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.