Sunday, March 31, 2013

Life is still good

It went away but now it's back. 

It is very shocking to me how deeply I love this song, "I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls" from Balfe's The Bohemian Girl, especially in this incomparable version by Joan Sutherland.  I was sad thinking it was gone forever.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cecilia is very busy

Announced on Facebook, here is the cover.  I love it. 

The news for Cecilia Bartoli is coming a bit too fast to keep up with it.

Of course, there is Norma at the Salzburger Festspiele on May 17 and 19.  There is still no news that it will be streamed, but there is news from the Cecilia Bartoli Forum that a CD of Norma will be released simultaneous with the premiere at Salzburg.  You can pre-order this on, but I see nothing on the US site.

You can pre-order a DVD of Cecilia Bartoli in Le Comte Ory from Amazon, but there is no proposed release date.

Cecilia will perform "Wir hab nun Trauerigkeit" from the Brahms' Requiem on May 20 also at the Salzburger Festspiele.  The baritone is René Pape.

From January 14, 2014, to Feb 25 she is announced for the title role in Handel's Alcina at the Zurich Opera.

Then there's Rossini's Otello in Paris starting on April 7, 2014. 

In between all these things are concerts.  There is still no announcement of anyone streaming.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


I listen and I think to myself, "I'm supposed to think of something to say."

Sometimes the singing of Jonas Kaufmann makes my heart hurt.  His German diction is extremely beautiful.  It is in every way exactly as I would wish it to be.  The vowels are exactly where they should be.  The consonants are clear and entirely missing the absurd spitting one hears everywhere today.  Singing is in the vowels.  Meditate deeply on the vowels.  Speech must always be in the service of melody.  Always.

I wouldn't so much sound like a lecture if what everyone else is doing wasn't so unmusical.  I see that Vesselina Kasarova is singing Octavian again after complaining about the speech song she didn't like, and everyone told her it had to be.  Ochs perhaps, but no one else.  I advised Mozart.  I hope very much that when she sings him again she will feel better about it.

German can be beautiful.  Recite Goethe to yourself.  "Kennst du das Land wo die Zitroenen bluehn."  That is his genius.  German was never so beautiful before or since.

But Jonas knows all this.  He feels the beauty of his language.  If I listen to his Wagner, perhaps I will learn to love it, too.  As long as I am not required to have religious discussions.  I don't feel respect for Wagner as a philosopher and insist on treating his operas as I would anyone else's.

And then there's the beauty of his voice.  Die ist seltsam.

He also phrases with the words, like a great actor.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Risë Stevens (1913-2013)

She was gorgeous enough to be a movie star.  She sings Schubert's "Ave Maria" with Bing Crosby in Going My Way.  Clearly it's her key.

She was one of the all time great Carmens.

She wrote that when filming for the movies, she would sing on set an octave down.

What the heck.  Here's another from the period just before she retired.

It is good to remember she was very sexy both in and out of drag.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


I have stayed out of the discussions about the strike going on at the San Francisco Symphony.  I sang for a short time as a paid member of the chorus there and view it more on the musicians' side.  There have been a lot of stupid things both said and done.

The managing board of the symphony seems to have mistaken itself for a normal corporation.  A corporation exists for the sake of the stock holders and board members.  They could expect to pay themselves whatever they can get away with and fire everyone should they choose.

A brief reality check.  So far as I am aware if you are not the government, you may not legally disband a union.  If they were no longer there as employees, they would still be there as union reps.  Does that form a picture for you?  It doesn't for me.  All the major orchestras are unionized.  There aren't really qualified players who would be willing to be scabs in this context.  They would basically be committing professional suicide.  Firing the orchestra means killing the symphony.  Don't get me wrong--I don't think anyone involved in the current labor/management difficulties has suggested this.  It's just stupid know nothing writers.

The board of a symphony exists for the sake of the community and the players.  The very last group of people it exists for is the board itself.  They made a special point of first giving themselves raises and then announcing that they intended to lower the musicians pay.  In that order.  Take nose--rub vigorously in.  If I were to randomly pick a group to fire and replace by oh let's say 100%, that group would be the management.  Did it occur to no one to postpone the management raises until after the player contract was signed?  This all by itself would seem to be indicative of extreme stupidity.

It is very hard to be a professional musician on the level of orchestras like San Francisco and Chicago.  The people good enough to play in these orchestras already play in them.  One writer compared it to playing an instrument in high school.  If you seriously believe that, you should be embarrassed to say it out loud.  Hint--it means you are an idiot.

I don't know how much they should make.  I know I live here because I can't afford to live there.  I hope that the people actually involved in the negotiations are a bit smarter than it would seem from the things I am reading.

Nuit D'Ivresse

This is difficult to choose.

Susan Graham and Gregory Kunde seem very much in tune with each other.

But when they're on, no one makes music together better than Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna.

The classic version is this one with Tatiana Troyanos and Placido Domingo.  They sing big.  This was my introduction to Berlioz' Les Troyens. This film is a shortened version.

So I offer this one with Verrett and Gedda. Perhaps you have a favorite.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Isabel Leonard Recital

I always think someone must be listening.  I complain about things and then suddenly they change.  One of the things I complain about is the standard format of the academic vocal recital showing up in professional recitals.  You're not in school any more.  You get to sing what you like.

And so Isabel Leonard appearing on Sunday for San Francisco Performances sang what she liked.  She told us that since she is half Argentine and half American, she would do the first half in Spanish and the second in English.  It all seemed to be about love, happy and sad, and about motherhood.  She is a mama.

Manuel de Falla - El Cancion Andaluza: El Pan de Ronda
Joaquín Valverde - Clavelitos
Folk Song - Los Pelegrinitos
Manuel de Falla -  Preludios
Folk Song - Nana de Sevilla

Enrique Granados - Gracia mía.
Manuel de Falla - Oración de las Madres que Tienen a Sus Hijos en Brazos
Federico Mompou - Solo las flores sobre ti
Manuel de Falla - Olas Gigantes

Xavier Montsalvatge - Cinco Canciones Negras

This is the half before the intermission.  If you spend a lot of time listening to singers like Victoria de los Angeles, Monserrat Caballe and Pilar Lorengar, you will have heard a few of them.

Isabel's style of performance also eschewed the academic.  For instance, there was a chair where occasionally she would sit.  Big gestures, big smiles.  She is a performer who is capable of disappearing into her roles.  Here, too.  She felt each song in her heart and soul.  I also smiled a lot.

In the second half, made up entirely of songs by American composers, there were a few songs I recognized.

Jennifer Higdon - Hop & Toe Dance
William H. Schuman - God's World
Glen Roven - Wild Nights (World Premiere)  [The poem will be familiar.]
Ernest Charles - When I have Sung my Songs*
Charles Ives- Two Little Flowers*
John Alden Carpenter - The Sleep that flits on Baby's Eyes
Charles Ives - When Stars are in the Quiet Skies

Adam Guettel - How can I lose you
Richard Hageman - Do not go, my love*
Ned Rorem - What if some little pain
Cole Porter - Where, Oh Where [What?  A Cole Porter song I've never heard before?]
Ben Moore - I want to go with the one that I love? (World Premiere)

Rossini - Canzonetta spagnuola*
Leonard Bernstein - There's a Place for Us*

For no reason I have put a little * next to the songs that were familiar to me.

In this part Isabel might even go and sit next to her pianist, the very sensitive Vlad Iftinca.  I will say it again.  Sing what you love.  It was a very warm-hearted and enjoyable recital, perhaps the most physical that I have been to.  She comes next season to the San Francisco Opera.

Robin Fisher Song Recital

I knew intuitively when I went to CSUS to hear a song recital from Robin Fisher that it was going to have something to do with the book she coauthored called American Art Song and American Poetry.

This poetry is by some of the great American poets:  Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes "Nobody loves a genius child," Belle Starr (notorious outlaw), Elinor Wylie and Emma Lazarus, among others. 

Chronologically, the composers are Mary Howe, Jean Berger, Lee Hoiby, Richard Hundley, Libby Larsen, Ricky Ian Gordon, and Jake Heggie.  For some reason I thought "jazz without the rhythm."  None of this music was familiar to me.

It was a recital of love, both from Robin and her excellent accompanist Elvia Puccinelli.  Robin did a good job of selecting songs that suited her voice and musical personality.  Maybe I'll have to read the book.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Francesca da Rimini

Today's simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera, Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini, 1914, was just the production for those who like their opera to be pretty.  Every frame will remind you of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Francesca da Rimini:  Eva-Maria Westbroek
Paolo:  Marcello Giordani
Giovanni:  Mark Delavan
Malatestino:  Robert Brubaker
Samaritana:  Dina Kuznetsova
Smaragdi:  Ginger Costa-Jackson
Garsenda:  Dísella Làrusdóttir [Debut]

Conductor:  Marco Armiliato
Production:  Piero Faggioni

At least a bit.  Eva-Maria Westbroek in the title role has to be the most Pre-Raphaelite opera singer you've ever seen.  This was my fourth role for her after Jenůfa in Munich, three different performances of Sieglinde and her wonderful outing as Anna Nicole. Her work in this opera was intensely passionate.

This opera is also about the Guelphs and Ghibellines, it turns out. The Malatesta family, Paolo the beautiful, sung by Marcello Giordani, Gianciotto the deformed, sung brilliantly by Mark Delevan, and Malatestino the one-eyed, sung by Robert Brubaker, are Guelphs.  What a sorry lot they are.

The plot is not complicated.  Originally Francesca is just a reference in The Inferno.  Francesca is tricked into marrying Gianciotto.  She thinks she is marrying Paolo, but all the men know she is not.  In spite of the fact that he knows she is married to Gianciotto, Paolo falls in love with her.  Everything turns out badly.

Ginger Costa-Jackson is our gorgeous contralto Smaragdi.  

The music is for a plush, romantic orchestra, perhaps after Mascagni and Boito.  I don't really hear Puccini in it.  The opera is a bit long, but not really long enough to justify starting an hour early.  We were out by 1:00.  Every once in a while one should see it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Tales of Hoffmann Changes

Like Anna Netrebko before her, Natalie Dessay has backed out of singing all four roles in The Tales of Hoffmann this summer at the San Francisco Opera.  Natalie will continue to sing Antonia while Hye Jung Lee, recently seen as Madame Mao, will sing Olympia, Irene Roberts will appear as Giulietta and Jennifer Cherest will be Stella.  It is very unusual, actually, for one person to sing all four women in Hoffmann.  I've only seen it done at the Berkeley Opera.  This was predictable.  I look forward to seeing Natalie in whatever she wishes to sing. 

Matthew Polenzani will sing Hoffmann, the always fascinating Alice Coote will appear as Nicklausse and Christian Van Horn is the four villains.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

New Roles for Anna

I read that Anna Netrebko has new roles in her future.

She will sing her first Tatiana in Eugene Onegin at the Vienna State Opera in April, to be followed by performances at the Met next fall.

She will sing her first ("and probably the last," she says) Wagner role, Elsa in Lohengrin, at the Semper Oper in Dresden, Germany.

She is scheduled for Marguerite in Gounod's Faust at the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden in Spring of 2014.

No dates or places are attached to plans to sing Leonora in Il Trovatore and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth.  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!  I think I shouted.  Well.  Maybe.  I was good with the other stuff.

And don't forget there was the earlier rumor that she would sing Manon Lescaut in Munich with Jonas Kaufmann.

Addendum.  Macbeth is from Munich a year from June.  Jonas will do Forza with Anja Harteros in Munich in the fall.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ariodante at the Conservatory

I had a very pleasant time Saturday evening at the San Francisco Conservatory where they performed a concert version of Handel's Ariodante.  It was my first visit to the Conservatory.  It is now located on Van Ness Avenue just above Market Street.

Most of the good stuff in this opera is for the character Ariodante, here sung by Hannah Headland, including the hit tune "Scherza infida."

I liked the overall quality of the student singers very much.  A few comments.

The orchestra was well in tune in the first act and increasingly out of tune as the opera progressed.  The original instrument ensemble of the Zurich Opera now tune before each act.  It wouldn't hurt for you to do it, too.

Everyone has a theorbo now, including them.

I prefer my Baroque singing un poco piu legato, per favore.  It was, nonetheless, very pleasing.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Secret Garden

I was probably the only person in the audience for the opera The Secret Garden by Nolan Gasser at Zellerbach on Sunday that had never read the book or seen any of the other theatrical versions of the story from a 1910 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I am acquainted with people who claim this as their favorite book.

Mary Lennox,orphan            Sarah Shafer *
Archibald Craven, her uncle Philippe Sly *
Colin Craven, his son           Michael Kepler Meo *
Mrs. Medlock, housekeeper Erin Johnson *
Susan Sowerby, nanny         Marina Harris *
Dickon Sowerby, son           Scott Joiner *
Martha Sowerby, daughter   Laura Krumm
Ben Weatherstaff, gardener Ao Li

* San Francisco Opera Debut

It was orchestrated as a chamber music ensemble rather than an orchestra, rather like L'Histoire du Soldat.  Each instrument was made to stand out from its neighbors rather than blend in with them.  This was pleasing except when they covered the singers.  The singers were all good professionals with nothing particularly interesting to sing.  The cast was unusual only in the fact that it included a teenage boy in the role of Colin.  This never happens in opera.

I am not the person to evaluate this as a work for children.  It's too politically incorrect in far too many ways to please me, I'm afraid.  The story seemed to divide in half:  before intermission and after.  Before it is about a stubborn and independent girl who grew up in India and is suddenly thrown into a completely new environment.  After it is about a psychologically but not physically crippled boy who suddenly, miraculously becomes a man.  He sings about this ad nauseum.  Ho hum.  The girl practically disappears from the story.  Other people seemed to like this fine.

It looked wonderful.  I especially liked the films of an English robin.  It had very much a Candide ending.  Go outside, enjoy your garden.  I could take this advice.

Friday, March 08, 2013

A Little Rosa

If you are tired of these modern singers, here's a little Rosa Ponselle.  This is from Spontini's La Vestale, an opera I would like to see.


  • "When discussing singers, there are two you must first set aside: Rosa Ponselle and Enrico Caruso. Then you may begin." - Geraldine Farrar, soprano.
  • "In my lifetime, there have been three vocal miracles: Caruso, Ruffo and Ponselle. Apart from these there have been several wonderful singers." - Tullio Serafin, conductor.
  • "When you hear the voice of Rosa Ponselle, you hear a fountain of melody blessed by the Lord." - Mary Garden, soprano.
  • "The most glorious voice that ever came from any woman's throat." - Walter Legge, record producer.
  • "The greatest singer of us all." - Maria Callas, soprano.
  • "The Queen of Queens in all of singing." - Luciano Pavarotti, tenor.
  • " All this arguing about singers is nonsense. Anyone knows the best ever was Rosa Ponselle. The perfection of her phrasing is not to be exceeded." - me.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Jonas likes Gummi Bears

We try to have all the important news.

Go to Sopranos

As I posted here, Peter Gelb's go to sopranos have been:

Key:  (performances in approximate roles)  (simulcasts)

Anna Netrebko  (124 in 12 roles)  (7)
Angela Gheorghiu  (92 in 9 roles)  (2)
Renée Fleming  (234 in 20 roles)  (6)
Karita Mattila  (143 in 15 roles)  (3)
Natalie Dessay  (78 in 8 roles)  (3)

Research indicates that Deborah Voigt has sung more at the Met than any of these:
Deborah Voigt   (241 in 19 roles)  (5)

Netrebko will open the 2013-14 season with Eugene Onegin and will repeat in Elixir.  Fleming will appear in her signature role Rusalka. Angela Gheorghiu is very much out of favor for personal reasons.  Karita Mattila is repeating her Salome this season.  Natalie is in Giulio Cesare yet to come.  Neither of them can I find in the schedule for next season.

Perhaps he's cast his eyes about and they have occasionally lighted on:

Patricia Racette   (148 in 12 roles)  (1)  She will appear on the simulcasts next season in Tosca.
Sondra Radvanovsky  (161 in 16 roles)  (1)
Marina Poplavskaya  (45 in 5 roles)  (2)
Barbara Frittoli  (92 in 9 roles)  (3)

I have nothing against these ladies, but might we also see:

Eva-Maria Westbroek  (12 in 2 roles)  (1)
Nina Stemme  (11 in 2 roles)
Anja Harteros  (29 in 3 roles)

I would welcome other suggestions.

Saturday, March 02, 2013


You're not going to believe this.  I hardly believe it myself.  I loved it.  I am speaking of the simulcast of Parsifal from the Metropolitan Opera.

Conductor:   Daniele Gatti
Production:   François Girard

Parsifal:   Jonas Kaufmann
Gurnemanz:   René Pape
Amfortas:   Peter Mattei
Kundry:   Katarina Dalayman
Klingsor:   Evgeny Nikitin

Daniele Gatti was the key.  He has been conducting Parsifal all around the globe for the last 5 years and has managed to sublimate the annoying passage [this refers to my personal annoyance with the use of the Dresden Amen as a leitmotiv--see here] into the overall texture of the opera, making it the key to understanding it all.  You see, Wagner's Parsifal is so corny as to completely transcend corniness.  Gatti conducted without a score and was simply magnificent.  I was very surprised to hear hints of impressionism in the score.  One can't help wondering.

All the tempos were painfully slow.  By the time I made it out to the parking lot it had been over 6 hours since the opera started.

The story arc of Kundry is interesting.  In Act I she is the messenger of the Knights, a person who seems always to do what she is told while facilitating their destruction.  She is a kind of eternal woman like Emilia Marty.  As Herodias she laughed at Jesus and was punished with a curse that she would never die.  During the time of the opera she is a slave of Klingsor.  In the second act she tries to seduce Parsifal.  The harder he resists, the harder she tries.  Parsifal defeats Klingsor and releases Kundry from her curse.  In the third act she washes his feet and he baptizes her.  In our production she takes the grail from its shrine, holds it aloft and dies.  Katarina Dalayman was our Kundry.  Describing her part, she said, "It has no real tessitura."  This means it doesn't emphasize any particular part of the range and instead covers the whole voice.  Her concept of Kundry's character was impressive and very enjoyable.

I moved Gurnemanz up in the cast list because he is the narrator and sings more than anyone else.  René Pape could do this part in his sleep.

Parsifal means pure fool.  He is raised alone, like Siegfried, and knows nothing of life.  He doesn't know he isn't supposed to shoot a swan and makes his entrance having done just that.  He is suddenly enlightened just as Kundry kisses him.  This is Jonas Kaufmann who clearly loves this opera a very great deal.  This is only his second time singing it, but it lies deep in his soul.

The style of the production reminded me of the latest super hero movies like Avengers.  They are the people of great strength of character who go around in drab costumes on dark sets.  Parsifal is a great super hero who performs feats of mystical power.

Both our Germans, Jonas Kaufmann and René Pape, wanted to greet their relatives watching in Germany. 

It was all deeply emotional throughout, a marvelous cast with great commitment.  Is it possible to have a spiritual quest without following any particular religion?

Perhaps this was the Parsifal for me.  Congratulations to all.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Pictures of Anna

I probably have more pictures of Anna Netrebko than any other opera singer.  A lot of them are pictures people used to send me before she was married which I am strictly forbidden to post.  These pictures from a recent family vacation in Florida came from Facebook.  If you post pictures on Fb, you must want people to use them.  She still has the best legs in the business.