Saturday, September 26, 2015

Hans Hotter

I am finishing my chapters on voice types and am seriously struggling with basses and bass-baritones.   And then I found this.

This example is like nothing else in the world.  It is a young (35?) Hans Hotter singing "Die Frist ist um" from the Flying Dutchman.  Jetzt verstehe ich alles.  You will listen to opera for 50 years as I have and never hear anything so glorious.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sweeney Todd

Conductor: Patrick Summers
Production Designer: Tanya McCallin *

Sweeney Todd: Brian Mulligan
Mrs. Lovett: Stephanie Blythe
Johanna: Heidi Stober
Beggar Woman: Elizabeth Futral
Anthony Hope: Elliot Madore *
Adolfo Pirelli: David Curry *
Tobias Ragg: Matthew Grills
Judge Turpin: Wayne Tigges
Beadle Bamford: AJ Glueckert

The great performers fund of the San Francisco Opera is accumulating money.  Gerald Finley who was supposed to sing here and Diana Damrau who was supposed to sing Lucia have both cancelled to be replaced by less expensive but still very fine singers.  My Brian Mulligan experiences have included an excellent Valentin in Faust, a very nice Marcello in La Boheme, and a less significant role in last season's magnificent Les Troyens.   He was everything you might want in a Sweeney Todd.  The entire cast is made up of excellent American singers.  The star of the evening was the very distinguished Stephanie Blythe.  Heidi Stober and Elizabeth Futral deserve special mention.

The way you tell what is an opera is by including all musical theater that can be performed by an opera company made up of opera singers and an opera orchestra.  Sondheim's Sweeney Todd qualifies.  This work has only recently seeped into the opera house where it can be heard with supertitles.  The libretto, also by Sondheim, is very wordy, and sung quickly with fake English accents.  Tough.  The real Brits Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel were much easier to understand.  The most fun part was the section where Todd and Lovett are describing the taste of the pies according to the profession of the victim.

I think this was a Sweeney Todd of very high quality, if you like that sort of thing.  As my fourth viewing, I found that I was growing tired of it.

Editorial comment:  the only excuse for doing a musical instead of real opera would be the filling of the seats.  This did not happen.

After the performance Patrick Summers received the San Francisco Opera medal.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

New Manager

The San Francisco Opera has announced its new manager, and he is Matthew Shilvock, an internal promotion.  At this point I am reminding myself that the great Kurt Herbert Adler was also an internal promotion.  However, Kurt Herbert was promoted from the artistic ranks.  Months were spent searching, and this is what we get.  Only one conclusion is possible.

I am trying very hard to be optimistic.  There can be no doubt that he will be able to manage the business parts of the company and the various functions he is now managing.  However, we are told not one tiny shred about his artistic vision for the company, the only thing that really matters.  If he has one, now would be a good time to start talking about it.

Perhaps I am becoming crotchety in my old age.

Met Opening

Three great singers--Renée Fleming, Anna Netrebko, Kathleen Battle.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

News Plus Sexiest

San Francisco Opera

Yet another singer is having some vocal difficulties which have resulted in cancellations.  I am very sorry that we will not get to hear Diana Damrau sing Lucia di Lammermoor.  She will be replaced by Nadine Sierra.

Tuesday, day after tomorrow, is the day when the new General Manager of the San Francisco Opera will be announced.  I will post it here as soon as I know.


And over at the Met

Here is an article I could have written myself:  The 8 Sexiest Stars at the Metropolitan Opera This Season.  Most have already appeared in my sexiest lists.  In order they are

  • Kristine Opolais (I gave her a whole page spread), 
  • Jonas Kaufmann (I've been listing him for years), 
  • Marlis Peterson who will sing Lulu, 
  • Roberto Alagna (I've been following him for a long time), 
  • Anna Netrebko (she was in my very first list), 
  • Vittorio Grigolo (Very fond of him), 
  • Isabel Leonard (called her fascinating), and 
  • Paolo Szot (I said a lot of nice things about him in The Nose but he hasn't appeared in any lists. Apologies.).  

Marlis Peterson is the only new entry for me.  We are reserving judgment.  Above is Paolo.

Friday, September 18, 2015


I'm sort of writing a book, and this is one of the chapters. It's intended as introductory but let me know if it is too hard.

The highest vocal Fach is the soprano.  Opera singers refer to their voice category as their Fach, the German term for category.  Vocabulary has crept in from Germany such as Sitzprobe, which translates to sitting rehearsal and means an unstaged rehearsal with orchestra.

A soprano must have a good high C.  After that they are broken down into categories:

Lyric Soprano
Coloratura Soprano
Spinto Soprano
Dramatic Soprano

I am now going to describe the sub-categories, but please be aware that the same singer may show up in different sub-categories.  I have tried in selecting these examples to make sure that the singer is actually of the suggested sub-category.


The term soubrette actually describes more than just the voice.  She has a light, high voice and plays young women.  Examples of soubrette roles are Zerlina in Don Giovanni (Mozart), Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier (R. Strauss), Lisette in La Rondine (Puccini), Sophie in Werther (Massenet), etc.  The women shown below embody all aspects of their Fach.  First is Kathleen Battle singing "Batti, batti, o bel Masetto" from Don Giovanni.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Luisa Miller

Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Production: Francesca Zambello

Luisa Miller: Leah Crocetto
Miller, her father: Vitaliy Bilyy * 
Rodolfo: Michael Fabiano
Count Walter, his father: Daniel Sumegi
Federica: Ekaterina Semenchuk (Marina to René Pape,'s Boris at the Met)
Wurm: Andrea Silvestrelli

I wish I liked Verdi's Luisa Miller, presented last night at the San Francisco Opera, but how can you like an opera where everyone is a shit?  The following rant has been curtailed as much as possible.

You know as well as I do that members of the ruling class are never permitted to marry commoners.  Absolutely not permitted.  The commoners also know this.  So Rodolfo goes sneaking around among the peasants disguised as one of them trying to pick up girls.  When the Duke in Rigoletto does the same thing, you know exactly what kind of a shit he is.

Rodolfo's father, Count Walter, wants him to marry Federica, a royal who is exactly the sort of person he should marry and would be permitted to marry.   She is OK.  Rodolfo threatens to tell that his father has murdered his uncle to become Count.  What a pair of jerks.

Count Walter has a sidekick named Wurm, which everyone knows is worm in German.  He is in love with Luisa, but instead of being sweet and respectful to her in an attempt to woo her, he drags her father off to jail.  He is a worm as well as a shit.

In order to get her father (he seems OK though nothing too great) out of jail Luisa writes a note saying she has never loved Rodolfo.  Rodolfo responds to this by poisoning her.

This is simply too many shits for one plot for me.  One prefers the bad guy to be just one baritone instead of two baritones and a tenor.  Verdi doesn't seem to be any too inspired by them either.  There are no hit tunes.  Go see Nabucco or Macbeth instead.  I sincerely apologize if you happen to like this opera.

The above is not a performance review.  You would want this for the singing.  Michael Fabiano is developing into a truly fabulous Verdi tenor with a gorgeous, even thrilling tone, though one can't help wishing he would sing something one liked.

Leah Crocetto is still someone I like very much with a big beautiful dramatic soprano voice full or warmth and intensity.  Could we hear her do a Leonora, perhaps?

Monday, September 14, 2015

David Gockley

The San Francisco Opera was very lucky to get David Gockley when he was stolen away from Houston Grand Opera in 2005. He succeeded the hugely controversial Pamela Rosenberg.  While she herself was American, her opera was distinctly European in flavor.  David is home grown.

A lot of things changed.

Immediately Pamela's hated logo, the word opera seen through a gash, was replaced by an asterisk that strongly resembles the ceiling fixture of the War Memorial Opera House.

After Pamela's virtually star free tenure, he promised us:
  • Renée Fleming--he delivered Lucretia Borgia in 2011.
  • Anna Netrebko--he delivered La Traviata in 2009.  Anna is a Merolini.
  • Thomas Hampson--he delivered in spades with Macbeth 2007, Heart of a Soldier 2011, and Un Ballo in Maschera 2014.
  • Dmitri Hvorostovsky--he delivered in Simon Boccanegra 2008 and Il Trovatore 2009.
  • Marcello Giordani--he delivered Aida 2010.
  • Ramón Vargas--he delivered L'Elizir d'amore 2008, Werther 2010, Mefistofele 2013 and Un Ballo in Maschera 2014.
  • Marcelo Alvarez--unhappily we missed him.
  • Juan Diego Flórez--La Fille de Regiment with the fabulous Diana Damrau 2009.
  • Ben Heppner--our Ben experiences are from before Pamela.
  • Natalie Dessay--he delivered in Lucia di Lammermoor 2008 and Tales of Hoffmann 2013.  These were her only appearances at San Francisco Opera.
  • Angela Gheorghiu--he delivered La Rondine 2007, La Boheme 2008 and Tosca 2012, 3 of her most famed roles.
This is an amazing record.  I should add here great singers who appeared under his leadership but were not in the original promised list:  Joyce DiDonato, Placido Domingo, Matthew Polenzani, Javier Camarena, Sondra Radvanovsky, Nina Stemme, Piotr Beczala, Mariusz Kwiecien, Ewa Podleś, etc.

He promised and delivered a Ring cycle of great distinction.  I'll never forget Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde.

The most controversial part of his tenure was his relationship to his musical director Donald Runnicles.  Gockley is a much more hands on Intendant than Rosenberg or perhaps even Mansouri before her.  Gockley likes to be very much involved in casting, and their were rumors that Runnicles felt he was moving into his territory.  The musical director isn't just in charge of the orchestra.  I have always felt that he was responsible for all the musical success or failure of a company.

I'm going to express my own opinions here.  Donald Runnicles is a very great conductor, but his greatness lies in German repertoire.  When Gockley presented his Ring, it was Runnicles who magnificently conducted it.  However, he did nothing to diminish the Verdi Curse which I have long identified.  For years it was practically guaranteed that any Verdi performance would be terrible.  Now under Nicola Luisotti, who began his tenure as Musical Director in 2009, that is behind us.  His Italian repertoire is top drawer.  Gockley gets credit for this.

Another of his gifts is the presenting of new operas.  During his tenure he premiered:

  • Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton’s Appomattox in 2007,
  • Stewart Wallace and Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter in 2008.
  • Christopher Theofanidis and Donna Di Novelli’s Heart of a Soldier in 2011.
  • Nolan Gasser and Carey Harrison’s The Secret Garden in 2013, 
  • Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene in 2013,
  • Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy’s Dolores Claiborne, based on the novel by Stephen King in 2013. 
  • Marco Tutino and Luca Rossi's La Ciociara summer of 2015.

Curiously I have reviewed all of these.  I especially loved Bonesetter, but I'm not sure any of these operas rises to greatness.  His influence seems to be in the direction of the ordinary.  Appomattox is being reworked in Washington to bring it more plot.

His record with new operas must be contrasted with that of Lotfi Mansouri who introduced Susa's  The Dangerous Liaisons, Wallace's Harvey Milk, Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire, Heggie's Dead Man Walking, and Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer.  This is a very distinguished set of new operas.  Each of them pushes on the boundaries.

In general it seems to me that David Gockley knows the opera world extremely well and knows how voices are to be paired with repertoire.  He recently fired someone because they were bad.  When did you hear that before?

It will be hard to replace him when his tenure ends in 2016, but the rumors for his replacement sound pretty good.

As a wish for the future, I would like to see a renewal of the days of Kurt Herbert Adler when significant European singers made their American debuts in San Francisco.  We could start with Maria Agresta.

I wish prosperity and long life to the San Francisco Opera.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Kaufmann at La Scala

I have been listening to interviews of Jonas Kaufmann after his concert at La Scala Milan.  He reports that after the last number there was 40 minutes of applause.  In Italy.  At La Scala.  For a German tenor singing Puccini.  What an amazing honor.  Congratulations, Herr Kaufmann.

Nessun dorma the CD has arrived, and I like it very much.  He has included at least one number from each of Puccini's operas except Suor Angelica.  That would be difficult.  Puccini always sounds like himself.

I generally prefer the live versions of Jonas, but this is excellent.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Netrebko will marry in December

This Austrian news source says:

Netrebko says Yes in Vienna: "We are getting married in December!"  Donna Anna tells her wedding day - and where their celebration of love takes place in Vienna.
After wild speculation in recent months of tabloid media, opera star Anna Netrebko (43)
reveals when and where her marriage with Yusif Eyvazov (38) will actually take place.

Wedding at the Belvedere Palace

In the issue that appears on Thursday the Russian edition of the magazine OK the dream couple
speaks in plain text:  On December 29 Donna Anna in Vienna at the Belvedere Palace will say the yes word to her YusifThe preparations for the big event in the magnificent premises are already in full swing.

"Meant to be"  The two opera singers announced their love in March 2014, and last summer Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov
celebrated their engagement at the Salzburg Festspiele. 

Yusif says:"We quickly realized that we are meant for each other."

He also takes care of moving to Netrebko's son Tiago (7) from his relationship with Erwin Schrott (42). "I consider him as my child," said Eyvazov in a COURIER interview in which he also revealed: "Of course we want more kids!"

But first Anna and Yusif will seal their luck in the presence of their loved ones who will arrive from Russia and Azerbaijan on December 29 at the Belvedere Palace to celebrate a great festival of love.

[I changed the picture because this one is more fun.  He's not wearing any socks.]

Thursday, September 03, 2015

New Releases

New releases from the Metropolitan Opera can be ordered from Amazon in the US, such as this wonderful Falstaff and Renée Fleming's definitive Rusalka.  This is a very distinguished Falstaff, both musically and theatrically. 

Everyone loves Jonas, and his new CD can be preordered here.

This one you can buy from the Met shop but not from Amazon.

At [that's Amazon in Germany] you can preorder Jonas's new Aida.  There's no sign of it here.

And look what else I found on now in preorder.

I loved the Fanciulla but am waiting to see the Manon Lescaut from the simulcast.

P.S.  Everything can be ordered from Amazon now.


Did you know about this?

They're phone covers.  I've included a copy of the photograph each phone cover comes from.  People in the real world have often still never heard of Anna Netrebko, but you can buy a cover for your phone that only a connoisseur would recognize.  How cool do you really want to be?

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Jamie Barton at the Proms

Today I listened to the Proms from Royal Albert Hall in London. On an audio stream Jamie Barton sang the Brahms Alto Rhapsody, a personal favorite.  Marin Alsop conducted the Orchestra for the Age of Enlightenment.  Jamie explained the plot.  The text is by Goethe and apparently concerns itself with lonely, disappointed young men such as Brahms himself.  It was perfectly gorgeous.