Thursday, August 30, 2012

Helicopter String Quartet

This is the Elysium Quartet performing Karlheinz Stockhausen's Helicopter String Quartet as part of the world premiere of the opera Mittwoch aus Licht by the Birmingham Opera Company 22.08.12. It was written between 1995 and 1997. There are other days in the week, but he didn't finish the whole cycle. It didn't get its premiere until this year, so if you missed it, you may not get a second chance.  Feel free to skip around in the video.

Here is something from someone who went to this in Birmingham.

Frédéric Chaslin resigns

Santa Fe Opera chief conductor Frédéric Chaslin has resigned and opera officials say a search for his successor will start in the fall.

Opera General Director Charles Mackay said Tuesday that Chaslin was leaving because he wants to focus on composing, and has a busy schedule of concerts and a recording project as music director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.

The opera has finished this year's season.

Chaslin, who also is a pianist, was named chief conductor in 2010 and debuted with the opera in 2009 with a production of Verdi's "La Traviata." He was born and lives in Paris.

[Recently he has conducted Faust, Tosca and Maometto II.  This story is from the AP. ]

Read more here:

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Original Ariadne

Daniel Harding music director
Sven-Eric Bechtolf stage director
Rolf Glittenberg set designer
Marianne Glittenberg costume designer
Heinz Spoerli choreographer
Ronny Dietrich dramaturgy
Jürgen Hoffmann lighting designer

Wiener Philharmoniker

Emily Magee (The Prima Donna/Ariadne)
Elena Moșuc (Zerbinetta)
Jonas Kaufmann (The Tenor/Bacchus )
Eva Liebau (Naiad/A Shepherdess)
Marie-Claude Chappuis (Dryad/A Shepherd)
Eleonora Buratto (Echo/A Singer)
Gabriel Bermúdez (Harlequin)
Michael Laurenz (Scaramuccio)
Tobias Kehrer (Truffaldino)
Martin Mitterrutzner (Brighella)
Peter Matić (The Major-Domo)
Cornelius Obonya (M. Jourdain)
Thomas Frank (The Composer)
Michael Rotschopf (Hofmannsthal)
Regina Fritsch (Ottonie/Dorine)
Stefanie Dvorak (Nicolina)
Johannes Lange (Flunky)

These credits appear to be only for the opera.  The actors are not listed.  In the picture above are Ariadne and the countess.

I don't know if I can recommend this for you.  In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos, the Salzburger Festspiele has presented the original version of the opera.  Or is it an opera?   According to Wikipedia, "In the end, the opera occupied ninety minutes, and the performance of play plus opera occupied over six hours."  It was a failure.  Our play is not so long and the whole thing takes 3 hours and 23 minutes plus the omitted intermission.

In Ulm we were an opera company, a ballet company and a theater company, so I was exposed to rather more Bühnedeutsch than the average opera singer.  They are doing something vaguely approximating the play by Molière, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, spoken in German without subtitles.  Maybe if I pushed buttons, a translation would appear, but for me it is perfect.  I can even tell when the newly made countess slips out of her upper class dialect.  Her voice sounds a bit like Olive Oyl.  [Like if you recognize that name.]  Wie vermisse ich die deutsche Sprache.

In the stream from we see the first act from the other side.  The play is about the richest man in ?? who with his wife has been raised to nobility.  We see the countess request fireworks, and the ensuing chaos.  Hugo von Hofmannsthal is a character.  Jonas Kaufmann as the tenor has a brief outburst when he hears of the changes, "Im letzten Moment!  I go airport."  He goes off muttering in Italian.  Very funny.  We almost buy him as an Italian opera singer.  At the end of the first scene Hofmannsthal tells the countess that normally the intermission would come here.

The count in the second act--the opera--is a perfect asshole, constantly shouting and interrupting the singers. I can see how this wouldn't be popular.  The countess wanders out on to the stage and follows the singers around.  The great arias are here:  "Es gibt ein Reich," and "Großmächtige Prinzessin," but the singers are less than fabulous.

Just to be annoying, I have inserted Kathleen Battle doing "Großmächtige Prinzessin."

The three ladies sing their soothing music that sounds only mostly like "Schlafe, schlafe" and are interrupted by Jonas shouting.  The count jumps out of his chair each time.  Will I be able to see this opera without imagining the inquisitive countess?  Everyone gets excited.  Ariadne is rescued, not by a mere man but by a god.

Are you the goddess of this island?  A god has come for her and she appears to be bitching.  See review of Tosca for the Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne.  All those candles would make my throat close up.  Bacchus and Ariadne kiss, but the countess and Hofmannsthal also kiss.  I cried.  Have I ever cried for Ariadne before?  It is very pleasing to see this.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Trailer for Mission

We'll have to see if you can see this.  After all, it's out in Deutschland.

Die Meistersinger.

Hans Sachs: Franz Hawlata (bass-baritone)
Walther von Stolzing: Klaus Florian Vogt (heldentenor)
Eva: Michaela Kaune (soprano)
Sixtus Beckmesser: Michael Volle (baritone)

Act I

I enrolled in a regular membership in and have chosen to watch Katharina Wagner's production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from Bayreuth.  The one I'm watching doesn't look exactly like the above.  Walther von Stolzing, sung by Klaus Florian Vogt, is on the left, and Beckmesser, sung by Michael Volle, is on the right.  Both work the jigsaw puzzle correctly, only Walther does it upside down.  He doesn't think to turn it over to fix it.

In the one I'm watching the Meistersingers are all in the sedate gray business suits, but Walther the neophyte is dressed in a brown leather jacket and white pants printed with the fleur de lis in black.  This changes him into someone outrageous, a much better idea in my opinion.

I am writing this act by act and will add the next act after I have watched it.  Walther goes around the stage painting things.  You may have gathered by now that I am not an hysterical Wagner fan.  This act starts well, goes on OK and then in the last scene becomes astoundingly tedious.  This opera violates the "never attend an opera with three baritones" rule.  The tenors are fine.  So far I do not see what the fuss is about.

Act II

I'm still not getting what the fuss is about.  The entire second act is set in a cafe with small tables and yellow checked tablecloths.  There is a giant hand sculpture which Walther and Eva paint and climb on.  Here we have an explanation:  "The peculiarity of this stage direction is that Katharina Wagner wants to make Sixtus Beckmesser... friendly, because he is really humiliated through the opera."  So we're supposed to be shocked because Beckmesser sings rather nicely and in a dignified manner.  Besides that Hans Sachs, sung by Franz Hawlata, types instead of cobbles.  Shoes are falling from the sky.  They're constantly talking about shoes, Sachs is supposed to be a cobbler, so I suppose some way to bring shoes into the story is required.

Then everything breaks into a riot.  Students are throwing their books.  People come out holding Campbell Soup cans, open them and throw the contents all over the stage.  At the end when the night watchman comes out, everything is a complete mess.

I have a far stronger negative reaction to the singing.  The legato seems to be dying in German singing.  It's all a kind of raspy talky groan and not what for me is appropriate Wagner singing.  Hawlata is the worst offender.  I have a DVD here at home with James Morris as Sachs.  The contrast is quite shocking.  Walther and Eva, sung by Michaela Kaune, are not too bad.  I see what Vesselina Kasarova is talking about.  I advise everyone to ignore this and sing normally.

I have a small idea.  Beckmesser's song is usually done in a ridiculous way for laughs.  This is the first time I've heard it done straight.  Is it possible it is supposed to be a parody of someone singing coloratura?  Forgive me if this is well known.


The interesting parts of this production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger are all in the third act.  We are in Sachs' house which is furnished with a few pieces from Ikea [eye-KEY-a / ee-KAY-a], including a small shelf full of German language opera libretti--at least that's what these small yellow books are in my house.

Behind him is a wall of boxes containing what appear to be caricature busts of German composers.  I think I recognize Bach and Wagner.  They are behind a scrim for most of this scene.

Most of the plot of the opera is in the first scene of the third act.  Walther has had a dream which provided his song for the contest.  We hear the Prize Song in fragments.

Beckmesser enters Sachs' house, finds a poem, assumes it is by Sachs, and makes a great show of stealing it.

Eva tells Sachs she loves him and won't know what to do without him.  He responds with a theme from Tristan und Isolde and tells her he won't make the mistake of King Marke and marry a much younger woman.

David is promoted from apprentice to journeyman.  While Sachs sings about naming the new song, David and Walter and their prospective spouses form into tableau with their future children.  Stick figure houses form around the family groups.  They perform the quintet.

The phone company wants me to increase my band width.

Apparently if you want to actually understand this production, you should read here.  The action makes it look like it's about painting rather than singing.  It's easier to dramatize painting.  An opera about the rules of the art of being a Meistersinger is a bit difficult to pull off visually.  I think.  I'm not having the reaction I'm supposed to be having.  People love hidden meanings.  I have a personal preference for overt meanings.

I finally made it to the end of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The guy in the beret is Wagner and the one in the pigtail has to be Mozart. The theme of this opera, you will remember, is die heilige deutsche Kunst. Our sainted composers come out and cavort in their underwear while wearing their formal wigs. One has his head on backwards, I think. I don't seem to be able to find a list of who they are. 

Sachs is bound to a chair. A caricature woman comes out and offers him a lap dance, but he refuses. Wer eigentlich sind die? I think I see Beethoven.

Sachs casts a golden stag. Beckmesser is not a joke in this production. We don't really like his song written on Walther's words, but he sings it with honor and sincerity. While singing, he creates Adam from a pile of dirt. Hmmm. Adam and Eve throw apples to the crowd.

Our hippie tenor painter/poet cleans up well. He sings the wonderful prize song "Morning Dream" to great acclaim. Sachs declares him the winner and gives Eva to him. Two bimbos come out with a large check to contract Walther. Sachs offers him the golden stag and Walther turns it down. He takes his check and Eva and leaves never to return.

Sachs sings to no one that he should not scorn the German master. The opera ends. The audience boos. 

Today something is worth a lot of money or it is worthless. To blog about music because someone loves it and expects to receive nothing in return cannot be understood.

It is hard to know what to do with the pre-Hitler celebration of the holy German art. What use are ordinary men who gather together to celebrate the art of the Meistersinger simply for love?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Leah and Luisotti

This is opera in the park with Leah Crocetto singing "O mio babbino caro" and Nicola Luisotti conducting. Watch how he watches her. This right here is why his Italian work is so spectacular. I love him to pieces. And her. This is just her stuff. Nice long slide at the end.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

"I cannot remember any German sentences"

[This interview is translated from Die Welt.]

The best known soprano of today is in October on an eleven-city tour: Anna Netrebko about paparazzi, difficult German phrases and singing at the sausage stand. Manuel Brug

Anna Netrebko has taken on a lot for the fall. She has just recorded a Verdi album, in September she opens the Metropolitan Opera season with the "Elixir of Love", in October, she starts a spectacular tour of eleven cities with Tchaikovsky unknown "Jolanta". Now she is in Salzburg, where ten years ago it all began for her, quite summery relaxed forward and backward.

Die Welt: Can the Anna Netrebko of 2010, the sovereign Puccini-Star of Salzburg's "Bohème", remember the young Anna Netrebko that in the same place in 2001 sang Donna Anna?

Anna Netrebko: You mean because Salzburg meant my European breakthrough? Of course, but she does not think constantly about it. I'd rather look forward than backward. At that time I was a spontaneous girl who could try out many things. Today I am a woman of 41 years, with a child and a partner.

Die Welt: A woman of 41 - that sounds so pathetic.

Netrebko: I am an opera singer, there everything is pathos - no, of course not everything. But today I must remember my actions and desires, the whole career strategy much more. I can scarcely afford errors any more. Nowhere am I alone any more. All the world is watching, even if I am at Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre, where I was with my old friend Valery Gergiev, I still feel very safe to try out something new. And if it should not be good or optimal, it means that Netrebko can no longer, she is in crisis.

Die Welt: And how does Netrebko feel currently in Salzburg?

Netrebko: Very good. Although it is happening again. You have shot me down. Here I am the target of paparazzi, but only in these four weeks of the year! Luckily I'm not a pop or movie star, I could not stand it. Here I will be monitored the town is so small, but I have again in Vienna or New York peace and quiet. Ten years ago the then Anna is still blithely swept around in denim skirt on a bike here. Today someone would pull me down. During rehearsals I wanted to have my rest, so I'm never on the street, and as Erwin then came at last, and we went together before the premiere to the Festspielhaus, I totally focused, without makeup, and he somehow looked somewhere else because of the lurking photographers. "Erwin and Anna, the crisis", it was then again in the newspaper. We laugh about it still, we do not care. Once in a while we consciously go to artist triangle bar opposite the Festival Hall, where one can see us, take pictures of me. This is a service to the public.

But I live this year since the premiere in Fuschl outside the city, because here I am protected. Now I just have to go to Salzburg for the performances. And I commute frequently to Vienna. Because my son is now four and in kindergarten. I want him to tell me his experiences personally and not only via Skype. This is important.

Die Welt: How does Anna Netrebko feel as Mimi?

Netrebko: Still wonderful. The role grows and ages with me. Unlike the frivolous Musetta, she is definitely away, filed, that was the earlier Anna, I have grown out of her dress. Just as now with the dress of Donna Anna, with whom I became well known here, or from the Massenet-Manon. The coloratura Girlie is past.

Die Welt: But in Russian society magazine "Tatler" they spread wide your whole, very colorful and very glitzy wardrobe ... Anna is still Bling Bling!

Netrebko: Oh, it's already out? I've got to have that! Yes, that was a very funny photo session with my personal wardrobe, very colorful. But this is also a shield that deflects. And I'm born in Russia, naturally that is why I have Bling Bling in the blood, that I cannot and will not deny under any circumstances!

Die Welt: Where is Anna Netrebko going until she is fifty?

Netrebko: Further in the opera. Definitely. But really that long? I need my life to plan ahead six years. Sometimes it makes me shudder. You have to have the courage to revise things and to cancel.

Die Welt: Just as your Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera?

Netrebko: I no longer was that. The girl in the red dress from Salzburg 2005? Past. I did not want to compete with my own image that anyone can recall with a CD, DVD or YouTube. But Mimi has a beautiful soul. The singing is pure joy. I especially like the third act at the sausage stand in the new production, which is pure atmosphere, nothing distracts them, I feel this very intensely. But of course, I told the director, I am no longer a young mother, I have to be credible, even in costume, so please do not be punk.

Die Welt: Are you happy with yourself?

Netrebko: Already. Otherwise I'd go crazy. Of course I'm ambitious, performance-aware. The demands of the people from me. But today I am more generous about errors, also in others. It happens, it's human. One should not make a tantrum, it goes on.

Die Welt: Are you a good partner?

Netrebko: I think so. I can react instinctively, that fires off some tenors really. And I like being part of an ensemble. Because so much is flowing uncontrolled, spontaneous energy. We are moving in a note corset, but never know where it will carry us, that's great, then I'm hooked. In an ensemble it is salvaged, one can divert attention, must not carry all the evening oneself.

Die Welt: Does your voice still surprise you?

Netrebko: And how! I think I know it, and then there is always something unexpected. For example, I wanted to try out Lady Macbeth for my new album with Verdi arias, which we have just recorded. She is cruel, brutal, completely away from me. She lies deep, but one must also sing very high. Verdi was known to want to hear ugly, harsh tones from her. We have tried this and it worked, especially in the mad scene. I looked then into my depths. And was surprised.

Die Welt: Do you learn quickly?

Netrebko: It depends. With German, for example, I find it really hard, and as a naturalized Viennese! Not so much with words, but with grammar. I simply cannot remember German sentences. And I can learn new roles only when I sing nothing else. To stand on the stage with Puccini and at the same time memorize Verdi - not with me.

Die Welt: And when will you learn your first "Lohengrin"-Elsa?

Netrebko: Huh, yes, the contract for 2016 with Christian Thielemann in Dresden is signed. And I have already fixed my six weeks off where I will learn it. Then hopefully they will be surprised by my German.

Die Welt: Thielemann conducts this Wagner opera and 2018 in Bayreuth. With Anna-Elsa?

Netrebko: Never shalt thou inquire of me ... if it works in Dresden - I exclude nothing. And Thielemann wants me to sing more Strauss, so I already have the scores for the four last songs.

Die Welt: Are they more funny or more tragic?

Netrebko: Both. Just as life is. Comic roles are more relaxed, even though you must be very precise. I love to be the Adina in "Elixir of Love", which is superficial and easy, but with a lot of heart. And keeps my emotional budget in balance. I love also the blind Jolanta by Tchaikovsky, which at the end will see again. That is a short opera, but beautiful and full of light, in a figurative sense, as in the present. That gives me a lot of positive energy, for several weeks now to go on tour with this figure, this cheers my autumn enormously.

Die Welt: Have you given it before? A singer in an Eleven Cities Tour, as the heroine to a really wide audience in a totally unknown opera?

Netrebko: I myself am totally surprised by the enthusiasm of the organizers! But it's also great. I love this opera, it has staged wonderfully in Baden-Baden and a concert in Salzburg. And now they all want to hear it again. Some may also be because of me, but if I can do it, bring this absolutely listenable work to so many people, for which I am enormously grateful. A "Traviata" or " Bohème " you can always play without me, but if I can entice people to this Tchaikovsky, wow.

Die Welt: Will the woman of forty start taking life easy?

Netrebko: I do not know yet. There's a lot of energy. But I don't have to push anything. I don't have to do everything, the way I definitely did too much in the beginning and not always correctly. But it has overtaken me, and you have to first learn defenses. The roles, if one is on them, protect one wonderfully. You dress up, you can find in them a public self that stands in a long tradition.

We singers are always comparable. That is why it is so important that you develop yourself, that you realize your potential, and that one at the right time says Goodbye to a role or waits longer for it. As I have now waited a really long time on the Tatiana in "Eugene Onegin". It will be the highlight of my Russian repertoire - the first time next April in Vienna. Deliberately not in a new staging. [Bewusst nicht in einer Neuinszenierung.] I want to grope my way gently to her. I will be in the spotlight so anyway ... But I probably would miss it if it were not there.

Die Welt: But the time will come ...

Netrebko: Clear. And I want to be prepared. Opera is wonderful, and the business is so good, but I would not like to miss life - and it does not always have to defer to a later date. Then I must certainly bring a hundred percent performance to the stage, and I want to do it. Even for ones own psychic economy. Afterward I can really pull off the role like a costume and then I usually go home. I will party now less. Because I am a woman of 41 years! I know it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Not enough Rossini

Tanti affetti with Agnes Baltza.

Tanti affetti with Cecilia Bartoli.

Tanti affetti with Joyce DiDonato. Next year in Santa Fe.

At a 1973 Met performance of Il Baribiere, Marilyn Horne sang "Tanti affetti," from La Donna del Lago, during the lesson scene.


One more--Frederica Von Stade.

Monday, August 20, 2012

More Gossip

Three of our operas were also attended by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  She came with an entourage of US marshals.  We weren't allowed to leave until they were all gone.  She's extremely tiny.  It rained on those same three days.  Coincidence?

Judith Weir was commissioned to write Miss Fortune for the 2014 season, and while we were there it was cancelled and replaced with Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the first opera by Huang Ruo.

Now that I am home I have spent some time fixing the spelling and adding a few additional comments to my reviews from Santa Fe. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Next Year at Santa Fe 2013

War Horses:

La Traviata
This is a revival of the Natalie Dessay Laurent Pelly production reviewed here.   This time around it will star Brenda Rae and Michael Fabiano.

Marriage of Figaro will star Susanna Phillips as La Contessa.

Schon wieder Rossini--La Donna del Lago will star Joyce DiDonato and Lawrence Brownlee.  She has triumphed in Paris, Milan and Geneva in this role, and Santa Fe has aced out the other American companies for this performance.  Does it help that she lives in Santa Fe?  Sorry.  More insider gossip.  I will have to see this if I can.  [Schon wieder means already again.  For some reason I could not explain you say "schon wieder" quite a lot and almost never "already again."]

The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein by Offenbach is an operetta which will be sung in French with English spoken dialog.  The Duchess will be sung by Susan Graham.

This leaves the new opera Oscar by Theodore Morrison, a composer with whom I am unacquainted.  It will star David Daniels and is about Oscar Wilde.  One of our Road Scholar colleagues has attended a run-through of the first act and enjoyed it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


At the Santa Fe Opera, our last opera for the summer was Strauss' Arabella with these two stars:  Mark Delevan as Mandryka and Erin Wall as Arabella.  Musically they were extremely well matched.  Mark has a big beautiful voice and projects well the quality of a gentleman from the country.

Set in Vienna, Arabella begins with a fortune teller who predicts that someone will come for Arabella from far away.  She asks if there is another daughter--a very intuitive fortune teller.  Adelaide, Arabella's mother, confesses.  Zdenko is really Zdenka (sung by Heidi Stober) disguised as a boy.  The fortune teller predicts that an officer will cause confusion.  Zdenka immediately knows that this is Matteo (sung by Zach Borichevsky) who loves Arabella and is loved by Zdenka.

Mandryka is clearly the stranger from afar, and they fall instantly in love.

At the party for carnival the next day Mandryka sees Zdenko give Matteo the key to Arabella's room and immediately becomes jealous.  No one suspects that it is Zdenka who goes to bed with Matteo and not Arabella.

Arabella decides to forgive Mandryka because how was he to know that this young man with her bedroom key to hand out was really her sister with her own agenda?  Anyone could be confused.  The production is ambiguous about Matteo's reaction to all this.  In fact the ending of the opera is a bit lame.  It would hardly do for Arabella to stab herself like Anna or leap off the top of the hotel like Tosca.  Would it?

Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, this entire opera was completely permeated with the Strauss style.  It was a joy.

We didn't have quite as much behind the scenes gossip as last year, but we did learn that Erin Wall is ... ahem... five months along?  We didn't guess.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Maometto II

This was the world premiere of the new critical edition of Rossini's Maometto Secondo to be published next year.  In his liner notes Dr. Philip Gossett goes out on a limb and says, "...Maometto II is one of the greatest serious operas written during the 19th century."

In my youth there was no serious Rossini in the repertoire.  I feel especially blessed to be living in the era of Rossini revival.

I thought I detected the Gossett touch in this performance--not just in the perfection of the score but also in the ornamentation of the singers.  And sure enough, he was here helping with the preparation.  And for me what is the Gossett touch?  Ornamentation suitable for each voice and powerful self-confidence in its execution.

The odd thing about Maometto is all the ensembles.  By 1820 we are living in the dying ends of opera seria, a form that is more pure in Handel, a time when da capo arias are almost the whole thing.  In Maometto II everyone gets an aria, Anna gets a lot more, but that still leaves a lot of ensembles. 

It is a monumental opera, more like something by Verdi and not at all the kind of opera usually taken on by Santa Fe.  This season the excellent chorus is especially prominent.

This opera requires four magnificent singers, and it got them.  My fellow bloggers, who have already come and gone, seemed critical of these singers.  Bah humbug!  They were all wonderful.

At the top is Luca Pisaroni as Maometto.  According to Wikipedia he is from Venezuela but moved to Italy when he was 4.  That's Italian enough for me.  I also understand that he is Thomas Hampson's son in law.  Hampson was in our audience.

In the picture above we have our other three artists.  Left is Patricia Bardon as Calbo, a contralto almost in the Ewa Podleś tradition.  This part is wickedly difficult with lots of notes on either extreme of the range, and she handled it well.

Center is the magnificent Leah Crocetto as Anna, an individual fanatically devoted to duty.  In one night I am suddenly a fan.  It is a very long and difficult role which Leah executed with increasing assurance.  Right is the tenor Bruce Sledge as Erisso.  He was also excellent.  I stood for Leah.

There is a glaring flaw in this production.  At the end Maometto faces stage left and Anna faces stage right.  This puts Maometto's sword on his upstage side, so when Anna uses it to stab herself, this is completely invisible to the audience.  Obviously if you reverse where they are standing, all this changes.  We were warned.

Thank you for this wonderful experience.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


There are a lot of singers here at Santa Fe in the Road Scholar group, most of them more successful than I was.

At breakfast I was promoting my idea that you could simply teach two things to students of any age--breath support and the legato.

Nobody agrees with this.  To most people the legato is not anything.  But for me these two things go together--you must learn to connect the notes, to carry the phrase across the consonants and even any short rests that may appear.  It is this skill that validates the success of the breath support.

Sing music--not just notes, and everything about your singing will improve.  For me this is my most deeply held belief.

Tosca at Santa Fe

This picture in a somewhat wider and more decrepit version is the decoration for Act II of Tosca at the Santa Fe Opera.  Its title is "Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne" by Annibale Carracci, and it is indeed in the Pallazzo Farnese in Rome.  Only there it's on the ceiling while here it's on the wall.  A lot of that sort of thing goes on in this production.  (Please note the tie-in to Dionysus in King Roger.  This cannot be a coincidence.)

This shot shows the inside of the church dome with Cavaradossi's painting lying on the floor for Act I.  People walk all over it.  Bizarre.  And who are these lovely people?  Brian Jagde sang Cavaradossi and  Amanda Echalaz was Tosca, both big soaring, romantic Puccini singers.  Amanda was best in the intense scenes, and I liked very much her "Vissi d'arte." 

Brian is a replacement for the arranged singer.  I knew the name sounded very familiar.  He has been an Adler Fellow for 3 years, and he just won Operalia (I even managed to remember this.)  He needs to work this role into his voice more completely before he sings it in San Francisco in November.

The third person in this production was Thomas Hampson as Scarpia.  He is very sophisticated and casual about his evilness.  A lot of women think Hampson is very handsome, so what exactly is Tosca's problem?  We may never know the answer.  He died with a lot of flailing around.  He was booed in the bows and made a comical gesture--Moi?

Opera productions of the most popular operas become like established rituals.  The picture hangs here, Scarpia dies here, Tosca jumps here, but occasionally it is interesting to see something slightly different.  It is nice not to have to explain the opera.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1890-1910]

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I have now listened to three different people try to explain Karol Szymanowsky's [Shim-on-OFF-sky] King Roger (composed 1918-1924) to no avail.

I'm going to give it a shot.  First off there is what you see.

We begin in a church service with beautiful choral singing and bright royal costumes.  The Shepherd arrives talking about his non-Christian god and the priests and congregation want to kill him.  Only Queen Roxana speaks on his behalf.  The three characters visible in the above picture are Shepherd (sung by tenor William Burden), King Roger (sung by baritone Mariusz Kwiecien), and Roxana (sung by soprano Erin Morley).

We are in King Roger's royal chambers.  The Shepherd continues to preach his gospel of Dionysus and everyone seems to be coming over to his side.  There is an orgy.  Roger tries to chain the Shepherd, but he easily breaks free.

The scene takes place in a ruined Greek temple.  The Shepherd appears in fuzzy pants and looks a bit like a satyr, the servants of Dionysus.  Roger has a spiritual awakening and rises to greet the rising sun.

Got that?  No, I thought not.  I'm not sure it is possible to understand this opera at all.

So here's my theory:  Szymanowsky wrote an opera about things he liked.  He liked Sicily and went there often.  At some point he heard about the medieval King Roger II of Sicily with his uncharacteristic religious tolerance.  He liked Nietsche's The Birth of Tragedy which is about counterbalancing influences of Apollo and Dionysus in Greek tragedy.

He ignored time and space and mixed all this together in an incomprehensible libretto with the help of one of his relatives.  They didn't mind that it made little sense.  Each person can make his own interpretation.  An explanation that focused strictly on Roger might be more comprehensible, but ambiguity is not altogether unpleasing.

Szymanowsky was a composer and may be regarded as more successful in that area.  We discussed the composers who may have influenced him and mentioned Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky.  For my ears I definitely heard what I lovingly call Movie Music.  The combination of a world-wide depression and the beginning of talkies brought a lot of European composers to America and American films.  Alfano, Korngold, guys like that.  The specific details would vary from composer to composer, but the general style is very similar.  I call the style Movie Music because it is seldom heard today outside that medium.  King Roger will never make the 100 most performed operas list.

The performance was marvelous.  Szymanowsky could hardly have asked for more.  Kwiecien was fabulous as King Roger, and Erin Morley was simply incredible as Roxana with her soaring, mysterious singing.  The orchestra played this difficult score brilliantly.  It's all atmosphere and is over in 90 minutes.  This was the last performance, so everyone did their best.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Pearl Fishers at Santa Fe

"If we'd known the music was going to be so beautiful, we would have worked harder on the libretto."

These are the librettists of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers speaking. It was wonderful to see this outdoor opera in this outdoor setting. The sky in the photo is the real sky.

The plot is an odd love triangle: Zurga and Nadir love each other, and both of them love Leila, who is a priestess and sworn to chastity. Now, for most species the girl just says, "I like that one," and it's all over. For humans it's a lot harder. Zurga is the king and hates it that Leila has chosen Nadir. Zurga only lets them off because it turns out Leila once saved his life. Up until then he still wanted to kill them both.

Has Nadir been following Leila around all these years, or has perhaps Leila been following Nadir? One or the other is likely.

The production does a good job of creating the atmosphere of mystery and secrecy surrounding Leila, the mysterious priestess who gradually transitions to a private person. The production ends ambiguously with Zurga standing on the unlit pyre and Nourabad standing menacingly off to the side.

The fourth character in this opera, so to speak, is the chorus of the pearl fishers. At the Santa Fe Opera the chorus is made up of the apprentices, and they can really blast it out. They added a lot of intensity and excitement.

Nicole Cabell was lovely as Leila and sang with a lot of nuance. This made me feel anxious to hear her in San Francisco next season in I Capuletti. Eric Cutler is very large for a tenor, and as Nadir he is made to look a lot like Indiana Jones. We can see why Leila goes for him. Christopher Magiera sings Zurga the new king of the pearl fishers. Individually they are fine, but they don't particularly go well together.

The music of The Pearl Fishers if very beautiful and atmospheric and is what brings anyone to this opera.

[See Kinderkuchen History 1850-70]

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Interviews at the Santa Fe Opera

These interviews about the 2012 season have been provided by the Santa Fe Opera.

The Pearl Fishers by Bizet

This interview with Nicole Cabell cannot be embedded.

Maometto II by Rossini

This interview with Dr. Philip Gossett cannot be embedded.  They have chosen the Naples version with the tragic ending in Dr. Gossett's new version.  At home I have an unwatched DVD with the happy ending.

King Roger by Szymanowski

Arabella by Strauss

This interview with Sir Andrew Davis cannot be embedded.

I am here because I simply could not resist the selection of repertoire.  I've only seen Arabella on DVD and have not seen Maometto II or King Roger at all.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Oh Darn

My efforts to guess what Cecilia Bartoli is recording continue to be a complete bust.  I have missed it again.   I went with Domenico Zipoli, but it turned out to be the other guy, Agostino Steffani.

I have a theory.  I once posted a list of Italian composers between Monteverdi and Rossini, and Cecilia is trying to make sure she records all of them.  Zipoli wasn't in the list.  She did a whole album of Vivaldi.  Alessandro Scarlatti is on Se tu M'ami and Proibita.  Porpora and Vinci are on Sacrificium.  She recorded the Pergolesi Stabat Mater with June Anderson.  Paisiello, Caccini, Cavalli, Carissimi and Cesti are on Se tu M'ami.  Caldara is on three different albums.  That doesn't leave very many.  I realize this is far too egocentric to possibly be true. 

Webisode 1

Webisode 2

Webisode 3

Webisode 4

This one is a favorite.  She threatens to call the police and picks up a banana and holds it to her ear.  This is a lot of fun.

Go to to gain access to exclusive content from Cecilia Bartoli's new album 'MISSION'

There is a tour associated with this, of course.  We assume she will not be performing bald.