Friday, July 31, 2015

Manon Lescaut from Munich

Conductor: Alain Altinoglu
Production: Hans Neuenfels

Manon Lescaut: Kristine Opolais (soprano)
Lescaut: Markus Eiche Il (baritone)
Cavaliere Renato Des Grieux: Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Geronte di Ravoir: Roland Bracht (bass)

I didn't mind the production as much as I thought I would.  All that starkness only serves to emphasize how spectacularly wonderful the music was--the conducting, the orchestra, the soloists, Kristine and the ever more wonderful Jonas Kaufmann.  Thank you for bringing me what I wanted.  And thank you for making it even more magnificent than I imagined.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

More about Lulu

People get the idea that opera is a serious medium. If you don't present serious ideas in meaningful productions, what is the excuse for it?

Lulu is an opera that is difficult to interpret. Lulu is woman, but what is woman? Must I turn it into a feminist manifesto? Or can I present it as itself and let the chips fall where they may?

Does Lulu merely stand at the center of her life while fantasizing about dancing, as in the Hannigan production?  Does she maintain her innocence in the midst of other people's expectations?  Does her sexuality exist only in other people's imaginations?

In the West Edge Lulu she adorns herself in seductive, sensual garments, sometimes consisting only of underwear, sometimes of nothing at all.  Her hair changes.  It's big, it's little, it's a blond fro or it hangs down.  It changes to red and then mousy brown.

I noticed in this production, which I had certainly not noticed before, that her constant costume and wig changes were assisted by a small woman who hovered in almost every scene.  I thought that this was just something that fit the production.  She needed help so they gave her some.  Then I went to Wikipedia and was browsing through the cast list where I saw...

A theatrical dresser, contralto

Oh.  Revise.  I didn't notice that she said anything.  The light bulb went on.  The seductive trappings are the explanation for everything.  Perhaps the dresser was originally intended for the scene concerning Lulu's theatrical career, but suddenly it pervaded most of the opera.

This is the real Lulu, the woman whose sexual encounters are not seeming coincidences, but are the result of erotic intention.  At one spot she masturbates while exclaiming her notes as though they were real sex sounds.

At the end she turns into a middle-aged drab.  A drab who somehow recalls her previous life enough to allow her to be a prostitute.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Porn at the Opera

The presence of more or less pornographic activity at the opera seems to be on the increase.
  • Giulio Cesare from Salzburg -- f**king
  • La Ciociara from San Francisco -- rape
  • Alcina from Aix -- f**king
  • Lulu from Oakland -- f**king, nudity and (what's left?) m***.  May have been a first for me.
  • William Tell from London -- rape
  • Le Nozze di Figaro from Salzburg -- f**king.  What?
The past few months it seems to be everywhere.

Now in Lulu it only seems suitable.  If you are searching for "Who is Lulu," rampant sexuality is most likely the answer.  During the West Edge Opera performance, the idea that Lulu's identity remained unknown never occurred to me.

In the other places it may possibly be a substitute for more subtle skills and ideas.  What makes war so terrible?  People die and women get raped. In La Ciociara this message was blunted when a rape was thrown in for no particular reason at the beginning of the opera.

Let's hope it isn't a trend.

Monday, July 27, 2015

As One

Music Director/Conductor Bryan Nies

Hannah Before: Dan Kempson
Hannah After: Brenda Patterson

Sunday's West Edge Opera presentation was As One by Laura Kaminsky, libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed.  This opera premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music in September 2014 so this was only the west coast premiere.

This is an opera for today.  I mean literally today.  I think possibly they decided to present it before it became so very timely.  It is about one person's transgender identity and retraces a life from about 12 years old.

It is theatrically very creative.  A single individual is presented as two characters--one male and one female.  When the story begins, primarily the male personality sings.  They alternate, and in the end only the female is featured.  Both stay present on the stage throughout.  I might have preferred more duets.

Nothing specific is ever said.  No names and generally no place names either.  We move with them to what sounds like the Bay Area after high school, until an almost violent incident occurs.  "What are you?" is asked.

This is followed by moving to an isolated area in Norway for intense introspection and meditation combined with searching for the northern lights.  There is much anguish and much failure to see the storied lights.  Finally a breakthrough occurs, and the northern lights are seen.  "I sent everyone my new name."

It's most like a first person novel.  There are no other singing roles, but situations are created with silent actors.  A group of girls laugh.

I didn't know how I would react to this, but in the end I felt it worked well theatrically, especially considering what a difficult subject it is.  The room was very hot.  Instead of an orchestra, the piece was accompanied by a string quartet.  The text was clipped and choppy with little help from the music in achieving any lyricism.

Lulu from West Edge

Dr. Schoen & Lulu
Music Director and Conductor: Jonathan Khuner
Stage Director: Elkhanah Pulitzer

Lulu: Emma McNairy (soprano)
Dr. Schoen/Jack the Ripper: Philip Skinner (baritone)
Alwa, Dr. Schön’s Son, a composer: Alex Boyer (tenor)
Countess Geschwitz: Buffy Baggott (mezzo-soprano)
Wardrobe Assistant/Schoolboy/Groom: Erin Neff
Schigolch: Bojan Knezovic (bass)
The Athlete: Zachary Altman
Painter/Journalist/African: Michael Jankosky (tenor)
Prince/Servant/Marquis: Joseph Meyers

Saturday night was the opening of Berg's Lulu from the West Edge Opera.  It was presented in the abandoned train station near the tracks in Oakland and was in German. 

It could be said that I have been in search of Lulu (see Barbara Hannigan review, see Christine Schaefer review).  Perhaps Lulu is woman, at least woman from a man's perspective.  Occasionally different productions play out the story a bit differently.  In Barbara Hannigan's Lulu I clearly thought that Dr. Schoen wanted Lulu to shoot him, but clearly in this version he wants her to shoot herself so he will not have to go to prison for her death.  She shoots him instead.  Maybe I should watch it again.

West Edge can be very proud of this Lulu.  They held back nothing.  The sexual intensity up to the time Lulu is arrested for murdering Dr. Schoen is spectacular and includes many sexual encounters. Emma McNairy is a brave and talented young woman.  Philip Skinner has a Bay Area following.

Lulu has so many costume changes that she is assigned a dresser who follows her about the stage. When I look in Wikipedia, I see the dresser listed as a character.  Perhaps the ones I've seen don't feature all these different looks.

It was extremely well done, but nevertheless with some problems.  The severely reduced orchestra seemed to work well in the parts of the score that are by Berg, but seemed fairly uninteresting in the last two scenes which were orchestrated entirely by Friedrich Cerha.  After her time in jail, Lulu seems to acquire maturity.

Lulu is growing on me.  I am gradually coming to the feeling that it is a 20th century masterpiece.  Forgive me if I am slow in arriving at this opinion.  This particular one is spectacular.

Don't miss this.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Net worth of Netrebko

Here is an article from about Anna Netrebko.

Famous Russian operatic singer Anna Netrebko a really high-earning career. Her salary per show is about €15,000 ($16,000). Netrebko has a total net worth of approximately $6 million as of 2015. Enough to buy herself a luxurious apartments in New York, Vienna, and Saint Petersburg. That’s what we call an interesting real estate portfolio!

Friday, July 17, 2015


I just caught on Joyce DiDonato with Esa-Pekka Salonen at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland.  They performed the Berlioz Les Nuit d'ete.   There was a sense of personal originality in Joyce's interpretation that I liked very much.  Vous le vous allez au pay des amours?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Bluebeard's Castle in HD

Nadja Michael and Mikhail Petrenko

I have finally seen the Bartok Bluebeard's Castle that was paired with Iolanta simulcast from the Metropolitan Opera on Valentine's Day.  I didn't feel they made a good pairing and felt I might enjoy Bluebeard by itself.  This seems to have been wise.  This is my fourth time with this opera since I started blogging (see here, here and here).

Opera Overload

Help.  I just can't do it all. Things that went on this weekend:

  1. Carmen streamed from Orange with Jonas Kaufmann.  I might still be able to watch this in delay on

  2. Arabella with Anja Harteros streamed from Munich.  The streams from Munich are a one time shot, so I watched it.  It was the best choice in my opinion.  Harteros brought her fully into modern life IMHO.

  3. Alcina with Philippe Jaroussky was supposed to stream on the Opera Platform but came up :(.  They apologized but is that enough?  I might be able to find an alternate source for this.

  4. PBS ran the Iolanta/Bluebeard in the middle of the night.  I DVRd it and watched Iolanta again.  I need to see Bluebeard's Castle for the first time and must set aside a time for it.

Occasionally I should get up and go outside.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Jon Vickers (October 29, 1926 – July 10, 2015)

In 2006 I wrote this about Jon Vickers:

"One is supposed to adore Nilsson, the incomparable Wagnerian soprano, the incomparable Isolde, and she is all that, but it is Jan Vickers that most impresses here. This is a Tristan to die for. He has the knife edge of the Heldentenor to its Nth degree, but he also has soul, a tragic beauty of phrasing that is simply not to be missed."

Here are the best bits:

Saturday, July 11, 2015


Conductor:  Philippe Jordan
Production:  Andreas Dresen

Graf Waldner:  Kurt Rydl
Adelaide:  Doris Soffel
Arabella:  Anja Harteros
Zdenka:  Hanna-Elisabeth Müller
Mandryka:  Thomas J. Mayer
Matteo:  Joseph Kaiser

I'm not sure Strauss' Arabella, streamed live today from the Bayerische Staatsoper, is a great opera.  I'm not sure it matters.  The plot is a bit dicey.  Broke family has two daughters.  To prevent the expense of marrying two daughters, the younger daughter pretends to be a boy.  Complications ensue.

I am truly astounded by the contrast between the Arabella of Renée Fleming, reviewed here, and the Arabella of Anja Harteros.  With Renée it's all in the details, and it can be awkward when the other singers don't follow her lead.

With Harteros it's all in the big picture.  She is in the midst of her colleagues and is always stylistically with them.  It is the sheer scope of her musical vision that separates her from the crowd.  The emotions are large, extending out into the universe.  In general this was Strauss as Wagner.  Big tone.  Excessively big in my opinion.  They brag about how many microphones they have, so balance the orchestra a bit smaller, please.

Thomas J. Mayer was pleasingly rough without becoming violent.  His voice is showing some wear.  The one I would worry about is Zdenka.  Matteo could go postal.

Europeans are accustomed to architectural stage settings by now.  Giant staircases are a common theme.  For me the ending with the giant staircase completely worked.  Arabella and Mandryka in this vision are a bomb waiting to explode.  I'm not sure Mandryka deserves her, but she will bring him an exciting life.  She walks slowly down the long staircase holding her drink and then throws it in his face.  I enjoy Harteros for the power of her phrasing and the power of her acting.

The best opera makes you care about the characters.  Their lives become your life.  There are many paths leading to this conclusion.  For me this was one.

Sempre Libera

No offense, Natalie.  Viva Lisette.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

La Traviata HD Rerun

Conductor....................Fabio Luisi
Production...................Willy Decker
Violetta.....................Natalie Dessay (soprano)
Alfredo......................Matthew Polenzani
Germont....................Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Flora........................Patricia Risley

Parts (or all) of this HD film of Verdi's La Traviata from the Metropolitan Opera are different from the live broadcast in 2012 where Natalie cracked one of her notes.   This version contained no disasters, but did show a certain amount of fatigue in her voice.  It is possible that Violetta is too heavy for Natalie.  It is also possible that she is simply showing the effects of aging.  (I read in the earlier post that Natalie had a cold during the run.)  Natalie is an extraordinary operatic performer who brings considerable acting talents to this role.  It was a pleasure.  I was glad I came back.  For the best Dessay see next weeks Daughter of the Regiment.

I learned from on line comments that I was correct in thinking that there was more music in Act II than I was used to hearing.  The role of Germont was filled out with pieces that are usually cut, no doubt to give us more of Dmitri Hvorostovsky who is wonderful here.  His Germont is a bit of a bully.

I'm not sure why, but I love this production.  The focus is on the inner life of Violetta and not the outer life of the characters.  I am attracted to its simplicity.

Saturday, July 04, 2015


Last night over 30,000 people went to the ballpark to see the simulcast of Le Nozze di Figaro from the San Francisco Opera.  You can see all the comments with #FigaroSF.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Why Do We Go to the Opera?

Conductor: Donald Runnicles
Production: David McVicar

Cassandra: Anna Caterina Antonacci
Aeneas: Bryan Hymel *
Coroebus: Brian Mulligan

Dido: Susan Graham
Aeneas: Bryan Hymel
Anna: Sasha Cooke
Narbal: Christian Van Horn

For this, oh yes, for this.

Hector Berlioz' Les Troyens was a work of love.  Virgil's Aenead was one of his favorite things from childhood.  You can tell this because he composes everything.  He can't bear to leave anything out.  He didn't seem to care how hard it was to get such a long opera produced.