Friday, February 26, 2016

Cold Opera

I belong to an online group that follows the HD shows live from the Metropolitan Opera.  One of the members expressed a reluctance to see an opera "cold."  I assume this means without any or possibly extensive preparation.  Currently the members are recommending which films to watch before seeing The Barber of Seville at La Fenice.

I don't prefer preparation.  I think in the context he is arguing I prefer my opera cold.  With my education and background I prefer my opera cold when at all possible.  I like to be surprised.

I am compiling a spreadsheet about the reviewed performances described in this blog.  The list at the end of 2015 is 429 performances of 246 different operas:  1 audio only (only audio remains), 4 seen in movie theaters but not from the Met, 6 from YouTube, 33 live streamed over the internet (this number is surprisingly high), 94 on DVD or VHS, 99 in HD from the Metropolitan Opera, and 181 live.  Thank goodness live is still ahead.

From this list 125 were cold.

Many were pleasant surprises.  Anna Nicole by Turnage was tremendous fun, as was Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini.  I walked very cold into the Rome Opera to a surprisingly wonderful La Leggenda di Sakùntala by Franco Alfano.  Now years later I find that the original score had recently been discovered, and that was the first performance of the original version.  Would it have made any difference if I had known that?  There was a woman with a stand talking, but I don't know enough Italian.

The most shocking cold opera was Satyagraha during the reign of Lotfi Monsouri.  It was my first Philip Glass experience and could simply not be believed.  They emphasized the musical repetitions by using repetitions in movement.  It is a mind experience which simply cannot be duplicated.

Of course, I have actually performed a lot of music by a lot of different composers:  Dallapiccola, Wagner, Williams, Weill, Thomas, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Palestrina, Strauss, Handel, Smetana, Ponchielli, Poulenc, Purcell, Saint-Saëns, Bach, Caccini, Menotti, Liszt, Schubert, Brahms, Fine, Schumann, Offenbach, Ravel, Verdi, Mahler, Berlioz, Lorzing, Janáček, Martinu, Ives....  You get the idea.  I know what the music of each of these composers and styles sounds like before I have heard the specific piece.  Completely cold is simply no longer possible for me.

I might recommend listening to great performances of different operas by the same composer.  Madama Butterfly might be considered preparation for Tosca.  I am trying to train myself to understand the words they are singing.  "Tosca ha l'occhio nero!" is easy Italian for even the earliest student.

I admit this does make it hard for me to know if you would like it.  I will say this, though:  I don't hesitate to see something again even if I wasn't that enthusiastic the first time.  A new production, a new conductor or new singers can transform a work into a different experience.  I remember the ghastly Werther brought to us by the San Francisco Opera.  I would hate the opera if I hadn't seen the wonderful performance in Paris.

This is a long subject which I think possibly cannot be exhausted.  I love opera and am always searching for something I like--a dramatic moment, a particular singer, something.

Unwanted opinion:  I think watching old films done in the old style is not a preparation for the modern world of opera.  You're not going to see productions like that in the modern world.

My life lesson advice, the path I follow myself, is that as I proceed through life, I learn.  My opinion and knowledge changes.  Perhaps you, too, will find that you are a different person today than you were last year.  You change as much as the world of opera changes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Jonas at La Scala

I attended the Fathom Event of Jonas Kaufmann's Puccini recital at La Scala.  It was lovely, of course, but he was so flattered that they loved him, he kept doing encore after encore.  When he finally sang something not by Puccini, I went home.  He was looking exhausted. The emotional intensity of the film was greater than on the recording.

Here's the program:

Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924) Preludio sinfonico A - dur

Le Villi Ecco la casa ... Torna ai felici dì – Prelude and La Tregenda

Edgar Orgia, chimera dall’occhio vitreo – Edgar Prelude to Act III

Manon Lescaut Donna non vidi mai Intermezzo Ah! guai a chi la tocca! ... No! pazzo son! Guardate!

Tosca  E lucevan le stelle – Prelude to Act III

Madama Butterfly  Intermezzo

La Fanciulla del West  Una parola sola! ... Or son seimesi

Suor Angelica  Intermezzo

Turandot  Nessun dorma


Tosca Recondit Armonia
La Fanciulla del West  Mi creda libero
Non ti scordar di me

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rachmaninoff at the Sacramento Philharmonic

The program for the Sacramento Philharmonic included other things, too.  The conductor for the evening was Case Scaglione.  His first name means houses in Italian.

Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Pieces.  I think to effectively present these pieces the Philharmonic would need to up their game a bit.  To make their effect they depend very much on sound.

Igor Stravinsky's Symphony in C Major.  Frankly I don't know why they would choose to play this piece, since it is extremely uninteresting.  To me anyway.

Then we came to Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with Behzod Abduraimov at the piano.  It was worth waiting for.  Apparently Behzod is a rising star.  He lit into Rachmaninoff's most famous piece like there was no tomorrow.  Conductor and pianist did an excellent job of maintaining coordination throughout the concerto.  Every movement was a gem, exciting, dynamic, thrilling.  And the Philharmonic rose to meet him.  For one brief shining moment they were thrilling, too.

We go to hear concerts for moments like this.  You never know when it will happen.  Thank you.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Champion at Opera Parallèle

Nicole Paiement: conductor
Brian Staufenbiel:  creative director
Music by Terence Blanchard,
Libretto by Michael Cristofer

Emile Griffith: Arthur Woodley
Young Emile Griffith: Kenneth Kellogg
Little Emile Griffith: Moses Abrahamson/ Evan Holloway
Emelda Griffith: Karen Slack
Howie Albert: Robert Orth
Kathy Hagan: Michelle Rice
Benny ‘Kid’ Paret and his son: Victor Ryan Robertson
Luis Rodrigo Griffith: Andres Ramirez
Sadie Donastrog Griffith: Chabrelle Williams
Cousin Blanche: Aisha Campbell
Ring Announcer: Mark Hernandez

I attended the opening of Champion last night at the SF Jazz Center.  I had never been in this facility and found that our seats were among the best in the house.  We could see and hear everything.  It appeared to be sold out.

This is a very complex work.  For one thing three different people play Emile Griffith.  We see him in old age and experience his entire life through flashbacks.  This was handled with great skill and never became confusing.  The older Emile, played very emotionally by Arthur Woodley, was present on the stage throughout while his younger counterparts played out the story of his life.

Emile Griffith was a real person who became a prize fighter.  Please remember that even today the two richest athletes in the world are both boxers.   He became famous for having killed someone in the ring, or rather he put him into a coma from which he eventually died. 

Theatrically it was very effective.  Scenes were announced by a Ring Announcer and the stage was bounded by the four corners of a boxing ring.  Kenneth Kellog is a physically impressive man who well suited the role of a major athlete.

I was very pleased to see that one of my rules for creating an opera was observed.  While the story is strictly speaking entirely about men, care was taken to give ample material to the female characters.  Karen Slack as Emile's mother had some lovely bits.

My only criticism is that it was somewhat long.  I enjoyed it a lot.  It seemed to me a work of love.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Telegraph Quartet

Eric Chin, violin, Joseph Maile, violin, Pei-Ling Lin, viola and Jeremiah Shaw, cello. 

Yesterday I attended a concert at California State University Sacramento by the Telegraph Quartet, made up of Joseph Maile, violin, Eric Chin, violin, Pei-Ling Lin, viola and Jeremiah Shaw, cello.  Though they graduated from four different schools in four different states, they now are based in San Francisco--thus the Telegraph Quartet name. They played:

Mozart's String Quartet No 16 in E-flat, one of the Haydn quartets, and

Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet.

As an encore they played a movement by Benjamin Britten.  Such incredibly passionate playing I cannot think I have ever heard.  It is wonderful to think there are still young people who feel such emotion for Mozart and Schubert.  These are familiar works played with unfamiliar enthusiasm.  Viva.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Joyce says...

"Make me listen." 

Yes.  The ones you love are the ones who make you listen.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Richard Tucker Gala 2016

I'm a little slow on this one, but I want to write about this year's wonderful Richard Tucker.  Here is a link.  It should be up for a year.  We start off with the current award holder Jamie Barton who sings "Acerba Volluta" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur.  This is a barn burner and she does an excellent job.  She is very talented.

Each singer has to talk after they exit.  Then Piotr Beczala sings Puccini's "Nessun Dorma."  There is chorus with this.  If you want to know how it's going, just look at the faces of the singers in the chorus.  His voice is showing some stress.

Renée Fleming is shown briefly singing with Luciano Pavarotti.  Then she comes out and sings "Io son l'umile ancella" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur.  The Renée, she always sounds so good.  She recommends that you know your own voice.  Can't argue with that.  I complain constantly about people selecting repertoire outside their physical gifts, but Renée knows what is best for her.  She was gorgeous here.

Then Nadine Sierra comes out and performs a duet with Andrea Bocelli, the special guest of the evening.  They sing the "Sulla tomba, Verrano a te sull'aure" duet from Lucia di Lammermoor.  They actually look well together.  He is beginning to both look and sound old.  Sorry.  There was a lot of complaining on line about him.  Nadine genuinely seems to like him and they do well together.

Cilea is having a big night.  Stephen Costello then sings "E la storia solita del pastore" from Cilea's L'Arlesiana.  This is very beautiful.  Stephen's voice is developing nicely.

"In quelle trine morbide" from Manon Lescaut is sung by Angela Gheorghiu.  It's always nice to see Angela.

The repertoire is all of a piece here, like something from the 30's.  "Ebben, nel andro lontano" from Catalani's La Wally comes next, also sung by Angela.  Perhaps she is the other guest star.  This is just her stuff and she is in form.

And now for something completely different.  Isabel Leonard sings"Nacqui all' affano...Non piu mesta" from Rossini's La Cenerentola.  Instead of sweetness, we have some spectacular vocal gymnastics with wonderful, original fiorature.  I think this concert is designed to warm up as it goes along.  Her ornaments are very original.  I've seen her in Griselda so I know what she can do.  This is excellent.

Jamie, "You got all my friends.  Thank you for that."  Tucker person, "We tried to get your enemies,  but you don't have any."

Back to the concert.  Jamie and Christine Goerke appear for a duet from Ponchielli's La Gioconda, "E un anatemal."  We are back to singing big which is what the Tucker is all about.  Goerke is the queen of big singing, and Gioconda isn't done nearly enough.  Their voices are well matched.  You won't hear it better than this.

They come off the stage and do this incredible chest bump, as it they were the Bryan brothers (tennis).

Lawrence Brownlee talks about lifelong learning.  Gee I love him.  That's why I can't really ever be a critic because I love them all too much.  He sings "Terra amica" from Rossini's Zelmira.  I don't understand the public's desire to trash people in places like YouTube comments.  I'm only good for love.  This one also has chorus.  Larry tears into it.  Rossini tenors are one of the wonders of the world.

Nadine Sierra sings another duet, this time with Stephen Costello, this time "Va, je t'ai pardonee" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette.  She's singing 3 different roles at the Paris Opera next season.  She knows her Gounod from her Donizetti.

The great Christine Goerke sings Eboli's aria "O don fatale" from Verdi's Don Carlo.  I don't know what she's doing singing something I used to sing.  Perhaps a Verdi dramatic mezzo is coming.  She completely aces this and has a much easier time with it than the average mezzo.  The drama and the notes all come easily.

Boccelli returns to sing "M'appari tutt' amor" from Flowtow's Martha.  This song plays in my head in German, but in concerts it always appears in Italian.  Perhaps that's why he is here.  He sees the Richard Tucker foundation as a promoter of Italian music.  I see it like that, too.  We're almost finished and there has been only Italian and French singing.

Renée Fleming and Piotr Beczala sing the love duet from Gounod's Faust, "Il so fait tard."  Renée is outstanding in this, too.  The audience is amazing and cheers for everything.

The concert closes with Jamie Barton, she is really showcased here, singing "Adieu fiere cite" from Berlioz' Les Troyens.  Is this something we should thank Susan Graham for?  Perhaps.  I am so glad to see the growth of interest in Berlioz' vocal music.  Jamie is a singer to love.  IMHO.

All Italian and French, nothing before Rossini, nothing after Puccini.  This is all classic Richard Tucker.  A wonderful concert with several former winners and guests.  It will be available on the PBS website for 3 years.

Cecilia Bartoli wins the Polar Music Prize

The title means it comes from Sweden.  In prior years this prize has been awarded to classical singers only twice:  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Renée Fleming.'

'The Polar Music Prize 2016 is awarded to the mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli from Rome, Italy. With a vocal range of three octaves and a unique ability to live a role with fullness of expression, Cecilia Bartoli has developed song as an art form. Cecilia Bartoli has spellbound audiences in the world's great opera houses, but is not content with the well-known repertoire. She has also dug deeply into the history of music and presented long-lost music from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries that is completely new to today’s audiences. Cecilia Bartoli adds new chapters to the history of music, builds bridges between centuries and deepens our understanding of Europe's cultural heritage. Cecilia Bartoli shows us that raised voices can change the world.'

Eight of the previous classical winners have been composers.

1993 Witold Lutosławski Poland " of the pioneers of contemporary European art music."
1996 Pierre Boulez France "...His profound musicality, clear intelligence and unusual farsightedness have enabled him to act in a wider field than the great majority. Thus he has occupied the forefront as composer, interpreter/conductor and eminent theorist, and he has made unique contributions as a debater and source of ideas."
1999 Iannis Xenakis France "...for a long succession of forceful works, charged with sensitivity, commitment and passion, ... exercising within its various fields an influence which cannot be readily overstated."
2001 Karlheinz Stockhausen Germany "...for a career as a composer that has been characterized by impeccable integrity and never-ceasing creativity, and for having stood at the forefront of musical development for fifty years."
2002 Sofia Gubaidulina Russia "...whose intensely expressive and deeply personal musical idiom has the ability to speak to an ever-growing audience of listeners all over the world."
2004 György Ligeti Austria "...for stretching the boundaries of the musically conceivable, from mind-expanding sounds to new astounding processes, in a thoroughly personal style that embodies both inquisitiveness and imagination."
2007 Steve Reich United States "...The award recognises his unique ability to use repeats, canon technique and minimal variation of patterns to develop an entire universe of evocative music, endowed with immediate tonal beauty."
2013 Kaija Saariaho Finland "...Kaija Saariaho combines acoustic instruments with electronics and computers. She has written chamber music, orchestral works and operas. Kaija Saariaho is a modern maestro who opens up our ears and causes their anvils and stirrups to fall in love."

Friday, February 05, 2016

Why are tenors so erotic?

[I am overdue for a translation:]

Bunte, 44/2015
Interview: Claus Dreckmann
Why are tenors so erotic?

JONAS KAUFMANN talks about how it is to be an object of desire - and about his two biggest crises

For classical music fans he exerts an irresistible attraction: Jonas Kaufmann, 46. The smart appearance is paired with the star tenor with an exceptional voice. Recently he was awarded the ECHO Klassik - for the sixth time

Bunte reveals why he is sometimes gladly an "object of desire" and what makes the tenor voice so erotic. He who should doubt this can convince himself with his new CD "Nessun Dorma -The Puccini Album" ...

You sing Puccini, Verdi, Wagner, Strauss Johann, Strauss Richard, Schubert, Massenet, Mahler, Lehar ... How do you manage to meet expectations in such diverse composers at the highest level? 

If listeners find that I meet expectations in different styles and languages, then I am very pleased. I want to maintain this diversity as long as it's vocally possible for me, and I think that it is precisely this mixture of partly very different repertoire that keeps the voice flexible. Anyway, I've always found that a Wagnerian role benefits if I have previously sung Verdi or Puccini - and vice versa.

What music do you prefer: Puccini or Wagner? 

I do not want to miss either one. Both Wagner, as well as Puccini's music have a tremendous suction force, which one as listener can hardly escape. Both composers have set the sensual effect of their music, both have understood it masterfully to symphonically illustrate the inner life of their characters. Whereby Puccini’s works are certainly even "cinematic." Not for nothing are his operas often associated with film music. He painted pictures with music.

The eternal issue: How important is the appearance of a singer? 

The appearance of singers has become more important in the era of opera transmissions in the cinema and television and on DVD, it seems to me logical, and if singers therefore pay more attention to their figure, then that's just okay. But if first class singers are replaced by mediocre ones, because the former are less "telegenic", and if more emphasis is put on optical than on vocal or musical criteria, then the pain threshold is reached for me. And basically the criteria for optical credibility in the opera are so different from film. There might be a 15-year-old Butterfly or l7-year-old Salome who doubles for an experienced singer, but not live on stage.

Does it bother you as star tenor always to be an "object of desire"? Or is it a cliché from the past? 

It annoys me when it's all about my appearance and has nothing to do with my voice and performance. Not only on stage but also in concerts we want singers who are appreciated and sought after primarily because of our performance. If I am a singer and performer "object of desire," then I'll take that as a compliment.

What makes the eroticism of the tenor voice?

That has already been asked by philosophers like Ernst Bloch who has described the tenor as a "singing Erotikon". Does it have to do primarily with the fact that the romantic lovers were mostly written for tenor voice?  One would have to reply that many famous tenors optically were not exactly the Latin Lover type. So it must have primarily to do with the sound, especially with the sound development in the high notes.

Are there any boundaries for modern productions? Would you get out when something totally goes against the grain? 

The limit would be reached when music and text are in no way respected and the director only seeks to provoke a scandal, to get a lot of attention from the press. Then I would try to propose something constructive. Of course, there are situations where one is so annoyed that one would rather get out. But he who gets out, cannot change anything, let alone save it. So I'm always for first seeking dialogue with the director to see if you cannot find a common path.

Can you imagine ever living without the general public, the great applause? 

Most certainly! Twice I came to the place where I had to think: How would life be without the stage? That was during my novice crisis in Saarbrücken, where I was on the stage in a small part, and the voice went completely away, and in June 2012, as an infection was so persistent that I had to take two months off. In both cases, I said to myself: If I can’t sing any longer, then I’ll have to do something else.

You won again an ECHO Klassik. Can you still be happy about such prizes? 

But yes! Such awards are recognition of my work. Who would not be happy?

[Naturally he agrees with me.]

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

News about Jonas Kaufmann

There will be a DVD of Verdi's La Forza del Destino from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich starring Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros reviewed here.

As part of his residence at the Barbican in London Feb 2017 Jonas will sing Strauss's Vier Letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs).  He's already done Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, which I think he could have done better, so why not other soprano repertoire?

He will do his first Tales of Hoffmann in Paris and first Otello in London.

There's a lot more, but these seem sufficient.