Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bach and Beethoven at the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera.

The latest concert with the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera featured guest conductor Andrew Grams with Peter Serkin and Tomoki Park on the two Steinway grand pianos.

The concert opened with the Brahms Academic Festival Overture.  When they reached "Gaudeamus Igitur," my friend and I began to sing along.  I even remember the words from when I played a student in The Student Prince

The second piece was for 2 pianos and orchestra by Toru Takemitsu and was composed in part for Peter Serkin. I found this piece pleasant and enjoyable, but was shocked to find that I did not like at all the Bach Double Keyboard Concerto which was switched to BWV 1061 at the last minute from 1062.  Bach's keyboards would have been harpsichords, but we are all well accustomed to pianos on these pieces.

The concert closed with a lovely rendition of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.  Beethoven always comes through.  I liked Andrew Grams enthusiasm.

Rusalka in HD

Conductor:  Mark Elder
Production:  Mary Zimmerman

Rusalka:  Kristine Opolais
Prince:  Brandon Jovanovich
Princess:  Katarina Dalayman
Jezibaba:  Jamie Barton
Gnome:  Eric Owens

Dvorák's Rusalka was live from the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday. Many of the people around me had never seen this opera.  This is my fourth time with all the previous times starring Renée Fleming. 

I was completely won over by the water nymphs at the beginning.  First they danced and then suddenly as if by magic they sang.

In case you thought after her appearance in Nabucco that Jamie Barton was boring, her Jezibaba was evil and fun and completely upstaged everyone else.  Except maybe the water nymphs.

Eric Owens owns the Gnome. He pointed out in his interview that this was his actual Fach while L'Amour is more a baritone role.

This is an excellent role for Kristine.  Someone has to step into Fleming's repertoire.  Her acting is far more intense than Fleming which changes the dramatic intensity of the opera.  Her voice is not really heavy enough for most of the roles she sings, but if she keeps this under control, it should be good for her.

I thought the castle sequence in Act II worked better here than other productions I have seen.  Brandon was the picture of prince charming.  I liked it but don't want to go on and on about it.  The Wagner loving conductor thinks it's one of the great post Wagnerian operas, but for me it's just ok. I tend to think of Dvorák as post Brahms rather than post Wagner.  Wagnerians ignore Brahms.

Matthew Polenzani was an excellent host.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Favorites by Year

This is just something fun and is constantly a work in progress.  I went through the blog from the beginning to find the things that stood out in my memory.  I am only including the things I liked and have trimmed it down to no more than 10 per year.  If you're looking for pans, this isn't the place.  I like a lot of stuff, but you will notice that La Boheme only appears twice.

My goal with opera is simply to fall in love.  I prefer new opera performances because I'm not very likely to fall in love with people from the long ago past.

** live or HD


I was still working when I began blogging.  It was a present from my son.

  • (CB) Zurich Giulio Cesare  **  I traveled to Zurich on one of my many trips to see Cecilia Bartoli.  This time she was doing Handel's Giulio Cesare in a relatively sedate production.  The Egyptians wore blue and white striped outfits.  Cecilia was incredible.  By this time I had been a fanatical fan of Cecilia for over 10 years.  I still love her best.  Travel
  • Licitra's Tosca in Washington  **  Salvatore Licitra performed Tosca at the Washington National Opera.  I have a soft place in my heart for tenors.  Local

  • The Pearl Fishers in San Francisco **  Bizet's Pearl Fishers appeared at the San Francisco Opera (SFO) long before it came to the Met.  What I appear to have enjoyed most were the very sexy Charles Castronovo and Norah Amsellem.  Travel
  • (CB) Opera Proibita, both live and on CD. ** Berkeley  This is the long ago time when Cecilia Bartoli still came to Berkeley virtually every year.  I was the only one who noticed that she wasn't just waving her arms randomly but was instead conducting the orchestra.  Travel

  • Cecilia Bartoli was singer of the year.

People say I like everything, but actually that's not true.  This year I didn't much like:  The Rape of Lucretia because of the disturbing mixture of pagan history and Christian commentary; The Dangerous Liaisons by Susa is just musically boring; Doctor Atomic where the characters never seem to be talking to one another.

For more years see below the jump.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Il Trovatore from the ROH

Conductor: Richard Farnes
Director: David Bösch

Leonora: Lianna Haroutounian
Manrico, the troubadour: Gregory Kunde
Azucena, his gypsy mother: Anita Rachvelishvili
Count di Luna: Vitaliy Bilyy
Ferrando, his lieutenant:  Alexander Tsymbalyuk

This performance of Verdi's Il Trovatore from the Royal Opera House in London played in my local movie theater.  We were told that when this opera first played in America, it was called The Gypsy's Revenge.

This is my eighth viewing of this opera and my sixth production since I began blogging. Two were Sondra Radvanovsky, two were Anna Netrebko, one was Barbara Frittoli and one was Anja Harteros.  This is what an opera should be.  Here the production focuses on explaining the action.

This is one in a small set of operas I am calling the caravan series:  Il Turco in Italia from Los Angeles, Le Comte Ory from Zurich, Die Meistersinger from Munich and this performance all used a caravan at some point in the action.  In this performance Azucena lives here with her collection of baby dolls.

In this production all of the scenes are staged in the open air instead of the usual giant buildings with no particular identity or purpose.  The count and his army are at war with the gypsies.  He is in love with Leonora who is in love with the troubadour who sings to her from a distance.  If we are in large buildings, we cannot help wondering how a character from one group might casually approach a character from the other group.  If we are in the open air, this is not a problem.

Of this cast Anita Rachvelishvili was the most outstanding.  Her Azucena was intense and a bit mad.  Haroutounian sings beautifully but is not the big voiced singer we find with Radvanovsky, Netrebko or Harteros.  I enjoyed Kunde's singing but find him a bit too old to be Anita's son.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

I Puritani

I have only a short comment after hearing parts of I Puritani on the radio from the Met.  Diana Damrau is exactly this kind of singer.  I doubt that she would want to limit her repertoire to bel canto, but she and Javier Camarena were glorious.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Metropolitan Opera in HD 2017-18

7-Oct-17 Norma, Bellini 

It stars Sondra Radvanovsky, Joyce DiDonato and Joseph Calleja. This is a new production by Sir David McVicar.

14-Oct-17 Magic Flute, Mozart

Here is something interesting.  On purpose they call this the "full length German version" of Julie Taymor's production.  There was a lot of complaining about the shortened version done for children, which I rather liked.  Italian and French operas seem to stay in their native languages, but German is constantly being translated, so original German is nice.

The stars I know are Charles Castronovo, Rene Pape, Christian Van Horn.

18-Nov-17 The Exterminating Angel, Adès

This is the American premier of an opera by Thomas Adès which premiered in 2016 at the Salzburg Festival.  The composer will conduct and the librettist will direct.  Christian Van Horn, Alice Coote, John Tomlinson.  I always go to anything new.

27-Jan-18 Tosca, Puccini

This is yet another new production by Sir David McVicar.  I don't think I'll miss the one it is replacing.  Emmanuel Villaume will conduct, and Sonya Yoncheva will sing Tosca.  This performance will also star Vittorio Grigolo and Željko Lučić. Every one of these names has changed, and one changed more than once, from the original casting.

10-Feb-18 L'Elisir d'Amore, Donizetti

The stars of this revival are Pretty Yende who recently subbed for Diana Damrau in I Puritani, Matthew Polenzani, and Ildebrando D'Arcangelo.  Domingo Hindoyan will conduct.

24-Feb-18 La Boheme, Puccini

Would it be a Met season without the Zeffirelli La Boheme?  Probably not.  The stars this time are Sonya Yoncheva, Michael Fabiano, Lucas Meachem.  Marco Armeliato will conduct.

10-Mar-18 Semiramide, Rossini

This is apparently a revival.  From long ago.  Before HD.  I will not be able to resist comparing it to Caballe/Horne or Joyce DiDonato's Munich stream later this month.  Angela Meade, Elizabeth DeShong and our boy Javier Camarena. Benini will conduct.

31-Mar-18 Cosi fan tutte, Mozart

This will be fun to see Phelim McDermott's new production which takes place on Coney Island in the 50s.  The most inspired piece of casting is probably Kelli O'Hara as Despina.  I will no longer be required to miss Cecilia Bartoli in the old production.

14-Apr-18 Luisa Miller, Verdi

This is a revival of an opera I don't really like, but the cast is good. Piotr Beczala, Sonya Yoncheva, Plácido Domingo.  Levine conducts.  This is all the Verdi we get.  The conductor is now listed as Bertrand de Billy.

28-Apr-18 Cendrillon,  Massenet

This is a new production by Laurent Pelly because it is the first time this opera has ever played at the Met.  We had it in San Francisco in 1982.  We missed Joyce DiDonato in the Rossini, but they made up for it by casting her here.  Alice Coote is Prince Charming.  Kathleen Kim, Stephanie Blythe, Laurent Naouri.

I guessed that Tara Erraught would sing Hansel in Hansel and Gretel, but we don't get to see it.  Nor do we get to see her outing as Nicklausse in Tales of Hoffmann.  Anna Netrebko's Tosca is a new role for her, but we don't get to see it.

We don't get to see the new music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Weekend in Paris

American Bach Soloists presented a program of French Baroque music in Davis with Jeffrey Thomas conducting.  French music is not as known as German or Italian music of the same period, so for me this was a treat.  Only Rameau is familiar to me.  The program points out that the end of Lully's monopoly made this explosion of music possible.

Some of the pieces employ a chorus and three vocal soloists:  Nola Richardson, soprano, Steven Brennfleck, haute-contre and William Sharp, baritone.  A haute-contre is a kind of high tenor that is found in baroque and classical French music, and may continue on to the bel canto.  I have never heard of an American calling himself this.  Interesting.  It is not to be confused with a countertenor.

Rebel: Les caractères de la danse (1715)

Instrumental pieces from France are usually ballets or collections of typical dances of the period.  The names of the movements are the same as the movements in Bach French Suites, for instance.  There would have been dancing.  Jeffrey suggested we could dance in the aisles, but no one did.

Corrette: Laudate Dominum de coelis (Vivaldi’s “Spring”) (1766)

This is a special thing.  The words of Psalm 148 in Latin have been used to transform Vivaldi's violin concerto Primavera into a motet or what I would probably call a cantata.  It sort of sounds familiar but not quite.  I enjoyed this piece very much with its quality of French sophistication mixed with Italian energy.

There are sections for chorus, an aria for soprano, an aria for haute-contra, and a duet for soprano and baritone.  We have Italian coloratura also reflected in the violin solo.

Rameau: Suite from Dardanus (1739)

This is a selection of dance movements from an opera.  The movements don't have titles.

Mondonville: In Exitu Israel (1753)

And now we are back to another cantata or motet, a piece in sections with chorus and soloists.  This is why it is called a weekend in Paris.  You would not see all these pieces on the same program.  This is intended for periods in the church year when secular music is not permitted.  It employs the text in Latin from Psalm 113.  I am enjoying writing about these pieces since they are completely unfamiliar to me.

I don't recall coloratura, but there was quite a bit of almost comical text painting.  One piece was unmistakably a laughing chorus, very lively and enjoyable.  This composer was known for pieces in this genre.  I loved it.  There is a long solo for baritone.  The singers were very good.

Marais: Suite from Sémélé (1709)

These are again dances from an opera by a relatively unknown composer.

I want to congratulate them for putting together such a varied and fascinating program.  I enjoyed it very much.  They delight through great attention to phrasing.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Classical Grammy Nominations and Winners 2017

Classical Grammy awards have followed their usual pattern.  They prefer more modern, less traditional music.  Mozart no, Corigliano yes.

Best Engineered Album, Classical  (An Engineer's Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.))


  • Corigliano: The Ghosts Of Versailles-- Mark Donahue & Fred Vogler, engineers (James Conlon, Guanqun Yu, Joshua Guerrero, Patricia Racette, Christopher Maltman, Lucy Schaufer, Lucas Meachem, LA Opera Chorus & Orchestra)  [Pentatone Music]

  • Dutilleux: Sur Le Même Accord; Les Citations; Mystère De L'Instant & Timbres, Espace, Mouvement--Alexander Lipay & Dmitriy Lipay, engineers (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)  [Seattle Symphony Media]
  • Reflections--Morten Lindberg, engineer (Øyvind Gimse, Geir Inge Lotsberg & Trondheimsolistene)  [2L (Lindberg Lyd)]
  • Shadow Of Sirius--Silas Brown & David Frost, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (Jerry F. Junkin &; The University Of Texas Wind Ensemble)  [Naxos]
  • Shostakovich: Under Stalin's Shadow - Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9--Shawn Murphy & Nick Squire, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Andris Nelsons & Boston Symphony Orchestra)  [Deutsche Grammophon]

Best Orchestral Performance(Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra.)


  •  Shostakovich: Under Stalin's Shadow - Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9--Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)  [Deutsche Grammophon]

  • Bates: Works For Orchestra--Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)  [SFS Media]
  • Ibert: Orchestral Works--Neeme Järvi, conductor (Orchestre De La Suisse Romande) Chandos]
  • Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 In B-Flat Major, Op. 100--Mariss Jansons, conductor (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra) [RCO]
  • Rouse: Odna Zhizn; Symphonies 3 & 4; Prospero's Rooms--Alan Gilbert, conductor (New York Philharmonic)  [Dacapo Records]

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Conductor:  Nicole Paiement
Director:  Brian Staufenbiel

Refugee (countertenor) Tai Oney
Controller (soprano) Nikki Einfeld
Bill (tenor) Chaz'men Williams-Ali
Tina, Bill's wife (soprano) Amina Edris
Stewardess (mezzo-soprano) Maya Yahav Gour
Older Woman (contralto) Catherine Cook
Steward (baritone) Hadleigh Adams
Minskman (baritone) Eugene Brancoveanu
Minskwoman (mezzo-soprano) Renée Rapier
Immigration Officer (bass-baritone) Philip Skinner

Attention:  spoilers

I enjoyed very much the opera Flight, 1999, by Jonathan Dove presented by Opera Parallèle in San Francisco.  It is that rarest of modern operas:  a comedy.  For some reason people have come to think of opera as serious, people dying serious.

So you aren't sure what to think when two of the characters, refugee and Bill, are injured and fall seemingly dead to the floor.  The characters don't quite know what to do either, and look for somewhere to hide the bodies.  "Not another one!" 

You can think of this as things going on at airports, in this case any random airport.  There is a refugee who is trapped inside the airport.  He is waiting for his brother who has all the documents.  So he spends his time staring at the controller and teasing the other passengers.  His brother has met with a tragic end.  The immigration officer decides to let the refugee remain in the airport forever.

Bill and Tina are going on vacation hoping to revive their fading romance.

The steward and stewardess spend all their spare time getting it on and/or looking for a place to get it on.  This was somewhat more integrated into the opera than fake sex generally is these days.  Sometimes they just get it on and don't really care if anyone is watching.  Steward gets bored with stewardess and looks for entertainment elsewhere.  He and Bill exchange clothing.  Bill is whacked in the head by his wife, deservedly so IMHO. 

Minskman and Minskwoman are a diplomat's family on their way to a new assignment in Minsk.  Minskwoman is pregnant and changes her mind about leaving. 

The opera reminded me a tiny bit of Rossini's The Voyage to Reims.  This is all appropriately chaotic and often funny.  My only problem was that events often went on at the same time, so if you were watching one, you might completely miss the other and end up wondering what happened.

This excellent cast is from not quite everywhere.  Egypt.  New Zealand.  Renée Rapier was my favorite.

It is astounding that they happen to have decided to present an opera about a refugee in the middle of our own refugee crisis.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Leontyne Price

On February 10 Leontyne Price will have her 90th birthday.  This aria from La Forza Del Destino is one she was particularly noted for.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

More Lulu

This is the amazing Barbara Hannigan on her experience with singing Lulu. Lulu may possibly be the most complex role in opera. She grows as ones familiarity with her grows.

Anna Netrebko will become an Austrian Kammersängerin

Wien/Berlin (MH) – Die Sopranistin Anna Netrebko (45) wird zur Österreichischen Kammersängerin ernannt. Wie die Wiener Staatsoper am Mittwoch mitteilte, wird der im russischen Krasnodar geborenen Künstlerin der Titel am 16. Februar verliehen.

This means that the Vienna State Opera has announced that on February 16 Anna Netrebko will become an Austria Kammersängerin or chamber singer.  Some years ago she became an Austrian citizen.

The title is ancient and was previously awarded by the monarch. My memory, but admittedly no reference source, tells me that this refers to singing in the king's chamber and not with singing chamber music.

Here is a list for Austria.
Here is a list for Bavaria.  

Netrebko is so famous in German speaking countries that articles about her appear in popular magazines commenting on her weight. 

Below is a photo of the ceremony.

This is Anna Netrebko's honor ceremony to become an Austrian Kammersängerin.
"Ich bin sehr glücklich und stolz über diesen Titel. Österreich ist mein zu Hause geworden und es gibt nichts Schöneres für mich, als hier in Wien zur Kammersängerin ernannt zu werden."  I am hoping she said this in German.  "I am very happy and proud over this title.  Austria has become my home and there is nothing more beautiful for me than here in Vienna to become a chamber singer."

New Webpage

A webpage called Opera Musica has suddenly come into my awareness.  If this is old hat, then please forgive me.  It focuses on singers, something I'm always looking for.  You never have to wonder who is singing.

There is a page of artist profiles with pictures and schedules.

There is a page of operas and concerts, also with pictures and details.  They say you can buy tickets through their page, though I haven't tried it.

There is a page of videos of the artists in performance.

There is a page of artist managers.

I will add this to my lists.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Selfie of the Week

I might ask you to guess who this is.  On February 26 she will live stream from Munich, presumably in this outfit.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Dresden Lohengrin

Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Production:  Christine Mielitz

Lohengrin:  Piotr Beczala 
Elsa von Brabant:  Anna Netrebko 
Heinrich der Vogler, King: Georg Zeppenfeld
Friedrich von Telramund:  Tomasz Konieczny
Ortrud, Friedrich's wife: Evelyn Herlitzius
Der Heerrufer des Königs:  Derek Welton

A film of Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala in Lohengrin at the Sempoper Dresden has appeared.  Perhaps you can find it.  The subtitles are in German.  It is a traditional production, though I admit the swan is rather hideous.  I love the version with Jonas and Anja showing nazis vs hippies in t-shirts, but the baritone/bass casting here is better.  Tomasz Konieczny as Friedrich played the sheriff to Jonas and Nina's La Fanciulla del West.  He makes a great bad guy.

Act I
Friedrich and his wife Ortrud are trying to take over Brabant.  They have disposed of the heir and are accusing his sister Elsa ("von Brabant" is her title) of killing her brother.  She calls for a knight to save her, and he appears.  At least we get to see the swan in this production.  As in any Wagner opera, more time is spent yammering about how the nameless knight and Friedrich are going to fight than is spent in actually fighting.  Nameless knight wins but does not kill Friedrich who slinks off with Ortrud.  The main arias of this act, "Elsa's Dream" by Netrebko, and "Mein lieber Schwann" by Beczala are masterfully performed by our stars.  The King is also excellent.

Act II
The secondary characters are far better here.  Herlitzius is a very intense Ortrud.  Friedrich and Ortrud get together to blame one another for the fiasco.  He blames her for bringing God down on him and she argues it is his cowardice that is to blame.  Eventually they unite and swear revenge.  This dark scene is very effective.  She calls on Freie.

The scene with Elsa and Ortrud is absolutely glorious.  I am enjoying Thielemann here as well.  This is more beautiful than any Wagner I've heard.

Then they go back to a public scene with chorus and unrelenting pomposity.  The silliness of a modern production takes the tension away.  The action is people parading back and forth and standing and shouting.  Perhaps for Netrebko it needs to be this heavy.


This starts with the wedding which in this production is combined with a coronation of Elsa.  The duet scene is a masterpiece, a progression of emotion which seems to evolve naturally.  Then suddenly Friedrich bursts in and Lohengrin kills him.  Elsa reaches out her hand to grasp the sword, whether to stop Lohengrin or to help in the murder is not certain.  Lohengrin knows the declaration of his identity is now to be part of a trial.

This performance is for those who believe in traditional productions.  This one is clear in every detail.  If you wanted to know what Lohengrin is about, this is the one for you.  But we weren't here for the production.  Anna and Piotr were excellent together, formal in a way that suited the formal production.  Anna's German diction is acceptable.  I have to say I loved it.  And Herlitzius was absolutely hair raising.

The women's chorus has gone home before the bows.