Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kennedy Center Honors Ten Years Later

This blog is now 10 years old.  I began it with a post about the Kennedy Center Honors, and it is therefore suitable that I mark the anniversary with a new one.

The taping ran on CBS last night, and the honorees in order were:   singer Al Green, ballerina Patricia McBride, actor Tom Hanks, Lily Tomlin, and Sting.  Jessye Norman was in the audience.  I expected her to do something, but she didn't.

  • Al Green.  Whoopie Goldberg did his intro, and Jennifer Hudson sang.  The audience sang along, including the president.  There was even a clip of Obama singing an Al Green song in a press conference.  This segment was fun and actually made Al seem significant.  I'll have to think this one over.

  • Patricia McBride danced with the New York City Ballet under Balanchine.  She was Edward Villella's partner and danced 60 roles, 30 of which were created for her.  Young people did bits from her repertoire.  How do you sandwich a ballerina between a pop artist and marching bands?

  • Tom Hanks had military choirs and bands.  Not sure why.  What really does one say about Tom Hanks's career which began with a sitcom where he appeared in drag in every episode?  I felt this segment pretty much fizzled.

  • Lily Tomlin had Jane Fonda and Reba McIntyre talk about her.  Lily Tomlin is an institution and could have been shown off better.

  • Sting was introduced by Meryl Streep and had the Boss, Esperanza Spalding and Bruno Mars sing his stuff.  Have I ever seen Bruno Mars before?  Esperanza Spalding was my favorite thing on the program, but her kind of cool jazz doesn't have the wow of other people.  The only Sting in my iTunes is by Dowland.  He's known for his range and versatility.

Jessye was as close to classical music as we got.  I felt that the show started high and went downhill.  Nevertheless the honorees were all deserving.  There was a controversy in the live performance that was edited out of the broadcast.

Happy anniversary to me.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Favorites by Year 2014

There were some interesting new operas including Death and the PowersThe End of the Affair27Anya17, and Brokeback Mountain.  This was the Strauss year, but you will see no Strauss below at all.  Renée Fleming sang at the Superbowl, and her dress went into the Smithsonian.  I traveled to Saint Louis to see 27, an opera about Gertrude Stein.  Toward the end of the year I traveled to Italy and visited La Fenice and the new opera house in Florence.  This year I became aware of the existence of Barbara Hannigan who specializes in modern opera.  This year I reviewed 51 performances, including 6 DVDs, 10 HDs, 19 live, 2 movies, 12 streams and 2 old films.

For another view on 2014 see KK Awards.

Favorite Performances

  • (JK) Kaufmann's Winterreise CD  This is now my favorite Jonas Kaufmann CD.  It's a masterpiece.  On the internet people complain that it doesn't sound like what they're used to but seem to forget that one singer isn't supposed to sound like another.  Nothing is achieved by imitating someone else's performance.  CD

  • (JK) Werther in HD  **  With the same cast as Paris, the effect was often quite different.  In Paris all was clean and spare.  At the Met every detail of the story was played out on our large screens.  The very charismatic Lisette Oropesa as Sophie was the biggest improvement over Paris.  Met HD
  • (CB) Cecilia Bartoli's DVD of Le Comte Ory  God is love, therefore messing around is the path to salvation.  I found this whole production and cast, which included Javier Camarena as the Count, much funnier than the Met version.  DVD

  • Dialogues of the Carmelites in Saint Louis ** It is a very long time since I have seen this opera, and it is hard to understand why.  It is a great work which is always performed in the vernacular of the country where it is performed in translations approved by the composer.Travel

  • Glyndebourne Der Rosenkavalier streamed ** A huge scandal surrounded this performance so it was especially fun to get to see it on live stream.  There's some misunderstanding.  Women aren't cast as men because they look like men.  Women are cast as men because they don't look like men.  If they looked like men, what would be the point?   Are we clear about that?  I especially liked Tara Erraught.  Live Stream.

  • (AN) Verdi's Il Trovatore from Salzburg **  This is the production where we are visitors in an art museum and the characters hang in pictures on the walls.  Anna Netrebko was Leonora, Placido Domingo was the count and Francesco Meli was the troubadour.  Her name tag says A Netrebko.  Live Stream.

  • (AN) Netrebko's Macbeth in HD  **  Great Netrebko with guns and gangsters.  I hoped she would part company with this opera because everyone seems to oversing, but she only does it occasionally.    Met HD
  • Partenope at SFO ** A Eurotrash production is often the thing that makes a Handel opera tolerable.  This one was exciting and just plain fun from beginning to end.  We have two picture posts here and here.   Local

Singer of the Year

With 2 home runs I must award the singing prize to Anna Netrebko.

Didn't like

The Minotaur was ruled not an opera because we are 50 minutes in before there is any singing. One was entertained by silliness this year.  Kaufmann and Netrebko saved the day.  I'm considering this 10 items because one is a song cycle.

New to Me Opera

  1. Birtwhistle's The Minotaur (2998) was on DVD,
  2. Borodin's Prince Igor (1890) was HD from the Met **
  3. Cavalli's Ercole Amante (1662) was on DVD
  4. Donizetti's Rita  (1841) was live in San Francisco **
  5. Floyd's Susanah (1956) was live at SFO. **
  6. Glass's Hydrogen Jukebox (1990) live in Berkeley, **
  7. Gorb's Anya17 (2012) was live in San Francisco **
  8. Gordon's 27  (2014) live in Saint Louis. **
  9. Handel's Partenope (1730) was live at SFO. **
  10. Heggie's The End of the Affair (2007) live in Berkeley **
  11. Machover's Death and the Powers (2011) simulcast from Dallas KK new opera award. **
  12. Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias (1947) live in San Francisco, **
  13. Rossini's Matilde di Shabran (1821) on DVD,
  14. Strauss's Die schweigsame Frau (1935) streamed from Munich. **
  15. Verdi's I due Foscari (1844) streamed from ROH,
  16. Wuorinen's Brokeback Mountain (2014) streamed.

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

Things recommended to buy



Monday, December 29, 2014


I said here that I thought Eva-Maria Westbroek was ready for something bigger, but after years as the designated Isolde at Bayreuth 2015, she has decided not to try it.  Perhaps something not quite that big would be right.  Anja Kampe will replace her.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Die Csárdásfürstin

Would I have picked either one of these two for this, Die Csárdásfürstin [The Csárdás Princess] by Emmerich Kálmán from Sempoper Dresden?  The whole thing is amusing.  So is Jonas Kaufmann starting a trend?  Opera stars will now sing operettas.  This one doesn't seem very good, but you can watch it here.

There is a trick to operetta.  Oh well.  It's better than this, maybe.

It's too corny for me.  Who would have thought that was possible?  This is about as corny as I get.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Hänsel und Gretel

Conductor:  Kazushi Ono
Production: Laurent Pelly
The Witch (Rosina Loechermaul): Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
The Sandman: Amy Freston
The Dew Fairy: Malin Christensson
Mother: Irmgard Vilsmaier
Father: Klaus Kuttler
Hänsel: Jennifer Holloway
Gretel: Adriana Kučerová

I'm watching Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel from Glyndebourne.  It is a work that lies deep in memory.

These are modern children who live in a cardboard box which is delivered to the stage door. The credits run while each actor is introduced with his turn at holding the box.  One throws it out the window.  Hansel and Gretel fight over it.

When the angels appear, they wait for the children to sleep.  Their angels are wonderful children of their own age, just as one would wish.  I am immensely grateful that it is done in German. One of the beauties of this opera is its wonderful libretto which is filled with made up beautiful and astounding words. You can't actually hear that when they shout into the wings "Wer da? [Who is there?]" that the answer is "Erda."

Once the love comes into your heart, it never completely leaves you.  One's childhood should be spent in the company of great music, for wherever you go or whatever life may bring you, it will never leave you. Ich sehe jetzt keine Lebkuchenkinder. When the cookie children all appear, they are wearing fat suits.

This guy is one ugly witch. There's no cookie witch at the end, which is disappointing. After all, they say, "Look how the Knusper witch has now herself turned into a cookie."

The treatment of the orchestra is quite wonderful, very romantic and beautiful.  This is fun.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Michael Fabiano's Met Rodolfo

Michael was a huge hit at the Met.  I'm not sure I'm supposed to post this, but enjoy.

Janis Martin (August 16, 1939 – December 13, 2014)

Janis Martin has died.  I wrote here about our common experiences at Sacramento State in the late 50s.  I also reviewed her in the recording of Die Frau ohne Schatten here.

She told me once that Erwartung was the hardest role she ever had to learn.  In Berlin I saw her sing Tosca and The Countess in Figaro.  Afterward we went out and had steak.  She knew where to get steak in Berlin at that time of night.

I saw a number of her performances at the San Francisco Opera, including Brünnhilde in the 1990 Ring Festival, and a fabulous Ortrud where she upstaged the entire cast.  I was present in the audience when she received the San Francisco Opera medal.  She had a big beautiful voice and was an intense actress as well.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Divas 2014

In America this was the year of divas at sporting events.

First we had Renée Fleming at the Super Bowl.

This was done in typical Fleming style. Would we want it any other way?  She appeared in a formal gown that went immediately to the Smithsonian, and got fireworks and a backup chorus.

Joyce DiDonato's turn at the 7th game of the World Series could not be a greater contrast.  Fate intervened to let the series go to 7 games.  The universe wanted Joyce.

She sings in her Kansas City Royals fan outfit and has no accompaniment at all.  Maybe on an ear piece.  My favorite part is the small ornament toward the end that gets applause.  The universe didn't allow Kansas City to win.

This song is actually very easy for opera singers and doesn't show them off to best advantage.  Nevertheless, both were fun.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 Opera Year in Review KK Opera Awards

It's time for the 2014 KK Opera Awards.

I am actually astounded by how many operas I have added to my operas seen list this year.

We will start with things that are not actually new but were new to me: Ercole Amante by Cavalli on DVD, Matilde di Shabran by Rossini on DVD, I due Foscari by Verdi from ROH, Rita by Donizetti live, Partenope by Handel live, Die schweigsame Frau by Strauss streamed, Les mamelles de Tirésias by Poulenc live, and the classic American opera Susanah by Floyd live. I can't decide about Show Boat. Does the movie count?  I viewed Barber's Anthony and Cleopatra on YouTube for the first time.

New for everyone or practically everyone: The Minotaur by Birtwistle on DVD, Hydrogen Jukebox by Glass live, The End of the Affair by Heggie live, Death and the Powers by Machover simulcast from Dallas, Anya17 by Gorb live, 27 by Gordon live, and Brokeback Mountain by Wuorinen streamed.

If you count Show Boat, this is 17 operas. I think I am impressed. I traveled only for 27

  • BEST NEW (to me) OPERA AWARD is a tough one. I am torn between 27, The End of the Affair and Death and the Powers27 and The Affair are traditional modern with strong acting and production values, but Death seemed truly ground breaking. There was a lot of good stuff here, but I am going to award to Death and the Powers which may possibly be my first science fiction opera.  Also I due Foscari turned out to be better than I imagined it would be.
  • BEST VERDI OPERA AWARD must go to Simon Boccanegra in Venice. This was a big year for Verdi for me with 10 performances, only 2 of which were La Traviata. I awarded to La Fenice because of the dramatic intensity and sheer overwhelming presence of the performances. They made me love the characters in this opera.  It's a very important opera for Venice.
  • BEST VERDI SINGING AWARD must go to the ever astounding Anna Netrebko for her performances in Il Trovatore from Salzburg and Macbeth in HD. She never ceases to amaze.
  • BEST BAROQUE OPERA AWARD must go to Partenope by Handel. My Baroque experiences were limited this year but nevertheless Partenope must win an award. I think it should also win for...
  • BEST TRANSFORMATION OF AN OPERA INTO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. It was enormous fun from beginning to end, and the music was still excellent.
  • BEST BEL CANTO AWARD has to go to Joyce DiDonato's La Cenerentola from the Met with some of the best singing I've heard, but there was a lot of good Rossini this year.   I especially liked both of Cecilia Bartoli's recent DVD releases--Otello and Le Comte Ory--but the performances didn't actually happen in 2014.
  • BEST ROMANTIC OPERA NOT VERDI OR WAGNER AWARD goes, of course, to Werther from the Met starring our boy Jonas Kaufmann. He transforms into this character.  The production clarified the action extremely well.
  • BEST PUCCINI AWARD is not given with unqualified enthusiasm and goes to the ROH Manon Lescaut starring Jonas Kaufmann and Kristine Opolais. The production even with a lot of censorship was still pretty slutty. This leads to curiosity and a lack of satisfaction. The singing was outstanding, but are we to believe that Manon must become a porn star?  I thought she loved money.  This award is for the singing and the bravery of performing an entire scene 20 feet in the air.
  • BEST RICHARD STRAUSS AWARD in the Strauss year must go to Der Rosenkavalier from Glyndebourne. It was an unusual staging that worked for me emotionally. That's what I ask. Do whatever you want with my beloved operas, but the emotion must still work. It did here. I liked the Salzburg, too, but not as much.  There was a lot of Strauss that I missed, including especially Anja Harteros in Arabella.
  • BEST ACTING IN AN OPERA AWARD goes to Isabel Leonard in the Met's Le Nozze di Figaro.  Her Cherubino was a delight.  The rest of this opera was quite nice as well, though this one is still not my favorite.  Ailyn Pérez gets an honorable mention for her streamed performance of La Traviata from the ROH.  It was very touching.
  • BEST SURPRISE is both Verdi in Italy operas. We forget that we experience opera in a fairly static context, played by orchestras that digest all periods and styles into a single post romantic sound. We forget it until we experience something completely different. There are still places where Verdi remains Italian.
  • WORST EUROTRASH PRODUCTION AWARD doesn't really deserve to be awarded this year. The Il Trovatore as museum tour from Salzburg was very silly but not really ghastly.  The clownish Der Rosenkavalier from Malmö might be bad enough.  Perhaps if I'd seen Manon Lescaut from Munich.

There can be no best Wagner award because I have seen no Wagner at all this year. Unless I go to Meistersinger on Wednesday.

2014 was not the spectacular opera year that 2013 was.  Perhaps if Dresden had chosen to stream, or Munich had picked different things to show us.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Falstaff in Florence

Direttore: Zubin Mehta
Regia: Luca Ronconi
Scene: Tiziano Santi

Sir John Falstaff: Ambrogio Maestri
Fenton: Yijie Shi
Ford, marito d'Alice: Roberto De Candia
Mrs. Alice Ford: Eva Mei
Nannetta, figlia d'Alice: Ekaterina Sadovnikova
Mrs. Quickly: Elena Zilio
Mrs. Meg Page: Laura Polverelli
Bardolfo: Gianluca Sorrentino
Pistola: Mario Luperi
Dr. Cajus: Carlo Bosi

We wanted very much to see the new opera house in Florence, so we booked ourselves for Falstaff in Florence on Tuesday.  We thought we would see Roberto De Candia as Falstaff until the replacement with Ambrogio Maestri was announced. 

I included the picture above to give you an idea of the production.  This is from the second scene where the ladies have received their letters and are planning their revenge.  It is possible to interpret this production as Falstaff's dream.  It begins with him in bed and ends the same way.  He is lying in bed when the oak tree descends to hang over the bed.

There is a flock of geese on the stage at one point, stuffed, of course.  Then later the women pluck at the feathers on the geese.  Chi e?

Maestri is huge, just as Sir John needs to be.  He sings huge as well.  Perhaps you might be impressed with his enormous size after all.  He is glorious.

I enjoyed very much the "reverenza" of Mrs. Quickly.  My only complaint about the ladies was that their costumes were too similar to be able to distinguish them.  Nannetta was also lovely with a very nice high pianissimo.

It is good to hear Verdi in Italy.  It is an endless surprise.  In Falstaff the violins played with an almost constant leggiero technique, making it truly sound like a buffa opera.  That means they played with the sense of tiny spaces between the notes, creating an atmosphere of lightness and frivolity.  People constantly talk about late Verdi resembling Wagner to the point that our orchestras then play it as though it actually were Wagner.  All Verdi is still Italian, and it might be well for us to remember it on occasion.  Kudos to Maestro Mehta.

It was difficult to tell if the theater was completely finished.  The production did not require any elaborate stage machinery.  Our one complaint was that in the balcony a thin line of steel runs across the middle of one's view of the stage. 

Go see some Verdi in Italy.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Simon Boccanegra at La Fenice

Conductor:  Myung-Whun Chung
Production:  Andrea De Rosa

Simon Boccanegra:  Simone Piazzola
Jacopo Fiesco, his enemy:  Giacomo Prestia
Paolo Albiani:  Julian Kim
Maria Boccanegra:  Maria Agresta
Gabriele Adorno:  Francesco Meli

My operas seen in Italy are La Cenerentola and La Legenda di Sakuntala at the Rome opera, Aida in the Baths of Caracalla, Butterfly and Aida at the Arena di Verona and La Traviata near the Porta Romana in Florence.  None of them prepared me for the amazing experience of Simon Boccanegra at La Fenice in Venice.

We sat in expensive boxes which reduce the space available for the sound to enter.  In spite of this they could have been performing the opera inside the box with us, the acoustics were that good.  There was never any sense of over singing or covering by the orchestra.  I understand that the orchestra pit can be lowered to different levels to balance the sound.  This left these wonderful artists to fully express the emotions of this opera.

Remarkably, two of the singers participated in both Simon Boccanegra and I due Foscari, seen at home a few days ago:  soprano Maria Agresta and tenor Francesco Meli, both marvelous singers.  It is the warmth of the Simon character that elevates this opera to greatness, and Simone Piazzola succeeded brilliantly.

Remember Romeo and Juliet?  Feuding families is a common theme in Italian drama.  I have explained elsewhere that this has to do with the two factions:  Guelphs and Ghibellines.  In one opera(located in Venice) the enemy completely crushes the Foscari family for no apparent reason.  In the other (located in Genoa) while Simon dies, the others live on to a peaceful resolution. 

Simon Boccanegra was a pirate before he became the Doge of Genoa.  His life as a pirate is evoked throughout the opera through the projection of films of the sea projected on a scrim at the back of the stage.  The waves could be seen moving, and occasionally a gull would fly by.  This more than compensated for the fact that everything else except Maria was black.

With one more exception.  At the last while Simon is dying, a woman appears in a white gown and bare feet.  She walks slowly over the floor and kneals down behind Simon.  As he breathes his last, she embraces him.  It has to be his dead wife Maria.  He speaks her name and dies.

The performance was intense from the first note to the last with a vivid expressiveness such as I have never experienced.  I can't help thinking that Verdi would approve.  I used to have a derrogatory remark to go with this opera, but now I think it is my favorite.

Palazzo Ducale

On our first full day in Venice we took a well-led tour of the Palazzo Ducale or Doge's Palace.  Since it was only a few days ago that I saw I due Foscari, an opera about a Doge of Venice, the rooms took on the quality of a stage set.

We visited the room where the Doge, the council of ten and the senate met to make decisions.  The Doge's throne and the seats for the 10 looked very familiar.  Only the huge dark paintings were missing from the opera.  Paintings of the 10 showed their red robes trimmed with fur.

We visited the room where cases were tried, the torture room, the bridge of sighs and the prison cells.  The characters from the opera filled the empty spaces.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

I Due Foscari

Conductor:   Antonio Pappano
Director: Thaddeus Strassberger

Francesco Foscari: Plácido Domingo
Jacopo Foscari, son of Francesco: Francesco Meli
Lucrezia Contarini, wife of Jacopo: Maria Agresta
Jacopo Loredano, villain: Maurizio Muraro

At our local movie theater we saw I Due Foscari by Verdi from the ROH, a new opera for me.  I didn't look anything up and realized that it is actually fun not to know what will happen. It was presented, I'm sure, at the request of Placido Domingo who plays the central character, the 89 year old Doge of Venice.

If memory serves, the Doge's Palace isn't quite this depressing.  The emphasis of the production is on unhappiness and political horror.  Jacopo Foscari, sung by Francesco Meli (heard live at Salzburg last summer in Nabucco, and streamed in Il Trovatore), has been found guilty of killing a member of the Donato family and is being exiled to Crete. Meli is handsome and dramatically intense.

Lucrezia's role (sung by Maria Agresta whom I have never seen before) is one long mad scene.  In line with modern psychology she murders one of her children at the end.  Agresta was interviewed in Italian, so I'm guessing she is Italian.  Her intensity was impressive.

Jacopo Loredano was sung by one of the great modern baritone villains Maurizio Muraro, seen previously in Barber of Seville both in San Francisco and at the Met, in Cosi in HD and to greatest effect in Manon Lescaut from the Royal Opera.  All he has to do is stand there glaring out at the audience, and you know he is up to no good.

Domingo continues to sing because he is still a wonderful presence on the stage, projecting a very wide range of emotions.  The character as created here seems unaware that most of politics goes on behind the scenes.  Remind you of anyone?  Never mind.

Our Verdi even in 1844 could create magnificent intensity in a wide variety of situations in a style that was uniquely his own.  I especially enjoyed the ensembles with the soprano.  The Venetians love Simon Boccanegra (seeing it there next week) but perhaps this opera makes them look bad.  That's the only explanation for its complete neglect that I can think of.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Cecilia's Contract Extended to 2021

Cecilia Bartoli's contract as head of the Salzburg Pentecost Festival (or Pfingstfestspiele) has been extended to 2021.  The Rolex sponsorship "without which we couldn't do even one of our own new productions" has been similarly extended.

From 2017 Markus Hinterhäuser will be the director of the Salzburg Festival, and he had a lot of nice words for Cecilia, "She is not just a great artist and singer, but has very high dramaturgical and philological intelligence.  It is phenomenal how much she brings with every fiber of her existence, of knowledge, skills. One can only learn."

Helga Rabl-Stadler, the president of the festival, also said, "The 2015 Pfingstfest is already 80% sold.  Over the whole world there is nothing like this.  And no one is ever sick for a Bartoli festival."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Warning! Modern Music!

Barbara Hannigan is a name that is new to me.  Let's introduce her.


'Burnt Toast':

Soap operas by Alexina Louie and Dan Redican.

Barbara Hannigan is not the sort of voice I would normally be interested in, but her work is fascinating. I'd never heard of her, but apparently she's all over, mainly on  She's in Written on Skin.

And then there's this--György Ligeti Mysteries of the Macabre.  It is in some way related to Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre. She's singing in English, I think.  There are no Wagner references in this.

I started down this road because of a comment on my post titled "Singing en pointe." Apparently Ms Hannigan sings most of the role of Lulu en pointe. It is easier to see the connection of ballet to Clorinda than to Lulu.  We will close with this trailer for Lulu.  I will have to buy it now.

P.S.  Someone apparently thinks my selections are disrespectful.  I don't.  I am deliberately promoting the idea that opera and indeed all of classical music is fun and entertaining.  I chose the films that entertained me.  Barbara Hannigan should not feel embarrassed by them.  The Ligeti is particularly spectacular.  She is simultaneously conducting, singing and dramatizing her piece.  I am impressed.  Her ensemble appears to be enjoying it as much as I am.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Christmas Presents

This Kaufmann album of songs from German operettas would probably make good presents.  I very much prefer the far more serious Winterreise, but I am not really an average person.

This Netrebko album will be out in time for Christmas.  You can preorder now.

If your friends love Baroque, this Jaroussky album is the one.

Or perhaps they would like Baroque from an entirely new perspective.

For the lover of bel canto you will need Joyce DiDonato.

The Met didn't produce much this year so I recommend these Rossini albums.  I even liked the productions.  One is comedy and the other tragedy.

If your heart is only for Kaufmann, this is the best of the Verdi year.


Monday, November 24, 2014


Sometimes the genius of a performance is all in the casting.  Who knew that together they would be magic?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Il Barbiere di Siviglia in HD

Conductor: Michele Mariotti
Production: Bartlett Sher

Rosina: Isabel Leonard
Count Almaviva: Lawrence Brownlee
Figaro: Christopher Maltman
Dr. Bartolo: Maurizio Muraro
Don Basilio: Paata Burchuladze

While watching the simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera today, I noticed for the first time that in the storm scene where Figaro and Almaviva attempt to abduct Rosina that Rossini uses the same orchestral figure to depict lightning that Verdi uses in Rigoletto.  In Il Barbiere di Siviglia it's just a brief fragment of flute arpeggio that turns into a louder, more stereotypical orchestral storm as the scene progresses.  Verdi expands it into a long scene, but it's the same figure.  I expected to see flashing neon, but alas I did not.  If the storm scene in Rigoletto does not remind you of neon flashing, you do not attend enough Met simulcasts.

My seatmate pointed out that the staging is now less busy.  Perhaps there are fewer stagehands.  I have often pointed out that reducing the number of stagehands would save a lot of money.  I noticed that in one scene the girls surrounding Figaro's movable business pushed it off the stage.  In another there is a donkey, Sir Gabriel, who was interviewed during the intermission.  Debbie Voigt seemed quite fond of him.

The trimming down did not seem to negatively impact the clarity of the production.  Remember, the purpose of the production is to explain the plot.

It also seemed to me that previously John del Carlo and his silent shadow carried the burden of the comedy while here it was more evenly distributed around the cast.  Maurizio Muraro is a fine singer, but he is no comic.  Christopher Maltman was an appealingly lively Figaro.  There needs to be a reason the opera is called The Barber of Seville.  Figaro must seem to plot every move.  I have seen this idea more effectively carried out elsewhere.

I need the lovely singers Isabel Leonard and Lawrence Brownlee to pay more attention to each other.  This is not a criticism of the amazing Mr. Brownlee, but the Met's inclusion of the great tenor aria at the end completely overbalances the opera away from Figaro and Rosina.  Isabel Leonard is charming and effective.

I enjoyed it.  I've been enjoying a lot of things lately.

Friday, November 21, 2014

La Bohèmes I have Known

Conductor: Giuseppe Finzi
Director: John Caird *
Production Designer:  David Farley

Mimì, seamstress:  Leah Crocetto (soprano)
Rodolfo, poet:  Giorgio Berrugi *
Musetta, singer:  Ellie Dehn
Marcello, painter:  Brian Mulligan
Colline, philosopher: Christian Van Horn
Schaunard, musician: Hadleigh Adams
Benoit, Alcindoro: Dale Travis

I certainly don't mind seeing Puccini's La Bohème, seen last night at the San Francisco Opera, over and over, but I don't have anything new to say about it.  Leah Crocetto has a bigger voice than the average Mimi, and as a result I heard her in the Cafe Momus scene.  I don't think I even noticed Mimi there before.

I liked the production, especially the fast scene changes.  If you've ever been to Paris in the winter, you know that it's rather dark and drab.  The drabness improved the atmosphere of this piece about intense poverty.

Opinions about the conducting were all over the place.  It was ok, but I've heard better, though not from most of the list below.  I don't suppose Beecham will come back.  I would prefer that conductors took this piece more seriously and raised their expectations.

The singing was very nice indeed.

Since I began blogging, I have reviewed versions of Puccini's La Bohème listed below.  Only the Zeffirelli production is a repeat.  None of these were my first La Bohème which may possibly have been Pavarotti and Freni in San Francisco.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005La Bohème -- the glorious recording with Björling and de los Angeles.

Saturday, March 24, 2007Opera SW

Saturday, April 05, 2008Surprise in HD with Gheorghiu and Vargas in the Zeffirelli production.

Sunday, October 04, 2009La Bohème the Movie with Netrebko and Villazon.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011La Bohème at Santa Fe.

Thursday, May 24, 2012La Bohème in Los Angeles.

Saturday, April 05, 2014La Bohème in HD Zeffirelli again.

Thursday, November 20, 2014 La Bohème at the San Francisco Opera last night.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Festival of New American Music

Every year for 37 years my alma mater Sac State hosts the Festival of New American Music.  I attended all or part of 3 concerts.

November 10

Michael Norsworthy, clarinet
David Gompper, piano

I attended performances of:

SchiZm (1993-94) in two movements for piano and clarinet by Derek Bermel
It goes without Saying for recording and clarinet by Nico Muhly
Traceur for piano and clarinet by David Gompper, the pianist here.

Nico Muhly is famous by now since his opera Two Boys played at the Metropolitan Opera last season.  The important thing about his piece is that the recorded sounds were all made in his kitchen.  I assume that means his synthesizer was in the kitchen.

It's nice to hear what's going on, but for me the loud, harsh sounds produced on the clarinet were just a bit too ugly for me.

November 12

Fidelio Trio
Darragh Morgan, violin
Deirdre Cooper, cello
Mary Dullea, piano

This is an Irish piano trio with their own web page who play a wide variety of repertoire.  I stayed for the entire concert.

Piano Trio (1985) by Charles Wuorinen
Trio II (2003) in four movements by John Harbison
Blackberries (2007) by Elena Ruehr
Typical Music (2000) by Evan Ziporyn

Harbison is the composer of the opera The Great Gatsby. Wuorinen composed the recently streamed Brokeback Mountain

The last two composers were at the concert.  I felt that only Elena Ruehr achieved the sonority associated with a piano trio.  Many of the composers didn't seem to understand that all three players should play at once most of the time.  Why call it a piano trio if it's just three people playing solos in turn?

Evan Ziporyn has composed for gamelan and only recently returned to western music.  The Asian influence was apparent.

November 16

Glass & Blood
Chase Spruill, violin
Michael Riesman, piano

Michael Riesman is a Philip Glass enthusiast who has arranged this music from movie sound tracks for violin and piano.

I stayed for

Suite from The Hours for violin and piano (2002/2014)
Suite from Candyman for violin and piano (1992/2014)

The Hours is not a horror movie, and the music was standard serene Glass noodle music.  You know what I mean--noodle noodle noodle noodle....

Candyman is serious horror, and the music expresses it.

I discussed briefly with a friend at intermission.  It is always surprising to me that the music of Glass expresses so much more than the actual notes would lead you to believe.  I remember that he studied with Nadia Boulanger and cannot at all imagine what the conversations would have consisted of.

I should have stayed for Suite from Dracula.

I sometimes ask myself what this music is for, and then I remember the requirement for sound tracks.  Glass does a great deal of this kind of work.

There was no singing in any of these concerts.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Perhaps I could also use a logo.  I kind of like this.  It might even be singing.

The meaning of the title of this blog refers to the fact that I once played the role of a child who had been turned into a cookie in Hansel and Gretel.  So this isn't exactly German.  In German it means cookies for children and not children who are cookies.  A cop is as close to FBI as I could find.

IMDB reports these movie titles:  I was a Communist for the FBI, I was a Zombie for the FBI.  No movie titled I was a Cookie for the FBI.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Diction Police

Did you know there's a blog called dictioncorner?  Neither did I.  The subtitle is "The musings of a French vocal coach in America".  There's even this lovely logo.


Singing is really hard.  You have to do all the things an instrumental player does and this diction thing, too.  Not only that but diction functions in various ways.

1.  Correctness.  Each singer must pronounce the language as a native speaker would.  Some languages are a lot fussier than others.  The French are very fussy.  In German there is a whole language to represent correctness:  Hoch Deutsch.  When I lived in Germany, all stage actors and television personalities spoke hoch Deutsch.  Except in Switzerland.  Living in Ulm allowed me to view TV from Austria, Germany and Switzerland from the comfort of my living room.    This all leads to the idea of diction police who only worry about this part.

2.  Understandability.  One should never allow oneself to mistake these two things.  Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was always a target of the diction police, but when I hear her singing, for me every word is easily understandable.  For me this is far more important than item 1.  One of the reasons I love Jonas Kaufmann's Winterreise so much is because it is so easy to understand.

3.  Vocal technique.  The sound and placement of the vowels and ones ability to move smoothly and easily through the consonants is a powerful force in developing proper technique.  This is too hard to explain in a blog post.

4.  Phrasing.  Diction is also a tool in the phrasing tool box.

The objective is to achieve all four at the same time, not an easy task.

When you make vowels in any language, your tongue mounds up to separate the lips from the pharynx and separate your throat into two chambers front and back.  Where the tongue makes its mound determines which vowel it is.  Other things happen.  You might open the throat into the nasal cavity in back to make a French nasal vowel.  You might do different things with the tip of your tongue and your lips.  All these things can change the vowel.

As a gross generalization I would say that the back chamber controls the color of the voice and the front chamber controls the clarity of the language you are singing.  You can do both at the same time, but it isn't easy to learn.

In 2005 I wrote:

"Sometimes when you see photographs of recording sessions, there is a language coach sitting there with the singers. In the conflict between tone and correct pronunciation, tone should win. There is a school of vocal technique that bases its methods on vowel modification. So having someone there correcting your vowels could actually throw the whole thing off. So where is the vocal coach who is correcting the correcting of the language coach?"

Opera companies can have language coaches.  I think this is possibly the explanation for why the singers at the Bayerische Staatsoper are the easiest to understand in German.

The article about Jonas Kaufmann on the diction police blog is fun to read.  He actually seems to conclude that music perhaps on occasion tops diction. Here is my explanation of the article:

[ɛ]/[e] EH/AY without the diphthong; [œ]/[ø] UH slightly rounded lips/UH much more rounded French sound; [ɔ]/[o] AW/OH. Closed means narrower lips. He discusses only the first pair of sounds in the word “réveiller” [re vɛ je] RAY VEH YAY again all without diphthongs. A diphthong in IPA would include an additional symbol.  In the second performance he sings RAY VAY YAY. The guy likes the second version, thus screwing up all his previous opinions. I always remember my conversation with the French people on Twitter and how in French they like Jonas Kaufmann better than anyone. Better than Sophie Koch who actually is French. This problem is created because it's Jonas. Which makes it funny.

I notice listening to the second version [this refers to films embedded in the article] that the aria has “réveiller” two times in succession. He sings the first one as described and the second one is like the other film. Curious. He gets to the end of his argument and concludes that music wins. Music does win.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Gian Carlo Menotti

Someone posted a hot composers list, so I decided to do one myself.   I've tried not to duplicate any pictures.

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Leonard Bernstein

Johannes Brahms

Franz Liszt

Richard Strauss

Robert Schumann

Antonio Vivaldi

Frederic Chopin

Vicenzo Bellini

Richard Wagner

Kaija Saariaho

Computer generated Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Gustav Mahler

Pictures of Manon Lescaut

These are photographs of the new production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut that is opening on Saturday in Munich.  It is just a tiny bit possible that Kristine is a better choice for this particular production.  For more information see here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Another Cinderella

Clorinda, Dandini, Don Magnifico, Angelina, Don Ramiro, Thisbe

Conductor:  Jesús López-Cobos
Director:  Gregory Fortner *
Production:  Jean Pierre Ponnelle

Angelina (Cinderella):  Karine Deshayes *
Don Ramiro:  René Barbera *
Dandini:  Efrain Solis
Don Magnifico: Carlos Chausson *
Alidoro:  Christian Van Horn
Clorinda: Maria Valdes *
Thisbe: Zanda Svede *

I see in the credits by the San Francisco Opera that the production is credited to the great Jean Pierre Ponnelle.  Sometimes one wants to see Rossini's La Cenerentola in a truly old fashioned production.  I noticed, for instance, that Don Magnifico is dressed from a few decades earlier than the rest of the cast.  This is maybe his only dress up outfit.

Original touches in this performance included a dancing Clorinda who could actually go on point even while singing.  That was a first.  In their original meeting Angelina and Don Ramiro did a little smooching.  It was staged this time with a lot of comic business, especially by the step sisters.

Only Christian Van Horn was someone I had seen before in this outstanding cast.  Clorinda, Thisbe and Dandini are Adler Fellows.

The star of this opera who gets 3 big arias is actually Don Magnifico, sung here by Carlos Chausson, a singer with a big booming voice. In any other time the Don Ramiro of René Barbera would be considered magnificent.  There is just so much competition these days.

Karine Deshayes was charming and sang well.  If you have not seen La Cenerentola, this is a good choice.  And maybe even if you have.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Joyce at Carnegie Hall

This concert has a theme and it is Venice.  It is a theme that works well.

Antonio Vivaldi

   Ercole su'l Termodonte
  • "Onde chiare che sussurrate"
  • "Amato ben"

Gabriel Fauré 
   Cinq mélodies "de Venise", Op. 58
  • 1. Mandoline 
  • 2. En sourdine 
  • 3. Green 
  • 4. À Clymène 
  • 5. C'est l'extase

Gioachino Rossini
    La regata veneziana
  • 1. Anzoleta avanti la regata 
  • 2. Anzoleta co passa la regata 
  • 3. Anzoleta dopo la regata

Gioachino Rossini
   Otello ossia il Moro di Venezia
  • III: "Assisa a piè d'un salice" - " Che dissi!" 

Michael Head
  Three Songs of Venice
  • 1. The Gondolier 
  • 2. St Mark's Square 
  • 3. Rain storm

Reynaldo Hahn
  • 1. Sopra l'acqua indormenzada 
  • 2. La Barcheta 
  • 3. L'avertimento 
  • 5. Che peca! 
  • 6. La Primavera 
Carnegie Hall chose Joyce DiDonato's recital with David Zobel as their first ever stream.  It's simply exquisite.  Believe it or not, almost all of this music is on my iPod, even the Vivaldi.

Joyce is moving to the very top of the heap.  Recently she sang for game 7 of the world series.  My favorite part of this event was when toward the end she extemporized a small ornament and the crowd roared.  It was an acknowledgment of who she really is.  It made me want to hear the ornamented version.

For me her gifts as an interpreter are at their peak.  This is a very well programmed and sung recital.  If you don't know La regata veneziana, it is sung by Momolo's girlfriend.  Momolo is a gondolier, and he wins the regata.

Writing this blog is for my soul, to teach me once again after years of abandonment that music is my first and always greatest love.  I love the big emotions of opera, but my deepest love is for songs.

Dear Carnegie Hall:  Good choice.

Dear Joyce:  Be always yourself.  You will have figured this out already.

2 encores
Canzonetta Spagnuola Rossini
No ti scordar di me De Curtis

Monday, November 03, 2014

Netrebko Drops Out

According to the Bayerische Staatsoper, Anna Netrebko will not appear there in Manon Lescaut, and has been replaced by Kristīne Opolais, who in turn has been replaced at the Met in La Bohème by Sonya Yoncheva.

From the Bayerische Staatsoper management:  “We would still like to thank Anna Netrebko for deciding at an early stage that, due to differing artistic perspectives on the work, she would prefer to pull out."

She resigned because of the production.  Wow.  This is a different production from the full on pornographic production at the Royal Opera, but we can only speculate that it was similar.  They have chosen to prefer their production to her.  She is easier to replace than it.  A lot of people are going to be angry because this is all sold out.

There are no hints so far of what the production will look like.

Netrebko has agreed to sing Tatiana for them next summer.

P.S.  There is an interview with Hans Neuenfels in the recent Der Spiegel.   Basically he says they have had an artistic disagreement. Neuenfels wants Manon to unambiguously choose between these two widely different lives, the poor student or the rich old man, while Netrebko believes that she holds both ideas dear in her mind at once. Neuenfels ridiculed this idea. Obviously he isn't a woman. He may also never have lived in extreme poverty as Netrebko has. Jonas thinks (other source) that there were language problems between the two of them. Neuenfels wants to make clear that he and Netrebko are not angry with one another.

Saturday, November 01, 2014


Conductor: Pablo Heras-Casado
Production: Richard Eyre
Live in HD host:  Joyce DiDonato

Micaëla: Anita Hartig  
Don José: Aleksandrs Antonenko  
Carmen: Anita Rachvelishvili  
Frasquita: Kiri Deonarine  
Mercédès: Jennifer Johnson Cano  
Escamillo: Ildar Abdrazakov  
Solo dancers: Maria Kowroski, Martin Harvey

Carmen isn't really a role for Anita Rachvelishvili.  She just sort of is Carmen.  She dances.  She washes her legs.  She flirts with everyone, even the ones she rejects.  She rolls around on the floor.  Yes, I know, we've seen all this before, but it just doesn't seem like it.  She is a natural, and even the voice is perfect.  I enjoyed her performance enormously.  We are discussing Bizet's Carmen live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera.

The Micaëla of Anita Hartig was excellent.  We were supposed to see her last season as Mimi when she called in sick.  I hope we get to see more of her.

I liked very much everything about Aleksandrs Antonenko's Don José, especially the dramatic parts in the second half, except the "Flower Song."  That has to be the worst "Flower Song" I've ever heard.  He wavered off pitch and seemed generally unsteady.

I liked the production again.  I think it works, though it makes the stage seem smaller than it is.  The conducting was enthusiastic, but he didn't seem to be good at coordinating the ends of arias with the singers.  They generally went ahead without him.

Our theater was pretty crowded.

P.S.  It is good to talk about Carmen.  It is an opera about men behaving badly.  I liked it that in this performance there was a man who stood at the top of the steps to help the women of the chorus climb out of their cellar.  It seemed very polite, even though he hugged and flirted with them.  Carmen didn't need this.  She strides out on her own.

Micaëla cringes from the soldiers grabbing and touching her, and remains basically unharmed by them.  When she is through with them, Carmen just pushes them off and insults them.  This turns out badly for her, and I won't actually say that she brings it on herself.  But she does seem to believe in her bad cards that predict her death.  Deep down she doesn't believe there is anything that will prevent her fate.  She knows that Don Jose will kill her.  She is Carmen and wishes only to be true to herself.

Carmen is a modern woman in a not modern world.  She insists on loving as she wishes, openly, rashly, passionately.  She does not allow herself to be controlled.  This production shows her as she is.  Two wonderful performances of profoundly contrasting emotions, Garanča and Rachvelishvili, show the complete spectrum of Carmen.  I warm to her as I have not done in the past.  She is not a fool.  She is powerful in the face of all.