I went to see Woody Allen's To Rome with Love for the pictures. I wanted to see if I could recognize where they were. I would sit eating my popcorn and think "This is the Piazza del Popolo, and in that church there are Caravaggios. And now they are actually on one of those rooftop patios that are just below the Pincio. I'm jealous. And this is the lake in the Giardino Borghese." It is photographed with much love. Only the Pantheon is missing. In fact he under-represents all of the Roman stuff. Perhaps this is a personal bias.
The plot is very chaotic. Roberto Benigni becomes suddenly a celebrity and then suddenly not. His chauffeur says celebrity is better. I am doubtful. There are endless jokes about people asking directions. They are in the Piazza Venezia and wish to know how to find the Fontana di Trevi. The intended lesson is that you can't get there from here.
Penélope Cruz is channeling Sophia Loren as a prostitute and doing a fine job of it.
The Woody Allen character is a retired opera producer. He finds that his host, an undertaker by profession, sings in the shower and has a wonderful voice. Woody tries to get him work singing, but he can only sing in the shower. Does Eurotrash include people singing in the shower? I wonder. When it came time for Pagliacci to stab someone, he would walk over to the shower and get stabbed.
The undertaker is played by Fabio Armiliato, an actual opera singer. He's even sung at the Met. I can't help wondering if Fabio Armiliato is any relation to Marco Armiliato, the conductor.
I once told an Italian woman I knew who had married an American and moved here, "You know, they are having more fun."
I am enjoying very much the new copy of Opera News featuring an article titled "Opera's Next Wave." I am surprised to see that there are a lot of familiar faces in this list. I'm going to talk a bit about the ones I know.
I saw soprano Angela Meade in Ernani in HD last season. Their take on her is about the same as mine. She has a fabulous niche voice--spinto with agility. For me to go mad over her she's going to have to get the musical parts of her work to a highly polished state in order to compensate for her lack of charisma. The Met isn't searching primarily for charisma, but I think maybe I am.
I saw tenor Michael Fabiano in Lucrezia Borgia at the San Francisco Opera last fall where he played Gennaro, Renée Fleming's son in the opera. Michael was good but was hampered by the fact that the tenor doesn't really get to do tenory things in this opera.
I am already a fan of the very sexy Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni. As Leporello, he stole Don Giovanni from the Don of Mariusz Kwiecien. He was also adorable in his very weird makeup for The Enchanted Island. I'm going to Santa Fe in a few weeks where he will sing the title character in Maometto II. He actually wants to sing this so much that he suggested the opera to the Santa Fe Opera. I'm starting to get excited.
Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard completely stole the show for me last summer in Griselda at the Santa Fe Opera.
I have already traveled to see soprano Ailyn Pérez in La Bohème at the LA Opera. This was because I liked her so much in Faust at the Santa Fe Opera last summer. She's gorgeous, charismatic and has a beautiful voice. Unfortunately she doesn't seem to fall into my path any time soon. David Gockley!! Are you listening?
Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey is the person in the top hat standing behind Anna Netrebko in the Met HD of Tales of Hoffmann where she played Nicklausse, Hoffmann's muse. Nicklausse is rather a trans-gender individual who hovers around all of Hoffmann's loves and basically destroys them. Kate Lindsey completely transformed this character into the lead. I have also seen her in Don Giovanni in Santa Fe. She is what I would call a singing actress and a definite candidate for sexiest in drag.
I saw baritone Quinn Kelsey in 2009 in Il Trovatore in San Francisco and then again earlier this month in Attila. I detected significant growth, both in his command of his voice and in his presence on the stage in his second Verdi character. He already has a classical Grammy listing for Mahler 8 with the San Francisco Symphony. I was very impressed and hope to see him again soon.
This is tenor Javier Camarena whom I saw in Otello. Maybe I should post all of them behind someone else, someone more famous today. I have also seen him as Elvino in La Sonnambula in Paris with Natalie Dessay. That makes him a bel canto tenor, and a very nice one, too. I should find him a better picture. If you ever read this blog, you will know that I have a perverse sense of humor.
I am surprised to see how many out of their list of singers I have already seen. There were no violent disagreements. I did not write about tenor Alek Shrader, soprano Latonia Moore or soprano Eglise Gutiérrez because I haven't seen them. Forgive me. Anthony Roth Costanzo I have seen, but he is a countertenor. I also did not write about conductors, composers, etc. Read the article yourself.
In the last few months I have felt myself to fall almost into a fanzine. I don't know if this is my fault or simply the flow of events. Suddenly Cecilia Bartoli seems to be everywhere. After streaming Otello in March and Giulio Cesare in May, she has started this Mission treasure hunt. Cecilia has a lot of very bright fans, and I think the secret may already have been discovered. We'll see.
I have been a fan of Bartoli for 18 years. It was an instinctive reaction and not an intellectual decision. I could not have been more surprised by the path she has taken and continues to take. She is an original. Lately I have begun to feel proud of myself that out of the whole world of classical music I would pick her.
We have a bald priest. We have guns under hats. We have sheets of music with the titles turned into code. We have a narrator who cannot tell Turkey from Albania and who eats Cecilia's biscuits. We have Donna Leon in a fedora. I am irresistibly drawn to crime and mystery, so what am I to do?
Joyce DiDonato was on TV last night, but it was a documentary and they talked over her singing. Kansas City should be proud of their new symphony hall, but talking over Joyce is sort of rude.
All three of the singers I write about most are in operas at the Salzburg Festival this summer. Anna Netrebko is Mimi in La Boheme; Cecilia Bartoli is doing more performances of Giulio Cesare and Jonas Kaufmann will sing Bacchus in Ariadne auf Naxos.
Instead I will be going to the Santa Fe Opera. I still don't feel up to foreign travel. The opera selection for Santa Fe this summer is Arabella, Tosca, Maometto II, King Roger and The Pearl Fishers.
Conductor: Jean-Christophe Spinosi
Orlando: Marie-Nicole Lemieux (contralto)
Alcina (sorceress): Jennifer Larmore (mezzo-soprano)
Angelica: Verónica Cangemi (soprano)
Ruggiero: Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor)
Astolfo: Christian Senn (baritone)
Bradamante: Kristina Kammarstrom (mezzo-soprano)
Medoro: Romina Basso (mezzo-soprano) (heard in the recording of Ercole)
This DVD came unbidden in my mail. Let's see.
The male characters in Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso (1727) are Orlando (originally sung by a woman), Ruggiero (originally sung by a castrato), Astolfo (sung by a bass) and Medoro (also originally sung by a castrato). The female characters are Alcina, Angelica and Bradamante who is in disguise as a warrior (all sung by women). Are we confused? As if that weren't bad enough, one of the castrato parts is sung by a woman named Basso. Just go with it.
Recently has come the news that a new/old manuscript by Vivaldi has been found in Turin that has proved to be a completely different Orlando Furioso than the already known one that this DVD is based on. The new/old manuscript dates from 1714 and has a baritone for the lead character. Maybe some day soon we will see that one. I digress.
As if we weren't confused enough, this opera is one of those Baroque love plots. Angelica and Medoro are in love, but Orlando also loves Angelica. Ruggiero and Bradamante are in love, but Alcina also likes Ruggiero. Orlando goes mad and havoc ensues. You would only put on this opera because you had a coloratura contralto capable of endless rage arias. I've seen it with Marilyn Horne, and she was outstanding.
The singers in this video are youthful and vigorous in their seemingly endless coloratura. The production is period and set in a ramshackled castle. The colors are dark and also the emotions. The men are mere pawns of Alcina--no surprise--and Jennifer Larmore is deliciously evil in the part. The part is slightly low for Jaroussky, but he sings it beautifully anyway.
The intensity is surprising and builds to the end. Besides Jaroussky I think I like Kristina Kammarstrom best. Any discussion of singing in the Italian Baroque must consider this. I think the virtuosity of this period is outside our awareness, since for us Baroque opera is the German Handel.
They are all amazing. Orlando rants occasionally in French. The period costumes emphasize the madness of Orlando. She plays it for pure madness. Bravi.
OMG. This picture has already been posted on the forum, but I cannot help posting it again.
I admit that I noticed a gigantic gap in the schedule of La Gioiosa after the end of the Salzburg Festival in August. This picture is apparently a clue. Am I hallucinating or are the eyes brown? I don't know whether to laugh or run.
Part of the joy of being Cecilia Bartoli's devoted follower is not knowing what she is going to do next. She exceeds all expectations.
I cannot stop smiling.
Comment from Facebook: Haare werden überschätzt ;-) [Hair is overtreasured.]
In a film I was watching Harnoncourt says of Cecilia Bartoli, "She is
one of the few singers who can actually do what she imagines." And I
say it is much more than that. Many can do but few can truly imagine.
I blog about music because it helps me to structure my thoughts. The purpose is to deepen my own understanding -- thus the occasional educational tone. The pupil is myself.
My brain is busy mixing The Maestro Myth and the streamed Giulio Cesare from Salzburg. Is it the maestro who makes the music? Or is it something closer to Leontyne Price's advice to sing for yourself? Are we better off with a monolithic, imposed egocentric interpretation by one person, or is something more individually personal better? The true expression comes from the heart, but whose heart?
I want to do a musical review of Giulio Cesare based on the stream plus copies of specific arias downloaded from YouTube. These were removed very quickly after the performance, but I was fast.
All three were long versions with little or no cuts. Minkowsky and Christie seemed to try to compensate for this by rushing through everything.
The performance in Zurich was odd. Minkowsky 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.
Why did this come up? We were walking back to the car after Attila, and I was complaining that no one wants to listen to my DVD of Werther, something I consider amazingly wonderful.
Then I began to explain that Goethe wrote Die Leiden des jungen Werthers when he was very young, Wikipedia tells me he was 25, and that after this he was insanely famous for the rest of his life, that it marks the beginning of Romanticism. When he made his famous trip to Italy in the 1780s, he hung out with the rich and famous.
They didn't know this, but it did not encourage them to want to see the opera DVD.
I know three things about Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71): that there is a bust of him on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence honoring him as the preeminent goldsmith of Florence; that his autobiography is considered one of the great books; and that Hector Berlioz wrote an opera (1838) with his name as the title. That would be it.
The plot of the opera derives loosely from the autobiography and concerns itself with the casting of the above statue. I read in my sources that the original production of this opera set off a riot in Paris.
While walking through the opera house before Attila, I saw that there was a DVD of this opera in the opera shop. I'd been looking for this. The people involved are:
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Designer: Philipp Stoelzl
Benvenuto Cellini: Burkhard Fritz (originally sung by Gilbert Louis Duprez)
Teresa: Maija Kovalevska
Fieramosca (the other suitor): Laurent Naouri (Natalie Dessay's husband)
Giacomo Balducci (Teresa's father): Brindley Sherratt
Pope Clemens VII: Mikhail Petrenko
Ascanio: Kate Aldrich
The overture is absolutely gorgeous, especially with Gergiev conducting.
We are doing Lost in Space. This is supposed to be Rome during carnival, but that's only if you think there are ugly highrise buildings all over Rome. Teresa and her father live in a penthouse atop one of these ugly buildings, and they have two robots for servants. The robots reflect gender stereotyping--one boy, one girl. Teresa is reading Match, a magazine with Cellini's face on the front and her own on the back. Papa Balducci does not approve of Cellini.
Cellini arrives with roses in a helicopter. There are balloons with smiley faces. Papa comes out with a rifle and starts shooting at him. Cellini wears a black leather jacket and looks quite disreputable--in short, he is a bad boy. Women can never resist bad boys. Papa's preferred suitor appears wearing a blue plaid suit. It always comes down to outfits. Cellini leaves Teresa a note saying he'll be back later, and they can go out. She prepares with the help of her robots, who give a manicure and pedicure and shave under her arms. As usual, she sings the aria twice, but changes her outfit between verses.
The neighbors don't like Fieramosca and dump him down one of the chimneys.
In the next scene we are at carnival. Cellini's fellow goldsmiths are dressed as rabbits, muscle men, etc, and sing the praises of their profession. Cellini is in his normal outfit. Ascanio, Cellini's assistant, appears as C-3PO. He reminds Cellini that he must cast a statue that evening for Pope Clement.
Fieramosca and his friend Pompeo appear and discuss the fact that Cellini and Ascanio will appear at carnival dressed as monks. They decide to dress the same way and arrive at the same place.
Then follows one of the most chaotic scenes I've ever seen in an opera. The stage is crammed with people dressed for carnival, many in skeleton suits. Musically it is not interesting. Everyone starts fighting and Cellini kills Pompeo with his sword. Then the cannon fires from Saint Angelo, ending carnival.
The second act begins in Cellini's studio. There's some nice musical numbers in this scene. The Pope arrives in a car from the 50s with wings added, like an old red Fiat. Everyone kneels down, and he gives them all communion wafers. Two blond male dancers arrive with him. The statue in this production does not resemble the Perseus. The upshot of the whole thing is that if Cellini can successfully cast
the statue for the Pope, he will be let off from the murder
charge and allowed to return to Florence.
I begin to understand why the commenter on my Giulio Cesare entry would blame it on the Americans. These outrageous productions look a bit like the current wave of American movies that are all taken from comic books or science fiction--or maybe science fiction comic books. Charlie Chaplin Modern Times mixed in, perhaps?
Now the robot Ascanio's head is lying on the floor singing while his body is wandering around the room. He sings about how sad his soul is. This is a pretty nice aria.
You get the idea. It has a happy ending, as it did in real life. One is alternately repulsed and attracted in rapid succession. Ascanio donates an arm to the casting. We are told the casting is a success, but we don't get to see the statue.
As a kind of post script, I want to say that while transporting us far from the late Renaissance of the title character, this chaotic production is a worthy expression of the artist's equally chaotic life.
Attila (1846) by Giuseppe Verdi is early Verdi and was composed after Ernani and immediately before Macbeth. David Gockley and Nicola Luisotti seem to have effectively banished the San Francisco Verdi curse I used to complain about all the time.
What we needed was a real Italian conductor, one who understands the rhythmic requirements, the vocal requirements for the singers, and the requirement that he aid them in their relationship to the orchestra. Sometimes the orchestra can be loud, and other times it has to be soft. Luisotti understands this. In the act break traditionally the conductor asks the orchestra to stand so the audience can applaud them, but this time in the last performance of this opera for this season they refused to stand and sat clapping for the maestro. At the end of the opera he made the rounds of the first row string players and hugged each one in turn.
I liked the romantic couple, shown at top, both in their San Francisco Opera debuts, sung by Lucrecia Garcia as Odabella and Diego Torre as Foresta.
Feruccio Furlanetto was a wonder. I simply adore him. But I must reserve my biggest accolades for Quinn Kelsey in the role of Ezio, shown with Furlanetto in the picture above. He was a Merolini in the not too distant past and has blossomed into an incredible baritone. I would definitely like to hear more of him.
There isn't a lot of historical accuracy in this opera. The Huns were from Asia and probably didn't worship Odin. Attila didn't overrun Rome because there was a severe drought in Italy that year, and the Huns fled back to their homeland. Attila died after that. Stuff like that. Instead we get religious fluff, and a lot of ambiguity in the lead character's personality.
The sets enhanced the drama. We were treated to collapsing theaters in three different eras. I don't know what sense this makes, but the structures were pleasing. In the modern scene the movie "Sign of the Pagan" starring Jack Palance as Attila played in the background without sound.
I know that all over Italy are destroyed historical theaters. Just recently I was reading in the New York Times about the Palazzo Bardi being converted into apartments, including the theater that's inside where the Florentine Camerata first staged their operas. The new owners have tried to keep the structure of the theater in tact while making it into an apartment.