Sunday, December 29, 2013

Stream La Forza del Destino from Munich

Papa, Don Carlo, Leonora, Curra, priest, servant
Conductor Asher Fisch
Production Martin Kušej

Il Marchese di Calatrava / Padre Guardiano: Vitalij Kowaljow
Donna Leonora: Anja Harteros
Don Carlo di Vargas: Ludovic Tézier
Don Alvaro: Jonas Kaufmann
Preziosilla: Nadia Krasteva
Fra Melitone: Renato Girolami
Curra: Heike Grötzinger
Un alcade: Christian Rieger
Mastro Trabuco: Francesco Petrozzi
Un chirurgo: Rafał Pawnuk

I'm having trouble deciding how to approach this writing. I have some very specific memories of this opera that I would like to share. This was Leontyne Price's second opera--Aida and then Forza--so I saw it live with her at the San Francisco Opera and on tv from the Met as part of her farewell from staged opera performances.

Then I remember being a flunky in it in Germany, kneeling on the floor in excruciating pain. We performed it in German.  We performed everything in German.

Or should I talk about the table shown above?  This table shows up in almost every scene with different numbers of chairs surrounding it.  Each person is assigned a place even when they are not in their assigned chair.  We presume that the chair with its back to us is for Don Alvaro who shows up late.  The accidental shooting was well staged.  This is usually confusing for the audience.  In each scene there are different numbers of chairs around the table and different singers.  Papa and the Padre are the same singer.

In the next scene years later we see Don Carlo in his green sweater and glasses at first, and then he changes into military clothing.  This is so we can follow who this is in the rest of the opera.

The music is wonderful, but the opera is too long. You lose interest, or at least I do, when the soprano is missing for scene after scene.

Pride of place in the bows and most enthusiasm in the applause went to Anja Harteros.  Is it possible to explain her?  Her voice is not beautiful, but it's beautiful enough.  In most Verdi you are not really looking for beauty.  Maria Callas' voice was also not beautiful.  Nor is Sondra Radvanovsky's, Anja's only real rival today.  I prefer Anja.  For me she has more emotional range, draws me in to the scene more.

Kaufmann and Tézier are well matched.  I can't help it, I want the duets to be with the soprano.  She dies at the end with a pathetic lack of excitement.  I used to blame the lack of popularity of this opera on the opening scene, but now I think it's the whole thing.  It just doesn't work.

I was viewing from a Mac in Ohio, and the stream was very jerky.  I haven't had that problem at home.

P.S.  I didn't mind the production.


Favorites by Year 2013 👍🏻

Outstanding Verdi year

This year was 200 years of both Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner.  The only Wagner of interest was the Met Parsifal.  In sharp contrast I experienced quite a lot of great Verdi.  Kaufmann and Harteros together brought me Il TrovatoreDon Carlo and La Forza del Destino.  The Met brought me Rigoletto and a magnificent Falstaff.  Kaufmann released Wagner albums and a Verdi album, Netrebko released a Verdi album.  This was a truly great year for some other things, too.  Jamie Barton won Cardiff Singer of the World.  I also traveled to Salzburg for Norma.  I reviewed 45 performances, including 2 DVDs, 10 HDs, 22 live, 1 movie, and 10 streams at home.

For another perspective on 2013 see KK Awards.

Favorite Performances

  • (JK) Parsifal in HD  **  I stayed all the way to the end, which is odd for an opera I've always hated.  Everything worked together to create a performance which even I loved.   Met HD

  • Verdi-Neon Rigoletto in HD  **  I adored the flashing neon in the last act that accompanied the storm music, but Gilda in a car trunk?  Maybe not.  It does make it more plausible that Rigoletto mistakes her for the duke. Met HD
  • Ainadamar in San Francisco ** Opera Parallèle brought excitement and joy and a completely coherent production for this complex opera.  Do this opera in your town.  You will love it.   Local

  • American Bach Soloists in Davis **  I discovered this group this year, and they play very close to home over in Davis.  The consistent high quality of their work is encouraging, They aren't just named after Bach, they also play a lot of Bach.  Occasionally they perform a bit of opera in concert format.   Local

  • (CB) Cecilia Bartoli's Norma CD  I was irresistibly drawn to this recording and played it over and over.  I could not be more amazed.  Cecilia recorded the new critical edition, of course, instead of the traditional late romantic orchestration.  CD

  • (CB) Norma in Salzburg **  In fact I was so amazed I traveled to Salzburg to see it for myself.  This modern regie production was very effective and completely right for herself.  It was a revolutionary transformation of a staid favorite, turning straw figures into passionate human beings..  Travel  ##20

Singer of the Year

The singing prize is hard this year.  No offense, Cecilia, but I must award to Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros for so much wonderful Verdi.

Didn't like

This was such a fabulous year I have nothing to disparage and cannot reduce the list to 10.  Since then I have felt an emotional let down.  I want endless thrills.

New to Me Opera

With the addition of streaming my new operas list grows longer:

  1. Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2013) was live at SFO. **
  2. Barab's A Game of Chance (1957) was live in Sacramento. **
  3. Barber's Antony and Cleopatra (1966) was seen on YouTube.
  4. Barber's A Hand of Bridge (1958) was live in Sacramento. **
  5. Bucci's Sweet Betsy From Pike (1953) was live in Sacramento. **
  6. Donizetti's Maria Stuarda (1834) was HD from the Met. **
  7. Gasser's The Secret Garden (2013)was live in Berkeley. **
  8. Glass' The Perfect American (2013) was a stream. 
  9. Golijov's Ainadamar (2005) was live in San Francisco. KK new to me award. **
  10. Humperdinck's Königskinder (2010) was a DVD with Jonas Kaufmann.
  11. Picker's Dolores Claiborne (2013) was a live world premier from SFO **
  12. Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie (1733) was streamed from Glyndebourne. Regie **
  13. Rossini's La Donna del Lago (1819) was on YouTube from the ROH.
  14. Shostakovich's The Nose, (1929) HD from the Met. **
  15. Spontini's La Vestale (1807) was on YouTube.
  16. Verdi's Les Vêpres siciliennes (1855) was streamed from London. **

##20 top 20 all time
** live, live stream or live in HD

Things recommended to buy


Thursday, December 19, 2013

NEA Opera Award Defunct

I don't remember hearing about this, but the National Endowment for the Arts opera honors list ceased after the 2011 award.  They awarded for only 4 years. 

2011 John Conklin
Speight Jenkins
Risë Stevens
Robert Ward

2010 Martina Arroyo
David DiChiera
Philip Glass
Eve Queler

2009 John Adams
Frank Corsaro
Marilyn Horne
Lotfi Mansouri
Julius Rudel

2008 Carlisle Floyd
Richard Gaddes
James Levine
Leontyne Price

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Die Macht des Schicksals

Or Forza as it's usually known--don't forget it streams on Dec 28. This picture makes me smile.  I remember once long ago I was in Vienna and the newspaper said they were doing Die Macht des Schicksals.  I puzzled over this for a long time.  In those days the opera might have been performed in German.

For more pictures see here.


I was sent a link on my phone for this opera from the BSO--a first--which I can't find now in YT.  There was a lot of talking in German.  The regisseur compared Schicksal to Murphy's Law.  You know:  if it can go wrong, it will.  This is sort of the programmer's motto.

I find that it is Forza that I love.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cross-dressing Research

A brief chronological list of male opera roles sung from the beginning by women.  The purpose of this seems to be to make the character seem youthful.  Since I first posted this, it has acquired a few roles where the character is female but the singer is a man.

role opera composer  Fach
Lenia Eliogabalo Cavalli tenor
Ottone Agrippina Handel contralto
Sesto Giulio Cesare Handel soprano
L'Amour Les Indes Galantes Rameau soprano
Bellone Les Indes Galantes Rameau baritone
Platée Platée Rameau haute-contre
Sesto La clemenza di Tito Gluck mezzo-soprano
Amore Orfeo ed Euridice Gluck soprano
Cherubino Nozze di Figaro Mozart mezzo-soprano
Annio La clemenza di Tito Mozart mezzo-soprano
Tancredi Tancredi Rossini mezzo-soprano
Roggiero Tancredi Rossini mezzo-soprano
Ottone Adelaide di Borgogna Rossini contralto
Malcolm La Donna del Lago Rossini mezzo-soprano
Arsace Semiramide Rossini contralto
Puck Oberon Weber contralto
Isolier Le comte Ory Rossini mezzo-soprano
Jemmy William Tell Rossini soprano
Romeo I Capuletti e I Montecchi Bellini mezzo-soprano
Smeton Anna Bolena Donizetti mezzo-soprano
Maffio Orsini Lucrezia Borgia Donizetti contralto
Vanya A Life for the Tsar Glinka contralto
Urbain Les Huguenots Meyerbeer mezzo-soprano
Ascanio Benvenuto Cellini Berlioz mezzo-soprano
Pierroto (?) Linda di Chamounix Donizetti contralto
Ratmir Russlan and Ludmilla Glinka contralto
Adriano Rienzi Wagner mezzo-soprano
The Shepherd Tannhäuser Wagner soprano
Siebel Faust Gounod mezzo-soprano
Oscar Ballo in Maschera Verdi soprano
Stephano Romeo and Juliet Gounod soprano
Tibaldo Don Carlo Verdi soprano
Fyodor Boris Godunov Mussorgsky mezzo-soprano
Orlofsky Fledermaus Strauss, J mezzo-soprano
Nicklausse Tales of Hoffmann Offenbach mezzo-soprano
Walter La Wally Catalani soprano
Hansel Hänsel und Gretel Humperdinck mezzo-soprano
The Sand-Man Hänsel und Gretel Humperdinck soprano
The Dew-Man Hänsel und Gretel Humperdinck soprano
Cricket Cricket on the Hearth Goldmark soprano
Le Prince Charmant Cendrillon Massenet soprano/tenor
The Kitchen Boy Rusalka Dvořák soprano
Yniold Pelleas et Melisande Debussy soprano
Page Salome Strauss contralto
Chérubin Chérubin Massenet mezzo-soprano
Octavian Rosenkavalier Strauss mezzo-soprano
The Composer Ariadne auf Naxos Strauss mezzo-soprano
Aljeja, a young Tartar From the House of the Dead Janáček mezzo-soprano
Cherubino Ghosts of Versailles Corigliano mezzo-soprano
Ariel The Tempest Ades soprano
Pilgrim L'Amour de Loin Saariaho mezzo-soprano
Pip Moby Dick Heggie soprano

The list isn't intended to be complete but instead tries to show how this spans all eras and nationalities of opera.  Nicklausse in Conte d'Hoffmann is a special case, since the character represents both Hoffmann's female muse and male friend.  There is another list at least this long of roles originally sung by castrati, but the date range is earlier.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Born to Play Falstaff

Ambrogio Maestri
Conductor: James Levine
Production: Robert Carsen 

Nannetta: Lisette Oropesa
Alice: Angela Meade
Mrs. Quickly: Stephanie Blythe
Meg Page: Jennifer Johnson Cano
Fenton: Paolo Fanale
Falstaff: Ambrogio Maestri
Ford: Franco Vassallo

He is a giant man who does not require any padding to fully represent the magnificent Sir John Falstaff.  His voice precisely fits the role.  He can remain cheerful in the most horrendous of circumstances.  He is Italian and has the native Italian's regard for Verdi.   Ambrogio Maestri must surely have been born to play Falstaff.  It was simply a joy to watch and hear him. He also brought risotto which you can find the recipe for on the Met website.  

However, we couldn't help reinterpreting the entire story from a much more Italian perspective.  We weren't alive in England in Shakespeare's time, but we were more able to imagine the English wanting to take revenge on mere flirting than we were able to imagine Italians from the 1950s wanting it.  Isn't this how an Italian man is expected to behave?  Would Italian women be surprised or shocked by it?  We think "yes" and "no" are the appropriate answers to these questions.

The Robert Carsen production for this Metropolitan Opera live in HD presentation moved the drama to the 1950s, we imagine because he could not resist the 50s clothing and kitchen styles.  Falstaff visits Alice in her kitchen to allow for far more than linens to throw around the stage.  (I bought this much more than I bought Ochs visiting Faninal in his kitchen here.)  Sir John is a gentleman, and it is thought that gentlemen last enjoyed their full privileges while the British Empire was still in tact.  

I especially liked the opening scene.  Sir John is reading the morning paper while still in bed and still in his night clothes.  It is a large, significant bed, and round it are several small tables still covered with debris from last night's drunken party.  With this setting we require no help making our way through the dialogue of the opening scene.  All is clear as day.  They read the list of expenses, and we see immediately that these are for the party.

The only complaint is trivial--there was no oak tree in the final scene.

Stephanie Blythe sang "Reverenza" exactly as Marilyn Horne would have done, and then tells us that her first performance of the opera was as Marilyn Horne's understudy.  Era perfetto.

Of my three Falstaffs this year, this was definitely the best.  Everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. 


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Les Vêpres Siciliennes

Now that the Met has had such success with simulcasts into theaters, everyone wants to do it.  The Tower Theater shows performances from the Royal Opera House in London, so I went down to catch Verdi's Les Vêpres siciliennes.

Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Director: Stefan Herheim

Guy de Montfort, French governor: Michael Volle
Henri, young Sicilian: Bryan Hymel
La Duchesse Hélène:  Lianna Haroutounian
Jean Procida, Sicilian doctor:  Erwin Schrott

This is a grand opera in French, one of Verdi's earliest ventures into the world of French opera.  I kept listening to hear Verdi and really did not.  It seems he was very much trying to sound French.  There is a coloratura aria called Bolero near the end, the hit tune for this opera, but that was all I could hear of bel canto.

The setting has been moved from the historical event in 1282 to the 1850s period of Verdi's opera.  It is common to stage an opera in the style of the date of its premier instead of what it says in the libretto, and I felt it worked fine here.  The French and Italians seem to fight in almost every era.

The production seemed to try to crowd as much on to the stage as it could possibly hold.  There is the interior of the Paris Opera and the female part of the corps de ballet.  There's scenic shots of Sicily.  There's a very large chorus and a lot of supers.  If you like everything in motion, you would love this.  For instance, in the tenor and soprano love duet they constantly circle the chopping block, seeming to avoid instead of embrace each other.  The ballet dances the prologue and various other scenes throughout the opera, but the traditional long ballet in act 3 was omitted.

There is politics.  France occupies Sicily, and the Sicilians make periodic attempts to throw them out.  Procida is the most anti-French, along with Hélène whose brother was killed.  She first enters holding her brother's head wrapped in a cloth.  The whole production is like that.  The governor rapes one of the dancers in the middle of the stage.  People are shot.   At the masked ball and other times, too, the masks are skulls held like lorgnettes.  It is a dense, complicated, dark and violent opera made more so by the production.  They spared us an actual massacre at the end.

I went to see Erwin Schrott in a dress.  It came near the end.  Why he wore a dress in this scene remains a mystery, but he looked great in it.  He also sang and acted very well.  Next in order of impressive performances came Bryan Hymel.  I think I was right about what I said about him here.  With a bit of extra polish he could be a very impressive singer.

The sound and picture quality at the Tower Theater in Sacramento were excellent.  This is my first time for the French version.  I saw the Italian version in San Francisco in 1993 with Carol Vaness and James Morris, and conducted by Charles Mackerras.

Monday, December 09, 2013

My Mahler Soul

I follow my musical loves wherever they may lead me, but despite whatever new loves I may acquire along the way, my deepest musical soul belongs only to the songs of Gustav Mahler.  This recording of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen IV by Anne Sofie von Otter is simply unbelievably beautiful.  She sings for me.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Leah Crocetto at Mondavi

Leah Crocetto with her accompanist Mark Markham appeared at Mondavi Center in Davis last night.  She sang:

"All the things you are" by Jerome Kern
"Rejoice greatly" from Handel's Messiah

Three songs by Samuel Barber
"Sleep now, oh sleep now," "Sure on this shining night," and "Nocturne"

Three songs by Richard Strauss
"Die Nacht," "Morgen" and "Cäcilie."  I apologize for having a coughing fit in the middle of this group.  I got out as fast as I could.  My cough drops didn't work.

Marietta's Lied from Korngold's Die tote Stadt.  This piece is becoming common for me.


Eternal Recurrence by Gregory Peebles.  This is a piece written for Leah.

Three songs by Fernando Obradors
"Con amores la mi madre," Del cabello mas sutil," and "Ciquitita la novia."

"Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" by Jerome Kern
"Have yourself a merry little Christmas" from Meet me in St. Louis.

Leah has a voice of operatic proportions, and she chose pieces which suited both her voice and her musical loves.  The music included classic American pop songs, including one done expertly in dialect.  I'm seeing a lot of Obradors lately.

The new cycle by Gregory Peebles would have been helped by printed text.  We couldn't tell when the songs ended.  I would describe the style of this group as post modern.

She sang what she loves, and we loved it too.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

I went to a party

I went to a party on Thursday, and this recording came up.  Jussi is probably the tenor I have listened to most in my life.  He finds the emotion in the simplest possible way.

This aria was also mentioned.  Does anyone do it this slow?

Glück, das mir verblieb (Marietta's Lied), Marietta's aria from Die Tote Stadt

Glück, das mir verblieb, Joy, that near to me remains,
rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb. Come to me, my true love.
Abend sinkt im Hag Night sinks into the grove
bist mir Licht und Tag. You are my light and day.
Bange pochet Herz an Herz Anxiously beats heart on heart
Hoffnung schwingt sich himmelwärts. Hope itself soars heavenward.

Wie wahr, ein traurig Lied. How true, a sad song.
Das Lied vom treuen Lieb, The song of true love,
das sterben muss. that must die.

Ich kenne das Lied. I know the song.
Ich hört es oft in jungen, I heard it often in younger,
in schöneren Tagen. in better days.
Es hat noch eine Strophe-- It has yet another verse--
weiß ich sie noch? Do I know it still?

Naht auch Sorge trüb, Though sorrow becomes dark,
rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb. Come to me, my true love.
Neig dein blaß Gesicht Lean (to me) your pale face
Sterben trennt uns nicht. Death will not separate us.
Mußt du einmal von mir gehn, If you must leave me one day,
glaub, es gibt ein Auferstehn. Believe, there is an afterlife.

Translation by Lisa Lockhart (

We got into a lot of arguments--I don't hate regie, as you may have noticed, and don't hysterically adore Wagner--but it did make me curious to learn about Birtwistle.

Friday, December 06, 2013

2013 Year in Review and KK Opera Awards

You may feel free to classify Neon Jonas with Eurotrash.

2013 was the year of streaming Jonas Kaufmann. Without leaving my neighborhood I experienced:
Wonderful operas, wonderful casts, widely varying conducting. Conducting ranked 1-4: Pappano, Gatti, Welser-Möst, Carignani. I felt that Il Trovatore was less than ideal for Harteros because the conductor chopped off her high notes by rushing on to the next thing.  Performance overall ranked:  Don Carlo, Fanciulla, Parsifal, Trovatore.  The first three were my all time favorite versions for these operas, an amazing feat.  Trovatore had some flaws, including the weird production.

As we move into the awards you are bound to notice certain repeats from the above list.  To be eligible for an award a live performance must have taken place in 2013.

  • BEST VERDI OPERA AWARD is split to two awards: for production we award to the Metropolitan Opera's neon Rigoletto, while for music the award cannot help but go to the Salzburg Don Carlo.  There was a lot of Verdi this year, but there was also some very high quality.
  • BEST WAGNER OPERA AWARD must go to the Metropolitan Opera's Parsifal.  I cannot indeed think of any Wagner performance I found superior.  James Morris as Wotan.  There are people who thought René Pape's Gurnemanz was boring, but for me it was exactly as I would have wanted it.
  • BEST BAROQUE OPERA AWARD goes to the Metropolitan Opera's Julius Caesar, the MusicalThis may be my last view of Natalie Dessay for a while.  Her dancing was fabulous.  I liked this opera best for David Daniels who made the character of Caesar really seem like someone who could conquer the world.  In the constant search for ways to make the stagings of Handel operas seem interesting this one sets a standard.
  • BEST ROMANTIC OPERA NOT VERDI OR WAGNER AWARD has quite a few entrants:  Les Troyens, Francesca da Rimini and Eugene Onegin all from the Met, Les Conte d'Hoffmann and Mefistofele from San FranciscoFor all its complexities I'm awarding to the very dark Les Conte d'Hoffmann with the Met's Les Troyens as a close runner up. That's a second award for Natalie Dessay.
  • BEST REVIVAL OF A HISTORICAL MASTERPIECE AWARD goes to the Met's production of The Nose.  I felt that the production itself rose almost to the level of a masterpiece and perfectly suited the opera.
  • BEST MUSICOLOGY OUTCOME AWARD  Musicology played a role in the American Bach Soloists' performance of the Bach St. John Passion, Les Conte d'Hoffmann and the Salzburg Norma.  This means because of research into original performance practices, these works were presented in ways that were different from what the audience would be familiar with.  I had a problem with the Bach Passion because this version of the score omitted my favorite part--the final glorious chorale.  I award to Norma because it seemed to me that the complete transformation of this opera and the resulting re-emphasis on plot was significantly aided by the changes to the score.
  • BEST TRANSFORMATION OF A FAMILIAR WORK INTO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT AWARD  goes to Cecilia Bartoli's Norma from Salzburg with Julius Caesar, the Musical a close second.  I very much enjoyed the film noir Norma with its increased realism.  Pollione would leave Norma for a much younger woman, in opera terms a soubrette such as we see here, and not for the heavy mezzo we traditionally see.  It's the only opera I traveled for this year.

  • BEST ACTING IN AN OPERA AWARD goes to Cecilia Bartoli in Norma.  I should award this category every year.  Honorable mention goes to Nina Stemme in Fanciulla.  BEST IMITATION OF ANNA MAGNANI EVER AWARD.  This is obviously a one time award.
  • BEST PUCCINI AWARD goes to Fanciulla from Vienna.  There is hardly even any competition.  People in the wilderness panning for gold don't really translate into factory workers, but the basic plot stayed in tact.  For once all the singers were fully up to their roles.
  • WORST EUROTRASH PRODUCTION AWARD goes to Il Trovatore from Munich.  Other contestants in the running were Hippolyte et Aricie and Die Meistersinger, but they weren't bad enough to merit an award.  Cupid popping out of an egg is just fun.
I kept up my pace of new operas for 2013. I saw opera premiers for The Secret Garden by Nolan Gasser, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene by Mark Adamo and Dolores Claiborne by Tobias Picker, all presented by the San Francisco Opera.  None of them were a complete bust, but I did not declare any masterpieces.  Of these three I think I liked Dolores Claiborne best.  Perhaps if I'd seen it later in the run, I would have liked it more.

Other operas that were new for me were Spontini's La Vestale, Shostakovich's The Nose, Glass' The Perfect American, Humperdinck's Königskinder, Golijov's Ainadamar, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, Barber's A Hand of Bridge, Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie, Bucci's Sweet Betsy From Pike, Barab's A Game of Chance, and Barber's Antony and Cleopatra.

  • BEST NEW (to me) OPERA AWARD goes to Golijov's Ainadamar from Opera Parallèle, a wonderful opera with dancing, singing and time travel.  It was new in 2000, which is new enough.  The Met has commissioned Golijov to produce another opera for them.

It was a fabulous year for opera. These awards reflect only my taste.


  • BEST FALSTAFF AWARD goes to the Met.  It was both visually and musically extremely satisfying, in general an excellent performance for this difficult opera.  I only added this because I saw 3 Falstaffs this year.

Monday, December 02, 2013


It seems to some of the commenters on YT that Anja is deliberately trying to look like Cecilia Bartoli in this aria, though being 20 cm taller.  Well.  There is the hair, and the brow furrowing and other expressions.  This is Cardiff which she won, so maybe it worked.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Netrebko in Russian

You have to read really fast. The only word I understand is Vodka.  You can wonder along with me why there is a clip of Diana Damrau in the middle.  The pictures of Anna with her mother are San Francisco--outside the war memorial, in north beach.

The Russian perspective on Anna's life is very curious and revealed only in the studio comments by the interviewer.  They would think nothing of the idea that she would give up her career for the sake of Erwin, would in fact think that was correct, while we could not help but be appalled by the idea.  An appropriate evaluation of the situation would deem that Erwin should abandon his career for her.  Oh well.  The point is moot.

The interviewer hopes for her that someday she will get married.  We're not sure we do.  She seems to be doing fine.  This is the interview where she explains that since they were not married, she gets to keep all her stuff.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Proud Cross-dresser

This is Sarah Connolly at the Last Night of the Proms 2009 where she appears in the guise of Admiral Nelson.  Isn't it more fun to celebrate than to mourn?

She revives the original Arne arrangement.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Brief History of Cross-dressing in Opera

Please forgive me. This is written out of my head and involves no research. Usually I research things, but it can ruin my train of thought.

In the beginning (Greece, Shakespeare, etc.) theater was a masculine activity.  Often society decided that all public appearances by females were immoral. The world was pretty much the same as it now is in Saudi Arabia. Men did things and women stayed home and had babies and cleaned house. If you're my age, you can remember this. Don't go around asking yourself why there were no women composers or painters. Composing and painting are jobs, and women were not allowed to have jobs. Except prostitution, of course. Women were angels or devils with no in between statuses that allowed for holding jobs. Opera singing is also a job.

In the early era of opera the situation was somewhat confusing to follow. In Venice and Mantua women appeared on the stage in female roles.  In Rome and the Papal States all roles were played by men with the high voices sung by castrati (men surgically altered to retain their child voices). There were plenty of castrati around to serve in this capacity. Women singing in church was still forbidden in most places. This means lots of cross-dressing in opera, all by men, such as would have occurred in Shakespeare. High voices were preferred, and castrati sang both male and female roles.

The French were violently opposed to the idea of castrating men to provide high singers. Their female roles were always sung by women. Then Napoleon conquered Italy and put a stop to castration there, apparently imparting the French horror over the practice to the Italians. Over the next 100 years the practice died out until eventually there were no living castrati.

But it is important to remember in the French tradition that Rameau's Platee includes a cross-dressing frog tenor in the title role--the character is female and composed for a tenor. There are no legitimate female operatic tenors, so the role would be sung by a man.

By the time of Mozart, who in his person embodied all the musical practices of all the musical centers of Europe of his time, an additional cross-dressing tradition arose: roles for teenage boys were sung in their pre-pubescent high voices and were portrayed by women. The most famous example of this is Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro.

Summary--opera seria included roles for castrati, opera buffa did not. There is a very nice role in an opera by Cavalli (Venetian school, heir to Monteverdi, lived before the seria/buffa split--La Calisto--looked the name up) where Jove pretends to be a woman. As Jove he is a baritone, as the female he is a falsetto soprano. Very funny. This is cross-dressing outside the traditional stereotypes, and as far as I know is the only early opera role intended to be sung falsetto.

Rossini came after the invasion by Napoleon. He composed both for castrati and women singing men, with the preponderance being the latter. Women began to replace castrati during this time in the portrayal of heroes in serious opera.  It is surprising how few castrato parts there are in Rossini. Women singing male roles is far more frequent.

One wishes to hear the sound of two high voices singing together: I Capuletti e i Montecchi, still always sung by two women; Semiramide. The plot makes one of them a man, the music makes both of them women. DiDonato and Kasarova have kept Capuletti alive, but Semiramide is now very rare now that Marilyn Horne has retired. Women sing these bel canto roles and have since the beginning. Countertenors were not known in Italian opera in any period.

The only part of the cross-dressing tradition that survived into operas composed in the twentieth century is the tradition that teenage boys should be sung by women: Octavian and The Composer.

My sense of the cross-dressing tradition of opera is that it comes from two causes--the original reluctance to allow respectable women to appear in theater, which morphed into the later realization that seeing people portray the other gender was itself a distinct pleasure, a pleasure that works in both directions.

In modern times certain traditions are followed when reviving older operas.

In my youth Handel and Vivaldi revivals involved Marilyn Horne donning masculine attire, including very tall helmets to compensate for her short stature. Alfred Deller was the only known practicing countertenor, and I don't think he sang very much staged opera. This would require research.

I am reminded that Sarah Bernhardt, a French stage actress, portrayed Hamlet.  And there is a movie of The Tempest where Helen Mirren plays Prospero.

Then came the countertenor explosion. If there were an opera composed for 6 countertenors (don't worry, there isn't), casting this would no longer be a problem. Some of them are actually good. No woman could achieve the heroic intensity of David Daniels' Giulio Cesare. The new tradition says that if a male role was written for a castrato, it should be sung by a countertenor, but so far the countertenors have not completely displaced the female mezzo-sopranos. It has so far not become a tradition for teenage boys with high voices to be sung by countertenors. The main objective of this revolution seems to be to reduce the amount of cross-dressing in opera.

Which brings us to the problem: society wishes to look down on cross-dressers of either gender in or out of opera, accusing them of doing it on purpose I suppose.

Alice Coote, a spectacularly gifted operatic cross-dresser, complains out loud that she actually is a woman. She also sings Charlotte and Carmen.

Susan Graham has a song written for her where she complains similarly. She also sings La Grande Duchesse, Iphigenie and Dido to great acclaim. (I almost looked this up. Caught myself in time.) Susan has the additional disadvantage of being tall.

The most spectacular of all operatic cross-dressers is Vesselina Kasarova who I am pleased to say has not complained, at least not in my hearing.  She sings Carmen.

And now Elīna Garanča (cannot display her correct name without looking it up) has announced that she is retiring from trouser roles, as they are usually called. She wants to become a Verdi mezzo. My official opinion on this subject is that while Netrebko can truly say that her voice has transitioned to Verdi, Garanča is premature. She has a dark but not a particularly heavy voice. People don't seem to be able to differentiate between the two--a distinction that is vital to the vocal health of the singer. What matters is the actual physical heaviness of the voice, not how heavy you can fake it. This is the same reason Jonas is not ready for Tristan. Elīna Garanča so far has always cancelled on the west coast, so I have not been in the room with her.

After her Cenerentola, Garanča announced a similar retirement from bel canto. She wants to sing only Carmen forever. Perhaps she simply doesn't want to dress up like a boy any more. Sesto in Clemenza could be any age.  She mentioned specifically only Cherubino and Octavian.  One would prefer to think that major career decisions were not made for reasons of social bigotry.

The Strauss trouser roles, and perhaps others from Romantic repertoire, are not vocally similar to Mozart. Kasarova warns that it is dangerous to sing Octavian too soon. If you're 18 and can sing him, it isn't too soon for Cherubino.

I have friends who don't like to see cross-dressing in opera. I explain that only in England do countertenors have a long tradition. Italian operas were not composed for the male falsetto and don't sound right in their voices. They are establishing turf in the Baroque era, and even I am beginning to like it. I respond well to people reinventing a musical genre.

So for some people everyone should appear in public, and that includes on the stage, in their gender assigned costume. There is even a Google (I googled this, I confess) question that explains that being a countertenor doesn't necessarily have to do with being gay. The thing it most likely relates to is that the particular singer sounds better in his falsetto voice than he does in his natural voice. You can see films on YouTube of Philippe Jaroussky singing in his normal crooner baritone voice. You would never have heard of him singing like this.

Apparently Jaroussky has announced that he does not wish to appear in a female role. I think it is correct to lump this together with Garanča's announcement. The type of vocal issues that arise for Garanča are not relevant to Jaroussky, since there is no established tradition for countertenors and no roles composed for them until Britten.  (Footnote:  all of Bach's high voice music would have been written for falsettists or boys, but this is not opera.  Still not from research.)

Opera is by now an ancient tradition. I attended the 400 years of Orfeo performance. I don't want to get into the sociological ramifications of this issue, but I feel firmly that looking down on the honored cross-dressing tradition of opera is disrespectful of the genre. It's fun. Relax and enjoy it.

The picture at the top is Erwin Schrott in Les Vepres Siciliennes at ROH.  For a list of roles that involve cross-dressing see here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Benjamin Britten's Birthday

November 22 was the 100th birthday of Benjamin Britten.  There are some complete Britten operas on YouTube if you are interested:

Death in Venice  You have probably not seen this--this version is a film.

Turn of the Screw pt1, pt2 (88)

Billy Budd  This version has Peter Pears in it.

Peter Grimes (84)

A midsummer night's dream A charming opera.

Albert Herring  (91) This version is from Glyndebourne.  I should definitely watch it since this is the only one I haven't seen.

The Rape of Lucretia  The main character is a contralto, but he distorts the meaning of the story.

Owen Wingrave  

The numbers in parenthesis are the standing in the 100 most performed operas list--a remarkable feat for a modernist.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Swenson and Lopardo

I tried to find a picture of them together but failed.  So I am settling for side by side.  Now I can't get the text to go below the pictures.  Sigh.

Yesterday Two in Tune in Sacramento presented a joint recital called International Stars of Opera.  Both Ruth Ann Swenson and Frank Lopardo are opera singers whose careers have soared very high, Ruth Ann's arguably higher than Frank's. 

This was a very pleasant recital of war horse opera arias and duets, the sort of recital that in by-gone days, before the era of the academic recital format, was dedicated to the idea that the audience should enjoy themselves.  Though they are both not so light on their feet as they once were, they still know how to do it. 

We heard things from Donizetti, Rossini, Puccini, Verdi, Gounod and Massenet, usually exactly the things you would want to hear from these particular singers. 

It was very enjoyable.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Love is Over

According to, to which my computer will not navigate, at a photo shoot for Il Trovatore for the first time Anna Netrebko said that between her and baritone Erwin Schrott it is all over.

"Beim 'Troubadour'-Fototermin gab die Diva erstmals zu: Zwischen ihr und Bariton Erwin Schrott ist alles aus."

This was widely rumored throughout the Salzburg Festival.  The verifiable facts here are that Anna is now in Berlin preparing for Trovatore.

P.S.  Saturday.  The announcements are now everywhere.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Like Bonnie and Clyde

Translated from Max Joseph, Magazine of the Bavarian State Opera
Interview: Thomas Voigt

Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann are known worldwide as the perfect couple on stage. Thomas Voigt met the soprano and tenor before the new production of Giuseppe Verdi's La forza del destino. A dialogue on fate, partnership on stage and the eroticism of singing.

"Like Bonnie and Clyde"

MAX JOSEPH Immediately an acid test:  how would you describe in a few sentences the plot of Verdi's La forza del destino?

ANJA Harteros   In the beginning there's a corpse.

JONAS KAUFMANN A situation almost like in Don Giovanni.

AH  Yeah, both times the dad dies.

JK  who does not want his daughter getting involved with "someone like that."

AH But unlike Don Giovanni the old Marchese doesn't stand against the rapist of his daughter, but has surprised his Leonora when she wants to elope with a half-breed.

JK This man's name is Alvaro. And that the old man dies this time is not murder, but an accident. Or at least that's how it stands in the text. Alvaro drops his weapon, and upon impact it triggers a shot that hits the Marquese.

AH But Leonora's brother Carlos believes that both have the old man on their conscience.

JK This is why they are on the run from here on. As fate would have it, Carlos and Alvaro become thickest friends in the tumult of war, of course, without recognizing it. That the whole thing does not proceed well, you can imagine.

MJ  Are Il trovatore and La forza del destino not siblings? Both pieces play in Spain, both times is the protagonist named Leonora, both times it was a tragic family history from which there is no escape.

JK That's why I think it's good that we do here in Munich both operas within a short time. In November is the revival of Trovatore, and right after that we continue with the rehearsals for Forza.

MJ   Is La forza del destino a step backwards in Verdi's artistic development?

AH   Maybe dramatically due to significant length compared to Trovatore, but not musically.  Because there are such treasures in the arias as well as in the ensembles.

JK Since the beginning of the Verdi year, I am always busy with the big "Destiny aria" of Alvaro. This is one of the most challenging and most amazing scenes Verdi wrote for tenor, and I find that musically in Verdi's work it faces very strongly forward, namely in the direction of Don Carlo and Aida.

MJ What is fate for you? Is everything predetermined? What makes someone what he is?

JK Of course there is such a thing as powers and forces which no one can overcome. We all know the so-called misfortunes. But if someone believes in something like fate, he does not believe in himself. This is why I think much more of the saying "take your fate into your own hands."

AH Are you talking of career?

JK Not only! But if we want to discuss it on the example of career:  This is made up of many components together, and that includes luck [Glück]. If an artist believes in destiny and says: "I can't influence anything, it is everything that happens to me, already planned by the hand of God," to my mind he eludes responsibility.  I do think that there is something like fate there, but there are just as often situations that you simply must make active use of, the much-cited "opportunities".

AH This says the tenor, who is now on a total flight of fancy. [or maybe flying high] The love of God has given you a great voice, you look great, are sought after - no, you of course have worked everything out yourself, clear!

JK (laughs out loud) [I'm laughing, too.]

AH   Of course, you had also to work, but most still have to work much harder to create only half of this, if at all.  So, fate, many are beginning yes to believe in fate, after something bad happens, prolonged illness, loss of a loved one or something similar.  And in such situations, everyone wonders: Why does this happen to me, what have I done to deserve this?

JK  Here faith and superstition strongly come into play. Distress teaches us to pray, they say, and that always reinforces so-called strokes of fate.  In some parts of the world, the term "destiny" is so loaded that one may not call it by name.  For example in Italy you still may not pronounce the whole name of Verdi's opera. Only "La forza del" is said, and one may not hold "destino" in the mouth because that alone could bring bad luck.   But for me fate is not just something negative. The word also includes unexpected good luck.

AH I used to think just like you, but now I am convinced that we do not have much in our hands.

JK I think our views are not so far apart. Believe in Divine Providence in honor, but it must not lead to a fatalism, according to the motto:  Everything is predetermined, I cannot do anything anyway. So unreflective self-service to destiny as an excuse for inaction - that I cannot accept.

AH Drive is okay. But even that is a kind of talent that is given to some more than others.

MJ Since we are in the talent discussion. Is talent really 100 percent a gift of nature?

AH Yes, definitely!

JK   I do think that it is a combination. There are certainly many people who are gifted by nature much more for our profession than we are - only they have never had contact with classical music, let alone had the chance to be something in this profession. To come back to the initial question: To be what one is, is a combination of gifts of nature and the circumstances in which one grows up.  Related to our work: You may have received from the dear God the most beautiful instrument, but it helps nothing if you do not learn to make music.

AH You can achieve a lot with hard work, but you cannot purchase a lack of talent through hard work. You're either gifted or not.

MJ An example of the positive concept of fate:   you both have found yourselves artistically.

AH Well, now I feel all warm in my heart. (laughs)

MJ Where did you meet?

JK We had our joint debut in Frankfurt, in Cosi fan tutte. [This was mispelled in the original. I'm not translating the mistakes in the text.]

AH And you were terrible! Totally arrogant!  But you sang well. - No, Jonas has had great success. As his career took off, every pose fell away.  Because he had arrived where he belongs.

MJ The next joint opera was the staging of Lohengrin in Munich. You were one in heart and soul. At least when singing.

JK I think we felt in the same moment: It can be like this if you inspire each other and it will together increase more and more.  If you have Anja Harteros next to you, who can implement everything technically, then you can sometimes risk the wonderful piano phrases in the Don Carlo duets as quietly and intimately as it is possible to sing them. And if someone feels the same joy in such subtleties, then that is something out of the ordinary, and that rubs off on the audience.

AH   The Joy, the delightful knowing [das Gönnen-Können] - and the trust! With Jonas I always have the feeling that he never crosses his boots [?] but is always there for me. And such a thing is rare in our profession.  More disillusioning is when in rehearsal one reaches a state of tension, for example in the 2 Act of Don Carlo, and it reaches the moment where it really crackles - and then the director goes in and says, "More to the left!"   This is the quintessential Interruptus.

JK I think our instinct for emotional tension is very similar, so we create in such key scenes as the 2nd Act of Don Carlo, these images that are not only from the director. And if someone is opposed to that kind of emotion and he works strongly against it, then you have a partner next to you who understands. A shared problem is a problem halved. Thank God we are both in the fortunate position that we can positively affect our working conditions. We can to get back to the topic, make our destiny entirely ourselves and actively contribute to our luck.  And the good directors also understand that this is also a key to success.

MJ In La forza del destino you have unfortunately not as much to do with each other:  only a brief duet before the accident and then again at the final trio, when Leonora is already dying.

JK Between, we are on the run. That is with us as with Bonnie and Clyde:  If you see us together, we have also been caught. And by all love for Anja: In this opera the baritone partner is much more important for me.  In Munich, I am fortunate to have one of the greatest baritones of our time on my side: Ludovic Tézier.

AH I am very excited about this new production, my first work with Martin Kušej. I already have a bit of the jitters. I have seen his Don Giovanni in Salzburg, and he obviously loves to bring out the singer physically, and frankly, that's not my thing.

JK I did with Martin Kušej Fidelio fifteen years ago in Stuttgart, then still Jaquino, and I was impressed by how he again and again convinced us of things that were not plausible at first glance. Then I saw some of his productions, I found his production of Franz Schreker's The Search especially strong.

MJ Back to singing: To what extent is sensuality part of the musical harmony?

AH   Good singing is erotic, and not just the love duets! Jonas is a highly erotic type, which is wonderful for a partnership on stage. And if he feels a little bit what goes on with me, I would find that very great.

JK (with the voice of Horst Schlämmer) We talk later, darling!

AH At a joint Don Giovanni in New York René Pape said to me, "You have such a sexy voice ," I noticed this because it made me feel so good, and so I will gladly pass it forward.

JK Previously it has been called the "body connection" that you just sing from the gut, if not from deeper regions. Both technically and emotionally.  Spirit, soul and body are connected when singing such as one maybe only knows from intense erotic experiences. Therefore, singing indeed requires a certain amount of exhibitionism. Because such experiences are normally more often enjoyed by couples and not in front of millions of viewers.

AH That's right. But it can also be a very internalized thing, I also like to sing with you without an audience.

JK I would say something to the so-called Regie theater. I have witnessed colleagues who have fought against a director's concept, without proposing an alternative. And I think: With a mere refusal you don't get any further. But only by proposing something different. You should also let yourself be creative, and in most cases it works. Also, by doing this you can very well take your fate into your own hands.

[This interview especially pleases me because Anja and Jonas are in it together.  They are the people who are bringing the full operagastic (apologies to Operagasm) experience for me lately--Lohengrin, Il Trovatore, Don Carlo and soon to be Forza.  I enjoy that they argue.  I enjoy that Jonas must have the last word.  I enjoy how they interact with one another.  I enjoy that they discuss how singing, especially opera singing, is erotic.]

Sunday, November 17, 2013

I cry when the pressure becomes too great

Interview with Elīna Garanča translated from Kurier.

"I cry when the pressure becomes too great," The opera star presents her autobiography "Really important are the shoes." In the interview she talks about the pressure to succeed, why she is shy and her farewell to trouser roles.

KURIER:  Ms. Garanča, tomorrow your first biography appears: "Really important are the shoes." Why do you already write your first biography when you are only 37 years old? 

Elīna Garanča:  Honestly?  Because I was persuaded to.  I myself would not have had the idea for this book, because I myself found that I am too young. But I am currently at a turning point in my life. I am about to turn 40, in a few weeks I will have my second baby - with this my family plan is completed. And in the next few years I want to sing new, more dramatic roles. So I thought, why shouldn't I after 15 years on the stage write a kind of interim result to be read in 20 years, as I then thought about my life and the world of opera.

In your biography you speak very openly about your childhood, your fears and your private life. This one does not even know of an Elīna Garanča ... 

It was not easy for me to unpack these thoughts and details about my life, because I'm actually a very reclusive and shy person. I have never told before how my husband and I got to know each other, and I never talked about my melancholy.

In what moments are you melancholy? 

My fans see me rather more like a "Wikingerweib" [female viking?], which nothing can shake. In fact, I'm the opposite, I am very vulnerable and there are rarely nights where I can sleep through the night without chasing the thousands of thoughts running through my head. I often look enviously at my colleagues, who brimming with confidence and often without knowing all the notes, stand on the stage - that would be a disgrace for me. My self-doubts usually start ten days before the premiere.

Then I argue if I can sing the role, if I understand what the conductor wants from me. To escape this misery I have several methods - go to the gym or I regain my peace of mind with gardening.  If all else fails, then it only helps to cry against the pressure. I listen to the saddest arias, drink a glass of wine and let my tears flow, and afterward fall exhausted into bed. This cleansing process works. The next day I have found my good mood, and self- doubts are gone.

Is that the way you deal with the pressure to succeed? 

Yes, of course. I try to protect myself from flops by choosing my parts very deliberately, often saying no to commitments when I'm not convinced. I prepare for every role very intensively. But nevertheless, the stage fright is getting bigger and the pressure grows. The older I get, the more my presence is ever more present. I become more and more aware that I need to protect my name. And I am on stage a completely different person than in private life. That's why it often bothers me how people think about me.

You want to make a repertoire change in the coming years. In which roles will one no longer see Elīna Garanča?  Will you continue to sing Carmen? 

Carmen is a role that can safely accompany a mezzo-soprano for a lifetime. It only changes which Don José is by my side. But what I definitely feel too old for at 40 are the trouser roles. I miss this youthful naivety, which is needed for the role of Sesto or Octavian. In these Bubenpartien [kid parts?] you will certainly not see me again. Besides that, routine bores me, I want to break new ground. In the next few years I want to sing a Santuzza, an Eboli and the highlight of my career Amneris in Aida.

You will have your second baby in a few weeks. What do you sing at the moment? 

At the moment I do not sing classical music, but with my daughter Winnie the Pooh (laughs). I know the top ten hits of Winnie the Pooh.

When do you want to return from maternity leave? 

I don't make any stress for myself. Fixed is the concert in Göttweig, but if I already appear before that will depend on my second daughter.   Even though I can imagine it going well, for the second child one has more routine.

How do you manage logistically - to bring two children, your career and the career of your husband under one hat? 

This is actually a logistical feat. My husband and I try never to be longer than two weeks separated from the children. We have our own nanny in Spain and a travel nanny.  In the future we will be traveling with two nannies.  And as hard as it may seem for some, we will also sometimes separate the children.  Say, the baby accompanies me to a gig and my older daughter Katie accompanies my husband to a concert.

Your husband is a conductor. You are the superstar. How does he deal with playing second fiddle? 

In trouser roles Elīna Garanča always excelled on the opera stage: 'But for these roles I now feel too old' My husband has never complained until now. He is not one who runs after the fame or the glory. Just like me, he is very down to earth and he got to know me when I was not long The Garanca. Sometimes he complains, because I've become very impatient in recent years. But we both try to realize our dreams. But between us there is no competition: Who got the better reviews, who received the greater applause. That would be the death of our relationship.

It is amazing that your mother when you were 17 dissuaded you from a career as a mezzo- soprano, because she saw too little talent. Has she already apologized for this miscarriage of justice? 

When I think back to my voice then I have to agree with my mother afterwards. My voice had then perhaps timbre, but there was too little volume with only one octave and too little power - these were not prerequisites for an international career. There existed a nature of the voice, but which had to be polished properly.

They repeatedly emphasize that the Garanča of the stage has nothing to do with private Elina. What is the real Garanča ? 

I am still the same natural person I was as a child. At the moment I'm winterizing my garden. Dirt is under my fingernails, I just put down rye seeds that I took from the earth in the spring. This is an ideal fertilizer for my vegetable garden. I can still milk cows or bake my own bread, which I learned from my grandmother. My friends always laugh when I describe myself as the best singing milkmaid.

Personal: Elīna Garanča World star without airs The native Latvian (37) wanted to be an actress. In the entrance examination for the Academy of Drama she fell through. When she expressed her desire to her mother, who was herself a mezzo-soprano, to become a singer, the mother said : "Nothing will come of your voice." But Garanča did not give up.  Her first engagement was Garanča in Thuringia. From then on it was uphill. Ioan Holender gave Garanča a fixed contract at the Vienna Opera. Since 2005 she is a freelance artist and has sung on all the major opera stages of the world from the Met in New York to Vienna to Covent Garden. She are currently considered the best "Carmen" in the world. In addition to the biography, a new CD "The best of Elīna Garanča" has been released. ( Kurier ) Created on 10.11.2013 , 11:21

'Really important are the shoes' : In this biography Elīna Garanča gives insight into her career, her personal life and her self-doubt. Released in Ecowin-Verlag at 21.90 Euros. 

[It is none of my business to second-guess the lady, but I disagree.  There is a world of difference between a Mozart trouser role and a Strauss trouser role.  You can feign youthfulness, but it is not possible to feign the mature voice required for Strauss.  I have no argument for her being bored with them.]