Sunday, January 31, 2016

Turandot in HD

 Nina Stemme

Conductor:  Paolo Carignani
Production:  Franco Zeffirelli

Turandot: Nina Stemme (soprano)
Liù: Anita Hartig (soprano)
Calàf: Marco Berti (tenor)
Timur: Alexander Tsymbalyuk (bass)

Puccini's Turandot from the Metropolitan Opera is such a familiar old friend that one scarcely knows what new thing one can say.  In contrast with the picture above, Nina seems to have been deliberately made up to look hideous.  Nothing could deter her spectacular performance, however.  Her warmth always shines through.

This time I paid particular attention to the place in the opera where it stops being Puccini.  This happens immediately after Liu dies.  The stage clears and there is an extended love duet which is not by Puccini. It was composed by Franco Alfano.  So this is what the fuss is about.  Puccini would undoubtedly have composed something far more beautiful for this important scene, but the drama takes over.  It's tolerable and that's about it.  The final scene is made up entirely of music heard earlier in the opera.

Anita Hartig as Lui both looked and sang beautifully.  Perhaps the opera is about Liu.

Berti is the only tenor I've ever seen who got no applause at all for "Nessun dorma."  He chopped off his high note.  I'm not a fan.


Over the time that I've been blogging, I have written a lot about Turandot.  I think my favorite performance is still Maria Guleghina in this same production.  I love Nina, but for me Maria completely redefined the role.

I wrote about why Franco Alfano was chosen to write the ending, what the long ending sounded like and why it was shortened here.  I wrote about seeing La Leggenda di Sakùntala by Franco Alfano live in Rome here.  I didn't know at the time that this was a recently rediscovered score.

The only aspect of the opera that I seem never to have discussed is the plot.  Is it disgusting?  Should we hate Calaf?  Look people.  It has to do with princes and princesses.  One desires a princess or prince because she or he is a princess or prince.  Physical beauty is vastly enhanced by power and position.  In the 21st century Prince William is allowed to marry a commoner.  Whatever time you move Turandot to, no one would have considered that.  Father agrees to Turandot's plan only because it includes at least the slim possibility that she will marry a foreign prince and produce an heir.  Prince Calaf would simply never consider marrying Liu.  So get over it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Concerts in the Sacramento Area

Andrés Cárdenes

The first Sacramento Philharmonic concert of the year featured the man pictured above.  All season each concert will be led by a different conductor.  With Maestro Cárdenes we got two for the price of one when he both conducted and played the violin solo for the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3.  I especially liked Mendelssohn's The Hebrides which has very unusual orchestration for its period.  It was an enjoyable concert.

Coote does Mahler

This is Alice Coote singing Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Mahler at the Royal Albert Hall.

I - "Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht" ("When My Sweetheart is Married")


I will add items as I think of them.

Jonas Kaufmann has cancelled his appearance in Manon Lescaut at the Met.  He may be catching colds from all those women he kisses.  So we will have to settle for the ROH film.  Roberto Alagna should be a good replacement.

Thanks to Opera Tattler for the LA Opera season announcement: September 17- October 16 2016: Macbeth; October 19-23 2016: Ted Hearne's The Source; October 29-31 2016: Nosferatu with score from Matthew Aucoin; November 5-27 2016: Akhnaten; December 2-5 2016 Bernstein's Wonderful Town (semi-staged); January 28- February 19 2017: The Abduction from the Seraglio; February 18- March 19 2017: Salome (Racette);March 25- April 8 2017: The Tales of Hoffmann (Grigolo); April 22- May 13 2017: Tosca; June 15-18 2017: Kamala Sankaram's Thumbprint.  Wow.  This is far more interesting than ours.

Go to Facebook for Christine Goerke's Photoshopathon.  It will be well worth it.

The New Century Chamber Orchestra will no longer be led by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.  I just discover her and now she is gone.  She is moving to New Orleans to become a teacher at Loyola.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Pearl Fishers in HD

Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
Director: Penny Woolcock
Live in HD host:  Patricia Racette

Leïla: Diana Damrau (soprano)
Zurga: Mariusz Kwiecien (baritone)
Nadir: Matthew Polenzani (tenor)
Nourabad: Nicolas Testé (Diana Damrau's husband) (bass)

For the first time in over 100 years the Metropolitan Opera presented Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers).  Unlike most of the audience, this was my fourth time, including once in San Jose, once in San Francisco and once in Santa Fe.

We were put in the mood of actual pearl divers with what appeared to be a film of people diving into deep water.  It was instead a kind of Peter Pan harness that looked amazingly realistic.

The famous duet was even more beautiful than I anticipated.  I did not take into account the fabulous conducting of Maestro Noseda.  He brought new lyrical qualities to the entire opera.  This is the most I have liked Mariusz Kwiecien who was perfect in his role.  I have always liked Matthew Polenzani.  Their voices were as perfect together as I thought they would be.

This revival was requested by Diana Damrau.  She brought many qualities to the role of Leola:  wonderful coloratura technique for the coloratura parts and power for the increasingly dramatic requirements as the opera progresses.

This is a big hit in New York.  All are predicting it won't be 100 years before we see it again.

What anyone likes about this opera is the music and the singing, spectacularly well done today.  What anyone doesn't like is the plot.  Leila has been hired to protect the pearl fishers from their constant exposure to the weather.  She is to sit alone by the ocean and sing to the god Brahma.  She fails miserably at this.

Nadir promises his friend Zurga that he has gotten over their mutual interest in Leila, the priestess they both simultaneously fell in love with years before.  Zurga does not similarly make such a promise to Nadir.  This doesn't matter because Nadir is lying.  It is important to notice that Nadir immediately recognizes Leila when he hears her voice, but Zurga does not.  This tells us that only Nadir truly loves her.

Zurga only allows them to escape because of the contrived deus ex machina, this time a giant pearl on a gold necklace.  In this action he betrays the pearl fisher community whom he has sworn to lead.  Because of Leila's inattention, they have been hit by a tsunami, fascinatingly evoked in the projections.  Sometimes Zurga is just left standing there, but sometimes Zurga dies at the end.  For me this works better.

Nadir seems to legitimately love Leila, while Zurga doesn't really make his case.  He is jealous for its own sake.  But what logic forgives Leila?  Would we like it more if Zurga killed them instead?  One can't help wondering.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Bis at La Scala

Nadine Sierra

Opera Bobb tells us:

"Ciao, Opera Mavens. At the end of the La Scala Rigoletto second act last night, the standing ovation audience demanded former Adler Nadine Sierra (Adler 2011-2012) and Leo Nucci repeat the final aria (conducted by SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti)."

Nadine is a raging success everywhere these days. For my encounters with her in San Francisco:

Her performance in a Merola final here.
Her Schwabacher debut recital here.
She sings Lucia here.

And now see it for yourself.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016


I just found out that the San Francisco Opera lost big on Sweeney Todd.  Nothing could make me happier.  I have always thought San Francisco was a big opera town, one that would not appreciate the dumbing down of the product.  In sharp contrast Die Meistersinger was a success.  Dear management, please learn from this.  Wagner yes.  Sondheim no.