Monday, December 31, 2018

Favorites by Year 2018


For another perspective on 2018 see the KK Awards.

This list is limited to performances that took place in 2018.  This was another year without travel, but there is so much on the internet these days that it hardly matters.  This year I reviewed 46 performances, including 1 CD, 4 DVDs, 12 HDs, 11 live, 1 movie, 16 Streams and 1 YT.

Favorite Performances

Full cast
  • Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte.  I saw only one Mozart this year, and it was this overdone, rather silly circus.  Nevertheless I loved it because it slanted the plot toward the arrogance and egotism of the men.  ** Met HD
  • (AN)Verdi's Aida  with Anna Netrebko and Anita Rachvelishvili  I loved Anna and Anita together and was surprised to see the same old production made to look new.  The tenor sort of ruined it.  Look it up in Met on Demand.  ** Met HD
  •  Muhly's Marnie  for the wonderful work of Isabel Leonard. This was a world premier.  ** Met HD

Singer of the Year

Lisette Oropesa wins the singing prize for both Lucia and Les Huguenots.  For the year of Lisette.

New to Me Opera

  1. Benjamin's Lessons in Love and Violence (new this year), 
  2. Britten's Albert Herring (research), 
  3. Donizetti's Il campanello di notte,done live at CSUS
  4. Heggie's It's a Wonderful Life.  (live at SFO) 
  5. Meyerbeer's Le Prophete (research from Toulouse), 
  6. Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots  live from Paris
  7. Muhly's Marnie (new from the Met in HD), 
  8. Petit's Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard, done live at CSUS
  9. Rubinstein's The Demon (for Dmitri), 
  10. Stravinsky's Perséphone (research on DVD for Sellars), 
  11. Sullivan's The Gondoliers (I'm weak in the Gilbert and Sullivan area.  Live in Sacramento), 
  12. Verdi's Il Corsaro (it amazes me I can still see new Verdi), 
  13. Weill's Die sieben Todsünden (research for Sellars),

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

Things recommended to buy


Die Fledermaus from Dresden

Franz Welser-Möst (conductor) –

Jonas Kaufmann (Eisenstein),
Elisabeth Kulman (Prince Orlofsky),
Andreas Schager (Alfred)
Rachel Willis-Sørensen (Rosalinde)
Nicola Hillebrand (Adele)
and the Staatskapelle Dresden

I'd guess we did about 40 performances of Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus, so I pretty much know the whole thing by heart auf Deutsch.  No need for subtitles.  It's not really my Fledermaus in English.  So Jonas Kaufmann's first Eisenstein is a present to me via

An early favorite is the ensemble where they pretend to be sad and completely fail.  "Oh yeh, oh yeh."  This Orlofsky is something else.  She/he doesn't take no for an answer.  (If they cast a man as Orlofsky, I leave.)  The substitute Adele is excellent.

I was underwhelmed by the Rosalinde until she started into the Csárdás which was just right.  The soloists get champagne but the chorus doesn't.  We would never have stood for that.  It's also nice to hear such excellent German diction.  I miss Germany.

Jonas is fine as Eisenstein who is actually a high baritone, but the music for him isn't the focus of attention.  It's mainly an acting role, which we know he is also quite good at.

Thank you all for a happy new years eve performance.  Alles gute.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 Opera Year in Review KK Awards

One of my activities for this year was to research the career of Peter Sellars.  This involved some new works I had not seen before:  Weill's Die sieben Todsünden, and Stravinsky's Perséphone The Weill was filmed rather like a song cycle, so perhaps I have still not seen it staged.  Other films that were seen included Sellars' staging of Giulio Cesare.  The performances generally occurred before our calendar year and don't get awards.  In Europe he is a significant figure, so it is best to try to understand his works.  I gave him mixed reviews.  You can find these by using the Peter Sellars label.

I also decided that my complete ignorance of the works of Meyerbeer needed to be dealt with.  Here is an explanation of my categories.

BEST NEW OPERA AWARD:  So who deserves an award?  Of the new works I am torn between Lessons in Love and Violence and Marnie.  I enjoyed Marnie a lot so I award to it.  Isabel Leonard is always fabulous and carried this production.

BEST BAROQUE OPERA AWARD   Since I saw only one opera from the Baroque, the award must go to Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea from Salzburg with Sonya Yoncheva and Kate Lindsey.  It was beautifully sung and fun to watch.

BEST MOZART OPERA AWARD   Again I saw only one opera by Mozart and must award to Cosi fan Tutte from the Met.  I enjoyed the new production, especially the arrogant and absurdly self-confident males. How could any woman reject me?

BEST FRENCH GRAND OPERA AWARD  I researched Meyerbeer a bit and saw his Le Prophete from Toulouse and Les Huguenots from Paris.  Both have plots from the European religious wars which are hard for modern people.  Meyerbeer founded Grand Opera and Les Huguenots is very much esteemed among his works.  I was there because Lisette Oropesa replaced Diana Damrau.  She was beautiful.  I'm thinking of moving on to his DinorahThe award goes to Les Huguenots.

BEST BEL CANTO OPERA AWARD  Bel canto was represented by Rossini's Semiramide from the Met, Donizetti's L’Elisir d’Amore from the Met with Pretty Yende and Matthew Polenzani, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor from Madrid with Lisette Oropesa and Javier Camarena, and Donizetti's Roberto Devereux from SFO starring Sondra Radvanovsky.  Semiramide suffered from comparison with last year's version from Munich where I loved hearing Semiramide sung by a mezzo.   For me the award is a tossup between Lucia and Roberto Devereux.  Sondra Radvanovsky in Roberto Devereaux was simply wonderful.  With so many candidates I must award to Roberto Devereux for the heroine's spectacular acting and singing and for the overall high quality of the performance.

BEST VERDI OPERA AWARD  The nominees for best performance of a Verdi opera in 2018 are Il Corsaro from Valencia with Michael Fabiano, Rigoletto from the ROH, Aida from the Met with Anna Netrebko and Anita Rachvelishvili, Otello from Munich with Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Harteros and Gerald Finley, Luisa Miller from the Met with Placido Domingo and Sonya Yoncheva, and La Traviata from the Met with Diana Damrau.  We have simply too many riches.  Verdi is always special, and while I enjoyed La Traviata and loved Aida, Otello was deeply moving with expert performances by all three leads.  Can anything be more wonderful than lots of fabulous Verdi?  For bringing true greatness I must award to Otello.

BEST WAGNER OPERA AWARD The candidates are Das Rheingold from SFO, Die Walküre from SFO, Die Walküre from Munich, Parsifal from Munich with Nina Stemme and Jonas Kaufmann, and the blue Lohengrin from Bayreuth with Anja Harteros and Piotr Beczala. There were no home runs in this crowd.  It was sad for me that I missed half of the San Francisco Ring. Too many plot points were missing from the staging of Parsifal.  In spite of the fact that the blue Lohengrin was also the bondage Lohengrin, I have decided to award to Lohengrin.  Piotr was terrific in this role.

BEST ROMANTIC OPERA NOT VERDI OR WAGNER AWARD. The nominees are Massanet's Cendrillon from the Met with Joyce DiDonato, Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila from the Met with Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna, and Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades from Salzburg with Brandon Jovanovich.  I enjoyed very much all three of these operas but adored the wonderful sexiness of Samson et Dalila and award to it.  I did like Brandon Jovanovich in Queen of Spades, though.

BEST VERISMO OPERA AWARD  The nominees are Puccini's Tosca from the Met with Sonya Yoncheva, Puccini's La Boheme from the Met also with Sonya Yoncheva and Michael Fabiano, Cav/Pag from SFO which successfully merged into one opera, and Puccini's La Fanciulla del West from the Met with Eva-Maria Westbroek and Jonas Kaufmann.  I think Jonas wins again.

BEST MODERN OPERA AWARD  The candidates are Benjamin's Lessons in Love and Violence, Barber's Vanessa from Glyndebourne, Strauss' Arabella from SFO, Muhly's Marnie from the Met with Isabel Leonard and Heggie's It's a Wonderful Life from SFO.  There's some good stuff in this short list, but I turned out not to like Heggie's opera, and found Arabella a let down after the Munich version. So I award to Marnie.

BEST REVIVAL OF A HISTORICAL MASTERPIECE AWARD:  This is added to recognize how much I liked the revival of Barber's Vanessa from Glyndebourne.  This opera tends to disappear into the mists but was very well done here.

BEST/WORST REGIE PRODUCTION AWARD  The regie nominees are Verdi's Otello from Munich, Monteverdi's Poppea from Salzburg, Wagner's Lohengrin from Bayreuth, Wagner's Parsifal from Munich, Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte from the Met, and Wagner's Die Walküre from MunichFrom this bunch I must say all the Wagner was terrible but sometimes amusing.  Parsifal was the worst.  Dear Regisseurs, Wagner's operas are generally not comedies.  I loved the Cosi even if it was too busy, but the production for Otello transformed the opera to focus on Desdemona and the love story.  So BEST is Otello and WORST is Parsifal.

BEST SINGING AWARD Lisette Oropesa.  It was her year.

Unwatched Videos

My pile of unwatched videos is getting pretty tall again.

Left over from the previous list are:

  • Rossini's Maometto Secondo from Teatro La Fenice di Venezia.  I saw the opera at Santa Fe.
  • Meyerbeer's Dinorah is a movie.
  • Henze's L'Upupa with Matthias Goerne from Vienna. I still have not seen Henze.

New additions are:

  • Pergolesi Il prigionier superbo and La Serva padrona.  You'd think these would be performed.  I watched the second one. 
  • Strauss Intermezzo.  I tried but this is actually boring.
  • Moore The Ballad of Baby Doe.
  • Hindemith Cardillac
  • Only the Sound Remains by Saariaho starring Philippe Jaroussky. 
  • Saint-François d'Assise by Olivier Messiaen.  I've seen this live.
  • The Passenger by Weinberg

Saturday, December 15, 2018

La Traviata in HD

Conductor.................Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Production................Michael Mayer

Violetta.....................Diana Damrau
Alfredo.....................Juan Diego Flórez
Germont...................Quinn Kelsey

Hostess .................Anita Rachvelishvili

We were treated to the new production by Michael Mayer of Verdi's La Traviata live in HD from the Met.  I could not find a picture that looked just like the single set production.  The actual set had the piano upstage right instead of downstage left as shown here.  Throughout the opera Violetta's bed was downstage center.  It was simply integrated into the staging.  A dance in Act I successfully used this bed.

This versatile set looked remarkably different in each scene.  The busyness of the design, elaborate deco figures and costumes, was successfully offset by dressing Violetta in white, Alfredo in a dark military uniform and Germont in a brown suit.  They each easily stood out from the background.   Another unusual feature of the production was the appearance of Alfredo's sister in a mime role.  I am counting this as a successful production.

There seemed to be unusual unanimity of purpose here.  Much complaining appeared concerning Juan Diego's light voice, but my impression was that he fit impressively into the overall concept.  From beginning to end Violetta is a woman with a very serious disease who is dying.  We see this emphasized first through her lying on her death bed during the prelude.  Diana in particular played and sang her fragility.  This was a particularly beautiful performance which stayed close to the story.

Juan Diego's role was more varied, but was also acted extremely well.  And Quinn Kelsey has followed his line of great Verdi successes with a beautiful Germont performance.

This series is the debut of  Yannick Nézet-Séguin in his new role as music director.  Welcome, Yannick.  Singers love him.  We were shown in intermission a coaching session between Yannick and Diana, who said he was like a brother to her.  They were together in this beautiful, delicate concept of La Traviata.

I liked very much Anita as hostess.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Vivaldi Part II

Happy birthday to me.  This arrived just in time.  Thank you, dear.  The voice is as good as new.  Perhaps she is immortal, a goddess.  There is only one Bartoli. 

OMG.  Track 2 from Orlando Furioso is magnificent.  Spectacular phrasing.  Sigh.  She knows that it's all in the music.

The ensemble is completely with her.  They are Ensemble Matheus conducted by Jean-Christophe Spinosi. I hope you weren't expecting a regular review.

I wish you could see me smiling.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Dmitri's Rigoletto

Conductor:  Constantine Orbelian

Rigoletto:  Dmitri Hvorostovsky, baritone
Gilda:  Nadine Sierra, soprano
Duke of Mantua:  Francesco Demuro, tenor
Sparafucile:  Andrea Mastroni, bass
Maddalena:  Oksana Volkova, contralto

This CD of Verdi's Rigoletto, I believe, is Dmitri Hvorostovsky's last recording.  It has been nominated for a 2018 Grammy.  It is a work I performed in my youth that stays in my heart.  I don't need help to keep track of the story, but a full libretto is provided.

You will want this for Dmitri.  Nadine Sierra is everywhere these days, and you may also want it for her.  Or you can listen on Amazon prime.

Monday, December 10, 2018

It's an OK Life

Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Leonard Foglia

Clara, Angel Second Class:  Kearstin Piper Brown
A Voice: Patti LuPone
Angels First Class: Sarah Cambidge, Ashley Dixon, Amitai Pati, Christian Pursell 
George Bailey: William Burden
Mr. Potter: Rod Gilfry
Uncle Billy Bailey: Keith Jameson
Mary Hatch: Andriana Chuchman
Harry Bailey: Joshua Hopkins

I saw Jake Heggie's It's a Wonderful Life yesterday.  We missed Golda Schultz as Clara.  Her replacement was often covered by the orchestra.  The picture above is Clara getting her Angel First Class wings.  Obviously this is an opera based on a movie.  Other such operas are Orphée by Philip Glass and The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès, which seemed to work better.

I wish I liked this, but I didn't.  There were too many words, words not clearly enunciated by all but William Burden.  This meant much staring at the subtitles which were slightly small for me.  Too much talk, not enough arias.  There were even long stretches of spoken dialog so more words could be fit in.  When Clara gets her wings, she needs an aria.  When George and Mary get married, they need a duet.  I could go on and on.  It ended well, but it was too long to wait for this.

I don't pan many things.  After all, I loved Moby Dick.  No thank you.  This seems to be strictly for people who love the movie.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Otello is Here

Conductor: Kirill Petrenko
Production Amélie Niermeyer

Otello Jonas Kaufmann
Jago Gerald Finley
Cassio Evan Leroy Johnson
Roderigo Galeano Salas
Lodovico Bálint Szabó
Montano Milan Siljanov
Ein Herold Markus Suihkonen
Desdemona Anja Harteros
Emilia Rachael Wilson

This performance of Verdi's Otello from Munich is unquestionably a masterpiece. We have here the ultimate domestic violence story.  It was a simple regie production in modern dress with many pictures to be seen here.  There are a few plot alterations.  Normally Otello and Desdemona are married before the opera starts, but here they marry shortly after he returns from war, after the love duet.  People enter and cover their bed with flowers.

In the past I have doubted that this opera was exactly right for Jonas Kaufmann, but now I may have to reconsider.  He refrained from pushing, as do many tenors here, and won me over.  This Otello is not black but he is also not beautiful.  This is why it is so easy for him to believe that this particular woman doesn't love him.  He believes in himself as a warrior but not as a lover.  Jonas has created this character in the manner of the great performer he certainly is.  We are lucky to live in his time.

The sets and staging focus on the couple and their relationship, and who better to play this couple than the great opera stage couple of our own era:  Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros.  Anja is a stage creature.  To come to her greatest triumphs requires the stage where she can show voice, movement, beauty, expression and I think perhaps most of all acting.  In my mind I think of Desdemona as a light, relatively insignificant role.  With Anja we have the greatest depths of tragedy.  We have love and fear together in abundance.  Like many others before and after, she prepares for her own death and does not think of escaping.  It was a triumph.

And as if that were not enough we have the dream Iago of Gerald Finley, one of the greatest singing actors in opera.  You need to overlook the outfit where he wears baggy pants and Adidas.  He approaches Otello rather more intimately than one would generally expect, creating a new dimension to the opera.  Our imaginations immediately leap to lovers.  Could it be jealousy that motivates all this mayhem?

Petrenko was marvelous, as usual.  In my group people complained that he is seen rather more during the drama than they would prefer.  At the start they jumped immediately to film of Anja, which meant no shots of Petrenko.

This was a genuinely great thing.  I'm going to watch it again tomorrow.

P.S.  I did.  It was wonderful the second time, too.