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 GĂĽnther
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 IphigĂ©nie 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 ElÄ«na GaranÄŤa, 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 GaranÄŤa (Die Prinzessin Eboli)
Sonya Yoncheva (Élisabeth de Valois)
Ludovic TĂ©zier (Rodrigue)
Dmitry Belosselskiy (Der GroĂźinquisitor)
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 GaranÄŤa 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 TĂ©zier 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 StorgĂĄrds
Director: Stéphane Braunschweig

Charlotte Andergast, concert pianist: Anne Sofie von Otter
Eva, daughter of Charlotte:  Erika SunnegĂĄrdh
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 — PiĂą andante — Allegro non troppo, ma con brio – PiĂą 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:  RenĂ© 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 RenĂ© Pape who flew over just for this performance.  He's the best now.

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

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Norma in HD

Conductor...............Carlo Rizzi
Production..............David McVicar

Norma...................Sondra Radvanovsky
Pollione................Joseph Calleja
Adalgisa................Joyce DiDonato
Oroveso.................Matthew Rose
Clotilde................Michelle Bradley

Above is the staging for "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma live in HD from the Metropolitan opera. The goddess to whom she prays is the moon, so the scene must appear to be moonlit.  This is the greatest complaint about this production, that the sets are too dark.  Our screen was quite large and generally easy to see, except for the very beginning, before the moon-rise, which was almost black.

My Normas have been Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballe, Cecilia Bartoli and Sondra Radvanovsky, whom I heard first in San Francisco.  For me this version was best of all for the acting. I loved Cecilia's Norma for this quality, but here it balances across the cast.

We know we are at war by the presence of bodies.  What is to be their position toward the Romans?  Norma recommends reaching a peace with them, but we know that her motives are suspicious.  She probably recommends peace because of her relationship to Pollione, the Roman proconsul.  In the first act religious ceremony Adalgisa assists Norma in the rite.

In Norma's house Adalgisa reveals that she is in love with Pollione and has promised to go with him to Rome.  Norma does not reveal to Adalgisa until later that she has two children by Pollione. The increase in the significance of Adalgisa and the increased strength of her tie to Norma changes the emotional dynamic of the opera. 

So when Norma calls her followers together again, she recommends war.   We see Norma's range of emotions, especially her rage against Pollione.  She knows someone must die, but is not sure who should be killed.  She finally arrives at herself as the person at fault.  Adalgisa appears at the end to watch her lover and her friend walk off together to their deaths.

Sondra was magnificent, a giant, intense performance still wonderfully sung.  Joyce was also magnificent in both singing and acting.  I even liked Calleja.  When watching the old timers long ago, one hardly knew there was a plot.  Here we get the best of both worlds--a traditional staging with a lot of emotional interaction and magnificent singing.

Just saying

In case you didn't know, the average opera singer has a vibrato that causes the pitch to waver for about a half step, or the distance between c and c# if you don't know what a half step is.  It waves half of this pitch above and the other half below the intended pitch.  Listeners generally imagine the pitch to be somewhere in the middle of the wavering sound.  It is only your imagination that makes this a precise pitch.  So making comments about the singer being sharp for the whole aria may only indicate that your ear is interpreting the vibrato sharp.  Is she sharp?  Yes.  Is the exact same note also flat?  Yes.  Some singers push energy to the upper part of the vibrato or the lower part.  Pitch wavering is the same but energy is unbalanced.  Maybe your ear hears this as sharp or flat.  They aren't giving up their vibratos.

A vibrato becomes a wobble when the speed of wavering slows down.  If the vibrato becomes too wide in pitch, the mental integration can disintegrate and the note can actually sound like two notes.

Saturday, October 07, 2017


Perhaps you thought being addicted to coffee was something new.  You would be mistaken.  Apparently in Bach's day it was limited to females.  Or perhaps it's the usual men get to do whatever they want while women have to be controlled.  Sacramento Baroque Soloists presented a semi-staged version of Johann Sebastian Bach's Coffee Cantata with three soloists:  Derek Keller as the narrator, Omari Tau as papa Schlendarian and Bernadette Mondok as his daughter Lischen.  This was charming and amusing.  Coffee was provided.

Sacramento Baroque Soloists are a new group for me, though I think they have been around Sacramento for a while.

The program was filled out with a concerto by Georg Philipp Telemann and Cantata BWV 54 by Bach.  Derek Keller was the soloist in the Bach Cantata where he billed himself as a countertenor, and later in the Coffee Cantata he was a tenor.  I didn't hear falsetto from him.  For me he sounded more like a haute contra, a French style of high tenor.  He sounded fine, just not like a countertenor.