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


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


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


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


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. "


Wednesday, November 02, 2016

New Heggie opera at Houston Grand

If you are a fan of Jake Heggie, Houston Grand Opera will produce a new opera by him called It's a Wonderful Life in time for Christmas.  It plays December 2 - 17 and is based on the movie with James Stewart.

This opera will preview in New York City at the Guggenheim Museum on November 6, 2016.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Song for the first of November


Stell auf den Tisch
die duftenden Reseden,
Die letzten roten Astern trag herbei,
Und laß uns wieder von der Liebe reden,
Wie einst im Mai.

Gib mir die Hand, daß ich sie heimlich drücke
Und wenn man's sieht, mir ist es einerlei,
Gib mir nur einen deiner süßen Blicke,
Wie einst im Mai.

Es blüht und duftet heut auf jedem Grabe,
Ein Tag im Jahr ist ja den Toten frei,
Komm an mein Herz, daß ich dich wieder habe,
Wie einst im Mai.

Place on the table
the fragrant mignonettes,
Bring inside the last red asters,
and let us speak again of love,
as once we did in May.

Give me your hand,
so that I can press it secretly;
and if someone sees us, it's all the same to me.
Just give me your sweet gaze,
as once you did in May.

Flowers adorn today each grave,
sending off their fragrances;
one day in the year is free for the dead.
Come close to my heart, so that I can have you again,
as once I did in May.

His Strauss Lieder is still my favorite.  Perhaps I should provide a short explanation.  "One day in the year is free for the dead."  That would be November 1, All souls day or Allerseelen.  The dead live again.  In this case they want to experience each other together again.

I read today that All Souls Day was once in May, and over 1000 years ago it was moved to November.