Monday, April 30, 2018

Ranking the Simulcasts 2017-18

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. Semiramide by 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’Amore by 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. Norma by 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 Bohème by 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.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Alice Coote: My Life as a Man

This is an article borrowed from the Guardian:

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 Xerxes  in Xerxes by Handel, London Coliseum. An English National Opera production.

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.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Cendrillon in HD

A carriage in the form of the French word for carriage.
Conductor...............Bertrand de Billy
Production..............Laurent Pelly

Cendrillon (Lucette)....Joyce DiDonato
Prince Charming.........Alice Coote
Fairy Godmother.........Kathleen Kim
Pandolfe................Laurent Naouri
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.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

San Francisco Opera Annual Meeting

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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Nadine Sierra wins 2018 Beverly Sills Artist Award

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.

Monday, April 23, 2018

West Edge Summer Festival 2018

West Edge Opera
has announced three operas for this summer:
  • 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."

The venue is Craneway Conference Center, Harbour Way South, Richmond, CA.  Tickets are available.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Takács Quartet


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.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Ten Operas

This is a list, and you know I love lists.  These 10 operas are all operas which I had never heard before I began blogging and have never seen a second time.  All stand out in my mind as outstanding memories.  None of them came to me by way of the Met and none are even close to the top 100.  I have listed them in order of their premier dates.  They cover the entire history of opera, and all of them deserve to be revived IMHO.

Francesco Cavalli's La Calisto (1651) in Italiian.  The musical style is late Monteverdi.  I acquired this from a pirated source in a production that involved René Jacobs.  I understand there is a legitimate DVD of this production that with some effort might be acquired.  This opera production seems to try to show us a true Venetian opera production with gods who descend through stage machinery and transform from baritones to sopranos.  I loved it for its sense of  fun.  Venice is the land of carnival so entertainment is the order of the day.  To present this opera you would need a baritone with a fabulous falsetto.

Jean-Philippe Rameau's Comédies lyriques Platée (1745) in French.  The musical style is French Baroque.  I saw this live at the Santa Fe Opera and thought it was great fun.  Since we are in France, the title character cross dresses from a male tenor to a female, instead the usual Italian arrangement at that time which involved mainly sopranos.  Maybe comedy is a theme for me.  I think perhaps operatic comedy was more significant in times gone by.  This plot is also about gods and magic beings. The title character is written for a French type of tenor called a haute-contre.  To present this opera you might need one.  He isn't falsetto.

Gioachino Antonio Rossini's Maometto Secondo (1820) in Italian. The musical style is early bel canto.  This was also seen live at the Santa Fe Opera with marvelous performances by Luca Pisaroni, Leah Crocetto and the rest of the cast.  It's a serious opera of great significance and an important political plot.  It's one of the operas composed for Isabella Colbran.  This needs to return, but to present it you might need someone who can be Isabella Colbran.

Heinrich Marschner's Der Vampyr (The Vampire) (1828) in German.  The musical style is German romantic.  I saw this live at the Komische Oper Berlin.  Is it a comedy, a tragedy, a soap opera, a horror movie?  What?  So Germans aren't as serious as we thought.  Who knew vampires were popular in the 1820s?  Our heroine is also a modern girl who dares all and triumphs in the end.  There's no cross-dressing.  There are no vocal oddities here or particularly difficult roles.  Present this in your local company.

Hector Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini (1838) in French.  The musical style is French romantic.  This is from a DVD from Salzburg that just happened to be in the opera shop in San Francisco when I was there.  The story takes place in Rome during carnival, creating many opportunities for frivolity. The title character is an actual historical figure, an artist from Florence who wrote a famous autobiography.  His bust is on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. The Pope is a character. Cellini gets into lots of trouble but always finds his way out.  I see no severe difficulties with presenting this opera and don't think it has to be comedy.  Of this set of operas this is the only one that appears in the Met On Demand.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans(1881) in Russian.  The musical style is Russian post-romantic.  Perhaps the reason this opera is not popular is because it is in Russian.  The Verdi Joan of Arc is more popular, but I think this one is a better opera.  For one thing this plot is a lot less ridiculous than Verdi's.  I saw it live at the San Francisco Opera and loved it.  Joan is a mezzo.  Is that the problem?  The difficulty with presenting this opera would be finding a singer to be Joan.  Dolora Zajick might not be available.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die Tote Stadt (1920) in German.   In this list I think it is the closest to standard repertoire and would be classified as post-romantic or what I have called post-Wagnerian.  I saw it live at the San Francisco Opera.  I sat next to someone at the Cosi HD who thought this was the opera she hated most.  The more repulsive parts of the story suit the world view of the early twentieth century.  Maybe you shouldn't revive this for your local company.

Gian Carlo Menotti's The Last Savage (1963) in English.  Menotti's musical style is closest to American musical, but here he approaches bel canto. Modernism makes an appearance.  I saw this live at the Santa Fe Opera.  The plot most resembles a Tarzan movie.  I don't know if you would want this without the production.  The voice parts are not unusual, but you need a baritone who can pass for Tarzan.  Try it.

Philip Glass's Orphée (1993) in French after the Cocteau film of the same name.  In fact the dialog comes from the movie.  The musical style is modified minimalism.  I saw this live at Glimmerglass where they advised that you first see the movie.  I did not.  It seems the most like a real opera of Glass's operas.  It is an angel of death plot, except the angel falls in love with a mortal and tries to cheat fate. I see no barrier to producing this opera.

Oswaldo Golijov's Ainadamar (2005) in Spanish.  The musical style is South American modernism.  I saw this live in San Francisco presented by Opera Parallèle.  It jumps the time frame a couple of times, a problem that was easily solved in this production by displaying the year in the super-titles.  It is a biography of the playwright Federico García Lorca.   The music is exciting and fun and incorporates dance genres.  You will need dancers.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Luisa Miller in HD

Conductor...............Betrand de Billy
Production..............Elijah Moshinsky

Luisa...................Sonya Yoncheva, soprano
Rodolfo...............Piotr Beczala, tenor
Miller..................Plácido Domingo, baritone
Count Walter.......Alexander Vinogradov, bass
Wurm..................Dmitry Belosselskiy, bass
Federica..............Olesya Petrova, contralto  

Yesterday the Metropolitan Opera presented Verdi's Luisa Miller in HD.  I liked it better this time than I did in 2015 in San Francisco.  This is a very fine cast, but perhaps it is Placido Domingo, a man born to musical theater, who makes the difference.  In the other staging everyone seemed like a bad guy, but here we are clear that Miller deeply cares about his daughter and will give up everything for her.  Rodolfo on the other hand thinks only of himself and commits a murder/suicide, something we generally hear about from the newspaper.  His excuse is only a tiny bit better than Otello's.

All over the internet are people wondering why Placido keeps singing.  His scenes with Yoncheva were by far the most spectacularly beautiful of anything seen here today.  He definitely still has it, and this performance is one of his better outings as a baritone.

Plot--young nobleman goes wandering around the countryside in disguise looking for girls, very much like the Duke in Rigoletto or the King in La Donna del Lago.  He knows that makes him a shit, but does it anyway.  It turns out badly for everyone.  It was like a magic trick, but this cast made it work.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Il Corsaro from Valencia

Verdi's Il Corsaro from Palau de les Arts, Valencia

Conductor: Fabio Biondi
Director: Nicola Raab

Corrado: Michael Fabiano
Medora: Kristina Mkhitaryan
Gulnara: Oksana Dyka
Seid: Vito Priante
Giovanni: Evgeny Stavinsky

Verdi's Il Corsaro is on a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave which is based on Lord Byron's poem The Corsair.  A corsair is a pirate.  Other characters have period costumes in colors, but Michael is relatively modern and purports to be the poet himself.  He doesn't even remind me of Lord Byron.  It's more the minimalist black and white.  I don't generally find productions which are conceptually split, here split between period and modern, to work at all.  There are occasional cute images, but nothing that explains the story.  Apparently two women are in love with the pirate.  It ends as only an opera can.  Poison.  Cliffs.  That sort of thing.  In this production Medora dies and then gets back up to make a three person tableau.

This is bombastic early Verdi but nevertheless fun to listen to. The singing, especially Fabiano, is pleasing to listen to.  The two women are also excellent.  You are currently unlikely to find a better version of this opera.  The two women are remarkably similar.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Jason Sia Music at Noon

Jason Sia, pianist, appeared this week on the Sacramento concert series Music at Noon which occurs every Wednesday at Westminster Presbyterian.  For this audience he focused on the great composer-pianists Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Claude Debussy, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Franz Schubert.  It may just possibly be even harder to impress an audience when you perform blockbusters.  Jason is an excellent pianist who seems to have mastered the romantic style.  He will perform later this spring at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Jason said:

What a joy to share music with the "Music at Noon" community yesterday. I am deeply thankful to Westminster Church, Brad Slocum, the staff, and the great audience for their support!! Everyone seemed to enjoy the concert, and I especially enjoyed it after the concert when audience members told me how much the music meant to them-- because it brought back beautiful memories for them.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Christian Van Horn named 2018 Richard Tucker Award Winner

"The Richard Tucker Music Foundation announced today that bass-baritone Christian Van Horn – “one of those treasurable singers in whose presence one can entirely relax, assured that everything he does will be delivered with solid interpretive insight and unfailingly attractive tone” (Opera News) – has been named as the winner of the 2018 Richard Tucker Award. The first bass-baritone to be afforded this honor since 2003 and only the third in the award’s 40-year history, Van Horn is currently accruing a string of credits in starring roles, most recently winning praise as Mephistopheles in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Faust. Widely referred to as the “Heisman Trophy of Opera,” the Tucker Award carries the foundation’s most substantial cash prize of $50,000 and is conferred each year by a panel of opera industry professionals on an American singer at the threshold of a major international career. Past winners include such luminaries as Stephanie Blythe, Lawrence Brownlee, Joyce DiDonato, Renée Fleming, Christine Goerke, and Matthew Polenzani. Christian Van Horn will be inducted into this who’s who of American opera at the foundation’s annual gala, a perennial highlight of the opera season, on Sunday, October 21, at Carnegie Hall."

I have seen him in San Francisco as the four villains in Tales of Hoffmann where he was dark and sinister, as Oroveso in Norma, as Alidoro the fairy godfather in La Cenerentola, as Colline in La Bohème, and in Les Troyens.  We're proud that he has moved on to the Metropolitan Opera where I have seen him in The Exterminating Angel and Die Zauberflöte.  We are also happy that he will return to us next season in Handel's Orlando.  Congratulations and good luck.

2018 International Opera Awards Winners Announced

See all the winners below!

CHORUS MusicAeterna
CONDUCTOR Vladimir Jurowski (He conducted Wozzeck at Salzburg)
DESIGNER Paul Steinberg
DIRECTOR Mariusz Treliński

FESTIVAL Festival Verdi Parma

MALE SINGER Piotr Beczala

NEW PRODUCTION Britten: Billy Budd, d. Deborah Warner (Teatro Real, Madrid)

NEWCOMER Barbora Horáková Joly (Director)
OPERA COMPANY Bayerische Staatsoper [every year]
OPERA ORCHESTRA Teatro alla Scala, Milan
PHILANTHROPY Annette Campbell-White

RECORDING (COMPLETE OPERA) Berlioz: Les Troyens (Erato) [with Joyce DiDonato]
RECORDING (SOLO RECITAL) Veronique Gens: Visions (Alpha)
REDISCOVERED WORK Krenek: Drei Opern (Oper Frankfurt)
WORLD PREMIERE Brett Dean: Hamlet (Glyndebourne)
YOUNG SINGER Wallis Giunta

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Monteverdi Vespers

Jeffrey Thomas conductor

For the last several years I have been attending performances in Davis of the American Bach Soloists led by Jeffrey Thomas.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Convergence II Episode II

Omari Tau, Maquette Kuper, Deborah Pittman,

Today was Episode II The Spirit (60s - 80s) of MôD Artists trilogy on Oak Park, a neighborhood of Sacramento informally bounded by U.S. Route 50 to the north, Stockton Boulevard to the east, the South Sacramento (99) Freeway to the west and Fruitridge Road to the south.  Episode I was reviewed briefly after a piece by Omari Tau called "The g word."  Which word this is I do not know.

This time they were assisted by Sacramento Ebony Chorale who performed "My soul's been anchored in de Lord," arranged by Glen Jones and included a wonderful soprano soloist.  When it came their time to sing, they rose up suddenly behind us.

The program alternated film segments and musical numbers.  I don't think I was aware that the early twentieth century was the worst period for racism in America.  They talked about racial contracts in property deeds, something that apparently didn't exist in Oak Park.  Urban renewal was mentioned.  I am old enough to remember seeing Old Sacramento before urban renewal when many people lived there cheaply.  No thought was given to where they would move.

Pieces performed by the core trio of MôD Artists are:
  • De Gospel train
  • Stars by Omari Tau
  • The Sound of Silence by P. Simon
Another supporting artist was Lawrence Dinkins who performed his piece "Change."

They finished with "Lean on Me" by B. Withers.  Sacramento Ebony Chorale joined in.  I wanted to sing along.

Saturday, April 07, 2018


Congratulations to Jamie Barton for winning the BBC Music vocal prize for this album.  I reviewed it here.