Sunday, January 29, 2012

No Wagner on Hitler's Birthday

This is interesting.  The Deutschen Oper Berlin was apparently going to present Wagner's Rienzi, purportedly Hitler's favorite opera, on April 20 this season, which just happens to be Hitler's birthday.  Too many people said, no, they would simply not do it, so the dates were changed with Jenufa.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Pinnacle of Singing – Jonas Kaufmann

[This is an interview before Jonas' recital at the Musikverein in Vienna, translated from here. Thanks to Emilio for his help in translating "ersungen".]

For several years he is one of the giants of the music scene. In February Jonas Kaufmann is to be a guest at the Musikverein with a Liederabend. In his luggage, the celebrated Verdi and Wagner tenor this time has a rather quiet program.

In the world of opera, there are many clichés. One of them says that only Italian tenors bring sufficient luster for the Italian repertory - maybe even the Spanish-Mexican-Argentine. A second is that in Milan, New York or Paris one could not present to the audience a German as a Latin Lover. A Teuton to succeed internationally as Alfredo (La traviata) and Cavaradossi (Tosca)? Until a few years ago it was unimaginable.

Jonas Kaufmann then entered the international arena. Based in Zurich, where the Munich-born was since the turn of the millennium contracted to sing, he had continuously enriched his audience through singing. 2007 was his solo CD "Romantic Arias" on the market, three more have since followed. There are now a "Fidelio" recording under Claudio Abbado with him, and various DVDs: a "Tosca" from Zurich, a "Werther" in Paris, a "Lohengrin" in Munich and a "Carmen" from London. Even a biography has been published.

That the 42-year-old is an outstanding singer and actor, critics and fans agree. Besides that he also looks good, at least not detrimental to the career. No wonder that a critic of the New York Times recently attested laconically of the singer that he is "currently the hottest tenor in opera". A glance at Kaufmann's diary confirms this: The November and December 2011, he spends at the New York Metropolitan Opera, sings the title role in a new production of "Faust," in January there is a new "Don Carlo" at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. The advantage of the Munich engagement: Kaufmann can finally sleep in his own bed once again - he lives with his wife, singer Margaret Joswig, and their three children after years in Switzerland, now back on the Isar.  

On your program for the Musikverein are songs by Liszt, Mahler and Richard Strauss - and Henri Duparc (1848-1933), a friend of Camille Saint-Saens' and Ernest Chausson. Three well-known composers, and a relative unknown . What do you like about Duparc?

I think he's a very interesting but underrated composer who unfortunately has only written a few songs. The poems he set to music are, for the most part very expansive, very flowery, very dense atmosphere. And in combination with Duparc's music, these pieces seem so strong that one listening - or singing - believes that landscapes are to see and fragrances to smell. It is a very particular nature of Duparc, that after a few bars of a song, the specific atmosphere can feel almost palpable.  

Do you have among the four, a favorite composer?

Even if these four approach very differently the setting of texts, they are all masterpieces in the genre of song composition. In this respect I do not want to have to choose a favorite composer. For Mahler, it is certainly the increased emotionality that attracts me as a singer in particular. With Liszt the piano virtuoso is of course always in the foreground, so chamber music and songs are often too short. His songs are not nearly as well known as they deserve because of his mastery. In Strauss I can as a tenor "tuck in" more than with other composers, which frankly for me is a lot of fun. But he has also repeatedly phrases, where you can paint with very fine colors. These contrasts feel like a great challenge to me. I also like many Strauss songs for a sense of humor, even self-irony.

You will be accompanied by Helmut Deutsch - you both have a long-standing cooperation. Deutsch has made music with you when you were still a student at the Munich Academy of Music.

Yes, he was my professor in the subject Lied, so we know each other for over twenty years. From the teacher-pupil ratio is then over the years a partnership that I find very harmonious. He's still my mentor in terms of Lieder singing: He has an invaluable wealth of knowledge of singing and song repertoire, from which I have benefitted for years and is basically the foundation of our program design.

They celebrate triumphs on the operatic stage. Why are you still excited by the - perhaps even more difficult - Lied?

Lieder singing to me is the pinnacle of singing. To make Lieder requires a high degree of technical skill and artistic sensibility, which in opera roles is not necessarily the case. As an operatic character one is part of a story; as a song singer, in one evening one tells about twenty different stories. It gives me immense pleasure to show in one evening so many different facets-linguistically, musically, stylistically and dramatically. The singer can work with much more subtle means, not least because the song focuses the attention of the audience to music and text.

On the opera stage, a singer working with a director and a conductor, he has also colleagues as supervisory body. How is this with the Lied? Do you have to fend for yourself?

Yes, as an opera singer, you are part of a larger whole, and you can make even a certain responsibility to the director or the conductor. As Lieder singer is one – together with the pianist - alone responsible. This is a much greater burden, but which, if everything goes well, will be rewarded with greater satisfaction. And what the "Supervisory Body" handles, recordings of rehearsals and concerts are always helpful for me.

Do you remember your debut in Vienna?

Of course! For me this was a great day. A "Fledermaus" at the Volksoper with Heinz Holecek as Frosch in 1997. I sang Alfred and was pretty excited because the Viennese audience is indeed, due to its professional knowledge and its strong interest in things artistic, by us singers equally loved and feared. My debut at the Staatsoper followed nine years later, on June 12, 2006, as Tamino in "Die Zauberflote".

Did you, like many students in Munich, in your study time go occasionally for concerts and operas to Vienna? Do you have memories of the Viennese musical life from the perspective of a spectator?

In my student days, it must have been in 1993, there was a special experience in Vienna, which has not been repeated in this way by luck. From Munich we went with the Bach Choir Fürstenfeldbruck to Vienna to give a performance of "St. John Passion." I should sing the Evangelist and the tenor arias. The whole ensemble took the bus there, and for some reason I took the night train. About an hour before the rehearsal I arrived in the morning at the West Bahnhof, took a taxi and said: "To Peter's Church, please!" Big question mark! The driver did not know Peter's Church, nor did his colleagues. In the days before GPS and cell phone of course we had no other choice than to constantly ask people and to follow some vague references. So we wandered through Vienna for some time, I got as it were a city tour of the most beautiful churches - Votive Church, St. Stephens Dom, etc. - until we finally found the Church of St. Peter. The rehearsal had already started, of course, all were sitting on pins and needles, waiting for me.

As a viewer I especially remember the Viennese New Year's concerts in the Musikverein. To watch television with the family, which belonged to us for New Year's Day just as the fir tree belongs to Christmas. And it was always a special experience: the magnificent hall, the Philharmonic, conductor like Boskovsky, Maazel, Karajan and Abbado, little extras like the gun shots in the Polka "On the Hunt", the beat of the music clapping audience at the "Radetzky March"- all had a very special character, and we children felt instinctively that classical music in Vienna has a stronger meaning than anywhere else in the world.

Does the coming song recital mark your debut at the Musikverein?

No, I have already sung concerts there, before my debut at the Staatsoper. But it's my first Liederabend at the Musikverein, and I am really looking forward to being allowed to sing Lieder in this room with the wonderful acoustic.

Does one dream of it sometimes as a student actually being allowed to sing one day in such historic rooms?

My daydreams as a singing student had relatively little to do with music, with even fewer career (laughs). But if I had asked a fairy godmother at the time in what houses I would like to sing, I would have named three magical places in the world of opera called La Scala, the Met and the Vienna State Opera.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I think I'm in Love

I think I fell in love today at the Live from the Metropolitan Opera in HD presentation of The Enchanted Island.  Maybe I fell in love with the ever more fascinating and spectacular Joyce DiDonato as Sycorax.  I was pleased to see she got top billing.

Or perhaps I fell in love with Danielle de Niese as the spectacular spirit Ariel. She got all the best arias and looked adorable in her costume.

It is even possible that I fell in love with David Daniels.  He is very serious in the role of Prospero, and perhaps that is what I needed.

I know I love madly Luca Pisaroni as Caliban.  He complained about having to shave his hair for the role, but he was successfully lovable and hideous all at the same time.

Perhaps I fell in love with Placido Domingo in his first role as a god.  How is that possible?  Hasn't he always been a god?  Today is his birthday. 

Probably I already loved the conductor William Christie, who did not conduct from the harpsichord.  I didn't love anything more than he did.

The pastiche was a success.  I enjoyed the English text enormously.  If English translations were always this good, we would argue for singing more operas in English.  Everyone sang it well.  The oddest selection for retexting was "Endless Pleasure, Endless Love" from Semele made into an ensemble.

The thing that was least like a real Baroque opera was the frequent use of ensemble numbers.  Real Baroque opera is just one da capo aria after another.  In this they represented I would say about half of the opera instead of the usual 80 percent.

I found it amusing that Ariel messes up and shipwrecks the wrong boat.  The odd plot was very well handled.  If you've seen The Fairy Queen, you know that this makes way more sense.

It was enchanting.

Quantum Theory

I would like to propose a quantum theory of music.  The more you observe it, the closer you look and hear, the more you open your heart to it, the more you expand your experiences of it, the more it changes into something you've never heard before.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

American Operas, a List

1897 The Scarlet Letter Walter Damrosch
1910 The Pipe of Desire Frederick S. Converse
1911 Natoma Victor Herbert
1911 Mona Horatio Parker
1913 Cyrano de Bergerac Walter Damrosch
1914 Madeleine Victor Herbert
1917 The Canterbury Pilgrims Reginald de Koven
1917 Azora Henry Hadley
1918 Shanewis Charles Wakefield Cadman
1919 The Legend Joseph Breil
1920 Rip Van Winkle Reginald de Koven
1920 Cleopatra's Night Henry Hadley
1926 The Witch of Salem Charles Wakefield Cadman
1927 The King's Henchman Deems Taylor
1931 Peter Ibbetson Deems Taylor
1933 The Emperor Jones Louis Gruenberg
1934 Merry Mount Howard Hanson
1934 Four Saints in Three Acts Virgil Thomson
1935 Porgy and Bess George Gershwin
1935 In the Pasha's Garden John Laurence Seymour
1937 The Man without a Country Walter Damrosch
1938 Amelia Goes to the Ball Gian Carlo Menotti
1939 The Devil and Daniel Webster Douglas Moore
1939 The Old Maid and the Thief Gian Carlo Menotti
1942 Ramuntcho Deems Taylor
1942 The Island God Gian Carlo Menotti
1946 The Medium Gian Carlo Menotti
1947 The Mother of us All Virgil Thomson
1947 The Warrior Bernard Rogers
1947 The Telephone, or L'Amour à trois Gian Carlo Menotti
1950 The Consul Gian Carlo Menotti
1951 Amahl and the Night Visitors Gian Carlo Menotti
1952 Trouble in Tahiti Leonard Bernstein
1953 The Mighty Casey William Schuman
1953 The Taming of the Shrew Vittorio Giannini
1954 The Tender Land Aaron Copland
1954 The Saint of Bleeker Street Gian Carlo Menotti
1955 The Ruby Norman Dello Joio
1956 The Ballad of Baby Doe Douglas Moore
1956 Susannah Carlisle Floyd
1956 Candide Leonard Bernstein
1956 The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore Gian Carlo Menotti
1957 A Game of Chance Seymour Barab
1958 Vanessa Samuel Barber
1959 A Hand of Bridge Samuel Barber
1961 Sweet Betsy from Pike Mark Bucci
1963 The Last Savage Gian Carlo Menotti
1966 Antony and Cleopatra Samuel Barber
1976 Einstein on the Beach Philip Glass
1977 The Women in the Garden Vivian Fine
1979 Sweeney Todd Stephen Sondheim
1979 The Village Singer Stephen Paulus
1981 Satyagraha Philip Glass
1982 The Postman Always Rings Twice Stephen Paulus
1984 Akhnaten Philip Glass
1987 Nixon in China John Adams
1991 The Death of Klinghoffer John Adams
1991 The ghosts of Versailles John Corigliano
1991 Orphée Philip Glass
1992 McTeague  William Elden Bolcom
1994 The Dangerous Liaisons Conrad Susa
1995 Harvey Milk Stewart Wallace
1996 Rent Jonathan Larson
1998 Little Women  Mark Adamo
1998 A Streetcar Named Desire Andre Previn
1999 A View from the Bridge   William Elden Bolcom
1999 The Great Gatsby John Harbison
2000 Dead Man Walking Jake Heggie
2000 El Niño John Adams
2005 An American Tragedy  Tobias Picker
2005 Doctor Atomic John Adams
2005 Margaret Garner Richard Danielpour
2005 Grendel  Elliot Goldenthal
2007 Appomattox Philip Glass
2008 The Bonesetter’s Daughter Stewart Wallace
2009 The Letter Paul Moravec
2010 Moby-Dick Jake Heggie
2011 Heart of a Soldier Christopher Theofanidis
2011 Death and the Powers Tod Machover
2011 Two boys Nico Muhly
2012 Dog Days David T. Little
2013 The Perfect American Philip Glass
2013 The Secret Garden Nolan Gasser
2013 Dolores Claiborne Tobias Picker
2013 The Gospel of Mary Magdalene Mark Adamo
2014 Brokeback Mountain Charles Wuorinen
2014 27 Ricky Ian Gordon
2014 As One Laura Kaminsky
2014 Usher House Gordon Getty
2015 La Ciociara Marco Tutino
2015 Cold Mountain Jennifer Higdon
2015 Charlie Parker's Yardbird Daniel Schnyder
2015 Great Scott Jake Heggie
2015 Bel Canto Jimmy López

I'm not sure Victor Herbert counts. He was born in Germany and brought the style of German operetta to America. He was very influential here.  Menotti is our only composer to emphasize opera.  Nothing before Porgy and Bess remains in the repertoire.

I have to say this is a truly pathetic list.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

David Daniels, Cocker Spaniels

Or Susan Graham at Zellerbach in Berkeley.  Susan has her own song called "I am a sexy lady" which ended her program.  In it she complains that she is always required to play dudes and kiss other women at the opera, but she is a real woman.  Somehow David Daniels and the obvious rhyme Cocker Spaniels came up.  We're not sure how.  She loves this song.

It was an excellent program.  I liked best the Berlioz La Mort d'Ophélie. She has a great feeling for Berlioz. I am always looking for the feeling.

She did a group based on the Mignon songs of Goethe ending with the great Hugo Wolf "Kennst du das Land."  My doctoral document was on settings of Goethe, so I always enjoy hearing examples of these.  I honestly didn't know that Duparc did a translation of "Kennst du das Land?"  I should have.  The group also included the Tchaikovsky song on "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt."  In the intermission I complained that she had left out "Connais-tu le pays?" from Thomas's Mignon.  I was wrong again!!  She sang it as an encore.  This was particularly lovely. 

Susan Graham excels at a kind of light lyricism, especially of the French variety, and the concert was rich in examples that were well suited to her voice and style.  Malcolm Martineau was her excellent pianist.


Today is the last performance in Zurich of Rossini's Le Comte Ory with Cecilia Bartoli as the Countess. I could not make it due to health problems. So I want you to help me Visualize a DVD for Le comte Ory, Zurich version. This is the version with the new critical edition of the score.

(This idea came from seeing a bumper sticker that said, "Visualize yourself using your turn signal."  This in turn is a parody of the classic Berkeley bumper sticker, "Visualize world peace.")

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Child Singers

Here is an interesting discussion of children singing opera.  He's against.  The article is attracting a lot of comments.  This is all brought on by Jackie Evancho, a product of the competition program America's Got Talent.

People have asked me about her.  She sings stuff like "O mio babbino caro."  She's a kid.  People like to see children doing things, imitating grownups.  She scoops and slides only slightly more than the woman I was complaining about. It bothers me that she tries to sound like an adult singer with the vibrato and lowered larynx.  I think that's what anyone is complaining about.  No one seems to complain about English boy sopranos, but they never sound like this.

I prefer this aria like this.  I like the pictures of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence because she sings that if she cannot marry her beloved she will throw herself off of it

So what about this little girl with a far more grownup voice than Jackie?  This kid actually does give me goosebumps.

It is important for people to realize that it is considered unethical for professional voice teachers to teach little children to sing like adults.  This is what the argument is all about.  16 is the generally accepted age for beginning serious lessons, which means after puberty.

Beverly Sills and Roberta Peters trained as children.  This sample of 8 year old Sills will help you define the problem.  This is what a child's voice sounds like.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

News about Violins

One of the big stories going around the internet is the one about the eBay customer who may or may not have smashed a valuable antique violin.  Apparently this is Paypal policy.  If you want to get your money back, you have to smash the item.

Claims "Erica," the seller: "The buyer was proud of himself, so he sent me a photo of the destroyed violin."

Andrew Hooker, an antique violin dealer and former auctioneer at Sotheby's, said that "only an imbecile" would buy a precious instrument without playing it first.  Which would kind of leave eBay out, I would think.

My own opinion would be that if it requires an expert to authenticate it, it should similarly require an expert to unauthenticate it.  Advice:  neither buy nor sell your Guarneri on eBay.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Aretha Franklin Is Looking For The Next Great Star ... Of Opera

I don't know what to think about this story about Aretha Franklin auditioning opera singers 18 - 40.  Television contests with people singing opera makes me think of Paul Potts. The age range sounds good. Opera auditions normally stop at 30 while opera singing doesn't really hit its stride until about 40.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Buon Matrimonio

Forgive me if that's bad Italian.  My Italian cannot be relied upon.  It turned out to be true.  The exact date remains a secret, but according to the Forum and the Zurich Opera, Cecilia Bartoli is married.  Never say never.

I must admit it seemed to me they were acting married.  Do you know what I mean?

Domingo's Favorite Roles

Part of the recent pledging activity on PBS included a film about Placido Domingo's favorite roles. There are some expected things and some surprises. I am posting some films, but they aren't necessarily the same ones as are in the film.  He was the opera singer of my generation.

Carmen by Bizet

Was there ever an opera singer like Don Placido?  I think it is the almost magical combination of manly beauty and emotional intensity that sets him apart, quite in addition to the voice that sings anything.  He sings all those roles because he can.  The intensity of his Don Jose is unsurpassed, not even by Alagna.

La Gioconda by Ponchielli

Luisa Miller by Verdi

At this point in the program came an interview with Deborah Voigt who sang Sieglinda to his Siegmund.  "He lives in the moment."

La Fanciulla del West by Puccini

I have a copy of his Fanciulla in my video collection.  I liked very much Licitra in this role, but he could not compare to Domingo who raised this opera to greatness.

Andrea Chenier by Giordano

 I think this recording is a fragment.  See here for the whole thing.

For his Tosca by Puccini we include two recordings.  First is "Recondita Armonia."

This is "E Lucevan le Stelle."

This glorious film made in Rome in the real places of the opera's setting is also in my video collection.  It is pleasing to see him talking about the filming.  The orchestra was in another part of town.

After Tosca came an  interview with Erwin Schrott.

Tales of Hoffmann by Offenbach

You'd have to show the whole opera, which I'm not prepared to do.  I always understood Hoffmann to be Domingo's favorite.

Samson et Dalila by Saint-Saens

This film is just a fragment, but it gives you the idea.

I Pagliacci by Leoncavallo
This is a film by Franco Zeffirelli, also in my collection. With the YouTube film comes this comment, "When I really want to hear an especially great voice (as I often do) perhaps I won't choose his. But... if I want to have a complete theatrical experience — with tears and laughter — perhaps how the composers themselves would have like to see, I have not yet found another tenor that puts everything together to breath life into an opera like Placido Domingo. Without him, I dare say operatic standards would not be where they are, today." This comment is also how I feel about him. I wouldn't sit and listen to him on my iPod, but for the full operatic experience, no one tops him.

After this was an interview with Anna Netrebko.  She talks about sneaking in to see him sing Otello in St Petersberg.

Otello Verdi

The best comments from Domingo come here.  "Better too early than too late."  :-)

He talks at length about his voice in this role.  "You have to live so intensely; you have to have the stamina; you have to be convincing as a Shakespeare actor; you have to have the high notes; you have to have the low part; you have to have the metal to pass over the orchestra; you have to have the velvet to sing the love duet."  He, of course, had it all.

He has led us to know that more is possible. Perhaps opera today is what he has made it.