Saturday, March 31, 2018

Fabulous Cosi in HD

Full cast
Conductor...............David Robertson
Production..............Phelim McDermott

Fiordiligi..............Amanda Majeski
Guglielmo............Adam Plachetka 
Dorabella..............Serena Malfi
Ferrando................Ben Bliss
Despina.................Kelli O'Hara
Don Alfonso.........Christopher Maltman

Two words:  saddle oxfords.  The sisters in Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte in HD from the Metropolitan Opera are on the right in outfits which were popular when I was in junior high school.  They look so fabulously authentic.  They are in a motel and Despina is the woman who cleans the rooms.

These two guys, Ferrando and Guglielmo, are in a bar with Don Alfonso, their older male friend. When they are just a bit too drunk, the younger men start to brag about the faithfulness of their fiancĂ©s, the two sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi.  According to the guys, they are truly faithful. Don Alfonso says this is nonsense, that all women are fickle. He bets that their girlfriends are like all the others, and he will prove it. The two guys agree to test this. The two guys first appear in their naval officer uniforms, a touch that for me made all the difference.  These two young men might indeed be suddenly called off to war.

This production completely transformed my take on this opera.  It is important to remember that it is the young men's complete faith in their girl friends that makes any of this plausible.  In their military uniforms they obviously feel their young fiancĂ©s are too insignificant to jilt such important people as themselves.  They never seem to consider they might lose.  They do whatever Don Alfonso tells them and laugh at the results until it's too late.

My favorite thing about the production is the disguises, especially the mustacchi (mustaches) which make the young men look far more gorgeous than their stuffy military officer real selves.  Ferrando is completely transformed.  The disguises are always lame.

The circus performers were fun if sometimes a little overwhelming.  In the green outfit seen above is our Despina as the notary who brings the marriage certificates all the way from Texas.  This was the most fun of all with her Broadway dance number.  The entire production was complex and busy with virtually a set for each aria.  It made the whole thing a lot funnier.  It's a comedy.  We should laugh.

In the end Don Alfonso makes his case, but he realizes that Despina has done all the real work and gives her all the winnings.  New motto for Cosi fan Tutte:  Don't take your woman for granted.  My favorite Cosi ever.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Clarinet Virtuoso Katsuya Yuasa

On his tour as the winner of the Mu Phi Epsilon Foundation Performance Award clarinetist Katsuya Yuasa stopped by our local university for a recital, along with his accompanist Sakurako Kanemitsu.  He is both a skilled and an entertaining musician.

I was most interested in the chosen repertoire which went back only as far as 1899.

  • Solo de Concours (1899) by Andre Messager is a post romantic piece whose life began as an academic exam requested by Gabriel FaurĂ©.  I like for the romantic style to at least make a showing, and this was excellent.
  • Flute Sonata, Op. 94 (1943), 1. Moderato, by Sergey Prokofiev is more modern, and was arranged for clarinet by Kent Kennan.  Prokofiev is supposed to have composed this in his free time.
  • Premiere Rhapsodie (1909/10) by Claude Debussy strangely also requested by FaurĂ©.  I admired his technique here but always feel that Debussy requires something more.
  • Pocket Size Sonata (1957) in three short movements by Alec Templeton adds jazz to our clarinetist's broad range of styles.  He's very musical.
  • Fuer Arvo (2018) by Ryan Suleiman was presented as a world premier.  The composer was present.  And yes, the Arvo is Arvo Pärt.  It is a response to one of the older composer's compositions.  I have taken the liberty of redating this piece from 2017, since music is normally dated on the date of the world premier performance.  This was minimalist like Pärt.
  • Fantasie for Solo Clarinet (1993) by Jorg Widmann was for the clarinet alone.  This piece is for fun, to show off all the many things you can do with a clarinet, including slurs that I may only have heard in Rhapsody in Blue.  He has this stuff all down.
  • Time Pieces, Op. 43 (1983) in four movements by Robert Muczynski finished the recital. 
I found that our performer's enthusiasm for performing along with his skill made this a very pleasing recital. Good luck in the future.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Alcina on

Marc Minkowski | Conductor 
Adrian Noble | Stage director

Anja Harteros | Alcina
VerĂłnica Cangemi | Morgana
Vesselina Kasarova | Ruggiero
Kristina Hammarström | Bradamante
Alois MĂĽhlbacher | Oberto
Benjamin Bruns | Oronte
Adam Plachetka | Melisso

I have been subscribing to without actually watching much of anything.  I notice that there are films from San Francisco on here.  All are highly recommended.

So I decided I should watch Handel's Alcina from the Vienna State Opera, 2011, with Harteros and Kasarova.   This is a typical opera seria with a traditional staging.  The best part is at the beginning where Alcina and Ruggiero are flirting.

You would want this for the singing which is very high class.  Anja in giant fro gets the most applause.  Why isn't Alcina played scarier?  This is hard to understand about this opera.  Here she seems genuinely in love and hugs everyone at the end.

Alois MĂĽhlbacher is elsewhere called a countertenor who sounds like the boy soprano he is supposed to be according to Wikipedia.  This is a significant role, and Minkowski makes a fuss over him at the end.

This is for the Handel lover.  The camera makes a quick flash over to the audience, and I thought it might be Donna Leon, a known Handel lover.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Dawn Upshaw in Sacramento

Dawn Upshaw came to Sacramento for a recital at CSUS as part of the New Millennium concert series.  Her accompanist was Gilbert Kalish.  I last saw her in San Francisco in 2010.  After a rather spectacular career, this lyric soprano seems more like the single mom she is.  Die Zeit, sie ist ein sonderbar Ding.

The theme of the recital was love.

She performed two groups by female composers.  The first was "On Loving," three songs by Sheila Silver.  These songs can be found on YouTube.  I believe these songs were composed in memory of Gilbert Kalish's wife.

The second group by a female composer was four songs by Rebecca Clarke who mostly composed for her instrument, the viola.  From this group I most enjoyed "Infant Joy."  It also can be found on YouTube.

The rest of the program was wide ranging and began with familiar songs by Franz Schubert.  "Gretchen am Spinnrade" was my favorite.  I do also love "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt."

Mr Kalish played a movement from Charles Ives' Piano Sonata No.2, which was followed by three of Ives' songs.

My favorite group of the concert was five songs by BĂ©la BartĂłk.  In school one is taught that BartĂłk was an ethnomusicologist.  This means he went around his native Hungary with a recorder taping every song he heard.  There are supposed to be hundreds of these, but this is the first time I have heard them on a concert.  They were fascinating.

The program ended with three songs by William Bolcom.  There are also YouTube films of these.

There was an encore:  Ives' "Two little flowers", a song I love madly which I must surely have sung at one time or another.

Curiously, Gilbert Kalish can be found accompanying many of these songs on YouTube.

Highlights of the career of Dawn Upshaw as seen from this blog.

  • CDs of works by Oswaldo Golijov including Ayre, 2005,  and Oceana.
  • A live performance of Ayre in Berkeley.  This did not seem possible since so much of it is electronic.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Semiramide in HD

Camarena - DeShong - Meade - Abdrazakov
Conductor...........Maurizio Benini
Production..........John Copley

Semiramide, Queen of Babylon, widow of King Nino, soprano:  Angela Meade
Assur, a prince, descendant of Baal, bass:  Ildar Abdrazakov
Arsace, Commander of the Assyrian army, contralto:   Elizabeth DeShong
Idreno, an Indian king, tenor:   Javier Camarena
Oroe, high priest of the Magi, bass:   Ryan Speedo Green
Azema, a princess, descendant of Baal, soprano:   Sarah Shafer
Mitrane, Captain of the Guard, tenor:  Kang Wang
Nino's Ghost, bass:  Jeremy Galyon

This wasn't my first time with Rossini's Semiramide.  My first time was probably the only time it played at the San Francisco Opera in 1981 with Montserrat CaballĂ©, Marilyn Horne and James Morris.  I sat next to a woman who was a CaballĂ© fan, and we alternated sighing for the two female stars.  This in spite of the weirdness of the costumes.  Richard Bonynge conducted.

I bought a film from the Bel Canto Society filmed in 1980 with a very similar cast which included Sam Ramey.  The singing is amazing if you'd like to hear it.

And then a year ago I watched a stream from Munich starring Joyce DiDonato and Daniela Barcellona which I enjoyed very much for the singing but which was modernized.

Let's just say I had certain expectations today.  For one thing I expected not to like it.  Instead I got surprises.

Semiramide is Rossini's last opera seria.  It may in fact be the last opera seria at all.  This form of opera means serious opera, has serious subject matter, consists of endless rows of da capo arias and ensembles, and usually has a happy ending.  The singing is the point.  You can see from the pictures that this is the first time in my experience that any effort was made to make the costumes look Assyrian.  In Marilyn's version the soldiers looked a bit like playing cards.  In Joyce's everyone seems like modern middle-eastern.  Today's costumes may not be pretty, but they are trying to be period.

I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed Angela Meade in this role.  She has a steelier voice than either CaballĂ© or DiDonato.  In fact that could be said of the other singers as well.  DeShong is steelier and heavier than Horne or Barcellona.  Camarena is heavier than Brownlee or Ariaza.  The result is a shift to a much more intense and dramatic work altogether.  All are working together to set a tone of intense tragedy.

There's only one problem with that:  all that intensity can become tedious.  Sometimes I appreciated it, and sometimes I didn't.  Bonynge and company focused on beautiful singing above all else.  This is pleasing in an entirely different way.

I was surprised by Ryan Speedo Green.  What a voice.  I was surprised by the clarity of the plot.  I saw the Commendatore from Don Giovanni in Nino's Ghost.  I liked it in a surprising way.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Beethoven and Mozart in Sacramento

Dmitri Sitkovetsky came to Sacramento to conduct and play solo violin for the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera.  I found this to be a particularly well constructed concert program and assigned this success to Dmitri.  Thank you for coming.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Suite No. 4 "Mozartiana", Op. 61 (1887)  

These movements are all based on music by Mozart. (Notes from Wikipedia)

  1. Gigue. Allegro (G major) After the Little Gigue for piano, K. 574. 
  2. Menuet. Moderato (D major) After the Minuet for piano, K. 355. 
  3. Preghiera. Andante ma non tanto (B♭ major) After Franz Liszt's piano transcription of the Ave verum corpus, K. 618. (In 1862 Liszt wrote a piano transcription combining Gregorio Allegri's Miserere and Mozart's Ave verum corpus, published as "Ă€ la Chapelle Sixtine" (S.461). Tchaikovsky orchestrated only the part of this work that had been based on Mozart.) 
  4. Thème et variations. Allegro giusto (G major) After the piano Variations on a Theme by Gluck, K. 455. (The theme was the aria "Unser dummer Pöbel meint", from Gluck's opera La Rencontre imprĂ©vue, or Les Pèlerins de la Mecque). 

I admit I'm not a huge Tchaikovsky fan.  Sitkovetsky conducted.

Wolfgang Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major (1775)

This is a lovely violin concerto, Mozart's last, from the time when part of his income source was playing violin solos.  He was 19.  Sources point out that his violin concertos don't show off all the possibilities of the violin as Beethoven and Brahms do.  Ok.  Mozart would have played these pieces himself, while Beethoven and Brahms would have relied on professional violin soloists active at their time.  Mozart's concerto is characterized by beautiful melodies and typical Mozart style.  For me it was very beautifully played.  Sitkovetsky was conductor and soloist.  The orchestra played well without constant attention from the maestro.

Arvo Pärt, Fratres (Brothers) (1977)  

The title refers to religious brothers.  This was the first time I have heard Arvo Pärt played live on a concert.  He is a living composer from Estonia.  This piece was undoubtedly chosen because it is also a violin concerto of sorts.  It begins with a series of jarring violin arpeggios and goes on to repetitive chords and arpeggios.  You will note that this piece dates one year after Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass.  Both Pärt and Glass are pioneers of the minimalist school.  We went to the lecture before where this was mentioned.  Sitkovetsky was the violin soloist and occasionally had opportunity to conduct.

Ludwig Beethoven Symphony No. 8 (1814)

Sitkovetsky returned to conducting for this.  This is a somewhat small symphony which could have come from an earlier period.  Again it was well played.

I enjoyed the way this concert was constructed with works from many styles which all related back to the influence of Mozart.  I especially liked hearing the Mozart concerto, a favorite.  Now that I understand that Arvo Pärt is a minimalist, I hope he will appear again for me.  Otherwise I only know about him from recordings.