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.]

Saturday, November 16, 2013


While in San Francisco, between performances of Barber, I went to the De Young to see the David Hockney exhibit.

Apparently after living in Los Angeles for 25 years, he has returned to England, thus renewing his interest in English landscape.  He has also started painting on an iPad.  One of these "paintings" was mounted in such a way that we could see the strokes being added one by one.  The picture below (Yosemite) is one of these, and perhaps the one above is also.

Almost everything in the exhibition has been done after the millennium.  He is a bit too realistic for my taste.

But this picture, also in the exhibition, may counteract that general impression.  It reminded me of Picasso and concerns itself with problems in displaying a massacre.

There were also films of landscapes made with multiple cameras mounted on the same truck.  Interesting.

I can only say that for him the process of transformation to art is now consistent.  Go out and see it, and make up your own mind.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Barber of Seville

Rosina receiving her singing lesson

Conductor:  Giuseppe Finzi
Director:  Emilio Sagi

Figaro:  Lucas Meachem (1), Audun Iversen * (2)
Rosina:  Isabel Leonard * (1), Daniela Mack (2)
Count Almaviva:  Javier Camarena * (1),  Alek Shrader (2)
Doctor Bartolo:  Alessandro Corbelli (1), Maurizio Muraro * (2)
Don Basilio:  Andrea Silvestrelli
Berta:  Catherine Cook
Ambrogio:  A.J. Glueckert
Fiorello:  Ao Li
An Officer:  Hadleigh Adams
Notary:  Andrew Truett

I went to the first and second performances of Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia at the San Francisco Opera because I wanted to see both casts.  This is a new production.  This photo of the first scene will give you an idea of how it looks. 

First we are outside Doctor Bartolo's house, then we are in the back garden, and last we are inside the house.  The slanted floor is a kind of door where people and objects enter and exit.  There is dancing that is fully integrated into the action.  There is a storm complete with water.  There is extreme ambiguity about the precise period, but it must be long after Rossini.  The action was very busy, but I found it charming and entertaining.  Berta and Ambrogio, Bartolo's servants, maintained a constant flow of silly, entertaining business.

Perhaps this is the long version which I first saw in Met simulcast where Count Almaviva sings the long aria from La Cenerentola at the end.  The opera used to be performed without it, but perhaps this is now the new standard version.

I felt that the first cast was the more successful, but this was mainly due to the fact that the War Memorial Opera House has somewhat bad acoustics, and they were louder.  One of the primary criteria for a successful opera career is how loud your voice is.  Is this a silly topic?  From the second cast Daniela Mack and Maurizio Muraro were adequately loud.  I apologize for bringing this up.  The loudest person on the stage was probably Andrea Silvestrelli who played Don Basilio in both casts.  He has an incredibly large and resonant bass voice.  I would like to hear more of him.

I was charmed.  I felt lucky to hear Javier Camarena whom I saw in Paris with Natalie Dessay.  He was making his San Francisco Opera debut.  As was Isabel Leonard who appeared here recently in recital at the San Francisco Conservatory.

It was fun.  Sometimes this opera takes a somewhat gloomy turn but that did not happen here.  I yelled a lot.  Bravissimi tutti.

Forgive me for not reviewing them separately.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dmitri as Rigoletto

I listened to the live stream of Rigoletto from the Met last night and was fascinated to hear the announcers discussing how ugly Dmitri Hvorostovsky looked in his Rigoletto costume.  He is, of course, one of the most beautiful men in opera today.  It took quite a bit of looking to locate this picture.  I tuned in for Dmitri who was very intense in this role.  His "Cortigiani" exuded violent rage such as I have not heard before.

There was an audience participation quiz in the intermission:  what character in an opera joins the army during the opera?  I made 2 suggestions, but evidently there are a lot more.

There is opera everywhere now.

P.S.  Dmitri getting ugly.

Following the Conductor

People are always talking about following the conductor in the performance.  This is something I always find puzzling.  In my first professional season--remember my professional experience is not particularly significant--I performed without contact lenses which basically means I couldn't have seen the conductor even if I'd wanted to.  The next season I had contacts, all paid for by the German health system.  The most important reason I needed contacts was because my face had a kind of blank expression due to the fact that I couldn't see anything.  Everyone said that with contacts I looked like I was actually seeing something.  From my point of view it kept me from falling over things.

I recently discussed the talking prompter we used, but I can honestly say I never heard her either.  I have no sense of any of this being a problem.  In the rehearsals you need to see the conductor to find out what he's doing.  In the performance you sing with the music, not the conductor.  Whatever the music is doing, you do that too.  Occasionally cues are required.

If you are not adequately rehearsed, that's another story.  I remember Angela Gheorghiu's concert in Zellerbach where she kept turning to see the conductor.  She didn't trust him.  That's the only explanation I could think of.  The repertoire was all things with which she is very familiar.  They needed to rehearse more.  It felt like they had rehearsed only enough to give a sense of anxiety.  He was a young man.  She should have been stern with him and told him to follow her.

If you don't know the music well enough to tell whether you are with it or not, you shouldn't be there in the first place.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Neon +

I found out that I can change any photograph into neon using Picasa. So here I am combining my passion for neon with my passion for certain opera singers.

Can't you see this neon of Cecilia Bartoli on top of a hotel in Paris:

This Jonas Kaufmann jumping man neon could hang in your favorite bar:

This one actually looks the most like neon, and I think I would put Anna Netrebko atop a casino in Las Vegas.  Isn't it amazing!

This one of Netrebko would go best in a window in North Beach:

This very serious young man could hang in a tapas restaurant:

Perhaps you'll recall this as "Essence of Bartoli".  Are there abstract neons?  Then it would hang in a museum.

Maybe this one of Harteros and Kaufmann could hang over a ballroom.  They look like they are beginning a dance.

It's impossible to explain how much fun this is.  I pick a sports bar for this neon of Joyce DiDonato:

This Joyce belongs on the cover of Vanity Fair:

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Tosca in HD

Conductor: Riccardo Frizza
Production: Luc Bondy

Angelotti: Richard Bernstein
Sacristan: John Del Carlo
Cavaradossi: Roberto Alagna
Tosca: Patricia Racette
Scarpia: George Gagnidze
Spoletta: Eduardo Valdes
Sciarrone: James Courtney
Shepherd: Seth Ewing-Crystal
Jailer: Ryan Speedo Green

Saturday was Tosca live from the Metropolitan Opera.  The Met is into stunt doubles these days.  For instance, this famous scene from Das Rheingold is done by two stunt doubles:

One of the biggest criticisms of this production of Tosca the first time around was the scene at the end where Tosca jumps.  It looked like they threw a large rag doll out the window.  It's a bit of a leap for a soprano, quite a bit higher than Senta's leap in Flying Dutchman in San Francisco.  So this time they used a stunt double.  She looked fabulous.  There was also a stunt double at the beginning to stand in for Angelotti when he climbs down the wall in the church.  This one was very smooth.

There is still a lot more to criticize here.  I defy you to find a church that drab anywhere in Rome.  Even the Protestant church is fancier than that.  But this is all old news.

I especially liked Roberto here.  He looks and sounds very good right now and was only occasionally off the pitch, never seriously.  Racette is always a good singer and a marvelous, multidimensional actress.   We enjoyed the enthusiasm when she stabbed Scarpia.  This is her year.

We were interested in Scarpia sung by George Gagnidze.  He had a translator in his interview, and we couldn't tell what language he was speaking.  He is from Georgia and received a rousing boo when he appeared for his bow.  This is supposed to be good, but I wasn't sure he understood that.  He made an excellent villain.


In the intermission for Tosca live from the Met in HD was a short look at a piano rehearsal for Falstaff which will simulcast on my birthday.  They were rehearsing the end of Act II where Falstaff is thrown into the Thames in a laundry basket.  Angela Meade is Alice Ford, Lisette Oropesa is Nanetta and Stephanie Blythe is Mistress Quickly. 

James Levine was conducting in his automated chair, but next to him was a white-haired woman with a score on a music stand making gestures that at times resembled conducting.  Levine conducted all the time in the way one is accustomed to seeing, but the woman seemed only to conduct the singers.  She would hold up her hand with the palm toward the singer, and when it came time for the entrance, she would point at them.  I am revealing the incredible limitations of my professional experience when I say that it took me a minute to figure this out.  This person can only be the prompter.

When I sang in a professional theater, there was a prompter in the wings who only spoke the words just prior to when the singer sang them, usually not loud enough to be heard.  The woman in the film today never seemed to say anything.  Levine ignored her.

Magic Flute from Salzburg

Papageno and his Papagena

The Salzburg Marionette theater showed The Magic Flute at Mondavi Center tonight.  I especially wanted to see this since I had missed it in Salzburg.  It was enormous fun.  I can now feel my trip to Salzburg is complete.

In the puppet theater the singing was in German and the spoken words were in English. I was glad the translation was appropriately dignified and silly at the same time.  The nasty cracks about women found frequently in Flute were omitted.  Below is a link to the recorded version of the opera used for the music. 

The marionettes are about 2/3 life size.  At the end the human performers were shown to the audience, and we could see there were 8 of them.  I was especially fascinated when the characters seemed to circle one another.  How do they do that?  Their movements seemed very natural.

The marionette theater was positioned rather far back from the apron of the stage, making it difficult see.  The stage itself is much less than 2/3 the size of the average opera stage, but the action was always clear.



Friday, November 08, 2013

Interview with Nina Stemme

Here is an excellent interview with Nina Stemme.

Rock Stars of Opera

Noah Stewart points out this article in the November issue of Details magazine called Rock Stars of Opera. A short blurb appears for each of five young American tenors.  I am listing them in the order shown above.

Alek Shrader

I have seen Alek in Thomas Ades' The Tempest and in Rossini's Barber of Seville.  He is a lyric tenor with great flexibility.  In San Francisco he was sometimes difficult to hear, but this happens a lot for us.

Stephen Costello

I have seen Stephen in Moby Dick, at the Richard Tucker Gala with his wife, in Anna Bolena with Netrebko and in La Boheme in LA.  He is a lyric tenor of great sweetness.

Michael Fabiano

Michael is the most spectacularly gifted of this group.  I have seen him as Cassio in Otello with Botha and in Lucrezia Borgia with Renée Fleming.  He is IMHO a spinto tenor with a bright, almost Pavarotti-like tone.  His phrasing is also mature and sophisticated.  For him the sky is the limit.

 Noah Stewart

I know Noah primarily from the years when he trained at the San Francisco Opera.  He appeared there in the world premiere of Glass' Appomattox.  Then he was swept up into the Katherine Jenkins world in Great Brittain.  He works out and appears frequently in Hunks lists.  He recently won Operagasm's sexiest man award.  Right now he is in Madrid singing Purcell's The Indian Queen.  I think he needs to find his path.  All of them have commercial releases, but only Noah has his own album.

Bryan Hymel

I have seen Bryan in Faust at Santa Fe and in Les Troyens in HD.  He also sang Les Troyens at the ROH with Pappano.  Les Troyens is a big chunk to bite off, and Bryan was outstanding.  I'm going out on a limb here, but if you are looking for the Domingo type tenor that can sing anything, Bryan may be your man.  In any event he is the heaviest voice of this group and needs to choose his repertoire with this fact in mind.  Maybe I need to hear him live more.

I have posted all of them before.  They are all in the part of their careers where they are trying to find their niche.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Antidote for too much opera

This is in case you thought old people could not keep up.

Interview with Angela Gheorghiu

Translated from Munich Abendzeitung

Staging, jokes and Wagner - Angela Gheorghiu, the last diva, talks straight about Jonas Kaufmann
Christa Sigg, 04.11.2013 16:29 Photos? Please do not! As good as they already are of Angela Gheorghiu. Photo: Cosmin Gogu / EMI

Don't worry, Angela Gheorghiu remains loyal to Verdi, Donizetti and his cohorts. She also sings their arias on Thursday at the Philharmonie

On the table are fruit kebabs. A fabulous figure wants to be cared for, especially if you put it into skin-tight dresses like Angela Gheorghiu. She did photos in the late afternoon but now has no more desire. After umpteen interviews she should also stop talking. In spite of that the capricious singer gave a spirited conversation.

AZ: Ms. Gheorghiu, your life provides enough material for an exciting opera. 

GHEORGHIU ANGELA:  But the most interesting thing you still do not even know. That I'm saving for later.  [She has a secret but does not reveal it.]

You really don't want to say anything? What was the craziest thing in your life? 

To marry Roberto! But I should have known; all have told me not to do it.

After all, much has been written about you, which is also PR. 

Negative. About cancellations that were due to Roberto [Alagna], such as Zeffirelli's "Traviata".  But that will now all come out gradually. There were moments in my life that gave people a completely wrong idea of me. Now I want to give the real Angela.

And sing with other tenors, like Jonas Kaufmann. 

When I heard him several years ago for the first time, I was immediately impressed and wanted to sing with him. The fact that he was not well known didn't matter.  I completely trusted this voice, pushed him properly. Then came the "Butterfly" CD.  And everything he tackled was good. Now I am very proud that I trusted him.

Jonas Kaufmann is often heard here, which cannot be said of you. 

You have here such crazy productions. If you asked me to sing in "Trovatore" - thank you, never with Angela!  We cannot make jokes with the opera.  Please just stop it!

There is currently in Munich no new production in which you want to sing?

I have a few ideas. The Director's my fan! I adore Nikolaus Bachler, and he adores me. All over the world he has seen me.  He knows me very well. We'll find something, because I love this opera house! It is so wonderful, the acoustics are great. And I also like your food.

Are you sure? 

But yes, it is close to the Romanian food: pork, desserts - wonderful!

Many young singers come from your homeland, Russia, the former Soviet bloc. Is the training there better? 

No, everywhere there are good singers, it's like pearls. You just never know where to find them.

But in the top league at the present time many come from the East. 

Sure, because they are not that expensive. At least at first.

What are you going to sing on Thursday? 

A little bit of everything.


We'll see.

Have you ever fancied a bit of Wagner, at least in the year of Wagner? 

If Wagner were alive today, I would ask him to write something for my voice. Or even a voice! Wagner wrote such beautiful phrases, but as a singer you pay dearly for it. Actually, I would ask Jonas to finish this and only sing Verdi and Puccini.

[As a person of ambiguity towards Wagner, I cannot but laugh at this last paragraph.  I'm good with Jonas singing Wagner, at least so far.  He mixes it up a lot, which seems very good to me.  ]

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Moby Dick again

For all who watched Moby Dick on television or who are watching it now on, isn't it wonderful?  When ever did anything so wrap you in its arms?  I am not articulate enough to tell its horrible overwhelming beauty.  It is a work of deep love which flows out from all who are involved.  Who could be more mad than Jay Hunter Morris, or who more lyrical than Stephen Costello?  In the new world of opera and electronics you can write about the experience while you are experiencing it.  The twitter postings are fun:  see #whalewatch. 

Flying Dutchman and Moby Dick on successive nights.  Have we had enough of the ocean yet?

Friday, November 01, 2013

Something to listen to

The Flying Dutchman

Dutchman and Senta

Conductor:  Patrick Summers
Director, Set Designer:  Petrika Ionesco

The Dutchman:  Greer Grimsley (bass-baritone)
Senta:  Lise Lindstrom* (soprano)
Erik:  Ian Storey (tenor)
Daland (Captain/Father):  Kristinn Sigmundsson (bass)
Steersman:  A.J. Glueckert (tenor)
Mary:  Erin Johnson (contralto)

* San Francisco Opera Debut

On Halloween I saw Richard Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer. According to Not for Fun Only, "The director Petrika Ionesco was fired by David Gockley the previous week [before the opening,] the production hastily re-staged. The rumored laser beams, spaceships & alien zombies were nowhere to be seen"  Zombies would have been cute for Halloween, but we had only dead bodies.  People are complaining about the projections.  For me projections in opera stand in the place of special effects in movies.  You may not like them, but they're here to stay.  Gray waves were for the living, and red ones were for the Dutchman and his dead crew.  Features of the remaining production seemed to be borrowed from Falstaff.

I was shocked to hear how old fashioned the score sounded.  Now that I listen to opera all the time I hear more than ever before. It reminded me of Der Wildschütz by Lorzing written only 1 year earlier.  This is undoubtedly the most performed opera of this genre.

If I am to be a normal reviewer, I must decide:  it was terrible/wonderful and then explain why.  I never seen to manage that.  I don't care how great they are, but I can't really tolerate an extended duet between two basses such as comes at the end of Act I.  Once this was over, I enjoyed all the rest.  The chorus was marvelous, as usual, both on the stage and roaring at us from somewhere in the balcony.  We attributed their bad dancing to the fact that they were supposed to be drunk.

The plot here is rather horrible.  Daland is supposed to be watching out for his daughter's welfare but cares only for the Dutchman's money.  Senta realizes that the only way she can be sure she will be faithful until death is to die now.  She leaps to her death suddenly, rather out of the blue, here in a manner much like Tosca.  I couldn't tell if this leap would make the right effect from the orchestra, but from the balcony Senta's leap off the back of the stage worked well.  

Greer Grimsley and Lise Lindstrom were pleasing both to see and hear.  They have intense, cutting voices, more or less in a category with Hotter, Callas and Radvanovsky.  I understand that Lise is from San Francisco and yet is making her company debut.  It worked for me.

P.S. People complained that the tempos were fast. There are two parts to this complaint. 1. Were the tempos fast? I would have to say yes. 2. Is that something to complain about? It kept the pace moving. I felt the opera went by pretty quickly.