Friday, November 28, 2014

Cecilia's Contract Extended to 2021

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

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

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Warning! Modern Music!

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


'Burnt Toast':

Soap operas by Alexina Louie and Dan Redican.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Christmas Presents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 24, 2014


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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Il Barbiere di Siviglia in HD

Conductor: Michele Mariotti
Production: Bartlett Sher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

La Bohèmes I have Known

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

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

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

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

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

The singing was very nice indeed.

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

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

Saturday, March 24, 2007Opera SW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Festival of New American Music

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

November 10

Michael Norsworthy, clarinet
David Gompper, piano

I attended performances of:

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

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

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

November 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 16

Glass & Blood
Chase Spruill, violin
Michael Riesman, piano

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

I stayed for

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

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

Candyman is serious horror, and the music expresses it.

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

I should have stayed for Suite from Dracula.

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

There was no singing in any of these concerts.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

Diction Police

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2005 I wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Gian Carlo Menotti

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

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Leonard Bernstein

Johannes Brahms

Franz Liszt

Richard Strauss

Robert Schumann

Antonio Vivaldi

Frederic Chopin

Vicenzo Bellini

Richard Wagner

Kaija Saariaho

Computer generated Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Gustav Mahler

Pictures of Manon Lescaut

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Another Cinderella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Joyce at Carnegie Hall

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

Antonio Vivaldi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Carnegie Hall:  Good choice.

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

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

Monday, November 03, 2014

Netrebko Drops Out

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

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

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

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

Netrebko has agreed to sing Tatiana for them next summer.

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

Saturday, November 01, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

Our theater was pretty crowded.

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

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

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