Sunday, April 30, 2017

La Traviata in Sacramento

Conductor: Jose Luis Gomez
Violetta Valéry: Lyric soprano Jennifer Black
Giorgio Germont:  baritone Sol Jin
Alfredo Germont: tenor Yongzhao Yu

To finish the 2016-17 season of the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera we were presented Verdi's La Traviata.  We were worried about whether or not it would be staged or cut.  I was pleased to see that the carnival music in the last scene was cut to just a few lines.  Otherwise the score seemed virtually in tact.

There was no set except a single stuffed green chair, but the acting was played out in full in the small area in front of the orchestra.  Since my seat is in the fifth row, I enjoyed this very much.  It is wonderful to sit so close to the performers.  I always say the best seat at an opera is on the stage.

We found that this was very successful thanks to the above named performers.  Our conductor faced and conducted his players with great skill and familiarity with the score.  He seemed never to look at the singers.  They in turn never looked at him.  See.  I keep saying this is possible.  One sings with the music.  It felt like a fully realized performance.  Minor characters were filled by members of the chorus who held book.  They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

This opera belongs to Violetta and rises or falls with her.  Our soprano Jennifer Black paced herself beautifully.  It is a long and arduous role.  Her phrasing was very beautiful and she died in style.  That turned out to be the purpose of the green chair.  She had a different gown for each scene.

We were lucky to hear Sol Jin, probably the only one ready for the big time.  His voice and his gravitas were perfect for Giorgio Germont.  He also provided the only small piece of comedy when Violetta sat on his hat.

Now is the place for some small comments.  The current management of this group receives most of its advice from people who manage instrumental ensembles.  Opera for them is just another concert.  I continue my seat, but I was here for opera.  They seem to spend more energy on pops concerts.  This makes me sad.

I have decided to write a post script.

My professional career, such as it was, did not include repertoire from the bel canto, unless you count Maddalena in Rigoletto.  I was what used to be called a low and slow.  I sang in an era when Handel was still performed unornamented.  However, my library does include the standard cadenza book.  I learned Azucena but was probably not heavy enough for her.

I noticed that our soprano left out the cadenza and the high note.  This is, however, Sacramento, and I was hesitant to make a fuss about it.  I suppose the question at issue here is was it her fault because she wanted to save her energy for what remained of the role, or was a cadenza simply impossible when neither the conductor nor the singer are looking at one another.

So what do I actually think if I don't care about negative reactions?  I found that our conductor had conducted opera (Mozart e.g.) but not necessarily bel canto.  So perhaps his background is as weak as mine.  What would normally happen in a concert performance is when singer and orchestra get to the cadenza, the conductor would turn toward the singer and follow her home.  I reject absolutely that she should stare at him and in any way follow him.  You cannot do the cadenza and accompanying high note to maximum effect without just letting it go.  He should turn around and see what she is doing, although he may feel free to ignore her most of the rest of the time.  In our performance I didn't notice that he ever turned around.  It exists as a possibility that he was unaware there was something he was supposed to be doing.

I don't always want to point out every flaw in a performance.  The problem I am having with the organization reviewed here is that no one currently associated with it knows anything at all about opera.  When the staff included opera people, tv monitors were placed at useful locations around the house.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Rameau’s Le Temple de la Gloire

Le temple de la Gloire (The Temple of Glory) is an opéra-ballet by Jean-Philippe Rameau with a libretto by Voltaire.  This is all rather well explained in the Mercury News.  This performance by Philharmonia Baroque and the New York Baroque Dance Company was of the 1746 version in a prelude and 3 acts.

Nicholas McGegan, conductor
New York Baroque Dance Company, Catherine Turocy, director
Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, director
Catherine Turocy, stage director and choreographer

Gabrielle Philiponet, soprano:  Arsine, Une prêtresse, Plautine
Chantal Santon-Jeffery, soprano:  Lydie, Une bacchante
Camille Ortiz-Lafont, soprano:  Une bergère, Érigone, Junie
Artavazd Sargsyan, haute-contre:  Un Berger, Bacchus
Aaron Sheehan, haute-contre:  Apollon, Trajan
Philippe-Nicolas Martin, baritone:  Bélus, Un guerrier
Marc Labonnette, baritone:  L'Envie, Grand prêtre
Caroline Copeland, principal dancer.

This is a large and complex undertaking.  There is at least as much dancing as singing.  There are three supplicants to enter the temple of glory:   Bélus, a conqueror who forces the kings he has defeated to carry him in on a sedan chair; Bacchus who celebrates love and wine; and the emperor Trajan, who forgives and releases those he has conquered.  Only Trajan is deemed worthy.  We are viewing Voltaire's outlook on virtue.  I understand it to have been a failure because it did not enjoy the king's approval.

This is something that modern commercial opera productions simply don't do--an attempt at an authentic reproduction of a Rameau theatrical work as it would have been presented at the time.  A modern company like the Santa Fe Opera will make the frog Queen look as much like a real frog as possible, such as in Platée here.  Or Glyndebourne will stage his characters inside a refrigerator, such as in Hippolyte et Aricie here.  Or the Bayerische Staatsoper will choreograph break dancing, such as in Les Indes Galantes here.  So an attempt to show something as it might possibly have been in the eighteenth century is a rare treat. The period style dancing was pleasant to see.  A peak part of the dance experience was when someone danced an ostrich in the Bacchus act.

The music still sounded very sweet and nothing like Handel.

The stage is well populated and the stories complex and a bit hard to follow.  There is an intended political message.  Our kings should be seeking more than their own glorification.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


There is a meme going around on Facebook where you list singers you have seen but one of them is a lie.  This always reminds me of September, 1980, at the San Francisco Opera where I saw Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten.   The program says "Place and Time:  Legendary"  Indeed.

The Emperor (Der Kaiser) tenor James King
The Empress (Die Kaiserin) high dramatic soprano Leonie Rysanek
Barak, the Dyer (Barak, der Färber) bass-baritone Gerd Feldhoff
The Dyer's Wife (Die Färberin) high dramatic soprano Birgit Nilsson

It was utterly spectacular, a peak experience.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Not a Selfie

It looks like a Rolex ad.  It is for me.  I haven't seen this film before.  It's from 1995

Das Lied von der Erde

Anyone would want to sing "Der Abschied."  I used to play it in piano reduction even with my pathetic keyboard skills just for the joy of making this music.  It's one of the great things.  So it isn't hard to understand why Jonas Kaufmann would want to.  Perhaps he reads the idiotic comments where people tell him he's a baritone.  He isn't.

So this is sort of a stunt recording of Mahler's Synphony Das Lied von der Erde (1909).  It is important to remember that the expected voicing is tenor and alto.  I like Janet Baker.

Don't get the wrong idea.  I love Jonas Kaufmann, but I think it is the operatic dramatic tenor Jonas Kaufmann that I most love.  Here we have Jonas in his two most prominent incarnations:  Verdi tenor and pop song crooner.  Alternating.  His renditions of the tenor movements are great.  His renditions of the alto movements aren't.  He isn't a baritone because he doesn't achieve any intensity in the baritone tessitura, and he can't really do the low notes.  Sorry.  It's pleasant but not thrilling.

Die liebe Erde allüberall blüht auf im Lenz und grünt Aufs neu!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dido and Aeneas

Christopher Hogwood conductor
Wayne McGregor choreography, stage director

Lucy Crowe (Belinda)
Sarah Connolly (Dido)
Anita Watson (Second Woman)
Lucas Meachem (Aeneas)
Sara Fulgoni (Sorceress)
Eri Nakamura (First Witch)
Pumeza Matshikiza (Second Witch)
Iestyn Davies (Spirit)
Ji-Min Park (Sailor)

There is a film of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas on which can be viewed through Amazon prime. I performed the spirit as a freshman in college and am always surprised by the level of detail I can remember.  Except now everyone does ornaments that are not in the score.  I doubt sincerely that they are extemporized.

Lucy Crowe and Sarah Connolly are worth the visit.  One of the odd features of this performance is that the First Witch and Second Witch are portrayed as Siamese twins joined at the side. 

Since I left college, I have only seen this opera staged by choreographers.  It would be nice to see it done as an opera.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Eugene Onegin from the Metropolitan Opera

The Prince and Princess Gremin
Conductor...............Robin Ticciati
Production..............Deborah Warner

Eugene Onegin...... Peter Mattei
Tatiana.................Anna Netrebko
Lensky..................Alexey Dolgov
Olga....................Elena Maximova
Prince Gremin......Stefan Kocán
Larina..................Elena Zaremba
Filippyevna, nanny....Larissa Diadkova
Triquet.................Tony Stevenson

Today was the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD presentation of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin starring Mattei and Netrebko.  This was the third HD presentation of this opera and the second of this production.  I had no sense that I was seeing a repeat.

This time the production seemed perfect.  The first two acts are clearly in a country villa with villagers and land owners.  Larina, Lensky, Olga, Tatiana and Onegin represent the latter.

Every role was cast to perfection.  Tony Stevenson did a star turn singing the couplets at Tatiana's birthday party.  Larissa Diadkova is very attentive as Tatiana's nanny.  Olga and her mother were wonderfully sung by the two Elenas.  Alexey Dolgov as Lensky was perfection as the too immature man who simply assumes Olga is his forever and does not know what to do when Onegin flirts with her.  We will have to read the novel if we want to know what happens to Olga.  Stefan Kocán seems a little young for Gremin but sang beautifully.

But it is the amazing acting of Anna Netrebko and Peter Mattei that brings this opera thrillingly to life.  Anna has gone deeper into the character this time with astounding results.  Peter portrays arrogance and ennui better than any of his predecessors, and then caps his performance with an intense finish.

Here he appears at a party in St. Petersburg in the third act.

It is an opera about love.  I often think that I am happier in my old age because I no longer feel inclined to fall in love.  It is far better to watch others suffer at the opera.  This performance was a level of theatrical and musical achievement that comes only rarely.  Bravi.

Renée Fleming was our hostess.  In two weeks we will see her in Der Rosenkavalier.  We hope that isn't the last time we see her.


Comment from Stefan Kocán on Facebook:

"Dear my facebook friends ,
I just like to say one thing about Gremin.
He is NOT old!
At the end of opera is Onegin 26, [this is in the dialog.] Tatyana let's say 20-22 (?) and Gremin is around/after 30.
Gremin in his aria only refers to an old man and to a young boy in the bloom of youth...
That means the staging of the MET didn't felt short! ...but totally in accordance with Pushkin and Tchaikovsky potrayed Gremin as an adult ( not anymore boy) man with an war experience."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Di tanti palpiti

I am currently on something of a Kasarova jag.  Note:  she crosses herself in the Russian style before starting the main part of the aria.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Nadine Sierra wins Richard Tucker Prize

The winner of this year's Richard Tucker Prize has been announced, and it is Nadine Sierra.  She and I have a history.  In 2010 at the Merola Finale she was the only one I praised.  In 2012 I reviewed her Schwabacher Debut Recital and said, "She is strong in the thing that for me counts most:  expression."  I also praised her technique and her facility with languages.  I've seen her live in San Francisco in Le Nozze di Figaro and Lucia di Lammermoor.  Summary:  she's a wonderful young singer we can enjoy for a long time.  Congratulations.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bach's Matthew Passion from Berlin

Sir Simon Rattle, conductor
Petter Sellars, staging

Mark Padmore Tenor (Evangelist),
Christian Gerhaher Bass (Jesus),
Camilla Tilling Soprano,
Magdalena Kožená Mezzo-Soprano (Musician),
Topi Lehtipuu Tenor (Arias),
Thomas Quasthoff Baritone (Arias)

This is the way I like it.  The continuo sounds like a synthesizer which I can take or leave.  Sorry, I like a real orchestra like the Berliner Philharmoniker.  I like a fairly big chorus and lots of emotional intensity.  Peter Sellars adds the element of movement to further intensify the emotion.  Padmore and Kozena are the best for this. This is Jesus as everyman, I guess.  He stands high over the others and is growing on me.

You know it's working when your heart swells.  I want to be clear.  One has never seen a staged Matthew Passion before, but one does not mind it.  It's interesting that the various characters of the drama interact with the evangelist, not Jesus.  Everyone is memorized, like an opera.

The ear is cut off.  Jesus is taken.  The chorus runs off into the audience, children enter and everyone sings from around the house.  I have been here and think it would be a joy to experience this.  Part of the fun is to watch Simon Rattle.

I love it very much.  Of course, nothing is so wonderful as to sing it.  This is Easter for me.

Magdalena will now sing the most beautiful aria ever written while kneeling.  My heart is full.  Here we sit down and cry.  They do this.  Matthew has written a wonderful story which is the more vivid with this glorious music and acting.

It plays still today, Monday.  There are no titles.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

All Who Wander

Jamie Barton won the Cardiff Singer of the World competition in 2013, including the Song Prize.  Then in 2015 she won the Richard Tucker Prize.  This cannot help but arouse ones curiosity.  So I bought her recording.

Mahler: [sung in German]

Rückert Lieder:
No. 1. Ich atmet' einen linden Duft
No. 2. Liebst du um Schönheit
No. 3. Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder
No. 4. Um Mitternacht
No. 5. Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen

Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit, Book 2: No. 2. Ich ging mit Lust
Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit, Book 1: No. 2. Erinnerung
Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit, Book 3: No. 3. Scheiden und Meiden

Dvořák:  [sung in Czech]

Gypsy Songs, Op. 55, B. 104:
No. 1. Má píseň zas mi láskou zní
No. 2. Aj! Kterak trojhranec můj přerozkošně zvoní
No. 3. A les je tichý kolem kol
No. 4. Když mne stará matka zpívat, zpívat učívala
No. 5. Struna naladěna
No. 6. Široké rukávy a široké gatě
No. 7. Dejte klec jestřábu ze zlata ryzého

Sibelius:  [sung in Finnish]

Svarta rosor (Black Roses)
Säv, säv, susa (Reed, Reed, Rustle)
Flickan kom ifran sin alsklings mote (The girl returned from meeting her lover)
Kyssens hopp (Kiss's Hope)
Marssnon (The March Snow)
Var det en dröm? (Was it a dream?)

I suppose I enjoyed the Mahler most because I speak German and her diction is excellent.  And the Rückert Lieder are the most famous pieces on the album.  Some of the Dvořák also sounded familiar, but the Sibelius did not.

Why would you want this?  Because Jamie has one of the most beautiful dark mezzo voices I have ever heard, because she sings every song with great intelligence.  Every note is just as you would want it to be.  If you are charmed by beauty, listen to this.

Could we have more Mahler, please?

Friday, April 14, 2017

For Rosenkavalier

From the moment I knew it existed I have loved it more than all the others.  I can see vividly in my mind’s eye standing before the student ushering sign-up sheet for the San Francisco Opera and having no idea what to see.  My fellow students said “Der Rosenkavalier.”  As one.  I also remember vividly sitting in the aisle on the right side of the balcony circle, feeling like a voyeur as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Kirsten Meier sang their love scene on the bed.

I remember holding the program under the lights that shine onto the stairs.  WTF.  I didn’t swear in those days.  It seemed more real than any theatrical performance I had ever seen.  The Schwarzkopf loomed large over this role.  I was hooked.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Ying Quartet

You could call them The Ying String Quartet, I suppose.  They started out as a family enterprise, but now the first violinist is not a family member.  They are Janet Ying (violin), Phillip Ying (viola), Robin Scott (violin), and David Ying (cello).  For our final New Millennium Concert Series program at Sacramento State we enjoyed this excellent quartet.  They are my favorite of the recent chamber music groups I have heard.

String Quartet No. 2 in D Major (1881) by Alexander Borodin
This piece sounds familiar because a couple of the movements provided source material for the musical Kismet.  It's also just very beautiful music from the high Romantic.

String Quartet No. 2 in F Major Op. 92 (1941) by Sergei Prokofiev
This is pleasingly modern but not too modern since it's based on Russian folk tunes.

Quartet in C Major, Op. 59 No 3 (1808) by Beethoven
This is one of the Razumovsky string quartets commissioned by a Russian Prince Razumovsky, thus continuing the Russian theme of the concert.

The selection of repertoire is part of what made this concert particularly pleasing, along with the beautiful romantic playing.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Michael Fabiano at Mondavi

I went out in the pouring rain to see Michael Fabiano at Mondavi in Davis. His accompanist was Laurent Philippe.  He said they'd been working together 12 years.  We were seated at small tables on the stage.  This is an enjoyable intimate arrangement.

I have seen Michael live at the San Francisco Opera in Lucrezia Borgia, Luisa Miller, and Don Carlo.  In 2014 I predicted he would win the Richard Tucker Prize, and he did.  That was fun.  Next season in SF he will sing in Manon opposite Nadine Sierra, and at the Met next season he will simulcast in La Boheme.

I got the impression that Michael very much loves his chosen repertoire for this recital.

Four songs by Puccini (Italian)

Four songs by Duparc (French)
    Duparc is not performed nearly enough.  These were virtually theatrical performances.

An aria: "Ne pouvant reprimer les elans" from Hérodiade by Massenet. (French)

Five songs by Toscanini (Italian)
    Who knew Toscanini composed?

"Kuda, Kuda, kuda" Lensky's aria from Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky (Russian)
     This is very timely since it is currently playing at the Met.

Three songs by Barber, including "I hear an army" for a rousing finish.  (English)

He is a serious artist and does not hesitate to use his operatic voice in song repertoire when suitable.  It was very much worth the trip.  There were two encores:

Duparc's "La vie anterieure" (French)
'Lamento di Federico' from Cilea's L'arlesiana (Italian)


Selfie of the Week

Thursday, April 06, 2017

New Millennium Faculty, Alumni and Friends Gala

I went last night to the Gala night at CSU Sacramento where Bach, Pilss, Liszt and Mendelssohn were played.

The Liszt was from Années de pèlerinage.  Pianists love Liszt, if they can play him, and Renee Pajer seemed to be enjoying herself.  We singers were puzzling to remember the name of the Liszt song we loved and finally came up with "Oh, Quand Je Dors."

In 2009 I preferred Barbara Bonney.  But this amazing rendition by Beverly Sills is stunning.

I digress.  Faculty members Anna Presler, Andrew Luchansky and Eric Zivian, played a gorgeous Piano Trio No 1 by Mendelssohn.  This was wonderful to hear, the highlight of my musical week.  I would definitely like to hear more of this group.

I reserve the right to make whatever irrelevant remarks I wish when reviewing.

Or perhaps this.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Orphée et Eurydice

My education with regard to Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice is woefully inadequate.  In part to compensate for this I have purchased this DVD of Orphée et Eurydice starring Vesselina Kasarova.  The other reason was to see more of Kasarova.

This is the version created by Hector Berlioz in 1859 for Pauline Viardot, making it a legitimate vehicle for a star like Kasarova.  The role in Italian was written for a castrato, and in French it is often sung by a haute-contre (French high tenor).  Only since 1950 has the role been taken by a countertenor.  At Glimmerglass I saw Michael Maniaci who bills as a male soprano.

The curious feature of this production is the genderless costuming.  Whatever style is on display, it is worn by both males and females.  I've always wondered what this would be like.  At first everyone is dressed in men's tuxedos.  The fires of hell are tended by laborers in bakers' hats. Then we see Greek outfits which look a bit odd on the men.  Then back to tuxedos.

An annoyingly large amount of time in this not that long opera is consumed by ballet.  If you are French, this probably is not a problem.  The chorus mimes an orchestra.  Vesselina does not play her violin, but she sings and acts gloriously.  To fully understand why Berlioz would make such an arrangement for Viardot requires that you see such a towering performer in the role of Orphée.  It is a tour de force.


Tuesday, April 04, 2017

American Bach Soloists do Bach Motets

Jeffrey Thomas conductor


Bach: Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir BWV 228
Bach: Komm, Jesu, komm BWV 229
Bach: Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf BWV 226
Bach: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied BWV 225

The program was filled out with 2 other recently attributed motets and 2 trio sonatas.Bach:

Jauchzet dem Herrn, alle Welt  BWV Anh. 160

Monday, April 03, 2017


My apologies for not posting an April Fools joke.  There were a couple of good ones.

Jessica Duchen said that the London Philharmonic Orchestra was moving to Hamburg.

And then there was this excellent post on Facebook by Gabriela Jacqueline:

Some breaking news from the Met Opera Site! I am surprised that no one here has mentioned it! I just read that Andre Rieu will be Guest Conductor for the next Season of the Met!!!!!!!!
He will conduct 10 different Operas and the women of the Met Opera Orchestra will have to wear the fairy tell dresses that the women of Andre's orchestra always wear at his concerts!
And the shocking news is that (I am shocked that no one has mentioned it yet!) Andre Rieu and Peter Gelb decided to cancel Norma as opening season performance and instead, they will do Lloyd Webber's "Evita"!

My own surprise was that I would sing the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical  Sunset Boulevard!  I am ready for my closeup.