Thursday, January 31, 2019

Arias in Modern Operas

There has been an argument on line about modern operas lacking arias. That was my complaint about It's a Wonderful Life. Here are some arias so you can judge for yourself



Monday, January 28, 2019

Orphée et Eurydice from Chicago

 Orphée, Amour

Harry Bicket Conductor
John Neumeier* Director, Choreographer, Set, Costume & Lighting Designer

Dmitry Korchak, tenor Orphée
Andriana Chuchman, soprano Eurydice
Lauren Snouffer, soprano Amour

PBS has brought us Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice from Lyric Opera of Chicago with the Joffrey Ballet.  It's rather more like a ballet with three singers. If you are annoyed by the presence of ballet in opera, this is not the version for you.  In the French version of 1774 which we are seeing here Orphée is sung by a high tenor, called a haute-contre. Each time you see this opera it's different, apparently.

The outfits should tell you it's regie.  We are at a rehearsal, and Eurydice is late.  When she finally comes in dressed as a dancer, Orphée berates her for wanting to show off her stills, and she slaps his face and goes off in a huff.  Then she dies in an auto crash.  After lamentation, Amour explains the bargain he must make with the gods.  Eurydice will return with him from hell as long as Orphée does not turn and look at her.  He rejoices in a really quite spectacular coloratura aria.

Hell is a ballet with chorus. The entire opera is in a way a solo for the tenor.  I wish I liked him better.  I think I like the production.  It is an excellent idea for the Joffrey.  During a long ballet our tenor is holding a score to the Italian version Orfeo ed Euridice.  About 54 minutes in, after a long ballet, the soprano has her first singing.  She tells us how peaceful it is in hell.  The singers are sometimes choreographed into the dances. 

I feel this opera requires a great star to pull it off.  The music is rather monotonous.  The resurrected Eurydice stays under her veil, and when he tries to remove it, she disappears.

News -- New Maestro for Philharmonia Baroque

British conductor Richard Egarr has been named to succeed Nicholas McGegan as conductor of the Berkeley orchestra Philharmonic Baroque.  Read here about McGegan's retirement, and read here for more information about Egarr.  I hope everyone will be happy with this change.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Sacramento Philharmonic does Beethoven

In Sacramento a Beethoven Festival has been created from a spectacularly disastrous concert in Vienna in 1808 where everything was composed and performed by Beethoven.  It was intended to be a benefit for Beethoven, but everything seems to have gone wrong.  For one thing it was freezing cold inside the venue.  It was Beethoven's final public appearance as a soloist because he was obviously going deaf.  Concerts that lasted 4 hours were not uncommon in Beethoven's time, but we are not so enduring and have divided it into two concerts.  It is important to remember that at this time Berlioz had not yet invented standing in front of an orchestra and waving a stick.  Beethoven would probably have sat at the piano the entire time.

Our series of two concerts are created around conductor/pianist Jeffrey Kahane.  People who conduct and play as soloists at the same time are regularly seen at the Sacramento Philharmonic.  This works better than you would think. 

First Concert January 19

Piano Concerto No. 4
Kahane, our conductor/pianist, was a definite hit in this piece and handled both his tasks well.  After the concerto, he played an extemporized solo version of "America the Beautiful." 

"Ah, Perfido" concert aria.
Soprano Mary Evelyn Hangley
She was fine in this piece, but I couldn't help thinking her Italian diction could have been better.

Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral”
This is a program symphony, which means there is an associated story.  Heiligenstadt, a town up the Danube from Vienna, was a favorite place for Beethoven to compose, and the story is sort of an homage to this place.  The ensemble became a bit ragged toward the end.

Second Concert January 26

Choral Fantasy
Conductor/pianist Jeffrey Kahane
Soprano:  Liisa Davila, Mezzo Soprano:  Julie Miller, Tenor:  Jonathan Smucker, Bass:  Phil Skinner,
Tenor:  Salvatore Atti, chorus.
The Choral Fantasy is a one of a kind piece.  It starts off like a piano sonata, then is joined by the orchestra for a while.  Just about when you are wondering why there is a chorus on the stage, a group of soloists join the group as a small ensemble.  Finally the chorus also sings to end in an impressive finale.  I can't think of anything like it.  This is a fun piece with nice work for the piano.  It was enjoyably performed, unlike Beethoven's rendition.

Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus from Mass in C Major
Soprano:  Liisa Davila, Mezzo Soprano:  Julie Miller, Tenor:  Jonathan Smucker, Bass:  Phil Skinner
This is not the most fascinating mass, but all performed well.

Symphony No. 5
This concert was sold out, a first for the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera.  The presence of Beethoven's Fifth undoubtedly provides the explanation.  Believe it or not, it continues on after the famous 4 note theme.  This was the highlight of the concert.  It is an impressive piece, but you didn't need me to tell you that.  Kahane stood on the podium for this.  I enjoyed his work.  He forcefully prevented the audience from applauding between movements.

Performing this two concert series was a kind of musicological experiment in discovering performance practices in Beethoven's time.  The disasters found at Beethoven's original concert were entirely avoided. 

Monday, January 21, 2019


Nadine Sierra is negotiating for her first album.  More later.

She has finished making this recording.  The contents are unusual:  four tracks are by Bernstein, and then we have Golijov, Villa-Lobos, Gordon, Stravinsky, and others. It took me a long time to find this.

Moved from 11/22/17

Saturday, January 19, 2019


On with my Met on Demand subscription.  I am watching Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos with Kathleen Battle, Tatiana Troyanos, James King and Jessye Norman.  These are all singers that I loved.  You've never seen anyone wail the composer better than Tatiana Troyanos.  I miss her.

And no one wails anything better than Jessys Norman.  And in case you prefer coloratura, we have Kathleen Battle in her prime.  This is a must see. James Levine conducts.  If you look carefully, you will see Barbara Bonney and Dawn Upshaw.

The original film posted here has been withdrawn.  To view go to Met on Demand.

Di rigori for fun

This is the tenor aria from Der Rosenkavalier.

Luciano Pavarotti

Fritz Wunderlich

Piotr Beczala

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Adriana Lecouvreur in HD

Conductor:  Gianandrea Noseda
Production:  David McVicar

Adriana Lecouvreur, an actress:  Anna Netrebko
Maurizio, the Count of Saxony:  Piotr Beczala
Princess di Bouillon, also in love with Maruizio:  Anita Rachvelishvili
Prince di Bouillon, her husband:  Maurizio Muraro
Michonnet, stage manager:  Ambrogio Maestri

Today the metropolitan Opera brought us Francesco Cilèa's Adriana Lecouvreur in HD.  Our host was Matthew Polenzani.  The opera is from 1902 in the era of verismo.

It was a single set production with a raised stage area in the center.  This was useful in portraying an opera about an historical figure who was an actress.  Most of the scenes have some kind of performance, including a ballet.  I enjoyed when the stage was shown from the angle of the wings, always my favorite perspective.

Gianandrea Noseda shaped the music in the most beautiful way.  Today was my best reaction to his conducting.  In his interview he expressed his respect for the vocal performers.

At the beginning we see that Adriana has not heard from her lover whom she believes to be a soldier away at battle.  She is preparing for her entrance where she plays Roxane, the heroine of Cyrano de Bergerac, I believe.  He comes in, woos her ardently and arranges to meet her after the play.  Adriana's most beautiful arias "Io son l'umile ancella" comes in this act. The plot is a bit hard to follow here.  Who exactly is Duclos?  Her name is not listed in the cast. Maurizio receives a letter and cancels on Adriana.  He is obviously a cad whatever his feelings might be.  Michonnet wants Adriana to marry him.

Not to be outdone, the Princess sings "Acerba voluttà, dolce tortura" while anxiously awaiting the arrival of Maurizio.  Again more plot complexities.  Maurizio arrives, Adriana arrives and figures out who Maurizio actually is, the Princess's husband arrives and they sneak her out of the meeting place without Adriana discovering who she is.  By the end of the opera everyone has discovered the identity of everyone else, Adriana is angry with the Princess and insults her, and finally Adriana is poisoned with flowers, aria "Poveri fiori".  The person who deserves the anger, the Count of Saxony, gets off.

The plot confusion interferes with ones overall pleasure.  It's rather like a murder mystery.  The music is sweet and not at all murder-mystery-like.  The cast is spectacular.  Ambrogio Maestri is very sweet as the stage manager in love with Adriana.  I have only seen him as Falstaff.

Anita rose to her angry bitch character to make the perfect foil for Anna  Piotr convincingly wooed both women, demonstrating his skills at seduction.

But this performance belonged to Anna Netrebko, intense in every scene, the diva incarnate.  All hail Anna.  Perhaps I will go again on Wednesday.

P.S  A commenter left this on Facebook:

Roxane here is a character of "Bajazet" which is a tragedy by Racine. That is why at some point Adriana is called Gran Sultana. This is about the character she was portraying in first act. (Cyrano de Bergerac was written at very end of 19th Century. Therefore Lecouvreur could not have played it).

Friday, January 11, 2019

Astronaut La Boheme

Conductor: Gustavo Dudamel 
Production: Claus Guth 

Nicole Car | Mimì
Aida Garifullina | Musetta
Atalla Ayan | Rodolfo
Artur Ruciński | Marcello is running the Puccini La Boheme from Paris that is set in outer space.  I wrote briefly about this, but other people said they loved it, so I'm giving it a second chance.

We begin in a space station with the astronauts wearing space suits without the helmets.  This is fun, but no matter what you normally do, if you do not read French, you must put on the subtitles, because there is added text which explains what you are seeing.  Dudamel is magnificent.

They are caught in a catastrophe and remember their loves from before they were astronauts.  I guess.  The singing is lovely, especially Mimi.  This is clearly Rodolfo's fantasy, and it is unbearably sentimental.  And beautiful.  Give yourself over to this fantasy.  Everyone dies.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Cosi with Cecilia

Conductor...............James Levine
Production..............Lesley Koenig

Fiordiligi..............Carol Vaness
Ferrando...............Jerry Hadley
Dorabella..............Susanne Mentzer
Guglielmo.............Dwayne Croft
Despina.................Cecilia Bartoli
Don Alfonso..........Thomas Allen

In 1996 I recorded Mozart's Cosi fan tutte with Cecilia Bartoli in her Met debut as Despina when it came on public television, but my son taped over it.  This quarrel came near the beginning of my wild infatuation with La Bartoli.  I decided to keep him anyway.  So this year he gave me a year of Met on Demand making this my first opportunity to watch it after all these years.

This production ran at the Met until very recently. It is visually inert, but this means nothing when Cecilia is on the stage.  Her face alone is filled with liveliness.  She is constantly in motion. I do rather like the men's disguises.

Cecilia does recitative like no one else.  I wish very much that her Met career had been longer.  Her wonderful theatrical magnetism dominates every scene she is in, though this role doesn't show off the coloratura she has become famous for.  As a doctor she wears a large red nose.

Musically it's rather blah as well.  These are all good singers, so more could have been expected.  In those days Levine was the only conductor we saw.  He doesn't find anything interesting in this score.

Towards the end Cecilia is in her notary disguise with giant eyebrows and a giant mustache, far more spectacular than those worn by our Albanians.  She provides what life there is in the production, but I would recommend it for this alone.  At the end our Despina realizes that she has been used and throws down the money Don Alfonso has given her.

This comic masterpiece has to be the most unusual Met debut by an already wildly famous singer ever.

Monday, January 07, 2019


As a Kelly Clarkson fan, I was excited to learn that Kelly has a classical singing background.  She's too good.  It can't be an accident.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Die verkaufte Braut from Munich

Marie and Hans
Conductor: Tomáš Hanus
Staging: David Bösch

Selene Zanetti (Marie)
Pavol Breslik (Hans)
Günther Groissböck (Kezal)

I was in Smetana's Die verkaufte Braut long ago.  I played Marie's mother. We did it in German exactly as it is here in this live stream from the Bayerische Staatsoper. I even have my old score here near the computer.  Since I began blogging, I have only seen this in London and on DVD.  It is a sentimental favorite. In English we call it The Bartered Bride.

The plot concerns itself with love, of course.  Marie was promised in a contract with Kezal to marry only "Toby Mischa's son."  Who is an idiot who stutters and has a pet pig.  She likes Hans, played by one of the sexiest men on the opera stage.  They give away the plot in the credits which may explain why people think there is no plot.  This is sort of the male version of Cinderella.

My heart leaps at the familiar overture.  The music is lovely, the singing is terrific and Günther Groissböck is a hoot, the best possible Kezal. It's wonderful to see this now and then.  I hated the set.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Arabella with Kiri

Conductor Christian Thielemann
Production Otto Schenk

Arabella: Kiri Te Kanawa
Zdenka: Marie McLaughlin
Adelaide Waldner: Helga Dernesch
Matteo David Kuebler
Mandryka: Wolfgang Brendel
Count Waldner: Donald McIntyre
Fiakermilli:  Natalie Dessay

For my first full opera on my year of Met on Demand I have chosen Kiri Te Kanawa in Strauss's Arabella, I believe from 1994.

They have given her a handsome, passionate Mandryka in Wolfgang Brendel. I promise not to review everything I watch, but this has to be an exception.  This is by far the most traditional production I have seen for Arabella.  The world has changed, and I don't suppose there are counts and countesses everywhere anymore.  There is certainly no Austrian emperor today.  So a traditional production seems suitable.

It is fun to see Natalie Dessay pop in for a moment.

Arabella wants the some enchanted evening experience where you suddenly fall in love across a crowded room.  Mandryka is even worse.  He falls in love with a photograph.  The mystery of Arabella is the Zdenka/Zdenko character who falls in love with one of Arabella's suitors, a young man named Matteo who sends Arabella flowers every day.  She knows she has to marry money, and she knows he doesn't have any.  No one pays any attention to Zdenko/Zdenka, a girl pretending to be a boy.  She almost ruins everything.  She writes love letters to Matteo.  She seems almost invisible.  Even her mother pays her no attention.

For me I love to see the same piece performed in very different ways.  I probably saw Kiri in this in San Francisco, but now I am more familiar with the opera.  Kiri is at the sweet end of the range of emotions.  Perhaps Anja Harteros is at the other.


Tuesday, January 01, 2019

L'Italiana in Algeri from Salzburg

Conductor:  Jean-Christophe Spinosi
Production:  Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier

Isabella:  Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo)
Mustafa:  Ildar Abdrazakov (baritone)
Lindoro: Edgardo Rocha  (tenor)
Taddeo, suitor:  Alessandro Corbelli (baritone)
Elvira, Mustafa's wife: Rebeca Olvero (soprano)

Constant searching has led me to a film of Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri from Whitsun at Salzburg in 2018.  This is regie, of course.  The subtitles seem to be in French.  We are in Mustafa's bedroom where his wife makes advances while husband Mustafa is sleeping.  He doesn't like it.  Lindoro comes in with a vaccuum, smoking, wearing dreads and a tattoo.  There is lots of nice music for Lindoro and Mustafa.  The houses in the street all have satellite dishes.

After the guys leave, Cecilia comes in riding on a camel.  Camel raises tail, Cecilia holds nose.  This is an opera comedy that seems actually to be funny.  Corbelli runs out of one of the stores to save Cecilia from bandits [cops?] waving guns?  She says he is her uncle and shows her passport.  Isabella is a contralto and is fairly easy for Cecilia.  Everything is charming.  I'm so glad she is singing this and that I am finally seeing it.  My traveling days may be over.

In the next scene Isabella meets Mustafa and critiques his figure.  In a row behind them are men smoking hookahs and blowing the smoke out onto the stage.  Lindoro and Isabella see each other.  Stuffed chairs roll around the stage.  Isabella tells Mustafa he already has a wife.

This is fun.  It is wonderful to see Isabella played by the essential Italian woman.  Cecilia has long been my favorite Italian.

In the prelude to act 2 there are annoying banging sounds which turn out to be people slicing vegetables.  The male chorus, clearly Mustafa's flunkies, carry boxes of electronics.  Is Mustafa selling them, stealing them, what?   Mustafa is arranging a meeting with Isabella.  Cecilia enters smoking, but I don't see smoke.  Sight gags.  Smooching.

Taddeo takes off his trousers and is wearing Superman briefs.  We have as many sight gags as you could possibly want.  I am enjoying this very much.  Suddenly male chorus all have guns and shoot them off.  Perhaps Mustafa is an Algerian mafioso.

Back in Isabella's apartment she is taking a bubble bath with people all around, including us, of course.  Mustafa enters in his night clothes and tries to get an eyeful.  Isabella is waving bras around and singing.  It is a fact that this is my first time seeing The Italian Girl in Algiers with a real Italian girl.  So we know what has been missing.  The aria ends and Lindoro wheels the bathtub off stage.  Isabella soon reenters in her nightgown.  Taddeo assumes the lotus position.  Everything is getting out of control when Elvira enters.  Mustafa passes out.

We see clips of La Dolce Vita where Anita Ekberg gets into the Trevi Fountain, the ultimate Italian woman film.  I don't know what the general reception for this production was, but I am loving it.  It is colossally silly with the spectacular Cecilia Bartoli in the middle.  I find that I am shockingly unfamiliar with most of the music in this opera.

In the final scene the male chorus are all dressed as soccer players.  Isabella feeds them from a giant pot of pasta.  She sings "Pensa la patria" to Lindoro who is also Italian.  This is at last familiar, probably from one of Cecilia's albums.  She flirts with everyone.  Mustafa is to be made a Pappataci.  He goes back to his regular wife and the Italians all sail off for Italy.  Bon voyage.  Everyone lives happily ever after.  Isabella and Lindoro are doing Titanic at the end, but let's assume their fates are different.  How many icebergs can there be in the Mediterranean?

For me this production was perfect.  Yes, it's modernized but I found the changes never to be a distortion of the story.  After all, an Italian woman is an Italian woman in any era.  I also thought the cast was as good as it gets, most of all our Italian woman, Cecilia Bartoli.