Thursday, July 18, 2019

Bon Appétit!


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

Tosca from Aix

Conductor Daniele Rustioni
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 her 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

SFO Emerging Stars 2019

Here are the nominees for this year's emerging stars at the San Francisco Opera:

  • 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).
  • 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.


Pereira back in the News


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

Salome from Munich


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

Orlando in San Francisco


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.
So our hero is showing signs of mental illness after fighting for Britain at the beginning of WWII .  In an early scene photographs of Edward VIII before and after his abdication are shown, including one where and Wallace are friendly with Hitler.  This sets the context.  Hitler is probably still easy to identify, but I might wonder about Edward VIII.

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 I

Orlando 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 II

Dorinda 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

Act III

Orlando is completely bonkers by this time and is locked up.  Spoiler alert:  he is treated with not too shocking shock treatments, and is cured.  Angelica and Medoro are allowed to go in peace.  Orlando puts his uniform back on and retreats.


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

Essay about Faust


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.

I

I 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.

II

Between 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.

III

Johann 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.

IV



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. 

V



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.

VI

Not too long after Gounod's opera came Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele (1868).  I know this opera from glorious performances in San Francisco starring Samuel Ramey.  Boito restores Goethe's prologue in heaven where Mefistofele challenges God for the soul of his servant Faust.  It was a failure at its initial performance at La Scala, Milan.



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?

VII

Ferruccio Busoni in his Doktor Faust (1916–25) writes his own libretto in German.  This opera was presented at the San Francisco Opera in June, 2004.  I attended one of these performances and was completely confused.  Now that I see the plot description, I can understand why.   It was done as a regie production in modern dress in what appears to be a modern factory of some kind.  To add to the confusion Faust is a baritone and Mephistopheles is a tenor.



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.

VIII

It might be possible to regard Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (1951) as a Faust opera.  It's a bit of a stretch.  The Devil makes an appearance.

It has also been pointed out to me that Damn Yankees is also a Faust story.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Robert Shaw on PBS


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

Faust from London

Conductor: Dan Ettinger
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

Franco Zeffirelli (1923-2019)

The great opera director, Franco Zeffirelli, has died at 96.

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

Whitsun 2020

Pauline Viardot-Garcia

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.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Summer Festivals 2019


Salzburg Festival 20 July – 31 August 2019
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Idomeneo, Peter Sellars production with Russell Thomas
  • Francesco Cilea Adriana Lecouvreur, Netrebko in a concert performance
  • Luigi Cherubini Médée 
  • George Frideric Handel Alcina with Bartoli and Jeroussky from Pfingstfest.
  • George Enescu Œdipe with Christopher Maltman
  • Jacques Offenbach Orphée aux enfers
  • Giuseppe Verdi Simon Boccanegra with René Pape, Charles Castronovo
  • Richard Strauss Salome
  • Giuseppe Verdi Luisa Miller with Domingo

Santa Fe Opera  29 June – 25 August 2019
  • Georges Bizet Les Pêcheurs de perles
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Cosi fan tutte
  • Poul Ruders The Thirteenth Child 
  • Giacomo Puccini La Boheme
  • Leoš Janáček  Jenůfa
 
Aix-en-Provence Festival  3 — 22 July 2019
  • Giacomo Puccini Tosca  Angel Blue is Tosca
  • Wolfgang Rihm Jakob Lenz
  • Adam Maor The Sleeping Thousand World Premier
  • Kurt Weill The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny with Karita Mattila
  • Michel van der Aa Blank Out  French Premier

Glyndebourne Festival  19 May – 26 August 2019
  • Hector Berlioz La damnation de Faust
  • Gioachino Rossini Il barbiere di Siviglia
  • Jules Massenet Cendrillon with Danielle de Niese, streamed
  • Antonín Dvořák Rusalka
  • George Frideric Handel Rinaldo
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Die Zauberflöte, streamed

Munich Opera Festival  18 June – 31 July 2019
  • Richard Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
  • Richard Wagner Der fliegende Holländer
  • Giuseppe Verdi Otello
  • Giacomo Puccini Turandot
  • Giacomo Puccini The Girl of the Golden West
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Le nozze di Figaro
  • Richard Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungen
  • Giordano's Andrea Chénier with Anja Harteros
  • Giuseppe Verdi La Traviata
  • etc.
Opera Theater of Saint Louis  25 May -- 30 June 2019
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Le nozze di Figaro
  • Giuseppe Verdi Rigoletto
  • Cladio Monteverdi L'Incoronazione di Poppea
  • Terence Blanchard Fire Shut Up In My Bones
West Edge Opera Festival August 3 - 19 2019
  • Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera
  • Missy Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves
  • Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orfeo and Euridice

Salzburg Whitsun  7 - 10 June, 2019
  • George Frideric Handel Alcina (and main festival, Cecilia Bartoli)
  • Nicola Porpora Polifemo

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Carmen in San Francisco

Conductor James Gaffigan *
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

Pavarotti Movie

Last night there was a Fathom Event that featured Ron Howard's new movie about Luciano Pavarotti.  This was irresistible, so I went.  I arrived early and got to read through interesting events in Pavarotti's life. 

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

Happy Birthday Cecilia Bartoli


She's still my favorite.  I especially loved her recent L'Italiana in Algeri.  This is what she is up to now.


Saturday, June 01, 2019

Gluck's Alceste from Munich


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.

Act I

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.

Act II

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.

Intermission

Act III

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.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen


Jorge Lavelli | Stage director
Pinchas Steinberg | Conductor

Torsten Kerl | Rienzi
Marika Schönberg | Irène, Rienzi's sister
Richard Wiegold | Steffano Colonna
Daniela Sindram | Adriano, his son
Stefan Heidemann | Paolo Orsini
Robert Bork | Cardinal Orvieto
Marc Heller | Baroncelli
Leonardo Neiva | Cecco del Vecchio
Jennifer O’Loughlin | The Messenger of Peace

Wagner's Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen from Toulouse in 2013 is offered by medici.tv.  This infrequently performed opera has a dense back story.  Wagner was living in France at the time of composition and was strongly influenced by Grand Opera and Meyerbeer.  In fact it was Meyerbeer who rescued Wagner from debtor's prison and introduced him to someone in Dresden who produced the opera.  Everything in Grand Opera seems to be about politics, in this case medieval Roman politics where the opera is set.  What makes something a Grand Opera?  Heavy pomposity.  Ballet.  Historical subjects.  In Meyerbeer it seems to include coloratura arias but not here.

Another part of the back story for Rienzi is that it is supposed to have been a powerful influence on Hitler.  I think it was perhaps Rienzi the orator that attracted him.  He missed the part where everything ends in disaster.

The plot concerns freeing the Roman people.  Politics in the nineteenth century was chaotic and violent.  The nations Germany and Italy were formed during this time, and France restructured a few times.  It would make an interesting project to study the relationship between opera and contemporary politics.

Wagner seems to have wised up after this.  He remains extremely popular because operas about Minnesingers and Meistersingers (Tannhäuser and Die Meistersinger), Arthurian knights (Lohengrin and Parsifal), and mythical figures (Tristan und Isolde, Der fliegende Holländer and The Ring) don't arouse modern cultural animosity.  We want to blame him for Hitler, but concrete evidence doesn't seem to be there.

I digress.  The opera begins with films of rioting from various times and cultures.  It's intensely violent, but cuts away to the orchestra occasionally to ease the tension.

The Orsinis, who resemble the gangsters in West Side Story, are harassing Rienzi's sister.  A young man, Adriano, and the Colonni step in to rescue her.  There is some rioting followed by the entrance of Rienzi who brings peace.  He makes a speech to the crowd.  There is great singing and fabulous choral sections here.  Nothing gruesome happens.

Rienzi declares peace in a grand oration, but the overthrown nobles are understandably angry.  One of them tries to assassinate Rienzi, but he is wearing armor under his clothing.  They are led off by guards.  Adriano and Irène plead for mercy for his father, and Rienzi grants it.  This is quite thrilling, mainly because the singing is so fabulous.  The role of Rienzi is huge and very well sung.  A half-hour ballet goes here, but they have skipped it.

Act III features the real star of this show:  Adriano, the character who messes everything up, was written for Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient.  Schröder-Devrient is known for singing Fidelio and making it famous.

Rienzi's army kills both Orsini and Colonna, and Adriano swears revenge.  Rienzi offends the Pope, and that appears to be it.  Everything goes down in flames.  This is very well done, but the musical style is repetitive and endlessly bombastic.  I may not be particularly wild about this opera, but the tenor who sings Rienzi is amazing.  "Allmächt'ger Vater, blick herab!“the hit tune of this opera, comes in Act IV.  Recommended,

Friday, May 24, 2019

Parterre new productions

In Parterre's end of season awards I found this list under best new non-Met stagings.  The first group is the nominees with the most popular at the top.  I'm assuming that these all took place in New York.  I have added composers' names.  I have included links to articles in Parterre Box.
I have a vague memory of German friends mentioning Goldmark's Die Königin von Saba, but I have never seen it.  There is a vast repertoire of German Opera that never is heard in America.  I should look into this.

The Mile-Long Opera appears to be more of an event than an opera.  People stand about 10 feet apart along a mile and a half stretch of walk way in New York City called the High Line and sing.  This would be to experience first hand.

This next group is the write-ins, a few of which I recognize.  I will assume that the grossly misspelled Les Huguenots is the one from Paris with Lisette Oropesa.  I have no idea if this is true or not.  I also saw the Forza from the Royal Opera.  Many of the others also took place in New York.  Murasaki's Moon was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
  • Murasaki’s Moon
  • Les huguenots saw this
  • Elektra Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • Tosca Philadelphia Orchestra
  • Kata Kabanova at Covent Garden
  • Kopernikus by Claude Vivier
  • La Forza del Destino Royal Opera  saw this
  • David Hertzberg’s The Rose Elf
  • Rape of Lucretia (New Camerata)
  • Sarah Kane's Psychosis 448
I see live or find films of lots of things going on in Europe, but the same is not true of opera in America.  Here in our country performances usually go out into the air and are never seen again.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Ranking the Simulcasts

This is the list of HD broadcasts this season from the Metropolitan Opera shown in reverse order.  I skipped Carmen and Magic Flute for reasons of excess familiarity.  Perhaps one of these is your favorite.  I will discuss those I saw and then rank.

👍🏻Dialogue des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc  Revival.  This was my first time in French.  It was a towering performance which Isabel Leonard brought virtually to perfection. 


👍🏻Wagner's Die Walküre  Revival shown for Christine Goerke.  The Met revived the whole Ring but only Die Walküre made it into movie theaters. 

👍🏻Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment  Revival.  I enjoyed this enormously, more than I thought possible.  Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena, Maurizio Muraro and a special guest appearance by Kathleen Turner made this a very lively and up beat performance.

Bizet's Carmen  Revival.  This features Roberto Alagna again in French repertoire, which I cannot rate because I missed it.


👍🏻Francesco Cilèa's Adriana Lecouvreur  Production from the Royal Opera.  This was one of two HD transmissions to feature the duo Anna Netrebko and Anita Rachvelishvili.  Their voices and performance styles are extraordinarily well suited to one another and worked to great effect here.  It's not the greatest opera, but the cast was great across the board.  I especially enjoyed the work of Ambrogio Maestri.

Verdi's La Traviata  New production replaces the red dress.  I found the new very decorative production to be no more than just functional.

Mozart's Magic Flute  Revival which I missed.  I prefer Flute in German.


Marnie by Nico Muhly  New Opera presented a year after its premier in London.  It's based on a movie by Alfred Hitchcock and starred Isabel Leonard in a tour de force..

👍🏻Puccini's La Fanciulla del West  Revival of the old Giancarlo del Monaco production.  Both Eva-Maria Westbroek and Jonas Kaufmann were fabulous in their roles, but for me the story makes a bit more sense if Minnie might possibly marry Jack Rance.


👍🏻Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila  Revival.  I like Roberto Alagna, especially in French repertoire. The Production created the impression that the Israelis were very poor in contrast with the much richer Philistines.  What I liked was the sexual chemistry between Roberto and Elina Garanca. 

Verdi's Aida  Revival.  This was one of two HD transmissions to feature the duo Anna Netrebko and Anita Rachvelishvili.  It failed due to the truly catastrophic singing of Aleksandrs Antonenko as Radames.  I thought the scene between the two ladies was the best I had seen.  That overall it was spoiled by the tenor is sad.

So we have six thumbs up which is probably too many.  I do love opera.  What we are missing again this year is a run away favorite.  Can I have a tie?  Both of these operas were the best versions I've seen.
  • Dialogue des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc
  • Francesco Cilèa's Adriana Lecouvreur  

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Dialogues des Carmélites in HD


Conductor...............Yannick-Nézet-Séguin
Production..............John Dexter

Blanche de la Force.....Isabel Leonard
Madame de Croissy.....Karita Mattila
Madame Lidoine........Adrianne Pieczonka
Mother Marie.............Karen Cargill
Sister Constance........Erin Morley

Dialogues des Carmélites by Francis Poulenc brings the 2018-19 HD season to an end.  When I saw this opera in San Francisco long ago, it was in this same production, only in English.  This is my first time in French.  Poulenc, who lived before supertitles, wanted the opera performed in the language of the audience.  The production follows the historical context of the French Revolution while creating a context through abstractions.  The giant white cross will stay in memory forever.

The opera begins in the home of Blanche de la Force with her father and brother.  Her brother worries that she is always afraid while her father dismisses just about everything she says.  But when she tells him she wishes to join the Carmelite convent, he doesn't refuse.

The convent of Carmelite nuns is changing.  There are two novices, Blanche and Constance, and the mother superior is dying.  Isabel and Erin are charming in their relationship throughout the opera.  Karita Mattila plays her death scene to the ultimate extreme.  It is frightening to watch.  The opera is about death, so I suppose this is one extreme.


After she dies, a new mother superior is sent in from outside:  Madame Lidoine.  Adrianne Pieczonka played her very low key.

Blanche provides the story.  She loves the private life and prayer, but news of the outside world seeps into the seclusion of the convent.  The nuns agree to commit to becoming martyrs.  Even Constance agrees.  All but Blanche agree.

Her brother comes to warn her she is in danger.  The priest is removed from his position and tries to escape.  Finally they are all arrested and forced to give up their nun clothing for "normal" clothes.  At this point Blanche escapes and finds her brother.  She learns that her father has gone to the guillotine.  She rejoins them right at the end.  We hear the sound of the guillotine falling.

Isabel is such a spectacular performer.  She gives us beauty, emotional connection, great singing and her own personal magnetism.  She keeps the stream of emotion going.

This opera is deeper than opera usually is.  Altogether it was a great performance with emotional and musical intensity and exceptional theatrical clarity.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Lisette Oropesa wins Beverly Sills Award


After just winning the Richard Tucker Prize, Lisette Oropesa has now received the Beverly Sills Award from the Metropolitan Opera.  Congratulations.


Thursday, May 02, 2019

Hannigan does Weill



Barbara Hannigan sings Youkali of Kurt Weill with the pianist Alexandre Tharaud. Song recorded for Radio France.  I don't think I knew he wrote songs in French.  We don't want to go too long without some Weill.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Two Operas about Women


Conductor:  Ryan Murray (new opera theater director)
Stage Director:  Gia Battista
Piano:  Renee Harris

California State University Sacramento performed two operas last night. 

Game of Chance by Seymour Barab

First knitter:  Taylor Graham
Second knitter:  Katie Thorpe
Third knitter:  Valerie Loera
The representative:  Justin Ramm-Damron

This is the second time for this opera at Sac State.  So what is the attraction?  Three women are knitting their lives away and wish for something else.  The attraction is that each of them gets a nice solo scene.  A man comes to take them away to their dream.  At the end they are discontented and wish they had asked for more.  As a person who became a systems analyst in her 40s, this seems absurd.  Why settle?  There's not a lot that can be done with this opera.

fichu

Amelia Goes to the Ball by Gian-Carlo Menotti

Amelia:  Angela Yam
The Friend:  Valerie Loera
The Husband:  Michael Carey
The Lover:  Aaron Gallington
The Chief of Police:  Justin Ramm-Damron
First Maid:  Taylor Graham
Second Maid:  Monica Serrano

This is fun.  There is nothing in this opera that is actually about a ball.  It's all about getting there.  At the start the maids are helping Amelia dress while her friend urges her to hurry.  I have included the above so that all may see what a fichu looks like.  Amelia searches for hers without success, thus causing the delay.

Before she finds it husband arrives home.  He accuses her of having a lover, which she admits on the condition that he will take her to the ball.  He lives upstairs.  Husband goes looking and lover enters.  The Lover was played very much for laughs.  Aaron Gallington was an amusing physical comic with lots of odd looking gestures.  The opera ends with husband knocked out and taken to the hospital, lover accused of theft and taken off by the police, and finally with Amelia going off to the ball with the Chief of Police.  We have to assume that all is well.

This opera is a vehicle for the woman who sings Amelia, in our case Angela Yam who was impressive.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Camerata Deia


Camerata Deia is an ensemble of varying composition that came to Sacramento last night from their home base in Spain to conclude this season's Millennium Concert Series.  Two of our pieces included piano, so I have included a picture that shows one.  They played.

Joaquin Turina's Piano Quartet in A minor Op.67 (1931) in three movements.  The program seems to be full of mistakes.  This one says Turina's dates are 1833-1897 while Wikipedia says 1882-1949.  Based on the sound of the music, I am inclined to go with the latter.  There are hints of modernism but nothing too extreme.

Enrique Granados's Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.49 (1894) in three movements.  The program identified a fourth movement which did not exist.  I liked this piece.

Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 (1825) in four movements.  This is for two string quartets together.  The third movement was interestingly named Scherzo:  Allegro leggierissimo.[the most amount of leggiero].  You remember a leggiero tenor?  This would sort of translate to the most amount of not legato.  There was a lot of bow bouncing.  A 16 year old might get off on this.  It's a fun piece.

This concert series usually emphasizes chamber ensembles.  I liked the music selection.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Ariodante


Gianluca Capuano: Conductor
Christof Loy: Production

Nathan Berg: King of Scotland (bass)
Kathryn Lewek: Ginevra, his daughter (soprano)
Cecilia Bartoli: Prince Ariodante, her betrothed (originally a castrato)
Rolando Villazón: Lurcanio, his brother (tenor)
Christophe Dumaux:  Duke Polinesso (contralto countertenor)
Sandrine Piau: Dalinda, Ginevra's attendant (soprano)
Kristofer Lundin:  Odoardo (tenor)

This is the Salzburg production of Handel's Ariodante starring the one and only Cecilia Bartoli.  They have found an excellent soprano who is smaller than her to play her love.  The presence of many men in business suits makes it regie.  At the very beginning Cecilia speaks to us in Italian to explain her story.  The set is large and almost blank.

Cecilia's entrance is made in a full suit of armor.  One cannot stop staring at her.  In her first aria after the king has declared Ariodante to be his heir, she sings all that coloratura while getting increasingly drunk.  I didn't know this opera was a comedy.  Villazon prevents her from falling down.  On the eve of the wedding there is a party where people dance in period costumes, including Ariodante and Ginevra. The bits where Cecilia dances are relatively short but enjoyable.  So far so good. 

The plot is one of those she loves him, while he loves someone else, et.  Polinesso is the villain.  He plots to steal Ginevra.  Dalinda loves Polinesso, and Lucanio loves Dalinda.  Polinesso bribes Dalinda to disguise herself as Ginevra to fool Ariodante.  He succeeds with this ruse and drops one of Ginevra's dresses on the floor outside her room.  Ariodante sings "scherza infida" and puts the dress on.

The efforts to bring the story to life seem very successful to me.  Ginevra laments the loss of Ariodante, but when he returns, he's wearing his beard and the dress Polinesso gave him, and Ginevra freaks out.  Suddenly she's interested in all the other men around her.  Hmmm.

This entire opera is performed with great emotional intensity.  If you've followed the news about this, you know that Ariodante eventually turns into Cecilia Bartoli.  So then she's singing and smoking a cigar at the same time.  It doesn't look lit, but....  When I was married long ago, my husband smoked a pipe, and I swear he would blow smoke rings exactly like that.  I swear.  This indicates a level of expertise.

It has a peculiar but happy ending.  It is nice to see Rolando, and Kathryn Lewek was marvelous.  Hail La Bartoli.  I did kind of like the beard.

The production is about gender ambiguity.  At the beginning our hero doesn't seem very happy while at the end he/she is full of smiles.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Tanya Végváry Plescia pianist



Berceuse by Tanya Vegvary (2015)
Lullaby for Elijah by Tanya Vegvary (2010)
Sonata in Bb Major, Molto moderato by Franz Schubert (1828)
-Interval-
Chopin, Etudes Opus 25 No, 1, 2, 3
Chopin, Fantasy Impromptu Opus 66
Waiting for a Call by Tanya Vegvary (2018)
Geary Street by Tanya Vegvary (2005)  [The one in San Francisco]

I attended the Saturday Club performance of Tanya Végváry Plescia last night.  She has a school called the Sacramento Piano Conservatory where she performed for us.  She explained that this way she gets to play her own piano which is voiced heavy in the bass, as she prefers.

Her existence and the existence of her school was new to me.  The test of a pianist is Chopin, of course, and she passed.  She showed plenty of rubato and played as loud as necessary.  She said he's her favorite, and her own music seemed to descend from this style. 

I'll have to keep my eye out for her.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

La Forza del Destino at ROH


Original director: Christof Loy
Conductor: Antonio Pappano

Leonora: Anna Netrebko
Don Alvaro: Jonas Kaufmann
Don Carlo di Vargas: Ludovic Tézier
Padre Guardiano: Ferruccio Furlanetto
Fra Melitone: Alessandro Corbelli
Preziosilla: Veronica Simeoni
Marquis of Calatrava: Robert Lloyd
Curra: Roberta Alexander
Alcalde: Michael Mofidian

This production of La Forza del Destino from the Royal Opera in London emphasizes the already chaotic nature of this opera.  The plot is enhanced by staging the overture with scenes from the childhood of siblings Leonora and Don Carlo.  It is clear that Don Carlo hates his sister from long before her boyfriend shot their father.   A grown up Don Carlo is still playing with a red yo-yo from these scenes.  This is a visual clue so you will recognize Don Carlo as a grown up.

The opening scene of the shooting is by far the best staging I have seen of this difficult scene. Wonderful. You must believe that he intends no harm when he throws the gun to the floor. A further enhancement in the staging comes with projections of this death scene to show how it lives in Leonora's memory.

I love this chaotic opera, primarily for the music--it is some of the best Verdi--but would like very much to love it as theater as well.  It never quite works.  But here the opening is true to the plot and clearly outlined.  With our love of guns we still must ask ourselves, "What is he doing in her house with a gun in the first place?"

I'll admit I could do entirely without Preziosilla and her scenes.  Now that I realize "rataplan" came from Meyerbeer, I'm still not sure anything about the opera is improved by it.  Silliness in the deadly serious opera seems like nonsense.  It represents soldiers relaxing between killing people.  When Leonora sees her brother in this place, she knows she must go into hiding.

It's a terrible opera with glorious music and in this case spectacular singing.  Netrebko represents the
fear and horror that haunts Leonora with wonderful intensity.  Jonas is his usual spectacular self.  Tézier is a beautiful man who portrays Don Carlo's evil nature better than seems possible.  All this great music is wasted on useless vengeance.  I guess Rigoletto has a similar plot but hating your boss and hating your sister are rather different.  At least Rigoletto loves someone.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Rigoletto in Sacramento


Conductor: Michael Christie
Director: Michael Mori

Rigoletto……………………Joshua Jeremiah (baritone)
Duke…………………………Rafael Moras (tenor)
Gilda…………………………Monica Dewey (soprano)
Sparafucile………………..Kenneth Kellogg (bass)
Maddalena………………..Julie Anne Miller (mezzo)

This concert performance of Verdi's Rigoletto at the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera had a real director who with a few tables and chairs successfully staged this complex opera in the area in front of the orchestra.  Coordination between the singers and the conductor appeared to be smooth, and occasionally a singer would look out into the audience in a way that looked like more than just wanting to face the audience, so I could not resist turning to see if there was something they were looking at.  Yes.  Large screens under the balcony focused on the conductor.  Professional hands at work.  Small details of the plot were clarified.

This is the last performance of the classic season in the Sacramento Community Center.  Next year Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera will perform in the Memorial Auditorium, Fremont Presbyterian (the presence of a  quality organ suggests a concert that includes organ), and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.  In the fall of 2020 they will return to the community center.

The singing was top notch.  Our Rigoletto both sang and acted well.  One forgets that the story is about Rigoletto until such an excellent actor shows us his emotions.  Rafael Moras sang the Duke of Mantua, very much a singing role.  He has a bright sound that many would love and a spectacularly penetrating high C.  We predict good things.

I liked the child-like portrayal of Gilda by Monica Dewey.  I also liked her Caro nome.  She is young and has already had her European debut.  Sparafucile was a real bass with a spectacular low f.  Everyone took their high notes.

We clearly have professional casting at work.  Congratulations for a marked step up in the quality of this semi-staged Verdi performance.  We all continue to be astonished that the orchestra improves steadily throughout this period when they have no regular conductor.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Mir ist die Ehre wiederfahren



The horse is utterly irresistible.

Singers Added

AandJ means Anja Harteros and Jonas Kaufmann.  Recently I added Luciano Pavarotti, Dolora Zajick, Sondra Radvanovsky, Pretty Yende, Alessandro Corbelli, Tomasz Konieczny, Stéphanie d'Oustrac.  I create labels for the singers I am interested in.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Cultural Change

I was reading the comments in YouTube, not quite as unsatisfying as you might imagine, and a light bulb went on for me.  In my youth tenors sounded like Placido Domingo and Franco Corelli and men were admired for their macho behavior.  These things actually go together. Wagner, late Verdi and Puccini were the models for sound in all voice types.

Then along came Maria Callas singing operas from the earlier bel canto period but in a somewhat heavier technique.  In those days Norma was the hardest popular role to cast.

In eastern Europe, Russia, Romania, etc., these heavy techniques continue to mark the standard for operatic training for both men and women.  But for the rest of us our tenors are of a lighter model.  We should remember the article in the New York Times in 2014 about New Three Tenors:  Camarena, Brownlee and Florez.  These three tenors, all from the western hemisphere, are all leggiero tenors, tenors with lighter, less legato techniques, and are best suited for the music of Rossini and Donizetti.

What else has changed during this period?  We have lived through the women's movement.  Another thing that has happened over the same period is the rise in popularity of the countertenor, a voice that sounds mostly but not entirely like a woman.

So there it is.  Life has changed.  There are more women in congress than ever before, women occasionally conduct symphonies, and unwavering masculinity is no longer a standard for men.  They might be gay.  They might be countertenors. 

I confess that I have not seen this correlation before.  I cannot explain why.  But it follows the concept that changes in life are reflected in changes in art.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Lisette wins Richard Tucker


The Richard Tucker Foundation Award for the year 2019 goes to soprano Lisette Oropesa.  Lisette is a personal favorite and well deserves this award.  I first noticed Lisette when she sang the role Lisette in Puccini's La Rondine in HD in 2009.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Die Walküre in HD


Brünnhilde..............Christine Goerke
Siegmund, brother.....Stuart Skelton
Sieglinde, sister.........Eva-Maria Westbroek
Wotan...................Greer Grimsley
Fricka, Wotan's wife.........Jamie Barton
Hunding.................Günther Groissböck

Conductor...............Philippe Jordan
Production..............Robert Lepage
Hostess..............Deborah Voigt

Opera is the greatest of all art forms because it centers on so many great female characters.  The opera is almost always about them.  Men tried to keep it all to themselves for as long as they could, but as soon as opera became commercial, that was over.

Wednesday I saw Wagner's Die Walküre delayed from last Saturday. I have seen this work many times, but this was very romantic for some reason.  I followed the story of Wotan better than ever.  In the previous opera, Das Rheingold, he is Fricka's husband, and they are happy but have no children.  He gains power by trading away the gold for Valhalla.  He is all powerful and uses his power to do whatever he wants.  By Walkure he is the father of everyone else in the story except Fricka and maybe Hunding.  He's been busy and Fricka is pissed.  All of the 9 Valkyries are his daughters by Erda.  Siegmund and Sieglinde are his children by a she wolf.

They did act bows to avoid making people stay in costume all the way to the end.  Act I is Siegmund, Sieglinde and Hunding.  The twins have not seen one another since the day their house burned down, killing their mother.  Siegmund has wandered alone while Sieglinde was forced to marry Hunding.  The singing in this act was beautiful.. Eva-Maria created the role in the original mounting of this production.  Her partner at that time was Jonas Kaufmann.  They truly looked like brother and sister.  Stuart sang well this time, but Eva has grown in the role.  She was wonderful, with great dramatic presence.

The staging was slightly different.  The planks at the front of the stage didn't stick up in front of the singers this time which looked much better.  When he sings, "du bist der Lenz" I want something spectacular to happen.  I want to feel that in that moment spring has arrived. 

In Act II Wotan, Fricka and Brünnhilde arrive.  Christine is very saucy at this point.  Her Brünnhilde has truly spectacular emotional range.  She shows us joy, love, pride, sympathy, sorrow.  It is the greatness of this performance that makes this production of Die Walküre the best that I have seen.  Wotan asks to see the joy again, and she justly refuses.

I have seen Jamie Barton's Fricka before and loved it again here.  I have also seen Greer Grimsley's Wotan before and found him very much improved.

Act III starts with Valkyries waving.  A bit too silly for me.  However, the act ended well.

Philippe Jordan brought us the emotional range that appeared in the interpretations of all the actors.  I truly loved this.  The Met seems to have realized that Christine Goerke would be something we would all want to see.  Thank you.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

San Francisco Opera Season 2019-2020

The San Francisco Opera has announced its next season.   The first important thing to notice is that there are only 8 operas.

Gounod's Romeo and Juliet

Romeo Bryan Hymel,  Juliet Nadine Sierra.  This pair should be able to generate some heat, the key to a successful Romeo and Juliet.I notice they are not singing in our performance, so we will have to change.  Yves Abel will conduct.
1 September 6–October 1, 2019

Britten's Billy Budd

Captain Vere William Burden, Billy Budd John Chest *, John Claggart Christian Van Horn, Mr. Redburn Philip Horst, Mr. Flint Wayne Tigges with staging by Tony Award-winning director Michael Grandage.  Lawrence Renes will conduct.
September 7–September 22, 2019

Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro

Figaro Michael Sumuel, Susanna Jeanine De Bique *, Count Almaviva Levente Molnár *, Countess Almaviva Jennifer Davis *, Cherubino Serena Malfi *.  I am not familiar with these singers.  This is part of a multi-season trilogy of all three Mozart/da Ponte operas with a narrative linking their stories.  Henrik Nánási will conduct.
October 11–November 1, 2019

Puccini's Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut Lianna Haroutounian [Nedda this season], Chevalier des Grieux Brian Jagde [Mario Cavaradossi this season], conducted by Nicola Luisotti.
November 8–26, 2019

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel

Hansel Sasha Cooke [Orlando this season], Gretel Heidi Stober [Zdenka this season], The Witch Robert Brubaker.  Christopher Franklin will conduct.  This is not the food fight production but comes from London.
November 15–December 7, 2019

Verdi's Ernani

Ernani Russell Thomas, Elvira Michelle Bradley *, Don Carlo Simone Piazzola *, Don Ruy Gomez de Silva Christian Van Horn.  James Gaffigan will conduct.
June 7–July 2, 2020

Handel's Partenope

Partenope Louise Alder *, Rosmira Daniela Mack, Arsace Franco Fagioli *, Armindo Jakub Józef Orliński *, Emilio Alek Shrader, Ormonte Hadleigh Adams.  This is a repeat from 5 years ago with some of the same cast.  Our Arsace this time will be the fabulous countertenor Franco Fagioli.  Christopher Moulds will conduct.
June 12–June 27, 2020

Mason Bates' The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs Edward Parks *, Laurene Powell Jobs Sasha Cooke, Steve Wozniak Garrett Sorenson, Kōbun Chino Otogawa Wei Wu *.  This is co-produced with the Santa Fe Opera where it has already played.  Our cast is the same.  Quote from Wikipedia:  "The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs was the most popular new opera in Santa Fe Opera’s history and one of the top-selling operas in the company's history."  Michael Christie will conduct.
June 16–July 3, 2020