Monday, April 29, 2019

International Opera Awards 2019

The best way to find out about today's International Opera Awards is to look on Twitter.


CHORUS – Bolshoi Opera
CONDUCTOR – Marc Albrecht
DESIGNER – Rebecca Ringst
DIRECTOR – Katie Mitchell
EDUCATION & OUTREACH – Umculo Cape Festival
FEMALE SINGER – Asmik Grigorian

FESTIVAL – Janáček Brno Festival

MALE SINGER – Charles Castronovo



NEW PRODUCTION (supported by the KT Wong Foundation) – Janáček: From the House of the Dead, d. Krzysztof Warlikowski (Royal Opera House)
NEWCOMER – Maxim Emelyanychev
OPERA COMPANY – Opera Vlaanderen
OPERA ORCHESTRA – Royal Opera House
PHILANTHROPY – Fondation Bru
READERS’ AWARD – Sonya Yoncheva

RECORDING (COMPLETE OPERA) – Rossini: Semiramide (Opera Rara)
RECORDING (SOLO RECITAL) – Stéphane Degout: Enfers (Harmonia Mundi)
REDISCOVERED WORK – Hasse: Artaserse (Pinchgut Opera)
WORLD PREMIERE (sponsored by The Vineyard) – Kurtág: Fin de partie (Teatro alla Scala)

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.


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 👍🏻

Conductor: Gianluca Capuano
Production: Christof Loy

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, originally a woman)
Sandrine Piau: Dalinda, Ginevra's attendant (soprano)
Kristofer Lundin:  Odoardo (tenor)

This is the Salzburg production of Handel's Ariodante, 2017, starring the one and only Cecilia Bartoli.  In Kathryn Lewek they have found an excellent soprano who is smaller than Cecilia to play her love.  Their voices are beautiful together.  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, etc.  Polinesso is the villain.  He plots to steal Ginevra.  Dalinda loves Polinesso, and Lurcanio 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.  The aria by Ginevra that appears here is accompanied by a lot of physical violence which looks too real to me.

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.   For more pictures see here.


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)
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

Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Original director: Christof Loy

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.

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

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

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

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: Pene Pati (cast change),  Juliet: Nadine Sierra.  This pair should be able to generate some heat, the key to a successful Romeo and Juliet.  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