Friday, December 30, 2016

Un Ballo in Maschera on medici.tv

Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera can be viewed on medici.tv, and if you are Amazon Prime, you can watch it on Amazon with no extra charge.  This version is from La Scala with Riccardo Muti, starring Salvatore Licitra and Maria Guleghina.  There is a traditional production with the story very easy to follow.  The singing and conducting are magnificent.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Dear Cecilia

Two things have happened.  I read an approximation of your net worth, and I read a suggestion that JK might commission a work.  Have you considered commissioning something?  It's worth a thought.  I wish you a very merry Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2016

2016 Opera Year in Review KK Opera Awards


It's time for the 2016 KK Opera Awards.

The most shocking event of the year is the complete absence of Jonas Kaufmann.  I hardly know what to say.  Get well, dear.

New operas for me in 2016 are: Champion by Terence Blanchard at Opera Parallèle, Der Vampyr by Heinrich Marschner in Berlin, Strauss's Die ägyptische Helena in Berlin, Strauss's Die Liebe der Danae in Berlin, Il matrimonio segreto by Domenico Cimarosa at CSUS, Les Indes galante, an opéra-ballet by Jean-Philippe Rameau streamed from Munich, Thomas Adès' Powder her Face at West Edge, Handel's Agrippina at West Edge, Hector Berlioz' Béatrice et Bénédict streamed from Glyndebourne, Bright Sheng's Dream of the Red Chamber from San Francisco Opera, Stockhausen's Donnerstag aus Licht streamed from Basel, Eliogabalo by Cavalli streamed from Paris, and Sancta Susanna by Paul Hindemith in Paris.

I believe only Dream of the Red Chamber was new for everyone. That's 13 new operas, 1 more than last year and none from DVD.  I wouldn't want to see the Stockhausen again, but the rest were all worthy.  I am especially interested in my reaction to the Rameau.  He might be considered a discovery for me.


  • BEST NEW (to me) OPERA AWARD   The candidates are: Der Vampyr, Die Liebe der Danae by Richard Strauss, Les Indes galante by Rameau, and Béatrice et Bénédict by BerliozI enjoyed all of these but found the Berlioz especially charming.  I would happily see this again.

  • BEST MODERN OPERA The candidates are:  Champion, Powder her Face from West Edge, L'Amour de loin from the Met, and Dream of the Red Chamber from San Francisco.  Dream of the Red Chamber was pleasing, but L'Amour was the only home run. It is simply an extraordinary achievement. We had a much broader selection last year.  I left out Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk  from Munich because all the others are 21st century.

  • BEST BAROQUE OPERA AWARD  The candidates are Handel's Agrippina from West Edge, Handel's Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno from Aix, Cavalli's Eliogabalo from Paris, and Rameau's Les Indes Galantes from Munich.  Following my own prejudices, I didn't like the staging for Eliogabalo or Il Trionfo.  Both of these starred Franco Faggioli.  Since it didn't win best new, I must award to Les Indes Galantes for the beauty of its musical performance.
  • BEST WAGNER OPERA AWARD perhaps in my lifetime goes to Tristan und Isolde from the Metropolitan Opera.  Such a spectacularly beautiful performance is simply not to be imagined.  I also saw a film from 5 years ago of Die Meistersinger with Gerald Finley which makes an excellent runner up.

  • BEST RICHARD STRAUSS AWARD offers a lot of candidates:  Salome, Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Die ägyptische Helena, and Die Liebe der Danae, all from the Deutsche Oper Berlin and Elektra from the Metropolitan Opera.  The Elektras were a virtual tie with a small edge to Berlin.  Considering how much I love Strauss, I should have enjoyed this category a lot more.
  • BEST JANÁČEK OPERA AWARD  The candidates are Jenůfa from the San Francisco Opera, The Cunning Little Vixen from West Edge and Vĕc Makropulos also from the San Francisco.  All three of these were very special.  Nadja Michael was a particularly fabulous Emilia Marty, but the award must go to the powerful, almost overwhelming Jenůfa led by Karita Mattila.  If truth be told, I would not want to have missed any of these.  Modern conductors seem to understand him more than Strauss.
  • BEST HORROR OPERA must go to Marschner's Der Vampyr from the Komische Oper Berlin.  I didn't expect to give this award again, but there it is.  There were axes, guns, wooden stakes, people screaming, vampires, basically all the components of a good horror movie.  It has to win some kind of award.  I think maybe people used to have more fun with opera.  We do wish to mention a runner up:  Hindemith's Sancta Susannah in Paris.  We had rather spectacular nudity and fornicating with a crucifix. 
  • MOST INCOMPREHENSIBLE STAGING OF AN OPERA AWARD  How does The Queen of Spades get to be about Tchaikovsky?  No idea what this means.
  • BEST TRANSFORMATION OF AN OPERA INTO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT  This award must go to another Claus Guth production, Salome from Berlin.  Instead of Herodias getting rid of John the Baptist through her daughter, we have Salome getting revenge on Herod, her sexual tormentor.  Instead of the Bible, we are in a men's clothing store.  No necrophilia, no striptease, none of the usual nastiness. 
  • BEST OPERA OF THE YEAR goes to Tristan.  Seldom have I felt such love for a performance of any opera.  Bravi tutti.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Queen of Spades


Music director: Mariss Jansons
Director: Stefan Herheim

Misha Didyk - Herman (tenor)
Alexey Markov - Count Tomsky, Plutus (baritone)
Vladimir Stoyanov - Prince Yeletsky (baritone)
Andrei Popov - Chekalinsky (tenor)
Andrii Goniukov - Surin (bass)
Mikhail Makarov - Chaplitsky (tenor)
Anatoli Sivko - Narumov (bass)
Larissa Diadkova - The Countess (mezzo)
Svetlana Aksenova - Liza (soprano)
Anna Goryachova - Polina, Daphnis (contralto)
Olga Savova - The governess (mezzo)

Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades is soon coming to an end on Opera Platform.  For me this opera is called Pique Dame, but I guess nobody else calls it that.  Because Catherine the Great, Empress of all Russia (1762-1796), makes an entrance during Act II, we can safely assume that this opera takes place during her reign.  When we played this opera, the party scene was eliminated.  At the San Francisco Opera it was always a surprise:  will Catherine appear or not?

This production from the Netherlands moves the time to 1890, the time of the opera's premier.  The entire opera takes place in a single set of the Countess's drawing room with her portrait hanging on the wall.  Most of the men, including the chorus, but not including Herman, are made up to look like Tchaikovsky himself.  One of these men is constantly on the stage, occasionally playing a piano.  Yeletsky, I think, is supposed to be Tchaikovsky.  All, including the children in Act I, wear the same outfit.  Instead of Catherine, it is Herman disguised as her who enters in Act II.  Polina is done as a trouser role.

They aren't bothering to make it look like a card game.  Instead of the ace, he draws the queen of spades and loses.  Except the cards look like pages of sheet music.  The Countess who died in Act II returns to shoot him.  Liza returns as an angel with black wings to take Hermann to where?

I love this opera due to having sung in it, but I seem to search in vain for a production that will make it make sense.  Hermann sacrifices all for his card obsession.  This seems like something that might actually happen.  But here it seems it is intended that the opera is about Tchaikovsky.  I can't make this connection.  Prince Yeletsky who is Tchaikovsky begins as Liza's fiance.  So it is a tragedy for him as well.

Misha Didyk is someone to watch out for.  His sound makes Hermann come alive.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Music on Air France

Ravel Le tombeau de Couperin
Dutilleux L'arbre des songes *
Delage Four Hindu Poems
Dutilleux Métaboles
Ravel Daphnis and Chloe – Suite No 2

Sir Simon Rattle conductor
Leonidas Kavakos violin *
Julia Bullock soprano
London Symphony Orchestra

While browsing through the airplane entertainment, I found this wonderful concert from last January with exciting music of a certain period.  Every piece displayed colorful orchestration. 

I also found a film of Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov from their Asian tour last March.  They performed first Verdi, from Trovatore, and verismo, ending the official concert with "Vicino a te" from Andrea Chenier.  This last was quite thrilling and suggested that they might try this opera together.  I may change my choice to this one.

Anna's move towards late romantic repertoire makes possible this pairing with her husband.  This concert makes a good case for his place beside her.  He tears up a bit here at the end of  "Vicino a te".

Monday, December 12, 2016

Item

While discussing Nabucco, Placido Domingo was asked how many roles, including conductor, he had appeared in at the Met. Looking through the archives, I count 60 going on 61.


year opera role
9-Aug-66 I Pagliacci Canio
9-Aug-66 Cavalleria Rusticana Turiddu
28-Sep-68 Adriana Lecouvreur Maurizio
20-Nov-68 Tosca Cavaradossi
6-Mar-69 Il Trovatore Manrico
13-Feb-70 Turandot Calàf
27-May-70 Lucia di Lammermoor Edgardo
3-Oct-70 Un Ballo in Maschera  Riccardo
29-Oct-70 Andrea Chénier Andrea Chénier
5-Dec-70 La Traviata Alfredo
13-Jan-71 Aida Radamès
19-Jan-71 Ernani Ernani
6-Feb-71 Carmen Don José
20-Sep-71 Don Carlo Don Carlo
4-Oct-71 Faust Faust
4-Nov-71 Luisa Miller Rodolfo
24-Nov-71 La Forza del Destino Don Alvaro
16-May-72 La Bohème Rodolfo
29-Nov-73 Les Contes d'Hoffmann Hoffmann
23-Sep-74 I Vespri Siciliani  Arrigo
28-Sep-74 Roméo et Juliette  Roméo
31-Oct-77 Rigoletto Duke of Mantua
7-Oct-78 Werther Werther
24-Sep-79 Otello Otello
17-Mar-80 Manon Lescaut  Des Grieux
21-Sep-81 Norma Pollione
25-Sep-82 La Gioconda Enzo
26-Sep-83 Les Troyens Aeneas
9-Mar-84 Francesca da Rimini Paolo
24-Sep-84 Lohengrin Lohengrin
10-Oct-89 Il Tabarro  Luigi
14-Feb-90 Samson et Dalila Samson
14-Mar-91 Parsifal Parsifal
10-Oct-91 La Fanciulla del West  Dick Johnson
21-Oct-93 Stiffelio Stiffelio
1-Oct-94 Idomeneo Idomeneo
19-Jan-95 Simon Boccanegra Gabriele Adorno
28-Mar-95 Madama Butterfly Conductor
15-Apr-96 Die Walküre  Siegmund
23-Oct-96 La Traviata  Conductor
26-Apr-97 Fedora Count Loris Ipanov
13-Jan-01 The Merry Widow Count Danilovitch
11-Apr-01 Un Ballo in Maschera  Conductor
30-Apr-02 Sly Christopher Sly.
3-Mar-04 The Queen of Spades Gherman
19-Oct-04 Carmen Conductor
11-Feb-06 Rigoletto Conductor
11-Mar-06 Cyrano de Bergerac Cyrano de Bergerac
25-Nov-06 La Bohème Conductor
17-May-08 The First Emperor  Emperor Qin
30-Jan-10 Stiffelio Conductor
2-Mar-11 Iphigénie en Tauride  Oreste
7-Mar-11 Roméo et Juliette Conductor
6-Apr-13 La Traviata  Germont
20-Mar-14 The Enchanted Island  Neptune
8-Apr-15 Ernani Don Carlo
20-Apr-15 Aida Conductor
21-Nov-15 Tosca Conductor
9-Apr-16 Simon Boccanegra Simon Boccanegra
12-Dec-16 Nabucco Nabucco
26-Apr-17 Don Giovanni Conductor

Camerata Capistrano

Camerata Capistrano, led by Dr. Lorna Peters, is a Baroque ensemble from California State University Sacramento.  They were joined in this concert by the Davis Senior High School Baroque Orchestra led by Angelo Moreno.  A Baroque orchestra in a high school is a surprise.

The violins, violas and high winds performed standing.  Dr. Peters seemed unclear that the purpose of this fad was to offer the players the opportunity to sway around while playing.  In Apollo's Fire the conductor also stands at the harpsichord and sways around.  Angelo Moreno, who performed with his ensemble rather than standing in front of it, seemed clearer on the idea.  His group swayed quite a lot.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Trouser Roles Ranked






Saturday, December 10, 2016

L'Amour de Loin

Tamara Mumford, Eric Owens

Conductor:  Susanna Mälkki [Debut]
Production:  Robert Lepage

Jaufré Rudel:  Eric Owens
Clémence:  Susanna Phillips
Pilgrim:  Tamara Mumford

Eric Owens declared L'Amour de Loin by Kaija Saariaho to be a masterpiece.  I concur.

Eric Owens, Susanna Phillips

I enjoyed all the interviews but it was especially interesting to hear from Susanna Phillips that she was present at the premiere in Salzburg in 2000.

I love this opera.  It is the performance from this season that I have most looked forward to, and I was not disappointed.  Bravi tutti.  The chorus sat in rows under the led lights, standing to become visible to the audience. 

Kaija Saariaho

I found the production completely charming.  Susannah Phillips said that the sea of ever-changing lights was invisible to the performers, and they were all anxious to see the film.  Their show repeats on Wednesday, so perhaps a special showing?  There were birds flying that looked more like doves than gulls.  When Rudel is crossing, he dreams of Clémence leaping out of the sea and diving, rather like a dolphin.  This was the most curious part of the production.  It was all like a dream.  A dream of love.

This isn't my first time with this opera.  To read my first thoughts see here.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Hvorostovsky withdraws from Opera

From Dmitri:

To all my friends, fans and colleagues:
It is with great sadness that I must withdraw from opera performances for the foreseeable future.
I have been experiencing balance issues associated with my illness, making it extremely difficult for me to perform in staged productions.

I will continue to give concerts and recitals as well as make recordings. Singing is my life, and I want to continue bringing joy to people worldwide. With this pause in my operatic career and more rest in between each engagement, I hope to have more time to focus on my health and treatment. Thank you for all your love, messages and well wishes. Your support is felt and means the world to me.

With love,
DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Another Elektra with Janis Martin



ELEKTRA
Oper Köln 24-November-1985
Conductor - Gerd Albrecht

Janis Martin
Kathryn Montgomery-Meissner
Helga Dernesch
Hermann Winkler
Harald Stamm

Janis is convincingly a soprano here--perhaps the first time I have thought so.  

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk


Conductor: Kirill Petrenko
Production: Harry Kupfer

Boris Timofeyevich Izmailov, a Merchant: Anatoli Kotscherga
Zinoviy Borisovich Izmailov, his son: Sergey Skorokhodov
Katerina Lvovna Izmailova, wife of Zinoviy Borisovich: Anja Kampe 
Sergei, a workman employed at the Izmailovs: Misha Didyk
Aksinya, a workwoman employed at the Izmailovs: Heike Grötzinger
Sonyetka, a convict: Anna Lapkovskaja

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Dmitri Shostakovich streamed today from the Bayerische Staatsoper.  I have seen this opera twice before, both times at the San Francisco Opera.  This is different somehow.  Kampe is marvelous, but the most applause goes to Petrenko.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Cavalleria Rusticana in Paris

Cavalleria Rusticana 

Conductor for both: Carlo Rizzi
Director for both: Mario Martone

Santuzza: Elīna Garanča
Turiddu: Yonghoon Lee
Lucia: Elena Zaremba
Alfio: Vitaliy Bilyy
Lola: Antoinette Dennefeld

Sancta Susanna 

Susanna: Anna Caterina Antonacci
Klementia: Renée Morloc
Alte Nonne: Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo

On November 28 we attended Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana paired with Sancta Susanna by Paul Hindemith at the Paris Opera.  This double bill was performed without intermission.  Curious, we said to ourselves.  Why would they do that?  And who ever heard of Sancta Susanna?  Well, it turns out that this opera premiered in 1922 in Frankfurt and was a terrific scandal.  I think the modern day European is much harder to scandalize.

The production for Cavalleria Rusticana reminded me of the Cavalleria Rusticana production at the Met. Just furniture and no set.  Normally the Easter mass is celebrated inside a church which appears in the set and Santuzza stands outside.  Here there is no set, so the mass is celebrated on the stage in our view.  My experience of the mass shows the crowd much more active than here.  People stand and sit, occasionally speak, and move to the front to receive the wafer, but here they only mime, of course.  The characters are in front.  I think it was staged this way to emphasize the importance of religious imagery in the story.  The large crucifix becomes a character.

Though I have written extensively about Elīna Garanča, this is my first live experience of her.  In this house her voice was large, full and very suitable for a wonderful Santuzza.  I withdraw all previous reservations about her transition to spinto mezzo.  The singing was spectacular, but the production very much muted the physical parts of her characterization.  Yonghoon Lee is improving.  He looks good and sounds dramatic.


After a brief pause, the curtain rose on the physical parts of the set.  Sancta Susanna was presented as a small chamber surrounded by a giant blank wall.  We had visited the death chamber of Vincent van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise the day before and thought Susanna's chamber very much resembled it.  Susanna is a nun dressed in white.  Other nuns appear dressed in black and white.

I was explaining to my son that this is expressionism, an art style that consists of realistic details without context.  Then I thought, "oh."  Thus the giant blank wall.  

We are told that Susanna is dying.  The window in her chamber is open, and she intensely enjoys the scents.  Sister Klementia begins a cautionary tale about a woman seen naked in the woods some 30 or 40 years ago.  A space below the chamber opens up, and we see a nude woman and a crucifix much like the one in the previous opera.  Susanna suddenly rips off her habit, revealing her I must say rather gorgeous breasts and declares herself to still be beautiful.  She runs out and throws herself onto the reclining crucifix.  There is much lamenting and confusion.  This is sort of a wtf opera.

Clearly only the beautiful Anna Caterina Antonacci could be expected to pull this off.  Her acting is superb here but the role is a bit contralto for her voice.  As you know, I do not read explanations of what this is supposed to mean before going, but it does seem to me the pairing of these two operas is intended as a religious commentary.  Santuzza tells us that she has been excommunicated but without explanation.

Symbols can be more powerful than reality, and clearly that is the intention here.  It was only partially successful.  It was oddly pleasing to hear Hindemith who is of course nothing like Mascagni but not in any way shocking to modern ears.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Darling Corie


A one act opera called Darling Corie by Elie Siegmeister played at Sacramento State last night.  In the middle of the twentieth century there were several American composers who affected an "American" musical style, and this one is definitely in that camp.  There's also a traditional song called "Darling Cory." The arias sound like folk songs.

We are in small town America where darling Corie has come of age.  One of the young men has chosen her, but she doesn't return his interest.  Her father recommends being tough with her.  A stranger arrives who immediately attracts her attention.  He has nice clothes and money and is sweet to her.  One thing leads to another.

Conductor and director:  Omari Tau

Corie:  Elise Savoy
The Stranger:  Jordan Krack
Johnny:  Enrique Gil Guizar
Preacher:  Walter Aldrich

There is quite a bit of chorus.  No supertitles.  They made the most that could be made of this opera.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Mama Rose


This of course refers to Jonathan Kent’s production of Gypsy, music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, filmed from the West End in London and shown recently on  Great Performances on PBS.

Above are Imelda Staunton as Rose and Lara Pulver as Louise, or Gypsy Rose Lee.  The show brings a lot of memories for me.  I vividly recall fantasizing myself in the role of Mama Rose, the star of the show in spite of the title.  She waited until it was too late to have a career herself.  As of course did I.  I also remember Gypsy Rose Lee on her television talk show. She would flirt with the camera.  I have also read Gypsy's murder mystery called The G-String Murders.

A number of famous women have done Mama Rose:  Ethyl Merman, who is very easy to imagine in the role, Angela Lansbury, and Tyne Daly to name 3.  Imelda Staunton is intensely bitchy in the part, intensely angry and completely believable.  It is a far different experience from the "nice" movie.  The show has only a few hit tunes which are repeated.  If you missed it on TV, watch it on the PBS website.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016

Complaining

Gramophone Magazine, when reviewing Anna Netrebko's new Verismo album, complained that it included repertoire not actually verismo.  I would like to suggest that when originally coined, the term verismo referred to the plots of operas which showed a certain realism in their stories.  They concerned themselves with middle and lower class people instead of the usual upper class types.  Of course, opera has always included lower class people, but they were common only in comedy.

I would like to suggest that as we look back on the period, our attention is less on the plot elements and more on the overall musical style.  In a verismo opera that means little to no coloratura.  The singers show a somewhat lower larynx position and trend toward spinto.  The accompanying music also has a distinct, immediately recognizable style.

In short would anyone say that La Gioconda is closer to Verdi than to Puccini?  I think not.  A broader definition of verismo now exists, and it is nonsense to carp about it.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Italian Music in Sacramento


Conductor:  Christoph Campestrini
Soprano:  Leslie Ann Bradley
Tenor:  Adam Luther

The Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera presented a concert consisting entirely of music composed by Italians, specifically Verdi, Mascagni, Puccini, Rossini and Respighi.  This was conducted by a man with a misleadingly Italian name.  I say misleading because he is actually Austrian.  Or wasn't I supposed to say that?  I read in the fine print that in his spare time he composes Lieder cycles.  I am finding this fine print on my own since there was a mix up with the programs.

There was some singing this time.  Leslie Ann Bradley sang the arias from the last act of Otello by Verdi.  Her voice is very well suited to this music.  I see in other fine print that she has performed the role of Desdemona from which these arias come.  I declare her to be a gifted almost spinto.

Then our tenor, Adam Luther, sang "Ma se m'e forza perderti" from Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera.  My first thought on seeing him was "oh, a tall tenor."  He is lovely with tons of squillo.

They then performed the love duet music from Act I of La Boheme by Puccini.  This music seemed to be the hardest to conduct.  We don't usually get to see the conductor while this is going on and had no idea.  They can't see him, as they are looking at either the audience or each other, and he can see them only by leaning back and turning, which happened fairly often.  I apologize for finding this sort of thing fascinating.  It was nevertheless pleasing.

All the rest of the music was for orchestra alone.  They began with the Overture from Verdi's La Forza del Destino, a piece that I love.  The opera may be nuts, but the music is some of Verdi's best.  Their rendition of Mascagni's Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana was absolutely gorgeous.  This was my favorite thing on the concert.

After intermission we were treated to the Overture from Semiramide by Rossini and The Pines of Rome by Respighi.  The last was excellent, complete with trumpets in the upper balcony.  It was a rousing finish for the concert. 

I'm going to make a small post script.  I get the impression that the musicians are suffering from the limited rehearsal and constantly rotating conductors.  The overall sound of the ensemble is fragmented.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Singer List -- Those who have Thrilled me most

Lists are the order of the day.  This singer selection is based on certain specific performances experienced in about the last four years, and not on a generic idea of who is best.  I am strongly influenced by theatrical performance in addition to great singing. 

These have been my favorite soprano performances.  The order is alphabetical

Sopranos

These are towering performances with a strong drift toward dramatic sopranos.

Mezzos

These are all complete performances where the mezzo leads the way.

Tenors

We trend in the direction of ham actors, but it can't be helped.

Baritones and basses.

The list comes out a little different this way.  If you want on this list, wow me in something.  I apologize if your favorite is missing.  Finley was outside the time frame.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Last scene of Carmen


 Carmen: Final Scene (Elīna Garanča, Roberto Alagna) 

This may be the best scene from an opera ever filmed.  Both are so spectacularly good you simply cannot believe it.

This is the one



I've been listening to "Vicino a Te" quite a lot, and this is the one.

One seems always to return to Callas.  I received a comment here that said her voice did not deteriorate.  It is important to remember that she retired from the stage when she was only 42, very young for such a big voice.  In contrast Mirella Freni recorded Manon Lescaut with Pavarotti when she was 58.

Cassatt Quartet


Wednesday at California State University Sacramento I attended a concert by the Cassatt String Quartet.  They are an all female group named after the most famous of female artists Mary Cassatt.  The concert was part of the current Festival of New American Music.  Their members are Muneko Otani, violin, Elizabeth Anderson, cello, Jennifer Leshnower, violin, and Ah Ling Neu, viola (left to right in the picture above).

The program consisted entirely of pieces which premiered since 2000. * indicated west coast premiere.

String Quartet #2 (2013) * by Chris Rogerson
   This work in 3 movements began with a reading of the poem Sweetness by Stephen Dunn.  This was a first for me.

"Pulse Space" (2014)*  by Hannah Last
This piece sounded just as you might imagine:  homophonic, pulsing chords which became a bit tiresome after a while..

"Voyage" for string quartet (2013)  by Ellen Zwilich
This is an homage to the Galimir String Quartet, all members of a jewish family of players who escaped the holocaust.  The piece signifies their journey to the United States.

After the intermission were:

"Rising Tide" (2012) by Laura Kaminsky
This quartet is about global warming.

"Black Bend" (2003) * by Dan Visconti
This piece was a fascinating mixture of rock, jazz and what sounded to me like hoedown.  It was fun and made an excellent concert closer.  Elizabeth Anderson, whose cello playing mother was in the audience, commented that she got to do things her mother wouldn't allow.

My only problem with this concert was the overall similarity in the sound of the repertoire selections.  Maybe this is a restriction of the definition of the concert series.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

La Favorite


Conductor: Karel Mark Chichon
Production: Amélie Niermeyer

Léonor de Guzman: Elīna Garanča (mezzo)
Fernand: Matthew Polenzani (tenor)
Alphonse XI: Mariusz Kwiecień (baritone)
Balthazar: Mika Kares (bass)
Don Gaspard: Joshua Owen Mills (tenor)
Inès: Elsa Benoit (soprano)

We are experiencing a live stream of Donizetti's La Favorite, in French, from the Bayerische Staatsoper. 

If you have Elīna Garanča, Matthew Polenzani and Mariusz Kwiecień, you do La Favorite.  These three are a marvelous trio of singing actors.  We get the full on masculine pig behavior from Mariusz, perhaps in honor of our American pig candidate.  This is, of course, Regietheater.  You know, mostly black modern clothing, no particular set.  There is a section in Act II where Léonor and Alphonse are alone and seem to be watching television together.  This can only have been a ballet.  So he responds in a very manic way to what he's seeing alternating with pawing her.  She finds the whole thing boring.  At one point they laugh.  She tells him that she came to him from her home expecting to be married.

This story conflicts with its presentation in this production.  Alphonse is constantly molesting Léonor in every possible context.  It is simply unbelievable that Fernand does not understand what this means.  She marries in black.  Too many clues, Fernand.  We're not buying it when you "suddenly" understand.  He's claiming his honor is lost.  She's saying his soul knows the truth, so why is his pride so inflamed?  Now she's slinking off in her slip.  The chorus is pommeling her with flowers.

Fernand returns to the monastery and Léonor prays.  All three of our singers are wonderful.  She's back, but this time she has on a black watch cap and another black men's suit.  I am seriously loving the singing here.  The ending is marvelous.  One loves most of all the sounds of their voices, which were beautiful together.

Ten years ago I said about this opera:

"It is only recently that women have broken out of their categories. Before that there were good girls and bad girls, angels and whores. It makes a whole opera plot that a whore is mistaken for an angel. You can't always tell, you know.

"In opera angels are sopranos and whores are mezzos. We realize there are exceptions, such as Manon, but generally whores are mezzos. Carmen, Dalila, Maddalena, and Leonor in Donizetti´s La Favorite. She is the king's mistress, and when Fernand falls for her, she refuses to tell who she is. She deliberately lets him think his whore is an angel.

"The opera has a simple beginning--a priest who has not taken his final vows falls for one of his parishioners--and a simple ending--she saves him from hell by dying. In the middle it gets pretty complicated. The king wants to divorce his wife to marry his mistress in spite of the pope's opposition. Fernand also wants her, and when the king promises to grant him any wish, Fernand wishes for Leonor. The courtiers still consider her a whore and tell Fernand now that it is too late and he has married her that he has lost his honor. From there everything just goes to hell. "