Friday, November 30, 2012

Strange Things in My Inbox

Via a Google Alert from the London Evening Standard

The Marriage of Figaro still has bitterness of a divorce

The spectacular sacking of Jonathan Miller from New York’s Metropolitan Opera may have occurred 10 years ago but In Two Minds, a biography of the prolific director, threatens to reopen old wounds. Miller left the company after disagreements with Italian diva Cecilia Bartoli in his production of The Marriage of Figaro, before launching a scathing attack on The three Tenors in a post-dispute press interview.

Miller has been restrained in discussing the incident with his biographer Kate Bassett but his former colleague, National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner, is a little less discreet about the fateful production.

“I happened to see that Figaro which was hijacked by the most disgustingly plush, scandalously self-absorbed conducting I have ever heard [from that] fat monster in the pit, James Levine.”

Levine has spent 40 years as music director of the Metropolitan but Hytner holds him in very low esteem, calling him “one of the great musical villains of our time."

[BB.  This discussion refers to the events in this article from the BBC News Monday, 20 May, 2002, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK :]

Jonathan Miller
Miller has criticised the opera star system before

Jonathan Miller has said he considers himself "fired" by the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, after a dispute with general manager Joseph Volpe four years ago. In an interview with US music magazine Opera News, the director said the falling-out followed artistic disagreements with star soprano Cecilia Bartoli.

Cecilia Bartoli
Bartoli is one of the biggest draws in opera today
Miller said that in 1998, when he was directing The Marriage of Figaro at the Metropolitan, he differed from Bartoli on the inclusion of two rare arias. The opera house manager sided with the star and, according to Miller, "kept on sort of jabbing a blunt finger in my face".
In his interview with music critic Martin Bernheimer, Miller also renewed his attack on what he called "Jurassic Park performers".

'Massively inert'
He singled out the Three Tenors, saying that Jose Carreras "just can't act" and describing Placido Domingo's work in a Miller production at La Scala as "stiff and unyielding in many ways".
And he added he would never work with Luciano Pavarotti.
Miller's remarks about working at the Met are unusual in their frankness.

Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennet

Though he returned to the opera house to direct Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande for the 1999-2000 season, he said he regards himself as "fired". Referring to the dispute with Bartoli over which arias to sing, Miller told Opera News: "I had a sort of set-to.
"I expressed my misgivings quite strongly. I found the arias almost impossible to rehearse.
"I couldn't get my head around things that had nothing do with the action."
The Met's general manager then intervened.
"It obviously got to Volpe's ears that I had been, as he would have said, uncooperative," said Miller.
"When my agent made some inquiries about what other things I might be doing in New York the response left no doubt. I'd been fired".
But Miller is returning to the US to direct Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin this summer in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
"Some of the best things I've done are in what is often disparagingly called the regions," said Miller. 

BB.   Wow.  I have been moderately critical of Levine in this item which aroused no particular interest from the general public.  For me he's an excellent musician with very conservative, even fuddy-duddy tastes.  However, this has always been my favorite Figaro ever.  For absolutely everything.

For me it is important to notice that while Miller returned to the Met, Bartoli did not.  And I understand completely why she wanted to change the arias.

This clip from the production has Bartoli's highest number of plays.

And this is what most of the fuss is about.


Here is a very nice article about Eric Owens in the LA Times.  He is soaring right now, and deservedly so. 

Anna Netrebko completes her Iolanta tour this evening in Vienna.

At the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek, Colorado we have next year:
Jonas Kaufmann - Jan. 13 - $150
Anna Netrebko - March 25 - $150.

Elīna Garanča will sing at Weill Hall in Santa Rosa Tuesday, April 9, 8:00 pm.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Throughout the 80s I was a bird watcher.  One Saturday a fellow birder was listening to the Met broadcast while we were driving from spot to spot.  Bird watching involves a lot of driving.  Person looked at me and said, "I think it's Figaro."  I responded, "No, listen--it's serious.  It must be Clemenza di Tito."  I don't think I had ever heard Clemenza di Tito at that time, so this was a wild guess.  I was correct, of course.

Since I began blogging, I have watched two DVDs of Clemenza: one with Kaufmann which featured outfits, and one with Susan Graham which featured a baked potato.  I still have never seen it live in performance and still will not have after Saturday's simulcast.

This is a plug for the Met simulcast on Saturday of La Clemenza di Tito.  Be sure to watch.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I received a link to this article about the economics of making music in my email.  The media changes are not shocking, but the total amounts are much worse than I imagined.  I tend to think that the music industry is committing suicide by pushing inferior product.

Classical has a different problem.  Classical music went through a period when every imaginable piece was recorded and pitched.  To find something new we are stuck with Baroque archeology.

I like to listen to new people and find new things to enjoy instead of listening to the same thing over and over, but my friend Jean says she only wants to hear Kirsten Flagstad sing Wagner and doesn't care if she doesn't listen to anything new.  Most of the older audience for opera tend to agree with her, I think.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas Presents

If I am going to recommend a version of Wagner's Ring, it has to be the Solti Ring, possibly the greatest classical recording of all time.  His touch is more delicate than you hear these days, and it has perhaps the greatest cast ever assembled.  This version was recorded in 1965 but was recently remastered.

I've fallen behind in reviewing recital disks this year, but this one is excellent, if only for those inclined to the Baroque.  While sticking to her theme, she successfully interprets a wide variety of music.

This is also entirely from the Baroque period, middle Baroque to be precise, and by an entirely unknown composer:  Agostino Steffani.  He's rather sweet and attractive.  The main attraction of this album comes from the always magnificent Cecilia Bartoli.

This has been my favorite Der Rosenkavalier since forever and is finally available on DVD.

Anna and Elina together make for a pretty incredible Anna Bolena.  This is one of Netrebko's best.

I always recommend something unusual, and this year it doesn't beat Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini.  Helicopters, robots and carnival costumes make for a very lively entertainment.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Opera's Angels

I stole this from Isabel Leonard's Facebook page.

This is Danielle de Niese, Isabel Leonard and Maih Persson as Charlie's Angels.  I would go to this movie.

Friday, November 23, 2012


The New York Times published their recommendations for Christmas presents today.  I guess I'd better get to it.

The most glaring omission from their lists is Joyce DiDonato's Drama Queens.  I think it would be at the top of my list.  Their most curious recommendation is for Anna Nicole.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Another Tosca

Opera Quiz.  What's the other opera where they shoot off a cannon from the Castel Sant'Angelo?  Answer at the end.

The Tosca from the San Francisco Opera is very much a traditional production.  The sets don't literally portray the locations, but they do strongly suggest them.  In Santa Fe we had a reproduction of an actual painting from the Palazzo Farnese, but in San Francisco there is just the idea of a frescoed room in an Italian palazzo.  And it is best not to stare too long at photos of the Castel Sant'Angelo trying to figure out how Tosca could possibly have jumped from it.  We are on the roof facing Saint Peters, as always.

The person sitting next to me said that this was her first Tosca.  I told her at the end that she should always compare Tosca with this one.  It was very nice indeed.

Tosca is wearing her traditional trains, and Angela Gheorghiu, our Tosca, flings them around to keep from falling over them.  I always remember Marie Collier in this role, viewed from about where I currently sit, avoiding her train in an almost magical way.  Angela made it all the way through in good voice and great style, altogether a very satisfying Tosca.  She placed the candles just as she should.  You believed completely when she stood over Scarpia shouting "mori"--die.

Roberto Frontali is a crude, sadistic Scarpia.  We aren't sorry when he dies.

Massimo Giordano looks exactly as he should.  He could sound better.  Should I give him advice?  I am always curious that none of the Italian tenors seem to be imitating Luciano.  Brighten the vowels, open the throat.  You will be glorious.

I asked the woman next to me what else she had seen.  She liked Moby-Dick.  The feeling of actually being on a ship was very powerful.

In Tosca the cannon is fired from the Castel Sant'Angelo to announce that a prisoner has escaped.  In Benvenuto Cellini the cannon is fired to announce the end of Carnivale.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Barber of Seville
Malcolm Mackenzie

I have been known for no particular reason to greet someone by singing "Buo-o-na se-ra, Buo-o-na se-ra."  I did not manage to remember which opera this was from.  The answer was made clear this evening when I attended a performance of Rossini's The Barber of Seville at the Sacramento Opera, where the phrase comes in the second act.  My excuse is that it's very catchy.

This was a very pleasant night's entertainment, full of marvelous music led by conductor Thomas Conlin, excellent singing and fabulous acting.

Leah Wool was a spunky and melodious Rosina.  I notice in the program that she also sings La Cenerentola. Thomas Glenn was a handsome and in all ways attractive Almaviva.  Stephen Eisenhard entertained us as Dr. Bartolo.

The star of the evening was Malcolm Mackenzie as Figaro.  He has appeared twice before at the Sacramento Opera since I have begun living here.  I made disparaging remarks about his acting last time, but this time he was lively and energetic, reminding all of us why the opera is named after his character.  His big aria was outstanding.  Why hasn't he moved up?

Kudos to the stage director David Bartholomew.

There's another performance on Sunday afternoon.  Buy a ticket.

Friday, November 16, 2012


Briefly. I just watched Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem with Patrick Marco on from somewhere in France. They performed with 2 pianos and timpani for "Den alles Fleisch" which would sound quite odd without drums. It sounds quite odd anyway, but is more transparent this way. 

Everything that Cecilia Bartoli is singing in for Pfingsten is already sold out. Including this piece. Sigh. Norma will be repeated in August, but not the Brahms. Maybe they will stream. I feel a mixture of profound curiosity and fear about hearing this. I know people sneer, but it is my favorite piece. Enough.

P.S. I posted this in a comment, but I think it might go better here.

I have always heard sincerity in Brahms. Everything about the deutsches Requiem is his own creation--the choice of text, the structure, the music, the orchestration. It is all his personal musical and religious expression.

I was good with the two piano format because it is known that this is the format in which Brahms often composed. Perhaps it's even authentic. Wagner jettisoned the whole idea of structure and invented his own structure by free association.

I always admire Brahms for his life long attempt to create in the traditional structures. I always hear humility in Brahms, a character trait entirely missing in Herr Wagner. The Wagnerites hate Brahms for just this quality.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ain't it a Pretty Night

When I was doing American opera, how did I miss this?

This is the great American artist Renée Fleming singing "Ain't it a pretty night" from Carlisle Floyd's Susannah sung at the Richard Tucker Gala in 1995.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Don Carlo on

I am watching Verdi's Don Carlo from the Royal Opera on with many of the same cast as the Metropolitan Opera in HD in 2010.  There are:

Marina Poplavskaya (Elizabeth of Valois)
Simon Keenlyside (Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa)
Ferruccio Furlanetto (Philip II)

The production is the same.  The main differences are the conductor is Antonio Pappano, Eboli is sung by Sonia Ganassi and Don Carlo is sung by Rolando Villazon. I think I prefer Ganassi to Anna Smirnova.

It's different.  How is that possible?  I think that Pappano is very sensitive to the great beauty of this opera, perhaps Verdi's most beautiful.  I can see Don Carlo played for romance and beauty rather than intensity and melodrama.  For this perspective Marina is the perfect Elizabeth.  She grows on me.

Villazon retains all of his intensity, but I think his voice has acquired roughness.  His voice lacks the power to project his personal intensity.  My opinion hasn't changed about him.  But for the beautiful Don Carlo perhaps he is right.

Now we are in the third act and Carlo raises his sword against his father.  Posa steps between them and the theme from the duet of Carlo and Posa plays in the orchestra.  We have a Leitmotiv.  Philip knights Posa.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Tempest

Conductor...............Thomas Adès
Production..............Robert Lepage

Prospero................Simon Keenlyside
Miranda.................Isabel Leonard
Ariel...................Audrey Luna
Caliban.................Alan Oke
Ferdinand...............Alek Shrader
Stefano.................Kevin Burdette
Trinculo................Iestyn Davies
Antonio.................Toby Spence
Sebastian...............Christopher Feigum
Gonzalo.................John Del Carlo
King of Naples..........William Burden

Today was the simulcast of Thomas Adès's The Tempest from the Metropolitan Opera.  This opera lies much closer to Shakespeare's play of the same name than did The Enchanted Island, which we all loved very much.  It's modern, generally like the clip in the previous post and the one above.

There is Prospero, well sung by a tattooed Simon Keenlyside, who is a bitter old man who has been living on an island for 12 years with his books on magic, his daughter Miranda, sung by Isabel Leonard, his slave spirit Ariel, sung by Audrey Luna, and the former King of the island Caliban, sung by Alan Oke.  They are a pathetic group.  Caliban is an ugly monster who stalks Miranda and hopes to marry her.  Ariel is a slave to Prospero and has been promised freedom at some point.

That's two baritones, a mezzo-soprano and a coloratura soprano.  A very strange coloratura soprano.  Ms Luna has an incredible whistle register which is where the part of Ariel mostly lies.  The Queen of the Night in Flute just has her occasional leaps to high F's, but Ariel's part goes to a high G and hangs around above a high C for extended stretches.  I've never heard anything like it.  It was well and enthusiastically done, but gee.  In one spot she sings "Bow wow, bow wow."  Ariel is made of air.  Perhaps it makes an odd kind of sense.  This is the only thing about the opera that draws your attention to the singing. 

Prospero has received news that those who banished him to this island, the King of Naples and Prospero's brother Antonio, are passing by in a ship.  His sources are presumed to be magical.  He commands Ariel to sink their boat and bring them to the island.  Prospero has his revenge and everyone is happy at the end.  In their miserable, sniveling ways.  Except his precious daughter Miranda has fallen in love with the King's son Ferdinand.

The music is all like the sample.  Played by the fabulous Metropolitan Opera orchestra, it makes a different impression than my previous encounter.  The general impression is of disintegrated fragments of harmony and phrase.  There isn't much in the way of flow.  However, it has its own distinctive sound.

The text is almost Shakespeare, but not.  We hear Miranda declare "O brave new world" in the right place.  But why couldn't they have used:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.

instead of the prose version?  As part of Prospero's revenge, Ferdinand, sung by Alek Shrader, is told that his father has died in the shipwreck.  We get something more modern sounding and not at all poetical, though it generally rhymes.  How does one manage that?  There is no antique vocabulary.

Robert Lepage was more suited to producing The Tempest than he had been for The Ring, perhaps because as a modern opera it could be performed by young people capable of swinging from chandeliers and falling through holes in the floor.  It didn't always make sense, but it looked good, worked fine and made the performances more interesting.

We got to the end and felt little enthusiasm, either in our theater or in the Met audience.  I managed a bravo for Keenlyside who was really quite good.

Most Adorable

The most adorable on stage couple award has to go to:

Alek Shrader as Ferdinand and Isabel Leonard as Miranda in The Tempest from the Metropolitan Opera.

And here's a clip of them singing.

Isabel's all smiles Miranda is such a contrast to her all serious Costanza in Griselda that it is hard to imagine they are the same person.

Friday, November 09, 2012

James Levine is making a comeback.

[This is copied from the New York Times.]

Saying ‘It’s Miraculous for Me,’ Levine Will Conduct Again at Met
Published: October 11, 2012

James Levine is "overwhelmingly happy to be coming back."

Mr. Levine conducting the Met Orchestra in Mozart's "Serenade No. 9 in D Major" at Carnegie Hall last year.

Defying opera world doubters who thought he was too ill, weak or disengaged, the longtime and much loved music director of the Metropolitan Opera plans to return to the podium for the first time in two years, for a May 19 performance by the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall and for three productions at the opera house next season.

Mr. Levine, 69, once a workhorse of the baton, has been plagued by health problems since 2006, leading to a drip-drip of cancellations over recent years. A fall in the summer of 2011 that caused severe damage to his spine forced him to bow out of all of last season and cancel involvement this season while he recovered. He hasn’t led a performance since May 14, 2011, when he conducted Wagner’s “Walküre.”

“I’m overwhelmingly happy to be coming back,” Mr. Levine said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “It’s miraculous for me.”

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, gave the news to the executive committee of the trustees late on Thursday afternoon and planned to tell the company before the evening’s performance.
Mr. Gelb said Fabio Luisi, the principal conductor who was brought in to fill the void left by Mr. Levine’s absences, would remain in the position to preserve musical continuity for the orchestra, but it was not immediately clear how he and Mr. Levine would share responsibilities.

In the interview Mr. Levine disclosed details about his condition. He remains unable to walk because of the spinal damage and acknowledged what many had suspected for a while: he has a nonprogressive condition related to Parkinson’s disease that causes hand tremors, which his doctors called “benign Parkinsonism.”

Mr. Levine said he would conduct from a motorized wheelchair that he uses. Met technicians are devising a podium that mechanically rises and falls, like an elevator, for Carnegie Hall and the Met pit.

The Met’s plans now call for Mr. Levine to lead a revival of Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” (nine performances), starting on Sept. 24; a new production of Verdi’s “Falstaff” (10 performances), starting on Dec. 6; a revival of Berg’s “Wozzeck” (five performances), starting March 6, 2014; and the second half of the “Così” run, starting on April 23, 2014. He is also scheduled to conduct three Carnegie Hall performances with the orchestra next season, as well as the concert in May. Mr. Levine, who even before the fall walked with a cane or used a wheelchair and conducted sitting down, said he was on the mend and hoped to regain limited mobility soon. He said that the fall caused complete paralysis in his legs, but that he has recovered sensation and movement, if not the ability to walk.

“For the first few weeks, I could have been reading a newspaper while somebody was moving my leg, and I wouldn’t have known he was moving it,” Mr. Levine said.
Mr. Levine said that he had had the Parkinson’s-related condition since 1994, and that on its own it did not interfere with his conducting. But he explained that the severe pain from back problems would make it worse, resulting in a more pronounced tremor and greater impact on his legs. A Parkinson’s medication he took, L-dopa, “contributed to the shaking in his legs and left hand,” the Met said in a statement.

Mr. Levine has been going into the Met regularly since early September, he said, for administrative meetings, to coach singers in the young artists program and to listen to auditions. He said he would pick up the pace of rehearsing cast members for future productions toward the end of the year.
The whole idea, he said, is to “do what I used to do and then some, because you always learn a lot.”
Mr. Levine’s health woes began in 2006, when he fell onstage in Boston and tore a rotator cuff. A malignant cyst led to the removal of a kidney two years later. Then came three more operations: to repair a herniated disk; to correct curvature of the spine and spinal cord compression; and to fix a nerve problem resulting from the spinal surgery. He resigned as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in early 2011 because of his condition.

Then, that August, he fell down several steps while on vacation and suffered the spinal injury. While the Met held out hope that Mr. Levine would return, he ended up announcing cancellations for this season and last, including high-profile cycles of Wagner’s “Ring,” where Mr. Levine is often considered at his most revelatory. Each cancellation brought intense scrutiny, given his deep association with one of the nation’s most important arts institutions. He has conducted at the Met since 1971 and became its music director in 1976. His tenure has shaped the musical standards of the house and put his mark on several generations of singers.

In Mr. Levine’s absence the Met turned to one of his regular substitutes, Mr. Luisi, the Italian maestro, and named him principal conductor.

Mr. Luisi “understood all along that Jim’s intention was to return,” Mr. Gelb said. “He has a very important role with the orchestra.”

With patrons and operagoers often asking when Mr. Levine would be back, Mr. Gelb came under pressure to make a decision about Mr. Levine’s long-term status, but he said he would not act as long as there was any shred of hope that Mr. Levine could someday conduct.

Matters became acute this fall, as the Met prepared for its 2013-14 season announcement in February. If Mr. Levine were out, substitutes had to be found. His doctors — two neurologists and a spine surgeon — agreed that their patient was recovering enough to go back to work eventually.

In an unusual display of openness, the Met, with Mr. Levine’s permission, released statements from the doctors. They said that his upper-body strength was stronger than it had been in years because of rehabilitation. He was pain-free and unencumbered by the benign Parkinsonism. “His prognosis is good,” said Dr. Patrick O’Leary, a spine surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.

Given so many dashed hopes in the past that Mr. Levine would come back, Mr. Gelb said, “it has to be really clear that his return is credible this time.”

Mr. Levine said it was difficult discussing his medical issues.

“I was brought up in a time when if you had a difficulty like that, it was just good form to solve it and keep your own counsel, if you could,” he said. “Now we live in a different time.”

He said he was also reluctant to mention his benign Parkinsonism to avoid “the very dire idea” associated with it in people’s minds.

Mr. Levine said he would juggle a heavy load of rehabilitative therapy with his increasing Met duties. In a certain sense, those tasks will merge, he added.

“My life commitment is to the Met, and I love the Met so,” he said. “My doctors also think that besides being able to recommend that I should come back, they are ready to say I’m likely to be helped by it as well.”

A version of this article appeared in print on October 12, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Saying ‘It’s Miraculous for Me,’ Levine Will Conduct Again at Met.

Thursday, November 08, 2012


If you have missed this, this week is the opening of the Sacramento Opera season, and the opera is Barber of Seville.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Drama Queens

This is a very worthy followup to Furore.  I like it very much.  Would a lot of words mean more?  It is masterful and focuses completely on the music.  Joyce's entrance into the Gramophone Hall of Fame is due to releases like this.


Monday, November 05, 2012

Break-Out Stars

I found an article in the Huffington Post here showing a slide show of Break-Out Stars of the Metropolitan Opera.  Again the list includes familiar names and unfamiliar names.  The familiar ones are:

Alek Shrader

I saw him in last summer's Magic Flute at the San Francisco Opera as Tamino, though he doesn't seem to have made much of an impression.  We will see him in the simulcast of The Tempest.

Janai Brugger

She was in the Merola Finale just two years ago where I said her performance was "not too bad."  Not a bad review when I completely panned almost everyone else.  A much more favorable reaction came when I flew to LA to see La Bohème last May. I said, "Most outrageous is Musetta [Janai Brugger] whose scene is dramatically enhanced to the point of slapstick.  I loved it." Charisma is something we are looking for, and she almost stole the show.  We will  not see her in the simulcasts this year.

Elza van den Heever 

Elza is a familiar face at the San Francisco Opera.  She became somewhat notorious when she replaced Hope Briggs as Donna Anna in Don Giovenni in 2007.  This incident wasn't her fault.  She also sang Mrs. Lee in the world premier of Appomattox in San Francisco.  I saw her perform Donna Anna in Santa Fe where I described her voice as "big without being heavy."  This is very high praise indeed and may point to stardom.  At the Met in the simulcasts she will sing Elisabetta in Maria Stuarda. Here is something from Idomeneo.

Kristine Opolais

I have not seen Opolais, but here is a sample of her Butterfly. I think her breaking out may already have occurred. We will not see her in the simulcasts, but she will sing in La Rondine at the Met.

Liudmyla Monastyrska

I have not seen Monastyrska, but she has already sung Lady Macbeth at the ROH, so how break-out can she be?  She will sing Aida in the simulcast.  Here you can watch her in the sleepwalking scene.  The presence of a link to Macbeth below will show you she already has a DVD for it.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Plaisir d'amour

They are everywhere now.   I will refrain from repeating anything.

"Grotesque et ridicule ! Elle qui était si pointilleuse sur la diction allemande de ses élèves auraient bien fait de s'appliquer ses propres préceptes. En plus, cette manière de faire un sort à chaque mot enlève tout charme à cette mélodie si simple et si belle. Elle ne comprend rien au style de la romance française." From YouTube comments.

I love the song and I love Elisabeth, but for once I agree with a YouTube comment. Perhaps our commenter would like this one better.

Just one male example--Gigli.

It goes on and on.

Battle's version is very important.


I was relatively young when I noticed that what I was being taught -- how to pronounce languages, how to articulate notes, always to sing in tune and rhythm, etc. -- wasn't the same as what the most famous singers were doing. I concluded that this meant that they knew something I didn't.

Now in the days of YouTube no one seems able to make this logical leap. The constant carping that is seen in the comments for famous singers seems to come from individuals who studied singing and believed completely in what their teachers were telling them. What follows is my conclusions, not your teacher's.

 Maria Callas was a mezzo and was pushing her voice up into a tessitura it wasn't precisely suited for. This and not her weight loss is the cause of her loss of quality in the upper register. If you can't stand to listen to it, find someone you do like. All this carping isn't going to change anything.

Jonas Kaufmann became wildly famous because he found a teacher who could get him to open his throat and produce a heavier, darker sound than the wimpy lyric tenor he was doing before this. He still lapses into a lighter tone on occasion and cannot seem to commit to this dark sound. Sounding like a baritone doesn't mean he is a baritone. Tessitura and not color is the basis for classification. Lesson--please pay attention--which notes you can produce comes from the vocal cords, and what color your voice creates comes from the resonators. Classification comes from the vocal cords, not the resonators. Please don't make me say this again. Sometimes there is a mismatch. Vocal cords always win.

Anna Netrebko sings a lot of coloratura repertoire, but doesn't seem to articulate the notes the way you were taught in school. Lots of singers slur the coloratura: Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Edita Gruberova to name a few. I covered this in my I Puritani contest post. It's fine for a student to always articulate cleanly, but no awards are given out for achieving this. When push comes to shove, you had better have more to offer.

Renée Fleming sings virtually everything in a very slurred, Romantic style with very little hard articulation of consonants. Please note that she is very very famous, far more famous than the people who are spitting away on their consonants. She has found her gimmick and does not need your carping.

I allowed myself to get swept up into a YouTube argument by someone who wants to trash Jonas because he used a glottal attack on something in Italian. This subject always reminds me of an occasion when I was studying a piece by Henry Purcell with the words "all, all, all, all, all is love to me." My teacher wanted, insisted on a glottal attack on every "all." I thought this sounded ridiculous and dropped the piece from my repertoire.

Cecilia Bartoli does a lot of glottal attacks. I remember being shocked by this, but there is no evidence that she has suffered any ill effects from doing it, the only thing about it that concerned me. I think the amount of force involved is crucial.

In the German language the word "Einsam" which begins Elsa's Dream would start with a glottal stroke. Because this is normal speech. If I'm wrong, please correct me. Just be sure you actually are German first. Some singers do this, some don't. Does it form a basis for hysteria either way? I think not.

When I am judging the quality of a singer's performance, I do not consult the encyclopedia of principles I learned in school. I consult my heart. If I feel the familiar twinge, I know I have found gold.

I feel much better now.

Thursday, November 01, 2012


I have always said this blog is subtitled The Education of Dr. B.  Today I learned that the Robert Wilson whose name appears in the credits for Einstein on the Beach is the same Robert Wilson who created the production of Pelléas et Mélisande I liked so much when I watched it here.  There's always so much more to know.