Anja Harteros has announced that she will no longer perform outside of Europe. She likes to sleep in her own bed. She was already performing in Europe most of the time. If I want to see her live, I will have to travel. She makes a great impression over the internet.
In other important news baritone Philippe Sly is doing a Klezmer version of Schubert's Winterreise. I don't make this stuff up.
Yesterday I attended the rerun of Eugene Onegin from the Metropolitan Opera. This opera has been broadcast live into theaters from the Met on three different occasions with three different men in the title role: Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Mariusz Kwiecien and Peter Mattei. Because he recently died, the version with Dmitri Hvorostovsky was chosen for re broadcast. Apparently some theaters decided to show whatever version they had on hand instead of the advertised version. I'm glad that didn't happen to me because I was there for Dima. When he steps out onto the stage, he is so beautiful you might want to consider falling in love, too. This may be his greatest recorded performance.
The production by Robert Carsen is also very easy to love. Locales are merely suggested rather than depicted.
And another thing to consider is that it is conducted by the great Russian conductor Valery Gergiev. It was a joy. If they played something else in your town, complain to Fathom Events.
I've been complaining about Richard Wagner and the Dresden Amen for years.
In 2005 I said:
"If you don’t mind all that constant modulating, Wagner is wonderful. Except for Parsifal, of course. His use of the borrowed theme of the Dresden Amen which he repeats ad nauseum, always in its original borrowed harmonization, cannot be considered thematic development in any sense. It’s a mistake, a serious lapse in judgment, maybe even a sign of senility. The emperor has no clothes."
The Dresden Amen also appears in Tannhäuser.
In 2012 I said:
"I have been trying to explain it. I was raised on wonderful Baptist hymns like "Rock of Ages," and when professional concerns led me to participate in the music of other religions, I was forced to become aware of the tradition of adding an "amen" to the end of hymns. Usually this was a simple plagal cadence, but sometimes it was that most corny and cloying of musical phrases--the Dresden Amen. Just thinking about it now makes me shudder."
So I decided for no particular reason to look into this. The man who wrote the Dresden Amen died a little over a decade before Wagner was born. Wikipedia shows it notated here. It turns out I should really cut him some slack. It turns out he was raised in Dresden and was a Kapellmeister in Dresden from 1842 to 1849. So he's allowed to have the same sentimental attachment to it that I have for things from my own childhood.
I have only one final comment. It is absolutely not possible that it showed up accidentally in either of the operas in which it appears. Maybe it's supposed to make you think of church or god or something. Apologies.
Musikalische Leitung Kirill Petrenko
Inszenierung Pierre Audi
Amfortas Christian Gerhaher
Titurel Bálint Szabó
Gurnemanz René Pape
Parsifal Jonas Kaufmann
Klingsor Wolfgang Koch
Kundry Nina Stemme
I was overdosed on television, so I waited until the second act to see Wagner's Parsifal from Munich. The opera started off with the most discussed part of the staging, the fat suits. Nina was not required to wear a fat suit. Nor was Jonas. But I did recognize Golda Schultz. Most of the Dresden Amens which I always dislike are in Act I, so this turned out to be a good decision for me.
Many people commented that they loved the production, but I felt it explained nothing. I liked very much the collapsing wall effect, but that was pretty much it. No subtitles and a production that explains nothing didn't work for me. Too many things were not portrayed, such as Parsifal baptizing Kundry.
The biggest applause, as always in Munich, was for Kirill Petrenko. I'm not sure I want to write any more about this. As a listening experience, it was fabulous. Such wonderful singing and conducting. It was an especially good role for Nina Stemme. I loved her blond wig. Thank you.
Lucia : Lisette Oropesa
Edgardo : Javier Camarena
Enrico Ashton : Artur Rucinski
Raimondo Bidebent : Roberto Tagliavini
Lord Arturo Bucklaw : Yijie Shi
Alisa : Marina Pinchuk
Normanno : Alejandro del Cerro
I've never actually seen a live bis in an opera before (they do them all the time in concerts in Italy, usually of something you'd rather not hear again). When I realized what it was, I burst into tears. And an ensemble, the sextet, on top of it. I'm seriously loving this. Everyone is a shit except Lucia. She's already pretty insane before the mad scene. We had a glass harmonica.
I am speaking, of course, of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor streamed live from Teatro Real Madrid. The set is like your high school gym. There's a radiator. I think the theme is "you'd go nuts too if everyone you knew was this awful." We're doing a play within a play. At the end of the mad scene the chorus claps very slowly. It's not at all like the loud shouting from the real audience. The production does nothing to explain the opera but focuses entirely on the atmosphere.
The singing and for me also the acting were very good. I love Lisette, but she will need to stay light in this role. I came for Lisette and Javier, two of my favorites of the young singers, and they did not disappoint. Javier wears a kilt in this, a first for me.
Lisette has also performed the ROH Lucia which I reviewed with Diana Damrau. This version will be available on OperaVision for a while. If you missed the live stream, watch it now.
Sondra Radvanovsky got a bis last night at the Paris Opera in Il Trovatore for "D'amor sull'ali rosee." This is the first bis for a woman in the history of the Opera Bastille. Bis means encore. Encores are back but they are almost always tenors. Congratulations are in order.
Conductor: Teodor Currentzis
Production: Peter Sellars
These two operas -- Tchaikovsky's Iolanta (1892) and Stravinsky's Perséphone (1934) -- were presented together at Teatro Real in 2012. Both were staged by Peter Sellars. I am considering this as the end of my Peter Sellars project.
René, King of Provence, bass, Dmitry Ulianov
Robert, Duke of Burgundy, baritone, Alexej Markov
Count Vaudémont, a Burgundian knight, tenor, Pavel Cernoch
Ibn-Hakia, a Moorish physician, baritone, Willard White
Alméric, armor-bearer to King René, tenor, Vasily Efimov
Bertrand, doorkeeper of the castle, bass, Pavel Kudinov
Iolanta, blind daughter of King René, soprano, Ekaterina Scherbachenko
Marta, Bertrand's wife, Iolanta's nursemaid, contralto, Ekaterina Semenchuk
Brigitta, Iolanta's friend, soprano, Irina Churilova
Laura, Iolanta's friend, mezzo-soprano, Letitia Singleton
Iolanta is a fairy tale sung in Russian. It was not brought to its full effect in its semi-realistic setting at the Met in 2015. The magic was missing. We are presented here with abstractions. Door frames are topped with mysterious dark objects that sometimes suggest birds. Instead of a film, we have still pictures. Iolanta carries a cane, as the blind often do. Her own chamber music group accompanies her. I think we may presume they are singing the original text rather than the Soviet approved one.
28 minutes in we have movement just in time for the wonder of Willard White. I find this abstraction very beautiful, but when they sing of roses, no roses appear. I like the soprano very much, but the tenor could be better. This is Sellars' area of expertise. He isn't here to provide you with pretty scenery. He's here to provide you with a spiritual experience.
Eumolphe, tenor, Paul Groves
Perséphone Speaker, Dominique Blanc
Perséphone dancer, Sam Sathya
Demetra, dancer, Chumvan Sodhachivy
Pluton, dancer, Khon Chansythyka
Mercure, Démophoon, dancer, Nam Narim
Perséphone is a Greek myth about the underworld, here sung in French. We are in the same set as the previous work, and visually the two are similar. There is a tenor, a speaker, a chorus and dancers from Cambodia but no choreographer. The director seems to have collaborated with the dancers. The music is serene for Stravinsky.
A line caught my eye: "never chase after what your eyes gaze on too lovingly." The story of my life.
The pairing of these two works is genius. The entire thing is a meditation on beauty. Life is beautiful. Love it more. Do not go into the darkness never to return. Open your heart to beauty. Thank you, Peter.
Since I am counting this as the end, I repeat the score card here. It omits works where Sellars is the librettist.
Conductor: Marco Armiliato
Production: David McVicar
Leonora: Anna Netrebko (soprano)
Azucena: Dolora Zajick (mezzo-soprano)
Manrico: Yonghoon Lee (tenor)
di Luna: Dmitri Hvorostovsky (baritone)
Ferrando: Štefan Kocán (bass)
This is the performance of Verdi's Il Trovatore where Dmitri Hvorostovsky steps forward and is showered with white roses from the orchestra. Since he originally sang this Met Live in HD performance, he has died. I cried in the theater today. Everything is simply wonderful. It plays again in the evening so be sure to see it.
Die sieben Todsünden [Seven Deadly Sins], 1993, by Kurt Weill with text by Bertolt Brecht, directed by Peter Sellars, represents the intersection of two of my obsessions: Weill and Sellars. One will probably run out soon, but the other is forever. This work is called a ballet with song.
Conductor: Kent Nagano
Director: Peter Sellars
Choreographer: Donald Byrd
Anna I soprano, Teresa Stratas
Anna IIdancer, Nora Kimball
Brotherbaritone, Frank Kelley
Motherbass, Peter Rose
Fatherfirst tenor, Howard Haskin
Brothersecond tenor, Herbert Perry
A: Prolog Anna I sings, she is from Louisiana.
1: Sloth Family sing.
2: Pride (Memphis) Anna I sings, Anna II dances.
3: Anger (Los Angeles) Family sings, Anna I and II are arrested.
4: Gluttony (Philadelphia) She writes her family. One of the guys is wearing an As jacket.
5: Lust (Boston) They are hooking, Anna II has a pimp and gives him her money. Strife.
6: Avarice (Baltimore) She's a celebrity? Golf. Family sing.
7: Envy (San Francisco) Anna sings. Wrath is kindled by injustice. Definitely San Francisco.
Z: Epilog They're home, but they don't look happy.
This is fun, the music is nicely played and sung but one grows tired of the endless closeups which seem always too close. One might wish to see it in a theater. I get the impression this was originally performed as a ballet in Lyon 6 years earlier. I might have preferred that. Faces without context don't make a story. I will need to see other versions.
Forgive me. I approach everything from the perspective of obsession and am watching Peter Sellars' take on Handel's Giulio Cesare from 1993. There is no indication of a live audience. Jeffrey Gall is Caesar, my fourth countertenor experience in this role. He has a brighter sound than Scholl, Daniels or Fagioli. His coloratura is impressive. One of the firsts for me here is Lorraine Hunt en travisti as Sesto. I would not have gone in quest of Peter Sellars if it weren't for the hidden treasures of Lorraine.
Tolomeo, Cleopatra's brother, is sung by Drew Minter, Cleopatra is Susan Larson and Cornelia is Mary Westbrook-Geha. My point of departure for the role of Cleopatra is Cecilia Bartoli, and Susan Larson sounds nothing like her. I don't know how much of this I can watch.
I am mentally reviewing the versions of this opera that I have seen and can only conclude that it is regarded as a comedy. In Zurich the Egyptians wear striped boxers. In Salzburg Cleopatra rides a rocket. At the Met we have wandered into a Bollywood movie. It's hard to take any of these seriously.
This one is also not serious. Caesar is president of the United States, apparently, due to seal of the President on the podium. Tolomeo most resembles a punk teenager. We have begun to notice that Peter Sellars' version of Regietheater moves every opera to somewhere American. This is what he knows, so this is what he does. The first person who appears representing Tolomeo and delivering Pompey's head is dressed a bit like Fidel Castro. This at least is serious.
Caesar and Ptolemy are negotiating, and after a while Caesar starts throwing cups and felt tipped markers at Ptolemy. Caesar has a lot more pens in his pockets and he throws them. Then he opens the water bottles, spills water all around, and exits smiling. He's always smiling. Sellars seems to have anticipated our current administration.
By now I am used to the musical quality of the Bartoli GC. Perhaps I am spoiled forever.
In Act II both Ptolemy and Achilla are harassing Cornelia. They are laying it on pretty heavy. So far she just frowns. Ptolemy wraps her in a garden hose. Sesto plans to accompany his mother into Ptolemy's harem where he can exact his revenge. I am watching this for curiosity. It isn't redeeming itself. Only Lorraine is outstanding. She waves her machine gun around menacing.
I apologize for not making it to the final two operas of The Ring in San Francisco. I haven't been feeling well.
I am continuing my investigation of Peter Sellars. It turns out that two of my unwatched DVDs are directed by him: Weill's Seven Deadly Sins and the DVD with Tchaikovsky's Iolanta and Stravinsky's Perséphone. This will give me an excuse to watch them.
I have always considered Die Walküre my favorite part of the Ring. Some scenes are the best part of the Ring while others are just endless talking. As the years have passed, I increasingly see Wotan's long winded explanation to Brünnhilde as a self serving excuse for his screw ups.
But the opening scene is a joyous occasion. Karita Mattila and Brandon Jovanovich are marvelous as the twins reuniting after a long separation. I think modern audiences feel that a woman who never wanted to marry in the first place is fully justified in running off with an attractive almost stranger. "Du bist der Lenz" is a gorgeous love song well sung here by our Siegmund. Ok, I'm happy with him as a heldentenor. They made a great pair. The staging for this scene is excellent. Except one minute there's no tree and the next minute there it is.
I enjoyed very much Iréne Theorin's entrance in act II. Her "toi-jo-to-hos" were impressive. This was followed by the spectacular tantrum of Jamie Barton's Fricka. She is very put off by the twins thing. Wotan drones on but completely messes up. What is his "will" supposed to make of the fact that first he tells her to make Siegmund win the battle, then completely reverses himself to please Fricka. She knows what his true will is and does that.
Then we have a scene under a freeway like a modern homeless couple. Or another opera seen recently. Sieglinde is having difficulties. Here occurs the scene where Brünnhilde fulfills the Valkyrie's main role--she offers him eternity in Valhalla. He refuses because Sieglinde will not be there.
The battle between Siegmund and Hunding has Brünnhilde fighting for Siegmund and Wotan against him. Wotan wins, but Brünnhilde spirits Sieglinde away to save her unborn child.
I thought all these scenes went very well. The highlight of this production is the Valkyries flying in on a wire with their heroes. This is a piece of fun. Brünnhilde walks in like a sensible person but has no hero. Then follows the greatest scene in all the Ring: Wotan's farewell. He makes her into a mere human as punishment. The music is very beautiful and was well sung by Greer Grimsley.
The quality of the singing is very high. The staging sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.
A small additional comment: at every possible opportunity the audience gave the orchestra and maestro Runnicles a huge ovation. He was very popular here.
Wotan, head god: Greer Grimsley
Loge, god of fire: Štefan Margita
Alberich, Nibelung:Falk Struckmann*
Fricka, Wotan's wife: Jamie Barton
Erda, goddess of the earth,Ronnita Miller
Mime, Alberich's brother:David Cangelosi
Fasolt, giant: Andrea Silvestrelli
Fafner, giant: Raymond Aceto
Donner, god of thunder:Brian Mulligan
Froh, god: Brandon Jovanovich
Freia, goddess of the apples; Julie Adams
Woglinde, Rhinemaiden: Stacey Tappan
Wellgunde, Rhinemaiden: Lauren McNeese
Flosshilde, Rhinemaiden: Renée Tatum
One wishes for Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen to be significant. The teeming Rhine surging in the orchestra in the orchestral intro to Das Rheingold signals something deep.
So tourists on a cruise ship was a bit disconcerting the last time I saw this. But the lighting is transformed, the pastels are gone and every orchestral transition includes projections of water and landscapes.
As always, Donald Runnicles is the man you want for Wagner. For the epic poem he is the one. Remember he was great in Les Troyens as well.
And what an incredible cast. Big Wagnerian voices are everywhere. Falk Struckman, our Alberich, was the only SFO debut. The force of his portrayal makes Alberich the main character here. He convinced in his transition from lover to tycoon to reprobate. We realize what he does not--his loss of the Ring only affects his self confidence, not his authority.
Štefan Margita's Loge was also outstanding. He lords it over Wotan at every turn. Only Wotan seems not to notice.
My reaction to this whole opera is that when a voice dominates the ensemble, that character dominates the narrative. That's why it comes out different each time.
Das Rheingold exists only to set the stage for the next three operas. The Rhinemaidens have lost their gold and their charm; Alberich has lost his authority and love; Fafner has killed his brother but gained the ring, a trinket he has no idea how to use; and Wotan has his Walhalla and his Fricka. Only Erda sees tragedy coming.
The changes to the production promise significant events to follow, not just fun on a cruise ship.
Over the life of this blog I have been trying to figure out the director Peter Sellars, and after all these years I want to try to do a full essay on him. It turns out there are two of him: Peter Sellars the opera director and Peter Sellars the librettist. He has directed other things not opera, but this discussion will limit itself to Peter Sellars in the classical music world. He is America's foremost representative of the Regietheater movement.
To briefly review, the principles of Regietheater involve:
moving the action to another time period, including costumes which usually look modern
more sex than strictly necessary
creating an interpretation that emphasizes modern day issues.
Peter Sellars the Regisseur of other people's operas
I am attempting to reconstruct my own experience of his work and find this hard going for the operas staged before the beginning of this blog. I now believe that my experience of his stagings began with the 1987 PBS presentation of John Adams' Nixon in China with Alice Goodman as the librettist. I especially enjoyed the comic Henry Kissinger. Who knew Nixon was funny? I liked Madame Mao's aria, the play within a play and the portrayal of Pat Nixon. I enjoyed its proximity to real life. The time frame is not changed because it's already modern. (film)
It might be important to remember that as an undergraduate he did a puppet version of The Ring.
My next experience with the work of Peter Sellars the opera
director probably dated from his 1990 filming of the Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy
which played on PBS. In the Sellars' Don Giovanni we are among
the American urban lower class in the 60s. People shoot drugs and sniff cocaine. You may and
probably should view this here, here,
I should probably watch it again myself for Lorraine Hunt Lieberson as Donna
Elvira if nothing else. Leporello and the Don are played by twin
brothers. At the time it was very shocking and caused an enormous
stink. But isn't that the problem with Don Giovanni? That it just
isn't shocking enough. The other two operas in the trilogy were not
nearly this shocking.
So I did. You should too. Lorraine is fabulous, but what else could she be? The filming is a bit heavy on the close ups but otherwise completely brilliant. When these guys act like they will kill one another, you believe them. Every scene rings true. How often does that happen? There is a lot of kissing and snuggling but no fake sex. The hero strips down to his briefs a couple of times. At the end, after the Don has descended to hell, it appears that the sun has begun to rise. This is actually more timely today than when it was originally done. (film)
I attended a performance of Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer, libretto by Alice Goodman at San Francisco Opera in 1992, shortly after its premier. When the opera was withdrawn from the HD season in 2014 for political reasons, I discussed it in the blog. It was trying to be even handed about a terrorist attack, which I found difficult. One side are terrorists, the other tourists. What's even about that? The direction by Sellars was not remarkable. (live)
L'Amour de Loin("Love from afar,") (2000) Music by Kaija
Saariaho, seen later in 2005 on a DVD from Finland, was also directed by Sellars with a kind
of mysterious simplicity. I simply wanted to see and hear this work. A shallow pond of
water representing the Mediterranean Sea covered the stage, and on each side was a winding metal staircase. On the left staircase was Dawn Upshaw in France, and on the right was Gerald Finley in Lebanon. A messenger in a boat brings their communications back and forth. I found everything about
this fascinating, including the music and the fabulous singing stars. The story comes from the mythical past, but everything here seems modern. It was a deep and wonderful experience. (film)
In 2011 the Metropolitan Opera revived Adams' Nixon in Chinaand kept the original director, Peter Sellars, making his Met debut. This new Met version ended with enhancements bordering on pornography. I didn't see the point. The Met also used some of the same singers who were then older. I still prefer the Houston version. (HD)
My next encounter with Sellars wearing only his director hat was Vivaldi's Griseldaat Santa Fe. I also attended his lecture here and agreed with him that Griselda is a terrible opera. The most notable thing here was that the always smiling Isabel Leonard never smiled once. They look rather like people from the 60s. I don't know if this opera could be saved. How about staging it like Platée with a man in the title character?(live)
After all these years of hearing about but always missing it, I came upon Peter Sellars direction of Bach's Saint Matthew Passionfrom Berlin. A religious work became a ritual, an aspect of religion that cannot be disparaged, at least not by me. I was deeply moved by this enhancement to a long loved work. The wonderful musical performance also helped. A glimmer of light began to appear. (film)
Then in 2017 came Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito from Salzburg. This story about ancient Rome became a modern racial encounter. The encounter was emphasized through the use of cast members who belonged to the suggested races. Sellars added some other music (which he also did in Griselda) from a mass by Mozart to enhance the sad parts. I found this entire production profoundly beautiful. Two home runs in a row. How was I to explain this? It made me think that he is actually capable of the truly profound and should work harder. As usual, the costumes are modern. I saw as never before that this was an opera about forgiveness and reconciliation. It may possibly be Mozart's greatest opera. (film)
I followed my curiosity over to an easily available film of Handel's Theodorafrom Glyndebourne in 1996. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Dawn Upshaw are also in this. It turned out to be a much earlier example of his true gift: the portrayal of large, significant issues. This is an oratorio with a story rather than an opera, and consists of a lot of very beautiful music suitably staged in modern settings. I recommend it. (film)
Can I write about stagings I have not seen? After his wildly popular, at least in Europe, Mozart-da Ponte trilogy, he staged Saint François d'Assise by Olivier Messiaen at Salzburg in 1992. There's a film about this but not of it. He says, "Anything that finally matters doesn't appear in the plot synopsis. So this history of staging the plot synopsis is one of the things that has made opera so intellectually inert and dull and expressively limited. And opera becomes incredibly expressive just as soon as you forget about the story and try and stage the music." I would go with a statement that said: what does this opera express? Stage that.
Don Giovanni expresses exploitative sexuality; Nixon is just people out of their context; Klinghoffer expresses that terrorists are people, too; L'Amour is about love conquering all; Griselda is about men treating women badly, or maybe it's just about singing; Matthew Passion is about the life and death of Jesus; Clemenza is about forgiveness; Theodora is about the life and death of a Christian; Saint François is basically the same with vastly more complex music. Clearly the staging works best where the message is clearest. You may feel free to hate my simplified summaries.
This vision statement I quoted above may explain everything. I think if you are staging an existing opera, you need to focus on enhancing its musical expression within the delineated characters. But generally when you are composing an opera, the libretto is usually slightly ahead of the music. There must be a vision of the opera before the composer can write it. That's my idea anyway.
This is an excellent record for any director. I will add to this list where I can. Next is Giulio Cesare. Clearly he follows the first rule of Regietheater: everyone will wear post WWII clothing. Stuff you can buy in a department store or thrift store. They will look like people you know. This is key.
There is one thing that he does that I can think of no one else who does. Claus Guth took all the spoken dialog out of Fidelio and replaced it with groans and sound effects, but he left the music alone. We are living in the era of reconstructing old scores to accurately represent their eras and original condition. Doctor Gossett called this a critical edition. Peter Sellars consistently changes the score, sometimes adding from somewhere else, sometimes cutting sections, in order to reflect his vision. Academicians will object to this, especially the adding part.
Peter Sellars the Librettist and regisseur of his own operas
Which brings us to the other Peter Sellars, the librettist. After the stink that surrounded The Death of Klinghoffer, Alice Goodman abandoned her career as an opera librettist, or it abandoned her. Her libretto for Nixon in China was very successful, but no one was willing to forgive Klinghoffer. She began working on Doctor Atomic with Adams, but withdrew after a while. Adams was used to working with Peter Sellars by then, and he took over the task of librettist.
As a librettist, it is not possible to add or subtract from the score or the original theatrical concept because one is the person creating it. One may do what one wishes.
I began blogging about his direction with the premier of John Adams' Doctor Atomic at the San Francisco Opera in 2005 where Sellars wore both librettist and director hats. Some of the work was done by Alice Goodman, but she bailed somewhere around mid way. Perhaps around the beginning of Act II. Added to this trio of collaborators was the boss Pamela Rosenberg who thought of it as a Faust play. I think it is this mish mash of influences that muddies the plot here.
Other people's ideas about Faust seem to be different from my own. It's true that Faust was an intellectual, a scientist, but his soul was clearly not threatened by this fact. It was threatened by the fact that in old age he began to regret wasting his life with serious efforts instead of having fun. The devil immediately pops in to offer other activities that might attract his attention. In short: science is the good path, seducing women and debauchery is the path to hell. Please, Faust, take one of these and love it. Wearing lab coats is irrelevant. But this is a side issue. Apparently Rosenberg did not win the argument.
For me the production was a bomb hanging in the air, a bomb which looked nothing like the photos of the bombs that were dropped on Japan. Contrary to my comments, the bomb used in the production looked just like the experimental version of the bomb that was exploded in New Mexico. I ranted, "I attended Peter Sellars' lecture before Doctor Atomic where he enthusiastically raved over what a great opera it is and what a great production he had invented. I don't care if the opera sells when you're talking about it. I don't care if part of it came from John Donne. I only care if it plays while I'm watching it. Do the characters matter? Does the drama draw me in? Or is it all BS?" I got carried away. (live)
In the first half people came out and spoke to the air. The first part of the opera was OK if somewhat static, but the entire second half was empty. We waited and waited, and there wasn’t even an explosion at the end. This was supposed to represent time moving slower and faster, but remember I am the person who never reads the program before. If that's what it means, show me.
My next encounter was with a film of another John Adams work: El Nino (2000), also with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Dawn Upshaw, which I reviewed in 2006. I couldn't stand how the film switched constantly from filming the performers and showing still pictures of other people. I rejected it for its film direction, but it is also a work where Peter Sellars wears both librettist and director hats. I really wanted to see this but could not stand looking at it. A live performance would probably have been easier to deal with. Even a split screen would have been better. I offer no opinion of the work itself. (film)
Doctor Atomic was significantly changed when it played at the Metropolitan Opera in 2008. This version was directed by Penny Woodcock. The empty act II was filled out with action. So here Sellars wore only the librettist hat. I am still unclear about the meaning of this opera. What does it mean that a man reads John Donne who searches for God while simultaneously developing the largest bomb ever seen on earth, a bomb destined to kill thousands in Japan. This is the story I wanted to see and did not. I wanted to see the conflict of good and evil.
This season I saw in San Francisco Girls of the Golden West. The text is yet again assembled around a structure provided by letters of Louise Clappe with the pen name Dame Shirley. There are many other sources. I was again missing a sense of clear narrative, though this doesn't seem to have been fatal. Dame Shirley is telling stories about her experiences during the gold rush, which is a kind of narrative.
If there are other operas by John Adams on librettos by Peter Sellars, I have not seen or reviewed them. I didn't get the impression from anything I have read or heard about these works that Peter Sellars actually wrote any of the words sung from the stage. I believe he only selects and assembles them. So if you get the impression that no one is speaking to anyone else, it's because the words came from something written down by people not named Peter Sellars and never attempts to simulate conversation. Glass successfully writes operas in Sanskrit and ancient Egyptian and still does not make you feel lost without a sense of narrative.
What does this opera express? Then include structures and text that accomplish that.
You may also have noticed that the narrative never quite gels. An Oratorio like Messiah can be assembled, but no staging is implied. Assembling a text in English, generally the language of the audience, made up of literary texts never intended to represent conversation or action is a problem. No amount of moving people around is going to make up for the fact that the words were never intended to be theater. For me this requires that the action be absolutely clear.
Clearly Mr. Sellars' operas haven't given me the sense of genius that his work on other people's operas have.
This is Jonas Kaufmann in costume for the Life Ball in Vienna, an annual AIDS charity. Papa Jonas? Extensive research reveals that the theme of Life Ball this year is The Sound of Music. Everyone seems to be pondering a Parsifal as Life Ball Sound of Music production.
I cannot resist adding this second picture posted by the artist.
"About to marry @ConchitaWurst and Herbert Föttinger. 💍💕 @lifeball" This is only fun if you know who Conchita Wurst is.
Jonas Kaufmann berichtet über sexuelle Nötigung. Am Anfang seiner Karriere wurde ihm ein Konzert angeboten - Bedingung: eine Gegenleistung.
Jonas Kaufmann reports sexual coercion. At the beginning of his career he was offered a concert - condition: a consideration.
Tenor Jonas Kaufmann ist zu Beginn seiner Karriere sexuell belästigt worden. Auch Männer seien davor nicht gefeit, sagte der 48-Jährige der Mailänder Tageszeitung „Corriere della Sera“ mit Blick auf die MeToo-Debatte. „Ich kenne die Situation gut, als ich jung war, ist es mir auch passiert. Ich stand am Anfang meiner Karriere, als mir ein Manager ein Konzert anbot, eine fantastische Gelegenheit.
Tenor Jonas Kaufmann was sexually harassed at the beginning of his career. "Even men are not immune to it," said the 48-year-old in the Milanese newspaper Corriere della Sera with a view to the MeToo debate. "I know the situation well, when I was young, it happened to me too. At the beginning of my career, when a manager offered me a concert, it was a fantastic opportunity.
Im Gegenzug hätte ich aber mit ihm in die Sauna gehen müssen. Das war ein sehr expliziter Tausch. Ich hatte Angst und habe Nein gesagt.“ Sexuelle Erpressung sei „grauenhaft“, so Kaufmann. „Man muss den Mut haben, sie aufzudecken.“ Der Klassikstar beklagte aber auch, dass in den USA ein Mann nicht mehr allein mit einer Frau in einem Raum sein könne, ohne dass eine Kamera laufe. „Die Gefahr, der Belästigung beschuldigt zu werden, ist zu groß.“ dpa
"In return, I would have had to go to the sauna with him. That was a very explicit exchange. I was scared and said no." Sexual blackmail was "horrible," according to Kaufmann. "You have to have the courage to uncover them." But the classic star also complained that in the US, a man can no longer be alone with a woman in a room without a camera running. "The danger of being accused of harassment is too great."
The machine translated this just fine. I adjusted the punctuation.
Opera Parallèle has announced their 2018-2019 Season.
In the Penal Colony (2000) by Philip Glass with a libretto by Rudolph Wurlitzer
based on the story by Franz Kafka. This is a new production in collaboration with the Day and Nights Festival which takes place in Carmel, California, October 5-7, 2018. We'll have to work this one out. A later performance in San Francisco? This is all men, but I would still like to see it. Nicole Paiement will conduct, and the director is Brian Staufenbiel.
The Little Prince (2003) by Rachel Portman in the Marines Memorial Theater in San Francisco, December 7-9, 2018. Nicole Paiement will conduct, and the director is Brian Staufenbiel. This is with the San Francisco Girls Chorus and may be regarded as a December family performance.
Today it Rains (2019) by Laura Kaminsky in Z-Space in San Francisco, March 28-31, 2019. Nicole Paiement will conduct, and the director is Brian Staufenbiel. This is a world premier based on an event in the life of the painter Georgia O'Keeffe. I have seen this composer's work and am most interested in this opera.
Xochitl and the Flowers (2016) (pronouced so-tcheel) by Christopher Pratorius-Gomez at 544 Capp St, San Francisco, May 18-19-2019. Originally created in 2016 with the Alvarado Elementary School, it is about immigration. Very timely. Martha Salazar will conduct.
George Benjamin | Conductor, Composer
Martin Crimp | Libretto
Katie Mitchell | Stage director
Stéphane Degout: King
Barbara Hannigan: Isabel, King's wife
Gyula Orendt: Gaveston, King's lover/Stranger
Peter Hoare: Mortimer, a courtier
Samuel Boden: Boy/Young King
Jennifer France: Witness 1/Singer 1/Woman 1
Krisztina Szabó: Witness 2/Singer 2/Woman 2
Andri Björn Robertsson: Witness 3/Madman
This is a free live stream from the Royal Opera House in London of George Benjamin's Lessons in Love and Violence. It's an historical plot about King Edward II (25 April 1284 – 21 September 1327) who was deposed in a manner similar to what is shown here.
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I have always thought that one of the great secrets of the astounding success of Cecilia Bartoli was her ability to construct a program. Who knew Vivaldi was this interesting? So she proves it year after year in Salzburg.
Here is a photo from L’italiana in Algeri this season. Rossini was fascinated by the culture clash between Italian women and moslem culture. Here is this year's program for the whole festival which is going on now.
Here is next year's program which is all about castrati and features five of the top countertenors: Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanuel Cencic, Yuriy Mynenko, Christophe Dumaux and Franco Fagioli. The operas are Handel's Alcina and Porpora's Polifemo, as well as an oratorio by Caldara composed for Farinelli called La Morte d'Abel. Every singer in the genre will be there.
I thought to myself while leafing through lists in YouTube of Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music that Bernstein would completely understand this piece. He understood perfectly the necessity of ecstasy. The words are Shakespeare, of course. "How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank...." I think I got it in one.
The fan site Cecilia Bartoli Forum is going down on May 24 because on May 25 the new EU laws concerning the internet go into effect. He is concerned that as a blogger with no commercial content he is nevertheless exposed to potential fines.
I'm not in the EU, so I am ignoring this. I am minimally involved in commerce because I display links to Amazon.com. If they want me, they will have to come and get me. I don't collect information about anyone except opera singers and maybe conductors, directors, etc. I collect this information in my head.
The cookies law was far simpler. Blogger could simply take care of it. When I pull up my blog here in the United States, there is no cookie warning, but if I pull it up in Europe, there it is. We were wishing there was a similarly simple solution to this new situation, but no one has any idea what they need to do. So: Dear EU, if I am violating your law, you will please inform me first of what I am doing wrong and second what I might do about it. Until this happens, I'm going on with what I'm doing.
Schedule information about Cecilia Bartoli may be found on her official site. She posts occasionally on Twitter.
Footnote. People don't go into business on the internet for fun. They do it for money. Money on the internet generally comes from advertising. It works like this:
1. I pay someone to advertise my product or site.
2. They identify what type of product I am wanting to advertise.
3. They identify which internet users might be interested in my product. They do this by gathering data on what they do when on the internet.
The only alternative to this advertising model is to distribute advertisements for product randomly to all internet users. Only a very small percentage of internet users have any interest in opera. I am not even able to imagine how you would get this to work so that you actually gained viewers or sales.
Conductor: Christoph Campestrini
Director: Mark Streshinsky
Tosca: Alexandra Loutsion, soprano
Mario: Marco Cammarota, tenor
Scarpia: Philip Skinner, bass-baritone
This time the list of people involved in last night's semi-staged performance of Puccini's Tosca at Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera exactly matches the picture above the list. Our conductor was here last season to present a program of Italian music. Mark Streshinsky directs operas for West Edge. Our Tosca and Mario are new for me, but Philip Skinner (sometimes Philip, sometimes Phil) is a regular at West Edge in the San Francisco Bay Area where he has a following. I have seen him before in seven different operas, including the by now famous Lulu.
The conducting was good. View screens of the conductor were placed at the sides of the stage, as at Covent Garden, but I didn't notice anyone looking at them. As a semi-staged performance, the orchestra was at the back of the stage with a staging area at the front. Each act had an arrangement of furniture to make the set. The singers' proximity to the front of the stage made me more aware of the fine points of the plot than ever before. I don't remember noticing before that the current government was celebrating the defeat of Napolean, when at the end it is announced that Napolean has won and is moving toward Rome.
Phil went loud and domineering with his Scarpia. He is extremely good at this and received loud booing at the end. How much can one write about Tosca? I have reviewed it 9 times before. The singing was lovely, especially Alexandra. They followed the current fad of "Vissi d'arte" starting with Tosca lying on something. It was nevertheless beautiful.
Extremely interesting to me was Scott Levin (normally billed as E. Scott Levin?) who played the Sacristan who appears only at the beginning of the opera. His voice is extremely full and beautiful.
If we aren't to get a fully staged opera, this semi-staged one was good.
Sacramento State Opera Theater presented two short operas with a common theme: one or more characters are in disguise. The great disguise opera is La Cenerentola where the Prince and his valet exchange places. Both roles are well developed.
There is a small orchestra positioned behind the singers. I have been in this theater when it had a pit, and the remnants of the pit are still visible. So why don't they use it? The supertitles were virtually invisible, and other signs of disrepair were all around.
Conductor: Ryan Murray
Director: Omari Tau
Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard (1946) by Pierre Petit
Sylvia, a young Parisian Angela Yam, soprano
Lisette, her maid Tatiana Grabcluc, soprano
Dotante, a young Parisian Nathan Halbut, baritone, guest artist
Sylvia is expecting a visit from her betrothed, a man named Dotante. They are betrothed but have never met, apparently. Sylvia and Lisette change places, which consists primarily of putting the maid's outfit onto Sylvia. When a young man arrives, he claims to be Dotante's servant. The two pretend servants get along very well and decide once the disguises are revealed that marriage would be a good idea after all.
This is a relatively modern piece and is therefore through-composed. The music was sweet and charming. I liked both of the young women in this work, and would have liked to hear more of Tatiana. Angela is beautiful and appeared also in the next opera.
Il campanello di notte (1836) by Gaetano Donizetti
Serafina, a young bride Angela Yam, soprano
Don Annibale Pistacchio, an apothecary Justin Ramm-Damron, bass
Enrico, Serafina's cousin Jordan Krack, baritone, opera theater alumnus
Spiridione, Don Annibale's servant Jacob Burke, tenor
Madama Rosa, Serafina's mother Valerie Loera
Don Annibale, an old man, has just married Serafina who is much too young for him. Their family members are celebrating the nuptials. A cute bit of business occurs when Don Annibale and his new mother-in-law dance together and she leads. Enrico arrives and has a long duet with Serafina for the most operatic section of the piece. She is not encouraging, and Enrico leaves after toasting the groom. This scene would have been improved with visible supertitles.
Don Annibale dresses for bed with his new bride, but before anything can happen, Enrico arrives in three disguises, each needing a prescription. From here it is a major slapstick tour de force for Enrico. He looks and acts like an idiot in all three of his disguises. The audience screamed. The most amazing thing about this opera and probably the explanation for why you have never seen it lies in the lines for disguise number 3: they have a long list of ingredients for the prescription which they recite like a patter song. How is this even possible? Jordan Crack carried this entire opera.
It was Donizetti and therefore featured extended sections of secco recitative played on an electric piano. It was too loud. I always say sing with the music, not the conductor. Here there was no choice. The conductor faced the musicians at the back, even when playing the electric piano. The singers either faced each other or the audience. No one got lost or confused.
This is fun, and you will never see either of these operas again.
Every year I rank the Met Live in HD simulcasts. It's not easy since the quality of the product is so high.
This season included the Sonya Yoncheva film festival:
Tosca by Puccini
La Bohème by Puccini
Luisa Miller by Verdi
Luisa Miller was the most difficult for her, but I enjoyed her Tosca best. She and Placido Domingo seemed to have great rapport in Luisa Miller.
This season we had the grotesque James Levine scandal with his name disappearing from performances. Anna Netrebko appeared in the Met season but not in an HD simulcast. There was no Jonas Kaufmann this season, but most of the rest of my favorite current tenors made appearances:
Vittorio Grigolo in Tosca
Matthew Polenzani in L’Elisir d’Amore
Michael Fabiano in La Bohème
Javier Camarena in Semiramide
Piotr Beczala in Luisa Miller
And now for the ranking.
10. I liked the idea of The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès, and I even liked some of the details, but I could not get past the hideous screeching. Knowing vocal classifications is a minimum requirement for opera composing.
9. Luisa Miller by Verdi comes ninth for me, since I don't really love the opera.
8. Semiramideby Rossini was very unusual--assertive and intense. I'm used to a more low key mood for this opera. It also suffered for me because of the recent live stream from Munich of this opera with Joyce DiDonato.
7 Die Zauberflöte Mozart was in German and uncut in a repeat of the Julie Taymor production, with an excellent cast, but I didn't get very excited.
6. L’Elisir d’Amoreby Donizetti was OK, but this is its sixth outing for me since I started blogging. In spite of that I liked this performance very much indeed, especially Pretty Yende and the light-hearted atmosphere. Perhaps it's a comedy after all.
5.Normaby Bellini featured a new, very naturalistic production which attempted to do a better job than usual of explaining the plot. It also featured Joyce DiDonato as Adalgisa. I'm still stuck on Cecilia's version.
4.La Bohèmeby Puccini. It's hard to know where to put La Bohème. It always seems to work.
3. Tosca by Puccini was a new traditional production with a fabulous cast. I especially liked Yoncheva.
2. Cosi fan Tutte by Mozart. This opera needs something to make it work. Otherwise it's just beautiful music accompanying a horrible story. The point is supposed to be that women are fickle, but this production made it seem to be more about men behaving badly. Maybe in revivals they will diminish the frantic circus activity a bit. Pompous asses in naval officer uniforms made all the difference.
1. Cendrillon by Massenet. This was a fabulously cast, spectacularly mounted fairy tale opera well worth seeing.
Ahead of her solo Brighton festival appearance showcasing Handel’s gender-bending operatic writing, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote reflects on the complexities of a creative life playing ‘breeches’ roles.
Alice Coote as King Xerxes
I get paid to flatten my breasts, dress up as a man, make love to other women, all the while singing athletically elaborate music without a microphone. This is my day job in rehearsals, and thousands of people around the world watch me do it in performance several nights a week.
I am an opera singer, and for those of us with the middle and lower range voices – mezzo-sopranos and contraltos – this is a normal part of the job.
A carriage in the form of the French word for carriage.
Conductor...............Bertrand de Billy
Cendrillon (Lucette)....Joyce DiDonato
Prince Charming.........Alice Coote
Fairy Godmother.........Kathleen Kim
Madame de la Haltière...Stephanie Blythe
Today we were treated to the first production of Massenet's Cendrillon ever to appear on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. We begin with a French conductor, a French production and a Frenchman to speak the only spoken dialog heard in the opera. The rest of the cast is not French but is nevertheless spectacular.
The story divides into three contexts: 1. The home of Pandolfe, his wife Madame de la Haltière, his daughter Lucette and his two stepdaughters. 2. The palace of the King and his son Prince Charming. 3. A dream-like fairy land populated by the Fairy Godmother and her minions.
I received in my email a link to a film of the board meeting of the San Francisco Opera. The president, the CFO and Matthew Shilvock, the general manager. The entertainment was cut. A number of points were covered.
Ticket sales for next season are well ahead of this season. We are closer to a balanced budget than we've been in years.
The search is on for a new Musical Director to succeed Nicola Luisotti. I hope they can find another Italian.
We were told that Dream of the Red Chamber from the 2016-17 season has been touring in Asia where it is a big hit. Fascinating.
Next season there will be only 8 productions, a significant factor in balancing the budget. This was accompanied by a rather disturbing announcement. Only two (Riccardo Frizza and Patrick Summers) of next season's 8 conductors have ever conducted an opera before. I am hoping I misunderstood this.
The San Francisco Opera began with Tosca, and it seems we have been watching the same Tosca set for all that time. I remember Maria Collier, Angela Gheorghiu and Leontyne Price. We are getting a new production created here in our shops.
Matthew addressed the issue of his artistic vision. When they first hired him, I brought up the fact that no one had ever mentioned this in anything I had read about him.
I entered the world of the San Francisco Opera through Kurt Herbert Adler (1953–1981), probably first seeing him looking up at me auditioning. His vision was to make our company into one of the finest in the world. He attracted famous singers by offering to stage whatever they wanted to sing. These included Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo. He started the Merola program.
Terence McEwen (1982–1988) was a recording executive who knew the singers personally. His biggest achievement was Norma with Sutherland and Horne. He was the first to use supertitles.
Lotfi Mansouri (1988–2001) was a director and continued his career as a director while being general manager. He hired Donald Runnicles as Musical Director, something of a coup. He brought us James Morris as Wotan, the greatest thing ever. He produced some outstanding new operas: Harvey Milk, composed by Stewart Wallace, A Streetcar Named Desire, composed by André Previn, Dead Man Walking, composed by Jake Heggie, and The Death of Klinghoffer composed by John Adams. This must be considered a great success.
Pamela Rosenberg (2001–2005) is for me most famous for bringing us Messiaen's Saint-François d'Assise. She had been Intendant in Stuttgart, a medium sized German house, and brought us things she would have produced there. San Franciscans were horrified. I may only have seen her when she came out after 9/11 to lead us in singing God Bless America.
David Gockley (2006–2016) promised us stars and basically delivered. He also brought us what is called The American Ring, which plays again in June. He replaced Runnicles with Luisotti who now departs.
Shilvock spoke only of connecting with the communities of the San Francisco Bay Area. I support this. The San Francisco Opera is idle in both early spring and late summer, giving him ample time to see operas from around the world. He hasn't promised us anything in particular, and I still see this as a problem. I will be watching closely to see who he hires as Musical Director. And just because we haven't been promised stars doesn't mean we can't still have them.
The Beverly Sills Artist Award is given by the Metropolitan Opera to extraordinarily gifted singers between the ages of 25 and 40 who have already appeared in featured solo roles at the Met. Previous winners have been Jamie Barton, Michael Fabiano, Joyce DiDonato, Matthew Polenzani, Susanna Phillips and Angela Meade. I have seen her in leading roles in Lucia di Lammermoor, Eliogabalo, Rigoletto, Idomeneo, and Nozze di Figaro. I have been following her career for over 6 years and find that she richly deserves this award.
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. Britten's Death in Venice was previously announced.
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."
We finished the New Millennium concert series at Sacramento State with a grand performance by the Takács String Quartet, a founding member of the Gramophone Hall of Fame. This is what quartet playing is supposed to sound like. They are from Hungary and have been playing together for over 40 years. Wow. For our concert they played:
Mozart's String Quartet No 14, K.387 (1782) This is the first of the Haydn Quartets, in the standard 4 movements.
Mendelssohn's String Quartet No. 6, Op.80 (1847) This is the last piece completed by Mendelssohn before his death. I especially liked the first of four movements.
Beethoven's String Quartet No.14 Op. 131 (1826) This piece listed 7 movements, but they all seemed to flow one into the other. An especially fast section seemed a Presto to me--section 5. I turned out to be correct. They are famous for their Beethoven.
This was a treat. They have recorded extensively for Decca.