Sunday, March 23, 2014

For Charlotte

[This is the interview from chrismon.de Charlotte mentioned in her comment.  Evangelisch means protestant.]

"You have to do everything with passion - singing and cooking Minestrone"

When Cecilia Bartoli sings, you sometimes have the feeling that God is with her - in his female form. Cecilia Bartoli, who was born in Rome in 1966, is one of the most famous opera singers of the world. She sings roles for mezzo-soprano, particularly in Mozart and Handel operas, and has lately preferred lesser-known works from the 18th Century. Recently she released her CD "Mission" with songs by the baroque composer Agostino Steffani. With these songs she is giving at the beginning of June five concerts in Germany. Cecilia Bartoli lives in Switzerland.

In which moments do you feel alive? 
Music is full of feelings. I need to experience those feelings in order to inform the public. However, not too intensely, then the voice suffers, I need a certain distance. A wonderful discovery was Agostino Steffani, a composer and a Catholic theologian of the 17th and 18th Centuries. His music puts me in a delirious state. It is spiritual, but it also has something dark. When I sing his works, it is as if I were flying.  For moments one of Steffani's songs free one from the pain that sometimes depresses one.  Such music sometimes you need in order to live.

What can adults learn from children?
Through them you can learn what is important. The older I get the stronger my need to express myself is reduced to the essentials. I need actually only a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Why still a car? Also an iPod? Another television? Actually I do not need all that. This of course contradicts the stereotype:  A diva has to need on her travels five cases and one to two chauffeurs. But what is much more important are good relationships with other people, and children also teach you this.

Which God do you believe in? 
I believe in a God who created Mozart, Caravaggio, Handel and Vivaldi! God has sent us these artists to make life more bearable. When I sing, I sometimes have the feeling that God is with me in his female form. God is for me both: man and woman, Papa and Mama - Pama so to speak. Occasionally, I pray, and then mostly for the people I love.  But only occasionally. Among Catholics a prayer is indeed spoken for every little thing. I do not want this. If I really mean to disturb God, then it shall be for something important.

What does home mean to you?
I travel a lot and am rarely home. My homeland is therefore the people I love, whom I trust - and the people who love me. I can take on the world, even in the most terrible places everywhere. When I am with them, I'm at home, they are my home.

Does life have a meaning? 
Yes ! I come from a very humble family: My parents were both opera singers, but my grandparents were farmers.  Every summer I went to them. One of my grandmothers had in her garden wonderful, fantastic beans. Out of them she cooked the best minestrone that I have ever eaten in my life. This grandmother accompanied me when I sang for the first time at the Metropolitan Opera. After the concert we went to a dinner which a sponsor had organized, where delicacies were presented.   Back in Italy my grandmother was uncomfortable to cook her minestrone for me, she said: "In New York I understood how you live now." I answered her, "My dear, what are you saying? Your beans and your minestrone are a thousand times dearer to me than such a dinner. When I visit you, and you give me no minestrone - that would be terrible." Good ingredients are important, simple ingredients, but the most important is the passion! You have to try to seize the day with passion:   sing with passion, cook, be connected to other people.

Do you fear death? 
No! Far more terrible is a dull life without feelings. I do not know if I'm brave, but I love the idea of being brave and reaching out without fear to other people. Simply to take another's hand and to go a small way with him and to open myself to him.

What dream do you still want necessarily to fulfill? 
Every day to be ready to learn and grow. But never to be too tired, that's my dream! Sometimes I sing something - for example by Mozart - that I know inside and out. But then I work together with a new conductor, and he says to me: "Cecilia, you could sing this a little bit differently, what do you think?" And I think: Yes, of course! I want to preserve my ability to be amazed.

[This is also for me.  She is still the only famous person I ever wanted to meet.  I no longer wonder why this would be.]


Friday, March 21, 2014

Cecilia Bartoli: "My religion is my work"

[An interview from Crescendo.]

Cecilia Bartoli receives for the eleventh time an Echo Klassik award. A conversation about her career, the church and the importance of such awards.

Ms. Bartoli, again you will also be awarded a 2013 ECHO Klassik ... for the eleventh time! 
Yes! For my recording "Mission" with the music of Agostino Steffani, for which Donna Leon wrote her novel "Heavenly Jewels." I am very happy because this project was very close to my heart. Steffani's music has for me transcendental elements, love, hate, death, life, everything is possible, everything is incredibly exciting.

So exciting that you are now following it up with a second Steffani CD with his "Stabat Mater" and other sacred works. 
Steffani's "Stabat Mater" was his last work, he composed it shortly before his death in February 1728. At that time he lived totally impoverished in Frankfurt, where he died ... ...

After a dazzling life as a diplomat, a spy in the service of the Vatican, as evangelizing clergyman, abbot and bishop, as genius composer who was musically "plagiarized" even by Handel. But in the end were left only two boxes of documents that are so far hoarded by the Vatican. 
Yes. For me it was interesting to show that he was a very important composer. I wanted to explore it and present it to the public, sung always alongside the Stabat Mater by Pergolesi, by A. Scarlatti, Caldara ...

Did you ever come close to the boxes? 
We did not have to, yes. We had other sources, such as the Fitzwilliam manuscript, which is located in Cambridge.

I ask, because one knows that another concert with you did not happen in the Vatican based on the fact that you refused to publicly take a position on the subject of abortion ... 
Yes, that was strange. An opinion is something absolutely private. But I believe that the new pope is  somewhat more tolerant.  Somewhat more optimistic and more creative. And if the Vatican does not need my recording, yet the music market will: they certainly need Steffani's church music.

Are you a believer? 
Let's put it this way: When I hear the music of Mozart, Bach's or Monteverdi's or Steffani's, then I believe. My religion is my work. [Many musicians feel this. ]

What did your parents do wrong? Ultimately, you grew up in Rome, near the Vatican. 
(Laughs ) Yes, and I could look into some windows. In Rome there are more churches than houses. And then you can imagine what attitude one adopts opposite this. On the other hand, I am impressed by the Vatican. It is the strictest political order I know. Look: We have in Italy so many parties, so many political conflicts, so many radical changes. But the Vatican has survived centuries. This is really amazing.

And there are really a lot of opera materials there! 
And such great ones!

Back to Stabat Mater: why has this anonymous medieval poem that sings of the sufferings of the Mother of God for her crucified Son inspired so many composers? From Josquin and Palestrina, past Vivaldi finally to Wolfgang Rihm [1952-]. 
It is perhaps the pain, the suffering of Mary, that has so attracted and emotionally moved composers. Stabat mater dolorosa is yes (Latin) for "The mother stands full of pain." What could be nicer than to create music for a text that already affects you when you read it?

Steffani setting was 1727, the same year as Vivaldi's Stabat Mater and four years after Scarlatti and nine years before the famous Stabat Mater by Pergolesi. Is this a coincidence? 
1727 Stabat Mater had been reinstated in the service, yes. For what reason it was banned from the liturgy in the 16th Century for over two centuries, I do not know. [At the Council of Trent counter-reformation a very large number of sequences, the type of poem of the Stabat Mater, were banned.]   Of course in musical style there are major differences between the works. Steffani described his Stabat Mater as his masterpiece. Yes, it is. Steffani gives the choir a very large space, and integrates the voices. It is a polyphonic structured, magnificent work. Steffani is here quite different from Pergolesi who set the poem to music that is operatic, arias and so on. On the CD we present other sacred works by Steffani.

What? 
The cantata for soprano solo "Non plus me ligate", which is cheerful, a different mood than the Stabat Mater. Also two four-part choral pieces, "Beatus vir" and "Triduanas a Domino", which Steffani composed for St. Cecilia's on 22 November; as well as the spiritual concerto "Laudate Pueri" and the five-part "sperate in Deo". All these works we present for the first time on CD as a premiere. Fabulous young singers such as Nuria Rial, Franco Fagioli or Julian Prégardien and others are also there. Steffani was very young when he composed this music, 1667-1688, when he was employed at the Catholic court in Munich. Later he was sent to the Protestant north of Germany to convert the people there to the Catholic faith. If it was the Vatican who sent him we do not know.

Back to your ECHO Klassik. What do awards actually mean to you? 
You mean a recognition of my work, which not only very much satisfies me but also the people who come to my concerts and buy my CDs. This work is so important for my soul. When I touch people with my music, then I feel fulfilled. It gives me strength to continue to explore new things. You see the day differently when you dedicate yourself to a new composer, a new work.

Do you even know how many awards you have won and where you store them? 
(Laughter) Oh, they're scattered all over my house. I think I would not find them all right away. Because I have not ordered them in a cabinet, so I cannot watch them all day and admire. So I need them not to get dusty. And some trophies are also quite heavy.

For Max Reger order meant "contamination of the button hole" ... 
(Laughs) You see my jacket has only one button ... In fact, in Italy there are some that look like a cleaned up Christmas tree, who walk around with a breast swollen with pride, and no one knows what is all this order, and no one cares there. This is really funny.

1994 you got your first Echo Klassik for a CD with songs by Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart. What has happened since then? 
Since then, of course, a lot has changed: the transition from vinyl disc to the CD about in the mid-eighties, for example, has produced many CDs - not always of the highest quality. Today we have almost an overdose of CDs.

But you have always managed to "reinvent" yourself, are among the few stars who are not comfortable to always use the same repertoire, but gain attention with your recordings even after twenty years. 
I was always searching ... And still am ...

Your repertoire ranges from Handel, Vivaldi to Rossini, to Bellini, Pergolesi, Puccini, Donizetti, to Halévy, Mozart, Gluck, Haydn included. 
The contrasting repertoire revived my spirit, lit me afire. Currently I have developed a musical vision for Bellini's "Norma", they try from the context of their time to understand about 1831 - with the instruments of the time, the other vocalization. It makes a difference whether the introduction to Norma's famous cavatina "Casta diva" is played with a wooden flute or a modern instrument made of metal, and if I approach the whole thing like a prayer in the piano, pianissimo or as a show in front of a giant room with four thousand people.

Where does a musician find the true recognition? Is applause a parameter?
Yes and no. You can sometimes get a lot of applause very fast because you put on a good show, a favorite aria of the audience. The most beautiful is the silence when you literally can hear a pin drop on the floor in a room with two thousand people. Then I feel like I have with my singing pierced into the souls of men.

"What pleased me most," wrote Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart about a performance of The Magic Flute, "was the silent applause." 
Yes, that 's it! If it comes from within.

And one last quote again from Reger: "The more they attack my title, the more my simple name grows. It will remain nothing but: Max Reger" ... 
Yes, a composer says that. And what should an artist say? I can only say that I hope that at the end of my life my name is still written correctly.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Jonas Kaufmann's Werther


Conductor: Alain Altinoglu
Production: Richard Eyre
Set and Costume Designer: Rob Howell

Werther:  Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Charlotte:  Sophie Koch (mezzo-soprano)
Sophie:  Lisette Oropesa (soprano)
Albert:  David Bizic (baritone)

If you have read this blog for long, you will know that I flew to Paris a few years ago to see Jonas Kaufmann sing Werther.  I loved it even more this time live from the Metropolitan Opera in HD.

I liked the production, which moved the time to the late 19th century, very much.  It did what I always say the production is for:  it explained the action.  They staged the overture to show Charlotte's mother dying at Christmas just as they began to sing carols.  This explains why father is teaching the children Christmas carols in the summer.

We know why Werther is at Charlotte's house--he is her date for the ball.  The production shows a small bit of the ball before returning us to the house.  Every scene shows this attention to detail without becoming distracting.  There's a harpsichord because the libretto says there is, but in the 1890s no one would have owned a harpsichord. 

I enjoyed Lisette Oropesa's Sophie very much and find that I could not forgive Werther when he made her cry.  Sophie Koch warmed slowly into the role exactly as a proper Charlotte should.

But you know we are here for Jonas Kaufmann.  This is the main opera where the person who has the mad scene is the man.  In fact the entire opera is about a man going mad for love.  If Jonas wasn't so good looking, we might be more afraid than attracted.  He overwhelms us with his intensity.  If you have seen Werther without Jonas you will know that it needs this intensity.

She called herself SHAR-LOT, while he occasionally called her car-LOT-tuh.  In other words she pronounced her name French and he pronounced it German.  Curious. In his interview he greeted his fans in Germany and Austria and mentioned that opera is the greatest of all art forms.  I couldn't agree more.

(Spoiler alert) The sound went out in the final scene, but we saw after he is dead she walked over and picked up the gun.

I couldn't help noticing things talked about on Twitter.  Perhaps I'll have to stop reading it.  I noticed when the couple who had no other dialog talked about Klopstock.  Klopstock and Ossian were writers who were talked about in Goethe's time. 

I think Kaufmann is the best thing going, and I'm glad there are so many ways for me to see his work.

_________________

I went again.  You knew I would.  Seeing the ending without the rest of the opera just didn't work for me, so I went to see the whole thing again.  He is a genuine phenomenon.  He treats each aspect of the Gesamtkunstwerk that is opera as its own individual art form, raising it to new levels of beauty and brilliance. I think the one in Paris was sweeter.

Klopstock.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bavarian State Opera

What would interest us?

The Makropulos Case with Nadja Michael, who was our Salome a few years back, as Emilia Marty.

Of course, Jonas Kaufmann and Anna Netrebko in Manon Lescaut.  This is popular all over the world.

Marlis Peterson is doing Lulu.

Anja Harteros is doing Arabella. This is an opera that benefits from repeated viewings.  She's also singing Tosca.  Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann will repeat in La Forza del Destino.  Harteros will repeat in Don Carlo, but not Kaufmann.  Ditto for Il Trovatore.

Radvanovsky is doing Norma, but I think she's doing that here, too.

Ailyn Pérez and Charles Castronovo are doing Elixir.

Edita Gruberova will do Roberto Devereaux.  Is she the only one who does that now?

Larry Brownlee is singing Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte.  He's also doing the tenor in Rosenkavalier in Baden Baden.

They have a very distinguished cast for Don Giovanni with Christopher Maltman, Veronique Gens, Charles Castronovo and Erin Wall.  Is there a reason they are doing all three Mozart/Da Ponte operas next season?  Did I miss something?  They're also doing both of the German language Mozart operas.  Luca Pisaroni is singing Figaro so why is he doing the count in the US?  I'm confused. 

This is your chance to see Rolando Villazon do Hoffmann.

Opolais and Calleja will do Butterfly.

Waltraud Meier is in Elektra.  Wow.  If this isn't enough Strauss, they are also doing Frau ohne Schatten and Schweigsame Frau.  It's the Strauss 150 anniversary.

Opolais is singing Tatiana in Onegin.

They appear to have a rule there:  do 3/4 of Mozart, 2/3 of Strauss and 1/2 of Verdi every season plus a Ring.  No space for any new operas.  At least they're doing Lulu instead of Wozzeck.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Porgy and Bess from San Francisco


The San Francisco Opera has released on DVD and Blue Ray their 2009 Porgy and Bess that I praised so highly here. This is the Eric Owens Porgy and Laquita Mitchell Bess. It was the experience of a lifetime.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Winterreise



For me opera came last. There was Bach first. And then came Lieder. "Die Blumen sind verstorben." I am perhaps too depressed for this. It is so intense. Afterward one should go out into the cold and cry. "Wo find ich gruenes Grass?"  We have finally had some days of rain so at least the grass is green here.  In California it's green in winter and brown in summer.

We have come to the one I know. "Am Brunnen vor dem Tore da steht ein Lindenbaum."  I see the gate and the tree.

The idea of an art song came from Schubert. The idea is that the piano and the singer are one, that the song exists exactly as it is, that you, pianist and singer, must make it yours without altering even the smallest thing. 

Before that there was tune and figured bass. Modern song making is much like that. Take this broad outline, these words and outline of chords and make of them your own song. It rises and falls with you and your imagination. But with Schubert you have only your heart to make it music.

And Winterreise is the peak.  We see the gray landscape he has painted and feel the emptiness of loss.

This is how German is supposed to sound.  Think how easy it is to understand. The Lieder music is perhaps the closest to my own soul, touches my musical heart in its deepest place.  It's as though to actually know Jonas Kaufmann would make it too personal.  It is already too personal.

He is the singing artist of today and is at his peak now.  We believe when he sings them the most bizarre things.  Puccini even.  But here he is at home in his own land, his own language, his own music. 

He is singing about a crow that is following him.  It's very creepy.  I haven't seen very much written about this, so I will have to make up my own mind.  I often reject Lieder recitals because it is not as I would have sung them.  I only wish I could have made anything this perfect.



Friday, March 07, 2014

Blogging

There are still so many things I do not know about opera, so many great singers to know better than I do.  I clicked on this today.  The commenters were discussing which was their favorite, and I had never heard of it. 




The great Régine Crespin imparts a profound sense of dignity and self awareness to a song titled "O ma lyre immortelle."  Did the great Sappho know that she was one of the immortals?   Régine convinces us that she did.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Riccardo Chailly



So not French at all.

How often is the Opera about Love/Sex?

Plots of the 100 most popular operas are primarily about love and/or sex:

Love with Happy Ending (spoiler alert)  (22+)

1.The Marriage of Figaro--the count is humiliated but Figaro gets the girl.
4.The Barber of Seville--Count gets the girl.
7.The Magic Flute--mystical side story, but boy gets girl.
13.The Abduction from the Seraglio--woman is rescued from harem.
14.Fidelio--Leonora saves Florestan.  The great married love opera.
20.Turandot--he answers the riddles and marries the princess.
21.The Merry Widow--who gets the rich widow?
23.Der Rosenkavalier--it ambiguously leaves the impression that Octavian and Sophie are a couple.
25.L'elisir d'amor--potion helps Nemorino work up the nerve.
26.Ariadne auf Naxos--Bacchus rescues Ariadne.
37.Don Pasquale--young man gets the girl.
42.Der Freischutz--magic bullets, hit the target, get the girl.
43.La Cenerentola--she marries the prince.
46.Orfeo ed Euridice--in this version Euridice returns to life.
48.Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg--the tenor gets the girl.
49.Orpheus in the Underworld
50.The Bartered Bride--girl gets the boy she wants.
59.The Daughter of the Regiment
62.Siegfried--love only comes in at the end.
63.La Vie parisienne
65.Zar und Zimmermann--love and politics.
68.The Mikado--two couples.

Love (or at least sex) with Unhappy Ending (33+)

2.Tosca--Mario and Tosca die.
3.Don Giovanni--Giovanni goes down in flames for too much sex.
5.La Bohème--Mimi dies.
6.La Traviata--Violetta dies.
9.Madame Butterfly--for her it's love, for him it's just sex.  She dies.
10.Rigoletto--see Butterfly.
11.Carmen--Carmen dies.  For him it's love, not sure about her.
15.Aïda--Aida and Rhadames both die.
16.The Flying Dutchman--she saves him but then she dies. ??
17.Salome--weird but sex nonetheless.  She dies.
18.Un ballo in maschera--King is assassinated because he loves his friend's wife.
19.The Tales of Hoffmann--multiple love affairs that all end unhappily.
27.Lucia di Lammermoor--Lucia kills her husband.
28.Eugene Onegin--two ships pass in the night.  They love but stay apart.
30.Otello--He kills her, then himself.
31.Il Trovatore--the count kills his brother.
32.Die Walkure--the twins fall in love.  Wotan betrays them.
34.Cavalleria rusticana--Turiddu dies.
35.I Pagliacci--clown kills his wife.
38.Manon--she dies.
39.Lohengrin--usually Elsa dies when Lohengrin leaves.
40.Das Rheingold--Alberich would have settled for a Rhine maiden.
47.Andrea Chénier--love amid political turmoil.
51.Gotterdammerung--everybody dies.
53.Adriana Lecouvreur--Adriana dies.
55.Katya Kabanova--heroine throws herself in the river.
56.Werther--hero kills self.
57.La forza del destino--Leonora dies.
60.Wozzeck--hero kills Maria.
64.The Queen of Spades--Liza commits suicide, Herman goes crazy.
72.Manon Lescaut--same as Manon
75.Tristan und Isolda--both die.
78.West Side Story--Tony dies.

Love but Not Really Sure if it's Happy or Unhappy (8)

8.Cosi fan tutte--women are like that.  Production determines ending.
22.Falstaff--he doesn't get the girls, but everything else is ok.  Production determines end.
29.Faust--religious context, Marguerite dies but goes to heaven.
36.Don Carlos--many subplots but main story is love.  Don Carlo has mysterious rescue.
54.Tannhäuser--people die but all is forgiven.
58.Simon Boccanegra--doge dies but man doesn't marry his granddaughter.
66.Jenufa--lovers are left alone, still not married.
67.Mefistofele--another Faust opera.

Not about Love (8)

12.Die Fledermaus--joke side story.  Love is secondary
24.Hansel and Gretel--too young for love or sex
33.Parsifal--religion, not sure what it's about, sex but not love.
41.Nabucco--religious politics.
44.Elektra--revenge killings.
45.La clemenza di Tito--politics, happy ending.
52.Boris Godunov--Russian politics
61.Macbeth--Scottish politics.

11% of the top 100 operas are not about love.  I got bored before I got to the end of this list, but I think I've proved my point.  Which was that by far the most popular operas are about love. 

Now let's examine our modern list.


Love with Happy Ending (4)

The Postman Always Rings Twice --unwanted husband is murdered.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene--he dies but then he comes back.
The ghosts of Versailles--I think the ending must be regarded as happy.
The Tempest--love is not the main story, but all ends happily.

Love (or at least sex) with Unhappy Ending (9)

L'Amour de Loin--exactly what the title says, love from afar.
Orphée--Orpheus plot.
The Letter--she gets away with murder but kills herself anyway.
The Great Gatsby--Gatsby is murdered.
Adriana Mater--ambiguous ending.
A Streetcar Named Desire--she goes to the nut house.
Anna Nicole--reality. 
Ainadamar--a great poet dies.
Sophie's Choice--woman chooses man who deserves her.

Not about Love (23)

The Women in the Garden--literature.
Harvey Milk--politics.
Einstein on the Beach--not sure what it's about.
The Martyrdom of saint Magnus--religion.
Le Grand Macabre--politics.
Lear--Ungrateful children.
The Red Line--politics.
The Village Singer--the love of singing.
Sweeney Todd--a profit making scheme.
King Harald's Saga--politics.
The Lighthouse--not sure what it's about.
Satyagraha--about Ghandi's political life.
Saint-François d'Assise--religion.
Nixon in China--politics.
Appomattox--history.
Licht: die sieben Tage der Woche--I lumped them all together, not sure what they're about.
The Death of Klinghoffer--old man in wheelchair is thrown off of ship.
Dead Man Walking--man is executed.
The man who mistook his wife for a hat--an opera about a medical condition.
Dolores Claiborne--child abuse and murder.
Heart of a Soldier--the 9/11 opera.
The Minotaur--a half human monster kills and eats people.
Moby Dick--madman gets everyone killed.

There are many more operas that could be listed, but I think I have cited enough.  66% of modern operas are not about love.  The ratio of love to not love is now completely reversed.  What love we have is often grotesque and perverted.  Obviously these statistics are not scientific, and serve only to illustrate what is going on.


Jesus is given a sex life, but no one seems to realize that the others need this as well.  Which of these operas that are not about love will survive?  Sweeney Todd seems well on the way to immortality, but I don't hold out much hope for the rest.  I loved most Ainadamar and L'amour de loin, both love plots.

For all I know the older operas were also 66% not about love and disappeared forever from our view.  Why commission an opera that you know will disappear forever after it is presented?  Why spend all that time writing an opera only to have it disappear forever?  Maybe someone will come along that can answer this.


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Netrebko's Manon Lescaut

I am listening to Anna Netrebko sing Manon Lescaut from Rome, and my sense of it is that she has at last arrived where she should always have been.  Gorgeous.  To achieve magnificence it requires only the perfect tenor.  We can keep Muti.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Prince Igor


Conductor Gianandrea Noseda
Production Dmitri Tcherniakov

Host Eric Owens

Cast

Prince Igor:  Ildar Abdrazakov
Prince Galitsky (Igor's wife's brother):  Mikhail Petrenko
Vladimir Igorevich (Igor's son):  Sergey Semishkur
Skula (deserter):  Vladimir Ognovenko
Yeroshka (deserter):  Andrey Popov
Yaroslavna (Igor's wife):  Oksana Dyka
Polovtsian Maiden:  Kiri Deonarine
Konchakovna (Khan Konchak's daughter):  Anita Rachvelishvili
Ovlur (Christian Polovtsian):   Mikhail Vekua
Khan Konchak (Polovtsian general):   Štefan Kocán
Yaroslavna’s Nurse:  Barbara Dever

My list says that I have seen Alexander Borodin's Prince Igor at the San Francisco Opera in 1996.  I don't remember.  There has been a massive effort to improve the theatrical viability of this opera and to alter the score to include only music by Borodin. 

Traditionally the scenes are:

Prologue--Igor's army leaves for battle.
Act I scene 1--Prince Galitsky's drunken bash.
Act I scene 2--Yaroslavna's chamber, news that Igor is defeated, enemy is approaching.
Act II--Singing and dancing in Polovtsian camp.
Act III--Igor and Vladimir are to escape, but Vladimir stays for Konchakovna.
Act IV--Igor returns home and is celebrated.

I am looking at the program for this performance live from the Metropolitan Opera in HD and it seems to be incorrect.  I will attempt to explain what happens.  The Prologue is as before, but it is followed by the scene of singing and dancing in the Polovtsian camp.  This is the famous Polovtsian dances and takes place in a field of red poppies.  It is Igor's reality and fantasy mixed.  The enemy general and his daughter are introduced, and she falls in love with Vladimir.

Act II in this version includes scenes where women of the village come to Yaroslavna to complain that Galitsky has abducted a girl from the village.  Then there is a drunken bash with Galitsky where he plans to overthrow the rule of Yaroslavna.  Then there is a scene when the city council meets, declares that Igor has been captured, his army killed and the enemy is advancing.  Galitsky tries to overthrow Yaroslavna, but is killed.

Then there is a scene where Ovlur tries to persuade Igor and Vladimir to escape, but Vladimir stays for Konchakovna.  This is Act III above, but does not appear in the handout. In the end Igor returns to a ruined city and encourages rebuilding.

I felt that these changes were successful, that a level of theatricality had been achieved and that Igor became central.  The choral work in this opera is spectacular.  But in either arrangement bad guys always seem to have more charisma, and Prince Galitsky is wonderfully nasty.

The singing was particularly enjoyable.  I especially liked Oksana Dyka and Anita Rachvelishvili, next season's Carmen.  Her Carmen will be wild.

Dmitri Tcherniakov talks about his production and what it means.  He tells that Igor has had a transforming experience, that he immediately starts in to reconstruct his land, that he wishes to turn his attention to peaceful, constructive purposes, but when we see the dialog on the screen we know that this isn't what he is saying.  He wants to go back to fighting.  This is why the audience is confused.  I don't think this opera will make it into standard repertoire. 

P.S.  All my reviews are a work in progress.  After the Oscars I want to point out the original field of red poppies:  the Wizard of Oz.  Of course, these are California poppies.



Saturday, March 01, 2014

Il Trovatore in Sacramento

Michael Morgan, Conductor
Robert Tannenbaum, Director

Ferrando: Tom McNichols
Inez: Rebecca Sjöwall
Leonora: Tiffany Abban
Count Di Luna: Marcus Jupither
Manrico: Arnold Rawls
Azucena: Tichina Vaughn

Ruiz: Theo Lebow

The Sacramento Opera presented Verdi's Il Trovatore at the  Community Center Theater.  It plays again tomorrow, March 2 at 8:00.

Following the trend of present day opera after Muti omitted the anvils, there were no anvils in the Anvil Chorus and no percussion to replace them.  If you insist on anvils, here it is with them:



The film includes some "Stride la vampa" as well.  Verdi did not compose anvils.

I digress.  When this was announced, I felt somewhat dubious about the whole thing.  This opera is very difficult to sing.  The cast changed my mind.

Azucena and Count di Luna in particular were well up to the task.  Manrico was light for the role but threw off a fabulous high C. 

What made a trip to the opera a really wonderful experience was Tiffany Abban, the Leonora of the evening.  She was a last minute replacement and was fabulous.  The picture above is her.  You should go just for her.