Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year.



This seems about right.  I like everything he does, but his operetta singing is the best.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Stream La Forza del Destino from Munich

Papa, Don Carlo, Leonora, Curra, priest, servant

Conductor Asher Fisch
Production Martin Kušej

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S.  I didn't mind the production.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

NEA Opera Award Defunct

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

2011 John Conklin
Speight Jenkins
Risë Stevens
Robert Ward

2010 Martina Arroyo
David DiChiera
Philip Glass
Eve Queler

2009 John Adams
Frank Corsaro
Marilyn Horne
Lotfi Mansouri
Julius Rudel

2008 Carlisle Floyd
Richard Gaddes
James Levine
Leontyne Price

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Die Macht des Schicksals


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

For more pictures see here.

Trailer:




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

I find that it is Forza that I love.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cross-dressing Research

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


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

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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Born to Play Falstaff


Ambrogio Maestri

Conductor: James Levine
Production: Robert Carsen 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Les Vêpres Siciliennes


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

Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Director: Stefan Herheim

Cast

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Monday, December 09, 2013

My Mahler Soul



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

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Leah Crocetto at Mondavi

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

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

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

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

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

Intermission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 07, 2013

I went to a party



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Translation by Lisa Lockhart (aida_figaro@hotmail.com)

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

Friday, December 06, 2013

2013 Year in Review and KK Opera Awards

You may feel free to classify Neon Jonas with Eurotrash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.S.

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

Monday, December 02, 2013

Imitation?



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