Monday, January 27, 2014

Sacramento Philharmonic And Opera Receives Donation

According to CBS news yesterday, the Sacramento Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra received a half million dollar donation from the Raley family.  The whole article says:

It’s music to their ears. The Sacramento Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra will play on. They were on the brink of collapse until someone stepped in with a big gift just in time. The donor’s identity has been a secret, until now.

The stage was set for a tragic ending.

“Theatrics in the bank account we don’t want. Theatrics on the stage we want…we were cutting it very tight,” said Sacramento Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra CEO Rob Tannenbaum. Tannenbaum was planning on asking the city for a subsidy. “And my CFO comes into the room and she looked a bit dumbfounded,” said Tannenbaum.

A gift of a half-million dollars came in the mail. “There was a moment of what, what, until she put the checks on the table. And there was $250,000 for the opera and $250,000 for the philharmonic,” said Tannenbaum.

The two checks came from the family behind Raley’s supermarket, headquartered in West Sacramento. Of course the surprise left Tannenbaum singing their high praises.

He immediate responded to the Joyce and Jim Teel Family Foundation. “I called Joyce to thank her for this gift and it’s in memory of her mother, E. Claire Raley,” said Tannenbaum. Tannenbaum says changes are needed to keep arts alive in Sacramento. “Talking about how can we change the organization so that it has the power to move and talk to people from 2014 and beyond,” said. This half-million-dollar surprise has the CEO singing a whole new song.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

2014 Classical Grammy Nominations

Classical Field

Best Orchestral Performance

Atterberg: Orchestral Works Vol. 1 - Neeme Järvi, conductor (Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra)

Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 1 - Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)

Schumann: Symphony No. 2; Overtures Manfred & Genoveva - Claudio Abbado, conductor (Orchestra Mozart)

Winner:  Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4 - Osmo Vänskä, conductor (Minnesota Orchestra)  This is the disappearing Minnesota Orchestra.

Stravinsky: Le Sacre Du Printemps - Simon Rattle, conductor (Berliner Philharmoniker)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Minotaur

Someone persuaded me to take an interest in Harrison Birtwistle's The Minotaur.  Someone at the New York Times liked it.  So I bought a DVD.

The Minotaur (Asterios):  John Tomlinson, bass
Theseus:  Johan Reuter, baritone
Ariadne:  Christine Rice, mezzo-soprano
Snake Priestess:  Andrew Watts, countertenor
Innocents:  Rebecca Bottone, Pumeza Matshikiza, Wendy Dawn Thompson, Christopher Ainslie, Tim Mead
Hiereus:  Philip Langridge, tenor
Ker (death spirit, sister of the fates, in this production vulture):  Amanda Echalaz, soprano

The plot is the incidents that took place just before Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos.  The Minotaur is in the labyrinth, and his half sister Ariadne looks out for him, makes sure people sent to Crete to provide dinner for the Minotaur find their way into the labyrinth.  The Minotaur doesn't care for bread.

We are 45 minutes into the opera before Asterios appears and 57 minutes in before he sings anything.  If you like opera as orchestral tone poem with only incidental singing, then you will like this.  If, like me, for you opera is about the singing and you don't really care what is going on at the same time, you will hate it.

The Minotaur groans as he kills his victims in full view of the audience.  The vultures come in afterward to eat what remains of them, screeching hideously.

Sorry.  No singing, no opera.  Think how much better we might enjoy this if a troupe of comedia del arte performers came in after say 20 minutes.

I do wish to comment on the orchestral part of the opera, though.  Modernism, the music of Bartok, Stravinsky and those guys, has died here.  We in America, represented by Glass, Adams, Heggie, have gone on to minimalism and other less harsh styles.  In Europe modernism appears to be alive and ....  I was going to say well, but, you know....  Birtwistle and Ades, and perhaps even Saariaho are very much modernists.  Our paths have forked.  I would need to conduct research to discover which path is the more successful.  The New York Times critics evaluate the fork by ignoring our half.  If it doesn't sound like late Stravinsky, it isn't classical music, apparently. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cross-Dressing in the Movies

Often in the movies a character of one gender dresses up as the other, such as here where we see Marlene Dietrich in Morocco.  Her character in the movie is female.  In this disguise she kisses one of the women in the audience.

In Some Like it Hot two guys, played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, are pretending to be women.  Everyone in the audience knows they are not really women, and part of the joke is deciding how well or badly they have managed it.

In Tootsie Dustin Hoffman pretends to be a woman.  We know that he is actually a man.  A common motive for cross-dressing is to get a job.  The general consensus was that he was badly disguised.

That is also Julie Andrews' motive in Victor Victoria.  We didn't buy her either.

Tom Hanks did it in Bosom Buddies to get a room in a women only hotel.  For some reason we believed this.

But if you didn't read about it in advance, you might not have known that the male character Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously was played by a woman, Linda Hunt, currently of NCIS Los Angeles.  I suppose this is the only case I can think of that parallels operatic cross-dressing.  The singer in an opera is supposed to be the other gender and not just pretending to be.

I especially loved this movie because of the scene where the older man (Linda) introduces the younger man (Mel Gibson) to the joys of the Strauss Four Last Songs.  I believe if memory serves, that the version was Kiri te Kanawa.

The Crying Game was a special case.   Everyone I knew did a fabulous job of keeping the secret that Dil was actually a guy.  If you knew, it spoiled the joke.  He takes a man home with him and we get to find out together with the man on the screen that his plumbing is not really female.

This is based on an item in Entertainment Weekly.  I used different pictures, but the idea is the same.  No one thinks anything of cross-dressing when it's a joke.

Cecilia's Ory

Some of us keep wishing for a DVD of this, Le Comte Ory in Vienna last year.  We're falling way behind.  I don't need videos of concerts, but a nice Giulio Cesare, or Ory, or Otello would be nice.  This weekend she opens in Zurich in Alcina.  Of course.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Interview with Giovanni Antonini

[I found this interesting interview here in the Aargauer Zeitung.  It corresponds to the opening of Alcina at the Zurich Opera.]

The Milanese Giovanni Antonini became world famous as a flutist and conductor of the Baroque ensemble "Il giardino armonico".  Today he conducts operas in Salzburg and Zurich.  In this interview he talks about divas and his native Italy. by Christian Berzins

Only a few days after the interview at the Opera House Zurich it becomes clear why Giovanni Antonini said three times in the music room in an hour, "There is no right or wrong, it remains a matter of taste." Though convinced that he is doing the "right thing", the Milanese knows that it is not without controversy.

He can live with that because his style of conducting is well received by both opera star Cecilia Bartoli, with whom he works a lot, as well as the Basel Chamber Orchestra, with whom he plays a Beethoven cycle.  And last but not least by most critics.  In the interview he talks enthusiastically about Bartoli, sighingly over his native Italy, and positively about Alexander Pereira's chances in Milan.

Giovanni Antonini, in 2009 you performed Handel's "Alcina" with the German Anja Harteros in Milan, and in ten days with the Italian Cecilia Bartoli in Zurich. What will be different about this for you?

Giovanni Antonini: An opera performance always depends on the artist.  Here in Zurich are both the production as well as the singer quite different. My view of this music, however, remains more or less the same.  Anja Harteros and Cecilia Bartoli are worlds apart.  I've been working a lot lately with Bartoli, in this work one realizes a development, the way to a common language.

Both singers are divas. Is that difficult for the conductor?

To only be a diva is not enough for an opera by Handel. Whether one likes one or the other singer better is one thing.  But Bartoli has studied this musical language for many years, has her own unique way of singing this music.  Thus, this Zurich production is much more interesting for me.  Although the work was beautiful with the Scala orchestra, I met in Zurich an orchestra that is used to playing Baroque operas.  Here the orchestra is playing on gut strings, with baroque bows and baroque brass instruments.  We start on another level!  As with the singers: It's not about good or bad but to understand the language of music.

Who is this singer, this diva?

Cecilia Bartoli embodies a rare combination of skills. Two tones from Bartoli - and you know who sings. It is the mix of technique, originality, uniqueness of her voice - and she has a musical instinct:  If something does not work, then she notices it.  Bartoli is a typical Italian woman, she can formally smell situations.  She manages to sing so that everyone in the audience thinks she'll do it for him alone. She has many admirers, but kindles at the same time discussions about her person.  This is quite normal .

A few evenings after Bartoli, Agneta Eichenholz sings.  Do you change your conducting?

Quite. The conductor and his orchestra have to breathe with the singers . And at a Einspringerin or understudy I need to understand their breathing. But the times are now situations that exist in the theater. It exerts an opera over many weeks, and on opening night you have to re-adjust to the situation. Suddenly something happened : A change of pace , a forgotten word , something falls down ! Since the conductor must be ready. There are singers who are completely detached from the orchestra : "Follow me , I am the diva."  The Bartoli is the opposite: She's a diva who practices, experiments, and discusses a lot with the conductor.

You quite often work with singers.   Do you love them?

I love singers who want to work together to evolve and have a vision of their role.  I do not like simply to accompany a singer.  But I respect every singer because singing is something quite different to master from an instrument like a violin.  A singer is naked on stage.  How badly we sometimes judge the voices and hit the people!  While talking about voices we have to be careful not to destroy the people.

You have not only conducted Handel with Cecilia Bartoli, but Vincenzo Bellini's "Norma", a major work of the 19th Century.  And now you present a Beethoven cycle with the Basel Chamber Orchestra.  Is this a normal step for the baroque specialist Antonini?

Each was an adventure.  There are standards on how to conduct Bellini's music.  But this tradition, I do not know, so we said:  let's see what is really in this score, we let go of everything that Maria Callas had shown us!  My musical roots are in the 18th Century, I drew this Bellini closer to Mozart than to Verdi.  So I went also at the Beethoven symphonies .

Handel, Beethoven, Bellini - now follow Verdi and Puccini?

I'm not sure if the world of opera should be my center.  My nature corresponds to the more symphonic and my flute playing with chamber orchestra.  There are ideas, projects, but better not to make any greater steps than the leg allows, as we Italians say. The 18th Century remains my world.  I have conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and other world-famous orchestras , but when I conduct Il Giardino Armonico, the Basel Chamber Orchestra, the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg or a comparable orchestra, I meet a familiar community that is trusts me and is congenial.  Also here in Zurich it seems to me that it's on the musical and human plateau.

You, the Milanese, since 2009 have directed no more operas in Milan or anywhere else in Italy, the "Land of Music,"
but trade it for headlines in Salzburg.  Is not that strange ?

Italy is now a very strange land (hesitates).  I told you how I want to work - the emphasis is on "work".  That's no longer possible in Italy today.

There are so many great Italian musicians! Do men gather together for anything to happen in Italy? Why is there no Baroque Festival in Florence in the historical halls - where the opera had its origins?

The politics has not yet understood that the cultural offering can make a major contribution to the economic development of a country.  Salzburg is for example a small town, but the international success of the festival is a benefit for the whole of Austria, culturally and economically. In Italy there are many talented, creative people with great ideas, who call festivals to life.  But they are not supported, which makes it impossible for them to plan long term.  Sitting together is not an Italian strength. The sense of the Country or the sense of community can be seen, despite unification in the 19 Century less and less. We let Pompeii disintegrate, we do not care. It has so many other works of art ... Soon one has some less ( sighs) ... Nevertheless, I love this country .

At La Scala there is now the ex - "Zuricher", the Austrian Alexander Pereira. Will this go well?

I think so, he knows the Italians.  Pereira will understand the system.  In Milan a lot is expected from him, but also there is a lot of confidence in him.

Giovanni Antonini was born in 1965 in Milan.  While still a student the flutist founded the specialist ensemble Il Giardino Armonico, with whom he performed all over the world and he leads alone since 1989.  The encounter with Cecilia Bartoli was 2000 when the famous Vivaldi album came out. He has conducted, among others, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich. His recording of the complete Beethoven symphonies with the Basel Chamber Orchestra is nearing completion. Giovanni Antonini conducts at the Zurich Opera House on 26 January Handel's "Alcina".

[Dr B.  I like very much at the beginning where the question of right and wrong is discussed.  He says it's a matter of taste.  Whether or not something is correct means nothing to me.  All I care about is does it live in the soul of the artist?  In Antonini's case that seems to be true.]


Monday, January 20, 2014

Death of Claudio Abbado (26 June 1933 – 20 January 2014)

Norman Lebrecht has the best remembrances of Maestro Abbado here and here.  Some are translated from Italian, I presume.  Here's another.

Things you can buy in Germany

This is an advanced sale.

But not here.

The ones I want are Winterreise and Don Carlo.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Titter / Twitter

You may remember this quote.  I said, "if [Jonas] really didn't want to be a sex symbol, he would cut his hair differently." Well, this picture made me laugh out loud and caused a stir on Twitter.  So was I right? 

Babes of Opera

An article in the Daily Mail has come to my attention.  It says that "opera gets sexy."  I beg your pardon.  Opera has always been sexy.  There can be no question that our up-coming Partenope star, Danielle de Niese, is about as sexy as it gets.  She already appeared in our sexiest list here.

She is currently appearing at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich in La Calisto (see above), one of the sexiest operas ever. Here is Danielle in Giulio Cesare.  I also flagged her for a very sexy Poppea here.

Read the article for yourself.  The subject matter appears to be that Danielle has compared her own on stage sexiness (artistic integrity) with Miley Cyrus (sexuality for the wrong reasons).

This doesn't sound like an argument we wish to become involved in, but we do very much prefer Danielle to Miley.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ercole Amante

No expense has been expended to explain the plot of Cavalli's Ercole Amante (1662).  Perhaps a dissertation would be required.

Here we go.  In Act II Scene 4 someone explains that:

"Hyllus [son of Ercole, Jeremy Overden] loves Iole and she loves him, but she hates Ercole [Luca Pisaroni] who loves her;  Nicander loves Licoris, and she loves Orestes who loves Olinda; Olinda and Celia love gold and jewels...."

Ercole is married to Deianira, mother of Hyllus, and Iole hates him because he killed her father.  Ercole thinks he should kill Deianira and Hyllus.  Apparently, explained in Act III, Iole's father promised her to Ercole.  Iole then talked him out of it, and Ercole killed him.  Ercole blames everything on her.

There is a lot of hanky-panky in this opera which was supposed to be given at the marriage of Louis XIV to Maria Theresa of Spain.  I'm not sure, but I think there is a confusion of Ercole with Louis.  It's a kind of Iron Man plot where as the king of France he is skinny like, well, like Luca Pisaroni, and then he puts on his muscle suit and turns into the super buff Hercules.  This suit doesn't help him fight crime, it's just for attracting women. 

Doesn't seem like a particularly suitable plot for a wedding celebration.  They could not perform the opera at the wedding in 1660 because the construction of the stage machinery was not complete.  I imagine things soaring through the air or flying down from above, things which don't seem to happen in modern productions.

This is all miserably hard to understand.  Much like in the Ring, there are gods littering the stage who take sides with the mortals.  Venus is with Ercole.  Juno [Anna Bonitatibus], naturally sides with Deianira and tells Iole how wonderfully virtuous she is.  Neptune and Juno advise Hyllus.  Oy.  It's exhausting.

The music is mostly Florentine recitative with arias and ballet interspersed.  Because it's meant for Paris, there is quite a lot of ballet.  There are some funny scenes.  The dialog refers to Atlas, so he appears holding up the world, which Ercole takes out of his arms and carries easily around before giving it back to Atlas.  The program notes call this an opera buffa, but we know that it is before the split into seria and buffa.  It can't be a buffa because there was at least one castrato who sang Juno.

In Act IV there are giant fish, boats and water for Neptune to rise out of.  They could have more successfully differentiated the gods from the humans.  But then what to do with Ercole who is some of each?  Luca is adorable in his muscle suit.

In the end Ercole becomes a god who marries Beauty.  In his guise as a god he goes back to resembling Louis XIV, a significantly thinner person who wears a sun crown.  

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Interesting things in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Opera has also made a season announcement, and it includes a couple of interesting items.

I might think it was worth a trip to LA to see Florencia en el Amazonas by Daniel Catán which is part of the 2014-15 season.  I liked very much his Il Postino.  I liked especially the way he composed for voices.  Lisette Oropesa is in this.  She's everywhere these days. Francesca Zambello is doing the production. She is also everywhere.

And when did you ever see a Figaro Trilogy?  The order from Beaumarchais is The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, The Ghosts of Versailles.  What an incredible idea.  There isn't a lot of information about this, but it doesn't play until Feb-Mar in the 2014-15 season.  Ghosts will star Patricia Racette and Patti LuPone.  File it away in your brain somewhere.  They're not doing them like a Ring Cycle, unfortunately.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Get acquainted with next season's stars

I have chosen these films to help you get acquainted with the singers next season at the San Francisco Opera.

Stoyanova who will sing Amelia

Radvanovsky who will sing her Norma.

De Niese will sing Partenope

Deshayes will sing Angiolina in her very contralto voice.

Haroutounian will sing Tosca.

Michael Fabiano, who recently won the Richard Tucker prize, will sing Rodolfo.  For my ears he is one of the stars of the future.

Nadine Serra will sing the Contessa in Figaro and Musetta in La Boheme.  This film is from her last summer appearance in the Neue Stimmen vocal competition.  You can tell she has been busy.

Luca Pisaroni.  Usually he is Figaro, but in our production he will sing the Count.

And here is the recently added Mimi of Alexia Voulgaridou.  She is miked because this is outdoors in Bregenz 2002.

Here's something more recent.  This makes two of "Je veux vivre."

I just thought you should have an idea.  This is all very top shelf.


I've been blogging for 9 years now, and I feel I must pause to consider.

I have a new friend who has an opera website called Classical Searchlight.  It isn't really a blog.  His point of view is very much the viewpoint of my contemporaries.  He catalogs and evaluates primarily recordings, most of them from my youth.

I find that I own only about 30 CDs of complete operas while owning about 175 opera videos, tape and DVD.  Callas recorded a lot of complete operas, while I own only 4 of them.  There was a sale.  I don't believe there are any films of complete operas with Callas, but there are some individual scenes.  Second act of Tosca.  I don't own any CDs of Sutherland or Caballe.  I do have a video of Caballe's Semiramide with Horne and Ramey.  This is quite spectacular.

I was collecting Bartoli, of course, and have 6 of her opera CDs.  In contrast I have 11 videos of her in complete operas.  The oddest thing in my opera CD collection is 2 complete Tristan and Isolde recordings--Stemme and Brewer.  One was a gift, you may guess which one.  The only T&I I really like is Nilsson.  You knew that.

I'm not trying to get it to stop in my brain.  I'm not trying to find perfection.  In fact what I am doing is almost the opposite.  I want to see what these new ones are going to make of our art form.  

A nameless singer told me recently she never learns from recordings.  And I say that is simply not possible.  If you listen to them, you learn from them.  It is your ears that build the music in your brain.  I know what she meant though.

We each of us have our own music.  This is part of the great joy that it brings to us.  I want my brain to go on to hear new things, even new things in the same old recordings.  I don't still like things I loved before.  I used to listen all the time to the Four Last Songs in the Schwarzkopf recording.  Now I love best Jessye, I think, but also Lucia and Renée.

The Verdi year has for me transformed Verdi into a German.  Perhaps the young singers should find some nice Italians to listen to.  

I was happier when I thought no one read it.  It was just me thinking out loud.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Anniversary of Undefined Length

It was xx years ago that I suddenly went mad for Cecilia Bartoli.  The complete madness of it has died down, but has not completely left me still.

This is the contract signing in Salzburg.  The Forum printed only the version where her contract covered the front of her dress.

This came in the mail postmarked Roma.  She is still the only famous person I ever wanted to meet.

She does seem to be having more fun than the others. 

Toi toi toi for Alcina.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Lots Happier

If you want to keep up with what's going on in American opera, the Richard Tucker Gala is a must.  I found it on the PBS website.

A lot of previous winners were on the program:

Isabel Leonard, 2013 Richard Tucker Award Winner 
2012 Ailyn Pérez
2011 Angela Meade
2009 Stephen Costello
2004 Matthew Polenzani
2002 Joyce DiDonato
1999 Stephanie Blythe 
1990 Renée Fleming

Other equally wonderful people on the program:
Susan Graham
Greer Grimsley
Eric Owens
Maestro Riccardo Frizza


  • Isabel Leonard "Gracia mia" by Granados.
  • Stephen Costello and his wife Ailyn  Pérez did a scene from The Elixir of Love.  She gets more and more beautiful.
  • Eric Owens sang "Te Deum" from Tosca.  I find his voice very beautiful but not very evil sounding.
  • Renée and Susan sang the Flower duet from Lakme.   Gorgeous.
               Renée, "Olympics of Singing."
               Susan, "We are slowly morphing into each other."
  • Matthew Polenzani "Kleinzach" from The Tales of Hoffmann.   He recently sang Hoffmann here and was marvalous.  I shouted for him.
  • Angela Meade "No, mi lasciate... Tu al cui sguardo." I Due Foscari.  The audience loved her best.  Her vocal gifts are truly astounding.
  • Isabel Leonard "Ombre vane" from Griselda.  She was spectacular in this at Santa Fe.  It's too bad she couldn't sing the whole role, but maybe that would be too much.  She was wonderful.
  • Stephanie and Greer sang a scene from Samson and Dalilah, the heaviest item on the program.
  • Susan sang "J'aime la militaire" from La Grand Duchesse de Girolstein by Offenbach with soldiers, uniform and everything.  I should have gone to Santa Fe last summer.
  • Stephen Costello sang "Salut demeure chaste et pure" from Faust.  I hear weight coming into his voice.
  • Renée "ombra di nube" by Refice.
  • Joyce DiDonato "Tanti Affetti" from La Donna del Lago.  I guessed it from the first 2 chords.
  • Finale from William Tell.

This was a wonderful concert with a lot of spectacular singing.  I would have liked more.  I flagged this as television even though it wasn't for me.  My favorites are Matthew, Joyce, Ailyn, Isabel, Renée and Susan, but truly I think I love them all.  These people with maybe here and there others are the cream of American singing now.  I don't know who picks them, but they have their shit together.

I'm going for Jamie this year.  Who do you pick?

Friday, January 10, 2014

iTunes problems

People have problems with playing complete operas in iTunes.  The software just reacts to the text that was imported.  I usually find that I have to change the text.  For instance, if I want only one entry for each composer on my iPod, I change the composer's entries to all be exactly the same.  Warning:  I have a really old iPod, but my iTunes updates regularly.

To edit the text on iTunes use Control-I key combination to bring up the edit screen.  Then click the Info tab.

The Album Artist and Album fields seem to control what plays with what.  If you want all the tracks of an opera to play without stopping, change the text of these fields to all be the same for that opera.   Copy and paste.  You may have to spend time finding all the entries you need to change.

Over on the right side will be boxes that say Track number and Disk number.  These will control the order anything plays in.

Be sure to save your changes after you make them.

Click on disk 1, track 1 to begin your playback.  This works for me.  Most of the contents of my iTunes are ripped from CDs.

My sense of this is that this problem is a relatively recent phenomenon resulting from one of the iTunes upgrades.

Changing the text also fixed another problem I had with iTunes:  I bought copies of Die Schöne Müllerin by both Matthias Goerne and Jonas Kaufmann.  Because they both had exactly the same album name, track one of both albums would play on my iPod before proceeding on to track 2.  This was amusing for only a while.  The solution was to change the name of one of the albums in iTunes.

I hope this helps.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Which new operas will last

Please forgive my taste for lists.  I maintain a list of operas for all sorts of purposes, and this piece is everything since Einstein.  The operas included in my list come from a variety of sources, but do not cover everything.

The New York Times classical music reviewers have issued their own take on new operas of lasting significance here.  We did something similar at a party I attended last month.  Their starting point was Einstein on the Beach, generally considered the musical milestone that separates the present from the past.  They considered all the places where New York Times critics fly to.   Our starting point was 2000, and the operas to be considered were only those presented in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The Times operas are in bold, and ours have -SF.  * Identifies those I have seen.

1976 Einstein on the Beach* Philip Glass
1976 The Martyrdom of saint Magnus Peter Maxwell Davies
1977 The Women in the Garden* Vivian Fine
1978 Le Grand Macabre* György Ligeti
1978 Lear* Aribert Reimann
1978 The Red Line                  Aulis Sallinen
1979 The Village Singer* Stephen Paulus
1979 Sweeney Todd* Stephen Sondheim
1979 King Harald's Saga   Judith Weir
1980 The Lighthouse* Peter Maxwell Davies
1980 Donnerstag aus Licht * Karlheinz Stockhausen
1981 Satyagraha* Philip Glass
1982 The Postman Always Rings Twice Stephen Paulus
1983 Saint-François d'Assise* Olivier Messiaen
1984 Un re in ascolto  Luciano Berio
1984 The Mask Of Orpheus  Harrison Birtwistle
1984 Akhnaten Philip Glass
1984 Samstag aus Licht  Karlheinz Stockhausen
1986 The man who mistook his wife for a hat  Michael Laurence Nyman
1987 Nixon in China* John Adams
1987 The Fall of the House of Usher Philip Glass
1987 A Night at the Chinese Opera* Judith Weir
1987 The Aspern Papers Dominick Argento
1988 Montag aus Licht  Karlheinz Stockhausen
1988 Greek  Mark-Anthony Turnage
1991 The Death of Klinghoffer* John Adams
1991 Gawain  Harrison Birtwistle
1991 The ghosts of Versailles* John Corigliano
1991 Orphée* Philip Glass
1991 Dienstag aus Licht  Karlheinz Stockhausen
1991 Mary of Egypt  John Tavener
1992 McTeague  William Elden Bolcom
1992 Life with an idiot  Alfred Garyevich Schnittke
1994 La Belle et la Bête Philip Glass
1994 The Dangerous Liaisons* Conrad Susa
1994 Blond Eckbert  Judith Weir
1995 Harvey Milk* Stewart Wallace
1996 Rent* Jonathan Larson
1996 Der Koenig Kandaules  Alexander von Zemlinsky
1996 The Picture of Dorian Gray Lowell Liebermann
1997 Parodia* Pablo Ortiz
1998 Little Women* Mark Adamo
1998 A Streetcar Named Desire* Andre Previn
1999 A View from the Bridge   William Elden Bolcom
1999 The Great Gatsby* John Harbison
2000 El Niño* John Adams
2000 Dead Man Walking* Jake Heggie-SF
2000 L'Amour de Loin* Kaija Saariaho
2002 Tea: A Mirror of Soul* Tan Dun
2002 Galileo Galilei Philip Glass
2002 Sophie's Choice* Nicholas Maw
2003 L'Upupa Und Der Triumph Der Sohnesliebe  Hans Werner Henze
2003 The Little Prince  Rachel Portman
2005 Doctor Atomic* John Adams--SF
2005 The Tempest* Thomas Ades
2005 Margaret Garner Richard Danielpour
2005 Grendel  Elliot Goldenthal
2005 Ainadamar* Oswaldo Golijov-SF
2005 An American Tragedy  Tobias Picker
2005 Perfect Lives Robert Ashley
2006 The First Emperor* Tan Dun
2006 Adriana Mater Kaija Saariaho
2007 Appomattox* Philip Glass-SF
2007 Phaedra Hans Werner Henze
2008 The Bonesetter’s Daughter* Stewart Wallace-SF
2008 The Minotaur* Harrison Birtwistle
2009 The Letter* Paul Moravec
2010 Il Postino* Daniel Catán
2010 Moby-Dick* Jake Heggie-SF
2011 Heart of a Soldier* Christopher Theofanidis-SF
2011 Anna Nicole* Mark-Anthony Turnage
2011 Kommilitonen Peter Maxwell Davies 
2012 Written on Skin* George Benjamin
2012 Dog Days David T. Little
2013 The Gospel of Mary Magdalene* Mark Adamo-SF
2013 Bonjour, M. Gaugin Fabrizio Carlone-SF
2013 The Secret Garden* Nolan Gasser-SF
2013 The Perfect American* Philip Glass
2013 Dolores Claiborne* Tobias Picker-SF
2013 Champion* Terence Blanchard-SF
2013 Brokeback Mountain* Charles Wuorinen-SF
2014 As One* Laura Kaminsky-SF
2014 La Ciociara* Marco Tutino-SF

The first thing you should notice is the absolute lack of any overlap between the two lists.  Apparently New York Times critics do not fly to the west cost of the United States, very much preferring London.

You should also notice right away something else interesting about the list from the New York Times:  George Benjamin, Peter Maxwell Davies, Thomas Ades, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Judith Weir, and Harrison Birtwistle are all British.  Hmmm.  Robert Ashley, David T. Little, Lowell Liebermann, John Adams and Philip Glass are Americans.  Kaija Saariaho is the only composer from a non-English speaking country.

I became curious about an opera about Anna Nicole Smith and have the DVD.  It's extremely entertaining if not exactly what you would call significant.  I no longer remember what led me to see L'Amour de Loin, but it is also on DVD.  I agree with them that this is a very important opera, but if you don't have Dawn Upshaw and Gerald Finley to sing it, then what?  

Satyagraha and The Death of Klinghoffer have played at the San Francisco Opera, and The Tempest was simulcast from the Met. I saw A Night at the Chinese Opera in a student production while I was in London. The rest are unknown to me.

I've seen all three of John Adams' major operas, Nixon, Klinghoffer, and Dr. Atomic, and I thought Klinghoffer was the least interesting.  Why would anyone want to see an opera about terrorists killing an old man in a wheelchair?  I found it disgusting.  I liked very much the idea of Nixon and Mao talking at each other and understanding not one thing the other said.  This was very entertaining, as was the nutso Madama Mao and the comic genius Kissinger.  I like politics as comedy, I guess.  There is definitely nothing funny about Klinghoffer.  Europeans like operas with political content whether or not the music is particularly interesting.  So are we to allow Europeans to decide for us?

So I would say that I agree with about half of their choices.  Satyagraha is wonderful.  I still like Orphee.

The things not considered by the New York Times critics were probably more interesting than those that were.  For instance, Saint-François d'Assise by Olivier Messiaen falls within their boundaries.  I don't know what I would predict for it, but it is a towering and spectacular work. 

Anything by Jake Heggie is not important for them, including his masterpieces Dead Man Walking and Moby-Dick.  I found both of these very moving.  Golijov's Ainadamar may or may not be classical music, but it's the most musically exciting of anything in the list.  My friends liked these three operas.

The problem with all of them is that you wouldn't go to any of them to hear the singing.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Anja Harteros

2013 for me was the year of Anja Harteros. Before that I posted nothing about her. When I went to Munich to see Lohengrin in 2009, I remember the soprano was not Anja. Watching the film of Lohengrin may have been my first experience of her.

She is a German of Greek extraction. My impression of her from the interview I translated of Jonas and her together is that she is possibly funny.  Meaning humorous and cheerful. You might possibly believe it of her that she would deliberately play off her long curly-haired resemblance to Cecilia Bartoli at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition, which she won.

She will never be the rock star celebrity that Anna Netrebko is, but her growth into a Verdi singer has been completely organic.  Her natural lyric soprano voice expands into dramatic intensity with almost no discernible change in color or production.  The voice never disintegrates into distortion which so often happens with Verdi.  She never seems to be trying to sound suitable for Verdi--she just is.  She opens her throat and out it comes.  Your heart does not hesitate to soar with her.  I only recall Eileen Farrell who could do this equally well.

The Italians, of course, would not approve.  Jonas and Anja are attempting to convince us that Verdi was a German, too.  The Italians will not be convinced.  They both seem to feel with the music without having any intuitive inclination to scoop.  For me if the drama of the phrase carries seamlessly, I simply don't notice.  My heart wants only to stay in the phrase to the end.

The roles I have heard are Elsa, Leonora (Trovatore), Leonora (Forza), and Elisabetta, all with Jonas Kaufmann.  She's doing Tosca and Simon Boccanegra later this year.  It's interesting to me that I accept her more as a Verdi singer than as a Strauss singer.  She seems most effective in the large gestures, the sweeping landscapes.  I cannot help wondering if she saw what a giant leap this Verdi year would be in her career.  If it was planned, it was a master stroke.  Congratulations.

I don't get the impression that New York is seeking her out.  They are busy promoting Sondra.  I feel very pleased to have someone new to feel enthusiastic about.

On to 2014.  The search for great new singers never ends.