Sunday, December 31, 2017

Silvesterkonzert der Berliner Philharmoniker


Antonín Dvořák Carnival Overture, op. 92
Igor Stravinsky Pas de deux from Apollon musagète
Richard Strauss Orchestral Songs Joyce DiDonato mezzo-soprano
Leonard Bernstein 3 Dance Episodes from On the Town
Leonard Bernstein Take Care of this House Joyce DiDonato mezzo-soprano 
Dmitri Shostakovich Suite from The Golden Age, op. 22a

I am here for Joyce, of course.  The Strauss songs were truly wonderful, both for Joyce's singing and for Sir Simon Rattle's conducting.  So Strauss conducting is not dead after all.  I found this on ARTE.

Take Care of this House is suitable both for 100 years of Leonard Bernstein and for the blessing on our own White House.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Favorites by Year 2017 👍🏻

For the sake of my budget I made no opera trips farther away than San Francisco this year.  To compensate the international opera festivals brought me an overwhelming selection of live streams.  I reviewed 55 performances, including 1 DVD, 9 HDs, 15 live, 3 movies, 2 tv, 17 streams, and 7 YT.

For another perspective on 2017 see KK Awards.

Favorite Performances

  • Gounod's Roméo et Juliette in HD ** is mentioned for intense sexiness. Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau projected wonderful youthfulness.   Met HD
  • (JK)(AH) Giordano's Andrea Chénier from Munich with Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros.  I can't decide if I prefer this one over the one from La Scala.   Live Stream.  ##20

  • Rossini's opera Semiramide from Munich starred Joyce DiDonato in fine form.  It was exciting to hear Semiramide sung by a mezzo.   Live Stream.
  • Jean-Philippe Rameau's Le temple de la Gloire was brought to us by Berkeley's Philharmonia Baroque. ** It featured traditional Baroque dancing.    Local
  • (AN) Lohengrin from Dresden with Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala.  This was mainly for fun but produced a DVD.   Live Stream.

  • Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier from the Met with the spectacular cast assembled by Peter Gelb for Renée Fleming's retirement.  **  Met HD  ##20

  • Richard Strauss's Elektra live from San Francisco.  **  This included a modern production and Christine Goerke as Elektra.  My mom had a kitchen like that.    Local  ##20

Singer of the Year

The singing prize goes to Quinn Kelsey for his magnificent Rigoletto.

Didn't like

For me there was much to love from all over the world in 2017.

New to Me Opera

  1. John Adams's Girls of the Golden West (2017) given its world premier by the San Francisco Opera (Live). **
  2. Thomas Adès's The Exterminating Angel (2016) in HD from the Met (HD) **
  3. Alma Deutscher's Cinderella (2016) made its American premier at Opera San Jose and was streamed.
  4. Jonathan Dove's Flight (1999) which was presented live by Opera Parallele, **
  5. Sebastian Fagerlund's Autumn Sonata (2017) from Finland (F),
  6. Handel's Theodora from Glyndebourne (1759) on DVD (F),
  7. Jimmy López's Bel Canto (2015) which was shown on television (F),
  8. Vicente Martín y Soler's The Chastity Tree (1787) performed live by West Edge **
  9. Kirke Mechem's Tartuffe (1980) done live at CSUS,**
  10. Mussorgsky's Sorochyntsi Fair (1923) from The Opera Platform (F),
  11. Poulenc's La Voix Humaine (1959) live from the San Francisco Opera  **
  12. Rameau's Le Temple de la Gloire (1746) which was performed live by Philharmonia Baroque **
  13. Arthur Sullivan's Patience (1881) presented live by Sacramento Light Opera **
  14. Leonardo Vinci's Artaserse (1730) from an old film (F),
  15. Carl Maria von Weber's Oberon (1826) from Munich live stream regie.
##20 top 20 all time
** live, live stream or live in HD

Things recommended to buy


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Alma Deutscher's Cinderella

Conductor.........Jane Glover
Stage director...Brad Dalton

Cinderella...........Vanessa Becerra
Prince.................Jonas Hacker
King...................Nathan Stark
Emeline (fairy godmother)...Claudia Chapa
Stepmother..........Mary Dunleavy
Griselda...............Stacey Tappan
Zibaldona............Karin Mushegain
Minister...............Brian James Myer

Alma Deutscher, in red in the picture above, is about the same age as this blog.  She is English,  began to play piano at 2 and composed a piano sonata at 6.  She is a prodigy of the sort we seldom see these days.

Alma Deutscher's Cinderella is coming to us from Opera San José via  It premiered in Vienna in 2016 in German.  Our version is in English.  One wishes for this, that the genius of music has not left us.  Her understanding of operatic voices and conventions is astounding.  Thomas Adès might take notice.

The plot is closer to Disney than to Rossini.  Mother goes with her daughters to the ball which includes a song competition.  Highly suitable for an opera, don't you think?  The Prince is the poet and Cinderella is the composer.  It is wonderful how much Alma loves her opera.

The star is Alma herself who plays the piano, violin and at the end the organ.   It is a fairy tale of life, just as it should be.  A very enjoyable night at the theater.  It runs until March on


Friday, December 15, 2017

2017 Opera Year in Review KK Opera Awards

It's time for the 2017 KK Opera Awards.

Jonas Kaufmann returned to opera in 2017, and while he didn't appear anywhere near me, I managed to see him in three operas:  Giordano's Andrea Chénier live streamed from the Bayerische Staatsoper, a delayed movie broadcast of Verdi's Otello from London's Royal Opera House, and the French version of Verdi's Don Carlos presented at the Opera Bastille in Paris.  These will show up below in their respective categories.

New operas for me in 2017 were Le Temple de la Gloire by Rameau which was performed by Philharmonia Baroque (L), Sorochyntsi Fair by Mussorgsky from The Opera Platform (F), Tartuffe by Kirke Mechem done at a local college (L), Artaserse by Leonardo Vinci from an old film (F), Oberon by Carl Maria von Weber from Munich (LS), The Chastity Tree by Vicente Martín y Soler performed by West Edge (L), Theodora by Handel from Glyndebourne (F), Patience by Arthur Sullivan and presented by Sacramento Lyric Opera (L), Bel Canto by Jimmy López which was shown on television (F), Flight by Jonathan Dove which was presented by Opera Parallele, (L), Autumn Sonata by Sebastian Fagerlund from Finland (F), The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès in HD from the Met (HD), Girls of the Golden West by John Adams given its world premier by the San Francisco Opera (L) and Cinderella by Alma Deutscher in its American premier at Opera San Jose.

That's 14 new operas, one more than last year.  Six were live, one was an HD simulcast, one was from PBS, two were from YouTube, Oberon was a live stream, etc.  I'm pretty aggressive in finding things that interest me.  It's important that one of these operas is by Rameau who continues to arouse my imagination.   Girls of the Golden West is the newest.  Artaserse by Leonardo Vinci and Theodora by Handel, viewed for their productions, were both performed a few years earlier and are not eligible for awards for this year.  I feel I still haven't seen Oberon.

The performance I most wish I had seen is Thaïs from the Met starring Ailyn Pérez and Gerald Finley.  The audio was wonderful, but an HD would have been even better.  Here is an explanation of my categories.

  • BEST NEW (to me) OPERA AWARD  I was pretty fuddy duddy here since I seem to have liked the older operas better.  I can only award to performances that took place this year, so the candidates are:  Le Temple de la Gloire by Rameau, The Chastity Tree by Vicente Martín y Soler, Autumn Sonata by Sebastian Fagerlund, The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès, and Girls of the Golden West by Adams.  I seem not to be able to forgive Adès for the screeching sopranos. The winner is Le Temple de la Gloire by Rameau for the beauty of its music and its theatrical concept.  

  • BEST ROMANTIC OPERA NOT VERDI OR WAGNER AWARD  Neither of the two Wagner operas I saw merited an award.  The candidates are  Gounod's Roméo et Juliette from the Met, Dvorak's Rusalka from the Met, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin from the Met, Carmen from Aix-en-Provence, Weber's Oberon from Munich, Thomas's Hamlet from West Edge, and Massenet's Manon from San Francisco.  This was the better of Netrebko's Eugene Onegin.   Roméo et Juliette was extremely sexy.  I enjoyed several of these but award to ManonThe drabness of the sets didn't really suit this opera, but the acting and musical elements were great.  

  • BEST VERISMO OPERA AWARD  The candidates are La Bohème from San Francisco, Turandot from San Francisco, Giordano's Andrea Chénier from Munich, and Giordano's Andrea Chénier from La Scala Milan.  The Munich Giordano with Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros was absolutely wonderful, a complete triumph.  Milan was a close second.

  • BEST RICHARD STRAUSS AWARD  The candidates are Der Rosenkavalier from the Met and Elektra from San Francisco with Christine Goerke.  Both were wonderful, but Der Rosenkavalier was for the ages.

  • BEST MODERN OPERA AWARD  The candidates are Bel Canto by Jimmy López, Berg's Wozzeck with a production that may come to the Met soon, Autumn Sonata by Sebastian Fagerlund, Flight  by Jonathan Dove, La Voix humaine by Poulenc, The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès and Girls of the Golden West by John Adams..   The first three are fairly subdued while The Exterminating Angel was quite intense.  The pickings were pretty slim, perhaps too slim to justify an award.  I've decided to come out of left field and award to Autumn Sonata.  Opera used to be like this.  Life used to be like this.

  • BEST TRADITIONAL STAGING AWARD  I award to Giordano's Andrea Chénier from La Scala Milan.  This was outstanding, though a bit dark at times.


  • BEST TRANSFORMATION OF AN OPERA INTO SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT  The candidates are Carmen from Aix-en-Provence, and Oberon by Carl Maria von Weber from Munich, both of which changed traditional opera plots into condemnations of psychoanalysis, and both of which rewrote the spoken dialog.  Or something.  Who can be sure?  The winner is Carmen You knew that.
  • BEST PERFORMANCE BY A SOPRANO  Christine Goerke in Elektra
  • BEST PERFORMANCE BY A MEZZO  Elīna Garanča in Der Rosenkavalier
  • BEST PERFORMANCE BY A TENOR  Vittorio Grigolo in Roméo et Juliette
  • BEST PERFORMANCE BY A BARITONE  Quinn Kelsey in Rigoletto.
  • BEST OPERA OF THE YEAR  This has to go to Der Rosenkavalier.

Equal Time

Netrebko deserves equal time with Harteros, don't you think?  "Io son d'amore."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Andrea Chénier from La Scala

Conductor: Riccardo Chailly
Staging: Mario Martone

Andrea Chénier: Yusif Eyvazov
Maddalena di Coigny: Anna Netrebko
Carlo Gérard: Luca Salsi
La mulatta Bersi: Annalisa Stroppa
La Contessa di Coigny: Mariana Pentcheva
Madelon: Judit Kutasi
Roucher: Gabriele Sagona

Giordano's Andrea Chénier is an opera about the French revolution.  The only other one I can think of is Dialogues of the Carmelites which sees the terror from a somewhat different perspective.  It is curious that no opera sees the revolution from the side of the revolutionaries.

This is a wonderful traditional staging from La Scala Milano.  In the first scene the staging is very clear with the revolutionaries' faces appearing through the windows. As I work my way through the scenes, they are all well done and easy to follow.  Not too much detail, not too little.  This is lovely, with well handled chorus, and all the elements of an excellent traditional staging.

"Viva la morte insiem."  Long live death together.  Sort of a self cancelling phrase.  I have been listening to German versions of Italian operas for so long I have forgotten what the Italian version sounds like.  Yusif is actually more highly regarded in Italy.  His steely tone cuts right through the orchestra when necessary.  He and Netrebko are gradually merging into each other.  Will we like the result?

I love this opera and have very much enjoyed its recent popularity.  I realize it will soon disappear, but that's no reason not to love it now.  The poet falls in love and stays behind in France to protect his love.  As a result, he is executed.  It is an opera about love. Maddalena tells us that an angel has kissed her.  This is the exterminating angel.  He has marked her for death.

Chailly knows his Italian repertoire and gives us a stylistically excellent reading. Lovely.  This is the one.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Girls of the Golden West

Hye Jung Lee, Julia Bullock, J'Nai Bridges 

Here are our Girls of the Golden West, a new opera by John Adams on a libretto assembled by Peter Sellars.  I say assembled because there is no evidence he wrote any of these words himself.  The characters of the opera represent real people whose words are used.  Some of the words are from a speech by Frederick Douglas and were sung by Davóne Tines.  An opera about California should start in California at the San Francisco Opera.

Conductor Grant Gershon *
Director Peter Sellars

Clarence (bass-baritone) Ryan McKinny *
Dame Shirley (soprano) Julia Bullock *
Ned Peters, fugitive slave (bass-baritone) Davóne Tines *
Joe Cannon (tenor) Paul Appleby
Ah Sing (soprano) Hye Jung Lee
Ramón (baritone) Elliot Madore
Josefa Segovia (mezzo-soprano) J'Nai Bridges
Lola Montez (dancer) Lorena Feijóo
Fayette, Dame Shirley's husband (silent) Kai Brothers

Up by the proscenium were what appeared to be speakers. Toward the end of the opera I experienced pain in my ears which I attribute to these.

There are many many stories and little continuity.  Joe Cannon is abandoned by his girl friend in Missouri and takes up with Ah Sing, a prostitute.  Joe secretly marries Ah Sing who thinks she has it made.  Joe and the crowd then turn on her and drive her off.

Dame Shirley portrays Lady Macbeth along with her narrator role.  Her husband Fayette is seen, but she spends most of her time with Ned.

I have seen Peter Sellars' work as a director of other people's works in his original Da Ponte/Mozart trio of operas, in Vivaldi's Griselda at Santa Fe, in The Death of Klinghoffer in San Francisco, in Theodora from Glyndebourne, in the Bach St. Matthew Passion from Berlin and in last summer's La Clemenza di Tito from Salzburg.  I didn't wildly hate any of these though Griselda seemed beyond anyone.  In contrast I wildly loved the Bach and Clemenza di Tito.  This was a great surprise for me.  Theodora was also excellent.

The list of his text assemblages that I have seen consists of El Nino, Doctor Atomic, and his newest GirlsEl Nino was rather like an oratorio and might have worked if I had seen it live or in a split screen filming.  Other people liked Doctor Atomic better than I did.  But assembling fragments of only roughly unrelated texts into something that only approximates a story doesn't work for me.

Sellars seems to be seeking to transform the genre into something representing truth.  Real words are closer to truth than made up ones, I guess.  He hasn't yet sold me.

I don't want to leave this subject before mentioning how much I loved Julia Bullock whom I have never heard before.  Every note, every word was a diamond.  She raised her character to greatness.  J'Nai Bridges was also beautiful.  Adams' music was generally good but sometimes excruciatingly loud.  There were occasional scenes of greatness.

The guitar and the accordion did not make it into the program.

Monday, December 04, 2017

James Levine

The archives of the Metropolitan Opera show 2686 entries for the conductor James Levine.  I recently posted a guide to the Met On Demand.  Most of the early films found there will show James Levine conducting. 

So now we have a hideous scandal involving him.  Many people are said to have known this was going on, but it never rose to general awareness.  Behind the scenes sex is a known feature of show business.  In the film world there are magazines devoted to telling you who is messing around with whom.  But classical music likes to pretend this doesn't extend to them.

I don't know what to say.  I've thought for a while that he should have retired, but he seemed not to want to even think about it.  Now others will be found to conduct his performances.  Did he do these things?  Probably.  With all my heart I hope it will not kill the Metropolitan Opera.  Perhaps Peter Gelb should retire.  I don't want this great cultural institution to disappear from my life.  I probably won't miss Levine.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

An Observation about Norma

I have seen Norma a number of times in several productions from very conservative to WWII style.  There is one thing I have never seen.  Norma is a priestess who during the opera conducts two different religious ceremonies.  What usually changes when one transitions from normal life to a religious ceremony and back again?  One usually appears first in street clothes, followed by vestments, followed again by street clothes.  Have I ever seen Norma appear in what would appear to be a ceremonial garment of any kind?  No.  This is why the actions always feel wrong.  We need more than you telling us she is a priestess.  We need to see it, too.

Friday, December 01, 2017


Of all the recent pictures and remembrances, this picture from Anna Netrebko's Instagram was my favorite.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Alma Deutscher

This opera will soon appear on

Alma Deutscher isn't singing, she's composing.  She's 12.  These are songs from her opera Cinderella which plays in San Jose in December. It's sold out. Her harmonic sense is very pleasing. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Summer Festivals 2018

Salzburg Whitsun 18 May – 21 May 2018
  • Gioachino Rossini L'italiana in Algeri (and main festival, Cecilia Bartoli)
  • Jacques Offenbach La Périchole

Salzburg Festival 20 July – 30 August 2018
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Die Zauberflöte
  • Richard Strauss Salome
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky The Queen of Spades
  • Claudio Monteverdi L’incoronazione di Poppea with Sonya Yoncheva
  • Hans Werner Henze The Bassarids 
  • Gottfried von Einem Der Prozess 
  • Georges Bizet Les Pêcheurs de perles 
  • Gioachino Rossini L'italiana in Algeri

Santa Fe Opera  28 June – 25 August 2019
  • Leonard Bernstein Candide 
  • Richard Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos  with Erin Morley's Zerbinetta
  • Gioachino Rossini L'italiana in Algeri with Daniela Mack
  • Giacomo Puccini La Boheme
  • John Adams Doctor Atomic in New Mexico where it all happened.

Aix-en-Provence Festival  4 – 24 July 2018
  • Richard Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos 
  • Sergei Prokofiev The Fiery Angel 
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Die Zauberflöte 
  • Ondřej Adámek Seven Stones from the Tower of Babel 
  • Henry Purcell Dido and Aeneas 

Glyndebourne Festival  2 June – 25 August 2019
  • Giacomo Puccini Madama Butterfly
  • Richard Strauss Der Rosenkavalier
  • George Frideric Handel Giulio Cesare
  • Claude Debussy Pelléas et Mélisande 
  • George Frideric Handel Saul 
  • Samuel Barber Vanessa 

Munich Opera Festival  24 June – 31 July 2018
  • Richard Wagner Parsifal
  • Richard Wagner Der fliegende Holländer
  • Richard Strauss Arabella
  • Giacomo Puccini Tosca
  • Giacomo Puccini Il trittico
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Le nozze di Figaro
  • Richard Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungen
  • Joseph Haydn Orlando Paladino
  • etc.
Opera Theater of Saint Louis  19 May -- 24 June 2018
  • Giuseppe Verdi La Traviata
  • Marc Blitzstein Regina
  • Huang Ruo An American Soldier
  • Christoph Willibald Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice
West Edge Opera has announced three operas for next summer:
  • Debussey's Pelléas and Mélisande (1902).   This is to be directed by Keturah Stickan and is a change from the original announcement.  The cast sounds excellent.
  • Matt Marks' Mata Hari (2017) which premiered at Prototype Festival this year.  Tina Mitchell will play the title role.  This is to be directed by Paul Peers.
  • Luca Francesconi's "sexual psycho-drama" Quartet (2011)  This will be directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer.  "Brutal fury."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dmitri Hvorostovsky (1962 - 2017)

Unfortunately this time it is real.  Dmitri Hvorostovsky has died in hospice in London.  He was my favorite.  I saw him live in San Francisco and London and adored him.  We will miss you.

Sunday, November 19, 2017


This was a really busy weekend for me.  I went to 4 performances in 3 days.

  1. Manon in San Francisco on Thursday

  2. Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill at Sac State on Friday

  3. The Exterminating Angel on Saturday morning

  4. Sacramento Philharmonic on Saturday night
So if my reviews seem scattered, that's my excuse.  Berlin to Broadway was a student offering that made of Kurt Weill's songs a sort of biography by presenting 25 different songs in chronological order.  Some were familiar, some were not.  I love Weill and found this fun.  Everything was sung in English, including this one.

I reviewed Manon.  It's hard to direct opera because there are usually so many people on the stage.  It needs to be easy to pick out the main characters and to show how they relate to one another.

I ended up with ambiguity in my reaction to The Exterminating Angel.  I think the content is fascinating.  An HD performance is directed on two levels:  the listed stage director and the camera director.  The first might well have shown who each character is and who they came in with while the camera director might have cut too many people out of the picture to leave much meaning.

I liked the idea of it more than the reality.  I did not like the super high notes--highest ever heard on the stage of the Metropolitan.  Maybe you never heard it because it's hideous.  Get rid of that and I'll think it over.  The ending I liked. This gives an idea.

The Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera presented a concert of Gioachino Rossini and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart called "A Night at the Opera."  There was singing by Alyssa Martin, mezzo soprano, and Steven LaBrie, baritone.   They sang bits from Barber of Seville, Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni.

Rossini was represented by an arrangement by Benjamin Britten called Soirées musicales.  Mozart was represented by the Prague Symphony.  The philharmonic is playing well now. The guest conductor was Sameer Patel.  I would have preferred more singing.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Exterminating Angel

Conductor...............Thomas Adès
Production..............Tom Cairns

Edmundo De Nobile, host.......Joseph Kaiser
Lucía De Nobile, hostess......Amanda Echalaz

Leticia Maynar, guest of honor... Audrey Luna
Leonora Palma, flirts with Doctor Conde.....Alice Coote
Silvia De Ávila, sister of Francisco.........Sally Matthews
Francisco De Ávila, countertenor, brother of Silvia......Iestyn Davies
Blanca Delgado, pianist......Christine Rice
Alberto Roc, conductor.............Rod Gilfry
Beatriz, engaged to Eduardo..........Sophie Bevan
Eduardo, engaged to Beatriz..........David Portillo
Raúl Yebenes, explorer............Frédéric Antoun
Colonel Álvaro Gómez, Lucia's lover....David Adam Moore
Señor Russell...........Kevin Burdette
Doctor Carlos Conde.....John Tomlinson

Julio, stays behind.....Christian Van Horn
Lucas...................John Irvin
Enrique.................Ian Koziara
Pablo...................Paul Corona
Meni....................Mary Dunleavy
Camila..................Catherine Cook
Servant.................Andrea Coleman
Servant.................Marc Persing

Padre Sansón............Jeff Mattsey
Yoli, child.................Lucas Mann

The Metropolitan Opera live streamed The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès. The opera is based on the 1962 film by Luis Buñuel which I have never seen.  In the 60s there was a global movement in art movies of which this is a representative.

I didn't prepare for this opera, and that turned out to be fortuitous.  When the ending came, I was pleasingly surprised.  Many of the cast were in the premiere at Salzburg in 2016.

Some guests have been to a performance of Lucia di Lammermoor and are invited to an after party.  One of the guests, Leticia, performed Lucia in the opera.  Right away the servants begin to flee.  No explanation is offered.  Then after the dinner the guests find they cannot leave.  Again no explanation is offered.

Apparently Adès has been obsessed with this subject for some years and finally received permission.  He is a composer in the modernist style with screeching sopranos and jumpy melodic lines.  I don't find it particularly attractive.  I did enjoy seeing and hearing the Ondes Martenot which was shown in closeup being played.  There was a lot of drumming.  At times it seemed like a comedy.  It wasn't as grotesque as I had imagined.

Over the course of the opera Russell and Beatriz die.  The guests dig a hole in the floor and water comes up.  The brother and sister seem to be romantically attracted to each other.  An unknown amount of time passes.  There were live sheep at the beginning which were eaten when everyone was starving.  There was someone hovering in the air above one of the women who might have been the exterminating angel himself.

For no apparent reason everyone decided to repeat exactly what they did when they arrived, and this seemed to break the spell.  They could then leave as though nothing had happened.

This is supposed to be a great opera but there are far too many characters.  It did make me curious to see the movie.  Alice Coote thought it was a parable on life which is also entirely without explanation.  We are here.  We cannot leave.  We don't know why.  Forgive me if I have misquoted her intentions.

I am not likely to ever be a fan of Thomas Adès.  For me opera is about singing which never became interesting.  People admire his orchestration and that is both the virtue and the fault of this piece.  Instead of composing for singers, he has simply orchestrated them.  At least in The Tempest there was the charming music for Ariel, but I heard nothing here that I would wish to ever hear again.  I would advise any high soprano to refuse any offers to sing this.  It can't possibly be good for your voice.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Manon at the San Francisco Opera

Conductor: Patrick Fournillier
Director: Vincent Boussard

Manon Lescaut: Ellie Dehn
Chevalier des Grieux: Michael Fabiano
Lescaut: David Pershall
Comte des Grieux: James Creswell
Guillot de Morfontaine:  Robert Brubaker
De Brétigny:  Timothy Mix
Poussette:  Monica Dewey *
Javotte:  Laura Krumm
Rosette:  Renée Rapier

Last night was the fourth performance of Massenet's Manon at the San Francisco Opera.

I find it helpful to contrast the plot of this opera with Puccini's Manon Lescaut.  To begin Massenet's heroine arrives in town on the "coach" on her way to the convent.  In our production she looks like Eliza Doolittle.  Puccini is similar.  In Puccini Lescaut is Manon's brother while in Massenet he is her cousin.  In both versions there are rich old men who want Manon.  In our production virtually all the characters are introduced in the first act but no effort was made to clarify who they were and how they relate to the story.  There was just a lot of meaningless milling around until Manon and des Grieux arrive.

In Massenet we see des Grieux and Manon living together and see that their separation was caused by the elder des Grieux kidnapping of his son.  In Puccini we go immediately to Manon living with one of the two old men as the result of her brother's dealings.  And when she attempts to escape her keeper, he has her arrested and shipped to America.

Massenet focuses on the relationship between des Grieux and Manon, a much more romantic and appealing approach.  After des Grieux's departure, Manon takes up with one of the old men.  The staging of Manon's gavotte is the highlight of the production.  She is seen high above the stage holding a large bunch of balloons and then floats down to the floor.  Fun.  I was worried she would have to sing from the flies, an acoustic dead spot.

When des Grieux is kidnapped by his father, he goes into the religious life and orates on the meaning of life.  This allows for the sexiest scene in all of opera:  the scene at Saint-Sulpice.  Manon has not forgotten des Grieux and goes to the church to seduce him away from his religious calling.  She succeeds.  "Isn't this my hand?"

The couple get involved in gambling and are arrested for cheating.  They have created their own fate, far less depressing than Puccini where they both die in Louisiana.

This performance was saved by music.  Our lovely French conductor kept the action moving and supported our romantic pair.  Ellie Dehn handled well all the changes of style of her role and sounded lovely.  Michael was intense and exciting as always.  His voice fills our house with ease.  Together they made a very romantic couple and brought the audience to applause over and over.  I loved it.

Monday, November 13, 2017


Olga Borodina.  My favorite for this.  This is her favorite music.  You can tell.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Thaïs on the Radio

Conductor: Emmanuel Villaume
Production: John Cox

Thaïs:  Ailyn Pérez
Nicias: Jean-François Borras
Athanaël: Gerald Finley
Palémon: David Pittsinger

Because I am an admirer of Ailyn Pérez, I am listening to the Saturday radio broadcast of Jules Massenet's Thaïs.  This production debuted with Renée Fleming in an HD simulcast, so I can still visualize the sets to a limited extent.  Ailyn begins the opera in the blond wig seen below.

Towards the end her hair gets shorter and rattier.  I've been following Ailyn Pérez since almost the beginning of the blog, and I am a fan.  This is a perfect role for her.  Finley is also very good.  The applause was enthusiastic.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

From the New York times.

Anna Netrebko Will Star in Three Met-Bolshoi Productions


Anna Netrebko Credit Maxim Shipenkov/European Pressphoto Agency

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Film of Cecilia

This is fun.  Cecilia is walking through Salzburg and says that when she is in Europe, she feels at home.  Then we see her with her husband, Oliver Widmer.  Doesn't she look great.  He is carrying the bags and calls her, "Herr Bartoli."  This will be because of the beard for Ariodante.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Cultural Appropriation

According to Wikipedia:

Cultural appropriation is a concept in sociology, dealing with the adoption of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture.  

I would like to suggest that this is nonsense.  So according to this idea, the following things are bad:
  • All jazz because either white people appropriated African-American rhythms or African-Americans appropriated western harmonic tradition.  You pick.  Jazz is worth whatever cultures were offended in inventing the genre.
  • The Beatles because they appropriated American rock and roll.
  • All of European harmonic tradition because the continentals appropriated the triad from the British.
  • Opera because it appropriated the idea of sung drama from the Greeks.  This particular appropriation was deliberate and self-conscious.
The truth of the matter is that most of the greatest advances in human history came about because of the blending of ideas from different cultures.  Speaking as an American, we have no culture. So what are we supposed to do?  Stay indoors with a blanket over our heads?

Interesting and thought provoking art objects are the goal, and this can often be achieved by juxtaposing one culture against another.  I created a list of operas here which I was considering discussing from the point of view of this concept, but why bother.  I'd rather follow the tradition, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

Small post script:  The resulting imitation never precisely duplicates the original, and the differences are what makes it art.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Le Nozze di Figaro from Munich

Conductor: Constantinos Carydis
Production: Christof Loy

Il Conte di Almaviva: Christian Gerhaher
La Contessa di Almaviva: Federica Lombardi
Cherubino: Solenn' Lavanant-Linke
Figaro: Alex Esposito
Susanna: Olga Kulchynska
Bartolo: Paolo Bordogna
Marcellina: Anne Sofie von Otter
Basilio: Manuel Günther
Don Curzio: Dean Power
Antonio: Milan Siljanov
Barbarina: Anna El-Khashem

Haven't I seen this set before, or does every set look like a theater now?  Some costumes are modern, others are period.  Uniforms?  This is the live stream of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro from the Bayerische Staatsoper.  I'm hearing a piano in the secco recitative, maybe a first for me.  Mozart played pianos, not harpsichords.

This is of course an opera about sexual harassment, in case you were imagining this was a new thing.  Perhaps that's why it is ever green in every generation.  The women get their revenge.  I wonder how many modern women think of that. 

The comedy is very much enhanced by the fairly brisk tempos.  Munich is one of the best opera companies in the world, and this is a very high quality performance.  This is a gorgeous "Dove sono" from our Contessa.  And our conductor is a winner of the Kleiber prize. Musically it is gorgeous.  How to conduct Strauss may be falling from memory, but Mozart was never better than today.  This is a lesson, especially the recitative.

The production is simple and does not interfere with the story.  Either the people shrink or the doors get bigger.  You decide.  I choose the people are shrinking.

One does not think to ask, also for the first time, why one is hearing Marcellina's aria.  Except one isn't.  This is a song interpolation of Mozart's "Abendempfindung.“  It fits beautifully and is for the biggest star of this cast, Anne Sofie von Otter.  This is lovely.

I cannot explain how much I love it.  Everyone should see this. The ending is cute.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Conversation on Facebook

Question I've wanted to ask for a while.
Cecilia Bartoli was such a phenom in the 90's.
The Met clamored to engage her. As I remember it was a new production of le Nozze di Figaro. I remember on the telecast, she insisted on singing an alternative act 4 aria. There was consternation.
So, I'm wondering why The Met has not asked her back? Her choice? -I'm inclining to believe. Met's choice? Was it a falling out because of the aria issue?
I know she is still singing.
I'm sure many of you were around the Met at the time.

As a longtime fan of Cecilia Bartoli, I have often wondered the same thing.

The Met would have hired Cecilia for their own benefit, to reap in ticket sales the bounty from her raging popularity.

Cecilia’s career bloomed early in the United States. She was a client of Columbia Artists Management who benefited from a master of publicity on its staff. She sang in Texas, gave many concerts around the country, and sold large numbers of records. Her brief trio of appearances at the Metropolitan Opera in 1996-98 capped this period. Levine was very possessive, took her to see operas at Bayreuth, and cast her in soubrette roles such as Kathleen Battle might sing. As a coloratura mezzo, she seems to have seen her career differently.

The center of opera was still Europe, and Cecilia is a European. I would guess that she was actively courted by the Zurich Opera, a house that is much closer to Rome where her mother still lives than anything in America, and does not require flying. She also switched her management to Europe. Her fame was now very strong in German speaking Europe, strong enough to support her blossoming career. In Zurich she sang Giulio Cesare, Il Turco in Italia, Le Comte Ory, Clari, and Semele, all operas where she sang the central role and not the soubrette. She also sang Fiordiligi and Donna Elvira, also not soubrette roles. Most of these can be purchased on DVD. None of the Met performances can, indicating the absence of financial agreement. Met on demand provides the only source.

What I’m basically saying is that it was a career decision. The ridiculous fuss over her aria choices in Le Nozze di Figaro probably just pushed it over the edge.

She still concertizes as much as she ever did. She just doesn’t make it to the Unite
d States very often. She just doesn’t need us. Besides, she is management now.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Video Guide to Metropolitan Opera On Demand

Should you wish to educate yourself about opera using the Metropolitan Opera On Demand, I have put together a list.  I am recommending only videos, but if you enjoy audio performances, there are plenty of those to choose from.  These recommendations are based on my taste, but the operas selected cannot help being slanted toward the biases of the Met repertoire.  Sometimes the best performance comes from other houses which I will deal with later.

Please note that the HD performances began in 2006.  I include a performance date for my selections to show which of a number of performances I have selected.  I have bolded the best examples based on the criteria of significance of the opera in standard repertoire and quality of the performance.  The operas for each group will be listed chronologically by premier date.

If while exploring this outline, you come across a composer or performer who attracts your attention, do not hesitate to follow this attraction where it leads.


We begin with the Baroque where I have included only two examples. 

Giulio Cesare Handel 27-Apr-13
Agrippina Handel 29-Feb-20

There is nothing Baroque about the production of either one of these operas.  The first concerns itself with the British Empire, which in turn makes the opera a lot of fun.  There is dancing and Natalie Dessay.  Joyce DiDonato is the star of Agrippina which is also a lot of fun.


Iphigénie en Tauride Gluck 26-Feb-11
Le Nozze di Figaro #8 Mozart 11-Nov-98
Don Giovanni #10 Mozart 22-Oct-16
Cosi fan tutte #14 Mozart 27-Feb-96
The Magic Flute #4 Mozart 30-Dec-06
La Clemenza di Tito Mozart 1-Dec-12
Fidelio Beethoven 28-Oct-00

Many of these selections are from the period before HD transmissions into movie theaters, but they remain my favorites.  Examples from HD are Iphigénie en Tauride with Domingo and Graham (the HD was on a bad day), Don Giovanni with Simon Keenlyside (not my favorite), The Magic Flute in the Julie Taymor production in English, and the excellent La Clemenza di Tito (a serious opera) with Elīna Garanča, best of the Mozart HDs.

To round out the list I have included two filmings of Cecilia Bartoli in her Mozart period:  Le Nozze di Figaro (still my favorite) and Cosi fan tutte.   Last but certainly nor least is Karita Mattila's spectacularly wonderful Fidelio.  This is the best possible introduction to this opera.  We go back in time when the selection is better. 

In this era we still have show piece arias, but they are mixed with ensembles and other music to enhance the drama. All these productions are relatively conservative with the possible exception of Magic Flute.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Don Carlos from Paris

Conductor: Philippe Jordan
Regie:  Krzysztof Warlikowski

Jonas Kaufmann (Don Carlos)
Elina Garanča (Die Prinzessin Eboli)
Sonya Yoncheva (Élisabeth de Valois)
Ludovic Tézier (Rodrigue)
Dmitry Belosselskiy (Der Großinquisitor)
Ildar Abdrazakov (Philippe II)
Eve-Maud Hubeaux (Thibault)

The most recent operatic excitement on the international scene is the French version of Verdi's Don Carlos presented at the Opera Bastille with the above cited participants.  It claims to be the original French version of the opera, though there is no ballet.  Certain features of the production can be seen above.  Pictures are projected on a scrim in black and white that look like old silent movie films in very much deteriorated condition.  When Don Carlos loses Elisabeth, he points a gun at his head but does not shoot.  He does this again at the end.

The costumes suggest the Spanish Civil War.  My French is not good enough for this.  I would need English subtitles.

I am here for Elina Garanča as Eboli.  She is by far the most lively inhabiter of this role that I have seen.  She seems to have a clause in her contract that says she will smoke and kiss girls in every production.  Just kidding.  It makes you wonder if she actually smokes.  She is very sexy and flirtatious as Eboli.

In general the production explains nothing.  Elisabeth appears at a treeless Forest of Fontainebleau dressed in her bridal gown and prepared to wed.  When the groom changes from Carlos to Philippe, she immediately marries the new bridegroom, apparently by proxy since the man she appears to marry is not Philippe.  The scenes never look like anything they are supposed to be, but names of where we are appear on my screen for every scene.

Philip II of Spain was a real person who lived in the time of Elizabeth I of England and was in fact married to Elizabeth's sister Mary just before his marriage to Élisabeth de Valois.  Here he is shown at his coronation which would have occurred years before.  Oh well.  It replaces the martyrs burning at the stake which we do not miss.

The music is enjoyable and somehow less Italian.

There is a giant film of an ugly face and hands with a small naked body hanging out of it's mouth.  I don't know what this is for.  When Philippe sings that his wife does not love him, Eboli is with him.  She leaves when the Grand Inquisitor arrives.  She returns to do her big aria which is intense and beautiful.

Ludovic Tézier sings his death scene in the prison very beautifully and brings me to tears.  We don't see who has shot him.  Carlos gets out of his cell and does not return to it.  Philippe, the queen and Eboli enter after Posa has died.  When the crowd enters, Carlos escapes.  Eboli sings a few lines, kisses the king in front of everyone, including the queen and the grand inquisitor, and follows after Carlos.  The queen's presence suggests that perhaps she has assisted in Carlos's escape.

The ending is unspeakably awesome.  There are not words for something so beautiful.  The queen poisons herself.  It ends with the picture above.  The performance ends well, but it isn't just the singing.  The mysteriously romantic playing of the orchestra can also be credited.  This is the first I have liked Yoncheva.  Jonas was magnificent.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Autumn Sonata

Autumn Sonata was a 1978 Swedish film by Ingmar Bergman, and now it is a Swedish opera by Sebastian Fagerlund with libretto in Swedish by Gunilla Hemming. It is being presented by the Finnish National Opera and streamed over Operavision.

Conductor: John Storgårds
Director: Stéphane Braunschweig

Charlotte Andergast, concert pianist: Anne Sofie von Otter
Eva, daughter of Charlotte:  Erika Sunnegårdh
Viktor, husband of Eva: Tommi Hakala
Helena, daughter of Charlotte: Helena Juntunen
Leonardo, dead cellist, Charlotte's lover: Nicholas Söderlund

The family is introduced in modernist music, and then we shift to a recital.  The audience ask one another if they have heard her versions of Beethoven's Pathetique or Hammerklavier Sonatas.  She doesn't play, but the audience remains.  Mother Charlotte is returning to see her children after 7 years on tour.  The family live in the country where it is autumn.

Charlotte tells her daughter that she bought her pantsuit in Zurich on Bahnhof Strasse.  I picture this, having been to Zurich a number of times.  Both Charlotte and Eva hold their hands over the keyboard but neither plays.  Anne Sofie von Otter is herself a great lady and easily creates the aura of a famous person.  The audience stays on stage throughout the first scene, but eventually a curtain descends blocking them.

In the years that Charlotte has been away Eva has taken Helena, who is mentally disabled, out of the institution where Charlotte left her and is keeping her at home.  This adds an element of madness.  Also in those years Eva and Viktor had a son Erik who has since died.

There is a scene, sort of an aria, where Charlotte gets ready for bed.  She takes drugs and reads the Frankfurter Allgemeine--Germany's most distinguished newspaper--among other things, every night before sleep.  She does her bookkeeping.  Then she lies down with her sleeping mask and the chorus reappears.  They seem more a Greek chorus than an audience.  I rather like this part.

Helena wakes up and begins wailing loudly, waking Eva and Charlotte.  They get into a loud argument.  I've never seen the movie.  Is it about families whining?  They talk at each other simultaneously, one complaining about adolescent worries and the other about career problems.  Is it always like this?  My son as an adult tells me about things he didn't like as a child.  As a child, he said nothing.

Our Charlotte explains that through music she could express her own emotions.  Yes.  I remember saying once that parts of me existed only when singing.  Each is damaged by their own parents and cannot see that they, too, are damaged.

The chorus leaves and the sun comes up.  Helena gets out of bed and walks into the other room.  She sings about a visit from Leonardo and seems quite sensible.  We still hear the chorus which is back to being an audience.  Charlotte changes her mind and calls her manager to book her a concert.

It works rather beyond ones expectations. The atmosphere builds as it goes along to a pleasing intensity enhanced by the imaginative use of chorus.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sac Phil does Prokofiev and Brahms

Saturday evening the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera performed at the Sacramento Community Center Theater.

Andrew Grams, conductor
Rachel Barton Pine, violin

Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1 (1923)

  1. Andantino
  2. Scherzo: Vivacissimo
  3. Moderato – Allegro moderato
This might possibly be considered part of Prokofiev's neo-classical period.  Ask someone else.  Rachel Barton Pine plays a Guarneri with a lovely fat tone.  This piece is unusual but not particularly atonal.  She was impressive in this difficult piece.

She played her own theme and variations arrangement of the New Zealand national anthem as an encore.  One was reminded of Paganini.

Brahms Symphony No. 1 (1876)

  1. Un poco sostenuto — Allegro – Meno allegro (C minor, ending in C major)
  2. Andante sostenuto (E major)
  3. Un poco allegretto e grazioso (A major)
  4. Adagio — Più andante — Allegro non troppo, ma con brio – Più allegro (C minor – C major)
It took him 20 years to write this.  Was it worth it?  The last movement works well.

The hall is being acoustically redesigned with panels that angle down over the orchestra.  I felt the orchestra sounded much more like an ensemble than in the past, so perhaps the redesign is working.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Die Zauberflöte in HD

Conductor:  James Levine
Production/Costume and Puppet Designer:  Julie Taymor

Pamina:  Golda Schultz
Queen of the Night:  Kathryn Lewek
Tamino:  Charles Castronovo
Sarastro:  René Pape
Papageno: Markus Werba
Speaker:  Christian Van Horn

Nadine Sierra was our announcer today for Mozart's Die Zauberflöte from the Met, and she did a fine job.  She has charisma to burn.  Julie Taymor's production of The Magic Flute first played in HD with cuts and in English in 2006 and has replayed since then. This performance was for those of us who love this opera in German.  It was lovely to hear the original words in an uncut version.

It is interesting to me that in his final year of life Mozart wrote two operas about forgiveness.  Die Zauberflöte and La Clemenza di Tito.  Perhaps it was for us.  This is Kurt Moll.  In this holy hall we don't speak of revenge.

Out of the cast listed above, only Markus Werba was completely new to me.  His Papageno was a joy.

Kathryn Lewek was in Cecilia Bartoli's Ariodante which I very much wish I had seen.  She was outstanding here.

Golda Schultz appeared in the La Clemenza di Tito from Salzburg this past summer. Pamina suits her better.

Charles Castronovo has appeared a few times in San Francisco.  My favorite outing from him was Il Postino with Placido.  His voice is robust for Tamino, but I agree with his comments--he enjoys a heroic sounding Tamino.

Everyone knows the one and only René Pape who flew over just for this performance.  He's the best now.

I love the Julie Taymor production and enjoyed seeing it again.