Thursday, January 31, 2013

Original Plus

Every Wednesday in Sacramento there is a free concert at Westminster Presbyterian Church opposite Capital Park.  Here is the announcement for yesterday's concert:
Jan 30 California Baroque Ensemble: Bach’s Coffee Cantata.  Free Coffee!  Free “Cough-e” Drops! 
Free concert, free coffee.  How can you beat that?  I went up afterwards to greet friends who were in the performance.  I mentioned, "This harpsichord is really loud."  "It's amplified," was the response.  To be fair this isn't an original instruments group.  They play the same instruments they play all the time.

Here's an up coming event:
Feb 20 Lorna Peters’ Camerata Capistrano Orchestra 
 P.S.  This is part of an ongoing interest in timbre in the performance of Baroque music.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Bane of Musicology

Apparently Bach performed his Saint John Passion four different times over the years in four different arrangements.  So if you are a HIPP group (historically informed performance practice) like the American Bach Soloists who performed the passion at the Davis Community Church, you are required to fool around with the arrangement.  One or more of Bach's four arrangements did not include my favorite bit--the glorious final chorale.  So guess which piece didn't make it into this performance?  Drat.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Le Wrath di Kahn

This is fun.  It's even in Italian.  To meet my standards there would need to be a strong female character.  Make Kahn a woman and I'm good.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

New Sexiest List

The Huffington Post suggests these opera singers as the current Hot List.

Jonas Kaufmann, of course, soon in Parsifal.

 Kristine Opolais has been seen at the Met in La Rondine.

Anna Netrebko is another of course.

Surely I've listed Charles Castronovo.

Piotr Beczala, soon to be in Rigoletto.

Daniel Okulitch.  Forgive me for saying I'd never heard of him.  Research indicates that he was the savage in The Last Savage at Santa Fe.  And yes, he is very sexy even with clothing.

Pretty Yende in Le Comte Ory.

Vittorio Grigolo will appear at the Met in Rigoletto later in the season.

We don't really count the above nameless person.

Jacques Imbrailo is playing Billy Budd somewhere.

I think their artistic requirements are a bit less stringent than mine.

Friday, January 25, 2013


I'm watching the stream from Julliard of Joyce DiDonato's master class.  It makes you want to start rehearsing something.

She discussed diagramming each piece, but did not elaborate.  I did this in my dissertation if anyone wants an idea.  It involved choosing light and heavy stresses at increasingly larger groupings of notes.  Choose the climax of the phrase.  This was all borrowed from Emotion and Meaning in Music by Leonard B Meyer, a fascinating book.  As far as the title goes, I think there's more to it than that, but still, the book is very interesting to read.  I digress.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

True Tales

I am currently reading Lotfi Mansouri's memoir, True Tales from the Mad, Mad, Mad World of Opera.  Mansouri is shown above laughing with Donald Runnicles, probably from the days when they were the tag team running the San Francisco Opera.

Let's just say he names names.  One anecdote about a soprano whose mother comes to the house to tell her daughter of the evils of opera singing, isn't named.  But that's about it.  Jon Vickers, we are told, could and did recite long passages from the Bible when he was supposed to be rehearsing.  Renata Scotto didn't want anyone to stand within 20 feet of her.  Pavarotti liked cash donations.  Stuff like that.

When he gets to his chapter on opening nights at the San Francisco opera, I start having questions. He remembers the night when Otello started over 3 hours late, and how much the opera board members liked the time spent getting drunk waiting for the opera to start.  I would have thought, in fact always have thought, that serving booze at the opera was a money making idea.  I would have kept track of how much money each intermission generated and whether or not the money increased with the length of the intermission.  So exactly why is it that the number of intermissions keeps getting smaller?  Don't they like money?  And if overtime kicks in at midnight, why is it that the intermissions aren't timed to end the opera just before that?  One isn't allowed to ask these questions.

It used to be that things that went on behind the scenes at the opera made it into the newspapers.  Why doesn't that happen any more?  It is a fun book with lots of insider information.  I tend to find books annoying these days because they don't have a like button.  (Like)


Monday, January 21, 2013


I love opera at the movies, on TV, on DVD, streamed and all those electronic media, but nothing compares to the sound of live unamplified voices.  Electronic reproduction always seems to sound a bit tinny.

News:  Bartoli's Ory may be coming at the end of May.

The proof of greatness is when you want to hear it over and over.  Latest candidate is Jonas's Lohengrin from Munich with Anja Harteros.  The intermissions which took half an hour or more are here over instantly.  The house metaphor is growing on me.  Jonas and Anja are amazingly well matched, beautiful, musical, deeply moving.  It is a Lohengrin for the ages.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Maria Stuarda

Conductor:  Maurizio Benini
Production:  David McVicar

Maria Stuarda (Mary Stuart).......Joyce DiDonato
Elisabetta (Queen Elisabeth I)....Elza van den Heever [Debut]
Roberto (Robert Dudley)...........Matthew Polenzani
Giorgio (George Talbot)...........Matthew Rose
Guglielmo (William Cecil).........Joshua Hopkins
Anna (Jane Kennedy)...............Maria Zifchak

Today Donizetti's Maria Stuarda was simulcast in HD from the Metropolitan Opera. File under I didn't know that:  The role of Maria Stuarda was written for Maria Malibran, and premiered at La Scala Milan on Dec 30, 1835.  There was heavy censorship which Maria defied.

A very short history of Mary's life:  she was born on 8 December 1542 as the only legitimate child of James V of Scotland; became the reigning Queen of Scotland at 6 days old; married the dauphin of France at 5; became Queen consort of France at 16; widowed at 18; returned to Scotland to begin to reign as queen at 19; married her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, at 23; had a child who became James VI of Scotland and later James I of England; became a widow a second time at 24, then quickly married for a third time, and was imprisoned in Scotland that same year; at 25 she was imprisoned in England, where she remained for 18 years until her death.

Mary was Catholic, England and Elizabeth were Church of England, in fact established it, while Scotland was Presbyterian, I believe.  So Catholics generally, including probably Mary herself, believed Mary to be the legitimate monarch and Elizabeth illegitimate.

In the encounter scene in Act I, scene II, Mary calls Elizabeth a "vile bastard."  This is the main thing censored from the opera and reinserted by Maria Malibran.  The encounter between Mary and Elizabeth was entirely made up by Schiller.  In Act II, Scene II of the opera Mary confesses that she is guilty of plotting to overthrow Elizabeth. 

So back to the opera.  Most strange was the portrayal of Elizabeth by Elza van den Heever (considered a notable graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, a list which also includes John Del Carlo and Catherine Naglestad).  She is a giant woman who at first tried to play Elizabeth nobly.  David McVicar insisted he wanted Elizabeth played in a very masculine, lumbering way.  You can see in the above picture that there are pants under her dress.  I liked her in this very significant role.

The Earl of Leicester, lover to both Elizabeth and Mary and sung by American tenor Matthew Polenzani, is a somewhat meatier role than what we are accustomed to hearing for him.  I liked it.  If we are to think he can manage any emotion besides sweetness, we need to hear him in a wider variety of roles.  This is a good start.

Which brings us to the magnificent Joyce DiDonato who sang Maria Stuarda.  This was a spectacular performance of a convincingly great opera due to Joyce.  Next we will have to declare her a goddess.

Here's a sample.



Currently appearing at the Metropolitan Opera in Le Comte Ory is this South African soprano, Pretty Yende.  The New York Times says she is from Mpumalanga, while The Huffington Post says she "grew up in Cape Town."  Above she is singing the Song to the Moon from Rusalka.  And below is Come per me, sereno from La Sonnambula.

You can surely guess what I like about her.  She works at La Scala and is completely on top of her Italian style.  So far she is famous for falling flat on her face at the beginning of the first performance of Ory.  Remember, there is no bad publicity.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Not Wagner

At the beginning he is describing a clip from Faust that is not included in this film.  He's saying Stellario Fagone when he announces the pianist. He sings "Torna a Surriento" and "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" as a short new year's eve concert. Then he opens a bottle of champagne, does a little countdown and toasts the new year 2013 with Bettina von Schimmelmann. At the end he describes a clip from Carmen that is also not included.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The ABCs of the Wagnerian singer

Die Zeit, 01/03/2013

The ABCs of the Wagnerian singer

The tenor JONAS KAUFMANN in conversation with our reporter MORITZ VON USLAR compiled what is important for Wagner today. Strict alphabetical order, from top A to Z for cigarette

A-,the high
For tenors usually the high C is the summit, with Wagner it is the A. The Heldentenor who has a wide and strong voice, is not necessarily a knight of the high C. To reach a note in your room does not mean that you can also sing it on stage. A high A is applied immediately to Lohengrin, from the Gralserzählung to the magical "Elsa, I love you."

One thinks immediately of Bellini, the pioneer of bel canto, and not of Wagner: Should you, however, Wagner was a great admirer of Bellini! And he preached the bel canto - Bel canto literally: beautiful singing. There should be a softness, warmth, beauty of sound. Where Wagner writes for singer and orchestra piano or pianissimo, you have to try that. I understand myself, especially in the Wagner Fach, also as a bel canto singer.

The big studio recordings are from the fifties and sixties. Today, for cost reasons these are no longer produced. A drama? No. Is it a shame? Of course. Today's generation of singers doesn't have the same opportunities as those days.

D- eutsche, das
First of all: I am a German. It makes a difference if you already as a three year old at home have heard Wagner or not. On the other hand, the German has in Wagner always a bitter aftertaste: the abuses of the "Third Reich" simply cannot be forgotten.

The wonderful traditional inn on the market place in Bayreuth! Since 1876, the founding year of the festival, the hard core of Wagnerians meet there after the performance. If you want, the signed artist portraits that adorn the walls, read something like a crisis of Wagner singing: Since 1960 is hardly a new singer picture added. Do I hang in the Eule? I do not know.

The audience in Lohengrin always notices only the loud parts - the old Wagner song. He writes as often piano and pianissimo! Wagner is famous for his fortes and underestimated for his piani. For this reason I address directly the quiet parts in Lohengrin: the "dove" in the Gralserzählung and in " Mein lieber Schwan."

A mysterious text! In my interpretation, there is here a shift: from anger and accusation to shame, depression and despair. Lohengrin knows he is himself to blame. In the love duet he has brought his feelings into it, has pushed and bragged that he wanted to take this woman necessarily for himself. Now he regrets that he cannot lead the people to war, but he especially regrets that he must leave Elsa. It is not a heroic piece. The sadness makes the Grail narration so fragile.

H-eldentenor [heroic tenor]
Wagner's operas are populated by heroes: Siegfried, Tristan, Lohengrin. Today the immaculate image of the hero doesn't interests us, but the broken do. Siegmund, the epitome of the warrior and fighter, when he appears in the Walküre before Hunding's hut, is utterly at the end. When he is suddenly so weak and languishing, it says to the women: wonderful. Wagner has always been interested in the people in his heroes.

Since we have to speak of Lohengrin once more: this is Wagner's most Italian opera. Here all the melodies are sweeter, softer, mistier, until the choruses enter. Even Verdi said: His Wagner is Lohengrin. I've been listening to a lot of Wagner recordings in Italian and French. How much these Italianatà changed the piece! A Lohengrin, sung in Italian, sounds like an Italian opera.

J-oseph Alois Tichatscheck
The tenor who sang in Wagner's lifetime: He reportedly had unearthly vocal force. To the master himself will Tichatschek have said. "Dear Richard, the Tannhauser I sing to you, two times a day." Tichatschek, so goes a thesis, led Wagner to overestimate the performance capabilities of his singers, and after Rienzi and Tannhäuser he wrote a few parts that are considered unsingable.

A difficult chapter. Commonly it is said: The clearer, harder, more spit out the consonants, the better you understand the text. Foreigners are drilled to spit the consonants, for that is typically German. By no means! A consonant may of course not be swallowed. But: The more real the vowel, the more easily the ear expands the consonants. If I have only the consonants, then this is just a "Wrzlpfrmpf": spit and pigeon noises [Gespucke and Gegurre]. But Wagner wished that his text bubbled on his harmonies. So beware of the consonants!

L-auritz Melchior
The tenor legend of the last century, his " Wälse "-calls in the Walküre (live for 15 seconds!) are unmatched. Is he good as a model? The Dane is said to have carried the nickname "The Singing sofa." Sure, the acting requirements for a singer in his time were not as high as today. Then people would tolerate just fine him standing motionless on the stage when he sang. Today it would no longer be accepted.

M-essa di voce
This refers to the healthy mix of vocal color, therefore, the voice that alternates between chest voice and head voice, the correct placement in order to let the sound rise and fall. In Wagner singing it is of great importance, especially in the recitative passages.

N-ever should you ask me
The famous question ban in Lohengrin. I want to put it simply: Everything that is forbidden, is particularly irritating. For Elsa it must be quite a shock: She has this man, who enters for her innocence, desires and fantasizes, she was sure that he would save her. And now the Swan Knight stands in front of her and says, "That you do not ask me where I come from!"

O sink hernieder, Nacht der Liebe
The love duet in the second act of Tristan. In the third act comes the actual vocal overstrain: incredibly deep, psychologically phenomenally interesting but hardly endurable. The tenor has to sing 50 minutes at a stretch. There is no break. The crux: The Tristan must have both, the steely, resilient voice for the third act - and the softness of the love duet.

The contrast with the forte. And only a real piano lets a forte really shine. Wagner is, against all rumors, a composer of quiet passages.

Q-ual, süße [sweet agony]
A typical text-paradox. In Wagner, the brilliant word creator, it means: the anticipation of the highest happiness between the state "no longer" and "not yet". The search for redemption. The music is often associated with neither major nor minor.

A typical singer disease. Cause is stress and wrong eating habits, especially the so-called hernia. In singing the diaphragm is used heavily. It pushes itself down, squeezes the stomach and intestines: The lungs should be given as much space as possible to the column of air that forms between the larynx and diaphragm, to hold as long as possible and to produce the greatest possible sound. This constant down-pressing causes the gastric outlet located between the diaphragm to push up. This in turn hinders the circular muscle that closes down the esophagus to the stomach. Heartburn arises. It can be operated on, but in the long term does nothing. I have an osteopath, who pushes my stomach back into place. This is painful, but it helps.

The old complaint is that no useful Wagnerian tenors any longer exist. So, I do not know. If you read reviews of the supposed glory days, it says there already: We have no more great voices. The period in which the opera was a street sweeper has passed. [?] Before the advent of cinema and television opera singers were treated like Hollywood stars. What I find much more important: through the strengthening of the orchestral sound we are experiencing a shift in occupations. The former Mozart singer is the Rossini singer of today, the former Verdi singer is the Mozart singer of today, the earlier Wagner singer is the Verdi singer of today. What, then, for heaven's sake, the Wagner singer of today? Not the vocal capacity constraints fail - the demands have grown enormously.

The secret is not only that you can sing and speak clearly, but more importantly is that you really know what you sing, and feel. My experience is: The moment in which I create the text and really feel, so fill out with emotions, one also understands me. An excuse for the lack of care of the comprehensibility of the text are certainly the supertitles, which run along today in every major opera house.

You breathe more in this direction. "Sing to the abdomen" or "singing with body connection," another one of the old German expression that I find great - that means that the whole body contributes to amplify the sound that is produced in the diaphragm. Singing with the abdomen is also an interpretive concept: The sound is fuller, manlier.

V- erschleiß
Wear: A law of nature. No singer can completely protect himself from it. There is evidence of exhaustion which suddenly makes itself felt: one has to persuade his voice, needs longer in the morning, in order to warm up. My concept is, however, that after Wagner, as a way to relax, I sing always Mozart, Verdi and the classical Lied. The worst symptom of fatigue would be that in the evening one has no desire to go on stage.

W-olfgang Windgassen
The epitome of Wieland Wagner's heroic tenor: an icon of modern Wagnerian singing. Pity that there are so few film documents with him, to evaluate his effect on the audience we do not have enough recordings and studio recordings. People who have seen Windgassen on stage rave today, still with glowing cheeks and ears.

X, das große
Underlying this is the future of Wagner singing. One would now see the complete work of art, not just beautiful singing, but the interpretive singer. Regie has become more important. Singers deal with each line of text, trying to discover new nuances. This also is a new musical sophistication. It has more than ever killed interpreting, killed the celebration of Wagner's music.

Every morning, but certainly before I touch my voice, I do the Five Tibetans. A splendid revival of breath, body and mind.

Z- igarette
My last cigarette was long ago: end of school, the beginning of study. Baritones and basses put away the smoke obviously better than we tenors. The recently deceased Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau smoked before every performance: one last time inhale and out on stage. For me, that doesn't go [haut das nicht hin]. My lungs don't forgive any cigarette.

[Dr. B.  This is my translation from Die Ziet.  He and I are in complete agreement, especially with regard to X.

I realize that you can put these through the Google translator, but I try to make all the sentences understandable, as well technical music talk.]

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Jamie Barton

Here is some Jamie Barton for your pleasure.  The screen also shows her schedule.

Monday, January 07, 2013


Jonas Kaufmann, Donald Runnicles and Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin.  How could you possibly top this for the Wagner year celebration.  And he's doing the Wesendonck Lieder, of all things.  This is available February 12.

Here is a nice film about the recording.

Brief comment:  the greatest singers listen to the greats.  Anna Netrebko listens to Callas, Freni and Scotto.  This is not a coincidence.

And if that isn't enough...

Also released on February 12.  Happy Wagner year.

Bryan Hymel

Here are a few films of Bryan, the tenor from Les Troyens, starting with Carmen.


He's 33 and from New Orleans.  William Tell.

Wow.  This entire role is completely insane.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Les Troyens in HD

Conductor...............Fabio Luisi
Production..............Francesca Zambello

Part I: La Prise de Troie

Cassandra...............Deborah Voigt
Coroebus................Dwayne Croft Aeneas..................Bryan Hymel
Ascanius................Julie Boulianne Priam...................Julien Robbins Hecuba..................Theodora Hanslowe

Part II: Les Troyens à Carthage

Dido....................Susan Graham
Anna....................Karen Cargill
Narbal..................Kwangchul Youn
Iopas...................Eric Cutler
Ascanius................Julie Boulianne
Panthus.................Richard Bernstein
Aeneas..................Bryan Hymel

We liked this picture because the right side of the dome shot, seen at the very end of the opera, is the interior of the Pantheon in Rome.  Berlioz is assigning to his characters the ability to see into the future, in this case the fact that ultimately Rome conquers Carthage.  Hector Berlioz loved Virgil's Aenead and created his own libretto for his masterpiece Les Troyens, simulcast today live from the Metropolitan Opera.

This quote from Wikipedia is interesting. "In 1969, Bärenreiter Verlag of Kassel, Germany, published a Critical Edition of Les Troyens, containing all the compositional material left by Berlioz. The preparation of this critical edition was the work of Hugh Macdonald, whose Cambridge University doctoral dissertation this was. The tendency since then has been to perform the opera complete." This in spite of the fact that earlier in the same article it says, "In this [earlier] published score, [Berlioz] introduced a number of optional cuts which have often been adopted in subsequent productions."  We liked especially the idea, not being ourselves French, that all the ballets would be cut.

It is a huge opera that can be produced only in the largest opera houses.  I think it would work to do a cut down version using only the final three acts, actually the format for the original production called Les Troyens à Carthage. Perhaps in this format we would get to see it more often.  For my taste these are the parts I enjoy; the lyricism, the love duet, the fatal love affair.  I could live without a crowd of women stabbing themselves.

Because we are living in the prime of Susan Graham, an artist of wonderful gifts, especially in the French repertoire.  This is the part we would want to see over and over.  To quote Joyce Didonato, "Berlioz and Susan Graham--a match made in heaven."

The replacement tenor who sang Énée, Bryan Hymel, was incredible.  We were definitely hoping to get to hear more of him.  He received the loudest ovation, both during the opera for his aria in Act V and at the final bows.

Kudos to everyone, especially the chorus which is in virtually every scene.

Intermission Interviews

Young ladies, I'm not at all sure that you should allow yourselves to be interviewed with your head shaved, as was the case with Elza van den Heever in the intermission today of Les Troyens.  She sings Queen Elizabeth to Joyce DiDonato's Mary Queen of Scots on the simulcast in two weeks of Maria Stuarda.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Berlin New Years Concert

The Berlin New Year's Concert streamed on today.

Georg Friedrich Haendel

  • Adelaide: "Scherza in mar la navicella" 

  • Agilea: "Ah che sol ... Mʼadora lʼidol mio" 

    Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno
  • Pleasure: "Lascia la spina" 

    Amadigi di Gaula
  • Aria of Melissa (encore)

These are the parts with Cecilia Bartoli.  She wore a green dress for the first two arias and the pants outfit shown above for the second two.

The rest of the concert was Rameau, Dvorak and Brahms, a very unusual and therefore pleasing group of pieces.  Except for "Lascia la spina", of course, I had not heard her perform the other arias before.  Some very cute games were played with an oboist, and then in the encore with the oboist and a trumpeter.