Tuesday, August 25, 2015


It is important to notice that Dmitri Hvorostovsky is still listed for Il Trovatore at the Met this fall.  The formal announcement has been made.  Dmitri will sing in three performances, including the simulcast on October 3.  Then he will return to London for more treatments.  Best wishes and good health in the future.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Interview with Jonas Kaufmann

Kleine Zeitung, July 26, 2015  [My usual translation.  I apologize that there is no link.]


He is one of the big stars of this year's Salzburg Festival. On August 4, Janas Kaufmann will premiere as Florestan in "Fidelio".

For fans in September there will be a special gift, namely the new CD "Nessun dorma - The Puccini Album" - recorded in Rome. You sang this repertoire recently at La Scala Milan. This was sort of a special appearance? 

Jonas Kaufmann: I had promised to sing "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacci" at La Scala. But my schedule is too full. I had to cancel. This concert was a sort of reparation.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

La Scala di Seta

Conductor:  Gabriele Ferro 

I decided to watch my DVD of Rossini's La Scala di Seta which I bought years ago from House of Opera.  I bought it because it featured a young Cecilia Bartoli (she is 22) singing in Bologna.  I think I put off watching it because there were no subtitles, and it's very wordy.  The sound is good, but the picture is blurry.

The music is charming but contains no surprises.  Rossini was only 20 when he wrote this.  In my list of Rossini operas this is the earliest.

The staging is astonishingly formal.  They stand in formation like something from the eighteenth century.  The versions on YouTube are staged in a much more modern way.  There is a bed which they get on every once in a while.

Cecilia is herself.  Despite the formality, when her beau expresses an interest in her, she drags him behind the screen and starts pulling his clothes off.  The guardian throws her onto the floor.  She rolls her R's as one expects. The main soprano is Luciana Serra.

There is no explanation for the plot.  A young woman lives with a guardian who wants her to marry his favorite.  Meanwhile she is already married to someone else whom she lets in and out of her bedroom using a silk ladder.  Why not just tell the guardian his services are no longer required?  This is too modern a perspective, I suppose.

The audience likes everything.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Last night I put on my dashiki and my wrist bands and set out to see Hair (also called Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical) at the Sacramento Music Circus.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Poliuto from Glyndebourne

I'm glad I saw Donizetti's Poliuto from Glyndebourne.  It sounds mysteriously like Verdi only not as good.  Nothing is ready to become a hit tune.

Paolina:  Ana María Martínez
Poliuto:  Michael Fabiano

The weight of this very heavy opera is carried by these two singers.  Both of them shined very brightly.  I was particularly happy to see Michael in a role that truly showed off his voice.  It was an excellent performance of a pretty monotonous opera.  Lots of percussion.

The plot is that they are Christian martyrs in the time of the Roman empire.  Not surprisingly, it was censored in Italy.

This is a complex story about love, faith, country, loyalty and oh so many things.  The music emphasizes almost exclusively the anger, betrayal, disloyalty parts of the story, saving the softer parts for a bit at the end.  It didn't attract me.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

New People

People I heard for the first time this year.  The first is Angel Blue.  She is the real deal.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

West Side

Last week I went to the Music Circus to see Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story.  I only remember seeing the movie before.  It's another show with lots of dancing.  The director and choreographer was Jerome Robbins.

Tony:  Justin Matthew Sargent
Maria:  Carolann M. Sanita
Bernardo:  German Alexander
Anita:  Desireé Davar,

Everything is very heavily miked which I'm not used to.  There are no supertitles, and since it's theater in the round, they are frequently facing away from you.  The pace is frantic and intense which I think people who enjoy musicals like.  St. Louis does opera in the round but with supertitles.

I was discussing this with my neighbor who said she saw it with a friend that is Puerto Rican.  Her friend complained about the clothing and the accents.  Puerto Ricans don't actually wear red and black all the time.

I feel it is important to explain this.  Theater and reality are two widely different things.  In real life people just wear what they wear and look the way they look.  If you are old enough to have lived in New York at the time--it premiered in 1957--you might know what people looked like in that time and place.  I vaguely recall button down collars, petticoats.  The purpose for putting them in consistently colored clothing isn't to accurately portray them--it is to clearly differentiate them from the New York kids in the rival gang who wore oddly pastel clothes.  When I go to a show, I don't like to be spending my time trying to figure out who each person is.  That's what the production is for.

The way the production looks is how the story is told.  One group runs quickly off the stage and is replaced by another.  "Who are these people?" is a question that should be instantly answered.  I always remember the Aida in Rome where the principals and the chorus all wore similarly designed outfits.  Which one is Radames?  Constant puzzlement is not a desirable quality in a production.

A theater production isn't trying to be a movie, although the use of films as background is increasing.

Fidelio from Salzburg

Franz Welser-Möst musical direction
Claus Guth stage director

Jonas Kaufmann (Florestan)
Adrianne Pieczonka (Leonore)
Sebastian Holecek (Don Fernando)
Tomasz Konieczny (Don Pizarro)
Hans-Peter König (Rocco)
Olga Bezsmertna (Marzelline)
Norbert Ernst (Jaquino)

I watched the live stream of Fidelio from the Salzburg Festival today.  Perhaps it's best to talk about the music first.   Jonas Kaufmann as Florestan and Adrianne Pieczonka as Leonore were great, perfectly cast in their roles.  Hans-Peter König was familiar for his Hunding in the Met Ring, and Tomasz Konieczny was previously seen as Jack Rance in Girl of the Golden West.  I liked this cast very much.  This was probably the most beautiful canon quartet I have heard.

Leonore #3 overture was played between the two scenes of the second act.  It was probably necessary to accommodate the set change.  The orchestra received the biggest applause of the performance here.  This is the most I have liked Franz Welser-Möst.

The production.  All the spoken dialog was left out.  Where the dialog would have gone were extended periods of strange sounds:  wind, people breathing, the heart monitor going to the death sound, etc.  This had the effect of making the whole thing much more serious.  I didn't mind this.  I missed "Ich habe Mut und Kraft."  But that's about it.  But if you truly love Fidelio, you don't want it changed.

There were two acting only characters:  Paul Lorenger (Shadow Pizarro) and Nadia Kichler (Fantôme de Léonore).  The Fantôme de Léonore seemed to be one of those people who mime the dialog for the deaf.  I don't know enough sign language to tell if this is true.  Perhaps that's where the dialog went.

Florestan seems to have been driven mad by his imprisonment.  Loud noises and Leonore frighten him.  He collapses at the end.  Perhaps he has died.  He needs to be taken somewhere quiet to help recover from his PTSD.  In the picture above Leonore thinks perhaps he needs a drink. 

I think this production suggests that Fidelio might be successfully presented as a more serious opera, but I reject absolutely that it should have an unhappy ending.  "Die Liebe wird's erreichen. [Love will make it happen.]"  This is what it's about.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


Dmitri Hvorostovsky had his last radiation therapy session today. We can only hope that he's all better now.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Anna Netrebko at Salzburg

This is interesting.  It's from stol.it, news for south Tirol.  It is a completely over the top review of Il Trovatore from the Salzburg Festival.  The best parts are here:

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Downton Abbey Figaro

Today from the Salzburg Festspiele was the Downton Abbey Le Nozze di Figaro. Susannah and Figaro were Anna and Bates, of course. Marcellina was the Duchess. Hugh and Cora never seem to quarrel but they are the Count and Countess Almaviva anyway. Susannah very very quickly snuck in a Nazi salute when she spotted Cherubino in a uniform. What was that about?

As I get older I realize that I understand more and more of the big three languages of opera--French, German and Italian--so I did not mind that there were no subtitles. Maybe I should try this more often.

This is the perfect Figaro.  I have never openly sobbed for Figaro before.  For the singing.  For the playing.  For the conducting.  And most especially for the spectacular production and the absolutely perfect staging of the final scene.  I'm very fussy about this, you may have guessed. We got to see the Countess's riding outfit hanging in her room and were very pleased to see it appear at the end on Susannah.  The countess wears Susannah's wedding outfit all the way to the end.  Luca looks truly sorry.  When it looked as though the Countess would be left alone while everyone was happy, I simply could not bear it.

Figaro waves around a gun, but does not shoot it.  Apparently in other parts of the world people can hold guns without firing them.

Such a perfect Figaro could only come from Salzburg.  

Dan Ettinger musical direction
Sven-Eric Bechtolf stage director

Luca Pisaroni (Conte Almaviva)
Anett Fritsch (Contessa Almaviva)
Martina Janková (Susanna)
Adam Plachetka (Figaro)
Margarita Gritskova (Cherubino)
Ann Murray (Marcellina)
Carlos Chausson (Don Bartolo)

Footnote.  I have one complaint.  I realize that all around us sex is happening.  However, I would prefer that this was left to my imagination.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Blackface and Otello

Otello and Iago.

Above are General Otello and his Ensign Iago from the original production of Verdi's Otello. Their complexions look rather similar while the hair is very different.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Norma at Salzburg

Cecilia's Norma which originally played at the Salzburg Festival in 2013 is creating a sensation in its revival this season.  My review here.

Tommasini reported for the New York Times.

An Austrian newspaper called it Wunder-Norma.

It seems to be universally regarded as a triumph.  It's good to see everyone on board.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

My current top 14

Angela Gheorghiu
Anna Netrebko
Renée Fleming
Nina Stemme
Anja Harteros

Cecilia Bartoli
Elina Garanča
Joyce DiDonato

Jonas Kaufmann
Juan Diego Florez
Piotr Beczala

Željko Lučić
René Pape
Dmitri Hvorostovsky

It's been a couple of years since Limelight named their top 12 singers, and I feel it's time for a new list.  There have been a few changes.  Natalie Dessay seems to be retired from opera and is focusing on song repertoire.  We can't rank Placido Domingo among the tenors any more, and he doesn't really rank that high as a baritone.  For me Bryn Terfel isn't singing up to his former standard, though I caught part of his Dutchman and found it rather good.

To qualify for this list the artist must be performing now and be rated according to their current performing standard.

People who should also be considered are:

Mariusz Kwiecien
Simon Keenlyside
Ildar Abdrazakov
Javier Camarena
Michael Fabiano
Lawrence Brownlee

Argue amongst yourselves.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria

Music Director: Gilbert Martinez
Stage Director: Mark Streshinsky

Ulysses: Nikolas Nackley
Penelope: Sara Couden
Minerva: Kindra Scharich
Telemaco: Johanna Bronk
Eumete: Michael Desnoyers
Iro: Ted Zoldan
Antinoo/Neptune: Aaron Sorensen
Anfinomo: Jonathan Smucker
Pisandro/Jupiter: Gary Ruschman
Melanto: Charlotte Goupille-Lebret

Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria was presented at the old American Steel Works in Oakland which has been converted into an artists' studio, represented by the giant Buddha sculpture above.  The opera was sung in Italian.  I believe it was cut down from the original length.  There is so much to write about I'd better get started.

In English the title means The return of Ulysses to his homeland.  Ulysses is also called Odysseus.  He spent 10 years in Troy where he most famously invented the Trojan Horse.  Then he spent another 10 years wandering throughout the Mediterranean.  These journeys home to Ithaca are called The Odyssey, and it is the very end of The Odyssey which is the subject of this opera.

There was a self-conscious effort to reproduce the original instrumentation for this work.  Apparently we now know exactly who played because in Venice there are payment records for the musicians.  The performance used two violins, two violas, a viola da gamba, an Italian Baroque harp, a theorbo, two harpsichords and something called a director. It has a small keyboard with two bellows extending out the back.  It creates an organ like wheezing sound which was used exclusively to accompany the god Neptune.  When it was time to play it, Penelope's handmaiden Melanto would come out and operate the bellows.

This is what it looked like without the decorations, but Wikipedia calls it a Regal.

I enjoyed very much the sound of this orchestra.

An unlisted character in the form of a lamb hand-puppet appeared, first carried by the goddess Minerva and then by Ulysses' sheepherder friend Eumete.  The puppet reminded me of Lambchop, so when Eumete came over by my seat and held him up to me, I asked if he was Shari Lewis.  He went a bit out of character.

Ulysses returns first to visit his old friend Eumete.  An unusual theatrical device used the goddess Minerva to bring continuity.  She appears in almost all the scenes except for the ones where the suitors get together to plot.   Kindra Scharich, a beautiful singer, was Minerva.

While Ulysses is visiting with Eumete, Minerva brings his son Telemaco to meet his father riding on a red and white Vespa.  This was a highlight. 

In the end Ulysses kills all the suitors and his wife takes him back.

Monteverdi operas sound like nothing else in the world.  The ethereal effect is quite striking and moving.