Sunday, December 08, 2019

Tosca at La Scala

Conductor - Riccardo Chailly,
Director - Davide Livermore

Anna Netrebko - Tosca
Francesco Meli  - Cavaradossi
Luca Salsi - Scarpia

This production of Tosca for the opening of La Scala is constantly in motion.  All the required elements are in place when required, but after they swiftly disappear.  Why is this necessary? 

Anna's Tosca may not be the best sung ever heard, but no one plays the diva to her level.  She knows how to flaunt her goods as possibly no other Tosca before her.  She is aided by the blocking:  after she has given a flower to the madonna, she later takes it back.  So it's the thought that counts?

The second act takes place in the Palazzo Farnese which in real life is decorated with elaborate wall paintings.  Instead of paintings, we have live people standing in boxes above the stage.  This seems exhausting.  If you were in the house, you might have missed this, but the cameras show mouths moving and so forth.  And when our girl is saying "mori" to Scarpia, she is choking him to death.  Three stabs were not enough.  She seems to regret it, though.

Luca Salsi as Scarpia is rather more friendly than I have seen.  I will assume that Netrebko did not complain.  He makes a wonderful, very slimy Scarpia.

Meli is ok.  He doesn't usually rise above ok.  He's cute.  There are a lot of gimmicks in this production.  In the end Tosca "goes to god" by floating upwards.  I'm not sure the gimmicks enhance the overall emotion.  I seem to always enjoy Netrebko.  I think it is her natural intensity.

P.S.  I forgot to mention that this was the original, longer version of Tosca, also called the critical edition. In fact here is a reference to the critical edition from Ricordi.  This comes with a picture of Netrebko.

Friday, December 06, 2019


Act bows seem to be working their way back into the opera house.  This refers to when the singers take bows, usually by entering through a gap in the curtain.  They did it at the La Scala Tosca, at the Met for Die Walküre, and perhaps other places.  It used to happen all the time, and had the purpose of allowing singers who appeared only in one of the early scenes to go home early.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

News Stories This Week

I have decided to lump these stories together.

Cecilia Bartoli to head Opéra de Monte-Carlo

Released today:

"On the occasion of a press conference given this Tuesday, December 3 at 17 pm in the garnier room, the princess of Hanover, President of the board of directors of the Monte-Carlo Opera, announced an announcement Important: Cecilia Bartoli will succeed Jean-Louis Grinda as the head of the Monte-Carlo Opera on January 1, 2023.

"Cecilia Bartoli will become the first woman to lead the opera of Monte-Carlo. She will also keep the direction of the musicians of the Prince-Monaco."

Lately all the news is about Cecilia. This will overlap with her contract in Salzburg.

Porgy and Bess Performances Added at the Met

Due to overwhelming public demand for the Met’s acclaimed new production of Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, three additional performances have been added to the schedule, on February 4, 12, and 15, 2020.

This is certainly good news.

Grigolo Fired

Vittorio Grigolo has been fired by both the ROH and the Met for behavior problems.  I'm not exactly sure what he is accused of but it's undoubtedly part of the current trend.  This is bad.  I am on again off again with him.  I hated his Werther but thought he was the best Hoffmann ever.

New Music Director at SFO

This is a very news heavy day in the opera world.

FINALLY the San Francisco Opera has named a new music director:  Eun Sun Kim, a woman from South Korea.  She will assume the title in August 2021.

She first appeared at SFO to conduct Rusalka last June.  For some reason I no longer remember I chose to skip this opera.  I apologize.  Everything I heard about it said it was fantastic. There isn't much to go on, but she has conducted extensively throughout Europe.   See here for details.

Here is a brief sample of her work.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Cecilia Bartoli Announces New Album -- Farinelli -- download now

Preorder this now.  This new album will appear on November 8.  She is still singing very well.  Here is a full list of tracks for Farinelli:

1. ‘Nell’Attendere Mio Bene’ from Polifemo by Porpora
2. ‘Vaghi Amori, Grazie Amate’ from La Festa d’Imeneo by Porpora
3. ‘Morte Col Fiero Aspetto’ from Marc’Antonio E Cleopatra by Hasse
4. ‘Lontan… Lusingato Dalla Speme’ from Polifemo by Porpora*
5. ‘Chi Non Sente Al Mio Dolore’ from La Merope by Broschi
6. ‘Come Nave In Ria Tempesta’ from Semiramide Regina Dell’Assiria by Porpora
7. ‘Mancare O Dio Mi Sento’ from Adriano In Siria by Giacomelli
8. ‘Si, Traditor Tu Sei’ from La Merope by Broschi*
9. ‘Questi Al Cor Finora Ignoti’ from La Morte d’Abel by Caldara
10. ‘Signor La Tua Speranza… A Dio Trono, Impero A Dio’ from Marc’Antonio E Cleopatra by Hasse
11. ‘Alto Giove’ from Polifemo by Porpora
*Denotes a world premiere recording

The beard first appeared in her Salzburg performance of Handel's Ariodante.  The castrato Farinelli probably couldn't grow a beard, but never mind.  She is someone I love, and she looks great in her beard.  There's even a short film.  She begins with the Ariodante makeup and then switches to her own hair.

Farinelli was very popular in London during Handel's opera period.

Amazon tells me that I cannot receive my album until January, but in spite of that, I may listen now. I may also download now. The pieces on this album are mostly by Porpora, a wonderful Italian composer of vocal music who has slipped out of the repertoire. It is wonderful that we get to hear him now by way of la Bartoli.

Other composers include Broschi, Farinelli's brother. His first aria is rather low key for this era.

The sweetness and flexibility of her voice is still with us, as is also the complete originality of her interpretations. She loves this music and wants us to love it, too.

The final track, Alto Giove by Porpora, is the most well known of this repertoire and has a different orchestra accompanying it. Il Giardino Armonico led by Giovanni Antonini accompany most of the tracks, but the final one is accompanied by Les Musiciens du Prince with Gianluca Capuano. She must simply have loved this version. I love it too.

This one comes with visuals.


Thursday, November 28, 2019

Don Pasquale from Covent Garden

Director Damiano Michieletto
Conductor Evelino Pidò

Don Pasquale Bryn Terfel
Norina Olga Peretyatko
Ernesto Ioan Hotea
Doctor Malatesta Markus Werba

Occasionally operas from the ROH play in a local movie theater here.  This time we saw Donizetti's Don Pasquale with Bryn and Olga Peretyatko.  This is an excellent role for Bryn.  This is regie, of course.  When Norina receives a message from Ernesto, it is by way of her mobile phone.  Ding.

This opera works pretty well in a modern setting.  She's not an imprisoned woman like in so many other Italian comedies.  Instead it's the young man who is being disinherited for wanting to marry the girl he loves.  In Italian comedies love always will out.  One tires of the young people tricking the nasty old man plot.  One is after all old oneself.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Akhnaten in HD

Conductor.................Karen Kamensek
Production................Phelim McDermott

Akhnaten................Anthony Roth Costanzo (countertenor)
Nefertiti, his wife.....J'Nai Bridges (contralto)
Queen Tye, his mother...Dísella Lárusdóttir (soprano)
Amenhotep III, ghost of his father....Zachary James (speaking)
Aye, Nefertiti's father............Richard Bernstein (bass)
High Priest of Amon............Aaron Blake (tenor)
General Horemhab........Will Liverman (baritone)

This performance of Akhnaten from the Metropolitan Opera is my seventh opera by Philip Glass, the others being Einstein on the Beach (live), Satyagraha (live), Appomattox (live), The Perfect American, Orphée (live), and Hydrogen Jukebox (live).  Surely this must make me something of an expert.  All around me were experiencing a Glass opera for the first time.

The story is told on three levels.
  1. Captions appear on the screen describing what is going on in this scene.  "Coronation of Akhnaten" for example.  
  2. There is an English speaking narrator who represents the spirit of Amenhotep III and quotes characters from the opera.  
  3. Action by the singers and actors on the stage show the actions.
The narrative method of most operas is missing.  People in conversation telling their own emotions does not happen.  What does happen that I haven't seen before is juggling.  Everyone juggles.  Sometimes a juggler would drop his ball, and at the end they all do.  I was especially pleased to see an Egyptian tomb painting shown in the intermission of women juggling.  So does juggling belong in the list above?

Akhnaten was an idealist, obsessed with the sun, in love with his wife and wishing to separate himself from the politics of his era.  I felt that this music and theatrical presentation represented his life in a profound way that could not have been imagined, at least by me.

There was only one real aria for which text was provided:  The Hymn to the Sun by Akhnaten.  The singing was beautiful if completely abstract.  The costumes were gorgeous and represented the exalted nature of their status in Egypt.

As a Glass expert, I declare this to be his masterpiece.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Bayerische Staatsoper 2019-20 plus stream selections

The first list is premiers.  Only one is a world premier.  The rest are production premiers.  I would like to see all of them, even the opera studio.  You can see that I almost got my wish.  The only one I didn't get is the one I wanted most.  Can we please have tote Stadt?  Please?  It plays more in the summer.

++ = selected


pre Korngold:  Die tote Stadt Jonas Kaufmann, Marlis Petersen
pre Abrahamsen: The Snow Queen ++ Barbara Hannigan, Peter Rose
pre Bartok: Duke Bluebeard's Castle ++ Nina Stemme, John Lundgren
pre Verdi: I Masnadieri ++ Diana Damrau, Charles Castronovo
pre Abramovic:7 Deaths of Maria Callas++ 7 different women-world premier
pre Rameau: Castor et Pollux ++ ? don't know these people
pre Verdi: Falstaff++ Wolfgang Koch, Okka von der Dammerau
pre Thomas: Mignon Opera studio

 Here is the rest of the opera repertoire.  Dates in front signify when this opera was streamed before.


Beethoven:  Fidelio:  Adrianne Pieczonka, Günther Groissböck, Klaus Florian Vogt

Berg:  Wozzeck: ++ Christian Gerhaher

Bizet:  Carmen Matthew Polenzani
2015 Donizetti:  L’elisir d’amore: Pretty Yende, Mariusz Kwiecien, Ambrogio Maestri
2015 Donizetti:  Lucia di Lammermoor Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena, Quinn Kelsey

Gluck:  Alceste Dorothea Röschmann,

Haydn:  Orlando Paladino Mathias Vidal, Tara Erraught

Humperdinck:  Hänsel und Gretel:  Tara Erraught

Johann Strauß:   Die Fledermaus: 
2019 Krenek:  Karl V. Bo Skovhus

Mozart:  Cosi fan Tutte Tara Erraught

Mozart:  Die Zauberfloete Pavol Breslik

Mozart:  Don Giovanni Erwin Schrott, Luca Pisaroni, Carmen Giannattasio

Mussorgsky:  Boris Godunow:  Dimitry Ulyanov

Offenbach:  Les Contes d’Hoffmann Michael Spyres

Puccini:  La bohème: 
 2019 Puccini:  La fanciulla del West Anja Kampe, Brandon Jovanovich

Puccini:  Tosca:  Anja Harteros

Puccini:  Turandot:  Anna Netrebko, Yusif Eyvazov

Rossini:  Guillaume Tell:  Gerald Finley, Michael Spyres

Rossini:  Il barbiere di Siviglia

Rossini:  La Cenerentola Teresa Iervolino
2019 Smetana:  Die Verkaufte Braut

Strauss:  Salome Marlis Petersen, Wolfgang Koch

Strauss:  Die sweigsame Frau

Tchaikovsky:  Eugen Onegin: Pavol Breslik

Verdi:  Don Carlo Charles Castronovo, Ludovic Tézier, Ildar Abdrazakov, Anja Harteros
2013 Verdi:  Il Trovatore Anja Harteros

Verdi:  Nabucco:  Placido Domingo, Liudmyla Monastyrska
2018 Verdi:  Otello:  Jonas Kaufmann, Anja Harteros

Verdi:  Rigoletto:  Ludovic Tezier, Erin Morley

Verdi:  La traviata:  multiple

Wagner:  Der fliegende Holländer:  Michael Volle
2018 Wagner:  Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg:  Wolfgang Koch, Jonas Kaufmann, 

Wagner:  Lohengrin:  Klaus Florian Vogt, Anja Harteros
2018 Wagner:  Parsifal:  Anja Kampe

I would like to see Netrebko's Turandot and anything with Anja Harteros.  We have been promised over and over Die Meistersinger with Jonas Kaufmann.  Could we finally see it, please?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Revival of The King and I

Kelli O'Hara as Anna Leonowens
Ken Watanabe as King of Siam
Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang

Directed by Bartlett Sher

From the perspective of 2019 Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I seems very different.  Is this cultural appropriation?  We have cute oriental children, a king that goes barefoot, bowing while curling up on the floor, etc. etc. and so forth.  Who knows what the true reality is? The English conquered the world and never reconsidered their own values. 

The musical is based on the memoirs of Anna Harriette Leonowens which were published after the American civil war, while Uncle Ton's Cabin was still well known.  This novel is a topic in Anna's lessons with the children.  They notice that this contradicts what their father has taught.

Anna does not come as a conqueror.  She is hired to teach the children and receives a salary.  She teaches English ideas.  But that is why the king has hired her.  He wants to find a place in this world filled with European conquerors.  He wants to appear to them to be civilized, perhaps realizing that they are filled with cultural prejudices.  It's best to just go with it.

Kelli O'Hara projects the classy but not too classy tone of Anna.  She sings sweetly and does a nice waltz [oops--polka].  I wasn't too sure about Ken Watanabe at first, but he won me over.  Tuptim's lover was a beautiful young man who was not that great as a singer.  Ken sang the king's songs resulting in melodies I don't think I've ever really heard before. 

It ran on television.  It's worth a look.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Authentic Die Fledermaus

Orlofsky and Adele
Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus comes from the Wiener Staatsoper and streams on OperaVision. Catch it while you can.

Conductor Franz Welser-Möst
Director Otto Schenk

Gabriel von Eisenstein Kurt Streit
Rosalinde Michaela Kaune
Frank Alfred Šramek
Prinz Orlofsky Zoryana
Kushpler Alfred Rainer Trost
Dr. Falke Markus Eiche
Dr. Blind Peter Simonischek
Adele Daniela Fally

This is as authentic a production of this the most famous of German operettas that you are likely to see, both theatrically and musically.   This is the most I have liked Franz Welser-Möst.  Of course, the orchestra he is conducting could play this in their sleep, but nevertheless it was stylistically quite wonderful.

The cast were all unfamiliar to me but were filled with joy and great comic intensity.  Who wouldn't want to go to a party where everyone was having this much fun.  Es lebe Champaigne der Erste.  We get all the old jokes.  The Viennese understand this better than anyone else.

Salzburg 2020

The Salzburg Festival of 2020 has been announced.  This year is the 100 anniversary of the festival, so there will be much celebrating.


  • Richard Strauss ELEKTRA

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart DON GIOVANNI

  • Giacomo Puccini TOSCA (Netrebko, Eyvazov, Tézier)

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE

  • Luigi Nono INTOLLERANZA 1960

  • Gaetano Donizetti DON PASQUALE (Cecilia Bartoli)

  • Modest Mussorgski BORIS GODUNOW (Ildar Abdrazakov) 

  • Giuseppe Verdi I VESPRI SICILIANI (Plácido Domingo)

  • Morton Feldman NEITHER

  • Händel / Mozart DER MESSIAS (Mozart's arrangement of Handel's Messiah orchestrated for an orchestra of his time and translated into German.  The San Francisco Symphony performed this when I was in the chorus.  At Salzburg it will be staged.)

There will be a distinguished selection of plays in German.


  • OUVERTURE SPIRITUELLE Pax (Britten War Requiem begins a series of concerts.)

  • WIENER PHILHARMONIKER (Five concerts, including Wesendonck Lieder w. Garanca).


  • BEETHOVEN-ZYKLUS (8 concerts of piano sonatas.)

  • Still life — Zeit mit FELDMAN

  • MOMENTS MUSICAUX (5 concerts with surprise contents)

  • KAMMERKONZERTE (7 concerts, 3 Beethoven)

  • LIEDERABENDE (Christian Gerhaher, Matthias Goerne, Benjamin Bernheim, Sonya Yoncheva)

  • SOLISTENKONZERTE (11 distinguished concerts.)







Time to completely overdo.  This is the festival to top all festivals, even their own.  They are proud to proclaim the presence of Placido Domingo.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Mozart at the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera

Our conductor for this all Mozart program was Michael Christie.  In our all Mozart program at the
Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera I didn't notice that he used a baton.  He has won a Grammy.  This concert took place in Fremont Presbyterian and was split into two concerts. 

The program began with Mozart's Symphony No. 41 "Jupiter."  The program did not list the movements, as I believe is still traditional.  I admit that Mozart's symphonies are more standardized than other composers, but I still like seeing the movements.  This was good but not thrilling.  Mr. Christie's tempos are a bit fast IMHO.

We were treated to semi-staged opera scenes from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and Le nozze di Figaro.   These were remarkably well coordinated since neither the conductor nor the singers could see one another.  The following cast listings are made up by me, since nothing in the program lists these.

Ellie Dehn, soprano -- Despina in Cosi, Susanna in Nozze.
Jana McIntyre, soprano -- Fiordili in Cosi, Marcellina in Nozze.
Julie Miller, mezzo-soprano -- Dorabella, in Cosi, Countess in Nozze.
Michael Day, tenor -- Ferrando in Cosi, Basilio in Nozze.
Benjamin Taylor, baritone -- Guglielmo in Cosi, Count Almaviva in Nozze.
James Hayden, bass-baritone --     ,  Figaro in Nozze.
Scott Levin, bass-baritone -- Don Alfonso in Cosi, Gardener in Nozze.

The singers all wore standard concert attire except Doctor Despina.

Act I Finale to Cosi fan tutte begins when the two lovers in their disguises pretend to take poison.  Robitussin is Doctor Despina's cure.  The supertitles were loosely translated for laughs. 

Act II Finale to Le nozze di Figaro begins just before Susanna steps out of the Countess's wardrobe instead of the expected Cherubino.  This is an excellent place to begin since you cannot have a Cherubino without a costume of some kind.

These are two of Mozart's magnificent ensemble scenes in opera.  He comes in an era when most opera consisted of a series of arias with perhaps a duet here or there.  Amazing ensembles are a treat, and these were beautifully sung with a real sense of ensemble.  The two sisters in Cosi were especially beautiful together.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Marin Alsop to Vienna

Marin Alsop who has been conducting in Baltimore since I lived in Maryland, is off to Vienna to conduct The Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.  She is the first female conductor for this orchestra.  Good luck.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Watch List

Kálmán - Gräfin Mariza:

Lehár - Das Land des Lächeln:

Prokofiev - The Love For Three Oranges:

Offenbach - la grande duchesse du Gerolstein:

Douglas J. Cuomo -Doubt:


I have introduced a new label:  #MoD.  This is short for Metropolitan Opera on Demand.  Please select it from the filters list to read reviews of HD transmissions from the Met.  Met on Demand has both audio and video files.  I have focused almost entirely on the video files.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Manon with Lisette Oropesa

Conductor...............Maurizio Benini
Production..............Laurent Pelly

Manon...................Lisette Oropesa
Des Grieux..............Michael Fabiano
Lescaut.................Artur Rucinski
Count des Grieux...Kwangchul Youn
Guillot.................Carlo Bosi
Brétigny................Brett Polegato
Poussette...............Jacqueline Echols
Javotte.................Laura Krumm
Rosette.................Maya Lahyani

Nadine Sierra.....hostess

I love knowing things.  I can't help it.  In this performance of Massenet's Manon from the Metropolitan Opera in HD I noticed for the first time that there was quite a bit of melodrama.  This does not mean corny, overacted soap operas, but instead refers to spoken dialog with orchestral accompaniment instead of recitative or spoken dialog.  Since the orchestra never stops playing, it is easy to overlook that occasionally the actors are speaking.  Then I read that Manon was a mainstay of the Opéra-Comique in Paris after it premiered in 1884.  The original novel is from 1731.  The only problem with the opera is that it is too long.

I didn't realize it has been already 7 years since this production debuted.   The basketball is still there, but there have been hints that it is supposed to be a hot air balloon.  Hot air balloons are not precisely spherical.  Enough.  Please read the other review for more discussion of the production.

I have only seen Artur Rucinski before in Lucia with Lisette from Madrid.  He is very attractive on camera and sings beautifully.

But the performance belonged to Manon and her Des Grieux who received much loud shouting in their bows.  This is a great opera for Michael Fabiano, suiting both his voice and his personality to a T.  You believe in his love.  He made the initial pickup very believable.  More Michael please.

Lisette Oropesa precisely embodies the 15 year old innocent who arrives on the train on her way to the convent.  It is impossible to picture this lively, passionate and curious girl cut off completely from life.  Des Grieux has only good intentions toward her and she towards him.  When she learns that Des Grieux's father intends to kidnap him, she knows she must make other plans.  Lisette is physically trained and fully capable of the physical requirements of the staging.  She ran up and down stairs, fell down and was dragged about, all while singing strongly.

I don't see the diabolical Manon, the evil Manon.  I see only someone who wants to enjoy her life, to have fun while she is still young.  Everyone seems to work against this.  Lisette Oropesa changes as the opera progresses to acquire less innocence and more sophistication.  This is an opera for our time, because she is destroyed by a rich old man.  Her cheers were well deserved.

I still don't see the bed in the sanctuary.  This is bogus.

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Bassarids

In honor of World Opera Day I have chosen to watch Henze's The Bassarids from the Komische Oper Berlin.  It both is and is supposed to be in English.

Conductor Vladimir Jurowski
Director Barrie Kosky

Dionysus, god-- Sean Panikkar, tenor
Pentheus, present king-- Günter Papendell, baritone
Cadmos, founder and former king-- Jens Larsen, bass
Tiresias, old blind prophet-- Ivan Turšić , tenor
Captain of the Royal Guard-- Tom Erik Lie, baritone
Agave, daughter of Cadmos-- Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, mezzo
Autonoe, daughter of Cadmos-- Vera-Lotte Böcker, soprano
Beroe, old slave-- Margarita Nekrasova, contralto

I've never actually seen an opera by Henze, so this seemed suitable.  We are in Thebes.  Semele is buried here, and a flame is kept burning for her.  While opera purports to be based on Greek theater, the plots generally come from other ancient sources.  This however is based on Euripides.  Imagine that.  It turns out to be a revenge opera.

The plot is hard to follow, at least at first.  Dionysus wishes to be worshiped, but the new young King Pentheus thinks this is childish.  Everyone runs off to the mountains when they hear Dionysus is coming.  Pentheus puts out the flame of Semele.  The king opposes the revelry that happens on the mountain and swears not to eat, drink or lie with women.  But then he has never been there, and knows nothing of what happens.

What makes this hard to follow is that we are not given much in the way of visual clues.  Tiresias must be identified by the fact that he wears dark glasses.  Everything else is the usual black and white regie costuming.  In the photo above the people in vivid outfits are ballet.  When Pentheus asks who leads the singing and dancing, a beautiful black man in a black suit stands up. This is my first time to see Sean Panikkar, an American.  He brings true expression to this angular modernist music.

To entertain themselves the Thebans perform The Judgement of Calliope.  This is the myth of Adonis.  Don't make me explain it.  And suddenly they're tearing off their clothes and running off.

We are immediately back to Pentheus and Dionysus fighting.  Dionysus persuades Pentheus to dress up like a woman.  He's having trouble with the high heels.  Dionysus uses his god power to control Pentheus.

Komische Oper Berlin is the right context for this work.  It is a small theater with a portion of the stage in front of the orchestra.  The pit is too small, so parts of the orchestra are at the sides of the stage. The music is like background music to a movie.  If viewed in this way, it works well.  It gets very intense to the end.  It ends with some beautiful music for Agave who kills her son while under the influence of Dionysus.  It is a kind of universal tragedy.  I thought worshiping Dionysus would be more fun.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

West Edge Will Be Just as Edgy in 2020

This is the publicity for the 2020 season of West Edge opera:
 Leoš Janáček’s  Katya Kabanova
 Elizabeth Cree, by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell
 Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabolo

August 6, 2019

West Edge Opera’s Mark Streshinsky | Credit: Mark Mayfield
While West Edge Opera has your attention, as their season rolls out, the company has announced next year’s season. No surprise, it’s just as ambitious as this year’s season. The festival opens a week earlier, July 25, 2020, instead of the first week in August and, just as with the current productions, you will have to wait for Artistic Director Mark Streshinsky to do location scouting to discover where the shows will be held, so stay tuned.
Carrie Hennessey takes the title role in Wes Edge Opera's 2020 production of Leoš Janáček’s Katya KabanovaAs usual, there is no sign of a top 50 opera anywhere, which is why some of us regard WEO so highly. However, there is a lot of great music in the works: the 2020 festival opens with Leoš Janáček’s brilliant, realistic drama Katya Kabanova with soprano Carrie Hennessy in the title role. This is a show that will challenge the company on a number of levels, but WEO has waded into these waters before, producing Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in 2016. If they succeed, it will be one of the highlights of the Bay Area’s musical year.
The contemporary opera that the company always offers will be Elizabeth Cree, by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell, based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd and premiered by Opera Philadelphia in 2017. The opera is the third collaboration by Puts and Campbell, following Silent Night (2012) and The Manchurian Candidate (2015). Despite the fact that the opera is about a grisly murder, it is, the authors insist, darkly comic, and Puts believed it was his best theater work up to that time. His tonal idiom and command of period style should work well in this tale of a music hall singer of the 1890s who is accused of murdering her surgeon husband.
Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabolo (1667), from the anything-goes Venetian opera houses of the 17th century is the third show of the season. The tale of a perverse and depraved Roman emperor, it almost feels like a modern show (an operatic Caligula, maybe) and in fact it never got its Venetian premiere, but not because it was too risqué. (It was replaced by an opera on the same subject by a different composer.) Maybe it was that Cavalli was too old-fashioned at the time, but in the 21st century, audiences have come around to Cavalli. The show has major productions at Theatre de la Monnaie (Belgium, 2004), the Aspen Festival (2007), Gotham Chamber Opera (NY, 2013), and Paris Opera (2016/17). Not bad for a modern opera. The West Edge production will star countertenor Randall Scotting in the title role, a part he can only hope leaves him clothed most of the time.
Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Sacramento Philharmonic opens Season

Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera with Andrew Grams, conducting, opened their 2019-2020 season last night in Memorial Auditorium with:

WAGNER Tannhäuser March
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto
  • Allegro molto appassionato
  • Andante
  • Allegretto non troppio; Allegro molto vivace
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique"
  • Adagio-Allegro non troppo
  • Allegro con grazia
  • Allegro molto vivace
  • Adagio lamentoso
TCHAIKOVSKY Prelude to Eugene Onegin as an encore.

Maestro Grams opened the season last year, too.  He is entertaining, and brings a lot of enthusiasm to his performances. William Hagen was the solo violinist for the Mendelssohn violin concerto.  I don't think I've had this much fun listening to Mendelssohn before.  Grams and Hagen made a great match.

Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony is very long and ends quietly.  This is confusing for the audience.  One would rather clap at the end of the first or third movements.  The conductor should signal that he is finished, but he didn't.  This is a very beautiful and wide ranging symphony which is wonderful to hear.

It was good to see Maestro Grams again.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Cabaret Revival

Master of Ceremonies  Alan Cumming
Sally Bowles  Michelle Williams

I am viewing a film of the 2014 Broadway revival of Cabaret.  I can easily see why Alan Cumming won a Tony for this.  I also remember him saying when it ended how glad he was to never have to wear the costume again.

The music is stimulating, but as the show goes on, NAZI salutes and arm bands appear.  This is the real thing with all the ugliness left in, something that doesn't usually happen in movies.  The politics is hard to take, but I'm glad I saw this.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Le Nozze di Figaro from the San Francisco Opera

Marcellina, Bartolo, Count, Curzio, Figaro
Conductor Henrik Nánási
Director Michael Cavanagh
Set Designer Erhard Rom

Figaro Michael Sumuel
Susanna Jeanine De Bique *
Count Almaviva Levente Molnár *
Countess Almaviva Nicole Heaston *
Cherubino Serena Malfi *
Doctor Bartolo James Creswell
Marcellina Catherine Cook
Don Basilio Greg Fedderly
Don Curzio Brenton Ryan
Barbarina Natalie Imag
* San Francisco Opera debut

The new production of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro at the San Francisco Opera is made for me, or perhaps for anyone who for all their life has experienced architectural dreams.   My mind invents buildings that don't exist in reality.  The building of this new production is in the style of American colonial Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the time of the Revolutionary War.  Because it's Pennsylvania, a colony founded by Quakers, and not Virginia, I think we may presume that the servants are not slaves of the Count Almaviva.

The American Revolution concept only occurs occasionally.  In one scene the Betsy Ross flag is unfurled quickly, and when Cherubino is assigned to the army, he appears in a George Washington style army uniform.  The Count appears in a variety of colors including red, so we are not quite sure which side he is on.

In the pre-talk the host mentioned that this opera observes The Unities which require a play to have a single action occurring in a single place and within a single day.  I learned about this in school long ago and have not heard of it since.  Observing the unities doesn't happen very often in opera.  I'm tempted to make a list.  The place is in and around the Count's house. The action is getting Figaro and Susanna married, and this is accomplished in a single day.  There is an irrelevant subplot involving the Count's page Cherubino and his sudden, overwhelming interest in women.  The staging suggests a pairing with Barbarina, but we know he will go on in this direction.
Susanna, Cherubino, Figaro

We were treated to conceptual continuity throughout.  The handling of all plot elements was smooth and painstaking.  The production contributed to this by providing curtains decorated in the architectural style and easily movable scenic elements.  The curtain comes down, and we quickly move to the next scene. There was great attention to detail. 

Obstacles to the wedding are many.  The count has become interested in Susanna and moves forward with his desire to force himself on her.  He threatens to refuse to allow the marriage.  He also helps Marcellina in her desire to marry Figaro who has borrowed money from her.  Spoiler alert:  she turns out to be his mother.  I enjoyed that my rule of colorblind casting was observed.  A comic element was added to the story when the two white actors, Marcellina and Don Basilio, were found to be the parents of black Figaro.  "Suo madre?"  This obviously long time couple were included in the wedding ceremony.

By far my favorite bit of this production was the Count.  He was the biggest asshole I've seen in the part.  He gets his comeuppance in the end, or you might find he has gone too far.

I had a strong impression toward the end that this opera might be thought of as a symphony with the voices orchestrated into the texture.  I don't know if I could explain this.  I might be describing the conducting which was done by a man who previously led Strauss' Elektra here.  The singing was consistently excellent and blended more than usual with its accompaniment.

It isn't my favorite, but for overall quality and a complete lack of confusion about the plot it wins.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

MeToo Operas

This has to be regarded as a short list of operas about the oppression of women by powerful men, the basic theme of the MeToo movement.  There is no order.  In our own era the powerful men are generally employers.  If I am paying you money, I can do what I want with you.  In the past it was more a case of members of the Lordly class assuming that everyone in a lower class could be abused at will.

Rigoletto by Verdi is rather an unusual case.  The Duke is the person of highest rank in the story, but he seems to be completely indiscriminate in his choices of women to prey on.  In the court all the ladies seem to be targets, even wives of his main subordinates.  If their husbands object, they are banned from the court.  These wives are the only true MeToo characters I have found, but they aren't enough for the Duke.  He wanders the streets in disguise looking for women who would never come into the court.  The Duke successfully pretends to be lower class when pursuing Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter.  Maddalena from the last act is a professional and therefore does not count as exploited.  Strangely, he seems to like her best.  We begin a pattern when it is the exploited Gilda who dies and not the exploiter Duke. Unlike the standard MeToo victim, she loves the man who has exploited her and offers her own death to save him.

Tosca by Puccini involves a man in a position of political power who has something to offer a famous woman, not his employee.  Tosca is not the sort of woman to allow herself to be used sexually and instead kills her would be tormentor before he has a chance to do anything.  At the end she also dies.  We could hardly ask any of our MeToo women to do these things.

Il Trovatore by Verdi may not count.  This is more your love story plot.  A count loves Leonora, one of his subjects who would actually make a suitable mate.  The count frowns and looks unhappy all the time.  She instead loves a gypsy who sings love songs to her.  The count doesn't get his way and kills them.  Everyone dies.  I'm not sure if this fits the MeToo scenario.  We can't go around requiring people to die to avoid sex.

Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart involves a married count who was the hero of a previous opera but now has lost interest in his wife.  She expected happily ever after but instead got this.  His current interest is in one of his wife's servants, Susanna.  This is sort of a Downton Abbey plot.  In Downton Abbey one of the daughters is interested in and marries the chauffeur.  In Nozze Susanna is engaged to the Count's valet, Figaro.  The count has two kinds of power in this situation:  he can deny them the right to marry at all and/or he can revive the ancient right of the Lord to sleep with the bride of a servant.  The women plot against him and win in the end.  Everyone lives happily ever after at last. This is a successful thwarting of the MeToo scenario.

Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss involves a father with money wanting to acquire a royal title by marrying his daughter to a baron.  Someone not part of either side of this transaction, Octavian, intervenes to prevent the marriage.  He could not accomplish this without the help of his girlfriend The Marschallin.  Again we may presume a happy ending.  It seems that Count Octavian will marry the heiress instead of the baron.  This is another instance of exploitation thwarted.

Luisa Miller by Verdi describes a young nobleman who wanders 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.  Unlike other operas, both the exploiter and the exploited die.  Does no one explain to these nobles that they are required to marry in their class?  In the modern world this hardly makes a plot.  Prince Harry married an American actress.

This is turning out to be interesting.  Our opera stories must be regarded as in praise of women.  Except for the wives at court who may be roughly comparable to employees who could lose their status, our purported victims resort to murder, self-sacrifice, and plotting to avoid any actual sexual exploitation. 

Don Giovanni by Mozart may possibly represent the usual MeToo story.  During the opera the Don pursues Donna Anna, Zerlina, and an unknown woman seen through the window.  He flees Donna Elvira since he no longer is interested in her.  Leporello explains to Donna Elvira that she is just one in a long line of lovers.  Afterward Anna goes to Ottavio.  Zerlina returns to her new husband and begs him to beat her.  We aren't exactly sure what happens to the Don at the end, but I think he is supposed to end up in hell.  Has anyone lost anything?  The Don kills Anna's father who in the end gets his revenge.  The women presumably give in because they are genuinely interested in Giovanni, though it is possible that Donna Elvira thinks she is his wife.  It's too complicated to draw any general conclusions.

This turned out to be more revealing than I imagined.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Turandot in HD

Conductor...............Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Production..............Franco Zeffirelli

Turandot................Christine Goerke
Calàf...................Yusif Eyvazov
Liù.....................Eleonora Buratto
Timur...................James Morris

Today the season for the Metropolitan opera in HD began with a performance of Puccini's Turandot.   I think it was also Yannick Nézet-Séguin's first HD as the Musical Director of the Met.

The plot to this opera must be considered iffy.  It isn't exactly a MeToo opera (I'm thinking of making a list) because the abusive power figure is a woman.  She uses her position as heir to the Emperor of China to destroy as many men as possible for something that happened to one of her ancestors.  One isn't sure what the right response would be.  Becoming Emperor of China might be a greater temptation than the princess.  Calaf is an idiot, but he can hardly be blamed for the unfortunate results of his desire for Turandot.  The ending must be considered happy.

It was nice to spot James Morris under his very heavy makeup. This is going to sound strange, but I thought that the lead role sounded rather light in Ms Goerke's voice.  To me she seemed to be struggling with the role.  I thought the hit performance of the evening was the Calaf of Yusif Eyvazov.  He carried himself with dignity and confidence.  I have started to like him.

Yannick brought us a beautiful opera.  I hope to see more of him, but the only HD he is scheduled for is Wozzeck.  Sigh. They did curtain bows after all three acts.  I haven't seen that in a long time.

Porgy and Bess on Broadway

Bess - Audra McDonald
Porgy - Norm Lewis
Sportin Life - David Alan Grier

I am watching a “non-television” film of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess from the 2012 Broadway production.  Until I saw this, I did not realize that there are actually 2 so very different versions of this work.  Until now I have only been aware of the opera version where all the text is sung and accompanied by a standard opera orchestra, the original version from 1935.

The Broadway version is substantially shorter and includes spoken dialog written for this production.  The sound of the recording isn't good enough to understand most of this.  As an opera fan and musician, I very much miss the sound I am used to.  I'm getting more of a swing band sound here with a lot of brass, or perhaps it should be described as a pit band.  If there are violins, I'm not hearing them.  The singing is pretty good, but the backup kind of leaves them hanging.  I haven't kept in touch with the Broadway sound in the 21st century. Audra is classically trained, but I don't believe the others are.  This is just my opinion.

The aim here isn't opera but is instead to produce a realistic, life-like view of southern black culture.  It is felt that presentations by large opera companies don't achieve this.  There is a lot of realistic acting, occasionally approaching actual abuse.  I've seen Audra in a full length work before, live for Mahagonny, and she is astounding here.  She quit the run early because of illness.  I can see now that she spends a lot of time shouting, not a good idea for a singer.  I remember well going to sports events as a teenager and its effect on the voice.

Though Porgy and Bess has always been controversial, my own perspective doesn't really have anything to add to this argument.  Many count the entire story to be racist. Edwin DuBose Heyward who wrote both the libretto and the novel it is based on was southern white and of the planter class.  Read Audra McDonald's take on racism in Porgy and Bess here.

This is mind altering, not at all the Porgy and Bess of memory, but still one knows that it does not exist without Gershwin.  This particular version doesn't exist without Audra McDonald.  The general impression is one of intense raw power.  It's rather frightening.

I think it is regrettable that there is no commercial film of this.  I feel glad I saw it at all, but a commercial film would result in clearer sound, making the dialog easier to understand and the music more beautiful.  It did not woo me away from my operatic version.  I could almost count this as a new opera.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Favorite Verdi Performances

In honor of Verdi's birthday I have selected a list of my favorite performances throughout the life of the blog.

  • We must begin with Anna Netrebko in the Willy Decker production of La Traviata in 2006 from Salzburg.  She is the only one I have truly loved in this production.  An abstract production requires active and exciting performers in the lead roles, which we certainly had here with Anna and Rolando Villazon.

  • I got very excited over Macbeth in 2008 from the Met with Maria Guleghina.  This was a new production, and I think perhaps I still prefer Maria in this role.

  • That same year was a great excitement when I saw Aida at the Arena di Verona.  Amonasro was Ambrogio Maestri, but everyone else I did not know.  No matter.  The thrill of the Arena di Verona lies in the space itself.  Such massive scale for Aida cannot help but be thrilling.

  • Other Aidas have been excellent.  In 2017 Netrebko's version from Salzburg was in an unusual production which moved us to a modern middle eastern country.  That same year featured Netrebko and Anita Rachvelishvili in the standard Met production.  They were gorgeous together, but the performance was marred by some very bad singing from Aleksandrs Antonenko.  Casting Verdi is difficult.

  • The Met brought us a regie production of Un Ballo in Maschera in 2012 which starred Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Sondra Radvanovsky, Marcelo Álvarez, Stephanie Blythe and Kathleen Kim. This would be a very hard cast to top.  The singing was spectacular.

  • The Verdi bicentennial in 2013 brought many wonderful performances, but my favorites starred the fabulous duo of Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros.  From Salzburg we saw Don Carlo performed with "intensity and excitement."

  • The other Verdi with Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros came from Munich.  This was the best production I have seen of La Forza del Destino with all the confusing action very carefully laid out.  Our stars have great stage rapport.

  • The final great performance of 2013 was the magnificent Falstaff from the Metropolitan starring Ambrigio Maestri.  Sir John is staying in a hotel with beautiful rooms.  Ambrogio is the person you want for the role of Falstaff, and the supporting cast were all excellent.

  • My last great Verdi performance for this particular list must be Otello from the Bayerische Staatsoper in 2018 with our duo of Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros.  Gerald Finley, a great singing actor, rounded out the trio.  This is the most serious Otello I have seen.

Most of these selections are either available from Met on Demand or can be purchased as DVDs (not Arena di Verona or BSO Otello).  Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

I masnadieri

Conductor Michele Mariotti
Staging David McVicar

Massimiliano, Count Moor..Michele Pertusi, bass
Carlo, his elder son......Fabio Sartori, tenor
Francesco, his younger son..Massimo Cavalletti, baritone
Amalia, his niece........Lisette Oropesa, soprano
Moser, priest...... Alessandro Spina, bass
Arminio, servant..Francesco Pittari, tenor
Rolla...Matteo Desole, baritone

This year Verdi's I masnadieri (The Bandits) was presented at La Scala.  We have taken notice because the female role is sung by Lisette Oropesa.

This traditional production completely violates my rules of portraying a plot.  The director's primary job is to explain the plot.  So who the hell is this guy in the military uniform that wanders around the stage in all these scenes?  Carlo before he became a bandit?  Francesco before he became a shit? Who?  Carlo is the fat guy.  So perhaps the director didn't like him and gave all his stuff to someone else.  Sigh.  I hate that.  He carries around a notebook where he occasionally writes, so the speculation is that he might be Schiller, the original writer of the story.

Lisette is spectacularly good in this, moving gently away from her soubrette Fach into full lyric repertoire.  I like her sound, her technique, her phrasing, anything else I can't think of.  She is developing into a truly wonderful singer.  This role was written for Jenny Lind who appears to have been a lyric soprano.  There is a lot of bombastic early Verdi singing throughout this opera, but the soprano is sweet and lyrical throughout.  It is an excellent role for Lisette.

The bandits seem to be having a lot of fun except for Carlo.  They leap and dance around. Francesco repents but the priest refuses to forgive him.  The silent writer comes to life and kills Francesco.  Then Amalia comes out and says that whether Carlo is an angel or a devil, she will always be his wife.  So then he kills her.  This plot is basically BS.

The male singers are all on the same page with the big Verdi sound.  The most applause was for Pertusi, Sartori and Oropesa, all well deserved.  I never have to see this opera again.  Just listening and ignoring the action is always an option.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Metropolitan Opera in HD for 2019-2020 - Cast changes

Turandot by Puccini (October 12),  We open our season with Christine Goerke.  This should be fantastic.
  • Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
  • Production: Franco Zeffirelli
  • Turandot: Christine Goerke
  • Liù: Eleonora Buratto
  • Calàf: Yusif Eyvasov
  • Timur: James Morris 

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

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Monday, September 30, 2019

Jessye Norman has died.

Ms Norman was a very great artist with a gorgeous voice and great style. It is very heartwarming that Ms Norman is receiving so much attention throughout the music world at this time.  This is from the New York Times:

    Jessye Norman, Regal American Soprano, Is Dead at 74

    A multiple Grammy Award winner, she was a towering figure on the operatic, concert and recital stages.

    CreditCreditFrans Schellekens/Redferns, via Getty Images
    Jessye Norman, the majestic American soprano who brought a sumptuous, shimmering voice to a broad range of roles at the Metropolitan Opera and houses around the world and had a notable career as a recitalist and soloist with orchestras, died on Monday in New York. She was 74.
    The cause was septic shock and multiorgan failure following complications of a spinal cord injury she suffered in 2015, according to a statement released The Associated Press.
    A full obituary will follow shortly.

These are great examples, but my favorite has been withdrawn.

Thursday, September 26, 2019


Remember the teenage girl Greta Thunberg that spoke at the United Nations this week? This is her mama.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Opera on DVD Revised

These DVDs fill in some enormous gaps in Metropolitan Opera on demand video listings.  There are, of course, many more than what I'm showing.  I generally prefer to recommend currently or recently active performers.  For my recommendations from the Met on demand see here.

It is impossible to complete this list.  I include my favorites Jonas Kaufmann, Philippe Jaroussky, Cecilia Bartoli, Anna Netrebko, etc.


The Met is woefully lacking in this area. I like:
L’Incoronazione di Poppea Monteverdi 2008 with Danielle de Niese
Dido and Aeneas Purcell Dido and Aeneas with Sarah Connolly
Giulio Cesare Handel Cecilia at Salzburg-Grammy nomination
Orlando Furioso Vivaldi Marie-Nicole Lemieux
Artaserse Vinci Artaserse with 5 Countertenors
Partenope Handel YouTube from San Francisco
Semele Handel Zurich Cecilia
Theodora Handel Theodora from Glyndebourne

I will need to do additional research to find the best version of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, a very significant opera.  But the Danielle de Niese L’Incoronazione di Poppea is a fine Monteverdi example.

Two star Cecilia Bartoli, one from Zurich, Semele, and one from Salzburg, Giulio Cesare.  Operas chosen for the modern productions are Partenope and Theodora.  A modern production can improve a Baroque opera.


Orphée et Eurydice Gluck Vesseliina Kasarova
Don Giovanni Mozart Bartoli Zurich
Le Nozze di Figaro Mozart Netrebko Salzburg

The Met on demand has covered this genre, but I will keep searching for examples to add here.    The Gluck shown above is a wonderful performance of the Berlioz arrangement made for Pauline Viardot.