Monday, September 30, 2019

Jessye Norman has died.

Ms Norman was a very great artist with a gorgeous voice and great style. It is very heartwarming that Ms Norman is receiving so much attention throughout the music world at this time.  This is from the New York Times:

    Jessye Norman, Regal American Soprano, Is Dead at 74

    A multiple Grammy Award winner, she was a towering figure on the operatic, concert and recital stages.

    CreditCreditFrans Schellekens/Redferns, via Getty Images
    Jessye Norman, the majestic American soprano who brought a sumptuous, shimmering voice to a broad range of roles at the Metropolitan Opera and houses around the world and had a notable career as a recitalist and soloist with orchestras, died on Monday in New York. She was 74.
    The cause was septic shock and multiorgan failure following complications of a spinal cord injury she suffered in 2015, according to a statement released The Associated Press.
    A full obituary will follow shortly.

These are great examples, but my favorite has been withdrawn.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Greta's Mama

Remember the teenage girl Greta Thunberg that spoke at the United Nations this week? This is her mama.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Opera on DVD Revised

These DVDs fill in some enormous gaps in Metropolitan Opera on demand video listings.  There are, of course, many more than what I'm showing.  I generally prefer to recommend currently or recently active performers.  For my recommendations from the Met on demand see here.

It is impossible to complete this list.  I include my favorites Jonas Kaufmann, Philippe Jaroussky, Cecilia Bartoli, Anna Netrebko, etc.


The Met is woefully lacking in this area. I like:
L’Incoronazione di Poppea Monteverdi 2008 with Danielle de Niese
Dido and Aeneas Purcell Dido and Aeneas with Sarah Connolly
Giulio Cesare Handel Cecilia at Salzburg-Grammy nomination
Orlando Furioso Vivaldi Marie-Nicole Lemieux
Artaserse Vinci Artaserse with 5 Countertenors
Partenope Handel YouTube from San Francisco
Semele Handel Zurich Cecilia
Theodora Handel Theodora from Glyndebourne

I will need to do additional research to find the best version of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, a very significant opera.  But the Danielle de Niese L’Incoronazione di Poppea is a fine Monteverdi example.

Two star Cecilia Bartoli, one from Zurich, Semele, and one from Salzburg, Giulio Cesare.  Operas chosen for the modern productions are Partenope and Theodora.  A modern production can improve a Baroque opera.


Orphée et Eurydice Gluck Vesseliina Kasarova
Don Giovanni Mozart Bartoli Zurich
Le Nozze di Figaro Mozart Netrebko Salzburg

The Met on demand has covered this genre, but I will keep searching for examples to add here.    The Gluck shown above is a wonderful performance of the Berlioz arrangement made for Pauline Viardot.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Roméo et Juliette

Conductor: Yves Abel
Director: Jean-Louis Grinda *

Romeo: Pene Pati
Juliet: Nadine Sierra
Mercutio: Lucas Meachem
Friar Lawrence: James Creswell
Count Capulet Timothy Mix
Tybalt Daniel Montenegro
Duke of Verona Philip Skinner
Stephano Stephanie Lauricella *
Gertrude Eve Gigliotti *
Gregorio SeokJong Baek
Benvolio Christopher Oglesby
Paris Hadleigh Adams

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette was presented last night at the San Francisco Opera.  This was very pleasing due to our stars Nadine Sierra and Pene Pati. Theirs was a very sweet and gentle romance.

The sets were abstract but functional.  There was no balcony.  I always remember visiting Juliet's balcony in Verona.  It's very plain and in an ordinary street.

Nadine sings around the operatic world and is by now well known.  Pene Pati is a newcomer with a beautiful, sweet voice that suits this role perfectly.

Another name worth mentioning is Lucas Meachem as Mercutio.

After Britten we were pleased to hear melodies and beautiful choruses.  There's a lot more chorus in French opera than there is in Italian opera.  We were treated to some actual sword fights, though the stabbing was with a dagger. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


I've tried to stay out of the scandal surrounding Placido Domingo, but I have been glad recently to hear that AGMA, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union that covers singers in opera and symphony in America, has taken this on.  They will conduct their own investigation.  I believe there is a strong role for unions in this type of situation.  They can make it a rule with management that they cannot punish an employee for reporting harassment.  For me this is the central issue.  No one should be afraid to tell the truth.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Billy Budd in San Francisco

Conductor: Lawrence Renes
Production: Michael Grandage *

Captain Vere, tenor: William Burden
Billy Budd, baritone: John Chest *
John Claggart, bass: Christian Van Horn
Mr. Redburn, baritone: Philip Horst
Mr. Flint, bass-baritone: Wayne Tigges
Mr. Ratcliffe, baritone: Christian Pursell
Red Whiskers, tenor: Robert Brubaker
Novice, tenor: Brenton Ryan
Maintop, tenor: Christopher Colmenero *
Squeak, tenor: Matthew O'Neill
Dansker, bass: Philip Skinner

There are now two operas based on the novels of Hermann Melville:  Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten and Moby Dick by Jake Heggie.  The San Francisco Opera last night performed the 1960 condensed version of Billy Budd.

In the program notes a date is assigned to the plot of this opera:  1797, within the decade after the French revolution.  These are members of the British navy aboard the HMS Indomitable. The officers are from more traditional sources, but it is their habit to stop merchant ships and take men from their crews to conscript them into the lower classes of the navy.   This is why they are so concerned about mutiny.  Billy Budd is conscripted in this way.  They ask him how old he is and he says he doesn't know.

Claggart becomes emotionally concerned with Billy, saying "Beauty, handsomeness, goodness."  He takes this personally and accuses Billy to the Captain of mutiny.  Billy becomes tongue tied and cannot defend himself, hitting Claggart instead.  Claggart dies, and Billy is hanged and thrown into the ocean.

The staging was marvelous.  The set is very functional for all the scenes.  I had only one trouble with it.  In operas with large casts, such as this one, the director must find a way to make the main characters stand out from the others.  The Captain is easy to find on the stage because he stands above the others.  Claggart is the very physically distinctive Christian Van Horn with his long face.  But Billy quickly disappears into the crowd in many scenes.  He could have more brilliantly blond hair, maybe.  Just saying.

There is a lot going on in this very busy opera.  I was reminded that I once had a rule:  never go to an opera with 3 baritones.  This would definitely be in that category. Britten's orchestration is brilliant and colorful, but he doesn't compose the voices so much as orchestrate them.  The chorus is very rumbly. The voices each seem to stay in a relatively small range, not at all what an opera singer generally desires.  I want vocal beauty and not merely visual beauty.  Extending the range would also help to create the impression of melody.

I am the only one complaining about this.  I felt that it was a significant production, but I wanted more.  Different singers might produce a different effect.

I came down fairly heavy on Britten.  Additional thought has led me to conclude that fault may lie more with the specific performance.  Training might eliminate the rumbly sound.  I should also mention that I abandoned my 3 baritones rule after hearing a really good performance of Simon Boccanegra.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

New Operas I liked

I keep a list of operas that are new to me, label ONew2Me.  Since I started the blog, I have seen 193 operas that were new to me.  Only 49 of these are operas that were themselves new within 5 years of my first viewing. That means their first performances were in 2000 or later.  Everything else was new to me before the blog.  Since my total list of operas seen ever as of 9/12/19 is 370, I could be doing a lot better.

Out of these 49 operas only 9 made my favorites for that year list. These are:

L'Amour de Loin Saariaho Finnish National Opera 10/28/2005 Peter Sellars Esa-Pekka Salonen
Tea: A Mirror of Soul Dun Santa Fe Opera 7/27/2007 Amon Miyamoto Lawrence Renes
Bonesetter's Daughter Wallace San Francisco Opera 9/26/2008 Chen Shi-Zheng Steven Sloane
Il Postino Catán LA Opera 11/26/2011 Ron Daniels Grant Gershon
Moby-Dick Heggie San Francisco Opera 10/22/2012 Leonard Foglia Patrick Summers
Ainadamar Golijov Opera Parallèle 2/17/2013 Brian Staufenbiel Nicole Paiement
27 Gordon Saint Louis 6/18/2014 James Robinson Michael Christie
Autumn Sonata Fagerlund Finnish National Opera 10/23/2017 Stéphane Braunschweig John Storgårds
Lessons in Love and Violence Benjamin ROH 5/26/2018 Katie Mitchell Benjamin
Marnie Muhly Metropolitan Opera 11/10/2018 Michael Mayer Robert Spano

It doesn't seem like much of a list. The dates are for the blog entries.  I haven't done a list for 2019 yet, but here are some candidates:

Bon Appétit! Hoiby Des Moines 7/18/2019

If I Were You Heggie San Francisco Opera 8/5/2019 Keturah Stickann Nicole Paiement
Breaking The Waves Mazzoli West Edge 8/11/2019 Mark Streshinsky Jonathan Khuner

I would welcome opinions on these.  Something might be omitted because it came before I began blogging.  Feel free to suggest others.