Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Anna Russell

On Rossini's birthday what could be more appropriate than Anna Russell's Ring lecture. Secretly I've always preferred it to the actual Ring. If you want something actually about Rossini, I already posted the cat duet here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Netrebko and Barenboim

There are things that only Anna can do. This is from the Berlin Philharmonic, and the songs are by Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky. The subtitles are in French.  I don't think I know which pieces these are.

Anna NetrebkoSoprano
Daniel BarenboimPiano

Philharmonie, Berlin
Monday 29. March 2010

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow • Worüber in der Stille der Nacht op. 40 Nr. 3 | O chem v tishi nochey op. 40 Nr. 3 | What it is, in the still of night op. 40 Nr. 3
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow • Verzeih! Erinnere dich nicht an die kummervollen Tage op. 27 Nr. 4 | Prosti! Ne pomni dney naden’ya op. 27 Nr. 4 | Forgive me! Remember not the downcast days op. 27 Nr. 4
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow • Es ist nicht der Wind, der von der Höhe weht op. 43 Nr. 2 | Ne veter, veya s vïsotï op. 43 Nr. 2 | It was not the wind, blowing from the heights op. 43 Nr. 2
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow • Klingender ist das Lied der Lerche op. 43 Nr. 1 | Zvonche zhavoronka pen’ye op. 43 Nr. 1 | The lark sings louder op. 43 Nr. 1
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow • Auf Grusiniens Hügeln op. 3 Nr. 4 | Na kholmakh Gruzii op. 3 Nr. 4 | On the hills of Georgia op. 3 Nr. 4
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow • Im Reich der Rose und des Weins op. 8 Nr. 5 | V tsarstvo rozï i vina op. 8 Nr. 5 | In the kingdom of roses and wine op. 8 Nr. 5
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow • Suleikas Lied op. 26 Nr. 4 | Pesnya Zyuleyki op. 26 Nr. 4 | Zuleika’s song op. 26 Nr. 4
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow • Die Nachtigall wurde Sklavin der Rose op. 2 Nr. 2 | Plenivshis’ rozoy, solovey (Vostochnïy romans) op. 2 Nr. 2 | Enslaved by the rose, the nightingale op. 2 Nr. 2
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow • Der Wolken Luftgebirg löst sich im Winde sacht op. 42 Nr. 3 | Redeyet oblakov letuchaya gryada op. 42 Nr. 3 | The clouds begin to scatter op. 42 Nr. 3
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow • Die Nymphe op. 56 Nr. 1 | Nimfa op. 56 Nr. 1 | The nymph op. 56 Nr. 1
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakow • Ein Sommernachtstraum op. 56 Nr. 2 | Son v letnyuyu noch’ op. 56 Nr. 2 | Summer night’s dream op. 56 Nr. 2

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky • Sag mir, wovon im dunklen Grün op. 57 Nr. 1 | Skazhi, o chom v teni vetvey op. 57 Nr. 1 | Say, when under shady boughs op. 57 Nr. 1
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky • So schnell vergessen (1870) | Zabït tak skoro (1870) | So soon forgotten (1870)
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky • Trunkene Nächte op. 60 Nr. 6 | Nochy bezumnïye op. 60 Nr. 6 | Reckless nights op. 60 Nr. 6
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky • Warum? op. 6 Nr. 5 | Otchevo? op. 6 Nr. 5 | Why? op. 6 Nr. 5
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky • Serenade, O Kind, ich singe dir op. 63 Nr. 6 | Serenada op. 63 Nr. 6 | Serenade op. 63 Nr. 6
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky • Wiegenlied op. 16 Nr. 1 | Kolïbel’naya pesnya op. 16 Nr. 1 | Lullaby op. 16 Nr. 1
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky • War ich nicht ein Gräslein im Felde op. 47 Nr. 7 | Ya li v pole da ne travushka bïla op. 47 Nr. 7 | Was I not a little blade of grass? op. 47 Nr. 7
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky • In trüben Tagen op. 73 Nr. 5 | Sred mrachnïkh dnei op. 73 Nr. 5 | Mid sombre days op. 73 Nr. 5
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky • Herrschet der Tag op. 47 Nr. 6 | Den li tsarit? op. 47 Nr. 6 | Does the day reign op. 47 Nr. 6

Antonín Dvořák • Zigeunermelodien op. 55 Nr. 4 (Als die alte Mutter mich noch lehrte singen) | Ciganske melodie op. 55 Nr. 4 (Kdyz mne stará matka zpívat, zpívat ucívala) | Gypsy Songs op. 55 Nr. 4 (When my old mother taught me to sing)
Richard Strauss • Cäcilie op. 27 Nr. 2

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ernani in HD

I went to Ernani Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera to see Angela Meade.  She is older than I thought.  When she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2007, she was 30.  In 2008 she covered Sondra Radvanovsky in Ernani, which I reviewed here, and one day when Sondra was ill, Angela made her professional opera debut as Elvira at the Met.  Let's just skip all that comprimario role stuff, what do you say?

So then in 2011 she won the Richard Tucker award, and in 2012 the Beverly Sills award.  Last fall she alternated with Anna Netrebko in Anna Bolena.  Believe it or not, she's done some other stuff.  You can see how a person would be curious.

This is the kind of voice anyone is looking for.  It's a pretty sound, and it's heavy enough to soar easily over the orchestra and chorus.  What does anyone want?  Coloratura with weight.  If you've got it, flaunt it.  And to top it off she appears to be easy to get along with and does whatever she's told.    This is the magic combination.  Richard Tucker only goes to singers who bring weight to the table.  Oh.  Sorry.  That means her voice has weight.  She is best described as a spinto, I think.  She makes it all look easy.

I would like to hear her in an opera I actually liked.  Ernani is very annoying.  Two of the cast, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Marcello Giordani, were in this the last time I saw it.  The cast added Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Don Carlo.  He sticks to his smooth lyricism, and it works very well.

I felt concerned for Giordani again this time.  He struggled with his part the entire time.  He should listen to Luciano, who did the best version ever of this opera, for the way he resonates his vowels.  Vowels are the key.  Instead Giordani muscles his voice around in a very disturbing way.

The Met puts together such fabulous casts for Verdi.  Marco Armiliato conducted.

Interviews at Intermission

Joyce DiDonato was the host for the Met simulcast.  I'm afraid everyone makes me miss Renée Fleming

In his interview  Ferruccio Furlanetto said with Verdi it is vital to be very familiar with the role and confident about how to sing each note.  Perhaps he was giving this advice to Marcello Giordani who spoke about the change in technique required for Verdi.  My advice would be to try singing it with his verismo technique and see what happens.  Whatever it is he's doing, it isn't working.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky brought his children who greeted Joyce in three languages.  They said something to her in Russian and she thanked them.  Dmitri mentioned that this would be the first time his mother gets to see him on the screen in the movie theater at home in Russia.

Joyce asked Dmitri about breath control.  Dmitri thought this was pretty funny but gave a game response.

Angela mentioned Callas and Caballe as her role models.  I entirely approve of Monserat Caballe as a role model for her, but she doesn't have the heft of Callas.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


At the simulcast of Ernani today we were trying to picture which opera Jonas should perform in the nude.  Rusalka was all I could think of.  I'm sure if I think harder, I will think of more.

Dear Jonas, men often prefer to imagine that what women are doing is sexy while they merely exist entirely without sexual aura.  This is nonsense, of course.  Like beauty, sexiness is in the eye of the beholder.

Anything with a serious love scene like Romeo and Juliet.

Sacramento Rigoletto

The characters and story in Rigoletto seem more real to me than most operas.  One could easily imagine real people doing these things.  Man hates job; boss seduces daughter; man seeks revenge on boss; even knowing everything, daughter still loves boss and takes the hit for him.  Verdi liked this plot because it was political:  boss is the king.  We don't really care about this aspect of the story.  Make him a rock star.  Perhaps that's what they intend to do at the Met next season.

I didn't pick up before that Gilda has only been living in Mantua with her father for 3 months, and that this provides an explanation for the fact that she seems to know nothing about him.

This was a full scale production with an interesting set (large violent pseudo-Italian paintings on each side of the Duke's palace) and outstanding period costumes.  It's all very conventional, but nice.  The staging for the Duke and Maddalena was a lot raunchier than I would have wanted to do.  Times are changing.

The best voice of the group was Andrew Gangestad as Sparafucile.  I see he's sung at the Met.  Maddalena was sung by a woman named Buffy Baggott.  Scott Ramsay as the Duke has a pretty but relatively light voice.  I could more easily imagine him in bel canto.  Katrina Thurman as Gilda was enjoyable to hear and an interesting actress.  Her Gilda seemed very real. 

The opera rides on Rigoletto himself.  It's such a complicated role.  He is disgusting, foolish, devoted, and truly tragic.  As Rigoletto, David Small rose to the occasion.

Tim Rolek did his usual good job.  No one took the high notes.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1850-70]

100 most frequently performed operas

I have discovered a more legitimate source for the 100 most frequently performed operas. It comes from the statistics page of a website called Operabase. They even say how the statistics are compiled: Over the 5 seasons, 2005/06 to 2009/10.

Key:   rank, country, (rank for country) composer (rank for composer) opera (performance count)

1at (#1)Mozart (#1)Die Zauberflöte (451) 
2it (#1)Verdi (#1)La traviata (447)
3fr (#1)Bizet (#1)Carmen (424) 
4it (#2)Puccini (#1)La bohème (420) 
5at (#2)Mozart (#2)Le nozze di Figaro (399) 
6it (#3)Puccini (#2)Tosca (379) 
7at (#3)Mozart (#3)Don Giovanni (360)
8it (#4)Puccini (#3)Madama Butterfly (349)
9it (#5)Rossini (#1)Il barbiere di Siviglia (327) 
10it (#6)Verdi (#2)Rigoletto (314) 
11at (#4)Mozart (#4)Così fan tutte (282) 
12it (#7)Donizetti (#1)L'elisir d'amore (218) 
13it (#8)Verdi (#3)Aida (215) 
14de (#1)Humperdinck (#1)Hänsel und Gretel (212) 
15it (#9)Puccini (#4)Turandot (206)
16at (#5)Strauss,J (#1)Die Fledermaus (200) 
17it (#10)Verdi (#4)Nabucco (183) 
18ru (#1)Tchaikovsky (#1)Eugene Onegin (175) 
19it (#11)Donizetti (#2)Lucia di Lammermoor (170) 
20it (#12)Leoncavallo (#1)Pagliacci (159) 
21at (#6)Mozart (#5)Die Entführung (157)
22hu (#1)Lehár (#1)Die lustige Witwe (149)
23it (#13)Verdi (#5)Il trovatore (147) 
24it (#14)Verdi (#6)Falstaff (144) 
25de (#2)Wagner,R (#1)Der fliegende Holländer (137)
26it (#15)Verdi (#7)Un ballo in maschera (136)
27it (#16)Mascagni (#1)Cavalleria rusticana (131) 
28it (#17)Verdi (#8)Otello (129) 
29it (#18)Rossini (#2)La cenerentola (124) 
30fr (#2)Offenbach (#1)Les contes d'Hoffmann (123) 
31it (#19)Verdi (#9)Macbeth (123) 
32de (#3)Strauss,R (#1)Salome (121) 
33de (#4)Wagner,R (#2)Das Rheingold (115) 
34de (#5)Beethoven (#1)Fidelio (112) 
35fr (#3)Gounod (#1)Faust (111) 
36de (#6)Wagner,R (#3)Die Walküre (110)
37de (#7)Strauss,R (#2)Der Rosenkavalier (104) 
38it (#20)Bellini (#1)Norma (102)
39de (#8)Wagner,R (#4)Tristan und Isolde (101)
40it (#21)Puccini (#5)Manon Lescaut (99) 
41it (#22)Verdi (#10)Don Carlos (99) 
42it (#23)Donizetti (#3)Don Pasquale (99)
43it (#24)Puccini (#6)Gianni Schicchi (97) 
44de (#9)Weber (#1)Der Freischütz (97) 
45at (#7)Mozart (#6)Idomeneo re di Creta (96)
46de (#10)Strauss,R (#3)Ariadne auf Naxos (93) 
47de (#11)Gluck (#1)Orfeo ed Euridice (90) 
48ru (#2)Tchaikovsky (#2)Pikovaya Dama (89) 
49de (#12)Strauss,R (#4)Elektra (87) 
50de (#13)Wagner,R (#5)Siegfried (86) 
51fr (#4)Massenet (#1)Werther (83)
52at (#8)Mozart (#7)La clemenza di Tito (83) 
53de (#14)Wagner,R (#6)Tannhäuser (82)
54de (#15)Wagner,R (#7)Parsifal (82) 
55it (#25)Rossini (#3)L'italiana in Algeri (82) 
56cz (#1)Dvořák (#1)Rusalka (80) 
57uk (#1)Purcell (#1)Dido and Aeneas (80) 
58ru (#3)Musorgsky (#1)Boris Godunov (76) 
59de (#16)Wagner,R (#8)Götterdämmerung (75) 
60fr (#5)Gounod (#2)Roméo et Juliette (72) 
61cz (#2)Janáček (#1)Jenůfa (71) 
62hu (#2)Kálmán (#1)Die Csárdásfürstin (70) 
63de (#17)Wagner,R (#9)Lohengrin (66)
64it (#26)Verdi (#11)La forza del destino (64) 
65cz (#3)Smetana (#1)Prodaná nevěsta (62) 
66uk (#2)Handel (#1)Giulio Cesare in Egitto (59)
67it (#27)Verdi (#12)Requiem (58) 
68us (#1)Gershwin (#1)Porgy and Bess (56) 
69at (#9)Berg (#1)Wozzeck (56) 
70it (#28)Verdi (#13)Simon Boccanegra (56) 
71fr (#6)Offenbach (#2)Orphée aux enfers (55) 
72it (#29)Monteverdi (#1)L'orfeo (55) 
73ru (#4)Shostakovich (#1)Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (54) 
74it (#30)Puccini (#7)Suor Angelica (54) 
75hu (#3)Lehár (#2)Das Land des Lächelns (53) 
76it (#31)Donizetti (#4)La fille du régiment (53) 
77de (#18)Wagner,R (#10)Die Meistersinger (50) 
78it (#32)Monteverdi (#2)L'incoronazione di Poppea (50) 
79hu (#4)Kálmán (#2)Gräfin Mariza (49) 
80fr (#7)Bizet (#2)Les pêcheurs de perles (49) 
81uk (#3)Britten (#1)The Turn of the Screw (48) 
82fr (#8)Debussy (#1)Pelléas et Mélisande (48) 
83it (#33)Rossini (#4)Il viaggio a Reims (48) 
84uk (#4)Britten (#2)A Midsummer Night's Dream (47) 
85ru (#5)Stravinsky (#1)The Rake's Progress (47) 
86it (#34)Giordano (#1)Andrea Chénier (45) 
87at (#10)Mozart (#8)La finta giardiniera (45) 
88fr (#9)Poulenc (#1)Dialogues des Carmélites (43) 
89fr (#10)Massenet (#2)Manon (43) 
90at (#11)Strauss,J (#2)Wiener Blut (43) 
91at (#12)Strauss,J (#3)Der Zigeunerbaron (42) 
92it (#35)Bellini (#2)La sonnambula (41) 
93ru (#6)Prokofiev (#1)The Love for Three Oranges (40) 
94fr (#11)Poulenc (#2)La voix humaine (39) 
95at (#13)Benatzky (#1)Im weißen Rößl (39) 
96cz (#4)Janáček (#2)The Cunning Little Vixen (39) 
97it (#36)Puccini (#8)Il Tabarro (37) 
98uk (#5)Britten (#3)Peter Grimes (36) 
99de (#19)Weill (#1)Mahagonny (36) 
100it (#37)Puccini (#9)La fanciulla del West (35)

Obviously a list like this will change over time.  It seems likely that the other list also derives from here, but for a different date range.

Handel is uk and Gluck is Germany.  If Handel is uk, doesn't Gluck have to be Austria?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Thank you Intermezzo

Thanks to Intermezzo for pointing out this short interview in the Osnabrücker Zeitung.

Opera star Jonas Kaufmann: Would not oppose a nude role in principle 

Osnabrück. Opera star Jonas Kaufmann would have had no problems with standing naked on stage. "I would not reject it in principle," he told our newspaper. 

However, the tenor expects more consideration to the needs of singers from modern theater directors - and more competence. He has sung in productions in which "you have to spend a large part of the rehearsal process explaining to the director the medium of opera." He was calling for "more respect for the composer." He has already interpreted the text. "If the production distances itself too far from it, the music no longer goes with the action, and thus is dissipated much of the effect, that reduces the effectiveness of opera."

Asked about his own effectiveness, Kaufmann said he found it on the one hand "quite flattering" to be adored because of his appearance. "On the other hand, I can only accept with difficulty that people project onto my person what I do on stage and with my voice." Because, "I cannot do anything about my looks! It's not like every night I pluck my eyebrows or smear creams on my face, so I look good," he said.

After three hours on stage, bathed in jubilation and euphoria, his family gives him a sense of security. There had been a brief period in which he had run the risk "of falling into a hole." But "I have now found a very good rhythm and I am, because I am a family person, very grounded. This does not mean that the family always has to be with me in order to give me comfort. It's enough for me to call them to mind. "

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Natalie Dessay taking 2015 off

This article from Opera Today explains that Natalie Dessay is tired of opera, for now anyway, and is taking a sabbatical in 2015.  This is pathetic.  Don't get the wrong idea.  Natalie isn't pathetic, but we can't help agreeing with her.

I personally think it's very hard to be a girl singer.  You just don't get any respect.  Everybody thinks they know more than you do, even if you're Natalie Dessay.  I have long thought that this was the explanation for the career of Cecilia Bartoli.  Sigh.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Successful Crossover

Should musical composers try to cross over to opera, as I discussed here?  There are a few who did.

One is Jacques Offenbach who wrote many popular light operas like La Belle Hélène and Orphée aux enfers before successfully crossing over to Les contes d'Hoffmann.  He has to be considered spectacularly successful.

Another successful crossover composer was George Gershwin who created musicals like Funny Face and Of Thee I Sing before successfully crossing to Porgy and Bess.

Both of these men created their greatest theatrical works in the genre of serious opera.  Hoffmann rises to #19 in the list of most performed operas while Porgy is #30 in the list of most esteemed operas.

Many would like to consider West Side Story Leonard Bernstein's greatest opera and not his officially operatic works like Candide.  In fact some even consider West Side Story the greatest American opera.

I am fascinated to read that Richard Rodgers, composer of musicals like Oklahoma and Sound of Music, did not do his own orchestration.  This puts him more in a category with Irving Berlin, who, it is my understanding, could not read music.  

I suppose there's a point of view issue here.  The question is, is the work considered an opera by serious opera types?  Arthur Sullivan's works may be some of the most popular works ever composed by an English composer, but that doesn't get him any respect for Mikado in classical music circles.  Johann Strauss II probably rises higher in classical esteem.

This only makes the success of Hoffmann and Porgy all that more astounding.  Both are fully accepted at every level of the opera business.

Who would we be trying to encourage if we assume we intend encouragement?  Andrew Lloyd Webber?  Stephen Sondheim (did you know he was a writer on the TV series Topper?)?  The chief barrier these days is that if you look down into the pit at a musical, you will see few of the same players as in an opera orchestra.

Pit orchestra for a musical at work.

We don't think it's impossible, but you will have to forgive us if we are dubious.

P.S.  And now there is this commentary on a similar topic by David Gockley here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Things to like

This, "Di tanti palpiti" from Tancredi, was Rossini's first big hit.


Annotated.  I hear a more leggiero technique than I thought before.  If you listen to the same music a lot, gradually it changes.  Almost all of how Horne's voice sounds is due to her technique, a magical combination of low, exquisitely floated larynx and high in the mask placement.  This sounds most like a nasal whine, but it is this whine that makes everything else possible.  Somewhere I explained all this.


I included this because it is simply amazing.  She sings with this low throatiness that you or I would not be able to turn into coloratura.  You cannot help feeling that she is laughing at us.  You cannot help wondering what the words mean:

"Oh Homeland! Sweet and ungrateful homeland! At last
I come back to you! I greet you, oh dear
land of my ancestors: I kiss you. This is
for me a happy day:
My heart begins to breath in my chest.
Amenaide! My suave thought,
the only cause of my sighs,
of my vows, at last I came; I want to earn you,
defying my fate, whatever it was,
or die, my soul.
You who kindle this heart,
you who awake my valour,
blessed glory, sweet love,
heed my desire,
may an impious traitor fall,
crown my faith.
For all these heartbeats,
for all these pains,
from you, my beloved,
I hope for mercy.
You'll see me again...
I'll see you again...
in your beautiful radiance
I will have plenty.
Delires- sighs...
happy voices!...
It will be glad, my heart tells me,
my destiny - near to you."

I think.  She is playing with them.  One would never question whether or not Kasarova was sufficiently mad.  Sorry, the film I posted before, my favorite, has gone. Here is another.



Ewa is simply a miracle.  There never was or ever will be anything like her.

I find this set of recordings fascinating.  I consider each of them spectacular in her own way.

I find I cannot leave this without including the very early Bartoli version.  She never possessed the wonderful weight of the others.  The fascination with her lies in the details of the coloratura and the spectacular length of her phrases.

I love them all and would not want the singing world to exist without all this variety.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Last night I sat in a movie theater and watched the HD broadcast of the Leonardo da Vinci in Milan exhibition from the National Gallery in London.  It is better to see the paintings live, but it is already too late.  The entire exhibition is sold out. 

Included in the exhibition is a copy of the Last Supper by one of Leonardo's students.  They explained how slowly Leonardo painted, thus providing the reason he didn't want to do fresco to paint the Last Supper.  For fresco you have to paint very fast.  You must finish the painting before the plaster dries.

Monday, February 13, 2012

What Makes a Great Soprano

O look.  They're doing it for sopranos, too.  This one is narrated by the great Kiri Te Kanawa.

Kiri Te Kanawa
Diana Damrau
Kirsten Flagstad
Anna Netrebko
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Joan Sutherland
Kiri Te Kanawa

Netrebko in Trouble

Here is an interesting story. Anna Netrebko has cancelled her appearance at the Opera Ball in Vienna because her name appeared in a list.

She is in trouble for interfering in the affairs of another country.  Because she's an Austrian citizen.  Forgive me if my memory has failed me, but I remember that she agreed to become an Austrian citizen only if she was not required to renounce Russian citizenship.  Maybe I've gone daft.  If she's still a Russian citizen, shouldn't she get to have opinions about Russian politics?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Congratulations Joyce

Today Joyce DiDonato was the first classical musician to be asked to perform for the Grammys. She also won for Diva/Divo. I suppose they knew that.


When I'm watching, I always remember that the libretto was written backwards--Götterdämmerung first, Rheingold last--and then it was composed in the opposite order.  This is why we have to listen to all those retellings of things we've already seen.  In the original concept the other three operas didn't exist.  It is also why we have to rehear every damn Leitmotiv that ever appeared.  Yes, that's Nothung all right.  And we know about the damned curse.

The Rhine maidens are still my favorite parts.  Eric Owens as Alberich and his son Hans-Peter König as Hagen were the only members of the cast with voices to match the traditional quality for a Wagnerian.  König received the ovation he deserved.  He was simply magnificent.

Our hostess Patricia Racette introduced the "legendary Waltraud Meier" in the role of Waltraute.  This was the best scene in the opera.  She deserves her legendary status.

I enjoyed watching Jay Hunter Morris and Deborah Voigt.  Debbie was suitably melodramatic, and it was nice to see at least an attempt to have her ride Grane into the funeral pyre.  Jay is adorable, but sings the lightest Siegfried imaginable.

I keep remembering Placido Domingo saying, "Better too soon than too late."  He was referring to the fact that he began singing Otello while still in his thirties.  Deborah Voigt has been afraid of singing Brünnhilde, and has put it off into her 50's.  Her voice has more and more of an edge.  Let's just say I wouldn't want to sit and listen to an audio only version of this Ring, but the visual parts were quite pleasing.  Her Brünnhilde blazes emotionally just as she should, but she will not erase the memory of Eva Marton in her prime.

Wire walking seems to have disappeared as a concept--good riddance.  When she sets the pyre ablaze, we hear the music for "Loge her," but not the words.

This is a member of our audience getting into the mood for Wagner's Twilight of the Gods.  They went down in style.  For me personally it was too much sitting for someone whose back is going out from not enough exercise.

And now I really must go outside and walk around.


Saturday, February 11, 2012


I read F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby once long ago, but I could not remember much of it.  I remembered people riding around in cars and that the millionaire Jay Gatsby was carrying a torch for Daisy.  This is considered the great American novel, and is a portrait of the beginning of modern life, with women in short skirts, cars, boozing, extra-marital affairs, and that great American pastime:  driving around.  Don't get the wrong idea:  boozing is as old as America, but it's less dangerous if you go home on a horse.  In 1922, the time of the story, booze was illegal.

The opera The Great Gatsby by John Harbison and presented by Ensemble Parallèle follows the plot of the novel pretty closely.  Even the ubiquitous giant glasses with wandering eyes behind them are reminiscent of the cover of the novel, though the appearance of the word occultist instead of oculist is not explained.

Nick is the perspective.  Tom and Daisy are married, have a child and live in West Egg.  Wilson and Myrtle are married and live in Flushing.  Tom is having an affair with Myrtle.  Nick is dating Jordan, a professional golfer, and lives next door to the mysterious Gatsby who lives in a large house in East Egg, throws wonderful parties and dreams of Daisy.  There are ten scenes in 2 acts in five locations.

The sets move smoothly from West Egg to Flushing, to Gatsby's house, to Nick's house, to Gatsby's, to the Plaza Hotel in New York City, etc.  Plenty of interlude or driving music is provided to accomplish this.  I thought the production for this complex opera was very successful.  No cars appeared on stage, but they were discussed and described.  The parties at Gatsby's house are fun. At one of the parties Charlie Chaplin in his tramp costume appears as a guest.

There is an on-stage band that plays jazz period music, in great contrast to the strictly modern music of the rest of the opera.  Period music also comes from the radio.  These two musical sources and styles are blended smoothly throughout the opera.  Jacques Desjardins reorchestrated the opera to achieve this effect. 

I missed the mysterious, exalted nature of Jay Gatsby.  They work too hard trying to make him seem a fake, and they seem ridiculous complaining about the source of his income--illegal booze--while they are constantly drinking.  The poor man, Wilson, kills the rich man, Gatsby.  It's all a mistake.

Am I allowed to tirade here?  Modern composers seem all to be part of the musicians fallacy.  Musicians praise Placido Domingo and Janet Baker for being like them.  In a modern classical orchestra everyone has to play precisely what is written on the page.  Any alternative represents chaos.  The same can be said for a chorus.  The perceived absence of a singing style is regarded as a virtue, and elicits constant praise for the two above named singers.  So when modern composers are composing for classical singers, they do not conceive or encourage a style for the singers to use when singing their music.  Just reproduce the notes, and you're done.  The only problem with this is that it is the style that makes you most want to listen to the music.  Style is the parts that lie between the notes.  Where do you want anyone to slide?  If you don't know, who will?

So in most modern operas the singing is the least interesting part.  A modern opera is driven by the plot and the orchestra.  Susannah Biller who played Daisy was the most professional of the singers, but Erin Neff who played Myrtle showed the most style.  One couldn't help feeling that the characters were cast mainly for their looks. 

I regard this visit as part of my education.

Masters of Venice

It was the last week of the Masters of Venice exhibition at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, so I hurried over to the city.  These paintings are all from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. At one time in the 19th century the Hapsburgs were in charge of Venice, so we can easily imagine these were looted. The fact that there are fewer small paintings in Venice than are in this exhibition might lead one to believe this. In Venice are a lot of giant paintings that would be hard to cart off without someone noticing. The painting shown, Susanna and the Elders by Tintoretto, is the only one I recognized. My hero Giorgione was well represented.

This is more Giorgiones than there are in Venice.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Camille Claudel

The 30th anniversary of the Alexander String Quartet in Herbst Theater brought us a very high class concert.

Joyce DiDonato and her accompanist Jake Heggie began the program with Venezia, a cycle of 6 songs in Venetian Dialect by Reynaldo Hahn.  From the stage Joyce told us that these songs were originally performed in Venice in a gondola.  The composer had a small piano put into a gondola and sang them floating around in the lagoon.  You can possibly picture this.  Joyce did not smoke or play the piano herself as Hahn would have done.  This is completely charming and charmingly performed.

This was followed by the Debussy string quartet played by the Alexander String Quartet.  We are so accustomed to this style of music that its effects are no longer remarkable.

Heggie was asked to compose a piece for the anniversary, and he replied that he was an opera composer.  They responded not to worry--they intended to provide a singer, one Joyce DiDonato.  This is a heavenly idea.

Executed like a work from heaven.  The result of this collaboration is Camille Claudel:  Into the Fire (2012), a work for string quartet and mezzo-soprano.  I am pleased to have pulled myself together and made the trip to see it.

This is a remarkable work.  First there is a sculpture--Camille Claudel was a sculptor.

Then there is a poem--"Rodin" in this case--written by Gene Scheer, who is also the librettist of Heggie's Moby-Dick and Picker's An American Tragedy.  So the profession of librettist is not dead after all.  Then there is a song, simultaneously sweet and dramatic to fit images.

"La Valse" "Take me one step closer one step back one step spins one step hovers Take me!"

"La Petite Châtelaine" we all cried.

The story has an unhappy ending.  She began to destroy her sculptures and was subsequently confined to a mental hospital.  The song cycle ends with Claudel as an old woman still in the asylum being visited by an old friend.

The words are lovely.  Heggie is developing into a wonderful composer.  His use of DiDonato's voice is skilled and sensitive.  His writing for string quartet is lyrical and romantic.  It is a very good sign that he calls himself an opera composer.  It was truly a significant occasion.

The encore, "Morgen" by R. Strauss, used everyone in a charming arrangement.

Here is a short blog post from Jake Heggie about this concert.

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Great Caruso

The Caruso family successfully sued MGM over the contents of the movie The Great Caruso.  I don't know enough to know what they would be suing about, but I do know that it's a charming movie.

Obviously Mario Lanza came into this life in order to make this film.  He was born the same year Caruso died and died young like his mentor.  He has a charming smile and manner, and he sings all the arias required for the role.  The singing is very nice.  His most frequent singing partner is played by soprano Dorothy Kirsten.

His death at 38 means he survived only the childhood of an opera singer.  He did not handle fame well and is often paired with Karen Carpenter in the short list of great singers who died young.

I was very much interested in the portrayal of the great tenor Jean de Reszke (1850-1925) in this film. There was a small overlap in the New York careers of the two tenors, with de Reszke retiring in 1904 just as Caruso was beginning. In the movie they were made to seem rivals of sorts, whereas in reality Caruso sang almost exclusively Italian repertoire while de Reszke sang primarily Wagner, Gounod and Meyerbeer. Was he the last great Meyerbeer tenor? The disappearance of Mayerbeer from the repertoire is something that interests me.


Thursday, February 02, 2012

Opera in America

Rise Stevens singing an aria from Natoma

I have a copy of the 1924 edition of the Victrola Book of the Opera. From my American Operas list we see Natoma, first produced at the Metropolitan opera in 1911, and Madeleine, first performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1914, both by Victor Herbert, who wasn't born in America. These are as close as we get to American opera in that era. One owns such a book for the photographs of famous singers, such as Caruso and Geraldine Farrar who had her own private dressing room at the Met. There was a policy begun in 1900 to produce an American Opera every year at the Met, but none of them held the stage even briefly except these two. Horatio Parker's Mona, 1911, was also part of the Met's effort to produce American opera.

Carmen Balthrop in Treemonisha

Another place to research opera in America is in the book Opera in America by John Dizikes. This work focuses on the cultural life of opera rather than the compositions. The first opera to rate a chapter name is Scott Joplin's Treemonisha (1910). Dizikes' text is about African-American singers and musicians rather than the opera. Treemonisha is occasionally revived, and is definitely something to look in to.

Excerpts from the current Broadway production of Porgy and Bess.  Don't you miss those opera voices.

The next operas to make it into chapter headings are Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) by Virgil Thompson and Porgy and Bess (1935), by George Gershwin. Porgy and Bess is the earliest opera by an American composer to stay in the repertoire. I think the political controversy that surrounds this opera actually enhances its power. In the past I have had my doubts, but the recent production at the San Francisco Opera has completely won me over.

Then comes the period of Gian Carlo Menotti, operas from 1938 to 1963, a native Italian whose works in English never quite lose their Italian quality. Carlisle Floyd's Susannah and Samuel Barber's Vanessa are practically all we see to interrupt Menotti's dominance. My viewing of Kiri Te Kanawa singing Vanessa left me with the feeling that this was an outstanding work that should be revived more often.

Lucy Schaufer singing "Must the winter come so soon" from Vanessa, audio only

The conclusion I have reached is that we are now living in the era of American opera. The German Hans Werner Henze, operas from 1948 to the present, provides the only competing center of opera composition in the post Einstein on the Beach, 1976, era.  Today we have John Adams, Philip Glass, John Corigliano, Mark Adamo, Jake Heggie, Stewart Wallace and several others to compose operas for us. 

Bits from The Ghosts of Versailles, a work we could see more of

In the next year and a half people in the San Francisco Bay Area will be treated to John Harbison's The Great Gatsby, Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick, Philip Glass' Einstein on the Beach, Nolan Gasser's The Secret Garden and Mark Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene.  Our cup runneth over.

Heggie's Moby-Dick