct Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin this summer in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
"Some of the best things I've done are in what is often disparagingly called the regions," said Miller. 

BB.   Wow.  I have been moderately critical of Levine in this item which aroused no particular interest from the general public.  For me he's an excellent musician with very conservative, even fuddy-duddy tastes.  However, this has always been my favorite Figaro ever.  For absolutely everything.

For me it is important to notice that while Miller returned to the Met, Bartoli did not.  And I understand completely why she wanted to change the arias.

This clip from the production has Bartoli's highest number of plays.

And this is what most of the fuss is about.


Here is a very nice article about Eric Owens in the LA Times.  He is soaring right now, and deservedly so. 

Anna Netrebko completes her Iolanta tour this evening in Vienna.

At the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek, Colorado we have next year:
Jonas Kaufmann - Jan. 13 - $150
Anna Netrebko - March 25 - $150.

Elīna Garanča will sing at Weill Hall in Santa Rosa Tuesday, April 9, 8:00 pm.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Throughout the 80s I was a bird watcher.  One Saturday a fellow birder was listening to the Met broadcast while we were driving from spot to spot.  Bird watching involves a lot of driving.  Person looked at me and said, "I think it's Figaro."  I responded, "No, listen--it's serious.  It must be Clemenza di Tito."  I don't think I had ever heard Clemenza di Tito at that time, so this was a wild guess.  I was correct, of course.

Since I began blogging, I have watched two DVDs of Clemenza: one with Kaufmann which featured outfits, and one with Susan Graham which featured a baked potato.  I still have never seen it live in performance and still will not have after Saturday's simulcast.

This is a plug for the Met simulcast on Saturday of La Clemenza di Tito.  Be sure to watch.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I received a link to this article about the economics of making music in my email.  The media changes are not shocking, but the total amounts are much worse than I imagined.  I tend to think that the music industry is committing suicide by pushing inferior product.

Classical has a different problem.  Classical music went through a period when every imaginable piece was recorded and pitched.  To find something new we are stuck with Baroque archeology.

I like to listen to new people and find new things to enjoy instead of listening to the same thing over and over, but my friend Jean says she only wants to hear Kirsten Flagstad sing Wagner and doesn't care if she doesn't listen to anything new.  Most of the older audience for opera tend to agree with her, I think.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas Presents

If I am going to recommend a version of Wagner's Ring, it has to be the Solti Ring, possibly the greatest classical recording of all time.  His touch is more delicate than you hear these days, and it has perhaps the greatest cast ever assembled.  This version was recorded in 1965 but was recently remastered.

I've fallen behind in reviewing recital disks this year, but this one is excellent, if only for those inclined to the Baroque.  While sticking to her theme, she successfully interprets a wide variety of music.

This is also entirely from the Baroque period, middle Baroque to be precise, and by an entirely unknown composer:  Agostino Steffani.  He's rather sweet and attractive.  The main attraction of this album comes from the always magnificent Cecilia Bartoli.

This has been my favorite Der Rosenkavalier since forever and is finally available on DVD.

Anna and Elina together make for a pretty incredible Anna Bolena.  This is one of Netrebko's best.

I always recommend something unusual, and this year it doesn't beat Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini.  Helicopters, robots and carnival costumes make for a very lively entertainment.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Opera's Angels

I stole this from Isabel Leonard's Facebook page.

This is Danielle de Niese, Isabel Leonard and Maih Persson as Charlie's Angels.  I would go to this movie.

Friday, November 23, 2012


The New York Times published their recommendations for Christmas presents today.  I guess I'd better get to it.

The most glaring omission from their lists is Joyce DiDonato's Drama Queens.  I think it would be at the top of my list.  Their most curious recommendation is for Anna Nicole.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Another Tosca

Opera Quiz.  What's the other opera where they shoot off a cannon from the Castel Sant'Angelo?  Answer at the end.

The Tosca from the San Francisco Opera is very much a traditional production.  The sets don't literally portray the locations, but they do strongly suggest them.  In Santa Fe we had a reproduction of an actual painting from the Palazzo Farnese, but in San Francisco there is just the idea of a frescoed room in an Italian palazzo.  And it is best not to stare too long at photos of the Castel Sant'Angelo trying to figure out how Tosca could possibly have jumped from it.  We are on the roof facing Saint Peters, as always.

The person sitting next to me said that this was her first Tosca.  I told her at the end that she should always compare Tosca with this one.  It was very nice indeed.

Tosca is wearing her traditional trains, and Angela Gheorghiu, our Tosca, flings them around to keep from falling over them.  I always remember Marie Collier in this role, viewed from about where I currently sit, avoiding her train in an almost magical way.  Angela made it all the way through in good voice and great style, altogether a very satisfying Tosca.  She placed the candles just as she should.  You believed completely when she stood over Scarpia shouting "mori"--die.

Roberto Frontali is a crude, sadistic Scarpia.  We aren't sorry when he dies.

Massimo Giordano looks exactly as he should.  He could sound better.  Should I give him advice?  I am always curious that none of the Italian tenors seem to be imitating Luciano.  Brighten the vowels, open the throat.  You will be glorious.

I asked the woman next to me what else she had seen.  She liked Moby-Dick.  The feeling of actually being on a ship was very powerful.

In Tosca the cannon is fired from the Castel Sant'Angelo to announce that a prisoner has escaped.  In Benvenuto Cellini the cannon is fired to announce the end of Carnivale.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Barber of Seville
Malcolm Mackenzie

I have been known for no particular reason to greet someone by singing "Buo-o-na se-ra, Buo-o-na se-ra."  I did not manage to remember which opera this was from.  The answer was made clear this evening when I attended a performance of Rossini's The Barber of Seville at the Sacramento Opera, where the phrase comes in the second act.  My excuse is that it's very catchy.

This was a very pleasant night's entertainment, full of marvelous music led by conductor Thomas Conlin, excellent singing and fabulous acting.

Leah Wool was a spunky and melodious Rosina.  I notice in the program that she also sings La Cenerentola. Thomas Glenn was a handsome and in all ways attractive Almaviva.  Stephen Eisenhard entertained us as Dr. Bartolo.

The star of the evening was Malcolm Mackenzie as Figaro.  He has appeared twice before at the Sacramento Opera since I have begun living here.  I made disparaging remarks about his acting last time, but this time he was lively and energetic, reminding all of us why the opera is named after his character.  His big aria was outstanding.  Why hasn't he moved up?

Kudos to the stage director David Bartholomew.

There's another performance on Sunday afternoon.  Buy a ticket.

Friday, November 16, 2012


Briefly. I just watched Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem with Patrick Marco on from somewhere in France. They performed with 2 pianos and timpani for "Den alles Fleisch" which would sound quite odd without drums. It sounds quite odd anyway, but is more transparent this way. 

Everything that Cecilia Bartoli is singing in for Pfingsten is already sold out. Including this piece. Sigh. Norma will be repeated in August, but not the Brahms. Maybe they will stream. I feel a mixture of profound curiosity and fear about hearing this. I know people sneer, but it is my favorite piece. Enough.

P.S. I posted this in a comment, but I think it might go better here.

I have always heard sincerity in Brahms. Everything about the deutsches Requiem is his own creation--the choice of text, the structure, the music, the orchestration. It is all his personal musical and religious expression.

I was good with the two piano format because it is known that this is the format in which Brahms often composed. Perhaps it's even authentic. Wagner jettisoned the whole idea of structure and invented his own structure by free association.

I always admire Brahms for his life long attempt to create in the traditional structures. I always hear humility in Brahms, a character trait entirely missing in Herr Wagner. The Wagnerites hate Brahms for just this quality.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ain't it a Pretty Night

When I was doing American opera, how did I miss this?

This is the great American artist Renée Fleming singing "Ain't it a pretty night" from Carlisle Floyd's Susannah sung at the Richard Tucker Gala in 1995.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Don Carlo on

I am watching Verdi's Don Carlo from the Royal Opera on with many of the same cast as the Metropolitan Opera in HD in 2010.  There are:

Marina Poplavskaya (Elizabeth of Valois)
Simon Keenlyside (Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa)
Ferruccio Furlanetto (Philip II)

The production is the same.  The main differences are the conductor is Antonio Pappano, Eboli is sung by Sonia Ganassi and Don Carlo is sung by Rolando Villazon. I think I prefer Ganassi to Anna Smirnova.

It's different.  How is that possible?  I think that Pappano is very sensitive to the great beauty of this opera, perhaps Verdi's most beautiful.  I can see Don Carlo played for romance and beauty rather than intensity and melodrama.  For this perspective Marina is the perfect Elizabeth.  She grows on me.

Villazon retains all of his intensity, but I think his voice has acquired roughness.  His voice lacks the power to project his personal intensity.  My opinion hasn't changed about him.  But for the beautiful Don Carlo perhaps he is right.

Now we are in the third act and Carlo raises his sword against his father.  Posa steps between them and the theme from the duet of Carlo and Posa plays in the orchestra.  We have a Leitmotiv.  Philip knights Posa.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Tempest

Today was the simulcast of Thomas Adès's The Tempest from the Metropolitan Opera.  This opera lies much closer to Shakespeare's play of the same name than did The Enchanted Island, which we all loved very much.  It's modern, generally like the clip in the previous post and the one above.

There is Prospero, well sung by a tattooed Simon Keenlyside, who is a bitter old man who has been living on an island for 12 years with his books on magic, his daughter Miranda, sung by Isabel Leonard, his slave spirit Ariel, sung by Audrey Luna, and the former King of the island Caliban, sung by Alan Oke.  They are a pathetic group.  Caliban is an ugly monster who stalks Miranda and hopes to marry her.  Ariel is a slave to Prospero and has been promised freedom at some point.

That's two baritones, a mezzo-soprano and a coloratura soprano.  A very strange coloratura soprano.  Ms Luna has an incredible whistle register which is where the part of Ariel mostly lies.  The Queen of the Night in Flute just has her occasional leaps to high F's, but Ariel's part goes to a high G and hangs around above a high C for extended stretches.  I've never heard anything like it.  It was well and enthusiastically done, but gee.  In one spot she sings "Bow wow, bow wow."  Ariel is made of air.  Perhaps it makes an odd kind of sense.  This is the only thing about the opera that draws your attention to the singing. 

Prospero has received news that those who banished him to this island, the King of Naples and Prospero's brother Antonio, are passing by in a ship.  His sources are presumed to be magical.  He commands Ariel to sink their boat and bring them to the island.  Prospero has his revenge and everyone is happy at the end.  In their miserable, sniveling ways.  Except his precious daughter Miranda has fallen in love with the King's son Ferdinand.

The music is all like the sample.  Played by the fabulous Metropolitan Opera orchestra, it makes a different impression than my previous encounter.  The general impression is of disintegrated fragments of harmony and phrase.  There isn't much in the way of flow.  However, it has its own distinctive sound.

The text is almost Shakespeare, but not.  We hear Miranda declare "O brave new world" in the right place.  But why couldn't they have used:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.

instead of the prose version?  As part of Prospero's revenge, Ferdinand, sung by Alek Shrader, is told that his father has died in the shipwreck.  We get something more modern sounding and not at all poetical, though it generally rhymes.  How does one manage that?  There is no antique vocabulary.

Robert Lepage was more suited to producing The Tempest than he had been for The Ring, perhaps because as a modern opera it could be performed by young people capable of swinging from chandeliers and falling through holes in the floor.  It didn't always make sense, but it looked good, worked fine and made the performances more interesting.

We got to the end and felt little enthusiasm, either in our theater or in the Met audience.  I managed a bravo for Keenlyside who was really quite good.

Most Adorable

The most adorable on stage couple award has to go to:

Alek Shrader as Ferdinand and Isabel Leonard as Miranda in The Tempest from the Metropolitan Opera.

And here's a clip of them singing.

Isabel's all smiles Miranda is such a contrast to her all serious Costanza in Griselda that it is hard to imagine they are the same person.

Friday, November 09, 2012

James Levine is making a comeback.

[This is copied from the New York Times.]

Saying ‘It’s Miraculous for Me,’ Levine Will Conduct Again at Met
Published: October 11, 2012

James Levine is "overwhelmingly happy to be coming back."

Mr. Levine conducting the Met Orchestra in Mozart's "Serenade No. 9 in D Major" at Carnegie Hall last year.

Defying opera world doubters who thought he was too ill, weak or disengaged, the longtime and much loved music director of the Metropolitan Opera plans to return to the podium for the first time in two years, for a May 19 performance by the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and for three productions at the opera house next season.

Mr. Levine, 69, once a workhorse of the baton, has been plagued by health problems since 2006, leading to a drip-drip of cancellations over recent years. A fall in the summer of 2011 that caused severe damage to his spine forced him to bow out of all of last season and cancel involvement this season while he recovered. He hasn’t led a performance since May 14, 2011, when he conducted Wagner’s “Walküre.”

“I’m overwhelmingly happy to be coming back,” Mr. Levine said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “It’s miraculous for me.”

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, gave the news to the executive committee of the trustees late on Thursday afternoon and planned to tell the company before the evening’s performance.
Mr. Gelb said Fabio Luisi, the principal conductor who was brought in to fill the void left by Mr. Levine’s absences, would remain in the position to preserve musical continuity for the orchestra, but it was not immediately clear how he and Mr. Levine would share responsibilities.

In the interview Mr. Levine disclosed details about his condition. He remains unable to walk because of the spinal damage and acknowledged what many had suspected for a while: he has a nonprogressive condition related to Parkinson’s disease that causes hand tremors, which his doctors called “benign Parkinsonism.”

Mr. Levine said he would conduct from a motorized wheelchair that he uses. Met technicians are devising a podium that mechanically rises and falls, like an elevator, for Carnegie Hall and the Met pit.

The Met’s plans now call for Mr. Levine to lead a revival of Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” (nine performances), starting on Sept. 24; a new production of Verdi’s “Falstaff” (10 performances), starting on Dec. 6; a revival of Berg’s “Wozzeck” (five performances), starting March 6, 2014; and the second half of the “Così” run, starting on April 23, 2014. He is also scheduled to conduct three Carnegie Hall performances with the orchestra next season, as well as the concert in May. Mr. Levine, who even before the fall walked with a cane or used a wheelchair and conducted sitting down, said he was on the mend and hoped to regain limited mobility soon. He said that the fall caused complete paralysis in his legs, but that he has recovered sensation and movement, if not the ability to walk.

“For the first few weeks, I could have been reading a newspaper while somebody was moving my leg, and I wouldn’t have known he was moving it,” Mr. Levine said.
Mr. Levine said that he had had the Parkinson’s-related condition since 1994, and that on its own it did not interfere with his conducting. But he explained that the severe pain from back problems would make it worse, resulting in a more pronounced tremor and greater impact on his legs. A Parkinson’s medication he took, L-dopa, “contributed to the shaking in his legs and left hand,” the Met said in a statement.

Mr. Levine has been going into the Met regularly since early September, he said, for administrative meetings, to coach singers in the young artists program and to listen to auditions. He said he would pick up the pace of rehearsing cast members for future productions toward the end of the year.
The whole idea, he said, is to “do what I used to do and then some, because you always learn a lot.”
Mr. Levine’s health woes began in 2006, when he fell onstage in Boston and tore a rotator cuff. A malignant cyst led to the removal of a kidney two years later. Then came three more operations: to repair a herniated disk; to correct curvature of the spine and spinal cord compression; and to fix a nerve problem resulting from the spinal surgery. He resigned as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in early 2011 because of his condition.

Then, that August, he fell down several steps while on vacation and suffered the spinal injury. While the Met held out hope that Mr. Levine would return, he ended up announcing cancellations for this season and last, including high-profile cycles of Wagner’s “Ring,” where Mr. Levine is often considered at his most revelatory. Each cancellation brought intense scrutiny, given his deep association with one of the nation’s most important arts institutions. He has conducted at the Met since 1971 and became its music director in 1976. His tenure has shaped the musical standards of the house and put his mark on several generations of singers.

In Mr. Levine’s absence the Met turned to one of his regular substitutes, Mr. Luisi, the Italian maestro, and named him principal conductor.

Mr. Luisi “understood all along that Jim’s intention was to return,” Mr. Gelb said. “He has a very important role with the orchestra.”

With patrons and operagoers often asking when Mr. Levine would be back, Mr. Gelb came under pressure to make a decision about Mr. Levine’s long-term status, but he said he would not act as long as there was any shred of hope that Mr. Levine could someday conduct.

Matters became acute this fall, as the Met prepared for its 2013-14 season announcement in February. If Mr. Levine were out, substitutes had to be found. His doctors — two neurologists and a spine surgeon — agreed that their patient was recovering enough to go back to work eventually.

In an unusual display of openness, the Met, with Mr. Levine’s permission, released statements from the doctors. They said that his upper-body strength was stronger than it had been in years because of rehabilitation. He was pain-free and unencumbered by the benign Parkinsonism. “His prognosis is good,” said Dr. Patrick O’Leary, a spine surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.

Given so many dashed hopes in the past that Mr. Levine would come back, Mr. Gelb said, “it has to be really clear that his return is credible this time.”

Mr. Levine said it was difficult discussing his medical issues.

“I was brought up in a time when if you had a difficulty like that, it was just good form to solve it and keep your own counsel, if you could,” he said. “Now we live in a different time.”

He said he was also reluctant to mention his benign Parkinsonism to avoid “the very dire idea” associated with it in people’s minds.

Mr. Levine said he would juggle a heavy load of rehabilitative therapy with his increasing Met duties. In a certain sense, those tasks will merge, he added.

“My life commitment is to the Met, and I love the Met so,” he said. “My doctors also think that besides being able to recommend that I should come back, they are ready to say I’m likely to be helped by it as well.”

A version of this article appeared in print on October 12, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Saying ‘It’s Miraculous for Me,’ Levine Will Conduct Again at Met.

Thursday, November 08, 2012


If you have missed this, this week is the opening of the Sacramento Opera season, and the opera is Barber of Seville.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Drama Queens

This is a very worthy followup to Furore.  I like it very much.  Would a lot of words mean more?  It is masterful and focuses completely on the music.  Joyce's entrance into the Gramophone Hall of Fame is due to releases like this.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Break-Out Stars

I found an article in the Huffington Post here showing a slide show of Break-Out Stars of the Metropolitan Opera.  Again the list includes familiar names and unfamiliar names.  The familiar ones are:

Alek Shrader

I saw him in last summer's Magic Flute at the San Francisco Opera as Tamino, though he doesn't seem to have made much of an impression.  We will see him in the simulcast of The Tempest.

Janai Brugger

She was in the Merola Finale just two years ago where I said her performance was "not too bad."  Not a bad review when I completely panned almost everyone else.  A much more favorable reaction came when I flew to LA to see La Bohème last May. I said, "Most outrageous is Musetta [Janai Brugger] whose scene is dramatically enhanced to the point of slapstick.  I loved it." Charisma is something we are looking for, and she almost stole the show.  We will  not see her in the simulcasts this year.

Elza van den Heever 

Elza is a familiar face at the San Francisco Opera.  She became somewhat notorious when she replaced Hope Briggs as Donna Anna in Don Giovenni in 2007.  This incident wasn't her fault.  She also sang Mrs. Lee in the world premier of Appomattox in San Francisco.  I saw her perform Donna Anna in Santa Fe where I described her voice as "big without being heavy."  This is very high praise indeed and may point to stardom.  At the Met in the simulcasts she will sing Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda. Here is something from Idomeneo.

Kristine Opolais

I have not seen Opolais, but here is a sample of her Butterfly from the ROH. I think her breaking out may already have occurred. We will not see her in the simulcasts, but she will sing in La Rondine at the Met.

Liudmyla Monastyrska

I have not seen Monastyrska, but she has already sung Lady Macbeth at the ROH, so how break-out can she be?  She will sing Aida in the simulcast.  Here you can watch her in the sleepwalking scene.  The presence of a link to Macbeth below will show you she already has a DVD for it.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Plaisir d'amour

They are everywhere now.   I will refrain from repeating anything.

"Grotesque et ridicule ! Elle qui était si pointilleuse sur la diction allemande de ses élèves auraient bien fait de s'appliquer ses propres préceptes. En plus, cette manière de faire un sort à chaque mot enlève tout charme à cette mélodie si simple et si belle. Elle ne comprend rien au style de la romance française." From YouTube comments.

I love the song and I love Elisabeth, but for once I agree with a YouTube comment. Perhaps our commenter would like this one better.

Just one male example--Gigli.

It goes on and on.

Battle's version is very important.


I was relatively young when I noticed that what I was being taught -- how to pronounce languages, how to articulate notes, always to sing in tune and rhythm, etc. -- wasn't the same as what the most famous singers were doing. I concluded that this meant that they knew something I didn't.

Now in the days of YouTube no one seems able to make this logical leap. The constant carping that is seen in the comments for famous singers seems to come from individuals who studied singing and believed completely in what their teachers were telling them. What follows is my conclusions, not your teacher's.

 Maria Callas was a mezzo and was pushing her voice up into a tessitura it wasn't precisely suited for. This and not her weight loss is the cause of her loss of quality in the upper register. If you can't stand to listen to it, find someone you do like. All this carping isn't going to change anything.

Jonas Kaufmann became wildly famous because he found a teacher who could get him to open his throat and produce a heavier, darker sound than the wimpy lyric tenor he was doing before this. He still lapses into a lighter tone on occasion and cannot seem to commit to this dark sound. Sounding like a baritone doesn't mean he is a baritone. Tessitura and not color is the basis for classification. Lesson--please pay attention--which notes you can produce comes from the vocal cords, and what color your voice creates comes from the resonators. Classification comes from the vocal cords, not the resonators. Please don't make me say this again. Sometimes there is a mismatch. Vocal cords always win.

Anna Netrebko sings a lot of coloratura repertoire, but doesn't seem to articulate the notes the way you were taught in school. Lots of singers slur the coloratura: Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Edita Gruberova to name a few. I covered this in my I Puritani contest post. It's fine for a student to always articulate cleanly, but no awards are given out for achieving this. When push comes to shove, you had better have more to offer.

Renée Fleming sings virtually everything in a very slurred, Romantic style with very little hard articulation of consonants. Please note that she is very very famous, far more famous than the people who are spitting away on their consonants. She has found her gimmick and does not need your carping.

I allowed myself to get swept up into a YouTube argument by someone who wants to trash Jonas because he used a glottal attack on something in Italian. This subject always reminds me of an occasion when I was studying a piece by Henry Purcell with the words "all, all, all, all, all is love to me." My teacher wanted, insisted on a glottal attack on every "all." I thought this sounded ridiculous and dropped the piece from my repertoire.

Cecilia Bartoli does a lot of glottal attacks. I remember being shocked by this, but there is no evidence that she has suffered any ill effects from doing it, the only thing about it that concerned me. I think the amount of force involved is crucial.

In the German language the word "Einsam" which begins Elsa's Dream would start with a glottal stroke. Because this is normal speech. If I'm wrong, please correct me. Just be sure you actually are German first. Some singers do this, some don't. Does it form a basis for hysteria either way? I think not.

When I am judging the quality of a singer's performance, I do not consult the encyclopedia of principles I learned in school. I consult my heart. If I feel the familiar twinge, I know I have found gold.

I feel much better now.

Thursday, November 01, 2012


I have always said this blog is subtitled The Education of Dr. B.  Today I learned that the Robert Wilson whose name appears in the credits for Einstein on the Beach is the same Robert Wilson who created the production of Pelléas et Mélisande I liked so much when I watched it here.  There's always so much more to know.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Season Postmortem 2011-12

I am counting this year's 2011-12 season to have ended just before my trip this year to Santa Fe.  So what kind of year was it?

Operas that were new for me are The Fairy Queen (DVD), Il Postino (TV), Lucrezia Borgia (Live), Serse (Live), Griselda (Live), Four Saints in Three Acts (Live), The Great Gatsby (Live), Heart of a Soldier (Live), The Last Savage (Live), Benvenuto Cellini (DVD), and Rodelinda (HD).  I love it when there are so many new operas.  Only Heart of a Soldier was new for everyone.  I'm not counting the extremely charming The Enchanted Island (HD).

Are any of these a truly great opera?  Unquestionably I Capuleti e i Montecchi is a great opera for the spectacular bel canto singing.  I have a CD of it with Beverly Sills which in no way prepared me for how truly wonderful it actually is. 

I am shocked to see that my favorite of the entire season was Sacramento Opera's production of Pagliacci.  Thanks to Eduardo Villa and the raw and visceral production, this was just what you wish for with this opera--passion and violence.  It was simply amazing.

My second favorite, especially from the live performance category, has to be Menotti's The Last Savage from the Santa Fe Opera.  It was simply the most fun you could expect to have at the opera.

I watched six operas on DVD but two of them, Werther and Anna Bolena, were DVD versions of the same or similar casts and productions as things seen live/HD earlier.  I preferred Werther live and Anna Bolena on DVD, but all four were fabulous.

I watched Nina to counteract the static effect of Otello.  I watched The Fairy Queen to fill a hole in my education but found it charming.  I watched Adriana Lecouvreur for Jonas Kaufmann and Angela Gheorghiu, though I don't think the opera is very good.

My third Giulio Cesare with Cecilia Bartoli was the best, Baroque opera of great passion and life.

And for the first time I understand Vesselina Kasarova.  With Netrebko she was simply a towering artist.  In my search for the truly wonderful, I found it in a place I have visited often before.

Monday, October 29, 2012


The west coast premier of the opera Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass opens with this photograph.  You can see some water in the background.  Otherwise the relationship to Einstein is rather tenuous.  Three dot journalism:

Converse Allstars...Conch shell and woman who holds it up to her ear...British jurists...Woman reading the New york Times...Paper airplanes...Ding dong...

There is a violinist in Converse Allstars that we decided must be Albert himself who is known to have played the violin..."Court is now in session"...One judge pours a beaker of glitter...Woman who walked for half an hour at the beginning is the defendant.  Styrofoam cups, illegal in Berkeley, appear.

They discuss:  Mister Bojangles...This is about the things on the table...John Lennon...Baggy pants...Gun gun gun....

A girl scratches her butt.  I can't help thinking of Gertrude Stein.

For over two hours we hear typical noodling music such as only Philip Glass can manage.  It is apparently enraging because about three hours in, after a woman on the stage waved a machine gun at us and made noises like shooting, everyone became nasty and started complaining to everyone else.

You remember when I posted this a few days ago:

Share Your Thoughts
Connect with others attending the performance and let the world know your thoughts about Einstein on the Beach either by tweeting @CalPerformances or using the hashtag #einstein2012.

I tried to post things, but people around me were too annoyed.

Mist floating down into pit...Big chorus...Could all be a loop but isn't...Conch shell girl is back. Holds to ear. We don't hear ocean...Chorus chants "Onedy onedy onedy..." Back in court. Defendant is wearing a dress. Men in striped suits. Bars..."I have been avoiding the beach." Scream!  "Prematurely airconditioned", my favorite line of the play...Suddenly she is in a gray pantsuit with a large lollipop....

After noodling for at least 3 hours, there is a completely unexpected saxophone riff that went on for about a half hour while people stood around a building and waved.  There is talking, singing, chorus, two synthesizers, two saxophones and a piccolo, but absolutely no operatic singing.

I went out and had a beer and watched the rest on the monitor by the bar.

Jennifer Koh was Einstein playing the violin.
Kate Moran spoke "Prematurely air-conditioned."
Helga Davis spoke "Mr. Bojangles."
Andrew Sternman played the tenor saxophone solo.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Otello in HD

In the intermission interviews for Verdi's Otello live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera it was revealed that Renée Fleming had sung Desdemona in 1994 at the Met in this very same production.  She is still gorgeous in the role, though I have never seen this production before.

The main difference between Verdi's Otello and Shakespeare's Othello is how quickly Verdi's hero stops believing in his beloved wife.  There has to be some reason for this, and that reason is provided by the huge and not particularly attractive Johann Botha.  He just can't believe that this beautiful woman could love him.  I liked him better than I did when he sang the role 3 years ago in San Francisco.  This time I have no complaints.  His control of the phrase is now quite beautiful.  He has been ill, so I believe our performance was his first in the run where he was completely healthy.  Vocally and dramatically, he and Renée were a very fine doomed couple.  They died in style.

Our Iago was Falk Struckmann, a German who roars and growls his way through the opera.  He is a nasty piece of work.  We know why Iago hates Otello and Cassio--they were promoted over him--but what exactly does he have against Desdemona?

What we were all asking each other was:  when do we get to see Michael Fabiano in something serious?  His was an outstanding Cassio, but the role is just not much.  I think he is ready for more.

RIP Hans Werner Henze, (1926 - 2012)

Hans Werner Henze, (1926 - 2012), has died. Perhaps now would be the time for me to see one of his operas.

"This mysterious man is my mission"

[This is translated from Die Welt. Their German is a bit above my grade.]

Music mystery: The singer Cecilia Bartoli explains how she and Donna Leon discovered the composer Agostino Steffani
by Manuel Brug

La Ceci, as the mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli is tenderly called by her fans, has taken three years since her so far sixth and most successful theme album "Sacrificium" about the "sacrifice" of Neapolitan eunuchs. Three years, where she could search for her follow-up project. The corresponding concert tour was still called "dangerous liaisons". A few weeks ago oblique YouTube clips appeared. Then, the true title of the project was eventually revealed: "Mission". Including a whole range of CD, DVD, iPad game, and even a new Donna Leon novel appears. It all revolves around the music of the mysterious singer (probably: castrato), composer, diplomat and perhaps spy Agostino Steffani (1645-1728). He was born in the Veneto, worked in Munich, Hannover, Düsseldorf, Rome and Brussels, died in Frankfurt, where he is buried in the Cathedral. He had his corner in the history of music as an important link between Carissimi, whose student he was, Scarlatti, and Handel. Now the 46 year old Bartoli with cleverly selected at times highly virtuosic, at times sensitive elegiac pieces from 12 operas, including four gorgeous duets with Philippe Jaroussky, would like to make him famous. Who, if not her should succeed at this?

We met in the 26th year of her career, the still best known mezzo-soprano in the world after the hurried presentation of the CD in the Munich Baroque Schloss Schleißheim - where Bartoli after concert, dinner and fireworks still in a green-pink dirndl had to tap a keg of beer. [Oktoberfest was fast approaching.]

DIE WELT: As I showed around the "mission" cover with the bald head, I was more than once asked: Oh God, does Bartoli have cancer? Are you being provocative?

Cecilia Bartoli: Of course not, but the cover is already attracting attention, if it fits. I think this worked well with "Opera Prohibita," where as Anita Ekberg reloaded I hop into the fountain. And also with my sexless statue on "Sacrifcium" I was very pleased. These photos should just tell you something, not just show me in a beautiful dress. That to me is far too easy, just like any colorful aria program. I want to convey a message and play a character. Senseless glamour photos I now feel are almost an insult. These travesties make me even richer as a performer. In "mission" we have gone a step further, as we tell a whole story in pictures that will trace the exciting and still enigmatic life of Steffani at least a little tongue in cheek. This mysterious man is my mission.

DIE WELT: With a big product family. Because you have sold 10 million CDs, does the record company give you total freedom?

Cecilia Bartoli: So far I have not disappointed them, although this time they were quite impatient, even nervous. Three years is long, but I want to be one hundred percent sure that it is good, for which I have spent so much effort. It's like with a good pasta ragout: you need the best ingredients - and much time.

DIE WELT: Do you actually always have several irons in the fire?

First one spins only a little, then one focuses oneself. No, I don't even have concepts for the next ten years, I want to be spontaneous, to start again from scratch after each CD. The notes need to track me down. And I have noticed that the composers in times of great change interest me especially, the links - such as Gluck and Salieri. They are no Handels and Mozarts, but they have enabled them and deserve our attention. Then we can often love the greats even more. I worked with Steffani sheet music, by the way, first in 2005 for "Opera Prohibita".

Are you here alone?

Of course not, I always put together my teams, sometimes coincidence also helps. The conductor Thomas Hengelbrock, with whom I ventured my first Norma, for example, has advised me on Steffani. Then also Diego Fasolis, with which I have now issued the CD. I knew the name, of course, had heard this and that, but the heavenly jewels of Steffani first found only by browsing. And not just the Chamber duets, for which he was known--and I absolutely wanted to sing with Philippe Jaroussky because our voices mingle so gloriously--, but also wonderful Opera Arias, that no one had touched. That speak of real, great feelings, convey in a very special way between Italian, German and French baroque style.

Which is already very much.

But not all! Because then was revealed an incredibly adventurous life between Italy, Germany and France, between Church and Palace diplomacy, as a missionary of Catholicism in Protestant lands, as a possible accomplice in the tragic Königsmarck-murder affair, where two lovers caressed each other in letters with texts from his opera libretti, to his estate, which disappeared in the Vatican, and only in the nineties was accessible again. That was more exciting.

So the sales-rich Italo-Crime expert Donna Leon had to enter!

No, no, you know exactly Donna's God is Handel, she even funded CD projects, and we've known each other a long time. I just wanted to share my discoveries with her. At first she was unwilling like everyone else, thought I wanted from her a small introductory text for a Handel CD. But then she quickly became as inflamed as I, and wrote a whole novel, that also reveals many Steffani facts, with a new main character, a clever doctor of musicology. Now she waits, if this perhaps could be a new character next to Commissario Brunetti. Her end remains open in any case.

CD, DVD, book, iPad - Bartoli on all channels!

Not Bartoli, "Mission" is my mission. With the iPad game we want to offer something for younger people, it's exciting and playful - and as a reward, there are Arias! I am very curious how this goes, although there is no killer game! There is a lot to tell about Steffani, that it needed no CD booklet. Although it's still pretty thick.

Such a range of products, to each a presentation in historical places, in Lucca, in the Palace of Caserta and now Schleissheim, where until recently Christoph Waltz as Cardinal Richelieu had his Office in the "three Musketeers" in just this Ballroom: Are you actually clear that such an effort is made only for you in the classical music industry?

Yet, that's why it is always an obligation in the next project. Schleißheim was built by elector Max Emanuel, with whom Steffani practically grew up, but he has probably never seen the building. This day is always a beautiful graduation ceremony for the long employment with a theme before it gets going live with the concerts, because I burst from tension and expectation.

Are you otherwise under pressure?

I try to not let it get to me, but clearly, the welfare of the company depends on such a very expensive CD. But my audience wants to be challenged, wants to learn something. I must surprise them with something new, otherwise people are almost disappointed. Therefore I hope also that those moments that inspire me to Steffani, who made ​​me realize that this time he's the right one, and the audience let the sparks fly.

Which moments are those?

I always call it his transcendence, the excessiveness, which points to a different sound world. This is very delicate, but always felt. As well as the vulnerability of this music. And I'm hearing more and more Renaissance echoes.

Where did you find the sheet music?

We have first looked in Munich and Hanover, there's also a lot, but the best and most editions were found in London and Vienna, which indicates just how popular he was, that people prepared copies there. I've plowed through it all on microfilm. With the castrati, as with the young Steffani, always resonates a moment of sexual diffusion. You never know exactly what attracted the Roman cardinals to these singers, but also the young Handel. And Steffani was by none other than the Elector Ferdinand Maria of Bavaria when barely 13 years old, was brought from Padua to Munich ...

He had apparently fallen in love with his beautiful voice, or was there more, we do not know. I could not find any clues. And we must not forget: Gay or not, it was in the Baroque period a very different definition than it has today.

Do you believe in a Steffani Renaissance?

Otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here! But more must follow. Hello Decca, we should be sure to record his opera "Niobe." Have you heard?

Cecilia Bartoli: Mission (Decca) Donna Leon: The Jewels of Paradise (Diogenes)