Grandmother/Old Lady/Finn Woman
Owen Wil The Snow Queen by Hans Abrahamsen from Denmark
was written for Barbara Hannigan. This is her Fach. It is more of a sound scape than an opera, though the singing, in English, is reasonably pleasant. Hannigan can sing anything. It is dated 2019 and premiered in Copenhagen. Here it streamed live on Saturday from the Bayerische Staatsoper.
As soon as two nurses appear, we know we are in a hospital of some kind. There is snow everywhere, even inside. To begin an older woman is reading to children about a queen bee in the snow. Then the story shifts to people. Gerda is trying to rescue her husband Kay. The Snow Queen is a baritone. Just go with it.
The star here is the orchestra who create a rather fascinating mixture of sounds that never settle into anything tonal. It's very heavy on percussion.
We move into the forest where Gerda meets two crows, a Prince and a Princess. They tell her they will help her, but she must rest. This music is very pleasing. Gerda is looking for Kay who lies quietly and stares. Gerda and Kay have known one another since childhood. This is communicated by showing younger people at different ages dressed in the same outfits. One of the younger Kay characters sings but the adult Kay so far only stares. Where did they find someone who could go so long without blinking? There is an uncanny Barbara Hannigan look alike who says nothing.
Each character has multiple incarnations, but only one of each sings. That means that most of the story telling comes from the production. You could stage this completely differently.
Did I like it? It's rather like a long tone poem. I wouldn't need to do it again. Barbara Hannigan was her usual magnificent self.
The KK Awards reflect my experience of opera from the virtually rural location of Sacramento, California. We have no full time opera company, and as I get older it gets harder and harder to commute to San Francisco. As a result, I must often work hard to keep up with international events. I will have to be forgiven for including performances not strictly
inside the 2019 calendar year. I limit myself to things that only go
back a couple of years and were first seen by me this year.
In a way this was a Cecilia Bartoli year, at least for me. A lot of my experience of European opera depends upon finding copies to view. In addition to two new operas, she has also released an excellent CD of the usual Farinelli focus. This came in second in Opera News. Because Cecilia is the manager and the star performer in Salzburg, she may sing whatever she likes in whatever production she likes. She enjoys to present herself in a wide variety of styles and looks for our enjoyment. The opera world is richer for it. A standard opera manager might not wish to take such risks.
I viewed a few films of Broadway musical revivals and added an award for that. Here is a brief explanation of my categories.
There were plenty of choices for verismo, and I'm not really sure Die tote Stadt exactly qualifies, but the Bayerische Staatsoper refused to stream it. This left us with Jonas Kaufmann only in La Forza del Destino from ROH to view from far away America. I consider this a major scandal. Three magnificent operas starring Anna Netrebko--Tosca, La Forza del Destino and Adraina Lecouvreur--made there way to my corner of the world. I apologize for not revealing all of my viewing sources for fear that they will disappear.
Last year was Lisette Oropesa's year in the KK Awards, but this year she won both the Richard Tucker and Beverly Sills prizes. Brava.
BEST NEW OPERA AWARD While I list above all the operas that are new to me this year, I only award to those that are actually relatively new to everyone. If I were You by Jake Heggie, Hoiby's Bon Appetit, Kuusisto's Ice, Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves are all new enough to qualify. All were very good, but Bon Appetit is just a bon bon, too tiny for an opera house. The Heggie would need a fully professional performance to evaluate. I award to Breaking the Waves in a great production.
BEST BAROQUE OPERA AWARD Here the nominees are Vivaldi's Juditha Triumphans from the Dutch National Opera, Handel's Orlando from San Francisco Opera and Handel's Ariodante from Salzburg (included because I saw it this year, though it was performed in 2017). I award to Ariodante with Cecilia Bartoli who is hard to beat in anything. Suddenly the plot becomes clear with Bartoli in the lead. This is where we first see Cecilia in a beard. Plus she sings and dances. Orlando gets an honorable mention for good singing and an acceptable regie production.
Marcellina, Bartolo, Count, Curzio, Figaro
BEST OF GLUCK AND MOZART AWARD The nominees are two versions of Gluck's Orfeo, one from West Edge and one from Chicago, also Gluck's Alceste from Munich, Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte from the Met and Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro from San Francisco. While Gluck seems to be performed more and more frequently, I think I still prefer Mozart. I especially enjoyed Le Nozze di Figaro where everyone dressed in outfits from the American revolution and award to this. Mozart should always be performed by young singers as it was here.
BEST BEL CANTO OPERA AWARD The nominees are limited this year: Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri from Salzburg with Cecilia Bartoli (included because I saw it this year though it was performed last year) and Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment from the Met. It is hard to choose between these two glorious comedies. Both were excellent with excellent singing and acting. Because it brought me something completely new, I award to L'Italiana in Algeri which is rapidly becoming my favorite Bartoli film of all time. This is the year of Cecilia who also produced a new recording and got a new job as Intendant of Opéra de Monte-Carlo.
BEST VERDI OPERA AWARD Our Verdi nominees are Rigoletto from Bregenz, I Masnadieri from La Scala, La Forza del Destino from the ROH with Netrebko and Kaufmann. The Bregenz Rigoletto was extremely entertaining with its extraordinary set. I loved I Masnadieri because it included the current new star Lisette Oropesa. But is that really enough? It's a terrible opera. I seem to be awarding to entertainment values which means the award goes to Rigoletto from Bregenz am Bodensee. Such an amazing set I have never seen. I notice they are repeating it in 2020.
BEST WAGNER OPERA AWARD The nominees are Die Walküre from the Met, Tannhäuser from Bayreuth. I don't know if either one of these deserves an award. Tannhäuser as a clown in a traveling circus stretched my credulity too far. No award.
BEST ROMANTIC OPERA NOT VERDI OR WAGNER AWARD Faust from the ROH with Michael Fabiano, Manon from the Met with Lisette Oropesa and Michael Fabiano, Die Fledermaus from Vienna, Salome from Munich, Roméo et Juliette from San Francisco with Nadine Sierra. This is a lovely set of operas. If I have to pick just one, it has to be Manon. Runner up is Die Fledermaus toward which I have a strong bias.
BEST VERISMO OPERA AWARD Tosca from Aix (Angel Blue), Tosca from La Scala (Netrebko), La Boheme (in space) from Paris, Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur (Netrebko and Rachvelishvili) from the Met, La Fanciulla del West from Munich, Turandot from the Met. There is a lot of variety of concept in this set of operas, but I simply loved Adriana Lecouvreur, especially for the spectacular singing.The people who didn't like it seemed to be comparing it to reality, something which I regard as irrelevant in an opera production. An opera is never a documentary.
BEST BROADWAY REVIVAL AWARD I haven't really had this category
before, but this year I viewed and blogged about Broadway revivals of Gershwin's
Porgy and Bess with Audra McDonald, Cabaret with Alan Cumming and Rodgers' The King and I with Kelli O'Hara. These happened in the last few years, but I watched them this year. I can't give up my operatic Porgy for this Broadway version. I think the best of the three was The King and I though it might be considered very old fashioned.
BEST MODERN OPERA AWARD The nominees are Poulenc's Dialogue des Carmélites from the Met, Britten's Billy Budd from San Francisco, and Glass' Akhnaten from the Met. Carmélites was just as it should be with a great performance by Isabel Leonard, but Akhnaten was simply beyond imagining. Can I award to both? Congratulations to all. Both concern themselves with spiritual values which brings deeper feeling to the experience.
BEST REGIE PRODUCTION AWARD Akhnaten. Did it really look like Egypt? No. But the effect on ones psyche was overwhelming. They successfully staged a lot of juggling. One worried that the balls would be dropped, but it added to the hypnotic effect of anything Glass.
WORST REGIE PRODUCTION AWARD The nominees are Berlioz' Les Troyens from Paris, and Tannhäuser from Bayreuth where the lead character appears in a clown outfit. If you ignore the clown outfit, it works. But I felt genuinely offended by the Les Troyens production where Dido is in a mental hospital. Will the disrespect of Berlioz by the French never end?
BEST SINGING AWARD Anita Rachvelishvili in Adriana Lecouvreur. She just gets better and better.
BEST OPERA OF THE YEAR This has to go to Akhnaten. Who knew that juggling would work as an opera staging? Or that a Philip Glass opera could go so deep?
I have been having an argument on the internet. This is ridiculous I realize. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that I blog for fun, to give myself something to think about when I go to the opera. Unlike most bloggers, I have actual credentials. My doctorate is in vocal literature and pedagogy and it's from the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, a very prestigious school. Opera is precisely within this subject area.
And in addition I wrote a music history book, though admittedly it is in the form of an outline. https://kinderkuchenhistory.blogspot.com/
This book has the specific purpose of guiding people through changes in musical style over time. So creating style periods and deciding what goes in them is what it is about.
These periods are determined by the musical materials and not by any literary considerations. For instance, early opera takes its verbal material primarily from classical [Greece, Rome] subjects, either mythical or historical. That would make it sound like renaissance rather than baroque because it is the classical literature revived in Europe in the renaissance that makes it renaissance. But music historians concern themselves only with musical style which makes a huge jump at this time.
In the renaissance the predominating contrapuntal style originated in the Netherlands, and even most of the composers came from there. Orlando di Lasso. The Florentine inventors of opera ignored all of that and composed in a style with only bass, melody and chords. The purpose was to shift focus to the text. Over the course of its first century opera spread to other parts of Italy and then around Europe. Handel went to London. Renaissance style didn't completely disappear, but almost. It was called the prima prattica.
I bring this up at all to point out that music historians do not consult literary sources to decide their style periods.
Which brings us to verismo. Here's what I wrote:
was the operatic version of literary realism, shown in the use of
naturalistic recitative, the disappearance of coloratura and
commonplace, often violent subject matter. The operas were Cavalleria rusticana (1890) by Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945), I Pagliacci (1892) by Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1858-1919), and Manon Lescaut (1893), La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900) and Madame Butterfly (1904) by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924).
No, this was not borrowed from Wikipedia. I wrote all this in the late 70's and doubt that Wikipedia existed then. The list of operas that remain in the repertoire is small. I would add Francesco Cilea. All the other operas by these composers are not literary verismo but cannot be distinguished on a purely musical basis. Musical style periods invented by music historians concern themselves with only musical features. So I lump all of them into the same bucket and call it verismo. This is not a mistake nor is it a crime. If there was something else to call it--post romantic Italian maybe--I might choose that. The listed operas are all there is of verismo today.
For another perspective on 2019 see the KK Awards.
list is limited to performances that took place in 2019. This was
another year without travel, but there is so much on the internet these
days that it hardly matters. This year I reviewed 50 performances,
including 1 DVD, 8 HDs, 12 live, 3 movies of musicals, 3 oldies from Met on Demand, and 22 Streams. 14 operas were new to me. Some of my favorite viewings this year came from performances in previous years and don't appear in this list. It was an ok but not very exciting year for me.
Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. I love it when they wail and you
cannot beat Anna Netrebko and Anita Rachvelishvili when it comes to
wailing. This came to me in HD from the Met. ** Met HD
Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment. This also came to me live in HD from the Met and starred Pretty Yende and Javier Camarena in outstanding performances. They were both lively and outgoing in their roles. ** Met HD
Poulenc's Dialogue des Carmélites. This is a third item live in HD
from the Met starring Karita Mattila and Isabel Leonard. It is a
magnificent almost all female opera done extremely well. ** Met HD
Hoiby's Bon Appétit!. An opera has been made of an episode of Julia Child's cooking show. It was seen live streamed from Iowa. The surprise here was to find out how few Europeans were familiar with Julia Child. She cooked while she sang, and the audience got a taste. **
Verdi's Rigoletto. This was an outdoor summer festival item from Bregenz and was chosen for the spectacular set.
Heggie's If I Were You. This was composed for the Merola Program of the San Francisco Opera, and performed by its graduates. I attended the world premier. **
Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves. This was produced in excellent style by West Edge in the Bay Area. We like to recognize all the good new opera. **
This recital by Joyce DiDonato, mezzo, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, piano, of Schubert's Die Winterreise has a gimmick. This is a long letter from her beloved which she reads as she sings. This overcomes the masculine oriented text and allows her to read the text. Interesting. It also allows her to dramatize more than normally is done in a recital. She begins seated and stands later on. I think Joyce enjoys Lieder as theater. Why not?
She is performing with the lid all the way up on the piano, something that doesn't often happen in a piano vocal recital. This may be the explanation for my experience of poor balance between voice and piano.
I love this cycle and enjoyed Joyce singing it. It won't pull me away from Jonas Kaufmann's version.
First one must look at standard repertoire. The 100 operas list of most frequently performed operas divides roughly chronologically like this:
Mozart. Standard opera repertoire begins with Mozart and includes 5 operas with no opera seria. I might add any Gluck reform operas here.
Bel canto. The next big group is Italian bel canto by Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti and includes 6 operas.
Verdi. He could be lumped with bel canto but is too significant for that. By himself he counts 10 operas which is more than the other three composers combined.
Wagner. With 8 standard repertoire operas, he makes a group by himself. Humperdinck with his only one opera I would lump with Wagner, since he is Wagner's only true disciple.
Romantic not Verdi or Wagner. We have 10 operas in this category, including operas by Gounod (1), Bizet (1), Dvorak (1), Offenbach (1), Johann Strauss (1), Tchaikovsky (2) and other composers, including Berlioz and some operetta composers. Anyone who composes in the romantic style could be included here.
Verismo. This is a list of 7 operas, 5 of them by Puccini. All of Puccini is included here whether or not the opera is truly verismo (deals with stories from the lower classes). I am aware of the fuzzy use of terminology, and it is not done from ignorance. For me this is a musical style that adopts features of Wagner into the larger Italian style, including making the opera through composed. Cilea, Giordano, Mascagni, etc. Sometimes I just call this the BEST PUCCINI AWARD.
Strauss, R. This is only 3 operas. If I have seen a few operas by Richard Strauss, I include him as a separate group. Otherwise he groups with the Romantic not Verdi or Wagner.
The 100 operas list does not include any operas before Mozart or after Richard Strauss. Everything before Mozart is lumped into Baroque except the reform operas of Gluck. As a young man Gluck composed in the currently popular Neapolitan opera style. He invented reform opera which is not significant enough to be a complete category. I lump his reform operas in with Mozart, his younger contemporary.
Baroque. This consists mostly of operas by Handel but extends all the way back to Monteverdi, the first significant opera composer. Italian musicology is very active now and may produce some performable operas from this period.
That leaves us with everything after Strauss. If I can lump all of Baroque together into a single period, why not all of modern opera?
Modern. Styles include Impressionism (mostly just one opera), Expressionism (mostly just two operas), Modernism (A lot of operas, none of them popular), Minimalism (Glass, Adams), English (mostly Britten), Janáček, etc. Jazz operas appear occasionally. People still compose atonal music. There are never enough examples of any given style to compare a group of operas, so I stick with this large category.
I am flexible in the observation of my categories. This year I saw three revivals of American musicals and included a category for that. It will probably disappear next year. I add or remove a category whenever I like.
These are not standard musical style periods, but are the broad categories into which opera repertoire falls. The point is to try to make a basis for comparison. If you look back, you will see that they are constantly in flux. The KK Awards began in 2012.
Every year or at least four times:
BEST BAROQUE OPERA AWARD: 2019, 2018, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012
BEST MOZART OPERA AWARD: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2012
BEST BEL CANTO OPERA AWARD: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012
BEST VERDI OPERA AWARD: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012
BEST WAGNER OPERA AWARD: 2019, 2016, 2015, 2013
BEST ROMANTIC OPERA NOT VERDI OR WAGNER AWARD: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013
BEST NEW OPERA AWARD: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012
BEST MODERN OPERA AWARD: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015
BEST RICHARD STRAUSS AWARD: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014
Switched from Puccini to Verismo:
BEST PUCCINI AWARD: 2014, 2013, 2012
BEST VERISMO OPERA AWARD: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015
One time only, usually special circumstances:
BEST GRAND OPERA AWARD: 2018
BEST JANÁČEK OPERA AWARD: 2016
BEST LULU AWARD: 2015
BEST FALSTAFF AWARD: 2013
BEST FRENCH OPERA AWARD: 2012
BEST BROADWAY REVIVAL AWARD: 2019
These are all musical categories except for the Broadway revival category which isn't really opera. I also award for strictly theatrical reasons, but separately.
Conductor - Riccardo Chailly,
Director - Davide Livermore
Anna Netrebko - Tosca
Francesco Meli - Cavaradossi
Luca Salsi - Scarpia
This production of Tosca for the opening of La Scala is constantly in motion. All the required elements are in place when required, but after they swiftly disappear. Why is this necessary?
Anna's Tosca may not be the best sung ever heard, but no one plays the diva to her level. She knows how to flaunt her goods as possibly no other Tosca before her. She is aided by the blocking: after she has given a flower to the madonna, she later takes it back. So it's the thought that counts?
The second act takes place in the Palazzo Farnese which in real life is decorated with elaborate wall paintings. Instead of paintings, we have live people standing in boxes above the stage. This seems exhausting. If you were in the house, you might have missed this, but the cameras show mouths moving and so forth. And when our girl is saying "mori" to Scarpia, she is choking him to death. Three stabs were not enough. She seems to regret it, though.
Luca Salsi as Scarpia is rather more friendly than I have seen. I will assume that Netrebko did not complain. He makes a wonderful, very slimy Scarpia.
Meli is ok. He doesn't usually rise above ok. He's cute. There are a lot of gimmicks in this production. In the end Tosca "goes to god" by floating upwards. I'm not sure the gimmicks enhance the overall emotion. I seem to always enjoy Netrebko. I think it is her natural intensity.
P.S. I forgot to mention that this was the original, longer version of Tosca, also called the critical edition. In fact here is a reference to the critical edition from Ricordi. This comes with a picture of Netrebko.
"On the occasion of a press conference given this Tuesday, December 3
at 17 pm in the garnier room, the princess of Hanover, President of the
board of directors of the Monte-Carlo Opera, announced an announcement
Important: Cecilia Bartoli will succeed Jean-Louis Grinda as the head of the Monte-Carlo Opera on January 1, 2023.
"Cecilia Bartoli will become the first woman to lead the opera of
Monte-Carlo. She will also keep the direction of the musicians of the
Lately all the news is about Cecilia. This will overlap with her contract in Salzburg.
Porgy and Bess Performances Added at the Met
Due to overwhelming public demand for the Met’s acclaimed new production of Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, three additional performances have been added to the schedule, on February 4, 12, and 15, 2020.
This is certainly good news.
Vittorio Grigolo has been fired by both the ROH and the Met for behavior problems. I'm not exactly sure what he is accused of but it's undoubtedly part of the current trend. This is bad. I am on again off again with him. I hated his Werther but thought he was the best Hoffmann ever.
FINALLY the San Francisco Opera has named a new music director: Eun Sun Kim, a woman from South Korea. She will assume the title in August 2021.
She first appeared at SFO to conduct Rusalka last June. For some reason I no longer remember I chose to skip this opera. I apologize. Everything I heard about it said it was fantastic. There isn't much to go on, but she has conducted extensively throughout Europe. See here for details.
She is still singing very well. Here is a full list of tracks for Farinelli:
1. ‘Nell’Attendere Mio Bene’ from Polifemo by Porpora
2. ‘Vaghi Amori, Grazie Amate’ from La Festa d’Imeneo by Porpora
3. ‘Morte Col Fiero Aspetto’ from Marc’Antonio E Cleopatra by Hasse
4. ‘Lontan… Lusingato Dalla Speme’ from Polifemo by Porpora*
5. ‘Chi Non Sente Al Mio Dolore’ from La Merope by Broschi
6. ‘Come Nave In Ria Tempesta’ from Semiramide Regina Dell’Assiria by Porpora
7. ‘Mancare O Dio Mi Sento’ from Adriano In Siria by Giacomelli
8. ‘Si, Traditor Tu Sei’ from La Merope by Broschi*
9. ‘Questi Al Cor Finora Ignoti’ from La Morte d’Abel by Caldara
10. ‘Signor La Tua Speranza… A Dio Trono, Impero A Dio’ from Marc’Antonio E Cleopatra by Hasse
11. ‘Alto Giove’ from Polifemo by Porpora
*Denotes a world premiere recording
The beard first appeared in her Salzburg performance of Handel's Ariodante. The castrato Farinelli probably couldn't grow a beard, but never mind. She is someone I love, and she looks great in her beard. There's even a short film. She begins with the Ariodante makeup and then switches to her own hair.
Farinelli was very popular in London during Handel's opera period.
Amazon tells me that I cannot receive my album until January, but in spite of that, I may listen now. I may also download now. The pieces on this album are mostly by Porpora, a wonderful Italian composer of vocal music who has slipped out of the repertoire. It is wonderful that we get to hear him now by way of la Bartoli.
Other composers include Broschi, Farinelli's brother. His first aria is rather low key for this era.
The sweetness and flexibility of her voice is still with us, as is also the complete originality of her interpretations. She loves this music and wants us to love it, too.
The final track, Alto Giove by Porpora, is the most well known of this repertoire and has a different orchestra accompanying it. Il Giardino Armonico led by Giovanni Antonini accompany most of the tracks, but the final one is accompanied by Les Musiciens du Prince with Gianluca Capuano. She must simply have loved this version. I love it too.
Occasionally operas from the ROH play in a local movie theater here. This time we saw Donizetti's Don Pasquale with Bryn and Olga Peretyatko. This is an excellent role for Bryn. This is regie, of course. When Norina receives a message from Ernesto, it is by way of her mobile phone. Ding.
This opera works pretty well in a modern setting. She's not an imprisoned woman like in so many other Italian comedies. Instead it's the young man who is being disinherited for wanting to marry the girl he loves. In Italian comedies love always will out. One tires of the young people tricking the nasty old man plot. One is after all old oneself.
Akhnaten................Anthony Roth Costanzo (countertenor)
Nefertiti, his wife.....J'Nai Bridges (contralto)
Queen Tye, his mother...Dísella Lárusdóttir (soprano)
Amenhotep III, ghost of his father....Zachary James (speaking)
Aye, Nefertiti's father............Richard Bernstein (bass)
High Priest of Amon............Aaron Blake (tenor)
General Horemhab........Will Liverman (baritone)
This performance of Akhnaten from the Metropolitan Opera is my seventh opera by Philip Glass, the others being Einstein on the Beach (live), Satyagraha (live), Appomattox (live), The Perfect American, Orphée (live), and Hydrogen Jukebox (live). Surely this must make me something of an expert. All around me were experiencing a Glass opera for the first time.
The story is told on three levels.
Captions appear on the screen describing what is going on in this scene. "Coronation of Akhnaten" for example.
There is an English speaking narrator who represents the spirit of Amenhotep III and quotes characters from the opera.
Action by the singers and actors on the stage show the actions.
The narrative method of most operas is missing. People in conversation telling their own emotions does not happen. What does happen that I haven't seen before is juggling. Everyone juggles. Sometimes a juggler would drop his ball, and at the end they all do. I was especially pleased to see an Egyptian tomb painting shown in the intermission of women juggling. So does juggling belong in the list above?
Akhnaten was an idealist, obsessed with the sun, in love with his wife and wishing to separate himself from the politics of his era. I felt that this music and theatrical presentation represented his life in a profound way that could not have been imagined, at least by me.
There was only one real aria for which text was provided: The Hymn to the Sun by Akhnaten. The singing was beautiful if completely abstract. The costumes were gorgeous and represented the exalted nature of their status in Egypt.
As a Glass expert, I declare this to be his masterpiece. Here is an excerpt from the "Hymn to the Sun."
as Anna Leonowens
as King of Siam
Ruthie Ann Miles
as Lady Thiang
Directed by Bartlett Sher
From the perspective of 2019 Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I seems very different. Is this cultural appropriation? We have cute oriental children, a king that goes barefoot, bowing while curling up on the floor, etc. etc. and so forth. Who knows what the true reality is? The English conquered the world and never reconsidered their own values.
The musical is based on the memoirs of Anna Harriette Leonowens which were published after the American civil war, while Uncle Ton's Cabin was still well known. This novel is a topic in Anna's lessons with the children. They notice that this contradicts what their father has taught.
Anna does not come as a conqueror. She is hired to teach the children and receives a salary. She teaches English ideas. But that is why the king has hired her. He wants to find a place in this world filled with European conquerors. He wants to appear to them to be civilized, perhaps realizing that they are filled with cultural prejudices. It's best to just go with it.
Kelli O'Hara projects the classy but not too classy tone of Anna. She sings sweetly and does a nice waltz [oops--polka]. I wasn't too sure about Ken Watanabe at first, but he won me over. Tuptim's lover was a beautiful young man who was not that great as a singer. Ken sang the king's songs resulting in melodies I don't think I've ever really heard before.
Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus comes from the Wiener Staatsoper and streams on OperaVision. Catch it while you can.
Conductor Franz Welser-Möst
Director Otto Schenk
Gabriel von Eisenstein Kurt Streit
Rosalinde Michaela Kaune
Frank Alfred Šramek
Prinz Orlofsky Zoryana
Alfred Rainer Trost
Dr. Falke Markus Eiche
Dr. Blind Peter Simonischek
Adele Daniela Fally
This is as authentic a production of this the most famous of German operettas that you are likely to see, both theatrically and musically. This is the most I have liked Franz Welser-Möst. Of course, the orchestra he is conducting could play this in their sleep, but nevertheless it was stylistically quite wonderful.
The cast were all unfamiliar to me but were filled with joy and great comic intensity. Who wouldn't want to go to a party where everyone was having this much fun. Es lebe Champaigne der Erste. We get all the old jokes. The Viennese understand this better than anyone else.
The Salzburg Festival of 2020 has been announced. This year is the 100 anniversary of the festival, so there will be much celebrating.
Richard Strauss ELEKTRA
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart DON GIOVANNI
Giacomo Puccini TOSCA (Netrebko, Eyvazov, Tézier)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE
Luigi Nono INTOLLERANZA 1960
Gaetano Donizetti DON PASQUALE (Cecilia Bartoli)
Modest Mussorgski BORIS GODUNOW (Ildar Abdrazakov)
Giuseppe Verdi I VESPRI SICILIANI (Plácido Domingo)
Morton Feldman NEITHER
Händel / Mozart DER MESSIAS (Mozart's arrangement of Handel's Messiah orchestrated for an orchestra of his time and translated into German. The San Francisco Symphony performed this when I was in the chorus. At Salzburg it will be staged.)
There will be a distinguished selection of plays in German.
OUVERTURE SPIRITUELLE Pax (Britten War Requiem begins a series of concerts.)
WIENER PHILHARMONIKER (Five concerts, including Wesendonck Lieder w. Garanca).
ORCHESTER ZU GAST
BEETHOVEN-ZYKLUS (8 concerts of piano sonatas.)
Still life — Zeit mit FELDMAN
MOMENTS MUSICAUX (5 concerts with surprise contents)
KAMMERKONZERTE (7 concerts, 3 Beethoven)
LIEDERABENDE (Christian Gerhaher, Matthias Goerne, Benjamin Bernheim, Sonya Yoncheva)
SOLISTENKONZERTE (11 distinguished concerts.)
MOZART-MATINEEN MOZARTEUMORCHESTER (5 concerts)
HERBERT VON KARAJAN YOUNG CONDUCTORS AWARD
YOUNG SINGERS PROJECT
Time to completely overdo. This is the festival to top all festivals, even their own. They are proud to proclaim the presence of Placido Domingo.
Our conductor for this all Mozart program was Michael Christie. In our all Mozart program at the
Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera I didn't notice that he used a baton. He has won a Grammy. This concert took place in Fremont Presbyterian and was split into two concerts.
The program began with Mozart's Symphony No. 41 "Jupiter." The program did not list the movements, as I believe is still traditional. I admit that Mozart's symphonies are more standardized than other composers, but I still like seeing the movements. This was good but not thrilling. Mr. Christie's tempos are a bit fast IMHO.
We were treated to semi-staged opera scenes from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and Le nozze di Figaro. These were remarkably well coordinated since neither the conductor nor the singers could see one another. The following cast listings are made up by me, since nothing in the program lists these.
Ellie Dehn, soprano -- Despina in Cosi, Susanna in Nozze.
Jana McIntyre, soprano -- Fiordili in Cosi, Marcellina in Nozze.
Julie Miller, mezzo-soprano -- Dorabella, in Cosi, Countess in Nozze.
Michael Day, tenor -- Ferrando in Cosi, Basilio in Nozze.
Benjamin Taylor, baritone -- Guglielmo in Cosi, Count Almaviva in Nozze.
James Hayden, bass-baritone -- , Figaro in Nozze.
Scott Levin, bass-baritone -- Don Alfonso in Cosi, Gardener in Nozze.
The singers all wore standard concert attire except Doctor Despina.
Act I Finale to Cosi fan tutte begins when the two lovers in their disguises pretend to take poison. Robitussin is Doctor Despina's cure. The supertitles were loosely translated for laughs.
Act II Finale to Le nozze di Figaro begins just before Susanna steps out of the Countess's wardrobe instead of the expected Cherubino. This is an excellent place to begin since you cannot have a Cherubino without a costume of some kind.
These are two of Mozart's magnificent ensemble scenes in opera. He comes in an era when most opera consisted of a series of arias with perhaps a duet here or there. Amazing ensembles are a treat, and these were beautifully sung with a real sense of ensemble. The two sisters in Cosi were especially beautiful together.
Marin Alsop who has been conducting in Baltimore since I lived in Maryland, is off to Vienna to conduct The Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. She is the first female conductor for this orchestra. Good luck.
I have introduced a new label: #MoD. This is short for Metropolitan Opera on Demand. Please select it from the filters list to read reviews of HD transmissions from the Met. Met on Demand has both audio and video files. I have focused almost entirely on the video files.
I love knowing things. I can't help it. In this performance of Massenet's Manon from the Metropolitan Opera in HD I noticed for the first time that there was quite a bit of melodrama. This does not mean corny, overacted soap operas, but instead refers to spoken dialog with orchestral accompaniment instead of recitative or spoken dialog. Since the orchestra never stops playing, it is easy to overlook that occasionally the actors are speaking. Then I read that Manon was a mainstay of the Opéra-Comique in Paris after it premiered in 1884. The original novel is from 1731. The only problem with the opera is that it is too long.
I didn't realize it has been already 7 years since this production debuted. The basketball is still there, but there have been hints that it is supposed to be a hot air balloon. Hot air balloons are not precisely spherical. Enough. Please read the other review for more discussion of the production.
I have only seen Artur Rucinski before in Lucia with Lisette from Madrid. He is very attractive on camera and sings beautifully.
But the performance belonged to Manon and her Des Grieux who received much loud shouting in their bows. This is a great opera for Michael Fabiano, suiting both his voice and his personality to a T. You believe in his love. He made the initial pickup very believable. More Michael please.
Lisette Oropesa precisely embodies the 15 year old innocent who arrives on the train on her way to the convent. It is impossible to picture this lively, passionate and curious girl cut off completely from life. Des Grieux has only good intentions toward her and she towards him. When she learns that Des Grieux's father intends to kidnap him, she knows she must make other plans. Lisette is physically trained and fully capable of the physical requirements of the staging. She ran up and down stairs, fell down and was dragged about, all while singing strongly.
I don't see the diabolical Manon, the evil Manon. I see only someone who wants to enjoy her life, to have fun while she is still young. Everyone seems to work against this. Lisette Oropesa changes as the opera progresses to acquire less innocence and more sophistication. This is an opera for our time, because she is destroyed by a rich old man. Her cheers were well deserved.
I still don't see the bed in the sanctuary. This is bogus.
In honor of World Opera Day I have chosen to watch Henze's The Bassarids from the Komische Oper Berlin. It both is and is supposed to be in English.
Conductor Vladimir Jurowski
Director Barrie Kosky
Dionysus, god-- Sean Panikkar, tenor
Pentheus, present king-- Günter Papendell, baritone
Cadmos, founder and former king-- Jens Larsen, bass
Tiresias, old blind prophet-- Ivan Turšić , tenor
Captain of the Royal Guard-- Tom Erik Lie, baritone
Agave, daughter of Cadmos-- Tanja Ariane Baumgartner, mezzo
Autonoe, daughter of Cadmos-- Vera-Lotte Böcker, soprano
Beroe, old slave-- Margarita Nekrasova, contralto
I've never actually seen an opera by Henze, so this seemed suitable. We are in Thebes. Semele is buried here, and a flame is kept burning for her. While opera purports to be based on Greek theater, the plots generally come from other ancient sources. This however is based on Euripides. Imagine that. It turns out to be a revenge opera.
The plot is hard to follow, at least at first. Dionysus wishes to be worshiped, but the new young King Pentheus thinks this is childish. Everyone runs off to the mountains when they hear Dionysus is coming. Pentheus puts out the flame of Semele. The king opposes the revelry that happens on the mountain and swears not to eat, drink or lie with women. But then he has never been there, and knows nothing of what happens.
What makes this hard to follow is that we are not given much in the way of visual clues. Tiresias must be identified by the fact that he wears dark glasses. Everything else is the usual black and white regie costuming. In the photo above the people in vivid outfits are ballet. When Pentheus asks who leads the singing and dancing, a beautiful black man in a black suit stands up. This is my first time to see Sean Panikkar, an American. He brings true expression to this angular modernist music.
To entertain themselves the Thebans perform The Judgement of Calliope. This is the myth of Adonis. Don't make me explain it. And suddenly they're tearing off their clothes and running off.
We are immediately back to Pentheus and Dionysus fighting. Dionysus persuades Pentheus to dress up like a woman. He's having trouble with the high heels. Dionysus uses his god power to control Pentheus.
Komische Oper Berlin is the right context for this work. It is a small theater with a portion of the stage in front of the orchestra. The pit is too small, so parts of the orchestra are at the sides of the stage. The music is like background music to a movie. If viewed in this way, it works well. It gets very intense to the end. It ends with some beautiful music for Agave who kills her son while under the influence of Dionysus. It is a kind of universal tragedy. I thought worshiping Dionysus would be more fun.
Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera with Andrew Grams, conducting, opened their 2019-2020 season last night in Memorial Auditorium with:
WAGNER Tannhäuser March
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto
Allegro molto appassionato
Allegretto non troppio; Allegro molto vivace
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique"
Adagio-Allegro non troppo
Allegro con grazia
Allegro molto vivace
TCHAIKOVSKY Prelude to Eugene Onegin as an encore.
Maestro Grams opened the season last year, too. He is entertaining, and brings a lot of enthusiasm to his performances. William Hagen was the solo violinist for the Mendelssohn violin concerto. I don't think I've had this much fun listening to Mendelssohn before. Grams and Hagen made a great match.
Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony is very long and ends quietly. This is confusing for the audience. One would rather clap at the end of the first or third movements. The conductor should signal that he is finished, but he didn't. This is a very beautiful and wide ranging symphony which is wonderful to hear.
Master of Ceremonies Alan Cumming
Sally Bowles Michelle Williams
I am viewing a film of the 2014 Broadway revival of Cabaret. I can easily see why Alan Cumming won a Tony for this. I also remember him saying when it ended how glad he was to never have to wear the costume again.
The music is stimulating, but as the show goes on, NAZI salutes and arm bands appear. This is the real thing with all the ugliness left in, something that doesn't usually happen in movies. The politics is hard to take, but I'm glad I saw this.
Conductor Henrik Nánási
Director Michael Cavanagh
Set Designer Erhard Rom
Figaro Michael Sumuel
Susanna Jeanine De Bique *
Count Almaviva Levente Molnár *
Countess Almaviva Nicole Heaston *
Cherubino Serena Malfi *
Doctor Bartolo James Creswell
Marcellina Catherine Cook
Don Basilio Greg Fedderly
Don Curzio Brenton Ryan
Barbarina Natalie Imag
* San Francisco Opera debut
The new production of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro at the San Francisco Opera is made for me, or perhaps for anyone who for all their life has experienced architectural dreams. My mind invents buildings that don't exist in reality. The building of this new production is in the style of American colonial Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the time of the Revolutionary War. Because it's Pennsylvania, a colony founded by Quakers, and not Virginia, I think we may presume that the servants are not slaves of the Count Almaviva.
The American Revolution concept only occurs occasionally. In one scene the Betsy Ross flag is unfurled quickly, and when Cherubino is assigned to the army, he appears in a George Washington style army uniform. The Count appears in a variety of colors including red, so we are not quite sure which side he is on.
In the pre-talk the host mentioned that this opera observes The Unities which require a play to have a single action occurring in a single place and within a single day. I learned about this in school long ago and have not heard of it since. Observing the unities doesn't happen very often in opera. I'm tempted to make a list. The place is in and around the Count's house. The action is getting Figaro and Susanna married, and this is accomplished in a single day. There is an irrelevant subplot involving the Count's page Cherubino and his sudden, overwhelming interest in women. The staging suggests a pairing with Barbarina, but we know he will go on in this direction.
Susanna, Cherubino, Figaro
We were treated to conceptual continuity throughout. The handling of all plot elements was smooth and painstaking. The production contributed to this by providing curtains decorated in the architectural style and easily movable scenic elements. The curtain comes down, and we quickly move to the next scene. There was great attention to detail.
Obstacles to the wedding are many. The count has become interested in Susanna and moves forward with his desire to force himself on her. He threatens to refuse to allow the marriage. He also helps Marcellina in her desire to marry Figaro who has borrowed money from her. Spoiler alert: she turns out to be his mother. I enjoyed that my rule of colorblind casting was observed. A comic element was added to the story when the two white actors, Marcellina and Don Basilio, were found to be the parents of black Figaro. "Suo madre?" This obviously long time couple were included in the wedding ceremony.
By far my favorite bit of this production was the Count. He was the biggest asshole I've seen in the part. He gets his comeuppance in the end, or you might find he has gone too far.
I had a strong impression toward the end that this opera might be thought of as a symphony with the voices orchestrated into the texture. I don't know if I could explain this. I might be describing the conducting which was done by a man who previously led Strauss' Elektra here. The singing was consistently excellent and blended more than usual with its accompaniment.
It isn't my favorite, but for overall quality and a complete lack of confusion about the plot it wins.
This has to be regarded as a short list of operas about the oppression of women by powerful men, the basic theme of the MeToo movement. There is no order. In our own era the powerful men are generally employers. If I am paying you money, I can do what I want with you. In the past it was more a case of members of the Lordly class assuming that everyone in a lower class could be abused at will.
Rigoletto by Verdi is rather an unusual case. The Duke is the person of highest rank in the story, but he seems to be completely indiscriminate in his choices of women to prey on. In the court all the ladies seem to be targets, even wives of his main subordinates. If their husbands object, they are banned from the court. These wives are the only true MeToo characters I have found, but they aren't enough for the Duke. He wanders the streets in disguise looking for women who would never come into the court. The Duke successfully pretends to be lower class when pursuing Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter. Maddalena from the last act is a professional and therefore does not count as exploited. Strangely, he seems to like her best. We begin a pattern when it is the exploited Gilda who dies and not the exploiter Duke. Unlike the standard MeToo victim, she loves the man who has exploited her and offers her own death to save him.
Tosca by Puccini involves a man in a position of political power who has something to offer a famous woman, not his employee. Tosca is not the sort of woman to allow herself to be used sexually and instead kills her would be tormentor before he has a chance to do anything. At the end she also dies. We could hardly ask any of our MeToo women to do these things.
Il Trovatore by Verdi may not count. This is more your love story plot. A count loves Leonora, one of his subjects who would actually make a suitable mate. The count frowns and looks unhappy all the time. She instead loves a gypsy who sings love songs to her. The count doesn't get his way and kills them. Everyone dies. I'm not sure if this fits the MeToo scenario. We can't go around requiring people to die to avoid sex.
Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart involves a married count who was the hero of another opera earlier in his life, but now has lost interest in his wife. She expected happily ever after but instead got this. His current interest is in one of his wife's servants, Susanna. This is sort of a Downton Abbey plot. In Downton Abbey one of the daughters is interested in and marries the chauffeur. In Nozze Susanna is engaged to the Count's valet, Figaro. The count has two kinds of power in this situation: he can deny them the right to marry at all and/or he can revive the ancient right of the Lord to sleep with the bride of a servant. The women plot against him and win in the end. Everyone lives happily ever after at last. This is a successful thwarting of the MeToo scenario. Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss involves a father with money wanting to acquire a royal title by marrying his daughter to a baron. Someone not part of either side of this transaction, Octavian, intervenes to prevent the marriage. He could not accomplish this without the help of his girlfriend The Marschallin. Again we may presume a happy ending. It seems that Count Octavian will marry the heiress instead of the baron. This is another instance of exploitation thwarted.
Luisa Miller by Verdi describes a young nobleman who wanders around the countryside in disguise looking for girls, very much like the Duke in Rigoletto or the King in La Donna del Lago. He knows that makes him a shit, but does it anyway. Unlike other operas, both the exploiter and the exploited die. Does no one explain to these nobles that they are required to marry in their class? In the modern world this hardly makes a plot. Prince Harry married an American actress.
This is turning out to be interesting. Our opera stories must be regarded as in praise of women. Except for the wives at court who may be roughly comparable to employees who could lose their status, our purported victims resort to murder, self-sacrifice, and plotting to avoid any actual sexual exploitation.
Don Giovanni by Mozart may possibly represent the usual MeToo story. During the opera the Don pursues Donna Anna, Zerlina, and an unknown woman seen through the window. He flees Donna Elvira since he no longer is interested in her. Leporello explains to Donna Elvira that she is just one in a long line of lovers. Afterward Anna goes to Ottavio. Zerlina returns to her new husband and begs him to beat her. We aren't exactly sure what happens to the Don at the end, but I think he is supposed to end up in hell. Has anyone lost anything? The Don kills Anna's father who in the end gets his revenge. The women presumably give in because they are genuinely interested in Giovanni, though it is possible that Donna Elvira thinks she is his wife. It's too complicated to draw any general conclusions.
This turned out to be more revealing than I imagined.
Today the season for the Metropolitan opera in HD began with a performance of Puccini's Turandot. I think it was also Yannick Nézet-Séguin's first HD as the Musical Director of the Met.
The plot to this opera must be considered iffy. It isn't exactly a MeToo opera (I'm thinking of making a list) because the abusive power figure is a woman. She uses her position as heir to the Emperor of China to destroy as many men as possible for something that happened to one of her ancestors. One isn't sure what the right response would be. Becoming Emperor of China might be a greater temptation than the princess. Calaf is an idiot, but he can hardly be blamed for the unfortunate results of his desire for Turandot. The ending must be considered happy.
It was nice to spot James Morris under his very heavy makeup. This is going to sound strange, but I thought that the lead role sounded rather light in Ms Goerke's voice. To me she seemed to be struggling with the role. I thought the hit performance of the evening was the Calaf of Yusif Eyvazov. He carried himself with dignity and confidence. I have started to like him.
Yannick brought us a beautiful opera. I hope to see more of him, but the only HD he is scheduled for is Wozzeck. Sigh. They did curtain bows after all three acts. I haven't seen that in a long time.
Bess - Audra McDonald
Porgy - Norm Lewis
Sportin Life - David Alan Grier
I am watching a “non-television” film of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess from the 2012 Broadway production. Until I saw this, I did not realize that there are actually 2 so very different versions of this work. Until now I have only been aware of the opera version where all the text is sung and accompanied by a standard opera orchestra, the original version from 1935.
The Broadway version is substantially shorter and includes spoken dialog written for this production. The sound of the recording isn't good enough to understand most of this. As an opera fan and musician, I very much miss the sound I am used to. I'm getting more of a swing band sound here with a lot of brass, or perhaps it should be described as a pit band. If there are violins, I'm not hearing them. The singing is pretty good, but the backup kind of leaves them hanging. I haven't kept in touch with the Broadway sound in the 21st century. Audra is classically trained, but I don't believe the others are. This is just my opinion.
The aim here isn't opera but is instead to produce a realistic, life-like view of southern black culture. It is felt that presentations by large opera companies don't achieve this. There is a lot of realistic acting, occasionally approaching actual abuse. I've seen Audra in a full length work before, live for Mahagonny, and she is astounding here. She quit the run early because of illness. I can see now that she spends a lot of time shouting, not a good idea for a singer. I remember well going to sports events as a teenager and its effect on the voice.
Though Porgy and Bess has always been controversial, my own perspective doesn't really have anything to add to this argument. Many count the entire story to be racist. Edwin DuBose Heyward who wrote both the libretto and the novel it is based on was southern white and of the planter class. Read Audra McDonald's take on racism in Porgy and Besshere.
This is mind altering, not at all the Porgy and Bess of memory, but still one knows that it does not exist without Gershwin. This particular version doesn't exist without Audra McDonald. The general impression is one of intense raw power. It's rather frightening.
I think it is regrettable that there is no commercial film of this. I feel glad I saw it at all, but a commercial film would result in clearer sound, making the dialog easier to understand and the music more beautiful. It did not woo me away from my operatic version. I could almost count this as a new opera.