Monday, April 30, 2012

Nadine Sierra

Nadine Sierra, whose Schwabacher Debut Recital was Sunday afternoon, already has her own Wikipedia page.  It tells us, "On February 21, 2009, she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Finals in New York."  She was 21 at the time.

This season she is a second year Adler Fellow at the San Francisco Opera where she created the roles of Juliet and Barbara in the world premiere of Heart of a Soldier last fall.  It is interesting to note that in my review of the 2010 Merola Finale, her performance of the duet from Romeo et Juliette was the only thing I praised.

Enough blurb. If you read that someone has one of these opera prizes, you may assume that they have a big, penetrating voice, and that is very much the case with Nadine.

I don't go to all the Schwabacher Debut Recitals, but of the ones I've seen, this one is the most mature.  She showed off a lot of stuff.

She sang in four languages:  French (Debussy), Russian (Rachmaninov), English (Bernstein) and Portuguese (Villa-Lobos and Braga).   She is American, but her background is Brazil?

She showed off her interpretative skills in these wide ranging songs, and then topped it with her now very grownup rendition of "O mio babbino caro" as an encore.  She has improved on the YouTube film, so don't make any critical judgments based on it.

She showed off her very well developed technique, particularly her excellent breath control.

Her accompanist, Tamara Sanikidze, was chosen to talk about the Rachmaninov Opus 38 songs.  She is Russian, apparently, and loves these songs very much.  Artist bios never seem to tell you these vital bits of information.  The cultural background of the artist is crucial in understanding them musically.

Nadine is still young, but is off to a good start.  She is strong in the thing that for me counts most:  expression.  As she grows older, coaches will attempt to impose their interpretations on her, but let's hope her own personality continues to shine through.

Here's a nice sample of something from an opera.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lorraine sings Bach

I should be getting close to owning everything available for Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.  My first blog post was a death announcement here.

Then I checked the DVD for John Adams' El Nino out from the library.  She is in that, and I wanted to see it, but I couldn't stand the constant cutting back and forth between the stage and a film.  I couldn't follow either one of them.  Maybe audio would work better for me.

I started to become a fan with Neruda Songs, a wonderful set of songs by her husband Peter Lieberson.

Then I began some serious collecting with Lorraine at Wigmore, and her Handel arias, both fine recordings.  Though there is an audio version of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Médée, recently rereleased, I wanted to see the action and bought a DVD of it from House of Opera.  Either version is highly recommended, but some people cannot stand House of Opera.  This was followed by her Dido with the Philharmonia Baroque.  I also own the recital at Ravinia which was nominated for a Grammy in 2010.  It includes a different recording of this gorgeous Brahms.  I highly approve.

Lorraine has her own very personal style of sliding, the mark of the great artist.  Don't let your teachers fool you into thinking you shouldn't slide.  All the great ones do it.

This brings us back to Bach.  If you can bear it, there is a YouTube video of the aria "Ich habe genug" with Lorraine in her hospital gown.  I cannot.  This is Peter Sellars' fault.  The quality of the CD is much better.

I am one of the ones who hear the soul in her singing.  For the Baroque it can be necessary to feel across extremely long phrases.  Phrasing in large part consists of deciding where is the beginning, where the middle, and where the end of the phrase.  Each short set of notes must be felt to move forward or hold back.  When the phrase is extremely long, the singer must feel it all the way to the end, even if a breath is necessary.

Surely they will run out soon.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Things to Read

Here is an interview with Jonas Kaufmann.

"The tenor who wants to sing it all"

And here is an article about Joyce DiDonato.

Here is a review of Joyce in Maria Stuarda.

Natalie is still struggling in Traviata.

I haven't had much creative imagination lately.  I'll try to do better.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Adventures in YouTube

First I was listening to this film with Kirsten Flagstad talking.

I especially like the parts where she talks about building your body up gradually to prepare for Wagner.  In the Met archives is the story that she was sent to Prague in her thirties to study with Georg Solti.

Then came this performance of "Elsa's Dream" from a radio broadcast in 1949.  It sounds as natural as breathing.  It is her depth of understanding that makes her the best.

Then I happened on this performance of Flagstad singing Bach.  Who knew?  The tempo is quite slow.  For my taste a bit too slow.

And here at last is the perfect performance of Bach's "Erbarme dich" by the great Christa Ludwig.  The tempo and the phrasing are all masterpieces.

Or perhaps the best is this one with Marilyn Horne. You can hear her spectacular control of the phrase at its very best.

Which is best? I can't decide.  One can get lost for hours.

Missa Solemnis

My free month of is still running.  Earlier Thursday they streamed the Beethoven Missa Solemnis from Amsterdam.

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Nikolaus Harnoncourt conductor
Marlis Petersen soprano
Elisabeth Kulman alto
Werner Güra tenor
Gerald Finley bass

The performance is surprisingly plodding and never seems to quite take off.  I always feel that it is correct to get very carried away with Beethoven, something Harnoncourt doesn't seem to do.  Nevertheless, one needs a Missa Solemnis every once in a while.

I wrote a lot about the form of this piece here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


One can't help wondering if the maestro would approve.  And what do I think?  I think Nicolas Cage is far too interesting to satisfy John Cage's idea of this piece.  The purpose is to redirect your attention to the sounds in your own environment.  It is fun to watch, though.

Monday, April 16, 2012

At Last Rosenkavalier

After decades of waiting, 3 to be precise, it is now possible to buy the magnificent Der Rosenkavalier from the Met in 1982, starring Tatiana Troyanos as Octavian, Kiri Te Kanawa as the Marschalin, Kurt Moll, Judith Blegen, The Tenor Luciano Pavarotti as the tenor with James Levine conducting.

For Tatiana Troyanos.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Crash and Burn

Or to quote Karen Slack:  Ms. Hong WHERE ARE YOU WE NEED YOU BADLY!!!!

We are all speaking of today's Live from the Metropolitan Opera in HD of Verdi's La Traviata with Natalie Dessay.  Even her microphone, just under her clothes on her right side, did not save her.  I have heard Natalie sing Violetta at Santa Fe, so I know it's possible.  My thought is that she was not as recovered from her illness as she wished she was. 

Matthew Polenzani sang his trademark sad sack Alfredo, nice but not very impressive.  Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Germont is the best Verdi baritone around.  He was simply wonderful.  Fabio Luisi was conducting one of 20 performances at the Met this month, either a record or a tie, including Die Walküre last night and Manon tonight.  I have written about the Willy Decker production here.


[See Kinderkuchen History 1850-70]

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ailyn Pérez wins the Richard Tucker Prize

Soprano Ailyn Pérez, last summer's rollerskating Marguerite in the Santa Fe Opera's Faust, has been named the winner of this year's Richard Tucker Prize.  Her husband, tenor Stephen Costello, won in 2009.  Was it a psychic coincidence that I included both of them in my "New Candidates for Sexiest" list last October?

Of my three Marguerites last year, Ailyn, Patricia Racette and Marina Poplavskaya, I most enjoyed Ailyn's performance.

Here is a longer article about the award.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gramophone Hall of Fame

This is the list of founding members of the Gramophone Magazine Hall of Fame.

Conductors Claudio ABBADO ● John BARBIROLLI ● Daniel BARENBOIM ● Thomas BEECHAM ● Leonard BERNSTEIN ● Pierre BOULEZ ● Wilhelm FURTWÄNGLER ● John Eliot GARDINER ● Nikolaus HARNONCOURT ● Herbert von KARAJAN ● Carlos KLEIBER ● Otto KLEMPERER ● Simon RATTLE ● Georg SOLTI ● Arturo TOSCANINI  (15/6)

Singers Janet BAKER ● Cecilia BARTOLI ● Jussi BJÖRLING ● Maria CALLAS ● Enrico CARUSO ● Joyce DIDONATO ● Plácido DOMINGO ● Dietrich FISCHER-DIESKAU ● Birgit NILSSON ● Luciano PAVAROTTI ● Elisabeth SCHWARZKOPF ● Joan SUTHERLAND (12/3)

This is astounding.  Unless you count the twilight of the career of  Plácido Domingo, only the current reigning mezzo-sopranos Cecilia Bartoli and Joyce DiDonato have made the list from among active singers.  This may be considered part of the Cecilia Bartoli Effect.  May we declare this the age of the mezzo?  Congratulations, ladies.

Pianists Martha ARGERICH ● Claudio ARRAU ● Daniel BARENBOIM ● Alfred BRENDEL ● Glenn GOULD ● Vladimir HOROWITZ ● LANG LANG ● Murray PERAHIA ● Maurizio POLLINI ● Sviatoslav RICHTER ● Arthur RUBINSTEIN  (11/3)

String/brass players Dennis BRAIN ● Pablo CASALS ● Jacqueline DU PRÉ ● Jascha HEIFETZ ● Yehudi MENUHIN ● David OISTRAKH ● Itzhak PERLMAN ● Mstislav ROSTROPOVICH (8/1)


Producers/record label executives John CULSHAW ● Walter LEGGE ● Ted PERRY

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Manon in HD

Conductor...............Fabio Luisi
Production..............Laurent Pelly

Manon...................Anna Netrebko
Des Grieux..............Piotr Beczala
Lescaut.................Paulo Szot
Count des Grieux........David Pittsinger
Guillot.................Christophe Mortagne
Brétigny................Bradley Garvin
Poussette...............Anne-Carolyn Bird
Javotte.................Jennifer Black
Rosette.................Ginger Costa-Jackson

Before we get started I have just one question:  what was the basketball in Act III about?  Any ideas would be appreciated. Maybe it's left over from March madness.

Today live from the Metropolitan Opera in HD featured Massenet's Manon in a new production by Laurent Pelly, starring Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczała, (pronounced pyOtr betchAwa) who is Polish.  Did I know this opera was a comique?

Since we are seeing it next week, I was curious about some of the features Pelly's Manon has in common with Decker's La Traviata.  There are six different sets for Manon with basically only two for Traviata, but both are extremely bare bones.  Both operas have crowds of men in tuxedos and top hats that include cross-dressed women from the chorus.  Other reviewers have complained that the sloping stage ramps look like the handicapped entrance.  The austere last scene was very effective, but in general the sets are big, cumbersome and boring.  And I completely did not buy the bed in the transept, though it made for a nice finish for the scene.

The main difference between the two productions is the presence of women in Manon.  In Traviata Violetta is the only woman.  I rather liked the ballet made up of young women dressed like the dancers from Degas paintings, but I didn't like that they were all carried off screaming when they finished dancing.  I see no reason why rich men couldn't afford to bribe their way to affection.

Paulo Szot (shot) is an excellent actor and a pretty fair singer.  For me Manon really only works if the acting is intense.  Christophe Mortagne was very nasty as Guillot, the villain, but was having a lot of trouble with his English when Debbie Voigt was interviewing him.  We miss Renée.

Beczała is an excellent tenor who projects a very sentimental quality in the role of des Grieux.  He completely lost his sense of the correct pitch in his big aria.  And the Netrebko has it all.  I thought she looked, sounded, and acted beautifully.  I can't really imagine this opera with anyone else in it.  In the Marilyn Monroe scene (you know what I'm talking about) she lost her earring and then threw the other one across the room. 

This was Fabio Luisi's first Manon, and he conducted like it was an old friend.  He's setting records at the Met for most performances conducted in a single month.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1870-90]

Poor Jonas

Poor Jonas.  He appears to have groupies.  I've certainly never had a groupie, but I have actually been one, so perhaps I can offer some insight. 

He complains in The Guardian:  "They [write] things like: 'I was the girl in the fifth row with the glasses and you were only singing for me, and what are we going to do now?' It's amazing and sometimes frightening that you have the power and potential to, manipulate people in such a way."

He is having a bad reaction to this and says, "Yes, but sometimes I wonder what do they think that I am: am I really this evil guy, this sex monster like the Duke in Rigoletto, or the stupid guy, or whatever my role is? Of course not, I'm just pretending because that's what my job is."

I always tried to keep it tasteful, which may well have been an entirely futile effort.  Probably no matter what you say, it still sounds ridiculous.
It is best in these situations to remember Daniel J. Levitin in his book  This is Your Brain on Music where he says that rock stars get laid over 10,000 times.  k d lang always said that she became a singer so she could get laid.  They probably just think Jonas is like a rock star instead of the sensible home loving man he really is.  Perhaps it's not possible to write about this tastefully.

As a groupie, one is swept away by useless emotions, emotions that arise from the very real passion of the music, and if one is oneself young and attractive, one may wish for these emotions to play out in reality.  If they follow him home, he should definitely worry.  Adele lives in a mansion surrounded by a large open lawn with dogs because people do follow her home. 

I think I assumed someone was hired to read the mail.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Opera Singers Talking

This is turning into a series.

And I absolutely swear singers say this.  My favorite line is "Arvo Pärt."  Wait wait.  Maybe it's "I'm bi-sectional."

Thursday, April 05, 2012

For Free

I won a one month free membership in and have been enjoying the concerts and operas.  Today I am listening to a marvelous B minor Mass from Notre Dame de Paris in 2006 with John Nelson conducting.

Joyce DiDonato sings the "Laudamus te," a wonderful lively piece with violin solo.  The entire performance is musically everything I wished I had heard last year at the Mondavi Center.  And they use regular Italian pronunciation.

I have been following lately the horn's argument over original instruments.  It is worth noting that this performance from Paris, and also the other one last year from Davis, were all on modern instruments.  My favorite horn quote is "Instruments don't make music--people do." 

Part of the argument is the perception that modern instrument orchestras all sound the same.  What is meant by this is that they play more consistently in tune, I suppose.   If the performance standards are high enough, I enjoy a good original instrument orchestra.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Joyce Teaches

This is simply incredible.

Footnote: Excuse me for the technical faux pas. If I get so many hits when I post nothing, I should try it more often.

Monday, April 02, 2012

St. John Passion

I got up in the middle of the night to listen to Bach's Johannespassion from Carnegie Hall, streaming on WGBH (due to insomnia, not necessity).  The performance was by Les Violons du Roy, La Chapelle de Quebec, soloists, and conducted by Bernard Labadie.

I included the above chorale from a performance from Munich in 1964 because it shows the traditional style for performing Bach chorales maintained at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig over the centuries.  In this style the fermatas which appear in the score are observed, and the tempo is slow.  At Carnegie Hall you hear the modern idea that "Oh no, these fermatas are just for show.  Nobody does them.  We should get the whole thing over as quickly as possible."  For me it's a prayer and should be allowed to soak in slowly.

My favorite part of the John Passion has always been the final chorale, included above in a performance from 1934, also in the old style.  For me the fast modern approach trivializes these wonderful works.

The broadcast fills in the pauses with talking which you can avoid by clicking on the red line at different spots.

In the John Passion the aria interruptions are less frequent and less glorious then in the St. Matthew.  The words of the gospel are sung by the evangelist, Ian Bostridge tenor here, Jesus, Neal Davies bass-baritone, and the chorus.  None of the vocal soloists had the traditional sound usually heard in the Bach passions, but they made up for it in enthusiasm and emotional fervor.  The small chorus was outstanding.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Watch this space

From San Francisco Classical Voice today in classical music news: San Francisco Opera announces the commission of a new opera from Justin Bieber based on the video game Wrath of Titans.

[ And a happy April Fools Day to you, too.]