Sunday, December 30, 2012

Les Miz



I knew when I went to the Les Miserables movie that they were all recorded singing right on the set.  What they didn't say was that they all tried to hide this from whoever else might be on the set with them, that they all whispered their way through their parts.  I hate that.  Sound as crappy as you want, but belt it out there.  I got some ugly looks when I said the only person trying to actually sing was Russell Crowe.  His voice isn't very pretty, but at least he was trying.  I kept wishing Susan Boyle would come on and do "I dreamed a dream."  [Guilty secret.]

Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen were fun.

One of my Facebook friends said she wanted to rush home and brush her teeth.  If you haven't seen the movie, you won't get this.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Best of 2012 KK Opera Awards

I usually begin my year end summary with a lot of statistics. Keeping up my pace of recent years, the year included 9 operas which were new for me, but the majority of operas this year were from the 100 most frequently performed list.  I am counting only performances, live, streamed or recorded, which took place in 2012.

I'm going to give awards this year.  I am calling them the KK Opera Awards.

Two awards, BEST BAROQUE OPERA and BEST EUROTRASH PRODUCTION this year go to the Salzburg Festival's Giulio Cesare. If you hate Eurotrash, you may count this as the worst opera of the year, but all agree that musically it was quite wonderful. For the spirit of collaborative music making it was about as good as it gets.

BEST FAKE BAROQUE OPERA AWARD goes to the Metropolitan Opera's The Enchanted Island. There are too many composers to list them all. In order to achieve this, they faked the plot, patching together Shakespeare's The Tempest along with his A Midsummer Night's Dream. They faked ensemble numbers out of baroque arias and translated everything into English. The wonderful singing from an outstanding cast was all real. This will probably not become an annual award.

BEST MOZART OPERA AWARD goes to the Met's La Clemenza di Tito which achieved the impossible: a non Eurotrash production of a true opera seria which was lively and coherent. We promise not to award to any performance with mediocre singing. Elīna Garanča and company were outstanding.  This is also some of Mozart's best music.

BEST BEL CANTO OPERA AWARD has to be a tie between Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi live from the San Francisco Opera and the same opera with the same production but a different cast streamed from Munich. Both casts were amazing, but Best Wailing Award for the year must go to Netrebko and Kasarova. If you hated the production enough, you could add this to the worst list. Honorable mention goes to Maometto II at the Santa Fe Opera.

BEST VERDI OPERA AWARD goes to the Met production of Un Ballo in Maschera. I could not resist the winged Oscar, the Ulrica who carried a skull in her purse, and the stunning Verdi singing from everyone. Honorable mention goes to Attila at the San Francisco Opera.

BEST FRENCH OPERA AWARD goes to Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande streamed from the Paris Opera. The visual imagery was transformative. For French opera you need Paris. Honorable mention goes to the Santa Fe Opera production of The Pearl Fishers.

BEST PUCCINI AWARD goes to.... This is tough. Best La Boheme has to be Netrebko and Beczala from Salzburg, but the LA live performance with Perez and Costello was also very nice. And how can you not choose Angela Gheorghiu in Tosca? Someone else will have to tough this one out.

BEST REVIVAL OF A HISTORICAL MASTERPIECE AWARD must go to Einstein on the Beach at Zellerbach in Berkeley. They gave us the full experience. Congratulations to all in the audience who made it to the end.

BEST NEW OPERA AWARD, hands down, goes to Moby Dick. I awarded it an official masterpiece status. Musically and visually it spectacularly recreated the feeling of being on the ocean.

If you want them ranked, you'll have to do it yourself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Merry Christmas



The one and only Christa Ludwig singing "Schlafe, mein Liebster" from the Weihnachtsoratorium of Bach.  This is simply perfection.

And while we are on the subject of Bach, here is some of my favorite Janet Baker, "Buss und Reu" from the Matthew Passion.

Our Italian is better than your Italian

Just thought I would mention.  I've heard enough of both of these gentlemen, Fabio Luisi and Nicola Luisotti, to know that we got the better of the deal, especially in Italian repertoire. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Absolute Privilege

Or more about booing at La Scala.  'It is an absolute privilege to be in the same list as Kleiber, Caballe, Callas, Abbado, Muti...'  This is a translated quote from Cecilia Bartoli gleaned from a Forun comment by Charlotte.  Perhaps one should strive to be important enough to be booed at La Scala.  Cecilia does frequently appear in all the best lists.  One can't help smiling.

Here's another relevant quote from Cecilia:  "I think living in Italy is difficult but living without Italy is impossible."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Alex Ross

I read Alex Ross on the staging of The Tempest and Un Ballo in Maschera, and he had some interesting points.

I was interested in the idea that the productions last year looked better in the simulcast than they did in house.  A film of an opera is often very different from the impression it makes in house.  For one thing, directors often put things on the side of the stage that are not visible in the film.  In the Munich Lohengrin the hero sleeps off camera for an extended period, visible to the in house audience but not to the film.  Filming focuses on the important details and often ignores the bigger picture.

I don't know which of last season's productions he is referring to.  I liked Flute and Enchanted Island on the screen.  I have seen Ernani, Satyagraha and Walkure both on the screen and in the house and thought they worked about equally well in both places.  Walkure is just pictures in a foreshortened space both on the screen and in the house.

If I have 9 windows arranged in three rows, such as is the case in Don Giovanni, on the screen I will see each window one at a time in close-up with occasional wide shots of the full set.  In the house I will see all 9 windows all the time.  Perhaps in the house one prefers that the sets are in motion.

Ross talks about claustrophobia when the sets are close in and shorten the depth of the stage, such as in the Lepage Ring and Ballo.  Singers tend to love this because they can feel their voices reflecting out into the audience instead of disappearing into the flies.  The illusion for the Ring worked better on the screen because you could not see the pictures projected on the actors' faces which were obvious in the house.

I thought that the production for The Tempest made for some interesting pictures but did nothing to clarify the plot.

I was fascinated by the picture that accompanied Ross' article in the New Yorker.  It showed Zajick as Ulrica in an aqua blue dress such as a relatively lower-class woman might wear while Blythe in our version was dressed in upper-middle-class black.  She also pulled different things out of her purse.  Hmm.  Perhaps the other version makes more sense.  After all, she is reading the fortunes for sailors on leave, and not just upper-class women like Amelia.

His complaints about Dmitri are the same for anything he does.  Renée Fleming in Onegin brought him out of himself, but this is a rare event.  He is a sharp contrast to Marcello.

I liked the flamboyance of the production for Ballo, the subdued palate combined with the outrageous Oscar, the sophisticated Ulrica with her skull, the king's disguises where he always still looked like Marcello Alvarez, the radical changes of mood from scene to scene.  In fact I felt these mood changes clarified the plot as never before.  This is what matters most to me in a production.

Perhaps I should go back to reading Alex Ross.

Aida in HD


This broadcast of Aida was the second opera in the 6 years of simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera that is a repeat of the same production with a new cast.  The other one was Lucia.


Renée Fleming was back as host.  She interviewed the horses who were very well behaved.  She gave them each a treat.  Their trainer explained how to select and train horses for the opera.  Apparently they recognize their musical cue and get in character.

Roberto Alagna was Radames.  I prefer him to Botha, probably because he looks heroic in his costumes.  This was the role he was booed off the stage for at La Scala 6 years ago.  This time around he took the high note sotto voce.  Perhaps it is time to forget the incident at La Scala.  Pardonez-moi. I admit, though, there was some grousing in my audience.  For some reason I always enjoy Roberto.

Amneris was sung by Olga Borodina.  I enjoyed her very much in this role.  She sings to the legato rather than to the rhythm.  She isn't nearly so sinister as Zajick.

Liudmyla Monastyrska was our Aida.  She sings big, but not so heavy as Violetta Urmana.  She is a new star on the scene, and has only recently been heard outside her native Ukraine.  This means that her voice and technique grew to maturity before she began an international career.  I am ignoring the secondary cast.

The best thing about this outing was the direction for television.  This set is imposing and magnificent, but that effect only rarely comes off in filming.  This version was excellent.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Richard Tucker Gala


This television presentation is selected from the entire concert for the Richard Tucker Gala which took place on November 11, 2012.  We saw:


Gerald Finley, baritone, "Sibilar l'angui d'Aletto", Handel Rinaldo
Olga Borodina, mezzo-soprano, "Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix", Saint-Saëns Samson and Delilah
Ailyn Pérez, lyric soprano, Gavotte and Scene, Massenet Manon
Ildar Abdrazakov, bass, and Quinn Kelsey, baritone, Attila and Ezio's duet, Verdi Attila
Jamie Barton, mezzo-soprano, "O mon Fernand", Donizetti La Favorite.
Erwin Schrott, bass-baritone, "Ave, Signor", Boito Mefistofele
Giuseppe Filianoti and ensemble, Giuletta Act, Offenbach Tales of Hoffmann
Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello, tenor, cherry duet, Mascagni L'amico Fritz
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone, "O du mein holder Abendstern", Wagner Tannhaeuser
Ildar Abdrazakov, "La calunnia", Rossini, Il barbiere di Siviglia
Liudmyla Monastyrska, dramatic soprano, "Nel di della vittoria... Vieni, t'affretta", Verdi Macbeth
Marcello Giordani, tenor, "Recitar! ... Vesti la giubba", Leoncavallo Pagliacci
Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello, tenor, Act II Finale, Verdi La Traviata
Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello, tenor, "Libbiamo", Verdi La Traviata
Chorus, "Va Pensiero", Verdi Nabucco

Some of the omitted numbers can be seen as shorts on this website

As is usual with the Richard Tucker Society, there was a strong emphasis on heavy repertoire and heavy singing.  To carry the flame of Richard Tucker is to carry the flame of the old style of opera of his era.  Borodina and Barton are very heavy for the modern mezzo Fach.  Barton gave a barn burning performance that received the first shouts of the evening.

Finley is the lightest of the basses and baritones, who are quite well represented.  And Liudmyla Monastyrska is about the heaviest soprano out there today.  She emphasizes Lady Macbeth and Abigaille, indeed sang the extremely heavy letter aria from Macbeth.

Ailyn Pérez is the lightest of the singers on the list above.  She overcomes all with her lovely tone and wonderful charm.  I wish her, indeed expect from her, good things.

Between the musical numbers are short interviews with Audra McDonald and clips of various types.  The clips with Ailyn Pérez are the most interesting.  Before her first aria she is shown marking in a rehearsal.  Marking involves singing very lightly in a kind of imitation of real singing in order to practice timing and pronunciation with the other participants in the rehearsal.  I'm trying to think when I have seen a film of someone marking.  My own voice was not very loud, so the conductors would ask, "Markieren Sie sich?"  Sigh.  It is common and normal to rehearse in this half voice style of singing which is easier on the voice.  It is unusual but not unknown for a singer to mark in a rehearsal that has an audience.  The audience usually gets annoyed.

The other clip shows Ailyn singing with her dog, not the same clip as the one I posted.  What makes this interesting is her husband Stephen Costello sitting patiently next to them waiting for this embarrassing moment to pass.

P.S. More things. It's over for Marcello Giordani.

Audra says "Someday you will say 'I first saw Ailyn Perez here.'" Sorry. I will say "I first saw Ailyn Perez at the Santa Fe Opera."  Ailyn was most impressive in the excerpt from La Traviata.  This opera will feature her next season in San Francisco.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Perez, Costello and Dog



Here you go.  Her name is pronounced Eileen, like in Farrell. Who knew?

When I was young, my two younger brothers both played the trumpet.  They would take our dog into the bedroom, shut the door and play their trumpets, and he would sing loudly along with them.  My mother was sure they were torturing him and made them leave him outside the bedroom when they played.  Then he would sit outside the door howling as loudly as he ever had and scratching to get back in.

Plump Jack

I read in Opera Now that the Welsh National Opera is going to perform Gordon Getty's opera Plump Jack.  This reminded me that while I was in the San Francisco Symphony chorus, we performed this work with the orchestra and a second string conductor.  There was much merriment behind the stage about this opera, but we were told in no uncertain terms by the chorus master Vance George that we were not to be seen laughing once we got out on the stage.  This was one of several bones that I had to pick with Mr. Getty.

My Operas Seen list doesn't include this opera because this performance was not staged. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Knoxville



This is Samuel Barber's "Knoxville: Summer of 1915" with Leontyne Price singing and Schippers conducting, 1959.  Maybe I could learn to like Barber.

When I hear this, it sounds American to me.  I am after all these years simply awed by her.  I cannot help wondering if this piece is really this magnificent.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Opera is like Football

I have been contemplating the writings about Jonathan Miller I posted recently. He imagines himself to be important. Perhaps in his original context he actually is important. But in opera he is quite a distance down the list of who is important.

It's like football. An owner carefully amasses a roster of outstanding players in the hope that his team will win. Then he hires a coach to train them. The opera stars are the players and Jonathan Miller is the coach. If there is a problem, no one fires the players. For one thing in the world of opera it is the players who sell the tickets.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Effects



New Findings Subsequent to the the Mozart Effect:

LISZT EFFECT: Child speaks rapidly and extravagantly, but never really says anything important.

BRUCKNER EFFECT: Child speaks very slowly and repeats himself frequently. Gains reputation for profundity.

WAGNER EFFECT: Child becomes a megalomaniac.

MAHLER EFFECT: Child continually screams - at great length and volume - that he's dying.

SCHOENBERG EFFECT: Child never repeats a word until he's used all the other words in his vocabulary. Sometimes talks backwards. Eventually, people stop listening to him.

IVES EFFECT: The child develops a remarkable ability to carry on several separate conversations at once.

GLASS EFFECT: The child tends to repeat himself over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

STRAVINSKY EFFECT: The child is prone to savage, guttural and profane outbursts that often lead to fighting and pandemonium in the preschool.

BRAHMS EFFECT: The child is able to speak beautifully as long as his sentences contain a multiple of three words (3, 6, 9, 12, etc.) However, his sentences containing 4 or 8 words are strangely uninspired.

CAGE EFFECT: Child says nothing for 4 minutes, 33 seconds. (Preferred by 10 out of 9 classroom teachers.)
Posted by Fred Zinos


[Stolen from Facebook.  I don't recall any Ives as a child, but you never know.]

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Ballo in HD


Conductor:  Fabio Luisi
Production: David Alden

Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia Anckarstrom
Marcelo Álvarez as the king, Gustavo III (Riccardo), who loves her
Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count Anckarstrom (Renato), his most trusted adviser (and Amelia’s husband)
Stephanie Blythe as the fortuneteller Madame Arvidsson (Ulrica)
Kathleen Kim as Oscar

Today we were treated to the Metropolitan Opera's HD version of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera.  This opera is usually crudely shoehorned into a setting in Boston where it feels quite foreign.  Today all pretense is cast aside and we return to the real historical setting in Stockholm, Sweden.  For you see, these are real people and real events.  The reality is long forgotten, but in Verdi's time when the idea of monarchy was not entirely secure it was considered a scandal to portray real royalty behaving badly.  When the characters in the opera are speaking each others' names, they are neither American nor Swedish but Italian.

We are informed in the intermission that Madame Arvidsson was a real woman who accurately predicted the assassination of King Gustavo.  This ended her career as a fortune teller.  I have searched in vain for a photograph of Stephanie Blythe in her twentieth-century outfit complete with purse.  She was simply the best Ulrica ever.

It's one thing for an exotically dressed black Ulrica to summon the devil in cave-like surroundings and quite another to see her sitting at an ordinary table dressed in middle-class clothes while she first takes a swig from her flask and then takes a skull out of her purse.  This is the fascination of productions which move events closer to our own time.

The painting of Icarus partially shown above which appeared in every scene is hard to fit into a Swedish context.  Gustavo was something of a foolhardy daredevil, so perhaps that is the connection.  He leaps into a love affair with a married woman, puts himself in disguise in order to visit Ulrica, tracks down Amelia to the place of execution and goes to the ball in spite of the fact that he knows someone will try to assassinate him.


And what a cast.  It would be difficult to imagine anyone now active who could expect to improve on any of them.  Kathleen made her dance debut in this production, and perhaps she is ready for a new career.  I finally found a picture of her in her Chanel pants suit and cigarette.  This production needs more pictures.  I enjoyed very much Sondra's passionate fluidity.  This is the best I have experienced of Marcelo Alvarez.  He conquered every mood of this wide-ranging opera, from comedy to romance to death.

And Dmitri reigns over Verdi baritones today as few singers ever have.  His voice will do anything.  He looks beautiful, too.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Górecki's Birthday

In honor of the birthday of Henryk Górecki (1933 - 2010) we post the complete Symphony 3. 



Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Shock: Booing at La Scala

Here is something to read about the latest incident of booing at La Scala, this time for Cecilia Bartoli.  Unlike Alagna, she does not seem to have stormed out.  We rely on Italy for opera rioting.  There seems to have been an issue with the ticket prices.

P.S.  It is now my understanding that this has to do with paying off the claque.

Monday, December 03, 2012

San Francisco Opera 2013-2014


The schedule for the San Francisco Opera next season has been announced.  For the true opera fanatic it's pretty boring.


September 6- October 2 2013: Boito's Mefistofele, starring Ildar Abdrazakov (Enrico in the Met's Anna Bolena), Ramón Vargas, and Patricia Racette.


September 18- October 4 2013: world premiere of Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy's Dolores Claiborne, starring Dolora Zajick.  This is based on a Stephen King novel.




October 8- November 2 2013:  For the Verdi year we have Verdi's Falstaff, starring Bryn T. Jones. Don't get confused.  That's his actual name.  Reverenza!  Verdi's Requiem is in here somewhere, too.

Anna Karenina



I went to see the new movie Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley as Anna, Jude Law as Karenin, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the beautiful Count Vronsky.  The acting is outstanding.

If you go to the opera, this movie will seem pretty normal to you.  If you don't, well what can I say.  Much of the filming takes place inside an old theater.  Remind you of anything?  Like last summer's Atilla where each act was in a different falling down theater.  At least in the movie there wasn't another movie playing in the background.  And the Met's The Tempest was similarly staged inside of a theater instead of on an island.

The back of the theater would open and suddenly you would be outdoors somewhere, always a different place each time.  Like the end of Giulio Cesare in Salzburg.

There is some pretty peculiar looking waltzing, trains and horse racing that ran through the theater.  I haven't seen horse racing in an opera.  Yet.  I read somewhere that many of the images were from paintings.  I felt right at home.


Saturday, December 01, 2012

The Clemency of Titus


Conductor:  Harry Bicket
Production:  Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

Tito:  Giuseppe Filianoti
Vitellia:  Barbara Frittoli
Sesto:  Elina Garanca
Servilia:  Lucy Crowe
Annio:  Kate Lindsey

Today was the simulcast of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito from the Metropolitan Opera.Why isn't this opera more popular?  It has some of Mozart's most beautiful music.  The libretto is by Metastasio with additional material by the court poet Caterino Mazzolà.

The production is by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle who died in 1988 and places the opera squarely in the 18th century.  No authentic Roman while residing in his capitol city would be seen in anything but his toga.  They loved the toga simply because if you were not Roman there was no hope of you keeping it on.  The people in our opera are dressed in wigs and trousers somewhat like people in the 18th century would have worn.

The single set looks a little like Rome, but the buildings are rough and falling down like they are now rather than relatively new looking as they would have been when Titus was Emperor.  During his reign the coliseum was completed, Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompei, and Rome burned.  This opera refers to the fire and his romance with Berenice, a Jewish queen.

Giuseppe Filianoti is an Italian lyric tenor, and I liked him enormously today.  He made a point of mentioning that he studies with Alfredo Kraus.  He is in good hands.

Barbara Frittoli sang Vitalia beautifully and portrayed her at her most nuts.  One can't help wondering if any of them deserve the clemency they are receiving.  She was excellent singing the almost baritonal "Non piu di fiori."

Kate Lindsey sang a fine Annio.  Susan Graham listed off Kate's pants roles at the Met, like Siebel in Faust, Tebaldo in Don Carlo, Stéphano in Roméo et Juliette, Cherubino in Figaro and most notably Nicklausse in Tales of Hoffmann.  She makes a very handsome young man, but I was surprised to see that she is not as tall as Elina.  Lucy Crowe made her Met debut as Servilia.

Elīna Garanča as Sesto received star billing and star bows.  It was she who led out the conductor Harry Bicket at the end, though she did not stand near the center of the stage.  She received a well deserved ovation for everything about her work in this role. Though written for a castrato, the role fell beautifully into her voice, and her dramatic phrasing was inspiring.  Susan Graham who also sings this role in this production was impressed by how Elina walked down the steps without looking down.  You probably had to be Susan Graham to be impressed by this.

I loved this.  This is some of Mozart's best music, but is generally dismissed as uninspiring.   My handout doesn't name a replacement director for the long dead Ponnelle, but someone must have led them to this intensity of acting.  All the performers bring great emotional depth to their roles.

This interview with Filianoti has a lot of interesting things.



Most interesting to me is his remarks on how hard it is to sing the recitatives by Franz Xaver Süssmayr compared to the arias by Mozart.  Maybe that's why they dropped them in Zurich.