Thursday, September 19, 2019
Conductor Yves Abel
Director Jean-Louis Grinda *
Romeo Pene Pati
Juliet Nadine Sierra
Mercutio Lucas Meachem
Friar Lawrence James Creswell
Count Capulet Timothy Mix
Tybalt Daniel Montenegro
Duke of Verona Philip Skinner
Stephano Stephanie Lauricella *
Gertrude Eve Gigliotti *
Gregorio SeokJong Baek
Benvolio Christopher Oglesby
Paris Hadleigh Adams
Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette was presented last night at the San Francisco. This was very pleasing due to our stars Nadine Sierra and Pene Pati. Theirs was a very sweet and gentle romance.
The sets were abstract but functional. There was no balcony. I always remember visiting Juliet's balcony in Verona. It's very plain and in an ordinary street.
Nadine sings around the operatic world and is by now well known. Pene Pati is a newcomer with a beautiful, sweet voice that suits this role perfectly.
Another name worth mentioning is Lucas Meachem as Mercutio.
After Britten we were pleased to hear melodies and beautiful choruses. There's a lot more chorus in French opera than their is in Italian opera.
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
I've tried to stay out of the scandal surrounding Placido Domingo, but I have been glad recently to hear that AGMA, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union that covers singers in opera and symphony in America, has taken this on. They will conduct their own investigation. I believe there is a strong role for unions in this type of situation. They can make it a rule with management that they cannot punish an employee for reporting harassment. For me this is the central issue. No one should be afraid to tell the truth.
Friday, September 13, 2019
Conductor Lawrence Renes
Production Michael Grandage *
Captain Vere, tenor: William Burden
Billy Budd, baritone: John Chest *
John Claggart, bass: Christian Van Horn
Mr. Redburn, baritone: Philip Horst
Mr. Flint, bass-baritone: Wayne Tigges
Mr. Ratcliffe, baritone: Christian Pursell
Red Whiskers, tenor: Robert Brubaker
Novice, tenor: Brenton Ryan
Maintop, tenor: Christopher Colmenero *
Squeak, tenor: Matthew O'Neill
Dansker, bass: Philip Skinner
There are now two operas based on the novels of Hermann Melville: Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten and Moby Dick by Jake Heggie. The San Francisco Opera last night performed the 1960 condensed version of Billy Budd.
In the program notes a date is assigned to the plot of this opera: 1797, within the decade after the French revolution. These are members of the British navy aboard the HMS Indomitable. The officers are from more traditional sources, but it is their habit to stop merchant ships and take men from their crews to conscript them into the lower classes of the navy. This is why they are so concerned about mutiny. Billy Budd is conscripted in this way. They ask him how old he is and he says he doesn't know.
Claggart becomes emotionally concerned with Billy, saying "Beauty, handsomeness, goodness." He takes this personally and accuses Billy to the Captain of mutiny. Billy becomes tongue tied and cannot defend himself, hitting Claggart instead. Claggart dies, and Billy is hanged and thrown into the ocean.
The staging was marvelous. The set is very functional for all the scenes. I had only one trouble with it. In operas with large casts, such as this one, the director must find a way to make the main characters stand out from the others. The Captain is easy to find on the stage because he stands above the others. Claggart is the very physically distinctive Christian Van Horn with his long face. But Billy quickly disappears into the crowd in many scenes. He could have more brilliantly blond hair, maybe. Just saying.
There is a lot going on in this very busy opera. I was reminded that I once had a rule: never go to an opera with 3 baritones. This would definitely be in that category. Britten's orchestration is brilliant and colorful, but he doesn't compose the voices so much as orchestrate them. The chorus is very rumbly. The voices each seem to stay in a relatively small range, not at all what an opera singer generally desires. I want vocal beauty and not merely visual beauty. Extending the range would also help to create the impression of melody.
I am the only one complaining about this. I felt that it was a significant production, but I wanted more. Different singers might produce a different effect.
I came down fairly heavy on Britten. Additional thought has led me to conclude that fault may lie more with the specific performance. Training might eliminate the rumbly sound. I should also mention that I abandoned my 3 baritones rule after hearing a really good performance of Simon Boccanegra.
Thursday, September 12, 2019
I keep a list of operas that are new to me, label ONew2Me. Since I started the blog, I have seen 193 operas that were new to me. Only 49 of these are operas that were themselves new within 5 years of my first viewing. That means their first performances were in 2000 or later. Everything else was new to me before the blog. Since my total list of operas seen ever as of 9/12/19 is 370, I could be doing a lot better.
Out of these 49 operas only 9 made my favorites for that year list. These are:
It doesn't seem like much of a list. The dates are for the blog entries. I haven't done a list for 2019 yet, but here are some candidates:
I would welcome opinions on these. Something might be omitted because it came before I began blogging. Feel free to suggest others.
Out of these 49 operas only 9 made my favorites for that year list. These are:
|L'Amour de Loin||Saariaho||Finnish National Opera||10/28/2005||Peter Sellars||Esa-Pekka Salonen|
|Tea: A Mirror of Soul||Dun||Santa Fe Opera||7/27/2007||Amon Miyamoto||Lawrence Renes|
|Bonesetter's Daughter||Wallace||San Francisco Opera||9/26/2008||Chen Shi-Zheng||Steven Sloane|
|Il Postino||Catán||LA Opera||11/26/2011||Ron Daniels||Grant Gershon|
|Moby-Dick||Heggie||San Francisco Opera||10/22/2012||Leonard Foglia||Patrick Summers|
|Ainadamar||Golijov||Opera Parallèle||2/17/2013||Brian Staufenbiel||Nicole Paiement|
|27||Gordon||Saint Louis||6/18/2014||James Robinson||Michael Christie|
|Lessons in Love and Violence||Benjamin||ROH||5/26/2018||Katie Mitchell||Benjamin|
|Marnie||Muhly||Metropolitan Opera||11/10/2018||Michael Mayer||Robert Spano|
It doesn't seem like much of a list. The dates are for the blog entries. I haven't done a list for 2019 yet, but here are some candidates:
|Bon Appétit!||Hoiby||Des Moines||7/18/2019|
|If I Were You||Heggie||San Francisco Opera||8/5/2019||Keturah Stickann||Nicole Paiement|
|Breaking The Waves||Mazzoli||West Edge||8/11/2019||Mark Streshinsky||Jonathan Khuner|
I would welcome opinions on these. Something might be omitted because it came before I began blogging. Feel free to suggest others.
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
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.
Saturday, August 31, 2019
Music Jaakko Kuusisto
Text Juhani Koivisto
Conductor Jaakko Kuusisto
Director Anna Kelo
Petter Kummel, priest: Ville Rusanen
Mona Kummel, his wife: Marjukka Tepponen
Sanna Kummel, his child: Sointu Wessmann
Anton, postal boatman: Markus Groth
Sacristan: Jussi Merikanto
Irina Gyllen: Jenny Carlstedt
Adele Bergman Jenni Lättilä
Elis Bergman Pekka Kuivalainen
Artur Manström Hannu Niemelä
Lydia Manström Tiina Penttinen
Kuusisto's Ice is testing the theory that anything might be an opera. It is by a Finnish composer, presented by the Finnish National Opera, is based on a Finnish book and is sung and also spoken in Finnish. Nothing in Finnish sounds even remotely familiar to me.
We follow the ice through the seasons. In winter it connects the two islands in the story. The ice shapes their lives. The mail boatman tells us of mystical beings that guide you over unsafe patches where the ice is thin. The boatman is a speaking role, and the mystical beings that surround him are the ballet.
The story concerns a new priest, Petter Kummel, who arrives with his wife and child. They exclaim over how beautiful it is. Everyone warns them to beware of the danger in the ice. He wants to cross the ice, the spirit creatures warn against it, but he pays no heed and dies. He joins the other spirit creatures.
The music is filled up with homophonic chorus who sing "Shall we gather at the river?" in Finnish. It all sounds just a bit like the other Finnish composer Saariaho with the mixture of orchestral and electronic sounds.
It is the production that makes this work. It's a masterpiece. I'm glad I watched this. It's going away very soon.
Friday, August 30, 2019
|27-Jan-20||D||7:00||Orphean Enchantments ABS||Davis Community Church|
|30-Mar-20||D||7:00||Schuetz, Bach, etc. ABS||Davis Community Church|
|11-May-20||D||7:00||Sweet Harmony ABS||Davis Community Church|
These are the American Bach Soloists concerts in Davis. I'm happy to see Schuetz.
Monday, August 26, 2019
Conductor: Christopher Allen
Stage Director: Nicholas Muni
Singers: Jennifer Schuler, Andrew René, Zoe Johnson, Matt Arnold, Jacob Wright, Karl Buttermann, Kathleen Felty. Lindsay Mecher, Cameron Jackson, Eric Powell
At last I have found a film of Daniel Catán's opera Florencia en el Amazonas, 1996, from Stevens Center, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The strength of Daniel Catán's work is that he writes beautifully for the voice. This opera plays everywhere except somewhere near me.
She is going up river to visit the opera house at Manaus, the same house that Pavarotti visits in the film of the same name. This part of the story is real.
Our Amazon is full of magical beings, people that disappear and things that go wrong. And lots of big singing. Florencia is a famous opera singer, and the boat she is traveling in is filled with fans who do not recognize her. This includes Rosalba who hopes to interview her. At the end of Act I there is a storm which eliminates some of the characters.
I would describe this opera as neo-verismo. To make the best effect it requires first class singers. These people are working too hard. The set is dark throughout, and there were no subtitles.
Saturday, August 24, 2019
Conductor: Anne-Marie Endres
Director: Debbie Baad
Sir Richard Cholmondely (Lieutenant of the Tower): Timothy Power
Colonel Fairfax (under sentence of death): Anthony Tavianini
Sergeant Meryll (of the Yeomen of the Guard): Mike Baad
Leonard Meryll (his Son): Samuel Palmer
Phoebe Meryll (his daughter): Paige Kelly
Jack Point (a Strolling Jester): Charlie Baad
Elsie Maynard (a Strolling Singer): Jadi Galloway
Wilfred Shadbolt (Head Jailer and Assistant Tormenter): Eric Piotrowski
Dame Carruthers (Housekeeper to the Tower): Lenore Sebastian
Kate (her Niece): Rebecca Cox
Gilbert and Sullivan's The Yeomen of the Guard played last night by the Sacramento Light Opera Theater. If I stay in Sacramentlo long enough, Perhaps I will see them all. This work is alternately called The Merryman and His Maid, which refers to the two strolling players. The action takes place inside the Tower of London during the reign of Henry VIII. The yeomen guard the tower, as they do today. They managed some excellent uniforms for them.
There is much to be explained here. Some questions:
- Why is Colonel Fairfax under sentence of death? Wikipedia says sorcery.
- What are Strolling players doing inside the Tower (not tourist attraction then)?
- Why does Colonel Fairfax want to get married before he dies? Wikipedia says doesn't like heir.
Plot: Wilfred loves Phoebe, Phoebe loves Colonel Fairfax who is scheduled to die the next day. Leonard wants Fairfax released because he saved his life in battle. Leonard, his father and his sister hatch a plot where Leonard will hide and Fairfax will pretend to be him. Phoebe steals the key from Wilfred and off we go.
Side story: Fairfax wants to die married so his evil relation will not inherit his estate and offers a bribe to any woman who will marry him. Elsie marries Fairfax in secret, Leonard hides and Fairfax appears in disguise as Leonard.
We end up with three happy couples and one very sad Jack Point.
The diction could have been better. The songs were titled but the dialog was not. I should have returned to the old days and read the plot before. The music was excellent and well done. My favorite singers were Anthony Tavianini and Jadi Galloway, the main couple.
Sunday, August 18, 2019
September 19, 2019, 8pm
Wednesday, October 2, 2019, 5:30 pm
OP’s annual Gala & 10th anniversary celebration
One night only
The Green Room, San Francisco War Memorial & Performing Arts Center
Tables (of 10): $5,000 / $10,000 / $15,000
- Sunday, February 16, 2020 at 5 pm
- Monday, February 17, 2020 at 6pm
Proceeds to benefit Opera Parallele
Proceeds to benefit Opera Parallele
May 15-17, 2020
Sunday, August 11, 2019
Director: Mark Streshinsky
Sara LeMesh: Bess McNeill (soprano)
Robert Wesley Mason: Jan Nyman (baritone)
Kindra Scharich: Dodo McNeill (mezzo-soprano)
Alex Boyer: Dr. Richardson (tenor)
Kristin Clayton: Mrs. McNeill, Sara's mother (soprano)
Brandon Bell: Terry (bass-baritone)
Breaking The Waves (2016), music by Missy Mazzoli, libretto by Royce Vavrek, was presented by West Edge Opera at The Bridge Yard in Oakland on Saturday night. We are in rural Calvinist Scotland in the 1970s. I think we may assume this was around the time that oil was discovered in the North Sea. They keep referring to "the rig" which we may assume is an oil rig off the shore.
The community, or the ones in charge at least, do not like outsiders. Sara, a child of the community, has fallen in love with Jan, a worker on the rig who is from Norway. Dodo is another outsider who was married to Sara's brother who died. Dodo and Sara are close. Jan and Sara marry and are happy at first. Soon Jan must return to working on the rig. People don't think these things through.
The atmosphere was well captured by the production, and atmosphere is almost all there is. Church fathers hover over everything. Sara is very religious and prays constantly. Unexpectedly, God answers through her. This is a really tough part. Jan is injured and asks Sara to go out and have sexual experiences and report back to him. Her personality gradually disintegrates. This is a true tragedy. Her casket is sent out to sea, the only reference to waves.
The music is pleasing and was well performed. The orchestration included a synthesizer and an electric guitar. My favorite of the singers was Kindra Scharich, but I usually go for the mezzos.
The Bridge Yard is very hard to find and very close to the freeway. Most of the time the sound from the freeway was not disturbing. The acoustics were not favorable to light voices.
Saturday, August 10, 2019
Here are the nominees for this year's emerging stars at the San Francisco Opera:
I was most impressed by our mezzos J'Nai and Sasha, but everyone loved Christina. Vote here.
- Golda Schultz (soprano) Clara in It's a Wonderful Life (didn't see this cast). Met 2017, Salzburg.
- J'Nai Bridges (mezzo-soprano) Carmen in Carmen. Last year Girls of the Golden West
- Daniel Johansson (tenor) Matteo in Arabella (debut).
- Rachel Willis-Sørensen (soprano) Rusalka in Rusalka. I missed this.
- Christina Gansch (soprano) Dorinda in Orlando (debut).
- WINNER! Andriana Chuchman (soprano) Mary Hatch in It's a Wonderful Life. Met 2014
- Hye Jung Lee (soprano) The Fiakermilli in Arabella.
- Sasha Cooke (mezzo-soprano) Orlando in Orlando. Met 2007.
I was most impressed by our mezzos J'Nai and Sasha, but everyone loved Christina. Vote here.
Monday, August 05, 2019
Conductor: Christine Brandes
Director: KJ Dahlaw
Orfeo: Nikola Printz
Euridice: Maria Valdes
Amore: Shawnette Sulker
Orfeo & Euridice by Gluck played at West Edge Opera's current venue The Bridge Yard in Oakland. A lot of fuss was made about the female/female pairing, but this is pretty common in opera. My problem was that nothing at all was made of the fact that the character Orfeo is a singer, probably a celebrity. Oh well. I enjoyed the singing.
Research tells me that this was the original 1762 Viennese version of this opera with an aria for Amore interpolated from the later 1774 Paris version. So nothing fishy. In the original version Orfeo was sung by an alto castrato and wasn't sung by a woman until the much later 1859 version.
This opera is supposed to be revolutionary, but it never seems so to me. Perhaps it is the Viennese context that makes it so. Gluck's early career was as a standard Neapolitan opera composer whose operas were endless strings of da capo arias. In this opera there are long scenes resembling recitativo accompagnato, but no detectable da capo arias. We are back to Cavalli more or less, except now everything is tonal.
A very long portion of the opera is taken up with ballet. In the second part it is Orfeo avoiding looking at Euridice which doesn't really work theatrically. For our eyes we don't see the revolution. French opera never fell into the all da capo aria trap.
Jake Heggie coaching the two Brittomaras. The pearl cast left, emerald right.
Conductor: Nicole Paiement
Director: Keturah Stickann
Librettist: Gene Scheer
Brittomara (Mephistopheles): Brennan Blankenship
Fabian (Faust): Nicholas Huff
Diana (Gretchen): Anne-Marie MacIntosh
Selena: Elisa Sunshine
Putnam: Rafael Porto
Paul: Timothy Murray
David: Brandon Scott Russell
Rachel: Edith Grossman
Jonathan: Edward Laurenson
If I Were You by Jake Heggie was commissioned for and presented by this summer's Merola Opera Program at the San Francisco Opera. This is the first work commissioned by Merola, and this is its world premier. The one requirement is that there must be a lot of roles. The first four characters were double cast and ours was the emerald cast. I'm going to try to explain this.
There are a few theatrical elements that need to be explained. Brittomara appears various times throughout the opera in different outfits but always with red hair. She is an ambulance attendant, an auto mechanic, a waitress, etc. There are electrical flashes that seem to be entertaining but meaningless. My friend and I discussed this at length and finally concluded that this was the device with two paddles that medical professionals use to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Brittomara refuses to let Fabian die because she wants his soul.
We also argued over whether or not this was a Faust plot. The final plot element that requires explaining is the major plot element. Fabian falls for Diana, named for the goddess, whom he meeds at the auto mechnic. Initially she takes no notice of him. He gives the devil his soul in order that he may become someone Diana would be interested in. Most of the other characters are his reincarnations. There are magic words and loud flashing sounds when the transfer takes place.
So "If I were you" followed by advice, advice, advice, isn't it at all. It's if I were actually you and robbed you of your soul. For me it almost worked. I enjoyed the part after the intermission more than the earlier parts. Our Diana, Anne-Marie MacIntosh, I enjoyed very much, but now that we've settled the argument, I'd like to see it again.
Moral of the story: don't give away your soul. It's the best thing you've got.
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Director: Tobias Kratzer
Tannhäuser: Stephen Gould
Landgraf Hermann: Stephen Milleing
Elisabeth: Lise Davidsen
Wolfram von Eschenbach: Markus Eiche
Walther von der Vogelweide: Daniel Behle
Venus: Elena Zhidkova
Shepard: Katharina Konradi
Tannhäuser from Bayreuth is a confusing mix of images. The first scene suggests that we add it to the caravan series, since we see Tannhäuser, Venus and her troop wandering around in an RV in the guise of a carnival. Venus drives. They live outside the law. When the vehicle runs out of gas, they siphon some from a nearby vehicle. They go through the Burger King drive through and steal their food. This is not realistic since you always have to pay before they give you anything. A policeman tries to stop them and Venus runs him down, making Tannhäuser uninterested in going on with her.
In the second scene the curtain opens on an exterior shot of the Bayreuther Festspielhaus. He is met by a bunch of guys in black outfits drinking beer out of the bottle. They recognize him in his clown outfit and welcome him back. At the end of the scene Venus arrives in her RV.
Lise Davidsen is utterly magnificent. I adore her "Dich teure Halle." Our boy is back in normal clothes. Or at least the clothes suitable for the singing contest that is to come. People begin to enter. Outside Venus and her gang are trying to get inside. This must play like a film inside the hall. Venus steals a suitable outfit from one of the dressing rooms and participates in the ceremony. This whole thing is like a movie with cameras behind the scenes. Is that the trend of the future?
The contestants sing about love back and forth until Tannhäuser tells the crowd that he has been in Venusberg. The women in the crowd all escape except for Elisabeth, Venus removes her disguise, and her group all appear together with Tannhäuser. Elisabeth prevents the men from killing him, and he thanks her. The scene is strange. While Tannhäuser thanks Elisabeth, he is also happy to see Venus. Someone calls the police. The Landgraf curses Tannhäuser for admitting he was with Venus.
I am enjoying the idea that the teure Halle is the Festspieshaus itself. A song contest with pieces that are more like songs would have been nice. The story is concerned with salvation, and the music is a bit droning. Tannhäuser chooses to go to Rome with the pilgrims and the giant black man in drag drapes a rainbow flag over the harp that accompanied the singers.
This is almost the Tannhäuser as comedy version. Frei im Wollen! Frei im Thun! Frei im Geniessen! R.W. [Free in the wanting! Free in the doing! Free to enjoy!] This seems to be the opposing of two life views that make up the struggle of modern life: The path of individual freedom represented by Venus and the path of adhering to social norms represented by Elisabeth. The sign outside the Festspielhaus seems to place Wagner on the side of freedom. Our hero vacillates back and forth between them. One gives him a life of earthly pleasure and the other brings salvation to his soul. He seems to want both.
She seems to have killed herself.
Monday, July 22, 2019
Conductor: Enrique Mazzola
Stage Director: Philipp Stölzl
Duke of Mantua: Stephen Costello,
Rigoletto: Vladimir Stoyanov,
Gilda: Mélissa Petit,
Sparafucile: Miklós Sebestyén,
Maddalena: Katrin Wundsam,
Count Monterone: Kostas Smoriginas
There is a film of Verdi's Rigoletto from Seebühne, Bregenzer Festspiele, Bregenz from July 19, 2019, on Opera on Video. There is nothing in the outdoor setting at Bregenz on Lake Constance to provide reflecting surfaces for the singers' voices, and as a result they are miked. This cannot be helped.
The setting is amusing. The clown's mouth opens and The Duke is inside with the girl friend of the moment. Gilda at home with Rigoletto is carefully chained to the clown's right hand to prevent her from falling. It's all very lively looking and frightening. Gilda then sings "Caro nome" from the basket hanging below the balloon while the giant clown looks up at her. I liked Mélissa Petit quite a lot.
Our Rigoletto is possibly a bit feeble minded. I've always seen him played as though he only tried to be funny for the Duke, and was dark and angry the rest of the time. The kidnapping of Gilda from her basket in the sky is far more exciting than I've ever seen before. Only one man makes it up to her location, and she fights to knock him off, almost succeeding. He cheats and chloroforms her.
The Duke sings from the top of a ladder, and Gilda is dragged around like a rag doll. Perhaps she is an acrobat, or has a stunt double. The big eyeballs come out and roll around. If you find your opera stagings boring, this is not in that category. It's a bit scary for me. This is Rigoletto at the circus, which makes more sense than Rigoletto in Vegas.
I could go either way with Stephen Costello's Duke. I see that he has sung it all around the opera world. It seems a bit heavy for him but otherwise quite good.
Modern opera is all theater and only occasionally good singing. Do people really require that much distraction today? Perhaps.
Thursday, July 18, 2019
Joyce Castle as Julia Child
Bon Appétit! by Lee Hoiby, the one act opera about Julia Child, streamed today from Des Moines Metro Opera. It's presented with dinner.
Here is the official menu for the evening, provided by the chefs at the Iowa Culinary Institute:
Chilled Vichyssoise; Pissaladière; Asperges et Tomates en Vinaigrette; Suprêmes de Volaille aux Champignons; Boeuf Bourguignon; Salmon Choulibiac; Cheese Soufflé with essence of Truffle; Ratatouille; Rice Pilaf with Summer Vegetables; Le Gâteau au Chocolat ‘Eminence Brune’; Pain au Levain.
It may not be possible to describe this. The accompaniment is on the piano. The musical style can be described as modern recitative. "If you have a self-cleaning kitchen like mine," she says. This is because invisible gremlins scurry around and fix any problems. In Julia's version we never saw them.
It is utterly charming, a bit more manic than Julia herself, but loads of fun. She whips her egg whites into perfect peaks. It runs 30 minutes like a real television show. They're putting it on YouTube, so look for it.
I have recently begun to complain about the absence of American opera on streaming platforms, so take advantage of this rare opportunity. It's coming to Opera Parallèle in the Bay Area in the new year.
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Stage Director Christophe Honoré
Floria Tosca Angel Blue
La Prima Donna Catherine Malfitano
Mario Cavaradossi Joseph Calleja
Il barone Scarpia Alexey Markov
Cesare Angelotti Simon Shibambu
Il sagrestano Leonardo Galeazzi
I was curious about the Tosca from the Aix-en-Provence Festival. It was advertised to have two Toscas. Well. If you have spent enough time in show business, you recognize that this is a rehearsal being held in the home of the great Tosca from the past Catherine Malfitano. She is most famous for her part in the movie of Tosca with Placido Domingo filmed entirely in Rome in the real places identified in the score. Her home is filled with memorabilia from this great performance.
At the end of Act I instead of kneeling before the altar, they kneel before the picture of Catherine. Angel Blue sings Tosca but plays herself. She is coached by Catherine. It's chaotic. Most professionals know how to behave better than this. Perhaps they're students. The chorus members mob around the great lady, seriously scaring her.
After the first act, the feed begins to buzz loudly and does not stop until after Act II has started. Instead of disappearing from view when they are not in the scene, everyone goes off into another part of the apartment. Do we go to the opera to see people being themselves? I think not.
I have to add a bit more. Angel sings the big aria in her jeans, and suddenly we find ourselves in an homage to all the great Toscas, beginning with Callas and going on to Caballe, Verrett, Tibaldi, and ending with Catherine herself in her prime. Today's Catherine confers the ultimate compliment--she gives Angel the Tosca costume to wear. It was well done. It asked for comparisons and we consented.
I didn't mind at all the mixing of reality and performance. It worked much better than La Sonnambula from the Met. The Diva is overcome with her real emotions. I have to say I think Angel could have handled the role quite well on her own. I ended up liking it very much.
Tuesday, July 09, 2019
Alexander Pereira left his post in Salzburg to become the Intendant at La Scala Milan. We discussed this at the time. The explanation as I understand it was that La Scala needed money, and Pereira had the gift of persuading people to give money. He had success here.
I am giving you my perspective which could always be wrong. Pereira was good friends with Cecilia Bartoli whom he knew from his time in Zurich. He helped her get the Pfingstfest gig at the Salzburg Festival while he was still in Salzburg. He persuaded her to perform three Baroque operas at La Scala beginning with Julio Cesare this fall. This is all good. Everyone is happy.
However, there is another side of the story. La Scala had more money, but it also had more empty seats. A sign of this problem is that for the final performance by Lisette Oropesa for her run of Verdi's I Masnadieri at La Scala, they were advertising all over the internet that tickets could be had for half price. This run was well reviewed.
I noticed a certain amount of Germanification of the repertoire and artists. Periera is Austrian. An indication of their unhappiness showed itself when the board of La Scala did not renew Pereira's contract. In July, 2021, he would be replaced by Dominique Meyer. Cecilia immediately resigned from her run of Baroque operas in protest. Pereira asked her to support him, but she replied Anywhere but there. Here is a more accurate version of the conversation.
The new guy comes from the Wiener Staatsoper, but before that he was in Paris. I don't know him. I will refrain from taking sides here. My strictly outside sense of this is that Italians are very fussy. The La Scala audiences drove out Muti, and it doesn't get more Italian than that.
Saturday, July 06, 2019
Conductor Kirill Petrenko
Production Krzysztof Warlikowski
Herodes Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Herodias Michaela Schuster
Salome Marlis Petersen
Jochanaan Wolfgang Koch
Narraboth Pavol Breslik
Ein Page der Herodias Rachael Wilson
Salome by Richard Strauss streamed today from the Bayerische Staatsoper. This was an extraordinary production with great depth of imagination. It was performed in German by the best company for German diction. A commenter on FB said, "They dock your pay if you make mistakes in your German." One of the results of this is that while the orchestra is spectacularly musical (Kirill Petrenko), the singers don't bring us the best of all possible Strauss phrasing. This shifts the focus away from the singing onto the theatrical presentation. Usually your attention is distracted from the story by either the striptease or the intense lyrical singing of the soprano. We had neither distraction.
The biggest surprise came when the curtain opened to a countertenor singing the opening song of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. Perhaps this is an entertainment for the party. Or perhaps it is to tell us that whatever we may be seeing, this is an opera about children.
It was Regie, of course, which means there were clothing designs from around 1950, plus something intended to be a swimming pool that is visible when the center of the stage opens up to show Jochanaan's cell. The singers mention frequently that it's cold, and they would like to go inside. However, we seem to be in a library.
People smoke, including Salome. When the opera begins, Narraboth sings about how beautiful the princess Salome is this evening. Nothing about the women on the stage suggests that one of them is Salome. The Page is usually a trouser role, but here it is staged as a woman who is in love with Narraboth and jealous of Salome. Maybe I'm explaining too much. When she finally sings, we see Salome is the woman in the red dress.
Why is one so fascinated? Salome herself is clearly too old to be a child. This is the main problem with this opera in general. Salome is a teenager who sings like a fully mature spinto soprano. Maria Ewing destroyed her voice singing it because she made a perfect stripper in the dance scene. This is a problem without a solution. Our Salome is not a teenager and also not a spinto. I'd call her a full lyric.
Herodes is something of a pedophile and wants to see his wife's daughter dance. Throughout the opera the stage shows a young girl with long dark hair sitting and observing. She moves from place, has a mother who occasionally approaches her, but does not interact with anyone else. She sees everything without reacting. Maybe she's a Salome alter ego.
The dialog clearly states that Jochanaan is young, yet when we see him he is late middle aged. Why she loves him we do not know. But does anyone know the why of love?
For her dance Salome dresses as a bride and dances with a man made up as a skeleton: Death. It is relatively pleasing. Animation appears on the wall behind. They show afterward when the cast goes outside to greet the onlookers in the platz, that the box she is singing to actually has a head inside. It couldn't be seen on the stream.
Narraboth comes back to life, and so does everyone else. What is that about? One is fascinated but not sure exactly why.
Friday, June 28, 2019
Conductor: Christopher Moulds*
Director: Harry Fehr*
Production Designer: Yannis Thavoris*
Zoroastro, doctor: Christian Van Horn (bass)
Orlando, hero: Sasha Cooke (originally alto castrato, here mezzo)
Dorinda, nurse: Christina Gansch* (soprano)
Angelica, rich American: Heidi Stober (soprano)
Medoro, patient: Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen* (originally contralto, here countertenor)
Our production of Orlando, an opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel seen at the San Francisco Opera, has leapt into the latest craze in opera regietheater: opera as psychotherapy. We have seen this recently in:
- Bizet's Carmen from Aix-en-Provence 7/9/17. Don Jose is being treated for marital difficulties.
- Weber's Oberon, or The Elf King's Oath live streamed from the Bayerische Staatsoper 7/30/17. Psychiatrists experiment on random members of the audience. Gods and fairies are delusions.
- Berlioz' Les Troyens 2/28/19. After the Trojan War, the survivors are institutionalized in a mental hospital with PTSD.
Orlando is having hallucinations which are projected on the set as seen above. We see handwriting, a large engagement ring, lights, a woman's eyes, etc.
Act IOrlando is in a hospital bed. He is shown rescuing a woman in a wheelchair. Both Dorinda and Angelica fall in love with Medoro, who has injured his leg. Orlando has given Angelica an engagement ring. Characters are introduced in rooms of the hospital.
Act IIDorinda lets Angelica have Medoro, and Angelica gives Dorinda Orlando's ring. Orlando is furious over this turn events and threatens everyone. At the end of the act we hear bombs exploding
I felt that this modernization was very successful. It fit the story surprisingly well. However, sometimes plot points went by in a way that allowed you to completely miss them.
In Handel's time Orlando was a male castrato and Medoro was a woman. We have the long ago example of Marilyn Horne to reverse this. Our countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen is nice looking and has a beautiful voice. My favorite singing was by Christian Van Horn, a bass who sings coloratura. Who ever heard of such a thing.
Among the women Christina Gansch received the most applause for her act III aria. She is someone to look out for. Our stalwarts Sasha Cooke and Heidi Stober were both excellent actresses and good in their roles. Their voices didn't always precisely fit the music they were singing. Orlando in particular is quite low.
One becomes impatient with endless da capo arias, but all in all it was very enjoyable. The orchestra included recorders, a small organ but no harpsichord, and a theorbo.
The screens in the balcony are coming down. This is sad. I can't read the titles from where I sit without using binoculars, while the ones on the screens are very clear. This has to do with money. I'm not happy about it.
Sunday, June 23, 2019
I decided that I needed to know more about Faust. We are hitting only the highlights. To get an idea of how big the influence of the Faust legend is see this list. There are many, many works with this theme, more than I could possibly address.
II called the original Faust a German myth. Apparently others call it a legend. One reliable source (EB) says that the original Johann Georg Faust (c. 1480–1540) lived in the time of Martin Luther and practiced the dark arts of wizardry, magic and astrology. This is rather a different idea than Goethe’s Faust. The Faust legend became the subject of extensive theological discussion. Martin Luther was concerned that Protestantism would become associated with the practices of Faust and fought hard against him.
IIBetween 1589 and 1592 Christopher Marlowe wrote a play usually referred to as Doctor Faustus. Calling Faust Doctor Faustus means pretty much the same thing it does now. He has advanced to the top of academia. This is an interesting work where Faust gives up his soul in order to gain magical powers for a specified time period. He accomplishes nothing useful but uses his gifts to perform tricks for the nobility. He goes to hell when his time runs out.
I don’t have to go into all the details. Clearly in this early period the subject matter of Faust’s knowledge and studies is significant. Marlowe’s play represents the Calvinist position where salvation is preordained. He is condemned for his magical practices and cannot be saved.
Mephistopheles was a folklore figure in the Faust legend. He becomes a stock character. It's best seen as a play for special effects. Marlowe establishes the idea that Faust gets his magic powers from the Devil.
IIIJohann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust part 1 and part 2 (1806-1832) was the next landmark in the life of this legend. Only part 1 is regularly staged. It is regarded as a great monument of German literature. For our purposes we will concern ourselves only with part 1.
It is Goethe who transforms the legend into something else. Originally it is Faust himself who leads himself into darkness, perhaps with the devil's help, but not entirely. In Goethe it is rather like the tale of Job where God challenges the Devil to lead his exemplary man to hell. The Devil gives it his best shot. Faust is a learned man but his studies are here regarded as good. Mephistopheles enters into Faust's life as a dog who follows him home.
It is also Goethe who introduces Marguerite into the story. We are to presume that Faust, the saintly scholar, is sexually inexperienced. Here it becomes a transaction. Faust may have anything he wants on earth, while the Devil alone has power in hell. It is a witch who turns Faust into a young man. Valentine, Marguerite's brother, first appears here.
Goethe's Marguerite donates Mephistopheles' jewels to the church, but is led to ruin anyway. The Devil thinks Faust would be tempted by a Walpurgis Nacht. Perhaps this links us back to the original legend where Faust is attracted to the dark arts. Here he isn't.
The Marguerite story is extended through several scenes where she kills her mother, gives birth to Faust's child, kills her child and is sent to prison. At the very end she prays for salvation and is saved. This does not sound like a Calvinist perspective. The story of Faust continues into part 2.
It's after this that musicians become interested. The first piece that has remained in the repertoire is Hector Berlioz' La damnation de Faust (1846). This is intended to be a concert piece, but is often fully staged. The prologue in heaven where God makes a bargain with the Devil does not appear. Instead Faust is an old man who has become tired of life and wants to kill himself. Méphistophélès appears and offers him something to live for. They travel together to several locations, but Faust doesn't become interested until Marguerite enters the picture.
Berlioz focuses on Marguerite much like Goethe, but shows Faust's continuing interest in science in this aria. The presence of a love story makes it more suitable as an opera plot. At the end Marguerite is saved but Faust goes to hell. The musical style is fully romantic.
The most famous of all the Faust operas is Charles Gounod's Faust (1859). For about 50 years it was the most popular opera just about everywhere, but then it faded considerably. Gounod's Faust summons the Devil to his study when after a long life in science, he finds that he has accomplished nothing and wants to kill himself. Mephistopheles makes a bargain with Faust that he will show him something he cannot resist. God's complicity in this bargain is not shown. After changing him into a young man, the Devil takes Faust out to get drunk in a bar. Faust is uninterested. Marguerite is next. The above aria is Faust's reaction to her.
This is my favorite aria from Gounod's Faust, sung here by my favorite baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, in the role of Marguerite's brother Valentin. This is just before he leaves her to go off to war. He gives responsibility for her to Siebel who appears only in this opera.
Here above we have the original version of "Diamonds are a girl's best friend."
The Walpurgis Nacht comes in the form of a ballet which is usually omitted. Faust returns to Marguerite in her prison cell. She is saved by an angel, but Faust continues on with Mephistopheles. In the recent production from London he turns back into an old man.
We have wandered far from the original legend which concerned itself with Faust's interests as a scholar to the mere boredom of an old man who has accomplished nothing with his life. The Met's attempt to drag it back by casting Faust as a nuclear scientist who regrets what he has spent his time doing. We have the fully romantic music of one Faust and the story of another.
It is good to stop for a moment and point out the difference between Gounod and Goethe. Goethe is clear that Faust the academic is a good man favored by God. Gounod's Faust is just a bored old man. The worst thing about this opera is the fact that both Faust and Valentin praise Marguerite for her chastity and purity. Then Faust leads her into darkness with hardly a backward look. Valentin abandons her. She is saved in the end through God's grace. This is seen as a Christian message because God can forgive anything. Someone has pointed out to me that Gounod was a Catholic, and that we have here more of a Catholic perspective.
Faust agrees to give up his soul in return for bliss on earth. The Marguerite part of the story is similar to Gounod, except in addition to killing her child, she poisons her mother. She repents of her sins, and the angels save her.
At the end Mefistofele and Faust return to heaven for the final judgment. Faust is saved.
I think it is the music which speaks against this opera, Boito's only composed opera. Boito is almost modern in his style. The contrast to Gounod's music is enormous. The version with Samuel Ramey is highly recommended. Without Ramey does it work at all?
God is not involved. Faust the academic is visited by mysterious figures who give him a book. He follows the instructions in the book, draws a circle on the floor and summons the Devil. Marguerite's brother is a character whom Faust kills, but she herself does not appear. Clearly we have wandered far from Goethe but closer to Marlowe.
Faust appears as a magician at the court of the Duke of Parma where he seduces and elopes with the Duchess of Parma. I can't imagine how this fits in with a factory. At the end he performs some kind of magic trick where he falls dead and gives his life to another. I think it would be necessary to study this extensively to have any hope of understanding what was going on.
It has also been pointed out to me that Damn Yankees is also a Faust story.
Saturday, June 22, 2019
In my lifetime the great choral conductor Robert Shaw was a giant among men. I just finished watching a PBS film about his life. There was a lot of biographical material that I knew nothing about, might possibly have preferred not to know anything about. Too late. It was still moving and satisfying to hear it all.
I liked it that he insisted on integration no matter what the consequences. Bravo.
My own life interfaced with his on occasion. As a student at Indiana University, I sang with him in a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
Later as a member of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus we performed the Brahms Requiem, a work which he recorded twice. Ours was better than either one of these. We had Kathleen Battle for the soprano soloist.
Details would require research. The Indiana University performance was coached from beginning to end by Shaw who seemed to have secrets. One secret was that a chorus should follow the same concepts as a symphony. Every alto must sing precisely the same pitches in precisely the same rhythm. This seems obvious. He never talked about vibrato but did all kinds of pitch exercises. It makes a huge difference.
He was my idol before I actually worked with him.
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Director: David McVicar
Faust Michael Fabiano
Méphistophélès Erwin Schrott
Marguerite Irina Lungu
Valentin Stéphane Degout
Siébel Marta Fontanals-Simmons
Gounod's Faust came to a theater near me from the Royal Opera in London where it was live on April 30. Faust is a kind of morality myth of no specific era, so it cannot be considered regie that it is staged for the period of it's original appearance in 1859. The settings bring the story to life. I always remember that the Germans call this opera Marguerite. For at least its first 50 years this opera was wildly popular, but musical tastes have moved on, and it's heard now as a bit corny, I think.
Erwin Schrott played Méphistophélès for laughs, something he's very good at. I loved Michael's voice in his aria "Salut, demeure chaste et pure." I enjoy his style as a romantic hero very much. Irina Lungu was a replacement for Diana Damrau who I understand has a slipped disc. I liked her.
This is as close to a traditional production as you are likely to see these days.
This is the second opera where I've seen Erwin in a dress. The other one was Verdi, I think. This role better suits the voice of Rene Pape, but Erwin is much funnier and cuter. The Walpurgis Nacht is done as a ballet with a dancer appearing as pregnant Marguerite. Valentin comes back from the dead, followed by an orgy. Marguerite appears with her baby. Then a small casket. Then a jail.
The ending is perfection. Marguerite rejects both Faust and the Devil, prays to God, and an angel appears to declare her saved. Faust is again an old man. The Devil laughs.
It worked for me much better than the Met version.
Saturday, June 15, 2019
He created productions in many opera houses, many of which are still running. The Metropolitan Opera still uses: Turandot Turandot Turandot, La Boheme La Boheme. Barber's Antony and Cleopatra doesn't repeat and Tosca has been replaced.
At the Arena di Verona an entire season was designed by Zeffirelli. I saw only Madama Butterfly.
He filmed movies of operas as well, mostly with Placido Domingo.
Here is a proper remembrance.
Monday, June 10, 2019
Cecilia Bartoli's Whitsun Festival at Salzburg in 2020 will be an homage to Pauline Viardot-Garcia (1821 – 1910), the sister of Maria Malibran. Viardot's voice did not precisely mesh with Cecilia's, which explains why she has not featured her before.
The Pfingstfest as curated by La Bartoli usually features a fully staged opera starring herself that is presented twice. Next year it will be Donizetti's Don Pasquale sung in a version ornamented for Viardot and directed by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier. This should be fun.
Berlioz created an arrangement of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice for Pauline which she sang over 150 times. This will be the second opera and will not feature Cecilia. I once reviewed this arrangement from a DVD here.
The remainder of the festival generally involves concerts. One will feature the great choral works the Fauré Requiem and the Brahms Alto Rhapsody, both works which I love very much. There will be a staged song matinee with songs by Viardot and starring mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux.
The festival will end with a gala concert designed as an homage to the entire Garcia family: Cecilia Bartoli as Maria Malibran, Varduhi Abrahamyan as Pauline Viardot, and Javier Camarena as Manuel García. There is much to love. I haven't been traveling for health reasons, but perhaps I should at least consider this. The dates are May 29 - June 1.
P.S. Cecilia Bartoli has extended her Whitsun Festival contract to 2026.
Thursday, June 06, 2019
Production Francesca Zambello
Carmen J'Nai Bridges
Don José Matthew Polenzani
Micaëla Anita Hartig *
Escamillo Kyle Ketelsen
Zuniga David Leigh *
After a production of Bizet's Carmen where people raced cars, Francesca Zambello's production was a welcome change. At least there were no psychiatrists (see other Carmen). This production is new to us, but I think it started out in London. It was visually plain but clarified the plot in an excellent manner. I especially liked the orange tree in Act I. We heard the opera comique version which comes with spoken dialog. It goes by pretty fast.
We all liked best our Micaëla, Anita Hartig, who has appeared on the Met HD series as Liu in Turandot with Nina Stemme and Micaëla in Carmen with Anita Rachvelishvili. She is seasoned in her role and has a beautiful voice.
Our two main characters Carmen and Don José were both making their role debuts. This is a situation where one should attend at the end of the run when everyone has settled into their character. Carmen is especially difficult here. She dominates every scene with arias (sung lying down sometimes, a modern fad. We blame Anna Netrebko), dancing, flirting, castanets, anger, love, just about anything you can imagine. It is necessary to be careful not to get hurt. By the end of the run she would be able to focus more on her singing.
I couldn't decide about Matthew. Does the part not sit right for his voice? He is a tenor I like very much, but something sounded rough in his voice. He played Don José more out of control than anyone I have ever seen. She knows she will die, it was in the cards, and does not care.
I enjoyed it. It's a beautiful opera.
Wednesday, June 05, 2019
For me the most fun was trying to identify people in the photographs who were not identified with captions or remarks. The only thing said about Mirella Freni was that she and Luciano had shared a wet nurse as babies. However, her picture appeared several times. I only remember Joan Sutherland mentioned for her contribution to his career. She taught him how to breathe. He mentioned that he felt her diaphragm working. This is a normal part of vocal training. I was also amused by brief remarks by Vittorio Grigolo describing how a tenor sound is an artificial, deliberately created sound. Any tenor needs to train with someone who understands this.
Early parts of the movie concerned them with the early parts of Luciano's operatic career. The San Francisco Opera is never mentioned, though he sang there many times and learned many new roles with the professional coaches there. After the Three Tenors concert in Rome in 1990, which I now recognize to have taken place in the Baths of Caracalla, he came to us no more.
There are quite a lot of interviews with his family, though the precise meaning of these only develops gradually. It is handled carefully. Luciano was very friendly and outgoing, made friends easily, including Princess Diana.
Then it moves into discussing his career as Pavarotti and Friends, something that does not particularly interest me. He made lots of money. My main complaint is there is a lot of talking and a lot less singing.
The movie ended with his spectacular performance in the Three Tenors Concert of Puccini's "Nessum dorma." The best singing in the film. Your curiosity will be fully satisfied, and there are lots of other sources for Luciano singing.
Tuesday, June 04, 2019
Saturday, June 01, 2019
Conductor: Antonello Manacorda
Regie, Choreographie: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
King Admète: Charles Castronovo
Queen Alceste: Dorothea Röschmann
High priest of Apollo: Michael Nagy
Évandre: Manuel Günther
Ein Waffenherold: Sean Michael Plumb
Hercule: Michael Nagy
Coryphée(s): Noa Beinart, Anna El-Khashem, Frederic Jost, Caspar Singh
Apollon: Sean Michael Plumb
Das Orakel: Callum Thorpe
Ein Gott der Unterwelt: Callum Thorpe
This version of Gluck's Alceste comes live from the Bayerische Staatsoper. I understand it to be a regie production, so we'll see. This is the French version.
Well, this isn't regietheater to me. It's more like a Rameau opera ballet. I think the costumes are intended to look at least semi-Greek. There is constant dancing in a style with a lot of arm waving, apparently so the singers can participate. Alceste and the priest of Apollo are the main characters. The king is ill, and Alceste volunteers to die instead of him. This is an excellent role for Dorothea Röschmann. At the end of the act she sings the hit tune for this opera: "Divinites du Styx." It might be a bit heavy for her.
Children are picking up what appear to be plates of food and handing them into the prompter's box. This will give you a flavor of the dancing.
At last the King makes his first entrance not looking at all ill. Husband and wife are happy to see each other. Neither one is dead. Then he finds out Alceste will die and wishes it was him.
Admète follows Alceste to hell. They sing together without benefit of ballet. People on stilts appear. A man dressed all in white appears, and I assume he is Apollo. He blesses everyone, grants immortality to Hercules, etc. The family is united, including the children. This part is the most like regie, but I think the original is also confusing. The dancers are back. And that's the end.
This was mysterious. They tried very hard to make it interesting, but it won't make my favorites list.