Sunday, June 28, 2015

Resurrection in Sacramento

The Sacramento Philharmonic revival began last night with Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony Resurrection.  The entire season will use guest conductors, and at this first concert we had Andrew Grams, who will work also the concert October 17, 2016.

The concert began with a piece called Concerto Grosso by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  A concerto grosso usually is a piece with a group of soloists who alternate with a larger group of players.  I saw no hint of that in this performance.  The piece is all strings with a section for amateurs who play only open strings.  It didn't rise above pleasant.

But we weren't here for that.  We wanted Mahler 2, and we got it.  This was a dynamic, exciting performance of the piece which established Mahler as a composer.  We were close to the timpani and got the full effect.

A new thing for me happened when a cellist broke a string.  The whole concert paused after the first movement so he could replace it.  My favorite part, of course, is the Urlicht in the 4th movement, here sung beautifully by Kelly O'Connor.  The reception was loud and enthusiastic. 

The revived Sacramento Philharmonic was said to be working from a balanced budget.  This plus the return to standard repertoire is all very welcome.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Tomorrow is the open air concert from Munich on starring Jonas Kaufmann and Anna Netrebko.

Bayerische Staatsoper TV has dropped Peleas and Melisande from its schedule and added Arabella.  I assume this is because I wanted to see Harteros in Arabella.  To make me happy.  I have changed the performance calendar to reflect this.  The live performance is sold out.

When Pereira was Intendant in Salzburg, he wouldn't allow any revivals.  Everything had to be new.  So now two of the revivals, Cecilia Bartoli's Norma and Netrebko's Il Trovatore, are sold out.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Le Nozze di Figaro

Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Robin Guarino

Figaro: Philippe Sly (bass)
Susanna: Lisette Oropesa (soprano)
Countess Almaviva: Nadine Sierra (soprano)
Cherubino: Kate Lindsey (soprano)
Count Almaviva: Luca Pisaroni (bass)
Bartolo: John Del Carlo (bass)
Marcellina: Catherine Cook (soprano)
Basilio: Greg Fedderly (tenor)
Barbarina: Maria Valdes (soprano)

The San Francisco Opera has revived Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro yet again.  It's a very traditional production such as the just retired one from the Met.  Susanna accompanies "Voi che sapete" on the guitar. Stuff like that.

I went for the very fine cast.  Some of the cast members are repeats from the last time:  John Del Carlo, Catherine Cook and Greg Fedderly.  Of the younger cast members Luca Pisaroni has moved to the elder statesman Count role.  The singing for everyone was excellent.

I think this version is designed around the Susanna of Lisette Oropesa, she who runs marathons.  There is a lot of athletic activity.  Cherubino doesn't just hide behind the chair--he runs wildly around the stage, even turning a cartwheel.  Susanna and Figaro wrestle around in the garden, and she does a martial arts throw at one point, sending him over on his ass.  Philippe Sly's Figaro is up to the task.

It's interesting that while the production is the same as last time, the directing is completely different.  It was designed for the maximum amount of confusion, at least for me.  Perhaps I should consider not trying to follow the plot.

The tempos were brisk but I did not witness the loss of coordination reported elsewhere.


Dmitri Hvorostovsky, my absolutely favorite baritone, has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  We are all thinking good thoughts.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Semiramide CD

My first encounter with Anna Bonitatibus was in 2005 in Zurich where she sang Sesto in Giulio Cesare. From that day to this I have admired her work.

And now comes this amazing CD titled Semiramide.  Until the moment it appeared I had no idea this character appeared in so many operas.  She is a legendary Assyrian figure, sometimes an Amazon, sometimes a queen, perhaps real, perhaps only a legend.  The selection of pieces covers the history of Italian opera, from Caldara to Manuel Garcia the elder, all are masterfully presented by this great singer.  It is good enough to win the Opera Award for CD operatic recital.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


I am presently reading Beethoven: the Man Revealed by John Suchet.

It is very pleasing to read about such a chaotic life.  He lived in his passions as few great men have.  While Mozart obsessed over his clothing, Beethoven repulsed his long time patron because he wanted Beethoven to play the piano at a dinner.  "There have been and will always be thousands of princes.  There is only one Beethoven."

He had no one to empty his chamber pot or wash his dishes.  In the midst of this chaos he wrote his greatest masterpieces.  We are told about his diarrhea and other digestive difficulties, but never is it suggested that the lack of cleanliness in his environment might be a cause.

He told his opinions out loud.  There is a painting showing him snubbing the Austrian Emperor.  Goethe is shown doffing his hat and bowing, while Beethoven marches on. Notice that the Emperor, the man with his back to us, doffs his hat to Goethe, too.

In Beethoven's life there are mysteries to be solved.  What caused his deafness?  How many people did he completely piss off?  And most mysterious of all:  who was the Immortal Beloved?  We learn that there was a woman who looked very much like Beethoven and was the child of one of the candidates.  There are letters in attics and fun things like that. Any biographer must present a candidate.  In this case two are presented.

The author is always telegraphing what is coming next.  Oh, this next thing is really terrible.  Stuff like that.  It's an easy read.

I love very much the description of him composing the tenor aria from Fidelio.  It is just as it should be.  I think with Beethoven his music and his soul are one.  His volatile emotions are everywhere to be heard in the music.


This picture of the Music Director of the Chicago Symphony appeared today on Riccardo Muti's Facebook page:

And maybe this would make a good opera blog logo:

This, of course, is Carmen.

Monday, June 15, 2015

La Ciociara

Composer: Marco Tutino *
Libretto: Marco Tutino and Fabio Ceres *
Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Director: Francesca Zambello

Cesira: Anna Caterina Antonacci
Rosetta, Cesira's daughter: Sarah Shafer
Michele, a young intellectual: Dimitri Pittas *
Giovanni: Mark Delavan

First I want to get something off my chest.  When you put ciociara into Google translate, it comes back two women.  Now if you know any Italian at all, you know that two women is due donne.  Ciociara means a woman from Ciociaria, an area of Italy somewhere east of Rome.  Non e importante.

The opera La Ciociara by Marco Tutino makes every effort to keep this as Italian as possible.  He is assisted in this effort by the entire technical crew.  Films of Italy in WWII flash on the screen between scenes to provide us with a realistic context.  The main set of a bombed out building could be in any old Italian town, but successfully suggests Sant' Eufemia, a town in the region of Italy where the heroine Cesira is from.  She returns there when the invasion of Rome begins.

The uniforms of the various military groups--fascisti, Nazi, Moroccan, American and possibly English--look realistic.  Bombs explode.  This is an opera that will probably not survive any modernizing attempts since it is so firmly tied to a time and place.

There is also a definite effort to suggest Italian music, specifically Puccini, in the sound of the orchestra.  We find ourselves in a post romantic world, with perhaps more complex orchestration than Puccini, perhaps a bit of Strauss in the sound.  [On a second hearing I hear only vaguely modern movie music until about 3/4 of the way through when it definitely sounds like Puccini.]

This opera is firmly in the opera as tone poem school.  The orchestra plays through every scene change and creates a sense of a giant, atmospheric work of serious drama.  Luisotti conducts this marvelous tone poem masterfully.  It is very beautiful.

The most successful in the cast at suggesting a real Italian is Anna Catarina Antonacci, the only real Italian in the cast, at least I assume.  I think she has a beautiful figure which is only revealed on occasion.  Dimitri Pittas was very successful at creating a sympathetic hero.

But opera isn't like a movie soundtrack where the music heightens the story playing out before us.  In opera the emotion comes from the characters who are presented both theatrically and vocally.  We need for the action to pause at critical points to allow the characters to reveal their inner lives through singing. This is what leaves us so full of emotion when their fates are finally played out before us.  This is the heart and soul of opera and the reason why so few contemporary operas succeed in the long term.  Who is this person to him or her self and why should we care about them?  Singing is not merely a feature of the opera--it is the opera.

The story begins with bombing in Rome and extends until the successful allied invasion with all the accompanying violence of war.  I have only seen the dress rehearsal and cannot comment fully on the singing.  I will see a performance later in the week.

P.S.  I have difficulty understanding the modern idea that opera is supposed to be like real life and portray historical events.  This opera is too literally historical.

In the real opera performance Antonacci increased her intensity toward the end of the opera, creating a beautiful tension.   I didn't mind seeing it twice.

I have to comment on the standard criticism which has accompanied this opera.  People are complaining that they don't hear anything new.  New music must always sound new.  This is a very destructive idea.  If you listen to music of the past, one generation is only slightly different from the one before it.  Music moves forward in complexity for a while and then suddenly moves to simple.  More valid would be to discuss the music as revealed by itself.  With regard to this particular opera, only part of it successfully survived a second hearing.

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Fidelio" Beethoven's truth -- Jonas Kaufmann Interview

Die Presse, 26.05.2015
Wilhelm Sinkovicz

"Fidelio" Beethoven's truth

To discuss the challenge of a work such as "Fidelio" and how to do it justice, were Jonas Kaufmann (Florestan) [and Claus Guth (Director)] in discussion.

What is your experience with the role of Florestan? What makes the role difficult, uncomfortable, awkward?

Jonas Kaufmann: The role is short, but because of the great scene in the second act it is one of the most challenging roles in my Fach.  In the delicate final section many tenors have sung badly [?]. That is why I was rather cautious, when Helmut Rilling offered it to me for a series of concert performances at the Rheingau Music Festival, in the Stuttgart Liederhalle and the Beethoven Festival in Bonn. But to my great joy my voice in the thorny places did not close, but went on more and more. That is now already 13 years ago.

Beethoven is widely recognized as a composer who has written quite instrumentally for voices.

"He understood nothing about voices," is often said tersely. However, who could argue that an emotionally extreme situation can just be sung easily?  Florestan's vision of the guardian angel - "To freedom, to freedom, to the heavenly kingdom" - and the ever-higher spiraling phrases "Et vitam venturi" the choir sopranos in the "Missa solemnis" have in my opinion one thing in common: Here is the means of "despair through unsingableness" part of the concept.  Not to mention the great aria of Leonore in the original version:  This is the most difficult dramatic coloratura! The changes that Beethoven made to this aria were clearly due to theater practice.

The discrepancy between the fact that here is represented a long-standing imprisoned man who, however, has to deal with a very exhausting aria at the beginning of the second act - how does one deal with it?

It's like all extreme situations on stage: You have to be in full command of your vocal and musical means to make these situations and characters work. Florestan "Gott! ! Welch Dunkel hier "is just not realism, but opera reality: Not the physical decay should be heard here, but the state of mind of the desperate, his ecstatic vision of salvation and liberation. Likewise, the first sound of this scene, the coming out of nowhere, ever more urgent and expectant of the outcry "Gott!" of the tormented soul - requires not just a naturalistic, but a musical outcry, that requires the most technical control of the voice.  I do not know how many times I worked on this crescendo. Anyway, it took a long time until it sounded as I imagined it. Only the audience with such phrases should not think: "Wow, how he can do that!" But always feel with the depicted person.  And that is the great challenge in our profession:  slip fully into a character and yet always have control over what you do as a singer and performer. Karajan called it "controlled ecstasy".

How do you divide your tasks throughout the year - are there roles that you sing to relax the voice between the more dramatic ones?

Basically, I make sure that I create my repertoire in as versatile a way as possible: opera and song, Wagner and Verdi, Massenet and Strauss, dramatic and less dramatic. That keeps me flexible in every respect, linguistically, stylistically, musically and vocally. Even within my concerts I look for a good mix. For example, in my tour with the tenor hits by Richard Tauber and Joseph Schmidt: Instead of the whole "Puccini Lehár" of " Dein ist mein ganzes Herz " to " Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert " to smash one after the other, I have sung pieces between that require very intimate, tender and soft sounds,  such as " Schatz, ich bitt dich, komm heut’ Nacht " or " Frag nicht, warum ich gehe."  You cannot belt these out into the audience, and that's why I used a microphone for these chanson-like evergreens.  This does not necessarily mean that the quiet parts are lighter than the "Puccini Lehár". Easy Listening, yes - but not necessarily Easy Singing! But the mixture of different pieces keeps the voice supple, I am convinced.

[I have translated only the part of the interview with Jonas.]

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Two Women Dress Rehearsal


I went to the dress rehearsal of Two Women at the San Francisco Opera, and you should try to experience this for yourself.  Above is the main cast enjoying San Francisco together.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Ravel and Falla at the San Francisco Symphony

I went to the San Francisco Symphony last night to hear:

Charles Dutoit conductor

Ravel Alborado del gracioso 

Falla Nights in the Gardens of Spain
       Javier Perianes piano

Ravel L’Heure espagnole

  • Isabel Leonard mezzo-soprano (ConcepciĂłn)
  • Jean-Paul FouchĂ©court tenor (Torquemada)
  • John Mark Ainsley tenor (Gonzalve, a student poet)
  • Jean-Luc Ballestra baritone (Ramiro)
  • David Wilson-Johnson baritone (Don Iñigo Gomez)
Dutoit is a Swiss gentleman who specializes in French Music, in this case Maurice Ravel.  The orchestra was large, including 7 percussionists for both Ravel pieces, but not huge.  This concert is for those who love the true and the faux Spanish in classical music.  Ravel liked very much to aim for non-French ethnicity, and not always in pieces with orchestra.  It seems to work pretty well in these pieces.

Sandwiched in the middle is the real Spanish piece by Manuel de Falla.  It had an impressionist sound very much like the pieces that surrounded it.  I've never seen it played before and was somewhat confused by the arrangement of players that put a grand piano in front as though it were a piano concerto, and then presented a piece where the piano is only marginally an individual voice.  Most of the time you couldn't hear him.  Then the pianist came out and played an encore.  I don't know what it was.  The encore wasn't very loud either.

I came for L’Heure espagnole which I had only heard before in piano accompaniment.  It was a lovely piece, beautifully played and sung, but with a few odd features.  Such a big, completely exposed orchestra dominated the singers more than I prefer.  

There were surtitles.  I think perhaps an unstaged opera, well almost unstaged, should not have this, particularly when the words we are seeing tell us this is a slapstick comedy with lots of sight gags and nonsense.  I suppose the orchestra is too large to attempt more serious staging.

The singers all seemed well suited to the French music.  I might like to experience this on a real stage, but it would be necessary to pair it with another opera, perhaps L'enfant et les sortilèges.  It could even use these same singers.