Friday, February 28, 2014

Netrebko News

All the news today is about Anna Netrebko.  The strike at the Rome Opera was averted, to show honor to Muti, and Puccini's Manon Lescaut went on as scheduled.  It, and especially Anna, was a triumph in her role debut.

Then more Netrebko news because she has cancelled all impending performances of Faust, including ROH and Vienna.  She has decided that the role is not for her.  My favorite Faust is still Ailyn, if anyone is looking.  Sonya Yoncheva will replace Netrebko in Vienna.

Opinion portion of item:

After all, why blog if you leave out your opinions?  For some reason that we are not privy to Anna Netrebko has been attempting to learn Leonora-Trovatore, Manon-Manon Lescaut, Marguerite-Faust and Lady Macbeth-Macbeth all at the same time.  One of these things is not like the others, one of these things does not belong.  Hint.  Maria Guleghina has successfully sung 3 of these while the fourth has been most notably performed by Victoria de los Angeles, an astonishingly different style of singer.  Who decides these things?  And why?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

American Bach

I chose this photo because it was the only one I could find that shows Elizabeth Blumenstock, the concert mistress, even if it's only the back of her head.

They were terrific last night in Davis, as always, especially the double reeds:  Debra Nagy, Stephen Bard and Dominic Teresi.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Trio MôD

Today in Sacramento I attended the launch of a new musical group called Trio MôD.  It consists of flutist Maquette Kuper, clarinetist Deborah Pittman and baritone Omari Tau.

You will undoubtedly ask yourself, "How much music can there be for flute, clarinet and baritone?" Which reminds me of the time long ago when I used to copy the complete works listings from the Groves Dictionary of Music. Looking over these it was amazing how many obscure chamber works there are. They may have to search, but there will be stuff.

From standard repertoire they found Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) Choros No. 2 and Fantasy by Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006), both for flute and clarinet. There was even a set of five movements called Street-Wise Duos by Terry Kenny (1931-), British and still living, I think. These were fun and close to pop music.

Adding the baritone came from self-generated material. Singers sing mostly with keyboards. There were three spirituals arranged by Omari Tau: "Give Me Jesus", "Good News", and "De Gospel Train." These were also fun but didn't quite swing enough for me.

The most amazing thing on the program was Deborah Pittman's arrangement of the Bach/Gounod "Ave Maria" for alto flute, Native American flute and baritone. I promise you will not have guessed what this turned out to be. It was very Bobby McFerrin. The flutes played the melody and Omari Tau sang the arpeggios from the Bach prelude. Bravo.

I have heard that this is the direction of classical music in the 21st century. Make something new from the old materials. Surprise us. "De Gospel Train" was done as a true encore.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Jaroussky Farinelli

This is an album of arias and duets by Nicola Porpora which were composed for the castrato Farinelli.  Porpora was famous as the great trainer of castrati, including, of course, Farinelli.  He was born in Naples in the middle of the early days of the Neapolitan opera school.

The album includes 11 tracks, 2 with Cecilia Bartoli, 7 of which are world premiere recordings.  The very long aria "Alto Giove" is apparently not one of the world premieres, but it is very beautiful in Jaroussky's voice.

The duets are lovely.  Cecilia generally sings soprano to his alto.  I especially love the second duet "La Gioia Ch'Io Sento" which bursts upon us unexpectedly.  It is all very very sweet.  Have a little sweetness in your life.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014


You can see the Marge doll on the left on the top shelf.

This is Anna holding her prize.  She is a woman of many talents.

Murray at Mondavi

Murray Perahia in a single sentence:  the harder it is the better he plays.

So maybe you wanted more.  He got three standing ovations, and beat the piano so hard someone had to come out and tune it during intermission.

JS Bach, French Suite #4
Beethoven Appassionata
Schumann Papillons
Chopin Scherzo #2

These are widely divergent styles of music.  I would like to hear more difference between the different styles.  He has excess amounts of WOW, but maybe wow isn't everything.  I liked the Beethoven best.

This isn't my area of expertise, so I'm going to shut up now.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Death and the Powers

Composer/Creative Director:  Tod Machover
Librettist:  Robert Pinsky
Conductor:  Nicole Paiement
Simon Powers:  Robert Orth, baritone
Miranda:  Joélle Harvey, soprano
Evvy:  Patricia Risley, mezzo-soprano
Nicholas:  Hal Cazalet, tenor
The United Way:  Frank Kelley
The United Nations:  David Kravitz
The Administration:  Tom McNichols

This science fiction search for immortality opera, Death and the Powers by Tod Machover, could not possibly be more timely, what with Almost Human and other machine/human science fiction we are seeing everywhere these days.  It even mentions Walt Disney as a fellow dreamer for immortality.  We watched at the San Francisco Conservatory while the opera was performed in Dallas.

Once upon a time there was a rich man, Simon Powers, who felt that he was reaching the end of his life and wanted to do everything possible to live forever.  Walt Disney is supposed to have tried cryogenics, but Simon chose to have his consciousness uploaded into a machine.  The early part of the opera consists of Simon explaining his plan to his wife Evvy and his daughter Miranda.  Assisting him in this process is Nicholas, a robot put into a human-like body.  He climbs all over the set.

Once Simon is in the machine, Evvy listens to him through earphones.  She tells what it is like:  it's like falling forever.  The experience is like going to the light.

About a third of the way through this opera, after the transformation, appeared some but not all of these words in German:

O Röschen rot!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Not!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Pein!
Je lieber möcht' ich im Himmel sein.
Da kam ich auf einen breiten Weg:
Da kam ein Engelein und wollt’ mich abweisen.
Ach nein! Ich ließ mich nicht abweisen!
Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott!
Der liebe Gott wird mir ein Lichtchen geben,
Wird leuchten mir bis in das ewig selig Leben!
I immediately recognized Urlicht (Primeval Light) from Mahler 2 and also Des Knaben Wunderhorn.  Mahler's music did not accompany these words.  One loves to have insider knowledge.

It is a kind of heavenly afterlife where one can still speak to those who are left behind in their human state.  Evvy decides to go with Simon, but Miranda sings of the life of the body, our true lives.  She misses her mother.

Everyone involved with this opera talked about the presence of technology in an opera.  There was an app which could be downloaded to smartphones.  I couldn't get it to run on mine, but I noticed around me that people quickly lost interest in this and just watched the opera.

Frankly, I absolutely loved this.  They felt no inhibitions whatsoever about repeating the same text over and over like what?  LIKE AN OPERA!!  What do I keep saying?  Ignore Lord Richard and write real operas, operas where people repeat the words, sing arias, belt it out there like real opera singers.  The all recitative opera is NOT WORKING.  All the singing was wonderful.  It was glorious.  Thank you.

Nicole Paiement, the conductor of San Francisco's Opera Parallèle, conducted. People love her here.

Conversation with Luca

This is from January Opera Magazine.

Luca Pisaroni is complaining about Italian singers.  "In Italy, a singer sings only opera and some Verdi Requiem.  Show me an Italian recitalist!"

Anna Caterina Antonacci?

"She lives in Paris."

Cecilia Bartoli?

"Bartoli's a rock star!  There is nobody like Bartoli in the business.  I adore Cecilia because she has a passion about what she does that nobody else has.  To come up with these programmes, it's not easy.  I wish everybody had the passion she has about older repertoire, to research, to find the material--she's a rock star, it's a fact."

This came in the mail years ago postmarked Roma. I am posting it in honor of the 20th anniversary of my instant infatuation with Cecilia. She's my rock star, too.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Lovely Rita

 Efrain, Maria, Thomas

Saturday night, day of the Chinese new years parade, I drove to San Francisco to see Donizetti's Rita, subtitled the Beaten Husband (1841). This is a buffa for three characters by Gaetano Donizetti.  They are

Rita:  Maria Valdes, soprano
Beppe:  Thomas Glenn, tenor
Gasparo:  Efrain Solis, baritone

Rita is a domestic abuse plot.  At the beginning Rita is with Beppe.  They wake up in the morning, and he immediately begins to give her a pedicure, done with one of her legs on each of his shoulders.  He puts in the spacers and paints on the color while she sings an aria.  The second abuse incident is when she burns his face with a hot iron.  Caution!  No tenors were harmed in the playing of this opera.

Then her ex husband Gasparo shows up.  They are only ex because Rita and Gasparo each think that the other is dead.  Gasparo is back to find the marriage certificate so he can destroy it and marry a rich Canadian woman.  Beppe and Gasparo fight in slow motion so no one will hurt the other.  Cute.

The singing was in Italian and the dialog was in English.  Two of the singers are current Adler Fellows and Thomas Glenn is a past Adler Fellow.  Thomas is a very funny guy, and all three were fun to watch and listen to.

This was presented by the New Century Chamber Orchestra led by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.  Nadja is famous for behaving like a normal person in her performances.  In the classical world this is considered remarkable.  She is an exciting player and coaxes the same kind of emotional involvement from her fellow players.

In the first half of the program they played:

Mascagni (arr. Assad): Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana
Verdi: Prestissimo from String Quartet in E minor
Massenet (arr. Assad): Meditation from Thais, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, violin
J. Strauss (arr. Lindstrom): Overture to Die Fledermaus

I detected no coordination problems with the singers facing the audience most of the time and Nadja conducting the orchestra at the back of the stage.  I enjoyed it very much and can add this opera to my list.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Werther is in rehearsal at the Met.  They announce the 2014-15 season tomorrow.

I'm listening to an audience created Alcina recording from Zurich.  Lots of coughing and bad acoustics, but a wonderful performance from everyone.  People send me stuff.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Happy Birthday, Ms Price

It is the great one's birthday.  For me this film shows her at her spectacular best.  I have had to replace this.

Saturday, February 08, 2014


Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Production:  Otto Schenk
Set Designer:   Günther Schneider-Siemssen


Rusalka:  Renée Fleming
Prince:   Piotr Beczala
Princess:  Emily Magee
Jezibaba:  Dolora Zajick
Gnome:  John Relyea
Kitchen Boy:  Julie Boulianne
Gamekeeper:  Vladimir Chmelo
First Sprite:  Jihee Kim
Second Sprite:  Renée Tatum
Third Sprite:  Maya Lahyani
Hunter:  Alexey Lavrov

Yes.  I looked it up and the only live performance of Dvorák's Rusalka I've ever seen, San Francisco Opera 1995, was also in a set designed by Günther Schneider-Siemssen.  It also starred Renée Fleming, she also sang the aria from the top of a tree, and she walked on water in the last act.  I see in the archives that this opera had its first Metropolitan Opera performance in 1993 and was revived with Renée Fleming in 1997.  The Met revived it in 2004, but it hasn't been revived in San Francisco.  So I shouldn't have been surprised when everyone around me said they hadn't seen it.

This cast was incredible, and the traditional production gave a vivid idea of what the opera was about.  This is probably the best you are going to get from Rusalka.

The role of Rusalka fits Renée Fleming's voice like a glove, and Piotr Beczala is the perfect Prince Usually Charming.  As the foreign princess, Emily Magee stole all the scenes she was in.  Dolora Zajick is just the sort of wacko witch you might just believe in.  Perhaps she could turn you into a human being.

But then why would you want to?  The music, guided by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, is gorgeously romantic.  It's not hard to understand why Renée Fleming loves this opera.  The only weakness lies in the plot.  What makes a human in the witch's description is that they can die and have a soul that lives on after them.  Rusalka doesn't care--she just wants to experience love.  We will assign the resulting foolishness to youth, perhaps.  It's a Czech fairy tale, and fairy tales frequently come out badly.


Friday, February 07, 2014

Brokeback Mountain

Titus Engel conductor
Ivo van Hove stage director
Jan Versweyveld set designer, lightings
Wojciech Dziedzic costumes
Tal Yarden video
Annie Proulx libretto
Jan Vandenhouwe dramaturgy
Andrés Máspero chorus master

Daniel Okulitch (Ennis del Mar)
Tom Randle (Jack Twist)
Heather Buck (Alma)
Hannah Esther Minutillo (Lureen)
Ethan Herschenfeld (Aguirre / Hog-Boy)
Celia Alcedo (Alma's Mother)
Ryan MacPherson (Jack's Father)
Jane Henschel (Jack's Mother)
Hilary Summers (Waitress)
Letitia Singleton (Seller)
Gaizka Gurruchaga (Cowboy)
Vasco Fracanzani (Bill Jones)

I'm watching the live stream on from Madrid of Charles Wuorinen's Brokeback Mountain.  Daniel Okulitch is a lovely man, a man who dresses up as a cowboy quite nicely.  Gary Cooper had nothing on him.  He is apparently game for anything.  I'm not sure that's enough to save it.

The music is somewhere between secco and accompagnato recitative with percussion ensemble background.  It's ok, I guess.  The outfits are perfect.  The dialect appears also in the subtitles.  Everything is very American.  It was originally commissioned by the New York City Opera.

The scenes seem to change suddenly as if this wasn't really live.  Furniture disappears instantly from the stage.

The emotional extensions of aria are an essential feature of opera.  They extend and deepen the emotion.  The pace of constant recitative is fine for perhaps a movie, but in an opera it all has to take longer.  Okulitch is constantly on the stage which makes the whole idea of aria extensions seem impossible.

There is a certain theatrical rhythm that the best opera composers capture.  I don't mind Wuorinen's sound-scape which was criticized in other reviews I read.  But I didn't feel the right sense of timing in the scenes.  The story was well told, but the building of emotion through the scenes seemed to be missing.  Perhaps the right director could fix this.  I'm not sure.

Ennis's wife needs to have a real Princess Phone.  That would make all the difference.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Arguing by Email


A conductor I played for today (“roman carnival overture”) stated that Berlioz was THE giant of 19th century opera, and that Verdi and Wagner are full of bits plagiarized from him…. The floor is yours. Yes? No? Caveats?


Berlioz was an original, an astounding man really.  He invented conducting.  He invented the leitmotiv.  He invented the gigantic orchestra.  He traveled to Russia and concertized widely--his own music, of course--thereby setting off the firestorm that was Russian romantic music.

He would have been a more influential voice in the world of opera had he been allowed to present operas at the Opera.  Long after his death Les Troyens opened the new Bastille opera house in Paris.  In his lifetime Meyerbeer was their guy.

Berlioz invented the Romantic orchestra.  Most of what Wagner claimed as his own descended from the ideas of Berlioz.

To place him above Verdi, however, is nonsense.  No one and nothing is above Verdi in the world of opera.