Tuesday, May 29, 2012


For me the opera is about the music.

Is Mark Morris' Dido bad because the characters dress in strange not at all Greek outfits and move around in ugly angular movements?  Or is it good because Stephanie Blythe sings it gorgeously?

Is the Met Ring bad because there is this huge, distracting piece of machinery on the stage?  Would I perhaps get used to the giant machinery?  Or is it bad because everyone sings it as though it were a Rossini patter song?  I liked only the twins, Jay Hunter Morris and Eric Owens.  I tried for a second viewing, but the boredom was simply too intense, and I went home.

Is I Capuletti bad because instead of a set there is a shiny floor?  Or is it incredible because it has some of the most glorious singing, especially the duets, that I have ever heard?  If I can't figure out what is going on, should I still like it?

Is Doctor Atomic a good opera when nothing happens except a bomb is hanging in the air?  Is it a good opera because of the score?  Or would the characters have to do something interesting, too?  What if the characters are insignificant?  Should I still like it?

If the people all look ridiculous should I hate Giulio Cesare?  Would Julius Caesar invade modern Egypt?  Does it matter that they are all enjoying themselves?  Does it matter that the plot is astoundingly easy to follow?  Except for the two basses which I can't seem to tell apart.  If the music is lively and the singing wonderful, should I care how it looks?

My rule is:  give me something.  Laughter is something.  Cecilia going off on a rocket is something.  Amazing bel canto is something.  Pattering your way through Wagner is not.  A bomb hanging in the air is not.  Xerxes and his cohorts standing around in boring costumes is not anything.  I expect you not to bore me.

I'm beginning to be surprised by how seldom my opinions coincide with the majority of critics.  We are expected to assume that Peter Gelb is a failure when no evidence is provided to support it.  Just because they don't like him.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Giulio Cesare from Salzburg

Giulio Cesare:  Andreas Scholl, countertenor
Cleopatra:  Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano
Cornelia:  Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
Sesto:  Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor
Tolomeo:  Christophe Dumaux, countertenor
Nireno:  Jochen Kowalski, countertenor
Achilla:  Ruben Drole, bass
Curio:  Peter Kálmán, bass

Conductor:  Giovanni Antonini,  l'Orchestre Il Giardino Armonico
Regisseur: Olivier Simonnet
Production: Moshe Leiser et Patrice Caurier

While watching Giulio Cesare stream from Salzburg, I took notes.

The production is in modern dress, soldiers with helmets and rifles dancing.  There is fire on the stage.  The stage is full of lizards and oil wells.  The chorus is not much.

Scholl as Caesar in a medium blue suit steps out of a limousine with a statue of himself lying on the roof.  The statue is taken off and placed on the stage.  To the victor belong the spoils.  He wears the Roman victory laurel, but quickly takes it off.  He sits down and reads the newspapers while singing about victory.

Von Otter and Jaroussky, Pompey's family, appear in time to see Pompey's head delivered in a blue box with a green ribbon.  Caesar doesn't know what's in the box and opens it in front of the family.

Caesar goes back to the car to get his gun and sings through the window.  Now he is mad as hell.  Jaroussky is dressed as a kid.  I completely do not buy the head left lying on the floor.  They would have done something with it.  Cornelia is in despair and puts her head in a lizard's mouth.  Sesto is pissed and sees a ghost of Dad.  He at least acknowledges the head on the floor.

Cecilia Bartoli is the Intendant of this festival and has made sure she gets plenty of costumes for this opera.  No more operas where she spends the whole night in her night gown or a black dress.  In her first entrance she is wearing boots and a leopard trench coat.  Cute.  She dances around the statue of Caesar.  There are obscene gestures.  This part of the opera is all about having fun.

Her brother Tolomeo throws the statue of Caesar on the floor and kicks it.  He tears it up and pulls out its insides.  For some unknown reason it has insides.  He makes the head of Pompey and the head of Caesar kiss.  He is a bum with tattoos, corn rows and long hair.  I am booing.  So is the audience.

Caesar comes out and lights an oil drum.  He takes Pompey's head and puts it in the burning drum.  At least he treats it with some respect.

You have guessed by now that this is serious Eurotrash.  If it weren't for streaming we wouldn't get to see this sort of thing in America.  Philistine that I am, I am enjoying it.

Cleopatra is disguised as Lydia, but as usual, the eyes give her away.  She wears a wig that looks like pictures from Maria.

Except sometimes she doesn't.  My dear, you are wasting all these charms on me.  I already love you.  This production is pretty smutty.  However, there is absolutely no problem following the plot.  It's theatrically quite viable.

Sesto is planning his revenge, puts soot on his face.  Cleopatra as Lydia offers to help.

Caesar and Tolomeo meet over drinks.  Caesar pours his drink into the flowers, and they immediately wilt.  Papers are signed over oil wells, smiles and handshakes are photographed, and Caesar goes off in his limousine.

The Act ends with von Otter and Jaroussky singing an incredibly gorgeous “Son nata a lagrimar” duet.

Act II begins with the seduction scene.  Caesar puts on 3D glasses to watch the show.

Cleopatra is sitting on a rocket wearing a blond, frizzy wig, sun glasses, black gloves and a camouflage trench coat.  She takes off the coat to show black boots and gray feathers.  More giant Sally Rand style feathers appear, held up by men.  If I'm the star, I get costumes, dammit.  And half naked men to hold my feathers.  She sings "V'adoro pupille" and then sails off on the rocket.  You knew that.  Big cheers.

Caesar is sunk.

I'm not sure why, but I like Eurotrash for Handel.

Tolomeo is still trying to seduce Cornelia who tries to pour gasoline over herself and set herself on fire.  Sesto stops her.  He sings about snakes in front of a film of snakes. Jaroussky brings a masculine energy to the role of Sesto that a woman could not.  He shoots the snake while singing insane coloratura.

Everyone warns Caesar that Tolomeo is coming, but he slowly puts on his shoes and explains he has no fear.  Cleopatra wears a gold robe in this scene.  Caesar flees but takes his time.

Cleopatra picks up a machine gun and waves it around.  She wants the gods to protect Caesar.  This aria “Se pietà” is a prayer with dancing soldiers.  In the audience is a shouter.  This time he says, "Gigante!"  It was amazing.

Tolomeo is reading Playboy and ogling the centerfold.  Caesar jumps into the sea, and Cleopatra leads the Romans against Tolomeo.

Sesto fails again to kill Tolomeo, and to end the act Cornelia and Sesto strap a bomb around his waist so he can become a suicide bomber.

At the beginning of Act III Achilla is shot.  Tolomeo captures Cleopatra and makes her kneel and put a bag over her head.  She thinks all is lost.  Cecilia Bartoli sings the entire aria "Piangero," brilliantly, kneeling on the floor with a bag over her head.

Caesar can swim and comes up out of the sea.  He lies down on the floor amid a group of dying soldiers.  Caesar takes the bomb off of Sesto.

Caesar rescues Cleopatra just in time for "Da tempeste."  She is happy and dances around an oil well.  Curio gives her a note and some money.  She counts it and gives him some. A piano comes out, and Cleopatra finishes the aria decorating the stage with strings of lights.

Tolomeo and Cornelia come out.  She pulls a gun on him, but Sesto arrives and stabs Tolomeo with his bayonet.

The winners come back, surround the piano and smoke a little pot.  Where do I get a picture of Cecilia inhaling?  She's wearing a gold lame dress in this scene.  She has her wig again.

Scholl and Bartoli sing a wonderful love duet while rolling around on the floor.  No longer dead, Tolomeo joins the finale.  At the end a real tank appears in the alley behind the stage.

Much shouting.

Question:  if you could do anything you wanted, would it be this?



I want to do a musical review of Giulio Cesare based on the stream.

This was my third experience of Cecilia Bartoli's Cleopatra -- first a staged version at the Zurich Opera with Marc Minkowski conducting and La Scintilla playing, then a concert version in Paris with William Christie conducting, and this staged third version from Salzburg with Giovanni Antonini and his orchestra Il Giardino Armonico.  It is interesting to explore the subtle differences.

All three were long versions with little or no cuts.  Minkowski and Christie seemed to try to compensate for this by rushing through everything.

The performance in Zurich was odd.  Minkowski is a dynamic but idiosyncratic conductor who brought out some odd features, like performing most of the repeats sotto voce.  La Scintilla was out of tune and not in good form.  They made the mistake of putting a horn player on the stage where he proceeded to bloop every third note.  I suspect these problems have prevented this performance from being released on DVD.  Cecilia was very physically dynamic and intense throughout.  There are some poor quality recordings of bits of this on YouTube, and I notice mainly the quick tempos.

In Paris I was handicapped by sitting behind the performers.  A concert performance can be nice, but you only get the full effect of an opera when it's staged.  There was a kind of sameness to the different numbers.  This is the most common thing that happens in a performance and is probably the strongest indication that the maestro is present.  What is wished for is complete individuality.  Is this too hard to understand?

Of live performances I have seen, this opera remains my personal favorite for Cecilia Bartoli.  It would have been very hard for me to miss the Salzburg performance.  Thanks to the modern device of live streaming, I had a front row seat.

We may carp over the staging of this opera, especially the raunchy bits, but musically it was an absolute triumph.  Somewhere in an interview Cecilia said that all the participants were on the same page musically--not a direct quote.  I can't remember the precise words.  It was that rarest of musical events--the true ensemble performance.

My personal favorite is Cecilia's performance of "Tutto puo donna," a beautiful woman can accomplish anything.  She, of course, is the living embodiment of these words.  Her style of delivering this aria is her own unique creation.  Let's face it, anything she sings is her own unique creation.  This above all else is what makes her her.  Her voice is at its most gorgeous now.

But that same kind of thoughtful personal expression was everywhere, whether nasty, tragic, sexy, triumphant, or frightened, each achieved a personal individuality from all the artists present that combined and blended into great beauty.  Perhaps the collective soul of music soars higher than the individual ego.

I always feel about Giovanni Antonini and his orchestra Il Giardino Armonico that they embody a similar kind of collective enthusiasm that spreads out to include everyone in sight.  Handel was never this wonderful.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Streaming Giulio Cesare

Giulio Cesare will stream from Salzburg tomorrow.  Thank you, Eye Bags.

Or as it's called on the website:  Cecilia Bartoli und Andreas Scholl in Jules César, von Händel.  Isn't that French?  Wouldn't it be funny if it came out in French.  ARTE is French, apparently, but I heard only German and of course Italian.

I'm convinced this is all for me, because otherwise I wouldn't get to see it.  I took a lot of notes which I will write up into a "review."  Later.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Auf Deutsch

Cecilia has announced the schedule for next year's Whitsun festival here.   There is mention of Cecilia Bartoli singing "Wir hab nun Trauerigkeit" from the Deutsches Requiem, her first appearance that I know of in German. She sang Ravel in Yiddish, but that doesn't count.  Pape will also sing and Barenboim conduct.

This goes with Norma.  Ach.  I think we should expect the recording to be out by then.

There will be a piece by Sofia Gubaidulina.  Gergiev will conduct more than one program.   Maybe I'll feel better by then.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

To Lip Synch or not to Lip Synch

When the subject of lip synching comes up, it is usually condemned.  How dare they think they can get away with lip synching!  That sort of thing.

So here comes Jonas Kaufmann with an excuse.  Since he cancelled everything else in May, including the Zurich Jonas Kaufmann Gala, how is it that he sings in Munich for the Champions League final?  (His team lost.)  Apparently there was a lot of complaining about this.  It turns out his performance was pre-recorded.  He was lip synching.  Should we be relieved or irate? 

La Bohème in Los Angeles

La Bohème at the Los Angeles Opera was preceded by a very nice lecture.   I did not write down the man's name.  He talked about the literary source for the opera, Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henry Murger, and how Leoncavallo also wrote a La Bohème which Puccini stole the plot of.  He told us that women with tuberculosis, especially when they appeared emaciated and close to death, were believed to be intensely sexual.  Thus all the operas about them.  He said Puccini tried very hard to make the story of Mimi not sound like Violetta.  His examples were all from the recording with Jussi and Victoria.

I went for Ailyn Pérez, the soprano who sang Mimi.  She sounds, looks, acts and phrases extremely well.  So is she the next big thing?  The answer is probably.  Her singing is very high class, and her voice is gorgeous.  I heard a lot more sotto voce than I like, but this can always be blamed on the coaches.  Sing big, and ignore anyone who says not to.

Other not insignificant people in the cast are her husband Stephen Costello and the Musetta Janai Brugger.  Ailyn and Stephen are well matched as a singing couple.  They both have the budding spinto sound everyone is looking for.  They look and sound well together.

This was the most romantic La Bohème I have seen.  When it comes time for "O soave fanciulla," they step out onto the roof overlooking the Eiffel Tower, and the house moves back to reveal a giant moon.  This production feels the most like Paris of any I have seen.

Most outrageous is Musetta whose scene is dramatically enhanced to the point of slapstick.  I loved it.  Mimi died on her chord.  Mimi dies when no one in the cast is paying any attention.  Musetta brings in the muff, puts it on Mimi, and then turns back to talk to the others.  What else could this chord possibly be?  I hate it when the director doesn't know this.

I often get tired of seeing the same operas over and over, but this one was worth the trip.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1890-1910]

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Opera News Censored

Today's big opera news is about Opera News.  Peter Gelb does not want them giving his productions negative reviews, so now they will not review the Metropolitan Opera.  Since most of the magazine is about the Metropolitan Opera, I assume this refers only to the section in the back where operas around the world are reviewed.

This story is in the New York Times.  The only possible conclusion is that Peter Gelb has a very thin skin.  I regard his regime as very bold and daring, bordering on iconoclastic.  His biggest success is something I am very grateful for--the establishment of the network of HD simulcasts into movie theaters.  It's very nice to sit in a movie theater and watch opera, especially when you know it is happening right then.  For the first few years there were a lot of technical glitches.  If you don't think about it, you don't notice that there are no more of these.  Sometimes my local theater turns the volume down too low, or up too high, or forgets to turn up the lights during intermission, but these things are out of the control of New York.

Up until Peter Gelb began his tenure the Metropolitan Opera was one of the (if not the) most conservative opera houses in the world.  Zefferelli, who favors elaborate naturalistic productions, was king.  Gelb daringly contracts people from outside the world of opera to create productions  The much maligned Eurotrash movement, it should be noted, is not doing this.  The to our eyes completely outrageous, modernistic productions seen everywhere in Europe are created by opera producers.  My favorite is still the fashion show Manon Lescaut at the Wienerstaatsoper.  It's all about couture.

He wants to have his cake and eat it too.  He wants the cake of iconoclastic productions, but he eschews the eating up of hostile critics.  Did he really think this wouldn't happen?  I recommend that he adopt the musician's motto:  when in doubt, fake it.  He's definitely not faking it very well.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Watch it while you can

 Sorry. Too late.

This is from yesterday's live stream.

Kids, it doesn't get better than this. There is a film to accompany this where both stars are interviewed, Netrebko in English and Kasarova in German, where Kasarova talks about how important it is to sing with the other person. It is a revelation to see this interview.

The production appears to be all about Netrebko's legs.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I Capuleti e i Montecchi

Romeo: Vesselina Kasarova
Giulietta:  Anna Netrebko
Tebaldo: Dimitri Pittas
Capellio: Ante Jerkunica
Lorenzo: Paul Gay

Conductor: Yves Abel
Production: Vincent Boussard

I Capuleti e i Montecchi by Bellini was streamed from the Bayerischen Staatsoper in Munich Saturday.  This is the production we will see in San Francisco next season.

No one plays men like Vesselina Kasarova, and damn she sounds good.  Joyce DiDonato who will be our Romeo is going to have her work cut out for her.  I am shouting in my computer room.  Somehow one does not wish to give up shouting.

This opera is about the Guelphs and Ghibellines, the great Italian political factions of the middle ages. We studied them in the classes I took in Florence. It's all about money. The Guelphs represent the merchants, and the Ghibellines represent the landed gentry. Dante got into the wrong group and was exiled from Florence. Do we care which is which?

The great one is throwing up in her bathroom.  You are required to know that that is Anna Netrebko.  She's climbed up into the sink and is trying to escape.  Throw away your expectations and learn to love her.  She is the best.

The music is so merry and gorgeous that it doesn't seem quite suitable.  Apparently this Juliet is a lunatic.  It is Italian opera, after all.  The stream is not perfect and occasionally pauses, sometimes long pauses.  The translation is in German which I can read.  Sorry if you can't.

This is a stream of consciousness review.  My feeling is that Kasarova and Netrebko are well matched, both for voice and for craziness.  I have to go somewhere soon and I don't want to.  GD.  This is fabulous.  Y'all can have your Wagner.  I'll take a little Bellini any time.  Or at least I'll take fabulous Bellini over mediocre to bad Wagner.

Very little of the Shakespeare plot survives.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012)

My son is a bigger fan than I am, so I have asked him to recommend some films.  I chose "Mondnacht," a song I adore, and I begin to wonder what it was I didn't like about him.

He is very young in this one, surely. I like.

This is a huge contrast. He is much older.

Back to young again for Don Carlo.

I probably wouldn't have picked this one.  Oh well.

In my youth he was the most recorded of classical musicians.  I enjoyed this selection more than I thought I would, and don't forget I posted him singing "Dover Beach."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Measha sings Bess

Measha Brueggergosman is on the cover of Opera News this month because she is singing Bess at the Cincinnati Opera from June 28 to July 8. 

One picture is not enough.  As you can see, Measha has transformed into a babe.

Measha is a Canadian and doesn't necessarily care about attitudes in the USA.  She obviously loves her natural hair, and when asked about racism in Porgy and Bess replies, "Well, who cares?"  She understands why someone would ask the question, but, "Obviously from my perspective, I don't care.  I think that the music is so strong and the story--whether [the creators] were black or not-- is absolutely essential....  I'm not going to apply a standard to Porgy and Bess that I don't apply to other repertoire.  That just cheapens the work."  Thank you, Measha.  However one regards the characters, it's still the greatest of all American operas. 

She's been having some health problems.  We wish her well.  When I first came across her at a recital in Berkeley she wasn't doing opera.  I'm glad she's changed her mind.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Porgy and Bess on Broadway

Listen to this interview with Audra McDonald.  Click where it says Listen.  She likes the same versions I do.  Don't you love it when that happens!  Unfortunately, I can hear the strain she talks about in her voice when she talks.  There is singing.  Wonderful singing.  She makes Bess the center of the drama, which I haven't seen before.


I read that Nadine Sierra repeated her Scwabacher Debut Recital in New York at Carnegie Hall this past week.  She was pretty favorably reviewed in the New York Times.

I'm going next week to see Ailyn Pérez in La Boheme at the LA Opera.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Die Walküre rerun

Die Walküre in HD ran last night as part of a complete Ring cycle that finishes on Saturday.  Philistine that I am, I have not been exactly thrilled.  For me Wagner soars often enough to keep me in the game, but he also gives me gigantic extended scenes that bore me to tears.  One of my fellow bloggers says she has seen 9 complete Ring cycles in the last year.  Ugh.  I think I would give up opera.  My favorite Wagner has always been the Wesendonck Lieder.  Soaring and terse all at the same time.

Eva and Jonas were still wonderful--beautiful AND passionate.  I think I'm used to the machine.  I remember that in the house you can see the black-clad gremlins that lurk behind the set, but not in the movie theater.  I rather like that it doesn't really translate into an "interpretation," if you know what I mean.

James Levine has done a complete Ring before, which included Jessye Norman as Sieglinda.  I guess we should not feel too sorry for him.

I sincerely hoped that I would like Bryn more this time, but I didn't.  He's all talky and melodramatic when I only want that wonderful, soaring Wagner line.  Do I care what they're talking about?  Not really. 

I made it through 4 hours and went home.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Rheingold rerun

I went to see the repeat of Das Rheingold in HD. 

No one seems to know what the Ring is for except Alberich, but they all want it anyway.  I think this is the first time I noticed that one giant wants Freie because he likes her, but the other one only wants her because it will annoy the other gods.

There is a distinct possibility that I don't like either the music or the plot to Rheingold.  I didn't make it to the end.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Jonas Kaufmann has not only cancelled Walkure at the Met, but the Jonas Kaufmann Gala in Zurich is also cancelled. The only thing I can find out is that he has a trachea infection. Let's hope for the best.

The Opernhaus Zürich has announced that May 11 will be a recital by Edita Gruberova and May 13 will be a Leo Nucci Gala. Nucci's gala will consist of three acts from Verdi: Act II of La Traviata, Act II of Rigoletto and Act III of Simon Boccanegra. Piotr Beczala will be there for Traviata and Rigoletto. It sounds like fun.

Time for a Tirade

On Sunday I went to an audition of students from local colleges.  The first 5 were undergraduate singers.  It was enough to cause one to despair for the state of voice teaching.

I agree with Stuart Skelton (see comment here) that undergraduates don't want to get involved in the really heavy repertoire.  (That's not exactly what he said.  I'm interpreting.)  I have praised the Merola program here for emphasizing the lighter lyric operas in their training.

However, there are a couple of things that students can learn at any age and any voice classification.

Anyone can learn breath support.  Undergraduates can learn to carry the breath across the phrase and keep the pressure low in the body.  These lessons will be valuable no matter what happens to the voice later in life.  Good breath support lets the natural sound of the voice come out.

Anyone can learn to produce a proper legato.  Let me repeat that.  EVERYONE can learn to produce a proper legato.  Jeeze, you guys.  What do you do in your lessons--and by you I mean all of you--no one gets off here--if the subject of how to produce a proper legato never comes up?

The elements of a good legato are...
  • The vowels all resonate in a similar space.  This involves keeping the teeth a similar distance apart, emphasizing the forward formant, thinking about how the vowels are produced at all....  I said this was going to be a tirade.  I'm just trying to put out ideas.  Don't do what I say.  Make up your own method.  Believe it or not, this all enhances diction rather than interfering with it.
  • The singer learns to keep the energy of the phrase going across the change from one note to another and during the consonants.  Think of singing as being like a musical saw.  The notes and the words change but the tone keeps going.  This will eventually eliminate leaking air.
These are the building blocks of everything else.  Until you have a proper legato, there is no point in trying to develop the elements of phrasing discussed elsewhere.  Each--breath support and legato--emphasizes and enhances the other.

Quit trying to make your students into something.  Teach them breath support and legato and wait to hear what comes out.  Teachers often screw up students' entire lives by thinking they should begin with classification.  I recommend the Cecilia Bartoli method--put off classification until the student is over 40.  (Now that she's in her 40's she finally admits that she's probably a high lyric mezzo.)  The very young should sing as much variety as possible.  For the young classification is just choosing what they sound best singing.

I am speaking as a person whose classification was screwed up.  I was actually told never to sing Mozart.  How insane is that?

Tirade over.

Wagner's Dream

The film Wagner's Dream is really more Lepage's Dream.  Or maybe Peter Gelb's Dream.

At the beginning it is a toy that they are playing with.  They are used to playing with acrobats and their toys and designing toys for them, and so how different can an opera be?  The toy of a Rhine maiden cracks her head into the machinery, and no one seems to care.

The problem immediately becomes apparent, at least to me:  they are used to working with people who are young and athletic.  Their stand-ins all fall into this category.  They are unclear on the concept of opera.  When I see middle-aged, somewhat overweight stand-ins, I will understand that they are imagining Wagnerian singers playing these roles.

The Ring is an imaginary landscape.  What other opera takes place primarily outside?  It is an imaginary landscape of rivers, mountains, forests, caves and glens.  The characters are heroes and immortal gods.  In my imagination this would work best as a cartoon.  There will always be a disconnect between the imaginary landscape and the reality of a production of The Ring.  Lepage has tried to bridge this disconnect with his machinery, and it is fun to watch them all try.

And O they try so hard.  So much work.  I always enjoy watching other people work.  For me it is very enjoyable to watch opera in production.  I do miss it so.  The best seat in the house for an opera is in the wings.  It never looks like there is much space in the wings at the Met.

Dwayne Croft is the only one of the real singers that seems to be having any fun with this new concept.  He laughs as he jumps from one piece of the set to another.  The rest frown and look terrified.  Eric Owens is openly hostile.  If they are doing something daring and don't look terrified, it's probably the stand-ins.  Acrobats cross the rainbow bridge.

I'm trying to make this clear:  What is probably the farthest thing from an acrobat?  Quick.  This is a no-brainer.  The farthest thing from an acrobat is a Wagnerian.  No offense, guys.  50 is the right age for a Wagnerian.  25 is the right age for an acrobat.  I assure you, none of these people work out on the flying trapeze with Natalie Dessay.

And for me that is the problem with Lepage's Ring.  They never manage to stop looking terrified.  It ruins the tension in the scenes.  The emotion of the scene is replaced with terror.  Jay Hunter Morris is the best at faking it.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Gertrude Stein, the Nazi

We had our Gertrude Stein summer last year, but when the exhibition moved to New York, there was much noise about the idea that in WWII she had been a Nazi collaborator.  Here is a paragraph from Wikipedia:

"With the outbreak of World War II, Stein and Toklas relocated to a country home that they had rented for many years previously in Bilignin, Ain, in the Rhône-Alpes region. Gertrude and Alice, who were both Jewish, escaped persecution probably because of their friendship to Bernard Faÿ who was a collaborator with the Vichy regime and had connections to the Gestapo, or possibly because Gertrude was an American and a famous author. Gertrude's book "Wars I Have Seen" written before the German surrender and before the liberation of German concentration camps, likened the German army to Keystone cops. When Faÿ was sentenced to hard labor for life after the war, Gertrude and Alice campaigned for his release. Several years later, Toklas would contribute money to Faÿ's escape from prison."

I don't remember any of this from my Gertrude Stein period.  What I do remember is that she lived hidden away in a small French village throughout the war, and that after the war she thanked her neighbors for their generosity and protection.

Here is more Wikipedia about Stein's political opinions.

"Stein was politically conservative, though the nature of her opinions is debated. According to Janet Malcolm's Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, Stein was a life-long Republican and vocal critic of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal.  She publicly endorsed General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War and admired Vichy leader Marshal Philippe Pétain, translating some of the latter's speeches into English. These unpublished translations included a favorable introduction in which she compared him to George Washington. Some have argued for a more nuanced view of Stein's collaborationist activity, arguing that it was rooted in her wartime predicament and status as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France."

I know that Stein was not big on fathers and can easily believe she said in reference to many political leaders of the time, "There is too much fathering going on just now and there is no doubt about it fathers are depressing."

Here the Metropolitan Museum of Art has amended their wall plaque.

What do I think?  I very much like my friend's quote from Sylvia Plath: "Every woman adores a Fascist."  Hind site is 20/20.  We in America have never experienced a dictatorship and project onto others our self-confidence about how we would behave in one.  They were unquestionably lucky to get out alive.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


I am continuing in my obsession with French music.  The Germans are square and dynamic throughout their musical history.  Even when they borrow heavily from the Italians, the result is formal and serious.  The Italians are lyrical and emotional, concentrating their emotions into the joy of beautiful singing.  But what exactly are the French?  They always seem to obscure the form, sublimate the emotion, sanitize the phrasing, lift the poetry, do everything in their power to render the ethereal.  Their feet seem hardly to touch the ground.

On my iPod are four versions of Ravel's Shéhérazade, so I have made them into a playlist which I can listen to while walking around the park.  In the order of the soprano's first name:

The version by Régine Crespin and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, directed by Ansermet, from the album Berlioz: Les Nuits D'Ete; Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade; Debussy; Poulenc: Songs are on what has been called one of the 100 greatest recordings of all time.  Those who prefer Régine are probably of the conservative, classical bent.  She is a singer who sings large and keeps her eyes fixed on the horizon.  She expresses at the level of whole phrases, or perhaps even larger expanses.  This is not Italian music--slides are only occasional. She is exquisitely French in all her aspects.

The version by Renée Fleming and the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Alan Gilbert, from the album Poèmes is given very much the Fleming treatment.  Each single note is a unit of expression.  She scoops and slides in a delicate way, but nevertheless she does it frequently.  This version is for lovers of Renée Fleming who will find it very rewarding.  She intimately lures you in.  In fact, this may be the expressive purpose of everything she does.  The contrast with Crespin is complete.

The third set is Susan Graham with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, directed by Yan Pascal Tortelier, from the album Poèmes de l’amour.  She slides only occasionally.  Why talk about that?  I'm not good with the adjectives thing.  When you've put together a string of adjectives, what do you really have?  She is the only mezzo in the set, but manages simultaneously a dark color and a light interpretation.  I think this is one of her gifts.  She does it all with her heart.

Last is the version by Victoria de Los Angeles with the Orchestre de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire, conducted by Georges Pretre, from the album The Fabulous Victoria De Los Angeles.  I've always loved the way she sings French.  She has fallen out of favor with modern listeners, possibly because of the lightness of her voice, but I still love her.  She is the easiest to understand and slides in a gorgeously subtle way.  I could listen all day. 

Am I required to pick one?  Only one of these ladies actually is French, and she produces the straightest, driest interpretation of the four.  Her eyes are on the skies.  Each has a lot to offer, but my heart belongs to Victoria.  There are many more on YouTube.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Stuart Skelton Interview

Scheduled for Siegmund in cycle 1, Stuart Skelton steps in for Kaufmann in cycle 3 of The Ring at the Metropolitan Opera.  And this is between performances of Fliegende Hollander at the ENO in London.  Now here is an interview.

He talks about being called a "young Heldentenor."  He doesn't like it.  But....  He is a Heldentenor.  Surely he doesn't doubt this.  And for a Heldentenor 43 is young.  If he were a lyric tenor, he would need to already have his shit pretty well together.  I'd say he was working into it quite nicely.

Sarah tells us here that this performance will be streamed on Sirius May 7.

Friday, May 04, 2012


If you hurry right now to YouTube there is a film of the entire Vivaldi concert of Cecilia Bartoli posted by Power Classic. This is undoubtedly covered by copyright and will soon disappear. They don't make as much noise as Berkeley.  This was recorded in Paris.

This is Bartoli at her most spectacular, Bartoli the great athlete, the mad woman of classical music. "Agitata da due venti" is the third encore.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Ranking the Simulcasts 2011-12

I am not going to be able to rank the simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera because nothing hit it out of the park for me this year.

I adored The Enchanted Island with Joyce DiDonato, and I liked very much Rodelinda with Renée Fleming, but, nevertheless, they are Baroque operas, and how far can you really go with that?

Mozart was well represented by Magic Flute with Nathan Gunn (I'm counting it because it was new for me) and Don Giovanni with Mariusz Kwiecien. I liked Flute for the production, but nothing really wowed me.

Bel canto was represented by Anna Bolena with Anna Netrebko.  Verdi was represented by Ernani with Angela Meade and La Traviata with Natalie Dessay.  What can I say?  Anna was too heavy, Angela was too blah, and Natalie was a disaster such as seldom happens at the Met.  I think Anna Bolena just missed.

Jay Hunter Morris saved both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung and became the sexiest Wagnerian since Peter Hoffmann, or perhaps ever.  I liked the bird in the production, but that's about it.  I continue to regret missing the San Francisco Ring.

Saryagraha is more of an event than an opera.  I liked it, but it isn't really in the running.

That leaves Manon with Anna Netrebko and Faust with Jonas Kaufmann.  Jonas isn't really the main character in Faust, despite the title, and I wasn't really crazy about Marina.  Good but no cigar.  I liked it better in Santa Fe.

That leaves Anna Netrebko as the Manon for the ages.  I love this performance so much.  The peak experience is the DVD.  Buy one.  Anna's problem for the rest of her career is going to be the trail of DVDs she has left behind.

This is a sample of the "Elizabeth Taylor" scene.

When it's Saturday, and there's no opera, I feel empty and disappointed.  I'm looking forward to next season.