Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sweeney Todd at Lincoln Center

This was my third Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim:  the first was a pirate DVD with Angela Lansbury; the second the movie with Johnny Depp, and the third this wonderful concoction from Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic.  I must say I much prefer this cast with the always charismatic Bryn Terfel as Todd, Emma Thompson as a completely daffy Mrs. Lovett, Philip Quast as Judge Turpin, Jeff Blumenkrantz as The Beadle, Christian Borle as Pirelli, Erin Mackey as Johanna and Audra (The Great One) McDonald as The Beggar Woman.  Audra also introduced the show for PBS.

If you look behind the performers you can see people playing instruments.  They wandered crazily along narrow paths between sections of the orchestra.  The performers carried the show.

If you missed it, perhaps you can find it on PBS.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Porgi Amor

Even I occasionally wish to look back.  This is for the people on Twitter who hate this aria.

Friday, September 26, 2014


The reports are in and Netrebko strikes again.  I can't wait for the simulcast.

Huffington Post is calling it Gangster Opera.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tara Erraught: The Rosenkavalierin

Soldiers, guns, bombs - and now the Munich Opera: an encounter with the Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught. by Mirko Weber [Translated From Die Zeit, Sept 25,2014.  For background on this singer see here, here, and here. ]

Too feminine for pants roles? Tara Erraught can only ignore a debate like this. © Christian Kaufmann

There are singers in Ireland - sometimes vocal cliches - almost as many as the sand on the sea. Truly successful, next to Gilbert O'Sullivan, Sinead O'Connor and Bono, in the first rung are really only three: John McCormack, Catherine Hayes and Ann Murray. McCormack, born in 1884 and a real competitor to Enrico Caruso, was a glittering figure. He owned countless race horses, had a dozen Rolls-Royces, and despite all the worldly fuss felt most comfortable with folk tunes. It was McCormack's "typical Irish ability, to tell a story in song," which make him unique, wrote entranced Henry Pleasants in the standard work The Great Singers.

Of all these Tara Erraught, now 28, knew absolutely nothing, when she began to sing at ten. Tara Erraught from Dundalk, from the little corner of northern Ireland where only the Atlantic and then long nothing comes, just knew, that you can win more people's hearts with one voice than with a violin. At least if one is a beginner on the violin, on which Tara Erraught then still tried though her parents advised her, "I should just let it go." Erraught sometimes talks like a squeaking string, and, yes, indeed, one can understand the parents.

While Tara Erraught with dark flowing Irish "Os " and "Us" tells in English of her beginnings, she has some of the buildings of the Bavarian State Opera in view. She loves the house. In the auditorium namely shines the Munich Opera, unlike other houses, almost like velvet. Tara Erraught can see if someone before her becomes drowsy. And then? "Then I sing him awake," says Erraught whose laugh can almost shake the walls. Now she sits between these walls in Munich, walls that she still cannot quite believe in.

During the teenage years in Dundalk the Erraughts went again and again to Northern Ireland, to concerts, rehearsals, performances. Mama drove well, in spite of the hazardous undertaking. In this way, says Tara Erraught, has she learned to deal with states of emergency: "Soldiers, guns, bomb threats - all not without." [?] However, Tara Erraught knew at age 13 just as well that it should be opera and only opera in her life. A trip on holiday led to the Arena di Verona: Aida, her first complete opera evening as listener. " And that was it."

This article is from the current issue of die Zeit, which you can purchase online or at a kiosk.

Everything great starts with a little kick. The rest is a lot of practice, talent and luck. And wait for the right moment. Through her teacher Veronica Dunne Tara Erraught came to the Royal Irish Academy of Music, but right in the lesson she went afterwards. In 2008 she auditioned in Munich, was taken and overnight was on her own, in a strange city in a foreign country and in a foreign language." That was a hard time," she says today and doesn't want to sugarcoat anything; but somehow it was also the best time. Because Tara Erraught, was included in the Opera Studio, the young blacksmith of the National Theatre, learned to know the operation by heart, as a mechanic his engines. At first she hardly left the opera at all, studied from the lower machinery up to the cloakroom attendant in the gallery everyone and everything. And heard alongside the profound education - "nowhere it can be better than here" - so much repertoire as she could get.

There was from the beginning something special in that voice, a youthful, almost always ready to smile and to convince as mezzo-soprano, with which Erraught five years ago first made her debut as Cherubino in Mozart's Figaro and began, as is the Irish way, a story to tell: What came from the heart, could easily go to the heart. Here spoke not the innocent from the country, but one that lived close to the origin of the music, as natural as it went. And no one slept.

Her breakthrough, however, Erraught had two years later, when she stepped in for Vesselina Kasarova in Bellini's I Capuleti ei Montecchi. Nikolaus Bachler, the chief, had asked, in dire need: Could she be trusted? Erraught learned the Romeo in five days, put honestly, at the premiere came "a little Italian filler from the imagination" - and made it through. Glorious, it must be said. She sang Kasarovas series to an end - and found herself catapulted into a world in which you say "Hi, Anna" (Netrebko) and "Hello, Jonas" (Kaufmann ). "Awesome", logically, but also a bit "strange, Erraught finds.

It was the time when many after the great early success make the first major, fatal mistake. Erraught, however, trusted the right agent, Jack Mastroianni, but above all herself and her giant Irish family who keep her "grounded, if that is necessary. She knocked out the big Bellini and Donizetti roles that were already within reach, and strengthened her voice with Mozart and Rossini: Rosina and Cenerentola, Sifare in Mithridates. Mozart's Zerlina and Elvira, that can also be sung by a mezzo, were desired roles.

Erraughts career has skyrocketed, while she still is working on the fundamentals. Also, this may contribute to a down to earth attitude, emphasizes this major talent. Who on one hand sings supporting roles (Hansel in Humperdinck, Sesto in Tito) and on the other with enthusiasm sings the kitchen boy in Rusalka, the Second Lady in The Magic Flute or the voice of the unborn child in Frau ohne Schatten, is simply less likely to crash.

On the other hand, she knows very well how disrespect works in her profession. As she made her debut this summer at Glyndebourne, not in Munich, with Octavian in Strauss' Rosenkavalier, she was met with a wave of contempt from many UK papers. She was accused of being too bulky for the role, which in turn drew a discussion about why the figure will always be made an issue of only with girl singers. The stupid result of a male-dominated music criticism? Tara Erraught has the debate, as she says, largely ignored. She knows that she is no elf and doesn't want to be one. In Glyndebourne she knew that she was obligated to Richard Strauss, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and the play. She sang, without fear. Fear on the stage is the worst adviser. But she sang very well.

Now she stands before the next fork. In the fall she debuts one after the other in Strauss’ Die schweigsame Frau und Janáčeks Die Sache Makropoulos, and at the Opera House in Washington, she is recognized as Angelina in La Cenerentola. At the same time Tara Erraught works - regularly with Brigitte Fassbaender now - on Lieder programs. Moreover, she remains, despite a Bavaria as a friend, Irin, she of course sings Danny Boy as an encore, "oh Danny boy, the pipes are calling", an ancient, ever new story. At Bayern Munich and Tara Erraught likes best, that on Sunday everything in the city is quiet and people meet for coffee and cake. "Fine," she says, that "nothing is happening". Break. "Except for opera in the evening!"

[I found this article charming and couldn't resist translating it.

The magazine Opera for August has a nice article about the Strauss year and an excellent viewpoint on the Erraught scandal.]

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Game of Thrones Norma

Conductor Nicola Luisotti
Director Kevin Newbury
Set designer David Korins

Oroveso:  Christian Van Horn*
Pollione:  Russell Thomas*
Norma:  Sondra Radvanovsky
Adalgisa:   Jamie Barton
*Role debut

PLACE AND TIME: Gaul, during the Roman occupation in 50 BC.  Attributing it to the mythical time/place of Game of Thrones came from the program.  I think it fits.  This is a new production, I think.  In the grand tradition of the San Francisco Opera they never say "Production xyz."  They name a director, a set designer, a costume designer, etc., but not a producer.  We know, for instance, that Show Boat was done in a production by Francesca Zambello, but nothing in the credits tells us that.  The director is the person who moves the actors about the stage, not the production designer.

Enough complaining.

Adalgisa and Norma

Please note tattoos on the foreheads of Jamie and Sondra above.  I think originally there were more.  There is nothing of ancient Gaul or Rome in the sets or costumes of this new production.  We are in a mythical time or place.  The dialog is followed precisely.  If it says she ceremonially cuts mistletoe, she ceremonially cuts mistletoe. 

Throughout the opera we had been seeing bits and pieces of this statue, including miniatures of it.  Shrug.  I didn't mind it.

In the line to the ladies room it was said that Marco Berti, who played Pollione in the first 2 performances, was fired.  I have no personal knowledge one way or the other.  The last time he appeared in San Francisco I gave him advice, and I wanted to know if he had taken any of it.  The ticket taker and elevator operator both said that Russell Thomas was better.

Sondra Radvanovsky has the weight and significance as an artist to convince us that she is the exalted priestess of the Druids.  She is very fine in this role, conquering it in spite the monotonously slow tempos that dragged every phrase.  Is this the official Bellini tempo?  Apologies.  CB's Norma has not yet passed out of my consciousness.

Jamie Barton.  Welcome to San Francisco.  We loved you.  Please come back as often as possible. 

This very difficult opera very much impressed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

You Mean the World to Me

Now that I have this CD with Jonas Kaufmann, I must say it's an enormous surprise.  For instance, some of the tracks are in English, and one is in French.  My German is good enough.  Four tracks have films.

But the biggest surprise is how wonderfully corny it all is.  I grew up on corny music, not the exalted works of classical music, and respond well to this.  After all, I was in 40 performances of Der Vogelhaendler.  I'm smiling.  There's no one like him.

YouTube films of some of these operettas:

Gräfin Mariza: 1958 film, Morbisch Festival 2004
Paganini:  Franz Lehár 1942 Full Operetta (audio only)
Das Land des Lächelns:  Fritz Wunderlich (audio only)
Giuditta:  Franz Lehar, Giuditta, Stratas, Schock
Die Blume von Hawaii:   Die Blume Von Hawaii (1933)



I just called it that for fun.  Once again Cecilia Bartoli has set out to prove to us that no matter how far we went in school, she will show us that we know nothing.  I bow to the Queen.  Who knew that European Baroque music extended into Russia?

Speaking of Bartoli, I found this paragraph in an article about arts funding in Europe:  "But Mazurier and those like him are fighting to keep this level playing field alive. For example Mazurier, along with fellow donors like Jean-Paul Herteman, Cecilia Bartoli and Philippe Sollers, helped fund the construction of the Venetian Center for Baroque Music. The center, which honors the old but less-popular art of baroque public opera, is an homage which likely wouldn’t have been possible under the austerity politics of the nation."


Monday, September 15, 2014

Trio MôD at Crocker

Maquette Kuper, flute, Deborah Pittman, clarinet, Native American flute, Omari Tau, baritone

This is my second Trio MôD [pronounced mode] experience, and I find them to be a truly creative idea. Why would anyone think a flute, a clarinet and a baritone would make an ensemble? And yet they do.  This time the program was very personal.

Three Spirituals, arr. by Omari Tau (Good News, Give Me Jesus, De Gospel Train)

The World According to Earl by Deborah Pittman with Claire Hurni, puppeteer.

Stars with text by Owen Dodson, music by Omari Tau

Peter in the Hood, S. Prokofiev, adapted by Deborah Pittman.

My favorite part of this program was The World According to Earl.  Or Earl the Pearl.  Or various other names.  Earl was Deborah Pittman's father who lived most of his life in Brooklyn.  It was fun to see him sitting in the chair talking and to hear his wise sayings.

The only real problem was in the last piece where Omari Tau played percussion and narrator.  His part was so active that he could not use a microphone, causing me to miss some of the dialog.  A clarinet makes a great duck, and a flute is good for a bird.  There was also a cat and a taxi, if I remember correctly.

They are something fun to do in Sacramento.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


This is Isabel Leonard as Cherubino at the Met opening.  Well done.  I like this picture, but I sort of like this scruffy one, too.

Le Nozze Di Figaro, Glyndebourne

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Susannah by Carlisle Floyd, presented last night at the San Francisco Opera, is very loosely based on a story from the Apocrypha, which is a set of Biblical texts found in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant one.  This story is known to most educated people today as an excuse for paintings of nude women, such as these:

Thomas Hart Benton used as the program cover.


Benton's painting is from the de Young while I think I prefer the Tintoretto.  There are a lot of examples to chose from.  In the Bible story Susannah, a married woman, is bathing naked in her yard while in the background a couple of ugly old men are ogling her.  In the Biblical version, usually called Susannah and the Elders, it is the ugly old men who die.  The opera story is more complicated.

Conductor:  Karen Kamensek *
Director:  Michael Cavanagh

Susannah Polk:  Patricia Racette
Sam Polk:  Brandon Jovanovich
Rev. Olin Blitch:  Raymond Aceto
Mrs. McLean:  Catherine Cook
Little Bat McLean:  James Kryshak *
Mrs. Hayes:  Jacqueline Piccolino
Mrs. Gleaton:  Erin Johnson
Mrs. Ott:  Suzanne Hendrix
Elder Hayes:  Joel Sorensen
Elder Gleaton:  A.J. Glueckert
Elder McLean:  Dale Travis

That's right.  A woman conductor.  Is that a first for us?  She looks a lot like Nicole Paiement, conductor of Opera Parallèle.  She made a point of shaking the prompter's hand at the end, generally a sign that the prompter was needed.

You are beginning to wonder if I am avoiding talking about this.  The opera plot is of a reasonably happy young woman whose life goes from one misery to the next.  She bathes nude in a creek behind her house, as she has been doing for months, and the Elders discover her while they are searching for a place to baptize.  The itinerant minister who takes her to bed is shot.  Her brother is arrested or flees.  At the end she is alone, and the Elders have suffered no losses at all.  She talked about leaving so we can imagine that she leaves New Hope Valley, Tennessee, for the greater world. 

It's an opera about us, a subject that suits very well the present state of our country. It was well done.  The words, music, costumes and sets evoked the time and place.  One scene moved smoothly to the next.  The all-American cast made the atmosphere quite believable.  There are arias in an American vein.  There is wonderful chorus.  The entire cast is excellent. 

And there is Patricia Racette who can do anything, apparently.  She is the most American of opera singers who projects incredible realism in everything she does.  The emotions always seem real in this all too real story.  For me it was too close to home.  In spite of this I shouted with the rest of the audience.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Norma Teaser

This is the teaser for Norma which opens the San Francisco Opera this evening. I'm very annoyed that Jamie Barton isn't on my performance.  It's the old traditional Norma.  Sigh.  I promise you will love Sondra Radvanovsky.

The biggest contrast lies in the "Guerra."  Salzburg and recording are absolutely hair raising.

Sacramento classical music groups receive $1.1 million windfall from estate of former U.S. Forest Service worker

From the Merced Sun-Star

By Edward Ortiz

Three classical music organizations in the Sacramento region will share in a $1.1 million bequest from the late J. David Ramsey, a former U.S. Forest Service worker.
It’s the most significant gift ever earmarked for classical music through the Sacramento Region Community Foundation, which has been overseeing such gifts since 1983.
“This is not business as usual for us. It’s groundbreaking in that it’s a large bequest, and specifically given for local classical music,” said Shirlee Tully, chief of marketing and development for the SRCF.
The regional foundation didn’t release much information about Ramsey, other than that he retired from the Forest Service and moved from the Sierra foothills to Davis to be close to the Mondavi Center and its classical concerts.
His bequest includes $387,462 for the Sacramento Philharmonic Foundation. That organization oversees an endowment for the cash-strapped Sacramento Philharmonic, which recently announced that – for the first time in its 17-year history – it would not present concerts this fall due to financial troubles.
The philharmonic merged with the Sacramento Opera last year to form the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance. The opera will also not present concerts in the fall, and both organizations may not present any concerts in the spring of 2015.
Although last year’s merger was supposed to strengthen both organizations, it hasn’t had that effect.
The two groups’ combined budgets totaled more than $2 million before the merger. At present, the alliance has just $131,000 in the bank for the 2014-2015 season.
“This gift is very important to us,” said David Boje, president of the Sacramento Philharmonic Foundation. “The orchestra has been having tremendous financial difficulties and there has been serious drainage of the foundation’s assets.”
The orchestra has been relying on the Sacramento Philharmonic Foundation’s endowment to keep presenting concerts the last six years, said Boje. “There were many years that there would not have been an orchestra performing if not for the foundation,” he said.
It is not clear how the Ramsey bequest will affect the Sacramento Philharmonic in the short term, given that the philharmonic foundation is a separate organization from the orchestra itself.
“It’s not our money, so I don’t know what its effect will be,” said Laurie Nelson, board president of the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance. Still, she said, “It’s fantastic news, and I’m so excited that someone wanted to support local classical music.”
The Ramsey bequest also includes $232,477 for the Grass Valley-based Music in the Mountains and $232,477 to the Chamber Music Society of Sacramento.
Also included in the bequest is roughly $310,000 that will be endowed in perpetuity to promote classical music in the region.
That endowment is meant to provide funds for classical music organizations – especially in the future, said Tully.
The Sacramento Region Community Foundation expects to solicit proposals from classical music organizations for gifts from the Ramsey fund, with the foundation making the ultimate decision on which organizations are most deserving of funds, Tully said.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

From Operavore

While browsing their recommendations, I couldn't be more surprised to read this for the coming season:


The opera scene in the first great capital of the art form was left for dead after the Teatro La Fenice endured a terrible fire in 1996 and years of instability from the late 1990s though the mid 2000s. But there has been a remarkable rebirth, with productions at La Fenice, the Teatro Malibran and elsewhere in the city. There is a notable emphasis on baroque works, plus those by Rossini and operas that had their premieres there. Among the highlights are Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino (Jan. 23-31, 2015); Gluck’s Alceste in a new production by the masterful Pier Luigi Pizzi (March 20-28); Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans (June 19-27) and generous offerings throughout the season of Bellini, Donizetti, Puccini and Verdi.

[This is an item because Cecilia Bartoli keeps complaining that the Italians are not interested in the Baroque.]


Though it happened a long time ago, I want to apologize for a mistake I made here.  Though Arizona and Texas are, New Mexico is not right to work.  This time I have looked it up.