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.

Golda / Magda

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.

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.