Saturday, September 29, 2018

Le Prophete from France

Conductor:  Claus Peter Flor
Director:  Alfonso Caiani

Jean de Leyde, tenor, John Osborn
Fidès, Jean's mother, mezzo-soprano, Kate Aldrich
Berthe, Jean's bride, soprano, Sofia Fomina
Jonas, an Anabaptist, tenor, Mikeldi Atxalandabase
Mathisen, an Anabaptist, bass or baritone, Thomas Dear
Zacharie, an Anabaptist, bass, Dimitry Ivashchenko
Oberthal, a feudal count, bass, Leonardo Estevez

Meyerbeer's Le Prophete (1849) came to me from Toulouse by way of Culture Box.  My only live experience of Meyerbeer was L'Africaine at the San Francisco Opera.  I begin to think Meyerbeer is neglected, perhaps not in France but certainly here.  Perhaps Yannick will change this.

Giocomo Mayerbeer was a truly international composer as very few are.  He was born in Berlin of rich Jewish parents, studied and composed extensively in Italy in the time of Rossini, and then established himself in Paris and Berlin. We know him primarily for his French operas.  However, Robert le Diable was written for Berlin.  It is hard to grasp that such a prominent composer is virtually unknown to me.  As would be expected, his works are orchestrated in the German style, emphasize chorus like a French opera and don't particularly follow the Italian ideal of bel canto.  I think I should delve further before making any decisions about him.  He is the main proponent of Grand Opera, a style that includes:

(a) obligatory spectacular scenes,
(b) death, not happy endings, in librettos by Scribe, (including this one),
(c) potpourri overture,
(d) extended ornate arias, though less ornate than bel canto,
(e) chorus and ballet, and
(f) a new heavier type of dramatic tenor as the featured hero.

Two of his most famous operas concern European religious minorities, here the Anabaptists.  They are at war with the main population.  We in America have had a great political civil war, but until the recent events have never experienced religious wars.  Many may dislike people from other religions, but the phenomenon of taking up arms against them has not happened.  We love our religious freedom.

You have to enjoy John Osborn to like this performance.   There is a lovely duet between Aldrich and Fomina.  Two hours in we have kitschy almost naked ladies.  People are singing in Latin.  There is a huge role in this opera for mezzo, Fidès, originally sung by Pauline Viardot.  I like Kate Aldrich but imagine Viardot must have been heavier.  I think this whole scene is supposed to be in a church.

Jean makes a big entrance in a crown and white robe.  He says he's the son of god and Fidès calls out "my son."  He says "who is this woman?" Someone says she blasphemes.  Women surround her.  She sees that things will go bad for him if he admits he's her son.  He's supposed to be god's son.  So then the coronation goes on.

This music is interesting and often quite beautiful.  It follows in the footsteps of Gluck who was very influential in France.  There is no discernible recitative, but there are arias.  The orchestration is like Berlioz to my ears.  For my ears it's more musically sophisticated than bel canto.  There is only occasional ornamentation with nothing like the extended coloratura found in the bel canto operas of the era.  However, at the beginning of Act V there is an enormous, florid aria for Fidès.  Viardot may have insisted.  The music is pleasing, but the plots are outside our knowledge.  It is not, I think, a coincidence that I have only seen L'Africaine which is about Vasco da Gama, someone we learned about in school.  I predict Le Prophete will never be popular here.

The biggest problem with this performance is that the voices need to be heavier.  Here toward the end is an incredible trio.  All in all I enjoyed it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Kaufmann's Four Last Songs

Look what I found. Our boy sings the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss.  It was posted today and sung on Monday.  I am posting before listening.  The balance with the piano is bad.  Click on the word YouTube in the picture to navigate to that application.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Albert Herring

Conductor Michael Rosewell
Director Liam Steel

Albert Herring Nick Pritchard
Superintendent Budd Matt Buswell
Sid Nicholas Morton
Nancy Angela Simkin
Emmie Catriona Hewitson
Lady Billows: Janis Kelly
Miss Wordsworth Natasha Day
Florence Pike Polly Leech
Mrs Herring Amy Lyddon
Cis Rowan Pierce
The Outsider Michael Taylor Moran
Mr Gedge Julien Van Mellaerts
Mr Upfold Joel Williams
Harry Max Todes

I have watched Benjamin Britten's Albert Herring presented by the Royal College of Music by way of Operavision.  This is Benjamin Britten's idea of comedy.  I think you have to be British.  It's very much an ensemble opera which makes it a good choice for a music school.

It is time to choose the Queen of May for the May Day celebration, and none of the current crop of young women are found suitable.  When widening the field of celebration, the council chooses Albert to be King of May because he just sells vegetables all day in his mother's shop.  As King he even wears a white dress as if he were a bride.  Albert's drink is spiked and he gets the hiccups.

A couple called Sid and Nancy enliven the scenes.  Are we amused that a young man is dressed up like a girl and declared to be saintly?  There's a lovely quartet toward the end when they all think he's dead.  The goings on in an English village seem mysterious to us I think.  They may have to abandon their dream of sinless youth.

I enjoyed the singing, but there are no arias.  Only Janis Kelly is a professional singer.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci in San Francisco

Priest places a statue of Jesus in a niche. 

Conductor Daniele Callegari *
Production José Cura *

Turiddu, tenor: Roberto Aronica
Santuzza, mezzo:  Ekaterina Semenchuk
Alfio and Tonio, baritone: Dimitri Platanias *
Lola, mezzo: Laura Krumm
Mamma Lucia, contralto:  Jill Grove
Canio, tenor: Marco Berti
Nedda, soprano: Lianna Haroutounian
Silvio, baritone: David Pershall
Beppe, tenor: Amitai Pati

Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci are now in rotation at the San Francisco Opera.  I have listed the casts of the two operas together because the two operas have here become one. 

The story of this production is reasonably interesting.  In Buenos Aires, Argentina, exists a mural by Omar Gasparini called Escenografico.  Here is a photo of the original.

From my seat in the balcony circle I saw the stage in a manner very much like the photo at the top,  The mural was shown on the wall at stage left which I saw only fleetingly when the conductor entered.  I know about it only from pictures in the program.  The famous Intermezzo was staged as a ballet.

The church is at the back, and near it is a store that sells vegetables.  Mamma Lucia owns the cafe at the front, and when Turiddu sings "O Lola," Lola peeks out one of the windows above and Santuzza peeks out from another.  Silvio from Pagliacci is one of Mamma Lucia's waiters. At the end of Cavalleria Turiddo is killed, and his casket is carried by at the beginning of Pagliacci.  Mamma Lucia and a very pregnant Santuzza also appear in the cafe in Pagliacci. This unified production made the pairing of these two operas make a lot more sense than is generally the case, but everything was much cheerier than others I have seen.

A number of conductors are making their San Francisco Opera debuts this season because we are without a maestro.  Callegari brought us a very beautiful, very Italian verismo experience.  The singing was excellent if a bit on the heavy side.  I even rather liked Berti who was very heavy indeed.  The only thing that seemed missing was acting.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

American Bach Soloists 2018-19

22-Oct-18 D 7:00 Bach Brandenburgs ABS Davis Community Church
18-Feb-19 D 7:00 Favorite Bach Camtatas ABS Davis Community Church
25-Mar-19 D 7:00 Matthew Passion ABS Davis Community Church
6-May-19 D 7:00 Bach Brandenburgs ABS Davis Community Church

These are the American Bach Soloists concerts in Davis.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

We were discussing the current queen of opera Sondra Radvanovsky, and I suggested we sing "God Save the Queen" when she came out for her bow, forgetting entirely that the opera starts with that same tune.  I am speaking of the current production of Roberto Devereux from the San Francisco Opera, a wonderful performance of a less than entirely wonderful opera. 

Conductor: Riccardo Frizza
Director: Stephen Lawless

Elisabetta (Elizabeth I): Sondra Radvanovsky
Roberto Devereux, Earl of Essex: Russell Thomas
Sara: Jamie Barton
Duke of Nottingham: Andrew Manea [Adler]
Lord Cecil: Amitai Pati [Adler]
Walter Raleigh: Christian Pursell [Adler]

This opera is questionable from a plot perspective.  The above listed characters are all members of the British upper class.  It is fairly easy to describe the relationship aspects of the story.

Elizabeth and Roberto have a secret relationship.  Since Nottingham knows nothing about it, we may assume that this is truly secret.  Then before leaving England to lead a war in Ireland, Robert starts a love relationship with Sara, a young woman in the court.  Robert goes off to war, and while he is away, Sara's father dies.  An upper class woman cannot be left free in the world, so Elizabeth arranges a marriage for her with the Duke of Nottingham.  No one is aware that she is in love with Essex.

Essex returns from war where he has been unsuccessful to find that Sara is married.  Meanwhile Elizabeth hopes that he still loves her.  An emotional mess ensues, the kind of emotional mess that can only happen in an Italian opera.  Long ago Elizabeth gave Robert a ring which he was to send to her if he was ever in danger.

Robert goes to see Sara.  So why isn't he locked up in the Tower of London?  She gives him a love token which her husband recognizes.  

The part of the plot that makes no sense is the political part.  In real life Essex is supposed to have tried to overthrow the queen, which would make nonsense of her part in the emotional, operatic plot.  So the charges are trivial and relate to him being overly merciful toward the Irish.  So he is executed for no apparent reason.  The ring doesn't arrive in time. It's even more complicated than what I have described.

This is Queen Elizabeth's most vulnerable moment, and it happens in her old age.  She died in her 69th year.  It is mysteriously wonderful how Sondra Radvanovsky fits this role.  She is tall and regal, and has a large, commanding voice.  You believe that she is the absolute monarch who has fallen in love in her old age.  It is difficult to imagine any other soprano bringing this role to such spectacular heights.  She should sing it in your city, too.

The production which comes from Canada made the complex plot very clear, clearer than the recent Met production.  Sondra's supporting singers, primarily Russell Thomas, Jamie Barton and Andrew Manea, rose almost to her magnificence.  I don't think this is a great opera, though it is leading the path to Verdi, but it is a great opera for Sondra Radvanovsky.  Brava.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Favorites by Year

My interest is primarily in opera that is being presented now.  It would be colossally boring for me to see the same ancient productions over and over. Nevertheless I do enjoy a surprisingly large amount of different things.

This is just something fun and is constantly a work in progress.  I went through the blog from the beginning to find the things that stood out in my memory.  I am only including the things I liked and have trimmed it down to no more than 10 per year.  If you're looking for pans, this isn't the place.  I like a lot of stuff, but you will notice that La Boheme only appears twice.

My goal with opera is simply to fall in love.  I prefer new opera performances because I'm not very likely to fall in love with people from the long ago past.

** live, live stream or HD
## top 20 all time


For the sake of my budget I made no opera trips farther away than San Francisco this year.  I will resume in the new year.  To compensate the international opera festivals brought me an overwhelming selection of live streams.

  • Gounod's Roméo et Juliette in HD is mentioned for intense sexiness. Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau projected wonderful youthfulness.   Met HD

  • Jean-Philippe Rameau's Le temple de la Gloire was brought to us by Berkeley's Philharmonia Baroque.  It featured traditional Baroque dancing.    Local

  • Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier from the Met with the spectacular cast assembled by Peter Gelb for Renée Fleming's retirement.    Met HD  ##

  • Richard Strauss's Elektra from San Francisco.  This included a modern production and Christine Goerke as Elektra.    Local  ##
  • The new McVicar Norma from the Met.    Met HD
The singing prize goes to Quinn Kelsey for his magnificent Rigoletto.

For me there was much to love from all over the world in 2017.  New operas:

Le Temple de la Gloire by Rameau which was performed by Philharmonia Baroque (L),
Sorochyntsi Fair by Mussorgsky from The Opera Platform (F),
Tartuffe by Kirke Mechem done live at CSUS,
Artaserse by Leonardo Vinci from an old film (F),
Oberon by Carl Maria von Weber from Munich (LS),
The Chastity Tree by Vicente Martín y Soler performed by West Edge (L),
Theodora by Handel from Glyndebourne (F),
Patience by Arthur Sullivan and presented by Sacramento Lyric Opera (L),
Bel Canto by Jimmy López which was shown on television (F),
Flight by Jonathan Dove which was presented by Opera Parallele, (L)
Autumn Sonata by Sebastian Fagerlund from Finland (F),
The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès in HD from the Met (HD) and
Girls of the Golden West by John Adams given its world premier by the San Francisco Opera (L).  
Cinderella by Alma Deutscher made its American premier at Opera San Jose and was streamed.